Archive for the ‘Book of Numbers’ Category

Deuteronomy 32:48-52

Moses’ Death Foretold

Have you ever done one thing wrong and you are forever branded for it? You are forever classified because of that one thing. Like yesterday, when we were talking about the singing group, Flock of Seagulls, from back in the 1980s. They had that one-hit wonder song, “I Ran”. Although the band continued to be somewhat successful in England, the group never achieved the international fame they attained with the song and video for “I Ran” ever again. One of the peculiar things about the video was the hairstyle worn by the leader singer, Michael Score. He said that he grew to hate the song and the hairdo because the “do” was the only thing people wanted to talk about and the “do” was the only thing people really remember about the band other than the lyrics and music to that one song – their one major, international hit. The band was defined by the hair and that one song. It overwhelmed and consumed them. They were forever measured by that one song and that one hairdo. It is a cruel thing, the fickleness and lack of depth of the music listening public. It is rare for musical groups who have a massive first hit like Flock of Seagulls did and ever reach that height of stardom again. The music public chews you up and spits you and moves onto the next big thing. Never can you show them that your subsequent music is just as good or better than that first megahit. You are bound and classified and compared to that one hit. You are expected to duplicate the sound and the feel of the one hit but if you want to branch out and make different music, it is never accepted the way that one hit was. Then, you fade away like so many other bands that have that one huge hit. Just think of “My Sharona” by The Knack, “C’mon Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners, “I Think I’m Turning Japanese” by the Vapors. All one-hit wonders with songs that gained them brief, international fame. The bands were branded by these songs and could never overcome them to achieve long-term success like other bands who became popular in the 80’s like U2, Madonna, and others.

 

Are you someone who has been branded by one thing you did? It reminds you of Hester Prynne from the Scarlet Letter. In the book, she is forever branded by the fact that she committed adultery and had a child outside of wedlock. She had to wear a scarlet letter “A” on all her clothing. She was shunned by the Puritanical New England society in which she lived. It would not matter what she would do for the rest of her life, she was an adulterer. She could not remove her scarlet letter no matter what she did. She was forever branded by her one mistake. Do you have a story like Hester’s? Are you the rebellious teen that the whole town thought was a thug and now you are a minister but in your hometown you are still that young thug? Are you the kid from the wrong family from the wrong side of the tracks that is forever thought suspicious because of the family you come from? Are you a preacher’s kid and forever brand as “preacher’s kids are always the worst kind” because society brands that you should be wearing your acolyte robes and singing hosanna all day long when actually you are no different from any kid in town? That one thing about you that brands you forever. That one thing you did (and even though you regret it now) is forever attached to you and no one will ever let you forget it!

 

That’s the thing I thought about this morning as I read the passage, Deuteronomy 32:48-52, this morning. Let’s read it together now:

 

48 On that same day the Lord told Moses, 49 “Go up into the Abarim Range to Mount Nebo in Moab, across from Jericho, and view Canaan, the land I am giving the Israelites as their own possession. 50 There on the mountain that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. 51 This is because both of you broke faith with me in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the Desert of Zin and because you did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites. 52 Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.”

Moses was prevented from entering the Promised Land because of one moment of lapse way back in the book of Numbers. Moses got mad and struck the rock to produce water instead of speaking to it as God had commanded. Instead of giving God credit for the miracle, Moses took credit for it. He got pissed off and forgot the moral fiber that God gave him. He was tired of all the bellyaching and complaining of the Israelite people and just lost his cool for that one moment in time. It seems unfair that Moses is being prevented by God from entering the Promised Land. Moses had done so many good things for so long. He had done everything God had ever commanded him to do and He loved the Lord God with a passion. He was a great leader of a people that were hard to lead. He put up with a lot over the years. He was almost martyr-like in the stuff that he put up with from the Israelite people and he did it mostly with grace and dignity. He often interceded on their behalf to beg for the forgiveness of the sins of the people he was leading. Talk about your long-suffering saints. It seems that if anyone earned their place in the Promised Land it was Moses! Poor guy! I would have walked away from the Israelites on so many occasions. Just threw up my hands and walked away. But Moses didn’t. He was tireless in his efforts. He was a good, good man but God seems unfair here. He had one moment of moral lapse and that one thing, that one thing prevents Him from going to the Promised Land.

 

One thing that we have to remember in this situation is that God uses the star characters of the history of the Israelite people in the Old Testament to reveal things to us about the coming Messiah and to reveal His universal truths to us. It is all there for us to see. You just sometimes have to think about it a little bit to get it. At first blush, you kind of see God as unfair here. Outside of Jesus himself, there is no taller standing figure than Moses and maybe Elijah in the Old Testament and maybe Paul in the New Testament. These are the heavy hitters of the Christian faith. Moses was “da man”! He is on anyone’s top 10 list of great biblical characters. However, God prevents him from entering the Promised Land and what does that mean to us?

 

Moses’ one sin as leader of the Israelite people was that one act of disobedience about the water from the rock. Does that not ring symbolic of what our situation is in the face of God? God does not tolerate sin. That which is not sinless cannot exist in His presence. We have to be sinless to enter into heaven and exist with God for eternity. Plain and simple. No sin ya get in. That means that we can have no sin in us. Not even one sin in a lifetime. Once we commit our first sin, we are forever excluded from the presence of God on our own. It only takes one sin. One sin. That’s it. That’s all it takes to exclude us from the presence of God for sin and the imperfection it causes will not allow us to exist in the presence of the perfect, sinless God. One sin and we are branded for life. One sin and we are sentenced to hell. One sin and we are Moses looking at the Promised Land and not being able to enter it. We think it unfair of God to exclude Moses from the Promised Land for that one sin of anger at a rebellious people but Moses also had murdered a man earlier in his life. That sin in the desert was not his first rodeo, but that sin in the desert was the sin that God highlighted. It only takes one sin to disqualify us from the Promised Land not to mention all the sins that we commit in a lifetime. It just takes one. God will only have to highlight one because one is all it takes to sentence us to hell. All the other sins of our lives simply add nails to the coffin of our sin sentence. We are bound for hell because of our first sin. Our other sins just demonstrate of contempt for God and add fuel to the fire for why we deserve the harsh sentence of hell.

 

It does not matter how good we are. Moses was a good man. Moses did all the right things. Made all the right moves. He was a great leader. He was a man who did whatever God prescribed him to do. If ever a man deserved the Promised Land, it was him. But like us, we do not earn heaven. Even if we put up with a lot of crap from people with grace and dignity and have suffered greatly at other people’s hands, we do not deserve heaven because we did those things alone. Why? Because we are sinners. No one earns heaven. We all deserve hell because of one sin and one sin is all it takes! We are excluded.

What does it take to get us into the Promised Land? It is not because of the good deeds we do. It takes Joshua to lead us into the Promised Land. Joshua is the name for Savior in Hebrew. Jesus is the Greek version of Savior. So, Joshua of the Old Testament is representative of Jesus. He is the only one who can lead us into the Promised Land. It is through Jesus and Jesus alone that we find our passage into the Promised Land. He is the Sinless One. It is through his imputed sinlessness that we can enter into the Promised Land. It is through His taking the punishment for our sins that we get to enter into the Promised Land. It is only through submitting to Him and His leadership of our lives that we can enter into the presence of God in the promised land of Heaven. Moses thus represents the Law and how it points out our sins and the fact that it only takes one to disqualify us from the presence of God. Joshua represents what Jesus does for us. He is the one through home we find grace and can enter the promised land.

 

Otherwise we are forever branded by our one sin that disqualifies us much less a lifetime of sins and regardless of how good we are the rest of our lives.

 

just as Flock of Seagulls was forever branded by one song and one hairdo.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 9:7-29

Remembering the Gold Calf

 

Have you ever had someone bring up your past repeatedly? I knew you when! How can you be preparing for ministry when you have had the past that you have had? Two divorces and a history of being ruled by seeking approval from women no matter what it cost you. You were a “party boy” too. The classic rebellious preacher’s kid. In my quest for full-time ministry, I have had the issue of multiple marriages come up frequently during this process of the last two and half years since graduating from North Greenville University with my master’s degree in Christian Ministry. It seems that I have been almost there but not quite there all of my life.

 

I was a Methodist preacher’s kid who had the ability to make friends. But I was never quite there because I was ultimately an outsider. I didn’t have the “since we started school together” history of the others. Close by not quite there. I was married while in college so I never really experienced the college life. I was an outsider at my own college (it was a personal choice – see reference above about seeking approval no matter the cost). I was at a school for smart rich kids, Furman University. I was close but not quite there. I was neither rich nor naturally gifted as kids who grew up rich often are. I had to bust my tail to be a 3.0 student at Furman. Out of school and early in my career, it seemed I was always up against people that just seemed to be so much smarter than me about accounting. I had to bust my tail, work harder, work longer just to make myself feel even with them. I was close but not quite there. That feeling of not being good but not quite good enough fueled my career. I have always worked my tail off in my career to get where I am.

 

Then, God calls me into full-time ministry. I go to seminary at North Greenville University’s Brashier Graduate School. There are students in most of my classes that are already serving the Lord and have had careers in ministry or are just starting their careers in ministry. They have more experience in leading ministry already that I do while I am there. I am close but not quite there. Again, because of their background and experience, I feel like I am few steps behind. Good enough to hang with the big boys but at a disadvantage. I came to the party late. I came to the party but forgot to bring gifts. You know that feeling. That feeling of being a step behind, a day late, a dollar short has been a part of my life from the beginning. There was this perception I have had that there was something inadequate about me. I have always felt inferior in some way. It has driven me to work harder than everyone else so that, in my mind, that I could stay even with them. It is a feeling that you are an outsider looking in. It is a feeling that you do not belong. It is a feeling that you have warts and people see them.

 

The last two and a half years of trying to follow God’s call into full-time ministry has been a similar trek. Because I do not have the experience of others even in my part-time ministry position, I feel like I am at the pool but do not know how to swim like the others. I am a part of the team but not good enough to be first string. God has taught me so much in these last two years under the tutelage of the elders/pastors at my church, don’t get me wrong and I love my job at my church. I really do. But some qualities of who we are follow us all of our lives. I have had always this feeling that I am not quite good enough to make the grade. Trying to find a full-time gig in ministry has been a grueling experience these past two and half yeas since graduation that has kid fed that feeling as well.

 

The doors just have been opening and it has made me feel less than adequate for what God has called me to do. Coming to the game of serving God in full-time ministry late. Having the past that I have had makes me feel sometimes like that kid that is just not as coordinated as others on the playground and is always the last one picked. It is like I don’t know the secret handshake of the profession. I don’t have these common experiences of others. I have the disabilities of my past that stand out that make me feel less than these people who have served the Lord all of their lives. This is their ranch that has been passed down to them for generations and I feel like a hired hand who has just come onto the scene.

 

When I read through this passage, the fact that I cannot change my past and the feelings of inadequacy for the task that God has called me to came to mind. Let’s read through the passage together, Deuteronomy 9:7-29, this morning, and then we will see how this all ties together in God’s purposes, for Israel and for me…and maybe you:

 

7 Remember this and never forget how you aroused the anger of the Lord your God in the wilderness. From the day you left Egypt until you arrived here, you have been rebellious against the Lord. 8 At Horeb you aroused the Lord’s wrath so that he was angry enough to destroy you. 9 When I went up on the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant that the Lord had made with you, I stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water. 10 The Lord gave me two stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God. On them were all the commandments the Lord proclaimed to you on the mountain out of the fire, on the day of the assembly.

 

11 At the end of the forty days and forty nights, the Lord gave me the two stone tablets, the tablets of the covenant. 12 Then the Lord told me, “Go down from here at once, because your people whom you brought out of Egypt have become corrupt. They have turned away quickly from what I commanded them and have made an idol for themselves.”

 

13 And the Lord said to me, “I have seen this people, and they are a stiff-necked people indeed! 14 Let me alone, so that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven. And I will make you into a nation stronger and more numerous than they.”

 

15 So I turned and went down from the mountain while it was ablaze with fire. And the two tablets of the covenant were in my hands. 16 When I looked, I saw that you had sinned against the Lord your God; you had made for yourselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. You had turned aside quickly from the way that the Lord had commanded you. 17 So I took the two tablets and threw them out of my hands, breaking them to pieces before your eyes.

 

18 Then once again I fell prostrate before the Lord for forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water, because of all the sin you had committed, doing what was evil in the Lord’s sight and so arousing his anger. 19 I feared the anger and wrath of the Lord, for he was angry enough with you to destroy you. But again the Lord listened to me. 20 And the Lord was angry enough with Aaron to destroy him, but at that time I prayed for Aaron too. 21 Also I took that sinful thing of yours, the calf you had made, and burned it in the fire. Then I crushed it and ground it to powder as fine as dust and threw the dust into a stream that flowed down the mountain.

 

22 You also made the Lord angry at Taberah, at Massah and at Kibroth Hattaavah.

 

23 And when the Lord sent you out from Kadesh Barnea, he said, “Go up and take possession of the land I have given you.” But you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. You did not trust him or obey him. 24 You have been rebellious against the Lord ever since I have known you.

 

25 I lay prostrate before the Lord those forty days and forty nights because the Lord had said he would destroy you. 26 I prayed to the Lord and said, “Sovereign Lord, do not destroy your people, your own inheritance that you redeemed by your great power and brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 27 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Overlook the stubbornness of this people, their wickedness and their sin. 28 Otherwise, the country from which you brought us will say, ‘Because the Lord was not able to take them into the land he had promised them, and because he hated them, he brought them out to put them to death in the wilderness.’ 29 But they are your people, your inheritance that you brought out by your great power and your outstretched arm.”

 

In this passage, we see that Israel is being reminded of their rebellious, stiff-necked past. Their sins are known to God and known to them and is being reminded to the next generation as they stand ready to enter and conquer the Promised Land. They are reminded that, though they had seen the mighty miracles of God in Egypt and in the Sinai, they were a complaining, rebellious people. Even though they were constantly complaining and constantly rebelling, God still provided for them and still considered them His chosen people. This passage, to me, is a reminder to the people of Israel that they do not deserve the gift of the Promised Land that they are being given. God could have easily and rightfully destroyed them at the foot of the Sinai mountain and so many other times too. God is reminding them of the grace that He has given them. He is reminding them that they do not deserve His protection. So, it ultimately reminds them that they should be forever thankful for the grace given to them by God and for His continued love and protection. Otherwise, the Israelites will begin to think that they deserved the Promised Land. Otherwise, they will become proud. Otherwise, when they become proud they will turn from God and think that they have a right to be where they are because of their own merit. Nothing could be further from the truth.

 

Is this not true for us as Christ followers? We do not deserve the grace that we have been given. We are sinners with warts all over us because of our sins. They are visible to God and to others. We do not deserve grace. We do not earn grace. We do not have a natural claim to grace. We have warts and we are made beautiful and clean before God only through the grace of the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. We do not deserve grace. We, thus, should be the most joyous people on the planet because of the grace we have been given but do not deserve. We are rebels against God that deserve to be cast into the fiery pit of hell for an eternity of suffering. But it is through Jesus that we know that our eternity is secure in heaven. Not by effort, not by checklists completed, not by being good enough, but only by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. That’s humbling and that gives us the right perspective. Even we as Christ followers can forget the day of our salvation and make it about effort and make it about working hard at ministry, but forgetting that we too have a past that marks us for hell. We all have a past that by all rights should cast us in the fiery lake even now. It is only through Jesus that we have claim to the prize of heaven with God eternally. Let us never forget the joy of our salvation. May it be that the grace we have been given fuels us to lives of joy and thanksgiving that is honoring to the one who gave us grace.

 

For me, maybe all of this a reminder of His grace. Maybe it is a reminder that God does call the qualified. He qualifies the called. Maybe, in the right situation at the right time, he will bring me into full-time ministry and where my past is part of my ministry. The good – my career in accounting, the bad – my littered past of marriage mistakes, and the ugly – my feeling of needing approval from others, to give me effective ministry. Maybe, my past will be used to minister to others. Maybe, just maybe I need to remember that Moses was a murder. David was an adulterer and guilty of conspiracy to commit murder. Maybe I need to remember that Moses served as a sheepherder in Midian for forty years before God called Him to be the father/leader of Israel. Maybe, I need to remember that Joseph was in prison for 12 years before He became governor of Egypt. Maybe, I need to remember that Moses felt less than because of his speech impediment. Moses always keep in perspective that it was God not Him. Maybe, that’s the point.

I know that I do not deserve to be in full-time ministry on my own merits. I have come to know that if anything happens with my ministry efforts it will be only because God made it happen.

 

My wife and I pray daily in our own prayers and our prayers in unison that God will open only the doors that He wants open. Otherwise, we might think it is because of our efforts not His. We both know that we are far from the perfect preacher couple. We did not accept Christ as a child or as a teenager. We have multiple marriages. We came late to the game. Whatever we do in ministry as a couple and as individuals from this point forward is not because we have the perfect preacher couple resume, it will be solely and only because God ordained it and God made it happen.

 

That’s the amazing thing. That God will do what God will do. He is just allowing us to be here for the ride and document and share the greatness of our God.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 36:1-13

Women Who Inherit Property

One of my favorite guilty pleasures of movies, “Talledega Nights”.  My daughters and I use to annoy people when we watched this movie because we had seen it so much and loved it so much that we would quote the lines of the movie seconds before the actor would say them. After Ricky Bobby ascends to the top of the stock car racing world, he has a wreck that makes him lose his confidence and he eventually loses his spot on the Dennett Racing Team as a driver. Things get bad for him after that. His “smoking hot wife” Carly asks for a divorce and takes everything Ricky has earned. So, he and his boys end up living his mom. Early on, we see that these boys have no rules and have never been disciplined. In one scene, after the boys come home from church or school, they go running through the backyard screaming, “Anarchy! Anarchy! Anarchy!” As they end up by their neighbors window and are spraying water from a water hose inside the open window of their grandmother’s neighbor, the youngest boy screams, “Anarchy, anarchy, I don’t know what it is! But I love it!” This is the moment that grandma has had enough of son’s lack of discipline for the boys and places the boys under, not martial law, but “Granny’s law”. From that point forward, we see a continuous improvement in the boys’ behavior as “granny’s law” and “painting their back porch” mold their behavior into the acceptable range.

 

When you are a parent and you are a good one, you have rules for your children. Usually, when your children disobey your rules, there are consequences. They break the rules; they suffer the consequences. There are whippings or this is the removal of privileges. There is often a “wait til your father gets home” when a mom sends the kids to their room. That wait is the longest wait ever for a child. But when the dad gets home, the negotiation process begins. While waiting in their rooms, a child will develop justifications for their actions. They will develop negotiating points that will potentially, in their mind, lessen their punishment.

 

I remember in my second marriage, her boys were a handful. They were an unruly tribe of three. They would get in trouble constantly. My ex-wife would get exasperated with them constantly and proclaim that they were “on restrictions for the rest of your life” in anger. She would send them to their rooms so that we could have some peace and quiet. Inevitably, every time, the boys would come out of their rooms and start negotiating with their mom. They would cry. They would make promises. They would justify. They would negotiate their way out of trouble. They would get their “sentences” reduced. From a lifetime of restrictions to a couple of weeks. As the night progressed and they would continue to wear their mother down with their constant “negotations” and being the sweetest boys ever at that point, they would gradually get their sentences reduced to a week often. As that week progressed and my ex-wife found that these restrictions were more painful and inconvenient for her than it was for the boys, she would relent on their restrictions after the continued badgering of the boys. A realistic two to three-week restriction of privileges would then end up being less than a day or two in the end. They would negotiate with their mom particularly if I was the one that put them on restrictions. My authority by the end of our marriage was left in tatters after my ex-wife would allow these negotiations to occur. As you might expect, there really ended up being no rules for these boys. As you might expect, there was always an exception or a loophole that they would develop to get around their restrictions. As you might expect, restrictions became empty parental threats to them. As you might expect, their misbehaviors had very few consequences, if any. As you might expect, they were very undisciplined, rowdy, destructive boys who knew in the back of their minds that they could get away with pretty much anything. As you may have read or heard, there are two things that will break up a first marriage – money issues and sexual infidelity issues. But when you move to a second marriage, there are three main causes, not just two, for divorces in second marriages – money issues, sexual infidelity, and my kids vs. your kids issues. More than anything else in my second marriage, the children issues were the thing that ripped at the fabric of our marriage.

 

Leading a family is like leading a corporation or leading a nation. If you do not have rules of conduct, there will be anarchy and the nation will dissolve into a generation of people who think there are no rules and no consequences for their behaviors. It becomes anything goes. It becomes open seasons. However, sometimes there can be legitimate reasons for there to be exceptions to general rules. It takes real discernment for a leader to know when an exception is legitimate and when it is not. As parents, we are leaders of our families and we must have discernment as to when our kids are trying to simply trying to write-off their punishment and when there is a legitimate exception that needs to be made. Leading large groups of people can be filled with the same need for discernment.

 

In this last passage to the Book of Numbers, Numbers 39:1-13, we see the need for discernment in the case of inheritance of land when there are no sons. Let’s read this passage together now:

 

36 The family heads of the clan of Gilead son of Makir, the son of Manasseh, who were from the clans of the descendants of Joseph, came and spoke before Moses and the leaders, the heads of the Israelite families. 2 They said, “When the Lord commanded my lord to give the land as an inheritance to the Israelites by lot, he ordered you to give the inheritance of our brother Zelophehad to his daughters. 3 Now suppose they marry men from other Israelite tribes; then their inheritance will be taken from our ancestral inheritance and added to that of the tribe they marry into. And so part of the inheritance allotted to us will be taken away. 4 When the Year of Jubilee for the Israelites comes, their inheritance will be added to that of the tribe into which they marry, and their property will be taken from the tribal inheritance of our ancestors.”

 

5 Then at the Lord’s command Moses gave this order to the Israelites: “What the tribe of the descendants of Joseph is saying is right. 6 This is what the Lord commands for Zelophehad’s daughters: They may marry anyone they please as long as they marry within their father’s tribal clan. 7 No inheritance in Israel is to pass from one tribe to another, for every Israelite shall keep the tribal inheritance of their ancestors. 8 Every daughter who inherits land in any Israelite tribe must marry someone in her father’s tribal clan, so that every Israelite will possess the inheritance of their ancestors. 9 No inheritance may pass from one tribe to another, for each Israelite tribe is to keep the land it inherits.”

 

10 So Zelophehad’s daughters did as the Lord commanded Moses. 11 Zelophehad’s daughters—Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milkah and Noah—married their cousins on their father’s side. 12 They married within the clans of the descendants of Manasseh son of Joseph, and their inheritance remained in their father’s tribe and clan.

 

13 These are the commands and regulations the Lord gave through Moses to the Israelites on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho.

 

In this passage, and from previous passages, we know that Zelophehad had five daughters but no sons. After he died, the daughters made an appeal to Moses. Because inheritance passed through males in Israelite society, the family line of Zelophehad would have disappeared. God told Moses that if a man died without sons, the the inheritance would go to his daughters (Numbers 27:8). However, the earlier decision did not address marriage. If the daughters were to marry outside their tribe, the land would belong to the new tribe and the land of the old tribe would be reduced. Moses, thus, commanded that in such cases the women would have to marry within their own tribe so that each tribe would retain their inheritance of land.

 

We do not have to look far as leaders and as parents to find those who want to be considered “special cases” and/or “exceptions to the rule.” We see it all the time in church settings as well when we are dealing with people seeking assistance from the church. We see it all the time at biggest event of the year that our church puts on, The Thanksgiving Meal Giveaway. People who claim that they can’t make to the church ask us to set aside a turkey for them. People in line the morning of the event will want to be moved to the front of the line. No matter what we do at church to help the world around us, there are those who don’t want the rules to apply to them. It takes great discernment sometimes to see through the bravado of the claim to the reality of the situation. The same is true as a parent, sometimes we have to see through what are kids are trying to accomplish by attempting to negotiate an exception to our rules.

 

Wise leaders have discernment as to what are legitimate concerns and make sure that justice is done in these special situations. We must understand if our rules are creating the hardship or injustice or whether a person simply does not want to suffer with the application of the rules to them. It’s tough to figure out sometimes! We have to maintain the rules as parents and as leaders or the rules become meaningless and anarchy ensues. However, we must also be able to recognize exceptions when they are legitimate. As a parent, we have to recognize that a child may have broken the family rules to help a friend out of a jam. Leadership is about applying the rules of life with a sense of compassion but yet with firmness.

 

God has rules for our lives that produce a godly life in pursuit of Him and in pursuit of holiness. As sinful people, though, we find it impossible to maintain the Laws of God 100% of the time for 100% of our life. We are condemned to punishment and separation from God forever in the place called hell – where there is anarchy and you won’t love it. We are condemned under the justice of God’s law for it is with one sin that we become unholy in his sight. With one sin, we are no longer qualified for heaven and to be in the presence of the perfect and holy God. We are condemned by our own behavior – all of us. No one is fully righteous all the days of their lives. Even our thoughts will condemn us because though we might not do sinful deeds, our minds’ thoughts condemn us to hell. What are we to do? There is only one solution. It is Jesus Christ. He came to earth to be the sacrificial lamb before His Father in heaven. He took on the justice of punishment from God for us. Through Jesus we have our “special case” and our “exception to the rule” Because by all rights, God can condemn us to hell because of our sin. We have no excuse. We have no legitimate exception to the rule of our own. We are caught. We are dead to rights condemned. However, God being the compassionate loving God that He is, in addition to being the God of justice, provides us one way to avoid our punishment. He gives us Jesus. If we only believe in Him as the Son of God, that He died for our sins, and that He arose from the dead to give us victory over sin and death, we will be saved. We will have our exception to the rule. The rule still exists and is still enforced for those who do not grab a hold of Jesus as their Savior. The rule still applies to us but it is through the belief in Jesus that we are given, read that – given, our legitimate reprieve from the application of the punishment that we totally and fully deserve.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 35:9-34

Cities of Refuge

I remember, back in high school, one of my favorite books that was required reading in my sophomore year Literature/Writing class was the book, The Ox-Bow Incident. The Ox-Bow Incident is a 1940 western novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark in which two drifters are drawn into a lynch mob to find and hang three men presumed to be rustlers and the killers of a local man. Clifton Fadiman wrote an introduction to the Readers Club edition in which he called it a “mature, unpitying examination of what causes men to love violence and to transgress justice,” and “the best novel of its year.” In 1943, the novel was adapted into an Academy Award-nominated movie of the same name, directed by William A. Wellman and starring Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan. In the book, these men in the lynch mob decide to hang three men without allowing for a fair trial. The mob mentality takes over. There was a presumption of guilt from the beginning. There were preconceived notions that took over and led to the lynching of the men they found at the campfire. It reminds us that we must seek justice above all and not to take the law into our hands.

 

That book profoundly affected me as a teenager. It was a reminder that we should be quick to give someone the benefit of the doubt and slow to jump to conclusions. It was a reminder that everyone has a back story that may play into how they react to you. It was reminder that we must examine all the facts of a situation before go off half-cocked about something. Typically, when we have knee-jerk reactions about things it ends up backfiring in our face. My first ex-wife was this kind of person. She acted first and thought later. She would go with her first instinct on things and assume that a person intentionally hurt her. She had an I am right and you are wrong mentality, an “if I believe it; it must be true” mentality, an “automatically assume the worst about others” mentality. Certainly, there are benefits to this type of personality. You never let people run over you and you are a keen defender of your own rights. However, that me-first mentality seemed to make more enemies than it did friends. With me, I tended to overanalyze things to the point of taking no action at all or walking away wishing I had said something to protect my own rights and didn’t. However, more often than not, to be less quick to judge and less quick to jump to conclusions about other people is a good thing. It often preserves relationships when we do not react quickly and harshly to situations.

 

The liberal faction of our nation seems have this knee-jerk reaction mentality in the aftermath of the election. They seem convinced without evidence of Trump even officially being in office that he is wrong just because he is not their candidate. They riot in the street and Trump has not even been inaugurated yet. He has not yet made the first executive decision. They automatically assume that he is going to be Satan in office and he hasn’t even taken the oath of office yet. He has yet to occupy the oval office and he is already being branded. He is already being hung from a tree just like in the Ox-Bow Incident. I say let the man govern first. Let him actually give you something to protest about first. This knee-jerk reaction of the liberals is the very closed-mindedness that their accuse people on the right of possessing. Just because Donald Trump is Donald Trump, they assume that he is going to be worse than a dictator in a South American country. Let’s give the man a chance I say. Let’s not lynch him until he actually governs. Let us allow the checks and balances of our form of government move him toward the center of reasonableness and not the outlandish bluster of his campaign rhetoric. Let us not hang him without a fair trial. Let us find evidence before we execute him.

 

It was this idea of justice before assumptions of guilt that I thought of today when I read through this passage for today, Number 35:9-34. Let’s read it together now:

 

9 Then the Lord said to Moses: 10 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, 11 select some towns to be your cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone accidentally may flee. 12 They will be places of refuge from the avenger, so that anyone accused of murder may not die before they stand trial before the assembly. 13 These six towns you give will be your cities of refuge. 14 Give three on this side of the Jordan and three in Canaan as cities of refuge. 15 These six towns will be a place of refuge for Israelites and for foreigners residing among them, so that anyone who has killed another accidentally can flee there.

 

16 “‘If anyone strikes someone a fatal blow with an iron object, that person is a murderer; the murderer is to be put to death. 17 Or if anyone is holding a stone and strikes someone a fatal blow with it, that person is a murderer; the murderer is to be put to death. 18 Or if anyone is holding a wooden object and strikes someone a fatal blow with it, that person is a murderer; the murderer is to be put to death. 19 The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death; when the avenger comes upon the murderer, the avenger shall put the murderer to death. 20 If anyone with malice aforethought shoves another or throws something at them intentionally so that they die 21 or if out of enmity one person hits another with their fist so that the other dies, that person is to be put to death; that person is a murderer. The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death when they meet.

 

22 “‘But if without enmity someone suddenly pushes another or throws something at them unintentionally 23 or, without seeing them, drops on them a stone heavy enough to kill them, and they die, then since that other person was not an enemy and no harm was intended, 24 the assembly must judge between the accused and the avenger of blood according to these regulations. 25 The assembly must protect the one accused of murder from the avenger of blood and send the accused back to the city of refuge to which they fled. The accused must stay there until the death of the high priest, who was anointed with the holy oil.

 

26 “‘But if the accused ever goes outside the limits of the city of refuge to which they fled 27 and the avenger of blood finds them outside the city, the avenger of blood may kill the accused without being guilty of murder. 28 The accused must stay in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest; only after the death of the high priest may they return to their own property.

 

29 “‘This is to have the force of law for you throughout the generations to come, wherever you live.

 

30 “‘Anyone who kills a person is to be put to death as a murderer only on the testimony of witnesses. But no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.

 

31 “‘Do not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer, who deserves to die. They are to be put to death.

 

32 “‘Do not accept a ransom for anyone who has fled to a city of refuge and so allow them to go back and live on their own land before the death of the high priest.

 

33 “‘Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it. 34 Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the Lord, dwell among the Israelites.’”

 

In this passage, we see that if anyone died because of violence, murder was assumed, but the murder suspect was not automatically assumed guilty. The cities of refuge assured the accused that justice would be served. If the person left the city of refuge, then he or she would be assumed guilty and could be killed by the avenging party. The people were to be intolerant of sin yet impartial to the accused so as to have a fair trial. The cities of refuge represented God’s concern for justice in a culture and a period in history that did not always protect the rights of the innocent. If is unjust both to overlook wrongdoing and the jump to conclusions about guilt. When someone is accused of wrongdoing, we must stand up for justice, protect those not yet proven guilty, and listen carefully to all sides of a story and examine all of the evidence before arriving at the conclusion that someone is guilty. We should offer grace first and judgment only after all the evidence is in.

 

That is what I see that we should be doing both the liberal and the conservative when it comes to Trump. As conservatives, we must not automatically assume that Trump is going to be all that we have hoped for. We must allow him to govern first and see what he does. Same goes for the liberals, don’t vilify him before he takes office. Allow him to govern and see if there is actually evidence that he is going to be the ogre that you expect.

 

Let us be that way in our personal lives. Let us be a people who give grace first and judgment second. Let us love first and jump to conclusions second. Let us demonstrate love in the face of evil. Let us pray for our tormentors rather than lash out at them in hate. Let us understand the back story of a person as to why they react a certain way rather than just assume that they are an ass. Let us weigh the evidence of a person when we react instead of just reacting from a place of hurt pride. Let us be known as a loving people rather than people of hate. Let us love those who live in opposition to God’s Word rather than automatically writing them off as unsavable by the grace of Jesus Christ. We were once lost too you know! Let us love like Jesus did. Let us be quick to love and slow to anger.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 35:1-8

Towns for the Levites

As many of you know, I grew up as a preacher’s kid. My dad was a minister in the South Carolina conference of the United Methodist Church. For much of his career with the church as I was growing up, he served rural churches in farming communities outside of mid-sized towns in South Carolina. I was born during my dad’s first appointment in Lamar, SC. After that we moved to Anderson, SC. Then onto Walhalla, SC followed by Rembert, SC. After Rembert, we moved to Hartsville, SC. From there, we moved to Elgin, SC. From Elgin, we moved to Anderson for a second time. Once we were done in Anderson, we moved to Travelers Rest, SC (and, yes, that is the actual name of the town). After the Methodist Church decided to move my dad from Travelers Rest, I stayed behind at college at Furman University and got married to my high school sweetheart. My dad then moved on to Charleston and then to Spartanburg, SC. After Spartanburg, the church moved him to Woodruff and then to Bluffton, SC. After Bluffton, came Georgetown. After Georgetown came Conway. After Conway, came Union, SC. Finally, after 14 appointments and more than 50 years of full-time ministry, my dad went into semi-retirement and started serving two small churches in Iva, SC that could not afford a full-time pastor near his lake home until he fully retired a few years ago.

 

In all that time, as I was growing up and then watching my father as an adult, he earned his living and paid his bills based on the generosity of the members of the churches he served over those 50 plus years. He was a minister of God’s Word and he relied on the generosity of those who attended the churches he had served. We lived in parsonages as I was growing up. There was no home of our own to speak of growing up. My dad did not purchase a place to call his own until we were about to move from Anderson to Travelers Rest when I was a teenager. The parsonages were provided by each church and each parsonage was constructed by those churches, or purchased by those churches, through the generosity of the people of those churches. It kind of set up situations where the salary and the home were contingent upon not making people angry with the double edge sword of God’s Word. My dad was never shy about choosing to speak the truth of the Bible rather than compromise to keep his appointment to that church. In the Methodist Church with its interconnectional nature, every preacher is guaranteed a church and every church is guaranteed a preacher. So, there is a little more freedom to speak the truth of God’s Word because you know that the Methodist Church would move you to a new church if things got too rough. However, they could withhold raises and refuse to contribute their apportioned requirements to the state conference as retribution against a pastor.

 

Amazingly enough over those years, even with dad walking the tightrope of pleasing people while holding to the integrity of God’s Word, we never went without. Sure, being a preacher’s kid and my dad having a preacher’s salary, we did not have the finest things in the world, but we never starved. We never went without clothing. We never lived in a dark house with no electricity. The Lord always provided for my dad and his pursuit of ministry in the Lord’s name. I never noticed anything less than a normal childhood just like any other kid (except for the moving every two or so years). The Lord provided for us as my dad ministered to the people that God chose for him to serve.

 

It was that idea of making provision for those who dedicate their entire lives to serving the Lord as a full-time occupation that came to mind as I read today’s passage, Numbers 35:1-8:

 

35 On the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho, the Lord said to Moses, 2 “Command the Israelites to give the Levites towns to live in from the inheritance the Israelites will possess. And give them pasturelands around the towns. 3 Then they will have towns to live in and pasturelands for the cattle they own and all their other animals.

 

4 “The pasturelands around the towns that you give the Levites will extend a thousand cubits[a] from the town wall. 5 Outside the town, measure two thousand cubits[b] on the east side, two thousand on the south side, two thousand on the west and two thousand on the north, with the town in the center. They will have this area as pastureland for the towns.

Cities of Refuge

 

6 “Six of the towns you give the Levites will be cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone may flee. In addition, give them forty-two other towns. 7 In all you must give the Levites forty-eight towns, together with their pasturelands. 8 The towns you give the Levites from the land the Israelites possess are to be given in proportion to the inheritance of each tribe: Take many towns from a tribe that has many, but few from one that has few.”

 

The Levites were ministers. They were supported by the tithes of the people. The people gave them homes, flocks, produce, grains, and pasturelands. Likewise, we are responsible to provide for the needs of our ministers and missionaries so that they can be free to preach God’s Word in spirit and truth. We are responsible to provide for them even when their sermons cut us like a knife and expose our own sins. We are to provide for them because it is a command of God to provide for them. We are to be obedient to the to support our local church not because we like or love or dislike or hate the preacher. We are to support the mission of God’s church not necessarily the people carrying out the mission. It is not between us and the preacher. It is between us and God. He expects us to put him first in every aspect of our lives and that includes our finances. We are to give him the firstfruits of our labors. We are not to give it begrudgingly. We are simply trusting the Lord to bless our obedience. We give not to have a stake in what is done in our church. We are giving to be obedient to the Lord.

 

What results from that? We provide for God’s purposes in this fallen world. We provide first for our ministers who lead us in the ways of the Lord. We provide second to finance the spreading of God’s Word outside the church. We are to give not necessarily to finance big buildings and monuments to ourselves that our physical churches can be but we are to provide for a base of operations from which we fan out into the world. We provide to help people who need help. We provide to help get the gospel out into the world around us locally, nationally and internationally. We provide to help disciple our people into deeper and deeper relationships with our Savior. We provide to help preach the gospel to the next generation. We provide to help create weekly worship events where the gospel is preached and God is worshiped. We provide to make sure in any given week someone will meet Jesus Christ as their Savior. That is what we give for – for people to come to know the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

 

What if we are stingy and are not obedient to the Lord with our tithes or more (10% of what we make or more)? We cause all of the above to suffer. It is not someone else’s job to give to the Lord through your local church. It is about you and God. When you stand before the throne on your judgment day, when God asks about what you did with your life, can you present your boats, cars, vacations, and trinkets? When we stand before the Lord we want to say that we provided for eternal things. We provided for our ministers. We provided for Christ’s church. We provided for the gospel to be spread among the nations! We provided for the saving of souls. When I look back on my days as a preacher’s kid, I am thankful for those who provided my dad with a salary that, in turn, provided for my mom, my brother and me. So, my dad could preach the gospel for 50 plus years. So, my dad could preach God’s Word for to two generations of people that passed through the doors of churches he ministered. Are you investing in eternity? Or are you chasing temporary things? Things that you cannot carry to heaven! Would you rather stand before God and say that you were obedient to His commands and that you invested generously and happily in the kingdom of God!

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 34:16-29

Leaders to Divide the Land

 

This coming Tuesday, four days from today, our church will put on the biggest event of the year for our church. We call it the Thanksgiving Meal Giveaway. It requires a great deal of planning and quite of few leaders. The event involves multiple leaders with multiple teams, each with a specific function that contributes to the success of the whole event. In this event, we give away 500 turkeys and bags the canned and boxed for each of the families that pass through our doors to have a nice Thanksgiving meal in their own homes (two days later, on Thanksgiving Day). It sounds simple enough but it is a rather large undertaking.

 

These are the various teams and their functions for the event;

 

  1. Event Leader – This happens to be my wife, our church’s director of community outreach. She must pick a team of leaders for the all the following teams. She develops relationships with vendors and she also makes sure the church-wide body understands where we are at in preparation for the event. She must purchase all the bulk goods and turkeys for the event and ensure that they are delivered and staged prior to the Sunday before the event and ensure that all functional leaders have what they need for the event, have sufficient personnel to accomplish their team goals and requirements, and generally “manage the organized chaos” on the day of the event.
  2. Logistics Team – The leader of this team must ensure that all the chairs in the center two sections of the church are removed before the event and ten tables are put in their place along with chairs enough for eight people to sit at each table. They must ensure that the stantions that are used to control crowd flow in the atrium for registration are put in place. This team also ensures that all the foodstuff for the bags of fixings are all staged properly for the pre-event “packing party” where our church members work together on the Sunday afternoon before the event to populate the bags with the required canned and dry goods for each bag.
  3. Parking Team – As this is a well-known event in our community, our visitors come early – well before we open our doors at 8:00am. We have to have parking control because there will be at least 200-300 cars that will have to be parked in an organized fashion. We have to have a team leader for this and 2 to 3 assistants.
  4. Security Team – To ensure the safety of all people at the event (our guests and our volunteers), members of our Sunday morning security team provide security for the event. This requires a leader and two to three assistants at all times during the event. Sometimes, people can get testy when waiting in the long line to get inside our worship center. Sad to say but true.
  5. Registration Team – In order to control the flow of people through the event, to prevent one person or family from getting multiple Thanksgiving meals by assigning numbered wristbands, and to gather information from our guests so that we can send invitations to them to our church and become part of our fellowship, we have a registration team. This requires a team of 8-10 people rotating in and out of the registration table. The leader must keep it all flowing smoothly and under control.
  6. Hospitality Team – This team provides coffee to people while they wait in line and they provide our guests with coffee and snacks while they are sitting in the worship center awaiting the next step in the process. This requires 10-15 people to be working at any given time and requires 20-25 in total so that people can rotate in and out as their time allows. It is basically an all-hands on desk for our Sunday morning café team as well as any additional volunteers they can garner. It requires a leader to staff the event, to purchase snacks for our guests, and to ensure that coffee is always flowing.
  7. Worship Team – our Worship Pastor must ensure that he has sufficient musicians to perform throughout the event. The Sunday morning worship team rotates in and out so that one set of musicians don’t have to play throughout the 4-5 hour event. The Worship Pastor also ensures that the other elder/pastors of the church are there and have specified time slots to share the gospel with our guests as they are sitting in the sanctuary.
  8. Tech Team – This requires the tech team leader from our Sunday morning services to ensure that he has a team of people to execute the audio/visual and lighting systems of the sanctuary. They have to treat it like a Sunday morning. The leader must make sure he’s adequately staffed just like on a Sunday morning service. He must prepare the informational slides that will be displayed on the screens and ensure that any video messages are prepared in advance of the event.
  9. Prayer Team – As our guests are moved into the sanctuary, they sit and wait and are entertained and informaed by the hospitality team, worship team and tech team, they are then called in groups of 10-12 people to the prayer tables set up outside the sanctuary. At these tables, a team of 10-12 prayer warriors at a time (usually have 20-24 people rotating to the tables as prayer warriors), who sit and pray with each guest individually about whatever each person desires prayer for. It takes a leader with discernment to pick these prayer warriors because it is intensely draining to listen to the stories of despair and misfortune constantly and then try to effectively pray for that person individually. The leader must ensure too that these people rotate out of the tables for short periods of rest because of the emotional intensity.
  10. Coat Drive Team – For several weeks prior to the event, the church asks its people and the community to donate gently worn coats for us to giveaway to those who need them on the day of the event. The leader of this team must ensure that all donations points at the church and in the community are managed before the event. They must ensure that the coats are collected, organized by size, gender, and/or age and then hang them on hangers on mobile racks in what is normally our toddler room in the worship center. The leader of this team needs about 10-12 total volunteers who rotate in and out of the coat giveaway area.
  11. Food Bag Distribution Team – after the packing party on Sunday, our nursery room becomes a sea of 500 plus food bags. The team leader here must constantly have about 4-5 people rotating in and out of the nursery. These team members hand the bags of goods to our guests as they pass by the counter in the nursery. Behind them they have people supplying them with bags and moving the inventory forward as the “sea of bags” gets progressively smaller as the event progresses.
  12. Exit Team – The leader of this team must have a team of 5-10 people at all times (so a need of a total of 10-15 team members). The leader ensures that these “people persons” guide our guests out of the nursery (with their bag of canned and boxed goods) out the side doors of the worship center and to the refrigerated trailer outside where the family will pick up their turkey. The team member will then escort the family back to their cars. The leader must pick people who can effortlessly engage people that they do not know.
  13. Turkey Distribution Team – This is the team for real men! The leader of this team must pick strong guys who can deal with cold temperatures. This team is responsible for distributing average 11 lb. turkeys to our guests. The turkeys come to us in a refrigerated transfer truck trailer and are in palletized boxes containing the turkeys. These guys must be in or around the refrigerated truck all during the event. They must break open boxes and move them out of the way when empty. The pallets are always at the back of the refrigerated trailer so not only do you need guys at the back getting the turkeys out the boxes, you need guys to walk them forward to the opened doors of the trailer where another set of guys are handing the turkeys to our guests. This requires a team of 5-10 guys at all times (a need for a total 10-15 guys so that people can rotate in an out).

 

As you can see this is a huge event that requires a lot of people, quite a few leaders, and a lot of planning so that the event goes off seamlessly on event day. It’s kind of like Thanksgiving meals themselves. The planning takes longer than the execution. But without all the extensive planning, the execution for those 4-5 hours would be a disaster. It takes planning. It takes picking the right leaders. It takes those leaders making sure their function has what it needs. All this is done so that on the day of the event everyone knows what to do. When that’s down cold, we can concentrate on loving on our guests. That’s what we are there for – to show uncommon love to a world that needs to be shown uncommon love – the uncommon love of Jesus Christ.

 

That attention to detail and the preparation for the move into the Promised Land that is brought out in today’s passage made me think of our Thanksgiving Meal Giveaway when I read it. Let’s read it together now:

 

16 The Lord said to Moses, 17 “These are the names of the men who are to assign the land for you as an inheritance: Eleazar the priest and Joshua son of Nun. 18 And appoint one leader from each tribe to help assign the land. 19 These are their names:

 

Caleb son of Jephunneh,

 

from the tribe of Judah;

 

20 Shemuel son of Ammihud,

 

from the tribe of Simeon;

 

21 Elidad son of Kislon,

 

from the tribe of Benjamin;

 

22 Bukki son of Jogli,

 

the leader from the tribe of Dan;

 

23 Hanniel son of Ephod,

 

the leader from the tribe of Manasseh son of Joseph;

 

24 Kemuel son of Shiphtan,

 

the leader from the tribe of Ephraim son of Joseph;

 

25 Elizaphan son of Parnak,

 

the leader from the tribe of Zebulun;

 

26 Paltiel son of Azzan,

 

the leader from the tribe of Issachar;

 

27 Ahihud son of Shelomi,

 

the leader from the tribe of Asher;

 

28 Pedahel son of Ammihud,

 

the leader from the tribe of Naphtali.”

 

29 These are the men the Lord commanded to assign the inheritance to the Israelites in the land of Canaan.

 

In God’s plan for settling the land, He explained what to do, communicated this clearly to Moses, and assigned specific people to oversee the apportionment of the land. Sounds simple but think of the complexity of apportioning the lands among the tribes proportionally to the size of the tribe (taking in an understanding of topography and resources in the area), then apportioning the land within those apportionments to individual clans and family. Huge undertaking. No plan is complete until each job is defined and assigned and everyone understand their responsibilities. When we are assigned a project, we must determine what is to be done, break the project down into component parts, and put people in charge of each part. Basic leadership 101 taught right here in the Bible. What you don’t want is an unorganized mess which then becomes everyone’s focus rather than the purpose of what you are trying to accomplish.

 

As church leaders, we would do well to learn from this passage. We must make sure that the things that we do for our people and for our community are organized and executed in a manner that the love of Jesus is the primary focus on the day of the event, during the project, or whatever it is. We must do our part so that we can love on people and not worry about logistics. We want the things that we do to speak loudly of Christ. We want people to see excellence in us and not have to make exceptions for us because we are a church depending on volunteers. We want Jesus to be the focus not the details of the event. That requires us as leaders to plan, to execute, and work hard to make sure that all people see is Jesus on the day of the event or whatever we are doing as a church.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 34:1-15

Boundaries of the Land

One week from today is Thanksgiving Day. It is a day that is a uniquely American holiday. It is a day where we give thanks for the bounty that the Lord has given us. Of course, we, as the Americans that we are, the holiday has morphed into something other than it was intended. It is now a day where we rarely give thanks for the generosity of our God in His provision for our lives but rather a day for early bird specials for Christmas shopping, college and professional football, big meals and sometimes travel. There are the logistics of going to her family and to his family. There is extensive food preparation. Rarely is there time of reflection of just how God has provided for us. However, we can reclaim the thanksgiving of Thanksgiving. I know for one, the Lord has richly blessed this young man (yes, I still consider myself a young man and will do so as long as my corny, middle school sense of humor holds out!).

 

When I think back on the past decade, the Lord has richly blessed me even when I did not deserve it. In August 2004, my second wife and I split up. It was the beginning of a difficult time for me financially that would last until the fall of 2007. First off, there was the financial mess that was the life that I had led while married to my first two wives. There was the bankruptcy declared in the Summer of 2002 during the second marriage after the death of my second wife’s oldest child in February 2002. After the split up, there were stupid financial decisions. One was the purchase of a Dodge Neon SRT4 (the turbocharged sports car) that I could not afford and because of the poor credit that I had, the car payment was astronomical – $600 plus per month (in 2004 dollars). After breaking up and having to find a place of my own, there was the constant eating out at places like Applebees, Outback, Chilis where I would drop $50 per meal. In those days, it was all about massaging the emptiness that I felt in my life with wine, women, and boos and whatever I could spend my money on. Then, there was that disastrous trip to London that was a business trip but I so overspent on that trip that I had to get a loan when I got back to pay off the overspending on my company credit card. Add that to the mountain of debt that I already had, I had reached the point that there was one week that I had to get one of those payday loans. NEVER do that! It is fine that first time. You get the money you need to avoid that self-made financial crisis or one that is forced upon you by circumstances. However, it starts a cycle of payday loan, payday loan payoff two weeks later, finding yourself short and having to get another and the cycle continues. You may even have to get a payday loan to pay off your payday loan. There was a point between 2006 and the fall of 2007 that I was juggling as many as three payday loans on a maddening and unending cycle. I even accepted a job outside of Greenville for the first time in my adult life just to try to get my finances under control. After living in Greenville for nearly three decades (since age 14), I accepted a job in Charlotte and moved to the suburb of Rock Hill in January 2006. Although the geography changed, the financial woes continued and finally had to let my SRT4 be repossessed in 2007. Bankruptcy in 2002 and a repossession in 2007. I was screwed.

 

The biggest blessing of my life came actually came in the form of a loss of that job at the end of September 2007. That may sound weird but it actually was the blessing that I needed. I know you are saying, “how can the loss of a job be a blessing.” Rest assured, it did not seem that way to me when the shutdown of our corporate office was announced in June 2007. The shutdown was completed by September 30th. I was out of a job. However, they did give us three months worth of salary as we left plus a bonus. I was able to end the cycle of payday loans with that cash infusion. Then, by the hand of God, I was hired as a financial consultant with Vaco Resources out of Charlotte within a couple of weeks after my shutdown termination. My first gig started 4 weeks after my termination. That was the beginning of recovery for me. It was the greatest blessing of my life in retrospect. The irony of working as a consultant for Vaco was the fact that I ended up with a gig in Duncan, SC (in the Greenville-Spartanburg, SC area). After making the toughest decision of my life to leave Greenville after 30 years, a place I had lived since I was 14, and live in Rock Hill and work in Charlotte, here I was being sent back to the Greenville area. Living in Rock Hill, my new home, but working in the Greenville area, my old home – the irony! Baaaack to my point though. Because of the fact that Rock Hill and Duncan are within driving distance of each other, they are far enough apart that a commute just did not make sense. So, with this job with Vaco, I was living in a hotel in Duncan 5 days a week and then going back to Rock Hill on the weekends. My financial blessing was that I was making a consulting rate that was slightly more than I was making at that job in Charlotte. Add to that I was given a daily per diem amount for my hotels and meals. Talk about your financial blessing. For almost a year, I had not only salary but a per diem that far exceeded what I was spending on hotels and meals. Add to that I had that big burst of cash when the office I worked for previously was shutdown. All the rough waters began to subside financially.

 

Later that consulting gig in Duncan led me out to California with more salary and per diem and a corporate paid apartment. And as this gig came to an end, God’s hand was in action again as the controller’s position at this company’s division there in California suddenly came open at just the time my consulting gig was about to end. It had been a year long consulting gig with Vaco which was fantastic. Few consulting gigs last that long. However, it was about to end and Vaco did not have anything for me for my immediate future. So, this controller’s job was appealing. When the job came open, what is now my current employer, Fujikura America, Inc., offered me the job immediately. And immediately I took the job. That was October 2008. Here I am still with the same company 8 years later. During these eight years and because of the wisdom and advice of my wife, Elena (who followed me to California from Rock Hill and whom I married while we lived out there), I have established more frugal life habits. With her advice and wisdom, I have paid off old debts. I have invested in my company’s 401k. My financial ship is righted. During my eight years at Fujikura America (who has blessed me financially for sure), the wisdom of a good wife, and a more frugal lifestyle, and the blessings of God, I live in financially peaceful waters. We now live a life marked by generosity because we have been frugal with our spending on ourselves. We can now actually say “when can I give” instead of “if I can give.” It really makes me teary eyed to think of how richly blessed I have become. It is so far beyond what I could have imagined back in 2007. It is not lost on me that I am blessed. I do not take it for granted. God has set me on high ground and I know it. No longer am I in the raging river. I am on high ground. It is nothing but a miracle of God who orchestrated all these circumstances and people in my life to put me where I am today. I am richly blessed by God. It is He who did this. It is He I owed my dry clothes on the high ground too. He pulled me from the wet raging torrents and dried me off and set me here. It is for a reason. It is to be generous and to serve. It is not lost on me. I will never forget where I came from financially a decade ago and where God has led me now. Amazing. Amazing. Amazing. Shout praises to the Lord in the highest tabernacles!

 

It was this sense of God’s deliverance of His people into the Promised Land that I thought of this morning when I read through this passage, Numbers 34:1-15, about the division of the land among the tribes. Let’s read it together:

 

34 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Command the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter Canaan, the land that will be allotted to you as an inheritance is to have these boundaries:

 

3 “‘Your southern side will include some of the Desert of Zin along the border of Edom. Your southern boundary will start in the east from the southern end of the Dead Sea, 4 cross south of Scorpion Pass, continue on to Zin and go south of Kadesh Barnea. Then it will go to Hazar Addar and over to Azmon, 5 where it will turn, join the Wadi of Egypt and end at the Mediterranean Sea.

 

6 “‘Your western boundary will be the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. This will be your boundary on the west.

 

7 “‘For your northern boundary, run a line from the Mediterranean Sea to Mount Hor 8 and from Mount Hor to Lebo Hamath. Then the boundary will go to Zedad, 9 continue to Ziphron and end at Hazar Enan. This will be your boundary on the north.

 

10 “‘For your eastern boundary, run a line from Hazar Enan to Shepham. 11 The boundary will go down from Shepham to Riblah on the east side of Ain and continue along the slopes east of the Sea of Galilee.[a] 12 Then the boundary will go down along the Jordan and end at the Dead Sea.

 

“‘This will be your land, with its boundaries on every side.’”

 

13 Moses commanded the Israelites: “Assign this land by lot as an inheritance. The Lord has ordered that it be given to the nine and a half tribes, 14 because the families of the tribe of Reuben, the tribe of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh have received their inheritance. 15 These two and a half tribes have received their inheritance east of the Jordan across from Jericho, toward the sunrise.”

 

As we see here in this passage, the land was given by God as an inheritance. The boundaries declared by God are larger an area than was actually occupied by the early Hebrew settlers. The boundaries correspond more to the land of Kings David and Solomon generations upon generations later. The size of the gift of the Promised Land is a portrait of the generous nature of God. It was far beyond what was needed or imagined. That is the nature of God. He richly pours out his blessings upon His people. All He asks is that we are obedient to Him and His Word and He will bless us. It will not always be in dollars and cents or in land or possessions. From our obedience to Him, we find peace of mind and contentment that only comes from obedience to the Lord. It changes our mindset on things. It gives us satisfaction in the moment and gives the worries about provision over to the Lord. He will provide for us. And man there is contentment in trusting the Lord.

 

When I see Israel being blessed with the land they are about to invade and settle, I see their journey from the horrors of slavery, the travails of the wilderness and the stupid mistakes and consequences they lived during the wilderness, but it was all for a purpose now. They are staring at the promised land. They are staring at their high ground. God has seen them through the wilderness and placed them on the high ground. That is the comparison and parallel to my life that I see. God has seen me through the wilderness and He has placed me in the Promised Land in which I now live. I am on the high ground. I am in the dry and warm place. He has delivered me from so much pain and suffering and placed me in a sweet spot. It is not lost on my how generous God has been to me. It is far beyond what I deserve, expected, or imagined. I am the child of an amazing God. Shouts of praise. Shouts of thanksgiving in the highest tabernacles!

 

Amen and Amen