SCREAMING IN THE STREETS

People of Justice Proverbs 29:7, 31:8-9, 16:11, 21:3

SCREAMING IN THE STREETS: People of Justice Proverbs 29:7Open in Logos Bible Software (if available), 31:8-9Open in Logos Bible Software (if available), 16:11Open in Logos Bible Software (if available), 21:3Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)

The stories we tell as a culture, in many ways, shape the lives that we live. They shape the direction we go, they shape the values that we hold. It shouldn’t be any surprise to you that the same was true for the nation of Israel. The stories that they told and that God commanded them to tell and retell were intended to shape the lives that they lived. One of the most prominent stories that the Israelites told over and over and over again, both through festival and ritual and through direct command from God, was the story of their exodus from slavery. All over the pages of Scripture we find this command “Remember where you came from Israel.” Israel was under the mighty, oppressive hand of the Egyptians for 400 years. They were commanded to make bricks without straw; they were beaten down; they were oppressed, and God miraculously and mightily stepped in….and you may have seen Charlton Heston reenact it….but He stepped in and led them out of Egypt. He parted the Red Sea; they walked through it on dry ground. They wandered around in the desert for 40 years and God shaped them and formed them as a people, then eventually led them into the Promised Land. He gave them this command: Never forget where you’ve come from. Don’t forget what it’s like to be on the bottom as I bless you, God said. You are intended to be a people who bless those around you and don’t forget…don’t forget…don’t forget about the least vulnerable people. Remember, that’s who you were when I took you by the hand and I led you into freedom. In the book of Deuteronomy, it’s not unique and just one passage, we start to see this shine through. Speaking to the nation of Israel, God says: You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner (foreigner or immigrant) or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge, but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this. (Deut. 24:17-18Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)) This is a formative narrative for the people of God. Never forget where you’ve come from.

Why does God have to command Israel to remember? Because they’d forget. The same is true for you and me. It’s easy to forget where we’ve come from when we stand where we are. So he says to them, my nation, my people, my voice, my light, will be a people of justice. Not just a people who can serve you back, and not even to people who are part of your nation, but you’re going to be a unique people amongst all the people of the earth, because you’re going to do justice to the sojourner, to the fatherless, to the widowed, to the groups of people that everybody else takes advantage of. You’re going to be unique, Israel. Why? Because you remember what it’s like to be on the bottom. The hard part is….you forget. The hard part is we trend away from justice naturally because it typically doesn’t benefit us.

My oldest son has a strong sense of justice. So when it’s his birthday he expects to get presents….because that’s what’s right. But the thing is, he expects to get presents on everyone’s birthday! He’s going, “Why did Avery get that?” Well, because it’s her birthday. Well, what am I going to get? Why did Avery get to have that friend over? When is my friend coming over? Your friend’s been….he lives at our house, man! {Ethan} has a strong sense of justice through his own lens. Only when it benefits him does he want justice! {Will you look up at me for a second?} We never grow out of this. This is part of what it means to be human. We have this deep longing for justice in our souls. If you disagree with me, explain to me why we have CSI:Lincoln, NE?! We have twelve different versions of CSI…Crime Scene Investigators because we love justice. Nobody’s rooting for the bad guy who murdered all the people to get away. Have you ever wondered why that is? We’re all rooting for the person to get caught, for what’s right to be done. It’s the reason the podcast “Serial” was so compelling. Episode after episode. I’m going, “Well, is Adnan guilty or is he innocent and are you ever going to tell me?” The answer’s no, they’re never going to tell you. Spoiler alert—if you’re in the middle of it, you’re going to be disappointed….because you love justice, just like I do. It’s the same reason “Making a Murder” on Netflix was so wildly popular…because we love justice. We want things to be fair. We want things to be right.

I would consider this to be the image of God that’s stamped on the human soul. We want justice, we want right, because we’re made in the image of God. What sin does to us is it turns us and it fractures us. Instead of seeing justice as it is, we start to see it through our lens. We start to see it through the lens of….what benefits me? What serves me? What God says to his people all throughout the Scriptures is listen: He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner (the immigrant, the wanderer, the person without a country to call their own), giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. (Deut. 10:18-19Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)) Don’t forget the story!! Don’t forget the bigger narrative that you’re a part of. I redeemed you, I rescued you, and you are to be a people who do the same.

As we see in this passage, justice is really, really, really important to God, because all people are important to God. That’s why it matters. That’s why it matters to God, that’s why it should matter to us as God’s people. Justice matters to God because all people matter to God. In our time together in the Scriptures this morning, we’re going to ask God to press on us a little bit, because, like I said, we start to see things strictly from our point of view and what benefits us. It’s not because we’re intentionally evil or we’re wrong, it’s because it’s part of our human condition. So let’s just admit this morning that we may have some blind spots. Maybe there are some things in our life that we don’t see, so we’re going to go to the Scriptures and we’re going to ask that God would open our eyes and that justice would matter to us because it matters to God. And that justice would matter to us because people matter to us. So even if it costs us something, let’s be people who pursue justice. [00:09:41]

You may be going, alright, Paulson, that’s great, but what is justice? There’s two words in the Hebrew scriptures that are typically translated ‘justice.’ They’re sort of like two sides of the same coin. The first word is the word “mishpat.” {mish-pawt} It’s used over 200 times in the Hebrew scriptures and it simply means “that which is equitable or fair.” To do what’s right. {So, you have this scale in your bulletin….and I understand that if I put all the good things on one side of the scale, it’s going to be uneven. I get it. The metaphor’s going to break down at some point, so we’re going to stack the justice things on one side and injustice on the other.} Equitability means that things are fair and that’s what mishpat means. But it’s more than just correcting wrongs. It’s both punishing the wrong doer, but more than that, it’s restoring the person who is wrong. All throughout the Scriptures, you see this word mishpat that carries with it this relational component…that the person who was taken advantage of is somehow made right again. That they’re made whole. So sometimes when justice is talked about in the Scriptures, the wrong doer, as it were, gets off, but the wronged is restored and God says that’s justice, that’s mishpat. It’s this idea that the wronged is made right and is restored.

We see this all throughout the Scriptures. It tends to focus, in the Old Testament, around Israel being the kind of people who have mishpat, or have justice, towards the people that everybody else takes advantage of. Deuteronomy 27:19Open in Logos Bible Software (if available) — Cursed by anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and widow. If you add “the poor” in there, what you have is what many people refer to as the quartet of the vulnerable. The people that everybody takes advantage of simply because they can. God says, no, no, not my people. They do justice or they’re right in their dealings with everybody.

The second word is similar. It’s the word “tzadeqah” (tsed-aw-kaw’). It means ‘righteousness.’ It means to treat others the way that you would want to be treated. It’s the type of thing where if everybody lived with tzadeqah, mishpat wouldn’t be necessary because people would be treated right. Here’s what God presses on his people. In fact, early on in the Scriptures, you see the calling over Abraham’s life is this — For I (God) have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness (tzadeqah) and justice (mishpat). (Gen. 18:19Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)) It’s the first time the word ‘justice’ is used in the Scriptures and it’s tied together with this term ‘righteous.’ Living rightly in relationship to the people around you. Justice isn’t just this judicial ‘somebody’s wrong and somebody’s right.’ Justice is this relational ‘somebody’s broken and restored.’ That’s what’s at the heart of God when we talk about justice…..people who are fractured being made whole and being made right. So this righteousness is living in right relationship to God and to everyone around us, and mishpat is God stepping in and saying, “I’m going to right the wrongs and restore the broken and heal the hurting.” God says to you and I, “That’s really important to me and it should be really important to you too as my people.” He doesn’t mince words about this. It’s all over the pages of Scripture.

As I said, in your notes you see a scale. It’s a scale of justice. The book of Proverbs is going to take this idea of God’s justice and put it on the ground for us. The book of Proverbs is a book of wisdom literature, of short, little sayings that reflect the way God has designed the world to work. One of the ways that God’s designed and wired the world to work is that it would be fair, that it would be just, that it would be good. As his people, he presses on us and says this is not something you get to pray about. You hear me? We don’t get to pray about whether we want to be people of justice. We get to pray about HOW we’re people of justice, but we don’t get to bring this before the Lord and go, “God, do you want to be just?” He’ll come back, “Have you read my word?” This is something I’ve commanded my people from the beginning of time; that you would reflect my heart for all people. So as a follower of Jesus, this just in, you don’t get to pray about whether you care about justice. God cares about it and therefore, he calls his people to care about it. Richard Stearns, CEO of World Vision, says: “So often there’s a hole in our gospel when it comes to justice.” There’s a lack. There’s a lack of care, sometimes. There’s a lack of voice, sometimes. As we go to the Scriptures today, let’s go with the heart attitude that maybe, just maybe, there’s something that God may have for us. [00:15:46]

If you’ve been with us over the course of the summer as we’ve looked at the book of Proverbs, you know that after chapter 9, it turns into a potpourri of wisdom sayings. There’s not one single thread per chapter, or per section, there’s a number of themes that the author of Proverbs wants to draw out, but they’re scattered all over the book. We’re going to draw together this theme of justice and see the way it plays out over the course of this book of Proverbs. Proverbs 29:7Open in Logos Bible Software (if available). A righteous (tzadeqah) man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge. Other versions say a righteous man remembers the poor. Doesn’t just walk right by.

I was reminded of a story I read a while back — In January 12, 2007, a man by the name of Joshua Bell took his 3.5 million dollar violin and went and sat at the entrance of a subway in Washington, D.C. It was during rush hour and thousands of people walked by him as he played this beautiful instrument, in the way only a professional could, because that’s exactly what he was. He played for 45 minutes, six different pieces by Bach. At the end of the 45 minutes, he had $32 in his case. He had 20 people that had stopped, for just a short period of time. The most compelled was a child, who leaned in. The ironic part about it was that three days earlier, Joshua Bell sold out a stadium in Boston to play the same violin, the same songs, for the same amount of time…$100 a seat. Context matters. He had dressed like a homeless man to play the violin in the corner and people just walked right by him. Didn’t even notice him. Just in the background. Just noise.

I started to wonder how many people do I just walk by? How many people are in my background? How many people are just noise? The reason God tells his people to remember the rights of the poor is because it’s easy to forget. It’s easy to forget that if we perceive that people don’t add something to our life they don’t deserve something from us or the people around them, or they don’t hold or have value. But God says that in my kingdom things are different. Instead of ignorance….I don’t mean that in the sense that we are actively ignorant, I mean in the literal sense that we ignore things, we ignore people. Instead of that, God says my people are people of compassion. They see the foreigner, the fatherless, the widowed, and the poor and they care. In a book that is all about the Gospel, the book of Galatians, the apostle Paul slips in there what he longs to and hopes to do as he goes to visit the churches in Galatia. Listen to what he says: Only, they asked us to remember the poor… {In the midst of all this beautiful, marvelous, gospel proclamation….Paul says, the one thing I want to do when I’m on the ground, I need to remember the poor and he says…} …the very thing I was eager to do. (Gal. 2:10Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)) His preaching was accompanied by his living.

{Will you look up at me a moment?} I’m not, at least in this section, I’m not making a political statement. In fact, I think it’s way too easy to put our calling as a church on politicians. This is our calling as a people of God, not a politician’s calling. Our calling as a people of God is to remember the poor. Let’s not give somebody else the church’s job. This is our job. I think…..one of the reasons I absolutely love pastoring this church is because I think you guys do it in a real beautiful way. In the course of a given month, did you know that there would be over 425 people that come through our food bank to get food? Seventy to a hundred families every single week. We collect between 3,000 – 3,500 pounds of food every single week. This last year, we’ve hosted Family Promise four different times, because you are a church that says if there’s anything within our power to do, we want to provide a place for homeless people to sleep. We partnered with twelve other churches around the Denver area to open the doors of our church to 21 families, to 69 people, with over 100 volunteers (you guys) saying, “This matters to us.” We’ve been able to provide housing to those people four different times throughout the course of this year, because we believe that all people matter to God and therefore, all people matter to us. [00:21:58]

I love this picture of Jesus….when it would have been so easy for Jesus to be on his “mission” and miss the people, we see that your king is the kind of king who, when he sees the crowds, he doesn’t just walk by and he’s not so busy that he looks passed, but he actually sees them. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matt. 9:36Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)) Maybe the question back to God today is God, are there people in my life that I don’t see because of the position that they have? Are there people in my life that I just walk by that have become background noise? That you want me to see, that you see, God, and that you want me to see differently? Did you pray that prayer today? Did you ask him if there are people that you’re not seeing because of where they’re situated or what they lack? God says that my people are the kind of people who take note of the poor and we’ll see what they do in the light of that.

Proverbs 31:8-9Open in Logos Bible Software (if available) give us this next invitation to be people of justice. Open your mouth for the mute, {For people that don’t have a voice. God’s people are designed and intended to be a voice.} ..for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. The tendency throughout all of history is to trend away from the poor, away from the needy, away from the oppressed, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. There’s never been a time—-unless people were intentional about saying that’s not who we’re going to be—-that it didn’t happen. So God’s says, “I want my people, when they start to see injustice, to not be people who remain silent, but to be people who raise their voice.” To be people who say something. Who, when they see something, they say something. So, it’s this movement from apathy to advocacy.

Let’s have a quick talk. We cannot raise our voice, if we have not first opened our ears. If we haven’t heard the stories of people who are oppressed and listened without a judgmental attitude. Or, if only you would have pulled up your boot straps. Or, if only you would have done what I’ve done. Listen, if they were in your situation, they may have done what you’ve done. But they’re not, they’re in their situation. Until we start to hear people’s stories and start to actually listen to people’s hearts, we will not be able to stand up and speak on their behalf. So before we speak, we’ve got to first listen. What if the church became known as a community where people listened to the stories of the broken? Instead of deciding whether or not we think that they were right or wrong or what they should have done, what if we opened our heart and listened? The tendency in all of us when we are in a system (and we are) that benefits us, it’s hard to see the way that it hurts others. That’s true of human nature, you guys. When we listen, what we start to do is we start to say there may be a different narrative going on that’s other than my own. You do know that’s possible, right? When we listen, we open ourselves up to go, okay, maybe the systems we’re in have some flaws. This just in—they’re designed by humans, they DO have flaws! They do!

How do we become the kind of people…..all throughout the Scriptures, God gives people power so that they would leverage their power for those who don’t have it. That’s the invitation of our God. You do know that Jesus is not down on power? You do know that Jesus is not down on influence? He’s not down on authority. He’s actually down on people in positions of power using the power to benefit themselves rather than to advocate for the people underneath them. You’re looking like you don’t believe me. Mark 10:42-45Open in Logos Bible Software (if available) — And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, {See, Jesus isn’t down on power or greatness, he’s down on people of power using greatness to benefit themselves rather than those around them.} and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. {The narrative came in again—don’t forget where you’ve come from.} For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Silence isn’t an option. Richard Stearns, again, said: “A church that’s lost its voice for justice is a church that’s lost its relevance in the world.” Elie Wiesel, Jewish author and concentration camp survivor, said: “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

Let’s be honest, guys, as a Church, capital “C” Church, we’ve got a checkered past. I’m going to be an equal-opportunity offender today. We have a checkered past. In Great Britain in 1787, William Wilberforce and his friends started to speak out about slavery in Great Britain. In 1807, they passed the Slave Trade Act that dramatically limited the way that they were able to not only obtain slaves, but for the rightful treatment of slaves. In 1833, that same group abolished slavery in Great Britain. They were holding their Bible in their hand while they did it. Praise be to God! At the same time, on the other side of the Pond, we had people in the United States going, “No, no, God’s for slavery, God wants slavery…” What happened was people that were greedy and needed a system that would perpetuate itself based on free labor, because they wanted to line their pocketbooks, neglected the invitation from God to value all people. They were blinded and they were greedy and it drove them to do things that we would say were wrong or evil. Oftentimes the Church was silent. That’s what prompted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to say: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

It got me thinking, what are the issues that need the Church’s voice today? We saw one of them last weekend on full display. The issue of racism needs the Church’s voice. It does. It needs us to say that all people are created equal, that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. Nobody is better or worse because of the color of their skin. It needs the Church to rise up and say, what happened in Charlottesville is symptomatic of what’s in all of us, not just a unique thing that happened one weekend, because a statue was removed. The removal of a statue didn’t create a monster, it revealed it. As a church we need to go, “No, no, there’s a better way. His name is Jesus.” We need to say something about racism.

Did you know that there’s 45.8 million slaves in the world today? Here’s the deal, you guys. Even as I say that—-I had lunch with Dr. Jeff Brodsky, JOY International, this week—-I’ve got stories in my mind. It’s such a huge number that it feels insurmountable. Will you pray about what you and we can do to say with our voice, THAT’S. NOT. OK! I’m not okay with people being treated like that. We believe that justice matters to God because all people matter to God, and we want to be the kind of church that advocates and says yes, we believe that’s true, not only with our mouths, but with our lives.

The issue of abortion. Talk about someone who has no voice. In a room this size, I know that some of you have walked through abortion, you’ve walked through that pain. One, I want you to know that you are welcomed here and loved here. We want you here. We also need to say that our position is that life begins at conception. God cares about all people and God cares about those babies; the one million babies that are aborted annually here in the United States. How do we become the type of church, the type of community, that says no, no, no, these things MATTER to us? We can’t just turn a blind eye. So we choose advocacy instead of apathy.

Proverbs 16:11Open in Logos Bible Software (if available) goes on to describe another scene — A just balance and scales are the Lord’s; all the weights in the bag are his work. Proverbs 20:23Open in Logos Bible Software (if available) — Unequal weights are an abomination to the Lord, and false scales are not good. Here’s the picture — If you were selling goods, before 600 B.C. when they developed coinage, you did it by weights. Some people would have a stone on one side of the scale and then put goods on the other side of the scale, but depending on who they saw coming to their business, they would use a different stone. Ironically, if they saw somebody rich coming, they would use the lighter weight so they could give a better deal if you were buying. WHY? Why would you do that? Because you can. Because the poor people didn’t have a voice to stand up and say hey look, can we remeasure? What about that rock behind your table? All throughout the Scriptures, God talks about his scales; the people who use scales and represent Him and carry His name use equal scales. They don’t have one measure for some people and a different one for others. They operate with tzadeqah, righteousness, rightness. They operate with integrity instead of exploitation.

Exploitation is simply taking advantage of somebody because you can. Because you’re in a position of power or authority where the person underneath you doesn’t have a voice. You can rip them off because they don’t have a place to raise their hand and go, “Hey, are you sure that’s how much I should get for working in this factory all day?” The implications for us as people that value right scales are huge, are they not? I’ll admit it…..ALMOST so big that we don’t know where to start. Here’s the thing, if you start being a person that cares about scales, as it were, you’re going to pay more. It’s going to cost you financially…..because you’re going to go, “I might not be able to shop there anymore, because they don’t pay their workers right.” I might not be able to go there….it’s going to cost you financially. Make no mistake about it, it will! You can find out where your clothes are made, and whether or not the farmers who grew the food that goes onto your table got paid a fair wage. You can find out. One of the changes we’ve made at Solid Grounds is that now we’re working with a direct trade source for our coffee. It’s better than fair trade because fair trade gives a fair wage, but direct trade means that the buyers are in direct contact with the farmers and we KNOW that they are helping women who are downtrodden and in need (especially in Uganda). Are we going to pay a little bit more? Yep. Is it worth it? It is to me. It’ll cost you financially. It’ll cost you relationally because you’re going to have people who stand up and say, “I don’t see it that way. I’m not sure I agree with you.” That has to be between them and the Lord. It’s integrity versus exploitation. [00:37:03]

And finally we’ll land the plane here. The book of Proverbs (21:3) says — To do righteousness and justice (mishpat and tzadeqah) is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. Here’s what’s going on. What the author of Proverbs just did is attacked and, in some ways, supplanted an entire religious system that was based around when we offer these sacrifices for sin, when we offer these sacrifices for thanksgiving, when we offer THESE sacrifices we are then in right relationship with God. What the book of Proverbs says is whoa, whoa, whoa, hold it there! If you’re not a type of person who does what’s right (righteousness) to the people around you, and you’re not a person who cares about what’s fair and you don’t advocate for people who don’t have a voice, and you use your power to get up one more rung on the ladder, but you sacrifice……..He goes are you kidding me?!! The prophet Amos (5:21-24) says it more strongly, recording God’s words —- I hate, {and just in case you think I stuttered..} I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. {You get this picture of God up in heaven and as his church gathers to worship and doesn’t care about justice he’s going, “La-la-la-la!” But, but, but……} But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. He’s going listen, if you’re not going to be people who care about the foreigner, the fatherless, the widow, and the poor then don’t come into my house and sing songs about how great I am. I care about those people and I’ve commissioned my body to be a body who cares about those people. As we look at justice, what we find out is that what God is looking for is surrender not singing. He’s not just looking for people that would go through the motions of ritual, but ignore the people that he says I care about.

Matthew 22:37-39Open in Logos Bible Software (if available), Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is and he responds by saying — You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. {But he goes, I can’t just leave it at one, lest you think you could come to worship and that that would be the end of the game. Jesus says, no, no, no, no, no, the second is like it. It’s from the same place. It carries the same DNA. It’s of the same origin.} ….You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Look up at me for a moment. God never, never divides, in the Scriptures, loving Him and loving others. It’s always vertical and it’s always horizontal, throughout all of the Scriptures. This is God’s call for God’s people. If you’re going, “Hey, Paulson, sounds like a social gospel to me,” I would say to you if the gospel doesn’t have social implications, it doesn’t sound like the gospel. It doesn’t sound like the gospel Jesus preached and lived. It certainly doesn’t sound like the gospel the apostles preached and lived. It doesn’t sound like the gospel that I read about in our Scriptures where God says absolutely do I care about your soul so much that I’m going to give my own Son that you might be redeemed, that you might be made whole, that you might be forgiven, that you might be made right with God, that you would then therefore be like a city on a hill whose light shines. That you would be a people who do justice, who love mercy, and who walk humbly with your God. The mantra of the church from the very beginning is there is no difference between Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, but we are all one in Christ. Anybody who comes to Christ comes saying, “I am broken and I am in need!”

The beauty of this all is—-as we see these scales in our bulletin—-the beautiful picture of what the gospel does. It doesn’t extinguish or wipe out the scales; what we see is that the cross overshadows the scales. Here’s what we remember in the cross — that we were in slavery and he’s brought us out. That’s our story too. He’s moved us from darkness into light. In the cross we remember that we are better than absolutely no one. The only way we get in is being broken and destitute and receiving the grace of God that’s ours because of the work of Christ. In the cross we remember that we were loved when we were God’s enemies and we’re given the ability by his Spirit to love ours (enemies). In the cross, what we see is that God’s mercy and his justice kiss. Friends, we are people of that cross. Not in a way that extinguishes the scales of justice, but in a way that empowers us to be people loved deeply by God, knowing that we got more than we deserved, that we’ve been freed, and therefore, we say we’re going to be people who use our voice for the oppressed. We’re going to be people who open our eyes and do our best {please, Lord} not to just walk by. We’re going to say integrity’s important to us. It’s hard in a global economy, but integrity is important to us because it’s important to God. And by no means do we want our worship to end with our singing, but we want it to be demonstrated through our lives.

In 1959, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the commencement speech at Morehouse College. In that speech, he began with the story of Rip Van Winkle. Rip Van Winkle had climbed up to the top of a mountain and he’d fallen asleep for twenty years. {Sounds sorta good some days, doesn’t it?!} Here’s what Dr. King says — “And this reveals to us that the most striking thing about the story of Rip Van Winkle is not merely that Rip slept twenty years, but that he slept through a revolution. {He woke up and a different person was in charge.} And one of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution.” Friends, I believe that we’re at a significant point for us as a country. The question for this church, for our church, for God’s Church is are we going to sleep through this revolution or will we join in? Let’s pray.

Good God, we know, we trust, based on your character and based on Scriptures, that justice matters to you because people matter to you. We’re here to say we don’t just want to sing worship songs to you, we want to live lives of worship along with you. That you would empower us to be a voice. That you would empower us to carry your name. That you would empower us to demonstrate your love. That even if we benefit from systems that are wrong, that we would have enough integrity to stand up and say so. That we’d have eyes to see people that maybe we walk pass. That we would have a voice to raise on behalf of people that don’t have a voice for themselves. May we be people who remember our story, and may that story shape the lives that we live. That we’ve been rescued and we want to live it. It’s in your name, Jesus, that we pray. Amen.

This is a reprint from Pastor Ryan Paulson of South Fellowship in Littleton, CO.

Gentle as a DOVE

Matthew 10:16
Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.

When the Shepherd spoke in parables, the people often heard the story. They understood His words, as if he’d spoken them directly. Today, as we watch events happening around the world, Christians foresee eternity with a different scope.

I remember the night I realized my mother was not going to survive cancer. I’d been working and rushing through my work to spend time with her, and she’d begged me to just stop working and come sit with her.  That moment, the one where I sat down and heard her voice, the glimpse of the future that had washed over me as I sat there holding her hand, reminded me that I am not in control.

There’s a greater being, bigger than me, who controls the universe and as much as I wanted that night to last forever… I knew it was in His hands.

I heard parables that night, about so many things… Many of them I’d heard throughout my lifetime.  But this one, keeps coming back to me.

Like sheep

Psalm 78:52
But made his own people to go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.

53 And he led them on safely, so that they feared not: but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.

54 And he brought them to the border of his sanctuary, even to this mountain, which his right hand had purchased.

55 He cast out the heathen also before them, and divided them an inheritance by line, and made the tribes of Israel to dwell in their tents.

The story that kept weighing on my heart, and needed desperately to be told, was found in Psalm 78, where God shared parables of dark days to come, and allowed the light to shine through those stories of darkness. His light. Shown forth. Brought glory. In our darkest hour, we’re brought forth to the light, by God’s guiding hand. And God protects us.

That’s what the parable said to me. That’s what God’s word revealed.

I’d hung back, waiting for a message. And it was there all along. I struggled through seven years of not knowing, wishing there was something more that I could cling to… Until there wasn’t. There was nothing I could cling to, and mourning wasn’t my thing. I knew, if I’d known anything at all, that I wasn’t to mourn, but to celebrate the life. I was to celebrate the joy of knowing that Mom’s passing had been directly into the arms of God.

And there it was, in the parable she’d mentioned that night.

I have to share that I don’t believe she shared the parable meaning to tell me anything. She was sharing a story she’d shared with me a million times before, and each time something in the story changed. She’d raised a lamb from birth, because the mother rejected the lamb. Her uncle had given her the lamb, she named Lambie, and she bottle fed that lamb and cared for it until it was old enough to butcher.

Gentle as a DOVE

Doves on my window sill have been a symbol of rightness to me. In every home I’ve lived, a pair of doves lived nearby. I remember moving from the apartment when mom passed away, into a house where my family lived for several years.

It didn’t feel right.

We’d moved in December, and there were no doves. In fact, there were no birds. I remember the first picture I took in the house had an image I couldn’t explain, and for days I felt something was missing. I’d never experienced such a vacancy in my heart before that. I felt as if we’d moved into the wrong house.

In early February, before the snow had stopped falling I’d opened my window for some air, and I heard them… A pair of doves had taken up residence in a tree in front of our home.

He led them on safely…

In the parable mom had shared, she kept talking about safety, and reminding me that we would be cared for. The reason she’d shared the story to begin with had been to reassure me, that her passing wouldn’t be a warning, but rather a reveal of future blessings that would rain down. The parable had many phrases that talked of safety and assurance.

  • The sea overwhelmed their enemies…
  • He brought them to the border of His sanctuary…
  • He’d bought them a mountain…
  • He’d cast out the heathen before them…
  • And He divided them an inheritance…

There was much more in the Psalm, and over the seven years, I’ve experienced much that had little to do with God’s provision, and everything to do with lessons God allows us to learn. But there’s so much more…

Because in the end of the Psalm, the parable reveals that David is chosen, and God feeds them, and provides an inheritance.

In the depths of our pain, in our deepest sorrow, God reveals His promises.

I’m not a preacher. I’m not even really a Bible Scholar. I read the Bible and study it, and I often find wisdom and power in the Word. More often, I find sanctity, sanity, and simple instruction for my Faith in Him. I’m led to His promises.

As I studied today in Matthew 10, I was reminded of the parable, and mom’s gentle as a dove warning to “stay alert” in the days to come. I don’t believe she had any idea what was coming politically in our country. But I do believe the parable she shared is relevant in these times as God’s promises are given for moment such as these.

And I was reminded to be wise as serpents and harmless as a dove.

Listen for the doves, my friends. Listen for the dove.

#DOVE #wisdom #warning

Proverbs 31 Woman in Action

This is Jan Verhoeff, and I’m co-authoring a book with fellow business connoisseur and startups master, Kevin Cullis, and during a recent discussion, he asked me to write a segment about “the art of womanliness in business.” Following is a short portion of the book – the reveal of the study portion – I’m using as insight for my writing. I thought you might enjoy it.

* * *

I can hear the masses roaring with laughter here, as I consider the concept Kevin Cullis has asked me to write about… The Art of Womanliness in Business. If you know me, this concept may bring you to immediate tears or, it may send shock waves through your body at the very idea. But I do have a perspective on this model that may surprise a few of you, or disgust others. Either way, I’m diving in…

Before I go to my personal views on the matter, let me head you off at the pass with a glimpse of the Biblical Profile of a woman.

Yeah, that trusty old Proverbs 31 woman works every single time… And I’m going there.

Let’s go straight to the basis, with details from the King James Version – because that’s what I prefer to study.

King Lemuel speaks these words as he was taught by his mother. I don’t recall any discussion in the Bible about King Lemuel’s father, whether he has a living one, or was raised with a father or not, although the conceptual husband is mentioned in this passage. But he has a very wise and understanding mother, who raised him and taught him well the value of a good woman.

She tells him, according to verse 2 “Give not thy strength unto women, nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings.” Then she further reminds him that men should not to partake of strong drink, or wine, because they might forget the law, or endanger themselves with perversion.

Her wisdom appeals to the strength of a good man, one she esteems and respects, for she knows exactly how he was raised, she raised him herself. And he took well her counsel, carried it through his life and shared it as we have seen in these words.

virtuous womanThen, he offers an excuse for those who might deserve strong drink. Those who are at the end of their lives, or those who are impoverished, sad, and indisposed of life, as they should be allowed to forget their troubles.

King Lemuel asks, “Who can find a virtuous woman?” And he places the value of a good woman above gemstones, rubies. He values women. Particularly obvious here, he values his mother, a woman who can be trusted by her husband.

If King Lemuel had a living father, he proposes that his father can trust his mother, the woman who gave him birth. And he goes further to extol the virtuous woman, who will do good and not evil all the days of her life. (Let it be known here, that she raised her husband’s son to be King, to carry on the family name in a virtuous and profitable manner.)

King Lemuel acknowledges that his mother considers the fields. She visits the fields, assesses their value, and purchases the fields. Then, with the fruit of her own hands, she plants vineyards. She is a strong, capable woman, who builds her own strength and obviously takes good physical care of herself. She gathers food, provides meat for her family, and for her maidens. She’s obviously a hunter when she needs to provide food.

The story continues, revealing her ability to work hard, creating product, services, and merchandise which she sells to provide wealth for her family. She works long hard hours, for her candle remains lit into the night, and she arises early in the morning. This woman who raised King Lemuel offers help to the needy, and provides well for her family. She fears not the winter, for her family is well dressed in scarlet. For herself, she is adorned in tapestry, silk and purple.

Her husband is well known at the gates of the city. He’s perhaps a political figure as well? A wealthy man, capable of leadership, and he is well known by the elders in the community. (Presumably by this portion of the passage, King Lemuel has a living father.)

This woman, the mother of King Lemuel, makes fine linen. She’s known to be honorable, strong, and wise. Wisdom comes from her lips, and she speaks the law in kindness. Her gentle voice resounds through the community as she is heard by her people. She is not idle. Her children rise up and call her blessed. Her daughters are virtuous and excel in their lives as well.

This woman doesn’t have to extol her own virtues, for she is known at the gates of the city for her wares, her fruits, and her wisdom. She is a woman of virtue, celebrated by many.

The Proverbs 31 woman is a woman of means, of business, of professionalism, and mostly of wisdom. She’s educated and wise. Men who know her appreciate and extol her value, they look to her for wisdom, and she leads her children, her maidens, and her household to levels of wealth and success celebrated by others.

Are you a Proverbs 31 woman?

Do you know Proverbs 31 women?

Please do take a moment and share your stories below. I’d love to hear more about virtuous women who model the Proverbs 31 woman’s lifestyle.

The Great Tribulation

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about how close we are to the period of time referred to as “The Great Tribulation”. I believe that, during this 7 year period of time, we will see the earth revert back to the time of Judges in our relationship with God. You see, we are told that “He that letteth with let, until He be taken out of the way. And, then shall that wicked be revealed…….”

This is a representation of the Holy Spirit in the church. When the church is raptured (taken out of the way), the antichrist will be revealed and the tribulation will begin. When that happens, there will be no further Christian leadership on the earth. The Holy Spirit will not work through Christians in guiding others to the Lord, as He does now, and this is why I believe the Lord will speak to those remaining on the earth through Judges sent to guide and lead folks to the Lord, before it is too late, and the Lord returns in final judgement.

Because of that, I believe it is every Christians’ duty to review and study Judges to see how things might be during the tribulation. It will be far worse than anything in Judges, and the calamities will all be of Biblical proportion. Persecution of those who accept the Lord as Truth, during this time, will be severe, and most will have to starve or be beheaded, should they refuse to accept the Mark of the Beast.

So, I am going to do another teaching on the Book of Judges, and invite you all to join. I am posting the introduction at the end of these comments and, depending on how many of you decide to join me, I will cover a chapter a week, and take questions and comments.

There is one exception: If anyone begins to become belligerent or post inappropriate comments, I will simply delete the comments and block them from the teaching page.

Judges can teach us many thing about how to live, how to remain committed to our beliefs, and how to prepare for those things to come. The main thing we can do is to pass along this wisdom to our family and friends. Even if they do not accept the Lord in time to make the rapture, they will be better prepared to handle those things to come. There are some amazing stories in Judges. Most folks know about these heroes of the Bible, but some are far less known than others. For example:

The third Judge, Shamgar, is mentioned very little, so we know very little about him. There’s only one verse devoted to him in Judges, and just a mention of him in the song of Deborah (who was the first and only woman Judge).

After him the [third judge] was Shamgar the son of Anath, which slew of the Philistines six hundred men with an ox goad: he also delivered Israel.

The ox goad was a pole, about 8 foot long, that had a sharp metal end, with which they would prod the oxen, as the oxen were plowing. This was to keep them going. Some of these ox goads were as much as 6 inches thick. It would take a pretty strong man to wield one of those ox goads. This guy did it. With it, he killed six hundred of their perennial enemies, the Philistines.

Later, we will see that Samson killed 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass. This guy was of the same style as Samson, even though we get little information about him. We know his name is Shamgar, and we can see he is an interesting character. He is strong, and God used him to deliver Israel. Too bad we don’t know more about him. He was special, because God called him and used him.

2017 – Book of Judges

In the history of Israel, and the Middle East, many of the kings followed the pagan practice of offering children as live sacrifices to the pagan gods. I fear for our nation, because we have made such a strong move in that direction. With the kings of Israel, like Menessah, it all began with his walking in the ways of the kings of Israel, making these molten images for Baalim.

Man has always found himself worshipping the sexual body. With some of the rituals associated with such worship, the result was unwanted pregnancies. The sexual reproductive worship was practiced as the worship of Ashorem. The sacrifice of the unwanted children was done to Molech. This is all very similar to how premarital sex has become an accepted practice today, and abortions are the mechanism to rid the unwanted pregnancies. In our time, we have seen a tremendous liberalizing of our attitudes towards sexual relationships. We now sacrifice the unwanted pregnancies to the god of Molech. We call abortion the more humane way, because the child is destroyed while it is still in the womb being formed. We don’t give it the opportunity of ever being born, as though it is less sinful then, than it would be later. I cannot be convinced of that, and I believe that this nation will have to answer to God for this worship of Molech.

He offered his own children unto the pagan god, Molech, the god of pleasure. Burning his own children alive was meant to somehow show devotion and love unto Molech. This was their form of abortion in those days. Whenever you open the door to pornography, and man’s passions, and sensual desires are aroused, you then have that pressure towards promiscuous sexual relationships. It follows a pattern, and promiscuous sexual relationships lead to unwanted pregnancies. Unwanted pregnancies lead to pressure for abortion, or the getting rid of the product. In those days, they had not the sciences of abortion, as we have today, thus they would bear the child, but then they would take the baby and place it alive, in the fire.

They’d burn it, cremate it.

Our courts opened the doors for pornography, when the Supreme Court said that they were unable to define obscenity. Because it was an indefinable term, it was the result of the influence of existential philosophy. Existential philosophies declare that there are no absolutes, what may be obscene to me may not be obscene to you. If there are no universal morals, or universal standards, then you cannot have a true definition of obscene. So, the court, buying into the existential philosophy, declared “We cannot define what is obscene”.

Their inability to define obscene, opened the door to all types of sex magazines with explicit types of sexual pictures, designed for the purpose of arousing and inflaming a man’s passions, stirring a person in a sensual way. When someone gets involved in pornography, there is a satanic force and power that gets hold of them. It is the worship of a pagan god! In the old days, they called it Ashorem. Paul said, “They that sacrifice to these idols, are actually sacrificing to demons”. When you start getting into these things, a demonic hold comes upon your life, and you develop a desire for more and more. Soon, just a female form standing there nude isn’t enough. You begin to search for something that is a little more tantalizing, and enticing, and arousing. The pornography becomes worse, and it deepens its hold on your life, until you become a slave to it. At that point, you are led into all types of perverted sex, for any sex outside of a commitment within a marriage vow, is perverted sex. Pornography is a perversion of God’s intention for the purpose of giving to us the capacity of sex, and giving to us the enjoyment of sex, and giving to us sexual drives. God gave this to us for the purpose of creation of a beautiful intimacy between two persons who have committed their lives to each other. “For this cause a man shall leave his mother and father, and cleave to his wife, and they two become one flesh.” God’s purpose, God’s design, is to create a beautiful unity, an oneness, to create total intimacy between the two in a sacred relationship. Homosexual and lesbian relationships are a perversion of what God intended. Any use, outside of that God intended purpose of the bond, and intimacy of marriage, is a perversion! That leads to unwanted pregnancies.

The next thing the courts decided was that anything that consenting adults wanted to do was alright. They obliterated all of our laws against adultery and against homosexuality. They got rid of all of those laws, meaning anything that consenting adults want to do is permissible. Suddenly, we began to have hundreds of thousands of unwanted pregnancies. The court was then obligated to rule that abortion is okay, if a woman desires it. And we began to sacrifice our children to the fires of Molech. Millions of babies each year, in the United States alone, have been sacrificed on the altars of Molech. For this, God brought the nation of Israel into judgment. For this, God brought the heathen nations into judgment. For this, God will surely bring the United States, and our world in which we live today, into judgment.

You cannot just go on continually defying the laws of God, and thinking that you’re not going to have to pay! There’s a price for this kind of licentiousness, as this nation will surely discover. “He caused his children to pass through the fire.”

Now, with that said, I believe that we are indeed living in the last days. There are no events remaining, which have to occur, before the Rapture of the church and the beginning of the Tribulation period. During the Tribulation period, I believe we will see the world, especially Israel and the Middle East, fall back into the time of the Judges of Israel. In fact, we are told that there will be “two witnesses”, who will prophesy for 1,260 days, before being slain in the street. They will have their bodies remain in the streets for 3 ½ days, and we are told that “those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.”

After the 3 ½ days, they will rise and ascend into Heaven in a cloud while the world watches. I believe these two are actually Elijah and Enoch, because they both went to Heaven without tasting death, and I believe their role is similar to the role played by both the prophets and the judges of the Old Testament. At this time, the “time of the Gentiles” will be over, and the Jewish folks will have their eyes opened to the true Messiah, Jesus. These two men will be here to witness to the world, and specifically to the Jewish nation, of the fact that they rejected the one true Messiah in Jesus, and bring them into repentance and acceptance of their error.

So, because there is coming a return to the times of the Judges, I felt it appropriate to again provide teaching notes on the book of Judges, for anyone who wants to take the time to read them. I did this last year and it began well, but folks fell off, as other things in their lives kept them from the study. I will set up a group called “Judges-2017” and open it to anyone who wants to let me know they have an interest. That way, if you miss one of the chapter teachings, or fall behind, you can go to that group and read the notes on your own schedule. I know you will find a study through the Book of Judges not only informative, but satisfying.

The book of Judges covers the historic period of the nation of Israel from the time of the death of Joshua, to the beginning of the rule of the kings of Israel. We don’t know just how long a period of time that God actually used judges, but most scholars agree that the period of time was between 300 and 400 years.

During this period of history in Israel, there were thirteen different judges, who God raised up in those times of spiritual weakness. When God raised up each judge, Israel would see spiritual revival. During the time of spiritual revival, God would give Israel victory over their enemies. Eventually, each time, the revival would fade, the folks would turn to false gods, and the nation of Israel would fall into captivity. You can see that the nation of Israel was in a bit of a roller coaster ride, because there were 13 judges. This means there were 13 revivals, 13 falls into sin, 13 periods of captivity, and 13 periods of deliverance from the oppression of the enemy. There are vast and valuable lessons to be learned from the book of Judges. I plan to cover each chapter in Judges, one lesson at a time, so that we can all see some of the valuable lessons to be learned from this period of history in Israel.

For those of you who are students, or regular readers of the Bible, you will recall that the book of Joshua began with the words “Now after the death of Moses.” The book of Judges begins much in the same way, with the words “Now after the death of Joshua”.

It is interesting that the book of Judges does not follow a precise chronological order. It begins with the words “After the death of Joshua”, but the death of Joshua is actually recorded in Chapter 2. It also goes back to pick up a little of the book of Joshua, including Caleb’s capture of the city of Hebron.

I invite any and all of you to simply request to join the Facebook page “Judges-2017”. I will also post my teaching notes on each chapter on my regular page, but I would encourage you to go to the group page to post regular discussion on each of the lessons, including questions about the text. I will attempt to answer to the best of my ability and knowledge.

Anyway, I will create the page tonight, and will add any and all who wish to join over the next week or so. Then, we can do a chapter a week for 21 weeks, or work and a slower or faster rate, as desired by the group.

Just my invitation to share my thoughts in a 2017 study of the Book of Judges!

Just my thoughts!
Don D. Stephens

Historically Speaking

History teaches us that, when times get tough, we call upon the Lord. He hears us, blesses us, and we prosper. With the prosperity, we begin to find other things that take up our time, and God becomes secondary to our lives. Soon, we are actively worshiping things, creating our own idols, and our hearts forget our God. Because we turn from Him He turns from us, and we begin to seek our own destruction. At some point, we reach the bottom, and we again begin to seek God. And, each time, He answers and reminds us of the simple truth that only He is the true God, and only He can bless us. Then, sadly, we begin the cycle again.

The Bible tells a similar story of the History of Israel. They followed the same process, and because of their failure to maintain their faith, they failed, time and time again. In fact, the Book of Judges details their failings, with God sending judges to bring them back out of captivity 13 separate times, only to have them fail, fall back into captivity, and revert back to God to save them.
Food For Thought
Come on folks, wake up!

Just my thoughts!
Don D. Stephens

Reasons to Support Israel

The other day, a friend asked me why I was always so totally supportive of Israel and why I felt it so important that America stood by Israel in all things. Well, my normal response is simply that God’s promise to Abraham still stands today that He will bless those that bless Israel and He will curse those that curse Israel.

The response I got was a bit unsuspected. They felt that the Israel of today was not the same as the Israel of the Bible. The problem with that type of thinking is that folks just don’t study the Bible completely. You can’t just pick and choose and quote those things you agree with, while ignoring all the other text.

You see, if you read it from cover to cover, you will soon see that God is using Israel as a guide to those of us looking for His return. Israel was scattered throughout the earth as a punishment for rejecting Jesus the first time. Just before His return, we are told that the generation that sees the gathering of Israel back to its land will see the return of the Messiah.

In 1948, a miracle happened. Israel was again allowed to gather into their land. Since then, the land has been flourishing. This is the gathering prophesied about the restoration of Israel:

““On that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, and repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old; That they may possess the remnant of Edom, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name,” says the LORD who does this thing.”

““Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “When the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; the mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them; they shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them.””

The final verse in this part of scripture states:

“I will plant them in their land, and NO LONGER SHALL THEY BE PULLED UP FROM THE LAND THAT I HAVE GIVEN THEM,” Says the LORD your God.”

Israel is home to stay. No nation is going to overthrow then, and nations that rise against them will fall. God is truly involved. If you don’t believe it, you need to study a bit.

Jesus told us about it, also. When discussing the disbursement of Israel, He said:

“And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”

We are currently in the times of the Gentiles, and will be, until the church is removed from the earth.

He went on to discuss the signs of the times.

“And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”

Jesus finished by speaking a parable about Israel. Israel is referred to many times in the Bible, as a reference to a fig tree.

““Then He spoke to them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near. Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.””

We are encouraged to know that seeing Israel restored as a nation is THE MAJOR SIGN that has been missing from all past generations yearning for His return. We have been blessed to see that event.

He finishes by telling us the importance of watching for the signs.

“But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Well, I don’t think I need to explain any further, why I am so supportive of Israel. They are there to stay, and God is on their side. I choose to support my God.

Just my thoughts!
Don D. Stephens

Bible Study in Judges

The other day, I watched a video of some of the violence occurring in European countries, caused by the massive influx of immigrants from Islamic nations. Murders, rapes, and terrorism is running rampant in these areas. With opponents of extreme vetting putting up every blockade possible to stop the necessary actions to insure against the wrong type of immigrant gaining access to this country, we may soon be in the same boat as many of our European neighbors.
Thinking on this caused me concern about things that might happen in America, which would have been unimaginable just twenty years ago. My thoughts went back to a teaching I did several years ago about a tragic story in the Book of Judges.

In Chapter 19 of Judges, we see what seems to be a familiar story. It is similar to the story of the angels of God, who went to warn Lot to leave Sodom, at least the circumstances are very similar.

We are told that there is no king in Israel. It was God’s intent that He be the king over His chosen nation, so that they can be like no other nation on the earth. This was a period of anarchy in Israel, as everyone was pretty much doing what they thought was right in their own moral character. They had a philosophy similar to that of America today, “If it feels good, do it!” Israel had rejected the rule of God, and thereby the law of God.

We begin the story with a Levite, who was living in the area of Mount Ephraim, and he took himself a concubine from Bethlehem Judah. Now, a concubine was a wife, but without all the privileges of a wife. The woman was unfaithful to the man, and went to her father’s house in Bethlehem Judah. After 4 months, the husband went after her, to her father’s house, in hopes of reconciliation. He brought with him, his servant and two donkeys. She invites him in, and her father is overjoyed to meet the guy.

He stayed for 3 days, and tried to leave several time, but the father-in-law kept delaying them, so they stayed for two additional days, and even got a late start on the day they finally left. It’s about 5 miles from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. At the time of this story, Jerusalem was occupied by the Jebusites. In fact, it was not until the times of King David, that the city was taken from the Jebusites and occupied by Israel. Now, because it is getting late, the servant suggest that they stop in Jerusalem for the night, but the man says that he does not want to stay in a place not occupied by Israelites.

So, they traveled another 2.5 to 3 miles past Jerusalem toward Ramah. It was too late to make the full journey to Ramah, so they stopped in Gibeah, about the time the sun was setting. Gibeah was occupied by the tribe of Benjamin, Israelites.

Now in those days they didn’t have motels, where you could pay a fee and spend the night. A major part of life then was hospitality. It was extremely important to them to be hospitable to travelers. Even in our present day, the Bedouins have strict rules concerning hospitality. If you receive guests into your home, you are honor bound to shelter and protect them, for as long as they are under your roof. It doesn’t matter if you hate them so badly that you wish they were dead, you can’t mistreat them, as long as they are your guests. As long as they are under your roof, you are honor bound to entertain them, to treat them like royalty, and to defend them. Not to show hospitality was a great sin. So, the people of Gibeah were not hospitable to this man, his wife, and his servant. They were sitting in the streets of the city, because no one took them into their house for lodging.
Now, this old man, who was also from mount Ephraim, came in from working in the fields and began to talk to the man about where he was from and where he was going. The man told him of their travel to Bethlehem Judah and that they were on the way home, but no one offered to lodge them. He explained that he had adequate provisions for his group and his animals, but the old man insisted that he be allowed to lodge them for the night.

After they had eaten and drank, they were making merry, when the men of the city surrounded the house and beat on the door. They asked the old man to bring out the man, so that they could have homosexual relations with him. In response, the old man went out to them and told them not to do this wicked thing to the man, because he was a guest in the old man’s house.

This scene is very reminiscent of what happened in Sodom. If you will remember, the two angels of the Lord came to Sodom, on a mission from God to destroy the city. This destruction was because of the wickedness of the citizens of Sodom. The two angels were received by Lot, into Lot’s house, and were his guests, and therefore his responsibility. In the evening, the men of Sodom circled the house and demanded that Lot send these two men outside, so that they could actually have homosexual relationships with them. God destroyed Sodom because of this sin, and here we see the same thing happening, this time in an Israelite city, among the tribe of Benjamin. The same heinous sin that perpetrated the destruction of Sodom is now happening among God’s people. The moral decay into which the nation of Israel had sunk is obvious and evident in this story. The homosexuals of the city are so brazen as to openly parade themselves in the streets of the city, and demand their rights, which are not really rights at all. The old man recognizes it as wickedness, as folly. He begged them “Don’t do this wickedness, don’t do this folly.”

Because of the custom of hospitality, and because women in that culture and time had very little rights, the man did something that is quite unthinkable to us, today. It’s difficult for us to relate to this, because our culture is so entirely different. IMHO, our culture has been vastly affected by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. One thing that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has declared, and has promoted, is equal rights. Christianity recognizes women as equal with men, in the sight of God.

You see, in Christ there is neither male nor female. We are all one, together in Him. The New Testament of the Bible has done so much to elevate the place of the woman, giving honor to the woman, and demanding respect for the woman. Now, as the years of Christian influence has affected our culture, we have such a high regard for women.

Sadly, as the pagan influences begin to prevail in our society, we see women again being degraded by a society that is trying to erase Christ, Christianity, and the Christian influence. Women are again being looked upon as objects for men to lust after. Pornography has added to the exploitation of the woman’s body, effectively degrading women, and planting seeds of lust in both men and women. The woman’s place of honor, respect, glory, and modesty is rapidly disappearing. If this trend of erasing Christ from our society continues, and the influences of religions such as Islam are allowed to forge their way into the base of our society, women are quickly heading on a straight track to where they once were, looked upon as an object for the gratification of a man’s sexual lust.

Then, the story takes us to a place that is even more difficult for us to understand. The man offers his virgin daughter and his concubine to the men in place of the man they are requesting. He is willing to sacrifice his own daughter. This is a grand example of a world without the influence of Christianity, a world without a king, a world without moral law, without moral principles to govern. The man recognizes this horrible sin, and he tell them “but unto this man, do not so vile a thing.”

So, these men took the traveler’s concubine, and they raped her and abused her all night. In the morning they released her, and she came and fell down at the door of the man’s house. When he arose in the morning, he opened the door and saw her fallen down, with her hands on the threshold. Did he help her? Did he check to see how she was? No! He just told her to get up, so they could be on their way. She didn’t answer, so he loaded her on his donkey, took her home, and then cut her into 12 pieces with his knife and sent one part to each of the 12 tribes of Israel.

Now, this story ends with the following statement “And it was so, that all that saw it said, There was no such deed done nor seen from the day that the children of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt unto this day: consider of it, take advice, and speak your minds.”

So, the message sent out to all of Israel was: “Hey! Look at this evil deed that has happened in an Israelite city. This has never happened before, since we became a nation. Consider this, speak your mind, and let’s get together.”
Most folks, who read this story in the Bible, simply write it off as an interesting (or, weird) story, with no real moral. I have a bit of a different take on it.

First, I see it as a necessary story, to assist us in understanding the times in which Judges were being used, if not only to show us what terrible sins and depraved lifestyles with which they had to deal on a regular basis. When we read about how a city of Israel has become so depraved in their way of life, it makes it a bit easier to accept the actions of a Judge, like Samson, using the jawbone of an ass to slay 1000 Philistines.

Second, and most importantly, is the fact that the nation of Israel, who had such rules regarding hospitality towards guests, could also be the home of such perversions. A whole lesson could be taught on the way this story could relate to how sin can come into a nation and destroy it from within.
Hmmmmmm! Is it possible that our own nation has already become indoctrinated into such perversion? Billy Graham was once quoted as saying “If God doesn’t punish San Francisco, He owes Sodom and Gomorrah an apology!” Imagine the sin and perversion that may rear its ugly head, when an event, such as the Rapture of the Church, suddenly removes all obstacles in the path of satanic forces!

2 Thessalonians 2

The Great Apostasy

Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, 2 not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. 3 Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.

5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? 6 And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, 10 and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, 12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

Just my thoughts!
Don D. Stephens

Wolves at the door…

Wolves at the door

The struggle is real…

An American election can be controversial, and generally there’s some logic on both sides of the argument. This was a different year, and not one I care to repeat. However, as the continuum flows and our New President prepares to take office, the wolves are barking at the door.

One of my favorite passages speaks of a time when the wolves are knocking at the door, and the shepherd warns his flock. He talks about taking heed over yourselves and your flock, whom the Holy Ghost has made you overseers. In this particular section of the Bible, Acts 20: 28 – 34, the author is speaking to pastors, leaders in the church. But in this present day, in the days where the wolves threaten to cause grief among the people, among the flock, the author says men shall arise and speak perverse things, drawing away the disciples for a period of three years.

Three years…

Have we not experienced the pull of evil men separating God’s chosen leaders of his flock from the truth, from the people?

I believe it’s time to claim God’s promise of Grace which will build us up…

28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.

30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.

31 Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.

32 And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.

33 I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel.

34 Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me.

Verse 32 says, ” I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.”

God’s promise is just as true now as it was then. He promises his word, the Bible, which is filled with Grace, to build you up and give you an inheritance among all men which are sanctified.

We must pray for God’s grace to fill us, build us up, and provide for our inheritance – Heaven.

And yet still… As a part of our inheritance, we are invited to pray for our nation, for our souls, for health, and we are granted answers to our prayers.

Jonas 3

God sees your heart. God sees your soul, and how you choose to live. God knows whether you’ve asked forgiveness and repented of your sin.

You don’t have to be perfect, come to God where you are and ask him to forgive you for your sin, and renew your heart for Him.

Be a man after God’s own heart.

 

 

A Standard Will Rise Up…

friends over coffeeIn recent days, I’ve struggled with the presence of friends who are non-believers, not that they are around me, I love them dearly, but with the consistent double standard that is pushed by them. At first, I thought it was just me, that since I choose not to be offended by their demands to be ‘respected’ and frequently offer them respect, but then during a recent conversation, I realized the double standard that comes from them, always.

After a discussion where I related my view of having ‘no God’ as being ‘we live and the we don’t’, one friend shared her view that we are a continuum of existence. While she believes there is something higher – a creator of sorts – her belief that we are energy and the energy continues in nature as part of a creation that is bigger than us. We (as people) are insignificant, and the ‘energy’ that is eternal, is the important part of our existence in her frame of reference.

She said that my believe in God, and that God sent his son to die for me (salvation) is egotistical, because I think I somehow matter more than other life forms. I have no problem being called egotistical, let’s set that right immediately, because I do believe that God created in Human Beings a SOUL and that SOUL lives for eternity. If we are believers, trusting in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our SOUL will live on in Heaven. That is MY belief and I have found that belief in the Bible. I stand firm on the foundation of my faith, the BIBLE.

My problem came from her lack of respect for my belief when she then asked, “If I hadn’t accepted Christ when I was younger, believing as I do now, where would you think I will spend eternity?”

The idea that you can ‘accept Christ’ and then stop believing in Him, doesn’t work for me.

If you don’t believe, if you can’t set aside your selfish indulgences enough to have faith in the Word of God, how can you THINK on any level that you are Saved by the GRACE of God?

It may indeed be egotistical for me to think that God would send His Son to live among men, give up His life on the Cross of Calvary, and then three days later Resurrect from the pit of Hell where He, the Son of God, paid the PRICE for Man’s SIN, and assent into Heaven where He will build a mansion and await for me, once I accept his Gracious Gift. I may be egotistical to believe that God did this for ME (and all others who believe in Him, and grow closer to Him daily). And if I am being egotistical in my belief, I will accept that as my right to feel so, given that I’ve humbly repented for my SIN and accepted God’s most Gracious Gift and by Faith chosen to follow God’s Word – the Bible – as my road map to Heaven.

I’m good with the egotistical part.

What I’m not good with, is the part where she presumes she’s going to Heaven, because sometime in her childhood, or younger days, she asked God into her heart and chooses (active choice here) not to believe that God gave His Life for Her. She’s making a CHOICE not to accept the Gracious Gift of God. Out of selfish choice, she’s made to refuse trust, based on Faith in God, because she feels like she has to KNOW all the details before she can believe in something so simple as the Creation and Salvation presented in the Bible over a few centuries of writings.

My belief in God comes from choosing to allow the words spoken in the Bible to be the PROOF necessary. Not only words spoken in the Bible, but those are enough to open the door to possibilities of truths that can’t be proven wrong by any other means… Why not believe in what has all appearances of being real – including current events, hinged on Biblical truths from centuries ago?

Believing doesn’t prevent me from having an open mind about scientific research, it just prevents me from falling into every sink-hole created by a new scientific vortex or black hole of variables that don’t really make any sense, and can’t be proven.

Yeah, I’m good with being egotistical enough to believe the Bible is God’s written ROAD MAP to Heaven. Because, in his infinite wisdom, more than a dozen decades ago, He inspired this verse, that offers so much meaning and hope for me today. “The Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a STANDARD against ‘him’.” (Him, being those who rise up against Christians.) I’m a believer!

A standard against them...

Who Took Your Place?

God Bless America

One day, a man went to visit a church, He got there early, parked his car and got out. Another car pulled up near the driver got out and said, ” I always park there! You took my place!”

The visitor went inside for Sunday School, found an empty seat and sat down. A young lady from the church approached him and stated, “That’s my seat! You took my place!” The visitor was somewhat distressed by this rude welcome, but said nothing.

After Sunday School, the visitor went into the sanctuary and sat down. Another member walked up to him and said, ” That’s where I always sit! You took my place!” The visitor was even more troubled by this treatment, but still he said nothing.

Later as the congregation was praying for Christ to dwell among them, the visitor stood up, and his appearance began to change. Horrible scars became visible on his hands and on his sandaled feet. Someone from the congregation noticed him and called out, “What happened to you?” The visitor replied, as his hat became a crown of thorns, and a tear fell from his eye, “I took your place.”

When you receive this, say a prayer.. That’s all you have to do. There is nothing attached. This is powerful. Just send this to four people and see what happens.. Maybe, just maybe, we can get the world to start thinking of who took our place.

Seek God First