Posts Tagged ‘God’s Word’

2 Samuel 16:1-4
David and Ziba

This passage is one of those you just want to shake David and say “Yo! Dude! Wake up! Why can’t you see that this dude is lying to you to get what he wants!” But David just accepts what he has to say and promises him the moon and stars, so to speak. David does not even think of the fact that Mephibosheth was most likely the most loyal person to David ever. It was customary that when a ruler was defeated that his family would be killed as well so that there would be no lineage of that ruler left to reclaim the throne. However, we find in 2 Samuel 4 that Mephibosheth survives.

Mephibosheth had grown and had a son of his own when King David inquired of his whereabouts. King David and Jonathan had been very close friends and became as brothers. Because of their relationship and an oath David made to Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:15-16, 42), he wanted to honor it by finding and caring for Mephibosheth.One of Saul’s servants was questioned and told King David of the young man’s location. Mephibosheth was summoned to appear before the King. Though afraid, Mephibosheth came not knowing if he would be killed or what might happen to him. He was a cripple, had lost his heritage, and lived in a desolate place named Lo Debar. Translated, the name literally means “land of nothing”. Mephibosheth had been reduced to having nothing.

2 Samuel 9 describes the meeting of Mephibosheth and King David. The young man humbly bowed and David told him to not be afraid. “I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul and you will always eat at my table” (2 Samuel 9:7). Mephibosheth bowed and asked why David would “notice a dead dog like me?” in verse 8. Mephibosheth was made the promise that he would be honored with restoration of profits from his grandfather’s wealth and would always eat at the King’s table. This was despite Mephibosheth’s low self-worth, physical handicap, and shame brought to him by his grandfather’s sins, defeat and resulting suicide.

David had shown him great kindness (because of no other reason than he was Jonathan’s son) to take him into the royal household after Mephibosheth’s dad and grandpa died in battle. Being a crippled person in ancient Middle Eastern culture would have meant that, without family, he would have had to resort to begging on street corners and at the entrances to public gathering places such as government buildings, etc. His existence would have been miserable. But by the grace of David wishing to honor the memory of his best friend, Jonathan, Mephibosheth was given a place of honor within David’s palace. He was taken care of and treated with the utmost respect. His life turned out to be far better than it could have been had David not taken him in. You don’t think that Mephibosheth was eternally loyal to David as a result?

So, it simply boggles the mind that David did not ask any questions in this situation. It is probably pretty certain that Mephibosheth over the demonstrated his loyalty to David over the years. But here, David was just so easy to believe what Ziba was saying about Mephibosheth.

That then is the thing that has troubled me since yesterday morning when I first read this passage. What is it that God is trying to teach us in this passage? There is no wasted passage in the Bible. Each passage has something to teach us when we really study a passage. Sometimes, at a surface level reading, we may think of certain passages as throw-away. You know like filler in between important sequences. Like a commercial in strategically placed places in the flow of a movie on television. Strategically placed commercials in a movie give you a break between the heavy action or heavy issue parts of movie where you can catch your breath. It can even be a bathroom break. When we read the Bible at just a surface level some passages just seem like that – you know when you can say I read the Bible in 90 days or something where you speed through it but not really understand or delve into what you are reading. Not that there is anything wrong with a 90 day crash course in reading the Bible from beginning to end (often we need to do that just as a discipline development technique). At a surface level, this seems like a commercial break between the intense passages of 2 Samuel. But when you want to read deep in a passage, this passage kind of stumps you. What is that nugget that God wants us to see? What is that universal truth that God pours out in this passage to help us become more Christ-like.

So, let’s read this passage together and try to figure out what is that single truth that comes out of this passage that God wants us to learn:

Chapter 16
1 When David had gone a little beyond the summit of the Mount of Olives, Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth,[a] was waiting there for him. He had two donkeys loaded with 200 loaves of bread, 100 clusters of raisins, 100 bunches of summer fruit, and a wineskin full of wine.

2 “What are these for?” the king asked Ziba.

Ziba replied, “The donkeys are for the king’s people to ride on, and the bread and summer fruit are for the young men to eat. The wine is for those who become exhausted in the wilderness.”

3 “And where is Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson?” the king asked him.

“He stayed in Jerusalem,” Ziba replied. “He said, ‘Today I will get back the kingdom of my grandfather Saul.’”

4 “In that case,” the king told Ziba, “I give you everything Mephibosheth owns.”

“I bow before you,” Ziba replied. “May I always be pleasing to you, my lord the king.”

In this passage, we have to remember who Mephibosheth was. Mephibosheth was the son of Jonathan, who was the son of King Saul and a special friend of King David. When Mephibosheth was five years old, his father Jonathan was killed in battle. Fearing that the Philistines would seek to take the life of the young boy, a nurse fled with him to Gibeah, the royal residence, but in her haste she dropped him and both of his feet were crippled (2 Samuel 4:4). He was carried to the land of Gilead, where he found refuge in the house of Machir, son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar.

Some years later, when King David had conquered all of Israel’s enemies, he remembered the family of his friend Jonathan (2 Samuel 9:1), and, wishing to display his loving loyalty to Jonathan by ministering to his family, David found out that Mephibosheth was residing in the house of Machir. So he sent royal messengers there, and brought Mephibosheth and his infant son Micah to Jerusalem, where they resided from that point on (2 Samuel 9).

Later, when David invited the Mephibosheth to be part of his court, he entrusted the family property to a steward, Ziba. In this situation, it is more than likely than Ziba was lying in hopes of receiving a reward from David. What blows our mind here is that David believed Ziba’s charge against Mephibosheth without checking into the story or even being skeptical. Once again from David, we learn a lesson in what NOT to do. We cannot be hasty to accept someone’s condemnation of another, especially when the accuser may profit from the other’s downfall. David should have been skeptical of Ziba’s comments (especially knowing the relationship he had with Jonathan’s son and checked the story for himself before he made a snap judgment.

So, I think the issue boils down to one word – discernment. Ziba is doing and saying all the right things here. He is making himself available to the king – bring him transportation, food, etc. In this passage he is making himself look awesomely before the king. However, he is doing it at the expense of others, particularly someone he works closely with and serves – Mephibosheth. We all know or have known someone like this that we have worked with whether it be in volunteer situations or in your office or factory where you work for compensation. There is always that one person that is the slick talking politician type. The one who does whatever it takes to gain the confidence of the boss, CEO, or whatever the head of the organization or department is called. They say all the right things. They are usually very quick thinkers and convert thoughts to speech quickly. They are the ones that will subtly subdue others with their words and slick speech to the point that you admire them. We all know the type. The kind of person that would throw you under the bus and have very beautiful flowery language that almost sounds spiritual as to the justifications for their actions. Discernment is called for with such types of people.

That’s where David fails here. He does utilize discernment and he ends up putting himself in a bad situation. Ultimately, he must fulfill a promise that he should have never made. He should have remembered the loyalty of Mephibosheth and how it did not square with what Ziba was saying. When we hear something about a friend, a co-worker, another volunteer, another church member, another anyone that does not square with what we know about that person, then, we have a duty not to automatically accept the negative words of another person. We must say stop right there. We must say I need to check this out with the person you are talking about. If it is true, I will believe what you are saying. However, right now, I just cannot square what you are saying with what I know about that person. Man, would that stop some gossip in this world! Man, would that stop some organizational politicking in this world!

Discernment is a gift from God. It allows us to see things as they really are rather than what others may want to paint them as being. God is a God of order and unity so we must use the discernment He gives us that bring about discord and disorder. Discernment helps us question things when they are inconsistent with what we know to be true. Discernment helps us apply God’s Word to everyday situations. Discernment helps us to pray to God to reveal the truth to us in controversial situations. Discernment helps us not to jump of the slick politician type’s bandwagon to quickly so as to allow true colors to be revealed. Discernment helps us to remember that we are not here to please people but rather to please God. Discernment helps us to keep the truths of God in the center of everything we do. Discernment helps us to divide popularity seeking from true loyalty. Discernment helps us divide truth from error.

Discernment is a gift from God that David does not seem to have anymore. The whole Bathsheba/Uriah incident seems to have so occupied his mind, heart and soul that he can’t even think straight anymore. When you take David’s life as a whole, he lasting memory is that he was a wise king and a great king but wow in this sequence of his life, his sins have him so wracked with guilt that he just does not display the normal qualities of the godly man that he is. He could have used some discernment before the whole Bathsheba/Uriah incident and maybe he would not be in the position that he is in right now – fleeing from Jerusalem and believing the worst about a dear friend.

Discernment. So that’s the thing we learn from this transitional passage between two heavy hitting sequences of David’s life. Discernment. And you know it leads us to the point that discernment comes from prayer. Discernment comes from God just as wisdom does. Thus, we must ask God to grant it to us through constant prayer. God’s Word provides this gift as well. Watching the completely flawed individuals here in the Bible teaches us about what to do and what not to do. Discernment comes from God. Let us pray for it and cultivate through constant study of God’s Word.
Amen and Amen.

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Deuteronomy 27:1-10

The Altar at Mount Ebal

It is one thing to be accepted as a member of God’s people. It is another to grow up into a mature member of God’s people. The difference is one is a convert and the other is a disciple. Jesus, in the Great Commission, did not say Go and make converts. He said Go and make disciples. Certainly, you cannot make disciples if conversion does not occur first. However, Jesus wanted us to grow people in the faith once they had accepted him as Savior and Lord. That is what many modern churches are dealing with. My church and many like it that have sprung up on the Christian church landscape over the past 20 years specialize in attracting those who have never heard of a relationship with a Savior named Jesus Christ or those who have been away from church for many years.

 

Churches like ours are reaching people with the gospel message in ways that traditional, old-school churches with their denominational affiliation in their name cannot or are not willing to reach. Many people are afraid of churches with denominations in their name. They are afraid of church named after families and have memorial in their name. Many people outside God’s family today are afraid of churches with mammoth buildings made of brick and have three stories of classrooms attached to a large and ornate sanctuary. Many who are far from God are afraid of fancy suits and fashionable dresses. That’s where our church and others like it come in. Our worship center some say looks like a Harley shop with its combination of white and black with orange striping. It is not a brick and mortar building. It is a iron frame building. Our people have always felt that they could come in their blue jeans. It is a come-as-you-are church. We are the classic modern church. We are only 10 years old. We seek and attract those who are far from God. We are what is called a seeker church, an attractional church.

 

We are a toddler of a church compared to many of the traditional churches in our area. One of things that we have come to realize as part of beginning our second decade of existence is that we have had a problem with “stickiness” over the past 3 to 4 years. We grew rapidly in the first 6 to 7 years of our existence. However, during the past three to four years, we have begun losing attendees at about the same rate that we have been attracting new ones. As a result, our growth rate has slowed. What we have learned is that in order to make our church “sticky” (where people come to a church and stay), we needed to help our people grow in the faith. That’s what traditional churches have done well for years – Christian education and discipleship.

 

In order for us to have a church of maturing Christians who look more like Christ each day and less like the world each day, we must teach what we believe as Christians, why we believe, and how to apply those beliefs in a world that is increasingly hostile to Christian beliefs. We must develop Christ followers who know and understand Scripture so that they can make Christ-like choices in their lives. This time, last year we brought Pastor Tim back from the church planting field and re-established the basics for believers class that he had been in charge of before he left to plant LifeSong Church, Manchester, CT. As well, we are now working on developing Christian education over and above that basics for believers class. We are teaching classes on all aspects of being a part of the body of Christ and knowing God’s Word and experiencing God in deeper and more profound ways. We know that we have to do more than attract people to Jesus and lead them to the cross but we have to teach them how to live beyond kneeling at the cross. We cannot simply stay kneeled at the cross. We must emerge and lived changed lives. Without Christian education and biblical knowledge, a spiritual infant will remain undeveloped and still act a whole lot like the world.

 

That need to make disciples and not just converts is what I thought of this morning when I read this passage, Deuteronomy 27:1-10. You’ll see why after we read through it:

 

27 Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people: “Keep all these commands that I give you today. 2 When you have crossed the Jordan into the land the Lord your God is giving you, set up some large stones and coat them with plaster. 3 Write on them all the words of this law when you have crossed over to enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you. 4 And when you have crossed the Jordan, set up these stones on Mount Ebal, as I command you today, and coat them with plaster. 5 Build there an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones. Do not use any iron tool on them. 6 Build the altar of the Lord your God with fieldstones and offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God. 7 Sacrifice fellowship offerings there, eating them and rejoicing in the presence of the Lord your God. 8 And you shall write very clearly all the words of this law on these stones you have set up.”

Curses From Mount Ebal

 

9 Then Moses and the Levitical priests said to all Israel, “Be silent, Israel, and listen! You have now become the people of the Lord your God. 10 Obey the Lord your God and follow his commands and decrees that I give you today.”

 

Here in this passage, we see that Moses, speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was telling the people that they needed to keep God’s laws in the forefront of their society. The laws of God needed to be visible and ever-present in their lives. By stating that it needed to be made of natural, uncut stones, to me, that means that God did not want His word dresses up. He did not want it added to or taken away. He just wanted His Word, His Law, made clear and unadulterated. But most of all He wanted His Word before His people each and every day so that it would be an ever-present part of their lives.

 

The only way we internalize God’s Word is through constant exposure to it. As we learn it and become more and more familiar with it, God’s Word becomes a part of our nature. We know how to handle situations according to His ways. When we know Scripture, we are able to call it up in our minds when we face situations where we do not know how to handle them. When God’s Word is an ever-present part of our lives, it changes us from the inside out. The Holy Spirit helps us recall God’s Word and apply it to our lives. We are changed by it. We are matured by it. We become disciples by it.

 

That is what we are learning at our church is that in order to mature our people and help them grow deeper in Christ, we must encounter them with God’s Word in classroom and self-directed study settings such that our people keep God’s Word before us always and make it a part of our daily lives. Our church is requiring/suggesting that all of our people regardless of spiritual maturity go through the Basics class and then start choosing higher level classes after that just so that we as mature believers don’t “get fat and sassy” (an old Southern expression meaning that we can get complacent sometimes when we think we have it made). We as a church staff want our people to take the basics class before any others so that we are all on the same page and have the same understanding. We are getting pushback from some of our more mature members. But I find that pushback shortsighted. We are never too old to learn. We are never too mature to refresh. We are never completed in our discipleship. It is amazing to me how sometimes a passage of God’s Word can be read by me a 1000 times and it not hit home. However, there is that one time that it hits you like a ton of bricks and you find new revelation in a passage you’ve known by heart for decades.

 

We must keep God’s Word ever-present before us. It teaches anew each and every day. Keep God’s Word before us so that it is there with us every day. Even the oldest Christian can learn something new from an infinitely more wise God. Even the oldest Christian can find no revelation for this particular phase of their lives in Scripture that they glossed over for decades. God’s Word is alive applies to us anew each day. We are never too old to have God’s Word before us each and every day.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 8:1-20

A Call to Remember & Obey

 

For the past several days in which I have had a final interview for admission into the doctoral program at North Greenville University and then a phone interview concerning an executive pastor’s position in south Florida, one commonality between the two interviews was something that I said in response to questions in those interviews. Each interview had a separate purpose and this same response was given to different questions. As a maturing Christian, I notice things like that. The same message from the Lord coming from different sources. The questions asked don’t matter but it the same response that matters because of the fact that the same response was given to differing questions. That is when you have to notice and see what God is having to say. Why is He given me this common theme? I must take notice.

 

The common thread was the response that we must make God’s Word and our relationship more than just a box that we pull off the shelf on Sunday morning, open it and play with it, and then put that box back on the shelf on Sunday afternoon – not to be pulled off the shelf again until next Sunday. It was an illustrative answer to different questions that means that we must make God’s Word a part of our daily lives not just something we do on Sunday. Our lives cannot be dichotomously different during the week than it is during the week. In order for us to mature in Christ, we must apply God’s Word to our daily lives, not just play the game on Sunday. We must have Bibles that are more than coffee table centerpieces. We must have Bibles that have ragged edges and dog-eared pages from overuse. Our Bibles should have bindings that are starting to fall apart and pages that are about to fall out. We must make the Bible a functional and necessary part of our daily lives. We cannot apply its eternal principles to our lives if we don’t read it, learn it, live it. We must read it. We must meditate upon it and figure out what its message says to us for today, and then go out and apply it to our lives.

 

In this American culture in which we live, it is so easy to forget that God is the source of everything that we are. We live in such an opulent society that it is easy to take these things for granted and feel that we have a right to them. We take credit for our own prosperity and become proud. It is easy for us as a society to get so busy collecting and managing all of our stuff that we push God right to the curb. We begin to glorify the things that we have and the pursuit of them. We begin to think that life is about satisfying our own appetites. We are about the pursuit of wealth and status. If we can dress well, eat well, play well, we are then living the good life. Don’t you find it true that our nation was once a god-fearing nation because we had less and our country lived through successive hardships that required great sacrifices for much of its existence until after World War II. It is with the vast wealth that has trickled down to all the classes of people here since the mid-1940s that our country started drifting away from God. We have grown so accustomed to satisfying our every whim in ways that third world countries cannot imagine that we have drifted from God and started worshiping ourselves and our things.

 

It is this idea of putting God on the shelf and relegating Him to something that we toy with on weekends rather than making Him a part of our daily lives that I thought of when I read today’s passage, Deuteronomy 8:1-20:

 

8 Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors. 2 Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. 4 Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. 5 Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.

 

6 Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him. 7 For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; 8 a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; 9 a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.

 

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

 

19 If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. 20 Like the nations the Lord destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the Lord your God.

 

In this passage, God warns the Israelites not to forget God when they transitioned from the hard knock life of the Sinai wilderness to the land of plenty in the Promised Land. That is the same warning that He has for our nation. It seems to be timeless human nature to forget God when we have all of our needs met and more. We tend to drift away into seeking our own pleasures. We tend to gravitate toward our lusts and our worldly passions. We then become so enamored with these lusts and passions that we justify how that sin is no longer sin and how we justify it as the new world order. Things have changed and what was once sin is now modern and forward thinking. We drift away from the Lord and think we are so modern for thinking and justifying our sins as self-actualization. We justify our sins as being OK now because that’s what we want to do and nobody should tell us different. We drift away from God’s Word because we no longer read it, learn it, live it.

 

Our life, even when we are in good times, should be dominated by making God the central part of our lives. We should be in His Word. We should realize that everything, even our wealth, our good times, come from the Lord and praise Him and obey Him in the good times and not just when we have crises in our lives and not just on Sunday morning. We must have dog-eared Bibles from eating up His Word like manna from heaven. As Jesus said in Matthew 4:4 (which He drew from this passage), man does not live by bread alone but by every word from God’s mouth. We must live and apply God’s Word to everything that we do. We must obey His Word every day. We must not get so wrapped up the self-pleasures of our society that we drift away from His Word and begin accepting those things as OK that are strictly against what God says in His Word. God is not a box that we pull down from the shelf and play with for a little bit and put back on the shelf. He should permeate who we are and we should make His Word the measure by which we live our lives.

 

Amen and Amen.

 

Numbers 20:14-21 (Part 2 of 2)

Edom Refuses Israel Passage

Kenny Rogers said it best in that now classic country song, “The Gambler”, when he said, “You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away and know when to run.” And there are leadership quips like “there are hills to die on and hills not to die on.” Have you ever had a situation where you had to decide to walk away from a conflict even when you know you are right and have every right to fight for your position. Sometimes, we have to decide whether the immediate scrape is worth the fight or whether it is more important to keep the larger goal in mind.

 

In today’s church, there are hills to die on and there are hills to move on from. My brother and I were having a conversation the other day about the differences between the United Methodist Church and the Southern Baptist Church. He was kidding with me about how I would have to accept some of the more liberal views of the Methodist Church if I were ever to become a pastor in that denomination. My brother has been a pastor in the South Georgia and South Carolina Annual Conferences of the United Methodist Church since 1982. We are both the sons of a Methodist minister (who served in the South Carolina conference for 53 years and still serves part-time). One of my uncles was a life-long Methodist minister as well. So, the Methodist church is the family business. I have been a bit of rebel in attending non-Methodist churches over the years. I am and have been a Baptist for the last six years. Although LifeSong Church does not make a big deal about its Southern Baptist affiliation, our beliefs are straight up out of the 2000 Statement of Faith of the Southern Baptist Convention. So, my brother and I often have discussions about the differences between the two denominations.

 

People often get hung up on the differences between the denominations – Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, are the three biggies in America. People will get all mad and pissed off at the differences between the two. Family splits have occurred over these differences. There are hills to die on and hills to not die on. When I was having my conversation with my brother about an open position at large Methodist church in Greenville, SC and about how I would have to accept the beliefs of the Methodist Church to hold such a position. I simply said that, “At the end of the day we are all Christians! We all believe in the same Jesus Christ. Most of the differences are just window-dressing preferences.” That is true for most of the differences among the Protestant denominations. However, there are hills to die on when it comes to these differences. If a belief of your denominational Protestant Church or your Catholic Church is inconsistent with God’s Word, His Holy Scriptures, then that’s a hill to die on. That’s my no compromise zone. And it should not be my interpretation of whether consistency exists. Many people stretch God’s Word to fit their interpretation of life. However, my interpretation must be consistent with the whole of God’s Word and must be consistent with the common core of Christian beliefs through time as inspired by God’s Word. I am subject to God’s theology as expressed in His Word not the other way around. That’s the hill to die on. As Christians, we cannot pick and choose what we want to believe as a denomination just to fit in with the world at large. Our statements about what we believe must be measured by the whole of Scripture. As Christians, we can also never let church tradition become equal with the Scriptures. The Scriptures, the whole Bible, are the measure by which we measure all our statements and beliefs. That is the hill to die on.

 

Then within individual churches of Jesus’ church, we can get mad over things that are not hills to die on and leave churches or split churches over them. The color of the carpet, who is on what committee, where I serve within the church, who I saw the preacher having lunch with, trying to force a preacher out because he stepped on your toes in a sermon, whether or not my kid was picked to be a starter on a church basketball team or not, whether or not we are part of the “in-crowd” at church, whether we are part of the coolest small group or not, these are not hills to die on. These are not reasons to leave a church. The reasons to leave a church are if God calls you to move somewhere for a valid and purposeful reason. Another reason to leave a church is if the church’s preaching and teaching are inconsistent with God’s Word or if the leadership of your church is causing people to stray from God’s Word by their actions and statements. That’s a hill to die on.

 

It was this concept of hills to die on that I thought of when I read this passage for a second time today, Numbers 20:14-21:

 

14 Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom, saying:

 

“This is what your brother Israel says: You know about all the hardships that have come on us. 15 Our ancestors went down into Egypt, and we lived there many years. The Egyptians mistreated us and our ancestors, 16 but when we cried out to the Lord, he heard our cry and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt.

 

“Now we are here at Kadesh, a town on the edge of your territory. 17 Please let us pass through your country. We will not go through any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the King’s Highway and not turn to the right or to the left until we have passed through your territory.”

 

18 But Edom answered:

 

“You may not pass through here; if you try, we will march out and attack you with the sword.”

 

19 The Israelites replied:

 

“We will go along the main road, and if we or our livestock drink any of your water, we will pay for it. We only want to pass through on foot—nothing else.”

 

20 Again they answered:

 

“You may not pass through.”

 

Then Edom came out against them with a large and powerful army. 21 Since Edom refused to let them go through their territory, Israel turned away from them.

 

Here in this passage, we see that Moses tried to negotiate with and reason with the Edomite king. When nothing worked, he was left with two choices – force a conflict or avoid it. Moses knew there would be plenty of barriers in the days and months ahead. There was no point in adding another one unnecessarily. Sometimes, conflict is unavoidable. But there are times when the consequences of conflict are not worth the cost. Open conflict gets headlines and sometimes just makes us feel better to try to get our own way, but it is not always the best choice. At times, we should follow Moses’ example and find a solution to the problem without conflict even if that forces us to take a more difficult path.

 

As Christians, we must understand what is worth fighting for and what is just our personal preferences. We must always stand firm on being consistent with Scripture. We must change the world through God’s Word. We must stand on its solid rock. The color of carpet is a preference. Sprinkling or dunking at baptism is a preference. Going against the totality of Scripture is a hill to die on. Picking and choosing what parts of the Bible that we will believe in and which we will ignore is a hill to die. It is through the wisdom and discernment of the Holy Spirit that we can tell the difference. Everything must be measured by Scripture, nothing more and nothing less, all of it.

 

Let us be a people that subject ourselves to God’s Word rather than being the arbiter of what we shall believe from it. Let us live in subjection to its commands rather than making it subject to us. Let us have discernment of how to express compliance to God’s Word to a world that lives in opposition to it with loving kindness. Let us be that people.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 13:1-25

Twelve Scouts Explore Canaan

Have you ever made knee-jerk decisions? Have you ever gone to school without having first done your homework? Have you ever had to go to a meeting at work where you had to give a presentation for which you had not done any preparation or study? I think that we have all been there and probably more than once in our lives. I have certainly had those same situations occur to me before. However, that is a situation that I loathe to be in.

 

I would rather work my tail off and be over-prepared, present too much information, write too much, over-document and so on. Never want the metaphorical dream of being in a meeting and realizing that you are in your underwear only and you don’t realize it until you are already in the meeting.

 

I guess it has to do with a basic insecurity about my value in my soul. Growing up as a Methodist preacher’s kid and moving every couple of years, I was always an outsider. I always felt that I had to prove myself because of it, prove that I belonged. In addition to that, as a student, I was a good student but I had to work it. In high school as I was in higher level classes, I always felt that I was not as smart as others so I worked twice as hard, stayed up later doing homework and so on so that I could keep up. Others seemed to come at this higher level academic stuff naturally whereas I got it but simply had to work harder at it. In college, I went to a school that is reserved for the wealthy and privileged, Furman University. Its nickname is “the Yale of the South.” Rich kids from up north and from Florida predominated. There were very few of us local Greenville, SC types at Furman. The only reason that I got to go there was that by the time I was ready for college my mom had been working there long enough for me to get a 50% discount in tuition and then Pell grants paid the rest. Otherwise, I would have had to go somewhere else. Especially here, where kids had grown up with the best tutors and the best schools and the best of everything, you can imagine how this played into my academic and social insecurities. There,  I really did have to work twice as hard just to keep up with these privileged kids. I always felt like there was some class on “smarts” that I missed. I busted my tail there. While working full-time and being married after my freshman year, it was a tough time. I don’t think that I slept much those four years.

 

In much of my career after Furman, I have been an internal auditor (I am the senior financial executive for the company by which I am employed now but the bulk of my career has been in auditing). In that job, you have to be able to perform audit programs that will show you whether a process is working properly or not, document the problems or errors, make recommendations for improvement, and sell the recommendations to the auditee in an audit report. In that kind of environment, you cannot afford to be wrong or make statements for which you have no substantiation. You have to back up what you claim. In order to back up your claims, you must document your findings to prove the error or inefficiency or the need for improvement or compliance. Because of that need and because of my own insecurities about my value and my intellect, I would tend to overkill on documentation. My workpapers (what we auditors call the evidence of our work that back up and support how we have performed our work, what evidence we have to support that we have done the audit program, what evidence we have of our findings and so on) were meticulous and voluminous. I never wanted to be caught off guard in my review by my audit supervisors or by our auditee. My workpapers were usually about twice what others produced and after reading through them there would be no doubt as to how I came about my findings for my parts of the audit reports. I was always the one that worked til 2am in the morning and back up at 6am ready for the next days work at the audit assignment. I was always prepared, but it was not because I was super-intelligent but rather just an insecure boy desperately trying to make sure there were no holes in my work that would cause my ridicule. The worst fear was to get to the audit meetings at the end of an audit and the auditee say that you were wrong about your finding and prove why. That was the biggest fear of all – when you have that dream of being in a meeting in your underwear and you don’t realize it until everyone is staring at you. That’s the feeling you get when you are in an audit closure meeting where you present your findings and the auditee management balks at what you say and proves why. I never wanted experience that humiliation because I was already a guy who thought he was a step behind everybody else anyway.

 

In Moses’ commands here, I felt a kindred spirit of auditing with him. He prepared a team to go do an audit of Canaan. In order to know what the issues were, Moses had to send in an audit team. They were to investigate the land, from the people, to the land itself, to the cities, to economic power of the region. They were to go in and gain and understanding of Canaan and report back to Moses. Moses appears to be a guy that made decisions based on solid information. I like that. Let’s read about this process in Numbers 13:1-24 below:

 

13 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.”

 

3 So at the Lord’s command Moses sent them out from the Desert of Paran. All of them were leaders of the Israelites. 4 These are their names:

 

from the tribe of Reuben, Shammua son of Zakkur;

 

5 from the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat son of Hori;

 

6 from the tribe of Judah, Caleb son of Jephunneh;

 

7 from the tribe of Issachar, Igal son of Joseph;

 

8 from the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea son of Nun;

 

9 from the tribe of Benjamin, Palti son of Raphu;

 

10 from the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel son of Sodi;

 

11 from the tribe of Manasseh (a tribe of Joseph), Gaddi son of Susi;

 

12 from the tribe of Dan, Ammiel son of Gemalli;

 

13 from the tribe of Asher, Sethur son of Michael;

 

14 from the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi son of Vophsi;

 

15 from the tribe of Gad, Geuel son of Maki.

 

16 These are the names of the men Moses sent to explore the land. (Moses gave Hoshea son of Nun the name Joshua.)

 

17 When Moses sent them to explore Canaan, he said, “Go up through the Negev and on into the hill country. 18 See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. 19 What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified? 20 How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees in it or not? Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land.” (It was the season for the first ripe grapes.)

 

21 So they went up and explored the land from the Desert of Zin as far as Rehob, toward Lebo Hamath. 22 They went up through the Negev and came to Hebron, where Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, lived. (Hebron had been built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) 23 When they reached the Valley of Eshkol,[a] they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs. 24 That place was called the Valley of Eshkol because of the cluster of grapes the Israelites cut off there.

 

In this passage, we see that Moses decided what information was needed before the people could enter the Promised Land, and took careful steps to gain that information. When we are making decisions or entering in new areas of experience that you have never had before, remember these two important steps. Common sense is a valuable tool in accomplishing God’s purpose. One of the biggest weapons that we have in accomplishing God’s purpose is prayer. In prayer, God will reveal to us what information that we need to have about decisions that we make.

 

God is not a god of disorder. He wants us to make decisions with the best information we can have available to us. He wants us not to jump headlong into something without having prepared for the jump. He does not want us to lead a growing, burgeoning church without developing understanding of how to lead a fast growing church. He wants us to read and learn and observe from the experience of others. Sometimes, sure, we have to make snap judgments in certain situations but if we always keep the Bible’s basic story in our mind and be consistent with God’s message in our decision making then we will be OK. But even there, knowing your biblical themes and theology requires study so that when snap judgments are required you are prepared. It is only when we let our ego get in the way when we think we have got it made that we begin to make faulty, non-biblical decisions.

 

God wants us to be prepared for what we are about to encounter. He gives us the tools. Prayer and Preparation. He will make it clear what we need to know, what we need to investigate through prayer and through His Word. God wants us to be ready and we must do the work. We must seek Him and we must study His Word so that we are ready. Without prayer and without study of His Word, we are unprepared. Like the guy who goes into a meeting in his underwear. Like an auditor who goes into the closure meeting without support for his audit findings and recommendations.

 

Amen and Amen.

Luke 9:43-45 — Have you ever had someone tell you something that is boldly and utterly true, but you refused to believe it. You refuse to believe it until it’s too late or that what was said actually came true. There was a time in my past that I refused to believe that someone I used to be married to was simply manipulating me to get what they wanted. There were people that I cut out of my life just to make this person happy. Everyone saw it. People would tell me the truth about it but I refused to listen. Many of us have gone through this in their lives. There is someone that we are so in love with that we refuse to see how they manipulate us into getting what they want and that they are only in it for “what’s in it for me.” We refuse to see that they beat us down emotionally. We refuse to see that we are different people when we are with them just to make them happy. We refuse to see that we are like a cat on a hot tin roof in our lives just because we are trying to please someone else. People corner us and tell us the truth about these toxic type of relationships but we refuse to believe the truth that is being told to us.

I think the disciples were kind of like us in this passage. They had this idea of what the Messiah was supposed to be. Thus, what Jesus was telling them; they did not want to believe it. I am not comparing Jesus to bad relationships as I mention above but I do mention the illustration to prove a point. Sometimes what we have in our mind is not the truth and when people show us the truth we refuse to believe it. To the Jews of the first century, the Messiah had been built into this conquering mighty warrior that would come and finally throw off the shackles of occupation and restore Israel to its former military and political glory not seen since the days of Solomon and David. The people of Israel had suffered through be conquered by the dynasty of the day for hundreds and hundreds of years. First, the Assyrians take the northern kingdom. The Babylonians take the southern kingdom. The Persians then conquer the Babylonians. The Greeks under Alexander the Great conquer everyone. Then come the Romans. The Jews had so many nation’s footprints on their backs they needed a scorecard to keep up with which was which. They were tired of occupation. Thus, they took the Messiah of Scripture and twisted it into the truth that they wanted. They wanted a real conquering hero that would lift the chains of oppression. They wanted a kick-ass Messiah that would drive the Romans out and re-establish David’s kingdom. Jesus tells them to read Scripture. He tells them that He, the Messiah, the Son of Man (as foretold by Daniel), must be betrayed, suffer and die.

This was the truth of Scripture but they refused to believe it. It did not jibe with the truth that they had fashioned in their head. They wanted satisfaction now in this life. They wanted revenge. It was the Israelite mentality that seethed below the surface. The truth of the Messiah from Scripture was something different. Jesus was being contradictory to popular belief but He was not being contradictory to Scripture. All the prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament are of a suffering servant who would give His life for the sins of His people. Jesus was to be slain as a sacrifice for our sin. He was not to be a military leader to drive the Romans out to meet the current needs of the Israelites. He came to save the entire world from itself. He came to save souls for eternity. He came to reconcile us to God. But that was not what the disciples knew from the myths that their society had created in their heads about the Messiah. They did not understand the truth that Jesus was telling them. According to Don Schwager, the disciples were “like a person who might receive a bad verdict from the doctor and then refuse to ask further questions, they, too, didn’t want to know any more. How often do we reject what we do not wish to see?”

How often do we hear God’s Word and refuse to believe it? How often do we read God’s Word and rationalize away why it does not apply to us? How often do we pick and choose what we will believe from the Bible and fashion our own belief system that fits with what we want? How often do we bastardize God’s Word into saying what we want it to say? How often do we ascribe something to the Bible that’s not even in there? We are like me in past relationships that I refused to see the reality of even when it was brought up to my face. I fashioned the truth to justify my situation. I refused to see. I was blinded by my own desires. I was blinded by my desire to be in a relationship so much so that I refused to see the truth that I knew was real. As Christ followers, we need to understand and obey all Scripture. It is timeless truth. It will always be true. The things we may fashion as beliefs may change but God’s Word is unchanging. Sometimes, it cuts like a knife through us. Sometimes, God speaks the truth to us through the tough comments of friends. In these sometimes, we must see and understand. We must accept the truth. We must comply with the truth of God’s Word. Sometimes, we must hear the verdict and accept the changes that we must make in our attitudes, lifestyle, and previously held stubbornly self-centered beliefs. Like the battered woman who has the courage to break free from an abusive husband because she finally sees the truth of the situation, we too must accept the truth of God’s Word and not fashion it into what we want it to be.

Father, help us to be better students of your Word. Help us to see it as all of it applying to us not just the easy and good parts. Help us to see your truth and change our attitudes and behaviors to comply with your will. Help us not to fashion you and your Word into what we want it to be. Help us not to make you into what we want you to be. Help us remember that we are here to give you glory and not the other way around. Help us to see our relationship with you in the right perspective. Help us to seek out your truth and not our own. Amen.

Luke 8:19-21 — I remember back in the day when Saturday Night Live (SNL) was a brash new show maybe one or two years on the air. There was a character, played by Gilda Radner, called Emily Latella and she would be an editorial guest on the “Weekend Update” news show portion of SNL. The first time this character was introduced, she began railing on about the backlash against violins on television. She couldn’t understand it. Violins on television she thought would improve television not make it worse. Violins create beautiful music. Why would we not want more of that. After she railed on and on for about two minute about the need for MORE violins on television, Dan Ackroyd’s news anchor character had to interrupt her and say, “Emily, what they are talking about is the all the violence on television. Violence. Not violins.” Emily looks at the Dan and says,”Well, that’s totally different!” And then looks at the television and says, “Never mind!” What does that have to do with today’s passage? It is right on point I think. We must hear. We must know God’s word. Otherwise, we can let ourselves go off on tangents that have no basis in Scripture. Sort of like Emily Latella and the violins on television. But wait there is another step to this thing. Not only must we know Scripture but we must obey it as well. Let’s read the passage,

“The Jesus’ mother and brothers cam to see Him, but they could not get to Him because of the crowd. Someone told Jesus, ‘Your mother and your brothers are outside and they want to see you.’ Jesus replied, ‘My mother and my brothers are all who hear God’s Word and obey it.'”

What is Jesus saying here? Is He rejecting His earthly family? This passage is not about rejecting family. It is about defining who belong in the spiritual family of Jesus Christ. He says here that all who hear God’s Word and obeys it are in his family. This passage speaks three things to us. First, our basis in Jesus’ family is not who we are but it’s basis is comes from our obedience to God. Second, we see Jesus take the opportunity to remind everyone what he had just been talking about. He turned a physical conversation into a spiritual one. Third, it speaks to us about how to we are to share our faith with non-believers.

The first thing that we must clear up here is a misconception. Jesus did not reject or rebuke His earthly family. He cared much for His mother, we all know that and I am sure that He loved His brothers as well. Each of them went on after His death to become leaders and/or writers for the church. So, we know there was love there for them to carry on their brother’s torch the way they did. Their love for Him led them to the cross of salvation. And we know Jesus loved His earthly mother. Remember, hanging on the cross in dire physical pain, he was still thinking of His mom. He made sure before His death that His mother was going to be taken care when He gave His command to His disciple, John. There is no contradiction here. Jesus is using family as an illustration not to rebuke His own family.

What Jesus is saying here is that membership in the family of Jesus is not dependent on your family or social status. It is not about who you are or who your parents are. It is not about checklists of things done. It is not about some hierarchy of achievements. It is about knowing God and obeying Him. It is about knowing God through His Word and it illuminating who Jesus is through the action of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. It is about seeing our need for Jesus through knowing God’s Word. It is about also obeying God’s Word. If we do not hear (do not know) God’s Word, we can be easily led astray into that which is not of God. If we do not obey God’s Word, then we are not shining His light. In the previous passage, Jesus talked about not denying Christ and shining the light of Christ to the world around us. Here in this passage, he shows us how we shine our light. We obey God’s Word. We put God’s Word into practice in our daily lives. If we do not know, do not hear, God’s Word then how are we to apply it to our lives. Jesus says we must hear AND obey. That is how we shine our light. That is how we demonstrate that we are part of Jesus’ family. We are part of His family through faith that He is Our Savior. The evidence of our membership is knowing and obeying His Word. That is all that it takes to be members of His family. It is also a warning to us that just because we are members of the right church, read all the cool Christian blogs, write a cool Christian blog, have parents who are fine Christians, we cannot ride those coattails to salvation. We must encounter Jesus ourselves and submit to Him and get to know Him and obey Him. Our membership in the family of Christ comes from the choice of following and obeying Him, not on who we are or what we’ve done.

The next thing that is awesome about this passage is how Jesus turned the conversation from the physical to the spiritual. Man, what an example of witnessing to others about the kingdom of God. Jesus, being God and all, was the best preacher EVER. He was the best witness EVER. We can learn much about witnessing for Christ is this passage. Jesus took something mundane like, Hey dude, your mom and your bros are here and they wanna speak to you and turned it into a powerful message. Jesus turned the conversation toward the spiritual. We always talk in church about what sometimes people call “divine appointments”. These are those junctures in time where we have an opportunity to witness for Jesus Christ. Those moments that seem arranged by God for us to speak of Jesus to someone who doesn’t Him as their Savior. Most of us shy away from these opportunities. I am no different. I am sure that I have missed many divine appointments that I don’t even recognize as being such and I have missed just as many knowing that I really did miss the opportunity. We must, like Jesus, seize every opportunity to speak to people about the kingdom of God. We must seize the opportunities to speak to them about Jesus. We must know God’s Word to make those connections to moments in real life. We must be obedient to God’s Word to know that God’s Word is truly applicable to our lives. Through knowledge and obedience, we can see and seize the opportunities to turn a conversation toward spiritual things, toward Jesus and the salvation that He offers sinners.

The final thing that is awesome about this passage is that it ties together how we are to be light to the world around us and particularly to our non-believing family members. In the previous passage, we discussed that we needed to be the light of Christ to our families, co-workers, friends and strangers. This passage tells how we become the light. We become the light through knowing God’s Word. We become the light by not just knowing His Word but by applying His Word to our lives – obeying it. This is how we become the light to all in our spheres of influence – where we live, work, and play. We cannot be Christ-like without knowing and applying God’s Word to our lives. We must study God’s Word and not just give it a cursory reading so our friends can see that we completed a Bible reading plan on the YouVersion app. We must earnestly study it. We must let it reach into our soul. We must let is percolate inside us. We must take it into us and let the Word of God be our manna, our daily spiritual nourishment. Then, we must apply it to our lives. Through the Holy Spirit we can make the connections between God’s Word and our lives and where we need change and refinement. The noticeable change in us through knowing Jesus Christ as our Savior and the maturing changes in us through knowing God’s Word and applying it to our lives is what draws people to us. They see our integrity. They see our heart for others. They see our faithfulness to duty even in bad situations. They see us striving for excellence even when no one notices. They see us give credit to Jesus for the changes that He has wrought in us. This is how we start our witness to others, by our actions. We are the light of Christ that draws people out of darkness and unto Him. May we be like Jesus when the opportunity is right and turn the conversation toward spiritual matters. May we introduce them to the family of Jesus whose only membership requirements are a repentant heart that seeks forgiveness from a forgiving Savior.

We are responsible for carrying the message of Christ to a dark world and draw them unto the light. How will they know? Because the light we shine is knowing God’s Word and applying it to our lives. That produces light!