My Testimony (A time to brag…)

It was the middle of September and I was despondent. I felt like I was drowning; I felt like the Psalmist in Psalm 69:1-3. I was in way over my head and I knew it. How could I have been so foolish? I had bit off more than I could chew. Every day after work, from 6-10, my weekly night routine looked like this:  during on Monday nights I would do my online OT Writings class homework, on Tuesday nights I would do my online Theology class homework, on Wednesday night I would do homework for my theology class, on Thursday night I would go to my theology class, on Friday nights I would tie up any loose ends (message boards from my online classes, things I didn’t get done earlier in the week), and then I would spend all day Saturday and Sunday doing research for the three papers I had due at the end of the semester. After 5 weeks of this, and still not being finished with my first (of three) paper, I realized there was no way I could do this. I was taking a 9-hour course load of senior-level classes while still in active duty. More than one person told me I was insane…and for good reason.
Rewind back that summer. I had just returned from a deployment and sat down with my education counselor, Tom. I had almost exactly a year left in the Air Force and I needed to finish my bachelor’s before I got out; that would allow me to start seminary as soon as I separated. Looks like I had 48 hours of classes plus a 1-hour senior exit seminar to tackle. That’s right, 49 hours in one year…while on active duty. God had given me a vision and I knew that He would be with me as I labored to do His will. Things started out pretty good. While on R&R from my deployment I took a 2-week, condensed math class; I followed that up by taking a math CLEP. I had only been home three weeks and had already knocked 6 hours off of my degree; only 43 more to go! I was going to study for the American Government and Computer Sciences CLEPs during August before the fall semester started. I had a pretty good plan, but then something horrible happened.
On July 28th, I got an email about a routine job:  someone needed to stay late to videotape one of our C-17’s doing its air show routine. That footage would then be sent to our MAJCOM so they could demonstrate competency and then be cleared to perform their routine at the Air Show that weekend. I volunteered because I had just gotten back and thought it would set a good example. I decided the best place to get my footage from would be the air traffic control tower. I remember being up there getting some great shots of all the different aircraft as they taxied, launched, and landed.
Pretty soon, the group I was up there for taxied onto the runway. The co-pilot called me to let me know that they were going to do a test-takeoff, check out the weather, and then they’d do the real thing. After they finished their test-flight, they landed, did some last minutes checks, and called me to say they were still good to go. Little did I know that I’d be the last person they ever talked to on the phone. Less than a minute after they took off, the aircraft took a sharp, sharp right bank. I remember watching through my viewfinder as they gained speed and disappeared behind the tree line. In an instant I thought it was both strange that they would go so low and wondering where they’d come back up from behind the tree line; after all, I needed to make sure I got a good shot!
I still remember being shocked and horrified when I saw a ball of fire rise up from behind the trees. Many people—myself included before that night—claim that people are desensitized by our media today. I’m not sure I agree, because nothing I had ever seen could prepare me for that moment. It was honestly too much to handle so, without a thought, I reverted back to simple muscle memory and started manning my camera. I did a slow, smooth, steady zoom out as the explosion grew in size. I knew that investigators would want to see all of these. I documented as much as I could. I called Connie—it was hard dialing with my hands trembling—and told her I was okay.
For the next few weeks it was impossible for me to concentrate. I didn’t study for the CLEP but I knew that I still had to finish my degree. I could still catch up. So I signed up for three of my senior classes and started. I had a pretty steady routine, but I felt like I was slowly and surely getting more and more behind. It was the middle of September and I was despondent. I knew also knew that, even if I managed to finish that semester I still had 11 more classes to finish. I honestly felt like I was drowning. I remember at one moment burying my face in my hands as I listened to Storm by Lifehouse praying to God for the strength to do what I knew was His will.
God is good, and He gave me strength—His strength—to make it not only through that week, but through the entire semester. By the grace and power of God, I got straight A’s that entire semester. In between the semesters I managed to study for and pass my American Government CLEP thanks to some help from a close friend, many prayers, and God blessing the time I put into studying.
I only had two more senior-level classes to finish over the course of two 12-week semesters, so I decided to split my efforts across three fronts:  I would take my theology classes in the remaining 12-week semesters I had while simultaneously taking my general education classes online through a university that offered 8-week semesters (thus giving me three semesters with them to complete everything) while simultaneously knocking out CLEPs when I could fit them in! So I had 6 hours of theology classes, 9 hours of 8-week classes, and 15 hours in CLEPs… assuming I didn’t fail any of the CLEPs because then I’d have to take the class in its place!
It sounds crazy doesn’t it? It sounds impossible doesn’t it? And truthfully, I think it would have been impossible if God had not been with me. My prayer was that God would help me and that He would reward the effort that I put in to all my studying. He has blessed me with an amazing wife to take care of me while I’ve been neck-deep in homework and many amazing friends who have prayed for me and encouraged me along the way.
I have passed all my classes with A’s and aced every CLEP along the way. This afternoon I passed my final CLEP. I only have the Senior Exit Seminar to complete and I will be finished with my bachelor’s just in time to start seminary this fall. I can’t even put into words how excited I am about what God has been doing in my life. Through God’s power I have completed 48 hours in 10.5 months while on active duty. I feel like I have finally crossed a monumental finish line!
This is part of my testimony and I share it with you to show you that nothing is impossible for my God. He is a mighty God and I hope you know Him!
“I love you, LORD, my strength.
The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”
Psalm 18:1-2

Building A Life Worth Living: Restoration and Renewal

Restoration; noun, the act of restoring, renewal, revival or re-establishment; a return of something to a former, original, normal or unimpaired condition.

What a magnificent concept; Renewal – to make something New AGAIN!

My journey through the valley of despair as it were, is still quite ongoing and still monumentally difficult and often very painful.  Each day something new arises to remind me that i am broken.

BUT THAT’S THE KEY!   How can a person ever hope to be restored, not only wto what our life once looked like, but restored to the Life God has intended for us to be living if what they have built their life into isn’t first stripped away..

Depression and consequences of choices made often seem to build on one another creating a sort of Inner Perfect Storm.  There’s always this black cloud following me from the moment I arise each morning until I finally drift to sleep each night.  each day I awaken with the ever-present sadness that has plagued my life as of late.  Trying to find a way out of the chaos and a path to the end of my pain is most all I ever think about.  Perhaps, i’m unhappy, uncontent and without peace because I’m not living the life God has planned for me.  Which brings mye full-circle to the state of being broken.  To most of my peers, colleagues family and friends, this means there is something wrong with me,that must be repaired or set right.  I can get back to being “Morgan”, but the more I gaze into the heart of the Father the more I begin to see myself through his eyes and from his vantage point.  It’s hard, change always is.  It’s rough and real change, the kind that transforms something most would simply discard into something new and old, beautiful and weathered, and something that is once again useful. 

Through therapy I’ve learned a lot of skills that allow me to cope with the different challenges I face.  It’s a new fight each day.  Sometimes I win, not always, but the ratio of wins to losses is increasing all the time.  But, in times of “high” stress, not the debilitating kind, but the times where I must turn my mind, I stumbled across my new hobby woodworking.

This is where I find some beautiful inspiration.  I love the idea of taking things like old wood from a barn or old-style paned glass windows and turning these things into furniture.  It involves restoration and renewal; two sides of the same coin, but each important.

Restoration takes things most would consider to have served its purpose and is no longer useful and putting in time, energy and a lot of work to breathe new life into once was considered “Dead”.  Restoration begins by striping away all the former finish to reveal the unblemished surface beneath.  This process is always abrasive and takes a lot of work; yet is arguably the most important step on the road to renewal.  If you don’t get all the old off, the new will not hold.

The Psalmist speaks of how god views “broken” people in Psalms 51:7-17

 7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
   wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
   let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins
   and blot out all my iniquity.
 10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
   and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
   or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
   and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
   so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
   you who are God my Savior,
   and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
   and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
   you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is<sup class="footnote" value="[b]”> a broken spirit;
   a broken and contrite heart
   you, God, will not despise”

What is astonishing to me is that we all continue chasing after our own desires.  Many of us struggle to grab hold of a dream that doesn’t turn out to be a nightmare; or we find ourselves shipwrecked when our dreams come true, yet they were nothing like what we imagined.  Certain were we, that THIS life was what we wanted, what would make us happy, whole, complete and what we would die for; yet, instead it almost kills us.  It is exhausting trudging through life always thinking, “If I could just get that job or that house or that car or whatever we imagine up for ourselves, then everything would be ok.”  Only to discover that even if those things are achieved and those things are achieved and those dreams realized – they simply aren’t enough.  We find ourselves still searching for something more; something to fill the emptiness we feel deep within.  Its exactly this point that led me to my current state of brokenness.  Dreams seized and promptly self-shattered.

So, I find myself scattered into pieces; struggling, straining to figure out how to put myself back together.  But what if…

What if God doesn’t want me put back together?  What if God wants to take those random bits of me and restore the person whom He created and called to His service.  to take what once was filthy, old and ugly and turn it into something bold and beautiful.

To be continued….

Building A Life Worth Living: A Fresh Perspective

It is ironic how the thing that we often view as the “worst possible” circumstance or outcome or situation we may find ourselves becomes the thing from which the greatest milestones are made.

I very recently came to the point in which I couldn’t promise even myself that I wouldn’t take actions to harm myself.  For me, looking into the future is a dismal exercise; yet, it is the future that I most always look toward and plan for.  More often than not I see nothing but emptiness, darkness, a vast nothing that is more than overwhelming.  Other times I see a pitiful existence that is one of isolation and loneliness.   And then, like brilliant rays of sunlight breaking through the clouds, I get a glimpse of the life that God has laid out for me; a life worth living.

Which brings me to it; the event that allowed me the “time” and “place” to be in a position to look at my situation and affliction through the Father’s Eyes.  On friday of this week I had another attempt on my life.  This time I was resolute; determined to make this one the last attempt and first Success.  It seems God had other plans.  Somehow, I managed to gain enough composure and rational thought to call my therapist as I was on my way to the hospital.  I was driving myself to the E.R.  She was concerned about the cut on my wrist and whether the bleeding was severe.  I assured her it wasn’t.  After many hours and tests and doctors and blood work and recounting what I’ve been struggling for the millionth time; it was decided that I be admitted to the inpatient psychiatry ward of Tripler Army Medical Center. The outcome was that i FINALLY received adequate psychiatry care and proper meds that actually help.

The turning point for me though was not the docs or the meds, it was when the chaplain came to run one of the group sessions.  This chaplain however, was an islamic Chaplain.  He decided to speak on the topic of forgiveness.  AWESOME!  Then he asked two questions; the first, whom does forgiveness serve and second, am I worthy of forgiveness.   And here is where our thinking diverged.  His claim was that forgiveness serves the receiver and that we are born ‘noble human beings’ and ARE worthy of forgiveness.  Ok…the forgiveness serves the reciever i can sort of go with that as an explanation, but that leaves out one of the most important, in my opinion, in all of scripture…and that is to every truly experience anything in life you must first give it away.  The greatest example is John 3:16; for God so LOVED the world that He GAVE his only begotten son….”  True Forgiveness; that which keeps no record and holds no grudge….TRUE forgiveness is FOR the GIVER.  If frees the giver from all the negative aspects of being wounded carry…fear, anger, depression, etc.  I turn to the story of Joseph for the greatest example of a man whom had every reason to hold a grudge and been justified in doing so, yet, chose to look at the course of his life as necessary for the salvation of his whole family.

“You intended to harm me, but God meant it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

But as for you, ye thought evil against me,…. That must be said and owned, that their intentions were bad; they thought to have contradicted his dreams, and made them of none effect, to have token away his life, or however to have made him a slave all his days: but God meant it unto good; he designed good should come by it, and he brought good out of it: this shows that this action, which was sinful in itself, fell under the decree of God, or was the object of it, and that there was a concourse of providence in it; not that God was the author of sin, which neither his decree about it, nor the concourse of providence with the action as such supposes; he leaving the sinner wholly to his own will in it, and having no concern in the ataxy or disorder of it, but in the issue, through his infinite wisdom, causes it to work for good, as follows:to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive; the nation of the Egyptians and the neighbouring nations, as the Canaanites and others, and particularly his father’s family: thus the sin of the Jews in crucifying Christ, which, notwithstanding the determinate counsel of God, they most freely performed, was what wrought about the greatest good, the salvation of men.

So, while forgiveness, real, genuine forgiveness will have transitory effects which will flow to the receiver; it is FOR the Giver.  It frees them up to go about doing the business of the father and get what needs to be done accomplished.

There is so much more to it than that simple explanation.  I highly recommend reading the book “Total Forgiveness” by Pastor R.T. Kendell.

Now, as to the issue of the worthiness of Forgiveness.  To claim that one is automatically worthy for forgiveness is entirely ludicrous.  The very idea of forgiveness implies that there is a NEED to be forgiven, which further implies that an act, thought, word or even emotion fundamentally caused another or oneself harm.  But, all this is in regards to choices we are faced with.  Worthiness of forgiveness for “original sin”, if you want to call it that, is another thing all together.   To be forgiven for a STATE of BEING is another animal all together.  We are not WORTHY for a perfect, righteous and Holy God to pardon us for going and doing the one thing He told us not to do; in my mind I call that betrayal and disobedience.   i didn’t commit the crime but still suffer the affects of that decision.  And, I am not worthy for God Almighty to take on flesh and suffer and die as payment for my sin.  That is what makes forgiveness such a beautiful thing.  God did not allow His son to die for us, He allowed Christ to die for himself.  Jesus didn’t die FOR us, He did so FOR God.

Following Jesus While Rejecting the Bible? Yet Another Tragedy in Mainline Protestantism: This is ye

Following Jesus While Rejecting the Bible? Yet Another Tragedy in Mainline Protestantism: This is yet another tragedy in the sad history of mainline Protestantism’s race toward total theological disaster.

Single-Issue Theology

Have you ever heard of a single issue voter? According to Answers.com:
Broadly based political parties have declined in their ability to aggregate issues into coherent ideological packages linked to the aspirations of major social groupings. The vacuum created has been filled by fragmented forms of single issue politics. This is often characterized by a preoccupation with the particular issue to the exclusion of all others, an intensity of feeling about the issue and a willingness to devote considerable resources of time and money to its pursuit.
Is it possible that the Church is suffering from a similar problem? Have many modern-day pastors been unable to balance diverse theologies into a single, unified worldview? Maybe a Christian phrasing of the above quote could read like this:
The Church in America has declined in its ability to aggregate theologies into coherent doctrinal packages linked to the aspirations of God. The vacuum created has been filled by fragmented forms of single issue theologies. This is often characterized by a preoccupation with a particular theology to the exclusion of all others, an intensity of feeling about the theology and a willingness to devote considerable resources of speaking and writing to its proliferation. This is also marked by an inability to find common ground with other Christians who disagree about this one particular theology.
While doing some research for this post, I ran across an article from The Barna Group that had some startling statistics. According to their research “just 9% of all born again adults and just 7% of Protestants possess a biblical worldview.” Equally startling is that, according to their research, “only half of the country’s Protestant pastors – 51% – have a biblical worldview.” In a society that is Biblically illiterate, it’s easy to understand why so many of us have become single-issue theologians.
Are you unknowingly a single-issue theologian? If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my studies of the history of Christianity, it’s that we have a tendency to get so wrapped up in a single theological tenant that we forget or minimize many of the others. Consider, for example, hellfire and brimstone theologians; those are the guys whose evangelism tactics include picketing soldiers’ funerals and…well just about anything else because God hates all of it!
Hellfire and Brimstone Theologians
Some single issue theologians focus solely on the wrath of God to the exclusion of the love of God.
But on the opposite extreme we have love-and-grace-focused universalists—or modern pastors who are the same in practice—who honestly don’t need to evangelize because everyone is getting into Heaven through all routes!
Other single issue theologians focus solely on the love of God to the exclusion of the wrath of God.
Perhaps the key is to examine yourself and recognize your own influences and emphases and determine where you’re off-balance. We all lean heavily on one theology or another. Additionally, we need to make sure that we don’t focus on one single theological issue to the exclusion of all others. For example, the never-ending debate between advocates of predestination vs. those who emphasize human choice. There is still a lot of common ground that can be found between Calvinists and Arminianists; but too many of us are focused on our single-issue theologies.
While there are grounds upon which we cannot move, there are also grounds upon which we can agree to disagree. For example, according to the Barna Group, people having a biblical worldview believe that absolute moral truth exists and that it is based upon the Bible; they also believe in the accuracy of biblical teaching, the sinless nature of Jesus, the literal existence of Satan, the omnipotence and omniscience of God, salvation by grace alone, and the personal responsibility to evangelize. We must all agree in those areas but we’re free to disagree about how to communicate those truths and in some ways how to put those truths into practice.
My goal with this post is to encourage you to seek if you are off balance. Do you focus too much on the wrath of God and think He hates everyone? Do you focus too much on the love of God and think that no one will ever go to hell? Or do you realize that, in order to fully appreciate the love of God, you must fully understand the wrath of God? That’s just one example of balancing two extremes, but I encourage you to look at what you believe to see if you lean to one extreme or another.

Perspective

IMG_1004
Does your perspective prevent you from seeing things accurately?
A while back, Connie and I were eating at our favorite lunch spot—Europa Bakery—and I noticed that the painting on the wall was intentionally slanted as part of the ‘artistic expression.’ (I included part of the ceiling fixture and the thermostat so as to have reference points in the photo.) Connie was sitting with her back to the wall—the same wall that the painting was on—and I grew curious. “From her perspective,” I thought to myself, “would Connie be able to notice that this painting is completely un-level?”
I asked her to look at the painting and tell me if it was level. She couldn’t really tell from her perspective; a fact that I found to be very surprising considering how obvious it was from just an extra foot or two away from the wall. A few weeks ago at church, our pastor noted that, if close enough to your face, a dime could block your entire vision. Back off just a couple inches and you can clearly see past the dime. A similar phenomenon had happened with this painting. Connie was so close that she couldn’t see how slanted the painting was.
Which got me wondering how often I am blinded by my proximity to an issue. Are there things in my life that are “skewed” that I can’t even see because of how close I am to the issue? Perhaps I see everything clearly, but my perspective is the problem. Or perhaps there are things going on that seem big but really aren’t as big of a deal as I feel.
I think this is exactly why it’s so important for us to be connected to a good group of believers who will challenge us. Everyone quotes Proverbs 27:17 and acts as though they hope to find someone to help “sharpen” them. But have you ever stopped and thought about what that actually looks like? Consider the fact that there has to be collision and friction between the two pieces of iron. Any rough edges have to be smoothed out and undesirable materials have to be removed—almost violently!

I pray that I will be able to openly accept loving correction from others. I pray that God will give me the wisdom and insight to examine my life as objectively as I can for His glory. I also pray that I will have the humility to listen to my fellow Christians when they hold me accountable.

Judgment and the Love of God

I like to do daily devotions; for example, last year I did A Year with C. S. Lewis. If for no other reason than to make sure that, in addition to my daily Bible reading, I’m receiving daily instruction and teaching. This year I’m going through My Utmost for His Highest and a few days ago I read a passage that I found really inspiring (I’ve underline parts that really resonated with me):
The Christian servant must never forget that salvation is God’s idea, not man’s; therefore, it has an unfathomable depth. Salvation is the great thought of God, not an experience. Experience is simply the door through which salvation comes into the conscious level of our life so that we are aware of what has taken place on a much deeper level. Never preach the experience— preach the great thought of God behind the experience. When we preach, we are not simply proclaiming how people can be saved from hell and be made moral and pure; we are conveying good news about God.
In the teachings of Jesus Christ the element of judgment is always brought out— it is the sign of the love of God. Never sympathize with someone who finds it difficult to get to God; God is not to blame. It is not for us to figure out the reason for the difficulty, but only to present the truth of God so that the Spirit of God will reveal what is wrong. The greatest test of the quality of our preaching is whether or not it brings everyone to judgment. When the truth is preached, the Spirit of God brings each person face to face with God Himself.
If Jesus ever commanded us to do something that He was unable to equip us to accomplish, He would be a liar. And if we make our own inability a stumbling block or an excuse not to be obedient, it means that we are telling God that there is something which He has not yet taken into account. Every element of our own self-reliance must be put to death by the power of God. The moment we recognize our complete weakness and our dependence upon Him will be the very moment that the Spirit of God will exhibit His power.
I can’t help but see three distinct takeaways from this passage:
  1. The beautiful reality that salvation is God’s idea; not ours. For me, this liberates me from any type of works-based salvation. Salvation is God’s idea and, therefore, God’s gift.
  2. Authentic appreciation of the gift of salvation grows out of an understanding of God’s judgment. I truly believe that we don’t understand the value of God’s gift unless we understand the cost of God’s gift.
  3. Because this gift is something we did nothing to earn (in fact, it’s impossible for us to earn) we must realize that self-reliance is foolishness. It is in our weakness that God shows His strength most clearly.

Why such harsh discipline?

I’ve heard it asked many times and in many different ways: “Why is God so harsh in the Old Testament?” Or perhaps it’s phrased like this:  “How could a loving God command His people to kill ‘innocent’ women and children?” One buddy of mine even suggests that the God of the Old Testament is not the same God as the one of the New Testament.
Does the punishment fit the crime?

For example, consider the story of Achan:  In Joshua 6:18 the people of Israel (Achan included) were told to keep themselves from the things devoted to destruction, otherwise they would bring trouble upon Israel. Then in Joshua 7:1, Achan decides that rule doesn’t really apply to him, so he took some of the devoted things. Next in Joshua 7:11-12, God is pronouncing Israel guilty of breaking the covenant and declares that they will be unable to defend themselves in any military engagement. For a group of desert nomads who just entered enemy territory, this is a death sentence!
Stoning of Achan
Joshua 7:24-25:  “The Stoning of Achan”
In order to satisfy God’s wrath, everyone in Israel stoned Achan and his entire family (Josh 7:24-25). All this because he took some silver, a cloak, and a bar of gold (Josh 7:25). Does the punishment fit the crime? Many skeptics use stories like this to claim that God is not good, but I think they fail to take everything into account.
However, before answering this question, I would like to point out what I believe to be a fatal flaw in its logic. In order to even ask this question, you have to assume that you have the authority to question the will and actions of God. You have to assume that you somehow have the authority to demand an explanation of God. I know this statement won’t be popular, but I believe that reveals an arrogant heart. So if you’re a believer, consider whether or not you have any authority to question God. If you’re a non-believer, then consider that, if there is a Creator-God, then why wouldn’t he have the authority to make these demands? Also, whether you’re a believer or a non-believer, ask yourself who gets to define what is and is not “loving.” People will often phrase this question “How could a loving God…” as though they understand what love is and God needs to correct His behavior to match our definition. The Bible says that God is love (1 Jn 4:8). Do we define what “love” is and then demand that God conforms to our definition, or do read the Scriptures in order to better understand God and, when necessary, make adjustments to our definition of love?
Before answering the questions posed at the beginning of this post, it’s important that you examine your heart to determine why you think this is unjust in the first place. And one last thing before we get into our answers:  it’s easy to take one small instance like this out of context and try to use it as “ammo” against God. In order to do this though, you have to ignore the 40 years that God was patient with a stiff-necked, faithless, disobedient people. You have to ignore the parts where God patiently and repeatedly spares the nation of Israel. You have to ignore the parts where God miraculously parts the Red Sea, saves His people, and within a week they’re already complaining about how much better it was in Egypt. You have to ignore the parts where God faithfully provided daily bread for His people. In order to find these nuggets of “ammo” you literally have to sift through a mountain of evidence for the grace of God. This is intellectually dishonest. So, with those two digressions out of the way, let’s look at the rest of the story.

God had clearly demonstrated His power to His people for His glory.
Read what happens earlier in the story, consider who these people were, and let’s look at just three miracles they had witnessed:  the bread, the sea, and the fall of Jericho.
Achan and his generation of Israelites were a group that had grown up subsisting primarily off of God’s manna. If anyone should have known to trust and obey God, it would have been a generation that had lived their entire life wandering in the desert, with God in their midst, living off his daily bread. At this point in Achan’s life, God should have earned at least the benefit of the doubt. Instead, Achan decided that God wasn’t really trustworthy and that he could make his own decisions for himself.
This group had also crossed the Jordan River; in fact, it had stopped much like the Red Sea (Josh 3:16-17). What I find most amazing about this account is that—as far as I can tell—it looks like the priests literally had to step out into the water and as their feet were coming down the water stopped and dry ground appeared. There was an element of “stepping out” that they were responsible for. Achan would have been one of the people who walked across the dry ground where a river had just been. Achan would have witnessed undeniable evidence of God’s power over nature and authority over all creation. What excuse would Achan have for denying such power and authority?
Next this group witnessed the walls of Jericho fall as the result of them shouting and playing some musical instruments; clearly the work of the Lord (Josh 7:20). There’s no way they could explain this except that the hand of God had been working for them. It’s likely they expected some brilliant military strategy to be revealed to them from God once they entered the Promised Land. But God wanted Jericho to fall in a way that would make it clear that He was responsible for the victory. God says as much in Joshua 6:2 when He tells Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor.” God had clearly demonstrated His power to His people for His glory.
Suicide.

Which brings me to a question:  After God had so clearly revealed Himself to His people, shouldn’t Achan have known better?
Wouldn’t it be foolish to disobey God after He had provided so many undeniable revelations of Himself? Who could deny both God’s power and His authority after literally subsisting off His daily bread, witnessing His supreme authority over creation, and witnessing His unstoppable power in war? It would be suicide to rebel against such authority—indeed, it proves to be just that. Achan, once he’s revealed as the traitor (by God, no less) readily admitted his guilt (Josh 7:20). Achan knew he was doing wrong and he knew Who he was disobeying. It’s honestly quite foolish, isn’t it? It’s suicide, isn’t it? Ravi Zacharias put it this way when he came to Alaska:  “Where there is a dramatic display of his power in the miraculous, there is an equal dramatic judgment when that miracle is disregarded and violated. To whom much is given, much is required.”
While doing a little background research for this post I ran across another good explanation for a similar account in Numbers 15 where a man is stoned for picking up sticks on the Sabbath. The argument basically goes that it’s not our place to determine which commands from God are important to follow and which are optional. Imagine if God’s people saw this man breaking the Sabbath so they decided they could also disregard many of the sanitary and dietary laws. In the long run, it’s not hard to imagine that thousands of people would have died as a result of infections, epidemics, food poisoning, and the like. Thus, it was far more merciful to kill one law breaker as an example to emphasize the necessity of following God than to be “merciful” and let thousands of people kill themselves through disobedience.
Another perspective is found in Daniel 4:34-35: 
For his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
   and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
   and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
   and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
   or say to him, “What have you done?”
Of course, we don’t like that explanation, do we? “How dare God assume any authority over His creation. How dare God assume that He can command us. We have rights! Doesn’t God know we have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Duh, God; get with the times. It’s the 21st century! That authority thing is so out-dated.”
Just reading it like that should make you realize how ridiculous that mentality is. The truth is that the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and God does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, “What have you done?”  (Pastor Matt Chandler did an amazing series about authority that I would highly recommend.)
So here are—in my opinion—three good answers to why God was so “harsh” with Achan:
  1. Achan had seen God’s power in undeniable ways and knowingly signed his own death warrant when he denied God’s authority.
  2. Achan’s selfish trespass could have easily led to the deaths of thousands of others had they witnessed his disobedience go unpunished and decided to imitate his rebellion.
  3. Achan lacked any power or authority to question God or to stop Him.
The good news is that God is merciful and patient with us, but it’s certainly not because we deserve it.

Excuses?

excuses
Image courtesy of Jim Rohan
Something you should know about me: I’m really mean. For example, if there’s an established standard that people know about and have had adequate time to prepare for, I think they should be held to it! 😉
The standards are there for a reason.
A while back, at the gym, I watched a lady take her Physical Training test (PT test). She didn’t look like she was overweight or injured or anything like that. She just looked like she wasn’t very good at running. In fact, at one point she stopped running and had to walk; she couldn’t even finish the run portion of her PT test. I didn’t think things were going to end well for her, and sure enough, as I was leaving the gym I saw her sitting down on a bench near the exit with her head in her hands, looking very upset.
I don’t bring this up to make fun of her, instead I bring it up to make a point. When we are faced with a standard, all of our excuses will be revealed as inadequate. It’s easy two months before a test to slack off and to take it easy: “I’ve got plenty of time until my test!” But then it suddenly sneaks up on you. It didn’t matter how great her excuses were for her PT test, she failed. The standards are there for a reason; they matter.
The standard is non-negotiable; and it’s perfection.

The same thing applies to us and the Law. God made a clearly established standard. It’s been clearly and specifically communicated to us through His Law. It’s been intuitively communicated to all humanity for all time through the conscience. The standard is non-negotiable; and it’s perfection.
God makes this clear when He gives the Law in the Old Testament. Thrice He tells His people to consecrate themselves and be holy (Lev. 11:44–45; 19:2; 20:26). According to my good ol’ Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, consecration means: “Separation of persons, utensils, buildings, or places from everyday secular uses for exclusive dedication to holy or sacred use (511).” And, just to make sure we perfectly understand what God is asking of us—and to make matters far worse—holiness is described as such: “In the OT, holiness as applied to God signifies his transcendence over the creation and the moral perfection of his character (984).”
Sweet! So now we understand what’s required of us: absolute, unwavering, lifelong devotion to God and God alone in the form of moral perfection. Jesus always had a way with words; in Matthew 5:48 He summarized it like this: “Be perfect.”


The exception to the rule!

“Wait, what?! Isn’t that a little high?” Yeah, it is. It’s real high. You better get to work.
“Are there any exceptions to this rule? I’m pretty sure I’m the exception.” Ha-ha, you’re funny; there are no exceptions. And by the way, everyone thinks they’re the exception almost without exception! We all say that standards are good to have…for other people; but they shouldn’t apply to us!
“Why is the standard so why? I’ll never make it.” That’s a good question; the standard is so high to show you that you’ll never make it on your own. We all would likely claim that we’re not perfect, but that we’re still a good person. The problem is, being a good person (or trying your best) is not the standard. I just showed you the standard: perfection. Is that something you can live up to? Me neither…

The Good News.
The truth is, there is one exception to the rule. The truth is, because of the finished work of Christ I get to be the exception of the rule; and so do you! The “Good News” is that we can have someone stand in our place when we’re judged against the standard of perfection; we can be the exception to the rule because someone has met all the requirements of the Law on our behalf.
How is this not good news? It sorrows me to see so many people trying to earn their way into Heaven. It won’t work! At The Resurgence, I recently read a great article entitled Moralism’s Cruel Stick and Carrot by Matt Johnson. While we can train for and meet the standards of our PT test, the standards of the Law are impossible for us to meet.
God, in His grace, has given us a chance to be the exception to the rule; will you take it?