Archive for January, 2017

Deuteronomy 10:12-11:7 (Part 6 of 7)

A Call to Love and Obedience

Receiving mercy when we should receive severe judgment. Unexpected and undeserved mercy is a gift beyond all proportions when you are in that position. You know that you should be judged harshly. You know you deserve it and you expect it.

 

That was my story when I was a teenager just after my dad was transferred to Travelers Rest, SC as the pastor of two United Methodist churches there. For the previous two years, he had been serving as the associate pastor at a large church in Anderson, SC. While in Anderson, I had sort of come into my own as a teenager. No longer was I simply an attachment of my parents. I had a life of my own. I was a big man on campus at Lakeside Middle School. I was popular. Played on the junior high football team. Was a star on the church league basketball team at church. All the girls thought I was cute. Then, the world shattered. My dad was moved. He was ready to be a solo pastor again and not just the second guy in command. It was good move for him and his career as a pastor in the United Methodist Church in South Carolina. It was great for him but it was the end of a great run for me.

 

Moving to Travelers Rest was a bad thing for me. I had the perfect situation in Anderson. Why change it? I was angry at dad. I was angry at the bishop of the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. About a month after we moved to Travelers Rest, I got to have my best friend from Anderson come up and spend the week with us, in the middle of which we are going to get to Six Flags as part of a youth group trip. When Donnie got there, we were to hang out at the parsonage while my parents were at work and just do what we used to do back in Anderson when our parents were at work, except for the whole Lake Hartwell thing. Donnie lived right on the lake so we spent a lot of time in Anderson, swimming, and exploring the woods around the lake. In Travelers Rest, the lake was not an option but everything else was the same. Listen to music, ride bikes around the area, explore. This scenario of life used to not be a big deal and we stayed out of trouble. However, this one day in Travelers Rest, SC, proved to be different. We decided to go around “downtown” Travelers Rest seeing what we could get away with. We stole bubble gum and candy from the town drug store and we got away with it. That gave us a rush. Being the generally goody gooderson kids that we were, it was wild to get away with stealing. That emboldened us. As we were walking around town, something told us it was a good idea to vandalize the local elementary school. It was nothing to me since I was going to be a freshman that fall at the high school. For some unknown reason as we were plunking around the old school (it was pretty old – it was a one time the high school – built way back in the 1920s), we decided that it would be a good idea to yank the telephone wires out of the junction box for the phones in the office. This was where the wires came in from the road, up the side of the building, into the junction box, and then from the junction box into the office and its various phones. As we were yanking the wires out, the janitor saw us do it. Yelled at us. We took off and ran to this old school grocery store/convenience store down the street and hid out. However, the janitor had called the Travelers Rest police and they cornered us in that little grocery store. We were arrested.

 

Needless to say, my dad and Donnie’s dad were none to pleased and there was much grief to pay for our misdeed. The rest of the summer was hard labor for both of us (me in Travelers Rest, Donnie in Anderson). Then, there was the waiting to see what the justice system would do to us. Our fear was that we would be sent to juvenile prison in Columbia, SC (the state capitol) for how much time you get for vandalizing public property. I don’t know how it works today in 2017, but at that time in the fall of 1976, Greenville had started this new thing called the pre-trial intervention program for youthful offenders. You would meet with a juvenile probation officer instead of your case going to trial. He would decide whether your case would be accepted into the program or whether our case would be released into the court system. He was, thus, our judge and jury. He would decide our fate. We dreaded it. We were hopeful that he would have mercy on us, since we were generally good kids, maybe just too much attitude.

 

So, it was during that monumental meeting with the juvenile probation officer. I remember he was a former cop. He was a black man and was a rough, gruff, older guy who instilled respect from you as soon as you met him. For the life of me, I cannot remember his name now, but I remember his face. His intent was to scare us silly and he succeeded. However, it was during this meeting that it was revealed that my dad and Donnie’s dad had paid the price for our crime. They had split the cost of repairing the phone system at the school in hopes that the School District of Greenville County would not press charges against us and to make things right. It was during this meeting that we found out that the school district did, indeed, agree to not press charges us against us and that because of that, and the fact that we are not of age, the arrest would be permanently expunged from our records. There would never be any public record of the arrest.

 

OK so we avoided the prospect of jail. We avoided even having a record. That was all well and good, but what about our dads? Avoiding punishment from the court system was one thing but avoiding punishment from our dads was a whole ‘nother story. On the way from the Greenville County courthouse offices in downtown Greenville to Donnie’s home on Lake Hartwell in Anderson, SC takes about almost an hour. There was complete silence. We did not know what to expect from my dad. This whole thing had disappointed him greatly and I am sure he was angry at us. Silence for an hour for two boys who, when together, could talk the ears off a donkey. We knew that when we got to Anderson there would be this big pow-wow between the four of us (me, my dad, Donnie, Donnie’s dad) and that they would possibly tell us that we could never see other again or something. That would have been fate worse than death to us at the time. They might have agreed to put us to hard labor back and forth between Travelers Rest and Anderson for a year or something. We knew we deserved that or something along those lines. The mind boggled at what our real fate was to be.

 

However, when we got there, we were told to go put our swim trunks on. Donnie’s dad already had my dad’s boat fueled up and ready to go. We then spent the most glorious day (on a September school day for both Donnie and me) skiing on Lake Hartwell. Donnie and I were really good water skis. Summers in Anderson are spent on the huge lake that Hartwell is. We were water bugs on skis. This day was perfect. Since it was a weekday and during the work hours for most people, the lake was virtually empty and the water was perfectly placid like a pristine sheet of glass (before we came plowing through). It was the perfect dad-son day. The four of us. Donnie’s dad and my dad talking about who knows what all day up in the boat and Donnie and I having the time of our life doing what we did best at the time – water ski. I still remember that day to this day. Not because of the water skiing or skipping school but because we had been set free when we expected the worst. We expected at the worst to be sent to juvenile prison for six months. We find out that our dads had paid the price for our sentence for us. We expected some kind of punishment from our dads that would be almost as bad as going to prison. We got a day at the lake. After that day, the whole matter was never really mentioned again. If it was, it was only as the punchline for any joke about being scared to death. My dad or Donnie’s dad never truly held that whole episode against us ever again. That freedom from certain punishment is still a memory to me as an adult some forty years later. I remember that freedom felt on that lake that day like it was yesterday.

 

The idea of a parent having all the right in the world to punish a child for some grievous wrong but giving them freedom instead of punishment was what I thought of this morning when I read through this passage. With that idea of mercy and withheld justice, let’s read Deuteronomy 10:12-11:7 together:

 

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.

 

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. Today, we will talk about the mercy of God and how we should be eternally grateful for that. In this passage, Moses is saying that the Lord is the God of gods and the Lord of lords. Moses was distinguishing between the true God and the local idols worshiped by the peoples of the region. Then, Moses when a step further, calling God “mighty and awesome.” He has such awesome power and justice that people cannot stand before Him without mercy. Fortunately, His mercy toward His people is unlimited. When we begin to grasp the extent of God’s mercy toward us, we see what true love is and how deeply God loves us. Although our sins deserve severe judgment God has chosen to show love and mercy to all who seek Him with all of their heart. He knows that we deserve punishment and we know it. We deserve to be cast away from Him into the lake of fire, but when we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, God sees that Jesus has already paid the price for our sin. He has taken the punishment that we deserve. He sees the perfection of Jesus and not the sins that cover our skin. He shows us mercy through His Son. He loves us that much that He would send His Son to be the ransom for our sins. As a result, we get to ski on the lake of freedom instead enduring eternal punishment.

 

Just like the freedom and joy that Donnie and I felt on the day of our darkest hour. We were set free because our parents had paid the price for our crime and we were set free to live our lives in freedom as symbolize by two boys having the time of their lives on a day that should have seen great justice levied upon us, so too is the life that we have in salvation in Jesus Christ.

 

Free when we deserve punishment. Loved by a God whose Son has paid for our crimes. Reconciled to Him and the crimes are wiped clean from our slate never to be mentioned again or held against us ever again. What joy is that? Are you living in that joy?

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 10:12-11:7 (Part 5 of 7)

A Call to Love and Obedience

 

One of the dangers of writing yesteday’s blog about the fact that we serve God because of thanksgiving for what He saved us from is that it might cause people to want salvation out of a sense of needing “fire insurance.” True salvation, however, comes from seeing and understanding the punishment we deserve and laying ourselves at the feet of Jesus Christ and begging him to cover us in His mercy. There are some though that want salvation so as to ensure that they do not go to hell. When salvation is purchasing “fire insurance” (when we fear the alternative of heaven), then it is not salvation at all.

 

As children, there is a difference between obeying our parents because we have a reverent respect for their authority than it is to obey them because we fear getting beaten for not obeying them. When a child lives in a violent home under the dictatorial rule of an uneven father, it is like living a life walking on eggshells. A child living in that environment obeys the father simply to keep the peace, to keep from getting beaten. And it is often not just the children who have to live this way, most of the time, it is a wife who has to live this way as well. They live in fear of suffering the wrath of the husband. Life becomes about figuring out what the father’s likes and dislikes are and how not to set them off into a physical rage. It is no way to live. Fear is not a great motivator. Fear will teach us to avoid punishment rather than teach us permanent life lessons.

 

My home growing up was one where I knew that my dad was the boss. I knew that he would punish me for violating his rules. When I was young kid, it was often a whipping but as I grew older while living at home, it was the loss of freedoms (restrictions) that began to be his preferred form of punishment. I knew dad was in authority. But although I respected him, I also loved him. He was the same guy that would wrestle with us in the floor. He was the same guy that would sit and talk to us and give us advice on how to live life. He was the one who would teach us stuff about life. He was the one that would joke around with us. He would play ball with us. Bottom line, I knew that my dad loved me. I knew too that he was dad, and he was the ultimate authority in our house. There was that tension between knowing that he loved us and realizing that he was the boss. I obeyed my father’s rules as much as I could not because of fear but because I respected him and I trusted that he had a reason for his requests of me and my behavior. I obeyed my father as much as I could because I did not want to see that look of disappointment on his face when we did not obey. That was the motivator. Making my dad proud and seeing him smile when realize we got the point was my motivator. I knew that my dad loved me and had my best interest at heart (even if I did not want to admit it). I think that is a whole different ballgame than obeying someone out of fear alone. I wanted to see the smile on my dad’s face when I obeyed rather than that look of how I let him down when I did not. That would be the worst. Disappointing him. That feeling was worse than any punishment.

 

Obeying a parent out of knowing that they love you and not because of the fear of losing the peace was what I thought of this morning. With that idea of obedience out of love in mind, let’s read Deuteronomy 10:12-11:7 together:

 

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. Today, we look at why we should obey God as part of that relationship. When I think about my relationship with my dad, I obeyed him because I knew he had my best interest ultimately at heart. I obeyed him because I would rather someone kick me in the gut than see my dad look at me with disappointment in his eyes. I obeyed my father because I knew he loved me. I knew too he would not forever hold my misbehaviors against me provided that I had learned my lesson from his discipline. It is the same way with our Father in heaven.

 

“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom!” Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 3:17. When we are remade by the Holy Spirit, we understand that God loves us and that we should obey His commands not out of a sense that we are trying avoid hell by doing all the right things. We should obey His commands not because we are trying to keep the peace with some capricious, remote God. We should obey His commands because we know that He knows what’s best for us. We should obey His commands because we love Him and would rather have a punch in the gut than for God to be disappointed in us. We obey because we want God to smile because we get the point that He is trying to make. We obey God because we know that we are loved by Him. We know this because He sent us His Son so that we could be reconciled to Him.

 

We obey God not because we want to avoid hell but rather because we love our Abba Father and we know that He loves us. When we accept Christ as our Savior and He sends the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, yes, that is when we realize what we have been saved from – the depths of hell. But it is also reminds us of how much God loves us – that though we are not perfect that we are worth saving. That though we deserve hell, He loves us so much that He gave us Jesus. Love motivates us not fear. Avoiding hell is no motivator, but pleasing a loving God who we know has our best interest at heart is. We obey because of love not fear. We obey because there is evidence of God’s love for us through Jesus’ sacrifice. We obey not to impress. We obey to make our Father in heaven smile. We obey because of love.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 10:12-11:7 (Part 4 of 7)

A Call to Love and Obedience

Last week in a conversation in a meeting, I mentioned that we can never forget the joy of our salvation. When we hold on to that joy, we remember why it is that we are here in leadership positions within the bride of Christ, his church. If we forget our own salvation and what we are saved from – eternity separated from God in hell, then our leadership becomes about getting things done. It becomes about getting the assigned task done. When we forget the joy of our salvation, we forget the vision. We forget the urgency. We all have people that get under our skin in this life but do you really wish eternal damnation on even your worst enemy. When we forget that immediacy of knowing what we really deserve is hell for our sin-filled lives but that we are saved through grace by faith. Really think about it! You and I both are sinners and we, according to what God has said in His Word, cannot exist in the presence of God in heaven on our own merits.

 

When we commit our first sin, we are disqualified from heaven and from the presence of God. Done. First time. That’s it. Much less a lifetime of sins. Each one of us disqualifies ourselves on a daily basis with each and every sin that we commit. And we commit them! Don’t lie! Just think about the stuff that you just think about but don’t do. We are judged for even every sinful thought that we have. We must be perfect to go to heaven. We cannot just do more good than bad. There is no scale that will get weighed as some religions suggest. What is required is perfection. We cannot achieve through meditation and through becoming one with the universe. We cannot get away from the fact that you and I are just basically evil people who cannot get through the day without having a sinful thought much less action.

 

What is it that we deserve? If God is a God of justice and He is a fair God, then everyone does not get to go to Heaven. In our modern sanitized world we want to sanitize the heaven and hell issue. If everyone gets to go to heaven no matter what they have done. It means everyone right. Otherwise, there would be a flaw. In that vein, then Hitler gets to go heaven. Unrepentent rapists, murderers, you name it. We all get to go. There is no justice in that. Therefore, because God is loving and just there is this choice. Accept Jesus as Your Savior and let him fundamentally change your life. Go to heaven and enjoy Revelations 21:1-7. Reject Him, shaking your fist at Him and continue living your own way according to your own rules regardless of who gets hurt. Revelation 21:8 tells us you will go to hell.

 

For a moment let us try to imagine what it would be like to die and go to hell. Try to imagine that for every single moment, throughout all eternity, a time without end, every inch of your body will be in absolute pain. It will be more suffering than anything you have ever had before, worse than the most excruciating

sunburn. You might possible say to yourself, “Surely the pain will subside!”, but it never comes.  An eternity without rest or relief. Your throat becomes raw from screaming and wailing as spasms of anguish drop you into the molten lava. You go under the surface gnashing your teeth. As you rise for air, A pleading scream comes from your burning, flaming, fiery lips. A cry for “Water” is felt throughout your whole being as you begin to bitterly weep. Without warning, you find yourself falling in the darkness. You can feel something solid next to you and you grab on. `Oh, if only I could stop falling!’ you think and you try to cling to the solid surface, but the lava is too much…you are slipping. Again, you fall into the bubbling lake and you swallow another mouthful of burning slime. The horrid smell of blazing sulfur combine with the sickening odor of burning hair and scorching flesh linger in your nose and nausea overwhelms you. Something suddenly reaches out of the darkness and grabs you. In terror, you cry out as you begin to feel teeth gnashing at your flesh. You violently struggle, desperate to shake the gnashing person off in the darkness. And this, this, my friends is just one scene from an eternity there. This goes on for eternity and that’s a long time.

 

When we forget that this description of eternity is what we deserve for our lives that are less than perfect and full of sin, we forget the utter joy of our day of salvation. Jesus covers us in His perfection when we accept Him as our Savior and Lord. When the Father looks upon us, He sees Jesus. He’s the one who took the wrap for us. We cannot be perfect so we cannot be in the presence of God in eternity without the covering of Jesus Christ’s perfection. He imputes it to us. He gives it to us. We do not earn it or even deserve it because we cannot take away our stain of sin. Only He can do that! When we forget what we are destined for, we forget the joy of salvation. We forget that we have been set free from our sentence to hell.

 

When we remember, that’s a game changer. When we remember, we live lives of thanksgiving and of service to our 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

 

In this series of blogs, we are talking about how we should relate to God. Today, we are talking about serving the Lord. Why do we serve the Lord? We serve the Lord because we are eternally in His debt for what He provided us through Jesus Christ. We serve the Lord because He is sovereign and it is He who provides for us everything that we need.

 

We also serve the Lord because we want others to be drawn the saving grace of Jesus Christ. When people see us serving the Lord by serving others, we are seen as different and unique and there is something about that which draws people unto the Lord. We serve the Lord as thanksgiving and that thanksgiving should give us an urgency to see souls saved. When we remember the joy of our salvation, no longer can we say oh it’s somebody else’s job to teach people about Jesus Christ.

 

When we remember what we have been saved from (like Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed right before they fall into the swimming pool in It’s A Wonderful Life), when we remember how we have danced on the edge of eternity in hell in the absence of Jesus Christ, then, it should well up in us to serve God and to serve others as an urgent act of thanksgiving each and every day.

 

When we forget the joy of our salvation…when we forget what we deserved in the absence of our salvation…ministry becomes a job. It becomes about getting tasks done. It becomes about the next show and the next project and the next event. Getting it done. When we remember the joy of our salvation, we jump right in there and serve the Lord because we love Him so much for what He did for us on the cross. We jump right in there and serve because we see it as an opportunity to draw others unto the Lord no matter what we a doing. We see it as everything making a difference. Including making sure connection cards are in the seatbacks of chairs so people can turn in their prayer requests so that a pastor can call them and pray with them and maybe even lead them to Christ over it. What if that connection card is not there? Everything matters when we serve the Lord from the point of the joy of our salvation. Nothing is unimportant.

 

Never forget the joy of your salvation. Comprehend what it means, really! Think on it! It will restore your joy and it will re-energize your need to serve the Lord. That’s why we serve Him. He saved us! Never forget it!

 

 

Amen and Amen.

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.