Archive for November, 2016

Deuteronomy 2:26-37

Victory over Sihon of Heshbon

All my life, I have been a conflict avoider. I have always avoided conflict wherever I could. Part of it, I think, comes from the fact that I get flustered when I argue. It seems that others can organize their thoughts and positions in the heat of battle better than I can. Part of it comes from lack of confidence in my own position because I am never 100% convinced that I am not wrong in some way. Part of it comes from my inability to organize my thoughts quickly. I am good at pondering a subject and writing, sometimes, at length about it, but, I am no good at quickly articulating the crux of my positions in the heat of battle. I always walk away from confrontations beating myself up for what I should have said. Usually though, in my life, I have abandoned defending my own rights in relationships just to make other people happy. That has been true in virtually all my relationships, regardless of type. That is especially true when it came to my past relationships with women. Regardless of relationship type, I would rather keep the peace than have conflict. I would rather ignore my own rights than allow them to come in conflict with others exercising theirs. I would rather internalize anger than express it. I would rather that everybody just get along than champion my rights or the rights of others when it would require great conflict to do so.

 

Never was this more true than in my second marriage. Due the pure hatred that my first wife had for my second, my second wife pretty much disdained anything to do with my past before I met her. That included my children. She had a good relationship with my children at first because, I think, ultimately, it was her way of having victory of my first wife. However, as our relationship progressed from dating to marriage, her relationship with my children deteriorated. She began to resent the hold that my children had on my life. She resented that I had to spent part of our family budget on child support. She resented the naturally stronger relationship that I had with my birth children than I had with my step-children. She resented that I disciplined my girls differently than I disciplined her boys. There were two reasons for that. First, my girls were simply better behaved than her boys. Second, boys are just more stubborn than girls. With girls, in general (or at least with mine), you could look at them with a sinister look and they would stop doing what they were doing. I could tell them once not to do something and it might take a couple of months to have revisit that same discipline issue. However, with boys, in general (or at least with my stepsons), you have to tell them not to do something against the family rules virtually every day and they would act as if they didn’t know it was family rule. With boys, they are born to challenge authority and my stepsons did at every turn. This boys vs. girls thing was huge. This my kids needs vs. your kids needs was huge. There was a resentment in my house for what I had to do with and for my kids. It was the most heartbreaking thing that I had to participate in. For me, it was more important, at the time, to keep my second wife happy. At the time, and at least to me, she was young, beautiful, sexy, and she was awesome in the bedroom. And, I placed my personal value in how my second wife felt about me, particularly sexually. As a result of this need for approval through sex, I voluntarily began distancing myself from my children. I did what only I was legally required to do financially – and nothing else. I only got my children when I was legally required to do so. They were not included in my second family’s vacations or special events. I wanted to limit the contact between my girls and my household so as to prevent the possibility of conflict. All to, in my mind, keep my second wife happy. I was certainly not father of the year material to my children. There is not a day that goes by now that I do not think about how I failed my children in those years when they were young children. I traded peace at home with my second wife for relationship with my daughters in those years. Having a happy wife who would approve of me sexually was more important than my relationship with my children.

 

However, sometimes, circumstances force conflict. When my oldest daughter was 16, she began to have conflict with her mom, my first wife, to the point that they could no longer get along. Long story short, she came to live with me, my second wife and my stepsons. Although the relationship between my oldest and my second wife improved (I think it was seen by my second wife as a vindication or a victory over my first wife), there was this underlying tension there and I knew it. I tread on eggshells to make sure these two got along. It worked for that two years before my oldest went off to Clemson for college. For some reason, my second wife thought that since my oldest was 18 that she no longer needed our financial support. As you know, college costs much more than tuition. Conflict ensued. I avoided it my hiding my financial support of my little college girl. I kept it all well-hidden but as always lies find you out. Keeping the peace when there are unresolved issues never works. Ultimately, the conflict came to light. I had to choose between my support for my child and the whole second wife/female sexual approval thing. For once in my life, I did the right thing and stood by my child and what I needed to do to support her financially above and beyond legal requirements. Of course, that ended the marriage. But, to this day, I do not regret that decision even though it caused a second divorce. No amount of sexual approval is worth abandoning your children when they need you most. Sometimes, you must stand up for what is right regardless of what it costs you. Sometimes, you must do the right thing even if it involves conflict. Sometimes, conflict is unavoidable.

 

It was that brewing and unavoidable conflict concerning my kids vs. your kids that I thought of when I read today’s passage, Deuteronomy 2:26-37, because what Moses attempted to do compared to what He ultimately had to do were so similar to my situation. Let’s read it together now:

 

26 From the Desert of Kedemoth I sent messengers to Sihon king of Heshbon offering peace and saying, 27 “Let us pass through your country. We will stay on the main road; we will not turn aside to the right or to the left. 28 Sell us food to eat and water to drink for their price in silver. Only let us pass through on foot— 29 as the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir, and the Moabites, who live in Ar, did for us—until we cross the Jordan into the land the Lord our God is giving us.” 30 But Sihon king of Heshbon refused to let us pass through. For the Lord your God had made his spirit stubborn and his heart obstinate in order to give him into your hands, as he has now done.

 

31 The Lord said to me, “See, I have begun to deliver Sihon and his country over to you. Now begin to conquer and possess his land.”

 

32 When Sihon and all his army came out to meet us in battle at Jahaz, 33 the Lord our God delivered him over to us and we struck him down, together with his sons and his whole army. 34 At that time we took all his towns and completely destroyed[a] them—men, women and children. We left no survivors. 35 But the livestock and the plunder from the towns we had captured we carried off for ourselves. 36 From Aroer on the rim of the Arnon Gorge, and from the town in the gorge, even as far as Gilead, not one town was too strong for us. The Lord our God gave us all of them. 37 But in accordance with the command of the Lord our God, you did not encroach on any of the land of the Ammonites, neither the land along the course of the Jabbok nor that around the towns in the hills.

 

Here, in this passage, you see that Moses attempted to offer peaceful terms with the king of Heshbon. What he offered seems perfectly reasonable. It was a peaceful alternative to an all out war. Moses just wanted to pass through and not have any conflict. They were willing to pay for what they ate. They were willing to pay for any supplies that they needed. Moses was basically saying, “Let us walk through your yard to get to our house. We won’t mess anything up. Just let us pass. Be cool! We don’t want any trouble!” However, Sihon wanted nothing of it. He did not trust the Israelites. He was fearful that once they were inside his land that they would squat and take over. So, he decided to take the confrontation to the Israelites. Because Sihon did not take the offer of Moses (because of his pride), he disobeyed God’s will. As a result, the Israelites wiped them out. The sin of pride and the sins of pagan god worship of the people ended in their destruction. Moses did not want the conflict. In fact, he offered peaceful terms to prevent the bloodshed. But, as you and I know, sometimes conflict is unavoidable. No matter how hard we try to avoid conflict, sometimes people force our hand and make us choose conflict over peace. And sometimes the conflict is a righteous one because accepting peace sometimes means quietly accepting what is wrong and not doing what is right.

 

That was certainly the case when it came to supporting my children beyond what was the basic legal requirement. Accepting peace at home (just so I could enjoy my wife’s feminine charms) meant not doing what was right by my daughter in college (who depended on me solely for her support since her mom had basically written her out of her life). Sometimes, when we are quiet in the face of wrong, we make deals with devil just to keep what we want to keep. That was certainly the case for me. I so desperately needed the basic value of who I was that I drew from sexual approval that I would sell my soul for it. I would not stand up for what I knew to be right. I would not argue over things that could possibly endanger my bedroom approval. However, sometimes, we have no choice but to make a choice. Thank God I woke up in 2004 and made the right one.

 

Are you quiet in the face of what you know is not right? Are you letting someone run over you just so you can have approval? Stand up for what is right. No relationship is worth selling your soul. Talk it out. Stand up and say what you feel. If the relationship is worth anything to the other person, then, they will listen. If not, endure the conflict and move on. Pray to God for change. If the person that is trampling on you is influenced by the Holy Spirit, they will listen and they will change. However, if they have turned their back on God, you may have a choice to make. Is this relationship worth doing what is against God’s Word? Is this relationship worth selling my soul when I ignore what is right and accept what is wrong.

 

As Christians in general, we too must quit avoiding conflict just to keep the peace. We have this tension of trying to fit in with the culture while we are supposed to be defending God’s Word. That is the tension we face as Christ followers in a culture that is increasingly far from God. We can be in the world but not of it. We can engage the culture but not participate in their sins. We can develop relationships with those who thumb their nose at God but we cannot condone their lifestyles. That is a conflict waiting to happen. Is it not? At some point, we must choose God’s ways over the world’s ways. At some point, we must speak truth (in love) to the lives of those who have turned their back on God. We can engage but we cannot assimilate into culture. We must be different. We must sometimes have conflict with the flow of culture. Sometimes, we must be willing to be persecuted in some way rather than compromise and accept and validate that which is against God’s Word.

 

What are you accepting that is wrong just to avoid conflict?

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 2:1-25

Remembering Israel’s Wanderings

As a parent, you watch your children make mistakes that you know are going to be detrimental to their future. It is not because you are a fortune-teller but rather because you have lived life yourself. You have made the same mistakes and learned from them the hard way. We learned that life has consequences and many of the decisions that we make when we are young has long-ranging impact on our lives. We just want our kids to make wise decisions so they don’t have to live with the consequences of unwise decisions like we did. However, just as we did not listen to our parents, our kids do not listen to us and think that they know best and plunge headlong into decisions that will impact them for their entire lives.

 

My youngest daughter and I have been at odds for the last few years because of choices that she is making. She has refused to go to college. She would rather not face those challenges. She would rather live in the cocoon of her known world of her boyfriend, his family, and their circle of friends. Sure, in and of itself, having a comfortable world that you know is not bad, but not pursuing an education after high school limits your possibilities in life. She would rather live a hand to mouth existence rather than using her God-given intelligence to pursue a degree in whatever she has a passion for. It pains me to no end that she has chosen to go down this road. I know that it is going to impact her so negatively for the rest of her life. It is not like my youngest daughter is a few bricks shy of a load when it comes to intelligence. She is a very bright girl and school was easy for her. She could have easily gotten into any college to which she applied. She is naturally smart. She is a good at winning arguments. She could have made a great lawyer as she is very skillful in the art of argument. I know that with a college degree under her belt, her future could have been awesomely bright. However, her life is going to be limited now because of this decision not to go to school. She will be limited to service or retail jobs. She will never be a manager. She will have limited earning capacity. She will always be on the edge of or slightly above poverty because she has limited what she can do by not accepting the challenge of college. It will be a hand to mouth, living from one emergency to another kind of life. I know these things will happen. I have seen it happen to too many people.

 

The trouble is right now that my youngest daughter does not see what I can see. She only believes that I am being overly harsh and critical. Sure, there are those who have excelled in life without college educations and there are those who have made millions and billions without a college education, but those are rare talents. Not everyone is a Bill Gates who attended Harvard for a year but never finished. There are those who are not wildly successful like Bill Gates but do become successful in their own right. I know some of my friends who never went to college but own their own businesses now. They will never be super-rich but they provide a decent and respectable lifestyle for their families. But all of these people are driven. They never expected their lifestyle to be handed to them. They worked hard to provide for their families and to make something of themselves. Right now, my youngest daughter doesn’t want to take on the challenges of college but also she doesn’t seem to be driven to succeed in anyway. She says what I define as a good life may not be the same as what she defines it as. I see her as living from crisis to crisis but she sees that as her normal life.

 

I do not say these things to bash my youngest daughter. I say these things because I know what she could be is she just had a little drive to her. She could be anything. She is so smart. She is so witty. She would be a rising star in whatever field of endeavor she would choose. If she spent half as much time in school studying as she does trying to dream up ways to come up with cash for the next week, she would be a magna cum laude graduate of any college. She is 26 now but my fear is that at age 56, thirty years from now, her life is going to be no better than it is right now. And, it’s not because I am a materialistic bastard who wants to raise materialistic children. I just want my children to be the best that they can be. That’s it. Nothing more and nothing less. I do not want them to limit themselves by making decisions that will do just that. I want them to arrive at my age saying that I may have made mistakes here and there but I lived up to my potential (ever how limited or expansive that potential may be). That’s all I want from my youngest daughter. To make the effort to become the amazing woman I know she can be and not just to sell herself short by living a paycheck to paycheck, scrimping to get by, crisis to crisis, living for the next party, living for the weekend lifestyle. She can be so much more.

 

It is that idea of needless wandering caused by fateful decisions and how that surely pained God was what I thought of when I read through today’s passage, Deuteronomy 2:1-25. Let’s read it together now:

 

2 Then we turned back and set out toward the wilderness along the route to the Red Sea,[a] as the Lord had directed me. For a long time we made our way around the hill country of Seir.

 

2 Then the Lord said to me, 3 “You have made your way around this hill country long enough; now turn north. 4 Give the people these orders: ‘You are about to pass through the territory of your relatives the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. They will be afraid of you, but be very careful. 5 Do not provoke them to war, for I will not give you any of their land, not even enough to put your foot on. I have given Esau the hill country of Seir as his own. 6 You are to pay them in silver for the food you eat and the water you drink.’”

 

7 The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything.

 

8 So we went on past our relatives the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. We turned from the Arabah road, which comes up from Elath and Ezion Geber, and traveled along the desert road of Moab.

 

9 Then the Lord said to me, “Do not harass the Moabites or provoke them to war, for I will not give you any part of their land. I have given Ar to the descendants of Lot as a possession.”

 

10 (The Emites used to live there—a people strong and numerous, and as tall as the Anakites. 11 Like the Anakites, they too were considered Rephaites, but the Moabites called them Emites. 12 Horites used to live in Seir, but the descendants of Esau drove them out. They destroyed the Horites from before them and settled in their place, just as Israel did in the land the Lord gave them as their possession.)

 

13 And the Lord said, “Now get up and cross the Zered Valley.” So we crossed the valley.

 

14 Thirty-eight years passed from the time we left Kadesh Barnea until we crossed the Zered Valley. By then, that entire generation of fighting men had perished from the camp, as the Lord had sworn to them. 15 The Lord’s hand was against them until he had completely eliminated them from the camp.

 

16 Now when the last of these fighting men among the people had died, 17 the Lord said to me, 18 “Today you are to pass by the region of Moab at Ar. 19 When you come to the Ammonites, do not harass them or provoke them to war, for I will not give you possession of any land belonging to the Ammonites. I have given it as a possession to the descendants of Lot.”

 

20 (That too was considered a land of the Rephaites, who used to live there; but the Ammonites called them Zamzummites. 21 They were a people strong and numerous, and as tall as the Anakites. The Lord destroyed them from before the Ammonites, who drove them out and settled in their place. 22 The Lord had done the same for the descendants of Esau, who lived in Seir, when he destroyed the Horites from before them. They drove them out and have lived in their place to this day. 23 And as for the Avvites who lived in villages as far as Gaza, the Caphtorites coming out from Caphtor[b] destroyed them and settled in their place.)

Defeat of Sihon King of Heshbon

 

24 “Set out now and cross the Arnon Gorge. See, I have given into your hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his country. Begin to take possession of it and engage him in battle. 25 This very day I will begin to put the terror and fear of you on all the nations under heaven. They will hear reports of you and will tremble and be in anguish because of you.”

 

The striking thing here is to remember that Israel did not have to wander in the wilderness those forty years on the way to the Promised Land. God sentenced them to the wilderness wanderings because they rejected His love, rebelled against His authority, ignored His commands, and willfully broke their end of the agreement made with God in Exodus 19:8 and Exodus 24:3-8. In short, they disobeyed God. We often make life’s journey more difficult than it has to be through disobedience to God, His Word, and His plan for our lives. We can make our life so much easier if we simply follow His commands in His Word, and stick with God whatever happens, whatever the situation. We will find our lives less complicated and more rewarding when we do. However, many of us, myself included, reject God, live life on our terms until we get it so screwed up that we can’t handle it anymore and cry out to God for help. Then, we realize if we had just listened to God in the first place, we would not have wasted much of our life screwing up our life.

 

God is like a parent to us just watching us make mistakes that are going to be bad for us. He tries to warn us through people, circumstances, and His Word but because we are stubborn and stiffnecked we do not listen. He wants us not to screw up our lives through our stupid, sin-filled mistakes. He sees the trainwreck ahead. He warns us. But we plunge headlong into the life decisions we make that are detrimental for us. God is heartbroken over the decisions that we make. He doesn’t want us to suffer. He wants what is best for us. Just as I simply want my youngest daughter not to have to live with the consequences of poor decisions (because I can see farther down the road than her because of life experience), God does not want us to have to live with the consequences of our poor decisions. He gives us His guidebook for life. He gives us His Word. We can take His advice, through His Word, and follow His commands and it will make our lives so much easier and less complicated. When we follow God, life is surely more rewarding and less complicated. When we chose our way instead of His, we end up with wilderness wanderings that were unnecessary. Then, we waste a lifetime, dealing with the consequences of not being obedient rather than living out our potential in His sweet spot for us, His Promised Land that He has for each of us.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 1:26-48

Israel’s Rebellion Against the Lord

There is an age-old cliché that states, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” It is used typically to express that no matter how big a problem is, you have to break it down into manageable steps and methodically accomplish those individual steps. It means too that even if a problem sees huge and insurmountable, you must develop a methodical plan to attack the problem and work diligently to accomplish your goals.

 

Never was this more true than when my favorite college football team, Clemson, played against Alabama last year in the college football national championship game last year. Alabama, under Coach Nick Saban, has become the perennial top dog in college football. They have won four national championships during the ten years that Coach Saban has headed up the football program there. Alabama has always been one of the top football programs in the country over the years but Coach Saban has taken them to another level. They are now the gold standard of college football. All other football programs are compared to them. It is true again this year. Alabama has been ranked #1 all year long and are the odds-on favorite to repeat as national champions again this year. No one is expected to really challenge them. They are a lock to be the number 1 seed when the 4-team playoffs begin at the end of December.

 

Last year, when Clemson beat Oklahoma in the semi-finals of the playoffs thus earned the right to play Alabama for the national championship (as Alabama too had won its semifinal game – against Michigan State), no one gave Clemson a chance. The age-old bias against the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) as a football conference reared its head in many of the conversations about the game. The ACC is a weak conference and Alabama’s conference, the Southeastern Conference (SEC), is the strongest in the country. Clemson was only ranked high because they were the new darlings of college football because of their recent run of success. Alabama was the standard. Clemson, even though ranked as the #1 seed in the playoffs last year, was an underdog to mighty Alabama. Clemson was thought to be the #1 seed because they were the only undefeated team left in college football. Even mighty Alabama, last year, had lost one ball game. As a result of being perceived as being from a weak conference and only being ranked #1 by virtue of having no losses, no one gave Clemson a chance against mighty Alabama. Their defense was going to stifle Clemson’s wonder-kid sophomore quarterback, DeShaun Watson, both in his passing and his running. The defensive line and linebackers from Alabama were going to manhandle Clemson’s perceived weak offensive line. Although Clemson’s defense was given some respect, they, too were going to be no match for Alabama’s offensive line. Alabama was Goliath and Clemson was David. The Tigers might as well have not showed up for the game. They were just going to be cannon fodder for the coronation ceremony of another Alabama national championship.

 

What happened? Alabama did win another national championship at the end of last season. They did beat Clemson. So, if that’s the case, what’s your point, Mark? It was not the fact that Alabama won the national championship game. It was that Clemson could have listened to all the hype about Alabama and just rolled over for the national champions. However, the game turned out to be one of the classic struggles of college football national championship games (in whatever form they have taken over the years). The game was in doubt throughout the contest. Alabama only sealed its victory when it successfully covered the on-side kick from Clemson with less than 2 minutes left in the game. Clemson came to play and it was a back and forth struggle. It was like a heavyweight fight. It was Rocky vs. Apollo Creed in the first Rocky movie. Rocky didn’t win the fight but Apollo Creed knew he had been in a titanic struggle when it was over. Clemson gave Alabama all it could handle this past January out in the desert oasis of Glendale, AZ. They didn’t win the game, but Alabama walked away knowing that they have vanquished a worthy and strong adversary. Clemson could have actually won the game were it not for two lapses on special teams (a kickoff return for a touchdown and the recovery of an surprise on-side kick by Alabama that allowed Alabama to have an extra possession). It was a battle where neither defense could really stop the other team. The final score of Alabama 45 Clemson 40 was an indication of what a struggle the game was.

 

If Clemson had listened to the prognosticators, they would not have even showed up for the game. They might as well not even have developed a game plan for the ball game. However, it was one of the most entertaining national championship games ever. If Clemson had listened to the prognosticators and played with fear of losing badly instead of with the desire for victory in their own right, it would have been the expected bloodbath that was predicted. That’s why the play the games on the field and not on paper.

 

That constant barrage of negativity about Clemson in preparation for last year’s national championship game was what I thought of when I read through this passage today and how it is was eerily similar to the content of this passage, Deuteronomy 1:26-46. Let’s read through it together:

 

26 But you were unwilling to go up; you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. 27 You grumbled in your tents and said, “The Lord hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us. 28 Where can we go? Our brothers have made our hearts melt in fear. They say, ‘The people are stronger and taller than we are; the cities are large, with walls up to the sky. We even saw the Anakites there.’”

 

29 Then I said to you, “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. 30 The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, 31 and in the wilderness. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.”

 

32 In spite of this, you did not trust in the Lord your God, 33 who went ahead of you on your journey, in fire by night and in a cloud by day, to search out places for you to camp and to show you the way you should go.

 

34 When the Lord heard what you said, he was angry and solemnly swore: 35 “No one from this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your ancestors, 36 except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land he set his feet on, because he followed the Lord wholeheartedly.”

 

37 Because of you the Lord became angry with me also and said, “You shall not enter it, either. 38 But your assistant, Joshua son of Nun, will enter it. Encourage him, because he will lead Israel to inherit it. 39 And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it. 40 But as for you, turn around and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea.[a]”

 

41 Then you replied, “We have sinned against the Lord. We will go up and fight, as the Lord our God commanded us.” So every one of you put on his weapons, thinking it easy to go up into the hill country.

 

42 But the Lord said to me, “Tell them, ‘Do not go up and fight, because I will not be with you. You will be defeated by your enemies.’”

 

43 So I told you, but you would not listen. You rebelled against the Lord’s command and in your arrogance you marched up into the hill country. 44 The Amorites who lived in those hills came out against you; they chased you like a swarm of bees and beat you down from Seir all the way to Hormah. 45 You came back and wept before the Lord, but he paid no attention to your weeping and turned a deaf ear to you. 46 And so you stayed in Kadesh many days—all the time you spent there.

 

When the scouts returned with reports of giants and walled cities, the people were afraid to move ahead and began to complain about their predicament. But the minority report of Joshua and Caleb pointed out that the land was fertile and the enemy was vulnerable, and that God was on their side. We can become fearful and immobile when we focus on the negative aspects of a situation. How much better is it to focus on the positives – God’s direction and promises. When are confronted with an important decision and know what you should do, move out in faith. Focus on what you can do not what you can’t and trust the Lord to overcome the things that you cannot do. Just because a problem is greater than you alone, don’t let it rob you of victory. Trust in the Lord to help you overcome those giants in your life. Trust the Lord to help you attack the fortified cities of your life. With God, nothing is impossible.

 

Just as Clemson did not focus on the negative reports of the sporting press and the majority of football fans, they went about developing a game plan that made the game winnable for them. They did not play a flawless game in that Clemson’s special teams let them down. Otherwise they could have very easily won the game. They didn’t not listen to the prognosticators. Instead of playing not to lose badly, they played to win and darn near did it.

 

How can we overcome the problems in our life, it we do not play the game? How can we overcome insurmountable problems in our life if we say they are not solvable and give up and away? We can overcome any situation in our life by doing our part (God expects us to work ourselves out of our situations), developing a game plan, and then trusting Him to guide us through the whole process. We must not listen to detractors but rather listen to God saying I am with you. We overcome if we stand still and accept things the way they are and let them defeat us. We trust in God. We listen to Him and execute the plan He gives us. We enter the Promised Land and fight the fight that needs fighting. We cannot win the fights that need fighting if we do not go out into battle.

 

God is bigger than any problem that we might face. He will tell us that the elephant can be eaten. He will give us a plan on how to eat it. But we must execute the plan. We must go out and battle the elephant.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 1:19-25

Scouts Explore the Land

I remember a short time ago as far as eternity goes, how things were extremely different than they are now. It was a mere twelve years ago. My second marriage had ended. As I have stated before, I allowed myself to get so wrapped up in maintaining my second marriage that I forsook all things including my children. Just to keep my wife happy I would do only what was necessary for my kids and no more. I do not blame my second wife anymore for these things. I allowed it to happen. She knew she had power over me and who wouldn’t take advantage of that? I had made her my god and all else was secondary to making her happy. I lost my soul in maintaining access to her female charms to the point that I lost who I was. Any behavior was acceptable to me to maintain approval so as to maintain access to what a woman can give a man. So, when the trajectories of having to support my child in college (beyond what was required of me by child support order) and my need to maintain the approval of my wife collided, the marriage ended before it ended. My second wife began staying out all night with her buddies from work and would not come home until late in the evening. The marriage was dead and beyond repair. We split up. I had to walk away.

 

When things came to a head and she left me no alternative but to leave after three weeks of bickering and three weeks of silence that was not to change, I called it quits. When I finally got the kahunas to do that, I think I actually heard the earth split into inside my head. Those first months after the breakup were the hardest. The weeks were hard. It was hard to even get out of bed, but something made me go to work in those days. It was a diversion from my depression that was always there in the background. It was like I felt that people could see how lousy I felt about myself and I had to work hard to hide my warts all day. However, if it were not for work, I do not know what I would have done. It was a temporary time to focus mostly on something else other than my loneliness and depression. The evenings and weekends were the worst. I was so depressed those first few months that there was no way for me to get out in the world. I was so self-conscious. It felt like people could see that my second wife was out there living it up with her party girl lifestyle and that I had nothing. It made me withdraw. Weekends were long and painful as I would hardly leave my apartment from Friday evening to Monday morning. Each tick of the clock was excruciatingly long and painful. Each tick was loud and palpable as time slowly, ever so slowly marched forward. I used to look forward to weekends but during those first few months after the breakup, I dreaded the weekends. The march of time on the weekend was audible. There was a time that I just wished I would stop living. I never considered suicide. That’s just not who I am. I did however wish that the pain would go away fervently. I was in a hole and did not know when and if it were to ever end. That’s what happens when you make a person your god and then that god is removed.

 

Even though a natural death would have been welcomed those first few months, there was always that hope that things would get better. It was a small sliver of hope that was microscopic back then, but it was a hope nonetheless. There was a dream of a life that was better. There was a slight point of light that said you will have joy again. It was a battle against the overwhelming depression that I felt in those days, but it was there and that little tiny, infinitesimal, faint light of hope that kept me going. Things would get better. Things would get better. Things would get better. Like a drug addict coming off drugs thinks the world is going to end, I was coming off my drug of making a person my god. It was the most painful experience of my life. There was a hope, however small, that pulled me through. I think that it was the Holy Spirit maintaining my sanity so that I could get to where I am today. That sliver of hope carried me through. I have been through the valley of darkness and I have survived it. If you only have a sliver of hope that things are going to get better, you still have hope. Cling to it. It is a life raft offered by the Holy Spirit.

 

It is that idea of clinging to hope instead of letting the overwhelming sense of doom overtake you that I thought of this morning. We all need that life raft of a bed frame to cling to like in the movie Titanic when all things around you are sinking. Let’s read the passage together today, Deuteronomy 1:19-25:

 

19 Then, as the Lord our God commanded us, we set out from Horeb and went toward the hill country of the Amorites through all that vast and dreadful wilderness that you have seen, and so we reached Kadesh Barnea. 20 Then I said to you, “You have reached the hill country of the Amorites, which the Lord our God is giving us. 21 See, the Lord your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

 

22 Then all of you came to me and said, “Let us send men ahead to spy out the land for us and bring back a report about the route we are to take and the towns we will come to.”

 

23 The idea seemed good to me; so I selected twelve of you, one man from each tribe. 24 They left and went up into the hill country, and came to the Valley of Eshkol and explored it. 25 Taking with them some of the fruit of the land, they brought it down to us and reported, “It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us.”

 

The scouts had been sent out to determine not whether to enter the Promised Land but where they should enter. Upon returning, though, the scouts concluded that the obstacles were too large. God would give them the power to conquer the land, but they decided that the risk was too great and they let fear overtake them. God gives us the power to overcome our obstacles but we often let our circumstances control our lives. We can let our circumstances define us and defeat us and drive us into the ground. When we have trust in the Lord, no matter how bleak the situation looks, we demonstrate courageous, overcoming faith.

 

Don’t let anyone tell you that you do not have doubts about whether God is listening and caring when we go through the depths of the valley. Sure, even the strongest have doubts. Even, Jesus in the flesh on the cross asked the Father why He had forsaken Him, as Jesus felt the weight of the punishment of God for all sin for all time. We, too, will have doubts as we go through our valleys. But Jesus never lost faith while suffering on the cross. He clung to the obedience of doing His Father’s will. He knew that His objective was greater than His momentary pain. We too must cling to hope when we go through our valleys. I am witness to tell you that your resurrection is coming. It will get better. I am a living example. I am now standing on the high, dry ground. He has blessed me with a resurrected life that is firmly planted in Him. I have a great wife who loves me unconditionally no matter what. She is the wife that He intended for me. I have a great job in the secular world and I am serving the Lord at my church part-time on staff and full-time in any way I can. I am blessed. Jesus pulled me through those dark early days. I survived. I made it to the other side. Jesus was that faint light that I walked toward when I was surrounded by darkness.

 

Keep you eyes on Jesus and not your circumstances. Things will change if you trust Him no matter how hard it seems right now. You will make it. Hold Jesus’ hand!

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 1:9-18

Moses Appoints Leaders from Each Tribe

When the Lord put it on our house that it was the right time to sell our house and, instead of trying to sell it FSBO, to use a real estate agent to do it, He had put a vision in my heart that our house should go to a family that could use the full square footage of our house on Holly Tree Circle. He had put it on my heart that it should go to a family with young children. Lo and behold! That was exactly what happened. We sold our house to a couple in their mid-thirties who had three children, a girl and two boys. According to Liliya, their mother, the two boys were going to get the larger bedroom upstairs and the girl would get her own room, the smaller bedroom upstairs.

 

When we owned that house (and we loved that house), we hardly ever used the upstairs. It was rare. It was rarely used regularly. The only time in the six years that we were there that the upstairs portion of that house was used with any frequency was when Taylor, after moving out of her mom’s house, and Meghan, during a separation from her husband (whom I am glad to say they reconciled their marriage), lived with us temporarily before they get their apartment together. The only other time that the upstairs got used was when Michelle, my stepdaughter, would come down from Charlotte for a visit for a day or two or three here and there. Otherwise, it was just space to fill with furniture. It was just additional furniture for Elena to dust. It was just additional carpet to be vacuumed. The house was not living up to its full potential. I say that even though we loved dearly loved that house and its huge lot and its modern conveniences and its simple but elegant beauty. It was a tough decision to sell it. I loved it and part of me wanted to keep it. Part of me still misses that house. However, as I said before, we were not using it to its fullest extent.

 

That voice of the Holy Spirit in my heart said to me that by us continuing to live there, we were preventing some young family with kids from having the house that they needed. I imagined a family of five living in a cramped apartment that was ready for a house and was looking for a house but could not find “the one”, the house that strikes an instant emotional bond with a buyer and it is always the wife that must have this emotional bond. It was true with this family that bought our house. Liliya fell head over heels in love with our house immediately. They made us an offer after only having the house on the market for five days. Now, the house on Holly Tree Circle is living up to what it was meant for. It is a great home for a family with kids. It has enough room for the kids to be upstairs has plenty of family space downstairs. The master suite is downstairs so the parents can have some privacy from their kids. It has a big backyard for the kids to run around and play in. It has that wooden privacy fence all around the backyard so Lililya and her husband do not have to worry about the kids when they are out back playing. It is and will be the perfect house for them while these kids are young and maybe all the way up to the kids been in their early teens. By releasing our house, we allowed the family that needs to live there to live there.

 

That idea of blocking the potential of others because you want to keep what you have, to yourself, was what I thought of when I read today’s passage, Deuteronomy 1:9-18. Let’s read it together now:

 

9 At that time I said to you, “You are too heavy a burden for me to carry alone. 10 The Lord your God has increased your numbers so that today you are as numerous as the stars in the sky. 11 May the Lord, the God of your ancestors, increase you a thousand times and bless you as he has promised! 12 But how can I bear your problems and your burdens and your disputes all by myself? 13 Choose some wise, understanding and respected men from each of your tribes, and I will set them over you.”

 

14 You answered me, “What you propose to do is good.”

 

15 So I took the leading men of your tribes, wise and respected men, and appointed them to have authority over you—as commanders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens and as tribal officials. 16 And I charged your judges at that time, “Hear the disputes between your people and judge fairly, whether the case is between two Israelites or between an Israelite and a foreigner residing among you. 17 Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God. Bring me any case too hard for you, and I will hear it.” 18 And at that time I told you everything you were to do.

 

It was a tremendous burden for Moses to lead the nation by himself. He could not accomplish the task single-handedly. As nations, organizations, and churches grow, they become increasingly complex. Conflicting needs and quarrels arise. No longer can one leader make all the decisions. Like Moses, we may have a natural tendency to try to do all the work alone. We may be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help. Moses made a wise decision to share leadership with others. Rather than trying to handle larger responsibilities on our own, we should look for ways to share the load with others so that they, too, may exercise their God-given talents, gifts, and abilities.

 

When we are afraid to let go of some of our leadership responsibilities you could be hampering not only your own leadership but also hindering the development of the next level of leaders or potential leaders. You could be preventing them from flourishing as God intended for them. You could be preventing them from flourishing where God has planted them. Who are we to stand in the way of God’s development of His next crop of leaders? Are you holding someone else’s growth track back? Are you hindering God’s will for your life through your own pride or fear? When we do that, we are not in God’s will and He will not bless our leadership. When we are trying to do it all, is it not a pride thing? Are you afraid that you will fade into the woodwork if someone more talented is placed on your team? Are you afraid to let go of all the duties you have just so you will feel needed? That’s not a God thing. That’s a burnout waiting to happen. That’s us trying to do things in our own power.

 

Maybe, if there is someone on your team now that is more talented in this area of responsibility than you, maybe it is God’s way of telling you to start investing in them so that they can take over. God will never leave a leader without something to lead. Maybe it is God’s way of telling you that it is time for the next adventure. Maybe, God is saying that you are ready for your next challenge. But if we don’t see it that way and we try to hold on to what we have, you may be standing in the way of what God has in store for you and what He has in store for others. Do you really want to be that way? Give it away and see your abilities grow. When we get mired in the details of holding on to our position we miss that we may be being freed up to see the big picture. We have talent on our team to give responsibilities to, we can start being visionary instead of being tied down to task accomplishment. When we give it away it comes back to us. When we let our people become what they can become, we can lead, really lead. We can look at what’s coming and plan for it. We can come up with new ideas when we are not tied down to the details of what has always been done. We can think out of the box now when we have people we can give responsibilities to.

 

It is like my wife and I staying in the Holly Tree Circle house for another year. It would have prevented this family that needed our house from living in it. It would have prevented the house from being fully utilized to its fullest potential. Now we have moved on the Mill Village in our cute little house and we feel like God has called us there. This house is just right for us and it is what God has next for us. And there’s a family enjoying our previous home because it is what is next for them.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 1:6-8

The Command to Leave Sinai

 

There are certain pivotal events in a person’s life. These are the game changer moments. Like in a football game where there is usually one seminal play in a game that is the play that controls everything that happens after it. It is a play that changes the course of the game. So too, we each have those game changing moments in life. Those fateful decisions that change the course, the trajectory of our lives. What is your game changing moment? For me, as I mentioned yesterday, that game changing moment was when I moved to Travelers Rest, SC from Anderson, SC at age 14 right before going into the 9th grade. Everything else in my life is somehow affected by that decision. If you can trace back to that seminal moment in your life, what would that be?

 

For me, all the other moves that I made growing up as the son of a United Methodist Church preacher were just insignificant as to the formation of who I am today. Oh sure, the other stops along the way had their moments where significant events happened in my growing up, but none compare to the life-altering momentousness of the move to Travelers Rest (or TR as people in the Upstate call it). Before the move to TR, I was living in Anderson, SC. I went to Lakeside Middle School. I was in the eighth grade before the move so if we had stayed in Anderson another year I would have been a freshman at Westside High School the following school year. At Lakeside, I had become a big man on campus. I was popular. I looked forward to going to school every day because I was part of the in-crowd. One of the cool kids. It was great time to be alive for me. All the girls thought I was cute and I flirted with them all. I was in my element.

 

It was Anderson where I figured out the politics of fitting in. It was there that I felt connected. It was there that I finally felt at home. I was, as the saying goes, “a big man on campus”, at Lakeside Middle School. But, of course, all of that was to be short-lived. The Methodist Church in South Carolina in its wisdom decided to move us again. We learned of this in the Spring of 1976. I was crushed. Had not the move come along, I would have been going to Westside High School the next year with all of my buddies from the middle school. Why now, God? Why now? That was my cry. It was the lowest of low moments of my life to that point. Finally, I had turned the corner and belonged. Now, it was all being ripped away from me. I was so angry at my dad that I told him that I was going to stay in Anderson and live with my best friend, Donnie. I was very serious about it. That was how important it was to me to live where I felt as though I belonged – for once. But, of course, I was a kid and my desires were not an option.

 

It was on to Travelers Rest, SC with my parents. My world was over. I lost the life I had developed in Anderson. In Travelers Rest, I was a nobody again. No friends. No connections. Just another new town. Little did I know that it was this town that would control my future for years to come far beyond June 1980 when my parents moved to Charleston, SC. In 1976 though, I needed to rebuild and get connected. I was desperate for the acceptance I had in Anderson.

 

My dad was assigned to be the pastor of the Travelers Rest Charge, as they call such things in Methodism. It’s when you have multiple churches served by one pastor. My dad served charges for most of his pastoral career except in his later years when he was able to serve what the Methodists call station churches (i.e., a pastor serving a single church). In Travelers Rest, dad was the pastor of Travelers Rest and Jackson Grove United Methodist Churches. Travelers Rest United Methodist was the in-town church and Jackson Grove was the out-in-the-country church. Big difference in those two churches. One was professional families and the other was farmer families. It was there in the smaller church that the direction of my life would be imprinted for a long time. The smaller church actually had the larger more vibrant youth group. So, I ended up deciding to attend more regularly there than at the bigger in-town church. It was there that I met Lisa McDowell.

 

The first couple of months I was there, including the first two months of school, I was a fish out of water. Didn’t know anybody at school and the girls were not impressed with me as far as I could tell. I only thought I was low emotionally during those summer months in Travelers Rest before school started. Being a nobody again after being a big man on campus in Anderson was devastating and I desperately craved acceptance. It was when Lisa began taking an interest in me that things started to change. She opened doors to all kinds of new people. It made me dependent on Lisa in ways that would affect our relationship for years to come. The mold for any relationship is formed early on and is hard to change once the mold is set. Although I became popular eventually in my own right at Travelers Rest High School. Lisa was the key to it all. She opened all the doors. I became very tied to her approval of me. It would crush me when I did not have her approval. Lisa and I were deeply in love, or so we thought at that age. We dated all through high school. Even after she graduated, a year before me, we stuck with the relationship. It was good in those days. Lots of fun, sex, and parties. We got engaged right after I graduated high school in 1979 and planned a wedding for the next summer in July 1980.

 

We had a great time together, but I was the lesser in the relationship. Lisa had a very dominating personality. When you combine that with my “why can’t we all just get along” personality and the fact that I was an approval seeker, it allowed Lisa to step into the controls of the relationship. All I did was to please her and to gain her approval. She defined how I felt about myself. When she was happy with me, I was a happy person. When she was unhappy with me, I was an unhappy person. But while all that was going on during our dating years from 1976-1980, we were inseparable and we had great times.

 

If I had never gotten into that relationship, I often sit and wonder what my life would have been like. There would have most likely been no wedding at age 18. There would have most likely been no Furman University but rather Clemson. There would have been no being tied to Travelers Rest because having to care for a handicapped mother in law. There would have been dealing with the death of her brother in a car accident. There would have been no dealing with Lisa’s violent temper. There would have been no dealing with her drug addiction for eight years after her brother’s death. There would have been no dealing with her affair during her drug addiction. There would have been no raging despair and anger toward her that led me to have an affair of my own that ended the marriage to Lisa and began the marriage to Trena. That marriage was just a repeat of the first with no drug addiction and wacked out behavior but with my kids vs. your kids issue, a new ingredient in the recipe of marriage. The patterns of behavior of approval/disapproval, doing whatever it took to keep a woman happy and have access to sex was the same though. That same pattern of approval and disapproval eventually led to rebellion on my part of saying enough is enough to my entire previous life since moving to Travelers Rest in 1976.

 

I imagine that my life would be so completely different right now if it had not been for that move to Travelers Rest in 1976. I most likely would not be sitting on my couch right now in Lyman, SC typing this blog as a decoy from beginning the Christmas decoration operation. I do wonder though if I would have met my wife now of almost 7 years, Elena. How would I have met her, the calming influence on my life, the normalcy that she brought to my life. She took this raging, angry horse and whispered to him and settled him down. She calmed the beast in me. She was able to bring the un-ride-able horse into a sense of calm and peace. Would I have met her if it were not for the changed trajectory?

 

Sometimes when I ponder the thought, I think of that movie, The Family Man (with Nicolas Cage and Tea Leoni), where Nicolas Cage’s character finds out what his life would have been like if he had made a different decision at his critical moment. That decision point was whether to go to London to pursue an internship after college or to stay with Tea Leoni’s character. He gets to see what his life would have been like if he had not gone to London. He ends up longing for the life that he missed. I too sometimes wonder what life would have been like if I had not moved to Travelers Rest in 1976. It was there that the path of my life turned down this road that has led me to Lyman, SC in 2016, some forty years later.

 

It was that seminal moment in life that changes everything that I thought of this morning when I read through the passage for today, Deuteronomy 1:6-8:

 

6 The Lord our God said to us at Horeb, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. 7 Break camp and advance into the hill country of the Amorites; go to all the neighboring peoples in the Arabah, in the mountains, in the western foothills, in the Negev and along the coast, to the land of the Canaanites and to Lebanon, as far as the great river, the Euphrates. 8 See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land the Lord swore he would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants after them.”

 

The first thing that you notice here is that Moses’ summary of Israel’s 40 year journey begins at Mount Sinai – not in Egypt. Why did Moses leave out the first part of the Exodus? He was summarizing the development of the nation of Israel. They were not a nation before that point. In Moses’ mind, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the nation of Israel began at the foot of Mount Sinai. For it was at the foot of Mount Sinai that God gave His covenant to the people (Exodus 19-20). Along with the covenant came the knowledge and responsibility of being God’s chosen people. After the people chose to follow God, they had to know how to follow Him. Therefore, God gave them a comprehensive set of laws and guidelines that stated how He wanted them to live. The people could no longer say they didn’t know the difference between right and wrong. Now that the people had promised to follow God and knew how to follow Him, they had a responsibility to do it. It all goes back to Sinai. All the wanderings and meanderings of the past 40 years hinged upon Sinai. It was there that everything changed. The Israelites would be a wandering rabble of nomadic people if it were not for the God moment at Sinai. That’s where God made them His people. The entire future of Israel and of us as Christians points back to this seminal moment in the Sinai wilderness at Mt. Sinai.

 

What is your seminal moment? What is that one point in life where everything changed? What is that moment where you can go back to and say, this was the moment that changed the course of my life? It was Travelers Rest in 1976 for me. Everything goes back to that moment. It was out of that move to Travelers Rest in 1976 that my entire current life flows, forty years of it. It is all actions and reactions resulting from that moment the moving van pulled out of the parsonage driveway in Anderson on its way to Travelers Rest parsonage. However, as I said yesterday, that game changing moment was necessary for the life that God has placed before me. I would not know the joy of my daughters without that move. I would not know the joy of my life right now with these daughters grown and the addition of a wonderful stepdaughter. I would not know the joy of the wife that I have now without that seminal moment of the move to Travelers Rest. Without the twists and turns of my life, I would not know Elena and the peace, joy, and stability that she has brought to my life. I would not know her without all the stuff that I went through without moving to Travelers Rest and living the life that I have lived since then.

 

Sure, you wonder what your life would be like if the seminal moment would have been different. But it would not be your life. It would be some other man’s life. Not this Mark Bowling’s life. I would not appreciate what I have now if it were not for what came before. The move to Travelers Rest and everything that came after it were necessary for me to appreciate the high, dry ground that I stand on now. It makes me appreciate and honor and love and respect and praise my God more than ever. Without the toils and trials since that seminal moment of moving to Travelers Rest, I maybe would not love the Lord the way that I do now. Maybe, I would be all caught up in the corporate ladder life and living an empty life of things and trinkets.

 

But without the move to Travelers Rest, I would not know the wonders of the blessings that belong to me now. It makes the words of the old hymn that is just so beautiful that it brings tears to my eyes when it is played straight up (non-contemporary) in the original arrangement:

 

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found;

Was blind, but now I see.

 

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,

And grace my fears relieved;

How precious did that grace appear

The hour I first believed!

 

Through many dangers, toils and snares,

I have already come;

’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,

And grace will lead me home.

 

The Lord has promised good to me,

His Word my hope secures;

He will my Shield and Portion be,

As long as life endures.

 

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,

And mortal life shall cease,

I shall possess, within the veil,

A life of joy and peace.

 

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,

The sun forbear to shine;

But God, who called me here below,

Will be forever mine.

 

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,

Bright shining as the sun,

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

Than when we’d first begun.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 1:1-5

Introduction to Moses’ First Address

It is Thanksgiving Day in America today. It is a time of reflection. It is a time of looking back at the road that has led to this point in time. Sometimes you wonder why all the twists and turns have occurred. Why did you have to go through all the stuff to get where you are. Wouldn’t have been easier if we had just taken a straight line to where you are now. A lot of times, we say, “Man, if I only knew then what I know now, things would be so different!” When you think of the twists and turns of your life, man, it is right. If we knew then what we know now, we wouldn’t have made some of the choices that we made.

 

For example, with me, I think of some of the choices that I have made or the choices that were made for me. As many of you know, I grew up as a Methodist preacher’s kid. One of the most fateful decisions of my life was made for me as a result of being a Methodist preacher’s kid. The Methodist Church in South Carolina in its wisdom thought it was best to move my dad from his appointment as the Associate Pastor (the only time he was not the head pastor) at Trinity UMC in Anderson, SC to Travelers Rest & Jackson Grove United Methodist churches in Travelers Rest, SC back in 1976 when I was about to turn 14. What if? That one move of all the moves that we made when I was growing up affected the entire trajectory of my life. That was the most fateful move of the history of my life. That move. That move, everything hinges on it. I often wonder what if when it comes to that move. What if my dad had gotten moved somewhere else. I would have never met Lisa, who became my first wife, and would not have had to go through all the stuff that I went through with. With the marriage to her and her having a handicapped mother to care, we ended up staying in Greenville. There were opportunities to move away from the Greenville area that I had to turn down because of the whole situation with her mother. I would never had to suffer through her addictions and the pain and suffering that I had to go through because of that.

 

What if I had broken up with Lisa while were dating in high school? That would have changed everything. There was one girl, Mindy Walker, that I would have broken up with Lisa for but did not have quite the cuhanas to do it. I often wonder how that would have changed my life. Mindy wanted me to be her boyfriend but I was too, what amounts to being, scared of Lisa’s wrath to ever go through with it. Mindy was so much calmer and less volatile than Lisa. That was a missed opportunity that I wonder what would have happened to my life if I had taken that path – the Mindy project, the Mindy path. What would my life had been like. Where would I be right now?

 

What if I would have gone to Clemson University for college like I wanted to? Instead of staying home in Greenville and going to Furman University so that I could stay near Lisa. I know most likely if I had gone just an hour away from Greenville and went to Clemson that hour away would have changed everything. It most likely would have caused Lisa and me to drift apart. It would have become harder and harder to leave Tiger Town and come home every weekend because of the things I would have become involved in over at Clemson. Probably a fraternity. I would have met people that would have changed my life. Lisa and I would most likely have broken up over that hour away in Clemson. What would have my life have been like if I had gone to Clemson and met a Clemson girl? What would have my college experience been like? Where would I be now if I had met and married a Clemson girl? What would I be doing? Where would I be living?

 

What if I had never accepted that job at Dunlop Slazenger Corporation (DSC) where I met Trena. After all the drug addiction, drama, manipulativeness, and vindictiveness that I suffered through with Lisa, Trena was a breath of fresh air. A breath of sanity. A breath of normalness. I would have never met her if I had not accepted the job at DSC. I would have never fell madly in love with her and left Lisa. That marriage proved to be just as painful as the first. Trena hated anything to do with my past. I ended up cutting myself off from friends from my past and from my family. The whole my kids vs. your kids thing wound up destroying that marriage. What if I had more balls to stand up to her and say that I am going to do more than just what was legally necessary for my children. What if I had not been so addicted to access to female charms? What if? What if I had not met her? What if I had gone to work somewhere else and found someone else at a different place of employment. What would my life be like now? I would not have had to move away from Greenville finally after 28 years just to get away from my past and make more money because I was the only one funding my oldest daughther’s college experience at Clemson? Where would I be now?

 

The circuitous route of my life would be totally different if I had not moved to Travelers Rest. It would be totally different if I had gone to Clemson instead of Furman. The trajectory of my life would be totally different if I had not gone to work at Dunlop Slazenger Corporation. All the pain and suffering that I have gone through in my life may have not occurred if I had not met Lisa or met Trena. Things would be so different now. If I had only made different choices!

 

But then I think. If I had not met Lisa (even with all the pain that relationship caused), I would not have my wonderful daughters, Meghan and Taylor. Sure, I would have children but they would not be Meghan and Taylor. Those unique, quirky, wonderful daughters that they are. If I had not met Trena, I would not appreciate the relationship that I have with my children now (because I almost lost total touch with my own kids during my marriage to Trena). If I had not met Trena, I would not know about the fact that I was giving up my soul because of access to sex. If I had not met Trena, I would have never known the pain and suffering of withdrawing from making a person your god. I would not know of the fact that I could actually make it on my own without a woman in my life. If I had not met Lisa and Trena, I would not have learned to be more frugal with money. While married to these ladies, I sold my credit rating down the river just to make them happy. If I had not met and married these ladies and lived in the places that I lived and lived the lifestyles that I lived with them, I would not have moved to Rock Hill, SC after 30 years in the Greenville, SC area. If I had not known the life that I lived in Greenville, I would have never been ready to met my wife that I have now, Elena.

 

For having the past that I had with my previous wives, I would not have such a great appreciation that I have a great friend, my best friend, in her. I would not appreciate that we have friendship that extends beyond the bedroom into the living room. I would not appreciate how we have worked so incredibly hard to restore my credit to the point that I don’t have to make exceptions for my credit anymore. We have worked hard to save and work toward living with less and less debt. We have worked hard to be in a position to be generous. We have been blessed so much through our obedience to God that He has generously blessed us in so many ways. I wonder what my life would be like if I had not met Elena. I shutter at the thought. With being married to her, I have learned about unconditional love from her. With Elena, she is my accountability partner when it comes to my relationship with the Lord. With Elena, I know of comfort and security. I praise God for the lack of drama in our marriage. She is my resting place. She is my high ground above the floods that were my life.

 

Without my past, I would not know of the peace and serenity of my present. Without my past, I could not really appreciate the soundness of my present. Without the missed turns and twists in the road of my life, I would not know of the easy stream that I am floating down now. I know that I am blessed right now. I know that I have it good right now. It is not an expectation. It is an appreciation. If I did not have my past, I could not appreciate my present. A good wife. A good life. A generous life. A blessed life. A life where I appreciate the joy of a grandchild. All of the roses of my life now would not smell so sweet if it were not for my past.

 

The thanksgiving for where I am today is what I thought of when I read today’s passage. That thanksgiving comes from seeing where you are after all you have been through is what I thought of. Let’s read it together:

 

1 These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the wilderness east of the Jordan—that is, in the Arabah—opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth and Dizahab. 2 (It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road.)

 

3 In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses proclaimed to the Israelites all that the Lord had commanded him concerning them. 4 This was after he had defeated Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, and at Edrei had defeated Og king of Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth.

 

5 East of the Jordan in the territory of Moab, Moses began to expound this law, saying

 

The Israelites spend 40 years on a journey that should have lasted 11 days at the time. It wasn’t distance that stood between them and the Promised Land. It was the condition of their hearts. God’s purpose went deeper than simply transporting a large group of people from one place to another. He was preparing them to live in obedience to Him once they arrived. What good was the Promised Land if the Israelites were just as wicked as the people living there? The journey was a painful but necessary part of their preparation. Through it, God taught the Israelites who He is – the living God, the Leader of their Nation. He also taught them who they were: people who were fallen, sinful, prone to rebellion, and doubt. He have His rebellious people the law to help them understand, how to relate to God and other people.

 

For you and me, our spiritual journey may be lengthy and we may face pain, discouragement, and difficulties. But remember, God is not simply keeping you alive to experience these things. He is preparing you to live for service and devotion to Him. The roads we travel are not wasted. God is preparing us for what He has next for us. Nothing is random. Nothing is purposeless.

 

On this Thanksgiving Day, I thank God for the twists and turns of my life. It makes me who I am today. It makes me appreciate the calm waters upon which I sail right now. Without the wilderness of my past life, I could not truly appreciate the Promised Land in which I live now. Thank you Lord. I enter Your gates with thanksgiving and Your courts with praise. Thank you Lord for the wilderness. It has made me see your hand in my life. I am thankful for you placing me on the high ground. It is not lost on me that I am blessed beyond all that I could imagine or hope for.

 

Amen and Amen.

DEUTERONOMY

Last Friday, Elena and I had to sign our names like at least 20 times when we closed on the purchase of our new home. We had to sign this document and that document. We had to sign the mortgage itself between us and the bank. We had to sign the deed and numerous other documents that defined what we could and could not do as it relates to the parties to the sale, the real estate agents, the lawyers, and the bank. It was all rather blindingly confusing and fast. Although the closing attorney tried to explain everything to us, it became a blur of documents to sign after a while. I am sure that all these documents are required because at some point in the history of real estate transactions did something to cause the need for each of these documents. It’s kind of like those warning labels on things. The warning label was required because some idiot caused the need for warning label. For example, you know those silica gel packs that you often find in shoes (what purpose they serve for new shoes I am not sure), they always have a warning written on them, “Do not eat”. I look at those gel packs and think, “why in the world would anybody want to eat that? That’s a stupid warning!” However, at some point, somebody must’ve tried to eat the silica gel packs, got sick, and sued the manufacturer of the shoes. We encounter many situations like that everywhere.

 

So, I assume that all these documents that we had to sign were to limit our ability to sue others, others’ ability to sue us, establish the rights and obligations of all the parties involved in the sale and also the rights and obligations of us and the financial institution that holds our mortgage. Most certainly, when it comes to the mortgage, most of the rights are given to the financial institution because they are the ones that are taking the biggest risk – lending us a six figure amount of money to purchase a home. The bank has the advantage in the mortgage. We are the ones that have to execute certain acts throughout the life of the mortgage to retain the right to continue owning our home. If we fail to execute those acts, the bank can foreclose on our home and kick us out of it and sell it off. Thus, we have to do what the bank says so that we can live in our home. If we do not satisfy the bank, the mortgage, a kind of covenant or contract between us and the bank, gives them the right to take our ownership away from us. The mortgage is definitely slanted in the bank’s favor. It is kind of like a treaty between a conquering nation and an conquered nation at the end of a war. It definitely gives all the advantages to one party over the other because they won the war. You have a victorious party that grants certain rights to the conquered and restricts others. It requires the conquered party to recognize the superiority of the victorious party in the relationship.

 

It was that idea of there being a superior party, the bank, over us, my wife and me, as it relates to the home and property that we just purchased. When it comes to that house we live in, we must recognize the bank as the superior party. They are the ones that loaned us the money. We are subject to the bank when it comes to the ownership of our home. The mortgage establishes that relationship and defines the bank as the superior party and it tells us what we can and can’t do financially and legally with regard to our home. It is that idea of a covenant between a superior party and an inferior party that comes through loud and clear as we step into our next book, Deuteronomy. Let’s take a quick overview today before we get started:

 

Overview of the Book of Deuteronomy

 

The genre of the book of Deuteronomy is not much different from that of Exodus. It is Narrative History and Law, although there is a Song from Moses just after he commissions Joshua. This song describes the History that the Israelites had experienced. Moses wrote Deuteronomy approximately 1407-1406 B.C. The key personalities are Moses and Joshua.

 

Moses wrote this book to remind the Israelites of what God had done and to remind them of what God expects of them. The name literally means “Second Law”. Moses gives “the Law” for the second time.

 

  • In chapters 1-4, Moses reviews some of the details of the past history of Israel such as the Exodus and the wandering in the wilderness. He then urges that they obey the Laws of God.

 

  • Then, in chapters 5-28 Moses restates the Ten Commandments to the Israelites. Moses explains the principles and instructions for living a Godly life as God’s chosen nation. These include how to love the Lord, laws of worship, laws regarding relationships (like divorce), and also the consequences and penalties if these laws are broken.

 

  • Chapters 29-30 there is a move to commit themselves, as a nation, and to stand apart unto God. This consists of not only knowing the many laws that God has commanded, but also obeying them and placing God first.

 

  • Finally, in chapter 31 through 34, we see the first change in leadership in Israel. Moses, the one who has been leading them the entire time, hands over his authority to Joshua, and commissions him. Moses blesses the tribes, which reminds us of Jacob blessing his sons almost 450 years earlier. In the last chapter, God shows Moses the promise land, although he cannot enter it, after this, Moses the servant of the Lord dies on Mt. Nebo.

 

The book takes almost the form of a contract between a superior nation (God) and an inferior, conquered nation (the people of Israel). The following outline represents a fairly widely held consensus of the shape of the book as a covenant document:

 

  • The preamble, which provides the setting in which the Great King presents the covenant text to the vassal ( 1:1-5 ).
  • The historical prologue, which recounts the past relations between the two contracting parties (1:6-4:49).
  • The general stipulations, which present the basic principles of expectation of behavior that underlie the relationship (5:1-11:32).
  • The specific stipulations, which provide interpretation or amplification of the general stipulations, usually in terms of actual cases or precise requirements (12:1-26:15).
  • The blessings and curses, which spell out the results of faithful adherence to or disobedience of the terms of the covenant (27:1- 28:68).
  • The witnesses, that is, persons or other entities to which appeal can be made as to the legality of the covenant instrument and to the commitments made by the contracting parties ( 30:19 ; 31:19; 32:1-43 ).

 

In light of the indisputable connection between form and function, it is safe to say that the concept of covenant lies at the center of the theology of Deuteronomy. Covenant, in turn, by its very definition demands at least three elements: the two contracting parties and the document that describes the purpose, nature, and requirements of the relationship. Thus the three major rubrics of the theology of Deuteronomy are Yahweh, the Great King and covenant initiator; Israel, the vassal and covenant recipient; and the book itself, the covenant vehicle, complete with the essentials of standard treaty documents.

Thus, the takeaway that I have after reading through all the summaries of Deuteronomy this morning and yesterday, as I was preparing for this blog, is that God is the sovereign king and we are his subjects. He has made covenant with us that establishes our relationship with Him that we might come into his presence through keeping his covenant requirements. He is a holy God and the Law is the way in which we are to be holy just like Him. Deuteronomy also shows us that it is impossible for us to keep the law 100% of the time for 100% of our lives. The covenant establishes the consequences of our failure to keep the Law.

 

Deuteronomy also reinforces the concept of grace in my mind. It reminds me of our need for Jesus. Deuteronomy points out to us that we are insufficient to maintain the Law perfectly all the time. Thus, Deuteronomy teaches that we are convicted by our inability to be perfect all the time. Just like with our mortgage, it does not matter how many years we pay our mortgage on time each month, if we fail to make a payment and continue in that delinquency, the bank can take our house away. It is the same way with God, it does not matter how many good deeds we do, if we fail to keep his law perfectly throughout all of our life, He will condemn us to hell. When we sin, we fail to keep the law. When we sin just one time (no matter how good we have been previously), we are done. God can come in and take our heavenly house away. We are done. We are convicted. We are delinquent on our mortgage with God.

 

Just as the bank does not want to go through the hassle of enforcing its rights under our mortgage agreement when we are delinquent, the bank will give us a grace period to catch up on that payment. In that situation, they have every right in the world to come down hard on us for missing a payment or paying late. The bank knows it and we know it. All parties know that they have the right to come down hard on delinquency. However, banks will give you time to cure the breach of the mortgage.

 

It is kind of like that with God. He has every right to come down hard on us and send us to hell based on the fact that we are totally incapable of keeping his laws. We are sinful. We have sinned. It makes us delinquents. We are convicted for having transgressed God’s law. It is evident to all parties and we know it ourselves. However, God gives us grace. The grace comes from Jesus Christ. He is the cure to our breach of God’s law. He makes us compliant with our mortgage with the superior party, God. He gets us back current with God. He cures our delinquency for us. It is through the grace of Jesus Christ that God does not enforce His covenant-given rights to condemn us. When God sees us after salvation (after we have taken advantage of grace), He sees the purity of Jesus. He does not see our delinquency. He treats like a bank treating us as if we have never made a late payment on our mortgage. He wipes off the delinquency off our eternal credit report. We are made whole.

 

Deuteronomy reminds us of the power of Jesus’ grace and that it is a gift to us and not something that we can do ourselves. We are sinful people deserving of punishment but He has given us, given us, grace through Jesus Christ.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 36:1-13

Women Who Inherit Property

One of my favorite guilty pleasures of movies, “Talledega Nights”.  My daughters and I use to annoy people when we watched this movie because we had seen it so much and loved it so much that we would quote the lines of the movie seconds before the actor would say them. After Ricky Bobby ascends to the top of the stock car racing world, he has a wreck that makes him lose his confidence and he eventually loses his spot on the Dennett Racing Team as a driver. Things get bad for him after that. His “smoking hot wife” Carly asks for a divorce and takes everything Ricky has earned. So, he and his boys end up living his mom. Early on, we see that these boys have no rules and have never been disciplined. In one scene, after the boys come home from church or school, they go running through the backyard screaming, “Anarchy! Anarchy! Anarchy!” As they end up by their neighbors window and are spraying water from a water hose inside the open window of their grandmother’s neighbor, the youngest boy screams, “Anarchy, anarchy, I don’t know what it is! But I love it!” This is the moment that grandma has had enough of son’s lack of discipline for the boys and places the boys under, not martial law, but “Granny’s law”. From that point forward, we see a continuous improvement in the boys’ behavior as “granny’s law” and “painting their back porch” mold their behavior into the acceptable range.

 

When you are a parent and you are a good one, you have rules for your children. Usually, when your children disobey your rules, there are consequences. They break the rules; they suffer the consequences. There are whippings or this is the removal of privileges. There is often a “wait til your father gets home” when a mom sends the kids to their room. That wait is the longest wait ever for a child. But when the dad gets home, the negotiation process begins. While waiting in their rooms, a child will develop justifications for their actions. They will develop negotiating points that will potentially, in their mind, lessen their punishment.

 

I remember in my second marriage, her boys were a handful. They were an unruly tribe of three. They would get in trouble constantly. My ex-wife would get exasperated with them constantly and proclaim that they were “on restrictions for the rest of your life” in anger. She would send them to their rooms so that we could have some peace and quiet. Inevitably, every time, the boys would come out of their rooms and start negotiating with their mom. They would cry. They would make promises. They would justify. They would negotiate their way out of trouble. They would get their “sentences” reduced. From a lifetime of restrictions to a couple of weeks. As the night progressed and they would continue to wear their mother down with their constant “negotations” and being the sweetest boys ever at that point, they would gradually get their sentences reduced to a week often. As that week progressed and my ex-wife found that these restrictions were more painful and inconvenient for her than it was for the boys, she would relent on their restrictions after the continued badgering of the boys. A realistic two to three-week restriction of privileges would then end up being less than a day or two in the end. They would negotiate with their mom particularly if I was the one that put them on restrictions. My authority by the end of our marriage was left in tatters after my ex-wife would allow these negotiations to occur. As you might expect, there really ended up being no rules for these boys. As you might expect, there was always an exception or a loophole that they would develop to get around their restrictions. As you might expect, restrictions became empty parental threats to them. As you might expect, their misbehaviors had very few consequences, if any. As you might expect, they were very undisciplined, rowdy, destructive boys who knew in the back of their minds that they could get away with pretty much anything. As you may have read or heard, there are two things that will break up a first marriage – money issues and sexual infidelity issues. But when you move to a second marriage, there are three main causes, not just two, for divorces in second marriages – money issues, sexual infidelity, and my kids vs. your kids issues. More than anything else in my second marriage, the children issues were the thing that ripped at the fabric of our marriage.

 

Leading a family is like leading a corporation or leading a nation. If you do not have rules of conduct, there will be anarchy and the nation will dissolve into a generation of people who think there are no rules and no consequences for their behaviors. It becomes anything goes. It becomes open seasons. However, sometimes there can be legitimate reasons for there to be exceptions to general rules. It takes real discernment for a leader to know when an exception is legitimate and when it is not. As parents, we are leaders of our families and we must have discernment as to when our kids are trying to simply trying to write-off their punishment and when there is a legitimate exception that needs to be made. Leading large groups of people can be filled with the same need for discernment.

 

In this last passage to the Book of Numbers, Numbers 39:1-13, we see the need for discernment in the case of inheritance of land when there are no sons. Let’s read this passage together now:

 

36 The family heads of the clan of Gilead son of Makir, the son of Manasseh, who were from the clans of the descendants of Joseph, came and spoke before Moses and the leaders, the heads of the Israelite families. 2 They said, “When the Lord commanded my lord to give the land as an inheritance to the Israelites by lot, he ordered you to give the inheritance of our brother Zelophehad to his daughters. 3 Now suppose they marry men from other Israelite tribes; then their inheritance will be taken from our ancestral inheritance and added to that of the tribe they marry into. And so part of the inheritance allotted to us will be taken away. 4 When the Year of Jubilee for the Israelites comes, their inheritance will be added to that of the tribe into which they marry, and their property will be taken from the tribal inheritance of our ancestors.”

 

5 Then at the Lord’s command Moses gave this order to the Israelites: “What the tribe of the descendants of Joseph is saying is right. 6 This is what the Lord commands for Zelophehad’s daughters: They may marry anyone they please as long as they marry within their father’s tribal clan. 7 No inheritance in Israel is to pass from one tribe to another, for every Israelite shall keep the tribal inheritance of their ancestors. 8 Every daughter who inherits land in any Israelite tribe must marry someone in her father’s tribal clan, so that every Israelite will possess the inheritance of their ancestors. 9 No inheritance may pass from one tribe to another, for each Israelite tribe is to keep the land it inherits.”

 

10 So Zelophehad’s daughters did as the Lord commanded Moses. 11 Zelophehad’s daughters—Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milkah and Noah—married their cousins on their father’s side. 12 They married within the clans of the descendants of Manasseh son of Joseph, and their inheritance remained in their father’s tribe and clan.

 

13 These are the commands and regulations the Lord gave through Moses to the Israelites on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho.

 

In this passage, and from previous passages, we know that Zelophehad had five daughters but no sons. After he died, the daughters made an appeal to Moses. Because inheritance passed through males in Israelite society, the family line of Zelophehad would have disappeared. God told Moses that if a man died without sons, the the inheritance would go to his daughters (Numbers 27:8). However, the earlier decision did not address marriage. If the daughters were to marry outside their tribe, the land would belong to the new tribe and the land of the old tribe would be reduced. Moses, thus, commanded that in such cases the women would have to marry within their own tribe so that each tribe would retain their inheritance of land.

 

We do not have to look far as leaders and as parents to find those who want to be considered “special cases” and/or “exceptions to the rule.” We see it all the time in church settings as well when we are dealing with people seeking assistance from the church. We see it all the time at biggest event of the year that our church puts on, The Thanksgiving Meal Giveaway. People who claim that they can’t make to the church ask us to set aside a turkey for them. People in line the morning of the event will want to be moved to the front of the line. No matter what we do at church to help the world around us, there are those who don’t want the rules to apply to them. It takes great discernment sometimes to see through the bravado of the claim to the reality of the situation. The same is true as a parent, sometimes we have to see through what are kids are trying to accomplish by attempting to negotiate an exception to our rules.

 

Wise leaders have discernment as to what are legitimate concerns and make sure that justice is done in these special situations. We must understand if our rules are creating the hardship or injustice or whether a person simply does not want to suffer with the application of the rules to them. It’s tough to figure out sometimes! We have to maintain the rules as parents and as leaders or the rules become meaningless and anarchy ensues. However, we must also be able to recognize exceptions when they are legitimate. As a parent, we have to recognize that a child may have broken the family rules to help a friend out of a jam. Leadership is about applying the rules of life with a sense of compassion but yet with firmness.

 

God has rules for our lives that produce a godly life in pursuit of Him and in pursuit of holiness. As sinful people, though, we find it impossible to maintain the Laws of God 100% of the time for 100% of our life. We are condemned to punishment and separation from God forever in the place called hell – where there is anarchy and you won’t love it. We are condemned under the justice of God’s law for it is with one sin that we become unholy in his sight. With one sin, we are no longer qualified for heaven and to be in the presence of the perfect and holy God. We are condemned by our own behavior – all of us. No one is fully righteous all the days of their lives. Even our thoughts will condemn us because though we might not do sinful deeds, our minds’ thoughts condemn us to hell. What are we to do? There is only one solution. It is Jesus Christ. He came to earth to be the sacrificial lamb before His Father in heaven. He took on the justice of punishment from God for us. Through Jesus we have our “special case” and our “exception to the rule” Because by all rights, God can condemn us to hell because of our sin. We have no excuse. We have no legitimate exception to the rule of our own. We are caught. We are dead to rights condemned. However, God being the compassionate loving God that He is, in addition to being the God of justice, provides us one way to avoid our punishment. He gives us Jesus. If we only believe in Him as the Son of God, that He died for our sins, and that He arose from the dead to give us victory over sin and death, we will be saved. We will have our exception to the rule. The rule still exists and is still enforced for those who do not grab a hold of Jesus as their Savior. The rule still applies to us but it is through the belief in Jesus that we are given, read that – given, our legitimate reprieve from the application of the punishment that we totally and fully deserve.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 35:9-34

Cities of Refuge

I remember, back in high school, one of my favorite books that was required reading in my sophomore year Literature/Writing class was the book, The Ox-Bow Incident. The Ox-Bow Incident is a 1940 western novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark in which two drifters are drawn into a lynch mob to find and hang three men presumed to be rustlers and the killers of a local man. Clifton Fadiman wrote an introduction to the Readers Club edition in which he called it a “mature, unpitying examination of what causes men to love violence and to transgress justice,” and “the best novel of its year.” In 1943, the novel was adapted into an Academy Award-nominated movie of the same name, directed by William A. Wellman and starring Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan. In the book, these men in the lynch mob decide to hang three men without allowing for a fair trial. The mob mentality takes over. There was a presumption of guilt from the beginning. There were preconceived notions that took over and led to the lynching of the men they found at the campfire. It reminds us that we must seek justice above all and not to take the law into our hands.

 

That book profoundly affected me as a teenager. It was a reminder that we should be quick to give someone the benefit of the doubt and slow to jump to conclusions. It was a reminder that everyone has a back story that may play into how they react to you. It was reminder that we must examine all the facts of a situation before go off half-cocked about something. Typically, when we have knee-jerk reactions about things it ends up backfiring in our face. My first ex-wife was this kind of person. She acted first and thought later. She would go with her first instinct on things and assume that a person intentionally hurt her. She had an I am right and you are wrong mentality, an “if I believe it; it must be true” mentality, an “automatically assume the worst about others” mentality. Certainly, there are benefits to this type of personality. You never let people run over you and you are a keen defender of your own rights. However, that me-first mentality seemed to make more enemies than it did friends. With me, I tended to overanalyze things to the point of taking no action at all or walking away wishing I had said something to protect my own rights and didn’t. However, more often than not, to be less quick to judge and less quick to jump to conclusions about other people is a good thing. It often preserves relationships when we do not react quickly and harshly to situations.

 

The liberal faction of our nation seems have this knee-jerk reaction mentality in the aftermath of the election. They seem convinced without evidence of Trump even officially being in office that he is wrong just because he is not their candidate. They riot in the street and Trump has not even been inaugurated yet. He has not yet made the first executive decision. They automatically assume that he is going to be Satan in office and he hasn’t even taken the oath of office yet. He has yet to occupy the oval office and he is already being branded. He is already being hung from a tree just like in the Ox-Bow Incident. I say let the man govern first. Let him actually give you something to protest about first. This knee-jerk reaction of the liberals is the very closed-mindedness that their accuse people on the right of possessing. Just because Donald Trump is Donald Trump, they assume that he is going to be worse than a dictator in a South American country. Let’s give the man a chance I say. Let’s not lynch him until he actually governs. Let us allow the checks and balances of our form of government move him toward the center of reasonableness and not the outlandish bluster of his campaign rhetoric. Let us not hang him without a fair trial. Let us find evidence before we execute him.

 

It was this idea of justice before assumptions of guilt that I thought of today when I read through this passage for today, Number 35:9-34. Let’s read it together now:

 

9 Then the Lord said to Moses: 10 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, 11 select some towns to be your cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone accidentally may flee. 12 They will be places of refuge from the avenger, so that anyone accused of murder may not die before they stand trial before the assembly. 13 These six towns you give will be your cities of refuge. 14 Give three on this side of the Jordan and three in Canaan as cities of refuge. 15 These six towns will be a place of refuge for Israelites and for foreigners residing among them, so that anyone who has killed another accidentally can flee there.

 

16 “‘If anyone strikes someone a fatal blow with an iron object, that person is a murderer; the murderer is to be put to death. 17 Or if anyone is holding a stone and strikes someone a fatal blow with it, that person is a murderer; the murderer is to be put to death. 18 Or if anyone is holding a wooden object and strikes someone a fatal blow with it, that person is a murderer; the murderer is to be put to death. 19 The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death; when the avenger comes upon the murderer, the avenger shall put the murderer to death. 20 If anyone with malice aforethought shoves another or throws something at them intentionally so that they die 21 or if out of enmity one person hits another with their fist so that the other dies, that person is to be put to death; that person is a murderer. The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death when they meet.

 

22 “‘But if without enmity someone suddenly pushes another or throws something at them unintentionally 23 or, without seeing them, drops on them a stone heavy enough to kill them, and they die, then since that other person was not an enemy and no harm was intended, 24 the assembly must judge between the accused and the avenger of blood according to these regulations. 25 The assembly must protect the one accused of murder from the avenger of blood and send the accused back to the city of refuge to which they fled. The accused must stay there until the death of the high priest, who was anointed with the holy oil.

 

26 “‘But if the accused ever goes outside the limits of the city of refuge to which they fled 27 and the avenger of blood finds them outside the city, the avenger of blood may kill the accused without being guilty of murder. 28 The accused must stay in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest; only after the death of the high priest may they return to their own property.

 

29 “‘This is to have the force of law for you throughout the generations to come, wherever you live.

 

30 “‘Anyone who kills a person is to be put to death as a murderer only on the testimony of witnesses. But no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.

 

31 “‘Do not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer, who deserves to die. They are to be put to death.

 

32 “‘Do not accept a ransom for anyone who has fled to a city of refuge and so allow them to go back and live on their own land before the death of the high priest.

 

33 “‘Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it. 34 Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the Lord, dwell among the Israelites.’”

 

In this passage, we see that if anyone died because of violence, murder was assumed, but the murder suspect was not automatically assumed guilty. The cities of refuge assured the accused that justice would be served. If the person left the city of refuge, then he or she would be assumed guilty and could be killed by the avenging party. The people were to be intolerant of sin yet impartial to the accused so as to have a fair trial. The cities of refuge represented God’s concern for justice in a culture and a period in history that did not always protect the rights of the innocent. If is unjust both to overlook wrongdoing and the jump to conclusions about guilt. When someone is accused of wrongdoing, we must stand up for justice, protect those not yet proven guilty, and listen carefully to all sides of a story and examine all of the evidence before arriving at the conclusion that someone is guilty. We should offer grace first and judgment only after all the evidence is in.

 

That is what I see that we should be doing both the liberal and the conservative when it comes to Trump. As conservatives, we must not automatically assume that Trump is going to be all that we have hoped for. We must allow him to govern first and see what he does. Same goes for the liberals, don’t vilify him before he takes office. Allow him to govern and see if there is actually evidence that he is going to be the ogre that you expect.

 

Let us be that way in our personal lives. Let us be a people who give grace first and judgment second. Let us love first and jump to conclusions second. Let us demonstrate love in the face of evil. Let us pray for our tormentors rather than lash out at them in hate. Let us understand the back story of a person as to why they react a certain way rather than just assume that they are an ass. Let us weigh the evidence of a person when we react instead of just reacting from a place of hurt pride. Let us be known as a loving people rather than people of hate. Let us love those who live in opposition to God’s Word rather than automatically writing them off as unsavable by the grace of Jesus Christ. We were once lost too you know! Let us love like Jesus did. Let us be quick to love and slow to anger.

 

Amen and Amen.