Posts Tagged ‘God’s sovereignty’

Joshua 11:1-15 (Part 1 of 2)

Israel Defeats the Northern Armies

Here in this passage, we see that God has instructed Joshua to do certain things and Joshua carries these instructions out completely without question. I think that Joshua learned his lesson about either not consulting God and as a result not carrying out God’s instructions from his experiences with the Gibeonites and with the defeat at Ai.

 

This morning, all I can think of at the moment is that song by Bethel Music (featuring Kathleen DeMarco) entitled “It is Well (With My Soul)”. It is a modernization and remake of a remake of a remake of the original hymn penned by Horatio Spafford and the music was composed by Philip Bliss. The story behind the words of the song is as a remarkable story as is the song itself.

 

This hymn was written after traumatic events in Spafford’s life. The first was the death of his son at the age of 2 and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which ruined him financially (he had been a successful lawyer and had invested significantly in property in the area of Chicago that was extensively damaged by the great fire). His business interests were further hit by the economic downturn of 1873, at which time he had planned to travel to Europe with his family on the SS Ville du Havre. In a late change of plan, he sent the family ahead while he was delayed on business concerning zoning problems following the Great Chicago Fire. While crossing the Atlantic, the ship sank rapidly after a collision with a sea vessel, the Loch Earn, and all four of Spafford’s daughters died. His wife Anna survived and sent him the now famous telegram, “Saved alone …”. Shortly afterwards, as Spafford traveled to meet his grieving wife, he was inspired to write these words as his ship passed near where his daughters had died.

 

Now let us read the words of the remake by Bethel Music:

 

Grander earth has quaked before

Moved by the sound of His voice

Seas that are shaken and stirred

Can be calmed and broken for my regard

 

Through it all, through it all

My eyes are on You

Through it all, through it all

It is well

 

Through it all, through it all

My eyes are on You

It is well with me

 

Far be it from me to not believe

Even when my eyes can’t see

 

And this mountain that’s in front of me

Will be thrown into the midst of the sea

 

Through it all, through it all

My eyes are on You

Through it all, through it all

It is well

 

So let go my soul and trust in Him

The waves and wind still know His name [repeat last line during 3rd run]

[x3]

 

It is well with my soul

It is well with my soul

It is well with my soul

It is well with my soul

[repeat 3x]

 

It is well it is well with my soul [x3]

ahhhhhhh (softly)

 

Through it all, through it all

My eyes are on You Lord

Through it all, through it all

It is well with me.

[x2]

 

Horatio could not understand why his family had been devastated in the way that it was. We still do not know, but his faith in God gave us so much out of that tragedy. This beautiful song that has given so many so much hope over the past 150 years. This latest rendition of the song would have made Horatio proud. I think he wanted people to feel the strength of his heart and his faith in God through his tragedy. Spafford, his wife, and the two children they had eventually settled in Jerusalem and ran a help agency there that helped people regardless of religious affiliation, be they Christian, Jew or Muslim. Thousands of locals were helped by Horatio and his family. This may have not occurred had the tragedy not happened. Horatio may have continued working as a businessmen and real estate developer in Chicago. He was saved by his business interests in Chicago while his family went ahead of him. His family died but he didn’t. He was devastated and it took years to recover but had the tragedy not happened he may not have become the inspirational figure that he became.

 

Sometimes we don’t understand why things happen the way they do or why God asks us to obey him when it really doesn’t make sense to us. Like here in the Lyman-Duncan-Wellford, SC area, we had the fifth teenager at Byrnes High School to die accidently within the last 15 months, the second one to drown in that time span. Why did this happen? What good can come from it? We question God at these times. But we must come back to the trust in God that He sees things that we cannot and sometimes we have no other thing to do but to trust that He knows what He is doing.

 

That is what came to mind this morning as I read through this passage. What came to mind was how Joshua just simply obey. Just simply trusted. And followed God’s instructions to the letter. Let’s read it now together:

 

11 When Jabin king of Hazor heard of this, he sent word to Jobab king of Madon, to the kings of Shimron and Akshaph, 2 and to the northern kings who were in the mountains, in the Arabah south of Kinnereth, in the western foothills and in Naphoth Dor on the west; 3 to the Canaanites in the east and west; to the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites and Jebusites in the hill country; and to the Hivites below Hermon in the region of Mizpah. 4 They came out with all their troops and a large number of horses and chariots—a huge army, as numerous as the sand on the seashore. 5 All these kings joined forces and made camp together at the Waters of Merom to fight against Israel.

 

6 The Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them, because by this time tomorrow I will hand all of them, slain, over to Israel. You are to hamstring their horses and burn their chariots.”

 

7 So Joshua and his whole army came against them suddenly at the Waters of Merom and attacked them, 8 and the Lord gave them into the hand of Israel. They defeated them and pursued them all the way to Greater Sidon, to Misrephoth Maim, and to the Valley of Mizpah on the east, until no survivors were left. 9 Joshua did to them as the Lord had directed: He hamstrung their horses and burned their chariots.

 

10 At that time Joshua turned back and captured Hazor and put its king to the sword. (Hazor had been the head of all these kingdoms.) 11 Everyone in it they put to the sword. They totally destroyed[a] them, not sparing anyone that breathed, and he burned Hazor itself.

 

12 Joshua took all these royal cities and their kings and put them to the sword. He totally destroyed them, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded. 13 Yet Israel did not burn any of the cities built on their mounds—except Hazor, which Joshua burned. 14 The Israelites carried off for themselves all the plunder and livestock of these cities, but all the people they put to the sword until they completely destroyed them, not sparing anyone that breathed. 15 As the Lord commanded his servant Moses, so Moses commanded Joshua, and Joshua did it; he left nothing undone of all that the Lord commanded Moses.

 

Here, in this passage, as we read it for today, we see that Joshua carefully obeyed all the instructions given by God. This theme of obedience is repeated frequently in the book of Joshua. It is the one part of the believer’s life that the believer can control. We can’t always control our understanding because we may not always have all the facts and must simply trust God. We, also, cannot control how other people treat us or what they do. However, we can control our choice to obey God. Whatever new challenges we may face, the Bible contains relevant instructions that we can choose to ignore or choose to follow. We can choose to ignore or follow what God tells us directly through the Holy Spirit living in us as believers. We have also seen several instances in Joshua where the people did not seek the Lord for guidance and in each case they failed miserably. We may not always understand why God’s Word says what it says or why the Holy Spirit counsels us as He does but it is up to us to realize that God is God and sees more than we can see and that He has our best interest at heart. Obedience thus becomes an act of trust in our mighty omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient God and an act of love toward our loving Father in heaven.

 

Sometimes God does not give us the full picture. He just gives us a glimpse (like a kid peaking through the living room door on Christmas Eve to see if Santa has come yet). We cannot see the whole picture as He can. He is God and sometimes we just have to dig down deep and trust without an answer right this very moment as to why something happened the way it did or why He is asking us to pursue something but does not show us what’s behind Door #1. Sometimes, we just gotta blindly trust God and do what He says, believe in His Fatherly wisdom. We just keep on keeping on. We just obey. We just believe. Sometimes that is what we have to have is that childlike faith sometimes. We may wait a long time, to have the answers to why certain things happen or why God pushes us in a certain direction, but there will be a day when either here on earth or maybe it’s not til we get to heaven that we can look back through God’s eyes and see what and why.

 

Joshua simply obeyed God no matter what the task given. He knew God knew better than he did. Sometimes we have to have that same faith about events that seem unfathomable to us or when God directs us to do things that seem crazy by worldly standards. Or when God makes us wait and wait and wait for Him to make our path clear. Or whatever it is that you don’t understand that God is doing in your life. Sometimes we just gotta trust the Big Guy. Sometimes we gotta trust when we don’t understand. We gotta trust when everything in us screams that it’s not right and it’s not fair.

 

God has never failed us and He never will. So we just trust and obey. So that it will be well with our soul. Sometimes the darkest hours in our lives is where we learn to let go of our desire to control the world and just simply trust in the Lord. Then it is well. It is well. It is well. With my soul!

 

Amen and Amen.

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

The Israelites Defeat Ai

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 3:1-11

Victory over Og of Bashan

Yesterday, we talked about how sometimes conflict is unavoidable. Situations and circumstances, people and their immovable positions often force us to take a stand for what we believe is right. So, today, let’s take a look at it from the perspective of being forced or feeling forced into conflict and you accept that challenge. What now? What do you do? You are a person that likes to avoid conflict at all costs but you are in it now! What now?

 

Being a person who avoids conflict at all costs, any conflict seems like an insurmountable conflict. What do you do? For me, one of those times was at work. At my job, the company that I work for, Fujikura America, Inc. (FAI) is a legal subsidiary of its American sister company, America Fujikura, Ltd. (AFL). However, from an operational perspective, we report our results to both companies’ ultimate parent company in Japan, Fujikura, Ltd. (FJK), separately. We report managerially separately, too. There is a separate chain of command and we have a separate president from AFL. However, from a legal perspective, we are a subsidiary of AFL. It can cause confusion for us, much less you reading this. In November 2013, Japan felt it was best that we quit using our separate accounting systems and use the same accounting system as AFL. The implementation was like that of a big brother thinking that anything that little brother did was silly and insignificant. As a result, they did not put much effort into our implementation. Nowhere in the process did they ever tell us that there were two levels to the general ledger system where AFL corporate personnel could make entries to FAI’s books in what is known as the consolidated ledger in addition to what we used for the normal operations of FAI in what is known as the local ledger. This became important in the looming conflict that I will tell you about. As part of our switching to their general ledger system, we were also forced to join their centralized banking program, too. This plays a role in the conflict as well. Centralized cash and them being able to make entries to my books at the consolidated ledger level is the crux of the conflict to come, in addition to poor implementation training.

 

After the rocky road of the initial implementation of AFL’s general ledger system at FAI, we finally were able to understand the system and make it work for us three months after the conversion. Those first three months were a nightmare that I won’t talk about here but it was just rough as hell, know that. So from January 2014 to March 2014, we thought we were smooth sailing again after the conversion. However, in April, at the year-end audit of AFL and its legal subs, including FAI, it came to light that what I had been reporting to Japan did not match the financials that the auditors were getting from the general ledger system on an AFL consolidated basis. It was a major issue. It almost cost me my job. It was a conflict of the highest order. Come to find out, AFL’s corporate finance group was routinely making cash entries at the consolidated ledger level of FAI’s books. I was reporting to Japan only what was in our local ledger books. I was never told that they would be making entries to my books without my knowledge. AFL corporate personnel were throwing me under the bus by saying that I was keeping my own set of books as if I was being fraudulent in some way. My contention to Japan as all this came to a head, where my job was on the line was that:

 

  • Training on the all the ins and outs of the general ledger system that they forced us to use was shoddy at best. It may have been great for operations personnel (customer service, billing, and accounts payable) but general ledger training was almost non-existent.
  • Never were we told that manual journal entries were going to be made by corporate personnel in this “consolidated ledger” level of our books that only corporate has access to.
  • I contended that the “consolidation ledger” should be used only to consolidate our data with all the other business units and not for making actual journal entries.
  • I contended too that if I am being held responsible for the books of FAI, which I am, then, I need to be informed of any entries being made to my books so that I can review and approve of them.

 

There were about 3 months from April – June 2014 where I was uncertain if I was going to survive this crisis. I think that the only thing that saved me from being thrown under the bus completely without being vindicated was my track record with the company over the previous 6 years before the crisis. I was the one that moved FAI’s finance group from complete disarray into the most reliable financial reporting group among the US group of Fujikura companies. Never had there been any audit findings regarding FAI Finance before this. And I had a reputation within the group for having the cleanest and tightest set books in the group of companies. Why then all of a sudden would AFL accuse me of being fraudulent in some way. There had to be a reason for the crisis. It was the new general ledger system and it was how they were using it.

 

Since AFL had grown into a large organization but the AFL corporate finance organization had not grown to match, it was often easier for them to make adjusting entries at the corporate level on the books of the subs rather than make the subsidiary adjust their books. It had become a habit. Because they had not fully trained us on the general ledger and not made us responsible for recording our cash activity from the new banking system, all those cash inflow and outflow entries from the centralized cash management program were not being recorded manually at our local level of our books. They were just booking it at the corporate consolidated level of our books. Not knowing that I had to report to Japan both what they were doing to our books at the corporate level in addition to all the regular activity in our local level of our books, you can see how the conflict arose.

 

You can ask my wife, as I had to explain and defend myself over a three month period, I would literally come home and cry on her shoulder. It was seemingly an insurmountable war in which I was in the middle of this huge fight that I did not want to be in and was not really of my making. The biggest thing that I would cry about was that people were questioning my integrity when it was really about the lack of training and the lack of communication with regard to this new general ledger system. It was a nightmarish time. My wife and I prayed constantly during these three months and it seemed bleak at times. It was like being on trial for a crime that you did not commit. It was like going to battle against a great army and you were just a bunch of ill-equipped revolutionaries. It was a time that I was humbled before the Lord. I laid it at his feet and just had to trust that the man the Lord had made me into over the years since salvation would trump this temporary maelstrom.

 

It was that idea of simply having to lay it at the Lord’s feet and trust that God will deliver you against what seem like insurmountable odds is what I thought of when I read this passage. Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt to prove it. Let’s read this passage, Deuteronomy 3:1-11:

 

3 Next we turned and went up along the road toward Bashan, and Og king of Bashan with his whole army marched out to meet us in battle at Edrei. 2 The Lord said to me, “Do not be afraid of him, for I have delivered him into your hands, along with his whole army and his land. Do to him what you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon.”

3 So the Lord our God also gave into our hands Og king of Bashan and all his army. We struck them down, leaving no survivors. 4 At that time we took all his cities. There was not one of the sixty cities that we did not take from them—the whole region of Argob, Og’s kingdom in Bashan. 5 All these cities were fortified with high walls and with gates and bars, and there were also a great many unwalled villages. 6 We completely destroyed[a] them, as we had done with Sihon king of Heshbon, destroying[b] every city—men, women and children. 7 But all the livestock and the plunder from their cities we carried off for ourselves.

 

8 So at that time we took from these two kings of the Amorites the territory east of the Jordan, from the Arnon Gorge as far as Mount Hermon. 9 (Hermon is called Sirion by the Sidonians; the Amorites call it Senir.) 10 We took all the towns on the plateau, and all Gilead, and all Bashan as far as Salekah and Edrei, towns of Og’s kingdom in Bashan. 11 (Og king of Bashan was the last of the Rephaites. His bed was decorated with iron and was more than nine cubits long and four cubits wide.[c] It is still in Rabbah of the Ammonites.)

 

Here, in this passage, you will remember from Numbers, of which this passage is a recap, that the Israelites faced a big problem when it came to battle King Og. His army was well-trained and all of the major cities were well fortified. The Israelites hardly stood a chance. But they won because God fought for them. God can help His people regardless of the problems they face. No matter how insurmountable the obstacles may seem, we must remember that God is sovereign and He will protect those who earnestly seek after Him. We can place our hope and confidence in Him to protect us and keep us safe even in the worst of the storms of life. We must cling to the hope that He provides us. God is the creator of the universe. Let us remember that. He is greater than any created thing. He is therefore greater than any problem that we face.

 

When you are in a conflict that is forced upon you, when you are having to stand up against the tide, when you are in a fight and you wish you were not in it, and you are afraid, and you feel all alone, remember that God is with us. He is our Emmanuel. He will never forsake us. Often, it is in the storms of life that we learn how to truly love the Lord. The storms teach us that we are insufficient to go up against what we are facing but that He is. It teaches us to be thankful for His sovereignty over us and over all creation. Trust in the Lord in the storm. He will deliver you just as He has delivered me on countless occasions. I love the Lord because He has seen me through many a storm and has set me safely on the shore each time.  Without fail. It makes me trust Him more and more with each storm. Trust in Him.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 1:1-5

Introduction to Moses’ First Address

It is Thanksgiving Day in America today. It is a time of reflection. It is a time of looking back at the road that has led to this point in time. Sometimes you wonder why all the twists and turns have occurred. Why did you have to go through all the stuff to get where you are. Wouldn’t have been easier if we had just taken a straight line to where you are now. A lot of times, we say, “Man, if I only knew then what I know now, things would be so different!” When you think of the twists and turns of your life, man, it is right. If we knew then what we know now, we wouldn’t have made some of the choices that we made.

 

For example, with me, I think of some of the choices that I have made or the choices that were made for me. As many of you know, I grew up as a Methodist preacher’s kid. One of the most fateful decisions of my life was made for me as a result of being a Methodist preacher’s kid. The Methodist Church in South Carolina in its wisdom thought it was best to move my dad from his appointment as the Associate Pastor (the only time he was not the head pastor) at Trinity UMC in Anderson, SC to Travelers Rest & Jackson Grove United Methodist churches in Travelers Rest, SC back in 1976 when I was about to turn 14. What if? That one move of all the moves that we made when I was growing up affected the entire trajectory of my life. That was the most fateful move of the history of my life. That move. That move, everything hinges on it. I often wonder what if when it comes to that move. What if my dad had gotten moved somewhere else. I would have never met Lisa, who became my first wife, and would not have had to go through all the stuff that I went through with. With the marriage to her and her having a handicapped mother to care, we ended up staying in Greenville. There were opportunities to move away from the Greenville area that I had to turn down because of the whole situation with her mother. I would never had to suffer through her addictions and the pain and suffering that I had to go through because of that.

 

What if I had broken up with Lisa while were dating in high school? That would have changed everything. There was one girl, Mindy Walker, that I would have broken up with Lisa for but did not have quite the cuhanas to do it. I often wonder how that would have changed my life. Mindy wanted me to be her boyfriend but I was too, what amounts to being, scared of Lisa’s wrath to ever go through with it. Mindy was so much calmer and less volatile than Lisa. That was a missed opportunity that I wonder what would have happened to my life if I had taken that path – the Mindy project, the Mindy path. What would my life had been like. Where would I be right now?

 

What if I would have gone to Clemson University for college like I wanted to? Instead of staying home in Greenville and going to Furman University so that I could stay near Lisa. I know most likely if I had gone just an hour away from Greenville and went to Clemson that hour away would have changed everything. It most likely would have caused Lisa and me to drift apart. It would have become harder and harder to leave Tiger Town and come home every weekend because of the things I would have become involved in over at Clemson. Probably a fraternity. I would have met people that would have changed my life. Lisa and I would most likely have broken up over that hour away in Clemson. What would have my life have been like if I had gone to Clemson and met a Clemson girl? What would have my college experience been like? Where would I be now if I had met and married a Clemson girl? What would I be doing? Where would I be living?

 

What if I had never accepted that job at Dunlop Slazenger Corporation (DSC) where I met Trena. After all the drug addiction, drama, manipulativeness, and vindictiveness that I suffered through with Lisa, Trena was a breath of fresh air. A breath of sanity. A breath of normalness. I would have never met her if I had not accepted the job at DSC. I would have never fell madly in love with her and left Lisa. That marriage proved to be just as painful as the first. Trena hated anything to do with my past. I ended up cutting myself off from friends from my past and from my family. The whole my kids vs. your kids thing wound up destroying that marriage. What if I had more balls to stand up to her and say that I am going to do more than just what was legally necessary for my children. What if I had not been so addicted to access to female charms? What if? What if I had not met her? What if I had gone to work somewhere else and found someone else at a different place of employment. What would my life be like now? I would not have had to move away from Greenville finally after 28 years just to get away from my past and make more money because I was the only one funding my oldest daughther’s college experience at Clemson? Where would I be now?

 

The circuitous route of my life would be totally different if I had not moved to Travelers Rest. It would be totally different if I had gone to Clemson instead of Furman. The trajectory of my life would be totally different if I had not gone to work at Dunlop Slazenger Corporation. All the pain and suffering that I have gone through in my life may have not occurred if I had not met Lisa or met Trena. Things would be so different now. If I had only made different choices!

 

But then I think. If I had not met Lisa (even with all the pain that relationship caused), I would not have my wonderful daughters, Meghan and Taylor. Sure, I would have children but they would not be Meghan and Taylor. Those unique, quirky, wonderful daughters that they are. If I had not met Trena, I would not appreciate the relationship that I have with my children now (because I almost lost total touch with my own kids during my marriage to Trena). If I had not met Trena, I would not know about the fact that I was giving up my soul because of access to sex. If I had not met Trena, I would have never known the pain and suffering of withdrawing from making a person your god. I would not know of the fact that I could actually make it on my own without a woman in my life. If I had not met Lisa and Trena, I would not have learned to be more frugal with money. While married to these ladies, I sold my credit rating down the river just to make them happy. If I had not met and married these ladies and lived in the places that I lived and lived the lifestyles that I lived with them, I would not have moved to Rock Hill, SC after 30 years in the Greenville, SC area. If I had not known the life that I lived in Greenville, I would have never been ready to met my wife that I have now, Elena.

 

For having the past that I had with my previous wives, I would not have such a great appreciation that I have a great friend, my best friend, in her. I would not appreciate that we have friendship that extends beyond the bedroom into the living room. I would not appreciate how we have worked so incredibly hard to restore my credit to the point that I don’t have to make exceptions for my credit anymore. We have worked hard to save and work toward living with less and less debt. We have worked hard to be in a position to be generous. We have been blessed so much through our obedience to God that He has generously blessed us in so many ways. I wonder what my life would be like if I had not met Elena. I shutter at the thought. With being married to her, I have learned about unconditional love from her. With Elena, she is my accountability partner when it comes to my relationship with the Lord. With Elena, I know of comfort and security. I praise God for the lack of drama in our marriage. She is my resting place. She is my high ground above the floods that were my life.

 

Without my past, I would not know of the peace and serenity of my present. Without my past, I could not really appreciate the soundness of my present. Without the missed turns and twists in the road of my life, I would not know of the easy stream that I am floating down now. I know that I am blessed right now. I know that I have it good right now. It is not an expectation. It is an appreciation. If I did not have my past, I could not appreciate my present. A good wife. A good life. A generous life. A blessed life. A life where I appreciate the joy of a grandchild. All of the roses of my life now would not smell so sweet if it were not for my past.

 

The thanksgiving for where I am today is what I thought of when I read today’s passage. That thanksgiving comes from seeing where you are after all you have been through is what I thought of. Let’s read it together:

 

1 These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the wilderness east of the Jordan—that is, in the Arabah—opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth and Dizahab. 2 (It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road.)

 

3 In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses proclaimed to the Israelites all that the Lord had commanded him concerning them. 4 This was after he had defeated Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, and at Edrei had defeated Og king of Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth.

 

5 East of the Jordan in the territory of Moab, Moses began to expound this law, saying

 

The Israelites spend 40 years on a journey that should have lasted 11 days at the time. It wasn’t distance that stood between them and the Promised Land. It was the condition of their hearts. God’s purpose went deeper than simply transporting a large group of people from one place to another. He was preparing them to live in obedience to Him once they arrived. What good was the Promised Land if the Israelites were just as wicked as the people living there? The journey was a painful but necessary part of their preparation. Through it, God taught the Israelites who He is – the living God, the Leader of their Nation. He also taught them who they were: people who were fallen, sinful, prone to rebellion, and doubt. He have His rebellious people the law to help them understand, how to relate to God and other people.

 

For you and me, our spiritual journey may be lengthy and we may face pain, discouragement, and difficulties. But remember, God is not simply keeping you alive to experience these things. He is preparing you to live for service and devotion to Him. The roads we travel are not wasted. God is preparing us for what He has next for us. Nothing is random. Nothing is purposeless.

 

On this Thanksgiving Day, I thank God for the twists and turns of my life. It makes me who I am today. It makes me appreciate the calm waters upon which I sail right now. Without the wilderness of my past life, I could not truly appreciate the Promised Land in which I live now. Thank you Lord. I enter Your gates with thanksgiving and Your courts with praise. Thank you Lord for the wilderness. It has made me see your hand in my life. I am thankful for you placing me on the high ground. It is not lost on me that I am blessed beyond all that I could imagine or hope for.

 

Amen and Amen.

Matthew 2:13-18 — When we read this passage, we are often thankful for Jesus being able to escape into Egypt, but we often ignore the hard question. In the beautiful story of Jesus’ birth, there is this ugly episode involving King Herod. There is a fundamentally hard question that often we Christians ignore because it is so hard to answer, particularly in the midst of this story that we tell our children over and over at Christmas time. With all of the “good vibrations” of the Christmas holiday, all the syrupy-sweet warm fuzzies our culture builds into the holiday, and especially here in the church where we celebrate our Savior’s birth and focus on its actual meaning…. Still, it’s kind of shocking, to be faced with such a gruesome story.

In this passage, we learn that Joseph is warned by an angel to flee into Egypt. Because Herod had learned of the Magi left town without re-visiting him he was enraged because they took with them the knowledge of the whereabouts of the would-be king, the Christ. Therefore, to cover his bases to keep a supposed rival king from arising from his midst, he ordered having all children under the age of two that resided in Bethlehem murdered. Although there has been conjecture as to whether this actually happened or not, it is completely consistent with the paranoid defense of his throne that Herod displayed during his reign which is well documented outside the Bible. He killed several of his sons and at least his first wife because of his fears that they were plotting to take his throne among many other such killngs. The fact that Bethlehem was so small at the time there was very few children under the age of two resided in Bethlehem (probably less than 10 in a town of approximately 300 at the time of Jesus’ birth). Therefore, to me, this did indeed happen.

This brings us to a troubling question, we can understand why Jesus was spared. He was God’s own Son, but why were the innocent children (even if it was actually less than 10) not spared from the mania of a diabolical earthly ruler? Did God allow this to happen just to fulfill the prophecies of Hosea 11:1 (out of Egypt I will call my son) and of Jeremiah 31:15 (A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more). Seems like God is either very callous in keeping to his prophecy fulfillment timetable or He is a weak God that cannot prevent such things from happening. We may not speak it out loud but we think it in today’s world when natural disasters happen or especially when senseless acts of violence happen. We certainly must ask this question here when there is this truly evil act of senseless violence.

This is a fundamental question of faith. Many people disdain the Old Testament today because of its violence and all the smiting that went on and the wiping out of entire groups of people. They say they are just going to stick with the New Testament. But here in the New Testament, you have this act of pure evil in which numerous innocents died, simply because of their age. So, this is a question we must deal with at some point or another. It is an ever present one in the Bible and it is an ever present one in our day and age. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why did 09/11/01 happen? Why did Columbine happen? Why did the Japanese earthquake and tsunami happen? Why did Emmanuel AME happen here in our state just a few short weeks ago? Just this week, why did two fun-loving energetic young people who were in the midst of advancing their television careers get gunned down for senseless reasons? We avoid this question and it seems that with all the background and examples I am laying down in this blog that I am too. This question brings us into several doctrines that are fundamental to the Christian faith.

First, we as Christians believe that man is born with a sin nature. As a result, evil exists. Paul says, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. With sin comes evil. Since the entrance of sin in the world, we see man unloading unspeakable evils upon one another beginning with Cain and Abel and degenerating from there. Evil is a real thing. Sin is a real thing. As we remember from Genesis, even the ground was cursed. Our planet suffers the effects of sin and evil. And Paul says even the ground groans under the weight of sin and wishes for the day when Jesus will return. Thus we live in a world filled with sin and on a planet groaning from the effects of sin. Because of the evil than can often go unchecked in the hands of someone in power such as a despotic king like Herod, unspeakable atrocities such as this can occur. Look at Hitler in Europe. He was essentially a king with no checks on his power. The holocaust was the result, World War II was the result, evil on a grand scale. Outside the Christian faith, many try to speak of the basic goodness of man. It is just not true. We are evil at our core. Just look at all the attempts at utopian societies. Each one has ultimately failed because of greed caused by the innate evil nature of man. This scene from Matthew is evidence of the fact that man is evil. Because of this evil nature of man, it amply points out our everpresent need for a Savior.

Second, God gave man free will. We have the power to choose our actions on a daily basis. In our free will, we daily choose to disobey God. When we sin, it has ripple effects. Our sins impact other people. Herod’s sins are all on display here and throughout his rein his sins have devastating effects on many, many people. We think of the children murdered here. But think of our own evil actions and the long lasting impacts they have on others. Just think of the disastrous effects of adultery on families. It may feel good to the person enjoying a dangerous liasons where the sex is fun and secretive and you may even be able to justify in your mind why you are doing it, but the ripple effects destroy families. Adultery impacts children deeply and can often ruin their lives. Adultery can have impacts for generations. Evil upon evil is dumped on all of us from the actions of others and our sins are dumped on other people too. Free will, what a dangerous thing that was that God gave us. It has had disastrous effects. It has been God’s grand experiment gone wrong it seems. Like leaving your kids home on the weekend while you and your spouse go on a weekend getaway and the house gets trashed in the process. However, free will with all his resulting troubles is necessary in God’s plan. It is a risk that He is willing to take. If we were robots of God, we would robotically obey God. He wants us to choose Him, not robotically obey Him. With free will, we come to God and seek Him out. With free will, we choose to reject evil and our evil ways and repent. With free will, we understand why we need a Savior. With free will, we have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. So, free will enables us to choose, but because of the sin of Adam, we choose evil over good and bad things happen to us and everyone around us. In our free will, we sin and we definitely need a Savior.

Third, we find the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. In this scene, we completely do not understand it. We do not understand it when a 16 year old is killed in a car accident. We certainly do not understand it when a mother who has sweet innocent children at hope is murdered. We certainly do not understand it when a young woman is raped and murdered. We certainly do not understand it when planes crash. We certainly do not understand it when a young man walks into a church and murders 9 people for no other reason that the fact that they were there. Sometimes, when the inexplicable happens, we simply have to trust that God has a purpose and plan in it all. We don’t have to understand it sometimes. We may even get angry at God about it at times. But ultimately God is sovereign and He does not have to explain Himself to us. Many times though we can ultimately see what His plan was. Often out of bad things, good things come. Often people’s eyes are opened. Often in our loss for words and explanations for life’s events, we see that we do not have all the answers and that we need God. Often bad things happen cause us to see our sins for what they are. Often bad things happen to force us to see our need for a Savior. I am not saying that this is why God allows what seems as a bad things in our limited nature to us. I don’t know that. Because God ways are higher than my ways I will never truly understand Him fully in this my limited nature in this human life. However, I am just saying that there are often the results of bad things happening is that we are drawn closer to the Almighty, All-Knowing God. It is often true that bad things happening show us the limited nature of our life and it points us to our need for a Savior. Bad things happening often force us to take stock of our mortality and forces us to our knees to see that we definitely need a Savior.

Tomorrow, we will look at this passage one more time from the point of view of the parallel of Jesus’ life and the history of Israel. But for today, we are dealing with this tough question. Sin. Free Will. God’s Sovereignty. Evil in the world. The tough questions of our faith. Right here in the middle of the nativity scene that we make so sweet at Christmas. Our faith forces us to deal with tough questions all the time. When we deal with these tough questions head on, we will, I think, grow in our faith. When we deal with the tough questions of life, we begin to understand why we believe what we believe and it all starts making sense and strengthens our faith and strengthens our belief in our need for a Savior. It demonstrates the wonderful grace that we live under in the name of Jesus Christ, the central character that was spared in this scene from Matthew 2:13-18.

Luke 1:5-25 — Prayers of the faithful are answered. It may not be today. It may not be tomorrow. But, God does answer the prayers of those who seek His will in His own due time. Remember when you were a kid and your parents made you wait 30 minutes after lunch by the pool or the lake before you could go swimming. Those waiting periods were excruuuuuuccccciiiiaaaaating. Remember the long trips in the car on family trips…are we there yet? Are we there yet? It’s kind of like that for today’s devotional.

Zechariah and Elizabeth didn’t merely go through the motions in following God’s law. They backed up their outward compliance with God’s law with inward obedience. Unlike the religious leaders whom Jesus called hypocrites, they did not stop with the letter of the law. Their obedience call from the heart and this is why they were called “righteous in God’s eyes.” God answers the prayers of those who earnestly seek Him. Do you think that God will answer the prayers of those who are not seeking to be in alignment with His will. It is clear from scripture that God not only hears prayers of His saints, but that He also answers their prayers. God says to Christians that He will listen to your prayers. However, our prayers must be in alliance with God’s own, perfect will (Matt. 26:39). Our prayers must be after God’s own heart. We must seek His will. However, the question remains, does God answer the prayers of unbelievers? I Peter 3:12 plainly says that God will hear a believer’s prayer but not those of the unsaved: “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” He will answer. The answer may be an immediate yes. It may be a no. It may be a not now. He answers. He answers the priors of those who are submitted to and seek Him. The prayers of those who are evil fall on deaf ears.

In Zechariah and Elizabeth, they were not “for show” believers and they certainly were not non-believers. They were barren with no children. They prayed, and prayed, and prayed for children. The difference between Zechariah and Elizabeth was that they trusted God with the answer. They were righteous people. They were submitted to God’s holy will for their lives. There was pain and suffering. There was humiliation. However, they never gave up on God. They knew that God will answer the prayers of the righteous in one way or another and in His due time. Do you feel like God is not answering your prayers fast enough. When we get angry at God for not showing any sign of having answered our prayers, we are acting as if He is a vending machine God. Push the button, and the answer to the prayer comes out. We in our freeze-dried, microwave, drive-thru, 30 days to a slimmer you, instant coffee, fire the coach if he doesn’t win in 3 seasons, if I don’t like it I will return it kind of world, we have a hard time with God not giving us immediate answers. We want prayer-boom-answer. I am as guilty as anyone. I have finished seminary at age 52 and I am impatient. I want to hear the answer to my prayer now. I must learn the patience of Zechariah and Elizabeth. I must remember Moses had to wait a long, long time in the desert wilderness before He was called. Although lives are shorter now, I must remember that Moses did not begin his ministry until He was ready in God’s eyes – when His earthly life was two-thirds over. We must be understanding of God’s sovereignty and His timing and we must be patient and trusting of the Sovereign Lord of the entire universe, the Sovereign Lord of all eternity. How did Zechariah and Elizabeth not lose faith. They knew that faith involves trust. Faith involves submission. We must trust that God is working, working, working. We must trust that He is wiser than we. We must trust that He wil answer our prayers the way that He as Sovereign Lord wants to answer them.

God often answers the prayers of His faithful in ways far beyond what we could have imagined. For their persistent but trusting prayers, Zechariah and Elizabeth’s prayers were answered mightily in God’s due timing. For their patient trust and their seeking of God’s will, they were to be rewarded with the birth of a son who would make the way for the Messiah. He was to be the forerunner. He was to light the fires. He was to mark the way toward righteousness. He was to call out the hypocrites and point them toward salvation. He was to be John the Baptist. Their prayers were answered in a son. They prayers were answered in an amazing son. God hears your prayers, oh, you who earnestly seek Him. He will do so abundantly. He will answer the prayers of the faithful and will do so in ways we could not have imagined previously. He is a mighty God. When we get ourselves out of the way and our demands for immediate response and seek and believe that God will answer in His way and in His time, He will bless our persistence and our patience and our seeking of His will.

Father, I am flesh and bones. I am flesh and bones in the 21st century where everything is fast, fast, fast. We think our internet is not fast enough when it does not respond in under 1 second. I am impatient. I want my answers from you now, oh Lord. I get frustrated when you don’t give me immediate answers to my prayers. Father, teach me the patience that I need. Father, you know my heart. I am not perfect but I do so love you and what you have already done for me in my salvation through Your Son. Help me to pray for your will not mine. Help me to be patient and perseverant in my prayers to you. Help me more than anything to trust that You are God and You will answer in the way and in the time that You desire as my Sovereign Lord. Please forgive my impatience Lord but please remember my love for you, Oh Lord, Most High. Amen.