Posts Tagged ‘Jesus Christ’

Judges 13:1-20 (Part 1 of 3)
The Birth of Samson

Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca, Manoah’s wife, among others in the Old Testament, and Elizabeth in the New Testament. All three are women who had been barren (unable to conceive a child though she was married) for many years. All become pregnant after years of barrenness.

With Sarah, God told her husband, Abraham, that he would father descendants who would outnumber the stars in the sky (Genesis 15:5). Sarah knew all about the prophecy and as she became old and still no baby arrived, she encouraged her husband to be with her maid, Hagar, so he could have children with her. Sarah utilized Hagar as a sort of surrogate, giving her the opportunity to bear children with Abraham. However rather than expressing gratitude to Sarah, Hagar taunted Sarah and demeaned her for her inability to conceive. “When [Hagar] saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes (Genesis 16:5). Three angels and one miracle later her son Isaac arrived (Genesis 21:1).

Sarah’s daughter-in-law Rebecca (Rivkah) faced a similar trial, she did not conceive for the first twenty years of her marriage to Isaac. Prayer worked for the couple, and Rebecca conceived. Though having to bear a difficult pregnancy, Rebecca was awarded with twin sons Jacob and Esau, who became patriarchs of the Jewish and Edomite nations, respectively.

In the next generation, the complexities of fertility vs. infertility were played out between two of Jacob’s four wives, the sisters Rachel and Leah. “And when God saw that Leah was hated, He opened her womb and Rachel was barren.” During biblical times, generations after that and even in certain circles today, women were valued for their ability to bear children – especially boys. Leah gives birth to four boys, and Rachel is consumed with envy. She pleads with Jacob: “Give me children or else I die” (Genesis 30:2). To encourage Rachel to pray to God Jacob responds “Am I in the place of God who has withheld from you the fruit of your belly.” God does finally listen to Rachel beseeching prayers as she has to first bear the shame of not only her sister having more sons, but their respective maids as well. “God remembered Rachel and God heard her and God opened her womb” (Genesis 30:22). After giving birth, Rachel says: “God has taken away my shame.”

After years of prayer, an angel appears to Samson’s mother and says “Now you are barren and have not given birth. You will become pregnant and give birth to a son.” There are conditions and stipulations associated with this promise. The angel leaves explicit instructions on how this child is to be raised, as well as how the mother is to behave during the pregnancy, since that too would affect the growing fetus. The angel returns at Manoah’s request to verify what he had told his wife, and shortly thereafter the woman conceives and later bears a son she names Samson. “And the woman bore a son and called his name Samson. And the child grew and the Lord blessed him. And the spirit of the Lord began to move him…” (Judges 13:24-25)

Why do you think that there is this theme of barrenness and then miraculous pregnancy among these important moms of the Bible? That was the question that struck me this morning. How these stories of barren women who became mothers of children of great promise each one. Let’s ponder on that issue as we read through today’s passage, Judges 13:
13 Again the Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord handed them over to the Philistines, who oppressed them for forty years.

2 In those days a man named Manoah from the tribe of Dan lived in the town of Zorah. His wife was unable to become pregnant, and they had no children. 3 The angel of the Lord appeared to Manoah’s wife and said, “Even though you have been unable to have children, you will soon become pregnant and give birth to a son. 4 So be careful; you must not drink wine or any other alcoholic drink nor eat any forbidden food.[a] 5 You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and his hair must never be cut. For he will be dedicated to God as a Nazirite from birth. He will begin to rescue Israel from the Philistines.”

6 The woman ran and told her husband, “A man of God appeared to me! He looked like one of God’s angels, terrifying to see. I didn’t ask where he was from, and he didn’t tell me his name. 7 But he told me, ‘You will become pregnant and give birth to a son. You must not drink wine or any other alcoholic drink nor eat any forbidden food. For your son will be dedicated to God as a Nazirite from the moment of his birth until the day of his death.’”

8 Then Manoah prayed to the Lord, saying, “Lord, please let the man of God come back to us again and give us more instructions about this son who is to be born.”

9 God answered Manoah’s prayer, and the angel of God appeared once again to his wife as she was sitting in the field. But her husband, Manoah, was not with her. 10 So she quickly ran and told her husband, “The man who appeared to me the other day is here again!”

11 Manoah ran back with his wife and asked, “Are you the man who spoke to my wife the other day?”

“Yes,” he replied, “I am.”

12 So Manoah asked him, “When your words come true, what kind of rules should govern the boy’s life and work?”

13 The angel of the Lord replied, “Be sure your wife follows the instructions I gave her. 14 She must not eat grapes or raisins, drink wine or any other alcoholic drink, or eat any forbidden food.”

15 Then Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, “Please stay here until we can prepare a young goat for you to eat.”

16 “I will stay,” the angel of the Lord replied, “but I will not eat anything. However, you may prepare a burnt offering as a sacrifice to the Lord.” (Manoah didn’t realize it was the angel of the Lord.)

17 Then Manoah asked the angel of the Lord, “What is your name? For when all this comes true, we want to honor you.”

18 “Why do you ask my name?” the angel of the Lord replied. “It is too wonderful for you to understand.”

19 Then Manoah took a young goat and a grain offering and offered it on a rock as a sacrifice to the Lord. And as Manoah and his wife watched, the Lord did an amazing thing. 20 As the flames from the altar shot up toward the sky, the angel of the Lord ascended in the fire. When Manoah and his wife saw this, they fell with their faces to the ground.

21 The angel did not appear again to Manoah and his wife. Manoah finally realized it was the angel of the Lord, 22 and he said to his wife, “We will certainly die, for we have seen God!”

23 But his wife said, “If the Lord were going to kill us, he wouldn’t have accepted our burnt offering and grain offering. He wouldn’t have appeared to us and told us this wonderful thing and done these miracles.”

24 When her son was born, she named him Samson. And the Lord blessed him as he grew up. 25 And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him while he lived in Mahaneh-dan, which is located between the towns of Zorah and Eshtaol.

When I think of these women and the shame felt in a society that measured women by their ability to bear children, I cannot help but think of that great song by Jars of Clay from their Grammy winning 2001 album, The Eleventh Hour, called “Something Beautiful” and the lyrics go like this:

If you put your arms around me
Could it change the way I feel
I guess I let myself believe
That the outside might just
Bleed it’s way in
Maybe stir the sleeping past
Lying under glass
Waiting for the kiss
That breaks this awful spell
Pull me out…of this lonely cell

[chorus]
Close my eyes and hold my heart
Cover me and make me something
Change this something normal
Into something beautiful

[verse]
What I get from my reflection
Isn’t what I thought I’d see
Give me reason to believe
Never leave me incomplete
Will you untie this loss of mine
It so easily defines me
Do you see it on my face?
And all I can think about
Is how long
I’ve been waiting to feel you move me

[chorus]
Into something beautiful
Into something beautiful

[bridge]
And I’m still fighting for the
Word to break these chains
And I still pray when I look
In your eyes, you’ll stare right
Back down into something beautiful

[chorus]
Into something beautiful
Into something beautiful
Into something beautiful

When we think of taking nothingness and making it into something beautiful, we must think first of God and his universe. There was nothing. I mean nothingness. Grasp that. There was no universe. Only God existing in His eternal trinity. There was nothing else. Blankness. Nothingness. And God did not need anything to be complete. He existed in community and among Himself with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They have co-existed in community since always. They trinity of God pre-exists everything including the universe. Thus external to God there was nothing. Nothing at all. But God created the universe out of nothing. He was the catylyst, the spark, the cause for the big bang. He spoke the universe into being. At that moment, the grand explosion that began the universe happened and SOMETHING was created out of NOTHING. Think about that. That is the miracle of the highest order. Think of the complexity of the universe. Think of how everything exploded outward from that finger of God and voice of God that created the spark that created the universe. Everything shoots out from that spark and the mass of energy from the finger of God that exploded into the massive universe that is so big that we don’t even know how big it is. It exploded forth and has created such a complex universe that we are just now beginning to understand it. Even our planet is so freaking complex that we understand more about outer space than we know about our oceans. We think we know so much but we know so little and what we know is only what God has allowed to be revealed so that we can handle it with our feeble minds. Amazing universe out of nothing. That’s my God!

When we think of barrenness and making it into something beautiful, we must think of what these women being renewed and giving forth new life. Just as God created a miracle of a universe, God miraculously gave life to a barren desert of a female womb and caused it to become fertile ground that gave forth life. This reminds us as well that there will be dry seasons in our lives. There will be barrenness. There will be times on our lives where we think nothing good will ever come of the desert in which we find ourselves. We are parched and weary and just want some water. We are dry. We are crawling on the ground. And by all indications there is no relief in sight. These barren woman were given fertile wombs by God after much prayer and supplication. They humbled themselves before the Lord. These women remind us of the power of prayer. These women remind us that even in the toughest times, God will give us the miracle we need in His timing. He listens to the prayers of those who seek Him. God will deliver us from our desert dryness. He will deliver us from our shame and oppression. He will deliver us when we seek Him, especially in the difficult times. We must remember that it is in the hard times, our barren times, that we can learn the greatest lesson of all – dependence on God. We can learn thanksgiving as well. Without the desert, dry and barren times, how can we ever adequately appreciate the mountaintops that God sets us upon when He delivers us. These women remind us that God never fails.
Finally, these women remind us of our salvation in Jesus Christ. Man’s greatest purpose for why he is here is to give God glory. We are designed by God to give Him glory. We are wired that way. That is why we seek to fill our souls with something, we know not what, until we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior. That emptiness that we try to fill with things, people, idols, lusts, sensual pleasures, as our reason for being, but none of it works in the end. Only God fills the God hole in our lives. We call it something else, our yearning for meaning of life. God put that yearning there to make us want Him. But the fall distorted it such that we try to fill the hole in our soul with anything and everything other than God – the purpose for the hole in our soul. It is meant to be filled by God. We are barren without God in the womb of our soul. We are barren because sin is the endometriosis of the womb of our soul. Sin makes us barren an unable to find life. Sin makes us barren and empty inside. We are barren and empty. We are nothingness. We are a wasteland and there is no life. We are nothing but decay and death with sin. It is only through the miracle of salvation that we are changed. Jesus dresses our womb in new life. Jesus makes our womb be capable of fulfilling its purpose. Jesus gives us new life. After salvation, the womb is made clean and holy. After salvation, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell. Through the Holy Spirit, our womb comes alive to bring forth fruit. Through the Holy Spirit’s work, we bear fruit and our womb gives forth life to the world around us. We are made whole and complete. We are now fulfilling our purpose – to give God glory. We were once barren and lifeless and now through the miracle of God through the covering of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, we are full of life. We bring forth the promise of God to the world around. Instead of nothingness there is something beautiful in the saved soul. Turning nothing into something beautiful. That is a mighty miracle of God.

Amen and Amen.

Judges 10:6-18
The Ammonites Oppress Israel

How many times is too many times? That is the question that I struggle with today. As you may know, if you have been a consistent reader of my blog, my relationship with my youngest daughter has been, to say the least, strained over the past two years. Until this past Saturday, we had not spoken in six months even though I had tried to communicate with her on several occasions. The last time that she spoke to me before Saturday was in early February of this year. At that time, she asked me for help with her power bill and water bill since both services had been cut off. Because of my fear that she would blow the money on something other than what she asked it for, I told her that I would pay up her utilities. It cost me over a thousand dollars to do so (as she had not paid those bills in about six months). During the last two years, she rarely spoke to me after I cut her off from her car insurance, her cell phone, and any “daddy I need money” money. So that February experience, I was in hopes that she would renew her relationship with me and with her sister and my oldest daughter. During the past two years, she has missed every family event that you can name, including the birth of and first birthday of her niece and my granddaughter.

However, last Friday afternoon, she sent me this very lengthy email coming clean about what has been going on in her life for the last two years and asking that I forgive her. For once in one of her emails to me or phone calls to me over the last 15 years, she did not ask for money. She admitted to her addictions. She admitted that she has made bad choices and used the death of her mother, my ex-wife, two years ago as an excuse to fall deeper into her addictions. She apologized for all the rejection that she has shown over the past few years, and particularly the last two. She said she realized that everything that she blamed me for was really problems of her own making. She apologized for February where she just used me to get her utilities back on, even though she put on the water works and promised to do better and to find a job. She then proceeded to not talk to me again for another six months until her email Friday and our phone conversation on Saturday morning.

This time, with her honesty both in her email and her phone, things just seemed different. She seems to be different. She seemed less child-like and more mature. She did not seem like a child in a grown up body anymore. She did not ask for money even once in our conversation which was unusual (as the only time she would call me (instead of me calling her) was when she needed money for this or money for that and it was always an emergency). This time, she was just wanting to apologize for the past and ask for a chance to start our relationship over again. The crux of the matter was that she said that a car accident she had a month ago where she ended up inside her car upside down in a ditch that totaled her car that made her realize that she had to change. She admitted that she had an addiction problem that made itself the most important thing in her life. It included not caring for her car and tires and such which contributed to her car accident. So, this phone call had a different tenor than any previous conversation I had had with my youngest child in, well, ever.

After the conversation, it was apparent to my wife and I that Taylor, even though she seems to want to reclaim her life, was going to be in a catch-22 situation where she can’t find a job unless she has a car. The other side of that is that she can’t get a car unless she has a job. With her credit history and lack of a job, getting any kind of car was going to be impossible for her. My wife came up with the idea of giving Taylor her car (a 2008 Mazda 3) and then us buying her another car from a local used car dealer who goes to our church. We would get her a used by in good shape Mazda 6. Since our Mazda 3 was paid for, we could give it away without any problems. I will have to admit that without my wife coming up with this idea, I may have not done anything this major to help my daughter. But with her influence and the influence of the Holy Spirit, I was led to approve the plan. My wife spent all afternoon with Taylor day before yesterday getting the car insured in Taylor’s name, getting the taxes in Taylor’s name, and getting the title in Taylor’s name. Prior to that, on Wednesday morning, I had a long conversation with Taylor about what we were going to do for. Amazingly, at first, Taylor did not want to accept the car because, as she said, “I don’t want you to think that’s why I initiated contact with you again for the first time in six months! I told her that she needed this but I did not want her to think that this was the start of me giving her financial support all the time, again. I told her that the utilities at her home, the taxes that are due on it, everything about this car (taxes, insurance, and so on were on her). I am so in hopes that this time she is going to get her life turned around (and that this car will help that). I am also fearful that this is just another hose job where she really played it cool this time and worked an angle that she knew I would fall for – a Taylor who is honest about her mistakes and her willingness to get her life started over again.

How many times is too many times to help your child? I am so fearful that now that she has transportation again that she will fall off the face of the earth again. I am fearful that she will begin using again at some point. I am fearful that if that happens the next time I hear from her will be about her – from the coroner’s office. I am fearful of Taylor just continuing to exist and living in poverty and not fulfilling her God given potential. I am fearful. But the Lord is trying to comfort me that this gesture is hand up and not a hand out. He is saying to me that I can say no to her just as began two years ago and without this one gesture she may end up in the ditch dead because she had no way out of the cycle she was in no matter if she stopped using or not. Her sister and step-sister are less hopeful. They both warned us of what could be happening here. It is easier to write off a sibling than it is a child I guess. I don’t blame either one of them for their feelings. Each one, my oldest daughter and my stepdaughter, is a productive citizen and have good jobs. Each one has worked since their teen years. Whereas they have seen Taylor not really work but for about four years in her life (and she is now almost 27 years old and hasn’t worked in 2 years). I understand all that. There question is how many times is too many times. I get it. I have been asking that question myself even before telling my oldest daughter and my stepdaughter about what we were doing for their sister.

It was this idea of how many times is too many times when it comes to our kids that came to mind when I read through today’s passage, Judges 10:6-18, this morning. Let’s read it together now:

 

6 Then the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord, served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the sons of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines; thus they forsook the Lord and did not serve Him. 7 The anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and He sold them into the hands of the Philistines and into the hands of the sons of Ammon. 8 They [a]afflicted and crushed the sons of Israel [b]that year; for eighteen years they afflicted all the sons of Israel who were beyond the Jordan [c]in Gilead in the land of the Amorites. 9 The sons of Ammon crossed the Jordan to fight also against Judah, Benjamin, and the house of Ephraim, so that Israel was greatly distressed.

10 Then the sons of Israel cried out to the Lord, saying, “We have sinned against You, for indeed, we have forsaken our God and served the Baals.” 11 The Lord said to the sons of Israel, “Did I not deliver you from the Egyptians, the Amorites, the sons of Ammon, and the Philistines? 12 Also when the Sidonians, the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you, you cried out to Me, and I delivered you from their hands. 13 Yet you have forsaken Me and served other gods; therefore I will no longer deliver you. 14 Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress.” 15 The sons of Israel said to the Lord, “We have sinned, do to us whatever seems good to You; only please deliver us this day.” 16 So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord; and [d]He could bear the misery of Israel no longer.

17 Then the sons of Ammon were summoned and they camped in Gilead. And the sons of Israel gathered together and camped in Mizpah. 18 The people, the leaders of Gilead, said to one another, “Who is the man who will begin to fight against the sons of Ammon? He shall become head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.”

Here, in this passage, we see that the Israelites suffered for many years before they gave up their sinful ways and called out to the Lord for help. Notice that when they were at the end of their rope, they finally looked to the One who was really able to help, not their pagan gods. But despite being rejected by His own chosen people, God never failed to rescue them when they cried out to Him with repentant hearts. Likewise, God never fails to rescue us. We often act like the Israelites, when we put God on hold, put God outside our daily lives, go underground from him, avoid him, until we need Him for something or something bad happens. Just as a loving parent feels rejected when their child rebels, so God feels the same way when we ignore or reject Him. In His pursuit of us though, He so loves us that no matter what we have done, we can have relationship with Him through the grace offered to us through Jesus Christ. He loved us so much that He forgives us when we repent from our sins. He throws them as far as the east is from the west. Through accepting the sacrificial and atoning work of Jesus on the cross and making Him the Lord of our lives, we are made whole with our Father once again.

He wants us to be family with Him. No matter what we have done. No matter how many times we have rejected Him, God still loves us and still pursues us. Are you awaking one morning foraging for husks of corn with the pigs when you realize that there has to be something better than the riotous life you are living? You realize that coming home to the Father is what you should do? He is waiting. He will run to you and put a robe of righteousness on you and accept you into the banquet hall for the feast at which He will seat you in the place of honor beside Him. But you first must come clean and come home. Once there, you will be made part of God’s family. No matter how many times you have rejected and abused God in the past, He is there waiting for you to realize how much He loves you. No matter how many times before. No matter. He will still pursue you. The only wait it is too late is if you go to your grave having not come home to Him. Only then is it too late. Come home, prodigal son. Come home prodigal daughter.

How many times is too many times? That is the question for me and my daughter. How many times is too many times? That is the question between you and God.

Amen and Amen.

Judges 5:1-31 (Part 1 of 3)
The Song of Deborah

Why is it that songs are so important to us as the people of God? Here, in this passage, we see a scene almost out of High School Musical or Grease or something like that where Israel breaks out into song after a battle victory. I always find musicals somewhat silly in that people just all of a sudden break out into song as if it is like the most normal thing in the world to do. Deborah, in Glee fashion, breaks out into song here in celebration of a mighty victory that ends 20 years of oppression of certain of the tribes of Israel.

It got me to thinking about the purpose of songs in musicals and in the Judeo/Christian tradition. In musicals, besides giving songwriters an avenue to get paid, songs break out to emphasize a point in the pathos of the story of the musical. A key issue in the life of one of the characters is brought to the forefront of the audience’s mind through song. It is the same with song in our faith. Songs were sung in the Old Testament to emphasize and memorialize what God had done for Israel. It was a way to preserve the oral traditions concerning the historical highlights of Israel’s history. It is the same today.

We have many great songs today that remind us of the greatness of our God and why we should believe in and trust Him. I have been a big Jesus Culture fan for much of this decade but here lately I have tended toward Elevation Worship. The album they released awhile back, “There Is a Cloud”, is my favorite album right now. The songs on the album are all great and I can listen to the whole album at least twice back to back as Elena and I take long trips in the car. The album title and the basic tenor of all the songs is based on the story of Elijah and his prayers for rain after it had been dry in Israel for three years and then he sees a cloud forming in the distance. That cloud is the hope of God. The idea of the songs is with God we can conquer any circumstances and as well that there are dry seasons in life and we must trust in the Lord to deliver us.

One of my favorite songs from that album is the song entitled, “Overcome”. The lyrics go something like this:

Now the darkness fades
Into new beginnings
As we lift our eyes to a hope beyond

All creation waits
With an expectation
To declare the reign of the Lord our God

We will not be moved
When the earth gives way
For the risen One has overcome

And for every fear
There’s an empty grave
For the risen One has overcome

Now the silence breaks
In the name of Jesus
As the heavens cry let the earth respond

All creation shouts
With a voice of triumph
To declare the reign of the Lord our God

We will not be moved
When the earth gives way
For the risen One has overcome

And for every fear
There’s an empty grave
For the risen One has overcome

He shall reign forever
Strongholds now surrender
For the Lord our God has overcome

Who can be against us?
Jesus our Defender
He is Lord and He has overcome

He shall reign forever
Strongholds now surrender
For the Lord our God has overcome

Who can be against us?
Jesus our Defender
He is Lord and He has overcome!

We will not be moved
When the earth gives way
For the risen One has overcome

And for every fear
There’s an empty grave
For the risen One has overcome

We will not be moved
When the earth gives way
For the risen One has overcome

And for every fear
There’s an empty grave
For the risen One has overcome…

Sometimes, we need to be reminded of the greatness of our God. We get so wrapped up in our own problems. We get so wrapped up in our tunnel vision. We get so wrapped up in trying to control our own lives, even as Christ followers. Sometimes, we need to be reminded of what we believe about God and who He is and who we are in Him through Jesus Christ. This is the God that raised Jesus from the dead. In that fact, we have hope eternal. There is nothing so great that we face that when we trust it to the Lord that we cannot overcome it. What’s the worst that could happen to us? We die and go to heaven. We can overcome through Christ, the victor over sin and death. God’s resolution of our situations may not always look like the way WE want them to but God is greater than we are. His plans are greater than ours. When we trust in the Lord who overcame the grave, we are trusting that His outcome is the one that will benefit us the most. Songs like this remind us that even in our darkest moments, God is working to give us His victory over that which oppresses us.

I could go on and on with songs of hope that have been written in the Christian tradition since the dawn of our faith. The great theological centerpieces of worship that the songs of what we call traditional church music now written back in the 1700’s and 1800’s. These are songs of great hope and wonder at who God is and expound upon why we believe what we believe. The great Negro spirituals of the 1800’s are amazing in their depth and richness of faith in the face of seemingly insurmountable persecution. The camp meeting songs of the 1930’s-1950’s. The campfire songs of the church youth movement of the 1960s. All have evolved now into the music we call modern contemporary Christian music. All of it is the rich tradition of song as the uplifter of the Christian soul. I love modern Christian music and how it reaches people in the music style of our day. All Christian music is adapted to age in which it is written. What we consider traditional church music now was considered radical back in its day. Some of the greatest hymns from the 18th and 19th century were amazing theological treatises set to the music of the day just so as to capture people’s attention with familiar kinds of music so that they would sit and listen to the words and be moved by them. One of the tragedies of modern worship though is that we don’t use these great hymns in their entirety. We may “modern them out” by borrowing lyrics from these as bridges in otherwise modern lyrics of currently written contemporary songs. But we as the modern church do not use these great hymns in whole. It’s just not who we are and would not fit in too well with the style of worship that we have in modern church.

However, that does not stop me from appreciating some of the great hymns of the past. My favorite old, traditional hymn is “How Great Thou Art!” I have already told my wife that although my funeral should have a thoroughly modern worship flare to it, I do want this one traditional hymn sung in its entirety and not modified. You can play it with drums and guitars but the tune and the lyrics are to be left as written. These lyrics are beautiful and I have the version by Carrie Underwood on my playlist. Just love the power of this song and its lyrics:

O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

And when I think of God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And lead me home, what joy shall fill my heart!
[Album version:] Then I shall bow with humble adoration,
[Live version:] Then I shall bow in humble adoration,
And then proclaim, “My God, how great Thou art!”

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

Aren’t those lyrics just totally powerful. I am drawn to these words. When sung with power and belief in the words, it is an amazingly moving song. This is why we sing. To move the soul. To honor God for the amazing God that He is. That though He is pure and wondrous and great, He still loves us lowly sinning human beings enough to save us from ourselves through Jesus Christ and through His intervening guidance in our lives. My God, how great you are! We must sing your praises in the temple courts for you are great and you have saved your people. We owe You so much!

Song inspires us to remember what God has done for His people. That’s what Deborah is doing here. Reminding us that it is God who is great not us. It would come across more lyrical I am sure in the original Hebrew, but the feeling is still there. Let’s read her lyrics now as presented in English in Judges 5:1-31:

5 On that day Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang this song:

2
“When the princes in Israel take the lead,
when the people willingly offer themselves—
praise the Lord!

3
“Hear this, you kings! Listen, you rulers!
I, even I, will sing to[a] the Lord;
I will praise the Lord, the God of Israel, in song.

4
“When you, Lord, went out from Seir,
when you marched from the land of Edom,
the earth shook, the heavens poured,
the clouds poured down water.
5
The mountains quaked before the Lord, the One of Sinai,
before the Lord, the God of Israel.

6
“In the days of Shamgar son of Anath,
in the days of Jael, the highways were abandoned;
travelers took to winding paths.
7
Villagers in Israel would not fight;
they held back until I, Deborah, arose,
until I arose, a mother in Israel.
8
God chose new leaders
when war came to the city gates,
but not a shield or spear was seen
among forty thousand in Israel.
9
My heart is with Israel’s princes,
with the willing volunteers among the people.
Praise the Lord!

10
“You who ride on white donkeys,
sitting on your saddle blankets,
and you who walk along the road,
consider 11 the voice of the singers[b] at the watering places.
They recite the victories of the Lord,
the victories of his villagers in Israel.

“Then the people of the Lord
went down to the city gates.
12
‘Wake up, wake up, Deborah!
Wake up, wake up, break out in song!
Arise, Barak!
Take captive your captives, son of Abinoam.’

13
“The remnant of the nobles came down;
the people of the Lord came down to me against the mighty.
14
Some came from Ephraim, whose roots were in Amalek;
Benjamin was with the people who followed you.
From Makir captains came down,
from Zebulun those who bear a commander’s[c] staff.
15
The princes of Issachar were with Deborah;
yes, Issachar was with Barak,
sent under his command into the valley.
In the districts of Reuben
there was much searching of heart.
16
Why did you stay among the sheep pens[d]
to hear the whistling for the flocks?
In the districts of Reuben
there was much searching of heart.
17
Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan.
And Dan, why did he linger by the ships?
Asher remained on the coast
and stayed in his coves.
18
The people of Zebulun risked their very lives;
so did Naphtali on the terraced fields.

19
“Kings came, they fought,
the kings of Canaan fought.
At Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo,
they took no plunder of silver.
20
From the heavens the stars fought,
from their courses they fought against Sisera.
21
The river Kishon swept them away,
the age-old river, the river Kishon.
March on, my soul; be strong!
22
Then thundered the horses’ hooves—
galloping, galloping go his mighty steeds.
23
‘Curse Meroz,’ said the angel of the Lord.
‘Curse its people bitterly,
because they did not come to help the Lord,
to help the Lord against the mighty.’

24
“Most blessed of women be Jael,
the wife of Heber the Kenite,
most blessed of tent-dwelling women.
25
He asked for water, and she gave him milk;
in a bowl fit for nobles she brought him curdled milk.
26
Her hand reached for the tent peg,
her right hand for the workman’s hammer.
She struck Sisera, she crushed his head,
she shattered and pierced his temple.
27
At her feet he sank,
he fell; there he lay.
At her feet he sank, he fell;
where he sank, there he fell—dead.

28
“Through the window peered Sisera’s mother;
behind the lattice she cried out,
‘Why is his chariot so long in coming?
Why is the clatter of his chariots delayed?’
29
The wisest of her ladies answer her;
indeed, she keeps saying to herself,
30
‘Are they not finding and dividing the spoils:
a woman or two for each man,
colorful garments as plunder for Sisera,
colorful garments embroidered,
highly embroidered garments for my neck—
all this as plunder?’

31
“So may all your enemies perish, Lord!
But may all who love you be like the sun
when it rises in its strength.”

Then the land had peace forty years.

Music and singing were an integral part of the Israelite culture. It helped preserve the history of Israel so as to pass it along to the next generation but the main point of it all was to give glory to God. This is a victory song of God’s deliverance.

May we all just break out into song when we think of what God has done for us. He has delivered us from many dangers, toils, and snares. He has given us eternal security through our acceptance of the grace of Jesus Christ. We can overcome all things in Christ. We can do all things in Christ who strengthens our every step in times of trouble. Up from the grave He arose with the mighty triumph o’er his foes. He arose! He arose! What can hurt us if God is with us! For whatever you are going through He is Lord and He will overcome. I end with part of the song, Do It Again, by Elevation Worship:

I know the night won’t last
Your Word will come to pass
My heart will sing Your praise again
Jesus You’re still enough
Keep me within Your love
My heart will sing Your praise again

Amen and Amen.

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.

Joshua 22:10-34

The Eastern Tribes Build an Altar

What are your family religious traditions? A lot of mine revolve around Christmas and the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

The first family tradition was that, from as early as I can remember, my dad, a minister in the South Carolina Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, always held a Christmas Eve communion event at whatever church he was serving. It was always held between 11pm and midnight on Christmas Eve. It was not a formal service. It was just that the church was open for families to come take communion after all their family get-togethers on Christmas Eve. The church was always darkened and lit only by candlelight and if there was light on it was turned down very low. Families would come down to the altar and my dad would recite portions of the Methodist liturgy concerning communion over the family and then he would give them the bread saying a personal word over the family members as he presented the bread before them. He would then arise and take the wine and speak from the liturgy again. Again, he would then say a personal word over each family member as they took the wine and drank it. He would then speak a benediction over the family and they, then, would quietly exit the church. It was pretty cool I always thought. Because to me, the sanctuary was always of place of preaching and singing. But on this night it was quiet and somber and almost dark except for the low lighting. The low lighting had a symbolism to dad and he said that it represented that Jesus was the light of the world in a world of darkness and sin. As the evening ended, my mom, my brother and I would go over to the church and dad would administer communion to us, his family. It was always a cool moment, a family moment, a moment that reminded us that we were a family and our family business was the church. Those Christmas Eve communion moments reminded us how special our little family was. We traveled the state from town to town over the years as a pastor’s family. We knew we had Jesus and we had each other. Nothing made that more clear to me than those moments on Christmas Eve night when we had communion together.

 

The second tradition that has been part of my life is the one that I started in my own family. Sure, my family unit is not as traditional as my parents where they were married for 53 years when mom passed away. I have been married, divorced, remarried, divorced again, and now remarried again for 7 years. However, after my salvation in December 2001, the following years since then beginning with Christmas 2002, whatever my family unit looked like at the time, we have read the Christmas passages from the Isaiah and the Gospels. Even now, with no children at home on Christmas Eve as they are all grown, I read the passages concerning the prophecies of the Messiah’s birth in the Old Testament and the accounts of Jesus’ birth in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. This is a family tradition that I hope to pass along to Ralyn, my granddaughter who will be one year old on July 25th. It is my prayer that both her parents and we as her paternal grandparents will raise her up right to see that Christmas is more than presents. We must teach her that the birth of Jesus Christ is a celebration of the Savior of the World breaking into human history and THAT is why we give each other gifts at Christmas, as Jesus is a gift to us that we did not earn or merit.

 

It is those family traditions that strengthen why we believe what we believe in Christ that are important ways that we pass down our faith through the generations. That is what I thought of this morning when I read through Joshua 22:10-34 where the eastern tribes wanted to plant down a reminder to all that both the eastern and western tribes worshiped the same, one and only God:

 

10 When they came to Geliloth near the Jordan in the land of Canaan, the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh built an imposing altar there by the Jordan. 11 And when the Israelites heard that they had built the altar on the border of Canaan at Geliloth near the Jordan on the Israelite side, 12 the whole assembly of Israel gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them.

 

13 So the Israelites sent Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, to the land of Gilead—to Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh. 14 With him they sent ten of the chief men, one from each of the tribes of Israel, each the head of a family division among the Israelite clans.

 

15 When they went to Gilead—to Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh—they said to them: 16 “The whole assembly of the Lord says: ‘How could you break faith with the God of Israel like this? How could you turn away from the Lord and build yourselves an altar in rebellion against him now? 17 Was not the sin of Peor enough for us? Up to this very day we have not cleansed ourselves from that sin, even though a plague fell on the community of the Lord! 18 And are you now turning away from the Lord?

 

“‘If you rebel against the Lord today, tomorrow he will be angry with the whole community of Israel. 19 If the land you possess is defiled, come over to the Lord’s land, where the Lord’s tabernacle stands, and share the land with us. But do not rebel against the Lord or against us by building an altar for yourselves, other than the altar of the Lord our God. 20 When Achan son of Zerah was unfaithful in regard to the devoted things,[a] did not wrath come on the whole community of Israel? He was not the only one who died for his sin.’”

 

21 Then Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh replied to the heads of the clans of Israel: 22 “The Mighty One, God, the Lord! The Mighty One, God, the Lord! He knows! And let Israel know! If this has been in rebellion or disobedience to the Lord, do not spare us this day. 23 If we have built our own altar to turn away from the Lord and to offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, or to sacrifice fellowship offerings on it, may the Lord himself call us to account.

 

24 “No! We did it for fear that some day your descendants might say to ours, ‘What do you have to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? 25 The Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you—you Reubenites and Gadites! You have no share in the Lord.’ So your descendants might cause ours to stop fearing the Lord.

 

26 “That is why we said, ‘Let us get ready and build an altar—but not for burnt offerings or sacrifices.’ 27 On the contrary, it is to be a witness between us and you and the generations that follow, that we will worship the Lord at his sanctuary with our burnt offerings, sacrifices and fellowship offerings. Then in the future your descendants will not be able to say to ours, ‘You have no share in the Lord.’

 

28 “And we said, ‘If they ever say this to us, or to our descendants, we will answer: Look at the replica of the Lord’s altar, which our ancestors built, not for burnt offerings and sacrifices, but as a witness between us and you.’

 

29 “Far be it from us to rebel against the Lord and turn away from him today by building an altar for burnt offerings, grain offerings and sacrifices, other than the altar of the Lord our God that stands before his tabernacle.”

 

30 When Phinehas the priest and the leaders of the community—the heads of the clans of the Israelites—heard what Reuben, Gad and Manasseh had to say, they were pleased. 31 And Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, said to Reuben, Gad and Manasseh, “Today we know that the Lord is with us, because you have not been unfaithful to the Lord in this matter. Now you have rescued the Israelites from the Lord’s hand.”

 

32 Then Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, and the leaders returned to Canaan from their meeting with the Reubenites and Gadites in Gilead and reported to the Israelites. 33 They were glad to hear the report and praised God. And they talked no more about going to war against them to devastate the country where the Reubenites and the Gadites lived.

 

34 And the Reubenites and the Gadites gave the altar this name: A Witness Between Us—that the Lord is God.

 

Here in this passage, we see that the eastern tribes concerned that, without some visible sign of unity between the tribes on the two sides of the Jordan, future generations might see conflict between them. The altar, patterned after the altar of the Lord, was to remind these people that they all worship the same God. Often, we need to be reminded of the faith of our fathers, of generations past. What actions do you and I take to demonstrate to future generations of our family our reliance on God and remind them of what God has done in us? We must take time to establish family traditions that will help your children remember. What will be the legacy that we pass on to our children of our faith?

 

What is it that you pass on to your children about your faith? Do they even know you are a believer? Do they notice a difference in you because of your relationship with Jesus Christ? How are you passing on your faith to your children? It is an given fact that we as parents are the greatest influence on the relationship our children have with the Christian faith. If we are lackadaisical about our faith, it is a pretty sure bet that our kids will grow up the same way. If we keep our faith in a box on a shelf and pull it down on Sundays only or on holidays only, what message does that send to your children. We must live out our faith in front of our children. Not hide it. We must actively engage our children about our faith and not say that they will pick it up through osmosis. We must establish traditions when they are young to remind them that we love and obey our Father in heaven. Kids love structure and routine so if we establish traditions for them when they are young, it provides opportunities to share our faith. Doing Bible devotionals at the dinner table is one way and there are a myriad of other ways to establish that faith is the central core of our families. It is our responsibilities as parents. Nobody else is going to do it for us!

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 2:1-24 (Part 2 of 3)

Rahab Protects the Spies

There was a song by the 1980’s musical group called “The Thompson Twins” who had a song released in 1982 called “Lies”. It’s chorus when something like this:

 

Lies lies lies yeah

Lies lies lies yeah

Lies lies lies yeah

 

Oh you know I know

 

Lies lies lies yeah

Lies lies lies yeah

Lies lies lies yeah

 

See video here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6cn0mLJVZY

 

That was a catchy tune that condemns a girl for lying to the writer of the song about the fact that she loved him but her actions did not match her words. She lied. The writer of the song goes onto to say, “You told me you loved me, so I don’t understand, why promises are snapped in two! And words are made to bend!” In this song, it is obvious that the girlfriend’s lies were wrong and the revelation of the truth brought about hurt and the destruction of a relationship. Lies are almost always destructive.

 

When I think back on my life, there have been lies aplenty. Lies start for us when we are little kids when we make the connection that telling a lie can sometimes save us from punishment. Then, it’s on after that. We live to improve our situation or to prevent our situation from deteriorating. We lie. We bend the truth. We break the Ninth Commandment with impunity. Lying is part of the nature of being human. We are fallen by nature. We are flesh. We lie. It is plain and simple a sin.

 

When we commit adultery we not only break the Seventh Commandment but also the Ninth Commandment because there is secrecy involved. There is deceit. There are outright lies told to keep adultery from being found out. When we steal, we break the Eighth Commandment and in so doing to prevent ourselves from being caught we lie. When we murder, we break the break the Sixth Commandment and we almost always lie about it. Lying is common to any of our sins. It is part of sinning. We lie as a part of daily life. We are sinners. Even after salvation, we are in a battle between spirit and flesh and we continue to lie to cover up sins and commit the sin of lying by covering up our other sin. We are condemned in the face of our lies. We are going to be held accountable on our personal day of judgment before the Lord for every lie that we have ever told. Big ones. Small ones (now that song sung by Zazu in the Lion King is playing in your head isn’t it? Well…it is mine…what a lovely bunch of coconuts! Big ones, small ones, some as big as ya head!…but I digress….back to our blog…) Some whoppers. Some little stretches of the truth. Are there any instances where lying is OK? Does this dress make me look fat? Men lie to their wives on that one a lot! Women are often nice to each other’s faces but tell lies about each other behind their back. Little lies are still lies. Telling someone what they want to hear rather than the truth is lying just as much as hiding an adulterous affair if any lie is a sin. Sin is sin. God does not measure degrees of sin. He is a perfect and holy God. Lies are unholy perversions of the truth. They can never be right, no matter how big or how small. We create ugliness in our souls when we lie. Lying is the opposite of truth. Thus, lying is a stain on our soul. Add up all the lies that we tell in a lifetime, and our souls are as dark as midnight when compared to the truth, purity, righteousness, holiness, perfection of our God. There is no lie in Him. He is truth. He is perfection. He is holiness. In Him is all truth.

 

I know that I sound like a professor of logic and/or ethics this morning. However, it was in reading Joshua 2 this morning that I hit the logical and ethical wall when I read of Rahab’s lies. Is there ever a situation where lies are OK. It is a great Christian ethical dilemma:

 

2 Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.

 

2 The king of Jericho was told, “Look, some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.” 3 So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: “Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.”

 

4 But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. 5 At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.” 6 (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.) 7 So the men set out in pursuit of the spies on the road that leads to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut.

 

8 Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof 9 and said to them, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea[a] for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed.[b] 11 When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.

 

12 “Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign 13 that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them—and that you will save us from death.”

 

14 “Our lives for your lives!” the men assured her. “If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the Lord gives us the land.”

 

15 So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall. 16 She said to them, “Go to the hills so the pursuers will not find you. Hide yourselves there three days until they return, and then go on your way.”

 

17 Now the men had said to her, “This oath you made us swear will not be binding on us 18 unless, when we enter the land, you have tied this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you have brought your father and mother, your brothers and all your family into your house. 19 If any of them go outside your house into the street, their blood will be on their own heads; we will not be responsible. As for those who are in the house with you, their blood will be on our head if a hand is laid on them. 20 But if you tell what we are doing, we will be released from the oath you made us swear.”

 

21 “Agreed,” she replied. “Let it be as you say.”

 

So she sent them away, and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window.

 

22 When they left, they went into the hills and stayed there three days, until the pursuers had searched all along the road and returned without finding them. 23 Then the two men started back. They went down out of the hills, forded the river and came to Joshua son of Nun and told him everything that had happened to them. 24 They said to Joshua, “The Lord has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.”

 

In this passage, one of the things that strikes you is the fact that Rahab lied. Was Rahab justified in lying to save the lives of the spies? Although the Bible does not speak negatively about her lie, it is clear that she lied and lying is a sin. In Hebrews 11:31, the Bible says, “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.” She praised for her faith. Her lie is not mentioned. Scholars have offered several explanations. First, she sought forgiveness for her lie and she was forgiven by God. Another explanation is that it is simply deceit of the enemy is a customary practice in times of war (the old “all’s fair in love and war” theory). As well, other scholars state that Rahab was not yet a part of the people of God so she could not be held responsible for keeping the standard set forth in God’s law. She was just beginning to be drawn to God. Finally, some scholars go with the theory that “the ends justify the means” in that she matched the lies of Satan (as represented by the Jerichoan people) with lies so as to protect the representatives of God’s chosen people.

 

Rahab presents an interesting ethical dilemma for people of faith. Does God condone situational ethics? Rahab lied. There is no dispute about that. She lied by omission and commission. She lied by omission by not revealing to the Jerichoan authorities that the spies were in her house and she lied by commission by telling them that the spies had already left town and had headed for the hill country. In Hebrews she is commended for her faith and considered a member of the “hall of fame of the faith”. In James (2:25), she is commended for her deeds of protecting the spies as an example of faith that is displayed through the things that we do and that faith without works is meaningless. She lied. She broke a direct command from God. What are we to make of this?

 

My take on her deception is, yes, that it was wrong. She lied. She sinned. God does not condone sin nor is God into situational ethics. What is truth now is truth always. There are no exceptions. Even if we tell a lie for a good reason. For example, what about Oskar Schindler in World War II. No matter how you sugar-coat it, the dude lied his ass off for three or more years. His lies saved the lives of thousands of Jews in Nazi Germany during the reign of terror of Hitler. How many thousands of lies did he tell either by commission or by omission. What about the Gies family that hid Ann Frank and her family during the same war? They had to lie to preserve the lies of the Frank family. You and I have told lies to protect a friend or a brother or a sister from getting into trouble with the parents or with the law.

 

So, what’s wrong with Rahab’s lie? It preserved the lies of the spies. If the spies had been killed, would Israel have turned and ran for another forty years instead of doing as God told them to do. Lying is lying though and it is a sin. Should we glorify Rahab for her lie or should we look at her another way. Should we be surprised that a prostitute, living in pagan surroundings, would lie to governmental authorities? Hardly. But she was not saved because she lied—a critical point that needs expanding. In addressing this idea, Allen Webster wrote: “Rahab lied, true, but God never complimented this action. She was a heathen, not yet even converted to Judaism…. She was saved in spite of her lying, and not because of it. She was a prostitute, but this text does not authorize that is was OK. This is a part of the story that seems to have been missed by the Bible critics who have isolated Rahab’s lie not only from the context of the story itself, but from the remainder of her life and additional biblical commentary on that life. Having established the fact that Rahab’s lie was not the reason for her commendation within the pages of Scripture, the question arises: Why, then, was she honored within the great “hall of fame of faith” in Hebrews 11 and spoken of by James as having been “justified”? There can be no doubt that Rahab occupies a special place within the biblical text, since she is one of only five women listed as being within the lineage of Christ.

 

Surely, the answer to the question has to do with the fact that Rahab did not remain in her sinful state. Her life after the destruction of Jericho must have been marked but extreme devotion to the Lord and a willingness to repent of sins committed. David, for example, told lies that led to adultery, murder, and a whole host of sins. However, his momentary lapse in judgment is not what we judge him by. We judge him as a great in the Bible because of his own repulsion at his sin, his repentance from it, and becoming a man after God’s own heart. Rahab’s life must have been a life of wondrous thanksgiving to the God she barely knew at the time of the spies. She must have become such a person of God that she was worthy of mention in the lineage of Christ our Savior. Think about that. Rahab had a sordid past. She was probably used to telling lies to cover for her customers. She was probably an ardent sinner and liar. But she encounter God through the people of Israel. She was saved. She probably other lies in her life just like you and me. But revulsion at our own darkness and repentance for our lies is the key. We recognize our lies and go to the Father with them. We beg the Holy Spirit to change us.

 

We know that we are covered by the grace of Jesus Christ and thank God that we are. We are sinners and we tell lies even after salvation. However the difference between us and the lost person is that we have the Holy Spirit chiseling away at us daily until we are perfected (and that only happens the day we meet our Savior in heaven). The Holy Spirit is sent to us to lift us up above the darkness of our soul’s natural nature. He pushes us. He sharpens us. He points out our sins to us and compels us to repent and become more Christ-like each day. As we mature in Christ, honesty and integrity become greater and greater and the need and desire to lie becomes less and less. It is a life-long project of chiseling away at our dark patches by the Holy Spirit. It is painful at times. Surely, Rahab became a woman marked by integrity later in life to the point that she is a hall of fame believer mentioned in Hebrews. Through the action of the Holy Spirit in our souls over time, a long time, and a lifetime of the Holy Spirit squeezing us when we sin and forcing us to our knees in repentance, we, too, can become hall of fame believers like Rahab.

 

God does not glorify her lies. He glorifies that she came to faith and became a faithful and repentant believer. That’s what we celebrate. There is no such thing as a good lie. There are always consequences. Rahab ended up having to live with strangers because of her lie. It turned out good but the lie is not the thing. It is what she did after the lie. Repentance. Chasing after God. She became a righteous woman and a hall of fame believer.

 

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 31:30-32:47

The Song of Moses

Today is a time for songs. The first one that I think of is “I Ran” by the 80’s British techno group, Flock of Seagulls. The chorus of the song goes like this:

 

And I ran, I ran so far away.

I just ran, I ran all night and day.

I couldn’t get away.

 

Sorry…I know that this song is now going to be playing in your head for the next half hour over and over again. It was catchy tune to say the least. And if you remember the early days of MTV when they actually played music videos 99% of time with little interruption from commercials or anything non-music, the video that went with this song was so cool! That hairdo of the lead singer, Mike Score, is memorable to this day for those of us who remember the song. His hairdo outlives the band’s popularity as was even a reference in the hilariously dark comedy, Pulp Fiction, years later. But I digress…

 

Whatever the real meaning of the song may have been for this one-hit wonder band, I am going to usurp the song this morning and give it my meaning for a day. This chorus is the story of Israel. It is the story of me. The Song of Moses here in this passage predicts the fact that the people of Israel will turn from God and He will allow things to happen to them because they have turned from. It is the same for me. I grew up knowing about God’s redemptive story. I was a preacher’s kid. I was at church every Sunday. I had the same preacher from birth until the end of my freshman year in college. He was, of course, my dad. We were there at the church all the time. The church was the family business. My mom worked outside of the home in various secretarial jobs over the years but I think she knew that her main job was to be a preacher’s wife. It was, indeed, the family business.

 

I am much like Israel in the Old Testament. They knew who God was. They had seen and experienced His mighty power. They had seen His miracles. They knew more than any other people about the one true God. Yet, they were seduced by the world around them with their fertility gods, their sexual perversions in honor of contrived gods of their own making. They knew the real God but they ran away from Him because sin seemed so much easier than obeying God. I was the same way. I ran. I ran so far away. I just ran. I ran all night and day. From childhood, I was a fitter-inner. I would rather fit in that do what was right. I would rather be like the kids in the neighborhood than stand up for my brother who was the king of the brainiacs, and all that such meant socially. I was a chameleon. I would rather be a part of the crowd than obey God’s commands. I would obey God and do what was right as long as it did not cost me anything socially. That continued into adulthood. I would have moments of closeness with the God that I had known since I could form cogent thoughts. However, if it required any kind of loss, any kind of social pain, any kind of standing out from the crowd, I would bail. I would run. I would run so far away. I would just run. I would run all night and day.

 

I was Israel. I worshipped other gods. I worshipped good times. I worshipped women and the amazing things their bodies offer. I would do anything for the approval of the woman in my life. I made the women in my life my gods. I made good times my god. I lived for wine, women and song. Was I Israel or what? When I hear people talk about how they avoid reading the Old Testament, I stand amazed. I stand amazed because it is my life story. I knew God from the inside. I was a preacher’s kid. I was part of the family of God without accepting Him as my God. Just like Israel. If you don’t read the Old Testament, you will never see yourself as plain as day as an example of the people of Israel. The people of Israel knew God inside and out. They knew Him. It was taught to them from birth. But they wanted the easy way out. They wanted to follow their lusts and desires. They wanted to just run. Run so far away. Just run all night and day.

 

The chorus from the Flock of Seagulls song was what came to mind this morning when I read the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 31:30-32:47. Let’s read it together now:

 

31:30 And Moses recited the words of this song from beginning to end in the hearing of the whole assembly of Israel:

 

32 Listen, you heavens, and I will speak;

    hear, you earth, the words of my mouth.

2

Let my teaching fall like rain

    and my words descend like dew,

like showers on new grass,

    like abundant rain on tender plants.

 

3

I will proclaim the name of the Lord.

    Oh, praise the greatness of our God!

4

He is the Rock, his works are perfect,

    and all his ways are just.

A faithful God who does no wrong,

    upright and just is he.

 

5

They are corrupt and not his children;

    to their shame they are a warped and crooked generation.

6

Is this the way you repay the Lord,

    you foolish and unwise people?

Is he not your Father, your Creator,[a]

    who made you and formed you?

 

7

Remember the days of old;

    consider the generations long past.

Ask your father and he will tell you,

    your elders, and they will explain to you.

8

When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance,

    when he divided all mankind,

he set up boundaries for the peoples

    according to the number of the sons of Israel.[b]

9

For the Lord’s portion is his people,

    Jacob his allotted inheritance.

 

10

In a desert land he found him,

    in a barren and howling waste.

He shielded him and cared for him;

    he guarded him as the apple of his eye,

11

like an eagle that stirs up its nest

    and hovers over its young,

that spreads its wings to catch them

    and carries them aloft.

12

The Lord alone led him;

    no foreign god was with him.

 

13

He made him ride on the heights of the land

    and fed him with the fruit of the fields.

He nourished him with honey from the rock,

    and with oil from the flinty crag,

14

with curds and milk from herd and flock

    and with fattened lambs and goats,

with choice rams of Bashan

    and the finest kernels of wheat.

You drank the foaming blood of the grape.

 

15

Jeshurun[c] grew fat and kicked;

    filled with food, they became heavy and sleek.

They abandoned the God who made them

    and rejected the Rock their Savior.

16

They made him jealous with their foreign gods

    and angered him with their detestable idols.

17

They sacrificed to false gods, which are not God—

    gods they had not known,

    gods that recently appeared,

    gods your ancestors did not fear.

18

You deserted the Rock, who fathered you;

    you forgot the God who gave you birth.

 

19

The Lord saw this and rejected them

    because he was angered by his sons and daughters.

20

“I will hide my face from them,” he said,

    “and see what their end will be;

for they are a perverse generation,

    children who are unfaithful.

21

They made me jealous by what is no god

    and angered me with their worthless idols.

I will make them envious by those who are not a people;

    I will make them angry by a nation that has no understanding.

22

For a fire will be kindled by my wrath,

    one that burns down to the realm of the dead below.

It will devour the earth and its harvests

    and set afire the foundations of the mountains.

 

23

“I will heap calamities on them

    and spend my arrows against them.

24

I will send wasting famine against them,

    consuming pestilence and deadly plague;

I will send against them the fangs of wild beasts,

    the venom of vipers that glide in the dust.

25

In the street the sword will make them childless;

    in their homes terror will reign.

The young men and young women will perish,

    the infants and those with gray hair.

26

I said I would scatter them

    and erase their name from human memory,

27

but I dreaded the taunt of the enemy,

    lest the adversary misunderstand

and say, ‘Our hand has triumphed;

    the Lord has not done all this.’”

 

28

They are a nation without sense,

    there is no discernment in them.

29

If only they were wise and would understand this

    and discern what their end will be!

30

How could one man chase a thousand,

    or two put ten thousand to flight,

unless their Rock had sold them,

    unless the Lord had given them up?

31

For their rock is not like our Rock,

    as even our enemies concede.

32

Their vine comes from the vine of Sodom

    and from the fields of Gomorrah.

Their grapes are filled with poison,

    and their clusters with bitterness.

33

Their wine is the venom of serpents,

    the deadly poison of cobras.

 

34

“Have I not kept this in reserve

    and sealed it in my vaults?

35

It is mine to avenge; I will repay.

    In due time their foot will slip;

their day of disaster is near

    and their doom rushes upon them.”

 

36

The Lord will vindicate his people

    and relent concerning his servants

when he sees their strength is gone

    and no one is left, slave or free.[d]

37

He will say: “Now where are their gods,

    the rock they took refuge in,

38

the gods who ate the fat of their sacrifices

    and drank the wine of their drink offerings?

Let them rise up to help you!

    Let them give you shelter!

 

39

“See now that I myself am he!

    There is no god besides me.

I put to death and I bring to life,

    I have wounded and I will heal,

    and no one can deliver out of my hand.

40

I lift my hand to heaven and solemnly swear:

    As surely as I live forever,

41

when I sharpen my flashing sword

    and my hand grasps it in judgment,

I will take vengeance on my adversaries

    and repay those who hate me.

42

I will make my arrows drunk with blood,

    while my sword devours flesh:

the blood of the slain and the captives,

    the heads of the enemy leaders.”

 

43

Rejoice, you nations, with his people,[e][f]

    for he will avenge the blood of his servants;

he will take vengeance on his enemies

    and make atonement for his land and people.

 

44 Moses came with Joshua[g] son of Nun and spoke all the words of this song in the hearing of the people. 45 When Moses finished reciting all these words to all Israel, 46 he said to them, “Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. 47 They are not just idle words for you—they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.”

 

The song that Moses recited to the people takes up the better part of chapter 32. Deuteronomy 32:44 says that Joshua aided Moses in the recitation of this inspired song. The same day that Israel learned the Song of Moses, God directed Moses to climb Mt. Nebo, where Moses would be laid to rest (verses 48–50).

 

The song begins with a universal call to listen, followed by praise of the just, faithful, and upright God (Deuteronomy 32:1–4). In contrast to God’s faithfulness is Israel’s unfaithfulness (verses 5–6). The song proceeds to recite the history of Israel from their time of bondage in Egypt, through their wilderness wanderings, to their established place in the Promised Land (verses 7–14). The Song of Moses then becomes prophetic: Israel’s future ingratitude and idolatry are predicted, as are the judgments of God for their sin (verses 15–31). Then God promises to avenge Israel against their (and His) enemies, showing compassion on His people (verses 32–42). The song ends on a joyful note, as God’s punishment is past, righteousness is restored, and the land of Israel cleansed (verse 43).

 

A major theme of the Song of Moses is God’s faithfulness. He is called “the Rock” four times in the song (Deuteronomy 32:15, 18, 30–31). Even as God’s people are chasing whims and trusting feeble gods, God remains their steadfast, unchanging Source of Salvation.

 

The last words of the Song of Moses are a promise that God will “make atonement for his land and people” (Deuteronomy 32:43). This is a significant promise, because the atonement for God’s people is none other than the sacrifice of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:20).

 

Getting back to my song lyrics that I began with, I Ran, by the Flock of Seagulls. The final line of the chorus is the one line that I have not yet repeated but was saving for now – “couldn’t get away”. I ran so far away. Couldn’t get away. Even though I ran away from God, much like Israel, Israel and I could not get away from Him. He will allow circumstances of our runaway path lead us to the point that we have ourselves painted into a corner. Our life becomes a shambles. We have nowhere to turn but to return home to the God who created us. For me, it was not until I was 39 years old that came to know the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ. I knew God but never really KNEW God until that moment that I accepted His love for me through what Jesus had done on the cross. I knew the redemption story but had never accepted it. I ran. I ran so far away. Just ran. I ran all night and day. But…couldn’t get away. I heard a saying from a friend the other day (and I am sure he read it somewhere), “God takes our mess and turns it into a message!” It was not until I had made a complete mess of my life. I rebelled. I ran. I blended into the culture and argued against the existence of God. I picked and choosed what parts of Scripture I liked. I changed interpretations of Bible passages to suit my needs. I made Jesus into a rebellious prophet who got Himself killed. I made him into a political rebel that I really liked. I made Jesus into a great philosopher. But I ran away from the Jesus as Son of God thing and that He was God in the flesh. That was too hard. To have faith was too hard. It was easier to be like the crowd. It was easier to fit in and worship things, people, gods of my own making. The gods of my own making allowed me to make the rules, not the Creator who created me.

 

To end up today’s blog about the Song of Moses, we will use another song. This one is by a Christian contemporary group called Vertical Church Band. The song is called “The Rock Won’t Move”. The chorus of that song goes like this:

 

The Rock won’t move and His word is strong

The Rock won’t move and His love can’t be undone

The Rock won’t move and His word is strong

The Rock won’t move and His love can’t be undone

The Rock of our Salvation

 

This rock imagery is so true of God. He never moves. He is like a solid rock that is immovable. God does not leave. We move. We move away from Him. We try to run after other gods but He is still there. He is immovable. His truth and His justice and His mercy are forever the same. Ignoring or running from God does not make Him go away. He is truth and His truth remains consistent and eternal no matter how we try to change it or cover it up or say that we know better than He. The Rock doesn’t move. We do.

 

Return oh ye sinners unto the Lord and beg His forgiveness for our wanderings and our running, our running so far away, our running all night and day. Because as the “Rock Won’t Move” goes onto say:

 

My hope is in the promise of Your blood

My support within the raging flood

Even in the tempest, I can sing

I’m hidden safe in the God who never moves

Holding fast to the promise of Your truth

That You are holding tighter still to me

 

Woah, woah

Woah, the Rock of our salvation

 

On Christ the Solid Rock I stand

All other ground is sinking sand

The Rock won’t move, the Rock won’t move

When darkness seems to hide His face

I rest in His unchanging grace

The Rock won’t move, the Rock won’t move

Come back home. Quit running. You’ve been running all night and day. It’s time to come home to the Rock that never moved.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 30:1-10

A Call to Return to the Lord

Have you been watching the liberal world’s reaction to the Trump presidency? No matter what Trump does, they are going to consider it a failure. There was a meme that was floating around on the internet and Facebook a few weeks ago that was hilariously funny. It showed on one side of the picture, a liberal railing at Trump about why he needed to do something for the poor, defenseless people of Syria. The next frame beside it is after Trump has bombed Syria and the liberal is railing at Trump for having done something. It seems no matter what Trump does, whether it is good or bad; the liberals just jump all over it even if their protests one day are contradictory to their protests the next day. They just don’t like Trump. They are not willing to give him a chance. They are not willing to let this non-politician evolve into his job. Sure, Trump never does himself any favors by his unpolished style and saying what is simply his opinion and not always what is wise to say on the world political stage that he now occupies. However, for all his faults, he is actually trying to do a good job and he is doing his best to surround himself with people who know what they are doing. The world has not ended because of the Trump presidency yet.

 

He was, from Day 1, not giving the honeymoon of 6 months to a year that most presidents get right after being inaugurated where they are not roundly criticized. They are usually given that time for us on both sides of the aisle, liberals and conservatives alike, to see what patterns of behavior a new president and his administration will display. People typically withhold judgment for a while. Trump has not been so lucky. Sure, I voted for him because he was the only Republican option. I did not hate Hillary but her political leanings were just amazingly too far to the left for me. So, the only electable option other than Hillary was Trump. I felt then and still do now that Marco Rubio would have made a far better President than Trump or Clinton. However, my party went nuts over the loudest voice. They fell in love with the celebrity and braggadocio of Trump and not his substance. Given that, I am not sitting here at my laptop writing this as some staunch Trump supporter. However, I think we should give the man some time to evolve into his job. We have elected outsiders before. Jimmy Carter was a Washington political outsider. We as a nation gave him a chance for about a year or year and a half before we realized that he was inept and unable to effectively run the presidency. He was given time to prove himself inept and a bumbling fool when it came to the presidency. Not so with Trump. He has been branded the devil by the liberals and no matter what he does; he is wrong. He is forever branded an enemy of the liberal cause and even if he created the free education, $20 minimum wage, government programs for everything, socialist state that the liberals want, they would not accept it because it would have been Trump who did it.

 

It is almost like the girl from the book, The Scarlet Letter, who was forever branded with a red “A” on her clothing for having committed adultery at one point in her life. She was forever branded by New England society. Never to be treated with dignity ever again. It is like the McCarthyism of the 1950s. Peoples lives were ruined by the Communist hysteria created by the McCarthy’s witch hunt. Many notable Americans at the time were branded as Communists by his US House of Representative subcommittee, the House Committee on Unamerican Activities, and their lives were forever ruined by that committee. Once branded a communist, you could never find work or even a life of peace again. It trickled down to main street America and there was a nationwide paranoia about being communist. It was an ugly time for America. It was unfair. People were branded with Scarlet C’s and nothing would ever change them back into people of worth to the nation even if they were proven innocent. The accusation of being a communist was enough to end their lives as they knew before the accusation. They were branded as enemies of the nation and that never changed. Trump is being given the same treatment by liberals. They have decided from Day 1 that he is the devil himself and nothing that he will ever do in his presidency will be acceptable to him, even if He does good things for the nation.

It was that contrasting idea of how the liberals in America treat Trump that came to mind when I read this passage about God’s promise of redemption of Israel as long as they returned to God. My thought was what if God was not that way. What if we were permanently branded as an enemy by God? Let us read this passage together this morning:

 

30 When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations, 2 and when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, 3 then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes[a] and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. 4 Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. 5 He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors. 6 The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. 7 The Lord your God will put all these curses on your enemies who hate and persecute you. 8 You will again obey the Lord and follow all his commands I am giving you today. 9 Then the Lord your God will make you most prosperous in all the work of your hands and in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your land. The Lord will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as he delighted in your ancestors, 10 if you obey the Lord your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

 

Here, in this passage, Moses told the Hebrews that when they were ready to return to God, he would be ready to receive them. God’s mercy is unbelievable. It goes far beyond what we can imagine. Even if the Israelites deliberately walked away from God and suffered the consequences of their sin, God said He would still take them back. God would give them spiritual renewal. God wants to forgive us and bring us back to Himself too. Some of us will not learn of the love and mercy that God has for us until we have hit rock bottom and our world has crashed in around us. It is often the greatest testimony of the a forgiving and redeeming God is a person who had wrecked their life before coming the Christ. The sorrow and pain that they have gone through provides new insight into what God had been saying to them all along. No matter how far we have wandered, God promises a new beginning when we come to Him with a truly repentant heart and beg for His forgiveness through His Son, Jesus Christ.

 

When we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, our past is no longer held against us. Our scarlet letter is removed and we are restored to good standing in God’s society. When we accept Christ as our Savior we are no longer branded a friend of Satan. Our past becomes our testimony not our sentence to prison. Our past speaks of how a just but loving and merciful Father can redeem His children. By all rights, the accusations of sin against us are real and worthy of branding and worthy of punishment in hell. We deserve to be separated from God forever. We deserve to be the Trump to liberals – forever disdained, forever branded as an enemy, forever unforgiven. In the sight of God, we violate all that is pure and righteous and we deserve to be permanently separated from God. By His justice, we should be forever tainted and unworthy of forgiveness or mercy. However, we know that God is equally as merciful as He is a God of justice. He gave His Son for us so that He could redeem us. We had to have a substitute to take our place in the Hunger Games. Jesus Christ has taken our place in the reaping so that we could live. He took on the punishment for our sins that we rightfully deserved and He made us right again with God. No longer branded as deserving hell. No longer excluded from God’s family. We are made new. Our slate of sin is wiped clean. We are given new life and never condemned for who we were before Christ.

So, maybe, in this world today in which politics are polarized and people are forever branded one way or another. Maybe, in this world, where you won’t listen to someone because of what political label you have forever branded them with. Maybe, we should look at how God forgives us and rips the label of sinner off of us by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Maybe, we should be less stringent about our political beliefs and not see the label and see the person. Maybe, that would lead to working for what is best for the nation and not this you’re the devil and if I work with you on anything I will explode mentality that has seized our nation now.

 

Let us remember that God redeems us from our sins through Jesus Christ when He could by all rights and in His Sovereignty caste us to hell. Let us reflect His merciful nature in our dealings with others. Let us be willing to give others a chance to show us that they are not the devil incarnate. Let us not be a people who permanently brand others as enemies and never ever forgive them. Let us be merciful.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 25:13-16

Honest Weights & Measures

My stepdaughter, the middle child of my three girls, only three months younger than my oldest daughter, works in retail. She is the general manager of one of a chain of popular women’s beauty products stores. She loves it. She loves the managing of a store-full of employees, the purchasing and logistic of product supply, the marketing and so on. She, I think, even loves the wacky hours and holiday work. Some people are just built for retail and Michelle is so. One of the things that I found odd though when talking about retail with her was that they do what they can to prevent theft (shoplifting) but they are not, by policy, to pursue someone once they get outside the store with stolen property. It is simply part of the business in retail.

 

Inventory loss due to shoplifting, employee or supplier fraud and administrative errors cost U.S. retailers an estimated $44 billion in 2014, according to a survey by the National Trade Federation (NRF) and the University of Florida. The survey, which during March and April interviewed 100 senior loss prevention executives from various retail sectors, found inventory shrinkage, or loss, averaged 1.38 percent of overall retail sales, which stood at $3.19 trillion in 2014. Shoplifting accounted for the largest portion of the loss at 38 percent, followed by employee theft at 34.5 percent, administrative and paperwork theft at 16.5 percent, vendor fraud or error at 6.8 percent and unknown loss at 6.1 percent, according to this study. Wal-Mart, the retailing giant whose annual gross revenues rival some small nations, alone, loses $3 Billion a year to shoplifting and employee theft. Theft is just part of the game in retail and guess who pays for the additional costs created by theft, you got it, the overwhelming majority of shoppers – the honest shopper.

 

Fraud and dishonesty (theft in all its forms, embezzlement, kickbacks, dishonest gains, etc.) cost our American economy over $200 Billion annually. Retail losses are only a quarter of the dishonesty cost in the American economy. Law enforcement agencies are having to reallocate resources or add staff to combat the growing wave of unethical business behaviors. It seems that the problem has become so rampant that it is simply an accepted part of business. You have to build in a certain percentage of your sales prices to cover the cost of fraud and theft whether you are selling merchandise or you are selling services. Cheating on our taxes, both at the personal and corporate levels, cost the federal government an estimated $300 Billion in lost tax revenues. Even churches are not immune to theft and fraud. In the United States, the estimate of the extent of fraud against churches perpetrated by employees works out to around $9 Billion annually. US churches spend more on theft and embezzlement than they do on community outreach activities at the local church level.

 

It is the lack of honesty that seems to permeate business dealings these days that I thought of when I read today’s passage. Let’s read it now together:

 

13 Do not have two differing weights in your bag—one heavy, one light. 14 Do not have two differing measures in your house—one large, one small. 15 You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. 16 For the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly.

 

God’s displeasure at dishonest business dealing is stressed throughout the Old Testament (Lev. 19:35, 36; Prov. 11:1; 16:21; 20:10, 23; and Mic. 6:11). The Bible has nothing good to say about those who cheat or are dishonest in their dealings with others. God is the embodiment of truth, and dishonesty is a insult both to God and our neighbor. This was a law of commerce dictating that you could not have one set of scales where a pound, say, equaled only 14 ounces and another where it equaled, say, the normal 16 ounces, for the purpose of cheating people. It teaches a broader principle that we must be fair and consistent in every area of life. We must have integrity in our dealings with other people.

 

How are we to live in a world like this where honesty and virtue seem to be liabilities to an employee? There is no advantage on earth as it descends generation by generation into the world mentioned in Revelation. There is absolutely no advantage. In fact, it is a liability to be honest in today’s world. It often angers me that I have more in taxes taken out on me than some people preachers make just out of seminary serving their first church. It angers me that I get back about ¼ of what I pay in taxes while others cheat like crazy and get big refunds. There is no advantage on earth for being honest.

 

However, there is eternal significance. There is eternal advantage in being honest. God is truth. Truth is honesty. To be honest is to be like one of the qualities of our eternal Father. We most likely all have moments where our flesh kicks in and we are dishonest too many times to count. However, we should purposely try to root our penchant for dishonesty and the Holy Spirit works on us about that very fact. When we can be honest when no one is looking is practice for being honest when everyone is. By being different from a world where theft and fraud are a natural part of life, we draw people unto Jesus Christ. By being ethical people in an unethical world, we draw people unto Christ. When we have opportunities “to take advantage of the system” but do not, we draw people unto Christ. When you can pad your expense account (and nobody will know) but do not, we are learning the discipline of honesty in our dealings with others.

 

We want to please God first and foremost. He will honor our integrity. He will bless it either here on earth or in eternity or both. He will bless it for sure. God has no deception, no lies, no untruth, no unethical qualities. We want to please Him by being truthful and honest. Second, as Christ followers, we are commanded to go and make disciples of Jesus Christ. The best way to do that is to be examples of Christ. Honesty, integrity and ethical behavior are rarities in our world today. The way we live our lives with honesty, integrity and ethical behavior make people ask questions. Being little Christs as we are, we must stand out as different so that people will look at us and ask questions. That is our opportunity to speak of the different way of living known as a relationship with Jesus Christ. Through our accepting Him as our Savior and He sending the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, we are changed. We are different. We have a different agenda of loving God and loving people. Being honest and forthright in our dealings with other people is how we love God and love people. Let us be quirky and different. Let our integrity and honesty draw people unto that which is so different from the common ways of man today.

 

There is no advantage in this world of being honest. There is an out of this world, eternal reason to be honest – to please God and to draw people unto Christ. Be different. Be honest. Stand out. Let people see your integrity so that they will be drawn unto Christ.

 

Amen and Amen.