As I said at the beginning of the service, I refuse to ignore the elephant in the room.  The very large elephant in the room, at this point in time.  So, I would invite you to take out that note sheet, to flip it over; you’re on your own today.  We will pick up on our series on the letter to the Philippian church next week.

I’m confident that by now you’re aware that Chris Hutchinson, who served as our youth pastor for roughly five years, two months ago was found guilty of two felonies:  sexual assault and sexual assault on a minor by a person in a position of trust.  Friday was his sentencing.  I’m guessing that you are aware that he received ninety days in jail and 20 years to life on the most serious sex offender’s probation list.   To say that this news is difficult and devastating is an understatement.  For many in this Body, the last few months have been filled with grief, have been filled with mourning, have been filled with anger, have been filled with questions and confusion, and this Friday only served to exacerbate and stir up many of those questions, comments and concerns.

To say that Chris’ actions have seriously impacted the victim and many other people is an understatement.  To say that Chris’ actions have hurt himself and his family is an understatement.  So as a Body we continue to feel the shockwaves of innocence lost, of trust betrayed, and authority abused.

While Chris was not employed at South Fellowship Church during the time of the actions, I know that many of you have had to answer questions from friends, family and neighbors — “Is that the church you go to?  Are you WITH the people who support a known sex offender?”  Nearly every major news channel did some sort of story on this case.  We’ve had nasty comments on our FaceBook page every single day since this happened.  I’ve received not the kindest of emails, as you may very well imagine.  Our web page has gotten a number of new views.  The public opinion of this church, of our Body at this point, is not very good.  It doesn’t take a genius to deduce that.  I read a note from one of our regular attenders who said she received numerous phone calls from neighbors and friends in her community who she has been reaching out to for years, asking if that was the church she went to.

The media has made it a point to point out the number of letters written in support of Chris.  I want to stand before you today and assure you that none of those letters came from any of the elders, leaders or pastors in this church.  I stand before you to confess that I wrote one letter.  I wrote a letter to the victim.  I wrote a letter to the victim thanking her for her bravery.  I wrote a letter to the victim thanking her for drawing what was evil and covered in darkness out into the light.  I wrote a letter saying that I supported her 100% and I stand before you today to tell you I have not changed my mind.  Neither has the elder board.  That’s where we’ve been throughout this entire process.  I want to tell you that because I’m a dad of three kids.  If this ever becomes an unsafe place for my kids to go to church, I will resign that day.  When we give support to a perpetrator, we create an unsafe place.  That is not what we have done as a church.  I want to assure you of that.  As leaders of the church, we have taken this very seriously.

Many have lamented over the past months, “Why does this happen so often? Why does this happen so often in churches?”  I don’t know.  I’d love to be able to stand up here today and tell you, “Here, let me give you three reasons why this happens so often in churches and here’s what we can do to prevent it.”  I’m going to teach from the Scriptures today about the severity of sin, but I can’t tell you why this happens so often in churches.  I can only tell you that as a pastor, the attack from the Enemy is fierce.  So, as elders, pastors, leaders, we need you to pray for us.  I don’t know why it happens, but I do know the Scriptures are crystal clear.  James 3:1 — Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.  Because of the way our actions as leaders have the ability to influence, both positively and negatively, the people under our care and under our watch, our lives will be put under a microscope and we will give an account.

Over the last few months, you have seen South Fellowship Church get passionately involved in helping children around the world who are captured in slavery.  We’re simply following Jesus’ passionate plea to care for children — the most vulnerable of people who walk or toddle the face of our planet.  Jesus says (if you don’t like this, you don’t like the words of Jesus): Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come!  It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. (Luke 17:1-2)   Jesus takes this very seriously.  WE take this very seriously.  I want to stand before you today and remind you that ultimately God will be the judge.  But as an elder board, we continue our unwavering support of the victim (which we have from the very beginning, since the verdict in this case) AND we continue to hold out love and hope and grace to every single person involved in this.  You hearing me??  There’s a tension there, you guys, and if I stood before you as your pastor and said, “Well, we’ve resolved the tension there,” I’d be a liar, or feeble-minded.  There’s a tension there and we are doing our best to continue to follow the lead of Jesus in this.  And we will continue to do our best to follow the lead of Jesus.

As I sat in the courtroom on Friday and I saw both the victim and Chris standing there, it broke my heart.  It broke my heart because of the way that sin has dramatically and drastically changed THOSE two lives, but it broke my heart because of the way that innumerable people are impacted, influenced and changed because of those terrible decisions.  I found myself thinking about my family.  I found myself thinking about you, my church family.  I found myself lamenting and crying out to God that the brokenness in the world that we live in touches us, even those who are called according to his purpose.

Here’s what I want to do today.  I want to address the elephant in the room, but I’m not going to talk anymore about Chris.  And I’m not going to talk anymore about the victim.  I want to talk about you and me.  I want to talk about the reality that {Look up at me for a second, guys.  I love you!} every single one of us in this room is ONE TERRIBLE decision away from changing the entire course of our life.  The reality and the weight of that haunts me.  I want to fight for your joy.  I want to fight for your life.  I want to fight for your vitality.  I made a statement, now I want to preach from my heart.  Is that okay?

Will you open to Joshua 7?  I want to give some context as we jump into this passage.  Joshua 6 — If you’re familiar with the flannel graph from Sunday School, Joshua 6 is when the marching band marches around the walls of Jericho and they fall down.  Wasn’t exactly the most strategic of battle plans, but it’s exactly what God told them to do.  Get the marching band ready; march around Jericho seven times and on the seventh time the walls are going to fall.  They did it.  They obeyed and one of the most powerful and influential cities on THAT side of the Jordan River fell before their very eyes.  I don’t know if you can imagine what that celebration might have been like, but my guess is that the celebration lasted into the wee hours of the morning.  There was one command given in Joshua 6:18-19.  The Lord clearly says to the nation of Israel don’t touch any of the gold, don’t touch any of the silver, any of the devoted things.  Those are to remain there, they’re an offering to the Lord, your God.  What we’re going to find is that there’s one in the midst of Israel’s camp who disobeys this very clear and succinct imperative/command from the Lord.

If you open to Joshua 7, here’s the first word: But.  So after this great victory, after they walk and they cross the Jordan River—-the Jordan River parts before their very eyes.  They’ve seen God do two crazy, miraculous miracles on their behalf.  Immediately what happens is this “Ok, God, we saw the miracle, we saw your gracious hand, but we’re going to do our own thing, God.  We’re going to go our own way.”   Here’s what you’re going to see throughout this passage and throughout our lives and if you turn on the news, THIS is what you are going to see:  Rebellion against God leads to ruin in our lives.  It’s going to happen in the story of Achan.  It’s happened over the past few months in the life of the Body of our church and other churches around this city.  Rebellion—refusal to say God, you’re the author of life so I’m going to surrender, I’m going to bow and I’m going to walk with you; an unwillingness to say back to God, you are God and I’m willing to follow in your way.  Rebellion always leads to ruin.  And it’s devastating.  And it’s sad.  As followers of the way of Jesus, it should get us angry…at the way that we see it, not in everybody else’s life—that would be way too easy this morning, you guys.  The way that we see it in our life.  In the way that it’s reflected in the relationships that WE have.  Here’s what I want to do.  I want to point out for you what happens in the life of this man named Achan.  I want to point out what’s behind this.  God commanded them to do it and God did the miraculous, but the people of Israel……I want to unpack for you what happens in this instance.  Like I said, I want to unpack it for the one explicit hope that it might prevent somebody in this room from making a decision that will change the rest of their life.

So here’s what happens.  We see that rebellion against God—we’re going to see this all throughout this passage—leads to ruin in our own lives and that sin happens.  So people that ask the question, “How could something like this happen?  How could this happen so often in the church?”  I don’t know the exact answer, but I DO know that sin always starts in small compromises that eventually lead to devastating actions.  So let me unpack that from this passage.  Here’s my hope, I just want to plead with you a little bit that if we catch it here, it doesn’t have to destroy our lives.  If we catch it here, we can repent, we can confess, we can come back before God and we can receive mercy and grace and help in our time of need.  Listen, His grace is available to all at any point in time.  I want to be clear with that.  But there are consequences of our actions that are very real and they are very practical in the every day lives that we live.  But if we catch it here, you guys, we can do battle for our joy.

It says: But the people of Israel broke faith.  {So before the author of Joshua wants to tell you what happened, he wants to tell you WHY it happened.  I don’t know all the reasons and I don’t know all the ins and outs, I can only tell you that I am confident that in every time we fall into sin we first fail in devotion.  This idea of “breaking faith,” in the Hebrew, is the idea of breaking a covenantal vow.  Like the breaking of a marriage vow. That’s what he’s getting at.}  …in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things.  And the anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel.  The first thing that happens, friends, when you and I fall into sin is a breaking of relationship before a breaking of law.  You need to get that, because you and I, we cannot have an empty seat on the throne of our hearts.  We will fill it with something.  So when we take God off of that throne, we will vehemently and passionately pursue something else to put on that.  We can’t have an empty seat on the throne of our hearts.  Here’s the first step:  We break faith in God.  Here’s what Paul says in the book of Romans (1:24-25):  Therefore God gave them over (up) in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. What happened first?  Oh, the worship was off.  See, friends, we always worship our way into sin and we always worship our way out.  Before we break the law, we always break devotion.  A sin problem is first and foremost a worship problem.

But Joshua, the leader of Israel at this point in time, is going to confront the people.  He’s going to ask who is it who took the devoted things.  Who’s put us in this position?   Where we’re in the land of victory but we’re experiencing defeat.  Who is it that’s done this?  He eventually confronts Achan.  Achan’s going to invite you into the process.  He’s going to invite you into what happened… him.  He’s going to invite you into what happens with us.  (Verse 20) And Achan answered Joshua, “Truly I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I did:  when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels….  He says, “I SAW it.”  Here’s what’s interesting….everybody else saw it too.  Every single person that was walking into Jericho, after the walls had fallen and the nation of Israel’s been victorious, sees it!  But Achan sees it differently, because of the way he’s broken faith with God.  Achan sees it as something that can fill him up, something that can satisfy him, something that he can build his life on.  THAT’S how Achan sees it.  It’s how we see things too, friends.  When there’s an empty throne on our heart, when we break faith with God, we start to see the things that we pass by.  We start to see the things that we pursue, not as something that’s a blessing from God, but something to be worshipped AS God.  And that’s why he makes the decision he makes.  Step 2 is we start to see the things around us as being appetizing/enticing.  We start to think they might be the answer to our problem, but make no mistake about it, if step one never happens, step two never happens.  In your life, the life of anybody you read about in the news, or in Achan’s life.

So, he sees it.  He sees it differently than everybody else and then it says……he’s walking us through the process of how we fall into sin.  I saw it then I coveted them.  It’s this idea of I lusted after it.  Here’s how you could read what Achan’s saying:  I believed the lie that if I got those things then I would be okay.  I believed the lie that if I got a little bit more of what I already had then I would be fulfilled.  Anybody else bought that lie at some point in their life?  {Halos aren’t on too tight this morning, praise the Lord.}  We’ve all bought that lie. That is THE lie, isn’t it?  It’s Adam and Eve sitting in the Garden and the Enemy of their souls coming up to them and saying, “Hey, look at all this stuff God has made, but don’t touch that one thing.  And by the way, the thing you’re not allowed to touch….look at how good it looks.  Imagine how good it will taste.”  They start to think to themselves, “God must be holding out on me.”  God must be preventing me from walking into joy.  God must be the enemy….rather than the victor.  And so, I’m going to pursue the things He said no to in order to receive what He longs to give me.  That’s what coveting is.  That’s what it is for Achan, that’s what it is for you and me. Here’s the lie:  We believe it will satisfy.

You see where this is going with Achan, right?  He breaks faith with God.  He sees the things around him differently.  He covets them.  And then he took them.  The very things that God said, “Don’t touch.  Those are an offering to me.  I’ve been gracious, I’ve been good to you.  Stay away from them.  I want your joy.  I want your vitality.  I want your life.”  The very thing God said no to, (Achan) said I’m chasing down.  We never get to Step 4 where we commit sin, unless we miss step one.  Which is the worship of the one True God.  When we break faith with God, we’re always in the position to walk into the very place that He wants to, because of his goodness and grace, keep us from.  The book of James will affirm this in case you’re wondering Paulson, is that consistent throughout Scripture.  You tell me.  James 1:14-15 — But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. {Sounds alot like seeing and coveting, yes?}  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. It’s one thing to read it theologically and conceptually in the book of James, it’s a whole other thing to read it in a narrative in the book of Joshua. They’re saying the same thing though.  It’s pushing on our lives, you guys, to say, “Okay, if we can keep the faith, we can preserve the vitality of life we were designed to live.”   Because rebellion against God always leads to ruin in our lives.

We see that a series of small compromises leads to a massive defeat for the army.  The nation of Israel has just conquered one of the most powerful cities in all of the Promised Land in Jericho, and now they go against Ai, one of these very small little cities.  They send a portion of their army; they don’t even send the whole army because they’re confident that they are going to absolutely demolish them.  Thirty-six of their men die in battle.  Which may not sound like a whole lot, but for the nation of Israel this is going to be the only defeat that they really suffer in their whole conquest.  For them, it’s shocking!  A few days earlier, the marching band won a victory and now their army gets defeated by the small, insignificant city.  They’re going, “What in the world is happening?”  Joshua, being the good leader he is, goes to God and asks, “God, what in the world is happening?” Joshua 7:10-13 — The Lord said to Joshua, “Get up!”  {Don’t you love it?  As I was reading that early this morning, I thought it was a word for somebody here.  You cannot let sin keep you on your back.  Get up!  Rise up!}  “Why have you fallen on your face?  Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies.   {Isn’t it interesting that the impact of sin equals our enemy defeats us.  You can say it like this:  Rebellion against God leads to ruin in our lives.}  They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction.  I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you.  Get up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow; for thus says the Lord, God of Israel, “There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel.  You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.”   A lot of us would love to say listen, in our own effort and in our own pride, we can stand even though there’s sin in our life, there’s things that we’re trying to hide, there’s things that we’re trying to distance ourself from in some ways, but really our heart is still holding on.  What God would say very clearly to you this morning (not to anybody you’ve seen on the news) is that it is impossible to STAND if we’re holding on to sin. Impossible.

Here’s what happens: Sin in the life of Israel, in the life of you and I, forfeits God’s blessing and intimacy with Him.  You see it really clearly.  God says back to Joshua, “I will not be you any more.”  That’s a hard thing for us to hear.  Yes?  That’s devastating.  Is it that God is gone?  No, it’s not.  His presence bathes this world.  We swim in it.  He’s everywhere.  There’s not a corner of this globe, the Scriptures say, that is not drenched in His glory and His presence.  Well, if that’s true, then what is it saying?  What the Scriptures are saying is that God has lifted his hand of protection, God has lifted his hand of blessing, God has lifted his manifest, tangible presence with this nation because they’ve chosen to hold on to something other than Him.  The sin in their midst is going to prevent them from walking intimately with God.  And friends, the same thing happens to us.  If we have sin in our lives that is a secret, that is unconfessed and not dealt with, it will absolutely cause us to feel like there is a barricade between us and our Lord.  That’s why for some of you it’s really hard to pray.  Because you’re reaching out to God, but there’s a whole lot of other things in your hands.  You can’t cling to God when something else is in your hands.  Jonah 2:8 says:  Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. (NIV)   It happens.  It happens to you, it happens to me.  We say, “God, I want to distance myself from you in order to hold on to these things that have captured my heart.”

Joshua, being the good leader, that he is, decides that the nation of Israel cannot go on living with this sin amongst his people because it affects everyone.  They’re forfeiting the blessing of God and intimacy with Him. He decides he needs to find out who has stolen from the Lord.  He brings all the tribes out one by one, narrows it down to the tribe of Judah and eventually lands on Achan as the one who has sinned.  Listen to what Joshua says to him:  Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and honor him.  Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me.” (Joshua 7:19)   It’s literally hidden in his tent.  He’s dug a hole and buried it under his tent.  What Joshua says is both literally and figuratively to be taken.  What’s buried underneath needs to come out, Achan.  What’s buried underground needs to be seen in the light.

After they identify Achan (verse 22):  So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and behold, it was hidden in his tent with the silver underneath.  And they took them out of the tent and brought them to Joshua and to all the people of Israel.  And they laid them down before the Lord.  And Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver and the cloak and the bar of gold, and his sons and daughters and his oxen and donkeys and sheep and his tent and all that he had.  And they brought them up to the Valley of Achor.  We’ve just got to let it sit there for a second, you guys.  This decision that he makes to say to God, “No, thank you,” affects him and it affects his entire family.  No one in Achan’s reach is untouched by his sin.  No one in your reach is untouched by your sin.  No one.  So not only does it forfeit the blessing of God and intimacy with Him, sin never remains hidden and always affects the people closest to us.  How silly, right, that Achan thinks he can hide this from the one who spoke the world into existence.  What a joke!  But we play the same game.

Let me tell you three lies Achan believes: 1) My sin only affects me.  That’s his first lie.  I’m going to be able to contain this; I’m going to be able to bury it; I’m going to be able to have this only, if it affects anybody—I think he probably believes in his heart of hearts it’s not going to affect him either—affect me.  This decision to take this gold will only affect me.  This decision to look at whatever I look at online will only affect me.  This decision to get into this habit and do this thing will only affect me.  GARBAGE!!!  It affects everyone.  The ripple effects of it affect everyone.  You guys, the saddest thing about this for me is not only the way the victim of this was affected and is affected and will be affected, but that Chris’ family is deeply changed forever. It’s devastating!  If we continue to buy the lie, you guys, that our sin only affects us, we will continue to trivialize the very thing that could destroy the people we love the most.  I’m sorry to get emotional, but I just want to plead with you.

My sin only affects me.   (#2) I can hide my sin from God and others.  Which is why the Scriptures are so clear. In James 5:16, the invitation to confess our sin and to receive healing.  It’s there.  It’s possible.  It’s open to you. That’s why Celebrate Recovery is so powerful, because you walk in the door and say, “Hi! My name is Ryan and I am messed up.”  Everybody else goes, “Hey, me too!”  There’s power in bringing what’s hidden into the light.

Here’s the third lie:  Achan believes what happens in Jericho stays in Jericho.  It never does.  (Verse 25) Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us?  The Lord brings trouble on you today.”  And all Israel stoned him with stones.  They burned them with fire and stoned them with stones. {The “them” here, in case you’re having trouble tracking with previous verses, is his entire family.}  And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day.  Then the Lord turned from his burning anger.  Therefore, to this day the name of that place is called the Valley of Achor.   Okay, let’s have a moment of honesty—who’s a little bit turned off by that ending?  We read it and go, “Seriously?? Did all of that need to happen?”  Yet we read in the Scriptures really clearly that the wages of sin is death.  But we read it in the story and it feels a lot differently, doesn’t it? It sounds a lot different.  We have this tendency, you guys, to trivialize sin and to make it seem like it’s not that bad.  I want to assure you that the God of the universe does not view it that way.  Here’s what I would say: Sin warrants punishment by a just and holy God.

You want some more bad news?  We’re all in this boat, friends.  We can look around and think well, they’re worse than me.  Or praise the Lord, I’m not fill-in-the-blank.  We’re deceiving ourselves because this is the boat that we’re all in.  God doesn’t wink at sin; He doesn’t turn his head from it; He absolutely hates it!  The Scriptures are clear in saying: If we say (claim) we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1John 1:8) 

So the picture we get of Achan is something that you and I all deserve.  It’s what, by our rebellion against God, we would rightfully step under.  We’ve dethroned God; we’ve turned to trinkets instead of the one true God. There is not one person in this room who is not, or was not, in that boat.  We need to understand that.  We need to let the weight of that sit on us, before we start lobbing stones at somebody else or another situation. We’ve gotta say, “Search me, God; know me.  Point out if there’s anyway wicked within me and lead me in the pathway of righteousness.”  I just want to give you some time to do that.  I want to give you some moments; put your Bible away; put your notes away, if you’re taking any.  I want to invite you, if you’re lead or able, to either kneel or to just have your palms open to the sky.  I just want to say back to God, would you pray with me?

God, it’s so easy to see what happened with Chris and to think it could never be us.  But for the grace of God go we.  Lord, this morning, we cry out.  We admit that we need you.  That we fall short.  That every single person in here is one terrible mistake away from changing their entire life.  The weight of that sits on us, God, and we recognize this morning that rebellion against you always leads to ruin in our lives, either on a small scale or on a massive scale.  So we bow….confess.  I invite you to do that silently in your own heart.  {Aaron sings:  We bow our hearts, we bend our knees; O Spirit, come make us humble. We turn our eyes from evil things, O Lord, we cast down our idols.}   That’s our prayer, Jesus.  We don’t want to look anywhere other than ourselves today and admit that we’re in need of your grace; we’re in need of your mercy.  And we’re thankful that you graciously give it.

Friends, our God is just.  He will not leave sin unpunished.  It’s absolutely true.  That’s why the sacrifice of his Son was absolutely necessary.  Jesus comes and he lives the perfect life.  He lives the life that I should have lived and he dies the death that I should have died.  See, just like Achan, Jesus was dragged outside of the city and he wasn’t stoned, but he was pinned to a Roman cross giving his very life for the sin that put him there and held him there.  The sin he carries is not his own, friends.  The sin he carries is yours and mine.  The story of Achan is a picture of what we rightfully deserve, but the story of Jesus is the grace that we now stand in; the mercy that is ours.  2 Corinthians 5:21 says that He (Jesus) became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.  That’s the great exchange, friends.  He gets my sin, I get his perfection.  He gets my punishment, I get his reward.  He gets my condemnation, I get his righteousness.  Friends, this is grace.  This is the gospel.  Today, if you hear his voice, don’t harden your hearts.  Don’t continue to hold on to the things that are going to destroy you.  LIFE is on the line.  Yes, the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life. (Romans 6:23)  And, yes, if we claim to be without sin we are a liar and the truth is not in us, but if we are faithful to confess our sins, He will forgive us and cleanse from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

{Ryan leads into Communion.}