Monday, August 27, 2012

"Real Characters" - Joshua

“Real Characters –Joshua” Joshua 7

We have talked many times about the cycle that is seen so often in the Bible. This cycle starts with the people being obedient and then God blesses and then what happens? Satan attacks. You see it over and over all through the Bible and we have even seen it in our own lives and in the life of this church. We are obedient to what God tells us to do, then we see God bless us but then Satan always attacks. I’ll be real honest with you and tell you that part of me is thinking it’s starting to get old.


I mean, I just wish that for once we could be obedient and be blessed without Satan coming around wanting to rip out our jugular vein. Why does it have to be that way? I know that realizing that there is a cycle is helpful. It helps us to be aware and not be taken off guard but Satan is very powerful and sometimes even knowing that he is about to attack doesn’t make the battle any less intense. Do you know what I mean? It seems to me that since God is more powerful than the devil that God could just allow us to enjoy being blessed for a while. In fact, maybe it means that we are doing something wrong. Maybe we have displeased God somehow and so He allows Satan to attack. Oh, wait, I know. I bet it’s because God doesn’t love us very much that He allows those attacks.


How could He love us as He says He does and allow us to be ravaged by Satan’s schemes? That’s just not fair! He must just be a big old meanie-head up there getting His kicks watching us struggle. Do you believe that? Don’t tell me it’s never crossed your mind. If you are honest and you have been on this planet for more than a few months you would probably admit to thinking something along those lines. “God’s not fair!”


 Well, let me address this real quickly with 2 thoughts. #1, God never promises that life will be fair, but #2, we can’t see the whole picture so we have a skewed version of what is fair.


So, why would God allow us to be tempted and seduced and attacked by Satan? Is it to punish us? Is it to make us suffer? Is He too busy to help or too powerless? The apostle Paul knew the answer to this question. He knew from experience what it was like to be attacked, to be tempted, to have Satan go for his jugular and in Ephesians 1:17 he says, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” So that you may know Him better! He wasn’t praying that they would be comfortable. He didn’t pray that for himself. In Philippians 3:10 he said, “I want to know Christ…”


When the wife of missionary Adoniram Judson told him that a newspaper article likened him to some of the apostles, Judson replied, "I do not want to be like a Paul...or any mere man. I want to be like Christ...I want to follow Him only, copy His teachings, drink in His Spirit, and place my feet in His footprints...Oh, to be more like Christ!"


So when we go through difficult times, we know that if we continue to be obedient, if we respond correctly that it will make us godlier…but it takes time. Life comes to us in steps. We often do not move to one level until we have finished a previous one. Sometimes it takes longer to move from one level to another than we imagine.


Five year old Cindy was so excited to go to Kindergarten. She came home saying, “Mommy, I did it, I did it. I went to school. I’m a big girl now”. Her mother said, “That’s wonderful Honey. I’m so glad you enjoyed yourself. You’ll probably even have a more wonderful time tomorrow.” Cindy looked at her Mom with a shocked look on her face and said, “What? You mean I have to go back again?”


Last week we started the series entitled “Real Characters” and we looked at how Moses was obedient when God called him and what he did right. Today we continue our look at “Real Characters” with Joshua and we will see what he did wrong. As you turn to Joshua chapter 7, let me ask you a question. What has been your greatest victory in life? Has it been overcoming some disease? Maybe you won a big award. You got a certain job you had always wanted. Some of you men might think of marrying that beautiful girl next to you as your biggest and best accomplishment. You ladies may think putting up with that dufus next to you for all these years has been your big victory. Whatever it is, you know the feeling of finally overcoming the obstacles and finally reaching the goal and how good that felt.


You felt strong and confident, like you could take on the world. And if you are like Joshua, what came next…was huge failure. Here we go with that vicious cycle we were talking about. God told Joshua to walk around the city of Jericho 7 times and on the 7thtrip the walls around the city came down like dominoes and they conquered the city with little resistance. High fives all around. Give God glory, throw a party, have a BBQ, crank up the tunes and let’s dance. The people were obedient. God blessed and then…failure.


 Satan attacked with a temptation that Achan fell into and caused huge problems. But before we get into who Achan was and what he did I want us to look at this from Joshua’s eyes. Let’s read Joshua 7, starting with verse 2 and going through verse 9 remembering that Joshua and the Israelites are hot off of a huge victory of Jericho .


2Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth Aven to the east of Bethel , and told them, “Go up and spy out the region.” So the men went up and spied out Ai.3 When they returned to Joshua, they said, “Not all the army will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary the whole army, for only a few people live there.” 4 So about three thousand went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, 5 who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water.6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. 7And Joshua said, “Alas, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan ! 8 Pardon your servant, Lord. What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? 9 The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name? ”


There are 3 things I want us to see in this passage; 3 ways that we can learn from Joshua’s mistakes and keep ourselves from similar calamity.


1) They overestimated themselves.

2) They overlooked their enemy.

3) They underestimated sin.


Go back to verse 2 and tell me what is missing from that verse. Read. That sounds like a pretty good plan. They did that just before they took Jericho . What’s missing? Well, just before they took Jericho , Joshua did something in chapter 5, verse 14 I want to read. “Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him,“What message does my Lord have for his servant?” Joshua talked with God before Jericho . There is no record of him doing that before the attack on Ai. Mistake #1.


And with that mistake it is easy to let pride start to creep in and it’s easy to start to think , “You know, I did pretty well out there. I’m a pretty good commander. I am a good warrior. I’m a good husband or wife. I must be quite a pastor. Look at what I did.” And you easily start to overestimate who you are and what you can do.


President Obama recently offended some people with something he said. I know, that’s not news. Every time any president ever opens his mouth, somebody is going to be “offended” but recently he said to people who own their own business, “You didn’t build that.” A lot of people who had built their businesses from scratch took offense to that and rightfully so but it is one thing for the president to say it. It’s another thing for God to say it. God could have told Joshua, “Hey, you didn’t do that. I did that. I made the walls around Jericho fall down. All you did was stroll around the outside.”


Proverbs 16:18 is so simple. Little kids quote it. Newscasters quote it. Everybody knows the verse but how true it is. “Pride goes before destruction.” I bet after the battle of Ai, Joshua put that verse up on his mirror in the bathroom where he saw it every morning. Well, he would have if it had been written…and he had a mirror…or a bathroom.


A preacher, a Boy Scout and a computer expert were the only passengers on a small plane. The pilot came back to the cabin and said the plane was going down and there were only 3 parachutes and 4 people. The pilot added, “I should have one because I have a wife and 3 kids.” So he took one and jumped. The computer whiz said “I should have one because I’m the smartest man in the world and everyone needs me.” So he took one and jumped. The minister turned to the Boy Scout and sadly smiled and said, “You are young and I have lived a rich and fulfilling life. You take the remaining parachute and I will go down with the plane.” The Boy Scout said, “Relax preacher. The smartest man in the world just jumped out of the plane with my backpack.”


It’s easy to overestimate ourselves especially when God has blessed us and that is one reason He allows Satan to have some access to us; to remind us of who we really are and who He really is and to make us more like Him. Even Jesus Himself realized this as He prayed in the garden, “Not My will, but Yours.” And when we learn not to overestimate ourselves and allow God to get the glory, that makes us more like Jesus.


Now I want to talk a little about Mr. Achan. Achan was a warrior who participated in the battle for Jericho . We don’t know much about him except what is written in a few verses of chapter 7. But in reading these, I believe we will learn about the dangers of overlooking our enemy. I first want to read a couple of background verses starting in chapter 6, verses 16-19:


Joshua commanded the people, "Shout! For the LORD has given you the city! The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the LORD. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent. But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the LORD and must go into his treasury."


That’s pretty clear. There’s not much room for any excuse right there but Achan gave in to temptation and let’s read just verse 1 from chapter 7. “But the Israelites acted unfaithfully in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Carmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the LORD's anger burned against Israel.” Now, if you are paying attention, and several of you are, you may be wondering why I’m talking about Achan’s sin when I started this segment by saying we shouldn’t overlook our enemy. “Hey Todd, aren’t you supposed to be talking about Ai? That was the enemy of Israel that they overlooked, right?”


Do you remember back in grade school when the bully, brat, punk kid next to you would reach over and pull the hair of the girl in front of you and then move back over real quick? She would turn around and see you and slap you and no matter how much you tried you couldn’t convince her it was the other guy. That’s what is going on here. Israel ’s enemy was not really Ai. It was Satan. When they went against Jericho and let God fight the fight, they hardly did anything and God gave them victory. But then Satan attacked and one of Satan’s favorite tricks is to attack and make you think it was somebody else. Just like he wanted Israel to think their enemy was Ai and to come up with a plan to defeat them, he wants you to think your enemy is something or somebody it is not and then you start to figure out a way you can defeat the wrong person.


Your enemy is Satan. Sweet family, our enemy is not our neighbors. It’s not even the atheists. It’s not the weird guy down the street. Our enemy is not the Democrats…well maybe…no, it’s really not. And I will tell you with emphasis that your enemy is certainly not sitting in these chairs! When that bully would pull that girl’s hair, she would turn around and slap you and that just made that bully’s day. He would laugh so hard because he hurt both of you and never got in trouble. Satan is the same way especially when you look at a member of this family as someone to do battle with. Satan wins that battle no matter what. Our battle is not against flesh and blood, remember?


Instead of trusting God to meet all of his needs, Achan gave in to Satan’s schemes. He overlooked his real enemy and when he gave in to temptation, he also underestimated the power of sin. We often talk about BOOCOD, the benefits of obedience and the consequences of disobedience but we don’t always talk about how powerful the consequences are. It would be bad enough if the consequences of sin only affected us but they rarely do. And we know in our hearts that God is displeased when we sin but by the way we live our lives it is obvious that we think God is a doddering old grandpa who shakes his head and says with a sigh, “Well, kids will be kids. What are ya gonna do?”


We teach our kids that the definition of sin is anything that displeases God and that is a good definition but we tend to not think that God hates all sin. He hates it and therefore sin has consequences. God told Joshua that there was sin in the camp and they needed to rectify the situation ASAP. God was not going to overlook sin. He didn’t underestimate the gravity of the situation. It had already cost the lives of 36 warriors and the good name of the Israelites but the consequences didn’t end there. Read in verse 15 what God tells Joshua about the sin.


“He who is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the LORD and has done a disgraceful thing in Israel !'"


Do you think God was really serious about that? Do you think He would really kill a person for stealing? Read verse 24-26.


“Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold wedge, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. Joshua said, "Why have you brought this trouble on us? The LORD will bring trouble on you today." Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the LORD turned from his fierce anger.”


Man, I’m glad God has mellowed over the years aren’t you? I’m so glad He has changed and doesn’t feel as strongly about sin as He used to. I mean, surely He has changed. We don’t hear about people dying from sin anymore, do we? But if He has changed, then what do we do with all those passages saying he doesn’t change. Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8, James 1:17 all say that God has never changed and never will so evidently God still hates sin. So why was God so harsh with Achan? Was that just His Old Testament wrath? Well, no. Annanias and Sapphira also met the same fate. So, how do we explain it?


I would say that nothing, least of all God, has changed. Instant death for sin was never the standard, not in the Old or New Testaments. Neither is death the standard for today but it does happen; just maybe not in as dramatic of a fashion as Achan. Even today you hear about somebody taking drugs for the first time and od’ing. It’s not unheard of for a kid to get drunk for the first time on prom night and not ever make it home. Some people have sex outside of marriage just once and contract AIDS.


The point is that sin has consequences. Not just for the sinner. Achan’s whole family, his wife, kids, animals, and all his stuff was lost forever because of what we might consider a small sin. But that small sin put Jesus on the cross. That little thing you do that you think nobody knows about and nobody cares…that put Jesus on the cross. That little bad habit, that peccadillo, that thing that the guys at work laugh about, Jesus died a cruel death so you could be forgiven of that and He did that for you because the wages of sin is death. Not just the big sins, not just a whole bunch of sins, but one sin. And God hates that one sin so bad that He sent His only Son to die for you so that you wouldn’t have to.


Every temptation we have is an opportunity to grow. Every attack of Satan is a chance for us to overcome and when we overcome, it makes us more like Jesus. That’s our goal. Knowing that helps to make sense of a passage like James 1:2 that says to consider it all pure joy when trials come. So, instead of complaining that Satan is always attacking, just welcome that attack. God gives us the armor we need to withstand it, per Ephesians 6. We know that God will never leave us nor forsake us, per Deut. 31 and we know that all things work for our good, per Romans 8 –if we don’t overestimate ourselves, overlook our enemy or underestimate sin.


Monday, August 20, 2012

"Real Characters" - Moses

“Real Characters –Moses” Exodus 3:10-15

Let me ask you a question. Where were you when your life completely changed? By that I mean do you remember where you were and what you were doing when something happened that completely changed your life? Maybe it was the beginning of your walk with Jesus. Most of you were probably in church but not necessarily. I hope you would include that as a life-changing event. If not, I need to see you after the service so we can talk about it. Where were you when your wife came to you and told you for the first time that she was pregnant? At least I hope she was your wife. If not, then again, I need to talk to you after the service. Pregnancy has a way of changing your life a little bit, right?

I’m sure if you were alive you remember where you were when you heard JFK was shot. Some of you may remember where you were when you heard Lincoln got shot but I’m not going to ask for any hands on that. We can all remember what we were doing on September 1st, 2001 when we first heard the news of the twin towers and the airplanes. And ever since that day our whole world has changed, hasn’t it? We went to war. The way we fly in airplanes, our treatment of other nationalities, our appreciation of the flag and our troops; all of that has changed.

So many times things like this happen just as our world starts to settle down. Just when we retire and get all the kids all grown up and living semi-responsibly something comes along and God lets us know He is not ready for us to sit on the sidelines just yet. Or maybe you finally feel like this is the right job for you and the money is finally starting to show up and things look pretty good and God says, “Um, yea, that job that you like so much, I need you to walk away from that and do this thing over here that you have no experience with.” And everything in your life changes and all the plans you made go down the drain.

You’ve heard it said that if you want to hear God laugh, just tell Him your plans. James 4:13-14 says, “Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”

We are starting a new series today I’m entitling “Real Characters”. For the next few weeks we will look at some different people of the Old and New Testaments and see how we might become more Godly by seeing what they did right and what they did wrong. The first character we will study is Moses. Now, up until Jesus, Moses was the most important character in Hebrew history. Just like when you talk about who was the greatest boxer who ever lived and somebody will say Joe Louis. Somebody else will say Joe Frasier or even Mike Tyson but the end of the conversation comes when somebody says Muhammed Ali.

In the same way, I can envision a conversation between Jewish Rabbis thousands of years ago talking about the important people in their history. One would mention all the things Abraham did. Then Jacob and then Isaac and even David but Moses ends the conversation. He wrote the first 5 books of the Bible, the Pentateuch. You might remember the 10 Commandments. God gave those to Moses. When Jesus was transfigured on the mountain, He talked to Elijah and Moses. There’s a pretty cool story about how he was put into the river as a baby and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter. When the Bible (New and Old Testament) talks about “The Law”, that is the Law of Moses. You might say he was a pretty big deal back in his day. If he lived today he might even be a judge on American Idol. He was that big.

But most of the really important stuff happened to Moses when he was, what we would call, in the twilight of his life. His first 40 years had been fairly tumultuous but the next 40 years things seemed to settle down. He was content to herd some sheep around. His life was predictable and good. He had a few shekels in the bank, the kids were growing or grown and finally Moses had a good grip on his life. That’s when God introduced Himself.

Turn, if you would, to a very familiar passage in Exodus chapter 3. In this chapter we read about Moses seeing the burning bush and upon getting closer, he hears the voice of God that tells him that God has heard the cries of His people who were slaves in Egypt. At that Moses must have been overjoyed. Finally they were going to get some help. He told Moses that He had heard and was ready to deliver them. I bet Moses was saying, “Yea God, you get ‘em!” And then God tells Moses to go because Moses was going to be the one through whom all this happened. Can’t you just see the face of Moses change? His eyes got big. His eyebrows went to the top of his head. His jaw dropped.

Let’s read what happened in Exodus 3, verses 10-15.

10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you[a] will worship God on this mountain. 3 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.[b] This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord,[c] the God of your fathers —the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob —has sent me to you.’“This is my name forever,the name you shall call mefrom generation to generation.

In just the matter of a few minutes, Moses' world has gone from safe, secure and stable to shaky, senseless and scary.  Maybe you can relate to that.  Maybe you know how he feels to some degree.  How do you face tomorrow when everything you know has been turned upside down?

I want us to see just 2 things today.  There are 2 things we can learn from this passage about how to face an uncertain tomorrow and God put them here for just this reason, so that we would learn them and live them.

1)  God is present.  2)  God is personal.

You see, there is more to this command of God than meets the eye.  Yes, it is going to be a long trip.  Yes, Moses is getting up in years and yes, the thought of a sheep farmer convincing a pharaoh to let 3 million slaves walk out the front door is ridiculous.  But Moses is also a murderer.  He killed a man back there in Egypt and the last he heard Pharaoh was looking to kill him.  Add all of that together on top of the fact that Moses had no experience, had trouble speaking, he had that sin hanging over him and it's no wonder he asks God in verse 11, "Who am I to do this?"

Moses gets a lot of flack for asking God that question.  Preachers all the time say he should have just said, "Yes, God.  Ok.  Send me."  And that's easy for them to say.  I would have said something similar, I think.  Moses wanted to hear from God why he was chosen.  Moses wanted to hear God say, Well, it's because of your good heart and your willingness to be used." 

Moses wanted some affirmation about what it was in him that made God choose him.  But instead of God telling Moses he was a good person or he was smart or it was because he was good-looking, God says nothing about Moses because there was nothing about Moses that was special.  Look at what God says instead in verse 12.

"I will be with you."  "I will be with you."  God says, "I got this.  There is nothing special about you old man!  Just do what I tell you to do and let me worry about what happens!  Let me worry about Pharaoh.  Let me worry about putting words in your mouth.  Let me worry about what happens next."

And I love the guarantee that God gives Moses that everything will be ok.  Sometimes we want to make God promise us that He is going to handle everything and here God tells Moses that the proof that I am going to be with you is that you will come back here when it's all over and worship me.  You will see proof when it's all over, not before it starts. 

Ok, I have another question for you.  What do you think would have happened if Moses had heard all of this, sat down on a rock with his arms folded and told God, "No!"?  Would God cry and beg and try to talk him into it?  Would God strike him deaf and make him talk in pig Latin?  I can't speak for God in a hypothetical situation but whatever God chose to do His will would be done. 

Maybe God would have chosen one of Moses' own sheep to go to Pharaoh and talk, I don't know.  I don't know why God chooses people at all to do His work but that is how He chooses to do most things, through other people.  You see, your qualifications for the job have nothing to do with it.  In that respect, it is not about you.  But when you are obedient and you allow God to use you, then it is also for your benefit.

I remember when I was a kid watching Candid Camera with Allen Funt.  One episode he had somebody pretend to be a school guidance counselor.  He called 2 high school boys into the office of the counselor and had them fill out all this paperwork describing themselves and what qualifications they had and what their dreams were.

The supposed counselor went out and came back in a few minutes and announced to the 2 boys that they would be perfect candidates to start a career in shepherding.  “You will be great shepherds, I’m sure.”  You can imagine the looks on the boys’ faces.

If qualifications were how God chose what He wanted Moses to do, Moses would have been called to be a shepherd.  But God was with Moses and what did Moses get out of the deal?  Well, we talked about some of it earlier.  He became one of the most important men to ever walk the planet.  And the path to get there included having his faith strengthened, his character proven, his wisdom increased, and his Heavenly blessing count went through the roof!  All because God was present in his life as he was obedient.

Now, let's look at how God was personal to Moses.  I have to admit that Moses is a lot more clear-headed talking to God than I would be.  I'm afraid I would babble something about the bush still burning or something stupid but Moses is actually thinking this through.  Moses asks God a very logical question and I love God's answer to it.  Read 13 and 14.

Names meant a lot more back then than they do to us now.  The name Moses meant “drawn out of the water”.  That makes sense.  It tells something about the person. 

A man was invited for dinner at a friend's house. Every time the host needed something, he preceded his request to his wife by calling her "My Love", "Darling", "Sweetheart", etc., etc.
His friend looked at him and said, "That's really nice after all of these years you've been married to keep saying those little pet names."

The host said, "Well, honestly, I've forgotten her real name."

Names don’t mean as much to us anymore but back then your name defined your life and your ministry.  Moses is actually checking to see if God could deliver if he returned to Egypt.  Now to us that sounds ridiculous.  We would say that we know God is powerful enough to deliver us.  We would never question God about that, right?  Only someone with an immature faith would question God’s power.

Well, if that’s true then how do you explain our sin?  Because all sin is a lack of faith in God’s power.  You may say with your mouth that you believe God is powerful enough but when you do something you know is wrong, you are telling God with your actions that you don’t believe He is powerful enough to see you through. 

When you don’t tithe, you might as well have a neon sign on your head that says “I Don’t Trust God”.  When you lie, you are telling God that you don’t believe He is powerful enough to deal with the consequences of the truth.  When you lust you might as well holler out that God can’t provide everything you need.

When God said “I AM”, He is saying that He is the answer to every question, the solution to every problem, the satisfaction of every need.  He is all-powerful and all-knowing AND He is personal.  He is not just the God of Moses.  He is not just the God of the universe, some “Higher Being” like Mother Nature or the earth God or the sun God. 

He is your God and you can choose to ignore Him or you can put other things in front of Him, you can even deny He exists but you have to make some kind of personal decision about Him whether you like it or not because God is personal.

I met a man in New Orleans who told me that God had killed his son and so that is how he knew God didn’t exist.  You say that doesn’t make sense and you’re right but it makes as much sense as saying with your mouth that God is all-powerful but continuing to prove with your lifestyle that you don’t believe He is.

In Mark 9, a father brings his son to Jesus to heal him from an evil spirit.  The man asks Jesus that if He can, would He please heal him.  To that Jesus replies that everything is possible for him who believes.  I can relate to the father’s response to Jesus after that.  The man said, “I do believe.  Help me overcome my unbelief.”

Moses was the same way.  In the next chapter he asked God  what was going to happen when people don’t believe that God sent him.  Moses believed God.  He believed Him enough that he was willing to do what God said but he just asks for some help with his unbelief.  What happens?  God performed a miracle right there and turned the staff in Moses’ hand into a snake.

God was telling Moses that “I AM.  I CAN.  I WILL.  I have the power.  I have the knowledge.  I am aware of your situation and if you are obedient to Me then I will provide everything you need.”

Do you believe that today?  Do you believe that we are here today to worship the same God Moses worshipped?  Do you believe Jesus when He claimed that same name?  In John 8, the Jews asked Jesus, “Who do you think you are?”  Jesus replied, “Before Abraham was born, I AM.”

Are you going to continue to ask for a sign before you truly believe?  Just in this little group we have seen staffs turn to snakes.  We have seen that God can make an electric bill shrink.  He continues to put the right people at the right place at just the right time.  He has proven that he can heal knees, hips and necks.  He has protected us from fire, theft, storm, traffic and ourselves.  He has taken a church with a bad reputation and turned it into a place people know they can come to get help.

Moses would look at all that and say, “Wow!”  Moses was a biblical character but he was a real character.  He was a real shepherd tending real sheep on the side of a real hill and he had real problems and real doubts just like us.  But God proved Himself to Moses just as He has proven Himself to us.  He was present and personal with Moses and He is present and personal with us today.
And He wants to have a growing, dynamic relationship with you this morning, right now through His Son Jesus, the Great Shepherd.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Redemption - Ruth 3-4

“Redemption” – Ruth 3-4

I’m glad to be starting a new week. In a lot of ways this has been a rough week. We got word on Monday that my aunt had taken a bad fall at her church in Houston and her prognosis was bleak. She did, in fact, pass away a couple of days later leaving her husband of 59 years and scores of relatives and friends. My sisters and niece and I drove down to Houston on Thursday, which gives me another level of respect for Morris who does that every week. We then came back Friday and I got back late that night.

Thank you all so much for praying for us! I would say that you don’t know how good that made us feel but the fact is, some of you do know. Some of you do know how it feels to have somebody praying for you in a difficult time in your life, don’t you? You understand the waterfall of God’s grace and comfort when life brings heartache. You even understand that God can and will bring good things out of the worst crisis. You can relate to being able to almost feel and smell the feathers of God’s sheltering wings.

God's timing is absolutely amazing.  We heard several stories about how the family had all just gotten together before Aunt Cecile had her fall; how the Lord had allowed certain, special things to happen just before she died and how peoples' schedules were amazingly opened so they could attend.  And we all commented on what a blessing it was that she was getting older and feeble and yet was not any kind of burden on anyone.  We even learned that Uncle Nell had prayed for years that he would outlive Aunt Cecile so he could take care of her to the end.  All of that is just God's perfect timing and another instance of his protective, sheltering wings of grace covering our family.

So, it's not surprising that God would add to all of that the fact that this comes at a time when we can appreciate that while reading about His protective wings covering Ruth and her family in the Book of Ruth.  We have seen in the previous couple of weeks that Ruth was a Moabitess and while that may sound like an insect from the outback of Australia, it actually just means that she is from the country of Moab which was on the other side of the Jordan River from Israel.  It also means that she was originally an enemy of Israel but, if you remember, she married into the Israelite family of Naomi and her husband Elimalech.

She married into the family when they went to Moab to get food but the men in the family all died and ultimately left Naomi and Ruth to come back to Israel and try to eek out a living which was difficult since they had no man to protect or provide for them.  So Ruth goes to pick the scraps of grain in a nearby field that "just so happens" to be owned by Boaz and finds him to be not only generous but later finds out that he is actually a relative to their family.  That is the quickest way I can describe what has happened up to this point and gets us up to where we ended last week.

Please turn to chapter 2 of Ruth and go to verses 10-12.  Ruth has just been allowed to remain in the field of Boaz and he has provided for her far above what the law commands.  I want you to keep something in the back of your mind as we read through this book.  This book has been called one of the most beautiful love stories in all of literature and part of what makes it so beautiful is that when you read about Boaz, he is a picture of Jesus Himself and Ruth is a picture of the church.  You will see many similarities as you read this but when I say "picture" some people might understand that to mean that it really is Jesus in some OT form but that's not the case.  It just shows some similarities and that is what I want you to think about.

Read Ruth 2:10-12.  "At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me —a foreigner?  Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband —how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.  May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.

In the last part of that verse Boaz prays that Ruth will be rewarded for being so good to Naomi.  As in the case of Boaz, it often happens that the one who prays is in fact the one through whom it is answered.   The law stated that the owner of a field should leave some scraps for the poor people which was the forerunner to Social Security but Boaz goes much further with Ruth.  He not only instructs his men to leave extra but he then invites her to join them for lunch and at the end of the day gives her even more grain and some leftovers to take home to Naomi.

So, Ruth comes home to Naomi and her hands are full of groceries and Naomi's eyes light up.  Read in verses 19-20.

 Her mother-in-law asked her, “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you! ”Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place she had been working. “The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz,” she said.20 “The Lord bless him! ” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers.

Some of your translations say "closest relative" or "kinsman" or "kinsman-redeemer".  The idea behind this is the OT law that had a provision for widows who had no children.  In order that the husband's name would not die out in Israel the law said the widow could go to a close male relative and ask him to marry her.  If they had a son in that marriage then the boy would take the deceased husband's name.  This was a big deal.  This was a lot to ask of a person.  The son would get the new husband's inheritance but not his name and also the new husband would be required to protect and provide for the widow.  And to top it off, it was the widow's responsibility to ask.

All of that leads us to the next passage in chapter 3.  Evidently some time goes by and Naomi gives her daughter-in-law some advice in verses 1-4.  

One day Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for. 2 Now Boaz, with whose women you have worked, is a relative of ours. Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. 3 Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.”

Now, how many of you ladies proposed to your husbands this way?  Let's see a show of hands.  Nobody?  That's what Ruth is doing and evidently this is still practiced occasionally in parts of the Middle East.  It may seem very forward to us but Ruth's moral integrity is never in doubt as we will see in verses 7-11. 

When Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he went over to lie down at the far end of the grain pile. Ruth approached quietly, uncovered his feet and lay down. 8 In the middle of the night something startled the man; he turned—and there was a woman lying at his feet!9 “Who are you?” he asked.“I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.”10 “The Lord bless you, my daughter,” he replied. “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. 11 And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character.

Did you catch that part in verse 9 where she asks him to spread the corner of his cloak over her?  I want to read a few other verses to you starting with Psalm 17:8, "Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings."  Psalm 61:4, "I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.   And Psalm 63:7, "Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings."

Do you know who wrote those 3 Psalms?  David wrote those.  David understood the symbolism of the shelter, the provision, the protection of crawling under the wings of God and hiding there, dwelling there, taking shelter and then singing praises to the Protector.  He knew the desperation of having nobody else to turn to and having his enemies coming closer and closer.  He said, "Hide me in the shadow of your wings." 

That's exactly what Ruth was asking of Boaz, her kinsman-redeemer.  She went to him and asked him for protection and provision...and then she rested there.  When he put the corner of his garment over her that night, she knew that she was safe.  It didn't mean that all of her troubles were over.  It didn't mean she would never have to work again but ultimately, it meant everything would be ok.  And it was ok for her and for Naomi as well.  Ruth and Boaz had a baby boy sometime later.  His name was Jesse.  And do you know who Jesse's youngest son was?  David.

Ruth, who ran to Boaz and asked for protection under his cloak or wing was the grandmother of King David who well understood what his grandmother had gone through.  I wonder if she had even relayed that story to young David some time when she was babysitting him and years later he used that same symbolism in a way that, thousands of years later, would affect and  That's almost too much for me to comprehend.  That's too much grace.  I can't believe that God would use a widowed enemy of Israel to be in the lineage of a man who inspires me so.

But you know that it doesn't end there.  David was not only a king and an inspiring author and so much more.  He was, of course, in the very lineage of Jesus Himself.  He was the ancestor of the King.  He was in the family line of the Savior, the Creator, the Sustainer, Deliverer...and Redeemer!

Many generations after Ruth and even after David, Jesus would say these words in Matthew 23:37, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing."

A mother bird will have the same protective, motherly instincts that any mother will have.  They will often sacrifice themselves to protect their young.  In a hail storm a hen's wings may wind up bloody and featherless but she won't allow her chicks to be hurt by the storm.  She doesn't do that because she has to.  There is no bird law that says she has to or she will be punished.  She does it because she wants to, because she loves those under her wings.

That's what Jesus wants for you today.  His hands and feet are side are scarred from protecting you from that sin that you think is not that big of a deal.  He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)  He is waiting for you to seek shelter from the storm.  The price has been paid.  Now you have to make the decision to ask him to redeem you.

He can redeem your very life.  He can be the shelter from the storms of life.  Even as believers we still need to lose that attitude of "I got this" and just trust Him.  One of the characteristics of being under God's wings is the fact that it is often dark.  We can't see what is out there.  We don't understand what is going on.  I hear the lightning and thunder.  I smell the rain.  My feet may even get wet but I know I won't drown because I trust the one under whose wings I take refuge. 

I trust Him because generation after generation He has proven Himself trustworthy.  He has proven Himself trustworthy in my own life, even this week.  He proved Himself to Ruth and to David and to Aunt Cecile as well.  She knew Him.  She had a relationship with Jesus and knew to take shelter in Him and because of that we don't have to wonder about where she is.  The only thing we wonder is if she is singing praise with Ruth or David or with Pa and Grandmother  and Uncle Dewayne or if she is just still sitting at the feet of Jesus, her Redeemer.