Posts Tagged ‘heaven’

2 Samuel 15:13-37 (Part 2 of 3)
David Escapes from Jerusalem

Over the weekend, my senior pastor (and my boss) lost his father to death. Although his dad’s death has been anticipated for a while now, it does not take away the shock of the finality of death. I can feel for Pastor Tim and his family. My wife can too. My mom passed away in November 2010 and Elena’s dad passed in March of this year. In each of these cases, death came almost as a relief. Each was ready to go meet Jesus and was just waiting around and suffering til the time came in God’s providence.

My mom passed away in November 2010 at the fairly young age of 70. Although the last six months of my mom’s life was like watching some other person occupy my mother’s body. Her mind had degenerated into dementia and she was not the mother that I had once known. She had become paranoid and delusional because of the dementia. She was in excruciating pain from her back (where she had surgery on various parts of her spine 4 times in the final 6 years of her life). Crippling arthritis made even the smallest move of her body difficult. It was difficult to watch my mother suffer both in mind and in body. It ripped holes in my heart watching her suffer particularly those last 6 months of her life. We had been anticipating her death those last six months. However, it was that last 6 days where she was at death’s door. We were ready for it. The Sunday before she died on Thursday we waited at the hospital ICU for her to pass on, but she fought it. She was a feisty woman all her life so she wasn’t going to die without a fight. Finally, the day came. Not long after I got to work on that Thursday, I believe it was, my dad gave me a call and told me that I needed to get to the nursing home as quick as I could. The hospice nurse had told him that the end was within hours.

I was able to get to the nursing home in the little town of Starr, SC (the town where my dad was pastoring a small United Methodist church on a part-time basis at that time) pretty quickly. It was the middle of the morning and the drive down from the Greenville area was pretty smooth as rush hour was over. When I got there mom was breathing heavily in labored breaths and was totally incoherent. Her body was simply functioning. Her mind had already checked out. It was just her soul still making things happen in her body. She did not respond to any stimuli. As the remainder of the morning progressed, the breathing was not as labored but the breaths were beginning to be further and further apart. I finally was able to muster the energy to hug my mom and whisper in her ear that it was OK to let go and go be with Jesus and to see her mom and dad and brother. And within the half hour after that, she just…just stopped breathing. And that was it. No grand cataclysmic event. She was there one second and then she was gone. It was a peaceful passing. She just stopped breathing and it was finished.

I am getting a little choked up as I write this because even though it has been almost 8 years now since my mother’s passing, I can get choked up by thinking about her if I let myself think on it long enough. I miss my mom. I really do. I miss dreading having to answer the phone because I knew I would be stuck on the phone for 30-45 minutes. I miss her being all up in my business. I miss her unique Carolyn Bowling way of loving me. Since she has been gone, I have come to realize that mom was the glue that held us together (my dad, my brother and me). Family get-togethers do not seem quite as special now. My mom made our family time seem special. I miss that. I miss her.

But the thing that always keep coming back to is that I know my mom was a believer in Jesus Christ. I know that she is now in heaven. I know that she has been spending almost 8 years, by how we reckon time on this side of eternity, praising her Savior all the day long. She is fully healthy now in heaven. She is no longer ravaged by dementia. She is no longer in severe back pain. She is experiencing joy immeasurable.

That’s the believer’s promise. That is what we have in store for us in heaven when we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior and have spent the rest of our lives making Him our Lord. No matter how tough things get. No matter how deep the valley. No matter the physical pain. No matter the troubling circumstances that we must go through in our lives, we will emerge on the other side on top of the mountain in heaven in victory for eternity. Eternity in heaven experiencing perfect joy and praising the Savior. That is how we as believers emerge from the valleys of this life is in the hope that we will one day be in heaven. Things may seem dark now on this side of heaven. You may be going through a valley that never seems to end but heaven is our reward.

That was the thing that I thought of today when I read this passage for the second time of three readings that I have planned for this passage, 2 Samuel 15:13-37. Let’s read the passage now:

13 A messenger soon arrived in Jerusalem to tell David, “All Israel has joined Absalom in a conspiracy against you!”

14 “Then we must flee at once, or it will be too late!” David urged his men. “Hurry! If we get out of the city before Absalom arrives, both we and the city of Jerusalem will be spared from disaster.”

15 “We are with you,” his advisers replied. “Do what you think is best.”

16 So the king and all his household set out at once. He left no one behind except ten of his concubines to look after the palace. 17 The king and all his people set out on foot, pausing at the last house 18 to let all the king’s men move past to lead the way. There were 600 men from Gath who had come with David, along with the king’s bodyguard.[a]

19 Then the king turned and said to Ittai, a leader of the men from Gath, “Why are you coming with us? Go on back to King Absalom, for you are a guest in Israel, a foreigner in exile. 20 You arrived only recently, and should I force you today to wander with us? I don’t even know where we will go. Go on back and take your kinsmen with you, and may the Lord show you his unfailing love and faithfulness.[b]”

21 But Ittai said to the king, “I vow by the Lord and by your own life that I will go wherever my lord the king goes, no matter what happens—whether it means life or death.”

22 David replied, “All right, come with us.” So Ittai and all his men and their families went along.

23 Everyone cried loudly as the king and his followers passed by. They crossed the Kidron Valley and then went out toward the wilderness.

24 Zadok and all the Levites also came along, carrying the Ark of the Covenant of God. They set down the Ark of God, and Abiathar offered sacrifices[c] until everyone had passed out of the city.

25 Then the king instructed Zadok to take the Ark of God back into the city. “If the Lord sees fit,” David said, “he will bring me back to see the Ark and the Tabernacle[d] again. 26 But if he is through with me, then let him do what seems best to him.”

27 The king also told Zadok the priest, “Look,[e] here is my plan. You and Abiathar[f] should return quietly to the city with your son Ahimaaz and Abiathar’s son Jonathan. 28 I will stop at the shallows of the Jordan River[g] and wait there for a report from you.” 29 So Zadok and Abiathar took the Ark of God back to the city and stayed there.

30 David walked up the road to the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went. His head was covered and his feet were bare as a sign of mourning. And the people who were with him covered their heads and wept as they climbed the hill. 31 When someone told David that his adviser Ahithophel was now backing Absalom, David prayed, “O Lord, let Ahithophel give Absalom foolish advice!”

32 When David reached the summit of the Mount of Olives where people worshiped God, Hushai the Arkite was waiting there for him. Hushai had torn his clothing and put dirt on his head as a sign of mourning. 33 But David told him, “If you go with me, you will only be a burden. 34 Return to Jerusalem and tell Absalom, ‘I will now be your adviser, O king, just as I was your father’s adviser in the past.’ Then you can frustrate and counter Ahithophel’s advice. 35 Zadok and Abiathar, the priests, will be there. Tell them about the plans being made in the king’s palace, 36 and they will send their sons Ahimaaz and Jonathan to tell me what is going on.”

37 So David’s friend Hushai returned to Jerusalem, getting there just as Absalom arrived.

In this passage, we see that the Kidron Valley is mentioned for the first time in the Scriptures. The Kidron Valley runs below the southeast wall of Jerusalem, separating the city from The Mount of Olives to the east. It then turns southeast from Jerusalem and follows a winding course to the Dead Sea. The Kidron Valley is nearly always dry but does have a waterflow during rainy season. Here, we see the first reference to the valley when David and his people crossed through the valley over toward the wilderness. This strategic move would give them a way of escape if the forces of the rebel army of Absalom decided to attack the city. The people and the king wept bitterly during the move because it had such a depressing significance – they were abandoning the city without a fight.

Later Shimei was forbidden by Solomon to cross the valley on the penalty of death if Shimei did so (1 Kings 2:36-38). Josephus, the Jewish historian, mentions the wicked queen Athaliah was put to death in the Kidron Valley (see “Antiquities” 9.7.3). Jesus crossed the Kidron Valley on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane just prior to his crucifixion (John 18:1). Because of David’s sad crossing and Jesus’ sad crossing, the valley has come to symbolize suffering. We may have our own “Kidron Valley” to pass through; stay true to God, and he will stray true to you throughout your sufferings.

Each of us has hope in Jesus Christ. Once we accept Christ as our Savior and begin to grow in making Him the Lord of our lives, we have our eyes opened to one immutable reality. No matter how deep the valley or how severe the trouble, we have hope in a God that promises us deliverance. It may not always be on this side of eternity. Someone once said that “what’s the worst that could happen? I die and go to heaven? I can live with that!” Our ultimate prize is heaven as believers. That gives us comfort even in the toughest times. That gives us comfort when a loved one who was also a believer dies. We may miss them terribly but we know where they are. They have emerged from this valley called life into their victory on the mountaintop on the other side. Jesus gave us this hope through His resurrection. Death could not hold him. He arose from the dead to prove to us that He was our Messiah, Savior and Lord. He arose from the dead to show us that we have hope in everything that the Bible tells us. Jesus had His Kidron Valley moment but He emerged victorious in the resurrection.

So whatever you are going through including the loss of a loved one, take heart. Celebrate that there is a reward for being faithful to God even in the valleys of life. We have all eternity to celebrate with our Savior in heaven.

Amen and Amen.

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Joshua 24:29-33
Leaders Buried in the Promised Land

In this final passage of the Book of Joshua, the first thing that strikes you is that this the end of an era. The wandering nation is now at rest. Here, we read that Joshua dies and is buried in the land that was given to Him by the Lord. We see the fulfillment of God’s promise to the patriachs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Joseph’s bones are laid to rest in land that is now owned rather than have to buy his burial plot in this land like Abraham did. Joshua is the last of leaders of mobile Israel. They have the Promised Land in their grasp. Though there are still pagan remnants to drive out of the land, control of the Promised Land is now theirs. It is now time to conclude one period of the history of Israel and begin another. Being a small rag-tag family is over. Going down into Egypt is over. Being saved from starvation by God’s placement of Joseph in Egypt is over. Becoming a large group of people under slavery is over. Being delivered by God through Moses is over. Failing the Lord and wandering in the desert for a generation is over. No longer is Israel a nation of people without a nation. They no longer are nomads. They are home in the Promised Land. Now they must act like a nation with defined lands and boundaries. They must take on the mantle of being God’s chosen people living in the land that God promised them. So, we stand here at the end of an era. Rest is found. No longer wondering when they will find rest from their wandering. The promise is now fulfilled.

The second thing that I noticed about this end of the Book of Joshua is that its ending is kind of abrupt. At the end of other books of the Bible there is often a summarization of what the writer wants you to take away, or some grand salutation, or some type of fitting wrap-up statement. However, here at the end of Joshua we do not have that. It simply ends with a sentence about Eleazar, the priest, dying. It says in the last passage, Joshua dies and is buried, the bones of Joseph that the nation of Israel has been hauling around for almost 5 decades are finally buried, and then Eleazar dies and is buried. To me as a 21st century student of years of cinema and hundreds of years of literature, the ending of Joshua is almost like, “whaattt? I want a better ending!” Why does it end with this bland ending about death and no great summarization of what happened, no wrap-up, just a coupla dudes dying and being buried. I guess that tells us a couple of things. First, maybe Joshua did not want some grand glorification of himself at the end of the book. Second, death is often an abrupt end even when we see it coming. We are breathing, even if labored from old age, one minute and the flash of life from God that keeps our heart beating disappears and the next moment our bodies are lifeless. Here one minute; gone the next. Third, the abrupt ending means that the story is not over. This is an end of an era. This is the end of that great succession of leaders of Israel that went from a small band of a father and his twelve sons to a nation of people settling a land. The story does not end here. We have more to come. The story of God’s people and the whole purpose of their existence is yet to come.

Those two groups of thoughts came to mind when I read this final passage of Joshua this morning. Tomorrow, we transition in the Book of Judges, but for today, we conclude our look at Joshua. We started this journey 70 days ago and we conclude it here today. Let’s read through the passage now:

29 After these things, Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of a hundred and ten. 30 And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Serah[a] in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.

31 Israel served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the Lord had done for Israel.

32 And Joseph’s bones, which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt, were buried at Shechem in the tract of land that Jacob bought for a hundred pieces of silver[b] from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem. This became the inheritance of Joseph’s descendants.

33 And Eleazar son of Aaron died and was buried at Gibeah, which had been allotted to his son Phinehas in the hill country of Ephraim.

In this final passage of the Book of Joshua, we can remember that it opens with a new leader, Joshua, being handed a seemingly impossible task – to lead what a roaming, nomadic nation of people in taking over the land of Canaan. By following God closely, Joshua lead the people through military victories and faithful spiritual obedience. In Joshua 24:16, we ready that the people were sure that they would never forsake the Lord. The response of the whole nation during these many years is a tribute to both Joshua’s leadership and to the God he faithfully served. Before Joshua and Eleazar died, they layed before the people the fundamentals of what it means to have faith in God. This is what we learned:

1. We are to honor and serve God alone (Joshua 24:14)
2. We are incapable of properly worship God because of our rebellious sin nature (Joshua 24:19)
3. When we forsake other gods (Joshua 24:15) and choose to worship God as our Lord, we enter into a covenant relationship with God (Joshua 24:25).
4. Through His covenant relationship with us, God will forgive us and love us.
5. Through His covenant relationship with us, God will enable us by His Spirit to do His work here on earth.
6. As His subjects under His covenant with us, we must renounce the principles and practices of the culture(s) around us that are hostile to God’s plan (Joshua 24:23).
7. When we collectively subject ourselves to God under His covenant relationship with us, we become a part of God’s chosen people such that we are bound together with others who have faith in God.
8. Our legacy, our epitaph, what we pass on to our children and grandchildren can be nothing better than to have been known as a man who loved God and faithfully served Him in every aspect of our lives.

From Joshua we see the end of the cycle. We see Israel get what God had promised them. That, in and of itself, is the ending. The last thing we see before this final passage is the tribes leaving this final gathering before Joshua and going each tribe to take up its inheritance. That’s the ending of the Book of Joshua. The tribes going off into the sunset like a great western movie where the central character grabs the pretty girl swings her up onto his horse and set her behind him and they ride off into the sunset as the classic from old movies “The End” appears on the screen (why do movies not do that anymore, I wonder?). What a conclusion that would be for a Hollywood production. A great speech from Joshua. A loving response from the nation of people (who had been through thick and thin together – wandering in the desert, for this generation, since they were born, fighting battles for 5 or more years to conquer the promised land) and now the rest that they deserve in the Promised Land. They all go to their respective lands. Hugging each other as they part ways toward the lands promised to their respective tribes. Promise made. Promise kept. Promise fulfilled. And there is rest. There is time now to develop a nation, an economy, and all that stuff. It is the promise of rest after the long hard fight. The race has been run and the race has been won. That’s the story. That’s the ending. Just as God promised and kept His promise to Israel to bring them into their inheritance in the Promised Land, it gives us great hope for the promises that He has made to us. We, too, will find our rest. We, too, will find our Promised Land at the end of our journey, our wandering, our wars. When we place our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord and begin our life beyond the cross our future is secured and we know that one day we will be in heaven with Jesus. That’s the promise of salvation. From this taking up of their inheritance in the Promised Land, we know that God keeps His promises to His people. Jesus said He has prepared a mansion for us in heaven. That’s a promise and God doesn’t break any promise He ever makes. We can trust, from this example, with the people of ancient Israel that God’s promise to us through our salvation in Jesus Christ that we will have heaven, our Promised Land, as our reward.

But for now, we have an abrupt ending to the story this side of heaven when we accept Christ as our Savior. It is a moment to savor and we ride off into the sunset but the “The End” does not roll now. Not yet. Our future is secured but heaven is a not yet thing. We still have a life to live beyond the cross. The story is not over yet. We cannot write the grand finale to the book yet. Stories are yet to be told. A new era begins at our salvation at the cross. We have still much to do. We have a story to write for Jesus through our lives as Christ followers. We have a legacy of faith to build. We have a legacy of chasing after God’s own heart to demonstrate to our children and grandchildren. When I think of what I learned from Joshua, as much as anything, is that what is the legacy that I will pass on to my children and grandchildren. What stories am I, by my life, going to write in their hearts. What will my life speak to them? What will the first thing that they say about me? Will they say, “he was a man who loved Jesus first and foremost in his life” That’s the legacy that I want. Sure, I am not perfect, and they will well know my faults and failures but will they know of my love for Jesus just by knowing me. That’s the legacy of Joshua. He was not perfect by any means but there was no doubt that he was a man of God. That’s what Joshua is remembered for – not his imperfections but His love of God and His obedience to Him. That’s the story I want to write with the phase of my life that began the day of my salvation. That’s the next phase. That’s the new era. That’s the story that is being written now. The story is not over until God decides my story is over and I make that sudden transition from life to death to my eternal life and my eternal home in the Promised Land of heaven with Jesus Christ, my Savior and Lord.

Amen and Amen.

Joshua1:10-18 (Part 2 of 4)

Joshua’s Charge to the Israelites

 

What a weekend! Constantly on the go. I did not have time to write me blog for the last two mornings we were so busy. Starting with Relay for Life Spartanburg on Friday night. Then, after that we went to Spartanburg Regional Hospital to visit our friends, Randy and Missy. Randy’s elderly father is seriously ill. We got home Friday night about 11pm. Saturday morning, I squeezed in an hour or two of getting our checkbook up to date. Then, it was shower time and time to hit the road. Saturday to Iva, SC to put flowers on my mom’s grave. Then immediately onto southside Charlotte to A Piece of Havana for dinner with Elena’s family. On to Fort Mill to hang out at Michelle’s place and spend the night. Up and at it again on Sunday morning for 9:30 service at Elevation Church-Ballentyne, the main campus of the megachurch. Then, lunch with Michelle after church at Red Robin in Ballentyne. Then on to see Elena’s mom at the assisted living center near Gastonia on the westside of Charlotte. Then back down Interstate 85 to Greenville to have dinner with Meghan, Curtis and my 9 ½ month old granddaughter, Ralyn, at the restaurant, Southern Culture. After the whirlwind of Upstate South Carolina and the Charlotte, NC area, we finally got home about 8:00 or so Sunday night. After getting all the Mother’s Day gifts and our luggage out of the car, we both plopped down on the couch and love seat, respectively, and finally had some rest. I think we both feel asleep watching the movie, The Help, by 10pm. We were tired from our weekend’s journey and needed a place to rest and be quiet and relax. We needed rest. How busy we were this weekend is a contrast to what I wanted to write about in this, the next blog on the passage, Joshua 1:10-18. This second blog is about rest.

 

When I think of rest, I think of my Mom who lived the life of a preacher’s wife for 52 years. She served the Lord not in some flashy way. She was never in the pulpit, but she was the preacher’s wife – the most overworked, least respected, and underpaid job there is in the world. She supported her husband, the preacher, all those years. She he was no perfect man. He is still imperfect today. She knew his faults but she defended him with tenacity and grace all those years. She loved her husband and defended his job and his family all those years. She made him a home where he could escape the hard toil that is being a preacher. She followed him around the state as the wife of a United Methodist Church minister. Moving from town to town and from church to church. She would always uproot her kids and follow her man anywhere he led us in service to the United Methodist Church in South Carolina. She always found a job in each new town even if it meant driving a half hour or an hour to the location of her job. She sacrificially stunted her career over the years to follow her husband to the next appointment, the next small South Carolina town. In retirement, her health began to fail and in the last four years of her life, there were multiple back surgeries that left her half the woman that she once was. After that last surgery a year before her death, when it gave her no relief from her chronic back pain that was with her with every step and every twist of her body, I think she just gave up on living here on earth. Then, she began the slow descent into dementia. It was difficult to watch. My mother was just tired. She was tired of living and living in pain. She had raised her boys into two good men (though they had their faults aplenty too) that were productive citizens. Her youngest son, me, was finally settled in a good marriage and had moved back to South Carolina from California so she seemed to show signs that her work here was done. However, the body was not yet ready to go. The last year of her life, she was filled with the paranoia and weird recollections of random thoughts and living in a world in her mind that only she knew. That was not the mom I knew and loved. Finally, her body gave out in a nursing home in Iva, SC on November 17, 2010. It was there she found rest. Her long journey was done. Raising two kids to adulthood and seeing them have their own children and raising them into adulthood. Experiencing all those wonderful years of grandparenting. Loving her family in her own unique way. She was now done with the journey, the long hard journey of the life of a preacher’s wife and mother and grandmother. She crossed over the Jordan and into the Promised Land. She now had her rest. No more health struggles. No more work struggles. No more being preacher’s wife struggles. No more struggles. Rest.

 

When I think of rest, I think of my wife of seven (7) years now, Elena. She is my rest in so many ways. She creates a home for me that is my resting place from the world. She takes care of the details of my life so that I may have rest when I am not working, which I do a lot. She takes care of the house so I don’t have to so that I might have rest. She takes care in that way that I might have a warm, hospitable home as a respite from the world. But she is my rest in other ways as well. Elena ended the turmoil of my life and gave me spiritual rest as well. After two failed marriages which were full of drama and the spiritual equivalent of riding on The Scream Machine at Six Flags over Georgia, and then dating multiple women between the end of the second marriage and meeting her was like equally scary amusement park rides where there are great emotional ups and downs. She was the one that settled my life down and gave me spiritual rest. She is that safe haven. She is that harbor from the storm. She gives admiration that I do not deserve. She gives me unconditional love that I need. She gives me peace. She gives me rest. Is that not what a wife is supposed to do for her husband. He is supposed to protect and provide for her. A wife is supposed to be her husband’s safe place. A wife is to be her husband’s rest. Elena is my rest.

 

When I think of rest, I think of the newest mother than I know, my oldest daughter, Meghan. If there was ever a girl born to be a mother it was her. She now has her own daughter, little Miss Ralyn. I think of how Meghan is her young daughter’s rest. When you are a baby, the world is a big, scary place. You were comfortable in your mother’s womb for 9 months and all of a sudden you are in this big, loud, scary world. Everything is new and frightening and unknown. Everything is new. For a baby, their mothers are their safe place where everything is safe, secure and right. I love to see Ralyn snuggle up to her mom as if it the perfect place to be. For Ralyn, it is the perfect place to be. Meghan is her mother. Her mother is her comfort, security and warmth. Meghan loves her daughter you can tell. They are almost inseparable. A mother’s love for her child is transcendent. It is something that we really don’t appreciate as we are growing up. But when we have children of our own, we do think about how our Moms were always there to pick us up when we were tired and how we felt so warm and secure in her arms as we fell asleep. Our moms were our rest. They are that little slice of heaven for their children where everything is right, pure, and perfect. I see that in Ralyn’s eyes when she sees her mom. Meghan is her comfortable, safe, warm, place of rest.

 

That idea of rest from struggles is what I think of today as I read through this passage a second time with a focus on Joshua 1:13. The whole passage of Joshua 1:10-18 says this:

 

10 So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: 11 “Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own.’”

 

12 But to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, Joshua said, 13 “Remember the command that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you after he said, ‘The Lord your God will give you rest by giving you this land.’ 14 Your wives, your children and your livestock may stay in the land that Moses gave you east of the Jordan, but all your fighting men, ready for battle, must cross over ahead of your fellow Israelites. You are to help them 15 until the Lord gives them rest, as he has done for you, and until they too have taken possession of the land the Lord your God is giving them. After that, you may go back and occupy your own land, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you east of the Jordan toward the sunrise.”

 

16 Then they answered Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. 17 Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses. 18 Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey it, whatever you may command them, will be put to death. Only be strong and courageous!”

 

In v. 13, we see that God was giving his people rest. This concept was wonderful news to the Israelites who had been on the move for a generation. This generation of Israelites knew nothing but an nomadic existence. They had heard of the promises of the Promised Land but they would not know of its reality until now. The people who had no land would be given land. The people who had no land of their own would be given a home land. And, most of all, after the land was conquered, there would be rest, glorious rest. Being able to build a permanent home, plant crops, raise animals in basically the same place all the time, create cities and towns, permanence. This rest was to be so welcomed by the Israelites.

 

The Promised Land reminds us of what heaven is for all those who believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. When we get to heaven, we will finally have our safe place. My mom already knows of this. She passed into heaven in November 2010. She has that perfect rest. We will all join her someday. We are safe and secure in that knowledge when we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior. We will be able to rest with Him. There will be no more struggles. There will be no more tears. There will be no more pain. There will be no more evil. There will be only rest. We will receive our reward, rest. We will have run the good race. We will have our rest. We will have that place where our comfort, warmth and security will be assured in the arms of our God. We will no longer struggle with life’s ups and downs. Everything will be a perfect home. A place to be at rest and at peace. We live in a world where it is scary and mean and nasty and the women in our lives, our mothers, our wives, our daughters, show us the meaning of warmth, love, security, home, and rest. The women whom we celebrated this weekend are imperfect earthly representations of what we will feel when we are in heaven. Warmth, love, home, security, rest…above all rest.

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 21:18-21

Dealing with a Rebellious Son

Have you ever thought in your mind, “Man, I just wanna kill that kid!” Many of us, even as believers, have become exasperated with our children that we have used this term as a hyperbolic statement, though we do not mean it literally. This passage is another one of those harsh Old Testament passages that we, as maturing Christians in the 21st century would just as soon ignore as to have to explain it to less mature Christ followers or, at worst, to non-believers. To stone a rebellious child seems excessively harsh. It is in complete contrast to what we often see today in parenting.

 

Often times today, we see parenting in public or when visiting friends with young children where you see the parents trying to be “enlightened” in their parenting. They want to negotiate their children into good behavior. They treat their child as if to anger the child could be the worst possible thing. They tolerate temper tantrums as they try to reason with their child. You often see children of such parents become just little brutes that are incorrigible. Children of such parents can sense their parents’ disciplinary weakness early on and take advantage of it. Children who do not respect their parents often grow up to be insolent and disrespectful adults. And, watching this enlightened parenting just misses the whole fact that children actually do desire their parents to give them guidance and boundaries. Children are wired to want their parents to be parents to them. It has been statistically proven that children who grow up in homes where they were not disciplined are more likely to become criminals. Children need their parents to be authoritarian and set rules and boundaries that are intended to make them become responsible adults and that there are real consequences for bad behavior. When you see parents try to reason with their 4 year old while he or she is having a meltdown, you just wanna go over to them and just say, “you iiiiidiot!” (reference to Ren & Stempy Show). There are times that we need to discipline our children to teach them that there are consequences for bad behavior. We must teach them to respect us as the final authority in the home.

 

My dad, the man who I could write about his oft-repeated sayings, had a saying about this, “as long as you push your feet up under my table, you will do what I say!” He meant that as long as I am living in his home, I will obey his directions. There was no negotiation. He was dad and I was son. I knew where the limits were. I knew who was in authority. I did not always like and he would make me so angry sometimes with all his rules and consequences. But one thing is for sure when I was growing up in my dad’s house was that I respected him. I knew he was the boss and I was the subordinate. It is ironic that I write about this today. It is my dad’s 78th birthday today. After living these 54 ½ years of my own, I do appreciate that my dad had expectations of my behavior. I do appreciate that he had boundaries for me growing up. I do appreciate that he was consistent in his application of those rules. He was always very clear where the boundaries of behavior were and was consistent about consequences being applied when those boundaries were crossed. I am thankful that my dad was just as much a disciplinarian as he was the dad that would play football with us, wrestle with us, and do fun stuff with us. I have told my dad on several occasions that I had no complaints about how he raised me. He made me into a man who could function and survive and thrive in the world. That’s all a dad wants for his kids – for them to be able function, survive, and even thrive in a rough world out there that is “not all about them!” The world is a no-excuses, suck-it-up-buttercup kind of place and a dad wants his kids to make in that world.

 

18 If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, 19 his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. 20 They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” 21 Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.

 

In this passage, disobedient and rebellious children were to be brought before the elders of the city and stoned to death. There is no biblical evidence that this punishment was ever carried out. However, the point of the passage seems to be that disobedience and rebelliousness against one’s parent in the parental home was not to be tolerated or allowed to go unchecked. This passage was not a license to publicly or privately abuse children.

 

Note that it requires the agreement of both the mother and father. Both the father and mother must take hold of the child and bring him to the public place of justice. Have you ever met a mother than would be willing to have her child publicly stoned even in the worst of circumstances? Fathers may have a lower threshold for the disobedience of children but mothers, by nature of how they are wired and by the fact that giving birth to another human being and nursing them, are the unconditional lovers of their children. Therefore, to have a mother who is willing to take hold of her son along with her husband, there must have been some longstanding, longsuffering point that has been reached in the parents’ relationship with this child. And, too, even though dads are often tougher on kids that their moms, would a dad really want to see his son stoned? It must have had to be a really, long series of problems with a son that parents would have come close to even considering this remedy and it took them both being in complete agreement on it.

 

I think back to raising my girls over the years. Often the threat of “the black spirit of power”, what I called my belt (a term I borrowed from the master of sayings, my dad), was as much a deterrent for bad behavior as the actual use of it. I had to whip both my girls on a handful of occasions only. The threat of punishment though was used many, many times. I think this passage acts in that vein. Parent, instead of saying, “you better chill out! You don’t want a whipping, do you?” Back then, they could have said, “You better chill out! I could take you to the city gates and have you stoned, you know!” So, before we start talking about how harsh God is in the Old Testament, let us remember that there is no biblical evidence that this requirement was none other than for deterrent’s sake.

 

God wanted the household to be a model of our relationship with Him. Parents should be the ultimate authority in the home just as God is the ultimate authority in our lives. Rebellion against parents should have consequences, just as our rebellion against God has its consequences. We are destined for hell because we are rebellious children of God. It is only when we accept God’s authority in our lives through accepting Christ as our Savior and Lord that our rebellion is wiped away. In the absence of accepting God’s authority in our lives through Jesus, we are destined to pay the price for our sins – an eternity cast out into the fiery pit of hell. We are cast outside the city gates of heaven. We are willful children having a meltdown when we do not obey God’s commands and submit ourselves to His authority. Let us, as parents remember the consequences of our rebellion against God and how long it took so many of us to come to our senses. Let us then raise our children to respect us so that they will respect God. Let us raise our children to understand that there are consequences to bad behavior so that they will be more readily able to understand the consequences of sin and about submitting to the authority of God in their lives.

 

Amen and Amen.

Luke 20:27-40 — Ever wonder what heaven will be like? Man, through the ages, has developed ideas of what it will be like. Other religions have created their images. Muslims with their 70 virgins given you for endless sexual pleasure. Buddhism with its becoming part of the fabric of the universe. Even as individuals have created our own scenarios. At men’s group one time, I heard a guy describe it as a place where he had a tractor and 40 acres on the back side of heaven. A Clemson Tiger fan, such as myself, might see it as a place where you get to live at Death Valley and Clemson wins the national championship every year. Some might see it as place where they get to relive all the best memories of their lives, those bright shining moments in time. Somehow we see it as a continuation of this life only in a place not bound by the physical laws of time and space.

After the Pharisees and the supporters of Herod had failed to trap Jesus, the Sadducees smugly step in to try. They did not believe in the resurrection because they held that only the first five books of Scripture were valid as they were given directly by God to Moses. Since the first five books (Genesis-Deuteronomy) do not have any direct references to the resurrection, they refused to believe in resurrection. The Pharisees, the writers of interpretations of God’s law, could never find an argument to shut down the Sadducees. So, they figured they could trip up Jesus on this issue. The Sadducees asked Jesus what marriage would be like in heaven with an outlandish scenario of taking the custom established by Deuteronomy 25:5-6 to the extreme. As Jesus skillfully and perfectly answered all the trick questions of this day at the temple previously, He answers this one perfectly as well.

First, he addresses the issue of what marriage will be like in heaven. Jesus tells us by his answer that it was more important to understand God’s power than it is to know specifically what heaven will be like. In every generation and culture, ideas of eternal life tend to be based on our images and experiences from this life. Jesus answered that these faulty ideas are caused by ignorance of God’s Word. We must not make up our own ideas of what it will be like and what God is like in human terms. We should not think of heaven as a continuation of what we can see, feel, touch and hear on this side of eternity. Is that what we really want. More of this. A new and improved this. More of the same only just perfected. Heaven we cannot even imagine what it will be like. John can only use the word “like” in Revelation. It is like this. It is like that. Most assuredly John’s mind was blown in His revelation from Jesus Christ. He could only describe it using the language references of the Greek of his day. It would be like a person from the 18th century trying to describe life in the 21st century without words to describe things that had not yet been invented yet. They would have no words for cars and cell phones. They would have to describe it in the vocabulary of their day with frames of reference that they knew. Heaven is beyond our wildest dreams or anything that we can even describe or conceptualize. There will be no continuation of what see here. It will be far and away superior to anything that we know. It will be beyond the highest amount of knowledge mankind has here on this side of heaven. It is the place of perfection. It is the place of perfect knowledge, peace, and understanding. All will be made clear. All will be at peace. We will understand praise. We will understand humility. We will understand being in the presence of the Almighty. It is different and far better than anything that we know here on this side of eternity. It has to better than anything we can imagine or describe. It is the residence of God. He is beyond our understanding so His dwelling place is also. Instead of creating ideas about what our own heaven will be like, we should then concentrate on our relationship with Jesus Christ so that we can get all these ideas about heaven answered when we arrive there.

Jesus answers the Sadducees about resurrection by using a reference from the only five books of the Bible they believed in. He references Exodus 3:6 when questions them, why would God have said that I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when God was talking to Moses if there was no resurrection. From God’s perspective, they are alive. They are resurrected and dwelling with Him. He uses the present tense of “they are alive”. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are alive to Jesus. He knows them. They are with Him in heaven enjoying the resurrected life that we believers all enjoy in Him. For there not to be a heaven into which we are resurrected would make this life seem even more harsh, even less hopeful, even more random. There is a resurrection for us. It will be far beyond our ability to image and understand with the limitations of our temporal minds and bodies on this side of it. Thank God that heaven is beyond description and beyond my comprehension. I am thankful that, although I love Clemson football, that I will not be living at Death Valley in a newly upgraded version of this life where the things that were not perfect here, is, there. I thank God that I am incapable of comprehending the sense of joy that I cannot describe now will be my commonplace emotion there. I thank God that the knowledge that I think I have here will pale in comparison to the knowledge I have there. But most of all I thank God that I will be there through my salvation in Jesus Christ.

Heaven is for real. Hell is too. Are you pondering the afterlife? Are you willing to bet your soul that there is not one? Think about it. All cultures of all time have believed in an afterlife. We are wired that way by our Creator because there is reality to it. The afterlife is for real. Are you willing to be that all roads lead to heaven or are you willing to consider that Jesus as He said of Himself, no one comes to the Father, the afterlife, except through me. Is He a liar? How bout you take time to consider Jesus’ claim. Test it out. Drive it around. You will find that Jesus is the Son of God and through Him you will find salvation and your keys to the gates of heaven. Call on him now. There is an afterlife. Heaven is for real. Where will you spend eternity?

Luke 16:19-31 — You know, for several weeks now, as we have progressed through Jesus’ teachings in His parables, one thing that pops out is that a lot of these parables are about possessions and money. Today is no different. Today, we look at the Parable of the Rich Man and the Beggar. Many of us think that there is always more time. Just give me a little more time to live as I want to and then I will come to Christ.

It is a bit ironic that we run across this passage today. Last night, my wife and I were sitting on our back porch (our favorite spot at our house, especially in the spring and summer), and it was raining. My cat, Flash, was out there with us. It was raining pretty hard outside but yet my wife does not like to let my little buddy in the house too often. So, there sits Flash on the porch. Can’t go outside because of the pouring rain. Can’t go inside because of Elena. So, he just sat on the floor stairing aimlessly outside. I said “Poor lil Flashy! He’s in porch purgatory.”

That got me to thinking. Where did the Catholics come up with the doctrine of purgatory? According to Catholic tradition, this belief has existed since the beginnings of the church (remember the Catholic church was the original church of Jesus’ disciples, catholic is Latin for universal. The church did not get this official name until it became the official religion of the Roman Empire around 300 AD). Research shows that Judaism believes in it as well. Islam does too in a sense with Islam’s levels of heaven. So, the Catholics are not alone in this belief that there is some type of cleansing that goes on for a period of time before we get to go to “real” heaven where we are cleansed of our imperfections. It is said that half of all Christians have this concept as part of their beliefs and most all other religions do too. Only we Protestants (all non-Catholic) believers dismiss the concept as having no basis in God’s Word itself. Man has developed this belief that there is always more time. More time to get ourselves straight with God. The dogma of purgatory almost gives us the idea that we do not really have to get it right while we are here on earth. We have a chance to get it right after death and before our final eternal destination. What a crock this is? It almost eliminates the need for Jesus and eliminates the urgency to come to Him. We’ve got time, always more time. I can put off til later dealing with this salvation thing.

This passage reminds us that purgatory is not biblical. This passage reminds us that hell is real. This passage reminds us that we are not guaranteed tomorrow so salvation and evangelism are essential.

As we see here in this passage, the beggar went to heaven and the rich man went to hell. This means that there is an immediate assignment of our soul to its eternal destination. There is no purgatory. There is no second chance. Purgatory is just an invention of man to make himself feel better about his loved ones who have passed on or about our own lifestyle as it is lived out day to day. It takes away the urgency of evangelism and it takes away the need for salvation. Jesus never spoke of purgatory. He only spoke of heaven and hell and we see it here clearly that there are only two options. Live a life of hard-heartedness. Live a life of rejection of God and His Word. Live a life of never accepting Jesus as your Savior and you will get your answer about the afterlife immediately.

This passage reminds us that hell is for real. There is no purgatory. There is the “hell express” immediately upon death for those who do not come to Christ in this one life chance that we have. Hell is not a pretty place. The rich man complains of the unquenchable thirst that he has and that he is in anguish. Let’s get this straight first. The rich man did not go to hell because he was rich and had much wealth. He went to hell because selfish. He refused to help the beggar right at his doorstep, a man so sickly that even the dogs licked his sores. Let’s remember first century Jews had no love for dogs the way we do. They were considered mongrels and were considered unclean, nasty animals and were never kept as pets. To be so sick that dogs would feed on you meant that you were lower than low. The rich man would not care for the beggar at his doorstep who begged for food. He refused to take the beggar in or even care for him. The rich man was hard-hearted despite his many material blessings. This man went to hell because his wealth was his god. He was blinded that Moses and prophets preached that God wants us to show love to the less fortunate. In the caring for the less fortunate, we learn not to love our things and make them our God. Caring for the less fortunate helps us to show the world that there is a God who loves them and will give them hope. Yet this man probably felt that his wealth and the maintenance of it was more important than helping his fellow man. When we make anything else other than God our god during this one chance at life that we get, we destine ourselves to the anguish of hell. It is a place of eternal suffering, pain and thirst and fire and the gnashing of teeth and bone and burning flesh and stench and emptiness. It is real and it is immediate. Do you want to keep putting off your coming to Jesus, the only way to the Father? The only way! No other way! Is living this life with some sense that you have time to get this right later on really a good bet? The rich man in this parable probably thought he had a long life to get things right but He didn’t. How much time do you think you have? Hell is for real. It is permanent. It is immediate when you die. I am not trying to scare anyone into salvation. That never works but it is so common for us when we are non-believers to think that we have more time to deal with our eternal destiny.

Why is it that we think that we always have time to deal with Jesus later? We think we are going to live forever. All of us, even Christ followers, do not like to think of death as being right around the corner. As Christ followers we know we are secure in heaven at death but we do not like to think it could be when we step our door to go to work this morning. The reality however is that we are not guaranteed one more minute in this temporal life that we are living now. We could indeed step out the door this morning to go to work and never make it there, even if you live less than two miles from work like I do. Death is always out there. We do not know when it comes. Why is it then that non-believers think they can put off dealing with Jesus until later. I put it off for 39 years. Let me live my life the way I want to right now. I can deal with Him after I have sowed all my wild oats. I am having too much hedonistic fun right now to deal with Him. I am too busy reveling in my sins right now. I will deal with Jesus later. We are not guaranteed one heart beat more than the next beat. Don’t put off coming to Jesus. Come to Him now. The rich man in this parable thought he had all the time in the world. We think we will live forever. Tomorrow I will deal with Jesus. Tomorrow. But tomorrow may never come. We may die today. Come to Your Savior now. As the captain of the space shuttle on Armageddon said, “We’ve got no time. No time!” Today may be your last day. Don’t put off knowing Jesus as your Savior. The rich man thought he had more time but died suddenly and putting off and putting off landed him in a place of eternal anguish known as hell.

The fact that we are not guaranteed tomorrow not only should give the non-believer a sense of urgency to deal with Jesus but as Christ followers it should give us a great sense of urgency to share the gospel message. We put off sharing the gospel but it has been statistically proven that a person typically has at least 8 gospel encounters before they finally accept Christ. If we miss our divine appointments because we feel uncomfortable sharing, we are stretching out the time frame that a person has before the come to Christ, if at all. We are not guaranteed tomorrow as Christians but non-believers are not either. Hell is for real and is immediate upon death as we see in this parable. That raises the stakes for us as Christ followers. We must share the gospel when the opportunity arises. We must have a sense of urgency. Now. Now. Now. Hell is at stake. Souls are at stake. One chance at this life. It is short. Non-guaranteed long life. Today is the day. We should have that urgency on our mind when gospel opportunities are laid before us. Let us live with gospel urgency!

Romans 8:18-30 — Yesterday we talked about our present confidence that we have in the Lord. Today, we talk about our future glory. Paul tells us plain out that there will be suffering, but it is nothing compared to our future glory.

Man, this week, in what I call God’s synchronicity, He is driving home a point to me. In this synchronicity, He drives home a point to me in various different ways and from various different sources. The idea that He is making to me is that there is a price to be paid to be identified with Jesus and how far, how deeply, am I willing to take my faith. How far am I willing to follow. Am I content to sit back while there are billions of people who have not yet come to know Jesus? Do I have the faith of Christians in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia who are dying rather than denounce the name of Jesus. Yes, they are dying today in the 21st century for Christ. Do you have that kind of faith, Mark? How far are you willing to take this thing? God is speaking this synchronously to me – in the chapter of the book, Radical, that I am reading now (which, bam, is using Romans as the source for the discussion in the chapter), in mailing I have received about suffering Christians in Africa and the Middle East, and in my current passage under study, the Book of Romans.

Along with being heirs of God’s glory, Paul, in this passage, mentions suffering. What kinds of suffering are we willing to endure? For first century believers and for many around the world today that are Christ followers, there is economic and social prices to be paid for being Christian. Some face physical torture. Some face death. Even in countries where Christ is still tolerated or is encouraged, we must not become complacent. To live as Jesus did – serving others without expectation of payback, resisting the temptation to conform to the ways of the world, and heeding the call to call out what is evil and against God’s Word, and to love others so much that you are willing to die for them – exacts a price. How far are you willing to go? Being a Christian involves making small choices that separate us from the crowd and sometimes it involves making big ones. Are you content with your American dream lifestyle of me, me, me and gathering all the toys you can? Are you willing to chuck it all and follow where God leads you. Are you willing to say yes to Jesus? or do you say yes to the American dream of stuff, stuff and more stuff.

Comfort. cushiness. Complacency. Just because we go the most up to date current cool church with over the top service to the community and the latest Christian music doesn’t mean anything if we do not answer the call as Christians. If we just sit in a pew on Sunday and that’s the comfy Christian life we want, we are missing the point. It doesn’t matter that you attend a cutting edge church if you don’t heed God’s call, if you do not put your yes on the table. Are you willing to follow God’s call? It may involve selling your house and all your possessions and moving to Nigeria to help Christians being persecuted there? It might involve chucking it all and teaching in an inner city school? Christ did not promise us the American dream. He promised us suffering in His name. How far are you willing to take your faith? This is the question that I am struggling with now. The deeper you go with your faith, the more you are convicted of the inadequacy of it. Jesus went to the cross for us. How far are willing to go to make his name known?

Paul says what we suffer here is nothing compared to the glory that we will be rewarded with in Heaven. Do we really, really believe that? Christians in Nigeria believe it. Christians in Sudan believe it. Christians in Iraq believe it. Nothing that we go through here compares to the glory that we will receive in Heaven. Even dying in the name of Jesus is temporary pain compared to the glory of heaven. Even though we don’t often die in the name of Jesus here, we do still have our personal trials and tribulations, divorce, death of loved ones, job loss, and so on. We suffer in those ways here but the suffering we as humans endure is nothing compared to our future glory in heaven. Nothing we endure here is so nasty and ugly that it can trump our reward in Heaven as Christ followers. Many of us are so worrried out this life and being happy and content that we sell out our souls to chase after these worldly things. Paul says our future glory is what we should be chasing. All this, this is just temporary. Its seasonal fashion. Here today. Gone tomorrow. When we are chasing after Jesus, none of this temporary stuff matters. We have our eyes on the eternal prize. How far your faith? How much in love with this life are you? How deep are you willing to go? Are you all in?