Posts Tagged ‘sovereignty of God’

1 Samuel 15:10-23 (Part 4 of 4)
The Lord Rejects Saul

This morning, after reading through the passage at hand, 1 Samuel 15:10-23, we see how Saul rationalized away his rebellion against God’s commands, I tried to think about something else but the controversial subject on Capitol Hill recently about the legislation to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy was the unescapable thing that pressed into my soul. I knew that there was to be a vote here this month about it from news feeds on social media. And according to the website of the New York Times, that vote occurred on Monday. I spent yesterday struggling with the similarity between Saul’s rationalization of his failure to obey God’s command concerning the Amalekites and the controversial issue of our time, abortion. The Times reported,

“The Senate rejected a bill on Monday to ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, a largely symbolic vote aimed at forcing vulnerable Democrats to take a stand that could hurt their prospects for re-election in states won by President Trump. By a vote of 51 to 46, the measure fell well short of the 60-vote threshold required for the Senate to break a Democratic filibuster. The outcome was not a surprise, and the vote fell mostly along party lines.”

This vote effectively kills the late term abortion issue at the federal level for another election cycle. At the state level, there are a mixed bag of reactions by the states to the issue with bans on late term about in around 20 or so states. Because of this mixed bag, many are pushing for a federal law.

Of course the issue of abortion is a hot-button issue altogether for our society. It is an unavoidable issue for Christians as well. Late term abortion, early term abortion, day after pills, they are all issues that the church often finds itself square in the middle of controversy. It is one of those issues that we must respond to when confronted with it. It is simply an issue where we may find ourselves at odds with mainstream culture.

It is the cry of many liberal activists that abortion should be legal so as to prevent women from having to carry fetuses that are the result of rape or incest. However, less than 1% of all abortions are the result of those heinous crimes. Therefore, over 99% of all abortions are because the pregnancy is simply inconvenient and the baby unwanted. Many in the culture cloak abortion in terms of what almost amounts to certain inalienable rights of human beings. They call it reproductive rights. They call it the right to choose. Many in the culture call it a woman’s right to control her own vagina. They even march on Washington with outfits that are in the form of the vulva of the female vagina and rail at the nation of men that they see as controlling their “reproductive rights.”

If 99% of abortions are simply a form of birth control, we can dress it up with fancy legal terms like reproductive rights but really it is about having sex with whomever we want, whenever we want, and have a fallback plan if our birth control does not work. If we sweep away the rhetoric and the legal jargon, the bottom line is that abortion is our culture’s failsafe backstop for our culture’s changing moral view on sex. Sex is now a given in dating relationships. Sex is a recreation sport that is part of the dating landscape. Extramarital affairs are commonplace. Our culture glorifies blatant in your face sexuality and “did you sleep with him yet or her yet are the common questions asked. Having sex by at least the second or third date is expected in our culture. Our young girls are brought with oversexualized idols such Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears and others who just about show us their junk on stage. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a prudish type. I think women are God’s ultimate creation and they can be sexy just by wearing only showing an appropriate amount of their female figure. Miley Cyrus twirking on stage is just raw, ugly, leaving nothing to the imagination oversexualization. But that’s our culture, sex is no longer a sacred gift from God, it is a amateur athletic sport these days. Abortion, when you boil it down, and strip away the fallacy of the preponderance of rape and incest, abortion, is simply the culture’s backstop for our lowered moral values about sex. Abortion is not some high minded right of women. It is simply birth control. If you add in the abortions performed because the baby is defective or deformed in some way, that percentage only rises to 4% in any given average year. So these arguments for pro-choice come to the right to abort for convenience’s sake.

So, what does the Bible say about abortion. Does it speak to the issue? First, we must clarify a few things. Some who call themselves “evangelicals” argue that since the New Testament does not directly address the matter, we should not be dogmatic about it. They say that it is a “difficult moral issue,” where we need to allow room to differ and not impose our personal views on others. Many evangelical pastors refrain from speaking on the subject because it is controversial and potentially divisive. And many pastors dodge it because they have drifted from the Bible as the source of absolute moral truth.

Christian pollster George Barna recently reported that only half of the country’s Protestant pastors have a biblical worldview, which he defined as believing that absolute moral truth exists, that it is based upon the Bible, and having a biblical view on six core beliefs (the accuracy of biblical teaching, the sinless nature of Jesus, the literal existence of Satan, the omnipotence and omniscience of God, salvation by grace alone, and the personal responsibility to evangelize). Southern Baptist pastors ranked highest, with 71 percent holding to a biblical worldview. Among other Baptist pastors, it fell to only 57 percent. Other denominations ranked much lower. I believe that the Bible gives us God’s absolute moral standards that apply to every culture and every age. Furthermore, the Bible warns that God will judge every person based on His righteous standards (Acts 17:31; Rev. 20:11-15). We cannot plead ignorance as an excuse for disobedience or apathy (Prov. 24:11-12). When we make the Bible relativistic instead of a source of absolute moral truth that universal and timeless, we can then begin to mold the Bible into what we want it to say to fit the time and the age in which we live rather than the other way around.

 

That’s the thing I thought of this morning as I read through 1 Samuel 15:10-23 for the fourth of four blogs on this passage. That thing was the fact that Saul just couldn’t help himself it seems. He would relativize and rationalize how his behavior was within some strained boundary of God’s commands. He would come up with some academic gymnastics of sorts to demonstrate how his behavior was consistent with God’s command (like a slick lawyer defending a criminal who was caught red handed in a crime). Let’s read the passage now and then we will get back to the similarities between the pro-choice arguments and the rationalizations of Saul in just about every instance where he had clearly disobeyed God:

10 Then the Lord said to Samuel, 11 “I am sorry that I ever made Saul king, for he has not been loyal to me and has refused to obey my command.” Samuel was so deeply moved when he heard this that he cried out to the Lord all night.

12 Early the next morning Samuel went to find Saul. Someone told him, “Saul went to the town of Carmel to set up a monument to himself; then he went on to Gilgal.”

13 When Samuel finally found him, Saul greeted him cheerfully. “May the Lord bless you,” he said. “I have carried out the Lord’s command!”

14 “Then what is all the bleating of sheep and goats and the lowing of cattle I hear?” Samuel demanded.

15 “It’s true that the army spared the best of the sheep, goats, and cattle,” Saul admitted. “But they are going to sacrifice them to the Lord your God. We have destroyed everything else.”

16 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! Listen to what the Lord told me last night!”

“What did he tell you?” Saul asked.

17 And Samuel told him, “Although you may think little of yourself, are you not the leader of the tribes of Israel? The Lord has anointed you king of Israel. 18 And the Lord sent you on a mission and told you, ‘Go and completely destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, until they are all dead.’ 19 Why haven’t you obeyed the Lord? Why did you rush for the plunder and do what was evil in the Lord’s sight?”

20 “But I did obey the Lord,” Saul insisted. “I carried out the mission he gave me. I brought back King Agag, but I destroyed everyone else. 21 Then my troops brought in the best of the sheep, goats, cattle, and plunder to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.”

22 But Samuel replied,

“What is more pleasing to the Lord:
your burnt offerings and sacrifices
or your obedience to his voice?
Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice,
and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.
23
Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft,
and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.
So because you have rejected the command of the Lord,
he has rejected you as king.”

In this passage, we see that rebellion and stubbornness are serious sins. They involve far more than being independent and strong minded. Scripture equates them with witchcraft and idolatry, sins worthy of death (Exodus 22:18, Leviticus 20:6, Deuteronomy 13:12-15, Deut. 18:10, and Micah 5:10-14). Saul became rebellious and stubborn so it is little wonder that God finally rejected him and took away his kingdom. Rebellion against God is perhaps the most serious sin of all because a person who rebels closes the door to forgiveness and restoration with God. The sad part with Saul is that he was always trying to minimize his disobedience, put a positive spin on it, and twist God’s commands to his own advantage so as to support his selfish desires. That is where I see the similarities in Saul’s behavior in this passage to the pro-choice argument when compared to God’s Word.

First, we have to establish some groundwork. Some who call themselves “evangelicals” argue that since the Bible, or at least the New Testament, does not directly address the matter of abortion, we should avoid the argument. They say that it is a “difficult moral issue,” where we need to allow room to differ and not impose our personal views on others. Many evangelical pastors refrain from speaking on the subject because it is controversial and potentially divisive. And many pastors dodge it because they have drifted from the Bible as the source of absolute moral truth.

Christian pollster George Barna recently reported that only half of the country’s Protestant pastors have a biblical worldview, which he defined as believing that absolute moral truth exists, that it is based upon the Bible, and having a biblical view on six core beliefs (the accuracy of biblical teaching, the sinless nature of Jesus, the literal existence of Satan, the omnipotence and omniscience of God, salvation by grace alone, and the personal responsibility to evangelize). Surprisingly, most denominations are drifting away from this worldview so as to be “relevant” to the culture. Only 71% of Baptists adhere completely to a biblical worldview and other denominations come up percentages below that mark.

I believe that the Bible gives us God’s absolute moral standards that apply to every culture and every age. Furthermore, the Bible warns that God will judge every person based on His righteous standards (Acts 17:31; Rev. 20:11-15). We cannot plead ignorance as an excuse for disobedience or apathy (Prov. 24:11-12). God holds us accountable to the standards of His Word, whether we want to believe that or not. Saying that there is no absolute moral truth that is timeless and ageless established by the Creator and wired into our DNA does not make it go away just because we don’t want to believe it!

Thus, what the Bible, inspired by the Creator himself, says about the sanctity of life must be true eternally and agelessly regardless of whether we have cast off the truths of the Bible or not. Being on a plane that is about to crash does not become any less of a plane that is about to crash by ignoring the fact that it is about to crash or saying to yourself that it is not about to crash. That is where the argument of pro-choice seems to be to me. Before we look at what the Bible says about abortion, let me briefly comment on what abortion is. Abortion is the extraction or expulsion of the immature human fetus from the mother’s womb with the intent to end the life of that fetus prior to natural birth. Fetus is a perfectly good medical term, as long as you remember that it refers to a developing human baby. But you will never hear abortion advocates speak of it as a baby or child. Sometimes they even call it the “product of conception,” or a piece of tissue!

First, the Bible says that human life is unique and we are created in His own image. even the most ardent evolutionist behaviorally affirms that human life is distinct from animal life. Imagine Mr. Evolutionist driving along when he encounters a squirrel in the road, still writhing from being hit by a car. He slams on his brakes, jumps out of his car, and frantically dials 911 on his cell phone. “I’d like to report an injured squirrel! If the paramedics get here quickly, they may be able to save him!” But, alas, they are too late! The man sits by the squirrel corpse, sobbing, until the mortuary arrives. He will never forget this tragic scene. Ludicrous? Yes, but change the squirrel to a human baby and that scene would be truly horrific. Why? Because we all recognize that people are distinct from animals. The reason, according to the Bible, is that people are created in God’s image; animals are not. In the pro-choice argument, we thus equate the human fetus as if it were an indiscriminate animal or worse yet, property. What it boils down to is that which is not life is property. When life is considered property then you can do with it what you please. We have the right to enjoy property as we wish. If a person is not considered a person, then what are they? Our nation once saw negroes as not better than the swing on your front porch – to do with what you pleased. As property they had no rights. No more than a lamppost has rights in the court of law. Under Roe v. Wade, a fetus has no legal standing in the court of law. A fetus is not considered a person who has the whole avail of privileges guaranteed citizens under the laws and constitution of our country. Fetuses have the same lack of constitutional rights as negroes prior to the long history of constitutional amendments and laws that won their rightful place beside other persons of our country. Under the reckoning of Roe v. Wade, it had the same impact of the Dred Scott decision of the same court, the Supreme Court of our land. The academic gymnastics of the pro-choice movement requires that you do not think of a fetus as a developing human being. It must be considered an expendible animal or property like a chair on the front porch.

Second, the Bible forbids the shedding of innocent blood. The Bible clearly commands, “You shall not murder” (Exod. 20:13). The Bible does not forbid all killing, such as in capital punishment by the government, national defense, or personal defense. But murder is forbidden. The Bible uses the phrase “innocent blood” about 20 times, and always condemns shedding innocent blood. God chastised the Jews for shedding innocent blood when they sacrificed their children to the idols of Canaan (Ps. 106:38). As John Piper argues, “Surely the blood of the unborn is as innocent as any blood that flows in the world” (Brothers, We are Not Professionals [Broadman & Holman], p;. 222).

Third, pre-natal human life is fully human and thus precious to God. God superintends life in the womb (Ps. 139:13-16). David is affirming in poetic language that God superintended his formation in the womb (also, Job 10:8-12). The Bible repeatedly affirms that God’s providence governs everything from the weather (Ps. 148:8; Job 37:6-13), to animals’ food and behavior (Ps. 104:27-29; Job 38:39-41; Jonah 1:17; 2:10), to seemingly random events, such as the rolling of dice (Prov. 16:33). Surely if God governs these relatively minor things, then He also governs the formation of people in the womb. The Lord tells Moses, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Exod. 4:11). So even birth defects, which science attributes to freak occurrences in nature, are under God’s direct superintendence for His sovereign purposes!

Fourth, the Bible affirms the distinctiveness of individuals in the womb, thus showing that they are fully human. Jacob and Esau were distinct individuals in the womb (Gen. 25:23; Rom. 9:11-12). Samson’s mother was not to drink wine, because her son was to be a Nazirite, who would abstain from alcohol (Judges 13:3-5). Jeremiah and Paul both acknowledged that God formed them in the womb and knew them by name (Jer. 1:5; Gal. 1:15). Isaiah 49:1, 5 affirms the same thing about Messiah.

John the Baptist recognized Jesus while both were still in the womb (Luke 1:35-36, 39-44)! This is an amazing text! Elizabeth was in her sixth month of pregnancy when Mary conceived Jesus by the Holy Spirit. Mary went to visit Elizabeth before John was born. Thus Elizabeth would have been in her last trimester, while Mary was in her first trimester. Yet John recognized Jesus in those early months of Mary’s pregnancy! I think that this is the strongest passage that a baby in the womb in the first trimester is a person created in God’s image. We are not free to take the life of such a child just because it is not convenient to have a baby!

Fifth, to view babies as inconvenient to the point of killing them is to violate Jesus’ view of children. In Luke 18:15-17, people were bringing their babies to Jesus so that He could touch them. The disciples rebuked the parents. Jesus had better things to do than to bless babies! It was a great inconvenience! But Jesus rebuked the disciples and welcomed the children. The Greek word for infant in Luke 18:15 is the same word Luke uses for the infant in Elizabeth’s womb (1:41, 44). God shows His great love for us by calling us His children (1 John 3:1). Surely, we should have the same attitude as Jesus towards our children from the time of conception onwards!

Sixth, to kill babies in the womb in an attempt to avoid suffering is to make ourselves gods and to prevent God’s sovereign purposes from being played out in our lives or the lives of the unborn children. To abort because having a child would cause emotional or economic duress wrestles away God’s sovereignty and makes us the determiner of the future value of a human life. To argue that it is better to kill a deformed child in the womb than to allow him to live is an affront to the thousands of people born with severe handicaps, but who live meaningful and productive lives. It is an affront to the many families that love and care for such children. On rare occasions, there may be the difficult dilemma of performing an abortion to spare the mother’s life. But even then, the goal should be to preserve the lives of both the mother and the child, if possible. To abort even a potentially healthy human life is simply saying that there could be no purpose in the life force given by God to that unborn multiplying and forming set of cells that become a fetus that becomes a child. Who are we, as humans with our knowledge limitations as to the future of a child’s life, to abort what God gave the spark of life to in a mother’s womb. That’s simply taking God’s sovereignty unto ourselves.

In conclusion, there is just a great amount of academic gymnastics you have to play to make the Bible support the pro-choice arguments. If we are believers in Jesus Christ, we must affirm the value of human life from the time of conception as the sovereign will of God. To do anything else is to be like King Saul who twisted the truth to fit his circumstances and desires. Do we shun those who have abortions or support abortion rights as we walk our Christian walk? Of course not! Do we bomb abortion clinics? Of course not! Do we appear as angry protesting mobs or even peaceful mobs at abortion clinics? I don’t think so!

Do we love those who are considering abortion, yes! Do we counsel them privately one on one about what God says about abortion and the value of each and every human life, yes! Do we help those women who have had abortions who inevitably are emotionally tormented by that decision, yes! We love them back to life. We tell them of God’s great grace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. We help them every step of the way one on one. We love them. We cannot change or minimize the sins of the past but we sure can demonstrate to them that we are all sinners in need of grace. Each of us has sins that condemn us just as taking of an innocent life in the womb is a sin. We all fall short of the glory of God. We all need forgiveness. We wrap our arms around those who have had abortions and love them back to restoration in God’s love. Further, as Christ followers, we should invest ourselves in those who choose to have their children even if they were born out of wedlock. We disciple them to move toward relationships that are lasting and meaningful with godly men. We do not kick them to the curb because they decided to keep a child. We help them with their children. And those who have decided to keep their child who has a birth defect or a mental challenge, we especially need to support and celebrate their courage and we stand in the gap with them. We love them, help them, care for them and their child. That’s where grace, love, and the value of human life intersect.

Amen and Amen.

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1 Samuel 2:1-11 (Part 3 of 3)
Hannah’s Prayer of Praise

In the deep dark days of our lives, we wonder if we are going to make it through it, whatever that may be. Each of our valleys are unique to us. We all have them. If you don’t have those deep, dark valleys in life, then, most likely you are not really living. We all encounter low points in our lives where we find it difficult to put one foot in front of the other. Sometimes, we have multiple bad things to happen to us in succession. Sometimes, we have multiple bad things going on at the same time. It is at these times that we wonder if we are going to make it. It is at these times that we may just want to stay in bed for days on end with the lights off the drapes drawn and the bedroom door closed. Those times where you just want to sleep so you don’t have to think about the dark hour of life that you find yourself in. There are days in life where the darkness, the trouble, the hurt, the loss that you can sometimes feel makes it difficult for you to even talk to people. There are those times where you feel less than everybody else because you have this loss, this hurt, this pain in your life that won’t go away. There are times where you feel like you have a horn sticking out of your head and everybody is looking at you as if you are freak or something. There are times in our lives where you are so painfully aware of your loneliness you feel like people can see inside you and see how worthless that you feel. It is like that dream where your dream starts and you are walking from the parking lot to the office and you don’t realize til you are walking to your desk that you are in your pajamas still and people are making fun of you. Or your dream starts and you are walking somewhere in public and all you have on is your underwear and everybody is gawking and pointing at you. That’s how you feel sometimes when you are going through a rough patch in your life.

Although I am living on the mountaintop or at least a mesa in my life right now where things are generally as good as they have ever been in my life, there were times in my life where I can identify with the above paragraph. It was not written fancifully. It was not written from imagination. It was written from real feelings that I have had in my life. There have been stretches in my life where I have had to literally force myself out of bed in the mornings and go to work. There were times in my life where I hated the end of the work day because I no longer had something to divert my emotional attention away from the dark, deep pain of loneliness and hurt. I have had times in my life where I would not leave my apartment from the time that I got home from work on Friday until it was time to go back to work on Monday and in between that Friday and Monday all I wanted to do was sleep but couldn’t. Or I would sleep all day and then could not sleep at night. Therefore, if you are going through a dark pit right now, please know that I can identify with what you are going through. These descriptions are real. I can still feel the pain of those times in my life right now as I write these words. I can taste, smell, see and sense the hardness of those times as I sit here and remember. Those memories are vivid and when I write about them. I can drift back and see and remember those times as if I was back in them. I know your pain of loneliness, of hurt, of pain, of worthlessness, of wondering what the point of it all is, of wandering why I was born, of wondering who the hell cares, of wondering when is this pain going to end, of wondering when I am going to again be like the normal people outside the doors of my apartment, of feeling like I had two heads anytime I walked out my door. You know those feelings right now. I knew them on more than one occasion in my life. I have often written about them here. I know your pain.

I know that it sounds trite and non-soothing at this moment where you are at your darkest hour but I will say it because it is true, “This too shall pass!” Thank God, God saw fit to see me through those dark times even when I thought he hated me or was out to get me or that He was punishing me somehow. Even in the darkest hours of my life, there was always that sliver of hope however tiny it was – that things would get better. That kept my eyes blinking. That kept my heart beating. That kept my feet going one in front of the other. That kept me moving even when I didn’t feel like moving. That sliver of hope however faint is the Holy Spirit telling us to hang in there. It is in these dark times, where that sliver of hope is the only thing that we have to hold on to is the very thing that pulls us through. It is the very thing that makes us appreciate that God is sovereign. It is the very thing that makes us realize just who God is. We may not realize it until we start emerging from the pit of darkness and pain that it was God that was there. It was God that was the sliver of hope. It was God that was actually helping you breathe in the worst moment of your life. It was Him. He loves you. He is keeping you alive right now. Keep breathing. Keep breathing. Keep breathing.

With that idea in mind let us 1 Samuel 2:1-11 now for the last time before we move on to the next passage:

2 Then Hannah prayed:

“My heart rejoices in the Lord!
The Lord has made me strong.[a]
Now I have an answer for my enemies;
I rejoice because you rescued me.
2
No one is holy like the Lord!
There is no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.

3
“Stop acting so proud and haughty!
Don’t speak with such arrogance!
For the Lord is a God who knows what you have done;
he will judge your actions.
4
The bow of the mighty is now broken,
and those who stumbled are now strong.
5
Those who were well fed are now starving,
and those who were starving are now full.
The childless woman now has seven children,
and the woman with many children wastes away.
6
The Lord gives both death and life;
he brings some down to the grave[b] but raises others up.
7
The Lord makes some poor and others rich;
he brings some down and lifts others up.
8
He lifts the poor from the dust
and the needy from the garbage dump.
He sets them among princes,
placing them in seats of honor.
For all the earth is the Lord’s,
and he has set the world in order.

9
“He will protect his faithful ones,
but the wicked will disappear in darkness.
No one will succeed by strength alone.
10
Those who fight against the Lord will be shattered.
He thunders against them from heaven;
the Lord judges throughout the earth.
He gives power to his king;
he increases the strength[c] of his anointed one.”

11 Then Elkanah returned home to Ramah without Samuel. And the boy served the Lord by assisting Eli the priest.

In this passage, we see that it is easy for us sometimes to forget that God is in control. We may wonder if He is at all. For others, it is the darkest hour of their lives and and the darkest hour seems to be lasting forever. For some, and Hannah can identify with it, and I can identify with it, it is just hard to even breathe right now because the pain of life is so real that you can physically taste it. For some, whatever is going on in your life, you are just having trouble getting out of bed in the morning. You are wondering what the purpose of life is. You are wondering why you are so lonely, so depressed, so in pain, and so wanting to be with people but yet feeling alone and scared in a crowd. You are wondering if this dark night will ever end. I know. I have been there. I cry tears for you right now.

However, in this passage, Hannah reminds us that no matter how remote God may seem at times to the point that you cry from you innermost being, He is still there. Hold on to that small sliver of hope that your time of pain and loneliness and hurt will end. It will. I promise you. It was the same for Hannah. But she saw God as a solid rock, the One who knows what we do, sovereign over the affairs of all people, and the Supreme Judge who administers the Perfect and Final Justice. Remembering God’s sovereign control helps us remember that He is our sliver of hope in desperate times. Keep breathing. Keep stepping. Keep getting out of bed. He is there. He is the thing that is keeping you alive. He is keeping you alive for a purpose.

It is from our darkest times, that we learn to cling to hope and faith in the sovereignty of God. Hold on to it. Let it help you breath. He will bring you through the valley of darkness. I promise you. It may not look like what you wanted it to look like before the valley. But your survival of the dark times will be your testimony to the faithfulness of God. It will also make your truly, truly appreciate the mesas and the mountaintop periods of your life. Hang on. Hold on. Breathe. God is still there. He wants you to cling to His hand and draw close unto Him. He will bring you out of the pit and set up upon solid ground. That’s the sliver of hope. That’s what gets us through. God is there. He is with you. I promise. I know!

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 22:1-9

The Eastern Tribes Go Home

I apologize for missing a daily post yesterday. However, Elena and I are currently in the middle of spending four days and three nights in a cabin in the mountains above Pigeon Forge, TN. It is about a 3 ½ hour ride from our home in Lyman, SC. Eastern Tennessee is a mountainous region at the southern tip of the Appalachian Mountain chain. This area of the Appalachian chain is known, of course, as the Great Smoky Mountains. Because of the height and frequency of the mountains here, they get this bluish smoky hue to them. And our mini-vacation up here has been a surprisingly, amazing spiritual experience that was unexpected when I booked the cabin about six weeks ago. Sometimes, we just need to stop the hamster wheel and get off and just catch our breath.

 

All of this time here was God-ordained and God-enforced. There are several reasons that I say that. First, before we left home, my wife, the wonderfully in-touch with God spiritual woman that she is, asked me to come up with a devotional that we could do together as a couple while we had this time alone away from it all. Second, there is just the sheer beauty and majestic of the Smoky Mountains. Third, we chose on Thursday not to do any sightseeing and just enjoy the cabin – not just a place to leave our stuff while we were off sightseeing and then just come back to the cabin and sleep.

 

To talk about the first thing which is my wife’s request that we do a devotional together while we were out of town together. Because of busy schedules back home and all the things that we are into back there in Lyman through church, my secular job, and through my doctoral program studies, we honestly only have time to do our individual Bible studies (my blog each morning and Elena having devotional time via text with her gal pals). Then, it’s off to our individual days – my job, Elena with community outreach ministries and administrative help at the church and her duties as a housewife at our home. Then, its back home for time to chat for a little while. Then, it’s me down to the cellar of our house to work out lifting weights and aerobic exercises in an attempt to reduce the weight I carry around that is over and above my ideal weight. It’s Elena cooking up one of her wonderful dinners that, in part, has put the weight on me! Just kidding. Then, it’s me off to my study to do my daily ration of reading for this semester of my doctor of ministry program. Then, it’s Elena to clean up the pots, pans, and dishes from dinner and then settle on the couch to watch TV as I study. Then, it’s me back in the living room with Elena to watch about an hour of TV together before it’s time to go to bed. Rinse and repeat. The cycle begins again the next day. Often our weekends are jampacked with things to do, including an occasional visit to see our almost 1 year old granddaughter and to visit my daughter and son-in-law. Life is just busy right now. Though I am not complaining about that, it just is. We thrive on our ability to still be fully active and engaged in a busy lifestyle. We know that it will come to an end someday because we are at that age where we are watching our parents being debilitated by the ravages of aging.

 

So, this flippant idea of getting away not to our favorite place (a beach anywhere, any place) but to a mountain retreat was unique. Then, add to that my wife yearned for us to have devotional time together as a couple made this trip even more unique. We don’t have time for that usually. It was an important request. I think it was a God-ordained request. The initial problem that I had as the husband in our relationship was what to pick as a devotional for us to do together as a couple. The Lord put it on my heart for us to do an examination of the Lord’s Prayer. When we first started leading a small group about five years ago, we started with a study of the Gospel of Matthew. During that process, I had put together an analysis of the Lord’s Prayer. So, God put it on my heart to pull it back out for my and Elena’s devotional time together while are here. We have spent the last two mornings going over the Lord’s Prayer. What we must remember as I had learned five years ago is that what we call the Lord’s Prayer is really not a prayer in and of itself. It is Jesus’ instructions to us on how we should pray when we pray. Breaking down the Lord’s Prayer into 8 phrases and really studying them is a real eye-opener. So many times, we recite the Lord’s Prayer without thinking as it has often become this robotic thing we say without even thinking about the words. Breaking it down into its phrases will really teach you a lot about the honor, respect, humility and dependence upon God with which we should approach our Father when we pray:

 

  1. Our Father
  2. Who Art In Heaven
  3. Hallowed by Thy Name
  4. Thy Kingdom Come
  5. Thy Will Be Done On Earth as it is in Heaven
  6. Give Us This Day our Daily Bread
  7. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us
  8. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.

 

We really had some vibrant discussions around these eight phrases in the Lord’s Prayer and we walked today remembering how we should approach God (first three phrases) and how we should act in relationship to God (second five phrases) when we pray. It is a reminder of the order of the relationship – God then us and how we are dependent upon Him. We sometimes forget this fact when we pray and treat God as if He is our buddy or as if He is a vending machine. The Lord’s Prayer is our blueprint for how we should pray. I am glad that Elena was influenced by the Holy Spirit to request that we do this devotional time together as a couple. It was so good to have these conversations one on one (not in a group of friends or in public church setting) about God and how we should approach. We would not have had this time if we had not chosen to take time out, to have a time of rest, to have a time of peace. It was unique in our experience together as a couple. But it required taking time out to stop.

 

The second and third thing that is striking is that we are here in the beauty of the Smoky Mountains and the time alone with my wife. God enforced my appreciation of this beautiful place by its sheer magnitude as well. Up here in the mountains way above the valley where Pigeon Forge lies below the internet in this cabin is OK for internet surfing but if you have to do higher level things liked signing into your company’s VPN to run network resources, forget about it! It does not have the consistent signal strength or horsepower to fuel remote computing. So, I finally had to tell all the folks that I deal with in California and South Carolina on my job was that all I could do was answer emails. If they needed me to doing anything in our ERP system, it was going to be impossible. So, for the first time in almost a decade when on vacation, I actually took the day off. Elena and I then decided, too, that we weren’t going anywhere. We had a jacuzzi on the back porch and back porch with a beautiful view. We turned the thermostat on the jacuzzi down to 58 degrees so that the heater would not turn on and we had cool water to sit in. We were like let’s just sit here and relax in the cool water and look out at the mountains all day. Snacks are in the cabin. Cold drinks in the fridge. And outdoor furniture to sit on when we wanted to take a break from the water. A restroom right inside a few steps away. No crowds to deal with. No lines to stand in. Just being. Just doing nothing but observing God’s creation and having long conversations that we rarely have time for anymore. It was throwback to when we were dating back in the Rock Hill, SC days when we lived in the same building of the same apartment complex. We used to have long conversations there and just observing the nature just outside the deck at Elena’s ground floor apartment. We could not have asked for a better day to do this. It was beautiful day outside. The weather in the region took a break from the 90 degree temps/75% humidity that we have been suffering through in the South. The temperature yesterday was in the low 80’s and very low humidity for once. We just enjoyed the beauty of what is God’s creation in a low pace, low impact way. We could not have done this without stopping and resting. Just stopping. Combine that we our discussion of the first three phrases of the Lord’s Prayer about remember who God is when we pray and the beauty of the scenery. It was a highlight day for our marriage. We could not have done this without stopping.  Just stopping.

 

These are the things that I thought about this morning as I read through Joshua 22:1-9 where the eastern tribes get to go home. After all the hustle and bustle of conquering the promised land, suffering and sweat and tears of war. It was time to go home and rest. God will call His people back to the business of being God’s people but for right now it was time to go home to rest and reconnect with those who are important to them – their families – and to reconnect to the land that was theirs. With that in mind, let’s read through it now together:

 

22 Then Joshua summoned the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh 2 and said to them, “You have done all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded, and you have obeyed me in everything I commanded. 3 For a long time now—to this very day—you have not deserted your fellow Israelites but have carried out the mission the Lord your God gave you. 4 Now that the Lord your God has given them rest as he promised, return to your homes in the land that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you on the other side of the Jordan. 5 But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you: to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to keep his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

 

6 Then Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their homes. 7 (To the half-tribe of Manasseh Moses had given land in Bashan, and to the other half of the tribe Joshua gave land on the west side of the Jordan along with their fellow Israelites.) When Joshua sent them home, he blessed them, 8 saying, “Return to your homes with your great wealth—with large herds of livestock, with silver, gold, bronze and iron, and a great quantity of clothing—and divide the plunder from your enemies with your fellow Israelites.”

 

9 So the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh left the Israelites at Shiloh in Canaan to return to Gilead, their own land, which they had acquired in accordance with the command of the Lord through Moses.

 

In this passage, we see that, before the conquest of the Promised Land had begun, these tribes were given their land on the east side of the Jordan River. However, before they could settle down, they to first promise to help the others tribes conquer the land west of the Jordan. They had patiently and diligently carried out their duties. Joshua commended them for doing just that. At last, they were permitted to return to their families and build their new cities and towns. It is not God’s intention for us to be working all the time. It is His intention for us to have times of rest and peace. It was ordained in this manner from the beginning of the universe, when God Himself rested after creation.

 

As for me, the takeaway is the synchronicity of this passage with what Elena and I are doing here in the Smoky Mountains. We so needed this. We so needed yesterday especially. We needed time to reconnect with God. We needed to observe His grandeur. We needed to study together on what our proper relationship with God is individually and as a couple. We needed time to worship God together in this beautiful, serene, secluded place to remember who God is what our relationship to Him is. We needed the time together to reconnect with each other as a couple. We needed time to just talk with no appointments on the calendar. No places we had to be. No things we had to do. No study. No work. No thing. Nothing to do but spend time together. Reconnecting with each other in the most important relationship of our lives – marriage. We need to take the time to just stop. Just stop. It was time to rest. It time to unplug and just be together in God’s great creation. And be thankful. And be humbled before God.

 

When we leave here, there will be new battles to face. New things to have to be done. We will face the day to day monotony of living the 21st century life. But sometimes you have to stop. Just stop. And see God and worship. Just stop and see each other. Just stop.

 

 

Amen and Amen.

Posted: June 19, 2017 in Book fo Joshua
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Joshua 10:16-27

Joshua Kills the Five Southern Kings

 

Remembering God’s hand in your life and how he is in control is necessary for us when we are going through the trials and tribulations of life. We must be reminded it of sometimes, too, when we are going through the mundanity of life of working for a living, paying bills, and repeating the cycle over and over. I am reminded of God’s power in my life every time I think of the path of my life over these past 13 years. It makes me think of that song by the 80’s one-hit wonder band, Naked  Eyes, “There is Always Something There to Remind Me”.

 

The first thing is how He orchestrated my meeting my wife of the past 7 years. The odds of us ever meeting a decade ago was admittedly astronomical. I had been living in and around the Greenville, SC area from the time I was 14 years old until I was age 44. I had no plans of leaving. Greenville, SC was home. It was then and still is now my favorite town in the world. However, in order to continue expanding my career at age 44, I could no longer restrict my job searches to the Greenville area. I had to be willing to move anywhere in the country to further my career. So, at age 44, after two failed marriages, I was ready to move to a new town just to give it a shot. No longer was I having to satisfy the woman in life by remaining in the Greenville area. I was free to move anywhere I wanted to. And, although it was scary, I accepted a job offer in Charlotte, NC. Although, depending on where you go in Charlotte, it is was only an 1 ½ hours – 2 hours away from Greenville, it might as well have been a foreign country. Although I had been to uptown (in other cities this is called downtown) Charlotte a few times in my life and to Carowinds several times, I did not know Charlotte hardly at all and did not know anybody or have any friends that lived there. It was a new exciting and scary experience. What are the odds that within a year of my moving to Rock Hill, SC (a southern suburb of Charlotte), Elena, coming off the end of her own second marriage, would move into the same building in the same apartment complex with me. It took awhile for her to get her wings as a new bird in this single life. But we finally met. That was a God orchestrated thing. To think where we have been and where we are and where we are going, together, it was definitely the hand of God that orchestrated our being together as a couple. It is mind-boggling to think that just 2 ½ years before we met, we would never even thought of our meeting each other, much less living in the same apartment complex just up and downstairs from each other. Now, we have been a couple for nearly a decade and been married for almost 7 of those years. Mind-boggling. Different decisions by us about life and/or careers, and we would have never met.

 

When I think of how God arranged our lives to meet and the odds against us meeting #1, getting to know each other #2, and staying together after I accepted a job in California #3, her deciding to move to California to be with me #4, choosing Livermore to live in #5 (amazing miracle by itself), a church event door hanger “randomly” being the only door hanger placed on a door in our building at our apartment complex in Livermore inviting us to Livermore Alive Community Church #6, attending that church and meeting the pastor and his wife that became so instrumental in our walk with Christ #7, that going to that church was preparation for our return to South Carolina #8, the post office in Duncan being closed and my wife having to go to the Lyman post office instead (which is right across Greenville Highway in Lyman from LifeSong Church. I mean if our town’s post in Duncan was not closed when she arrived and then Elena opts for nearby Lyman’s post office, we would not have found LifeSong Church, the church we are so ingrained at now. That’s miracle #9. At LifeSong, we have flourished in our walk with the Lord to the point that we fully believe that we are called to ministry and we live it everyday and every way that we can and are preparing for the day when God will send us forth as a full-time ministry couple wherever that may lead – it may lead to LifeSong itself or us being sent to another location. That part has not yet been revealed. But we fully believe that He will reveal. Just look at the preponderance of evidence of His hand in our lives. The odds are astronomical for us even being together as a couple much less being a passionate Christ following couple ready to be used by Him. The odds are just freaking astounding. If you do not believe that God’s is still in the miracle business, try explaining my and Elena’s life together. It is full of the hand of God even when we weren’t looking.

 

When I get down and blue about things and wonder where God is, sometimes I just have to sit down and just think about my and Elena’s journey over this past decade. If that doesn’t bring awe to my mind about the power of God then something’s wrong with me. I am sure some atheist would discount it all as random events but, to me, there is no denying the hand of God in this brilliantly connected string of events. There are multiples of these so called “random acts” that are just simply God doing what He do! He is the grand orchestrator of His people’s lives. There’s no denying it. All these facts of our lives can be nothing less than God’s hand.

 

When I think of Joshua in this passage encouraging his troops about the hand of God on their shoulders and how they should be strong and courageous, it brought forth memories of how God has had His hand on my shoulders all this past decade. Let’s read Joshua 10:16-27 together and then I will tie all this together after we read it now:

 

16 Now the five kings had fled and hidden in the cave at Makkedah. 17 When Joshua was told that the five kings had been found hiding in the cave at Makkedah, 18 he said, “Roll large rocks up to the mouth of the cave, and post some men there to guard it. 19 But don’t stop; pursue your enemies! Attack them from the rear and don’t let them reach their cities, for the Lord your God has given them into your hand.”

 

20 So Joshua and the Israelites defeated them completely, but a few survivors managed to reach their fortified cities. 21 The whole army then returned safely to Joshua in the camp at Makkedah, and no one uttered a word against the Israelites.

 

22 Joshua said, “Open the mouth of the cave and bring those five kings out to me.” 23 So they brought the five kings out of the cave—the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon. 24 When they had brought these kings to Joshua, he summoned all the men of Israel and said to the army commanders who had come with him, “Come here and put your feet on the necks of these kings.” So they came forward and placed their feet on their necks.

 

25 Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Be strong and courageous. This is what the Lord will do to all the enemies you are going to fight.” 26 Then Joshua put the kings to death and exposed their bodies on five poles, and they were left hanging on the poles until evening.

 

27 At sunset Joshua gave the order and they took them down from the poles and threw them into the cave where they had been hiding. At the mouth of the cave they placed large rocks, which are there to this day.

 

Here in this passage, we see that placing a foot on the neck of a captive was a common military practice in the ancient Middle Eastern cultures. It symbolized the victor’s domination over his captives. These proud kings had boasted of their collective power back in Joshua 10:4. But against a God who can suspend the laws of nature (sun standing still in Joshua 10:12-13) and his favor given to the Israelite armies, they were soundly slaughtered and defeated. God is superior to any earthly army. With God’s help, Israel won the battle against the armies of the 5 southern kings. Such a triumph was part of God’s daily business as He worked with His people for victory. Joshua told his men to never be discouraged or afraid but rather be strong and courageous because God would give them victories over all their enemies. The same God will help us with our present and future needs. Reminding ourselves of his help in the past will give us hope for the struggles we will encounter in the future. David says in Psalm 110:1, “The LORD says to my lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” Be strong and courageous.

 

The thing that I have to take away from today’s passage is that God is with His people. When I get worried about what’s next or what is happening to me right now, all I have to do is remember how God has guided me, guided Elena, guided us to the shores that he wants us to land on. His hand in our lives is so super-evident to me that it gives me great confidence that God will continue to do so and all that I must do is trust in His power. Sure, it’s easy to get discouraged when we look at what’s immediately in front of us sometimes. However, we must take a step back and look at just what God has done in the totality of our time as Christ followers. He has guided us through dark times. He has set us up on the mountain tops. He has allowed challenges to chisel and form us into new creatures. He has matured us by everything that has happened to us. Each step, for Elena and me, has been preparation for what He has in store next. And just look at what He has done so far. That gives me strength and courage. That can end a day of self-pity and discouragement and give me strength and courage. He is still in the miracle business. Just look at my and Elena’s last decade. He keeps His promises. See His guiding hand in your life and take heart and take courage.

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 10:1-15 (Part 1 of 2)

Israel Defeats the Southern Armies

Tomorrow, at my church, I begin teaching a thirteen (13) week series that is a walk through the New Testament in general and through each of the 27 books. Tomorrow will be an overview of what we are going to try to accomplish in the class. The overriding theme that I want to come out of tomorrow is that the New Testament and the whole entirety of the Bible is not just some fantasy made up for our benefit. It is the real deal. It is real people. It is real events. It is historical. It can be checked and verified. It is not fiction made up to support a religious movement. It is the theological history of God’s people from Abraham to the cradle, to the cross, to the church, to the world, to the end of time. What I want people to realize and, that realization giving our faith so much more power, is that we have a reasonable faith. We have faith that is based on real people, real events, that played out in the history of mankind. That’s the beauty of our Christian faith is that it is historically based on facts that can be verified. No one in Christianity is asking you to believe is some fantasy of mystical creatures and such. It is the real deal. Jesus, it is commonly accepted the world over and can be verified by extrabiblical sources that He actually existed – not just some made up dude for the Bible. He really existed. All of the facts and circumstances of the New Testament (and the Old as well) are grounded in the history of mankind, and specifically, the Middle East.

 

Like I had said to many people, the Christian faith is a reasonable one that is based on historical facts that can be verified extrabiblically. I can get you to see that our faith is so much more based on reason than any of the world’s other religions. We are not asked to believe in any fanstastical figures like in Hinduism. We are also not forced to swallow contradictions within the holy book of our religion as Muslims are with the Koran. We are not forced to remove ourselves from life to attain oneness with some blank fabric of the universe as with Buddhism. And so on and so on. I can show you how our faith is superior and most internally consistent faith on the planet. I can take you 95% of the way to faith in Jesus Christ with the historiocity of the Christian faith. But, that last 5% is where the miracles come in. The miracles in the Old Testament and the miracles of the New Testament require you to make that last 5% walk alone without any assistance from anyone. You must decide if you believe, really believe in God.

 

That is the crux of the controversies over the miracles of the Bible. It comes down to whether you believe in God and that He exists. The thing that I always have to come back to is the beginning of the universe. Atheists who believe that God does not exist and those who believe in God must start their debate there. Those who do not believe in the existence of God believe that the universe has its own laws that function consistently eternally. That, too, I accept, however, I see it as God having set those laws in motion to be eternally true from that point on. Beleiver and non-believer alike can agree on the cause and effect nature of the universe. However, atheists will suspend their own belief in that rule when it comes to the moment of the creation of the universe. They say that it spontaneously erupted from itself. What caused that? Therein lies the difference. I can still believe in God’s eternally played out cause and effect rules of the universe as it was him that caused the effect. It was Him that was the cause and the universe beginning was the effect.

 

Thus, that is what we have here in this passage. Do you believe that there is a God? If not, you can spend all day debunking this as literary device and not a reality. If you believe that there is a God, then, the one who created the laws of the universe can equally suspend those laws without there being collateral damage elsewhere in the universe that He created. So, here we find a test of faith. How much do you believe in God? Is it nice and tidy until you get to the miracles? Do you discount the miracles as a believer? Or do you plain out have faith that they happened? Here’s one of the tests of your faith here in Joshua 10:1-15, this morning. Do you believe it happened or do you try to explain it away or call it a literary device? Do you blindly accept this without thinking? Do you believe it because you believe in a God that created the universe by His hand and His mind that can suspend the laws of nature that He created at the points that He wants to so as to demonstrate His favor to His people?

 

Let’s read the passage again this morning together with an eye toward that crux of a question about whether we believe in God’s miracles or not:

 

10 Now Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem heard that Joshua had taken Ai and totally destroyed[a] it, doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and that the people of Gibeon had made a treaty of peace with Israel and had become their allies. 2 He and his people were very much alarmed at this, because Gibeon was an important city, like one of the royal cities; it was larger than Ai, and all its men were good fighters. 3 So Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem appealed to Hoham king of Hebron, Piram king of Jarmuth, Japhia king of Lachish and Debir king of Eglon. 4 “Come up and help me attack Gibeon,” he said, “because it has made peace with Joshua and the Israelites.”

 

5 Then the five kings of the Amorites—the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon—joined forces. They moved up with all their troops and took up positions against Gibeon and attacked it.

 

6 The Gibeonites then sent word to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal: “Do not abandon your servants. Come up to us quickly and save us! Help us, because all the Amorite kings from the hill country have joined forces against us.”

 

7 So Joshua marched up from Gilgal with his entire army, including all the best fighting men. 8 The Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them; I have given them into your hand. Not one of them will be able to withstand you.”

 

9 After an all-night march from Gilgal, Joshua took them by surprise. 10 The Lord threw them into confusion before Israel, so Joshua and the Israelites defeated them completely at Gibeon. Israel pursued them along the road going up to Beth Horon and cut them down all the way to Azekah and Makkedah. 11 As they fled before Israel on the road down from Beth Horon to Azekah, the Lord hurled large hailstones down on them, and more of them died from the hail than were killed by the swords of the Israelites.

 

12 On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel:

 

“Sun, stand still over Gibeon,

    and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.”

13

So the sun stood still,

    and the moon stopped,

    till the nation avenged itself on[b] its enemies,

 

as it is written in the Book of Jashar.

 

The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. 14 There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel!

 

15 Then Joshua returned with all Israel to the camp at Gilgal.

 

In this passage, we see that there is a moment where the earth stopped turning giving the appearance to us earthbound inhabitants that the sun stood still in the sky. There are extra-biblical references to this event, as well, from traditions in all parts of the world. According to the research that I was able to find is that legends of a longest day are found in Egypt, Greece, and other ancient lands. And among the American Indians, South Sea islanders, and others in the Western Hemisphere are legends of a longest night—which would indeed make sense, seeing how these peoples lived in the opposite hemisphere. God performed a stupendous miracle, causing the sun to delay its “setting.” God stopped the motion of the earth. There are objections to this explanation, based on the physics of motion, but the God who created the world and established natural laws is perfectly capable of compensating for any collateral complications. We may not have a scientific explanation of how God performed this miracle, but He did. While we may not fully understand how this “long day” occurred, a miracle does not have to be scientifically proven—just accepted. Joshua prayed, and God supernaturally provided the light necessary for Joshua’s army to win its battle. The lengthened day was indeed unlike anything ever seen, but in Joshua’s mind the greater miracle may just have been that God listened to him and answered such an amazing prayer.

 

Do you believe in God responding to prayer with miracles? I think that answer comes to whether you believe in the miracles of the Old and New Testament or not. It is that simple. If we believe the miracles to be explainable, then God does not interact with His people here on earth. If we believe that the miracles are literary devices, then, the God we believe in really does not care about us at all. It comes down to faith. Do you believe in a big ol’ God that wants to have interaction with His creation? Do you believe in a God that answers prayers and responds with miracles? Do you believe that God can heal a person with cancer when all indications are that they are going to die within months? Do you believe in a God that can bring people together from far off places such as Florida and California and Georgia and North Carolina and numerous other states to a small little suburban town in the Greenville-Spartanburg, SC area called Lyman, SC at a church called LifeSong Church and bring them together at just the right place and at just the right time with just the right people to impact the Lyman-Duncan-Wellford suburban tri-cities for the Lord in ways that have never been seen before in this area. The way that He has orchestrated that is an amazing miracle. Every step of my journey with Jesus is not a bunch of coincidences. It is the hand of God guiding me to this place at this time with these people.

 

It comes down to how big your God is? If you don’t believe that there is God, then, this blog is meaningless to you. If you believe there is a God but don’t believe in the miracles then you don’t believe that God is mighty and that He is creator. But if you believe in a God that is Creator. If you believe in a God that created all that we see, touch, feel and smell, then you can believe that He can control the universe that He created. If you believe that then you can believe that He can make miracles in your life. He can change you through Jesus Christ. He can perform miracles in your life. Why?

 

BECAUSE I BELIEVE IN A BIG, BIG, BIG, MIGHTY, MIGHTY, MIGHTY GOD WHO CAN DO ANYTHING!

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 29:1-29 (Part 4 of 4)

Moses Reviews the Covenant

There are mysteries that we do not understand and never will on this side of eternity. Death is one of them. Proverbs 27:1 tells us, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” Death can come to us or those we know and love at any time. We may walk out of our house or apartment this morning and never return to it. Our next breath is never guaranteed. Death, to us, can seem random at times and uncontrollable.

 

Why is that my stepson when I was married to my second wife was taken from us at age 16 in a car accident while Billy Graham continues to live and is now the ripe old age of 98? Why is it the young man that would have been my brother-in-law was killed in a car accident at age 23, two weeks before I married his sister, my first wife?  Why is that my mother was taken from me when she died at age 70, some seven years ago now, but my wife’s mom is 85 and her dad is 92? Why is that my mom suffered some before she died but essentially she went downhill so fast that there was no lingering on. Yet, my wife’s dad is suffering in the throes of dementia and has been nursing home bound for three years or more. Why does he linger on but yet my mom went quickly? Why do some families have to deplete their life savings on end times medical care while others die within in 6 months of needing nursing home care? Why do some live to near 100 years old and others are taken in the prime of life? Why do some families endure multiple tragic deaths and other families are never touched by tragedy? These are all mysteries of God, our Sovereign God.

 

Other mysteries include how did the universe get started? Was there nothingness but God before created the universe? How big is the universe? Is there only life on this planet and if so, why only here? What was the purpose of creating a vast universe if there is only life here? If there is humanoid life elsewhere in the universe, did Jesus come to each planet that sustains life so that there is salvation for every humanoid life form that has a soul? When the Bible says that there will be an end to all things, is that only for Earth? Will he end the universe at the same time he ends everything here? Will there be only heaven after the end of the universe?

 

Another mystery to me is about heaven. How crowded is heaven since it now contains all the souls of persons who are God’s chosen through faith in God that have ever lived in all of human history up through this very moment that have died? That’s a whole lot of people. Mathematicians estimate that there have been at least 200 billion people born and that have lived any amount of existence since the beginning of man’s existence on this planet. Currently only 7 billion of those are currently living. That means that 193 billion have died. Let’s be optimistic and say half of those who have died ended up in heaven. That’s close to 100 billion souls that currently occupy heaven and the number is growing every day. Is there room for all those souls? Will we have our current bodies in heaven? Will we know our loved ones in heaven? Will we be aware of the reality of hell while we are in heaven? Will we be aware of the passage of time in heaven or since we no longer are bound by the decay of time of the temporal world, will we not know or even care about the passage of time? Do our loved ones in heaven have awareness of our continued existence on this side of eternity? Does my mom look down on me daily to see what I am doing? Do they not have time for that because they are praising God for all eternity? Is there more to do in heaven than doing the same thing, praising God on his throne daily?

 

Another mystery is why was I born in this era of temporal time? Why is that I am here right now? Why is that I am me and you are you? Why is that I was born in the United States in the 21st century to such excessive privilege never known by man in human history while other souls that are of equal value to God and not any different from me except for the unique personalities they have compared to me were born in desperate poverty in a third world country? Why do some teenage girls in India never have a chance other than to be captured and sold into sexual slavery while my young granddaughter will most likely have every opportunity to become the fullest extent of who she can be – maybe a doctor, a lawyer, a beautiful actress, or whatever!

 

Other mysteries are about life itself? What gives us life? Cells multiply and divide throughout the universe and they do not become thinking human beings. What is that spark that makes a woman’s egg and a man’s sperm become human life? We can explain all the physics of fertilization and how the cells multiply but what makes that little fertilized egg in a woman’s womb become a human being? What is it makes that egg divide and multiply? What is that makes those cells develop life? What is that intrinsic moment that life begins? Once the spark of life begins at conception, what is that force that makes it grow into a child with a brain who becomes a baby aware of his own existence and its separateness from those who gave it life and who grows and grows into a adult human being? What makes me, me and you, you? Why am I inside this body and this moment at this time with these 7 billion people? Why do I view the world as I know it from inside this body?

 

Another mystery is less dignified but not any less profound. What is the purpose of ticks? What is the purpose of fleas? What is the purpose of roaches? There are so many creatures on earth that seem to have no purpose at all in the keeping the planet functioning.

 

Other mysteries include like why in the world would someone choose to be a Gamecock fan! LOL! Just kidding with all my University of South Carolina friends out there!

 

Seriously though, If you sit down long enough and think about these things, even as Christ followers, it will blow your mind! As Christ followers, we know where we will spend eternity but these are mysteries that are mysteries than cannot be explained on this side of eternity and they can blow your mind!

 

That was the thing that came to mind today when I read Deuteronomy 29 for final time before moving on to the next passage, as we will tomorrow. Today my focus was on v. 29. So, let’s read the chapter again this morning with a focus on:

 

29 [a]These are the terms of the covenant the Lord commanded Moses to make with the Israelites in Moab, in addition to the covenant he had made with them at Horeb.

 

2 Moses summoned all the Israelites and said to them:

 

Your eyes have seen all that the Lord did in Egypt to Pharaoh, to all his officials and to all his land. 3 With your own eyes you saw those great trials, those signs and great wonders. 4 But to this day the Lord has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear. 5 Yet the Lord says, “During the forty years that I led you through the wilderness, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet. 6 You ate no bread and drank no wine or other fermented drink. I did this so that you might know that I am the Lord your God.”

 

7 When you reached this place, Sihon king of Heshbon and Og king of Bashan came out to fight against us, but we defeated them. 8 We took their land and gave it as an inheritance to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh.

 

9 Carefully follow the terms of this covenant, so that you may prosper in everything you do. 10 All of you are standing today in the presence of the Lord your God—your leaders and chief men, your elders and officials, and all the other men of Israel, 11 together with your children and your wives, and the foreigners living in your camps who chop your wood and carry your water. 12 You are standing here in order to enter into a covenant with the Lord your God, a covenant the Lord is making with you this day and sealing with an oath, 13 to confirm you this day as his people, that he may be your God as he promised you and as he swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 14 I am making this covenant, with its oath, not only with you 15 who are standing here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God but also with those who are not here today.

 

16 You yourselves know how we lived in Egypt and how we passed through the countries on the way here. 17 You saw among them their detestable images and idols of wood and stone, of silver and gold. 18 Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the Lord our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison.

 

19 When such a person hears the words of this oath and they invoke a blessing on themselves, thinking, “I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way,” they will bring disaster on the watered land as well as the dry. 20 The Lord will never be willing to forgive them; his wrath and zeal will burn against them. All the curses written in this book will fall on them, and the Lord will blot out their names from under heaven. 21 The Lord will single them out from all the tribes of Israel for disaster, according to all the curses of the covenant written in this Book of the Law.

 

22 Your children who follow you in later generations and foreigners who come from distant lands will see the calamities that have fallen on the land and the diseases with which the Lord has afflicted it. 23 The whole land will be a burning waste of salt and sulfur—nothing planted, nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it. It will be like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboyim, which the Lord overthrew in fierce anger. 24 All the nations will ask: “Why has the Lord done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”

 

25 And the answer will be: “It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt. 26 They went off and worshiped other gods and bowed down to them, gods they did not know, gods he had not given them. 27 Therefore the Lord’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book. 28 In furious anger and in great wrath the Lord uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now.”

 

29 The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.

 

In this final verse of the chapter, we see that God has secrets that He has chosen not to reveal to us. There are many possible reasons for His withholding His full knowledge and His full qualities to us. First, our finite minds may not be able to fully fathom the infinite aspects of God’s nature and the universe (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Second, some things of His infinite nature and the infinite, eternal realm in which He operates are just not necessary for us to know on this side of eternity. Third, there are some things God is withholding from us to discover as we mature in knowledge as a human race collectively so that we would be able to handle the discovery. Fourth, God is simply so far superior to us in every way that it is impossible for us to know everything that He does – even when we are heaven, for we are created beings even in heaven and He is the Creator. The created will never know more than the creator.

 

This verse shows us that, although God has not revealed all knowledge of all time to us, and that He has not revealed everything that there is to know about obeying Him, He has told us enough to get us through the existence of our lives. He has told us enough that we can handle on this side of eternity. He has told us enough. Thus, our disobedience comes from an act of will, not a lack of knowledge. Through God’s Word, we know enough about Him to be saved by grace through faith and to serve Him. We must not use our limitations about knowing the fullness of the nature of God to reject His claim on our life.

 

As well, because we, as Christ followers, have the knowledge of our limited nature and limited range of understanding of things eternal on this side of eternity, there are just some things that we must accept that we will never know about God until we get to heaven. There, we will understand eternal things as we will no longer be bound by temporal limitations. But, for now, we must trust in God’s sovereignty even when the lack of understanding is so painful.

 

Like when a son or brother dies too young in a car accident. Like when one parent dies after a short illness while another parent lingers on for years and years before death. My dad would often have a saying that he would pull out when he could not explain something. He would simply say, “that’s life, Mark. That’s life!” There are just some things that God has ordained to happen that we cannot understand on this side of eternity and we must simply trust Him on those things, even if it is painful not to have the answers. His ways are higher than our ways, as Isaiah 55:9. It is just like sometimes we wonder why the cross is what gives us a chance at salvation. Why is that Jesus dying on the cross gives us a chance to be reconciled to Him. It is because God said so. It is because God said that He poured out His wrath toward you and me for all our sins on Jesus on the cross. He sacrificed His Son in this way because He said that was what He was doing. By pouring His wrath on Jesus, we are spared. We are made clean. Our penalty for sin has been paid. This was the whole point of the cross and it was because God said that was the purpose of it. There is a mystery about that event that we have to take on faith. Those are far from God will not understand the purpose of the cross of the cross until they are led there by the Holy Spirit.

 

God is so far above us that there are mysteries of Himself that He has not revealed to us and we must trust that He has revealed enough to us to get us to the cross and to eternity. We must trust Him with the rest.

 

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.