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Showing posts with label Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Conquering Excuses


Introduction 
Imagine how awesome Heaven will be.  We will live with God forever, surrounded by perfect love.  There will be no more pain or sorrow or suffering or sickness or death.  All that was broken will be made whole.  Our affirmatives and shortcomings will all be healed and forgiven.  We will know each other perfectly--including our loved ones who died in Christ.  It is a beautiful vision and it will be glorious!

Luke 14:15-24
15 Hearing this, a man sitting at the table with Jesus exclaimed, “What a blessing it will be to attend a banquet in the Kingdom of God!”
16 Jesus replied with this story: “A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. 17 When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, ‘Come, the banquet is ready.’ 18 But they all began making excuses. One said, ‘I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me.’ 19 Another said, ‘I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me.’ 20 Another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

21 “The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was furious and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ 22 After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’ 23 So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. 24 For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.’”

Explain the Parable 
Some of Jesus' parables are hard to understand. This one is pretty straightforward. God has prepared a feast of all good things and He invites everyone to come enjoy with Him. But when the call comes, people make excuses. They are too wrapped up in the things of this world to accept God's invitation. 

But here's the thing. Few would actually reject God's invitation to the Kingdom Feast if it was obvious it was God inviting them to feast in His Kingdom. People miss out because God's invitation comes every day in a thousand small ways.  I commend you all for getting up this morning to come to church.  This morning, you accepted the invitation to feast in God’s Kingdom in one small way.  Many people choose to do something else on Sundays besides worship the Lord.  They make excuses for not going to church.  They don’t realize they are excusing themselves from a feast with the King of kings.  People make excuses for other things too—for not praying, not reading the Bible, not helping their neighbor.

In a thousand small ways, God invites us to feast in His Kingdom.  And each time the invitation comes, we have a choice to make. Do we accept the invitation or make an excuse.  Your life is a collection of millions of these small choices.  And they add up.  You might not notice the effect your excuses have at the time you offer them.  But one day you will stand before God and look back and you will see the sum of all you did.  I hope you won’t see a mountain of excuses has piled up when it should be a multitude of blessings from God.
 
What Do You Need to Do?
Many of you know it’s time to make a change in your life, but you're stuck. You're making excuses and it's killing you.  What do you need to work on?  Do you need to?  Change your spiritual habits? Ask for forgiveness? Repent of sin? Exercise more? Change your eating habits? Changing careers? 

Excuses are Lies
You know what you need to do.  But you keep making excuses.  I’m here to tell you today, all your excuses are lies.  It’s the Enemy of God whispering in your ear:
  • “I don’t have time.” That’s a lie. you always have time for what's really important to you.
  • “I just can’t do it.” That’s a lie. With God, all things are possible.
  • “I tried before and failed.” That doesn’t mean you won’t eventually succeed.  Don't give up!
  • “I can’t afford it.” If it’s a worthwhile goal, it’s worth spending the money. You just have to decide what’s really important to you.
  • “I’m to old to start."  You're never too old.  There was a man at a church I once served who learned to snow ski at the age of 70 and he volunteered as a chaperone for the church's youth ski trip every winter.  How old were Abraham and Sara when they had Isaac, the child God promised to give them?

Your excuses aren’t valid.  It’s time to throw away all your excuses and just be honest.  The Truth shall set you free—free to be all that God wants you to be, to be your very best self, to be part of God's glorious Kingdom! 

Fear lies beneath many of our excuses.  We lack of faith that change is really possible. Fear makes you freeze, but faith forces you to move.  Have faith!  Perhaps it is impossible for you, but all things are possible with God. If it looks too hard, ask God for help and He will give you someone to help.  He is the God who raised Lazarus from the dead after his body had already started to decay.  And He is the God who died on a cross and rose from the grave on the third day.  God can do anything!

Sometimes, the obstacles to change are more than mental; they are real. That doesn't mean we can't change. We just have to find a way around the obstacle.  Don’t believe the lie that it’s impossible.

If anyone has a reason to make excuses about why it's impossible to do something, it's Nick Vujicic.  Nick was born without arms or legs.  Doctors said Nick would never walk, yet, Nick taught himself to walk using only his hips.  He went further, learning how to swim without arms or legs.  Then he taught himself how to surf and went skydiving.  Nick speaks in front of thousands of people every year, inspiring them to stop making excuses.  Nick has learned that nothing is impossible if you apply yourself, don't give up, ask for help, and find a way around the obstacles in front of you.  [Click here to watch a video of Nici Vujicic.] 

Impossible is Nothing
Don’t make excuses.  Find a way forward.  Go over, under, or around the obstacles in your life.

Do a mental exercise:  What would you do to change your life if you believed that you are able to overcome this excuse you’re making? Don’t have time? What would you do if you had all the time in the world? No money?  What would you do if money wasn’t important? And if you had all the money you needed? Feeling unconfident? What would you do if you were as confident as the most positively confident person you know?break through your excuses. 
Look at the facts. How much time, money, etc. would it really take to make a change? Is it really put your reach, or does it just feel out of reach?

"I don't feel like it…"  Do it anyway. Your feelings come and go. Your excited and pumped one day and then you're tired and unmotivated the next. Keep doing it anyway. You made a commitment. Keep it simply for the sake of being a man (or woman) of your word.  Do it, even if you don't feel like it, even if you're just going through the motions. Guess what, 9 times out of 10, the motivation and feelings come back.  Now, 1 time out of 10, there might be something to that feeling, but don't give up today. Wait till tomorrow to give up.  And after that, wait another day.  Keep putting off giving up.  Chances are, you will find the motivation you need to keep going and you'lee be glad you procrastinated giving up.

"I'm too old," you say.  "It's just too late for me.  I've lived my whole life like this. I just don't have enough time left to change."  Don't say that.  You may indeed be near the end of your life, but with Our God's grace, it's never to late.  In God's grace, the past is the past. God forgives. God gives new life. You can start over today. It's never too late.  I know this is true because when Jesus was dying on the cross, there was a criminal crucified next to him.  As the thief was receiving the punishment he deserved, he turned to Jesus and said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."  And you know what Jesus said?  He said, "Today, you will be in Paradise with me."  The thief had only hours (or minutes left to live) and it still wasn't too late.  It's not too late for you either.

Conclusion 
Living as a Christian takes discipline.  It’s a daily discipline of worship, prayer, service, study.
Jesus gives you a tool to motivate you and help you stay disciplined.

It's the vision of the Kingdom feast.  We are all gathered together around the table of the Lord.  A feast of all good things is set before us.  All our loved ones who died in Christ are there.  Every sickness is healed.  Ever broken relationship is mended.  Every life is whole.  There is no more death or darkness or shame or misery.  All is perfect and right and at peace.  And this goes on for eternity!  Hallelujah!

Imagine, everyday, what it will be like when your faithful discipline pays off as we gather around the Lord's table.  This grand vision is the result of the faithful Christian life lived everyday in a thousand small ways.  Now, live your life doing the right thing in all those thousands of ways.  What are the changes you need to make to accept the invitation to God’s Heavenly banquet?  Live your life day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment working toward the grand vision.


Monday, December 2, 2019

#2 Rahab the Prostitute


Matthew 1:4-5a
Ram was the father of Amminadab. Amminadab was the father of Nahshon. Nahshon was the father of Salmon. Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab).

Matthew 1 lists the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world. There are some very "interesting" characters there. None of them deserved the honor of inclusion in Christ's royal lineage. Thankfully, God doesn't reward people with what they deserve. He is gracious and loves people who put their whole faith in Him.

There are only five women listed among the 40 male ancestors of Christ. Who were these five Christmas maidens and why were they remembered in a society usually overlooked women?

Last week, were heard the tale of Tamar who was mistaken for a prostitute by her father-in-law. Today, we will learn about Rahab who was a prostitute. 

For four hundred years after Tamar, the Israelites lived in Egypt and became slaves.  But God remembered His promise to give the Israelites a home in the land of Canaan as His holy people. They would be God's representatives to the whole world. So, God raised up Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery. And after wandering in the desert for forty years, God chose a leader named Joshua to finally lead the Israelites to conquer Canaan. To take possession of the Promise Land, Joshua and the Israelites would have to destroy the Canaanites fortress city, Jericho. God promised He would do the fighting for the Israelites and prove to everyone that their God was the one true Lord of all.

Joshua 2:1
Then Joshua secretly sent out two spies from the Israelite camp at Acacia Grove. He instructed them, “Scout out the land on the other side of the Jordan River, especially around Jericho.” So the two men set out and came to the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there that night.

Rahab
And so, we are introduced to the heroine of our story—Rahab the prostitute. Prostitution has never been an honorable profession, but it is the oldest profession.  In a male dominated society like we find in the Old Testament, prostitution was one of the only ways a woman could make it on her own. Little girls don't dream of being of growing up to be prostitutes. They usually sell their bodies for sex because it's the only way they can survive. 

Brenda Myers-Powell was a prostitute for 25 years on the West Side of Chicago. Her mother died when Brenda was only 6 months old. She was raised by her grandmother, an alcoholic. Brenda was molested regularly by her grandmother's male companions from the time she was only 4 years old. Brenda had 2 babies by the time she was 14. One day when the baby was hungry and crying, Brenda's grandmother told her to get a job because they had nothing to eat. Brenda, not knowing what else to do, joined the prostitutes who stood on the street corner in front of her house.  In her own words: since men had been taking her panties off all her life, she figured she might as well get paid for it. 

Most church people have strong opinions about prostitutes and prostitution. But how many of us have ever talked to a prostitute to get to know her story? Jesus did. It was one of the reasons his adversaries hated him so much. In Mark 2:16, the religious leaders complained, "Why does he eat with such scum?"  Jesus ate with prostitutes and other notorious sinners because God cares about them just as much as He cares about me and you. Jesus, as God, sees the heart and knows the whole story of why people do what they do. And He loves. And He forgives. And He redeems.

We don't know why Rahab was a prostitute. The Bible doesn't give the details. We could stand in self-righteousness judgment of her (like everyone else probably did) or we could realize that most women who become prostitutes do it because it's the only way they know how to survive.

They Had One Job!
On the other hand, we could ask some nagging questions about the spies in Joshua 2:1.
What were the spies doing at a prostitute's house? These spies are members of God's chosen people. They're supposed to be holy. They're supposed to be on a mission from God. You mean to say the first thing they do when they cross enemy lines is go to a brothel? Who am I to judge? Maybe they had their reasons.  Maybe God sent them to Rahab's house.  We don't know and the Bible doesn't say.

I have another question. Why was Joshua sending spies in the first place? God promised He would conquer Jericho and all the Promised Land and give it to the Israelites. The battle would be The Lord's, not the Israelites. Why was Joshua sending spies? Was he worried about how they were going to defeat the enemy?  Didn't he trust God? If you read the whole story, you'll see the Israelites didn't do any real fighting. They march around the city a bunch of times and blew trumpets. This was all symbolic. The Lord did the fighting. The Lord caused the city walls to collapse and the city fell. There was no need to send spies.  It's a hint that maybe Joshua didn't fully trust God's Word. Most people read the Joshua 2:1 to mean Joshua sent some spies to secretly find out about Jericho. Another way to read it is Joshua sent them in secret (as in he didn't want his own people to know he sent the spies.) One thing I don't see anywhere in the passage where it says God told Joshua to send spies. The last time spies were sent into the Promised Land was when Moses sent 12 spies to check out the land. And of the 12, only 2 had faith God could defeat the Canaanites. God was so disgusted with the people's lack of faith the Israelites had to wait 40 more years before they could go into the Promised Land—an entire generation had to pass away!

At any rate, Joshua's spies are the worst spies in the history of spies. The first thing they do is go to a prostitute's house and in verse 2 their cover is immediately blown. The enemy knows they're in town and the enemy is hunting for them! 

Joshua 2:2-7
But someone told the king of Jericho, “Some Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.” So the king of Jericho sent orders to Rahab: “Bring out the men who have come into your house, for they have come here to spy out the whole land.” Rahab had hidden the two men, but she replied, “Yes, the men were here earlier, but I didn’t know where they were from. They left the town at dusk, as the gates were about to close. I don’t know where they went. If you hurry, you can probably catch up with them.” (Actually, she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them beneath bundles of flax she had laid out.) So the king’s men went looking for the spies along the road leading to the shallow crossings of the Jordan River. And as soon as the king’s men had left, the gate of Jericho was shut.

Why did Rahab protect the Israelites? Rahab tells us herself. 

Joshua 2:8-11
Before the spies went to sleep that night, Rahab went up on the roof to talk with them. “I know the Lord has given you this land,” she told them. “We are all afraid of you. Everyone in the land is living in terror. For we have heard how the Lord made a dry path for you through the Red Sea when you left Egypt. And we know what you did to Sihon and Og, the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan River, whose people you completely destroyed. No wonder our hearts have melted in fear! No one has the courage to fight after hearing such things. For the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below.

A Profession of Faith
I wish we had a little more back story about Rahab.  I'd like to know how she ended up a prostitute.  I'd like to know if she cried out to God for help.  I wonder why she turned her back on her own people.  

We don't know much about Rahab before she met the spies.  What we do have in the story is Rahab's profession of faith.  A profession of faith is a statement where a person says they believe in God and promise to follow Him.  I pastor a  Methodist church and we like to make it easy for people to profess their faith.  So, we list our standard profession of faith in the front of our hymnal on page 34.  The pastor asks the person wanting to become a Christian:  Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races? And if the person agrees, they respond: I do. It is a simple and effective way for a person to affirm that they believe in Jesus Christ and trust Him to save them.

Romans 10:9 says, "If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."  Usually, a person who wants to make a commitment to follow Jesus Christ professes their faith--usually in a church service or a revival.  Maybe they pray the "sinners prayer" to declare their faith in Christ, repent of their sins, and ask Jesus to save them.  However, when God saves someone, it doesn’t always look like it does in church or at a Billy Graham crusade.  It could look the Rahab’s story.  Rahab exhibits all three elements of a person who truly turns their life over to God and is saved:  Faith, a Profession of Faith, and Action.

Salvation:  Faith, Profession, Action
First of all, Rahab shows faith. Of all the people in the story, Rahab had the most faith.  While Joshua was sending spies when he should have just trusted God’s promise, Rehab had great faith. Rahab trusted spies she didn’t know who could have betrayed her.  That was risky!  (Spies aren't best know for being trustworthy!)  Furthermore, Rahab puts all her hopes in a God she didn't know very well and trusted He would save her.  Rahab, a Canaanite, turned her back on the wicked Canaanite way of life and turned to the One True God of the Israelites, a foreign people.  It took tremendous faith for Rahab to take these risks.  God is willing to accept the faith of anyone who trusts Him that way and turns to Him for forgiveness and salvation.  Do you have faith to turn your back on everything that is not of God and turn to Him instead?

Secondly, Rahab makes a profession of faith. Rahab states her faith in God. She said, “For the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below.” (Joshua 2:11)  Have you ever made a profession of faith—have you said out loud that you know God is the supreme Lord of all?  Do you continue to tell people this Truth whenever you get the chance?

There is also action. It's one thing to talk a big talk.  It's another thing to walk the walk.  Rahab walked the walk; she acted on her faith. She defied the King of Jericho and his soldier. She put her own life on the line for the sake of God's people.  She hid the Israelite spies and sent the soldiers on a wild goose chase and helped the spies escape.  Do you put your beliefs about God into action?  Do you do what He asks you to do?  Do you serve the Lord with all your heart?

Joshua 2:12-21
“Now swear to me by the Lord that you will be kind to me and my family since I have helped you. Give me some guarantee that when Jericho is conquered, you will let me live, along with my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all their families.” 

Rahab’s faith was going to save her whole family from destruction.  Do you realize what you do affects more than just you?  Your choices about God could bring life or death to people you care about.

“We offer our own lives as a guarantee for your safety,” the men agreed. “If you don’t betray us, we will keep our promise and be kind to you when the Lord gives us the land.”

Then, since Rahab’s house was built into the town wall, she let them down by a rope through the window. “Escape to the hill country,” she told them. “Hide there for three days from the men searching for you. Then, when they have returned, you can go on your way.”

Before they left, the men told her, “We will be bound by the oath we have taken only if you follow these instructions. When we come into the land, you must leave this scarlet rope hanging from the window through which you let us down. And all your family members—your father, mother, brothers, and all your relatives—must be here inside the house. If they go out into the street and are killed, it will not be our fault. But if anyone lays a hand on people inside this house, we will accept the responsibility for their death. If you betray us, however, we are not bound by this oath in any way.”

“I accept your terms,” she replied. And she sent them on their way, leaving the scarlet rope hanging from the window.

How Does the Story End?
Well, how does the story end? We find the answer to Rahab’s fate in Joshua chapter 6.
The Israelites surround the fortress of Jericho. All the villagers outside the fortress walls have fled. Those left inside the walls are mostly soldiers and others determined to fight to the bitter end. 

But God said He would do the fighting for Israel. So, for six days the Israelites march around Jericho. On the seventh day, they march around the city seven times. Then, the Israelite priests blow their ram’s horns and all the people shout. And the walls of Jericho came tumbling down—everywhere except for the part of the wall that housed Rahab’s home. The Israelites swarmed over the rubble to mop up any remaining defenders not killed by the collapse.  It wasn't much a fight after the fortresses collapse; most of the enemy were probably already dead.

Joshua 6:22-23 & 25
Meanwhile, Joshua said to the two spies, “Keep your promise. Go to the prostitute’s house and bring her out, along with all her family.”  The men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab, her father, mother, brothers, and all the other relatives who were with her. They moved her whole family to a safe place near the camp of Israel.…  So Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute and her relatives who were with her in the house, because she had hidden the spies Joshua sent to Jericho. And she lives among the Israelites to this day.

And then we fast forward through the Bible about a thousand years and look in Matthew chapter 1 and we see Jesus’ genealogy and what do we find?  Rahab is one of the great, great, great… grandmothers of Jesus.

What’s Your Story?
Well, that’s Rahab’s story.  What’ your story?  I want to tell you that God knows what you’re going through.  He is the God who sees.  He didn’t overlook Rahab the prostitute and He won’t overlook you.  Are you facing a situation you just cannot overcome?  God wants to help you.  Do you realize God is your only hope?  God will redeem your situation, but He’ll also save your soul.  Do you trust God to save you?  Are you willing to profess your faith in God and turn your back on everything that is not of Him?  Are you willing to act on your faith by putting it all on the line for Him?  Perhaps you should pray about it.

Next week, we will examine the story of the third woman in Jesus' genealogy--Ruth the Refugee.

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Monday, November 25, 2019

#1 The Tale of Tamar


2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.”

All Scripture is inspired by God.  Even the parts we tend to skip like the genealogies or the weird and disturbing stories in the Old Testament.  In this blog, I'm going to focus on a couple of those passages people tend to skip over.  I'm not going to skip these passages today, because they are inspired by God and they have much to teach us if we listen closely.


Matthew 1:1-16
This is a record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah, a descendant of David and of Abraham[a]:

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac.
Isaac was the father of Jacob.
Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers.
3 Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah (whose mother was Tamar).
Perez was the father of Hezron.
Hezron was the father of Ram.[b]
4 Ram was the father of Amminadab.
Amminadab was the father of Nahshon.
Nahshon was the father of Salmon.
5 Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab).
Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth).
Obed was the father of Jesse.
6 Jesse was the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon (whose mother was Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah).
7 Solomon was the father of Rehoboam.
Rehoboam was the father of Abijah.
Abijah was the father of Asa.[c]
8 Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat.
Jehoshaphat was the father of Jehoram.[d]
Jehoram was the father[e] of Uzziah.
9 Uzziah was the father of Jotham.
Jotham was the father of Ahaz.
Ahaz was the father of Hezekiah.
10 Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh.
Manasseh was the father of Amon.[f]
Amon was the father of Josiah.
11 Josiah was the father of Jehoiachin[g] and his brothers (born at the time of the exile to Babylon).
12 After the Babylonian exile:
Jehoiachin was the father of Shealtiel.
Shealtiel was the father of Zerubbabel.
13 Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud.
Abiud was the father of Eliakim.
Eliakim was the father of Azor.
14 Azor was the father of Zadok.
Zadok was the father of Akim.
Akim was the father of Eliud.
15 Eliud was the father of Eleazar.
Eleazar was the father of Matthan.
Matthan was the father of Jacob.
16 Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah.

5 Christmas Maidens
Do you keep up with your own genealogy?  Some people are fascinated by their own ancestry.  There are even shows on television now where experts trace the ancestry of famous celebrities.  We tend to skip over the genealogy of Christ, though, the most famous person who ever lived.  And if you skip over Christ’s inspired genealogy, you will miss some important facts.  

Like this:  There are 40 men listed in Jesus genealogy, which makes sense because Jewish genealogies from the first century listed lineage through the male ancestors.  The people the Bible records were a mostly a male dominated, patriarchal culture.  You don’t have to like it.  God didn’t, but it is the reality and you must understand the role of patriarchy in the biblical text or you might miss some very important clues, like this:  There are 40 men listed in Jesus’ genealogy and only 5 women. 

But the fact that there are 5 women listed in a genealogy written in a male dominated, patriarchal society is huge!  Why did the men who kept track of all this stuff and write it down even care about these 5 women—the 5 Christmas maidens?   You might think they are some pretty special women who really deserved the recognition.  They are special, but maybe not in the way you think.  Their stories may challenge your preconceived notions of holiness.

Apparently, God inspired the writer of Matthew 1:1-16 to record the names of these 5 women, without whom Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Lord and Savior of all would not have been born into the world that first Christmas day.  So, between now and Christmas, we are going to hear the stories of each of these 5 Christmas maidens between now and Christmas.

Tamar
The first Christmas maiden is Tamar and her tale comes from Genesis 38.  Tamar was a Canaanite woman.  The Canaanites—as a whole—were evil in God’s site.  They were evil because they had twisted religion so much that it had nothing to do with the One True God who made them anymore.  Canaanite religion was a way to make God into their own image through idolatry.  They worshiped through sexual orgies in order to arouse their gods so they would do favors for them.  They even hired temple prostitutes to have sex with the worshipers.  (I’m not making this stuff up. This was the Canaanite religion.)  Furthermore, the Canaanites even sacrificed their own children as part of their wicked religious ceremonies.  God rejected the Canaanites’ wicked religion and determined to drive them out of Canaan and give their land to Abraham’s descendants.  Tamar (the great, great… grandmother of Jesus) was a despised Canaanite.  (If you ever feel like there’s no hope for you, remember Tamar.)

The name Tamar means date palm.  The date palm is a tree in Israel that produces a most amazing fruit called a date that is dried to make something like a raisin, but a raisin the size of your thumb!  You can buy dates at Kroger, but they don’t even come close to the amazing Medjool dates you get in Israel, their native land.  I have been to Israel and enjoyed the dates their near Jericho and they are to die for.  Tamar means date.  And apparently, Tamar was to die for too.  Her story is found in Genesis 38.

Genesis 38:6-10
In the course of time, Judah arranged for his firstborn son, Er, to marry a young woman named Tamar. But Er was a wicked man in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord took his life. Then Judah said to Er’s brother Onan, “Go and marry Tamar, as our law requires of the brother of a man who has died. You must produce an heir for your brother.”

But Onan was not willing to have a child who would not be his own heir. So whenever he had intercourse with his brother’s wife, he spilled the semen on the ground. This prevented her from having a child who would belong to his brother. 10 But the Lord considered it evil for Onan to deny a child to his dead brother. So the Lord took Onan’s life, too.

Levirate Marriage and Wickedness
Now here’s a weird passage (and a bit gross and explicit).  It’s no wonder you don’t hear this story that much in church.  But, it is part of the God’s inspired story of the redemption of all humanity so we’re not going to skip it today.  What’s going on here?

The ancient Israelites had a custom called Levirate marriage.  It seems strange to us, but it had an important purpose for them.  The people of the Old Testament lived in a patriarchal society.  Men dominated everything.  Women had very little status and no way to provide for or protect themselves without the men in their lives.  I don't think that's the way God intended life to be, but sin was part of the world and that's the way people lived.  Thankfully, we have grown to a place in the 21st century in America, where women are finally getting the respect they are due because women are equal with men and should be treated fairly.  But 4,000 years ago when Tamar lived in the middle east, women were not treated equally.  When they were young, their father protected and cared for them.  When they were married, their husband protected and cared for them.  When they were old, their grown male children protected and cared for them.  So it was devastating if a wife's husband died and she had no grown male children to care for her.  Levirate marriage provided for widows.  When Tamar's husband died, she became their dead brother's responsibility to protect and care for her.

Levirate marriage addressed another pressing problem for the Bible's patriarchal society.  The greatest curse for ancient Israelites was for your family name to die out.  Therefore, if a wife's husband died before he was able to produce a male child to carry on the family name, the dead husband's brother was obligated to produce a male child with his wife for him.  I know that seems really weird to us today, but that was very important to the ancient Israelites like Judah's family.  And it may not be as far fetched as you think.  Today, if a husband and wife can't conceive a child, they might go to a fertility clinic and pursue artificial insemination.  Levirate marriage was the way the ancients solved the problem long before fertility clinics were available.

Unfortunately, Judah and his sons were wicked. Judah’s first son, Ere, married Tamar, “But Er was a wicked man in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord took his life.” We don’t know why Er was wicked; the passage doesn't say. You might infer one reason though. This is reading into the text a bit, but maybe Er was more interested in the "tasty date" Tamar than he was in the Lord's plan for the Israelites.  You see, the Israelites were the people God chose to represent God to the whole world.  As such, they were to reject all other gods and false religions, like that of the Canaanites.  But Er seems to be more interested in tasty Tamar than the religion of the One True God.  Whatever the reason, Er was so wicked to God that he died. 

So, levirate marriage kicks in.  Er’s brother, Onan, is supposed to take Tamar as his own wife, protect her, care for her, and it was Onan's absolute obligation to make sure Tamar got pregnant and produced an heir to carry on his dead brother's name.  Now Onan, being a man, was perfectly willng to enjoy “pleasure” with Tamar, but he refused to produce children.  Sexual pleasure is great but children are a costly responsibility Onan didn't want, even though it was the law of his own people.  Verse 10 says, “the Lord considered it evil for Onan to deny a child to his dead brother. So the Lord took Onan’s life, too.”

Genesis 38:11
11 Then Judah said to Tamar, his daughter-in-law, “Go back to your parents’ home and remain a widow until my son Shelah is old enough to marry you.” (But Judah didn’t really intend to do this because he was afraid Shelah would also die, like his two brothers.) So Tamar went back to live in her father’s home.

Used, Abused, and Forgotten
Tamar has now been used, abused, and forgotten.  Have you ever felt used, abused and forgotten?
Judah has a responsibility.  As the patriarch of the family, it is his responsibility to take care of everyone in his household; and this includes Tamar.  If his third son is too young to marry, then it is Judah's duty to take care of his daughter-in-law himself or until his youngest son is grown enough to do it.  Judah has no intention of doing the right thing.  His first two sons died because they were both wicked, but all Judah can think is it was Tamar fault.  Instead of seeing his son’s wickedness, send Tamar away.

God holds each of us accountable for our own sins.  It isn’t your lineage that makes you righteous or gains you favor in God’s eyes.  It is those who repent of their sins and turn to God through Jesus Christ His Son who enjoy the Lord’s favor.  In Tamar's story, we see taht Tamar hasn’t done anything wrong even though she is a Canaanite.  It is Judah and his sons--who are supposed to be God's chosen people--who are doing all the evil!  

Genesis 38:12-19
12 Some years later Judah’s wife died. After the time of mourning was over, Judah and his friend Hirah the Adullamite went up to Timnah to supervise the shearing of his sheep. 13 Someone told Tamar, “Look, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep.”
14 Tamar was aware that Shelah had grown up, but no arrangements had been made for her to come and marry him. [Judah has no intentions of doing the right thing for Tamar.]
So she changed out of her widow’s clothing and covered herself with a veil to disguise herself. Then she sat beside the road at the entrance to the village of Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. 15 Judah noticed her and thought she was a prostitute, since she had covered her face. 
[Now notice, it doesn’t say Tamar dressed up like a prostitute.  It says Judah thought she was a prostitute.  What does that tell you was on Judah's mind?  It seems to me, Judah is not acting or thinking the way God wants His chosen people to act.]
16 So he stopped and propositioned her. “Let me have sex with you,” he said, not realizing that she was his own daughter-in-law.
“How much will you pay to have sex with me?” Tamar asked.
[Tamar is a smart woman.  She plays along to see where it might get her.  Tamar recognizes God’s purposes in Judah’s family.  Even though Judah’s family was not living the way they should, they were still the family God chose for His great plan to save the world.  Somehow, Tamar sensed God’s hand at work in Judah’s people--despite their wickedness--and she was determined to be part of it.  Are you determined to be part of God’s family even if His children—the people you see in Church on Sunday—don’t always live they way they should.  Can you recognize that God has a plan for everyone and that God is saving the whole world, even through a broken church?]
17 “I’ll send you a young goat from my flock,” Judah promised.
“But what will you give me to guarantee that you will send the goat?” she asked.
18 “What kind of guarantee do you want?” he replied.
She answered, “Leave me your identification seal and its cord and the walking stick you are carrying.” So Judah gave them to her. Then he had intercourse with her, and she became pregnant. 19 Afterward she went back home, took off her veil, and put on her widow’s clothing as usual.
Genesis 38:24-26
24 About three months later, Judah was told, “Tamar, your daughter-in-law, has acted like a prostitute. And now, because of this, she’s pregnant.”
“Bring her out, and let her be burned!” Judah demanded. 
[This was the typical punishment.  It's definitely a double standard.  Men were obviously getting away with all kinds of sexual promiscuity and sleeping with prostitutes, but the women were being burned when they were unfaithful.  I don't think God was happy about it, but that's the broken world Tamar and Judah lived in.]
25 But as they were taking her out to kill her, she sent this message to her father-in-law: “The man who owns these things made me pregnant. Look closely. Whose seal and cord and walking stick are these?”  [Busted!]
26 Judah recognized them immediately and said, “She is more righteous than I am, because I didn’t arrange for her to marry my son Shelah.” And Judah never slept with Tamar again.

Closing Points
Tamar's story (and others like it) are one of the major reasons I believe the Bible is the reliable account of God's salvation work throughout history.  If I were going to make up a fictional story of God's people, I definitely would not include all this dirty laundry.  Would you?  The Bible doesn't try to sugar coat anything.  The story of how God saved humanity includes a lot of ugly, embarrassing stuff.  It's just to messy to be made up!  Do you have any skeletons in your family closet? So does Jesus.  

None of the people in Jesus family tree were there because they deserved it. They were only there because of God's grace and their faith to be a part of God's great plan—a plan that they didn’t even fully understand.  They just knew if it was God’s plan, it must be worth more than any thing else in the whole world!  God is looking for people like Tamar--people who have the faith to see that God is at work even when His people are not doing the right thing.  People who are willing to give up everything to be part of God's great Kingdom plan.  Are you willing to give up everything to be part of God’s Kingdom?  Do you have the faith to see it is worth it?

Next week, we will hear the story of Rahab the prostitute.
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