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Jun 27, 2010

Potty Stops

Passage: Numbers 15:1-16:35

Preacher: Eric Stapleton

Series: Road Work Ahead

Category: Redemption, Sanctification

Keywords: bitterness, healing, sin, fruitful, numbers, israel, korah, sabbath

Summary:

On this road of faith we often need to make some potty stops along the way rid ourselves of the bitterness and baggage that hinders our walk with God. We can only get to the destination of a fruitful life when we allow the Great Physician, Jesus Christ to remove the hurts that a sinful world and life have deposited in our hearts.

Detail:

[First Slide Potty Stops]

[Video]

Let’s pray. So, that actually happened just a little over a week ago. This guy was put down. Why? He was a murderer. Some people didn’t feel it was right, that it was barbaric. Some others thought he got what he deserved that justice was being done. I would agree. The idea of capital punishment is from the Bible. There was no question as to his guilt. The murder he was executed for happened in a courthouse. He was on trial for another murder and he tried escape shooting a few people in the process including a attorney whom he killed. It was done in broad daylight with many witnesses and at the very seat of authority.

So, this guy, this Ronnie Lee Gardner, was put to death by a firing squad two Fridays ago a quarter past midnight. Whether or not we agree with the idea of capital punishment, we can certainly understand why this happened. But what if the crime was different? What if his attempt to escape the courthouse involved let’s say a smoke bomb and he set it off in the courthouse…and somebody was gagging on the smoke and stumbled over a balcony railing and died. Indirect cause. Would Ronnie Lee deserve to die then? What if Ronnie’s attempt to escape didn’t involve any weapons but the commotion and the excitement caused someone with a heart condition to go into cardiac arrest and die? Does he deserve the death penalty?

Well, what if let’s say this didn’t involve a normally violent person, which Ronnie was, but a man who decided to chop down his neighbors tree for firewood but as a result of getting away with it, many other committed similar crimes and as a result of that some people got hurt or even died in property disputes and such. Would he deserve it then? OK, well what if there wasn’t any theft involved? What if the guy just decided to pick up bundle of firewood for his home instead of going to church and he drove by the church and everybody saw him? Would he have deserved to die for that?

Let’s go to the text:

Numbers 15

32 While the Israelites were in the desert, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. 33 Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, 34 and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. 35 Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp.” 36 So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the Lord commanded Moses.

Now, you saw in the video a hint of the outcry at the murder of someone who obviously earned it. What do you think the outcry would have been if it was something like what this guy did in Numbers 15, gathering wood on the Sabbath?

 

That question is an important one to consider when looking at the events that transpire immediately afterwards. Adding on top that what we talked about last week—refused entrance to the Promised Land, the death of the spies and the people who tried to enter the Promised Land anyway. Also, in chapter 11, God’s anger broke out against the people for complaining that His provision wasn’t enough, they need quail instead this dreary manna. All this leading up to verse 37.

 

Tassels on Garments

‎37 The Lord said to Moses, 38 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. 39 You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. 40 Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God. 41 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the Lord your God.’ ”

 

 

Tassels on garments? Really, we just killed guy for gathering sticks on Saturday and now you’re talking about what color the cord on the tassel is going to be. This is ridiculous! You drag us out here from a land that WAS flowing with milk and honey. I don’t know if you got the memo there Moses, but we were well fed in Egypt. G-d forbid I should mention how well we were fed there. Yes, we were in slavery but we knew what to expect there. None of this uncertainty. Pillar of cloud hanging over that tent there. It could be there a week, a month, sometimes a year and then, it, you know who decides. Or is it really you know who. I’d hate think that He operated on such whims. Who do you think you are Moses? I’m a Levite, but I’m not a priest (yet) I get it, but we’re cousins. Yeah, you went off and got that education in Egypt, you know how to write, notice how he’s never taught any of us how to write, guys, huh? You’re kind of a Levite. You were adopted by the Egyptian aristocracy, man. You’re just an upper class socialist brat from a supper full family and you never really had to work. And then you just had to help the struggling masses who were suffering in pain and bondage. What the heck do you know about suffering and pain, you dumb bunny? Oh goody, lucky us. Maybe we didn’t want saving. Did you ever think of that? This time, you’ve gone too far. YOU get to be boss. You even made Elizaphan, my younger cousin, chief of my clan. What were you thinking? I used to give him wedgies while we were in the mud pits in Egypt.

What I think we need here is a change of the leadership. The way I see it, we don’t need to go to the land of Canaan but we don’t need to be staying in this desert. The Egyptians have seen what God can do, they’ll give us a wide berth, we’ll write our own ticket. We can still practice our faith in Egypt. We don’t need to impose it on anybody. What do you say guys?

A dramatization to be sure. But I think it hits the heart of what was really going on here.

Numbers 16:1–3 (NIV)

Korah, Dathan and Abiram

16 Korah son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and certain Reubenites—Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth—became insolent 2 and rose up against Moses. With them were 250 Israelite men, well-known community leaders who had been appointed members of the council. 3 They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?”

 

Why would they do such a thing? Bitterness. I’ve entitled this message, “Potty Stops.” When you’re taking a trip, and you know this if you’ve had a family especially, you sometimes have to make a potty stops. And when you make that potty stop, you’re also emptying out the garbage from your car. You’re getting rid of the things you don’t want that aren’t helping you on your journey anymore.

It could even be things that helped you on your journey before but isn’t working for you so much anymore.

Last week we talked about one such disposable item, fear. Before we can make it to the place where we are producing fruit for the kingdom, we need to shed a few things. Last week, we talked about the obstacle of fear pothole. This week it’s about shedding bitterness.

Bitterness and anger can be a driving force that sometimes motivates us to do good things, noble things and even succeed. But unfortunately, because it isn’t borne out of faith, hope and love, it has its limitations and drawbacks as we see in the text.

The people Israel had a lot baggage from their time in Egypt and God was dealing with it. As a nation they would make it. There were some necessary deaths along the way. The application for us is symbolic. There are attitudes, habits, behaviors and inclinations that just need to be put to death if we are to be fruitful.

Let’s go back to the text and see how God deals with this.

Numbers 16:16–21 (NIV)

16 Moses said to Korah, “You and all your followers are to appear before the Lord tomorrow—you and they and Aaron. 17 Each man is to take his censer and put incense in it—250 censers in all—and present it before the Lord. You and Aaron are to present your censers also.” 18 So each man took his censer, put fire and incense in it, and stood with Moses and Aaron at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. 19 When Korah had gathered all his followers in opposition to them at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, the glory of the Lord appeared to the entire assembly. 20 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 21 “Separate yourselves from this assembly so I can put an end to them at once.”

Numbers 16:22–33 (NIV)

22 But Moses and Aaron fell facedown and cried out, “O God, God of the spirits of all mankind, will you be angry with the entire assembly when only one man sins?”

23 Then the Lord said to Moses, 24 “Say to the assembly, ‘Move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.’ ”

25 Moses got up and went to Dathan and Abiram, and the elders of Israel followed him. 26 He warned the assembly, “Move back from the tents of these wicked men! Do not touch anything belonging to them, or you will be swept away because of all their sins.” 27 So they moved away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. Dathan and Abiram had come out and were standing with their wives, children and little ones at the entrances to their tents.

28 Then Moses said, “This is how you will know that the Lord has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: 29 If these men die a natural death and experience only what usually happens to men, then the Lord has not sent me. 30 But if the Lord brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the grave, then you will know that these men have treated the Lord with contempt.”

31 As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart 32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, with their households and all Korah’s men and all their possessions. 33 They went down alive into the grave, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community.

34 At their cries, all the Israelites around them fled, shouting, “The earth is going to swallow us too!”

35 And fire came out from the Lord and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense.

 

So, God put it to death. He cleansed his people of the crud. Now God wasn’t punishing these men for bitterness, he punishing them for rebellion and contempt against him. They weren’t respecting his ordained leadership and thereby showing contempt for him. The man gathering the sticks on the Sabbath wasn’t merely just trying to provide for his family, he was openly, brazenly, in broad daylight defying God’s authority. Context is everything. That man’s brazen defiance along with Korah’s rebellion had to do with bitterness. Not bitterness against a person. It seemed that way as if it was directed at Moses. It really was directed God. Why were they bitter? Personal and corporate failure on their parts. They refused to go into the land after they heard the report of the spies. God decreed a punishment on them: they wouldn’t live to see the promised land. “What’s the use? Not going to make it to this fabled land of milk and honey anyway, why should I care about the Sabbath?”

God wanted more for His people than a destination or a prize. He wanted a nation that was a light to the world, to the Gentiles. He wanted a people that glorified Him with who they were. This journey through the desert wasn’t about a destination, it was about a transformation.

God wants His people, then and now, to be conformed to the image of his son. And that folks isn’t about a prize. For the Hebrews, the Promised Land was a place where they would be fruitful, expanding and blessing the world with the truth of God. It wasn’t about a prize. God was the prize. Becoming the living image of God has always been the prize folks.

For us it’s the same, for us to be fruitful for God’s kingdom and be a blessing to the world around us, we need transformation of our lives, conforming to the image of Christ. That is the work of the cross. It’s starts with the cross and then it’s a lifetime of God chiseling away everything that doesn’t resemble his son. I don’t want to be chiseled on? I find sin more comfortable most of the time.

How many of you have ever had to do a regimen of physical therapy? Is it fun? Does it feel good? It’s painful and a lot of times you don’t do it by yourself? It’s about getting a muscle or group of muscles to work properly. Why did those muscles stop working in the first place? Something bad happened.

We come to Christ why? Because something bad happened. That something is sin. It wrecked us. It’s a culmination of things we’ve done and that have been done to us. Then the great physician, Jesus comes in and begins to work. So much of time though we hold on to our hurts we don’t really give them over to him to heal. That’s the bitterness effect.

 

 

Bitterness, the problem. What’s the solution? I was talking to Kirk last week on the phone about the theme for the sermon and all and he assumed if I was talking about bitterness, I would also be talking about forgiveness. The fact is, it had never occurred to me to talk about forgiveness. I felt like an idiot for a while until I remembered the text. We’re not talking about people needing to forgive God. We’re talking about people being angry at God for something He justly did about a bad thing they did. In a sense it’s like this, “I’m mad at you for what I did.” If you have kids you’re very well acquainted with this one.

Jude 10–11 (NIV)

10 Yet these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals—these are the very things that destroy them.

11 Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.

 

Interesting that Korah is put into the same camp as Cain who was bitter because he put up an offering that wasn’t approved of by God.

 

Acts 8:‎18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

‎20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”

 

You see even when dealing in bitterness about someone who did wrong you, a lot of the times, the wrong they did was a reaction to some wrong that you did. And the reason we don’t confront that person is that we might out what we already know and that is we were also wrong. It’s easier to hold on to the bitterness and rage. But we’re not talking about that today.

We’re talking about getting rid of anger or bitterness we have toward God. Some may say since God is perfect and can do no wrong, isn’t it sinful to be angry at God. No. Anger isn’t a sin. What we do with it can be like the gathering sticks guy or the I wanna be priest like you guy or even Ronnie Lee Gardner.

Questioning God, that’s not a sin. King David records psalms where he is frustrated and hurt by God. Jeremiah questions God’s justice. Moses asks God why he has been burdened with these people. That’s not the problem. They deal with God respectfully:

Jeremiah 12:1 (NIV)

Jeremiah’s Complaint

12 You are always righteous, O Lord,

when I bring a case before you.

Yet I would speak with you about your justice:

Why does the way of the wicked prosper?

Why do all the faithless live at ease?

 

Usually, anger at God revolves around some misunderstanding our part. We don’t understand something that he did. In some cases we know all too well why He did something. The best way is to take the matter to him and a find out what it is. The truth will set you free. The problem is because we know God is always right we sometimes just figure it must not be worth mentioning since we’re wrong anyway. We’ll just sweep it under the rug and pretend that it doesn’t exist. That’s baby boomer bull puckey. Keeping a game face on when you’re falling apart inside.

If anybody had a reason to be bitter against God it was this guy. This Job guy:

Job1:18 While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 19 when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

‎20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said:

‎“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,

‎and naked I will depart.

‎The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;

‎may the name of the Lord be praised.”

‎22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

 

That’s kind of the litmus test isn’t, declaring that God did wrong. That’s what bitterness is…it’s the unspoken declaration. Why God allow this horrible thing? Ask him. And Job did and God answered him

Billy Graham

 

At the age 18. After months of hesitating to give him an answer, Emily finally accepted Billy's proposal of marriage and he was ecstatic! However, several months later Emily broke off the engagement and return the high school ring he'd given her. Billy was staggered by the blow. In a letter to his friend Wendell Phillips, Billy wrote, "all the stars have fallen out of my sky… there is nothing to live for. We have broken up." Billy sister Catherine described the broken engagement as "definitely traumatic," and he felt it caused him to be driven to greater seriousness. Billy's brother Melvin gave a different assessment of the situation: "She wanted to marry a man that was going to amount to something, and she didn't think he was going to make it. I will never forget that. We figured she was right. He’s so broken up. I think it was a big turning point."

 

It was this dramatic event of losing the girl he loved because of insufficient promise that may have caused Billy to aspire to do "something big," as he put it. He became highly motivated to prove Emily and his family wrong and make something of himself. Though this rejection created a deep inner wound and drove him to achieve, God obviously worked through it. It might've been just what the tall, skinny, frequently ill Billy needed to motivate him to attempt things he might not otherwise have attempted.

 

Early in his ministry at a Modesto, California, hotel room, he called his ministry associates together and said:

 

God has brought us this far… maybe he is preparing us for something that we don't know. Let's try to recall all of the things that have been a stumbling block in a hindrance to the evangelist in years past, let's come back together in an hour and talk about it and pray about it and ask God to guard us from them.

 

-- Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership by Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima. Baker books copyright 2007 pages 98 to 99.

 

John Wesley also lost his head over a girl and experienced failure as a pastor in Savannah, Georgia.

The hardships that we experience from the providential hand of God can harden us or help us turn around. That part is up to us. Do we really believe that God is looking out for our good?

What is it that you need to let go of? You know for me, when I first starting in ministry, I lost my priorities over an unrequited love and God used it to show me where my heart was. I held on to that disappointment for uh, years, certainly longer than I’m willing to acknowledge in a public forum such as this. But because of that bitterness I was able to see a lot of other flaws that I thought God had. Bitterness clouds the vision and perception.

[Insert Piece from The White Book]

  • Based on our real or imagined injury, we create and hold on to or wrong toward another (in this case, God); we choose to distort the truth. Rebellion and hence resentment are born.
  • This distortion of reality produces a false spiritual high, satisfaction, pleasure, and release from the conflict produced by our wrong. Rebellion and resentment fill a need (and really a demand).
  • We take nourishment from the resentment; it sustains us. It sustains the new reality, which is a lie. It hides our wrong; we don't have to face it and deal with it. Last, resentment is used as a drug.
  • To continue justifying was wrong to ourselves, we periodically play the incident back, winning the case in court against the other person every time. By thus will re-experiencing the resentment, we seek to recapture the effect of the original high.
  • Our use of resentment us becomes habitual, producing more wrong, which requires more of the drug to cover it. The vicious cycle is set; it has a life of its own, unrelated to the initial event.
  • Persistence in this habit produces distress. Part of us always knows when we are wrong: the lie doesn't square with something inside us, with what we see in the real world outside, and with inputs we get from others. Plus, we feel guilty for enjoying this unnatural ecstasy, and our isolation increases.
  • We try abstaining from this inner spiritual habit, so we act outwardly for the object of our resentment is that we hold no wrong against them. But this pretense deprives us of our drug (resentment), creates a new line that needs more drug, and forces us to treat the distress of withdrawal with a medicine that provides relief-- more resentment.
  • This mental behavior fulfills the three criteria of addiction: tolerance, abstinence, and withdrawal. We are now fully addicted to resentment as a spiritual attitude.

I think all of us have been there to varying degrees, but the point is to recognize and are rather take this nonsense he and that means taking it back to the cross and crucifying it, feeling it will, putting it to death.

What is it with you? What are you holding onto and are you ready to let it go? Maybe you’d like to talk about that or pray about that with someone.

I will give you the opportunity this morning to do a symbolic act.  And like to write down or whatever it is we resent God for more about and then hang it on the cross. We don’t want to think of Jesus as someone who merely takes it away from us when ‘we give it over to him.’ Think of it as taking a problem to a doctor—that doctor is going to give you a prescription, a surgical procedure or regimen of physical therapy—something you are going to be involved in the process of. When you give something over to God, it is opening up your life for him to work on it.

Anyway, I bring all this up because it comes up in the text. God was bringing his people, Israel to a land where they could be fruitful and multiply and be a blessing to the world. He wanted them to be prepared for that though. So he set about straightening their path…Road Work.

God’s working on us, individually and as a body of believers. We’re looking forward to being fruitful for God and being joyful blessing for His kingdom here in Spokane. Downtown. What is it that might be holding you back from getting in the game? What obstacles need to be cleared before you’ll be a part of God’s redemptive work here? Let’s pray.