Posts Tagged ‘disobedience’

Joshua 23:1-16 (Part 1 of 2)

Joshua’s Final Words to Israel

Over the past few years since I began my quest toward making God’s calling on my life a reality, I have had to prepare my testimony (my journey to the cross and beyond) in short form, long form, you name it. Virtually every job application, every school application, in the church world, you have to lay out your spiritual journey for them. Church jobs require it. Graduate school admission applications require it. So, you gotta get to know your journey to the cross and what has happened since that time. It’s just part of the deal.

 

Since the summer of 2011 when I began the admissions process for my Master of Christian Ministry (MCM) degree, I have had to hone and develop my faith journey’s story. Then with job applications after getting my degree in May 2014 and with applications to the various doctoral programs to which I have applied since then, I have really been able to flesh out my testimony into a full-fledged autobiographical sketch of myself from first memories of my existence to where I am today. And it is from this process that I have identified some common themes of my life and what my single greatest sin weak spot is. That weakness is seeking approval from others rather than from God. I think it stems from growing up as a preacher’s kid in a Methodist preacher’s home. Moving every couple of years as I did growing developed this need for acceptance but yet always feeling like an outsider. It is something that troubles me to this day. I am a loner of sorts but one who yearns to be accepted by the crowd. That was the dominating theme of my life growing up. It would lead me to throw my socially awkward brother (he’s pretty cool now but was the classic geek growing up) under the bus to fit in with the crowd. It led me to be a certain kind of personality in one place we lived and a different one in the next place to which we moved depending on the kind of community in which we lived. I was a social chameleon – taking on the color of my surroundings so as to survive and thrive.

 

As an adult, when you no longer that society of school (including college) where we have to impress or be oppressed, you settle into your life’s work and it seems the scale of life reduces to simply the relationships you have in life – the ones in your personal life and the ones at work. No longer do you have that defined society of school where you know the boundaries of the kingdom and your place in it. In the real world, it is this massive place that is ill-defined and has no real boundaries. Real life is this amorphous blob kind of like the universe itself – a thing that goes on and on forever. To make sense of it all, you simply make your world smaller by defining through the people that you know. We make our individual universes small enough to manage. Without school, these relationships of the people that we know become extremely important. For me, I defined my world by the acceptance of and approval from whomever was the woman in my life. My life up to the cross was defined by that and the first two marriages, my need for approval and validation came from these two women. Approval came through validating myself through sex. When we were active with one another, I felt I had their approval. Thus, she who holds the keys then becomes a god. I made each wife my God and I let myself become controlled by the amount of access I had to their feminine charms. I let it become my god. Suffice it to say, and I do not blame either one of them now for why this happened, but I let go of my place as the leader of the home just to maintain approval. The greatest fear I had was being disapproved and alone and without access.

 

Many people think that salvation will change everything and everything is perfect after that. They are so wrong. Salvation is just the beginning of the journey. And for me, the longest hardest thing that the Holy Spirit had to work on me about was seeking approval from others, specifically the women in my life. In other words, my idol worship was a hard thing for me to give up even after my salvation in December 2001. We are perfected by the Holy Spirit over a course of a lifetime. They are sins we commit that we are slower to open our eyes to than others, but the Holy Spirit does eventually open our eyes to it and expose it to us and that is the time that we must deal with it and put that behavior behind us. It takes time on our particularly stubborn sins that we cling to.

 

My need for approval, particularly from the women in my life, even after two failed marriages continued on even after salvation. I rationalized away my lifestyle of encounters and pursuit of encounters as OK for me and that it was not sin – not for me. If I ignored the sin, it is not sin, right. Idol worship of women and sexual relationships outside of wedlock was OK – for me. That rule of God applies to someone else, not me. God just wants me to be happy, right? God let me have this one sin or couple of sins to myself and I will obey you otherwise, OK? Deal?

 

My own past of idol worship and turning away from God’s plan for my life is what I thought of when I read through this passage for the first time of two times this morning. Let us read through it and see how this all ties together after we read the passage:

23 After a long time had passed and the Lord had given Israel rest from all their enemies around them, Joshua, by then a very old man, 2 summoned all Israel—their elders, leaders, judges and officials—and said to them: “I am very old. 3 You yourselves have seen everything the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake; it was the Lord your God who fought for you. 4 Remember how I have allotted as an inheritance for your tribes all the land of the nations that remain—the nations I conquered—between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea in the west. 5 The Lord your God himself will push them out for your sake. He will drive them out before you, and you will take possession of their land, as the Lord your God promised you.

 

6 “Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left. 7 Do not associate with these nations that remain among you; do not invoke the names of their gods or swear by them. You must not serve them or bow down to them. 8 But you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now.

 

9 “The Lord has driven out before you great and powerful nations; to this day no one has been able to withstand you. 10 One of you routs a thousand, because the Lord your God fights for you, just as he promised. 11 So be very careful to love the Lord your God.

 

12 “But if you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you and if you intermarry with them and associate with them, 13 then you may be sure that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the Lord your God has given you.

 

14 “Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. 15 But just as all the good things the Lord your God has promised you have come to you, so he will bring on you all the evil things he has threatened, until the Lord your God has destroyed you from this good land he has given you. 16 If you violate the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you.”

 

In this passage, we see that Joshua knew nation’s weak spots. Before dying, he called the people together and gave commands to them where they would most likely slip – the temptations right in their own backyard: falling into idol worship with the remaining pagans in the land, and intermarrying with pagans. Our associations and relationships can be temptations to us as well. It is wise to identify our weak spots before we break down. Then, we can develop strategies to overcome these temptations instead of being overcome by them.

 

It was not until I met Elena who DID NOT want to have a relationship with me of any kind at first that the idol worship of women and what I needed to keep access to that I began to relinquish my idol worship. It was through this relationship that I learned what real unconditional love was and what real belonging means. For the first time in my life (over the last decade since I met her), I have not had to jump through hoops (whether self-imposed or imposed by others) to maintain approval. We have been married for seven years now and this is the longest stretch of my life where I feel secure. I don’t feel like I have to jump through hoops to gain her approval. The stupid things that I did in the past to maintain a woman’s approval are now just stupid things of the past.

 

It is through the Holy Spirit and the circumstances of life that bring you to your knees and through God speaking through other people that we recognize where our sin weak spots are. Sometimes, it takes a while for us to see it clearly. It usually takes some events that come crashing down on us to see it but God opens our eyes through the Holy Spirit. One day we realize that we have been disobedient to Him and worse yet we have justified it as OK. We protect our sin weak spot until it destroys us. Only then are we willing to listen to God about the truth of our sins and how they condemn us in front of Him without repentance on our part and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.

 

What is your sin weak spot? What is that you are holding onto as an OK sin for you? What are you lying to yourself about as being OK since it is your sin? Are you justifying it? Are you blind to God’s Word about the pet sin you want to keep? God’s Word is true for all and God’s Word is true eternally not just in the past. What is the sin that you need to confess? What is the sin that is sin no matter how you slice it that you must repent from? Are you still blind that is OK for you even if it is a sin because you can handle it? Are you ignoring God’s Word on your pet sin?

 

Think about it. Examine it. Write down your life story and see the common pet sin that you fall back on all the time. Repent of it. Come to the Lord and ask forgiveness. Ask His help in making your path straight. He will bring people into your life that will help you get beyond your pet sin. The Holy Spirit will help you once you are honest about that pet sin that you are clinging to. Recognize. Repent. Retool. Rework. Rejoice!

 

Amen and Amen.

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

The Israelites Defeat Ai

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 11:8-32

The Blessings of Obedience

 

Seems pretty simple – obey God’s commands and thrive, disobey God’s commands and fail to thrive. Blessings and curse. The curse is the lack of blessing, the removal of blessing. How we wonder why Israel would blatantly turn away from its protector, and benefactor in the Lord God Almighty. But they did, repeatedly over the centuries. We can’t comprehend why. We know the story from God’s perspective through Moses and the subsequent Old Testament writers that Israel failed to keep its part of the covenant relationship with God. Just doesn’t make sense, does it?

 

However, some view the United States of America as the new Israel, a nation blessed by God in so many ways over the past several centuries. It is a nation that was started under the pretense of religious freedom. Our country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. It is the land that people have clamored to be a part of since its inception as a free nation ruled by laws and not kings. It was a nation founded on the fact that God created man to be free and to live lives free of the whims of the tyranny of despotic kings and free from the rule of the mob. The principles of our government were founded upon that we are all created equal in God’s sight. Our nation was built by people who feared the Lord. Our nation made the Bible a part of daily life. Generally, our nation has been mightily blessed as a result. Some, as I have said, have called the United States the new Israel. We have been a blessed nation. We received the blessings of God for a nation that has stood for freedom, hard work, belief in Jesus Christ, and a nation that was unafraid to tell the world of its basic Christian values.

 

However, we have become drunk with our success. We have become a nation preoccupied with ourselves. This is a nation that once made great sacrifices. Turning our factories from peace time pursuits to one where every man, woman, and child contributed to the effort to end tyranny around the world in World War II. However, now, we are a nation that feels as though we are entitled to all our excesses. We no longer are a nation willing to sacrifice for the common good. We riot in the streets when we don’t get our way. We say that though a leader was elected lawfully as per the process that has worked for almost two and half centuries that he is not our leader. We are a nation that has become spoiled by our success. We have removed God from the equation. The very thing that fueled the sacrifices that made our country great, a basic belief in God and his commandments, is being removed from society.

 

No longer are we a nation but rather we are 300 Million nations. Individual rights are paramount. The common good is no longer the consideration. We are a selfish nation full of selfish people. We pursue whatever is best for us and we call that evolution of man. We see individual rights to pursue whatever we believe is right for us as paramount in our society. We no longer see subsuming ourselves to the greater good of the nation as the prime directive. We have become a nation of self-seekers. We have become a nation that if my rights that are unique to only me then the whole world must adjust its belief system to accommodate my needs. We are all about us individually. We are independent of the nation in which we live. The nation is here to serve us and not the other way around. We are now a maddening cacophony of individual gods seeking our own pleasure. We feel that we are entitled to the blessings that we have been given by God, but since we do not allow God into the stream of American thought anymore, our blessings come from ourselves. We are the reason we have the opulence we have. It has nothing to do with God, right? Do you not see the similarities of the new Israel, the United States, and the old Israel.

 

Israel had it made. It was the envy of the Middle East when David and Solomon were kings. God granted great blessing upon the nation when it was focused on giving glory to God. Under David and Solomon, Israel was a great power and was secure as a nation. Nobody messed with Israel when it was experiencing the blessings of God when the nation was obedient to God, when it was led by leaders who were obedient to God. Then, the nation became self-involved and self-seeking and self-pleasuring and turned away from God. Within 500 years after Solomon, the nation of Israel was ripped into two nations from within and then was ripped apart by the empires that developed around it. Then it was subject to the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, and the Romans to the point that Israel no longer existed. This all happened between the zenith of Israel’s power at the transition of power from David to Solomon in 971 BC to the final destruction of the Temple and dispersion of the Jews in 70 AD. Within 1040 years of the zenith of Israel’s power, it no longer existed and it was a slow painful dissent into disintegration.

 

We may have pushed God out of our lives in the United States and think we have evolved into a higher plane but saying He does not exist does not make Him not exist. Saying the elephant in the room is not there does not make the reality of the elephant being in the room any less valid. We think that we have evolved beyond the need for God. Israel did too. We are repeating the history of Israel right here, right now. We were once a nation after God’s own heart. Sure, we weren’t perfect then. No nation ever is. But in general we were a nation that chased after God and we allowed His principles to permeate our society. We experienced blessing. Blessings like a nation has never seen before. But, we like Israel, have become cocky at our own success and have begun to believe that we are our own gods. We seek self-fulfillment rather than God’s will. We have made ourselves our own idols. We are doing exactly what Israel did. We will experience the removal of blessing and the slow painful dissent into disintegration will follow.

 

Obey my commands and experience blessing. Disobey my commands and experience curses, the lack of blessing. Pretty simple. Pretty obvious. But how can two blessed nations, biblical Israel and modern day United States, not see the correlation.

 

The inevitable internal decay of our nation and its eventual subjugation to other nations as a curse for us straying from God is what I thought of when I read through this passage, Deuteronomy 11:8-32, today. Let’s read it together:

 

8 Observe therefore all the commands I am giving you today, so that you may have the strength to go in and take over the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 9 and so that you may live long in the land the Lord swore to your ancestors to give to them and their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 The land you are entering to take over is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you planted your seed and irrigated it by foot as in a vegetable garden. 11 But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. 12 It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end.

 

13 So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul— 14 then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and olive oil. 15 I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied.

 

16 Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. 17 Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut up the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the Lord is giving you. 18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, 21 so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.

 

22 If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow—to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him and to hold fast to him— 23 then the Lord will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and stronger than you. 24 Every place where you set your foot will be yours: Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the Euphrates River to the Mediterranean Sea. 25 No one will be able to stand against you. The Lord your God, as he promised you, will put the terror and fear of you on the whole land, wherever you go.

 

26 See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse— 27 the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; 28 the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known. 29 When the Lord your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess, you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings, and on Mount Ebal the curses. 30 As you know, these mountains are across the Jordan, westward, toward the setting sun, near the great trees of Moreh, in the territory of those Canaanites living in the Arabah in the vicinity of Gilgal. 31 You are about to cross the Jordan to enter and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you. When you have taken it over and are living there, 32 be sure that you obey all the decrees and laws I am setting before you today.

 

What is God’s curse? It is not some magician’s spell. To understand it, we must remember the conditions of the covenant between the superior party, God, and the inferior party, his chosen people, Israel. Both parties had agreed to the terms of the covenant. Blessings from the superior party would flow to Israel if they kept up the terms of the agreement through their actions. They would receive land, live there in peace forever, have fruitful crops, and expel their enemies and as a result be able to flourish as a secure nation. The would fall on Israel only if the broke the terms of the covenant by their actions. They would forfeit the grace and peace of the superior party, God, that the superior party was allowing them to have. Everything would be off the table then. Crop failures, susceptibility to invasion, and ultimately expulsion from their land would result. The protection of God would be removed. The blessings of peace and prosperity and the flourishing as a nation would all come under siege without the blessings of God. The removal of God’s protective hand, that’s the curse.

 

We have the same fundamental choice today as a nation and as individuals. We can live for ourselves or live in reverent awe and respect for our Creator. To choose our own way is to travel on a dead-end road without realizing that it will dead-end but to choose God’s way is to receive eternal life, to receive blessing, to receive his protection, to live in peace, on a road that has no end.

 

What’s it going to be? The nation reflects its individuals. So, it is up to us Americans to decide if we are going to do things God’s way or our own way. It is up to us as those who have been saved by the blood of Jesus Christ to become actively involved in turning our nation back to God. It’s only going to happen we care as individuals. We can no longer have the luxury of waiting for someone else to do it. We must as individuals do our part to turn our nation back to God. The choice seems so clear – blessing or the lack of blessing, flourishing nation when obedient to the Lord or a nation that will be conquered many times over when disobedient to the Lord.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 2:1-25

Remembering Israel’s Wanderings

As a parent, you watch your children make mistakes that you know are going to be detrimental to their future. It is not because you are a fortune-teller but rather because you have lived life yourself. You have made the same mistakes and learned from them the hard way. We learned that life has consequences and many of the decisions that we make when we are young has long-ranging impact on our lives. We just want our kids to make wise decisions so they don’t have to live with the consequences of unwise decisions like we did. However, just as we did not listen to our parents, our kids do not listen to us and think that they know best and plunge headlong into decisions that will impact them for their entire lives.

 

My youngest daughter and I have been at odds for the last few years because of choices that she is making. She has refused to go to college. She would rather not face those challenges. She would rather live in the cocoon of her known world of her boyfriend, his family, and their circle of friends. Sure, in and of itself, having a comfortable world that you know is not bad, but not pursuing an education after high school limits your possibilities in life. She would rather live a hand to mouth existence rather than using her God-given intelligence to pursue a degree in whatever she has a passion for. It pains me to no end that she has chosen to go down this road. I know that it is going to impact her so negatively for the rest of her life. It is not like my youngest daughter is a few bricks shy of a load when it comes to intelligence. She is a very bright girl and school was easy for her. She could have easily gotten into any college to which she applied. She is naturally smart. She is a good at winning arguments. She could have made a great lawyer as she is very skillful in the art of argument. I know that with a college degree under her belt, her future could have been awesomely bright. However, her life is going to be limited now because of this decision not to go to school. She will be limited to service or retail jobs. She will never be a manager. She will have limited earning capacity. She will always be on the edge of or slightly above poverty because she has limited what she can do by not accepting the challenge of college. It will be a hand to mouth, living from one emergency to another kind of life. I know these things will happen. I have seen it happen to too many people.

 

The trouble is right now that my youngest daughter does not see what I can see. She only believes that I am being overly harsh and critical. Sure, there are those who have excelled in life without college educations and there are those who have made millions and billions without a college education, but those are rare talents. Not everyone is a Bill Gates who attended Harvard for a year but never finished. There are those who are not wildly successful like Bill Gates but do become successful in their own right. I know some of my friends who never went to college but own their own businesses now. They will never be super-rich but they provide a decent and respectable lifestyle for their families. But all of these people are driven. They never expected their lifestyle to be handed to them. They worked hard to provide for their families and to make something of themselves. Right now, my youngest daughter doesn’t want to take on the challenges of college but also she doesn’t seem to be driven to succeed in anyway. She says what I define as a good life may not be the same as what she defines it as. I see her as living from crisis to crisis but she sees that as her normal life.

 

I do not say these things to bash my youngest daughter. I say these things because I know what she could be is she just had a little drive to her. She could be anything. She is so smart. She is so witty. She would be a rising star in whatever field of endeavor she would choose. If she spent half as much time in school studying as she does trying to dream up ways to come up with cash for the next week, she would be a magna cum laude graduate of any college. She is 26 now but my fear is that at age 56, thirty years from now, her life is going to be no better than it is right now. And, it’s not because I am a materialistic bastard who wants to raise materialistic children. I just want my children to be the best that they can be. That’s it. Nothing more and nothing less. I do not want them to limit themselves by making decisions that will do just that. I want them to arrive at my age saying that I may have made mistakes here and there but I lived up to my potential (ever how limited or expansive that potential may be). That’s all I want from my youngest daughter. To make the effort to become the amazing woman I know she can be and not just to sell herself short by living a paycheck to paycheck, scrimping to get by, crisis to crisis, living for the next party, living for the weekend lifestyle. She can be so much more.

 

It is that idea of needless wandering caused by fateful decisions and how that surely pained God was what I thought of when I read through today’s passage, Deuteronomy 2:1-25. Let’s read it together now:

 

2 Then we turned back and set out toward the wilderness along the route to the Red Sea,[a] as the Lord had directed me. For a long time we made our way around the hill country of Seir.

 

2 Then the Lord said to me, 3 “You have made your way around this hill country long enough; now turn north. 4 Give the people these orders: ‘You are about to pass through the territory of your relatives the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. They will be afraid of you, but be very careful. 5 Do not provoke them to war, for I will not give you any of their land, not even enough to put your foot on. I have given Esau the hill country of Seir as his own. 6 You are to pay them in silver for the food you eat and the water you drink.’”

 

7 The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything.

 

8 So we went on past our relatives the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. We turned from the Arabah road, which comes up from Elath and Ezion Geber, and traveled along the desert road of Moab.

 

9 Then the Lord said to me, “Do not harass the Moabites or provoke them to war, for I will not give you any part of their land. I have given Ar to the descendants of Lot as a possession.”

 

10 (The Emites used to live there—a people strong and numerous, and as tall as the Anakites. 11 Like the Anakites, they too were considered Rephaites, but the Moabites called them Emites. 12 Horites used to live in Seir, but the descendants of Esau drove them out. They destroyed the Horites from before them and settled in their place, just as Israel did in the land the Lord gave them as their possession.)

 

13 And the Lord said, “Now get up and cross the Zered Valley.” So we crossed the valley.

 

14 Thirty-eight years passed from the time we left Kadesh Barnea until we crossed the Zered Valley. By then, that entire generation of fighting men had perished from the camp, as the Lord had sworn to them. 15 The Lord’s hand was against them until he had completely eliminated them from the camp.

 

16 Now when the last of these fighting men among the people had died, 17 the Lord said to me, 18 “Today you are to pass by the region of Moab at Ar. 19 When you come to the Ammonites, do not harass them or provoke them to war, for I will not give you possession of any land belonging to the Ammonites. I have given it as a possession to the descendants of Lot.”

 

20 (That too was considered a land of the Rephaites, who used to live there; but the Ammonites called them Zamzummites. 21 They were a people strong and numerous, and as tall as the Anakites. The Lord destroyed them from before the Ammonites, who drove them out and settled in their place. 22 The Lord had done the same for the descendants of Esau, who lived in Seir, when he destroyed the Horites from before them. They drove them out and have lived in their place to this day. 23 And as for the Avvites who lived in villages as far as Gaza, the Caphtorites coming out from Caphtor[b] destroyed them and settled in their place.)

Defeat of Sihon King of Heshbon

 

24 “Set out now and cross the Arnon Gorge. See, I have given into your hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his country. Begin to take possession of it and engage him in battle. 25 This very day I will begin to put the terror and fear of you on all the nations under heaven. They will hear reports of you and will tremble and be in anguish because of you.”

 

The striking thing here is to remember that Israel did not have to wander in the wilderness those forty years on the way to the Promised Land. God sentenced them to the wilderness wanderings because they rejected His love, rebelled against His authority, ignored His commands, and willfully broke their end of the agreement made with God in Exodus 19:8 and Exodus 24:3-8. In short, they disobeyed God. We often make life’s journey more difficult than it has to be through disobedience to God, His Word, and His plan for our lives. We can make our life so much easier if we simply follow His commands in His Word, and stick with God whatever happens, whatever the situation. We will find our lives less complicated and more rewarding when we do. However, many of us, myself included, reject God, live life on our terms until we get it so screwed up that we can’t handle it anymore and cry out to God for help. Then, we realize if we had just listened to God in the first place, we would not have wasted much of our life screwing up our life.

 

God is like a parent to us just watching us make mistakes that are going to be bad for us. He tries to warn us through people, circumstances, and His Word but because we are stubborn and stiffnecked we do not listen. He wants us not to screw up our lives through our stupid, sin-filled mistakes. He sees the trainwreck ahead. He warns us. But we plunge headlong into the life decisions we make that are detrimental for us. God is heartbroken over the decisions that we make. He doesn’t want us to suffer. He wants what is best for us. Just as I simply want my youngest daughter not to have to live with the consequences of poor decisions (because I can see farther down the road than her because of life experience), God does not want us to have to live with the consequences of our poor decisions. He gives us His guidebook for life. He gives us His Word. We can take His advice, through His Word, and follow His commands and it will make our lives so much easier and less complicated. When we follow God, life is surely more rewarding and less complicated. When we chose our way instead of His, we end up with wilderness wanderings that were unnecessary. Then, we waste a lifetime, dealing with the consequences of not being obedient rather than living out our potential in His sweet spot for us, His Promised Land that He has for each of us.

 

Amen and Amen.

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

Remembering Israel’s Journey

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

5 The Israelites left Rameses and camped at Sukkoth.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

13 They left Dophkah and camped at Alush.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

17 They left Kibroth Hattaavah and camped at Hazeroth.

 

18 They left Hazeroth and camped at Rithmah.

 

19 They left Rithmah and camped at Rimmon Perez.

 

20 They left Rimmon Perez and camped at Libnah.

 

21 They left Libnah and camped at Rissah.

 

22 They left Rissah and camped at Kehelathah.

 

23 They left Kehelathah and camped at Mount Shepher.

 

24 They left Mount Shepher and camped at Haradah.

 

25 They left Haradah and camped at Makheloth.

 

26 They left Makheloth and camped at Tahath.

 

27 They left Tahath and camped at Terah.

 

28 They left Terah and camped at Mithkah.

 

29 They left Mithkah and camped at Hashmonah.

 

30 They left Hashmonah and camped at Moseroth.

 

31 They left Moseroth and camped at Bene Jaakan.

 

32 They left Bene Jaakan and camped at Hor Haggidgad.

 

33 They left Hor Haggidgad and camped at Jotbathah.

 

34 They left Jotbathah and camped at Abronah.

 

35 They left Abronah and camped at Ezion Geber.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

41 They left Mount Hor and camped at Zalmonah.

 

42 They left Zalmonah and camped at Punon.

 

43 They left Punon and camped at Oboth.

 

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

 

45 They left Iye Abarim and camped at Dibon Gad.

 

46 They left Dibon Gad and camped at Almon Diblathaim.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 14:13-25 (Part 3 of 4)

Moses Intercedes for the People

One of the differences between boys and girls that I learned during the 10 years of dating, then marriage, to my second wife (with her three boys) back in 1994-2004 was that boy, oh boy, how boys are different from girls. When those who try to claim unisex approaches to parenting and unisex approaches to life in our society, they just fail to see that boys and girls, and men and women are just fundamentally different. We should celebrate the difference but we try our best to eradicate it in society. But my little case study of the wiring of boys vs. that of girls during my second marriage is proof that God designed us, men and women, to be different and it is evident early on.

 

In my second marriage, we were a blended family. My second wife had three boys and I had two girls. The irony of that was not lost on me. You would have thought that either one of us could have a mixture of sexes in our children. What are the odds of a second marriage where one spouse brings 3 of the same sex of children while the other spouse brings 2 of the opposite sex of children? I would venture to guess that the odds were pretty staggering. It was the fact that girls and boys are different and react to things differently that had a lot to do with the undoing of that marriage. There were other factors but this one was always center stage in many of the conflicts between me and my second wife.

 

When my second wife and I got married, her boys were ages 10, 6, and 3 and my girls were ages 10 and 5. Five kids under the age of 11. Can you imagine? Wow, when I look back on that now. I ask that younger Mark at age 33 in 1995 when we got married, “Are you freakin’ crazy?” But it did teach me a few things about parenting boys and girls at the same time. The main thing that I learned is that boys are hard-headed and girls are timid. With my girls, usually a stern look, a stern discussion about errors in their behavior were sufficient to at least curtail that kind of behavior. Girls are tender and want love and approval and, thus, a stern talking-to would lead to reforms in behavior in a permanent way. Yell at them once and that would be enough to end whatever behavior that you wanted to stop. Sure, that is a generalization, and there were times that they willfully disregarded my instructions but generally the girls just wanted my approval more than anything else so that was a behavior modifier in and of itself.

 

Boys. Boy, oh boy, how they are different. I guess God designed boys (who later become men) so that they can survive in the world and be providers for their families and sometimes that involves rebelling against authority to do what is needed to provide. It is that hunter-gatherer mentality. We are wired, as boys and men, to figure out ways to get around things and solve problems where we come out the victor (coming back to the stone age camp with food for the family). We are wired to see something and get around it. With the boys, being boys, they were stubborn. I would have to repeat rules of behavior that I had established in the home on a daily basis. They would act each day as if the rule or rules were completely new and they had no knowledge of the rule’s existence. You’d have to tell them the same thing over and over again to the point of frustration. Boys would rather run through a brick wall than around it. Girls will collaborate together and figure out how to work together to scale the wall. Now, that I look back on it, both my second wife and I should have not expected the girls and the boys to be any different than who they were wired to be. It was that expectation of sameness that was the undoing. The irony of it all was that it should have been a boy/girl discussion but it become my kids vs. your kids with no middle ground of understanding the differences between the sexes.

 

But when reading through the passage today, it was the stubbornness of the boys that leapt into my mind today. And, I think, in general all boys are like that. I was probably like that with my parents. As boys, we push the limits of our parents to see how far we can go and see just what we can get away with before the hammer falls. My second wife’s boys were the poster boys for boys. They were stubborn. They were willful. Repeatedly getting in trouble for violating house rules and acting all shocked as if the rules did not exist. It was a test of wills that was for sure. Me, as stepdad, and them, as stepsons. It was not the best of relationships in those days. I was always on the boys about something. Trying to get them to behave well and do the right thing and to not be self-centeredly selfish all the time. I was trying to grow them into men because the world is not kind to men if they are not ready to be out in the adult world. It wasn’t until about maybe 4 years ago that one of the boys thanked me for being tough on them. He said I know we boys were a handful back then and I appreciate your trying to make us into men. His attitude had changed. Why? He had a boy of his own. Stubborn. Willful. And a handful to deal with. We both agreed that its funny how we get paid back and the cycle continues of parenting boys. He said you don’t stop loving them but they can drive you crazy.

 

As we read through Numbers 14:13-25 for the third time today, let us think about how God had to be so totally frustrated with the stubbornness of the Israelites and rightfully so. They were a stubborn, willful people. The way I relate to how God felt was thinking back to the days of raising stepsons for a decade:

 

13 Moses said to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear about it! By your power you brought these people up from among them. 14 And they will tell the inhabitants of this land about it. They have already heard that you, Lord, are with these people and that you, Lord, have been seen face to face, that your cloud stays over them, and that you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. 15 If you put all these people to death, leaving none alive, the nations who have heard this report about you will say, 16 ‘The Lord was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath, so he slaughtered them in the wilderness.’

 

17 “Now may the Lord’s strength be displayed, just as you have declared: 18 ‘The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’ 19 In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.”

 

20 The Lord replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. 21 Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, 22 not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times— 23 not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. 24 But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it. 25 Since the Amalekites and the Canaanites are living in the valleys, turn back tomorrow and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea.”

 

Here in this passage, Numbers 14:13-25, we know that God was not exaggerating when He said that Israelites had again and again failed to trust and obey Him. There is a litany of times that they showed a complete lack of respect for the authority of God:

 

  • Not wanting to cross the Red Sea (Exodus 14)
  • Complaining over the bitter water at Marah (Exodus 15)
  • Complaining in the wilderness (Exodus 16)
  • Collecting more than the daily quota of manna (Exodus 16)
  • Complaining over the lack of water at Rephidim (Exodus 17)
  • Engaging in idolatry with a golden calf (Exodus 32)
  • Complaining at Taberah (Numbers 11)
  • More complaining over the lack of delicious food (Numbers 11)
  • And finally…failing to trust God’s protection when presented with the Promised Land (Numbers 14)

 

This is not an exhaustive list of their complaints and willfulness before the Lord but you get the gist. In some places in the Old Testament, the Bible calls the Israelites “a stiff-necked people”. They were just stubborn boys. They often willfully disobeyed the Lord because they did not like being told what to do. There were always consequences to the bad behavior of my former stepsons. It would take a while for me to get to the point of being tired of the constant disobedience but you do get there and those were bad times in the house. Just as we will see here in the rest of Numbers, there were consequences to be paid for disobedience. God got fed up. He said you are on restrictions for the rest of your life. You are restricted from the Promised Land. Only your children will inherit the Promised Land not you.

 

Is this God of wrath stuff? No. When you read the litany of disobediences that lead up to the banishing then you understand why God did what He did. Just as parents of boys can get fed up with their constant pushing of the limits and stepping over the lines in the sand. In the same way, God lets you and me suffer the consequences of our non-biblical decisions. Speaking of my second marriage, don’t think for a minute that I do not see that my making a woman my god and access to sex my god that God allowed me to walk down that path. He said OK if you want to put a woman before me, how bout this, I am going to let you suffer through the whole second marriage thing with my kids vs. your kids, girls vs. boys thing. I am going to give you some tough boys to raise. I am going to allow you to have this whole kids thing to become the focus of your marriage rather than what you wanted and thought this marriage was going to be about. All of our ungodly decisions have consequences that we do not count on. God allows us to live with the results of our bad choices that are in disobedience to His Word.

 

But the crazy thing is that He still loves us while we are mired in the results of our decisions that are against His will. He will always be there when we get sick and tired of being mired in the just punishment that we deserve. When we come to Him in true repentance, He will show us the path to righteousness. He will show us the way out of the mess that we have made for ourselves. Even when we are a stiff-necked people, God still loves us. But, we must have the scales drop from our eyes that blind us to the reality of the pig sty that we have made of our lives and come to Him in humility. We must repent and seek the favor of the Lord through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross for our sins. We will be restored through Christ to a right relationship with Him. He will then allow us to enter the Promised Land.

 

Amen and Amen.

Romans 13:1-7 — Obedience to authority. Wow, this passage is a tough one. In a day and age where governments seem to be growing more and more hostile to Christian values, this one is a really tough one. What is Paul really saying to us here.

First, I think that Paul is saying that we should not be the origin of disobedience or evil in society. As Christ followers, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard than that of general society. We should obey the laws of our society whenever possible. We should not blatantly disobey laws for our own advantage. For example, we should pay our taxes and be honest in preparing our tax returns of any kind. We should apply Christian principles in our dealings with one another and with our government at whatever level. We should apply God’s law and Christian values in our day to day living and in our dealing with governments. May it never be said of us Christ followers that we are not open, honest, and transparent in our dealings with society at large or with our government. The hallmark of Christian character has to be integrity. Thus, we should not be examples of those who simply disobey the law because it is to our advantage, or that we are lazy, or that we might gain some edge by not obeying the law.

Second, I think it is a call to us to do more than complain about our government. If we as Christians are so dissatisfied with government and its policies, let’s mobilize and elect leaders who have Christian values. Let’s mobilize and run for office at the local, regional, state, and national levels. You see all over Facebook how my fellow Christians and often myself decry the loss of values in our nation. We often decry that our society has gone to crap. We often decry how our elected officials are doing wrong and we act like they were magically appointed over us. We talk about they instead of us. We act has if we had played no part in electing officials. We take this detached view that “they” are taking our rights away, “they” are abridging my freedoms. How did “they” get into this position? They were elected. They were not appointed. We, as in the general populous, elected them. We act like people in Washington are this evil dictatorship, but they were ELECTED by us. It is time for us as Christians to engage our society. We are not giving them any alternatives than dirty rotten scoundrels. We are not running for office. We are just sitting back and complaining and allowing evil to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we don’t take this thing seriously, our rights will be abridged. If we don’t influence government from the inside, how can we sit here and complain about same-sex marriage, about lost freedoms, about the expansion of government into areas not intended by the constitution. If we don’t run for office in droves at all levels, we cannot change the direction of our government. It is not a they thing. It is a lack of options for our voters. Let’s return our government to Christian values by being city councilmen, by being commissioners, by being county councilmen, by being mayor, by being state representatives, by being state senators, by being governor, by being senators, by being president. Let us give the voters alternatives. Without alternatives, voters have a choice between two immoral and non-Christian candidates, what do you think our government is going to look like. If you keep doing what you’re doing, you are going to keep getting what you get. If we as Christians are doing nothing, how do we expect the government to change. We can no longer sit in our ivory towers and decry what is happening to our government. We must do more than sit behind our fences and comment on society. We must get out there an actively change it for the better. Talk. Talk. Talk. It is just that. Action. Action. Action not words!

Finally, if government has gone too far and abuses its power and is oppressive. If it has gone too far and we are not able to change it from within. What then? Do we obey governments when they are killing their own citizens. Do we obey governments when they are imprisoning people for no reason and without trial? Do we hand over sermons to a city government that disagrees with our opposition to their gay agenda? Do we obey that which is blatantly evil. As we see in my writing here, there are progressive levels. We are not to create anarchy ourselves. We should never be the origin of the reasons to disobey government. Next, if we don’t like our government we should change it and influence it from the inside. What if none of that works. What if being Christian involves being imprisoned and persecuted for no other reason than being Christian? What if we find ourselves living under a dictator who is hell bent on raping his country and oppressing his people for his own personal gain and preservation. In these cases, I think Paul expects to hold ourselves to God’s standards in how we act ourselves. I think Paul expects us to measure our governments in this way, too. If governments are disrespecting basic human dignity, disrepecting human rights, treating people as if they are not made in the image of God by treating them like vermin, killing them if they do deny their faith in Jesus Christ, we must oppose governments. We must do so in peaceful ways however. We must be willing to be martyrs for our beliefs. We must not return evil with evil. We must be willing to die rather renounce Jesus. Maybe, through our willingness to die for Jesus’ name brings glory to God and brings change to society. Martin Luther King and Gandhi changed their worlds more with their peaceful protests and principled action that by anything the Black Panthers here or Indian militants there ever did. We stand firm. We help others who are oppressed. We do so through peaceful means. We hold to our Christian values even if it means imprisonment or death. We do not meet violence with violence. We do not initiate violence to get what we want. Jesus changed the entire world without a gun or a spear. That should be how we change society – with the love of Jesus.

Father, help me never to be the origin of evil in my society. Help me to have integrity and display it in everything that I do especially in front of non-believers. May my integrity in a world that is generally without it be a witness to the unsaved as to what Christians are all about. Help me too Father to quit complaining about the direction of my nation’s government at all levels and do something about it from the inside. Further, Father, please help me to never compromise my faith in your Son just to survive. Help me to stand firm in my faith and never cave in before those who would kill me for not renouncing my faith. Help me to hold fast to your Word daily as governments slowly try to chip away at Christian values. Help those who are currently suffering oppressive regimes. Help me to be motivated to help them. It is in the name of your precious Son, Jesus Christ, that I pray this prayer. Amen.