Archive for February, 2020

1 Chronicles 11:4-9

David Captures Jerusalem

In the books of Chronicles, we see the history of Israel repeated from the previous historical books prior to it. The telling of the stories again in Chronicles is for a different purpose. Chronicles was produced while Israel and Judah were in conquered exile. The purpose of Chronicles was to analyze the history so that future generations would not make the same mistakes as their forefathers, but also to praise those men of Israelite history that kept the faith and sought after God. Today, we begin reliving some of the episodes of the life of David.

Here, we are reminded of David and how he “was a man after God’s own heart!” Although David made many mistakes as a military leader and as king, he was indeed a man that sought after God. He was a man who, when his sins were made clear to him, he would go into mourning and repentance and emerge a stronger man of God. He was a great man of God in the biblical age. However, for some reason, as we go down memory lane in Chronicles, I was reminded of how David’s intentions, even though he was an obvious man of God, were often questioned. Certainly, there were cases where he brought on himself, but there was one particular incident that came to mind where his motives were pure but he was still criticized. That incident was when he was bringing the Ark into the city of Jerusalem. He was so overjoyed at finally being able to bring the visual evidence of a God he loved back into the city, he danced in just a joy of happiness that some of us may never know as he was leading the Ark into the city. He was criticized for showing his exuberant love of God at that moment. His detractors said he was being egotistical and drawing attention unto himself.

The reason that I thought about that incident as I read this passage of David’s ascension as a man of God is that this issue just keeps getting repeated to me in different ways. This past week, for my Pastoral Theology course related to my pursuit of my D.Min. degree, I had to prepare a research paper on the theological positions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In the course of my research, it really developed in my mind that Dr. King’s theological positions were mainly focused on the theology of right now, the theology of urgency. Dr. King’s positions on theological issues were still evolving as he was only 39 years old when he was murdered in April 1968. However, the most developed part of his theological positions were about those aspect of our faith that call us to do something now, not later, not just pray and leave it at that. Dr. King if he would have had a favorite biblical author, it would have been James. James chastised the Jerusalem Christians for being too much in the head and the heart with their love of God and not enough in action in a world that needs us to change it. To James and to Dr. King, faith without action was simply a head game, an academic exercise. Praying for someone but not acting bothered both men. However, at the same time, Dr. King was criticized by even moderate whites for pressing too hard and constantly keeping the issues too much in the spotlight. His detractors even said that he was trying to put the spotlight on himself. They called his actions self-indulgent and egotistical.

And then just last night, I was reading about the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 1. It was there that Paul was having to defend his ministry simply because they felt snubbed by him because he had to change his travel plans and could not come immediately to Corinth. With that perceived snub, they began to question Paul’s authority and motives altogether. As we progress through 2 Corinthians, we see that Paul has to defend his ministry from all sorts of accusations. It is a stern letter that defends his ministry and as you read it, you have to feel sorry for Paul, a passionate man of God, who is having to defend himself and his ministry just because a perceived snub of having to reschedule a visit.

In all three of these situations, it is a reminder that no matter how godly of a person you might be, there will be those who criticize you. And like David, you press on. And like Paul, you press on. And like Dr. King, you press on. This passage reminds us of David’s main motivation was that he was a man after God’s own heart and the memory of his dancing in front of the ark that came to mind is a reminder of why he was given that label. It was because, even with all his failings, David was about pleasing God. With that in mind, let’s read this passage now with particular attention to the fact that “heavens armies were with him”:

4 Then David and all Israel went to Jerusalem (or Jebus, as it used to be called), where the Jebusites, the original inhabitants of the land, were living. 5 The people of Jebus taunted David, saying, “You’ll never get in here!” But David captured the fortress of Zion, which is now called the City of David.

6 David had said to his troops, “Whoever is first to attack the Jebusites will become the commander of my armies!” And Joab, the son of David’s sister Zeruiah, was first to attack, so he became the commander of David’s armies.

7 David made the fortress his home, and that is why it is called the City of David. 8 He extended the city from the supporting terraces[b] to the surrounding area, while Joab rebuilt the rest of Jerusalem. 9 And David became more and more powerful, because the Lord of Heaven’s Armies was with him.

In this passage, we see it mentioned that David’s power increased as a direct result of his consistent trust in God. In contrast, Saul’s power decreased because he wanted all the credit for himself and ignored God. Those who are concerned about building a name for themselves risk losing the very recognition they crave. Like David, we should be concerned for the righteousness, honesty and excellence and leave the results to God. However, it is clear that even David’s intentions were often questioned. Later, when David was finally able to bring the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem he was so excited that he danced in front of the Ark as it was being brought into Jerusalem. He was roundly criticized by his wife for drawing attention to himself. Even though his motives were out of his pure love and joy for the God he worshiped, he was criticized.

As Christ followers, when we seek to chase after God, we should always keep our focus on God. When we focus on our desires, we end up losing. When we focus on trying to please people instead of God, we end up losing. That’s not to say what others tell us is often a warranted rebuke from God, through that person. However, if our focus is on pleasing God, then, He will be with us and will lead us to the right path. We must examine ourselves to determine if our chosen actions are about pleasing ourselves/pleasing others or about pleasing God. When we examine our actions in light of pleasing God, our actions certainly must be consistent with Scripture, consistent with the character of God, and consistent with what the Holy Spirit (not our ego) is telling us in our soul. If all three of those things line up, then, we must be doing what God wants us to do. It was right for David to dance with exuberance in his love of God. It was right for Paul to rebuke the attacks against him. It was right for Dr. King to continually keep the heat on with regard to the systematic and institutionalized racism against blacks so that all people can be seen as being equally made in the image of God.

God will bless that which is in alignment with his will and those who are after God’s own heart. Let us each aspire to make our decisions based on whether they please God or not. In each and every decision in life, that should be the criteria – is what I am doing pleasing to God? How do we determine that? Through God’s Word, through prayer, through listening to the Spirit of God resident in our souls.

Amen and Amen.

1 Chronicles 11:1-3 (Part 2 of 2)

David Anointed King

When I read today’s passage, I was reminded of David’s struggles throughout 1 Samuel as he was waiting to be king. He was so faithful to King Saul. Even when he had chances to eliminate Saul when he was defenseless, David did not do it. He did not because God had not given him any indication that eliminating Saul was the appropriate thing to do. So, for 20 years, he either served Saul directly or was a rebel on the run being sought by the king and his forces. It must’ve been tough for David to serve and serve and serve and wonder how long it would take to achieve the dream that God was to give him. Since the Bible is glimpses of history just as any history book, we do not see every minute of every day during these 20 years. We only see the important events of the time period that is the subject of a passage, chapter or book. Thus, I bet that David had some bad days. Even a few of those were recorded during his 20 year struggle. But I bet there were others where he was just like any of us – he probably had pity parties, where he was depressed and whiny about why all this was happening to him. If he breathed breaths of life, David was like us. So, I am certain that there were unrecorded bad days he had with being the anointed king, but he was not the king, but yet he was being pursued like a dog because he was to be the next king. I think I would have some bad days with that! Wouldn’t you?

Even after David became the anointed king of Israel, which was God’s plan, he did not arrive in a heavenly place where all things we lollipops and lifesavers and they all sat around the campfire holding hands and singing songs. David had mighty struggles after he became king. Many of the documented struggles were rooted in his own sinful actions but others were struggles caused by the sins of others. His kingship was just like any of our lives, full of struggles, but yet occasional highlights that made it all worth it. David knew he was in the office that God wanted him to be in as king. So, even when the struggles came (and again some of them were of his own causing), he never quit being king. He sought God fervently and sometimes repentantly when his sins caused the problems. He always kept plugging away. He remained faithful to God throughout his reign as king. Sometimes, I am sure it was a struggle to see that God had him in the office that God wanted him in. I am sure there were days when he just wanted to walk away. But he kept doing as Dory from “Finding Nemo” would say, “just keep swimming, just keeping swimming, just keep swimming.”

David’s struggles before and after becoming king are instructional for us as believers. I know that it is instructional for me. God called me to the ministry as early as 2010/11. Yet, there was seminary from 2011-2014 which provided its own struggles of juggling a full-time secular job as a divisional chief financial director, heavy involvement in leadership at my home church (LifeSong Church, Lyman, SC) and taking a full course load. Then, after graduation, there was the waiting for a full-time position in ministry. It was comparable to David being on the run – he knew he was called to be king but he was on the run and waiting. Then, the first job came in early, early 2018 in Illinois. There were struggles there with the finance director/staff pastor position actual duties vs. the vision I had for the position but there were also great lessons learned about ministering to people in the church regardless of what your official job title is. Then, in mid-2019, it was to here in Lamar.

Here, is where the calling has come to full fruition. I felt and still feel that this is what God called me to, to be a full-time pastor. So, in my mind, everything’s gonna be hunky-dory from here on out, right. We are all going to sit around the campfire and sing campfire songs. But, that’s just not the reality of church, regardless of size, location, etc. As long as congregants are people and preachers are people, there will be struggles. Here, there have been struggles without a doubt. And they each have been discouraging in their own way to me. However, my brother, who has been a pastor since he came out of seminary 30-something years ago, told me so wry advice. He said you are going to have at least three crises per year in church. That’s just the way it is. Some are small. Some are significant. But there’s gonna be at least three a year. It’s how you manage them and respond to them that is the thing. You can’t avoid having conflict as a pastor, it’s just the way it is. It’s all in how you respond. He reminded me of the advice that our dad, a pastor for 55 years, used to give his mentees (the South Carolina United Methodist Church pairs experienced pastors with groups of newer pastors in a mentorship program). That advice was “Don’t quit til next Wednesday!” It was one of those things like “free soft drinks tomorrow” signs that you see at restaurants. Tomorrow never comes. Next Wednesday never comes because when you get to it, it is this Wednesday.

Thus, whatever struggles come in my calling as a pastor and as the pastor of this church, specifically, does not mean that the perception of the calling was wrong or that the calling has soured. It just means that there’s struggle in life. It’s a given. Thus, in the struggles, you learn what you can learn for the future and then throw away any of the stuff that is not in line with having a deeper relationship with God. You keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.

That’s what I thought of this morning as I read through 1 Chronicles 11:1-3 about the anointing of David as King. After a long struggle in which he was faithful to God, he was finally king. Let’s read this passage with that idea in mind:

Chapter 11

1 Then all Israel gathered together to David at Hebron and said, “See, we are your bone and flesh. 2 For some time now, even while Saul was king, it was you who commanded the army of Israel. The Lord your God said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over my people Israel.” 3 So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord. And they anointed David king over Israel, according to the word of the Lord by Samuel.

In this passage, we see that when David was finally anointed king over all Israel, more than 20 years had passed since Samuel had anointed him (see 1 Samuel 16:1-13). God’s promises are worth waiting for, even when his timetable doesn’t match our expectations. Further, even when He fulfills His promises to us, it does not mean that you will not have conflict and strife. When God plants us in his fulfilled promises, we must understand that there will be struggles even then and we must not see it as that maybe we were wrong about the promise being fulfilled or that the promise has soured somehow. We must be patient for God to fulfill his promises and we must be faithful and keep plugging away even when things don’t seem to be going our way.

Help me, Lord, to continue plugging away at your calling on my life. Help me to see struggle as simply part of the ball game and not be shocked by it. Help me to learn from struggle. Help me to implement any lessons learned for the future. Help me to remain faithful to you in the mountaintop experiences that will come as well and help me to be faithful in the valleys of struggle. Help me to keep swimming, just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.

Amen and Amen.

1 Chronicles 11:1-3 (Part 1 of 2)

David Anointed King

Recently, in a meeting of pastors that I attended, where there was a discussion of just what is going to happen to the United Methodist Church as we battle with the issue of human sexuality, there were two comments about the situation that stuck with me that do not have anything to do with the direct issue that our denomination is considering a split over. One was about that “God will be with us no matter what happens. He is with us now and He will be with us after whatever happens at General Conference” And the other was about the goodness of inclusiveness.

Those two thoughts got me to thinking about the nation of Israel as we read through its history in the Old Testament. First, it is clear from Scripture that God will withdraw His glory and His blessing from His people when they act contrary to His commands (see the Old Testament, Ezekiel Chapter 10). Further, in the New Testament, As the apostle Paul explained, God’s temple is now His Church, the people whom He dwells in through the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16). And the initial giving of the Spirit to the Church was accompanied by the miraculous signs of wind and fire, reminiscent of the glory of Ezekiel’s vision (see Acts 2). In all these warnings, Ezekiel included, we should recognize that God was not only talking about the ancient destruction He allowed to befall His people. He is also talking about the future—of nations today and of us individually. All of us have a choice before us of whether to be faithful to God or to reject Him. The apostle Paul taught that the greatest mystery of all time is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Jesus Christ living in us through His Spirit is the most wonderful thing a human being can experience in this life. Yet one of the main lessons from Ezekiel is that God will allow us to follow our desires even when those desires are contrary to His design for us. However, that does not mean that He will bless that which is against His will. This was true for Israel, this was true for the first century church, and it is true for us today as a modern-day people of God. I think that is what is meant by God withdrawing from Israel. He withdrew His blessing from the nation of Israel. When they, generation after generation, strayed from His commands, Israel progressively became a weaker and weaker nation to the point that it basically disappeared from existence as an independent nation. Therefore, yes, God is present among us each and every day. He is an omnipresent God. However, He will not bless that which is against His will. At the same time, we worship a God who is quick to forgive and will separate us as far as the east is from the west  from the sins that we turn away from in repentance through Jesus Christ. He dearly wants to bless us and will forgive us of our transgressions but it is evident from Scripture, He will not bless that which is against His commands. God does love us no matter what we do but He will not bless that which is against His will. Therefore, it is my prayer that in our denomination’s struggle that we do nothing less than discerning what God’s will is, and as Ken Nelson recently said, “May our church discern what God’s will is and do that – nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else!”

Second, and related to the first, the debate within the church is about inclusiveness and how good that is. And that certainly is true. We are to love all people from all walks of life. We are to love everyone into the midst of the fellowship of the people of God. However, inclusiveness should not be the only goal that we have as a people of God. Yes, we must reach outside our doors and connect with people from all walks of life. We must love each and every person with whom we come in contact in our lives. We are to be representatives of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness that He offers each and every sinner including ourselves. In that sense, we are to be very inclusive. However, inclusiveness is not the end goal of the Christian faith. It is how we open the doors of the kingdom to those outside it. Once we have included every nation, tribe, and tongue, then, we are to stand aside and let God’s Word in its entirety to do its work through the Holy Spirit. God will certainly bless that. He will not withdraw His blessing from that. Yes, inclusiveness is what we all should be about regardless of denomination. We are called to love all. But that is so that all people can be brought into the presence of God’s Word. That is my prayer for our denomination, that we love all people into our midst and then let God’s Word do its work. My prayer that inclusiveness is not the end goal but rather step one in the process of bringing people into the presence of God’s Word. God will bless that. God will not withdraw His blessing from that.

That’s what I thought of this morning as I read through 1 Chronicles 11:1-3 about the anointing of David as King. After a long struggle in which he was faithful to God, he was finally king. It got me to thinking about the fact that Saul would have continued as king if only He had done God’s will instead of seeking his own. However, he did not and Scripture tells us that God withdraw from Saul, because Saul was not seeking the Lord but rather his own way. Let’s read this passage with that idea in mind:

Chapter 11

1 Then all Israel gathered together to David at Hebron and said, “See, we are your bone and flesh. 2 For some time now, even while Saul was king, it was you who commanded the army of Israel. The Lord your God said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over my people Israel.” 3 So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord. And they anointed David king over Israel, according to the word of the Lord by Samuel.

In this passage, we are reminded that in the book of 2 Samuel, it details the HOW of David coming to power while Chronicles emphasizes that GOD declared David to be the ruler. God was working through the efforts of many people, even through some of former King Saul’s own family. God is still sovereign over history, directing events to accomplish His will. The books of Chronicles demonstrate that no matter what people may do or not do to try to hinder God’s work, God still controls all events and works His will in them.

Regardless of what happens with our denomination, God is sovereign and He will accomplish His will through the actions here on earth. He will remain sovereign regardless. Does that mean He will be with us as an omnipresent God. Yes, it does. Does it mean that He will bless that which is against His will? No, it does not. God will sovereignly choose to bless or not bless those who do His will or not. What that blessing or lack of blessing looks like in the 21st century is not mine to know. But I do know from Scripture that God will not bless that which is not in alignment with His will and His Word. God will sovereignly do that regardless of how well intentioned we may be. If our best intentions are not in alignment with God’s will, He will sovereignly not bless it.

Therefore, I go back to these words when it comes to the decisions facing the United Methodist Church – that we pray, pray, pray, pray that we do that which is in alignment with God’s will for our church – nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else.

Amen and Amen.

1 Chronicles 10:1-14 (Part 3 of 3)

The Death of Saul

Sometimes, Scripture is difficult. Sometimes, it says things that we don’t want to deal with. Sometimes, it says things that are counter-cultural. Sometimes, it says things that that seem like contradictions with other parts of the Bible. Sometimes, it says that make us think about a subject on a deeper level than which we are accustomed. That’s what we have here in 1 Chronicles 10:1-14. It does all those things to us and for us.

The first difficulty we find with our 21st century mentality is that of a loving God and it is juxtaposed here against the Bible saying God killed Saul. In 1 Chronicles, it provides this additional material about God’s judgment on Saul that earlier (the books of Samuel) versions of his death do not include. That’s difficult to understand as well. It also makes us think about a very deep theological conflict that the people of God have struggled with through history – free will vs. God who has foreknowledge of all actions that have taken place, are taking place, and will take place. That’s a difficult concept that is right here in this passage, specifically in v.14.

So, what do we do? Let’s look at each of these points.

First, We are reminded that the Bible is the whole counsel of God. Sometimes, the whole counsel of God is difficult. That’s why there’s academicians who study it day and night as a profession. They are so deep into it that they are not preachers but biblical researchers. Just as with professional biblical researchers, we as Christ followers must understand the entirety of the counsel of God, the Bible. We must deal with the difficult parts of it so as to deepen our walk and to enhance our ability to defend the faith. We must do that here where it says, God killed Saul. We must think on it, wrestle with it and understand it in a way that is consistent with the rest of the whole counsel of God – in the Bible. So, here, we wrestle with this seemingly foreign concept of God killing someone just as we must wrestle with difficult subjects elsewhere in the Bible.

Second, there is that 21st century idea that God is love and that is true, but it is only partially true. Love is only one of the attributes of God. He is also just. He is holy. He is creator. He is self-sufficient. He is life-giver. He is omnipresent. He has all knowledge. He is all powerful. He is perfect. He is wise. He is truth. And these are just a few of the attributes of God. Part of God is His justice and His holiness. He allows those who do not obey Him and fail to repent of their disobedience toward Him to suffer the consequences of their disobedience. In this sense, Saul was unrepentant up to the last moment of his life. He failed to obey God. He refused to follow any course of action other than what he wanted to do. God allowed those circumstances to swallow Saul because he never reached out to God unless it was to support what Saul wanted to do anyway.  So, God is love, yes, if Saul had only repented. But, God is justice too and he will allow us to suffer the consequences of our sin. When we repent of our sins, He is quick to forgive us (but He does allow even then the circumstances of our sins to play themselves out, even after repentance). So, God is not only a God of love. He is also a God of justice.

Third, there is the apparent contradiction with earlier versions of this story in the Bible that do not include this judgment comment. The reason for that is that 1 Chronicles was written for a very different purpose and a very different time in Israel and Judah history. In earlier accounts, the nation was still free and ascending to its apex as a nation and at that time was still seeking after God. However, here in Chronicles, it is written to a defeated and exiled people. Therefore, there has been considerable time passed that has allowed the writers and the people of Israel to see what God was doing in their past history. The death of Saul can after history has passed along the timeline can then be better seen as just judgment of God against an unrepentantly sinful king.

Finally, this final verse makes us consider the difficult concept of free will vs. the idea of God have knowledge of past, present and future. This is a mystery that has been a difficult one for God’s people throughout history. Here is says God killed Saul but we know from the text that he took his own life after been wounded beyond the point that he could fight anymore. Does God kill Saul or does Saul kill Saul. Did God cause it or did Saul do it himself. The answer is yes and yes. To me, free will allows us to make our own decisions in life including committing sin, and including our willingness to repent of those sins and we do in fact play a role in whether we accept Christ or not. Do I think in this text that God killed Saul literally. Although I fully believe that God is capable of doing so because of the previously mentioned attributes of God, He did not take the spear and kill Saul. By saying God killed Saul, I think the passage indicates that God allowed judgment to come to Saul by all of his unrepentantly sinful actions for which he refused to repent and turn away form his sins and toward God. In that view, free will plays out and God’s judgment for unrepentant sinners plays out simultaneously in a mystery that is difficult to understand.

That’s what came to mind this morning is how to wrestle with difficult concepts of the Bible so as to come to an understanding of why it says what it says in this passage. With that in mind, let’s read this passage, 1 Chronicles 10:1-14, together for the second of three blogs on this passage:

10 Now the Philistines attacked Israel, and the men of Israel fled before them. Many were slaughtered on the slopes of Mount Gilboa. 2 The Philistines closed in on Saul and his sons, and they killed three of his sons—Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malkishua. 3 The fighting grew very fierce around Saul, and the Philistine archers caught up with him and wounded him.

4 Saul groaned to his armor bearer, “Take your sword and kill me before these pagan Philistines come to taunt and torture me.”

But his armor bearer was afraid and would not do it. So Saul took his own sword and fell on it. 5 When his armor bearer realized that Saul was dead, he fell on his own sword and died. 6 So Saul and his three sons died there together, bringing his dynasty to an end.

7 When all the Israelites in the Jezreel Valley saw that their army had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their towns and fled. So the Philistines moved in and occupied their towns.

8 The next day, when the Philistines went out to strip the dead, they found the bodies of Saul and his sons on Mount Gilboa. 9 So they stripped off Saul’s armor and cut off his head. Then they proclaimed the good news of Saul’s death before their idols and to the people throughout the land of Philistia. 10 They placed his armor in the temple of their gods, and they fastened his head to the temple of Dagon.

11 But when everyone in Jabesh-gilead heard about everything the Philistines had done to Saul, 12 all their mighty warriors brought the bodies of Saul and his sons back to Jabesh. Then they buried their bones beneath the great tree at Jabesh, and they fasted for seven days.

13 So Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord. He failed to obey the Lord’s command, and he even consulted a medium 14 instead of asking the Lord for guidance. So the Lord killed him and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.

In this passage, when you combine the concepts of God being just. God holding all knowledge. God inspiring writers to focus on different things in different books of the Bible and then finally the concept of free will vs. God’s foreknowledge, this is what I think is going on in this passage, as a judgment of Saul’s rebellion, Yahweh had withdrawn his protection of Saul, thus allowing spirits to torment him. He also had allowed Saul to sink deeper and deeper into his self-chosen sin as he consulted a medium at Endor (1 Sam 28; cf., Deut 18:9-14) and foolishly headed into battle without Yahweh’s instruction to do so and without his protection. Yet, while Yahweh was not responsible for Saul’s sinful decisions or for the self-destructive consequences of these decisions that resulted in his suicide, Yahweh nevertheless assumed responsibility for them by allowing himself to be depicted as doing what he merely allowed. Here, God has inspired the writer to allow us to see that Saul’s unrepentant to the end behavior resulted in God’s judgment on Saul through the circumstances of the end of his life. In that way, God was responsible for the judgement but Saul’s unrepentant free will was the responsible cause for the judgment.

It is a judgment that comes to us all in the absence of repentance of all our sins before God and seeking his forgiveness and grace. And the only way that we remove the stain of sinful past and present is to put on the robe of righteous of Jesus Christ to cover us in the sight of God. As Jesus has already paid for the judgment for our sins. He covers us in that payment so that we do not meet the ultimate just judgment before a perfect God for our sins.

Amen and Amen.

1 Chronicles 10:1-14 (Part 2 of 3)

The Death of Saul

When you read about King Saul, we are often reminded of ourselves. I know that was the way that I was prior to accepting Christ as my Savior. Growing up as a preacher’s son, it was not like I did not understand who God was or what Christ represented. I understood a lot about the Christian faith simply by being in church every Sunday and at church for every event and by simply listening to my dad discuss these things. However, living in a parsonage does not guarantee faith in Christ. There’s an old saying that preacher’s kids are the worst when it comes to model behavior. We are often reminded of the portrayal of the preacher’s daughter, Ariel, on the movie, Footloose. She was a wild child and she was the one that encouraged Ren to protest the repression in the town concerning dancing.

Although I was not blatantly rebellious toward my dad, I would often be involved in things that would get me in trouble with him (as it would with any parent not just because he was a pastor). Whereas my brother was a conformist to what my parents expected, I was a subtle rebel. And, I think part of that played into my later life. I so wanted to be accepted by the regular kids that I had to prove I was not some squeaky clean kid. May preacher’s kids are this way. We seem to purposely show that we do not sit around do Bible studies all the time. We are often out to prove that we are just as wild as any typical teenager.

And I think it was that backdrop of seeking acceptance as rebellion against what I was expected to be that led me to take so long to get to the cross. Oh I knew who God was. Oh I knew about salvation. Oh, I was in church every time the door was open. But I was not moved by being in the presence of the faith. As a matter of fact, as I grew older and into my teens that I was just numb to it all and really didn’t see what real impact the faith was on my life. Sure, I prayed to God on occasion but it was always when things were bad or when things did not go the way I wanted them to go. He was my God of last resort.

I knew who He was. I actually fully understood and acknowledged His existence. It’s not that I did not know who He was. I just did not acknowledge that He was part of my life. He was a conceptual God to me, a theoretical God, but not one who was a real part of my life. Well, until I was deeply hurt by something or someone, or circumstances had piled up over me, and I didn’t see any way out of a situation that was good for me. I prayed then. I prayed hard. I prayed hard to this God of last resort. Aren’t many of us like that until we know God through accepting Christ as our Savior.

You see it all the time in the world in which we live today. When something really bad happens, you will see us pray to God. People that don’t care about God or His existence 99.9% of the time will pray to Him when things are bad or something unexplainable happens or both. We want to ignore Him any other time. Often we are so bad about ignoring Him we call him the Universe so that we do not have to truly acknowledge Him as God. But let something major happen to us collectively or individually, we will pray to God. We use Him as a Last Resort God because any other time, we want to not be bound by His Word. We want to live life our own way and what we perceive as His “restrictions”. Yesterday, I preached a sermon about intimacy God’s way. In this area of life, we want to do things our way instead of the outlined in God’s Word. We want to do it our way. And I proceeded to demonstrate the horrendous impacts that the sexual revolution has had on our society. And, I stated that God’s way was not restrictive but rather a Loving Father looking out for our best interest, looking out for us to keep us from harm.

When we do things our own way and that are often the opposite of what God commands, there are always negative consequences. God is not restrictive. He is preventive. But we are like impetuous teenagers who rebel against their parents because we think we know better. We then only admit that our parents were right when we fail miserably. Many of us are that we with God. We come to Him only when we have failed miserably and need Him to get us out of a jam.

That’s what came to mind this morning as I thought about King Saul. He was a rebellious kid when it came to God. Although God had provided him with his kingship, he ignored God’s guidance until things went awry and then and only then would he go to God. With that in mind, let’s read this passage, 1 Chronicles 10:1-14, together for the second of three blogs on this passage:

10 Now the Philistines attacked Israel, and the men of Israel fled before them. Many were slaughtered on the slopes of Mount Gilboa. 2 The Philistines closed in on Saul and his sons, and they killed three of his sons—Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malkishua. 3 The fighting grew very fierce around Saul, and the Philistine archers caught up with him and wounded him.

4 Saul groaned to his armor bearer, “Take your sword and kill me before these pagan Philistines come to taunt and torture me.”

But his armor bearer was afraid and would not do it. So Saul took his own sword and fell on it. 5 When his armor bearer realized that Saul was dead, he fell on his own sword and died. 6 So Saul and his three sons died there together, bringing his dynasty to an end.

7 When all the Israelites in the Jezreel Valley saw that their army had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their towns and fled. So the Philistines moved in and occupied their towns.

8 The next day, when the Philistines went out to strip the dead, they found the bodies of Saul and his sons on Mount Gilboa. 9 So they stripped off Saul’s armor and cut off his head. Then they proclaimed the good news of Saul’s death before their idols and to the people throughout the land of Philistia. 10 They placed his armor in the temple of their gods, and they fastened his head to the temple of Dagon.

11 But when everyone in Jabesh-gilead heard about everything the Philistines had done to Saul, 12 all their mighty warriors brought the bodies of Saul and his sons back to Jabesh. Then they buried their bones beneath the great tree at Jabesh, and they fasted for seven days.

13 So Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord. He failed to obey the Lord’s command, and he even consulted a medium 14 instead of asking the Lord for guidance. So the Lord killed him and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.

In this passage, we find a reminder of the kingship of Saul. In the account in 1 Samuel 26, Saul asked the Lord for guidance but received no answer. This account implies that he did not ask God for help. The answer to this apparent contradiction lies in understanding Saul’s motives and timing of his request to God. His frantic requests came only when he had tried everything his own way. He never went to God unless there was nowhere else to turn. When he finally asked, God refused to answer. Saul sought God only when it suited him, and God rejected him for his constant stubbornness and rebellion.

Are you like King Saul? Are you like me when I was younger? I would only seek God when I had exhausted all other means of molding my life’s events and my reactions in the way that I wanted. I treated God like He was my personal genie. He sat on the shelf until I needed him to grant me my desires – my desired fix to a situation. However, in this scenario, we have the relationship all backwards. We are making God our handyman, our genie, our puppet. When in fact, it should be the other way around. We must recognize Him as the source of all things all the time. We must seek Him in every moment of life. We must acknowledge that He is supreme and we are His subject. He is God and we are not. We must have relationship with Him and recognize Him as the leader of our lives. We must have a relationship with Him so that we understand that He is the source of life, of even our every breath. Otherwise, we treat Him like we own Him and expect Him to fix things our way and do things our way. That’s not a relationship with the Creator of all things, including us. That’s a magic elixir God. That’s a God of our own making. That’s the magic cure God. That’s the God of last resort. That is not God. We are praying to a God our own making, a God of last resort, that will magically restore our lives into the perfect world of our own making. That’s just not who God is.

Help us, Lord, to be in relationship with you with the proper perspective of who each of us is. Help to seek you daily and at all times. Help to have a real relationship with you through Jesus Christ and not just in times of crisis. Help us not to treat you as the God of Last Resort.

Amen and Amen.

1 Chronicles 10:1-14 (Part 1 of 3)

The Death of Saul

I was just talking to my wife last night about how much I dislike the personality of our President Donald Trump, but yet I respect what his administration has been able to foster in our economy, in government regulation, in protecting our borders, and against those who desire to harm American or its citizens or military. As for Donald Trump himself, he is his own worst enemy. If he would just be more presidential when he speaks. If we would just think before he speaks. If he didn’t couch his words in such drastic terms with exaggerated lingo for his detractors, he would not have even been impeached. Sure, you can be forceful and show great strength in the position of President and I think that is what he is trying to do. However, there is an old saying that is true: “You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar!” His vitriol toward those who oppose him has fostered an all or nothing view of Donald Trump.

I told my wife last night that it just seems in our country today that if Donald Trump solved all the world’s conflicts and as a result we had world peace and he won the Nobel Peace Prize for the effort, the opponents of Donald Trump would decry it because it was Donald Trump that did it. He has so ostracized his opponents that he cannot even get a hearing among them for his ideas. There natural response is “if Donald Trump’s name is associated with whatever it is, it must be wrong and it must be the worst wrong ever!” It is like an ex-wife who hates everything about her ex-husband and thinks up ways to humiliate and destroy him. The opponents of Donald Trump are like Betty Broderick of the movie, A Woman Scorned, where she became so obsessed with the destruction of her ex-husband that she lost all focus on her life and did everything in her power to destroy her ex. She ended up murdering him and sits in jail today still convinced that she was right to kill him and his new wife. There is that kind of obsessive hatred for Donald Trump by his opponents.

Although Donald Trump may be the most unpresidential President that we have ever had and I would agree with that sentiment, however, until God enlightens me that I should discontinue respecting the authority that Trump has a President because God lets me know it’s time, then it is my duty to pray for him to become a less and less vitriolic President. We must pray that someone takes his Twitter account. We must pray that he learns to choose his words more carefully. We must pray that he learns not to try to destroy his opponents with his every word and every action. Because in politics, your enemy one day may need to become your ally the next. So, for now, until God tells us otherwise, we must respect the position he holds and pray, pray and pray that he improves his people skills and his communication style.

That’s the thing I thought of this morning as I read about the death of Saul in 1 Chronicles. Since the Chronicles books come after the Samuel books in the order of the presentation of the books of the Bible, I already know about David and Saul. It reminded me of what great restraint David showed in not taking the easy opportunities he had to murder Saul and just get him out of the way and assume the throne that God had promised him. He listened to God’s voice in his soul and waited and let life’s circumstances play out where Saul’s arrogance got him killed. In this way, David assumed the throne without opposition as God desired. That idea that David repeatedly expressed of his respect for the position that Saul held and that God would indicate to him the right timing is what I thought of this morning. Even though I am a Republican and I will most likely vote for Trump this fall (because of the socialist alternatives to be offered up on the Democratic side), I cannot stand the personality of Donald Trump. He makes his own disasters and expects us to defend them as Republicans. He is his own worst enemy. I will be glad when he leaves office in 2024 and we can rally behind a more reasonable Republican champion. However, in the meantime, until God says that I should actively participate in getting Trump out of office, I should respect his authority and pray for him to become a more suitable President. With that in mind, let’s read this passage, 1 Chronicles 10:1-14, together for the first of three blogs on this passage:

10 Now the Philistines attacked Israel, and the men of Israel fled before them. Many were slaughtered on the slopes of Mount Gilboa. 2 The Philistines closed in on Saul and his sons, and they killed three of his sons—Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malkishua. 3 The fighting grew very fierce around Saul, and the Philistine archers caught up with him and wounded him.

4 Saul groaned to his armor bearer, “Take your sword and kill me before these pagan Philistines come to taunt and torture me.”

But his armor bearer was afraid and would not do it. So Saul took his own sword and fell on it. 5 When his armor bearer realized that Saul was dead, he fell on his own sword and died. 6 So Saul and his three sons died there together, bringing his dynasty to an end.

7 When all the Israelites in the Jezreel Valley saw that their army had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their towns and fled. So the Philistines moved in and occupied their towns.

8 The next day, when the Philistines went out to strip the dead, they found the bodies of Saul and his sons on Mount Gilboa. 9 So they stripped off Saul’s armor and cut off his head. Then they proclaimed the good news of Saul’s death before their idols and to the people throughout the land of Philistia. 10 They placed his armor in the temple of their gods, and they fastened his head to the temple of Dagon.

11 But when everyone in Jabesh-gilead heard about everything the Philistines had done to Saul, 12 all their mighty warriors brought the bodies of Saul and his sons back to Jabesh. Then they buried their bones beneath the great tree at Jabesh, and they fasted for seven days.

13 So Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord. He failed to obey the Lord’s command, and he even consulted a medium 14 instead of asking the Lord for guidance. So the Lord killed him and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.

In this passage, we see the actions of the valiant warriors who brought back and buried the bodies of Saul and his sons should encourage us to respect our God-given leaders. David showed respect for Saul’s position even when Saul was chasing him to kill him (1 Samuel 26). Throughout Saul’s reign, David was forced to hide from him. During this time, David had opportunities to kill Saul and to assume the throne that God had promised to him. However, David trusted in God’s promise that he would be king in God’s good timing. It never felt right to David to take Saul’s life, even though Saul was evil. This restraint was evidence that David was listening to God’s action in his heart. David trusted that the Lord would let him know when the right time was. Until then, he would continue to honor Saul’s position and continue to display restraint. It was not up to David as to when and how Saul’s reign would come to an end. During the battle with the Philistines, God allowed the circumstances to play out where there would be no rival heir (even Jonathan) to David’s ascension to the throne.

How easy it is to be critical of those in authority over us, focusing on their weaknesses. We cannot excuse sin but we should respect those in positions of authority over us whether at work, at church or in public affairs. Romans 13 and 1 Thessalonians 5 give us instruction that we are to submit to the authorities over us is when they try to force us to do something sinful, and we know we have to obey God over man. Therefore, if Donald Trump’s personality grates on my last nerve, I must support his holding of his office and pray that God will get through to him to be less vitriolic, less like a street corner bully, and more like a President. It’s ok to have opponents as President because you just are not going to make all the people happy all the time, but Lord, please teach this man not to use a burnt earth policy with his opponents about every single thing.

Amen and Amen.

1 Chronicles 9:35-44

King Saul’s Family Tree

One of the things that is rampant in this 21st century world in which we live is biblical illiteracy among the unchurched. It was once in our country, whether you went to church or not, you had a general understanding of the Bible, probably knew key verses, and understood exactly who and what Jesus Christ represented. However, the world in which we live today, there are 2nd and 3rd generations of families that have never darkened the door of a church much less understand anything about the Bible, about the general tenor of the Bible, or, even, who Jesus Christ is and what he represents. Further, there is little, if any, understanding of why Christians believe what they believe. And biblical laziness even within the ranks of those who profess to be Christians and we as leaders of the church have done a poor job of teaching church history and the development of our church doctrines (why we believe what we believe) has led to a lack of understanding even among the faithful.

For example, yesterday, the Holy Spirit led to a compelling need in me to share what a portion of the Apostle’s Creed means when we say it. The Apostles’ Creed represents a set of uncompromisable core beliefs for Christians. As such, the core tradition of it is also found in the Nicene Creed. The Apostles’ Creed, like all creeds, functions like a filter for correct belief; it indicates what is and what is not “Christian.” It is a public profession of belief in historic Christianity. According to an article at, “The Apostle’s creed dates back to the 8th century”, as far as church historians can tell. Further, it is an adaptation of and expansion of an earlier creed known as the Old Roman Creed. Th Old Roman Creed “was in use as early as the second century. The earliest written form of this creed is found in a letter that Marcellus of Ancyra wrote in Greek to Julius, the bishop of Rome, about AD 341. About 50 years later, Tyrannius Rufinus wrote a commentary on this creed in Latin (Commentarius in symbolum apostolorum). In it, he recounted the viewpoint that the apostles wrote the creed together after Pentecost, before leaving Jerusalem to preach (Symb. 2). The title “Apostles’ Creed” is also mentioned about 390 by Ambrose, where he refers to “the creed of the Apostles which the Church of Rome keeps and guards in its entirety” (Ep. 42, trans. in Saint Ambrose: Letters).”

For us, in the 21st century, as believers, as those who are searching, and those who are not churched or seeking at all, to honor those who have sacrificed their lives for the Christian faith and those who still do in other parts of the world, we must understand what we believe and why we believe. One of the often most confusing parts of the Apostle’s Creed that we recite, as long-time followers of Christ, and could probably recite in our sleep is when we say “I believe in the holy catholic church”. We as Protestants (any non-Catholic vein of Christianity) take great pains to separate ourselves from the Catholic Church (catholic with a capital C) because of the Protestant opinion that the Catholic Church has gone off the rails theologically with all the things that it has added to the Christian faith over the centuries (that is not to say that there are wonderfully, and deeply grounded and faithful Christians who are Catholic, but that they have to wade through so much fluff to get at the core of what it is to be Christian). We have and continue to make it clear as Protestants that we are not Catholic. We see our brand of the faith as much simpler and more true to the original church that Christ himself established. Then, why do we say that particular line in the Apostle’s Creed as non-Catholics (Protestants).

The first thing we must remember that words in use in the 3rd through 8th centuries are not always still in use today. For example, the word, catholic, with a small c, was a Latin-based word that means the same thing as the modern word, universal. Universal means “something done all people or by all people in a particular group” or something that “is applicable in all cases.” Thus, the origin of the name of the branch of Christianity known now officially as the Catholic Church (with a Capital C) is the fact that it was the original church before all the splits and fractures into the various forms of Protestant (non-Catholic) veins of Christianity. All Protestant denominations of the Christian faith are offshoots of the original universal church that was one church, a universal church, that lasted in-tact as a single church from the time of Christ until the Protestant Reformation that began in the year 1530. When we use that term, catholic with a small c, we are thus praying for the Christian faith, the church, as a whole, all over the world, that it will thrive and survive continually each time we pray the Apostle’s Creed. We are also praying too that one day, one day, that all the fractures in the Christian faith will be healed and ended and that one day, one day, we will be reunited as a whole and universal faith with no fractures, no separational boundaries. We pray for, thus, unity within the faith of Christianity.

Why do I bring this up within a blog about a genealogy of the family tree of Saul, the first king of the united kingdom of Israel? It’s because if we do not understand why we believe what we believe, we can be duped into believing things that are not true about our faith. In ignorance, we can be lead to believe things that are simply not true. For example, many non-believers and enemies of the Christian faith say that the Bible is full of contradictions and errors that may it unreliable as the true source, and the rule of our faith. When they can attack the accuracy of the Bible, the basis of our faith, they can tear down our faith altogether, make believers question what they believe. Then, Satan has won by introducing doubt. One of those things that they point is this passage here, 1 Chronicles 9:35-44, because they say that it contradicts other passages in the Old Testament. Biblical laziness might lead us to agree with them and then begin to question the accuracy of the Bible itself as the foundational text of our faith. When that happens, it can rock our faith, make us question our faith, and may lead to fall away from the church. Thus, we must be strong and take the time to understand why we believe what we believe and not take non-believers detractions from the Bible at face value. They work hard to get us to question our faith. We must work our biblical knowledge muscles so that we can defend our faith against our own laziness. With that in mind, let’s read this passage and then discuss the raised objections to this passage and the solution to it:

35 In Gibeon lived the father of Gibeon, Jeiel, and the name of his wife was Maacah. 36 His firstborn son was Abdon, then Zur, Kish, Baal, Ner, Nadab, 37 Gedor, Ahio, Zechariah, and Mikloth; 38 and Mikloth became the father of Shimeam; and these also lived opposite their kindred in Jerusalem, with their kindred. 39 Ner became the father of Kish, Kish of Saul, Saul of Jonathan, Malchishua, Abinadab, and Esh-baal; 40 and the son of Jonathan was Merib-baal; and Merib-baal became the father of Micah. 41 The sons of Micah: Pithon, Melech, Tahrea, and Ahaz;[a] 42 and Ahaz became the father of Jarah, and Jarah of Alemeth, Azmaveth, and Zimri; and Zimri became the father of Moza. 43 Moza became the father of Binea; and Rephaiah was his son, Eleasah his son, Azel his son. 44 Azel had six sons, and these are their names: Azrikam, Bocheru, Ishmael, Sheariah, Obadiah, and Hanan; these were the sons of Azel.

In this passage, we see that The Bible seems to present two different lineages for the first king of Israel. Saul’s father was named Kish, but when we try to figure out the name of Kish’s father, we run into a complication. 1 Samuel 9:1 states, “”There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish the son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Bechorath, the son of Aphiah, a Benjamite, a mighty man of power.”” Later in the same book, we are told, “”Kish was the father of Saul, and Ner the father of Abner was the son of Abiel.”” So 1 Samuel presents Saul and Abner as cousins whose fathers (Kish and Ner, respectively) were sons of a man named Abiel. When we turn to 1 Chronicles 8:33, we find an apparent contradiction. It states, “”Ner begot Kish “[and] “Kish begot Saul.”” This same wording is repeated in 1 Chronicles 9:39. So was Saul’s grandfather named Abiel or Ner? Furthermore, was Ner Saul’s uncle as 1 Samuel implies or was he Saul’s grandfather? Is there any way to resolve these difficulties?

There are several possible solutions to properly identify Saul’s grandfather. However, the Bible does not provide us with a definitive answer, so we should not dogmatically hold to any of these plausible explanations. Yet, since we only need to show why this is not a contradiction, any of these resolutions will suffice. One possibility is that in the genealogies provided, some of the generations were skipped. In this case, Abiel could have been Saul’s grandfather and Ner could have been several generations earlier or vice versa. While this is plausible, it seems unlikely given that 1 Samuel 9:1 provides us with the names of three ancestors prior to Abiel and Ner is not one of them. Perhaps he was four generations earlier or more.

Another possible solution is the one I think makes the most sense. It is very possible that Abiel and Ner were simply two names for the same person. Several men in Scripture are called by different names (Abram/Abraham, Jacob/Israel, Reuel/Jethro, Gideon/Jerubbaal, Solomon/Jedidiah, Simon/Peter, etc.). In modern times we often go by first and last names, and sometimes even a middle name, to distinguish us from others who might share our name. In a culture where people were given one name at birth another convention seems to have arisen to make distinctions between people of the same name. Often one’s personality would lead to the receiving of a second name, sort of like a nickname.

If Abiel and Ner were just two names for the same man then this would solve both of the difficulties mentioned above. 1 Samuel 14:50 clearly states that Saul’s uncle was named Ner and 1 Chronicles asserts that his grandfather’s name was also Ner. According to this scenario, Saul’s grandfather (Ner, also known as Abiel) named his son Ner. Further support for this is found in the fact that this son named Ner (who was Saul’s Uncle Ner) passed his name to his son Abner (“my father is Ner”). In Hebrew, the name Ner means a “lamp”1 and Abner means “my father is a lamp.”2 So perhaps Saul’s grandfather was originally named Ner, but, perhaps due to godly character, came to be known as Abiel, which means “God is my father.”

Although we cannot be certain this is the actual solution to the problem, the second option seems to be the most likely scenario. It fits with the common practice of a person going by two names. It also solves the alleged contradiction that one person named Ner was both Saul’s uncle and his grandfather. Instead, both his uncle and grandfather shared the same name, just like many people today who are named after their fathers. For example, in my own family, my grandfather, father, and brother, all have the same name (Ralph Truman Bowling – one Sr., one Jr. and one III). So there are multiple plausible solutions to this alleged contradiction.

Let us take time as Christians to not be that kid in the back of the room that does not study and does not take school seriously. Let us be the kids that study and understand Christianity. Let us study and understand our faith. Let us study so that we can know with assurance that our faith is solid, reasonable, and based on a Bible that is free from error and cannot lead us wrong. Help us to know the objections to our faith and how to defend against those arguments. Help us not be bamboozled by enemies of the faith into thinking things that are simply not true about our faith and about the basis of our faith, the Bible.

Amen and Amen.

1 Chronicles 9:14-34

The Returning Levites

There is an old saying when it comes to church and it is that “it is often true that 20% of the people do 80% of the work” of the church. What that means is that there is about 1/5 of the normal attendees of a church that do the work that needs to be done around the church. Jobs around any church that has a pulse include maintenance on the building, cleaning the building, preparing the sanctuary for worship, being ushers and security for the Sunday services, being a member of the worship team (whatever that may look like at your church – a worship band or a musical team with a choir) which includes not only Sunday morning performances but the practice(s) during the week. It includes small group leaders and/or Sunday school teachers (most of whom don’t just show up for small group or Sunday school but rather put in quite a few hours of preparation time during the week). It also includes nursery workers who forgo fully participating in Sunday worship to keep and lovingly care for the babies. There are those who take time on Sunday or Monday to count the offerings made to the church at Sunday worship and give credit to each donors giving account, prepare all the funds for deposit at the bank and physically take the deposit to the bank. There the greeters for the service that make you feel at home when you arrive for worship. Then there are the sound guys who run the church’s sound system. There are the video guys who ensure that the video screens provide the content that matches what’s going on in the service. There are the production guys who make sure the video and audio and the cameras and so on provide a quality experience for worshipers. There’s the guy who makes sure the video feed is streaming to the internet without a hitch so that shut-ins, people who are temporarily ill, and members who are out of town can enjoy the services of the church on Sunday mornings. In traditional service formats, there are the elementary and middle school kids that are acolytes, that open and close the service for us in symbolic fashion.

Then there are the leaders of the individual ministries of the church, those passionate ones who love a particular way in which the church ministers to its own people and/or to the community in which the church operates. Some ministry leaders even coordinate mission trips for our church members to regional, national, and international locations to do ministry and to help others. There are those that minister to women, to men, to youth, and other specific focus ministries. There are those who invest themselves in the financial and administrative ministries of the church, without which the church could not function for long. Further, there are those that serve in accountability functions such as pastoral provision and oversight.

And then there is the pastor who does more than just emcee the worship service and preach for 25 minutes during the worship service on Sunday. He must develop, prepare, and pray about the message that is to be brought each and every Sunday. For that almost half hour of preaching, there is most likely around 16 hours of preparation time spent on that sermon. Then there is the managing of the day to day affairs of the church, the counseling (both planned and impromptu) of church members, the discipling of church members, the visitations at the hospital, the visits to members, the preparation for weekly bible studies, the preparation for weekly youth meetings, the preparation for finance committee, trustees committee, and administrative committee meetings, the planning of the non-sermon portions of the worship service, planning future sermons, supervising ministry leaders, casting vision for all the ministries, and myriad of other one-off and regular-routine duties that pop up during each week.

For all those who are that 20% that does the 80%, I celebrate you this morning. I celebrate your love of your local church, whether it be a modern worship style church with video screens, a worship band, and so on or a traditional style service with a choir, piano, sometimes violins, acoustic guitars, cellos, trumpets, and so on. I celebrate your love of the focus of either style of worship, Jesus Christ. Not all of us are or want to be on-stage, in the pulpit, the choir loft, the musicians area of the sanctuary or worship center. I celebrate your doing the quiet jobs, the unseen jobs, the unnoticed jobs which altogether ensure the smooth operation of Sunday mornings and of the day-to-day, week-to-week, year-to-year operations and ministries of the church.

That’s what I thought of this morning as I read through 1 Chronicles 9:14-34 this morning, the dedication of that 20% of churches that do 80% of the work without which our Sunday mornings could not happen, ministry outside of Sunday morning could not happen, and the day-to-day functioning of the church could not happen. Let’s read this passage now:

14 Of the Levites: Shemaiah son of Hasshub, son of Azrikam, son of Hashabiah, of the sons of Merari; 15 and Bakbakkar, Heresh, Galal, and Mattaniah son of Mica, son of Zichri, son of Asaph; 16 and Obadiah son of Shemaiah, son of Galal, son of Jeduthun, and Berechiah son of Asa, son of Elkanah, who lived in the villages of the Netophathites.

17 The gatekeepers were: Shallum, Akkub, Talmon, Ahiman; and their kindred Shallum was the chief, 18 stationed previously in the king’s gate on the east side. These were the gatekeepers of the camp of the Levites. 19 Shallum son of Kore, son of Ebiasaph, son of Korah, and his kindred of his ancestral house, the Korahites, were in charge of the work of the service, guardians of the thresholds of the tent, as their ancestors had been in charge of the camp of the Lord, guardians of the entrance. 20 And Phinehas son of Eleazar was chief over them in former times; the Lord was with him. 21 Zechariah son of Meshelemiah was gatekeeper at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 22 All these, who were chosen as gatekeepers at the thresholds, were two hundred twelve. They were enrolled by genealogies in their villages. David and the seer Samuel established them in their office of trust. 23 So they and their descendants were in charge of the gates of the house of the Lord, that is, the house of the tent, as guards. 24 The gatekeepers were on the four sides, east, west, north, and south; 25 and their kindred who were in their villages were obliged to come in every seven days, in turn, to be with them; 26 for the four chief gatekeepers, who were Levites, were in charge of the chambers and the treasures of the house of God. 27 And they would spend the night near the house of God; for on them lay the duty of watching, and they had charge of opening it every morning.

28 Some of them had charge of the utensils of service, for they were required to count them when they were brought in and taken out. 29 Others of them were appointed over the furniture, and over all the holy utensils, also over the choice flour, the wine, the oil, the incense, and the spices. 30 Others, of the sons of the priests, prepared the mixing of the spices, 31 and Mattithiah, one of the Levites, the firstborn of Shallum the Korahite, was in charge of making the flat cakes. 32 Also some of their kindred of the Kohathites had charge of the rows of bread, to prepare them for each sabbath.

33 Now these are the singers, the heads of ancestral houses of the Levites, living in the chambers of the temple free from other service, for they were on duty day and night. 34 These were heads of ancestral houses of the Levites, according to their generations; these leaders lived in Jerusalem.

In this passage, we see that the gatekeepers guarded the four main entrances to the Temple and opened the gates each morning for those who would come to worship. In addition they did day-to-day chores to keep the Temple running smoothly – cleaning, preparing the sacrificial offerings, and accounting for the gifts designated to the Temple (see 1 Chronicles 9:22-32). Gatekeepers had to be reliable, honest, and trustworthy. The people in our churches who handle the offerings, care for the materials for worship, and the functions of the building, all follow in a great tradition and we should honor them for their service, which often goes unnoticed. The priests put a great deal of time into worship and the day to day functioning of the church. All of the noticed and unnoticed parts of the ministry of the church are necessary and should be appreciated by all.

In our busy world, it is easy to rush into our one-hour-a-week worship services and maybe attend a small group or a ministry activity without appreciating all the hard work that goes into it all, by people who simply have a passion for the Lord and want to give Him glory through there service to their local church. For that 20% that does the 80%, it is not about getting notice. They see ministry needs and fill them so that the gospel can be advanced. They see that impressions of Jesus Christ that can be made upon those who do not know Him by how our ministry to the community operates and by how our church operates day to day. They do what they do with excellence so that the people that we are trying to reach with the gospel cannot use lack of excellence as a reason to turn away.

As a pastor, I am thankful for those dedicated individuals who lay it all on the line for the cause of Christ through their local church. These are the warriors of the cause of Christ. They do all the hard work of the church. They don’t just sit in the pews and do nothing else. They love the Lord and serve Him through the seen and unseen ministries of their local church. They look at it as the least that they can do to show Him the love that they have for Him and the gratitude that they have for their salvation. They don’t just come to church when it suits them or when it doesn’t conflict with some leisure activity. They don’t just see church as one of several viable options for the investment of their time, talents, and resources. They see it as the highest priority and everything else is secondary. They will hear it from the Lord one day when they meet Him in heaven where He will say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant!”

When you or I reach that moment when we have to come face to face with the Lord, what will we say? I gave you one hour a week, Lord? I sat through preaching one hour a week, Lord? I came to church at least twice a month, Lord? I served the church, Lord, when I didn’t have a conflict with my secular activities? I placed priority on church when there wasn’t something better on my agenda? Are these the answers that you and I want to give in that moment where we stand before the Lord and have to give an account for our life?

Doing good deeds such as serving our church in seen and unseen ways cannot earn us heaven. We can only receive the gift of heaven with Jesus for eternity through our humbly falling before Him and saying that we are sinners in need of the salvation that He offers. We can’t earn that. It is a gift. But what that gift should be compelling us to do is to serve our Savior in any way we can out of an outpouring for gratefulness and thanksgiving for what He has done for us – saved us from an eternity in hell. Our service to our local church in its ministries should be a love offering from our hearts to His.

Oh, Father, help us to know you in a way that spurs us to be utterly humbled by and thankful for what you have done for us through the cross and our salvation! Help us to see that as eternally important! Help us to be so overwhelmed with the joy of our salvation that we serve you in any way that we can. Help to be so moved by our love for you that we place you and your church as a priority over everything else in our lives. Help us to make you #1 in our lives. Help us to stop seeing you as something we have to do and rather as something we get to do. Help us to make you the top priority and not one of many options.

Amen and Amen.

1 Chronicles 9:10-13

The Returning Priests

In my past life as a corporate accountant, the last decade of which I was the chief financial executive of a division of the American arm of a Japanese company, there was a cycle to the work to which I had grown accustomed. There was the first week of the month after the previous month had ended where it was two days of intense work getting the books closed. There was then two to three days of intense work preparing the monthly financial reports and writing all the commentary of what happened the previous month and then preparing materials for the monthly management meetings. It would be ramped up at the end of a quarter and then especially at year-end. After the intense first week where 70 hour weeks were common, there was two weeks of doing reconciliations to ensure that all our balance sheet and income statement accounts had their contents properly identified and any errors were corrected and so on. It was tedious but necessary work by me and my small staff. By the end of the reconciliation process at the end of the third week, you had completed everything there was about the previous month. All the while during the first three weeks of the month of course, you had to deal with things going on currently as you do in any job. Then finally the last week of the month would arrive and you could breath a bit. Take it easy a bit. Plan for the future a bit. It was the low pressure week of the month.

As you can see there was a cycle to it all that got repeated every month. The first week of the month was intense as all get out. Time pressures were high. Getting everything right at month-end so that the books were accurate. Time pressure to get it done quickly and reported up the chain – first to our American group headquarters and then ultimately to our Japanese parent company. The second and third weeks were intense but nothing compared to week 1. Then the last week of the month was the breather before the whole process would start over again. I could always count on getting that last week of the month to slow down, catch my breath and relax a little at work. And things were similar in my first full time position in the church world at the church in Illinois where I was the Director of Business Services/Staff Pastor. Of my title it was more the before the slash in the title than it was after the slash in the title. So, the same cycle to life was there and I could count on the last week of the month to catch my breath and relax a little.

But now things have changed as the solo pastor of the church that I currently serve. There is no down time. There is no catch your breath time. It is constant all four weeks of the month with the same level of intensity every week. I had always heard that being a pastor was hard. I kind of halfway agreed since I had grown up in a pastor’s home. But as a solo pastor now, I know it to be true. There is so much that goes on, so many things that you have to be good at all at the same time to keep each and every ministry of the church alive and growing and moving forward. And then there is the sermon process. You stand in the narthex of the church at the end of a Sunday service and accept congratulations on a good sermon or criticism from those who thought it needed some improvement and after you shake the last hand and then you think to yourself, man that sermon was a struggle to write and get in preaching form by Sunday. And, then, you think, I gotta do it all again beginning tomorrow – amidst all the things that pull at a solo pastor during the course of a week. It takes stamina. There are no peaks and valleys in the work of a solo pastor. It’s constant and unrelenting. There is no up and down to the intensity level. It is constant. Always something that demands a high level of attention. Always.

Pastoral ministry is not for the lazy or those seeking an easy job. It is as the scripture for today states a job for very able men. You must be able to carry the level of pressure and keep your eyes on the long range while slogging away at the day to day. You must be able to keep your focus on Jesus Christ and discipling your people into a deeper relationship with Him while doing all the mechanics of leading the day to day operations and ministries of a church. It is no easy job. There is no down time. So, if there is anything you can pray about for your pastor is (1) that he can keep His eyes on Jesus all the while dealing with the mundane day to day stuff and (2) that He finds time to rest and pursue his own relationship with Jesus Christ.

That’s what I thought of this morning as I read about the returning priests in 1 Chronicles 9:10-13 and got struck by that phrase “very able men” because I can relate now to how hard it is to be a pastor. Let’s read the passage now:

10 Among the priests who returned were Jedaiah, Jehoiarib, Jakin, 11 Azariah son of Hilkiah, son of Meshullam, son of Zadok, son of Meraioth, son of Ahitub. Azariah was the chief officer of the house of God.

12 Other returning priests were Adaiah son of Jeroham, son of Pashhur, son of Malkijah, and Maasai son of Adiel, son of Jahzerah, son of Meshullam, son of Meshillemith, son of Immer.

13 In all, 1,760 priests returned. They were heads of clans and very able men. They were responsible for ministering at the house of God.

In this passage we see that this phrase, “very able men” is translated “mighty men of valor” in many other Old Testament passages (Joshua 1:14, Judges 6:12, 1 Samuel 16:18, and many others). It shows that when it came to doing the work of the service of the house of God, it takes a man of strength and courage, the same qualities that are needed in a warrior.

So, for today, I pray that I can be a very able man in my role as a pastor. I pray that I can keep my eyes on the prize – winning souls to Christ, and leading those who are already followers of Christ into ever deeper relationships with Him, while writing sermons every week, while running the business of church, while leading ministries, while visiting potential and existing members, while visiting hospitals, while counseling, while planning for six months from now, a year from now, and so on. Lord, help me to be a very able man.

Amen and Amen.

1 Chronicles 9:1-9

The Returning Exiles

It was Martin Luther King who once said,

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.

The appalling silence of the good people allowed institutional racism to exist in the South far longer into the 20th century simply because no one had the guts to speak out. We, Southerners, my grandparents and those before them in the South simply went along to get along. Fear of retribution from this unspoken and sometimes very real social order keepers kept our mouths shut when they should have been clamoring. Sure there were plenty of us who knew that the treatment of other races, particularly negroes, in the South was substandard and wrong. There were plenty of us who did what they could to ease the suffering of blacks. There were plenty of us who loved our black friends and those blacks who worked for us. There were plenty of Atticus Finches in the South. However, there was this overwhelming pall over the South that was unspoken and it reigned over us. Fear of challenging the societal status quo held us in chains from speaking out against the institutionalized racism that existed in our midst. We can pat ourselves on our own backs for how “we were with our black friends and black workers” but we were the silent good people that Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of. We did not support the institutional racism of the South but we felt powerless to change it and therefore did nothing to change it.

The more that I think about it over the years, I believe that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s fight for equality for blacks was as much to wake up the white people of which the quote above speaks. His constant keeping of the plight of blacks in the spotlight was to wake us up from “the appalling silence of the good people!” His keeping the sore of racism from scabbing over was to alert the good people of the South that it was time to end their silence and end the unspoken but powerful social system that we all obeyed out of fear. Fear was the most effective weapon of the strident racists to keep the “good people” of the South from standing against the wrong of institutional racism. King’s call was as much to us good people of the South to wake up from our “silence is acceptance” slumber and stand up against what was and dream of what could be. Without the assistance of the clamor of “the good people” of which Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of in my opening quote, the changes that came to the South in the late 60’s and forward years would not have happened had “the appalling silence of the good people” of the South not ended. My parent’s generation spoke out. Many took risks with their lives and stood with the fight for equality for all, for blacks. When they banded together and were no longer silent good people, the systematic apartheid of the South began to crumble.

That’s what I thought of this morning as I thought about the return of the remnants of Israel that begins in 1 Chronicle 9 as I read 1 Chronicles 9:1-9. The thing was that most assuredly there were those in Israel and Judah that were obedient to God. There were those who continued to be faithful to the Lord. However, the appalling silence of the good people of Israel and Judah allowed the evil of the rest of the people to continue and flourish unfettered. They did not stand up. Their silence was tantamount to acceptance. That’s the thought this morning about knowing wrongs and not righting them, about silently standing by while sin runs rampant around us, about the appalling silence of the good people. Let’s read the passage now:

The people of Judah were exiled to Babylon because they were unfaithful to the Lord. 2 The first of the exiles to return to their property in their former towns were priests, Levites, Temple servants, and other Israelites. 3 Some of the people from the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh came and settled in Jerusalem.

4 One family that returned was that of Uthai son of Ammihud, son of Omri, son of Imri, son of Bani, a descendant of Perez son of Judah.

5 Others returned from the Shilonite clan, including Asaiah (the oldest) and his sons.

6 From the Zerahite clan, Jeuel returned with his relatives.

In all, 690 families from the tribe of Judah returned.

7 From the tribe of Benjamin came Sallu son of Meshullam, son of Hodaviah, son of Hassenuah; 8 Ibneiah son of Jeroham; Elah son of Uzzi, son of Micri; and Meshullam son of Shephatiah, son of Reuel, son of Ibnijah.

9 These men were all leaders of clans, and they were listed in their genealogical records. In all, 956 families from the tribe of Benjamin returned.

In this passage, we see that, although not every person or family in Judah was unfaithful, the entire nation was carried away into captivity. Everyone was affected by the sin of a few. Even if we don’t participate in certain widespread wrongdoing, we still will be affected by those who do. It is not enough to say, “I didn’t do it!” We must not quietly accept the wrongs and the sins that we see going on around us. We must stand up for the truths of the Bible.

We have spoken about the good people of the South that finally stood up against the systematic apartheid that was in place in the South and it was only then that things changed in real and concrete ways. We know that there are issues today, right now, in our 21st century world where our silence (for fear of being called out by the intolerance of the age of tolerance) is equal to accepting where our culture is heading. There are things that we watch on TV and maybe complain a little bit about on social media but that’s the end of it. We know that there are things that are going on in our society that are against the will of God but we fear the same type of system in the air that was present in the apartheid system of the pre-1970’s South. The gospel is not politically correct. The Bible goes against many of the things that our culture now glorifies and accepts as OK. Anyone who stands against that will be vilified in the court of public opinion!

The appalling silence of the good people has happened throughout the centuries and when we do not band together to speak out against evil and wrong, we are accepting it as OK, just as the silent good people of Israel and Judah did in their day. And we see what happened with them. They went from being a regional superpower under David and Solomon to a crushed and subdued people because of the appalling silence of the good people.

Amen and Amen.