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1 Samuel 17:12-51a (Part 1 of 3)
David Kills Goliath

After two days of travel, we are finally in Moline, IL. We were so tired last night after unloading the cars and carrying all the stuff that we had put in the cars that we knew we would need immediately up 2 flights of stairs (I must have done that 35 times at least) that we feel asleep watching TV on the floor after the cable guy left. Then we got up and went to bed about 9:30pm Central Time. It’s been a long two days getting here. So, we were kinda tired. More tired than even we thought we were.

Since our personal belonging moved by the moving company will not be here until Tuesday morning, we are roughing it. Kind of ill prepared I guess you say. We are sleeping on an air mattress and making do with what we could fit in the two cars. We are not fully ready one might think for what is ahead of us in the new journey in our lives. We don’t have our couches, love seats, coffee creamer, our beloved mattress and box brings, more than half of our clothes, kitchen table, all the little things that you don’t notice. But cumulatively, they add up to the creature comforts of home, as generally accepted in modern American culture. However, we must press forward. We are not fully equipped from an outward standpoint. But the battle begins today. Tomorrow may be my first day in the office but today is my first day as a pastor of this church. We may not have all the equipment we need. We may come to the battlefield in what clothes we have available. This will be a new thing today. Not only stepping into a new job but a new church all together. I feel so ill equipped for both of those things. It’s been a decade since I had to learn a new job. It’s been 7 ½ years since I had to learn a new church. It’s been 7 years since I had to use GPS just to find the nearest grocery store. I have never been in a place where a snowstorm for “a quick 1-2 inches” didn’t bring the society to a halt and the local news going all “Snow Central 2018” with crawlers at the bottom of the screen about all the cancellations. Here’s its just a quick one to two inches. No big deal. As I stare out at the snow on tops of the houses in the neighborhood next door to the apartment complex and the 17 degrees Fahrenheit temperature outside, I am a Southern boy in a strange land. I feel inadequately prepared for the weather, for the job, for the changes in my life, for the significantly reduced income. I feel like, at this moment, am I ready for this and well it’s too late now you done gone and done it now. No turning back. You are like the person shoved out on stage to make up for an act that didn’t show up. Well you are out there. Now whatcha gonna do. The spotlight is on. The change has happened. It is no longer conceptual. This is real. This is my life now.

That’s kind of feeling of being ill-prepared for the battle and having fear inside is what I thought of this morning as I read through this passage, 1 Samuel 17:12-51a, this morning for a second time. I am sure that David may have felt those same feelings when he stepped onto the battlefield with Goliath. We known that David won this battle and that he trusted in the Lord, but he would not be human if he felt “oh crap, man I have gone and done it now” when he stepped onto the field with Goliath. Let’s read the passage with that idea of feeling inadequate for the task at hand in mind as we read it now:

12 Now David was the son of a man named Jesse, an Ephrathite from Bethlehem in the land of Judah. Jesse was an old man at that time, and he had eight sons. 13 Jesse’s three oldest sons—Eliab, Abinadab, and Shimea[a]—had already joined Saul’s army to fight the Philistines. 14 David was the youngest son. David’s three oldest brothers stayed with Saul’s army, 15 but David went back and forth so he could help his father with the sheep in Bethlehem.

16 For forty days, every morning and evening, the Philistine champion strutted in front of the Israelite army.

17 One day Jesse said to David, “Take this basket[b] of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread, and carry them quickly to your brothers. 18 And give these ten cuts of cheese to their captain. See how your brothers are getting along, and bring back a report on how they are doing.[c]” 19 David’s brothers were with Saul and the Israelite army at the valley of Elah, fighting against the Philistines.

20 So David left the sheep with another shepherd and set out early the next morning with the gifts, as Jesse had directed him. He arrived at the camp just as the Israelite army was leaving for the battlefield with shouts and battle cries. 21 Soon the Israelite and Philistine forces stood facing each other, army against army. 22 David left his things with the keeper of supplies and hurried out to the ranks to greet his brothers. 23 As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, came out from the Philistine ranks. Then David heard him shout his usual taunt to the army of Israel.

24 As soon as the Israelite army saw him, they began to run away in fright. 25 “Have you seen the giant?” the men asked. “He comes out each day to defy Israel. The king has offered a huge reward to anyone who kills him. He will give that man one of his daughters for a wife, and the man’s entire family will be exempted from paying taxes!”

26 David asked the soldiers standing nearby, “What will a man get for killing this Philistine and ending his defiance of Israel? Who is this pagan Philistine anyway, that he is allowed to defy the armies of the living God?”

27 And these men gave David the same reply. They said, “Yes, that is the reward for killing him.”

28 But when David’s oldest brother, Eliab, heard David talking to the men, he was angry. “What are you doing around here anyway?” he demanded. “What about those few sheep you’re supposed to be taking care of? I know about your pride and deceit. You just want to see the battle!”

29 “What have I done now?” David replied. “I was only asking a question!” 30 He walked over to some others and asked them the same thing and received the same answer. 31 Then David’s question was reported to King Saul, and the king sent for him.
32 “Don’t worry about this Philistine,” David told Saul. “I’ll go fight him!”

33 “Don’t be ridiculous!” Saul replied. “There’s no way you can fight this Philistine and possibly win! You’re only a boy, and he’s been a man of war since his youth.”

34 But David persisted. “I have been taking care of my father’s sheep and goats,” he said. “When a lion or a bear comes to steal a lamb from the flock, 35 I go after it with a club and rescue the lamb from its mouth. If the animal turns on me, I catch it by the jaw and club it to death. 36 I have done this to both lions and bears, and I’ll do it to this pagan Philistine, too, for he has defied the armies of the living God! 37 The Lord who rescued me from the claws of the lion and the bear will rescue me from this Philistine!”

Saul finally consented. “All right, go ahead,” he said. “And may the Lord be with you!”

38 Then Saul gave David his own armor—a bronze helmet and a coat of mail. 39 David put it on, strapped the sword over it, and took a step or two to see what it was like, for he had never worn such things before.

“I can’t go in these,” he protested to Saul. “I’m not used to them.” So David took them off again. 40 He picked up five smooth stones from a stream and put them into his shepherd’s bag. Then, armed only with his shepherd’s staff and sling, he started across the valley to fight the Philistine.

41 Goliath walked out toward David with his shield bearer ahead of him, 42 sneering in contempt at this ruddy-faced boy. 43 “Am I a dog,” he roared at David, “that you come at me with a stick?” And he cursed David by the names of his gods. 44 “Come over here, and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and wild animals!” Goliath yelled.

45 David replied to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies—the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 Today the Lord will conquer you, and I will kill you and cut off your head. And then I will give the dead bodies of your men to the birds and wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel! 47 And everyone assembled here will know that the Lord rescues his people, but not with sword and spear. This is the Lord’s battle, and he will give you to us!”

48 As Goliath moved closer to attack, David quickly ran out to meet him. 49 Reaching into his shepherd’s bag and taking out a stone, he hurled it with his sling and hit the Philistine in the forehead. The stone sank in, and Goliath stumbled and fell face down on the ground.

50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with only a sling and a stone, for he had no sword. 51 Then David ran over and pulled Goliath’s sword from its sheath. David used it to kill him and cut off his head.

In this passage, we see that David was able to move faster than Goliath because David carried no heavy weapons or armor. David was an expert marksman with a sling, and as he advanced on Goliath, he stayed out of range of Goliath’s huge weapons. What made David effective was more than his ability with a sling, it was his courage and his faith in God. To fight like David, we need David’s kind of fearlessness. David’s confident trust in God had grown strong in his encounters with wild animals while guarding his father’s sheep (1 Samuel 17:34-37). When you face towering problems or new situations that seem overwhelming or fear of the unknown is crippling you, recall how God helped David and how He has helped you in the past. Take heart because God will give you strength. Use the skills God has already given you, place your trust in Him completely to carry you through the problem, the hardship, the new situation, the unknown situation and then just move forward in that trust.

David must have had fear but his trust in the Lord was greater than his fear. He moved forward into the moment that he felt unprepared for because he knew that the Lord would protect him. He knew that whatever the outcome, God would be there for him and provide him his eternal reward in heaven if he died, or God would show him how to make the best of the new situation. It is comforting in our fears to remember that God has a purpose in whatever the outcome may be. Even if we die in the process, we get to go to heaven, man! However, if God chooses not to send us to our eternal glory just yet, He will provide for us and that even the defeats have a purpose and plan in our lives. Even if things don’t turn out like we want them to, God has got this. There is a natural tendency to expect disaster when you make a change. But on the other hand, God may just blow this thing up and make the change we made to make something great for the kingdom. Who knows? Through God’s guidance and if we stay in alignment with him, he could use us here to something awesome for the kingdom. Who knows? He does! Regardless of how inadequate we may feel this week and particularly these first two days or so, God’s prepared us. God’s got this and we got press forward onto the battlefield and take on Goliath – Goliath being the great unknown that we enter into now.

Amen and Amen.

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1 Samuel 15:32-35 (Part 3 of 3)
Samuel Executes King Agag

I remember when I was kid that when you got a whipping for bad behavior, my dad would use the cliché line, “this is going to hurt me worse than it’s going to hurt you!” I would never say it out loud, because that would have made the whipping worse, but I would think, “You’ve GOT to be kidding me! I am the one getting a whipping!” Dad was not abusive with his whippings (so all you millennials out there get your hand off the DSS hotline), but he would make it sting for sure. I had a healthy fear of my dad with his steely blue eyes. He was the ultimate authority in our house and I did not want to get on the wrong side of him. Even the threat of a whipping was an effective behavior modification tool.

My dad was one who was not a standoffish dads. He would play ball with us. He would wrestle in the floor with us (while mom would get on him for being too rough – you know moms!) We would laugh and cut up with dad. He would play tricks on us and us him. He was a fun dad. But we know that he was dad and we were the kids. His authoritative voice was a show stopper. He had boundaries that we could not cross with our behavior and we knew what they were. He was consistent in his discipline. There were grade levels of punishment. Restrictions were the most common form of punishment for the minor offenses. But there were offenses that when we were younger that drew out the belt, “The Black Spirit of Power” as he called it. I even used that title for the belt when I became a parent.

But that old saying that dad would use when he would give us a whipping used to just stick in my craw. How could him giving me a whipping hurt him more than it hurt meeting. I mean, dude, I was the one getting the strap to the rear-end. Like I said, he didn’t maliciously whip us but you sure did know it that you had been whipped. The rear end was stinging for a little while after one of those whippings. Dad probably only whipped us a dozen times or less when we were under age 12 (after that it was just restrictions when you would have rather had a whipping than lose freedoms). So, the whippings were for egregious violations of Daddy law. How could that stinging in my tail area be worse for him than me? I was the one being whipped! That’s just whacked out parent psychobabble I thought! Geez! Nothing was being applied to his rear end at light speed. I was the one with the back porch being painted red.

How could that being hurting him more than it hurt me? I did not understand it and thought dad was just out and out lying to me just to get through a bad situation – my serious misbehavior and him having to do something about it. Boy, did I not understand being the parent at all. When I became a parent in April 1985 and again in September 1990, all that changed. When you hold your oldest child the first time and even when you hold your youngest for the first time five years later. Something just happens to you. You know a love that you never knew existed before. And, as a dad, when you hold your little girls in your arm you feel this overwhelming daddy-daughter love and this overwhelming sense of responsibility to this little girl.

I know that it must have been hard for dad to whip us even as boy children, but oh my God, when you, as dad, have to spank your daughter. It is the absolute toughest thing in the world to do. Because let’s face it, little boys are just NOT as a adorable as little girls. My girls were just the most adorable girls on the planet to me. Cute faces. Cut child expressions. The mulitiple aaaaa’s in Daddy when they say, “Daaaaady!” When they think that their dad is the most handsome, most powerful, most smart, most every thing man in the world. They adored me. They loved me with an innocence and purity when they were little girls that made you feel so loved and also so maybe even unworthy of it. And they were so little and dainty and so beautiful with the cutest little girl voices.

How could whipping them hurt me more than it hurt them. Let me tell you, the few times that I had to whip Meghan or Taylor, and they were very few, it would literally make me want to throw up afterwards. To hear them cry as if the world was ending would rip my heart out. Usually with both Meghan and Taylor, I could just look at them mean and they would stop doing what they were doing and be sad for having made their hero dad mad. If that didn’t work a really stern talking to and they would never exhibit the offending behavior again. But there were those few times though that obstinate and rebellious behavior or fighting between the girls I would have to use the last resort, “the Black Spirit of Power”, my belt. I came then to know what my dad had said was true. This is going to hurt me worse than it hurts you. I would literally throw up after having to whip one of them. You knew you had to enforce discipline against the worst violations of family law and common decency, but those were my little girls. They adored me. And I too just adored them. I still do to this day. Even when I have had to be tough on them in our relationship as dad to adult daughters, it makes me want to throw up to punish them. But those few whippings back in the day when they were little truly did, as my dad would tell me, hurt me worse than it hurt them. Funny thing being a parent, huh? All those things that you didn’t understand as a child become crystal clear as a quiet lake first thing in the morning when you become a parent yourself.

That was the thing that I immediately thought of this morning when I read through this passage one final time before we move on to the next one. This time I was concentrating on the second half of the passage, vv. 34-35. How could Samuel mourn over Saul? Saul was like an impetuous child – only thinking of himself. Saul would violate God’s commands at a drop of hat if it suited what he wanted. He was just like a precocious child in that way. But yet Samuel mourned over him. How could he do that? It doesn’t make sense. Samuel knew exactly why Saul was going to lose his throne – he had not obeyed his Father in heaven. The punishment of losing the kingdom was just and right. However, Samuel still mourned. That idea of hurting me worse than it hurting you was what the Holy Spirit planted in my brain after having read this passage this morning. Let us read today’s passage, 1 Samuel 15:32-25, for third of three blogs:

32 Then Samuel said, “Bring King Agag to me.” Agag arrived full of hope, for he thought, “Surely the worst is over, and I have been spared!”[a] 33 But Samuel said, “As your sword has killed the sons of many mothers, now your mother will be childless.” And Samuel cut Agag to pieces before the Lord at Gilgal.

34 Then Samuel went home to Ramah, and Saul returned to his house at Gibeah of Saul. 35 Samuel never went to meet with Saul again, but he mourned constantly for him. And the Lord was sorry he had ever made Saul king of Israel.

In this passage, we see that that Samuel grieves over the way that Saul has acted. He grieves because Saul could have made better choices and simply trusted the Lord enough to have obeyed him completely. However, actions have consequences. Sins have consequences and Saul chose to violate God’s commands. That Saul could have been a great king if he had been obedient was what Samuel grieved over. He could have been so much more if he had loved God more than anything else. If Saul had not been a selfish, self-centered, out to protect what was his, it’s all about me precocious child, he could have been much more of a king than he was. He goes down in history as having been a petty, selfish, paranoid, self-preservationist king whose line of kingship was taken away from him. Samuel was grieving that the actions of Saul caused his punishment. Samuel grieved over the poor choices of Saul just as a parent grieves over the poor choices of his or her children. We love our children but sometimes we cannot save them from the punishment that must come when they act sinfully. God allows our sins to have their own toll on our lives – not because he is a mean ogre but that is just the way sin is. It is never good in the end. It brings its own punishment.

Just as I grieved over having to execute punishment over my children as they were growing up and it made me want to throw up afterwards. How much more do we grieve our Father in heaven when we commit our wanton and daily sins. He knows that there are consequences that will inevitably result from our sins and it most assuredly makes our Father in heaven want to throw up. After all, he gave us all the instructions for lives well lived in his Word and we have much of God’s goodness wired into us directly by Him (knowing right from wrong innately) but yet we wantonly and brazenly violate His commands each and every day. It make our Father in heaven sick to his stomach daily. He knows the consequences of any sins is that we become separated from Him permanently. Since God is perfection and sinless, we cannot exist in His presence eternally with the stain of sin in our souls – even just one sin disqualifies us. We are sunk with the first sin we commit. We are done. We are sentenced to hell with the first sin we commit (and there is a 100% probability that we will sin) much less the ample additional evidence of our need for eternal punishment with every next sin that we commit daily throughout our lifetime. It grieves the heart of God that we are separated from Him on our own merits by our lifetimes of sin. Like a parent of a wayward child, he grieves over our rebelliousness. It makes Him want to throw up.

Because the Lord our God is so grieved by our separation from Him, and the fact that He loves us so much (just like a dad and his children), he made a way for us to be reunited in His arms. That way is Jesus Christ. He came to earth as God in the flesh and lived the perfect life and demonstrated to us what the Kingdom of God should look like and taught us about the heart of God and how our relationship with Him should be. The main purpose though of Christ’s first advent was to reconcile us to God through His atoning death on the cross. It was there that He took on the eternal wrath and punishment of God for our sins so that we could be escape unharmed from our rightful sentence to hell before a just and righteous God. It is the equivalent of Meghan taking a whipping for Taylor that Taylor deserved but Meghan did not want to see Taylor get punished because she knew that Taylor really didn’t understand the implications of her behavior. Meghan taking a whipping that Taylor deserved is a demonstration of immeasurable love for her sister. That’s how much God loves us. He had the right to eternally separate Himself from us and allow our sin to punish us in hell. But He sends Himself in Jesus to take our punishment for us. God’s Son taking the punishment we deserve. Through Jesus taking our punishment, we are made right with God. We are seen as innocent before Him through our faith in Jesus Christ that He is the Son of God and that He died for our sins. We are restored to a right parent child relationship. We are loved.

Just think about how much God loves us. He took on the pain of punishment for our sins. Talk about the old saying, “this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you!” God loves us enough to send Jesus to the cross to take on all that suffering and pain for us…for us…FOR US. Just think about how much THAT LOVE is.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 15:32-35 (Part 2 of 3)
Samuel Executes King Agag

Have you ever thought you got away with something and felt relieved when you weren’t found out? That’s what I thought of when I read through this passage for a second time today. We have spent the last two blogs talking about Saul and his lack of remorsefulness over his sin. He was more remorseful that he got caught in his sin than he was over the sin itself. In view of Saul’s reaction in that passage, we talked about how much we act that way sometimes. Yesterday, we talked about those who have to deal with the fallout of other people’s sins. We talked about the five single moms that I know who are having to deal with the sins of their ex-husbands who have walked away from their families and how these single moms have had to finish the job of raising kids on their own in the absence of their former husbands. Today, we look those who have sinned and have heaped sorrow on others and seem relieved that they have not gotten caught.

I remember still as a first grader, there was an assignment in class one day for us to do some coloring of a sequence of frames that told a story on each line of a page of paper. There were about eight scenes on the page and there were about five frames on each line. So, this was for first graders going to be like an assignment that would take up like a whole class period or class segment of a day. I don’t think we changed classes in 1st grade back in those days. We just had one teacher all day long. And the day was broken up into segments in which the teacher would teach us the different subjects that we had to learn that year. On this particular assignment, we had to color each segment of scenes and like I said there were about 8 lines of scenes with about five frames each. Each one was telling a story of some sort. So as we were coloring the frames of each scene we were learning something. What that was, I do not remember. I do know that we were supposed to take our time. Use different colors. Make it look good. And learn what we were supposed to learn.

For some reason on this day, I decided that I wanted to break the rules, me and one other boy that I knew who was the class behavior problem kid. I knew he was a bad influence. He was always in trouble. But somehow on this day I was sitting beside him. And I saw that he just took his crayon and just scratched back and forth with one color on each line. Not trying to make the scene pretty. Just scratching the crayon back and forth across the frames of pictures on each line. On this day, I thought that was pretty cool. I thought it was a time saver. The teacher said color each scene. She didn’t say we had to make it pretty. That was just the accepted, unsaid rule. So, to be like my rebellious classmate, I did the same thing. Just taking a crayon and going back and forth across the frames of pictures on each line of the page. Without a care as to what it looked like. Without a care for the unspoken rules of making it look pretty. Without a care. It was freeing to not be bound by rules and social convention. It was … to get us both in trouble. The teacher, whose name escapes me now, lambasted us both for taking the easy way out and not doing the work assigned. She wrote notes on both of us and attached them to our papers on which we made an “F” on or a -0- and were supposed to get one of our parents to sign it and return it.

In those days, parents took the side of the teacher instead of the child. If a child got in trouble with a teacher, there was the natural assumption that the teacher was right and the kid was wrong. You would get punished at school and then again at home. That’s just the way things were back then. Knowing that I would get in a whole heap of trouble of this note being sent home along with the horrible evidence of the ugly slash and burn coloring that I had done with total disregard. I would have gotten a whipping. I know that for sure.

So what did I do. I balled up the paper with the teacher’s note and stuck it as far as I could between the back of my chest of drawers and the wall. Problem solved. I hid the evidence of my sin. I could see it behind the chest of drawers every time I walked into my and my brother’s room. But my parents, not thinking to look for such things missed it. I got away with it all week long which seemed like a long time back then. I was free and clear. No consequence for my failure. No consequence for my sin. However, then came the following Saturday morning. Every Saturday morning was major house cleaning day at the Bowling household. Mom was in charge and dad and the boys were the foot soldiers. My brother and I were responsible for cleaning our rooms and then had our assignments in the rest of the house too like vacuuming and/or dusting, etc. I forgot about the inspections of the dustings and clean up in our rooms. Mom or Dad would look over, under and behind things an in closets to see if had been orderly in our clean up of our rooms. It was then that my sin was found out. Mom just happened to be inspecting the dusting of the furniture in our room and just happened to look behind the chest of drawers, my chest of drawers. There she found the balled up piece of paper. There ended my coverup of my sin. There ended my feeling that I had got away with one. There followed the whipping. There followed the remaining in my room while my brother went out to play. There followed the rest of the weekend of being talked to about what I had done and not just the sin but the cover up.

I don’t remember much about my 6th year of life and 1st grade but I do remember that one thing clear as day. My sin, its cover up, the thinking I got away with one, and the being found out, and the punishment. That was what flashed through my mind when I read about how King Agag thought he had gotten a reprieve. He knew that his sins were great but he was almost relieved that he had gotten away with all of it until Samuel fulfilled the job that Saul was supposed to do. He paid for his sins. With that idea of having thinking we have gotten away with our sins or that there is going to be no cost to sinning, let us read today’s passage, 1 Samuel 15:32-25, for the first of three blogs:

32 Then Samuel said, “Bring King Agag to me.” Agag arrived full of hope, for he thought, “Surely the worst is over, and I have been spared!”[a] 33 But Samuel said, “As your sword has killed the sons of many mothers, now your mother will be childless.” And Samuel cut Agag to pieces before the Lord at Gilgal.

34 Then Samuel went home to Ramah, and Saul returned to his house at Gibeah of Saul. 35 Samuel never went to meet with Saul again, but he mourned constantly for him. And the Lord was sorry he had ever made Saul king of Israel.

In this passage, we see that the Amalekite king feels confident that since he has not been executed by now, the danger is over. He certainly feels that he is safe while in the custody of Saul. But his confidence is ill-founded. Samuel is now the one he must stand before, and Samuel acts in God’s behalf. As he, the commander-in-chief of the Amalekite army, made women childless, so now his mother will be childless by his death (verse 33). Samuel does not merely put Agag to death, he hews him in pieces, no doubt because this is the way he dealt with the foes he defeated.

Are you committing a sin right now? Are you, for example, fooling around on your wife or husband? It feels great. The newness and freshness of a sexual relationship with no strings attached. Just passionate rendevouses when you can work them in to the life schedule. It’s all fun and games. It’s great. It may go on for years and no one will be the wiser. Sometimes, there may be suspicions but no way to prove it. And you get away with it, maybe for a good long while. That does not mean that you are getting a pass. Sin is always found out. Sin always has consequences. Sin will destroy you and those around you. The thing that you thought was so great will now eat you alive. Even when you are participating in sin and not getting caught, your heart tells you that it is wrong but you go on with it because its fun and you’re not getting caught. And it’s not just sexual sin that is that way. It is any sin. Sin requires cover up to continue in it. Sin wants to be made public. We had to keep the lid on it. We have to lay over the barrel to keep the yeast of fermenting sin from pushing out and being made public and making a mess all over the place.

Just as with King Agag, we think we are getting away with sin when there does not seem to be any consequence, at least not right away. We think that maybe this sin is OK with God for us because we are not being exposed in it. Don’t be kidding yourself that way. You may not be getting caught just yet, but you are in the midst of grieving God. Our sins will come out. They will be found out. That’s just the nature of sin. It must be covered up to continue participating in it and not be found out. But have you noticed how hard it is to keep a lie. The truth is so simple. It needs no defense. But lies and sins need to have this high maintenance fence around them with guards on the towers. We will be found out in our sins. It’s like trying to keep the killer in a horror movie out of the room that you are in.

Let us examine ourselves for the sins that we are protecting and hiding behind our chest of drawers so that no one will see. Let us repent of those sins. Let us expose our own sins. Let us even pay the consequences for our hidden sins. Let us repent of them. Let us seek forgiveness for our sins. Let us then turn away from them and never return to them. Let us then, in repentance, walk in the grace of Jesus Christ.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 15:10-23 (Part 2 of 4)
The Lord Rejects Saul

How are Elena and I supposed to approach this new job as a pastoral couple when we move to Illinois and I become the executive pastor at Calvary Church? Our motives make all the difference in the world. If we are not doing it for the right reasons, this move will be a disaster for us personally and for me professionally. This move will involve a serious change both monetarily for both of us and professionally for me. Whatever cracks there may be in our faith will be exposed by this drastic change. I will be earning less than half than what I make in here in South Carolina. It will be a drastic change in what I do for a living. I will, yes, be using my financial skills developed over a 33 ½ year career in finance and accounting, but doing it as a pastor in a church setting full-time (not as a side job as it has been at LifeSong) will be a radical change. We will be in a new region of the country, a new state, and a new town – a place that neither of has ever lived or even visited before. It will all be new and challenging.

If we are doing this for show – to show how religious we have become. If we are doing this out of ego or some need to be in the spotlight. If we are doing this because of the local celebrity that comes with being a pastor brings. If we are doing this to gather praise for the sacrifice that we are making, then, we are doing it for all the wrong reasons and we will fail. Yes, we have been faithful servants at LifeSong Church here in Lyman for the last seven years. We have done whatever has been asked of us. We have served the church in just about any way we can serve it. We love LifeSong. That is evident to anyone who goes to our church. We have gained great respect and much love from the people who claim LifeSong Church as they home. This is the place where we grew from toddlers in Christ to the spiritual young adults that we are now. But if we have done any of the things that we have done because we want the popularity that it brings or the accolades and praise of other church members then we have done it for the wrong reasons.

The only right reason to become a minister and leave LifeSong Church for Calvary Church, the only right reason to serve in positions of leadership in our current church and our future church is because we want more than anything to be obedient to the Lord’s call on our lives. The only reason to serve as we have served at LifeSong over the years is that we love God and love His people. The only reason to go into full-time ministry is that God has called you to do it and you, in your heart, can do nothing else than to obey that call and that you will be miserable if you turn down the opportunity as presented. The only reason for us to leave is that, after much prayer over the years and being patient and then feeling from the first interview to the last that this new pastoral position is what we were supposed to do. I have felt something special about Calvary Church from the moment that I had my first conversation with the Senior Pastor there. Our weekend there a couple of weeks ago was less a third interview than it was spiritual confirmation to everyone involved that God has called us there, that this was intended by God. Sure, it would be easier, oh so much easier to turn this opportunity down, but honestly I must tell you that I think I would turn out to be miserable from this point forward if we do not answer the call. So, this is not about show. It is not about minor celebrity. It is not about gaining praise for our faithfulness. It is simply about being obedient, about being appreciative of what God has done in our lives, about being faithful to the Lord, about doing what He asks of us with complete love for Him. We are obeying the Lord because we love Him.

Some people say we are crazy – to give up this wonderful and settled life that we have here. We have it made here. Good job that has blessed beyond belief over the past decade and would continue to do so until I retired if I stayed here. Great church where we are trusted leaders and have made oh so many friends, really good friends, and some really, really close friends. We have our family here. Our children and one grandchild are all within a 1 ½ radius of our home. We have an adorable granddaughter who is 18 months old and is just so adorable and so smart and has such an amazingly good personality for a child her age. All of these things are perfectly good reasons to stay and not obey what God has laid in front of us. If we were just doing this change in our lives for the celebrity of it all or to garner praise and respect from others, then, we will fail and come running back home within six months from now.

The only way that this radical change in our lives, in our employment, in our place to live, in our marriage, in our family life and in our church life is that we simply can do nothing else other than be obedient to the Lord’s call on our lives. God desires our obedience not some flashy shows of religiosity. If we do things just to be seen doing them, then we are not being obedient, we are being prideful. The only reason that we are moving to Moline, IL and going off into the unknown is that we want to be obedient to what we know is God’s call on our lives. That’s it. That’s all. That’s all it can be. There will be rough times ahead. Ministry is just that way. Satan targets you when you go into the ministry. There is a target on your back. He will find your cracks in your armor and will attack you there. If we are doing this for show, then we will crumble under the attacks that will come. If we are doing this because we love the Lord and are willing to be obedient to whatever, wherever, He leads, we will still have attacks from Satan and we may get knocked down, disappointed, ocassionally disillusioned but we will get back up and get back in the battle because we cannot be comfortable doing anything other than be obedient to the Lord.

That’s the thing I thought of this morning as I read through 1 Samuel 15:10-23 for the second of four blogs on this passage. That thing was how God wants obedience from us more than following ritual for ritual’s sake. How God wants us to obey Him not out of obligation or showing off to others but because we dearly love Him so much that we seek His agenda and not our own. Let’s read the passage now:

10 Then the Lord said to Samuel, 11 “I am sorry that I ever made Saul king, for he has not been loyal to me and has refused to obey my command.” Samuel was so deeply moved when he heard this that he cried out to the Lord all night.

12 Early the next morning Samuel went to find Saul. Someone told him, “Saul went to the town of Carmel to set up a monument to himself; then he went on to Gilgal.”

13 When Samuel finally found him, Saul greeted him cheerfully. “May the Lord bless you,” he said. “I have carried out the Lord’s command!”

14 “Then what is all the bleating of sheep and goats and the lowing of cattle I hear?” Samuel demanded.

15 “It’s true that the army spared the best of the sheep, goats, and cattle,” Saul admitted. “But they are going to sacrifice them to the Lord your God. We have destroyed everything else.”

16 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! Listen to what the Lord told me last night!”

“What did he tell you?” Saul asked.

17 And Samuel told him, “Although you may think little of yourself, are you not the leader of the tribes of Israel? The Lord has anointed you king of Israel. 18 And the Lord sent you on a mission and told you, ‘Go and completely destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, until they are all dead.’ 19 Why haven’t you obeyed the Lord? Why did you rush for the plunder and do what was evil in the Lord’s sight?”

20 “But I did obey the Lord,” Saul insisted. “I carried out the mission he gave me. I brought back King Agag, but I destroyed everyone else. 21 Then my troops brought in the best of the sheep, goats, cattle, and plunder to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.”

22 But Samuel replied,

“What is more pleasing to the Lord:
your burnt offerings and sacrifices
or your obedience to his voice?
Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice,
and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.
23
Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft,
and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.
So because you have rejected the command of the Lord,
he has rejected you as king.”

In this passage, we see that this is the first of numerous passages in the Bible where the theme, “obedience is better than sacrifice”, is stated. Other examples included Psalm 40:6-8, Psalm 51:16-17, Proverbs 21:3, Isaiah 1:11-17, Jeremiah 7:21-23, Hosea 6:6, Micah 6:6-8, Matthew 12:7, Mark 12:33 and Hebrews 10:8-9 are other examples. Was Samuel saying that sacrifice is unimportant? No, he was urging Saul to look at his reasons for making the sacrifice rather than at the sacrifice itself. A sacrifice is a ritual transaction between a person and God that physically demonstrates a relationship between them. However, if the person’s heart was not truly repentant or if he did not truly love God, the sacrifice was a hollow charade. Religious ceremonies or rituals are empty unless they are performed with an attitude of love and obedience. “Being religious” (going to church, serving on a team at church, or giving to a church or a charity) is empty is we do not act out of devotion and obedience to God.

Do you go to church to worship the Lord every Sunday with all your heart or do you go to church because your church is the cool, hip, trendy church in town? Do you go to church to love the Lord in praises of thanksgiving or do you go because of the networking that benefits your career or personal life that your church affords you? Are you involved in the ministries of your church because your best friends are doing it? Are you involved in the ministries of your church so people will see you doing it? Do you get involved because your wife made you? Do you go to church so you can check it off your list of duties to be done? Do you go to church and praise the Lord on Sunday but live like hell the rest of the week?

God want us to praise Him, love Him, and serve Him not because of obligation or because it makes us seem religious or to be seen being religious? He wants our heart. He wants our obedience because we love Him. He wants our obedience because we are so thankful to Him for what He has done for us through Jesus Christ. He loved us so much that he left the 99 sheep to find us. He loved us so much that He sacrificed His Son on the cross and the once and final sacrifice for our sins. Jesus went to the cross and suffered the most gruesome of deaths known to man as an act of obedience to His Father because He loved us that much. Why then cannot we simply do what God asks of us, obedience to His Word and to His call on our lives, out of that same kind of devotion and love? He saved us from hell by what He did on the cross. Wow! Obedience to what He commands then should be done out of this heart swell of love for Him. Obedience should come out of our amazingly thankful hearts for what we were saved from – a soul destined for the eternal flame of hell. Obedience should come out that love for what He has done for us. That’s it. That’s all. That’s all it can be.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 2:12-25 (Part 2 of 6)
Eli’s Wicked Sons

One of my senior pastor’s continuous sayings is for him and for us, his staff (the other elders and church employees), “to be clean and close!” What does that saying mean? Pastor Jeff means that we need to be (1) above reproach and (2) seeking to always be close to the Lord in our walk. For me as director of finance for our church, I am therefore charged with being clean and close in my responsibilities for the financial reporting of the church.

The first part of that clean and close statement is the clean part. We must be clean in how we operate our church’s finances. We first must never be secretive about the financial position of our church. To that end,

• we have established financial reporting systems to allow us to know exactly how the church is performing from an incoming donations and outgoing expense standpoint. We can produce financial statements on the spot when requested. At no time will we ever have to say, we will get back to you about where we are as a church financially. We have an established routine of closing our books on a monthly basis and reporting the financial performance to the elders each month. Along with the financial statements, I provide them with a monthly commentary on what all these numbers each month means.

• We also have established our financial reporting systems around the four stakes of ministry plus one as we call it. The four stakes of ministry plus one are the four areas of ministry that we focus on at our church and the plus one is the administrative function of the church. Our four stakes of ministry, the things that we want to concentrate on as a church, are Sunday Morning Experience, Next Generation, Revolution (local, national and international missions), and Life Groups/Discipleship. All of our budgeting and expense tracking revolves around these four stakes of ministry. Then, the plus one, is the administrative side of the church (all the operating expenses of the church such as salaries, utilities, repairs and maintenance, all the needed expenses of keeping an enterprise going). Everything is controlled around these points of accountability. Each elder is charged with responsibility and accountability of one or more of these stakes of ministry and administration.

• These reporting systems allow us to generate financial statement at will and on a routine basis. Any member of our church can come in and ask to see the financial statements for any period or year and we can generate them on the spot. We also can provide our bank with whom we have our checking accounts and our bank loans with annual financial statements and budgets. We have been told that we have the most professional financial reporting of any church that our bank deals with and, in some cases, they say we have better financial reporting than some of their business clients such as small businesses, etc.

• Finally, we have systems of internal control to ensure that no one person in our organization has access to all steps in the financial reporting process or in the handling of cash, checks, or any form of monetary value. We segregate duties in accounting for our weekly Sunday morning collections. Our church financial manager does not even have complete access to the cash/checking function. Even I as director of finance does not even have the ability to generate a check from our accounting software. We are that concerned about real issues of fraud that are rampant in churches today but also even the perception that we are not above board or secretive or even that their would be a hint of impropriety in how we handle our people’s gifts and donations and then how we spend that.

The second aspect of this clean and close concept is the close part. How does how we handle our church’s money reflect that we are walking closely with the Lord. The systems that we have in place ensure that we are accountable to God for how we use the funds that are given to His glory and that we are entrusted by our people and by God himself to spend. Our financial reporting systems help us demonstrate that we spend our money wisely and on what we say we are going to spend it on. Our philosophy, starting with Pastor Jeff as senior pastor on down, is to spend all our money on ministry and to only build up cash reserves as is required by our banks to support/secure our loans. We are never going to be a church that builds up cash to build fancy buildings with gilded edges. Our pastors don’t want big fancy offices or mahogany desks or cherry wood conference tables with built in audio visual systems. We don’t want the major focus of our church to be building up investment accounts or giving huge bonuses and fancy cars to our elders. We want the money and the point of our spending to be on effectively spreading the gospel and then growing people into full devoted followers of Jesus Christ. That’s what it will be about always. Our financial reporting systems help us document this fact. If we are not walking closely with the Lord as a staff then our spending as reflected in our financial statements would reflect that also. So our financial reporting systems hold us accountable and encourage us to take seriously our walk with the Lord as a staff of one of God’s local churches.

That’s the thing that struck me this morning as I read this passage again. There was no accountability for Eli’s son. Without a framework of accountability, we as church leaders can easily get off track as to what our true purpose is. We have seen is so often lately in the news with the fall of numerous megachurch pastors. So with that idea of lack of financial and moral accountability in mind, let us read 1 Samuel 2:12-26 for the second of six reads of this loaded passage today:

12 Now the sons of Eli were scoundrels who had no respect for the Lord 13 or for their duties as priests. Whenever anyone offered a sacrifice, Eli’s sons would send over a servant with a three-pronged fork. While the meat of the sacrificed animal was still boiling, 14 the servant would stick the fork into the pot and demand that whatever it brought up be given to Eli’s sons. All the Israelites who came to worship at Shiloh were treated this way. 15 Sometimes the servant would come even before the animal’s fat had been burned on the altar. He would demand raw meat before it had been boiled so that it could be used for roasting.

16 The man offering the sacrifice might reply, “Take as much as you want, but the fat must be burned first.” Then the servant would demand, “No, give it to me now, or I’ll take it by force.” 17 So the sin of these young men was very serious in the Lord’s sight, for they treated the Lord’s offerings with contempt.

18 But Samuel, though he was only a boy, served the Lord. He wore a linen garment like that of a priest.[a] 19 Each year his mother made a small coat for him and brought it to him when she came with her husband for the sacrifice. 20 Before they returned home, Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife and say, “May the Lord give you other children to take the place of this one she gave to the Lord.[b]” 21 And the Lord blessed Hannah, and she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile, Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.

22 Now Eli was very old, but he was aware of what his sons were doing to the people of Israel. He knew, for instance, that his sons were seducing the young women who assisted at the entrance of the Tabernacle.[c] 23 Eli said to them, “I have been hearing reports from all the people about the wicked things you are doing. Why do you keep sinning? 24 You must stop, my sons! The reports I hear among the Lord’s people are not good. 25 If someone sins against another person, God[d] can mediate for the guilty party. But if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede?” But Eli’s sons wouldn’t listen to their father, for the Lord was already planning to put them to death.

26 Meanwhile, the boy Samuel grew taller and grew in favor with the Lord and with the people.

In this passage, we see that we must ask the question, “What were Eli’s sons doing wrong?” They were taking parts of the sacrifices before they were offered to God on the altar at the Tabernacle. They were also eating the meat before the fat was burned off. This was against God’s law (Leviticus 3:3-5). In effect, Eli’s sons were treating the offerings to God with contempt. Offerings were given to show honor and respect to God while seeking forgiveness for sins, but through their irreverence, Eli’s sons were actually sinning while making the offerings. They were using the offerings to their own advantage before they were given to God. To add to their sins, they were also sleeping with women who served at the tabernacle.

Like Eli’s sons, some religious leaders today act as if they deserve large automobiles, large homes, fancy clothes, expensive vacations, chartered or private jets. Often their “overheads” take away directly from the ministry that they say they are doing. As leaders of the church, we must be aware and accountable for how handle gifts given by our people and be transparent in how we handle the money that has been entrusted to us. Sure, full-time and part-time church leaders and employees have got to eat (i.e., earn enough of a living to take care of themselves and their families), but we should never our personal desires for fame, fortune and power take precedence over the work that we have been entrusted with by the Lord.

We must develop systems of accountability financially and morally to ensure that we can preach the gospel with integrity and never let ourselves become a detractor to that message. When moral failures of church employees and pastors become the focus, then the gospel message gets lost and people are led astray as to what Christ’s church is all about. It should always be drawing people unto Christ and then growing them to maturity in their walk with Him so that they too can draw others unto Christ and then grow them to maturity in their walk with Christ. Nothing else matters. Thus, I take seriously how I protect the gospel message through the financial reporting sytems and systems of accountability at my church that I am in charge of. It is all about protecting the message of the gospel. We must be clean and close so that the message of the gospel is the message that we sent – not anything else!

Amen and Amen.

Ruth 2:1-23 (Part 3 of 5)
Ruth Gleans in Boaz’s Field

How often do you hear it? I have done my part! I gave to United Way. I have done my part! I give my weekly $25 bucks to my church. I have done my part! I gave to the hurricane relief fund. I gave the homeless man $0.50 yesterday. We absolve ourselves of generosity by throwing a minimum of money at a situation. We complain about the poor. We complain about the crime in inner cities. We complain about gangs. We complain about it all. But, don’t raise our taxes and, boy, don’t ask me personally to do anything about it! Don’t ask me to give of my time to go into the inner city and help with the basic problem of crime and gangs – lack of education leading to lack of opportunities. Don’t ask me to put my money where my mouth is when it comes to social issues. I pay my taxes. I contribute to United Way. I give to a little bit to my church. All those things should be solving the problem. We complain about how all these problems are being solved by agencies and church organizations and we talk about how it could be done better, but don’t ask me to go do anything about it. We throw a minimum amount of money at the situations and think we have done our part.

Don’t ask me to go out of my way. Don’t ask me to get off the couch. Don’t ask me to give up my weekends. Don’t ask me to giving up my season tickets to Clemson football or the money I spend on tailgating and partying before and after the game. Don’t ask me to give up my boat. Don’t ask me to give up my Sunday afternoon on the lake. Don’t ask me to give downsize my mortgage and leave my gated community and my two story, four bedroom house. Don’t ask me to give up my big screen TV in every room. Don’t ask me to give up all my toys. I treasure these things and because I do, I can only do the minimum when it comes to generosity of my time, talents, and resources. I value all these things that entertain me and give me self-gratification that I value helping others on the outside of my property lines. I would rather have a house that is more than I can afford. I would rather have a car whose payment is just beyond what I can handle. I would rather have more clothes than I know what to do with. I would rather have more toys than I can play with in a lifetime. I would rather live off of 105% of what I make than actually care about what goes on in the world. I would rather just have my United Way deduction from my paycheck and give my extra 20-spot in my wallet to the church (when I have an extra 20-spot in my wallet when I check it at church on Sunday). Thank you. Just let my live in my cocoon of things and debt and I will do the minimum of generosity to the world around me, thank you, and I will feel good about myself, and pat myself on the back for having done so. Is this you and me?

God does not want us to checklist our way in this world. He does not want us to do the minimum and then wash our hands. He wants all of us. He wants us to be all-in when it comes to loving Him and therefore as a result loving people. He sees no heart in doing the minimum. He sees no love of Him in not being sacrificial when it comes to loving and caring for others more than ourselves. He sees us choosing to entertain ourselves with all the toys that we mortgage our paychecks away with and then we do and give as little as possible of our time, talents, and resources (when it does not interfere with the things that I think I deserve) but yet pat our back when we do just the very minimum. We volunteer at church functions and say we have made an impact on the community. We give $10 a week to our church but say we tithe. We give to the church when we have extra dollars but claim we help the church do what it does to impact the world around us. We volunteer when it does not interfere with Gamecock football or our kids baseball, basketball or football. We do the minimum. Is this you and me?

That was the thing that struck me when I read this passage/chapter of Ruth for the third of five reads through this morning – the way that Boaz went out of his way, even when he had already done the minimum expectation, to be generous to Ruth. Let’s read through Ruth 2:1-23 once again today:

2 Now there was a wealthy and influential man in Bethlehem named Boaz, who was a relative of Naomi’s husband, Elimelech.

2 One day Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go out into the harvest fields to pick up the stalks of grain left behind by anyone who is kind enough to let me do it.”

Naomi replied, “All right, my daughter, go ahead.” 3 So Ruth went out to gather grain behind the harvesters. And as it happened, she found herself working in a field that belonged to Boaz, the relative of her father-in-law, Elimelech.

4 While she was there, Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters. “The Lord be with you!” he said.

“The Lord bless you!” the harvesters replied.

5 Then Boaz asked his foreman, “Who is that young woman over there? Who does she belong to?”

6 And the foreman replied, “She is the young woman from Moab who came back with Naomi. 7 She asked me this morning if she could gather grain behind the harvesters. She has been hard at work ever since, except for a few minutes’ rest in the shelter.”

8 Boaz went over and said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields. Stay right behind the young women working in my field. 9 See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to the water they have drawn from the well.”

10 Ruth fell at his feet and thanked him warmly. “What have I done to deserve such kindness?” she asked. “I am only a foreigner.”

11 “Yes, I know,” Boaz replied. “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. 12 May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.”

13 “I hope I continue to please you, sir,” she replied. “You have comforted me by speaking so kindly to me, even though I am not one of your workers.”

14 At mealtime Boaz called to her, “Come over here, and help yourself to some food. You can dip your bread in the sour wine.” So she sat with his harvesters, and Boaz gave her some roasted grain to eat. She ate all she wanted and still had some left over.

15 When Ruth went back to work again, Boaz ordered his young men, “Let her gather grain right among the sheaves without stopping her. 16 And pull out some heads of barley from the bundles and drop them on purpose for her. Let her pick them up, and don’t give her a hard time!”

17 So Ruth gathered barley there all day, and when she beat out the grain that evening, it filled an entire basket.[a] 18 She carried it back into town and showed it to her mother-in-law. Ruth also gave her the roasted grain that was left over from her meal.

19 “Where did you gather all this grain today?” Naomi asked. “Where did you work? May the Lord bless the one who helped you!”

So Ruth told her mother-in-law about the man in whose field she had worked. She said, “The man I worked with today is named Boaz.”

20 “May the Lord bless him!” Naomi told her daughter-in-law. “He is showing his kindness to us as well as to your dead husband.[b] That man is one of our closest relatives, one of our family redeemers.”

21 Then Ruth[c] said, “What’s more, Boaz even told me to come back and stay with his harvesters until the entire harvest is completed.”

22 “Good!” Naomi exclaimed. “Do as he said, my daughter. Stay with his young women right through the whole harvest. You might be harassed in other fields, but you’ll be safe with him.”

23 So Ruth worked alongside the women in Boaz’s fields and gathered grain with them until the end of the barley harvest. Then she continued working with them through the wheat harvest in early summer. And all the while she lived with her mother-in-law.

In this passage, we see that the characters in this book of Ruth are classic examples of good people in action. Boaz went far beyond the intent of the gleaner’s law in demonstrating his kindness and generosity. Not only did he let Ruth glean in his field, but also he told his workers to let some of the grain fall in her path on purpose. Out of his abundance he provided for the needy. How often do we go beyond the minimum requirement or accepted patterns of providing for those less fortunate than us? Boaz demonstrates to us that generosity should be a state of mind rather some checklist item of minimum behavior.

Boaz’s behavior here reminds me of what Jesus was trying to tell us in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. He spoke of the Ten Commandments there as if they were the minimum expected behavior not some high achievement that we should pat ourselves on the back for not violating or for upholding. Jesus said although the Commandments say that we should not murder, He said that we should not let things even get that far. If we have anger toward someone, go to them and resolve it and work it out with them where you are reconciled. Reconciliation requires forgiveness. Of adultery, the Commandment say do not do it. Jesus said that is a minimum of behavior. We should not even put ourselves in such positions. We must take even our adulterous thoughts captive and submit them to the Lord. Once we have lustful thoughts and water them and nurture them, they will grow into adultery. We therefore stand condemned when we allow such thoughts to stay in our mind even before it becomes the physical act of adultery. He goes onto to discuss other points of minimum behavior required by Mosaic law, but Jesus says that we need to go beyond the minimum requirements of the law not because we are checklist keepers but because we are lovers of God. We should do more than the minimum because we love God and as a result love to please Him. So many of us do the minimum so that we can impress people on the horizontal plane but don’t really buy into what we are doing because we are not trying to please God in the vertical plane.

Should we not love God and love others enough to come out of our mortgaged, self-contained worlds where we entertain ourselves and really make a difference for the world around us. Yes, we should be concerned with social justice as Christians. We should care enough about the lowly and downtrodden in this world to make a difference in their lives both in one-on-one situations and corporately as a part of the body of Christ. We should be concerned with the lowly because they too are created in the image of God and they do deserve the dignity of being loved by a follower of Jesus Christ. We should love them as God loves and be willing to do more than the minimum. It begins with prioritization. It begins with our finances. We should order our lives financially where we live off of less than we make. We should order our lives in this way so that we don’t have to break our backs just to keep our finances afloat. There is peace that comes with that and it also allows us to be generous financially. We should also place a priority on investing our time and our talents in those things that matter eternally. Let us pray about those things that we want to see change in our world and ask God to help us figure out where we can cut out time investment in things that do not matter eternally.

Let us pray for the eyes to see and the heart to desire to do more than the minimum. To do more than say, “I give to United Way!”

 

Amen and Amen.

The Book of Ruth: An Introduction (Part 2 of 4)
As we continue the introduction to the Book of Ruth this morning, we see in the pages of this book that Ruth was a Moabite woman. She did not let her heritage keep her from worshiping the one true God, nor did it stop God from accepting her worship and blessing her greatly. The people of Israel were not the only people that God loves. God chose the Israelites to be the people from the rest of the world would come to know Him. Jesus fulfilled the promise when Jesus was born an Israelite. Through Him, the entire world can come to know God. Acts 10:35 states that “in every nation He accepts those fear him and do what is right.” God works through those who love Him regardless of their race, gender, nationality, or past history. The book of Ruth is a perfect example of God’s impartiality toward those whose worship He will accept. Although Ruth belonged to a race often despised by Israel because of the constant tension and threat of war between the two nations/groups of people, she was blessed because of her faithfulness. She went on to become the great grandmother of King David and a direct earthly ancestor of Jesus.

The Book of Ruth reminds me that even though I am twice divorced in my past, Jesus can still use me. My past is littered with behavior that was in opposition to God’s design for your life and for mine. I sought approval and personal validation through the approval of the women I chose to be with in my life prior to Christ. I made women and the charms that they offer a man the god of my life and it lead me to a rollercoaster ride of a life and much, much heartache, pain and divorce. When we make a person (in my case whomever the woman was in my life) or an object (sexual relations as validation) the cornerstone of your life, it only leads to destruction. Seeking bedroom approval and letting that rule my life led to making choices that I knew were wrong concerning my kids, concerning money, you name it, that I knew were wrong in God’s eyes but these women were visible and God was not there and not visible to me. I chose worship what was tangible and that which I could touch. All the pain and the heartache that are in my past are very real and there is nothing I can do to change that. In some “religious” circles, I would be considered an enemy of the church. I would never be considered acceptable to some hoity toity church. Could never serve in any capacity. As a matter of fact, I might even be shunned to the point that I would feel uncomfortable and leave the church because of my past. I was, I admit, a hedonistic pleasure seeker before I met Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord. All I cared about was how life affected me. All I cared about was how to manage my world so that I could get the best out of it for myself. Sure, I was a halfway decent person. Wasn’t a murderer or anything but my morality was certainly situational as it was whatever preserved what I wanted and needed was the most important thing even above morality. Whatever I had to do to keep access to the charms of the woman in my life, I would do it. If it meant forgetting the difference between right and wrong, the difference between being a good parent and a bad one, I would do it.

I was having a conversation yesterday with the Pastor of Discipleship of my church yesterday and I told him that when I look back on the man that I was before Christ, I am appalled and disgusted. Not that I am any great saint 16 years into my walk with Jesus Christ (the Holy Spirit still got plenty o’ work to do in this here Southern boy), even the man I was 5 years into my walk appalls me. Even the man I was 10 years into my walk surprises me about how little about the depth of God’s justice, love, and mercy that I knew then. I suppose that 10 years from now I will sit and wonder how people would have trusted me with the gospel as the man that I am now at 55. As we grow in Christ, the Holy Spirit reveals to us things along the way. Things that we were blind to five years ago are matters of great conviction and pain now. How weird is that we are blind to our favorite sins but in time the Holy Spirit is able to get us to see them for what they really are – sin – and how we can no longer hide them or justify them any longer. As we continued the conversation, thank God for the Holy Spirit and thank God for grace of Jesus Christ. Without the work of the Holy Spirit we would be stuck in immaturity. Without Jesus I would be destined to hell because of my past sins that I recognize and my current sins that I ignore or don’t even recognize as sin yet.
But that’s the wonderful thing about our salvation in Jesus Christ and about the wondrous sanctification of the convert by the Holy Spirit. Now, I can celebrate what God has done in me. I can be honest and transparent about my past as it shows the miracles that can be wrought in the presence of the Jesus Christ. My redemption, the man that I am becoming, are all testaments to the power of salvation. It is a change from the inside out. It is not behavior modification. It is real change from the core of who I am outward. My past is evidence of the changed person that I am now. My past is my ministry to those who think that they are too far gone to be touched by the grace of Jesus Christ. My past is my testimony to the wonders of grace. God is using me right now. God will be using me for far greater and greater things for the kingdom as I mature in my walk with Jesus Christ. You are never too far gone and you are never too old to be used by Jesus Christ when you accept Him as Savior and Lord. It is not where you are in the race right now. It is where you finish and how you finish that matters.

That’s the wonder of the Book of Ruth to me is that it shows that no one should feel disqualified to serve God because of who they were in the past before accepting Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. No one should feel disqualified because of where they were born or who they were born to. No one should feel disqualified from God’s work because you did not accept Christ at 2 years old, went to all the right Christian schools, went to seminary, and then married a preacher’s daughter, and then had perfect little preacher kids and that you have been serving the Lord all your life. God can use you right where you are. Your past is your ministry of the miracle of salvation in Jesus Christ. We each are ministers where we live, work, and play. We all have a redemption story. We all have a story to tell. We all have ministries through which we can testify to the might and power of Jesus Christ in our lives. That is what it’s all about. It’s not about your pedigree. It’s not about being the perfect pedigree of church going all your life. It’s not about being a second or third generation preacher. It is not about going to the best church. It is about Jesus Christ. It is about loving God with all your mind, heart, soul and strength and loving your neighbor as yourself. That’s what Ruth teaches us. It is about how much you love and obey God. It is about putting Him first in our lives. It is about giving Him glory in everything we do. It is about demonstrating what a changed life looks like. It is about Jesus. Let your changed life through the grace of Jesus Christ be your ministry!

Amen and Amen.