Sermon Outlines

Ever wish you had paid more attention in seminary? Struggling with preparing a sermon? GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins wants to help pastors with useful resources to help them as they serve the Lord.

With more than a quarter century of pastoral leadership, Hawkins makes available some of his most popular sermon outlines for pastors, Sunday school teachers and other Bible study leaders. These free resources can help you as you prepare your sermon or lesson each week.

In addition to these sermon outlines, Hawkins offers his video Weekly Staff Meetings with insights on some of the most common issues pastors and ministers face as well as a Podcast.

Oh, That Sagging Middle!

Oh, That Sagging Middle!

Friday, May 7, 2021 2:44 PM
Friday, May 7, 2021 2:44 PM


Galatians 2:20

Galatians 2:20

A lot of Christians live their lives like an old iron bedstead with the soft feathered mattress. That is, they are firm on both ends. They are firm on the front end: they know that in a point of time they put their trust in Christ and have the assurance that they have been “born again.” They are also firm on the other end: they know they are going to heaven when they die. But, oh, that sagging middle! It is the act of beating out the principles of the Christian life on the anvil of personal, daily experience that seems to be sagging. Galatians 2:20 is the secret to firming up the middle of our walk with Christ. This single verse is perhaps the most complete description of the Christian life to be found in the New Testament. It reveals to us what Christ has done for us.

He Took Something From Me…My Old Life (“I have been crucified with Christ…”)

When Paul makes this statement, the action is perfect; that is, the action has been completed in the past with continuing results. The mood is passive; that is, the subject is the recipient of the action. Christ did this, we cannot crucify ourselves. It is also indicative, meaning that it is a simple statement of a known fact. The Apostle is going beyond simply saying that Christ was crucified “for” me here. He is saying I was crucified with Christ. It is a statement of fact. He did it, not me. It was done long ago, but it has continuing effect today.

As the Lord Jesus hung on Calvary’s cross, those in the crowd saw only one man on the center cross. But, God the Father saw not just Christ but you and all others who would put their faith in Him hanging there.

He Put Something In Me…My New Life (“…it is no longer I who live, but Christ in me...”)

The new life in Christ is not a reformed life. It is not an improved life. It is not even a changed life. It is an exchanged life. We give God our old lives and He gives us one that is brand new. While many say, “Not Christ, but I,” the believer says, “Not I but Christ!” If we could literally awaken to this revelation, we would be on the way to “turning our world upside down” like those who went before us in the early church. There is no way to defeat a man who truly believes that Christ is alive and has taken up permanent residency in him.

He Gave Something For Me…His Own Life (“…He loved me and gave himself for me.”)

These are the two realities that the whole world needs to know. He loves you. And, He gave himself for you. The tense of both of these participles reveal that they are punctilliar; that is, at a point in time His great love took Him to the cross and there He willingly gave Himself for you. You can firm up the middle by coming to the reality of this one verse and incarnating it into your life.

New Year's Day: Crossing over...into a new year

New Year's Day: Crossing over...into a new year

Friday, May 7, 2021 2:43 PM
Friday, May 7, 2021 2:43 PM


Deuteronomy 11:10-24

Deuteronomy 11:10-24

New Year’s Day always brings an opportunity for a new beginning. For the children of Israel it had been a long journey. Moses had led them all the way from Egypt, through the Red Sea, to Kadesh Barnea, through the wilderness, and now they were encamped on the eastern bank of Jordan overlooking the Promised Land. The Book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament records the sermons Moses preached to his people before he went up on Mount Nebo, viewed the Promised Land and died. In the aftermath of his death the children of Israel went on into the Promised Land and possessed it. Along the wilderness route there were often times when there were those who wrung their hands and doubted that they could go on and wished they were back in Egypt. Moses continued to remind them that God “brought us out from there that He might bring us in, to give us the land of which He had swore to our fathers” (Deut. 6:23).

Thus, before the blessing of the Promised Land became a reality for his faithful followers, Moses challenges them with these words from Deut. 11:10-24. He reminds them as they cross over to their promised possession that they do so with God’s provision, God’s presence, God’s promise and God’s protection.

As we stand at the brink of a new year our hearts are filled with anticipation and challenge. Only God knows what the future holds but the possibilities are limitless. As we cross over into a new year we do so with the same challenges Moses gave his people so long ago. As we cross over into a new year we’re reminded of:

God’s provision

But the land you cross over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water from the rain of heaven (Deut. 11:11).

What is Moses saying to Israel here? Better yet, what is God saying to us through their experience? He will meet our needs! He is our source. Like the land of Israel, our land will “drink water from the rain of heaven.” How many times have we seen this across the years…when it looked like hope was almost gone? In those times when we began to feel our source was running out, “God would rain from heaven the blessing upon us.” We cross over into a new year reminded that He is our source.

Moses reminded the people that the land that they were about to possess was a land of “hills and valleys.” God never promised us the way would always be easy. It is not a mountaintop experience all the time. Sometimes we too, like the Israelites, walk through the valley. And then, there are those times when we come face to face with a mountain along the journey which humanly speaking looks impossible to climb.

Yes, it is a land of “hills and valleys.” Anyone who’s ever traveled in the Promised Land knows the reality of this visual expression. There are deep valleys. I’ve walked through the Kidron Valley and through Wadi Kelt. There are high mountains like Mount Hermon and Masada. There are desert places in the Judean wilderness and then there’s the beautiful oasis of Jericho. It did not take the children of Israel long to discover that it was indeed a land of hills and valleys. They began their conquest of the Promised Land with the great victory at Jericho only to descend into the valley of defeat at Ai in the days that came afterwards.

The same is true for us along our own journeys. Ours too is a journey through “hills and valleys.” Thank God for the hills, the mountains. Often in the valleys we forget about the mountains. And, unfortunately, often when we’re on the mountain we forget about the valleys. Both are important! If there were no valleys there would be no mountain tops. We never learn spiritual lessons on the mountain. They are always learned in the valley where we’re trusting, depending on the living God to get us through. Mountains are there to enlarge our vision, to let us see our potential, to give us a spirit of conquest. But in the valleys, that’s where we become more like our Lord. We would not choose the valleys. But His ways are not our ways. He is in fact the God of the mountains. He is also the God of the valleys. Do you remember what Elijah said to Ahab when Ben-Hadad, the cruelest general to ever march an army, besieged the city of Samaria? Elijah said, “…‘Because the Syrians have said, the Lord is God of the hills but He is not God of the valleys,’ therefore, I will deliver all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord” (I Kin. 20:28). Yes, it is a land of hills and valleys.

But look closely at Deut. 11:11. Note that we take with us into a new year the promise of God’s provision. “It is a land that drinks rain from heaven.” That is, He provides for us supernaturally.

For the children of Israel the land of Israel was quite a contrast from the past years of Egypt. Moses reminds them that the land which they were about to possess was “not like the land of Egypt ... where you sowed your seed and watered it by foot” (Deut. 11:10). What was the difference? The land of Egypt depended on human resources. There was not much rain. The Nile was their source and it overflowed once a year. Therefore hard work was involved. By hand and by foot they dug trenches, canals to irrigate the land. In Egypt it was all done by human effort. Work, work, work was the motto. In Egypt there was no need for God. Water was stored by artificial means and fields were irrigated by human sweat and toil. Egypt did not depend on God like Canaan did.

There are a lot of churches today that operate like the children of Israel in Egypt. That is, they have it all calculated with human ingenuity. They dig their own trenches. There’s no real need for God. They go right on operating without Him, with their own initiatives, plans and promotions. They do not do anything that cannot be explained by human means. Most everything happens by human effort and ingenuity.

But note the contrast of the Promised Land. It “drinks water from the rain of heaven.” Canaan was and is totally dependent on God. Rain was His gift. In fact, this land has always been solely dependent upon His provisions. Perhaps that’s why He chose this land and those people to train His church. I Cor. 10:6 reminds us that everything that happened to the children of Israel did so as an example to us in this dispensation of grace. How beautiful to know that He proves this with both autumn and spring rains (Deut 11:14). He sends the early rain for seed time and the latter rain at harvest. Both are important for growing a good crop.

As we cross over into a new year we do so with the assurance that the same God who sends us the autumn rains of the past will send us the spring rains in the future. It may be a land of hills and valleys but it is a land that “drinks rain from heaven.” As we cross over we’re dependent on the supernatural provision of God. God is our source and he has a way of using us to accomplish his purpose. As we cross over into a new year we do so with God’s provision. We also cross over with:

God’s presence

A land which the Lord your God cares; the eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the very end of the year (Deut. 11:12).

Remember, the Apostle Paul reminds us that everything that happened to the children of Israel happened as examples for us (1 Cor. 10:6). There were some who said to Moses that they doubted they could accomplish the task of taking the Promised Land. After all, the land was filled with giants and walled cities. But they had forgotten that they crossed over with God’s provision and God’s presence. It was “a land which the Lord your God cares; the eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the very end of the year” (Deut. 11:11).The year upon which we embark is a year that God cares for. He purposed it. He planned it. He knows the way through the wilderness and all we have to do is follow.

Some of the sweetest words in Deuteronomy 11:12 are often overlooked. Moses refers to the God of Israel as “your” God. He is a personal Lord and Savior. We are in covenant with Him. We are His and He is ours. Moses reminds his people that this is true “from the beginning of the year to the very end of the year.” As we cross over into a new year we’re reminded that God is watching us, that His eyes are upon us.

New Year’s Day brings a fresh vision of new opportunities. What a blessing to cross over into a new year with the very presence of God Himself. The eyes of the Lord are upon us! He is watching the dear mother who faces the year raising children without a husband. He is watching the dad who’s under tremendous pressure to provide. He’s watching the teenager with all the pressures of adolescence. He’s watching each of us. Yes, “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” (II Chr. 16:8-10). Like the children of Israel, He did not bring us out except to take us in. We go into a new year with God’s provision and God’s presence. We also go with:

God’s promise

And it shall be that if you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today, to love the Lord your God and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul,

Then I will give you the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your grain, your new wine, and your oil.

And I will send grass in your fields for your livestock, that you may eat and be filled (Deut. 11: 13-15).

What was Moses saying to Israel? Better yet, what is God saying to us? Remember that all these things happened to the children of Israel who are examples to us in this dispensation of grace. The single most important thing we can do as we cross over into a new year is to love the Lord our God and to serve Him with all our hearts.

Note that this promise is conditional. Verse 13 begins with “if” and verse 14 begins with “then.” Thus, this promise is not for everyone. It is for whom? Those who love the Lord their God and serve Him with all their heart and soul. Think about it. What could be more simple? Israel only had to walk in obedience to God’s word and to love Him. All that kept them from the blessing of God was disobedience. It is the same with us. I often wonder what would happen to the church of Jesus Christ if all of the members began to truly love the Lord with all their heart and serve Him with all their soul.

Here we find the Israelites’ primary purpose. It was to love God! Everything in life has a primary purpose. The primary purpose of a pen is to write. I would rather have a cheap plastic pen that worked than an expensive one that didn’t. The primary purpose of an automobile is to transport us from place to place. I would rather have a 10-year-old automobile that always started than a shiny new one that did not work. When something ceases to fulfill its primary purpose it becomes useless. We’ve all seen wrecking yards with hundreds of cars lined up side by side that once were valuable. Could it be that so many Christians are defeated because so few are fulfilling their primary purpose? All of God’s commandments are pure but the Lord Jesus said one was the greatest. It was to love God with all of our hearts (Matt. 22:37). I might add that the reason we break most of the other commandments is because we do not obey this great commandment. Men and women would not defile their bodies in adultery or fornication if they loved God with all their hearts. No wonder Moses spoke this stern warning related to God’s promise in Deuteronomy 11:13-14.

Moses reminded the children of Israel, and us, what is of utmost importance — loving God. We’re to love God first and love man second. This is the fallacy of humanism that infiltrates so much of our culture. It says that the way to love God is to love man first. The Bible says the only way I can truly love others on the highest level of love is to love God supremely.

As we enter a new year we do so with God’s promise. What is our primary purpose? It is to love Him. It is to love God and serve Him with all of our hearts and souls.

Thus, we cross over into a new year with God’s provision. We are reminded that He is our source. We cross over with God’s presence. We are reminded that His eyes are upon us from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. We cross over with God’s promise. If we love Him and serve Him with all of our hearts then His blessing will be upon us. Finally, we cross over to a new year with:

God’s protection

Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them,

Lest the Lord’s anger be aroused against you, and He shut up the heavens so that there be no rain, and the land yield no produce, and you perish quickly from the good land which the Lord is giving you.

Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.

You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.

And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates,

That your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, like the days of the heavens above the earth.

For if you carefully keep all these commandments which I command you to do — to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, and to hold fast to Him—

Then the Lord will drive out all these nations from before you, and you will dispossess greater and mightier nations than yourselves.

Every place on which the sole of your foot treads shall be yours: from the wilderness and Lebanon, from the river, the River Euphrates, even to the Western Sea, shall be your territory (Deut. 11:16-24).

What is Moses saying to Israel? Better yet, what is God saying to us since what happened to them was simply an example for us? He is reminding us that the Lord will go before us and drive out our enemies. His protection carries with it a warning. “Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them, lest the Lord’s anger be aroused against you, and He shut up the heavens so that there be no rain, and the land yield no produce, and you perish quickly from the good land which the Lord is giving you” (Deut. 11:16-17). Again, note the repetition of the importance of loving our God. “For if you carefully keep all these commandments which I command you to do — to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and to hold fast to Him” (Deut. 11:22). For any of us who wonder why we may be living outside the provision and protection of God the reason might be found in this verse.

Moses is tying his people to the word of God. Hear him as he challenges his people — “You shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up” (Deut. 11:18-19). Moses knew the only way his people could love the Lord with all their heart was to saturate themselves with a conscious awareness of His word. As we cross over into a new year we do so with God’s protection. Moses goes on to tell them that “Then the Lord will drive out all these nations from before you, and you will dispossess greater and mightier nations than yourselves. Every place on which the sole of your foot treads shall be yours: from the wilderness and Lebanon, from the river, the River Euphrates, even to the Western Sea, shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand against you” (Deut. 11:23-25).

Yes, it was a long continuous journey for the children of Israel through the decades of wilderness wanderings. Moses led them all the way. And thus he comes to the end of his own life and says, “The land which you cross over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water from the rain of heaven, a land which the Lord your God cares; the eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the very end of the year” (Deut. 11:11-12). As we cross over to this new year Moses stands to remind us that as we go, we too will need God’s provision. To depend on human effort is sheer folly. We will need God’s presence. There will be times when we, like the children of Israel, wonder where God is. But His eyes are upon us. We cross over with God’s promise. There may be times that this is all we have to hold. And, we go with His protection. There may be times when we’ll be without help or hope unless God supernaturally intervenes.

We, too, have been on a journey. Now we are crossover people ourselves. We are crossing over into a new year with new opportunities and new beginnings. Yes, He brought us out from there that He might bring us in to a land of blessing. As we enter a new year let us, like those who’ve gone before, love God…walk in His ways…and hold fast to Him.

New Year's Day

New Year's Day

Friday, May 7, 2021 2:43 PM
Friday, May 7, 2021 2:43 PM


Joshua 3:1-17

Joshua 3:1-17

“New” is one of those words in our English language that most always finds the welcome mat out at our heart’s door and brings a smile to our face. In our childhood days there was the joy of having a “new” bicycle or a “new” ball glove. In adolescence there was the joy of a “new” car (at least new to us). As we journeyed through life there was the “new” job, then the “new” house and the “new” baby. For those of us who have come to know the Lord Jesus Christ, by grace through faith, there is the “new” birth along with the promise of a “new” life all provided for us through the “new” covenant accompanied by the “new” commandment. And, as if that were not enough, we live with the promise that later we will have a “new” body and a “new” home called heaven. God is the giver of many wonderful “new” things. He is the God of new beginnings.

We stand now at the door of another new beginning; a new year filled with new possibilities and opportunities. Twelve new months, 52 new weeks, 365 new days, 8,760 new hours, 525,000 new minutes and 31,536,000 new seconds…every one of which is God’s gift to us.

For the children of Israel it had been a long journey. Moses had led them out of Egyptian bondage, through the Red Sea’s parting, to the portals of the Promised Land at Kadesh Barnea, and then back through the wilderness wanderings for four whole decades and finally, to the eastern bank of Jordan just opposite the land of promise. It was now cross over time, decision time, a time to decide once and for all to go on or be content to stay bogged down with the past. It was “D-Day,” time to cross over the Jordan and begin the conquest and possession of their new opportunity. It was truly a day of new beginnings.

There are crossover times in every life, times of transition where, like Joshua, we too “have not passed this way before” (Joshua 3:4b). This was a traumatic time for the Israelites. Moses had led them for a whole generation. They had journeyed together through the mountain tops and the valleys. Quite frankly, they had gotten a bit used to that lifestyle. Our human inclination is to get used to what we know. Change does not come easy for most of us. We get comfortable holding on to the past.

New Year’s Day provides us with a crossover moment, an opportunity to step out of our comfort zones and into a new beginning. Crossover times can be caused by all sorts of challenges. For some, it is the death of a loved one that causes us to cross over when we have “not passed that way before.” For some, crossover moments can be caused by such things as divorce or disease or discouragement or a myriad of other situations or circumstances.

It is interesting that this phrase, “cross over,” appears 48 times in the Bible. This idea is woven like a thread through the fabric of scripture. Jesus used it himself when he challenged his disciples to “cross over” to the other side of the lake (Mark 4:35). There are times in our lives that call upon us all to be cross over people, to leave our own comfort zones, step out on faith and cross over. This new year affords us such an opportunity.

As we stand at the brink of this new year, our hearts should be filled with anticipation and challenge. Only God knows what the future holds but our possibilities are limitless. Joshua, though he is dead, still speaks to us today and challenges us to enter the new year in the same way he led his people into their new beginning. As we enter the new year we should do so by being flexible, being focused, being faithful, being futuristic and being fearless.

As we enter this new year we should do so by determining to:

Be flexible

“…you have not passed this way before” (Joshua 3:4)

Be flexible. Don’t be afraid of change. Change can be your friend and not your foe. For three days the children of Israel camped on the banks of the Jordan River looking across at the Promised Land. For three days they contemplated...many hundreds of thousands of them knowing that crossing that river would mean a change from everything they had ever known. It is strange how comfortable we can all get in our own personal wilderness.

Joshua readily admitted that “we have not passed this way before.” Perhaps this fear of the unknown feeds the resistance to change as much as anything. Let’s face it…change is hard. To illustrate just lay this book down a moment and fold your hands together as though they were in prayer. Now, move your fingers over just one digit. Yes, change is uncomfortable at first. It doesn’t “feel” right.

We have a way of subconsciously conditioning ourselves to resist change and new beginnings. James Belasco wrote an intriguing book entitled Teaching the Elephant to Dance. He explained how circus elephants when they are small are shackled by their trainer with heavy chains around their ankles. These chains are then held firm by steel stakes deeply imbedded in the ground. The elephant then stays put. He cannot go past the length of his chain. As the months and years unfold and he grows and becomes huge he has more than adequate strength to pull the stake out of the ground. But he never does! He never leaves the length of his chain because he has been conditioned and therefore change is out of the question. His movement becomes limited simply because of mental conditioning. Like these powerful elephants many of us and many of our churches are “bound” because of conditioned restraints, because we, too, “have not passed this way before.”

Being flexible to change is a necessity even if we have not “passed this way before.” If there is one thing that can be said about our Lord, it is that He brought about a significant amount of change. He was the consummate change agent. In fact, this is what gave Him so much trouble with the religious traditionalists of His day. He changed everything, even the day of worship and the way of worship.

Some stand at the banks of their own Jordan on the eve of this new year. You, too, “have not passed this way before.” The first characteristic of crossover people is that they are not afraid of change. They face the unknown even when they have not “passed that way before.” How? By being flexible.

As we enter the new year we should do so by not just being flexible but by determining to also:

Be focused

“…when you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God and the priests, the Levites bearing it, then you shall set out from your place to go after it .” (Joshua 3:3)

Be focused. The Israelites were to keep their eyes on the ark and follow it through the Jordan and into their new beginning. That is very good counsel for us on the eve of a new year and a new beginning.

Time and space do not permit us to adequately describe this religious object that has fascinated men and women for three thousand years and has been the subject of some of the most successful and profitable movies in film history. Even as I type these words there are teams of modern-day explorers looking for it in various parts of the ancient world still today. The ark was an oblong wooden box, overlaid in solid gold with two golden cherubim on the top with their wings touching over what is called the mercy seat. It contained the tablets of the law, a pot of manna and Aaron’s rod that budded. It was placed in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle in the wilderness and later in the temple in Jerusalem. It was there that God would visit His people on the high, holy Day of Atonement with His Shekinah glory.

The ark was a type, a foreshadow, a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ. On that cross-over day the ark was a sign that God was leading His people. Their job in crossing over was rather simple. They were to keep their eyes on the ark and “go after it.” Before this day the Bible always speaks of how the ark was in the “midst” of the people. Now, it was leading them into a new day. They were to keep a distance between themselves and the ark. In fact, verse four indicates the distance was the equivalent of ten football fields in length. Why? So the ark would always be visible to the masses of people. It was so that everyone could keep their eyes focused on the that there would be nothing between them and the ark. Can you imagine the conversation if those hundreds of thousands of people had crowded up to the ark. One would surely be saying, “Where is the ark?” To which another would reply, “I don’t know. I am following you. I thought you were following the ark.” “Not me, I haven’t seen it in days. I am following the guy in front of me. I thought he was following it!"

Aren’t we just like that on occasion? We allow so many “things” or even “people” to get between us and the Lord Jesus. Often we find ourselves trying to follow someone else who we think is following the Lord. How much better as we enter a new year to be focused and keep our own eyes on the Lord. He is the one who provides the path through whatever a new year may hold.

Up until this moment, the people of God had been following a “cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night” while awaiting possession of their promised land. Now, those had been removed and the ark, the picture of our Lord, was to take the place of leadership and lead the way for them. What a beautiful picture of Christ who goes before us to open our way. He stands in the midst of our own rivers until we cross over. As we embark on this new year the Bible calls us to be flexible, to not be afraid of change, and also to be focused, to keep our eyes on the Lord Jesus and let him lead us by His spirit through His word into our new year of new beginnings.

Another important characteristic of crossover people is their determination to:

Be faithful

“…sanctify yourselves for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” (Joshua 3:5)

Be faithful. As we enter a new year this is a call to commit ourselves to stay pure in mind, motives and morals. In the words of Joshua, “Sanctify yourselves.” This Hebrew word we translate as “sanctify” first appears in scripture in Genesis 2:3 when it says that God “blessed the Sabbath and sanctified it.” He separated it from all other days. He set it apart. The new year affords us a new and fresh opportunity to set ourselves apart from the world and recommit ourselves to Christ in faithfulness.

The process of sanctification in the Bible is both positional and progressive. Paul says, “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 6:11). The use of the aorist tense indicates it is something done once and for all. The passive voice that is found here indicates that God did it. At the moment of our salvation God Himself set us apart for Himself. And when we truly know Him then we grow in sanctification by a process of our being continually conformed to His image.

What do you suppose happened that evening as those Israelites camped on the banks of Jordan on the very threshold of all their dreams? They “sanctified themselves.” Everyone got right with God. Then what happened? The same thing that always happens when one gets right with God—they got right with each other. People began to show mercy to one another. Forgiveness was in the air they breathed. And love began to flow. By the time Joshua said, “Let’s go,” they were ready.

Whenever we are faced with new opportunities that can result in new beginnings, God calls upon us to “sanctify ourselves.” As we enter this new year let’s be flexible and focused, but let’s also be faithful by remembering whose we are and by making a renewed commitment to remain pure. Cross over people also possess a determination to:

Be futuristic

“…for tomorrow the Lord will work wonders among you.” (Joshua 3:5)

Be futuristic. That is to say on the eve of this new year start believing in tomorrow. For Israel, there was something now for which to look forward. After all those years with no real direction or purpose, now there was hope. Listen to Joshua: “Tomorrow the Lord will work wonders among you!” Hope, faith, vision began to well up within their hearts. They began to believe in tomorrow. They ceased living in the past. Yes, “Tomorrow the Lord will work wonders among you.” Thus, as they crossed over, they kept their focus forward and not backward on the past. It was at this point that the Apostle Paul attested that “This one thing I do, forgetting what is behind and reaching forth to those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the high calling of God in Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:13).

It is a dangerous time in any life, any business, any relationship, or any church, for that matter, when memories of yesterday are more prevalent and important than visions and hopes of tomorrow. Israel had certainly seen her share of miracles in the past. The parting of the Red Sea. The manna which fell each morning. The pillar of fire that appeared each night to lead them. The cloud that hovered by day to point direction. The bitter waters of Marah turning sweet. The water which flowed from the rock. But now they sat on the banks of the Jordan. It would have been easy to just sit there and reminisce with one another about all they had seen and experienced. But crossover people do not do that. They believe in tomorrow. They trust that “tomorrow the Lord will work wonders among them.”

It is a dangerous time in the life of the believer when memories of yesterday are more important than visions of tomorrow. God did not bring you to the bank and brink of a new year for you to just sit and think of what has been in the past. He is affording you a brand new year, another new beginning. Make the best of it. Be flexible. Be focused. Be faithful. And above all be futuristic, believe in tomorrow.

The children of Israel saw not just what had been, or what was, but what was going to be. Crossing the Jordan did not mean that everything was going to be easy on the other side. It wasn’t. There was still Jericho. And when they won that battle there were many others to follow in the conquest of the land. But they crossed over with the promise that “tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among us.” And did He ever!

A final characteristic of crossover people lies in their determination to:

Be fearless

“…and the Lord said to Joshua, ‘This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that as I was with Moses, so I will be with you…’ ” (Joshua 3:3:6-17)

Be fearless. The Israelites had leadership they could trust. They followed Joshua. Why? Because He was God’s man and because he provided them with a vision and not a need. He was a fearless leader. They had needs that were many. But this was not their focus.

Joshua led by example. The commitment level rises when men and women see the passion in the one out in front. Joshua’s fearless leadership became contagious and the people followed him.

It is important that before the river parted it was the “leaders” who were the first ones to put their feet in the water (Joshua 3:12-13). Leadership is risky business. Many never cross over into new beginnings due to the failure of leaders who are constantly reactive and seldom proactive. The leaders of Israel were to continually hold up the ark so that all could see it and follow.

Fearless leadership and followship won the day. The leader obeyed the Lord. The people heeded the words of the Lord to their leader. Note the words, “And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, that the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off, the waters that come down from upstream, and they shall stand as a heap” (Joshua 3:12). The next phrase simply says, “So it was…” (Joshua 3:13). Then we read “…and the people crossed over opposite Jericho” (Joshua 3:16). Yes, they became crossover people that day.

I love the final words of the text. “Then the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan; and all Israel crossed over on dry ground, until all the people had crossed completely over the Jordan” (Joshua 3:17). This is fearless leadership you can trust. It is no wonder that a few days later when they were instructed to march around the walls of Jericho they did so.

As we stand at the eve of a new year there is a sense in which it is our own Jordan. What shall we do? “We have not passed this way before.” How shall we face the new year with its promise of so many new beginnings? The same way that Joshua and his people crossed over to their own new beginning. How? Be flexible. Don’t be afraid of change. Be focused. Keep your eyes on the ark, the Lord Jesus. Be faithful. Commit to stay pure in mind, motives and morals. Be futuristic. Believe in tomorrow. And, be fearless. Trust in those around you.

The problem with some of us in taking advantage of new beginnings is that we come to the water’s edge and say, “Lord, just let those waters part and then I will step in.” But note that it wasn’t until “the soles of their feet” touched the water that it parted. It was a step of faith for them…and for us. Often, we have to get our feet wet with faith before God begins to “work wonders among us.”

We, like the Israelites of old, have been on our own journey. Now, we are cross-over people ourselves. We are crossing over into a new year with new opportunities and new beginnings.

As we enter 2013, may we, as those who have gone before us, be flexible, be focused, be faithful, be futuristic and, above all, be fearless.

Never cut what you can untie

Never cut what you can untie

Friday, May 7, 2021 2:42 PM
Friday, May 7, 2021 2:42 PM


Nehemiah 5:1-19

Nehemiah 5:1-19

Conflict resolution is important to the body of Christ. It is important to work through the knots of interpersonal relationships in the church without just cutting them off.

I. There is a time to back off. (v. 7)

Sometimes the best thing we can do in conflict resolution is back off and give serious thought to the matter.

II. There is a time to stand up. (vv. 5-7)

Conflict resolution does not mean giving in at all costs. Jesus pronounced a blessing on the peace “makers” not the peace “lovers.” There are times when we have to “make peace.”

III. There is a time to give in. (vv. 10-11)

Those who resolve conflicts understand that there are times when we can lose a few little skirmishes in order to win the bigger war.

IV. There is a time to reach out. (vv. 10-13)

There is a time to build consensus by building bridges to the people.

Jesus is the ultimate conflict resolver. He backed off (see him in Gethsemane). He stood up (see him before Pilate). He gave in (see him on the way to the cross; no one took his life from him; he laid it down). And, he reached out (see him on the cross with arms outstretched bidding all to come to Him.) 

Mother's Day: Modern day motherhood

Mother's Day: Modern day motherhood

Friday, May 7, 2021 2:42 PM
Friday, May 7, 2021 2:42 PM


Genesis 21:14-21

Genesis 21:14-21

Mother’s Day. Those words have a special warmth to them. For many they conjure up an image of a Norman Rockwell kind of world where life is simple and everyone lives happily ever after. It frames a picture of a nice home in a neatly trimmed yard behind a white picket fence where life is filled with family fun and picnics. We like to think of a world where everyone dresses up on Sunday morning and walks to the white frame church house on the corner in a tranquil, calm and sterile environment. And, of course, we all live happily ever after. However, Mother’s Day in our 21st century culture awakens to a different world than the Norman Rockwell days of a couple of generations ago.      

God’s plan for the home has never changed. His ideal is still one man for one woman for life. Divorce should never be an option for two believers who have been joined together as one. The Bible is plain when it comes to the teaching of the home. It doesn’t teach about safe sex, it teaches about no sex until we’re married. God’s ideal is for the husband to be the provider and for the mother to build the nest and nurture her children. The breakdown in American moral fiber is the breakdown in the home. In our Western world we are reaping the results of a couple of generations who’ve been raised by modern parents who have in many cases and many ways forgotten their own roots.

Yes, the ideal family still consists of a father and mother who prays and plays with their children. But the church must not close its eyes to the reality that is all around us. We don’t live in a Norman Rockwell world. All the streets in our cities are not swept spotlessly clean every night. There is not an ice cream shop on every corner, we do not see happy faces and wide smiles at every turn of the road. Many of us do not live happily ever after in a castle on a cloud. We live and minister in the real world where dreams are dashed and hopes are smashed. We live and minister in a world where people struggle simply to keep going. In our world two out of every three mothers work outside the home. Four out of five have school-aged children. The real tragedy of our day is that so many of our churches ignore the plight of many modern mothers and continue to minister like they did in generations gone by. One of the great challenges facing the church in our day is the balancing of family ministries. On the one hand we’re to hold up high and holy standards of the godly home. We need to build a wall as high as we can and as thick as we can to keep people from falling over the cliffs of divorce, over the cliffs of broken homes. But, at the same time we need to keep plenty of gasoline in the ambulance at the bottom of the hill to bind up lives that are battered and hearts that are broken.

Have you looked around you lately at the world we’ve been called to reach? I grew up in east Fort Worth, Texas in a neat and clean frame home on the corner of a lot, with a dad and mom who loved each other, who disciplined me, and who were married for 50 years. I did not grow up watching MTV nor many of the sitcoms children watch today, which in a myriad of ways make light of the home. I grew up watching television shows like Make Room for Daddy. However, in scores of thousands of homes in America today, daddy is not there to make room for. And in many of those homes it’s not always his fault. He would like to be. We exist as a church for those who are not here yet. A number of those who are outside the church are single working mothers with broken hearts and broken dreams. In our modern society the real heroes are Christian mothers who are being both mom and dad. Some of them are working two jobs while at the same time going to ball games, driving car pools, cleaning houses, mowing yards and trying to keep their kids in church.

In many ways Mother’s Day is a difficult time for a lot of people. There are a lot of moms in the Bible we can hold up as role models on Mother’s Day. There is the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31. There’s Naomi, Hannah, the Shunamite woman, Ruth, the Virgin Mary. But on this Mother’s Day we bring to center stage a woman who is seldom mentioned. Her name? Hagar. My hat is off to her on this Mother’s Day.

Hagar teaches us a lot about overcoming, especially in the world of single motherhood. She was young and attractive. She was hardworking. She got pregnant before she was ready. Her husband abandoned her and her son. She lost her job. She had no friends and her family was a long way away. But God came to her side and to her rescue.

Hagar’s story tells us how each of us can overcome. Across the centuries she speaks to us of the plight of many modern mothers, the fight of many modern mothers, and the might of many modern mothers.

The plight of many modern mothers

So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water; and putting it on her shoulder, he gave it and the boy to Hagar, and sent her away. Then she departed and wandered in the Wilderness of Beersheba.

And the water in the skin was used up, and she placed the boy under one of the shrubs.

Then she went and sat down across from him at a distance of about a bowshot; for she said to herself, “Let me not see the death of the boy.” So she sat opposite him, and lifted her voice and wept (Gen. 21: 14-16).

In Genesis 21:14 we see her hurting. Hagar was the victim. Her fate was not her fault. It was a result of Abraham’s own impatience and his manipulation. It was a result of his refusal to believe God in the first place. And so he sent Hagar and their young son away. We see her hurting in these verses.

Abraham was not a bad man. He made mistakes. He got into situations and had to make some hard choices. He loved Ishmael, his son by Hagar, and there was no real joy in this separation. The Bible simply says he “sent her away” (Gen. 21:14). These were tough words. She knew how it felt to be rejected. So did the boy. He loved his dad but his dad “sent him away.” Talk about hurting. Hagar was on her own. This was new to her. There was no one to help, no one to make decisions, no one to fix the car or the faucet. The Bible tells us that she “wandered” in the wilderness. She had no real direction. She did not know where she was going nor what she was going to do. Her purpose in life had been lost. This is the plight of many modern mothers. Do you see Hagar hurting? She had been sent away, rejected, and now she’s on her own. Many modern mothers can identify with her today.

We not only see her hurting but we see her hungry (Gen. 21:15). The Bible says “the water in the skin was used up, and she placed the boy under one of the shrubs.” It was bad enough to be hurting but now her supplies have run out and she’s hungry. Her resources have run dry. The emotional strain is complicated by physical pain. Hagar finds herself like many modern mothers. She is hurting without protection and hungry without provision.

Hagar’s plight is the plight of many modern mothers. Next, we see her hopeless. “She went and sat down ... and lifted her voice and wept” (Gen. 21:16). She put the boy under a tree and went off a distance from him so he could not see her. Does anyone identify with her on this Mother’s Day? Is there anyone who’s gone into the privacy of a bedroom and shut the door and just sat down and sobbed? God had allowed Hagar and her son to come to the point where they no longer could endure in their own strength.

Hagar’s plight is the plight of many modern mothers. Many today are hurting. They too know what it is to be “sent away,” and be abandoned, and to find themselves wandering without any direction. Many today know what it is to be hungry. Their resources are gone, children have needs that cannot be met. Maybe today it is not so much physical as much as it might be social or emotional hunger, and especially spiritual hunger for a companion. Other modern mothers see themselves as hopeless. Many are at the end of their rope on Mother’s Day and the only thing left to do is sit down and cry.

While this is the plight of many modern mothers we should never give up. We continue on through Hagar’s story to see what happens next.

The fight of many modern mothers

And God heard the voice of the lad. Then the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said to her,

“What ails you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is.

Arise, lift up the lad and hold him with your hand, for I will make him a great nation” (Gen. 21:17-18).

In these verses we see her expectation. As she sat and wept the angel of God came to her and said, “Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is” (Gen. 21:17). Those comforting words gave her the thread by which to hang. Those words were the crack in the door. Those words were the ray of light at the end of her tunnel. Who was this angel of the Lord? This was in fact a Christophany. This was a visit of the pre-incarnate Christ to this goodhearted mother. Our Lord appears many times in the Old Testament. We find Him walking in the fiery furnace. We often see that He has a way of showing up when hope is almost gone in so many people’s lives.

It is interesting that the Lord tells her that He’s heard the prayers of Ishmael, her son. One of the things that tugs at the heart of God are the prayers of children. This is the fight of many modern mothers. What mother and what child does not want to hear these words today, “fear not, God has heard your prayers.” Do you see her expectations?

Next, we see her encouragement. The Lord told her to get up and hold the boy in her hand “for I will make him a great nation” (Gen. 21:18). How many moms are fighting today to lift their kids up? There is so much around us in our culture that strips away our pride and incentive. So many children feel worthless. They have no mom or dad to lift them up. All some young people hear around the home is how they will never amount to anything or that they are worthless. Some of them have heard it so much they begin to believe it. We have raised a generation of young people and no one is lifting them up. One of the most important things a parent can do is “lift up” their children. Do you see her encouragement? She is putting her arm around her boy. This is the fight of many modern mothers.

My wife Susie and I have seen this as one of the major points in child raising. Not a day went by in raising our two daughters that in some way or another they did not hear us say, “I’m proud to be your dad” or “I’m proud to be your mom.” We tried to let them know they could do anything if they would believe and trust in the Lord. We sought to lift them up. Most children are going to believe what you tell them. We see the encouragement in this ancient mother. She’s building self-esteem. She’s building self-worth. She is lifting up her boy. It is a fight for many of us.

Look at Hagar. Do you see her expectation? Do you see her encouragement? Next, we see her example. She lifted him up and held him by the hand (Gen. 21:18). That is, she walked with him. She showed the way. She led by example. If you look behind the most productive lives, usually you’ll find a mom or a dad who “took them by the hand” and walked with them. They were there in all sorts of circumstances and situations. They led by example.

The fight is on for many modern moms. What an example Hagar is to all of us today. We see her expectations. She’s calling on God and He heard her prayers. We see her encouragement. She’s lifting up her boy in the midst of a difficult situation. We see her example. She takes him by the hand and walks with him. There are millions of children in America today that are waiting for this type of example. If we’re ever going to reach our modern world as the church of Jesus Christ, we must see the plight of many modern mothers and the fight of many modern mothers. Finally, we need to see the:

The might of many modern mothers

Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water, and gave the lad a drink.

So God was with the lad; and he grew and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer.

He dwelt in the Wilderness of Paran; and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt (Gen. 21:19-21).

In Genesis 21:19 we see her provision. “God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.” God became her provider. Abraham had given her a wine skin filled with water but God gave her a well! Do you see her provision? Here was a woman who was agonizing with no apparent resources. And all the while a well was nearby. A well is a very important thing in the desert. Hagar’s condition expresses the spiritual state and condition of many modern mothers on Mother’s Day; hurting, hungry, and feeling hopeless. Many are wandering without knowledge that a well of eternal life is so very near.

Think about it for a moment. The well had been there all the time but Hagar just simply did not see it. It was overlooked until God pointed it out. How many times when hope seems almost gone has God shown us a well? But, it was not enough that the well was so close in proximity. God had to open her eyes. Oh that God would open the eyes of more modern mothers and show them the well of everlasting life that has been there all the time. There are a lot of moms on Mother’s Day who can testify that they would have never made it without supernatural help. The fact is, God showed them a well also.

God opened Hagar’s eyes and showed her a well but she had to do three things. She had to draw the water. She had to drink it herself. And she had to pass the cup to the lad. Do you see her provision? God Himself came to her rescue.

Also, we see her promise. I love the words in this verse. “God was with the lad and he grew…”(Gen. 21:20). She held on to God’s promise that He would “make him a great nation.” Our Lord is always on the side of the oppressed. God delights in coming to the rescue of those who have been cast out. This thread is woven throughout the New Testament. There was a woman at a well in Samaria who had been cast out, yet the Lord came to her rescue. There was a man in Jericho by the name of Bartimaeus who had been cast out to the side of the road but Christ came to his rescue. There was a woman in Jerusalem about to be stoned, a cast-out to society but the Lord Jesus came to her rescue.

There is a strange sense in which adversity has a way of building character. Hagar had help in raising her boy. It was supernatural help! God was with her! Do you see her promise? This is the might of many modern mothers. Children who are being raised by single parents should not be jealous of those who have both parents. God has a way of giving advantage to them. God is especially with them, and for them. Often, it is the child who has known struggle and sacrifice and suffering, the child who has sat under a tree somewhere and wept, the one who has known discipline and hard work, who is better prepared for life and who climbs higher than others who have known little sacrifice.

Yes, “God was with the lad and he grew…” This is the might of many modern mothers. Christ is on their side.

Finally, we see her persistence (Gen. 21:21). God gave her the strength to go on and she had a lasting influence upon her boy. Until it was time for him to be married she stood with him and then she released him to his wife. A single mom in touch with God can overcome every obstacle in her path. Hagar instilled love, respect and forgiveness in her boy.

There’s an interesting sideline found in Genesis 25:9. The Bible records that Ishmael and Isaac buried their father together. Think about that. Ishmael went back to show respect because of his mother’s persistence. This is the might of many modern mothers. Can you see their provision? God has a way of opening their eyes and showing them a well. Do you see their promise? God is with them. Do you see their persistence?

On Mother’s Day let us remember that our responsibility is to build a family unit. Thank God for the home. The home is the hope of America. Let us be bold and frank in teaching our children that God’s plan is one man for one woman for life. There is no such thing as safe sex. There should not be any sex outside the marriage bond. But, let’s also remember that there are so many hurting around us.

Let’s remember the plight of many modern mothers. People are hurting, they are hungry, they are hopeless. Let’s take our hats off to the fight of many modern mothers. Let’s join in their expectations, their encouragement, and their example. Finally, let’s acknowledge the might of many modern mothers. They have a supernatural provision, they live by a wonderful promise, and their persistence has a lasting influence.

Many on Mother’s Day are like Hagar. Perhaps you’re not a single mother. Perhaps you’ve never known rejection. Perhaps you’re not even a mother. But like her you’re “wandering” through life. There’s no direction. There’s no purpose. There’s no peace. Follow her example. Call upon God today. He will open your eyes and show you a well. You can drink from that well and never thirst again. And he will go home with you!

Mother's Day

Mother's Day

Friday, May 7, 2021 2:41 PM
Friday, May 7, 2021 2:41 PM


Matthew 1:5

Matthew 1:5

It is Mother’s Day and all over the Christian world preachers are pointing this morning to the mother we have come to call the “Proverbs 31 woman.” What a lady. This wonder woman gets up before dawn and stays busy until the early hours of the next morning. We have developed a mental image of her. She has the looks of a movie star, the domestic abilities of a master chef, the stamina of a world-class athlete, the intellect of a professor with a PhD, the tenacity of a political operative, the wisdom of a godly missionary, the sensitivity of a Mother Teresa, the business sense of a Fortune 500 executive, the grace of an etiquette expert and the spirituality of the Virgin Mary. Wow. No wonder so many mothers leave church feeling down on Mother’s Day!

Can any of us measure up to this standard of perfection? She is certainly a worthy goal for which to aim but we are all in a process here. If it is the church’s intent to reach her city for Christ, then she must begin to deal with men and women where they are and not simply where each of us should be.

In preparation for this Mother’s Day message, I asked myself a question, “If the Lord Jesus was in my pulpit Sunday and preaching audibly what would He say?” I am convinced He wouldn’t simply speak trite platitudes or read a sweet poem or two. I believe He would do exactly what He did in scripture. He would leave the ninety and nine and go after that one who is hurting and lost. Perhaps, it is the woman today who has never borne children. Or, the one who aborted her child in the past. Or, the mother who birthed a child and loved him so much that she entrusted him to someone else to raise and wonders, today, what he looks like and where he lives. On this Mother’s Day let’s allow our Lord to speak to each of us at the very point of our need.

While the woman in Proverbs 31 is a worthy example to emulate, she is not among those listed in the lineage of our Lord. But two women in Matthew 1:5 are listed there for all posterity to see. Who are these two mothers? They must be paragons of faithfulness to be in this righteous list. Not really. One is Rahab, the prostitute of Jericho. She was the madam who ran the house of ill repute in that ancient town in the Jordan valley. The other mother listed is Ruth, the godless Moabite. She was raised in a heathen environment worshipping pagan idols and gods. But something wonderful happened to each of these two mothers. Their experience with the living God caused them to be converted into two of the godliest mothers in the Bible and they live on in history and in heaven today.

Rahab and Ruth were mothers who overcame their circumstances. Like many modern moms they were torn between work and childcare. Many moms are divorced today; others may be remarried and they are dealing with incredible adjustments and the struggle of divided loyalties. Others live with all sorts of unspoken heartaches in the home and are making the best of very difficult situations. Still others have husbands who cannot be trusted.

Rahab is listed here in the genealogy of Jesus to show us that there is hope for those who have been engaged in sinful pleasures. Ruth joins her in this list to show us that there is hope for those who have been engaged with societal pressures. Both of these women are remembered forever as virtuous women. Let’s look at them and learn from them on this Mother’s Day.

Rahab shows us we can overcome sinful pleasures

Who is this mother, named Rahab, listed here in Matthew 1 in the genealogy of Jesus? Her story is told in the second and sixth chapters of the book of Joshua. Here we find a lady with a reputation that was far from spotless. She was quite popular with the men who stopped in their caravans while journeying through the oasis city of Jericho. Everyone knew where her house was located. The local kids would point to it as they passed by. Five of the six times she is mentioned in scripture the word, “harlot,” is placed alongside her name as if it were glued to her. When her family members are listed in Joshua 2:13, there is no mention of a husband or children. She was a lady who was involved in sinful pleasures.

When the Israelites sent spies into her city as they were about to begin their conquest of Canaan, she took them in. Interestingly, she had not heard what they had done for God during their march to the Promised Land, nor how well trained their armies had become, but what struck this harlot’s heart was what the Living God had done for them and through them (Joshua 2:10).

She becomes a beautiful example of how one can overcome her sinful pleasures to become a godly mother. Listen to her testimony in front of the Israelite spies, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, that the terror of you has fallen on us and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. And as soon as we heard these things our hearts melted; neither did there remain any courage in anyone because of you, for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath” (Joshua 2:9-11). Here are the words spoken by one with a repentant heart—“He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.”

There is an interesting insight found a few verses earlier. She took the spies up on her roof and hid them under “the stalks of flax which she had laid in order on the roof” (Joshua 2:6). Why was there flax on this woman’s roof, neatly and orderly laid out? In the ancient world flax was gathered by industrious women, dried out and used for spinning and weaving. The presence of such a large quantity of it on her roof may well indicate she had experienced a change of vocation. Interestingly enough, it is said of the Proverbs 31 woman that “she seeks wool and flax and works willingly with her hands” (Proverbs 31:13).

Not only did this woman of Jericho repent, but there is good evidence that she placed her faith in the living God (Joshua 2:15-21). When the spies went on their way with a promise to return, they told her to hang a scarlet thread out the window of her home so that when they came to conquer the city, her home would be spared. She replied, “According to your words, so be it. And she sent them away…and she bound the scarlet cord in the window” (Joshua 2:21).

When Rahab said “Yes,” to the God of heaven and by faith hung the scarlet cord out her window, an amazing thing happened. God in heaven knew about a coming cross of which she was unaware. The blood was shed on that cross before the foundation of the world. God saw that cross and the salvation it so freely offered and looked down on her faith and saved her by His own blood. And, as a celebration of her faith, she hung that scarlet thread out her window, so that when judgment came and the walls came tumbling down, here was one obvious part of that wall that judgment could not touch because of the scarlet thread. Here is a beautiful picture of salvation tucked away in the Old Testament.

Rahab is listed in the lineage of Jesus in Matthew 1:5 to show all posterity that there is hope for any and all who trust in the living God.

What ever happened to her? Did she ever find a husband? I’ll say she did. She lived among the Israelites and fell in love with a prince by the name of Salmon. God blessed their union with a son whose name was Boaz, who became the Kinsman-Redeemer. This former harlot of Jericho became the mother of Boaz, the Lord of the harvest, who became the husband of Ruth.

Look at Rahab. She is remembered today on this Mother’s Day to remind us there is hope for those who may have once lived in sinful pleasures of various types. And today, she lives on in history and in heaven as a good and godly mother who imparted the same qualities to her own family.

Ruth shows us we can overcome societal pressures

Who is this other mother listed in Matthew 1:5 in the lineage of Jesus? Her name is Ruth. She was a Moabitess. Her obstacle was not that of sinful pleasures but of societal pressures. She was raised in a godless home, not unlike many in the western world today. She was raised in a pagan, anti-God culture. All the influences of her childhood were against her coming to know the living Lord.

She was a member of a race that actually began in incest (Genesis 19:30-37). Lot slept with his own daughter and she bore a son named Moab. The Moabites did not worship the Lord God. They worshipped the pagan god, Chemosh. They offered human sacrifices to him. They were a degenerate people who resorted to all types of licentious behavior.

As a pastor for decades I have noticed that of all the strongholds, the religion of our childhood is the most difficult to break. It seems to have a hold over people. While Satan comes against those in sinful pleasure with accusations, he comes against those with societal pressures with obligations. Ruth is listed here in Matthew 1:5 as a godly mother to show us all that there is hope for those with societal pressures and a sense of false obligations to the religion of childhood.

How did Ruth become an overcomer? She saw her mother-in-law, Naomi, repent and set her face back to Bethlehem and away from Moab. Ruth began to cling to her with these words, “Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God; where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried” (Ruth 1:16-17). If you want to witness an Old Testament conversion, there it is.

Ruth found a new determination. “Entreat me not to leave you.” All influences were against her. The religion of her childhood was against her. Orpah’s example (she kissed Naomi and “went back to her people and her gods”), was against her. Naomi’s insistence that she stay in Moab was against her. But faith brought a new determination in Ruth.

Ruth found a new direction. “Wherever you go, I will go.” Ruth was determined that following the God of Naomi would become her new life’s direction.

Ruth found a new dependence. “Wherever you lodge, I will lodge.” She was saying that she would trust the Lord and Naomi for her basic needs.

Ruth found a new desire. “Your people shall be my people.” Ruth knew that if she took the God of the Bible to be her God, then she would take His people as hers also. It did not take me long as a new believer to understand that if I was truly going to go God’s way, then I had to do so in the company of His people.

Ruth found a new devotion. “Your God shall be my God.” The interesting thing about this to me is that all she knew of Naomi’s God was a God of suffering and sorrow. Naomi’s husband had died, her two sons had died and her heart was filled with grief. But Ruth watched Naomi and knew her and her living testimony brought a new devotion to Ruth.

Ruth found a new dedication. “Wherever you die, I will die.” Ruth was saying, “This is for life. This is a life decision. I am not coming back if things do not work out just the way I think they should.”

Finally, Ruth found a new destiny. “Where you are buried I will be buried.” I believe Ruth was saying here that “not even death will separate us.”

What happened to this formerly godless Moabite woman?

Did she find a husband? I’ll say she did. Did she become a godly mother? Did she ever! Matthew 1:5 tells us the story. She returned to Bethlehem with Naomi. She married Boaz, the Lord of the harvest. You remember Boaz. He was the son of Rahab. Boaz and Ruth had a son whose name was Obed who had a son whose name was Jesse who had a son whose name was David. Yes, King David, the shepherd, the Psalmist, the king. I am sure this trust in the Living God was transferred to her great grandson for later he would write, “I have been young and now I am old, but I have never seen the righteous forsaken nor his seed begging bread” (Psalm 37:25).

No more fitting tribute has ever been paid to a wife than when Ruth’s husband said, “All the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman” (Ruth 3:11). Look at Ruth. She stands there in the lineage of Jesus to show us that no matter what our past we can become virtuous through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Yes, if our Lord were here this Mother’s Day physically and speaking audibly to us, I have no doubt he would leave the ninety and nine and come to each troubled, lonely or lost heart in order to impart and impute His righteousness to all who would believe so that it might be repeated that “all the people of our town might know that you are a virtuous woman.”

It was not common in the ancient world to list women in a genealogy tree. In fact, in the entire listing of those in the line of Jesus which consumes most of the initial chapter of the New Testament only four women are mentioned. One might think they must have been some kind of virtuous women. But a closer look reveals an interesting truth. One is Tamar. She dressed as a prostitute, seduced her own father-in-law and had an illegitimate baby. The next is Rahab, the harlot, followed by Ruth, the Moabitess. Finally, we meet Bathsheba. She is the one who lived in adultery with King David. What do you suppose our Lord is trying to tell us on this Mother’s Day? I think He is reminding us all that “if anyone be in Christ, he is a new creation, old things are passed away, and all becomes new”(2 Corinthians 5:17). The gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is the Good News of hope for any and all on this special day.

Moral Earthquakes & Secret Faults: Washed Clean - Part 11

Moral Earthquakes & Secret Faults: Washed Clean - Part 11

Friday, May 7, 2021 2:41 PM
Friday, May 7, 2021 2:41 PM


Psalm 51

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean. Psalm 51:7, NIV

Psalm 51

In the aftermath of the 1989 Bay Area earthquake, property owners got a quick lesson in insurance claims. To their horror they discovered that not only were they forced to dig out from under a mountain of rubble, they had to dig out from under a mountain of red tape as well.

Calls were not returned. Adjusters failed to show up, and promises were not kept. As a result, the patience of many claimants wore thin. It was just another example of the squeaky wheel getting the grease. In order to get a quick response from their agents and adjusters, they discovered that they had to persistently, constantly and insistently ask.

In Psalm 51, we see this same sort of supplication in the life of David. He doesn’t give up. Despite the grievousness of his sin, he remains persistent, constant and insistent.

At the heart of his prayer of confession was a whole series of requests. David asks God to purge him — to cleanse him — from all of that sin. He asks God to wash him. He asks God to let him hear and see again. He asks God to set aright his body, soul and spirit.

Ask: a simple little one-syllable word. It is a basic concept — such a simple thing to do. To ask someone for something is no great thing — at least, at first glance it doesn’t appear to be. Isn’t it strange, then, that we attempt to live out our lives only asking others for things when we absolutely have to do so? Some of us are just too proud to ask for anything — even too proud to ask God for anything.

Yet, the Lord Jesus taught us, His children, to ask: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7, NIV).

The apostle James said, “You do not have because you do not ask.” While, he added, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:2–3).

David avoids both extremes. He asks God for His covenant blessings. He asks aright, pleading the cause of righteousness: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit” (Ps. 51:7–12).

Notice the verbs David employs in his great supplication: cleanse me, wash me, make me, create me, renew me and restore me. Together, these active requests form the heart and soul of David’s repentance.

Cleanse me

King David felt soiled, dirty and stained. He knew that neither ritual, religion, resolve, nor reform could cleanse his sin-stained soul. It was deeply stained, so he asks God to cleanse him with hyssop. The word he uses literally means “to purge or to expunge.” It is a word used to describe not merely a ritual, cursory dusting off; it does not describe something that is simply rinsed off, such as a dish under running water. Instead, it describes a thorough scrubbing, scouring and purifying. It comes closest to our word sterilizing.

Thus, he prays, “Cleanse me with hyssop.” If we go to Jerusalem today, we can walk into the Old City through the Dung Gates, near where the Western Wall is, and find hyssop. It is an herb that grows naturally there; in fact, you may discover it growing out of the walls of the city. But in the Old Testament, hyssop was not simply a common herb. It was an integral part of Israel’s ritual worship. In the ceremonial section of the Mosaic Law, hyssop was used in the ceremonial cleaning of lepers. It was also used by the Levitical priests during sacrifices in the temple to take blood and sprinkle it on the altar.

David asks God to cleanse him thoroughly — to purge him with hyssop, just as the priest did during the worship services held in the temple. He could stand his uncleanness and filth no more.

The prophet Isaiah records God’s own plea to us all: “‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool’” (Isa. 1:18).

Some of us want to be whitewashed instead of washed white. When we are simply whitewashed, we cover up the marred surface of our lives; we merely hide the blotches and scars. But when we are washed white, all of those stains are actually removed — they cease to exist altogether. David doesn’t want a bit of a cover-up. He is not interested in simply skirting the consequences of his sin. He wants to deal with it — substantively. He wants to eradicate the last vestiges of his sin. He wants to be clean — from the inside out. He wants to be thoroughly washed.

The great Victorian preacher Charles Spurgeon asked, “Is there a verse in all of Scripture more full of faith than this?” Indeed, this is a passage that radiates a full and vivacious faith, a faith rooted in the grace and mercy of God Almighty. “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” If we all really believed that, what a difference it would make.

David is a man whose sin has greatly stained his soul. Now he asks to be purged and washed. Some of us are too proud to do that. That is precisely why so many of us remain encumbered by the sins of our past. It is the very reason why some of us are not free — we have not asked.

Joy and gladness

David’s supplications do not end with his request to be washed clean, but he goes on to ask for a measure of restoration: “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice” (Ps. 51:8, NIV). During the tenure of his great apostasy and rebellion, David had become deaf to the voice of God. But now, in his repentance, he requests ears to hear.

Can you imagine? The man after God’s own heart had allowed the embers of his faith to go cold — to the point of extinction. That is what sin does. At one time, David could take his harp and make the palace resonate with sounds of joy and gladness, but sin had so hardened his sensibilities that he had become spiritually tone-deaf. He had become utterly deaf to the sounds of joy. That is what sin will always do to us. It will take away our song. It will take away our joy. It will steal the music of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and goodness from our lives. It will crowd our senses with the cacophonous din of this poor fallen world, while the sweet strains of heaven will be pitched beyond our hearing.

David knew full well what it was to hear the songs of deliverance, but his rebellion had so scarred him that he could no longer detect their strains. It must have been rather like the fellow who left the ministry and was asked sometime later what it was he missed the most. He said, “The thing I miss the most is hearing the trumpets in the morning — calling me to service.” David missed the morning clarions. He missed the trumpets of joy and gladness, and so he asks God to enable him to somehow hear them once again.

Out of sight

Again, David does not stop there. He continues to ask. He continues to make supplication. He continues to make his requests known. He prays: “Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.”

It is a terrible thing to be found out in sin. We see this all the time on the human level. A man is captured, suspected by the police of committing a particular crime. As he is being taken into the police station, he covers his face in an attempt to avoid the leering cameras broadcasting into thousands of homes all across town. He walks into the police station with a newspaper shielding his face. He doesn’t want the cameras to capture his image, so he hides it. He is ashamed.

David was ashamed. He had been exposed. He was naked and vulnerable. The gaze of the immutable, incomprehensible, immortal God was trained directly upon him in his miserable estate. It was almost more than he could possibly bear, and he felt the burning anguish of shame.

One of the greatest tragedies of American Christianity is that we’ve lost our shame. We have become both callous and brazen. We even attach a bit of mystique to bold sinning, but shame was a character trait that was by no means lost on David.

So he cries out for mercy. “Cleanse me,” he cries. “Wash me. Blot out. Hide your face from the blight of my rebellion.” David knew only too well that if God does not graciously blot out our sins, He will necessarily blot out something else — our names from the book of life. He must do one or the other. Justice demands that sin be dealt with. It simply cannot be passed over. God cannot simply avert His gaze. God cannot simply look past our failures and foibles. All must be dealt with; otherwise, His all-holy character is compromised.

A clean heart

Still, David does not stop there. He asks for yet more. He prays: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10).

In the Hebrew language, several different words can be translated “create.” In this case, it is the word used in the very first verse in the Bible: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” It literally means “to make or fashion out of nothing.” In the context of Genesis, it simply describes the way God called forth existence out of absolute nothingness. The entire cosmos was fabricated by the very breath of His mouth. He simply spoke and it was so.

The word is thus demonstrative of the fact that the creative activity of God can bring something out of nothing. And that is exactly what David asks Him to do. The word indicates something that a human being could never do for himself. David could never create in himself a clean heart — anymore than any of us can, as much as we might try.

Notice, David is not asking for some kind of restoration. He doesn’t say, “Give me back what I’ve lost. Restore what the erosion of sin has stripped from my heart.” He wants regeneration. He is asking for an entirely new heart. He is saying, “Create what is not there. Create what never was there. Don’t just bring me back up to speed. I need an altogether new heart.”

Man always tries to start his reform efforts on the outside and work inward. God always begins on the inside and works outward. Jesus says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts — murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matt. 15:19, NIV). David knew that he needed to guard against future moral earthquakes, so he wants more than simply a return to the status quo. He asks for a steadfast spirit.

The most important thing about a man is his spirit. We can have all kinds of degrees, pedigrees and experiences, but if we don’t have a right spirit, God can’t use us. King David knew this.

In His presence

Even now though, David was not through making his petitions and requests. He asks for yet more: “Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit” (Ps. 51:11–12).

Here, the sinner king confronts his greatest fear and expresses his highest aspiration. Thus, the language becomes rather emphatic — notice the dos and the don’ts. He says, “Don’t cast me away from your presence,” and “Don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.” Simultaneously he says, “Do restore to me the joy of your salvation,” and “do uphold me by your generous Spirit.”

This emphatic list of dos and don’ts really exposes David’s heart in a remarkable way. They reveal his real agenda, his highest priorities and his greatest anxieties. They paint a vivid portrait of his heart in transition — from the devastation of a moral earthquake to the restoration of a character of humble discipleship.

Clearly, David’s great fear was that God might abandon him, that God might cast him away from His presence. It was that he might be left entirely to himself. He knew that he was responsible for cutting off fellowship with God in the first place. He knew that God was faithful — it was David who had been faithless. He simply feared that he may have gone too far over the line. He feared that he might have crossed a kind of ultimate and final threshold and that he would not be able to recover. He had given up on God — he was now afraid that perhaps God would give up on him in return. You can almost hear him lament, “Don’t cast me away as you did Cain.” After all, one of the saddest verses in all the Bible says, “Cain went out from the presence of the Lord” (Gen. 4:16).

David did not want the same to be said of him. In addition, he was afraid that he was no longer to have the presence or power of the Holy Spirit, so he prays, “Do not take your Holy Spirit from me.”

What would it be like to have no Comforter? Where would we be with no Teacher? How would we function if we were forced to come to the Bible and read it without the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to behold its wondrous truths? How could we comprehend it without the Holy Spirit to open our hearts?

To know the presence of the Holy Spirit and then to be cast away from that presence would be more than any of us could possibly bear. To know what it is to have a Comforter, a Teacher, and then suddenly to be bereft of that privilege would be calamitous. To have no guide when we come to a crisis in life is a horror too deep and too profound to fully fathom. No wonder David shuddered at the thought.

David’s heartfelt cry echoes across the centuries — these aren’t just words. David expresses the greatest fear of his life. To have the Holy Spirit is to have faith, hope and love. But bar the Spirit and we’re left without faith — thus we can only be skeptical. Bar the Spirit and we’re left without hope — thus we can only be disillusioned. Bar the Spirit and we’re left without love — thus we can only be cynical. Sadly, we have all known people like that: skeptical, disillusioned and cynical with no power in the present because they have no perspective of the past or vision for the future.

Think of it: to have known the sweet Holy Spirit and then to lose Him! Such a fate would be worse than a musician losing his music, a writer losing his pen or a singer losing his song — all never able to do what they do or be what they are ever again. It is worse even than a man losing his country — never able to return home again.

Jewish culture is resplendent with a rich tradition of stories, legends and fables. One story about the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem — that occurred nearly 40 years after Christ’s crucifixion when Titus and his Roman legions sacked the city — is especially poignant. According to tradition, just before the final assault, loud, mysterious voices were heard echoing in the Temple. “Let us depart,” they announced; afterward, a great sound of unearthly wings, sweeping across a darkened sky, was heard.

According to rabbis through the ages, this was Jehovah and His angels abandoning a disobedient city to its own fate — withdrawing from a Temple that failed to give Him honor.

Legend? No doubt. But what about human temples? What about us? Have we ever made the dwelling place of the Most High so cluttered with the rubbish and perversities of this world that it is no longer fit for His presence?

That is the very thing David feared most. David knew what it was to commune with the Holy Spirit in times past. In the economy of the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit sometimes was taken from men when they were disobedient or unfaithful. For example, the Spirit of God departed from Samson and from Saul.

In our dispensation, however, the Holy Spirit comes to indwell the believer at the moment of conversion, to empower us for service, to give us gifts of ministry, to comfort us and to teach us, to guide us, fill us and to live His life out through us; He has promised that He will never leave us.

A Christian may be cast away from service. In 1 Corinthians 9:27, that was Paul’s fear — that he might become a castaway. But the Holy Spirit will not leave us. A child of God in this dispensation never has to fear that happening.

Of course, David does not conclude on a negative note — but a positive one. He doesn’t end his great plea with his fears — but with his hopes. He doesn’t wind up with don’ts — but with dos. So David says, “Do restore to me the joy of your salvation,” and “do uphold me by your generous Spirit.” The fact is, if God would grant His Spirit, then this final request would most assuredly be fulfilled.

Indeed, it was; and indeed, it is.

Moral soundings

  • Are you bold enough to go before the throne of God and ask — simply ask?
  • Are your requests generally about things? Or are they like David’s, about your own character?
  • Have the strains of joy and faith become little more than dim memories to you?
  • Can you identify with David’s greatest fears — or his greatest aspirations?
  • The Holy Spirit has not abandoned you; have you abandoned Him?
Moral Earthquakes & Secret Faults: Transgressions, iniquities and sins - Part 10

Moral Earthquakes & Secret Faults: Transgressions, iniquities and sins - Part 10

Friday, May 7, 2021 2:40 PM
Friday, May 7, 2021 2:40 PM


Psalm 51

Psalm 51

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love. Psalm 51:1

In the aftermath of an earthquake — or any other natural disaster, for that matter — people inevitably second-guess themselves. “Why wasn’t I home when it happened? If I had only been there, maybe we wouldn’t have lost everything. Why didn’t we take out that extra insurance when we had the chance last year? Why didn’t we put our valuables in the safety deposit box at the bank? Why did I let the kids stay home on this day, of all days?” Why, oh why?

Hindsight is 20/20. We beat ourselves up equally over minor omissions and major commissions. We torture ourselves with regret, with remorse and with recalcitrance. We agonize over what could have been or what should have been.

If that is the case with a geological earthquake, how much more is it the case with a moral earthquake. Guilt, blame and sorrow necessarily hang over the aftermath of our moral failures, moral ruptures and moral collapses. They are the natural companions of sin-provoked tragedy.

No doubt, David dealt with all that and more in the aftermath of his moral earthquake. But instead of wallowing in his grief, he sought relief in the mercy of God.

The record of his recovery process is a marvel to behold. For every one of us who must journey through this poor fallen world, it is a tremendous encouragement. It enables us to get past the second-guessing, the brow-beating and the soul-searching. It enables us to see past the ruin and rubble we have made of our circumstances and get on with life.

In fact, Psalm 51 — the stunningly transparent passage that offers a glimpse of David’s repentance and recovery — was written not merely for private prayer but as a public song. In his brilliant commentary on the book of Psalms, The Treasury of David, Charles Spurgeon asserts that this psalm is equally suitable for individual penitence and for an entire assembly. It gives voice to our deepest longings for forgiveness and rest — whether we are alone in our closet or arrayed around the throne with the whole congregation of the Lord.

The universal cry

The psalm was written after Nathan the prophet came to David and confronted him with his sin (see 2 Sam. 11–12). Nathan’s message had reawakened David’s hardened heart and made him see the greatness of his guilt. As a result, the once-prolific troubadour of the Lord returned to his long-forgotten harp and poured out this song — accompanied with various sighs and tears.

David speaks specifically about three slights he had committed against the integrity of the Lord: transgressions, iniquities and sins. He clearly differentiates between these three violations. Then he asks God to deal with those breaches in ways appropriate to each: to blot out his transgressions, to wash his iniquities and to cleanse his sins.

In this regard, Psalm 51 is a substantive paradigm for the prayer of forgiveness. Not surprisingly, it has always been recognized as such. Only heaven has recorded how many thousands and thousands of believers through the centuries have come to this psalm and prayed it as their own — for it expresses the universal cry for mercy in the midst of the calamity of a moral earthquake.

It contains a message that is both forthright and obvious: any of us — from the little child, who tells what we call a “fib,” to the vilest of sinners — can appeal to God for forgiveness and the restoration of a joyous life of service if we simply come to Him with a contriteness of mind, with a brokenness of spirit and with a true heart intent on unrestrained repentance.


David begins his remarkable journey of recovery and repentance with a heartfelt confession of sin. Thus, he appeals to the mercy of God.

Isaiah the prophet asked: “The Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save; nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God…so that He does not hear” (59:1–2, NASB).

So often we rush into prayer with things in our heart and life that we haven’t asked God to blot out or cleanse away,and then wonder why we can’t get the ear of God, why we can’t live a victorious Christian life.

David begins his prayer with a recognition that his rebellion has separated him from the Lord. He appeals for an audience in the throne room of heaven by entering with confession on his lips: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions” (Ps. 51:1, NIV).

He didn’t appeal to God on the basis of judgment, and he certainly didn’t come on the basis of merit. He didn’t come to God and say, “Hey, look at all the wonderful things I’ve done in the past for the sake of your name and your kingdom. Let’s just put all of my good deeds over here on a scale. Oh sure, I’ve blown it in a few areas, but look how many more good deeds I’ve done.”

It is a dangerous thing to move off the ground of grace. God does not grade on the curve. He doesn’t populate His kingdom by percentages and comparisons. The fact is, none of us deserve anything from Him. We are able to approach Him solely and completely because of His tender mercies. Thus, David appeals to the God of “unfailing love” and of “great compassion.” There is no pretense or implication of just desserts.

David initiates his soulful prayer with a full recognition of the fact that he does not deserve forgiveness — not in the least. Thus, he can only appeal for mercy. There is no other ground for negotiation. Mercy is not getting what we deserve. Mercy is not getting what is fair. Mercy is altogether the gracious gift of our long-suffering sovereign God.

So, David prays, “Blot out my transgressions.” The Hebrew word for “transgressions” appears nearly a hundred times in the Old Testament. It literally means “to rebel, to revolt or to cross over the line.” It describes a gross violation of the law, not merely a slight omission or a piddling mistake. It describes a spirit of defiant disobedience to authority. Transgressions are flagrant, deliberate and premeditated breaches of a clear standard. It is not irresponsibility; it is rebellion.

David admits that his sin was indeed a transgression. There were no ifs, ands or buts about it. David deliberately set his face against the clearly revealed will of God. He sinned. He rebelled. He knew precisely what he was doing the whole time he was doing it, and he admits as much. He says, “I’ve stepped over the line. I’ve transgressed. I’ve revolted. I’ve rebelled. I’ve been disobedient.”

On that basis — without even a hint of hedging, justifying or conditioning — David asks God to blot out those awful transgressions. The Hebrew word translated “blot out” literally means “to wipe away or to utterly erase.” It was used by Moses when he appealed to God for the nation of Israel. As he stood on Mount Sinai in the stead of his people, he said: “But now, please forgive their sin — but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written” (Exod. 32:32, NIV).

Later, it was used to describe a man who wipes a dish on one side and then turns it over and wipes it again (2 Kings 21:13).

All of us know firsthand the agonizing experience of stepping over the line. Each of us has deliberately, self-consciously and purposefully rebelled against God. We have no excuses. We cannot rectify our violation of the integrity of God. We cannot justify our actions in any way. We are left entirely to the mercy of God, and what does He do in the face of such blatant sin? Like an accountant erasing a mistake, God blots out our transgressions. He erases them from the ledger altogether. He wipes them clean so that they look brand-new and spotless. It is almost as if the besmirching of our character had never occurred.


Having dealt with his transgressions, David now focuses on a different aspect of his sin. Not only had he stepped over the line and transgressed, he had also defiled and soiled himself with iniquity. So he prayed: “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” (Ps. 51:2, NIV).

In the original Hebrew text, the word translated “iniquity” literally means “to bend, to twist, to distort.” Elihu utilized the same word when the sinner confessed that he had “perverted what was right” (Job 33:27). It was also expressively employed by Jeremiah the prophet to describe the opposite of the straight and narrow way of a righteous life — it was, instead, the crooked pathway of wickedness (Lam. 3:9).

David confesses that he has not only transgressed the perfect standards of God, he has twisted and distorted his calling and destiny in life. He has gone by the wayside. He has perverted and polluted his providential purpose in life. Though all the damage cannot be undone and all his squandered benefits cannot be fully reinstated, he knows that something must be done. His twisted perversion and the vile pollution of his iniquities must be dealt with.

So, David asks God to wash him thoroughly. The Hebrew verb we translate “wash” is almost always used to describe the “cleaning of clothes” or the “removal of stains.” David asks God to wash him like a dirty shirt. Notice, he desires not only his clothing to be washed, but he pleads: “Wash me.” While the casual sinner is content with a light dusting off, the truly awakened conscience desires a complete and efficient washing. One sin pollutes our entire nature. One breach covers us with filth and entirely distorts our purpose in life. It twists our countenance beyond recognition.

Thus, we must deal seriously with sin, just as David does. Iniquities must be washed.


David moves from transgressions to iniquities to sins. Not only had he stepped over the line and transgressed, not only had he defiled and twisted his calling and purpose with iniquity, but he had also fallen short of the mark and sullied his soul — he had sinned. So he prays: “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” (Ps. 51:2, NIV).

The word David chooses to express the idea of “sin” is used almost 300 times in the Old Testament. The first mention of it was in the story of Cain and Abel. There we read, “If you do not do well, sin lies at the door” (Gen. 4:7). This Hebrew word is much like its New Testament equivalent. It literally means “missing the mark.” It illustrates a failed attempt to shoot at a bull’s-eye — the arrow flies away from the intended target and completely misses the mark. David admits, “That is what I have done.”

Notice that his “transgressions” were plural — all the times that he had stepped over the line. But they are replaced by the singular “sin” here. All his many transgressions had each sprung from a common root — sin. Later in this magnificent prayer, he expresses this profound truth: “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51: 5). All our transgressions spring from a common root — that sin nature in which we were born.

David asks God to cleanse him. The word he uses for “cleanse” literally means “to scour, to purify or to depurate.” It describes the process of “purging” or of “absolution.” It also appears in the story of Naaman, who had leprosy. He was told to dip seven times in the Jordan and he would be clean (see 2 Kings 5). If he did as he was told, he would be purified, and the disease would be purged from his body.

Before David asks God for anything else, before he petitions the throne for any other prerogatives, before he makes supplication for any other matter — before he petitions God to create in him a clean heart or renew within him a steadfast spirit or return to him the joy of his salvation — he appeals for mercy in the face of his defiled estate. He asks to be cleansed of his filthiness.

Accepting responsibility

David takes the full blame for his transgressions, iniquities and sins. Notice the personal pronouns he uses: my transgressions, my iniquities and my sins. There is no one to blame for his foolish acts of rebellion — and he doesn’t even try. There is no psychoanalysis, no probing into his past, no discussion of all the pressure he’d been under or no consideration of how lonely it is at the top. David refuses to play the blame game. He knows it wasn’t the devil, his circumstances or anything else that caused his moral earthquake. He knows the responsibility is all his — and he accepts it.

Apparently, this reality was inescapable for David; it hounded him. Though it had been nearly a year since the calamity of his sin, he admits, “My sin is always before me” (Ps. 51:3). It continued to haunt him. He says: “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in your sight … that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge” (Ps. 51:4). David acknowledges  that he had crossed the line God had drawn for his life. He acknowledges his transgressions.

It is tragic how so few people really get to this place. Some of us are pretty good at acknowledging sin — as long as it is not our sin that we are acknowledging. It is easy to confess the sins of others, and we’re pretty good at acknowledging the sins of the church. We’re certainly opinionated about acknowledging the sins of the nation, but most of us find it difficult to say, “I’m the one. I did it. I’m guilty.” David wasn’t caught up in the transgressions of anyone else. His own transgressions had been hounding him. He says, “My sin is always before me.” Apparently, everywhere he turned he saw the ghost of his rebellious past. He saw it in the eyes of the people around him. He lived with it for twelve months. He thought about it at night, lying in the darkness before he went to sleep.

That is one of the most debilitating things about unconfessed sin. It hounds us. Until he got to the place of confession and repentance that we find in this psalm, David lived nearly a year with his sin hounding him. Every day was spent looking over his shoulder, wondering if he was going to be found out, telling one lie to cover another, and yet another to cover that one. His sin had begun to dominate his every waking moment.

Not only did he discover that sin hounds the sinner, it also haunts him. “Against You, God, and You only have I sinned,” he confesses. A casual observer might have objected, “I thought his sin was against Uriah. He stole his wife. He stole from Uriah. And, as if that were not bad enough, he took Uriah’s life.” Another might disagree, saying, “I thought his sin was against Bathsheba. He initiated this affair. He brought her up into his palace and wooed her, persuaded her and seduced her.” Still another might say, “I thought his sin was against the innocent baby that never had a chance to live because of his father’s sin.”

But according to David, the most heinous aspect of his sin was that it was an assault on God’s integrity. The thought that haunted him the most was that his sin was an affront to God. Indeed, though he certainly took advantage of those around him, his primary offense was against God — because all sin is first and foremost a violation of His standards.

This really is the horrible thing about crossing the line — transgressing. This is the great tragedy of twisting the truth, of going the crooked way and of missing the mark. This is the horrible, haunting thing about it: at the root of it all, our sin is an offense against God.

Do we realize that when we talk back to our parents, it is a sin against God? Do we realize when we cut corners on our IRS return, that we’ve not only cheated the government of the United States, but we have sinned against God?

Like the prodigal son, David confesses, “I have sinned against heaven and before You, and I am no longer worthy to be called Your son” (Luke 15:18–19). Nevertheless, he repented; and like the prodigal son, he was able to return home — not as a hired servant or a second-class citizen. He was able to return home as an honored son.

That is the way God takes us back. We don’t have to live being hounded and haunted by our transgressions. We can go home — and there find forgiveness and rest.

David was genuinely sorrowful. He was grieved over his transgressions, iniquities and sins. Not once does he attempt to justify his sin or give excuses. David was not just sorry he got caught; he was sorry for what he had done against God.

“Surely I was sinful at birth,” he prayed, “sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5, NIV).

David acknowledged that he was born with a sinful nature. We must ask ourselves this question: Are we a sinner because we have sinned or do we sin because we are sinners? A lot of people think we are all born good. Then, because of our environment or other factors, our pure primordial goodness is somehow contaminated. They suppose that it is some external pressure that manages to drag us down. They believe that the pressure of the world provokes us to act badly from time to time, but that such behavior is actually out of the norm for us.

David doesn’t pull any of these punches. He places the blame squarely where it belongs — with himself. He says, “I sin because I’m a sinner. I was born that way.” With the apostle Paul, he says: “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12, NIV). And with the prophet Isaiah he asserts: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6, NIV).

The Bible says we are born with this inherent sinful nature. But doesn’t man have a free will? Yes, we have a free will and we are free to do what we want to do. And you know what we want to do? We want to sin. We’re born with that sinful nature. This is what the great reformer Martin Luther called the “bondage of the will.” A little baby that doesn’t get satisfied with a bottle at the right time doubles up her fist and throws a tantrum.

David faces this fact clearly. He sees the cataclysm of his life in light of this great truth. He confesses. Thus, he finds light and life.

Moral soundings

  • Do you see the difference between transgressions, iniquities and sins?
  • Have you appropriated God’s provision for blotting, washing and cleansing?
  • Have you accepted full responsibility for your past actions?
  • Have you come to terms with your sinful nature and your need for God’s mercy?
  • Have you ever prayed through this prayer of David's in the aftermath of a moral earthquake?
Moral Earthquakes & Secret Faults: The high cost of low life - Part 7

Moral Earthquakes & Secret Faults: The high cost of low life - Part 7

Friday, May 7, 2021 2:40 PM
Friday, May 7, 2021 2:40 PM


2 Kings 5:3

A man cannot be established through wickedness, but the righteous cannot be uprooted. Proverbs 12:3 (NIV)

2 Kings 5:3

Necessity is the mother of invention -- but desperation is the author of breakthroughs.

We have all seen how productive we can be -- when we absolutely have to. When our lives or well-being -- or those of our loved ones -- are at stake, we can accomplish marvels. When we have exhausted all other resources, we will do whatever is necessary to achieve our desired ends.

That certainly was the case with Captain Naaman. He was the commander in chief of the king’s armies in ancient Syria -- a man mighty in valor. But Naaman had leprosy. He was about to leave his job and his family to live out his days in a leper colony. He had a little servant girl in his home who had been taken as a captive in a raid over in Samaria. This servant said to Naaman’s wife, “If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would heal him of his leprosy” (2 Kings 5:3).

Having exhausted every other means of healing, Naaman set out with a letter of introduction from the king and some money to seek his cure. First, though, he went to an earthly prince instead of the prophet of God. He tried to buy his cure by offering money. He thought he could be cured with what he had. Naaman then thought he could be cured with whom he knew. He took the letter from the king and presented it to the prince; but, of course, it was all to no avail. Once again suffering disappointment, Naaman finally learned that he just needed to do what he had originally been told.

He inquired of the prophet, Elisha, who then sent word by his servant Gehazi, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and . . . you shall be clean” (2 Kings 5:10). Naaman went away in a rage of fury. He was too proud to do that: “Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?” (2 Kings 5:12).

Fortunately, one of his servants said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” (2 Kings 5:13).

Then the proud, heroic conqueror Naaman went down to the Jordan, took off his regal, royal robes and submerged himself seven times. The Bible tells us that his skin became like that of a little child. Then Naaman and all his servants went back to the man of God. He stood before Elisha and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel; now therefore, please take a gift from your servant” (2 Kings 5:15).

The prophet answered, “As the Lord lives, before whom I stand, I will receive nothing” (2 Kings 5:16). Even though Naaman urged him, he still refused. Elisha the prophet didn’t want Naaman to think salvation was something that could be bought. It was a free gift.

So, Naaman responded:

If you will not, please let me, your servant be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord. But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I bow there also -- when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this (2 Kings 5:17–18, NIV).

Elisha told him to go in peace and sent him on his way. But after Naaman left, Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, said to himself, “My master was too easy on Naaman, this Aramean, by not accepting from him what he brought. As surely as the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something from him” (2 Kings 5:20, NIV).

So Gehazi caught up with Naaman’s group. Naaman saw him and came down from the chariot to meet him. “‘Is everything all right?’ he asked. ‘Everything is all right,’ Gehazi answered” (2 Kings 5:21, NIV). But of course, it wasn’t — at least, not quite: “My master sent me to say, ‘Two young men from the company of the prophets have just come to me from the hill company of Ephraim. Please give them a talent of silver and two sets of clothing’” (2 Kings 5:22, NIV).

This was an out-and-out lie.

“By all means take two talents,” said Naaman. He urged Gehazi to accept them, and then tied up the two talents of silver in two bags, with two sets of clothing. He gave them to two of his servants, and they carried them ahead of Gehazi. When Gehazi came to the hill, he took the things from the servants and put them away in the house. [He hid them.] He sent the men away and they left. Then he went in and stood before his master Elisha.

“Where have you been, Gehazi?” Elisha asked.

“Your servant didn’t go anywhere,” Gehazi answered. [Another lie.]

But Elisha said to him, “Was not my spirit with you when the man got down from the chariot to meet you? Is this the time to take money, or to accept clothes, olive groves, vineyards, flocks, herds, or menservants and maidservants? Naaman’s leprosy will cling to you and to your descendants forever.” Then Gehazi went from Elisha’s presence and he was leprous, as white as snow (2 Kings 5:23–27, NIV).

Grace and judgment

In this long narrative story from Scripture, we see the wonderful, marvelous cure of Naaman at the Word of the living God. We see how his cure was freely given — as wonderfully free as Gehazi’s judgment was horribly deserved. One can hardly believe that in one chapter of Scripture we descend from such heavenly heights to such dastardly depths.

Yet, both grace and judgment are essential elements of the same gospel message. They always have been. They always will be.

It all started in the Garden. Adam and Eve impoverished themselves amidst the riches of Eden by sinning against God and transgressing His Word. Suddenly in the shadow of plenty, they knew real lack. They became utterly destitute.

Pain and sorrow became their lot (see Gen. 3:16). Hardship and calamity became the course of their lives (see Gen. 3:17). They fell from riches to rags, from the watered garden to the wretched wasteland (see Gen. 3:18–19, 23–24).

When God came to them in the cool of the day, they were huddled together in their misery and their shame (see Gen. 3:7–8). He looked upon their broken estate and saw their pitiful poverty.

So how did He respond to them? What did God do?

First, He pronounced a word of judgment on them. He conducted a kind of courtroom lawsuit against them: questioning, interrogating, cross-examining and sentencing. He judged their sin (see Gen. 3:14–19).

Next, He pronounced a word of hope for them. He opened the prophetic scrolls and revealed the promise of a Deliverer, a Savior. He gave them good news (see Gen. 3:15).

And, finally, He confirmed His Word with deeds. He clothed them in the hide of an animal. He covered them. He showed them mercy. He matched His righteous judgment with grace and charity (see Gen. 3:21).

There in the cool of the garden, God confronted the sin of Adam and Eve, and He did it by meeting their deprivation with judgment first and gracious good news immediately after.

This is the biblical model, the divine model, of the gospel. It announces to sinful men that they have disobeyed a holy God, that He will find them out and that He will pronounce judgment against them. But it also offers hope. It tells sinful men that there is a Savior who crushes the serpent’s head and redeems them from their plight.

The gospel always adheres to this pattern. It involves two clear messages: the coming judgment of God and God’s generous way of escape in Christ the sin-bearer.

Thus, we can see this evangelical pattern in the testimony of the prophet Isaiah. First, he announced judgment; then, he announced a way of escape. He said:

Cry loudly, do not hold back; raise your voice like a trumpet, and declare to My people their transgression, and to the house of Jacob their sins. . . . Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, and to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light will break out like the dawn, and your recovery will speedily spring forth; and your righteousness will go before you; the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry and He will say, “Here I am.” If you remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry, and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness, and your gloom will become like midday. And the Lord will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. And those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; you will raise up the age-old foundations; and you will be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of the streets in which to dwell (Isa. 58:1, 6–12, NASB).

God made His evangelistic program clear to Isaiah. First, he was to tell the people of Judah that they were in sin: “Declare to my people their transgression.” But then, he was to reveal the way out. They were to fast in repentance — but, they were not to starve themselves in a ritual fast, but to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to let the oppressed go free, to feed the hungry, to invite the homeless into their homes, to provide clothing for the naked. Grace was to abound.

First, he announced wrath against sin; second, he announced grace covering over sin and charity soothing the hurts of sin.

Jesus, too, confirmed this pattern of gospel proclamation. When He began His public ministry in the town of Nazareth, He went into the synagogue, as was His custom, and stood up to read. What He read was significant: the passage from Isaiah that deals with the coming of the Messiah.

Who is the Messiah? The Anointed One who preaches the gospel to the poor:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,

Because He has anointed Me

To preach the gospel to the poor;

He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,

To proclaim liberty to the captives

And recovery of sight to the blind,

To set at liberty those who are oppressed;

To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

(Luke 4:18–19)

Isaiah had prophesied that the Anointed One would go into the highways and byways to heal the lame, to give sight to the blind and to comfort the brokenhearted. Jesus demonstrated His messianic office by doing literally what Isaiah said He would do. So in the synagogue He boldly announced the prophetic fulfillment: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).

Christ never shied away from announcing God’s condemnation of sin (Matt. 7:13–23). But neither did He hesitate to announce the good news of hope (Matt. 11:28–30).

Jesus proved He was the Messiah by wedding grace and judgment. He authenticated His claims by modeling the whole gospel in both word and deed.

Gehazi’s mistake

The Bible says, “The heart is deceitful above all things” (Jer. 17:9). The truth is, one of the most dangerous times in the life of a believer is right after a great victory. Whether we’ve just knocked down the walls of Jericho or won a spiritual battle over sin, afterwards we tend to put our trust in our past achievements. When we become self-confident and proud, we begin to overrate our ability to deal with situations; and if we can deal with situations on our own, we have no need for prayer. God doesn’t have to help us in order for victory to be assured. How quickly we forget our true Source of victory. That sinful forgetfulness has ever been the problem of God’s people.

God commanded parents to instruct their children in the way of the Lord (Deut. 6:6–9). Why did He make this command? It was so neither the parents nor the children would forget the mighty acts the Lord had done for Israel. Why was Passover instituted? To help Israel remember God’s mercy on their firstborn and His love for them, as well as His terrible punishment on Egypt. Why was Israel constantly being bound into captivity? Israel continually forgot that God saved His people. They would forget, bring in their idols, anger God, and He would bind them into captivity until they remembered His power to save them and repented of their sins. In the New Testament, Christ himself instructs us to observe the Lord’s Supper: “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24). What should we remember? The pure sacrifice of Christ for our sinful souls. If we forget God, His power and His mighty acts of love for us, we are setting ourselves up. If we forget, we soon believe that we can tackle anything. Our pride begins our fall. If we’re not careful, we become prone to prayerlessness. We trust in yesterday’s commitment and hope that it will suffice for today.

The apostle Paul tells us, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). That exhortation perfectly describes the precarious position in which our pride places us. A fall is almost certainly inevitable. Our ensuing fall should be a matter of concern — but also of analysis. If we understand why and how we get into a proud position, and consequently fall, we may be able to avoid it later.

There are four principal parts in a fall — all of them vividly illustrated in Gehazi’s foolish episode: first, its cause; second, its curse; third, its consequence; and fourth, its cure. Each part must be analyzed individually to better understand the whole.

Sin’s cause

What causes a man like Gehazi, Elisha’s faithful servant — a man who had walked with Elisha, seen miracle after miracle, witnessed God’s power, who knew what it was to be around the glory of God — to so easily stumble?

He took four descending steps. First, he saw. He saw Naaman come back to Elisha after he was cured and offer Elisha some money. He then harbored that sight in his mind, which led to the second step.

He coveted. He started to think about the situation. He calculated his potential profits. He began to covet, plan and plot.

Third, he took. He went after Naaman and told him a pack of lies. He then took the great man’s talents of silver and articles of clothing. Yes, he took them!

Fourth, he hid. He put all his contraband away in his own house. He sent the men away, and then he went over to confront Elisha.

Those four steps are terribly predictable. They are the same four steps that everyone who fell in the Bible committed, and they are the same four steps you and I take. What happened in the Garden of Eden? The woman saw the fruit. She saw that it was good — she coveted. Eve then took the forbidden fruit; afterwards, she and Adam hid from God. Similarly, King David was not where he was supposed to be when the time came to go to battle. He was at the palace. One day he looked out on the side of Mount Zion, and there on the rooftop below was a lady bathing. He saw her — the first step. Then he began to think about what he had seen. He began to harbor the image in his heart. He began to covet. He sent word to find out who she was. Next, he took her and committed adultery. Finally, he tried to cover over his sin by having her husband Uriah, his faithful soldier, slain on the field of battle. He hid.

We’re no different. We go through the same process. It is not a sin to be tempted. Sin comes when we don’t let something just pass right on through our minds.

The curse

The curse is that these four steps soon set patterns in our lives. One sin leads to another. One sin attempts to cover another. We tell one lie to cover another lie. It is a miserable, vicious cycle. If spouses are unfaithful to their mates, they have to start lying. They have to cover one lie here, one lie there. Teenagers go out and do what their parents have forbidden them to do, and what happens? They have to lie here and lie there. They wonder to whom they told this and to whom they told that and must make sure everyone will collaborate their story. That is the curse of sin. It sets a pattern.

It happens in the workforce. When an employee is insubordinate in the place of employment, all too often he or she has to tell lies to cover the breach. Every lie or excuse is followed by another. Soon there are enough lies to construct a fantasy world. The first lie seems small enough, but with each successive lie, the situation expands into a mass of falsity. More lies are told to tie up loose ends which demand more lies and on and on and on. Gehazi discovered that only too quickly.

Naaman asked him if everything was all right. He nonchalantly replied that it was. That was, of course, a lie. The first lie of many. Everything was not all right. Gehazi went on, “My master sent me.” That too was a lie, and it was still just the beginning.

When he got back and Elisha asked him where he had been, he responded, “Your servant did not go anywhere.” That was yet another lie. On and on the story went.

Most of us have been there. Sin sets a pattern in motion where we have to tell one lie after another and live our lives looking over our shoulders, wondering who is going to find us out. We wonder what we told him and try to remember what we told her so we can keep our stories straight. What a curse!

Gehazi had a demonstration of God’s grace fresh on his mind — the healing of Naaman. But apparently he forgot the other essential aspect of the gospel — a confrontation of our sinfulness. As a result, he suffered terrible consequences.

The consequence

When Gehazi went out from Elisha’s presence, he was leprous, as white as snow. Was not God’s Spirit with Gehazi, seeing all he did? He got what Naaman had been delivered of. This is a frighteningly clear demonstration of the biblical warning, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Gal. 6:7).

He had an opportunity to confess and get clean. Elisha went in and asked him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?” But apparently he was either too proud or too greedy to repent. He had forgotten the essence of the Gospel. So he just kept on lying.

Gehazi perverted the message of Christ. Salvation is free; it can’t be bought. That’s what Naaman learned when he came back to Elisha. That is why Elisha didn’t take anything from him. He wanted Naaman to know that his cleansing was free.

In this story we not only see God’s mercy, we see His judgment. The same God who demonstrated lavish mercy to Naaman exercised stern discipline on the sin of Gehazi.

The cure

Some think God is only a God of love. If He were only a God of love, everyone would go to heaven. If He were only a God of wrath, no one would go, because we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Thanks be to God: He is both. He is both gracious, merciful and long-suffering; and He is just, holy and altogether righteous. Because He is both, He is our cure.

Moral soundings

  • Are you more like Naaman or Gehazi?
  • Are you more prone to neglect the grace or the judgment of God?
  • Do you find yourself taking the downward steps of sin and temptation?
  • Are you more enraptured by the cause, the curse or the consequences of sin than by its cure?
Moral Earthquakes & Secret Faults: The God of the second chance - Part 15

Moral Earthquakes & Secret Faults: The God of the second chance - Part 15

Friday, May 7, 2021 2:39 PM
Friday, May 7, 2021 2:39 PM


Mark 16:1-7

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

Mark 16:1-7

Everyone, at one time or another, has done something which we know offends and disappoints someone whom we respect and love. When we commit such an act, we usually feel hesitant about seeing that person again, even though a visit with him or her is probably what is most necessary to heal the breach. Such a meeting becomes more strongly desired the longer it does not occur. Many times the Holy Spirit presses down on us, yet we will not or cannot take immediate steps to rectify the situation. How much more pleasant it is for us to discover that we are forgiven when the meeting finally takes place. When we are restored to our Christian brothers and sisters, it tastes sweet to our spirit. Following Christ’s resurrection, we see the occurrence of just that sort of restoration — one in which the parties have been separated and unable to resolve it before now:

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter,  ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you’” (Mark 16:1–7, NIV).

In this text are two words that make all the difference in life. When grasped and applied to our own lives, they can make all the difference. The women had come to the tomb to anoint the corpse of our Lord Jesus of Nazareth with spices. When they got there, an angelic being appeared to them and said, “Don’t be afraid. I know why you’re here. You’re looking for Jesus.” Then the angel gave them a message, “Go and tell His disciples and Peter that He is gone before you into Galilee.”

Upon this rock

The two words that make all the difference are: “and Peter.”

Why would those words be inserted here? The angelic being said to go and tell the disciples. Then he paused and added, “And, especially, Jesus wants Peter to know that He’s alive, that He’s gone to meet him, and He’s gone before you into Galilee.” Why are those words there? Had we been instructing the angel in what to say, we would have probably picked words of antagonism: “Go and tell the disciples and Pontius Pilate.” We probably would have gotten a kick out of taunting that Roman procurator who sentenced Christ and then tried to wash his hands of responsibility in the matter. Or, “Go and tell the disciples and King Herod.” Or, perhaps, “Go and tell the disciples and Caiaphus.” But no, no words of antagonism were spoken here.

Or, if we had been instructing the angel, we might have commissioned him to use words of appreciation. “Go and tell the disciples and John.” He was so faithful. He stood there at the cross when the rest of them had gone. He stood there by Mary. Or, “Go and tell the disciples and Nathaniel.” Tell the one who was without guile. Or, “Go and tell the disciples and Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.” Tell those who so tenderly took the body of Christ from the cross and made arrangements for His burial. But no, they were not words of antagonism or appreciation. Instead, they were words of affection. “Go and tell the disciples and Peter.”

Why Peter? The Lord Jesus knew Peter’s heart. It was Peter, of course, who had denied the Lord. It was Simon Peter that night who, when Jesus was instructing them of his ensuing death, said, “Even though all these men may turn on You, You can count on me. When the chips are down, I’ll not desert you. I will not deny you. I’ll be there.” And across the fire that night, Jesus said, “Simon, before that rooster crows, you will have denied Me three times.”

Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane’s garden, and yes, all the other disciples forsook Him and fled, but Simon Peter followed at a distance. He followed the torches of the mob that took Jesus from the Garden of Gethsemane down through the Kidron Valley and up the side of the Mount Zion, up to the house of Caiaphas, where He was placed in the dungeon. Peter sat outside and warmed himself by the fire. Later that night, Peter denied Jesus three times. As they were taking Jesus from one trial to another, He passed by that fire. He didn’t say anything. The Bible simply says that He looked at Peter. When Peter saw that look, he heard the rooster crow. The Bible says he went out and wept bitterly.

He needed a word of encouragement. The message at the tomb shows us the heart of a loving father toward a child who has made a mistake — a father who believes in the second chance.

The message of the tomb

What is the message of Easter? What is the message of the empty tomb but the message of the second chance? Many of us have faced our sorrows and setbacks, just as Peter did. Easter means there is hope. Easter means what we’ve done before won’t matter anymore when we’ve seen Jesus. It is the message of the new beginning. It is the message of the second chance.

The second chance is possible. Some of us don’t believe that. Peter didn’t for a while. How do we finally believe? We believe because of the Resurrection. If there were no Resurrection, there would be no gospel, no Good News and no new beginning.

These two words “and Peter” came like water to a man dying of thirst. Peter thought the Lord would disown him. He had been so brazen and so bold. Then he denied Him and failed so miserably. Talk about good news! When he heard those words, Peter knew that the second chance was possible.

Many people know what it is like to live defeated lives because of something they did or didn’t do. The Bible is for them. Page after page, chapter after chapter, book after book, the Bible is the story of men and women who messed up and got a second chance. When it came time to deliver a nation from bondage, who of us would have picked a murderer, one who had been hiding for forty years in virtual obscurity in the desert? Who would have picked Moses to be the emancipator of God’s people? God did.

What about David? He was so full of lust for another man’s wife that he used his power and prestige to take her and then tried to cover over his sin by arranging the death of her husband. Who would have said that a man like that could come to be called “a man after God’s own heart”? God did.

And what about Jonah? This man went in diametric opposition to the will of God for his life. Like many of us who have gone the wrong way, he just kept going down and down, finally into a fish’s belly in the depths of the sea. He was regurgitated up onto the shore. Jonah 3:1 says, “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, ‘Arise, go to Ninevah.’” And he did. He took advantage of the second chance and went.

The empty tomb makes possible the second chance. This message of hope is not for those who think they can continue committing the same sin time after time. It is for men and women who, like Simon Peter, have repented, have changed their minds and wept bitterly. Jesus didn’t have a private meeting with Simon Peter because he was a big sinner and because he was guilty. No, it was because he was penitent and sorrowful. It was not his cursing and his denial that brought his mercy. It was his tears and repentance. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart — These, O God, You will not despise” (Ps. 51:17). “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3). There is no hope in the second chance for the one who is simply sorry he or she got caught. It is for one who is truly repentant.

Person to person

The second chance is not only possible, but it is personal. The love of Christ singles us out by name — as individuals. He loves us individually. There is no one else with DNA like yours. No one else with a fingerprint like yours. He knows even the number of hairs on your head: “But the very hairs on your head are all numbered” (Matt. 10:30).

Why does God know so much about us? Because we are individuals. Each person is indescribably valuable to God, and His love comes to us not corporately but individually. He says that He calls His own sheep by name: “The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me — just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:3–4, 14–15, NIV).

Peter received a personal message on that first Easter Sunday. The angel said to the women, “Go and tell the disciples and Peter.” Peter’s name, Petros, literally means “rock.” The message was not, “Go and tell the disciples and Simon.” That was his old name. Peter was his new name. When Jesus first saw the fisherman, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, “We have found the Messiah.” He took Simon Peter by the hand and brought him to Jesus. The first time Jesus ever saw Simon Peter, he said, “You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas [Petros, Peter, a rock]” (John 1:41–42).

Jesus saw potential in Peter. Jesus was saying, one of these days Simon will be called a rock. Jesus also named Peter like a parent proudly names his child as he hopes and dreams for his child’s future. He does the same for us. He looks into our lives and He sees us not for who we are but who we could be and what we could become. He sees our future. He sees the potential that is in our lives.

Religion vs. relationship

Some people know only religion. Christianity is not a religion. Religion, quite honestly, has caused many of the ills of the world throughout the centuries. Christianity is different from all the other world religions. Why? All the other religions focus on man searching for God, man trying to get to God. It is man-centered theology. Christianity is quite the reverse. It is the story of God coming to man clothed in human flesh — Jesus, the Savior of the world.

Christianity is not a religion; it is a relationship. Christ doesn’t deal with us in mass, He deals with us individually, and, thus, Christ comes to us.

Peter’s fall had been so public. Have you ever been to a children’s play when one of the kids suddenly forgets her line? She stands there frozen, while everyone in the audience pulls for that little kid. Those in the audience who know the play desperately mouth the words, trying to help. Or, at a ball game, a little kid is up at bat, and he strikes out. Everyone’s heart goes out, wanting to help. I think there’s a sense in which all of heaven watched Simon Peter’s fall, and now after the Resurrection, it is as though they are all pulling for him to get back up. “Be sure,” they said, “to tell Peter that one failure doesn’t make a flop. He gets to bat again.”

Sin affects our lives so greatly that it is almost completely incomprehensible. Its enduring nature wins over countless attempts by us to subject ourselves to God. It destroys our hearts, our homes and our plans. It can destroy people completely. In order to defeat so persistent an enemy, we must rely on the strength and power of God, not our own. When facing this greater force, sin must give way. The one thing it cannot do is make God cease loving us. His love prompts God to shower us with his power, forcing the retreat of sin.

This is the heart and soul of the relationship that the Christian faith signifies, celebrates and exemplifies.

Sin’s retreat and defeat is shown again and again in the Bible. When Christ was crucified, sin was rendered powerless over those who had faith in God. Although we falter and fall into sin, its advance is only momentary. God’s power has permanently built a bridge between us and Him.

The enemy cannot take that bridge. Sin’s power is broken; Satan must content himself with guerrilla raids that, while painful, will ultimately be crushed with him.

At Easter, which marked the defeat of death, a living hope was restored to the people of God. That living hope exists in Christ. Through Him we may be given a second chance — a reconciliation between us and God.

Private affairs

The second chance is not only possible and personal, but also private. When Jesus Christ came out of the tomb, the first thing He did was to find Peter. “He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve” (1 Cor. 15:5). Some things are so personal and private that they are not even recorded for us in Scripture. What took place in that remarkable meeting, we may never know. Peter thought he was finished, and the Lord found him privately. We don’t know what was said or how things went, but it must have been quite a meeting. We can only imagine the bitter tears, the broken words slowly coming through quivering lips, the deep sobs and long breaks of silence, and the many assurances of Peter’s love. How do we know that what we are assuming is true? Because so many of us have actually been there.

What tender consideration we see in our Lord here. He meets Peter alone before ever seeing him with the Twelve. How painful it would have been for Simon Peter to first see the wounds of our Lord in the presence of all those others publicly. How impossible, with all those others around, to have poured out his love and remorse. Even though Simon Peter denied him publicly, Jesus met him privately — and forgave him privately. It is not enough for us to simply hear the good news that He is risen or to know that the second chance is possible or personal. It comes when we have a private encounter with Jesus Christ.

Profit motive

Finally, the second chance is not only possible, personal and private, it is also profitable. This meeting transformed Simon Peter. As a result, he became the undisputed, recognized leader of the early church. God’s mercy for us drives us to serve Him. We see over and over throughout the Book of Acts Peter, being beaten and imprisoned, saying, “I can’t help but speak the things that I’ve seen and heard.” All of this because of two simple and unassuming words, “and Peter.”

Those words should speak to all of us. We have a way of remembering our failures and forgetting our strong points. If some church members had been commissioned to give this message, they might have said, “Go and tell the disciples and forget Peter.” Remember when Peter was up on the Sea of Galilee and he failed trying to walk on the water? Forget Peter. He denied; he failed. But in the end Simon Peter remained faithful unto death.

In one of his Epistles, Peter wrote, “I think it is right to stir you up by reminding you that shortly I am going to put off this old body, just as Christ has showed me.” He was referring to the meeting he had following the Resurrection on the beach in Galilee, when Jesus said, “When you are old, Simon Peter, someone else will stretch out your hands,” indicating the death he would die. And, yes, Simon Peter met his own martyr’s death through crucifixion. But he didn’t count himself worthy to be crucified in the same way as our Savior; Peter was crucified, tradition tells us, upside down.

Simon Peter was restored. He was restored fully and completely.

The great American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said that the story of the prodigal is the greatest short story ever written. It is the story about a teenager who found life at home hopelessly boring; Dad was out-of-date and out-of-touch. The boy had heard so many stories of the bright lights of the big city that he decided he was big enough to leave. He went out to the big city and had a great time — for a while. In the end, though, he discovered that the high life is nothing more than hangovers, rip-offs, squandered opportunities and unemployment lines.

As he was contemplating returning home, he rehearsed a speech that he never got a chance to use. Sitting in a pigpen, eating what the pigs were eating, he said, “I’m going to go home and say to my father that I’ve sinned and I’m wrong and I’m sorry.” He rehearsed that speech over and over. When he went home, the father saw him way down the road and ran off the porch to meet the boy. I once heard my friend Max Lucado describe the scene like this. “There were no pointed fingers, no clenched fists, no crossed arms — not even, ‘Where have you been?’ or, ‘I told you so.’ ” There was none of that — just open arms. The boy was met with wide, sweet, open arms.

This is the story of the whole Bible. Again and again, the Father welcomes the prodigal home. In fact, the Bible is the book of the second chance.

Look at Jonah: he was down, but he came back. Look at Abraham. He lied about Sarah, but he came back. In the New Testament James even calls him the “friend of God.” Look at David. He blew it, but he came back and wrote that wonderful psalm of repentance. Look at Thomas. He doubted, but he came back. Thomas became filled with the Holy Spirit, took the gospel to India and died a martyr’s death. Look at James and John. They were jealous, arguing about which one would have a prominent seat in heaven, but they came back. One of them gained a martyr’s death. The other one, as an old man exiled on Patmos, gave us the Apocalypse, the Revelation. Look at John Mark. He quit, but he came back and gave us the Gospel of Mark. And look at Peter. He cursed, he denied, but he came back. After weeping bitterly, he met Jesus in a private meeting and got a second chance. He came back and became the great leader of the New Testament church.

Thank God He can use us even if we mess up. Thank God for a second chance.

Moral soundings

  • How many Biblical examples can you think of that illustrate the second-chance principle?
  • Have you appropriated the personal message of the empty tomb?
  • Have you accepted the call of God to a private encounter with the living Christ?
  • Do you understand the idea that Christianity is not a religion but a relationship?
  • Do you actually have such a relationship?