Posts Tagged ‘spiritual journey’

Personal Reflection
I think as we proceed today into the book of Judges, I want us today to think about our own spiritual journeys and about the larger picture of our nation. In the book of Judges, we see ourselves and we see our nation. I think for both myself and for our nation, the best opening illustration for all three (the book of Judges, my spiritual journey, and where we are at as nation right now) is to think back to college or high school when we were much younger and more foolish.

Back in those days, there would be parties where the booze was plentiful and there was no one to hold you accountable for how much you drank. Back in those days we had lower tolerances because of less experience and less understanding of how to pace yourself and we would simply drink too much to the point of being nauseated and ending up in the bathroom. You know the drill, you start with the dry heaves. You want to throw up but you can’t. You are feeling like your stomach is about jump out of your body. You sit by the toilet waiting for the volcanic eruptions to begin. You are sitting on the floor leaning against the toilet, bathtub or wall, whatever is easiest to keep you near the toilet. Your head is spinning and somebody keeps knocking at the door but there is NO way you are leaving. Because things are so bad, you can barely understand what they are saying. You simply mumble that there is somebody in here. You are just hoping and praying that they will leave and just stop talking to you. Having to formulate thoughts for even the most rudimentary conversation is a monumental experience. Finally, after what seems like has been a half hour of trying to throw up but can’t, it finally begins. The eruptions of whatever you may have had to eat that entire day plus whatever you have had to drink at the party. It is ugly and putrid smelling and it is at this point while in the middle of the body’s attempt to purge itself of alcohol beyond the level it can stand that the negotiations begin.

God please make it stop. God please make it stop. With each eruption, our body becomes weaker and more tired. What had been a fun ride up the alcohol mountain was now this whole body gut-wrenching descent down the mountain. We promise the Lord that we will quick this sinful behavior of excess if He will just make the nausea stop. We may think the nausea is over after about 5 or 10 minutes of non-pukeage. So, you go lay down on in the host teen’s bedroom and try to rest, regain your composure, and regain your strength. Then it hits again. Rushing back to the bathroom for the final battle with your stomach (and the stomach wins every time). Finally, you begin to feel better and your promise yourself that you will never do this again. Your body weak. Your mind a little foggy, but you have a sense of happiness that the convulsions are done and you are on the other side of what may be the worst few hours of your life to that point. You have joy that you made it through it. You make promises to God that you will do better. You may even promise to not drink anymore. You may even promise God that you will try to live a better life. You may even promise to start going to church or, if you go to church already, you promise to be more attentive and to read the Bible more. Just deliver me Lord from making offerings to the porcelain God! She is a cruel god who wants your guts and then leaves you empty and limp like a dishrag on the side of a kitchen sink. Just deliver me God from this and I promise I will honor you better!

That’s kind of symbolic of my own spiritual journey to the cross. I would only recognize God’s existence in times of trouble and then it was a negotiation as if I was equal to God. I would pull out my God card when it was needed. Although I grew up in a preacher’s parsonage (kind of like Israel being God’s people), I strayed far from God. Although I have had only a few periods in my life that I did not go to church somewhere, I did not find Jesus as my Savior until I was 39 years old. God and Jesus and all the following Jesus stuff and all this talk about how Jesus would change my life. I paid lip service to it. But all that changed lifestyle stuff was just too inconvenient for me. I wanted what I wanted. I wanted to live like I wanted to live. I developed my own theology of Jesus prior to salvation. I made him not the Son of God. I made him my revolutionary dude wailing against the status quo and the establishment. My Jesus was the one who dressed down the Pharisees and the one who cleansed the Temple. He was my anti-establishment hero that paid the ultimate price for being too anti-government for the wimpy leaders of the Jews and the Romans to handle. Great ideals and philosophy is what I thought of Jesus. But Him being God in the flesh and resurrected and all that stuff. Just couldn’t fully buy off on it. Jesus changing my lifestyle? I didn’t want any part of that. Unless of course, something went wrong or didn’t go my way or something happen to knock me off my feet, I would pray then. You betcha. If this whole God thing was as real as my saved family members and saved friends said it was, then I would recognize God’s existence and whomever this Jesus really was and pray, pray, pray. I was like ancient Israel. Short periods of obedience and recognition of God’s existence and control over my life followed by long periods of going my own way, making my own religion, and doing things the way I wanted to do them.

The same thing I think could be said of our nation. We are so much like ancient Israel that it is not even funny. We started out with great spiritual leadership that led us as a nation to be God-fearing nation and there were uncounted blessings bestowed upon our nation because of its overall and general obedience to the Lord. We were a biblically literate nation. We were a nation that wanted to follow God’s way. We incorporated God into everything we did as a nation. Even our currency was imbued with the idea that we had full and complete trust in the Lord. Sure, we had pockets of things about our nation that was ungodly and ugly and wrong but generally as a nation there was this overriding allegiance to God and that God would guide our nation. However, as we have been blessed, we began to think that we were our own gods and that we could choose what is right and what is wrong. We could define for ourselves what is right not God – if he even existed to begin with. God became inconvenient. We removed Him from the public square and our schools and our homes. Whatever feels good, do it. That became the mantra of our nation. No longer would we be bound by fixed morality as stated in the Bible. We want it to be OK to live as we wish. We want it to be OK for us to live in whatever manner we please. Sex in whatever form you like and whenever you like with whomever you like is what we want. We have gone as far de-emphasizing the existence of the hardcoded and obvious differences between men and women. We can be whatever sex we set in our mind. We call it freedom from oppression of the past. We call it personal expression. All of the sins of the Bible are now glorified in the public square. Sure, there are pockets of what is of the virtues of God in our nation now as there was in the time of ancient Israel, but the overriding and general flow of our nation is away from God and toward the god that we have made of ourselves – saying that God is an opiate of the past and that we are our own gods now. We know best. Just as with ancient Israel, who acted the very same way, God’s judgement will come through the events and the consequences of us turning away from Him play themselves out. Sin, whether we say it is no longer sin or not, is still sin and sin has its consequences. We may have periods of spiritual revival as a nation (just look at the spike in church attendance and concern over spiritual matters after 09/11) but we return to making ourselves gods in short order. Kid of like the teenager promising to never drink again after a john-hugging night but is then right back at the party at the next kids house the next Friday. Our nation is that kid.

It is true for my spiritual journey story. It is true for our nation’s spiritual journey story. It was true for ancient Israel’s spiritual journey story. It is true that God will allow us to suffer the consequences of the sins we commit. Yet, as in Judges, and as in our own spiritual journeys, God will forgive us if we repent and turn to Him. For it is through our humbly coming before Him and begging forgiveness through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice that we are restored. When we fully understand that our way of doing things is ungodly and leads to self-destruction, He will forgive. He will restore. He will allow our sin results play themselves out but we are restored.

Are you tired of being sick and tired? How’s that life of doing things your own way working out for you? If you want to really see the ugly side of what sin does to people and what collective turning away from God does to a nation. Just join me today in reading the book of Judges and see where it all leads. Then, let’s talk about the faithfulness of God who sent His Son to give you away to walk away from sin and be restored to a right relationship with God Almighty.

Amen and Amen.

Now, here’s a summary of key information about the Book of Judges to keep in mind as we walk through it beginning tomorrow. Thank you to http://www.gotquestions.com for this following synopsis of the book of Judges:

Author:
The Book of Judges does not specifically name its author. The tradition is that the Prophet Samuel was the author of Judges. Internal evidence indicates that the author of Judges lived shortly after the period of the Judges. Samuel fits this qualification.

Date of Writing:
The Book of Judges was likely written between 1045 and 1000 B.C.

Purpose of Writing:
The Book of Judges can be divided into two sections:
1) Chapters 1-16 which gives an account of the wars of deliverance beginning with the Israelites’ defeat of the Canaanites and ending with the defeat of the Philistines and the death of Samson;
2) Chapters 17-21 which is referred to as an appendix and does not relate to the previous chapters. These chapters are noted as a time “when there was no king in Israel (Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25).” The Book of Ruth was originally a part of the Book of Judges, but in A.D. 450 it was removed to become a book of its own.

Key Verses:
Judges 2:16-19: “Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders. Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. Unlike their fathers, they quickly turned from the way in which their fathers had walked, the way of obedience to the LORD’s commands. Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the LORD had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them. But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.”

Judges 10:15: “But the Israelites said to the LORD, ‘We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.’”

Judges 21:25: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.”

Brief Summary:
The Book of Judges is a tragic account of how Yahweh [God] was taken for granted by His children year after year, century after century. Judges is a sad contrast to the book of Joshua which chronicles the blessings God bestowed on the Israelites for their obedience in conquering the land. In Judges, they were disobedient and idolatrous, leading to their many defeats. Yet God has never failed to open His arms in love to His people whenever they repent from their wicked ways and call upon His name. (Judges 2:18) Through the 15 judges of Israel, God honored His promise to Abraham to protect and bless his offspring (Genesis 12:2-3).

After the death of Joshua and his contemporaries, the Israelites returned to serving Baal and Ashtaroth. God allowed the Israelites to suffer the consequences of worshiping false gods. It was then that the people of God would cry out to Yahweh for help. God sent His children judges to lead them in righteous living. But time after time they would turn their backs on God and return to their lives of wickedness. However, keeping His part of the covenant with Abraham, God would save His people from their oppressors throughout the 480-year span of the Book of Judges.

Probably the most notable judge was the 12th judge, Samson, who came to lead the Israelites after a 40-year captivity under the rule of the ruthless Philistines. Samson led God’s people to victory over the Philistines where he lost his own life after 20 years as judge of Israel.

Foreshadowings:
The announcement to Samson’s mother that she would bear a son to lead Israel is a foreshadowing of the announcement to Mary of the birth of the Messiah. God sent His Angel to both women and told them they would “conceive and bear a son” (Judges 13:7; Luke 1:31) who would lead God’s people.

God’s compassionate delivery of His people despite their sin and rejection of Him presents a picture of Christ on the cross. Jesus died to deliver His people—all who would ever believe in Him—from their sin. Although most of those who followed Him during His ministry would eventually fall away and reject Him, still He remained faithful to His promise and went to the cross to die for us.

Practical Application:
Disobedience always brings judgment. The Israelites present a perfect example of what we are not to do. Instead of learning from experience that God will always punish rebellion against Him, they continued to disobey and suffer God’s displeasure and discipline. If we continue in disobedience, we invite God’s discipline, not because He enjoys our suffering, but “because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Hebrews 12:6).

The Book of Judges is a testament to God’s faithfulness. Even “if we are faithless, He will remain faithful” (2 Timothy 2:13). Though we may be unfaithful to Him, as the Israelites were, still He is faithful to save us and preserve us (1 Thessalonians 5:24) and to forgive us when we seek forgiveness (1 John 1:9). “He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful” (1 Corinthians 1:8-9).

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Deuteronomy 34:1-12

The Death of Moses

Here we are at the end of Deuteronomy. We started this journey back in the last week of November, some 5 ½ months ago. This is also the end of the first five books of the Bible, all of them attributed to Moses. This is also the end of Moses. He dies here at the end of Deuteronomy. Someone else will write the history of Israel and provide it leadership now. It is time to reflect.

 

Moses was OK with being a son-in-law of a sheep herder. When he fled Egypt for Midian, he spent 40 years there, gained a bride and a father-in-law. He was content to live his existence out there. He was a man who did not want to go to Egypt. In Exodus 4:10, he tells God that he was “not very good with words” but yet here in the book of Deuteronomy, he delivered three very lengthy addresses to the entire nation of Israel. These three (3) speeches make up the book of Deuteronomy. What a change God had wrought in this man, Moses.

 

It reminds of what God can do in you and me. It reminds me of what He has done in me. He brings intersections and people into our lives that are instrumental in making us who we are in service to Him. My story is no different. When I reflect back on the years since I accepted Christ as my Savior and Lord in December 2001, he has brought me so far and has matured me in ways that I could have never done on my own.

 

It all started when I was in my second marriage. It was a marriage in which I had made my second wife my god. She was my idol that I worshipped, not too unlike my first marriage. It was the Holy Spirit that prompted me to begin going to church again. In my first marriage, church was a small community/family farm community church that I attended from 1976 when my dad became pastor there until 1993 when my first wife and I broke up for good. It was more a weekly three extended families social gathering than it was a church. So, when my first wife and I broke up, it was not hard for me to leave the church totally. From the summer of 1993 to the fall of 2001, my second wife and I hardly ever darkened the doors of a church. She was my idol that had saved me from the insanity and violence that was the final 5 years of my first marriage. She was everything to me. I had to completely break off all that I had known for 17 years that was my life with my first wife (through dating and marriage). It was a complete break. All new friends and new family. Because of that my second wife was my lifeline. She was the source of everything. She was my god and she knew it. And anything to do with my past was taboo. Anything to do with my past was a burden she did not want to bear, including my children. Ultimately, it was the care of my children beyond the child support order that made our marriage come undone. But it was during this marriage that I found Jesus Christ as my Savior. It was Jesus that gave me the courage to stand up for my kids and do what was right by them and let the chips fall where they may. I know that God detests divorce and I am not claiming that my newfound relationship with Christ ended that marriage. But since God was never at the core of either of the first two marriages, neither marriage was founded on God. Both marriages were idol worship for me. Both marriages were about what we could get out of the relationship. God was nowhere to be found.

 

At the end of the second marriage, I went through a really rough period of life at first where I was going through withdrawal from idol worship. In those days, I was at my lowest. I could barely get out of bed each day. And, weekends, when I did not have my job to occupy my days, were excruciating and lonely. God wanted me to put Him at the center of my life instead of women and that was a long hard road to learn. It started there at the break up of my second marriage in the summer of 2004. This was the one thing that God had to work long and hard to rid me of and it was until some three years later that he changed all that. So, if you think accepted Christ as your Savior is like the skies part and everything changes suddenly for the better, you are wrong. Often, our lives get worse, before they get better. When I look back at the man I was before Christ, the man I was immediately after Christ and all the work that Christ had to do in me, I am ashamed of who I was. I also amazed at how He uses time and people to grow us into maturing Christ followers. Moses had his intersections with places and people. He had Midian and Jethro. He had Aaron. He had Joshua. He had the past life in Egypt. He had his intersections in life that made him into the man God wanted him to be – the leader of the baby nation Israel. He was the right man for the right job that God had for Him. If it weren’t for these people and events that happened in his life, Moses would not have been ready for his moment as leader of the people Israel and would not have been ready for the intimacy that He had with God.

 

There are intersections for me that changed my life. There are people that changed the course of my life once the Holy Spirit led me to the cross. There was Virgil & Debbie Whitted who were so instrumental in demonstrating the life of a couple passionately in love with the Lord. They were real people who showed me that being a Christ follower was not the end of who I was but the beginning. There was the woman who became my third and final wife, Elena. She taught me that love is about being friends first and foremost. She taught me about unconditional love. She is Monica to my Chandler. Once when Monica and Chandler got in a fight right after they had started going together, Chandler thought they were going to break up because of it. Monica told him, “People don’t break up just because they have one fight. You figure it out and you move on.” And then she said the classic line, “Welcome to a grown-up relationship!” Elena was my first grown-up relationship. She showed me that love was unconditional and was more than just about loving sex and then putting up with everything else just to get back to the sex. She never demanded that I act a certain way to gain her approval. She just loved me.

 

The other people of impact since I became a Christ follower have been preachers. The first was Luke Brower. Luke Brower taught me to be more than an armchair Christian. He challenged my faith. He taught me that being a Christ follower was more than Sunday morning. It was an everyday thing. He challenged me to grow up as a Christian. He challenged me to live out the life of a Christian and he pointed out the contradictions in my life compared to Scripture. He taught me that you can’t pick and choose what you want to believe. Man, Elena and I were both challenged by this pastoral couple of Luke and Felisha. It was an intense year that they were in our lives every day. They taught us so much about being Christ followers. When I look back at the Christ follower I was before I met Luke and the year later, the difference was amazing to see. Without the intersection of Livermore, CA and Luke and Felisha and all the people that were at Livermore Alive Community Church that year, wow, where would I be? Where would Elena and I be?

 

Next up came my current senior pastor, Jeff Hickman. What an impact he has had on my life! When it was time, God moved us from the nurturing, babe in arms relationship we had with Luke and Felisha to the time to grow up and serve relationship we have with Jeff. Prior to coming to LifeSong, when we moved back to South Carolina in 2010, I measured the depth of my spirituality by how close I was with the pastor. In Livermore, CA, the pastor and his wife, Luke and Felisha, were our best friends. We did so much together and we ate right out of their hands as they began the baby to toddler Christ follower process with us. They were exactly what we needed at the time. We found traction to our faith there. But we were young in our faith and felt like that the preacher had to shoulder tap you to do things for it to be real Christian stuff. Along comes Jeff Hickman. He teaches us that being a Christ follower is about being led by Christ not being led by a preacher. A preacher is there to point things out to you but He is not the reason for your faith. He challenged us to be Christ each and every day and that we are responsible for deepening our relationship with Christ. He also taught us that if God calls you to do something, do it. It should not matter whether the pastor pats you on the back for it. You are not here to win favor with Jeff but rather to please God by following His call on our lives. Without Jeff’s pushing us to grow up and be Christ followers in our own right and not be dependent on him for the validity of our faith, we would never have become leaders in the church and I would never have gone to seminary and would have never considered pursuing my doctorate. I have done these things in faith in Christ not knowing what God will do with it. I have done these things not because I expect Jeff to pat me on the back for it. I do these things because I am seeking after the Lord. Without Jeff’s pushing us to take responsibility for our own faith, where would I be, where would Elena and I be?

 

I stand amazed where Elena and I are today compared to where we were a decade ago. It is amazing the difference. We are light years deeper in love with Christ than we were years ago. God orchestrated it. He did it all. We were just along for the ride. We are by no means fully grown. We are and will always be in a process of maturation with the Lord. We will look back a decade from now and go wow, we were such babies back in 2017. But wow how far he has delivered us from where we were. Amazing. Amazing love. Amazing grace. Chiseling and channeling. Growing us. It has been painful at times. Growing. Learning things that needed to be learned at the hands of people that intersected our lives that were necessary intersections to make us into who we are today. There will be more intersections to come to take us to the next phase of our deepening relationship with Christ.

 

That was the thing that I see in Moses here at the end. What a life. What God did through him! What important intersections Moses had to make him in the amazing man of God that He was. Normally, I will close out with some final thoughts after each passage in each blog, but today, since it is the end of Moses and the end of Deuteronomy, I have said all I need to say before I present the passage. Let’s end today simply with the Word of God:

 

34 Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, 2 all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, 3 the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. 4 Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”

 

5 And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. 6 He buried him[a] in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. 7 Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. 8 The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.

 

9 Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit[b] of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses.

 

10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12 For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.