The Red Words #3 12/11/2018

In Mark 2:14, Jesus passed by the tax booth and called Levi to follow Him.  Levi (later known as Matthew) got up immediately and went after Jesus.  Later that day, Jesus entered Levi’s house for a meal.  Many of the tax collectors – Levi’s friends, no doubt, and others identified simply as ‘sinners’ – had gathered and joined in the meal.

Never far away from where Jesus was, the Pharisees and the scribes looked on with disdain and sneered, ‘Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?’

Hearing them, Jesus replied, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”  Mark 2:17

Have you ever thought to yourself, ‘Why would God ever use me? I’ve messed up so much.’  But what if God’s interest in using you in His kingdom is not based on your performance but on His sovereign choice?  What if, despite your mistakes in life, God still believes in you and calls you to a close relationship with Him?  What if you didn’t have to be “good enough” for God? What if God took care of that for you? What if God called ordinary sinners to Himself rather than perfect people?

That is precisely what this passage in Mark 2 is all about. Jesus called into His inner circle an ‘outcast’ in the eyes of the religious folks. And that is good news!

In those days, tax collectors were deeply despised by the Israelites. Even today, most of us are not fond of bill collectors or the IRS.  Back then, it was worse. Tax collectors had power to extract money from the people for the Roman government, and they were allowed to keep a percentage for themselves.  Corruption was rampant.

Furthermore, Levi was a Jew which made it even worse! His fellow Israelites looked upon any Jew who worked for the Romans as a traitor, especially the tax collectors. They were excommunicated from the synagogues along with their entire families.

So for Jesus to call a tax collector was not only unexpected by unthinkable in the minds of the religious crowd.

Jesus addressed their attitude directly and without apology.  “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Levi was a sinner.  Jesus called him, and Levi got up and followed him.  Understand that this was no small thing.  If things didn’t go well for Peter and Andrew or for James and John they could always go back to fishing.

Not so for Levi.  A tax collector’s job was hard to come by and if you lost that job, you’d never get it back. Besides that, just having ‘tax collector’ in your resume would disqualify you for almost any job thereafter!

When Levi got up from his tax booth, it was a one way ticket.  He knew what he was doing. That’s why Luke reports this event by saying, ‘Levi left everything to follow Christ. (Luke 5:28)

LeviTax

It was the Pharisees who weren’t too happy with this. They pulled the disciples aside and asked them, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” This was not an innocent question but an outright accusation.  They went nuts. This was a scandal worthy of the gossip columns! This broke all their rules.  You didn’t eat with Gentiles. You didn’t associate with sinners. This was as big a scandal to them as your pastor hanging out at the local bar.

The opening chapters of Mark expose a growing escalation of hostility towards Jesus on the part of the Jewish religious leaders.  In verse 6 of this chapter the teachers of the law simply thought accusing thoughts about Jesus in their minds. (Mark 2:6) Now here in verse 16 they speak out, but just to Jesus’ disciples. (Mark 2:16) In verse 24 they address Jesus directly (Mark 2:24), and by the time you get to chapter 3 they begin plotting to kill him (Mark 3:6). That’s quite a progression in a very short time!

Jesus welcomed sinners, and the Pharisees were disgusted by them.  Jesus accepted those whom the Pharisees deemed unacceptable. In fact, He declared those were the ones He came for!

Don’t you love the way sinners flocked to Jesus in the gospels? They obviously felt comfortable with Him;. they felt loved and accepted. They were attracted to His teachings and Jesus was obviously glad to be with them.

What about us? Do we have the attitude of Jesus?  Are we as concerned as He was about  ‘sinners’? About those who don’t know about Him, about the good news of His salvation?

Most people’s lives revolve around three places. Work, home, and what I call ‘third places’ – places we go outside of work and home. For many Christians, the church and church activities become their only ‘third’ place.

But our non-believing friends in the community have different third places. And if we never intersect with them in their third places, how will we ever communicate Christ to them?

We need to meet the people of our community where they are – at work and in our homes and in their ‘third’ places and share Christ’s love with them through friendship. Jesus is a friend of sinners.  A doctor who avoids the sick isn’t much of a doctor.

In no way am I advocating that you go to the local bar.  But there are plenty of acceptable places to interact with our neighbors, our co-workers and the general public.  As we go about our daily life, let’s not be so busy that we don’t even notice the people around us.

Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to make us sensitive and aware of others; to make us sensitive to His inner prompting to smile at this one, or speak to that one. Sometimes all it takes to open a door for the Gospel is to have a cup of coffee with a neighbor.

“It is not those who are healthy who need a physician but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Jesus called sinners to follow him. He called sinners to fellowship with him. Jesus called sinners to repentance.

Freely have you received His gift of salvation; freely give it away.

And what better time than right now.

 

 

 

 

 

Snippets from My Journal #5 9/4/18

April 15, 2016

The topic that never stops demanding from us……forgiveness.

Forgiveness2

A young Joseph, the darling of his father, is betrayed by his brothers, thrown in a pit and then sold to slave-traders.  To add insult to injury, he is later falsely accused of sexual impropriety at a time when life had just gotten better for him.  The false accusation lands him in prison for several years.

Finally he is vindicated and not only that, but raised to the second highest position in the land.  Life is really good now – a palace to live in, a new wife to love, an authority to exercise over the nation.  His wisdom is the talk of the town; his administrative decisions are followed to the letter.  Famine is coming and he prepares the nation for survival.

Then one day travelers show up from the nearby land of Canaan.  Joseph recognizes them immediately – his brothers, the very ones who betrayed him. They have no clue who he is for no son of Jacob would ever be expected to look and dress like an Egyptian.

Fast forward to the day that Joseph is revealed himself to his brothers.

Joseph put everybody else out of the room so there was no one with him when he revealed his true identity to his brothers.  (Gen. 45:1)  He let his brothers save face.

Do you suppose the Joseph was immune to the temptation to take revenge – or at least to embarrass his brothers in front of the Egyptians? Do you suppose that Joseph never had the thought of ‘getting even’ go through his mind?  Of course he did – he was human. But through his years of suffering he had learned a few things and we get the benefit of seeing what it’s like when a servant of God has a sanctified tongue.

Our flesh is inclined to get even with those who have hurt us by destroying their credibility.  We can’t stand to see people who’ve hurt us be admired by others.  The flesh wants to make sure that they “feel guilty” and are “very sorry” before we forgive them.

Joseph had plenty of reason to feel that way but he chose to protect the self-worth of his brothers instead.  He did not shame them in front of the Egyptians.

As if that was not impressive enough, he took it a step further and even protected their dark secret from his father.  He would not let them tell Jacob what had really happened.  (Gen. 45: 9-11)  And he provided for them all – they and their families – throughout the remainder of the famine.

Total forgiveness says I no longer hold this against you, I will not keep bringing it up and I will not going around telling everybody what you did to me.

Too difficult?

Think of it this way.  Has God ever tattled on you to someone else?  Or does He forgive you when you repent, wash away your sin and promise to ‘remember it no more’?

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.  Matthew 5:12

Joseph is a great example of total forgiveness, but there is an even greater One – the Lord Himself.

Why do you think He included that verse in the Lord’s prayer?  Because He knew that we would get hurt.  It’s part of life! It just happens.  Many times it’s not deliberate and other times it is.  That’s not the point with Jesus.  He just says, ‘Forgive as you have been forgiven.’

If you’re struggling today with a hurt or an insult whether it was recent or happened years ago, give it to Him. Let Him take it, heal you and set you free from the prison of unforgiveness.

It may be the greatest thing you do for yourself this Tuesday.

 

 

 

The Power of Words #3 March 20, 2018

In the book of James, chapter 3, verse 2, we read these words: We all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. NASB

The Passion Translation renders this verse like this: We all fail in many areas, but especially with our words. Yet if we’re able to bridle the words we say we are powerful enough to control ourselves in every way, and that means our character is mature and fully developed. James 3:2 TPT

This verse from the book of James reminds me of Proverb 18:21: Death and life are in the power of the tongue and those who love it will eat its fruit.

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As I ponder these verses, I find myself deeply grateful for the promise in Lamentations: The Lord’s kindnesses indeed never cease for His compassions are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness! Lam. 3:22-23

I need His grace every day for life, for health, for patience, for perseverance, for every thing I will encounter during each day and most certainly, I need His grace every day to to keep my words pure and right in His eyes.  The tongue is something we must use every day.  How we use it has a great deal to do with the course of our life. One day at a time, as disciples of the Lord Jesus, we are called to have dominion over the words of our mouths.  Therefore, success in controlling our tongues is something we need to pray for daily.

It is the Holy Spirit, who dwells within each born again disciple of the Lord, who can teach us and train us what to say and what not to say, when to speak and when to keep silent. Jesus said in Matthew 12:36 that we would give an account of ‘every careless word’.  We need the daily cleansing of the blood of Jesus every day, don’t we?  I John 1:7

It is in our everyday conversations that we succeed or we fail to live up to the standard Jesus set before us.  Not only should we show some self-control in how much we say – lest we wear people out with our non-stop talking – but also in the words we choose to use with family, friends, co-workers and people we run into from time to time.

Can you bridle your tongue when your heart is under pressure? That’s how you show you are wise. An understanding heart keeps you cool, calm and collected, no matter what you’re facing.  Proverbs 17:27-28 TPT

For example, think about the prophet Samuel. He went to the house of Jesse at God’s bidding in order to anoint the next king of Israel.  In ancient Israel, the firstborn always received double the inheritance so it should come as no surprise that when Samuel saw Eliab, Jesse’s oldest son, he assumed that Eliab was the likely candidate.

He looked on Eliab and said, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is before me.’  I Sam. 16:6  Imagine how Eliab and Jesse must have felt to hear the prophet of the Lord make that statement.

But Samuel was wrong in what he said. God quickly stepped in to correct him. ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart. I Sam. 16:7

The respected prophet of Israel had just made a big mistake.  His tongue had gotten him in big trouble!  Samuel had to walk back his comments, admit he had been wrong and go through all of Jesse’s sons until he saw David, the youngest and heard the Lord say, ‘This is the one. Anoint him.’

It is not easy to admit that you’ve been wrong. Nothing challenges our big egos like being smacked in the face with evidence that says very plainly you blew it. You misread a situation or misjudged a person and SPOKE IT aloud.  We die a thousand deaths when that happens, don’t we?

Yet, my dear friends, though it hurts our pride and may even cause others to question our judgment in the future, the inner peace that comes from the Holy Spirit when we are honest about our failures more than compensates for the humiliation of ‘walking back’ what we have wrongly said.  When a prophet of God of the stature of Samuel is willing to humble himself and repent of his failure, he sets an example for all of us.

Perhaps David remembered this scene later in life after he had sinned with Bathsheba and was confronted by the prophet Nathan.  If you will read the account in 2 Samuel 12 David sets the same example that Samuel did.  When made to stare squarely at what he had done, David makes no excuses, he offers no rationalization.  When Nathan declares, ‘You are the man.’ David repents immediately, does not deny his guilt and accepts the humiliation.

We generally find it very difficult to recognize our own self-righteousness.  We are quick to judge others but very slow to see the same sin in ourselves.  As in David’s case, our own sins have a way of blinding us to our own truth, and we fail to see obvious shortcomings within ourselves.  That was David. And it’s all of us.

The only man in all of the Bible who is called ‘a man after God’s own heart’ (I Sam. 13:14) committed one of the most shameful sins a man can commit. Yet, as soon as he saw what he had done from God’s perspective, he said – out loud – ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ 2 Samuel 12:13  We cannot lightly dismiss this confession for we’re talking about the king of a nation.  His admission had huge repercussions for his reputation.  A cloud of shame hung over him for a long time in the eyes of the people.

But God wasn’t finished with David and it was this David who wrote Psalm 51, the most amazing declaration of sin, guilt, forgiveness and restoration.

Application:

Perhaps we have repented for words we should never have said. Perhaps we’ve forgotten some for which we have never repented.  The cleansing power of the Blood of Jesus is available to us right now.  He is willing to cleanse us from every sin, including every word we’ve spoken that was displeasing in His sight.  Let us repent from our hearts for every word that was out of character and/or opposed to the standard of integrity Jesus set before us.

He’s a forgiving God to those who repent but He also adds, ‘Go and sin no more.’

Yet if we’re able to bridle the words we say we are powerful enough to control ourselves in every way, and that means our character is mature and fully developed. James 3:2 TPT

Joshua, the Man & the Book #15 January 30, 2018

In chapters 15-19, Joshua along with Eleazar the priest and the elders of the tribes apportion to each tribe the land which is to be theirs.  As chapter 20 opens, we read:

Then the Lord spoke to Joshua, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, Designate the cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you through Moses, that the manslayer who kills any person unintentionally, without premeditation, may flee there  20:1-2

Citiesofrefuge

What were these cities of refuge?

According to the Torah, in the the case of deliberate murder, the Law permitted the Avenger of Blood to exact punishment, essentially a life for a life. But to guard against a miscarriage of justice, Cities of Refuge were designed to provide Divine protection for the manslayer, making a clear distinction between premeditated murder and unintentional manslaughter.

There were six cities of refuge, based on the geography of the area. To be of any use, a city of refuge had to be accessible. For this reason, three were placed on either side of the river Jordan. There were good roads leading to each city, which provided the easy access for all of Israel.

A man’s blood could be shed in two ways – on purpose or by accident. If someone was killed on purpose, it was murder. But not all men kill with intent. What was to be done for them?

To guard against a miscarriage of justice, Cities of Refuge were established where the accused could flee so that his case may be properly considered free from the emotionalism surrounding the death of the person in question. So the accused manslayer had to stand before the tribunal of the people. By doing this, two principles were achieved:

  1. The accused’s life was not put at risk by the arbitrary actions of the avenger of blood. The question of intent could be decided in an impartial court, so that the interests of the slain man’s family could also be safeguarded, for the cities of refuge were never intended to harbor murderers. But even if the manslayer was found innocent of the crime and was vindicated he did not get off completely. He had to stay within the city of refuge for the rest of the life of the high priest. The other way was if he died himself.
  2. If the avenger of blood were to defy the law and take the manslayer’s life either inside the city of refuge, or outside it after the high priest’s death, then he would himself become a murderer. But if the avenger of blood found the manslayer outside the city of refuge before the high priest’s death, and took his life, then the dead man had brought about his own downfall, and the case was closed.

The provisions made for the innocent manslayer does have a spiritual significance.

Look at Numbers chapter 35 and verses 32 to 33.

And you shall take no ransom for him who has fled to his city of refuge, that he may return to dwell in the land before the death of the priest. 33 So you shall not pollute the land where you are; for blood defiles the land, and no atonement can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it. (Numbers 35:32-33)

It is saying in verse 33 that blood will defile the land. Whenever blood was shed, the sin which had contributed to the man’s death, and was represented by his blood, was absorbed by the land which was defiled as a consequence.

Whenever life was violently terminated, even accidentally, the law had particular requirements so as to demonstrate a spiritual principle. God wanted to show that sin also leads to death. So the Torah’s treatment of a life terminated by another can show that in a similar way sin can also terminate a life. As a result, some sort of  compensation or amends was needed for the death.

A killer put himself on the side of sin, by killing someone. For even if he had killed someone accidentally, he has still taken someone’s life which is strictly the prerogative of sin. He had put a man to death, which normally only sin can do. So his actions had made him “sin” even if only accidentally.

The manslayer was to stay within the city of refuge until the death of the high priest. This concept indicates that the high priest represented all who sought refuge, and bore the iniquity of the spilled blood to his own grave. By doing this he released the manslayer from the burden of accountability.

This is appropriate for two reasons:

1. The high priest was head of the tribe of Levi. All the cities of refuge were Levitical cities. The activities of the cities of refuge therefore came under his responsibility.

2.Even more importantly, the high priest, as spiritual leader, represented purity and freedom from sin. One of his roles was to atone for innocently shed blood.

Application:

It is not difficult to recognize God’s redemptive plan in the account of the cities of refuge. While the LORD does distinguish between premeditated, deliberate sin and sins of weakness, keep in mind that SIN is SIN, and there must be repentance, forgiveness and atonement.  Since all mankind has sinned how comforting it is to know that in our times of falling short, He Whose mercies are new every morning, awaits our repentance that He might forgive us and restore our relationship with Him.

He also expects that we set our minds and hearts to learn from our failures and not continue to repeat them.

 

 

Joshua, the Man and the Book #9 December 19, 2017

In Joshua chapter 7 the children of Israel were defeated because of sin in the camp.  As we go on into chapter 8 this week, we are reminded that making up for lost ground is always difficult. For the football team that falls behind or the student who procrastinates too long, catching up is hard to do.  However, it is in those moments or situations that we are reminded that the Holy One of Israel is the God of second chances.

Then the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the King of Ai, his people, his city and his land.  Joshua 8:1

Ai

The Israelites had sinned, and that sin lead to fear. The people were hesitant to continue their attempt to capture the Promised Land. Their failure led to their lack of confidence. God gave them His plan, which depended fully on their willingness to live by faith, not by fear. When previous failures provoke fear, anxiety and a loss of confidence to face future situations, it is faith that moves us on.  Like the little child learning to walk who falls down repeatedly, our failures are meant to propel us to future victories.  Faith knows that, faith gets up and faith goes on.

We can only imagine the disheartening effect of the failure at Ai. These people who had lived in the victory of Jericho were now tempted to wallow in the defeat at Ai. However, God told Joshua to take the entire army to Ai. Everyone was involved; no one was left out. They set the ambush and prepared to fake a retreat so that the people of Ai would be convinced that, once again, they were running scared. Isn’t it just like God to take us back to the place where we last failed in our obedience to Him in order to restore our confidence?  As the men of Ai pursued the fleeing army of Israel, hidden Israeli soldiers entered the city from behind and destroyed it completely. Ai was defeated, just as God had promised.

No defeat is greater than God’s ability to strengthen and equip us for the next challenge. Therefore it behooves us to look to Him and journey on rather than waste time bewailing our failures.  When failure occurs, God’s formula is: ‘Repent quickly, receive forgiveness, get up and press on.’

The Israelites then took the 30-mile walk to Shechem in the beautiful valley area of Israel between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. We read in verses 30-31 that Joshua led the people of God in worship. They built an altar according to Moses’ specifications and offered sacrifices as a sign of their thankfulness to God for His victory.

It’s too easy, even tempting, to start celebrating after a victory and to forget Who is ultimately responsible. Ai was defeated not because of the cleverness of the children of Israel but because of God’s promise. By obeying His command, they were assured of victory.

Developing an attitude of gratitude is one of the best habits we can acquire in our walk with God.  Big victory or small – for everything, He is worthy of our thanks and our praise.

Besides offering a sacrifice, Joshua also pointed the people to God’s Word.  Verse 32 says that Joshua “copied on stones the law of Moses” and then read it to all of the people. While it is desirable and commendable that we should read from God’s Word every day, it is particularly important to do so when we are smarting from the sting of a failure.  Turning to the revealed Word of God renews our faith, strengthens our commitment and guards against self-pity, unwarranted depression and a debilitating self-loathing.  Nursing anger at ourselves for failure guarantees future failures!  Joshua rightly led the people to worship the LORD and to renew their minds by reviewing the Torah with them.

The real story of this chapter is not that Israel regained the city of Ai.  No, the real story is that the children of Israel renewed their faith and their commitment to their God.

Application:

Just like water, our human tendency is flow downhill, mentally and spiritually. We are so prone to look at the negative, to feed on the negative.  We need to be reminded constantly, in times of challenge and in times of victory, that our real strength and our true source of everything is God and God alone. That is why taking time to worship Him daily and to feed our spiritual life by reading and meditating on the Scriptures restores faith, empowers commitment and protects us from discouragement.

 

Joshua, the Man & the Book #8 December 5, 2017

Joshua 7 comes as a bit of a surprise.

The children of Israel under Joshua’s leadership have just witnessed the tremendous defeat of the city of Jericho and they are still basking in the glow of that great event. But, verse 1 tells us that God was upset with the people. Israel thought that everything was all right. They thought that they were standing on the edge of a great string of victories that would see them conquering the entire land of promise. Yet, what they didn’t know was that there was a problem in the camp. There was one in their midst who was causing a problem for the entire family of God.  Because of that, the nation was about to suffer a painful defeat.

In vs. 2-3 of chapter 7, Israel is a confident people. They looked at Ai and felt like that little town would be no problem for such a great army, but their confidence was misplaced. Israel did not realize it, but they were living through one of the most dangerous times of life. You see, the time just after a great spiritual victory is a dangerous time. Often, like Israel, we will be over confident and believe that we can handle any battle that comes our way.When we have that attitude, we are vulnerable to suffer our greatest defeats.  Why? Because we are trusting in ‘OUR’ achievement, rather than in the grace of God.

When Israel, without consulting the LORD, set out to conquer Ai they suffered a terrible defeat and 36 of their number were killed. Shock waves went through the camp. How could this happen?

Achan

Joshua, as commander, takes responsibility and goes before the LORD in prayer with a broken heart, v. 6. However, he also displays a hint of anger and accusation against the Lord.  Joshua is about to learn that prayer is the correct recourse in a time of trouble, but that prayer will avail nothing until sin has been dealt with, Psalm 66:18! Joshua wonders why Israel was powerless in the battle. He learns that the answer wasn’t to blame God, or to dispute His will. The answer was within their own camp.

When our decisions bring unpleasant consequences, it is not the time to play the ‘blame game’.  It is also not the time to accuse God of anything. We need to look within and see where the problem is.  When there is a lack of power in my life, the problem is not with God, nor is it with others, the problem is always with me!

While Joshua and Israel try to figure out what is going on, God in Heaven already knows and tells Joshua all about it.

The answer is quite simple: there is sin in the camp of Israel.

The LORD makes Joshua to understand that this sin that is hindering His power and is the cause of their defeat. Further, the LORD gives Joshua instructions on how to discover the guilty party. In these words to Joshua, God gives us some insights into sin, insights worthy of our attention.

1. God knows about our sins – vs. 11 (Proverbs 15:3)

2. God hates our sins – vs. 11 (Proverbs 6:6-19)

3. God has a plan for our sins – vs. 14-15  (Psalm 32:5)

4. Sin affects those around us – vs. 11-12

5. Sin must be dealt with; it cannot be ignored. vs. 13

Essentially, God makes clear to Joshua: Either you deal with the sin in the camp or I will. Either way, sin must be confronted.

God knew who was guilty so why didn’t He just tell Joshua who they were looking for? In my opinion, He was giving Achan time to repent and to confess his sins voluntarily. In any case, Achan was identified as the culprit.

In verse 19, Joshua speaks to Achan with love in his heart. He knows that Achan is condemned, but Joshua still cares for this man who brought so much trouble to Israel. In the next verses, Achan finally confesses his sin but grudgingly. Don’t believe for a second that Achan truly repented! He, like some others in the Bible, only confessed his sin after he got caught, when it was impossible to hide it any longer!

God’s way is for His people to throw the covers off their sins and tell God the truth that He already knows. He blesses the person who handles sin the Biblical way. However, the person who tries to hide his sins will never prosper, but will face God in judgment.  Our sins will be exposed in one way or another. You can confess them sincerely and be forgiven, or you will be forced to confess them when you face the LORD in Judgment. Either way, you will confess your sins.  Far better to be a quick repenter like David, than an unwilling repenter like Achan.

The following verses give us the sad conclusion to this tragic tale. Achan and all that he had were taken out and stoned to death by the people of Israel. It didn’t have to end this way! However, these verses demonstrate the horrible end of all sinners who refuse to repent.

Application

No human being is perfect or sinless.  But God in His great mercy and loving kindness, before we were ever born, had already made provision for us to return to Him after sinning: REPENTANCE.  And what is repentance? It is the decision – made sincerely – to approach the Holy One of Israel with humility to acknowledge what we have done wrong and to ask for His forgiveness.  It is coming to Him with no pretense, no hypocrisy, no mental excuses or rationalizations regarding what we have done, but to simply acknowledge the truth: I have sinned, I sincerely regret having offended You, My God, You, who have blessed me with so many blessings. I ask for Your mercy and forgiveness.

Knowing from His written Word that He is faithful to forgive us when we repent, we then thank Him for that forgiveness and pray for grace to refrain from repeating that sin again.

If Achan had only taken this course of action, his entire family would have been spared.

A sobering thought…

Shadow of Things to Come #15 August 15, 2017

In last week’s lesson the brothers of Joseph prepared to return to Egypt for more provisions, this time taking Benjamin with them.  When Joseph saw his younger brother, the scripture records that ‘he was deeply stirred’.  He quickly left their presence for he did not want to weep in front of them.  He invited them to dinner at his own home and as portions of food were distributed to each of his brothers, he ordered that five times as much should be given to Benjamin.

After the meal he commanded his house steward to ‘Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack.  Put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, and the money for his grain.’ Genesis 44:1-2  Joseph arranged yet another test to see how his brothers would react.

They had hardly left the city when Joseph sent his personal house steward after them to accuse them of stealing his silver cup.  When the brothers, horrified, protested vehemently that they would do no such thing, the steward starting examining the sacks til he found the silver cup in Benjamin’s. Their protests turned to shock and panic.  Hurriedly they made their way back into the city and to Joseph’s presence.  Keep in mind they still don’t know who he truly is.

Judah steps up and stands before the “Egyptian” to intercede on behalf of Benjamin for their father’s sake.  In response to the accusation, Judah confesses, ‘What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? And how can we justify ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants.  Behold, we are my lord’s slaves both we and the one in whose sack the cup was found.’  Gen. 44:16

It is very important to note the word ‘iniquity’ in Judah’s confession.  There are three words used several places throughout the Torah and the Prophets: sin, transgression and iniquity.  Each has a specific meaning.

SIN means literally ‘to miss the mark.’ The Greek counterpart to the Hebrew word means ‘to miss the mark and not share in the prize’. So SIN causes man to lose a portion of the inheritance intended for him. SIN starts in the mind, in the motives, even before a physical action takes place.

TRANSGRESSION means to revolt or rebel, to break away from just authority; it implies a soul ready to pursue more and more evil; to step over the boundaries, cross over the lines into wickedness.

INIQUITY is of a different nature. Iniquity speaks not of a behavior or an individual sin but refers to the results of sin in your bloodline. Just as you inherit physical features from your ancestors, so you also inherit spiritual tendencies and inclinations.  The Scripture is very clear: ‘You shall not bow down and serve them for I, the LORD your GOD am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.’ Exodus 20:5-6   Notice very carefully, that it is NOT the sins or the transgressions of the fathers, but the INIQUITY – the ungodly tendencies and character traits that are handed down from generation to generation from ancestors who did not know God and/or did not repent of their wickedness.  To give a simple example: how many of you have heard someone say,  ‘I know I’m stubborn; everybody in my family is stubborn. It’s just the way we are.’ That is INIQUITY – an accepting and agreeing with something the Bible calls sin and considering it instead as a ‘family’ characteristic with no intent to change it.

Keeping this understanding in mind, look at what Judah said to Joseph: God has found out (or exposed) the iniquity of your servants.  Judah is declaring that a recurrent sin in the family line has met its ‘waterloo’.  What was that iniquity? The family tendency that has gone unchecked? The practice of covering up the truth – deception.

Abraham lied about his wife, not just once but twice.  Years later, Isaac did the same thing though he was not even born when Abraham had lied about Isaac’s mother! Jacob used deception in his relationship with his brother, his father and Laban.  The brothers deceived their father into thinking that Joseph was dead.  Do you see the line of ‘iniquity’ from generation to generation?

The time had come to stop it. How? By confession and repentance.  From verse 18 to verse 34, Judah comes clean on behalf of himself and his brothers and offers to remain as a slave of Joseph in place of Benjamin.

Standing there listening to his brother’s confession and seeing the terror on the faces of the others, Joseph could not control himself any longer.  He was now convinced that their repentance was sincere and therefore, he put everyone else out of the house.  Weeping he declared to the eleven men before him, ‘I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?’

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He drew them closer to him and explained everything that had happened since that fateful day when they sold him to the Ishmaelites. But here are the most important words he spoke to them in that moment:

‘Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life…God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant upon the earth and to keep you alive by a great deliverance.  Therefore it was not you who sent me here, it was God…’ vs. 5-8

We learn from Joseph certain characteristics of true forgiveness.

First of all, Joseph put everyone else out of the room before confronting his brothers with the truth of who he was.  He did not humiliate them in front of the Egyptian servants.

Secondly, he made NO reference to the pain he had personally endured, but instead focused on what he had learned through it; namely, that God had a purpose and a plan for sending him to Egypt and therefore he did not blame or condemn his brothers even though what they did was deeply hurtful to him on a personal level.

Thirdly, he ‘rewarded’ their betrayal with good! In verses 9-13 Joseph instructs his brothers to go quickly and bring their father down to Egypt.  He promises to care for them and provide for them for the rest of his life.

Application:

Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers was expressed with kindness, protectiveness, and blessing.  Not a shred of self-righteousness or retaliation came out of his mouth.  The years of suffering had turned him into a man of God.  His message to us is loud and clear: Don’t waste your sorrows!  Let God use them to mature you, refine you and perfect you into the man or woman He created you to be.

 

Shadow of Things to Come #13 August 1, 2017

Benjamin, Joseph’s little brother, had not come with the other ten brothers to Egypt.  As nine of them returned home, leaving Simeon in the Egyptian prison as a guarantee that they would return, the conversations on the way must have been intense.  They were returning to their father with food, but also with a heavy heart.  Things had not gone so well in Egypt.  What started out as a simple journey to find food – they thought – had turned into a nightmare they could not understand.  The Egyptian Governor had accused them of being spies, imprisoned them for three days and then insisted they return with their youngest brother in tow.  How would they ever explain this to their aged father?

Joseph had overheard his brother, Reuben’s conversation with the other.  ‘Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? And you would not listen?’ he berated them.  Reuben being the eldest son had tried to exert his influence over the others but to no avail.  Now he was saying, ‘I told you so.’  But it did no good.  It was too late, in their opinion.  And all the while that conversation was going on, Joseph understood them but said nothing.  He couldn’t without giving himself away.  So instead he turned away from them and wept.

I wonder how often we have been the Reubens who said to others, ‘I told you so.’  Adding guilt to someone who is already feeling the shame of what they’ve done accomplishes nothing positive; it only makes things worse.  It is our ego that wants to be recognized as being ‘right’.  In this regard, I am so often reminded of my late husband who frequently said, ‘It is better to be kind than right.’ How true!

The real issue going on here is that their consciences were finally getting to them.  Some people seem to be able to go years with being troubled by their conscience.  Sooner or later covered up sins for which we have not repented catch up with us, if not in this life, certainly when we stand before God at our death.  Better to deal with it now.

That’s where Joseph’s brothers find themselves, having to come to terms with their 22 year old sin. Can you imagine how Joseph felt listening to his brothers say, ‘We are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the terror in his face when he besought us and we would not listen.  Therefore this distress has now come upon us.‘  Gen. 42:41

It is to their credit that these men, guilty though they be, had the good sense to understand that they were reaping the consequences of their own sin.  Do you realize that’s quite admirable? How many times have people fallen on hard times or suffered some sudden misfortune and it never occurs to them to question if their present circumstance is a result of some ungodly deed in their past?  There is a firm principle in the scripture that serves us well if we abide by it.  Whatever a man sows, that will he reap.  It’s another way of saying, ‘Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you.’

God is amazingly merciful and generous in giving us time to repent for our misdeeds.  That’s why sometimes we fail to recognize the connection between our present misfortune and our previous failures.  This is not to say that every misfortune is a direct result of some sin or failing in our past, but we need to face the fact that many of them are!  When we don’t understand that, we resort to finger pointing, accusation, blaming others and not taking responsibility for our own problems.

One of the greatest lessons we learn from Joseph’s brothers is their maturity in recognizing their responsibility for the ill treatment they received at this “stranger’s” hands. Their betrayal of their brother had come back to haunt them and they knew it.

What are the signs of a troubled conscience? The first is the revival of the memory, then fear of being exposed.  The one thing they did not want was to be found out; the one person they did not want to know about it was their father.

Joseph commanded that their sacks be filled with corn and told the workers to put every man’s money back into the sacks and to give them provisions for their journey.  (Gen. 42:45) Why in the world did he do that?

Sometimes God puts the man or woman he wants to use in the perfect situation to vindicate themselves as a test.  Joseph could have done so but he didn’t.  He passed the test; he would wait for God to vindicate him at the perfect time.

The first evening of their journey back the brothers discover the money they had paid for the grain back in their sacks.  They panic. You might think they would have been delighted.

The nine brothers conclude that God is the only explanation. “What is this that God has done to us?” they lament.  (42:48)  God was boxing them in and they were getting closer and closer to being exposed.  When they returned home, they were extremely careful in their choice of words. ‘The man who is lord of the land spoke roughly to us and took us for spies. And we said to him, ‘We are true men and not spies’, but he demanded that we bring our youngest brother to him as proof that we are not spies. That was the worst thing their father wanted to hear but they had to say it. There was no way out.

Application:

These brothers speak across centuries to us: learn to repent quickly for what you have done.  The longer you hide your sin the worst it is.  God knows already when we have failed; better to run to Him, confess our sin and ask forgiveness; then go make it right if we have sinned against a fellow human being.  To leave it festering in a troubled conscience brings all manner of physical and emotional distress, such as we now see in Joseph’s brothers.

How will Jacob handle the news they bring?  We’ll take an in depth look at Jacob next week.

Shadow of Things to Come Lesson #12 July 25, 2017

We now proceed into the next phase of Joseph’s life, overseeing the fulfillment of everything which he had prophesied to Pharaoh in the context of interpreting the Egyptian ruler’s dream.  Keep in mind that Joseph’s interpretation was very specific and the Pharaoh’s response was equally specific.  He put everything on the line to support Joseph’s interpretation and implement his advice.  If Joseph had been wrong, Pharaoh would have been in big trouble!

But Joseph wasn’t wrong because the LORD had given him the interpretation, a fact to which he himself testified. During the first seven years of abundance, Joseph gathered up food and stored it in large silos in the various cities of Egypt.  He gathered so much corn that after awhile he stopped keeping records of how much it was for it was beyond measure.  Gen. 41: 49 puts it this way: Joseph collected so much grain – it was like the sand of the ocean – that he finally quit keeping track! 

The seven years of plenty came to an end and the seven years of famine began.  The earth would not produce; there was no rain for the crops. The famine spread throughout the entire Middle East but ‘in all the land of Egypt there was bread.’ Gen. 41:54  The seven years of abundance were a demonstration of God’s mercy; the seven years of famine to follow were a demonstration of God’s faithfulness.  Those under Pharaoh’s charge did not suffer hunger because the king had trusted the prophetic word, listened to wise counsel and implemented what he heard.  This reminds me of a verse in Proverbs:  A prudent man foresees evil coming and prepares himself; but the foolish ignore to their own peril.  Proverbs 22:3  Pharaoh had shown himself to be a prudent man and his entire nation benefited.  He had also exhibited the humility necessary to any good leader: he was willing to listen to advice, recognize its wisdom and put it into action.  Joseph was given absolute authority over the entire land of Egypt.

Meanwhile, God was about the business of bringing Joseph’s brothers face to face with their sin and calling them to account.  Neither they nor Joseph realized what God was up to until much later.

It is a great blessing when God uncovers our sin.  Yes it’s very painful for the last thing we want is to get caught for having done wrong.  We think it’s a “blessing” to get away without getting caught.  The truth is that it would be utterly horrible for God to let us go our own way and do nothing about it!  Despite any discomfort at ‘getting caught’, we must thank God for doing so.  Far better to deal with our issues in the here and now than later before the Judgment Seat.  Now we have time to repent, be forgiven and make things right and by so doing avoid being ashamed before the Throne of God.

It had been twenty two years since his brothers betrayed him.  Joseph had been waiting a long time for vindication but those were not wasted years for it was during that time that Joseph had gotten right with himself.  He’d gotten over any personal grudges and learned to forgive – his brothers who betrayed him, Potiphar’s wife who lied about him, Potiphar for throwing him into prison though he was innocent and even the butler who forgot all about him.

During those same twenty two years, it seemed as if ten of his brothers had gotten away with a heinous act of betrayal, selling their own brother into slavery.  That sin had led to another one: they deceived their father by dipping Joseph’s cloak in goat’s blood which caused Jacob to conclude that a wild animal had killed his beloved son.  When Jacob said, ‘I will go to my grave in mourning’, did the ten breathe a sigh of relief?  Did they actually believe that their father would never know?  They may well have.  For years, their sin went unpunished, unconfessed and unnoticed.  That was about to change.

The famine had reached Canaan where Jacob and his family lived.  As things got progressively worse, and news spread abroad that there was grain in Egypt, Jacob sent his sons to buy food for his large family.  Their journey culminated in the presence of the Prime Minister of Egypt who was in charge of all of Egypt’s provisions.

They didn’t recognize him.  He was twenty-two years older, dressed in Egyptian clothing, clearly the Governor of all that went on in Egypt and speaking to them through an interpreter.  And all the while, God was very much involved in what was happening though the brothers had no clue that He was!

We humans have a defense mechanism called repression; we sometimes do it voluntarily, more often involuntarily.  We push down into our subconscious what we don’t want to think about – like a major failure or sin of which we are deeply ashamed but which we’ve never resolved with God.  At the time of His choosing, God will bring it up again in His inimitable way, not to harass us but to give us opportunity to repent and be set free of the guilt and shame.  This is exactly what God was doing with the ten brothers.

Though they didn’t recognize him, Joseph recognized his brothers.  Holding his own emotions in check, he accused them of being spies, to which they protested, ‘No, Master, we have only come to buy food.’ (Gen. 42:10)  Joseph continued pressing them and finally said, ‘This is how I’ll test you.’ (42:15) He commanded them to send one of the brothers back to fetch their only brother left at home with Jacob and threw the rest of them in jail for three days.  Can you imagine the discussions those men had during those three days???  Do you see the wisdom of Joseph in giving the brothers time to think?

On the third day, Joseph brought them out with this proposition.  One of the them was to stay in prison while the rest took food back for their hungry families and then return again bringing their youngest brother with them.  That would prove that they were telling him the truth.

Of course, the youngest brother was none other than Benjamin, the only other son of Jacob born of the same mother as Joseph.  The rest of them were his half-brothers from different mothers.  At that point, the brothers started talking among themselves, thinking that the ‘Egyptian’ before them wouldn’t understand what they were saying.

‘Now we’re paying for what we did to our brother – we saw how terrified he was when he was begging us for mercy.  We wouldn’t listen to him and now we are the ones in trouble.’ (42:21)

Joseph had been speaking to them through an interpreter but understood perfectly what they were saying. When he heard their words, he turned away and wept. After composing himself, he made Simeon stay behind as a prisoner and sent the others off.

We’ll pick up the story here next week.

Application:

Before God created the heavens and the earth, He created Repentance.  Before He ever made man, knowing we would need mercy, He had already provided the means for forgiveness, mercy and relief from the burden and shame of sin. He never intended that we should live under the heavy load of shame and guilt but that we would turn to Him in sincere repentance and receive His forgiveness.  Psalm 103:12 tells us As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.  What an amazing and thrilling promise from God.

If you’ve carried hidden guilt and shame, the good news to you today is that forgiveness and freedom from that burden is available to you – right now, this moment.  Confess that failure to Him, receive His forgiveness , forgive yourself and let Him remove it from you as far as the east is from the west so you can go on and live your life in peace.

The Shepherd King #42 April 4, 2017

2 Samuel 24:1-14

One of the wonderful things about the Bible is that it does not hide the weaknesses of its heroes. We learn from the lives of such men as David that the best of God’s people are at times weak and do sin grievously. But since we are all frail human beings, we have no right to point the finger, criticize or judge another for as someone once said, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”

A second wonderful thing about the Bible is the revelation of repentance.   The word ‘repentance’ means ‘to turn around’, ‘to change one’s mind’.  Ancient Rabbis taught that God created repentance before he created man.  Isn’t that an amazing thought!  Repentance is the pathway to forgiveness.

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That does not mean that we should take repentance lightly, as if it were an ‘easy way out’ that makes us less sensitive to sin.  Not at all.  To repent is to have a sincere heart and mind change about what we have done; to face it squarely, call it what it is – sin, and with an act of our will, turn away from it and seek God’s help in avoiding it in the future.

When King David sinned by committing adultery and murder, he repented to the depths of his soul when the prophet Nathan confronted him. (2 Samuel 12)  He was forgiven but at the same time, our decisions have consequences.  As we saw earlier, the child which Bathsheva bore to him died.  Later he suffered the heartbreak connected with his son Amnon. Then Absalom, another son, was killed.

Now we see yet another sin which David committed and would soon regret.  It may seem curious to you at first, but bear with me.  What was his sin?  He counted the warriors of Israel.

Now you might quickly say, ‘What’s so bad about that?’

Israel at that time was not the democracy it is today.  Israel was a theocracy, which means that God was truly the King and David served as His representative.  Moreover the children of Israel were God’s people and their army was His army.  David’s numbering of the warriors was as if he was telling God, “I’m not sure you have this under control. I want to know for myself how big my army is.”

We get some light that validates this interpretation from I Chronicles 21 which recounts the same event.   In verse 1 we read, Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel. 

The Bible does not contradict itself; it explains itself.  What Samuel didn’t write, the author of the Chronicles filled in.  And, as we believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God, we ought to appreciate this lesson.  2 Samuel 24 is an occasion where God permitted Satan to tempt the king for remember, Satan is God’s tool. A reading of the book of Job makes that immensely clear.

However, there are three things all of us need to understand about haSatan (as he’s called in Hebrew).  In tempting God’s people to sin, 1) he always goes too far and ends up being exposed; 2) when Satan is up to something, so is God; and 3) when Satan is up to something big, God is up to something much bigger.

Another thing to learn from this chapter is that sorrow follows sin, sooner or later. If you have any thought towards God, you will eventually regret what you did.  Look at 2 Samuel 24:10 David was conscience-striken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the Lord, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I have done.  Now, O Lord, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.’

Recognizing his error, David doesn’t wallow in depression over his mistake.  He turns quickly to the Lord.  Realizing our failure and repenting quickly is a sign of spiritual maturity. The people most to be pitied are those who feel no sorrow for the evils they have done and at the final judgment it will be too late to repent.

David had learned well that God is gracious and merciful toward the sinner. In vs.14 he says: I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for His mercy is great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men.’

Application:

Have you learned in life that God is often far more gracious with your sin than your fellowman? Have you learned that God is far more gracious towards you than you are to yourself? Repentance is a wonderful gift of God’s grace. It is He who grants us the ability and the strength to turn away from sin and turn towards Him.  He is just, yes; but He is also merciful and compassionate for He knows better than we do that we are fragile beings, dependent on His care for our very life.