Archive for October, 2016

Numbers 26:1-65
The Second Census

Patience, grasshoppah! When you can grab the stones from my hand, you may leave. That was a famous line from the television show, Kung Fu, starring David Carradine, back in the early 1970s. The series aired on ABC from October 1972 to April 1975 for a total of 63 episodes. Kung Fu was preceded by a full-length feature television pilot, an ABC Movie of the Week, which was broadcast on February 22, 1972. The series became one of the most popular television programs of the early 1970s, receiving widespread critical acclaim and commercial success upon its release. The series follows the adventures of Kwai Chang Caine (portrayed by David Carradine as an adult, Keith Carradine as a teenager, and Radames Pera as a young boy), a Shaolin monk who travels through the American Old West armed only with his spiritual training and his skill in martial arts, as he seeks Danny Caine, his half-brother. The use of flashbacks in the show always came at critical times in each episode as he would draw upon his moral and ethical training from his youth to help him decide what to do. One of the key phrases from these flashbacks as the young Caine was in a hurry to grow up was, “Patience, grasshoppah!”

Young Caine would get frustrated with the slow pace of his learning in these flashbacks but it was in present time of these episodes as he traveled the Old West of America that these lessons learned in painstaking detail as a youth that served him so well. If he were to have left the monastery at too early an age, he would not have been prepared for the things that he encountered as a young man. Sometimes are we not the same. We push headlong into things that we are not prepared for and they blow up in our face. We get angry at God for not allowing things to happen quickly enough. The patience of Caine from the show Kung Fu of the early 1970s and that catchphrase of “patience, grasshoppah!” is what immediately came to mind when I read through this census of the adult males of the people of Israel. At first, I did not know why this jumped into my mind this morning as I was reading this passage but read through this passage first, and then we will talk. Patience, grasshoppah! Read first. Explanation later:

26 After the plague the Lord said to Moses and Eleazar son of Aaron, the priest, 2 “Take a census of the whole Israelite community by families—all those twenty years old or more who are able to serve in the army of Israel.” 3 So on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho, Moses and Eleazar the priest spoke with them and said, 4 “Take a census of the men twenty years old or more, as the Lord commanded Moses.”

These were the Israelites who came out of Egypt:

5 The descendants of Reuben, the firstborn son of Israel, were:

through Hanok, the Hanokite clan;

through Pallu, the Palluite clan;

6 through Hezron, the Hezronite clan;

through Karmi, the Karmite clan.

7 These were the clans of Reuben; those numbered were 43,730.

8 The son of Pallu was Eliab, 9 and the sons of Eliab were Nemuel, Dathan and Abiram. The same Dathan and Abiram were the community officials who rebelled against Moses and Aaron and were among Korah’s followers when they rebelled against the Lord. 10 The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them along with Korah, whose followers died when the fire devoured the 250 men. And they served as a warning sign. 11 The line of Korah, however, did not die out.

12 The descendants of Simeon by their clans were:

through Nemuel, the Nemuelite clan;

through Jamin, the Jaminite clan;

through Jakin, the Jakinite clan;

13 through Zerah, the Zerahite clan;

through Shaul, the Shaulite clan.

14 These were the clans of Simeon; those numbered were 22,200.

15 The descendants of Gad by their clans were:

through Zephon, the Zephonite clan;

through Haggi, the Haggite clan;

through Shuni, the Shunite clan;

16 through Ozni, the Oznite clan;

through Eri, the Erite clan;

17 through Arodi,[a] the Arodite clan;

through Areli, the Arelite clan.

18 These were the clans of Gad; those numbered were 40,500.

19 Er and Onan were sons of Judah, but they died in Canaan.

20 The descendants of Judah by their clans were:

through Shelah, the Shelanite clan;

through Perez, the Perezite clan;

through Zerah, the Zerahite clan.

21 The descendants of Perez were:

through Hezron, the Hezronite clan;

through Hamul, the Hamulite clan.

22 These were the clans of Judah; those numbered were 76,500.

23 The descendants of Issachar by their clans were:

through Tola, the Tolaite clan;

through Puah, the Puite[b] clan;

24 through Jashub, the Jashubite clan;

through Shimron, the Shimronite clan.

25 These were the clans of Issachar; those numbered were 64,300.

26 The descendants of Zebulun by their clans were:

through Sered, the Seredite clan;

through Elon, the Elonite clan;

through Jahleel, the Jahleelite clan.

27 These were the clans of Zebulun; those numbered were 60,500.

28 The descendants of Joseph by their clans through Manasseh and Ephraim were:

29 The descendants of Manasseh:

through Makir, the Makirite clan (Makir was the father of Gilead);

through Gilead, the Gileadite clan.

30 These were the descendants of Gilead:

through Iezer, the Iezerite clan;

through Helek, the Helekite clan;

31 through Asriel, the Asrielite clan;

through Shechem, the Shechemite clan;

32 through Shemida, the Shemidaite clan;

through Hepher, the Hepherite clan.

33 (Zelophehad son of Hepher had no sons; he had only daughters, whose names were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milkah and Tirzah.)

34 These were the clans of Manasseh; those numbered were 52,700.

35 These were the descendants of Ephraim by their clans:

through Shuthelah, the Shuthelahite clan;

through Beker, the Bekerite clan;

through Tahan, the Tahanite clan.

36 These were the descendants of Shuthelah:

through Eran, the Eranite clan.

37 These were the clans of Ephraim; those numbered were 32,500.

These were the descendants of Joseph by their clans.

38 The descendants of Benjamin by their clans were:

through Bela, the Belaite clan;

through Ashbel, the Ashbelite clan;

through Ahiram, the Ahiramite clan;

39 through Shupham,[c] the Shuphamite clan;

through Hupham, the Huphamite clan.

40 The descendants of Bela through Ard and Naaman were:

through Ard,[d] the Ardite clan;

through Naaman, the Naamite clan.

41 These were the clans of Benjamin; those numbered were 45,600.

42 These were the descendants of Dan by their clans:

through Shuham, the Shuhamite clan.

These were the clans of Dan: 43 All of them were Shuhamite clans; and those numbered were 64,400.

44 The descendants of Asher by their clans were:

through Imnah, the Imnite clan;

through Ishvi, the Ishvite clan;

through Beriah, the Beriite clan;

45 and through the descendants of Beriah:

through Heber, the Heberite clan;

through Malkiel, the Malkielite clan.

46 (Asher had a daughter named Serah.)

47 These were the clans of Asher; those numbered were 53,400.

48 The descendants of Naphtali by their clans were:

through Jahzeel, the Jahzeelite clan;

through Guni, the Gunite clan;

49 through Jezer, the Jezerite clan;

through Shillem, the Shillemite clan.

50 These were the clans of Naphtali; those numbered were 45,400.

51 The total number of the men of Israel was 601,730.

52 The Lord said to Moses, 53 “The land is to be allotted to them as an inheritance based on the number of names. 54 To a larger group give a larger inheritance, and to a smaller group a smaller one; each is to receive its inheritance according to the number of those listed. 55 Be sure that the land is distributed by lot. What each group inherits will be according to the names for its ancestral tribe. 56 Each inheritance is to be distributed by lot among the larger and smaller groups.”

57 These were the Levites who were counted by their clans:

through Gershon, the Gershonite clan;

through Kohath, the Kohathite clan;

through Merari, the Merarite clan.

58 These also were Levite clans:

the Libnite clan,

the Hebronite clan,

the Mahlite clan,

the Mushite clan,

the Korahite clan.

(Kohath was the forefather of Amram; 59 the name of Amram’s wife was Jochebed, a descendant of Levi, who was born to the Levites[e] in Egypt. To Amram she bore Aaron, Moses and their sister Miriam. 60 Aaron was the father of Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. 61 But Nadab and Abihu died when they made an offering before the Lord with unauthorized fire.)

62 All the male Levites a month old or more numbered 23,000. They were not counted along with the other Israelites because they received no inheritance among them.

63 These are the ones counted by Moses and Eleazar the priest when they counted the Israelites on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho. 64 Not one of them was among those counted by Moses and Aaron the priest when they counted the Israelites in the Desert of Sinai. 65 For the Lord had told those Israelites they would surely die in the wilderness, and not one of them was left except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.

As you will note here, this is a new census for a new generation. Thirty eight years had elapsed since the first census recorded in the Book of Numbers (Numbers 1:2-2:33). During the intervening time between the two censuses every Israelite man and woman, except for Caleb, Joshua, and Moses, had died. Yet, God’s laws and the spiritual character of the nation remained intact throughout all of this book we have walking through for these 26 chapters so far. Numbers records some great miracles of God. However, this quiet and powerful miracle (the miracle of keeping the people of Israel as His people and for them to generally follow God’s outline for an entire generation in the wilderness) is often overlooked by us as we read of and remember only the rebellions of His people. A whole nation moved from one land to another over a 38 year period and they remained intact as a nation without destroying themselves is a testament to the powerful miracles of God. A whole nation losing its entire population yet managing to maintain its spiritual direction is a miracle in and of itself.

Sometimes, we may feel as though God is not working dramatic miracles in our lives. However, God is working, working, working in the details of our lives to bring about His long-range purposes for us. Each step in our long journeys after the cross enters our lives may seem like nothing is happening. However, when you look back at your life and really examine it you can see God’s guiding hand. He is there working the details of our lives. Sometimes, sure there are these big things that God does in our lives that we can point to and say, Wow! However, God does not vacate us in the humdrum day to day existence that each of has. When we seek Him earnestly and with all our hearts, God will bless it, I promise. It might not be mighty miracles of obvious greatness at times but rather it is Him being with us every step of the way. He never leaves us and never deserts us. We may get impatient with God but He is God. He knows best. He knows that maybe the long stretch that you are in now is to teach you to trust Him with the outcome. He has you in this long stretch right now to prepare you for what’s next. Just as Israel was not ready for the promised land in the beginning of this book but has been through trials and testing that was necessary for this new generation to be truly ready to take the Promised Land and appreciate it. So, it is with us. We must trust that this long stretch that you maybe in and I know that I am in to prepare us, to get us ready for what’s next. Let us not short-circuit God’s plans with our impatience. Let God work his plan. Do what God has in front of you right now and do it with excellence and do it with a mind that is open to what God is teaching you that will be oh so valuable when He finally opens the door to your next step.

My senior pastor, Jeff Hickman, always says, “God is preparing us for what He has prepared for us!” It is a mantra that we should live by. Nothing is wasted in God’s economy. Even the mundane things that you are going through now are things that God will use for you in your next step in what He has in store for you.

Patience, grasshoppah!

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 25:1-18 (Part 2)
Moab Seduces Israel

One of my own faults that I am a conflict avoider. I will avoid conflict at all costs most of the time. I will take and take and take and someone really has to push me beyond all reason to get me to react. So much so that I am a conflict avoider, I will often accept things that make me angry without saying a word, bury it deep down inside, and smile and go on. There are times that things just really bother me or hurt me and I don’t say anything. I just accept it and go on. I have always been this way for as long as I can remember. Maybe, it is because of a basic insecurity in me that I feel like that my feelings are not really legitimate. Maybe, that insecurity makes me feel less than others and thus my feelings are not as important as those of others. Maybe, I am not a quick thinker (the reason I love to write is because of the fact that it allows me to ponder things at length) so I am not good at arguing my rights with others. When I get angry enough to have a confrontation with someone over treading roughshod over my personal rights and desires, I get overcome with the emotion and anger of the moment and do not think clearly enough to be quick with the comment or retort. That makes me shy to argue with others. I like to think of myself as a person with high intellect and insight but get me into a confrontational situation and I am like the kid with the dunce hat on in the corner. I always walk away from arguments and start thinking at length about what I should have said. I should have said this. I should have said that. Conflict then to me is a disgusting thing that I want to avoid at all costs. I am like Rodney King’s statement, “why can’t we all just get along?” I wish that I could change that about myself. To stand up for what I believe in and not to let people get the best of me. Even if it is just a difference of opinion that does not have major impact on a relationship, I would it about myself to be able to just say, “hey, man, you’re wrong!” instead of just standing there thinking that he’s wrong and just smiling and accepting it. I am getting angry at myself right now for being such a wimp because I know it’s true that I sublimate my feelings, desires, and opinions just to avoid conflict whether it’s a physical confrontation or whether it’s a simple difference of opinion. For example, I would love to be able to say to my boss, “hey, I think you are wrong and here’s why…” I would love to be able to tell others that I have a different opinion and the reasons for it rather than thinking in my head that this is not a hill to die on and keep quiet.

Sometimes, standing up for what we believe in is OK. I want that for myself. Sometimes, we need to be able to stand up against the tide of public opinion. Sometimes, we need to stand up to the tide of conflict and let it wash over us instead of turning and just going with the flow of the current. My own insecurities and willingness to keep quiet even when things bother me is contrasted by the reaction of Phinehas in this passage that we are looking for a second time today, Numbers 25:1-18. My thought was I want to be Phinehas when the chips are down and our actions matter. I don’t want to be that guy who just keeps quiet and says this is not a hill to die on:

25 While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, 2 who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods. 3 So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them.

4 The Lord said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the Lord’s fierce anger may turn away from Israel.”

5 So Moses said to Israel’s judges, “Each of you must put to death those of your people who have yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor.”

6 Then an Israelite man brought into the camp a Midianite woman right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel while they were weeping at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 7 When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand 8 and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear into both of them, right through the Israelite man and into the woman’s stomach. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped; 9 but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000.

10 The Lord said to Moses, 11 “Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites. Since he was as zealous for my honor among them as I am, I did not put an end to them in my zeal. 12 Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. 13 He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.”

14 The name of the Israelite who was killed with the Midianite woman was Zimri son of Salu, the leader of a Simeonite family. 15 And the name of the Midianite woman who was put to death was Kozbi daughter of Zur, a tribal chief of a Midianite family.

16 The Lord said to Moses, 17 “Treat the Midianites as enemies and kill them. 18 They treated you as enemies when they deceived you in the Peor incident involving their sister Kozbi, the daughter of a Midianite leader, the woman who was killed when the plague came as a result of that incident.”

When you read this passage, it is clear that Phinehas’ anger is proper and justified. Phinehas was angry because of his zeal for the Lord. So, when defending the honor, holiness, purity and righteousness of God, anger, righteous anger, is sometimes justified.

That raises the question though. How can we know when our anger is appropriate and when we should restrain it? That is the Final Jeopardy-like question for me personally. I think we must ask these questions when we get angry:

1. Why am I angry?
2. Whose rights are being violated here (mine or someone else’s)?
3. Is there an eternal, unchangeable truth of God being violated here?

If it is only our rights that are being violated, then reasonable discourse should be attempted to resolve the situation. But if a truth of God such as our value as human beings, such as violation of commands of God, the eternal truths of God, rights of others, and so on, anger can be justifiable to be expressed. There is a difference between righteous anger over violation of God’s eternal truth and anger over someone violating a preference that I have personally. If we are to become more and more like God each day through the Holy Spirit’s action in our souls, we are to become like Him when it comes to sin. God is wrathful towards sin. It should anger us too. Sometimes, it is OK to get angry (though angry expressed through violence is not often the answer as it was in Phinehas’ case). It is OK to get angry when anger calls us to action to defeat that which is a bastardization of God’s truth. It is OK to get angry when sins are perpetrated with impunity. It is OK to get angry when it calls you to action to change the world. Martin Luther King was angry over the violation of God’s principle that we are created in God’s image and should be treated as such. His righteous anger led him to change the world. His righteous anger led him to stand up for God’s eternal truth despite that it might (and did) cost him his life. I want to be able to stand up (in a constructive and usually nonviolent way) for God’s eternal truths as they apply to me personally and to others. I want to be that kind of person who is unafraid to stand up for what they know to be right regardless of the cost. I want to not value peace and quiet so much that I let things that are blatantly wrong and against God’s eternal truths just pass as OK. I want to be Phinehas and not have to think about whether I am right or wrong and be living in God’s will in such a way that I know that what I am doing is OK in God’s eyes. I don’t want to have to think about whether this is true or that is true. I just know it because of living in God’s will. I want to be in God’s truthful will so much that I have the discernment to detect bullcrap from a mile away. I want to be fully confident in God’s truth that it is simply a part of who I am and not question as to whether my opinion is valid or not. Give me Phinehas confidence, Lord!

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 25:1-18 (Part 1)

Moab Seduces Israel

It was 1991. Dunlop Slazenger Corporation, the golf and tennis company, my employer, had just moved into its brand new headquarters on Pleasantburg Drive in Greenville just the year before. The corporate headquarters was a bunch of twenty and thirty somethings. We were all a group of young bucks that enjoyed working together. We were made closer as we were all going through QIP (Quality Improvement Program) training once a week for a whole afternoon. There were two sets of classes. Those classes seemed to draw us all closer together. We were all learning to work collaboratively to solve problems in the company. Relationships began there. It seemed that everybody was having affairs within our organization. Up to that point in my life, I was the clean cut, altar boy type. Naïve as hell.

 

I had my reasons. My first wife had put me through my own living hell of her drug abuse. Two stints in rehab. She had her own affair during all that craziness that was her period of drug abuse that changed our marriage forever. There was this martyred hatred that I had for her for what she had put me through. After she had gotten clean though, she had transferred addictions in that she had transferred addictions to spending money. I never knew how much money we really had at any given time. Add to that, she was the only woman I had ever been with. I was angry and was looking for something to happen in a place that was ripe for it. A bunch of young folks at place where the senior management was not setting the example but participating in the whole who is having an affair with who mentality. I wanted some of the thrilling action. I did want to be left out. As well, I had been through hell in my marriage and I deserved it. Then, as part of the quality program classes, I met a woman that found me attractive, found me funny, who was living in a physically abusive relationship with her husband. And it happened. I began an affair with the woman who would become my second wife eventually. I felt so alive again. She was sane and inviting and warm and loving where my first wife was somebody that I had to clean up after, make exceptions for, was such a demanding person to be in a relationship with. I was young and grabbing for a life I had never experienced before. She was normal and she had desire, serious desire for me. It all was justified in my mind. I deserved this happiness and this passionate desire that I felt. With all the trouble that I had put up with in my first marriage, how could this affair be wrong. I deserved it. I deserved to be happy. I had been through so much with my first wife that I would go into great detail here, but even my church friends at my wife’s family church took great pity on me for the things I had been through with their niece, cousin, etc. It was the first justifiable adultery in the world as far as I was concerned. Torrid moments stolen away together, secret phone calls from pay phones (back in the day when we had pay phones), wishing and wanting to be together. Daydreams of a life together. Sneaking away for real life moments together. Voice mail messages. It was all very exciting, dangerous, and thrilling. I deserved it. I deserved to follow the desires of my heart. How could it be wrong? Right?

 

That was my life from 1991-1993, living the affair life. Living the double life. Justifying in my mind why it was right. I was in love, really in love, with another woman. Anybody who knew my first wife and my first marriage was not surprised when it all became known. I literally had been through hell and back with my first wife. I got my freedom from that through that affair. But I only thought those years of my first wife’s drug abuse was hell. From 1993-1996 to a major extent and throughout my second marriage (1995-2004), my first wife made my life away from her even worse that it was being with her. The second marriage, with the woman with whom I had the affair, had its own problems where I was so dependent on her that I made her my god and she saw my past life and anything to do with it as a threat to what she could have for herself and her kids. My kids were a threat. It was all a big fat mess. My first wife and her hatred for me and my second wife and the whole my kids vs. your kids issue with my second wife all played major roles in making me second marriage work its way toward its ugly end in 2004. Not to mention the financial pressures of alimony and child support. Those pressures and my willingness to do anything to keep my second wife happy led me to make some incredibly foolish decisions about money. Because of the pressures, jealousies, and my mistakes with money (justified in my mind as the right thing to do to keep my second wife, my god, happy) ended up being her justification for stepping out on our marriage. The old saying “if they will do it with you, they will do it to you”  was true in the second marriage.

 

I was an altar boy type at one time, always doing the right things. I was a preacher’s kid who lived a sheltered life of doing the right thing. Being a dependable sort. I was good egg. Never straying from the straight and narrow. By the end of my second marriage, I had slid so far down the moral scale that I was aghast at what my life had become. I was no longer an altar boy. I was a morally bankrupt man. I was so far beyond the line, the line was a dot in the rear view mirror. Sure, I could sit back and justify how the affair with the woman who became my second wife was OK. I could justify it because of the craziness of my first wife and her vindictive nature. I could justify how I was just trying to keep my goddess happy in my second marriage by ignoring my kids and making foolish mistakes with money as doing what it took to keep my marriage together. I could justify how I was the victim in all of it. But, bottom line, I played a role is the desert wasteland I found myself in 2004 after my second marriage ended. I could blame others but I had committed sins of all kinds that led me to the place I was then. My sins. My sins. Nobody else’s sins. My life was a result of my sins. It was only when I realized my role in my life and the decisions to follow sin’s siren call that my life became what it had become by 2004. Alone and thrown away. Sin’s slippery slope. Once you get on the slide, it’s hard to get off of it. Sin’s siren call will crash you into the rocky shore and leave you lost and alone when it’s done.

 

My own slide into sin’s snare is exactly what I thought of when I read today’s passage, Numbers 25:1-18, and how it seems so innocent and justifiable when listen to Satan’s call:

 

25 While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, 2 who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods. 3 So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them.

 

4 The Lord said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the Lord’s fierce anger may turn away from Israel.”

 

5 So Moses said to Israel’s judges, “Each of you must put to death those of your people who have yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor.”

 

6 Then an Israelite man brought into the camp a Midianite woman right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel while they were weeping at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 7 When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand 8 and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear into both of them, right through the Israelite man and into the woman’s stomach. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped; 9 but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000.

 

10 The Lord said to Moses, 11 “Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites. Since he was as zealous for my honor among them as I am, I did not put an end to them in my zeal. 12 Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. 13 He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.”

 

14 The name of the Israelite who was killed with the Midianite woman was Zimri son of Salu, the leader of a Simeonite family. 15 And the name of the Midianite woman who was put to death was Kozbi daughter of Zur, a tribal chief of a Midianite family.

 

16 The Lord said to Moses, 17 “Treat the Midianites as enemies and kill them. 18 They treated you as enemies when they deceived you in the Peor incident involving their sister Kozbi, the daughter of a Midianite leader, the woman who was killed when the plague came as a result of that incident.”

 

The passage doesn’t tell us how the Israelite men became involved in sexual immorality just that they did. We do know that sacred prostitution was a common practice of the pagan god worship of the ancient Middle East. At first, I bet, the Israelite men did not think about worshiping the idols of these women, they were just interested in sex. Before long, they started attending local feasts with their licentious sexual escapades, and idol worship. Soon they were in over their heads and absorbed into the practices of the idol worshiping culture. Their desire for sex and fun and pleasure was all justifiable to them I bet. It caused them to loosen their commitment to God and the ways that He had prescribed them to live. How often does our dabbling in sin seem OK at first? How many times do we, as we slide into immorality try to justify it as being OK? How many times does our dabbling become full blown participation and justification? How often does it become our ruin?

 

If you find yourself drawn to sexual immorality right now, end it. If you find your innocent flirtations beginning to go beyond the innocent stage and your thoughts are going to that place with that woman who is not your wife, flee! If you find yourself in an affair right now and you are justifying it in your mind as OK right now, stop it. No matter how you slice it, it is sin. Sure, you may have very valid reasons to your being in an affair right now. Maybe, your wife is a mean, vengeful, scorekeeping, vindictive, you are for me or you are against me type. Maybe even she has had an affair that you have forgiven. But, my friend, sin is sin. No sin is justifiable. When we stand before the pure and holy God, we will not be able to rationalize away our sin crimes as justifiable. Sin is sin. Sin destroys. I can stand here today and tell you that it is true. I have lived it. I am finally in a good marriage to a good woman and we together try to live our lives God’s way and in so doing, God has richly blessed us in more ways than we can count. My life is settled now and I know it and appreciate it. My sins, no matter how justified they were, caused a whirlwind of trouble in my life that I did not truly did begin recovering from until 2009. My slippery slope into sexual immorality that began in 1991 had it long ranging effects of an ever increasing spiral of the effects and reactions and other sins. I was a tempest sea my friends. I survived it only through God’s grace and forgiveness. It was only when I decided to start giving up each area of my life to God starting with my salvation in late 2001 and the painful process of letting go of my justifiable sins that I can stand on the shore today and say that I did not drown from it and it was only because of the grace of God and His nature of forgiveness.

 

I am no altar boy today. I am just a sinner in recovery. I am still a man who enjoys looking at a beautiful when she passes by. However, the difference now is I know that devastation was wrought in my life by choosing to follow the desires of the male mind. I do not want to live that way again. Those thoughts get taken captive quickly when the flashes of the pain that was my life living with results of sexual sin. No matter how you slice it. No matter how you justify. Sin is sin is sin is sin. If you find yourself there, run for the hills. Flee young man! Flee! God has a way out for you. When we stand before the throne of God, there will be no one around to blame our sins on. It will be just us and Him. Not to mention the fact that what seems so wonderful when sin’s siren call comes will destroy you. You sit there and say right now. It’s all right. My circumstances are different! No they are not. Sin is sin no matter what the justifications are. Flee! Run Forrest run! Get away. It will bring about your destruction my friend. Bank on it. Know it. Learn it. It will happen. Everytime. All the time. Without fail.

 

Lay down at the Father’s feet. Beg him to forgive you. And flee from the justifications of the rightness of your sins. Satan is a seductress who calls sailors to the shore only to crash them on the rocks. Flee from him. Do not listen. Steer your ship away from his rocky shores.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 23:27-24:35

Balaam’s Third and Fourth Messages

On November 9, 2016, it will be a Wednesday. It will be a Wednesday like any other to you and me where we have to get up to go to school or to work or to our daily chores in our home. Things will be the same yet completely different. It will be the day after the General Elections of our country, the day after we have elected our new President. What kind of world will that be? What I do know is that the sun will still rise. We will still get up and go to work. We will still have the same bills that we had the day before. And, most of all, God will still be God.

 

Isaiah 14:27 tells us this, “For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?” Job 42:2 tells us the same thing when it says, ““I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” It is clear to us from the Bible that God is not being caught off guard by this election in the United States. I cannot remember an election in my lifetime where the choice between candidates is like choosing which you want worse, rectal cancer or prostate cancer. We just thought Bush vs. Gore was the choice between the lesser of two evils. This is rectal cancer vs. prostate cancer. When I think of a vote for Trump, since I am a Republican, it actually makes me cringe in disgust as if I would be massaging his massive ego with my vote. I cringe at the thought of the freak show that will be his presidency. I cringe at the thought of Donald and Melania being the representatives of our country at a state dinner say for example with the Queen of England or someone like that. I cringe at the thought of what stupid crap we will find out about Trump during a Trump presidency. I just cannot fathom that he is the best that the Republican Party, my party, has to offer. I did not vote for him in the primaries, I was a Rubio man (who I still believe was the best candidate to run against the Democratic nominee). I know that Donald’s desire for the last big prize of his life is what is driving him more so than the desire to be a good President. He is foul-mouthed, arrogant, a bridge burner, who speaks first and thinks later, who does not seem able or willing to build consensus on anything, who is just now three weeks before the election revealing any semblance of his policy positions on anything. He has spent most of the past year and half telling everybody what was wrong with the other candidates and what is wrong with our country. I disgust at the thought of voting for this man. I truly do. Not because of what he said on a bus in 2005 but simply because the man lacks any semblance of moral fiberat all and would do an end around on you in a minute to get what he wants. Many of my Republican friends are trying to portray him as the all to end all for America. I just don’t see it.

 

Before my Republican friends get all up in arms about what I just said, let me say this. Then there’s Hillary. She is no better. Whitewater. Benghazi. Abortion. Expanded Federal government. Openly anti-Christian. Questionable financial dealings. She lied about the Irish peace process, her vote in favor of the Iraq war, her reason for illegally using a personal email server, that her family was dead broke when they left the White House, about landing under sniper fire in Bosnia, where Chelsea was on 9/11, who she was named after, Benghazi… and the list goes on.  Hillary Clinton was MIA when the 3am phone call came from Benghazi.  What difference does it make?  The life of four Americans – a huge difference.  The Russian Reset?  Russia invaded Ukraine on her watch.  Again.  And again.  And again.  Boko Haram?  Hillary Clinton’s State Department refused to call it a terrorist organization. Hillary Clinton accepted millions of Dollars from foreign governments.  While serving as Secretary of State, The Clinton Foundation (illegally) accepted boatloads of cash from countries that fund Hamas, harbor terrorists, suppress women, and regularly execute gays and lesbians while at the same time portraying herself as the champion of gay rights. She says she is a champion of women’s rights but yet repeatedly throughout her husband’s political career has crushed every woman who tried to come forward regarding her hubby’s sexual harassment, misogyny and overall perpetuation of “rape culture“. She referred to these victims as “trailer trash” and even went so far as to threaten one of the victims in person. She supports opening up our borders fully and completely to nations known to harbor terrorist groups intent our nation’s destruction without any significant vetting. She supports crushing religious liberty and guising it as equality for all. Her economic plans are straight out of a socialist agenda that will stifle anyone willing to take the risks of entrepreneurship and, God forbid, become rich while doing it. Under her watch, it is clear that our nation will drift the way of western Europe – toward stifling central government control and a socialistic state (how’s that working for you, Venezeula?). I cringe at the thought of her being President as much or more as I do a Trump presidency. Hillary is such an institutionalized liar that she as much as said in the last debate that it is OK to talk one way with one group and another way with another group to get what she wants. In essence, it’s OK to lie. Lord, I cringe at the thought of anyone voting for this candidate. I truly cringe at what our country will look like 4 years from now with her as president.

 

Trump or Hillary? Cringeworthy! For the last week I have flirted with the idea of voting for a lesser party candidate in protest. I have thought about voting for Darrell Castle, the Constitution Party candidate. This is the party of constitutional purism whose central beliefs are the Republican Party on steroids. Darrell is a US Marines veteran and seems to be a candidate that everyone could get behind if he were not running on an unknown party ticket. A vote for him would certainly validate my desire for our country to get back to the idea of the nation that our founding fathers crafted. However, he stands a snowball’s chance in hell of getting elected or even coming close to getting 1% of the popular vote in this country. Too bad. Thus, the election is really down to the Trump vs. Hillary choice.

 

The conclusion that I have had to come to as a Christian first and Republican second is to vote for what my party stands for in its platform and accept that Trump is the figurehead for that party. I know that a Trump presidency is going to be a train-wreck in a lot of ways. I know that he most likely will be a one-termer. He probably does not have the intestinal fortitude or desire to serve more than one-term. We have to look at Trump as the vehicle to get the nation back to its moral center, as the one to be the beginning of reclaiming our nation. If Trump is a one-termer, that creates room for the guy I think who would be a great Republican candidate and someone Christ followers could truly get behind – Marco Rubio in 2020.

 

Thus, this election is ultimately about our party regaining control of the White House at a crucial time. A time when our Supreme Court justices are all aging and there is one seat already open. As many as four additional justices could potentially open up through retirement or death in the next 4 to 8 years. As Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, said in his article, For A Time Such as This,

 

“the Supreme Court is the most powerful body of decision makers in our nation, and they serve life terms. Their beliefs matter. Many of the things they rule on are important to God—including issues like abortion, the definition of marriage, and religious freedoms. The next president of the United States will immediately appoint one Supreme Court justice and may appoint up to a total of five while in office. The justices who are appointed will impact the direction of our country for the next hundred years. I urge everyone to research who the candidates say they will nominate for the highest court in the land.”

 

It is also about which party comes closest to my beliefs as a Christian. Franklin, in his article, provides us with the positions of each party on our nation’s critical issues at https://billygraham.org/story/2016-party-platforms/. Review that and decide which party should have control of the White House. No bullying here just the facts. Which one aligns with what you believe as a Christian?

 

 

Having said all that. The reason I said all that is on November 9th, God will still be God. Nothing Trump or Hillary can do to change that. God often uses the worst folks to achieve His overarching goals. That was the very thought that I had when I read through today’s passage:

 

23:27 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Come, let me take you to another place. Perhaps it will please God to let you curse them for me from there.” 28 And Balak took Balaam to the top of Peor, overlooking the wasteland.

 

29 Balaam said, “Build me seven altars here, and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me.” 30 Balak did as Balaam had said, and offered a bull and a ram on each altar.

 

24:1  Now when Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, he did not resort to divination as at other times, but turned his face toward the wilderness. 2 When Balaam looked out and saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe, the Spirit of God came on him 3 and he spoke his message:

 

“The prophecy of Balaam son of Beor,

    the prophecy of one whose eye sees clearly,

4

the prophecy of one who hears the words of God,

    who sees a vision from the Almighty,[a]

    who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened:

 

5

“How beautiful are your tents, Jacob,

    your dwelling places, Israel!

 

6

“Like valleys they spread out,

    like gardens beside a river,

like aloes planted by the Lord,

    like cedars beside the waters.

7

Water will flow from their buckets;

    their seed will have abundant water.

 

“Their king will be greater than Agag;

    their kingdom will be exalted.

 

8

“God brought them out of Egypt;

    they have the strength of a wild ox.

They devour hostile nations

    and break their bones in pieces;

    with their arrows they pierce them.

9

Like a lion they crouch and lie down,

    like a lioness—who dares to rouse them?

 

“May those who bless you be blessed

    and those who curse you be cursed!”

 

10 Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam. He struck his hands together and said to him, “I summoned you to curse my enemies, but you have blessed them these three times. 11 Now leave at once and go home! I said I would reward you handsomely, but the Lord has kept you from being rewarded.”

 

12 Balaam answered Balak, “Did I not tell the messengers you sent me, 13 ‘Even if Balak gave me all the silver and gold in his palace, I could not do anything of my own accord, good or bad, to go beyond the command of the Lord—and I must say only what the Lord says’? 14 Now I am going back to my people, but come, let me warn you of what this people will do to your people in days to come.”

Balaam’s Fourth Message

 

15 Then he spoke his message:

 

“The prophecy of Balaam son of Beor,

    the prophecy of one whose eye sees clearly,

16

the prophecy of one who hears the words of God,

    who has knowledge from the Most High,

who sees a vision from the Almighty,

    who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened:

 

17

“I see him, but not now;

    I behold him, but not near.

A star will come out of Jacob;

    a scepter will rise out of Israel.

He will crush the foreheads of Moab,

    the skulls[b] of[c] all the people of Sheth.[d]

18

Edom will be conquered;

    Seir, his enemy, will be conquered,

    but Israel will grow strong.

19

A ruler will come out of Jacob

    and destroy the survivors of the city.”

Balaam’s Fifth Message

 

20 Then Balaam saw Amalek and spoke his message:

 

“Amalek was first among the nations,

    but their end will be utter destruction.”

Balaam’s Sixth Message

 

21 Then he saw the Kenites and spoke his message:

 

“Your dwelling place is secure,

    your nest is set in a rock;

22

yet you Kenites will be destroyed

    when Ashur takes you captive.”

Balaam’s Seventh Message

 

23 Then he spoke his message:

 

“Alas! Who can live when God does this?[e]

24

    Ships will come from the shores of Cyprus;

they will subdue Ashur and Eber,

    but they too will come to ruin.”

 

25 Then Balaam got up and returned home, and Balak went his own way.

 

It seems strange that God would use a sorcerer like Balaam to achieve His ends here. This passage teaches us that God can use anyone or anything to accomplish His plans. By using a sorcerer, God did not make sorcery acceptable. The Bible condemns it. Rather, it shows God’s ultimate authority over good AND evil. He used the Pharaoh in Egypt to demonstrate His power and might. Through hardening the heart of Pharaoh was able to demonstrate His mighty power over that which was the mightiest kingdom on earth at the time of the Exodus. Nebuchadnezzar, wittingly or unwittingly, is the “servant” used by God to discipline the disobedient Judah. God used the fact that the Roman Empire with its road systems and common language as the perfect time to send the Messiah and then saw the message of Jesus spread like wildfire through the Roman Empire because of the very fact that Rome was all about the commerce and made its empire easy to travel. Even things that seem on the surface as evil can be commanded by God to achieve his goals. The Romans thought they were killing a political threat but really they were aiding God in accomplishing His cosmic plan for salvation for all mankind through Christ’s crucifixion and subsequent resurrection.

 

On November 9th, the day after the election, God will still be in control. God will be working His plan. He will be working it whether Hillary is President or Donald is. God will still be God and there is nothing that either of them can do to change that. We are working our way inexoriably toward the day when Christ returns. It is all part of God’s plan. We accept that as Christ followers. However, just as Paul told the Thessalonians to get up off their butts and go on living instead of waiting for an imminent return of Christ, we must engage in the political process of our nation. We must be God’s agents in a world that has turned its back on Him. We must be active and engaged. The battle is hard at times but God never promised us that being a Christian was going to be easy – as a matter of fact Jesus said “when you suffer” not “if you suffer.” As we battle with evil forces in this world, we know that God is in control and He is our general and leads the way for us. We follow His banner.

 

Yes, we have crap for choices in this election. Yes, for discerning Republicans, Trump is distasteful. Yes, for discerning Christians, we know that Trump is a self-centered egotist who scorches the earth with every comment he makes. We know this. But for whatever God’s purpose is in this election, these are our choices. We must look at the platform of the party (it’s planned agenda for the next four years) that we frame how either Hillary or Donald act in office to see which one most closely aligns with God’s Word.

From that analysis, it is clear that the Republican platform is more closely aligned with biblical principles. It is clear then that we must vote in that direction. Trump is simply the ragamuffin embarrassing unbelieving brute that God has chosen to execute His plan. He is just a vehicle. He is not savior. He is not the all to end all. He is just a part of God’s plan at this moment in human history.

 

We must trust that God knows what He is doing and we can awake on November 9th with peace in our hearts and go about our business of living.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 23:13-26

Balaam’s Second Message

There was an old Jimmy Buffett song called, “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitude”, that was about the central character of the song’s need to get back to the laid back lifestyle of the Florida Keys rather than living the rat race of “normal” America in which the character found himself. It was one of his most popular songs as it struck a chord with Americans who all seem to desire not to live the mortgage payment, car payment, living off more than you make lifestyle that forces us to work for the man all of our lives. Even though it was released in the late summer 1977, it still gets airplay today and is a mainstay at every Jimmy Buffett concert even now, some 40 years later. Sometimes, we just want to chuck it all and find us a seaside bar somewhere in the Keys to buy and live a simple existence the rest of our days, forever in a Hawaiian shirt, cargo shorts, and flip flops. Most of us never achieve that dream because we are married to the lifestyle in which we live. Most of us live lives of quiet desperation hoping that someday, somewhere out there in the future, we will get to relax and take it easy. For most of us though, we have mortgaged our lives to the extent that we will not be able to enjoy what retirement years we may have left at the end of the journey.

 

At the same time, during the course of rat-race lives, we think that something different will make our lives better. We change jobs to see if it will make our life better. We usually change jobs to get a significant bump in our annual earnings. That will make us feel better! We will have more breathing room that way, right? What happens? We simply add more expense because we can afford it now. We then find that we have ourselves right back where we started and we are forced stay with that job or seek and even higher paying one because we have more stuff to pay for. We work and work and work all our lives and have a lot of stuff but many of us are not truly happy with the result. You wake up one day some thirty years into your career and you wonder, “what the heck am I doing?”

 

We live in a society now where we have changeable spouses. We marry and we think that this person is going to make us happy and complete. Then, when marriage gets hard and the passion goes away and life becomes about getting kids to soccer practice, dance recitals, and school events, it all becomes a boring logistical nightmare and we wake up one morning and say “what the heck am I doing?” We think a new relationship will make us happy again. We think a change in the wifely or husbandly scenery will make it all better. We then find that we have simply traded problems and added to them. Juggling children between homes, financial obligations and family obligations to our former spouses, and new problems with stepchildren vs. your own children. In our desire to get back to that “Florida Keys” kind of marriage, we have actually made our lives more complicated. And you wake up one day and say, “What the heck am I doing?”

 

We change churches when we get mad. When the preacher hits a nerve with a sermon. When we don’t get selected to be in a position of visibility. When our great idea gets short-shrifted. When the church changes preachers. When our kids outgrow the program that drew us to the church in the first place. When somebody offends us by what they have said. When the music too loud. When the auditorium is too cold. When we are not allowed to put up a home-made advertisement flyer in the worship center that does not match the professionalism of communication materials of the church. When…when…when. We all have our whens when it comes to leaving a church. People leave churches for these and many other reasons but the personal pride issues that led them to leave one church, funny, show up at the next church and they leave it too.

 

It is that attitude of changing the scenery to change our lives for the better, we think, is what struck me about the passage for today, Numbers 23:13-26:

 

13 Then Balak said to him, “Come with me to another place where you can see them; you will not see them all but only the outskirts of their camp. And from there, curse them for me.” 14 So he took him to the field of Zophim on the top of Pisgah, and there he built seven altars and offered a bull and a ram on each altar.

 

15 Balaam said to Balak, “Stay here beside your offering while I meet with him over there.”

 

16 The Lord met with Balaam and put a word in his mouth and said, “Go back to Balak and give him this word.”

 

17 So he went to him and found him standing beside his offering, with the Moabite officials. Balak asked him, “What did the Lord say?”

 

18 Then he spoke his message:

 

“Arise, Balak, and listen;

    hear me, son of Zippor.

19

God is not human, that he should lie,

    not a human being, that he should change his mind.

Does he speak and then not act?

    Does he promise and not fulfill?

20

I have received a command to bless;

    he has blessed, and I cannot change it.

 

21

“No misfortune is seen in Jacob,

    no misery observed[a] in Israel.

The Lord their God is with them;

    the shout of the King is among them.

22

God brought them out of Egypt;

    they have the strength of a wild ox.

23

There is no divination against[b] Jacob,

    no evil omens against[c] Israel.

It will now be said of Jacob

    and of Israel, ‘See what God has done!’

24

The people rise like a lioness;

    they rouse themselves like a lion

that does not rest till it devours its prey

    and drinks the blood of its victims.”

 

25 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Neither curse them at all nor bless them at all!”

 

26 Balaam answered, “Did I not tell you I must do whatever the Lord says?”

 

Balak took Balaam to another place to try to entice him to curse the Israelites. He thought a change of scenery might help change Balaam’s mind. Change locations didn’t change God’s will in this situation though. Balak needed to face the facts of his life and changing the scenery was not going to change his reality. God still was not going to change His mind and curse the Israelites regardless of where Balak took Balaam.

 

Likewise, we must learn to face the source of our problems. Moving to escape problems only makes solving the problem more difficult. Changing the scenery without solving the root causes of problems will just make them reoccur with a different backdrop on the stage. Problems rooted in our souls will not be solved by a change of scenery. We are still the same, only the address, the spouse, the job, the church is different.

 

Let us examine ourselves for the things we need to change about ourselves to achieve a different result in life. The definition of insanity, as the old saying goes, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. If we are looking for things to make us happy, we will be constantly buying the next greatest thing and still be left wanting. We may be happy for a while with the newness but that wears off and we are unhappy again. If we think our spouse is going to fulfill us, a person is going to fulfill us, then we will be disappointed. Humans are flawed. They cannot be our gods and no matter how young and beautiful your new wife or husband may be, they will disappoint you. Changing spouses will not change that fact. The next new job will bring more money but more money will bring more expenses because we think we have arrived and deserve the more expensive house, car, toys. The next church, Four Points, the newest NewSpring campus, The Well, Springwell, and, crazily, back to LifeSong, and to leave again is going to make us happy. This new church is so much better than our old church until…and then we are on to the next.

 

Let us remember that seeking after God and His will for our lives is the only answer that will give us happiness. Sometimes, God’s will for us is to learn hard lessons so that we will grow in humility and be more open to His will for our lives. Sometimes, we must stop and face the music and take on the hard lessons of life so that we will be chiseled into the person that God intends us to be. Don’t let pride and unwillingness to see our own faults prevent us from becoming moldable and usable by God. It is often that in our darkest hours where we learn about our failures and pride and arrogance that we become ready to follow God’s will for our lives. Don’t be too prideful to learn those lessons.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 23:1-12

Balaam Blesses Israel

 

There is a song that many Christians know by heart by Chris Tomlin and the chorus of that song goes like this:

 

And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us.

And if our God is with us, then what could stand against.

And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us.

And if our God is with us, then what could stand against.

What could stand against.

 

The song points out that we, who are God’s children, can rest assured in God’s strength and mighty power that we will be secure. He will take care of us. We will have victory. My senior pastor spoke to us this past Sunday about “living in the resurrection.” His point was that Jesus’ resurrection should give us boldness and not timidity. Through the resurrection, we know that we have victory over sin and death and that we are going to live forever with Jesus Christ in eternity. We know that even though our life may come to a brutal end here on earth that on the other side of that is eternity with Christ. That should embolden us. That should give us a freedom to follow Christ no matter the cost.

 

Most of us live lives of timidity. We make excuses for why we cannot live boldly for Jesus. We are afraid of being singled out and ridiculed. We are afraid being ostracized. We are afraid of being killed. We are afraid of giving up the trappings of an easy lifestyle and it prevents us from doing what God has called us to do. When you think of American churches today, we like going to church on Sunday, hanging out with friends, having small group one night during the week, participating in an occasional church event, giving what we can squeeze in among our other obligations related to our oversized houses, cars, toys, and vacations, and that works for us. We are satisfied with that. We rationalize away how others are the ones who can live boldly for Christ. Why can’t we live like God is for us and God is with us and in the resurrection (the ultimate boo-yah to the world – Jesus arose from the grave and had the ultimate victory over his accusers and foes). If we lived like we had God on our side and in the resurrection and really, really, really believed that, man, going off to follow God’s calling would not be a second-guessing thing. We would do it automatically.

 

When I think of my Christian friends in the Middle East, some of whom are suffering atrocities at the hands of ISIS, or simply living lives in the fringes of society in non-ISIS controlled areas of Muslim nations, I think of boldness. Particularly Christians living in ISIS controlled areas are in harm’s way each and every day. They put their lives on the line for their faith everyday. Some are tortured in ways that harken back to the days of the ancient Middle East that are truly barbaric. However, these Christians refuse to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ. They are tortured, maimed, burned alive, crucified, beheaded. They live boldly in their faith. They are emboldened by the resurrection. Their deaths are spreading the gospel in ways that missionaries cannot do. They fully believe in the resurrection and live it our everyday knowing that it might be their last. The know that through the evidence of the resurrection that they too will live forever. They know that this life is temporary. They know that it is the eternal life that matters. They know that no matter what you do to me in this life I have eternal life with Jesus to look forward to.

 

Many of us live life so as to preserve what we have in this life. We live lives of timidity and fear. We live lives that act as if this is all there is. We do not fully comprehend the resurrection and what it means. We do not fully trust the eternity that Jesus’ resurrection proves to us. We do not live in the resurrection. We live lives of quiet desperation and compromise. If we lived in the resurrection, knowing and trusting full well in God’s protection and trusting the eternal life in Christ, man, how that would change our perspective. The quiet Christians of America would awake and risk it all for Christ. We need to trust God’s provision because He is for us and what could come against!

 

That idea of living in the assurance of God’s protection in this life and trusting the resurrected life that we have in Christ is what I thought of this morning when I read Numbers 23:1-12:

 

23 Balaam said, “Build me seven altars here, and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me.” 2 Balak did as Balaam said, and the two of them offered a bull and a ram on each altar.

 

3 Then Balaam said to Balak, “Stay here beside your offering while I go aside. Perhaps the Lord will come to meet with me. Whatever he reveals to me I will tell you.” Then he went off to a barren height.

 

4 God met with him, and Balaam said, “I have prepared seven altars, and on each altar I have offered a bull and a ram.”

 

5 The Lord put a word in Balaam’s mouth and said, “Go back to Balak and give him this word.”

 

6 So he went back to him and found him standing beside his offering, with all the Moabite officials. 7 Then Balaam spoke his message:

 

“Balak brought me from Aram,

    the king of Moab from the eastern mountains.

‘Come,’ he said, ‘curse Jacob for me;

    come, denounce Israel.’

8

How can I curse

    those whom God has not cursed?

How can I denounce

    those whom the Lord has not denounced?

9

From the rocky peaks I see them,

    from the heights I view them.

I see a people who live apart

    and do not consider themselves one of the nations.

10

Who can count the dust of Jacob

    or number even a fourth of Israel?

Let me die the death of the righteous,

    and may my final end be like theirs!”

 

11 Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my enemies, but you have done nothing but bless them!”

 

12 He answered, “Must I not speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?”

 

My acquaintance from college, where we both attended and graduated from Furman University, Ligon Duncan is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS and he says in his sermon on this passage, the following:

 

“But what’s God teaching in this story? He’s saying, ‘No one can lay a hand on you! No one can lay a hand on you. You are unassailably secure, under the sheltering umbrella of My blessing.’ And my friends, we’re no different than the children of Israel. God has made the same promise to His people under the blessings of the new covenant, and more. And yet we don’t feel secure so much of the time. We don’t live as if we’re secure so much of the time. And so this message is not just a message for the children of Israel in the wilderness, that they would trust the unassailable security that has been vouchsafed to them by the Almighty sovereign God, it’s for us! No matter what the circumstance we’re in at this point or at any point in our lives, if we are resting and trusting in Christ alone for salvation as He is offered in the gospel, if we are His blood-bought forgiven and adopted children, there is no one and no thing that can lay one finger on a hair of our heads apart from the will of our heavenly Father, because we are secure in His hand. That’s the first thing we learn in this passage, the unassailable security of the people of God.”

 

Balaam’s speech tells us that God’s protection is over Israel. They are His chosen ones. They are a unique people who are set apart to be difference makers in the world. They are set apart to point people to God. They will be protected. We are the new Israel. We are the chosen ones through Christ. We must live in the security of the almighty God. We are his kids. We have the Almighty on our side. Why do we live like He is not the almighty God? We have proof that there is more than just this life through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have proof that God is who He says He is. He raised Jesus from the dead! He will raise His children from the dead to live with Him in eternity. How bold is that? Let us live with a kind of recklessness that Christianity had in the beginning. They did not care if they lost their lives in this life because they knew they had resurrection in Christ. They lived boldly to spread the gospel at all costs. They lived with reckless abandon for Christ. They lived boldly and without regret. We have the same example from our Christian brothers and sisters in ISIS controlled territory in the Middle East.

 

When are we going to trust God’s protection and provision? When are we going to trust the resurrection as a truth and a reality? When are we going to live in the resurrection? When are we going to live with reckless abandon for Christ and not just lives lived in the comfort zone of what’s easy for this life?

 

Let us be bold! Let us be dedicated to sharing the gospel no matter the cost to us! Let us break free of formality and the hum-drum of what is expected and what is safe! Let us boldly go into the breach armed with nothing but our faith in God and our belief in the resurrection. Provision. Protection. Eternal Victory. Let’s be bold for Christ!

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 22:21-41 (Part 3 of 3)

Balaam and His Donkey

The blame game. We see it play out all the time. It was my parent’s fault that I am the way that I am. It was the fact that I grew up in poverty. It was that I had parents who spoiled me too much. It was that I had parents who spoiled me too little. It’s because I am black. It’s because I grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. It’s because I did not go to the right schools. You made me do it. I know what I did was wrong but it is not anywhere near as bad as you. You did this so it forced me to do that. Accepting responsibility for our actions is not something that we see too often these days.

 

When my first marriage was headed for its excruciating conclusion between 1987 and 1993, there was drug abuse on the part of my wife which landed her in much legal trouble that I had to get her out of on more than one occasion. There was the constant passing out while taking care of our oldest child. There were the hidden drugs. There was a first visit to a rehab facility where she started an affair and continued it after discharge. There was the break-up for six weeks. There was me being a single parent for the most part. There was the recovery from addiction. There was the transfer of addiction to spending money that we did not have. There was me just tired of all the drama. There was me so angry for the way mire life had turned out by 1991, eleven years into the marriage, that I met a woman who was normal and sane and sexy. I fell for her hard and began an on again off again two year affair that caused my first wife to go off the deep end become a violent, even more spiteful woman. It was so violent and poisonous that my first wife and I split up for good in the Spring of 1993 (our divorce was final in July 1994). Of course, I moved directly into a relationship with the woman I had the affair with and she became my second wife in April 1995. All during this time between 1993-1995, my first wife made it easy for me to justify why I had the affair. She was freaking crazy. My first wife would stalk me. She would come to my office and act insane. She would constantly leave me these voice mails that would make Freddy Krueger cringe. My life was a living hell for several years after the breakup of my first marriage. She accused me of molesting my own child and got DSS involved in our lives for three years.  I could always justify my new path in life with my second wife by my first wife’s actions. She made it easy to blame her for what was going on in my life. Sure, there were actual reasons that any sane person could see that it was best for me to be away from my first wife as she let the pain of our breakup become the central focus of her life as she descended into the insane hatred for me that was the baseline of her life from our breakup in 1993 until her death from a stroke at age 55 in 2015. It was sad to hear of her descent into isolated, reclusiveness enabled by her second husband who was just as reclusive as her (he passed away about one month ago himself). It was a sad end to two bright people who shoved the world away to live in their own little isolated cocoon.

 

For many years after the breakup of my first marriage, I blamed my first wife for all the insanity that became our post-marriage life. She had it in for me and it seemed to be her life’s mission to destroy, denigrate, and punish me. Her hatred for me became her life’s purpose. It destroyed her life and ruined relationships for her and pushed her own kids away as they grew up and out from under her control. It was easy to blame her for the problems of my life after my break up with her. I could justify my adultery on hers. I could blame my adultery on her controlling nature. I could justify the divorce because of her insane actions. I could blame not having any money because of alimony and child support on her. I could and by the world’s standards be totally justified in having walked away from her. I could justify the divorce by the fact, quite literally, that she might have killed me if we had not split up for good in 1993. It was that contentious between 1991-1993. I literally slept with one eye open during those final two years of our marriage.

 

However, post-salvation, I look back at those days in the early 90s with a sense of awe and appreciation to the Lord for watching over me and allowing me to, literally, stay alive and live through it. At the same time, I realize that even though my first wife had her own affair, she had abused drugs, spent money like it grew on trees, and made my life a living hell at times, my response was not godly and was part of the blame for the situation. There were so many things that I could have done differently. I could have not married her to begin with back when I was 18 years old. I knew that it was a volatile relationship even when we dating. There were warning signs. I could have tried harder to convince her that our marriage was not meeting my needs and that I was desperately angry at her for it. I could have tried harder to get us marital counseling. Also, when the marriage was beyond repair, I could have simply ended the relationship and lived alone until our divorce was final and only then began any new relationships. My salvation made me realize that I could have done things differently and that I needed to accept responsibility for the role that I played in the breakup of my first marriage.

 

Sure, part of the reason that marriages breakup is often because we do not let God choose our mate for us. Sure, part of the reason that marriages breakup is often because we do not put God at the center of our marriages. Sure, that if you ask any of my friends that have known me since my teens or twenties, they will tell you that the end of my first marriage was an ugly thing and that I was justified in getting out of it. I see the facts of all that. God was never the center of our marriage and it played a role in its demise. However, I must look back and say that it was not all wasted time. I learned things about marriage from my first marriage. I gained two beautiful daughters that are Meghan and Taylor. They are the two unique lives that are part of God’s design that came out of that marriage. If I had not married their mother, I would not have had Meghan and Taylor. Possibly if I had my first marriage with someone else, my life may have been on a different trajectory and with a whole lot more to show for it by my age now and I would have had children by whomever that woman might have been. However, I would not have had those unique individuals, my girls, Meghan and Taylor. Thus, post-salvation, I chose to see that as the good that came from that marriage, and choose to realize that I, myself, played a role in the demise of that marriage. I am a conflict avoider and that was why that marriage started in the first place. I accepted her affair and drug abuse and all of that because I am conflict avoider. I had an affair instead of ending the marriage because I am conflict avoider. I ended the marriage instead of trying to save it because I am a conflict avoider. Sure, my first wife made it all easy to justify with her descent into insanity. She blamed her post-marriage conditions on me. We both played the blame game. After salvation, I stopped. She continued. I realized that we all participate in the problems in our lives in some way. It is rare that we can blame the problems of our lives completely and fully on others (that is not to say that there are not cases where 100% of blame can be focused on another person where we did not cause what happened such as say like 09/11, rape, random murders, etc.). However, the vast majority of problems in our lives, we, ourselves, have played a role in them. It is often pride that blinds us to our own participation in the demise of relationships, or in our conditions in which we find ourselves.

 

Not only is it true in my first marriage, but I have two dear friends right now whose marriage is deteriorating its slow and painful march toward divorce because of the blame game. Each refusing to see their own sins and blaming the other for the problems of their marriage. Each blinded to their own contributions to the downfall of their marriage. We are all Balaam at times.

 

We see the same mentality in Balaam as we read through Numbers 22:21-40 this morning for the final of the three times that we have visited this passage:

 

21 Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the Moabite officials. 22 But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him. Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. 23 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, it turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat it to get it back on the road.

 

24 Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path through the vineyards, with walls on both sides. 25 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot against it. So he beat the donkey again.

 

26 Then the angel of the Lord moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. 27 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat it with his staff. 28 Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?”

 

29 Balaam answered the donkey, “You have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.”

 

30 The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”

 

“No,” he said.

 

31 Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown.

 

32 The angel of the Lord asked him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me.[a] 33 The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared it.”

 

34 Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned. I did not realize you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now if you are displeased, I will go back.”

 

35 The angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.” So Balaam went with Balak’s officials.

 

36 When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him at the Moabite town on the Arnon border, at the edge of his territory. 37 Balak said to Balaam, “Did I not send you an urgent summons? Why didn’t you come to me? Am I really not able to reward you?”

 

38 “Well, I have come to you now,” Balaam replied. “But I can’t say whatever I please. I must speak only what God puts in my mouth.”

 

39 Then Balaam went with Balak to Kiriath Huzoth. 40 Balak sacrificed cattle and sheep, and gave some to Balaam and the officials who were with him. 41 The next morning Balak took Balaam up to Bamoth Baal, and from there he could see the outskirts of the Israelite camp.

 

Here, we see Balaam being so blinded by his own pride that he beats his trusted donkey instead of seeing his own pride. The donkey saved Balaam’s life but made him look foolish in the process. Balaam lashed out at the donkey but could not see how his own actions made him end up off the road in a field. Lashing out at others allows us to avoid examining our own contributions to our lives going off course. We are all Balaam at times. We beat the donkey instead of looking at ourselves. We blame others for not getting it instead of examining why people have reacted to us the way they have.

 

There was once a song by Michael Jackson called “The Man in the Mirror” in which the lyrics tell us that we must first examine ourselves and make a change. It is so much easier to blame others for our problems than it is to examine ourselves for the contributions that we have made to our lives getting off course. It is easier to play the blame game rather than taking responsibility for our own actions. No change has to occur when we can blame other people. Let us be a people who can look in the mirror and humbly see where we played a role in our own demise. Let us look to God for guidance in changing those distasteful things about ourselves that are the impediments to our growth in Jesus Christ. Let us be willing to take a long hard look at ourselves and make a change. Let us look up instead of horizontally and blaming others. Let us seek God’s guidance in every decision we make – from the wives and husbands we choose, to the marriages that we get into, the relationships that we have with others, to our jobs, to our choices we make each day. Let’s follow God’s guidance. Let’s quit playing the horizontal blame game and start looking upward to God.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 22:21-41 (Part 2 of 3)

Balaam and His Donkey

Yesterday, we talked about how God sometimes puts roadblocks in our way to prevent us from doing something that will derail our growth in our relationship with him. What if, then, we ignore those roadblocks and push headlong into our desired courses of action? Have you ever been so stubborn about something that you push ahead even though what you are doing is wrong and could hurt other people?

 

We see it all the time in this fallen world. Our pride and our desire to do what makes us feel good often trumps good reason. Funny that I should use such a verb at this time. We as the Republican party are riding Balaam’s donkey as we speak. First, let me preface what I am about to say is that I am normally a staunch Republican who believes that the constitution should be interpreted strictly by our courts, that our courts should limit themselves to what it says, and I believe in limited government, low taxes, a free market economy with limited regulation, and the sanctity of human life from the point of conception, and so on. However, we as Republicans, in this election, are pushing on through with our desire not to have Hillary Clinton as President that we will accept anything to accomplish that goal. As a Marco Rubio supporter, I have felt like that person who is in a dream who sees a bad thing about to happen to themselves or others but the words won’t come out. Nobody is listening. We are pushing headlong into the election with Trump as the nominee of our party and we close our eyes to who this man really is because we are so afraid of a Hillary Clinton presidency.

 

I had an old friend from high school berate me on Facebook the other night for publicly stating that I cannot in good conscience vote for either major party candidate in this presidential election. Her whole point of her argument was that a vote for anyone other than Trump was a vote for Hillary. Nowhere in that post did she say that Trump was a good man, that he was for the times, that his policy proposals are superior to hers. The only thing that was remotely about the issues that she feared the judge that Hillary will appoint to the Supreme Court. Don’t get me wrong, Hillary Clinton is so supremely liberal and supports big government in ways that I cannot tolerate much less the fact that truth to her is a relative term that corresponds to what is most advantageous to her at the moment. However, the Republican nominee, my nominee, is a joke. He is great a real estate developer who takes advantage of tax loopholes to develop his empire, declares bankruptcy when the tax code that props up his empire changes, or he has spent other peoples money too lavishly, lives a lifestyle of a rock star with no moral compass only the desire to fulfill his desires, who trades out the women in his life when they start looking less than like a model (watch out Melania), whose actions and words are like that of a thirteen year old boy demanding his own way, who will apparently not ever listen to his advisors, whose knee-jerk comments are similar to those of an uneducated redneck, who actions throughout his life are of a man who is completely amoral and has no repentance at all for the sins that he has committed in his life. He has an ego the size of the island he lives on and this whole presidential run is about conquering that one last thing not about what he is capable of doing as a president. Can you realistically see him as a President? Is this what we want representing our country? It is the equivalent of having Jethro as President and Ellie May as the First Lady, two people who are vapid and not ready for the stage on which they play.

 

My friend from high school is so blind to who Trump is that she is willing to accept who Trump is just to keep Hillary out of office. So many of us out there are voting on that basis. We don’t give a R’s A about what kind of man Trump is (and that fact that he will have his hands on the nuclear arsenal) just so long as our President is not Hillary Clinton. It is a sad state of affairs in which we find ourselves when we have to tell people that a vote for anyone other than Trump is a vote for Hillary. Is that our message now as Republicans? Have we made a deal with the devil just to keep Hillary out of office? What happened to the policies of Reagan? His campaign was all about how, exactly how, he was going to change the economy and the tenor of our nation. What we have to offer the public now, as Republicans, is that Donald Trump is NOT Hillary Clinton. That is vision? That is our future? But we push headlong into the breach with that as our battle cry. We know that Donald Trump is an arrogant, immoral, unrepentant, stubborn, foulmouthed, hotheaded man who has lived in his cult of celebrity so long that he thinks he can get away with anything who simply wants the prize and not the job of President. We push headlong into the breach with this Napoleon knowing full well that he is a disaster waiting to happen because he is NOT Hillary. We deserve what we get in November. We really do. We had the opportunity to nominate a good man and a man with a Kennedy-esque flair and vision in Marco Rubio but we fell in love with the brash bully of a celebrity with no policy positions on anything other than to tear down his opponents. We saw this train wreck happening but we could not stop it. Rubio was the only one that would try to force Trump to state a position on something, anything, but all we got were barbs and rude remarks. But he’s NOT Hillary and off into the breach we go with Napoleon!

 

We see the same mentality in Balaam as we read through Numbers 22:21-40 this morning for the second of three times that we will visit this passage:

 

21 Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the Moabite officials. 22 But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him. Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. 23 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, it turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat it to get it back on the road.

 

24 Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path through the vineyards, with walls on both sides. 25 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot against it. So he beat the donkey again.

 

26 Then the angel of the Lord moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. 27 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat it with his staff. 28 Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?”

 

29 Balaam answered the donkey, “You have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.”

 

30 The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”

 

“No,” he said.

 

31 Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown.

 

32 The angel of the Lord asked him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me.[a] 33 The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared it.”

 

34 Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned. I did not realize you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now if you are displeased, I will go back.”

 

35 The angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.” So Balaam went with Balak’s officials.

 

36 When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him at the Moabite town on the Arnon border, at the edge of his territory. 37 Balak said to Balaam, “Did I not send you an urgent summons? Why didn’t you come to me? Am I really not able to reward you?”

 

38 “Well, I have come to you now,” Balaam replied. “But I can’t say whatever I please. I must speak only what God puts in my mouth.”

 

39 Then Balaam went with Balak to Kiriath Huzoth. 40 Balak sacrificed cattle and sheep, and gave some to Balaam and the officials who were with him. 41 The next morning Balak took Balaam up to Bamoth Baal, and from there he could see the outskirts of the Israelite camp.

 

Here, we see Balaam being so blinded by his own desires, the money and the power that would come with it, that he could not see God in action trying to stop him from making a foolish mistake. Just as the continuing revelations about Donald Trump and his moral character that keep piling up as warnings from God, in my mind, that he is not a man to be trusted in the White House, so were these events in Balaam’s life. He kept pushing headlong into the breach. He kept going with what he knew to be against God’s wishes. He was blinded by the fact that he wanted to fame and fortune rather than understanding that God did not want him to do what he desired.

 

Are you facing a choice in your life where God is giving you signals in the form of roadblocks that you should not do it? Think about it. All the warning signs are there. All the indications that the choice you are about to make is wrong but you want it so bad. That woman that you are flirting with is a beautiful young thing but she is not your wife and you know it’s wrong but your desire outweighs your reason. That man that you think is everything that your husband is not and to boot, he is soooo hot! You know it’s wrong but your passion is greater than your reason. Screwing over your co-worker to get a promotion is wrong but you do it anyway because your greed is greater than your compassion. Taking something that doesn’t belong to you, you know is wrong, but no one is looking and your desire reasons out that it is OK just for that reason. We all have warning signs from the Holy Spirit that what we are about to do is against God’s design for our lives but we push headlong into them because we reason away the truth of God’s law. We reason away that it will destroy our lives. We reason away reason just to get what we want. Let us be a people that are sensitive to God’s roadblocks into our lives when we venture close to making decisions that are against his will. Let us stop and take stock when God puts roadblocks in our way to our executing our sins. Think it through. Stop. Turn away from that which is destructive for you. Heed the warning signs from God.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 22:21-41 (Part 1 of 3)

Balaam and His Donkey

Have you ever had one of those days where everything seems frustrating? Everything, even the simplest thing, seems to be struggle. It starts with a button popping off your shirt after you get fully dressed or you find a stain on a shirt that didn’t fully come out in the wash and you don’t recognize it until you are fully dressed and look in the mirror. Next, you can’t find your keys. You left the interior light on in your car all night and didn’t realize it until you go start your car the next morning…and it doesn’t. At work, your computer starts acting up first thing. All the simple tasks of the day seem to take longer than they should. Your frustration builds. I hate that when it happens to me. Everybody has one of those days, right?

 

There are also stories that you hear of people that missed a car ride or missed their airplane flight who were frustrated or mad at themselves for the delays that happened to cause them to miss the opportunity only to find out later that the plane that they were supposed to be on or the car they supposed to be in was involved in a crash. Sometimes, too, we are not involved in such dire life and death situations but rather it is about moral choices. What if you were supposed to do something that Satan had convinced you was OK to do but that you knew was morally wrong but there were things that happened to prevent you from acting on those impulses. There were roadblocks put in your way that prevented it. Maybe, you were planning an afternoon where you were going to cheat on your spouse and suddenly there was an urgent meeting at work that required your attendance. Maybe, you are a teenager and were supposed to go to this party that ended up being out of control where someone got hurt, raped or killed but your parents unknowing that this would happen but, because you had not done your chores forced you to miss the party. You hear about such things all the time where people are prevented from doing things by circumstances in their lives that later prove to have saved them from being involved in poor moral choices of their own or by others.

 

Sometimes, though, it is that voice in our head rather than circumstances that tell us not to do something. We call it conscience, the voice of reason, or better judgment. You think about doing something immoral, irrational, or illegal and that voice in your head tells you not to do it so you think better of it and pass on it. Sometimes, we ignore the voice and push headlong into doing what we want to do and the thing we feared to happen actually does happen and we pay dearly for it in shame, embarrassment, loss of job, loss of marriage, or even with our very lives or the lives of others.

 

It was this idea of God’s providential involvement in our lives that sometimes we refuse to see that I thought of when I read through this passage on Sunday morning. I struggle with this thought so much Sunday morning that I did not write and publish my daily blog yesterday. Some might call it writer’s block but I just wasn’t sure what to do with this idea of God placing roadblocks in our lives that came to mind. It required more thought that I had time for between getting up and going out the door on a Sunday morning. Is God that involved in our lives that He might put roadblocks in our lives to prevent some choice that we have in mind that would derail our witness, or even prevent us from accessing the life that He has intended for us, or even kill us. That is a pretty involved God if that is true. So, I wrestle with that thought in the back of my mind all day yesterday as I went through a whole day of activities at church and in my personal life that had us gone from home from 8:00am yesterday all the way until 5:30pm.

 

So, let’s tackle the issue this morning as we read through Numbers 22:21-40 this morning for the first of three times that we will visit this passage:

 

21 Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the Moabite officials. 22 But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him. Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. 23 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, it turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat it to get it back on the road.

 

24 Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path through the vineyards, with walls on both sides. 25 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot against it. So he beat the donkey again.

 

26 Then the angel of the Lord moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. 27 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat it with his staff. 28 Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?”

 

29 Balaam answered the donkey, “You have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.”

 

30 The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”

 

“No,” he said.

 

31 Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown.

 

32 The angel of the Lord asked him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me.[a] 33 The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared it.”

 

34 Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned. I did not realize you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now if you are displeased, I will go back.”

 

35 The angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.” So Balaam went with Balak’s officials.

 

36 When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him at the Moabite town on the Arnon border, at the edge of his territory. 37 Balak said to Balaam, “Did I not send you an urgent summons? Why didn’t you come to me? Am I really not able to reward you?”

 

38 “Well, I have come to you now,” Balaam replied. “But I can’t say whatever I please. I must speak only what God puts in my mouth.”

 

39 Then Balaam went with Balak to Kiriath Huzoth. 40 Balak sacrificed cattle and sheep, and gave some to Balaam and the officials who were with him. 41 The next morning Balak took Balaam up to Bamoth Baal, and from there he could see the outskirts of the Israelite camp.

 

God let Balaam go with Balak’s messengers, but God was angry about Balaam’s greedy attitude. Balaam claimed he would not go against God just for money, but his resolve was beginning to slip. His greed for wealth offered by the king blinded him to the fact that God was trying to see how God was trying to stop him. Though we may know what God wants us to do, we can become blinded by the desires our sin stained hearts that we cannot see God trying to stop us.

 

That idea of God trying to prevent us from doing stupid things, illegal things, immoral things, and things that are against His will was juxtaposed in my mind against how sometimes bad things happen to good people. That is a struggle to understand. There is the concept of living in a fallen world where we sometimes pay for the mistakes of others in the ever-expanding ripple effects of sin in our world. There is the concept of God taking us out of this world when it is our appointed time in His providence over our lives. That is the point I think is that God has providence and that He is personal – even when we do not recognize it or even acknowledge it. That is a topic for another blog for another day.

 

However, I think that the point that is bottom line for me today in this blog is that God is deeply involved in our daily lives. He is the voice of reason in our heads. He is the voice of morality in our heads. He is the designer of the plan for our lives. Sometimes, he will put roadblocks in our lives to prevent us from making poor choices that will delay or derail our witness as Christians. He will even shut doors to us to prevent us from pursuing something that is not at the right time in our walk with Him. And, it does not have to be a choice between what is moral and what is immoral. It can be a choice between our timing and God’s timing. We may think we are ready for this job in that town at this time in our lives when God knows that we are not ready for it. We may short-circuit his developmental plan for our lives by jumping into something we are not ready for too quickly and it derails us and delays us from what God had intended for us all along. We may get frustrated with God’s timing and jump headlong into something that we think is His will but is really our own ego-soothing desire. We get frustrated at the closed doors not opening but maybe it is actually God looking out for us and keeping us where we are at because He has some thing that we need to learn before we take our next step in our walk with Him. Maybe there is some weakness that Satan will exploit at the next level if we short circuit God’s plan for us at this level where He is maturing us and steeling us against that weakness in our walk.

 

So, next time, you can’t find your keys and get angry and all out of sorts. Next time, you get angry at your parents for not letting you go to a party. Next time, you are late and miss your plane or miss a ride. Next time, you think about doing something immoral and something happens that prevents you from executing it. Next time, you get frustrated with God because He is not allowing something that you have desired to happen. Let us take stock and open our eyes and see God. Help us to see that He is intimately involved in the details of our lives. Help us to wake up and see that God does care deeply for each and every one us (even when we are not believers) and takes providential care over our lives. Let us remember that there is nothing random in God’s plan for our lives. He is God. He is Almighty. When we clear the fog of ego and desire from our eyes, we can see God’s hand in our lives. When we think of God having that much care for our lives, it makes Him less remote and more a part of our daily lives. That’s what He wants is for us to recognize that He is God and He is there all the time, not just when we decide to talk to Him. He is there all the time. Let us be a people that recognizes that though God is mighty and in control of the entire universe, He knows me and you personally. He knows you. He knows me. Personally.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 22:1-20

Balak Sends for Balaam

All roads lead to heaven. Your beliefs work for you and that’s alright with me as long as your beliefs don’t infringe on what I believe. Believe in Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, they are all the same. As long as you believe in something! This is the way we talk today. We combine the belief systems of all religions. You see it everywhere. We don’t talk about God anymore. We talk about the universe. The universe is god. We pride ourselves in being tolerant of all belief systems. The cry of tolerance echoes through the land. As John Funk said in his article, The Religion of Tolerance,

 

“Tolerance has become a very powerful word in the common vernacular and the idea it conveys is that society will grant each individual the opportunity to experience life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness without the burdens imposed by bias, discrimination or societal condemnation.  It is believed, or at least propagated, that the lifting of these barriers to personal development will result in the advancement of mankind not just on a personal level but also on a societal level.  Without the artificial guidelines imposed by intolerance, people will be healthier and happier.  At least that is what we are told is the truth.”

 

What we have is a society where anything and everything goes. There are no moral absolutes and everything is relative. This campaign of secular relativism has been successful. What I do is good for me and you have no right to tell me what I am doing is wrong. What were once considered sinful behaviors are now loosed to operate out in the open and to be glorified as us finally getting to the point of human development where everybody can be what they want to be. We pick and choose from the Bible what we want to believe. We pick and choose from the Koran what we want to believe. We blend in eastern mysticism and Hinduism. We throw in a dash of Buddhism and we have the world we want to live in. We now live in an age where we believe in ourselves and use bits and pieces of religions to support our take on life. We mix and match religious thought to suit our needs just like a woman standing in her closet deciding what killer outfit she wants to wear today. In the name of tolerance, anything goes and there is nothing out of bounds. If anyone stands against this tide, they are considered old fashion, bigoted, and Archie Bunker dinosaurs in the high-tech age.

 

We have made ourselves god and we determine what is right and what is wrong not some external force. We decide on what is acceptable and what is not. We do that on an individual basis now. Therefore, what is good for me is good for me and leave me alone about it. I don’t judge you and you don’t judge me. It all sounds really good does it not? I determine what’s right for me in the privacy of my video game, computer-assisted world. As long as I don’t hurt you then we’re OK, right? And vice versa? That means as long as I don’t infringe upon your rights to express yourself, I can believe as I choose and I define what is acceptable and what is not. As well, as long as I do no harm to the people and the world around me and do more good than bad, I will go to whatever is my reward in the post-earthly existence. We don’t want to call it heaven or nirvana because that might offend. So, we go to some higher positive existence after death when we have been more good than bad. There is no hell because that would be judgmental. All of us go to his positive energy afterlife. Hell is old-fashioned (and even we Christ followers shun away from preaching it or discussing it) because it means that some of us did more bad than good and we just cannot believe that in our modern age of tolerance. How can a person who means no harm by their actions be condemned to a place of eternal pain? We want a more neat and tidy world. Reincarnation is appealing in this sense because it provides some sort of universally guided, impersonal justice system where our next life is governed by how much more good than bad we did or vice versa. There is no permanent justice in our belief systems of today.

 

It was this thought of mixing and matching belief systems, dabbing in divination and God at the same time, the ancient Middle Eastern version of today’s world that came to mind when I read today’s passage, Numbers 22:1-20. Let’s read it together now:

 

22 Then the Israelites traveled to the plains of Moab and camped along the Jordan across from Jericho.

 

2 Now Balak son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites, 3 and Moab was terrified because there were so many people. Indeed, Moab was filled with dread because of the Israelites.

 

4 The Moabites said to the elders of Midian, “This horde is going to lick up everything around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field.”

 

So Balak son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, 5 sent messengers to summon Balaam son of Beor, who was at Pethor, near the Euphrates River, in his native land. Balak said:

 

“A people has come out of Egypt; they cover the face of the land and have settled next to me. 6 Now come and put a curse on these people, because they are too powerful for me. Perhaps then I will be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that whoever you bless is blessed, and whoever you curse is cursed.”

 

7 The elders of Moab and Midian left, taking with them the fee for divination. When they came to Balaam, they told him what Balak had said.

 

8 “Spend the night here,” Balaam said to them, “and I will report back to you with the answer the Lord gives me.” So the Moabite officials stayed with him.

 

9 God came to Balaam and asked, “Who are these men with you?”

 

10 Balaam said to God, “Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, sent me this message: 11 ‘A people that has come out of Egypt covers the face of the land. Now come and put a curse on them for me. Perhaps then I will be able to fight them and drive them away.’”

 

12 But God said to Balaam, “Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed.”

 

13 The next morning Balaam got up and said to Balak’s officials, “Go back to your own country, for the Lord has refused to let me go with you.”

 

14 So the Moabite officials returned to Balak and said, “Balaam refused to come with us.”

 

15 Then Balak sent other officials, more numerous and more distinguished than the first. 16 They came to Balaam and said:

 

“This is what Balak son of Zippor says: Do not let anything keep you from coming to me, 17 because I will reward you handsomely and do whatever you say. Come and put a curse on these people for me.”

 

18 But Balaam answered them, “Even if Balak gave me all the silver and gold in his palace, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the Lord my God. 19 Now spend the night here so that I can find out what else the Lord will tell me.”

 

20 That night God came to Balaam and said, “Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you.”

 

There is enough negative press for Balaam within the Old Testament (see Deuteronomy 23 and Joshua 13) to know that Balaam, though seen almost in a positive light here, comes to a just end. Even the New Testament speaks negatively of Balaam (see 2 Peter 2, Jude 1). Here, he is almost seen positively, but he is seeking self-gain in all of it. He is doing what is best for Balaam. He is mixing and matching belief systems to suit himself. Sound familiar? Balaam reminds me of the world we live in now. Balaam wants a little of the Jewish God and little bit of his beliefs in divination. Whatever will work out best for his desires! It reminds of that classic line from Talladega Nights where Ricky Bobby says, “Help me Jesus! Help me Jewish God! Help me Allah! AAAAAHHH! Help me Tom Cruise! Tom Cruise, use your witchcraft on me to get the fire off me!”

 

That is the world we live in now. Balaam would fit right in. Mixing and matching to suit ourselves. Believing in whatever is most advantageous to our desires. Morality on a sliding scale of today would suit Balaam just fine. It is all just Satan lying to us. More good than bad and go to heaven or whatever your perfect afterlife may be called. It sounds appealing. It is appealing. It takes all the pressure off. Without moral absolutes, I can rationalize away my transgressions against universal good and minimize them while I glorify my self-righteous nature. We control and barter out the value of our transgressions against an impersonal universe, the universe god, that is simply an impersonal ledger of rights and wrongs. We negotiate away our bad deeds through justifications and explanations. Sounds like us today, right?

 

The New Age amalgamation of beliefs plays right into Satan’s hands. We are drawn away from God to believing in ourselves. There is ample evidence that man is sinful and when left to his own devices that we will spiral out of control. We are sinners, plain and simple and there is no amount of extra good that we can do to replace our innate badness. As CARM.org says,

 

“The Bible has much to say about the nature of man, the world, purpose, truth, morality, etc., and so does the world. More often than not, the secular world view is in conflict with the biblical one.  For example: Where the world asserts that man evolved, the Bible says he was created and ultimately responsible to God.  Where the world says that morals are relative, the Bible says they are absolute.  Where the world says that there is no need of salvation and redemption, the Bible clearly states that all people are in need of deliverance from their sin.  The contrast is obvious and profound.  Both cannot be true.”

 

The truth is that there is a God. He is holy, perfect and pure. He reigns over the universe He created. He created the laws that govern how the universe works and He created the Laws of our we should live in relation to Him and one another. He requires perfect holiness for us to abide in His presence forever in heaven. We, however and realistically, have failed to keep his commands because we cannot by nature be holy 100% of the time for our entire lives. That is what is required, 100% holiness all the time for a lifetime. We are incapable of that. We are sinners. When we commit our very first sin, whether it be in thought or deed, we are immediately disqualified from heaven. Done. That’s it. It’s over. Not to mention the lifetime of unholy thoughts and acts of sin that we commit daily each and every day of our lives. We are done. We are condemned to hell by our own sins. We are not perfect and never can be. We need an intervention if we can even remotely think of going to heaven. We need the perfection of Jesus Christ. Jesus reconciles us to the Father through His perfect, sinless life which was sacrificed on our behalf. God poured out his wrath against sin, all sin of all time, against Jesus on that cross that day. It is up to us to have the faith to believe that Jesus Christ was God in the flesh and that His sacrifice on the cross was for our sins. He paid the price for the sure judgment that is to come for our sins in the absence of our belief in Jesus Christ. That is the truth that is eternal and not subject to moral relativism. This truth will stand regardless of how much man tries to discount it and put himself in charge of his own destiny.

 

There will be a reconciliation of all this moral relativism when the earth’s history is drawn to a close by its Creator. Are you willing to be blinded by secularism and get it wrong when that day comes? Are you willing to bet your eternity on it? Regardless of our current moral relativism, the truth of God has stood for eternity. Are you saying that it’s all wrong now? What has been universally true for eternity is now false and the product of a non-reasoned mind? Wow. We will find out at our own deaths or when Jesus returns whether we believed in mystery and you all of a sudden have a hold on the truth? I think I will take my chances with the truths of the Bible and my belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who died for my sins and who arose from the dead to give me evidence of a hope and future.

 

Amen and Amen.