Posts Tagged ‘repentance’

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.

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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.

Numbers 14:13-25 (Part 3 of 4)

Moses Intercedes for the People

One of the differences between boys and girls that I learned during the 10 years of dating, then marriage, to my second wife (with her three boys) back in 1994-2004 was that boy, oh boy, how boys are different from girls. When those who try to claim unisex approaches to parenting and unisex approaches to life in our society, they just fail to see that boys and girls, and men and women are just fundamentally different. We should celebrate the difference but we try our best to eradicate it in society. But my little case study of the wiring of boys vs. that of girls during my second marriage is proof that God designed us, men and women, to be different and it is evident early on.

 

In my second marriage, we were a blended family. My second wife had three boys and I had two girls. The irony of that was not lost on me. You would have thought that either one of us could have a mixture of sexes in our children. What are the odds of a second marriage where one spouse brings 3 of the same sex of children while the other spouse brings 2 of the opposite sex of children? I would venture to guess that the odds were pretty staggering. It was the fact that girls and boys are different and react to things differently that had a lot to do with the undoing of that marriage. There were other factors but this one was always center stage in many of the conflicts between me and my second wife.

 

When my second wife and I got married, her boys were ages 10, 6, and 3 and my girls were ages 10 and 5. Five kids under the age of 11. Can you imagine? Wow, when I look back on that now. I ask that younger Mark at age 33 in 1995 when we got married, “Are you freakin’ crazy?” But it did teach me a few things about parenting boys and girls at the same time. The main thing that I learned is that boys are hard-headed and girls are timid. With my girls, usually a stern look, a stern discussion about errors in their behavior were sufficient to at least curtail that kind of behavior. Girls are tender and want love and approval and, thus, a stern talking-to would lead to reforms in behavior in a permanent way. Yell at them once and that would be enough to end whatever behavior that you wanted to stop. Sure, that is a generalization, and there were times that they willfully disregarded my instructions but generally the girls just wanted my approval more than anything else so that was a behavior modifier in and of itself.

 

Boys. Boy, oh boy, how they are different. I guess God designed boys (who later become men) so that they can survive in the world and be providers for their families and sometimes that involves rebelling against authority to do what is needed to provide. It is that hunter-gatherer mentality. We are wired, as boys and men, to figure out ways to get around things and solve problems where we come out the victor (coming back to the stone age camp with food for the family). We are wired to see something and get around it. With the boys, being boys, they were stubborn. I would have to repeat rules of behavior that I had established in the home on a daily basis. They would act each day as if the rule or rules were completely new and they had no knowledge of the rule’s existence. You’d have to tell them the same thing over and over again to the point of frustration. Boys would rather run through a brick wall than around it. Girls will collaborate together and figure out how to work together to scale the wall. Now, that I look back on it, both my second wife and I should have not expected the girls and the boys to be any different than who they were wired to be. It was that expectation of sameness that was the undoing. The irony of it all was that it should have been a boy/girl discussion but it become my kids vs. your kids with no middle ground of understanding the differences between the sexes.

 

But when reading through the passage today, it was the stubbornness of the boys that leapt into my mind today. And, I think, in general all boys are like that. I was probably like that with my parents. As boys, we push the limits of our parents to see how far we can go and see just what we can get away with before the hammer falls. My second wife’s boys were the poster boys for boys. They were stubborn. They were willful. Repeatedly getting in trouble for violating house rules and acting all shocked as if the rules did not exist. It was a test of wills that was for sure. Me, as stepdad, and them, as stepsons. It was not the best of relationships in those days. I was always on the boys about something. Trying to get them to behave well and do the right thing and to not be self-centeredly selfish all the time. I was trying to grow them into men because the world is not kind to men if they are not ready to be out in the adult world. It wasn’t until about maybe 4 years ago that one of the boys thanked me for being tough on them. He said I know we boys were a handful back then and I appreciate your trying to make us into men. His attitude had changed. Why? He had a boy of his own. Stubborn. Willful. And a handful to deal with. We both agreed that its funny how we get paid back and the cycle continues of parenting boys. He said you don’t stop loving them but they can drive you crazy.

 

As we read through Numbers 14:13-25 for the third time today, let us think about how God had to be so totally frustrated with the stubbornness of the Israelites and rightfully so. They were a stubborn, willful people. The way I relate to how God felt was thinking back to the days of raising stepsons for a decade:

 

13 Moses said to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear about it! By your power you brought these people up from among them. 14 And they will tell the inhabitants of this land about it. They have already heard that you, Lord, are with these people and that you, Lord, have been seen face to face, that your cloud stays over them, and that you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. 15 If you put all these people to death, leaving none alive, the nations who have heard this report about you will say, 16 ‘The Lord was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath, so he slaughtered them in the wilderness.’

 

17 “Now may the Lord’s strength be displayed, just as you have declared: 18 ‘The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’ 19 In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.”

 

20 The Lord replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. 21 Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, 22 not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times— 23 not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. 24 But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it. 25 Since the Amalekites and the Canaanites are living in the valleys, turn back tomorrow and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea.”

 

Here in this passage, Numbers 14:13-25, we know that God was not exaggerating when He said that Israelites had again and again failed to trust and obey Him. There is a litany of times that they showed a complete lack of respect for the authority of God:

 

  • Not wanting to cross the Red Sea (Exodus 14)
  • Complaining over the bitter water at Marah (Exodus 15)
  • Complaining in the wilderness (Exodus 16)
  • Collecting more than the daily quota of manna (Exodus 16)
  • Complaining over the lack of water at Rephidim (Exodus 17)
  • Engaging in idolatry with a golden calf (Exodus 32)
  • Complaining at Taberah (Numbers 11)
  • More complaining over the lack of delicious food (Numbers 11)
  • And finally…failing to trust God’s protection when presented with the Promised Land (Numbers 14)

 

This is not an exhaustive list of their complaints and willfulness before the Lord but you get the gist. In some places in the Old Testament, the Bible calls the Israelites “a stiff-necked people”. They were just stubborn boys. They often willfully disobeyed the Lord because they did not like being told what to do. There were always consequences to the bad behavior of my former stepsons. It would take a while for me to get to the point of being tired of the constant disobedience but you do get there and those were bad times in the house. Just as we will see here in the rest of Numbers, there were consequences to be paid for disobedience. God got fed up. He said you are on restrictions for the rest of your life. You are restricted from the Promised Land. Only your children will inherit the Promised Land not you.

 

Is this God of wrath stuff? No. When you read the litany of disobediences that lead up to the banishing then you understand why God did what He did. Just as parents of boys can get fed up with their constant pushing of the limits and stepping over the lines in the sand. In the same way, God lets you and me suffer the consequences of our non-biblical decisions. Speaking of my second marriage, don’t think for a minute that I do not see that my making a woman my god and access to sex my god that God allowed me to walk down that path. He said OK if you want to put a woman before me, how bout this, I am going to let you suffer through the whole second marriage thing with my kids vs. your kids, girls vs. boys thing. I am going to give you some tough boys to raise. I am going to allow you to have this whole kids thing to become the focus of your marriage rather than what you wanted and thought this marriage was going to be about. All of our ungodly decisions have consequences that we do not count on. God allows us to live with the results of our bad choices that are in disobedience to His Word.

 

But the crazy thing is that He still loves us while we are mired in the results of our decisions that are against His will. He will always be there when we get sick and tired of being mired in the just punishment that we deserve. When we come to Him in true repentance, He will show us the path to righteousness. He will show us the way out of the mess that we have made for ourselves. Even when we are a stiff-necked people, God still loves us. But, we must have the scales drop from our eyes that blind us to the reality of the pig sty that we have made of our lives and come to Him in humility. We must repent and seek the favor of the Lord through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross for our sins. We will be restored through Christ to a right relationship with Him. He will then allow us to enter the Promised Land.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 5:1-10 (Part 2)

Purity in Israel’s Camp

 

The other night, we had a birthday dinner/cookout for my stepdaughter here at the house. My oldest daughter, my son-in-law and his son came over for the meal. My youngest daughter was not there but it was most of my little family. During the meal, my son-in-law and my stepdaughter, a career cop and a career retail store manager, respectively, were talking about interrogation techniques and the cues you can pick up on in a person’s demeanor when they are lying and when they are telling the truth. It was an interesting conversation about how our bodies give us away when we tell lies. There are certain postures that our bodies take on when we are accessing the creative parts of our brain, the part we access when we tell lies. There are physical results as well. The vocal chords get tighter. The skin prepares to sweat so it becomes supple and clammy. There are a host of other visual cues. Of course, interrogators also ask the same question in slightly differentiated wording to see if the suspect will give the same answer to basically the same question. To get to the truth, an interrogator must be able to get through the layers of lies. Lies can prevent justice from prevailing. Lies have sent innocent men to jail while the liars go free. Therefore, it is imperative for an investigator or interrogator to get to the truth – to separate the lies from the truth. Lies in the workplace, lies in criminal investigation can cause destruction and miscarriages of justice. Lies must be rooted out so that the truth can prevail. The truth is the ideal state of existence. It needs no alibi. It needs no cover up. The truth does not need to be constantly maintained. The truth does not need to be justified. But lies are rampant in this fallen world in which we live. If we care anything about the truth, we must ferret out the lies so that the truth comes out and the truth prevails.

 

In a world of inclusiveness, this passage today seems almost discriminatory. To exclude people from camp because of a skin disease or other such bodily malady seems against our sensibilities of all-inclusiveness these days. We, today, glorify lifestyles that have historically demonstrated to be closely associated with immune disorders that will kill us. We, today, glorify as good citizens those who have long criminal records who end up in confrontations with cops. We, today, glorify those things that are not consistent with God’s Word and not consistent with God’s ways. We allow sins to fester in our midst and destroy the fabric of our people. We act shocked when people die of diseases that seem forever linked with certain sexual orientations. We act shocked when a person with a history of breaking the law ends up in a confrontation with the cops. We live in a world where we refuse for there to be consequences for dabbling in behaviors that are bad for us. We allow sin of all kinds and all behaviors to run rampant in our society because we are self-actualizing ourselves, right? Do what feels good to me! Do what feels right to me! We refuse for there to be consequences for bad behavior. We refuse for there to be consequences for our sins. We act all shocked when there are consequences to our self-seeking. We would rather revel in our sins than consider that there are consequences. We would rather think God accepts us pursuing what makes us feel good. We would rather ignore the moral absolutes established by God so that we can achieve our heart’s desires. Do whacha wanna do? No consequences. No moral absolutes. No definitive right or wrong. I define truth for myself and what makes me feel good about myself is truth.

 

So, in our second day in the passage, Numbers 5:1-10, let us consider vv. 1-5 specifically, when we read:

 

5 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Command the Israelites to send away from the camp anyone who has a defiling skin disease[a] or a discharge of any kind, or who is ceremonially unclean because of a dead body. 3 Send away male and female alike; send them outside the camp so they will not defile their camp, where I dwell among them.” 4 The Israelites did so; they sent them outside the camp. They did just as the Lord had instructed Moses.

 

5 The Lord said to Moses, 6 “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way[b] and so is unfaithful to the Lord is guilty 7 and must confess the sin they have committed. They must make full restitution for the wrong they have done, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the person they have wronged. 8 But if that person has no close relative to whom restitution can be made for the wrong, the restitution belongs to the Lord and must be given to the priest, along with the ram with which atonement is made for the wrongdoer. 9 All the sacred contributions the Israelites bring to a priest will belong to him. 10 Sacred things belong to their owners, but what they give to the priest will belong to the priest.’”

 

As we said earlier, this part of the passage seems almost discriminatory in our 21st century sensibilities. However, let us consider it from two perspectives. First, let us consider the medical and, second, let us consider the theological.

 

I would dare say that 6,000 years ago, medical science is not what it is now. Thus, simple diseases could have disastrous effects on society. Just think as recently as the mid-1300’s, where anywhere from 75 million to 200 million (depending on how the source defines the Black Plague) died as the result of diseased fleas imported on rats on merchant ships. These fleas carried a pathogen that wiped out about half the population of Europe at the time. So, just think of four millennia before that. Skin diseases could most often times be fatal in not cared for properly and were certainly spreadable very easily. God was establishing the first medical quarantines to keep disease from running rampant through the camp and wiping out His people. God was establishing rules of cleanliness for His people that would ensure their survival in what was a very unclean world at the time. Think of third world countries today where we are desperately trying to bring people clean drinking water. Clean water was hard thing to find back in those days and disease ran rampant as a result. God’s desire will these biblical regulations about food, and disease was to establish a standard through His people as to what a clean and healthy people. So, segregating and isolating diseased people was not discriminatory, it was necessary to ensure the health of all His people. Unchecked filth and disease could run through the camp and destroy the health and well-being of the camp. Those who were diseased had to be ferreted out and segregated from the rest of the people so as to ensure the long-term health of general population.

 

Another way of looking at these verses is to look at I theologically. It is a reminder to us that unchecked sin can lead to destruction. Sometimes, we need to have our sins called out and identified to us. These sins are not healthy for us and not healthy for those around us. According to J. Ligon Duncan III, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS in his sermon, “Why Is This in the Bible?” when preaching on similar passages in Leviticus, he says,

 

“The idea behind this, again, is that disease and decay are incompatible with the blessing of the presence of God in the assembly of His people. God is holy, and in contrast to that disease and decay remind us that we live in a fallen world, and that we ourselves have the effects of the fall exhibited in our bodies. It’s a picture…it’s a type, as it were, of sin. And therefore these diseases become things which exclude you from the assembly of God’s people in His presence and worship.”

 

Sin gets in the way of our proper relationship with God. Anything that we worship more than God is sin and sin separates us from God. When we believe the lies of sin, we are separated from God. When we masquerade around camp with sin in our souls, we are telling lies. When we parade ourselves as righteous when we are not, we are telling lies. We cannot lie to God. He knows it all. He can see right through our tricks and cover-ups. God’s truth and our lies are incompatible. He will separate us from the rest of the camp and call out our sins. And mind you now, no matter how we dress them up. No matter how we try to justify them as morally right. No matter how we want to seem shocked that there are consequences to our behaviors, God’s truth is unchanging. He is the truth. He is unchanging. The truth is the truth is the truth. We are accountable to our Creator no matter how much we wish that we did not have one. No matter how much we ignore Him does not make Him cease to exist. No matter how much we say that God is a folly of the common mind, something that we created, it does not make God go away. God existed before anything existed. Just because the rabbit doesn’t see Flash, my cat, behind him ready to pounce does not mean that Flash does not exist. It is the same with God. God will judge for our sins even if we never believe He existed. He will judge. He will set us outside the camp. He will show our sins to us. Where there is sin, there is an impediment and an impurity in our relationship with God. We cannot operate closely to God when we have unrepentant sins that we glory in and refuse to let go of. We will be set outside the camp. God will protect His people from our unrepentant sins. He will call us out to protect His people, to ensure the spiritual health of His people. Sin unchecked can run rampant in a society and destroy the very fabric of its being. Sin unchecked and calling what is sin not sin is a lie that spreads through a society and destroys it from the inside out. Just like a physical disease destroys our bodies from the inside out.

 

Let us go to God and ask Him to open our eyes to our own sins and how they are destroying the fabric of our lives and our families. Help us to see the lies that we have been manufacturing about our sins. Call us out, Lord. Call us out! Teach us that we cannot justify our sins in your presence, we must repent of them. We cannot say what You call sin no longer sin. You are truth. You are God. You are the one that defines what is right and what is wrong not us. Help us to see our sins as offensive to you and help us to repent and turn away from them. Help us a nation to see that our lack of respect and honor for God is causing sin to run rampant in our society and it is sin that causes us to justify our sinful behavior as right. Help us as a nation to return unto You, oh Lord! Help us to repent as a nation. Help us to root our sins. Help us to become the nation that is characterized like David, that we are a nation “after your own heart!”

 

Amen and Amen.

Luke 24:44-49 — In this next to the last passage of the Book of Luke, Jesus explained the prophecies that He fulfilled, that He was the suffering Messiah predicted in the Old Testament (OT), and that this fact must be preached to the whole world because it is through His sacrifice that all the world may come to salvation and restoration to a right relationship with God. Jesus is the point of it all.

This scene reminds of those post-game shows after a major college football game where the analysts try to tell what the implications are for the winner and the loser of the game. Here, Jesus is telling them what all of the past three years were about and what the implications for the future are.

None of the past three years would have made any sense if Jesus was not the Messiah, the promised Savior. Jesus walked them through the OT. He showed them that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), check. He showed them that the Messiah was to be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), check. He showed them that the Messiah was to be a prophet like Moses (Deut. 18:15, 19), check. He showed them that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem in a triumphal entry (Zechariah 9:9), check. He demonstrated that the Messiah would be rejected by His own people (Isaiah 53:1,3), check. He even showed them that the Messiah would be betrayed by one of His own followers (Psalm 118:22, 41:9), check. The Messiah was to be tried and condemned (Isaiah 53:8), check. The Messiah was to be silent before His accusers (Isaiah 53:7), confirmed. The Messiah was to be struck and spat upon by His enemies (Isaiah 50:6), yes that happened. The Messiah was to be mocked and insulted (Psalm 22:7-8), yep. The Messiah was to die by crucifixion (Psalm 22:16-17), that’s an affirm. The Messiah was to suffer as and with criminals and yet at the same time pray for his enemies (Isaiah 53:12), this is recorded. The Messiah was to be offered bitter wine as He was dying (Psalm 69:21), got it. The Messiah’s clothing would be subject of gambling bets among His captors (Psalm 22:18), check. The Messiah’s bones were not to be broken (as was often the case in crucifixion to hasten on death) (Exodus 12:46), yes. The Messiah was to die as a sacrifice for our sins (Isaiah 53:5-12), we know this. The Messiah was to be raised from the dead (Psalm 16:10), we are reading about it right now.

Jesus showed them that He was the fulfillment of all OT scripture. He was the Messiah. He was all the things that God promised. That’s the point. Anything else, his 3 year mission was too short, his death was meaningless, and his resurrection from the dead unneeded. He is not just another prophet. He is the Messiah who came to earth for the express purpose of fulfilling prophecy which includes Him being the sacrifice once and for all time for our sins. When we believe in the Messiah, we are restored to a right relationship with God. That’s the message. That’s the good news!

What’s the point of all of it? What are the implications for the future? Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah. Jesus fulfilled all of the above OT prophecies and others that are not named above. He is the real deal. He is the Son of God. He was the culmination of God’s redemptive plan for mankind. He is the point of it all. Jesus came to be the agent by which we can be restored to a right relationship with God. This is what the OT predicted. God has been working His plan through the ages and Jesus was the culmination of His Promise and His Plan. God never does random. There is purpose. Jesus is the way in which all things are culminated and He is the way in which we are made right with God.

What are the implications for the future? Jesus tells us right here that we must go forth and share the story of redemption through Himself. Without the fulfillment of the promise in Jesus, there is no hope for our eternity. With and through Jesus, we have hope. We are made right with God through Jesus. Why? Because Jesus is the Messiah. God keeps His Word. This is the message we must share with the whole world.

Unless it is about leading people to see Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of God’s promise as the Messiah, the Savior, the Anointed One, there is no point. We can touch the world around us with nice acts of charity and do big free events to get people in our doors, but if the end game is not about showing them the Messiah, showing them the Jesus who died for their sins to make them right with God, then, there is no point. Close the doors. Send everyone to charitable agencies and to the kindness of the good people out there. The point of Jesus’ church as Jesus Himself says in Luke 24:47 is that “it was also written that this message be proclaimed in the authority of His name to all the nations beginning in Jerusalem.” We have our charge from our boss, and that’s the point.

Luke 22:31-38 — And Jesus said, “but now, take your money, and a traveler’s bag. And if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. For the time has come for this prophecy about me to be fulfilled: ‘He was counted among the rebels.’ [Isaiah 53:12] Yes, everything written about me by the prophets will come true.” Earlier, in Luke 10, Jesus told His disciples not to take money or a travelers bag and it certainly seems a contradiction for Jesus to tell them to buy swords. Is Jesus contradicting Himself? What gives? Well, Jesus is God in the flesh, so it is impossible for that which is perfect and that which is truth so there can be no flaw. Jesus, thus cannot be contradicting Himself. As Bible professors teach you every day in seminary, context, context, context. It is dangerous to take single verses and or single passages and use them in ways that are inconsistent with the context in which the verse or passage appears. So, let’s consider the context a bit with an illustration. In this day and age when there appears to be so many problems with the world, we often long for a time when things were simpler or were, at least, seemingly simpler. With all the complex aspects of my life today, with leadership at my day job, leadership at church, trying to be a good father and a good husband, trying to be a good small group leader, paying bills, taking care of property, house and home. You know, there are just some days you don’t want to be a grown up and that I just long for Hartsville, SC. Back then I was just 3rd and 4th grade preachers kid in a small town in early 70’s South Carolina while we lived there from 1970-72. Back then, my brother and I and our friends could hop on our bikes on Saturday morning and strike to see what the day held. We would ride all over the town of Hartsville. We would create adventures as we rode. We would be gone all day long sun up to sun down. In those days, in small town South Carolina, your parents did not worry where you were. It was a safer time then. Those days were so simple and so much fun. We did not have a care in the world compared to what life is like for me today. Don’t get me wrong, I love the life I lead today, but it is far more complex for me now than it was in 1970s Hartsville, SC. Back then, it was bike riding, playing football in the empty lot next to the parsonage. It was saving up allowance money for our Saturday adventures on our bikes with our friends. Easier time. Memories.

I think that is the context here. Jesus has already predicted that, under pressure, one of the disciples would betray Him and another would deny Him. Jesus reminds them of a simpler time. Jesus recalls to their mind easier, happier days. His command back then was to travel light and trust God to supply their needs through friends of the Kingdom who would welcome them into their homes. (Luke 10:1-9). The lesson they needed then was to learn complete dependence on God for provision for our lives. While they were gone in Luke 10, they had learned that God could and would meet their needs abundantly. “Did you lack anything?” Jesus asks. “Nothing” is their reply. But as Dr. Ralph Wilson says in his blog, Jesus Walk: Luke’s Gospel, “Times are changing. Now there is a different lesson. There are new marching orders.” None of us like change. The disciples didn’t either. Things were going really good. They had seen miracles. They had listened to Jesus preach the greatest sermons and lessons that they had ever heard. Jesus made the kingdom of God accessible to every day man. It all was just clicking. It was a season of blessing. But the winds are a changing my friend. There is an old saying that there are three kinds of people in the world – those that are about to enter into a time of trouble, those that are in a time of trouble, and those that are just coming out of a time of trouble. Jesus is saying to the disciples that, as Bruce Springsteen said in the song “Your Hometown”, “troubled times have come to your hometown.” Jesus is saying that the lessons learned in the hard times can be as important or even more important than the ones we learn when times are easy. We certainly learn where our weaknesses are in hard times. When times are easy, it is easy to be unprepared. Jesus’ ministry had not yet threatened the established Jewish and Roman order of things back in Luke 10 so it was easy to go unprepared.

There are times in our lives and in our service to Jesus Christ where we can go unprepared. When we are in those seasons of easy times, preparation is not necessary, things just happen. Like striking out on my bike on Saturday mornings in Hartsville, we do not know what was going to happen. It just did. But troubled times come to us all, we must be prepared. Jesus was not espousing violence when he said buy swords. He was saying that they needed the same amount of courage that carrying a sword gives a man. They were going to need that “bring it on” mentality that carrying a sword then and carrying a handgun gives a man today. Just think how much more confident you are about your ability to survive a bad situation when you are packin’ a pistol. That heightened level of courage is what Jesus is saying to them. But being the clueless disciples they are right up until Pentecost, they thought Jesus was being literal. Jesus and Bruce agree, troubled times have come and they needed to be ready for it. Jesus tells them that all that stuff that Isaiah was predicting about the Messiah, yeah, it’s all about to come true right before your eyes. All that stuff about the Messiah actually being a suffering servant who is mistreated and abused and killed for our sins, you are about to see it happen to me. The stuff is about to hit the fan. Are you ready for this? Do you have what it takes to withstand the coming hard times?

Just think, there is a day coming (and it is already beginning to happen) when being Christian will be a true liability here in this country. We are already headed down that road. Are you ready for the hard times? Do you have the courage for it? Will you fall away like the disicples on the night of Jesus’ arrest? When it counts, will you, will I, have the courage to say, “I stand with Jesus Christ. I do not care what you do to me. I stand right here and will not move until you move me.” It is easy to long for the easier time when it was easy to be a Christian. But, as Jesus was telling the disicples, those times are gone. It is time for the troubles to come. Are you ready for this? We now live in a land where it is starting. We can be fined now for standing on your Christian beliefs. Christian religious freedom is being taken away slowly but surely in the name of tolerance of everything. Christian freedom is being taken away while Muslims are given a pass in the interest of tolerance. Christians are being singled out for standing on biblical principles. Are you ready for this? Troubled times have come. No more riding bikes all over time without a care. Troubled times have come. Are you ready for this? Will you stand or fall? Will you proclaim His name in the marketplace? Will you say you know Him or deny Him? Will you stand by Him or scatter when it counts? Are you ready for this?