Archive for October, 2020

2 Chronicles 24:17-22 (Part 1 of 2)

Jehoiada’s Reforms Reversed

Opening Illustration/Comments

Last week at our weekly Bible study, one of my dear friends and my Monday morning theological debater (as has become our custom since I have been at Lamar UMC) asked an intriguing question. There are places in the Bible where disciples are told to dust their feet off as they leave towns that have rejected the gospel message. That led him to ask the question, does God turn His back on those people who reject the gospel or reject God? He said it seems that when, multiple times, the disciples of Jesus who go to a town to preach the gospel and it is rejected or certain groups of people that the disciples are instructed to move on and basically forget about those folks.

Does God turn His back on us? Does God give up on us and dust his sandals off and forget about us? It was John Wesley who stated that God’s grace is all around us, always. He called it prevenient grace. It is all about the grace. God is searching for us. It is us that rejects Him. We turn our backs on Him not other way around. God is pursuing us all, all the time. He may not stop events from happening that are the aftereffects of our sins. He may use events and circumstances to get our attention. He may inspire trusted friends to “tell it like it is.” He may use even enemies of our to speak truth into our lives when it’s really needed and we are vulnerable enough for it to hit home. Just as God used the prophets to warn Israel of the coming disasters that would befall them if they followed their present courses of action and failed to return to God. Oh God does not turn His back on us. We turn our backs on Him. Even then, his grace surrounds us. It is up to us to recognize it and take hold of it.

His biggest pursuit action was the sending of His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to live in the flesh. Through Jesus, he demonstrated to us our need for God and for Jesus to be our Savior. So God sent His only Son into the world so that the world might live through Him. God sent Jesus to be the full payment for the sins of all who believe in Him. That means that sinners can have their biggest problem completely erased by believing that Jesus was resurrected from the dead and trusting Him as savior. So in reality, God does NOT turn His back when “people most need Him.” God actually already took care of our greatest need. It is we who have turned our backs on Him. It is we who turn away from God and then, when we don’t like the consequences, we blame Him. We say He turned His back on us. However, it’s when the consequences of our pursuit of sin that lead us to the always negative consequences of sin. Sin ALWAYS has negative consequences. ALWAYS. And we act all shocked when we realize that this is the case. God constantly warns us that this is the case. He is not trying to keep us from something. He is trying to protect us from that which, in His eternal wisdom, He knows will hurt us or destroy us. God is always there pursuing and surrounding us with His grace. It is us who puts the blinders of sin on. But God never gives up on us. We may give up on Him and may reject Him all the way to the grave. But up until that point of death/passing into eternity, God pursues. And there is grace there in the form of what Jesus did on the cross. And it does not matter if we rejected Him for 74 years and 364 days, and accepted Christ on our 75th birthday, and then immediately died, we are His. The grace is there. It’s up to us to recognize it!

It is that idea of God constantly pursuing us that I thought of this morning when reading this passage, 2 Chronicles 24:17-22. Let us read through it this morning, together, with that idea in mind:

Scripture Passage

17 But after Jehoiada’s death, the leaders of Judah came and bowed before King Joash and persuaded him to listen to their advice. 18 They decided to abandon the Temple of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and they worshiped Asherah poles and idols instead! Because of this sin, divine anger fell on Judah and Jerusalem. 19 Yet the Lord sent prophets to bring them back to him. The prophets warned them, but still the people would not listen.

20 Then the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah son of Jehoiada the priest. He stood before the people and said, “This is what God says: Why do you disobey the Lord’s commands and keep yourselves from prospering? You have abandoned the Lord, and now he has abandoned you!”

21 Then the leaders plotted to kill Zechariah, and King Joash ordered that they stone him to death in the courtyard of the Lord’s Temple. 22 That was how King Joash repaid Jehoiada for his loyalty—by killing his son. Zechariah’s last words as he died were, “May the Lord see what they are doing and avenge my death!”

Passage Analysis

In this passage, we see that, when King Joash and the nation of Judah abandoned God, the Lord sent Zechariah to call them to repentance. Before dispensing judgment and punishment, God gave them chances to return to Him. In the same way, God does not abandon us or lash out in revenge when we sin. Instead, he aggressively pursues us through His Word, His Spirit in us, the timely God-inspired words of others, and, yes, sometimes through discipline (allowing our sins’ consequences to play themselves out in our lives). God gains no pleasure from or has no desire for our destruction, but He allows events to unfold negatively in the natural course of what sin does to our lives so as to urge us to return to Him. God will always pursue us so stop and listen. Allow your ears to be open to hear what God is warning you of through all the different ways that God speaks to us.

Life Application

I think the thing that we need to takeaway this morning is that God’s grace is there all around everyone and He has no time limit on it – except when death occurs, then it’s too late. Up until then, no matter what we have done, God’s got a grace for that. God relentlessly pursues us even when we are actively rejecting Him. God took care of what we need to be reconciled to Him through Jesus Christ. We can spend our entire lifetimes rejecting Him but His is pursuing even then. His grace is still there in Jesus’ redemptive work on the cross. All you have to do is recognize it. No one is too far gone to accept Jesus into their heart when on their knees in all humility before God. Thus, we as Christ followers should never right anybody off. We may have to distance ourselves because of their sinful practices that they are glorying in, but that does not stop us from loving them, praying for them, trying to reach them in loving ways with the gospel message, and welcoming them into our fellowship so that they can hear the Word of God. No one is too far gone from the reach of God’s grace. He will be in pursuit and so should we. Let us be the ones people turn to when their quit turning their back on God. Let us be the ones they turn to when they are ready to accept God’s abundant grace.

Amen and Amen.

2 Chronicles 24:1-16 (Part 2 of 2)

Joash Repairs the Temple

Opening Illustration/Comments

In football, there are often games where a highly successful and perennial champion team is playing a mediocre team that has a mediocre history. In so many of those cases, the players of the mediocre team are just in awe of the swagger, style, speed, and confidence of the championship team. As they are warming up for the game, that awe gets in their head and often the mediocre team has already lost the game before the kickoff of the game even happens. They are defeated before the game even begins.

In ministry, you can get pretty frustrated when ideas for new directions get turned down (and that, of course, happens more often not) repeatedly. It can make you discouraged and take your will to fight for new ideas within the church and new ideas for reaching the world outside our doors. It can make you despondent about carrying out the same old, same old and you can lose focus. You can get the feeling that, after a while, that “ah, they’d never go for that!” and you can give up on pushing the church to grow and evolve.

Such a place is a dangerous place for a pastor to be in where he is in the “ah, they’d never go for that!” place. In that place, a pastor quits thinking fresh thoughts. In that place, a pastor quits thinking 3-6 months ahead of his congregation. In that place, you just repeat history because it requires no vision. In that place, you succumb to the power of the phrase, “this is the way we have always done it!” In that place, a pastor simply becomes a babysitter. It is the nature of human beings to resist change. It is the nature of human beings to love routine. It is the nature of human beings to love the familiarity of a routine where “this is the way we have always done it.”

When a pastor, thus, is not pressing against the wall to push the church forward, to challenge it to adapt to the rigors of a different world than that of the Greatest Generation, he lowers the expectations he has for his congregation. In college football programs, there are the superior programs and there are the mediocre programs. The difference often is the mindset. A mediocre program can become a superb program when the alumni and the fan base are challenged to believe and support the program in superb program ways. The coaching staff must instill a belief in themselves and their players that they can be excellent and go about achieving it. There must be a belief that the program CAN be great, must be a belief that any obstacles to greatness will be removed. There must be a belief that the players can work harder than any other program. There must be a belief by the coaching staff that there are no high school football players that are off the list because you know who will get them.  There must be a belief that the program can be excellent.

It is the same way for pastors and their churches. It starts with the pastor. If he gives up on pushing for excellence and starts accepting the voice that says, “ah, they’d never go for that!” then things become stationary and stagnant. Even if your new ideas get rejected 11 times in a row, there’s always that 12th idea that could be the home run for your church that God was waiting to show you and your church. We must keep pushing. We must keep the expectations high. Even if defeats have been aplenty. Failure to keep pushing could lead to you and your church missing that blessing comes with the persistence to get to idea #12 (or whatever the number might be for you).

It is that idea of not settling for the mindset of “ah, they will never go for that!” that I thought of this morning when reading this passage, 2 Chronicles 24:1-16. Let us read through it this morning, together, with that idea in mind:

Scripture Passage

16 Then Jehoiada made a covenant between himself and the king and the people that they would be the Lord’s people. 17 And all the people went over to the temple of Baal and tore it down. They demolished the altars and smashed the idols, and they killed Mattan the priest of Baal in front of the altars.

18 Jehoiada now put the priests and Levites in charge of the Temple of the Lord, following all the directions given by David. He also commanded them to present burnt offerings to the Lord, as prescribed by the Law of Moses, and to sing and rejoice as David had instructed. 19 He also stationed gatekeepers at the gates of the Lord’s Temple to keep out those who for any reason were ceremonially unclean.

20 Then the commanders, nobles, rulers, and all the people of the land escorted the king from the Temple of the Lord. They went through the upper gate and into the palace, and they seated the king on the royal throne. 21 So all the people of the land rejoiced, and the city was peaceful because Athaliah had been killed.

Passage Analysis

In this passage, we see that the Levites took their time carrying out the king’s order, even though they told him not to delay. Offerings for keeping the Temple in good working order was not just the king’s wish but it was commanded by God (see Exodus 30:11-16). The Levites were not only disregarding the king but they were also disregarding God, as a result. When it comes to following God’s commands, a slow response or being quiet when we should speak out is little better than outright disobedience. The Levites had gotten so despondent about the people of Israel that they did not even want to try. They felt as though right from the get-go that the people would not support the idea. They felt that it was going to be a defeat before they even started. They succumbed to the voice that says, “ah, they will never go for that!”

Life Application

I think the thing that we need to takeaway this morning is that we must always keep pushing the envelope of our churches. Of course, that’s provided that you are following God’s will and His vision for your church. We must seek His will above all else including our own egos. Once we are certain that we are in line with God’s will for our church, then, we must keep pushing for the vision He has given you. Even if we have ideas aligned with the vision that get defeated 11 times. Go back to the drawing board and revamp, recharge, and re-present your ideas for moving forward. It may be that next idea that the Holy Spirit has blessed you to find that strikes a chord with church through His influence. Remember, Thomas Edison failed at least 1,000 times on the proper combinations of materials before he struck upon the invention that changed the world – the electric light bulb.

There are so many stories of perseverance of the world’s richest entrepreneurs who kept plugging away because they had a vision to change the world. No progress ever comes from “ah, they will never go for that!” Pastor, let’s not be like the Levites here and give up before we even get started. Keep your shoulder to the wall and push hard all the time. Keep having vision. Keep believing in the potential of your church. Keep seeking the excellence that you know that is in your church. If you give up and succumb to “ah, they will never go for that!”, who will lead your church into the future? Who will lead it to that place that God has intended for it all along?

Amen and Amen.

2 Chronicles 24:1-16 (Part 1 of 2)

Joash Repairs the Temple

Opening Illustration/Comments

Back on March 17, 2020, the bishop of the South Carolina Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC), based on the medical evidence that he was evaluating, issued a memo to all South Carolina (SC) UMC churches to suspend all in-person worship services, meetings, and other in-person activities until further notice. That was over six months ago now. We remained under full suspension of in-person activities through June 11, 2020. Even after the full ban was lifted and we could return to some semblance of normal church life activity, the lifting of the ban was limited. Each SC UMC church had to prove that it could comply with the social distancing and virus spread reduction protocols recommended by the conference’s headquarters office in Columbia.

So, even now in early October 2020, my church and many like it in the SCUMC have reopened to limited in-person church life activities. However, many of our SCUMC churches have still not returned to in-person church life due to not being able to reasonably comply with the conference recommended protocols. With our church, though, we returned to in-person church life in the limited way recommended by our conference. Having said all that is my lead-in to what my biggest fear was concerning the virus. Part of this fear has been realized and part of it has not.

The part of the fears that I have had about the impact of the virus on my local church is that it would have a negative impact on church attendance and participation in other church life activities. This has been true. Even though I had suspected that the greatest impact would be the attendance and participation of our 65 and older crowd at our church. To say that portion of our church is a significant one would be an understatement. In a town where the population in general is aging (because of the flight of most younger residents to larger towns and cities after high school and college, the town itself is aging), our church’s regular attenders over age 65 comprise about 80% or more of active members. However, the pleasant surprise is that they have been the most faithful of our people. Sure, a good swath of them have stayed away due to their personal health concerns, but the majority have continued to be present at church. However, the negative surprise was that the under 65 crowd has been the least faithful. Their attendance has been sporadic and spotty. For all those who have stayed away, the general fear and social stigma of potentially or actually having the virus is real and must be accounted for when thinking about our public gatherings. However, among what is considered by health officials to be the most vulnerable group in our society (the 65 plus crowd), they have in general been present at church when our limited church life activities have taken place. As pastor to this flock, I thank you, those of you who are among our 65 and older crowd. A further benefit has been that our people have responded well (even this 65 and older crowd) to the greater use of video and other technologies to help us maintain church life, including Zoom meetings, Facebook Live worship service broadcasts, and pre-recorded videos and audio files used to support worship.

The other part that was a big fear was with the negative impact of, first, no in-person church life and now with reduced attendance in our limited church life, my fear was that the finances of the church would be severely impacted as well – to the point that it would be difficult for our church to maintain basic operations. It is clear however that our people responded and responded in a big way. Miraculously, we have maintained the same level of giving each month during this six months and counting of the pandemic and the limitations it has caused to our church. Regardless of whether we have had in-person worship services or not, our people have given to their church. Our people has responded willingly and generously. I believe that many of them see that without their support, our church could potentially falter and die. With our church approaching 140 years of existence, none of our people want to have dropped the ball on giving the church the lifeblood that it needs to continue existing. Of this fact, I praise God for the faithfulness of our people. The ground on which our people come together and have fellowship is holy ground and it is ground with a history of being devoted to the people who call it their home church. To honor that legacy even in times of trouble makes me proud of our people.

In many ways, I believe I was sent here by God to challenge our people to awaken to the potential that they have to be a highly impactful church. I believe I was sent here to challenge them to be a church that faces outward to the world around it rather than inward toward each other. In that, I often have pushed and prodded and challenged people to move beyond their comfort zones. But when I get the chance to pat them on the back for being a faithful people, I will do it. I see myself as that coach that drives you hard to excel and be your best but yet at the same time who will praise you when you do well.

So, here, at this moment, six months plus into the pandemic, our church still is receiving more funds in tithes and offerings than our spending on the daily and special event operations of our church. It is not because our spending has necessarily been reduced (though it has in some ministry areas). It is because our people have been faithful in their giving. I want to pat my people on the back for that! It could have been disastrous for our church (and there are many churches out there that are suffering mightily financially). But our people responded. Of that, I am so proud (like a football coach of his football team when they respond to adversity well)! I pray to God that He will bless our people and our church because of their faithfulness to the causes and purposes of Lamar UMC.

It is that idea of God’s people responding in times of crisis that I thought of this morning when reading this passage, 2 Chronicles 24:1-16. Let us read through it this morning, together, with that idea in mind:

Scripture Passage

16 Then Jehoiada made a covenant between himself and the king and the people that they would be the Lord’s people. 17 And all the people went over to the temple of Baal and tore it down. They demolished the altars and smashed the idols, and they killed Mattan the priest of Baal in front of the altars.

18 Jehoiada now put the priests and Levites in charge of the Temple of the Lord, following all the directions given by David. He also commanded them to present burnt offerings to the Lord, as prescribed by the Law of Moses, and to sing and rejoice as David had instructed. 19 He also stationed gatekeepers at the gates of the Lord’s Temple to keep out those who for any reason were ceremonially unclean.

20 Then the commanders, nobles, rulers, and all the people of the land escorted the king from the Temple of the Lord. They went through the upper gate and into the palace, and they seated the king on the royal throne. 21 So all the people of the land rejoiced, and the city was peaceful because Athaliah had been killed.

Passage Analysis

In this passage, we see that, evidently, the Levites were not convinced that the people would want to contribute to the rebuilding and repair of the Temple, but the people were glad to give of what they had for this project. This passage reminds us that it is often in times of trouble that the people of God have banded together and responded well to a real crisis. When challenged by circumstances, they will often respond well.

Life Application

I think the thing that we need to takeaway this morning is that, as a pastor, we must indeed challenge our people to go above and beyond where we are at currently. We are to challenge our people to be the hands and feet of Christ in real and tangible ways. We are to challenge our people to continue to mature in Christ. We are to challenge our people to be more and more like Christ each day. It is often tough and hard spiritual work to be that person that says “don’t rest on your laurels, keep pushing hard toward perfection!” However, there are moments that you are just so proud of your team of which you are the coach, so to speak. And it is in those moments, that you have to pat them on the back for a job well done. Sometimes, you gotta brag on your team. Pat them on the back for having listened and responded. Pat them on the back so that we can build upon this level of obedience to the Lord. May the Lord richly bless my people at this church at this moment in history with many blessings, one of which is to always be moving forward, always be pressing hard toward Christ’s perfection, always be looking for ways to improve our impact on the world around us…always being a maturing, humble force for the cause of Jesus Christ.

Amen and Amen.