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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

What Was the Sin of Balaam



What Was the Sin of Balaam?
 
We discover hidden treasures when we search through the stories in the Bible.  And today we will uncover such a treasure - a powerful truth - as we study the Old Testament story of the prophet, Balaam.  Let’s see what we can learn from Balaam’s actions as told in Numbers 22-25, and 31:16.  
 
Here and there throughout Scripture, the prophet Balaam’s name is mentioned.  And never is his name mentioned in a favorable light! Usually when you read about Balaam in the Bible, it is along with a warning from God not to be like him.  (2 Peter 2:15, Jude 11, Revelations 2:14.)  
 
For years I read the story of Balaam and wondered what he had done wrong.  Or why there were warnings throughout Scripture to not fall into his sin.  You can find Balaam’s story in Numbers 22-24.  Scripture says that Balaam, a Midianite, had been given a powerful gift of prophecy from God.  Balaam knew the true God, and God had shown him things of a spiritual nature that most of us cannot see.  Also, God had given him visions of events that would happen in the far-off future. Balaam was even allowed to see a vision of Christ, the future Messiah and Redeemer.  God had given him so much!      
 
 Balaam’s story takes place in the land of Moab - a small country just over the Jordan river from Israel.  The year was around 1406 B.C.  The Israelites had spent forty years in the wilderness and now they would be traveling right by Moab on their way to their promised land, the land of Israel.  The people who lived in Moab – the Moabites- and their neighbors, the Midianites, were very nervous and afraid that the Israelites might try to take over their lands or hurt their people as they were traveling by.
 
 So Balak, the king of Moab sent messengers to Balaam with this message: “A people have come out of Egypt: they cover the face of the land and have settled next to me.  Now come and put a curse on these people, because they are too powerful for me.  Perhaps then I will be able to defeat them and drive them out of the country.  For I know that those you bless are blessed, and those you curse are cursed.”  (Numbers 22:5-6) Balak, the king, promised to pay lots of money to Balaam if he would curse Israel for him.
Balaam told the king’s messengers that he did not have the power to curse the Israelites on his own. That his gift of prophecy was from God and he could not bless or curse them without God.  Balaam asked the messengers to spend the night with him and he would pray to God and ask God if he could go back with them and curse the Israelites.  God came to Balaam that night and spoke these words to him: “Do not go with them.  You must not put a curse on those people because they are blessed.” (Numbers 22:12)   So, the next morning Balaam told the messengers to tell the king of Moab that the Lord had refused to let him go.    
 
When the messengers got back to their king with Balaam’s message, the king was greatly distressed and sent more messengers back to Balaam promising to give him great power and a huge amount of money and gifts if he would curse the Israelites. Balaam really wanted the money and the power so he asked God one more time if he couldn’t go with these men.  And God gave Balaam this answer, “Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you to do.”  (Numbers 22:20)
 
The next morning Balaam saddled up his donkey and went with the king’s men on their journey. They planned to go up to the top of a Mount Pisgah where Balaam could have a good view of the Israelites camped below on the desert floor.  And a better place for Balaam to send out curses over them.   But all was not well.  The Bible says: “But God was very angry when Balaam went, and the angel of the Lord stood in the road to stop him.  (Numbers 22:22) Evidently Balaam couldn’t see the angel but his donkey could see him.  Was God playing with Balaam?   
 
Scripture goes on to say: “When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, she (the donkey) turned off the road into a field and Balaam beat his donkey to get her back on the road.”  (Numbers 22;23) Have we, like Balaam, gone down a road that we knew God didn’t want us to go on?  Two more times the angel of the Lord stood in Balaam’s way and frightened the donkey and two more times Balaam yelled at the donkey and beat her when she refused to keep on going.  Finally, the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth and the donkey talked back and asked Balaam why he was beating her.  And Balaam still didn’t stop and think that something was amiss!
 
 Was the Lord trying to get Balaam to want His will and to turn around on his own?  To do His will without God having to force him to obey?  Did God want Balaam to put Him and His will first above the money and power that he would be given by Israel’s enemies?   Does God ever want us to want what He wants, without Him having to interfere?  Are we willing to follow God’s will when it isn’t popular or when it will cost us?  Does God ever test us?  Does He allow us to travel with those who are rebelling against Him, even if He wants us to stay true to Him?     
 
Scripture says: “Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he finally saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn.  So, he bowed low and fell facedown.”  (Numbers 22:31)   The angel of the Lord told Balaam that his path was a reckless one!  But that if he wanted to go he should go on with the men.  But he was warned by the angel to speak only what he was told to speak.  Balaam went on with the king of Moab and his men, still perhaps hoping that he could send out curses and collect his reward.
 
When Balaam reached the mountain peaks he looked down over the Israelites camped all across the desert.  He made sacrifices to God and raised his hands in the air starting to speak his curses, but these words came out of his mouth instead.  “How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!” (Numbers 24:5) He went on speaking – but with a long blessing for Israel as God put all the words in his mouth. Instead of the curses he wanted to give, God put only blessings in his mouth for Israel and would not allow him to curse them.  The king of Moab was furious with Balaam for not helping him out.  And Balaam went home disappointed that he couldn’t earn big money by using God’s gift of prophecy to gain fame and fortune for himself.   
 
We read about Balaam again shortly after this. Several months later Balaam and his men invited a group of Jewish men to leave their tents and travel to a nearby Midianite religious service where the idol Baal was being worshipped. This Baal worship included wild orgies with human sacrifices, sex, liquor and pagan idol worship.  Nude religious prostitutes would be dancing around their demon god while having sexual orgies with the drunken Jewish male guests.  Many of the Jewish men were seduced by Balaam to reject the true God and take part worshipping these heathen gods and having sex with pagan prostitutes.
 
 Jesus speaks to the Church in Pergamum warning them against Balaam’s sin.  “Nevertheless, I have a few things against you.  You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immoralities.”  (Revelations 2:14) Also, in Numbers 31:16 it says: “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away for the Lord…”
 
Apparently, Balaam helped seduce these Jewish men in order to compromise Israel, the Israel God would not allow him to curse!  Balaam, who had been given so much from the God, was now turning God’s very own people against Him!  And whenever Balaam’s name is mentioned in Scripture there is a warning to stay away from his sin!  
 
  Are there Christian priests, ministers and leaders today who have great influence and power like Balaam did?  Christian men and women who have been given special talents and gifts to be used in their churches?  Can these Christians be tempted today to sin the sin of Balaam?  To use God’s gifts and talents to curse their congregations with falsehoods instead of blessing them with the Truth?  To seduce their church to worship other gods and bless sexual immorality like Balaam did?  These religious leaders may gain popularity, influence and money by turning on God.  But Balaam’s life should be a warning to them and to all of us!     
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
    
 
 

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Come out from Among Them and be Separate


Come out from Among Them and be Separate
 
We are leaving our church – the church where we belonged and the church that took us in as one of their own.  After many long years, with great sadness we are leaving our comfortable secure place - our ministries and our friends – and our beloved close- knit group! – Leaving and going out hopefully to find another church.
 
 We are the judgmental bad guys. No one understands why we are leaving, and some are hurt and angry and feel that we are rejecting them. We never wanted to do that. Many nights I have tossed and turned - unable to sleep.  Leaving is a hard thing to do! 
 
But we are leaving because our church has an extremely liberal view of Scripture. Our small group no longer wants any Bible study.  Many in our church believe that most of the Old Testament is made up of mythical stories.  And many don’t believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins.  Or that we even have sin that needs to be forgiven!  Some are militant about this!  We cannot live in the faithlessness that has been stirred up. God is calling us to leave.  And we must obey.
 
Throughout the Bible and down through the ages, God calls His people to come out and be separate from the world and not live the way the secular person lives. God commanded Israel to only worship Him.  To never worship idols or foreign gods.  Ancient Israel was the only nation in the known world that did not worship idols.  They were the odd balls.
 
 It was difficult being the only people who couldn’t have these popular idols.  Many of the Jewish people wanted what they couldn’t have.  They wanted to do what they were forbidden by God to do. Down through the ages, even though they knew God’s command, they were still being tempted to do what everyone else was doing – to worship and sacrifice to idols.  Are we like them today?  Are we tempted to do what everyone else is doing, even when Scripture tells us that it is wrong?   
 
Farmers from other nations would tell the Israelite farmers that when they sacrificed to their idols, in return they would get back a better crop.  And then the Israelite farmer would wonder if perhaps he could grow better crops with the help of those idols. These idols were like big good luck charms that would supposedly help the worshippers get what they wanted.
 
Often an Israelite farmer would go up in the hills – (called the “high places” in Scripture) and build a secret altar for an idol and sacrifice to it.  Throughout the Old Testament there are many Bible passages where God is expressing His anger because the kings of Israel were not tearing down these “high places” where foreign gods were being worshipped.  Here, from the Old Testament is one of God’s many calls to ancient Israel: “Make confession to the Lord God of your fathers and do His will: separate yourselves from the peoples around you”. (Ezra 10:11)
    
Throughout antiquity God was constantly warning the Israelites to separate themselves from the other nations and worship only Him.  To love and be faithful to only Him. To trust only Him for their crops and their lives.  And He calls us to do the same – to tear down our “high places” where we build altars to the secret sins or idols in our lives – the idols that come between us and our God.  God’s message to His people down through all time is the same – He want all our trust and all our love.    
 
And even though we are not being tempted to worship idols like God’s people were in the ancient world, we Christians are to separate ourselves from practices (or idols) in our modern culture that keep us further from God. Our life should look different from the secular person’s life because we are different.  We are being led by the Holy Spirit and we belong to Christ.
 
God calls the Christian to: “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.  I will be your Father, and you shall be My sons and daughters., says the Lord Almighty.”  (2 Corinthians 6:17-18) There are practices that are “unclean” for Christians that perhaps a non-Christian would find acceptable.  
 
The Bible says that the Christian is to be humble, loving, and trusting God and always forgiving.  We are to take care of our families and be faithful to one another. Obey and love God and His laws.  Study the Bible and give to the poor and needy.  Not covet or want what others have. Worship and pray to God our Father.  And love and trust Him.  And obey His Word.  We can only do all these things through the power of the Holy Spirit.
 
And we Christians are commanded to get rid of any influence that compromises our relationship with God. The Christian is to live differently from the carnal person.  The Scriptures say: “All that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world.  (1 John 2:16)  A spiritual battle between good and evil is being fought right here around us.   
 
The Christian is to turn away from any tendency to be controlled by money.  The Scriptures say: “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.”  (Luke 16:13) Our heavenly Father does not want material things to control us.  He promises to provide for us.
 
The first commandment of the Ten Commandments is “You shall have no other gods before Me.”  (Exodus 20:3) God calls the Christian to put Him first.  When we put God first, we don’t have room for many of the things that the secular person chases after.
 
 The secular person often is trying to craft the best life possible for himself or herself.  He wants to do life his way. To do that he may go after money, sex and power in a different way than the Christian would.  The secular person doesn’t want to give up any of her control or put away any of her idols. She wants it all.  She wants it her way. 
 
 A Christian’s life is very different.  He is trying to give up his life to Christ.  In return he finds a joy and peace he never knew before. (Matthew 10:39) He no longer even owns his own life; he is learning to give it up to Christ.  Scripture says; “you are not your own, you are bought with a price” (the price is Jesus’ blood) (1st Corinthians 6:20)
 


A Christian is called to give up her life to Christ, to get rid of her secret idols, confess all her sins and to tear down all her “high places.”  God wants all of you.  Are you willing to give Him everything?
 touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.  I will be your Father, and you shall be My sons and daughters., says the Lord Almighty.”  (2 Corinthians 6:17-18) There are practices that are “unclean” for Christians that perhaps a non-Christian would find acceptable.  
 
The Bible says that the Christian is to be humble, loving, and trusting God and always forgiving.  We are to take care of our families and be faithful to one another. Obey and love God and His laws.  Study the Bible and give to the poor and needy.  Not covet or want what others have. Worship and pray to God our Father.  And love and trust Him.  And obey His Word.  We can only do all these things through the power of the Holy Spirit.
 
And we Christians are commanded to get rid of any influence that compromises our relationship with God. The Christian is to live differently from the carnal person.  The Scriptures say: “All that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world.  (1 John 2:16)  A spiritual battle between good and evil is being fought right here around us.   
 
The Christian is to turn away from any tendency to be controlled by money.  The Scriptures say: “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.”  (Luke 16:13) Our heavenly Father does not want material things to control us.  He promises to provide for us.
 
The first commandment of the Ten Commandments is “You shall have no other gods before Me.”  (Exodus 20:3) God calls the Christian to put Him first.  When we put God first, we don’t have room for many of the things that the secular person chases after.
 
 The secular person often is trying to craft the best life possible for himself or herself.  He wants to do life his way. To do that he may go after money, sex and power in a different way than the Christian would.  The secular person doesn’t want to give up any of her control or put away any of her idols. She wants it all.  She wants it her way. 
 
 A Christian’s life is very different.  He is trying to give up his life to Christ.  In return he finds a joy and peace he never knew before. (Matthew 10:39) He no longer even owns his own life; he is learning to give it up to Christ.  Scripture says; “you are not your own, you are bought with a price” (the price is Jesus’ blood) (1st Corinthians 6:20)
 

A Christian is called to give up her life to Christ, to get rid of her secret idols, confess all her sins and to tear down all her “high places.”  God wants all of you.  Are you willing to give Him everything?
  

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Saturday, April 6, 2019

A Woman Pours Expensive Perfume over Jesus


A Woman Pours Expensive Perfume over Jesus
 
It’s just a short story!  A few lines written in the gospel of Mark! (Mark 14:1-11) But Jesus announces that throughout the world, wherever the gospel is preached, that this little story would be told!  This story must have an important message for Jesus to want all of us to hear it!
 
The story takes place two days before the Passover and the chief priests and scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus and kill Him.  But they were afraid that if they murdered Him during the Passover feast that there would be an uproar from the people. (Mark 14:1-2)
 
The story begins when Jesus and his disciples are in Bethany visiting Simon the Leper and having dinner with him.  Jesus is “reclining at the table” with the others, which was the custom at that time. Scripture says: “A woman came in with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume made o pure nard.  She broke the jar and began pouring the perfume on Jesus’ head.” (Mark 14:3b)
 
“Some of those present were indignant and said to one another, ‘Why this waste of perfume?  It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.’  And they rebuked the woman harshly.” (Mark 14:4-5)
 
“But Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone.  Why are you bothering her?  She has done a beautiful thing to Me.  The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them anytime you want.  But you will not always have Me.  She did what she could.  She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.  I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.’”  (Mark 14: 6-9)
 
Right after this, Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, slips away and runs out to find those who hate Jesus, the chief priests.  Judas tells them he will hand Jesus over to them.  Judas offers to lead the priests to where Jesus will be so they can more easily arrest Him. The religious leaders are delighted with Judas’ scheme and promise to give him money for his help.  Then Judas begins watching for an opportunity to lead the priests to Jesus. (Mark 14:10-11)
 
Did Judas decide to betray Jesus, his Master, when he saw the woman pouring out her faith and devotion onto Jesus and giving Him her best gifts?  We shall never know. This story shows us that people can be disappointed with Jesus and hate those who give Him their best.
 
 Judas was disappointed with Jesus probably because he had first followed Jesus hoping to get fame and fortune from being His follower and Jesus hadn’t delivered.  If your opinion of how life should be lived is different from Jesus’s and you are also disappointed with Him, could you walk away from Him too?  
 
This story shows us that loving Jesus can causes us danger and disruptions.  Indeed, the Bible tells us that when we follow Christ we will be persecuted!  (2 Timothy 3:12)   Are we able to take the heat?  The disciples got angry with the woman who poured the very expensive perfume over our Lord.  Scripture says they were “indignant” and accused the woman of wasting her expensive perfume on our Savior instead of giving it to the poor.  Cost and worth are all over this story.  The disciples “scolded” the woman harshly for her devotion to Jesus.  Are we willing to be scolded and ridiculed harshly because of our open devotion to Christ?
 
This story shows us that Jesus comes to the defense of those who are willing to openly show their devotion to Him.  He stopped the woman’s accusers and proclaimed that “She has done a beautiful thing to Me”.  And He also promised that this story of her devotion and love to Him would be preached around the world.  It seems that this story is teaching us that our all-out devotion and love to Christ is deeply meaningful to Him and He is blessed by our expressions of love.  He loves our love for Him. Can it be that we little humans can actually give great joy to our Savior?  Scripture says: “God inhabits the praises of His people.”  (Psalm 22:3)
 
And of course, this story teaches us about devotion since it is about a woman who wasn’t embarrassed about pouring out her devotion upon Jesus Christ for everyone to see. He was worth everything to her.  And this was very precious to Jesus. Sadly, too many of His children forget to pour over Him the aroma of their praise and love and devotion.     
 
So, what is Jesus worth to you?  Where is your devotion?  How much would extravagant love for Jesus cost you?  Might others laugh at you, call you names, exclude you?  It is fashionable to be enthusiastic and pour out our devotion for a football team at a game.  But if we are found being as enthusiastic about Christ as we are about a sports game, we may be called a fanatic or a Bible thumper or worse.  We may pay a price socially, personally or financially.  Are we willing to pay the price? 
 
Our devotion to Christ doesn’t have to be all financial.  But every Christian has something to give their Savior – something - whatever is in your alabaster jar.  Jesus deserves our complete devotion.  Our calling as Christians is to give Jesus our very best – our all. No matter what the price.