Posts Tagged ‘faith’

2 Samuel 21:1-14 (Part 2 of 3)
David Avenges the Gibeonites

In this second blog on this passage, the thing that is the play within the play here is the woman and mother, Rizpah. There is so much richness to this character from the Bible. From her, we can learn much.

Before we proceed into Rizpah’s part in today’s passage, we need to understand the background of her story line. The Old Testament is often rich in continued storylines. Rizpah is one of those. The Bible is not just a collection of disjointed passages and books that have nothing to do with each other. In this case, 2 Samuel 21:1-14 is not the first time we have heard Rizpah’s name. Remember the last time she was mentioned in 2 Samuel?

Sometimes in life we get dealt a raw deal. That is certainly the case with Rizpah. it’s important that you realize that this incident in 2 Samuel 21 was not the first time Rizpah had become an innocent victim in a bigger battle that was out of her hands. I wonder do you ever feel like that? Something is going on in your life, and you’ve no control over it, and as far as you’re concerned it’s not your fault, and you class yourself a victim. Well Rizpah was in 2 Samuel 21, but if you turn with me now to 2 Samuel chapter 3, you will see the first time (as far as we know from the biblical record) that Rizpah suffered victimization from the selfish hands of others. In 2 Samuel 3:7, Ishobesheth accuses Abner, the general of Saul’s armies of having sexual relations with Rizpah, one of Saul’s concubines. There’s her name! It’s the same woman!

If anyone was to have sexual relations with one of the king’s women, whether it was the king’s wife or the king’s harem, such an act was understood in the customs of the ancient Middle Eastern cultures as an attempt to take the throne. So by taking his bride or by taking one of his concubines, you were saying that you were in authority and you wanted, or were taking the kingdom. Now what’s going on here in 2 Samuel 3 is that Saul has died, and Ishbosheth Saul’s son has now accused Abner of relations with Rizpah. He suspects that Abner’s toward the house of Saul is dissolving.

Now, Abner denies vigorously that he even laid a hand on Rizpah. If Abner’s loyalty was waning before, this incident causes pushes Abner over the edge. He immediately transfers his allegiance to David and brings the eleven tribes over with him. Now we don’t know from the Bible whether Abner was guilty of sleeping with Rizpah – but either way, it doesn’t really matter whether he did or whether he didn’t, who is the victim in this whole scenario? Rizpah. Regardless of whether the accusation was true or not, her reputation in the royal court of the house of Saul was now in tatters, and all at the expense of someone else’s squabble.

Before we even get to today’s scene in 2 Samuel 21, the biblical author gives us glimpse of Rizpah as a woman who was beset by tragedy that was out of her control. Her reputation ruined by an accusation that may or may not have been true. To make matters worse, Abner leaves her in the dust to go over to David’s side. She is left behind as a woman that is now considered a tainted woman by the royal court. Many feel like that in life. Now Rizpah suffers a second cruelty, for her two sons to King Saul are now hanging on a tree – Armoni is the name of one, and Mephibosheth the name of the other (and that is not Mephibosheth that was Jonathan’s son) – and they are both dead.

To add insult to injury, the fact of the gruesome death is not enough, they are not granted a proper burial – there they are left to hang in the open air, exposed to the elements. Did Rizpah’s deserve this? Had she done anything to warrant such treatment? She is suffering for the selfish sins of another. We see what those sins are, turn back with me to 2 Samuel 21 and verse 2 and we see that the cause of this bloodshed is because of the bloodthirsty house of Saul. The biblical author paints a portrait for us of Rizpah as one who was beset by tragedies that were not of her own making. The only other biblical character that I can think that had similar multiple tragedies that befell him or her that were out of their own control was Job.

Man, Rizpah is a hard luck woman. She has been given a raw deal in life. We probably know somebody like Rizpah in our own lives in the 21st century. If you pick up on this character in the biblical play that is 1 and 2 Samuel, she is a person that we can identify with, some can sympathize with and even some who can empathize with. We all know people like Rizpah. Maybe, we are a Rizpah. Maybe, you have gotten a raw deal in life. Many of us can blame our mistakes and bad decisions for our lot in life, but there are those who seem to be beset by tragedies (notice the plural of tragedy). Some of us seem to have tragedy befall us one after another.

What can we learn from Rizpah that we can use in our 21st century lives then? Let’s read the passage, 2 Samuel 21:1-14, now, and see how Rizpah handles this situation:

Chapter 21
1 There was a famine during David’s reign that lasted for three years, so David asked the Lord about it. And the Lord said, “The famine has come because Saul and his family are guilty of murdering the Gibeonites.”

2 So the king summoned the Gibeonites. They were not part of Israel but were all that was left of the nation of the Amorites. The people of Israel had sworn not to kill them, but Saul, in his zeal for Israel and Judah, had tried to wipe them out. 3 David asked them, “What can I do for you? How can I make amends so that you will bless the Lord’s people again?”

4 “Well, money can’t settle this matter between us and the family of Saul,” the Gibeonites replied. “Neither can we demand the life of anyone in Israel.”

“What can I do then?” David asked. “Just tell me and I will do it for you.”

5 Then they replied, “It was Saul who planned to destroy us, to keep us from having any place at all in the territory of Israel. 6 So let seven of Saul’s sons be handed over to us, and we will execute them before the Lord at Gibeon, on the mountain of the Lord.[a]”

“All right,” the king said, “I will do it.” 7 The king spared Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth,[b] who was Saul’s grandson, because of the oath David and Jonathan had sworn before the Lord. 8 But he gave them Saul’s two sons Armoni and Mephibosheth, whose mother was Rizpah daughter of Aiah. He also gave them the five sons of Saul’s daughter Merab,[c] the wife of Adriel son of Barzillai from Meholah. 9 The men of Gibeon executed them on the mountain before the Lord. So all seven of them died together at the beginning of the barley harvest.

10 Then Rizpah daughter of Aiah, the mother of two of the men, spread burlap on a rock and stayed there the entire harvest season. She prevented the scavenger birds from tearing at their bodies during the day and stopped wild animals from eating them at night. 11 When David learned what Rizpah, Saul’s concubine, had done, 12 he went to the people of Jabesh-gilead and retrieved the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan. (When the Philistines had killed Saul and Jonathan on Mount Gilboa, the people of Jabesh-gilead stole their bodies from the public square of Beth-shan, where the Philistines had hung them.) 13 So David obtained the bones of Saul and Jonathan, as well as the bones of the men the Gibeonites had executed.

14 Then the king ordered that they bury the bones in the tomb of Kish, Saul’s father, at the town of Zela in the land of Benjamin. After that, God ended the famine in the land.

In this passage, we see Rizpah’s deep love for her sons caused her to take sackcloth (symbol of sorrow), spread it on a rock and she kept a vigil day and night over the bodies of her sons, keeping the birds and animals from devouring their bodies. This watch could have lasted anywhere from three to six months. Could you imagine how she felt? Not only had her life been in tatters since the Abner incident but now she was forced to live with the sacrificial deaths of her sons because of the sinful actions of Saul. Their deaths though sacrificial were still the deaths of her sons. Her actions show us true devotion to God even in the face of a world that has come crashing down on her. Her love for her sons was unaffected by the tragedy. Her belief in their honor led to a proper burial. Her perseverance brought David to reconcile himself to the legacy of Saul. Her endurance shows that we sometimes cannot see what our faith in God will produce – we just trust Him regardless of circumstance. Even in this situation where there is no sense to her as to why this happened to her sons, she continues to have faith as demonstrated by her endurance in this effort.

Sure, you know this woman is heartbroken (if you have ever lost a child to premature death you can identify with her). Her two sons were dead way too soon. Our sons and daughters are supposed to bury us not the other way around. Others may think her way of dealing with her obvious grief was pretty wacko even for the time period involved here (the wackiness of her act by human standards is why the author of 2 Samuel chose to include this information). Sometimes, in grief, we must put one foot in front of the other day by day. Nothing else and nothing more. We deal with a sudden death in different ways. However, Rizpah in doing what she was doing was defending the honor of her sons. So, she was actually productively handling her grief.

She was there as an act of love and devotion. She was not permitted to move the bodies of her dead sons, but she could keep the buzzards and coyotes away! What a testimony to abiding love! It reaches past the boundaries of this life and extends beyond the grave. Death could not diminish her love. Though her boys were grown and dead, though their bodies were left hanging as a sign of contempt and condemnation, she still loved them.

The news of this reached David and he was so moved by Rizpah’s actions that he went personally and retrieved the bones of Saul and Jonathon and buried them, along with these seven men in the tomb of Saul’s father. Because of Rizpah, the saga of King Saul ends with an honorable burial, an act that perhaps symbolized David’s own reconciliation with the man who had persecuted him. Not only this, her actions also won, for her sons, an honorable burial, instead of their bodies hanging in disgrace and being devoured by wild animals. Here is a woman who was grieving deeply, yet she allowed her grief and love to motivate her to action, and her actions brought peace and reconciliation. After this, God is entreated for the land of Israel and the drought was lifted. Her actions were a catalyst for closure. They brought closure to the famine, closure to the feud between the house of Saul and the house of David and closure in her own life and loss. Rizpah was a healer, a reconciler. This is a mark of true love. Love always seeks peace, healing, and reconciliation.

I could go on and on about this woman in this passage. Her act here in this passage teaches us much. She is a woman dealing with something that we often have to deal with in life – a tragedy befalling us that is not of our own making and we are left to figure out how to deal with it. She shows us a productive handling of her grief. She shows us love and devotion. She shows us enduring faith that we sometimes have to have when dealing with loss. We just simply trust God that there is some purpose in our suffering – it may take a long time or a lifetime to figure it out, but we still trust. We keep going. We don’t give up. We keep moving. We keep trusting in the Lord as a conscience decision.

Just read and re-read this passage and soak in what Rizpah does and means here. Tomorrow we will look at the symbolic nature of what she is doing in this passage. For now, we close with…

Amen and Amen.

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1 Samuel 1:1-8
Elkanah and His Family

There was a old poster when I was a kid that had a kitten hanging by one paw from a small limb of a small tree and the caption beneath said, “Hang in there baby! Friday’s coming!” Sometimes though it’s Monday and Friday seems an eternity away. That kind of typifies our story for today both in the Scripture lesson and in my illustration.

When we have our weeklong intensive seminar for my doctoral program, I feel like the Hannah in the room full of Peninnahs. Each one of my cohorts in the doctoral program are either senior pastors of larger churches, associate pastors are larger churches, or solo pastors as medium-sized or smaller churches. They are like Peninnah and are bearing children so to speak. They are pastoring. They are fulfilling their God-given purpose in life. And, then, there’s me. I am still just trying to get pregnant, so to speak, like Hannah. In ancient times, a woman’s purpose was many things to her family but the greatest achievement of a woman was to bear children. The lack of children was an embarrassment to her husband socially among men and, even women would belittle a childless woman as not fulfilling her true purpose in life. It was a social stigma. People would whisper behind your husband’s back and behind yours too as the childless woman. All Hannah wanted to be was a mother of a child. She wanted to fulfill her purpose in life.

I can relate to her pain in that it has been my calling that I feel at the soul level from the Holy Spirit that I am called to be a pastor. However, I am childless for a long time in that regard. I have not yet been allowed to become pregnant – to be in ministry. People wonder and even I wonder at times why I even am bothering with all this additional education. It seems silly to me at times why I am doing this. There are no churches beating down my door. Even my own church. I feel like Hannah. Wanting to be pregnant and to bear a child but God’s not allowing me to fulfill my purpose. Why is that? What’s wrong with me? Why is there no church that wants me? Why do I not have a burden to just go start a church myself? Church planting is a needed thing? Why do I not have a passion for that? Why is there no people group that I have a burden for? Just why did God put this calling on my heart and nothing is happening with it? I am no closer to being in full-time ministry now than when God first placed the call on my heart? Why do even my own elders at my own church not even see me in that light? Why did God give me the call if He is not going to provide me the opportunities to follow it at an established church or if He is not going to give me a burden and a passion for a people and a region that needs a church to be planted there for them? Am I just barking up the wrong tree and all this is just foolishness and a waste of time and that I am not suited for it anyway? Am I just comparable to a barren woman in the ancient Middle East?

I bet that Hannah was asking God those same questions. She was put on this earth to have babies. Even today when women have so many more options than they had in the ancient times of the Middle East and other regions of the world, too, there is a certain stigma associated with being a barren woman. There is just a certain fulfillment that a woman gains from being pregnant and bearing children. It is simply a part of the nature of a woman – to bear children – even today. That women can carry a child within their womb, grow another human being inside their bodies, and give birth (one of the most painful and beautiful experiences a woman can have) is a miracle of God. We men who really think about it must stand in awe of women in that regard. They are the live-givers and nurturers of life. It is part of their purpose for existence. For Hannah’s time, it was especially true. Did she feel left out? Left behind? Odd? Weird? Not worth as much? A step behind? A day late and a dollar short? Less than? Did she feel that God had forgotten about her? Let’s think about those things as we read through this first passage in 1 Samuel (1 Samuel 1:1-8), this morning:

1 There was a man named Elkanah who lived in Ramah in the region of Zuph[a] in the hill country of Ephraim. He was the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, of Ephraim. 2 Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah did not.

3 Each year Elkanah would travel to Shiloh to worship and sacrifice to the Lord of Heaven’s Armies at the Tabernacle. The priests of the Lord at that time were the two sons of Eli—Hophni and Phinehas. 4 On the days Elkanah presented his sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to Peninnah and each of her children. 5 And though he loved Hannah, he would give her only one choice portion[b] because the Lord had given her no children. 6 So Peninnah would taunt Hannah and make fun of her because the Lord had kept her from having children. 7 Year after year it was the same—Peninnah would taunt Hannah as they went to the Tabernacle.[c] Each time, Hannah would be reduced to tears and would not even eat.

8 “Why are you crying, Hannah?” Elkanah would ask. “Why aren’t you eating? Why be downhearted just because you have no children? You have me—isn’t that better than having ten sons?”

In this passage, we see that, although may great Old Testament leaders (such as Abraham, Jacob, and David) had more than one wife, this was not God’s intention for marriage. Genesis 2:24 states that in marriage, one man and one woman become one flesh. Why then did polygamy exist among God’s people? First, it was to produce more offspring to help in a man’s work and to assure the continuation of a man’s family line. Numerous children were a symbol of status and wealth at the time. Second, in societies such as in the ancient Middle East where there were full scale wars between nations, civil wars within nations, and border skirmishes quite frequently, man young men were killed in warfare, polygamy became a way of supporting women who otherwise would have remained unmarried and, as a result, most likely destitute. Nevertheless, polygamy often caused serious family problems, as we see here in this story of Hannah and Peninnah.

In this story, we see that Hannah had been unable to conceive children, and in the ancient Middle East, a childless woman was considered a failure. Her barrenness was a social embarrassment for her husband. Children were a very important part of the society’s economic structure. They were a source of labor for the family and it was a child’s duty to take care of their parents in their old age. If a wife could not bear children during this time in history, she was often obligated to give one of her servant girls to her husband to bear children for her on her behalf. Although Elkanah could have divorced her for her barrenness, he remained lovingly devoted to her despite social criticism and his rights under civil law. Part of God’s plan for Hannah involved postponing her years of childbearing. While Peninnah and Elkanah looked at her outward circumstances, God was moving ahead with His plan. Think of those in your sphere of influence that are struggling with God’s timing in answering their prayers and who need your love and help. By supporting those who are struggling, you may just help them remain steadfast in their faith and their confidence in His timing to bringing about the fulfillment of their life’s purpose in God’s plan.

For me, the thing that I have to remember that my timing is selfish and shortsighted. I may be barren now and have been for a while since the calling was laid on my heart by God. By I must trust the Eternal One’s timing. I must trust that He is working out His plan right now in my life even though there is no visible evidence that His call to ministry is anything but a dream right now. I kept reminding myself of the story of Joseph in prison after being falsely accused of taking advantage of Potipher’s wife. He languished by human standards in prison for 12 years. 12 YEARS! I am sure that he has his days of doubt and where he was down and out and where he felt barren and where he felt that God had forgotten him. But he kept plugging away. He kept being faithful and earnest to God. He kept holding on to that small sliver of hope that God gives us sometimes. Sometimes that small sliver of hope from God is all we have to hang on to. Sometimes that small sliver of hope is what God wants us to hang on to so that He can teach us real faith – that faith that you have when everything else in your life is screaming that you should not have faith in God’s plan. That’s faith. That’s real faith. That’s where we become closer to God is when we have nothing else but His hope to hang onto. Let us remember that Joseph by not letting his outward barrenness control him, he was able to continue to give God his best even in prision. He was rewarded eventually with what God’s true calling was for his life – to be the savior and preserver of God’s people and even the people of Egypt. If he had let go of that small sliver of hope that allowed him to be faithful to God despite his prison circumstances he would have never been in position to get to his rightful place in God’s plan. Hannah continued to be faithful with her small sliver of hope and she became the mother of Samuel. Samuel become one of the most important men in the history of Israel – transitioning the country from a loose band of tribes ruled by a rag-tag bunch of judges into a nation ruled by a centralized monarchy. She found her purpose in being his mother. She influenced his character and who he became. She played an important role in God’s plan. She held onto that small sliver of hope even when the world was chiding her for being barren and what an embarrassment she was.

Whatever you are going through, hold on that small sliver of hope. God is working His plan for your life. He is working in the background even when you can’t see the evidence right now. Trust that He has a plan. Hold on to that hope. Hold on. Hold on. You will see someday the whole purpose for the barren time right now. Hold on. Hold on.

Amen and Amen.

 

Joshua 6:1-27

The Fall of Jericho

My favorite song right now is “Do It Again” by Elevation Worship, the worship band for Elevation Church, the multi-site and one of the top 10 fastest growing churches in America with campuses across the Charlotte, NC area. It is has that great combination of great lyrics and great music. The opening stanza’s lyrics to the song go like this:

 

Walking around these walls

I thought by now they’d fall

But You have never failed me yet

Waiting for change to come

Knowing the battle’s won

For You have never failed me yet

 

The idea of this opening stanza is that sometimes we wonder why we are doing what we are doing for the Lord. Sometimes it’s hard to see the end game. It’s an idea that is close to my heart right now as I spiritually struggle with what the future holds. In the song, I see a group of Israelites on like the fifth pass around Jericho on the fifth day. They had walked around Jericho four times on four different days now. They are on the fifth pass on the fifth day. They still have tomorrow single pass around the walls of Jericho. And then there are the six passes on the seventh day where nothing will happen before that fateful seventh pass when it is time to shout, to blow the horns, and for the walls to fall and for the hand to hand, house to house Battle of Jericho to begin.

 

It kind of reminds you about playing football back in school. You have the two a day practices in the August heat with no game on the immediate horizon. You are busting your butt doing drill after drill and all the exercises, all the wind sprints, the suicides, the hill climbs, the stadium step climbs, the dreaded six inch drills, the high step running through the tires, the one on one blocking drills. The two-a-day practices in August are more about conditioning than they are about installing an offense and defense and about running plays. It’s about breaking down your pride and pushing you to your physical limit. All of it is done so that when the game is on the line in the fall that you have the stamina, the heart, and the willingness to follow instructions to win the game.

 

In both situations, the fifth time around Jericho with much behind you and much ahead that does not necessarily produce immediate results was a test of the soldiers’ willingness to follow God. Just as the August two-a-days test your willingness to lay it all on the line for the team, we are faced with those situations ourselves at times. I remember in football, there were always people that quit during August two-a-days. Those that wanted the glory of game day without the hellish work of the August two-a-days. Imagine being the soldiers at Jericho. I wonder if any of them quite on the fifth day – thinking it stupid that soldiers should have do this silliness of walking around the city of Jericho in the hot weather of spring and/or summer in Palestine. What’s the point of it. Why can’t the walls just fall down after one pass? Why must we do this day after day with no results. Why can’t we just attack the city now? What is God waiting on?

 

Walking around these walls

I thought by now they’d fall

 

 

For me, I am walking around the walls thinking by now they should have fallen so that I can go into Jericho and begin the fight. Why is it that God gave me the passion, the desire, and the calling to go into ministry but yet nothing has happened? Walking around these walls. Why have the walls not fallen? Why has there not been any opportunity for my to have my entry into the “city” of full-time ministry.

 

Some have suggested that I plant a church if there is nothing opening up for me in established churches. Yes, that’s certainly an alternative. But someone once told me that you should have a burden for a certain people group or location of people to plant a church. He said that you needed to have that burden be so great on you that you can do nothing else but to go that people and/or location and plant a church. You ache for those people and their lostness. I wish that were the case for me. I wish that I had that burden. Maybe I will someday soon. Maybe, I will encounter a people and a place that God just strikes me down to the core to go to them. But maybe right now, God is testing my resolve to follow Him. I am on the fifth pass around Jericho. I still have tomorrow’s single pass and the next day after that there is the 6 passes before the all important final and seventh pass. I think that we all have had times in our past where we have gotten on spiritual highs and dedicated ourselves to be better Christians. Then, something happens where it gets too hard and we quit. Sometimes I think God puts us through spiritual two-a-days like in August preparing for the high school football season.

 

To continue with the football analogy, what if you have made it through two-a-days in August and you haven’t quit. But now it’s football season and you must endure classes all day during the week and then practice after school 4 days a week. Those after school practices can test your resolve too. Three hours of intense work after you have already been in school all day. Then, after you go through all that work during the week, you are not a starter yet. You must put in all that work but you are not a starter on Friday night. That can test your resolve to your team. You put in all the work but you do not get to play under the lights with the stands filled with fans. It’s like walking around the walls of Jericho on that fifth day. You are putting in the work but no results yet. You are doing the work but nothing is happening.

 

It’s that idea of following through on God’s direction even when you do not see immediate results is what struck me this morning when I read this 6th chapter of Joshua this morning. How often do we give up on God’s call on our lives when it gets difficult or when there are no immediate astounding results? That’s what I want us to have in mind as we read it together now:

 

6 Now the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in.

 

2 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. 3 March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. 4 Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. 5 When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.”

 

6 So Joshua son of Nun called the priests and said to them, “Take up the ark of the covenant of the Lord and have seven priests carry trumpets in front of it.” 7 And he ordered the army, “Advance! March around the city, with an armed guard going ahead of the ark of the Lord.”

 

8 When Joshua had spoken to the people, the seven priests carrying the seven trumpets before the Lord went forward, blowing their trumpets, and the ark of the Lord’s covenant followed them. 9 The armed guard marched ahead of the priests who blew the trumpets, and the rear guard followed the ark. All this time the trumpets were sounding. 10 But Joshua had commanded the army, “Do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout. Then shout!” 11 So he had the ark of the Lord carried around the city, circling it once. Then the army returned to camp and spent the night there.

 

12 Joshua got up early the next morning and the priests took up the ark of the Lord. 13 The seven priests carrying the seven trumpets went forward, marching before the ark of the Lord and blowing the trumpets. The armed men went ahead of them and the rear guard followed the ark of the Lord, while the trumpets kept sounding. 14 So on the second day they marched around the city once and returned to the camp. They did this for six days.

 

15 On the seventh day, they got up at daybreak and marched around the city seven times in the same manner, except that on that day they circled the city seven times. 16 The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the army, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city! 17 The city and all that is in it are to be devoted[a] to the Lord. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent. 18 But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. 19 All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the Lord and must go into his treasury.”

 

20 When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. 21 They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.

 

22 Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring her out and all who belong to her, in accordance with your oath to her.” 23 So the young men who had done the spying went in and brought out Rahab, her father and mother, her brothers and sisters and all who belonged to her. They brought out her entire family and put them in a place outside the camp of Israel.

 

24 Then they burned the whole city and everything in it, but they put the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron into the treasury of the Lord’s house. 25 But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho—and she lives among the Israelites to this day.

 

26 At that time Joshua pronounced this solemn oath: “Cursed before the Lord is the one who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho:

 

“At the cost of his firstborn son

    he will lay its foundations;

at the cost of his youngest

    he will set up its gates.”

 

27 So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land.

 

The first thing that comes to your mind when reading this chapter/passage is the question, why? Why did God give Joshua all these complicated instructions for battle? I think there are several reasons. First, God wanted it to be undeniably clear that the battle’s outcome would depend on Him, and not upon Israel’s weapons and expertise. To support this claim, it is why priests carry the Ark of the Covenant, not soldiers, lead the Israelites into battle. Second, this strange military maneuver was a test of the faith and resolve of the Israelite people in following the Lord’s instructions completely.

 

That’s the thing. So many times in life we are quitters. We don’t want to put in the work necessary to achieve our goals. We sometimes quit sports teams when we are young because the practices are too hard and we don’t get to start on game day. It takes dedication to the team to put up with the hard hitting practices during the week to then sit on the sidelines waiting for your opportunity to get in the game. You have the heart and the passion for the game, but it’s just not your time to start. What if it takes three years for you to become a starter? Are you willing to continue to work at it till it’s your turn. Are you willing to continue walk around those walls on the fifth day with still more walks to come before the big chance to show what you’ve got?

 

Sometimes, God tests our resolve to follow Him. If He is going to entrust us with much, He wants to see how obedient we are going to be on that fifth trip around Jericho with still much more to come before He grants us the right to join the fight, to jump in the game. Sometimes, you and I find ourselves in spiritual dry places where nothing seems to be happening. We pray and pray and God seems not to hear us. We do and do and work and work but God does not reward us. We keep putting in the effort but nothing seems to come of it. Are you in that place? Are you in a spiritual desert where you feel like you are just going through the motions and you see no results? You can either quit on the fifth time around Jericho or you can keep going. If we quit on the fifth time around Jericho, we will miss that miracle on the seventh time around on the seventh day. How many miracles have we missed because we gave up on God, we gave up on prayer, we gave up on doing what He called us to do, because it was too hard, too mundane, too little immediate results.

 

The thing that keeps being drilled in my mind by God here lately is “keep plowing the field in front of you.” Sometimes we have to keep our land to the plow and till the land for many months before we see crops grow. Sometimes God wants to make sure that we are going to keep our hands to the plow before He reveals the fruit and the harvest. When we get into full-time ministry there are going to be times where the pressure’s on and there is no way out of making the tough decisions, no way out but doing what is unpopular but what is godly, no way out but to follow God instead of following public opinion. He wants to see how dedicated we are in the trusting department before He entrusts us with the souls of the sheep.

 

Are you in dry place? Has God not answered your prayers? Has the miracle you asked for not yet come? Are you studying the Bible but not getting anything out of it? Is your prayer life hit a place where it just feels empty? Is what you are asking God for not coming? Are you a single mom just trying to keep your head above water and there’s no end in sight to the responsibilities of both parents that you are carrying by yourself? Are you praying for your grown child to find their way in life so you don’t have to worry about them anymore but there is no change in them? Are you a couple who has been trying to get pregnant for five years but nothing has happened yet?

 

Keep plowing the field. Keep trusting. Keep praying. Sometimes God breaks down to the point of giving up on Him so that we will know that what He gives us as the answer is truly a God thing. Sometimes, He pushes the envelope with us to see how strong and how long we are willing to trust Him. We are temporary and God is eternal. Sometimes, his clock is different from ours. Sometimes, we have to just keep plowing the field til the miracle comes. Sometimes we have to keep walking around Jericho the fifth time, the sixth time on the sixth day and then the first six times on the seventh day before the miracle come on that seventh trip around. Sometimes we have to pay our dues on our football team before we become a Friday night starter. Sometimes we have to pray for years before our prayers are answered. In the process God has taught us to trust Him and not ourselves.

 

Walking around these walls.

I thought by now they’d fall.

But You have never failed me yet

BUT YOU HAVE NEVER FAILED ME YET.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 28:1-14

Blessings for Obedience

How often do you sit back and think about how many blessings that God has given you? It is so easy to focus on the negative things that happen to us, and not be able to see the blessings that we have been given. We take our blessings for granted and focus on the things that we do not have or that God has not given us yet. It is kind of the opposite of a married man glorifying his single days and how much fun they were yet not remembering that there the good times of single-dom were the highlights, the peaks of that period of life surrounded by valleys of loneliness. So, sometimes we must take stock of the blessings that we have been given and give them some focus instead of the problems that we have.

 

When I think of how God has taken care of me over the years, it makes me stand in awe. There are so many times that He could have just washed His hands of me and tossed me away. However, He is a God who loves us. He is a God that will never abandon us nor forsake us. I just think of the times even when I was not a Christ follower that I can now see how He took care of me even then. I think of how He has sine then too. I don’t have to look very far. I just have to think of my career and how He has blessed. The blessings from my career have led to so many other blessings as well.

 

I remember right before I accepted Christ as my Savior, I lost my job due to some stupid mistakes. It was right during the middle of the recession back in 2000 when what they called “the internet bubble” in the stock market burst. Overnight, stock values dropped and the economy went in the tank for about year and a half. I was out of work for about two months but even then I was underemployed. I did not return to full professional employment until about six months after I had lost my job. However, in the intervening time, God provided me an opportunity to work for a private investigator service going undercover as a warehouse employee at the big Bi-Lo grocery store chain warehouse in Mauldin, SC (just outside of Greenville). The company, Bi-Lo Stores, Inc., was trying to figure out why they had such a high turnover rate among their warehouse workers in that warehouse. The PI service was hired to help figure it out. The PI service then ran ads to get people to work undercover for them posing as just a normal warehouse worker. We would work a daily shift at the warehouse and then file weekly reports about what we saw and observed there. Those few of us that took this job received not only a paycheck from Bi-Lo but we also got the same amount of pay from the private investigator agency. This was a blessing. It was the hardest physical labor I have done for pay in my life. It was “balls to wall” work everyday. I was 10 hours of work a day for 5 days. Overtime was good, but by the end of the week, man, I was wore completely out. But, regardless of the aches and pains and the abuse that you took at that warehouse from not only the supervisors but from the more tenured warehouse workers, it could have been seen as something dreadful (and at times when going through that stretch I did) but it kept food on the table for my family. It was not what I was making before, but it kept my family afloat until I could return to a job in my profession. That was a blessing.

 

One other time that I lost my job was in 2007. The company that I was working for in Charlotte was bought out by this British company. They did not need our corporate headquarters as they already had one in London. They shut down our corporate operations there in Charlotte and everyone of us 20 folks that worked at that office lost our jobs. I was out of work for about 4 weeks after that. However, as I was applying for jobs all over the place, I came across this consulting firm, Vaco Resources. They would send out professional accounting consultants to companies to help with special projects, to fill accounting positions on an interim basis, to bring in expertise for companies when they did not have the expertise on staff. So, right during the middle of the Great Recession (2007-2010), I was able to work as a consultant on a long-term project down in Duncan, SC for the company, AFL Telecommunications. The consulting job was a boon for me. Not only was I making an hourly consulting rate that was equivalent to what I was making at the company I had been working for in Charlotte, but I was getting per diem for my hotel and meals. It was a good gig. I ended up as part of this consulting gig having to go to California to help clean up the accounting function at the subsidiary, Fujikura America, Inc. (FAI). It was while I was out there that I was at the right place at the right time to get the job as comptroller of FAI – the job I hold continue to hold now, some 9 years later. This job has been a real blessing to me and my wife. Over the past nine (9) years this job has blessed us in so many ways. We have met people in our personal lives that (1) led Elena to the Lord and (2) challenged me to grow up as a Christ follower. This job has allowed us to clean up my credit to the point that we have about as high of credit scores as you can have. This job has allowed us to be generous.

 

This job has led us back to South Carolina 7 years ago and to LifeSong Church where we have grown so much in Christ. As part of the maturation in Christ, we have learned to live more simply and not try to keep up with the Joneses. So, while this job has taken care of us so abundantly financially, we live simply and have been able to prepare for the future financially and, at the same time, be generous to our church, family, and friends. We have been blessed. It all comes from being obedient to the Lord. He blesses those who are obedient to Him. Sure, there have been struggles along the way. Everything has not been perfect. There are challenges in my secular job that on some days have made me want to cry and throw in the towel. Like even this week, it was brought to my attention that I have to really ramp up my management of one of my employees that will require me to more closely supervise this person so that they will become what the company wants them to become. It will require me to micro-manage a person. It is not my style as a leader and it will test me in what I consider distasteful ways. There are challenges in my calling to the ministry that are ongoing right now. I could get frustrated at God not opening doors for me to go into full-time ministry. Sometimes, I wonder why He is not opening these doors. Sometimes, I wonder why He even gave me the calling. I have done what He has led me to do but now we just wait and it gets frustrating sometimes to the point of wanting throw in the towel. There have been challenges in my personal life when it comes to my relationship with my youngest daughter. It is so frustrating sometimes with that situation that it just makes me want to cry and throw in the towel.

 

Life is never easy. There are always challenges. However, sometimes, we have to take a break from the challenges and look at how God has blessed us over the years. Just look at what He has done in our lives. For me, just looking back at the trail of my life after I lost my job in 2007 and how God took care of me will do that. Just looking at the things, events, and people that He has orchestrated into the lives of my wife and me during the past decade, it is simply amazing what God does with those who are faithful and obedient to Him. That’s what I thought about this morning when I read this passage, Deuteronomy 28:1-14. Let’s read it together now:

 

28 If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. 2 All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God:

 

3 You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country.

 

4 The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.

 

5 Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed.

 

6 You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.

 

7 The Lord will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven.

 

8 The Lord will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The Lord your God will bless you in the land he is giving you.

 

9 The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the Lord your God and walk in obedience to him. 10 Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will fear you. 11 The Lord will grant you abundant prosperity—in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your ground—in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you.

 

12 The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. 13 The Lord will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom. 14 Do not turn aside from any of the commands I give you today, to the right or to the left, following other gods and serving them.

 

Sometimes, we have to quit being like ants crawling on a basketball where we can only see what is in front of us. We need to step back and see the whole basketball. We need to really examine the totality of what God has done in our lives. He takes care of us, even sometimes, when we do not realize He is taking care of us. He will bless those even in the smallest things. He will bless our coming in and our going out. He is in the details of our lives. He does care about us. He does guide and direct our steps. Sometimes, we get so caught up in the details of life and the immediate things around us that we fail to see what God has done. We need to step back then and take a look at the whole picture of where we were when we met Christ as our Savior and where we are now. Think about the blessings that He has given us. Think about the good things and not just the bad. Even the bad things are used by Him to grow us into more mature Christians. Take stock of what God has done. That can bring a smile to your face and help you deal with the challenges that you are facing now and the ones that lie ahead. God is in it. Remember that! You will see that God has had His hand in your development thus far. He has blessed you in sometimes earthly ways but most definitely in eternal ways. Trust Him. Obey Him. Observe His blessings that come.

 

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 10:12-11:7 (Part 4 of 7)

A Call to Love and Obedience

Last week in a conversation in a meeting, I mentioned that we can never forget the joy of our salvation. When we hold on to that joy, we remember why it is that we are here in leadership positions within the bride of Christ, his church. If we forget our own salvation and what we are saved from – eternity separated from God in hell, then our leadership becomes about getting things done. It becomes about getting the assigned task done. When we forget the joy of our salvation, we forget the vision. We forget the urgency. We all have people that get under our skin in this life but do you really wish eternal damnation on even your worst enemy. When we forget that immediacy of knowing what we really deserve is hell for our sin-filled lives but that we are saved through grace by faith. Really think about it! You and I both are sinners and we, according to what God has said in His Word, cannot exist in the presence of God in heaven on our own merits.

 

When we commit our first sin, we are disqualified from heaven and from the presence of God. Done. First time. That’s it. Much less a lifetime of sins. Each one of us disqualifies ourselves on a daily basis with each and every sin that we commit. And we commit them! Don’t lie! Just think about the stuff that you just think about but don’t do. We are judged for even every sinful thought that we have. We must be perfect to go to heaven. We cannot just do more good than bad. There is no scale that will get weighed as some religions suggest. What is required is perfection. We cannot achieve through meditation and through becoming one with the universe. We cannot get away from the fact that you and I are just basically evil people who cannot get through the day without having a sinful thought much less action.

 

What is it that we deserve? If God is a God of justice and He is a fair God, then everyone does not get to go to Heaven. In our modern sanitized world we want to sanitize the heaven and hell issue. If everyone gets to go to heaven no matter what they have done. It means everyone right. Otherwise, there would be a flaw. In that vein, then Hitler gets to go heaven. Unrepentent rapists, murderers, you name it. We all get to go. There is no justice in that. Therefore, because God is loving and just there is this choice. Accept Jesus as Your Savior and let him fundamentally change your life. Go to heaven and enjoy Revelations 21:1-7. Reject Him, shaking your fist at Him and continue living your own way according to your own rules regardless of who gets hurt. Revelation 21:8 tells us you will go to hell.

 

For a moment let us try to imagine what it would be like to die and go to hell. Try to imagine that for every single moment, throughout all eternity, a time without end, every inch of your body will be in absolute pain. It will be more suffering than anything you have ever had before, worse than the most excruciating

sunburn. You might possible say to yourself, “Surely the pain will subside!”, but it never comes.  An eternity without rest or relief. Your throat becomes raw from screaming and wailing as spasms of anguish drop you into the molten lava. You go under the surface gnashing your teeth. As you rise for air, A pleading scream comes from your burning, flaming, fiery lips. A cry for “Water” is felt throughout your whole being as you begin to bitterly weep. Without warning, you find yourself falling in the darkness. You can feel something solid next to you and you grab on. `Oh, if only I could stop falling!’ you think and you try to cling to the solid surface, but the lava is too much…you are slipping. Again, you fall into the bubbling lake and you swallow another mouthful of burning slime. The horrid smell of blazing sulfur combine with the sickening odor of burning hair and scorching flesh linger in your nose and nausea overwhelms you. Something suddenly reaches out of the darkness and grabs you. In terror, you cry out as you begin to feel teeth gnashing at your flesh. You violently struggle, desperate to shake the gnashing person off in the darkness. And this, this, my friends is just one scene from an eternity there. This goes on for eternity and that’s a long time.

 

When we forget that this description of eternity is what we deserve for our lives that are less than perfect and full of sin, we forget the utter joy of our day of salvation. Jesus covers us in His perfection when we accept Him as our Savior and Lord. When the Father looks upon us, He sees Jesus. He’s the one who took the wrap for us. We cannot be perfect so we cannot be in the presence of God in eternity without the covering of Jesus Christ’s perfection. He imputes it to us. He gives it to us. We do not earn it or even deserve it because we cannot take away our stain of sin. Only He can do that! When we forget what we are destined for, we forget the joy of salvation. We forget that we have been set free from our sentence to hell.

 

When we remember, that’s a game changer. When we remember, we live lives of thanksgiving and of service to our Lord. Let’s read Deuteronomy 10:12-11:7 together today with that in mind:

 

12 And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

 

14 To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. 15 Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today. 16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. 20 Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. 21 He is the one you praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. 22 Your ancestors who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.

Love and Obey the Lord

 

11 Love the Lord your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always. 2 Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the Lord your God: his majesty, his mighty hand, his outstretched arm; 3 the signs he performed and the things he did in the heart of Egypt, both to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his whole country; 4 what he did to the Egyptian army, to its horses and chariots, how he overwhelmed them with the waters of the Red Sea[a] as they were pursuing you, and how the Lord brought lasting ruin on them. 5 It was not your children who saw what he did for you in the wilderness until you arrived at this place, 6 and what he did to Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab the Reubenite, when the earth opened its mouth right in the middle of all Israel and swallowed them up with their households, their tents and every living thing that belonged to them. 7 But it was your own eyes that saw all these great things the Lord has done

 

In this series of blogs, we are talking about how we should relate to God. Today, we are talking about serving the Lord. Why do we serve the Lord? We serve the Lord because we are eternally in His debt for what He provided us through Jesus Christ. We serve the Lord because He is sovereign and it is He who provides for us everything that we need.

 

We also serve the Lord because we want others to be drawn the saving grace of Jesus Christ. When people see us serving the Lord by serving others, we are seen as different and unique and there is something about that which draws people unto the Lord. We serve the Lord as thanksgiving and that thanksgiving should give us an urgency to see souls saved. When we remember the joy of our salvation, no longer can we say oh it’s somebody else’s job to teach people about Jesus Christ.

 

When we remember what we have been saved from (like Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed right before they fall into the swimming pool in It’s A Wonderful Life), when we remember how we have danced on the edge of eternity in hell in the absence of Jesus Christ, then, it should well up in us to serve God and to serve others as an urgent act of thanksgiving each and every day.

 

When we forget the joy of our salvation…when we forget what we deserved in the absence of our salvation…ministry becomes a job. It becomes about getting tasks done. It becomes about the next show and the next project and the next event. Getting it done. When we remember the joy of our salvation, we jump right in there and serve the Lord because we love Him so much for what He did for us on the cross. We jump right in there and serve because we see it as an opportunity to draw others unto the Lord no matter what we a doing. We see it as everything making a difference. Including making sure connection cards are in the seatbacks of chairs so people can turn in their prayer requests so that a pastor can call them and pray with them and maybe even lead them to Christ over it. What if that connection card is not there? Everything matters when we serve the Lord from the point of the joy of our salvation. Nothing is unimportant.

 

Never forget the joy of your salvation. Comprehend what it means, really! Think on it! It will restore your joy and it will re-energize your need to serve the Lord. That’s why we serve Him. He saved us! Never forget it!

 

 

Amen and Amen.

Matthew 20:1-16
Jesus Tells the Parable of the Vineyard Workers
When I think of this parable, I kind of modernize it to some of the experiences I have had in life. Growing up as a Methodist preacher’s kid, you move a lot. New towns. New places. New churches. Have to start over again. Growing up I was pretty good basketball player because the countless hours that my brother and I would spend back then in the backyard playing basketball. My brother was always like 3 to 4 inches taller than me and still is. So I became a pretty good outside shooter in basketball. I could never drive inside on my brother because he would make it so hard for me to get a shot off over him. So I got pretty good at jump shots from outside. It served me well growing up. Always a good shooter for whatever team I played on. So this parable is kind of like that for me.

It’s kind of like moving to a new town and you are a really good basketball player but when you go try out for the youth team or high school team in the new town that there is already an established team in place and no one really knows your talent so they don’t consider you as a starter because you haven’t grown up in the town. You are an outsider. You are not part of the original crew. So, you do what you can. You play when you can. You know you’ve got the skills to be a starter but you just do what you can when you can. You contribute in whatever way you can. One day, you will get the chance to be on the court full-time. On that day, it will not matter how long you’ve been on the court full time. It will matter then only that you are on the court. When the time comes, you will be on the court. It will not matter if you have been playing with your teammates since you were kids, it will matter that you are on the court and in the game. Regardless of how long you’ve been playing the game, when you are on the court none of that matters. You are in the game and on the court. In that light, let’s read Matthew 20:1-16 together:

 

20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius[a] for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

 

This parable teaches a whopping big lesson in what it means to be a Christian. It does not matter when you come to the game of salvation, it only matters that you get to be on the court. There is no difference to the Lord that you came to the game later than others, it only matters that you came to game. When you boil it down to the barest essence, none of us deserve to be in the vineyard of God no matter how long we have been there. One minute of salvation is the same as 50 years of salvation. We are all just sinners saved by grace.

To continue with the basketball analogy, some of us got on the court late in the game. But you know, the box scores will show that we were in the game. Our minutes played may not be the same as those who were in the game from the tip-off, but it will show that we were in the game. It is the same with salvation. One minute saved is the same as someone who is in their late forties and has been saved since they were seven years old. Sure, there are maturity issues that are different between the one who has been saved since seven years old and the one who has been saved for seven minutes. Sure, the long-time Christian may be more mature and can discern that which is of God and that which is not better than the seven minute Christian, but the only difference between the two is the fact that the Holy Spirit has been at work longer in the more mature Christian than the infant Christian. Both the infant Christian and the mature Christian are constantly in need of grace. We are all sinners in need of grace. We all sin. Mature Christians are better at identifying sin as sin but we still sin all of us. The one thing that we all have in common is our need for grace. We all need the covering of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for us. On our own, we deserve nothing whether we have just walked out of a life of sin or have been saved for years and years. What matters is that we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. We should celebrate those who come to Christ in the eleventh hour as much or more than we celebrate those who have been saved for decades. We should encourage those who have been saved for minutes to join right in there with those who have been saved for years working in the vineyard. Our wage will be the same no matter how long we have been saved. When we pass on into eternity, it will matter not how long that we have been saved, it will matter only that we are. Same wage no matter how long you have been working the vineyard. We are all to celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ saved us from an eternity separated from God. We celebrate the victory of living in the presence of God for eternity. We celebrate being there.

There are those who think that because they have been in church and have been saved for years and years that there is some hierarchy to this thing. You’ve only been saved for two years. I’ve been saved for twenty. You’ve only been saved for fifteen years. I’ve been saved for fifty. Some of us get jealous when we see those who have been saved less time than us move into positions of visibility within a church and think that they don’t deserve it because we have been here longer. We should rather celebrate that they are using their talents that God has given them rather than being jealous of them. We should seek our own ways of using our talents for the glory of God rather than being jealous of others because they are younger in the faith. Also, we should not hold those back who are following their calling just because they have not been in this church business as long as we have. Just because a person hasn’t been working for Christ as long as we have should not cause us to hold others back from expressing their faith through service to the Lord in the talents that God has called them to use. Just because someone got into the game later than we did doesn’t mean we should deny them the ball and only pass to those who have been in the game as long as we have. We should seek out those new in the faith and develop their skills so that they can be future leaders. If a new believer has the skills of hospitality, we should push them toward that. If a newer believer has the skills of preaching, we should encourage and push them toward that. If a new believer has skills that makes him or her great with young people and children, we should encourage them to do that. If a new believer has great skills of writing about God’s Word, we should encourage that. We should help the new believer identify their giftedness and push and encourage and challenge them toward that. We should never hold them back from using their giftedness just because they are younger in the faith than we are. I think we all have been in churches where there was a hierarchy of service. Older Christians did not trust new Christians to handle responsible positions in the church. We’ve all been there and done that. Let us not be that church. Let us be the church that encourages the evangelist to be the evangelist. Let us encourage the teacher to be the teacher. Let’s encourage the prophets to be prophets. Let’s encourage the apostles to be apostles. Let’s encourage the pastors to be pastors. Let us encourage all to follow their individual callings and push and challenge them. Let us not pigeon hole people into areas of service just because of the newness of their salvation. The body of Christ is edified by all of us being encouraged to follow their giftedness in the faith as Paul instructs us in Ephesians 4:11-16. Let us never be a church that makes man-made decisions as to who can do what and when they can do it. Help us to be a church that pushes our people to become what God has called them to be. Let us challenge our faith babies to step up and step out in faith. Let us provide our faith babies with the same opportunities that use their giftedness that we were given. No matter if you have been at this for 20 years and they have been at it for 2 years. Encourage. Challenge. Get them on the court and into the game.

Father, help us to be a church that expands by multiplication of the gifts that we have all been given. Help us to not smother opportunities for those new in the faith to express their God-given talents. Help us to support, nuture, guide, challenge, and lead those younger in the faith into opportunities to use their talents. Help us to recognize talent and use it in our local bodies. Help us to encourage that talent and train that talent. Help us to celebrate and not hold it back. Help us to unleash the floodgates of talented Christ followers so that the world is flooded with those who seek to glorify you in a world that needs it desperately. The harvest is great and the workers are too few for us to hold new believers back just because they have not been here as long as us. Help us also to remember that that the only difference between a new believer and us is time/maturity. We both still need grace because we both still sin. We both need Jesus every day. We both are sinners covered in his grace. It does not matter than they have only been in the game a short time. We both need grace. Amen and Amen.

Matthew 9:18-26
Jesus, Interrupted

Many times in the Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is interrupted from what he is doing at a given moment. The world outside his focus at that particular moment crashes in. Those that do this “crashing in” are typically ones who need Jesus’ help the most and are willing to do anything to get to Him. Jesus goes into action at these requests.

In the book from which I appropriated the title of this message from, Girl, Interrupted, a 1993 best-selling book by Susanna Kaysen that later became an Oscar winning movie, we find that the central character struggles with the issue of freedom vs. captivity. The book is a memoir of the author about her life just before, during, and after her stay in a mental institution. Through parts of the book, she describes the trade-off between being a patient in a mental institution and being free in the conventional sense of the word. Though restricted by a complex set of rules she also describes how not being out in the real world sets her free from the expectations of parents and society when it comes to education and work. Though in captivity, she finds that she has more real freedom, freedom of the soul, than those who are free outside the hospital’s walls.

Isn’t that a sad commentary on modern society with all its expectations and rules of what we are supposed to be, how we are supposed to act – that one feels more freedom in captivity than being supposedly free out in the world.

That thought of people not being free in the real world got me to thinking about Jesus’ ministry as expressed here in these recent passages. Jesus came to free us from the heavy burden of the Law and how that came to be expressed in society. He came to say that I am the Messiah. He is joy of the good news of the New Covenant. He came to say it was the heart that matters not through keeping of ritualistic laws as a sign of one’s salvation. He came to give us the joy that can be found in recognizing that He is the Messiah.

In Matthew 9:18-26, we find the freedom several people felt when Matthew writes:

18 While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. 20 And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, 21 for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. 23 And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, 24 he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. 25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. 26 And the report of this went through all through that district.
In this passage, we see Jesus is interrupted twice. Actually, the second interruption occurs during the middle of the first interruption. But the key in all of this to me is that Jesus responds to faith. Through faith of believers that Jesus is the promised Messiah, our deliverer, we find grace. Through grace, we become free.

As we have seen throughout this gospel of Matthew, Matthew keeps the focus of every passage on the Messiahship of Jesus. His literary style is very minimalist compared to the other two historical gospels (or synoptic gospels as the scholars call them) of Mark and Luke. Whereas Mark and Luke tell the history of this same string of events in much more detail, Matthew takes great pains to keep the focus of his writing squarely on Jesus with no other details that would detract from that. Therefore, his perspective is to point a big neon arrow above Jesus’ head to his first century Jewish audience that “hey, this Jesus guy is THE GUY!” As we move through this passage, we see that Jesus is the Messiah – the Messiah that meets our needs, the Messiah that rewards our “all out” faith with “all out” effort on our behalf.

In the passage, we see a ruler come before Jesus and bow. Matthew does not identify what type of ruler he is as does Mark and Luke. Matthew again wants the focus to be on Jesus rather than who the ruler is. I also think that Matthew, by using a generic term, wants to emphasize what the ruler does rather than who he is. Mark indicates that the ruler is a ruler at the synagogue so he is some sort of religious leader at the local synagogue. Jewish leaders throughout the area were aware of Jesus and saw him as a threat as we have seen. So, for this leader from the synagogue to come and bow before Jesus was a major personal step and a major professional risk. He no longer cared that he was this local Jewish leader. He no longer cared about the wealth that came with it. His daughter was dead. He had heard of the miracles of Jesus. Word had spread. He threw caution to the wind. When he bowed before Jesus and asked for his help, it no longer mattered who he was. He was humbly presenting himself to the Son of God. The fact that he believed that Jesus could raise his daughter from the dead is evidence that he saw himself helpless before God’s own Son. He was casting his cares at Jesus’ feet. Matthew effectively gets this point across by not giving the man’s title. He was just a helpless man expressing his faith in the power of Jesus. His title doesn’t mean a thing in this situation. The man knows this and that is why he is here begging for his daughter’s life to the only one on earth who can do anything about it. When we fall before his feet not caring about who we are, what we are, and what others think, Jesus sees humble faith. His wealth and status set him in stark contrast to the ailing woman we will discuss next in the story, but his grief has reduced him to the same position of dependence on Jesus. Often it takes drastic circumstances for us to realize that we are not “all that.” We go through most of our lives thinking that we have this thing all figured out and do not need God’s help. Sometimes, God uses our circumstances in life to demonstrate to us that we are not in control and that we do, indeed, need Him. In this scene, we see a man who is made desperate by his circumstances. Desperate enough to humble himself from his worldly position of wealth and power and bow before Jesus Christ. He admits his inadequacy before the King of Kings. Are you in that place, are you railing against your circumstances and blaming God or are you humbled by them and are finally seeing that only God can deliver?

The Messiah responds to this humble faith! Corpse-uncleanness was the most serious uncleanness anyone could contract, rendering a person unclean for seven days (Numbers 19:11). Because others could have thought that touching the girl would render him unclean, Jesus showed his exceptional kindness and willingness to get involved by taking the girl’s hand when he raised her up. Jesus responds to full-on faith by getting dirty and meeting a need in response to real faith. Jesus will meet us where we are. He will get dirty to save us. Do you feel as though you are too far gone for those people at church? Do you think that you cannot darken the door of your church because you have made your life so filthy that it cannot be made right? Well, you might be right in many churches. However, Jesus is not about appearances. Jesus is not about what you have done no matter what it is. He is about a humble heart of faith. He can redeem the worst and the dirtiest and make it clean and new.

In the midst of his first interruption, we meet a woman who interrupts him again. We find a woman who has had menstrual bleeding for twelve years. Because of this woman’s continual flow of blood, she was not permitted to move about in crowds; anyone she touched or whose cloak she touched became unclean. Abbreviating as he often does, Matthew omits Mark’s crowds (Mk 5:27) but retains the woman’s intention: she is so desperate that she will touch the teacher, knowing full well that this will make him unclean under the law (Lev 15:25-27). She would have been treated as lepers were treated. She would have been ostracized from society. She would have no husband. She would have had no job or possibility of earning income. She would been on the freaky fringe of society. She would be poor, destitute, and desperate.

Her condition is desperate both for medical reasons and because of its social consequences; her ostracism would extend even to her private life. Her ailment probably had kept her from marriage if it started at puberty, and almost surely would have led to divorce if it began after she was married (which would have been within a few years after puberty), since intercourse was prohibited under such circumstances (Lev 18:19) and childlessness normally led to divorce in 1st century Israel. Singleness is difficult for many people in Western society, but to be a woman who was not marketable to be wed in first-century Jewish Palestine must have often been terrifying. The stigma of childlessness, the pain of feeling “left over” and the dilemma of being unable to earn an income yet having neither husband nor children for long-term support would have made this woman’s condition seem almost unbearable. Yet her desperation also begets confidence that Jesus is an absolutely certain source of her healing. Desperation has driven many of us to a faith that refuses to be deterred. This woman was undoubtedly more desperate than most of us have been, and she pressed her way to Jesus with the determination of faith, regardless of the consequences.

Jesus acknowledged her act as an act of faith. He demonstrated by saying that your faith has healed you that it by God’s power and not automatic magic of a touch. By not rebuking her for touching him, he was in effect saying that he was unashamed to be identified with her uncleanness. In the times of our deepest pain, we are open and teachable. In our times of greatest desperation, it then that we are willing to do whatever it takes to reach the garment of Jesus. Just as Joe Montana and the 49ers of the 80’s were desperate for victory with their many come from behind at the last minute victories, so sometimes are we. We are open to full-on faith in Jesus as our Messiah. In response, Jesus does not rebuke us for not observing the law as we should. He gets dirty with us. He got dirty for us. Jesus accepts us when we rebuke the worldly and come humbly before him. Is there not complete freedom in that? It is when we care what the world thinks that we lose access to the real freedom that Jesus offers. When let the world determine who and what we are, we become slaves to our titles and positions. When we let the world determine who and what we are, we allow others to cut us off from the world. People are so often caught up in appearances and labels that they write off those who do not meet those standards. Jesus does not care about your labels. He cares about your soul. When people care about status, we marginalize people who can’t make the cut. We write off people whose circumstances have forced them to be where they are. How many people who are desperately poor or homeless decided one day that they wanted to be poor and homeless. Yet, we avoid them as if they have a disease. Sometimes, the unfairness of a fallen world will cause us to fall into desperate straits in life. Sometimes, our poor choices do too. But, do we write people off because they do not live in the same standard of living that we do. Sometimes, we use labels to write people off just so we do not have to get our hands dirty and help them.

No wonder in Girl Interrupted, the main character found comfort and a sense of freedom from what the world thought she should be when she was in the mental institution. Inside the hospital, there was no condemnation for being “a little off!” Inside the asylum, she was not defined by the customs of the day. She was not marginalized. She was accepted by the other “a little off” people for who she was.

In Jesus, we find that the Messiah does the same thing, he accepts us for who we are when we come humbly before him. He does not care about pretenses. He does not care what the world wants us to be. When we come to him in complete full-on faith, he will get down in the dirt with us. He will ease our pain. When the world pushes us aside, he accepts us. When we realize that all of our worldly titles and wealth mean nothing and bow before him, when we reach out in faith and touch his garment, we are ready for the miracles that Jesus has in store for our lives. When we are ready to live inside His hospital in and accept the freedom of staying there, then we are no longer slaves to the world outside. When we see that freedom, Jesus brings miracles to our lives.

Jesus was interrupted by their faith. Jesus responded to their faith. Jesus set them free once they no longer cared about what society thought and humbled themselves before God in the flesh, Jesus Christ. Are you desperate enough to cast convention to the wind, to cast you own pride to the wind, and bow before Jesus and seek the power that He only has. Now is the time. Come to Jesus. Interrupt Him. Beg Him to heal you. He will respond to your act of faith. Jesus, Interrupted. Lives changed forever.