Posts Tagged ‘discernment’

1 Kings 3:1-15 (Part 2 of 2)
Solomon Asks for Wisdom

That legendary rock and roll icon, Tom Petty, once had a song where the title and part of the chorus was “the waiting is the hardest part.” I would like to usurp that line today and change it a bit to the following: “the listening is the hardest part!” As we move through this blog, you will see why that change to Tom Petty’s lyric is appropriate.

Have you ever thought that God’s will for your life was a certain thing and you fully believed that but yet things did not turn out as you thought they would? We’ve all been there, maybe more than once or twice in our lives. You think that it’s God will for you to do this or do that. Then, you find out that it turned out to be something quite different than you had imagined as God’s will. What I am talking about kind of reminds of that old show from the 1970s that was wildly popular at the time, Fantasy Island.

In that show, guests would pay what was assumed to be significant amounts of money to come to this unnamed island resort somewhere in the Pacific Ocean owned by Mr. Roarke. They would pay Mr. Roarke for a two-week adventure where they could live out their fantasy of being this or being that. They would get to live out their dream, their fantasy of something that they wanted do all their life. There would usually be three guest stars who would play ordinary people coming to the island to live out their fantasy. The show would follow the same formula every week. The guest stars would arrive and Mr. Roarke would greet the guests and then he would tell his assistant, Tatoo, about each guest and their back story and what their fantasy was to live out while they were there on the island. Each guest would then settle in and go to their separate parts of the show and we, the audience would follow each one. With each guest, the formula would be (1) intro into the fantasy they had chosen, (2) things seemed awesome for a while (3) something would happen that would cause a moral dilemma for the guest where the fantasy seemed to backfire on them and (4) the resolution where the guest would figure out that their current life was pretty good and they learned something from the experience. The idea was kind of simple, “be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.”

Sometimes, we are that way with God. We pray for our personal desires rather than for God’s will. We sometimes wish for what we want and not for what God’s plan is for us. We sometimes confuse what our personal desires are with the will of God for our lives. Sometimes, we get so busy telling God what we want for our lives that we forget to listen for what His will is for our lives. We pray to God as if he is a vending machine. I want this so I push this button and God will vend that right then and there. We then push ahead with our desires and not realizing that it may not be what God desires for us. Then, like in Fantasy Island, something goes wrong with the desire that we have followed and we wonder why God has failed us. Haven’t you been there?

That was the thing that I thought of this morning when I read through 1 Kings 3:1-15 a second time. How we forge ahead with our personal desires and confuse those desires with God’s will and then get angry with God because what we called “his will for our lives” did not turn out like we planned. That is pretty much the opposite of what Solomon prays for in this passage and that is what makes it remarkable:
Chapter 3
1 Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, and married one of his daughters. He brought her to live in the City of David until he could finish building his palace and the Temple of the Lord and the wall around the city. 2 At that time the people of Israel sacrificed their offerings at local places of worship, for a temple honoring the name of the Lord had not yet been built.

3 Solomon loved the Lord and followed all the decrees of his father, David, except that Solomon, too, offered sacrifices and burned incense at the local places of worship. 4 The most important of these places of worship was at Gibeon, so the king went there and sacrificed 1,000 burnt offerings. 5 That night the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream, and God said, “What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you!”

6 Solomon replied, “You showed great and faithful love to your servant my father, David, because he was honest and true and faithful to you. And you have continued to show this great and faithful love to him today by giving him a son to sit on his throne.

7 “Now, O Lord my God, you have made me king instead of my father, David, but I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around. 8 And here I am in the midst of your own chosen people, a nation so great and numerous they cannot be counted! 9 Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?”

10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for wisdom. 11 So God replied, “Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies— 12 I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have! 13 And I will also give you what you did not ask for—riches and fame! No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life! 14 And if you follow me and obey my decrees and my commands as your father, David, did, I will give you a long life.”

15 Then Solomon woke up and realized it had been a dream. He returned to Jerusalem and stood before the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant, where he sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings. Then he invited all his officials to a great banquet.

In this passage, we see that Solomon ask for wisdom, not wealth, but God gave him riches and long life as well. While God does not promise riches to those who follow him – most often it is quite the contrary, he gives us what we need if we put His kingdom, his interests, and his principles first (Matthew 6:31-33). If we put God and His interests first, we may not always find earthly riches in it but we will come to find satisfaction in the joy of the Lord and being in and doing His will. In asking for wisdom, Solomon was asking for the discernment to do God’s will. He did not ask God to do his job for him but he was asking God to shine his wisdom through him. Solomon was asking the ability to understand and know God’s will in everything that he did. When we chase after our own desires, we sometimes mistake our own ego-driven desires for the will of God. When we pray about things going on in our lives, we must pray as Solomon does here. We must seek His will and the wisdom to understand what that is.

That is the takeaway this morning as I ponder and pray upon what I have read. Wisdom is as much discernment as it is anything else. Discernment is in part listening and then considering. When we spend our prayer time bringing our petitions before God, we must take the time to listen and consider. So often, we pray to God but we do not wait and listen. We place our order and think that because we prayed what we prayed, that it is now a God’s will thing. Sure, we in our state of the flesh must grapple with things before the Lord. We should have earnest conversations with him about our highs, our lows, our problems, how we see that those problems should be fixed. We should come to our Abba Father as an open book. We should come to him and lay everything all out before him. Just as we often do with our earthly dads, we should lay out the issue before God, and tell God what we think about it and how we should be proceeding. We then wait for our earthly dads to give us their sage advice as to what to do in the situation. As we grow up, we often find that our resolution to the situation gets more similar to our dad’s way (but not always). As we grow up in Christ, we find that our resolutions to situations may become more closely aligned with His will for our lives, but not always. We are all flesh so we cannot know God’s will perfectly. However, instead of listening as we do often with our earthly dads, we often treat God like hopping in Santa Claus’ lap – this is what I want and then hop down.

What I will takeaway from Solomon’s request for wisdom today is that wisdom is knowing and understanding God’s will in the situations of our lives. Wisdom comes from making the right choices based on discerning the various options. Discernment comes from listening. And there lies the learning thing for today. Listen to God. How can we know God’s will for our lives if we do not listen for His response to our petitions? Sometimes in our prayer life, instead doing all talking, we should spend some time just being quiet and listening. That’s hard for us in this world of constant multimedia input into our lives. Be still and listen. God is not our vending machine. He is our Father. He is Lord. He is Creator. Let us gain his universal and eternal wisdom and purpose for our lives by listening in our prayers as much or more than we do the talking.

Amen and Amen.

2 Samuel 16:1-4
David and Ziba

This passage is one of those you just want to shake David and say “Yo! Dude! Wake up! Why can’t you see that this dude is lying to you to get what he wants!” But David just accepts what he has to say and promises him the moon and stars, so to speak. David does not even think of the fact that Mephibosheth was most likely the most loyal person to David ever. It was customary that when a ruler was defeated that his family would be killed as well so that there would be no lineage of that ruler left to reclaim the throne. However, we find in 2 Samuel 4 that Mephibosheth survives.

Mephibosheth had grown and had a son of his own when King David inquired of his whereabouts. King David and Jonathan had been very close friends and became as brothers. Because of their relationship and an oath David made to Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:15-16, 42), he wanted to honor it by finding and caring for Mephibosheth.One of Saul’s servants was questioned and told King David of the young man’s location. Mephibosheth was summoned to appear before the King. Though afraid, Mephibosheth came not knowing if he would be killed or what might happen to him. He was a cripple, had lost his heritage, and lived in a desolate place named Lo Debar. Translated, the name literally means “land of nothing”. Mephibosheth had been reduced to having nothing.

2 Samuel 9 describes the meeting of Mephibosheth and King David. The young man humbly bowed and David told him to not be afraid. “I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul and you will always eat at my table” (2 Samuel 9:7). Mephibosheth bowed and asked why David would “notice a dead dog like me?” in verse 8. Mephibosheth was made the promise that he would be honored with restoration of profits from his grandfather’s wealth and would always eat at the King’s table. This was despite Mephibosheth’s low self-worth, physical handicap, and shame brought to him by his grandfather’s sins, defeat and resulting suicide.

David had shown him great kindness (because of no other reason than he was Jonathan’s son) to take him into the royal household after Mephibosheth’s dad and grandpa died in battle. Being a crippled person in ancient Middle Eastern culture would have meant that, without family, he would have had to resort to begging on street corners and at the entrances to public gathering places such as government buildings, etc. His existence would have been miserable. But by the grace of David wishing to honor the memory of his best friend, Jonathan, Mephibosheth was given a place of honor within David’s palace. He was taken care of and treated with the utmost respect. His life turned out to be far better than it could have been had David not taken him in. You don’t think that Mephibosheth was eternally loyal to David as a result?

So, it simply boggles the mind that David did not ask any questions in this situation. It is probably pretty certain that Mephibosheth over the demonstrated his loyalty to David over the years. But here, David was just so easy to believe what Ziba was saying about Mephibosheth.

That then is the thing that has troubled me since yesterday morning when I first read this passage. What is it that God is trying to teach us in this passage? There is no wasted passage in the Bible. Each passage has something to teach us when we really study a passage. Sometimes, at a surface level reading, we may think of certain passages as throw-away. You know like filler in between important sequences. Like a commercial in strategically placed places in the flow of a movie on television. Strategically placed commercials in a movie give you a break between the heavy action or heavy issue parts of movie where you can catch your breath. It can even be a bathroom break. When we read the Bible at just a surface level some passages just seem like that – you know when you can say I read the Bible in 90 days or something where you speed through it but not really understand or delve into what you are reading. Not that there is anything wrong with a 90 day crash course in reading the Bible from beginning to end (often we need to do that just as a discipline development technique). At a surface level, this seems like a commercial break between the intense passages of 2 Samuel. But when you want to read deep in a passage, this passage kind of stumps you. What is that nugget that God wants us to see? What is that universal truth that God pours out in this passage to help us become more Christ-like.

So, let’s read this passage together and try to figure out what is that single truth that comes out of this passage that God wants us to learn:

Chapter 16
1 When David had gone a little beyond the summit of the Mount of Olives, Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth,[a] was waiting there for him. He had two donkeys loaded with 200 loaves of bread, 100 clusters of raisins, 100 bunches of summer fruit, and a wineskin full of wine.

2 “What are these for?” the king asked Ziba.

Ziba replied, “The donkeys are for the king’s people to ride on, and the bread and summer fruit are for the young men to eat. The wine is for those who become exhausted in the wilderness.”

3 “And where is Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson?” the king asked him.

“He stayed in Jerusalem,” Ziba replied. “He said, ‘Today I will get back the kingdom of my grandfather Saul.’”

4 “In that case,” the king told Ziba, “I give you everything Mephibosheth owns.”

“I bow before you,” Ziba replied. “May I always be pleasing to you, my lord the king.”

In this passage, we have to remember who Mephibosheth was. Mephibosheth was the son of Jonathan, who was the son of King Saul and a special friend of King David. When Mephibosheth was five years old, his father Jonathan was killed in battle. Fearing that the Philistines would seek to take the life of the young boy, a nurse fled with him to Gibeah, the royal residence, but in her haste she dropped him and both of his feet were crippled (2 Samuel 4:4). He was carried to the land of Gilead, where he found refuge in the house of Machir, son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar.

Some years later, when King David had conquered all of Israel’s enemies, he remembered the family of his friend Jonathan (2 Samuel 9:1), and, wishing to display his loving loyalty to Jonathan by ministering to his family, David found out that Mephibosheth was residing in the house of Machir. So he sent royal messengers there, and brought Mephibosheth and his infant son Micah to Jerusalem, where they resided from that point on (2 Samuel 9).

Later, when David invited the Mephibosheth to be part of his court, he entrusted the family property to a steward, Ziba. In this situation, it is more than likely than Ziba was lying in hopes of receiving a reward from David. What blows our mind here is that David believed Ziba’s charge against Mephibosheth without checking into the story or even being skeptical. Once again from David, we learn a lesson in what NOT to do. We cannot be hasty to accept someone’s condemnation of another, especially when the accuser may profit from the other’s downfall. David should have been skeptical of Ziba’s comments (especially knowing the relationship he had with Jonathan’s son and checked the story for himself before he made a snap judgment.

So, I think the issue boils down to one word – discernment. Ziba is doing and saying all the right things here. He is making himself available to the king – bring him transportation, food, etc. In this passage he is making himself look awesomely before the king. However, he is doing it at the expense of others, particularly someone he works closely with and serves – Mephibosheth. We all know or have known someone like this that we have worked with whether it be in volunteer situations or in your office or factory where you work for compensation. There is always that one person that is the slick talking politician type. The one who does whatever it takes to gain the confidence of the boss, CEO, or whatever the head of the organization or department is called. They say all the right things. They are usually very quick thinkers and convert thoughts to speech quickly. They are the ones that will subtly subdue others with their words and slick speech to the point that you admire them. We all know the type. The kind of person that would throw you under the bus and have very beautiful flowery language that almost sounds spiritual as to the justifications for their actions. Discernment is called for with such types of people.

That’s where David fails here. He does utilize discernment and he ends up putting himself in a bad situation. Ultimately, he must fulfill a promise that he should have never made. He should have remembered the loyalty of Mephibosheth and how it did not square with what Ziba was saying. When we hear something about a friend, a co-worker, another volunteer, another church member, another anyone that does not square with what we know about that person, then, we have a duty not to automatically accept the negative words of another person. We must say stop right there. We must say I need to check this out with the person you are talking about. If it is true, I will believe what you are saying. However, right now, I just cannot square what you are saying with what I know about that person. Man, would that stop some gossip in this world! Man, would that stop some organizational politicking in this world!

Discernment is a gift from God. It allows us to see things as they really are rather than what others may want to paint them as being. God is a God of order and unity so we must use the discernment He gives us that bring about discord and disorder. Discernment helps us question things when they are inconsistent with what we know to be true. Discernment helps us apply God’s Word to everyday situations. Discernment helps us to pray to God to reveal the truth to us in controversial situations. Discernment helps us not to jump of the slick politician type’s bandwagon to quickly so as to allow true colors to be revealed. Discernment helps us to remember that we are not here to please people but rather to please God. Discernment helps us to keep the truths of God in the center of everything we do. Discernment helps us to divide popularity seeking from true loyalty. Discernment helps us divide truth from error.

Discernment is a gift from God that David does not seem to have anymore. The whole Bathsheba/Uriah incident seems to have so occupied his mind, heart and soul that he can’t even think straight anymore. When you take David’s life as a whole, he lasting memory is that he was a wise king and a great king but wow in this sequence of his life, his sins have him so wracked with guilt that he just does not display the normal qualities of the godly man that he is. He could have used some discernment before the whole Bathsheba/Uriah incident and maybe he would not be in the position that he is in right now – fleeing from Jerusalem and believing the worst about a dear friend.

Discernment. So that’s the thing we learn from this transitional passage between two heavy hitting sequences of David’s life. Discernment. And you know it leads us to the point that discernment comes from prayer. Discernment comes from God just as wisdom does. Thus, we must ask God to grant it to us through constant prayer. God’s Word provides this gift as well. Watching the completely flawed individuals here in the Bible teaches us about what to do and what not to do. Discernment comes from God. Let us pray for it and cultivate through constant study of God’s Word.
Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 19:11-17
Michal Saves David’s Life

I remember an episode of The Big Bang Theory entitled “The Egg Salad Equivalency” in which Sheldon presents a scenario to the girls on the show about a real life situation over which he wants advice on how to react.

In this so called hypothetical scenario, the characters had the silliest of names. There’s Ricardo Shillyshally. There was Tondelaya della Ventimiglia and Sheldon renamed himself as Doctor Einstein von Brainstorm. The names were changed, in Sheldon’s mind, so no one could figure out who he was really talking about. Or so he thought. Just the outrageousness of the names made the scenario presented in the scene so hilarious. For the purposes of our blog today, I will borrow two of the names from that episode of my favorite show. I will use Ricardo Shillyshally and Tondelaya. However, in my scenario, Tondelaya will become Ricardo’s daughter instead of co-worker. Let’s present the scenario now…

There is a man, let’s call him Ricardo Shillyshally and Ricardo had a daughter named Tondelaya Shillyshally. Ricardo loves Tondelaya without reservation. He just wants what’s best for Tondelaya. He sees Tondelaya wasting her potential. He has helped her out of several jams in life. He has given her cars. Tondelaya disappears from Ricardo’s life for months on end over the past four or five years. She surfaces in his life when there is a financial crisis in her life. She swears every time that Ricardo helps her that she will be more active part of his life. But again and again, she disappears from his life and will stay underground and away from him until the next crisis occurs. Ricardo doesn’t understand why she disappears, but the contact always stops. Phone calls are not returned. Text messages are not responded to. Maybe it’s because she thinks Ricardo will demand changes in her lifestyle. Who knows? The contact always stops after a week or two after she has gotten what she wants.

Ricardo just wants her to quit living her hand to mouth existence and grow up. Tondelaya says she has a job with a baby sitting service now so according to Tondelaya she is working and has a career. Ricardo just wants her to use her brilliance to become something greater than a babysitter. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with being a babysitter working for a babysitting service but most girls who do it don’t do it forever. Some do. But most don’t. Ricardo knows that this is just the latest in a line of jobs for Tondelaya who is avoiding having to grow up.

Ricardo just wants her to be able to take care of herself when he’s gone. He doesn’t want to go to his grave worried about her. He doesn’t care if she is corporate CEO or salesperson at a shoe store or whatever. Just whatever that maybe, just be able to have a house or an apartment, a place to live and be able to put food on the table and pay for your own transportation. These are the simple hopes that Ricardo has for Tondelaya. He is not requiring that she do what he thinks her potential is (which he thinks is great since she is so smart just naturally). He thinks that anyone who can justify her hand-to-mouth existence as being temporary and the greatness being just over the next hill for a decade has great ability if applied to her true talents and giftedness in life. His prayer for her is that she finds her passion for what she wants to contribute to the world and is able to feed and clothe herself and put a roof over her own head without anybody helping her. That’s all Ricardo wants for Tondelaya as any parent wants for their child.

However, right now, Ricardo knows that the next phone from Tondelaya will be when she is in a financial jam and needs her daddy, Ricardo, to help her out of it. He prays that one day the cycle will be broken and she flies like Ricardo knows she can. But for now, he will love her. But for now, he is weary that she will reappear when she needs something next time and then disappear again and continue to live in her hand-to-mouth world where success remains just over the next hill.

That story of Ricardo Shillyshally and his youngest daughter, Tondelaya, reminds us all of how sometimes a family member will use us to get what they want. That’s what I thought of this afternoon as I read through the passage, 1 Samuel 19:11-17. Let’s read it and then deal with how we respond to such things:

11 Then Saul sent troops to watch David’s house. They were told to kill David when he came out the next morning. But Michal, David’s wife, warned him, “If you don’t escape tonight, you will be dead by morning.” 12 So she helped him climb out through a window, and he fled and escaped. 13 Then she took an idol[a] and put it in his bed, covered it with blankets, and put a cushion of goat’s hair at its head.

14 When the troops came to arrest David, she told them he was sick and couldn’t get out of bed.

15 But Saul sent the troops back to get David. He ordered, “Bring him to me in his bed so I can kill him!” 16 But when they came to carry David out, they discovered that it was only an idol in the bed with a cushion of goat’s hair at its head.

17 “Why have you betrayed me like this and let my enemy escape?” Saul demanded of Michal.

“I had to,” Michal replied. “He threatened to kill me if I didn’t help him.”

In this passage, we again see Saul put a family member in a compromising spot. He put his daughter in the position of either enabling her father to get what he wanted or doing what is best and right in this situation. How many of us reading this blog have a family member who takes advantage of the fact that we are kin to them to further their own agenda? How many of us reading this blog have a family member who uses us to get what they want and then disappear until the next time they need something. How many of us have broken hearts over these situations? I am sure that Michal did not flippantly disobey her father. She probably agonized over it. She probably wanted to give her father what he wanted but she had to weigh that against what was best and right.

In today’s story, it is Ricardo Shillyshally and Tondelaya, his child. But the story is quite familiar. You can insert your own names of how this situation (whether it be family members, friends, distant relatives, coworkers, and so on) applies to you. We’ve all experienced being used by someone to get what they want.

In today’s passage, Saul simply uses his own daughter to get what he wanted. He did not care that Michal may have loved David. That was of no matter to Saul. He wanted David’s head and nothing else would do. It didn’t matter if he had to use his own relationship with his own daughter to get to David. Only Michal realized that Saul was not being a godly man in his request. He was asking his daughter to betray her husband. He was asking her to be a party to murder. What he asked of his daughter was so wrong on so many levels. But did that matter to Saul? No. He was trying to get what he wanted in his jealous rage. Nothing else matter. Relationships did not matter. Loyalty did not matter. Family did not matter. It was just Saul uses whatever way he could to get what he wanted. It was Saul manipulating his relationship with a family member once again (remember in the last passage he ask is other child, Jonathan, to participate in something that was morally wrong).

So in the 21st century such things still happen. People use us. People manipulate us to get what they want and then sometimes disappear from our lives when we are no longer useful to them in their self-centered world. How do we respond?

Patience, prayer, and discernment is how we respond. Biblical patience is tolerant of the imperfections, faults, and differences in others. It gives the other person time to change and room to make some mistakes in the process. Paul lists patience as the first quality that describes love (1 Cor. 13:4). If you’re not patient, you’re not loving! It’s a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Like all fruit, it takes time and effort to cultivate. Patience with others does not come naturally. It is counter-intuitive to our nature. When others use us to get what they want and disappear, we typically want to hold back and get angry. That’s our natural inclination. To be patient with someone who uses us to get what they want is a tall order. Is it not?

Patience only comes through prayer. Prayer is not where we demand of God to do things our way but we ask Him to work in a situation that we cannot solve. We in that process give up control of the problem to the Lord. We pray for the person who just seems to want to use us for what they can get. We pray that God brings about situations in their lives that will reveal their need for Jesus Christ. We pray that God brings about situations that will bring them to see God’s love for them. That will change everything in their lives just as it did for us. When we pray for them to come to Jesus, it will change their mindset on everything including how they treat other people.

God certainly wants us to be patient with others. It is definitely a fruit of the spirit. God wants us to have a forgiving spirit and that is only achieved through patience. Patience is only achieved through prayer. In the meantime, though, until the person that uses us displays the fruits of the spirit that we have prayed for, God gives us discernment. Discernment is when we love people just as God requires but discernment is God-given wisdom in knowing how to respond. Discernment is loving people but responding in ways that are healthy for both parties. Discernment is sometimes loving people with a “no”. Discernment is sometimes saying no because it is best even though saying yes would be easier.

Saul was someone who used people to get what he wanted. He tried to use his kids to get what he wanted (to kill David). However, even though Jonathan and Michal loved their dad, they had the discernment not to follow through with Saul’s immoral requests on them.

Who is it that has used you to get what they want? Remember patience. Remember prayer. Remember discernment.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 19:1-10 (Part 1 of 6)
Saul Tries to Kill David

Joel Osteen. Creflo Dollar. Jim Bakker. Jen Hatmaker. Male. Female. Stretching gospel truths or departing from them altogether. It’s not just a now problem, but it has been a problem throughout the past decades and throughout the centuries since Jesus ascended. There are false teachers out there. They will teach you what sounds like the gospel but is not the gospel altogether or is a twisting of Scripture to meet cultural acceptance – which is the worst kind of false teaching. Sounds good. Meets our fleshly desires not to have our favorite sins exposed against the harsh truth of the Bible. We must be weary of the wolves in sheep’s clothing who portray themselves as purveyors of God’s truth but they are ravenous wolves on the inside. Jesus warns us about these false prophets in Matthew 7:15. In this blog and the next five, we will look at some of the false teachings that are prevalent today that we as Christ followers and as Christian pastors should be wary.

We must always compare what we are hearing from the mouths of pastors to Scripture. We must ourselves as pastors to check ourselves against Scripture when we speak even informally to those that we lead in our local flocks. There are some very common lies that are purveyed by those who claim to be prophets or pastors today. We must be weary of these lies that are passed off as gospel truth.

The first false doctrine that wildly popular today is the prosperity gospel, as it is known by its detractors. Undoubtedly, some adherents of the carnal prosperity message are motivated by greed. For them, preaching Jesus is a means of financial gain, something Paul rebuked in the strongest possible terms, speaking of men “of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Tim. 6:5).

Yet many sincere believers embrace this message too—and back their case with Scripture. They point to the covenant blessings the Lord promised to Israel for their obedience, including financial prosperity (Deut. 28:1-13). They highlight verses in Proverbs and Psalms that link financial prosperity to generosity, hard work, godly living and faith (e.g., Ps. 112). They remind us of wonderful promises, such as those found in Proverbs 3:9-10—and how Jesus reiterated these in the New Testament with teachings such as, “Give, and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:38). And they quote Paul, who wrote about the financial principles of sowing and reaping (1 Cor. 9; 2 Cor. 8-9; Phil. 4:11-19).

This philosophical twist on the message of these Scriptures turns the focus on others to a focus on ourselves. It is an if-then proposition. If we give money to the church, God will bless us back financially. If we invest in God’s causes we will reap financial gain on this side of heaven from God. God will bless us financially if we do His will and if we are not getting a return on our investment we must have some unconfessed sin in our lives. This message is so in contrast to what the Bible teaches us as a whole. The Bible wants us to take care of others because we love God and we love others. Love is not an investment. Love is given freely without expectation of return to us. God is not our investment banker. God is not our vending machine. He is the sovereign ruler of the universe who cannot be manipulated by us. God teaches us in His Word and through Jesus that we are to have more concern for the well-being of others than we do for ourselves. We are to store up treasures in heaven not on earth (Matthew 6:19-24). Jesus did not die to make us financially secure. He died to save us from our sins (Matthew 1:21). We are not to live according to what the people of the present age covet (1 Cor. 7:29-31; 1 John 2:15-17).

The prosperity gospel is an abomination to the faith. There is guarantee that God will bless those who live according to His will but it is not guaranteed that those blessings will be monetary or any other form of earthly financial blessing. Our blessings may come in the form of loosening our grip on our things and seeing things from God’s perspective and we look for ways to bless others with our money or property without expectation of repayment, glory, or reward. Our blessings come from seeing our money and our property as tools for ministry. We become outward facing instead of inward facing. Those are the blessings of aligning ourselves with God’s will. We are not in this ride with Jesus to make ourselves rich. In fact, those that are truly sacrificial in their faith often encounter great suffering and financial loss to serve the Lord. But true faith thinks not of material gain but of the pleasing of God in all that we do. True faith doesn’t care about material things. True faith does not do things for God because we expect a return. True faith just loves God and wants to follow what He commands whether we are financially rewarded for it or not.

That was the idea that came to mind this morning when I read this passage about the choice that Jonathan had to make – to be obedient to his father or to honor his friendship with David, to follow his father’s command which was not biblical or to follow that which was right and true according to God. With that idea in mind let us read about the choice that Jonathan had to make:

Chapter 19
1 Saul now urged his servants and his son Jonathan to assassinate David. But Jonathan, because of his strong affection for David, 2 told him what his father was planning. “Tomorrow morning,” he warned him, “you must find a hiding place out in the fields. 3 I’ll ask my father to go out there with me, and I’ll talk to him about you. Then I’ll tell you everything I can find out.”

4 The next morning Jonathan spoke with his father about David, saying many good things about him. “The king must not sin against his servant David,” Jonathan said. “He’s never done anything to harm you. He has always helped you in any way he could. 5 Have you forgotten about the time he risked his life to kill the Philistine giant and how the Lord brought a great victory to all Israel as a result? You were certainly happy about it then. Why should you murder an innocent man like David? There is no reason for it at all!”

6 So Saul listened to Jonathan and vowed, “As surely as the Lord lives, David will not be killed.”

7 Afterward Jonathan called David and told him what had happened. Then he brought David to Saul, and David served in the court as before.

8 War broke out again after that, and David led his troops against the Philistines. He attacked them with such fury that they all ran away.

9 But one day when Saul was sitting at home, with spear in hand, the tormenting spirit[a] from the Lord suddenly came upon him again. As David played his harp, 10 Saul hurled his spear at David. But David dodged out of the way, and leaving the spear stuck in the wall, he fled and escaped into the night.

In this passage, we are challenged by the concept of obedience to our parents (which is a biblical command) or to obey what we know to be right and true by God’s nature. It is clearly a principle of Scripture that when a father instructs a son to break God’s laws, the son should obey God rather than man. This principle assumes that the son is old enough to be accountable and to be able to discern the difference between an unbiblical command from a parent and what God’s nature is like and what God’s Word tells us to do as to what is right and wrong. A son’s role is to be respectful, helpful and obedient to his parents (see Ephesians 6:1-3 as a New Testament example of this command), but always to be understanding that any commands given by our parent should be compared to Scripture. We must pray as children that our parents are seeking after God’s own heart themselves and would never force us to choose between obeying them and breaking God’s commands.

This very same principle is what we must apply when it comes to the lies that Satan guises in the form of heresies such as the prosperity gospel. We must always compare what we hear from our pastors to what we find in God’s Word. We must understand the message of the entire Bible. We must read and know our Bible so that we know the nature of God. God is not in the investment return business. We do not invest in him to get money back. We do not obey him so that we can have material things. In fact, true faith teaches us that the things that we use to care about so much are just vapors in the wind. True faith calls to care about only that which matters in eternity. If we are being told something different from the message that we know is the tenor and tone of the Bible then we must walk away from it as heresy. We must call heresy what it is and warn others. The true message of the Bible is simply this…loving God, loving others. It is not an eternal plan to make us materially rich on this side of heaven. In fact, quite the opposite is true. The funny thing is that the person of true faith just sees whatever money God grants them as tools for their ministry not as something to be hoarded and accumulated. Sure, we must make sound financial decisions as Christians to ensure that we can take care of ourselves when we are old but thinking of God as our investment banker and thinking of our money as an indiciation of our blessing from God is just plain heresy.

We must compare what we hear from our pastors to Scripture always. We must always obey God and not a preacher. If a preacher is obeying God then he will never ask us to believe something that is in opposition to God’s Word. Pray for your preacher to be one who never strays from God’s Word. I thank God that my current senior pastor, Tim Bowman, and my former senior pastors have all been men who bow down to God’s Word and have never preached anything other than what is consistent with God’s Word.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 3:1-4:1 (Part 2 of 3)
The Lord Speaks to Samuel

One of the things that has been going through my head and my soul here in the years since I finished my Master of Arts in Christian Ministry degree back in May 2014 is whether my calling from God is real or whether it is just some egotistical personal desire. That’s a big difference, ya know! Did God really call me to full time ministry? Was that really His voice, His nudging, His pricking of my soul or was it just an ego trip? One thing is for sure is that all this time, 3 years, later I do begin to wonder. Right now, I am in a phase where I am just saying to the Lord that if it is your will, you will make the path clear and you will make it very clear to me. God certainly knows with me that I am not the brightest bulb in the marquee and instead of tapping me on the shoulder with His ways that He has to hit me up side the head with a 2×4. For you non-Southerners reading this, that means He has to make something exceeding and abundantly clear in no uncertain terms!

However, there have been periods of anger. I have been angry at God for having given me what I thought was His calling but yet He has opened no doors. Lord, I have been faithful. I have done what I perceived as doing what you wanted me to do which was to learn more about you, about your Word, about writing about your Word, about church governance, about working in a church setting, about the administrative part of church, just learning all that I can learn about being a pastor and all the hats they can wear (especially in solo pastor churches). Nothing has been happening. Not even that overwhelming urge drawing me to a people group where I plant a church among them. Close but no cigar kind of feeling.

There have been periods of disillusionment where Satan has a field day in my heart and soul and in those periods where you are down and out about something you are susceptible to listen. Satan can grab hold of even the most vibrant Christ follower at times through disillusionment. Satan, in these times, has told me that I am not good enough to be a full time pastor. He will tell me that you just don’t stack up against these guys who have been pastors since college. You don’t stack up to these pastors who accepted Christ as their Savior at like age 2 or 12 or 22. You, you Mark, you only accepted Jesus as Your Savior at age 39. You ain’t nothing compared to them. You didn’t grow up wanting the same things they wanted. You didn’t learn the preacher lingo. You didn’t learn the secret handshakes. You not even good at quoting Scripture off the cuff. You may know the general idea of books of the Bible but you, you Mark, you can’t pull out a verse of Scripture from memory appropriate for a situation if you tried all day long. You don’t talk, walk, or act like all these lifetime preachers that you know at your church or through North Greenville University. You are just half-ass.

There have been periods where I examine myself for all my character flaws of which I have many. Satan will point to those things as disqualifications and the reason you are not being allowed by God to enter into full-time ministry. That’s a pretty good solid way that Satan speaks to us. You, you Mark, have a sordid past full of bad decisions – divorce, partying too hard, bad choices, choices you wish you never made, loose morals, compromised ethics, all those things. You, you Mark, are not pure of heart. You are just some guy who just a poser. These are the worst attacks of all because it’s all true. I am not qualified to be a man of God full-time in no way shape or form. It is so very true. I am probably the last person God should call into full time ministry.

Do you hear voices in your head? Are you like me in that way? Which one to you listen to? Satan? God? How do you discern the difference? What is of God and what is of Satan? Whose voice are you and will you listen to? That was the thought that came to me this morning as I read through this passage for a second time. Now, with these thoughts in mind let’s read the passage again this morning, 1 Samuel 3:1-4:1:

3 Meanwhile, the boy Samuel served the Lord by assisting Eli. Now in those days messages from the Lord were very rare, and visions were quite uncommon.

2 One night Eli, who was almost blind by now, had gone to bed. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was sleeping in the Tabernacle[a] near the Ark of God. 4 Suddenly the Lord called out, “Samuel!”

“Yes?” Samuel replied. “What is it?” 5 He got up and ran to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?”

“I didn’t call you,” Eli replied. “Go back to bed.” So he did.

6 Then the Lord called out again, “Samuel!”

Again Samuel got up and went to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?”

“I didn’t call you, my son,” Eli said. “Go back to bed.”

7 Samuel did not yet know the Lord because he had never had a message from the Lord before. 8 So the Lord called a third time, and once more Samuel got up and went to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?”

Then Eli realized it was the Lord who was calling the boy. 9 So he said to Samuel, “Go and lie down again, and if someone calls again, say, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went back to bed.

10 And the Lord came and called as before, “Samuel! Samuel!”

And Samuel replied, “Speak, your servant is listening.”

11 Then the Lord said to Samuel, “I am about to do a shocking thing in Israel. 12 I am going to carry out all my threats against Eli and his family, from beginning to end. 13 I have warned him that judgment is coming upon his family forever, because his sons are blaspheming God[b] and he hasn’t disciplined them. 14 So I have vowed that the sins of Eli and his sons will never be forgiven by sacrifices or offerings.”
Samuel Speaks for the Lord

15 Samuel stayed in bed until morning, then got up and opened the doors of the Tabernacle[c] as usual. He was afraid to tell Eli what the Lord had said to him. 16 But Eli called out to him, “Samuel, my son.”

“Here I am,” Samuel replied.

17 “What did the Lord say to you? Tell me everything. And may God strike you and even kill you if you hide anything from me!” 18 So Samuel told Eli everything; he didn’t hold anything back. “It is the Lord’s will,” Eli replied. “Let him do what he thinks best.”

19 As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him, and everything Samuel said proved to be reliable. 20 And all Israel, from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, knew that Samuel was confirmed as a prophet of the Lord. 21 The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh and gave messages to Samuel there at the Tabernacle.
4 And Samuel’s words went out to all the people of Israel.

Here, in this passage, we see that, although God had spoken directly and audibly with Moses and Joshua, His audible word became rare during the three centuries of rule by judges. By Eli’s time, no prophets were speaking God’s message to Israel. Why? Look at the attitude of Eli’s sons. They were reflective of the times. They either refused to listen to God or allowed greed to get in the way of communication with Him. Listening and responding is vital in a relationship with God. Although God does not always use the sound of a human voice, He always speaks clearly through His Word under the influence of the Holy Spirit. To receive His messages, we must be ready to listen and to act upon what He tells us. Like Samuel, be ready to say “Here I am” when God calls you to action.

Samuel was confused at first. He didn’t realize that God was speaking to Him. He, first, thought it was his master, the high priest, calling for him. It took three times for Samuel to realize that it was God calling to him. Even though Eli had some serious issues that were going to cost him and his family, he did give Samuel some godly advice – that it was God calling Samuel and not him. Sometimes, we need that godly advice that we need to listen to what God is telling us. So many times in life, we confuse Satan’s twisting of the truth to keep us from following what God wants us to do. Sometimes, we may confuse our pride and/or Satan’s words for God’s words. Sometimes, Satan will keep us from hearing God because he does not want us to be effective in ways God has talented us for the kingdom. He wants to blur the picture such that we will back away from serving God. He will blind us from seeing the path that God has set for us. Because most of all Satan does not want us to be warriors for God’s army. He wants us to be distracted so that we will not serve God. He will even use the difference in God’s timing and our desires to twist the truth that God has called you to do something. God may be growing you and pruning and it may be taking longer than appears necessary to you and then Satan will tell you that you were just barking up the wrong tree, you are not qualified, you are not really called by God. Satan will do whatever it takes to keep you from your God calling.

If God has called you to do something for Him, it will be consistent with Scripture. If God has called you do something, it is not because He thinks you are qualified (because none of us are qualified to serve Him). If God has called you to do something for Him, it will be more than a passing fad. It will be a burning in your soul that you are willing to make any sacrifice to get to it. If it is a true God calling, you will work, work, work to get there. If it is true God calling, you will not take no for answer. If it is a true God calling, you will want it for a long period of time and it will not wane. If it is a true God calling, you will let go of your egotistical desires and wait upon the Lord as He molds you into the servant He wants you to be. If it is a true God calling, He will make the path clear and He will make it plain to you which door you should open and He will make the door appear at the right time. Don’t let Satan be the voice you listen to and shy away from or give up on your God-ordained calling. Listen to the voice of God not Satan.

Listen to the right voice.

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 22:4

Helping Your Neighbor

How often do we walk right past homeless people as if they do not exist? How often do you look away when you get off the interstate and some homeless guy is panhandling at the end of the exit ramp? It is awkward in both of those cases. You look straight ahead and try NOT to make eye contact with person. Many times, we think that, at least around here where the economy is pretty stable and opportunities abound, the person is just lazy and is just trying to work our sympathy.


How often do we have people come to the church each week asking for financial assistance from our church? There is at least one person per week if not more. After having been involved in our community outreach ministries with my wife over the past 5 years and being on-staff and physically at the church two days a week as the finance director for the last year and a half, you kind of become jaded to these requests. Add to that the fact that I have been a hard worker all my life, sometimes I have not enough regard and too much cynicism when it comes to these requests.


I have been working since I was fourteen years old and have only been out of work three times in the forty years after that. Each time, I diligently sought work and was able to get back to work relatively quickly. During the economic downturn in 2000, I lost my job and was out of work for two months and underemployed for another two months after that. However, two months after I lost my job and jobs befitting my education and experience were hard to find at that time, I took a job, any job, to keep food on the table for my family. As a man and as a husband, I felt the obligation to do any kind of work to keep the lights on. I worked in the Bi-Lo (a regional grocery chain here in the South) warehouse for two months while I continued looking for a job as auditor or accountant.


That was most grueling work I had ever done in my life. I would go to job interviews when I could get them during the day and work in the warehouse in the evenings. I would go to those job interviews with muscles that were so sore it was sometimes painful to just walk. During the 10+ hour days at the Bi-Lo warehouse, you would be on-the-go all the time fulfilling orders from the Bi-Lo stores throughout that warehouse’s area of responsibility. It was intense. We had to get all the orders filled as quickly as you could. There were incentives for your pay the quicker you filled the orders. The more experienced workers would add pressure to you by beeping their horns if you took too long at any bin loading goods onto your pallet truck. Also, orders sometimes (a lot of times) from the freezer section where all the meats were all the way over to the other side of the warehouse where the produce was where it was 80 degrees. You could go from shivering to your body’s core to sweating profusely like a kid a two-a-day football practices in the height of August’s heat. It was grueling and constant and stressful. But, hey, I did what I had to do to keep money coming in. So, from the backdrop of always working and having the mentality that I will do whatever it takes to keep money coming in my house to meet my financial obligations, it has been hard for me to have sympathy for those that seem not to grasp the concept. I admit that my first reaction (and sometimes through conversation you realize that it is true) that a person is simply trying to work the system of charity (between governments and churches) so that they don’t have to work. I hate myself for having these feelings when I encounter someone who is “just working the system”. It jades me toward it all and one of my fears is that I will let my cynicism cause me to overlook a person who really does need my help or the help of the organization that is my church.


I admire my wife in this regard. She has been co-director of community outreach with me for the first 3 ½ years that we were in church leadership and she has been the solo director of those efforts for the last year and a half. She may have cynicism after these years in leadership of the outreach ministry (part of the responsibility of which is to handle all these assistance requests). However, she never shows it toward those who contact the church. She talks to them not with condescension but with respect. She directs them to agencies that can help them if the church is not in position to help them directly. She often prays with them (even over the phone). She has compassion for the lost puppies of the world. But, for certain, when we do help people directly at the church, we do not give them a check made out to them or give them cash. If they need help with their water bill or power bill or gas bill, we pay those vendors directly on their behalf. If they need groceries, we will buy them a gift card to Bi-Lo, Food Lion, or Ingles. If they need gas, we will go with them to a nearby gas station and fill their car up for them. That’s just responsible helping because of the cynicism that creeps in because of all those out there “working the system.” I admire her still having the willingness to listen with compassion to those she encounters in her ministry responsibilities.


It was this idea that I struggle with about those who seek assistance from governments and churches that came to mind when I read this one-verse passage, Deuteronomy 22:4. Let’s read it together now:


4 If you see your fellow Israelite’s donkey or ox fallen on the road, do not ignore it. Help the owner get it to its feet.


Here, the Israelites are commanded to help their fellow citizens when their beasts of burden have fallen. It is a specific case, yes. But the idea behind can be expanded to all areas of life. The Israelites were to help each other when they were found to be in need. They were not to look the other way, like we do with homeless people at street intersections. They were to dive into the situation and help their brother Israelite. It does not matter what the situation is. The implication of this law in this verse is wide-ranging in its application. Help those who need help.


Jesus expanded the requirement of the law when he told the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). In that parable, it was the Israelites, God’s chosen people, that were ignoring the neighbor in need of assistance. It took a hated Samaritan to help the man who had been attacked. He even when above and beyond by putting the hurt man up at a lodge and paying for all his medical needs. Jesus is drawing upon the law here and saying that ignoring the call of the law is not keeping the law. Jesus was pretty clear throughout his ministry that the law was our minimum baseline of behavior and that because we love Him that we should go above and beyond that. The Samaritan did not check to see if the person was worthy of being helped. He just helped. He saw the person as a person who had needs just as important as his. He did not know the back story of the fallen man. He didn’t care about the back story. He just loved. He just helped. the lessons of the Parable of the Good Samaritan are three-fold:


  • we are to set aside our prejudice and show love and compassion for others.
  • Our neighbor is anyone we encounter; we are all creatures of the creator and we are to love all of mankind as Jesus has taught.
  • Keeping the law in its entirety with the intent to save ourselves is an impossible task; we need a savior, and this is Jesus.


Yes, so we might think this passage is so specific that it cannot apply to us in our urban and suburban lifestyles or even now in high-tech farming equipment in rural societies, but it is an idea that we can expand to all walks of life. We are not to judge whether a person needs our help or not. We are not to judge whether they deserve our help or not. We are jaded by those who rip us off under the guise of being homeless or down and out. However, we should pray before we help someone that God will take care of the judging of the motives of the person. Let Him handle that. We must pray to Him that we will not let our own ideas about how hard a person is looking to get back on his feet or not effect our willingness to help. I reflect back on my wife again. Right after she accepted Christ as her Savior, we were then living in Livermore, CA. The first Thanksgiving there we could not afford to go back home to South Carolina with Christmas following the next month when we HAD to be there. So, Elena in her joyous fervor of her newfound salvation, made extra food for our little Thanksgiving meal together and we took the excess over to a park near our apartment complex and we gave the meals to the five or six homeless men we encountered there. Elena did not check to see if they deserved our help. She just helped. She did care about their backstories. She just helped. We engaged them in conversations and just showed them love and concern instead of looking the other way. Who knows what that chance encounter brought to those six men. Maybe it was just a warm meal but maybe it was the start of realizing that people do care and maybe it was the start of them getting back on their feet.


I often think of a video that I want to do where I am walking past a homeless man and I do my best to ignore him. After I pass, the homeless turns into Jesus and looks toward me after I have passed and a tear comes to his eye. How often do we miss our divine opportunities to help others because we are too busy, don’t want to get involved, or think the person is unworthy of help.


We are called to be uncommon as Christians. We have to fight our flesh. We must love people to the cross. We must care for the lost puppies. We must go against our selfish nature often times as Christians. Help your neighbor when he needs help. Take the time. Get messy. Don’t look the other way. We are called to love others not just ourselves. We are not to judge whether a person is worthy of love. Maybe the seed your plant today in a life of a person (who your gut cries out not to help) by helping them is what brings them to Christ and changes their life forever. One little help. A changed life. Why is that the hardest thing to do for us? For me? For you? Sometimes, we are the only Christlikeness that some people will ever meet. What will be our testimony on behalf of our Savior?


Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 15:1-11

Release for Debtors

Yesterday, we talked about a story of a girl who cried a river and changed the whole world. We borrowed the chorus from a song by a group called Nine Days as a lead-in to our story. It was a fictionalized story with real examples that we see every day. It was a story about a single mom who had two kids that made some poor choices as a teenager and was now deeply awash in a lifestyle where it was difficult for her to rise above her financial situation. She is the type of person who gets locked into poverty by some poor choices of their own, the choices that others sometimes force upon us, and sometimes by the combination of life choices and the expectations of the world around us. There are those around us who live on the edge of disaster on a daily basis.


Many of us look upon those who are poor as deserving of their poverty and/or that they simply want the government handouts that are doled out to them. Sometimes, that may well be true. There are certainly those out there that “are just working the system” to get what they can get without having to work for it. They actually feel that the world has made them this way (not their own choices) and they deserve to live off the government and the guilted generosity of others. Probably the majority of people that come seeking help at our church each day the church office is open are the career charity seekers that bounce from church to church and from agency to agency trying to get what they need. The story is always urgent and they typically always want cash. These are the career charity seekers. However, there are those who are genuinely in need. Being able to tell the difference is often difficult because the natural inclination becomes jaded after a while and you automatically think that a person is just “working the system.”


Then, there are those who genuinely need help that want to be above the poverty line but circumstances are keeping them there. There is a girl that my wife knows that has made some poor choices in life for sure – the biggest of which are two choices to sleep with men that she was not married to and that resulted in pregnancies. She has an oldest son who is ten who lives with her mom’s choices every day. A gentle little soul is he and he has bounced around from crisis to crisis with his mom. The second pregnancy resulted in another sweet little boy but this boy was born with down syndrome. This mom loves her children immensely but the needs of her youngest child keep her from holding a steady job of any kind. He requires constant attention. Doctors appointments galore. Development challenges are daily. Yes, she made poor choices and it seems that those poor choices are going to haunt her for a long, long time. This single mom knows now that she is living with her poor choices. She knows her poor choices have caused her to live permanently on the edge of one financial crisis to the next. However, she is truly one of those people that are not able to work. My wife invests much time and tenderness with this woman and just loves her. My worry with any investments that we make in her financially are just band-aids. My worry is how can we get her to a place of independence. My worry is that such a day will never come. How can you continue to help someone when there is no way to improve their situation. You want to think that your help will result in making permanent life changes in someone’s else life. But what if there is no way to change things. Having a child with down syndrome is a lifetime commitment that strains even the best of marriages not to mention what is doing to this single mom. But when you watch this mom love her youngest child, it is a reminder that love never questions. Love just loves. This single mom is in love with her child and will do anything she can for him. She doesn’t care that never gets a moment of peace and that the demands are so demanding. She just loves her child. I know that she wants more out of life than she is getting. It is not that she wants to live in poverty and live from financial crisis to financial crisis. She wants to be free. She wants to climb out of the poverty hole. But she will probably remain there for the rest of her existence. So, do we not help her because she will never get out of the hole.


Then, there are those whom you help that are around us (sometimes even those that related to you) that never seem to get it. They always have reasons for their crises. They always have justifications. They seem to want to live out of an entitlement mentality. Maybe they grew up spoiled and think that the world is supposed to take care of them. They never seem to get the concept of that their own hard work will result in the improvement of their situation. They have amazing capabilities and they have nothing other than their own fears and rationalizations that hold them back. They, too, live from crisis to crisis and often only seek you out when there is a financial crisis that they need to avert. You want them to see that there is nothing that a little hard work and dedication and working at a job for more than a year can’t cure for them. You pray that someday they will get it. They often, upon receiving your help, say that they do get it and will do better in the future. But year after year you see no change of the crisis to crisis mentality and just a sense that they do not see past the next weekend. Do you have someone in your life like that? They live crisis to crisis. Maybe, they are the result of your unwillingness to let them show them tough love. Maybe they need to crash and hit rock bottom. Is this the story of someone close to you? What do you do? Do you stop helping? Do you cut them off and refuse to help in the slightest? Do they blame you when you don’t help them?


These are the tough choices of generosity. Do you help once. Do you help twice. Do you quit helping? Do want to see results as a condition of your help? We are called to be generous but we are also called to be wise. These were the things that I thought of today when I read about the forgiveness of debts that God called the Israelites to with the cycle of forgiving debts every 7 years in Deuteronomy 15:1-11:


15 At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. 2 This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel any loan they have made to a fellow Israelite. They shall not require payment from anyone among their own people, because the Lord’s time for canceling debts has been proclaimed. 3 You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your fellow Israelite owes you. 4 However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, 5 if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. 6 For the Lord your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.


7 If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. 8 Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. 9 Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. 10 Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.


In this passage, God told the Israelites to help the poor among them when they began to live in and possess the Promised Land. This command was an important part of possessing the land. Many people think that the poor are responsible for their lot in life. And if they just got off their rear ends and worked that it would change their story. In some cases that may well be true. But there are those among us that are going to always be poor because of personal limitations or by limitations of someone in their family that they must care for. Does the assumption about those who are working the system excuse us from helping anyone who is poor? This kind of reasoning helps us make our heart hard toward anyone in need. We are not to invent reasons for not helping the poor. We are to not ignore the issue altogether. We are to engage those who are poor and understand their story. We are called to be a generous people. Each one of us with the right sequence of circumstances and right length of those circumstances are only a couple of paychecks and a savings account away from losing everything we have. Everything that you and I have is simply a blessing from God and it could all be taken away in an instant with an extended period of unemployment, an illness of ourselves or of a loved one that saps the family’s finances, a major life event that sends you reeling into poverty because you can’t handle life for a while. We are all just a step away from being on the street.


No one is immune to poverty. We should not pride ourselves in what we have accumulated. We could lose it all in very short order. Therefore, we should be generous to the world around us. We do not judge others for their poverty. We simply help. Sure, we ask God for discernment when we are dealing with habitually lazy people but we do not write off all people as lazy. We do not ignore the poor. We get to know them. We get to know their story. We help. We love. We give. We help. We love. We give. We do this because God so loved us that He was exceedingly generous to a fault with us through Jesus Christ. God is a generous God. We are to be a generous people.


Amen and Amen.

Numbers 36:1-13

Women Who Inherit Property

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Amen and Amen.

Numbers 20:14-21 (Part 2 of 2)

Edom Refuses Israel Passage

Kenny Rogers said it best in that now classic country song, “The Gambler”, when he said, “You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away and know when to run.” And there are leadership quips like “there are hills to die on and hills not to die on.” Have you ever had a situation where you had to decide to walk away from a conflict even when you know you are right and have every right to fight for your position. Sometimes, we have to decide whether the immediate scrape is worth the fight or whether it is more important to keep the larger goal in mind.


In today’s church, there are hills to die on and there are hills to move on from. My brother and I were having a conversation the other day about the differences between the United Methodist Church and the Southern Baptist Church. He was kidding with me about how I would have to accept some of the more liberal views of the Methodist Church if I were ever to become a pastor in that denomination. My brother has been a pastor in the South Georgia and South Carolina Annual Conferences of the United Methodist Church since 1982. We are both the sons of a Methodist minister (who served in the South Carolina conference for 53 years and still serves part-time). One of my uncles was a life-long Methodist minister as well. So, the Methodist church is the family business. I have been a bit of rebel in attending non-Methodist churches over the years. I am and have been a Baptist for the last six years. Although LifeSong Church does not make a big deal about its Southern Baptist affiliation, our beliefs are straight up out of the 2000 Statement of Faith of the Southern Baptist Convention. So, my brother and I often have discussions about the differences between the two denominations.


People often get hung up on the differences between the denominations – Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, are the three biggies in America. People will get all mad and pissed off at the differences between the two. Family splits have occurred over these differences. There are hills to die on and hills to not die on. When I was having my conversation with my brother about an open position at large Methodist church in Greenville, SC and about how I would have to accept the beliefs of the Methodist Church to hold such a position. I simply said that, “At the end of the day we are all Christians! We all believe in the same Jesus Christ. Most of the differences are just window-dressing preferences.” That is true for most of the differences among the Protestant denominations. However, there are hills to die on when it comes to these differences. If a belief of your denominational Protestant Church or your Catholic Church is inconsistent with God’s Word, His Holy Scriptures, then that’s a hill to die on. That’s my no compromise zone. And it should not be my interpretation of whether consistency exists. Many people stretch God’s Word to fit their interpretation of life. However, my interpretation must be consistent with the whole of God’s Word and must be consistent with the common core of Christian beliefs through time as inspired by God’s Word. I am subject to God’s theology as expressed in His Word not the other way around. That’s the hill to die on. As Christians, we cannot pick and choose what we want to believe as a denomination just to fit in with the world at large. Our statements about what we believe must be measured by the whole of Scripture. As Christians, we can also never let church tradition become equal with the Scriptures. The Scriptures, the whole Bible, are the measure by which we measure all our statements and beliefs. That is the hill to die on.


Then within individual churches of Jesus’ church, we can get mad over things that are not hills to die on and leave churches or split churches over them. The color of the carpet, who is on what committee, where I serve within the church, who I saw the preacher having lunch with, trying to force a preacher out because he stepped on your toes in a sermon, whether or not my kid was picked to be a starter on a church basketball team or not, whether or not we are part of the “in-crowd” at church, whether we are part of the coolest small group or not, these are not hills to die on. These are not reasons to leave a church. The reasons to leave a church are if God calls you to move somewhere for a valid and purposeful reason. Another reason to leave a church is if the church’s preaching and teaching are inconsistent with God’s Word or if the leadership of your church is causing people to stray from God’s Word by their actions and statements. That’s a hill to die on.


It was this concept of hills to die on that I thought of when I read this passage for a second time today, Numbers 20:14-21:


14 Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom, saying:


“This is what your brother Israel says: You know about all the hardships that have come on us. 15 Our ancestors went down into Egypt, and we lived there many years. The Egyptians mistreated us and our ancestors, 16 but when we cried out to the Lord, he heard our cry and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt.


“Now we are here at Kadesh, a town on the edge of your territory. 17 Please let us pass through your country. We will not go through any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the King’s Highway and not turn to the right or to the left until we have passed through your territory.”


18 But Edom answered:


“You may not pass through here; if you try, we will march out and attack you with the sword.”


19 The Israelites replied:


“We will go along the main road, and if we or our livestock drink any of your water, we will pay for it. We only want to pass through on foot—nothing else.”


20 Again they answered:


“You may not pass through.”


Then Edom came out against them with a large and powerful army. 21 Since Edom refused to let them go through their territory, Israel turned away from them.


Here in this passage, we see that Moses tried to negotiate with and reason with the Edomite king. When nothing worked, he was left with two choices – force a conflict or avoid it. Moses knew there would be plenty of barriers in the days and months ahead. There was no point in adding another one unnecessarily. Sometimes, conflict is unavoidable. But there are times when the consequences of conflict are not worth the cost. Open conflict gets headlines and sometimes just makes us feel better to try to get our own way, but it is not always the best choice. At times, we should follow Moses’ example and find a solution to the problem without conflict even if that forces us to take a more difficult path.


As Christians, we must understand what is worth fighting for and what is just our personal preferences. We must always stand firm on being consistent with Scripture. We must change the world through God’s Word. We must stand on its solid rock. The color of carpet is a preference. Sprinkling or dunking at baptism is a preference. Going against the totality of Scripture is a hill to die on. Picking and choosing what parts of the Bible that we will believe in and which we will ignore is a hill to die. It is through the wisdom and discernment of the Holy Spirit that we can tell the difference. Everything must be measured by Scripture, nothing more and nothing less, all of it.


Let us be a people that subject ourselves to God’s Word rather than being the arbiter of what we shall believe from it. Let us live in subjection to its commands rather than making it subject to us. Let us have discernment of how to express compliance to God’s Word to a world that lives in opposition to it with loving kindness. Let us be that people.


Amen and Amen.