Thursday, June 6, 2013

Ouch! Pitfalls that Will Keep Us from the Promise - Part One

Ouch!  About ten days ago after cutting grass amidst a swirl of dust, I felt sharp pain in my right eye.  For the next several days, I experienced slightly blurred vision and recurring pain.  I expected that I had either slightly scratched it or had a very bad case of allergies!  For a few days I took eye drops.  After a week, still experiencing periodic pain, I visited the eye doctor. 

Dropping the dye in my pupil and zoning into my eye, he began laughing immediately.  “There is definitely something in your eye!  You must have a high-pain tolerance, because a lot of people would have been in the next day with this.”  He numbed my eye and pulled out some piece of grass or other yard-debris.  Amazingly, with the culprit removed, my eye almost immediately returned to normal.  No more pain and vision restored!

In our personal journeys, we collect debris along the way that can hinder our own spiritual vision.  This debris may be unnoticed or unrecognizable, but it can hinder our walk with God, create pain, and hinder our future fruitfulness.

Recently I challenged our church with four pitfalls that kept the Israelites from entering the Promised Land.  We know that unbelief led to their downfall.  They refused to believe God.  However, that unbelief manifested itself in four behavioral qualities.  The apostle Paul exhorts Christians in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 to not succumb to these four pitfalls.  Like that piece of grass in my eye, these four encumbrances make our journey painful - and possibly disastrous.

The Israelite failed.  A tremendous beginning ended miserably.  An incredible deliverance through the Red Sea, perhaps the greatest moment in Old Testament history, led to a refusal to trust God and enter Canaan.  Their children stepped over their bleached bones in the desert – a memorial to unbelief.  Their massive failures warn us to not follow their example.

What behavioral qualities manifested their unbelief?

Pitfall Number One – They indulged in idolatry (1 Cor. 10:7).

In Exodus 32, they created a golden calf and threw a wild party.  The Bible says that “the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose to play” (6).  The Hebrew word sahaq suggests immorality and unholy indulgences.  Unrestrained, the people gave themselves to that which displeases the Lord.  The text suggests that at least some of the people had an immoral orgy. 

While Moses and Joshua were on Mount Sinai receiving the law of God (the 10 Commandments), the people bow down to an idol that they made with their own gold - gold that should have been saved to build the tabernacle!  The apostle Paul later told Christians that a day would come when people would commit a different kind of idolatry - one of the mind.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools. . . .  They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served created thing rather than the Creator.  (Romans 1:22,25).  Paul says that this awful exchange will always lead to lowering our sexual standards and engaging in sexual sins. 

Today that idolatry takes the form of people turning their backs on the Bible, the United States government ignoring or removing references to their biblical-spiritual heritage - like taking the 10 Commandments out of public places, or believers who do not regularly spend time in God's Word.  Unopened Bibles lead to idolatry!

Back in the desert, the Israelites engaged in that which God says is wrong.  Today, many such idols and wild parties tempt the modern believer.  Sadly, reports continue to reveal how many Christian men – and how many Christian pastors – are privately addicted to internet pornography.  It is an overindulgence of something that could be wonderful (sex and enjoyment in a godly marriage) but that is taken immorally. 

The result of this wicked idolatry – Aaron and the priests executed 3000 people that day.

Pitfall Number Two – They committed sexual sins (1 Cor. 10:8).

There is a correlation between pitfalls 1 & 2 as well as pitfalls 3 & 4.  In Numbers 25, Israel plays the harlot with Moab.  Camped at Acacia Grove, the region just across from the Jordan River, many men succumb to the temptation of sleeping with harlots from Moab.  Balaam evidently entices the Moabites to offer themselves to God’s people (if he can’t curse them he will try to destroy them morally). 

The sexual immorality becomes brazen and bold.  One man brings a Moabite woman right past the Levites into his tent.  It reminds me of the Garth Brooks song “Shameless.”  He trots this harlot into his tent with the priests looking on – fully aware of his intentions.  As a result of this rampant immorality, God sends a plague that begins killing God’s people.

The Bible says that Phineas, one of the priests, emblazoned with the fear and zeal of the Lord, picks up a spear and runs to the tent.  He runs inside and thrusts the spear right through both the man and the woman (I believe the implication is that he spears them while they are in the act of sex). 

God, honored by Phineas’ act, stops the plague and rewards this priest by making a covenant of peace with he and his family.  23,000 people die as a result of the plague on Israel that day.

Our culture overflows with sexual immorality and the temptations towards it.  The culture has a casual attitude towards sexual sins.  The church, like Israel, is tempted to given into the culture, lower our standards,  and flirt with that which will destroy.

Men, we need a good practice of saying no to the flesh.  Jesus said the first mark of following him is that of denying self.  We are not supposed to be habitually fulfilled through any means other than the Lord.  That means that sexually - just like in other areas of life - there are those times when we simply have to be unfulfilled, submit to God, and trust Him.  Our day does not like the idea of delayed gratification.  We want it all now.  But the Bible speaks of self-discipline, surrendering our desires and needs to the Lord, and trusting Him.  Sin occurs when we try and meet legitimate needs in illegitimate ways - when we are unwilling to wait for the right way for that need to be met.

Pastor Jack Hayford preached a sermon series entitled Why Sex Sins are Worse than Other Sins.   In terms of holiness, any sin makes one unholy.  However, in terms of consequences on self and other people, not all sins are the same.  Sex sins carry much devastation to a person, family, or society.

Remember, idolatry and sexual immorality are two of the pitfalls that kept the Jews from reaching the Promised Land.  Don’t play with these time-bombs or you will miss His promises and purposes for you!



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