Posts Tagged ‘salvation’

1 Samuel 3:1-4:1 (Part 3 of 3)
The Lord Speaks to Samuel

Preacher’s kids are the worst kind. Have you heard that phrase? I was a preacher’s kid (PK). I grew up as the son of a South Carolina United Methodist Church minister. I have lived in Lamar, SC. I have lived in Anderson, SC once. I have lived in Walhalla, SC. I have lived in Rembert, SC. I have lived in Hartsville, SC. I have lived in Elgin, SC (just outside of Columbia, our state’s capital city). I have lived in Anderson, SC. I have lived in Travelers Rest, SC (just outside of Greenville #yeahthatgreenville), all before I graduated high school. Such is the life of a Methodist minister and his family – moving…a lot. You would think that I would have grown up and gone in the ministry as some PK’s do. My brother did that. Being a Methodist minister in the South Carolina Conference of the church is kind of the family business. My dad was a Methodist minister in South Carolina. My uncle Doug was a Methodist minister in South Carolina. My brother is a Methodist minister in South Carolina. My brother married the daughter of a Methodist minister in South Carolina. It’s the family business. However, I was the black sheep of the family! LOL! I became an accountant. And by my teenage years, I helped add to the mystique of preacher’s kids being the worst kind and as an adult I may have gone to church regularly up until about 1992, it was a nothingness, just something you did. After marrying right after my freshman year in college, I continued to attend my wife’s small 40 people at church on Sunday church that was nothing more than a glorified social club (at least that is what it seemed to me) rather than a place of spiritual challenge and growth in discipleship. So, in those years church was just something I did – nothing that caused me to accept Christ as my Savior or that would challenge me to grow in my faith if I had done so. Church, there. Church, always there. Church, not really meaning anything that just always being there, part of my life.

You would think that growing up in a preacher’s home and all that it entails that I would have grown up more spiritual in nature, more attuned to church, more studious in God’s Word, and most certainly one of those who accepted Christ at a very young age. I may have professed maybe even multiple times as a child that I had accepted Christ as my Savior but I do not ever remember a specific moment of having had the salvation experience. I did not fully experience anything like that until December 2001 when I was 39 years and 4 months old. When I was growing up, church was the family business. We often lived in parsonages that were right next to the church. Churches that my dad served were the playgrounds for me and my brother to entertain ourselves in. On Sundays it was all church business but during the week we would ramble around and through my dad’s churches as if they were daily adventures in a theme park. Back in the days when we were little, re-runs of Star Trek (The Original Series) had captured our imagination. So, of course, my dad’s churches became the Starship Enterprise. We play out episodes of the show in our starship I mean church building. Outside would be the foreign worlds where Star Trek landing parties would go. In general, we were always at the church. Since mom worked full time, Dad was the one to take care of us in the afternoons after school and in the summer time. So, while he would be in his office doing his ministerial duties, we would wander around the church buildings having our adventures. We were always at church. All the time. I guess when you are there all the time you became numb to its glory and power.

Over the years because I was always there, it was no longer special. It was just part of the scenery, the background of a little kid’s life, the background of tweener’s life, the background of a teenager’s life. With what I am about to say, don’t let it come across as though I hate the way I grew up. Don’t ever think that. When I look back on how my parents raised me, I am thankful, oh so thankful, for the way they raised me. My dad, especially, instilled in us to work hard, to know right from wrong, to treat others fairly regardless of who they were, what they looked like, where they came from, or the color of their skin. My dad instilled in us a desire to learn, to love learning, to love school, to love to learn something new every day. My dad taught us about being men. He taught that no matter what men have to work all of their lives with no breaks and that sometimes you get knocked down, things happen where people screw you over, things happen in life that are not fair, but as a man you have to get up, dust yourself off, and keep moving on. He taught us to be good providers for our families and to do whatever it takes to keep our families fed, clothed, and protected. My brother and I have grown up to be productive and generally successful in our respective fields of endeavor. So, don’t get me wrong. I had a good life growing up. I would not take anything for the great times that we had as a family and some of those great father-son moments that I had with my dad. I have no issue with the way I grew up except for one.

I think that my dad kind of ignored the spiritual condition of his children once we got past those little kid years. I think that he thought after those years just being exposed to the life of minister that we would learn, grow, accept Christ, mature as a disciple and all of that by osmosis. It was either that or Dad was so busy with church stuff from the morning in the office until sometimes late in the evenings with meetings, counseling sessions, and any other of a multitude of church activities that occupies the life of a minister. It is more than just your 8 hour a day factory or office worker job. It is from daylight til well into the night pretty much 6 to 7 days a week. A preacher is always on duty. So, when my Dad was home maybe he just wanted to decompress and church was the farthest thing from his mind. Or maybe it was that he didn’t want us to be weird, wacked out religious freaks. Our home after we were little was as secular as yours. As we got older, dad’s career progressed. So, as we got older, every succeeding church that Dad served got bigger. With bigger churches comes more responsibility. It may be all these things combined. But after early childhood, I really don’t remember my dad being our spiritual mentor. He was great in every other aspect of being dad but his spiritual leadership of me and my brother when I reflect back on it was lacking.

As many great preacher’s kids that come out of preacher’s homes that go on to be great assets to the church of Jesus Christ, there are just as many who fall away from the church and/or grow up to be wild childs. I was one who struggled with church. I was one who lived a life of self pursuit. I was one who partied up as a teenager and as an adult. I was one of those PKs. Was it because my dad kind of ignored my spiritual development? Don’t get me wrong, I accept full responsibility for the choices I have made in life but did Dad’s desire to not be a preacher when he got home play a small role in my not coming to Christ until my late 30’s?

As I read through this passage for a third time, that was what I thought of. We can never just think our kids are going to get it. We must be their spiritual leaders. We must not take for granted that just by taking our kids to church that they will be tuned in, turned on, and saved by Jesus Christ. Now, with these thoughts in mind let’s read the passage again this morning, 1 Samuel 3:1-4:1:

3 Meanwhile, the boy Samuel served the Lord by assisting Eli. Now in those days messages from the Lord were very rare, and visions were quite uncommon.

2 One night Eli, who was almost blind by now, had gone to bed. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was sleeping in the Tabernacle[a] near the Ark of God. 4 Suddenly the Lord called out, “Samuel!”

“Yes?” Samuel replied. “What is it?” 5 He got up and ran to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?”

“I didn’t call you,” Eli replied. “Go back to bed.” So he did.

6 Then the Lord called out again, “Samuel!”

Again Samuel got up and went to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?”

“I didn’t call you, my son,” Eli said. “Go back to bed.”

7 Samuel did not yet know the Lord because he had never had a message from the Lord before. 8 So the Lord called a third time, and once more Samuel got up and went to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?”

Then Eli realized it was the Lord who was calling the boy. 9 So he said to Samuel, “Go and lie down again, and if someone calls again, say, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went back to bed.

10 And the Lord came and called as before, “Samuel! Samuel!”

And Samuel replied, “Speak, your servant is listening.”

11 Then the Lord said to Samuel, “I am about to do a shocking thing in Israel. 12 I am going to carry out all my threats against Eli and his family, from beginning to end. 13 I have warned him that judgment is coming upon his family forever, because his sons are blaspheming God[b] and he hasn’t disciplined them. 14 So I have vowed that the sins of Eli and his sons will never be forgiven by sacrifices or offerings.”
Samuel Speaks for the Lord

15 Samuel stayed in bed until morning, then got up and opened the doors of the Tabernacle[c] as usual. He was afraid to tell Eli what the Lord had said to him. 16 But Eli called out to him, “Samuel, my son.”

“Here I am,” Samuel replied.

17 “What did the Lord say to you? Tell me everything. And may God strike you and even kill you if you hide anything from me!” 18 So Samuel told Eli everything; he didn’t hold anything back. “It is the Lord’s will,” Eli replied. “Let him do what he thinks best.”

19 As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him, and everything Samuel said proved to be reliable. 20 And all Israel, from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, knew that Samuel was confirmed as a prophet of the Lord. 21 The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh and gave messages to Samuel there at the Tabernacle.
4 And Samuel’s words went out to all the people of Israel.

Here, in this passage, we see that Eli had spent his entire life in service to God. His responsibility was to oversee all the worship in Israel. However, in pursuing this great mission, he neglected the responsibilities in his own home. Don’t let your desire to do God’s work cause you to neglect your family. If you do, your mission may degenerate into a quest for personal importance, and your family will suffer the consequences of your neglect.

Let us as parents never take for granted that our kids just by exposure to our faith that they will “get it”! We must speak to them about Jesus Christ. We must evangelize our own children. We must guide them to the cross and pray daily that they accept Christ as their Savior early (so that they won’t have to live the life of idolatry and sinful lusts that we lived). We must and equally as important once they accept Christ as their own personal Savior disciple our children. We must observe the fruits of their spirit and guide them in all righteousness. We must teach them how to mature in their walk with Jesus. We must take an active role in discipling our children – not depending on them to get it by osmosis, not depending on them to get it by exposure, not depending on them to get from their children’s pastor or the youth pastor. We have to do it. It is the most important aspect of our job as parents – to teach, to lead our kids to the cross, and to lead and to teach them after the cross. It has eternal importance.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 1:19-28
Samuel’s Birth and Dedication

It is at this point every year that we begin our budgeting process for coming year at my church. The new calendar and budget year are really not that far away. This year, 2017, is winding down. As of this morning, there are only 50 days left in 2017. Next year, 2018, is right around the corner – just over 7 weeks from now. It is now that we start thinking about the dollars and cents of ministry. It is time to prioritize what we can do and what we cannot. Sometimes, there are tough decisions to be made. To hire for a much needed position within the church or not to hire. To spend money on certain ministries or not to spend. To replace equipment or not to replace equipment. Tough choices sometimes. It all comes down to what we feel that God is leading our people to give on an annual basis.

When reading today’s passage, it made me think, being our church’s finance director and all, about “what if…” What if God’s people were sacrificial in their giving? What if we gave in the way that Hannah did? So many of us Christians nowadays do not think in this way. Often we are no different than the culture around us. Many of us see it as someone else’s responsibility to give sacrificially. So many of us are just like the culture in that we live off more than we make. The typical middle class American lives off their salary plus credit. In other words, we live off more than we make. The society seems to think who has the newest, most expensive toys wins the contest in the end. We as Christians are often no different. We think we have to have the newest car. We think we have to live in the neighborhood that’s just beyond our means. We think we have to have the latest electronics. We think we have to have the boat and the jet ski. We think we have to have an expensive vacation every year. But when you think about it from an eternal perspective, the old saying holds true, “You can’t take it with you” and “you never see a U-Haul behind a hearse.”

That is why it is one of my passions to teach God’s people about biblical financial principles. I have lived that life of chasing the rainbow and never being satisfied with what you have and always wanting more. I have lived the life of maxxed out credit cards. I have lived that life of too much month and too little paycheck. I have lived that life of creditors calling me to the point I dreaded hearing my phone ring. It took my wife and I a good long while to get free of our smothering of debts. We had to quit renting houses at the beach that cost almost $3k for the week. We had to quit blowing bonuses and tax refunds on additional stuff and start paying off debts with them and not acquiring new debt just because we paid off an old one. Even recently, we downsized our home and mortgage. We cut our mortgage payment by 1/3 by getting a smaller house. After living in our previous house for seven years we realized that we did not use half of that house so it was time to downsize. What if we had started living that way from the time we left our parents’ homes. What if we had lived frugally from the beginning of our adult lives.

One of the things that we learned early on in this process was to honor God with our finances. We could not tithe at first but we began to get our way there a percentage point at a time. We made honoring God first a part of who we are as people. The first check we write when I get paid is to honor God. We learned to live off the rest instead of living beyond our means. I want to teach our people the peace that comes from “living off the rest”. I want to teach people that honoring God with our finances changes our perspective about our things that we have to have. The freedom of heart that has come from putting God first in our finances has enabled us to appreciate why He commands us to tithe. As with all things, God gives peace to those who honor Him. We trust him with our finances. We as a result are able to give more than just our tithe now. We have opportunities to help others now that we would have had to forgo in years past. Being able to use our money to demonstrate God’s love to others has reminded us of why we work hard to keep our finances under control.
What if more of God’s people learned what we have learned? What if more people gave to the church more than the spare $20 bill that they might have in their wallet on Sundays? What if more people saw honoring God with their finances to the point they could be obedient in the tithe? What if people lived off less and gave more? What if just our people at our local church did that? What if that did happen? What if we as a people at our church became sacrificial givers? What if our church’s budget was 2.5 to 3 times bigger than it is now if all of our people tithed or just gave more sacrificially? Imagine the ministry that we could do through our church. Imagine the quality of the people we could hire to lead our ministries. Imagine how many more lives that we could touch with the gospel. Imagine how many more ways we could reach into the community and show them the love of Jesus Christ. Imagine if our people started thinking with an eternal perspective. Imagine each of us living off 90% or less of what we make. Imagine a people focused more on being generous. Imagine a people putting God first in their finances so that they could put forth the gospel first with their paychecks rather than the car sitting in the driveway. Imagine us being a sacrificially generous people. Just imagine that!

That’s the thing I thought of this morning as I read how Hannah, so deeply desiring to have a child, sacrificially gave her son up to the Lord. She gave til it hurt. What if we had that kind of heart of sacrificial giving? Let’s read 1 Samuel 1:19-28 now:

19 The entire family got up early the next morning and went to worship the Lord once more. Then they returned home to Ramah. When Elkanah slept with Hannah, the Lord remembered her plea, 20 and in due time she gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel,[a] for she said, “I asked the Lord for him.”

21 The next year Elkanah and his family went on their annual trip to offer a sacrifice to the Lord and to keep his vow. 22 But Hannah did not go. She told her husband, “Wait until the boy is weaned. Then I will take him to the Tabernacle and leave him there with the Lord permanently.[b]”

23 “Whatever you think is best,” Elkanah agreed. “Stay here for now, and may the Lord help you keep your promise.[c]” So she stayed home and nursed the boy until he was weaned.

24 When the child was weaned, Hannah took him to the Tabernacle in Shiloh. They brought along a three-year-old bull[d] for the sacrifice and a basket[e] of flour and some wine. 25 After sacrificing the bull, they brought the boy to Eli. 26 “Sir, do you remember me?” Hannah asked. “I am the very woman who stood here several years ago praying to the Lord. 27 I asked the Lord to give me this boy, and he has granted my request. 28 Now I am giving him to the Lord, and he will belong to the Lord his whole life.” And they[f] worshiped the Lord there.

In this passage, we see that to do what she promised (1 Samuel 1:11), Hannah gave up what she wanted the most – her son – and presented him to Eli to serve in the house of the Lord. In dedicating her only son to God, Hannah was dedicating her entire life and future to God. Because Samuel’s life was from God, Hannah was not really giving him up to God. Rather, she was returning him to God, who had given Samuel to Hannah in the first place. These verses illustrate the kinds of gifts we should give to God. Do you gifts cost you a little (Sunday mornings, a comfortable donation of time and/or money) or are they gifts of sacrifice? Are you presenting God with tokens or are you presenting him with your entire life?

Let us resolve to live off less and give more sacrificially? Let us resolve to arrange our finances such that we can give more to our church and assist in the spread of the gospel in our community, nation and world. Let us arrange our finances so that we think first of eternal things instead of temporary things. Let us arrange our finances so that we can think of others instead of ourselves. Let us arrange our finances so that we can be sacrificial givers instead of wishing we could give anything. Let us arrange our finances so that we can invest in the eternal destinations of the people in our community. Let us be able to participate in leading people to our doors where they can hear the gospel preached and react to it. Let us be sacrificial because eternity is at stake. Let us help assure the eternity with Jesus in heaven for more and more people because we were so concerned about it that we gave up our pursuit of new houses, new cars, new toys. What if we had a sacrificial mentality to spread the gospel? What if our finances reflected our concern for the salvation of the world rather than our next new toy?

Amen and Amen.

Ruth 4:13-22
The Descendants of Boaz

An Open Letter to My Granddaughter, Ralyn,

Yesterday, I wrote about looking back at my life and being ashamed of the life I lived before I met Jesus Christ. Today, I want to write about my future. You are a big part of my future. You are only 15 ½ months old now, but time will fly and you will become a young lady long before your dad and your granddad are ready for it. I wonder what you will be interested in. What will be your hobbies? What will be your passions? Will you excel at school or will you have to work hard at it? Will you be Poppy’s little buddy? Will I be your confidant for those things that you don’t want to tell your mom and your dad? What will your reputation be as you grow up? Will you be a girl that people can count on? Will your parents be able to count on you doing the right thing? Will I have had any influence on your life at all?

Oh, you are so terribly cute right now. You slay my heart every time I see you. I love you from the depths of my soul and I have only known you a little more than a year. I hope that you and I will be as “thick as thieves” as you grow up. I hope that you will look forward to coming to Papa and Mimi’s house. I hope that you and I will play tricks on Mimi and then just laugh and laugh. I hope that you when you get tired come crawl up in Papa’s lap and snuggle up to my neck. I hope that we can go for long walks in here in The Village and talk about anything and everything. I hope that we can spend time reading books on the front porch. I hope that I can show you important things like “righty tighty, lefty loosey”. I hope that I can teach you how to cut grass. I hope that I can teach you how to trim shrubs. I hope there will be a day when I am cutting grass that you are right behind me with your toy lawnmower following Papa’s every move. I hope that I will be there at your first kindergarten thanksgiving play. I hope that I will be there for the sport that you choose to play and be there at as many games as I can. I hope that my refrigerator will be full of your art masterpieces. I hope that you will ask Papa millions of questions about everything. I hope that I will be there when you want to talk about boys. I hope that I will be there for those conversations about your first kiss. I want to be there to hear about your first school dance. I want to hear about the first boy you decide to call your boyfriend. I want to be there for you when you get your heart broken by that very same boy. I want to be there all along the way. I don’t want to be some stranger to you when you get to be a teenager. I want to still be your confidant then too. I want to hear about that boy that you are madly in love with. I want to hear about that girl who said some unsavory things about you and how you are going to handle that. I want to hear about the high school drama – and I am not talking about the drama department. Who said what to who and who was with who when he was supposed to be with this other girl. I want to help you understand a tough subject in high school. I want to help when you have a tough decision to make – to go with the crowd or do the right thing. I want to be part of your life when you are deciding on what college to go to (subliminal message—go to Clemson, go to Clemson, go to Clemson). I want to be there when you graduate high school. I want to be there when you go off to college (subliminal message—Clemson). I want to be there when you are deciding on what to major in. I want to be there for those talks about the future. I want to be there for those conversations about your career. I want to be there when a professor just introduced a concept that rocked your world and help you process that. I want to be there when you just need to get away from college for a day and we can go for one of our walks like when you were little. I want to be there when you get engaged. I want to be there when you graduate college. I want to be there when you get married.

I may not be around for much after you get married as I will probably be in my 80s by then but one thing in all this stuff is that I want you to know that you were loved so much by your Papa! I want you to know that I had your back while I was here. I want you think about your Papa and it bring a smile to your face no matter how old you get. And most of all, I want to impart a legacy to you about being a Christ follower. I want to be your example of what a true Christ follower looks like. I want to be there to influence you and talk you about sin and salvation. I want to be there when you accept Christ as your Savior. I want to be there and celebrate that. I want to be there for your post-salvation baptism where you proclaim to the world outwardly what has already happened inside your heart and soul. I want that to be my greatest legacy to have passed on Jesus Christ to you.

I Love You More Today than Yesterday,

Papa

That’s what I thought of this morning as I read through this final passage of the book of Ruth. I thought about legacy as I read through Ruth 4:13-22. What will be my legacy after I am gone? Here in this final passage, we know of the legacy of Ruth and Boaz and the role they not only played in their lifetimes but also the legacy that they passed on. Let’s think about that as we read:

13 So Boaz took Ruth into his home, and she became his wife. When he slept with her, the Lord enabled her to become pregnant, and she gave birth to a son. 14 Then the women of the town said to Naomi, “Praise the Lord, who has now provided a redeemer for your family! May this child be famous in Israel. 15 May he restore your youth and care for you in your old age. For he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you and has been better to you than seven sons!”

16 Naomi took the baby and cuddled him to her breast. And she cared for him as if he were her own. 17 The neighbor women said, “Now at last Naomi has a son again!” And they named him Obed. He became the father of Jesse and the grandfather of David.

18 This is the genealogical record of their ancestor Perez:

Perez was the father of Hezron.
19
Hezron was the father of Ram.
Ram was the father of Amminadab.
20
Amminadab was the father of Nahshon.
Nahshon was the father of Salmon.[a]
21
Salmon was the father of Boaz.
Boaz was the father of Obed.
22
Obed was the father of Jesse.
Jesse was the father of David.

In this passage and in this book, we see that some might think of the book of Ruth as a nice story about a girl who was fortunate. However, in reality, the events recorded in Ruth were part of God’s preparation for the births of King David and of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. Just as Ruth was unaware of this larger purpose in her life, we will not know the full purpose and importance of our lives until we are able to look back from the heavenly side of eternity. We must make our choices with God’s eternal values in mind. Taking moral shortcuts and living for short-range pleasures are not living life with eternity in mind. Because of Ruth’s faithful obedience, her life and legacy were significant even though she may have not been able to see the results of it in her lifetime. We must live like Ruth. We must live in faithfulness to God, knowing that the significance of your life will extend beyond your lifetime.

So, my most important remaining job in life is to be Papa to my sweet little Ralyn. This will be the most important job I have left to do. I must impart wisdom and knowledge and common sense and love and understanding and advice and most of all be an influence toward my granddaughter coming to know Jesus Christ as her Savior and Lord when she is ready for it. May that be the greatest legacy I leave behind. May that be the final important thing that I do. May that, then, be the lasting legacy. That Ralyn’s mom, my daughter, is a Christ follower, that Ralyn will be, and Ralyn’s daughter and Ralyn’s granddaughter…May that be the legacy.

Amen and Amen.

Ruth 4:1-12
Boaz Arranges to Marry Ruth

In this day in age in which we live, if you are single and in your 30’s or 40’s, it is a great likelihood that you have been married and divorced at least once. In you are a woman in your 30’s or 40’s and you are single, you most likely have either small children, pre-teens, or teens at home with you. It is a statistical fact that mothers of children end up with custody of their children in 90% of divorces nationally. Either men don’t want the responsibility of day to day care of children, the mothers don’t trust them to do the myriad of things that are required to get children up and out the door each day, or the men don’t trust themselves. It is also a statistical fact that 27% of fathers see their children only when required by their court order or do not see them at all.

So in the American dating scene out there (not that I am familiar with it anymore myself, but these statements are made based on statistical probabilities), any time a guy meets a gal in her 30’s or 40’s (heck sometimes even in their 20s), there is a high probability that she has kids at home. Somebody’s keeping them while she is having a girl’s night with her gal pals. If you really want to get to know her, the breaking point for any such relationship is going to be about the fact that she has kids or that the kids get in the way of the relationship. There are too many guys out there that just want to have fun with the gals with kids but want none of the responsibilities or the drawbacks of dating a woman with kids in tow. With so many of these men, they are absentee fathers themselves. They feel “tied down” when they have their own kids with them. I know there are some great dads out there but there is a growing majority of dads who disappear from their own kids lives and shy away from any relationship with a woman who has kids. There are a growing number of men out there that just want to have recreational sex with women (even if the woman has kids at home) but split when there is mention of getting to know her kids. These men don’t want women with baggage. They want the fun but not the baggage that comes with most women who are “single again.” With the divorce rate out there where 50% of first marriages fail, 67% of second marriages fail, and 83% of third marriages fail, there is a great possibility of any woman a guy meets is going to have had a past and is most likely to have children at home. But like I said, there is a growing number of men who are baby daddies out there and not fathers. They want the fun of women but none of the responsibility that comes with having a relationship with a woman with kids.

There was a movie out there a while back called “Courageous” that was a faith-based film that was extremely popular even with the secular movie going public. The famous tag line from that movie was “Where are you, men of courage?” It was the story that men are often removed from their kids lives and are even less involved with their kids when it comes to faith issues. The point of the movie was to urge men to take hold of their God ordained place as being the priests of their homes, leading their family in all things but especially in leading their families in the family’s relationships with God. It takes courage to be a man of faith. It takes courage to be a real dad these days when it is so easy to wash your hands of the family your procreated. Where are you men of courage today in this broken world where practically every woman you meet has kids at home? Where are you men of courage willing to accept the baggage that comes with a woman who has kids? In this broken world we live in, it is a simple fact of life that virtually everyone who meet and potentially can have a relationship with is a person who has been married before. It’s not the world that God wants for us. He wants us to examine who we will marry before we marry them. He wants us to think long and hard before we get married the first time because He wants us to stay married to who we married the first and only time. However, in this sin-filled broken world, we will most like be married at least twice in a lifetime. That’s a sad fact but a true one. So, given that, we must be willing to accept the baggage of the person that we are attempting to have a relationship with and potentially marrying any time after the first marriage is done. Men especially must be willing to accept what a single mom is bringing to the table of the relationship.

That’s the thing that came to mind this morning as I read through Ruth 4:1-12 – the difference between Boaz and the unnamed man who was closer in line to be the redeemer of Naomi and Ruth. The unnamed man wanted the property but not the women who came with it. Let’s read through the passage here right now and then we will finish our discussion after that:

4 Boaz went to the town gate and took a seat there. Just then the family redeemer he had mentioned came by, so Boaz called out to him, “Come over here and sit down, friend. I want to talk to you.” So they sat down together. 2 Then Boaz called ten leaders from the town and asked them to sit as witnesses. 3 And Boaz said to the family redeemer, “You know Naomi, who came back from Moab. She is selling the land that belonged to our relative Elimelech. 4 I thought I should speak to you about it so that you can redeem it if you wish. If you want the land, then buy it here in the presence of these witnesses. But if you don’t want it, let me know right away, because I am next in line to redeem it after you.”

The man replied, “All right, I’ll redeem it.”

5 Then Boaz told him, “Of course, your purchase of the land from Naomi also requires that you marry Ruth, the Moabite widow. That way she can have children who will carry on her husband’s name and keep the land in the family.”

6 “Then I can’t redeem it,” the family redeemer replied, “because this might endanger my own estate. You redeem the land; I cannot do it.”

7 Now in those days it was the custom in Israel for anyone transferring a right of purchase to remove his sandal and hand it to the other party. This publicly validated the transaction. 8 So the other family redeemer drew off his sandal as he said to Boaz, “You buy the land.”

9 Then Boaz said to the elders and to the crowd standing around, “You are witnesses that today I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelech, Kilion, and Mahlon. 10 And with the land I have acquired Ruth, the Moabite widow of Mahlon, to be my wife. This way she can have a son to carry on the family name of her dead husband and to inherit the family property here in his hometown. You are all witnesses today.”

11 Then the elders and all the people standing in the gate replied, “We are witnesses! May the Lord make this woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, from whom all the nation of Israel descended! May you prosper in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. 12 And may the Lord give you descendants by this young woman who will be like those of our ancestor Perez, the son of Tamar and Judah.”

In this passage, we see that Boaz cleverly presented his case to the relative. First, he brought in new information not yet mentioned in the story – Elimelech. Naomi’s deceased husband, still had some property in the area that was now for sale. As the nearest relative, this unnamed man had the first right to buy the property (Leviticus 25:25). But then Boaz said that according to the law, if the relative bought the land, he also had to marry the widow, Ruth (because Mahlon, Ruth’s deceased husband and Elimelech’s son, had inherited the property). At this stipulation, the relative backed down. He did not want to add a complication to his own inheritance to his existing children because of the new children he would have had with Ruth. That was the most likely reason, but he could have just not wanted to complicate his life with another woman. Whatever his reason for backing away, it cleared the way for Boaz to marry Ruth himself.

That’s the thing that made me think of today’s messed up dating world out there is because in this story, the unnamed relative wanted the property but not the baggage that came with it – Ruth. He wanted the additional wealth that came with owning more land but he did not want the responsibility of another wife and raising more kids and complicating his financial situation. That so reminded me of how men out there today just want women for recreational fun but they don’t want the baggage that often comes with women in today’s world of divorce. They want the fun but not the responsibility. That’s why men are often divorced anyway is that they could not face up to the lifetime of responsibility that is marriage – kids, mortgages, schooling, kids activities, and no time for themselves.

What if God was like that with us? What if He did not want all our baggage? Our sins condemn us in His sight. He could just throw us away into the pit of hell and walk away and be right in doing so. He could just say I don’t need this and that be it! However, God has greater love for us than that. Even though our first sin condemns us to hell and not to mention the lifetimes of sins that we commit, He could say that you have too much baggage for me to deal with and cast us into hell. But He doesn’t. Boaz represents God’s love for us. Boaz did not care about all the baggage that came with Ruth. He simply loved her. He knew that she had a past and had been married before and knew that she was not originally from the people of Israel. He knew all the baggage she brought to the relationship. But he loved her anyway. He was willing to marry her when the unnamed relative was not. He was willing to set aside all the things that would make Ruth undesirable for marriage and took her in marriage anyway. God is the same with us. He loves us so much that He sent His Son to earth to become the perfect sacrificial lamb to take on God’s punishment for our baggage, our sins. In that way, through Jesus, He can set aside the punishment we deserve. He can set aside our sins because Jesus paid the price for them. Through Jesus, we are made clean before God. We are made into marriage material before the bridegroom. We are made new and desirable again to God. We are redeemed by a God who loves us despite our past sins, despite our past baggage. When we accept Christ as our Savior and Lord, we no longer carry around the baggage of our sins that condemns us in the sight of God. Through Jesus, we are made into a beautiful bride ready for the bridegroom. We are made into something beautiful and desirable by God. He loves us that much. He loves us enough to redeem us when we have all this sin baggage. He sets it aside, through Jesus, and welcomes us into His house and makes us His bride with all the rights and privileges that go along with being a child of God.

Amen and Amen.

Ruth 3:1-18 (Part 3 of 3)
Ruth Follows Naomi’s Plan

Sometimes in our lives when we look back on the person that we were before we came to know Jesus Christ as our Savior, we go “wow, how could I have been that kind of person!” How could I have been that kind of person and think that it was OK to be that kind of person. I grew up in the church. I heard the gospel. I knew the Bible stories, in general. My dad was a preacher. So, it wasn’t like I was a person who did not grow up knowing right from wrong, moral from immoral, and so on. But growing up in a parsonage does not guarantee that you will be immediately a follower of Jesus Christ. Don’t get me wrong, I was not necessarily a bad kid or bad seed. I was just a regular kid. I did well in school. Rarely got in trouble. I was just one of those kids that was a good student but wasn’t a nerd. I was a kid who danced on the edge of getting in trouble with parents and teachers on occasion. My trouble in life was always feeling less than. My trouble was always feeling like an outsider. My trouble was always feeling like the guy who got to the party but just went the party was about over. Never felt like I was in the know.

It was these feelings of being an outsider, a step behind, late to the party, catching a trend just when everyone has moved on to the next trend that kind of defined my pre-salvation days. I was always trying to fit in. I was an approval seeker. I wanted validation that I belong and that I matter to other people. It is still something I struggle with even after salvation but not like in my pre-salvation days. In those pre-salvation days, I would do whatever it took to win approval of others to the point of committing sins that grieve my own soul now. My moral compass fell off the table and broke into pieces over the years. And my word became worthless as I shucked and jived so as to keep all the people happy in my life from who I desired approval. My finances were a shambles from all of that too. So my word meant nothing when it came to financial matters and certainly my creditors probably felt my word meant nothing. My self-image of myself as a decent, moral person was far different from my daily practices of situational ethics. Then, there comes a day when you look at yourself in the mirror and say who have you become. There was a time when people thought you were a good kid and respected you for being a young man of your word. Now, look at you. You would lie to save your ass in a minute. You would lie to get out of trouble. You would lie to make yourself seem more important than you are. Looking in the mirror, who is this man? I don’t know him anymore. He acts as though there is no judgment because he lives according to his own gospel which is not the canonical Gospel of Mark. The ends justified the means for this guy looking in the mirror.

When I look back at the man I had become in the months and weeks before I accepted Christ as my Savior, I didn’t think of myself as a desperate sinner in need of a Savior. I thought I had become something that I didn’t wanna be but I thought I was still good enough to get in heaven if God made a few exceptions for me. I thought I was good enough to get in if God look at my good deeds vs. my bad ones. I figured that being a martyr in my divorce, trying to keep two families happy (my exwife and my daughters on one hand, and my second wife and her boys on the other) and feeling like a martyr in that, working hard, etc. All that would make up for my moral failures and my situational ethics. It was not until that play that night at Abundant Life Church in December 2001 where my life was lived out in a play right before my eyes on the stage at church. The central character thought the same kind of mindset. It wasn’t until he spent 30 minutes in hell during that one hour play that he realized that his sins no matter how small are enough to sentence him to eternity there. No matter the good deeds we do to make up for our bad ones, our sins prevent us from living with our Father in heaven in eternity. That was the final mirror in my face. The Holy Spirit broke my soul that night. Since then, it has been a long and winding road and a difficult job for the Holy Spirit to sanctify me and He still has a ton of work to do.

However, one thing that is important to me now is my word. I want to keep my word even if costs me something. I want to do what the Bible says is right no matter if it costs me something or not. I desire to please God in this way. I want to be a person who honors his commitments. I want to be a person who is known to tell the truth. I want to be a person that is known to have integrity. I want to a person that will give the cashier at the Wal-Mart the money back when she mistakenly gives me too much change. I want to be a person who does not try to return goods that I broke and pass it off as defective goods. I want to be a person of honor. In many ways, I am getting better at that each day because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in my soul. I look back at the man I was before salvation and I am disgusted at him. In the process of being sanctified by the Holy Spirit, when I look back even in the years after salvation, I am disgusted by the man I was a the day of my salvation. I am disgusted by the man I was 10 years ago and even 5 years ago. I know too that as I progress deeper in my walk with Christ that the man that I am right now will disgust me in 10 years. As we grow in Christ, the Holy Spirit wins battles with the sins and habits and thoughts that we think are OK right now. Over time, though, the Holy Spirit shines the light of God on those things in our lives that are not holy. It takes a lifetime for the Holy Spirit to do this and He does not have his final victory over our ego-driven selfishness until we arrive in heaven and join our Savior there. As a Christ follower, sometimes we really do need to sit down and think about the person we used to be compared to now and marvel at the work, the tireless work, of the Holy Spirit in our lives? Are you not disgusted by the person you used to be before Christ, about the person you were just after salvation, and the person you were just a few short years ago? It’s funny how we think we are at the apex of our spiritual maturity until the Holy Spirit shines the light on something that we thought was acceptable all along til then.

Let us always remember who we used to be before Jesus Christ. Let us remember who we are now and where we will be in just a few short years down the right. We are a work in progress under the construction of the master remodeler, the Holy Spirit.

That’s the thing that I thought of this morning when I read through this passage for the second of three times that we will write about it – how Boaz and Naomi had reputations as being trustworthy and upright people to the point that people took them at their word (when they said something you could trust it like gold in the bank). Let’s read the passage together for the last time this morning, Ruth 3:1-18, before we move on:
3 One day Naomi said to Ruth, “My daughter, it’s time that I found a permanent home for you, so that you will be provided for. 2 Boaz is a close relative of ours, and he’s been very kind by letting you gather grain with his young women. Tonight he will be winnowing barley at the threshing floor. 3 Now do as I tell you—take a bath and put on perfume and dress in your nicest clothes. Then go to the threshing floor, but don’t let Boaz see you until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 Be sure to notice where he lies down; then go and uncover his feet and lie down there. He will tell you what to do.”

5 “I will do everything you say,” Ruth replied. 6 So she went down to the threshing floor that night and followed the instructions of her mother-in-law.

7 After Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he lay down at the far end of the pile of grain and went to sleep. Then Ruth came quietly, uncovered his feet, and lay down. 8 Around midnight Boaz suddenly woke up and turned over. He was surprised to find a woman lying at his feet! 9 “Who are you?” he asked.

“I am your servant Ruth,” she replied. “Spread the corner of your covering over me, for you are my family redeemer.”

10 “The Lord bless you, my daughter!” Boaz exclaimed. “You are showing even more family loyalty now than you did before, for you have not gone after a younger man, whether rich or poor. 11 Now don’t worry about a thing, my daughter. I will do what is necessary, for everyone in town knows you are a virtuous woman. 12 But while it’s true that I am one of your family redeemers, there is another man who is more closely related to you than I am. 13 Stay here tonight, and in the morning I will talk to him. If he is willing to redeem you, very well. Let him marry you. But if he is not willing, then as surely as the Lord lives, I will redeem you myself! Now lie down here until morning.”

14 So Ruth lay at Boaz’s feet until the morning, but she got up before it was light enough for people to recognize each other. For Boaz had said, “No one must know that a woman was here at the threshing floor.” 15 Then Boaz said to her, “Bring your cloak and spread it out.” He measured six scoops[a] of barley into the cloak and placed it on her back. Then he[b] returned to the town.

16 When Ruth went back to her mother-in-law, Naomi asked, “What happened, my daughter?”

Ruth told Naomi everything Boaz had done for her, 17 and she added, “He gave me these six scoops of barley and said, ‘Don’t go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.’”

18 Then Naomi said to her, “Just be patient, my daughter, until we hear what happens. The man won’t rest until he has settled things today.”

In this passage, we see that, as a foreigner, Ruth may have thought that Naomi’s advice was odd. However, Ruth followed the advice because she knew Naomi was kind, trustworthy, and filled with integrity. Each of us knows a parent, an older friend, or relative who is always looking out for our best interests. Be willing to listen to the advice of a person who is older and wiser than you are. The experience and knowledge of such a person can be invaluable. And then there was Boaz. Naomi knew that Boaz would follow through on his promise at once. He obviously had a reputation for keeping his word and would not rest until his task was completed. Such reliable people stand out in any age and/or culture. Do others regard you as one who will do what you say? Keeping your word and following through on assignments should be high on anyone’s priority list. Building a reputation of trustworthiness takes many years but losing your reputation can take just minutes.

I want to be like Naomi and Boaz. I want people to be able to trust what I say. I want to be a person who says what he means and means what he says. If I make a promise to you, you should be able to bank on that promise. I want to be that guy who is seen as one who has integrity. I want most of all to be an honorable representative of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. I want the person that I am on Sunday morning to be the same person who, when given the opportunity to do something unethical, will do what is right even if it costs my success or advancement according to earthly treasures. I want to be a guy like Boaz where it is known that I will not rest until I have kept my promise. I want to be a person like Naomi where, even if you think my advice is strange or odd, you will follow it anyway because you consider me a completely trustworthy source. I want to continually look back at my life and see growth in Christlikeness. I want to be a big kid Christian someday. I want to be like Christ. I also want to remember what that man in the mirror looked like in the months before salvation back in 2001. I never want to be that man again. I want to be God’s man. Again, as I said just a second ago, it is my desire more than anything else to be an honorable, trustworthy, reputable, representative ambassador of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I don’t ever, never, never, never, never, ever want to go back to being the man that stared in the mirror in 2001 and had that meltdown moment of horror at the person that I had become. Thank God for my salvation. Thank God for the joy that I have found there. Thank God for the Holy Spirit and His kicking my butt around these last 16 years. Thank God!

 

Amen and Amen.

The Book of Ruth: An Introduction (Part 4 of 4)
As we close out the introductory points about the Book of Ruth, we find that it teaches about God’s redemptive plan for man. As widows, Ruth and Naomi could only look forward to difficult times. Boaz took the responsibility of being the family redeemer. A family redeemer was a relative who volunteered to take responsibility for the extended family. When a woman’s husband died, the law (Deut. 25:5-10) provided that she could marry a brother of her dead husband. However, Naomi had no more sons. In such a case, the nearest relative of the deceased husband could become a family redeemer and marry the widow. The nearest relative did not have to marry the widow. If you chose not to, the next nearest relative could take his place. In no one chose to help the widow, she would probably live in poverty the rest of her life as, in Israelite and most ancient Middle Eastern cultures, inheritance was passed on to a son or nearest male relative not to the wife. The laws for gleaning and family redeemers helped take the sting out of these inheritance rules.

That Boaz went to all the trouble he did to redeem Ruth and take her as his bride is symbolic of what Jesus Christ did for us. He did not have to do what He did for us. He could have easily stayed in heaven and just allowed us to be judged and it would have been just and right for Him to do so. However, Jesus set aside His glory and came down to earth to redeem us from our poverty caused by our desperate state of sin. As John 3:16 famously states, “For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” In the absence of Boaz’s redemption, Ruth would have faced a bleak future and may have had to resort to sinful behaviors such as prostitution to simply survive. It would have been a hellish existence. That is no less what Jesus does for us. He redeems us from our prostitution to sin. He redeems us from the penalty of sin. He redeems us from our bleak existence. He cleans us up. He took the penalty of our sin through his taking His Father’s wrath against sin on the cross. His blood shed on the cross is what makes us pure again in the sight of God as Jesus took the punishment for our sin instead of us having to do that ourselves. Therefore, we are made pure in the sight of God when we realize that Jesus died for our sins, that we were destined for hell in the absence of his sacrifice on our behalf, and that Jesus was the only one who could do that for us. He was the only one who could redeem us because He is God in the flesh and He was without sin. When we realize that He was God in the flesh and that He arose from the dead as victory over our sin and death, we are made His bride and we are presented to God as unblemished and spotless. We gain our right to new life through Him.

Boaz similarly redeems Ruth who was destined for hopelessness just as we are destined for the hopelessness of hell without intervention from Jesus. Boaz gave Ruth new life as His bride. Boaz gives her access to all his riches through his redemption act. Boaz gives her access to a new life that she would not have had otherwise. He did so willingly because of his love for Ruth. He gave her a new lease on life through His love for her. Jesus loves us that much too. He willingly made the trip to the cross for us because of His desire that we not spend eternity separated from God in hell. We are locked into a life destined for eternal misery without His redemptive love just as Ruth was destined for an earthly life of desperate poverty in the absence of Boaz’s redemptive love. Be sure that it was not lost on Ruth exactly what Boaz did for her. She knew what he was saving her from – a life of horrible poverty that could have led her to do things that poverty will cause a woman to do. She knew that Boaz’s love for her saved her from a horrid life. Jesus does the same thing for us. His love for us saves us from a life locked in the results and consequences of sin and has us sentenced to hell. Ruth most likely celebrated her husband in Boaz and was thankful every day for what He had done for her. As redeemed Christ followers, we should be thankful every day for Jesus, our bridegroom, has done for us. He has redeemed us from hell. He has redeemed us from our sin. He has redeemed us from our old life. He has redeemed us from our old sin self and has placed us in our spotless bride’s dress, all white and pure before God. He gives us a new life from the inside out. We should never forget and always celebrate the redemption by our bridegroom in Jesus Christ. As Christ followers, we should be the most joyous people on the planet. We know the eternal life that we were destined for and by all rights deserved. We know that hell is real and it is not a pretty place. We know that it is a place of eternal torment and anguish. We know that it is what we deserve for our sins as our just punishment before a sinless, pure and righteous God. That Jesus would redeem us from our deserved destiny should be a source of constant joy and contentment. No matter what we face on this side of eternity, it pales in comparison to the eternity of hell. No matter how bad our life gets, we know that Jesus has given us the keys to the eternal glory of heaven with God. Why then are we often the most morose people on the planet. We have joy unspeakable through Jesus Christ. We must celebrate it everyday. We must let it permeate our being every day. We must ooze out joy from the overflow in our soul. We must tell people the source of our inexplicable joy! We have been redeemed by Jesus Christ!

Boaz also made provision for her even before he married her through allowing her to glean the grain just as Jesus provides for us even before we come to salvation in Him. His death on the cross two millenia ago is the once and final sacrifice for all sin for all time. All we have to do is glean the grain. Jesus does not have to repeatedly be crucified. His act was the once and for all completion of the Old Testament sacrificial system for sin. Since Jesus was complete perfection and lived the perfect, sinless life there is no need for repeated sacrifices. There is no need for Jesus to do it over and over again. It was the ultimate one-and-done. He leaves the grain at the edge of the field. He leaves the grain on the threshing floor. All we have to do is pick it up and take the food that is necessary for our eternal salvation. It is there for the taking. All we must do is believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and proclaim it with our mouth that He died for our sins and that He arose from the dead to give us hope eternal. The grain has been left there for us to pick up and eat. It is up to us to reach for it.

The Book of Ruth is such a beautiful book and a real life example of what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross. So, let’s meet here at my next blog as we dive into the Book of Ruth.

Amen and Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen and Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” he replied, “I am.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[chorus]
Into something beautiful
Into something beautiful

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

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

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

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

Amen and Amen.

Judges 3:1-6 (Part 2 of 3)
The Nations Left in Canaan

I cried out to the Lord to take control of my life in December 2001. I would like to say that life all of a sudden got easier but that would be a lie. Actually, life got harder. First, within in three months after my salvation, my oldest stepson was killed in a car accident. An already destructive marriage (we had been separated from February through October of that year due to my inability handle certain extramarital news and she said was a direct reaction to some financial blunders that I had made) was going to be tested. Sure, at first, it drew us closer because a death of a child will do that. However, as time wears on, the statistics are startling.

Around 80% of marriages where there is a death of a child end in divorce. Since we were a blended family (she had three boys and I had two girls), I bet the statistics are even higher. It was her blood child and my stepchild. No matter what people try to tell you about blending families, it is difficult in the best of times and horrid in the worst of times. It’s just different feelings that you have for your own kids vs. someone else’s kids that you acquire. You may love them deeply. You may do anything for them but the depth of feeling is simply not as deep. So while my stepson’s death was devastating to me for a while, it was, on the other hand permanently devastating to my second wife. She changed. Those jealousies that were latent in our marriage over my kids vs. her kids became outright vocal. When my oldest daughter was going through her senior year and all that and off to college, these jealousies of what her son could have been doing if he were alive vs. what my daughter had actually gotten to do causes enormous friction. As well, I think the pain over her son’s death may led her to want us to “cut the apron strings” when my daughter went off to college. Instead of being a mature Christian and standing up for my child to my second wife, I began to hide all the non-tuitional expenses of my child at college (gas money, event fees, membership fees, groceries every now and then, and host of other things not covered in tuition and housing). The death of her child and my lack of spiritual leadership of my household (as I had ceded leadership to her because of sexual access long ago) destroyed what was left of our marriage.

We split up in August 2004, two and a half years after the death of her child and almost two years nine months after I accepted Christ as my Savior. Next crisis was in May 2005 when I lost my job as an internal audit director of a regional consumer finance company. I immediately went to work for a consulting firm in Charlotte and finally found a permanent job in Charlotte as a result of that Charlotte consulting gig. It was then the first time I had been away from the Greenville area since I was 14 years old. It was a lonely existence living in Rock Hill just south of Charlotte. New town. New people. New experiences. It was really tough at first. There were attempts at relationships but none lasted until the fall of 2007. It was here that I met the most influential person in my life from that point forward, Elena (who I met in June 2007 and has been my main squeeze since October 2007 and my wife since March 2010). And, I can really pick the companies, ya know, the company I had been working for in Charlotte since January 2006 was bought by this British conglomerate who immediately decided to disband our corporate office where I worked in September 2007. Another crisis of employment. Another consulting gig through another Charlotte consulting firm. Ironically, sending me back to the Greenville-Spartanburg area. A somewhat long-distance ensued with Elena since I would stay down here in the GSP area during the week and drive back to Rock Hill on the weekend. Then, lo and behold…no not another job loss…the company I was consulting at sent me out to California to help straighten out the accounting department of their problem division in May 2008. A real long distance relationship ensued. Coast to coast. Plane trips. Loneliness. Wishing. Wanting. Way long way away from family. This continued all the way until October 2008 when this problem division offered me their comptroller’s position when the previous one finally quit. Then, we as a couple had a decision to make. Split up or Elena move out to California. We tried splitting up. It lasted 3 days. The worst three day stretch I can remember in a long time in my life to that point. So, finally in August 2009, Elena moved out to California. My life finally became settled and secure way out in California. But as these things go, life at this time was not settled. The powers that be at the parent company back here in South Carolina decided that since I had gotten things straightened out with the accounting department in California, it was time to consolidate the California division’s accounting department with the rest of the company’s main accounting office here in South Carolina. So, here we go again. Moving back to South Carolina.

We moved back to South Carolina this week seven years ago. In California, we married. In California Elena accepted Christ as Her Savior. In California, we learned so much from Luke and Felisha about what it really means to be a Christ follower. It was all preparation for what has happened to us since we moved back to South Carolina. When I look back at the seven years that we have been here, we have grown so much under the leadership of our church and through our maturation as Christ followers. However, the time between may salvation in December 2001 and Elena’s move to California in August 2009, those years are all filled with tests and trials and God shedding me of my internal and external gods and idols. It was a time of eight years of testing and of failure and of victory and failure again and of victory again. That is why the way my life has been settled and stable for the last 8 years is not lost on me. I am in the still waters and in a time of blessing. It is a time that I appreciate it. It is a time that is oh so much more valuable to me because of the previous 8 years prior to the current 8 years.

It is this thought of there still being obstacles to overcome even when we are God’s chosen people that came to mind this morning as I read through Judges 3:1-6, for the second of three times that we will visit it. Let’s read it now once more:

3 These are the nations the Lord left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan 2 (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience): 3 the five rulers of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites living in the Lebanon mountains from Mount Baal Hermon to Lebo Hamath. 4 They were left to test the Israelites to see whether they would obey the Lord’s commands, which he had given their ancestors through Moses.

5 The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 6 They took their daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods.

In this passage, we see that it was the next generation’s job to finish the conquest of the land. There were many obstacles yet to be overcome in their new homeland. How they would handle these obstacles would be a test of their faith. Perhaps, God has left obstacles in your life – hostile people, difficult situations, baffling problems – to allow you to develop faith and obedience.

If anybody tells you that the skies will part and a halo will descend upon you when you accept Christ as Your Savior and you will never have any troubles ever again, let me tell you. It ain’t so. In a lot of ways our life gets harder. We are tested. We have a mark on our backs for Satan. God is also chisel away at us and removing all the worldliness about us through circumstances, events, people, and the action of the Holy Spirit in our souls. When I look back on those first eight years after salvation, it was probably the toughest, loneliest, and difficult stretch of my life. However, when I look back on the man that I was at the time of salvation, I am disgusted at his ugliness. And ten years from now, I will look back at the man that I am now and be disgusted at how spiritually immature that I am now by comparison to how I will be then. All of the circumstances that we encounter after salvation are not always good and they are there to hone us and craft us into the beings that God wants us to be. He gives us crises to mature us. We don’t care for it at the time but its part of the growing in Christ process. And, yes, He does give us seasons of peace and seasons of blessing when we are faithful in the hard times. I can attest to salvation bringing testing. I can attest to it being tough. I can attest to making it through it. I can attest to seasons of blessing.

If you are wondering why you accepted Christ as your Savior because your life has actually gotten worse. Let me remind you that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him. I am living proof of the process. Hang on. Hold on. Hold on to Jesus. He has a purpose for you in your post-salvation life.

Amen and Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen and Amen.