Category Archives: 2017 Peneteuch

Vicious Cycle

Readings in Judges can be down right depressing. When Joshua dies after 30 years of leading the Israelites into the Promise Land; I would imagine there was a very high feeling of success. Finally, Israel got the long Promised Land covenant to Abraham. While God had said that “wherever the sole of your feet would touch had already been given to them;” the conquest  of the Canaanite tribes still had to be done.

Joshua, a man of war, and great integrity of character delivered the people. Obviously Joshua was a very influential leader, for we find in Judges 2:10; Israel served God all the days of Joshua, the days of the Elders who followed Joshua; but there rose a generation that knew not the acts of God.  It amazes me as a person and a pastor how quickly people are to forget the blessings of God in their lives. The very next verse tells us that Israel went after Baals; the walked away from Yahweh; provoked Him to anger and incurred His wrath. It’s that same mentality of “what have you done for me lately?” Israel was a wayward, hard-headed and stiff-necked people – careful so is the Church for the most part!

I know the book of Hosea describes the terrible marriage Hoses and Gomer had; when I think of Israel and the spiritual marriage to God – oh how unfaithful they were to Him. Even in the wrath and anger of our holy and righteous God; there is great compassion and mercy. When Israel [and we] cry out to our Lord in distress that we self-inflected; God hears and delivers us. I was thinking about the Judges and how they were called to “deliver” Israel and how that they are a good archetypal of Jesus our deliverer!

The book of Judges reveals the insane cycle of Israel coming and leaving God continually. The cycle shows the unfaithfulness of Israel and the long-suffering of Jehovah. It appears that when a nation/church experiences times of opulence and abundance that a “look what I’ve done” attitude – pride develops and we leave our Heavenly Father who has done it all for us. I cannot but help think of the United States in this analogy. When we are in times of distress or economic decline, we seek after God – even those who don’t know God call on His name for deliverance. God hears the prayers of His people and a return of blessing and hope result. Soon however, people start to drift from the Lord – He isn’t as important now, for things are going good. Henry Blackaby speaks of this vicious cycle in his book “Fresh Encounter.”

One of the problems that I feel precipitated Israels waywardness is they broke the covenant with God. He told them to NOT intermarry with the people; do not take their gods and eliminate the Canaanite people. They failed in all aspects. Early in chapter one, we find that 6 of the tribes did not totally remove the people for their land. Eventually, co-existing with them and sharing their children and customs. Instead of being a change agent to the people; the culture and Canaanites change Israel. Over and over again through the book of Judges, the people of God become enslaved to the very people they were to oust from the land. In our homeland toady we find that we have been infiltrated with so many Eastern religions and customs; when Christianity is lived out correctly, it is declared “offensive” and legislated to stop. Now, before I get too far – the Gospel is for all – all people, all cultures all creation. But the world is having more impact on the Church then we are on the world!

Compromise and apathy are the order of the day. We are to be IN the world, not OF the world; sadly the latter is true. Is America and the American church already in the Vicious cycle of judgment and deliverance?

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D6 and the Shema

The Second Law – for those about to enter into the Promised Land finally; Moses gives them the reminder of the Law/Torah given to him on Mount Sinai some 40 years earlier. The Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 has been adopted by Dr. Ron Hunter at Random House publishing to develop a curriculum and ministry focus called D6. Our church has adopted the D6 philosophy of developing families into disciple-makers of their own homes. I am not sure of Dr. Hunters reasoning but ours came as a result of a year-long community and church evaluation and strategic plan process. We found that our community was lacking in “role models for boys and girls.” [Their words] In an effort to help our community and develop boys and girls into their God-designed gender role we shifted our ministry from AWANA to Royal Ambassadors/Girls In Action. Both of these programs are good at what they do – develop young people spiritually. Our switch came about because we felt the children need to have role models and hands on instruction on being a boy or a girl – AWANA didn’t give this to us; the children were all lumped together without any real identity. This shift in focus and ministry program has enabled the family to join together intentionally in devotions about the same bible study lesson taught on Sundays. THe RA’s/GA’s has brought together older men and women to teach our young kids some basic life skills like using tools, building things, cooking and sewing. While there may be some to think that this is stereotypical gender bias; we find that it is a return to God’s design for male and female.

In the Shema, the people are reminded to love the LORD God, the ONLY GOD, with all their strength, heart and might. This admonition is repeated in Matthew 22:37-38 by Jesus. Our first priority is loving the Lord with all that we are; Jesus extended the love in action command to love others as we love ourselves.

Ron Hunter and D6 have built their philosophy on returning parents with the responsibility to raise their children and teach them of God and spiritual life. D6 has a motto – 1/168 isn’t enough. The Church cannot do in one hour out of 168 for the week what is necessary for proper spiritual development.  The Shema continues in its command to Israel [and Parents] to TEACH YOUR CHILDREN – vs 6. Before we can teach, we must have these principles on our own heart – no more drop off religion Parents!!

Teach your sons and daughters [in specific situations]; when you sit down with them in the house; when you are walking together; when you lie down at night; when you get up in the morning. Parents have been commanded and challenged to disciple their own children. SO many years the Church has been seen as the spiritual mentors for our children – the church was meant to be an extension of the home and the home an extension of the Church. These two were meant to be complimentary, But in the last 25 years the Church and Home have been in competition with each other. Every Home a church and every church a home.

I am a fan of D6 and their philosophy of returning the obligation to the parents for raising spiritual young people. One thing about D6 and Ron Hunter, the responsibility isn’t just flung back on the parents with a guilt trip about not doing anything. There is a load of materials available to assist parents and churches get this right. The old saying “As the family goes, so goes the country; rings true more today that any other time in our society.

Heartland Baptist made the ministerial switch from doing church to be the church that families need. We are all about helping the families; but we are not about doing it all for them. This means as a church we have intentionally come along side parents to enable them to accomplish the task outlined in Deuteronomy 6. The Church Equips for ministry; moms and dads are the front line disciple makers. Our desire is to help them be successful.

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History 101

readings from Deuteronomy 1-5; Moses is talking to a New Generation of Israelites; the previous generation died in the wilderness because of their disobedience. These then are the children of those who failed to go into The Promised Land.  Think about for a minute – everyone above the age of 20 years old died in the Wilderness when they could have enjoyed forty years in the Promised Land! Needless to say, the children would “get in” where the parents refused to go. Moses plays the role of educator in these chapters. Moses begins with the journey to Mount Sinai not the deliverance from Egypt. Interesting since the focus of their parents was always to return to Egypt. Moses doesn’t spend a lot of time with the rebellious events of their parents, but quickly tells them [and repeatedly] about the statutes, commands,  judgments and ordinances. The Law is repeated, hence the name Deuteronomy = Second Law. While 40 years has passed, the desires and Laws of the Promised Land did not change. The Laws Moses stipulated were for the necessary conquest and success in the Promised Land. The New Israel were to be a people who observed the Law of God and served Him only. Moses even recounts to them why he is not going with them – his own disobedience for striking the rock.

Moses begins telling them of the conquests on the East side of Jordan. There are three tribes that decided to live on the wrong side of the river – Reubenites, Gadites and 1/2 tribe of Manasseh. This is interesting because we are reminded of the Gadarenes story of the Lunatic man with demons. The district of Decapolis  – sometimes called Gersanes. Anyway the area is on the Est side of the Sea of Galilee; when the demons were cast out of the man, they went into the herd of pigs – now how far had the tribe of Gad fallen, wrong side of the river, not in the Promise Land and herding pigs!

The victories over King of Sihon and King of Bashan are recalled, the need was for the nation of Israel to get into position for crossing over Jordan and occupying the Land. Moses reiterates the necessity to obey God and His Law – reminder of the statutes and Law are culminated in recounting the 10 Commandments. Moses was there, got the Law, and was passing on first hand that which Yahweh had written. I found it interesting that the Commands contain four verses about the keeping of the Sabbath. Great emphasis on Rest for all things, man, animals, slaves, fields etc.

Why the history lesson? As people we forget what happened in the past – and so we often times repeat the same errors. Here I think Moses was “charging up” the people to follow Joshua. He was giving them a pep rally of sorts. Being reminded of how their parents refused to go into the Land, should spur them on to take the Land God had already said was theirs.

I think of today with so many churches declining, dying or plateaued; could it be that they are a generation that will not move into the Promised Land of milk and honey that God had said was theirs for the taking? Do churches get comfortable? Yes, after a period of time, the urgency to evangelize and impact the community decreases because, the church has a building, people and money so the church becomes an end unto itself. While The Parents were anything but comfortable in the Wilderness, they tolerated the conditions of daily manna and quail over going and doing the Will of God.  Does a church have to lose a generation of people before they will finally do what the Lord told them to do in the first place? How many church stare “looking over Jordan” when they could be wading through the waters to the other side?

History – we all have one, most of them are not very favorable. I find that we can ether relive history or make a New Story; which do you want to do?

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Snakes and Mistakes

Numbers 20-21 are two more accounts where the people of God; Israel are still the stiff-necked people. The change in their hearts has not been made. Time after time the people will rebel and then when things go haywire, they cry out in distress for the LORD to deliver them. One would think that after so many times of rebelling and failing that after the Lord delivered them, the people would get a clue. Wait a second, this sounds like how many believers live their lives out! The Book of Judges is reflective of the roller-coaster ride many professing Christians experience. The on and off dedication to the Lord is cause for so much agony and heart ache.  Chapter 20 starts out with Miriam dying, the older sister of Moses. So at Kadesh, after refusing to enter the Promised Land, the people start singing the same song about “why have you brought us out here to die, would that we stayed in Egypt.’ If we think about this a bit; if the spies had just brought the glowing report of food and sustenance about the Promise Land, then the people had to be satisfied with the Manna and Quail now; I’m sure we would complain a bit too. However, this complaining has its effect on the Leader. Now leaders are human beings too; but that doesn’t give us excuse. In the heat of the conflict, Moses gets angry and instead of “speaking to the Rock” he strikes the Rock twice. The water comes forth from the Rock – but the event of rebellion against God has its consequences. Moses will not be allowed to enter in the Promised Land when the time comes. In Deuteronomy Moses is not sick, or blind, in good health, but taken up the Mountain that overlooks Jericho, Moses sees the picture of “what could have been.” Joshua will lead the people across. Now I have to admit I was a little ticked about the harsh punishment Moses received because he disobeyed God. I thought of all the ways that the people behaved, and felt that God should give him another chance – in fact Moses addressed the punishment with God – and the Father got ticked “what I have said, I have said – no more talk about it!” Only until I was reminded of how close Moses was allowed to get to God and the privileged position he was in did I understand that if anyone should have gotten it right – Moses would have been it. Speak to the Rock, don’t strike it. The is a metaphor of Jesus – Jesus only needed to be struck/die once. We do not need to repeatedly re-crucify Him. Also Moses struck in anger at the people. I wonder how many times have we struck out at God when people made us angry?

The second event is the Snakes – The same song is sung “why have you brought us here” – this time the complaining of the people to Moses draws the ire of God. He sends a plague of fiery snakes on the people. The people start dying because of the snake bites. Moses begins to intercede for the people to the LORD; God gives the cure to the people – don’t look at the snakes on the ground look at the standard with the bronze serpent on it. Jesus uses this metaphor about Himself – just as Moses lifted the serpent up in the wilderness, even so the Son of Man must be lifted up. As the people “looked and lived” by believing [faith] the serpent standard would heal; so it is with people who look to Jesus who was lifted up on the Cross. Healing from sin and death is a result of our faith looking. The symbol of the medical field is one similar to the Nehushtan. As the people of Israel were plagued with the fiery serpent that caused death, so are we people who are plagued by sin and death [Satan the serpent] the cure then and now is to Look and Live. Look at the Savior and live. For all the healing mankind needs is found not with a snake on a standard, but the Son of God on the Cross.

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You’ve Gone Far Enough

In Numbers 16 and 17 we find that Israel [congregation] confronts Moses [pastor] about just who is important and who isn’t.  It always amazes me how short a memory we have about the past. Israel has just tasted defeat because of their lack of faith and rebellion against the LORD. Now they want to take on the LORD’s anointed.  The clan of Korah – Levitical ancestry challenges Moses and his authority. The Levites were chosen by God to do the administration of the Tabernacle/Sanctuary. Two-hundred and fifty leaders stand up to enact a coup. They tell Moses “You have gone far enough!” Now let’s think about this a bit. Moses reluctantly takes the task of delivering Israel out of Egyptians slavery; he has led them through the Wilderness and been the spokesman for them to God.  Now that the future 40 yrs. is before them – which means wandering around and dying; they bow up and say they are equal to him. “All the congregation is holy, and the LORD is in their midst . In other words – Moses you just aren’t all that! We are just as good as you.”

Now this is a very interesting story – one could ask why the LORD would include it in the scripture? Additionally, what do it mean to us today. This is just my thoughts – but one could look at the story of the congregation versus the Pastor; or the Ministerial leadership against the Laymen in a church.  I have often found that many pastors labor in conflict and difficulty when things are going rough. When congregational life improves, then we find the people want to take over from the leadership – using the justification that they are “God’s people” too. This has the impact of bringing the pastor/leadership down to the pew level. I believe today there is a lack of respect for the pulpit in many congregations. Sometimes this can come about because the pastor/leadership is weak or the congregation looks at the leadership as “hired employees.”

Back to our story of Korah – Moses does his normal response, he seeks the LORD. The incense and censer test will determine who is holy and who isn’t. Moses tells Korah “You have gone far enough.”  Many a conflict arises in congregational life about who is in charge and who isn’t. The Pastor is called to be the under-shepherd; he is to lead the flock/sheep in accordance with God’s will.  Moses has already led them where God wanted them; but they refused to follow. We often have read that Israel is compared to a stubborn, hard-headed sheep.

In this passage we are confronted with the power of God and His protection of his servants and intolerance for rebellion. Korah forgot who they were – nothing they had done qualified them for the priesthood; yet now they boasted of themselves. While Korah thought they were confronting Moses and Aaron, but in reality they were confronting and challenging the LORD. The story continues with Moses interacting with Dathan and Abiram; who refuse to come see him – throwing the failure of obtaining the Promise Land on him, when it was the people who decided not to go.  I have wondered sometimes why Moses decided to stay with the rebellious people? He had opportunity to let the LORD start over fresh with him – I believe it is the pastor’s heart of Moses, even though the people were adamant against him, he stayed with them, interceding and pastoring them. Finally the anger of Moses with the insubordination and rebellion reaches its apex – Korah just kept pushing against Moses’ leadership. The righteous anger of Moses draws the attention of the LORD. “Separate yourself from Korah” the ground opens up and the 250 men are swallowed up.  You would think that after the display of power from God people would get a hint – Nope; the murmuring continues and a plague is sent  that 14,700 die.

In a revitalization thought – how is a pastor to shepherd a people who do not respect or honor the position of pastor? How many business meetings have happened where the pastor/leadership was raked over the coals about something they had no control over? How many times have congregations risen up against the LORD by rising up against God’s man? We wonder why churches die and decline – I think it is a result of the Pew taking over the Pulpit. Now don’t get me wrong, there are bad pastors, just like there are bad congregations. We all have no grounds for boasting of ourselves. We are the priesthood of God, because He made us so!

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Death of a Generation

I find that Numbers 13/14 to be some of the saddest chapters in the Bible.  After having camped at Mt. Sinai for a year, the nation of Israel is finally on its way to the homeland – the Promised Land. The blessing of God that was promised to Abraham all the way back in Genesis 12/14/17/22 is finally coming to a crescendo; but the lack of faith by the generation appointed to enter the land results in children wandering in the wilderness for forty years, watching their disobedient parents die. The tribes of Israel had been witness and recipient to the power of Yahweh for the last 18 months. They had tasted of His provision of manna, water and quail. The people had personally received the mercy of God during their rebellious behavior [Exodus 32]. Each tribe afford the privilege to send out a scout to see the Land of Promise and bring back a report. The orders were to “spy out the Land; investigate the cities and people of the Land and bring back some fruit from the Land.”  For 40 days the spies enjoyed the provision of the land; all the while collecting data about the Land God said He would give them. I cannot imagine having to cut down a sapling tree in order to carry back a cluster of grapes. The question – is the Land as God said it would be? Is it a land “Flowing with milk and honey?”  True enough was the report from the 12 spies. But – oh, why did there have to be a “But”? Yes the land is like the Lord promised – but the cities are fortified, and there are descendants of Anak in the land [Anak or the Nephilim are ancestors of the Philistines – remember Goliath was a Giant some 9 feet tall.] Fear had gripped the 10 spies who saw the obstacles in the land not the opportunity of the land.  Caleb tries to quiet the people; fear has gripped them – their thought obviously was that they would just walk into the inhabited land and take it without fighting or conflict. Just as Egypt saw the “strong hand of the Lord” so will followers by faith. The people saw their own limits and determined that even though the land was as described – they were like “grasshoppers” and would be nothing more than cannon fodder for the giants. Walking by sight says we can’t – walking by faith says we can’t but God can!

Caleb and Joshua some men who were 40 and 45 at the time relived that God could do what he said. Joshua the son of Nun had been the commander of the armies and witnessed the “battle strength” of God during the fighting of the Amalekites. [Exodus 17] For he had been part of a battle with the enemy where if Moses hands being lifted up , fighting a battle he couldn’t lose; and when Moses hands were down, fighting a battle he couldn’t win. The faith of Caleb and Joshua would be rewarded, not on this day though. The crowd or mob that was forming would win the day. FEAR won that day. Numbers 14 is just as sad – for now the people have realized no promise land, so they complain against Moses and Aaron. “Would that we would have died in Egypt”  – Let’s get another leader and go back.

Moses challenges the people not to rebel and not to fear the people of the land. I wonder how many churches have not conquered their “land” because of fear of the people? We find out later that the people of the land were already gripped with fear in the story of Rahab [Joshua 2].  In Numbers 14:18-19; there is a great warning and punishment for failure to accomplish what God had set out to do through us. To know that our rebellion will be found in the 2nd – 4th generations – this is the great influence and impact that we pass on to our children and grandchildren. While that is the negative, we also know that faith expressed is a source of influence for good to the generations that follow us. After the people of Israel had been chided for disobedience; they try to go take the land in their own strength. This is a big mistake; this was the source of their fear – Not by the strength of man, but by the Power and authority of God the Land would be theirs. The change of mind and attempt to do what only God could do ended in disaster. Doing the right thing at the wrong time is still disobedience. The people of Israel and the church often have learned the difficult lesson following God. Many a church has balked at the “Promised Land” because they saw obstacles. Would that Churches today would trust more in the power of Jehovah than in the programs of men!

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Some Things Never Change [Here we go again!]

I am back from my recovery from open heart surgery. When we left off we were reading Leviticus; obviously I can’t capture all of our readings for the last seven weeks – so I want to pick up with Numbers 10. In Leviticus and the first nine chapters of Numbers, we find the continued instruction for the people and priests.  They are still at Mount Sinai; they camped at Sinai for a year. Israel has been out of Egypt for about 18 months when we come to Numbers 10. The track record of the people thus far is not a good one. It seems that every time the LORD tested them to determine their obedience, they failed. The people complained from the beginning of the Exodus; complaints about being drawn out to die at the Red Sea; complained about no water, or food. We even have the episode of blatant rebellion in Exodus 32 with the Golden Calf while Moses is up on the mountain receiving the Law. The scripture tells us that Israel is an obstinate and stiff-necked people. I was reading recently from Thom Rainer about the three kinds of church revitalization attempts. [http://thomrainer.com/2015/05/three-types-of-church-revitalization-introducing-church-answers-monthly/] He identifies them as Acquisition [90%], Covenantal [40%] and Organic [2%]. Acquisition is similar to replanting or restarting a church with new leadership. Covenantal pertains to a church agreeing on certain changes with a catalytic change agent; and Organic is when a church tries different methodologies and programs to stop the declining and dying.  My point in referencing this is that Organic is least successful because while the processes and programs have been changed, the people’s behavior/attitude has not. Some churches would die than change. When we know that upwards to 1000 churches will close this year just in the Southern Baptist Convention; obviously something has to done. If Thom Rainer’s success rates are accurate; then only when radical “surgery” occurs will there be any real effect on the dying/declining churches. As I titled this blog post, some things never change. Change is inevitable; if change doesn’t occur, death will.

Back to Numbers 11; when Israel is told to leave Mt. Sinai and head to the Promised Land; the people pick up where they left off with complaining about everything. Their complaints find the ears of the LORD and Moses; now Moses has to be commended for even when the people seem bent on ousting him, he intercedes for them. Remember now the people are still in the Wilderness; they complain about the Manna and wanting meat to eat. The fury of the LORD brings fire that singes the outskirts of the camp. The rabble as they are called continue to stir up strife and controversy. Rather than praising the LORD for deliverance from slavery and the daily sustenance. The people have a nostalgic moment, thinking back to Egypt – their memory was skewed for they made Egypt far better than it was; claiming they ate fish, leeks, cucumbers, melons, onions and garlic. To me that seems like the formula for indigestion!  The people continue to complain – “Why did we ever leave Egypt?” This is the struggle with Church Revitalization – that which needs to be done, cannot be done for people would rather be like Israel and remain in Slavery [Egypt] then to move forward in the power of God. Since there are so many churches closing, one would think that people would do what is necessary for the blessing of God – Israel in its complaining still expected to receive the blessing of God – instead they got the plague of the quail. They asked for meat – boy did they get it – the point that it came out of their nostrils. Murmuring continues even from the family of Moses; Miriam and Aaron balk at the leadership of Moses. [Familiarity often breeds contempt]. After a bout of leprosy they get back in line with Moses authority.

Too often churches that once had a viable ministry decline because the focus become “What’s in it for me?” Another way of saying this is the church become “inward focused.” So what is the solution? There must be a heart change before there is a behavior change. The heart must return to the authority of the Holy Spirit, we call this REVIVAL. Israel never did change; they continued to be a stiff-necked people; would that we would learn this lesson in our time.

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