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strength

After the people of God have heard the law read aloud to them in the public square, their natural reaction is weeping and mourning.  Why?

The Jews had been in captivity for quite a long time.  Now, they had finally returned to Jerusalem, rebuilt their city walls, and gathered together for the reestablishment of their community and customs.  During their captivity, they had had no opportunity to practice the feasts or ceremonies commanded by God.  They had no access to the Word of God and, at this point in time, many of these returning exiles had never even heard God’s law for themselves.

In Nehemiah chapter 8, we find Ezra the scribe reading God’s law to them right in the middle of the street for a number of hours.  Subsequently, the people, not having known what was expected of them and realizing at the hearing of the law how much they had failed, forgotten, and bore the guilt of began to unanimously grieve over their guilty position before God.

This is precisely what the law of God is made to do.  When we hear God’s perfect law, our conscience ought to accuse every one of us as guilty and in need of grace.  The Bible says that the law of God is perfect, converting the soul.  The function of the law is not to make us feel comfortable, but to break our hearts over our own sin, lead us to repentance, and cause us to yearn for God’s grace and forgiveness.  The law is the teacher which leads us to Christ.

These people had a conscience.  They heard the law, recognized themselves as guilty before a holy God, and that made them rightly unwell.  They grieved over their sin and saw their own need for repentance and forgiveness.

When the people begin this weeping and grieving, something interesting happens.  Their leaders instruct them to be joyful and forbid them to continue grieving.  They command the people to eat, drink, and rejoice because they understood God’s Word.

Many religious people think that pretending to be perfect is the proper way to honor God.  God’s Word teaches us just the opposite.  It is when we humble ourselves and admit our own sin that God is truly glorified in our lives.

So the people are called to change their faces from mourning to joy.  The reason was because their joy in God was their strength.  God wanted his people strong.  He wanted them to rejoice because it was time for a feast.  Mourning was not appropriate.  The Feast of Booths was about to begin.

The Feast of Booths was a time that the Jews were called to remember their time in wilderness, give thanks, and live in temporary shelters for seven days.  The reason for the shelters was to keep them from growing comfortable, fat, and happy in their houses after harvest.  God wanted them to remember their time in the desert, how he had provided all their needs, and how they must never stop trusting and relying upon Him for all things no matter how blessed they currently are.  This was a time of great joy, feasting, and thanksgiving for the goodness, faithfulness, and provision of God toward his people.  No one ought to mope and cry when blessing is abundant and harvest is at hand.  They were called to feast.

At the end of the feast was a solemn assembly.

God wants us to remember how good he really is to us.  It is in the best times that we tend to forget how much we need the Lord.  That is why this feast was performed at harvest.  God wanted to ensure that his people understood their desperate need for him in all things.  Let us remember that we, too, are exiles on a journey toward the promised land.  Let us never forget how God takes care of us through all of our wilderness journeys and the water he provides in the deserts of life.  Let us be joyful as we remember his faithfulness to us.  “For the joy of the Lord is your strength.” ~Nehemiah 8:10

 

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choice

After the Levites kill their own brothers and friends  on behalf of God for the golden calf idolatry, God gives them some more consequences for their rebellion.  In Exodus 33, the Israelites are told to depart from the base of Mt. Sinai.  God restates his promise to bring them into the promised land, but there is one catch – he’s not coming.

God is like, time to leave here.  You still get the promised land, guys!  But I’m not coming with you.  God’s immediate presence would not be there with them.

How many churches today operate this way?  Yet many are perfectly content to do so.  So sad.

“When the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments.  For the Lord had said to Moses, ‘Say to the people of Israel, “You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you.  So now take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do with you.” ~Exodus 33:4

Therefore, they were not content.  They did not rejoice.  They did not go on with business as usual.  They did not plan outreach.  What they did was mourn.

Half their company just died by the sword of their own brothers.  The text does not say they mourned then.  But for this, they mourn.  Why?

This was a bigger, more severe judgement and tragedy than losing half your friends and family in a day.  We know this because the latter just happened and these people didn’t mourn.  They did not mourn until God said he would remove his presence.  The is absolute worst thing God can do to human beings who love him is separate himself from them.  What was the lowest point of Christ on the cross?  The separation of he and his Father.

One day these guys were fixing to become a nation of priests, the next God tells them to dress in their skivvies and has his prophet tell them who they really are.  Not priests.  Nope.  Stiff-necked, stubborn, rebellious kids who don’t listen – that’s who they are.  That’s who we are when we fail to patiently wait on God, be faithful, and obey Him despite our circumstances.

God moves even their leader outside their camp.  The plans God was giving to build the tabernacle there at the base of Mt. Sinai were no more.  They had to move on, and this, without the immediate presence of God.  The bottom line was that because of these guys’ impatience and unbelief, they suffered greatly.  Their impatience led them into the sin of idolatry.  Their idolatry caused many of their brothers and friends to be killed in a civil war of sorts and these guys who are left are shamed with what they must wear.  They don’t get to serve God in the ways he originally had planned for them – at least at this point.  Not only that, but he moves their leader, Moses, outside the camp because he does not want to be close to them.  Even one moment keeping company with them would cause God to destroy their rebellious, ungrateful selves.

Here is a picture of every single one of us when God’s mercy finds us.  We are stubborn.  We are rebellious.  We are idolatrous.  We are impatient.  We are unfaithful and unbelieving.  We are ungrateful.  We are separated from God because of our sin.  We are in desperate need of mercy and forgiveness.  We need an intercessor and a clean slate.  These guys had Moses.  We have Christ.  Let us trust in Him when our sin separates us from God.

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accountability.jpg

Moses and God have been hanging out on top of Mt. Sinai for quite some time.  Now that God is finished giving Moses instructions, he has just informed him of the corruption going on among his people at the bottom of the mountain.  His brother, Aaron, has just fashioned an idol and all the people are worshiping it.  God wanted to destroy them all and raise Moses up, but Moses interceded for them and God relented.  That brings us to Exodus 32:15-35.

Now, Moses is finally headed back down the mountain to speak to the people with the God-written tablets of the law in hand.  Notice that before Moses ever speaks to the people about their sin, he speaks to God about it.  We must not think we can deal with our brothers and sisters appropriately if we do not first talk to God about them first.

If you remember, Joshua was up on the mountain waiting for Moses all this time.  Here is our example.  Joshua had been waiting just as long as the people – and he was alone! – yet he had not sinned.  He also had not heard what God spoke to Moses, however.  He must have been camped some distance off from where Moses met with God and he did not know of the corruption and idolatry of the people as Moses did.  When Joshua heard the noise of the people he thought it was the sound of war.  Moses corrected him saying that it was not victory, it wasn’t defeat, but singing.  The reason there was no victory or defeat is because there was no war.  If we are following God, we must be always at war with sin.  These people were not.

They were singing.  Sitting, eating, drinking, playing, and singing.  Isn’t that just like us.  Singing and playing when we should be fighting, mourning, and repenting of our sin.  How many so-called Christians today go on entertaining themselves with all the world has to offer while sin sits on their doorstep soaking up their insobriety.

When Moses approached the camp and saw the sin of the people he got so mad that he threw the tablets and broke them.  He burned the golden calf idol down into power, threw it in the water, and made the people drink it.

This was like the saying, “You made your bed, now you have to sleep in it.”  You made the idol, now you have to eat it.  You bear the responsibility, kids.  Here comes judgement.

Notice that Moses’ angry display was a display of righteous anger – just like Jesus’ turning over the money changers’ tables.  Matthew Henry says, “It is no breach of the law of meekness to show our displeasure at the wickedness of the wicked.”   

In other words, it is not wrong to be mad at sin against God.  It is not wrong to make our displeasure known when men deliberately dishonor God and his law.  It is no sin to be angry over sin, especially when men in danger of hell for their continuing disobedience go about singing and playing as if all is well.

Moses’ first stop after crashing this sin party is his brother’s face.

“And Moses said to Aaron, ‘What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?’ “ ~Exodus 32:21

Who brought the sin upon the people?  Aaron.  But, wait.  Didn’t the people come to him complaining about God and Moses?

They did.  But Aaron is the leader.  Therefore, Aaron bears much more responsibility than the people do.  Aaron should have corrected them.  Aaron should have interceded and waited on God.  Instead, without batting an eye, Aaron said, “Bring me your gold,” and made the idol with his own two hands.

Now, when his brother comes to him face to face with accountability for it, Aaron blame-shifts and flat out lies about his own sin.  Listen to what he says to Moses:

“…So I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.” ~Exodus 32:24

I put the gold in the fire and a calf just popped right out.  Yeah, right, Aaron!  Liar.  No one believes you.

Isn’t it amazing what men will say and do to weasel out of accountability and responsibility when we are caught in sin?

Instead of arguing with Aaron, Moses does something else.  He stands in the gate of their camp and he asks who is on the Lord’s side.  Those who come to him he instructs to kill everyone else – including their brothers, friends, and neighbors.

You guys think you got what it takes?  You want to work for God?  Go kill your brothers.  Go kill your buddies.  Prove you’re fit for service in my kingdom.  And by the way, I will bless you for it.

“And Moses said, ‘Today you have been ordained for the service of the Lord, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day.’ “ ~Exodus 32:29

Little wonder why Jesus said that anyone who loves his mother and father and brother and sister more than him is not worthy of him.  When our favorite people in the world sin, they do not get a pass.  We cannot overlook what angers God for the sake of keeping peace with our friends and family.  Christ did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  If we are not willing to confront those we love most when sin is present, we are not fit for service in God’s kingdom.  And, as difficult and painful as being the dreaded confront-er is, God promises to bless us when we are faithful to live out his Word.

As we see in this passage, the men who stood up on God’s side are the ones who had to carry out God’s judgement on their unrepentant brothers.  How much suffering do you think was involved in that duty?  Surely it was a great amount.  Clearly, this was a punishment for these better men as well, for not putting a stop to the sin much sooner.

For everyone who was left afterward, Moses says this, “You have sinned a great sin,  And now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” ~Exodus 32:30

He goes back to God to intercede for the people again.  He tells God what God originally told him – that the people had made gods out of gold.  It wasn’t that God didn’t know this already.  He’s the one who told Moses first.  Moses tells him in a manner of confession.  Sins must be specifically identified and rightly confessed to God for forgiveness to be possible.  He asks God to forgive them or else blot him out of the book of life.

What a leader.  Here is an innocent man willing to be punished and even blotted out of God’s favor altogether for the sake of those who actually deserve that kind of punishment.  Remind you of anyone?  Moses was a type of Christ.

But God says no.  He says he will blot out those who have sinned against him.  God promises to send his angel before Moses and lead him to the promised land.  He sends a plague on the people for their idolatry and disobedience and Moses moves on with far less people than he started with.

Sin weakens and destroys the people of God.  No matter what the cost to confront it, never let sin reside in the camp of God’s people.  Despite the great personal pain and difficulty confronting your brothers, buddies, and neighbors brings, make no mistake, you will be blessed if you are faithful to God’s Word by confronting sin in the midst of blatant disobedience.  Amen.

 

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Is there grace for me here?

This is the singular question I asked upon joining the membership of a church five years ago.  This was my primary concern because, ultimately, a place where the gospel is preached must be a place where grace is extended to all people – not just some.  Not only that, but I know my own desperate need for grace.

After several months of feeling left completely out of the grace equation, I felt I had to ask.  When I looked around, I recognized that others were afforded love and grace that was continually, purposefully withheld from me personally.  Think junior high.  In junior high, one is very keen to the fact that they are not part of the accepted group.   It is an obvious observation because when the pariah walks in, she is avoided.  She sees them talking to everyone but her.  It doesn’t take too long to figure out that, no matter how many times she invites them, they are never coming over and that she will never be invited by them.  No matter what she does, she will never be good enough to meet their standards or be a part of whatever it is they are doing.

Still, we joined this particular church as members and continued to be avoided and accused by men who should have loved us; men who weekly claimed to offer grace, love, forgiveness, and mercy to all alike.

Finally, the initial red flag I had feared from the beginning was realized as right as rain.  I found that there was not grace for me or my family there.  Others, perhaps, but not us.  We were unmistakably avoided, repeatedly accused, and eventually slandered and excommunicated for reasons no one cared to discuss with us personally.

Sometimes people just don’t prefer you.  In these times, any offense will do.  Any irritation becomes criminal.  Every disagreement is grounds for nothing short of divorce.  When our hearts are hardened, whether our gracelessness is displayed toward a people group, a race, a religion, or an individual whom we simply do not prefer, the deceit within our hearts will justify almost anything including gossip, slander, maligning, misrepresenting, hatred, oppression, injury, and even murder.  Yes, this is the root of the transgression of the sixth commandment: You shall not murder. (Exodus 20:13)

(Read and watch more on that here: https://lorirodeheaver.wordpress.com/2017/05/25/command-number-six-you-shall-not-murder/  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jjfBYaQjnQ)

Sometimes preachers get sent to preach to people they simply do not prefer.  Yesterday, I watched, in living color, the story of a man sent to preach to a group of people he hated.  When God called him to the task, he refused it.  He ran in the opposite direction as fast as he possibly could.  He got into some “deep” trouble and he ended up doing exactly what the Lord had told him to do in the first place…but he was NOT happy about it.  In fact, he was so angry when those no-gooders repented and believed the truth of God that he wanted to die.  His name was Jonah.

But what would cause a God-fearing, scripture-loving, truth-telling man of God to hate the very people he had been sent to preach to?

The Ninevites were not nice people.  They were cruel, ruthless, wrath-bearing killers.  They were all kinds of evil.  They were not part of God’s elect Jewish nation.  They did not follow the Law of Moses and the only sacrifices they made were men, women, and children from other people’s families.

Jonah, on the other hand, did all the right things.  From childhood, Jonah loved God and his people.  He prayed; he served; he did good works; he followed the law; he obeyed God.  Surely he was entitled to things those evil people were not – things like God’s love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy —right?

Wrong.  Funny thing about love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy – no one deserves them.  God gives them as he wills to whomever he wills.  It is not our call despite any position or privilege we may or may not have within God’s church.  Jonah was a prophet who heard the very voice of God for himself and even he did not have authority or preference when it came time for God to pass out his mercy, forgiveness, love, and grace.

(You can read more about Jonah here: https://lorirodeheaver.wordpress.com/2017/06/21/running-away-from-gods-will/ http://www.lulu.com/shop/lori-rodeheaver/tomato-sandwich-rebellion-one-little-girls-journey-through-the-book-of-jonah/paperback/product-21012747.html )

Yesterday I received a letter from the second church who chose to avoid, accuse, and condemn me personally for reasons I have yet to be told.  As I sit wondering what on earth I did to cause so many people to hate and exclude me, I can only think of Jonah.  Regardless of whether I am indeed the worst sinner in the world and deserving of this kind of dismissal, the question that begs an answer is why?  What is the reason and why won’t anyone show me that reason so I might be able to see it and repent?  Isn’t repentance always the goal of excommunication?  Where are my accusers and why are they not accusing me of that which I must repent lest I be lost and damned?  Better yet, why are they not preaching the gospel to me in truth and love?  Am I beyond help?  Is anyone?

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  I have been accused -always and ever accused.  Yet, none of the accusations made against me have been specific to any certain word or deed I have supposedly done.  All accusations and charges against me personally have been just that – personal attacks meant to injure and abuse.  No facts or specific situations wherein I have been found guilty have ever been brought up to me or discussed.  All accusations have been generalized, vague, broad-brush character assassinations.  No specifics; no examples.  And that’s how you falsely accuse someone without telling them why; without giving them an opportunity to reconcile, to be forgiven, to be restored, and to be a part of your fellowship.  That is how you exalt yourself to the position of judge, jury, executioner, and, yes, god himself.  That is how you rid your life of those you do not prefer.  I believe the Biblical term is “favoritism” and “partiality.”

Nevertheless, I know my own heart.  I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I am not entitled to God’s favor.  I do not deserve grace or mercy or love or forgiveness.  The very nature of those gifts precludes merit altogether anyway.  So, if those who claim to be God’s people do not love and accept me, I have no grounds by which to argue for a seat at their lunch table.  I am a sinner and nothing more.  I am Nineveh and I deserve nothing but God’s wrath and judgment.

The truth is, the very men who tell me and my family that we are not welcome in God’s church must, in doing so, recognize that neither would they be if we use only the law to determine inclusion.

Thank God for His mercy!  Thank God for His love!  Thank God for His grace!  Thank God for His forgiveness! I may not ever be on the guest list at any church’s preferred people parties on Sunday mornings, but I know that my name is written in His Book of Life.  Thank God!

As for Redeeming Grace Fellowship, I have a few questions and a very few things I need you – and anyone unknowingly walking into your church – to know.

Dear Dana and members of Redeeming Grace Fellowship,

My family and I love you all very much.  We forgive you for all the things you have done to hurt us.  We ask that you would do the same for us.  We want only reconciliation and restoration. We don’t understand the reasons you have chosen to avoid us, abuse us, and remove us because you have not told us those reasons.  The silent treatment we have received and the absolute avoidance you all have conducted over the past year and even beforehand is not a Biblical method of dealing with erring brothers and sisters.  The Bible teaches us that if we have a grievance or if someone hurts or offends us, we are to go to that person individually, privately, and talk to them about how we feel we have been wronged or how we feel that person is sinning.  The goal of correction and discipline within the church is always repentance and reconciliation, not avoidance, exclusion, and exercising the silent treatment when asked for reasons for the avoidance and exclusion.

Telling your members they are not qualified to pray with other members is not a Biblical practice.  Telling your members they are not called to do ministry within the church to which they belong is not a Biblical practice.  Calling an emergency meeting of the entire church and having a session of gossip and slander about members who are not present is not a Biblical practice.  Avoiding accountability after doing such things is not a biblical practice.  Pretending nothing happened after doing these things and refusing to talk it over to find the root problem is not a Biblical practice.  Refusing to answer phone calls when questioned about why you feel the need to exclude, avoid, and remove members of your congregation is not a Biblical practice.  Speaking with the entire congregation about reasons why certain individuals are members of your church but are not welcome to attend any longer while simultaneously refusing to talk to the individuals themselves about these things is not a Biblical practice.  Failing to clearly address the sins of members and correct, pray with, and help them understand what they are doing wrong, your concern for them, and their need for repentance is the opposite of what the Bible teaches leaders in the church to do.  Telling your members it is inappropriate to pray with them about the unrest, injury, and overt division within your church is antithetical to what the Bible teaches. Telling a member that she is the problem when she is asking for clarity about why she is being removed is not a sufficient, helpful answer.  Telling her she is being divisive because she openly disagrees with a man who is telling the congregation that they cannot use Biblical methods is not a valid accusation.  Telling her she is divisive for attending a member meeting as a member is not a valid accusation.  Having the congregation vote to remove members after refusing to speak to those members for months – all after telling the congregation they are not welcome to attend despite their membership is not a Biblical practice.  Sending a letter informing individuals that they are no longer members without responding to their numerous, serious inquires asking why and when these matters could be discussed is not a Biblical practice.

These actions, and many other actions like them, which have all been practiced in your assembly are not Biblical, Redeeming Grace Fellowship.  Repent!  Please, please repent.  Please speak to us.  Please seek the Lord and the scriptures and see whether the things you have done to us and others in your assembly have been done according to the Scriptures.  The Lord is not pleased with leaders who abuse His people.  He will not bless your assembly unless you repent of these actions and attitudes.  He will not bless a church when they are running away from obedience to Him.

A church without grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness is not a church.  By definition, a place void of these essential elements is properly termed a club, not a church.

Lastly, if this excommunication were Biblical, would that not mean that we could not join any other church until the matter was reconciled with you and we repented of the grievous sin which caused it?  In your letter, you encourage us to go elsewhere and “peaceably get involved.”  There is no peace for an excommunicated member who refuses to repent to the point of being thrown out of a church.  That ex-member must make peace with God first, correct?  He or she must repent!  He cannot just go to a new church and “peaceably get involved” can he?  How?  He is at odds with God and man according to his spiritual authorities who have deemed him anathema!  Please, please explain this to us.  Either we need to reconcile with you all according to whatever charges you have against us and repent or we cannot go anywhere else to any other church and “peaceably get involved.”  Sinners must repent and be forgiven before peace can be made between they and God and others.

To that end I ask, why has not one single member or any leader contacted us after our many attempts to discuss these things and be reconciled?  (Save one couple who has since rescinded their own membership due to these numerous, unbiblical actions and practices.) Do not your own bylaws as well as the scripture text state that every effort must be made to bring a person to repentance before excommunication?  Why has that never once – not one single time! – been done by anyone?  Even criminals must be told what they are being charged with and why they are under arrest.  How can you claim to love Christ while hating your brother and sister? If the gospel is true, why can’t we be reconciled to one another as the gospel calls us to do?  And lastly, if you can do this to us – people who you have so many things in common with from skin color to theological understanding to socio-economic status to family dynamics – what will you do to those who are unlike you in many other ways and how will they feel when they come to your club?

In summation, we have but one single question for all of you individually and I do hope you will all come to us with an answer for yourselves.  It is this: WHERE IS THE LOVE?  This is God’s house!  These things ought not be so!

We love you no matter what you do or don’t do in regards to these injuries.  We forgive you and we pray for you daily.  We miss and love you.  We want only to be restored to all of you rightly.  Please consider your actions and do right by the Word and Our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Kyrie eleison.

In Christ,
Tim and Lori Rodeheaver

 

 

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Have you ever felt all by yourself?  I have.  Yesterday was one of those days.  I picked up my Bible first thing and read Isaiah 59.  Instead of giving me life, I allowed the Enemy to steal the encouragement of the Word and accuse me with it.  If I had just stopped at verse 1 and meditated, I think I would have had a different kind of day.

Behold, the Lord‘s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,
    or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; ~Isaiah 59:1

It’s verse 2 that did me in.

but your iniquities have made a separation
    between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you
    so that he does not hear. ~Isaiah 59:2

The condemnation I felt as I read this was overwhelming.  Being in a place where justice is not evident and wrongs have not been righted personally, it was easy for the Enemy to use that against me and bring accusation and discouragement.

Despite the fact that we all sin, to feel as though God is not hearing or acting on our behalf because we are separating ourselves by our own sinfulness is quite a place of despair – especially when you’re not really sure what sin it could possibly be.  Still, this is the reality for us all until Christ saves us.  After we are made right with Him, however, he hears us.  He acts upon on behalf.  He forgives our sin and he guides us in all truth.

The people Isaiah is speaking to here are not right with God.  They may be His covenant people, but they are not acting in accordance with his order.  Verses 3-8 describe their sin in detail.  They are speaking lies, making trouble, harming one another and they are failing to call for justice and plead for truth.  They are doing wrong and they are refusing to do right.  These are the reasons God will not listen to them or bring justice to them.

Therefore justice is far from us,
    and righteousness does not overtake us;
we hope for light, and behold, darkness,
    and for brightness, but we walk in gloom. ~Isaiah 59:9

Therefore – because of these reasons and all your wrongdoing, lack of concern for righteousness and justice – because of this, justice for you is far away; righteousness is not with you.

Truth is lacking,
    and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.

The Lord saw it, and it displeased him
    that there was no justice. ~Isaiah 59:15

Truth is lacking.  That is a powerful statement.  When truth is lacking, much evil follows.  Even those who sought truth and stopped sinning had a hard lot.  They became prey for those who did not repent.  The Lord saw this.  The Lord was greatly concerned for this particular society of people.  The most offensive thing to God was perhaps not even the sin itself – it was that there was no justice.  There was no judgement.  No repentance.  No reconciliation.  God longed to be made right with these people but there was not even a shred of repentance.  Their hearts were as hard as ever.

He saw that there was no man,
    and wondered that there was no one to intercede;
then his own arm brought him salvation,
    and his righteousness upheld him. ~Isaiah 59:16

Here is most powerful verse in the entire chapter.  God saw that there was no one – no man fit, no one righteous, no one who cared.  God did not throw up his hands or shrug his shoulders.  God did it himself!!!  How glorious!  Sin abounded, yet grace abounded all the more!!!  Matthew Henry says it this way:

“Since magistrates and societies for reformation fail of doing their part, one will not do justice nor the other call for it, God will let them know that he can do it without them when his time shall come thus to prepare his people for mercy, and then the work of deliverance shall be wrought by the immediate operations of the divine Providence on men’s affections and affairs.”

To whom shall God perform this goodness?  This mercy?  To whom will he bring justice?

“And a Redeemer will come to Zion,
    to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord. ~Isaiah 59:20

The Redeemer will come to those who turn from transgression.  Those who turn!  Those who repent!  Those who turn their eyes upon Jesus!  Amen!  God makes a way for sinners!  He does not cast us out!  He does not shun and avoid us!  He does not condemn and accuse us!  He saves us!  That is encouraging!

And the promises are laid upon Christ and his bride.  The church will continue always until the end of time and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it!  Amen!

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adultery

The seventh commandment that God gives to Moses on Mt. Sinai concerns purity and chastity within marriage.

Adultery is generally defined as a married man or woman being sexually unfaithful to their spouse.  So, infidelity.  Jesus, however, defines adultery with more detail.  He says that unfaithfulness is found even in adulterous thoughts and gazes.

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. ~Matthew 5:27-30

Jesus knows our hearts.  He knows what is in a man (and a woman).  He knows how easily we are enticed and entangled in sin.  Jesus knows that thoughts often lead to actions and small errors often lead to big problems.  Jesus cares enough about us and our purity to tell us the truth.

Flirting with adulterous thoughts, flirting with anyone other than our spouses, and flirting with temptation on any level in word, thought, or deed is more than enough reason to be alarmed, take heed, and repent.  These seemingly “smaller” offenses are – according to Jesus – not small.

To look is to commit adultery.  To lust is to commit adultery.

If we consider the other offenses that we commit in this kind of sin, it is not hard to see why the seeds of adultery are so important to both understand and avoid at all costs.  Jesus’ advice is to pluck out our eye or cut of our hand!  It is that dangerous.  It is that important to avoid.

When we cheat on our spouse, we steal.  We lie.  We covet.  We worship another in place of God – ourselves and our forbidden partner.  We dishonor our parents.  We break almost every commandment God set before us when we sin in this way.  Men and women in the Old Testament were stoned to death for this.

“If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. ~ Leviticus 20:10

Death!  The penalty was death for both the man and the woman.  Now, the Pharisees tried to make it as though only the woman should be stoned but Jesus – what did he do?

but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” ~John 8:1-11

We also have his example of the Samaritan woman, also known as the woman at the well, who had five husbands in John 4.  How did Jesus treat these women?  Or should I say, these kind of women?

In the first case he stood up to the bullies who hated her by stooping down in a public proclamation of his alliance with the sinner. In the second case he went the way everyone else always avoided and talked with a woman – a loose woman to boot – when it was taboo in order to teach her the truth and – get this – use her to save a whole town by her testimony!  Amazing!

Why?

Jesus knows that we are guilty of breaking this command.  The level of severity is the only difference between men.  Therefore, he does what God always does.  He gives grace to the humble and opposes the proud.  That’s why we see him siding with the adulterous women and making a point to go to the people and places others intentionally and painstakingly avoided out of superiority, pride, and religious condescension.

Yesterday my husband and I were talking about temptation.  We have both done our share of failing in this area.  Temptation is never going to go away until we die.  We talked about the verse in 1 Corinthians 10 about being careful when things seem calm and when we feel less tempted.  That’s when the enemy strikes.  But today the verse of the day on my Bible app was the following verse so I’ll just read them both.

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. ~1 Corinthians 10:12-13

You know what this means?  It means God is faithful.  You can trust him!  Even though we will be tempted to look, to lust, to think impure thoughts, to flirt, to act scandalously – we will also be given a way out.  Every.  Single.  Time.  The way will not be some religious pretense that shuns and avoids “sinners” in order to look pious and holy on the outside and impress our religious friends.  The way will be grace for us and for the other sinners he allows in close proximity to us.

We need to get that.  We need to get it deep down in our hearts.  Jesus does not shun and avoid sinners out of pride, pretense, preference, superiority, or self-preservation EVER.  Jesus goes to them purposefully and offers grace to the humble.  It is those who think themselves too high and holy to even be in the same town with “sinners” that he deals harshly with.

So, don’t commit adultery in thought, word, or deed.  Use the escape routes God is faithful to provide when tempted.  But don’t put on a religious show just to make others think you’re not guilty of this sin.  Confess it.  Don’t hide and pretend.  We are all guilty.  There is grace for the repentant and humble in heart.

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angelofdeath

Here it is.  In Exodus 12, we find the wages of sin.  Pharaoh had enslaved God’s people.  He had held them captive and oppressed them for a great period of time.  Their babies, save Moses, had been slaughtered, their lives had been greatly burdened, and their God had been mocked.

God, in his mercy, had not carried out swift judgement.  Instead, he send his prophets.  They dealt reasonably with Pharaoh.  God gave many warnings, signs, and wonders.  Pharaoh refused to listen.  Time after time, Pharaoh hardened his heart.

Finally, here in Exodus 12, God touches what is most dear to Pharaoh.  God smites his firstborn child.  Not only his, but all of Egypt’s firstborn children.

And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians. And there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead. ~Exodus 12:30

There is not a person our sin does not affect.  When an influential person sins, the results are widespread and catastrophic.  Egypt was guilty of killing the Hebrews’ children.  Now, God’s perfect justice had taken theirs.

Like Pharaoh, when God has been dealing with us for a long time over a specific issue and we have not listened, he brings judgment to the place where we feel it most deeply.  Often, the judgement reveals not only our sin, but our idols.  It reveals our hardened refusal to deal with the very thing God wants to deal with.  For Pharaoh, his child was not just his child.  Pharaoh’s firstborn was Pharaoh’s future.  This was his heir; his successor; his life after death.  All of Pharaoh’s power would be gone once death came so his child was his immortality; his continuation; his very salvation.

Don’t touch my child, God.  My child is mine.  I will protect this part of myself and excuse my sin no matter how many times you try to deal with it.  Just don’t touch me there.  This part of my life if off limits, God.  Leave it alone.

We all have “children” in our lives.  These are our idols.  They are those things we try to make untouchable when God reaches for them.  Don’t touch my child, God.  Don’t touch my marriage.  Don’t touch my health.  Don’t touch my finances.  Don’t touch my family.  Don’t touch my job.  Don’t touch my recreation.  Don’t touch my relationships.  Don’t touch my ministry.  Don’t touch my plans.  Don’t touch my pain.  Don’t touch my happiness.  Don’t touch my fear.  Don’t touch me.  Just don’t touch me, God.  Leave me and my precious child the hell alone.

Pharaoh lost his child as a result of stubborn rebellion.  All those who followed him lost their children, too.  Matthew Henry notes that “…the Egyptians could have no help, no comfort, from their neighbors, all being involved in the same calamity.”

 Then he summoned Moses and Aaron by night and said, “Up, go out from among my people, both you and the people of Israel; and go, serve the Lord, as you have said. 32 Take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone, and bless me also!” ~Exodus 12:31-32

Judgement for one meant freedom for another.  God’s heavy hand upon this ruler humbled him to the place where he finally submitted to let God’s people go.  He even went so far as to ask them to bless him!  God’s people would no longer be enslaved and oppressed by the control and corruption of an unconcerned master.  God’s people were finally free.

This final judgement teaches us just how obstinate we humans are.  Look at what it takes to humble us!  Nothing short of death.  Consider the depths of our sin and the lengths God is willing to go to in order to set us free!  Where there is judgement, there is often hope; there is freedom; there is redemption if we just surrender – idols and all – and God passes over us in extraordinary mercy.

So, Lord, please.  I don’t want my child to die but I don’t want my child to be my idol either.  Touch my child and make me willing to submit her to you.  Touch my marriage.  Touch my health.  Touch my finances.  Touch my family.  Touch my job.  Touch my recreation.  Touch my relationships.  Touch my ministry.  Touch my plans.  Touch my pain.  Touch my happiness.  Touch my fear.  Touch me and make me willing to submit everything to your good and perfect will.  Whatever you do, do not leave me alone with my idols.  I am listening.  Help me surrender all to you.

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