Posts Tagged ‘salvation’

Joshua 5:2-12 (Part 2 of 3)

Israel Reestablishes Covenant Ceremonies

Have you ever thought about your salvation and what it means to your life? How it changed the course of your life? We need to start celebrating our salvation like we do our birthdays. It is, in essence, our spiritual birthday and is as important as our chronological birthday. My chronological birthdays began at the day of my physical birth on August 25, 1962. My spiritual birthdays began December 23, 2001. I will be 16 years old, spiritually speaking, in December 2017. I need to not gloss over that day as I have for the past 15 anniversaries of that date. I barely notice it until I am reflecting on my salvation and it is usually for some reason always months after the date and I go “Oh man! I should have celebrated that in some way!” We need to celebrate our salvation dates with the due respect that we give the eternally less meaningful chronological birthdays. Our salvation dates should be celebrated with the same importance that give to chronological birthdays, our wedding anniversaries, significant year work anniversaries, class reunions, and so on.

 

For some there are the parting of waters that came on their salvation date. Their external world changed as much as their internal spirit did. For me, yes, I knew that I had changed in my heart. I looked at the world and at myself differently from that day that I accepted Christ as my Savior and Lord at the altar steps at Abundant Life Church in the Berea area of Greenville, SC that December morning.

 

However, the world outside my soul only slowly began to change. I began to slowly see that I had made my second wife my idol, my god. She knew the control that she had over me and exercised it when necessary for her. I would do whatever she asked of me, including basically ignoring my own kids. I had for the years since we had been married done only what was absolutely financially necessary for them, according to legal documents. But, just as bad, I had to not express love to my children like I was used to doing. Just as bad, I would hardly talk to them when my second wife or her children were around. I felt as though my second wife made me choose between her and her kids or my own kids. The consequences of choosing my kids over her and her children was always detrimental to my relationship with her. It was her or them. I more often than not chose her. I don’t know now if I had been a better man and stood my ground against those attitudes would it have made any difference. I wonder sometimes what would have happened if I had been less interested in making sure that I had access to sex and more interested in doing the right thing by my children during those years. Would it have hastened the divorce or would it have changed the course of the marriage? Since God was never really a part of that marriage, I tend to think that it would have hastened the divorce.

 

It was through my salvation that I began to see that my children were missing half of what they could have had. I began to see that they needed an active dad in their lives. I had abdicated this role to their stepdad. It wasn’t one of those OK things are going to be different after this kind of moments. But gradually I began to make choice to let me children know that they were important to me. With a kid in college, you can’t do just the basics for them anymore. There is more cost to them being away at college that just room and board and tuition. There is all this other stuff like car payments, dues for this, dues for that, books, game day weekends, clothes, and a host of other things that a child attending school full-time just can’t afford on their own. All of my assistance to my daughter was a showdown moment between my second wife and me that blew up our marriage. She thought that since my oldest daughter was 18 that it was time to cut her loose completely. That was the end. I knew that this was not of God. I could not stand for it anymore. I knew that I would be alone and without a steady woman in my life (my greatest fear up to that point), but it no longer mattered. I had to do the right thing by my child in college. That was the end of the marriage and the beginning of all the changes that my salvation has brought me.

 

When I look back on the second marriage with fondness for a moment, those fond memories are always crashed in by the reality that I was a puppet on a string. I was at the whim of my god or goddess as you might call her. I had made my second wife my god. I worshipped her figuratively and literally. I was so insecure without Christ as my Savior that I would do anything to keep that relationship alive. Anything! I lost my soul in that marriage. My salvation began the slow recovery and reclamation project for my soul. Who knows where I would be this day in 2017 if had continued to appease my goddess. I don’t blame her anymore for me trying to suck up to her the way I did. I made that bed myself. Where would I be and how stone cold would my soul be? How lost would I be? How would my relationship with my children be? So scary to think about.

 

It is in these reflective moments that I thank God for loneliness that came after. I thank God for learning that He was sufficient for my needs. I thank God that I no longer worship being in a relationship with a woman no matter how detrimental to me that it is. I thank God that He taught me that the world would not implode if I was not in a relationship. I thank God for the gradual changes that have brought me to this place that I am today. Because of my salvation, my life is so much better today than it was before my salvation. Things did not change overnight but when you look back over 16 years now, the changes that were not so perceptible at the time are now drastic in the cumulative. Sure, I know that trouble may come but I have a good life now that is immeasurably blessed. Great wife who is a believer. Great life. Great church family. It’s not all wine and roses every minute but I celebrate this life I have today. I stand on the mountain top after years in the valley. I celebrate God’s miracle in my life, my salvation.

 

That idea of celebrating God’s deliverance once they reached the Promised Land was poignant to me. It reminds us that we need to celebrate God’s miracles in our lives, his deliverance of us from death into life. Let’s read this passage for second time this morning with that in mind:

 

2 At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.” 3 So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath Haaraloth.[a]

 

4 Now this is why he did so: All those who came out of Egypt—all the men of military age—died in the wilderness on the way after leaving Egypt. 5 All the people that came out had been circumcised, but all the people born in the wilderness during the journey from Egypt had not. 6 The Israelites had moved about in the wilderness forty years until all the men who were of military age when they left Egypt had died, since they had not obeyed the Lord. For the Lord had sworn to them that they would not see the land he had solemnly promised their ancestors to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. 7 So he raised up their sons in their place, and these were the ones Joshua circumcised. They were still uncircumcised because they had not been circumcised on the way. 8 And after the whole nation had been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were healed.

 

9 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the place has been called Gilgal[b] to this day.

 

10 On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. 11 The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. 12 The manna stopped the day after[c] they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan.

 

In this passage, you will note that the Israelites celebrated Passover for the first time in the Promised Land. It was the only the third time that Passover had been celebrated. The first time, of course, was night before they left Egypt (when the angel of death passed over their houses because of the marking of the blood of the lamb on their doorways). The second time was at the foot of Mt. Sinai during the year that they were camped there. Now, they are celebrating it in the Promised Land, some 40 years after the first celebration. The celebration reminded the Israelites of God’s mighty miracles that had delivered them from Egypt. In Egypt, they had to celebrate in fear and in haste. Here they ate in celebration of God’s blessings and promises.

 

How do you celebrate your day of salvation? Do you mark it well? Do you celebrate it well? It is our second birth. From death in sin and its consequences to life anew in Jesus Christ. Nothing could be more important to celebrate. Remember your salvation day. Celebrate it. Mark that date. Celebrate it! Then, on that day you can tell others your salvation story, about your birth into new life in Jesus Christ. About how He delivered you from your own selfish destruction. How He set you up on dry ground. How He changed your life forever. How He set your foot on the Promised Land.

 

Amen and Amen.

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

Rahab Protects the Spies

I guess I am getting all 80’s nostalgic this week. This will be the second blog in a row where my opening includes a reference to a hit song from the 1980s. 80s music (which was really from like 1979-1992) was an awesome time for music – music that lives on today, some 20-30 years later. Music lives on when it tells a story that is common to our experience. The music of the 80s did that well. Today, that 80’s song reference is a song by Cyndi Lauper called “Money Changes Everything”. It was a gritty tune with heartfelt emotion from Cyndi. She belted the lyrics out with passion and volume. Always one of my favorite songs from the 80s. The chorus of the song went something like this:

 

Money changes everything

I said money, money changes everything

We think we know what we’re doin’

That don’t mean a thing

It’s all in the past now

Money changes everything

 

Today, I would like to usurp Cyndi’s chorus and change it up a bit for the subject that we will hit on today in this third and final visit to Joshua 2:1-24 before we move on the chapter 3. Here is how I would change the lyrics up:

 

Salvation changes everything

I said salvation, salvation, changes everything

We thought we knew what we were doin’

That don’t mean a thing

It’s all in the past now

Salvation changes everything

 

That is an awesome chorus change don’t you think, because it is so true. Salvation, Salvation changes everything.

 

Do you remember the day of your salvation? Do you remember that feeling that came over you? That moment when everything that seemed so foggy became so abundantly clear. That moment when you realized that you were, indeed, a sinner that was in need saving through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. He was no longer a dead radical philosopher that raged against the status quo but rather the Son of the Living God. He was no longer a prophet among prophets. He became God in the flesh to you. He was no longer one of the many ways to get to heaven. He became to you the Only Way. You cried out to God that you believed that Jesus was God visited upon us in the flesh. You cried out that you believed that He came to earth to give evidence to the existence of a mighty God. You cried out that you believed that He came to dwell among us to live the perfect life and to show us how to live according to God’s plan for our lives. You cried out that you believed that because He was God in the flesh that His death on the cross was not just the death of a political revolutionary but rather the permanent conclusion of the Old Testament sacrificial system in that He was the perfect, sinless sacrifice for the atonement of all sins, past, present and future. And because He is God in the flesh, He did actually arise from the grave so as to give us hope and victory over sin and death. All you have to do is say that you believe that with all your heart and you will be saved. That is the essence of salvation. Salvation is that you believe that there is a mighty God who sent His Son to die on a cross for your sins aplenty so that you can be made right through faith and grace with that mighty God.

 

Salvation is a miracle, plain and simple. We rail against God most of us for most of our lives. We dispute His existence. We downplay who Jesus is. We make out that the Bible is just literature and outdated literature at that. We make fun of all the Old Testament stuff and dismiss it without seeking the deeper meaning behind all the “weird stuff”. We throw away the Old Testament. We focus on just the love of Jesus as the benefactor/prophet that had some great things to say but that’s as far as we let it go. We make our own gods. We discount anything in the Bible that is in opposition to the way we want to live our lives. We discount the fact that Jesus said He is the only way to heaven, because that just can’t be. We make Jesus/Mohammed/Shiva/Buddha/Confucius all one guy. We make them the appearances of an all accepting God – if we believe in a Higher Power to begin with. We make the Bible out of date and antiquated when it is different from our sexual desires. We want to have sex with as many women as possible outside of marriage because sex is recreational to us and we want men/men and women/women relationships to be OK so we just rip those pages out of the Bible that don’t apply to our new way of thinking.

 

But on that day of salvation, it is the culmination of the power of the Holy Spirit working on a hard heart. Like our pastor of discipleship was saying the other day about his recent conversations with new attendees at our church (He asks each one why did you choose LifeSong and why did you come back again?). The common answer is that they don’t really know why. They just felt drawn to the church. It is that drawing of people closer to God and that leads to that sudden realization on the day of salvation that changes everything that came to mind this morning:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

In this passage, one of the things that strikes you is that Rahab recognized something that many Israelites did not – the God of heaven is the one true and only God. He is no ordinary run of the mill god. He is all powerful. The people of Jericho were afraid because they had heard the news of God’s extraordinary power in delivering the Israelites from captivity in Egypt and in defeating the armies across the Jordan River. Today, we can worship the same powerful, miracle-working God. He is powerful enough to save us from certain death as he did with Rahab.

 

Rahab had been hearing the stories of the exploits of this Israelite God. He was drawing her unto himself. He was pricking her soul. God knows when there is an opening in our darkened souls. He knows when we are ready to begin considering Him instead of rebelliously rejecting Him. She may have been wondering whether there was more to life than the life she had come to know – prostitution. In the ancient Middle East, a woman without a husband (either through his death or just not marrying) would have to rely on family members for support and shelter. If she had no family it often led to a destitute life and sometimes led these husband-less women to resort to prostitution. We don’t know much about her backstory if anything at all. But we do know that she was prostitute. We do know that she was aware of the presence of the living God, most likely because she was dissatisfied with the world of Jericho and the lot in life that it had given her. Jericho was an opulent town and had its own army. That’s rich! It was well fortified and the fortifications allowed the city to flourish. Here, Rahab is a prostitute. Watching opulent families walk by and having knowledge of the hypocrisy of the husbands that were her customers. She had to be fed up with her life as it was. That opening is where the Holy Spirit began intruiging her about the Israelites and their God. God then directed the spies to her house because God was already working on her. The spies were the confirmation that she needed.

 

if Rahab’s honesty didn’t win the spies’ trust, surely her next words did: “For the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below”. You heard the woman: “God is God!” A genuine profession of faith, just as the apostle Paul described centuries later: “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved”. Right then and there that night with the spies, Rahab accepted Christ as her Savior (since Jesus has eternally existed in the trinity with the Father and the Holy Spirit, then any who professed faith in God prior to Jesus’ dwelling on earth were professing faith in Jesus). Rahad had that moment of full clarity that we all have at the moment of salvation. Everything makes sense. Everything made sense to Rahab even though it meant leaving the life that she used to know behind. Her life would never be the same after this moment of salvation.

 

After this moment of salvation, she followed the order to leave a crimson rope on her window to her house so that she would be spared and anyone who was in her house. After the wall came tumbling down, Jericho was sacked and destroyed by the Israelites – save for Rahab and family. Her faith saved her. Her salvation led her to do what was against the grain of the rest of the Jerichoans. Her life as she knew it before her moment of salvation was over. She had a new family now, the people of God. One house remained standing. “Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her” (). Because of her faith, God saved Rahab in every sense of the word. The Israelites welcomed her into their camp, where a man named Salmon chose her for his bride. Rahab gave birth to a son, Boaz, who married a woman named Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David. And you know where that lineage leads – straight to Jesus Christ.

 

Transformed by God from harlot to heroine, Rahab is an inspiration for every one of us. You, too, can leave your past behind and walk forward in glorious grace, proclaiming to all who will listen, “God is God!” For Rahab, that moment of salvation changes everything. Old life left behind. New life ahead. A new life that will be used by the mighty God that we believe in to accomplish his redemptive plan. Step forward from your past into the newness of salvation and the life that comes after. Indeed, for Rahab, for you, and for me:

 

Salvation changes everything

I said salvation, salvation, changes everything

We thought we knew what we were doin’

That don’t mean a thing

It’s all in the past now

Salvation changes everything!

 

 

Amen and Amen.

DEUTERONOMY

Last Friday, Elena and I had to sign our names like at least 20 times when we closed on the purchase of our new home. We had to sign this document and that document. We had to sign the mortgage itself between us and the bank. We had to sign the deed and numerous other documents that defined what we could and could not do as it relates to the parties to the sale, the real estate agents, the lawyers, and the bank. It was all rather blindingly confusing and fast. Although the closing attorney tried to explain everything to us, it became a blur of documents to sign after a while. I am sure that all these documents are required because at some point in the history of real estate transactions did something to cause the need for each of these documents. It’s kind of like those warning labels on things. The warning label was required because some idiot caused the need for warning label. For example, you know those silica gel packs that you often find in shoes (what purpose they serve for new shoes I am not sure), they always have a warning written on them, “Do not eat”. I look at those gel packs and think, “why in the world would anybody want to eat that? That’s a stupid warning!” However, at some point, somebody must’ve tried to eat the silica gel packs, got sick, and sued the manufacturer of the shoes. We encounter many situations like that everywhere.

 

So, I assume that all these documents that we had to sign were to limit our ability to sue others, others’ ability to sue us, establish the rights and obligations of all the parties involved in the sale and also the rights and obligations of us and the financial institution that holds our mortgage. Most certainly, when it comes to the mortgage, most of the rights are given to the financial institution because they are the ones that are taking the biggest risk – lending us a six figure amount of money to purchase a home. The bank has the advantage in the mortgage. We are the ones that have to execute certain acts throughout the life of the mortgage to retain the right to continue owning our home. If we fail to execute those acts, the bank can foreclose on our home and kick us out of it and sell it off. Thus, we have to do what the bank says so that we can live in our home. If we do not satisfy the bank, the mortgage, a kind of covenant or contract between us and the bank, gives them the right to take our ownership away from us. The mortgage is definitely slanted in the bank’s favor. It is kind of like a treaty between a conquering nation and an conquered nation at the end of a war. It definitely gives all the advantages to one party over the other because they won the war. You have a victorious party that grants certain rights to the conquered and restricts others. It requires the conquered party to recognize the superiority of the victorious party in the relationship.

 

It was that idea of there being a superior party, the bank, over us, my wife and me, as it relates to the home and property that we just purchased. When it comes to that house we live in, we must recognize the bank as the superior party. They are the ones that loaned us the money. We are subject to the bank when it comes to the ownership of our home. The mortgage establishes that relationship and defines the bank as the superior party and it tells us what we can and can’t do financially and legally with regard to our home. It is that idea of a covenant between a superior party and an inferior party that comes through loud and clear as we step into our next book, Deuteronomy. Let’s take a quick overview today before we get started:

 

Overview of the Book of Deuteronomy

 

The genre of the book of Deuteronomy is not much different from that of Exodus. It is Narrative History and Law, although there is a Song from Moses just after he commissions Joshua. This song describes the History that the Israelites had experienced. Moses wrote Deuteronomy approximately 1407-1406 B.C. The key personalities are Moses and Joshua.

 

Moses wrote this book to remind the Israelites of what God had done and to remind them of what God expects of them. The name literally means “Second Law”. Moses gives “the Law” for the second time.

 

  • In chapters 1-4, Moses reviews some of the details of the past history of Israel such as the Exodus and the wandering in the wilderness. He then urges that they obey the Laws of God.

 

  • Then, in chapters 5-28 Moses restates the Ten Commandments to the Israelites. Moses explains the principles and instructions for living a Godly life as God’s chosen nation. These include how to love the Lord, laws of worship, laws regarding relationships (like divorce), and also the consequences and penalties if these laws are broken.

 

  • Chapters 29-30 there is a move to commit themselves, as a nation, and to stand apart unto God. This consists of not only knowing the many laws that God has commanded, but also obeying them and placing God first.

 

  • Finally, in chapter 31 through 34, we see the first change in leadership in Israel. Moses, the one who has been leading them the entire time, hands over his authority to Joshua, and commissions him. Moses blesses the tribes, which reminds us of Jacob blessing his sons almost 450 years earlier. In the last chapter, God shows Moses the promise land, although he cannot enter it, after this, Moses the servant of the Lord dies on Mt. Nebo.

 

The book takes almost the form of a contract between a superior nation (God) and an inferior, conquered nation (the people of Israel). The following outline represents a fairly widely held consensus of the shape of the book as a covenant document:

 

  • The preamble, which provides the setting in which the Great King presents the covenant text to the vassal ( 1:1-5 ).
  • The historical prologue, which recounts the past relations between the two contracting parties (1:6-4:49).
  • The general stipulations, which present the basic principles of expectation of behavior that underlie the relationship (5:1-11:32).
  • The specific stipulations, which provide interpretation or amplification of the general stipulations, usually in terms of actual cases or precise requirements (12:1-26:15).
  • The blessings and curses, which spell out the results of faithful adherence to or disobedience of the terms of the covenant (27:1- 28:68).
  • The witnesses, that is, persons or other entities to which appeal can be made as to the legality of the covenant instrument and to the commitments made by the contracting parties ( 30:19 ; 31:19; 32:1-43 ).

 

In light of the indisputable connection between form and function, it is safe to say that the concept of covenant lies at the center of the theology of Deuteronomy. Covenant, in turn, by its very definition demands at least three elements: the two contracting parties and the document that describes the purpose, nature, and requirements of the relationship. Thus the three major rubrics of the theology of Deuteronomy are Yahweh, the Great King and covenant initiator; Israel, the vassal and covenant recipient; and the book itself, the covenant vehicle, complete with the essentials of standard treaty documents.

Thus, the takeaway that I have after reading through all the summaries of Deuteronomy this morning and yesterday, as I was preparing for this blog, is that God is the sovereign king and we are his subjects. He has made covenant with us that establishes our relationship with Him that we might come into his presence through keeping his covenant requirements. He is a holy God and the Law is the way in which we are to be holy just like Him. Deuteronomy also shows us that it is impossible for us to keep the law 100% of the time for 100% of our lives. The covenant establishes the consequences of our failure to keep the Law.

 

Deuteronomy also reinforces the concept of grace in my mind. It reminds me of our need for Jesus. Deuteronomy points out to us that we are insufficient to maintain the Law perfectly all the time. Thus, Deuteronomy teaches that we are convicted by our inability to be perfect all the time. Just like with our mortgage, it does not matter how many years we pay our mortgage on time each month, if we fail to make a payment and continue in that delinquency, the bank can take our house away. It is the same way with God, it does not matter how many good deeds we do, if we fail to keep his law perfectly throughout all of our life, He will condemn us to hell. When we sin, we fail to keep the law. When we sin just one time (no matter how good we have been previously), we are done. God can come in and take our heavenly house away. We are done. We are convicted. We are delinquent on our mortgage with God.

 

Just as the bank does not want to go through the hassle of enforcing its rights under our mortgage agreement when we are delinquent, the bank will give us a grace period to catch up on that payment. In that situation, they have every right in the world to come down hard on us for missing a payment or paying late. The bank knows it and we know it. All parties know that they have the right to come down hard on delinquency. However, banks will give you time to cure the breach of the mortgage.

 

It is kind of like that with God. He has every right to come down hard on us and send us to hell based on the fact that we are totally incapable of keeping his laws. We are sinful. We have sinned. It makes us delinquents. We are convicted for having transgressed God’s law. It is evident to all parties and we know it ourselves. However, God gives us grace. The grace comes from Jesus Christ. He is the cure to our breach of God’s law. He makes us compliant with our mortgage with the superior party, God. He gets us back current with God. He cures our delinquency for us. It is through the grace of Jesus Christ that God does not enforce His covenant-given rights to condemn us. When God sees us after salvation (after we have taken advantage of grace), He sees the purity of Jesus. He does not see our delinquency. He treats like a bank treating us as if we have never made a late payment on our mortgage. He wipes off the delinquency off our eternal credit report. We are made whole.

 

Deuteronomy reminds us of the power of Jesus’ grace and that it is a gift to us and not something that we can do ourselves. We are sinful people deserving of punishment but He has given us, given us, grace through Jesus Christ.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 20:22-29

The Death of Aaron

Sometimes, we think that our life is magically going to get better when we accept Christ as our Savior and Lord. We hear stories of how people have turned their life around through Jesus. We want that too, don’t we? However, there are often things that come about that are consequences of our poor life choices and sinful ways that still are in motion when we accept Christ as our Savior and then there are things that just happen as part of living in a fallen world against which we are not exempt.

 

I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord in December 2001. In the months and years that followed, there was a lot of stuff that happened. In February 2002, my stepson, my wife’s oldest son, was killed in a car accident which altered the course of my second marriage. Although it drew my second wife and I closer together initially, it eventually began to widen the gap in our marriage because of the my kids vs. your kids basic flaw in our marriage. The seething jealousies of my kids vs. your kids that long been a problem that was ripping at the core of our marriage from the beginning, that is often so typical in second marriages. After her son’s death and after the initial closeness that it brought so as just to get through the traumatic event, she began seeing my oldest daughter as everything that she was missing with her son. My oldest daughter and her oldest son were only 4 months apart in age so they were in the same grade. Although Meghan began living with me full-time during her junior year, she continued going the same school that she went to as if still had still been living with her mother. Nonetheless, all the stuff that Meghan was going through at school in the second half of her junior year and her senior year (all after my wife’s son’s death) were all the same things that my stepson would have experienced if he had still been alive. Proms, high school ring ceremonies, summer getting ready for the senior year, ordering graduation regalia and invitations and announements, senior pictures, applying for colleges, visiting colleges, senior trips, final spring break vacation, graduation and graduation parties. These jealousies that had already existed for 9 years in the relationship became heightened after my stepson’s death. After Meghan went off to college, it got worse because it seemed as though my wife thought we no longer had any financial responsibilities to my oldest daughter. She would get outraged at any monies I had to spend on my daughter. Supporting a child in college is so much more than just tuition and books. It is a whole host of other expense that you have to spend. Rent, clothing, activities, all kinds of stuff, gas money, spending money, you name it. The jealousy and refusal to see that when a kid is in college they need as much or more support as when they were at home by my wife led me to hide my support for my child. As with all lies, they are found out eventually. This was the final straw in the marriage that was teetering over disaster from the beginning.

 

Although I was a Christian, I was a baby Christian and God had so much to show me about being one, there was things that I had to experience to grow up. Although I accepted Christ as my Savior, I was still a sinner (one saved by grace but yet still a sinner on my own merit). One of my sins that God had to deal with was the fact that I had made my second wife my god. I lived and found my value in life through her and how she felt about me. God set in motion the final conflict over my child where I had to choose between my god and Him, between my god and the right thing by my child. Continuing to live a life of zigging and zagging and not dealing with real issues in the marriage and satisfying my god or doing the right thing by my kids. Ultimately, I chose supporting my kids over ignoring their needs to keep peace in my house. We split up in August 2004 and there was so much rough ground over the next few years. Walking away from another house that I had purchased. Starting over again. Recovering from being addicted to a person, my second wife. Trying to figure out who I even was at this point in my life. New life that I didn’t really want. As Dickens wrote, “it was the best of times and it was the worst of times.” The death of my second marriage was a rollercoaster ride of emotions and changes. Although I was growing up in Christ, it was a such a painful experience and at the same time a great time of freedom that I had never experienced before (straight from my parent’s home to my first marriage, straight from my first marriage to my second). The hard times were peppered with experiencing life on my own for the first time. I look back on it fondly now that I am on the other side of it and remember the good times but when I sit down and really think about those years between the break up of my second marriage and meeting and falling in love with and marrying Elena, those were some of the loneliest and most lost feeling times of my life. Sure, there were some great times in there and I would take nothing for those experiences but yet at the same time it was a soul-wrenching time. There were stretches were I physically ached at the loneliness and sometimes just didn’t feel like getting out of bed, but you get out of bed and go about your life in a robotic manner just to get through it. There were times I would spend whole weekends alone. Going home lonely on Friday after work and meandering around my apartment for a whole weekend and emerging out the other side on Monday morning feeling even more lost and alone. It was a valley that I had to go through though. God was dealing with me and my past sins were playing themselves out in the consequences of my life.

 

It was that valley of life, peppered with small joys here and there, that I had to go through after the end of my second marriage that I thought of as I read our passage for this morning, Numbers 20:22-29, about the death of Aaron. Let’s read through it together right now:

 

22 The whole Israelite community set out from Kadesh and came to Mount Hor. 23 At Mount Hor, near the border of Edom, the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 24 “Aaron will be gathered to his people. He will not enter the land I give the Israelites, because both of you rebelled against my command at the waters of Meribah. 25 Get Aaron and his son Eleazar and take them up Mount Hor. 26 Remove Aaron’s garments and put them on his son Eleazar, for Aaron will be gathered to his people; he will die there.”

 

27 Moses did as the Lord commanded: They went up Mount Hor in the sight of the whole community. 28 Moses removed Aaron’s garments and put them on his son Eleazar. And Aaron died there on top of the mountain. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain, 29 and when the whole community learned that Aaron had died, all the Israelites mourned for him thirty days.

 

Here, in this passage, we see that Aaron died before entering the Promised Land. It was the consequence of his sin of rebellion against the Lord on numerous occasions. It got me to thinking about how the consequences of sin play out in our lives, even after we become Christ followers. There is no sudden clearing of the skies from cloudy to sunshine when we accept Christ as our Savior. There is no reboot of the computer or game system. There is no sudden pushing of the reset button and the game starts over. After we accept Christ as our Savior, life goes on as it did before. The things that were in motion before we came to Christ will continue to be in motion. The consequences of our lies, deceits, pride, arrogance and so on before we must Christ will continue to play themselves out after we meet Jesus on our Damascus Road.

 

Often times, our lives will actually get worse before they get better. Many Christ followers get disillusioned by this fact. However, if our salvation is a valid one and not just some spiritual high or spiritual warm fuzzy, then there is a purpose in it. Our lives often get worse before they get better because we are dealing with our sins and no longer trying to justify them and cover them up so that we can continue them. It is like riding a wave to the shore without a surf board. We will be beaten up and pounded and scraped and cut until the sea spits out on the shore. We must deal with the very real consequences of our failures to be obedient to the Lord. They will play themselves out. It is not because God is mean but rather simply the consequences of stopping trying to outrun our sins and their consequences. It is like the physics of the universe (that God created). There is cause and effect and we must eventually deal with the consequences of a lifetime of sin. However, I am here to tell you that the purpose in it from God’s perspective is to sharpen us and to make us realize that we are totally dependent on Him.

 

I am also here to tell you that, though we must deal with the consequences of our sin, we will come out the other side. We will be spit out on the beach. Life does get better. The sun will come out. We come out the other side fully realizing that God has seen us through the storm. It is only through the sending of the Holy Spirit by Jesus Christ when we accept Him as Savior and Lord that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. He gives us hope. He gives us perseverance. He gives us resolve. He gives us vision to see what God is doing in our lives. We know that God is allowing us to see that we need Him every hour of every day. And, yet, He gives us hope of arriving at the shore at the Promised Land.

 

Amen and Amen.

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

Moses Intercedes for the People

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 11:16-30 (Part 1 of 3)

Moses Choses Seventy Leaders

“They say it’s your birthday! It’s my birthday, too! We’re gonna have a good time!” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8MYCPB7a8ks). It’s classic song by the Beatles from back in the day! And then there’s always, “Happy birthday, Mr. President”, a classic impromptu birthday wish from Marilyn Monroe to John F. Kennedy at his birthday celebration (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqolSvoWNck). I guess by this point you can deduce that today is my birthday. Thank you. Thank you. To all the little people that made this all happen. Thank you! Thank you! Yes, today, as of 7:10am EDT, it will be the 54th anniversary of my birth. These fifty-four years have flown by in a flash particularly that last 31 and 4 months since the birth of my first child. I just thought life was fast before that, but since that time, I just don’t know what happened to all those years. The speed of the last 31 years is the speed of the first 23 years on mega-steroids. It’s like the difference between the speed of the Shuttle Enterprise vs. the speed of Starship Enterprise at Warp 9. I was telling someone this past weekend that some want to grow old gracefully but I am not going down without a fight. I am going down kicking and screaming. I will not go quietly into the night. I am still such a kid inside and I am screaming on the inside that I am not this 54 year old exterior that you see. I feel like I still belong in the youth ministry and not in the over-50 ministry. I don’t want to take bus rides to quilting conventions. I don’t want to play bingo on Friday nights. I don’t want to ever think, “I can’t do that because I getting too old” (well, only if it’s convenient). Going down scratching, clawing, and screaming!

 

But it is on our birthdays that I think that we can have an opportunity to sit down and reflect on our lives. In my 54 years, I have seen much. I have been through much. I have survived being a Methodist preacher’s kid and the insecurities that it brought into my life, moving every couple of years and starting over. I have survived two failed marriages. I have survived losing a job twice during recessions. I have survived moving to Charlotte after 20 plus years living in Greenville. I have survived living in California by myself for a time, across the country from my girlfriend (who is now my wife). I have survived creating order out of chaos at my current job on two different occasions (when I first took the job it was a mess there, and then when we went through the Oracle conversion) and I have survived the intercompany politics of Corporate vs. Subsidiary that could of cost me my job a couple of years ago. All of that bad stuff over the years includes times of great joy as well. The births of my two daughters, Meghan and Taylor, and watching them grow into young women. The mighty struggles and the too infrequent joys of parenting stepsons (Trey, Josh, and Dillon) during my second marriage. And to now for the last six years being a stepdad to an adult child who is just as goofy as I am, Michelle. I have seen much heartache in my life, more than I ever want to revisit. However, at the same time, when I look back on my life, I can reflect that it has been equally blessed and even the hard times were preludes to good ones. Even the hard times were used by God to mold me and move me into the place that I am now. God has performed miracles in many instances in my life to keep me from destroying myself so that I can be in this place that I am right now.

 

He is not finished with me yet. I just feel that. I am not done. He has much more in store for me and I think that I will ultimately die doing what I love – serving the Lord through the talents that He gave me. He has blessed me indeed. I have sailed through the troubled waters of my earlier life and am now in a season of blessing and a season of effectiveness. I have a wonderful wife who would follow me anywhere to serve the Lord. I have three wonderful daughters, Meghan, Michelle, and Taylor, who make my life complete. I have a great job at Fujikura America, Inc. that has enabled Elena and me to pay off all the debts of my past and allowed us to begin to be more generous than we ever have been. I have been lucky enough to start following my true calling of going into ministry through my part-time work at my church. Hopefully, one day soon, the Lord will take all this life of heartaches, joys, triumphs, sorrows, mistakes, getting-it-right, wrong turns, correct turns, ups, downs, failed marriages, successful final marriages, good jobs, bad jobs, all of it to serve Him in a full-time way that uses it all. He will have prepared me for it through the roads that he has led me down and through roads that He has saved me from. When I look back, it has been amazing ride so far. When you look back, you can really see the hand of God in your life. When you look back, you can see what he has saved you from. You can see the handiwork of God in not only what He saved you from but what He steered you toward. These are miracles. When I look back at my life, I could whine and complain for what I have been through (about half of which was self-imposed and the other half imposed on me by others), or I can focus on the miraculous way that God has provided for me and guided me to the point where I am today – where I actually see God’s hand daily in my life and live a life of eternal thanksgiving for it when I have time to reflect upon it.

 

In the mundane, routine of living life as it appears in front of you, it is sometimes difficult to see the miracles of God in our lives. We get so tied up in the routine and the mundane that we do not see the hand of God in anything in our lives. It is that need to step back and see what God has done that came to mind when I read through today’s passage, Numbers 11:16-30, today for the first time of the three times we will visit this passage over the next few days:

 

16 The Lord said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with you. 17 I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone.

 

18 “Tell the people: ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow, when you will eat meat. The Lord heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the Lord will give you meat, and you will eat it. 19 You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, 20 but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it—because you have rejected the Lord, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?”’”

 

21 But Moses said, “Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, ‘I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!’ 22 Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?”

 

23 The Lord answered Moses, “Is the Lord’s arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you.”

 

24 So Moses went out and told the people what the Lord had said. He brought together seventy of their elders and had them stand around the tent. 25 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took some of the power of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied—but did not do so again.

 

26 However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. 27 A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

 

28 Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!”

 

29 But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” 30 Then Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.

 

Moses had witnessed God’s power in spectacular miracles, yet, at this time, he questioned God’s ability to feed these people meat every day for a month. After all he had seen God do? Wow! If even Moses could doubt the power of God, how much easier is it for us to do so. When we begin to rely on our own understanding, we are in danger of ignoring the power of God in our lives. By remember how He has delivered us from many dangers, toils and snares, we can be sure that we are not short changing the power of God. How strong is God? It is easy to trust God when his miracles are right before us, but after a while, in the mundaneness of life, His strength may appear to diminish in our lives. God doesn’t change but our view of Him often does. The monotony of day to day life lulls us into forgetting how powerful God can be. As Moses would come to learn, God’s strength is always there and always available to us.

 

Let us take time to reflect on what God has done in our lives. Look back and see what He has delivered you from and delivered you too. Think about how He has saved you from so many things and how He has guided you into the life you lead now. Thanksgiving should pour out of us daily for what He has done in our lives and how He should have written us off a long time ago. Yet, He loved each one of us, individually, so much that He provided each one of us, individually, a way to be brought back home to Him through Jesus Christ. Look back at your life. God was there even when you did not see Him. That He cares so much for us even when we do not recognize that He is there. That is the greatest miracle, the greatest love, of all. Take time today to see what miracles God has done in your life. Sing praises of thanksgiving. Love God for what He has done. Act like it’s your birthday! Reflect!

 

Duh dun na duh dun na uh uh….it’s my birthday too!

 

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 9:1-14 (Part 5)

The Second Passover

I recently read an article, Lesbian Bishop Wants to Remove Church Crosses So Muslims ‘Won’t Be Offended’, at www.christianpost.com. The idea behind the removal of the crosses in the seaport area where this bishop presides was so as to not offend the multicultural seafarers that enter the port city of Freeport. This is what Christianity has become – a female gay bishop proclaiming that we should not offend people of other faiths with symbols of our faith. There was once a song by Aaron Tippin back in the whose lyrics included the words, “if you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything!” Never have these words been more true when a leader in the Christian church suggests that we water down our faith to the point that we no longer hold that the symbol of our faith, the cross, as a non-negotiable aspect of who we are. This bishop defended her position by saying we will not negotiate the tenets of our faith but just the symbols of the faith. From the mere presence of this bishop in the position that she is in makes it appear that we have already begun negotiating the faith away to suit the world’s desires. The mere existence of this woman in her position and with her characteristics means that we have negotiated away certain aspects of the faith that are offensive to those who desire to be a part of the faith. When we begin negotiating away the symbol of the cross. It is just another watering down of the nature of Christianity. In twenty centuries, we have become a religion and not a faith. We have gone from being willing to die for our faith twenty centuries ago to not wanting to offend anyone with our faith.

 

If we have already ripped out certain parts of the Bible to accommodate this bishop, why then not tear down the crosses! Why not say that Jesus is no longer the only way to the Father. Just rip those words of Jesus, right out the Bible. It’s all negotiable! Jesus being the only way to God is offensive in the multi-variant world in which we live. That other people who have belief in something other than Jesus are doomed to hell is offensive and, well, it takes the pressure off too. If all roads lead to heaven, we as Christians do not have then the desperate need to evangelize not only the non-believer but the believers of all the other religions of the world. That’s too much work! Let’s just say it’s OK that if you believe in something other than Jesus you will get to heaven. If it God’s Word is timeless and eternal then why are we negotiating away the faith in ways that make us more palatable to the culture around us. Have we become so enamored with our culture that we have watered down our faith to make it acceptable to the culture. What would our Christian forefathers think? They died because they would not deny Christ for the culture. They willingly gave up their freedom or even their life rather than denounce or turn their back on Jesus Christ. And now it has come to the point that we suggest taking down the crosses from our churches in coastal Sweden so as not offend. We are so afraid that we might have be house churches again, sneaking from one place to the next to share the gospel, so afraid that we might be underground once again that we are stripping our faith of that which makes it our faith.

 

The fact that the gospel by its very nature is offensive to the world culture, regardless of time period, and how we have forgotten that in today’s world is what the Holy Spirit put on my heart this morning when I read through this passage one final time before we move on to the next. Let’s read through the passage, Numbers 9:1-14, for the fifth and final time this morning and for this morning, let’s concentrate on vv. 13-14 today:

 

 

9 The Lord spoke to Moses in the Desert of Sinai in the first month of the second year after they came out of Egypt. He said, 2 “Have the Israelites celebrate the Passover at the appointed time. 3 Celebrate it at the appointed time, at twilight on the fourteenth day of this month, in accordance with all its rules and regulations.”

 

4 So Moses told the Israelites to celebrate the Passover, 5 and they did so in the Desert of Sinai at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. The Israelites did everything just as the Lord commanded Moses.

 

6 But some of them could not celebrate the Passover on that day because they were ceremonially unclean on account of a dead body. So they came to Moses and Aaron that same day 7 and said to Moses, “We have become unclean because of a dead body, but why should we be kept from presenting the Lord’s offering with the other Israelites at the appointed time?”

 

8 Moses answered them, “Wait until I find out what the Lord commands concerning you.”

 

9 Then the Lord said to Moses, 10 “Tell the Israelites: ‘When any of you or your descendants are unclean because of a dead body or are away on a journey, they are still to celebrate the Lord’s Passover, 11 but they are to do it on the fourteenth day of the second month at twilight. They are to eat the lamb, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 12 They must not leave any of it till morning or break any of its bones. When they celebrate the Passover, they must follow all the regulations. 13 But if anyone who is ceremonially clean and not on a journey fails to celebrate the Passover, they must be cut off from their people for not presenting the Lord’s offering at the appointed time. They will bear the consequences of their sin.

 

14 “‘A foreigner residing among you is also to celebrate the Lord’s Passover in accordance with its rules and regulations. You must have the same regulations for both the foreigner and the native-born.’”

 

Here, in this passage, God, first, says that His own people would suffer judgment for not obeying His command for the Passover rites. He also said that foreigners living among the Israelites must follow the same prescribed regulations. This principle designed for foreigners was not to beat them over the head with the ways of God’s own people but it meant that if you wanted to be a part of God’s people there were non-negotiables of the faith. In the same way, we should not cover up or water down our beliefs as Christians in today’s world to make our message more palatable to the world around us.

 

As we compromise our faith, we lose it wondrous offensiveness and we lose its unfathomable urgency. The gospel is offensive because it is hard on sin. We think, “The gospel is really offensive. It could be better received if we weren’t so hard on sin.” The trouble with this is when we pull on that string we unravel the whole thing! Think about it, what is at the heart of the offense of the gospel? It was Paul that said the gospel is folly to those who do not believe in Jesus Christ as the one and only Son of God (1 Corinthians 1:18) and He said that almost 2,000 years ago.

 

What is the folly? What is the foolishness? It is the cross. So, if in effort to remove the offense we would unwittingly remove the substance! There are sharp edges to this gospel. There is blood, death, wrath, sin, greed, and anger. You can’t sand that down without losing it all. Paul continued to preach Christ and him crucified (even though he knew it was perceived as folly) precisely because he knew that this same (foolish) gospel was also the saving gospel. It is the offensive nature of the gospel that we cannot be good enough and we cannot negotiate away our sins by doing more good than bad. We are screwed! We are damned before God because of our first sin much less all the others that we commit. That’s offensive. We cannot fix it ourselves. We cannot do enough good! That’s offensive. We need intervention from one person and only one person, Jesus Christ. That’s offensive.

 

That we cannot offset our sin nature by good works and by self-improvement and self-actualization is offensive. That we cannot negotiate this sin away because the culture says it is OK and acceptable is offensive. That there is only one way to fix it is offensive. That there are not multiple ways to fix it is offensive. Jesus says we are sinners all of us! But he offers us reconciliation to Father through Him and Him alone. This is a huge point. If we think of the gospel and our mission in the world as Jesus coming to bring us the birthday present for our moral awesomeness then it is not the gospel. It is by grace that we are saved. Grace is a gift. Salvation is from sin, Satan, and death. Anybody can pat us on the back for doing good but it is only Jesus Christ than can save us from our sins.

 

When we water down the gospel to the point that we take the cross down off a church then we have ceased to be the church. We are a culture club of self-improvement. When we become a culturally palatable self-improvement club, we eliminate the very offensive core of the gospel and the very high burden that we have as Christians.

 

The offensive core of the gospel is that we are all sinners in the eyes of God and that we have not hope on our own. We have only one hope and that is to believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God who came to die for sins in our place and take the punishment that we deserve for our sins. And that it is through His resurrection that we have eternal victory over our sins and can exist in the presence of God forever through Him and Him alone. The fact that only Jesus can save us always places a high burden on us to take the offensive message to everyone we know and do so in love. It is urgent that we share that there is only one way and it is urgent that we do so in a loving way because it is not because we are superior that we share this message. We are the condemned who have been set free. We are the sin alcoholics talking to other sin alcholics and teaching them about the one and only way we got sober. We are the beggars telling other beggars where we found food.

 

When we water down the gospel, when we negotiate away the faith to make our faith more palatable to the world that does not wish to see itself as sinners, when we start editing God’s Word to meet the needs of the culture, we lose it all. We lose our message. We have no message. We have no mission. We have no church.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 9:1-14 (Part 1)

The Second Passover

As we move on from our nine part review of Numbers 8:5-26, we move into the one of the final preparations before the Israelites leave Mt. Sinai and head for the Promised Land. God asked them to remember the night before they left Egypt and hold a second Passover feast. It reminds me of what we do when we share our testimony.

 

Every so often in the small group that my wife and I lead, particularly when a new couple comes into our group, I ask the whole group to publicly share their personal journey to salvation and what their lives have been like since coming to know Jesus Christ as their Savior. It is a way for us to make connections with each other. Sometimes when new people enter a church small group, they may think that nobody in the group has a past of which they are not particularly proud, or that they do not have problems in their lives right now. Sharing our stories is a way to level the playing field between those of us who have been in our small group for a couple of years and those who have just entered.

 

The sharing of our stories helps us in two ways. First, it allows the new members of our group to get to know the people in our life group. They get to see that we all have warts and imperfections. It is a way to make them feel at home. There is nothing worse than a group of church people being together acting as if they have perfect lives and that nothing is wrong. The new folks get to see we are just as screwed up as they are. There’s no better icebreaker than that! To find out that people you are going to potentially hangout with for the next few years are just like you – Christ followers who are just trying to make sense of their world and follow Christ as we are doing it. Second, it allows us, those who have had to share our stories within our group several times, to continue to mature our stories. Each time we share our stories, it allows us to see again what God has done in our lives. Each time, God allows us to remember more details about our story of our run-up to the cross and our life since. Each time we share, we flesh out more details that are important to our story. Each time we share, we may bring out or emphasize different things than the last time so that our story becomes more complete. Each time we share, we learn more about our own walk with Jesus Christ and how it truly has changed us from the person we used to be. Each time we share, the Holy Spirit will inevitably make us realize something new about what God has done for us. Each time we share our story, the picture becomes more complete. Each time we share our story, it makes it easier for us to recount our story. Each time we share our story, it helps us remember and solidify the history of what God has done. We can never let ourselves forget what our life was like before the cross, what was happening in our life right around our moment of salvation, and what our life has been like since our salvation. It is important to know and remember our salvation history. It is important to remember what God has done.

 

Passover was the celebration at which God had prescribed for the Jews to celebrate their liberation from slavery in Egypt at the hand of God. There is no other way for them to have escaped Egypt except by the power of God Himself. Passover is the way they remembered these momentous events. God is saying here in Numbers 9:1-14 that they must remember. They must recount and celebrate and imitate the night before their freedom from Egypt. The second Passover was the beginning of this annual remembrance so that Israel would never forget what God had done for them.

 

Let’s read through the passage, Numbers 9:1-14, for the first time this morning and for this morning, let’s concentrate on vv. 1-5:

 

 

9 The Lord spoke to Moses in the Desert of Sinai in the first month of the second year after they came out of Egypt. He said, 2 “Have the Israelites celebrate the Passover at the appointed time. 3 Celebrate it at the appointed time, at twilight on the fourteenth day of this month, in accordance with all its rules and regulations.”

 

4 So Moses told the Israelites to celebrate the Passover, 5 and they did so in the Desert of Sinai at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. The Israelites did everything just as the Lord commanded Moses.

 

6 But some of them could not celebrate the Passover on that day because they were ceremonially unclean on account of a dead body. So they came to Moses and Aaron that same day 7 and said to Moses, “We have become unclean because of a dead body, but why should we be kept from presenting the Lord’s offering with the other Israelites at the appointed time?”

 

8 Moses answered them, “Wait until I find out what the Lord commands concerning you.”

 

9 Then the Lord said to Moses, 10 “Tell the Israelites: ‘When any of you or your descendants are unclean because of a dead body or are away on a journey, they are still to celebrate the Lord’s Passover, 11 but they are to do it on the fourteenth day of the second month at twilight. They are to eat the lamb, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 12 They must not leave any of it till morning or break any of its bones. When they celebrate the Passover, they must follow all the regulations. 13 But if anyone who is ceremonially clean and not on a journey fails to celebrate the Passover, they must be cut off from their people for not presenting the Lord’s offering at the appointed time. They will bear the consequences of their sin.

 

14 “‘A foreigner residing among you is also to celebrate the Lord’s Passover in accordance with its rules and regulations. You must have the same regulations for both the foreigner and the native-born.’”

 

The Passover celebration was to celebrate what God had done. It was to help God’s people to give God glory. It was to remind them (because we humans have short memories when it comes to what God has done for us) that it was not by their own power but the miracles of God that they escaped Egypt. It was to remind them of where they had been and where they were going. It was to keep the story of God’s deliverance fresh in their mind. It is remembrance. It is history. It is glory to God. Sometimes, we need to sit back and remember what God has done.

 

In the busy-ness of our lives where we get all wrapped up in ourselves and our little universes and our little first world problems, we need reminding. When the internet is down or the power goes off for a couple of hours, we need reminding. When we have to juggle work schedules and our kids’ dance recitals or football games or cheer competitions, we need reminding. When we have a fight over what show we are going to watch or what restaurant we are going to, we need reminding. When we stress over our first world luxuries as if they are necessities, we need reminding. When we obsess over our investments, we need reminding. When we see the choice between Hillary and Donald as the worst possible thing ever, we need reminding. When we blast people on Facebook for not living according to our own standards, we need reminding. When we are tempted to sin, we need reminding. When we think we have arrived, we need reminding. When church leadership becomes more about checking off things on a to-do list of assignments than it is about giving God glory and reaching people for Christ, we need reminding. When we get so wrapped up in our own problems and our own abilities to solve them, we need reminding. Even for us who know Christ as our Savior for many years, we need to be reminded of just what Christ has done in our lives. We need to be reminded of the disaster that was our lives before we met Him. We need to be reminded of how we cast all pride in ourselves aside and got down on our knees and asked Jesus Christ to come into our lives and take it over (we need to remember that feeling of terror followed by complete release). We need to be reminded how God is continually transforming our lives since that point. We need to be reminded how He has truly changed us. In some areas and then in some areas where His change in us has been swift and painful. In some areas it has been slow and painful. In some areas, His change in us has been welcome relief. We need to remember that at the moment of salvation we are not the person we are now thanks to God! We mature in Christ. We are honed and chiseled by God into more Christ-likeness with each passing day. By sharing our story, we can see how He is maturing us. How the unholy things that we might have accepted as OK and justifiable in our early Christian walk now are things that we are revolted by now. We need reminding of where we were and where we are now. God’s miracles in our lives are so evident when we think about it. That’s why we remember. That’s why we need reminding.

 

Passover was to be the same thing to the Israelites. It was to remind them of God’s power in their lives. It was to remind of God’s deliverance from the dark days in Egypt. As we know from the grumblings of the Israelite people, they surely needed reminding. We smugly read how the Israelites seemingly quickly forgot the great things that the Lord had done for them and think “those ungrateful little #%&*’s” But, are we not the same way. We get all wrapped in how things are not. We get all wrapped up in our stuff that seems so important. We get wrapped up in things that don’t really matter. We whine at God for why we are in the position we are in. We need reminding. Let us recount our salvation stories often. That exercise puts things into perspective. Instead of being ungrateful little #%&*’s, we will see the glory of God in a changed life. We will see thanksgiving for what He has done for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ. We will be gracious because of the grace shown us through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit that makes us more like Christ each day. We will give glory to the God of all things that is responsible for it all. That’s why we remember. Because we need reminding!

 

Amen and Amen.

Matthew 20:1-16
Jesus Tells the Parable of the Vineyard Workers
When I think of this parable, I kind of modernize it to some of the experiences I have had in life. Growing up as a Methodist preacher’s kid, you move a lot. New towns. New places. New churches. Have to start over again. Growing up I was pretty good basketball player because the countless hours that my brother and I would spend back then in the backyard playing basketball. My brother was always like 3 to 4 inches taller than me and still is. So I became a pretty good outside shooter in basketball. I could never drive inside on my brother because he would make it so hard for me to get a shot off over him. So I got pretty good at jump shots from outside. It served me well growing up. Always a good shooter for whatever team I played on. So this parable is kind of like that for me.

It’s kind of like moving to a new town and you are a really good basketball player but when you go try out for the youth team or high school team in the new town that there is already an established team in place and no one really knows your talent so they don’t consider you as a starter because you haven’t grown up in the town. You are an outsider. You are not part of the original crew. So, you do what you can. You play when you can. You know you’ve got the skills to be a starter but you just do what you can when you can. You contribute in whatever way you can. One day, you will get the chance to be on the court full-time. On that day, it will not matter how long you’ve been on the court full time. It will matter then only that you are on the court. When the time comes, you will be on the court. It will not matter if you have been playing with your teammates since you were kids, it will matter that you are on the court and in the game. Regardless of how long you’ve been playing the game, when you are on the court none of that matters. You are in the game and on the court. In that light, let’s read Matthew 20:1-16 together:

 

20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius[a] for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

 

This parable teaches a whopping big lesson in what it means to be a Christian. It does not matter when you come to the game of salvation, it only matters that you get to be on the court. There is no difference to the Lord that you came to the game later than others, it only matters that you came to game. When you boil it down to the barest essence, none of us deserve to be in the vineyard of God no matter how long we have been there. One minute of salvation is the same as 50 years of salvation. We are all just sinners saved by grace.

To continue with the basketball analogy, some of us got on the court late in the game. But you know, the box scores will show that we were in the game. Our minutes played may not be the same as those who were in the game from the tip-off, but it will show that we were in the game. It is the same with salvation. One minute saved is the same as someone who is in their late forties and has been saved since they were seven years old. Sure, there are maturity issues that are different between the one who has been saved since seven years old and the one who has been saved for seven minutes. Sure, the long-time Christian may be more mature and can discern that which is of God and that which is not better than the seven minute Christian, but the only difference between the two is the fact that the Holy Spirit has been at work longer in the more mature Christian than the infant Christian. Both the infant Christian and the mature Christian are constantly in need of grace. We are all sinners in need of grace. We all sin. Mature Christians are better at identifying sin as sin but we still sin all of us. The one thing that we all have in common is our need for grace. We all need the covering of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for us. On our own, we deserve nothing whether we have just walked out of a life of sin or have been saved for years and years. What matters is that we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. We should celebrate those who come to Christ in the eleventh hour as much or more than we celebrate those who have been saved for decades. We should encourage those who have been saved for minutes to join right in there with those who have been saved for years working in the vineyard. Our wage will be the same no matter how long we have been saved. When we pass on into eternity, it will matter not how long that we have been saved, it will matter only that we are. Same wage no matter how long you have been working the vineyard. We are all to celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ saved us from an eternity separated from God. We celebrate the victory of living in the presence of God for eternity. We celebrate being there.

There are those who think that because they have been in church and have been saved for years and years that there is some hierarchy to this thing. You’ve only been saved for two years. I’ve been saved for twenty. You’ve only been saved for fifteen years. I’ve been saved for fifty. Some of us get jealous when we see those who have been saved less time than us move into positions of visibility within a church and think that they don’t deserve it because we have been here longer. We should rather celebrate that they are using their talents that God has given them rather than being jealous of them. We should seek our own ways of using our talents for the glory of God rather than being jealous of others because they are younger in the faith. Also, we should not hold those back who are following their calling just because they have not been in this church business as long as we have. Just because a person hasn’t been working for Christ as long as we have should not cause us to hold others back from expressing their faith through service to the Lord in the talents that God has called them to use. Just because someone got into the game later than we did doesn’t mean we should deny them the ball and only pass to those who have been in the game as long as we have. We should seek out those new in the faith and develop their skills so that they can be future leaders. If a new believer has the skills of hospitality, we should push them toward that. If a newer believer has the skills of preaching, we should encourage and push them toward that. If a new believer has skills that makes him or her great with young people and children, we should encourage them to do that. If a new believer has great skills of writing about God’s Word, we should encourage that. We should help the new believer identify their giftedness and push and encourage and challenge them toward that. We should never hold them back from using their giftedness just because they are younger in the faith than we are. I think we all have been in churches where there was a hierarchy of service. Older Christians did not trust new Christians to handle responsible positions in the church. We’ve all been there and done that. Let us not be that church. Let us be the church that encourages the evangelist to be the evangelist. Let us encourage the teacher to be the teacher. Let’s encourage the prophets to be prophets. Let’s encourage the apostles to be apostles. Let’s encourage the pastors to be pastors. Let us encourage all to follow their individual callings and push and challenge them. Let us not pigeon hole people into areas of service just because of the newness of their salvation. The body of Christ is edified by all of us being encouraged to follow their giftedness in the faith as Paul instructs us in Ephesians 4:11-16. Let us never be a church that makes man-made decisions as to who can do what and when they can do it. Help us to be a church that pushes our people to become what God has called them to be. Let us challenge our faith babies to step up and step out in faith. Let us provide our faith babies with the same opportunities that use their giftedness that we were given. No matter if you have been at this for 20 years and they have been at it for 2 years. Encourage. Challenge. Get them on the court and into the game.

Father, help us to be a church that expands by multiplication of the gifts that we have all been given. Help us to not smother opportunities for those new in the faith to express their God-given talents. Help us to support, nuture, guide, challenge, and lead those younger in the faith into opportunities to use their talents. Help us to recognize talent and use it in our local bodies. Help us to encourage that talent and train that talent. Help us to celebrate and not hold it back. Help us to unleash the floodgates of talented Christ followers so that the world is flooded with those who seek to glorify you in a world that needs it desperately. The harvest is great and the workers are too few for us to hold new believers back just because they have not been here as long as us. Help us also to remember that that the only difference between a new believer and us is time/maturity. We both still need grace because we both still sin. We both need Jesus every day. We both are sinners covered in his grace. It does not matter than they have only been in the game a short time. We both need grace. Amen and Amen.

Matthew 16:13-20 (Part 2)
Peter Says Jesus Is the Messiah

Who do you say that I am? This is the question about Jesus Christ that we must answer. It seems on this side of eternity that you answer to the question does not have any impact at all. However, when it comes time to meet our Maker or when Jesus returns to wrap things up here on earth, the answer has eternal implications. Peter’s reply to the question is that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. It is upon this profession of faith that Jesus will build his church. The faith of Peter and the faith of the disciples were the building blocks of what we know now as Christianity. On their faith profession that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, Jesus built his church. After his ascension, their faith created a firestorm of faith that spread quickly through the Roman Empire. So impactful these guys were, the Christian faith became the official religion of the Roman Empire within 3 centuries of Jesus’ ascension.

It reminds you that decisions that we make about Jesus are eternally impactful, but there are also decisions that we make here on earth that have far-reaching implications. I think of my own life in this regard. There were a series of pivotal events during 1976-1980 which forged the course of my future more than any others. Outside of my accepting Christ as my Savior in December 2000, the pivotal decisions of Travelers Rest on the future of my life cannot be understated. Even the timing of my acceptance of Christ as my Savior is, in part, affected by 1976-80. What if my dad had not been moved by the SC Methodist Church from Anderson to Travelers Rest in the summer of 1976? What would my life look like now? It was in Travelers Rest that met my first wife, married her, had children with her. What would my life look like now if the Methodist Church had moved us to another town? It boggles the mind to think about it at times. It makes you wonder if you would have had the same heartaches, pains, choices, results, etc. had we moved to another town. I loved my situation in Anderson when I was 13 going on 14 and I got yanked out of it for a new town. What would life have been like? Another pivotal decision was about college a few years later. Because of my relationship with Lisa, who would become my first wife, I chose to stay in Travelers Rest and go to nearby Furman University for college. What if I had chosen to go to one of the other two colleges that had given me acceptance letters, Clemson University and University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV)? What if I had decided to go to Clemson, just an hour away from home, but far enough away where I would have had to live on campus or in an apartment in Clemson. How would that decision have changed my life? I am certain Lisa and I would not have gotten married after my freshman year in college. I am even more certain that we probably would have drifted apart as I would have begun immersing myself in the college life. What if I had the guts to have decided to venture out to UNLV, across the continent from Travelers Rest? What would my life be like now? These thoughts boggle the mind sometimes. The what if’s of life. It is amazing how there are those pressure points in life where a decision not only affects your immediate future but has a profound impact on the rest of your life. The decisions that I made between 1976 and 1980 still affect me to this day. Everything that has happened since that time has been a result of, a reaction to, or the consequences of that time frame. What if I had chosen Clemson instead of Furman? What if I had chosen UNLV over Furman? Where would I be today? Would I be sitting here in a house in Duncan, SC at age 53 writing this blog? Our lives right now are the culmination of the major decisions of life and in small part to the little decisions as well, too. Where we are right now can be traced back to a few pivotal events.

Just as we have a few pivotal events in our own lives, this moment in Caesarea Philippi is a pivotal moment for Peter and the disciples. Everything hinges on this moment. Peter and the disciples probably looked back at this moment as the moment that changed everything. It changed the course of their lives. No, they were not just hanging out with the coolest, newest, latest prophet to come along in Judaism, they were hanging out with Jesus Christ, the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of the living God. That’s a whole lot different from hanging out with the latest rage in prophet-dom. Pivotal events that change everything. Pivotal events that send us down a road chosen that cannot be undone. No turning back after such events. The choice to choose one road over another often has long-ranging, overarching impact. So, today we look at what the results Peter’s revelation did for the disciples and what our same decision about Jesus Christ does for us.

 
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter,[a] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[b] will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be[c] bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be[d] loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

 
Here Peter and the disciples are in a pagan town hanging out with their mentor and teacher, Jesus Christ. Up to now, they have seen a lot of things and witnessed miracles and listened to Jesus mesmerize crowds with His eloquence and with His understanding of Scripture. But til now, they have been on the sidelines. They have not been confronted with the head-on question from Jesus that they have surely pondered in their mind but have refused to answer to themselves. Here, Jesus forces the issue. What say you about Jesus? He asks them point blank, “who do you say that I am?”. Not what other people say. What do you say? It is Peter’s response that profoundly changes everything for the disciples. Peter says it. He verbalizes it. He says what the others were afraid to say. He says that Jesus is the Son of the living God, the Messiah. It is from this point forward (with a whole bunch of mistakes and errors along the way) that these guys changed the world. It is these bumbling, clueless fools who become the foundation of the church of Jesus Christ. It is this faith statement by this one man and subsequently but these other men upon which Jesus built his church and continues to build it today. It is through this faith statement by Peter than Jesus grants Peter and the disciples the authority to build His church on earth after He returns to heaven. It is from this point that they will begin to understand who Jesus is and why things happened the way they did. It is from this faith statement that they were willing to die for the sake of Jesus Christ. The gates of hell could stop them from living a life of faith in Jesus Christ and made them willing to die some gruesome deaths to expand the kingdom of God. Pivotal moment. Road chosen. Life changed forever. Each one of these guys I bet when sitting around campfires years later pointed back to this moment as being the one that changed everything.

It is the same for you and for me. When we see Jesus as just one of many options, just another in a long line of prophets, it does not really change anything. We are still in control. We can pick and choose, as we said yesterday, from what we want from Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Confuscianism, and Christianity among others. It is our menu driven spirituality where we are in control. Jesus is just another prophet to us. He is just a radical rabbi, a political revolutionary, a great philosopher, an accepter of all people and behaviors. That way we don’t really have to address the issue of who He is when we make Him just one of the boys, one of the greats in spiritual history. But He will ask you at some point in your life or when He returns in His glory, “who do YOU say that I am?” That’s the question. That’s the one question that changes everything. We will have to answer to Him one day. He is God in the flesh and won’t a lot of people be surprised when they find out that this thing was for real! It takes faith to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. It changes everything. When we finally see Jesus as the Savior that He is, He sends the Holy Spirit to live in us. Through the Holy Spirit we learn of the sins that we commit that grieve the heart of God. We submit to His authority and begin turning away from our sins one by one as we mature through the Holy Spirit. We are not perfect. We are works in progress. But the decision to see Jesus as the One and Only Messiah, the Son of the one and only True God opens our eyes. We see Him as having died for our sins on the cross so as to reconcile us the Father in heaven. A Father in heaven that by His nature cannot allow sin and imperfection to be in His presence which then counts us out because we are stained by our first sin and any sins after that. We need rescue and that comes in the form of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God. We see that without Jesus’ sacrifice that we are lost in sin. Without his covering, we are ugly, stained, sinful beings. When we see Jesus as who He says He is, we see that we are no longer in control. We see that we depend on his grace and not our effort. It is the most pivotal moment in our lives. It changes everything. Nothing is the same after that moment of salvation, that moment when we proclaim Jesus to be our Savior and Lord, that moment when we proclaim Him to be the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

Just as the decisions of Travelers Rest from 1976-1980 are the pivotal juncture in history upon which everything after it in my life hinges and just as Peter admission of Jesus’ identity is the moment at which everything after it hinges for him and the disciples, so it is in our lives when we finally answer the question that Jesus asks us, “Who do you say that I am?” Everything hinges on that moment and how you answer that one simple question.

Amen and Amen.