Monday, May 21, 2018

When Mother's Day is awkward

It's a week late, but not a dollar short because I decided to talk about Mother's Day and how awkward it can be for people.  I never really paid attention to Mother's Day growing up.  It was just another Sunday for me and not all that important.  And I don't have a problem with it.  In fact, I kind of like it for reasons I will talk about.

But now it is awkward for me, and I know I'm not alone, for two reasons.

1).  In 2009 my mother passed away from cancer.  Many people have lost their mothers to death, and some to even abandonment.  Many people don't have their mothers around anymore.  How do you celebrate Mother's Day without simply saying, "Happy Holiday"?

a) Since my mom was one of the greatest women I knew, I still celebrate her.   Her spirit is alive in heaven and one day will be reunited with a new improved body when Christ returns.  I can celebrate the memory of her and how I want to be like her.

b) This can help if your mom is alive but has abandoned you.  Celebrate women you know and love who have been influential and like moms to you.  One of my mom's best friends in Conyers practically took me in and has been very influential to me.  Also know many other older women who have been kind to me.  Celebrate them.

c) Remember the Lord and still go to church.  Church can be awkward on any day, not just a greeting card holiday.  But you go for Him, not for them.  You go because he commands it.  Cling to Jesus, the only one who can provide any true meaning for life and true healing.

2). Between Tim and me, we still don't have children.  We've been trying for 3 years and will still keep trying.  But still, people my age and younger have children left and right.  Some don't even want to have children.  We want children, but we don't have children.  So, if somebody at church tells you "Happy Mother's Day" and you still don't have children, what do you do?

a) If you can, volunteer for children's ministry.  You can spiritually raise children.  But also beware of emotional attachments, because they will happen.   But also, don't let that keep you from volunteering. 

b) Reach out to young people in your family.  I know one person who helps with her niece.  I have a niece through marriage and hope to influence her a long time. 

c) Trust God's plan.  For some reason, people don't like to be reminded of God's will when it doesn't match theirs.  Sometimes, I don't even like to be reminded of it.  But why?  It really is the greatest comfort.  God made you, loves you more than anyone else, and knows exactly what you want and need.  He also gave you your desires for his glory.  If it's his plan for you to bear a child or even adopt, then it will happen.  But if it is not, he still has sent Jesus to die for your sins and has so much more in store for you beyond this life.  You must trust him because there is no one else to trust and because he knows exactly how it should go. 

Is Mother's Day awkward for you?  How do you cope?  What about Father's Day?  Mine is alive and well, and I don't know what I'll do when he goes.  But, what do you think?

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Judges: Lady Deb

Say what you want about Ehud, or just read my previous blog about him, but Israel stayed faithful to the Lord while he was alive.  He was not the promised Messiah, the deliverer of the people, but he got the job done.  But even so, people only served Yahweh on the outside but not with their hearts.  And so when Ehud died, they sinned again.

This time, God sent Sisera, the general of king Jabin, to inflict pain on Israel.  A woman named Deborah, wife of Lappidoth, from the tribe of Ephraim, sat under a tree and judged cases for Israel.  She loved the Lord and wanted to do what was right.  The land was under oppression from Jabin and needed a strong warrior to stop Sisera.  She called for Barak from Naphtali.  She said, "God wants you to go fight Sisera."

Barak said he would go, but he would not go unless Deborah went with him.  She said she would go with Barak, but the true victory would belong to the woman. 

And so Barak had a good victory.  But Sisera wandered over to the tent of Heber the Kenite.  The Kenites were the family of Moses's wife.  Jabin's people were not at war with Heber.  Sisera went to his tent.  Jael, the wife of Heber, invited him in. 

Rabbit trail: I lived in Macon, GA from 1990 to 1994.  I was in kindergarten through 3rd grade there.  There was a Sonny's BBQ that later changed its name to JL's.  Whenever I read about Jael I think about JL's.  I don't think JL's is around anymore, but I did like that place once.

Okay, so Jael did not offer Sisera barbecue.  But with pure intentions, he came in and she gave him milk and let him sleep in a blanket.  Somewhere in that time, she got some feeling that she should kill Sisera and so she did.  And that was the end of the war.

Israel had people who loved the Lord and people who loved their passions and followed them via Baal worship. The land was never pure.  Say what you want about women leadership, but the Bible is clear that men should mostly be leaders because although Adam and Eve were equal, God granted Adam headship. 

And I like Deborah.  Deborah was a cool woman with wonderful gifts and blessings from the true God.  But even she realized she needed Barak to lead the army, not herself.  And the fact that Barak wanted to not take full leadership but have Deborah go with him caused Deb to say that he won't get the glory for this victory.  It will go to a woman.  And after this, it seems Deborah was the last really pure judge of Israel as everyone after her, except maybe Jephthah, seemed very compromised in their egos and sexuality. 

It's like when men decide they don't want to be the head of families or God's community, the community slides into more compromise with sin, accepting of "alternative" lifestyles, and more open to shady theology.  Now, don't get me wrong, I like women and honor their leadership, but I also become more complementarian as life goes on and see the lack of true men in society who are willing to lay down their lives for their women and simply want to have fun and feel good.  They have less men to look to as godly examples.  Plus, it's okay to have a binary society.  In fact, God made mankind male and female and it was very good.  It's how life is meant to be. 

Friday, April 13, 2018

Judges: Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar - will the real Savior please stand up? Oh, and Hercules

Caleb has died and the cycle continues.  The Israelites betrayed God and followed the gods of the culture whose worship included recreational sex and child sacrifice.  Sounds a lot like America today.  Then enemies come along to oppress them, they turn back to God, and he sends a judge to save them.  Then they turn away again.  This cycle keeps reminding them, and us, how helpless we are in our sins.  We just love ourselves and our ways way too much and will never turn to God.  And we need a Savior.

Othniel seems like a good candidate.  He's Caleb's nephew/son-in-law and from the tribe of Judah.  He wastes no time in saving the land Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram.  But is he the Savior we're looking for?  No, because he will die and the land will return to their idolatry.

Then king Eglon comes along from Moab to torture the land.  Ehud from the tribe of Benjamin comes along.  He's a southpaw, which is not bad in itself but is superstitiously seen as a curse and was even up until my parents' generation.  He gets the job done of ridding the land of Eglon, but he does it with more trickery.  He goes to Eglon's palace, tells him that he has a message from God, pulls his sword off of his right thigh with his left hand (because Eglon would suspect a sword from the opposite direction), and plunges it into his fat belly in a rather graphic scene.  Eglon's attendants wait to the point of embarrassment and then finally get a key and find out the truth.  Is Ehud the man we're looking for?  No.  He's a jerk and eventually dies.  The Savior will certainly not come from Benjamin.  He'll be more like Othniel from Judah.  He will do his job honestly and directly and not die.

And finally, we have two sentences and no more about Shamgar until Deborah sings about him in chapter 5.  He killed 600 Philistines with an oxgoad.  He has a pretty good write-up here.  I read about this backwoods farmer guy and simply think of Hercules.  I was very much into Kevin Sorbo's Hercules when I was in 5th grade and middle school.  I could see him doing this with very cheesy special effects.  His story was surpassed by Samson who I'm pretty sure the myth of Herc was based on.  Herc was a mix of Samson and Jesus (being a son of a god and all).  Is he the man we seek to save us from our sins?  I mean Jesus is always compared to Melchizedek in Genesis 14 who also makes a brief appearance, then disappears.  No, because Hebrews says that Jesus is a priest FOREVER.  Like Mel and like Shamgar, but FOREVER.  And when he finally comes to finish the job, his people will never turn away again because he's given them his Holy Spirit to grow and guide us.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Judges: Faithful Caleb

In Numbers 13, Moses sent twelve spies to see the new land of Canaan and check it out.  They came back and said it was a very nice land.  Here are some grapes. 

But, oh no, there are giants, descendants of Anak, there, and they are going to destroy us. 

Only two men sent a completely good report: Joshua and Caleb.  Verse 30:

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

These two men were the only ones to survive the next 40 years and did take the land.  God led the rest of the people on a u-turn and took them back through the wilderness until the grumbling generation died off and their kids were old enough to take the land.

Now, they have come to the promised land.  Caleb got to see the realization of his dreams at last.  He led the tribe of Judah to Jerusalem and Hebron and took that area of the land and settled there.  He also promised his daughter Achsah to the man who would also help conquer Kiriath Sepher.  His nephew Othniel did that and married Achsah.  Then Achsah asked her dad if she could also have some streams in her land.  He said yes.

So, did Caleb save the nation and all was happy ever after?  No, eventually Caleb died and the people turned to other gods again.  In fact, David had to conquer Jerusalem again and make it his capital when he became king.  Caleb didn't finish the job.  Who will finish the job of conquering evil and destroying sin?  Jesus of course.  Caleb was only a preview of what Jesus would accomplish. 

Jesus didn't make Israel an independent country again, like they wanted.  But he did make the true Israel, the Church, independent from the consequences of her sin.  All Christ's believers were saved from slavery to their own wicked desires and headed toward God's sentence of eternity under his wrath in hell, but Jesus died on the cross as the perfect substitutionary sacrifice for our sins.  Now our sentence has been served and we are free.  Even better, we have the Holy Spirit in us to continue making us holy until Christ returns.

Has God called you to a task?  Does it seem that the task is impossible because you made some mistake and destroyed your career or because people simply won't give you the chance?  Perhaps you should keep believing, like Caleb, that if something is God's will, then he will bring it to pass. 

I know with in me are giants called anger, impulsiveness, discontentment, faithlessness, and impatience.  It seems like I will never be mature enough to conquer them.  But I know God sent me his Holy Spirit who will fashion me daily and yearly until they are finally gone.

I know I was called to children's ministry, but right now I'm not there.  But in the past I have led in children's ministry and have been successful.  And I am encouraged every time I see one of my students whether they are nine years old or 20 and they give me a huge hug and tell me they miss me that perhaps I can come back some time soon.  If God means me to come back, then nothing will stop it.

What are some things you need Christ to conquer in your life?

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Judges: Does God command genocide?

I think since I'm done with the Hosea series, that I want to slowly go through the books of Judges and 1 and 2 Kings.  Why?  Because nobody seems to really teach from them.  They are rare.  I've studied Genesis and the Torah pretty well, the life of David, the Gospels, Paul's letters and the New Testament, but not much on Judges and the kings.  There are a lot of stories that people just don't know.

Now, these books are gory.  It is true.  I won't say I'm morbid, but these books are in the Bible, so we should study them.  I would say if any book in the bible is R-rated, it would be Judges.  But I don't study it for entertainment.  I study it to know Jesus better and how the Old Testament points to him. 

I also have an OT professor from Erskine who wrote a book on Judges and Ruth.  If he still reads my blog, I know he will say to get his book.  I would love to.  I still haven't yet.  His name is George Schwab and the book is Right in Their Own Eyes.  I've seen the book at LifeWay and everything.  But for now, I'm just going to go by what I read from Scripture and from stuff I see on the Gospel Coalition or in Bible dictionaries.

I think I will start by answering a common question among people who like to denounce conservative Christianity: Does the God of the Bible command genocide?  The Israelites in Judges just came from a command from God to kill all the Canaanites, including women and children, because their sin had reached its maximum point, and he was going to rid the land of them and replace them with Israel.  So, did God command genocide?

Let's think of a modern example.  Imagine a country where the men gang up on women and rape them, they slaughter children and babies for convenience, and even set up pogroms to exterminate people they consider unfit to live.  Would you not want justice done to this country?  Or even imagine the scene from Judges 19 where the man let his concubine out into the streets to get raped all night by a violent gang.  Would you not want justice for these people?  Now imagine a whole country that does all this.  Then you can see God's point of view.

God is holy.  He created all man kind and expects them to be holy.  He told Adam and Eve that if they disobeyed him by eating the forbidden fruit that they would die.  They ate.  God had mercy on them by postponing their deaths until they were in their 900s.  He also slaughtered an animal to make clothes for them and told them how to come back to him. 

All their children were born into sin and it got so bad that God said he would wipe out all mankind with a flood.  But he had mercy and sent Noah to build and ark.  It took him about 100 years but he built it as a warning to all the people.  God saved Noah and his family but killed everyone else. 

Then, the survivors had children who build the tower of Babel to make a name for themselves.  There, God gave them all different languages and scattered them.  They began worshiping false gods and creating crass religions.  God saved Abraham and told him to move to Canaan.  He said that land would belong to him and his descendants.  Those people had about 400 years to learn from Abraham and repent of their sins.  But they only grew worse and worse until God finally decided to exercise his right to wipe them out.  And he did that by sending a man with the same name as Jesus, Joshua, to go and kill them all with an army.

Even then he still showed mercy to those who repented.  One was a woman name Rahab who was originally a prostitute.  She saved the spies, came to know the true God, and joined Israel, becoming an ancestor of Jesus.  The other were the Gibeonites.  They deceived the Israelites into thinking they were from far away, so they made a promise to spare them.  And they served the Israelites from then onward. 

And just the same, God gives all the world time to repent of their sins and turn to Jesus.  When Jesus/Joshua finally returns to earth to reclaim his land, those who did not turn to him will suffer all eternity under his wrath. 

Now, the Joshua who conquered Canaan was not quite as good as Jesus.  He didn't finish the job.  There were many pagans who remained for one reason or another.  And they did turn the Israelite hearts to their false religions that celebrated shrine prostitution and child sacrifice.  And later on, God had to shoo them out of the land through exile.  But he kept his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to send a Redeemer for them to look to to save them from their sins and expel all evil.  This Savior is the only reason we can have a relationship with God and not be killed in our sins.  He took the punishment on the cross, and the redeemed ones will be reconciled to God under his blood and his righteousness.

This doesn't answer all my questions on this, but it does show me that God is not a monster.  There is no difference between the OT God and the NT God who sent Jesus.  He is holy, just, and always does the right thing.  He is merciful to people but he doesn't have to be.  And when he decides to act in justice by exterminating sinners, then people are shocked.

I remember one time, Mom and I were talking about suicide and she told me, "Only God gave you your life, and only he has the right to take it away."  Perhaps we can think about it the same way, here.  God gave them life, gave them nearly a millennium to repent, and then finally followed through on his promise for them to die in their sins.  But he had mercy on Noah, Israel, and he has mercy on me even though we are all as wicked as they are.  We should both love and fear him for that.

Further reading would be this.  Also, here is a link to Schwab's book. And here's a verse, Deuteronomy 29:24-29

All the nations will ask: “Why has the Lord done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”
25 And the answer will be: “It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt. 26 They went off and worshiped other gods and bowed down to them, gods they did not know, gods he had not given them. 27 Therefore the Lord’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book. 28 In furious anger and in great wrath the Lord uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now.”
29 The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Hosea: putting it all together

This is the last Hosea post from Kelly Needham's study on inductive Bible study methods.  In it, she takes all the techniques from the previous lessons and puts them together.

Here is Hosea 14:
[a]Return, Israel, to the Lord your God.
    Your sins have been your downfall!
Take words with you
    and return to the Lord.
Say to him:
    “Forgive all our sins
and receive us graciously,
    that we may offer the fruit of our lips.[b]
Assyria cannot save us;
    we will not mount warhorses.
We will never again say ‘Our gods’
    to what our own hands have made,
    for in you the fatherless find compassion.”
“I will heal their waywardness
    and love them freely,
    for my anger has turned away from them.
I will be like the dew to Israel;
    he will blossom like a lily.
Like a cedar of Lebanon
    he will send down his roots;
    his young shoots will grow.
His splendor will be like an olive tree,
    his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon.
People will dwell again in his shade;
    they will flourish like the grain,
they will blossom like the vine—
    Israel’s fame will be like the wine of Lebanon.
Ephraim, what more have I[c] to do with idols?
    I will answer him and care for him.
I am like a flourishing juniper;
    your fruitfulness comes from me.”
Who is wise? Let them realize these things.
    Who is discerning? Let them understand.
The ways of the Lord are right;
    the righteous walk in them,
    but the rebellious stumble in them.


Observation
What does the text say?
“Return to me”
Ask God for forgiveness
Assyria can’t save them.  Other gods can’t save them.
God will heal their waywardness.
I will be like a dew to Israel.
"Cedar of Lebanon" is repeated twice
Also, wine of Lebanon
Specifically references “Ephraim,” the collective name for northern Israel.
"Who is wise and discerning?" Suggesting, it’s not that easy to understand.
This boggles the contemporary mind where most of Americana Christianity teaches how we can freely come to God for forgiveness without really explaining why it's such a big deal.

Interpretation

What does it mean?
Both kingdoms of Israel looked to Assyria.  Assyria eventually took northern Israel into exile.

Lebanon must have had amazing cedars that smelled nice and luxurious.  Their wines must have been amazing, too.  I remember growing up in my parents' home, our cedar chest which still has a wonderful smell that helped keep bugs from its contents.  I suppose one day, Israel will be free from bugs, too.  

How can a wise person discern an offended and holy God wanting to reconcile with the people who offended him?  God is too holy to look on sin and not punish it.  When somebody sins, it is permanent.  God can only look on the sinner through Jesus.  Jesus must die for their sins and impute to them his righteousness for them to have a good relationship with God.

This means that God had already forgiven the people who repented from the beginning of time because he always planned on sending Jesus.


Application
How should it change me?
Worship – God knew I would sin and yet still planned on sending Jesus to take care of my sins.

Repentance – How can God lead me to properly repent of my sins? 

Prayer – Lead me to Jesus.

Are there sins you grew up with that you need to repent?  The Israelites probably grew up thinking that one could worship the God of Israel and still engage in Baal worship which involved ritual prostitution and in some cases child sacrifice.  But if they stopped to truly study God's word which should have been taught by the Levites who had access to it, then they would know that it was wrong and you could not do both.

Growing up, my mother had a Ouija board as a teenager.  She thought it weird that the arrow would move on its own, but she never thought that it was harmful to seek the future from something other than God.  When she became more serious about her faith, she realized that Ouija board involvement is witchcraft and had a male friend of hers from Youth for Christ go burn it for her.  

Growing up, I was in public school where I though that dinosaurs died before man existed and that I could reconcile evolutionary teaching of millions of years with God's creation story.  When I truly read the Bible, I realize that nothing died before man sinned and that the fossil record could be solved by just believing in Noah's flood.  I changed my thinking from doubting God's word to believing with better light.

I think kids these days grow up believing that gender is fluid and nonbinary and that they can be pro-LGBT and follow Christ with a clear conscious.  But God said that he created man male and female, clearly making them binary in a way that is both true and very good.  And he paired his lonely male Adam with a female Eve, not another man, and told them to reproduce.  It was to reflect God's relationship with the church, which is also binary.  God's church and God.  It's even more different than man and woman.  But God commanded sex to be with in a marriage between a man and a woman and nowhere else to bond the couple and to produce children.  So to follow the popular culture would be to not believe what God has clearly revealed in his word.

When you hear God's call to repent, he is doing so because he has sent Christ to die for your sins and the Spirit to change your heart.  You must do so and claim Christ's new righteousness which is alien to you but is the only thing that will make you right before a holy God.  And he will keep his promise in Hosea 14 to change your waywardness.  He is still doing that for me.

Monday, March 5, 2018

A donkey and a bum

Read Numbers 22.

In this part of the Bible, Israel had just defeated two nations that stood in the way of them reaching the Promised Land.  They defeated Sihon king of the Amorites and Og king of Bashan.  Now they camped next two Moab and Midian who were scared, although not scared enough to turn to the Lord.

Balak the son of Zippor hired Balaam, a mystic, to go curse Israel.  Balaam decided to pray about it, but God told him not to go.  Balak sweetened the deal with more money.  Balaam prayed about it again even though God clearly told him no the first time.  God said to go but say only what he says.

So we now have two individuals being pressured to do the wrong thing: Balaam and his donkey.  Sadly, a mere donkey was smarter than Balaam.  An angel stood in the way of Balaam and the donkey with a sword ready to kill them.  The donkey stopped.  Balaam beat her three times.  The Lord blessed the donkey by giving her speech.  She asked, "why have you beat me these three times?"  Balaam still doesn't realize the real fool in the story.  "You have made a fool of me.  If I had a sword, I would kill you."  Finally, God opened Balaam's eyes to see the angel and that the donkey was right.  He said he would turn around, but God said to go and say only what he wanted Balaam to say.

Balaam tried seven times to curse Israel, but God turned those curses into blessings, including a prophesy of the Messiah (Numbers 24:17-19).

Balaam knew that God would not allow him to curse Israel, but he still wanted Balak's reward.  In the next chapter, Moab sends beautiful women to seduce the Israelites.  And it works.  It leads them into sin through adultery and idolatry combined.  Many people get killed as a punishment.  In Numbers 31:16, it is revealed that Balaam advised everyone to send the women.  By that time, he had been killed in battle against Moab and Midian.

But let's return to the sweet donkey.  She was under pressure to do the wrong thing.  She looked to her Lord and maker to save her from her situation.  Balaam was under pressure to do the wrong thing, and he looked to his own cunning to get him out rather than repent and turn to the Lord.  Israel had no idea that mud was being slung at them from above until it was too late.  They were not prepared for the temptations that Balaam would send, but because God loved them and chose them as his nation, he gave them victory after a severe chastisement.  24,000 people died in a plague.

When it comes to adversity and pressure to sin against God, do you look to yourself or repent and turn to the Lord?  Is a mere donkey more godly than you?

At this moment in my life, I lost one job back in October, moved on to a restaurant job in November, pulled out of children's ministry for the time, and have no clue if or when I can get back to where I was before. I honestly think it was because I moved from an ideal situation from the past three years to seek better pay when I should have stayed where I was.  I looked to my own means for advancement rather than wait on the Lord.  And now I'm in a serious set-back.  To I keep going in my own plans and schemes?  Or do I wait and look for the Lord to vindicate me?  No good dwells in and of myself, so I must learn to look to God and realize that he is enough for me.  I wish I could know he is enough for me before he becomes a last resort.  Can I do that?  Can you do that?