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Judges 2:1-5
The Angel of the Lord at Bokim

I remember when I was married to my second wife, I lived with her and her three boys. Watching the way discipline was handled by the boys’ mom was an eye-opener to me. For all the faults there were with my first marriage, one thing we did right was being consistent with discipline. However, by the time that I got the boys in this second marriage, they were 9, 6, and 3. Discipline patterns and child behavior patterns had already been set. I came in expecting consistent discipline and support from this wife when it was time to dole it out. However, what I found out was that life was going to be quite different from what I had expected.

One of my things with my children (which I learned from my dad) was that discipline starts at the dinner table. In my first marriage, whatever Lisa put on the table was what we all ate. No questions asked. If you didn’t eat it. You went hungry. No negotiations. No mom being a short-order cook for the husband and the two girls. We ate what she cooked and that was it. This sometimes was really difficult with Meghan and Taylor, but we never gave in on it. To this day, my girls will eat a wide variety of foods and will try any type of food at least once. This is where discipline begins. When you sit down at my dinner table, young lady, you will eat what is put in front of you and you will go hungry if you don’t. This simple discipline taught my girls not only to eat more than chicken nuggets but it also taught them that you cant always get what you want. It taught them that you can negotiate your way out of things you don’t want to do. It also taught them that there are fixed boundaries with parents that you cannot cross over. It also taught them that you can’t pitch a temper tamtrum to get what you want or to get out of something you don’t want. It taught them sometimes in life you just have to grin and bear when there is no easy way out of a situation.

With my second wife, the dinner table was like watching a cook at McDonalds. She would fix one meal for me and up to three different things for the three boys. It used to blow my mind. By the time I came into the picture, this pattern of behavior had already been set. I used to try to get the boys to eat what Trena and I were eating but the cast was set. That was not the only place that the kids had established a pattern of negotiating their way out of what they did not like. When they got in trouble and Trena or I would dole out a punishment, they would come back an hour or so after the confrontation and would beg their mom to let them off the hook. They would do in this in hourly cycles all night long. They would keep the pressure up until she would relent somewhat. They would negotiate their way down to almost having no punishment at all. Within 24 hours of this incessant whining and Trena not being willing to pay the price herself for whatever punishment was doled out, there would be no punishment anymore. When a punishment is inconvenient for the parent, we must be willing to pay the price as well so as to teach our children lessons. But all this lack of effective discipline with built-in consequences for actions led to an unruly household that used to drive me insane. My first marriage was a living hell much of it but in some ways this second marriage was just as soul crushing. I had no authority in my own home and that made our home like living in the insane asylum where the patients were in charge of the hospital.

Reading today’s passage reminded me of the time I spent in my second marriage. Here, we see the Israelites being called out for their disobedience. They then do all the right things, say the right things. But as we see immediately in the next passage, they go right back to what they were doing. It reminded me of how the boys would do stuff that they knew was wrong and against my rules but they would plain out do it any way just to spite me. Then, when they got busted by me for the millionth time, they would do all the right things and say the right things in front of their mom and get their sentence reduced or eliminated. And dinner time was like that too. If they didn’t wanna eat what was proposed they would negotiate their way out of it. In all of their patterns of behavior of negotiating of putting on the right appearances, they then got way with pretty much anything they did. They had no discipline. They learned situational ethics from the beginning. Do what you want. Rationalize it away as not being bad. Then go back to doing what you want. The boys and the Israelites reminded me a lot of each other when I read that they were called out. Then they dance the dance they needed to dance. But then go right back to doing the very things they were called out for.

Let’s read Judges 2:1-4 right now and see if you can get that same vibe as I did:

CHAPTER 2 

1 The angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land I swore to give to your ancestors. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, 2 and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? 3 And I have also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; they will become traps for you, and their gods will become snares to you.’”

4 When the angel of the Lord had spoken these things to all the Israelites, the people wept aloud, 5 and they called that place Bokim.[a] There they offered sacrifices to the Lord.

 

Here you see that the angel called out the Israelites for their disobedience. The angel explains why God has his requirements for His people. God knew that the idol-worshiping, evil, immoral people of Canaan had to be completely driven out and destroyed. Because otherwise, they would become temptations and snares for the Israelites. We find from the remainder of the Old Testament that this came true and had disastrous consequences for Israel over the centuries. All because way back here in Judges, they disobeyed and got lazy in obeying God.

I know that it sounds crazy but with your kids, discipline must start at the dinner table. If you lose that battle, they will use it as a prompt for negotiations in other areas of life. We, as parents, must require and enforce discipline at the dinner table. If they don’t eat what mom puts on the table, then they go hungry. Plain and simple. It will only take one time of there being a consequence. Going hungry is a pretty good punishment for disobedience. If you lose that battle, they will learn that they can negotiate over punishments, over curfews, over homework, over you name it. Never lose the battle of the dinner table. It is the beginning of a slippery slope if you do. Then you get kids who think they can do all the right things to your face and then do whatever they want behind your back.

Here you see the Israelites dancing the dance that needs dancing for the moment to get themselves out of trouble. However, they go right back to doing wrong. However, instead of being able to negotiate their way out of or rationalizing away their out of consequences, God allows the consequences to play themselves out in the Israelites lives. It is the same kind of thing that happens with our kids. When we release them out into the world (with a I can get away with pretty much anything mentality), they will soon crash and burn and get crushed by the realities of the fact that world is not mom and the world doesn’t negotiate consequences. It all starts at the dinner table. Win that battle. Win the war.

It is the same with us as children of God. If we obey the Lord and if we stay in His Word, we will learn that God has boundaries for us not because He is some mean, capricious God but because He loves us and does not want us to become ensnared in sin and its non-negotiable consequences. God wants what is best for us. That’s why He wants obedience from us.

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 13:24-14:5
The Remaining Lands are Divided

Sometimes, it is interesting to think of what your life may have been like if things had happened differently. Think back to those key decision points in life where the decision you made changes your life forever. Think back to decisions made by others that changed your life forever.

What if my dad had not been moved to Travelers Rest, SC back in 1976 when I was 14 years old? What if? That would have changed everything. I would have not met Lisa McDowell. We would not have fell in love, got married, been tied down to Travelers Rest (because of Lisa’s need to stay close to her handicapped mother) and as a result chose to go to college locally at Furman University, and made career choices based on being singularly tied to the Greenville, SC area for decades. And because of being married to Lisa, ended up having to deal with her years of drug abuse and scrapes with the law and her affair. And that would not have left me with seething anger toward her for all those things that led to my own affair that effectively ended our marriage by 1993. What if? What if I had not chosen to a job at Dunlop Slazenger Corporation in 1987 so I could get off the road as an internal auditor and be close to home so as to react to all of Lisa’s drug-induced mistakes and moments of poor judgment. If I had not gone to work at Dunlop, I would not have met Trena in 1991 and had an affair with her and then married in 1995. I would not have had to make choices between her and her kids vs. my kids that almost ruined by relationship with my children. I would not have had that great financial burden of support of alimony and child support that led to some stupendously stupid financial decisions and kept financial secrets that led to Trena’s affair and our separation that led to us reunited when all that fell apart for her. That led to me being there when her oldest son was killed in a car accident at age 16 that changed Trena forever. That lead to heightened jealousies toward my oldest daughter who was now living with us. That led to Trena believing wholeheartedly that my obligation to my child ended when she went off to college. That led me to make choices to hide financial support to my child while Meghan was over at Clemson her freshman year. Which led to discovery which led to three weeks of silence, sleeping on the couch, not talking one word, which finally led to our separation for the last time in the summer of 2004. Which led eventually to me finally leaving the Greenville, SC area in the winter of 2006. Thirty years later from that moment my dad moved us to Travelers Rest.

What if? What if? What if the Methodist Church had moved my dad to another South Carolina town? How would have my life turned out? What if, even with the move to Travelers Rest, if I had not made the choice to start dating Lisa? How would my life have turned out? What if, even with the choice to start dating Lisa, that I had made the choice to go off to the college of my choice, Clemson University? Would our relationship have survived? How would my life have been different? What if I had not made the choice to marry Lisa after my freshman year in college? What if we had waited? Would we have made it to the altar at all? What if I had gone off to college at Clemson and decided to end it with Lisa back home in Travelers Rest, an hour away? How would my life have been different? What would have happened? Maybe I would have met someone not tied to their hometown. Maybe I would have accepted a job somewhere far away and my life would be completely different now. What if, given the life that I chose with Lisa and Travelers Rest, that after our breakup that I had met someone different than Trena. What would that life had been like? My life right now is formed by the move to Travelers Rest, SC in June 1976. That one epic decision by the Bishop of the United Methodist Church in South Carolina (UMC-SC) forever caste the lot of my life. It set the stage for all the choices for good and for bad that I made during a 30 year period of my life.

Even now, my life with Elena, my wife now, is contingent upon the decision tree of my life with its roots in the move to Travelers Rest in 1976. Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful for my marriage to Elena and it is brought comfort, security, unconditional love, and financial security (because of her ability to influence me to make wise financial choices) that I have never known in my life since becoming an adult. I wonder though why did I have to go through all the 30 years of stuff just to get to her. What if somehow in 1976, the Methodist Church would have somehow moved us to the South Carolina side of the Charlotte metro area? What if I had somehow, someway, met Elena during my teenage years? How would our lives be different instead of meeting her in Rock Hill, SC (just south of Charlotte) some 31 years after I moved to Travelers Rest in 1976.

Don’t get me wrong, there were good times with Lisa and with Trena but choices were made and things ended badly in both of those marriages. Don’t get me wrong, I would have children by someone over the years if I had made different choices, but they would not be the unique young ladies that Meghan and Taylor are. I would have children but they would NOT be Meghan and Taylor. You sit and wonder…what if. You sit and wonder at the decision tree of your life and go … what if I had made a different decision right there at that point right there!! What if decisions of others would have been different? Where would my life be? Where would I be living? Where would I be working? Would different choices have made my life easier or even tougher than it was?

Even though it is weird to think of our life’s decision trees when reading this passage about the division of land among the tribes here in this extended passage, but that’s what I thought of and you will see why after we read through it together now. Let’s read Joshua 13:24-14:5:

24 This is what Moses had given to the tribe of Gad, according to its clans:

25 The territory of Jazer, all the towns of Gilead and half the Ammonite country as far as Aroer, near Rabbah; 26 and from Heshbon to Ramath Mizpah and Betonim, and from Mahanaim to the territory of Debir; 27 and in the valley, Beth Haram, Beth Nimrah, Sukkoth and Zaphon with the rest of the realm of Sihon king of Heshbon (the east side of the Jordan, the territory up to the end of the Sea of Galilee[a]). 28 These towns and their villages were the inheritance of the Gadites, according to their clans.

29 This is what Moses had given to the half-tribe of Manasseh, that is, to half the family of the descendants of Manasseh, according to its clans:

30 The territory extending from Mahanaim and including all of Bashan, the entire realm of Og king of Bashan—all the settlements of Jair in Bashan, sixty towns, 31 half of Gilead, and Ashtaroth and Edrei (the royal cities of Og in Bashan). This was for the descendants of Makir son of Manasseh—for half of the sons of Makir, according to their clans.

32 This is the inheritance Moses had given when he was in the plains of Moab across the Jordan east of Jericho. 33 But to the tribe of Levi, Moses had given no inheritance; the Lord, the God of Israel, is their inheritance, as he promised them.
Division of the Land West of the Jordan

14 Now these are the areas the Israelites received as an inheritance in the land of Canaan, which Eleazar the priest, Joshua son of Nun and the heads of the tribal clans of Israel allotted to them. 2 Their inheritances were assigned by lot to the nine and a half tribes, as the Lord had commanded through Moses. 3 Moses had granted the two and a half tribes their inheritance east of the Jordan but had not granted the Levites an inheritance among the rest, 4 for Joseph’s descendants had become two tribes—Manasseh and Ephraim. The Levites received no share of the land but only towns to live in, with pasturelands for their flocks and herds. 5 So the Israelites divided the land, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.

Because Joseph had godly character (Genesis 49:22-26), the tribes descended from him – Ephraim and Mannasseh – were given the richest and most fertile land in all of Canaan. Judah, who offered himself in exchange for his brother’s, Benjamin’s, safety, received the largest portion of the land, which eventually became the southern kingdom and the seat of the Davidic dynasty. The division of the land seems to align itself with content of the character of each of Jacob’s sons. Thus, it was necessary for Joshua to divide up the land exactly as God had instructed Moses years before. Joshua did not edit and modernize or change a single word. He followed God’s commands exactly and precisely. Often we believe that almost is close enough rather than complete obedience to God’s directions to us through Holy Spirit and through His Word. We may decide for ourselves what parts of the Bible we are going to follow and which we are not. We follow what we want and ignore what seems harsh to us or does not align with our personal desires.

Our lives are formed by the choices we make. Sometimes, our parents or grandparents choices form what we become. Here in this passage, we see the far-reaching generational effects of the character of each of Jacob’s son has on the future of each of the tribes of Israel. We set patterns of actions into motion with the decisions that we make. Sometimes, we are living under the results of the decisions made by those who have gone before us in our family. God allows our actions to play themselves out in our lives and the lives of our children and our children’s children. Every time that we made a choice in life, it creates a decision tree turn that can affect us for the rest of our lives and even the lives of our children and grandchildren. Choices made by Jacob’s sons are reflected here in this passage in how God distributed the land to the tribes. Choices. Results. More choices. More results.

Each day we have a choice to obey God’s Word, even when it goes against what our personal desires are, or to follow our own desires and make up our own bible. When we bend God’s Word to meet our personal desires or to justify our sins, He lets us make our free will choice to disobey Him. He also lets us live with the consequences of our sinful decisions. These decisions echo through the generations. Just think about how we as a people have rejected God’s Word about male-female marriage. God will allow us to do that and we think it’s all cool and hip and justified but God will let us live with the consequences of that too. We have yet to see the impact on the fabric of our society but it will come. Consequences. Choices. Results. More choices. More results.

We cannot change the past. Although I sit and wonder what my life would be like right now at age 54 if I had made some dramatically different life choices at key points in my history, but that is all unchangeable. I have inherited the land that is the result of my choices. I must live with these choices. It is this very fact that makes me thankful for a loving and forgiving God. God has taken all of that mess of the decisions that I have made in my life and redeemed them. He has set my on the high ground after picking me up out of the valley of my decisions. Without all of that history since 1976’s move to Travelers Rest, I would not appreciate the peaceful river upon which I float right now. I would not appreciate what God has done to redeem my life from the horrendous cumulative effects of the choices I have made in my life.

God does redeem. He makes even the foulest clean through Jesus Christ and our willingness to humble ourselves before Christ and say Lord I have made a mess of this thing called life. Take it over. I need you to lead me and show me how to live. I need you and your forgiveness. I need your covering of righteousness for the foul rags of my life. I need you, Jesus!

You may have made key critical decisions in your life that you are paying for right now. Your life may be in the pits and you may be wondering what if…! But Jesus takes your past and molds it and makes it useful to Him in your future. Your past can be your ministry. You can minister to others by showing what Christ can do with a life that was full of bad choices and wrong turns. Jesus can make us all beautiful and useful in the Kingdom.

Stop looking at the results of the past and the arid land you have inherited because of it. Look to Jesus Christ and allow Him to redeem your inheritance and make it into something beautiful, fragrant, fertile and useful to His Kingdom.

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 4:1-5:1 (Part 1 of 3)

Memorials to the Jordan Crossing

I remember when I was in my second marriage. When we began the marriage, we had 5 children altogether between the ages of 3 and 10. She had three boys and I had two girls. So, when we had all the kids together, it was indeed a three ring circus. Just the sheer volume of children under one roof was a daunting task when you did anything. Dinners were like feeding armies. Bath times took hours to complete. Getting ready to go anywhere required calculated logistics. Riding in a car to anywhere involved a lot of yelling and screaming as the children descended into the anarchy of “he’s touching me”, “she won’t share”. God, I am thankful those days are gone. It makes me cringe when I think about just managing the logistics of five kids when all five were in my house. One of those logistical nightmares was the Christmas Eve thing. I can remember us trying to get the kids to bed after returning from my second wife’s family Christmas Eve get-together. The kids were all hyped up from the evening’s activities so getting all the kids in bed was difficult to begin with.

 

Then, when we finally would get the kids to bed, then began the mad frenzy of Christmas present placement and assembly. Why is that what kids want for Christmas when they are between ages 3 and 10 require so much assembly. It’s not “some assembly required”. It’s “a lot of assembly required”. Even the girls things needed assembly. Boys stuff always requires assembly. So, you begin this process, at about 10pm each Christmas Eve and complete it about 4am. Luckily, as they got older they wanted things that were not so heavy on assembly. But those early years! Geez! I was the typical male at first. I would dive into the first toy and try to put it together without the assembly instructions. Inevitably, that proved to be a fool’s game. I quickly learned that if you are going to get this done before the kids start waking up on Christmas morning at like 5am (why is it that you have to use a bullhorn to get them out of bed any weekday morning but on Saturday morning or Christmas morning…), I quickly learned that you must use the instructions. You must lay out all the parts in front of you. You must read the instructions. You must visualize the parts in front of you going together as you assembly them step by step. Then you begin. Multiple times per child. Without taking time to take stock of the project ahead of you and reading the instructions, you can end up getting in bed like at 4:45am in the morning and then the kids waking up begging for Christmas 15 minutes later. I have had that happen.

 

I used to be a read the instructions later kind of guy. All those years when the kids were little forced me to be a visualization and read the instructions guy. When I just sit and look at the instructions and then look at the parts that I have grouped together by kind. Even then you still make mistakes but the re-do’s are far less then you read the instructions and have the parts laid out by kind. All those years of assembly kids’ toys taught me a lot over the years. Most recently, when my wife of the last 7 years, Elena, and I moved into our new home, we had to buy an entertainment center in which to place our television. I had flashbacks to some of my adventures with the complex toys that I had to put together for my stepsons in my previous marriage. It was those assembly project ON STEROIDS! This entertainment center had so many parts. I was freaking overwhelmed at first. Just grouping the parts together took up two rooms in the house (so that would I have room to do the assembly plus have all the parts nearby). I seriously had to sit and examine the instructions from front to back (a 10-page booklet) before I could begin. Then as I put the pieces together. I would have to read through that step over and over again just so I could get it right. You would have to take stock of what the end game of the step was. You didn’t want to screw up and figure out at Step 10 that what you did in Step 3 was backwards and have to disassemble everything and start over again.

 

From having to put things together over the past 54 years, I have learned that plunging into anything without understanding what you are doing always results in disaster. That was the kind of idea that I got this morning as I read through Joshua 4:1-5:1 for the first time of three times that we will look at it. Let’s read the passage this morning together:

 

4 When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 2 “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, 3 and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”

 

4 So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, 5 and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, 6 to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7 tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”

 

8 So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the Lord had told Joshua; and they carried them over with them to their camp, where they put them down. 9 Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been[a] in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.

 

10 Now the priests who carried the ark remained standing in the middle of the Jordan until everything the Lord had commanded Joshua was done by the people, just as Moses had directed Joshua. The people hurried over, 11 and as soon as all of them had crossed, the ark of the Lord and the priests came to the other side while the people watched. 12 The men of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh crossed over, ready for battle, in front of the Israelites, as Moses had directed them. 13 About forty thousand armed for battle crossed over before the Lord to the plains of Jericho for war.

 

14 That day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they stood in awe of him all the days of his life, just as they had stood in awe of Moses.

 

15 Then the Lord said to Joshua, 16 “Command the priests carrying the ark of the covenant law to come up out of the Jordan.”

 

17 So Joshua commanded the priests, “Come up out of the Jordan.”

 

18 And the priests came up out of the river carrying the ark of the covenant of the Lord. No sooner had they set their feet on the dry ground than the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and ran at flood stage as before.

 

19 On the tenth day of the first month the people went up from the Jordan and camped at Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho. 20 And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. 21 He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea[b] when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. 24 He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.”

 

5 Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the Lord had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until they[c] had crossed over, their hearts melted in fear and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites.

 

In this passage, we see that after the people had safely crossed the river, what would be next? Conquering the land? Not yet. First, God directed them to build a memorial from 12 stones drawn from the river by 12 men, one from each tribe. This might seem like an insignificant step in the mission of conquering the land, but God did not want them to plunge into their task unprepared. They were to focus on Him and remember who was guiding them. Do you often not take time to focus on God and remember that God is in control?

 

I learned in kid toy assembly that if you skip a step it can be disastrous to your project. We may think that if we don’t read the Bible this morning it will be no big deal. If we think that prayer is no big deal, we skip over that step. However, when we skip Bible reading and we skip prayer and we skip steps in the disciplines of our faith, we are headed for a re-do, a disassemble and a re-do. We may think that we have matured to the point that we do not have to do things that those who are younger in the faith have to do. We may think that we have risen to a stage where we don’t need to read the Bible every day. We may think that we don’t need to take a class on the basics for believers just so we all can get on the same page at church. We may think we know it all have don’t have to do this or that because we have been Christians for 20 years.

 

Regardless though of how mature we may be in Christ, we are still learning, we are still growing, and we still need instruction. Bible meditation – the reading of the instruction book and understanding of what it telling us and then visualization of how that is going to looking our lives – is a necessary part of life no matter how good we think we have become. We must have that time to reflect on His Instruction Book. We are never too mature to read His Word and to learn more about His instructions. We are never too old to be needy of His guidance. We are never too old to pray and ask Him what to do. We are never so confident in who we are as Christ followers that we cannot learn something new when we sit down, stop, take stock, and listen for what God wants to tell us in this moment at this time.

 

We need always to sit down, stop, read, meditate on what we have read, visualize when it means to our lives, and THEN plunge in.

 

Amen and Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deuteronomy 21:15-17

Rights of the Firstborn Son

Man, Moses, you are giving us some hard stuff to deal with here. Why is that we are talking about polygamy here when it is clear from the totality of Scripture that such practices are not condoned by God. Yet, at the same time, it is the standard of our faith that the books of the Bible are written by men but who were under the guidance of the Holy Spirit when doing so. Therefore, is God contradicting Himself here. Is He, God, saying that polygamy is OK? That is the question we must first answer before we proceed. I again think that we must default to our reasoning from yesterday. God is not inconsistent here. He is simply trying to make the best of a bad situation. Israel was still as we know a rebellious people and they were struggling to be God’s people. As we have seen from Exodus forward, they are stubborn people. They have been immersed in Egyptian culture and have seen the cultures of the Middle East as a result. They want to be like everybody else and they struggle with God’s commands. Most cultures of the day allowed polygamy and accorded few rights, if any, to women. Thus, the practice of marrying multiple women was common in ancient Middle Eastern culture. As Israel develops as a culture over time, the practice diminishes among Israel’s men. However, God is saying here that OK so you guys want to do this detestable thing, well, then, I will compensate for this evil and the problems that it causes through laying down some rules for the kids that result from polygamous marriages. God is not condoning the practice and this rule is evidence that the practice is no good for society.

 

The modern day equivalent of this situation is not polygamy. Polygamy is roundly condemned by virtually all societies now and has been one of the positive influences of Christianity globally. However, we do have our equivalent. It is called serial monogamy. That’s a high brow term for our increasingly common practice of marrying, divorcing, and remarrying, sometimes multiple times. The ones that get caught up in the messiness of divorce and remarriage are the children. I have experienced this fact first hand. In my second marriage, I married a woman who already had three boys of her own. I had two girls of my own from a previous marriage. Thank God we did not have any children together. Boy, would that have complicated things even further. I know from experience that the jealousies spoken of in this passage can be a very real thing. My second wife expected that I would only do for my children born of me and my first wife what was legally necessary. She expected me to shun my past including my children. She expected that I would love her children more than my own. The least little appearance of giving my children an advantage was met with rebuke. Even though I had eight years and five years of history with my girls where silent glances created understanding was met with jealousy. There was no recognition that we were a family before this family. God hates divorce and these are some of the reasons why. It creates families that are thrown together not my blood but by marriage only. There are a whole host of social evils created by divorce that are far beyond what I experienced as a dad creating a blended family. However, jealousies are certainly one by-product of serial monogamy. The kids get caught in the crosshairs of a battle for family dominance. Whose kids are going to get the place of favor? It is like Luke 22:21-30 where the disciples were jockeying for position as to who was the greatest among them after Jesus. If my second wife and I had stayed married to the death, I bet the last in the litany of arguments that we had over the years about my kids vs. your kids would have definitely been about inheritance. I can just see it now. In the middle of a godless marriage, we become about things, and rights, and jealousies. I cannot even imagine the years of arguments (beyond the 10 years that we had together) if we had stayed together. Oh my! The tedium of constantly arguing about the rights of our respective children. I could not imagine it for another 20-30 years. But the last one would have been the argument of all arguments – about inheritance.

 

The only way that I could relate to today’s was to move it from an old problem, polygamy, to a new problem in today’s society, serial monogamy, and then think of how real this issue was in my own experience. Then, this passage is spot-on about how a sinful act (polygamy or divorce) breeds a whole ‘nother set of problems that God has to deal with and regulate. With that in mind, let’s read the passage together:

 

15 If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he does not love, 16 when he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love. 17 He must acknowledge the son of his unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has. That son is the first sign of his father’s strength. The right of the firstborn belongs to him.

 

Jealousies about position is just a thing in a fallen world I guess. Because of our fallen nature, God has to set out standards of behavior to compensate for our evil deeds. Here, we see God dealing with a practical problem that results from our sin-filled lives. Kids are always caught in the wake of our sins. God here is saying to the Israelites, you are doing this detestable thing but you cannot let your sins affect your children. My already established rules of inheritance that I handed down to you cannot be thwarted or changed simply because you are practicing a custom that is not condoned by me.

 

I think that is the takeaway for me this morning. Just because we accept a custom of our culture and participate in it, it does not make it right. We as Christ followers are still bound by God’s commands and His expectations of His people. Just because society says something is OK does not mean that it is OK. God will still expect us to honor His Word and His commands even though our culture may be vastly different from God’s view of things. He will expect us to maintain our Christian integrity even in the face of opposition. God does meet us where we are at in our sin and helps us deal with the consequences of it and forges us a path to get through the muck and the mire of our sin consequences. That is the beauty of the Lord, He will show us the way to deal with the results of our sin. God’s truth and His expectations are never changing but He realizes that we live in a fallen world and He will show us the way to deal with it and see our way clear to following His commands in the future.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 20:1-20 (Part 1)

Regulations Concerning War

 

As you might have noticed if you follow my blog, I normally post my thoughts on the book of the Bible that I am currently walking through on a daily basis. In a year, I might miss a day here, maybe ten days in a year, and rarely multiple days in a row. But last week, you may have noticed that I did post anything on my walk through Deuteronomy between Tuesday and Friday mornings. Why? You might wonder.

 

This past week, I found myself in the perfect storm. The perfect storm is both a meteorological and a metaphorical term. In meteorological terms, the term first came into regular use by weather experts in 1997 as the result of Sebastian Junger’s book of the same name, The Perfect Storm, about the 1991 noreaster that hit the northeastern United States. According to Wikipedia,

 

Technically, this storm was an extratropical cyclone. In the course of his research, he spoke with Bob Case, who had been a deputy meteorologist in the Boston office of the National Weather Service at the time of the storm. Case described to Junger the confluence of three different weather-related phenomena that combined to create what Case referred to as the “perfect situation” to generate such a storm – warm air from a low-pressure system coming from one direction, a flow of cool and dry air generated by a high-pressure from another direction. tropical moisture provided by Hurricane Grace. From that, Junger keyed on Case’s use of the word perfect and coined the phrase perfect storm, choosing to use The Perfect Storm as the title of his book. Junger published his book in 1997 and its success brought the phrase into popular culture.

 

Over time, according to Grammarphobia.com, this phrase has come to mean anything that is the worst-case scenario or according to Wordsmith.com, it has come to mean any event where a situation is aggravated drastically by an exceptionally rare combination of circumstances.

 

Having said all that, I found myself in one last week. As many of you know, in my secular job, I am the comptroller for Fujikura America, Inc. and at my church I am the director of finance on a part time basis. As well, you might know that for us finance guys, month-end waits for no one. It happens whether you are sick or fatigued. It happens whether you are ready or not ready. The calendar clicks the days away and month-end happens no matter what. Month-ends (where we finance guys close the books for the month, make adjusting journal entries, analyze data, report the numbers, and provide commentary of what just happened the previous month just ended) are a busy and intense time for us finance guys. It is our monthly moment in the pressure cooker of having a lot to do in a very short time-sensitive period of time. We have to get the books shut down and closed within two business days after the month ends and then get all the array of reports and commentaries out to our parent company and our management team within the next two business days after that. It’s pretty intense every month, but it’s a normal and manageable storm and you are prepared for it logistically, mentally and emotionally.

 

Also, as you may know that in early January this year, I began my quest to obtain my doctor of ministry (D.Min.) degree. It is a three year process that involves two years (four semesters) of independent, offsite study of leadership courses, spiritual development courses, missions & evangelism courses, church revitalization courses and then there’s the year of researching and writing your dissertation. During the four semesters of course work, there will be one week each semester that we must be on-campus at the graduate school campus in Greer, SC (just up the road from where I live and work) for what they call a “weeklong intensive” where you present the papers you have been working on during the first half of the semester before the weeklong intensive. In between the presentations by us doctoral candidates, we participate in discussions and lectures with the guest lecturer. We are there from 8:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the evening. It’s…well…intensive!

 

Why do these two things matter? Well they happened at the same time for me last week. The most intense week of my work month and the weeklong intensive at school. I had to get the books closed at work and then also at the same time participate in the weeklong intensive at school. I had to do both. As I do not have the staff at work for me to just be a supervisory participant in month-end, I have key things that I do myself to get the books closed and I am personally responsible for getting all the reports and analyses out the door. If I am not participating in month-end, Fujikura America, Inc. (FAI) does not get its books closed. If FAI does not get its books closed on time, our immediate US parent company does not get its books closed. If our US parent company doesn’t get its books closed, our ultimate parent company in Japan, the publicly traded company, Fujikura, Ltd., does not get its books closed. It is a house of cards that depends on the lowest level companies all getting their job done so the publicly traded company at the top of food chain can report its results to the investing public. If I do not do my job, it can derail the whole world-wide Fujikura process. I must be there. I must participate. I know this and plan my life around having to be on the job the first week of the month after the previous month ends.

 

It is the same thing with the weeklong intensive, too. You gotta be there. If you are not there and participate in it all five days for the entire 8 to 5 time frame each day, the powers that be over the doctoral program at North Greenville University would then question as to whether you should be participating in the program. Since I feel compelled by God to pursue my doctorate and that anything He compels us to do we must do as He has a plan for it that we cannot see right now. If we do not follow the immediate call that He gives us, we may never see the ultimate plan God has for us. Thus, this doctoral program is extremely important to me just as is my job.

 

This is the perfect storm that came together last week. How did I solve this coming together of elements that seem to create the worst possible scenario? I had to get up every morning at from the last day of the month of February (Tuesday of last week) through the first three days after the month ended (Wednesday-Friday of last week) at 3:00am and get ready for work and get to work by 4:00am. I would work on month-end stuff from 4:00am until 7:45am. Then I would go to the weeklong intensive at school from 8am-5:00pm (staying in touch with work during breaks and during lunch). Then, it was back to work from 5:15pm until I got my work done for the day which was around 9:30pm. I did this for 4 of the 5 days last week. I was a tired puppy at the end of it on Friday. It was the perfect storm.

 

Why does this matter in light of our Scripture passage, Deuteronomy 20:1-20, that we will visit today and in my next blog. For today, you will see it when we close this blog out for today. But for now, just think of worst case scenarios as we read through the passage:

 

20 When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you. 2 When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army. 3 He shall say: “Hear, Israel: Today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not panic or be terrified by them. 4 For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”

 

5 The officers shall say to the army: “Has anyone built a new house and not yet begun to live in it? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else may begin to live in it. 6 Has anyone planted a vineyard and not begun to enjoy it? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else enjoy it. 7 Has anyone become pledged to a woman and not married her? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else marry her.” 8 Then the officers shall add, “Is anyone afraid or fainthearted? Let him go home so that his fellow soldiers will not become disheartened too.” 9 When the officers have finished speaking to the army, they shall appoint commanders over it.

 

10 When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. 11 If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. 12 If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. 13 When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. 14 As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the Lord your God gives you from your enemies. 15 This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby.

 

16 However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. 17 Completely destroy[a] them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you. 18 Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God.

 

19 When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees people, that you should besiege them?[b] 20 However, you may cut down trees that you know are not fruit trees and use them to build siege works until the city at war with you falls.

 

In this passage, we can see ourselves in the Israelites. We sometimes face opposition or circumstances or a combination thereof that seem insurmountable and overwhelming. Whether at school, at work, or in our personal lives, we can feel overwhelmed and helpless to make it through the storms of our lives. God bolstered the Israelites confidence by reminding them that He was always with them. Accustomed to fighting in open plains, the Israelites now would encounter the new task of attacking fortified cities with high walls and ramparts from which the cities could defend themselves from elevated positions. The Israelites were going to have to learn new techniques and battle plans. It all must have seemed pretty overwhelming to them.

 

Just as with us, we often encounter storms that we see coming and we are afraid. We know the storm is coming. We can’t stop it. It’s just coming and it will envelope us and it all seems like more than we can handle. We are scared that we are not going to be able to make it through or handle the situation as we go through it. We want to run for the hills. But the storm is coming for us no matter if we want to run or not. It’s coming for us. It’s got our name on it. We cannot avoid it. It is like that big wave at the beach that catches you off guard. You can see it coming and you try to run for the shore but the water is rushing toward to wave and you feel like you are running in molasses and you cannot avoid but to be pounded by the wave. It throws you to the floor of the ocean and drags you along the bottom where shells are scraping against your skin. You think you are going to drown. You fear for your life. And then you wash up on shore and begin gasping for breath and you just lay their wiped out … but alive.

 

What I am here to tell you is that God is with us. He was with me during my perfect storm week this past week. He gave me this amazing adrenaline and focus to get it all done. He gave me the strength to deal with the 19 hour days. He gave me the strength to get through it. He gave the mind to develop a strategy to get through the storm. It was going to be tough to attack this fortified city of a week. I had to learn new techniques of time management and not wasting time on things that did not contribute to getting through the storm. He pulled me through it and set me on the shore…where a promptly feel asleep on the couch on a Friday night wiped out by 9:30pm, waking up at 4:00am, to get to bed and finish my slumber until 9:30am Saturday morning. I was wiped out. But God set me on the shore. He pulled me through the perfect storm and the giant wave. He gave me focus while in the water so that I would not let the scraping of the ocean bottom snag me and drown me.

 

What is your storm? Are you battling something that seems overwhelming? Are you a single mom trying to not just get through a week but years as a single mom? Are you in a valley of darkness at work? Is your marriage on the rocks? Is there a storm coming for you that you see coming but can do nothing about? Are you feeling scared and overwhelmed at the thought of having to survive the coming perfect storm? It is coming and it will swallow you up and it will destroy you unless you depend on the One who can calm you in the storm.

 

Just remember that you are His. Just as the first verse of this passage, When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you.

 

God is with you. He will get you through this. Depend on Him. He is our Sustainer in the Perfect Storms of Life. He will set you on the shore. Sometimes these perfect storms of life are to show us that we cannot do life in our own power and that we must depend on Him. Greater dependence on Him is what He wants from us. Reach out and take His hand. He will guide you through the storm!

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 18:15-22 (Part 2)

True and False Prophets

 

In preparation for a “week-long intensive” as they call it in this, my semester of my first year of three years of my doctoral program, I had to write a research paper about leadership styles and organization methods in churches. I wrote about the fact that most traditional churches are organized in a bureaucratic style whereas the “emerging church movement” or “modern church movement” that began in the 1990s where megachurches are popping up all over the place are often organized around a charismatic, pastor-led style.

 

The emergence of independent, non-denominational churches or churches that are tied to their denomination in the loosest sense of the word is the new wave. Often these new churches have charismatic leader who is a powerful presence in the church. Most of the time, there is nothing more than advisory committee to this charismatic pastor to hold him accountable. Such committees have little if any power to do or change anything about the path(s) the senior pastor chooses to take. The pastor of the new wave of churches which are pastor-led see this type of management as the best thing because many of them “grew up” professionally in traditional churches where it takes an act of congress to get anything done. Traditional churches get bogged down in their bureaucracy and their committees and it takes six months to change a light bulb. New wave churches with their pastor-led management style can react quicker to the needs of the church, react quicker to opportunities that present themselves, react quicker to changes in the community. If the church needs to add buildings, the pastor-led church can react reasonably quickly to that. If the church sees an opportunity to plant a new church, it can react quickly to that.

 

Pastors at independent, non-denominational or loosely denominational churches can preach the Word of God with its sometimes cutting sword just as they have always dreamed of rather than worrying about whether the board members were going to get offended and run them off as might happen in a traditionally organized church. It all seems to be the best way to organize a church. The statistics speak for themselves. Traditional churches and denominations have been either holding steady or losing membership since the 1990s. At the same time, our nation’s population has grown by 29.7 percent (29.7%) since 1990 (see http://www.multpl.com/united-states-population/table). During this time of stagnation and decline for traditional churches amidst the population growth, we find that there are churches all over the place of the new wave pastor-led church style that are booming. Church growth rates of 18% per year are not uncommon in the 100 largest churches in America. These pastor led churches must be doing something right, huh? Traditional churches just can’t seem to get out of their own way as they bog themselves down in their own bureaucracy and their inward focus. Pastor-led churches with their charismatic leaders seem to be the way to go.

 

Just look at the phenomenal growth of the pastor-led churches. These are churches that growing and planting and growing again. Many of these churches have pastors who are nationally known in Christian circles and some who are recognizable to the general public at large as well. You tend to associate these names with the churches they pastor and run. Their name and their church are often synonymous. Here are just a few of the pastor/church combos that you might know:

 

  1. Andy Stanley – North Point Ministries (Atlanta, GA)
  2. Chris Hodges – Church of the Highlands (Birmingham, AL)
  3. Clayton King – NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC)
  4. Rick Warren – Saddleback Church (Lake Forest, CA)
  5. Bill Hybels – Willow Creek Community Church (South Barrington, IL)
  6. Steven Furtick – Elevation Church (Charlotte, NC)

 

These pastors are the hot commodities of the Christian world. They speak at conferences. They write books. They have book signings. They appear on television talk shows. Some might say that these guys are celebrities. They are like rock stars of the Christian world. Shouldn’t they be? They seem to be doing it right in a church world that is on the decline in the United States. These guys seem to be visionaries in the church world that desperately needs visionaries. They seem to be saying to the rest of the church world, “throw off your bureaucracy and glacial ways of doing things and do it our way! It works!”

 

It was this idea of these new wave church pastors being considered celebrities and rock stars of the Christian world that came to mind when I read through this passage, Deuteronomy 18:15-22, one more time this morning. Let’s read through it one more time together now:

 

15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. 16 For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”

 

17 The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. 19 I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. 20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”

 

21 You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” 22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.

 

Why do I bring this passage up when talking about celebrity pastors and their megachurches? It is because there is an inherent danger in these celebrity pastor-led churches that can be detrimental to the flocks they lead and to Christians at large. There are two recent examples of the dangers in such pastor-led churches that demonstrate the point.

 

You will notice that Perry Noble’s name is missing in the above list. He was the founding pastor of the wildly successful and third largest church in America now, NewSpring Church, based in Anderson, SC. Perry started to come unraveled several years ago with sermons like “ten suggestions” and it was an indication of his lack of accountability within his own organization. He went off the rails with alcohol and other activities that were said to have strained his marriage. Luckily for NewSpring, they were able to right the ship with the appointment of Clayton King to be senior pastor – a celebrity preacher in his own right. Not so lucky was Mars Hill Church in the Seattle area, WA. When Mark Driscoll was exposed by his church leaders as having become a despotic dictator of sorts and was kicked out, the church imploded. Mars Hill, once one of the top 20 largest churches in America just five short years ago, now, no longer exists. The church was so wrapped up in the identity of its superstar pastor/author/speaker, Mark Driscoll, that it could not survive his departure. That brings us to the question that we must ask ourselves that of those top, largest churches that I mentioned earlier where the preacher’s name and their church are synonymous…Would that church survive if that charismatic, nationally known, pastor/leader walked away from that church or suffered some moral failure and was forced out?

That’s also the question that we must ask ourselves about our own churches. Most of us don’t go to a large megachurch but we must ask the question just the same at our own church. What is our church about? Is about our preacher? Is it about our governing boards or our committees that we hold in traditional churches? Is it about us being members of the cool new church with the cool new charismatic pastor? What is it about?

 

As in the days of ancient Israel, where there were false prophets who gathered many followers, we must use the same standards today when it comes to the pastors of these new wave churches and for the pastors of our medium sized and small churches and for ourselves as members of these churches. We must always compare everything that is said and done to Scripture. That is our measure. Everything must be consistent with Scripture.

 

I am not saying that megachurches and the low-accountability that these pastor-led churches have for their celebrity pastors are inherently bad. There are some that carry it off quite well like Rick Warren at his church and Andy Stanley at his. Both these guys are doing it the right way and have done it the right way for a long time. However, we must always hold pastors and ourselves as church members accountable to Scripture. We must never stray from it.

 

When it is all said and done. Traditional churches can stray from the point. Megachurches can stray from the point. There is no perfect church form when things go off the rails from the point. When we take our eyes off Jesus then we have gone off the rails. If our churches are not about Jesus, then we have gone off the rails. If I choose a church because of who the celebrity pastor is rather than does this church preach and act out the gospel, then we have gone off the rails. If we go to church because we want to be seen there, we have gone off the rails. If we go to church because that’s where all the wealthy power brokers go, then we have gone off the rails. If we go to church because I can be a big frog in a small pond, we have gone off the rails.

 

Let us make sure that our churches are about bringing glory to Jesus Christ through attracting people to the gospel message and then growing them up into mature Christ followers who then attract others to the gospel message. That’s what our churches are to be about. Megachurch or small church. New wave church or traditional church. Celebrity pastor or just a pastor known locally in his community.

 

IT SHOULD ALWAYS BE AND NEVER WAVER FROM BEING ABOUT JESUS CHRIST!

 

Amen and Amen.