Two Roads Diverged

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference.

So concludes Robert Frost’s famous poem, The Road Not Taken, In the first chapter of his epistle, James sets forth two very different roads that we can walk that will lead us in two very different directions.

  • One road leads to a crown of life (vs 12) while the other road leads to death (vs 15)
  • One road refines us through fire to make us mature and complete while the other road caters to our selfish wants
  • One road forms in us the character of Christ while the other road captivates us with false promises
  • One road produces joy while the other road produces sin

The question is not, “What road do you want to be on?” That is a nonsensical question. The better question is, “What road are you on?”

If you are experiencing tests and trials, God is using those trials to make you mature and complete. The road may not be easy, but it will produce abiding joy. If you are experiencing temptations that are enticing you, go before Christ who alone was tempted yet without sin and trust in him.

Two roads diverged in a wood. What one are you on?

 

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Collision: The Line is Drawn Sermon Video

When God’s world collided with Simon’s world, he went from a fisherman to evangelist.
When God’s world collided with Levi’s world, he went from a tax collector to a gospel-writer.

In this message, we explore Luke 5 and the call of Simon (vs 1-11) and Levi (vs 27-32) and what happens when God’s world collides with theirs. And the point: To ask what happens when God’s world collides with yours…

Eager Anticipation… Misplaced.

The highly anticipated iPhone 4 hit the shelves one week ago today. Apple announced sales of 1.7 million phones in the first 3 days alone and will likely announce surpassing the 3 million mark in the next week or so. And this is with the phone only being available in 3 countries. Wait till it hits the other 88 countries around the world where it will be available over the next few months. The buzz that Apple can create with a product launch is amazing. Is there a better, more streamlined way to launch the product that would include fewer lines and less waiting? Certainly. But those lines create the eager anticipation and buzz that push Apple to the front pages and lead news stories.

The church where I formerly served has been gracious to allow me to keep my previous iPhone until this new one was available. But, I do need to return it to them, so I had pre-reserved a phone to pick up on launch day. Yes, I was one of those crazies waiting in line. Pictured here is the line at the mall where I had reserved my phone. And for the record, I was waiting in line for 4 hours before I got to this part of the line! That day, I arrived at the mall at 4:45pm. After a quick bathroom break and picking up a drink in the food court, I got in line at 5:00pm. I walked out of the mall, new iPhone 4 in hand, at 10:53pm.

That morning I woke up particularly early. At 6:00am, I was already wide awake. At that point I was thinking, “Hey, I wonder if the Walmart down the street will actually have any units available for walk-up purchase? Maybe I could get mine this morning rather than waiting till after work today to get it.” That is how bad I wanted the phone.

Now, that particular morning I made a good decision. And, to be honest, one that I, unfortunately, don’t always make. Instead of rushing out the door to Walmart, I picked up my Bible to read. Like I said, I’m not always that disciplined. That day I did make a good decision. Anyway, I’ve been reading the Philippians and wanted to share what I read that morning as it has still been on my heart, working me over since that day.

“Therefore God exalted him [Jesus] to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

Crazy lines of eager anticipation swarm an iPhone release, yesterday’s release of Eclipse (the third movie in the Twilight series) and even many sporting events. I have, as with the iPhone, even been part of some of those swarms of eager anticipation (for the record, I wasn’t part of the Eclipse crowd!) But this short passage, taken from a hymn that Paul records in his letter to the Philippians, begs the question, “Why don’t I [we] live with this type of eager expectation for the glory of God to be revealed in me [us]?”

Why is it that I put other things first in my life? The answer is one that I don’t want to hear and involves a word that we avoid at all cost: idolatry. Yeah, maybe I made a good decision that day to read my Bible instead of race to Walmart in hopes of being one of the elect who got a phone at 7:02am, but I somehow thought that I couldn’t wait till that evening. I had to have it and had to have it now. At that point, I’m not any different than the Israelites in Exodus 32 when they built the golden calf. I am hoping for life, meaning and satisfaction from a phone rather than in Christ, whom God has exalted to the highest place. That is the definition, par excellence, of idolatry: putting hope and trust in something rather than in Christ.

Thank you, Lord, for the mountain of mercy where I can come and find forgiveness and where Christ is exalted forever as King. Make him King – exalted above all else – in my life today.

Interact: What do you exalt to the highest place in your life? What do I?

Bow before Little Debbie

Now, I feel like I have to make this disclaimer up front: I am from the Philly area where our idea of a packaged baked good is Tastykake, maker of some of the world’s great snacks from the Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes to Butterscotch Krimpets to their strawberry pie. Amazing.

I give that disclaimer because it is with great hesitancy that I talk about the “other guys.” However, outside of the Philly area, the prepackaged baked goods industry is dominated by one company: Little Debbie. Of all of their products, about the only one that I think is any good is the Raisin Creme Pie. But this week, in my reading of Scripture, the Little Debbie Raisin Creme Pie surfaced in a new way.

If you have never studied the book of Hosea, it’s quite fascinating. Hosea had, quite possibly, the most raw deal of any character in all the Bible. See, God told him to go and marry a prostitute with the promise that she would cheat on him. I love my wife dearly, but I’m not sure how I would have been able to deal with knowing before we even married that she would cheat on me. (Quick aside: I hope I never have to know how that feels!) But when she does cheat on him, she leaves him and returns to her life of prostitution. At that point, God tells Hosea to continue to love her, pursue her and buy her back out of the life of prostitution.

Hosea’s life, however, was not just some weird punishment from God. Rather, through the prophet’s life and marriage, we gain some insight into the heart of God. See, the book of Hosea is not really about Hosea and Gomer. It’s about God and Israel, his chosen people. Throughout Scripture, the people of God are referred to as his bride. Yet, like Gomer, Israel – and now the church – have forsaken him, committing spiritual adultery as we bow to impotent idols.

Which brings us back to the Little Debbie Raisin Creme Pies. Read Hosea 3:1, “The Lord said to me, ‘Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.” Yes, the Israelites were forsaking the God who saved them from slavery in Egypt so they could eat some Little Debbie snacks!

How foolish that seems. They were worshipping and bowing before the Little Debbie snack gods. Yet, aren’t we guilty of many of the same sins? We serve the Holy, Creator God – the One who bought us out of our life of sin through Christ just as Hosea did for Gomer. And yet, like Gomer and like Israel, we continue to pursue other things, hoping and trust in that which is lifeless and hopeless.

“Lord, forgive us for pursuing stupid raisin cakes rather than trusting in you and worshipping you alone. Thank you for pursuing us and buying us back out of our sin. Amen.”

Interact: You may not be literally bowing before raisin cakes, but how are you forsaking Christ to bow before other gods?

Slaying the Money Idol

Over on FB and Twitter, I referenced an article over at Faith and Leadership that asks, “Should pastors know what members give?” I wasn’t even really trying to push one answer, just referencing F&L article as it offered some useful insights. This set off quite a discussion, but most of the objections center around money being a private issue,  shaped by the privitistic, individualistic culture in which we live. While not intending to answer the question about pastors knowing, I do think the discussion raises an even bigger issue.

As is often stated, Jesus spent more time talking about money than he did any issue short of the kingdom of God. Why? Because money is a big deal. Consider Matthew 6:24…

“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” Matthew 6:24.

You cannot serve both God and money. They are at odds with one another. Only one can be that in which you hope and trust. Our money may say “In God we trust,” but, for most of us, it’s money we trust. We idolize and worship money, not God. Consider this cartoon…

Poignant, huh? It has often been said that “Jesus is either Lord of all or not at all.” That is, there is no keeping your money out of the conversation. When our money is out of bounds, or kept unto ourselves, you are making a choice to serve money. And, again, as Jesus has said, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t serve both God and money. The real issue here is one of slaying idols and of sanctification. At some point in your sanctification, your attitude and approach toward money will be brought to the forefront. Just a few verses earlier, Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Bring your money into the waters of baptism that you may be sanctified and Jesus may be all in all.

Interact: What money idol do you need to slay in order to set your heart on the Kingdom of God?

Was Achan a believer?

This past Sunday, I preached a sermon on Joshua 7 (notes and link to video in previous post). The theme sentence for the sermon was this: “The secret sins of one can derail the whole of God’s people from accomplishing the great vision that lay before them.” That is, Achan was the only one in all of Israel who broke the command not to take plunder from Jericho. Yet, because of his sin, Israel lost the battle against AI.

After he was found out, Achan did confess his sin. “It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: when I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath” (Joshua 7:20-21).

When confronted with his sin, Achan did confess, telling the truth. That led to this question that I received over on Facebook. “Was Achan a believer?” For the sake of fully answering this question, I thought it helpful to bring it over to the blog where I could have some more space to answer the question. Let me present two main considerations in answering the question, following by an important implication for the church today.

  1. This question presupposes repentance on Achan’s behalf. In fact, the original question on Facebook continued, “Is this what Paul would later call a “sin unto death” type of thing because he did repent and didn’t hold back on acknowledging his sin?” I would suggest that this was not true repentance. Walvoord and Zuck, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, have this to say, “Achan’s response was straightforward and complete. He confessed his sin and gave no excuses. But neither did he express sorrow for disobeying God’s order, betraying his nation for booty, and causing the defeat of Israel’s troops and the death of 36 men. Any remorse he may have felt was probably only because he got caught” (p. 345). That is to say, he probably felt guilty about getting caught, not about the action itself.
  2. Repentance is marked by action. The process of sorting through the whole nation from tribe to clan to family to individual must have taken some time. If he was really repentant, he should have come forward, not waiting to be singled out through that whole process. Walvoord and Zuck continue, “Since the method took time it would also give the guilty person an opportunity to repent and confess his sin. If Achan had responded in this way and thrown himself on the mercy of God no doubt he would have been pardoned as was the guilty David centuries later” (p. 345).

So, to summarize: No, I do not believe that was true biblical repentance and no, I do not think that Achan was a believer.

Maybe the most intriguing implication of this question is whether or not an unbeliever can be part of the covenant community.  We often speak about the visible church and the invisible church or, as Dr. Betters from Glasgow Church often calls it, the “true” church and the “show” church. That is, there are people who are members of the visible church – a local, visible expression of God’s people – who are outside of the covenant people of God. They are not part of the true, invisible church.

Here is Achan, an Israelite living in light of the blessings and protection of YHWH himself. Yet by his actions, he proved himself not to be among the elect. Though dwelling among God’s people, he himself was not one. Interestingly, in the couple chapters prior, there is a non-Israelite, and a prostitute at that, who proved herself to be elect by her faith. The lesson is this: there are non-elect pretending to be God’s people while those we least expect will show their election by their faith and be adopted into the covenant community.

Derailed: A sermon on Joshua 7

You can view this sermon at Glasgow Church’s media page.
Here is the outline of my notes from the sermon.

Introduction – Excited about Vision

  • Quote on Twitter – “If you chase two rabbits, they both will escape.”
  • Point of that quote: you must pick a single vision/objective and pursue it relentlessly. If you waffle or get distracted by another goal, you won’t accomplish any of them.
  • Exciting time in the life of the church – most exciting in my time here
  • Last week, at the congregational meeting, we voted on a cool plan
  • What excites me is the Acts 1:8 component of this plan – “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
  • Local, regional and global
    • Renovations & sports fields here to further our ministry locally
    • Planting a church in Middletown
    • Building an orphanage across the world

Transition

  • This is an amazing vision – an exciting one to be sure
  • The Scriptures, this morning, will offer us a caution to be heeded
  • It is possible to be derailed from that accomplishing that vision

Joshua 7

  • Set the stage – Moses led the people out of slavery in Egypt
  • After wandering the desert for 40 years, the Israelites stood just on the other side of the Jordan, the Promised Land in site
  • Moses’ last act was to lead the Israelites in renewing the covenant and passing the mantle of leadership to Joshua
  • Under Joshua, the Israelites march on to take possession of their inheritance – the land God promised to Abraham
  • The first city they conquer is Jericho – in a most amazing way – God demonstrated that this was all about him – He was the one who would give the victory

Defeat at Ai (2-5)

  • Talk about energy and momentum – they just experienced a great victory over mighty Jericho
  • Next up is a little town called Ai
  • Read verses 2-5
  • Ai is so small and weak, no sense sending the whole army – just send a couple thousand people
  • Wait, what just happened here? They defeated mighty Jericho then fall to Ai?
  • They were routed!
  • Some think this was a result of overconfidence – only sending 3000 men – I’ll suggest that is not what was happening here – let’s continue on

Joshua’s Confusion (6-9)

  • Read verses 6-9
  • Joshua goes before God and says, “God, what just happened here? This isn’t the way it was supposed to happen!”
  • Professor at Notre Dame who wrote a book, “Not the way it’s supposed to be”
  • That’s how Joshua feels right about now
  • He tears his clothes and falls on his knees, utterly confused
  • After defeating big, mighty Jericho, how did we lose to little ole’ Ai?
  • I thought we were supposed to take possession of this land, and we lose?

God’s Wrath Revealed (10-15)

  • God hears Joshua’s prayer and responds
  • Read verses 10-15
  • God reveals to Joshua that there is sin among the people
  • Someone took the devoted things – took plunder – from Jericho
  • The culprit must be found and punished

Achan is the Guy (16-18)

  • In every episode of the TV show, Monk, there is a point at which Monk figures it all out and says, “He is the guy”
  • That is what happens here in verses 16-18 (read)
  • God weeds through the Israelites by tribe (Judah), clan (Zerah) family (Zimri) and finally man by man until Achan is revealed to be the perpetrator

Achan’s Sin (19-21)

  • Achan is brought forward and asked to account for his actions
  • Read verses 19-21
  • Achan confesses to stealing the plunder – taking a robe and gold and silver
  • He coveted the plunder from Jericho and so, in secret, he stashed it
  • Listen to Deuteronomy 7:25-26: “The images of their gods you are to burn in the fire. Do not covet the silver and gold on them, and do not take it for yourselves, or you will be ensnared by it, for it is detestable to the Lord your God. Do not bring a detestable thing into your house or you, like it, will be set apart for destruction. Utterly abhor and detest it, for it is set apart for destruction.”
  • Yet, this is precisely what Achan does

Two Consequences

  • There are 2 consequences for Achan’s action
  • We, like Achan, have a tendancy to downplay just how bad sin is
  • But listen to the words of Jeremiah 8:11: “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious.”
  • As I was preparing, I came across two quotes from the same author as he was discussing this passage.
  • “We Christians generally have such tame views of sin; wrongly, we have no paranoia over this contagious power” (Davis, p.62)
  • “Our problem here is – sinners that we are – we don’t think breaking Yahweh’s covenant is all that big a deal” (Davis, p.64)
  • Breaking Yahweh’s covenant is a big deal – sin is a big deal
  • And Achan and all of Israel is about to find out just how big a deal sin is

Punishment (22-26a)

  • Read verses 22-26a
  • The first consequence is punishment
  • Sin must always be punished
  • You all know the words of Romans 6:23 – “For the wages of sin is death”
  • The JB Phillips says it this way: “Sin pays its servants, the wage is death.”
  • Achan and his whole family – every family member and everything he owned – are stoned to death and then burned
  • Men, let me speak to you for just a moment
    • This passage should serve as a strong caution for you
    • Your sin will affect your family – they will pay a price for your sin
    • Exodus 34:6-7 – “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”
    • Men, if you are faithful, your family will be blessed
    • If you are unfaithful, your family will pay the price

The Whole of God’s People Suffer (1)

  • Achan’s punishment was simply the first of the two consequences his sin would carry
  • For the second, we need to go back to verse 1, which you probably noticed we skipped at the beginning
  • Read verse 1
  • Here, the author of Joshua previews what is about to come: Achan took some of the devoted things and as a result, God’s anger burned against Israel
  • This is what we call “the reader’s advantage” – when we read this, we get a feel for what is going on in the story
  • Joshua, remember, didn’t have the advantage of that perspective. It was happening to him!
  • Have you ever watched a movie and you knew that a character was about to walk into a trap?
  • That is why I don’t watch horror movies: the characters always walk into the scenario!
  • Girls, don’t decide on your own you are going to go investigate a creepy old house where someone was killed! What do you expect to happen!
  • That is what we mean by the “reader’s advantage” – we have a perspective that the characters do not – we know things they do not.
  • Remember, Joshua was utterly confused because he didn’t know what just happened!
  • But there is something very important for us to see in verse 1.
  • It says that Achan took the plunder AND that the Israelites acted unfaithfully!
  • One person broke the covenant, yet ALL of Israel was counted as unfaithful!
  • The second consequence of Achan’s sin was Israel’s defeat at Ai

Secret Sins

  • Here’s what I want us to learn from this story this morning…
  • The secret sins of one derailed the whole of God’s people from accomplishing the great vision that lay before them.
  • The Israelites were God’s chosen people
  • He had promised this land to them
  • So why had they experienced defeat?
  • Because of one man’s sin – The secret sins of one derailed the whole of God’s people from accomplishing the great vision of capturing Canaan, the land of promise, as their inheritance forever.

Our Secret Sins

  • Likewise, we have a great vision before us of taking forth the gospel in Glasgow and Bear, in Middletown and around the world
  • We have a vision to carry forth the gospel in word and deed. It’s an amazing vision
  • But there is something that can derail us – your secret sin, my secret sin.
  • The secret sins of one derailed the whole of God’s people from accomplishing the great vision that lay before them.
  • The secret sin of one of us can derail the whole church from accomplishing this great vision.
  • Your secret sins, my secret sins, have an impact beyond what we know.

The Grace (7:26b-8:2)

  • This passage does not end without hope and without grace.
  • Read verses 25b-26
  • “Then the Lord turned from his fierce anger” – when sin is punished, God turns away his just wrath
  • The hope for us is that Christ has taken our punishment. Like Achan, we deserve to be stoned and burned. Yet Christ has take it upon himself.
  • “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8)
  • The first consequence of sin is punishment – but God has taken that punishment upon himself
  • If you are here this morning, and have never received Christ’s love, I encourage you to do so now. The Bible says that “If we confess our sins here is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9)
  • Because Christ has died, your sin can be forgiven. God’s wrath against you can be turned away! Ask for that forgiveness right now.
  • The second consequence is that the whole of God’s people are derailed from the great mission that lay before them.
  • Read 8:1-2
  • After sin is punished, God turns away his wrath. When that happens, he restores then to the mission he gave them.
  • After Achan was punished, Israel returned to the task of capturing the Promised Land
  • Notice the real irony of the story – at Ai, Israel was given permission to take plunder!
  • If only Achan had been content to wait, he would have found that God had a plan that would have allowed him to have even greater riches than he could have imagined!
  • When we confess our sins, Christ forgives us AND he restores us, as a church, to the mission, to the great vision, that lies before us.
  • And, like Israel, we have great riches awaiting us: “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms n Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6-7)

Conclusion

  • As a church, we have a great vision before us.
  • Personally, I can’t wait to see how God work in and through our congregation in the days and weeks and months and years to come.
  • Only one thing can derail us: secret sins.
  • Bring your secret sins to light because sin dies in the light.
  • And then receive the forgiveness of God made available through Christ alone
  • And then, together, let us set forth to fulfill the great vision, to the glory of God.

Pray