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The Book of Ruth: An Introduction (Part 2 of 4)
As we continue the introduction to the Book of Ruth this morning, we see in the pages of this book that Ruth was a Moabite woman. She did not let her heritage keep her from worshiping the one true God, nor did it stop God from accepting her worship and blessing her greatly. The people of Israel were not the only people that God loves. God chose the Israelites to be the people from the rest of the world would come to know Him. Jesus fulfilled the promise when Jesus was born an Israelite. Through Him, the entire world can come to know God. Acts 10:35 states that “in every nation He accepts those fear him and do what is right.” God works through those who love Him regardless of their race, gender, nationality, or past history. The book of Ruth is a perfect example of God’s impartiality toward those whose worship He will accept. Although Ruth belonged to a race often despised by Israel because of the constant tension and threat of war between the two nations/groups of people, she was blessed because of her faithfulness. She went on to become the great grandmother of King David and a direct earthly ancestor of Jesus.

The Book of Ruth reminds me that even though I am twice divorced in my past, Jesus can still use me. My past is littered with behavior that was in opposition to God’s design for your life and for mine. I sought approval and personal validation through the approval of the women I chose to be with in my life prior to Christ. I made women and the charms that they offer a man the god of my life and it lead me to a rollercoaster ride of a life and much, much heartache, pain and divorce. When we make a person (in my case whomever the woman was in my life) or an object (sexual relations as validation) the cornerstone of your life, it only leads to destruction. Seeking bedroom approval and letting that rule my life led to making choices that I knew were wrong concerning my kids, concerning money, you name it, that I knew were wrong in God’s eyes but these women were visible and God was not there and not visible to me. I chose worship what was tangible and that which I could touch. All the pain and the heartache that are in my past are very real and there is nothing I can do to change that. In some “religious” circles, I would be considered an enemy of the church. I would never be considered acceptable to some hoity toity church. Could never serve in any capacity. As a matter of fact, I might even be shunned to the point that I would feel uncomfortable and leave the church because of my past. I was, I admit, a hedonistic pleasure seeker before I met Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord. All I cared about was how life affected me. All I cared about was how to manage my world so that I could get the best out of it for myself. Sure, I was a halfway decent person. Wasn’t a murderer or anything but my morality was certainly situational as it was whatever preserved what I wanted and needed was the most important thing even above morality. Whatever I had to do to keep access to the charms of the woman in my life, I would do it. If it meant forgetting the difference between right and wrong, the difference between being a good parent and a bad one, I would do it.

I was having a conversation yesterday with the Pastor of Discipleship of my church yesterday and I told him that when I look back on the man that I was before Christ, I am appalled and disgusted. Not that I am any great saint 16 years into my walk with Jesus Christ (the Holy Spirit still got plenty o’ work to do in this here Southern boy), even the man I was 5 years into my walk appalls me. Even the man I was 10 years into my walk surprises me about how little about the depth of God’s justice, love, and mercy that I knew then. I suppose that 10 years from now I will sit and wonder how people would have trusted me with the gospel as the man that I am now at 55. As we grow in Christ, the Holy Spirit reveals to us things along the way. Things that we were blind to five years ago are matters of great conviction and pain now. How weird is that we are blind to our favorite sins but in time the Holy Spirit is able to get us to see them for what they really are – sin – and how we can no longer hide them or justify them any longer. As we continued the conversation, thank God for the Holy Spirit and thank God for grace of Jesus Christ. Without the work of the Holy Spirit we would be stuck in immaturity. Without Jesus I would be destined to hell because of my past sins that I recognize and my current sins that I ignore or don’t even recognize as sin yet.
But that’s the wonderful thing about our salvation in Jesus Christ and about the wondrous sanctification of the convert by the Holy Spirit. Now, I can celebrate what God has done in me. I can be honest and transparent about my past as it shows the miracles that can be wrought in the presence of the Jesus Christ. My redemption, the man that I am becoming, are all testaments to the power of salvation. It is a change from the inside out. It is not behavior modification. It is real change from the core of who I am outward. My past is evidence of the changed person that I am now. My past is my ministry to those who think that they are too far gone to be touched by the grace of Jesus Christ. My past is my testimony to the wonders of grace. God is using me right now. God will be using me for far greater and greater things for the kingdom as I mature in my walk with Jesus Christ. You are never too far gone and you are never too old to be used by Jesus Christ when you accept Him as Savior and Lord. It is not where you are in the race right now. It is where you finish and how you finish that matters.

That’s the wonder of the Book of Ruth to me is that it shows that no one should feel disqualified to serve God because of who they were in the past before accepting Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. No one should feel disqualified because of where they were born or who they were born to. No one should feel disqualified from God’s work because you did not accept Christ at 2 years old, went to all the right Christian schools, went to seminary, and then married a preacher’s daughter, and then had perfect little preacher kids and that you have been serving the Lord all your life. God can use you right where you are. Your past is your ministry of the miracle of salvation in Jesus Christ. We each are ministers where we live, work, and play. We all have a redemption story. We all have a story to tell. We all have ministries through which we can testify to the might and power of Jesus Christ in our lives. That is what it’s all about. It’s not about your pedigree. It’s not about being the perfect pedigree of church going all your life. It’s not about being a second or third generation preacher. It is not about going to the best church. It is about Jesus Christ. It is about loving God with all your mind, heart, soul and strength and loving your neighbor as yourself. That’s what Ruth teaches us. It is about how much you love and obey God. It is about putting Him first in our lives. It is about giving Him glory in everything we do. It is about demonstrating what a changed life looks like. It is about Jesus. Let your changed life through the grace of Jesus Christ be your ministry!

Amen and Amen.

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Judges 19:1-30 (Part 1 of 3)
The Levite and His Concubine

Sometimes, I surprise myself after studying individual books of the Bible from beginning to end for the last five years. Today, when I was reading in Judges 19, and about the heinous crimes contained therein, I was struck with the feeling that it was just like the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. I didn’t remember what chapter it was in though. So a quick internet search lead me to find that it was in Genesis 19. The thing that got me was how eerily similar the two stories are in virtually every detail except for the angelic intervention in Genesis 19. Virtually, every detail is the same otherwise but here in Judges it is some 500 years after the God-directed natural disaster that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. Let’s go back in time and read that story once again before we read Judges 19:

19 That evening the two angels came to the entrance of the city of Sodom. Lot was sitting there, and when he saw them, he stood up to meet them. Then he welcomed them and bowed with his face to the ground. 2 “My lords,” he said, “come to my home to wash your feet, and be my guests for the night. You may then get up early in the morning and be on your way again.”

“Oh no,” they replied. “We’ll just spend the night out here in the city square.”

3 But Lot insisted, so at last they went home with him. Lot prepared a feast for them, complete with fresh bread made without yeast, and they ate. 4 But before they retired for the night, all the men of Sodom, young and old, came from all over the city and surrounded the house. 5 They shouted to Lot, “Where are the men who came to spend the night with you? Bring them out to us so we can have sex with them!”

6 So Lot stepped outside to talk to them, shutting the door behind him. 7 “Please, my brothers,” he begged, “don’t do such a wicked thing. 8 Look, I have two virgin daughters. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do with them as you wish. But please, leave these men alone, for they are my guests and are under my protection.”

9 “Stand back!” they shouted. “This fellow came to town as an outsider, and now he’s acting like our judge! We’ll treat you far worse than those other men!” And they lunged toward Lot to break down the door.

10 But the two angels[a] reached out, pulled Lot into the house, and bolted the door. 11 Then they blinded all the men, young and old, who were at the door of the house, so they gave up trying to get inside.

 

Normally, preceding the passage of the day that I am dealing with, I will offer up a story from my personal life or from the lives of others or from current events. But while the story in Genesis 19 is still fresh in your mind, let’s now immediately read through Judges 19:

19 Now in those days Israel had no king. There was a man from the tribe of Levi living in a remote area of the hill country of Ephraim. One day he brought home a woman from Bethlehem in Judah to be his concubine. 2 But she became angry with him[a] and returned to her father’s home in Bethlehem.

After about four months, 3 her husband set out for Bethlehem to speak personally to her and persuade her to come back. He took with him a servant and a pair of donkeys. When he arrived at[b] her father’s house, her father saw him and welcomed him. 4 Her father urged him to stay awhile, so he stayed three days, eating, drinking, and sleeping there.

5 On the fourth day the man was up early, ready to leave, but the woman’s father said to his son-in-law, “Have something to eat before you go.” 6 So the two men sat down together and had something to eat and drink. Then the woman’s father said, “Please stay another night and enjoy yourself.” 7 The man got up to leave, but his father-in-law kept urging him to stay, so he finally gave in and stayed the night.

8 On the morning of the fifth day he was up early again, ready to leave, and again the woman’s father said, “Have something to eat; then you can leave later this afternoon.” So they had another day of feasting. 9 Later, as the man and his concubine and servant were preparing to leave, his father-in-law said, “Look, it’s almost evening. Stay the night and enjoy yourself. Tomorrow you can get up early and be on your way.”

10 But this time the man was determined to leave. So he took his two saddled donkeys and his concubine and headed in the direction of Jebus (that is, Jerusalem). 11 It was late in the day when they neared Jebus, and the man’s servant said to him, “Let’s stop at this Jebusite town and spend the night there.”

12 “No,” his master said, “we can’t stay in this foreign town where there are no Israelites. Instead, we will go on to Gibeah. 13 Come on, let’s try to get as far as Gibeah or Ramah, and we’ll spend the night in one of those towns.” 14 So they went on. The sun was setting as they came to Gibeah, a town in the land of Benjamin, 15 so they stopped there to spend the night. They rested in the town square, but no one took them in for the night.

16 That evening an old man came home from his work in the fields. He was from the hill country of Ephraim, but he was living in Gibeah, where the people were from the tribe of Benjamin. 17 When he saw the travelers sitting in the town square, he asked them where they were from and where they were going.

18 “We have been in Bethlehem in Judah,” the man replied. “We are on our way to a remote area in the hill country of Ephraim, which is my home. I traveled to Bethlehem, and now I’m returning home.[c] But no one has taken us in for the night, 19 even though we have everything we need. We have straw and feed for our donkeys and plenty of bread and wine for ourselves.”

20 “You are welcome to stay with me,” the old man said. “I will give you anything you might need. But whatever you do, don’t spend the night in the square.” 21 So he took them home with him and fed the donkeys. After they washed their feet, they ate and drank together.

22 While they were enjoying themselves, a crowd of troublemakers from the town surrounded the house. They began beating at the door and shouting to the old man, “Bring out the man who is staying with you so we can have sex with him.”

23 The old man stepped outside to talk to them. “No, my brothers, don’t do such an evil thing. For this man is a guest in my house, and such a thing would be shameful. 24 Here, take my virgin daughter and this man’s concubine. I will bring them out to you, and you can abuse them and do whatever you like. But don’t do such a shameful thing to this man.”

25 But they wouldn’t listen to him. So the Levite took hold of his concubine and pushed her out the door. The men of the town abused her all night, taking turns raping her until morning. Finally, at dawn they let her go. 26 At daybreak the woman returned to the house where her husband was staying. She collapsed at the door of the house and lay there until it was light.

27 When her husband opened the door to leave, there lay his concubine with her hands on the threshold. 28 He said, “Get up! Let’s go!” But there was no answer.[d] So he put her body on his donkey and took her home.

29 When he got home, he took a knife and cut his concubine’s body into twelve pieces. Then he sent one piece to each tribe throughout all the territory of Israel.

30 Everyone who saw it said, “Such a horrible crime has not been committed in all the time since Israel left Egypt. Think about it! What are we going to do? Who’s going to speak up?”

Wow! The similarities are eerily similar. If we cast our net even further back in Genesis to capture Genesis 18. You will note that the two angels had spent the day with Abraham and Sarah. The differences between that event in Genesis 18 and the beginning of this passage in Judge 19 will be discussed tomorrow. But lets focus today on the events of Judges 18:15-27 in comparison to Genesis 19:1-11. The similarities are so chilling that you would think you were having déjà vu or something. In each case, the main characters start to spend the night in the town square. In each case, a man of the town (in the case of Genesis, it was Lot but here the man is unnamed) offers to get them out of the night air and take them to his home. While, in each case, they were eating and enjoying each other’s company, a mob of men from the town come the home and demand that the host give up the guest males in the house to the crowd so they can publicly have group sex with the men. Make no mistake this was going to be a public homosexual gang rape in both cases. If that sounds gross and ugly and nasty. It should. In both cases, a female is offered up to satisfy the group’s licentious sexual desires.

There are differences also. In the case of the female being offered up to gratify the sexual desires of a gang of men, in the Genesis story, the females are Lot’s own daughters who are virgins. In the Judges story, the female is a concubine. In the Genesis story, Lot defends the angelic visitors but in the Judges story the host and the Levite priest offer up the concubine rather quickly. In the Genesis story, the angels prevent anything from happening to Lot himself or his daughters and the mob is prevented from taking the event to the next level – gang rape, whether it had been homosexual or heterosexual. In the Judges story, there is no angelic intervention or divine intervention by God. In the Judges story, the poor girl is so raped so hard and so long by so many that she is must have had severe internal injuries as well as external ones to the point that she died.

That’s kind of the point here I think. The writers are showing the readers that you just thought Sodom and Gomorroh were depraved, just look how depraved Israel is now. The Sodom and Gomorrah story’s sequence about Lot and the angels seems tame compared to what happened here. This story is disgusting in its depravity. The gang came to the house to have a homosexual orgy and end up killing a girl in a heterosexual one. They apparently just like having orgies and group sex. They were going to get some no matter whether it was a man or woman. How freaking sick were these people? The fact that God did not intervene is significant. Remember, Abraham dickered with God about whether God would spare the towns if He found x number of righteous people. Ultimately, after saving Lot and his family, Sodom and Gomorroh were destroyed. However, there is no such search here by angels. They were that morally depraved there is no intervention. We have a Levite with a concubine. We have a host who is willing to sell out his guests instead of going outside to confront the crowd. We have a Levite willing to sell out a person who is part of his people under his care (the concubine). We have a crowd that was gonna gang rape somebody. We have a crowd that ravaged a woman so hard and so long without a care for her safety that they killed her by having sex with her so much. How morally depraved is this town and this people?

That’s the question we must ask ourselves about our own nation today? Are we becoming Sodom and Gomorrah? Are we becoming the progressively worse Gibeah? We are a nation now that accepts behaviors that are forbidden by God’s law and we glorify them now. We accept sex in all its forms as freedom of personal expression regardless of whether it is condoned by God’s Word or not. We are a nation with no king. Jesus is no longer the central figure in our nation’s collective moral conscience. We are doing what we think is right in our own minds. We have rationalized away sex as recreation whether it be unmarried heterosexuality or any type of homosexuality as my seeking my own self fulfillment. We are just like the Sodom and Gomorrah and we are Gibeah.

Think about it.

Amen and Amen.

Judges 8:1-21 (Part 1 of 4)
Gideon Kills Zebah and Zalmunna

I remember several years ago when Elena and I were co-directors of the Community Transformation ministry of our church (to outsiders desiring non-“church speak” nomenclature, we were co-directors of the church’s local outreach ministry). At the same time, I was the leader of our small group. In that small group, we had encouraged our small group members to participate in the upcoming major event in our church’s outreach calendar, the annual Thanksgiving Meal Giveaway.

As I have mentioned here before, our church has this major event where we invite anyone who feels less fortunate in our community to come to our church and get a complete Thanksgiving meal including an 11-12 lb. turkey to take home. In that way they can have a nice Thanksgiving meal with their family rather than sitting in some church gym eating a meal on long tables with hundreds of other folks they don’t even know. All the while, eating the meal off a paper plate with plastic forks, knives and spoons after having gone through a serving line where some nice church person is the one who determines how much of a portion of each foot item you get. Those generic en masse dinners though an act of generosity are often another slap in the face in the fact that you are poor. You want to have a Thanksgiving meal but you end up feeling like a kid in elementary school eating a meal with hundreds of others. It can be somewhat degrading to the spirit. That’s why we do ours the way we do. Allow these families some dignity where they can take their meal home and have a private meal with their family – not to mention that we don’t have an industrial kitchen at our church where we can feed hundreds of people at once…so there’s that!

Back to my story though. I had encouraged our life group members to get off the couch and help out on the day of the event. So, most of the group did, those that could get off work on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. But I had this one lady from our group that was not there early (we ask volunteers to arrive as early as possible but no later than 7am on the day of the event) for the prep meetings and volunteer assignments to the various functions, just show up around 9am. This particular year, because the weather was going to be unusually warm for late November (it was going to be in the upper 70s that day), we held the event outside. All the stations of our process for the event were outside. It was already in the upper 60’s by event time and it turned out to be a great choice for that particular year. Meanwhile, this lady came directly to me and it seemed to because she knew me, was in my small group, and I was a co-leader of the event that she thought she would get a plum assignment out front engaging people, a place where she could be seen. However, since all positions had been manned I gave her a position as bathroom monitor since we needed someone inside to direct our guests to the bathroom. You know the person that directs others to the bathroom and making sure that people do not wander off into the unattended areas of the main worship center of our church. You know, this lady, though not said directly to me, was telling others how angry she was that she had such a demeaning position. She wanted to be seen. She thought because she knew Elena and me that we would put her in a prime position where she could be seen. She didn’t want to be behind the scenes.

But sometimes in life we have to “guard the bathroom.” In serving the Lord, there are times and there may be many times where we are not out front. We may talented in ways that cause us to be like the old BASF commercials. Remember, “We don’t make the ______. We make the ______ better!” Sometimes, we may be called to rearrange the chairs in the worship center for an event, but not be on stage. We may work in the kitchen at the soup kitchen and not be the ones serving and interacting with the guests. We may build the coat racks but not be the ones who gives the coats away to guests at the coat giveaway. You may be the one running a camera during a church service but not be the pastor delivering the sermon on stage. You may be the accountant who manages the church’s financial reporting but no one notices other than a few people within the church. We must remember who we are working for. We are working for the Lord. We are not working for personal acclaim. We give what we give in our time, talent, and resources not so our pastor will notice us but rather to give glory to God.

That was the first thing that I noticed about this passage, Judges 8:1-21, this morning was how those leaders of the Ephraimites were mad at Gideon because they were given what they considered a lesser role. That was a reminder of how we are sometimes in the church. How we will fall away from participating in some task because it is not in the limelight. Let’s read the passage now:

8 Now the Ephraimites asked Gideon, “Why have you treated us like this? Why didn’t you call us when you went to fight Midian?” And they challenged him vigorously.

2 But he answered them, “What have I accomplished compared to you? Aren’t the gleanings of Ephraim’s grapes better than the full grape harvest of Abiezer? 3 God gave Oreb and Zeeb, the Midianite leaders, into your hands. What was I able to do compared to you?” At this, their resentment against him subsided.

4 Gideon and his three hundred men, exhausted yet keeping up the pursuit, came to the Jordan and crossed it. 5 He said to the men of Sukkoth, “Give my troops some bread; they are worn out, and I am still pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.”

6 But the officials of Sukkoth said, “Do you already have the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna in your possession? Why should we give bread to your troops?”

7 Then Gideon replied, “Just for that, when the Lord has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, I will tear your flesh with desert thorns and briers.”

8 From there he went up to Peniel[a] and made the same request of them, but they answered as the men of Sukkoth had. 9 So he said to the men of Peniel, “When I return in triumph, I will tear down this tower.”

10 Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with a force of about fifteen thousand men, all that were left of the armies of the eastern peoples; a hundred and twenty thousand swordsmen had fallen. 11 Gideon went up by the route of the nomads east of Nobah and Jogbehah and attacked the unsuspecting army. 12 Zebah and Zalmunna, the two kings of Midian, fled, but he pursued them and captured them, routing their entire army.

13 Gideon son of Joash then returned from the battle by the Pass of Heres. 14 He caught a young man of Sukkoth and questioned him, and the young man wrote down for him the names of the seventy-seven officials of Sukkoth, the elders of the town. 15 Then Gideon came and said to the men of Sukkoth, “Here are Zebah and Zalmunna, about whom you taunted me by saying, ‘Do you already have the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna in your possession? Why should we give bread to your exhausted men?’” 16 He took the elders of the town and taught the men of Sukkoth a lesson by punishing them with desert thorns and briers. 17 He also pulled down the tower of Peniel and killed the men of the town.

18 Then he asked Zebah and Zalmunna, “What kind of men did you kill at Tabor?”

“Men like you,” they answered, “each one with the bearing of a prince.”

19 Gideon replied, “Those were my brothers, the sons of my own mother. As surely as the Lord lives, if you had spared their lives, I would not kill you.” 20 Turning to Jether, his oldest son, he said, “Kill them!” But Jether did not draw his sword, because he was only a boy and was afraid.

 

21 Zebah and Zalmunna said, “Come, do it yourself. ‘As is the man, so is his strength.’” So Gideon stepped forward and killed them, and took the ornaments off their camels’ necks.

In this passage, we see that Ephraim’s leaders felt left out because Gideon had not called them to join the battle but had left them in place to “clean up” the escaping Midianites (the “leftover grapes”) and so they angrily confronted him. Gideon assured the leaders of the tribe of Ephraim that their accomplishment was even greater than his own clan (Abiezer). His diplomatic explanation pointed out that the rear guard had managed to capture the enemy’s generals, thus, cutting off the army of the enemy from its leadership – effectively destroying the enemy. Not every necessary job is a highly visible leadership role. Much of the necessary labor of any effective enterprise is considered by many to be dirty work (the behind the scenes seemingly unrewarded and unnoticed). But such work is vital to getting any big task done. Engineers and millionaires may design and finance an elegant building, but it is the metalworkers, brickmasons, electricians, drywallers, and so on that actually get the work done. Pride can cause us to want recognition. Are content to be God’s bricklayer when he needs you to be or are resentful of the work you have been assigned (and thereby miss what God has in store for you).

Oh, Lord, in your infinite and mighty wisdom, you assign us to serve the body of Christ in ways that are not always out front or on stage and help us to remember that it is you that we are out to please and not our own egos. Help us to be willing to crawl through the mud for you if that is what you call us to do. Help us to be your humble servants because you are a great and mighty God full of infinite wisdom and understanding of a far greater plan for our lives than we can see in our limited nature. Help us to trust you and to glorify you in everything we do regardless of whether it is a job out front or it is a job that is in the background. All parts must work together to make the body of Christ effective. Help us to learn that as part of the body there are no unimportant roles and all roles have a purpose as part of God’s plan. Help us to be humble and serve to the best of our ability and for Your Glory in whatever we do for you, Lord.

Amen and Amen.

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!