Have you ever read the Old Testament and wondered how God could just wipe people out? I mean there’s the the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, Jericho and all the nations in the land of Canaan.
It just seems like lots of innocent people are suddenly killed as a result of God’s orders. Where’s the God of love and patience? Where’s the grace and mercy?
Let’s take a look, beginning with the fact that there are a couple of wrong assumptions in what I’ve just said. First, no one is innocent. Paul wrote to the church in Rome:
“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
From the youngest child to the oldest adult–no one is innocent. Not. Even. One. “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”
Second, God doesn’t “suddenly” wipe people out. He is always patient. In the case of the Amorites who occupied the land of Canaan, God waited hundreds of years before judging them. They had centuries to turn from their evil ways, which by the way, included sacrificing their own children. Not so innocent, huh?
In 2 Kings 17, Israel is attacked and taken into captivity by the Assyrian empire. God makes clear to Israel why this happened. Because they had sinned against Him by worshiping other gods, something He had repeatedly warned them not to do.
The Lord warned Israel and Judah through all His prophets and seers: “Turn from your evil ways. Observe my commands and decrees…” 2 Kings 17:13
They rejected His decrees and the covenant He had made with their fathers and the warnings He had given them. 2 Kings 17:15
The Israelites persisted in all the sins of Jeroboam and did not turn from them until the Lord removed them from His presence, as He had warned through all His servants the prophets.” 2 Kings 17:23
Has God been warning you? Is there an area of your life He has put His finger on?
Is it a relationship? One you need to end? One you need to restore? One you need to persevere in?
Is it your finances? Has God been telling you to give? Or stop using credit cards? Is there a debt you need to repay?
Is it your health? Do you need to eat better? Begin exercising? Rest more? Work less?
Is it a sinful habit? A habit that’s now become an addiction.
I find that God will warn me in multiple ways. It could be through His word. Or a phone call from a friend. Maybe through a sermon or podcast. Or it could be difficult circumstances or a medical condition that will only get worse if ignored.
Now I’m not suggesting He’s going to wipe you out if you continue to ignore Him. Based on my own sin and stubbornness, I can tell you He’s very, very patient and full of grace and mercy.
At the heart of our sin is unbelief. We persist in going our own way and ignore God’s warnings, because we simply do not believe Him. We assume we know what is best for us. We think our plans for our lives are better than His.
We’re wrong though. We’re arrogant too. How foolish of us to ever think we know better than God.
The only answer is to take His warnings to heart, turn from our own way and follow Him.
No matter what He’s warning you about, no matter what He’s telling you to do–it is always in your best interest to obey Him.
Don’t really see the point? Maybe you wonder what difference it will really make.
Are you angry at Him? Do you feel like He disappointed you? Maybe you thought you’d done everything you knew to do, prayed faithfully, read your Bible, but God still didn’t come through the way you’d hoped.
Maybe it’s one of those things I’ve mentioned, but for some of you, I suspect it’s something else. Something that keeps you from wholeheartedly seeking God, enjoying His love and feeling like He will bless you.
For some of you, it’s guilt and shame that keeps you from Him. There’s something you’ve done that hangs over your relationship with God. Or it could be somethings, not just something. Maybe it’s something you’ve done over and over and over. You’ve confessed it to God. You’ve tried to stop. But you keep falling back into the same old patterns.
Let me just say, there’s NOTHING you’ve done, said or thought that will keep God from forgiving and loving you. If you have placed your faith in Christ, then He has removed your sin from you as far as the east is from the west. He gave you the righteousness of Christ. God no longer sees you as a guilty sinner deserving of punishment. He sees you as holy and blameless. Read Ephesians 1 if you don’t believe me.
Now you may think that it’s hypocritical to call yourself holy and blameless when you know you continue to sin. Look, I get that. Often my greatest problem is that I know my own heart. I know where I continue to blow it even after 29 years of knowing Christ.
But we need to remember–it’s God who calls us holy and blameless. And why does He see us that way? Not because of anything we did or didn’t do, but because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. If we continue to see ourselves as dirty, guilty, shameful sinners–what does that say about what Jesus did?
That it wasn’t enough? That maybe Jesus’ death on the cross was enough to forgive some people, but not me?
Can you see the pride in that? The arrogance? What are we saying, “My sin is so terrible that I must continue to feel some measure of shame and guilt, because Jesus couldn’t handle what I did?”
David committed adultery and murder.
Paul persecuted Christians before he himself came to Christ.
The disciples deserted Jesus when He needed them most.
Peter denied Him three times.
And let’s not forget the mother of Boaz. Remember Boaz? If you don’t, read the book of Ruth. He was a Jew who ended up marrying Ruth, a gentile, who had come back to Israel with Naomi from the land of Moab after the famine. It’s a great story.
Boaz and Ruth have a son named, Obed. Obed becomes the father of Jesse.
Still with me?
Jesse is the father of King David. And Jesus, God Himself, descends from the line of David.
But I started out talking about the mother of Boaz, remember? Well, the mother of Boaz is a woman named Rahab. Like Ruth, she was also not a Jew. Rahab was a gentile, but had also been a prostitute. Read her story here.
So Jesus is not only descended from the gentile Ruth, but also the gentile, Rahab, who was formerly a prostitute.
But if you read the genealogy of Christ in Matthew 1, you’ll see that Rahab isn’t identified as a prostitute. She’s Rahab. Who she was after helping the Israelite spies was more important than her past. Her past was in the past. It was forgiven. She moved on.
You need to move on, too.
If God isn’t counting your past against you, then why are you?
Whether you’re feeling guilt and shame for what you did five years ago or five days ago, the answer is the same–you need to walk in the truth, in the knowledge that Jesus took your sin, YOUR specific sin, on Himself when He was nailed to the cross. He took upon Himself YOUR guilt and YOUR shame, SO THAT you don’t have to carry it.
Yeah, I know. Idol worship, right? It’s not even in the same category as the others, is it?
Of course, it may not be in the same category as the others for a different reason than we might think. What if it’s in a different category because it’s even worse than the others?
Please don’t hear me say that murder, adultery, rape are not horrible sins. They are. They’re inexcusable. But what if worshiping idols is even worse?
As I’ve read through 1 Kings, it’s fascinating that God keeps referring to the “sin of Jeroboam son of Nebat.” What was his sin? He made two golden calves, built shrines to false gods and appointed priests who weren’t Levites.
I don’t see anywhere that God continually refers to David’s sin of adultery and murder. In fact, God even holds up David as an example of someone who obeyed Him. When Solomon’s heart turned away from God and he began to worship idols, God said, “So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done.“
Again, please don’t hear me say that murder and adultery aren’t so bad or that God looks the other way and gives a pass. That’s not the case.
But I think we’ve been deceived into thinking that having other “gods” before Jehovah and worshiping idols isn’t any big deal. Like somehow those sins only applied to ancient Israel.
In 1 Kings 18, the prophet Elijah confronts Ahab and tells him to assemble the the people and the false prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. There’s going to be a show down between Elijah and the false prophets of Baal. Actually, there’s going to be a show down between Jehovah and the false god, Baal.
When everyone has assembled, Elijah says:
“How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”
Robyn, my wife, and I were driving home from Texas a couple days ago and encountered a lot of road construction. Orange road signs signaled there was work being done ahead, the speed limit changed and cars came to a complete stop. It was annoying and added about an hour to our trip.
When I’m reading the Bible, I love to pay particular attention to conjunctions. They’re a lot like road construction signs. It’s as if conjunctions are saying, “Hey! There’s something happening here, so slow down! Stay alert!”
In the first ten chapters of 1 Kings, we get a look at how abundantly God has blessed King Solomon with both wisdom and material wealth. There was no one on earth as wise or as wealthy as Solomon. He had everything he could have ever wanted. But when we get to 1 Kings 11:1-6, we encounter some conjunctions that should force us to slow down and take a more careful look:
King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molechthe detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done.
God had instructed Israel to not intermarry with foreign women. He warned them that their hearts would be turned to foreign gods. Solomon didn’t listen though. Not only did he marry foreign women–he married 700 of them. He also had another 300 concubines, which were very much like wives…for a grand total of 1,000. I mean, Solomon REALLY didn’t listen.
He knew it was wrong, but did it anyway and as he grew older, his wives turned his heart away from the one true God.
Now think about this for a moment–Solomon’s father, David, was guilty of adultery and murder and yet God was still pleased with him. Why? Because David turned from his sin. His heart remained fully devoted to God. Solomon’s heart was not fully devoted. Solomon gave his heart to foreign gods and idols. David never did.
If we were reading the story of your life today–where would the conjunctions be?
“Jack had a great job, a wonderful wife and three great kids, however, he often stayed up late after everyone went to bed so he could look at pornography on his laptop.”
“Heather knew what God said about sex before marriage, nevertheless, she regularly slept with her boyfriend.”
“God greatly blessed Tom’s business, but Tom actually gave less money to his church than a single mom supporting two kids.”
“David and Jennifer live in a house they can barely afford, because they feel pressure to keep up their friends.”
Of course, conjunctions can also signal something positive is happening in our lives:
“Alex was willing to make sacrifices now, because he knew a much greater reward was coming.”
“Susan lost her job in the latest round of layoffs, but she knows God is faithful and will meet her needs.”
Conjunction junctions are often where our circumstances and the word of God meet. When life is painful or difficult or confusing–be alert! More than likely, you’re at conjunction junction.
Your circumstances are telling you one thing, BUT God’s word says another thing.
It doesn’t look like you’ll make it, HOWEVER, God is on your side.
Maybe you’ve really blown it. You failed big time. It’s possible to go on though, BECAUSE you are covered by the love and grace of God.
Are you at a conjunction junction? Choose to make it a good one. Choose to believe God, not your circumstances. Choose to be fully devoted to Christ and not allow your heart to be drawn toward idols.
In John 10:10, Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
Today, His desire is that you experience life to the full. Not just a little life. Not some or most of life. He wants you to experience life to the full.
I think if we’re honest, most of us would say we’re not experiencing life to the full. So what’s gone wrong?
I actually only quoted the second half of John 10:10. The first half says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy…” Jesus desires to give us life to the full, but Satan also has a desire and that’s to steal from us, kill us and destroy us.
In Romans 8:5-8, Paul gives us some insight into how this happens:
5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.
If you have placed your faith in Christ to forgive your sin, then your old, sinful nature died. You now have a new nature that is alive and able to relate to God. But we still have this part of us called “the flesh” that hangs around. It’s that internal desire that still wants to resist God.
Think of the flesh as that part of us that wants to get legitimate needs met in illegitimate ways. God has created us with healthy appetites and desires for love, sex, food, significance, pleasure, etc. And God has also prescribed healthy boundaries around each of those to protect us and provide for us.
For example, sex is an incredible gift from God. It’s meant to join a husband and wife on a physical, emotional and spiritual level. Within marriage, it’s a gift to be enjoyed with great freedom and frequency. That’s the boundary that God has put in place: marriage.
So what does Satan attempt to do? He uses this world system to appeal to our flesh to step outside the boundary. Just as he tempted Eve to eat what God had forbidden, he whispers to the single person, “Did God really say not to have sex? Come on, God didn’t really mean that. If you really care about the person, then it’s okay to do it. Go ahead, you’ll see…”
Or he’ll tempt a husband or wife to stray outside their marriage. “If you’re spouse isn’t going to meet your needs, then you deserve this. No one will find out. You’re not the one who’s at fault anyway.”
It’s a battle for control of our minds. If we set our minds on the flesh, then we will live according to the flesh. The more time and attention we give to the flesh, the stronger it gets and the harder it is to resist.
Satan appeals to our flesh. He tempts us to get our needs met on his terms, not God’s.
What Satan doesn’t tell us is that what he’s tempting us to do will eventually lead to death. Death of a relationship. Death of a family. Death of our reputation. Death of our fellowship with God.
Satan’s temptations wouldn’t be effective if he ever told us the truth, would it? No one would willingly choose death. But he’s a deceiver and a liar, so he never tells us that feeding our flesh by getting our needs met outside of God’s boundaries leads to bondage, addiction and death.
God’s plan is for life though. Those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires and it leads to life and peace. As we set our minds on the Spirit’s desires, we grow stronger. We know God better. We trust Him more. We experience more of His power. We become more and more like Christ. Our minds come under God’s control.
We all get to decide today whether we’re going to feed the flesh or feed the Spirit. The one we feed more gets stronger.
Many of us find ourselves entrenched in sin with little hope of escape. We’ve been in bondage to it for so long that it has defined us. We’ve tried to get out and maybe even experience success for a few days or even weeks, but then we’re right back into it and feel worse than ever.
Maybe your desire for sin feels so strong because your desire for God feels so weak. Yes, you need to do your best to stop feeding the flesh, but at the same time, you need to be feeding the Spirit.
It’s probably a good idea to watch less television and spend less time on the internet, but just trying to starve the flesh isn’t enough. Also spend generous amounts of time in God’s word, so you’ll begin to think His thoughts, not the world’s.
If your iPod is loaded with garbage–remove it and replace it with some really good worship music.
If you have “friends” who aren’t a very good influence, then make the wise choice to move on and find real friends who will encourage your relationship with God, not tempt and encourage you to sin.
Life to the full is yours. Jesus desires it for you. You and I just have to want it more than we want the desires of the flesh.
Remember, it’s a battle for your mind. Whoever gets control of your mind wins.
Yesterday, a friend of mine told me about a pastor in Houston who took his own life the day after Thanksgiving after having a fight with his wife. He was 41 and leaves behind his wife and three children.
It now looks like Tiger Woods’ car accident came after a fight with his wife over an affair he’d been having with a cocktail waitress. Could also be more than one affair.
I’m not suggesting the pastor was having an affair, too. I don’t have any idea what their dispute was about. My point is simply this: everyone you and I know is dealing with something today. It may be something big or it may be small. Small to you or me, that is. To them, it might be big. It’s not our call.
Like I said, I don’t know what was going on in that pastor’s life. Obviously there was something much deeper than just a one-time argument with his wife. He must have been struggling with some deep issues. His wife, his son and two daughters are now struggling with some deep issues. So is his church.
I don’t know why Tiger Woods cheated on his wife. I do know he’s now paying the price though. So are his wife and kids. There’s no good excuse for adultery, but I’m sure not ready to throw the first stone. Are you? What would the tabloids dig up on you or me if they followed us around for a few weeks?
Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)
Jesus didn’t excuse sin, but He didn’t come to condemn either. He said He came to love and save lost, hurting, broken, sinful people. You won’t have to look very hard to find people like that. You live with them. You work with them. You’re one of them. So am I.
Peter wrote, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)
Someone you know needs to be loved deeply today. Who is it?
James 4 has always intrigued me. Allow me to paraphrase verses 1-6:
You want something, but you don’t have it. And that makes you really angry. Angry enough to just about kill somebody. It’s even worse when people you know have exactly what you want! Well, you don’t have it because you don’t ask God. When you do ask Him, He doesn’t give it to you because your motives are wrong. You’re totally focused on yourself with no thought of Him or others.
Don’t you know that living like that is just like committing adultery on God? Being in love with the world and its pleasures is like cheating on Him. You can’t live like that and call yourself a friend of God. He’s a fiercely jealous lover and longs to shower you with His love and grace.
Now think about Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
We have a choice each day. We can delight in the Lord or we can delight in what the world offers. To delight simply means “to find pleasure and enjoyment in.”
When we delight in God, we begin to adopt His desires as our own. And then He gives them to us.
Or we can delight in the world. We can fill our minds with what the world offers. Possessions. Pleasures. Power. Position.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with many of the pleasures of the world. A nice house can be a place of rest and be used for advancing God’s kingdom. Sex between a husband and wife is an awesome gift from God. A position of power can be used to serve and influence others for Christ.
Often though, we don’t desire those worldly things for noble reasons. We want them for us. Not for God’s use and glory. James tells us, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
Check your desires today.
Do you desire to know God better? See His kingdom advanced? Be used by Him in a greater way in your community? Give away more of your money to support missions or feed the poor?
Or do most of your desires center on you? Being more comfortable? Getting a new house or car? Spending all weekend in front of the television watching football? Just being left alone? Getting back to that porn site?
Your desires are a reflection of the object you’ve chosen to delight in. James said, “Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” It’s a choice. We can choose to be a friend of the world or a friend of God.
Okay, here’s the cool thing. When we delight in the Lord, He gives us the desires of our heart…and also gives us many other gifts and pleasures for our enjoyment. He’s a good God who delights in showering us with His grace and blessings.
The first time God spoke to Hosea He said: “Find a whore and marry her. Make this whore the mother of your children. And here’s why: This whole country has become a whorehouse, unfaithful to Me, God.” (Hosea 1:2)
Imagine hearing that the very first time God spoke to you.
Ah, God? Did You just say what I think You said?
Why in the world did God tell Hosea to do that?
God was going to use Hosea’s marriage as an example of Israel’s unfaithfulness in their relationship with Him.
Later in Hosea, God says:
When Israel was only a child, I loved him. I called out, “My son!–called him out of Egypt. But when others called him, he ran off and left Me. He worshiped the popular sex gods, he played at religion with toy gods. Still, I stuck with him.”
I’m still your God, the God who saved you out of Egypt. I’m the only real God you’ve ever known. I’m the one and only God who delivers. I took care of you during the wilderness hard times, those years when you had nothing. I took care of you, took care of all your needs, gave you everything you needed. You were spoiled. You thought you didn’t need Me. You forgot Me.
You’re cheating on God. If all you want is your own way, flirting with the world every chance you get, you end up enemies of God and his way. And do you suppose God doesn’t care? The proverb has it that “he’s a fiercely jealous lover.” And what he gives in love is far better than anything else you’ll find.
What does God want?
He wants you. He wants your love. He wants you to be faithful to Him. He wants you to delight in Him and not anyone or anything else.
He’s a jealous lover.
Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
To “delight” means “to take great pleasure.”
Take great pleasure in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.
Our biggest problem is adultery. We’re cheaters. We’re married to God, but sleeping with other lovers.
Yet, He loves us and longs for us to return to Him.
What if you decided to take great pleasure in God? What would that look like? Would you spend more time reading His word to know Him better? Would you talk with Him more often? Would you worship Him more?
Is there another lover you need to break things off with?
Decide to make God your greatest source of pleasure. Don’t worry if you’re feelings aren’t there yet. Make the decision. Make the commitment. Then act on it. Your feelings will catch up later.
What if you made God your greatest desire and chose to delight in Him…and then He gave you Himself?
I’m preaching this Sunday on Matthew 5:14-16, so I’ve been hanging around the Sermon on the Mount for a few weeks now. Such good, radical, confusing, hard stuff.
In Matthew 5:15, Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” Just a few verses earlier, He said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
In John 8, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” And just a few verses earlier He said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
So I wonder…are we most like Jesus, do we shine the brightest when we’re showing mercy?
Did Governor Sanford screw up? Yes, and he’s suffering the consequences, but it’s not our place to add to his suffering. Our job is to show mercy. Why? Because I believe we shine most brightly when we do.
And let’s not make this about the future of the Republican party. One man’s life and family are worth far more than any political party or agenda.
By the way, I’m not addressing the “fit for office” issue. That’s not the point here. Others can debate that.
I’d just like to see the church shine brightly this time.
Gregg Stutts - Executive Pastor of The Church at Arkansas in Fayetteville. Husband to Robyn and father to Rachel, Erica, Amy and Rob. On a continuing journey of believing God.