Posts Tagged ‘repentance’

1 Kings 9:1-9
The Lord’s Response to Solomon

I remember those days when I was a younger man but before I met Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord at age 39. I grew up in the church. I was a preacher’s kid. I knew right from wrong. I knew what immorality was. Those things are seared in our hearts by God himself. However, as I grew up, it seemed as though compromises began. There were those times that I would participate in sinful behaviors but I would rationalize them away as OK one time. Then as time progressed and those sinful behaviors became more frequent, I would rationalize them away as God overlooking those sins because “he and I had a deal that this particular one was OK” because, well, you know (1) I was overall and generally a good guy and (2) that this was OK because of all the things that I had been through. After a while, those rationalizations become more widespread and cover more and more sins. This one is OK too. Well, I am doing this sin so it might as well be OK for me to do this one. Pretty soon, you become a person that you never thought you would be.

It was not until the night of my salvation on December 23, 2001 that I was really confronted by the Holy Spirit with the person that I had become. At that moment, there were no more rationalizations. There was just me and the nakedness of knowing that God and I did not have any deals. He is God and I am a sinner. At that moment, there were no more rationalizations. I stood before the Judge of my eternity and I was found lacking. Just one sin no matter how you rationalize it condemns us to hell. Not to mention all those “deals we have with God”. You know the sins that we will quit doing later. You know the sins that you will make up for with good behavior later. All that stuff you rationalize in your mind as OK are just meaningless when you stand naked with no defense before the pure, sinless Creator God who demands holiness for anyone to be in His presence in eternity.

Have you ever been there? Have you ever began saying that this sin is OK because you and God have a deal on that particular sin? You will quit this and that sin soon enough and God will forget about your sins and everything will be OK. But one sin slides into another type of sin that is OK since the last kind was OK and soon you are far from that innocent child you once were? Are you still rationalizing away that this sin is OK and that sin is OK? None of it is. You are just deluding yourself.

Even when we have accepted Christ as our Savior, we still sin. We still disappoint God with our rationalizations and our pride. Our only hope is repentance and laying ourselves at the feet of the slain and resurrected Savior, Jesus Christ. The only difference between the lost and the saved is ever growing repentance and recognition of our sins through the Holy Spirit’s action in our lives. What was once rationalized away is now revolting to us progressively over our lives as the Holy Spirit gradually sanctifies us to be more and more like Jesus as we mature in Christ.

That’s the thing that I thought of this morning as I read God’s response to Solomon. I am sure that at the time of his prayer, Solomon had full intentions of keeping God’s commands and doing his best to lived according to God’s Words. But one moral compromise led to another and then pretty soon Solomon was not the man that prayed the prayer in the previous passage. God warns him here of the cost of disobedience. It is the same with us. Let us read 1 Kings 9:1-9 now and learn what we can learn:

Chapter 9
1 So Solomon finished building the Temple of the Lord, as well as the royal palace. He completed everything he had planned to do. 2 Then the Lord appeared to Solomon a second time, as he had done before at Gibeon. 3 The Lord said to him,

“I have heard your prayer and your petition. I have set this Temple apart to be holy—this place you have built where my name will be honored forever. I will always watch over it, for it is dear to my heart.

4 “As for you, if you will follow me with integrity and godliness, as David your father did, obeying all my commands, decrees, and regulations, 5 then I will establish the throne of your dynasty over Israel forever. For I made this promise to your father, David: ‘One of your descendants will always sit on the throne of Israel.’

6 “But if you or your descendants abandon me and disobey the commands and decrees I have given you, and if you serve and worship other gods, 7 then I will uproot Israel from this land that I have given them. I will reject this Temple that I have made holy to honor my name. I will make Israel an object of mockery and ridicule among the nations. 8 And though this Temple is impressive now, all who pass by will be appalled and will gasp in horror. They will ask, ‘Why did the Lord do such terrible things to this land and to this Temple?’

9 “And the answer will be, ‘Because his people abandoned the Lord their God, who brought their ancestors out of Egypt, and they worshiped other gods instead and bowed down to them. That is why the Lord has brought all these disasters on them.’”

In this passage, we see that At the time God spoke to Solomon, in this text, I have no doubt that Solomon had the best of intentions of following the Lord as closely as he possibly could. His first compromise seemed like a rational thing to do. You remember, Solomon has asked God for wisdom that he might know how to lead the people, and God granted him unsurpassed wisdom. Now, I used to think that God gave Solomon “across the board” wisdom, in other words, wisdom in every area of life, but in reality, God gave him the wisdom that he asked for. He gave him political wisdom for judgement and leadership.

His personal wisdom for ordering his own life, on the other hand, came up terribly lacking. The reason for this is that he had to walk by faith, just as we all do. So, Solomon’s initial compromise was to marry some women for political advantage. Soon, he began to marry one king’s daughter after another, and in so doing, locking in a peace for his kingdom that he would enjoy for most of his life. The problem was, that many of these women were of nations with which God had expressly forbidden His people to intermarry.

Look at 1 Kings 11:4-8 and see how full blown it became in the end. Do you think Solomon ever dreamed this would happen, back in his younger days? He knew, in his head, that God had miraculously been with his father, David, and he had seen the blessings of God, as Israel had risen to be the greatest nation in the world. God had appeared to him twice, first in Gibeon in a dream, as recorded in 1 Kings 3:5-14, then the second time in our text. 1 Kings 3:3 says, “And Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father, David…” But, then the verse goes on to say, “Except that he sacrificed and burned incense at the high places.” Now look at 1 Kings 11:26-35. Solomon had become so deceived by his compromise, that he somehow thought he could worship other gods and continue in the blessing of Almighty God. David had been a man who would inquire of God before major decisions, and he would humble himself before God when he was wrong. Consequently, God said that David was a man after His own heart. Solomon, on the other hand, set out to rationalize his way through life. He forgot his own proverb, that God had given him, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

So, as you can see, it happened to Solomon and it brought trouble to his life. It was so bad that within a generation of his death, the kingdom was split into and was weaker for it and made it susceptible to the coming defeats and exiles at the hands of the Assyrians and the Babylonians. Sin and disobedience to the Lord always leads us to trouble. We may whine and complain about how hard we have had it, as I did in my younger days, but often the troubles that we suffer in life are a direct result of the sins in our lives. They always have consequences. Actions cause reactions. Causes always have effects. Sin and disobedience is no different. Sure, there are instances where the sins of others have effects on our lives where we have done nothing wrong but that is the world we live in – a fallen one. However, most of the rough patches that we go through in our lives are of our own making.

Here in this passage, the Lord tells Solomon and the Israelites (and is saying the same thing to us as the readers of the Bible in the 21st century) that there are choices that we can make. We can obey the Lord and receive His blessing or we can disobey Him and He will withdraw his blessing and let come what may to us in this fallen world.

Father, help us to not compromise our faith as if certain sins are OK temporarily because we have a deal with you. Help us not to rationalize our sins away. Help us to see our sins for what they are. Help us to repent and turn away from them and beg forgiveness from you through our Savior Jesus Christ. Help us to desire to obey you. Help us to understand from our own experience and the experience of others just how destructive unrepentant sin can be in our lives. Help us to desire what you desire. Help us to want to be more and more like Jesus Christ every day. Help us not to resist the changing power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Amen and Amen.

2 Samuel 23:1-7
David’s Last Words

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 23
1 These are the last words of David:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen and Amen.

2 Samuel 12:26-31
David Captures Rabbah

If there ever was a presidential scandal, it was the Watergate scandal of the Nixon administration. Just think of the staggering cost to the administration in defending itself and covering up the connections between the White House and the scandal. Just think of all the professional talent making good money whose hours upon hours were spent perpetrating the clandestine operations of the Nixon administration. Just think of the staggering cost at the Washington Post uncovering and unraveling the trail to the White House. Just think of all the congressional dollars that were spent on the issue – by the congressmen and senators themselves, by their staffers, by their teams of lawyers, by their lawyers’ teams of investigators, and the mountains and mountains of paper that were generated in memos and reports that otherwise would not have been produced were it not for the scandal. Just think of all the missed opportunities within the administration and within Congress to concentrate on matters of social justice and economic well being and foreign policy that were set aside because of the ongoing Watergate scandal, the cover up and the investigation into it all. Just think of the staggering cost. What could have been accomplished by Nixon as President had he not been such a paranoid, unforgiving, vindictive, insecure man. He accomplished much to soften relationships with the Soviet Union and China that had been red hot since the end of the Korean War in the early 50s. Just think what he could have done had it not been for the scandal.

The liberals of today think Donald Trump is the devil in a suit but he’s boy scout (as least so far as we know – so far) compared to Nixon and his cronies. Nixon personally altered the landscape of the presidency. He introduced distrust of the presidency that has grown and grown over the years since then. Nixon personally is responsible for the curtailing of powers granted to the president. Nixon now is remembered far more for the damage that he caused the nation and the institution of the presidency than anything he accomplished in foreign affairs or domestic affairs. He is a caricature now of a crooked politician. He is a cartoon character. Just what he did not want to become. He wanted to be remember with the fondness of the man that defeated him in the 1960 presidential elections – Jack Kennedy. He wanted to be seen as that charismatic leader with the love of the American people in his hands. But he blew it with his paranoia and then with his dogged determination to cover his rear end after the scandal broke. Missed opportunity because of wrongdoing. Preoccupation of a nation because of the wrongdoing of its president.

That’s what I thought of this morning when I read this passage that appears to have occurred between the Bathsheba/Uriah incident and Nathan’s rebuke – how David got completely sidetracked by his sins and became an ineffective leader until he confessed his sin, repented of them, and got back to being after God’s own heart. Let’s read the passage now, 2 Samuel 12:26-31:

26 Meanwhile, Joab was fighting against Rabbah, the capital of Ammon, and he captured the royal fortifications.[a] 27 Joab sent messengers to tell David, “I have fought against Rabbah and captured its water supply.[b] 28 Now bring the rest of the army and capture the city. Otherwise, I will capture it and get credit for the victory.”

29 So David gathered the rest of the army and went to Rabbah, and he fought against it and captured it. 30 David removed the crown from the king’s head,[c] and it was placed on his own head. The crown was made of gold and set with gems, and it weighed seventy-five pounds.[d] David took a vast amount of plunder from the city. 31 He also made slaves of the people of Rabbah and forced them to labor with[e] saws, iron picks, and iron axes, and to work in the brick kilns.[f] That is how he dealt with the people of all the Ammonite towns. Then David and all the army returned to Jerusalem.

Here in this passage we see that the siege of Rabbah would have been conducted by the slow process of blockade, it might easily be prolonged into the second year, and so give ample space for David’s sin and its punishment by the death of the child. But more probably the narrator, having commenced the history of David’s sin, completes the story before returning to his account of the war (i.e., notice the use of the word, “meanwhile” at the beginning of this passage).

Thus the capture of Rabbah would occupy some of the interval between David’s adultery and Nathan’s visit of rebuke, and would lessen the difficulty, which we cannot help feeling, of David remaining for nine or ten months with the guilt of adultery and murder resting upon him, and no open act of repentance. Some short time, then, after Uriah’s death, Joab captured “the city of waters.” This is not a poetical name for Rabbah, but means the “water city,” that is, the town upon the Jabbok, whence the supply of water was obtained. The citadel, which occupied a high rock on the northwestern side, must, therefore, soon be starved into submission, and the whole of “the royal city,” that is, of the metropolis of the Ammonites, be in Joab’s power. He therefore urges David to come in person, both that the honor of the conquest may be his, and also because probably the blockading force had been reduced to as small a body of men as was safe, and the presence of a large army was necessary for completing the subjugation of the country, which would follow upon the capture of the capital.

It all points to the fact that David had gotten stalled out by his sins. He was a spiritual funk as the result of his sins. He was preoccupied with himself and not with his kingdom or the expansion of it. He was preoccupied with his sin to the point that it made him ineffective. That is where Satan wants each one of us. He tempts us to sin so that when we do, we are in his clutches. When we sin, we become so paranoid and preoccupied with our wrongdoing and its coverup that we become ineffective in the spread of the gospel. We feel that we are disqualified and we withdraw from actively pushing the boundaries of God and expanding His kingdom. Sin seems fun at the time you commit the sin and you think “what could be better”. You think “I am getting what I deserve.” You think “it might be wrong in some ways but I deserve it and God just wants me to be happy.” You think that God will suspend his normal laws of right and wrong because it is you and you are generally a good person otherwise. These are all lies of Satan when it comes to sin. Sin will take us over. It will preoccupy us. It will consume us. Even if it does not get discovered immediately, it will consume us totally in our efforts to keep our sins hidden. It diverts us from God’s calling on our lives and prevents us from being effective.

I think of my friends who were a pastor and his wife that were our spiritual parents when we lived in California (even though they were younger than Elena and me). They were such an effective couple for God. They were such an effective team. They were growing the little church that they were leading. However, he had a hidden sin of pornography. She has reacted with multiple affairs. When his sin came out, the church imploded and no longer exists. They moved away to Colorado to try to save their marriage but the damage between his addiction recovery and her affairs has them at the point of divorce now. He is out of the ministry now but is teaching at a Christian school and is regaining some effectiveness. She is a gifted artist but the years of damage in their relationship has shoved her further and further into the arms of another man. She has quite simply gone of the deep end into destroying what was left of their marriage. When I think back to those days in California when they were on top of their game for Jesus Christ, they were building real Christian community. They were challenging people to live out the Bible on a 24/7/365 basis and not just on Sundays. They were challenging people to see the real Jesus and real Christianity and not just some pluralistic, all roads lead to heaven version of Christianity. They were developing a core of a great church. But sin got it all turned sideways. The last time I was in the Bay Area with my wife, we drove by the former school where the church was located and we just felt the stabbing pain of what might have been.
Sin will turn you sideways my friends. My life is a testament of that. I am 55 years old and am just now following what God’s call has been on my life. All the sins of my life got me turned sideways to the point that I did not come to Christ until age 39 and it has taken all those years to get to this point where God said I was finally ready to follow His call into the ministry. Imagine what I could have done for Christ if it were not for a lifetime of sidetracks. Imagine what God could have used me to do with the passion for serving Him that now fills my soul. Sin sidetracks. Sin delays us. Sin diverts us from what God has called us to do.

My prayer for myself is that we dust off the shackles of sin and take the hand of Jesus and move forward into what He has for us. May we repent of our lifestyle of sin. May we admit our sins immediately and quickly after salvation. May we learn from them and turn away from situations that will lead us to those sins again. May we seek forgiveness in the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ and ask the Holy Spirit to change us from the inside out such that we seek Him and only Him. May we receive wisdom from God when it comes to sin. May we recognize before we succumb to the siren call of Satan that sin will sidetrack us in ways that we cannot even count. Sin will derail what we are doing for the Lord. It damages our witness for so much longer than the benefits of enjoying a sin will last. May we think of David and how his greatness as king of the Israelite nation was sidetracked for a long period of time by the consequences of the Bathsheba/Uriah incident. Without even realizing it, David became consumed with justifying his sin and keeping it covered up that he pretty much forgot to be king. Help us to learn from David about the derailing effects of sin.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 7:3-17 (Part 3 of 3)
Samuel Leads Israel to Victory

Water is important. Water is the elixir of life. Without it, we will die. We live in a water-like substance for the first nine months of our existence within our mother’s wombs. We need it to survive outside our mother’s womb. Watch any marathon, you will see that they require water stations at multiple points throughout the race. And, you have seen what happens to a runner who is not properly hydrated in a marathon race. Some will faint and collapse in a heap during the race. Some will have their muscles seize up on them because of the lack of hydration in their bodies. Water is important.

Water was always important in my family growing up. My mom would take us swimming from the time we were little boys, babes in arms almost. As a result, my brother and I loved the water growing up. Whether it be going to a swimming pool when we had a YMCA nearby or just running through the sprinkler in the backyard or swimming in a lake, we loved it. When we moved to Anderson, SC when we were middle schoolers, we thought it was the coolest thing that we had Lake Hartwell nearby. My dad bought a boat and through one of the best friends I had when we lived there, Donnie Garrison, we had access to a private cove on the lake. His dad owned a big farm right there on the lake. Donnie and I were in the water all the time during the summers. Water skiing was our thing on the weekend and when we weren’t skiing we were swimming. Lake Hartwell was the fluid that lubricated our friendship. When we were not swimming, we exploring the woods around the lake on the Garrison property. Man, I remember those summer weekends, my dad would be pulling us the skis behind the boat for miles and miles and it was an every weekend thing from May to September. It was so much fun. And dad had gotten really good about knowing how to maximize our leanouts on turns. Donnie and I had gotten so good at skiing that on our leanouts on turns we would almost be horizontal. The g-force against us was wild. We would probably be doing about 30 miles per hour going through those turns (and it seemed like 60 mph when you were on the skiis and leaning out almost down to the water on a turn). Man, I still remember those days. I can still feel the speed on those turns in my mind right now. And the wipeouts on turns would be spectacular…like a rock skipping on water. And the one of us that didn’t wipe out on the turn would be laughing like crazy when dad would have to circle back around to pick the downed skier back up. Water was so important to us in those days. Had to be in it, on it, or by it.

Water is important to the Christian faith as well. Jesus, the man who needed no forgiveness for He was God in the flesh, was immersed in water to fulfill all righteousness when He began his public ministry. We are baptized in the water as a public profession of what God has already done in our souls through the salvation of Jesus Christ. It is symbolic of the change wrought by believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died for our sins and rose on the third day to give us hope of eternal life with Him. It is the symbol of our salvation. Water is important and it is symbolic to Christians. When we get baptized, we are lowered into the water as persons with no hope and that are mired in the scales of sin. We are immersed in the water and it is during that immersion that it is symbolic of what Jesus has done for us. He has washed away our sins by His death on the cross. He took our sins with Him to the tomb and left them there. Just as the immersion in the water is what cleans away the dirt and nastiness of our sins. Further, just as Jesus was laid in the tomb, we are immersed in the water. Just as Jesus left death and sin in the grave, we leave symbolically our sins in the waters of salvation. They stay there. We are redeemed and made clean in the waters of Jesus’ gracious salvation. Just as Jesus arose from the grave, our coming out of the water in baptism symbolizes our new life in Christ. It symbolizes our victory over death in our sins. Jesus’ resurrection from the grave assures us that that we have new life and no longer are we suffering under the death penalty of sin. Our arising from the water in baptism symbolism that new life. We have been bathed in the water covering of what Jesus did for us on the cross and we symbolically arise from the water clean and free from the death sentence of our sin’s filth. You can, thus, kinda say that water is a wee bit important as a symbolic thing in the Christian faith. It is important to God that water be a symbolic of life. It is important in the organic world and it is important to us as God’s people as a symbol of the necessity of God in our lives, the necessity of faith, the necessity of cleansing ourselves and making ourselves right with God. Water is important.

It is that idea of the importance of water in the physical world and in God’s relationship with man that I thought of this morning. Just as water was pretty much the basis of my and Donnie Garrison’s friendship, we see the importance of water in the life of God’s people as well in this passage, 1 Samuel 7:3-17. With that in my mind, let’s read it together right now:

3 Then Samuel said to all the people of Israel, “If you want to return to the Lord with all your hearts, get rid of your foreign gods and your images of Ashtoreth. Turn your hearts to the Lord and obey him alone; then he will rescue you from the Philistines.” 4 So the Israelites got rid of their images of Baal and Ashtoreth and worshiped only the Lord.

5 Then Samuel told them, “Gather all of Israel to Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you.” 6 So they gathered at Mizpah and, in a great ceremony, drew water from a well and poured it out before the Lord. They also went without food all day and confessed that they had sinned against the Lord. (It was at Mizpah that Samuel became Israel’s judge.)

7 When the Philistine rulers heard that Israel had gathered at Mizpah, they mobilized their army and advanced. The Israelites were badly frightened when they learned that the Philistines were approaching. 8 “Don’t stop pleading with the Lord our God to save us from the Philistines!” they begged Samuel. 9 So Samuel took a young lamb and offered it to the Lord as a whole burnt offering. He pleaded with the Lord to help Israel, and the Lord answered him.

10 Just as Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines arrived to attack Israel. But the Lord spoke with a mighty voice of thunder from heaven that day, and the Philistines were thrown into such confusion that the Israelites defeated them. 11 The men of Israel chased them from Mizpah to a place below Beth-car, slaughtering them all along the way.

12 Samuel then took a large stone and placed it between the towns of Mizpah and Jeshanah.[a] He named it Ebenezer (which means “the stone of help”), for he said, “Up to this point the Lord has helped us!”

13 So the Philistines were subdued and didn’t invade Israel again for some time. And throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the Lord’s powerful hand was raised against the Philistines. 14 The Israelite villages near Ekron and Gath that the Philistines had captured were restored to Israel, along with the rest of the territory that the Philistines had taken. And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites in those days.

15 Samuel continued as Israel’s judge for the rest of his life. 16 Each year he traveled around, setting up his court first at Bethel, then at Gilgal, and then at Mizpah. He judged the people of Israel at each of these places. 17 Then he would return to his home at Ramah, and he would hear cases there, too. And Samuel built an altar to the Lord at Ramah.

In this passage, we see that pouring water on the ground “before the Lord” was a sign of repentance from sin, turning from idols, and determining to obey God alone. It was Samuel’s way of demonstrating to God that the people were ready to repent of their sins and become a renewed people before God. The people of Israel during the time of the judges had been a horrid, sinful lot and it is here that water poured on the land was symbolic of how they wanted to turn from their sin and return unto God.

When I read this passage I really picked up on that water thing because I understand the importance of baptism as a symbolic gesture in the Christian faith. The water symbolism used in Christian baptism has its roots in the Old Testament. Here we see one of the examples of how water is symbolic of the cleansing of the people. That is what baptism symbolizes in the Christian faith. The people of Israel had already committed to repentance and Samuel’s pouring out of water on to the land “before the Lord” was symbolic of what had already happening in the life of the people of Israel. Similarly, baptism, the act, does not in and of itself impart salvation. It is simply a beautifully symbolic and powerful testament to what has already occurred in the believer’s soul. Salvation has already occurred and baptism is how we “go public” about our faith, about our already occurred salvation experience. Water is important. It is important to God. It is important symbolically in God’s relationship to man. Water is reality is the most important thing that we need physically to survive and not die. It is the same as a symbol of what God does for us through Jesus. We need Jesus as much spiritually as much as we need water physically. It is no wonder that God influenced us to use water as the most central symbol of the Christian faith.

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.

Joshua 23:1-16 (Part 2 of 2)

Joshua’s Final Words to Israel

When you get to your mid-fifties as I am now, you begin thinking about retirement and even about death. I would not say that either of these things are preoccupations to me at the moment, but these thoughts do now cross my mind, on occasion. What do I want to be remembered for?

 

There are certainly a list of mistakes that I have made in my life that I do not want to be remembered for. I do not want to be remembered for my low points and there are plenty of those. I got to thinking about this yesterday as a result of the content of what I had to teach in my New Testament class at church that I teach. In yesterday’s class, week 4 of the 13 week class, I have to teach on the Gospel of Mark. I spent a lot of time on just who the author of this gospel is. He is the John Mark noted in Paul and Peter’s letters to the church and in Acts. The first that we see Mark mentioned by name is in the descriptions of Paul’s first two missionary journeys. In that first missionary journey, John Mark is mentioned by Luke as having quit on the team and was returning to Jerusalem right in the middle of the Paul and the team’s first missionary journey. Luke is silent in the book of Acts as to why John Mark returns home smack dab in the middle of a missionary journey. But the fact remains that John Mark fails in his first efforts to be a bearer of the gospel to the nations. He turned tail and ran home. He failed. At the beginning of Paul’s second missionary journey, Barnabas wants to bring his cousin, John Mark, along with them again. Paul refuses to allow John Mark to be a part of the team. Things become so heated between Barnabas and Paul as to John Mark’s presence on the team that Barnabas and Paul agree to disagree and go their separate ways. Paul and Silas go one way and Barnabas and John Mark go another – as separate missionary teams.

 

The New Testament is silent about John Mark until a brief mention of him in closing of the epistle to Philemon. He is given specific mention by Paul in 2 Timothy 4 where Paul ask Timothy to bring John Mark to Rome (where Paul is in prison awaiting what will be his execution) because John Mark is “useful in ministry.” What happened between John Mark’s failure in Acts 15:37-38 and 2 Timothy 4? John Mark goes from being an utter failure in missions work to the point that Paul does not want him on the missionary team anymore to a person whom Paul considers “useful in ministry.” He goes from being a person who shrank away from the work of the Lord (somewhat like Jonah in the Old Testament) and ran away from his God-ordained mission to be someone who Philemon, a leader in the church at Colossae, was very familiar with as a part of Paul’s church plant development team. The fact that we understand that his gospel is written to a Roman audience and the fact that Paul calls him to Rome through his second letter to Timothy, we know that John Mark was a great influence on the Christian church, the collection of believers, situated at Rome.

 

Somewhere along the way, John Mark overcomes his failures and becomes a tireless servant to the church in general. We know from first century church historian/writer, Jerome, that John Mark was responsible for establishing a church in Alexandria, Egypt that went on to become a center of Christian thought and writing. It was writers like Jerome and others at Alexandria that helped fully develop the theology of the Christian faith that still resonates in what we know and understand of the principles of our faith today. Mark went from a failure to a tireless worker and thinker of the Christian faith. His understanding of the faith became so great that it compelled him to write his gospel (much of it based on his conversations with Peter with whom John Mark had a close personal relationship to the point that Peter refers to him as a spiritual son in 1 Peter).

It is not as though John Mark had a start in life that was far from god because of his parentage. Where does Peter go after he is miraculously freed from prison. To the house of John Mark’s mother (see Acts 12) because it was at her house that believers were gathered together for prayer. His cousin Barnabas is mentioned in Acts 4 as a person that sold some land and brought the proceeds to the apostles for use in financing the Jerusalem church’s activities. This means that John Mark’s family was heavily involved in the early church and the family home was a center of activity, maybe even a central place of worship for this young movement, the Christ movement, in Jerusalem. John Mark “grew up in the church” just like I did. And just like me, it did not guarantee that he would be this spiritual giant. Mark failed miserably when it was first his time to be of real service to the church. He talked the big talk but when it first came his time to be of service he failed miserably. I grew up in the church but like John Mark I grew up and ran away from the church. Although I grew up the church, I did not accept Christ as my Savior until I was 39 years old.

 

But as the old saying goes, “it’s not our failures that define us, it is what we do next that defines us.” John Mark failed miserably on his first mission trip with Paul. But between Acts 15 and 2 Timothy 4, there is this amazing transformation in John Mark where he goes from failure to a tireless servant to Christian churches throughout the Roman empire. It’s what we do next that defines us. It is what we do next that is our legacy. John Mark is now among the spiritual giants of the early church and that’s what we remember the most. John Mark what such an influence on the church that his gospel is one of the four gospels that becomes accepted by the Christian church as part of the New Testament canon. His gospel has been read and re-read and studied and has caused people to come to Christ as their Savior for two millenia now. Talk about your comeback kids! Talk about what you do next that matters.

 

That’s the kind of legacy that I want to leave. I do want future generations of my family to know that I was like John Mark – a what you do next that matters kind of guy. I want to be remembered for my chasing after God in the last half of my life more so than the things that I was known for chasing after in the first half of my life. I want to be remembered as a man who loved God and did his best to do God’s will and to follow God’s calling rather than the person who ran from God for so long and had so many moral failures. I want that John Mark legacy. A story of redemption and usefulness to the kingdom.

 

That’s the message that Joshua is sending her in this passage. What do you want your legacy to be? Let us read through it and see how this all ties together after we read the passage:

23 After a long time had passed and the Lord had given Israel rest from all their enemies around them, Joshua, by then a very old man, 2 summoned all Israel—their elders, leaders, judges and officials—and said to them: “I am very old. 3 You yourselves have seen everything the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake; it was the Lord your God who fought for you. 4 Remember how I have allotted as an inheritance for your tribes all the land of the nations that remain—the nations I conquered—between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea in the west. 5 The Lord your God himself will push them out for your sake. He will drive them out before you, and you will take possession of their land, as the Lord your God promised you.

 

6 “Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left. 7 Do not associate with these nations that remain among you; do not invoke the names of their gods or swear by them. You must not serve them or bow down to them. 8 But you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now.

 

9 “The Lord has driven out before you great and powerful nations; to this day no one has been able to withstand you. 10 One of you routs a thousand, because the Lord your God fights for you, just as he promised. 11 So be very careful to love the Lord your God.

 

12 “But if you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you and if you intermarry with them and associate with them, 13 then you may be sure that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the Lord your God has given you.

 

14 “Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. 15 But just as all the good things the Lord your God has promised you have come to you, so he will bring on you all the evil things he has threatened, until the Lord your God has destroyed you from this good land he has given you. 16 If you violate the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you.”

 

In this passage, we see that Joshua is dying and so he called all the leaders of the nation of Israel together to give them his final words of encouragement and instruction. His whole message can be summarized in this verse, “but you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now.” Joshua had been a living example of those words and he wanted that to be his legacy. For what do you and I want to be remembered, and what do you want to pass on to your children, family, friends and co-workers?

 

What do you want to be remembered for? Your moral failures? Your greed? Your adultery? Your disregard for God’s law? Your cheapening of God’s grace? Your ignoring of your children after your divorce? Your rationalization of it all? Your saying that your sin is OK because it is a sin or sins that you do not want to give up? What is the legacy that you will present before the Lord on your judgment day? There will be no justifications then? You will be judged? Do you know Jesus Christ? Have you submitted your life to His authority as Lord and have you accepted his grace through faith in Him as your Savior? What is your legacy going to be?

 

It does not matter what you have done or are doing now? It’s what you do next that matters! Come to Jesus? Change your life from a life of unrepentant sin to a life that is useful to the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Come to him now. It’s what’s next that matters!

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 13:15-23

The Land Given to the Tribe of Reuben

Do you ever think about the legacy that you will leave behind? Do think about how your actions will have ripple effects in your family for generations. But are we not forgiven for our past mistakes by God when we accept Christ as our Savior and Lord.

 

This issue has been on my mind lately because of current events locally. I have had to attend the funerals of the father of a friend and the husband of a church member within the last several weeks. And then there has been an issue of a person that was not a close friend but more than a mere acquaintance that has been accused of crimes regarding dissemination of pornography among people who are less than 18 years old. In all of these things, it had me considering the issue of legacy and its relationship to forgiveness in Christ.

 

In the funerals, I heard stories of great legacy. These two men were honored and revered by their families. You can usually tell at funerals whether people are struggling to say nice things about the deceased or whether they are being sincere. In both cases, those who spoke of the deceased were joyously and sometimes tearfully speaking of the things that they respected about the man, the father, the husband, the employee, etc. that these men were. “He was a good man!” was often said at each of these funerals. These were God-fearing men. These were men who led their families well. These were men of quiet generosity not just at church but in the community with those that needed help. These were men that knew what his sons needed in their father in one case or was perfectly suited to be the father of all daughters in the other case. Respect. Honor. Dignity. Generosity. Christ-following. Humble. Hard Working. Integrity. All of these adjectives were lauded upon these men. I am sure that each had their faults and had their screw ups with their kids and their wives but nothing profound that permanently damaged their overall legacy. Their legacy was one of respect and honor. They were able to pass on that legacy to their children. Each of them appear to people of honor and respect and all of that they are they credit to the leadership of their father. Now, that’s legacy my friends. These men were not internationally famous, nationally famous, famous in our state, regionally famous, and probably were not well-known even in our community outside their sphere of influence of church, work, and friends. But the legacy that they have passed down to their progeny is one that I certainly want to have said of me.

 

What will my children and my wife think of me when they have to write my eulogy after I am gone. What legacy am I leaving to him by my actions during my life? What will they say of me? And how will the actions, mistakes, victories, character, how I acted in crunch moments, how far down the genealogical tree will my actions of my lifetime reverberate and shake the branches of my progeny.

 

That same question of legacy and the impact of our actions is what I thought about in the situation where a person I know stands accused of a crime and the evidence is pretty heavy that he did it (but we will reserve the right here to say that he is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law not in the court of public opinion). If he is found guilty of the crime of which he stands accused, what will be the impact of his actions on his family and future generations of his family. What impact will this moment in time have on the generations of his family to come. What will be the legacy of these actions? Sure, we are praying for the redemption of this man from his active and ongoing sin of which he stands accused. We pray that he will be repentant and seek restoration. However, we cannot pray that the consequences of his be removed his life. There are simply some immutable facts of life. Sin has its consequences. We must deal with our sins even after salvation. Sins that we commit before our salvation in the Lord will still visit us in their consequences even after salvation. Just because we accept Christ as our Savior does not mean that we are automatically at that moment absolved of the consequences of our prior sins. God allows those things to play themselves out in our lives as lessons to us as to (1) why we needed Jesus in the first place and (2) as reminders of what sin does to our lives. What will be the far ranging impacts on this man’s life that will be felt for years and decades to come. It will follow him for the rest of his career. He will have to change careers. His earnings potential will be severely impacted by the choices that will be made. These things will happen and cannot be changed. We pray that he will repent, be redeemed from his sin, and be restored to the body of Christ, but his legacy has been impacted. His own life has been impacted. Sin is more than just the moment. It has trailing effects on our lives and the lives of the people we love.

 

My own situation right now in life is impacted by critical path decisions that I have made in my life. These decisions permanently alter the path that your life is on. These decisions effect your legacy. These decisions affect how your children perceive life because of the choices that we make as parents. Legacy. What’s your legacy going to be? We can say that what we do right now does not reverberate down the generations but we are just kidding ourselves. Our sins will visit us upon the next generations after us. Sin has it consequences. We must think about that when we are considering doing things that are in contrast to what the Bible tells us. We must think about the impact it will have not just on us but on the people we love and the generations after us. Because, even though we might be redeemed from our sins through humble repentance before the Lord and receiving His forgiveness through Jesus Christ, our sins’ consequences will play themselves out in our lives. Reduced influence. Temporary setbacks. Lost potential. You name it. Sin has its reverberating and sometimes continuing effects on our lives and those who come after us.

 

That idea of legacy is what I thought of when I read about the land given to the tribe of Reuben. Reuben’s clan was given desert land, basically. That is the lasting impact of the legacy of Reuben himself. It got me to thinking about what was said at these funerals about these two men’s legacy and about the man who stands accused that I know. What is his legacy going to be? And then looking inwardly at myself, what is going to be my legacy? Let’s read the passage, now, Joshua 13:15-23:

 

15 This is what Moses had given to the tribe of Reuben, according to its clans:

 

16 The territory from Aroer on the rim of the Arnon Gorge, and from the town in the middle of the gorge, and the whole plateau past Medeba 17 to Heshbon and all its towns on the plateau, including Dibon, Bamoth Baal, Beth Baal Meon, 18 Jahaz, Kedemoth, Mephaath, 19 Kiriathaim, Sibmah, Zereth Shahar on the hill in the valley, 20 Beth Peor, the slopes of Pisgah, and Beth Jeshimoth— 21 all the towns on the plateau and the entire realm of Sihon king of the Amorites, who ruled at Heshbon. Moses had defeated him and the Midianite chiefs, Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur and Reba—princes allied with Sihon—who lived in that country. 22 In addition to those slain in battle, the Israelites had put to the sword Balaam son of Beor, who practiced divination. 23 The boundary of the Reubenites was the bank of the Jordan. These towns and their villages were the inheritance of the Reubenites, according to their clans.

 

In Genesis 49:3-4, we read, “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, the first sign of my strength, excelling in honor, excelling in power. Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel, for you went up onto your father’s bed, onto my couch and defiled it.” Reuben, the firstborn of the twelve sons, was to Jacob his “might, the first sign of my strength” (Genesis 49:3), indicating that to him were all the rights and prerogatives of a firstborn son. At first, he excelled in honor and power, as is fitting the firstborn son, but Jacob declares that Reuben “will no longer excel” (verse 4) due to his sin of incest with Bilhah, his father’s concubine wife (Genesis 35:22). Although that sin was committed forty years prior, there was left an indelible spot on Reuben’s character and that of his posterity. By committing this uncleanness with his father’s wife, there would be reproach upon his tribe and the family, to whom he ought to have been an example and a blessing. He forfeited the prerogatives of the birthright, and his dying father demoted him, although he did not disown or disinherit him. He would still have all the privileges of a son, but not of the firstborn.

 

Jacob’s sad prophecy for Reuben certainly came true. No judge, prophet, ruler, or prince came from that tribe, nor any person of renown except Dathan and Abiram, who were noted for their rebellion against Moses. Reuben’s tribe chose a settlement on the other side Jordan, a further indication of the loss of godly influence on his brothers to which his birthright entitled him. Although Reuben was the firstborn, the kingdom was given to Judah and the priesthood to Levi, leaving Reuben’s tribe to be small and non-influential.

 

We learn from Reuben that those who dabble in sin must not expect to save their reputation or maintain a positive influence upon others. Although we know our sins were nailed to the cross and we are forever forgiven for past sins, we still have to suffer the consequences of those sins, which include remorse and a loss of reputation and influence. Reuben’s sin left an indelible mark upon him and his family. As Christians, we must understand that dishonor is a wound that will not be healed without a scar. We can been redeemed from our sin and be healed from it but our sins will leave scars on us.

 

What is your legacy going to be? What sins are you committing right now that you are justifying as OK that you don’t want to give up and you are reveling in going to do to your legacy? What are our unrepentant sins going to do to us in this lifetime and what effects are they going to have on our families and the future generations? Is that sin worth all the cost? Repent. Turn away. Wash your hands of it. Seek forgiveness from God. Seek restoration through forgiveness. What’s your legacy going to be?

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 23:17-18

Earnings of a Temple Prostitute

 

This passage is pretty straightforward and the Bible in totality is pretty straightforward on its stance on prostitution. Let’s just look at a few of the passages from other parts of the Bible:

 

Leviticus 19:29 “Do not defile your daughter by making her a prostitute, or the land will be filled with prostitution and wickedness.

 

Leviticus 21:9 “If a priest’s daughter defiles herself by becoming a prostitute, she also defiles her father’s holiness.

 

Proverbs 23:27-28 for a prostitute is like a deep pit; a harlot is like a narrow well. Indeed, she lies in wait like a robber, and increases the unfaithful among men.

 

1 Corinthians 6:15-16 Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute? Never! And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, “The two are united into one.”

 

1 Thessalonians 4:3-4 It is God’s will that you keep away from sexual sin as a mark of your devotion to him. Each of you should know that finding a husband or wife for yourself is to be done in a holy and honorable way,

 

So, the Bible is pretty clear here. Prostitution (whether it be male or female) is an abomination to the Lord. Supporting the industry through uses the services of a prostitute is just as sinful as participating in the industry. Therefore, to extend that analogy, the Bible, in this passage, that earnings made from this sinful activity should not be brought into His House and offered to the Lord.

 

One of the main points of my daily blog is to try to relate Bible passages to daily living either through examples from my own life or through the lives of others. So, today, let’s play, “what if…” As the finance director at my church, this is a very potent question that I am going to pose. As you may know from my previous blogs, my church, LifeSong Church, is what they call a “seeker church”. We specialize, it seems, in bringing in people to our church that (1) have been away from church for a very long time, or (2) never have been to church at all in their life, ever. As a result, less mature Christians tend not to get the whole “obedience to the Lord” thing when it comes to money – at least not right away, it comes with time and experience as a Christ follower. Thus, our finances at church are sometimes a struggle. We run a very bare bones operation as a result. So, that sets up the question nicely.

 

What would we do if say the owner of Platinum Plus over in Greenville, or Nikita’s Place right here in the Lyman area, or the owner of Cheetahs down in Atlanta walked into our church and plopped down a briefcase full of cash totaling $500,000 (which would fund about 64% of our budget for the current year)? What if the owner had no strings attached to it? He just says that he had heard good things about our church and what we do in the community. He even mentions that he remembered seeing on our sign by the road a year or so ago that “sinners, thieves, prostitutes, beggars are welcome here!” He liked that! He just wanted to give us some help from the proceeds of his business. No matter what you say to dress up the strip club image, it is a prelude to prostitution (as the recent shutdown and arrests that were made at Platinum Plus over in Greenville). What would you do as director of finance at a church that struggles financially? What would you do if you were the senior pastor of such a church? Would you accept the money and praise God? Would you accept the money and rationalize that in the church’s hands even the dirtiest money can become holy? What would you do?

 

Let’s go to Scripture and see what it has to say:

 

17 No Israelite man or woman is to become a shrine prostitute. 18 You must not bring the earnings of a female prostitute or of a male prostitute[a] into the house of the Lord your God to pay any vow, because the Lord your God detests them both.

 

Male and female prostitution was often practiced in worship centers to pagan gods due to the belief that this type of activity would increase fertility. A portion of the fees earned by the temple prostitutes were donated to the upkeep of the temple. This practice was strictly forbidden in Israel but because the Israelites often strayed from God, they did often participate in the practice.

 

So, here, God says that those that participate in prostitution and earn money from it are not to bring their sinful gains into God’s holy presence. It seems pretty clear that what we should do in the scenario presented. Even though the church could make good use of the money and fund outreach ministries in ways that we struggle to attain now, we would have to refuse the 500 grand. But wait, you say. Are we supposed to be loving and accepting of people who have a past! That’s what our sign by the road will sometimes say when we use the tag line, “Sinners, prostitutes, thieves…welcome here!” Why would we welcome them but not accept their money?

 

It seems fairly clear that we must determine if a person is repentant or just trying to assuage their guilt. Sometimes, people give to the church to sanctify their own sinful behaviors. I made money through sinful means but since I tithed on my gains, then, it must be OK. How much tainted money goes into our offering plates each Sunday? When we see people who participating in sin but refuse to call it sin, then, we must draw a line. If a pimp refuses to repent of his sin and refuses to see that what he is doing is wrong, then, we must refuse his money. I think that God is saying the same thing in this passage, if you are participating in sin and refusing to repent of it but yet you bring your tainted offerings to me, I will not accept it and particularly because you go right back out there and participate in your sin.

 

I think though if that same pimp walks into the church and tells me or my senior pastor that God has convicted him of his lifestyle as sinful, that he no longer wants to participate in it, and instead of living off his gains from his sinful past, he would just rather the church have it and use it to reach people for Christ? I think that’s a game changer there. That’s repentance. Same money, but a repentant soul! Matthew 21:31-32 tells us this: “Which of the two obeyed his father?” They replied, “The first.” Then Jesus explained his meaning: “I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do. For John the Baptist came and showed you the right way to live, but you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to believe him and repent of your sins.” Repentance is everything.

 

That leads us to a broader question that we can take away today. What are you and I refusing to repent of? What are you and I saying is OK but is really sin? What sins do we justify as OK and then go into the house of God and worship and refuse to repent! What is that thing that you join in with the culture around us and say that it is no longer sin and it is OK when the Bible clearly stands against it? What sins are you and I calling good and wholesome but are clearly against God’s Word? Are you participating in sins that are clearly stated in God’s Word as being an abomination but yet you justify in your mind why it is not a sin for you?

 

We are called to repentance! We are called to humble ourselves before the Lord and repent of our sins and turn away from them! He can redeem the most unholy of behaviors but repentance and a turning away must come first. As Charles Wesley stated in the song, O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing, “He can make the foulest clean!” and “new life the dead receive!”. The Bible tells us that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

 

 

Have you ever wondered why God is not blessing you or blessing your church? What is it that we must repent of? What sins are we participating in that we are saying is not sin? Let us search our hearts for our pet sins that we justify as being OK. Let us bring them out into the light. Let us call our sins as what they are – sins. Let us beg mercy before the Lord. Let us repent of our sins and move forward into God’s grace and God’s blessing.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 33:1-56 (Part 3 of 3)

Remembering Israel’s Journey

 

Have you ever wondered if some Old Testament judgment is coming upon the United States? We live in a country far different from the one our forefathers founded. We have removed the Ten Commandments from schools and courthouses. We have eliminated prayer to God at sporting events. We are persecuting Christians for standing on their religious beliefs when it comes to marriage. We punish the State of North Carolina for passing a law that negates a Charlotte ordinance that would allow people with sexual identity crises to use whatever bathroom they desire. Certain sexual lifestyles are seen as hip in popular culture and are glorified on television. Certain city governments are requiring pastors to submit their sermons for review on issues of sexual preferences. Anyone who takes a stand against certain lifestyles based on God’s Word are vilified in the public forum for being backwards and out of step with the times. Public schools teach Darwinism but not Intelligent Design. Remember, not too long ago, when President Obama gave a speech at Georgetown University; his people requested that all visible symbols of the Christian faith be covered up. Georgetown a Catholic University complied. For under the banner of being politically correct, the school denied the God they profess to serve. In the Democratic Party’s platform for the 2016 presidential election, any references to God were removed so as to be more inclusive of those who are not of Judeo/Christian roots and those who do not believe in God at all.

 

As we head down this path of political correctness toward humanism and ultimately atheism, there has been a steady moral decline in our country. Once acknowledgement of God’s existence is removed, there is no absolute basis for morals, and a free society drifts toward anarchy. Since prayer was removed from public school classrooms in 1962, when the assault on God began, Eric Hovind in his article, “Prayer in School Affects All Society” at the website, www.creationtoday.org, says,

 

“…we have had a six-fold increase in violent crime, our divorce rate has tripled, births to single mothers have increased five-fold, the teenage suicide rate has tripled, and SAT scores (standardized college entrance test) have dropped 80 points (approximately 10%). The removal of prayer may not be the only cause of social ills, but the negative trends are certainly a symptom of the spiritual decline which is at their root.”

 

It is ironic that my wife’s parents escaped from Cuba just as Castro was taking power and made their way to America in search of greater freedoms to pursue life, liberty and happiness. In Communist Cuba, God was removed from society and anyone who professed belief in God and not the humanism of communist thought was to be jailed. Praying to God meant that you felt that there was something higher and more important than the Cuban government. We see how the communist experiment has worked out in Cuba. If the political correctness and drift toward humanism is what we seek in America and the quieting of Christian moral values, then we must look at our neighbor nation in Cuba. America is drifting toward what Cuba became. Political correctness is the new communism. When we dare to oppose the tolerance of anything goes in our society we are sued, we are arrested, we are vilified and we are crushed. Sound familiar. It is the path of Cuba since 1958. You never hear of people trying to get into Cuba; only out of it. Are we becoming Cuba? Cubans have been fleeing that country for decades seeking freedom but yet what are they fleeing to now? Is America not becoming a godless nation similar to Cuba. Maybe that is why we are starting to normalize relations with Cuba – because we are becoming more and more alike each day.

 

As we continue down this road of ignoring and expelling God from the public square and from our private lives, I am reminded of the judgments that came upon the Canaanites through God’s people, Israel, as I read this chapter of the Book of Numbers (Numbers 33) for the final time before we move on. Let us read it together once more now:

 

33 Here are the stages in the journey of the Israelites when they came out of Egypt by divisions under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. 2 At the Lord’s command Moses recorded the stages in their journey. This is their journey by stages:

 

3 The Israelites set out from Rameses on the fifteenth day of the first month, the day after the Passover. They marched out defiantly in full view of all the Egyptians, 4 who were burying all their firstborn, whom the Lord had struck down among them; for the Lord had brought judgment on their gods.

 

5 The Israelites left Rameses and camped at Sukkoth.

 

6 They left Sukkoth and camped at Etham, on the edge of the desert.

 

7 They left Etham, turned back to Pi Hahiroth, to the east of Baal Zephon, and camped near Migdol.

 

8 They left Pi Hahiroth[a] and passed through the sea into the desert, and when they had traveled for three days in the Desert of Etham, they camped at Marah.

 

9 They left Marah and went to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there.

 

10 They left Elim and camped by the Red Sea.[b]

 

11 They left the Red Sea and camped in the Desert of Sin.

 

12 They left the Desert of Sin and camped at Dophkah.

 

13 They left Dophkah and camped at Alush.

 

14 They left Alush and camped at Rephidim, where there was no water for the people to drink.

 

15 They left Rephidim and camped in the Desert of Sinai.

 

16 They left the Desert of Sinai and camped at Kibroth Hattaavah.

 

17 They left Kibroth Hattaavah and camped at Hazeroth.

 

18 They left Hazeroth and camped at Rithmah.

 

19 They left Rithmah and camped at Rimmon Perez.

 

20 They left Rimmon Perez and camped at Libnah.

 

21 They left Libnah and camped at Rissah.

 

22 They left Rissah and camped at Kehelathah.

 

23 They left Kehelathah and camped at Mount Shepher.

 

24 They left Mount Shepher and camped at Haradah.

 

25 They left Haradah and camped at Makheloth.

 

26 They left Makheloth and camped at Tahath.

 

27 They left Tahath and camped at Terah.

 

28 They left Terah and camped at Mithkah.

 

29 They left Mithkah and camped at Hashmonah.

 

30 They left Hashmonah and camped at Moseroth.

 

31 They left Moseroth and camped at Bene Jaakan.

 

32 They left Bene Jaakan and camped at Hor Haggidgad.

 

33 They left Hor Haggidgad and camped at Jotbathah.

 

34 They left Jotbathah and camped at Abronah.

 

35 They left Abronah and camped at Ezion Geber.

 

36 They left Ezion Geber and camped at Kadesh, in the Desert of Zin.

 

37 They left Kadesh and camped at Mount Hor, on the border of Edom. 38 At the Lord’s command Aaron the priest went up Mount Hor, where he died on the first day of the fifth month of the fortieth year after the Israelites came out of Egypt. 39 Aaron was a hundred and twenty-three years old when he died on Mount Hor.

 

40 The Canaanite king of Arad, who lived in the Negev of Canaan, heard that the Israelites were coming.

 

41 They left Mount Hor and camped at Zalmonah.

 

42 They left Zalmonah and camped at Punon.

 

43 They left Punon and camped at Oboth.

 

44 They left Oboth and camped at Iye Abarim, on the border of Moab.

 

45 They left Iye Abarim and camped at Dibon Gad.

 

46 They left Dibon Gad and camped at Almon Diblathaim.

 

47 They left Almon Diblathaim and camped in the mountains of Abarim, near Nebo.

 

48 They left the mountains of Abarim and camped on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho. 49 There on the plains of Moab they camped along the Jordan from Beth Jeshimoth to Abel Shittim.

 

50 On the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho the Lord said to Moses, 51 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, 52 drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places. 53 Take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess. 54 Distribute the land by lot, according to your clans. To a larger group give a larger inheritance, and to a smaller group a smaller one. Whatever falls to them by lot will be theirs. Distribute it according to your ancestral tribes.

 

55 “‘But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live. 56 And then I will do to you what I plan to do to them.’”

 

When people read about the conquest of the Promised Land, we often asked the question, “why were the Israelites allowed by God to destroy and kill the Canaanites?” Why were the Israelites supposed to completely annihilate these people? If God is a God of love, why then would he allow the Israelites to kill them all – men, women and children (though the Israelites did not follow God’s command to the letter). What we don’t remember about the Canaanites was that God had compelling reasons to render judgment upon these people. It was not a random act of a capricious and mean God. There were several compelling reasons. First, God was stamping out the evil and wickedness of an extremely sinful group of nations. The Canaanites brought on their own punishment. Idol worship expressed their deepest evil desires. Child sacrifices. Sexual immorality in the name of worshiping their gods was rampant. It all ultimately led to the worship of Satan and in the total rejection of God. Second, God was using the Israelites to judge Canaanites for its unrepentant sinful ways. Judgment was justified when you study the history of the Canaanite people. Another thing that was happening here, too, was that God wanted to remove all traces of pagan beliefs and practices from the land. He did not want His people to mix or compromise with the idolatrous ways of the Canaanite people in any way.

 

However, as we know, the Israelites did not fully carry out the command of God when conquering the Promised Land. They compromised. This compromise of God’s commands and values led Israel down a path that led to cycles of obedience and disobedience to God. The Canaanite worship of idols and the temptations to the Israelites to the same was a constant problem for Israel. God’s people were judged themselves more than one time for turning their back on God. When a nation turns its back on God, that nation will be judged. It is certain. We are a nation turning our back on God and it has been progressively getting worse for decades. We will be judged.

 

So, in a society running away from God, what do we do as Christ followers? It is easier and less painful to go with the flow and do like Georgetown University did. We can cover up the fact that we are Christians in an effort to fit in. We can try to blend into a nation that is headed for judgment. Or we can be true to God and not deny His existence. We can honor Him by knowing and obeying His Word. We must be different and distinct. We must engage the culture and change it. Preachers can only do so much. We must as individual Christ followers not leave the job of changing our nation to the preachers. We must take responsibility for evangelism ourselves in our daily lives of one on one interactions with the world around us. All of us are ministers but we have abdicated our ministerial role to those we pay to be ministers. We think it’s their job to save the nation not ours. We just sit idly and quietly by as our nation becomes less and less Christian by the day. I call out to you and to me that it is our job to save the day. It is our job to tell people about Jesus. It is our job to return our nation to God. Let us be like Joshua and Caleb and say that we can win this fight rather than be like the other 10 spies and say that the problem is too big and there are too many giants out there. We are the ministers of the gospel. Let us take it to the streets and tell people to repent and return to the God who wants to love them but who is a God of justice who will judge them if they do not repent.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 15:22-31

Offerings for Unintentional Sins

“But I didn’t mean to!” Famous last words of many a kid. That is the exclamation of a child who has been caught doing something they were not supposed to do. The invocation of the “I didn’t mean to” defense, in a child’s mind, is a valid defense in the parental courtroom of family law. Although it is offered up, it is rarely a defense that works. It is often followed by the sheepish eyed look, that Puss-N-Boots from the movie, Shrek, look and an “I’m sorry” response.

 

One of my dad’s oft-used sayings (and come to think of it, he had a bunch of sayings) was “Sorry don’t feed the bulldog!” What? Huh? That was a strange one. I have never heard it used by anyone other than my dad. I googled the phrase this morning, expecting to get a blank response from Google. Humorously, in my mind, I thought Google would come back with like, “What?!?!” or a WTF response. However, this phrase is documented outside my dad’s spouting of his many sayings. “Sorry don’t feed the bulldog” is a real saying not just something my dad made up. Come to find out it is often used in a business setting (though I have never heard it used in my 32-year business career). According to www.phrasefinder.com, in a business setting,

 

“to “feed the bulldog” is to generate sufficient revenue to meet expenses. I don’t know much about bulldogs, but I’m willing to bet they get aggressive and insistently unhappy when not fed on a regular schedule. Overhead costs tend to be like that, too. The rent must be paid. The payroll must be met. Productive actions, not mere words, will feed the bulldog”

 

Well, I’m just blown away. One of my dad’s catch phrases is a real thing! In my dad’s context within our family, it had a similar meaning. At our house, it meant that just saying that you are sorry doesn’t change the fact that you did something wrong. A crime against family law was committed regardless of whether you are sorry for having done it or not. Punishment was to follow regardless of whether you were repentant or not. Dad did not care for determining whether I or my brother were sorry we got caught or whether we were truly repentant for the error of our ways. Punishment happened because “sorry don’t feed the bulldog!”

 

It was that phrase that was so often used by my dad that came to mind when I read today’s passage, Numbers 15:22-31. Let’s read it together this morning:

 

22 “‘Now if you as a community unintentionally fail to keep any of these commands the Lord gave Moses— 23 any of the Lord’s commands to you through him, from the day the Lord gave them and continuing through the generations to come— 24 and if this is done unintentionally without the community being aware of it, then the whole community is to offer a young bull for a burnt offering as an aroma pleasing to the Lord, along with its prescribed grain offering and drink offering, and a male goat for a sin offering.[a] 25 The priest is to make atonement for the whole Israelite community, and they will be forgiven, for it was not intentional and they have presented to the Lord for their wrong a food offering and a sin offering. 26 The whole Israelite community and the foreigners residing among them will be forgiven, because all the people were involved in the unintentional wrong.

 

27 “‘But if just one person sins unintentionally, that person must bring a year-old female goat for a sin offering. 28 The priest is to make atonement before the Lord for the one who erred by sinning unintentionally, and when atonement has been made, that person will be forgiven. 29 One and the same law applies to everyone who sins unintentionally, whether a native-born Israelite or a foreigner residing among you.

 

30 “‘But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or foreigner, blasphemes the Lord and must be cut off from the people of Israel. 31 Because they have despised the Lord’s word and broken his commands, they must surely be cut off; their guilt remains on them.’”

 

According to my dad’s law of “sorry don’t feed the bulldog”, it would not have mattered if a violation of family law was intentional or unintentional, a crime was committed and you had to pay. It seems inconsistent with God’s character for there to be a differentiation between unintentional and intentional sin. Is it not true that Romans 3:23 tells us that we all have fallen short of the glory of God because we have sinned? And, the New Testament, overall, hammers home the point that just one sin no matter how egregious it is or not separates us from God. One sin regardless of its severity or intention separates us from God. Is this a contradiction between the Old and New Testaments and thus brings into the question the inerrancy of the whole Bible?

 

I do not think that God and His Word are being inconsistent here. What God is making a distinction between, here, is the punishment for sin, the consequences of sin. If a person or the whole nation of Israel violated God’s law without realizing they had done so at the time, the punishment was less severe than if a person brazenly and defiantly violates God’s law. The person who unintentionally sins when called out on it, repents of the sins, makes the offering and gets right with God whereas a person who does not care that they have violated the law and thumbs his nose up at God will receive a stiffer penalty. Each pays a price for their crime. There is justice handed out. Just as all murder is wrong, but a husband who murders a criminal is who in the midst of raping the husband’s wife may get a different sentence than a man who simply murders for the sport of it. God will forgive those who have repentant hearts for the sins. The difference between a repentant heart and a heart that is sorry they got caught is that the repentant heart is willing to make recompense for their crime or suffer the consequences of their crime anyway. Here, we see God telling the difference in our hearts. Are we repentant or are we just upset that we got caught with no intention of changing our behavior. God sees the heart and hands down punishment that is fitting. There is still punishment. There is still a price to be paid though. God would be inconsistent with Himself otherwise. We must pay for our crimes of sin. Simply a sorry does not feed the bulldog.

 

The offerings of the Old Testament foreshadowed the offering of Jesus Christ Himself as a sacrifice on the cross for our sins. Jesus is the sufficient substitute for forgiveness and eternal life. This is true regardless of intentional or unintentional sins, whether a person believes he has sinned a little or sinned a lot.

 

The emphasis in Scripture is that humanity was created good but is sinful now as a result of the Fall (Genesis 3). Regardless of the type or level of sins a person has committed, Jesus is sufficient to forgive and offer eternal life. Those who reject the gospel, regardless of how much or how little sin they have committed, will be separated from God for eternity and will experience everlasting punishment for their sins. God calls all people to come to Him, for there is no other name under heaven given to offer salvation (Acts 4:12).

 

So my dad was right. Sorry don’t feed the bulldog. Our sins whether intentional or not require a price to be paid. Our price for sin, even just one sin in a lifetime much less all the sins we commit (whether intentional or not) is eternal separation from God. The only way we can be reconciled is through the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. He is the only way that we can commute our sentence and be set free. We cannot feed the bulldog by doing good deeds to offset our sins. Our sins are crimes and crimes must be punished. It is only through Jesus Christ that we are released from our just and right prison cell for the crimes, the sins, we have committed.

 

Because sorry don’t feed the bulldog.

 

 

Amen and Amen.