Sin in the Camp

After miraculously crossing the Jordan and conquering the city of Jericho, defeating the people of Ai should have been easy for Israel. Unlike Jericho, Ai was a small city of about 12,000 people (Joshua 7:3). It was an insignificant city and not as heavily fortified. If the nation was able to conquer the strong city of Jericho, surely they would be able to conquer Ai.

They might have thought that. But unfortunately, it did not work out that way. After sending 3,000 men to conquer the city, Joshua was devastated to learn they had been defeated and forced to flee (Joshua 7:4). Their defeat resulted in Israel’s feeling weak and demoralized (Joshua 7:5).

How could this happen? How could Israel easily conquer the strong city of Jericho, but fail to do so with the small insignificant town of Ai? The answer: sin! Sin was in the camp of Israel. Sin had crept in and was present somewhere in the army of God and had caused God’s blessing and presence to depart from them. Until the sin was removed and properly dealt with, God would not allow His people to conquer Ai (Joshua 7:10-15).

But where? Where was sin in the camp? After talking to God about the matter, Joshua discovered that the sin had to with a man named Achan (Joshua 7:20). After Israel conquered Jericho, Achan took some of the spoils (things that actually belonged to the treasury of the Lord) for himself. Joshua confronted Achan and exhorted him to confess his sin (Joshua 7:19). Achan confessed his covetousness (Joshua 7:20-21). In obedience to God, Joshua then had Achan and his family stoned and burned with fire (Joshua 7:25). The place where Achan was put to death became known as the Valley of Achor (“trouble”).

What does God want us to take away from this tragic story?

  • Sin is serious business. While many in our culture try to minimize and trivialize sin, God does not! God did not lightly brush aside Achan’s sin. Instead he exposed it and held him accountable. The killing of Achan and his family shows just how much a big deal sin is to God. We find something similar taking place in the New Testament with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11).
  • Our sins impact others. Achan’s sin not only impacted him, but also all of Israel. Because of his actions, Israel was not able to defeat the people of Ai. Because of his actions, God’s hand of blessing left His people. This is the point Paul is making when he says, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Corinthians 5:6)?
  • We can’t be victorious without God. In this case, Israel thought they would be able to defeat their enemies by their own might and strength. Achan’s sin revealed the truth. Without God’s blessing, Israel would not even be able to conquer a small city. If Israel was going to be able to finally take the Promised Land, they would need God to fight for them. But He wouldn’t unless they remained pure and apart from sin!

While Achan’s story is tragic and sad, it does teach us something important about always striving to be right with God. When God was with Israel, there was a totally different result than when He was not! Let us learn from their example and always strive to keep sin out of our camp.

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Freedom

We live in troubled times. It appears that our country is more divided than it has been in a long time. After our current president was sworn in last Friday, millions of Americans spent the weekend protesting their displeasure. In major cities across the country there were people marching and loudly voicing their displeasure for the direction of the country.

It is certainly discouraging to see how divided we are. In fact, if we just spent an hour watching the news over the past few days, we might think that we live in one of the worst countries in the world. But the truth is, despite all the protest (despite all the anger and pessimism of many) we still live in the greatest country in the world! Our country is great because we have something of great importance and yet it is often taken for granted. We have freedom.

  • Freedom to choose our own path. We live in a country where we can not only dream big, but we can move towards achieving those dreams. We can be doctors and lawyers. We can own businesses. We can be teachers and engineers. We can work hard and accumulate wealth. Our children can get educated and aspire to be whatever they want.
  • Freedom to go anywhere at any time. You need to go to Walmart today? You need to visit someone in their home? You want to go to the mall in Cool Springs, or even to visit New York or California? If you have the resources and the time, go! In this country you have the freedom to go anywhere you want at any time. It is totally up to you.
  • Freedom to vote. I know millions are not happy with the outcome of the recent election (the truth is every election has a group of unhappy folks), but what a blessing it is to have a say in our political process. What a blessing it is to be able to vote and choose our leaders. I have been many places where the people did not have the privilege of voting. In some cases they may have been allowed to vote, but if they didn’t vote a certain way they could be arrested or even killed!
  • Freedom of religion. There are Christians across the globe who would do anything to have this privilege. Our brethren in the first century would have loved to have had this privilege. Instead many of them were arrested, beaten, and killed for their faith (Acts 4:18-20, 23-31; Revelation 2:13). We have the privilege of being able to get up on Sunday morning to go and worship God without fear of any kind of interference from our government. In fact, we have the protected right to worship in our country! We have the protected right to teach the Bible and spread the gospel to others! Unfortunately, so often many struggle with taking advantage of this privilege.

Regardless of whether the person you voted for won or not, don’t lose sight of the blessings of freedom. Don’t take for granted how wonderful it is to live in a free country! Millions of people in the world would do anything to have all the freedoms that come with being an American.

The question is: do you have the freedom that Jesus died to give you? Jesus didn’t die so you can have the freedom that comes with being an American citizen. Jesus died so you can be set free from sin (Romans 5:8-10; 6:17-18). There are many Americans who have all the freedoms mentioned above, but they are still slaves of the terrible master of sin (John 8:34). As a result, they will die lost in their sins (John 8:24). Don’t let that be you! Surrender to Jesus. Obey the truth because only it can set you free (John 8:32).

– Shawn Jeffries

Lessons from the Prayer Life of Jesus

Are you married? Imagine for a moment what your marriage would be like if you and your spouse hardly ever talked to one another. What if the only conversation you had with your spouse involved just a few words that might be spoken over a meal or before you went to sleep?  What if your few words of conversation involved the same old dialogue (ex: “Thanks for dinner.” “Have you taken out the trash?” “What is on TV tonight?”)? What if these same old conversations never lasted for more than a minute or two?  What if days went by without either of you taking the time to speak to one another?

There is no way we would be able to tolerate this kind of communication (or lack thereof).  But if we would not accept this in our marriage, why would we accept it in our relationship with God?  Our relationship with God is supposed to be our most important relationship. Two thousand years ago God sent His Son Jesus to this earth to die on the cross. Through Jesus’ death, the penalty for sin was paid and those who come to God can pray freely to Him and trust He will both listen and respond (Romans 5:8-10; 1 Peter 3:12; Philippians 4:6-7; 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Prayer is an amazing privilege for the people of God. And yet, unfortunately so often it is neglected!

This is a problem with SIGNIFICANT spiritual consequences. A neglected prayer life leaves us     disconnected and separated from God. How do we fix this problem? Perhaps the best approach is to study the prayer life of Jesus.

  • Jesus prayed frequently. When we search the gospels we find numerous references to Jesus communicating with His Father. After miraculously feeding the five thousand, He prayed (Matthew 14:22-23). Early in the morning as He began His day, He prayed (Mark 1:35). As the news about His power began to spread throughout the world, He would often slip into the wilderness and pray (Luke 5:15-16). Before being transfigured on the mountain, He prayed (Luke 9:28-29). Before being arrested in the Garden, He prayed (Luke 22:39-44). Jesus teaches us that frequent prayer is absolutely necessary to nurture our relationship with God. It is an opportunity to pour out our hearts and share with God our inner most feelings (1 Peter 5:6-7). Next time we are wrestling with a big decision, problem, or have some good news to share let’s make it our first instinct to talk to God about the matter.
  • Jesus made prayer happen. Jesus had a pressing schedule. He traveled many places teaching God’s word. He frequently debated and confronted His enemies. He trained His disciples. He constantly performed miracles to confirm His identity. It was not easy for Jesus to find the time and solitude necessary for prayer. But He always did it (Mark 1:35; Luke 6:12)! No doubt we also have very busy schedules. But like Jesus we need to make prayer happen. We need to turn off the television and the phone. We need to put down the tablet. We need to work out a time for our spouse to watch our young children for a few minutes. We need to tell our older kids we are praying and not to disturb us for a while. Like Jesus, we need to also find a place of solitude for prayer (bedroom, quiet place in the backyard, go for a walk in the park, etc). Doing these things will take our prayer lives to the next level!
  • Jesus prayed with variety. His prayers were not always the same. Sometimes they were lengthy and deep (Luke 6:12). Other times they were brief and addressed to one specific, immediate need (Luke 23:34). Like Jesus, our prayers also need to have variety. Sometimes our prayers can be short and specific (ex: praying for someone giving you a hard time on your job; praying to overcome a tempting situation you may be in; praying over your meal). Other times our prayers can be lengthy and focused (ex: your prayer when you wake up in the morning, or before you go to bed).

God gives us the privilege of prayer because He wants to be our friend. However, He does not force this relationship on us. We must decide that we want the friendship He offers. From Jesus we learn that how we prioritize prayer plays a huge factor in the decisions we make.

– Shawn Jeffries

The Bringer of Grace and Peace

Most people are familiar with the birth story of Jesus. They might be confused about how many wise men came to Jesus, where Jesus was when they came, and even when Jesus was born. But most at least know that He was born of a virgin named Mary. They know that He was born in the city of David (Bethlehem). They know that the angels of God celebrated after His birth was announced to shepherds in the field (Luke 2:8-18).

Personally, I am glad that many are aware of the amazing events surrounding the birth of our Lord. But there is one big thing that still bothers me. It is not the birth story of our Lord, but the way it is sometimes presented. Unfortunately, through various media outlets, the birth story of Jesus is often presented as though it was the end of something, rather than the beginning. Have you ever seen on television (maybe on the Hallmark channel) as the manger scene reaches a conclusion Silent Night softly plays in the background, then we cut to a commercial and you see “Next up: A Charlie Brown Christmas”? While it is true that Jesus was born and placed in a manger that is not the end of the story! This child was born with a specific purpose and mission from God. Luke 2:14 is one verse of many that declares the mission of our Lord.

While appearing to shepherds in the field the angels of God announced, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

This particular verse is often abused by religious teachers. So often it is interpreted that we ought to be at peace with one another and have goodwill towards others during the holiday season and year round. While it is indeed good that we do that, unfortunately that interpretation really misses the whole point of the verse. Kept in its context this verse is really talking about peace and goodwill from God to men on earth. It is a verse about the gospel and what it brings to mankind. It is a verse about Jesus and what He offers. The prophets foretold that Jesus would bring peace (Isaiah 9:6).

The gospel we preach today is a message of peace and glad tidings (Romans 10:15). It is a message that not only reveals the miraculous birth of the Savior, but it also speaks of His love, miracles, suffering, death on the cross, resurrection, and ascension to heaven to sit at the right hand of God (Acts 2:22-36). The gospel reveals the grace of God (Ephesians 2:8-9; John 3:16; Titus 2:11-14). The word grace means “unmerited favor.” It is an undeserved gift. Despite our rebellion against Him, God gave us His sinless Son to die on the cross for our sins. Through Jesus, God’s grace is now available to all men. Does the fact that God’s grace is made available to everyone mean that everyone is going to be saved? No (see Matthew 7:13-14)! Only those who obey and submit to God will receive the grace God offers. Salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Grace covers all that God has done for us. Faith covers all we must do in response to God’s love. This even includes repentance and baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). The faith that saves is the faith that obeys (Hebrews 5:8-9)! The fact that we have to meet conditions does not mean we earn God’s grace and peace.

Have you done what God requires to receive the gifts of grace and peace?  You may receive many material things on Christmas morning, but no gift can ever compare to the gifts God offers you through His Son.

– Shawn Jeffries

Optimism Vs. Pessimism

In life there are two kinds of people. There are the pessimistic and the optimistic.

The pessimistic are those who always have a negative attitude about life. They live with the mindset of “Woe is me! Nobody knows the troubles I have seen! Nobody knows my sorrows!” With every problem that comes their way they always expect the worst possible outcome. They are always sad and unhappy with life and they want others to feel the same way.

The optimistic are the opposite. These are the people who have a positive attitude about life. They anticipate good outcomes; they are happy and upbeat; they walk around with a smile on their face and want to help others do the same.

Which kind of person are you? Are you pessimistic or optimistic? The latter experiences so many blessings in life.

  • He enjoys more godly companionship. Do you like being around pessimistic people? Do you like being around someone who is always negative and always looking for the worst in every situation? I don’t! In fact, when I am I find myself quickly becoming negative myself. Their pessimistic energy finds a way to spread to others. I don’t think Jesus would have “kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” if He was that kind of person (Luke 2:52). Even during very difficult times Jesus tried to lift the spirits of others. Jesus didn’t have a troubled heart and He didn’t want His followers to have one either (John 14:1-6).
  • He is always at peace despite his circumstances. Paul is a great example of a man who exemplifies this. While being stuck in a Roman jail cell, just because he was a servant of Jesus and preached the gospel, Paul could have easily been a negative person. He could have easily developed a mindset that life was unfair and God was not with him. But he didn’t. Instead he looked for the positives that could come from his bad condition and he continued giving glory to God (Philippians 1:12-14). He continued being content and thankful for the blessings he did have (Philippians 4:10-12). How could Paul be full of joy despite being unfairly locked up in prison (Philippians 1:4)? How could Paul still say what he does in Philippians 4:13? Because his treasures where stored in the right place (Philippians 2:21; Matthew 6:21).
  • He is more effective in bringing others to God. Every disciple has a responsibility to try to bring lost souls to Jesus (Matthew 28:19; 1 Peter 2:9-10). The first step to effective evangelism is living a righteous life before others (Matthew 5:13-16). We can’t expect to sell people on the blessings of being a Christian if we are always negative and pessimistic. When non-believers look at our lives they need to see something different about us. They need to see how happy being a child of God makes us. This may prompt them to ask us questions about our faith. They may say, “I want what they have. I want to have that same kind of joy and peace in my life.” In fact, Paul says that being a grumbler and complainer can actually hinder the work of evangelism (Philippians 2:14-16).
  • He is stronger in his faith. In the time of Moses, after going into the Promised Land for forty days, why did ten of the spies come back with a pessimistic report (even though God told them He would give them the land)? Answer: because of a lack of faith! By contrast, why did Joshua and Caleb come back with an optimistic and positive report? Answer: because they had strong faith! (See Numbers 13 and 14) From these examples we see that our faith in God is directly tied to our attitude about life. Those who have faith in God won’t look for the worst in every possible situation. Instead they will focus on what they can control and leave the rest to God (Matthew 6:25-33).

Today let’s focus on being a positive and optimistic people. Let’s ask God through prayer to help shape us into these kind of people. Let’s see firsthand how living this way can not only change our attitude about life, but it can make us happier and very pleasant people to be around.

– Shawn Jeffries

Eight Blessings from Jesus

Jesus’ sermon on the mount is probably the most well-known sermon in all the Bible. It consists of three chapters in the gospel of Matthew (5-7) and it contains some of the most radical teaching the world has ever known. Here Jesus instructs His disciples to love and pray for their enemies (5:43-44). He says that not only is the physical act of adultery wrong, but so is looking upon another with lust (5:27-30). He says that hate and animosity towards a brother is just as wrong as murder (5:21-24). In this sermon Jesus sets a very high moral standard.

In fact, one of the things that make this sermon so challenging to the hearer is that right at the beginning Jesus targets the source of all man’s actions – his heart! As He begins this famous sermon the Lord announces the blessings that will come upon those who develop eight specific godly qualities in their hearts.

  • “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). In this context the “poor in spirit” are those who recognize the need for God in their lives. It is those who humbly seek God’s love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness. It is those who understand that they don’t deserve the wonderful gift of salvation that God offers to all mankind (Titus 2:11). God rewards the poor in spirit with eternal life in heaven.
  • “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). There are many things in life that cause us to mourn (the death of a loved one, the regret we feel after we do something wrong towards another, etc.), but here Jesus has something very specific in mind. What the Lord speaks of here connects back to the previous verse. Once awakened by our need for God’s forgiveness, grace, and mercy, we should then feel an intense feeling of grief over our sins. We should mourn our sins because they hurt God and cut off our relationship with Him (Genesis 6:5; Isaiah 59:1-2). King David is an example of someone who understood the value of mourning the negative impact of sin (Psalm 51:1-5).
  • “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). Being gentle means that we are always going to be calm and considerate towards others. It means that we are always going to be careful when handling various situations with people, even when we are angry or provoked. Jesus was certainly someone who was humble and gentle in heart (Matthew 11:29).
  • “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6). People who hunger and thirst for righteousness do more than grieve over their sins. They also long to be constantly fed with God’s word (Psalm 119:97). They worship God in spirit and truth on the first day of the week (John 4:24; Acts 20:7). They repent and turn away from sin (Luke 13:3). They obey Jesus’ command to be immersed for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; Mark 16:16). When you hunger and thirst for righteousness, Jesus will make sure you are filled (John 6:35).
  • “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7). This quality means that we will not only have compassion towards the sufferings of others, but we will also be driven to relieve others of that suffering (see the example of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37). We can’t reasonably expect to receive God’s mercy if we are unwilling to exercise mercy on others (Matthew 18:21-35).
  • “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). It is true that we are to have morally pure hearts (Proverbs 4:23). But here in the context it appears that Jesus is talking about living a life where our hearts are consistent with our actions. He is talking about developing a real and genuine faith (2 Timothy 1:5). Only these people will get to one day see God. Those who live double lives (like the scribes and Pharisees at this time) will not!
  • “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). Much of the disciple’s life is about striving for peace. We want to be at peace with God (Ephesians 2:14). We want to be at peace with fellow disciples (1 Thessalonians 5:13; Romans 14:19). We want to be at peace with all men (Romans 12:18). Striving for peace is one of the marks of a true child of God.
  • “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10). This is probably the most shocking of all the qualities listed. It seems to deviate from the pattern Jesus has been following. It doesn’t describe the character we are to possess, but how others in the world will respond to our character if we follow Jesus. When we stand with Jesus some will mock, laugh, and ridicule us. But that is okay. God is watching and He will one day reward us for our commitment with something great in heaven (Matthew 5:11-12).

Do you have these eight qualities in your heart? If not, challenge yourself to develop and maintain them. According to Jesus, doing so will lead to some of the greatest blessings you could ever have in your life!

– Shawn Jeffries

Why Is It Important To Be A Christian?

This month 15 years ago 3,000 people tragically lost their lives in New York City. This occurred when members of the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda hijacked two airplanes and crashed them into the World Trade Center. This tragic event forced us to acknowledge and appreciate the fact that life is fragile. Any day could be our last. One moment we are here, but the next we could be gone. It doesn’t matter our age, color, gender, social or economic status, we could die at any moment.

Understanding this reality makes serving God so important (Ecclesiastes 12:13). It makes being a Christian so very important.

Are you a Christian? There are several valid and important reasons for one to become a Christian. Some of these include…

  • Doing the right thing in life. A Christian is one who is a follower of Jesus Christ. It is one who belongs to Christ and is a member of His church (Acts 11:26). It is one who is part of His spiritual family and is not afraid to suffer for His sake (1 Peter 4:16). There is no wiser decision one can make then to submit to the Savior, obey His commandments, and become His disciple.
  • Becoming a better person. Since Christians are people who are submitting to Christ, this means they strive to live by the moral code of God’s word. They abstain from alcohol (1 Peter 4:3). They don’t lie, steal, or use filthy language (Ephesians 4:25-29). They control their passions and refrain from any kind of sex outside of marriage (1 Corinthians 6:18). They pray for and forgive others (Ephesians 4:32). They seek to do good to all men (Galatians 6:10). The quality of Christians’ lives are lifted by the teachings of the gospel!
  • Becoming an influence for good. Since Christians strive to live by a high moral standard, this enables them to be a positive influence on others (Matthew 5:16). By the way Christians live they can motivate others to want to seek God and become part of His family as well.
  • Becoming better for your family. There is no religion on earth that upholds family values in the way that the gospel of Jesus does (Ephesians 5:22-6:4). The gospel teaches men how to be strong leaders for their families. It teaches women how to be great supporters to their husbands and mothers to their children. It teaches children how to be obedient and loyal to their parents. Christians have the potential to have the best family lives on the planet because they are following the instructions of the One who made the family in the beginning – God!
  • Receiving strength through trials. God offers His people (Christians) comfort and strength during difficult times (2 Corinthians 1:3). When going through rough moments, the Christian can be comforted knowing God is on his side. He can pray to God and have assurance that God will hear and attend to his pleas (Philippians 4:6-7; 1 Peter 5:7).

The things listed above are all important reasons for a person to become a Christian. But one reason that is equally important (and is often overlooked) is the fact that one day he is going to die. Death is one of the great equalizers in life (Hebrews 9:27) and if a person dies without being a Christian he is going to be in trouble!

People who are Christians don’t have to fear death. Instead they can eagerly look forward to it! Here are some reasons why:

  • Christians receive the full benefits of Jesus’ redemptive work because they have believed in Jesus (John 8:24), repented of sin (Acts 17:30-31) and have had their sins washed away by the blood of Jesus through immersion in water (Romans 6:1-4; Acts 22:16). Only Christians receive access to the great spiritual blessings of God (Ephesians 1:3).
  • Christians have dedicated themselves to Christ – the source of eternal life (Luke 9:23). He is their master and they are His sheep (John 10:1-10). He is their King and they are citizens in His kingdom (Colossians 1:13). He loves them and they reciprocate that love by obeying His commandments (John 14:15).
  • The Lord has promised to raise Christians from the dead in glory and take them back to heaven with Him when He returns (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Only Christians have this hope!
  • The Lord has also promised Christians rest and eternal life because they died in a right relationship with Him (Revelation 2:10; 14:13).

If you are not a Christian, you need to become one because one day you are going to die (it could be suddenly and unexpectantly like those on 9/11). Giving your life to Christ is the only way you can be guaranteed that everything is going to be okay when you die and far away from the fire of hell.

– Shawn Jeffries