Archive for February, 2017

Deuteronomy 17:2-13

Requirement for Several Witnesses

I remember watching the movie, “All the President’s Men”, in which Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman portrayed the real life reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who broke the Watergate scandal and subsequent cover-up that brought down the Nixon presidency. Back in those days, newspapers were king. In those days, there was no instant news. There was no CNN. There was no Fox News. There was no instant social media. Newspapers would come out once a day (though some papers had afternoon editions) and pretty much every household subscribed to the newspapers. In those days, newspapers had the luxury of time. Because of that luxury, newspapers had the tradition of verifying news stories from multiple sources. It was expected and required. It was also a good thing. It was in that atmosphere that Woodward and Bernstein broke open all the illegal activities conducted by the Committee to Re-Elect the President (or CREEP, as was its acronym). As part of the process, each and every story they wrote about the scandal, they had to verify their original sources with multiple corroborative sources. The White House could say that the stories were not true but the evidence of corroborative sources was so overwhelming that the stories had traction. With each revelation that was corroborated and corroborated again, the nails began to be placed in the coffin of what was the presidency of Richard Nixon. The evidence was so overwhelming that President Nixon resigned his office in August 1974 right in the middle of his second term as President.

 

Fast forward to today, we have cell phone videos. We have Instagram. We have 24 hour news cycles on television. We have instant access to what’s going on in the world. Is it necessarily a good thing? I begin to wonder. Now, there is no time for newspapers, television stations, networks, etc. to verify news sources to corroborate a story as being true. We see it. We form and opinion. We report it. There is such a fundamental breakdown in journalistic standards in our nation and the rest of the world that we no longer can trust what we see and read as news. It used to be that the news providers would police themselves with what they called journalistic standards where by their own professional integrity that they would only report what they knew and had verified to be true. No longer is that true. We the news consumer must determine for ourselves what is true and what is not. Now, the news outlets seem to be outlets for whatever political agenda that their news agency supports. CNN is known to be quite liberal. Fox News is known to be quite conservative, for example. You can watch the same news event on each of these international news outlets and come away thinking very different things. Even the news agencies, once the bastions of impartiality and “just the facts” have become part of the polarized political landscape in which we live.

 

We the general public are to blame as well. We take our cell phone videos and stir up millions with our selective reporting of news events. We also knee jerk react to what we see. We do not expect that the truth will prevail anymore. We form our opinions and react to the news regardless of what the facts of the situation truly are. Police shootings are automatically the fault of the police and the facts of the case are no longer a relevant thing, only the spin that we put on things is relevant. We manage our own truth now. Journalistic standards are no longer necessary only political spin is. It is a reflection of the fact that we no longer care about absolute truth anymore as a society. We makes me happy is my truth. What makes you happy is your truth. We no longer care or believe that there are absolute truths in life. As a result, the media is a reflection of our society. We only read and listen and watch those news agencies that support our brand of the truth.

 

This morning as I was reading this passage, I thought about how tough it was for Woodward and Bernstein to crack open the Watergate scandal (so much so that it required a two hour movie to summarize it) and how different today’s knee-jerk journalism is from that. How we go about determining the truth today is far from biblical and that’s what came to mind when I read Deuteronomy 17:2-13. Let’s read it now, together:

 

2 If a man or woman living among you in one of the towns the Lord gives you is found doing evil in the eyes of the Lord your God in violation of his covenant, 3 and contrary to my command has worshiped other gods, bowing down to them or to the sun or the moon or the stars in the sky, 4 and this has been brought to your attention, then you must investigate it thoroughly. If it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, 5 take the man or woman who has done this evil deed to your city gate and stone that person to death. 6 On the testimony of two or three witnesses a person is to be put to death, but no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. 7 The hands of the witnesses must be the first in putting that person to death, and then the hands of all the people. You must purge the evil from among you.

 

8 If cases come before your courts that are too difficult for you to judge—whether bloodshed, lawsuits or assaults—take them to the place the Lord your God will choose. 9 Go to the Levitical priests and to the judge who is in office at that time. Inquire of them and they will give you the verdict. 10 You must act according to the decisions they give you at the place the Lord will choose. Be careful to do everything they instruct you to do. 11 Act according to whatever they teach you and the decisions they give you. Do not turn aside from what they tell you, to the right or to the left. 12 Anyone who shows contempt for the judge or for the priest who stands ministering there to the Lord your God is to be put to death. You must purge the evil from Israel. 13 All the people will hear and be afraid, and will not be contemptuous again.

 

In this passage, we see that a person was not put to death on the testimony of one witness. On the witness of two or three, a man or woman could be condemned and then sentenced to death. This process protected the rights of the accused person two ways. First, by requiring several witnesses, it prevented an angry individual from stirring up a mob mentality with false testimony. Second, by requiring the accusers to participate in the execution of the court’s judgment, it made them think twice about accusing someone in an unjust manner.

 

Shouldn’t we be that way as Christians in the world in which we live. We must discern the real truth from political spin. We must have the discernment not to participate in mob mentalities. We must have the discernment not to be ready to stone those who do not believe in the same manner that we do until we have corroborated the facts. We are commanded by the Bible not too quick to judge. It is upon this basis that our court systems were developed. It was under this basis that all of our system of government was built so as to prevent the mob from destroying our country just because they believe something to be true when the truth might be something different. We may hate our court systems for letting criminals go free over technicalities. But I think it was Benjamin Franklin that said that it is better for a 100 criminals to go free than for 1 innocent man to go to prison. We have become a nation that no longer cares about the truth. The truth is what I frame it as. Let us not be participants in this mentality and let us as Christians lead to way in changing our nation into a nation that seeks the absolute truth and not just our version of it. Absolute truth comes from God and everything else is just opinion.

 

We must not be a people who participate in knee jerk reactions and opinions taken as truth. We, of all people, should seek truth, the absolute truth. We should be the ones that seek it and find it. We are children of God who have been given the benefit of the doubt. We were actually rightfully convicted by our sin and condemned to the death known as hell if it were not for the action of Jesus Christ to take our punishment for us. We were redeemed and set free from our punishment. Therefore, it is biblical for us, to seek the truth and not join the mob just because the mob is large. Jesus was crucified as part of God’s plan but on the human side of things, He was crucified by public opinion. We must have discernment and a willingness to find the truth and corroborate it. We must not join the bandwagon because everyone else is. We must stand for the truth. We must seek it. We must find it. We must not be the like mob that crucified Jesus unjustly. We must honor Jesus by seeking truth always, not just that which is easy – following the mob’s perception of truth, their spin of the truth. We must be willing to stand up for what is right and true even if the media spins the truth, even if the mob determines its own truth.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 17:1

Sacrifices of Defective Animals

It so common to go to church and see people fishing through their pockets to find that crumpled up $5 bill in their pockets to put in the offering basket. So many of us give God our leftovers and not our best. And I am not just talking about obedience concerning the tithe, but that is a big part of it. We give God our what’s left of our money, our time, our talents and our resources.

 

With regard to money, most Americans live off of an average of 104% of what they make and are in deep debt. That was a description of me until several years ago when I resolved to get off the merry-go-round of debt and spending money foolishly on things that I justified that I deserved. As I have worked through paying off debts, I have made room to be obedient to God in my finances. I am now about to tithe and also give offerings above that. There was a freedom that came in that process. It taught me that I don’t have to have everything brand new, the bigger car, the bigger house, and all the toys that go with it. When we let go of those desires, we can begin to experience the freedom that God intended for us. We can be generous to our church and to the needs of people around us including our children. When we create room for obedience to God in our finances, there is trust that develops in Him to provide for us. He changes our perspective on the things that we want and need. I think that’s the biggest thing that comes from obedience to the Lord in our finances is that we have a changed perspective about money. We see it now as a tool for obeying the Lord and for helping others.

 

Have you ever been to a church meeting or chaired a meeting at church and only half the people invited show up? We honor the Lord with our time as well. When we find other things that are more important than our responsibilities at church, it defines our priorities. Just as with our money, we must create room to be obedient to God. When we look upon church responsibilities as “I will do it if I have time” kind of thing we place burdens on others. When we look at church responsibilities as optional rather than a priority then we are in essence saying to God that He is not that important to us. We must learn to give priority to things of the Lord by prioritizing it in our daily schedules.

 

There is an old saying in churches that 20% of the people do 80% of the work. This is where the talents and resources come in. Churches are desperate always for people who have talents in various walks of life. Churches are desperate to help the community around them if they only had people who would commit to and follow through on helping out with those needs brought to the attention of the churches. You have talents that your church could use right now. Many avoid volunteering at church because they don’t want to get tied down to it. That again goes to priorities.

 

This statement about not bringing defective animals for sacrifice made me think of how we shortchange God in so many different ways. Let’s read this short passage/verse together this morning:

 

17 Do not sacrifice to the Lord your God an ox or a sheep that has any defect or flaw in it, for that would be detestable to him.

 

The Israelites must have been like us in that God had to lay down the law about bring defective animals for sacrifice. It was no sacrifice to bring a lame or otherwise worthless animal for sacrifice. God commanded that the Israelites bring their best to Him. That’s why it is a sacrifice. Giving up a prize animal in those days was like giving up money in the bank. God wanted to instill in the Israelites that they should give God their first and their best at all times and in everything they do.

 

There is a lesson here for us too. When we give God our leftovers in our money, time, talents, and resources, it is like bringing the worst of the flock to the temple for sacrifice. When we give our leftovers we are just trying to fit God into the array of things we worship in life. When we give Him our leftovers, we are saying to God that you are optional. You are a menu option.

 

Let us remember that God is the Creator of the universe. He knitted us together in our mothers’ wombs. He gives us the talents that we have. Then, we use those talents to provide for our families. So, everything is sourced from our Creator. Our money is His. Our time is His. Our talents are His. Our resources are His. It all comes from Him. Let us begin to place a higher priority on honoring God with our finances and with our attention to the needs of our church and our community. Let us be seen as a people who want to give God their best in everything. Excellence in everything we do for the Lord should be our aim rather than oh, it’s ok, it’s only church—it’s not like it’s my job or anything. We should want our church to be excellent rather than having to scramble to find warm bodies to fill needed positions. We should want our church to be excellent and serving the world around it rather than having to decide whether they have enough money to keep the power from being cutoff at the church. We should want to honor God through our church, through our finances, through our time, talents, and resources. No more leftovers! Let’s be excellent when it comes to God, our Creator!

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 16:21-22

Worshiping Other Gods

Several months ago, I wrote a 28-page essay on my spiritual journey from birth to the cross at age 39 and beyond. When you have to sit down a write your life’s journey, it can be a revealing endeavor. When you are brutally honest about yourself and what all the events of your life really mean in the grander scheme of things, it can reveal things to you, about you, that you may not like. I may post that life’s journey here one day just so that I can share it with whomever stops by my website. Maybe, you can learn from it. But for today, let’s just suffice it to say that I had something else other than God my god. Growing up as a preacher’s kid, and a Methodist preacher’s kid at that, we were always moving. Every two to three years it was a new town and new people. I became a chameleon. I took on the colors of the world around me. Approval was the key to my soul. I wanted to be accepted above all. That was the main theme of my life for much of my life. Fitting in and being accepted. Always feeling like an outsider looking in. Always looking for that way to feel like I was a member of the club.

 

As I grew older into my teenage years and all throughout the first 45 years of my life (even the six years after salvation at age 39), I grew to see acceptance and approval as how the woman in my life felt about me. God, I look back at all those years with fear and trepidation now. But much of my life was equating access to sex with the woman in my life with my value as a person and as a way to validate who I was. As you can see, that is a recipe for failure. In order to maintain “bedroom approval” I would be a puppet on a string. I do not blame the women of my past for making me a puppet. People will take the power that you allow them to have over you just by subtle nature. I would forsake family, friends, good sense, I would forsake it all to maintain bedroom approval. It happened in both of my first two marriages and I let it happen. I was an approval junkie. I needed the woman in my life to pat me on the head and say “good boy!” The way that was evidenced to me was through the sharing of their feminine charms with me. By nature, they each realized the power that they had over me and would use it to achieve their goals in the relationship. I let ‘em do it too! Sure, I will stay in a constant state of war with someone in my family so as to isolate me away and make the approval needs that much greater (as it was with my first wife and mother of my children). Sure, I would do only what was legally necessary for my kids from the time their were 8 and 3 til they were 16 and 11 while I was married to my second wife. Sure, anything to do with my past before I met her I would discard and throw away. All of it was about bedroom approval. I would do anything to keep that. That is how I validated myself as having value. I was an approval junkie of the highest order. Approval of women was my god. It was the Asherah pole that I set up beside the altar of God.

 

That idea of making something other than God your god and how it was the approval of women that was my god is what I thought of immediately when I read these two short verses today. Let’s read Deuteronomy 16:21-22 together this morning:

 

21 Do not set up any wooden Asherah pole beside the altar you build to the Lord your God, 22 and do not erect a sacred stone, for these the Lord your God hates.

 

I would love to say that things changed immediately after I accepted Christ as my Savior at age 39, but things did begin to change slowly. Through my salvation, I found that my kids were actually important to me and that I was going to do more than what was legally required for them. That was a choice between bedroom approval and doing right by my kids. That pretty much ended the second marriage. That was a devastating blow to me because it withdrew access to bedroom approval. In the years after that, my kids came first but I was still dealing with approval needs and still trying to validate myself through sex. I was younger, slimmer, and better looking in those days. It was still my nature to find approval through the relations that I had with women. When you make a thing other than God your idol, you will make stupid mistakes and people will fail you. When you make a person and what they can offer you, your god, you will be led down a path of self-destruction. It was not until God brought Elena into my life that things finally began to change.

 

She was unimpressed with my Casanova style. She was going through recovery from divorce herself so some hot shot, smooth talkin’ fella was unimpressive to her. She was a challenge and at first I gave up on trying to have a relationship with her. But she lived right downstairs from me and we became friends, first. We had long conversations on her porch at her apartment. We were honest with each other about our mistakes of our past. We were honest with each and let each other see the other’s skeletons and our fears about relationships going forward. In the midst of that friendship, I fell in love with her. God then removed me and sent me to California. The amazing thing that happened though was that our relationship survived that for a year and half before she moved out to California to be with me. With sex off the table, we became even deeper friends. We learned to love each other without sex being a part of the picture. I learned that a woman could love you for just being who you are and that I did not have be a puppet on a string. It has been through this relationship with Elena that God, I know, planted in my life that I have learned about agape love, the love that God has for us. Through my relationship with the woman who is now my wife, I have seen that love can really be unconditional and not predicated by rules or expectations. You just love. That is the way God is with us because He doesn’t want to see us destroyed by the Asherah poles that we set up beside what should be God’s sole place in our heart.

 

What is your Asherah pole that you have made equal to God? Is it your job? Is it your spouse? Is it money? Is it sex? Is it approval from others? What is your Asherah pole? What is your idol that you worship instead of or along with God? Take my word for it. Anything less than worshiping God alone is a recipe for disaster. Take a look at what you make as important to you as God and remove it! When we make idols in our lives, they will lead us to pain, heartache, and a destroyed life. Take it from one who has risen from the ashes through the action of the Holy Spirit in my soul as sent by Jesus Christ at the day of my salvation. Flee from your idols. Make God the only true God of your life. Everything will begin to slowly change as we dig ourselves out of the muck and mess that we have made out of our lives. Flee from your idols now!

 

Amen and Amen.

This morning I take a break from my normal routine of walking through books of the Bible to pay some props to my girl, the one who changed everything for me…

Dear Elena,

This morning, I must admit that I forgot to buy a card because, well, I am scatterbrained at times. However, as this day progresses, you will see that I did not forget the day. I think you will enjoy how this day ends and it will show how much I do love you and appreciate you.

The main thing that comes to mind when I think of you and what you mean to me is thank you. Thank you is what you say to people when they have done something for you or have given something to you.

You have done so much for me. You settled my life down for one. When I met you, I was kind of lost and out of control. I had been single for a good while when I met you. Back then, I was thinner and more confident with the ladies and was jumping from one empty relationship to another. It was a life that was a rollercoaster of emotions, desires, and mistakes. Even my marriages previous to you were the same way, rollercoaster rides. You were unimpressed with my charms and you became a challenge to me. The last thing you wanted was a relationship. However, we became friends first. Long talks about life on your deck at your apartment. Then, we fell in love and my life has hit the smooth waters since I met you. You have made me a home that is a safe haven. You have done so much for me. There is no drama, no craziness, no forgetting who I am just to satisfy and make someone else happy. You have let me be me and you love me for the quirky, nerdy, goofy guy that I am. You have done so much for me and I thank you.

You have given me so much. You give me love without question. You are my help meet. You pray for me to be the man of this house. You give me wise counsel. You never try to be the man of the house because that is what you want me to be. You give me everything that you are. I feel warmth and love from you. You love me and care for me without expectation of return. I hope that I am half as good a husband to you are you are a wife to me. You give me an example of how I should be. I wish that I had the depth of soul and the depth of emotion that you have. I wish that I had the compassion that you have for others. I would that I had the heart of service that you. You have given me so much. You make me want to be a better man. Just being in the glow of who you are makes me want to strive to be a better man. You have given me so much.

For what you have done for me and for what you have given me, I say thank you. I thank you for saying yes to my proposal of marriage on this day in 2009. You swept into my life in 2007 and changed it forever and I thank you for that. I love you, my dear wife, and no matter what happens in our personal, professional or spiritual lives from this point forward, I only have to look to my left or my right (depending on which side you walk on, LOL!) and know that you are by my side and that you are in this for the long-haul, no matter what we have, no matter where we live, and no matter what we are doing. For that I thank you…and I love you.

Happy Valentine’s Day, baby,

Mark (your husband, your partner, your best friend)

Deuteronomy 16:18-20

Appoint Wise Judges

Where are you, men of courage? That was the key line from the movie, Courageous, from a few years back. That was my first thought after the Republican and Democratic conventions back this past summer. Has it really come to this that our only real viable choices for the President’s office of our great land were Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton? These are the two people we must choose from? Donald Trump, the adulterous, lying, using the tax code to his advantage, living a wealthy lifestyle off of smoke and mirrors and bank loans Republican candidate juxtaposed against the lying, do and say whatever it takes, shady deals, managing spin, career politician Hillary Clinton. These were our choices. Neither one of these candidates was worthy of the position that they are vying for. Both were and are Machiavellian candidates who are willing to do whatever, say whatever, say one thing to one group and a different thing to another group to get elected kind of people. Many of us sat back and wondered how it all came to this. The worst set of candidates to choose from – ever! You would hear and read the posts of people on Facebook that were so against Hillary Clinton that they were trying to justify voting for Donald Trump, clearly a man not morally fit for the job and clearly a man who has no clue about the office he now holds. Those from the anti-Trump camp would sing the praises of woman whose political career over the decades has shown that she is willing to do almost anything to maintain her power or her path to the next position. The campaign became less about the country’s need but rather bashing the other candidate. I was sick and disgusted when I went into the voting booth in November. I am no happier now.

 

When we ask why we ended up with lackluster, morally bankrupt candidates? We only have to look at ourselves. These candidates were the reflection of the society in which we now live. People got behind Trump because he was a celebrity and he said all the right things. He did not have to have a plan. He just had to tell us that everything was bad and make you afraid of it. People got behind Clinton because our nation has become so liberal, so desirous of entitlements, so desirous of the government taking care of us, so desirous of not working hard that her message was appealing. We have become a nation enamored with celebrity and so enamored with a sense of entitlement that this is what we got. Additionally, we have become a country that has drifted so far from God that the expectation of our leaders to be morally upright is a thing of the past. We worship ourselves and what we can get and acquire. We have become a nation where what matters most are my rights and it does not matter what is right. We Christians sit back and complain about what has happened to our country. We falsely believe that Trump will return America to its moral center but yet he is a man without one. We Christians complain about our country but yet we are not offering ourselves up for public service. We want Christian men and women to run for office but yet we got wrapped up the celebrity of Trump because he had the loudest voice. Christian men like Marco Rubio were trounced in the process. We wonder why there are not more Marco Rubios out there. Just look what happened in 2016.

 

Where are you, men of courage? Where are you, upright men of God? Our nation will not return to its Christian center and its Christian values until there are more of us willing to stand up and be counted. We must have more candidates with Christian values running for office and willing to make the sacrifices to do so. Have we become so enamored with our own comforts that we are no longer will to fight the fights that need fighting. Are we no longer will to pay the costs for public service? Let us think more of the needs of our cities, counties, states and country than we do of our mortgage? We need Christian men of courage who are willing to say that I will stand up and make the sacrifice for public service. Where are you, men of courage? Otherwise, we will continue to get the choices that we had in 2016 and we cannot complain about it. Do you want 2020 to be another situation where you are voting against someone rather than for someone? Do you want 2020 to be a choice between the lesser of two evils? Do you want 2020 to be like a Clemson fan have to choose between that which he detests the least, a Florida State Seminole or a South Carolina Gamecock? Where are you, men of courage?

 

That was the first thought that came to mind when I read through today’s passage, Deuteronomy 16:18-20, was that we have lost the men of courage in the public arena in our country. Let’s read the passage together now:

 

18 Appoint judges and officials for each of your tribes in every town the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall judge the people fairly. 19 Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent. 20 Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you.

 

These verses anticipated a great problem the Israelites would face when they arrived in the Promised Land. Although they had Joshua as their national leaders (who was a morally upright and great man), they failed to complete the task and choose other spiritual leaders who would lead their tribes, districts, and cites with justice and God’s wisdom. Because they did not appoint wise judges and faithful administrators, rebellion and injustice plagued their communities. It is a serious responsibility to appoint or elect wise and just officials. In your sphere of influence are you and I ensuring that justice prevails? Failing to choose leaders that will uphold justice can lead to much trouble, just as Israel discovered later.

 

We, as Christians, can no longer afford to hide in the woodwork and complain about where our country is headed. We must run for public office. We must give people the real choices. We must, too, as voters not fall in love with the celebrity of a man before we examine his record. We must look for leaders who have the moral fiber to be upright leaders. We can no longer sit back and wait for it to get better. We must be the better. We must support men of courage to get into the ring and we must be men of courage ourselves. Where are you, men of courage?

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 16:13-17

The Festival of Shelters

As many of you know, it is the burden that God has laid on my heart to be in full-time ministry. Right now, I am partially there as I am on staff part-time at my church. Recently, I went through the interview process, a long and drawn out one at that, for an administrative pastor’s position at a church in Ohio. I got as far in the process as being flown in with my spouse for a weekend of interviews. By this fact alone, I assumed that we were going to get the job. The interview process went well. We really liked the church and the people. It all seemed like a good fit. We had prayed about it and talked about it a lot over the past week and we were ready to go if the offer came. We really were going to miss Upstate South Carolina (it is home to us) but we were ready for the new challenges that lie ahead in a different part of the country. We had lived further away before, for a time, out in California so it was not completely out of this world to us to have to move to a different region of the country. So, we were ready.

 

However, this past Friday, we learned that I did not get the job or rather that we did not get the job. In the world of church, you are a ministry couple. You and your wife are a ministry team. My wife was interviewed as much as I was during our visit to Ohio. So, it was a blow to both of us. The inevitable self-doubts come in when you get rejected for a job. We have been processing those feeling all weekend. What does it all mean? Why did we not get the job? We demonstrated that we had a willingness to follow God’s call wherever that might lead us. Sure, we would have preferred that God would lead us to some tropical climate like San Juan, PR but we were ready to move into the colder climes of northern Ohio. What was it that turned them off? Was it our honesty about our respective past lives? Was it that I had written in my spiritual journey essay (which was part of the application process) that one of my long-range goals was to be a teaching pastor or a professor? Was it that they did not think that this was a destination job for me? Was it that I was a not a career preacher but a second career one? Was it that I was not part of the clique of pastors who have that shared experience? Was it that I was not good enough? You question yourself and it brings in self-doubt as to whether you are just kidding yourself with this desire to be in full-time ministry. You question yourself as if you are an outsider looking in? You question yourself as to whether you’ve wasting your time following foolish dream – and was it really a call from God? Those are things that I have been, and my wife has been, dealing with this weekend. We are in our mid-fifties, Lord! When is the call going to come? The window of productive time to serve the Lord in full-time ministry is getting smaller by the day. When, Lord, when? Those were the questions of the weekend so far. Self-doubt. Examining what could possibly have gone wrong. Was it us and something we said? Was it a reference? Was it that they just didn’t think we had what it took? It is easy then with this self-doubt to convince yourself to give up on the whole thing – serving the Lord even in our current capacities. We are tired and wounded from the journey of the past eight years (from Livermore Alive to LifeSong Church) where we have served and served and served and gave and gave and gave.

 

This morning, I wake up on a Sunday morning and it is time to go to church in what has been our church home for 6 ½ years now. Even though we have had our egos bruised a bit by the Ohio rejection, we have a home at LifeSong. It is our church. We are invested there. And, today, is Sunday. It is time to go to the Sunday morning celebration. It is that idea of celebrating God even when your heart hurts is what I thought of this morning as I read Deuteronomy 16:13-17. Let’s read it now together:

 

13 Celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress. 14 Be joyful at your festival—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns. 15 For seven days celebrate the festival to the Lord your God at the place the Lord will choose. For the Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete.

 

16 Three times a year all your men must appear before the Lord your God at the place he will choose: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks and the Festival of Tabernacles. No one should appear before the Lord empty-handed: 17 Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the Lord your God has blessed you.

 

Three times a year every male was to make a journey to the sanctuary in the city that would be designated as Israel’s religious capital. At these festivals, each participant was encouraged to give to God in proportion to what God had given him. It was to be a celebration time for the blessing of the Lord. I am sure that there were times when times were hard that it may have been difficult for the Israelites for find reason for celebration but they were obedient and did it anyway. They would to view it from a lifetime perspective at times. In the difficult times, we have to remember what all God has done for throughout our lives and that He will deliver us from the hard times. We must celebrate the sovereignty of God.

 

For me, that is what I must remember this Sunday morning after a weekend of self-doubt after a rejection is that I am a mightily blessed man. We have been blessed with my job at Fujikura that has allowed us to be generous people. I am a blessed man who has been blessed with a wonderful wife that gives me wise counsel and who takes care of me and spoils me rotten. I am blessed man in that my wife and I have matured greatly in Christ over these past 6 ½ years at the church we call home and under the leadership of our elders/pastors. We have been a part of the church’s impacting other people’s lives. We have been blessed by all the people that have passed through our small group in the past five years that have gone on to lead life groups themselves. We have been blessed by the friendships that we have developed over the past 6 ½ years. The Lord has delivered us through several crises at Fujikura and set me on that high, dry ground each time. Even though I have a past before Christ that I am not proud of, I am seem at work as a Christ follower and as a man of principle. These are blessings that I must celebrate this morning. Just look how far the Lord has taken Elena and I since that day we first met in Rock Hill, SC back in 2007. From Rock Hill, SC to Livermore, CA to Duncan-Lyman, SC, the things that God has providentially done in our lives is what we go to church and celebrate this morning.

 

When you look back at what God has done in our lives and what He has led us through and led us to so far, we must trust Him now with the fact that Ohio was not the right place. We must trust that He had a purpose in that three month process. We must trust that it was just not the right door for us at this moment. We must trust that there is a door that He will lead us to that is the right door at the right time and in the right place. We must continue to plow the field that we are plowing right now. There is still much to do at LifeSong and much to do in pursuing my doctoral studies. There are dreams that He has not even revealed to us yet and we must trust that. He has brought us a mighty long way already. Why quit trusting Him now? Keep plowing the field in which you find yourself. Keep serving. Keep loving God. Keep trusting in Him. When you look back at all the things that He has brought us through together and individually, we must trust Him. That’s what we celebrate this morning and that’s what we will celebrate on Monday…on Tuesday…on Wednesday…on Thursday…on Friday….and on Saturday.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 16:9-12

The Festival of Harvest

In its research on the topic of tithing….wait! come back! Where is everybody going….OK. So, let’s start again. In its research on the topic of tithing, I recently read an article, “What Would Happen if The Church Tithed?” by Mike Holmes in the online version of Relevant Magazine. From his research for the article, he learned that tithers often make only 25% or less of the typical congregation. Christians give less, on average, now to their churches (on average 2.5% of their income) than churchgoers gave during the decade of the Great Depression (on average, 3.3% of their income). Holmes pushed the supposition of what could be done by the global church if every post-salvation maturing Christian tithed. He estimates that there would be another $165 Billion (that’s right, billion) annually in the coffers of churches. What could be done with that additional money, he asks. He says that:

 

  • $25 Billion could be directed at world hunger and it could be vanquished within five years.
  • $12 Billion could be directed at global illiteracy and could be a thing of the past in five years.
  • $15 Billion could be directed at solving clean water and sanitation issues globally
  • Only $1 Billion is all it would take to fully fund Christian missionaries the globe over.
  • And then the remaining billions could be invested locally by churches to impact their town, their nation, and their world for Christ.

 

Just imagine that world! Just think about the impact that your local church would have if everyone took seriously the point of putting God first in our finances. Just look at my church. At my church, last year, 485 giving units gave at least one donation during the year which generated our church’s funding for 2016. The average giving unit donation (I say average because the 485 includes a number of people only gave one time all year) for our church was $1,600 annually ($133.33 per month, or approximately $31 per week). If that was tithing it would mean that our church’s average annual income was only $16,000 per year. Further, the 485 giving units means that there is a whole segment of the average 700 attendees to our church that do not give at all.  Just say the statistics show us that the median income in the Lyman-Duncan-Wellford, SC area is approximately $50,000 per year. What if that represented who we are as a church. What if we tithed based on the statistics? Just say that there is always going to be that 10% of your attendees that do not give so that knocks us down to 630 potential givers each Sunday. That 630 represents family giving units so we must divide that number by 2.5 (to account for single people being less than two people but making up a giving unit and to account married with children which on  average is 4.5 people per giving unit). That leaves you with 252 giving units potentially on each Sunday. Then making on average $50,000 per year were giving each Sunday and were tithing on their gross income. That’s $96 per week per giving unit times 252 potential giving units which equals approximately $24,200 per week and that would equal $1,258,400 per year. $96 per week per giving unit would amount to an average giving per year per family of almost $5,000 per year. However, our average per giving unit is 30% of that and our annual budget is about 60% of the potential that I mentioned earlier. What a difference we could make in our community if we gave to our fullest potential. What a difference could make in spreading the gospel message. What if we did not have to choose between paying the light bill and lighting up the community and our world with the loving message of Jesus Christ. It boggles the mind when you think about it.

 

I am not writing this to condemn anyone or guilt anyone into giving more than they do, but rather to give and idea of what could be and how far and deep we could impact our world with the gospel message. As we see in Luke 8, there were those ladies in Jesus’ traveling entourage that helped finance Jesus’ earthly ministry from their own means. So, yes, there is a business side to the gospel message. It costs money to spread the gospel. That is just a fact. As Mike Holmes said in his article, what it all God’s people really grasped the idea of firstfruits. What if we all gave the best of our modern day “crops” to the Lord right off the top. That is what I thought of this morning as I read Deuteronomy 16:9-12. Let’s read it together now:

 

9 Count off seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain. 10 Then celebrate the Festival of Weeks to the Lord your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the Lord your God has given you. 11 And rejoice before the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, the Levites in your towns, and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows living among you. 12 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt, and follow carefully these decrees.

 

The key phrases in this passage are (1) giving in proportion to the blessings given us and (2) remembering that we were once slaves. I think it is important that we remember how richly blessed we are by God each one of us. In the United States, we are blessed beyond measure. Travel abroad and see how some people have to live. You come away realizing just how mightily we are blessed. Things that we take for granted are luxuries in some parts of the world. There is an old saying that you can tell a hungry man about Jesus until you feed him. We are blessed to live in this country and we could have easily been born elsewhere, say, maybe, in a third world country, barely eeking out an existence. We did not earn being born in the United States. We were born here by the grace, the grace only, of God. With great wealth comes great responsibility. Even us middle class folks are part of the richest 2% of people in the world. We did nothing to come by our access to the things that we have in the United States. It is a gift from God that we were born here. Therefore, we should simply be thankful for that when it comes time to give to the churches that we go to. We should be living lives of thankfulness for just being born in this country. Just think if we all acted as if we were thankful to the Lord for this blessing alone rather than thinking that we somehow deserve it all. That might lead us to live lives of generosity. That might lead us to give God the top 10% or more of what we make. That might lead us to change the world through the uncommon love and generosity of Christians rather than being Christians who think like the world and think that whomever has the most toys at the end, wins.

 

The second thing we must remember when we think of being obediently generous to our church is to remember that like the Jews being slaves in Egypt, we too were once slaves to sin that condemned us to hell for eternity. We deserve hell but yet when we gave our life to Christ, He covered our sins and imputed His sinlessness to us. We do not by rights deserve this grace. But we serve a generous God. He gave us what we needed to be reconciled to Him through His Son, Jesus. He gave this grace to us. We did not and do not earn it. We can’t be good enough to make up for the taint of the sins in our lives. The first sin and all the others after it make us unholy and undeserving to be in the presence of the Lord in eternity. But God is so generous and loving toward us even though we don’t deserve it. He gave us our prize, the perfection of Jesus Christ that we are clothed in when we accept Him as our Savior. So, we should be living lives of complete adoration and thankfulness to our Lord. Our secured eternity should give us this essence of thanksgiving that transcends and permeates everything we do. We should give God our best no matter what it is. We must give Him our best, then, too, in our finances. He should get the best of that too. He should get our best “crops” not our leftovers. It is an act of thanksgiving. It is an act of obedience. It is an act of trust. Trusting God to do reach the world through each of our donations to our church.

 

Just think what an impact, the bride of Christ, the church, could have on a dead and dying world if we all understood the concept of giving God the best of the fruits of our labors. What if we quit trying to keep up with the Joneses and tried to keep up with the ways of God. What if God’s people gave because they saw it as an opportunity to participate in sending the gospel message out into the world. What if we saw it as being able to participate in life change. What if we saw it as an opportunity to contribute to reaching people and their coming to know Jesus Christ as their Savior.

 

What if…

 

 

Amen and Amen.