Archive for January, 2017

Deuteronomy 10:12-11:7 (Part 3 of 7)

A Call to Love and Obedience

Have you ever had a conversation with someone or with a group of friends and you say, “Wait a minute! How did we get to talking about this?” You know those wandering conversations that you have friends sometimes. You start out talking about the rivalry between Clemson University and the University of South Carolina and their most recent trends in football and somehow twenty minutes later the conversation is about who will be the Republican nominee for President in 2020. That’s when you have to do, what I call, a conversation audit. You have to follow the audit trail of the conversation back to its beginning and see where the conversation took its twist and turns. The Clemson-South Carolina conversation starter, diverted when someone talked about South Carolina Governor Ms. Nikki Haley being a Clemson graduate, then that turned into a conversation about her being a rising star in the Republican Party, and that became a discussion about what Trump’s presidency means for her political career and those of other rising stars in the party. Then, that became a conversation about how Trump would be a one-termer even if he is a successful president because at the end of four years he will most likely tire of the presidency and move on to something else. Then, it became a conversation about how critical the 2020 election would become because the liberals will be out for blood because of their feeling that the election was stolen from them. Then, that became a conversation about “who are we, chopped liver?” We are the majority of people in the majority of states that voted for Trump and against Clinton. Then, that became a conversation about again how, if we thought 2016 was an important election, then 2020 would be more important when Trump leaves a political vacuum and there most be a moderate Republican in 2020 which drives us back to Nikki Haley which drives us back to Clemson which drives us back to the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry and how it would suck for Gamecock fans to watch Clemson win the national championship in football and then watch a Clemson grad win the presidency in 2020 and see the Tiger paw on the White House for 4 or more years.

 

You see the conversation trail. You see how one person diverted a conversation from a talk about the Clemson-South Carolina football rivalry into a conversation about politics for which it took probably an hour to get back to the original point. Someone with politics on their mind decided to usurp and detour the conversation. That wanted to really talk about the future of the Republican Party after what they assume will be the political vacuum created by Donald Trump when he leaves office after one term. To them, their passion was about how the presidency is simply the next prize for Donald Trump, something to put on his life’s resume. Sure, he tapped into the general population’s angst against the urban liberal control of our minds and thoughts and rode that to the White House. They believe that though Trump was a kick in the pants the political system sorely needed that Trump will be very clunky as president and will get little done. That is why it may dangerous for people to be in his administration. Four years from now, Trump will say, “screw this…I want to go make big huge deals again!” What will that do to the presidential race when this grand experiment ends in 2020. Will it be an even more radicalized Democratic Party out for vengeance or will it be a moderate Republican. Nikki Haley, of course, is a rising in the Party. She’s got to play her cards right over the next 4 years as the UN Ambassador, not if she is confirmed but when, so that she can emerge as one of the political rockets in the 2020 presidential campaign. That’s what the diverter of the conversation had on their heart when they walked in the room and sat down with friends. So, they pounced on the opportunity, to bring up Nikki Haley’s Clemson heritage so as to get to their own agenda for the conversation.

 

Have you ever been a part of a conversation like that? That ended up in a completely different place, a different planet, from where you started. Like I said, that’s when you have to do a conversation audit and figure out the divergent points in the conversation road that led us away from the original point. And, there is that person who turned the conversation away from its original point and place. Conversation stealers! They take the conversation and make it theirs and about what they want to talk about! As Angelah Johnson would say when she plays her character, Bon Qui Qui, “Ruuuude!”

 

I know that this little diddy of mine about conversation stealers and conversation audits and following the conversation trail might seem totally way out in left field when talking about following God, but I think you will understand the demented mind of Mark Bowling after we read this passage again this morning with an eye toward the question, “How do we follow God?”. Let’s read Deuteronomy 10:12-11:7 together today with that in mind:

 

12 And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

 

14 To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. 15 Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today. 16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. 20 Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. 21 He is the one you praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. 22 Your ancestors who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.

Love and Obey the Lord

 

11 Love the Lord your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always. 2 Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the Lord your God: his majesty, his mighty hand, his outstretched arm; 3 the signs he performed and the things he did in the heart of Egypt, both to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his whole country; 4 what he did to the Egyptian army, to its horses and chariots, how he overwhelmed them with the waters of the Red Sea[a] as they were pursuing you, and how the Lord brought lasting ruin on them. 5 It was not your children who saw what he did for you in the wilderness until you arrived at this place, 6 and what he did to Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab the Reubenite, when the earth opened its mouth right in the middle of all Israel and swallowed them up with their households, their tents and every living thing that belonged to them. 7 But it was your own eyes that saw all these great things the Lord has done

 

In this series of blogs, we are talking about how we should relate to God. First, we talked about knowing Him more intimately through prayer. Then, we talked about how we should love God with all we have just as we love our spouses (with that same level of spiritual intimacy). Then, we talked about how we should respect God in awe and reverence and how the comparable earthly representation of that is a good, godly earthly father. Today, we will talk about how to follow God. Sounds pretty simple doesn’t it? Follow God. Get in line behind Him and follow, right? How often do we screw that up? That simple command – to follow God!

 

We are conversation stealers when it comes to following God. Just like that person that diverted the conversation from the Clemson-South Carolina football rivalry into a conversation about the future of the Republican party after Trump, we hear a word from God and then we take over. We jump in and make it our own and not God’s. In his blog, “How To Follow God’s Will”, at http://www.awmi.net/reading/teaching-articles/follow_will/, Andrew Wommack says,

 

“People often take a word from God, make a paragraph out of it, and are out there in self-will. Or, like Moses, they take the word and try to make it happen without asking God about the timing. I see this all the time. There is a right way and a wrong way to accomplish things. There is God’s way, and there is a selfish way.”

 

How often do you and I steal the conversation from God? How often do we guise our own ambitions in terms of doing what we think God has called us to do? We mistake our own personal desires for God’s will. We replace the narrative. We overlay our personal desires as chocolate coating over the real peanut butter of God’s will inside. We divert the conversation to our agenda and our desires. We must examine ourselves and determine if we are stealing the conversation and steering it to our own agenda. That sure does feel good though. To rationalize how your personal desires are indeed the will of God. We make it fit. We rationalize it. We work the puzzle til all the pieces fit. We make God fit us. We make it where we create the rationalization for staying put in our comfort zone as God’s Will. We rationalize how God calls us to do the possible and not the impossible because He wants me to be happy and comfortable. We rationalize away and stay put because everybody else tells us we are crazy and as such it must not be God’s will.

 

As well, we may mistake our personal agenda for personal glory and fame for God’s will. If we are at a church or a business or whatever, we must ask the question, “will this project or initiative survive me leaving this church, this business or whatever?” If whatever we are doing will not survive once we leave, it is certainly not God’s will, it’s yours. If your church itself will not survive a pastor leaving it, then, who’s will is the church after? Who are we following? We must remember not to steal the conversation with God and impose our desires upon the conversation. We must be humble before the Lord. We must follow Him. We must examine as to whether our actions bring Him glory rather than ourselves. One of the things that I love about my senior pastor is that you will have to dig deep into our church website to even find a picture of him. He has often told me that he would leave this church he founded and that remains his passion to this day, if he sees that he is becoming detrimental to what God is doing at LifeSong. This is the church he founded! He would leave it if it ever became about him and not what God is doing. Sure, my senior pastor is not perfect and I am sure there are ways that he may get in the way of what God is doing just like all of us do, but those are bold words and humble words of a man who, I think, for all his faults and failures is a man after God’s own heart.

 

May you and I have that passion to follow the Lord! Really follow. Really let Him lead us. May we be humble enough to recognize when we are getting in His way and repent and get behind Him instead of trying to lead God. We are to follow. He is God. We must recognize our place. He is the leader and we are the followers.

 

Let us not steal the conversation from God. Let us not take God’s Will and replace it with our agenda. Let us be willing to see where God’s conversation takes us. Let us do a conversation audit right now. Let us follow our conversation trail. Let us discover where we made that slight shift in the conversation with God to make it slightly and more slightly and more slightly about what we want to talk about rather than what God wants to tell us, and teach us, and lead us to. Can you follow your conversation trail back to the point where it started becoming about your conversation agenda? Can you go back and repent of that turn in the conversation? Can you make it about God now and God only and what God wants? Listen to what HE is saying instead of trying to finish His sentence for Him.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 10:12-11:7 (Part 2 of 7)

A Call to Love and Obedience

 

Did you fear your earthly father growing up? Were you afraid of him? Did you respect him? Was he a taskmaster? Was your house a house of eggshells to be treaded lightly upon when you father was home from work? Did you dad play with you at times? Did he shoot hoops with you out in the yard? Did he roughhouse with you in the den or living room while you and he waited for me to finish preparing dinner for the evening?

 

As for me, sitting here at age 54 and looking back upon my years at home with my mom (who passed away in November 2010) and dad (still alive and kicking), my mom was the easy one to figure out. Mom was mom. She loved us and looked after us like a mother hen. She was the one who gave my brother and me unconditional love. She just loved us. She was our support system. She did all the little things that half the time we did not notice. Clothes were always in our chests of drawers. Clean underwear, of course was a necessity to moms – just in case you were in a car accident, ya know. There was always food in the cabinets and in the fridge. She always made sure that the basics of life were taken care of. She was our nurse when we were sick and when we got scrapes and cuts. Mom was mom.

 

My dad was the more complex one for us to figure out as kids. At times, he was scary and gruff. He was the enforcer. He was the disciplinarian. He was the one that mom would say “wait til your father gets home!” He was the last word. He was the rule maker. He was the tone setter for our house. It was clear that mom was his partner, helper, and confidant but it was equally clear that dad was the final authority in our house. He made the rules. He enforced them. He was the one that taught my brother and me that there were consequences for breaking the rules. There was no negotiating with him when we violated the family rules. Punishment was sure and swift. I used to fear him when I broke the rules (which was more often than I would care to admit in front of my kids). Dad was tough. As you know, from my previous years of blogging, my dad was/is a minister in the United Methodist Church in South Carolina. When we were growing up, my dad was dad all the time, even in church. He would have no truck with stopping in the middle of his sermon to call me out in the middle of church for misbehaving. Dad was dad all the time even when he was working. I knew not to cross my dad. His judgments were swift and sure.

 

At the same time, though, my dad was fun. He would play ball with us. He would pin us down in the floor and tickle us. He would wrestle me and my brother at the same time and he would always win. He taught us how to throw a football. He taught us how to tackle. He taught us how do stuff. He would joke around with us. He would join in with us in those mom as a girl against us as boys arguments. He would just be goofy with us. He would tell us stories of his youth and teenage years that would have us spellbound. My dad would teach us how to fix stuff, build stuff, and work on stuff. He was where I got my sense of humor, goofy and corny that it is. We would even have burping contests on road trips at times – who could produce the loudest and/or longest burps while drinking Dr. Peppers. At the same time, he would amaze me with the power of his oratory style when he was a young to middle aged preacher. His sermons were always well-crafted and researched but yet at the same time relatable to even me as a kid and as a teenager. He was larger than life to me. I thought my dad was ten feet tall and bullet proof. He could preach on Sunday with the best of the best with these well thought out sermons with great illustrations that kept his church’s spellbound and then fix the alternator on his car that afternoon. He could answer pretty much any question about anything that I had. He was the one that I would come to with those tough life choice questions. He would give advice but he always made it feel as though I was making the decisions, even though in his wisdom he was guiding me where he wanted me to go with my decisions. My dad was and is smart as a whip. He instilled in my brother and me a thirst for knowledge and to never stop learning and to actually love learning.

 

Looking back on my relationship with my Dad now as a parent and a grandparent myself, I look back with a kind of respectful fondness for my Dad. When we were young we thought Dad was perfect and he was our standard for everything. Then, it bummed us out as we matured into teenagers and adults that Dad was not perfect and that he made mistakes. However, as I have grown older and became a parent myself, it is obvious that the job is not easy – being a parent. You grow in respect for your Dad in what he tried to accomplish in us. He was not perfect but he did the best he could with the talents and the shortcomings that he had. I look back on those days and I respect my dad. For all our faults that both my brother and I have, my dad raised pretty well-adjusted, level-headed, ambitious, hard-working boys. I only hope that I did as well with my two girls as I feel he did with us. Even now, with my dad in his twilight years (he will be 78 years old in little less than two months), I still have this reverent respect for him when I am in his presence. He is my dad. I think about the sacrifices that he made for us. Working his butt off for us (sometimes working two jobs early in his pastoral career when being a bi-vocational pastor was not cool). I think about the discipline and how my Dad was unwavering in where the lines in the sand were (which I appreciate now). There is a reverence and even a healthy fear of my dad now even though we are two adults now and the relationship has morphed more into a friendship. Even though I am an adult and do not live under his roof, I would be heartbroken if I disappointed my dad with my life choices even now. It makes me feel a keen sense of self-worth and satisfaction knowing that my dad is proud of me and the man I have finally become. We do not talk regularly as dad’s slowing health and mind make him less talkative than he once was but my dad is with me always. There is not a week that goes by that I do not reference once of my dad’s famous country boy raised on the farm sayings such as “such is life” or “sorry don’t feed the bulldog” among many others that he had in his arsenal. So, yeah, I love my dad in a way that is way different from my love for my mom. My love for my dad is a reverent respect. It is that I thank you for being tough on me kind of love. It is that wow you were right kind of love. It is that how he know that would turn out that way years later kind of love. It is respect. It is honor. It is appreciation.

 

This question is the one that jumped to mind this morning as I read through this passage for the first time multiple times we will go through this passage. In this passage, we are seeing the way we are to relate to God. Yesterday, we found out that we are to love God with all we have. Today, we find that we must fear the Lord. Let’s read Deuteronomy 10:12-11:7 together today with that in mind:

 

12 And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

 

14 To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. 15 Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today. 16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. 20 Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. 21 He is the one you praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. 22 Your ancestors who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.

Love and Obey the Lord

 

11 Love the Lord your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always. 2 Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the Lord your God: his majesty, his mighty hand, his outstretched arm; 3 the signs he performed and the things he did in the heart of Egypt, both to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his whole country; 4 what he did to the Egyptian army, to its horses and chariots, how he overwhelmed them with the waters of the Red Sea[a] as they were pursuing you, and how the Lord brought lasting ruin on them. 5 It was not your children who saw what he did for you in the wilderness until you arrived at this place, 6 and what he did to Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab the Reubenite, when the earth opened its mouth right in the middle of all Israel and swallowed them up with their households, their tents and every living thing that belonged to them. 7 But it was your own eyes that saw all these great things the Lord has done

 

When the Bible says that we are “to fear the Lord”, what exactly does that mean? For the unbeliever, the fear of God is the fear of the judgment of God and eternal death, which is eternal separation from God (Luke 12:5; Hebrews 10:31). For the believer, the fear of God is something much different. The believer’s fear is reverence of God. According to my favorite go-to website for questions of our faith, www.gotquestions.com, it says on this matter that,

 

“Some redefine the fear of God for believers to ‘respecting’ Him. While respect is definitely included in the concept of fearing God, there is more to it than that. A biblical fear of God, for the believer, includes understanding how much God hates sin and fearing His judgment on sin—even in the life of a believer. Hebrews 12:5-11 describes God’s discipline of the believer. While it is done in love (Hebrews 12:6), it is still a fearful thing. As children, the fear of discipline from our parents no doubt prevented some evil actions. The same should be true in our relationship with God. We should fear His discipline, and therefore seek to live our lives in such a way that pleases Him.”

 

We, as believers, are not be scared or mortified by God, to the point that we hide under a rock and do not live. We are to love and respect God for the fact that He is our Creator and that He is the all-knowing, all-powerful ruler of the universe. He is the all to end all. He is the shinizzle. He is the top of the top. We are to love the fact that “he is ‘all-that’ and a order of fries!” as the saying goes. We are to love Him for all that He is to us. He is the reason we exists. That’s the respect and awe part. We are to love Him for His discipline of us to teach us what we need to know. That’s the respect and awe part. We are to love Him for His wisdom. That’s the respect and awe part. We are to love Him in reverence for who He is and what He has done for us. We are to love Him because He is our Father. We are to love Him because He is fun Father too. God has a great sense of humor. He puts those thoughts in our head about the quirks of ourselves and the world we live in. He makes us laugh. He gives us laughter. He is all that and a bag of chips. He is God whom we must reverently look upon in awe and in love.

 

My prayer for today is that you have a an earthly father that was both tough and playful, stern and funny, disciplinarian and playmate, taskmaster and wrestlemania master, teacher of the tough lessons and teacher of the fine art of burping, the big kidder with your mom but at the same time show you how to love and respect women and maybe then you will have a small glimpse of who God is to us. May you have had a godly earthly father. My prayer for us is that you take that love and reverence that you think of when you think of your earthly father and that can be the beginning of understanding what “fear of the Lord” means when it comes to our Heavenly Father. If your earthly father was mean and sadistic, may you take the ideas about love and reverence of God as our Heavenly Father and let those guide you in what you as a father should be like.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 10:12-11:7 (Part 1 of 7)

A Call to Love and Obedience

 

We talked about prayer, yesterday, as the key to a closer, more intimate relationship with God. Just like with our spouses, the way that they became our spouses was that we invested time and effort into the relationship such that we got to know our spouse on more than a surface level. Prayer is that vehicle by which we get to know the Lord our God on a personal, intimate level. However, we can get to know people pretty well without investing our hearts in them. That’s the difference between a spouse and a friend. When we put our heart into a relationship like we do with our spouses, there is a transcendence that occurs. When you love someone, there is a connection on a deeper soul level than when you are just good friends with someone. When you are in love with someone, your heart rises when you see them. When you love someone, you want to be with them as often as you can. When you love someone, they are with you even when you are not with them. When you are gone away from them, you cannot wait to be back in their presence. When you love someone, you sometimes just enjoy being with them not having to say anything or do anything but just being with them in their presence. When you love someone, you want to learn their likes and dislikes, their quirks and odd behaviors, and what makes them tick. When you love someone, you want to do the things that will make them happy, not necessarily because you may get something back out of that but rather because doing those things make them happy. That pretty much explains love as we know it among us humans – husband and wife, parent and child, grandparent and grandchild, siblings (well, after they are grown up, LOL!), and so on – all of the closest of human relationships. We want to make these relationships as good as possible so that they will grow, deepen, and flourish into something that transcends the people involved.

 

How much do we want that to be our relationship with God? Are you and I in love with God? There is often a lot of lip service from people saying that they love God? But do we really love him with the same amount of emotional investment, the same amount of time investment, the same amount of caring investment that we do with, say, our spouse or our children? Just as Jesus asked Peter repeatedly if Peter loved Him, we must ask that question ourselves? How much do we love God? Is our relationship with God like a dead marriage, where you know that each other is there but you are just existing together?

 

One of my faults is that maybe that I am too rational and too much of thinker. In a conversation, yesterday, about with my oldest daughter a mutual hopes and dreams for my granddaughter and it was my prayer that she gathered the best of her ancestry not the worst. From my oldest daughter and me, I hope that she gets my and Meghan’s drive to succeed, our willingness to put in hard work and do whatever it takes to make things work and succeed, our rational approach to the world, and our willingness to understand other peoples’ motivations (rather than just seeing the world from our own point of view). Yet, at the same time, I hope that even though my ex-wife, Meghan’s mom, was off the deep end about a lot of things that drove people nuts and out of her life, there was one thing that I admired about her was her willingness to stand up for what she thought was right (even if it was obvious to everyone else that she was wrong). I told Meghan that I hope Ralyn gets a modified version of that – the ability to know what was right and stand up for and not cower and fold when things got tough as Meghan and I often do. We are conflict avoiders and I don’t want that for Ralyn. I want her to be that perfect mix of reason and passion/strength.

 

Having said that I am often like I said too much of a thinker and not enough passion. I can reason my way out of not standing up for something. I can reason my way out of not take a dangerous, uncharted course of action. I can reason my way into seeing another person’s point of view even if it is detrimental to me. I am an academic-type. A thinker who thinks too much. I sometimes make my relationship with God too much of an academic exercise, I think. How much do I love God? How deep is my relationship with Him? I can recite to you all the reasons that I know with conviction that God exists? I fully believe in a rational way that God created the universe. It is the only logical explanation. I can reason through God’s redemptive plan. I understand it fully and completely from a rational point of view. I fully and completely understand the substitutionary sacrifice of my Lord And Savior Jesus Christ and what it means to my eternal future. But how much do I love God? How much passion do I have for Him?

 

When it comes down to it? Am I willing to show how much I love God by doing His will when it seems by human standards to be completely idiotic? How much do I love God? Am I passionately in love with Him and am I willing to walk through the doors that are dark on the other side and I cannot see the end? As Martin Luther King once said, “Faith is taking that first step when you cannot see the whole staircase!” How much do I love God? Is He more than academic debate to me? Is He the passion of my life? Are my prayers perfunctory or all-in passionate pleadings with my Maker?

 

This question is the one that jumped to mind this morning as I read through this passage for the first time of the three times that we will hit it over the next few days. Let’s read Deuteronomy 10:12-11:7 together today:

 

12 And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

 

14 To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. 15 Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today. 16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. 20 Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. 21 He is the one you praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. 22 Your ancestors who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.

Love and Obey the Lord

 

11 Love the Lord your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always. 2 Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the Lord your God: his majesty, his mighty hand, his outstretched arm; 3 the signs he performed and the things he did in the heart of Egypt, both to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his whole country; 4 what he did to the Egyptian army, to its horses and chariots, how he overwhelmed them with the waters of the Red Sea[a] as they were pursuing you, and how the Lord brought lasting ruin on them. 5 It was not your children who saw what he did for you in the wilderness until you arrived at this place, 6 and what he did to Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab the Reubenite, when the earth opened its mouth right in the middle of all Israel and swallowed them up with their households, their tents and every living thing that belonged to them. 7 But it was your own eyes that saw all these great things the Lord has done

 

Just as God wanted each Israelite male to be circumcised as a symbol of obedience, He also wanted it to be a symbol of love. He wanted them to see beyond the surgical procedure and understand its meaning. It should be a symbol of submission to God inside their bodies, in their hearts. Then, they could begin to imitate God’s love and justice to others. If we love God passionately, it will spill over into relationships with other people. When we get our heart right with God, when we love Him with reckless abandon and with passion, we will begin to see a change in how we live our lives and how we treat others and how we serve them.

 

How much do you love God? Sure, yes, we must have the academic, rational side of our relationship with God. We must be able to defend our faith with conviction and belief and an understanding that ours is indeed a rational faith that truly can be defended. However, academics will only get us so far. Passionate love for God must be there also. Passionate love for God changes things. Passionate love for God can lead us to do things that a purely rational understanding of God would talk us out of. Passionate love for God will lead us up the staircase when we can only see the step in front of us. Passionate love for God will lead us through an open door when the light is not on, on the other side. Passionate love for God will lead us to do the impossible. Passionate love for God will lead us to do things that others will say are crazy. Passionate love for God will lead us to change the world!

 

How much do I love God? Am I passionate in my pursuit of Him and what He wants out of me? Am I submitted to Him and His will for my life because I truly do love the Lord my God? Or is it an academic ascent, an academic recognition, with no heart?

 

How is it with you?

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 10:1-11 (Part 2 of 2)

Tablets Like the First One

 

This week, we concluded our Christmas break from our small group. We call them Life Groups at our church, in part, because our church’s name is LifeSong. However, it is also because the church encourages us “to do life together.” As part of the life group meetings of course, we do some type of weekly Bible or Bible-related lesson or series of lessons. As part of my role as leader of our small group, I am, of course, in charge of leading our life group in our study sessions. While we were on our month-long break from life group for the Christmas and New Year holidays, one of the things that struck me was that over the past year and half, we have participated in book studies about books about The Book. We have read through authors writing about Scripture and how it supports the theme of their book. Immediately, don’t get me wrong. I love reading authors such as David Platt, Mark Batterson, Francis Chan and the like. These are some of the greatest Christian authors of our time. These guys really do get and really do write in a way that inspires us to take hold of the essence of Scripture and apply it to how we live our lives as the bride of Christ, his church. During the prayerful thought, it struck me that we have studied books about the Book and bits and pieces of books of The Book, but we have not studied, in depth, a whole book of the Bible. The life group that Elena and I have led these past four or five years since we became leaders have had an everchanging inventory of members. Some have left to become life group leaders in their own right. Some people have just come and gone. However, in the first group of people we had in our life group, we walked completely through the book of Matthew. It was one of the most powerful things I think we ever did in these years of leading. The message that kept coming to me during break was “get back to The Book, not just books about The Book.” So, the Lord led me to choose a book study about the Gospel of Mark. And, no, it’s not because the author had the same name as me! I really did not understand why Mark until yesterday, when I had the day off from work and had all day to prep for our life group study time last night.

 

You might wonder why I write about beginning a life group study on the Gospel of Mark while I am walking through Deuteronomy in my blog right now. Stick with me. You will see the connection to our passage today as I right about the Gospel of Mark. Since last night was the first night of the “new semester” of our life group, our participants did not have to do any preparatory study prior to the first meeting of the semester. Therefore, when I introduced what we were going to study this semester, the Gospel of Mark, I gave an overview of Mark and his gospel. In studying the background of Mark and his gospel, it really hit hard for the first time that the story of the author of this gospel is as amazing as is the gospel book itself. I had never really noticed that before. It is funny how you read the Bible or read something about the Bible a million times before but this time it just really hits you.

 

The story of the author of the gospel of Mark is the story of us. It is a story of redemption. It is also the story of Israel in this passage for today that we will be reading through for the second time, Deuteronomy 10:1-11 before we move on.

 

The first that we hear of Mark outside of his authorship of his gospel is in the aftermath of Jesus’ death and the growth of the early church in the Book of Acts. Mark is mentioned a good bit in Acts (Acts 12:12, 12:25, 15:37, and 15:39). Even his mother is mentioned in Acts. It is to her house that Peter goes after he is miraculously freed from prison. When know also from Colossians 4:10 that Mark is the cousin of Barnabus, one of the leaders of the early church and missionary journey partner of Paul. So, we know that Mark is well-connected with some the great players in the early church, Paul, Peter, and Barnabus, as was his family. In fact, when Paul and Barnabus leave on their first missionary journey. They take Mark with them. However, Mark must’ve been young and immature or at least young and immature in his faith and his willingness to be “all-in” for the cause of Christ. Because it was during this missionary journey that Mark failed miserably in the cause of Christ. Halfway through the journey, Mark bails on the missionary journey.

 

Luke, in writing this sequence in Acts, never tells us why Mark bailed out on the missionary journey. But whatever it was, it was big enough for him to go home to Jerusalem. What caused this crisis of heart, who knows? But it stands as a failure. Mark blew it. He did not have the guts or stamina or heart to continue with the missionary journey and tucked tail and went home. He failed. He screwed up. When it was time to put up or shut up, he caved in. He may have let concerns about home overwhelm his ministry efforts. He may have been afraid of the persecution and close calls that Paul and Barnabus and he were experiencing. Who knows? Bottom line is – he failed miserably.

 

So disappointed was Paul in Mark that when Barnabus wanted to again take Mark on the second missionary journey, Paul and Barnabus got into such a big argument about it that they decided to take separate missionary journeys instead of going together. Paul just did not want to be around Mark because of whatever had happened during the first missionary journey. It must have been a big ol’ shouting match between Paul and Barnabus. And a big enough of a disagreement for two friends, Paul and Barnabus, to split roads over it.

 

However, somewhere in between the beginning of Paul’s ministry that we see in Acts (where Mark disappoints him greatly) and the end of Paul’s ministry that we see in 2 Timothy, Mark must’ve done some spiritual growing up. In 2 Timothy, Paul is in prison and knows that he is at the end and he is passing on all his pastoral knowledge to his intern of sorts, Timothy. In 2 Timothy 4, when Paul is giving Timothy instructions about his next visit and he asks for his cloak and his writings and other things. However, he also tells Timothy to bring Mark with him. And you know why? Because, as Paul said, Mark was useful for his ministry. Timothy must have made up some ground in the background during Paul’s ministry to go from Paul not even wanting to be on the road with him to Mark being useful to his ministry. We know how passionate and on fire for Christ Paul was. For him to say that Mark was useful to his ministry is quite a compliment. Mark went from a spiritual baby to a spiritual grown up during that time. He was useful in spreading the gospel. He must have grown deeper in his understanding of the cost of following Christ and was now willing to pay that cost. He was spiritually mature now.

 

Additionally, in 1 Peter 5:13, Peter, when speaking to Mark, addresses him with a term of affection of that of a disciple. Peter says, “Mark, my son…” It must have been Peter that helped Mark grow in his understanding of Scripture, understanding of Jesus Christ and His purpose, his understanding of the radical and sometimes offensive nature of the gospel, and because of that the cost of following Jesus Christ. Peter and Mark and Mark’s family must’ve been tight for Peter to have immediately gone there after being freed from prison where his death was almost certain. And, it makes sense for Peter to have been the guy to get Mark to grow up spiritually. Peter was no stranger to the concept of complete and utter failure in the face of persecution. He denied Jesus Christ three times just to save his own hide. Peter spent the rest of his life in passionate thanksgiving for Jesus restoring him to a place by his side.

 

I think similarly Mark let his past failure and his redemption from it fuel the rest of his life in passionate pursuit of teaching people about the meaning of Jesus Christ. He knew he failed. He knew he blew it but yet he was restored. He was redeemed and forgiven and became a mighty man of God as a result. He went from bailing on a missionary journey, probably because of fear of persecution, probably because things were getting rough, to a man who was useful in Paul’s ministry and ultimately to a man who wrote the first gospel of the four gospels. He had an urgency to teach his audience, the new Christian converts in Rome, about the meaning and the work of Jesus Christ. He had to do it. He had an urgency to tell the story. Just as Paul failed Christ by originally trying to stamp out Christianity and that fueled him to be a passionate teller of the grace of Jesus Christ…just as Peter who had failed Jesus Christ by denying him Jesus three times and that fueled him to be a passionate and powerful expounder of the gospel to the Jews…so we find a man in Mark that was a passionate to explain who Jesus Christ is to people who had no clue as an act of thanksgiving for redemption from failure.

 

That’s what I thought about this morning as I read through today’s passage, Deuteronomy 10:1-11, for this second time. Let’s read it together now:

 

10 At that time the Lord said to me, “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones and come up to me on the mountain. Also make a wooden ark.[a] 2 I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. Then you are to put them in the ark.”

 

3 So I made the ark out of acacia wood and chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I went up on the mountain with the two tablets in my hands. 4 The Lord wrote on these tablets what He had written before, the Ten Commandments he had proclaimed to you on the mountain, out of the fire, on the day of the assembly. And the Lord gave them to me. 5 Then I came back down the mountain and put the tablets in the ark I had made, as the Lord commanded me, and they are there now.

 

6 (The Israelites traveled from the wells of Bene Jaakan to Moserah. There Aaron died and was buried, and Eleazar his son succeeded him as priest. 7 From there they traveled to Gudgodah and on to Jotbathah, a land with streams of water. 8 At that time the Lord set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the Lord, to stand before the Lord to minister and to pronounce blessings in His name, as they still do today. 9 That is why the Levites have no share or inheritance among their fellow Israelites; the Lord is their inheritance, as the Lord your God told them.)

 

10 Now I had stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights, as I did the first time, and the Lord listened to me at this time also. It was not His will to destroy you. 11 “Go,” the Lord said to me, “and lead the people on their way, so that they may enter and possess the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.”

 

Here in this passage, we see how the Israelites are reminded of their failure at Mt. Sinai. They are to be of right mind when they take the Promised Land. They are to be humbly thankful that God did not take His wrath out on them. They were continually failing the Lord but He kept loving them and redeeming them and setting them on the right path. God is a God of second chances.

 

How many times have you and I failed Jesus Christ? How long did we ignore Him before we came to Him? And remember how thankful we were when we came to realize that we deserved to bust hell wide open but that Jesus Christ saved us from it. He gave us a second chance through his payment for our sins. That day of salvation should be what fuels us to live lives of boundless joy. It should be what fuels us to lovingly serve Jesus Christ in a world that needs to know his saving grace. It should fuel us to have urgency to not want to see or worst enemy end up in hell. It should give us urgency to tell people about Him as being the only way out of our sentence to the eternal fires of damnation. We should be so joyful at our own salvation that we should be thankful as the Israelites are being shown they should be thankful in this passage. We should have the clear and utter joy of being saved from what we deserve that we go from utter failure of Christ to being useful in His ministry as Mark did. We should live lives of doing whatever it takes to spread Jesus’ name far and wide as a simple act of thanksgiving for our own salvation. We should be like beggars telling other beggars where they can find food. It should be urgent to us. The message of redemption we have lived it and we need to share. Give us that Markan urgency. Give us that Markan priority. Give us that passion to live and tell of redemption and usefulness. Let us be those humble servants that know where were bound in the absence of Jesus Christ and now have to, just have to, have to tell of the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ in everything that we do and say.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 10:1-11 (Part 1 of 2)

Tablets Like the First One

How much do you or I really pray? We all say that we pray. That we all spend time alone with the Lord, but how often do we really do it? Oswald Chambers, the author of wildly famous book, My Utmost for His Highest, once said, “Prayer doesn’t prepare us for the greater work, prayer is the greater work.” Prayer is the central core of who we are as Christians. Then, why do most of us, myself included, find it so hard to do. Prayer is so important that it is mentioned at least 250 times in Scripture. Seems pretty important if, in His Word to us, that He inspired biblical authors to mention it that many times.

 

I know that I am horrible at setting aside time to be alone with the Lord and just straight up pray. I pray at meal time. I pray in public when I am in charge of a meeting. I pray in public when others request me to do so. Those are the easy times that I can count that I specifically pray. Those times when I close my eyes, bow my head, and speak words to God for the benefit of myself and the group that I am with. Where I fail miserably is my personal alone time with the Lord. My fear is that I am not alone in this condition. But I will not write about you. I will write about myself and maybe you can take something away from that.

 

When I read about Moses going up to the top of Mount Sinai and communing with the Lord for forty straight days, not once but twice, I stand amazed. When I pray alone, or what I call prayer alone, I can barely keep focus for 4 minutes much less 40 days on two different occasions. It’s not that I do not want to pray to the Lord. I just don’t know what causes me to be such a complete and utter failure at prayer. When I pray, I am so easily distracted. I claim that I do not have time for all-out, full-on prayer. I write my daily blog 95% of the mornings of the year which occupies at least an hour and half each morning so there’s that. I have a secular job that is very demanding (at least 50 hours most weeks, sometimes 60). I have my part-time job at my church as the Director of Finance and Administration that takes up 8 hours per week in the office and probably another 5-6 hours per week outside the office (and I feel that I need to dedicate more time to it but it’s time that’s just not there). Add to that I have our small group meeting on Monday nights. Because of the two jobs, I work late on Tuesday and Thursday nights to be able to work in my 8 hours at my church plus work my full slate of time at my secular job. Then, on Friday nights, I just want to rest. Saturdays are for getting things done that I don’t have time for during the week and for college football during from September – early January. Sundays are jam-packed with church activities, lunch with people that we are intentionally trying to develop relationships with, and there’s small group on Sunday night with the group that we do not lead but just participate in. In between all that, I simply want to spent some time with my wife, whether it’s just being in the same room with her at the same time, or its talking about something serious, eating a meal together, or just hanging out and being silly. Where’s my moment to have all-out, full-on prayer.

 

Then, there’s that old saying that we prioritize our time by what we think is important. Show me your checkbook and I’ll show you your priorities. We make time for what we consider important. Other sayings such as these are ones that indicate that if something is important to us, we will figure it out. We will find the time. We, as Christians, kind of snicker at other religions who have robotic observance of rituals such as daily prayers where their religion’s catchphrases are repeated in robotic-like manner. We say that in Christianity, we are taught that prayer and anything about the Christian life should not be done in a robotic manner and that it should come from the heart and not from some observance of or in slavery to a specified schedule. And, yes, that is right. God wants our heart not our robotic observance of rituals where we are checking off boxes on our religious to-do list. We should be free to praise the Lord and pray to Him whenever the Spirit moves us to do so. However, like children left alone at home without their parents soon forget the discipline and rules of their parents, we may abuse our freedom to do pray whenever we want, by not doing it at all.

 

I am poor at using my freedom in Christ when it comes to prayer. When I try to pray, I get easily distracted. For example, my prayers may start off with, “Dear Lord, please allow me to hear your voice so that I can do your will. I have a situation where a need your guidance, Father. I need your guidance with….man, that was a great game last night for the Tigers….what to do when….did I turn the coffee pot off before I left the house…oh yeah…back to what I was praying about Lord, sorry…I need your help in discerning what the best course of action in….I can’t afford to forget to get that reconciliation done today before I leave work….” And then by the third thought interruption or so, I have given up on the prayer. Are you like that? And that’s when I have concentrated on having prayer time!

 

Most days, I have running conversations with the Lord as the day goes by. Little thoughts here and there. A sentence said here and there. And I think that this part is a necessary part of the Christian life is to have that running conversation with the Lord during the day. We must make Him a part of everything we do each day. So, that’s good, yes, but the specified, all-out, eyes-closed, on-my-knees, no outside input but God prayer time is where I struggle.

 

That’s what I thought about this morning as I read through today’s passage, Deuteronomy 10:1-11, for the first time. I thought about Moses being on the mountain in prayer and communion with the presence of God for 40 straight days. Forty straight days not once but twice. Forty straight days of nothing but prayer and communion with God. Wow! Let’s read through the passage and pick up on that fact:

 

10 At that time the Lord said to me, “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones and come up to me on the mountain. Also make a wooden ark.[a] 2 I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. Then you are to put them in the ark.”

 

3 So I made the ark out of acacia wood and chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I went up on the mountain with the two tablets in my hands. 4 The Lord wrote on these tablets what he had written before, the Ten Commandments he had proclaimed to you on the mountain, out of the fire, on the day of the assembly. And the Lord gave them to me. 5 Then I came back down the mountain and put the tablets in the ark I had made, as the Lord commanded me, and they are there now.

 

6 (The Israelites traveled from the wells of Bene Jaakan to Moserah. There Aaron died and was buried, and Eleazar his son succeeded him as priest. 7 From there they traveled to Gudgodah and on to Jotbathah, a land with streams of water. 8 At that time the Lord set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the Lord, to stand before the Lord to minister and to pronounce blessings in his name, as they still do today. 9 That is why the Levites have no share or inheritance among their fellow Israelites; the Lord is their inheritance, as the Lord your God told them.)

 

10 Now I had stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights, as I did the first time, and the Lord listened to me at this time also. It was not his will to destroy you. 11 “Go,” the Lord said to me, “and lead the people on their way, so that they may enter and possess the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.”

Reading about Moses praying and communing with the Lord for 40 days on two different occasions just struck a chord with me this morning about how my prayer life, not my public prayer life but my private, intimate times with the Lord, is lacking.

 

Why is prayer, daily prayer time, so important? First, daily prayer allows to develop intimacy with the Lord. How did we develop our relationships with our spouses? We invested intentional time in that relationship. We got to know them by spending time with them. Why would we not want to do that with our Creator, the Creator of the Universe, the Creator of all things. He wants us to share the mundane with Him. He wants us to discuss things with Him that we think are unimportant to Him. He’s our Abba Daddy. He cares about it all. He wants us to take time to sit down and talk about it all with Him. It’s relationship building to sit down and pray to the Lord daily.

 

Second, prayer time establishes the right relationship between us in Him. Through prayer we realize that we are not His equal like we like to think that we are. Through prayer, we begin to learn that He is the Sovereign King of the All Things. It is a humbling experience to set aside time. To bow our head. To get on our knees. To focus not on us  but on the Sovereign God.

 

Third, it is a time that we have a platform to really look at what we have done. We sometimes avoid prayer when we have ongoing sins that we are not ready to come clean about. When we have prayer time with the Lord, you gotta have something to talk about. You gotta examine where your life is coming up short. You gotta examine. You gotta listen. When we take the time to set aside alone time with the Lord, we will hear. He will convict us. We let all the white noise of life help us ignore our sins. Prayer time, it’s just you and God. You and Him. No distractions. No shuck and jive. No dancing around. No ignoring the elephant in the room.

 

Fourth, prayer is simply and if nothing else an act of obedience to the Lord. He has made it 250 times important in Scripture. We must trust Him that prayer time is important. He says it is. We must do it. We must seek to obey Him. He has nothing but our best interest at heart in asking us to obey His Word. We must seek to have the discipline to give Him this obedience.

 

They say that if you do something for 21 days in a row it will become a habit (you know how smart “they” are). They in this case, are many, many proven experiments by behavioral scientists. Let us apply this principle to prayer. It may be awkward. It may seem weird at first. It may just be five minutes of focused time that may be 4.5 minutes of silence at first. Commit to it. What may start as 5 minutes becomes 10, 10 becomes 15, 15 becomes 20, 20 becomes 30. I need to start it. Will you do it with me?

 

Maybe one day we will both be like Moses who can back to back go to the mountaintop for 40 days and pray in the presence of the Lord and come away thinking that it was not enough time. You see what prayer did for Moses. He is one of God’s greatest leaders outside of Jesus. He spent time with the Lord. A LOT! Let us strive to be like Moses where private time focused solely on prayer is just part of our DNA.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 9:7-29

Remembering the Gold Calf

 

Have you ever had someone bring up your past repeatedly? I knew you when! How can you be preparing for ministry when you have had the past that you have had? Two divorces and a history of being ruled by seeking approval from women no matter what it cost you. You were a “party boy” too. The classic rebellious preacher’s kid. In my quest for full-time ministry, I have had the issue of multiple marriages come up frequently during this process of the last two and half years since graduating from North Greenville University with my master’s degree in Christian Ministry. It seems that I have been almost there but not quite there all of my life.

 

I was a Methodist preacher’s kid who had the ability to make friends. But I was never quite there because I was ultimately an outsider. I didn’t have the “since we started school together” history of the others. Close by not quite there. I was married while in college so I never really experienced the college life. I was an outsider at my own college (it was a personal choice – see reference above about seeking approval no matter the cost). I was at a school for smart rich kids, Furman University. I was close but not quite there. I was neither rich nor naturally gifted as kids who grew up rich often are. I had to bust my tail to be a 3.0 student at Furman. Out of school and early in my career, it seemed I was always up against people that just seemed to be so much smarter than me about accounting. I had to bust my tail, work harder, work longer just to make myself feel even with them. I was close but not quite there. That feeling of not being good but not quite good enough fueled my career. I have always worked my tail off in my career to get where I am.

 

Then, God calls me into full-time ministry. I go to seminary at North Greenville University’s Brashier Graduate School. There are students in most of my classes that are already serving the Lord and have had careers in ministry or are just starting their careers in ministry. They have more experience in leading ministry already that I do while I am there. I am close but not quite there. Again, because of their background and experience, I feel like I am few steps behind. Good enough to hang with the big boys but at a disadvantage. I came to the party late. I came to the party but forgot to bring gifts. You know that feeling. That feeling of being a step behind, a day late, a dollar short has been a part of my life from the beginning. There was this perception I have had that there was something inadequate about me. I have always felt inferior in some way. It has driven me to work harder than everyone else so that, in my mind, that I could stay even with them. It is a feeling that you are an outsider looking in. It is a feeling that you do not belong. It is a feeling that you have warts and people see them.

 

The last two and a half years of trying to follow God’s call into full-time ministry has been a similar trek. Because I do not have the experience of others even in my part-time ministry position, I feel like I am at the pool but do not know how to swim like the others. I am a part of the team but not good enough to be first string. God has taught me so much in these last two years under the tutelage of the elders/pastors at my church, don’t get me wrong and I love my job at my church. I really do. But some qualities of who we are follow us all of our lives. I have had always this feeling that I am not quite good enough to make the grade. Trying to find a full-time gig in ministry has been a grueling experience these past two and half yeas since graduation that has kid fed that feeling as well.

 

The doors just have been opening and it has made me feel less than adequate for what God has called me to do. Coming to the game of serving God in full-time ministry late. Having the past that I have had makes me feel sometimes like that kid that is just not as coordinated as others on the playground and is always the last one picked. It is like I don’t know the secret handshake of the profession. I don’t have these common experiences of others. I have the disabilities of my past that stand out that make me feel less than these people who have served the Lord all of their lives. This is their ranch that has been passed down to them for generations and I feel like a hired hand who has just come onto the scene.

 

When I read through this passage, the fact that I cannot change my past and the feelings of inadequacy for the task that God has called me to came to mind. Let’s read through the passage together, Deuteronomy 9:7-29, this morning, and then we will see how this all ties together in God’s purposes, for Israel and for me…and maybe you:

 

7 Remember this and never forget how you aroused the anger of the Lord your God in the wilderness. From the day you left Egypt until you arrived here, you have been rebellious against the Lord. 8 At Horeb you aroused the Lord’s wrath so that he was angry enough to destroy you. 9 When I went up on the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant that the Lord had made with you, I stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water. 10 The Lord gave me two stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God. On them were all the commandments the Lord proclaimed to you on the mountain out of the fire, on the day of the assembly.

 

11 At the end of the forty days and forty nights, the Lord gave me the two stone tablets, the tablets of the covenant. 12 Then the Lord told me, “Go down from here at once, because your people whom you brought out of Egypt have become corrupt. They have turned away quickly from what I commanded them and have made an idol for themselves.”

 

13 And the Lord said to me, “I have seen this people, and they are a stiff-necked people indeed! 14 Let me alone, so that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven. And I will make you into a nation stronger and more numerous than they.”

 

15 So I turned and went down from the mountain while it was ablaze with fire. And the two tablets of the covenant were in my hands. 16 When I looked, I saw that you had sinned against the Lord your God; you had made for yourselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. You had turned aside quickly from the way that the Lord had commanded you. 17 So I took the two tablets and threw them out of my hands, breaking them to pieces before your eyes.

 

18 Then once again I fell prostrate before the Lord for forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water, because of all the sin you had committed, doing what was evil in the Lord’s sight and so arousing his anger. 19 I feared the anger and wrath of the Lord, for he was angry enough with you to destroy you. But again the Lord listened to me. 20 And the Lord was angry enough with Aaron to destroy him, but at that time I prayed for Aaron too. 21 Also I took that sinful thing of yours, the calf you had made, and burned it in the fire. Then I crushed it and ground it to powder as fine as dust and threw the dust into a stream that flowed down the mountain.

 

22 You also made the Lord angry at Taberah, at Massah and at Kibroth Hattaavah.

 

23 And when the Lord sent you out from Kadesh Barnea, he said, “Go up and take possession of the land I have given you.” But you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. You did not trust him or obey him. 24 You have been rebellious against the Lord ever since I have known you.

 

25 I lay prostrate before the Lord those forty days and forty nights because the Lord had said he would destroy you. 26 I prayed to the Lord and said, “Sovereign Lord, do not destroy your people, your own inheritance that you redeemed by your great power and brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 27 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Overlook the stubbornness of this people, their wickedness and their sin. 28 Otherwise, the country from which you brought us will say, ‘Because the Lord was not able to take them into the land he had promised them, and because he hated them, he brought them out to put them to death in the wilderness.’ 29 But they are your people, your inheritance that you brought out by your great power and your outstretched arm.”

 

In this passage, we see that Israel is being reminded of their rebellious, stiff-necked past. Their sins are known to God and known to them and is being reminded to the next generation as they stand ready to enter and conquer the Promised Land. They are reminded that, though they had seen the mighty miracles of God in Egypt and in the Sinai, they were a complaining, rebellious people. Even though they were constantly complaining and constantly rebelling, God still provided for them and still considered them His chosen people. This passage, to me, is a reminder to the people of Israel that they do not deserve the gift of the Promised Land that they are being given. God could have easily and rightfully destroyed them at the foot of the Sinai mountain and so many other times too. God is reminding them of the grace that He has given them. He is reminding them that they do not deserve His protection. So, it ultimately reminds them that they should be forever thankful for the grace given to them by God and for His continued love and protection. Otherwise, the Israelites will begin to think that they deserved the Promised Land. Otherwise, they will become proud. Otherwise, when they become proud they will turn from God and think that they have a right to be where they are because of their own merit. Nothing could be further from the truth.

 

Is this not true for us as Christ followers? We do not deserve the grace that we have been given. We are sinners with warts all over us because of our sins. They are visible to God and to others. We do not deserve grace. We do not earn grace. We do not have a natural claim to grace. We have warts and we are made beautiful and clean before God only through the grace of the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. We do not deserve grace. We, thus, should be the most joyous people on the planet because of the grace we have been given but do not deserve. We are rebels against God that deserve to be cast into the fiery pit of hell for an eternity of suffering. But it is through Jesus that we know that our eternity is secure in heaven. Not by effort, not by checklists completed, not by being good enough, but only by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. That’s humbling and that gives us the right perspective. Even we as Christ followers can forget the day of our salvation and make it about effort and make it about working hard at ministry, but forgetting that we too have a past that marks us for hell. We all have a past that by all rights should cast us in the fiery lake even now. It is only through Jesus that we have claim to the prize of heaven with God eternally. Let us never forget the joy of our salvation. May it be that the grace we have been given fuels us to lives of joy and thanksgiving that is honoring to the one who gave us grace.

 

For me, maybe all of this a reminder of His grace. Maybe it is a reminder that God does call the qualified. He qualifies the called. Maybe, in the right situation at the right time, he will bring me into full-time ministry and where my past is part of my ministry. The good – my career in accounting, the bad – my littered past of marriage mistakes, and the ugly – my feeling of needing approval from others, to give me effective ministry. Maybe, my past will be used to minister to others. Maybe, just maybe I need to remember that Moses was a murder. David was an adulterer and guilty of conspiracy to commit murder. Maybe I need to remember that Moses served as a sheepherder in Midian for forty years before God called Him to be the father/leader of Israel. Maybe, I need to remember that Joseph was in prison for 12 years before He became governor of Egypt. Maybe, I need to remember that Moses felt less than because of his speech impediment. Moses always keep in perspective that it was God not Him. Maybe, that’s the point.

I know that I do not deserve to be in full-time ministry on my own merits. I have come to know that if anything happens with my ministry efforts it will be only because God made it happen.

 

My wife and I pray daily in our own prayers and our prayers in unison that God will open only the doors that He wants open. Otherwise, we might think it is because of our efforts not His. We both know that we are far from the perfect preacher couple. We did not accept Christ as a child or as a teenager. We have multiple marriages. We came late to the game. Whatever we do in ministry as a couple and as individuals from this point forward is not because we have the perfect preacher couple resume, it will be solely and only because God ordained it and God made it happen.

 

That’s the amazing thing. That God will do what God will do. He is just allowing us to be here for the ride and document and share the greatness of our God.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 9:1-6

Victory by God’s Grace

A few days ago, I had written a blog about the fact that Clemson’s national championship was so much sweeter this time than it was in 1981. I am older now and had suffered through the mediocre years of Clemson football between 1992-2008. That’s what makes this one sweeter is knowing what those years were like where being nationally relevant football program was a whisp in the air and a memory of the glory years (1977-1991) of the past. In that blog, I talked about how all the pieces of the puzzle of making a national championship caliber football program must come together simultaneously. What makes football programs relevant over long stretches depends on good recruiting, player development, great coaches, a seriously supportive fan base and so on. All of those things must be aligned at the same time for that to happen. Clemson has it right now. It has lasted the last six years (with six straight 10+ win seasons, three conference titles, a national finalist team last year, and a national championship team this year) and we, as the Tiger Nation, believe it will last a while longer. As Dabo said Monday night, this is not the end, there is more to come. When you look at recruiting and the players that are coming back, the Tigers are set to be nationally relevant for at least the next several years. We must enjoy these glory days because it may be five years from now or it may be 10 years from now, but it will come to an end at some point. It will! So, we must enjoy this alignment of the stars in just right order while it lasts. Coaches leave, coaches get older and less relevant to the kids, controversies, changes in school leadership, losing those close ones instead of winning them, starting to miss out on those top recruits. It all can combine to change what was once working great and it starts slipping away.

It reminds me that God is sovereign and that he brings that right people together at the right place and the right time to be together and work like a well-oiled machine together. It is He that orchestrates that. It can be true in football programs and it can be true in business settings. Some businesses are great for long stretches because God brings the right people together at the right time to make the company wildly successful. The same is true in churches, too. As I explained to someone last night and also in a recent phone conversation too, each church in existence has a purpose in God’s kingdom. God uses each church to accomplish a purpose in reaching the complete spectrum of human personalities out there. So, as we sit here writing and you reading, what is it that makes some churches more successful at accomplishing that task than others. I think it first starts with humble leadership and humble congregations. We all must be submitted to the Lord and following His calling. None of it can be about us but rather everything must be reaching the lost souls of the world with the good news of Jesus Christ. Everything must be in pursuit of that.

Then, that’s when God shows out. He brings the right people together at the right time to accomplish His goals and desires. It is nothing but a God thing when you watch how He brings the right people to a church’s leadership team. He will bring what’s needed to a church that is humbly ready to serve Him. He will bring the right layleaders who are passionate and bought-in to the mission of this particular church. He will bring the right employees and pastors to the church that have the right skill sets and strengths that are needed to make a well-rounded team. Then, man, does it take off! When you have the right people in the right seats at the right time and there’s this chemistry that builds over time between the staff and pastors of such a church. It is amazing to watch. There is that moment in time where the team is optimized and things are clicking, people are being drawn to the church, souls are being saved through the power of the Holy Spirit, lives are being changed by Jesus Christ, and the pastors and the staff just seem to be doing and saying the right things all the time. It can become very easy to say that it is because of us, the pastors and staff, that things are clicking along so well. But, that’s when you have to look back at all the amazing things that God has done – how He has brought the right people together at this right place at this, the right time to accomplish what God has set forth to accomplish in this place at this time with these people. When that right time is done or when God has a new task for a church, a new direction, this collection of talent that He brought together for a specific purpose at this place at this time will begin to move on. A new group of “right people at the right place at the right time” will develop to accomplish God’s new assignment.

That’s why I relish the moment of the last six years at LifeSong. You’ve to relish the moment or you will miss it. So many things have been accomplished in the last six years and God certainly has blessed LifeSong. He has brought together an amazing group of pastors, staff and lay leaders that make LifeSong an amazing church. This collection of people, through submission to the Holy Spirit, are accomplishing the current assignment of God to reach the unchurched and the dechurched people in the Lyman-Duncan-Wellford, SC area. We are a great team together. You just want it to last forever. Just like I wish these current glory days of Clemson football will last forever. We have such great chemistry on staff and we have committed, all-in pastors, and we have some amazing church members that are just as sold-out, willing to do anything to advance the name of Jesus kind of people. Everything goes in cycles though. God will do what God wants done. He will direct LifeSong where He wants it to go. He will change the assignment of the church at some point to meet a new level of needs and He will change the mix of people on staff, as pastors, and as church members. So, we stand right now. We relish the moment knowing that what we have right now may not last forever because it is God’s church and He will do with it what He will.

Those moments in time where God brings everything together is what I thought about this morning and how it is Him who orchestrates that not us when I read this passage, Deuteronomy 9:1-6:

9 Hear, Israel: You are now about to cross the Jordan to go in and dispossess nations greater and stronger than you, with large cities that have walls up to the sky. 2 The people are strong and tall—Anakites! You know about them and have heard it said: “Who can stand up against the Anakites?” 3 But be assured today that the Lord your God is the one who goes across ahead of you like a devouring fire. He will destroy them; he will subdue them before you. And you will drive them out and annihilate them quickly, as the Lord has promised you.

 

4 After the Lord your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, “The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you. 5 It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 6 Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.

Here in this passage, we see that the Israelites are being reminded that it is God who is directing this picture. It will be through God’s might and His judgment that they will conquer that Promised Land. They will conquer the land because God made promises to the ancestors of these people that they would be granted the Promised Land. They will conquer the land because God is executing His judgment on the wickedness of the nations of Canaan.

That’s the takeaway this morning is that God is sovereign. It is He who guides and directs our steps. It is He who brings together special people at special place at a special time. Let us celebrate the moments that He does that for us. He goes before us. He brings the right people together at the right time at the right place to accomplish what He has planned for us at this moment at this place with these people. It is to Him that we look as we see what He has done. It is nothing but God that gets the glory for bringing it all together to achieve His purposes. We are participants in His plan. We do our part. And, then we stand amazed at what God has done.

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 8:1-20

A Call to Remember & Obey

 

For the past several days in which I have had a final interview for admission into the doctoral program at North Greenville University and then a phone interview concerning an executive pastor’s position in south Florida, one commonality between the two interviews was something that I said in response to questions in those interviews. Each interview had a separate purpose and this same response was given to different questions. As a maturing Christian, I notice things like that. The same message from the Lord coming from different sources. The questions asked don’t matter but it the same response that matters because of the fact that the same response was given to differing questions. That is when you have to notice and see what God is having to say. Why is He given me this common theme? I must take notice.

 

The common thread was the response that we must make God’s Word and our relationship more than just a box that we pull off the shelf on Sunday morning, open it and play with it, and then put that box back on the shelf on Sunday afternoon – not to be pulled off the shelf again until next Sunday. It was an illustrative answer to different questions that means that we must make God’s Word a part of our daily lives not just something we do on Sunday. Our lives cannot be dichotomously different during the week than it is during the week. In order for us to mature in Christ, we must apply God’s Word to our daily lives, not just play the game on Sunday. We must have Bibles that are more than coffee table centerpieces. We must have Bibles that have ragged edges and dog-eared pages from overuse. Our Bibles should have bindings that are starting to fall apart and pages that are about to fall out. We must make the Bible a functional and necessary part of our daily lives. We cannot apply its eternal principles to our lives if we don’t read it, learn it, live it. We must read it. We must meditate upon it and figure out what its message says to us for today, and then go out and apply it to our lives.

 

In this American culture in which we live, it is so easy to forget that God is the source of everything that we are. We live in such an opulent society that it is easy to take these things for granted and feel that we have a right to them. We take credit for our own prosperity and become proud. It is easy for us as a society to get so busy collecting and managing all of our stuff that we push God right to the curb. We begin to glorify the things that we have and the pursuit of them. We begin to think that life is about satisfying our own appetites. We are about the pursuit of wealth and status. If we can dress well, eat well, play well, we are then living the good life. Don’t you find it true that our nation was once a god-fearing nation because we had less and our country lived through successive hardships that required great sacrifices for much of its existence until after World War II. It is with the vast wealth that has trickled down to all the classes of people here since the mid-1940s that our country started drifting away from God. We have grown so accustomed to satisfying our every whim in ways that third world countries cannot imagine that we have drifted from God and started worshiping ourselves and our things.

 

It is this idea of putting God on the shelf and relegating Him to something that we toy with on weekends rather than making Him a part of our daily lives that I thought of when I read today’s passage, Deuteronomy 8:1-20:

 

8 Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors. 2 Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. 4 Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. 5 Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.

 

6 Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him. 7 For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; 8 a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; 9 a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.

 

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

 

19 If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. 20 Like the nations the Lord destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the Lord your God.

 

In this passage, God warns the Israelites not to forget God when they transitioned from the hard knock life of the Sinai wilderness to the land of plenty in the Promised Land. That is the same warning that He has for our nation. It seems to be timeless human nature to forget God when we have all of our needs met and more. We tend to drift away into seeking our own pleasures. We tend to gravitate toward our lusts and our worldly passions. We then become so enamored with these lusts and passions that we justify how that sin is no longer sin and how we justify it as the new world order. Things have changed and what was once sin is now modern and forward thinking. We drift away from the Lord and think we are so modern for thinking and justifying our sins as self-actualization. We justify our sins as being OK now because that’s what we want to do and nobody should tell us different. We drift away from God’s Word because we no longer read it, learn it, live it.

 

Our life, even when we are in good times, should be dominated by making God the central part of our lives. We should be in His Word. We should realize that everything, even our wealth, our good times, come from the Lord and praise Him and obey Him in the good times and not just when we have crises in our lives and not just on Sunday morning. We must have dog-eared Bibles from eating up His Word like manna from heaven. As Jesus said in Matthew 4:4 (which He drew from this passage), man does not live by bread alone but by every word from God’s mouth. We must live and apply God’s Word to everything that we do. We must obey His Word every day. We must not get so wrapped up the self-pleasures of our society that we drift away from His Word and begin accepting those things as OK that are strictly against what God says in His Word. God is not a box that we pull down from the shelf and play with for a little bit and put back on the shelf. He should permeate who we are and we should make His Word the measure by which we live our lives.

 

Amen and Amen.

 

Deuteronomy 7:1-26 (Part 3 of 3)

The Privilege of Holiness

 

Yesterday, I was accepted into the Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) program at the Brashier Graduate School of North Greenville University. It was a big day for me. It marks the beginning of a journey that will end when my dissertation is accepted. The process will take about three years at a minimum. The first two years (four semesters) will be classroom study in week-long on-campus intensives once per semester and a lot of self-managed study outside those intensives. Then, after that comes the development and the writing of my dissertation. That will take a minimum of two semesters if all goes well. It may take more if not.

 

When I look back at the trajectory of my life since my salvation back in December 2001, I stand amazed at the work that the Lord has done within me. Back then, I would have never dreamed that 10 years later I would embark on getting my masters degree in Christian ministry. I would have never dreamed that he would place a desire in me to go into ministry. I would have never dreamed that I would be in a bivocational ministry position right now. I would have never dreamed that I would be working full-time in my secular career and also in a part-time ministry position in the financial and administrative end of church business and love it. I would have never dreamed that I would have the desire to combine the two into one position at some point. Knowing full well that when I go into full-time ministry as an executive pastor or administrative pastor that I will make a good deal less than I am making now in my full-time secular career. That would have seemed inconceivable to me 15 years ago when I first became a Christ follower. But God does His work in us slowly and at a pace that He thinks that we can handle.

 

He has put people and churches in my path that have grown me and challenged me as He felt I was ready for those challenges. For almost a decade after I accepted Christ as my Savior, I was a spiritual baby. God had many idols He had to remove from my life before He could start maturing me. There was the idol of needing approval from others. There was the idol of validating my self-worth through sex. The combination of these idols were a very potent combination in my life. Many, many stupid decisions before, during and in-between marriages were made because of serving these combined idols. Within the last few weeks, I have laid all that before you in my blogs so there is no need to repeat the details here, but, suffice it to say that God had a lot of work to do within me. These idols were difficult for me to give up. Further, money was an idol of sorts as well. It was not until about 8 years after my salvation that I began to see my money as really God’s money that He was allowing me to manage. I thought money and credit were for the taking. I was irresponsible with money and debt and thought, for example, that it was OK to blow my tax refunds on self-pleasures rather than catch-up or pay off debts. I was a mess coming into the family of God and there was much, much work to do by the Holy Spirit before He could begin maturing me.

 

When I was ready to begin maturing, the Lord brought Luke and Felisha Brower, the pastor and pastor’s wife, of Livermore Alive Community Church into our lives. Luke challenged me to grow in my faith. Luke challenged me to make my faith more than a box that I pulled down off the shelf on Sunday and play with and then put back on the shelf. Luke challenged me to make my faith a part of my daily life, not just some theological, academic argument. He also challenged me about picking and choosing what I believe in the Bible and to understand that it is all or nothing when it comes to God’s Word. We must love God enough to accept His whole world and incorporate into our lives. Otherwise, when we pick and choose what we want to believe, then, we are making ourselves our own gods. Luke called me out about living with Elena and not marrying her. He challenged me on having sex with a woman that I am not married to. He was in my face about it. He called me a hypocrite for wanting to be a leader in the church but yet living with a woman I was not married to. Under the challenging authority of this pastor, iron was sharpening iron. He challenged me to examine my life. He challenged me to make my faith real on daily basis and that there was no excuse for not making faith a real and tangible part of your daily life.

 

Then God led us to Lyman, SC and LifeSong Church. Here, God matured me and my wife even more. The slogan for our church is “be missionaries where you live, work, and play”. It was what Luke challenged us to be in California. In California, with Luke and Felisha, we were spoon-fed at the feet of our pastoral couple. It was a small church and Luke and Felisha could spoon-feed us. We reveled in the closeness that we had with the pastoral family and to a certain extent it was validation that we were on the right path by having a close friendship with the pastoral couple. At LifeSong, it was multiples of times bigger than Livermore Alive. The challenge at LifeSong that came down from the top from founding and senior pastor, Jeff Hickman, is that we are all priests of God’s Word. He challenges the whole church to not wait to be spoon fed by him, not wait to be selected by or tapped on the shoulder by the senior pastor, BE a minister in your own sphere of influence. You don’t wait on the pastor to tell you to witness to your neighbor. You witness to your neighbor because that what Jesus told us to do. We are to be priests of the gospel in our daily lives. We don’t wait on the church to develop a program around that, go do it, live boldly for Christ. We do these things because we want to please Jesus not because we want recognition from the pastor or our name in the bulletin. Being a missionary daily is part of our DNA not some one-time project for which we get a pat on the back from the pastor. Under Jeff’s challenges, we matured in so many ways and even have become leaders in the church not because we want Jeff to pat us on the back but rather because we have a passion to serve the Lord in these ways. Jeff’s leadership and God’s leading us to this church have matured us and challenged us to be deeper, go deeper, probably in ways that we would have never learned in Livermore.

 

It’s all been about steps in the process. God maturing us at the rate that He knows we are ready for. Now, there are going to be new challenges and new ways to go deeper in my commitment to the Lord. He has done it at the pace that was necessary for me. Sometimes, you wish that God would have just miraculously and instantaneously changed my life back in 2001. There would have been less pain and fewer mistakes and yet there would have been fewer lessons learned. When I look back on how far God has brought me, it is an amazing process to think about. It make me trust the Lord, because on my own, none of this happens.

 

Today, when I was reading through Deuteronomy 7 again for the third time before we move on, I focused in on vv. 21-24, where Moses tells Israel that God would destroy Israel’s but not all at once. That got me to think about the maturation process that I have been through from the day of my salvation until now and how now is still just a step in the process:

 

7 When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you— 2 and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally.[a] Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. 3 Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, 4 for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. 5 This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles[b] and burn their idols in the fire. 6 For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.

 

7 The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. 10 But

 

those who hate him he will repay to their face by destruction;

    he will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate him.

 

11 Therefore, take care to follow the commands, decrees and laws I give you today.

 

12 If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the Lord your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your ancestors. 13 He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land—your grain, new wine and olive oil—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you. 14 You will be blessed more than any other people; none of your men or women will be childless, nor will any of your livestock be without young. 15 The Lord will keep you free from every disease. He will not inflict on you the horrible diseases you knew in Egypt, but he will inflict them on all who hate you. 16 You must destroy all the peoples the Lord your God gives over to you. Do not look on them with pity and do not serve their gods, for that will be a snare to you.

 

17 You may say to yourselves, “These nations are stronger than we are. How can we drive them out?” 18 But do not be afraid of them; remember well what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt. 19 You saw with your own eyes the great trials, the signs and wonders, the mighty hand and outstretched arm, with which the Lord your God brought you out. The Lord your God will do the same to all the peoples you now fear. 20 Moreover, the Lord your God will send the hornet among them until even the survivors who hide from you have perished. 21 Do not be terrified by them, for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God. 22 The Lord your God will drive out those nations before you, little by little. You will not be allowed to eliminate them all at once, or the wild animals will multiply around you. 23 But the Lord your God will deliver them over to you, throwing them into great confusion until they are destroyed. 24 He will give their kings into your hand, and you will wipe out their names from under heaven. No one will be able to stand up against you; you will destroy them. 25 The images of their gods you are to burn in the fire. Do not covet the silver and gold on them, and do not take it for yourselves, or you will be ensnared by it, for it is detestable to the Lord your God. 26 Do not bring a detestable thing into your house or you, like it, will be set apart for destruction. Regard it as vile and utterly detest it, for it is set apart for destruction.

 

Here in these verses, vv. 21-24, both you and I know that God has the power to destroy Israel’s enemies in an instantaneous display of power, but yet, He choses to destroy Israel’s enemies in stages. Little by Little. In the same way and in the same power, God could miraculously change your life. However, He usually choses to help us gradually. He often teaches us one lesson at a time. Rather than expecting miraculous and instant spiritual maturity with instant solutions to all your problems, let us slow down and work through our problems in life one step at a time. We must learn to trust that God knows what He is doing and that He will make up the difference between where we should be and where we are now. When we trust the Lord to do things in our lives at the pace that He thinks we are ready for, it will be amazing some 15 years later and see the work and the changes that God has wrought in your life. Then, you stand amazed at what He has orchestrated. It will further develop your trust in Him when you see all the things that others might call coincidences as part of this grand plan that God has for your life. We could not see this if God just went BAM and your life is miraculously changed at the moment of salvation.

 

Thank you God for the journey. Thank you God for teaching me the things that I need to know at the pace that you think that I am ready for. Thank you for the people that you have placed in my path that are no coincidences. Thank you for being Sovereign. Thank you showing me that I should trust you with all of me.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 7:1-26 (Part 2 of 3)

The Privilege of Holiness

 

I missed writing my blog yesterday due to the fact that early Tuesday morning, my favorite college team, Clemson University, won the college football championship in thrilling fashion, scoring a touchdown with one second of game time left on the clock. It was a comeback for the ages. Down by three points with two minutes to go in the game and 69 yards away from victory against Alabama. The Tigers methodically moved down the field with same amazing passes and even more amazing catches. And, then, as the clock hit 0:01, Deshaun Watson hits Hunter Wenfrow in the lower right hand corner of the end zone with the game winning touchdown pass. It was redemption for the coming up five points and a minute short last year against the same team in the same national championship game last year.

 

For me, it caused tears of joy, a raspy voice from standing on my front porch yelling to the top of my lungs about the fact that the Tigers were national champions for a second time in school history. It was a long journey for the team, football program and school that I love to get back to the top of the mountain. I was a 19 year old boy in 1981 when we last stood atop the mountain. The Clemson Tigers were one of the most successful football programs in the country from 1977-1991. And from 1987-1990, no program won more games than Clemson other than the U (University of Miami). Back those days, we won the national championship in 1981 but were always a top 10 or top 15 team during those years.

 

Then with a change in coaches in 1990, the program came unraveled and settled into a stretch of mediocrity from 1992-2008. In those glory years, 10 or more wins (in seasons where 12 games were the maximum you would play) was the expectation. Between 1992-2008, we would be lucky if we won 8 or 9 games. Mediocre seasons and mediocre bowl games, if any bowl game was to be had. The lowest point was 1998 when Clemson had gotten so bad that we finished 3-8. Then, along came Coach Tommy Bowden in 1999. He improved recruiting and we got started getting talented players again, but we could never win the big games. We would get outcoached by the top programs’ coaches. We were almost there but not quite. Finally, in 2008, in the middle of a season that we supposedly going to contend for the national title again after many years. But the Tigers stumbled out the gate getting shellacked by Alabama in the season opener 38-9 and by the sixth game of the season, the Tigers were 3-3 and had lost, God forbid, to Wake Forest. Bowden resigned.

 

Terry Don Phillips, the athletic director at the time, listened to the players at the time and hired Dabo Swinney (who had never been a head coach, never even been an offensive or defensive coordinator) as interim head coach. Dabo and the Tigers finished out that 2008 with a 4-2 record, barely missing the ACC Atlantic Division crown because of 3 point loss to Georgia Tech. But there was something different about the team and the program. There was hope again. The team has steadily climbed back into the national spotlight and over the past 6 years have won 10 games or more each year. For the last two years, the Tigers are 28-2 and have been national runner up last year and national champions this year. The journey has been long and we are experience the glory years of Clemson football right now. Although some expect us to drop off the radar next year because DeShaun is leaving, but the program is stocked with talent, recruiting is consistently at a high level, the coaching staff is stable and they are talented. The Tigers are set to be successful for a long time.

 

Because the journey back to the glory years that these last six years have been and how it seems that we are set to continue for a while now and how sweet this time is to be a Tiger fan (and how this era is a redemption for us who suffered with them through those lean years), it got me to thinking about how the fortunes of college football programs can change quickly.

 

You can have a program that has all the best support in the world, but don’t have talented coaches, you will not win at a high level. If you have great coaches but don’t have coaches who can go out and recruit well, you can’t win. If you have great facilities, but poor coaches or poor recruiting, you can’t win. If you have great recruiting, but coaches who can’t develop them you are not going to win. You have to have that rare combination of great fan bases willing to build great facilities, you have to have great coaches who can recruit the best players, you have to have coaches who can coach in critical situations and who can develop players to that fullest potential. Then, you have to have a culture where the team has developed a winning attitude where they expect to win. And, you have to have a sense of brotherhood among the teammates, coaches and fans.

 

That rare combination is what Clemson has right now. I hope that we can keep it for a while. If you lose one of the components, it can come unraveled quickly. What makes that rare combination come and go in the college football is a mystery to me. Just look at Miami, they were successful at a high level from 1984-2002, but that rare combination went away and they are now where Clemson was between 1992-2008.

 

Just as similarly, what if Hunter Wenfrow does not catch that Watson pass at 12:28am Tuesday morning and we would have suffered the heartbreak of another close loss to Alabama in the championship game again. The difference between victory and defeat is sometimes razor thin and we could easily not be national champions this morning. We could be runners up again.

 

The rare combination of the right people, at the right school, at the right time is hard to find and hard to maintain. Why do some schools have and others don’t. And then and even then sometimes you need God’s grace to smile upon you in critical moments such as the last play of the game. Everything had to be executed perfectly and the opponent had to react the way they were predicted to for the play to work and for the Renfrow to make the catch.

 

Today, when I was reading through Deuteronomy 7 again for the second time, I focused in on vv. 6-8, where it says that God chose Israel. It was not something that they did to earn it. He chose them. That’s what got me to thinking about how the top college football programs are the rare combinations of time, place, people, etc. and how it cycles in and out and thus it seems how God smiles on a program from time to time:

 

7 When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you— 2 and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally.[a] Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. 3 Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, 4 for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. 5 This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles[b] and burn their idols in the fire. 6 For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.

 

7 The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. 10 But

 

those who hate him he will repay to their face by destruction;

    he will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate him.

 

11 Therefore, take care to follow the commands, decrees and laws I give you today.

 

12 If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the Lord your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your ancestors. 13 He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land—your grain, new wine and olive oil—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you. 14 You will be blessed more than any other people; none of your men or women will be childless, nor will any of your livestock be without young. 15 The Lord will keep you free from every disease. He will not inflict on you the horrible diseases you knew in Egypt, but he will inflict them on all who hate you. 16 You must destroy all the peoples the Lord your God gives over to you. Do not look on them with pity and do not serve their gods, for that will be a snare to you.

 

17 You may say to yourselves, “These nations are stronger than we are. How can we drive them out?” 18 But do not be afraid of them; remember well what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt. 19 You saw with your own eyes the great trials, the signs and wonders, the mighty hand and outstretched arm, with which the Lord your God brought you out. The Lord your God will do the same to all the peoples you now fear. 20 Moreover, the Lord your God will send the hornet among them until even the survivors who hide from you have perished. 21 Do not be terrified by them, for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God. 22 The Lord your God will drive out those nations before you, little by little. You will not be allowed to eliminate them all at once, or the wild animals will multiply around you. 23 But the Lord your God will deliver them over to you, throwing them into great confusion until they are destroyed. 24 He will give their kings into your hand, and you will wipe out their names from under heaven. No one will be able to stand up against you; you will destroy them. 25 The images of their gods you are to burn in the fire. Do not covet the silver and gold on them, and do not take it for yourselves, or you will be ensnared by it, for it is detestable to the Lord your God. 26 Do not bring a detestable thing into your house or you, like it, will be set apart for destruction. Regard it as vile and utterly detest it, for it is set apart for destruction.

 

God chose Israel. How did they deserve to be chosen above all other nations at the time? It was not a matter of Israel merit, but of God keeping his covenant promise to Abraham who He counted as righteous. Just as God chose the nation of Israel, God has chosen all believers in Jesus Christ today to be His treasured possession not because we have earned it but because we have faith in Jesus Christ. We do not earn grace and we do not deserve it. It is a gift freely given.

 

Similarly, with great college football programs, they are rare combinations of factors coming together and of moments where everything has to go right. You can have all of the factors needed to be a great program but still not win the big games. You cannot predict when you will lose one or more of those factors. It is timing of people, places, talent, skill, and perfect timing. A school can do all the right things and still not be winners. Sometimes, it is simply the grace of God that these factors come together in the right place and the right time. This favor and sunshine upon the Clemson program will not last forever. I know that and I need to appreciate it while it lasts. People move on. Things change. I am going to appreciate this era of Clemson football. I really am.

 

In the same way, I must appreciate my salvation. It is that rare combination of me humbling myself before the Lord and accepting the gift He has given me. It is a beautiful moment that I didn’t deserve. It gives me sunshine where I had none. It is also not because I did all the right things in life. I can do all the right things in life but still not deserve grace. Grace is a gift. I can be all the right things. I can do all the right things and still not win heaven on my own merits. I have no merit before the Lord. It must come from the right timing of me realizing that I am nothing before the Lord and do not deserve anything but hell and damnation and throw myself at his mercy and beg for forgiveness through His Son Jesus Christ.

 

We don’t deserve it. We know what we deserve. We know the pits that we belong in. He grants us grace. He sets us on the mountaintop. Let us enjoy the moment of our salvation and the mountaintop that we currently stand on.

 

Amen and Amen.