Archive for April, 2017

Deuteronomy 27:1-10

The Altar at Mount Ebal

It is one thing to be accepted as a member of God’s people. It is another to grow up into a mature member of God’s people. The difference is one is a convert and the other is a disciple. Jesus, in the Great Commission, did not say Go and make converts. He said Go and make disciples. Certainly, you cannot make disciples if conversion does not occur first. However, Jesus wanted us to grow people in the faith once they had accepted him as Savior and Lord. That is what many modern churches are dealing with. My church and many like it that have sprung up on the Christian church landscape over the past 20 years specialize in attracting those who have never heard of a relationship with a Savior named Jesus Christ or those who have been away from church for many years.

 

Churches like ours are reaching people with the gospel message in ways that traditional, old-school churches with their denominational affiliation in their name cannot or are not willing to reach. Many people are afraid of churches with denominations in their name. They are afraid of church named after families and have memorial in their name. Many people outside God’s family today are afraid of churches with mammoth buildings made of brick and have three stories of classrooms attached to a large and ornate sanctuary. Many who are far from God are afraid of fancy suits and fashionable dresses. That’s where our church and others like it come in. Our worship center some say looks like a Harley shop with its combination of white and black with orange striping. It is not a brick and mortar building. It is a iron frame building. Our people have always felt that they could come in their blue jeans. It is a come-as-you-are church. We are the classic modern church. We are only 10 years old. We seek and attract those who are far from God. We are what is called a seeker church, an attractional church.

 

We are a toddler of a church compared to many of the traditional churches in our area. One of things that we have come to realize as part of beginning our second decade of existence is that we have had a problem with “stickiness” over the past 3 to 4 years. We grew rapidly in the first 6 to 7 years of our existence. However, during the past three to four years, we have begun losing attendees at about the same rate that we have been attracting new ones. As a result, our growth rate has slowed. What we have learned is that in order to make our church “sticky” (where people come to a church and stay), we needed to help our people grow in the faith. That’s what traditional churches have done well for years – Christian education and discipleship.

 

In order for us to have a church of maturing Christians who look more like Christ each day and less like the world each day, we must teach what we believe as Christians, why we believe, and how to apply those beliefs in a world that is increasingly hostile to Christian beliefs. We must develop Christ followers who know and understand Scripture so that they can make Christ-like choices in their lives. This time, last year we brought Pastor Tim back from the church planting field and re-established the basics for believers class that he had been in charge of before he left to plant LifeSong Church, Manchester, CT. As well, we are now working on developing Christian education over and above that basics for believers class. We are teaching classes on all aspects of being a part of the body of Christ and knowing God’s Word and experiencing God in deeper and more profound ways. We know that we have to do more than attract people to Jesus and lead them to the cross but we have to teach them how to live beyond kneeling at the cross. We cannot simply stay kneeled at the cross. We must emerge and lived changed lives. Without Christian education and biblical knowledge, a spiritual infant will remain undeveloped and still act a whole lot like the world.

 

That need to make disciples and not just converts is what I thought of this morning when I read this passage, Deuteronomy 27:1-10. You’ll see why after we read through it:

 

27 Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people: “Keep all these commands that I give you today. 2 When you have crossed the Jordan into the land the Lord your God is giving you, set up some large stones and coat them with plaster. 3 Write on them all the words of this law when you have crossed over to enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you. 4 And when you have crossed the Jordan, set up these stones on Mount Ebal, as I command you today, and coat them with plaster. 5 Build there an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones. Do not use any iron tool on them. 6 Build the altar of the Lord your God with fieldstones and offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God. 7 Sacrifice fellowship offerings there, eating them and rejoicing in the presence of the Lord your God. 8 And you shall write very clearly all the words of this law on these stones you have set up.”

Curses From Mount Ebal

 

9 Then Moses and the Levitical priests said to all Israel, “Be silent, Israel, and listen! You have now become the people of the Lord your God. 10 Obey the Lord your God and follow his commands and decrees that I give you today.”

 

Here in this passage, we see that Moses, speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was telling the people that they needed to keep God’s laws in the forefront of their society. The laws of God needed to be visible and ever-present in their lives. By stating that it needed to be made of natural, uncut stones, to me, that means that God did not want His word dresses up. He did not want it added to or taken away. He just wanted His Word, His Law, made clear and unadulterated. But most of all He wanted His Word before His people each and every day so that it would be an ever-present part of their lives.

 

The only way we internalize God’s Word is through constant exposure to it. As we learn it and become more and more familiar with it, God’s Word becomes a part of our nature. We know how to handle situations according to His ways. When we know Scripture, we are able to call it up in our minds when we face situations where we do not know how to handle them. When God’s Word is an ever-present part of our lives, it changes us from the inside out. The Holy Spirit helps us recall God’s Word and apply it to our lives. We are changed by it. We are matured by it. We become disciples by it.

 

That is what we are learning at our church is that in order to mature our people and help them grow deeper in Christ, we must encounter them with God’s Word in classroom and self-directed study settings such that our people keep God’s Word before us always and make it a part of our daily lives. Our church is requiring/suggesting that all of our people regardless of spiritual maturity go through the Basics class and then start choosing higher level classes after that just so that we as mature believers don’t “get fat and sassy” (an old Southern expression meaning that we can get complacent sometimes when we think we have it made). We as a church staff want our people to take the basics class before any others so that we are all on the same page and have the same understanding. We are getting pushback from some of our more mature members. But I find that pushback shortsighted. We are never too old to learn. We are never too mature to refresh. We are never completed in our discipleship. It is amazing to me how sometimes a passage of God’s Word can be read by me a 1000 times and it not hit home. However, there is that one time that it hits you like a ton of bricks and you find new revelation in a passage you’ve known by heart for decades.

 

We must keep God’s Word ever-present before us. It teaches anew each and every day. Keep God’s Word before us so that it is there with us every day. Even the oldest Christian can learn something new from an infinitely more wise God. Even the oldest Christian can find no revelation for this particular phase of their lives in Scripture that they glossed over for decades. God’s Word is alive applies to us anew each day. We are never too old to have God’s Word before us each and every day.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 26:16-19

Follow the Lord’s Commands

The hardest part of a sermon is what some call, “bringing it home” or “landing the plane”. It is the part of the sermon where you bring it all together and make your point of life application from the scripture passage(s) that were the subject of your sermon. You summarize the points that you have made and congeal the whole sermon into something that the listeners will remember on their way out into the world as they leave the church. The same is true for writing a blog, writing a research paper, or writing a book. If you can’t “land the plane” or “bring it home”, you have failed in all that you written or spoken. It is meaningless without a conclusion and life application.

 

It was like this morning as my wife and I awoke begrudging after a very busy Easter weekend. On Friday, she was busy with preparations for our church’s “humongo” Easter egg hunt while I was busy with doing some hard yard work that I had been meaning to do since we moved in – removing a dead tree all twisted up in hard vines (that had killed the tree) from the backyard. Then, Saturday, we were busy all day with the Easter Egg hunt where we had 10,000 eggs strewn all over the back half of our church property. We had an amazing turnout of about 1,500 parents and their children from our community, plus live music from our worship band, vendors such Chick-Fil-A, a face painter, and an ice cream cone vendor as well as free popcorn, cotton candy and free water. We were on our feet all day managing that. Then yesterday, we had three services at our church for Easter Sunday (we normally have just two services). We went to the 8:00 service and then served for the last two. The last two services were seriously packed out. We had to pull out almost all of our extra chairs. We had to help people find seats. Again on our feet all morning. Then we had lunch with friends and didn’t get home til about 5pm yesterday. It was a long, hard, but a productive and wonderful weekend.

 

However, this morning, I couldn’t believe that it was time to get up when that alarm went off. It seemed as though I had just fallen asleep. It must have been the same with my wife. I usually get up about 30 minutes ahead of my wife so I can start my blog. So, I was up already when I saw her groan as she had to get out of bed and drag herself into the kitchen. There she, as she does every morning without fail, began the process of making coffee. You know, though, there are some mornings where the things that you do robotically without fail do not go as planned. In the morning, she typically does not have to think or even remember the whole coffee-making process. She can do it blindfolded 99 times out of 100. However, this morning in the fog of still being tired from a physically draining but glorious weekend, she almost started the coffee without pouring water into the reservoir on the coffee maker. It was an illustration of just what I was beginning to write about here for this passage.

 

Without water, coffee is just coffee grounds. Without coffee, water is just water. Putting them together makes something useful and wonderful. Coffee, that wonderful morning elixir, that comes from the proper combination of hot water and coffee grounds. Individually, these two ingredients are good and can be useful in other ways, but together…oh my! Did I tell ya that I love my morning coffee! Together, coffee beans grounded up and hot water make this wonderful. The hot water is the “bring it home” and the “land the plane” additive to the coffee grounds. Without pouring the hot water through the grounds, the grounds are not transformed. They are good but they have not served their full purpose. It is like Scripture without proper understanding of their life application is just good knowledge. We must be able to apply Scripture to our lives. We must bring it home. We must land the plane. Just like coffee is OK and good by itself but we must add hot water to make it something truly worthwhile. We must land the plane.

 

In this passage, it was the thought of a sermon without a good closing, a research paper without a final conclusion, a book without a proper ending that came to mind as I read the conclusion of the main part of Deuteronomy (chapters 12-26). Here, in this passage, Moses “brings it home.” Here, Moses “lands the plane.” Let’s read it together now:

 

16 The Lord your God commands you this day to follow these decrees and laws; carefully observe them with all your heart and with all your soul. 17 You have declared this day that the Lord is your God and that you will walk in obedience to him, that you will keep his decrees, commands and laws—that you will listen to him. 18 And the Lord has declared this day that you are his people, his treasured possession as he promised, and that you are to keep all his commands. 19 He has declared that he will set you in praise, fame and honor high above all the nations he has made and that you will be a people holy to the Lord your God, as he promised.

 

This passage is a solemn conclusion to the last 14 chapters of Moses where he gives so, so many life applications of the Ten Commandments in the life of the nation of Israel. As you know, when we began this journey through Deuteronomy back in late November, I had indicated that all the scholars have said that Deuteronomy is written so much like that of the treaties of that day in which the victor or superior power would spell out the terms of peace to the conquered or inferior nation. In such treaties, the victor would spell out what obedience to the terms of the treaty would bring and what the penalties would be for non-compliance. Here in this passage, Moses reminds the people of what blessings would come from obedience to God’s Commands. This formal treaty, the Ten Commandments and all the associated regulations that hang off them, is a declaration of what Israel must do to receive the blessings of God. Obedience should be a desire and not some ritualistic observance. God will bless if there is obedience. God will exalt and bless Israel above all nations if they simply keep His commands. This conclusion gives full meaning to the litany of regulations that we have just read through over the past several weeks.

 

Without this conclusion, there would be no real purpose to all the laws and regulations that were going to make Israel a different people. Without these laws and regulations, Israel would have been no different from its neighbors. But that was not what God wanted. He wanted the nation of Israel to be a beacon until the world. He wanted them to be different so as to draw all nations unto God through their differences. It was because God was going to bring the Messiah from His people Israel that He wanted Israel to be so different from the sin-filled world in which they lived. They would be blessed as a nation through obedience. They would be blessed such that other nations and other people would be drawn unto them. And, Israel would then show the world, God.

 

It is the same for us as Christ followers. It is through obedience to God’s Word that we are to be so different from the world in which we live that we are made unique. We are to be a beacon until the world to draw people into the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Without this uniqueness, there is nothing that will draw people unto Christ. We are to love God so much that we obey His Word and draw people unto Jesus Christ. If we pick and choose what we want to obey then we are not unique. We are just another option. Without obedience to God’s Word and being different from the world around us, we do not “bring it home” and we do not “land the plane.”

 

The whole purpose of our obedience to God’s Word is that it results in a blessed life that draws people unto Christ not to mention our own blessing of eternal life with God in heaven. Without these things, it is just knowledge. It is self-help. It is not landing the plane. It is not bringing it home. It is coffee grounds in the coffee maker without adding hot water.

 

Let us be obedient. Let us love God and love others in such a way that a desperate and dying world is drawn unto Christ. That’s the point. That’s the landing of the plane. That’s the bringing it home.

 

Amen and Amen.

Christ, the Lord, is risen today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth, reply, Alleluia!

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Lo! The Sun’s eclipse is over, Alleluia!
Lo! He sets in blood no more, Alleluia!

Vain the stone, the watch, the seal, Alleluia!
Christ hath burst the gates of hell, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!
Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

Hail, the Lord of earth and heaven, Alleluia!
Praise to Thee by both be given, Alleluia!
Thee we greet triumphant now, Alleluia!
Hail, the resurrection day, Alleluia!

King of glory, Soul of bliss, Alleluia!
Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!
Thee to know, Thy power to prove, Alleluia!
Thus to sing and thus to love, Alleluia!

Hymns of praise then let us sing, Alleluia!
Unto Christ, our heavenly King, Alleluia!
Who endured the cross and grave, Alleluia!
Sinners to redeem and save. Alleluia!

But the pains that He endured, Alleluia!
Our salvation have procured, Alleluia!
Now above the sky He’s King, Alleluia!
Where the angels ever sing. Alleluia!

Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!
Our triumphant holy day, Alleluia!
Who did once upon the cross, Alleluia!
Suffer to redeem our loss. Alleluia!

Deuteronomy 26:1-15

Firstfruits and Tithes

An attitude of gratitude is one of the catch-phrases of Christian circles. We are to live with an attitude of thankfulness for what the Lord has done for us in our salvation. Why should we have an attitude of gratitude? Outside the faith, Jesus is just a nice guy that started a religious movement. He is a great philosopher. He was a rebel against the status quo. He was one of many great religious philosophers like Buddha, Mohammad, Confucius, and all the others. He was a philosopher rebel who had great faith in the higher power that runs the universe. He was one of those that had achieved oneness with the fabric of the universe. He is an option among many options that lead to heaven. He was just a man. The miracles and all that resurrection stuff was added by the church later.

 

So, if that is the case, then why do we, inside the faith, have to live a life that is characterized by an attitude of gratitude if Jesus was just a man and just another of the options of how to get to heaven. That fact is that we believe Jesus Christ to be the Son of God, God in the flesh, God with  us, Emmanuel. We believe that He is God and that He came to earth in all humility to live the perfect, sinless life as an example to us all. He came to walk among us so that we would know what God is like. He came to live among us so that we will know that He is familiar with our pains, joys, sorrows, and victories. He came to earth to teach us about the kingdom of God. He came to earth and lived the perfect, sinless life so that He could become the perfect Lamb for sacrifice to complete the Old Testament sacrificial system. He came to earth to be the Lamb that is sacrificed for our sins. He took on the cross to take on the wrath of God for the sins of all mankind, past, present and future. God poured out His wrath against sin upon Jesus. Jesus took on all that anger toward sin from a perfect, sinless, holy God.

 

That’s the gratitude part. We, as believers, know that we cannot make ourselves better. We cannot make ourselves perfect. We cannot ever be perfect. We know that we cannot be perfect, sinless, and holy like God. And, we know that it is that condition that we must have to enter into the presence of God in heaven. We know that we cannot obtain perfection. We know that we cannot enter having by simply doing more good than bad. Before God, we must be perfect not just more good than bad. We know that with our first sin committed in life, that it disqualifies us from perfection. Not to mention that we cannot go through a day without taking some sinful action and/or having some sinful thought. With sin in our life history, we are imperfect. We are flawed. There is no one that has the capability of going through a lifetime without having sinned or having had at least one sinful thought. The only one that can make that claim is God in the flesh, Jesus Christ.

 

As believers, we know that we are bound for hell even if we have only committed one sin in a lifetime. We know, in piling on to that, that we sin daily without fail. Thus, we are doomed to spend eternity separated from God in the fiery pit of hell, where there is the burning of flesh and gnashing of teeth and eternal suffering. We stand at the precipice of hell and as soon as we die, we will be judged and caste into that reality of eternity in hell. There is only one way out and that is believing that Jesus Christ died on the cross for the punishment of our sins. He took on the wrath for the sentence that we deserve as dreadful sinners. It is through this act of grace by Jesus that we are made right with God. All we have to do is believe that this is why Jesus died on the cross. And we must believe that He arose from the dead so that we will know that we have victory over sin and death through Jesus Christ. His resurrection gives us hope for not only this life but also knowing for real that there is an eternity in heaven waiting for those who believe that Jesus is more than just a man who died for a political reason but rather God in the flesh. There is an eternity waiting for us in heaven with Jesus before the Father because we believe in Him as the Son of God.

That is where our attitude of gratitude comes from. If you have forgotten the desperateness of your life before God in the absence of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, think about it this weekend. You cannot be anything but grateful. We should be the most joyous people on the planet because of what we know to be true in Jesus Christ. Never ever forget what our faith in Jesus Christ has saved us from. Live with an attitude of gratitude.

 

Living with an attitude of gratitude for what Jesus has done for us is what I thought about when reading today’s passage, Deuteronomy 26:1-15. Let us read it together now:

 

26 When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, 2 take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name 3 and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” 4 The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. 5 Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. 6 But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. 7 Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. 8 So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. 9 He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; 10 and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.” Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him. 11 Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.

 

12 When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied. 13 Then say to the Lord your God: “I have removed from my house the sacred portion and have given it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, according to all you commanded. I have not turned aside from your commands nor have I forgotten any of them. 14 I have not eaten any of the sacred portion while I was in mourning, nor have I removed any of it while I was unclean, nor have I offered any of it to the dead. I have obeyed the Lord my God; I have done everything you commanded me. 15 Look down from heaven, your holy dwelling place, and bless your people Israel and the land you have given us as you promised on oath to our ancestors, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

 

This passage is about an attitude of gratitude. In vv.5-10, we see the thankfulness for God having chosen Israel as His people. He delivered them from bondage in Egypt and has brought them to the Promised Land. He has protected them throughout the journey and now they stand at the promised land. As a result they should live lives marked by gratitude toward God in everything. They know that without the mighty hand of God that they would be either still in bondage or dead and definitely without hope for a future. They were saved by God’s grace and love for them, His people. Thus, these offerings spring from an attitude of gratitude.

 

Should we not feel the same way about our offerings to the Lord? If someone saved your life, would you not be eternally grateful to them and would think about showering them with gifts. Should we not be the same with the Lord. Should we not shower Him with the gifts that come from our labors. Should we not be so grateful that we want to see His church succeed and carry the message that we have in our hearts to the nations. Should we not be so eternally grateful that we share the fruits of our labors to God so that the gospel can reach farther and deeper into a dying world. How grateful are you for what God has done? Are you a tither and more? It is easy to say I love Jesus but it is harder to say I love you Jesus and as a result I put you first in my finances. I want to show you that you get the first of everything thing from me including my money! How grateful are you for what He has done? If you are just giving 2% move to 3% and then to 4% and then to 5% and on up. Begin to live life in a way that you can live on 90% or less of what you earn so that you can lavish your firstfruits on the One to who we are eternally grateful – Jesus Christ. It is not about the money itself. It is about being obedient and thankful and grateful. It is about having an attitude of gratitude.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 25:17-19

Remembering the Amalekites

 

Have you ever had someone hurt you badly? Just plain out screwed you over to be mean to you? We have probably all had that happen to us at one point or another in our lives. For me, that instance would have to be when I was going through my divorce from my first wife. Our marriage had been rocky for the last 6 years that we were together. She had issues with drugs after the death of her brother. Trouble with the law resulted. Sending her to rehab the first time resulted in her having an affair with guy she met there. Reconciliation. Changed feelings. Changed addictions for her to spending money. Deep seeded anger for me that would not go away. Then there was my affair. Two years of attempted reconciliation and then the final split in April 1993. Although I did not see what was to be my second wife for more than nine months after my separation from my first wife, the cast was set. The war was on as far as my first wife was concerned. Then began the most horrendous divorce known to man. Fifteen months of antagonism and hatred spewed out toward me.

 

Part of the torment of our separation was preventing me from seeing my children on the appointed weekends and each Wednesday during the week. My girls were 8 and 3 at this time. Very young and impressionable. Pretty much every time I would try to pick them up, she would prevent it! Regardless of what was going on between my first wife and me, I loved my girls and wanted to see them. This prevention happened with such regularity that I finally had to take legal action. My lawyer brought a contempt of court complaint against my first wife. When we got our emergency hearing date for few weeks later and there was back and forth communications between lawyers, my first wife pulled out the most dastardly accusation that someone could bring against a father who dearly loved his girls. She claimed that the reason that she had been withholding the kids from me was that I had molested my oldest daughter the last time that she had allowed them to go with me for a weekend.

 

Talk about your cruelest of blows. This was just plain out mean and dirty. If you know anything about me and my girls, you would know that I adore them and would do anything to keep them from pain and suffering. With that accusation, the world immediately changed. My first wife, initially, had the high ground and she had massacred me in battle. It was such a scary time. The court asked the Sheriff’s Department to administer a lie-detector test on me as to what happened on that last visitation that the girls had with me. If I failed the test (if they detected lies), they were going to bring charges against me. My very future was on the line. However, there was this calm that came over me. You don’t have to dress up the truth. The truth is its own defense.

 

Even with the accusation dismissed by the cops, DSS still got involved in our lives and would be for the next three years. Before DSS had interviewed me, they had spent a lot of time with my first wife and the girls and during this time, I was painted as a villain, a mean, abusive man. It wasn’t until they actually came to interview me that they began to see that there was a great disparity between what my first wife was saying about me and the reality of me. Although I was unable to see my girls for more than six months because of this accusation, the tide was slowly turning my way. Ultimately, when my first wife and her mother attacked me publicly in the lobby of the family court courthouse for what I “was doing to the children!” I quietly took there abuse and walked on. It was like I was being punished in their eyes for leaving their army or something. It was only after that incident that my first wife became the focus of DSS and not me. Ultimately, after observing my first wife for a while, they decided to remove the children from her care. After spending the next two and half years with my parents, I was finally awarded custody of my children in 1996.

 

From 1993 forward, my first wife’s whole aim in life was to destroy me. Ultimately, her hatred for me consumed her so much that she literally drove everyone out of her life and she became isolated in her own little world. My anger toward her in those early years gave way to forgiveness and pity. Her own hatred ultimately destroyed the person that she once was.

 

It was that idea of how God orchestrates justice if we will only trust Him that came to mind when reading through this passage today, Deuteronomy 25:17-19:

 

17 Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. 18 When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. 19 When the Lord your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!

 

Them they were to overcome by force; wickedness was to be removed by the extinction of the wicked. Moses has already repeatedly reminded the Israelites that they had utterly to destroy the wicked nations of Canaan; and he here closes this discourse by reminding them that there was a nation outside of Canaan which was also doomed, and which they were to root out. This was Amalek, which had attacked the Israelites in their journey at Rephidim, and had taken advantage of their exhausted condition to harass their rear and destroy those who, faint and weary, had lagged behind. For this they had been already punished by the Israelites, who, led on by Joshua, had turned upon them and discomfited them with the edge of the sword. This, however, was not enough; Amalek was to be utterly destroyed, and this the Israelites were to effect as soon as the Lord had given them rest in the Promised Land. It was not, however, till the time of David that this was done.

 

God will have justice over wickedness, we must remember this. Even though it may seem that it will never come, God will turn evil against itself and destroy the evildoers. We may not even see it our lifetimes. But rest assured, God will have justice over evil, according to His timetable. Just like when my first wife and I were going through our divorce, it got ugly and bitter. My ex-wife wanted to destroy me in whatever way she could. However, God has His justice. I must trust that I cannot return evil for evil on my own merits. God will have His victory over sin and evil. The Amalekites were a mean people who, though they knew of God’s delivering exploits when it came to the Israelites, they purposely thumbed their nose at God and were a constant battling force against the Israelites. They were a cruel and ruthless people. However, God had His victory over their evil ways. God always wins.

 

Let us remember to trust God with vengeance and He will have His way. Let us not try to return evil with evil. God will work it out. He always does. He always wins.

 

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 25:13-16

Honest Weights & Measures

My stepdaughter, the middle child of my three girls, only three months younger than my oldest daughter, works in retail. She is the general manager of one of a chain of popular women’s beauty products stores. She loves it. She loves the managing of a store-full of employees, the purchasing and logistic of product supply, the marketing and so on. She, I think, even loves the wacky hours and holiday work. Some people are just built for retail and Michelle is so. One of the things that I found odd though when talking about retail with her was that they do what they can to prevent theft (shoplifting) but they are not, by policy, to pursue someone once they get outside the store with stolen property. It is simply part of the business in retail.

 

Inventory loss due to shoplifting, employee or supplier fraud and administrative errors cost U.S. retailers an estimated $44 billion in 2014, according to a survey by the National Trade Federation (NRF) and the University of Florida. The survey, which during March and April interviewed 100 senior loss prevention executives from various retail sectors, found inventory shrinkage, or loss, averaged 1.38 percent of overall retail sales, which stood at $3.19 trillion in 2014. Shoplifting accounted for the largest portion of the loss at 38 percent, followed by employee theft at 34.5 percent, administrative and paperwork theft at 16.5 percent, vendor fraud or error at 6.8 percent and unknown loss at 6.1 percent, according to this study. Wal-Mart, the retailing giant whose annual gross revenues rival some small nations, alone, loses $3 Billion a year to shoplifting and employee theft. Theft is just part of the game in retail and guess who pays for the additional costs created by theft, you got it, the overwhelming majority of shoppers – the honest shopper.

 

Fraud and dishonesty (theft in all its forms, embezzlement, kickbacks, dishonest gains, etc.) cost our American economy over $200 Billion annually. Retail losses are only a quarter of the dishonesty cost in the American economy. Law enforcement agencies are having to reallocate resources or add staff to combat the growing wave of unethical business behaviors. It seems that the problem has become so rampant that it is simply an accepted part of business. You have to build in a certain percentage of your sales prices to cover the cost of fraud and theft whether you are selling merchandise or you are selling services. Cheating on our taxes, both at the personal and corporate levels, cost the federal government an estimated $300 Billion in lost tax revenues. Even churches are not immune to theft and fraud. In the United States, the estimate of the extent of fraud against churches perpetrated by employees works out to around $9 Billion annually. US churches spend more on theft and embezzlement than they do on community outreach activities at the local church level.

 

It is the lack of honesty that seems to permeate business dealings these days that I thought of when I read today’s passage. Let’s read it now together:

 

13 Do not have two differing weights in your bag—one heavy, one light. 14 Do not have two differing measures in your house—one large, one small. 15 You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. 16 For the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly.

 

God’s displeasure at dishonest business dealing is stressed throughout the Old Testament (Lev. 19:35, 36; Prov. 11:1; 16:21; 20:10, 23; and Mic. 6:11). The Bible has nothing good to say about those who cheat or are dishonest in their dealings with others. God is the embodiment of truth, and dishonesty is a insult both to God and our neighbor. This was a law of commerce dictating that you could not have one set of scales where a pound, say, equaled only 14 ounces and another where it equaled, say, the normal 16 ounces, for the purpose of cheating people. It teaches a broader principle that we must be fair and consistent in every area of life. We must have integrity in our dealings with other people.

 

How are we to live in a world like this where honesty and virtue seem to be liabilities to an employee? There is no advantage on earth as it descends generation by generation into the world mentioned in Revelation. There is absolutely no advantage. In fact, it is a liability to be honest in today’s world. It often angers me that I have more in taxes taken out on me than some people preachers make just out of seminary serving their first church. It angers me that I get back about ¼ of what I pay in taxes while others cheat like crazy and get big refunds. There is no advantage on earth for being honest.

 

However, there is eternal significance. There is eternal advantage in being honest. God is truth. Truth is honesty. To be honest is to be like one of the qualities of our eternal Father. We most likely all have moments where our flesh kicks in and we are dishonest too many times to count. However, we should purposely try to root our penchant for dishonesty and the Holy Spirit works on us about that very fact. When we can be honest when no one is looking is practice for being honest when everyone is. By being different from a world where theft and fraud are a natural part of life, we draw people unto Jesus Christ. By being ethical people in an unethical world, we draw people unto Christ. When we have opportunities “to take advantage of the system” but do not, we draw people unto Christ. When you can pad your expense account (and nobody will know) but do not, we are learning the discipline of honesty in our dealings with others.

 

We want to please God first and foremost. He will honor our integrity. He will bless it either here on earth or in eternity or both. He will bless it for sure. God has no deception, no lies, no untruth, no unethical qualities. We want to please Him by being truthful and honest. Second, as Christ followers, we are commanded to go and make disciples of Jesus Christ. The best way to do that is to be examples of Christ. Honesty, integrity and ethical behavior are rarities in our world today. The way we live our lives with honesty, integrity and ethical behavior make people ask questions. Being little Christs as we are, we must stand out as different so that people will look at us and ask questions. That is our opportunity to speak of the different way of living known as a relationship with Jesus Christ. Through our accepting Him as our Savior and He sending the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, we are changed. We are different. We have a different agenda of loving God and loving people. Being honest and forthright in our dealings with other people is how we love God and love people. Let us be quirky and different. Let our integrity and honesty draw people unto that which is so different from the common ways of man today.

 

There is no advantage in this world of being honest. There is an out of this world, eternal reason to be honest – to please God and to draw people unto Christ. Be different. Be honest. Stand out. Let people see your integrity so that they will be drawn unto Christ.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 25:11-12

Grabbing a Man’s Testicles

Oh, you have got to love Deuteronomy! It’s got stuff in it that most pastors will avoid preaching on. And this passage, pardon the contextual pun, a pastor would “really have to have balls” to preach on it. It is an oddity and very much against modern sensibilities. It is a peculiar passage and a tough one to deal with. It leaves us scratching our modern heads. On the one hand, you would like to think it is honorable for a wife to defend her husband and what does she get for it – to have violence done to her. It leaves us moderners shaking our head. Then, as a biblical blogger, my earmark of all my blogs is to illustrate a biblical passage by something from my personal life or a commentary on modern life in general that gets to the point of the passage. Can I do that this morning was my first thought? What in the world could be an illustration of this biblical principle.

 

The only things that I can come up with are some things that I have observed when in high school when physical violence is more prevalent than in adult society. I have seen a couple of things involving violence by a young man toward a woman and vice versa. In each case, it involved relationships gone wrong and retaliation. In the case of violence of a young man toward a young woman, there was a time when I saw a confrontation between two girls about one losing her boyfriend to the other girl. It was an ugly scene in the courtyard of what once was Travelers Rest High School (TRHS) when it was located on William Winter Blvd. (back in my day the street was named something else but I can’t remember the name now). The girls were beating on each other without mercy. Scratching, clawing, you name. Nothing was out of bounds. Finally, the boyfriend that was the center of this “debate” stepped and right in front of everyone grabbed his ex-girlfriend by the right boob and twisted it as hard as he could. This of course ended the fight. The ex-girlfriend was not only writhing in pain but she had been publicly humiliated by her ex. It also caused physical damage to his ex-girlfriend’s right breast that caused her to have to seek medical attention for it. I always wondered if that act caused her any problems down the line. I always wondered if she was ever able to nurse a child from that breast. I know she was in severe pain that day.

 

The other situation was where two boys were in a fight over a girl who just happened to be the cousin of the TRHS girl that would become my first wife and the mother my children. One of the two boys was the cousin’s boyfriend. The other was a guy that had been getting a little too close to my future cousin-in-law. During the struggle, Jill being the independent, quirky girl she was at that age, got so enraged by the other boy challenging her boyfriend, that she hauled off and kick the challenger boy right square in the crotch as hard as she could. She packed such a wallop that they boy began bleeding from his penis and had to be transported to the hospital. From what I understand from Jill, this boy was permanently damaged by the events of that day and was never able to father children.

 

These two events from the gauntlet that is high school life from back in the day (somehow I think high school is still a landmine of fights and potential fights to this day – some things about growing up never change)  are what came to mind as I thought about this passage that is about as quirky as my ex-cousin-in-law Jill. Let’s read through it now:

 

 

11 If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, 12 you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.

 

What is the meaning of this verse? What can we take away today?

 

First, in the context of ancient Middle Eastern culture, the act of a woman grabbing a man’s genital was a shameful act. God gave high regard to limiting sexual contact solely in the confines of marriage. So, for a woman to publicly grab the sex organs of a man in public was a shameful act regardless of the circumstances. It would not only bring shame to her but also to the man. While the surrounding cultures had a very low view of sexual modesty, the Israelites were to be different and to hold sexual relations in high regard. Grabbing sex organs publicly violated this modesty requirement.

 

Second, a woman’s intervention into a dispute between her husband and another man would bring dishonor to her husband. In ancient Middle Eastern society, she would have shamed her husband by intervening and particularly winning a fight that she perceived he was losing. It is no different now, how would you feel as a husband if your wife stepped into a man vs. man fight that you were involved in – particularly if it was in public. Thus, and in particular in the ancient Middle East, even though her motives might have been pure, she was shaming her husband. He would be publicly ridiculed from that point on as the man who had to be defended by a woman. It would forever taint his view of his wife as a result. In effect, her intervention would have caused long-term trouble for their marriage. Was it more important to win the fight for the husband or for him to maintain his dignity and honor as a man?

 

Third, I think that this passage teaches us that “all is NOT fair in love and war.” In other words, it is an admonition against gaining victory through any means necessary. We cannot resolve conflicts by any means necessary. There are boundaries of civility that we just cannot cross. That’s why war crimes against non-combatant women and children are outlawed. Even though war is heinous and should be avoided at all costs, there are certain boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed. Raping of women and children for example is never acceptable in war regardless of how heinous the war itself its. There are just certain boundaries that we should not cross to gain victory. In conflicts with others, we want to win but win with honor. We should never want to humiliate or degrade our enemies when we defeat them. That’s why World War I was actually the cause of World War II. Germany was so thoroughly punished after World War I and basically stripped of all her cash and wealth by the victor nations that Germany was sent into a economic deprivation that led to desperate lives and ultimately to the rise of the Nazi Party and Adolph Hitler. Thus, humiliation of the vanquished should never be our goal. Settle the conflict in such a way that everyone walks away with some sense of dignity. For example, when you think about the Alabama vs. Clemson national championship games of the last two years. Each team walked away both years whether victor or vanquished with their heads held high knowing that they gave their best in a game between the two best teams for the last two years. Both had honor as they walked away.

 

Fourth and finally, I think this was hyberbolic language to emphasize all the above points. Let us remember that hyperbole was often used in the Jewish culture (and still is) to emphasize a point. Jesus used hyperbole for shock value to get people to listen to what He had to say and to emphasize the points He was making. For example, I don’t think Jesus expected us to gouge our own eyes out for having lustful thoughts about a pretty woman passing by. He was making the point that we need to take such thoughts captive before the eyes lead us to lust and lust leads us to adultery or fornication. He did not literally want us to cut off body parts that were involved in acts of sin. He wanted us to take heed that we needed to capture our mind and change it so that our body parts won’t become involved in sinful acts. Thus, I think this is the same thing. It was an admonition against doing acts that violate civility. Fines would have been more likely in this case with the cutting off of the hand being the ultimate extreme of the enforcement and that being a place no one was really willing to go.

 

Thus, these are the things I take away from these two short verses. There are applications for us today in today’s world in these four points about the passage in context of the ancient Middle Eastern society. May God guide you to the point that particularly applies to your life as it stands today.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 25:5-10

Levirate Marriage

On this day, it is my eldest daughter’s 32nd birthday, her first birthday celebration where she is a mom herself. She gave birth to my granddaughter back in July 2016. Since it is her birthday, and she is mom now and I am a grandpa now. It got me to thinking about lineage today after reading this passage. Sometimes, we don’t understand why our parents make rules for us. They seem asinine to us when we are kids and particularly when we are teenagers. We had rules. One of those rules was that Bowlings don’t act that way. We had to hold ourselves to what my dad felt was the standard of behavior for the Bowling family. It was good ol’ Southern stuff. He wanted us to have honor, courage, and integrity.

 

My father instilled family pride in us that I could have cared less about as a kid and as a teenager. However, my dad was very mindful of our family having an honorable name. When you ain’t got nothing else, dad would say, you got your family name. Be proud of it and respect it. Give it a good name. Because of that family pride that dad instilled in us, and although I have failed miserably at times, I want my name to have honor. Not because I want to impress people, but I want for my daughter’s to be proud of their lineage. I want them to have pride that their maiden name is Bowling. I don’t want them to ever have to hide the fact that their last name is Bowling. My oldest daughter has married and her last name is now Greer. My youngest daughter is still a Bowling but she, too, will one day marry and take on another name. So, each could easily hide their lineage as a Bowling if they were ashamed of it. However, I want them and I believe they are proud to be Bowlings. Although I am not perfect and have made many mistakes with my daughters, I would think when you pinned them down about it, they would say that they are proud to be my children and that they are proud to be a Bowling. For me as a grandpa, whose name will not be carried on because of having daughters, it is important to me that they remember the Bowling name and be proud of it. Although the lineage of my line of the Bowlings will die with me, I want them to be proud of having that birth name. And for my wife, I want her to be proud to have acquired my name. I want her to believe that it is an honorable name. Because, as my dad used to say, when you ain’t got nothing else, you got your family name.

 

That idea of having an honorable name and preserving that as the generations pass is what I thought of when I read today’s passage, Deuteronomy 25:5-10. Let’s read it now together:

 

5 If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. 6 The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.

 

7 However, if a man does not want to marry his brother’s wife, she shall go to the elders at the town gate and say, “My husband’s brother refuses to carry on his brother’s name in Israel. He will not fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to me.” 8 Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists in saying, “I do not want to marry her,” 9 his brother’s widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, “This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother’s family line.” 10 That man’s line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled.

 

In this passage, we find that this law describes a levirate marriage, the marriage of a widow to the brother of her dead husband. The purpose of such marriage was to carry on the dead man’s name and inheritance. Family ties were important aspect of the Israelite culture. The best way to be remembered was through your lineage. If a widow married someone outside the family, her first husband’s lineage would come to an end. The law of levirate marriage (from the Latin word levir, meaning “husband’s brother”) is given only here. The limitation to brothers who “dwell together” may indicate that it applied to an unmarried brother, but it is doubtful that this limitation held in practice. The obvious purpose of the arrangement was to maintain the property rights of the deceased’s family line. The levirate custom dates to patriarchal times and is mentioned in Gen. 38:8–11; Ruth 3:1–4:12; Matt. 22:23–28; Mark 12:18–23; and Luke 20:27–33.

 

This law also serve as a protection for women in the Israelite culture. Since women had few, if any, legal rights in ancient Middle Eastern culture, they were extremely dependent on the family into which they married. Inheritance would pass from father directly to sons and not first to the wife. This law help ensure that widowed wives would not become destitute. As we see in the book of Ruth, poverty of the widow was a very real thing. Since there were no living relative males in Ruth’s husband’s lineage, she and Naomi, her mother-in-law, were destined to live in complete poverty. Were it not for Boaz stepping in and redeeming Ruth, she would have lived in total poverty.

 

Further, this law was intended to prevent marriages of widows to husbands outside the Israelite nation. In order for the Isrealite nation to survive, they would have to preserve their lineage. If they intermarried with other nations, Israel would eventually disappear, as would happen with the northern kingdom after the split with Judah. You could no longer call the inhabitants of the northern kingdom Israelites because they had so diluted their lineage and had so assimilated the ways of other cultures. Therefore, this law was important in maintaining the integrity of the line of the Israelites, to maintain the Israelite people as a unique and distinct people.

 

The takeaway here that all of us as Christians can takeaway here are two things. First, we must be mindful of our family name. we are Christians. We want to live lives that give honor, dignity, courage, and integrity their definition. Let us wear Jesus’ name with the awareness that the world watches us. They are waiting for us to give Jesus a bad name. They want to tear Jesus down. And we are His worldly representatives. That desire to show the world who Jesus is should rule us. We should be in the world but not of it. We should be peculiar. We should be different. We should preserve that difference so that you can tell the difference between worldly culture and Christian culture. Let us lead by example. Let us show the world what Jesus was all about. He was so different from the world that He ended up on the cross. We cannot assimilate and be so like the world that you cannot tell the difference between us and the worldly culture around us. We have a name. A family name. Christians. Let us live lives that give that name honor. Let us live Christ-like lives. We are not perfect and never will be but we seek through the Holy Spirit’s action in our lives to honor Jesus name. We have a family name. When we ain’t got nothing else, we got our family name – Christians. Let us make our Father, His Son, and The Holy Spirit proud to call us His children.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 25:4

Muzzling an Ox

 

As Christ followers, the last thing we usually give up to the Lord is His rightful rule over our finances. When it comes to money, we often come at maturity in Christ in our finances last. Until we reach that maturity, we are often no different than non-believers when it comes to money. Non-believers crack on the church as simply wanting our money. Many Christians have the same view about money and church.

 

Although we are commanded to be cheerful givers by Paul (and to Paul the tithe was just the beginning of being a cheerful giver), American churchgoers, in the most recent survey by Barna Research, give about 2.4% of their income to the church, the lowest level of church support since the survey began back in 1968. Only about 10-25% of your average church membership are tithers. These are facts that I bemoan often here because it saddens me, because we are muzzling the ox. Although we sing about the glory of God, we give very little to His cause. Although we talk about how much we love what our church does for our community, we give very little to make that happen. We are muzzling the ox. How often do we speak glowingly about our church to others, but we do not support it any sacrificial way. We think it’s pretty cool that our church puts on events for the community and we might even participate as a volunteer, but we give very little to our church.

 

According to an article in Christianity Today, it says,

 

“For Christians in the richest nation in history to be giving only 2.43 percent of their income to their churches is not just stinginess, it is biblical disobedience—blatant sin. We have become so seduced by the pervasive consumerism and materialism of our culture that we hardly notice the ghastly disjunction between our incredible wealth and the agonizing poverty in the world. Over the last 40 years, American Christians (as we have grown progressively richer) have given a smaller and smaller percent of our growing income to the ministries of our churches. Such behavior flatly contradicts what the Bible teaches about God, justice, and wealth. We should be giving not 2.4 percent but 10 percent, 15 percent, even 25 to 35 percent or more to kingdom work. Most of us could give 20 percent and not be close to poverty.”

 

Many of us see the church as just wanting our money and we don’t want to give our hard earned money to the church. We think the preacher gets paid too much and only works on Sunday. We think that if we give to the church that we will miss out on something that we could have spent that money on. We think we could go on vacation with that money. We think that somebody else richer in our church should be giving. We want our Word from God each week but we can’t be bothered to make ministry happen with our checkbooks. That whole money thing and giving it to the church is for those rich folks who have extra to give. It’s their job not ours. We want to be involved at church when it’s convenient. We give to the church when it’s convenient. We don’t want to live more simply so that we can give more to our church. We like the preacher but geez that a bit much to ask that I give a tithe. I have a house, two cars, kids to pay for.

 

The way that we, as Christ followers, hinder the mission of the church at large by the way we give restrains what the church can do in the world is the thing that came to mind this morning over one simple verse, Deuteronomy 25:4. Let’s read it now:

 

4 Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.

 

What is the point of this Old Testament regulation? Oxen were often used to tread out the grain on a threshing floor. The animal was attached by poles to a large millstone. As it walked around the millstone, its hooves trampled the grain, separating kernels from the chaff. At the same time, the millstone ground the grain into flour. To muzzle the ox would prevent the oxen from eating while it was working. Paul used this verse/regulation as an illustration in the New Testament to argue that people productive in Christian work should not be denied compensation and be fairly paid.  Paul said this,

 

1 Corinthians 9:9-12

9 For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.”Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.

 

As Christians, we must learn that we are commanded to be generous to the point of being sacrificial. Watching the movie, Silence, last night showed how Christian converts held to their faith in the face of merciless persecution in 17th century Japan. They would go their graves rather than renounce their faith in Jesus Christ. They really sacrificed. Think of Christians in Muslim countries today. They really sacrifice. They are generous with their lives and well as their livelihoods. Yet, we who have the freedom to go to church every Sunday and not have to hide it, think that the preacher makes too much money and that our wages are our own. We give to the church when we have an extra $20. We give to the church when we can fit it into our budget. We have been given the freedom to worship as we please but yet we do not put forth sacrifice in any way for the cause of Christ. We muzzle the ox.

 

We muzzle the ox from reaching more people for Christ. We muzzle the ox when our church has to worry about making payroll much less doing ministry. We muzzle the ox from helping families in need when we do not tithe and give sacrificially. We muzzle the ox from helping people go on mission trips to far away lands. We muzzle the ox when our church cannot afford to support missionaries full-time in the field. We muzzle the ox when we do not give sacrificially. We muzzle the ox when we do not live more simply and give more to the cause of Christ. We muzzle the ox when we have to delay a church plant in a new city.

 

Let us be a people that see giving to the church as our first priority. Let us see our money as coming from our abilities that are given to us by God. Let us think of living more simply and being more generous. Let us think it a privilege to give more and more to the cause of Christ. Let us be a church that thinks its about being obedient to the Lord. Let us trust the Lord when he says test me in this when it comes to giving sacrificially to the Lord. Let us be cheerful and less stingy. Let us be obedient to the Lord. Let us not muzzle the ox.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 25:1-3

Punishment Befitting the Crime

 

I remember when I was a teenager and the new kid in town in Travelers Rest, SC (affectionatetly known as TR by the locals). After we had been there a few months, I was in pretty good with the youth group at one of the two churches that my dad served as Methodist minister. By October, after having moved to TR in June, I had started dating the girl who would eventually become my first wife and subsequently the mother of my two daughters. One night after the youth meeting on Sunday night after I had been dating Lisa for a couple of months, we were all hanging in the parking lot at the church talking – the whole Jackson Grove UMC posse. It was youth group at a small church but it was about 20 of us. One thing that I was unaware of was that before I moved to town and got Lisa interested in me was that Harold Perry had long had a crush on Lisa, but he was a shy introvert but a giant of a teenager. He was about 6’3” and 200 lbs at age 16. He never played sports for some reason. That spring before we moved to TR, Lisa had broken off a relationship with Charles Monroe so Harold must have thought that it was his chance to act on his crush on Lisa. However, the cute new preacher’s kid, me, had moved to town. I ruined his plans. He had this smoldering anger toward me. And it spilled out one night.

 

One night after youth group, teenagers being teenagers, not thinking or even caring about each other’s back stories, I must have made a flippant remark (not intended to do anything but draw laughter) about Harold’s manhood or something. I cannot even remember what was said. Then, to me, out of the blue, Harold the 6’3” behemoth picks up this boy, a boy of 5’6” in height at that age, 14, and throws me over his shoulders and start spinning round and round in imitation of a wrestling move. In my embarrassment in allowing myself to become a victim of such a public display, I did not wait for him to either stop or slam me to the ground, I did my best to wiggle free of the choke he had around my ankles on one side and my neck on the other. As he was spinning I was able to break free but that also meant that I went flying through the air toward the ground – because gravity is gravity and she is an unrelentingly consistent bitch. When I hit the ground it was chin first. Did I mention that the “ground” we on was the paved parking lot of Jackson Grove UMC? I scraped the heck out of my chin. It could have worse. The landing could have dug down through my skin to my chin bone. But luckily I had turn my face somewhat sideways right before my face hit the pavement so my chin did not take the full force of gravity and the immovable pavement.

 

When I arose, bloodied, embarrassed and shocked, I was all “what the heck was that all about, dude?” I couldn’t believe that I was just standing there joking around with my friends one moment and then the next I am spinning helplessly on the shoulders of a guy that hardly ever said anything to me, and now I standing there with a bloody chin and side of my face. I didn’t say “what the heck” and you know the what the…” that I said. It was only later when Lisa and I were talking about the event that I found out (being a clueless man – we are often clueless about things that women see, and a teenage one at that) that Harold had a crush on Lisa there for a while but never acted on it. Then I swooped in out of nowhere, to him, and took “his girl.” From that point on, he quietly disliked me greatly unbeknownst to me. I was clueless of the crime that I had committed in his eyes. And, then, bam, one night he punished me for a crime that I had no idea that I had committed.

 

That idea of punishments of crimes and the punishment fitting the crime brought that memory to the surface suddenly. I had not thought about the events of that night in the Jackson Grove parking lot for years and years. It is funny sometimes how the Holy Spirit draws out memories that are buried and forgotten so as to illustrate Scripture. He often takes memories of our lives to show us what Scripture means in relationship to real events in our life. This morning, that was certainly the case. Let us read Deuteronomy 25:1-3 now:

 

25 When people have a dispute, they are to take it to court and the judges will decide the case, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty. 2 If the guilty person deserves to be beaten, the judge shall make them lie down and have them flogged in his presence with the number of lashes the crime deserves, 3 but the judge must not impose more than forty lashes. If the guilty party is flogged more than that, your fellow Israelite will be degraded in your eyes.

 

At first glance, this passage seems irrelevant today. However, a closer look reveals some important principles about discipline. Are you responsible for the discipline of a child, a student, or an employee? Three important points will help you carry out your responsibility. First, let the punishment follow quickly after the offense. Second, let the degree of punishment reflect the seriousness of the offense. Finally, don’t overdo the punishment. Discipline that is swift, just and restrained makes its point while preserving the dignity of the offender.

 

In my case, Harold denied me of my dignity. He never identified to me what my crime was. He never stated that I had offended him. He never gave me the chance to defend myself against his charge against me. I was not given a fair trial. I was just punished. It is an example of how we often just lash out at people who have offended us. Sometimes, we have made up our mind on getting revenge and punishment without determining whether our outlook on the reality of the situation is valid or not. We just lash out. Sometimes, we lash out and our reaction is unjustified because there was no crime committed against us by the person. We knee jerk react to situations. This passage reminds us that we need to give our enemies a fair hearing before we execute punishment. We need for them to know how they have hurt us and get an explanation. Often times, people who have offended or hurt us, don’t even know that they have hurt us. Give them a fair hearing. Give them a chance to defend themselves. Then, let the punishment fit the crime. A lack of knowledge of what they had done wrong against you would deserve greater degree of mercy that a willful intent to hurt you. But even willful offenses do not deserve punishments beyond what fits the crime.

 

As we begin the holiest of weeks in the Christian calendar today with Palm Sunday and continuing on through Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we are reminded of how Jesus committed no crime, but was treated as if he had committed some great offense against the Jewish religious state and, also, the Roman Empire. He had committed no crime but to speak the truth of God. He was innocent of any real crime. However, it was all part of God’s plan to show mercy to us by taking out His wrath against sin against His Son on the cross instead of taking it out on us.

 

He was innocent. We are guilty. But He took the punishment that we deserved. God poured it all out on Him. All the wrath that I deserved. Jesus didn’t deserve the punishment of 40 lashes with a cat-o’-nine-tails whip and with reeds. He didn’t deserve to have the flesh ripped from his body by that horrible kind of whip. He didn’t deserve the deep tissue bruises caused by being beat with wooden reeds. There was no unbiased judge that prevented that. There was no mercy shown Him for the crimes he supposedly (without evidence) had committed against the government. He did not deserve to be bloodied almost to death and then paraded through the streets with the cross beam on his shoulders. He did not deserve to be forced to carry that beam when he was beaten with an inch of his life and had bloody open wounds all over his body. He did not deserve to be put to death by crucifixion – still one of the most cruel and lengthy punishments to the death ever devised by man. He did not deserve what He got. He was innocent of His crime. But, yet, there was an eternal thing that He was doing in a temporal world. He died for all sins. He died for all your sins and all of mine. He took the punishment that He personally did not deserve.

Therefore, let us be a merciful people when people have offended us. Jesus didn’t deserve what happened to Him. But he accepted it anyway because of his love for us, our friends and even our enemies. Let us show mercy. Let us show restraint. When someone offends us, let us make sure first that they have indeed offended us. Let us give them the opportunity to seek forgiveness. Let us learn their back story. Let us offer forgiveness. Let us react in ways that are befitting to the crime that has been committed. Let us then forgive and restore. Let us be merciful as God has been merciful to us by giving the punishment we deserve for our crimes of sin to His Son instead of to us. Let us seek mercy as well as justice just as God has done with us.

 

Amen and Amen.