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Joshua 4:1-5:1 (Part 1 of 3)

Memorials to the Jordan Crossing

I remember when I was in my second marriage. When we began the marriage, we had 5 children altogether between the ages of 3 and 10. She had three boys and I had two girls. So, when we had all the kids together, it was indeed a three ring circus. Just the sheer volume of children under one roof was a daunting task when you did anything. Dinners were like feeding armies. Bath times took hours to complete. Getting ready to go anywhere required calculated logistics. Riding in a car to anywhere involved a lot of yelling and screaming as the children descended into the anarchy of “he’s touching me”, “she won’t share”. God, I am thankful those days are gone. It makes me cringe when I think about just managing the logistics of five kids when all five were in my house. One of those logistical nightmares was the Christmas Eve thing. I can remember us trying to get the kids to bed after returning from my second wife’s family Christmas Eve get-together. The kids were all hyped up from the evening’s activities so getting all the kids in bed was difficult to begin with.

 

Then, when we finally would get the kids to bed, then began the mad frenzy of Christmas present placement and assembly. Why is that what kids want for Christmas when they are between ages 3 and 10 require so much assembly. It’s not “some assembly required”. It’s “a lot of assembly required”. Even the girls things needed assembly. Boys stuff always requires assembly. So, you begin this process, at about 10pm each Christmas Eve and complete it about 4am. Luckily, as they got older they wanted things that were not so heavy on assembly. But those early years! Geez! I was the typical male at first. I would dive into the first toy and try to put it together without the assembly instructions. Inevitably, that proved to be a fool’s game. I quickly learned that if you are going to get this done before the kids start waking up on Christmas morning at like 5am (why is it that you have to use a bullhorn to get them out of bed any weekday morning but on Saturday morning or Christmas morning…), I quickly learned that you must use the instructions. You must lay out all the parts in front of you. You must read the instructions. You must visualize the parts in front of you going together as you assembly them step by step. Then you begin. Multiple times per child. Without taking time to take stock of the project ahead of you and reading the instructions, you can end up getting in bed like at 4:45am in the morning and then the kids waking up begging for Christmas 15 minutes later. I have had that happen.

 

I used to be a read the instructions later kind of guy. All those years when the kids were little forced me to be a visualization and read the instructions guy. When I just sit and look at the instructions and then look at the parts that I have grouped together by kind. Even then you still make mistakes but the re-do’s are far less then you read the instructions and have the parts laid out by kind. All those years of assembly kids’ toys taught me a lot over the years. Most recently, when my wife of the last 7 years, Elena, and I moved into our new home, we had to buy an entertainment center in which to place our television. I had flashbacks to some of my adventures with the complex toys that I had to put together for my stepsons in my previous marriage. It was those assembly project ON STEROIDS! This entertainment center had so many parts. I was freaking overwhelmed at first. Just grouping the parts together took up two rooms in the house (so that would I have room to do the assembly plus have all the parts nearby). I seriously had to sit and examine the instructions from front to back (a 10-page booklet) before I could begin. Then as I put the pieces together. I would have to read through that step over and over again just so I could get it right. You would have to take stock of what the end game of the step was. You didn’t want to screw up and figure out at Step 10 that what you did in Step 3 was backwards and have to disassemble everything and start over again.

 

From having to put things together over the past 54 years, I have learned that plunging into anything without understanding what you are doing always results in disaster. That was the kind of idea that I got this morning as I read through Joshua 4:1-5:1 for the first time of three times that we will look at it. Let’s read the passage this morning together:

 

4 When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 2 “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, 3 and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”

 

4 So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, 5 and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, 6 to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7 tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”

 

8 So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the Lord had told Joshua; and they carried them over with them to their camp, where they put them down. 9 Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been[a] in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.

 

10 Now the priests who carried the ark remained standing in the middle of the Jordan until everything the Lord had commanded Joshua was done by the people, just as Moses had directed Joshua. The people hurried over, 11 and as soon as all of them had crossed, the ark of the Lord and the priests came to the other side while the people watched. 12 The men of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh crossed over, ready for battle, in front of the Israelites, as Moses had directed them. 13 About forty thousand armed for battle crossed over before the Lord to the plains of Jericho for war.

 

14 That day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they stood in awe of him all the days of his life, just as they had stood in awe of Moses.

 

15 Then the Lord said to Joshua, 16 “Command the priests carrying the ark of the covenant law to come up out of the Jordan.”

 

17 So Joshua commanded the priests, “Come up out of the Jordan.”

 

18 And the priests came up out of the river carrying the ark of the covenant of the Lord. No sooner had they set their feet on the dry ground than the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and ran at flood stage as before.

 

19 On the tenth day of the first month the people went up from the Jordan and camped at Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho. 20 And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. 21 He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea[b] when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. 24 He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.”

 

5 Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the Lord had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until they[c] had crossed over, their hearts melted in fear and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites.

 

In this passage, we see that after the people had safely crossed the river, what would be next? Conquering the land? Not yet. First, God directed them to build a memorial from 12 stones drawn from the river by 12 men, one from each tribe. This might seem like an insignificant step in the mission of conquering the land, but God did not want them to plunge into their task unprepared. They were to focus on Him and remember who was guiding them. Do you often not take time to focus on God and remember that God is in control?

 

I learned in kid toy assembly that if you skip a step it can be disastrous to your project. We may think that if we don’t read the Bible this morning it will be no big deal. If we think that prayer is no big deal, we skip over that step. However, when we skip Bible reading and we skip prayer and we skip steps in the disciplines of our faith, we are headed for a re-do, a disassemble and a re-do. We may think that we have matured to the point that we do not have to do things that those who are younger in the faith have to do. We may think that we have risen to a stage where we don’t need to read the Bible every day. We may think that we don’t need to take a class on the basics for believers just so we all can get on the same page at church. We may think we know it all have don’t have to do this or that because we have been Christians for 20 years.

 

Regardless though of how mature we may be in Christ, we are still learning, we are still growing, and we still need instruction. Bible meditation – the reading of the instruction book and understanding of what it telling us and then visualization of how that is going to looking our lives – is a necessary part of life no matter how good we think we have become. We must have that time to reflect on His Instruction Book. We are never too mature to read His Word and to learn more about His instructions. We are never too old to be needy of His guidance. We are never too old to pray and ask Him what to do. We are never so confident in who we are as Christ followers that we cannot learn something new when we sit down, stop, take stock, and listen for what God wants to tell us in this moment at this time.

 

We need always to sit down, stop, read, meditate on what we have read, visualize when it means to our lives, and THEN plunge in.

 

Amen and Amen.

Christ, the Lord, is risen today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth, reply, Alleluia!

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Lo! The Sun’s eclipse is over, Alleluia!
Lo! He sets in blood no more, Alleluia!

Vain the stone, the watch, the seal, Alleluia!
Christ hath burst the gates of hell, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!
Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

Hail, the Lord of earth and heaven, Alleluia!
Praise to Thee by both be given, Alleluia!
Thee we greet triumphant now, Alleluia!
Hail, the resurrection day, Alleluia!

King of glory, Soul of bliss, Alleluia!
Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!
Thee to know, Thy power to prove, Alleluia!
Thus to sing and thus to love, Alleluia!

Hymns of praise then let us sing, Alleluia!
Unto Christ, our heavenly King, Alleluia!
Who endured the cross and grave, Alleluia!
Sinners to redeem and save. Alleluia!

But the pains that He endured, Alleluia!
Our salvation have procured, Alleluia!
Now above the sky He’s King, Alleluia!
Where the angels ever sing. Alleluia!

Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!
Our triumphant holy day, Alleluia!
Who did once upon the cross, Alleluia!
Suffer to redeem our loss. Alleluia!

Deuteronomy 21:15-17

Rights of the Firstborn Son

Man, Moses, you are giving us some hard stuff to deal with here. Why is that we are talking about polygamy here when it is clear from the totality of Scripture that such practices are not condoned by God. Yet, at the same time, it is the standard of our faith that the books of the Bible are written by men but who were under the guidance of the Holy Spirit when doing so. Therefore, is God contradicting Himself here. Is He, God, saying that polygamy is OK? That is the question we must first answer before we proceed. I again think that we must default to our reasoning from yesterday. God is not inconsistent here. He is simply trying to make the best of a bad situation. Israel was still as we know a rebellious people and they were struggling to be God’s people. As we have seen from Exodus forward, they are stubborn people. They have been immersed in Egyptian culture and have seen the cultures of the Middle East as a result. They want to be like everybody else and they struggle with God’s commands. Most cultures of the day allowed polygamy and accorded few rights, if any, to women. Thus, the practice of marrying multiple women was common in ancient Middle Eastern culture. As Israel develops as a culture over time, the practice diminishes among Israel’s men. However, God is saying here that OK so you guys want to do this detestable thing, well, then, I will compensate for this evil and the problems that it causes through laying down some rules for the kids that result from polygamous marriages. God is not condoning the practice and this rule is evidence that the practice is no good for society.

 

The modern day equivalent of this situation is not polygamy. Polygamy is roundly condemned by virtually all societies now and has been one of the positive influences of Christianity globally. However, we do have our equivalent. It is called serial monogamy. That’s a high brow term for our increasingly common practice of marrying, divorcing, and remarrying, sometimes multiple times. The ones that get caught up in the messiness of divorce and remarriage are the children. I have experienced this fact first hand. In my second marriage, I married a woman who already had three boys of her own. I had two girls of my own from a previous marriage. Thank God we did not have any children together. Boy, would that have complicated things even further. I know from experience that the jealousies spoken of in this passage can be a very real thing. My second wife expected that I would only do for my children born of me and my first wife what was legally necessary. She expected me to shun my past including my children. She expected that I would love her children more than my own. The least little appearance of giving my children an advantage was met with rebuke. Even though I had eight years and five years of history with my girls where silent glances created understanding was met with jealousy. There was no recognition that we were a family before this family. God hates divorce and these are some of the reasons why. It creates families that are thrown together not my blood but by marriage only. There are a whole host of social evils created by divorce that are far beyond what I experienced as a dad creating a blended family. However, jealousies are certainly one by-product of serial monogamy. The kids get caught in the crosshairs of a battle for family dominance. Whose kids are going to get the place of favor? It is like Luke 22:21-30 where the disciples were jockeying for position as to who was the greatest among them after Jesus. If my second wife and I had stayed married to the death, I bet the last in the litany of arguments that we had over the years about my kids vs. your kids would have definitely been about inheritance. I can just see it now. In the middle of a godless marriage, we become about things, and rights, and jealousies. I cannot even imagine the years of arguments (beyond the 10 years that we had together) if we had stayed together. Oh my! The tedium of constantly arguing about the rights of our respective children. I could not imagine it for another 20-30 years. But the last one would have been the argument of all arguments – about inheritance.

 

The only way that I could relate to today’s was to move it from an old problem, polygamy, to a new problem in today’s society, serial monogamy, and then think of how real this issue was in my own experience. Then, this passage is spot-on about how a sinful act (polygamy or divorce) breeds a whole ‘nother set of problems that God has to deal with and regulate. With that in mind, let’s read the passage together:

 

15 If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he does not love, 16 when he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love. 17 He must acknowledge the son of his unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has. That son is the first sign of his father’s strength. The right of the firstborn belongs to him.

 

Jealousies about position is just a thing in a fallen world I guess. Because of our fallen nature, God has to set out standards of behavior to compensate for our evil deeds. Here, we see God dealing with a practical problem that results from our sin-filled lives. Kids are always caught in the wake of our sins. God here is saying to the Israelites, you are doing this detestable thing but you cannot let your sins affect your children. My already established rules of inheritance that I handed down to you cannot be thwarted or changed simply because you are practicing a custom that is not condoned by me.

 

I think that is the takeaway for me this morning. Just because we accept a custom of our culture and participate in it, it does not make it right. We as Christ followers are still bound by God’s commands and His expectations of His people. Just because society says something is OK does not mean that it is OK. God will still expect us to honor His Word and His commands even though our culture may be vastly different from God’s view of things. He will expect us to maintain our Christian integrity even in the face of opposition. God does meet us where we are at in our sin and helps us deal with the consequences of it and forges us a path to get through the muck and the mire of our sin consequences. That is the beauty of the Lord, He will show us the way to deal with the results of our sin. God’s truth and His expectations are never changing but He realizes that we live in a fallen world and He will show us the way to deal with it and see our way clear to following His commands in the future.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 20:1-20 (Part 1)

Regulations Concerning War

 

As you might have noticed if you follow my blog, I normally post my thoughts on the book of the Bible that I am currently walking through on a daily basis. In a year, I might miss a day here, maybe ten days in a year, and rarely multiple days in a row. But last week, you may have noticed that I did post anything on my walk through Deuteronomy between Tuesday and Friday mornings. Why? You might wonder.

 

This past week, I found myself in the perfect storm. The perfect storm is both a meteorological and a metaphorical term. In meteorological terms, the term first came into regular use by weather experts in 1997 as the result of Sebastian Junger’s book of the same name, The Perfect Storm, about the 1991 noreaster that hit the northeastern United States. According to Wikipedia,

 

Technically, this storm was an extratropical cyclone. In the course of his research, he spoke with Bob Case, who had been a deputy meteorologist in the Boston office of the National Weather Service at the time of the storm. Case described to Junger the confluence of three different weather-related phenomena that combined to create what Case referred to as the “perfect situation” to generate such a storm – warm air from a low-pressure system coming from one direction, a flow of cool and dry air generated by a high-pressure from another direction. tropical moisture provided by Hurricane Grace. From that, Junger keyed on Case’s use of the word perfect and coined the phrase perfect storm, choosing to use The Perfect Storm as the title of his book. Junger published his book in 1997 and its success brought the phrase into popular culture.

 

Over time, according to Grammarphobia.com, this phrase has come to mean anything that is the worst-case scenario or according to Wordsmith.com, it has come to mean any event where a situation is aggravated drastically by an exceptionally rare combination of circumstances.

 

Having said all that, I found myself in one last week. As many of you know, in my secular job, I am the comptroller for Fujikura America, Inc. and at my church I am the director of finance on a part time basis. As well, you might know that for us finance guys, month-end waits for no one. It happens whether you are sick or fatigued. It happens whether you are ready or not ready. The calendar clicks the days away and month-end happens no matter what. Month-ends (where we finance guys close the books for the month, make adjusting journal entries, analyze data, report the numbers, and provide commentary of what just happened the previous month just ended) are a busy and intense time for us finance guys. It is our monthly moment in the pressure cooker of having a lot to do in a very short time-sensitive period of time. We have to get the books shut down and closed within two business days after the month ends and then get all the array of reports and commentaries out to our parent company and our management team within the next two business days after that. It’s pretty intense every month, but it’s a normal and manageable storm and you are prepared for it logistically, mentally and emotionally.

 

Also, as you may know that in early January this year, I began my quest to obtain my doctor of ministry (D.Min.) degree. It is a three year process that involves two years (four semesters) of independent, offsite study of leadership courses, spiritual development courses, missions & evangelism courses, church revitalization courses and then there’s the year of researching and writing your dissertation. During the four semesters of course work, there will be one week each semester that we must be on-campus at the graduate school campus in Greer, SC (just up the road from where I live and work) for what they call a “weeklong intensive” where you present the papers you have been working on during the first half of the semester before the weeklong intensive. In between the presentations by us doctoral candidates, we participate in discussions and lectures with the guest lecturer. We are there from 8:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the evening. It’s…well…intensive!

 

Why do these two things matter? Well they happened at the same time for me last week. The most intense week of my work month and the weeklong intensive at school. I had to get the books closed at work and then also at the same time participate in the weeklong intensive at school. I had to do both. As I do not have the staff at work for me to just be a supervisory participant in month-end, I have key things that I do myself to get the books closed and I am personally responsible for getting all the reports and analyses out the door. If I am not participating in month-end, Fujikura America, Inc. (FAI) does not get its books closed. If FAI does not get its books closed on time, our immediate US parent company does not get its books closed. If our US parent company doesn’t get its books closed, our ultimate parent company in Japan, the publicly traded company, Fujikura, Ltd., does not get its books closed. It is a house of cards that depends on the lowest level companies all getting their job done so the publicly traded company at the top of food chain can report its results to the investing public. If I do not do my job, it can derail the whole world-wide Fujikura process. I must be there. I must participate. I know this and plan my life around having to be on the job the first week of the month after the previous month ends.

 

It is the same thing with the weeklong intensive, too. You gotta be there. If you are not there and participate in it all five days for the entire 8 to 5 time frame each day, the powers that be over the doctoral program at North Greenville University would then question as to whether you should be participating in the program. Since I feel compelled by God to pursue my doctorate and that anything He compels us to do we must do as He has a plan for it that we cannot see right now. If we do not follow the immediate call that He gives us, we may never see the ultimate plan God has for us. Thus, this doctoral program is extremely important to me just as is my job.

 

This is the perfect storm that came together last week. How did I solve this coming together of elements that seem to create the worst possible scenario? I had to get up every morning at from the last day of the month of February (Tuesday of last week) through the first three days after the month ended (Wednesday-Friday of last week) at 3:00am and get ready for work and get to work by 4:00am. I would work on month-end stuff from 4:00am until 7:45am. Then I would go to the weeklong intensive at school from 8am-5:00pm (staying in touch with work during breaks and during lunch). Then, it was back to work from 5:15pm until I got my work done for the day which was around 9:30pm. I did this for 4 of the 5 days last week. I was a tired puppy at the end of it on Friday. It was the perfect storm.

 

Why does this matter in light of our Scripture passage, Deuteronomy 20:1-20, that we will visit today and in my next blog. For today, you will see it when we close this blog out for today. But for now, just think of worst case scenarios as we read through the passage:

 

20 When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you. 2 When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army. 3 He shall say: “Hear, Israel: Today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not panic or be terrified by them. 4 For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”

 

5 The officers shall say to the army: “Has anyone built a new house and not yet begun to live in it? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else may begin to live in it. 6 Has anyone planted a vineyard and not begun to enjoy it? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else enjoy it. 7 Has anyone become pledged to a woman and not married her? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else marry her.” 8 Then the officers shall add, “Is anyone afraid or fainthearted? Let him go home so that his fellow soldiers will not become disheartened too.” 9 When the officers have finished speaking to the army, they shall appoint commanders over it.

 

10 When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. 11 If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. 12 If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. 13 When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. 14 As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the Lord your God gives you from your enemies. 15 This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby.

 

16 However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. 17 Completely destroy[a] them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you. 18 Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God.

 

19 When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees people, that you should besiege them?[b] 20 However, you may cut down trees that you know are not fruit trees and use them to build siege works until the city at war with you falls.

 

In this passage, we can see ourselves in the Israelites. We sometimes face opposition or circumstances or a combination thereof that seem insurmountable and overwhelming. Whether at school, at work, or in our personal lives, we can feel overwhelmed and helpless to make it through the storms of our lives. God bolstered the Israelites confidence by reminding them that He was always with them. Accustomed to fighting in open plains, the Israelites now would encounter the new task of attacking fortified cities with high walls and ramparts from which the cities could defend themselves from elevated positions. The Israelites were going to have to learn new techniques and battle plans. It all must have seemed pretty overwhelming to them.

 

Just as with us, we often encounter storms that we see coming and we are afraid. We know the storm is coming. We can’t stop it. It’s just coming and it will envelope us and it all seems like more than we can handle. We are scared that we are not going to be able to make it through or handle the situation as we go through it. We want to run for the hills. But the storm is coming for us no matter if we want to run or not. It’s coming for us. It’s got our name on it. We cannot avoid it. It is like that big wave at the beach that catches you off guard. You can see it coming and you try to run for the shore but the water is rushing toward to wave and you feel like you are running in molasses and you cannot avoid but to be pounded by the wave. It throws you to the floor of the ocean and drags you along the bottom where shells are scraping against your skin. You think you are going to drown. You fear for your life. And then you wash up on shore and begin gasping for breath and you just lay their wiped out … but alive.

 

What I am here to tell you is that God is with us. He was with me during my perfect storm week this past week. He gave me this amazing adrenaline and focus to get it all done. He gave me the strength to deal with the 19 hour days. He gave me the strength to get through it. He gave the mind to develop a strategy to get through the storm. It was going to be tough to attack this fortified city of a week. I had to learn new techniques of time management and not wasting time on things that did not contribute to getting through the storm. He pulled me through it and set me on the shore…where a promptly feel asleep on the couch on a Friday night wiped out by 9:30pm, waking up at 4:00am, to get to bed and finish my slumber until 9:30am Saturday morning. I was wiped out. But God set me on the shore. He pulled me through the perfect storm and the giant wave. He gave me focus while in the water so that I would not let the scraping of the ocean bottom snag me and drown me.

 

What is your storm? Are you battling something that seems overwhelming? Are you a single mom trying to not just get through a week but years as a single mom? Are you in a valley of darkness at work? Is your marriage on the rocks? Is there a storm coming for you that you see coming but can do nothing about? Are you feeling scared and overwhelmed at the thought of having to survive the coming perfect storm? It is coming and it will swallow you up and it will destroy you unless you depend on the One who can calm you in the storm.

 

Just remember that you are His. Just as the first verse of this passage, When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you.

 

God is with you. He will get you through this. Depend on Him. He is our Sustainer in the Perfect Storms of Life. He will set you on the shore. Sometimes these perfect storms of life are to show us that we cannot do life in our own power and that we must depend on Him. Greater dependence on Him is what He wants from us. Reach out and take His hand. He will guide you through the storm!

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 18:15-22 (Part 2)

True and False Prophets

 

In preparation for a “week-long intensive” as they call it in this, my semester of my first year of three years of my doctoral program, I had to write a research paper about leadership styles and organization methods in churches. I wrote about the fact that most traditional churches are organized in a bureaucratic style whereas the “emerging church movement” or “modern church movement” that began in the 1990s where megachurches are popping up all over the place are often organized around a charismatic, pastor-led style.

 

The emergence of independent, non-denominational churches or churches that are tied to their denomination in the loosest sense of the word is the new wave. Often these new churches have charismatic leader who is a powerful presence in the church. Most of the time, there is nothing more than advisory committee to this charismatic pastor to hold him accountable. Such committees have little if any power to do or change anything about the path(s) the senior pastor chooses to take. The pastor of the new wave of churches which are pastor-led see this type of management as the best thing because many of them “grew up” professionally in traditional churches where it takes an act of congress to get anything done. Traditional churches get bogged down in their bureaucracy and their committees and it takes six months to change a light bulb. New wave churches with their pastor-led management style can react quicker to the needs of the church, react quicker to opportunities that present themselves, react quicker to changes in the community. If the church needs to add buildings, the pastor-led church can react reasonably quickly to that. If the church sees an opportunity to plant a new church, it can react quickly to that.

 

Pastors at independent, non-denominational or loosely denominational churches can preach the Word of God with its sometimes cutting sword just as they have always dreamed of rather than worrying about whether the board members were going to get offended and run them off as might happen in a traditionally organized church. It all seems to be the best way to organize a church. The statistics speak for themselves. Traditional churches and denominations have been either holding steady or losing membership since the 1990s. At the same time, our nation’s population has grown by 29.7 percent (29.7%) since 1990 (see http://www.multpl.com/united-states-population/table). During this time of stagnation and decline for traditional churches amidst the population growth, we find that there are churches all over the place of the new wave pastor-led church style that are booming. Church growth rates of 18% per year are not uncommon in the 100 largest churches in America. These pastor led churches must be doing something right, huh? Traditional churches just can’t seem to get out of their own way as they bog themselves down in their own bureaucracy and their inward focus. Pastor-led churches with their charismatic leaders seem to be the way to go.

 

Just look at the phenomenal growth of the pastor-led churches. These are churches that growing and planting and growing again. Many of these churches have pastors who are nationally known in Christian circles and some who are recognizable to the general public at large as well. You tend to associate these names with the churches they pastor and run. Their name and their church are often synonymous. Here are just a few of the pastor/church combos that you might know:

 

  1. Andy Stanley – North Point Ministries (Atlanta, GA)
  2. Chris Hodges – Church of the Highlands (Birmingham, AL)
  3. Clayton King – NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC)
  4. Rick Warren – Saddleback Church (Lake Forest, CA)
  5. Bill Hybels – Willow Creek Community Church (South Barrington, IL)
  6. Steven Furtick – Elevation Church (Charlotte, NC)

 

These pastors are the hot commodities of the Christian world. They speak at conferences. They write books. They have book signings. They appear on television talk shows. Some might say that these guys are celebrities. They are like rock stars of the Christian world. Shouldn’t they be? They seem to be doing it right in a church world that is on the decline in the United States. These guys seem to be visionaries in the church world that desperately needs visionaries. They seem to be saying to the rest of the church world, “throw off your bureaucracy and glacial ways of doing things and do it our way! It works!”

 

It was this idea of these new wave church pastors being considered celebrities and rock stars of the Christian world that came to mind when I read through this passage, Deuteronomy 18:15-22, one more time this morning. Let’s read through it one more time together now:

 

15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. 16 For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”

 

17 The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. 19 I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. 20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”

 

21 You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” 22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.

 

Why do I bring this passage up when talking about celebrity pastors and their megachurches? It is because there is an inherent danger in these celebrity pastor-led churches that can be detrimental to the flocks they lead and to Christians at large. There are two recent examples of the dangers in such pastor-led churches that demonstrate the point.

 

You will notice that Perry Noble’s name is missing in the above list. He was the founding pastor of the wildly successful and third largest church in America now, NewSpring Church, based in Anderson, SC. Perry started to come unraveled several years ago with sermons like “ten suggestions” and it was an indication of his lack of accountability within his own organization. He went off the rails with alcohol and other activities that were said to have strained his marriage. Luckily for NewSpring, they were able to right the ship with the appointment of Clayton King to be senior pastor – a celebrity preacher in his own right. Not so lucky was Mars Hill Church in the Seattle area, WA. When Mark Driscoll was exposed by his church leaders as having become a despotic dictator of sorts and was kicked out, the church imploded. Mars Hill, once one of the top 20 largest churches in America just five short years ago, now, no longer exists. The church was so wrapped up in the identity of its superstar pastor/author/speaker, Mark Driscoll, that it could not survive his departure. That brings us to the question that we must ask ourselves that of those top, largest churches that I mentioned earlier where the preacher’s name and their church are synonymous…Would that church survive if that charismatic, nationally known, pastor/leader walked away from that church or suffered some moral failure and was forced out?

That’s also the question that we must ask ourselves about our own churches. Most of us don’t go to a large megachurch but we must ask the question just the same at our own church. What is our church about? Is about our preacher? Is it about our governing boards or our committees that we hold in traditional churches? Is it about us being members of the cool new church with the cool new charismatic pastor? What is it about?

 

As in the days of ancient Israel, where there were false prophets who gathered many followers, we must use the same standards today when it comes to the pastors of these new wave churches and for the pastors of our medium sized and small churches and for ourselves as members of these churches. We must always compare everything that is said and done to Scripture. That is our measure. Everything must be consistent with Scripture.

 

I am not saying that megachurches and the low-accountability that these pastor-led churches have for their celebrity pastors are inherently bad. There are some that carry it off quite well like Rick Warren at his church and Andy Stanley at his. Both these guys are doing it the right way and have done it the right way for a long time. However, we must always hold pastors and ourselves as church members accountable to Scripture. We must never stray from it.

 

When it is all said and done. Traditional churches can stray from the point. Megachurches can stray from the point. There is no perfect church form when things go off the rails from the point. When we take our eyes off Jesus then we have gone off the rails. If our churches are not about Jesus, then we have gone off the rails. If I choose a church because of who the celebrity pastor is rather than does this church preach and act out the gospel, then we have gone off the rails. If we go to church because we want to be seen there, we have gone off the rails. If we go to church because that’s where all the wealthy power brokers go, then we have gone off the rails. If we go to church because I can be a big frog in a small pond, we have gone off the rails.

 

Let us make sure that our churches are about bringing glory to Jesus Christ through attracting people to the gospel message and then growing them up into mature Christ followers who then attract others to the gospel message. That’s what our churches are to be about. Megachurch or small church. New wave church or traditional church. Celebrity pastor or just a pastor known locally in his community.

 

IT SHOULD ALWAYS BE AND NEVER WAVER FROM BEING ABOUT JESUS CHRIST!

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 18:15-22 (Part 1)

True and False Prophets

When you look back at your life, your eyesight gets better. As the old saying goes, “hindsight is 20/20.” When you are going through stuff in your life, you don’t realize that there is an overarching plan that God is playing out in your life. But years after events have occurred, you realize that it was not some random sets of circumstances. God really did have a plan for your life. It is in these times of analysis that you see the plan of God and it starts to give you more trust in Him. The more mature you become in Christ the more you begin to trust the Lord and see the patterns that He is developing in your life. There becomes this growing trust, even as you face forward to the future, that He has a plan and we must trust.

 

Easier said than done when you are going through the present some times. However, as you mature in Christ, there is that basic trust and hope that operates in the background like an operating system of a computer. It’s just there doing its thing in the background that is necessary for continued hope. As we walk through the present, you wonder though even though that basic hope is operating in the background. This week has been a difficult one from a sheer volume of work thing. At my regular job at Fujikura America, we have been wrapping up the budgeting process for the new fiscal year that begins on April 1, 2017. That workload is already on top of my regular daily, weekly, and monthly duties. Those last week of the budget process revisions can consume a lot of time. You are revising things that took a whole month to build up that now must be done in several hours. Then, add on top of that, because of poor planning on my part and just having too busy of a schedule in my personal life, I had to write a 20-page research paper for my spiritual leadership class as part of the first semester of my doctoral program.

 

It is during this week that I have had to question the fact that I have three jobs now and not just two. I have my regular secular job at Fujikura, my church job at LifeSong, and my doctoral studies. Add to that, I am a small group leader/teacher. It is during the last few weeks that I have had to say that my plate is full. About two weeks ago, we gave up our small group as a way to reduce the food that was on my plate. Now, I am wrestling with giving up working at the church two mornings a week because I need every moment not spoken for by my regular job for my doctoral studies. There is this feeling that I have accomplished what I needed to accomplish at church in the financial side of things. The systems established are working smoothly now. Bonnie, the financial manager, has been trained up to be a pretty good little accountant now. I feel that she no longer needs as much supervision as much as she needs a subordinate to help her. Sometimes, in life, we must recognize when our job is done. That has been a tough realization because I enjoy working there. But it really is time to let the church use the part-time salary that they pay me and instead use it to hire some help for Bonnie. I feel as though that I need to return to supporting the financial/administrative part of the business from a volunteer status again and not be there every day. I will not stop that but being there every day and using payroll dollars that could be used for day to day filing duties and receptionist duties is what Bonnie needs now and not as much me in a supervisory role.

 

As I struggled with this research paper during every available moment of the past week in addition to the heavy burden at work at the same time and thinking of giving things up to create space, I wonder why I took on this doctoral program. Why did I take it on? It is creating wholesale changes in my routine for the past several years. Why is that? Am I just kidding myself or is this a God-calling thing that I am doing. Some might see it as silly for a man who is an accomplished financial accountant to be doing this. I have gone after a master’s degree in Christian ministry and now am pursuing a doctorate in ministry when I am not even employed full-time in ministry yet (and wondering if I ever will be). Is this a calling or is this just wanting a significant new challenge for no apparent reason other than the accomplishment? Those are the doubts that I am struggling with right now.

 

That sometimes we have doubts about what we are doing and what it all means is what I thought of this morning as I read this passage, Deuteronomy 18:15-22, for the first of two reviews of it, and its mentioning of the raising up of a prophet like Moses from the Israelites. Let’s read it now:

 

15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. 16 For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”

 

17 The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. 19 I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. 20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”

 

21 You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” 22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.

 

Who is this prophet that Moses speaks of? Stephen used Deuteronomy 18:15 to support his claim that Jesus was God’s Son, the Messiah, in Acts 7:37. This passage is proof that the coming of Jesus Christ to the earth was not some recalibration or reconfiguring of God’s plan by God. It was part of the plan from the beginning of time to send Jesus Christ at the very time in history that He was sent. Jesus’ coming to earth to live among us, to preach, teach, and lead us, and then to die for us to redeem us from our sins, and then to give us eternal victory over sin and death through His resurrection was the plan from the beginning of time. The Trinity of God (the pre-existent unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) knew this was the plan when they created time and this temporal plane on which we humans exist. God knew how it was all going to play out from the Garden of Eden to the as yet accomplished end times noted in Revelation. God’s got a plan.

 

God does have an overall, overarching plan for humanity and for the earth and for time itself but He also has a plan for you and me. Even when things seem to be changing and out of control, He’s got a plan for you and for me. When you are making choices that seem silly to others but are part of what you believe to be the calling on your life from God, He’s got a plan for it all. When you have to make critical choices in life, God’s got a plan. When you do not know what the result is going to be, God’s got a plan. When you are not sure, God’s got a plan. When you question and doubt, God’s got a plan. When you don’t know what to do, God’s got a plan. When you feel called to radical change, God’s got a plan.

 

We must trust Him. We must have hope in Him. He is God after all. He had a redemptive plan for all humanity from since before time began so we must trust He has a plan for us. It may not be obvious right now, but we gotta trust Him. We need that background hope in Him always. We need that hope to be our background operating system no matter what programs are playing out on the stage of our lives. We must have that operating system of hope and trust in the Lord.  Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 18:1-8

Gifts for the Priests and Levites

What if when we meet our Maker on our day of judgment and he asks us how well we supported our priests, our spiritual leaders? What if He asks us how well we supported our men of God? It is through the support of our local church that our pastors are able to feed their families and take care of them. Why is that some of the most important professions in the world like teachers and preachers are some of the lowest paid positions in our economy? Although there are great life lessons to be learned from sports, why is it that professional athletes are paid so disproportionately to the value that they bring to our society as a whole? Why is that our pastors are only getting by? Sure, I understand that being a pastor is a holy calling and most pastors would do what they do because God has made it so that they would be unhappy doing anything other than being pastor. It is a calling for sure. However, it is also our calling from God to take care of them.

 

When I think of the pastors/elders of our church, particularly the lead pastor and the executive pastor, I worry for them. Our lead pastor has four girls between the ages of 10 and 19. He already has one girl in college and the two next youngest ones are not far behind. He gets a few years breather and then the youngest girl will be in college. Over the next 8 years, he will have multiple kids in college at the same time. Our executive pastor has three children, two boys and a girl. He has two kids in college right now and the youngest is a junior in high school. Our other pastor/elder has already put his kids through their schooling so he knows the strain of the other two. I remember putting my oldest child through college. Although there were scholarships and loans to pay for tuition, there were expenses of living that you simply have to pay for your child that are not covered by financial aid. Gas money, activities money, textbooks, extra books for reading for research papers, grocery money, car payments, all sorts of expenses that you don’t think about but have to pay for a child that is going to school full-time with a full load of classes. I could not imagine having three or four college educations to pay for. Yet, there were long stretches over the past seven years that I know our pastors when without yearly salary increases just to help hold down expenses at the church. I admire these men for their passion for the continued existence and the continued mission of our church. They scrimp and save and spend their money wisely just so they can be a part of guiding our church toward God’s unique mission for our church. I pray for their financial situations often. One of the two pastors of which I am speaking has a fleet of vehicles because of the fact that he has three college age or near college age children and none of his vehicles are less than 10 years old. The other pastor with the four girls has to drive church van most often because repairs to his truck are too expensive for him at the moment.

 

We are what they call a seeker church. Our church is dedicated to bringing folks who have never been in church or have been out of church for years into the flock of Christ’s children. It is such an honorable mission that we serve. We do have people who have come to us from other churches but I would dare say that the majority of our people are people who have, prior to coming to our church, never been in a church EVER or have been out of church for years and years. Part of the problem though with such churches as ours, Christians who are not mature in their walk are still learning to put God first in many areas of life. The last one that we often put God first in is our finances. So, we struggle at times as a church to ensure that we do all things that we need to do as a church. Not only do we have to pay our staff but we have fixed expenses related to our limited number of buildings to keep them operating and to satisfy our bank. We have to be able to cover these administrative expenses (pastoral and staff salaries, and the other operating expenses of the church) before we can begin to cover our ministry expenses for what we call our four stakes of ministry (weekend worship experience, next generation ministries, small group/discipleship ministries, and missions ministries [at the local, national, and international level]). It is through these four stakes of ministry that we reach our community, nation and world with the gospel. However, none of that happens if we can’t cover payroll or keep the lights on in the buildings.

 

It is my part of the ministry of the church as the part-time finance and administrative director to teach as well. Part of my ministry at the church is to teach people about biblical perspectives on money management and how we should honor God with our finances. It is my passion. I love to teach people about putting God first in our finances. I love teaching about how the Bible commands us to honor God with the firstfruits of our labors. However, our society tells us that giving to our local church is only something that you do when you have extra cash not the first bill that you pay. Society tells us that we need our big houses, big cars, big screen TVs and other “necessities” of American culture. It is a struggle to break the ingrained cultural attitudes toward giving only what you have left over to the local expression of God’s kingdom. It’s not our people’s fault that they were raised in this culture and its materialism. I was that way too at one time. It was a struggle after my salvation to even consider that tithing was a command not an option. However, when I began to put God first in my finances, it radically changed our lives. It changed our perspective about what we had to have. No longer do we see it necessary to have the biggest finest cars and biggest finest houses in the biggest finest neighborhood. We would rather live more simply and honor God first with our funds. It is such a relief that you learn when you rid yourself of consumer debt and can be generous. Being purposely generous, rather than purposely materialistic changes your perspective from earthly things to eternal things.

 

These are the things that I thought of this morning when I read Deuteronomy 18:1-8 this morning. Let us read it together right now:

 

18 The Levitical priests—indeed, the whole tribe of Levi—are to have no allotment or inheritance with Israel. They shall live on the food offerings presented to the Lord, for that is their inheritance. 2 They shall have no inheritance among their fellow Israelites; the Lord is their inheritance, as he promised them.

 

3 This is the share due the priests from the people who sacrifice a bull or a sheep: the shoulder, the internal organs and the meat from the head. 4 You are to give them the firstfruits of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the first wool from the shearing of your sheep, 5 for the Lord your God has chosen them and their descendants out of all your tribes to stand and minister in the Lord’s name always.

 

6 If a Levite moves from one of your towns anywhere in Israel where he is living, and comes in all earnestness to the place the Lord will choose, 7 he may minister in the name of the Lord his God like all his fellow Levites who serve there in the presence of the Lord. 8 He is to share equally in their benefits, even though he has received money from the sale of family possessions.

 

We are commanded to take care of the men of God so that they can do the ministry that they were called to do. Sure, there are some “pastors” out there that live in excess and they give pastors a bad name. Because of them, people are skiddish about giving their money to churches. You should have discernment about the lifestyle you seeing your pastor lead. However, I can assure you that the pastors at our church live as simply as possible and have no desire to have Bentleys or big mansions or private jets. They are simple men of God. Yet, I am saying that we should think of their family responsibilities that they have just like we do when we give to our church. They have kids and mortgages and car payments. They have college tuition and living expenses to pay for kids in college just like you and I do or have had or will have. You do not go without raises for years in a row – or you would leave your job over it typically – like our pastors have had to do at times. Think about that when you give. Think about keeping a level of excellence in our maintenance of our property when you give. Think about keeping the church lights on. Think about things that need fixing that give first time visitors and impression of how well we do things at our church. Think about ministries of our church being able to reach more people and do it more often when you give. Think about how many more unchurched people we could reach with the gospel message of Jesus Christ if we gave as God commanded us to. Just think of the eternal impact that would have.

 

Think about the choice that you have of buying that newer car with all its gadgets with its additional $200 a month in car payments over what you are paying now or hanging onto that car an investing it in your local church that specializes in bring the unchurched to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Can we invest in our church so that we can be excellent in everything (paying competitive salaries to our preachers and staff, keeping our church in good repair so that people will not just pass by our church because it does not look as though we even care about our own property, and having the funds to be able to send the Word of God out into our community and world further and further and reaching more and more)!

 

Amen and Amen.