Archive for February, 2017

Deuteronomy 19:14-21 (Part 1)

Concern for Justice

It’s not fair! The famous cry of children everywhere when they are punished for bad behavior. Why does my brother only get “x” punishment when I get “y” punishment? It’s not fair! When we were kids, everything that to be equal. We wanted our punishments to be equal. We wanted our gifts to be equal. We even wanted our dinner portions to be equal. Why does he get more spaghetti than me? It’s not fair!

 

The same was true when I became a parent and step-parent. I was the father of two girls and the step-father of three boys from 1995-2004. When I married the boys’ mother, the boys were 3, 6, and 9 years old and my girls were 5 and 9 years old. Over the next 9 years, child discipline became the bane of my existence. I often wonder what would have happen if each of us had children of each sex instead of all one sex or if I had been the parent of boys and she had been parent of all girls. Would things have been different? Who knows? However, the reality of the situation was that I had the girls and she had the boys. If you have ever had any boy children and any girl children, you realize that all of the talk about the equality of the sexes is just a created belief. I am not saying that women and men cannot do the same jobs or receive the same pay (if experience and skill sets are the same). I am just saying that we are wired differently by God to serve different, but equally important, roles in the world. Women are more tender-hearted than men. Men are rough and gruff. Women are beauty. Men are functionality. Women need love. Men need respect. Women are collaborative. Men are conquerors on their own. Society will say its OK for a woman to stay at home with her children but society expects men to work from teenage years til they retire and provide for their families. God just made us to fill different roles in the world and in our families. He intended there to be differences between men and women that ultimately complement the family unit and to make our children well-rounded individuals. To say that the sexes are the same is simply a social construct that ignores the eternal truth of God.

 

Never were the differences between men and women, boys and girls, made more known to me than during the nine years of second marriage. With the girls, they were generally more timid than the boys. Over the first years of their life, I had learned that my girls, being of the more tender-hearted sex, could be disciplined with a look or a talk. Their biggest fear was for their parents to be disappointed in them. I could get that steely-eyed look at them when they done something wrong and it was as effective as yelling and screaming. They were daddy’s girls and my approval meant everything to them. It was rare that I had to physically punish them. Sending them to their room for a specified period of time was as effective a punishment as the belt was. I reserved the belt for them only for the most grievous of child disobedience crimes. The boys were different. Man were they different. First off, before I came along, there had been no consistent fatherly presence in their lives so they were never really punished for bad behavior. So, they were a bit unruly to begin with when I got them. But, I soon learned that with boys that mean looks and steely eyed stares would not reform behavior as I wished. It took screaming and yelling and whippings. And the weird thing was that with the girls, you could usually punish them one time for a crime and they most likely would not commit that same crime again. However, with the boys, it was as if they lost their memory on a daily basis. I had to repeatedly punish them for the same crimes against daddy’s law. They would challenge your authority at every turn. So, as a result, I had to punish the boys more often than the girls. That became an issue because the boys were hers and the girls were mine. As the consequences of misbehavior had higher stakes as the children grow older so did the rift over discipline between her kids (the boys) and my kids (the girls) was a bone of contention that was one of the central reasons (among several) that our marriage ultimately came undone.

 

There were cries of me being unfair by the boys and that led to appeals to their mother (who would ultimately undo my punishments). Why do you spank the boys and only yell at the girls? It’s unfair. Trying to explain that boys and girls are different and must be raised AND punished differently met with deaf ears. Trying to explain that when a child (typically, the boys) breaks a rule 10 times with impunity for the rule, their punishment SHOULD be different than the child who breaks the rule for the first time. Everything got cast in the light of my kids vs. your kids and the purpose of parenting got lost in the shuffle. It was not until years later that one of the boys told me that he now, as a grown up man trying to make it in a world where men are just expected to suck it and work their entire lives and as a father of a boy himself that realized that I had to be tough on him. He said he appreciated what I was trying to do while I was in his life. Sometimes, life is not about fairness but rather about what needs to happen to make a man grow up into to his role in the world and a woman to grow up into hers.

 

The cries of “it’s not fair” and the most popular line of today’s passage was what came to mind as I read through this passage for the first of two looks that we will take at it. Let’s look at today’s passage together now with particular attention to the last verse (we will deal with the last verse first):

 

14 Do not move your neighbor’s boundary stone set up by your predecessors in the inheritance you receive in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess.

Witnesses

 

15 One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

 

16 If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse someone of a crime, 17 the two people involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. 18 The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against a fellow Israelite, 19 then do to the false witness as that witness intended to do to the other party. You must purge the evil from among you. 20 The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. 21 Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

 

The old adage, “an eye for and eye”, comes from this passage and it was a principle to be used by the judges in the Israelite system of justice. It was not set out as a license for personal vendettas. This attitude toward justice may seem brutish to 21st century sensibilities, but it was actually a breakthrough in justice for the time period of the Israelites. Punishments fitting crimes was a novel concept in that age because ancient systems of justice were often at the whim of rulers or of angry mobs. Thus, justice was often arbitrary and unevenly applied. This guideline reflects a concern for evenhandedness in the application of justice – ensuring that those who violated the law were not punished more severely than their crime deserved.

 

That is what we must remember with our children – the punishment must fit the crime. We cannot be arbitrary in the application of justice with our children. The fifth violation of a family rule must be dealt with more harshly than the first violation. The first violation by that same standard should not be dealt with the same harshness as the fifth violation. The punishment fits the crime. I only pray that I practiced this principle well as I was parenting children to adulthood. I am sure that I made plenty of mistakes along the way.

 

The sense of justice here though is a principle that is a universal truth of God. Many today think that all roads lead to heaven and that everybody ends up in heaven. There will be cries of it’s unfair at the end when we find out that there is justice in God. He will not allow unrepentant sinners to enter into his presence in heaven. He has offered us the one and only way and that is by grace. We must accept Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord and not seek our own way. There is just one and one only way to the Lord and that is through accepting the grace of Jesus Christ. It is fair. We have the choice to accept or reject Jesus as our Savior. We have the choice to continue in our seeking of ourselves that will result in punishment eternally for having rejected Him. It has been made known through God’s Word. It is up to us to accept Jesus or reject Him. There can be no cries of it being unfair. We know God through the intricacies of nature and the universe but we must come to know Him personally through Jesus Christ. That’s it. We’ve been told.

 

Amen and Amen.

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Deuteronomy 19:1-13

Cities of Refuge

I remember back in the dog days of summer when I was a kid that being outside from daylight til dark was a must. We wanted to be outside. Being stuck inside for any reason in the summertime was torture. We wanted to be outside. We wanted to be playing football, basketball or baseball. We wanted to exploring the woods. We wanted to be riding bikes all over town. We wanted to hang out with our friends. I remember one of the games that we would play was the old standard, “tag, you’re it” game. There were rules for the game, of course. There were always rules for every game, right?

 

In this game, all you need is a group of kids and a decent sized backyard. You get a group of kids together that could even include girls! You would establish a home base tree to start from. You use the rock, paper, scissors game to determine who is the first “it”. Then, at the home base tree, the first “it” must count to 10 while all the other game participants run away from the home base tree so that there is a good distance between the “it” person and them by the time the “it” person has gotten to the count of 10. Then, that person runs around and tries to tag (touch) someone else. If they succeed, the person they touch is now “it”. The new “it” must stop in his tracks, close his eyes, and count to 10 and the process repeats itself and repeats itself. One way to avoid being caught or tagged is that home base tree. If you were being chased, you could avoid the sentence of being “it” by making it to home base tree and touch it. You could stand there and continuously touch it. As long as you were touching the home base tree (or other object chosen as home base), the “it” person could not tag you and make you the new “it”. He would have to pass on you and move on and try to tag someone else. I was pretty good at tag because I was fast as a kid and had the ability to have elusive moves. If chased, I could use my speed and my moves to get back to home base tree pretty often. I hated being caught and made it. It felt so unjust to be it. Everyone running from you like you had a disease or something so I would always desperately try to make it back to home base tree where no one could touch you. This was a summertime game that  you could play all afternoon. The game continues until everyone is exhausted or bored or the ice cream truck came through the neighborhood! The canned music of the ice cream truck coming through the neighborhood would send us all scurrying to our houses to find a dollar bill from mom or dad or from our rooms. Tag would be over then and everyone would sit around eating their ice creams, ice cream sandwiches, drinking a slushee or icee. Good times!

 

It was that idea of a place of refuge that made me think of home base tree in the game of tag this morning as I read through today’s passage, Deuteronomy 19:1-13. Let’s read through it together now:

 

19 When the Lord your God has destroyed the nations whose land he is giving you, and when you have driven them out and settled in their towns and houses, 2 then set aside for yourselves three cities in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess. 3 Determine the distances involved and divide into three parts the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, so that a person who kills someone may flee for refuge to one of these cities.

 

4 This is the rule concerning anyone who kills a person and flees there for safety—anyone who kills a neighbor unintentionally, without malice aforethought. 5 For instance, a man may go into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood, and as he swings his ax to fell a tree, the head may fly off and hit his neighbor and kill him. That man may flee to one of these cities and save his life. 6 Otherwise, the avenger of blood might pursue him in a rage, overtake him if the distance is too great, and kill him even though he is not deserving of death, since he did it to his neighbor without malice aforethought. 7 This is why I command you to set aside for yourselves three cities.

 

8 If the Lord your God enlarges your territory, as he promised on oath to your ancestors, and gives you the whole land he promised them, 9 because you carefully follow all these laws I command you today—to love the Lord your God and to walk always in obedience to him—then you are to set aside three more cities. 10 Do this so that innocent blood will not be shed in your land, which the Lord your God is giving you as your inheritance, and so that you will not be guilty of bloodshed.

 

11 But if out of hate someone lies in wait, assaults and kills a neighbor, and then flees to one of these cities, 12 the killer shall be sent for by the town elders, be brought back from the city, and be handed over to the avenger of blood to die. 13 Show no pity. You must purge from Israel the guilt of shedding innocent blood, so that it may go well with you.

 

Every society must deal with murder. But how should society treat those who have accidently killed someone? God had an answer for the Israelites. Since revenge killings were common and swift in Moses’ day, God had the Israelites set apart several “cities of refuge” Anyone who claimed that a murder was accidental could flee to one of these cities until he could have a fair trial. If he was found innocent of intentional murder, he could remain in that city and be safe from those seeking revenge. These cities were the cities given to the Levite priests. These cities were chosen by God because the Levites could be impartial judges since they were not affected by inheritances, business deals, and greed. The Levites would hold preliminary hearing outside the cities gates while the accused person was kept safe inside the city until the time of trial. If the killing was judged accidental, the person would be allowed to stay in that city until the high priest of that city passed away. At that time, the previously accused would be allowed to go free from the city of refuge and he could start a new life without worrying about avengers. If the death was ruled to be intentional, the person would be delivered outside the city walls of the city of refuge to be executed by the avengers of the murdered person.

 

This process reminded me of the game that we used to play when we were kids. In the game of tag, that home base tree was our city of refuge. It was the place that the “it” person could not touch you. You were safe there. No longer could “it” chase you down and transfer the disease of being “it” to you. It was a place where you could catch your breath from an afternoon running around your backyard all willy nilly at top speed. Tag can be a tiring game so that home base tree was a much-desired respite from the game. That home base tree was kind of like the cities of refuge that are the subject of today’s passage under review.

 

These cities of refuge in the Bible are a beautiful example of how God blends justice and mercy to His people. There was a trial where the merits of the case were considered by the high priest. The accused would meet his fate if found guilty or he would be allowed refuge in the high priest’s city so that he could start a new life afterwards if he were found innocent. These cities of refuge and their high priests hearing the evidence and making a decision are symbolic of what Jesus does for us.

 

Jesus is our city of refuge. We stand accused of sin that condemns us to death. But by calling upon His name as our Savior and Lord we are allowed to enter into His refuge and start a new life in Him. He is our home base tree. He sets us free to live in the freedom from being tagged by sin and becoming that “it” that adjudged and condemned by our sins. Jesus will also be the righteous judge one day when at the end of all things, He would come to judge the world. Those that are His will be brought into his city of refuge, his home base tree, and all others will be cast out into the fiery lake.

 

Is it not time for you to seek refuge in Jesus Christ? Is it not time for you to come into His city of refuge? Is it not time to come to Jesus’ home base tree? There is new life and new freedom in Jesus Christ! Come to Him now before it’s too late? Either at your death or at the end of all things, whichever comes first, you will stand trial for your sins (and each of us has many more sins than we want to count) and be cast out into the darkness and condemnation that awaits us in hell or will you take refuge in Jesus Christ and beg Him to cover you in His sinlessness? Will you take refuge in Jesus’ city? Will you touch his home base tree and be set free from being “it”?

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 18:15-22 (Part 2)

True and False Prophets

 

In preparation for a “week-long intensive” as they call it in this, my semester of my first year of three years of my doctoral program, I had to write a research paper about leadership styles and organization methods in churches. I wrote about the fact that most traditional churches are organized in a bureaucratic style whereas the “emerging church movement” or “modern church movement” that began in the 1990s where megachurches are popping up all over the place are often organized around a charismatic, pastor-led style.

 

The emergence of independent, non-denominational churches or churches that are tied to their denomination in the loosest sense of the word is the new wave. Often these new churches have charismatic leader who is a powerful presence in the church. Most of the time, there is nothing more than advisory committee to this charismatic pastor to hold him accountable. Such committees have little if any power to do or change anything about the path(s) the senior pastor chooses to take. The pastor of the new wave of churches which are pastor-led see this type of management as the best thing because many of them “grew up” professionally in traditional churches where it takes an act of congress to get anything done. Traditional churches get bogged down in their bureaucracy and their committees and it takes six months to change a light bulb. New wave churches with their pastor-led management style can react quicker to the needs of the church, react quicker to opportunities that present themselves, react quicker to changes in the community. If the church needs to add buildings, the pastor-led church can react reasonably quickly to that. If the church sees an opportunity to plant a new church, it can react quickly to that.

 

Pastors at independent, non-denominational or loosely denominational churches can preach the Word of God with its sometimes cutting sword just as they have always dreamed of rather than worrying about whether the board members were going to get offended and run them off as might happen in a traditionally organized church. It all seems to be the best way to organize a church. The statistics speak for themselves. Traditional churches and denominations have been either holding steady or losing membership since the 1990s. At the same time, our nation’s population has grown by 29.7 percent (29.7%) since 1990 (see http://www.multpl.com/united-states-population/table). During this time of stagnation and decline for traditional churches amidst the population growth, we find that there are churches all over the place of the new wave pastor-led church style that are booming. Church growth rates of 18% per year are not uncommon in the 100 largest churches in America. These pastor led churches must be doing something right, huh? Traditional churches just can’t seem to get out of their own way as they bog themselves down in their own bureaucracy and their inward focus. Pastor-led churches with their charismatic leaders seem to be the way to go.

 

Just look at the phenomenal growth of the pastor-led churches. These are churches that growing and planting and growing again. Many of these churches have pastors who are nationally known in Christian circles and some who are recognizable to the general public at large as well. You tend to associate these names with the churches they pastor and run. Their name and their church are often synonymous. Here are just a few of the pastor/church combos that you might know:

 

  1. Andy Stanley – North Point Ministries (Atlanta, GA)
  2. Chris Hodges – Church of the Highlands (Birmingham, AL)
  3. Clayton King – NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC)
  4. Rick Warren – Saddleback Church (Lake Forest, CA)
  5. Bill Hybels – Willow Creek Community Church (South Barrington, IL)
  6. Steven Furtick – Elevation Church (Charlotte, NC)

 

These pastors are the hot commodities of the Christian world. They speak at conferences. They write books. They have book signings. They appear on television talk shows. Some might say that these guys are celebrities. They are like rock stars of the Christian world. Shouldn’t they be? They seem to be doing it right in a church world that is on the decline in the United States. These guys seem to be visionaries in the church world that desperately needs visionaries. They seem to be saying to the rest of the church world, “throw off your bureaucracy and glacial ways of doing things and do it our way! It works!”

 

It was this idea of these new wave church pastors being considered celebrities and rock stars of the Christian world that came to mind when I read through this passage, Deuteronomy 18:15-22, one more time this morning. Let’s read through it one more time together now:

 

15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. 16 For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”

 

17 The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. 19 I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. 20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”

 

21 You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” 22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.

 

Why do I bring this passage up when talking about celebrity pastors and their megachurches? It is because there is an inherent danger in these celebrity pastor-led churches that can be detrimental to the flocks they lead and to Christians at large. There are two recent examples of the dangers in such pastor-led churches that demonstrate the point.

 

You will notice that Perry Noble’s name is missing in the above list. He was the founding pastor of the wildly successful and third largest church in America now, NewSpring Church, based in Anderson, SC. Perry started to come unraveled several years ago with sermons like “ten suggestions” and it was an indication of his lack of accountability within his own organization. He went off the rails with alcohol and other activities that were said to have strained his marriage. Luckily for NewSpring, they were able to right the ship with the appointment of Clayton King to be senior pastor – a celebrity preacher in his own right. Not so lucky was Mars Hill Church in the Seattle area, WA. When Mark Driscoll was exposed by his church leaders as having become a despotic dictator of sorts and was kicked out, the church imploded. Mars Hill, once one of the top 20 largest churches in America just five short years ago, now, no longer exists. The church was so wrapped up in the identity of its superstar pastor/author/speaker, Mark Driscoll, that it could not survive his departure. That brings us to the question that we must ask ourselves that of those top, largest churches that I mentioned earlier where the preacher’s name and their church are synonymous…Would that church survive if that charismatic, nationally known, pastor/leader walked away from that church or suffered some moral failure and was forced out?

That’s also the question that we must ask ourselves about our own churches. Most of us don’t go to a large megachurch but we must ask the question just the same at our own church. What is our church about? Is about our preacher? Is it about our governing boards or our committees that we hold in traditional churches? Is it about us being members of the cool new church with the cool new charismatic pastor? What is it about?

 

As in the days of ancient Israel, where there were false prophets who gathered many followers, we must use the same standards today when it comes to the pastors of these new wave churches and for the pastors of our medium sized and small churches and for ourselves as members of these churches. We must always compare everything that is said and done to Scripture. That is our measure. Everything must be consistent with Scripture.

 

I am not saying that megachurches and the low-accountability that these pastor-led churches have for their celebrity pastors are inherently bad. There are some that carry it off quite well like Rick Warren at his church and Andy Stanley at his. Both these guys are doing it the right way and have done it the right way for a long time. However, we must always hold pastors and ourselves as church members accountable to Scripture. We must never stray from it.

 

When it is all said and done. Traditional churches can stray from the point. Megachurches can stray from the point. There is no perfect church form when things go off the rails from the point. When we take our eyes off Jesus then we have gone off the rails. If our churches are not about Jesus, then we have gone off the rails. If I choose a church because of who the celebrity pastor is rather than does this church preach and act out the gospel, then we have gone off the rails. If we go to church because we want to be seen there, we have gone off the rails. If we go to church because that’s where all the wealthy power brokers go, then we have gone off the rails. If we go to church because I can be a big frog in a small pond, we have gone off the rails.

 

Let us make sure that our churches are about bringing glory to Jesus Christ through attracting people to the gospel message and then growing them up into mature Christ followers who then attract others to the gospel message. That’s what our churches are to be about. Megachurch or small church. New wave church or traditional church. Celebrity pastor or just a pastor known locally in his community.

 

IT SHOULD ALWAYS BE AND NEVER WAVER FROM BEING ABOUT JESUS CHRIST!

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 18:15-22 (Part 1)

True and False Prophets

When you look back at your life, your eyesight gets better. As the old saying goes, “hindsight is 20/20.” When you are going through stuff in your life, you don’t realize that there is an overarching plan that God is playing out in your life. But years after events have occurred, you realize that it was not some random sets of circumstances. God really did have a plan for your life. It is in these times of analysis that you see the plan of God and it starts to give you more trust in Him. The more mature you become in Christ the more you begin to trust the Lord and see the patterns that He is developing in your life. There becomes this growing trust, even as you face forward to the future, that He has a plan and we must trust.

 

Easier said than done when you are going through the present some times. However, as you mature in Christ, there is that basic trust and hope that operates in the background like an operating system of a computer. It’s just there doing its thing in the background that is necessary for continued hope. As we walk through the present, you wonder though even though that basic hope is operating in the background. This week has been a difficult one from a sheer volume of work thing. At my regular job at Fujikura America, we have been wrapping up the budgeting process for the new fiscal year that begins on April 1, 2017. That workload is already on top of my regular daily, weekly, and monthly duties. Those last week of the budget process revisions can consume a lot of time. You are revising things that took a whole month to build up that now must be done in several hours. Then, add on top of that, because of poor planning on my part and just having too busy of a schedule in my personal life, I had to write a 20-page research paper for my spiritual leadership class as part of the first semester of my doctoral program.

 

It is during this week that I have had to question the fact that I have three jobs now and not just two. I have my regular secular job at Fujikura, my church job at LifeSong, and my doctoral studies. Add to that, I am a small group leader/teacher. It is during the last few weeks that I have had to say that my plate is full. About two weeks ago, we gave up our small group as a way to reduce the food that was on my plate. Now, I am wrestling with giving up working at the church two mornings a week because I need every moment not spoken for by my regular job for my doctoral studies. There is this feeling that I have accomplished what I needed to accomplish at church in the financial side of things. The systems established are working smoothly now. Bonnie, the financial manager, has been trained up to be a pretty good little accountant now. I feel that she no longer needs as much supervision as much as she needs a subordinate to help her. Sometimes, in life, we must recognize when our job is done. That has been a tough realization because I enjoy working there. But it really is time to let the church use the part-time salary that they pay me and instead use it to hire some help for Bonnie. I feel as though that I need to return to supporting the financial/administrative part of the business from a volunteer status again and not be there every day. I will not stop that but being there every day and using payroll dollars that could be used for day to day filing duties and receptionist duties is what Bonnie needs now and not as much me in a supervisory role.

 

As I struggled with this research paper during every available moment of the past week in addition to the heavy burden at work at the same time and thinking of giving things up to create space, I wonder why I took on this doctoral program. Why did I take it on? It is creating wholesale changes in my routine for the past several years. Why is that? Am I just kidding myself or is this a God-calling thing that I am doing. Some might see it as silly for a man who is an accomplished financial accountant to be doing this. I have gone after a master’s degree in Christian ministry and now am pursuing a doctorate in ministry when I am not even employed full-time in ministry yet (and wondering if I ever will be). Is this a calling or is this just wanting a significant new challenge for no apparent reason other than the accomplishment? Those are the doubts that I am struggling with right now.

 

That sometimes we have doubts about what we are doing and what it all means is what I thought of this morning as I read this passage, Deuteronomy 18:15-22, for the first of two reviews of it, and its mentioning of the raising up of a prophet like Moses from the Israelites. Let’s read it now:

 

15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. 16 For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”

 

17 The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. 19 I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. 20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”

 

21 You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” 22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.

 

Who is this prophet that Moses speaks of? Stephen used Deuteronomy 18:15 to support his claim that Jesus was God’s Son, the Messiah, in Acts 7:37. This passage is proof that the coming of Jesus Christ to the earth was not some recalibration or reconfiguring of God’s plan by God. It was part of the plan from the beginning of time to send Jesus Christ at the very time in history that He was sent. Jesus’ coming to earth to live among us, to preach, teach, and lead us, and then to die for us to redeem us from our sins, and then to give us eternal victory over sin and death through His resurrection was the plan from the beginning of time. The Trinity of God (the pre-existent unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) knew this was the plan when they created time and this temporal plane on which we humans exist. God knew how it was all going to play out from the Garden of Eden to the as yet accomplished end times noted in Revelation. God’s got a plan.

 

God does have an overall, overarching plan for humanity and for the earth and for time itself but He also has a plan for you and me. Even when things seem to be changing and out of control, He’s got a plan for you and for me. When you are making choices that seem silly to others but are part of what you believe to be the calling on your life from God, He’s got a plan for it all. When you have to make critical choices in life, God’s got a plan. When you do not know what the result is going to be, God’s got a plan. When you are not sure, God’s got a plan. When you question and doubt, God’s got a plan. When you don’t know what to do, God’s got a plan. When you feel called to radical change, God’s got a plan.

 

We must trust Him. We must have hope in Him. He is God after all. He had a redemptive plan for all humanity from since before time began so we must trust He has a plan for us. It may not be obvious right now, but we gotta trust Him. We need that background hope in Him always. We need that hope to be our background operating system no matter what programs are playing out on the stage of our lives. We must have that operating system of hope and trust in the Lord.  Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 18:9-14

A Call to Holy Living

Movies about demon possession. Movies about evil spirits. Movies about the occult. They make millions at the box office. Nightmare on Elm Street. Friday the 13th. Final Destination. The Ring. Even television shows of this genre grab significant audiences like Angel, Charmed, and most recently Supernatural, True Blood, Salem. And then there was the most famous movie of the kind of all time, The Exorcist. Americans are fascinated with the occult and we love to be scared by all powerful evil spirits and demons. Because of fascination with such things, these movies are often well-financed and sometimes even have big-name actors in them or they can make a nobody into a superstar or at least launch an acting career.

 

At the same time, faith-based movies often struggle to find an audience. It is rare that a faith-based movie will attract large audiences for more than two nights of a run in a theatre. Most of the time, you have your choice of seats in a theatre. Grace Unplugged, October Baby, Soul Surfer, Courageous, The Passion of the Christ, and most recently Hacksaw Ridge are some of the best that the genre has to offer. Only one of these movies, though, found a wide audience, The Passion of the Christ. Its popularity had more to do with the controversy surrounding the blood and gore depicted and how its depiction of the Jewish leaders as less than flattering drew claims of anti-Semitism toward the movie’s producer and director, Mel Gibson.

 

Why is that the consuming public is so much more fascinated with evil than with films about faith. We are fascinated with evil and things of Satan. It is clear that these things appeal to our sinful nature. When you look at the genre of horror or evil-based movies, it is clear that the idea is that we are powerless against the powers of darkness. In almost all of these movies and television shows, it is clear that the message is that evil is equal to good and in most cases more powerful than good. We, subconsciously, want to believe that. It justifies our sinful nature in that, in our minds, Satan is as powerful as God. We make the powers of God and good to be seen as wimpy and ineffectual against evil. We want to validate why we so easily fall into sin and evil ways. In their blog post, “Why is Evil Sexier than Good?”, bloggers, Lee and Annette Woodfenden state,

 

“Perhaps it was a sick pleasure. But the first step to understanding the grip evil has on us is to recognize that we naturally love evil. We love to dominate others and make them serve us. We love to get money and possessions for ourselves even if it means others will have to go without. We love being the winner, and we hate being the loser.”

 

There it is, we naturally gravitate toward evil and because it plays to our base instincts of self-love, self-pleasure, and our darkest desires to dominate the world around us and have people serve us. With evil being seen as unstoppable or as at least equal to good, then, we find some satisfaction for our unspoken and dark desires.

 

The popularity of evil in the movies and television and the fact that they continue to find traction is because of us is what I thought of this morning as I read Deuteronomy 18:9-14. Let’s read what the Bible says this morning:

 

9 When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. 10 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, 11 or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. 13 You must be blameless before the Lord your God. 14 The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the Lord your God has not permitted you to do so.

 

In this passage, we note that child sacrifice and occult practices were strictly forbidden by God. These practices were common among the pagan religions of nations of the Middle East. Pagan religions used supernatural means such as attempting to contact the spirit world to foretell the future and gain guidance. Because of these wicked practices, God would drive out these nations and replace their evil worship with the worship of the one true God. The Israelites were naturally curious about the occult and God flatly forbade Israel to have anything to do with it. Today, people are still fascinated with witchcraft, fortune-telling, horoscopes, and bizarre cults. Satan is no less dangerous today than he was in Moses’ time. Satan offers us a distorted view of the truth. We must trust what the Bible says about Satan and evil.

 

We must first understand that Satan is in no way as powerful to our equal to God. He is a created being. He was once an angel and angels are created beings. He is prideful and it was that pride that got him cast out of heaven. He perceived himself as equal to God when in fact he is not. The Bible tells us that every knee will bow at the name of Jesus. This includes Satan and his minions. Every time evil spirits encounter Jesus in the Bible, they know His name and cower before Him.

 

So when you feel powerless over the evil in your life or in the world around you, know this! God is more powerful than that. Satan is only as powerful as we let Him be. God is the Creator and there is nothing that He cannot do. He has all power over Satan and He only allows Satan to have the power that we sinners give him. When God determines that it is time to wrap this whole thing up and end it all, Satan will be roundly defeated. God is more powerful than Satan. Remember that horror movies are distortions of the eternal truth that God is more powerful than Satan. Remember that when you are being oppressed and evil surrounds you that God is more powerful than Satan. Dispel your fear by calling on the name that will make every knee bow and every evil spirit cower in their boots, Jesus Christ. He is our Savior and our Defender. He will make evil flee from us.

 

Jesus Christ. Say the name. Jesus Christ. The All-Powerful One. Say the name. Jesus Christ. He is the creator and ruler of the universe that will make evil flee in fear. Say the name, Jesus Christ!

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 18:1-8

Gifts for the Priests and Levites

What if when we meet our Maker on our day of judgment and he asks us how well we supported our priests, our spiritual leaders? What if He asks us how well we supported our men of God? It is through the support of our local church that our pastors are able to feed their families and take care of them. Why is that some of the most important professions in the world like teachers and preachers are some of the lowest paid positions in our economy? Although there are great life lessons to be learned from sports, why is it that professional athletes are paid so disproportionately to the value that they bring to our society as a whole? Why is that our pastors are only getting by? Sure, I understand that being a pastor is a holy calling and most pastors would do what they do because God has made it so that they would be unhappy doing anything other than being pastor. It is a calling for sure. However, it is also our calling from God to take care of them.

 

When I think of the pastors/elders of our church, particularly the lead pastor and the executive pastor, I worry for them. Our lead pastor has four girls between the ages of 10 and 19. He already has one girl in college and the two next youngest ones are not far behind. He gets a few years breather and then the youngest girl will be in college. Over the next 8 years, he will have multiple kids in college at the same time. Our executive pastor has three children, two boys and a girl. He has two kids in college right now and the youngest is a junior in high school. Our other pastor/elder has already put his kids through their schooling so he knows the strain of the other two. I remember putting my oldest child through college. Although there were scholarships and loans to pay for tuition, there were expenses of living that you simply have to pay for your child that are not covered by financial aid. Gas money, activities money, textbooks, extra books for reading for research papers, grocery money, car payments, all sorts of expenses that you don’t think about but have to pay for a child that is going to school full-time with a full load of classes. I could not imagine having three or four college educations to pay for. Yet, there were long stretches over the past seven years that I know our pastors when without yearly salary increases just to help hold down expenses at the church. I admire these men for their passion for the continued existence and the continued mission of our church. They scrimp and save and spend their money wisely just so they can be a part of guiding our church toward God’s unique mission for our church. I pray for their financial situations often. One of the two pastors of which I am speaking has a fleet of vehicles because of the fact that he has three college age or near college age children and none of his vehicles are less than 10 years old. The other pastor with the four girls has to drive church van most often because repairs to his truck are too expensive for him at the moment.

 

We are what they call a seeker church. Our church is dedicated to bringing folks who have never been in church or have been out of church for years into the flock of Christ’s children. It is such an honorable mission that we serve. We do have people who have come to us from other churches but I would dare say that the majority of our people are people who have, prior to coming to our church, never been in a church EVER or have been out of church for years and years. Part of the problem though with such churches as ours, Christians who are not mature in their walk are still learning to put God first in many areas of life. The last one that we often put God first in is our finances. So, we struggle at times as a church to ensure that we do all things that we need to do as a church. Not only do we have to pay our staff but we have fixed expenses related to our limited number of buildings to keep them operating and to satisfy our bank. We have to be able to cover these administrative expenses (pastoral and staff salaries, and the other operating expenses of the church) before we can begin to cover our ministry expenses for what we call our four stakes of ministry (weekend worship experience, next generation ministries, small group/discipleship ministries, and missions ministries [at the local, national, and international level]). It is through these four stakes of ministry that we reach our community, nation and world with the gospel. However, none of that happens if we can’t cover payroll or keep the lights on in the buildings.

 

It is my part of the ministry of the church as the part-time finance and administrative director to teach as well. Part of my ministry at the church is to teach people about biblical perspectives on money management and how we should honor God with our finances. It is my passion. I love to teach people about putting God first in our finances. I love teaching about how the Bible commands us to honor God with the firstfruits of our labors. However, our society tells us that giving to our local church is only something that you do when you have extra cash not the first bill that you pay. Society tells us that we need our big houses, big cars, big screen TVs and other “necessities” of American culture. It is a struggle to break the ingrained cultural attitudes toward giving only what you have left over to the local expression of God’s kingdom. It’s not our people’s fault that they were raised in this culture and its materialism. I was that way too at one time. It was a struggle after my salvation to even consider that tithing was a command not an option. However, when I began to put God first in my finances, it radically changed our lives. It changed our perspective about what we had to have. No longer do we see it necessary to have the biggest finest cars and biggest finest houses in the biggest finest neighborhood. We would rather live more simply and honor God first with our funds. It is such a relief that you learn when you rid yourself of consumer debt and can be generous. Being purposely generous, rather than purposely materialistic changes your perspective from earthly things to eternal things.

 

These are the things that I thought of this morning when I read Deuteronomy 18:1-8 this morning. Let us read it together right now:

 

18 The Levitical priests—indeed, the whole tribe of Levi—are to have no allotment or inheritance with Israel. They shall live on the food offerings presented to the Lord, for that is their inheritance. 2 They shall have no inheritance among their fellow Israelites; the Lord is their inheritance, as he promised them.

 

3 This is the share due the priests from the people who sacrifice a bull or a sheep: the shoulder, the internal organs and the meat from the head. 4 You are to give them the firstfruits of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the first wool from the shearing of your sheep, 5 for the Lord your God has chosen them and their descendants out of all your tribes to stand and minister in the Lord’s name always.

 

6 If a Levite moves from one of your towns anywhere in Israel where he is living, and comes in all earnestness to the place the Lord will choose, 7 he may minister in the name of the Lord his God like all his fellow Levites who serve there in the presence of the Lord. 8 He is to share equally in their benefits, even though he has received money from the sale of family possessions.

 

We are commanded to take care of the men of God so that they can do the ministry that they were called to do. Sure, there are some “pastors” out there that live in excess and they give pastors a bad name. Because of them, people are skiddish about giving their money to churches. You should have discernment about the lifestyle you seeing your pastor lead. However, I can assure you that the pastors at our church live as simply as possible and have no desire to have Bentleys or big mansions or private jets. They are simple men of God. Yet, I am saying that we should think of their family responsibilities that they have just like we do when we give to our church. They have kids and mortgages and car payments. They have college tuition and living expenses to pay for kids in college just like you and I do or have had or will have. You do not go without raises for years in a row – or you would leave your job over it typically – like our pastors have had to do at times. Think about that when you give. Think about keeping a level of excellence in our maintenance of our property when you give. Think about keeping the church lights on. Think about things that need fixing that give first time visitors and impression of how well we do things at our church. Think about ministries of our church being able to reach more people and do it more often when you give. Think about how many more unchurched people we could reach with the gospel message of Jesus Christ if we gave as God commanded us to. Just think of the eternal impact that would have.

 

Think about the choice that you have of buying that newer car with all its gadgets with its additional $200 a month in car payments over what you are paying now or hanging onto that car an investing it in your local church that specializes in bring the unchurched to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Can we invest in our church so that we can be excellent in everything (paying competitive salaries to our preachers and staff, keeping our church in good repair so that people will not just pass by our church because it does not look as though we even care about our own property, and having the funds to be able to send the Word of God out into our community and world further and further and reaching more and more)!

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 17:14-20 (Part 1 of 2)

Guidelines for a King

 

Choosing the right king was a concern of God in this passage. How relevant is that for us today? It is Presidents’ Day here in America. The candidates that we select are a reflection of the society that we are. Our President comes from our society so thus is a reflection of it. What we revere in a President is what we nominate for our major parties and from these two candidates, we select our President. We did not have much of choice this past election. I was not a fan of either candidate.

 

The Republican candidate was Donald Trump. Wow! Who would have ever thought that would happen. He is a man of whom I question his moral character. He finances his lavish lifestyle through bank debt and utilizing tax breaks and loopholes in the tax code. He is a man who I do not believe even understands the gravity of the position he holds. To him, I think the presidency is just another season of television show of which he is the central character. To him, I think the presidency is that final “feather in the cap” for a man who supposedly has conquered the business world. I think he is a man who is a lot of smoke and mirrors. A lot of noise signifying nothing. I do not think that any of his political promises made during the long election process are ironclad ideals in his mind. They are simply what he used to get himself elected. I fear for his presidency. We needed a moral man to have been nominated by the Republican Party and we got Donald Trump. The Republican rank and file voters became enamored with the sound and fury of Trump and the celebrity of Trump. He voiced everything that they have complained about for 20 years. He gave voice to their complaints. He was a like a big bully picking on the other nerdy candidates and yet came across with no alternatives to what the candidates were saying. Americans loved the bully act for some reason. No substance just style. Just how in the school yard, we joined in with the biggest bully making fun of a kid for no apparent reason. Trump was sound and fury but no substance. Just like us, we have had no solutions for the problems about which we complain, Trump proposed no solutions but just wanted us to be afraid of them. There are no overriding ideals that I can see in his presidency. I pray that he will eventually become a good President. However, it is my fear that he will end up bumbling so badly that it will guarantee a Democratic backlash landslide victory in 2020.

 

The Democratic candidate was Hillary Clinton. She was everything liberal. She believes in many things that are antithetical to Christian beliefs. Many Christians voted for Donald Trump not as endorsement of him and his vanity and lack of substance but rather as a condemnation of the candidacy of Clinton. I had a Facebook friend, a former high school classmate, lambast me for considering a third party candidate because such a thing would guarantee a victory for Clinton. Most assuredly, Clinton was no better a candidate than Trump. Her moral character is on the low-end. He political career over the years in support of her husband’s political career is pockmarked with moral compromises and doing whatever it takes to maintain power. He real estate deal and political wheelings and dealings are legendary. She was the power behind the seeming nature of her husband as Teflon Bill. She was the one working behind the scenes to make sure nothing stuck to Bill. Then, of course, her political views are so completely socialist that it was impossible for many rural and suburban conservative voters to support. Most rural and suburban voters for once in this election banded together to ensure that she did not have access to the most powerful office on the planet.

 

How did it come to this? We have ourselves to blame. We have become a nation of rural and suburban America pitted against urban America. Rural and suburban America believes in conservative values and still believe that taxes and government should be limited as much possible so that we can work hard and enjoy the fruits of our labors. Urban America believes in the socialist state where the government is the arbiter of morality and is the supporter of entitlements to which we all should just have rather than work for. We are a country that is at war with itself. We are country though that has made incredibly difficult to govern and to find people who are willing to govern. We are no longer a nation who seeks compromise and what is best for the country as a whole. There is no compromise in us. We want what we want and are not willing to sublimate our desires to the greater good of the country.

 

We have also become a country of people of declining moral fiber. Divorce is rampant in our country. Single parent homes dot our landscape. Missing fathers in homes is an epidemic. Sex outside marriage is glorified and encouraged. Greed is glorified. Getting what we can get when we can get it. We don’t think about our country anymore. We only care about what we want and how we can get it. So, why do we expect to have anything other than Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to come out of this political landscape?

 

That was what I thought about this morning when I read through this passage today, Deuteronomy 17:14-20, for the first of two reads. Let’s read it together now:

 

14 When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,” 15 be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses. He must be from among your fellow Israelites. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not an Israelite. 16 The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” 17 He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.

 

18 When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. 19 It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20 and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.

 

In this passage, God was not encouraging Israel to appoint a king to rule their nation. He was actually against the idea because He was king and the people were to obey and follow Him. However, He knew that they would one day want a king so that they could be like the neighboring nations. If they insisted on having a king, He wanted to make sure they chose the right person. That is why he included these instructions both for the people’s benefit as those chose their king but also for the king himself as He sought to lead the nation according to God’s laws.

 

However, Israel’s kings did not heed this warning and their behavior led to their downfall. Solomon had going for him but he did everything that God warned against right here in this passage. He built up a large army, married many wives, became wealthy and proud, and turned his heart away from God. Out of Solomon’s disobedience came Israel’s disobedience, division, and captivity.

 

My prayer is that our country will turn from its self-indulgence and deep divisions and its sense of immediate self-gratification and turn back toward the values of God. May we become a nation that thinks of God first, nation second, and ourselves third. May we become a nation that encourages the brightest and best to run for public office. May we see it as our duty as Christ followers to be part of the solutions to the problems of our nation rather than just complain about the lack of choices that we have. May we be the driving force behind having real choices in our candidates for public office and particularly the presidency. May our Presidents in the future be a reflection of a nation that has returned to God. May we as Christians provide that leadership and do the tough work of getting elected locally, regionally, state-wide, and nationally and may we be the ones that have real ideals about what we want to accomplish and that being of creating a nation that honors God.

 

I pray that in future elections for President that because of the work we have done as Christians that we have men and women of great character to choose from.

 

Amen and Amen.