Posts Tagged ‘grace’

2 Samuel 23:1-7
David’s Last Words

To hear people call me Pastor Mark these days is just a testament to the grace of God. When I look back at my past, I think how can this be? I grew up as a preacher’s kid. I was at church every time the doors were open. But accepting Christ as my Savior was not part of the deal for me, then. I was numb to the church. I was there all the time. The majesty and wonder of church, of Jesus Christ, of the things of God is was all just part of the “family business” to me. Then, after getting married at age 18, I was in a little family church made of three main families of which my first wife was a part. The church was more of a social club than a church. There was no discipleship. No challenges to be more than just a good person making good choices. I was never confronted with who I am in Christ. Then, in college, at a liberal arts university, all my beliefs were challenged, especially about the existence of God, who Jesus was, and what the Bible was. My faith was so shallow that it blew me away.

Then after college, life happened. My life revolved around not so much about pleasing God but pleasing the women in my life and living the rollercoaster that such a world is. I made poor choices. I bent my morality to the breaking point whenever it was convenient. Life was a series of two marriages, divorces, seeking value in sex and alcohol and never truly finding it. When I look back on the man that I was before I finally came to Christ as my Savior at age 39, it sickens me. What I could have done differently if I had just met Jesus when I was younger. I envy those who accepted Christ as a child or even as a teenager or early 20s. The pastors that I work with are career pastors who have been in Christ since they were teens. Then there’s me. When I think about the mess that my life was before Christ and even in the maturation process in Christ since the cross, it saddens me deeply at the man that I was.

To hear someone call me Pastor Mark is surreal. This is something that I have been aiming for in some way, shape or form since the day of my salvation in December 2001 but specifically since 2011 when I entered seminary. The road from who I was at age 18 when I married the first until that point is a testament to the loving nature of God – how he guided me to the cross, how he guided me toward preparing for ministry, and how he guided me to this day where I am a pastor. But to think of the depths of my sinfulness and to now be a pastor with a desire to go wherever, and do whatever God desires of me is a testament to Holy Spirit sanctification.

To think of the man that I was, the sins that I committed, and to think of how God redeemed all of that and has made me His child and His child who is serving Him full-time is evidence that the Holy Spirit does indeed change us from the inside out. To me, I do not want to ever lose the memories of the man that I was. I want to continually look back and be revolted by the pre-salvation Mark. It will keep me humble. Grace is a wonderful thing but if I ever forget that I was the worst of sinners then I will become prideful and think that I have arrived. It is through my past littered with sins, broken relationships, poor choices, situational ethics, etc. that it keeps me humble.

So, when people at my church lovingly call me Pastor Mark, it almost makes me cry when I think of it. To know that God reclaimed me, a dreadful sinner, and cleaned me up and set me on a high place just makes me well up with emotion. To know that He sees enough usable materials in me to allow me to become a pastor is just, well, an indescribable miracle gift. Now, the thing is to move forward and use my past to help others see the cross and accept Christ as their Savior. Now, the thing is to help Christ followers deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ. Yes, I have a past that makes me want to throw up but God will make it useful in the kingdom. Yes, I have a past but God has washed me clean and set me free from the penalties of my sins. Yes, I have a past but God makes us useful to Him. Each one of us who is a Christ follower most likely has a past that we are not proud of. Let it keep us humble. The only difference between us and the non-believer is salvation in Christ. We are all sinners granted grace. None of us have a right to be proud. We are sinners who have been granted a reprieve from the penalty of our sins and have been made clean and useful. So, that on our final days on this earth, we can say that we are forgiven, we have been useful and that the Lord sees us as pure and spotless.

I hope that I never get any less emotional to the point of tears when I hear someone call me Pastor Mark. That is just an amazing testimony of what God can do. That idea of how we are made clean in Christ is what I thought of when I read this passage, 2 Samuel 23:1-7, this morning and how David can sincerely make these claims in this passage even though he was a dreadful sinner as king of Israel. Let’s read it now together:

Chapter 23
1 These are the last words of David:

“David, the son of Jesse, speaks—
David, the man who was raised up so high,
David, the man anointed by the God of Jacob,
David, the sweet psalmist of Israel.[a]

2
“The Spirit of the Lord speaks through me;
his words are upon my tongue.
3
The God of Israel spoke.
The Rock of Israel said to me:
‘The one who rules righteously,
who rules in the fear of God,
4
is like the light of morning at sunrise,
like a morning without clouds,
like the gleaming of the sun
on new grass after rain.’

5
“Is it not my family God has chosen?
Yes, he has made an everlasting covenant with me.
His agreement is arranged and guaranteed in every detail.
He will ensure my safety and success.
6
But the godless are like thorns to be thrown away,
for they tear the hand that touches them.
7
One must use iron tools to chop them down;
they will be totally consumed by fire.”
Our text says, “Now these are the last words of David” (v. 1). However, 1 Kings 2:2-9 give us David’s real last words—David’s instructions from his deathbed to Solomon, who will succeed David as king. Those words are quite different from the lofty words of our text from 2 Samuel. In 1 Kings 2, David instructs Solomon to be faithful to God. Then he instructs Solomon to deal loyally with the sons of Barzillai, who had supported David in his hour of need. He instructs Solomon to deal harshly with Joab and Shimei. So, maybe, this is David’s last public words or last written words. Regardless, the words here are pretty lofty when you think about all that has transpired in David’s house since he became king.

Is David’s house really like this? David’s house, where Amnon raped Tamar? David’s house, where Absalom killed Amnon and raised an army against his father? David’s house, where the royal line will proceed through the child of Bathsheba, a woman whom David “took” both before and after killing her husband? David’s house, under which the people have suffered civil war already and under which they will come to suffer conquest? David may be the beloved of God, but is his house really like the sun? However it was intended, the identification of David’s house with the righteous sun in verse 5 includes both an affirmation and a question.

Remember, too, that David was just a lowly shepherd boy. He had no great lineage as the son of Jesse. Much earlier, while Saul was king, God sent Samuel to anoint David as Saul’s successor (1 Samuel 16). We remember how Jesse marched one tall, good looking son after another before Samuel, but God rejected each of them. After Jesse had marched seven sons before Samuel, Samuel had to ask if Jesse might have another son. Then Jesse remembered that he did, indeed, have one more son—David, his youngest son, who was tending sheep in the wilderness. Jesse hadn’t thought of David sooner, because Jesse had so many other sons who seemed better candidates than young David. But God chose David, the least of Jesse’s sons, to become the greatest of Israel’s kings. God often chooses the least likely candidates for the greatest tasks, because that makes it clear that the resultant successes are due to God’s power—not the person’s strength or wisdom.

What we might be inclined to forget is that Jesse was as unlikely a candidate to become the father of Israel’s great king as David was to be that king. Jesse was just an ordinary man—common—undistinguished. God didn’t choose Jesse because he was great, but because he was not great. When our text says that David was “the son of Jesse,” it reminds us that David came from undistinguished stock. Not that Jesse and David would remain undistinguished! Not at all! But Jesse and David became great because God chose them—not because they were inherently great. God exalted David, anointed him, and made him his favorite. As a result, David enjoyed great success as Israel’s king. Now David shows that he realizes that his success was God’s gift. It was God who chose him. It was God who gave him the victory over Goliath. It was God who gave him victory over his enemies. It was God who gave the city of Jerusalem into his hands.

When we look back at our lives and all the stuff that we did prior to accepting Christ as our Savior, it makes us look as though we are unlikely candidates to be the favored ones of God. In my own life, I know, like David, there is so much that I am ashamed of. There is so much in my past that I wish that I could change. There is so much back there that curdles my stomach to know now that I did those things with impunity back then. It was either outright rebellious sin (the “I don’t care if this is a sin” attitude) or sins committed under the influence of others or sins that I committed because I thought of me and God having a deal to suspend His laws in this one area for me alone (because of all I had been through). It sickens me to think of those things. I am sure that David felt the same way about his past as he draws near to the end of his life.

However, true repentance in Jesus Christ washes away our sins and makes us clean and whole and as bright as the noonday sun. Our salvation in Jesus Christ changes us from the inside out such that we become more and more like Him each day until we are made perfect on that day that we meet Jesus in heaven. We still sin along the way but those sins revolt us in our gut as we mature in Christ such that the Holy Spirit moves us away from one sin type after another through the sanctification process. We are made fresh and new like the dew on newly cut grass on a summer morning. Our house is made clean. Our house is made clean through the gift of grace that is an everlasting covenant between us and God. He doesn’t need to give us this gift. We are dead to rights in our sins. But He loves us so much that He gave us Jesus Christ.

So, at the end of his life, David was able to speak with a clear conscience. Though there had been many consequences to his sins over the years that made his reign seem like a couple years in the storyline of your favorite soap opera, he has sought repentance and was granted forgiveness. Just as David was made clean through repentance and forgiveness, so too can we find forgiveness in Jesus Christ through repentance over our sins. That does not change the past and the horrible things that we did and we should feel revulsion and shame each and every time we reflect on our sins but through Jesus Christ we can be made clean and whole again in the presence of God.

May we come to tears when we think of this fact. May we stay humble because of it. May we be brought to the point of tears when someone calls us a Christ follower. What greater compliment can be paid to us knowing what Jesus reclaimed us from than for someone to note that we are a Christ follower.

Amen and Amen.

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1 Samuel 19:1-10 (Part 5 of 6)
Saul Tries to Kill David

In this series of blogs, we are talking about the false teachings of the Christian faith that are prevalent today. Today, we will look at a doctrine that we have virtually gotten rid of in Christianity in the post-modern era (the world as we know it since the end of World War II).

I will introduce this foreign concept to us with a bold statement. Let’s bring hell back! Such a statement seems a shocking one to the 21st century ear, even those who considered themselves Christians.

The existence of and doctrine surrounding hell is no longer a universally accepted concept among Christians and Jews much less those of other religions or of those who hold no religious beliefs at all. It is not surprising that in an increasingly secular American landscape that only 27% of people who consider themselves non-religious believe in the existence of a place of eternal punishment in the afterlife, according the 2015 Religious Landscape Study performed by Pew Research Center. Overall, only 58% of all survey respondents (including religious and non-religious alike) believe in the existence of hell.

Even among Christians, the statistic vary. Belief in hell is not universally accepted by Christians in the 21st century. Although belief in hell is highest among historically black Protestant churches (82%) and evangelical Protestant churches (likewise 82%), the belief level drops to 63% among Catholics, 60% among mainline Protestants, and 59% of Orthodox Christians. It was also noted in the survey that only 22% of the Jewish respondents believe in hell. Among other religions, 76% of Muslims surveyed believe in hell while not surprisingly Buddhists and Hindus surveyed affirmed the existence of hell at a rate of 32% and 28% respectively. It is worthy of noting that more non-religious respondents believe in hell (27%) than the Jews surveyed (22%). The alarming point here is that, depending on your denomination of Christianity, a pastor can look out over his congregation on Sunday and find that anywhere from one-fifth to half of his parishioners do not believe in the existence of hell. As noted earlier, outside the doors of the church, it can be extrapolated that three-fourths of the people one meets on the street do not believe in hell. One can discount the non-believer being dismissive of hell as it would be opposed his firm belief in the lack of existence of God, would dismiss his belief in moral relativism, would dismiss his belief that man controls his own destiny, and would dismiss an everyman’s ticket, where we are judged on the weight of good deeds plus good intentions to outweigh our negative nature. When deeds and intentions are weighed against our bad deeds, then, most if not all of us will ascend to some sort of nirvanic afterlife (which we will talk about tomorrow). This sentiment, we can dismiss as the product of human pride that blinds us to our own ignorance in the face of God.

That idea of the elimination of hell from our theological lexicon is what came to mind this morning when read through this passage about the choice that Jonathan had to make – to be obedient to his father or to honor his friendship with David, to follow his father’s command which was not biblical or to follow that which was right and true according to God. Jonathan was being asked by his father to ignore a biblical truth because it was inconvenient to his father, Saul. Expediency was most important to Saul not what was biblically and universally true according to God’s Word. That kind of thinking is what has become of the concept of hell in Christian theology today. With that idea in mind let us read about the choice that Jonathan had to make:

Chapter 19
1 Saul now urged his servants and his son Jonathan to assassinate David. But Jonathan, because of his strong affection for David, 2 told him what his father was planning. “Tomorrow morning,” he warned him, “you must find a hiding place out in the fields. 3 I’ll ask my father to go out there with me, and I’ll talk to him about you. Then I’ll tell you everything I can find out.”

4 The next morning Jonathan spoke with his father about David, saying many good things about him. “The king must not sin against his servant David,” Jonathan said. “He’s never done anything to harm you. He has always helped you in any way he could. 5 Have you forgotten about the time he risked his life to kill the Philistine giant and how the Lord brought a great victory to all Israel as a result? You were certainly happy about it then. Why should you murder an innocent man like David? There is no reason for it at all!”

6 So Saul listened to Jonathan and vowed, “As surely as the Lord lives, David will not be killed.”

7 Afterward Jonathan called David and told him what had happened. Then he brought David to Saul, and David served in the court as before.

8 War broke out again after that, and David led his troops against the Philistines. He attacked them with such fury that they all ran away.

9 But one day when Saul was sitting at home, with spear in hand, the tormenting spirit[a] from the Lord suddenly came upon him again. As David played his harp, 10 Saul hurled his spear at David. But David dodged out of the way, and leaving the spear stuck in the wall, he fled and escaped into the night.

In this passage, we are challenged by the fact that Saul commands his son, Jonathan, to commit an act that is clearly unbiblical and is clearly against the nature of God. Jonathan had a choice to make. He had to decide whether what his father commanded him to do was consistent with Scripture and with the nature of God. Jonathan was wise enough to understand the difference between obeying a parent’s command and violating God’s law. Our parents should be teaching us and commanding us to do only that which is consistent with Scripture. In general, not just as children of our parents, we must be discerning about what we hear from others as biblical truth compared to the actual Word of God. If someone omits a portion of the full counsel of God’s Word just to make a biblical truth more palatable or more expedient, we must be discerning about those things too.

Saul thought like many of us today that there was no real punishment for evil deeds as long as we do more than we do bad. He seemed to think that doing evil could be offset by good deeds. All we have to do is do more good. Then, we become the judge of our goodness or badness, and, of course, we are always going to come down on the side of us being good enough or having done good enough or having done less bad than good. We are the judge of our own judgment – the fox in charge of the hen house, so to speak. Saul had situational ethics here in this passage. He thinks like many of us think. He, by his actions, appears to believe that there is no real judgment for his evil deeds and all he has to do is make up for it with a prayer here, a good deed there, a promise to God there, a ceremonial sacrifice here. He, in a sense, made himself the judge of his own fate. Jonathan had to decide whether he was going to follow his father’s belief system or follow the moral absolutes and the eternal truths of God.

In the absence of hell, we are certainly the arbiters of our own eternal fate. In the absence of hell, there is no one who judges us. In the absence of hell, God is only love but not justice. Most of us in the 21st century world have a problem with final judgment and hell. The loss of the doctrine of hell and judgment and the holiness of God does irreparable damage to our deepest comforts—our understanding of God’s grace and love and of our human dignity and value to him. The gutting of the harsh doctrine of hell always minimizes the wonderful good news of the gospel. To preach the good news, we must preach why it is good news. We must understand why the gospel is the essential good news and that nothing else but Jesus will do.

The gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ because of the true nature of man and what that true nature garners us in eternity. In a post-modern non-traditional world, we see ourselves as basically good people. However, the truth of the matter is that none of us are good at all. Have you ever really took notice of all the evil thoughts, the little lies, the outright lies, the meanness that comes out in us each and every day in one form or another. We believe that it requires goodness to get to heaven and that if we just do more good than bad that we will get into heaven. We don’t realize that like an ink drop into a glass of water permanently changes and stains the water irreversibly, so is committing any sin. Sin is imperfection when compared to the holiness of God. One drop of ink in a glass of pure water does it all. The same with sin. We commit one sin and we are done. It is the ultimate one and done scenario.

However, we are not just one-time sinners. We are habitual sin criminals that have been through the sin court system far too often. We sin every day like a common thief who steals something every day. We have a rap sheet a mile long of a lifetime of sins. We deserve the punishment of a career criminal in the court system having committed heinous crime after heinous crime. Our record belies anything that we can say in our defense before the righteous Judge that is God. We deserve hell. We really do. Once we commit one sin we are done, finished, not to mention a lifetime of habitual sinning. We kid ourselves that we are more good than bad because we don’t want to think of the fact that we tell lies, we hurt people, we lie to ourselves, we offend God each and every day with our prideful sinning. We are career sin criminals standing before a righteous Judge who looks at our record and has every right to throw the eternal judgment of hell at us. We deserve it. We have no excuse. No quippy comebacks. No way to talk ourselves out of what we deserve. We deserve the fiery pits of hell where Jesus said there was pain, sorrow, weeping, and the gnashing of teeth. It is the place of eternal suffering.

The very realness of hell is what make Jesus Christ so incredibly important to us. He is more than just some great philosopher that is one of the many ways of self-actualization and self-improvement. He is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the only way to the Father. Without the doctrine of hell, Jesus is just a way to self-improvement along with Muhammed, Buddha, Confucius, and others. With the doctrine of hell, Jesus is our Savior. Jesus as part of the Holy Trinity of God came down from heaven to live a perfect life and become the sinless sacrifice for our sins. He went to the cross to take on God’s eternal punishment for man’s sins, past, present and future. And to prove that He was of one and the same essence as God, He arose from the dead. By dying on the cross and by arising from the dead (all of which are historical facts that have yet to be realistically disputed), Jesus demonstrated that He was the Son of God and that He did indeed die for our sins.

Jesus doing these things would be unnecessary, truly, in the absence of what he did it for – to save us from our eternal judgment. In the absence of hell, Jesus did not need to come down from heaven and suffer as he did for us. All we need do is do is more good than bad. Jesus’ sacrifice would be the grandest excess of all in the absence of eternal judgment, in the absence of hell.

That is what makes or should make Christians the most joyous people in the universe. We have been saved from what we know as hell. The fiery pits of eternal punishment we know that we deserve. We have had our blinders taken off and see ourselves as the dirty rotten sinners that we are. The grace of Jesus Christ then becomes amazingly wonderful and just the greatest gift that could ever be given – the pardon from the fiery eternal death that we deserve. How can you have this joy when there is no judgment, there is no hell. We have been saved from what we know we deserve!

That makes Jesus even more awesome that just some great philosopher. It makes Him the Savior to whom we owe everything and to whom we owe all thanksgiving and daily praise and great joy.

That is the eternal truth of the gospel. That is the Jonathan choice. That is to walk away from the situational truths of Saul and embrace the eternal truths of God.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 15:24-31
Saul Pleads for Forgiveness

Recently, I found out some dear friends of mine that live in another state have separated and are living apart now. That kind of blew me away. This couple was oh so very important in the process of my wife and I going deeper in our respective relationships with Jesus Christ. If it were not for this couple, we might have fallen away from church again when we moved to back home to South Carolina back in 2010. But, they instilled in us a hunger for a relationship with Jesus and instilled in us a hunger for the fellowship of other Christ followers. It is because of that hunger that they nurtured in us that we were ready for LifeSong Church when LifeSong Church came into our path in August 2010. They were our spiritual parents even though they were both 10-12 years younger than us. Without their one-on-one nurturing discipleship in that small but growing little church in California, we would not have been ready to take off and fly and grow in our walk with Jesus nor been ready for positions of leadership there nor been ready for where we are today – about to embark into full-time ministry when we move to Illinois in two weeks. To say the least, these two people were like the most pivotal people in our lives.

Yes, my senior pastor and my discipleship pastor, Pastor Jeff and Pastor Tim, here at LifeSong have been incredibly impactful in our lives and wow, where would we be without their influence. These two guys are spiritual giants in our lives. But this couple while we lived in California set the stage for what Pastor Jeff and Pastor Tim have done in our lives. They are like the parents that raised us up and then sent us off to school, ya know, and Pastor Jeff and Pastor Tim took what these spiritual parents had done and challenged us to deeper and deeper depths. So, the fact that this couple is separated now just profoundly saddens me. It demonstrates that sin can come into even the most ardent of Christ followers and devour and destroy a marriage. These guys were Christ followers since they were little kids. They fell in love as teenagers and had been together ever since. Then, ministry in Young Life. Then, seminary at the prestigious Trinity Divinity School in Chicago. He is an incredibly brilliant man with an eidetic memory. She is a brilliantly creative artist and about the most creative person you would ever want to meet. Her art and photography is amazing. He was an awesome pastor who could inspire you with his words. He could play the guitar with the best of them. An awesome athlete. They were like this super couple. Young. Good looking. Talented. You loved them and were jealous of how cool they were all at the same time.

The thing that saddens me the most about our spiritual parents is how this deterioration of what was once an awesome pastoral couple happened. Each one sins against their marriage have been made public to one another by the fact that each spouse caught the other in the midst of their sin. For him, it was a pornography addiction and for her it was infidelity. However, where they are at now is that they seem to be remorseful that they got caught in their sin. They are remorseful over the consequences that they sin has wrought. But neither are remorseful over the sins themselves. They say they are in counseling with a Christian couple that goes to the same church that they do (they got out of the ministry themselves several years ago as their marriage began to crumble toward where it is today). The trouble is that each one is blaming the other for the state of their marriage. She blames him for how his addiction and his controlling behavior drove her to her sin. And he blames his addiction and controlling behavior her because of his insecurities related to her flirtatiousness and infidelities. It is a sad sad downward spiral that has been going on now for 5 or so years. I covet your prayers for them. I beg your prayers for them. This is a situation similar to when you as an adult who has been living on your own for about a decade and have a life of your own now find out that your parents back home are split up. It just blows you away even though you are not living at home anymore. Then you talk to your parents and find out the skinny on the situation and you realize that your parents are each maximizing the sins of the other parent while using that to justify their own sins.
These spiritual parent of ours is what I thought of this morning as I read through Saul’s pleadings in this passage. The impression that I got from this passage is that Saul is more concerned with the consequences of his sin and how to minimize that rather than being truly repentant for having sinned at all. That’s the feeling that I get from my spiritual parents is that they are trying to minimize, justify, and deflect the impacts of their sin rather than being truly and humbly repentant for their sin. The only way to save the marriage will be when they reach that low place where they are on their face before the Lord and are truly repentant for their own sins. Let’s read the passage now, 1 Samuel 15:24-31:

24 Then Saul admitted to Samuel, “Yes, I have sinned. I have disobeyed your instructions and the Lord’s command, for I was afraid of the people and did what they demanded. 25 But now, please forgive my sin and come back with me so that I may worship the Lord.”

26 But Samuel replied, “I will not go back with you! Since you have rejected the Lord’s command, he has rejected you as king of Israel.”

27 As Samuel turned to go, Saul tried to hold him back and tore the hem of his robe. 28 And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to someone else—one who is better than you. 29 And he who is the Glory of Israel will not lie, nor will he change his mind, for he is not human that he should change his mind!”

30 Then Saul pleaded again, “I know I have sinned. But please, at least honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel by coming back with me so that I may worship the Lord your God.” 31 So Samuel finally agreed and went back with him, and Saul worshiped the Lord.

In this passage, we see that Saul was more concerned about what others would think of him than he was about the status of his relationship with God (1 Samuel 15:24). He begged Samuel to go with him to worship as public demonstration that Samuel still supported him. Even in this scene where Saul is admitting that he disobeyed the Lord, he demonstrates that he is more concerned about his public persona and preserving his position than he is with any real repentance for having sinned. That’s the difference for us to when we often are simply remorseful that we got caught in some sin than we are remorseful about having committed the sin itself.

Are you in the same situation as my spiritual parents? Are you remorseful that you got busted in your sins or are you truly and humbly seeking the Lord’s forgiveness for the sin itself. We must get to the place where we see the sin for what it is – a wrongful and willful rebellion against God. We must get to the place that we are not justifying our sins because someone else hurt us. We must get to the place that we are not blaming others for the way we act and the things we do. We must stand before the Lord and make no excuses for our sin. We must see our sin as sin. We must not try to minimize it or justify it. We must not try to save face in front of others. We must be prostrate before the Lord and say Lord, I just royally screwed up. I have no excuse before you. All my excuses are just to save face in front of others or to gain pity from others. All my excuses are meaningless before you. Cover me in your grace even though I do not deserve it and I would not blame you if you condemned me to hell right now because I have no excuse. Cover me in your grace and please forgive me. I know I have wronged you and you are Lord. I fall at your mercy Lord.

That’s where we need to be. That’s where my spiritual parents need to be. That’s in a state of humble repentance wrapped in the grace of the Lord.

Amen and Amen.

 

Ruth 1:1-5

Elimelech Moves His Family to Moab

Recently, this past week, I had someone make a comment on a blog that I had written about two and a half years ago, yeah, that’s right. Two and a half years ago. So, the dude really must’ve been examining my blog space to find a blog from two years ago to take issue with me. This blog from two years ago was about the wonders of the grace offered us through Jesus Christ. I used myself as an example of the wonders of grace and how grace is superior to legalism. In that blog, I noted that according to Scripture that divorce is a sin. The only reason that God gave Moses rules about divorce was to regulate the way that it was handled. Since God’s people were stiff-necked sorts, God wanted to ensure that women were treated properly in this distasteful and sinful marriage breaker. Under the law, divorce is sin. Plain and simple. It is validated by Jesus himself. In Luke 16:16-18, Jesus says,

 

 

 

16 “Until John the Baptist, the law of Moses and the messages of the prophets were your guides. But now the Good News of the Kingdom of God is preached, and everyone is eager to get in.[a] 17 But that doesn’t mean that the law has lost its force. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the smallest point of God’s law to be overturned.

 

 

 

18 “For example, a man who divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery. And anyone who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”

 

 

 

Under the law, I stand condemned as does my wife of the past 7 ½ years, Elena. We both have been married twice before. However, both of our previous marriages (two for her and two for me) each began prior to each of accepting Christ as our Savior and Lord. That does not make divorce any less sinful, but it does go to our motivations for marriage. It does go to the fact that we did not have Christ at the center of our lives at the times that we were choosing our spouses during those years. We were not Christ followers during those years. I did not come to Christ as my Savior until near the end of my second marriage (which crumbled under the weight of her adultery, my mistakes with money, and the death of her oldest son). Elena came to know Christ as her Savior about six months before we got married (as we sat in the small group meeting at our pastor’s house when we lived in California). Under the law, we both stand condemned. Under the law, we are sinners because of our divorces even though the marriages began when we were rebels against God and we chose poorly as to who we should be married to. Under the law, we are condemned as should have no access to God or to worship in the temple. We should be excluded from the people of God because of just this one sin much less a lifetime of other sins committed. According to my commenter at my blog, my mention of how God can redeem a second or third marriage is giving him the thought that he could steal money from a bank, beg for forgiveness from God, and then say that because he begged for forgiveness that it validates the stolen money as OK to spend. I think this fellow missed the whole point of the blog which was that God is in the redeeming business. Elena and I did not steal anyone’s spouse when we met. We were already divorced when we began dating but that does not minimize the sin of divorce for us. We are condemned by this sin alone and, like I said, not mention that we have mountains of sin that convict us as well. On our own merits, we stand convicted before God for the sins that we have committed. We do deserve a sentence to hell on the merits of our divorces alone. We can’t pretty that up or make that right or go back and change. According to the law, yes, we should be excluded from the pleasures of God’s righteousness. We should be excluded from heaven. We should have no claim to enter the gates of heaven on just this one sin alone. Just this one sin. What are we to do? How can we fix this? How can two sinners who have these sordid, sinful pasts that we cannot undo before the Lord before we met one another. How do we reconcile our sinful past to the purity required before God?

 

 

 

Grace is the answer. It is through Jesus sacrifice on the cross for all sins of all time that we can now approach the throne of God. Jesus paid the price and the penalty for our sins, past, present and future. I get the commenter on my blog is afraid that people abuse grace. I get that. But you have to ask the question that if a person claims grace over his apparent and unrepentant practice of sin, then, you may have to question their salvation to begin with. However, those that are truly saved have the Holy Spirit come to dwell in us and changes us from the inside out. Through the Holy Spirit’s working in my soul, I know that my past divorces are sin and it is because of just the divorce sins alone that I stand convicted by God and condemned to hell on my own merits. In the absence of the Holy Spirit, I would see that my divorces were OK and find reasons to justify them just to make myself look good. It is through the Holy Spirit that I am convicted of that sin and it pushes and prods me to make this marriage my last no matter what comes at it. I will no longer duck and run when our marriage hits a rough space. I will work on it and get through it. It is through the grace of Jesus Christ on the cross that I stand pure before God and the everyday working of the Holy Spirit that we become more and more like Christ every day. So, just as Peter stood convicted before Jesus for something he could not go back and change, Jesus asked this obvious sinner to feed His sheep. Jesus redeemed Him. Jesus made him useful to the kingdom. Jesus does the same for us through the cross. We can have our marriages that are sinful in the sight of God be made clean and holy through repentance and through grace. That is what makes for the joy of salvation and sanctification. We made free from the penalty of our past. We are given new life. We are made children of God. He can make the foulest clean!

 

 

 

What does this have to do with the passage at hand today? It has everything to do with it. Let’s read Ruth 1:1-5 together now and then I will explain:

 

 

 

1 In the days when the judges ruled in Israel, a severe famine came upon the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah left his home and went to live in the country of Moab, taking his wife and two sons with him. 2 The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife was Naomi. Their two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in the land of Judah. And when they reached Moab, they settled there.

 

 

 

3 Then Elimelech died, and Naomi was left with her two sons. 4 The two sons married Moabite women. One married a woman named Orpah, and the other a woman named Ruth. But about ten years later, 5 both Mahlon and Kilion died. This left Naomi alone, without her two sons or her husband.

 

 

 

In this passage, we see that Moab was the land east of the Dead Sea. Moabites, who were related to Israel through Lot (Gen. 19:37), occupied parts of central Transjordan at various times. It was one of the nations that oppressed Israel during the period of the judges (see Judges 3:12 and following verses), so there were tensions between the two nations. The famine must have been quite severe in Israel for Elimelech to move his family there. It is a demonstration of how sometimes we compromise our beliefs to get what we want or think we need.

 

 

 

Marrying a Canaanite or anyone who previously occupied the Promised Land was against God’s law. Moabites were not allowed to worship at the Tabernacle because had not allowed the Israelites pass through their land. If an Israelite married a Moabite woman, they would have been prevented themselves, even though they were Israelite, from worshiping at the Tabernacle because of their marriage. Sometimes, when we are in desperate circumstances we compromise our beliefs and that is what we see here. Desperate times had come but as God’s chosen people, these Israelites, even in the land of Moab, should have set the standard for moral living for other nations. However, they mixed in with the culture and even married into it. How often do we compromise our values to just fit in with the culture around us? How many times have you and I stood quiet when people were Christ bashing and we should have stood up and said something? How many times do we commit sins that we try to justify later as being OK? How many times do we ignore God’s Word because we are in desperate circumstances? How often do we do an end around on God’s Word because that’s the easiest way from Point A to Point B. All of us stand convicted on this point. We have all sinned and grieved the Spirit of God. We have all made mistakes that somewhere down the road the Holy Spirit makes us want to throw up over the kind of person that we used to be.

 

 

 

Here in this passage we see that something bad happened that was against God’s law for the people of ancient Israel – to marry outside God’s chosen people, to marry into cultures that did not worship God. And, that is something that Elimelech’s sons did. They marry the wrong kind of person according the law. They clearly did this. There was no hiding it or justifying it. They compromised because of conditions. They went against God’s own law because of their situation. Bottom line, they stand convicted. Bottom line, they broke the law. However, because of the redemptive nature of God’s love and because Naomi and Ruth had such great faith, they were eventually redeemed from the horrid life that they were going to have to live. Because of their faith, they were rewarded. Because of their faith, the bad situation that began with a sin of marriage to the wrong crowd, God actually redeemed it. God made Ruth, who was from the wrong side of the tracks…I mean….wrong side of the Dead Sea, into one of the great women of the Bible. God made Ruth into part of the lineage of King David. She was his great grandmother. She also became part of the earthly lineage of our Savior and our Lord, Jesus Christ. She became part of God’s family and the line through which Jesus’ earthly family came. Her marriage was born in sin but it was redeemed. She would not have come to know God had it not been for this apparent mistake or sin of marrying outside the people of Israel. God used this mistake of the past because of the faithful obedience of Ruth after she came to know God and turned it into something beautiful.

 

 

 

No matter where you are at right now in life. Murderer. Idolater. Adulterer. You name it. God can redeem it and make it part of His plan. Your past you can do nothing to change. All you must do is admit before God that you are a sinner and believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross as punishment for your sins that you personally deserve. And proclaim with your mouth that He is indeed the rightful one to do this because He is the Son of God and that as the Son of God He arose from the dead to give you victory over sin and death and you will be saved. You will be redeemed. Your sins are forgiven through your repentance and revulsion over your past sins. Your sins are forgiven through the grace that covers them at the cross. You are now redeemed. You are now made new. Through the Holy Spirit, you will come to repent and be grieved over each and every sin you commit from now on and you will be changed from the inside out by Him. Through the Holy Spirit, you can see how we really do deserve hell in the absence of Jesus Christ. Through the Holy Spirit process of sanctification, we are made useful to the kingdom. Through the grace of Jesus Christ, we see joy of our salvation as we stand at the precipice of what was our eternal damnation in the fires of hell. Through Jesus Christ, we are pulled back from the brink. Through Jesus Christ, we are made clean. By God’s grace, we are made into a part of the kingdom of priests. By God’s grace, we are made part of those who are useful to God in bringing about His kingdom here on earth.

 

 

 

Yes, I am a sinner. Yes, thank God, I am redeemed. Yes, thank God, he has made my marriage clean. Yes, thank God, He has made two mistake-makers into a couple that is useful to His kingdom. No cheap grace here. Changed lives here. Joy here at what God has redeemed, made clean, and made part of the fabric of His redemptive plan. Joy here at God taking filthy rags and clothing them in the embroidered cloak of grace.

 

 

 

Amen and Amen.

 

Judges 18:1-31 (Part 2 of 3)
Idolatry in the Tribe of Dan

Right now, I am working on a research paper for my D.Min. degree and the premise that I was assigned was “what does theology have to do with the everyday life of a Christian?” In that paper, I decided to approach it from the point of view, of course, that theology has everything to do with the everyday life of a Christian. After working with a few ideas, I decided to entitle my paper, “Let’s Bring Hell Back! (And Other Basic Doctrines of the Christian Faith)”. The title is intended for shock value and to get the readers of my paper to actually pick it up and read it. The shock value is that there is so much truth in that statement. In this post-modern world in which we live, the doctrine of hell is a forgotten but essential one. It is wrapped up and tied up with the doctrine of man. With these two doctrines of the Christian faith, it creates the basic difference between it and the rest of the religions, which are all man-made, of the world.

From the Bible we learn of these doctrines throughout. We come to learn from Genesis to Revelation that man has inherited its sin nature from Adam almost immediately from the creation of man. Christianity forces us to take an honest look at ourselves. We are sinful creatures just by our very nature. On the other hand, God is full of purity, justice and love. He has no sin in him. Sin cannot exist in his presence. He is truth, and light, and justice, and agape love. The sin nature that we have is a time bomb that goes off quickly. Just think of your two year old child or two year old niece or nephew or the 2 year old child of a friend. We learn quickly from birth to preserve ourselves. We learn to throw others under the bus to save our own skin at an early age. We learn to lie at any early age to preserve our rights to the things that we want and desire. We will be mean to our siblings at a very early age to get what we want at their expense. So, to think that man is ever in a pure state or that he can achieve it through a lifetime of effort is a laughable and unrealistic notion. Have you ever tried to go through a day without having a sinful thought – of anger, of lust, of greed, of theft, of … you name the sin. Even if we do not carry out our sins in a physical sense, we commit sins by the hour in our heart and mind. According to Jesus, our thoughts are sinful just as much as our actions are. That which has any tinge of sin in it cannot exist in the presence of God. Just one sin, even if it is a sinful thought, convicts us before the Righteous and Pure Judge that is God. That’s all it takes. Just one sin. No more. One sin committed in a lifetime taints us just as one little drop of ink in a glass of pure water permanently changes the water. It is no longer pure. It is now tainted with the ink. And there is nothing that we can do to remove the ink from the water. The water has been permanently changed. Add to that we keep dropping ink into our water every day with each additional sin that we commit after the first one. Our water is so black with the ink of sin that you no longer can see through. Our water is so black with the ink of sin that it no longer resembles water but rather the ink that was dropped into it.

For our lifetime of sins, we are right to be judged by God to be condemned to hell. Scripture tells us that hell is as the following:

Revelation 14:11 “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; and they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”

II Thessalonians 1:9 “And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”

Revelation 21:8 “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

Matthew 25:41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.”

Mark 9:47-48 “”And if your eye causes you to stumble, cast it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes, to be cast into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.”

Revelation 20:10 “And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

Matthew 13:41-42 “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Scripture is very clear that hell is where we will be conscious of our eternal torment forever is what we deserve on our own merits. Just think about that even our evil thoughts taint us from being in the presence of a pure and almighty God in heaven. Hell is what we deserve for our first sin much less the lifetime of sins that we commit. We deserve hell. We deserve eternal punishment. God does not sentence us to hell. He does not send us to hell. We do it to ourselves and that is what we deserve. Hell is what we deserve.

That my friends is why Jesus is so important. He is first and foremost above anything else our Savior. He saves us from what we deserve. He saves us from our just and correct sentence. A good judge in a courtroom today is considered a good judge because he carries out the punishment that we decide as a society that is fit and right for the crime committed. We would think that any judge who lets criminals off easy or did uphold the just punishment for a crime to be a lax judge and we would call for him to be removed from the bench if he did not execute the punishment that we as a society have deemed as appropriate. So, it is with God, He has commands that we must obey because He knows what is just and right and He is Justice And Rightness. So, we stand accused of violating God’s commands and that is called sin and we deserve the full weight of justice against us for our sins. However, even though God’s justice is there, He is also a loving God who expresses Himself in three ways, the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit.

He loves us so much that He sent the Son to come to earth to live the perfectly sinless life and to complete the Old Testament sacrificial system by becoming the sinless lamb that was to be slain for our sins. He took the punishment that we deserve for our lifetimes of sin – in deed and in thought. He makes us clean. He makes our glass of water pure again. He makes it so that we can exist in the presence of God in heaven by cleansing us of the tainted ink of our sin. We are clear and pure through Him. We cannot do any effort on our own to earn our salvation because of our tainted glass of water. Without Jesus, we deserve the sentence of a habitual sin criminal. We deserve hell. Hell is what we deserve.

Think about how much more we would value our salvation if we really thought about the truth and reality of hell. What if we brought hell back to our pulpits.

However in today’s world, we preach less and less about hell. We talk less and less about hell because it is offensive to our senses as post-modernists. We have a fear of preaching and teaching the truth of hell and what we deserve. We would rather preach and teach a gospel where there is no mention of hell. Jesus just saves us from ourselves. Jesus without hell is our self-help guru. Things going bad in your life. Jesus is the answer. Not having luck in your life. Jesus is the answer. Feeling bad about yourself. Jesus is the answer. Without hell, Jesus is our buddy that helps us live a better life. Without hell, Jesus doesn’t save us from all that much other than our bad mistakes in life.

We preach and teach nothing of hell these days because we like to think that if we do enough of the right things that it will outweigh the bad. We do not think of ourselves as inherent sinners. We think of ourselves as good people that occasionally do bad things. We think that if we do enough good things, read the right books, hang out with the right people, that we can compensate for the occasional bad things that we do. We also equate God’s blessings with how good we are doing in this life. We teach and often preach a prosperity gospel that if we do enough of the right things that we will be blessed and highly favored in this life and if we are not we must have some hidden sins that we must get rid of by reading the right books, doing enough public service at churchwide events, and hanging out with right people. This is not the truth and reality of God’s Word but it sells. Because we don’t like to hear that we are destined to hell on our own merits. We would rather hear about God’s love only and not His justice. Skipping over God’s justice is how you make a megachurch today.

That idea of creating a soft religion that suits our needs is what I thought about today when I read this passage once again. My thoughts were directed at the priest in this passage. He sold out to keep food on his table. He developed a religion personally designed by Micah that met Micah’s needs. The priest was his own personal priest so the religion was set Micah not by God. Real faith in God would have required Micah to change, to admit that he was not the center of the universe. The priest created a soft religion for Micah that would soothe his soul instead of teach Him of his real nature in the presence of God.

That’s the thing that I thought of today when I read through Judges 18 for the second of three reads today. Here, we see:

18 Now in those days Israel had no king. And the tribe of Dan was trying to find a place where they could settle, for they had not yet moved into the land assigned to them when the land was divided among the tribes of Israel. 2 So the men of Dan chose from their clans five capable warriors from the towns of Zorah and Eshtaol to scout out a land for them to settle in.

When these warriors arrived in the hill country of Ephraim, they came to Micah’s house and spent the night there. 3 While at Micah’s house, they recognized the young Levite’s accent, so they went over and asked him, “Who brought you here, and what are you doing in this place? Why are you here?” 4 He told them about his agreement with Micah and that he had been hired as Micah’s personal priest.

5 Then they said, “Ask God whether or not our journey will be successful.”

6 “Go in peace,” the priest replied. “For the Lord is watching over your journey.”

7 So the five men went on to the town of Laish, where they noticed the people living carefree lives, like the Sidonians; they were peaceful and secure.[a] The people were also wealthy because their land was very fertile. And they lived a great distance from Sidon and had no allies nearby.

8 When the men returned to Zorah and Eshtaol, their relatives asked them, “What did you find?”

9 The men replied, “Come on, let’s attack them! We have seen the land, and it is very good. What are you waiting for? Don’t hesitate to go and take possession of it. 10 When you get there, you will find the people living carefree lives. God has given us a spacious and fertile land, lacking in nothing!”

11 So 600 men from the tribe of Dan, armed with weapons of war, set out from Zorah and Eshtaol. 12 They camped at a place west of Kiriath-jearim in Judah, which is called Mahaneh-dan[b] to this day. 13 Then they went on from there into the hill country of Ephraim and came to the house of Micah.

14 The five men who had scouted out the land around Laish explained to the others, “These buildings contain a sacred ephod, as well as some household idols, a carved image, and a cast idol. What do you think you should do?” 15 Then the five men turned off the road and went over to Micah’s house, where the young Levite lived, and greeted him kindly. 16 As the 600 armed warriors from the tribe of Dan stood at the entrance of the gate, 17 the five scouts entered the shrine and removed the carved image, the sacred ephod, the household idols, and the cast idol. Meanwhile, the priest was standing at the gate with the 600 armed warriors.

18 When the priest saw the men carrying all the sacred objects out of Micah’s shrine, he said, “What are you doing?”

19 “Be quiet and come with us,” they said. “Be a father and priest to all of us. Isn’t it better to be a priest for an entire tribe and clan of Israel than for the household of just one man?”

20 The young priest was quite happy to go with them, so he took along the sacred ephod, the household idols, and the carved image. 21 They turned and started on their way again, placing their children, livestock, and possessions in front of them.

22 When the people from the tribe of Dan were quite a distance from Micah’s house, the people who lived near Micah came chasing after them. 23 They were shouting as they caught up with them. The men of Dan turned around and said to Micah, “What’s the matter? Why have you called these men together and chased after us like this?”

24 “What do you mean, ‘What’s the matter?’” Micah replied. “You’ve taken away all the gods I have made, and my priest, and I have nothing left!”

25 The men of Dan said, “Watch what you say! There are some short-tempered men around here who might get angry and kill you and your family.” 26 So the men of Dan continued on their way. When Micah saw that there were too many of them for him to attack, he turned around and went home.

27 Then, with Micah’s idols and his priest, the men of Dan came to the town of Laish, whose people were peaceful and secure. They attacked with swords and burned the town to the ground. 28 There was no one to rescue the people, for they lived a great distance from Sidon and had no allies nearby. This happened in the valley near Beth-rehob.

Then the people of the tribe of Dan rebuilt the town and lived there. 29 They renamed the town Dan after their ancestor, Israel’s son, but it had originally been called Laish.

30 Then they set up the carved image, and they appointed Jonathan son of Gershom, son of Moses,[c] as their priest. This family continued as priests for the tribe of Dan until the Exile. 31 So Micah’s carved image was worshiped by the tribe of Dan as long as the Tabernacle of God remained at Shiloh.

Here, in this passage, we see that Israel’s moral decay affected even the priests and the Levites. This man accepted money, idols, and position in a way that was inconsistent with God’s laws. He compromised the man that he was supposed to be so that he could have money and position. He gladly set aside his beliefs as a man of God to get what he wanted. Instead of preaching and teaching about the truths of God, he created a religion that suited Micah’s tastes. Are we not doing that today as Christian leaders, teachers, preachers, and witnesses?

Sure, a street corner preacher with a sign saying “You’re going to hell!” has never saved but a few souls, but we have forgotten the basic truth that we are sinners who cannot wrestle ourselves out of our just and right sentence which is, indeed, hell. We need to bring hell back to the conversation. We need to bring our sin nature that condemns us to hell in the absence of Jesus. We need to make Jesus essential to us again not just our self-help buddy. We must see ourselves as totally dependent on the grace of Jesus Christ again. When we take away hell, we might make our faith more palatable to the non-believer and even to ourselves, but when we do we cheapen grace. Grace is of such great value to us because exactly of the reality of hell. That is what Jesus saves us from when we submit our lives to His authority. He saves us from hell where there is gnashing of teeth and the burning of flesh…forever. That’s the reality of the doctrines of our faith that come from God’s Word. That’s the reality. Even if we quit talking about it, that’s the reality. If it were not for hell, Jesus becomes less of a Savior and more of good buddy. When I think of hell and know, know, know that’s what I deserve, it makes me so so so thankful to God for giving me the grace He has given me through Jesus Christ. In the light of hell, I see the wondrous glory of Jesus Christ. In the light of hell, I see the amazing love that He has for me. In the light of hell, I find it impossible to fathom the great love that He has for me. I don’t deserve it but I got it and that makes me giddy beyond belief. Thank God that Jesus saved me from hell!!!

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 10:12-11:7 (Part 4 of 7)

A Call to Love and Obedience

Last week in a conversation in a meeting, I mentioned that we can never forget the joy of our salvation. When we hold on to that joy, we remember why it is that we are here in leadership positions within the bride of Christ, his church. If we forget our own salvation and what we are saved from – eternity separated from God in hell, then our leadership becomes about getting things done. It becomes about getting the assigned task done. When we forget the joy of our salvation, we forget the vision. We forget the urgency. We all have people that get under our skin in this life but do you really wish eternal damnation on even your worst enemy. When we forget that immediacy of knowing what we really deserve is hell for our sin-filled lives but that we are saved through grace by faith. Really think about it! You and I both are sinners and we, according to what God has said in His Word, cannot exist in the presence of God in heaven on our own merits.

 

When we commit our first sin, we are disqualified from heaven and from the presence of God. Done. First time. That’s it. Much less a lifetime of sins. Each one of us disqualifies ourselves on a daily basis with each and every sin that we commit. And we commit them! Don’t lie! Just think about the stuff that you just think about but don’t do. We are judged for even every sinful thought that we have. We must be perfect to go to heaven. We cannot just do more good than bad. There is no scale that will get weighed as some religions suggest. What is required is perfection. We cannot achieve through meditation and through becoming one with the universe. We cannot get away from the fact that you and I are just basically evil people who cannot get through the day without having a sinful thought much less action.

 

What is it that we deserve? If God is a God of justice and He is a fair God, then everyone does not get to go to Heaven. In our modern sanitized world we want to sanitize the heaven and hell issue. If everyone gets to go to heaven no matter what they have done. It means everyone right. Otherwise, there would be a flaw. In that vein, then Hitler gets to go heaven. Unrepentent rapists, murderers, you name it. We all get to go. There is no justice in that. Therefore, because God is loving and just there is this choice. Accept Jesus as Your Savior and let him fundamentally change your life. Go to heaven and enjoy Revelations 21:1-7. Reject Him, shaking your fist at Him and continue living your own way according to your own rules regardless of who gets hurt. Revelation 21:8 tells us you will go to hell.

 

For a moment let us try to imagine what it would be like to die and go to hell. Try to imagine that for every single moment, throughout all eternity, a time without end, every inch of your body will be in absolute pain. It will be more suffering than anything you have ever had before, worse than the most excruciating

sunburn. You might possible say to yourself, “Surely the pain will subside!”, but it never comes.  An eternity without rest or relief. Your throat becomes raw from screaming and wailing as spasms of anguish drop you into the molten lava. You go under the surface gnashing your teeth. As you rise for air, A pleading scream comes from your burning, flaming, fiery lips. A cry for “Water” is felt throughout your whole being as you begin to bitterly weep. Without warning, you find yourself falling in the darkness. You can feel something solid next to you and you grab on. `Oh, if only I could stop falling!’ you think and you try to cling to the solid surface, but the lava is too much…you are slipping. Again, you fall into the bubbling lake and you swallow another mouthful of burning slime. The horrid smell of blazing sulfur combine with the sickening odor of burning hair and scorching flesh linger in your nose and nausea overwhelms you. Something suddenly reaches out of the darkness and grabs you. In terror, you cry out as you begin to feel teeth gnashing at your flesh. You violently struggle, desperate to shake the gnashing person off in the darkness. And this, this, my friends is just one scene from an eternity there. This goes on for eternity and that’s a long time.

 

When we forget that this description of eternity is what we deserve for our lives that are less than perfect and full of sin, we forget the utter joy of our day of salvation. Jesus covers us in His perfection when we accept Him as our Savior and Lord. When the Father looks upon us, He sees Jesus. He’s the one who took the wrap for us. We cannot be perfect so we cannot be in the presence of God in eternity without the covering of Jesus Christ’s perfection. He imputes it to us. He gives it to us. We do not earn it or even deserve it because we cannot take away our stain of sin. Only He can do that! When we forget what we are destined for, we forget the joy of salvation. We forget that we have been set free from our sentence to hell.

 

When we remember, that’s a game changer. When we remember, we live lives of thanksgiving and of service to our Lord. Let’s read Deuteronomy 10:12-11:7 together today with that in mind:

 

12 And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

 

14 To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. 15 Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today. 16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. 20 Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. 21 He is the one you praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. 22 Your ancestors who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.

Love and Obey the Lord

 

11 Love the Lord your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always. 2 Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the Lord your God: his majesty, his mighty hand, his outstretched arm; 3 the signs he performed and the things he did in the heart of Egypt, both to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his whole country; 4 what he did to the Egyptian army, to its horses and chariots, how he overwhelmed them with the waters of the Red Sea[a] as they were pursuing you, and how the Lord brought lasting ruin on them. 5 It was not your children who saw what he did for you in the wilderness until you arrived at this place, 6 and what he did to Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab the Reubenite, when the earth opened its mouth right in the middle of all Israel and swallowed them up with their households, their tents and every living thing that belonged to them. 7 But it was your own eyes that saw all these great things the Lord has done

 

In this series of blogs, we are talking about how we should relate to God. Today, we are talking about serving the Lord. Why do we serve the Lord? We serve the Lord because we are eternally in His debt for what He provided us through Jesus Christ. We serve the Lord because He is sovereign and it is He who provides for us everything that we need.

 

We also serve the Lord because we want others to be drawn the saving grace of Jesus Christ. When people see us serving the Lord by serving others, we are seen as different and unique and there is something about that which draws people unto the Lord. We serve the Lord as thanksgiving and that thanksgiving should give us an urgency to see souls saved. When we remember the joy of our salvation, no longer can we say oh it’s somebody else’s job to teach people about Jesus Christ.

 

When we remember what we have been saved from (like Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed right before they fall into the swimming pool in It’s A Wonderful Life), when we remember how we have danced on the edge of eternity in hell in the absence of Jesus Christ, then, it should well up in us to serve God and to serve others as an urgent act of thanksgiving each and every day.

 

When we forget the joy of our salvation…when we forget what we deserved in the absence of our salvation…ministry becomes a job. It becomes about getting tasks done. It becomes about the next show and the next project and the next event. Getting it done. When we remember the joy of our salvation, we jump right in there and serve the Lord because we love Him so much for what He did for us on the cross. We jump right in there and serve because we see it as an opportunity to draw others unto the Lord no matter what we a doing. We see it as everything making a difference. Including making sure connection cards are in the seatbacks of chairs so people can turn in their prayer requests so that a pastor can call them and pray with them and maybe even lead them to Christ over it. What if that connection card is not there? Everything matters when we serve the Lord from the point of the joy of our salvation. Nothing is unimportant.

 

Never forget the joy of your salvation. Comprehend what it means, really! Think on it! It will restore your joy and it will re-energize your need to serve the Lord. That’s why we serve Him. He saved us! Never forget it!

 

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 9:7-29

Remembering the Gold Calf

 

Have you ever had someone bring up your past repeatedly? I knew you when! How can you be preparing for ministry when you have had the past that you have had? Two divorces and a history of being ruled by seeking approval from women no matter what it cost you. You were a “party boy” too. The classic rebellious preacher’s kid. In my quest for full-time ministry, I have had the issue of multiple marriages come up frequently during this process of the last two and half years since graduating from North Greenville University with my master’s degree in Christian Ministry. It seems that I have been almost there but not quite there all of my life.

 

I was a Methodist preacher’s kid who had the ability to make friends. But I was never quite there because I was ultimately an outsider. I didn’t have the “since we started school together” history of the others. Close by not quite there. I was married while in college so I never really experienced the college life. I was an outsider at my own college (it was a personal choice – see reference above about seeking approval no matter the cost). I was at a school for smart rich kids, Furman University. I was close but not quite there. I was neither rich nor naturally gifted as kids who grew up rich often are. I had to bust my tail to be a 3.0 student at Furman. Out of school and early in my career, it seemed I was always up against people that just seemed to be so much smarter than me about accounting. I had to bust my tail, work harder, work longer just to make myself feel even with them. I was close but not quite there. That feeling of not being good but not quite good enough fueled my career. I have always worked my tail off in my career to get where I am.

 

Then, God calls me into full-time ministry. I go to seminary at North Greenville University’s Brashier Graduate School. There are students in most of my classes that are already serving the Lord and have had careers in ministry or are just starting their careers in ministry. They have more experience in leading ministry already that I do while I am there. I am close but not quite there. Again, because of their background and experience, I feel like I am few steps behind. Good enough to hang with the big boys but at a disadvantage. I came to the party late. I came to the party but forgot to bring gifts. You know that feeling. That feeling of being a step behind, a day late, a dollar short has been a part of my life from the beginning. There was this perception I have had that there was something inadequate about me. I have always felt inferior in some way. It has driven me to work harder than everyone else so that, in my mind, that I could stay even with them. It is a feeling that you are an outsider looking in. It is a feeling that you do not belong. It is a feeling that you have warts and people see them.

 

The last two and a half years of trying to follow God’s call into full-time ministry has been a similar trek. Because I do not have the experience of others even in my part-time ministry position, I feel like I am at the pool but do not know how to swim like the others. I am a part of the team but not good enough to be first string. God has taught me so much in these last two years under the tutelage of the elders/pastors at my church, don’t get me wrong and I love my job at my church. I really do. But some qualities of who we are follow us all of our lives. I have had always this feeling that I am not quite good enough to make the grade. Trying to find a full-time gig in ministry has been a grueling experience these past two and half yeas since graduation that has kid fed that feeling as well.

 

The doors just have been opening and it has made me feel less than adequate for what God has called me to do. Coming to the game of serving God in full-time ministry late. Having the past that I have had makes me feel sometimes like that kid that is just not as coordinated as others on the playground and is always the last one picked. It is like I don’t know the secret handshake of the profession. I don’t have these common experiences of others. I have the disabilities of my past that stand out that make me feel less than these people who have served the Lord all of their lives. This is their ranch that has been passed down to them for generations and I feel like a hired hand who has just come onto the scene.

 

When I read through this passage, the fact that I cannot change my past and the feelings of inadequacy for the task that God has called me to came to mind. Let’s read through the passage together, Deuteronomy 9:7-29, this morning, and then we will see how this all ties together in God’s purposes, for Israel and for me…and maybe you:

 

7 Remember this and never forget how you aroused the anger of the Lord your God in the wilderness. From the day you left Egypt until you arrived here, you have been rebellious against the Lord. 8 At Horeb you aroused the Lord’s wrath so that he was angry enough to destroy you. 9 When I went up on the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant that the Lord had made with you, I stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water. 10 The Lord gave me two stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God. On them were all the commandments the Lord proclaimed to you on the mountain out of the fire, on the day of the assembly.

 

11 At the end of the forty days and forty nights, the Lord gave me the two stone tablets, the tablets of the covenant. 12 Then the Lord told me, “Go down from here at once, because your people whom you brought out of Egypt have become corrupt. They have turned away quickly from what I commanded them and have made an idol for themselves.”

 

13 And the Lord said to me, “I have seen this people, and they are a stiff-necked people indeed! 14 Let me alone, so that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven. And I will make you into a nation stronger and more numerous than they.”

 

15 So I turned and went down from the mountain while it was ablaze with fire. And the two tablets of the covenant were in my hands. 16 When I looked, I saw that you had sinned against the Lord your God; you had made for yourselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. You had turned aside quickly from the way that the Lord had commanded you. 17 So I took the two tablets and threw them out of my hands, breaking them to pieces before your eyes.

 

18 Then once again I fell prostrate before the Lord for forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water, because of all the sin you had committed, doing what was evil in the Lord’s sight and so arousing his anger. 19 I feared the anger and wrath of the Lord, for he was angry enough with you to destroy you. But again the Lord listened to me. 20 And the Lord was angry enough with Aaron to destroy him, but at that time I prayed for Aaron too. 21 Also I took that sinful thing of yours, the calf you had made, and burned it in the fire. Then I crushed it and ground it to powder as fine as dust and threw the dust into a stream that flowed down the mountain.

 

22 You also made the Lord angry at Taberah, at Massah and at Kibroth Hattaavah.

 

23 And when the Lord sent you out from Kadesh Barnea, he said, “Go up and take possession of the land I have given you.” But you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. You did not trust him or obey him. 24 You have been rebellious against the Lord ever since I have known you.

 

25 I lay prostrate before the Lord those forty days and forty nights because the Lord had said he would destroy you. 26 I prayed to the Lord and said, “Sovereign Lord, do not destroy your people, your own inheritance that you redeemed by your great power and brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 27 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Overlook the stubbornness of this people, their wickedness and their sin. 28 Otherwise, the country from which you brought us will say, ‘Because the Lord was not able to take them into the land he had promised them, and because he hated them, he brought them out to put them to death in the wilderness.’ 29 But they are your people, your inheritance that you brought out by your great power and your outstretched arm.”

 

In this passage, we see that Israel is being reminded of their rebellious, stiff-necked past. Their sins are known to God and known to them and is being reminded to the next generation as they stand ready to enter and conquer the Promised Land. They are reminded that, though they had seen the mighty miracles of God in Egypt and in the Sinai, they were a complaining, rebellious people. Even though they were constantly complaining and constantly rebelling, God still provided for them and still considered them His chosen people. This passage, to me, is a reminder to the people of Israel that they do not deserve the gift of the Promised Land that they are being given. God could have easily and rightfully destroyed them at the foot of the Sinai mountain and so many other times too. God is reminding them of the grace that He has given them. He is reminding them that they do not deserve His protection. So, it ultimately reminds them that they should be forever thankful for the grace given to them by God and for His continued love and protection. Otherwise, the Israelites will begin to think that they deserved the Promised Land. Otherwise, they will become proud. Otherwise, when they become proud they will turn from God and think that they have a right to be where they are because of their own merit. Nothing could be further from the truth.

 

Is this not true for us as Christ followers? We do not deserve the grace that we have been given. We are sinners with warts all over us because of our sins. They are visible to God and to others. We do not deserve grace. We do not earn grace. We do not have a natural claim to grace. We have warts and we are made beautiful and clean before God only through the grace of the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. We do not deserve grace. We, thus, should be the most joyous people on the planet because of the grace we have been given but do not deserve. We are rebels against God that deserve to be cast into the fiery pit of hell for an eternity of suffering. But it is through Jesus that we know that our eternity is secure in heaven. Not by effort, not by checklists completed, not by being good enough, but only by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. That’s humbling and that gives us the right perspective. Even we as Christ followers can forget the day of our salvation and make it about effort and make it about working hard at ministry, but forgetting that we too have a past that marks us for hell. We all have a past that by all rights should cast us in the fiery lake even now. It is only through Jesus that we have claim to the prize of heaven with God eternally. Let us never forget the joy of our salvation. May it be that the grace we have been given fuels us to lives of joy and thanksgiving that is honoring to the one who gave us grace.

 

For me, maybe all of this a reminder of His grace. Maybe it is a reminder that God does call the qualified. He qualifies the called. Maybe, in the right situation at the right time, he will bring me into full-time ministry and where my past is part of my ministry. The good – my career in accounting, the bad – my littered past of marriage mistakes, and the ugly – my feeling of needing approval from others, to give me effective ministry. Maybe, my past will be used to minister to others. Maybe, just maybe I need to remember that Moses was a murder. David was an adulterer and guilty of conspiracy to commit murder. Maybe I need to remember that Moses served as a sheepherder in Midian for forty years before God called Him to be the father/leader of Israel. Maybe, I need to remember that Joseph was in prison for 12 years before He became governor of Egypt. Maybe, I need to remember that Moses felt less than because of his speech impediment. Moses always keep in perspective that it was God not Him. Maybe, that’s the point.

I know that I do not deserve to be in full-time ministry on my own merits. I have come to know that if anything happens with my ministry efforts it will be only because God made it happen.

 

My wife and I pray daily in our own prayers and our prayers in unison that God will open only the doors that He wants open. Otherwise, we might think it is because of our efforts not His. We both know that we are far from the perfect preacher couple. We did not accept Christ as a child or as a teenager. We have multiple marriages. We came late to the game. Whatever we do in ministry as a couple and as individuals from this point forward is not because we have the perfect preacher couple resume, it will be solely and only because God ordained it and God made it happen.

 

That’s the amazing thing. That God will do what God will do. He is just allowing us to be here for the ride and document and share the greatness of our God.

 

Amen and Amen.