Archive for June, 2017

Posted: June 19, 2017 in 06-Joshua
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Joshua 10:16-27

Joshua Kills the Five Southern Kings

 

Remembering God’s hand in your life and how he is in control is necessary for us when we are going through the trials and tribulations of life. We must be reminded it of sometimes, too, when we are going through the mundanity of life of working for a living, paying bills, and repeating the cycle over and over. I am reminded of God’s power in my life every time I think of the path of my life over these past 13 years. It makes me think of that song by the 80’s one-hit wonder band, Naked  Eyes, “There is Always Something There to Remind Me”.

 

The first thing is how He orchestrated my meeting my wife of the past 7 years. The odds of us ever meeting a decade ago was admittedly astronomical. I had been living in and around the Greenville, SC area from the time I was 14 years old until I was age 44. I had no plans of leaving. Greenville, SC was home. It was then and still is now my favorite town in the world. However, in order to continue expanding my career at age 44, I could no longer restrict my job searches to the Greenville area. I had to be willing to move anywhere in the country to further my career. So, at age 44, after two failed marriages, I was ready to move to a new town just to give it a shot. No longer was I having to satisfy the woman in life by remaining in the Greenville area. I was free to move anywhere I wanted to. And, although it was scary, I accepted a job offer in Charlotte, NC. Although, depending on where you go in Charlotte, it is was only an 1 ½ hours – 2 hours away from Greenville, it might as well have been a foreign country. Although I had been to uptown (in other cities this is called downtown) Charlotte a few times in my life and to Carowinds several times, I did not know Charlotte hardly at all and did not know anybody or have any friends that lived there. It was a new exciting and scary experience. What are the odds that within a year of my moving to Rock Hill, SC (a southern suburb of Charlotte), Elena, coming off the end of her own second marriage, would move into the same building in the same apartment complex with me. It took awhile for her to get her wings as a new bird in this single life. But we finally met. That was a God orchestrated thing. To think where we have been and where we are and where we are going, together, it was definitely the hand of God that orchestrated our being together as a couple. It is mind-boggling to think that just 2 ½ years before we met, we would never even thought of our meeting each other, much less living in the same apartment complex just up and downstairs from each other. Now, we have been a couple for nearly a decade and been married for almost 7 of those years. Mind-boggling. Different decisions by us about life and/or careers, and we would have never met.

 

When I think of how God arranged our lives to meet and the odds against us meeting #1, getting to know each other #2, and staying together after I accepted a job in California #3, her deciding to move to California to be with me #4, choosing Livermore to live in #5 (amazing miracle by itself), a church event door hanger “randomly” being the only door hanger placed on a door in our building at our apartment complex in Livermore inviting us to Livermore Alive Community Church #6, attending that church and meeting the pastor and his wife that became so instrumental in our walk with Christ #7, that going to that church was preparation for our return to South Carolina #8, the post office in Duncan being closed and my wife having to go to the Lyman post office instead (which is right across Greenville Highway in Lyman from LifeSong Church. I mean if our town’s post in Duncan was not closed when she arrived and then Elena opts for nearby Lyman’s post office, we would not have found LifeSong Church, the church we are so ingrained at now. That’s miracle #9. At LifeSong, we have flourished in our walk with the Lord to the point that we fully believe that we are called to ministry and we live it everyday and every way that we can and are preparing for the day when God will send us forth as a full-time ministry couple wherever that may lead – it may lead to LifeSong itself or us being sent to another location. That part has not yet been revealed. But we fully believe that He will reveal. Just look at the preponderance of evidence of His hand in our lives. The odds are astronomical for us even being together as a couple much less being a passionate Christ following couple ready to be used by Him. The odds are just freaking astounding. If you do not believe that God’s is still in the miracle business, try explaining my and Elena’s life together. It is full of the hand of God even when we weren’t looking.

 

When I get down and blue about things and wonder where God is, sometimes I just have to sit down and just think about my and Elena’s journey over this past decade. If that doesn’t bring awe to my mind about the power of God then something’s wrong with me. I am sure some atheist would discount it all as random events but, to me, there is no denying the hand of God in this brilliantly connected string of events. There are multiples of these so called “random acts” that are just simply God doing what He do! He is the grand orchestrator of His people’s lives. There’s no denying it. All these facts of our lives can be nothing less than God’s hand.

 

When I think of Joshua in this passage encouraging his troops about the hand of God on their shoulders and how they should be strong and courageous, it brought forth memories of how God has had His hand on my shoulders all this past decade. Let’s read Joshua 10:16-27 together and then I will tie all this together after we read it now:

 

16 Now the five kings had fled and hidden in the cave at Makkedah. 17 When Joshua was told that the five kings had been found hiding in the cave at Makkedah, 18 he said, “Roll large rocks up to the mouth of the cave, and post some men there to guard it. 19 But don’t stop; pursue your enemies! Attack them from the rear and don’t let them reach their cities, for the Lord your God has given them into your hand.”

 

20 So Joshua and the Israelites defeated them completely, but a few survivors managed to reach their fortified cities. 21 The whole army then returned safely to Joshua in the camp at Makkedah, and no one uttered a word against the Israelites.

 

22 Joshua said, “Open the mouth of the cave and bring those five kings out to me.” 23 So they brought the five kings out of the cave—the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon. 24 When they had brought these kings to Joshua, he summoned all the men of Israel and said to the army commanders who had come with him, “Come here and put your feet on the necks of these kings.” So they came forward and placed their feet on their necks.

 

25 Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Be strong and courageous. This is what the Lord will do to all the enemies you are going to fight.” 26 Then Joshua put the kings to death and exposed their bodies on five poles, and they were left hanging on the poles until evening.

 

27 At sunset Joshua gave the order and they took them down from the poles and threw them into the cave where they had been hiding. At the mouth of the cave they placed large rocks, which are there to this day.

 

Here in this passage, we see that placing a foot on the neck of a captive was a common military practice in the ancient Middle Eastern cultures. It symbolized the victor’s domination over his captives. These proud kings had boasted of their collective power back in Joshua 10:4. But against a God who can suspend the laws of nature (sun standing still in Joshua 10:12-13) and his favor given to the Israelite armies, they were soundly slaughtered and defeated. God is superior to any earthly army. With God’s help, Israel won the battle against the armies of the 5 southern kings. Such a triumph was part of God’s daily business as He worked with His people for victory. Joshua told his men to never be discouraged or afraid but rather be strong and courageous because God would give them victories over all their enemies. The same God will help us with our present and future needs. Reminding ourselves of his help in the past will give us hope for the struggles we will encounter in the future. David says in Psalm 110:1, “The LORD says to my lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” Be strong and courageous.

 

The thing that I have to take away from today’s passage is that God is with His people. When I get worried about what’s next or what is happening to me right now, all I have to do is remember how God has guided me, guided Elena, guided us to the shores that he wants us to land on. His hand in our lives is so super-evident to me that it gives me great confidence that God will continue to do so and all that I must do is trust in His power. Sure, it’s easy to get discouraged when we look at what’s immediately in front of us sometimes. However, we must take a step back and look at just what God has done in the totality of our time as Christ followers. He has guided us through dark times. He has set us up on the mountain tops. He has allowed challenges to chisel and form us into new creatures. He has matured us by everything that has happened to us. Each step, for Elena and me, has been preparation for what He has in store next. And just look at what He has done so far. That gives me strength and courage. That can end a day of self-pity and discouragement and give me strength and courage. He is still in the miracle business. Just look at my and Elena’s last decade. He keeps His promises. See His guiding hand in your life and take heart and take courage.

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 10:1-15 (Part 1 of 2)

Israel Defeats the Southern Armies

Tomorrow, at my church, I begin teaching a thirteen (13) week series that is a walk through the New Testament in general and through each of the 27 books. Tomorrow will be an overview of what we are going to try to accomplish in the class. The overriding theme that I want to come out of tomorrow is that the New Testament and the whole entirety of the Bible is not just some fantasy made up for our benefit. It is the real deal. It is real people. It is real events. It is historical. It can be checked and verified. It is not fiction made up to support a religious movement. It is the theological history of God’s people from Abraham to the cradle, to the cross, to the church, to the world, to the end of time. What I want people to realize and, that realization giving our faith so much more power, is that we have a reasonable faith. We have faith that is based on real people, real events, that played out in the history of mankind. That’s the beauty of our Christian faith is that it is historically based on facts that can be verified. No one in Christianity is asking you to believe is some fantasy of mystical creatures and such. It is the real deal. Jesus, it is commonly accepted the world over and can be verified by extrabiblical sources that He actually existed – not just some made up dude for the Bible. He really existed. All of the facts and circumstances of the New Testament (and the Old as well) are grounded in the history of mankind, and specifically, the Middle East.

 

Like I had said to many people, the Christian faith is a reasonable one that is based on historical facts that can be verified extrabiblically. I can get you to see that our faith is so much more based on reason than any of the world’s other religions. We are not asked to believe in any fanstastical figures like in Hinduism. We are also not forced to swallow contradictions within the holy book of our religion as Muslims are with the Koran. We are not forced to remove ourselves from life to attain oneness with some blank fabric of the universe as with Buddhism. And so on and so on. I can show you how our faith is superior and most internally consistent faith on the planet. I can take you 95% of the way to faith in Jesus Christ with the historiocity of the Christian faith. But, that last 5% is where the miracles come in. The miracles in the Old Testament and the miracles of the New Testament require you to make that last 5% walk alone without any assistance from anyone. You must decide if you believe, really believe in God.

 

That is the crux of the controversies over the miracles of the Bible. It comes down to whether you believe in God and that He exists. The thing that I always have to come back to is the beginning of the universe. Atheists who believe that God does not exist and those who believe in God must start their debate there. Those who do not believe in the existence of God believe that the universe has its own laws that function consistently eternally. That, too, I accept, however, I see it as God having set those laws in motion to be eternally true from that point on. Beleiver and non-believer alike can agree on the cause and effect nature of the universe. However, atheists will suspend their own belief in that rule when it comes to the moment of the creation of the universe. They say that it spontaneously erupted from itself. What caused that? Therein lies the difference. I can still believe in God’s eternally played out cause and effect rules of the universe as it was him that caused the effect. It was Him that was the cause and the universe beginning was the effect.

 

Thus, that is what we have here in this passage. Do you believe that there is a God? If not, you can spend all day debunking this as literary device and not a reality. If you believe that there is a God, then, the one who created the laws of the universe can equally suspend those laws without there being collateral damage elsewhere in the universe that He created. So, here we find a test of faith. How much do you believe in God? Is it nice and tidy until you get to the miracles? Do you discount the miracles as a believer? Or do you plain out have faith that they happened? Here’s one of the tests of your faith here in Joshua 10:1-15, this morning. Do you believe it happened or do you try to explain it away or call it a literary device? Do you blindly accept this without thinking? Do you believe it because you believe in a God that created the universe by His hand and His mind that can suspend the laws of nature that He created at the points that He wants to so as to demonstrate His favor to His people?

 

Let’s read the passage again this morning together with an eye toward that crux of a question about whether we believe in God’s miracles or not:

 

10 Now Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem heard that Joshua had taken Ai and totally destroyed[a] it, doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and that the people of Gibeon had made a treaty of peace with Israel and had become their allies. 2 He and his people were very much alarmed at this, because Gibeon was an important city, like one of the royal cities; it was larger than Ai, and all its men were good fighters. 3 So Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem appealed to Hoham king of Hebron, Piram king of Jarmuth, Japhia king of Lachish and Debir king of Eglon. 4 “Come up and help me attack Gibeon,” he said, “because it has made peace with Joshua and the Israelites.”

 

5 Then the five kings of the Amorites—the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon—joined forces. They moved up with all their troops and took up positions against Gibeon and attacked it.

 

6 The Gibeonites then sent word to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal: “Do not abandon your servants. Come up to us quickly and save us! Help us, because all the Amorite kings from the hill country have joined forces against us.”

 

7 So Joshua marched up from Gilgal with his entire army, including all the best fighting men. 8 The Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them; I have given them into your hand. Not one of them will be able to withstand you.”

 

9 After an all-night march from Gilgal, Joshua took them by surprise. 10 The Lord threw them into confusion before Israel, so Joshua and the Israelites defeated them completely at Gibeon. Israel pursued them along the road going up to Beth Horon and cut them down all the way to Azekah and Makkedah. 11 As they fled before Israel on the road down from Beth Horon to Azekah, the Lord hurled large hailstones down on them, and more of them died from the hail than were killed by the swords of the Israelites.

 

12 On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel:

 

“Sun, stand still over Gibeon,

    and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.”

13

So the sun stood still,

    and the moon stopped,

    till the nation avenged itself on[b] its enemies,

 

as it is written in the Book of Jashar.

 

The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. 14 There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel!

 

15 Then Joshua returned with all Israel to the camp at Gilgal.

 

In this passage, we see that there is a moment where the earth stopped turning giving the appearance to us earthbound inhabitants that the sun stood still in the sky. There are extra-biblical references to this event, as well, from traditions in all parts of the world. According to the research that I was able to find is that legends of a longest day are found in Egypt, Greece, and other ancient lands. And among the American Indians, South Sea islanders, and others in the Western Hemisphere are legends of a longest night—which would indeed make sense, seeing how these peoples lived in the opposite hemisphere. God performed a stupendous miracle, causing the sun to delay its “setting.” God stopped the motion of the earth. There are objections to this explanation, based on the physics of motion, but the God who created the world and established natural laws is perfectly capable of compensating for any collateral complications. We may not have a scientific explanation of how God performed this miracle, but He did. While we may not fully understand how this “long day” occurred, a miracle does not have to be scientifically proven—just accepted. Joshua prayed, and God supernaturally provided the light necessary for Joshua’s army to win its battle. The lengthened day was indeed unlike anything ever seen, but in Joshua’s mind the greater miracle may just have been that God listened to him and answered such an amazing prayer.

 

Do you believe in God responding to prayer with miracles? I think that answer comes to whether you believe in the miracles of the Old and New Testament or not. It is that simple. If we believe the miracles to be explainable, then God does not interact with His people here on earth. If we believe that the miracles are literary devices, then, the God we believe in really does not care about us at all. It comes down to faith. Do you believe in a big ol’ God that wants to have interaction with His creation? Do you believe in a God that answers prayers and responds with miracles? Do you believe that God can heal a person with cancer when all indications are that they are going to die within months? Do you believe in a God that can bring people together from far off places such as Florida and California and Georgia and North Carolina and numerous other states to a small little suburban town in the Greenville-Spartanburg, SC area called Lyman, SC at a church called LifeSong Church and bring them together at just the right place and at just the right time with just the right people to impact the Lyman-Duncan-Wellford suburban tri-cities for the Lord in ways that have never been seen before in this area. The way that He has orchestrated that is an amazing miracle. Every step of my journey with Jesus is not a bunch of coincidences. It is the hand of God guiding me to this place at this time with these people.

 

It comes down to how big your God is? If you don’t believe that there is God, then, this blog is meaningless to you. If you believe there is a God but don’t believe in the miracles then you don’t believe that God is mighty and that He is creator. But if you believe in a God that is Creator. If you believe in a God that created all that we see, touch, feel and smell, then you can believe that He can control the universe that He created. If you believe that then you can believe that He can make miracles in your life. He can change you through Jesus Christ. He can perform miracles in your life. Why?

 

BECAUSE I BELIEVE IN A BIG, BIG, BIG, MIGHTY, MIGHTY, MIGHTY GOD WHO CAN DO ANYTHING!

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 10:1-15 (Part 1 of 2)

Israel Defeats the Southern Armies

You know that is an old saying that says, “Forgive and forget!” I think that forgiveness is really in the remembering but forgiving anyway. We cannot “forget” situations where we have been betrayed. It is simply impossible to un-remember or forget what someone has done to us. Forgiveness truly is the ability to forgive someone even though you have vivid memories of what they have done to you. That is real forgiveness. Forgiveness is still feeling the pain of the deception or betrayal when you think of it, but, yet, giving that person grace. By all rights we should be able to tell them to take a long walk off a short pier. Or any of a number of clichés about ill will toward another person.

 

I remember this concept well when it came during the first separation that I had with my second wife. We had been separated for about 9 months at that point in our first separation. There were mutual reasons why we separated. I did some stupid things with money that put our lifestyle in jeopardy and she reacted to it by returning to the party lifestyle she had before we met and ended up having an affair at work (she had returned to work after having been a stay at home mom for the previous two and half years). She would stay out all night and when I would get angry about it she would withdraw further into her circle of single friends, which made me further insecure. It was a vicious circle from which we could not escape. We finally separated over these issues. Even though I still loved her, by nine months later, I had accepted the reality that she was seeing other people and was enjoying the single life and had no desire to be back with me. On the other hand, it had been difficult for me to recover from our separation. It was really, really tough because I was still pining away for her. However, one weekend in November 2000, when she had gone to the beach with her cousin and some of her single gal pals and this guy friend and some of his guy friends. It was to be this wild weekend where she celebrated her birthday at the beach (in November!). But in the middle of the night, like at 1am in the morning, she calls me on the house phone at the lake house of my parents in Anderson, SC where I had been living for the previous 9 months since the separation.

 

“Come get me!” were the first words she said to me over the phone. Not even a “hi” or a “hello”. Just “Come get me!”. I could have easily said “go to hell, bitch!” and hung up the phone. There had been so many times during that separation that I wanted us to get back together but was rebuffed to the point that I was actually, finally dating again after 6 months or more of sulking away. By all rights, I could have told her to go to that place of the gnashing of teeth and burning of flesh. But I didn’t. I knew all the pain that I felt over what had happened to our marriage but I got up and drove to the beach in 4 hours, including getting a speeding ticket on the way. Something had happened between her and the guy that she rode to the beach with and she was now stranded with no room and no way home. I set aside all the pain and went and rescued her. Because I rescued her from God know what (which I never asked about and she never told), she decided to ask me to come back to our marital home. I severed ties with anyone whom I had been dating and rushed back home. It was what I wanted. I was happier than a pig in slop at the notion of us getting back together.

 

But I think God’s reasoning for us getting back together was so that I could guide my second wife and her two youngest sons through the death of her oldest son. Three months after we got back together, her oldest son was killed in a car accident on the night of February 25, 2002. I think that my second wife and her kids would have come completely unglued and gone off the deep end if I had not been part of their lives in the aftermath of his death. But ultimately, the ungodly jealousies of my kids vs. your kids, one of the many undercurrents that were at play in our relationship undid the marital bliss than had been re-established that one night when I rescued her from that bad situation in Myrtle Beach. When my daughter went off to college, she though our obligations to my child had ended and wanted me “to cut the apron strings” as she said. I could not do that to my oldest child. That comment led to me hiding my financial support for my daughter from my second wife. It all came to light in August 2004 and our marriage ended again. All the old struggles and jealousies were just too much for it to survive. And she wasted no time meeting someone and was living with another guy within three months. Although I left the marriage initially because I chose my child over the second wife, I was able to get a divorce on the grounds of her adultery. This time the separation was permanent and I never looked back again. No more pining away for her. I knew this was the end. There was just too much that this marriage not centered on God, not established in God, could survive. I knew I was doing the right thing. My children were my priority and I should have never had to choose between my girls and my second wife. I knew this time it was final and it was for real.

 

Isn’t strange how this all worked out though when you look back at it? God brought us back together because he could see the tragedy that was going to happen. We were back together from November 2000 until our final separation in August 2004. Her oldest son’s death was almost perfectly right in the middle of that time frame. That’s the thing that I see as one of the two reasons for the reconciliation. One was for me to be there during the tragedy and the recovery time after it. The second was for me to see that nothing much had changed in our marriage (my kids vs. your kids) and to see my second wife with the rose colored glasses off. That had to be the purpose. There was a clarity about the future when the marriage ended for good. No longer was my second wife my god. I saw her with fresh eyes of clarity.

That idea of remembering betrayal but forgiving anyway so that we can reap God’s true blessings for us was what I thought of this morning as I read through Joshua 10:1-15 for the first of two times. Lets read it together now:

 

10 Now Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem heard that Joshua had taken Ai and totally destroyed[a] it, doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and that the people of Gibeon had made a treaty of peace with Israel and had become their allies. 2 He and his people were very much alarmed at this, because Gibeon was an important city, like one of the royal cities; it was larger than Ai, and all its men were good fighters. 3 So Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem appealed to Hoham king of Hebron, Piram king of Jarmuth, Japhia king of Lachish and Debir king of Eglon. 4 “Come up and help me attack Gibeon,” he said, “because it has made peace with Joshua and the Israelites.”

 

5 Then the five kings of the Amorites—the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon—joined forces. They moved up with all their troops and took up positions against Gibeon and attacked it.

 

6 The Gibeonites then sent word to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal: “Do not abandon your servants. Come up to us quickly and save us! Help us, because all the Amorite kings from the hill country have joined forces against us.”

 

7 So Joshua marched up from Gilgal with his entire army, including all the best fighting men. 8 The Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them; I have given them into your hand. Not one of them will be able to withstand you.”

 

9 After an all-night march from Gilgal, Joshua took them by surprise. 10 The Lord threw them into confusion before Israel, so Joshua and the Israelites defeated them completely at Gibeon. Israel pursued them along the road going up to Beth Horon and cut them down all the way to Azekah and Makkedah. 11 As they fled before Israel on the road down from Beth Horon to Azekah, the Lord hurled large hailstones down on them, and more of them died from the hail than were killed by the swords of the Israelites.

 

12 On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel:

 

“Sun, stand still over Gibeon,

    and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.”

13

So the sun stood still,

    and the moon stopped,

    till the nation avenged itself on[b] its enemies,

 

as it is written in the Book of Jashar.

 

The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. 14 There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel!

 

15 Then Joshua returned with all Israel to the camp at Gilgal.

 

In this passage, we see that Joshua has integrity. After having been deceived by Gibeonites, Joshua and the leaders of Israel could have been slow to respond (or not at all) to the Gibeonites’ request for the armies of Israel to save them. Instead, they responded immediately to the call for help. How willing would you be to help someone who had deceived you even though you had forgiven that person? We should always take our word, our promises to others as seriously as Joshua did here.

 

When I look back on my own situation where I forgave despite remembering pain and deception, I wonder what if? What if I had not responded to her cry for help in November 2000? What if I had not jumped out of bed, not thinking of the hurt, the pain, the deceptions, the arguments, and drove all night to get her. I would not have been in the place where God needed me to be in February 2002 and I would not have learned the true nature of that relationship. Sometimes, we have to forget deception and pain and our pride to do what God calls us to do or what God wants us to learn. Sometimes God calls us to do things that will require us to forgive even though the pain and pride are painful. Sometimes, we must forgive even though we remember so that we can obtain what God has in store for us.

 

If I had been able to see what my second marriage was really made of by that getting back together in November 2000, where would I be today. I would not have the blessings that I have now. If I had not forgiven though I remembered, I would not have ever seen my second wife for her true nature and been able to set myself free from worshiping her as a god. I would not have ever grown up. I would been her puppet for years. I would have never opened my eyes to her without that reconciliation period. I would not be where I am today without saying yes to God’s plan that night in November.

 

Just as Joshua could have easily told the Gibeonites to go to hell because of their deception and the pain that it caused him. But he forgave, though remembering, and came to their defense. If he had not done that, he may have never had another opportunity to have the armies of all the hill country kings all together in one place at one time – ever again. Pride can cause us not to forgive. Pride can cause us to miss out on what God really has in store for us.

 

God could have pride if that were in His nature. He could have pride and literally tell us to go to hell. He remembers each and every betrayal we have committed against Him. He remembers every one of our sins and betrayals and deceptions against Him. He could forever hold it against us. God has a long memory. He does not forget our sins. But he loves us enough to not want to see us permanently separated from Him in hell. He gave up His Son on the cross as the permanent resolution to our sin problem. God forgives us through His Son’s sacrifice. He loves us that much. He loves us even though we have hurt Him so badly with our sins and our raising our fist in the air at Him. When we say to the Lord, even though we do not deserve His grave, “Come get me!” God comes to us through Jesus Christ. He remembers all our sins but comes to us regardless. What if God did not come to us and rescue us? He has every right not to! He is not God and we are sinners. He does not need us. He could just write us off and tell us to go to hell, literally. But he offers salvation to all those who call out to Him to come rescue them.

 

Joshua could have said go to hell to the Gibeonites, but He kept his word. He was able to reap great blessings from not being prideful and saying go to hell to the Gibeonites. Sometimes our inability to forgive others because of the pain they have caused us, prevents us from being freed from that pain and obtaining the real blessings that God has for us. Sometimes it’s hard I know. But by forgiving (even though we can never forget), we let loose the idol that the pain has become and only then can we find the path that God wants us to walk down.

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 9:1-27

The Gibeonites Deceive Israel

How often does Satan try to deceive us? Every day. He wants us to be gotten off track and create a stumbling block in our testimony. He is the great deceiver. He will attack us in whatever our weak point is and create a wedge in our relationship with God. Sometimes these deceptions are subtle and when we least expect them. Sure, the blatant things are easy enough to avoid as a Christ follower. We know that murder is wrong and we simply avoid getting that angry. We know that prostitution is wrong so we avoid participating in that. We know the big things that are wrong and we avoid those things like the plague. It the subtle nuances of Satan that often bring us down. We listen that this might be OK because…well…you know…it’s not so wrong.

 

If we have a problem with pride, Satan will deceive us there. Often you see Satan attack mature Christians in this way. You don’t need to do what the leadership at church says because…well…you know…we know better than the preacher. We don’t have to tithe because we have served the Lord so well over the years!  We don’t have to do a book study because that stuff is for less mature Christians. We don’t have to attend this mandatory class because, hey, we have been believers for a long time so we don’t need it. We already know this stuff. I don’t need to study the Bible, I have read through it from front to back more times that I want to count. I don’t need advice from other Christians about my behavior. They are less mature than me.

 

If you have a problem with the love of sexual attraction and arousal, that is where Satan will try to deceive you. Looking at pornography is OK because you are not actually, physically cheating on your spouse. Nobody will know. It’s ok for you because you are such a good Christian in other areas. It is OK to be alone with that girl or guy you find attractive because you have the spiritual willpower to withstand the urges of the body. It’s OK to talk to that girl in the bikini at the pool or at the beach just so you can get a closer look at her body. It’s OK to flirt with that guy whose married. It’s all just innocent fun and it’s not crossing the line into adultery. Satan will tell you that it’s OK to still if you still got it going on…after being married for as long as you have. It’s OK to test the waters every now and then just to make sure you are still verile as a man or attractive as a woman.

 

If you have a problem with jealousy, that is where Satan will deceive you. He will make you think that you are not good enough. He will make you think that you loved ones are deceiving you when they really aren’t. He will make you want what others have. He will make you not appreciate what you have and make you want this fantasy life that you have made up in your mind. He will make you make stupid mistakes because of jealousies that you will have to pay for the rest of your life. He will make you want a lifestyle that you cannot afford because of jealousies. How many of us have been deceived by Satan’s siren call in this area? Just because I make $50k a year less than Guy X, you can still have his lifestyle, says Satan. Get those credits cards and max ‘em out. Get that mortgage you can’t afford and the cars that you can’t afford. It’s all OK. Why fully pay for anything when can keep trading up your debt (trading smaller debts for bigger ones)? How many of us are stuck in this deception from Satan?

 

Each and every one of us has a sin weak spot and that is where Satan will deceive us. This one time is OK is Satan’s most famous deceptive lie. No one will know. He will make you think that you can withstand your sin weak spot by helping you rationalize why this time will be different and because you are more mature now than the last time you made that mistake. Why does Satan do this?

 

He wants us to have a blockage in our relationship with God. He wants to keep us from fulfilling our full potential with what God has planned for us. He wants us to get off-track. He wants there to be a blemish on our witness that discredits us with non-believers. He wants us to sink into a mire of sin so that we are no longer effective in spreading the gospel. He wants to create division within God’s church so that it will start finding within. When the church is fighting within itself, we are no longer effective in taking back this earth from Satan.

 

How do we avoid the subtle deceptions of Satan? We must constantly seek God in prayer. We must seek God in His Word. We must seek God through the counsel of other more wise Christians. These were the things that I thought of this morning as I read through the deception of Israel in Joshua 9. Why do we keep making the same mistakes again and again? Joshua did not consult God AGAIN and now Israel is going to have this awkward alliance with the Gibeonites for generations to come. Let’s read about it now:

 

9 Now when all the kings west of the Jordan heard about these things—the kings in the hill country, in the western foothills, and along the entire coast of the Mediterranean Sea as far as Lebanon (the kings of the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites)— 2 they came together to wage war against Joshua and Israel.

 

3 However, when the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, 4 they resorted to a ruse: They went as a delegation whose donkeys were loaded[a] with worn-out sacks and old wineskins, cracked and mended. 5 They put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. All the bread of their food supply was dry and moldy. 6 Then they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and the Israelites, “We have come from a distant country; make a treaty with us.”

 

7 The Israelites said to the Hivites, “But perhaps you live near us, so how can we make a treaty with you?”

 

8 “We are your servants,” they said to Joshua.

 

But Joshua asked, “Who are you and where do you come from?”

 

9 They answered: “Your servants have come from a very distant country because of the fame of the Lord your God. For we have heard reports of him: all that he did in Egypt, 10 and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan—Sihon king of Heshbon, and Og king of Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth. 11 And our elders and all those living in our country said to us, ‘Take provisions for your journey; go and meet them and say to them, “We are your servants; make a treaty with us.”’ 12 This bread of ours was warm when we packed it at home on the day we left to come to you. But now see how dry and moldy it is. 13 And these wineskins that we filled were new, but see how cracked they are. And our clothes and sandals are worn out by the very long journey.”

 

14 The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord. 15 Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath.

 

16 Three days after they made the treaty with the Gibeonites, the Israelites heard that they were neighbors, living near them. 17 So the Israelites set out and on the third day came to their cities: Gibeon, Kephirah, Beeroth and Kiriath Jearim. 18 But the Israelites did not attack them, because the leaders of the assembly had sworn an oath to them by the Lord, the God of Israel.

 

The whole assembly grumbled against the leaders, 19 but all the leaders answered, “We have given them our oath by the Lord, the God of Israel, and we cannot touch them now. 20 This is what we will do to them: We will let them live, so that God’s wrath will not fall on us for breaking the oath we swore to them.” 21 They continued, “Let them live, but let them be woodcutters and water carriers in the service of the whole assembly.” So the leaders’ promise to them was kept.

 

22 Then Joshua summoned the Gibeonites and said, “Why did you deceive us by saying, ‘We live a long way from you,’ while actually you live near us? 23 You are now under a curse: You will never be released from service as woodcutters and water carriers for the house of my God.”

 

24 They answered Joshua, “Your servants were clearly told how the Lord your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you the whole land and to wipe out all its inhabitants from before you. So we feared for our lives because of you, and that is why we did this. 25 We are now in your hands. Do to us whatever seems good and right to you.”

 

26 So Joshua saved them from the Israelites, and they did not kill them. 27 That day he made the Gibeonites woodcutters and water carriers for the assembly, to provide for the needs of the altar of the Lord at the place the Lord would choose. And that is what they are to this day.

 

In this passage, we see that, as the news spread about their victory, the Israelites experienced opposition in two forms. There was the direct opposition of the kings in the area that began to unite against them. There was also the indirect kind of the Gibeonites who resorted to deception. We can expect similar opposition as we obey God’s commands. To guard against these pressures, we must rely on God and communicate daily with Him through prayer. He will give us strength to endure direct and indirect pressures and wisdom to see through deception.

 

When the leaders sampled these men’s provisions, they that their provisions appeared old and worn out from a long journey. However, they could not see that they were being deceived. After the promise had been made, the truth came out that they had been deceived. God had specifically instructed Israel to make no treaties with the inhabitants of the Promised Land (See Exodus 23:32, 34:12; Numbers 33:55; Deuteronomy 7:2, 20:17-18). As a strategist, Joshua knew enough to seek God’s will in prayer before leading his troops into battle, but the peace treaty seemed innocent enough. They thought they could make the decision without consulting God. By failing to seek God’s guidance and rushing ahead with their own plans, they had to deal now with an awkward alliance and angry people who were second-guessing their decision. Once again, Israel’s leaders had forgotten to go to God. How often do we do the same? A new situation arises and we forget to seek God’s guidance and wisdom. The leaders of Israel made a mistake. Since they made a treaty and an oath to protect the Gibeonites, they would have to keep their word. The oath was not nullified by the Gibeonites’ trickery. God has commanded that oaths be kept (Leviticus 5:4; 27:2, 28).

 

What is your weak spot? Where is it that you think you do not need wise counsel? Where is that you think “you got this”? Where is that you think you have got it all under control and do not need discernment from God? Where is that we do not go to God in prayer? What is that pet sin of yours and mine that we are blind to and think we got this under control so we do not seek God in that area of life?

 

We must seek God in every area of our lives … especially those areas that we think we got it all covered. We must seek God in every area of our lives … especially in those areas that our blind spots. We must seek God daily. We must have a robust prayer life where we would not consider making any decision large or small without seeking God’s guidance and grace. We must be in God’s Word constantly so that we can be convicted by His Word. We must seek wise counsel of other more mature Christians. We must come under the leadership and preaching of the pastor that God has placed us under. We must be aware of how Satan will try to deceive in our weak spots. We must be ever vigilant against his subtle attacks and how those attacks will try to twist Scripture and twist the very nature of God.

 

Be aware of the subtle deceptions of Satan. When we are aware that he will try to deceive us through subtle means more often than the big bright lights kind of ways then we are on the start to recognizing our need for the daily guidance of the Lord through His Word, through prayer, through preaching, through leadership of others, through accountability and so on.

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 8:30-35

The Lord’s Covenant Renewed

There is a Christian contemporary song that came out a few years back called, “The Heart of Worship” by Matt Redman. The lyrics to the song go like this:

 

When the music fades

All is stripped away

And I simply come

 

Longin’ just to bring

Something that’s of worth

That will bless your heart

 

I’ll bring You more than a song

For a song in itself

Is not what You have required

 

You search much deeper within

Through the ways things appear

You’re looking into my heart

 

I’m comin’ back to the heart of worship

And it’s all about You

It’s all about You, Jesus

 

I’m sorry Lord for the thing I’ve made it

When it’s all about You

It’s all about You, Jesus

 

According to Song Story, at www.crosswalk.com, Matt says that

 

“The song dates back to the late 1990s, born from a period of apathy within Matt’s home church, Soul Survivor, in Watford, England. Despite the country’s overall contribution to the current worship revival, Redman’s congregation was struggling to find meaning in its musical outpouring at the time.

 

“There was a dynamic missing, so the pastor did a pretty brave thing,” he recalls. “He decided to get rid of the sound system and band for a season, and we gathered together with just our voices. His point was that we’d lost our way in worship, and the way to get back to the heart would be to strip everything away.”

 

Reminding his church family to be producers in worship, not just consumers, the pastor, Mike Pilavachi, asked, “When you come through the doors on a Sunday, what are you bringing as your offering to God?”

 

That’s the thing that we struggle with at times as churchgoers we get so caught up on things that do not matter to God. Sometimes we get so caught up in the trappings of church that we forget why we are there. We are there to worship God. It does not matter what the formula of the service is, contemporary or traditional. It does not matter that we have lights and bumpin’ sounds systems, it does not matter that we have one song, the welcome, two songs, the cool video bumper for the sermon series, the sermon, the closing song, and the final word from the pastor, and then the musical overlay to our dispersal. That’s our formula. I am sure that your church has yours. Do you worship the formula or are your there to worship God?

 

I have noticed a disturbing trend, at least to me, lately at my church. It is a modern worship style church like Elevation, like NewSpring, like many others of our kind. We have the modern worship building. We have the café with the cool name. We have the kids’ ministry with an equally cool name (and they worship with an equally cool sound system). We have the bookstore with all our latest t-shirts and books by the most recent Christian authors. We have the atrium where there is plenty of room to congregate, sip on your coffee, and talk. We have the welcome team that greets everyone who comes through our doors. The coffee and the conversations and getting your children checked into Kidzlife with its computerized labeling system, it is all easy to get wrapped up in. Lately, myself included, I have realized that we spend maybe too much time milling around in the atrium talking and reconnecting with other LifeSong folks. It’s not like we are not warned. We have a video reminder that comes on the atrium TV sets on the walls just above our heads that we have 5:00 minutes before church starts and it counts down to 0:00. At five minutes, the sweet voice of our church’s finance & admin manager, Bonnie, reminds us that there is 5 minutes til the service begins, 2 minutes til the service begins, and 1 minute til the service begins.

 

However, I would venture to say that half of each service’s attendees are late getting into the worship center. There are conversations that have to be finished. There is a refill on our coffee or fruit drink that has to be obtained. There is that bathroom break that you just didn’t get around to. Over half the congregation comes in and does not get settled until the opening song is about halfway done. Then, at the end of the sermon, right at the beginning of the final song, a certain percentage of the congregation begins peeling off. I realize that some of these people are working the service that day, but all of these folks are not. These are parents rushing to get their kids before the rush after the service is really over. These are people who want to get to their cars and get out of the parking lot before the mad rush at after church is over. These are people who want to get to the local restaurants before the LifeSong rush.

 

What are we here for on Sundays is my question. It is not about the light show. It is not about the bumpin’ sound system. It is not about the cool videos. It is not about Jeff, our senior pastor, the face of our franchise. It is not about singing the latest songs that we have heard on His Radio (89.3 on your FM dial) or sampled and downloaded to our iPhone. It is not about all the cool stuff that we do make our church appealing to you. It is about worship. We are there to worship God. All the cool stuff is there to get us to be in the right frame of mind to worship God.

 

These were the things that I thought about this morning when I read the passage, Joshua 8:30-35. Let us read it together now:

 

30 Then Joshua built on Mount Ebal an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, 31 as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the Israelites. He built it according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses—an altar of uncut stones, on which no iron tool had been used. On it they offered to the Lord burnt offerings and sacrificed fellowship offerings. 32 There, in the presence of the Israelites, Joshua wrote on stones a copy of the law of Moses. 33 All the Israelites, with their elders, officials and judges, were standing on both sides of the ark of the covenant of the Lord, facing the Levitical priests who carried it. Both the foreigners living among them and the native-born were there. Half of the people stood in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the Lord had formerly commanded when he gave instructions to bless the people of Israel.

 

34 Afterward, Joshua read all the words of the law—the blessings and the curses—just as it is written in the Book of the Law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly of Israel, including the women and children, and the foreigners who lived among them.

 

The altar was to be built out of uncut stones so it would be holy (see Exodus 20:25). This would prevent people from worshiping the altar itself or worshiping the craftmanship of the workers rather than great works of God. And on this altar was to be written, most likely, the Ten Commandments which are the central core of all of God’s laws. The altar was to remind them of the fact that God was the reason for their victories. The whole scene we see here is about reminding the Israelites as to why they have reached the point that they are at. It is because of God. When they have properly worshiped God they have had victories. When they have not worshiped God in proper focus they have suffered defeat. It’s that simple. This scene of worship, which probably took a good while (seeing as how Joshua repeated the blessings and curses from the books of Moses), was to remind them that they needed to stay focused on God and worship Him for what He has done and will do.

 

That got me to thinking about that disturbing trend that I mentioned about our church services. I admit that I am just as bad about straggling into the service as anyone else. So I am preaching to myself here as much as anyone else. I may not slip out of the service as some do, but I am guilty of missing the target on the beginning of the service. What are we here for? To worship God. We are not here to sip coffee and have conversations that are more important than to end them when the warning for services are about to start. We are not here to beat everyone else to pick up your kids. We are not here to beat everyone else out of the parking lot. We are not here to beat the mad rush to the restaurants after church. We are not here to say we were here and leave early so we can make it to the lake on time. We are not here as a checklist thing that we check off as having been done. We are here to worship God.

 

I am not saying that we should not congregate in the atrium and talk to one another. There are people that we need to reconnect with and see how their week went and there is value in that. Developing relationships at church are essential in retaining people at your church. We want our people to end up having their best friends in the world right there in our church’s congregation. There is support and accountability that comes from having deep and abiding friendships within the congregation of your church. What I am saying is that we need to place priority on worship on Sunday rather than having our needs met.

 

Maybe we should be drifting from the atrium to the worship center sooner so that we can begin preparing our hearts for worship. Maybe we should be in there in prayer to have our hearts opened to better understanding God’s Word and open to any conviction of our heart that may come. Maybe we should be in there praying for God to use our pastor’s words to convict someone’s heart so mightily that they give their life to Christ. During the service, maybe we should be less focused on certain things happening in certain ways. During the service, maybe we should be less focused on the media aspects of the service that we think are so cool. During the service, we should leave our phones in our pockets. During the service maybe we should not be thinking about whose in church this week and who we don’t see. During the service, we should be focused on worshiping God. After the sermon is complete, maybe we should be in less of an exit mode and more in praise mode for having just heard a mighty word of God and it being driven home by the final song. Maybe, we should be less concerned about keeping our afternoon time schedule and just luxuriate in the moment of worshiping God.

 

I think that might be one of the reasons that during our senior pastor/elder’s sabbatical that the other pastor/elders are going to have a time of Wednesday night prayer services. These prayer services will be just that. All the fancy stuff that makes modern church what it is, will be stripped away. We will be there for prayer and prayer only. We will strip away the trapping of modern church and just worship through prayer. We will be seeking God’s will for our church – each and every one of our people not just the pastor/elders. We will be all stripping away all that we have added to church and focus on the one thing that we are there for – worshiping God.

 

Have you overcomplicated your relationship with God? Do you need to strip away all the fancy stuff you have added to it? Do you need to refocus on the focus of our praise – God? Do we need to remember the joy of our salvation and the simplicity that was our relationship with God?

 

Or do you need to understand that church is not about you? Or that church is not about what church can do for you? Church is about assembling together to learn more about God and to worship Him for who He is and to take that idea to the streets. We all need to focus on God! We all need to stop and worship God and thank Him for the things that He has done for us through Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord.

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 8:1-29 (Part 3 of 3)

The Israelites Defeat Ai

I remember when I was in fifth grade and sixth grade, my family and I were living in Elgin, SC where my dad was serving two Methodist Churches in that rural community outside Columbia. Back in 1972-74, Elgin was truly a rural community made up of old farming families that had been there for generations. Now, it is has been swallowed up by the expansion of suburban Columbia, SC. The town does not even look the same now. But I digress. Back in those days, I was a huge Alice Cooper fan. His “Killer” album was just an awesome album to a 10-12 year old boy. I admit that I still love that album. I did not appreciate how well constructed the melodies of that album were and how it was almost a hard rock symphony of sorts where the album told this story in progression. It was quite simply a masterpiece of the hard rock era.

 

I played and played that album on my first real phonograph. Back in those days, there were no miniature speakers with the sound quality of huge speakers. There were no earbuds with high sound quality. There was simply whatever phonograph you happened to have and how loud you could play it without your parents yelling “turn that dang thing down!” Alice Cooper’s music was heavy metal but it was not guitars wailing for no reason. Every song had purposeful use of guitars, drums, and keyboard. I wore that album out which my cheap phonograph.

 

It was not until I was 15 years old, a couple of years later, that I actually had a decent stereo system. Back in the Elgin days, it was a cheap phonograph and transistor radios tuned to WNOK in Columbia. It was the hit music station and it played, at that time, all the heavy metal bands that I liked. I could not touch my dad’s console stereo on which he played his classical music, his fifties music, and that sickening pop music of the early 1970’s with the Carpenters, Chicago, and other pop drool that had no guts.

 

Back in those days, radio was king and vinyl albums were not just novelties but the currently common medium. Eight track tapes were just beginning to come in vogue and cassette tape car stereos had not even been thunk of yet (yes, that’s a Southern word, thunk, the past tense of think). Music videos or music video television channels had not come into being yet. So, the only way you could see your favorite artists was on random television specials, late night music shows such as the Midnight Special, occasional appearances on late night talk shows or variety shows and sometimes on the annual music award shows such as the Grammys. It was all very limited glimpses of your favorite popular music artists. There was no MTV. No video downloads. You had to take what the three network (ABC, CBS, NBC) realm of television was giving you. I remember in like the Winter of 1974 (just before we moved to Anderson the following June) when Alice Cooper was at the height of his early fame, I found out that he was going to be appearing and playing two of his “Killer” songs on the Grammys that night. I freaked out. Alice Cooper on TV. I could see him live. I was never old enough at the time to go to one of his concerts so this would be like such a special treat.

 

You remember when you were a kid. You had a set time by which you had to have your homework done, a set time for having your nightly bath done, and a set time for being ready for bed and in bed. But it was the Grammys and Alice Cooper was going to be live. The Grammys came on and I kept expecting Alice Cooper to come on at any minute. So, I kept putting my dad off about getting my bath, you know, as kids are famous for doing. Finally, he reminded me that he was doing me a favor by letting me stay up on a school night to watch the Grammys so I owed him one any way. Now, GO TAKE YOUR BATH! OOOooookaaay! If there was ever a land speed record for having taken a bath by a 12 year old boy, it was that night. Some people today might call it today a “whore bath” where you just wash the essential parts of the body and get back at it. I don’t think my bath could have lasted 10 minutes max from being fully clothed walking into the bathroom, disrobing, washing in the shower, getting out drying off (what water that may have hit my body that night), putting my ever necessary clean underwear that mother’s obsess about (what if you are in an accident…LOL), putting my PJs on and brushing my teeth. As you can see, that’s a whole lotta ground to cover in 10 minutes. But all the while, it was running through my mind that I was going to miss Alice Coopers performance.

 

But bam I was done. Back in the kitchen watching the black and white portable TV on the kitchen counter, waiting for Alice to come on. Yeah, I had made it. Still to Come the announcer said, blah, blah, blah of other artists names, and … Alice Cooper. Great I didn’t miss it. But there was a problem. My dad. He knew that this All-American boy who got sweaty and dirty every day even in the winter time. He knew that I had barely taken a bath. If I had used soap I do not remember. I may have just rubbed a wet wash cloth over parts of my body. My dad was a stickler about us obeying his commands and not taking shortcuts to do it. We had to do our chores exactly to his instructions or we would have to do them again. This bath situation was no different. Go take a real bath this time. But Dad it’s Alice Cooper. He’s coming on. I don’t care if it’s the Pope, Go take your bath and do it right this time.

 

You guessed it. Because I had not done it right the first time, my second bath was supervised by my dad hollering at me through the bathroom door about each thing that I must do to have taken the approved bath and follow-up activities. I was so mad at him. This bath must have taken 30 minutes because of the details that I had to follow that Dad would have just taken for granted normally. It seemed like an hour to me though. I was going to miss my chance to see Alice Cooper live on television. I wisked right by dad on the way to the kitchen and that portable TV. You guessed it. I almost completely missed Alice Cooper’s performance catching the tale-end of his second song. I was grateful to see what I did but I had missed out on the whole thing practically. Isn’t funny how when we don’t do things the right way the first time, we have to go back and do them again, and then miss the prize that we were seeking.

 

That’s what I thought of this morning as I read through Joshua 8:1-29 for the third of three times. Let’s read the passage together this morning:

 

8 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land. 2 You shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king, except that you may carry off their plunder and livestock for yourselves. Set an ambush behind the city.”

 

3 So Joshua and the whole army moved out to attack Ai. He chose thirty thousand of his best fighting men and sent them out at night 4 with these orders: “Listen carefully. You are to set an ambush behind the city. Don’t go very far from it. All of you be on the alert. 5 I and all those with me will advance on the city, and when the men come out against us, as they did before, we will flee from them. 6 They will pursue us until we have lured them away from the city, for they will say, ‘They are running away from us as they did before.’ So when we flee from them, 7 you are to rise up from ambush and take the city. The Lord your God will give it into your hand. 8 When you have taken the city, set it on fire. Do what the Lord has commanded. See to it; you have my orders.”

 

9 Then Joshua sent them off, and they went to the place of ambush and lay in wait between Bethel and Ai, to the west of Ai—but Joshua spent that night with the people.

 

10 Early the next morning Joshua mustered his army, and he and the leaders of Israel marched before them to Ai. 11 The entire force that was with him marched up and approached the city and arrived in front of it. They set up camp north of Ai, with the valley between them and the city. 12 Joshua had taken about five thousand men and set them in ambush between Bethel and Ai, to the west of the city. 13 So the soldiers took up their positions—with the main camp to the north of the city and the ambush to the west of it. That night Joshua went into the valley.

 

14 When the king of Ai saw this, he and all the men of the city hurried out early in the morning to meet Israel in battle at a certain place overlooking the Arabah. But he did not know that an ambush had been set against him behind the city. 15 Joshua and all Israel let themselves be driven back before them, and they fled toward the wilderness. 16 All the men of Ai were called to pursue them, and they pursued Joshua and were lured away from the city. 17 Not a man remained in Ai or Bethel who did not go after Israel. They left the city open and went in pursuit of Israel.

 

18 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Hold out toward Ai the javelin that is in your hand, for into your hand I will deliver the city.” So Joshua held out toward the city the javelin that was in his hand. 19 As soon as he did this, the men in the ambush rose quickly from their position and rushed forward. They entered the city and captured it and quickly set it on fire.

 

20 The men of Ai looked back and saw the smoke of the city rising up into the sky, but they had no chance to escape in any direction; the Israelites who had been fleeing toward the wilderness had turned back against their pursuers. 21 For when Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had taken the city and that smoke was going up from it, they turned around and attacked the men of Ai. 22 Those in the ambush also came out of the city against them, so that they were caught in the middle, with Israelites on both sides. Israel cut them down, leaving them neither survivors nor fugitives. 23 But they took the king of Ai alive and brought him to Joshua.

 

24 When Israel had finished killing all the men of Ai in the fields and in the wilderness where they had chased them, and when every one of them had been put to the sword, all the Israelites returned to Ai and killed those who were in it. 25 Twelve thousand men and women fell that day—all the people of Ai. 26 For Joshua did not draw back the hand that held out his javelin until he had destroyed[a] all who lived in Ai. 27 But Israel did carry off for themselves the livestock and plunder of this city, as the Lord had instructed Joshua.

 

28 So Joshua burned Ai[b] and made it a permanent heap of ruins, a desolate place to this day. 29 He impaled the body of the king of Ai on a pole and left it there until evening. At sunset, Joshua ordered them to take the body from the pole and throw it down at the entrance of the city gate. And they raised a large pile of rocks over it, which remains to this day.

 

From this passage, we see that the conquest of Ai was very important to the Israelites. Only 11 miles away from Jericho, Ai was a key stronghold for the Canaanites and a buffer fortress for Bethel. If the Canaanite kings had gotten wind of an Israelite defeat at Ai, they could have united in a coordinated attack. They did not know that God had restored His power and protection to Joshua’s troops. We must depend on God with absolute obedience to be sure of the victory that He promised.

 

That was the thing that struck me here was that night that I missed out on what I considered a blessing (seeing my favorite artist live on television in an era where heavy metal artists rarely made it to mainstream television) because I took a shortcut on something my father expected of me. He had granted me grace by letting me stay up and watch the Grammys that night but I abused the privilege by not doing what he required of me. I ended up losing that night because I had to retake the bath and missing most of my favorite musician’s set on the show that night.

 

We see the same from Israel in this passage, they did not seek the Lord after their victory in Jericho. They thought they had this when it came to little old Ai. It was nothing. We don’t need to consult God on this one. It’s an easy victory. We don’t even need to send the full army (kind of like me taking a “whore bath” instead of the full bath). They got beaten badly at the first battle of Ai. Why? Because they took shortcuts just like I did in my bath. They did not do what their Father in heaven expected of them. He had led them by His power and might and they should have seen what great grace they had been given to be God’s people. They should have sought His instruction at every turn. When you have been given great grace, there should be dependence on our Father in a way that we want to obey His every command. But we are rebellious. We think we can do it our way. We think we can take shortcuts on obedience to God’s commands. We think we skirt obedience or give seeming outward obedience to His commands so that we can do things our way and get what we want.

 

We always have to go back and clean up the mess that comes from disobedience to our Father in heaven. We have to go back and do things the right way. We pay the price for our disobedience. We miss out on the blessing because we take shortcuts to get things the way we want them or think that we want them. Then we miss what God had intended for us. Why can’t we just be a people that obeys God the first time around. We would save ourselves a lot of heartache and a lot of backtracking in the process.

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 8:1-29 (Part 2 of 3)

The Israelites Defeat Ai

If you are like me, one of the biggest questions that I have after reading this passage was “Why was it OK for the Israelites to keep the plunder, the spoils of victory, at Ai but it was not OK to do it at Jericho?” It is a puzzling question. Does it bother you that God seems to be inconsistent here? If God is a God of truth, then what is true in one situation is always true, right? Is God displaying situational ethics here? What’s the deal?

 

It kind of reminds me of the fact that as a father we know the difference between a boy that is really smitten with our daughters and those who just want a physical conquest. I have a 10 ½ month old granddaughter now and realize the world that she will grow up in will be completely different from the world that I raised her mother in and it was worse than the world that I grew up in from a moral values standpoint. I just worry about my granddaughter and the pressure she will face from guys growing up. She is already a very beautiful little girl at less than one year old. I imagine that she will grew up to be a knock-out of a girl just by how cute she is now, about how expressive her face is, and so on. She is just cute and that’s not just me talking. So many people talk about how gorgeous she is already at such a young age. So, I know that as she becomes a middle schooler and later a high schooler and then college and then early adulthood, that there will be guys. She will be very feminine I know that. Her mother is a girly girl. 100% girl. Loves being a woman. She loves all the things that girls love. She will make sure that her daughter is feminine. But being a beautiful women in this world today makes them vulnerable to every dude who wants a notch in his belt. Women are more toys to boys that they ever were before. Today’s world objectifies the female body in a way that was only hinted at when I was a teenage boy.

 

Why do I worry about my granddaughter? I was a teenage boy once. I know what that was like. You are ruled by one thing – our testosterone. We are ruled by our lusts when we are teenage and early twenty year old boys. We will do anything and say anything to achieve our goals. I know what that was like. I will be able to spot that from a mile away. Just by the way he will look at my granddaughter,  just by the way he says things to her and what he says to her, I will know. The one thing that I will know is that to Ralyn, she will think her dad and her granddad are being inconsistent when it comes to the boys that she will date. We will like some. We will loathe others. She, as a girl, will not understand why and her dad and I will not be really able to explain it to her. There will be things that her dad and her granddad will sense about the boys she brings around us that cannot be explained but just known by us because we are men. There will be boys that just want to take Ralyn to bed and use her up and throw her away and move on to the next conquest. And there will be possibly and hopefully those boys that are just smitten with Ralyn and will treat her like a princess and will respect her femininity and will respect the delicate flower that women are in our lives, the most wonderful creatures that God created.

 

Ralyn will not understand when her dad says she can’t see this boy anymore. She will not understand when her Papa says that boy’s no good for you. She will just think that we are being controlling and random. She will not understand that we know boys and we will be able to smell out the ones that are after one thing and ones that are truly in love with her and respectful of her. She will just think we are being mean. But we will only have her best interest at heart. She will only understand it when she does find that one right guy that treats her as the princess that she is and will be. She will only understand later when she has to call her dad or her granddad when she finds herself in a jam because she found out what we already knew – that certain boys only want one thing from her. But there will be many days when she just thinks we are being inconsistent and illogical. This boy’s ok but that boy’s not. Get rid of that one. Keep this one. We will drive her crazy with our seeming inconsistencies. But it will be for her own good and she won’t understand it until she arrives at the altar with that one right guy.

 

That’s what I thought of this morning as I read through Joshua 8:1-29 for the second of three times. Let’s read the passage together this morning:

 

8 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land. 2 You shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king, except that you may carry off their plunder and livestock for yourselves. Set an ambush behind the city.”

 

3 So Joshua and the whole army moved out to attack Ai. He chose thirty thousand of his best fighting men and sent them out at night 4 with these orders: “Listen carefully. You are to set an ambush behind the city. Don’t go very far from it. All of you be on the alert. 5 I and all those with me will advance on the city, and when the men come out against us, as they did before, we will flee from them. 6 They will pursue us until we have lured them away from the city, for they will say, ‘They are running away from us as they did before.’ So when we flee from them, 7 you are to rise up from ambush and take the city. The Lord your God will give it into your hand. 8 When you have taken the city, set it on fire. Do what the Lord has commanded. See to it; you have my orders.”

 

9 Then Joshua sent them off, and they went to the place of ambush and lay in wait between Bethel and Ai, to the west of Ai—but Joshua spent that night with the people.

 

10 Early the next morning Joshua mustered his army, and he and the leaders of Israel marched before them to Ai. 11 The entire force that was with him marched up and approached the city and arrived in front of it. They set up camp north of Ai, with the valley between them and the city. 12 Joshua had taken about five thousand men and set them in ambush between Bethel and Ai, to the west of the city. 13 So the soldiers took up their positions—with the main camp to the north of the city and the ambush to the west of it. That night Joshua went into the valley.

 

14 When the king of Ai saw this, he and all the men of the city hurried out early in the morning to meet Israel in battle at a certain place overlooking the Arabah. But he did not know that an ambush had been set against him behind the city. 15 Joshua and all Israel let themselves be driven back before them, and they fled toward the wilderness. 16 All the men of Ai were called to pursue them, and they pursued Joshua and were lured away from the city. 17 Not a man remained in Ai or Bethel who did not go after Israel. They left the city open and went in pursuit of Israel.

 

18 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Hold out toward Ai the javelin that is in your hand, for into your hand I will deliver the city.” So Joshua held out toward the city the javelin that was in his hand. 19 As soon as he did this, the men in the ambush rose quickly from their position and rushed forward. They entered the city and captured it and quickly set it on fire.

 

20 The men of Ai looked back and saw the smoke of the city rising up into the sky, but they had no chance to escape in any direction; the Israelites who had been fleeing toward the wilderness had turned back against their pursuers. 21 For when Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had taken the city and that smoke was going up from it, they turned around and attacked the men of Ai. 22 Those in the ambush also came out of the city against them, so that they were caught in the middle, with Israelites on both sides. Israel cut them down, leaving them neither survivors nor fugitives. 23 But they took the king of Ai alive and brought him to Joshua.

 

24 When Israel had finished killing all the men of Ai in the fields and in the wilderness where they had chased them, and when every one of them had been put to the sword, all the Israelites returned to Ai and killed those who were in it. 25 Twelve thousand men and women fell that day—all the people of Ai. 26 For Joshua did not draw back the hand that held out his javelin until he had destroyed[a] all who lived in Ai. 27 But Israel did carry off for themselves the livestock and plunder of this city, as the Lord had instructed Joshua.

 

28 So Joshua burned Ai[b] and made it a permanent heap of ruins, a desolate place to this day. 29 He impaled the body of the king of Ai on a pole and left it there until evening. At sunset, Joshua ordered them to take the body from the pole and throw it down at the entrance of the city gate. And they raised a large pile of rocks over it, which remains to this day.

 

From this passage, we see that, Israel’s laws for handling the spoils of war covered two situations. First, cities like Jericho were under God’s ban (judgment for idolatry) could not be looted (see Deuteronomy 20:16-18) because God’s people were to be kept holy and separate from all influence of idolatry. Second, the distribution of captured goods from cities not under the ban was a normal part of ancient warfare. It provided ancient armies with the necessary food, flocks, and weapons needed to sustain itself in wartime. Ai was not under ban. The conquering army needed the food and equipment. Because soldiers were not paid, the plunder was part of the incentive for going to war and risking their very lives for their cause.

 

Sometime on the surface we may think God is being inconsistent in this passage. But think about the fact that the Bible clearly stated that Jericho was an idol-worshiping culture. Nothing of the kind was said about Ai. They may have been without God in their lives but it is not mentioned that Ai was filled with idols and all the immorality that went along with worshiping idols. Since it was a much smaller town than Jericho there may have not been many idols and trinkets related to the industry of idolatry as there was in Jericho. I don’t think God was being inconsistent here. He knew something about Jericho that was going to be a bad influence on the Israelites. Jericho may have been much like Corinth in the New Testament – a town where anything goes and a town like Vegas where what happens in Jericho stays in Jericho. Jericho must have been so warped and so wrapped up in its self-pleasing idolatry that it had to be completely destroyed. The Israelites may have not understood why it was OK to keep the plunder at Ai but not at Jericho. They may themselves have thought God was being inconsistent and capricious. Just like Ralyn may think her dad and her granddad as being capricious and inconsistent when it comes to the boys that she will date. She will not understand it. She will have to just trust that we know what we are talking about and accept it. I pray that she does not have to find out the hard way through real experiences of being hurt and crushed by a boy who just wanted her for one thing.

 

Sometimes, God may seem inconsistent to us in the things that he leads us into or steers us away from but we must trust Him as the Sovereign of our lives. We must trust His eternal knowledge. We must trust His eternal foresight. We must trust Him. Sometimes, we won’t understand why but we must just trust and let God be God and us be His child. He knows best. He is our Father.

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 8:1-29 (Part 1 of 3)

The Israelites Defeat Ai

There is a Christian phrase that floats around these days. I cannot say for certain who coined it because you see it everywhere when you do a google search but it is true of what God does through us when we seek forgiveness for our sins. The saying is “God turns our mess into a message.” It simply means that through salvation we are redeemed and that through faith in God our past becomes our testimony to His greatness. Our mess of our past becomes our testimony. Our mess of our past becomes our ministry.

 

Yesterday’s blog was just that. My choices in life that had an atomic bomb affect with ripple effects on my life can be traced back to a decision to pursue a relationship with a woman who was not my wife that led to an affair and adultery. The course of my life was profoundly affected by that decision and I was using in my last blog to warn against the seductive siren call of an extramarital affair as a testimony, as a ministry. My life, in general, is a testimony to the first commandment. You shall have no other gods before me. I made acceptance, particularly female acceptance, the point of my life.

 

Once I became old enough to recognize what the female body has to offer a man, the pursuit of that became my god. Chasing after it, doing what I had to do keep access to it, has led me to so many mistakes in my life. I no longer blame the women in my life for taking advantage of my willingness to do anything, say anything in the pursuit of or the protection of my access to their charms. I did it to myself. My teenage and adult life was like a drug addict doing anything and saying anything to keep access to his supply of drugs. A drug addict will slowly forget any morality or pride or whatever just to keep access to a supply of drugs. I was the same way when it came to the physical charms of a woman. I allowed the pursuit of feminine charms to rule my life. It was my god. Whatever sacrifices I needed to make at its altar I was willing to make. In my first marriage, it seemed that there was this wedge that my first wife needed there to be between me and my family. I gladly eschewed my parents and my family when it was what my first wife needed so as to prove my love to her. With my second wife, it seemed that how I proved my love was eschewing anything to do with my past before I met her. That included my children. She expected me to only do what was legally expected of me for my children and no more. She expected that I elevate her children above mine. I bought it all just to keep access to my god, her feminine charms. I practically did not have a relationship with my children for those nine years all because my drug, my god, the charms of the feminine body demanded it. It was my drug. I would do whatever it took to please it and keep access to it. Even after my salvation, this was the one sin stronghold that the Holy Spirit had to hardest time getting me to let go of. This was my most entrenched sin, acceptance from others, and access to what a woman has to offer a man. Even after the breakup of my second marriage, because I refused to ignore my children any longer and lied about to my second wife, I was still addicted to female approval. As a single guy I was all about finding and keeping access to my drug, my god. It was not until I met Elena that I learned that it’s not all about the access. She taught me that love was not measured by access. Love is not conditional. Love does not demand. Love just is. I know that God sent this woman, Elena, who became my third and final wife, to save my life, to break the chains of my addiction, and to show me what love that He has for me. Unconditional love. Forgiveness. No hoops to jump through. But we cannot realize that until we put God first. Whatever we have on the throne of our lives before Him will rule us, disappoint us, and destroy us.

 

I know that I would not, literally, be alive today until I learned this lesson. I could make Elena my god for having saved my life but it was the through the mess that my life had become that I realized that I could no longer make access to feminine charms the god of my life, the ruling factor in everything I did. When I look back on my life and how all this happened, I get so angry at myself and so disgusted by what I look back on that it almost brings tears to my eyes for all the wasted time. But as the line from Steel Magnolias says, “that which does not kill us makes us stronger.” When I look back on what my life was and what it is now, it also gives me great thanks to the Lord for being patient with me, looking out for me, and saving me for what He has for me now. We must use our past as motivation to love God more for what He has done. Let our past become part of the reason we love Him so much.

 

That’s what I thought of this morning as I read through Joshua 8:1-29 this morning for the first of three times. It is the fact that Joshua and Israel let their eyes get taken off God by their success and it led to utter failure. But, they did recognize what their sin was and repented of it. God then led them to victory. That is our story. How we let our mess become our message. Israel screwed up big time but they fell humbly before God and restored them and gave them blessing. That is my story. That is my mess and my message. Let’s read the passage together this morning:

 

8 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land. 2 You shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king, except that you may carry off their plunder and livestock for yourselves. Set an ambush behind the city.”

 

3 So Joshua and the whole army moved out to attack Ai. He chose thirty thousand of his best fighting men and sent them out at night 4 with these orders: “Listen carefully. You are to set an ambush behind the city. Don’t go very far from it. All of you be on the alert. 5 I and all those with me will advance on the city, and when the men come out against us, as they did before, we will flee from them. 6 They will pursue us until we have lured them away from the city, for they will say, ‘They are running away from us as they did before.’ So when we flee from them, 7 you are to rise up from ambush and take the city. The Lord your God will give it into your hand. 8 When you have taken the city, set it on fire. Do what the Lord has commanded. See to it; you have my orders.”

 

9 Then Joshua sent them off, and they went to the place of ambush and lay in wait between Bethel and Ai, to the west of Ai—but Joshua spent that night with the people.

 

10 Early the next morning Joshua mustered his army, and he and the leaders of Israel marched before them to Ai. 11 The entire force that was with him marched up and approached the city and arrived in front of it. They set up camp north of Ai, with the valley between them and the city. 12 Joshua had taken about five thousand men and set them in ambush between Bethel and Ai, to the west of the city. 13 So the soldiers took up their positions—with the main camp to the north of the city and the ambush to the west of it. That night Joshua went into the valley.

 

14 When the king of Ai saw this, he and all the men of the city hurried out early in the morning to meet Israel in battle at a certain place overlooking the Arabah. But he did not know that an ambush had been set against him behind the city. 15 Joshua and all Israel let themselves be driven back before them, and they fled toward the wilderness. 16 All the men of Ai were called to pursue them, and they pursued Joshua and were lured away from the city. 17 Not a man remained in Ai or Bethel who did not go after Israel. They left the city open and went in pursuit of Israel.

 

18 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Hold out toward Ai the javelin that is in your hand, for into your hand I will deliver the city.” So Joshua held out toward the city the javelin that was in his hand. 19 As soon as he did this, the men in the ambush rose quickly from their position and rushed forward. They entered the city and captured it and quickly set it on fire.

 

20 The men of Ai looked back and saw the smoke of the city rising up into the sky, but they had no chance to escape in any direction; the Israelites who had been fleeing toward the wilderness had turned back against their pursuers. 21 For when Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had taken the city and that smoke was going up from it, they turned around and attacked the men of Ai. 22 Those in the ambush also came out of the city against them, so that they were caught in the middle, with Israelites on both sides. Israel cut them down, leaving them neither survivors nor fugitives. 23 But they took the king of Ai alive and brought him to Joshua.

 

24 When Israel had finished killing all the men of Ai in the fields and in the wilderness where they had chased them, and when every one of them had been put to the sword, all the Israelites returned to Ai and killed those who were in it. 25 Twelve thousand men and women fell that day—all the people of Ai. 26 For Joshua did not draw back the hand that held out his javelin until he had destroyed[a] all who lived in Ai. 27 But Israel did carry off for themselves the livestock and plunder of this city, as the Lord had instructed Joshua.

 

28 So Joshua burned Ai[b] and made it a permanent heap of ruins, a desolate place to this day. 29 He impaled the body of the king of Ai on a pole and left it there until evening. At sunset, Joshua ordered them to take the body from the pole and throw it down at the entrance of the city gate. And they raised a large pile of rocks over it, which remains to this day.

 

From this passage, we see that, after Israel had been cleansed from Achan’s sin, Joshua prepared to attack Ai again – this time to win. Joshua had learned some lessons that we can follow. First, confess your sins when God reveals them to you (Joshua 7:19-21). Second, when you fail, refocus on God, deal with the problem and move on. The lessons we learn from our failures should make us better able to handle the same situation the next time around. Because God is eager to forgive, the only way to lose is to give up. We can tell what kind of people we are by what we do after our failures. In this passage, the Lord gives Joshua the city. Yesterday’s defeat becomes today’s victory. Once sin is dealt with, forgiveness and victory lie ahead. With God’s direction, we need not stay discouraged our burdened with guilt. No matter how difficult a setback your or my sin may bring, we must renew our efforts to do God’s will. Our setbacks can become our ministry. Joshua and Israelites show us proof that through repentance and forgiveness, we can demonstrate that God redeems our failures and makes them victories.

 

I can certainly identify with the message of this passage. It is redemptive. It is about letting something other than God become your focus and letting it rule your life. It is about making something other than God the most important thing in your life. It is about being addicted to something other than God and letting rule your life – even when you know that your drug is causing you to do things that you would not normally due as you slowly decline into a complete loss of godly morality. It is only when our gods chew us up and spit us out on the sidewalk that we can see what our god, our addictions, have done to our lives and come humbly before the Lord to redeem. And the Lord will redeem. He is eager for us to have an intimate relationship with Him. He is eager to have us put Him in His rightful place in our lives, on the throne of our heart. He is eager to forgive and willing to redeem us and make us new. He is eager to give us a new life and new perspective. He is eager to get us to see our past for what it was and help us to use it to reach others through the message that comes out of our mess. He made us each with our own stories to tell so that we can reach certain people as only you or I can. He uses our mess turned into a message to reach similarly situated people to show them that God does redeem. Through Jesus Christ, we can have new life, a life where we seek to give Him glory for just the way that He saved us from the horribleness that was us before salvation.

 

Let you mess become a message through Jesus Christ and His saving and redeeming grace. Let us be so thankful that Jesus Christ does redeem. What I was before Him disgusts me, but it is my mess than is part of my message of redemption through Jesus Christ and process of sanctification through the Holy Spirit that is perfecting us daily from our iniquities one by one, day by day, adding to the message that we have to offer others of just what God can do!

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 7:16-26

Achan’s Sin

Although my first wife had been addicted to drugs that made my life a living hell cleaning up her messes both literal and figurative and although she had an affair during the height of her drug abuse that I had forgiven but that had changed my feeling toward her from love to responsibility and although after she got clean she transferred addictions to spending money causing me to have to chase bad checks all over town, it was my affair that crashed our marriage. It was my affair that seemed to have the most side effects. Although my affair was legitimized after my divorce was final and my paramour became my second wife, it was my affair for which I am responsible.

 

I can give you a hundred reasons for why it was OK for me. I had suffered so much with my first wife. Sure, we had some good years but those years quickly paled into surrealistic nightmare of drug abuse, arrests, near arrests, forking out money for lawyers and for rehabilitative care, cleaning up after her, literal burning of beds because she persisted in smoking in bed at night while zonked out of her mind on painkillers and God knows what else. There were threats on my life by her when it fits of rage such as threatening to drop a running hairdryer in the shower with me in it. All of these things should be good enough reasons for anyone to DESERVE to find peace and solace in another woman’s arms. After marrying my first wife when I was eighteen years old in 1980 and then suffering through all the pain and heartache of my first marriage, I began having an on again/off again affair in 1991. That began the inexorable decline of my first marriage to its ugly end in 1993.

 

The consequences of that decision to have an affair, even though I felt justified and even though others wondered why it didn’t happen sooner, were far reaching. When my first wife and I split up for good in April 1993, it started years of ripples of cause and effect that really did not end until my second wife and I split up in 2004. There were the harassing phone calls. There were the claims that I had molested my oldest daughter that I had to defend myself against. There were confrontations between my first wife and my second wife. There was DSS involvement in our lives after the molestation charges and eventually led DSS to see that my first wife was a woman who had gone off the deep end. Her emotional instability led DSS to remove my two girls from her care. It led eventually to my daughters living with my parents for over two years. It led to me being awarded custody after all that. It led to my first wife undermining my and my second wife’s authority with the girls. It led to your kids vs. my kids jealousies on the part of my second wife. It led me to have to almost ignore my own children to keep the peace with my second wife. It led to this high level of tension about our kids between my second wife and me to the point that our marriage was irrevocably damaged by it. Although my first wife finally remarried and backed off some of her craziness toward me, she hated me, was always in competition with me, measured her life by what the kids were doing for her or for me as the sign of their love. She loathed me until the day she died in July 2015, at age 55, a shell of the woman she once was, a woman consumed by hate.

 

The consequences of that decision to have the affair, even though it seemed as the right thing for me, personally, a kind of take that to hand in life that I had been dealt and even though I was madly in love with the woman who became my second wife, the whole thing had its effects on my children. I will never forget the day that my first wife and I broke up for good (and it is was probably a good thing from a physical safety standpoint that we separated because things had escalated to the point of physical violence). I will never forget seeing my oldest daughter, at this time 8 years old, holding her little 2 ½ year old sister, crying as I was packing my clothes into the car. I will never forget that pain that I saw. That started in motion a period of time that my oldest daughter actually at age 8 became head of their household (her mom, her sister, her). Their mom came so unglued over the next several years that my oldest daughter had to grow up way too fast. She was a mother to her mom and to her sister. She plowed down whatever she was feeling inside just to survive in her mom’s household. Her sister, just in those formative years of age two, three and four never really knew anything other than chaos, as a result of the change that happened that April 1993 day. To this day, each outwardly displays the effects of what happened during those years after April 1993. My oldest seeks stability in life. She wants family. She wants to fix things so that everyone gets along. She is too mature still for her age, at age 32. My youngest who never knew nothing but constant change and chaos from the time she can remember things is now age 26 and seems to just be living life on the edge and everything is everyone else fault for the state of her life. She lets life defeat her rather than embolden her. I worry deeply about her future.

 

It was this idea of the ripple effects of sin that came to mind and how others get washed up in the wake of our sins was what I thought about as I read about Achan’s sin this morning. Let’s read the passage together now:

 

16 Early the next morning Joshua had Israel come forward by tribes, and Judah was chosen. 17 The clans of Judah came forward, and the Zerahites were chosen. He had the clan of the Zerahites come forward by families, and Zimri was chosen. 18 Joshua had his family come forward man by man, and Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was chosen.

 

19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and honor him. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me.”

 

20 Achan replied, “It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: 21 When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”

 

22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent, and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver underneath. 23 They took the things from the tent, brought them to Joshua and all the Israelites and spread them out before the Lord.

 

24 Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold bar, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. 25 Joshua said, “Why have you brought this trouble on us? The Lord will bring trouble on you today.”

 

Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. 26 Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his fierce anger. Therefore, that place has been called the Valley of Achor ever since.

 

In this passage, we see that Achan underestimated God and didn’t take His commands seriously (Joshua 6:18). Taking a robe, along with some silver and gold, may have seemed a small thing to Achan, but the effects of his sin were felt by the entire nation, especially his family. Like Achan, our actions affect more people than just ourselves. Beware of the temptation to rationalize your sins by saying they are too small and too personal to hurt anyone but you. Beware also of trying to rationalize away your sin because of trying to make yourself happy (I deserve this! God just wants me to be happy! I have a right to have this affair because my spouse is the way he/she is!). If it is contradictory to God’s direct commands or is inconsistent with the theology of the Bible, then, it is sin. Sin has its consequences. Sin is a cancer that affects more than just us alone. We wonder why Achan’s whole family was stoned here. That seems so drastic. However, we must remember that there were families of the 3,000 men that were impacted by Achan’s sin too. Many of the 3,000 probably lost their lives and their families are suffering loss because of what Achan did. To us this punishment seems unfair, but think about how our families often pay the price for our sins.

 

When I look at my own life, I can see now when I look back at those crucial years beginning in 1991 and continuing through 2004, all of it revolves around my decision to start a relationship with a woman who was not my wife. Although she became my wife later, she was not my wife at the time. It was adultery. Although this woman made me feel normal again and safe again and loved and although most people who know me during my marriage to my first wife would say hell yeah Mark had a right to do what he did, it was adultery. It was sin. No matter how what. I look back on it now and no longer try to justify it. The impact of that affair was freaking enormous. That affair, though justified in my mind, caused sin ripple effects on my life that were felt for 13 years. That affair, though it got me out of a marriage that probably would have ended with my death at the hands of a woman who had lost control, had effects on my children that still resound today. Adultery is a sin for a reason. God says it is because people get hurt and it defiles marriage. It creates sex outside the marriage covenant that leads to disastrous consequences. We live in a society where the social fabric is deteriorating rapidly because of unrestrained sex. God says it sin so it is so. God does not give us rules because he wants to keep us from doing things. He is God and He knows the impacts that sinful actions have on our lives. That’s why He has commandments for us. Because He knows what’s bad for us, bad for society, and what ripple effects are of each kind of sin. I am a walking, living, breathing testament to the ripple effects of sin – even when we think it is OK for us because of our circumstances. I am a testament to the fact that sin is sin no matter how you justify it.

 

So if you are married and you don’t like the spot that your marriage is in, and some girl is rubbing up against you, before you take the bait, think! Even if you feel justified by worldly standards and by the court of public opinion of your friends and confidants, think! Sin is sin no matter how you slice it. Whatever sin you are contemplating, but particularly adultery, think before you pass those boundaries from which you can never return. Think! Are you ready for the fallout of your sin? There is always fallout. Somebody gets hurt. Always the children. Think! Flee from sin. Adultery is an atomic bomb that leaves the landscape scarred and leaves people damaged.

 

Just as Achan’s sin destroyed his family. Just as my sin, though justified in my mind, was sin and it had such astounding effects on me and my kids, so is the sin that you are justifying in your mind right now is OK. Sin is Sin. Sin always has atomic bomb consequences on our lives.

 

Is it worth the atomic bomb and the aftermath? Flee from it before the bomb is released on your life. Flee from it! Now!

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 7:1-15 (Part 4 of 4)

Ai Defeats the Israelites

We are about enter a unique time in our church’s short history (we will only be 10 years old this October). Our senior pastor is going on sabbatical for a little over a month. It will be the first time that he has taken any significant time off since he founded the church in the living room of his house almost 10 years ago. His stated purpose in doing so is to take some concentrated time in prayer and supplication before the Lord to develop a vision for the next 10 years of the church. He says he needs time to examine himself and his role in the future of the church and examine, even if, he is supposed to be a part of the church’s future for the next 10 years. He will be examining himself before the Lord and seeking the Lord’s will for his ministry and for our church.

 

While he is gone on sabbatical, the remaining elders are going to run the church in his absence and are going to led the church in a time of prayer. Each Wednesday night during our senior pastor’s sabbatical, we are going to have times of prayer. It will be a time where we just meet to wholly and earnestly seek the Lord in prayer. I hope that it will be a time like what my wife and I experienced when we went on our first mission trip to Haiti. At the church in the small rural community of Morne Oge (just outside the city of Jacmel) that our church is partnered with, they have a Tuesday night prayer meeting each week (not just a special month). The time our mission team visited it, I was profoundly affected by it. Although I did not understand a word they were saying (because I do not understand their French derivative language, Creole), I did feel the mighty presence of the Holy Spirit that night. There was no pastor leading this prayer meeting. It was just the members of the church coming in and spending time in vocal but personal prayer. By the time the prayer meeting got going good, there were somewhere between 75-100 people there, men and women. Each one was praying aloud to the Lord in their own voice not in unison with one another. Their vocal prayers filled the room and the intensity would rise and fall like the movements of a classical music piece. It was an amazing thing to behold. Each person seeking communion with the Father in heaven. It was a cacophony of sound that I will never forget. The passion with which these people prayed needed no translation. I didn’t know what they were saying, specifically. All I knew was that they were seeking the Lord in the humbled and earnest way possible. That needed no translation from Creole to English. It was one of the most spiritually moving moments of my life. I literally tasted the presence of the Holy Spirit on my tongue that night. These people were honestly seeking the Lord’s favor and seeking understanding of His will for their lives. I can only hope that our prayer meetings in July will approach a semblance of that night. I hope that we will let it all hang out as week seek God’s will and seek what we need to know about ourselves as we hold these prayer meetings. I pray that these prayer meetings will reveal God’s will and what we need to do to align ourselves with that.

 

As well during the month of July, we as a church body are to be dedicated to times of personal prayer each day about our own role in the future of our church. It will be a further time of examination of ourselves and what we need to do to be better members of the body of Christ as it expresses itself at LifeSong Church in Lyman, SC. Also, after all of that, and we approach our 10 year anniversary, we are going to have our church’s first revival ever. It will be a time where we intensely seek the Lord’s will for our lives and that of our church over four very intense nights. What’s the point of all this? We are seeking God and asking him to send revival to our region through our church. We are seeking that God will pour out the Holy Spirit upon our church. We are seeking God to send us revival and renewed vigor to seek the lost in our region and bring them to a relationship with Jesus Christ.

 

The biggest thing to that I believe is that we must examine ourselves to see where we are preventing the Holy Spirit from truly expressing himself in the reach of our church to our community, nation and world. We must examine what is that I am doing that is sinful and is preventing or holding back our church from its full-on, no-holes-barred fulfillment of God’s specific mission for it. Is there some prideful thing that I am holding on to that is blocking the full expression of God’s glory from this version of His bride, the local church. What spots am I placing on the wedding dress of His bride? What am I doing or not doing that is holding the church back? What am I not willing to do for the Lord that is holding our church back? What am I doing that is holding the church back? We must examine ourselves and our willingness to be all-in for Christ. We must examine our willingness to follow leadership? We must examine our willingness to sacrifice for the purpose of reaching lost souls in our time, our talents, and our resources? We must be willing to seek excellence when mediocrity is what we have been giving. We must examine ourselves for the sinful ways that we have been holding back our church from reaching the lost of our community more effectively. In effect, it is going to be a crossroad moment in time. I just hope and pray that we take our time of reflection as seriously and deeply as that group of church members in rural Haiti did that night I visited their prayer time.

 

That idea of examining ourselves is what I thought of when I read about God  having its consequences is what I thought of this morning as I read through Joshua 7:1-15 for the third of four times that we will read through it. Let’s read it together, now:

 

7 But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things[a]; Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri,[b] the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the Lord’s anger burned against Israel.

 

2 Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth Aven to the east of Bethel, and told them, “Go up and spy out the region.” So the men went up and spied out Ai.

 

3 When they returned to Joshua, they said, “Not all the army will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary the whole army, for only a few people live there.” 4 So about three thousand went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, 5 who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water.

 

6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. 7 And Joshua said, “Alas, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! 8 Pardon your servant, Lord. What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? 9 The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?”

 

10 The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. 12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.

 

13 “Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There are devoted things among you, Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove them.

 

14 “‘In the morning, present yourselves tribe by tribe. The tribe the Lord chooses shall come forward clan by clan; the clan the Lord chooses shall come forward family by family; and the family the Lord chooses shall come forward man by man. 15 Whoever is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the Lord and has done an outrageous thing in Israel!’”

 

In this passage, for this morning, we see that the Israelites had to, again, undergo purification rites, as when they were about to cross the Jordan River. These purification rites prepared the people to approach God and constantly reminded them of their sinfulness and God’s holiness.

 

It is interesting to note that there was only one person who had sinned by keeping loot from Jericho but yet God asked the whole nation to purify itself. That is the thing that is important to me here. Sure, Achan was the dude that screwed up, but God wanted the whole nation to examine itself. There is no one of us that is without sin. There is not one that is righteous. These facts are certain because the Bible repeatedly tells us that we have a sin nature and that none is without sin. None is pure before the Lord. The greatest sin of all is to think that we have got it made. My best friend and I had a guy dinner last night for the first time in a while. Us without our wives. One of the things that we talked about is how, even after salvation, we are still sinners and have sinful thoughts or actions that we commit daily. That is what God is trying to get the people to see here I think. It is when we refuse to see our sins as sins and revel in them that we block God’s work in our lives and in the lives of our collective body known as the church.

 

If we want God to send revival, if we want God to do great things through our church, then we must examine how committed we are to His agenda. Are we willing to examine ourselves for what we are doing to cause God to hold back His glory from our church? Are we willing to examine how we have caused God to withdraw His hand from our church, your church? What do I need to do to align myself with God’s will and am I willing to make any sacrifices to do it? Am I willing to give up my pet sins to do it? Am I willing to see my sins as sins and repent from them so as restore God’s hand on my church, your church?

 

Let us all enter a time in the next month, in your church, in my church where we seek to align ourselves with God’s will for our local churches and be willing to make changes where changes need to be made so that God’s glory can be fully expressed through our local churches.

 

Amen and Amen.