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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Not the Way Its Supposed to Be

In his book, Not the Way Its Supposed to Be, Cornelius Plantinga wrote:

The awareness of sin used to be our shadow. Christians hated sin. They feared it. They fled from it. They grieved over it. Some of our forefathers agonized over their sins. A man who lost his temper might wonder if he could still go to holy communion. A woman who for years envied her more attractive and intelligent sister might wonder if this sin threatened her very salvation.

But that shadow has dimmed. Nowadays the accusation you have sinned is often said with a grin and with a tone that signals an inside joke. At one time, this accusation still had the power to jolt people.

The evidence seems obvious that many even among those who claim to follow Jesus don’t take sin seriously. Even if we do take sin seriously, we tend to only think of it affecting our own relationship with God. We may think we are not hurting anyone else. But whatever a person’s sin, whether it be using pornography, harboring a grudge, or withholding their tithe, that sin often hurts other people. Sin affects not only your relationship with God but is potentially dangerous for other people as well.

When David committed adultery and then murdered the woman's husband to cover up his sin, he repented and was restored to his relationship with God. God continued to use him. He was still called a man after God's own heart, but he could not undo the consequences in his own family.

It's not possible to live a life without sin. But we are foolish to make light of it, and we are foolish to not be aggressively seeking to fight sin in ourselves.

So how do you fight sin? Do you strengthen your anti sin muscles so you can withstand it? No. That's incredibly grim and it won’t work. Rather, the desire to sin must be overwhelmed by a greater desire for something better. Jesus is the most beautiful, the most valuable, the most desirable being in all the universe. When we don't see that, its only because we are blind to what's true. Whatever we want more than him, we are being deceived and if we don't get our heads straight about that, it could result in tragic consequences for ourselves and perhaps for many people around us.

Joshua 7 contains an uncomfortable story you won’t easily shake. It’s a passage we need to help us to develop a healthy fear of the Lord, for “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” You can see the text, outline, and discussion questions for Sunday’s message at Bethany Place on Joshua 7 here.

Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be

Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be
Joshua 7
Reproducing Faith, Part 5

1.    See Gods anger 
Joshua 7:1 (ESV) But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel.

2.    See who sin hurts

Joshua 7:2-3 (ESV) Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth-aven, east of Bethel, and said to them, “Go up and spy out the land.” And the men went up and spied out Ai. And they returned to Joshua and said to him, “Do not have all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai. Do not make the whole people toil up there, for they are few.”

Joshua 7:4–5 (ESV) So about three thousand men went up there from the people. And they fled before the men of Ai, and the men of Ai killed about thirty-six of their men and chased them before the gate as far as Shebarim and struck them at the descent. And the hearts of the people melted and became as water.

Joshua 7:6–9 (ESV) Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening, he and the elders of Israel. And they put dust on their heads. And Joshua said, “Alas, O Lord God, why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would that we had been content to dwell beyond the Jordan! O Lord, what can I say, when Israel has turned their backs before their enemies! For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it and will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will you do for your great name?”

3.    See how sin is exposed

Joshua 7:10–12 (ESV) 10 The Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. 12 Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you.

Joshua 7:13–15 (ESV) 13 Get up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow; for thus says the Lord, God of Israel, “There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.” 14 In the morning therefore you shall be brought near by your tribes. And the tribe that the Lord takes by lot shall come near by clans. And the clan that the Lord takes shall come near by households. And the household that the Lord takes shall come near man by man. 15 And he who is taken with the devoted things shall be burned with fire, he and all that he has, because he has transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and because he has done an outrageous thing in Israel.’ ”

4.    See how sin progresses

Joshua 7:16–19 (ESV) 16 So Joshua rose early in the morning and brought Israel near tribe by tribe, and the tribe of Judah was taken. 17 And he brought near the clans of Judah, and the clan of the Zerahites was taken. And he brought near the clan of the Zerahites man by man, and Zabdi was taken. 18 And he brought near his household man by man, and Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken. 19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord God of Israel and give praise to him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.”

Joshua 7:22–23 (ESV) 22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and behold, it was hidden in his tent with the silver underneath. 23 And they took them out of the tent and brought them to Joshua and to all the people of Israel. And they laid them down before the Lord.

5.    See the solution the story points toward

Joshua 7:24–26 (ESV) 24 And Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan the son of Sarah, and the silver and the cloak and the bar of gold, and his sons and daughters and his oxen and donkeys and sheep and his tent and all that he had. And they brought them up to the Valley of Achor. 25 And Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord brings trouble on you today.” And all Israel stoned him with stones. They burned them with fire and stoned them with stones. 26 And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his burning anger. Therefore, to this day the name of that place is called the Valley of Achor.

Romans 3:23–25 (ESV) 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

Questions for Discussion
How would you describe the fear of God? How is it possible to develop a healthy fear of God?
Should we think of God getting angry at sin now? Why or why not?
Can pride and the fear of God reside together in the same person at the same time?
How can an individual’s sin still have consequences for an entire group of people?
Joshua and others give evidence that they had begun to place their confidence in their previous success rather than on God. What evidence do you see that we consistently gravitate toward trusting something or someone other than God?
What evidence do you see that it is God’s job to expose sin and not ours?
What is involved in fighting sin in our own lives? See Romans 8:13 & Colossians 3:5

Compare Joshua 7:20-21 to James 1:13-15. How would you describe how sin happens?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Fearing the Influence of Faith?

As you were growing up you almost certainly had talks with your parents where they said, “I don’t want you hanging around with that boy,” or “I don’t want you to see you spending time with that girl.” That’s because most parents understand that children are impressionable and can’t always tell how they are being influenced. Parents understand that sometimes a young person can so want to be accepted that they will go along with things that otherwise they would not. Everyone knows what the phrase, “she or he fell in with the wrong crowd,” means and parents are on alert and praying that such a thing never need be said about their child.

Ideally as we mature we detect the influence others have on us. We learn that some bring out the best in us. These people encourage us, or make us think, or help us see that our viewpoints are wanted and needed, and so we find the courage to be ourselves. Others with whom we spend time either through their criticism, negativity, or just plain bad behavior, we find influence us to say, think, or do things that we later regret. On these insights, make decisions regarding whom we allow to get close enough to influence us.

I think there’s another kind of influence that people fear. Even some believers wonder if becoming a person of deep faith will make them strange, or weak, or in the other direction, judgmental; maybe even ruthless. Some think that perhaps following Jesus would be a good thing, but that following the God they see in the Old Testament would be a bad idea. Hence some questions:

"Is God portrayed differently in the New Testament and the Old Testament? If you get really serious about trusting God, will that make you passive, where you just sit around and wait for God to act for you? On the other hand, if you take all of the bible seriously, do you worry that it could make you like members of fanatic so called “churches” that speak openly of God hating certain groups of people?"

From one of the most well known stories in all of the Old Testament and perhaps one of the more difficult to explain, we will probe these questions as we explore the fall of Jericho from Joshua  5 & 6 as a part of the sermon series we are doing at Bethany Place on the book of Joshua called Reproducing Faith. The story of the fall of Jericho is recorded in Joshua 5:13-6:25 which you can read here.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Loving Jesus but Hating the Church

That’s not really possible, but people think that it is, which is kind of the point. Let me explain. Though I accepted Christ and was baptized at age 6 and was in church twice on Sunday and every Wednesday, I was far more influenced by the rest of the world than by scripture in those early years. I learned quickly that there was a pecking order at my school and I was more concerned about being popular than befriending someone very different from me. I had learned the song, “Jesus Loves the Little children of the World” as a preschooler, but I didn’t get it. I knew that God loved everyone and I heard stories about missionaries around the world. But I didn’t get that what this meant was that as a follower of Jesus, I would welcome people into my life that were different. 

I was around 12 or 13 when something happened that revealed this blind spot. A boy, a year or two younger than me showed up for Sunday School. I’d seen him before but didn’t know him. I don’t know why he came. Something caused him to get up the nerve. Maybe his parents made him. Maybe something terrible had happened in his family and someone said he should go to church. For whatever reason, he showed up.

But I was too focused on myself. This guy was different. He didn’t smell good.  And I snubbed him. I remember my teacher trying to be welcoming but I was no help at all. honestly I was just hoping he would go away.

He did.

I never saw him at church again.

It was years before I realized how selfish I acted that day and how tragically I failed this boy. It still haunts me when I think about it. 

The book unChristian, reflects on a survey conducted among Americans aged 16-29. They asked participants if they knew or had heard of evangelical Christians. 57% said they had. Of that 57%, 49% said they had a bad impression of evangelicals, 48% said they had a neutral impression, and 3% said that they had a good impression.

Early in the book they say:
One crucial insight kept popping up in our exploration. In studying thousands of outsiders' impressions, it is clear that Christians are primarily perceived for what they stand against. We have become famous for what we oppose, rather than who we are for.  
David Kinnaman; Gabe Lyons. unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity . . . and Why It Matters.

I am the problem. At best, I was part of the problem. Perhaps many of these young people had experiences like the person I snubbed as a boy. Combine that with the impression of believers described above, and you have a prescription for a very negative image of Christians.

What do we about this? One step is to internalize stories like that found in Joshua chapter 2, where God chooses to use and welcomes into his family a wildly unlikely candidate. We must also make specific applications for us and our young people about what such stories mean so that we become people of compassion, who live out the implications of the song, “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” I’ll be sharing more about this Sunday at Bethany Place. You can see the text, outline, and discussion questions here.

Loving Jesus But Hating the Church Outline and Discussion Questions

Loving Jesus But Hating the Church
Joshua 2
Reproducing Faith, Part 3

1.    Know that God uses people you don’t expect

Joshua 2:1–7 (ESV) And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” And they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there. And it was told to the king of Jericho, “Behold, men of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land.” Then the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land.” But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. And she said, “True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And when the gate was about to be closed at dark, the men went out. I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them.” But she had brought them up to the roof and hid them with the stalks of flax that she had laid in order on the roof. So the men pursued after them on the way to the Jordan as far as the fords. And the gate was shut as soon as the pursuers had gone out.

2.    See that grace is required for all to come to God

Joshua 2:8–14 (ESV) Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. 10 For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. 11 And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. 12 Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign 13 that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” 14 And the men said to her, “Our life for yours even to death! If you do not tell this business of ours, then when the Lord gives us the land we will deal kindly and faithfully with you.”

3.     Note that God is at work when and where you don’t expect

Joshua 2:15–24 (ESV) 15 Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was built into the city wall, so that she lived in the wall. 16 And she said to them, “Go into the hills, or the pursuers will encounter you, and hide there three days until the pursuers have returned. Then afterward you may go your way.” 17 The men said to her, “We will be guiltless with respect to this oath of yours that you have made us swear. 18 Behold, when we come into the land, you shall tie this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and you shall gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your father’s household. 19 Then if anyone goes out of the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we shall be guiltless. But if a hand is laid on anyone who is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head. 20 But if you tell this business of ours, then we shall be guiltless with respect to your oath that you have made us swear.” 21 And she said, “According to your words, so be it.” Then she sent them away, and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window.
22 They departed and went into the hills and remained there three days until the pursuers returned, and the pursuers searched all along the way and found nothing. 23 Then the two men returned. They came down from the hills and passed over and came to Joshua the son of Nun, and they told him all that had happened to them. 24 And they said to Joshua, “Truly the Lord has given all the land into our hands. And also, all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of us.”

Questions for Further Discussion
  • How can we address judgmentalism and prejudice in our hearts so that we authentically express openness and welcome to all kinds of people? 
  • How can we develop the kind of faith in God that trumps all other allegiances?
  • How can we determine where our ultimate allegiance lies?
  • How do we structure our church so that we we communicate a balance of both grace and truth? How can we attract people who are not like us? 
  • How would you describe what it means to fear God? How is a healthy fear of God developed? 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Courage to Do Hard Things

Growing up, my best friend was Jamey Creech. His house was right behind ours.  Jamey’s dad Bill led a group for boys at our church called R.A’s. An older man helped him whose name I can’t remember but he must have been at least in his 70’s. On a few occasions, this older gentlemen led our meetings when Jamey’s dad couldn’t be there. We met in the basement of our church building and we gave in to the temptation to run all over the building, taking advantage of an older man who couldn’t keep up with us. One image from that time haunts me. I ran into him on a set of steps as he was chasing us. He was sweating and frustrated and pleading with us to stop and come back to the room. I’ll never forget the look on his face. It’s a wonder we didn’t kill him. As far as I know we didn’t. The picture is from a cookout we had at Kingdom Come State Park, near my parents home in Cumberland, Kentucky. If you think we look innocent, we weren’t. 

R.A.’s stands for Royal Ambassador’s. The idea is taken from 2 Cor. 5:20a “We are ambassadors for Christ.” I do have great memories from our experiences. R.A.’s was somewhat similar to Boy Scouts, with similar projects and rewards. One memory I have is a chart on a wall that marked our progress in scripture memory. We received a star next to our name for every verse we memorized. There was some kind of reward for memorizing a certain amount but I don’t remember what that was. What I do remember was us standing in the room, with Bible’s open, looking for the shortest verses we could find and remembering them long enough to speak them to the leader so we could get a star by our name, then we promptly forgot them. That most certainly wasn’t the point of the exercise.

Joshua 1:8 says:
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
The most practical way to do what this verse commands is to memorize scripture. But memorizing scripture is never an end in itself, as if it were some kind of spiritual cologne we put on to make us smell better to God. Rather, memorizing makes possible the second phrase, meditating on what God says day and night, which leads to being careful to do God says, which leads to prosperity and success before God. When the Bible talks about prosperity and success it has little if anything to do with being financially well off. Rather, this kind of prosperity and success is to know God and know his purpose for you and to carry it out. And God’s purpose for you almost certainly will require everything you are. In other words it will be hard.

At Bethany Place this Sunday, I’ll be preaching the 2nd part of the series “Reproducing Faith” from the Old Testament book of Joshua. The message title is, “Courage to Do Hard Things” taken from Joshua 1:1-9. You can see the scripture, outline, and discussion questions by clicking here.


Courage to Do Hard Things Outline

Courage to Do Hard Things

Joshua 1:1-9
Reproducing Faith, Part 2

1.     Rely on God rather than people

Joshua 1:1–4 (ESV) After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory.

2.     Trust God’s promise

Joshua 1:5–6 (ESV) No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them.

Joshua 1:9 (ESV) Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

3.     Focus on what will provoke success in doing God’s will

Joshua 1:7–8 (ESV) Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

Questions for Further Discussion

1.     How do you think long-term change in a person, a home, an organization or a church happens?
2.     How is it possible to change the way a person thinks?
3.     Who are some of the biggest spiritual influences in your life? In what ways are you tempted to rely on them rather than on God?
4.     What obstacles do you face that hinder your full hearted following of God?
5.     How strong and courageous do you feel? What do you face that calls for strength and courage? What strategies can a person use to remember God’s promise of his presence?
6.     How would you define effectiveness? How would you define success?
7.     Can you make an argument for why it is critical to memorize and meditate on scripture?

8.     How do you think meditation on scripture leads to effectiveness in following God’s call?