Archive for November, 2016

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.

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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.

Numbers 35:1-8

Towns for the Levites

As many of you know, I grew up as a preacher’s kid. My dad was a minister in the South Carolina conference of the United Methodist Church. For much of his career with the church as I was growing up, he served rural churches in farming communities outside of mid-sized towns in South Carolina. I was born during my dad’s first appointment in Lamar, SC. After that we moved to Anderson, SC. Then onto Walhalla, SC followed by Rembert, SC. After Rembert, we moved to Hartsville, SC. From there, we moved to Elgin, SC. From Elgin, we moved to Anderson for a second time. Once we were done in Anderson, we moved to Travelers Rest, SC (and, yes, that is the actual name of the town). After the Methodist Church decided to move my dad from Travelers Rest, I stayed behind at college at Furman University and got married to my high school sweetheart. My dad then moved on to Charleston and then to Spartanburg, SC. After Spartanburg, the church moved him to Woodruff and then to Bluffton, SC. After Bluffton, came Georgetown. After Georgetown came Conway. After Conway, came Union, SC. Finally, after 14 appointments and more than 50 years of full-time ministry, my dad went into semi-retirement and started serving two small churches in Iva, SC that could not afford a full-time pastor near his lake home until he fully retired a few years ago.

 

In all that time, as I was growing up and then watching my father as an adult, he earned his living and paid his bills based on the generosity of the members of the churches he served over those 50 plus years. He was a minister of God’s Word and he relied on the generosity of those who attended the churches he had served. We lived in parsonages as I was growing up. There was no home of our own to speak of growing up. My dad did not purchase a place to call his own until we were about to move from Anderson to Travelers Rest when I was a teenager. The parsonages were provided by each church and each parsonage was constructed by those churches, or purchased by those churches, through the generosity of the people of those churches. It kind of set up situations where the salary and the home were contingent upon not making people angry with the double edge sword of God’s Word. My dad was never shy about choosing to speak the truth of the Bible rather than compromise to keep his appointment to that church. In the Methodist Church with its interconnectional nature, every preacher is guaranteed a church and every church is guaranteed a preacher. So, there is a little more freedom to speak the truth of God’s Word because you know that the Methodist Church would move you to a new church if things got too rough. However, they could withhold raises and refuse to contribute their apportioned requirements to the state conference as retribution against a pastor.

 

Amazingly enough over those years, even with dad walking the tightrope of pleasing people while holding to the integrity of God’s Word, we never went without. Sure, being a preacher’s kid and my dad having a preacher’s salary, we did not have the finest things in the world, but we never starved. We never went without clothing. We never lived in a dark house with no electricity. The Lord always provided for my dad and his pursuit of ministry in the Lord’s name. I never noticed anything less than a normal childhood just like any other kid (except for the moving every two or so years). The Lord provided for us as my dad ministered to the people that God chose for him to serve.

 

It was that idea of making provision for those who dedicate their entire lives to serving the Lord as a full-time occupation that came to mind as I read today’s passage, Numbers 35:1-8:

 

35 On the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho, the Lord said to Moses, 2 “Command the Israelites to give the Levites towns to live in from the inheritance the Israelites will possess. And give them pasturelands around the towns. 3 Then they will have towns to live in and pasturelands for the cattle they own and all their other animals.

 

4 “The pasturelands around the towns that you give the Levites will extend a thousand cubits[a] from the town wall. 5 Outside the town, measure two thousand cubits[b] on the east side, two thousand on the south side, two thousand on the west and two thousand on the north, with the town in the center. They will have this area as pastureland for the towns.

Cities of Refuge

 

6 “Six of the towns you give the Levites will be cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone may flee. In addition, give them forty-two other towns. 7 In all you must give the Levites forty-eight towns, together with their pasturelands. 8 The towns you give the Levites from the land the Israelites possess are to be given in proportion to the inheritance of each tribe: Take many towns from a tribe that has many, but few from one that has few.”

 

The Levites were ministers. They were supported by the tithes of the people. The people gave them homes, flocks, produce, grains, and pasturelands. Likewise, we are responsible to provide for the needs of our ministers and missionaries so that they can be free to preach God’s Word in spirit and truth. We are responsible to provide for them even when their sermons cut us like a knife and expose our own sins. We are to provide for them because it is a command of God to provide for them. We are to be obedient to the to support our local church not because we like or love or dislike or hate the preacher. We are to support the mission of God’s church not necessarily the people carrying out the mission. It is not between us and the preacher. It is between us and God. He expects us to put him first in every aspect of our lives and that includes our finances. We are to give him the firstfruits of our labors. We are not to give it begrudgingly. We are simply trusting the Lord to bless our obedience. We give not to have a stake in what is done in our church. We are giving to be obedient to the Lord.

 

What results from that? We provide for God’s purposes in this fallen world. We provide first for our ministers who lead us in the ways of the Lord. We provide second to finance the spreading of God’s Word outside the church. We are to give not necessarily to finance big buildings and monuments to ourselves that our physical churches can be but we are to provide for a base of operations from which we fan out into the world. We provide to help people who need help. We provide to help get the gospel out into the world around us locally, nationally and internationally. We provide to help disciple our people into deeper and deeper relationships with our Savior. We provide to help preach the gospel to the next generation. We provide to help create weekly worship events where the gospel is preached and God is worshiped. We provide to make sure in any given week someone will meet Jesus Christ as their Savior. That is what we give for – for people to come to know the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

 

What if we are stingy and are not obedient to the Lord with our tithes or more (10% of what we make or more)? We cause all of the above to suffer. It is not someone else’s job to give to the Lord through your local church. It is about you and God. When you stand before the throne on your judgment day, when God asks about what you did with your life, can you present your boats, cars, vacations, and trinkets? When we stand before the Lord we want to say that we provided for eternal things. We provided for our ministers. We provided for Christ’s church. We provided for the gospel to be spread among the nations! We provided for the saving of souls. When I look back on my days as a preacher’s kid, I am thankful for those who provided my dad with a salary that, in turn, provided for my mom, my brother and me. So, my dad could preach the gospel for 50 plus years. So, my dad could preach God’s Word for to two generations of people that passed through the doors of churches he ministered. Are you investing in eternity? Or are you chasing temporary things? Things that you cannot carry to heaven! Would you rather stand before God and say that you were obedient to His commands and that you invested generously and happily in the kingdom of God!

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 34:16-29

Leaders to Divide the Land

 

This coming Tuesday, four days from today, our church will put on the biggest event of the year for our church. We call it the Thanksgiving Meal Giveaway. It requires a great deal of planning and quite of few leaders. The event involves multiple leaders with multiple teams, each with a specific function that contributes to the success of the whole event. In this event, we give away 500 turkeys and bags the canned and boxed for each of the families that pass through our doors to have a nice Thanksgiving meal in their own homes (two days later, on Thanksgiving Day). It sounds simple enough but it is a rather large undertaking.

 

These are the various teams and their functions for the event;

 

  1. Event Leader – This happens to be my wife, our church’s director of community outreach. She must pick a team of leaders for the all the following teams. She develops relationships with vendors and she also makes sure the church-wide body understands where we are at in preparation for the event. She must purchase all the bulk goods and turkeys for the event and ensure that they are delivered and staged prior to the Sunday before the event and ensure that all functional leaders have what they need for the event, have sufficient personnel to accomplish their team goals and requirements, and generally “manage the organized chaos” on the day of the event.
  2. Logistics Team – The leader of this team must ensure that all the chairs in the center two sections of the church are removed before the event and ten tables are put in their place along with chairs enough for eight people to sit at each table. They must ensure that the stantions that are used to control crowd flow in the atrium for registration are put in place. This team also ensures that all the foodstuff for the bags of fixings are all staged properly for the pre-event “packing party” where our church members work together on the Sunday afternoon before the event to populate the bags with the required canned and dry goods for each bag.
  3. Parking Team – As this is a well-known event in our community, our visitors come early – well before we open our doors at 8:00am. We have to have parking control because there will be at least 200-300 cars that will have to be parked in an organized fashion. We have to have a team leader for this and 2 to 3 assistants.
  4. Security Team – To ensure the safety of all people at the event (our guests and our volunteers), members of our Sunday morning security team provide security for the event. This requires a leader and two to three assistants at all times during the event. Sometimes, people can get testy when waiting in the long line to get inside our worship center. Sad to say but true.
  5. Registration Team – In order to control the flow of people through the event, to prevent one person or family from getting multiple Thanksgiving meals by assigning numbered wristbands, and to gather information from our guests so that we can send invitations to them to our church and become part of our fellowship, we have a registration team. This requires a team of 8-10 people rotating in and out of the registration table. The leader must keep it all flowing smoothly and under control.
  6. Hospitality Team – This team provides coffee to people while they wait in line and they provide our guests with coffee and snacks while they are sitting in the worship center awaiting the next step in the process. This requires 10-15 people to be working at any given time and requires 20-25 in total so that people can rotate in and out as their time allows. It is basically an all-hands on desk for our Sunday morning café team as well as any additional volunteers they can garner. It requires a leader to staff the event, to purchase snacks for our guests, and to ensure that coffee is always flowing.
  7. Worship Team – our Worship Pastor must ensure that he has sufficient musicians to perform throughout the event. The Sunday morning worship team rotates in and out so that one set of musicians don’t have to play throughout the 4-5 hour event. The Worship Pastor also ensures that the other elder/pastors of the church are there and have specified time slots to share the gospel with our guests as they are sitting in the sanctuary.
  8. Tech Team – This requires the tech team leader from our Sunday morning services to ensure that he has a team of people to execute the audio/visual and lighting systems of the sanctuary. They have to treat it like a Sunday morning. The leader must make sure he’s adequately staffed just like on a Sunday morning service. He must prepare the informational slides that will be displayed on the screens and ensure that any video messages are prepared in advance of the event.
  9. Prayer Team – As our guests are moved into the sanctuary, they sit and wait and are entertained and informaed by the hospitality team, worship team and tech team, they are then called in groups of 10-12 people to the prayer tables set up outside the sanctuary. At these tables, a team of 10-12 prayer warriors at a time (usually have 20-24 people rotating to the tables as prayer warriors), who sit and pray with each guest individually about whatever each person desires prayer for. It takes a leader with discernment to pick these prayer warriors because it is intensely draining to listen to the stories of despair and misfortune constantly and then try to effectively pray for that person individually. The leader must ensure too that these people rotate out of the tables for short periods of rest because of the emotional intensity.
  10. Coat Drive Team – For several weeks prior to the event, the church asks its people and the community to donate gently worn coats for us to giveaway to those who need them on the day of the event. The leader of this team must ensure that all donations points at the church and in the community are managed before the event. They must ensure that the coats are collected, organized by size, gender, and/or age and then hang them on hangers on mobile racks in what is normally our toddler room in the worship center. The leader of this team needs about 10-12 total volunteers who rotate in and out of the coat giveaway area.
  11. Food Bag Distribution Team – after the packing party on Sunday, our nursery room becomes a sea of 500 plus food bags. The team leader here must constantly have about 4-5 people rotating in and out of the nursery. These team members hand the bags of goods to our guests as they pass by the counter in the nursery. Behind them they have people supplying them with bags and moving the inventory forward as the “sea of bags” gets progressively smaller as the event progresses.
  12. Exit Team – The leader of this team must have a team of 5-10 people at all times (so a need of a total of 10-15 team members). The leader ensures that these “people persons” guide our guests out of the nursery (with their bag of canned and boxed goods) out the side doors of the worship center and to the refrigerated trailer outside where the family will pick up their turkey. The team member will then escort the family back to their cars. The leader must pick people who can effortlessly engage people that they do not know.
  13. Turkey Distribution Team – This is the team for real men! The leader of this team must pick strong guys who can deal with cold temperatures. This team is responsible for distributing average 11 lb. turkeys to our guests. The turkeys come to us in a refrigerated transfer truck trailer and are in palletized boxes containing the turkeys. These guys must be in or around the refrigerated truck all during the event. They must break open boxes and move them out of the way when empty. The pallets are always at the back of the refrigerated trailer so not only do you need guys at the back getting the turkeys out the boxes, you need guys to walk them forward to the opened doors of the trailer where another set of guys are handing the turkeys to our guests. This requires a team of 5-10 guys at all times (a need for a total 10-15 guys so that people can rotate in an out).

 

As you can see this is a huge event that requires a lot of people, quite a few leaders, and a lot of planning so that the event goes off seamlessly on event day. It’s kind of like Thanksgiving meals themselves. The planning takes longer than the execution. But without all the extensive planning, the execution for those 4-5 hours would be a disaster. It takes planning. It takes picking the right leaders. It takes those leaders making sure their function has what it needs. All this is done so that on the day of the event everyone knows what to do. When that’s down cold, we can concentrate on loving on our guests. That’s what we are there for – to show uncommon love to a world that needs to be shown uncommon love – the uncommon love of Jesus Christ.

 

That attention to detail and the preparation for the move into the Promised Land that is brought out in today’s passage made me think of our Thanksgiving Meal Giveaway when I read it. Let’s read it together now:

 

16 The Lord said to Moses, 17 “These are the names of the men who are to assign the land for you as an inheritance: Eleazar the priest and Joshua son of Nun. 18 And appoint one leader from each tribe to help assign the land. 19 These are their names:

 

Caleb son of Jephunneh,

 

from the tribe of Judah;

 

20 Shemuel son of Ammihud,

 

from the tribe of Simeon;

 

21 Elidad son of Kislon,

 

from the tribe of Benjamin;

 

22 Bukki son of Jogli,

 

the leader from the tribe of Dan;

 

23 Hanniel son of Ephod,

 

the leader from the tribe of Manasseh son of Joseph;

 

24 Kemuel son of Shiphtan,

 

the leader from the tribe of Ephraim son of Joseph;

 

25 Elizaphan son of Parnak,

 

the leader from the tribe of Zebulun;

 

26 Paltiel son of Azzan,

 

the leader from the tribe of Issachar;

 

27 Ahihud son of Shelomi,

 

the leader from the tribe of Asher;

 

28 Pedahel son of Ammihud,

 

the leader from the tribe of Naphtali.”

 

29 These are the men the Lord commanded to assign the inheritance to the Israelites in the land of Canaan.

 

In God’s plan for settling the land, He explained what to do, communicated this clearly to Moses, and assigned specific people to oversee the apportionment of the land. Sounds simple but think of the complexity of apportioning the lands among the tribes proportionally to the size of the tribe (taking in an understanding of topography and resources in the area), then apportioning the land within those apportionments to individual clans and family. Huge undertaking. No plan is complete until each job is defined and assigned and everyone understand their responsibilities. When we are assigned a project, we must determine what is to be done, break the project down into component parts, and put people in charge of each part. Basic leadership 101 taught right here in the Bible. What you don’t want is an unorganized mess which then becomes everyone’s focus rather than the purpose of what you are trying to accomplish.

 

As church leaders, we would do well to learn from this passage. We must make sure that the things that we do for our people and for our community are organized and executed in a manner that the love of Jesus is the primary focus on the day of the event, during the project, or whatever it is. We must do our part so that we can love on people and not worry about logistics. We want the things that we do to speak loudly of Christ. We want people to see excellence in us and not have to make exceptions for us because we are a church depending on volunteers. We want Jesus to be the focus not the details of the event. That requires us as leaders to plan, to execute, and work hard to make sure that all people see is Jesus on the day of the event or whatever we are doing as a church.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 34:1-15

Boundaries of the Land

One week from today is Thanksgiving Day. It is a day that is a uniquely American holiday. It is a day where we give thanks for the bounty that the Lord has given us. Of course, we, as the Americans that we are, the holiday has morphed into something other than it was intended. It is now a day where we rarely give thanks for the generosity of our God in His provision for our lives but rather a day for early bird specials for Christmas shopping, college and professional football, big meals and sometimes travel. There are the logistics of going to her family and to his family. There is extensive food preparation. Rarely is there time of reflection of just how God has provided for us. However, we can reclaim the thanksgiving of Thanksgiving. I know for one, the Lord has richly blessed this young man (yes, I still consider myself a young man and will do so as long as my corny, middle school sense of humor holds out!).

 

When I think back on the past decade, the Lord has richly blessed me even when I did not deserve it. In August 2004, my second wife and I split up. It was the beginning of a difficult time for me financially that would last until the fall of 2007. First off, there was the financial mess that was the life that I had led while married to my first two wives. There was the bankruptcy declared in the Summer of 2002 during the second marriage after the death of my second wife’s oldest child in February 2002. After the split up, there were stupid financial decisions. One was the purchase of a Dodge Neon SRT4 (the turbocharged sports car) that I could not afford and because of the poor credit that I had, the car payment was astronomical – $600 plus per month (in 2004 dollars). After breaking up and having to find a place of my own, there was the constant eating out at places like Applebees, Outback, Chilis where I would drop $50 per meal. In those days, it was all about massaging the emptiness that I felt in my life with wine, women, and boos and whatever I could spend my money on. Then, there was that disastrous trip to London that was a business trip but I so overspent on that trip that I had to get a loan when I got back to pay off the overspending on my company credit card. Add that to the mountain of debt that I already had, I had reached the point that there was one week that I had to get one of those payday loans. NEVER do that! It is fine that first time. You get the money you need to avoid that self-made financial crisis or one that is forced upon you by circumstances. However, it starts a cycle of payday loan, payday loan payoff two weeks later, finding yourself short and having to get another and the cycle continues. You may even have to get a payday loan to pay off your payday loan. There was a point between 2006 and the fall of 2007 that I was juggling as many as three payday loans on a maddening and unending cycle. I even accepted a job outside of Greenville for the first time in my adult life just to try to get my finances under control. After living in Greenville for nearly three decades (since age 14), I accepted a job in Charlotte and moved to the suburb of Rock Hill in January 2006. Although the geography changed, the financial woes continued and finally had to let my SRT4 be repossessed in 2007. Bankruptcy in 2002 and a repossession in 2007. I was screwed.

 

The biggest blessing of my life came actually came in the form of a loss of that job at the end of September 2007. That may sound weird but it actually was the blessing that I needed. I know you are saying, “how can the loss of a job be a blessing.” Rest assured, it did not seem that way to me when the shutdown of our corporate office was announced in June 2007. The shutdown was completed by September 30th. I was out of a job. However, they did give us three months worth of salary as we left plus a bonus. I was able to end the cycle of payday loans with that cash infusion. Then, by the hand of God, I was hired as a financial consultant with Vaco Resources out of Charlotte within a couple of weeks after my shutdown termination. My first gig started 4 weeks after my termination. That was the beginning of recovery for me. It was the greatest blessing of my life in retrospect. The irony of working as a consultant for Vaco was the fact that I ended up with a gig in Duncan, SC (in the Greenville-Spartanburg, SC area). After making the toughest decision of my life to leave Greenville after 30 years, a place I had lived since I was 14, and live in Rock Hill and work in Charlotte, here I was being sent back to the Greenville area. Living in Rock Hill, my new home, but working in the Greenville area, my old home – the irony! Baaaack to my point though. Because of the fact that Rock Hill and Duncan are within driving distance of each other, they are far enough apart that a commute just did not make sense. So, with this job with Vaco, I was living in a hotel in Duncan 5 days a week and then going back to Rock Hill on the weekends. My financial blessing was that I was making a consulting rate that was slightly more than I was making at that job in Charlotte. Add to that I was given a daily per diem amount for my hotels and meals. Talk about your financial blessing. For almost a year, I had not only salary but a per diem that far exceeded what I was spending on hotels and meals. Add to that I had that big burst of cash when the office I worked for previously was shutdown. All the rough waters began to subside financially.

 

Later that consulting gig in Duncan led me out to California with more salary and per diem and a corporate paid apartment. And as this gig came to an end, God’s hand was in action again as the controller’s position at this company’s division there in California suddenly came open at just the time my consulting gig was about to end. It had been a year long consulting gig with Vaco which was fantastic. Few consulting gigs last that long. However, it was about to end and Vaco did not have anything for me for my immediate future. So, this controller’s job was appealing. When the job came open, what is now my current employer, Fujikura America, Inc., offered me the job immediately. And immediately I took the job. That was October 2008. Here I am still with the same company 8 years later. During these eight years and because of the wisdom and advice of my wife, Elena (who followed me to California from Rock Hill and whom I married while we lived out there), I have established more frugal life habits. With her advice and wisdom, I have paid off old debts. I have invested in my company’s 401k. My financial ship is righted. During my eight years at Fujikura America (who has blessed me financially for sure), the wisdom of a good wife, and a more frugal lifestyle, and the blessings of God, I live in financially peaceful waters. We now live a life marked by generosity because we have been frugal with our spending on ourselves. We can now actually say “when can I give” instead of “if I can give.” It really makes me teary eyed to think of how richly blessed I have become. It is so far beyond what I could have imagined back in 2007. It is not lost on me that I am blessed. I do not take it for granted. God has set me on high ground and I know it. No longer am I in the raging river. I am on high ground. It is nothing but a miracle of God who orchestrated all these circumstances and people in my life to put me where I am today. I am richly blessed by God. It is He who did this. It is He I owed my dry clothes on the high ground too. He pulled me from the wet raging torrents and dried me off and set me here. It is for a reason. It is to be generous and to serve. It is not lost on me. I will never forget where I came from financially a decade ago and where God has led me now. Amazing. Amazing. Amazing. Shout praises to the Lord in the highest tabernacles!

 

It was this sense of God’s deliverance of His people into the Promised Land that I thought of this morning when I read through this passage, Numbers 34:1-15, about the division of the land among the tribes. Let’s read it together:

 

34 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Command the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter Canaan, the land that will be allotted to you as an inheritance is to have these boundaries:

 

3 “‘Your southern side will include some of the Desert of Zin along the border of Edom. Your southern boundary will start in the east from the southern end of the Dead Sea, 4 cross south of Scorpion Pass, continue on to Zin and go south of Kadesh Barnea. Then it will go to Hazar Addar and over to Azmon, 5 where it will turn, join the Wadi of Egypt and end at the Mediterranean Sea.

 

6 “‘Your western boundary will be the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. This will be your boundary on the west.

 

7 “‘For your northern boundary, run a line from the Mediterranean Sea to Mount Hor 8 and from Mount Hor to Lebo Hamath. Then the boundary will go to Zedad, 9 continue to Ziphron and end at Hazar Enan. This will be your boundary on the north.

 

10 “‘For your eastern boundary, run a line from Hazar Enan to Shepham. 11 The boundary will go down from Shepham to Riblah on the east side of Ain and continue along the slopes east of the Sea of Galilee.[a] 12 Then the boundary will go down along the Jordan and end at the Dead Sea.

 

“‘This will be your land, with its boundaries on every side.’”

 

13 Moses commanded the Israelites: “Assign this land by lot as an inheritance. The Lord has ordered that it be given to the nine and a half tribes, 14 because the families of the tribe of Reuben, the tribe of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh have received their inheritance. 15 These two and a half tribes have received their inheritance east of the Jordan across from Jericho, toward the sunrise.”

 

As we see here in this passage, the land was given by God as an inheritance. The boundaries declared by God are larger an area than was actually occupied by the early Hebrew settlers. The boundaries correspond more to the land of Kings David and Solomon generations upon generations later. The size of the gift of the Promised Land is a portrait of the generous nature of God. It was far beyond what was needed or imagined. That is the nature of God. He richly pours out his blessings upon His people. All He asks is that we are obedient to Him and His Word and He will bless us. It will not always be in dollars and cents or in land or possessions. From our obedience to Him, we find peace of mind and contentment that only comes from obedience to the Lord. It changes our mindset on things. It gives us satisfaction in the moment and gives the worries about provision over to the Lord. He will provide for us. And man there is contentment in trusting the Lord.

 

When I see Israel being blessed with the land they are about to invade and settle, I see their journey from the horrors of slavery, the travails of the wilderness and the stupid mistakes and consequences they lived during the wilderness, but it was all for a purpose now. They are staring at the promised land. They are staring at their high ground. God has seen them through the wilderness and placed them on the high ground. That is the comparison and parallel to my life that I see. God has seen me through the wilderness and He has placed me in the Promised Land in which I now live. I am on the high ground. I am in the dry and warm place. He has delivered me from so much pain and suffering and placed me in a sweet spot. It is not lost on my how generous God has been to me. It is far beyond what I deserve, expected, or imagined. I am the child of an amazing God. Shouts of praise. Shouts of thanksgiving in the highest tabernacles!

 

Amen and Amen

Numbers 33:1-56 (Part 3 of 3)

Remembering Israel’s Journey

 

Have you ever wondered if some Old Testament judgment is coming upon the United States? We live in a country far different from the one our forefathers founded. We have removed the Ten Commandments from schools and courthouses. We have eliminated prayer to God at sporting events. We are persecuting Christians for standing on their religious beliefs when it comes to marriage. We punish the State of North Carolina for passing a law that negates a Charlotte ordinance that would allow people with sexual identity crises to use whatever bathroom they desire. Certain sexual lifestyles are seen as hip in popular culture and are glorified on television. Certain city governments are requiring pastors to submit their sermons for review on issues of sexual preferences. Anyone who takes a stand against certain lifestyles based on God’s Word are vilified in the public forum for being backwards and out of step with the times. Public schools teach Darwinism but not Intelligent Design. Remember, not too long ago, when President Obama gave a speech at Georgetown University; his people requested that all visible symbols of the Christian faith be covered up. Georgetown a Catholic University complied. For under the banner of being politically correct, the school denied the God they profess to serve. In the Democratic Party’s platform for the 2016 presidential election, any references to God were removed so as to be more inclusive of those who are not of Judeo/Christian roots and those who do not believe in God at all.

 

As we head down this path of political correctness toward humanism and ultimately atheism, there has been a steady moral decline in our country. Once acknowledgement of God’s existence is removed, there is no absolute basis for morals, and a free society drifts toward anarchy. Since prayer was removed from public school classrooms in 1962, when the assault on God began, Eric Hovind in his article, “Prayer in School Affects All Society” at the website, www.creationtoday.org, says,

 

“…we have had a six-fold increase in violent crime, our divorce rate has tripled, births to single mothers have increased five-fold, the teenage suicide rate has tripled, and SAT scores (standardized college entrance test) have dropped 80 points (approximately 10%). The removal of prayer may not be the only cause of social ills, but the negative trends are certainly a symptom of the spiritual decline which is at their root.”

 

It is ironic that my wife’s parents escaped from Cuba just as Castro was taking power and made their way to America in search of greater freedoms to pursue life, liberty and happiness. In Communist Cuba, God was removed from society and anyone who professed belief in God and not the humanism of communist thought was to be jailed. Praying to God meant that you felt that there was something higher and more important than the Cuban government. We see how the communist experiment has worked out in Cuba. If the political correctness and drift toward humanism is what we seek in America and the quieting of Christian moral values, then we must look at our neighbor nation in Cuba. America is drifting toward what Cuba became. Political correctness is the new communism. When we dare to oppose the tolerance of anything goes in our society we are sued, we are arrested, we are vilified and we are crushed. Sound familiar. It is the path of Cuba since 1958. You never hear of people trying to get into Cuba; only out of it. Are we becoming Cuba? Cubans have been fleeing that country for decades seeking freedom but yet what are they fleeing to now? Is America not becoming a godless nation similar to Cuba. Maybe that is why we are starting to normalize relations with Cuba – because we are becoming more and more alike each day.

 

As we continue down this road of ignoring and expelling God from the public square and from our private lives, I am reminded of the judgments that came upon the Canaanites through God’s people, Israel, as I read this chapter of the Book of Numbers (Numbers 33) for the final time before we move on. Let us read it together once more now:

 

33 Here are the stages in the journey of the Israelites when they came out of Egypt by divisions under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. 2 At the Lord’s command Moses recorded the stages in their journey. This is their journey by stages:

 

3 The Israelites set out from Rameses on the fifteenth day of the first month, the day after the Passover. They marched out defiantly in full view of all the Egyptians, 4 who were burying all their firstborn, whom the Lord had struck down among them; for the Lord had brought judgment on their gods.

 

5 The Israelites left Rameses and camped at Sukkoth.

 

6 They left Sukkoth and camped at Etham, on the edge of the desert.

 

7 They left Etham, turned back to Pi Hahiroth, to the east of Baal Zephon, and camped near Migdol.

 

8 They left Pi Hahiroth[a] and passed through the sea into the desert, and when they had traveled for three days in the Desert of Etham, they camped at Marah.

 

9 They left Marah and went to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there.

 

10 They left Elim and camped by the Red Sea.[b]

 

11 They left the Red Sea and camped in the Desert of Sin.

 

12 They left the Desert of Sin and camped at Dophkah.

 

13 They left Dophkah and camped at Alush.

 

14 They left Alush and camped at Rephidim, where there was no water for the people to drink.

 

15 They left Rephidim and camped in the Desert of Sinai.

 

16 They left the Desert of Sinai and camped at Kibroth Hattaavah.

 

17 They left Kibroth Hattaavah and camped at Hazeroth.

 

18 They left Hazeroth and camped at Rithmah.

 

19 They left Rithmah and camped at Rimmon Perez.

 

20 They left Rimmon Perez and camped at Libnah.

 

21 They left Libnah and camped at Rissah.

 

22 They left Rissah and camped at Kehelathah.

 

23 They left Kehelathah and camped at Mount Shepher.

 

24 They left Mount Shepher and camped at Haradah.

 

25 They left Haradah and camped at Makheloth.

 

26 They left Makheloth and camped at Tahath.

 

27 They left Tahath and camped at Terah.

 

28 They left Terah and camped at Mithkah.

 

29 They left Mithkah and camped at Hashmonah.

 

30 They left Hashmonah and camped at Moseroth.

 

31 They left Moseroth and camped at Bene Jaakan.

 

32 They left Bene Jaakan and camped at Hor Haggidgad.

 

33 They left Hor Haggidgad and camped at Jotbathah.

 

34 They left Jotbathah and camped at Abronah.

 

35 They left Abronah and camped at Ezion Geber.

 

36 They left Ezion Geber and camped at Kadesh, in the Desert of Zin.

 

37 They left Kadesh and camped at Mount Hor, on the border of Edom. 38 At the Lord’s command Aaron the priest went up Mount Hor, where he died on the first day of the fifth month of the fortieth year after the Israelites came out of Egypt. 39 Aaron was a hundred and twenty-three years old when he died on Mount Hor.

 

40 The Canaanite king of Arad, who lived in the Negev of Canaan, heard that the Israelites were coming.

 

41 They left Mount Hor and camped at Zalmonah.

 

42 They left Zalmonah and camped at Punon.

 

43 They left Punon and camped at Oboth.

 

44 They left Oboth and camped at Iye Abarim, on the border of Moab.

 

45 They left Iye Abarim and camped at Dibon Gad.

 

46 They left Dibon Gad and camped at Almon Diblathaim.

 

47 They left Almon Diblathaim and camped in the mountains of Abarim, near Nebo.

 

48 They left the mountains of Abarim and camped on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho. 49 There on the plains of Moab they camped along the Jordan from Beth Jeshimoth to Abel Shittim.

 

50 On the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho the Lord said to Moses, 51 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, 52 drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places. 53 Take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess. 54 Distribute the land by lot, according to your clans. To a larger group give a larger inheritance, and to a smaller group a smaller one. Whatever falls to them by lot will be theirs. Distribute it according to your ancestral tribes.

 

55 “‘But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live. 56 And then I will do to you what I plan to do to them.’”

 

When people read about the conquest of the Promised Land, we often asked the question, “why were the Israelites allowed by God to destroy and kill the Canaanites?” Why were the Israelites supposed to completely annihilate these people? If God is a God of love, why then would he allow the Israelites to kill them all – men, women and children (though the Israelites did not follow God’s command to the letter). What we don’t remember about the Canaanites was that God had compelling reasons to render judgment upon these people. It was not a random act of a capricious and mean God. There were several compelling reasons. First, God was stamping out the evil and wickedness of an extremely sinful group of nations. The Canaanites brought on their own punishment. Idol worship expressed their deepest evil desires. Child sacrifices. Sexual immorality in the name of worshiping their gods was rampant. It all ultimately led to the worship of Satan and in the total rejection of God. Second, God was using the Israelites to judge Canaanites for its unrepentant sinful ways. Judgment was justified when you study the history of the Canaanite people. Another thing that was happening here, too, was that God wanted to remove all traces of pagan beliefs and practices from the land. He did not want His people to mix or compromise with the idolatrous ways of the Canaanite people in any way.

 

However, as we know, the Israelites did not fully carry out the command of God when conquering the Promised Land. They compromised. This compromise of God’s commands and values led Israel down a path that led to cycles of obedience and disobedience to God. The Canaanite worship of idols and the temptations to the Israelites to the same was a constant problem for Israel. God’s people were judged themselves more than one time for turning their back on God. When a nation turns its back on God, that nation will be judged. It is certain. We are a nation turning our back on God and it has been progressively getting worse for decades. We will be judged.

 

So, in a society running away from God, what do we do as Christ followers? It is easier and less painful to go with the flow and do like Georgetown University did. We can cover up the fact that we are Christians in an effort to fit in. We can try to blend into a nation that is headed for judgment. Or we can be true to God and not deny His existence. We can honor Him by knowing and obeying His Word. We must be different and distinct. We must engage the culture and change it. Preachers can only do so much. We must as individual Christ followers not leave the job of changing our nation to the preachers. We must take responsibility for evangelism ourselves in our daily lives of one on one interactions with the world around us. All of us are ministers but we have abdicated our ministerial role to those we pay to be ministers. We think it’s their job to save the nation not ours. We just sit idly and quietly by as our nation becomes less and less Christian by the day. I call out to you and to me that it is our job to save the day. It is our job to tell people about Jesus. It is our job to return our nation to God. Let us be like Joshua and Caleb and say that we can win this fight rather than be like the other 10 spies and say that the problem is too big and there are too many giants out there. We are the ministers of the gospel. Let us take it to the streets and tell people to repent and return to the God who wants to love them but who is a God of justice who will judge them if they do not repent.

 

Amen and Amen.