Lessons Learned The Hard Way!

-Last Post Until September 16! Vacation Time!-

 

-Experience, The Great Teacher!

Some lessons in life are learned the hard way. For example, putting a can of soda in the freezer, to get it cold, may sound like a smart idea! It’s NOT! Also, if you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur! Cheaper isn’t always better, is it? Some lessons are hard and painful to learn! I’ve watched kids, at the zoo, learn one of life’s lessons the hard way— don’t mess with the geese! I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve seen a kid chasing after a goose; only, a little later seeing him run the other way with the goose in hot pursuit! I love what someone said about learning lessons the hard way: “Experience is a great teacher; and, a fool will learn no other way!”

-Gaining Wisdom!

Don’t be that guy! I big part of the wisdom gained, from reading Scripture, is learning from the hard lessons others learned the hard way! I don’t want to sound arrogant or be overly critical of Israel’s constant failures because I’ve been equally as guilty of falling into sinful patterns in my own life. But, don’t you just wonder sometimes if they’re ever going to learn some of the lessons God puts in front of them? Over and over they fail to listen to God’s Word & the results are never good!

-Don’t Be Foolish!

I want to challenge you, in this post, to learn God’s lessons well! Don’t be foolish & hard-hearted & stiff-necked like Israel often was! Be committed to reading God’s Word! To hearing God speak! And, determine to trust whatever God says! With your whole heart! A devotion to obeying God’s word will keep you from sin; but, sin will keep you from obeying God’s word! You can have no better life than the one spent in obedience to God! Don’t be the fool that finds out the hard way! God is good! He is gracious! He is merciful! He promises to forgive every sin when you trust Jesus’ work on the cross to atone for your sin!

-You Reap What You Sow!

But, you will reap what you sow! That is a principle in God’s word! He will forgive the sin of the drunkard who weaponizes his car & crosses lanes, killing someone driving in the other lane! But, God doesn’t give him back the arm that he also lost in the crash! Though God offers grace to endure the terrible consequences of our sin, He doesn’t always remove the consequences! I’ve found it deeply disturbing to read the account, in Joshua chapters 7 & 8, of Achan’s sin.  God had commanded Israel to set apart, for destruction,  all the plunder from a military victory over Jericho!

-What If He Had Repented?

But Achan disobeyed; and, he had done so secretly! I’ve often wondered what might have happened if he had quickly acknowledged his sin? What if he would have come running to Joshua with the stuff he had taken; and, confessed his sin & asked God for forgiveness? In the epistle of 1 John, it’s recorded, “If we say, ‘We have no sin,’ we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:8-9). I can only imagine that the story, for Achan & his family, would have had a happier ending if he had only confessed his sin & repented quickly! But, he did not confess until he was caught! Until he was found out! And, his sin resulted in the death of himself, his family, and 36 men in Israel’s next battle! God’s judgment for unconfessed, hidden sin was harsh! God, help us to learn well this lesson; and, not to learn the hard way!

 

Is God Really Good?

-Doubting His Wisdom & Plan!

The Old Testament book of Numbers provides a picture of how God disciplines His own children when they fail to trust Him! When they doubt Him & His word! It pictures a people who’ve been freed from the bondage and slavery of Egypt; but, haven’t reached Canaan land yet! That is a lesson we need to learn from the book of Numbers— like Israel if you had the faith to follow God out of the bondage of your slavery to sin; but, you’re still whining & complaining it’s because you’re doubting His wisdom & plan for you! You’re not resting in God’s Spirit!

-Rest In His Sovereignty!

Canaan land is a picture of the Spirit-filled life that God intends for you to enjoy! To rest in His Sovereign control & to quit complaining when things, in life, don’t work out the way you planned them to go! Beginning with chapter 11, it says, “Now the people began complaining openly before the Lord about hardship” (v.1).  Now let’s just pause and consider that for a little while! We might understand, humanly speaking, a little bit of their hardship! Every day packing up their tents & belongings; and, heading out to the next campsite! Every day hunting for food and water! And, they were traveling in a blazing hot desert! We might understand their hardship to a degree! I mean, they were on a perpetual camping trip! But, let’s put this in perspective!

-It Had Only Been 3 Days!

Flip back a chapter to Numbers 10, v.33, “They set out from the mountain of the Lord on a three-day journey with the ark of the Lord’s covenant traveling ahead of them for those three days to seek a resting place for them.” How long had it been? 3 DAYS! Say, what? It had ONLY been 3 DAYS! And, here they were complaining! I’ve found that it doesn’t take very much time or very much trouble for some people to begin grumbling! But, let’s see God’s response! Back to chapter 11, the end of v.1, “…When the Lord heard, His anger burned, and fire from the Lord blazed among them and consumed the outskirts of the camp.” God was angry with their whining & complaining because it revealed their failure to trust Him! We need to take a personal application from this incident! When we complain & grumble God is angry because it reveals that we have doubts about His character! It reveals that we doubt His love, His mercy & His grace! We’re ultimately expressing doubt that He’s really a GOOD God! Have you ever considered that? It’s true! We doubt the wisdom, of His plan for our life, when we complain!

-Where Complaints Come From!

So, let me warn you! When you murmur & complain it reveals something about you & your faith in God! Like Israel, it means you’re doubting God’s character & His benevolence toward you! When we doubt, we begin to complain! Read the rest of Numbers! Many of the Israelites spoke as though they thought God was out to get them! He was bringing them out of Egypt to kill them in the desert, they said! When we doubt God’s goodness, it offends His Name & His reputation! And, our doubt doesn’t generally end with our ingratitude! Doubt & a lack of trust, in God, will fuel a spirit of rebellion in us! When we doubt God, we open ourselves up to a spirit of rebellion! There’s a progression to Israel’s sin! Their doubt turned them into complainers; and, rebellion against leadership followed closely behind!

 

Stop Your Whining!

-Complaining Spreads Like Cancer!

If you’ve ever been part of a team, you know how deadly whining & complaining can be to team morale. Complaining spreads like cancer in an athletic locker room & it creates a losing culture! Whining has the power to kill an entire company! It’s devastating! Personally, I do everything I can to avoid too much contact with whiners & complainers because I don’t want to catch what they’ve got!

-You Can Catch A Bad Attitude!

I remember playing sports with guys who complained about practice or whined about the coach, “This stinks, man! Playing basketball is the dumbest decision I ever made.” In my mind, I’m thinking, “Adios amigo! I need to get away from you! Because, If I keep listening to you, you might persuade me to start agreeing with you; and, I’ll end up with a sucky attitude just like you.” The Old Testament book of Numbers reveals how a complaining attitude dispersed throughout the Israelite camp like a disease. Too many people listened to the whiners & just listening weakened their ability to resist; and, they slowly became whiners also! And, God became angry with them. And, for good reason!

-Blind To God’s Goodness!

He had delivered them from their slavery and bondage to Egypt! He had agreed to dwell with them & lead them on their journey! He protected them when Pharaoh pursued them with his army! He stopped up the Red Sea so they could cross over safely! He fed them manna & they complained about that! In a desert, with no water, He provided water for them from a rock! Their complaints had blinded them to God’s generous love for them. Complaining poisons the heart with a spirit of ingratitude & it acts like a plague! We read how it spread among the Israelites & that should be a lesson to us because it can happen in a local church community too!

-God Knows Best!

We tend to complain whenever someone— usually in a position of leadership— makes a decision or sets a policy that we don’t like or we disagree with! And, we think we know better! Like Israel, we tend to think our way is the right way! Listen! God wants us to believe that HE KNOWS what He’s talking about! That HE KNOWS what’s best for us! Always! What God tells us is always true! It’s always for our good! And, He wants us to trust Him, regardless of what our friends & others around us are whining about! This is a big problem for us! Our greatest struggle in life is to trust God instead of our own reasoning! That struggle started in the Garden of Eden with Adam & Eve’s failure to follow God’s instruction! Things haven’t improved since, either!

-A Renewing Of The Mind!

As followers of Christ, our only hope, for overcoming this way of thinking, is a transformation by God’s indwelling Spirit! “Therefore brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God” Romans 12:1-2.  Listen, if you tend to be a whiner or a complainer; or, think your way is always best, the book of Proverbs contains a verse you need to memorize: “There is a way which SEEMS right to a man, and its end is the way of death” Prov 14:12. If your way is contrary to the teaching, in God’s Word, it will always end badly for you! If you’re one of God’s children, He will spank you for it!

 

Holy People!

-God Is Determined!

Every book, of the Bible, is all about God’s determination to call out a people, for Himself, who will confess their sin & submit to His plan for their life. That’s the thread of the Gospel that runs through the entire Word of God. That’s the call, of God, for Israel; and, that’s His call for your life also! To Israel, God said:  “You are to be holy to Me because I, Yahweh, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be Mine” Lev. 20:26.  I think, of that, as the key verse in the book of Leviticus. God is determined to assemble a people, with whom to dwell, for all eternity! A people that He sets apart; that He sanctifies; that He separates to Himself— that’s what it means to be holy!

-Set Apart For God!

God was determined, with Israel under the Old Covenant; and, with the church under the New Covenant, to set apart a people for Himself from all nations! God has always had a love for the nations! For every ethnic group! One reason that any kind of racism or favoritism, for one’s own people group, is so reprehensible is because of God’s plan to have every ethnic group represented in heaven. God desire’s to dwell among all earth’s people groups for all eternity!

-To Bring Glory To Himself!

I don’t know that I’ll ever understand why God would desire to dwell with us sinful, undeserving people; other, then to highlight & bring glory to Himself for His faithful love, mercy & grace toward us! That, though He condemns our sin, He makes a provision for fellowship with Him through the atoning sacrifice, of Jesus, on the cross.  And, the moment any Israelite; or, anyone else will confess that they’re a sinner— that they’ve broken God’s law— and, they humble themselves by bowing, in worship, before Him & giving up their lives to Him, God will save them because He desires to dwell with us! It’s His desire to add you to His family!

-The Purpose Of The Tabernacle!

That’s the point, of the Old Testament tabernacle. The tabernacle became the visible place, of God’s dwelling, among His people, even as they wandered through the wilderness on their way to the promised land.  “And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them,” God said (Exodus 25:8).  The tabernacle & the temple—that King Solomon would build in the future—was for the purpose of giving Israel a visible sign that God was real & that He dwelt among them. And, just as God was determined to set Israel apart, He’s determined to set us apart also.  We are called to be God’s kingdom of priests.

-A Royal Priesthood!

God’s Spirit inspired the Apostle Peter to write:  “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” 1 Peter 2:9. That’s the New Testament church! God doesn’t intend that we would live our lives in pursuit of selfish interests! He saved us to make us “priests” who minister to the world! If you’re saved, you belong to Him! You need to align your life with His plans for you:  “Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary (the WORD is TENT or TABERNACLE) of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body” 1 Cor 6:19,20. As God’s tabernacle, we are the visible sign of God’s presence to the nations!

 

Yahweh: Merciful & Gracious!

-Living With Shame & Guilt!

Bettina Goering is the great-niece of Hermann Goering, one of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi leaders, who founded the Gestapo Secret Police & helped organize the holocaust. In a newspaper interview, from May 2016, she revealed how she & her brother were voluntarily sterilized.  “I had my tubes tied at the age of 30,” she said, “because I feared I would create another monster.” Monika Hertwig lives with the haunting memories of her own father, who was the commandant of an Auschwitz prison sub-camp. He was hanged, in 1946, for the murder of 10’s of thousands of people, at least 500 of them by his own hands.  “He liked to shoot women with babies in their arms from the balcony of his house,” she recollects, “to see if one bullet could kill two.” And, then she asks out loud, “How much of the murderer is in me? These are the things that torment me.”

-The Shadow Of Family Sin!

I find it haunting how the relatives, of Nazi war criminals, try and deal with the shame & the guilt they feel. What a tragedy that they continue to live in the shadow of the sins of family members! Could that be, in part, what Exodus 20:5 is referring to when it says, “You shall not bow down to idols or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” Could the guilt & shame, their offspring feel, be, in part, the punishment that they endure?

-Yahweh! God Of Compassion!

There’s a similar passage, in Exodus 34, that follows Israel’s breaking of the covenant, with God, when they made an idol, of a golden calf; and, worshipped it! “The Lord came down in a cloud, stood with him (Moses) there, and proclaimed His name Yahweh.  Then the Lord passed in front of him and proclaimed: Yahweh—Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth,  maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving wrongdoing, rebellion, and sin. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation. Moses immediately bowed down to the ground and worshiped” Exodus 34:5-8.  There’s perhaps no greater example, of God’s grace & compassion, then that passage! Israel broke the covenant with God! They didn’t believe God at the Red Sea! They complained against God & Moses in the wilderness! When would enough be enough? I wanna tell you that you all ought to be glad that I’m not God! I’m equally glad you aren’t; because, none of us have God’s love, grace & mercy for sinners!

-The Way To God!

Sin devastated man’s relationship with God! So, God established the sacrificial system for Israel, His covenant people, as a way for them to worship Him & restore fellowship with Him! It provided for repentance and forgiveness! Hebrews reflects back on the Old Testament sacrificial system:  “According to the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” Hebrews 9:33. No sacrifice! No forgiveness, God says! If you study each of the 5 sacrificial offerings, in the book of Leviticus, you’ll see how they foreshadow the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus’ life on the cross! Galatians 3:24 says, “The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith.”  The old KJV says, “The law was our SCHOOLMASTER…” that hands us off to Jesus Christ, God’s ultimate sin sacrifice!

 

When Church Culture Meets Needs!

-Haunted By A Scripture!

I grew up in a church culture that did relatively nothing to meet “physical” needs! It was argued that if you gave people money that they’d just spend it on booze & cigarettes & drugs. So, don’t give them anything, we were told! We had no food pantry to provide for the hungry in our city! We had no benevolent funds to assist with other needs! And, yet we thought we were being faithful to God’s Word.  But, there’s a scripture, in James, that always haunted me as I read it:  “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows” James 1:27.  What do you do with that?

-Playing The Legalist!

How can we just dismiss that? Or, play the “legalist” and limit the spirit of the text to caring for orphans or widows exclusively. At the same time, we cannot just be preoccupied with physical needs and omit the sharing of the Gospel! That’s the problem with many socially-minded churches! If we limit our care, for them, to physical needs & never share the Gospel, with them, all we’ve accomplished is to keep them alive longer, only to prolong their ultimate meeting with God @ the judgment, whereupon their unbelief will be exposed! It’s not “good deeds” or the “Gospel.” It’s not an EITHER-OR! It’s a BOTH-AND decision we must make!

-What Is Pure Religion?

To James, pure religion is not the RESULT of good deeds; but, RESULTS in good deed! We don’t take care of the orphan, the widow & the poor in order to ATTAIN pure religion! Rather, when our religion is the pure Gospel, of Jesus Christ, we become Jesus “in the flesh” when we meet the needs of the orphan, the widow & the poor! “Not by works of righteousness that we have done; but, by His mercy He saves us” Titus 3:5.  Salvation is “…not of works, so no one can boast…” Ephesians 2:9.  But, when we humble ourselves & trust Christ’s atonement work, on the cross, He changes us inside & the Holy Spirit gives us the heart of Jesus! As we are sanctified & grow, in our faith, we’ll want to meet the physical & spiritual needs of the down-trodden, of our world, just like Jesus did! This ought to be a core ministry value for the church!

-A Change That Includes Service!

Look again at that verse in James; but, this time let’s back it up one verse & see how it flows, in context, from one verse to the next:  “If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, then his religion is useless and he deceives himself. Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world” James 1:26,27. Notice how James lumps together 3 very practical evidence of pure religion; or, 3 areas of obedience that evidence genuine saving faith— 1) Self-control in your speech; 2) A Ministry of Compassion to the needy; and, 3) Practical holiness. See that? Inspired by the Holy Spirit, James places ministry to the needy & cleaning up a potty mouth on an equal plane as living a holy life! More on that next week!

 

The Interests Of Others!

-We’re Too Bratty & Hard To Please!

Is it just me? Or, are Christians far too easily offended? It seems like there are an awful lot of really “thin-skinned” believers; and, modern culture & technology provide them this unprecedented number of places to vent their wrath—social media & reality TV & the internet & talk shows all offer a platform to puff-up our feelings of self-importance & fuel our self-righteous attitudes! It seems incredibly reflective, of our idolatrous society, that even Christians have become bratty & hard-to-please! I’ve eaten out  at a restaurant, with a Christian friend, who berates a waitress for bringing them the wrong dish & decides to write a scathing online review for everyone to read! Where is grace & mercy?

-It’s Embarrassing!

It’s really embarrassing when compared to the real persecution that believers face in other parts of the world! I mean, what else might be on that poor waitresses mind? A severely ill spouse? Up all night with a baby? Why aren’t we asking— with genuine concern— if they’re okay? Why not offer to pray with her? This stuff is epidemic; and, surveys are revealing that one of the main reasons the lost aren’t coming to church is because of the conduct of those who claim to be following Jesus! Instead of enhancing the Gospel of Christ, as Jesus intends, we’re part of the problem!

-We’re Too Easily Offended!

Right now, one of my best friends, in the ministry, is fighting a battle for his pastoral life because he “dared” to lovingly confront a mom & dad over their out-of-control toddler, who screams during the entire Worship service; and, they refuse to take him out of the service! They were “offended” that he would ask them to remove the screaming child for the benefit of the rest of the faith community! We were talking about this in our Thursday morning men’s Small Group & one of our members mentioned that of all the people he’s known, who’ve left the church over the last 20 some years since his conversion, he thought that no more than 3 or 4 actually had Biblical grounds for leaving! The rest left over purely selfish reasons! And, they will stand one day before the One who was beaten, mocked, spit upon & finally hung on a cross to die— “You left your church over that? Really? Go get a cross & deny yourself!

-Loving Others!

We need to beat the drum to LOVE OTHERS! We need to preach that message better and more often! Because most in the church, today, just don’t get it! We need to preach & teach the church how to love others selflessly & assume personal responsibility to deal with personal sin, resolve conflict & restore wounded relationships! The Apostle Paul wrote the Church of Philippi: “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” Philippians 2:4. That last line is perhaps the most significant! If we’re going to be part of the solution, church, we have to “…LOOK ALSO FOR THE INTERESTS OF OTHERS.” Don’t just focus on your own interests, Paul says. We need to be rescued from our idol of narcissism, church!