Archive for May, 2020

1 Chronicles 24:20-31

Family Leaders Among the Levites

The thing that I thought about this morning was the fact that I did not initially know what to write about. This passage is basically just a listing of family names and the leader of those families. But then it gradually came to me that these were families that were dedicated to Temple service. Sure, the biggest reason that they were in the “temple business” was that they were descendants of Levi. However, there was the rankings of the families mentioned in here where it says “without regard to age or rank.” I am not sure whether that is a reference to within each family or among the various families. I am of the mind that within families there would not be much controversy as to ages and ranks. But, between families that would have been rankings maybe based on how dedicated to the Lord the families seemed to be. Of course, that would have been subjective rankings based on some obvious clues (much like the college football rankings by sportswriters and coaches). The thing that I came down on as to what to write about was this fact there these family were in the business of running the temple. It was their family business.

Without really trying to focus on that idea of serving the Lord full-time, it has basically become the family business of our branch of the Bowling family. When you look at my Pop and Granny’s family, it has become the family business. My dad was a lifelong pastor in the South Carolina Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church (SCUMC). He was an active pastor (both full-time and then retired/part-time) for almost 6 decades. My Uncle Doug was similarly an active pastor for just over 5 decades in the same SCUMC. Both are now deceased. My brother is currently about to close out his 38th year as a pastor in the SCUMC. At age 59, he still has a ways to go, and miles to travel before he retires from the full-time ministry (and I am sure once he does retire from full-time ministry that he will serve as a retired/part-time pastor to some small charge of churches near wherever he settles in retirement). And as a side note, my brother’s wife is a Methodist preacher’s kid. Her dad, my brother’s father-in-law, was a contemporary of my dad and uncle and he too served for over 5 decades as a pastor in the SCUMC. And, then, there’s me. Most of my life, I had a pretty successful career in corporate finance and auditing. But I went into full-time ministry about 27-28 months ago. At first, I started out as an associate pastor in a non-denominational church in northwest Illinois. It was where I got my foot in the door in full-time ministry. However, events conspired in such a way that this time last year, I came back home to be a pastor in the very same SCUMC that is the legacy of my family. I am about to finish up my first year at my current appointment, Lamar UMC in Lamar, SC.

The SCUMC as the family business is kind of similar to these Levite families being dedicated to ministry in these Old Testament texts. In those days, the family members had no choice in the matter. It was God’s assignment for their family from the time the Israelites were in the desert of Sinai. In my family, however, the choice has been voluntary. What caused our family to serve the Lord as pastors full-time. There has now been a Bowling family member serving in the SCUMC as pastors since 1957 when my dad entered the ministry. That’s now 63 years of there being a Bowling as a pastor in the SCUMC. My brother will probably serve another 10 years before he retires. Because of my late start in the SCUMC, I will most likely serve full-time til the mandatory retirement age of 72 about 15 years from now. So, when I retire, it will most likely be the end of the family business unless my granddaughter, Ralyn, goes into the ministry in the SCUMC. But I bet she will become a schoolteacher just like her mom and continue another legacy in our family – my Grandmother Bowling was a schoolteacher and ultimately a principal, my Uncle Ed was a second career school teacher, my cousin Jennifer is a school teacher, and my daughter is a schoolteacher. With the exception of my Uncle Ed, that seems to be a legacy of the women in our family. If Ralyn becomes a school teacher, it would be the fourth generation of the Bowling family that had a school teacher in it.

When I retire most likely 15 years from now, that will have meant that our family will have been pastoring in the SCUMC for 78 years. That’s almost 8 decades of a Bowling being a full-time pastor in the SCUMC. That’s a legacy. That’s the family business.

That’s what I thought of this morning as I read through this not very exciting passage of names that I just rushed right through. The idea that these were people where the family business was serving the Lord. That’s what got me to thinking about my own family, the Bowling family. Let’s read the passage now, 1 Chronicles 24:20-31, with that idea of “the family business” in mind:

20 These were the other family leaders descended from Levi:

From the descendants of Amram, the leader was Shebuel.[a]

From the descendants of Shebuel, the leader was Jehdeiah.

21

From the descendants of Rehabiah, the leader was Isshiah.

22

From the descendants of Izhar, the leader was Shelomith.[b]

From the descendants of Shelomith, the leader was Jahath.

23

From the descendants of Hebron, Jeriah was the leader,[c] Amariah was second, Jahaziel was third, and Jekameam was fourth.

24

From the descendants of Uzziel, the leader was Micah.

From the descendants of Micah, the leader was Shamir, 25 along with Isshiah, the brother of Micah.

From the descendants of Isshiah, the leader was Zechariah.

26

From the descendants of Merari, the leaders were Mahli and Mushi.

From the descendants of Jaaziah, the leader was Beno.

27

From the descendants of Merari through Jaaziah, the leaders were Beno, Shoham, Zaccur, and Ibri.

28

From the descendants of Mahli, the leader was Eleazar, though he had no sons.

29

From the descendants of Kish, the leader was Jerahmeel.

30

From the descendants of Mushi, the leaders were Mahli, Eder, and Jerimoth.

These were the descendants of Levi in their various families. 31 Like the descendants of Aaron, they were assigned to their duties by means of sacred lots, without regard to age or rank. Lots were drawn in the presence of King David, Zadok, Ahimelech, and the family leaders of the priests and the Levites.

All of us ended up in the ministry for a complex web of reasons, but certainly feeling a desire to serve the Lord, lead a flock of believers, deepen their walk with Jesus, and simply honor God in gratitude for our salvations were common to each of our experiences. However, not all believers (even ones whose depth of faith would make me feel less than) go into the ministry. That we had two sets of brothers from two consecutive generations of the family end up in full-time ministry says something. The family business is serving the Lord in the SCUMC. It is an honor to be a part of that lineage.

I used to tell people that my dad, my uncle, and my brother were Methodist pastors in South Carolina and that I was the black sheep of the family, I was an accountant! LOL! But now, just like a son of some multi-generational family business wanted to do things his own way, left the family business, made a name for himself out there, but now has come home to take over the family business. I am now part of the family business. I hope that there will be people in heaven one day that I will meet that say that one of us of these two sets of brothers from two consecutive generations helped influence them to the cross. Over eight decades by the time I retire, maybe, just maybe, there are some folks walking the streets of gold because of the dedication of my family to this, the family business.

Amen and Amen.

1 Chronicles 24:1-19

Duties of the Priests

Have you ever been to an amusement park and there were employees there that acted as if you were an imposition to them? Have you been to a fast food restaurant where it was like that? That one person or that group of employees that happen to be at that particular place in the amusement park or that particular store of a fast food chain can adversely impact your view of the entire organization! If they are rude, it can have an impact on your view. If they are clueless, it can do the same. If they act as if they would rather be some place else, it can do the same. If an employee at one store or one part of an amusement park treats a person poorly, it can have a ripple effect. That person treated poorly will tell all his friends and all of a sudden there is a whole group of people that will not go to that fast food restaurant chain ever again – no matter if the other stores have wonderful employees or not. It is the same with amusement parks. There was an old commercial for Faberge Organics shampoo back in the 70’s I think it was about “they’ll tell two friends and they’ll tell two friends and so on and so on”. It was about how good the product was and that you should tell two friends about it. The visual of the screen multiplying by twos exponentially was pretty cool. It is true that word of mouth can be crazily positive and at the same time it can be crazily negative. Negative experiences seem to exponentially grow and multiply more quickly than positive ones however! Just one employee with a bad attitude, just one employee having a bad day, just one employee who you will never see again, just one employee can adversely impact the loyalty of a customer to a store brand. One bad purchase of a product and impact loyalty to a product brand as well. Just think of the people that say they will never buy a Chrysler or Ford or a GM product ever again because of one bad purchase.

That’s what I thought of this morning as I read through this passage about the division of the Temple duties among the various clans of the Levites. Because they were divided up into 24 groups that each served two weeks at the Temple, the full rotation would take 48 weeks to complete out of a 52 week year. Thus, during a given year depending where you at in the cycle and how the 48 weeks feel within a particular year, you would at most have to serve two times (a total of 4 weeks) in that year. It got me to thinking about ministry leadership by members of any given church on any given Sunday. While you think about that concept and wonder where I am going with this, let’s read the passage now, 1 Chronicles 24:1-19:

Chapter 24

1 This is how Aaron’s descendants, the priests, were divided into groups for service. The sons of Aaron were Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. 2 But Nadab and Abihu died before their father, and they had no sons. So only Eleazar and Ithamar were left to carry on as priests.

3 With the help of Zadok, who was a descendant of Eleazar, and of Ahimelech, who was a descendant of Ithamar, David divided Aaron’s descendants into groups according to their various duties. 4 Eleazar’s descendants were divided into sixteen groups and Ithamar’s into eight, for there were more family leaders among the descendants of Eleazar.

5 All tasks were assigned to the various groups by means of sacred lots so that no preference would be shown, for there were many qualified officials serving God in the sanctuary from among the descendants of both Eleazar and Ithamar. 6 Shemaiah son of Nethanel, a Levite, acted as secretary and wrote down the names and assignments in the presence of the king, the officials, Zadok the priest, Ahimelech son of Abiathar, and the family leaders of the priests and Levites. The descendants of Eleazar and Ithamar took turns casting lots.

7

The first lot fell to Jehoiarib.

The second lot fell to Jedaiah.

8

The third lot fell to Harim.

The fourth lot fell to Seorim.

9

The fifth lot fell to Malkijah.

The sixth lot fell to Mijamin.

10

The seventh lot fell to Hakkoz.

The eighth lot fell to Abijah.

11

The ninth lot fell to Jeshua.

The tenth lot fell to Shecaniah.

12

The eleventh lot fell to Eliashib.

The twelfth lot fell to Jakim.

13

The thirteenth lot fell to Huppah.

The fourteenth lot fell to Jeshebeab.

14

The fifteenth lot fell to Bilgah.

The sixteenth lot fell to Immer.

15

The seventeenth lot fell to Hezir.

The eighteenth lot fell to Happizzez.

16

The nineteenth lot fell to Pethahiah.

The twentieth lot fell to Jehezkel.

17

The twenty-first lot fell to Jakin.

The twenty-second lot fell to Gamul.

18

The twenty-third lot fell to Delaiah.

The twenty-fourth lot fell to Maaziah.

19 Each group carried out its appointed duties in the house of the Lord according to the procedures established by their ancestor Aaron in obedience to the commands of the Lord, the God of Israel.

In this passage, we see that each clan had to serve according to a schedule and were only there for two weeks each year (maybe 4 weeks depending on how the calendar fell). To these clansmen from their group, to serve at the Temple was the highlight of their year. It was such a great honor that they would not miss it for the world. While there, they served with precision. They served with great fervor. Why? Because it was just such an honor to be at the Temple. They considered it their duty toward God and would do it with amazing persistence and dogged perfectionism. Now, what if just one of those guys did not want to come. What if they had an amazingly bad attitude while they were there. What if they were there during the important festival dates in the life of Israel and they were ill and mean? What if they acted as if they did not care about the guests coming to the Temple for worship? What if they did not give their all? What if they did not seek perfection while they were there? You know what happens in those situations? You take the guests’ eyes off worshiping God and on what you did wrong, or what you didn’t do that you should have done, or what you did do that was rude?

That’s the thing that struck me this morning when thinking about what, if anything, I could take away from this passage to apply to my life and/or to yours. That thing is that in the church, whether we like it or not, we are in the customer service business. Impressions matter. For it can do two things. One, it can take your loyal customers (your regularly attending church members) eyes off learning more about God, about being swept up by the Holy Spirit into a memorable worship experience, about deepening their relationship with Jesus, about being challenged to seek harder after God’s will through a good sermon. If a bad experience at any point before the worship service has that person tied up in knots, what do you think they will be thinking about during worship service? It won’t be about God. It will be about that person who caused the bad experience. Two, visitors to your church campus will make up their mind as to whether to return to your campus a second or third time (and possibly making your church their home) by the way they are treated. From the moment, their car tires roll onto your campus, one volunteer can make a difference at to whether they return or not.

First, do you have a parking lot team? Do you have visitors’ spaces? If you have neither, you will lose a visitor before they even come into any building. If everybody knows where and how to park that’s been there for generations, but yet we expect visitors to just know that? it’s good to have a knowledgeable person in the parking lot to help any potential visitor find where they need to go. This person may not have any work other than greeting the regulars as they come through the parking lot, but just wait for that one time that nobody’s there! Then, not having teacher in a classroom on time for Sunday School makes a visitor wonder if they missed some secret handshake about what happened to the class they were supposed to be in. Having a Sunday School teacher that’s not prepared for that week’s planned lesson and just wings it makes a visitor wonder why you even have classroom materials? Having ushers in place and on duty well before service begins and who are knowledgeable about every aspect of the church’s ministries, activities, and upcoming events can be a difference as well? If they are not there before service and if they seem clueless about their own church, what signal does that send to a visitor. If the choir appears not to have rehearsed for this week, what signal does that send? If the bulletin has misspellings and different fonts and uneven presentations of information, what signal does that send? If the pastor’s sermon seems like he wrote a “Saturday night special” (the term for just throwing your sermon together the night before service). If the pastor speaks in passionless tones, what does that say to the visitor. What if no asks them to sit with them on “their” row? What signals are we sending when we are there but we don’t give our volunteer positions own best and highest for the glory of God?

What if we just didn’t show up for service on a weekend that we have been assigned to volunteer? What if we did that at our regular jobs? What if we had a leadership position in a ministry of the church but we just liked having the title but didn’t really give our full attention and passion to that leadership position? What if we did that our regular jobs?

All of these questions are ones that each one of us must answer in our various volunteer roles at church. Are we going to be the difference between someone being reached by the gospel who visits our church. Conversely, by our inattention or lackadaisical approach to our volunteer work at church, could we cause a delay in when a person accepts Jesus Christ as their Savior? Could we cause a delay in a person finding a church that they can call home and can grow in their relationship with Christ? Let us be pastors who give it our all every week. Let us be church volunteers who see whatever they are doing as being done for the glory of God and to ensure that there is no reason that a person can come on our campus and be distracted from the purpose – worshiping God! Let our churches be that kind of church. No distractions that make Satan smile but rather people seeking to give God their all in the execution of their jobs so that people see a seamless operation with no hiccups and no reason to be distracted from worshiping God – Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, youth service, children’s church, main worship service, parking lot attendants, security, Sunday school teachers, ushers, acolytes, choir, musicians, preachers, all working toward giving God our best at every moment for our church!

Amen and Amen.

1 Chronicles 23:7-32 (Part 2 of 2)

The Levite Clans & Their Duties

This thought struck me this morning is what is going to be the epitaph on your gravestone and will it be truthful to who you were? I kid around with (no, I am really serious, LOL!) my wife and my three adult girls about what my tombstone should say. I keep telling them that I want it to say, “Well…I thought it was funny!” I think that encapsulates my personality pretty well. God granted me a pretty good sense of humor and the ability to always see that sliver of light in the dark times. And, yes, my sense of humor is pretty corny at times, sometimes witty, sometimes satirical. I am always looking for the humor in just about any situation. My innate sense of humor really has pulled me through some of the lonely, dark, emotionally difficult times of my life. There have been times in my life where I went through struggles where it was just difficult to get up and get going in the morning. But there was always that hope that tomorrow, next week, next month, things would get better. And it was that basic joy in your soul that allows you to laugh even when the circumstances of your life say you should just crawl in a hole and wait. That’s the thing that I thank God for in my life and it that “well…I thought it was funny” attitude that God gave me. It has given me strength. It has given me a sense of joy and wonder. It has given me that sense that no matter what joy can be found in the hardest of times and that smoother waters are just around the bend. That’s what I want people to remember about me is that I had infectious joy. That’s what I hope that people will remember about me. Basic joy. That joy that allows you to smile. That joy that makes you think of corny jokes. That “well…I thought it was funny!” attitude. That joy of knowing Christ as your Savior and Lord that gives you hope at all times, even when we have those stretches where life has run you down and run you over. That joy of knowing that He’s got you. That joy of knowing that He provides the light at the end of the tunnel. That joy of being able to smile because of Him.

When I re-read this passage for a second time this morning. There is one brief mention of one of the mighty men of the Bible, Moses. No other mention other than this one brief one. What does it say? “Moses, the man of God”. That’s it. That’s all that’s said about him. Nothing really need more be said. That’s the idea that came to mind this morning – about the gravestone, what will it say. What quick description will encapsulate your life? What will be your family’s answer? Let’s read 1 Chronicles 23:7-32 now:

7 The Gershonite family units were defined by their lines of descent from Libni[a] and Shimei, the sons of Gershon. 8 Three of the descendants of Libni were Jehiel (the family leader), Zetham, and Joel. 9 These were the leaders of the family of Libni.

Three of the descendants of Shimei were Shelomoth, Haziel, and Haran. 10 Four other descendants of Shimei were Jahath, Ziza,[b] Jeush, and Beriah. 11 Jahath was the family leader, and Ziza was next. Jeush and Beriah were counted as a single family because neither had many sons.

12 Four of the descendants of Kohath were Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel. 13 The sons of Amram were Aaron and Moses. Aaron and his descendants were set apart to dedicate the most holy things, to offer sacrifices in the Lord’s presence, to serve the Lord, and to pronounce blessings in his name forever.

14 As for Moses, the man of God, his sons were included with the tribe of Levi. 15 The sons of Moses were Gershom and Eliezer. 16 The descendants of Gershom included Shebuel, the family leader. 17 Eliezer had only one son, Rehabiah, the family leader. Rehabiah had numerous descendants.

18 The descendants of Izhar included Shelomith, the family leader. 19 The descendants of Hebron included Jeriah (the family leader), Amariah (the second), Jahaziel (the third), and Jekameam (the fourth).

20 The descendants of Uzziel included Micah (the family leader) and Isshiah (the second). 21 The descendants of Merari included Mahli and Mushi. The sons of Mahli were Eleazar and Kish. 22 Eleazar died with no sons, only daughters. His daughters married their cousins, the sons of Kish. 23 Three of the descendants of Mushi were Mahli, Eder, and Jerimoth.

24 These were the descendants of Levi by clans, the leaders of their family groups, registered carefully by name. Each had to be twenty years old or older to qualify for service in the house of the Lord. 25 For David said, “The Lord, the God of Israel, has given us peace, and he will always live in Jerusalem. 26 Now the Levites will no longer need to carry the Tabernacle and its furnishings from place to place.” 27 In accordance with David’s final instructions, all the Levites twenty years old or older were registered for service.

28 The work of the Levites was to assist the priests, the descendants of Aaron, as they served at the house of the Lord. They also took care of the courtyards and side rooms, helped perform the ceremonies of purification, and served in many other ways in the house of God. 29 They were in charge of the sacred bread that was set out on the table, the choice flour for the grain offerings, the wafers made without yeast, the cakes cooked in olive oil, and the other mixed breads. They were also responsible to check all the weights and measures. 30 And each morning and evening they stood before the Lord to sing songs of thanks and praise to him. 31 They assisted with the burnt offerings that were presented to the Lord on Sabbath days, at new moon celebrations, and at all the appointed festivals. The required number of Levites served in the Lord’s presence at all times, following all the procedures they had been given.

32 And so, under the supervision of the priests, the Levites watched over the Tabernacle and the Temple[c] and faithfully carried out their duties of service at the house of the Lord.

In this passage, we see that all that is stated here about Moses is that he was “the man of God.” What a profound description of a person! When you call a person “a man (or woman) of God” is a person whose life reflects God’s presence, power and priorities. A person of God (man or woman) is one who reflects the qualities and character of God – as much as we in our flawed humanness can do so. They are people who have a visible love of the Lord. A person of God is one who exudes a Christ-like lifestyle, one that is full of quiet charity for his fellow man, one that is full of wisdom, one that understands God’s Word and quietly goes about living it, one that is marked by gratefulness and humility before the Lord because they know that salvation is a unmerited gift, one that is marked by practical sharing of the gospel with both friends and strangers. Is that not what you want others to describe you as, “a man of God”?

As for me, I am sure that my family will not put “well…I thought it was funny!” on my gravestone. However, what I hope that they will remember me as is a person who had basic joy. I am not talking about jumping around dancing common perception of joy, but rather the Christian concept of joy where you are able to have contentment even in troubled times. Sure, we Christians have struggles just like anybody else. We have worries. We have days where it’s a struggle to get out of bed. We have days where our circumstances weigh heavily on us for long periods. We are not immune or oblivious to the troubled world in which we live. However, as Christ followers, we know that God has a sunny day coming for us and we hold on to that hope no matter what. For example, Joseph probably had some really bad days when he was in the Egyptian prison for those 12 years, but he had a belief in God that allowed him to serve God right where he was. From the outside, it might have looked like a bum wrap for Joseph (and it certainly was), but yet Joseph simply trusted God so much that He lived his life in the moment and did the best he could with it. That’s the basic joy of one who loves God. That’s the basic joy of a man of God.

Moses, the man of God. Simple but powerful description. What more needs to be said about Moses. Man of God says enough and says it all. That’s who he was, a man of God. My prayer for you and my prayer for me is that when we die, that it could be said of us that we had such a basic joy of living, that comes from trusting God even in the toughest of times, that we could be described as a “man of God” or a “woman of God”. What will your gravestone say?

Amen and Amen.

1 Chronicles 23:7-32 (Part 1 of 2)

The Levite Clans & Their Duties

This thought struck me this morning. What are you doing for your church in the other 50%? We spend 50% of our life at work or sleeping. That’s the thing that churches struggle with these days. Where does church rank in that other 50% in our people’s lives?

Last night, I had a meeting with our usher team concerning what Sunday mornings are going to look like for the foreseeable future (at least through the end of August 2020) as we begin worshiping indoors and holding regular meetings and such as a church once again (beginning Sunday, June 14th). In the protocols that were developed by the administrative council and me, we are going to increase the workload on Sunday mornings of our ushers exponentially. They will be called upon to monitor social distancing and the wellness procedures that we have put in place for in-person gatherings. Church is going to look different when we go back indoors. It is going to require our ushers to step up their game. Each one last night seemed willing to take on the procedures as they were laid out to them. It was pleasing to see that each one of the 17 guys on our team were eager to help and did not balk at having to do what was being presented to them. Without their support in this, we would not be able to go back inside and if they do not do their jobs, as presented, Sunday mornings will be a disorganized mess. That reminded me that even in the best of times at church, that we need faithful, available and willing volunteers to grab hold of their ministries and run with them with passion. Otherwise, the church becomes disorganized and stagnant.

It got me to thinking about our crisis response. You would think that it is simpler to worship outdoors, but it’s not. Even now when we are worshiping in “car church” or “parking lot church”, a team of three of my ushers (Rocky, James, and Harry) it would fall apart. Without my wife, the church services would only be observed by those brave enough to come in cars. Without the proper review of the sound system each week by Butch and me, it would not work. Without the contributing singers that we have had (Alan, Butch and Sarah Hannah), the services would have been less inspiring. Without contributions from my administrative assistant, Ann, and her husband, Hamer, some of the special event things we have done and will be doing at car church would have fallen flat.

That’s the idea that came to mind this morning. We need folks at church, mine, yours, anybody’s church, that are passionate about the mission and vision of the church. Without church members volunteering in their ministries and being passionate about those ministries the church becomes stagnant and begins to falter and fail. Without our ushers on Sunday mornings on any Sunday and especially now in these new protocols, Sunday mornings would be disorganized. And yet it extends beyond Sunday mornings too. We need passionate and willing and available people in all areas of the church ministries. The church lives on outside of Sunday morning and for us to be an impactful church in expanding God’s kingdom we must have those passionate people, those willing people, and those available people. With that in mind, let us look at how a whole tribe of people helped make sure the Temple operated to the glory of God. Let’s read 1 Chronicles 23:7-32 now:

7 The Gershonite family units were defined by their lines of descent from Libni[a] and Shimei, the sons of Gershon. 8 Three of the descendants of Libni were Jehiel (the family leader), Zetham, and Joel. 9 These were the leaders of the family of Libni.

Three of the descendants of Shimei were Shelomoth, Haziel, and Haran. 10 Four other descendants of Shimei were Jahath, Ziza,[b] Jeush, and Beriah. 11 Jahath was the family leader, and Ziza was next. Jeush and Beriah were counted as a single family because neither had many sons.

12 Four of the descendants of Kohath were Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel. 13 The sons of Amram were Aaron and Moses. Aaron and his descendants were set apart to dedicate the most holy things, to offer sacrifices in the Lord’s presence, to serve the Lord, and to pronounce blessings in his name forever.

14 As for Moses, the man of God, his sons were included with the tribe of Levi. 15 The sons of Moses were Gershom and Eliezer. 16 The descendants of Gershom included Shebuel, the family leader. 17 Eliezer had only one son, Rehabiah, the family leader. Rehabiah had numerous descendants.

18 The descendants of Izhar included Shelomith, the family leader. 19 The descendants of Hebron included Jeriah (the family leader), Amariah (the second), Jahaziel (the third), and Jekameam (the fourth).

20 The descendants of Uzziel included Micah (the family leader) and Isshiah (the second). 21 The descendants of Merari included Mahli and Mushi. The sons of Mahli were Eleazar and Kish. 22 Eleazar died with no sons, only daughters. His daughters married their cousins, the sons of Kish. 23 Three of the descendants of Mushi were Mahli, Eder, and Jerimoth.

24 These were the descendants of Levi by clans, the leaders of their family groups, registered carefully by name. Each had to be twenty years old or older to qualify for service in the house of the Lord. 25 For David said, “The Lord, the God of Israel, has given us peace, and he will always live in Jerusalem. 26 Now the Levites will no longer need to carry the Tabernacle and its furnishings from place to place.” 27 In accordance with David’s final instructions, all the Levites twenty years old or older were registered for service.

28 The work of the Levites was to assist the priests, the descendants of Aaron, as they served at the house of the Lord. They also took care of the courtyards and side rooms, helped perform the ceremonies of purification, and served in many other ways in the house of God. 29 They were in charge of the sacred bread that was set out on the table, the choice flour for the grain offerings, the wafers made without yeast, the cakes cooked in olive oil, and the other mixed breads. They were also responsible to check all the weights and measures. 30 And each morning and evening they stood before the Lord to sing songs of thanks and praise to him. 31 They assisted with the burnt offerings that were presented to the Lord on Sabbath days, at new moon celebrations, and at all the appointed festivals. The required number of Levites served in the Lord’s presence at all times, following all the procedures they had been given.

32 And so, under the supervision of the priests, the Levites watched over the Tabernacle and the Temple[c] and faithfully carried out their duties of service at the house of the Lord.

In this passage, we see that the priests and the Levites had different jobs in and around the Temple. Priests were authorized to perform the sacrifices. The priests were of the Levite clan but had be of the line of Aaron, the first high priest and brother of Moses. The Levite clan in total was set apart for service to the Lord. Those clans outside of Aaron’s were set apart to help the priests. They did the work of elders, deacons, custodians, assistants to the priests, musicians, moving men, and maintenance workers. Both priests and Levites were supported by Israel’s tithes and by the revenues generated in the towns dotted around Israel that had been given to them, according to the Law. Worship in the House of the Lord could not have taken place without the combined efforts of the priests and Levites. Their responsibilities were different, but they were equally important to God’s plan. No matter what place of service you have in church, you are important to the healthy functioning of the congregation.

For us in the 21st century church, we must have people that are like my ushers – faithful, willing, and passionate about what they do. We need people that see their service to the church in whatever role they are playing as necessary to the expansion of the kingdom and as necessary in making sure our members have an environment in which they are properly discipled. The pastor should not be the only one who is passionate about these two functions of the church. Everyone must be – in whatever capacity they serve the church.

Those who lead and participate in each ministry of the church must see their ministry as important – as important to their life as their secular job, their secular hobbies, and so on. There is nothing more important that the expansion of the kingdom and the deepening of the faith of existing citizens of the kingdom. We must have passion for our ministries that we serve in. If you are in outreach, youth ministry, women’s ministry, men’s ministry, ushering, security, worship team (choir and altar/sanctuary prep team), or any other ministry at your church, it should be your heart and soul 24/7/365 and drive you to action in that 50% of your life that you are not working at your secular job or are sleeping. It should drive you to take your ministry leadership role and dive into it like you do your responsibilities in your secular job. When we view our church and its mission as the most important thing in our lives and not just a nice add-on to our lives that we can focus on only when it suits us and we can work it after all the other things we place importance on, just imagine the impact a church can have on its own people and on the community in which the proclaim the gospel. When church becomes our passion and not just something we do on weekends and when it fits into our schedule, imagine what the impact on the kingdom of God will be.

Let us be that passionate church. Let us be filled with members who view their role in their church as their top priority. Let us be filled with members who are passionate about the ministries that they are part of and give it passion and life. Let us give God glory through our passion for Him.

Amen and Amen.

1 Chronicles 23:1-6 (Part 2 of 2)

Duties of the Levites

Sometimes, you hear one woman compliment another on her dress or some other type of clothing, and the other woman will say, “Oh, this old thing! I have had it for years!” It is a kind of way of humbly deflecting the praise being heaped upon her by the other woman. We laugh at that common phrase but there is something beautifully humble about it. May we think of ourselves in this deflecting, humble way each day.

One of the dangers of being a pastor, particularly a solo pastor of a medium to small sized church, is that you can become a minor celebrity among the people that you serve. In large and megasized churches, you can become like a rock star almost with a Sunday morning security detail and things such as that. In the smaller church, you are closer to the people and there are a lot of people that want a piece of you each week. In a larger church, you don’t get to know many of the church members on a personal basis anymore and you are buffered by a staff that you supervise. In the larger church, there is more rock star adulation it seems than there is in the smaller church. However, in both cases, there is a danger of all this stuff going to your head where you are a pastor of 90 people or 900 or 9,000.

The same thing happened to David back in 1 Chronicles 21. He had probably go through a phase of life where, with all the victories in battle, though he gave credit to the Lord, he was probably feeling pretty good about himself. He probably had a lot of people saying he was “all that” too. So, in the growing celebrity culture that sometimes develops around a successful leader, David was falling into the sin of conceit and pride in himself. To make him feel even better about himself and how superior his kingdom was to anyone else’s, he decided to number his fighting men and all the war machine equipment that he had. That would show himself and the world what a regional superpower that Israel had become under his leadership. That was what God took issue with. It was David’s pride. Not the census. The census in and of itself was nothing to God but the reason for it was an issue for God to deal with in David.

In the church world, as a pastor, like David, we have to keep our eye on the ball. Any success we have comes from God. That’s one thing that God keeps reminding me here lately. First, don’t get me wrong. I am having the time of my life as THE pastor. It was what I think I was born to do. I took a 30plus year detour into accounting (but even that is useful to me – I know what secular careers are like). Being a pastor and loving on people and helping them grow in their relationship with Christ is what turns my crank and always has since the day of my salvation. So, I love what I am doing. It’s the way I am supposed to finish the final third of my life. However, there are times, I beat myself up when things after this first year here aren’t really where I expected them to be.

As I beat myself up often for not having grown the population of our church in these first 11 months, not having my church totally diving in the deep end of the pool on doing community outreach, not having people desiring to grab hold of their ministry leadership positions and run with them, not having doubled the youth ministry, not having this and not having done that. God keeps telling me, you are here to serve me. God keeps telling me that it’s not my job to grow this church. It’s not my job to set people on fire for Jesus Christ. It’s not my job to develop a passionate leadership team. It’s not my job to create passion for outreach. It is my job to be faithful in all these things. I am not to sit back and do nothing. I am to be actively serving God in all these things – to push, to prod, to change the culture, to remind, to set a fire, to stoke the fire. However, as in all things, God will bring the increase. It is God’s church and I am to be his faithful servant. I plow the field and plant the seeds. He creates the miracle of a seed growing into a harvest.

With that in mind, let us read this passage, 1 Chronicles 23:1-6, now:

Chapter 23

1 When David was an old man, he appointed his son Solomon to be king over Israel. 2 David summoned all the leaders of Israel, together with the priests and Levites. 3 All the Levites who were thirty years old or older were counted, and the total came to 38,000. 4 Then David said, “From all the Levites, 24,000 will supervise the work at the Temple of the Lord. Another 6,000 will serve as officials and judges. 5 Another 4,000 will work as gatekeepers, and 4,000 will praise the Lord with the musical instruments I have made.” 6 Then David divided the Levites into divisions named after the clans descended from the three sons of Levi—Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.

In this passage, you, as well as I, may be asking the question, “Why was THIS census acceptable when the one in 1 Chronicle 21 was not?” This census was different for a couple of reasons. First, this census was for a specific purpose. It counted only the Levites so as for David to know how to assign duties at the Temple (since they were the tribe directed by God to manage the religious life and operations surrounding worship in the Tabernacle and, subsequently, the Temple). Second, this census was not motivated by vain conceit as the first one was. In the first census, there was really no purpose in it other than to massage David’s ego about how big his army was.

As pastors (and in the secular world as leaders of any organization or department or whatever), we must remember that God is the one who brings the increase. We should simply be faithful to him in the field where he has us plowing. Keep plowing. Keep pushing. Keep dreaming dreams that are godly. Keep having vision. Keep in prayer about what God wants us to do. Keep you eyes on what’s on the next row in the field before you turn the plow onto that row. Keep seeing what five rows over. We must be planning ahead. But even the vision, the keeping six weeks and six months and six years ahead of the people is subject to the Lord. All of that must be subjected to the Lord in prayer. Only accept those goals and dreams that God has laid on your heart and not what you ego has. And above all remember we are here to serve God’s glory not ours. That keeps us focused and humble.

Recently, there have been several people that have told me that have been enjoying my sermons lately a whole bunch cause they’ve been so good. What they don’t know is that I personally think all the way up to starting to preach my sermon that this sermon is the most awful piece of literature ever written! That keeps me humble. What I think is horrible is God’s way of reminding me that it is Him who takes my sermon and makes it sing in someone’s ear, not me. As well, any leadership situations, I think I am a horrible leader, but I have recently had compliments on how I have led our church during this Coronavirus shutdown season. I think that is God’s way of keeping me humble so that I don’t think that I am this awesome leader, but rather a guy that is simply doing what seems to be the best course of action. Being open to the Spirit’s leading requires that we think that we are NOT “all that”. I hope that I never lose that feeling that I could always be doing better than I am doing. There’s humility there. There’s teachability there. There’s prayer there.

Lord, help us to be humble leaders and, thus, put us on our knees seeking what You want instead of what we want. Help us, oh Lord, to stay humble and remember that any increase that comes to our organization is from our obedience and faithfulness to You. Nothing else. Not us.

Amen and Amen.

1 Chronicles 23:1-6 (Part 1 of 2)

Duties of the Levites

In small churches, the temptation to leave things unwritten is great. Everybody knows everybody. Everybody is aware of who is doing what and why. It is tempting to not have written procedures because of familiarity and people doing the same volunteer or compensated jobs at the church for years and years. However, that all changes when a church has regular attendance that starts exceeding 200 each weekend. That’s the “200-barrier” often referred to in church growth seminars. Once you get across that barrier, things change. You have to involve more people in the operations of the church. There is more administration needed to keep up with everyone. It is at this point that a church either plateaus and begins to drift back to smaller numbers or they make the changes in administrative styles and people management that will allow them to grow beyond 200. Having written procedures is one big thing that helps growth. Written procedures ensure consistency and trainability. Written procedures, when first written down, make you examine why you do things a certain way and may reveal inefficient ways in favor of more efficient ways. Written procedures often help us avoid conflict of inconsistent application of church intent between one leader and another. Written procedures help us to be consistent about why we do the things the way we do them. Written procedures also help us not to have to reinvent the wheel when leadership begins to pass from one generation of the church to the next.

One example of where written procedures help a church is the crisis time in which we are operating now. Within a couple of weeks, we are looking to return to in-person, inside worship and routine meetings. Because of the still-present possibility of the virus reflaring into a bigger problem that it was originally, we will have to “do church” in a less familiar and more cautious way than before. We cannot, at least through the end of the summer, go back to the way things were being done prior to our church’s March 15, 2020 last day of “normal operations.” Because of our return to some semblance of normalcy, projected now for June 14th, will be different, the administrative council and I had to come up with a reopening plan. Because of it being so different from the pre-March 15th world we knew at our church, we had to put all these procedures down in writing. We had our meetings six weeks in advance of the return to in-person activities date. We wrote those procedures down. We are now in the process of educating ministry leaders and their teams concerning these procedures. All ministries will be affected. None more so than our usher team. So, getting these team leaders comfortable with these procedures is imperative. We will then begin the processing of educating the general population of our church through social media posts, print documents, and a phone blitz about “what church is going to look like when we start meeting in-person and inside!” Without written procedures as we contemplate a return to in-person inside worship and in-person, inside regular meetings, we would be exposing ourselves to liability, to confusion, and just a general sense that we don’t know what we are doing and we didn’t plan. Written procedures help us to project to our people that we care deeply about this situation, that we have put some serious thought into it, and that we are prepared. That promotes security, fellowship, and unity among our people instead of the discord that would be there if we did not have a written plan in place. Which do think is of God and which do you think is of Satan?

That idea that David was proactive and wrote down all this stuff about the running of the Temple gave everyone a sense of security and it promoted unity when there was no need to quibble over operational details. David was forward thinking too because it allowed the post-exilic Jews to be able to re-establish Temple protocols after several generations had passed. It reminds us that in the post-Coronavirus era of our church as we re-establish our temple that it would be easy to descend into anarchy if our leadership had not been proactive. Order is of God and disorder is Satan’s playground. With that in mind, let us read this passage, 1 Chronicles 23:1-6, now:

Chapter 23

1 When David was an old man, he appointed his son Solomon to be king over Israel. 2 David summoned all the leaders of Israel, together with the priests and Levites. 3 All the Levites who were thirty years old or older were counted, and the total came to 38,000. 4 Then David said, “From all the Levites, 24,000 will supervise the work at the Temple of the Lord. Another 6,000 will serve as officials and judges. 5 Another 4,000 will work as gatekeepers, and 4,000 will praise the Lord with the musical instruments I have made.” 6 Then David divided the Levites into divisions named after the clans descended from the three sons of Levi—Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.

In this passage, we see that although David could not build the Temple, he could make preparations, and he took that job seriously. He not only gathered funds and materials for God’s house but also planned much of the administration and arranged the worship services. The original readers of Chronicles, who would have been in exile or returning from exile in Babylon and were rebuilding the Temple, would have found this information about the procedures and numbers of people required invaluable. They did not have to “reinvent the wheel” because of David’s spirit-inspired documentation of how the Temple was to be run. Without these written procedures, they could have spent an inordinate amount of time quibbling over operational details instead of immediately being able to get things set up in the most efficient way and to begin worshiping the Lord.

In our context today, we are reminded that we struck a blow at Satan when we started planning for our return to in-person worship and meetings. Satan hates a plan. Satan loves for there to be no plan. Satan loves for there to be disorder and everyone doing their own thing and nothing getting accomplished and the church being at a self-destructive spin down the drain. Instead, we have a plan. Our people will know that there was thought behind what we are planning to do. Our people will know that we try to consider every possible health concern. Our people will then find security in that. Our people can find unity in that. When we are all in accord, then, worshiping the Lord is so much easier. Thus, God loves when things are orderly because it helps us not be distracted by the minutia of details and it helps us concentrate on the real purpose of why we are a church – to give glory to God by proclaiming His name to our people and to the world outside.

Amen and Amen.

1 Chronicles 22:2-19

Preparations for the Temple

I learned yesterday morning that one of my elderly church members passed away. His deterioration was rapid and swift. I had not expected him to pass away so quickly. I knew the end was near for him but thankfully in God’s providence, he did not have to linger long after his debilitating stroke. He and his wife had been married 62 ½ years by the time that he passed away late Saturday evening. I did not find out about it until Sunday morning right before our Sunday church services were about to begin. So, I told his wife that I would stop by and see her and the family after lunch on Sunday afternoon.

While there, I had discussions with his wife and her son about the memorable moments or memorable ideas that they had about her husband/his dad. The son was more talkative than the wife. I think she was just at a loss for words because the man she had been in love with since she was thirteen, never dated anyone but him, married to since she was eighteen, and for the following 62 ½ years lived life with him. It was all still kind of a bit much for her to comprehend. However, her son was able to give me greater insight on him. He said the one thing that immediately comes to mind when he thinks of his dad was his favorite saying, “If you ain’t gonna do it right, son, don’t do it at all!” He followed that up with statements about his dad’s work ethic that he taught him from an early age and how his dad was simply a provider for his family. He knew his dad would do anything to make sure that they had the necessities of life. His son said his dad had a saying about providing for your family and it was “your kids didn’t have a choice about coming into this world, that was your choice. So, you daggum better provide for them, no questions, no ifs, ands, or buts!”

What greater compliments could a child pay a father? Those are the things that are worth passing on. Those are the things that you want your kids to think about when they think about you after you are gone. As I dad, I know that these are some of the things that I want my kids to think about when they think of me after I am gone. I want them to have known several things. First, I hope that they will see that after my salvation, I was passionate about my relationship with God and that God came first in my life. Second, I want them to know that I loved them deeply (even when they didn’t think I did or even when they didn’t care if I did). Third, I want them to have seen that I was a whatever it takes kind of guy – a guy who gave 100% effort at anything I did. Third, I want them to see how important that work should be in our lives so that you have the ability to provide for your family. Fourth, when life knocks you down, the best revenge is to overcome whatever it was that knocked you down. I could go on and on about the things I hope that they remember long after I am gone. But these are the biggies.

I know that there is plenty too that I want them to forget about me. I have made some huge mistakes in my life and they felt the impact of those decisions of my life. We often as dads forget about what we are saying to our kids by our decisions and actions and words. We, men, often take a long time to grow up ourselves and some of us never do. We often only think about how life affects us and what we want out of life. There are too many baby daddies out there and not enough fathers. Fathers who think about everything from the standpoint of what this action, deed, or word will say to my kids into eternity. What is it that you want your kids to remember about you as a father, when asked, after you are dead and gone?

With that idea of father moments, those memorable sayings, those memorable moments, those things we pass on to our kids, let us now read 1 Chronicles 22:2-19 now:

2 David gave orders to gather together the aliens who were residing in the land of Israel, and he set stonecutters to prepare dressed stones for building the house of God. 3 David also provided great stores of iron for nails for the doors of the gates and for clamps, as well as bronze in quantities beyond weighing, 4 and cedar logs without number—for the Sidonians and Tyrians brought great quantities of cedar to David. 5 For David said, “My son Solomon is young and inexperienced, and the house that is to be built for the Lord must be exceedingly magnificent, famous and glorified throughout all lands; I will therefore make preparation for it.” So David provided materials in great quantity before his death.

David’s Charge to Solomon and the Leaders

6 Then he called for his son Solomon and charged him to build a house for the Lord, the God of Israel. 7 David said to Solomon, “My son, I had planned to build a house to the name of the Lord my God. 8 But the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘You have shed much blood and have waged great wars; you shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood in my sight on the earth. 9 See, a son shall be born to you; he shall be a man of peace. I will give him peace from all his enemies on every side; for his name shall be Solomon,[a] and I will give peace[b] and quiet to Israel in his days. 10 He shall build a house for my name. He shall be a son to me, and I will be a father to him, and I will establish his royal throne in Israel forever.’ 11 Now, my son, the Lord be with you, so that you may succeed in building the house of the Lord your God, as he has spoken concerning you. 12 Only, may the Lord grant you discretion and understanding, so that when he gives you charge over Israel you may keep the law of the Lord your God. 13 Then you will prosper if you are careful to observe the statutes and the ordinances that the Lord commanded Moses for Israel. Be strong and of good courage. Do not be afraid or dismayed. 14 With great pains I have provided for the house of the Lord one hundred thousand talents of gold, one million talents of silver, and bronze and iron beyond weighing, for there is so much of it; timber and stone too I have provided. To these you must add more. 15 You have an abundance of workers: stonecutters, masons, carpenters, and all kinds of artisans without number, skilled in working 16 gold, silver, bronze, and iron. Now begin the work, and the Lord be with you.”

17 David also commanded all the leaders of Israel to help his son Solomon, saying, 18 “Is not the Lord your God with you? Has he not given you peace on every side? For he has delivered the inhabitants of the land into my hand; and the land is subdued before the Lord and his people. 19 Now set your mind and heart to seek the Lord your God. Go and build the sanctuary of the Lord God so that the ark of the covenant of the Lord and the holy vessels of God may be brought into a house built for the name of the Lord.”

In this passage, we see that David made it a point to explain to Solomon exactly why he would be charged with the privilege of building the Temple. His instructions to Solomon, including God’s reasoning from using David in a limited way, must have been a memorable moment for Solomon. The conversations we have with our children deserve out attention, honesty, and vision. Let us remember, as fathers, that our words and actions can have an eternal impact on our children. May it be that our children look back on the life of their father and see that, though we were imperfect beings, we taught them things that mattered, that were of eternal significance on both this side of heaven and on that side of heaven, that we were providers, that we set our children up for success.

The takeaway this morning is that our kids did ask to be born, that was our choice. We fathered them. It is our responsibility to be fathers to them not just baby daddies. We should raise our kids with an eye toward every action, deed, and word being watched. We have influence over our kids in humongous ways that are eternally important. Moms provide kids with unconditional love no matter what (and we desperately need that from moms as kids). However, it is our dads that teach us how to operate in this world, in this sometimes cruel, unforgiving, cutthroat world. Our kids by nature look to dads for their moral compass, the teaching about right and wrong, the teaching about consequences for actions, the teaching about hard work, the teaching for not having a sense that the world owes you a favor, the teaching about doing your best at everything you do, the teaching about dusting yourself off and picking yourself up when you have been knocked down, the teaching about what the world is like outside the home. That’s the job. That’s what we do as dads. They look to us for that. What will you have taught your kids when your life is over? What will be the legacy of thoughts, actions, and deeds that you have left behind? Will you have left behind the right legacy? Will you have left behind a godly legacy? Even if you have not started off so well as a dad, there’s still time to correct the mistakes about what your life is saying to your kids. It starts now. What will your life at its end say to them? What will it say?

Amen and Amen.

1 Chronicles 21:18-22:1

David Builds an Altar

As may have surmised by now, one of my passions in my Christian walk is teaching and encouraging people to move away from the American Dream view of finances and toward a biblical view of finances. It is not because I read it, believe it, but have not practiced it. My passion for changing our mindset to a biblical view of our financial life is the result of trusting God’s Word and then putting it into practice. There are two things that I have learned in the years since I started living my financial life in God’s way. First, putting God first in our finances is probably where we truly express our trust in Him. Second, trusting God with our finances leads us to start viewing the world in a completely different way than before.

First, pretty much no matter who you are and how long you may have been a Christ follower, one of the last things (if not THE last thing) that you are willing to turn over to God’s control is your finances. As Christ followers, we are not immune to the cultures in which we live. We live in them daily. We are immersed in them. Thus, leakage of non-biblical cultural norms into our lives is almost inevitable. The American culture’s view of money and possessions is one that often leaks into our lives as Christ followers. The latest statistics reveal some shocking numbers: approximately 80% of all American are in debt. This figure holds true across the board from Baby Boomers to Millennials. Because of this trend, current data predicts that as many as 73 percent of Americans will ultimately die in debt. Because about 50% of Americans identify themselves as evangelical/Protestant Christians, this means Christians are part of the equation. The American culture is such that we are encouraged to buy things on credit. We are encouraged to buy the newest and the latest. We are encouraged to want luxuries no matter our income level. Thus, it is not uncommon but common that most Americans live off of 104% of what they make. It is an untenable situation that ultimately requires our insurance companies to pay off our debts when we die.

Thus, I was no different. For much of my life, I lived life like most Americans – wanting the newest and the best and often spending money foolishly and beyond my means. By the time I was in my early 40’s after two failed marriages, my credit has horrid. But Elena and I decided after we got married to begin trusting the Lord with our finances. Instead of adding tithing as a perfunctory expense that we could not afford. We began arranging our life where we started living on 90% or less of what I made. Further, instead of blowing tax refunds and company performance bonuses on frivolousness, we used them to pay down and eliminate debts. As we paid off debts, more money became available to live generously. As well, taking care of written off accounts enabled us to clean up my credit to the point that it is stellar now. In getting all these monetary monkeys off of my bank by putting God first in our finances, tithing, living off of 90% or less of what I made, tithing on refunds and bonuses, using refunds and bonuses to get rid of debt and clean up credit, there was an amazing peace that came over us. That’s the real blessing!

Second, turning to biblical views on finance changes your outlook completely on what you really need in life. That has been the biggest blessing for Elena and me since we started putting God first in our finances. In the past decade, we have arranged our lives where Elena can be a stay-at-home wife and she can volunteer in areas of life where her passions lie. When a wife has the choice to work rather than a demand to work with all the responsibilities that wives just by nature have at home, it takes so much pressure off of them when they don’t HAVE to work. Because we have arranged our lives where we are not beholden to debtors, there is such a freedom in that. Life is less of grind that way. Arranging our financial lives to live more simply allowed us over time to be ready for His call into ministry where our income has been reduced by more than 50% of what it was when I left the corporate world. Also, we really value the breathing room that we have in our finances. We have been able to save and invest over the last decade because of it so as to help secure our retirement whenever that may come. We also really value not getting ourselves into any further debt. We have learned to be content with what we have. Chasing after the newest, brightest, shiniest just doesn’t turn our crank anymore. We keep what we have until it wears out and we are happy with that. We are able to generous to our church and to causes we care about. Those things happen first and we want to give generously not do it out of a sense of enforced duty. Because of our work to live more simply, we don’t have to wonder if we can tithe. It is the first payment we make when I get my monthly compensation check. That’s the blessing that comes from being obedient to God in our finances. We are no longer slaves to the things that we have to pay for. We can be generous because we want to be. And we don’t have this pall of debt hanging over our heads that sucks the joy out of our lives. And we have, most of all, learned to be content with what we have right now at this moment. God has blessed us with everything that we need in every moment. When we are obedient to God in our finances, He has always provided for us as needs have arisen. He has always taken care of us. That further reinforces our willingness to be obedient to Him in our finances. That’s the blessing. The trust in the Lord’s provision and the contentment we have learned to be appreciative of what has been provided to us by the Lord.

I don’t say these things to brag because it has been all the Lord’s doing. The only thing that we have done is to be obedient to the Lord in the area of finances over the past decade. I only bring it up here to say that it can be done. And to encourage you to step off the hamster wheel of the American Dream falsehood and do things God’s way. It times time and sacrifice I am here to tell you. But there will come a day when you find the freedom that comes from being obedient to the Lord in your finances.

That idea that David puts forth in this passage is one that is important. So many of us, just give God what we have left over and it doesn’t hurt us. It doesn’t hurt us to give him that extra $5.00 we have in our pocket. We are disobedient to the Lord in most cases because we have mortgaged our incomes away to the American Dream fallacy of chasing the newest, brightest, and shiniest. Then, God gets what doesn’t hurt. God gets our leftovers. God gets what doesn’t cost us a thing. That’s the idea that David smashes in this passage. Let us read 1 Chronicles 21:18-22:1 now:

18 Then the angel of the Lord ordered Gad to tell David to go up and build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. 19 So David went up in obedience to the word that Gad had spoken in the name of the Lord.

20 While Araunah was threshing wheat, he turned and saw the angel; his four sons who were with him hid themselves. 21 Then David approached, and when Araunah looked and saw him, he left the threshing floor and bowed down before David with his face to the ground.

22 David said to him, “Let me have the site of your threshing floor so I can build an altar to the Lord, that the plague on the people may be stopped. Sell it to me at the full price.”

23 Araunah said to David, “Take it! Let my lord the king do whatever pleases him. Look, I will give the oxen for the burnt offerings, the threshing sledges for the wood, and the wheat for the grain offering. I will give all this.”

24 But King David replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the Lord what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.”

25 So David paid Araunah six hundred shekels[a] of gold for the site. 26 David built an altar to the Lord there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. He called on the Lord, and the Lord answered him with fire from heaven on the altar of burnt offering.

27 Then the Lord spoke to the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath. 28 At that time, when David saw that the Lord had answered him on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, he offered sacrifices there. 29 The tabernacle of the Lord, which Moses had made in the wilderness, and the altar of burnt offering were at that time on the high place at Gibeon. 30 But David could not go before it to inquire of God, because he was afraid of the sword of the angel of the Lord.

Chapter 22

1 Then David said, “The house of the Lord God is to be here, and also the altar of burnt offering for Israel.”

In this passage, we see that, when David wanted to buy Araunah’s land to build an altar, Araunah generously offered it as a gift to King David. However, David refused, saying, “I will not take what is yours and give it to the Lord. I will not present burnt offerings that have cost me nothing.” David wanted to present an offering that was a sacrifice to the Lord. An offering should cost the giver in terms of time, talents, and/or resources. To give sacrificially requires more than a token effort or gift. God wants us to give voluntarily but He wants it to mean something to us. Giving to God that does not represent a willing sacrifice (i.e., a sacrifice that costs you little or nothing) does not show our devotion to the Lord.

That’s the takeaway for me this morning. Let us learn to put God first in our finances so that we can be sacrificial givers. So that we can be those who CAN give sacrificially to the Lord. So that we can cheerfully and generously give to our Lord through our local church, first, and those who are in need through charities and direct gifts to those in need, second. Let us get our finances under control so that we live on 90% or less than what we make. Let us arrange our lives so our wives can have the choice to work or not (as they are the ones that typically carry an inordinate percentage of the burden of running our families already). Let us arrange our lives where we have the freedom to be generous. Let us arrange our lives so generosity doesn’t have to be our leftover $5.00 in our wallet. Let us be free from the shackles of materialism. Let us be free to be obedient to a God who always provides to us when we are obedient to Him in His commands about finances.

Amen and Amen.

1 Chronicles 21:7-17

Judgment for David’s Sin

It is funny how time allows you to analyze your past actions so that you can learn from them but for all the analysis you cannot change what has already happened. At the time, the actions seem so right and so justified and be damned with the consequences. Sin is about selfishness and pride so acts of sin get justified in that light. I deserve this because this person did this to me or this circumstance happened to me. There’s an old saying, “be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.”

In my past, there were things that my first wife did to me to kill my feelings for her and forever forged our course toward an ugly divorce. Her actions that caused us to head that way were sins for her and the consequences forever changed my desire to continue the marriage. Her equally sinful actions during the course of our ugly divorce were equally sinful for her in the sight of God. All the things that she did to me during the course of our marriage were my justifications for the sins that I committed. Retributional sins don’t count against us, right? I had a right to be happy, right? I didn’t have to put up with this #@$%, right? It was OK for me to commit sins as retribution and a search for happiness amidst the consequences of her sins, right? Notice all the “I” personal pronouns in everything that I just said.

The ripple effects of my own sins led to a second marriage where God was not at the center of that relationship either and it had its own set of problems. What seemed so perfect when I was dreaming of being with the woman who would become my second wife was never realistic. The reality did not match the dream. Your kids vs. my kids, a vindictive ex-wife, a second wife who wanted my past not to be any part of my present, and my desperate need for approval all conspired to make what was the perfect dream in my mind into a nightmare of equal proportions to the first marriage that left me disillusioned, alone, and defeated. Sin has its consequences. Oh yes!

It is only through seeking forgiveness from God and no longer justifying why you did something is when you gain perspective. It is when you can look back at the mistakes you made and usefully use them is when you have proper perspective. One way is, of course, to not make the same mistakes again. Another way is to “turn your mess into your message”. Elena and I, both of us having come from failed marriages in our respective pasts, now use our mess in our past to fuel a passion for making sure that people get married and stay married for the right reasons. We do pre-marital and marital counseling when the opportunities present themselves. Our advice comes as much from our own personal experience as it does from the recommendations in the material we use. We know all the ripple effects that sins of our own and the sins of others have had on our lives. We sure don’t want to see people go through that same thing in their future marriages that we went through in our previous ones. We try to get people to learn from our mistakes and our sins so that they will enter into their marriages doing it God’s way and not their own way. In this way, sin is not only forgiven but it is also redeemed.

It was that idea of the ripple effects of sin that came to mind when I read this passage about the results of David’s sin of pride (in taking the census). Let’s read the passage, 1 Chronicles 21:7-17, now:

7 This command was also evil in the sight of God; so he punished Israel.

8 Then David said to God, “I have sinned greatly by doing this. Now, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.”

9 The Lord said to Gad, David’s seer, 10 “Go and tell David, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am giving you three options. Choose one of them for me to carry out against you.’”

11 So Gad went to David and said to him, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Take your choice: 12 three years of famine, three months of being swept away[a] before your enemies, with their swords overtaking you, or three days of the sword of the Lord—days of plague in the land, with the angel of the Lord ravaging every part of Israel.’ Now then, decide how I should answer the one who sent me.”

13 David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress. Let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into human hands.”

14 So the Lord sent a plague on Israel, and seventy thousand men of Israel fell dead. 15 And God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem. But as the angel was doing so, the Lord saw it and relented concerning the disaster and said to the angel who was destroying the people, “Enough! Withdraw your hand.” The angel of the Lord was then standing at the threshing floor of Araunah[b] the Jebusite.

16 David looked up and saw the angel of the Lord standing between heaven and earth, with a drawn sword in his hand extended over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell facedown.

17 David said to God, “Was it not I who ordered the fighting men to be counted? I, the shepherd,[c] have sinned and done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Lord my God, let your hand fall on me and my family, but do not let this plague remain on your people.”

In this passage, we see that sin has a domino effect. Once a sin is committed, a series of consequences follows. God will forgive our sin if we ask Him. However, the consequences of the sin committed have already been set in motion. David pleaded for mercy and God responded by stopping the angel before his mission was complete. The consequences of David’s sin, though, had already caused severe damage. God will always forgive our sins and will often intervene to make the consequences less severe, but there will always be damage and scars. Thinking through the possible consequences of our actions before we undertake them can stop us and thus save us much sorrow and suffering.

The consequences of sin cannot be undone. Even though God forgives us for having committed sins, he doesn’t turn back the clock and rewrite the past for us. We must deal with consequences even after forgiveness. My life still has latent impacts that result from my sins of the past, even all these years later. The key is to own that fact and not blame it on someone else. Then, you can grow in Christ by learning from the past and not repeating the same stupid mistakes and sins again. As well, you can help others, less mature in Christ, to avoid the same mistakes you made with real life lessons to impart to them. Not some textbook example but real life from your life with all its emotional reality and baggage.

Like David, we must recognize our sins and not blame other people for them. We must own them and seek forgiveness from the Lord. We must then use these mistakes as fuel for the future to make sure that we don’t make the same ones again and to ensure that others do not either. Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it (and a whole lot more than you ever bargained for!).

Amen and Amen.

1 Chronicles 21:1-6

David Counts the Fighting Men

In this age of megachurches, there has become a greater and greater emphasis on numbers. If you aren’t opening a couple of new campuses a year and you don’t have at least a thousand attendees at each campus, you are not successful in ministry. If your pastor is not a rock star kind of preacher and has not authored a couple of books and does not speak often a church growth seminars or how to lead a staff seminars or impacting your city seminars you are not successful. If you are not part of the megachurch trend, you are old, stuck in your ways, and dying and you are unsuccessful. If you have a steeple and an older building, you are not successful. If you don’t have a staff of young bucks with scruffy beards, 1960’s retro glasses, skinny jeans, a few well-placed tattoos and a hoody, you are not successful. If your worship band has not released an album or two, you are not successful. If you still have a pulpit, and a choir your church is not an auditorium with a stage, you are not successful. These are the marks of success in the church world today. If you are traditional, you are not successful.

Don’t get me wrong, I love modern worship styles. It is a long overdue breath of fresh air into the Christian faith. Every hundred years or so, God sends a fresh new way of doing things into the church to keep it alive. None of the things about modern worship and modern church are sinful in and of themselves. And, the new style, modern worship churches are reaching people that are definitely not being reached by traditional churches. There will be thousands of people in heaven because of the wave of modern worship styles that are sweeping the nation. The founder of the Methodist movement was considered a radical guy back in the 1700s – taking the church to the streets and trails where people gathered. Methodism exploded because of the radical approach to worshiping anywhere taken by John Wesley. Further, a lot of the hymns that we often consider sacred in traditional church now (as if the disciples themselves actually sung them) we considered trendy, radical songs back in the time they were written. Often, Charles Wesley (one of the most prolific songwriters of any period of history) would appropriate popular tunes of the day to set the wonderful theological treatises that his songs were to music. So, the breath of fresh air that modern 20th/21st century worship styles are in the grand tradition of God’s kicking Christianity in the pants to wake it up every few hundred years. Therefore, please do not think that I am anti-megachurch or anti-modern worship. I embrace both. From the time of my salvation until just recently, I “grew up” spiritually in modern worship settings. Therefore, modern worship is very dear to my heart and always will be. From what I have seen, these styles attract people and once there many of these large modern churches are truly impacting the kingdom in ways that traditional churches are not.

However, one of the things that I see in the modern vs. traditional battle is often in the modern worship style world there is a great emphasis on size and numbers. The bigger the better. The more campuses the better. The more popular the senior pastor the better. The larger the reach the better. The more trendy the better. The more albums the worship band releases the better. Bigger is better. The more the better. When you go to modern church seminars where the latest pastor/authors will grace you with their knowledge of staff management, church growth, and community outreach, the emphasis is on numbers, numbers, numbers.

Moving out of the megachurch model into a small, rural and tradition based Methodist church has made me realize that I cannot focus on numbers, numbers, numbers. What I must focus on is deepening people’s relationships with Jesus Christ. It is through awakening or reawakening a passion for Jesus and making church the central core of a person’s life and not just an add-on nice thing that we do that God will bless us with His growth of our church. It’s not about the numbers. It’s about the depth and passion of the faith of the people that I have been entrusted.

That’s the thing that I thought of this morning as I read about David’s census. It was a vain act to bolster his ego, his view about success. He wanted the validation that the numbers gave him. With these things in mind, let us read the passage, 1 Chronicles 21:1-6, now:

Chapter 21

1 Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel. 2 So David said to Joab and the commanders of the troops, “Go and count the Israelites from Beersheba to Dan. Then report back to me so that I may know how many there are.”

3 But Joab replied, “May the Lord multiply his troops a hundred times over. My lord the king, are they not all my lord’s subjects? Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel?”

4 The king’s word, however, overruled Joab; so Joab left and went throughout Israel and then came back to Jerusalem. 5 Joab reported the number of the fighting men to David: In all Israel there were one million one hundred thousand men who could handle a sword, including four hundred and seventy thousand in Judah.

6 But Joab did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, because the king’s command was repulsive to him.

In this passage, we must remember that God had called David to trust in Him, not in man, not in numbers. Often, we have a tendency to rely too much on numbers. We tend to think that something is good, or right or successful, based on how many people attended, or how many support a cause or view. Of this tendency we must be very careful. Is our power or rightness rooted in numbers, in popularity, in profit, or in God? David in counting his people is, it would seem, seeking confidence in his numbers, rather than God, and this is a sin. Also, he could well have considered with pride the fact that he had amassed a large number of people in uniting the Israel and Judah. Taking a census was a way of flattering himself, and to make a name for himself. The numbers ARE quite impressive. So impressive, in fact that we moderns doubt them: 800,000 men fit for military service in Israel, and 500,000 men in Judah. David was enthroned over a numerous nation and his census is a likely indication that he was quite proud of his accomplishment, and wanted that accomplishment recorded for history.

In our time today in 21st century Christianity, we can be like David very easily. We can see the numbers as a measure of success or failure. We can see popularity as a measure of success and failure just like in the secular world. As I mentioned before, we can fall prey to seeing the success of mega-sized churches, with their celebrity pastors, their rock star worship leaders, and so on. We can look at these things and say well I don’t have those things at my small church so I am not successful. However, numbers in and of themselves are not the measure of success. I had a pastor from the upstate once tell me that though he was a pastor of a large modern church he would rather have 200 people that were sold out for Jesus who were living it out every day rather than a 1,000 people who were lukewarm in their faith.

That’s the lesson that I take away from David’s sin here is that we can get all starry eyed at the success of others and wonder why we don’t have the numbers and see ourselves as a failure. What God would rather see is the quality of the faith of the people you shepherd. God has designed that I be at a smaller church and he doesn’t want me to get all wrapped up in numbers but He does want me to get wrapped up in stirring people to go deeper and deeper with Jesus in their lives. He does want me to get wrapped up in seeing people have daily driving passion for Jesus Christ. He does want me to get wrapped up in seeing people sharing their personal stories of faith within their spheres of influence. He does want me to get wrapped up in people being passionate about loving the world around them both individually and collectively as a church so that we have an opportunity to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with them. He does want me to get wrapped up in people learning to live generous lives. He does want me to get wrapped up in people praising the Lord seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. He does want me to get wrapped up in the quality of the faith of the people that I am here to lead. All the numbers stuff I need to leave to God and let Him worry about that stuff.

For the non-pastor, the lesson from David’s sin is that anything that we let get in the way of our relationship with Jesus is sinful. Whatever it is may not be inherently sinful in and of itself, but when we place priority on something other than God first in our lives, then, it becomes sinful. We as Christ followers must always seek to have God first in our lives and everything else second. We must be passionate about loving Jesus. When we do that, all the other stuff just seems less important and less a driving force in our lives. When we have God first in our lives, we have things in the right perspective. Just love God and everything else follows.

Amen and Amen.