Strength for the Journey: “A Year to Remember (Part 2)” – Numbers 29

time fliesAre you surprised at how fast a year goes by? I am always surprised at how fast time flies. One of the unexpected realities of how my life has been structured after starting the school at GCBI is how the pattern of school has again become my own. Each year, we start with 1189 chapters of the Bible to complete, page by page – and work frantically to get through it without pressing it so quickly that it is not meaningful. Just about the time that school is over, we are cleaning up the last of the Bible, and then we graduate the students and fly off to Israel with them. There is a two month retooling, and then we have to get set up for the next group. I love the process, but I feel like I blink, and we are back at it again. Those close to the process know that our coverage of the Bible has grown to be more and more thorough with each passing year, as we press to do the job a little better with each group.

For some of you, the year looks like getting the children ready for school and living for the next vacation. I am not talking about the CHILDREN living for the vacation, though that may also be true – I am talking about YOU trying to keep up the energy to make it through to the next break. Many of you are working, providing a proper home for your children, and trying to keep it all together. Morning at your house may be a breakfast mess while lunch bags are being prepared, and children are trying to find homework. For those who are past that stage, you remember it “oh so well!” Years rush by, and it seems like seasons brush lightly the landscape and then give way to the next.

God knew that our lives would be like a vapor, and He said so. He knew that we would get caught up in the pursuit of all kinds of things. Fortunes are made by spending life blood and profitably using the seconds that tick by on the clock. Even among those who do not make much money, there is a hope of a time nearing the last quarter of life that they may live without the daily grind of going to a job. It may never happen, but the hope still lives within us. God directed His people to the “break times” of life, so that they would walk through the years with Him. As this is the second part of the lesson, we should remind ourselves what the point of our study has been and the point of the record of the Annual Calendar law truly was…

Key Principle: God communicated through the offerings His desire to walk the daily road of life with His people. When a community recognizes the value of following appointed times with God – it secures deep values in the hearts of its people.

When God structured the calendar for Israel, He outlined a daily, weekly and monthly calendar of offerings and “appointments”, just as we pointed out in our last lesson. At the same time, He delineated a series of appointed feasts for the annual national observance of His people.

• First, we looked at the day, week and month portion found in Numbers 28:1-15.

• Next, we followed the annual “daytimer” calendar through the twelve months – and even into a thirteenth one periodically added to correct the calendar! In Numbers 28:16-31 the Moedim (appointed times) of the Spring are explained.

• Today’s lesson encompasses the Fall Moedim – the final three of seven feast times (Num. 29).

The Annual Feast Calendar

The seven feasts are each given specific reference in Leviticus 23 and in Numbers 28-29, and are listed in the order they were celebrated in the calendar year. The spring festivals include the first four mentioned, the autumn festivals are the last three:

Spring Festivals

1. Passover (or Pesach, Nisan 14th, the first day of Unleavened Bread) Lev. 23:4,5; Numbers 28:16.
2. Unleavened Bread (the week of Chag Hamatzot) Lev. 23:6-8; Numbers 28:17-25).
3. First Fruits (or Bukkurim on Nisan 16th, the second day of unleavened bread) Lev. 23:9-14; Numbers 28:26).
4. Weeks (also called Shavuot or Pentecost) Lev. 23:15-22; Numbers 28:26-31).

Autumn Festivals

5. Trumpets (also called Yom T’ruach or Rosh Hashanah) Lev. 23:23-35; Numbers 29:1-6.
6. Day of Atonement (or Yom Kippor) Lev. 23:26-32; Number 29:7-11.
7. Tabernacles (or Sukkot) Lev. 23:34-44; Numbers 29:12-38.

Look back at the Lessons of the Spring Festivals (the first four moedim):

First, the Principle from Passover:

God offered Passover to remind His people that they needed to PERSONALLY APPROPRIATE the means He provided for atonement – and that is true of all of us as well.

In our lesson, we briefly followed the progression of the sacrifice for redemption that unfolded – and how it was to be appropriated into each person’s life. In Exodus 12:3-5, God gave careful instruction about the preparation of the home before the Lord executed judgment on the Egyptian firstborn. Each man was instructed to take “A LAMB” (12:3) for his house. If “THE LAMB” (12:4) was too much for the small household, the man was to share with his neighbor and not waste. The lamb was to be spotless, sacrificed that its blood may be used as a marker. It was to be killed and personally applied as “YOUR LAMB” (12:5). Individuals would have to use the blood, nothing else would suffice. People needed to personally believe and act upon the message of God and follow the instruction of God to be saved from calamity and set free from bondage.

Second, the Principle from the Feast of Unleavened Bread:

God told them to “get the leaven out” for a week to remind them that SALVATION belongs to the Lord, but INTENTIONAL LIVING is the domain of God’s people – and that is something we must constantly recall.

Leaven in the Bible was normally prohibited by God in connection with offerings and sacrifices. (Lev. 2:11). From the instruction came the Chametz cleansing that became the background for “Spring cleaning”. Jews remove all leaven from their homes, and destroy it or sell it. As the feast approaches each year, the message is clear: Get the leaven out. Though Passover was all about God’s provision to save – something theologians called “justification”, Unleavened Bread was all about a man’s work of intentional removal of corrupting influences. This is termed by theologians as “sanctification”- a term that means “set apart for a specific use, often a holy use.” The usable vessel before God was to be free of leaven, and recall God’s purposes were to make a new and clean people to serve Him.

Third, the Principle in the Feast of First Fruits:

Tucked in the middle, God gave a promise in the form of another practice called First Fruits – that HE was going to provide something beyond their understanding – the provision of a NEW LIFE through the resurrection of the dead. Physical death isn’t our end. It isn’t even the end of this body. It will be reconstituted for a future – a renewed body based on the current model, but with all the new technology of Heaven.

The most interesting thing about the Feast of Firstfruits is the fact that it was NOT commanded to be on a counted date, as in the case of Passover – Lev. 23:5. Rather this was the to ALWAYS be celebrated on the same day of the week – Sunday, rather than a calculated DATE (Lev. 23:4,15,24,27,34). Paul argued in 1 Corinthians 15, the feast for that Sunday following Passover was a “shadow” of Messiah’s resurrection (and eventually OUR resurrection!). The point of John 20:1 “On the first day of the week” was to REMIND EARLY FOLLOWERS OF THE SPECIAL DAY on which Messiah was raised. It was the Feast of First Fruits! This was the lesson of Paul to Corinth (1 Cor. 15:20-32), that the resurrection of Jesus was the CLEAR answer to the shadowy symbol of the waving of the sheaf commanded so long before!

Fourth, the Principle in the Shavuot Offerings (Feast of Weeks):

Fifty days after the festival of first fruits, the festival of Shavuot or “weeks” began. The Greek word for “fifty days” is Pentecost, and the festival received this name in ancient Jewish sources from the Second Temple Period. This was the time that recalled the “Giving of the Law” in Exodus, a time when many synagogues still have an all-night reading of Scripture as part of the celebration of the Torah.

This Moed had a strange instruction. In contrast to the feast of “unleavened bread” where all leaven was to be purged from the sacrifice and it was to be clean of fermenting corruption, the feast of weeks includes two loaves of meal baked with leaven (Lev. 23:17). The leaven was prescribed as part of the ceremony, and obedient faithful could do nothing less than obey. Why include the leaven in the loaves? What was God’s intention in this “shadowy symbol”? For the answer, we move to a much later time in the Bible, in the Book of Acts. Acts 2:1 reminds us that the Spirit of God came upon the first followers of Jesus at Pentecost. The disciples were gathered together to recall the giving of the Law at Sinai that occurred fifty days after Pesach in Exodus, and the Spirit came upon them and began to write the Law on their hearts. In front of them on the table was a simple symbol – leavened bread. God was forming something that would be a part of His plan – His church. It would not replace Israel, but it would carry the message of His love while a darkness and blindness descended for a time over the Jewish people. Thirty-five hundred years ago, God already announced the plan of a second group of people to carry His name that were not one nation – and He did it through a feast.

The Four Spring Moedim offer me these four truths:

  • If I want salvation, I need to listen to what God provided and receive it.
  • If I want to become what He intends, I need to get some things out of my life.
  • If I really listen to Him – He is offering me more than “a saved NOW” – He is offering me “a RISEN THEN”!
  • When God began His special work on Israel’s redemption, He started by creating time of veiled darkness where He offered the world an opportunity for relationship.

The long, hot, dry summer rolled through Israel each year. As the Autumn neared, the season for “Moedim” again drew near, and the last three lessons of the calendar were offered:

Autumn Festivals:

In Jerusalem, you can feel the festival season coming the way you can feel the opening of schools in North American each school year. This calendar year, Rosh Hashanah will occur on the night of September 5-6, 2013, as the Jewish “New Year” is marked. Immediately after the beginning of the year, a period called the “ten awesome days” ensues, in which Jewish people introspectively consider their lives before Yom Kippur or the “Day of Atonement”, which will be celebrated on September 14, 2013. Five days later, the Appointment of God to recall the time in the wilderness journey comes upon the people at Sukkot or the “Feast of Tabernacles” takes place between September 19-20, 2013.

Rosh Hashanah Offerings (Yom T’ruach or Feast of Trumpets):

Numbers 29:1 Now in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall also have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work. It will be to you a day for blowing trumpets. 2 You shall offer a burnt offering as a soothing aroma to the LORD: one bull, one ram, [and] seven male lambs one year old without defect; 3 also their grain offering, fine flour mixed with oil: three-tenths [of an] [ephah] for the bull, two-tenths for the ram, 4 and one-tenth for each of the seven lambs. 5 [Offer] one male goat for a sin offering, to make atonement for you, 6 besides the burnt offering of the new moon and its grain offering, and the continual burnt offering and its grain offering, and their drink offerings, according to their ordinance, for a soothing aroma, an offering by fire to the LORD.

When you read the passage in Numbers 29, it is hard to see the simple truth about the day that has become the “opening” of the Jewish sacred year. The new year celebration in most cultures is a “secular” event. Here God commanded a burnt, grain and drink additional offering set, along with a special “day of blowing trumpets” to mark the occasion. Before fireworks, people had trumpets to blast away at special occasions – and this was a special day. This marked the beginning of the new call to God to bring the rains and provide a harvest. It was a cry to God to renew the economy – and nothing could sound to the modern ear more SECULAR than dollars and cents (or shekels and agorot!).

God wanted Israel to know that to separate the “sacred” from the “secular” violated the very spirit of the Torah. Because of the combination of calendars in ancient Israel, there are literally several “New Year’s Days” in the calendar. In rabbinic tradition, there is even a new year beginning for trees, a new year for animals, a new sacred year and a new civil year for administration. The “Day of Trumpet Blowing” (Yom T’ruach) was prescribed by God as the beginning of the civil year, or “secular” year. It was prescribed as the beginning date for financial transactions, for market purposes, and for military services. It also introduced the highest holy days of the month Tishri, the sacred seventh month (by religious calendar reckoning) that contained the highest holy days. It was simply the “ringing in” of a new civil calendar year. Why would God include this in His list of sacred observances (Lev. 23:23-25)?

God knew that His children are tempted to compartmentalize their faith into only one part of their lives, but God was to be Lord of all parts of the lives of the people under the covenant. He wanted every aspect of their lives to be attached to their Divine relationship. Even the wearing of the royal blue ribbon in the prayer shawl (tallith) and tassels (tsit-tsiot) was to help remind them of the special relationship (Num. 15:38ff). Their “faith” must not be separate from the functions of life. Sacred and secular were to be one, all under the leadership of the Lord God.

Is this still a temptation for the people of God? Yes, it is, and it is growing. A Jewish friend of mine in Jerusalem used to carefully observe his faith, but cheated in his business. I called it to his attention one day, and he said this: “Business is business and Moshe is Moshe!” The implication was clear: My faith and my business practices are not related. That is a violation of the Torah principle found in this feast.

Today educators are becoming more brazen, separating morality and honest history from what we are training our young people to believe. Listen to an excerpt from Marvin Olasky of World Magazine:

Two days before the summer solstice, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences with great fanfare released “The Heart of the Matter,” a blue-ribbon-panel document emphasizing the need to beef up teaching of the humanities. …the AAAS commission in 92 pages came out in support of “full literacy … cohesive curricula … new partnerships.” Why should we love the humanities? …The AAAS tells us, “We live in a nation that has been built … on a foundation of humanistic and social science scholarship, from our Founding rooted in Enlightenment philosophy to a future informed by the compilation and analysis of Big Data.” The author says… “Really? I thought our nation grew in the belief that we are endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights. America’s founders quoted the Bible a lot more than any Enlightenment text. They treasured life and liberty, not Big Data. Why should we love the humanities? “Humanists and social scientists are particularly well suited to address … the ethical questions attending the adoption of new technologies; the social conditions that provide context for international policy decisions regarding the environment, global health, and human rights; and the cultural differences that aid or hinder global security.” Really? Houston Baptist professor Micah Mattix put it well: “Does anyone who has taken a humanities course at a secular college or university in the past 10 years doubt that instead of teaching us who we are, many humanities courses teach that identity is constructed; that instead of teaching the classical and cardinal virtues, they recommend the self-serving virtues of moral relativism and egalitarianism; and that instead of helping students to become better husbands, wives, and citizens, the real focus is on making them more autonomous?”… The writer continued: “Instead of plowing through the AAAS report, I’d suggest reading a piece now on the internet that’s only eight pages long, John Milton’s “Of Education” (1644). Milton opposed the leading humanities teachers of his day, the “monsieurs of Paris [who] take our hopeful youth into their slight and prodigal custodies and send them over back again transformed into mimics, apes, and kickshaws.” …”The goal of education”, Milton wrote, should be “to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him.

We are training people to distance faith and moral understanding from “real thinking” and “real living”, and the end of this system will bring nothing but relativism that paralyzes our workforce and endangers our local communities. Raise children that don’t connect GOD to MONEY and then stand back and watch how MONEY BECOMES THEIR GOD. Teach children that INTEGRITY is not as important as SUCCESS and you have launched the next generation of Wall Street tycoons and Harvard cutthroat plagiarizers. Sacred is secular, and secular sacred. God is either the foundation, or there is no foundation – and the building we are attempting to build will fall when the storms blow against it. One thing my years of life on the planet has told me is this: “Count on storms coming!”

Yom Kippor (Day of Atonement) Offerings:

Most everyone is familiar with the term “Yom Kippor” which simply means in Hebrew: “day of covering”. The covering refers back to the atonement blood poured on the mercy seat to cover the sins of the priest and the people in ancient Israel. Here are a few words:

Numbers 29:7 Then on the tenth day of this seventh month you shall have a holy convocation, and you shall humble yourselves; you shall not do any work. 8 You shall present a burnt offering to the LORD [as] a soothing aroma: one bull, one ram, seven male lambs one year old, having them without defect; 9 and their grain offering, fine flour mixed with oil: three-tenths [of an] [ephah] for the bull, two-tenths for the one ram, 10 a tenth for each of the seven lambs; 11 one male goat for a sin offering, besides the sin offering of atonement and the continual burnt offering and its grain offering, and their drink offerings.

Look at the blood tally: ONE BULL, ONE RAM, SEVEN MALE LAMBS. That is ON TOP OF the daily sacrifice – and in addition to the grain and drink accompanying offerings. The point is: MANY ANIMALS DIED IN REPLACEMENT OF PEOPLE’S SIN. There is an incredible high price for sin, and God required death as a penalty – just as He told Adam and Eve that He would. The command was given with serious tone, that each of the children of Israel would be impressed the seriousness of the day (Lev. 23:29) or they would be cut off from the house of Israel.

Shepherds from all throughout the land of Israel understood the significance of the sacrifice to Israel. For months, they cared for and cautiously groomed the livestock that would be used for atonement sacrifices. The price of sin was paid by the animal suited for sacrifice. The solemn Sabbath was observed by the High Priest of the nation, as he adorned the priestly garb and made a sin sacrifice at the Temple (Lev. 16:29-34ff). The sin offerings were prescribed to include a sacrifice for the sin of his family, then an offering for the cleansing of the sanctuary, and finally an offering for the sin of the people of Israel. The sin was to be atoned by the sprinkling of the blood of the spotless sacrifice on the Mercy Seat of the Holy of Holies. The price of sin had to be paid in the atoning sacrifice that included blood.

We cannot, we must not, as believers, forget the importance of the price of sin and the power of the blood that saves us even today. Do not mute the bloodiness in our message:

Hebrews 9:11 “But when Christ appeared [as] a high priest …12… through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.”

Blood and death aren’t a pretty part of our message – but they are the essence of it – that Jesus paid for the sins of men, and the power of the blood is unstoppable! Forty-three times in the writings of the early Christian Scriptures we read of the blood of Jesus that was shed to wash away sin. The very last time, in Revelation 12, John wrote: “And they overcame Him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” This is the overcoming blood with the power to SAVE, but also the power to ENABLE believers in dark days to withstand the deceptions and accusations of Satan. Judas betrayed “innocent blood” (Matthew 27:4). Peter called it “the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:9). It is called the “cleansing blood” in 1 John 1:7 and the “washing blood” in Rev. 1:5. Over and over the blood is mentioned – always powerful, always encountering the dirty and leaving it sin cleaned. The wages of sin is death, but the blood of the sacrifice can wash away the stain – so said the God of Yom Kippor.

Sukkot Offerings:

A very long “shopping list” like section of Numbers 29 invited the people to count off the sacrifices, day by day, of the seven day feast of Tabernacles. It begins in Numbers 29:12 “Then on the fifteenth day of the seventh month you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work, and you shall observe a feast to the LORD for seven days.”

Next, for the week-long feast God commanded daily grain and drink offerings paired off by a long but decreasing tally of bulls, with two rams and fourteen male lambs daily as follows:

On the first day… thirteen bulls, two rams, fourteen male lambs (13-15).
• Then on the second day: twelve bulls, two rams, fourteen male lambs (17-19).
• Then on the third day: eleven bulls, two rams, fourteen male lambs (20-22).
• Then on the fourth day: ten bulls, two rams, fourteen male lambs (23-25).
• Then on the fifth day: nine bulls, two rams, fourteen male lambs (26-28).
• Then on the sixth day: eight bulls, two rams, fourteen male lambs (29-31).
• Then on the seventh day: seven bulls, two rams, fourteen male lambs (32-34).
• On the eighth day you shall have a solemn assembly; you shall do no laborious work. 36 …one bull, one ram, seven male lambs one year old without defect; (35-38).

The time of Sukkot in Israel was originally the “end of harvest” feast (cp. Ex. 23:17), also called the “in gathering”. The autumn harvest was now nearly completed. After the long and hot summer months in Judea, God had again shown His faithfulness to Israel in bringing in the “miracle crop” of grapes. The olives and grain harvests now all stored, the celebration of God’s faithfulness to the children of Israel completed the calendar of sacred observances. At the same time, the “BOOTHS” were not simply a reference to the agricultural harvest shelters – it was an image that hearkened back to the tents in the wilderness as God led Israel from Egypt, and made a nation from an extended family.

The feast of Booths, Tabernacles or Sukkot reminded the children of Israel of God’s great work of salvation from the bondage of the Egyptian Pharaohs. The children of Israel were commanded to live in huts (Lev. 23:42) or booths during the week of the festival (see also Neh. 8:14-18), to remind them of the travel through the wilderness. Sacrifices during this time were prescribed to include 189 animals (Num. 29:12-38), and the week was full of reminders of the faithfulness of God in the wilderness journey (Lev. 23:43). The faithfulness of God was taught to each generation of Israel as they sat in their booths, recalling the wilderness journey.

God had shown Himself merciful and faithful to the children of Israel in the desert wilderness. The dividing of the Sea, the manna of the wilderness, the cloud of guidance, and the pillar of fire were all images to be recalled to each new generation of Israelite children from within the sukkah, that they might remember and understand their Father in Heaven. At the end of the journey was their promised home, a land that was theirs by Divine covenant. God had freed the people, lead them, and finally gave them cities “that they did not build” with “wells they did not dig” (Dt.6). Israel was never to forget. Israel was to always teach their generations that the God of Abraham keeps His covenants. He is faithful to bring His people home.

We talk in our day about faithfulness, but on the level of the daily grind, we don’t seem to treasure it. We like the quick fix over the long and arduous process that brings lasting success. It seems we don’t say enough about those who stick by the stuff over the long haul, but that is becoming rarer. I am speaking of the mom and dad that work hard at their marriage and stay together through thick and thin. I am speaking of the teacher who quietly pictures Jesus in a classroom as each year brings more compromised curriculum and hostility toward God and His Word. I am speaking of the many who make ministry happen in a local body. Max Lucado wrote of this idea of faithfulness, when he said:

Norman Geisler, as a child, went to a DVBS because he was invited by some neighbor children. He went back to the same church for Sunday School classes for 400 Sundays. Each week he was faithfully picked up by a bus driver. Week after week he attended church, but never made a commitment to Christ. Finally, during his senior year in High School, after being picked up for church over 400 times, he did commit his life to Christ. What if that bus driver had given up on Geisler at 395? What if the bus driver had said, “This kid is going nowhere spiritually, why waste any more time on him?” – Max Lucado, God Came Near, Multnomah Press, 1987, p. 133.

Don’t forget, not only did a church stay faithful – so did GOD. How many years did he wait for YOU to open your heart to Him? How many blasphemies came from your lips while God was patiently wooing you to Jesus? How many nights were spent in beds you didn’t belong, or grasping a bottle that didn’t hold the real answers – but God was patient with you? The message of Sukkot was patience and faithfulness – attributes of God that have made all the difference in our lives.

The passage closes with the reinforcing truth that all the observances were to be observed strictly according to the command of God: Numbers 29:39 You shall present these to the LORD at your appointed times, besides your votive offerings and your freewill offerings, for your burnt offerings and for your grain offerings and for your drink offerings and for your peace offerings.'” 40 Moses spoke to the sons of Israel in accordance with all that the LORD had commanded Moses.

Let’s say it clearly, before we turn the page of this text to another lesson:

• God made an offering available for our salvation, but we have to personally appropriate it.
• God planned that after we were HIS, there would be some “cleaning house” in our lives.
• God had a plan from long ago that would conquer death and offer a new life in resurrection!
• God’s plan for Israel’s rejection of Him also included drawing others to Him on the way to turning His face back to Israel – and He called the His “church” – his “called out ones”.
• God refuses to see Himself segmented and secluded from all parts of our life.
• Sin has a terrible price, and death and blood were dragged in by our mutiny against God.
• God has been ever faithful to provide all that He has promised to people who deserve exactly none of it.

That is the message of God’s appointed times.

Living Hope: “Undistracted” – 2 Timothy 4:9-22

Child drownedWhen she called us, her voice was broken – a reflection of her broken heart. There is no pain like the searing burn of the loss of a child. A simple picnic, and a happy family time was forever stained with painful loss. She was setting the picnic table, and he was grilling the burgers. For only a few minutes they lost track of the toddler. When they realized he had wandered, they both felt the flash of pain and a sick feeling, as they dropped what was in their hands and ran down toward the pond a hundred steps off the back patio. Seeing her child face down in the water was more than she could bear. He charged into the shallow pond, but it was too late – and now their hearts were broken. Guilt swept through the hole in their hearts. How could they have lost track of their child. How could they comfort each other and face the days ahead? How could they keep their other two children safe without smothering them. These were the painful pressures they felt – and they all came at one time.

First, there were the EMTs and their horrified looks. Then there was the police officer that seemed to lack the compassion one needed for such a delicate task of asking questions to dazed and bruised hearts. Finally there was the trip to the hospital, then to the funeral home. Questions were pelted by family members, clueless friends tossed platitudes, but they were barely holding it together – and that is when she called.

Regardless of how you feel about the inattention this young couple gave to their child, you and I have to admit the obvious – anyone can get distracted. No one is insulated from making a critical mistake when operating a motor vehicle or watching a child. Focus is critical in a world full of distractions. Add to that the fact that most of us have been duped into believing that our brain can multi-task – like a dual core processor – and the tendency to be distracted can bring us into certain peril.

Distraction isn’t only an issue when it comes to SAFETY, but also to SPIRITUAL GROWTH. The simplicity and passion of our early walk in the Word, our relationships to people, and our Intimacy with God can easily get lost in the barrage of other “Christian agenda items” (like service, programs, property management, etc.) The issues of life are demanding, and it takes fervent and deliberate focus on the most important issues to keep us walking with God through the mess of daily living. I want to take us back to a simpler faith – and the place to look is the end of the last letter of Paul’s writings in the New Testament – the last part of 2 Timothhy 4. Paul was facing his own end on earth, and it was clear that his magnificent career as a writer of the Word given by the Spirit of God was coming down to its final word. His career as a writer spanned twenty to twenty five years. It grew in four stages: Prophetic, Polemic, Philosophical and Pastoral. By the end, Paul settled into the idea that ministry is not just about the future, not just about being correct, not just about understanding who you are in Christ and grasping great Heavenly truths – it is about friends and cloaks when you get cold.

Go back with me to the dank and putrid dungeon, and listen as the seconds tick away in the final moments of Paul’s life. What did he learn?

Key Principle: God’s best work is accomplished in followers who learn to focus on the three eternal parts of life: people, the Word and intimacy with God.

I. Focus on People:

Paul learned, through his tough but fruitful ministry, that a live lived serving God is all about PEOPLE. He did not subscribe to some MONASTIC view of holiness that moves the believer from the fray of everyday living. Rather, he made life about a series of people – different types – that he experienced, and now he wanted to “turn the light on” for Timothy.

One of the mistakes of youth can be seen in their handling of people. As teens, we all pass through a time when we don’t recognize the wisdom of those who love us the most, and many of us fell prey to peers that had little more wisdom than we did – but perhaps had more “street smarts”. Learning to read people, and growing in our ability to work together with people is a key to our success in life, and in the ministry of service to one another. Listen to what Paul wrote to the younger Pastor…

2 Timothy 4:9 Make every effort to come to me soon; 10 for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service. 12 But Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. …14 Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. 15 Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching. 16 At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. …19 Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. 20 Erastus remained at Corinth, but Trophimus I left sick at Miletus. 21 Make every effort to come before winter. Eubulus greets you, also Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brethren. 22 The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.

In his closing remarks, Paul offered to Timothy what looks like a shopping list of sixteen names. Read the end of the book quickly, and it sounds like a roster for a baseball team, or roll call in a college classroom: Demas, Crescens, Titus, Like, Mark, Tychichus, Alexander, Prisca, Aquila, Onesiphorus, Erastus, Trophimus, Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, Claudia. Obviously, Paul was wrapping up the letter with a few comments to Tim about what he had done in relation to the team of people that were a familiar part of first century church ministry.

A closer look at the name list reveals two things:

Paul’s had a variety of relationships that were very important to him in the handling of the message of Jesus – his work was among and about PEOPLE. His end comments were not simple administration – they were of the work of co-laborers and fellow servants.

Paul saw great value in all of the other people in the ministry – though many had relatively minor contributions compared to the Apostle. We don’t know much about most of the people on the list. There was no great council of the church called by Eubulus, and there is almost nothing known of many of the other names listed in the text – but Paul recalled them and God recorded them. The reason is clear: any one who yields themself to the power of God’s transforming work can begin to see that God can accomplish great things through the smallest among us. No man can offer another a true measure. Our work is rightly measured by our Master alone.

Make sure people know they are important.

Look at the beginning of the portion, back in verse nine. Paul opened with an “I need you – please come soon” (4:9) request. The beginning of a focus on people is a genuine recognition of our NEED for what others bring to our lives and to the work of the Savior. We cannot really minister in the lives of others until we believe that we not only have truth to offer THEM in terms of a relationship with God, but they have VALUE to God regardless of their current state in regards to a walk with Him. People are loved by God, even when they are resisting Him, and don’t see the value of having HIM in their daily lives. We need to see the value, or we will blow the opportunity to be used of God in their lives. The Daily Bread offered a great illustration of this:

A story is told of a man who loved old books. He met an acquaintance who had just thrown away a Bible that had been stored in the attic of his ancestral home for generations. “I couldn’t read it,” the friend explained. “Somebody named Guten-something had printed it.” “Not Gutenberg!” the book lover exclaimed in horror. “That Bible was one of the first books ever printed. Why, a copy just sold for over two million dollars!” His friend was unimpressed. “Mine wouldn’t have brought a dollar. Some fellow named Martin Luther had scribbled all over it in German.” -Our Daily Bread, June 7, 1994.

Here is the truth: we won’t long to reach people when we don’t LOVE people and VALUE people. We will see them as a hassle, and not as a wonder made by God. One of the ways to practice seeing the value of people is rehearsing in our minds when they can TEACH US about life. We have things to LEARN from others, and in opening ourselves to learning, we help communicate the value of the other people and make a real life connection. Paul did that, and the request reflected that he knew he had need of Timothy HIMSELF – not just things Tim could bring to him in prison. The sense of loneliness Paul felt could be eased by Tim’s presence.

Don’t forget that many people, like Tim, probably didn’t see their own value. Up against the intellect, the capability, the accomplishments of Paul – they felt small. For those among us who have lived lives of success, who have accomplished great feats for God – it is especially important for that kind of person to work hard to show value in the others around them. I have served with some great men. Pastor Vince, before he went to Jesus, served in Africa for many years. His last classes alone brought literally hundreds to Jesus Christ. Yet, he never made people feel small. He treated me with respect and kindness, even though my life hadn’t come close to his in accomplishments for the King.

Recognize there are a variety of people in your life.

Beginning a closer study at verse 10, I felt it may be helpful to move the people from the list into groups that reflected what Paul may have seen as the “sun set on his ministry” and he faced his own death. I believe the text exposes eight types of people:

Let me start with those who were a negative influence on Paul – to get past the bad news and into the good:

#1 Defectors:

Quickly jumping off the page in 2 Timothy 4:10 is Demas felt the connection to the world more deeply than the connection with me (4:10a). He was a former companion of Paul and left Paul – drawn away by the things of the world.

Who hasn’t seen this? In the life of our family, I have watched my parents, my brothers and sisters, and even my wife and I draw close to help some individuals that take from us, but don’t really follow Jesus. They start off looking like they want Jesus, but after a while, the world’s attractions draw them away. The more you gave, the harder it is to let go without pain.

Here is the truth, that I will call the “Defection Principle”: We will invest time and energy in some who will slip away, attracted by other priorities. In Matthew 13 Jesus encountered the same thing! In the background there were people leaving the ministry, and pressure was coming on Jesus to “get the crowds back”. He offered a step parable, where each thought was built on the previous thought:

1. The Sower on the Terrace (Mt. 13:3-9; 18-23): The problem with followers is not the seed, but the soil. The sower is true, the seed is good, but the soil must be right to get growth.
2. The Wheat and the Tares (Mt. 13:24-30; 36-43): Some leave us because they were never truly with us.
3. The Mustard Seed (Mt. 13:31-32): Some leave because they do not understand my priorities!
4. The Leaven (Mt. 13:33): The Kingdom WILL have its effect – no need to worry.
5. The Treasure (Mt. 13:44) Some have left but they are making preparation to take it fully!
6. The Pearl (Mt. 13:45-46) Some will be coming that have left all behind to grasp it!
7. The Dragnet (Mt. 13:47-50) It is the nature of the Kingdom to grab all kinds – and LATER it will be sorted out who was the true follower.

Not only will we have people that seem to be with us and then show themselves to be of another mind, but the fight for the hearts of men is a SPIRITUAL battle – and as such it will bring us into conflict. Drop your eyes down to verse 14 for the second kind of person–

#2 Enemies:

Alexander the Coppersmith set out to harm Paul (perhaps by testifying against him in addition to standing against Paul’s teaching) – but Paul had to leave him to the Lord’s judgment and warn Tim to keep an eye out for him (4:14-15). Paul had no illusions that enemies existed. He had gone out into a spiritual war, and he raised the eyes of the enemy and his minions. Paul had previously instructed the church in Ephesus 6:10-20 (Call/Conduct/Conflict) that there were battle armaments: belt of truthfulness, breast plate of right choices, sandal cleats of the identity in Christ, then as necessary – the blocking and locking shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the small dagger of the “rhema” Word. All were to be used with constant prayer and watchfulness. Paul was very conscious that he was at war.

I often find that believers walk without a consciousness that there is an enemy crouched in the tall grass of life. He is seeking to destroy and uses people to get that destruction to tumble onto us. Paul didn’t hate people – but he also didn’t underestimate how much damage people could do when operating as stooges for the underworld. He didn’t HATE them, because he knew that would hurt his own walk.

It was Dale Carnegie who wrote, “When we hate our enemies we give them power over us – power over our sleep, our appetites and our happiness. They would dance with joy if they knew how much they were worrying us. Our hate is not hurting them at all, but it is turning our days and our nights – drawing us into hellish turmoil.”

God offered encouragement in the war in the past when he wrote things like – Isaiah 43:2, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be destroyed; the flames will not consume you.” (my paraphrase). Don’t misunderstand that as a blanket promise that life won’t hurt – that isn’t the context. What God consistently told His people is this: “Follow Me and I will lead you through life to complete your call!”

Let me offer this “Attack Principle”: Some will attack us and try to destroy what we are building as we reach out for the Lord – and that was promised from the beginning. Jesus made the promise in Matthew 5:11 “Blessed are you when [people] insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

We must be wise and keep our eyes open, but not walk around with a chip on our shoulder! We pass the names of those who oppose the Gospel, not as an act of hatred, but in an attempt to protect those who come behind us by making them aware of potential deceptions. We needn’t get paranoid, but we don’t want to be ignorant of the enemy’s schemes and devices.

Now let me turn to the many people that were positive in the life and heart of Paul:

#3 Vision Expanders:

Paul moved his attention from warning Tim, to celebration of his co-workers. He said the Gospel was moving forward with Crescens in Galatia and Titus in Dalmatia – both out doing the work (4:10b).

I love to hang out with missionaries who are actively on the battle lines around the world. They are people under fire, but they are people who have their blood pressure heightened and their mind sharpened – because they are in the midst of the fight. The pressure of the front line has toughened their resolve, and the daily need for prayer and armor has led them to greater disciplines that help snap me back into reality. Most of all, I appreciate the way they stir up vision in me – and help me to see beyond the four walls I live inside – to a hurting and needy, lost world.

Here is the “Mission Team Principle”: We have the privilege of serving with others that are sometimes far away. We hurt with them, and pray for them, but they also add something – they help expand our vision beyond our own work.

#4 Faithful Companions:

Paul made clear that “Luke remains at my side” (4:11a).

Years ago, Henry Durbanville wrote: “A friend is the first person who comes in when the whole world goes out.” There is a delight in sending out people to ministry, but thankfully some stay with us and cling to us. What a joy! Building a team in a small town has taught me that everyone who decides to remain and capture the local vision is a gift of God to us!

Not to wander, but let me say this: I keep hearing about Cyber-church, and part time shepherding, etc. We need to be careful and not to be so foolish as to think we can reinvent real companionship and relationship. The computer is a TOOL to reach into each other’s lives, not a substitute. The electronic religion of the multitudes creates an emptiness—interpersonal relationships are so desperately needed to keep our faith glowing and growing, and not just in chat rooms… If you drop off your associations with other Christians and disassociate yourself from them in worship and service, you will run out of spiritual fervor and dedication in a short time. Here is the “Companions Principle”: There is no relational substitute for sweating while laboring side by side with a friend.

The TRUTH of Koinonia is that God’s family has some responsibility to and with one another…

1. We are to be hospitable to one another – 1 Peter 4:9 – being more than nice.
2. We are to have a care for one another – 1 Co 12:26 – not lip service – but selfless service.
3. We are to pray for one another – James 5:16 – not ignore one another.
4. We are to restore one another – James 5:19-20 – not destroy each other.
5. We are to teach and admonish one another – Co 3:16 – teach where you can, correct where you must.
6. We are to serve one another in love – Galatians 5:13 – giving of yourself to one another.

The greatest hindrance I have observed in church ministry is NOT the behavior of lost men and women around us – but perpetually immature people among us. Churches are CRIPPLED by spending hours settling disputes caused by immature people.

Some need affirmation. They play games. They are willing to minister if they get the opportunity to be important and affirmed. They will be gone for a few weeks and then be upset that no one seemed to notice. Here is a truth: Get involved in ministry and people will know when you aren’t there. If you are not a vital part of keeping it moving, people may not notice if you absent yourself. Don’t play games with busy people who are doing the work. It is immature, and it bogs down children’s workers and deacons that are already taxed heavily with the size of the issues in front of them.

Ask yourself this: Am I giving more than I expect to take in relationships with others in my church? If you are giving more, then ask this: “Am I hungering for attention and praise, or am I growing in maturity and serving the Lord for His praise?”

Perhaps in order to move my mind off of my own troubles, I should learn to take notice of the cares and the joys of the fellow Christians around me. Maybe I am talking too much but listening too little. Maybe too many of my sentences are filled with “I” and “me”. Listen to others; listen in order to help them. Often you won’t even need to say anything. You don’t have to fix all their problems – but you do have to care.

Let me deliberately encourage you to find an active role in the life of the family. Have you ever heard anyone say, “I can worship and be fed spiritually at home…” They say that because they think church is for THEM. We are for each other, and all of us collectively are for HIM. Don’t forget to pray for those with special needs, mentioning them by name in your private prayers. Don’t make prayer requests a matter of gossip, but keep prayer requests simple where they can be and confidential where they must be.

#5 Restored Ones:

In the words at the end of verse 11: “Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service…” Paul made it clear that he recognized old conflicts needed to be laid to rest (4:11b).

Mark had a spotted past. Most scholars think he was the disciple that ran from the Garden of Gethsemane without his cloak. We know that he was a rich kid from a Cypriot Jewish home. We also know he left Paul on the earliest mission journey and his second attempt to come on board ended up splitting the team of Paul and Mark’s uncle Barnabas – a painful moment in Paul’s ministry. Here Paul called on Mark and made the point that he was profitable.

Now we see at work the “Restoration Principle”: Mistakes ARE made in ministry, and we need to recognize them and still love one another. Restoration is a central theme in God’s salvation story!

Chuck Swindoll made the observation that,“ The neighborhood bar is possibly the best counterfeit that there is to the fellowship Christ wants us to give his church. It’s an imitation, dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality – but it is a permissive, accepting and inclusive fellowship. It is unshockable. It is democratic. You can tell people secrets, and they usually don’t tell others or even want to. The bar flourishes not because most people are alcoholics, but because God has put into the human heart the desire to know and be known, to love and be loved, and so many seek a counterfeit at the price of a few beers.

#6 Reinforcers:

Paul’s reference included the man who apparently went to carry this very letter, 2 Timothy, to its recipient – Pastor Timothy at Ephesus. Paul recognized that Tim needed additional support (and this letter) in Ephesus, so Paul sent Tychicus (4:12).

The writer of proverbs says: Proverbs 27:17 – “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” –reinforcing friends help sharpen us to become spiritually acute a bit at a time. Think of a blacksmith who makes swords. He takes a hammer that is made out of iron and methodically beats another piece of iron, continuously landing blow by blow, until it takes the shape and sharpness of a sword. That isn’t always comfortable for either side – the hammer or the sword – but the effect is worth the struggle.

We are better when we have reinforcing friends that can help shape us.

The sending of Tychicus illustrates the “Reinforcer Principle:: We all need those who will under gird and reinforce the work that God has laid on our hearts. Often our vision can only be accomplished when many hands and feet move! We have to SEE each other. C.S. Lewis said something simple, but illuminating: “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, “What! You, too? I thought I was the only one.

#7 Old Friends:

By this, I don’t just mean friends that have been on the planet a long time, I mean friends that have known US a long time. Paul mentioned Priscilla and Aquila, the tent makers with the old battle scars from war fought alongside Paul (4:19) as did the worker Onesiphorus (literally, “profit bringer” – 4:19b) a member of the church who boldly supported and encouraged Paul in the past (1:16).

The little children’s song said: “Make new friends, but keep the OLD, one is silver and the other gold.” Psychology Today: In a survey of more than 40,000 Americans said these qualities were most valued in a friend: “1. The ability to keep confidences 2. Loyalty 3. Warmth and affection.” quoted in Homemade, June, 1982.

Proverbs 17:17 says: “A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for adversity.” Friends are committed for seasons, great friends are committed for life.

The “Old Friend Principle: is this: Build a life team – a corps of people that you stay in contact with over the years to mutually pray for and encourage each other. Even at the end of his life, Paul wanted them to know that he had not forgotten them. Friends stick and though the days with them slip away, they live in our hearts.

#8 Supporters:

4:20 “Erastus remained at Corinth, but Trophimus I left sick at Miletus.”

Erastus, the city treasurer of Corinth (Rom. 16:23) was not able to be present, but aided the ministry in his own abilities. He couldn’t GO, but he could GIVE (4:20). Some people like Trophimus are God-provided supporters unable to follow due to the failing of their body (4:20) but they desired to be faithful.

The “Supporter Principle” is this: Sometimes the most meaningful and needed friends aren’t the ones on the battle line, but the ones on the supply line.

Look at the local church that was Paul’s support base: surrounded by believers who made a difference, Paul wrote: 21 “ … Eubulus greets you, also Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brethren.” (4:21b), and writing to another church (the YOU is plural in the end of the letter – showing Paul’s intent was public reading for this personal letter). Acts 2:42 says the early Christians devoted themselves to fellowship. They just didn’t HAVE fellowship; they devoted themselves to it. This means that fellowship was a priority and one of the objectives for gathering together.

II. Focus on The Word:

To keep a people focus, we will need frequent correction and instruction – even if we have walked with God for many years. I LOVE that Paul’s final comments went PAST PEOPLE. He loved the team, and he knew ministry was about people – but that is NOT the only eternal value we are to have! Look at what he asked Tim to bring him.

2 Timothy 4:13 When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments.

Though Paul requested his letter writing equipment, he particularly wanted the parchments – The Word of God (4:13). He didn’t know how long he had to live, but he knew what message warmed his faith and kept him digging into LIFE… God’s Word.

III. Focus on Intimacy with God:

We have seen Paul focused on PEOPLE and he expressed his hunger for the Word – but the final words of the Apostle also included two very important little sentences that lay open his heart:

4:17 But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Paul was able to say it clearly:

• God stands with me when I am alone (4:17a).
• God gives me the strength to complete the work He has commissioned (4:17b).
• God rescues me from the snare of the enemy (lion – 4:17b).
• God delivers me safely to His home (4:18).
• God is worthy of praise for all the ages! (4:18b)

As we face the end of life’s journey, our real values come out. I recall the old story:

Eleven millionaires went down on the Titanic. One wealthy man, Major A. H. Peuchen left $300,000.00 in money, jewelry and securities in a box in his cabin. “The money seemed a mockery at that time,” he later said. “I picked up three oranges instead.” – Source Unknown.
Paul shared his end values:

God’s best work is accomplished in followers who learn to focus on the three eternal parts of life: people, the Word and intimacy with God.

Living Hope: "Living in Certainty" – 2 Timothy 4:6-8

rushingPeople really are in a hurry today, but I am not sure they really know why! The musical band “Alabama” sang a number of years ago a refrain that captured the thought well. It says: I’m in a hurry to get things done; I rush and rush until life’s no fun. All I really gotta do is live and die; But I’m in a hurry and don’t know why.

We have to admit it – we live in the days of the frantic rush. I admit it. I am exhausted many nights just trying to keep up – don’t you feel that way? I remember one of my friends used to burn frenetically with energy. His mantra was: “I will sleep when I am dead!” The funny part is, as a believer, he knew that wasn’t even true. Leaving this body isn’t about rest as much as it is about the fascination of a new life in a new location!

One of the things we are all painfully aware of is that the clock is running. We can see it graphically in our morning bathroom mirror. We watch things change around us – sometimes at a break neck pace. We lose dear friends to eternity, and sorrow for our loss even though we know this isn’t the end…

Did you ever walk through an old cemetery and look at the epitaphs on the grave stones?

Some time ago, a man was trying to trace his family origin. In the process of his research he visited several cemeteries collecting information from the markers. At one place he came across a monument with the following inscription: “Pause now stranger, as you pass by; As you are now, so once was I As I am now, so soon you’ll be. Prepare yourself to follow me.” Next to the marker, he noticed someone had placed a board with the following words: “To follow you, I’m not content; Until I know, which way you went!

Isn’t that the truth? I wouldn’t want to face the end of this life without knowing what was going to happen next. Fortunately, the Bible is not silent on the issue. In fact, a hero of church planting and Apostleship offered us a great picture of the hope that comes from a secure day beyond the grave. Paul made very clear to the Corinthian believers that God has a future for those who know Him beyond just the physical life:

2 Corinthians 5:1 “For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For indeed in this [house] we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, … 6 Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—7 for we walk by faith, not by sight—8 we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. 9 Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.

In Paul’s letter, he wanted to remind them that here or there, our lives are about pleasing Jesus. At the same time, our walk here is filled with days lived out while MISSING HOME. We live, as followers of Jesus, with the incredible and exciting reality that when we face the grave – MUCH MORE is ahead. Frankly, that makes us really different. Our clock isn’t set to the here and now – but to the Master of time. We live here because He has planned that – and we will move on when the trumpet sounds or when God summons us to the Divine invitation to graduate from time to eternity…

Key Principle: The hopeful mark of a believer is the statement of CERTAINTY about the future.

Why is that important? Because then truth of our eternity changes the lifestyle of our NOW. it is the ESSENCE of CHRISTIAN HOPE. It is a primary difference between us and the lost world – and it is SUPPOSED TO BE!

When Paul wrote the first letter to the Thessalonians, he penned out the earliest letter we have from his quill to this day. He was in his early to mid-forties in age, and he experienced for the first time the move of the Spirit of God in producing an inspired work – destined to be bound in the New Testament to this day. He was writing to those who earlier that year had come to Christ, after a very short time with them in which Paul was forced to move out of town by some trouble makers. The letter has five chapters, and the first three do little but explain what God was personally doing in Paul. Chapters four and five are the heart of Paul’s teaching, and reflect what God wanted to characterize believers. Paul outlined several imperatives:

1. Believers were to hear and obey God in the use of their body.

1 Thessalonians 4:3 “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; [that is], that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor. God wanted the church to be pure in behavior in direct contradistinction to the well accepted loose-living of the brothel filled Roman cities. In the first century, there were more than forty NAMED brothels recalled by writers and historians. FUN to a believer is living life to please the Savior.

2. Believers were to work hard, keep quiet and focus on caring for people, excelling at other-person centered guardianship of people:

1 Thessalonians 4:10b “… But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, 12so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need. Fulfillment to the believer is experiencing the joy of caring for others – not accumulating more stuff for the estate sale after we are gone.

3. Believers were to see life and death by new definitions.

Lost people were DEAD (Ephesians 2:1), and saved people who were in the grave were with the Lord in spirit (2 Corinthians 5) but waiting the resurrection of their body in the coming days. 1 Thessalonians 4:13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of [the] archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. The future of believers is Heaven.

Believers, from the very beginning of the spread of Christianity, were to see fun, fulfillment and future in new ways. Paul didn’t only instruct it – by the end of his life he LIVED IT OUT as a model.

Here is underlying the truth for the believer: “The clock isn’t my Master – the Lord is. I walk with a certainty that the world cannot offer. We who know Jesus are certain that our life will count for something bigger than our century on this planet. We are certain that death is a means of conveyance and not an end. We are certain that there is both a purpose to our struggles, and an end point to our pain. We are certain of a real and intimate communion with our Lord – in a reward that is beyond imagination!

Where did we get these ideas? We got them from the Bible in places like 2 Timothy 4:6-8, where I would like to spend a few minutes. Facing death, Paul wrote these words of HOPE to Timothy:

6 “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; 8 in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

Can you not hear the HOPE in this man? Paul summarized his life as “I FOUGHT, I FINISHED, and now I have a FANTASTIC FUTURE!”

When I talk to people about preparing for this life’s end, sometimes the conversation turns to whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing to know in advance that you’re dying. There are advantages and disadvantages to either scenario. If you know it is coming soon – you have time to prepare. Many not to think about it for so long. They would prefer to simply “drop over” without having to dwell on it. We don’t all agree… but if the truth be told—we all know we are dying! The real issue is when not if! Human mortality is 100%. Funny how some of us live as though WE are going to be the exception…

Did you hear about the three guys discussing their obituaries? One asked, “What would you like folks to say at your wake?”

• One of his buddies thought for minute, “I’d like them to say ‘He was a great humanitarian who cared about his community.’”

• The fellow who had initiated the conversation replied, “I’d like them to say ‘He was a great husband and father who was an example for many to follow.’”

• The two nodded in agreement and looked to the silent buddy. Without hesitation he added, “I’d like them to say ‘Look, he’s still breathing!’”

The text of 2 Timothy was penned by a man who knew his days were severely numbered. He offers us several reasons to look squarely over the edge of death’s cliff and see it as a reason for HOPE SPRINGING UP.

Paul argued there are FOUR REASONS a believer has an unstoppable JOY and an overwhelming HOPE:

First, a believer knows his life has more meaning than the century of life on the planet:

Paul said it this way: 1 Timothy 4:6a “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering…”

The term to “pour out as a drink offering” is one word in Greek – “spen’-domai”: to pour out as a libation, i.e. (figuratively) to devote (one’s life or blood, as a sacrifice) (spend) — (be ready to) be offered. A priest in the Temple would approach the altar of hot coals with a container of wine. As a prayer or special vow was spoken the wine would be poured on the coals. The wine instantly evaporated giving off a cloud of smoke and a sweet rich fragrance. Even pagan Romans knew about drink offerings. They often ended a meal or banquet with such an offering. It marked the time to rise and move on as well symbolized the giving of last drop to glory of the gods.

That is how Paul viewed his coming death. It is as if he was saying: “The day is ended; it is time to rise and go; and my life must be poured out as a sacrifice to God.

William Barclay remarked: “Paul did not think of himself as going to be executed; he thought of himself as going to offer his life to God. His life was not being taken from him; he was laying it down. Ever since his conversion Paul had offered to God, his money, his scholarship, his strength, his time, the vigor of his body, the acuteness of his mind, the devotion of his passionate heart. Only life itself was left to offer, and gladly Paul was going to lay life down.

You and I who know Jesus have the privilege of consciously pouring out our lives in service to Him by caring for one another, and by reaching those who are so very needy in our world. Some of the needs are physical, and we can serve people practically and help them with temporal needs. Other needs are spiritual – finding God and learning to walk with Him. We can extend a hand to each one, and that is our offering before God. For that, we are not diminished – the impact of our lives grows GREATER with each person we touch. What’s more, we didn’t start the journey. Many great men and women of God were at it long before us – and it is possible that God has many more generations to follow after us.

My point is this: We are PART OF SOMETHING BIGGER than just a little club in Sebring. We are part of God’s church – His carefully chosen and blood-bought team to reach in love to a hurting world. We have a vast family that started with the disciples of Jesus from the Gospels, and has grown in number until now. Don’t let the world try to tell you that no one is left in our family. God has thousands upon thousands He has called to be a part of what we are doing.

• In a small village in Africa today, there is a huddled group who trust Jesus, and want to serve Him with their whole heart.

• We see them in Cambodia, where rural villages are being touched with the Gospel.

• Hiding inside during curfew in Cairo are small groups of Christians who are reading God’s Word and learning to trust Him for the days ahead.

On and on it goes: Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Mexico. Pick a nation and God is at work in some place that CNN will never go… and YOU are a part of it all!

Second, as a follower of Jesus, I know physical death is a means of conveyance, not an end.

Paul said it this way in 2 Timothy 4:6b “…and the time of my departure has come.”

Look at the word “departure.” (analusis). That word had at least four discernible usages:

1. First, it was used as a Nautical Term: This was a term sailors used for the un-mooring of a ship. When a ship would set sail, and move out of the harbor, people would stand on the pier and watch the vessel move toward the horizon. He was at the quay, ready to go.

2. Second, the term had a Military Use: When soldiers would fold up their tent and move on to another campaign, the taking down and folding of the tent invited the use of the same word. He was being folded up and readied for a new place.

3. Third, there was a Political Use: The term was sometimes used for the release of a prisoner from bonds. He was being loosed from the constraints of the warfare this side of Heaven. You see, our brothers and sisters who have gone home to Jesus are not only free from pain – they are free from their own SIN NATURE! Their ego is completely God-tempered!

4. Finally there was an Agricultural Use: When a farmer unburdened the ox and removed the yoke it was a kind of “loosing” that was also covered by this word. The fact is, the ministry burdens of Paul were about to be removed from his shoulders. Death was not his penalty, it was his relief. If you have even sat with one who was suffering, you know the feeling very well.

In Hollywood, there are those who know how to make an entrance… I want you to KNOW HOW TO MAKE AN EXIT! When we leave this body, we sail away to another port. We pull up the tent pegs. We are a prisoner set free. We lay down the burden of this fallen physical life. We go home with God – untethered, unbound, finally tasting our promised freedom! This is another HOPE BUILDER the negro spiritual song writer reminded us with: “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty I am free at last!”

Third, a believer knows that life’s struggles are not in vain – and they have a soon-coming end.

Paul said it this way: 2 Timothy 4:7 …”I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith”.

Paul was able to face his departure from this life with confidence because he knew he had successfully “finished his race.” (v. 7). Paul looked back to the past and said, “My life has not been easy, but it has been worth it.” Look at the realism of Paul’s eyes on his history. He used three word pictures from the athletic world to make his point:

• I have fought the good fight.

The term “FOUGHT” is “agonizomai”: a descriptive word for a struggle contending with an adversary for the prize. We get the term “agonize” from this word! Romans had both wrestling and a crude form of boxing in their day.

The truth that seems to escape some of the “prosperity people” is that not only can life be tough, but after the Fall, the battle is inevitable. The world doesn’t play fair. The Devil has no interest in being gentle. The flesh rages against what is right within. Sometimes we must do hand-to-hand, down and dirty combat with each. It’s truly a fight, but finishing well is worth the effort. The struggles will honor the Master – and nothing will be more important when we stand before Him!

• I have finished the race.

The verb “teleo” means to end or come to the point. In commerce it was a word for “completed” or “paid in full”. In athletics, it was a racing term for a long race – like a marathont. Finishing meant, in this case, simply not giving up. Paul gives to believers a view from near the finish line. He’s nearing his big finish in life’s arduous marathon and offers to his younger protégé, an encouragement. He said: “Tim, let me tell you how I feel right now, just yards from the end. There is a burst of satisfaction that I’ve got going on inside me as I approach the finish line.” Here was a coach calling the play with seconds left on the game clock, and down by two – but with a great line! You can hear Paul telling Tim – “Finish the game! It isn’t over! Go for it and leave it all on the field!” That is where the satisfaction comes from. The half-hearted warrior knows the ordeal – the persistent one knows the satisfaction.

• I have kept the faith.

Paul looked at his own record, and concluded with joy that he had run by the rules. He hadn’t cheated, cut corners or covered over his bad performance. This is similar to the thought of 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. …Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize”.

One commentator (William Barclay) writes: “The one thing necessary for life is staying-power, and that is what so many people lack.

A very famous man was offered a writer to help him complete his biography while he was still alive. He refused to move on the project, for he reasoned: ‘I have seen far too many men fall out on the last lap.’”

Paul could see the end; he knew he kept the faith. He did it by staying close to Jesus and living INTENTIONALLY inside the Word. He stayed at it until it was done right! He had taken no short cuts, and avoided no obstacles. He ran from no conflict – but faced the problems and opponents head on. Instead of circumventing the mountains, he climbed them. He weathered the storms faithfully. Moses prayed for God to “teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). Paul did that. We can too.

Fourth, a believer awaits a stunning reward – and we didn’t earn it.

Paul said it this way: 2 Timothy 4:8 “in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

Paul looked toward his future and in essence said, “I can’t wait.” He looked forward to his reward, “a crown of righteousness.” (“stephanos”: a VICTOR crown) used of competition and completion in sport contests. These were the laurel wreaths of the ancient Olympic style games – long before GOLD MEDALS were offered, The wreath had little intrinsic value – . Its worth came from the occasion and the hand that placed it atop the head of the victor.

“…the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award…” has an accompanying word in Greek, “monon”: merely — alone, but, only. Paul knows the ONLY real judge of this life is his Master, Jesus.

Heaven is not first about gates of pearl and golden streets. It is about the presence of the Lord. Jesus, “I go to prepare a place for you that where I am there you may be with me.” For the lover of God the presence of God is the ultimate reward. In one of his books, A.M. Hunter, the New Testament scholar, related a story of a dying man who asked his Christian doctor to tell him something about the place to which he was going. As the doctor fumbled for a reply, he heard a scratching at the door, and he had his answer. “Do you hear that?” he asked his patient. “It’s my dog. I left him downstairs, but he has grown impatient, and has come up and hears my voice. He has no notion what is inside this door, but he knows that I am here. Now then, isn’t it the same with you? Even though you don’t know or understand everything that’s on the other side, you know Who is there. That’s what makes the difference.

Paul Azinger was a graduate of Brevard Junior College in Brevard County Florida. He went on to FSU before he turned pro as a golfer in 1981. He was named the PGA player of the year in 1987. Six years later he won the coveted PGA championship (1993). At the age of 33 he had a remarkable ten tournament victories to his credit. The very next year Azinger was diagnosed with cancer. He wrote of his experience. “A feeling of fear came over me. I could die from cancer. Then another reality hit me. I’m going to die anyway, whether from cancer or something else. It’s just a question of when. Golf suddenly became meaningless to me. All I wanted to do was live.” As Azinger faced the possibility of his own death, he remembered something that Larry Moody, a chaplain to the pro golfers, had said to him. “Zinger, we’re not in the land of the living going to the land of the dying. We’re in the land of the dying trying to get to the land of the living.” Azinger beat the cancer. He recovered from chemotherapy and returned to the PGA tour, but Job’s question: “If a man dies, shall he live again?” (Job 14:14) changed his life. Azinger wrote, “I’ve made a lot of money since I’ve been on the tour. I’ve won a lot of tournaments. But that happiness is always temporary. The only way I have ever found true contentment is in my personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I’m not saying that nothing ever bothers me and I don’t have problems, but now I’ve found the answer—the answer to the six-foot hole.”

Paul said it already in this letter, but in different words…”I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12).

Matthew Huffman was the six-year-old son of missionaries in Brazil. One morning he began to complain of a fever. As his temperature climbed, he began to lose his eyesight. His mother and father knew he needed medical attention so they placed him in the car and rushed to the hospital. As they were driving, Matthew was lying on his mother’s lap, and began to do something his parents will never forget. He extended his hand in the air. When his mother took it, he pulled it away and extended it again. Once again she took it and again he pulled it back and reached into the air. Confused, the mother asked her son, “What are you reaching for, Matthew?” Matthew responded, “I’m reaching for Jesus’ hand.” And with those words, he closed his eyes and slipped into a coma from which he never would awaken. He died two days later, a victim of bacterial meningitis. In six years of life, Matthew learned the one lesson no one can afford to miss in this life… know what the end is all about!

My friends:

  • Death is Inevitable (Hebrews 9:27 “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.) In order to live a life without regrets, we need to know what to live for. The world has it all wrong. They say you only live once so go ahead and grab all the gusto you can. Party hard, live loose because when you die, that’s it. That philosophy teaches that the only thing to live for is immediate satisfaction and gratification. It teaches that the highest purpose in life is to be happy and pain free. But the Bible paints a very different picture of life. In fact, we are warned not to love this world nor the things in this world.
  • Death is impartial—It is no respecter of persons (The old will die, some young will die). To live a life of no regrets, we must learn what is important in life. We have to learn to trade monuments of man’s achievements for moments in God’s presence. There is a place where all this world’s goods will lose their luster. Paul lived with no regrets because he kept eternity in view.
  • Death is often unexpected – We make material preparation (buy a good insurance benefit for the surviving relatives and sometimes buy a nice burial ground) but we must make a spiritual preparation! Death need not be a mystery or a loss!

1 CORINTHIANS 15:54 says “‘When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.

I want to read again our short text for this lesson, but I want you to hear it in another translation – a paraphrase called “The Message”:

You take over. I’m about to die, my life an offering on God’s altar. This is the only race worth running. I’ve run hard right to the finish, believed all the way. All that’s left now is the shouting – God’s applause! Depend on it, he’s an honest judge. He’ll do right not only by me, but by everyone eager for his coming.” 2 Timothy 4:6-8

Do you possess the hope that comes with Christian CERTAINTY? IF NOT, WHY NOT?

Paul used this language about death. Remember in Philippians 1:20-24:

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. What does that mean?

First, it means that God has a purpose for us in this life – to walk with Christ. We are not floating on a rubber raft in the ocean with nowhere to go and no reason to be there.

Life has been described as propping a ladder against a wall, and spending all your years climbing it. Too many people will climb all their lives, only to get to the top and realize they were climbing the wrong wall.

Second, it means that in death a believer gains something. What?

1. We gain a better body – a glorified, immortalized, resurrected body. 1 Corinthians 15 says that in this present body of clay we’re subject to all the sorrows and tears that life deals out. Age, sickness, and finally death are the inevitable end of this house made of the dust of the earth. But in death and the resurrection we gain a better body, one that can never grow old, know disease, suffer pain, and can never die. No more cough, no more cancer, and no more consumption. We gain a better body.

2. We gain a better home – John 14 reminds us that Jesus is preparing the next dwelling for us! Paul is able to face his departure from this life with confidence because he knew where he was headed. His departure from here means his arrival in heaven. Paul knew without a shadow of a doubt where he was headed in eternity. Do you? Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians (5:6,8) “Therefore we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord… (8) We are confident, yes well pleased rather to absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” Do you realize that the Bible says that you can know for sure where you are headed in eternity. 1 John 5:13, says “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” (NKJV).

Death does not have to be a leap into darkness into the great unknown. “So like a prisoner awaiting his release, like a schoolboy when the end of term is near, like a migratory bird ready to fly south, like a patient in the hospital anxiously scanning the doctor’s face to see whether a discharge may be expected, I long to be gone – extricating myself form the flesh I have too long inhabited, seeing the great doors of eternity swing open …” – such is the prospect of death for a Christian. [George Sweeting. “Can I Die Well.” (Moody Jan/Feb 2003) p.70.]

3. We gain a better inheritance – Ephesians 1-3 reminds us that the believer’s place and reward is not here – it is in Heaven. Living for God on earth has its advantages now – a clean conscience, freedom, purpose, meaning, hope. But the full value of the Christian life will be seen in heaven.

4. We gain a better fellowship with Jesus – The Christian life on earth was one of faith, believing before seeing, but heaven works differently, for we see the Lord face to face.

“I’m Free” by Unknown

Don’t grieve for me, for now I’m free, I’m following the path God has laid, you see.
I took His hand when I heard him call, I turned my back and left it all.
I could not stay another day, To laugh, to love, to work, to play.
Tasks left undone must stay that way, I found that peace at the close of day.
If my parting has left a void, Then fill it with remembered joy.
A friendship shared, a laugh, a kiss, Oh yes, these things I too will miss.
Be not burdened with times of sorrow, I wish you the sunshine of tomorrow.
My life’s been full, I savored much, Good friends, good times, a loved one’s touch.
Perhaps my time seemed all too brief, Don’t lengthen it now with undue grief.
Lift up your hearts and peace to thee, God wanted me now; He set me free.

The hopeful mark of a believer is the statement of CERTAINTY about the future.

Strength for the Journey: “A Year to Remember” – Numbers 28:16-31

About a year ago, I was searching for some infA Year to Rememberormation to help someone with a loved one that was living in the nightmare of a food disorder. I didn’t have any background in the subject, since “Near East Archaeology” and “Rabbinic Judaism” – the subjects that captured the majority of my education – offered little help on the subject. Searching through the libraries of information, I found a new book, published the month I began my search. Because it was a novel, I found only a little help there, but I recall the book in part because the story line struck me as the right kind of plot for the journey of self-understanding. It is called A Year to Remember by author Shelly Bell. The story was all about a woman named Sara Friedman. The publisher advertised the book this way:

When her younger brother marries on her twenty-ninth birthday, food addict Sara Friedman drunkenly vows to three hundred wedding guests to find and marry her soul mate within the year. After her humiliating toast becomes a YouTube sensation, she permits a national morning show to chronicle her search. With the help of best friend, Missy, she plunges head first into the shallow end of the dating pool. Her journey leads her to question the true meaning of soul mates, as she decides between fulfilling her vow to marry before her thirtieth birthday and following her heart’s desire. But before she can make the biggest decision of her life, Sara must begin to take her first steps toward recovery from her addiction to food.

From the opening, it was way too girly for me, so I didn’t read it – but the title stuck in my mind. We are not going to explore food addictions in this lesson, though the Bible does have words about taking care of the body that Jesus gave us and paid for at the Cross of Calvary. Instead, I want to focus on the title of that novel: “A Year to Remember”.

When God structured the calendar for Israel, He outlined a daily, weekly and monthly calendar of offerings and “appointments”, just as we pointed out in our last lesson. At the same time, He delineated a series of appointed feasts for the annual national observance of His people. Last time we looked at the day, week and month portion found in Numbers 28:1-15. In this lesson we will follow the annual “daytimer” calendar through the twelve months – and even into a thirteenth one periodically added to correct the calendar!

Key Principle: God communicated through the offerings His desire to walk the daily road of life with His people. When a community recognizes the value of following appointed times with God – it secures deep values in the hearts of its people.

God knew what He was doing when He instructed the observance of seven holidays called “Ha Moedim” (or appointments). These weren’t man made remembrances, they were “appointments with God”, directly mandated by God for the people of Israel. Remember: though the Law was not something we as Christians from the nations are called to observe, its principles (given to our older brother Israel), still clearly help us understand our Father’s cares and desires. It is always the principle that should drive our study of the Word – not the prescription – since we aren’t the people to whom the text was written. Each Moed has guiding principles and truths about our Father that are not only worth the time, but were included in His Word to teach us, correct us and comfort us.

There are too many of them for us to do this in ONE LESSON. Instead, let’s break it the way the chapters of Numbers are today. This lesson will be about the SPRING FESTIVALS in Numbers 29:16-31; the next lesson will embrace the Autumn festivals of Numbers 29.

Don’t forget – holidays are about INDIVIDUAL recognition, but also about COMMUNITY and FAMILY observance. They strengthen both – individuals and communities, families, towns and churches. They aren’t just something you do yourself, they are communal efforts. When we as a church acknowledge a special appointment with God, we demonstrate our value system, and help people understand what we truly believe. Let me illustrate how that works in looking back to the history of the Moedim.

The Annual Feast Calendar

The seven feasts are each given specific reference in Leviticus 23 and in Numbers 28-29, and are listed in the order they were celebrated in the calendar year. The spring festivals include the first four mentioned, the autumn festivals are the last three:

Spring Festivals

1. Passover (or Pesach, Nisan 14th, the first day of Unleavened Bread) Lev. 23:4,5; Numbers 28:16.
2. Unleavened Bread (the week of Chag Hamatzot) Lev. 23:6-8; Numbers 28:17-25).
3. First Fruits (or Bukkurim on Nisan 16th, the second day of unleavened bread) Lev. 23:9-14; Numbers 28:26).
4. Weeks (also called Shavuot or Pentecost) Lev. 23:15-22; Numbers 28:26-31).

Autumn Festivals

5. Trumpets (also called Yom T’ruach or Rosh Hashanah) Lev. 23:23-35; Numbers 29:1-6.
6. Day of Atonement (or Yom Kippor) Lev. 23:26-32; Number 29:7-11.
7. Tabernacles (or Sukkot) Lev. 23:34-44; Numbers 29:12-38.

Spring Festivals:

The Principle from Passover:

Numbers 28:16 Then on the fourteenth day of the first month shall be the LORD’S Passover.

There are not many words that describe the occasion in Numbers 28, because it was like describing Christmas to most of you – it was all very well explained elsewhere.

Passover, was the time that recalled in Exodus 12 the move of the hand of God on the firstborn of the Egyptians that did not mark their doorposts or tent posts with the blood of a spotless lamb. The deal was simple: mark the door with blood, and the Lord will turn His face away and not exercise His wrath. It was an important exercise to help Israel clearly understand that God wanted each generation of Israelites to recall the need for individual, personal belief that played out in actions – in order for the people to be saved from the wrath of God that they deserved. Man mutinied against God, and the wrath of God was the consequence. Don’t forget, the wrath of God was His consistency – not just an angry response. It is the “cause and effect” nature of God that has left His fingerprints on our world.

The Hebrew term for “wrath” is from the three letter ALEPH-BET-RESH or A-V-R, the very root word from which the name of the Hebrews comes. They are a symbol of God’s consistency. Here is what He told them to do that first Pesach:

Israel found itself in bondage for ten generations. After serving Egyptian Pharaohs, the cries of the children of Israel went up before the Lord God, and He sent a deliverer to release His captive children. He sent a series of plagues designed to press on fickle Pharaoh as well as teach His people of Himself until God finally pronounced that He would send a plague that would be forever remembered. Exodus 12 records that the power of God would strike down the firstborn of every home in Egypt not protected by the mark of lamb’s blood on the door or tent post.

If we had time, we would follow the progression of the great story of redemption that unfolded. If you mark your Bible and check Exodus 12:3-5, you will see that God gave careful instruction about the preparation of the home before the Lord executed judgment on the Egyptian firstborn. Each man was instructed to take “A LAMB” (12:3) for his house. If “THE LAMB” (12:4) was too much for the small household, the man was to share with his neighbor and not waste. The lamb was to be spotless, sacrificed that its blood may be used as a marker. It was to be killed and personally applied as “YOUR LAMB” (12:5). Individuals would have to use the blood, nothing else would suffice. God set the standard of atonement and the people needed to trust that God would keep His word. They would have to silently wait and trust that the blood was enough to protect them from the judgment of God, when it came.

Don’t get caught up in the tents, the flocks and the Egyptian sand. God made some simple points:

1. God alone sets the standard of what pleases Him. No amount of service in replacement of the lamb would keep people from the wrath of God – period.
2. People needed to personally believe the message of God and follow the instruction of God to be saved from calamity and set free from bondage.
3. God took no time to explain why that payment was suitable – He set a standard of obedience, and did not ask our opinion.

It is so very important that we understand this in a time when our rulers are all chosen by our populace. God is an absolute Sovereign. He has no need to politic to gain our favor. He is God, and His Word is absolute. If we ignore it, we face the penalty, and we have only ourselves to blame.

Don’t die thinking God will put a scale before you and balance your good and evil deeds. That isn’t what He said He would accept. He wants the blood covering of a sacrifice. That is the reason believers celebrate the death of Jesus before the Resurrection of Jesus. God outlined that a lamb had to die, and blood needed to be shed – or that judicial payment for mutiny was not fulfilled. Good people that helped their neighbors and paid their taxes on time died in the wrath of God if they didn’t use the blood covering as He instructed. That should tell us something about our own efforts to please God apart from His standards.

The Principle from the Feast of Unleavened Bread:

Immediately following the Passover, God added to the original holy day a week long observance called the “Feast of Unleavened Bread”. He described it in Numbers 28:17-25. Look at the beginning, and I will summarize the other verses:

Numbers 28:17 On the fifteenth day of this month [shall be] a feast, unleavened bread [shall be] eaten for seven days.

On the first day, verses 18 and 19 describe the burnt offering. Verses 20-22 describe the grain offering measured against the appropriate animal, and verse 23 describes that these offerings are IN ADDITION to the regular daily offerings. Verse 24 reminded the people to do it every day for the whole seven day stretch, and verse 25 told them to take the seventh day off work and meet in worship.

Many believers are familiar with the pictures and stories of leaven in the Bible, but some may not recall the imagery. Leaven was normally prohibited by God in connection with offerings and sacrifices. Lev. 2:11 excluded its use in most of the sacrifices claiming it was a corruption of the sacrifice. God made a standard that leaven was corrupt and unusable in this context – though fermented beverages were allowed. The issue may have been to limit the time and assure freshness in the offering, we simply cannot say. We do know that a festival of one week with unraised bread was a CHANGE from the norm, and many rabbis suggested the symbol would remind them of the journey, where they could not remain in a place for a long time. That sounds right, because the Biblical argument was simply the reminder that between two Sabbath rests, this week long observance was intended to remind them that “the Lord brought the children of Israel out of Egypt” (Ex. 12:17).

From the instruction came the Chametz cleansing that became the background for “Spring cleaning”. Jews remove all leaven from their homes, and destroy it or sell it. It is a fascinating part of Jewish life in Jerusalem. As the feast approaches each year, the message is clear: Get the leaven out. The day after the Passover sacrifice and meal, a week-long festival ensues (Lev. 23:6). Instruction on the festival is given in Exodus 12:15-20 (cp. Lev. 2:11 for leaven) and today supermarkets quarantine all leavened materials and sell them to off shore companies. On my old street in Jerusalem, little piles of dust were burned from the cleaning of my neighbor’s homes.

The principle behind the cleaning out of the leaven was well illustrated by the teaching of an old fisherman. The fisherman took his small boat out to sea early each morning to catch the fish for the market. He moved along the surface of the water with great ease, for the boat was well designed for fishing. On one occasion, the old fisherman took his son with him to the sea. His son was unaccustomed to the boat and began to tip the small craft as he walked around inside it. The older fisherman raised his voice and exclaimed, “Sit down! The boat is fine in the sea, but we don’t want the sea inside the boat!” That same “keep the sea out of the boat” principle is the message of the feast of Unleavened Bread, a message of a clean walk.

What is the deal with keeping leaven out of the house, and out of the bread? The yeasts that were used in making bread came with them out of Egypt. Most people had very few implement to make up a kitchen, but the “starter dough” with its infused leaven was something they took on any journey. There were no fast food restaurants in Sinai, and if they wanted to make any bread by-product, the starter dough was essential. How they used it with manna is not at all clear, but the truth behind the festival was – they were to set aside using leaven – and eat bread WITHOUT IT. In this way, Egypt and its corrupting influence needed to be set aside by the people. The principle of cleansing the house from leaven (chametz cleansing) was an illustration of the need to live a life that was intentional about separation from corruption and sin.

Passover was about God’s provision to save – something theologians called “justification”. Unleavened Bread was all about a man’s work of intentional removal of corrupting influences, termed by theologians as “sanctification”- a term that means “set apart for a specific use, often a holy use.” The usable vessel before God was to be free of leaven, and recall God’s purposes were to make a new and clean people to serve Him.

This concept constantly needs to be reaffirmed, especially in the American “Bible belt”, where cultural Christianity can easily replace an intentional walk of obedience to Jesus Christ. It isn’t enough to go to a Billy Graham Crusade, pray a prayer and walk an aisle. God didn’t just call you from the world so that you could live as you choose and then retire to Heaven when you die. That isn’t a new idea that came with televangelists; it has always been a deception of the enemy. All the way back in the beginning of the church, Paul wrote of this, reminding the early believers in Jesus that God had bigger plans for their lives:

Ephesians 2:1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly [places] in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, [it is] the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

In salvation, a follower of Jesus DOES get the promise of Heaven, but in Ephesians 2, God wanted them to recall that He had a bigger purpose – to create through each of their lives of intentional yielding, a picture of God’s handiwork done in a life interrupted by His grace. The message of the church cannot be ONLY about JUSTIFICATION or it becomes utterly imbalanced. John 3:16 is a wellspring of life – but it is not the only truth in the book. We must not forget the story is not one only of personal benefits apart from personal commitments. That idea may sell well today, but it is only PART of the story of God’s grace. His story was never intended to be a license for selfish living followed by retirement in Heavenly bliss. We are saved by grace, but the reason we are saved is not only for ourselves. We are to become a living display of His workmanship. If that were not true, the Scriptures would be much shorter on instructions of life, and there would be no need to “strive against sin”. Our call is to preach BOTH – God’s undeserved favor that saves, and the intentional active pursuit of our walk with God once He offers us new life.

The Principle in the Feast of First Fruits:

Numbers 28:26 Also on the day of the first fruits, when you present a new grain offering to the LORD.

There is but a small half verse on the Feast of First Fruits in our passage, so we will but mention the principle that is clear if one takes the time to study Leviticus 23:9-14. The Sabbath had given the children of Israel the necessary understanding that a close of cycle and rest was necessary. What the Sabbath did for the end of one’s work, the feast of First Fruits outlined for the “beginnings” of life. The beginning of the harvest was the setting for this important lesson. God wanted the children of Israel to understand that He had provided for them, and they were to respond to His gracious giving. All they possessed was undeserved blessing (Dt. 6), and all they had belonged to God (even their children, see Ex. 13:2).

Frankly, on payday it is easy to think we earned the money, and it is ours. For a farmer, the harvest is the beginning of the payday. Hours of plowing, planting, watering and waiting begin to show FRUIT for the labor, pun intended. THAT was the very time Israel was to make an offering of thanksgiving, an offering of anticipation of continued blessing (“first” fruits implies later fruits), and an offering of acknowledgment.

Yet, tucked within the TIMING of the “Feast of First Fruits” the Apostle Paul also reminded early believers that God had a picture waiting –Jewish believers could clearly see it in the first century – but it may not be as obvious to us today. Tucked between the command for Jews to celebrate Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Pentecost) was a “Feast of First Fruits”. This feast involved taking the un-ripened grain THE SUNDAY AFTER PASSOVER and bringing it to the priest at the Tabernacle (and later the Temple) to wave it before the Lord, make a lamb offering. The offering included a meal offering, a wine offering and special dietary commands for the day (Lev. 23:9-14).

The most interesting thing about the Feast of Firstfruits is the fact that it was NOT commanded to be on a counted date, as in the case of Passover – Lev. 23:5. Rather this is the only feast in the chapter to ALWAYS be celebrated on the same day of the week – Sunday! Remarkably, all of the other feasts are all based on a calculated DATE (Lev. 23:4,15,24,27,34). Paul argued in 1 Corinthians 15, the feast for that Sunday following Passover was a “shadow” of Messiah’s resurrection (and eventually OUR resurrection!).

The point of John 20:1 “On the first day of the week” was to REMIND EARLY FOLLOWERS OF THE SPECIAL DAY on which Messiah was raised. It was the Feast of First Fruits! This was the beginning of the “countdown” to Pentecost (Lev. 23:15), but it was much more. This was the day they celebrated the COMING OF A GREAT HARVEST! What a spiritual picture! This was the lesson of Paul to Corinth (1 Cor. 15:20-32), that the resurrection of Jesus was the CLEAR answer to the shadowy symbol of the waving of the sheaf commanded so long before!

Don’t forget that in the Hebrew mind, harvest and judgment were indelibly linked together. One is usually expressed in the terms of the other. This is true in the terms of the prophets as they express God “treading out the grapes of wrath”, in the same way Jesus used it (Mt. 13 “reapers” that were angels). To the Hebrew mind, God does not judge man. Man grows his fruit, and God harvests that which man grows. What YOU sow, YOU reap! It is man’s own doing that causes his rotten fruit in the end. It is this same connection that evoked the link between the Jezreel Valley (the largest growth and harvest area in the country) and the “Valley of Armageddon” (Rev. 16:16- the valley of God’s judgment of the nations).

In the Feast of the First Fruits, God intended that Israel would understand the offering to be about things to come. Paul argued:

• Jesus has been raised! (15:20)
• As a man he conquered death, for the actions of a man brought death! (15:21-22)
• Jesus was raised as the first fruits offering (15:23), then the end comes, eventually destroying even death! (15:24-26)
• God has subjected everything to Him, and will bring it all to pass! (15:27-28)
• If Jesus wasn’t raised, the rest of the harvest could not be certain, and we may be lost! (15:29-32)

The early church celebrated the Sunday of the First Fruits, and began early to understand that this was the great symbolic show that God would bring about our resurrection as sure as the spring harvest follows the winter rains! The resurrected Jesus is the “first fruits” of our own eternal life, and His life is promised to us after our physical death (cp. 1 Cor. 15:35-58)

We are moving quickly, so let’s review:

  • God offered Passover to remind His people that they needed to PERSONALLY APPROPRIATE the means He provided for atonement – and that is true of all of us as well.

  • God told them to “get the leaven out” for a week to remind them that SALVATION belongs to the Lord, but INTENTIONAL LIVING is the domain of God’s people – and that is something we must constantly recall.

  • Tucked in the middle, God gave a promise in the form of another practice called First Fruits – that HE was going to provide something beyond their understanding – the provision of a NEW LIFE through the resurrection of the dead. Physical death isn’t our end. It isn’t even the end of this body. It will be reconstituted for a future – a renewed body based on the current model, but with all the new technology of Heaven.

If I want salvation, I need to listen to what God provided and receive it. If I want to become what He intends, I need to get some things out of my life. If I really listen to Him – He is offering me more than “a saved NOW” – He is offering me “a RISEN THEN”! Death has lost its sting, because it is no longer a mystery, nor a one way door.

Each Spring, there is one more festival that we need to consider…

The Principle in the Shavuot Offerings (Feast of Weeks):

Numbers 28:26b …In your [Feast of] Weeks, you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work. 27 You shall offer a burnt offering for a soothing aroma to the LORD: two young bulls, one ram, seven male lambs one year old; 28 and their grain offering, fine flour mixed with oil: three-tenths [of an] [ephah] for each bull, two-tenths for the one ram, 29 a tenth for each of the seven lambs; 30 [also] one male goat to make atonement for you. 31 Besides the continual burnt offering and its grain offering, you shall present [them] with their drink offerings. They shall be without defect.

In Israel, the summer months are long, hot and dry for most of the land. The spring grass is withered and brown. The flowers that dotted the Galilee landscape give way to the dark rocks and dry weeds that cover every uncultivated field. The time of the long awaited first rains of Autumn usually produce celebration, as children go outside in the rain and dance for joy (even some of us as adults join them)! The rains awaken the land to new life, and the promise of another harvest! The harvest is the life blood of any agricultural people, and the children of Israel awaited the harvest with great anticipation.

Fifty days after the festival of first fruits, the major part (if not all) of the harvest was completed. The festival of Shavuot or “weeks” began. The Greek word for “fifty days” is Pentecost, and the festival received this name in ancient Jewish sources from the Second Temple Period. Regardless of which name was used, the timing of the feast, and the peculiar instructions for the observance of the feast give the clearest indications of the meaning and purpose of this holy festival.

This feast was truly a celebration of the harvest (it is called the “harvest feast”, see Ex. 23:16). It expressed God’s gracious provision to His people for yet another year. In contrast to the feast of “unleavened bread” where all leaven was to be purged from the sacrifice and it was to be clean of fermenting corruption, the feast of weeks includes two loaves of meal baked with leaven (Lev. 23:17). The leaven was prescribed as part of the ceremony, and obedient faithful could do nothing less than obey. Why include the leaven in the loaves? What was God’s intention in this “shadowy symbol”? Why allow a corrupting influence in an observance characterized by His holy worship?

God had a plan… and we are a part of it. Don’t forget, the leaven in the loaves at Shavuot wasn’t the only corruption was found in the festival…there were people there. In addition to understanding the need to intentionally get some things out of our lives, God showed that He was planning to bond people once outside of His family into it. God was going, at the time of Pentecost, to move in people that were once strangers to His promise.

Acts 2:1 reminds us that the Spirit of God came upon the first followers of Jesus at Pentecost. The disciples were gathered together to recall the giving of the Law at Sinai that occurred fifty days after Pesach in Exodus, and the Spirit came upon them and began to write the Law on their hearts. In front of them on the table was a simple symbol – leavened bread. God was forming something that would be a part of His plan – His church. It would not replace Israel, but it would carry the message of His love while a darkness and blindness descended for a time over the Jewish people.

Do you recall that passage in Ephesians 2 were looked at earlier? Keep reading:

Ephesians 2:11 “Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” [which is] performed in the flesh by human hands—12 [remember] that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Thirty-five hundred years ago, God already announced the plan to provide a lamb, require a standard, reveal the new life of resurrection and draw in a second group of people to carry His name that were not one nation – and He did it through a series of feasts.

God communicated through the offerings His desire to walk the daily road of life with His people. When a community recognizes the value of following appointed times with God – it secures deep values in the hearts of its people.

I heard a Pastor make an observation not long ago. He said: “One of the surprising things about the Bible is that it never says that Jesus rushed anywhere. He was busy, but He found time to pray and accomplished discipleship training and WORLD REDEMPTION in three short years. While doing that, he played with children and guiltlessly took an occasional nap during boat rides. He went to weddings and even stuck around at the reception. The Bible doesn’t say, “If you hurry, you can catch up with God.” It says, “Cease striving and know that I am God.” (Psalms 46:10) Jesus’ promise was “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). Time isn’t supposed to be an enemy – just a chance to steward life.”

Living Hope: “Four Keys to Unlock a Hopeful Outlook” – 2 Timothy 4:1-5

hope1Deep inside most of us, there is a desire to hope for better times. Anthropologists tell us that man advanced technologically, largely because he is by nature a hopeful being. It’s what drives people to part with money on the LOTTO – the hope that some alignment of the stars or happy fate of God above will bring riches unearned into their pockets. Hope is the song of optimism that God buried deep inside of man that allows him to endure tough times. Yet, for some, the weight of the world has powerfully pushed down their hope, and they admit to a struggle to get back to renewed hope. Even a well-made MOVIE can help us feel hopeful when we are down, can’t it? Isn’t is funny how we can watch a movie for two hours and be so deeply moved by the courage of the hero or heroine. Did you ever walk out of a movie and feel like you could take on the world, or aliens or zombies or animated Marvel comics characters? I am amazed at the power of the visual medium to awaken deep emotions within us. Did you ever watch a movie in your own living room, and after only an hour you were crying like a baby when a character that died that you only “met” an hour before? How powerful are the last words of a hero as he lay dying near the end of the movie! Some of those scenes stay with us for years in our mind and heart…

I mention that because one of the things I have always admired about the story of the end of the life of the Apostle Paul is that he ended well. Even as Paul was set aside under guard and then later in prison and nearing the end of his life, he knew how to lift, encourage and instruct. He did desire to become a relic, but rather he wanted his hand-chosen men to push the message forward in his place. He was thinking about the days ahead – even though he was not going to be a part of them. He wanted to pass the secrets that God had shown him in his years of serving Jesus. He wanted to unlock the hope trapped inside the younger Timothy. He wanted to encourage him – and his letter still does the same for us. It is true that in the background of the chapter, you can hear thunder. Paul foresaw rising troubles and persecution. He knew people were hurting, and it was going to get tough very quickly. With that in mind, he took his experiences of ministry and told Tim how to face the days ahead. He passed on the key concepts that worked well for him, as he wrote under the influence of God’s spirit.

Key Principle: Our daily choices make the difference in living out hope.

Paul knew that people who are effective for God are known for four things:

What They Know (2 Timothy 4:1): I belong to Him and I am accountable for this life!

What They Communicate (2 Timothy 4:2): The truth is found in His Word and I want to live it! I don’t want to run around and dabble from place to place looking for the “hottest truth”. I want to grow under systematic teaching and learn how to use God’s truth in my daily life!

What They Refuse (2 Timothy 4:3-4) I know my heart will resist truth when it causes discomfort. I refuse to let comfort rule me, and push me to use religion to justify my own wants and desires. I will settle down and stop looking for someone to scratch my ears.

What They Focus On (2 Timothy 4:5): I will stop avoiding the hard stuff, buckle down and work my gifts to His glory and accomplish God’s list for my life.

Let’s take a few minutes and break down each of these four traits that make a difference:

HopeWhat They Know (2 Timothy 4:1) – Paul made clear that he knew his real judge is Jesus (4:1).

2 Timothy 4:1 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom:

He charged Timothy (diamarturomai: diá, “thoroughly” and martýromai, “witness, testify”), using a formula that gave the sound of a courtroom testimony before the ultimate judge – God Himself. What does that mean? In short, the standard of judgment is the standard of the judge. He will mark and grade the lives of the living and the dead. He will bring judgment to believers at the Rapture, and to the nations at the Second Coming. When the Judge enters, the judgment follows.

Why begin the charge- before even making it – with a description of Jesus? Because every believer must be constantly drawn back to one simple truth – you and I work for Jesus. We seek His approval for our deeds.

As a Pastor, I know that one of the great traps of ministry is being led by public opinion. It can drive our preaching and teaching, and it can blunt our Biblical counsel. People who work in ministry are very often people pleasers at heart. Some have very “political” orientations – to make people at ease and comfortable. That isn’t a bad thing, unless it becomes a hindrance to telling the truth. If we recall that Jesus is the only one who actually can judge righteously what we are doing – we will be slower to do what pleases men and women – simply because of their approval. We will talk to Him more, and listen to Him more carefully. We will balance the impulse to make another happy against the insult to God when we make a lie into truth.

At the same time, as believers, we are not to TRY to offend people. Very often we will be able to help them and we are certain they will feel better when they surrender to the truth of Jesus and His Word. Yet, sometimes we will be an offense because HE is an offense. Try not to cause the offense – but don’t shrink when you know you have His holy nod to speak.

Here is the simple principle: I must know I am not MINE. If I believe I am in charge of my own destiny, and can run my own life apart, I am destined to fail God’s purpose for me… period.

What They Communicate (2 Timothy 4:2) – Paul called on Tim to communicate the truth of the Word (4:2-4).

4:2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.

The charge was straightforward to the young Pastor – what the world needed was a complete and careful exposure to God’s Word. Nothing else would suiffice. People need nothing more than God’s Word spoken clearly. New methods will rise and fade, gimmicks will dazzle and then flame out – by carefully delivered truths sustain people through all kinds of difficulty and trouble.

How can a believer represent God with boldness? In a word – KNOW the Word. Paul pressed Timothy to be prepared (yoo-kah’-ee-roce: or “in season” is “at an opportune time”) whether people appeared to be interested in knowing God’s Word or not.

The longer I walk this earth, the more I recognize that people do not always know what they need. The bottom line is this: God knows how things work. God shared them, but we are often so easily distracted we don’t really listen to what He said. The point is not how willing people appear to hear, but how ready you are to represent God’s Word in a compelling way. They can chose to reject it, but you dare not choose to withhold it, and you dare not be lazy about understanding it. If you say it, make sure it is because you took the time to consider it carefully. Flippant use of the sword can lead to permanent and terrible wounds. We need careful believers who know the difference between their convictions and God’s Word. You may believe it fervently, but that doesn’t mean God said it clearly. Too often I am finding believers who know what political affiliation God has, and which immigration plan He supports. We muddy the waters when we take our interpretations and make them the text itself. It is easy to do, and we all have to be careful about it.

We do know for sure the process of giving God’s Word to people includes some basic elements:

Reprove: (el-eng’-kho – to convince with solid, compelling evidence). CONVINCE.
Rebuke: (epitimáō- epí, “suitably on,” which intensifies timáō, “esteem, place value”) – properly, assign value as is fitting the situation, building on the situation to correct. CORRECT.
Exhort: parakaléō (from pará, “from close-beside” and kaléō, “to call”) – properly, “make a call” from being “close-up and personal.”; refers to believers offering up evidence that stands up in God’s court. Connect with God’s big plan and therewith offer COMFORT.

Paul also set the stage for later days, and made it clear: the hearer bears profound responsibility in opening their heart to the message of the Word. If people choose to go where the ear is “tickled” they get what they choose. Myths attract attention like the dessert table at the buffet line. Yet, it is meat and potatoes of the Word people will need to endure tough times. Positive thinking and powerful motivational speeches are simply no match to systematically teaching God’s Word. Don’t forget: At the center of the work is the Word – or it isn’t God’s prescribed way of doing things.

Paul didn’t want believers to hide their foundation (4:2):

Because Timothy’s function in the Body of Messiah was to be a teacher but every believer is called to model the truth before the world. The command to “preach the Word” includes the verb “kerudzon”: which is to ‘publicly cry out in order to persuade with’. At the same time, the power of the message is multiplied when believer’s lives model truth and a positive perspective to life – that will draw people to Jesus!

Paul offered a simple principle: If we lift him up properly, Jesus will draw men to Himself. If no one wants what we have, we might begin to ask the question, “Do I have a life that reflects who God really is?”

It is easy for us to become unbalanced and portray only “one facet” of God’s nature. We can become judgmental and share with everyone that they are “getting what they deserve”. Though that may be true, that doesn’t express the GRACE of the Lord. At the same time, we may share the love of God with others and never express a frank comment about their agreement with error that is sowing the seeds of their destruction. That isn’t God’s kind of love – that is sentimentalism that won’t help the person when tragedy strikes and they ask, “Did you see this coming?”

The Word of God includes instruction, correction and encouragement. It houses truth that cuts me, and truth that heals me. My life should reflect truth in all its facets – and not just one or two.

Go back and look again at Paul’s words to Timothy about SEASONS. When Paul said “be ready”, he used the term “ephistemi”, which means ‘to stand upon’. The idea was not simply to make sure he was prepared, but rather that he would TAKE HIS STAND on the Word. It is possible that even a man of God could make his stand on his own preferences and opinions. Never let the turning away from the truth by people affect your commitment to teaching it.

Paul warned that there would be “seasons” of the truth – times when some tantalizing tidbit would become the focus of the masses. Again the Apostle offered a simple principle: The bigger picture is NOT what is HOT today, but standing with the truth taught broadly and systematically delivered over the longer span that will train us to become what we need to be. Fads come and go. They aren’t wrong, but they aren’t necessary if people are learning the whole context of God’s truth. You can chase them, but the temptation will be to become imbalanced.

Don’t just know WHAT the tool is for but HOW to use it: 4:2b: “…reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.“

Paul knew that God’s people must communicate the Bible specifically, prophetically, expectantly, patiently and intelligently.

Haddon Robinson, Making A Difference in Preaching p. 93: “In a town many years ago that revolved around the lumber business, the town council decided that they to hire a new pastor for the town church. One day, the new pastor saw some of his church members dragging logs which had floated down the river from another village upstream. Each log was marked with the owner’s stamp on the end of the log, much like a cattle brand. But to his dismay, this pastor saw his church members sawing off the ends of the logs where the owners stamp appeared. That Sunday the pastor preached a sermon on the commandment, “Thou shalt not steal.” After the sermon people said, “Great sermon pastor” and “mighty fine preaching.” But the next week they were back to stealing logs. So the next Sunday the pastor preached the same sermon, but he ended the sermon by saying, “And thou shalt not cut off the end of thy neighbor’s logs.” When he finished that sermon they ran him out of town. Now I don’t know if that’s a true story or not, but it does illustrate the need to communicate the Bible specifically.”

Paul KNEW where to find truth – but not everyone we know today truly does! We must keep communicating the truth patiently. Paul told Tim to teach “with great patience.” Sometimes we can be tempted to give up on people when they don’t get it the first time. We can get irritated when people don’t respond to a biblical principle the first time they hear about it.

I must be personally careful because too often we in churches are strong in correcting and rebuking, but weak on patience, so we blast people with guilt. I don’t want to use the Bible as a club to push people away – and I want to lead them to GOD not GUILT. At the same time, I admit that I am flabbergasted at the way people flaunt sin and disregard truth, and in that shocked state I should remain quiet… but sometimes I don’t. While I am confessing, I should also admit that I love chocolate and desert – and rebelliously do not want to eat them in moderation.

Don’t forget that we need to communicate the Bible intelligently. We communicate the Bible intelligently when we not only show people what the Bible means and how it applies, but also why the Bible makes the claims that it does. Some people believe that thinking deeply is somehow unspiritual, forgetting that the Bible tells us to not only love God with all our hearts but also with all our minds.

I was shopping for illustrations for a teaching I had to do in the first message on Jehu killing off Ahab’s family in 2 Kings 9. I found only a few messages on the text I was getting ready to preach, but one particularly intrigued me. A Pastor was using the text of 2 Kings 9:20 that says: “The watchman reported, “He came even to them, and he did not return; and the driving is like the driving of Jehu the son of Nimshi, for he drives furiously.” He decided to preach on the evils of drunk driving from this text! He evidently thought this was appropriate, but didn’t take into consideration that the text had no drinking in it, and that Jehu was fulfilling a mission from God. By that method, I could prove that “furious driving” was actually an act of a godly man on a great mission – the very opposite of the truth he was preaching. Communicating bits and pieces of the Bible rather than communicating the whole Bible intelligently is devastating to our outreach across the country. We must be committed to communicating the whole Bible in its context and in its timeless truths!

What They Refuse (2 Timothy 4:3-4): Paul also knew believers needed to refuse lies in the coming defection (4:3-4)

Look again at 3 “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.

Robert Withrow in his book After Heaven – Spirituality in America Since the 1950’s offers some alarming statistics:

• 69% of the people in this country do not believe the Bible is God’s exact word
• Only 50% of Americans know that Genesis is the first book of the Bible
• Only 33% know that Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount

It is true: defection from truth is a reality in our day. We shouldn’t be surprised that error will become very popular – when Paul wrote the “time will come”. Note he didn’t say “might come”. God chooses His words very carefully.

Defection from truth can be Recognized: People “will not endure” is an interesting idea in the original language. After the negative “will not” is the word “anechomai”: to hold oneself up against, to forbear, suffer. “sound doctrine” the phrase that means “healthy instruction”. In other words, the time was coming when people would simply NOT HOLD THEMSELVES ACCOUNTABLE TO TEACHING THAT IS HEALTHY (“hugiaino”: healthy and wholesome, plus the word “didaskalia”: instruction or teaching).

Defection from truth has a Reason: Note what happens next. First, people reject the hearing of the truth. Next, they seek out someone who will tell them a LIE that matches their inner desires to do the things that God has said wilol hurt them and violate His holy plan (epithumia: longing or burning to do that which God has forbidden).

George Barna writes, “To the average American, truth is relative to one’s values and circumstances. Only one out of every four adults- and even fewer teenagers- believe that there is such a thing as absolute moral truth.” Barna suggests that this disregard for truth “may be the single most intense threat to the health of the United States and its people.” Barna goes on give the implications of a disregard for the truth: “Without absolute moral truth, there can be no right and wrong. Without right and wrong, there is no such thing as sin. Without sin, there can be no such thing as judgment and no such thing as condemnation. If there is no condemnation, there is no need for a Savior.”

Why tell us these things? God wanted to EXPLAIN the events so that His Word contained a prophetic record. He didn’t leave us in the dark wondering, “Am I following a myth if many or most go the other way?” He told us to SECURE OUR HEARTS in a time when that defection seems huge and rampant. Don’t worry! He knew it would come!

What They Focus On (2 Timothy 4:5): Paul wanted Tim to face the world and do the work (4:5a).

2 Timothy 2:5 “But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship…”

Sometimes walking with God is difficult because God’s people aren’t vigilant: “be sober” (nēphe: means un-intoxicated”; having clear judgment, enabling someone to be self-controlled) in all things… If we let down our guard about controls, we open the flesh to wander, the world to entice and the devil to drive hooks of guilt into our hearts. Control frees me to serve Christ with my heart! The issue can be simple LAZINESS, but the nature of discipline is that it is harder to maintain when inconsistent. Consistency is the refuge of the disciplined. When the military trains you, they do so by drilling consistency. Do it until you don’t have to decide to do it.

What if my daily reading of God’s Word was drilled to the point that I just opened the book before I was even half conscious in the morning?

There are two issues about our FOCUS in the verse that needs to be explored. First, we will be tempted to let frustration cause us to drop our guard – and that will be costly.

Let me put this in Tim’s world – that of a Pastor – because I know about that world.

The reality of ministry is this: people will often judge Pastoral performance based on the response of others – even though we don’t control their response. If I preach and ten people get saved, people go away believing that I am doing a better job – when I may have been clearer on another Sunday – but God had a work He wanted to perform today in others through me. My preparation may not have been better, and my delivery may not have been sharper. That is why we must keep our focus on one thing: We are to do what we do the best we can – for the honor of the King. At the same time, the King will use our work as He sees fit. In fact, He may choose to use someone else when we are, in fact, doing a better job – if we use the standards of the Word. By the same token, we may get the fruit of someone else’s hard labors.

Our job is faithfulness – His job is the results. Charles Stanley said it this way: “God is responsible for the results of our obedience, but we are responsible for the results of our disobedience.” Many believers report a temptation to take frustrations and bury them inside. In moments when we want release from those frustrations, we will be tempted to let down the standard of controls and drop our guard. The enemy, like a boxer, waits for the moment he can land his punch. We need to be diligent and vigilant.

A second word about our focus: We will need to recognize that working with people has always included, and will always include real pain. In the case of ministry, Paul used the term translated “ENDURE HARDSHIP” is the compound Greek word “kakopathéō” (from kakós, “of evil or malicious disposition” and páthos, “pain or feeling”) – properly, experiencing painful hardship or suffering.

Some things will seem like a “setback” in your life and ministry – but they really aren’t. You can’t always tell today what God is doing – ministry works like pickling. Brine does its work over time. Don’t judge successes or failures too quickly. You cannot opt out of pain if you want to be useful to God in ministry. At the same time, learning to endure is vital to your effectiveness. Don’t be too quick to need affirmation in people – nor in circumstances. You and I weren’t called to fix things – just represent properly the One who can.

Facing the world meant Tim’s job wasn’t just inside four walls (4:5b)

2 Timothy 2:5b “…do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

Paul told Timothy that the work INCLUDED outreach. He was to personally do the actions (ergon) of an evangelist (one who offers a convincing presentation of the truth of the Gospel). Why did he need to tell him this? Because some go into ministry with an inordinate need to be loved by people. They mean well, but they lead by consensus. In a time of rising persecution – it is natural to stand back and allow outreach to grow quieter. Holy boldness must be prayed for, exercised and developed. It takes practice, work and persistence.

The Gospel must be shared. We dare not leave the work for others!

There was a Roman aqueduct at Segovia, Spain, built in 109 CE. For eighteen hundred years, it carried cool water from the mountains to the hot and thirsty city. Nearly sixty generations of men drank from its flow. Then came another generation, a recent one, who said, “This aqueduct is so great a marvel that it ought to be preserved for our children, as a museum piece. We shall relieve it of its centuries-long labor.” They did; they laid modern iron pipes. They gave the ancient bricks and mortar a reverent rest. And the aqueduct began to fall apart. The sun beating on the dry mortar caused it to crumble. The bricks and stone sagged and threatened to fall. What ages of service could not destroy idleness disintegrated. Resource, Sept./ Oct., 1992, p. 4.

Let me encourage you: Carefully plot a direction forward to the goal of serving Jesus with your life. Paul said it in 4:5 “But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

Fulfill your ministry: Paul told Tim to stick to the GOAL God had placed in front of him (“plerophoreo” is entirely accomplish your “diakonia” or area of service). Tim wanted to CHANGE to something that would feel new and different than the work he had. We all get “antsy” sometimes to move on, because the work of dealing with people is at times arduous. Commitment over the long haul yields the best results. “Short term yardage keeps you in the game, but wastes a lot of time on the clock.”

In 1968, Tanzania chose John Stephen Akhwari to represent them in the Mexico City Olympics. Along the way as he ran, he stumbled and fell, severely injuring both his knee and ankle. It was 7 PM and a runner from Ethiopia had won the race. Everyone else had finished and there were only a few thousand spectators left in the huge arena. All of a sudden a police siren caught every-one’s attention. Limping through the gate came 36 year old Akhwari with his leg wrapped in a bloody bandage. The people cheered. A reporter at the gate asked him the question that was on everyone’s mind: “Why continue the race after being so badly injured?” He replied, “My country did not send me 7000 miles to begin a race; they sent me to finish a race.”

Paul knew that people who are effective for God are known for four things:

What They Know (2 Timothy 4:1): Do you KNOW you will be accountable for this life to your Master?

What They Communicate (2 Timothy 4:2): Do you learn and live the Word of God? Rather than dabbling from issue to issue and place to place looking for the “hottest truth” – are you involved in systematic study to learn how to use God’s truth in daily life?

What They Refuse (2 Timothy 4:3-4) Will we refuse to let comfort rule us and push to understand truth even when it convicts my life?

What They Focus On (2 Timothy 4:5): Will I stop avoiding the hard stuff, buckle down and work my gifts to His glory and accomplish God’s list for my life?

If I will step up, learn and follow God’s Word – I will refuse to be distracted, and my ardent focus will show itself in powerful HOPE. Why?

Because the truth is: Our daily choices make the difference in living out hope.

Living Hope: "The Sketch Artist at Work" – 2 Timothy 3:10-17

sketch artist 2

I recently read about the work of the cosmetic and soap maker “Dove” and their interesting work with women. It seems from reports that the Unilever Corporation that makes Dove products hired FBI-trained forensics artist Gil Zamora to participate in an interesting experiment concerning women and their self-image. This isn’t the only foray they have made into this realm, but it caught my attention because of how consistent the results were in the small (almost anecdotal) test pool. The company asked a number of women who were picked by an accepted random process to come into a studio and sit facing away from Zamora, who drew the women solely on the basis of the self-descriptions of each woman. Next, Zamora drew the woman again, is time on the basis of the description of a stranger who was sitting and looking at the woman while describing her. The results were surprising, and they seemed to be consistent over a number of test subjects. The result were quite surprising to me – because the sketches of the women based on self-description were without question less attractive than the ones made by a stranger’s description. The study is too small to be conclusive, but certainly implied that many women don’t see clearly their own physical beauty. Clearly the mirror of our own mind is NOT ENOUGH to cast a right picture of who we are – we need something else…

Key Principle: The Scriptures will help us to see ourselves as we are – both for good and for bad.

I love the words of the Apostle James, who reminded us long ago the Scriptures are God’s Word, and they offer a reliable picture of us.

James 1:22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.

This passage offers us a clear idea of what the Bible can do for us, and what will result from pushing it out of our lives and refusing to do what it teaches. Listen again closely to James’s claim about the Word:

  • It is meant to be lived, not just studied – so he sought to make his readers DOERS of the Word (1:22).
  • Encountering the Word is like encountering a mirror and seeing a reflection that requires corrective actions (1:23-24).
  • The Word is intended to be carefully observed (1:25a), as the word “intently” portrays.
  • It offers a flawless reflection of us, not marred by our fallen state or our bias toward self-interest (1:25b), as the word “perfect” implies. The Word offers a true picture, or it is worthless as a life guide. Living with a flawed Bible is like following a map drawn by a blind man, it won’t offer reliable guidance.
  • The Word was intended to set people FREE, not leave them in a state of condemnation (which is where they began before God revealed how to solve the issue). That is the point of calling it the Law of Liberty (1:25b). Making up our own moral tenets doesn’t make us free, following God’s Word does. When a society engages it principles with care, it thrives. When it replaces those for principles of their own choosing, it deteriorates. The Bible makes the bold claim that doing the opposite of its teaching is hazardous to individuals, families and society. Further, it makes the internal claim that following it frees people to become what God intended them to be when people “abide by it” (1:25b). The place of blessing is in the stream of obedience, not in the scorching sand of self-direction.

For a few minutes I want to look back into Paul’s letter to Timothy, and I want us to mentally make our own sketch of Paul. I want us to take his words and sketch out his face, his life and his ministry. As we do, one thing will become clear: walking in God’s Word, and living out its truth gave Paul a very clear view of himself. His self-image was not unduly enriched, nor needlessly defeated – his self-evaluation was a great picture of a man fulfilled, and self-aware, but also satisfied with his life rooted in obedience. Don’t forget, this was a man at the end of his life, and now imprisoned for the duration until the ax fell. Here is the text:

2 Timothy 3:10 “Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, 11 persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me! 12 Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 13 But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

Let’s take the remainder of our lesson and sketch Paul based on his words. I picked out ten traits, you may identify more. We aren’t misusing his words, since Paul made clear to Timothy that he WANTED HIM to look back at Paul’s life and take away the picture as a personal encouragement pattern.

“The Ten Traits of Paul”

Paul was not only a mentor to Timothy, he was a pattern moved by God and recorded by Scripture. If we look at what he presented of his own life to Tim, Paul claimed he was:

Anchored:

(“You followed my teaching”). Paul lived his life fixed to a body of truth that he taught both at moments of great reception before crowds of admirers and when the mob was angry and the rocks were flying. He simply related to Tim, “You know my teaching”. The term was “didaskalia” – a word that refers to his “doctrine” or his “set of unwavering beliefs”. Paul believed unapologetically that Jesus was God in human skin – and it didn’t matter what public opinion said about that. He wasn’t the only one who stood up to the world with this teaching. One writer reminds:

If Jesus is something less than God, he has no right and no power to forgive our sins. If Jesus can’t forgive our sins, we have no hope. Yes, the doctrine of the deity of Christ is worth contending for. And there is nobody God used more to contend for this biblical truth than Athanasius. Athanasius was born in the year 298 CE in Egypt. In his early twenties he was a deacon in the church in Alexandria (North Africa). During that time, the doctrine of the deity of Christ came under attack by a highly influential pastor named Arius. Arius taught that Jesus was a created being, that he had a beginning, and there was a time when Jesus was not. Therefore, according to Arius, Jesus is the son of God, but not God the son. His heresy was later known as the Arian heresy (named after Arius). It sparked a flame throughout the empire, that would dominate the church for 60 years. It was a 20 year old young man by the name of Athanasius, 40 years younger than Arius, that God would use to contend for the doctrine of the deity of Christ. Athanasius would endure decades of persecution, banished from the church, sent into exile five times, framed for murder, threatened with death, slandered by emperors and bishops, all for standing firm to the doctrine of the deity of Christ. In the end he prevailed, truth was preserved, and the church has stood on his shoulders ever since. (From a sermon by Mark Connelly, The Deity of Christ, 8/24/2011)

Paul lived a life TIED to the truth. He didn’t shift because those around him thought him to be ill-informed or obtuse about reality. He met Jesus, followed Jesus, preached Jesus and lived Jesus. For him “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” He knew how to draw hope from the truth of his message, no matter the circumstance. He faced death with confidence, and we can too! In fact, at death I’d rather be a “fumbling follower of Jesus” from a “flawed church” than an intelligent atheist with self-satisfied friends. Since my Savior has risen, my future is bright and personal, not an oblivion only abated by the memories of temporary earthly companions.

Get anchored in the truth, and you will be able to make a difference. You will become a fixture in the midst of the drifting lives around you.

Consistent:

(“You followed my conduct”). When Paul spoke of his “conduct” he used the term “agoge” – a word that means “carrying” or “guiding”. The idea behind the word was that Paul was acting out in life consistently with his teaching, and people could see that as a further life illustration of his teachings. Paul knew that he was being watched, and so are you and I. We need to be conscious of how we act, both from the standpoint of DOING RIGHT and the APPEARANCE of doing right. We cannot assume that people will understand when we act out of character with our commitment to Jesus.

In Washington D.C. there is a building called the “National Institute of Standards & Technology.” This facility is responsible for storing perfect samples of weights and measurements. They have what are called “prototypes” of pound weights and kilograms. Measuring rods for feet, yards & metric measurements like meters. For example, they have a “Meter Standard” a reinforced bar of platinum alloyed with exactly 10% iridium. When they want to know the exact measurement of a “meter” they cool this bar down to 0 degrees Celsius at a sea level of 45 degrees latitude then they know they will have the exact tip to tip measurement of a meter. That bar is known as “prototype #27, because the original is kept in a suburb of Paris at the International Bureau of Weights & Measures.

The value of the prototype is found in its consistency – just like the value of a testimony. It takes YEARS to build a consistent testimony of walking in the truth – but it has tremendous benefits. I have two friends that both think they are responsible people. One is an excellent time manager, and does his best at everything he puts a hand toward – while the other is frequently lax in his follow through on tasks. When each walks in late to a meeting, they get very different reactions from their colleagues. It is generally assumed the first one was tied up in something very important when he is tardy, while the second one is usually thought of as not having taken the meeting seriously enough. How people think of us in a specific situation is directly linked to our perception of them from their constructed testimony.

Displayed:

(“You followed my purpose”). Paul knew his life was in a “fish bowl” with enemies a-plenty watching for any failure or flaw. He said that Timothy knew his “purpose”, but that word doesn’t covey the whole richness of his chosen term “prothesis” – word not be confused with the word for artificial limbs. This term is a compound word from before “pro” and display or “thesis”. A thesis paper as we use the term today is a display of one’s academic acumen which is created to be scrutinized by scholars. Paul knew he was living on display as a show of God’s handiwork in a life interrupted by the Savior. The term “prothesis” was sometimes used of the “shewbread” in the Tabernacle, as that was also a display of God’s provision.

Don’t forget that Jesus doesn’t want to be “resident” in you – He wants to be “president” in you – in charge. He doesn’t want to “occupy a place” in your thinking – He wants your thinking to be rooted in His presence, and His principles.

A story is told that at the beginning of a new year, a high school principal decided to post his teachers’ new year’s resolutions on the bulletin board. As the teachers gathered around the bulletin board, a great commotion started. One of the teachers was complaining. “Why weren’t my resolutions posted?” She was throwing such a temper tantrum that the principal hurried to his office to see if he had overlooked her resolutions. Sure enough, he had mislaid them on his desk. As he read her resolutions he was astounded. This teacher’s first resolution was not to let little things upset her in the New Year.

Some people seem to care more IF they are ON DISPLAY, then they seem to care about WHAT they display when people are watching! We need to be careful to display Jesus and His goodness to us. A smile goes a long way! Paul displayed his faith by working, caring, sharing and teaching. You and I each have a unique combination of gifts that God has entitled us to use to serve HIM and show the world what He is like!

Clear:

(“You know my faith”). Paul’s life was a clear reflection of his “faith”. He referred to the rich term “pistis” which arrives with it many practical out workings. For our purposes, we have learned the terms “Biblical world view” – specifically that faith is looking at the world through the glasses of God’s Word. Paul had a clear view of what was happening around Him because Paul trusted the truths of God’s Word, and leaned heavily on his relationship with a God who does not change in His purposes. There is a wondrous clarity that comes with seeing the world through the principles to God’s Word. It is important that we SEE life Biblically, but it is also essential that we CHOOSE life Biblically.

Billy Graham once said, “The strongest principle of life and blessings lies in our choice. Our life is the sum result of all the choices we make, both consciously and unconsciously. If we can control the process of choosing, we can take control of all aspects of our life. We can find the freedom that comes from being in charge of our life. So start with what is right rather than what is acceptable.” On another occasion, he was quoted as saying: “If you don’t make a decision, time will make it for you, and time will always side against you.”

Let me ask you directly: “How strong is your faith?” If you are actively seeking to know God through His Word, and are meditating on that word – bouncing it around in your mind in every direction – you are growing in understanding. The Spirit of God will use the Word of God to grow your understanding and transform your mind.

Tolerant:

(“You know my patience”). I wonder how many of us could make such a claim to a traveling companion who knew us well for many years. I wonder if I could make the claim to patience if I was locked up and awaiting execution. … Paul said that he had a “long fuse”. He chose a term translated “patient” that is much more picturesque in its original form – “makrothumia”. The Greek word simply means, “long-fused” or able to withstand heat for a long time. Paul was not “tolerant” in the modern sense of the term, where no one is allowed to disagree with another or in any way challenge the assertions of another – but in a Biblical term of tolerance. The idea of the term was more that Paul could control and measure his responses, even when attempts at provocation were clear.

How did he manage to keep his cool in the face of attacks. First, he didn’t “weigh in” on too many issues. In fact, his commentary was ultra-thin on government policy and Emperor critique, and very directive on church polity and Christian behavior. Second, he kept a watchful eye on his “peace quotient”. Do you? Let’s suppose that reading articles on Facebook about the government gets you really upset, do you limit yourself from doing much of it? I am amazed at how many people KNOW what gets them aggravated, but cannot seem to limit their involvement with the source.

Stop and think about it for a moment. Perhaps the NSA collected every cell phone call you ever made. While you didn’t know about it, you kept living life. Now you know they did. Maybe you are enraged about the idea – but are you better off because you read article upon article about the program? Is your life enhanced for the hours of unhappiness that you live grousing about it? I am not suggesting you shouldn’t be informed, and that in a republic you should not weigh in at the ballot box. What I am suggesting is that we spend much more time deliberately deflating peace by feeding on fear and worry. We can vote and we can pray – but the world is not changed by whining and grousing – and I suspect that many of us have given far too much time to that! Are you watching your “peace quotient”?

Caring:

(“You know my love”). Paul offered many words to people that out of the context of the relationships can be framed as “harsh sounding”, but that wouldn’t be contextually fair. He warned believers, but he LOVED them as well. He spent time in the homes of people, walked on the roads with his companions in ministry, and they felt more from him than just being measured. He said to Tim, you know my “love” that was obvious as we traveled together. Paul employed the word for Divine love, initiating love, active love – the term “agapao”. Our handy definition of the term is: “acting deliberately to meet a need, because there is a need, expecting nothing in return. Paul did it regularly and openly, and Tim observed it.

Strong:

(“You know my perseverance”). The Apostle told his student: “You have seen me persevere!” The word “hupomeno” is the Greek for “the ability to remain under” and denotes one who has been strengthened to endure great weight placed up on him. Paul knew what it meant to have pressure on him. He felt the pressure of the sheer number of lost people in his life that he longed would receive Christ as Savior. He felt the pressure of those who were wavering because of persecution, and wanted them to look past the physical into the spiritual world beyond, and remain faithful to the calling of the Savior. He felt a strain when two believers were at odds, or a church was faltering. I am certain that he felt as I have so many times, going to bed exhausted, and then laying awake thinking of those you did NOT visit, and notes you did NOT write. He was tender at heart, but he had a very strong back! That strength made him resilient.

Resistant:

(“You know my sufferings”). Throughout his ministry, Paul was being hunted by those who could wound him emotionally and physically, and he had to learn to be both sensitive to the Spirit’s leading, and content when the Lord did not allow him to wiggle out of the grasp of wicked men (4:11). The term “suffering” is the term for “being put to flight amid chasing” and in some way refers to the way Paul had to stay “one step ahead” of those trying to hurt him. Clearly Paul suffered.

2 Corinthians 11 offers a little window into some of the tensions he faced: [I was often in] “more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty- nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.”

He wasn’t whining, he was answering some bold and arrogant men who questioned his sincerity, and he unloaded the truck with things that showed he was no “light weight” in ministry. Paul was the real deal, and he wanted the men who opposed him to set their resumes side by side with his. He did it because he had built up resistance in midst of suffering the attack.

Emotional:

(“You know my persecutions”). Paul knew what it was to face persecution, and the term he used for it in verse 11 was laden with emotional negatives. Despite the frequent claims by modern preachers that God’s plan is to give us ease, wealth and comfort, God’s message through Paul was that God has always been more concerned with holiness than health. The Apostle even made the direct claim, in contradistinction to modern televangelists that Godly people ought to expect trouble (4:12). “Pathema” is painful troubles that overtake someone. They are hard things that “befall” one’s life, and must be faced. Paul’s status with God didn’t exempt him from the pain, it was the biggest reason for it!

Delivered:

(“The Lord rescued me!”). Paul passed through the struggle, but he felt the strong arm of the Lord lift him up when he was engulfed in troubles and unable to extricate himself. He accepted that God knew how to deliver him at any time, and that if he was not delivered, it was because aged did not so plan it. From the hand of a man who removed the scales from his eyes, to a basket in Damascus, Paul knew what a rescue of Jesus felt like!

How did Paul gain such a stature? He walked with God. He shared his life with the Spirit of God. He leaned on the Word of God.

The Scriptures will help us to see ourselves as we are – both for good and for bad.

Why is this absolutely essential? The simplest answer is because the fallen world system is carefully constructing a moral and ethical system in opposition to God and His Word. It is being carefully engineered in laboratories, university campuses and government think tanks. Hollywood and Washington will chime in together to push the agenda. The world powers will reward the US for every single departure from the Biblical past, as we rush headlong into European and Eastern arms.

A seminary professor was vacationing with his wife in Gatlinburg, TN. One morning, they were eating breakfast at a little restaurant, hoping to enjoy a quiet, family meal. While they were waiting for their food, they noticed a distinguished looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, visiting with the guests. The professor leaned over and whispered to his wife, “I hope he doesn’t come over here.” But sure enough, the man did come over to their table. “Where are you folks from?” he asked in a friendly voice. “Oklahoma,” they answered. “Great to have you here in Tennessee,” the stranger said. “What do you do for a living?” “I teach at a seminary,” he replied. “Oh, so you teach preachers how to preach, do you? Well, I’ve got a really great story for you.” And with that, the gentleman pulled up a chair and sat down at the table with the couple. The professor groaned and thought to himself, “Great … Just what I need … another preacher story!” The man started, “See that mountain over there? (pointing out the restaurant window). Not far from the base of that mountain, there was a boy born to an unwed mother. He had a hard time growing up, because every place he went, he was always asked the same question, ’Hey boy, Who’s your daddy?’ Whether he was at school, in the grocery store or drug store, people would ask the same question, ’Who’s your daddy?’ He would hide at recess and lunchtime from other students. He would avoid going in to stores because that question hurt him so bad. “When he was about 12 years old, a new preacher came to his church. He would always go in late and slip out early to avoid hearing the question, ’Who’s your daddy?’ But one day, the new preacher said the benediction so fast he got caught and had to walk out with the crowd. Just about the time he got to the back door, the new preacher, not knowing anything about him, put his hand on his shoulder and asked him, Son, who’s your daddy? The whole church got deathly quiet. He could feel every eye in the church looking at him. Now everyone would finally know the answer to the question, ’Who’s your daddy?’ “This new preacher, though, sensed the situation around him and using discernment that only the Holy Spirit could give, said the following to that scared little boy … “Wait a minute! I know who you are. I see the family resemblance now. You are a child of God. ” With that he patted the boy on his shoulder and said, “Boy, you’ve got a great inheritance. Go and claim it.” “With that, the boy smiled for the first time in a long time and walked out the door a changed person. He was never the same again. Whenever anybody asked him, ’Who’s your Daddy?’ he’d just tell them, ’I’m a Child of God.’” The distinguished gentleman got up from the table and said, “Isn’t that a great story?” The professor responded that it really was a great story! As the man turned to leave, he said, “You know, if that new preacher hadn’t told me that I was one of God’s children, I probably never would have amounted to anything!” And he walked away. The seminary professor and his wife were stunned. He called the waitress over & asked her, “Do you know who that man was who just left that was sitting at our table?” The waitress grinned and said, “Of course. Everybody here knows him. That’s Ben Hooper. He’s the former governor of Tennessee!” -From Bob Soullier courtesy of sermon central illustrations.

Without the Word of God and its clear admonitions, believers would walk in the dark on the path of their own lives, and could offer no relief to the hurting that fall in the brutal struggle about us.

One other thing, we would not know ourselves. Our knowledge of self is also tied to the Word. We would confuse “goodness” with “righteousness” and give ourselves a pass from the Cross in favor of our own standard of works. Who could argue that we weren’t nice people that did good things?

The Word tells the truth about the brokenness and sinfulness of men. It makes clear the need for a Savior. It highlights the way God can turn a life into someone beautiful. It defines truth, so the noise of the world can be filtered.

Strength for the Journey: “On Time with God” – Numbers 28:1-15

ArrivalsSitting at an airport terminal, you will see on the board the words “delayed” and “on time”. Depending on what is on the arrival board, you will see reactions by the people reading it. Delays are followed by disgust, while “on time” arrivals bring a smile. We all love saving time, and not sitting around at a busy airport!

I want to ask a very important question that affects all of us, but it may seem to some of you so nerdy that it sounds a bit weird: What is time? We speak of it like it is a commodity, something we can “waste”, something we can “save” or something we can “spend”. We claim that “time is money” as a recognition of its value, with an intense awareness of the limited time a human life spans. We believe that “time works against us” in delay, and that “time heals wounds” in troubled moments. Yet, time isn’t a physical thing, and our expressions don’t seem to do it justice. Whether or not time itself is even “felt” as a sensation or experience has never been truly settled by philosophers and scientists. In its most basic definition, time is a sequence, a “dimension in which events can be ordered from the past through the present into the future.” Someone has said: “Time is what keeps everything from happening at once”. Currently, the international unit of time, the second, is defined in terms of radiation emitted by caesium atoms.

For many of us, it is hooked to the Creation account in Genesis 1:14 and belongs to this universe, but not the metaphysical “angelic” or “Heavenly” realm. In our understanding, it was a device created. Further, the Bible seems clear that God is unaffected by time, and that He is greater than it, suggesting it was a created sequence not inherent in His nature. If our understanding is correct – in eternity I won’t need a watch, because time will lose any significance.

Today there are two prime contrasting philosophical viewpoints on time that you may have encountered in your education.

• One view, named after a brilliant Christian man of science, Sir Isaac Newton, is called “Newtonian time”. This view is that “time is part of the fundamental structure of the universe — a dimension independent of events, in which events occur in sequence”. Newton espoused the view, and many of us bought into it. It views time as a container through which things pass.

• Other philosophers believe time is part of a fundamental intellectual structure (cited together with space and number) within which humans sequence and compare events. It is, essentially, something made up by finite beings to incrementally measure meaning and experience. Philosophers like Immanuel Kant believed it was neither an event nor a thing, and by itself could not be intrinsically measurable nor “travelled”.

In the groups of sciences, time is one of the fundamental physical quantities we measure including things like special qualities (i.e. length, width, height), mass, temperature, velocity, and so forth. Modern scientists are continually asking the philosophical questions about the relationship between space and time, and have many wondered if there is a single continuum called “spacetime”.

This lesson looks at how an infinite God deals with man in time. It makes clear that while we are subject to time, God wants to be included in our every pursuit.

Key Principle: God communicated through the offerings His desire to walk the daily road of life with His people.

The Hebrew Scriptures specifically instructed the observance of seven holidays called “Ha Moedim” (the appointments) and one monthly special remembrance called “Ha Rosh Ha Chodesh”, and a special weekly observance called the “Sabbath” (or “Shabbat”). These special “appointments with God”, unlike other holidays of society, were directly mandated by God for the people of Israel. Remember: though the Law was not something we as Christians from the nations are called to observe, its principles (given to our older brother Israel), still clearly help us understand our Father’s cares and desires. It is these principles that should drive our study of the Word in the Torah.

It is easy for us to forget that after ten generations as Egyptian slaves, the ancient Israelites had lost much of their spiritual heritage in bondage, and the Law had as part of its purpose – the restoration of that identity and the forging of the nation in the Sinai wilderness. Hot off the desert sands from their trek out of Egypt, the ancient Hebrews had seen God move miraculously and decisively to set them free from their bondage. They had seen God defeat their foe. They watched in wonder as the mighty arm of the Lord worked in power through their once exiled shepherd prince. Moses, by now in the story, was late in years and yet mighty in faith. He began his own vital and thriving relationship with the God of his fathers some years before, after a “burning bush” encounter in the Midianite desert. Now Moses had thousands of refugee Israelites following him and trusting that his relationship with the God of Abraham would yield their freedom and safety.

To Sinai they went, this rabble of ex-slaves following their shepherd prince. They arrived three months into their rugged journey (Ex. 19:1), pitched their tents beneath the shadow of the mountain that would change their future forever. They arrived uncertain of their fortune, uncertain of their God’s purpose. Only a handful had any real understanding of the God of Abraham. Even their leader had to ask God’s name at the “burning bush”. There, God made clear the standards, values and ethics of this unique nation that was made to show Who He is to the world. He revealed His unique relationship with them. He was making of them a nation to display Himself. He wanted them to go home, but He wanted to go home with them.

Though we are not the same people, we have the same God Who has called us for the same purpose – to go with us in life’s journey and show Himself to others through us.

Step back and see the forest

Before we move forward in understanding the verses of Numbers 28:1-15, we need to look at the larger picture of what we dealing with, because we are “dropping into the middle” of a play already ongoing. Some words of explanation are in order. There are three important concepts to recall when we look at this portion of the Law of Moses:

• First, there are three kinds of Law in the Torah, not one. There is Civil Code (how to get along on the camping trip) given in Exodus and Numbers. There is Constitutional Code (how to set up a nation and what makes a Jew a Jew) in the book of Deuteronomy (which means “second law”). There is Criminal Code found in Leviticus (“you are broken inside, here is how to deal with it”). The third code was temporary and replaced by a singular sacrifice of Messiah – the others are still in effect for those to whom they were given. Jews are still defined by Constitutional Code, and our they are to measure civility within God’s definition. Non-Jewish followers of Jesus today are called to recognize the principles behind the Law, as Jesus showed in Matthew 5-7 – a “principle approach” to the commands.

• Second, the Civil Code of Law is contained in a record of ten chapters in Exodus and Numbers (4 in Exodus: 20-23; and 6 in Numbers: 5, 6, 15 and 28-30).

• Third, the passage we are dealing with is the end of that Civil Code found in Numbers 28 and 29. The final subjects deal with Offerings (the issue of the calendar of offerings and the specific number of animals to be offered) and in Numbers 30 deals with Vows. The Civil Code closes with notes on how God wanted to be included in the time schedule of His people, and how He wanted them to gauge HONESTY and INTEGRITY in relation to vows and promises.

Move in close to observe Numbers 28:1-15

In the next two lessons we will look at how God wanted His people to include Him in every step of their daily lives – all represented in Laws regarding observance of the Calendar. This time we will emphasize the “regular calendar journey”, and next time the “Holy day journey” through the year.

We want to highlight the point of the lesson: God communicated through the offerings His desire to walk the daily road of life with His people.

God wanted the children of Israel to know more of Him than rules, laws, and Divine standards. The Torah was so much more. It was the expression of God’s heart. It was the expression of Who God is. It was the “spiritual training camp manual” for the wilderness journey. It was the guidebook for the ancient Kingdom of Israel. It was the outline of the key life principles that God desired His people to understand.

Start with the Command of God – Do what I told you according to My schedule:

Numbers 28:1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Command the sons of Israel and say to them: ‘You shall be careful to present My offering, My food for My offerings by fire, of a soothing aroma to Me, at their appointed time.’

Let me begin with a simple principle – God must have preeminence in our TIME. Our lives are not designed to have long walks alone and short “camp times” with God.

Let me explain. When I was a young believer, I did not know how to include God in my daily thinking. Before my walk with God began, I didn’t pray, I didn’t read His Word, and I didn’t think I really wanted to do any of that. When I came to Christ, a new life began. I cared about different things. I stopped caring about things that no longer held my attention because they didn’t honor God. I didn’t mean for that to happen – it just did. As time passed, I learned the hard way the difference between “knowing Jesus as my Savior” and “being a Christian” – or follower of Jesus. The early stages of my walk had Jesus in my heart, for sure, but He wasn’t in my DAY or in my CHOICES. Jesus was the object of my worship, when I went to church. He was the God that spoke into my life at CAMP on those occasions when I would be invited to learn more of Him in a concentrated way. Yet, my walk with God looked more like occasional meetings than daily following – and it may be that way for some who are listening to this lesson right now.

Here is the truth: God doesn’t want and occasional spiritual rendezvous of “fling”. He was a daily and intimate relationship. The problem is I had no idea how to make that happen. Enter the truth of Numbers 28. God spelled LOVE from me this way: T-I-M-E. He wanted to be IN my daily life, not a weekend daddy.

Look at what He told Moses to pass to the people in verses one and two: BE CAREFUL to present the foodstuffs of the offerings ON THE TIME SCHEDULE I gave you.

Don’t miss the point. God wasn’t just talking about the fire and the offering. He was telling His people to make sure they were constantly working to be ready for each offering at the appointed time. You cannot offer a one year old spotless lamb if you aren’t raising lambs and keeping track of their age, as well as checking their condition carefully. You cannot offer a burnt offering without the proper collection of wood – and in desert areas that took extra time and energy. Preparation needed to be INTENTIONAL and CONTINUAL.

There is no more direct way I can say this: You and I have as much of God as we choose to have. We have as strong a relationship with Him as we CHOOSE to have. Starve out a relationship by offering it no time or energy and it will languish. God is not trying to be distant from us because He is too busy to hear us; we neglect to recognize our utter need for Him daily, and don’t intentionally put time and effort into growing in our walk. What weakens us is our distraction rooted in our misplaced belief that we can successfully navigate life without Him.

If we were honest, we would admit that most of us are addicted to entertainment, and are constantly distracted by it. We read much that adds little to our understanding, but reinforces our biases. We have been negligent in the feeding of our souls on truly good food, and feeding our Spirit on frequent times of refreshing in and with the Lord.

Daily Oleh, Minchah and Nesek:

Moses relayed God’s desire for three offerings that were to be a daily part of Israel’s journey and settlement in the new land.

28:3 “You shall say to them, ‘This is the offering by fire which you shall offer to the LORD: two male lambs one year old without defect [as] a continual burnt offering every day. 4 You shall offer the one lamb in the morning and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight; 5 also a tenth of an ephah of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with a fourth of a hin of beaten oil. 6 It is a continual burnt offering which was ordained in Mount Sinai as a soothing aroma, an offering by fire to the LORD. 7 Then the drink offering with it [shall be] a fourth of a hin for each lamb, in the holy place you shall pour out a drink offering of strong drink (shay-kawr’: Intensely alcoholic liquor) to the LORD. 8 The other lamb you shall offer at twilight; as the grain offering of the morning and as its drink offering, you shall offer it, an offering by fire, a soothing aroma to the LORD.

Three types of intermingled offerings are cited in the 28:3-8).

First, there is the Burnt offering (Oleh, see Leviticus 1): Here it is a total of two lambs (28:3), each unblemished and one year old, one in the morning and one at twilight, every day (28:4). Do it without fail, and remember the smell of the fire matters to me (28:6)!

The burnt offering was a completely consumed offering given wholly to the Lord for His enjoyment, with nothing taken for the servants. It reminds us:

1. God knows what He likes, and it isn’t always what we would think. It seems counter-intuitive that God would be soothed by a barbeque smell, but He is.

2. We are not to try to reason the point of His pleasure, we are to accept it and offer it. Our call is not to run God’s desires through some modern grid of pagan morality and judge whether God would have been elected to the board of the ASPCA, it is to find out what God says He desires and give it to Him. A Sovereign isn’t supposed to need to explain His commands to those who serve Him. When we try to put God’s desires through our own grid of pleasure or even acceptable practice – we force the Creator to become subject to the moral conscience of the created. No moral system can be hoisted over the Scriptures to evaluate God’s Word – it stands apart.

Second, there is the inclusion also of the Grain offering (Minchah, see Leviticus 2) – a symbolic offering that reminds us of two very important truths:

1. God wanted them to budget His part of their supplies FIRST. The grain was offered to God before it was ground, much less eaten.

2. God expected them to give whatever was available at that stages of the calendar, as we see when studying Leviticus chapter 2. The text says: Take the lamb, add 2.2 dry liters of finely ground flour and 5.5 liters of olive oil (28:5) – burn it completely. I will like it if it comes from a heart that truly does it to please Me. Otherwise, it will be a useless barbeque.

Simply stated, the Grain offering reminds us there is NO “PUTTING OFF” GOD. We give to Him BEFORE we take for ourselves. We give of what we have NOW, not what we hope to have later. Our God is the “ever present God of NOW”, not the “put-off with promises of tomorrow” kind.

Third, the “Nesek” (from “thing poured”) or libation offering accompanying the other offering (translated the drink offering). Add a libation of 5.5 liquid liters of intensely alcoholic liquor (28:7).

In the Hebrew Scriptures, the libation was offered to represent the labors of the field, like an offering of a glass of your own house made wine from your own vineyard to an honored guest. It added honor, because it was hand-crafted and a part of your own personal labors. It was like offering someone any gift that you hand-crafted to perfection.

This was not simply a common wine (yayin) – it was “strong drink” (sheker) – like a strongly fermented grape brandy with higher alcoholic content likened more to our distilled liquor. The NIV sometimes translates this BEER, but that is an assumption based on the commonality of beer in ancient Egypt from which Israel was departing. Since beer was served uncut with additional water, unlike table wines of the period, some scholars think this was what was considered strong. Others think it was more likely akin to a stronger beverage – or may be uncut wine. It is true that wine was a symbol in Scripture of joy both to God and to man (Jud.9:13, Ps.104:15), and this characterizes the drink offering – but it appears likely this was something stronger, often used in passages alongside the term for wine as a separate product. It was probably used in the Tabernacle and Temple for some cleaning and hygienic affects, and is the same word for the anesthetic that was for those who were suffering or dying (Proverbs 31:6).

Paul referred to his efforts as the drink offering for the Lord through his life poured out for the believers of the early church:

  • Philippians 2:17 But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all.
  • Later he made reference again to it as something that was a completion to his life: 2 Timothy 4:6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.

It seems that Paul understood the all his labor and in ministry was like a carefully prepared and poured libation as he pressed from his body the last bit of effort in sacrificial service to His Master.

The drink offering reminds us that our lives will be poured out, the only questions are WHERE and FOR WHAT PURPOSE. We will ALL use up our body, and we will lose our zest and energy. The question is: “What will be soaked by the pouring of it?

• Will I celebrate my “Candy Crush” level?
• Will I be happy that I spent so much time following friends and “Liking” posts that I had little time and energy for concentrated ministry in some area?
• Will I pour out my life before some techno box of entertainment?

Let me ask you a serious question: “When was the last time Jesus was invited to walk through you channel selection, your DVD collection, your game closet and your playlist and offer His thoughts on what they contained?” I am not legalistically giving you a LIST, I am pointing you to the Lord Who makes the right list. Do we even ask His opinion anymore?

Additional Sabbath Offerings:

God wanted to walk with Israel daily, but He also commanded a weekly special break for a bit more than the everyday.

28:9 Then on the sabbath day two male lambs one year old without defect, and two-tenths [of an] [ephah] of fine flour mixed with oil as a grain offering, and its drink offering: 10 [This is] the burnt offering of every Sabbath in addition to the continual burnt offering and its drink offering.

There is to be an additional offering on Sabbath – two extra lambs, each with 4.4 extra liters of flour, along with an extra drink offering (28:9-10).

The Sabbath (whether in Exodus 20, Leviticus 23 or Numbers 28) was given to show three truths:

• God had specifically marked one day in seven for man to stop his work, and spend that day in a unique “rest celebration” of his Creator. Obedience was clear and so was disobedience. God was either in charge of the people, or He was not – and it was clear by how they responded to His command.

I admit that I weary of all the “reasoned arguments” against doing clear things God told us to do. I sit with people who try to explain why their abuse of their body with drugs isn’t so bad, or the sexual encounters were so understandable in light of our culture. When the smoke clears at the judgment of all the tactics and distractions of our rationalizations, we will be left to clearly gaze on our true reasons for disobedience – it is rebellion, plain and simple. We want to do what we want to do, but we are embarrassed by the bare-knuckled truth, so we rationalize away disobedience.

• God was not short on His instruction TO STOP OUR PURSUIT TO PROGRESS in such things as making money for the Sabbath (which means “rest“). Instructions can be found in Exodus 35, Lev. 25, Num. 15 and Dt. 15:32-35. It was as much an issue of TRUST that stopping labor wouldn’t cause us to LOSE GROUND, but actually help us do what we do better.

Have you ever been so intent on completing a project that you burned the midnight oil until you weren’t really producing anything of value? Time off with God was meant to rejuvenate. One other thing – it forced people to budget time. If manna was available six days, then preparation for Sabbath included working to gather for both the sixth and the seventh day.

When we give God what He commands we don’t LOSE, we LEARN. That is easily illustrated in giving of our FUNDS to the Lord. Before we were regular in our giving, we didn’t know how we could be. The call to give regularly and systematically helped us to budget our funds – just the way Israel was called to budget their time in preparing for and keeping the Sabbath.

• God outlined that both man and work animals would rest from their labor, and that this observance would be a memorial (Hebrew: Zakar, see Exodus 20:8) that would be kept distinct or “holy” from other days. God did not reveal the Sabbath simply to celebrate His rest, but to teach us something important about OUR NEEDS! The Sabbath was specified to be time of identification (Ex. 31:12-17).

The Sabbath was to signify the unique covenant God had made with the children of Israel (Ex. 31:12-17) and is the reason we don’t celebrate it – we aren’t them, and they aren’t us. The weekly celebration was to be a memory device so that the children of Israel would not forget the God of their fathers as they had in the bondage of Egypt. God was concerned that the success of the Israelites would take a more significant toll on their memory than slavery had before (Dt. 6).

At the same time, the Sabbatical principle was further underscored by the overall cycle of “sevens” God built within the calendar of the people. Time to learn and worship was essential. A time of reflection and anticipation was healthy. The Sabbath was truly made “for the man”!

Here is the problem with the way many of us look at REST: The most dangerous time may not be in the midst of the battle, but in the times of ease. If we forget our disciplines in the lazy days of summer, with little care for our armor and our prayer, we will find ourselves ill-equipped when the arrows fly. It is important to rest body, mind and spirit – but rest taken away from the source of our strength will not help us – it will deplete us. Take your rest while recalling His Words constantly, and sharing your thoughts with him repeatedly – and it will be rest indeed.

Additional Rosh Chodesh Offerings:

The passage of our study ends with a brief word about the additional offerings for the new month:

28:11 Then at the beginning of each of your months you shall present a burnt offering to the LORD: two bulls and one ram, seven male lambs one year old without defect; 12 and three-tenths [of an] [ephah] of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering, for each bull; and two-tenths of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering, for the one ram; 13 and a tenth [of an] [ephah] of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering for each lamb, for a burnt offering of a soothing aroma, an offering by fire to the LORD. 14 Their drink offerings shall be half a hin of wine for a bull and a third of a hin for the ram and a fourth of a hin for a lamb; this is the burnt offering of each month throughout the months of the year. 15 And one male goat for a sin offering to the LORD; it shall be offered with its drink offering in addition to the continual burnt offering.

The start of the month also had additional offerings:

• An additional burnt offering of two bulls, (28:11) was mixed with 6.6 liters of fine flour – the grain offering accompanying each bull.

• One ram was offered with 2.2 liters of flour as well as each of the seven lambs.

• Libations totaling more than 53 of our bottles of wine were poured with each offering each month in addition to the normal daily allotments.

If the truth were told, some Israelites were probably adding the whole list of offerings up in their heads, and were wondering about the HIGH COST of following the God of Abraham. Don’t be squeamish, you would too if it was coming from your herd, or your bank account. God wasn’t being stingy – He provided all the animals, wine and grain to begin with! He wanted them to really understand:

God communicated through the offerings His desire to walk the daily road of life with His people.

As we close this lesson, let me ask you something. “Why are we so stingy with God?” Why is it that we react inside against giving Him the time, talent and treasure of our life? I suspect the reasons are several, but let me take a stab at an answer: We don’t see the benefit of giving Him anything more than we have to. Rather than pour out our lives for Him last week, many of us poured them out for ourselves.

God wants to come along this week. He wants you to intentionally think through your week, and live it with Him and for Him. Are you ready?

Strength for the Journey: "For the People" – Numbers 26-27

gavel-WSYou cannot live in Central Florida and not know that one law firm has “drummed” in its advertising the phrase “for the people”. The ad hearkens back to the immortal words of President Lincoln at Gettysburg. President Lincoln delivered a speech during the American Civil War, on the chilled afternoon of Thursday, November 19, 1863, while inaugurating the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, some four and a half months after the battle between Union armies and the Confederate troops. Not even two years later, on June 1, 1865, Senator Charles Sumner commented in his eulogy on the slain president that Lincoln was mistaken when he said that “the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here.” On the contrary, Sumner remarked, “The world noted at once what he said, and will never cease to remember it. The battle itself was less important than the speech.” The infamous speech was short, and a small part of it recalled:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. … The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that Lincoln headthese dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

I am transfixed by the last line of that short essay about government “of the people, by the people, for the people”. I know, we didn’t gather for some strange mix of Americana and Bible – our kingdom of celebration today is one “not of this world”. I mention it only because those words relate directly to our passage of study for this lesson in Numbers 26 and 27. The text contains a vital leadership lesson that was learned by Moses at the very end of his tenure as “Prime Minister of Israel” – of perhaps we should call him simply “Elder of Israel”. The lessons is clear…

Key Principle: We must learn to be both careful about doing right, but not become insensitive to people in the process.

The rules are very important, but they are incomplete when they become the total standard of life apart from a living relationship with people. This is a problem for people in leadership to remember – especially when they forget the rules were made for people.

• I am thinking of the Pharisees that were offended by the hungry disciples eating from the barley stalks as they walked through the fields.

• I am recalling a recent YouTube video of a decorated police officer clearly overreacting to a man in a hotel lobby and using excessive force only moments after meeting the man.

Leaders are servants and laws are meant to serve a community – not to inflict harm on it. Yet, sometimes we can get to be so legally minded, we lose our humanity. Moses found out that it was a problem 3500 years ago, and some of us experienced the same thing this past week.

Overview

In order to recognize the principle of our lesson, we must excavate the layers of progression in the Biblical passage. Essentially, three events led to three outcomes – and God taught the leader in the process. The events included:

1) Counting the people in a census (Numbers 26:1-51).
2) Casting lots for the apportionment of territory (Numbers 26:52-56).
3) Counting the Levite population that was given no land (Numbers 26:57-62).

These three simple events were intended to set the parameters of geography for the settling of each of the Israelite tribes after they conquered the land. Nobody got land in the counting or the lot casting – what they got was an understanding of what came next – the settlement of tribes in different territories. The story is NOT ABOUT the events, but the inadvertent INEQUITY that came from the events – that Moses never saw coming. Why? Because leaders, like everyone else, are HUMAN. They make mistakes. They forget things, and they don’t see the full range of effects of every rule, or every policy. Blunders are a part of everyday life. I like what Chuck Swindoll wrote years ago in his book Living Above the Level of Mediocrity about mistakes:

…Blunders are a sign of our humanity. Scripture records man’s mistakes to teach us. I think they fall into five categories:

1. Panic-prompted mistakes usually involve fear, hurry or worry.
2. Good intention mistakes come from wrong timing or wrong methods.
3. Passive negligence mistakes result from laziness, lack of discipline, or inconsistency.
4. Unrestrained curiosity mistakes relate to the demonic or sensational.
5. Blind spot mistakes usually come from ignorance, habit or influences.

A man opened a new business and his best friend sent him a flower arrangement. The friend dropped in a few days later to visit his buddy and was pained to see a sign that read, “Rest in Peace”. He called the florist to complain. The florist said, “It could be worse. Somewhere in this city is a cemetery with a flower arrangement that says: ‘Congratulations on your new location!’”

The counting of the people was not a mistake, nor was the apportionment of land – but the tribal divisions of terrain overlooked some people – and that was at the heart of the lesson of sensitivity. Before we look at the three events, don’t forget – this family did not consider itself a NATION yet, but rather a series of tribes from one father who was now long dead. Let’s quickly scan the events on our way to the lesson:

Close up of Three Events

We will not read all the way through the legal document of families of Numbers 26:1-51. The recalling of specific names was very important to the individual families of the registry, but for time’s sake we will simply summarize the census as follows:

Event One: The Command and Execution of the Census (26:1-51)

Numbers 26:1 Then it came about after the plague, that the LORD spoke to Moses and to Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest, saying, 2 “Take a census of all the congregation of the sons of Israel from twenty years old and upward, by their fathers’ households, whoever is able to go out to war in Israel.” 3 So Moses and Eleazar the priest spoke with them in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, saying, 4 “[Take a census of the people] from twenty years old and upward, as the LORD has commanded Moses.” Now the sons of Israel who came out of the land of Egypt [were]:

• Sons of Reuben (26:4-11): 43,730
• Sons of Simeon (12-14): 22,200
• Sons of Gad (15-18): 40,500
• Sons of Judah (19-22): 76,500
• Sons of Isaachar (23-25): 64,300
• Sons of Zebulun (26-27): 60,500
• Sons of Manasseh (28-34): 52,600
• Sons of Ephraim (35-37): 32,500
• Sons of Benjamin (38-41): 46,600
• Sons of Dan (42-43): 64,400
• Sons of Asher (44-47): 53,400
• Sons of Naphtali (48-50): 45,400
• Sons of Israel at the end of the journey: 601,730 men over twenty who could fight.

This “head count” meant that all but 1820 of the 603,550 counted in Numbers 1:45-46 were replaced. The people were only slightly smaller in number than when they counted thirty-eight years before in the desert, but the people were almost ENTIRELY REPLACED. These were the children and grandchildren of the original census – their parents were all gone and buried in the sand and rock of the deserts behind them.

As we come toward the end of this book, we should recall there were three stages of Israel’s journey through the wilderness give the book of Numbers its structure:

(1) Nineteen days during Israel’s preparation for departure from their camp at the Holy Mountain of the Law (Num 1:1–10:10),

(2) A thirty-eight-and-one-half-year journey from the Mountain of the Law to the plains of Moab (Num 10:11–22:1).

(3) A few final months of Israel’s encampment on the plains of Moab shortly before they entered Canaan (Num 21–36).

God told them which way to go to be blessed – and they went another way. He wasn’t being cruel… that is the cost of doing life their own way. God had a future plan for Israel – but they would be cut out of it and it would be placed in the hands of another.

Event Two: The Command and Execution of the Lots (26:52-56)

Immediately after the tallying of the potential warriors, God commanded Moses to divvy up the land geographically, with larger portions going to larger tribes:

Numbers 26:52 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 53 “Among these the land shall be divided for an inheritance according to the number of names. 54 “To the larger [group] you shall increase their inheritance, and to the smaller [group] you shall diminish their inheritance; each shall be given their inheritance according to those who were numbered of them. 55 “But the land shall be divided by lot. They shall receive their inheritance according to the names of the tribes of their fathers. 56 “According to the selection by lot, their inheritance shall be divided between the larger and the smaller [groups].”

This was probably very exciting for the people. Travel landless for a generation and you will hunger to settle down. Add to that, you are coming home to the place of your ancestry from a hot and inhospitable desert, and excitement abounds!

Event Three: The Counting of the Levites (26:57-62)

Numbers 26:57 These are those who were numbered of the Levites according to their families: of Gershon, the family of the Gershonites; of Kohath, the family of the Kohathites; of Merari, the family of the Merarites. 58 These are the families of Levi: the family of the Libnites, the family of the Hebronites, the family of the Mahlites, the family of the Mushites, the family of the Korahites. Kohath became the father of Amram. 59 The name of Amram’s wife was Jochebed, the daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt; and she bore to Amram: Aaron and Moses and their sister Miriam. 60 To Aaron were born Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. 61 But Nadab and Abihu died when they offered strange fire before the LORD. 62 Those who were numbered of them were 23,000, every male from a month old and upward, for they were not numbered among the sons of Israel since no inheritance was given to them among the sons of Israel.

Don’t forget that Moses was tied to this family – not only Aaron’s sons. As a result of the pedigree of Moses, his family would be landless. There was no way a disruption could have arisen about favoritism and nepotism in the ranks – Moses’ family got nothing in the land inheritance. The chief idea was to spread the Levitical families out among the population and have them act in priestly ways toward the people of the tribe in whose land they dwelt.

Truthfully, none of these three events appears all that relevant to a believer today on the surface. We could take some time to see the spiritual principles involved in God commanding the people, and the passage is not devoid of spiritual truth – but that does not appear to be the purpose of the record. The lesson is found by following the events to WHAT THEY CAUSED in Moses’ heart – as this is primarily a lesson in sensitivity. Look closely at the verses that followed the three events – and in each of the outcomes there is a lesson to treasure!

The three events led to three outcomes. Don’t forget the point of the story…
We must learn to be both careful about doing right, but not become insensitive to people in the process.

Close up of Three Results

Moses counted. The people cast lots. The Priestly family was counted… but the mundane events led to three important results:

1) Encouragement: God lifted Moses with a reminder that He keeps His promises (Numbers 26:63-65).
2) Exposure: A blind spot was uncovered in the inequity of the inheritance as it was proposed (Numbers 27:1-11).
3) Entreaty: The sensitivity lesson still fresh on his mind, Moses presented to God the need for one who will be “for the people” in his administration – and God calls Joshua to be his replacement (Numbers 27:12-23).

Lesson One: A Lesson of Encouragement (Numbers 26:63-65):

Look closely at the words of Numbers 26:64 But among these there was not a man of those who were numbered by Moses and Aaron the priest, who numbered the sons of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai. 65 For the LORD had said of them, “They shall surely die in the wilderness.” And not a man was left of them, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.

God lifted Moses with a reminder that the Lord keeps His promises. It may seem strange that such a lesson was needed for the old leader of Israel. By now, he was well-seasoned in his experiences with God. Did he not recognize that God follows through meticulously on His promises?

All of us, no matter how long we have walked with God, need to hear again this important truth: We must take God at His Word, and we must take His Word seriously. How very sad that so many, even in what is called “the church” of the modern era seem more concerned with public opinion than truth! If there is a God in Heaven, and if He is our Creator, and if He did offer us the story of the truth of events that will unfold in our world at the end of time – how can we trade temporal popularity for eternal truth?

Let me first illustrate how this is being played out, and then what we can – and must – do about it.

If you take the time to look back, you will discover the attacks against the veracity of the Bible were paired off with the rise of what has come to be known as “The Social Gospel”. When Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918) studied theology at the University of Rochester, he joined one of hundreds of educational and “Christian” institutions funded by John D. Rockefeller. For a time he Pastored a Baptist Church among immigrants in the Big Apple until he joined the faculty at Rochester Theological Seminary — also funded by Rockefeller. In 1902 he became its Professor of Church History. As a professor he wrote books such as Christianizing the Social Order and A Theology for the Social Gospel. He had been educated to believe the Bible was not flawless, and that it offered – rather than salvation – a social ideology. He believed the Gospel was to be more relevant and compassionate to the hurting of his day. He introduced Jesus’s mission “not to save sinners from their sins” but as a Reformer with “a social passion for society.”

I mention him, because his influence is blowing in churches that are gearing to promote social philanthropy in the days ahead. Rauschenbusch called for political reform, ecumenical unity, social Justice and global peace. Important concepts of historic “Christian” theology – terms like “redemption” and “regeneration” were redefined to earthly meanings of peace and care. Listen to the authors of our day and see if you can pick out the subtlety:

• Pastor Brian McLaren’s recent book, The Secret Message of Jesus offers this message in the beginning: [Jesus actually] “came to start a political, social, religious, artistic, economic, intellectual, and spiritual revolution that would give birth to a new world” (p.4).

• Professor Anthony (Tony) Campolo is professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University in Pennsylvania. He wrote: “The gospel is not about… pie-in-the-sky when they die…. It is imperative that the up and coming generation recognize that the biblical Jesus was committed to the realization of a new social order in this world…. Becoming a Christian, therefore, is a call to social action.”

I am not saying these men have contributed nothing to the Gospel of Jesus – I simply cannot judge that extensively the work of another servant’s hands. I can say their works seem very wrong headed. I can caution that our youth are being attracted to the “bright lights” of philanthropy, because Jesus helped people. There is certainly nothing wrong with helping people – and it is a godly thing to do. There is, however, something VERY WRONG with orienting the teaching of Scripture to a social planning manual while both questioning the text’s historical truthfulness and ignoring its primary purpose. The Scripture is not nearly so flexible a thing.

God is Creator in the Bible. Man is the sinner that needed judicial reconciliation to God after the Fall in the Garden. The message of salvation is not primarily about the “empowerment of the poor” or the “enfranchising of the destitute” to a better life on earth. The Gospel is about a breach of mutiny against the Holy One. We must be clear that we are not using God’s Word to build a Kingdom on earth – but rather we are walking with God by His Word as part of a Kingdom that will come with a renewed earth.

Let’s not go too far afield. The lesson to Moses was that God literally fulfills His promises in real terms in every sense. When we diminish the literal quality of history or prophecy in the Bible, we open the door to remake its message entirely. Moses was encouraged to see God deliver on His promises, even when the promises were not positive for all the people he served.

You can count on God – and you can count on His Word. I don’t mean some cryptic version of truth that cannot be discerned. I mean that God does what God promises – seriously, literally, completely – whether His message is endorsed by theologians or popular on the streets.

Lesson Two: A Lesson of Exposure (Numbers 27:1-11):

At the heart of the lesson on sensitivity is the next story that resulted from the count.

Numbers 27:1 Then the daughters of Zelophehad, … 2 …stood before Moses and before Eleazar the priest and before the leaders and all the congregation, at the doorway of the tent of meeting, saying, 3 “Our father died in the wilderness, yet he was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the LORD in the company of Korah; but he died in his own sin, and he had no sons. 4 “Why should the name of our father be withdrawn from among his family because he had no son? Give us a possession among our father’s brothers.” 5 So Moses brought their case before the LORD. 6 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 7 “The daughters of Zelophehad are right in [their] statements. You shall surely give them a hereditary possession among their father’s brothers, and you shall transfer the inheritance of their father to them. 8 “Further, you shall speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter. 9 If he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. 10 If he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. 11 If his father has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his nearest relative in his own family, and he shall possess it; and it shall be a statutory ordinance to the sons of Israel, just as the LORD commanded Moses.‘”

A blind spot was uncovered in the inequity of the inheritance as the count was made and lots divided land. Some were unrepresented in the count. Women who had no inheritance knew elsewhere in the Law they were not to be passed over. A brother or near relative was to raise up the name in the place of the fallen one – as would happen in the story of Naomi told in the Book of Ruth.

This was a case of real inequity because the census neglected some who were undefined in the law. They lived at the edge, and now were being pushed out of a rightful inheritance. The fact is, sometimes people get taken advantage of because we don’t see them. Legal mechanisms don’t replace real relationships. When people don’t engage each other, they don’t really understand each other. It is easy for any of us to get so caught up in our own world, that we don’t see the problems of those around us well at all.

Mark this in your Bible as a “BLIND SPOT” lesson. It wasn’t that someone INTENDED wrong, it is that wrong happened in a place nobody was looking at the time. David Roper in The Law that Set You Free wrote a great illustration of a blind spot:

A close friend of mine has a friend who is a young attorney. He is a member of a sizeable law firm run by a rather traditional kind of boss who enjoys a special kind of ritual at Thanksgiving time. Every year this young attorney participates in this ritual because it means so much to his employer. On the large walnut table in the board room of the office suite sits a row of turkeys, one for each member in the firm. It isn’t just a matter of “if you want it you can have it; if you don’t you can leave it.” The members go through some rather involved protocol. Each man stands back and looks at his turkey. When the time comes, he steps forward and looks at his turkey, announcing how grateful he is for the turkey this Thanksgiving. This young attorney was single, lives alone, and had no use for a huge turkey. He has no idea how to fix it and even if it were properly prepared he has no way to use all the meat. Because it was expected of him, he took the turkey every year. One year his close friends at the law office replaced his turkey with on made of papier-mâché. They weighed it with lead to make it feel like a real turkey, but it was a bogus bird through and through. On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, every gathered in the board room. When it came is turn, this young man stepped up, picked up the large bird and announced his gratitude for his job and for the turkey. Later that afternoon, he got on the bus heading to go home. With the big turkey on his lap he wondered what in the world he would do with it. A little farther down the bus line, a rather run-down, discouraged-looking man got on. The only available seat was next to our young attorney friend. The lawyer learned that the stranger had spent the entire day job-hunting with no luck, that he had a large family and was wondering what he would do for Thanksgiving tomorrow. The attorney was struck with a brilliant idea: This is my day for the good turn, I will give this man my turkey! Then he thought, “This man is no freeloader. He’s no bum.” He asked the man: “How much money do you have?” “Oh, a couple of dollars and a few cents” the man replied. “I would like to sell you this turkey” he said as he placed it on his lap. Sold” the man handed over the two dollars and some coins that he had. He was moved to tears, thrilled to death that his family would have a turkey for Thanksgiving. He got off the bus and waved goodbye to the attorney. “God bless you… Have a wonderful thanks giving, and ‘I’ll never forget you”. The bus pulled away from the curb, as both men smiled. The next Monday, the attorney went to work. His friends were dying to know about the turkey. You cannot imagine their chagrin when they heard the story of what happened. I understand through my friend, they all got on the bus every day that week looking in vain for a man who, as far as I know, to this day still entertains a misunderstanding about a guy who innocently sold him a fake turkey for a couple of bucks and a few cents.”

Sometimes we can hurt people, even when we don’t KNOW we are doing so. We can do it with WORDS that are insensitive, but we can also do it with short-sighted or ill-informed ideas for which we haven’t truly considered the outcomes. Moses got corrected by God, but he got something more… he got a message to BECOME MORE SENSITIVE to the people – not just the system and the rules.

Lesson Three: A Lesson of Entreaty (Numbers 27:12-23):

How do I know? Because of Moses’ prayer for a successor. Look at the words in Numbers 27: 15 Then Moses spoke to the LORD, saying, 16 “May the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation, 17 who will go out and come in before them, and who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the LORD will not be like sheep which have no shepherd.” 18 So the LORD said to Moses, “Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him; 19 and have him stand before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation, and commission him in their sight …

The sensitivity lesson still fresh on his mind, Moses presented to God the need for one who will be “for the people” in his administration – and God called Joshua to be his replacement. Moses was satisfied – because he knew the mettle of Joshua, but he also knew his tenderness, and his care for the people.

We must learn to be both careful about doing right, but not become insensitive to people in the process.

W.H. Griffith Thomas offered a warning: “There is no greater foe to Christianity than mere profession. There is no greater discredit to Christianity today than to stand up for it, and yet not live it in our lives. There is no greater danger in the Christian world today than to stand up for the Bible, and yet to deny that Bible by the very way we defend it. There is no greater hindrance to Christianity today than to contend for orthodoxy, whatever the orthodoxy may be, and to deny it by the censoriousness, the hardness, the unattractiveness with which we champion our cause. Oh this power of personal testimony, with the heart filled with the love of Christ, the mind saturated with the teaching of Christ, the conscience sensitive to the law of Christ, the whole nature aglow with grace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ!” (Listening to the Giants, 149-50, Warren Wiersbe, Baker 1980)

Strength for the Journey: “Hostile Takeover” – Numbers 25

Michael_Dell_2010How many of you own, or have owned a DELL computer? Any day now, Michael Dell will either maneuver to privately take back his computer company, or lose it forever. A meeting of Dell shareholders this week put off deciding on Mr. Dell’s $24.4 billion proposal to take the company private or financier Carl Icahn’s counteroffer. Icahn wanted to buy up the company and was rumored to be willing to chop it up and sell off the pieces. In some tough back room deals, that seems to have been abated, but some analysts think the danger still exists for a hostile takeover. I really don’t know what will happen to this once iconic computer hardware builder and his company. I DO know that hostile takeovers are a part of modern business.

I also know that, Biblically speaking, there is a battle for the future going on behind the ebb and flow of human history. God and his enemy are warring, until the time the Creator decides He has carried on long enough to show through history His flawless character and awesome nature. It is over, when the Creator says it is over. In the meantime, the enemy has been at work to discourage God’s people, embolden God’s enemies and disrupt God’s agenda – just as he has since he duped Adam and Eve in the garden. With each step of human history, God showed more of Who He is, and Satan did what he could to stop the flow and progress toward its unaltered end.

Our study of Scripture in the Book of Numbers has dropped us into a view of the enemy doing his work in classic form. By chapter 24, we saw the enemy at work, but as with most attacks, the demonic empowerment was masked by human players and activities. Yet, if you look closely at the account, it is not difficult to see that the devil left his fingerprints on the scene. The story since Numbers 22 has been about a small tribal desert kingdom called Moab, and their attempts to thwart Israel’s move into the lands promised to Abraham. That may sound like dry history – and it would be – but that isn’t all God exposed of the story. In fact, what he revealed was how the enemy works in the lives of believers, and in the lives of those who want to hinder them.

On the surface, Moab and its leader didn’t follow God, and they didn’t want to. They didn’t want God’s Word, and didn’t want to bless God’s people. They wanted the people of Israel stopped in their tracks and the God of Israel defamed and thwarted. Led by the chieftain named Balak, the leader of the Moabite warriors had joined forces with at least some of the Midianite tribes. These were the human “workers of distraction” – but the enemy of God was beneath the scene – working his deceptions.

We heard the serpent’s voice when Balak knew he couldn’t win if he stood “toe to toe” with Israel – so he tried to bribe a man of God. Israel was powerful and they were on the side with momentum. Balak tried an end run with a costly and elabortate religious deception inviting a known prophetic voice among God’s people to defect from the truth and speak lies. He offered to buy his voice, and when that didn’t work he tried to manipulate his understanding. When all else failed – he dismissed Balaam the prophet from his sight, disgusted that he couldn’t get what he wanted. Yet, he wasn’t done… What the enemy could not destroy in direct confrontation and manipulative confusion – he now attempted to destroy by offering enticements to compromise among God’s people.

Key Principle: When the devil cannot deceive believers with lies he will distract them with enticing playthings.

When God’s people have been entrenched in learning God’s Word, lies are harder to implant. Deception is tougher to pull off. That is one of the chief reasons we work hard in our respective ministries to explain the Word in such detail…Sometimes Satan tries to deceive anyway, but when he is unable to confuse followers of God with deception (because we have hidden the truth within), he will dangle before God’s people enticing distractions to compromise our walk and draw us away from forward progress in obedience. Numbers 25 uncovers two of the distractions the enemy uses to test God’s leaders, and to drag down God’s people.

Distraction of the Happy Holidays

Who doesn’t love a good holiday? When I think of holidays, I think of fun with family and friends, and I think of food… good food…lots of food. Apparently from the beginning of our text, so did the ancient followers of God – and the enemy knew that!

Numbers 25:1 While Israel remained at Shittim, the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. 2 For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the LORD was angry against Israel.

The Slide of the People

The name of “Shittim” is Hebrew for the “acacia tree”, and marks the name of a village where the people were still encamped north of the Dead Sea and east of the Jordan – opposite Jericho and Gilgal. They seemed to be happy with their progress toward the land of promise, and they felt themselves to be in a reasonably secure position. Add to that, instead of constant fighting, the warriors of Moab and Midian hung back, deciding to trade with Israel, and then extend some friendly invitations to them to join in a feast in honor of their god, Baal of Peor.

When a modern reader spots the word “harlot” they immediately conjure up sensual imagery – but that may not be at the center of the use of the term in Numbers 25:1. Remember the term “daughters” (banot) is not always a gender term, but often was used in antiquity to denote the people “beyond the wall” – or suburban commoners, as opposed to military and cultural elite. The use of the imagery sounds admittedly sexual, but it need not be understood that simply – since the case of harlotry seemed to be wrapped into the cultic worship of Baal. God often used this imagery for false worship, because idolatry apparently felt to Him as a faithful spouse would be on the discovery of the other’s unfaithfulness.

Note the slide into sinful idolatry – they didn’t get there without a process:

It started with idleness (“Israel remained” – 25:1): the people of God were not moving or fighting – they were resting and regrouping. This is often a time of real danger for God’s people. We saw it in the journey through the Sinai desert, and will see it again in characters like David – time off can be a problem to our discipline. When we are taken out of the strain of the battle, we can often vacation in our mind, our heart and eventually our morals. The most dangerous time may not be in the midst of the battle, but in the times of ease. If we forget our disciplines in the lazy days of summer, with little care for our armor and our prayer, we will find ourselves ill-equipped when the arrows fly. It is important to rest body, mind and spirit – but rest taken away from the source of our strength will not help us – it will deplete us. Take your rest while recalling His Words constantly, and sharing your thoughts with him repeatedly – and it will be rest indeed

• Next, in the state of undisciplined rest, the enemy planted invitation (“they invited” – 25:2). The enemy planted an enticement in the camp. To a casual observer, it may have looked like PROGRESS TOWARD PEACE, a time of cultural exchange and healthy dialogue – it was nothing of the sort. If you keep reading (verse 18) the text revealed that it was a trick put together by the same leaders that failed to stop Israel by other means in the past. It looked like peace – but it was a tactic of war. It sounded like harmony, but it was actually the hissing of a snake. The world is often inviting and very accepting of new people – because without standards there is no reason to hold back full partnership. Often when you want to do wrong, you will find it easy to find companions in the world. Yet, when the friends you find are not deeply bound to you – as the prodigal son found out when the money to finance his party ran out.

• In a short time, the people “ate” – and the participation step to the slide was engaged. It isn’t enough to watch – it is just a matter of time before we rationalize and then participate. This is the danger of entertainment patterns of the world. Hollywood deliberately and shamelessly offers a value system in their dramas and comedies. They are often the “Church of the Pagan Thinking” – and hapless believers sit in their indoctrinations without recognizing they are working hard to get people to believe a system of moral thinking that is very opposed to a Biblical world view. It isn’t intrinsically wrong to watch the movie – but it is VERY WRONG to watch it without guarding your mind and heart and questioning the value system behind the ideas put forward in the show or film. Participation leads to defection – because we fail to recognize the compromise of our lifestyle.

• Finally, comes the defection stage of the process. Verse 2 ends sadly: “they bowed down to their gods.” What started as an invitation ended as idolatry – and it happened quickly. That should be a warning to us to be ever so careful in our dealing with the world – whether by our social media on our phone, or by TV show in the living room. It can happen SO FAST, that we move from pure to poor – and it starts with releasing the disciplines of our mind and heart and drifting.

25:4 The LORD said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of the people and execute them [those involved in the idolatry – not the leaders!] in broad daylight before the LORD, so that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel.” 5 So Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you slay his men who have joined themselves to Baal of Peor.” …17 “Be hostile to the Midianites and strike them; 18 for they have been hostile to you with their tricks, with which they have deceived you in the affair of Peor …”

The Response of the Lord

God didn’t sit on the sidelines during this blatant idolatry – He demanded repentance of the people. He called on those in leadership to pay a price – personally involving them in publicly bloodying their hands with those who should have been monitored carefully under their care. Look at the penalties and let them sink in:

My sin draws a fierce reaction from God. If I really understood how much my sin offends, wounds and sickens my Master, I would probably be more careful about my walk. The writers of Scripture that focused on the reverence and fear of God were no doubt more careful to walk uprightly before Him. The words of men of God like Joshua (who was alive at the time of this event) remind: “Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.” I long to understand the voice of the prophet Amos when he said: A lion has roared! Who will not fear? The Lord GOD has spoken! Who can but prophesy?”

One of the things the enemy has effectively erased in many if not most of the believers I have known in my life is the FEAR of a HOLY GOD. Jonathan Edwards’ view of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” has become such an old school understanding of God that few really ever FEAR God. Some even teach that it is not healthy to do so. Interestingly, Paul argued that such fearlessness was a sign of one who was pagan in Romans 3:18 when he said “THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES.”

To think that my sin is not an affront to God’s absolute holiness is nonsense. To think that because “I am saved by grace” such a blatant mutiny of heart against God causes Him no pain is dim-witted. It is what God referred to as spiritual unfaithfulness – the term harlot is used. What will help me more than a constant excuse of “human fallibility” or “calling on grace as a means of license” is to deliberately place God HIGH ABOVE everyone else – to see Him as Supreme and worthy of obedience. Fear of God isn’t a bad thing – because reducing Him to another friend without that balancing truth of His awesome power can easily lead to casual sinfulness.

My sin forces leaders to deal with me. How heavy was Paul’s heart dealing with Demas or Alexander the Coppersmith? The enemy uses even the believers to hurt other believers in their defections from God. I LOVE to be with men and women of God that are on fire for Jesus – but I am wearied by the number of defections from the Word both in teaching and in lifestyle that spoil the sense of safety in a circle of believers. We must remember that when we openly sin – we force other believers to defend, rebuke and otherwise drain their resources.

My sin defames the people of God. Imagine what the people of Moab thought of Israel after they partied together. Do you think the testimony of God was marred by their compromise? Of course you do – and you are right. Participation in behaviors that dishonor and displease God pull down His Holy name and confuse the world around us about what we really believe, and how much we really believe it.

When my sin is dealt with, it makes my God look mean – and the world watches. A disobedient child puts the parent and their response on display. In the same way, a disobedient believer challenges God to deal with them. When He does, the world responds as though God is unloving and mean – when the very opposite is true.

Let’s try a different strategy. Let’s recall often in our day that God is there and He is paying attention to what I am thinking about, to what I want, to what I am laughing at, to what I am watching. Let’s them imagine that He is TRULY HOLY, and that we belong to Him! Will that help me walk with Him? I think it might!

Distraction of Brazen Disobedience

The narrative of the “Distraction of the Happy Holiday” was lumped together with a second event I am calling the “Distraction of Brazen Disobedience” for a didactic purpose – God wanted to make clear how each attack was related and how bother were just another form of the attack we have observed through Balak in the case of Balaam in Numbers 22-24. This distraction method is an effective ploy the enemy uses in dealing with God’s people and their forward progress. The next example of this “places a shock value” into the story.

Have you ever been sitting in a public place and literally SHOCKED by the outrageous outfit someone was wearing? Have you ever been speechlessly STUNNED by the embarrassingly immodest dress of someone that walked by you? If you have, you will understand the SHOCK VALUE of brazen disobedience, and the distraction of this ploy will be obvious to you.

Numbers 25:6 Then behold, one of the sons of Israel came and brought to his relatives a Midianite woman, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, while they were weeping at the doorway of the tent of meeting. 7 When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he arose from the midst of the congregation and took a spear in his hand, 8 and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and pierced both of them through, the man of Israel and the woman, through the body. So the plague on the sons of Israel was checked. 9 Those who died by the plague were 24,000. …17 “Be hostile to the Midianites and strike them; 18 for they have been hostile to you with their tricks, with which they have deceived you … in the affair of Cozbi, the daughter of the leader of Midian, their sister who was slain on the day of the plague because of Peor.”

God told the people not to marry outside of Israel. A look ahead at 25:14 explains that a man named Zimri, son of Salu the Simeonite defied that order, and took Cozbi, daughter of the chieftain Zur of Midian. When God told them how to interact with the people of the land they were going to see, He said in Deuteronomy 7:3 “Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons. 4″For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you and He will quickly destroy you.” In short, Zimri son of salu “BLEW OFF” GOD’S WORD.

Note that Zimri didn’t just disobey – he FLAUNTED disobedience. Flagrant personal disregard for God’s Word is dangerous, but not nearly as dangerous as PUBLIC DISPLAY of disobedience. Look at the description:

• Brought her to his relatives (25:6).
• In the sight of Moses (25:6).
• In the sight of the congregation (25:6).
• At the doorway of the tent of meeting (25:6).

Zimri didn’t make a quiet mistake – he made a flagrant, public, disgusting confrontation with God at the place where God met Israel. That was his plan. It was an attack against the Lord’s Word, and it was a huge distraction to God’s leaders. I truly believe that Moses’ jaw dropped at HOW DEFIANT this action was in front of him. I don’t think his relatives knew how to respond! I suspect the whole of the congregation was so stunned, no one was sure what to do next.

By reading in the end of verse 8 and the beginning of verse 9, more of the context of that day becomes clear. The people of Israel were gathering at the Tabernacle, but the place was filled with sadness and sickness. People were dying in large numbers, and the people were heart-sick. A plague filled the camp, and the people were seeking God and trying to figure out what would abate His wrath.

In walked an Israelite man who simply and publicly snubbed God’s Word and defied God’s authority in his choice of a spouse.

If Zimri were alive today, he would say things like: “It isn’t anybody’s business who I sleep with but mine!” His life, he thought, was his own. God was about to show him that his life was also going to be short-lived. I don’t know how God could make it clearer

Sitting in a group of people near the door of the Tabernacle was Phinehas, son of Eleazar, grandson of Aaron – a priest who knew God’s law. He didn’t appear to be “on duty” that day – he was “in the midst of the congregation” when he responded. He “arose” – suggesting that he was sitting down when Zimri strolled up to the door of the tent of meeting. He grabbed a spear from someone nearby, perhaps a guard who was standing near the silver trumpets placed at the gate for an emergency war alarm – we simply don’t know. What is clear is that Phinehas had the presence of mind to deal with the problem promptly and powerfully. He didn’t think, he stood strongly for the Lord in the face of open defiance. He chased Zimri and Cozbi and thrust the spear into both of them.

I know what that sounds like when you read it out loud. It sounds mean and savage. It is clearly an unusual story set in a very specific time and place – and not one I want people to think is generally acceptable to God. I don’t want someone taking out sharp objects and looking for sinners in the sanctuary – that isn’t how it works. While I want that to be clear – I also want it clear that everything we are being fed in modern Christian media seems to be saying only one thing: LOVE THEM WITHOUT QUESTIONING WHAT THEY ARE DOING. A twisted pagan definition of tolerance is overtaking our sense of care about how GOD FEELS when flagrant violations are routinely left to pass as acceptable. I have observed in Israel for thirty years this thinking: if we keeping supporting the guy that totally despises us, someday they will grow friendly to us. I have some news, and I don’t mean to be abrupt – they won’t. They won’t love you because you let them walk all over TRUTH as you sit quietly amidst the flowers and think warm thoughts.

We must be loving, and we must be kind – but we must NOT begin to think that such love and kindness cannot challenge flagrant violations of moral truth. We need to deliberately challenge the thinking that Love, or for that matter real tolerance means never telling someone they are wrong. Here is the truth: Tolerance of Biblically defined “immorality” will increasingly lead to intolerance of Biblically defined “morality”. The emboldened pagan will not allow a voice that says they are wrong. Count on it. Backing up and conceding will get us nothing when it comes to truth.

I keeping hearing that the best way we can represent Jesus is BE LIKE HIM. Usually is it followed by an analysis of a morally soft mind that calls us to LOVE and LISTEN and ACCEPT – but that isn’t the Jesus of the Bible.

• He didn’t agree with Satan’s challenge to his identity – He answered with Scripture (Mt. 4:10).
• He didn’t just heal people, He told them to repent – and change their behavior! (Mt. 4:17).
• He didn’t just accept good behavior –He challenged the hearts of people (Mt. 5:20).
• He didn’t play nice with other speakers who didn’t represent God well – He called then false talkers and ravenous wolves (Mt. 7:15).
• He didn’t accept part-time and fair weather disciples but told them nothing was more important – and they should put every other goal, and every other relationship behind the call to listen and obey Him (Mt. 8:20).

I don’t want to sound belligerent – I DO love people. At the same time, there is a soft-headed notion of Jesus that doesn’t represent His HOLINESS. I don’t serve a toothless lion of the tribe of Judah. I serve a Savior who is both powerful and pointed in His demand that we not place other agendas before Him.

Results of Vigilance to Follow God’s Word

Obviously, there are blessings to obeying God, and there are serious consequences for ignoring His stated commands and creating our own moral system in replacement of His Word. Just to reinforce the point – let’s look at both sides:

Blessings of Obedience

Numbers 25:8b “…So the plague on the sons of Israel was checked. 9 Those who died by the plague were 24,000. 10 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 11 “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy. 12 “Therefore say, Behold, I give him My covenant of peace; 13 and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel.‘”

Count the blessings:

1. The death by plague was stopped by God above (25:8-9).
2. The wrath of God was turned away from His people (25:11). Don’t forget – the wrath is not simply “anger” in the human sense of the term – the words don’t really do justice to God’s way of working. God was INCENSED with the mutiny, and its judgment demonstrated graphically there were those who would boldly stand up for the right thing.
3. God had occasion to reward the man who stood up for right (25:11-12).
4. God offered a man who committed a violent act a future of peace (25:12).
5. The sin of Israel was atoned (covered- 25:13).

Consequences of Compromise

25:8 and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and pierced both of them through, the man of Israel and the woman, through the body.14 Now the name of the slain man of Israel who was slain with the Midianite woman, was Zimri the son of Salu, a leader of a father’s household among the Simeonites. 15 The name of the Midianite woman who was slain was Cozbi the daughter of Zur, who was head of the people of a father’s household in Midian. 16 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 17 “Be hostile to the Midianites and strike them; 18 for they have been hostile to you with their tricks, with which they have deceived you in the affair of Peor and in the affair of Cozbi, the daughter of the leader of Midian, their sister who was slain on the day of the plague because of Peor.

Face the consequences of sinful compromises:

1. A man was compelled to take the life of two other people – and that was not easy then, or now (25:8).
2. Two people faced being stabbed in public before their families (25:8).
3. Two families mourned their children’s death (25:8).
4. Two people were forever remembered in defiance in God’s Word (25:14-15).
5. Hostility and a state of war was created by the exposing of the plot to compromise Israel (25:17-18).
6. The landscape was filled with graves of a plague (25:18).

Is it not ever so clear that the wages of sin is DEATH? Is it not equally clear that standing up for God and His Word may not be easy , but in the long run it will be better not only for the one who stands up, but for the whole community?

We must remember that the current wind that calls for the church to roll over on sin and immorality is a hot wind that will decimate the landscape of our country. Divorce broke down the family. Sexual promiscuity will break down individual identity and moral constraints that come with loving bonds. Stiffen your resolve to stand up for truth by standing strong in your own family, and lovingly prepare now to catch those tiny souls that are about to swept under by the currents of arrogant godless men and women. The pressure to accommodate to a new standard of wickedness in order to keep us more popular or relevant has the scaly skin of a snake hanging upon them – and we must not be duped.

Step away from the compromise of moral truth in your own heart and life. God sees it, and God knows what we are entertaining ourselves with. Remember…

When the devil cannot deceive believers with lies he will distract them with enticing playthings.

Living Hope: “The Life Saver” – 2 Timothy 3

life saverThe MTS Oceanos was a Greek-owned cruise ship that sank off South Africa’s eastern coast on 4 August 1991. According to investigators, the vessel had completed a successful cruise season in South Africa, and was now contracted on an eight-month charter from a cruise company out of Johannesburg. The inquiry into her loss revealed the MTS Oceanos was operating unsafely, with loose hull plating, faulty check valves that had been stripped for repair parts and a 10 cm. hole in the “watertight” bulkhead between the generator and sewage tank. These parts were partially responsible for her failure at sea. The vessel only left port the day before she sank. Setting out from the port of East London on the Eastern Cape of South Africa, she was headed north and east toward Durban in Kwazulu-natal, facing into 40-knot winds and 30-foot swelling seas. The normal “sail-away” party on deck was moved indoors due to the rough sea conditions, but most passengers chose to stay in their cabins. The storm worsened and dinner service was all but impossible. By about 9:30 PM local time, the power failed due to a leak in a faulty valve that allowed sea water to back pressure its way into the sewage system. Adrift without power, the crew apparently abandoned ship, but according to the passengers didn’t make the announcement to the people on board. As the water steadily rose, the main drainage system backed sea water throughout the ship, spilling out of showers, toilets, and any other sewer connection. Listing to one side and without a crew to assist, British entertainer Moss Hills recognized something was terribly wrong and went to the bridge, only to discover the whole place abandoned. He used the radio to signal an SOS and nearby vessels responded with the South African Navy launching a seven-hour mission airlifting people who could not get to the remaining lifeboats. All 571 people on board were saved – in a rescue organized by an on-board entertainer. Moss Hills, in an interview by ABC News said that he only realized how close they were to perishing when he was lifted off the deck in a harness and brought up to the helicopter. He recalled the sheer relief when he first saw the helicopters coming toward the deck, lowering down rescue personnel to those trapped on the sinking vessel. Everyone loves a good rescue story – after they are safely at home. The problem is, we live with a certain amount of daily danger, and the expectation that people will respond to challenges in the best possible way. Sometimes, that is not the case – the Oceanos is case and point.

In the past few lessons from 2 Timothy, we have been following the encouragement of the condemned prisoner, the Apostle Paul, written to a middle aged Pastor who needed to be rescued. He seemed like he was sinking, and the water was rising. Paul wanted to offer him a view of help by setting down the help of seasoned veterans of troubled spiritual seas. Paul’s sandals had been wet before – and he knew how to encourage. Yet, any reading of 2 Timothy 3 is liable to get hung up in negative territory. The most cursory reading of the text, at least the first thirteen verses of the seventeen, seem deeply negative. Here is the truth: they aren’t. Paul set up the point of his lesson strongly in front of Timothy. He made clear that rough seas were ahead – but that isn’t the whole story. There was a fixed point of hope. There was assurance in the rough sea – it was the steadiness and security of the Scriptures that were tethered to an unchanging God.

Key Principle: Our hope is not in historic moral victories or popular majorities but in timeless truths.

The passage is painfully simple in construction – it has two parts. The first thirteen verses talk about the conditions of the rough seas of humanity ahead. The last few verses shift to Paul’s command for Timothy to respond properly in the face of it all. We can cut the descriptions into two simple words: “them” and “us”.

Rough Seas Ahead: A Description of the Non-believer (“THEM” in 2 Timothy 3:1-5a)

2 Timothy 3:1 But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.

Four truths about the sailing ahead:

First, Paul established the timing he made reference to:

He says the “last days”. Although Paul never wavered in the prison cell, he expressed that he was deeply concerned about the coming trends he observed on the horizon. He knew Tim needed to be made ready, or the current would hit him fiercely and displace his resolve.

What time is Paul referring to when he says, “last days?” Is that the “end of time”? That phrase is pregnant with varied meanings.

In one sense, it can generally be applied to the whole period of the church age – which is most of the period between the first and second comings of Christ. In the Biblical story, the economy of the “last days” as defined by the prophet Joel could be that broad. It depends on how far away from the chart of time you are looking as to what constitutes “last days”. Acts 2 and the coming of the Spirit reminded that the gift of tongues acted as a signal of punishment to the Jewish people in preparation to their serious tribulation and eventual repentance and restoration. The period of “last days” in that view is not the end of time, but the last great economy before God draws Israel back to Himself. It began with the BEGINNING of shame (the tongues experience that followed Christ’s departure) and ends with the END of shame (at the return of the Son).

Second, there is a sort of metaphoric use – a picture image. In this way, it can also apply to specific periods of spiritual testing within the church age in specific settings. In other words, some times of persecution and trouble will ebb and flow in history like the waves at the seashore.

Third, it may specifically more intensely apply to the last years preceding our Lord’s return to the earth – and certainly does – because the time of “Jacob’s trouble” or Great Tribulation will be worse than any previous time.

Jesus reminded us (as recorded by Matthew) that the beginning of that time is like “ labor pains” that signal the time to follow.

The bottom line is that we are in the “last days” of the church age, and they will not be completed until the Son of Man steps onto the earth. My optimism concerning my destiny, then, must be in viewing toward Heaven – not in the eventual overtaking of the world by the Gospel. The Kingdom will be brought in by the violent turmoil of rebellion and the overpowering of the Savior from His horse of war – not the gentle sweeping of the message to all parts of the earth.

We need to be aware that theological approaches have consequences. If I were to accept St. Augustine’s vision of the “City of God”, I would believe that no specific time called the “Great Tribulation” will exist in the future, and the rise of the Kingdom of God is coming through the successful movement of the Gospel bringing peace and truth to the world. I would believe that the so-called “Millennial Kingdom” was the metaphor for the culmination of the great acceptance of the work of Jesus as King. That sounds like a great future – but I do not believe that is the one set forth in the Bible at all. That optimism is based on the church’s forward movement and victory – and is very earth centered. It is held by most Christians in North America today, and it has grown in my lifetime. It is a major feature of the eschatology called “Amillennialism”. It sees things getting better and then the Kingdom wins. It sees the difficulties and details in metaphors, and symbols – it refuses the literal reading of the Word as naïve.

From time to time people say to me, “I don’t care about eschatology, or ‘end times’ teaching. It seems far too speculative. I want to be more practical. I am more worried about evangelism.” Though I commend them on the desire to reach people – theological underpinning shows in practical work. If I believed that things were going to get better, I would prepare people for trouble with the simple understanding that “in the long run of history” the Kingdom will come by the Gospel’s victory. Because I am a literalist, I think it will cyclically grow darker and take a battle with the Son from Heaven to break the darkness. I cannot simply prepare you for small waves of reversals – I must prepare the church under my care for a rising tide of anti-God, anti-Christ, anti-Bible thinking that will eventually be the world system used to displace RIGHT with WRONG. That may not seem as optimistic – but it IS. It places my hope in ANOTHER WORLD not this one. It places my desire to save the planet as one to save the inhabitants, recognizing the terrain will eventually be taken by a literal FIRE and reshaping. It helps inform the priorities of our work – making us less philanthropic ecologists and more ready evangelists. That view is shrinking, as more and more churches try to bring in the Kingdom of God here and now – and speak less of Heaven. I will not join them – even though I will love them as brothers.

Second, Paul offered words about the character of those days:

He said they will be “difficult days” ahead (khal-ep-os’ is hard, harsh, fierce, troublesome, fierce). It is important to note that not everyone will consider them DIFFICULT. Athiests will have their fifteen minutes of national fame, and agnostics will grow in strength as well. They have seized our schools and made faith look stupid and uneducated, and are now working avidly to seize the hearts of American youth. They have taken control of the airwaves, and much of the government initiatives – and are working to push the church and its influence aside. In our town they are doing it by offering through our tax money a powerful machine that is sweeping even daycare aside into the care of the State. We are systematically being “nannied” into a sheepish population, indoctrinated into political correctness, and having simple terms like “right” and “wrong” redefined just under our noses. The outcome of this will be difficult and harsh on those who believe God has spoken, and that is the condition to which Paul was referring.

Third, Paul referenced the certainty of the coming trouble:

He made clear it will come. Bible teacher Ray Prichard tells the story: “You’ve probably heard the old joke about the fellow who was told, “Cheer up. Things could be worse.” So he said, “I did as I was told. I cheered up, and sure enough, things got worse.”

Fourth, Paul offered the underlying human reason it was coming:

Men will be fully overtaken in redirected inordinate self-interest. Look at the words that define the current beneath the surface, and think of the dozens of news items we could apply to each one of them. They will become:

a. Lovers of self: phil-autos or love self. Don’t lose track of what he is saying here – men have always been deeply selfish. The difference in this time is that such thinking will NOT be considered immature and wrong – but RIGHT and LOGICAL.

b. Lovers of money: Phil-arguros or love shining (as in coins). The term is not only a lover of COINAGE, but a lover of the “flashy things”. In other words, the day will increasingly yield to the fleeting attraction of whatever is flashing at the moment. The term has within it the notion that people will increasingly lose enduring affection for the LONG TERM VALUES and see the temporal ones as entirely the goal. They will easily trade the savings account for the lottery – because they will LOSE the notion that DELAYED GRATIFICATION is valuable. It has happened with SEX in our culture – where few young people seem to grasp what is LOST in premarital sex – and few adults seem to WANT them to remember that sexual gratification comes at a PRICE.

c. Boastful: Aladzon – empty braggard. Remember, we are referencing what Paul said will replace the Biblcial world view’s value system. Humility will be seen as a weak force before the “dog eat dog” world of brutes formed by a system that teaches that only the strongest will rise.

d. Arrogant: huperephanos – hoop-er-ay’-fan-os: appearing above others (conspicuous), i.e. (figuratively) haughty — proud. If you read management books of today, one special piece of advice rises to the surface over and over – you must STICK OUT. Promote the brand of self – that is the essence of this term.

e. Revilers: Blasphemos – slanderous. People who don’t think they will answer to a higher power will be emboldened to use the name of the Holy One in blatant profanity. Even more, the vitriol of selfish men will look like the comments section on any “religion” blog by CNN. Read it and you will meet a whole team of the revilers – they are alive a well. Wikipedia reports that the articles on Jesus must constantly be reset because of “contributions” from revilers that seek to demean His life and work.

f. Disobedient to parents: Apeithes – non compliant and unbending. The word for parent is “Goneus” which is from the word “to become”! The term isn’t just “disobedient” – that is the tip of the iceberg. It is the word for “apathetic” – totally unmoved by any care for them – as in UNBONDED. They don’t think parents should have any special right to shape them – they choose who they will listen to and follow. They will “become” without regard to their parents.

g. Ungrateful: Acharistos – ungracious; both unpleased and unpleasing. The term “without charity” only touches the surface. The simple idea is ENTITLEMENT. They believe they DESERVE something because they are on the planet. Life is not about making right choices for them – it is about being victimized by the choices of others before them – when they were deserving of so much more!

h. Unholy: Anosios – not walking in an undefiled state from sinful practices and regarding nothing as holy. They won’t see LIFE as sacred. They won’t see FAMILY as sacred. They won’t think RESPECT as sacred. They won’t think GOD is sacred – so they will be bold in their decision making on “RIGHT” and “WRONG”.

I. Unloving: Astorgos – literally “not cherishing”; without natural affection, unsociable (Rom 1:31), inhuman (2 Tim. 3:3 RSV), unloving (2Ti. 3:3 NKJV). The term means “broken from the God-given bonds of love that once held people together.” This will allow them to redefine LUST as LOVE.

j. Irreconcilable: Aspondos – not with contract; unwilling to remain in things not mutually agreed upon; cannot be persuaded to enter into a covenant. The word is so full of modern thinking it is hard to know where to begin. It’s simplest meaning is ‘doesn’t respond to contract obligations.’ In business, this is a rampaging truth. I sat with a business man last week who has contracts where people literally renegotiate shamelessly on the basis that a court case would cost more than settling for less than agreed upon to complete the job! The easy divorce started when Governor Ronald Reagan introduced it in 1969 in California has swept the nation, and now a generation had arisen that simply sees no point to marriage. For the record, former President Reagan later said it was perhaps his worst mistake in office – ever.

k. Malicious gossips: Diabolos – used of Devil; false accuser, slanderer. See the news – where we offer a trial of public opinion based on half-truths and non-facts that conform to our preconceived notions of the events – without real knowledge of the events. Much of what is called NEWS today is actually a form of GOSSIP – without sufficient verification and based on bias.

l. Without self-control: Akrates – not operating with dominion. Don’t get lost in this! Paul is saying the day will come when people will not think SELF CONTROL is the answer to problems of indulgence. They will argue that abstinence doesn’t work and drop that expectation – then begin the process of legalizing things that aid self-control, on the basis that other things are “just as bad” – but missing the point that we are simply reinforcing the value of immediate gratification and the right to always “feel good”.

m. Brutal: Anemeros – not tame, savage, fierce. There is a brutish and savage sound that comes from someone who is uncaring about the feelings of those around them.

n. Haters of good: Aphilagathos – not loving good, and despising those who uphold it. Read for one hour the website of Atheist 411, and you will hear how God and His followers are responsible for all the evils of the world. Of course, they make little reference to the regimes of pagans in the recent social past that brutalized populations and needed no god to blame.

o. Treacherous: Prodotes – a betrayer, traitor. The term simply reflected the destruction of loyalty. People will become so self-consumed they will lie, cheat, steal – all because the value of “being instantly and constantly happy” will be their birthright.

p. Reckless: Propetes – to fall forwards, headlong, to be rash, reckless. The term revealed that selfishness and immature thinking will yield the inability to PLAN WELL – since life will be all about TODAY.

q. Conceited: Tuphoo – to raise a smoke, to wrap in a mist; to be puffed up with haughtiness or pride. This idea was that people would grow in SELF IMAGE and see themselves as completing things they haven’t actually done. They will have an inordinate ability to see themselves as qualified and deserving, even when they have done little to build a resume of accomplishments.

r. Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God: fil-ay’-don-os – love (hedonistic) pleasures. This one isn’t tough – they worship feeling good – all the time, any time and any expense. There is no price too high in society for what will make me explode with pleasure right now! Some will simply call them “addicted to happy”, but caution us “don’t worry – they can govern well” in spite of this lack of any control in some areas.

s. Holding (echo: possessing) a form (Morphosis: shape, resemblance) of godlinessdenied (ar-neh’-om-ahee: act entirely unlike himself) power (Dunamis: inherent power, power residing in a thing by virtue of its nature) – Some will continue to do the things that look like they work, but will not act consistent with the value of those things! God rejectors will not stop religious practices – just take a consistent position against those who will pose a relationship with God is possible!

We spent a long time looking at that list – because Paul spent a long time making clear what replacing a Biblical world view with its competing world system morality will look like. It isn’t a reason to despair – because the world’s end isn’t OUR END. It isn’t GOD’S END. It is MUTINY’S END.

Still the question remains: “What can I do in the face of the obvious trend to make wrong into right?”

Right Responses Needed: The Responses of the Believer (“US” in 2 Timothy 3:5b-17)

Mark lines around those who want it both ways

Don’t miss the major thing Paul said in the beginning of this section: The most important thing when entering a mine field is to learn how to AVOID them. That sounds as though Paul is saying NOT TO ENGAGE them, but that is not the truth. The word AVOID is a specific term that means to SHUN (apotrepo), i.e. “turn away from the mutation they are making” (3:5b).

We don’t try to just keep away. We stand up and call false what it is and “connect the dots” between wrong belief and reprehensible practices. We do it to stand for truth. We do it to point out the dangers to those who follow us! During the times of low regard for the truth, we will be forced to RECOGNIZE those who are pulling apart the pattern of Godliness and CALL OUT the truth. We cannot simply let themselves be called the same as we are – because their mutation is to be quarantined.

Let me offer an example: Recently, the belief blog of CNN again featured the “evangelical” view by Rachel Held Evans. Here was a part of her report that I think gives the flavor without betraying her understanding. The article was called: “Not all religious convictions are written in stone

(CNN) – There’s a misconception among many faithful folks that religious convictions, by their very nature, are set in stone. People who change their minds are called flip-floppers or backsliders, accused of capitulating to culture and “conforming to the world.” … In my own life, questions and doubts have served as refining fires that keep my faith hot and alive and bubbling where certainty would only freeze it on the spot. I’ve changed my mind about a lot of things—the age of the Earth, the reality of climate change, the value of women in church leadership… Like a lot of evangelicals, I grew up in a religious environment that vilified LGBT people. … Today, I am honored to be the friend of many LGBT people, and I celebrated along with them as Exodus International closed its doors and as the Supreme Court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. …In his book “Velvet Elvis,” Rob Bell writes:

“Times change. God doesn’t, but times do. We learn and grow, and the world around us shifts, and the Christian faith is alive only when it is listening, morphing, innovating, letting go of whatever has gotten in the way of Jesus and embracing whatever will help us be more and more the people God wants us to be.”

A person of conviction is not one who is unyielding to change, but one whose beliefs evolve based on new information, new movements of the Spirit, new biblical insights and, yes, new friends. There’s a story in the New Testament about a Roman centurion named Cornelius, whose fear of God and care for the poor was widely known among the people. After receiving a vision from God, Cornelius sends for the apostle Peter, who agrees to meet with him, even though it was forbidden for a Jew to associate with a Gentile. Peter, an observant Jew, had been wrestling with the idea of including Gentiles in the church. But when he encounters the sincere faith of Cornelius, he is moved to declare, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right!” He tells the skeptical people who have gathered outside, “God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.” Peter changed his mind, and the church would never be the same. Despite deeply held religious convictions regarding circumcision and dietary restrictions, he led the way in opening the doors of the church to all who would enter, regardless of ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status or religious background. We can learn a lot from Peter — not only from his inclusiveness, but also from his willingness to change his mind. Like Peter, God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. And that I should not think so highly of myself as to assume I’ve got this faith thing all figured out.

Let me be clear: Rachel just took the Scriptures about God revealing truth in visions from Heaven and turned them into “convictions” that should be re-framed by “new friendships” that offer reasons to deny what God has clearly said in no uncertain terms in His Word. She is in error in her interpretative method – and she is NOT correct about her conclusions from Scripture – but has misused it to teach the opposite of what it said. Her trusted reference to Rob Bell was a step on her journey to torquing the Word of God into a different message. Rob has done it by denying hell as the destination of unbelievers, and now she is doing it to allow lifestyle choices that God has clearly defined as abhorrent to Him. I mention it because it is a good illustration of the seriousness of the problem. She represented the EVANGELICAL WORLD on CNN. I cannot offer more potent evidence: Not teaching the proper interpretive devices of Scripture will increasingly allow the Bible to be used to wound itself – even if by well-meaning youths.

Identify those who OPPOSE the truth:

Some of you may be uncomfortable with my naming of Rachel just now. The problem is, I have to name her, and I have to challenge her. When the Bible’s clarity is at stake – it is the right thing to do. Look at how Paul handled it:

3:6 For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, 7 always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these [men] also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith. 9 But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes’s and Jambres’s folly was also.

The ploy will be to convince the ignorant (and that is most prominently being done among high school and college students today) and allow their voices to challenge the leadership and message of God in a brazen but uninformed way. They have been taught to oppose the truth. They have often unwittingly adopted depravity and rejected God’s stated view of right and wrong in favor of another system to evaluate it. If Tim would do his job, people would know the obvious violation. If he compromised, God would have to raise up another to do that work, so that the violation would become more obvious. We must identify where the truth battle lines are being set.

Commit to follow the EXAMPLE of the best who went before us:

3:10 Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, 11 persecutions, [and] sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium [and] at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me! 12 Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 13 But evil men and impostors will proceed [from bad] to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

Paul made the case that Tim watched what God did in and through his ministry as a disciple. He saw Paul handle the brazen and the arrogant. He knew what a mob scene looked like, and knew that rocks and anger wouldn’t stop Paul from teaching the truth to a lost world. He saw Paul get pushed around, beat up and persecuted. Now he heard that WORSE THINGS were ahead. In my view the worse things are brought in by a post-Christian culture. There is a special anger among lost men and women about the moral system we represent. The notions of family, respect, and humility are not only being ignored – they are being vilified in the public forum.

Continue unabated to the COMMITMENT to the Word:

Paul’s straightforward words to the flagging commitment of his weakened disciple were unmistakable: Get back to the commitment to God’s Word.

2 Timothy 2:14 You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned [them], 15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Being convinced of the Scriptures is not an embarrassment or weakness – it is the source of my strength – as it was for Presidents, Prime Ministers, preachers and peasants for generations.

Knowing something is true because the Bible says it is not small minded or dull – it is taking what my spiritual fathers have known and intentionally applying it yet again to another generation of lost men. It is offering spiritual food to a world starved of truth. In the absence of truth, a starved world will eat garbage. We must give them a choice – because God has already prepared one.

Don’t miss that one who soaks in the Word will not be ill prepared – but equipped for the work ahead!

Our hope is not in historic moral victories or popular majorities but in timeless truths.