Posts Tagged ‘fear’

2 Samuel 4:1-12 (Part 1 of 2)
The Murder of Ishbosheth

Have you ever had a dream that you are speaking in public and you start to speak and nothing comes out? Or you try to make a joke and you hear crickets in response? Or you forget everything you rehearsed once you set foot on stage?

For all of my frequent readers, you have read the story of how I came to be the administrative pastor at Calvary Church of The Quad Cities back in mid-February. It was the end of a long road of preparation for what God has had in store for me for many years. It was up to me to obey his call on my life and be patient, oh so patient, in the preparation process. Who knows what God will do with me here at Calvary. I am not sure of what it will look like one year from now, five years from now, a decade from now. It is only mine to obey and just follow the path that He has lit in front of my feet. I can do nothing else. I am all-in at this point. My cards have been played. We are simply trusting that God will take care of us and that He will use us as long as we are obedient and faithful.

There may be teaching and leading small groups, instructional groups, special purpose study groups, all of which I have done before. I am comfortable with those things. I am good at leading groups where there is interaction between the audience and you. I am a very social person. I love being with people. I love to make them laugh with my sophomoric 15 year old boy sense of humor and my storehouse of puns and corny jokes. But it is always in small settings where there is interaction. I have preached before in small churches in the rural parts of South Carolina that my dad served over the last 10 years of his long pastoral career. I have preached at a couple of churches during my biblical preaching class at seminary. Again, the churches were small-ish. However, even then, at these small churches, I was a slave to my scripted sermon. I was not the goofy, at-ease-in-a-crowd guy that I normally am. These sermons were passionately written each time and I could visualize in my head the proper level of passion in the delivery. On the days or evenings that these sermons were actually presented though, I felt like I was having a root canal without anesthesia. The public presentations of my sermons were never the way that I had imagined them in my mind. And I know that in order to ever become more than just the preacher that keeps the books of the church and manages all its administrative details, I gotta be able to be more at ease in front of large crowds where all eyes are on me. I keep saying to myself that it is only because I have not had enough real hands-on experience in public speaking and that I will get better with practice. Up to now, with the infrequent public speaking opportunities, my effectiveness in public speaking is frozen in fear.

My mind gets cluttered and the smooth flow of conversation that I had in my head goes away when all eyes are on me. Notes in my hand become a crutch and looking down at the notes becomes more frequent than looking up and out at the audience. I envy those that have conquered their stage fear. They may have it much like me but they have learned to handle it better than me. Maybe, it is because I have had too infrequent of opportunities to practice. However, my fear is that I just am just handicapped when it comes to public speaking. Odd fear to have if your passion is to become a preaching pastor, huh? I love writing about Jesus. I love writing about God. I love writing about Scripture. Some have said that I am pretty good at the written word about The Word. But be able to communicate my joy at God’s Word and the theology associated with it, I have been ineffective so far in my pursuit of preaching. The debilitating fear is right where Satan wants us. He wants us to think we cannot do something and particularly when it comes to leading people to a deeper understanding of a God who loves them. He wants me to be afraid. He wants me to shy away from publicly proclaiming the confidence of my soul in the Lord. He wants us to be insecure about speaking of the Lord in public as a preacher and even one on one about sharing the story of how we came to know Christ (what our lives were like before Jesus, our salvation experience, and our lives after accepting Jesus as our Savior and Lord). Satan wants us stifled in fear to the point that we shy away from doing what God has called us to do.

There is a meme floating around Facebook right now whose quote is attributed to Steven Furtick and the quote is “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” Satan wants us to compare ourselves to others who seem more polished. Satan wants us to fear failure. Satan wants us to quit before we even get started.

When I read today’s passage, 2 Samuel 4:1-12, that is what I thought of – how similar I am to Ishbosheth. He was debilitated by fear. He compared himself to Abner and came up wanting inside. He was defeated before he even started to reign as king of the northern tribes of Israel. He let his fears rule him to the point that he could not function. Let’s read this passage now with that thought in mind:

Chapter 4
1 When Ishbosheth,[a] Saul’s son, heard about Abner’s death at Hebron, he lost all courage, and all Israel became paralyzed with fear. 2 Now there were two brothers, Baanah and Recab, who were captains of Ishbosheth’s raiding parties. They were sons of Rimmon, a member of the tribe of Benjamin who lived in Beeroth. The town of Beeroth is now part of Benjamin’s territory 3 because the original people of Beeroth fled to Gittaim, where they still live as foreigners.

4 (Saul’s son Jonathan had a son named Mephibosheth,[b] who was crippled as a child. He was five years old when the report came from Jezreel that Saul and Jonathan had been killed in battle. When the child’s nurse heard the news, she picked him up and fled. But as she hurried away, she dropped him, and he became crippled.)

5 One day Recab and Baanah, the sons of Rimmon from Beeroth, went to Ishbosheth’s house around noon as he was taking his midday rest. 6 The doorkeeper, who had been sifting wheat, became drowsy and fell asleep. So Recab and Baanah slipped past her.[c] 7 They went into the house and found Ishbosheth sleeping on his bed. They struck and killed him and cut off his head. Then, taking his head with them, they fled across the Jordan Valley[d] through the night. 8 When they arrived at Hebron, they presented Ishbosheth’s head to David. “Look!” they exclaimed to the king. “Here is the head of Ishbosheth, the son of your enemy Saul who tried to kill you. Today the Lord has given my lord the king revenge on Saul and his entire family!”

9 But David said to Recab and Baanah, “The Lord, who saves me from all my enemies, is my witness. 10 Someone once told me, ‘Saul is dead,’ thinking he was bringing me good news. But I seized him and killed him at Ziklag. That’s the reward I gave him for his news! 11 How much more should I reward evil men who have killed an innocent man in his own house and on his own bed? Shouldn’t I hold you responsible for his blood and rid the earth of you?”

12 So David ordered his young men to kill them, and they did. They cut off their hands and feet and hung their bodies beside the pool in Hebron. Then they took Ishbosheth’s head and buried it in Abner’s tomb in Hebron.

In this passage, we see the demise of Ishbosheth. He was a man who took his courage from another man (Abner) instead of from God. When Abner died, Ishbosheth was left with nothing. In crisis and under pressure, he collapsed in fear. Fear can paralyze us but faith and trust in God can overcome fear (see 2 Timothy 1:6-8 and Hebrews 13:6). If we trust in God, we will be free to respond boldly to the events around us.

Maybe our fears are our indication that we know we cannot do anything without God’s help. Maybe we should quit trying to conquer our fears in our own power. I know that I have a fear of public speaking. Maybe, it’s because of inexperience. Maybe, it’s because I am trying to win under my own power. Maybe, I should just break down before the Lord and beg Him to take over and guide me in my attempts to speak publicly. Maybe, I should depend on Him more. Maybe, I should pray more. Maybe, I should quit comparing myself to others and rely on the Lord to pull me through. Maybe, the Lord wants me to rely on Him so that He can reveal my heart and my passion. Maybe, I should trust Him to give me the words I need to say.

Why am I writing about this? Well, this Sunday I have a small opportunity to speak publicly. In Sunday’s service, I will be doing the announcements from stage and praying over the offering, announcing the newest class of people that have made the decision to be members of our church, and so on. It will be my first opportunity to speak from stage on Sunday morning since I started as administrative pastor at Calvary three months ago. My senior pastor is pushing to have me become more publicly involved in pastoral duties. I pray that I do not let him down this coming Sunday. I do not want to be an ineffective pastor just as Ishbosheth was as king. He was debilitated by fear. I do want to become a publicly professing pastor of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I want to please my Lord who has put this calling on my life. I pray that I will just relax and let Him guide me. I pray that I will enunciate clearly and there will be a flow to what I say. I pray that it will seem natural as conversation among friends. I pray that my natural goofiness will come out and make me feel at ease. I know that there are bigger things to pray for in this world but I want to point people to Jesus even in my small role this Sunday. I pray that He will give me the strength to speak clearly and boldly and naturally. I covet your prayers as I take this first step in taking hold of this calling the Lord has placed on my life. I pray for showers of prayers from my friends and family members. I just want to make Jesus proud as I take this first step.

Amen and Amen.

Advertisements

Deuteronomy 13:1-16 (Part 2 of 3)

A Warning Against Idolatry

Right now, at this moment, I am playing the waiting game. Over this past weekend, my wife and I traveled to Wooster, OH to interview with a large church there for a full-time position that is the full-time equivalent of what I do now at my current church. At LifeSong, I am the director of finance and administration on a part-time basis (in addition to my secular job as controller for the company that I work for, Fujikura America, Inc.). The job in Wooster would enable me, if offered, to combine these separate jobs that I currently hold into one full-time job. It would enable me to pursue my passion of being in full-time ministry through my giftedness in finance and administration. The interview process for this job in Wooster has been extremely intense and drawn out. I began interviewing for this position over two months ago. There have been two phone interviews and a video interview. Then, there was this past weekend where we traveled to Wooster to have on-site interviews all weekend. It has been a grueling process to say the least. Both my wife and I were interviewed at length this past weekend. The interviews were pretty intense to say the least. Now, we wait. We wait for the church in Wooster to make its decision as to whether we are an appropriate fit for their church.

As we wait for the decision, my mind has been rationalizing why I did not win the job. There seemed to be great concern on the church leadership team as to whether I would consider this a destination job or whether it is a just a next step kind of job. My response to those questions was the fact that the church should want the best talent available and someone who was ambitious and driven. There statements to me over the past two months was that they wanted someone to take the financial reporting of the church “to the next level”. In that vein, they should need someone who is bright, imaginative, and driven to succeed. My daughter told me, when discussing this issue, that someone once told her that if you are a business owner, a school principal, a department head, or anyone in leadership and other organizations are not seeking out your people then you do not have the right people on your staff. If your people are not being sought after that means that they are unremarkable or average. They are position holders and not the best and the brightest. That was basically what I told them that yes I want to grow in this position and that I want to be the best that I can be. I want the job to have grown in responsibility over the time that I hold it. If I am good enough at this job, I will be afforded the opportunities to expand the role. If then as a result, other churches or academic institutions seek after me, I will consider those positions. However, I will only leave for other positions if God provides me the understanding that it is time to move to a new season. If not, I will remain. I didn’t know how else to honestly answer that question. It may however be the reason that the job is not offered – that I did not unequivocally answer that this job is my destination job. That would be a tough blow. I really like this church and the opportunity to pursue my passion for Jesus’ bride, the church, in a full-time way. We have prayed for a door such as this to be opened up to us. We feel drawn to the church and its mission there in Wooster. The church is actually doing the things that our church right now can only see in the future. It is our current church 10 years down the road. I told my wife that it was LifeSong Church (our current church) on steroids. I was so impressed with this church and what it does in the community. To me, it is a great fit for us at this point in our development as a pastoral couple. But, those are my desires and for this to work out, it must be God’s will as well. However, if it is not to be, I must see it as God’s will and just redouble my efforts in the field in which the Lord has me planted now and continue to work passionately at my current church.

When the interview process got to the point of our being asked to come to Wooster for the weekend, on-site interviews, we had to share the possibility of our move with family and friend and the church leadership at LifeSong. Some were positive and understanding and saw this as the natural progression of things for Elena and me. Some however were incredulous. Some were even negative. Why would we want to leave the life that we have here? We have the best of both worlds here. I have a secular job that has enabled us to live a life of both no worries about finances and to be generous to our church, our family, friends and even strangers. I have a position at church that enables me to serve the Lord on a part-time basis. It is a good life. We have family close by. We have friends that we have developed close relationships with over the past 7 ½ years. Life could not be more settled. People wonder why we would do this, leave all this. Leave what we have here and move from the sunny South to a region where it snows a great deal of the time. Leave here and live in a place that is 800 miles away from ailing parents, our children, and a grandchild. Some even blasted me for thinking that I am ready for full-time ministry because it is so different from secular work. There has been those who simply think we are crazy to take such a job that would be a reduction in pay, would be like having to start over, and why not just enjoy the remaining years of our life before retirement. Why not cruise into the finish line? You’ve got it good. You’ve earned it to just finish out.

However, we feel compelled to go into ministry full-time with what time we have left to be truly productive for Christ. It is a calling. It is a desire to do whatever He wants us to and wherever He plants us. Sometimes the doubts are loud voices thundering at you as to why you want to follow God’s calling. Sometimes the voices are quiet and inside our own soul. You can’t do this. You are not good enough. You weren’t saved at an early age. You are not a member of that seeming club of those who got saved at age 8 and have been in ministry since they graduated from a Christian college and a Christian seminary. You are not good enough. Those are the voices that are attacking me in addition to the outside voices. You started to late. You don’t spew Bible verses from memory and in every other breath. You don’t say all the right things at the right times. You are a poor public speaker. You just don’t have what it takes. Yours is just a pipe dream. You are not part of the pastoral world. You are just on the outside looking in and no one really takes your desire for ministry seriously because you have not “eat and breathed it” all your life.

That idea of the external and internal voices of doubt when it comes to following the Lord is what I thought of this morning when I read Deuteronomy 13. Let us read it together this morning:

13 If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, 2 and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” 3 you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. 5 That prophet or dreamer must be put to death for inciting rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. That prophet or dreamer tried to turn you from the way the Lord your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you.

 

6 If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, 7 gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), 8 do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. 9 You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people. 10 Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 11 Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again.

 

12 If you hear it said about one of the towns the Lord your God is giving you to live in 13 that troublemakers have arisen among you and have led the people of their town astray, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods you have not known), 14 then you must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly. And if it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done among you, 15 you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. You must destroy it completely,[b] both its people and its livestock. 16 You are to gather all the plunder of the town into the middle of the public square and completely burn the town and all its plunder as a whole burnt offering to the Lord your God. That town is to remain a ruin forever, never to be rebuilt, 17 and none of the condemned things[c] are to be found in your hands. Then the Lord will turn from his fierce anger, will show you mercy, and will have compassion on you. He will increase your numbers, as he promised on oath to your ancestors— 18 because you obey the Lord your God by keeping all his commands that I am giving you today and doing what is right in his eyes.

In this passage, the Israelites were warned not to listen to false prophets or to anyone who tried to get them to worship other gods – even if this person was a close friend or a relative. The temptation to abandon God’s commands often sneaks up on us. It may come not with a loud voice but with a whispering tone of doubt. And whispers can be very persuasive, especially when they come from family members or close friends, or even from our own mind. But love for relatives should not take precedence over devotion to God. We can overcome whispered temptations to abandon God’s call to obediently follow Him by pouring out our hearts to God in prayer and by diligently studying His Word.

When God calls us, He may call us to different geography but He does not call us to stop loving our family and friends. We still have friendships with people that we shared time with in California. We have not lived there for 7 ½ years now but those friendships are still there. We lived away from family for those three years and we did not lose touch with them. As a matter of fact, we valued our times together even more so than we do now when we are right here in the same region. We cannot let anything get in the way of obeying the call of the Lord. In Matthew 8, a young man told Jesus that, basically, he had to go home first and settle his affairs with his family first before he could follow him. Jesus knew that if we let our worldly concerns get in the way, the man would find another excuse not to follow after he buried his father and then another and then another. We must be ready to drop every pursuit we have to follow the Lord when He calls us to leave where we are. We must be willing to depend on Him to work out all the details and issues. We must be obedient to Him and not let excuses and woulda/shoulda/coulda’s get in the way.

We also must trust in God’s providence and not let a disappointment jade us into withdrawing from the service of the Lord. If the door you desired to be opened does not open, do not let doubt that you are not good enough, that you do not have what it takes to follow the Lord into ministry, creep into your mind. God simply wants to show you what the future is going to look like. It is to prepare you. Then, return to the field you are tilling and do it to the best of your ability. Joseph thought he was going to get out of jail when two men for whom he had interpreted dreams returned to the royal court. However, they forgot about him. Sure, Joseph probably got pretty down and out about that disappointment but he continue to diligently serve the Lord where he was planted until it was time for his season, a season where he became the second most powerful, trusted, and respected man in all of Egypt. He served the Lord diligently wherever He was planted. He never gave up on the Lord and the Lord rewarded that. Don’t let your doubts end your ministry. Don’t let your doubts stop your from following and serving right where you are. Trust the Lord to bring about the ministry opportunities that He has planned for you. Be diligent and serve the Lord with that Joseph-like trust and devotion.

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 13:25-33 (Part 1 of 2)

The Scouting Report

Today is Thursday, September 1, 2016. Two days from now my favorite college football team, the Clemson Tigers, begin a new football season. It is a season that many predict will be another very successful campaign that may end with another appearance in the national championship game. There is a significant amount of hype concerning my team this year. They begin the year ranked second (just behind Alabama) in the preseason polls. It should be a great year. They have virtually their entire offense back from last year, a team that averaged almost 40 points per game last year, and they are another year more experienced this year. The defense lost a lot to graduation and early departures to the NFL but Clemson’s defensive coordinator seems to just plug new players in and continue to excel. Clemson is expected to excel this year. The talent that they have demands it. I am proud that the Tigers have been given such great respect this year by all the prognosticators. The scouting report on the Tigers as we enter the season is that the sky is the limit for them. Clemson is one of the most successful college football programs over the past 5 years, winning 56 games while losing only 12 (and over the past four years they are 46-8). Since the end of Game 3 of the 2013 season, Clemson has rattled off a record of 23-2 (only losing to Georgia Tech and Alabama). It has been an amazing time to be a Tiger fan.

 

However, as we enter the new season, a season of great promise and of great preseason hype, I am fearfully reminded of the 2008 season. The Tigers, in the previous season, 2007, had underperformed compared to expectations but had finished out the year extremely strong and ended the season with a victory over a top 10 opponent in their bowl game. So coming into 2008, they had virtually the whole team back on both sides of the ball. Expectations were high. They were ranked 9th in the national preseason rankings. Then, they ran into an upstart SEC team, at the time, named Alabama under their relatively new coach Nick Saban. That is a game that my daughters and I call “the game we won’t talk about.” The wheels came off the program at that point and six games into the season of promise, Clemson was 3-3 and had just lost to Wake Forest, oh horrors of horrors. It was after that game that Tommy Bowden was either fired or resigned and a young dude who was the receivers coach named Dabo Swinney became the interim coach. Dabo has slowly but surely improved recruiting, conditioning, and general toughness of the team to the point that when Clemson got to play Alabama again last year in the national championship game, we see how far we have come since 2008. But one cannot help to think as a fan who saw the program fall into 20 years of mediocrity after the Danny Ford years ended that we could pull a Clemson this Saturday like we did in 2008. Circumstances are similar. We are hyped and highly ranked. We are playing an SEC team that is shooting to return to prominence after a few down years. Eerily similar circumstances. It makes you fearful that history will repeat itself.

 

My fears about repeating the fiasco of 2008 make me almost want not to proceed past this point, this September 1, 2016. Right now, Clemson is undefeated and we can live in the hype of the preseason prognosticators. Although Clemson has been amazingly consistent over the past five years and won as many big games as it has lost, I just want to sit in this moment where we are highly ranked and thought highly of. To move forward might see us fall flat on our face and repeat past Clemson failures so prevalent before Dabo Swinney took over as head coach. However, to be excellent and to continue to build the brand of Clemson football that Dabo wants to build, we must play these big games. We must take on the challenges that will make us a consistent national championship contender. We cannot let the fears of the past freeze us in our tracks. We must venture into this season and take it on and fight for every game and prove that we deserve the hype that we have been accorded in the preseason. If we want to arrive in the Promised Land of college football, the National Championship Game (this year in Tampa, FL), we must take on all challengers. We must take on the Auburns, the Louisvilles, the Florida States. We must believe that we can win the big games, make it to the conference championship game, make it to the national semi-finals and back to the national championship game for a second year in a row. As a fan, I must believe this as much as the team. Fear never won anything. Fear makes you believe that you cannot do something. Fear makes Clemson fans fear that the history of mediocrity of 1992-2009 will rear its ugly head again. Fear will not allow you to hear that the program is in the best shape it’s ever been in and that it is poised to be a consistent winner. Fear says “yeah, but…” Fear always has a “but…”

 

My internal fears about the upcoming super-hyped season for the Clemson Tigers is what came to mind when I read through this passage, Numbers 13:25-33, for the first time this morning. Let’s read it together now:

 

25 At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land. 26 They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. 28 But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.”

 

30 Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

 

31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” 32 And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. 33 We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

 

That debilitating fear that keeps us from moving forward into the next phase of life because it just might be challenging is what I see here in this passage. There was a lack of trust in a God who has proven Himself trustworthy over and over again to the Israelites. It is similar to my fears about this upcoming football season. Even though the coaching staff has been putting a consistently hard-nosed and tough team on the field that has won many big games, fears of past failures dominate my thoughts about this season of great promise. In the same way, though God has proven that He has delivered on every promise He ever made, the people would rather focus on themselves and their fears of failure. In order to be the best football team, you have to beat the best football teams. You have to play the games. You have to fight the fight.

 

God told the Israelites that the Promised Land was rich and fertile. Not only that, He promised them that this land would be theirs. When the scouts reported back to Moses, they gave plenty of good reasons for entering the land, but they could not stop focusing on their fears. Talk of giants and fortified cities made it easy to forget about God’s promise of victory and forget about what God had already done. Sure, it was going to be a fight. The land was not uninhabited and the people already living there were not going to just lie down and give up their land. It was going to be a mighty struggle. Just like every football game is a struggle because both teams come to win the game, so it was for the Israelites. They had a season of promise ahead of them. God had promised them their own homeland that was rich and fertile. But the other team was not just going to hand it to them. They were going to have to fight for it game by game, battle by battle.

 

Anything worth having is worth fighting for as the old saying goes. Another old saying is that any long journey begins with the first step. One might modify that say any long journey begins by starting your car. I think the takeaway for me today is that fear is pure and simple lack of trust in God and placing trust in ourselves. Fear is pride inverted. Whereas pride says that I can do all things on my own without God’s help, fear is not realizing that we have God’s help and not counting on that and just seeing all that scares us to death.

 

God may call us to step boldly into the future that He has called us toward. Many of us balk at God’s calling on our lives because when it gets right down to it, we don’t trust in His provision and protection. What if God calls you to leave your home and move to say Budapest, Hungary to spread the gospel in a former Soviet state where religion was quashed for 80 plus years. What if God calls you to a Middle Eastern country to spread the gospel in a predominantly Muslim country where being a Christian can cost you your livelihood and sometimes your life. What if God calls you to the inner streets of a large Asian or Indian city where people have never heard of Jesus and where He has called you to fight sex trafficking one girl at a time. What if God has called to leave your comfortable profession of 30 plus years to become a preacher. What if he calls you away from a big church where you are comfortable and calls you to a small dying church or a small church plant that is a 1,000 miles away.

 

What if God calls you to simply share the gospel with the neighbors in your neighborhood? Are you, am I, going to let the fears of rejection, of not having what it takes, of not being able to do what God has called us to do? The scouting report is in. It’s going to be tough. It’s going to a tough season ahead. But how big is your God? Is He not worthy of our trust? Is He not the Creator of the entire, vast, gi-normous universe? If He calls us to leave our comfort zone, He will provide. He will be with us as we fight for our championship service to Him. He will never call us to do something and then abandon us in the process. Yes, there will be hard times but the hard times are to teach us to depend on Him even more with each and every seemingly insurmountable battle. When we trust the Lord, we begin to see His miracles in our lives more clearly. How big is your God? What is He calling you to do that seems too big for you to do? It is too big for you to do…alone! God will be with us in what He calls us to do!

 

Now, go, go, play the game. Get the season started. The championship is there for the taking but we must fight for it. We must enter the stadium and play the games to get there. Each game, each battle, will be tough but God will be with us every step of the way when we step out and step on to the fields that He has called us to step out onto!

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 5:11-31 (Part 2)

Protecting Marital Faithfulness

Climbing up to the top of the high dive, he was beginning to wonder why he had agreed to do such a crazy thing. This little boy was afraid of nothing. It was nothing when he was six to play football with kids twice his age. He was fearless. However, down on the ground at the swimming pool with his buddies, it really didn’t look that bad. If this fearless little boy had a weakness though it was unrestrained heights. He did not mind going up to high places when he was in an enclosure that would keep him from falling. His worst nightmares were always of falling from high places where there was nothing to hold you back. So, as he ascends the ladder, that fear is being remembered. At 8 years old, when he gets to the highest diving platform, the platform seems so wide and so unrestrained. This fearless boy who would tackle a football player twice his size and twice his age learns fear really for the first time. He was the kind of kid who would hold a firecracker in his hand to the last second. He would throw aerosol cans in burning flames just to watch them explode not caring that he might get hit by shrapnel from the can. Here, the platform seem as though it was a mile above the earth. It took him awhile to get to the edge of the platform and he is nervous beyond belief. He walks back from the edge of the platform. His pals below are kidding him about being scared. He goes back to the edge. His manhood or…well, boyhood, was being called into question in the pre-teen kingdom of the community pool. Eight year old boys can’t have that. It is at this moment, dealing with this, his one worst fear (unrestrained heights), he comes to know a dependence on God that he never had known before. His adam’s apple felt like it was in the back of his mouth and was going to jump out of his mouth and bail on him. He could hear every breath in what seemed like an eternity. The chiding and kidding of his pals down below ringing in his ears. At this moment, he thought, “Man, if it was just a couple of weeks from now, I would be in a classroom right now and not on the highest diving board at the community pool.” That moment on the edge of the highest platform seemed an eternity. He was in a quandary, he was like totally afraid but if he bailed on the attempt at the jump off the highest platform, he would never ever hear the end of it.

 

This moment, in 8 year old Hartsville (SC) boy social circles would have dogged him til the next summer or til he, as a Methodist preacher’s kid, moved to the next town his dad would serve in. To make matters worse, there were teenagers behind just waiting to do their daring dives off the platform. They were giving him a hard time, too. Sayings like “C’mon little man, piss or get off the pot!” or “Quit wasting our time! C’mon!” At this moment, this 8 year old places his faith in a God that he barely knew and did not know as His Savior until 30 years later. He cries out to God to protect him (internally mind you…8 year old tough boys don’t cry out when they jump off a high dive). No professional dive here. Just a leap off the unrestrained platform. Bungy jumping would not be invented until probably fifteen years later, but he had wished for something to be attached to him. The leap out away from the platform reminded him of those Wiley Coyote/Road Runner cartoons where Wiley walks off the cliff and is suspended in mid-air for a second or two before he realizes he is in mid-air high above the canyon floor. Where’s the “Yikes” sign, the 8 year old tough boy thinks for that split second that he feels suspended in mid-air. Gravity takes over, of course, and the boy just closes his eyes and hopes that he does not die. It seems an eternity as he plummets from the summit toward the water. He crashes through the surface of the water feet first. No cannonballs on this diving board. No dives. Just survival. He descent feet first with no fancy moves makes him like a missile when he slides through the air toward the water and crashes through the surface of the water and continues slicing through it all the way to the bottom of the deep of the pool some nine or 10 feet below. He pushes off the bottom as quickly as possible and desperately swims for the ladder. Gets out and find the nearest early 70’s style lounge chair that is open and sits down and quietly thanks the God he does not yet know personally for having saved him from certain death and even worse 8 year old social embarrassment. He survived. He moved on to greater acceptance among the social circles of 8 year olds in Hartsville, SC in the early 1970’s. He survived. It was a miracle to him. He made a leap of faith into the hands of God and survived his biggest fear. Some 45 years later, he still remembers that moment where teenagers were behind him waiting on him that prevented his escape and his so-called friends down below chiding and kidding him. It was one of those no-turning-back moments that we find ourselves in at times. All we can do is jump. All we can do is hope that God will protect us. All we can do is jump into the hands of God.

 

It was one of the first moments of my life as a child that I knew real, tangible, palpable fear. I was and to a certain extent still am a guy who will try feats of daring-do at least once. As I have grown older, reason has taken a greater role of knowing my physical limitations, but even up until my early 40s, I was a daredevil. But my kryptonite has always been unrestrained heights. I can go up in the world’s tallest buildings and look over the edge without a thought. I have even road that rollercoaster at the Stratosphere in Las Vegas that goes around the edge of the observatory. In all those cases, there were boundaries around me, restraints around me. But my kryptonite, is being in a high place with nothing to hold onto. So, that 8 year old moment is burned in my brain. I tasted, literally, in my mouth that day. It was something to that point, I had never known. I was a bull in a china shop kind of kid not afraid of anything. But on that day, I tasted fear and it was bitter. It was at that moment, I had to just leap into the arms of God and trust Him with the outcome.

 

It was that scary moment as an 8 year old boy in Hartsville, SC that immediately came to mind when I thought of the woman in this passage. Sometimes, we just have to trust God with the outcome:

 

 

11 Then the Lord said to Moses, 12 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him 13 so that another man has sexual relations with her, and this is hidden from her husband and her impurity is undetected (since there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act), 14 and if feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure—or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure— 15 then he is to take his wife to the priest. He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah[a] of barley flour on her behalf. He must not pour olive oil on it or put incense on it, because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder-offering to draw attention to wrongdoing.

 

16 “‘The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the Lord. 17 Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water. 18 After the priest has had the woman stand before the Lord, he shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the reminder-offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse. 19 Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, “If no other man has had sexual relations with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. 20 But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband”— 21 here the priest is to put the woman under this curse—“may the Lord cause you to become a curse[b] among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell. 22 May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries.”

 

“‘Then the woman is to say, “Amen. So be it.”

 

23 “‘The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water. 24 He shall make the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering will enter her. 25 The priest is to take from her hands the grain offering for jealousy, wave it before the Lord and bring it to the altar. 26 The priest is then to take a handful of the grain offering as a memorial[c] offering and burn it on the altar; after that, he is to have the woman drink the water. 27 If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse. 28 If, however, the woman has not made herself impure, but is clean, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children.

 

29 “‘This, then, is the law of jealousy when a woman goes astray and makes herself impure while married to her husband, 30 or when feelings of jealousy come over a man because he suspects his wife. The priest is to have her stand before the Lord and is to apply this entire law to her. 31 The husband will be innocent of any wrongdoing, but the woman will bear the consequences of her sin.’”

 

Here, in this text for today, it differs from all others in the Bible is that this is the only case in biblical law where a judicial decision depended upon a miracle. Only here do we have a procedure in which the Lord intervenes directly and supernaturally in the outcome of what is in effect a case at bar. This is the only time in the Law of the first five books of the Bible, the Torah, the Pentateuch, where there is a trial by ordeal. In most cultures of the past and even here in America in the Salem witch trials, there were trials by ordeal.

 

Those trials by other cultures (such as the Inquisition and the Salem witch trials and many other cultures’ trials by ordeal) were stacked against the accused from the very beginning. Throwing someone in the river with weights around them is not exactly fair (if you float you are innocent and if you drown you are guilty). Telling someone to stick their hand in boiling water is not exactly fair (if your hand is not scalded you are innocent, if it is you are guilty). This particular trial by ordeal though was not a stacked deck. It was just water with some holy tabernacle floor dust in it. Anyone can survive that, right? However, God used this simple test to ferret out the adulterous woman from the woman whose husband is just jealous or paranoid. The truth of the situation would be judged by God’s handling of the effect of the water on the woman’s body. The fact that this is the only trial by ordeal in Mosaic law points us toward the seriousness with which God takes the marriage covenant between a man and a woman. No other situation is subjected to a trial by ordeal. Real unfaithfulness cannot destroy marriages and families. Perceived unfaithfulness, even when not true, can tear at the fabric of a marriage as well. God, in this situation, wants to reveal the unrevealed. He wants to put an end to rumor and reveal the truth. Marriages cannot survive with suspicion and without trust. So, let us grasp not so much the details of this test and not focus so much on the woman being subjected to this (which we will deal with tomorrow) but focus on how serious God takes the marriage covenant. And for today’s lesson, let us look at how sometimes, we get put into situations where we just have to trust God with the outcome.

 

I think of the innocent women in this case. The ones who had a jealous husband who did not trust his wife’s love for him. She may have been forced into this situation by a jealous husband. Maybe, she was a knock-out of a woman. Maybe, she was one of the most beautiful women among the Israelite people. But, yet, she loves her husband and follows his leadership of their home. She does everything right! She loves God, loves her husband, loves the fact that she bore his children and raises them. However, he is a jealous man. He does not trust that she loves him. Anytime another man looks at her, he thinks she is seeking affections from another man. She gets forced into this jealousy test. In other cultures, this would have been a death sentence. However, in God’s divine plan, she will truly live if found innocent. In this situation, an innocent wife must have had to simply trust in God that she would be vindicated. She simply had to make a leap of faith into God’s arms and trust that He would deliver her from false accusations of a jealous husband.

 

She doesn’t want this situation. She loves her husband. Sometimes, in life, though, we are forced into tough situations by the actions of other people. Sometimes, we find ourselves innocent of wrongdoing but are treated as if we have committed a crime. Sometimes, we get forced into situations that we don’t want to be in. Sometimes, circumstances force us to deal with a nasty situation from which there is going to be no apparent winner. Sometimes, we are oppressed and cheated and hurt by others. Sometimes, we get put into situations where we are pushed beyond what we think our limits are. Sometimes, we get to the edge of the highest diving platform and want to turn back but there is no way out but forward off the diving platform. Sometimes, we just have to put our faith in God that He knows what He is doing with this series of events in our lives. Sometimes, we just have do what is in front of us – jumping into the unknown, the fearful, and just trust God with the outcome. Sometimes, we are so afraid but we must walk ahead and leap into the arms of God.

 

Whatever you are going through – whether the situation is of your own doing or even worse you are dealing with consequences in life caused by another person, trust God with the outcome. He will lead us through the fall and through the deep water and to the edge of the pool. He will lift you up and set you down on solid ground where you can rest at the end of this ordeal. Whatever you are going through, you don’t know what to do – just do what God has in front of you. He is leading you to the solid ground. He will set you down on the solid ground that He has intended for you. He is your God. Trust Him with the outcome and just breath and just jump into the arms of God!

 

Amen and Amen.

Romans 15:14-22 — In this passage, Paul basically tells the church at Rome that he cannot come visit them because they are doing so well that he has more important things to do. He didn’t mean this as a slam but rather a compliment. Paul had more urgent matters to tend to — to preach the gospel where the name of Christ has never been heard. It has been heard in Rome and they were flourishing. Paul was needed elsewhere.

He is saying here that hey you’re doing OK so I don’t need to visit you just now. Paul needed to go where the challenge was greater and there was a greater need. He felt that the church at Rome was in good hands. He needed to be where there was nothing. He needed to build up churches where the gospel was unknown. By implication for us, it can be said that we need to know when our work is done and its time to leave. We need to know when God is leading us to something new, something urgent, and not be afraid to leave our cocoon.

This message kind of reminds you of when you know its time to leave your current job and seek a new one. There comes a time in most jobs where you feel like you have done all you can at this time and its time to move on. It’s time for a new challenge. For example, when Steve Spurrier was at University of Florida from 1990-2001, he had the world by the tail, he won 8 division titles, 5 conference titles, and 1 national championship. However, he left it all and took on a new challenge in the NFL and that eventually led him to the University of South Carolina. The new challenges were greater than the need to maintain excellence with the Florida Gators. He has done so much more meaningful work at USC than he could’ve ever done in maintaining the program at UF. We all have opportunities in life where it is necessary to leave a good situation where everything is known and everything is neat and tidy. Sometimes it is necessary to break out into the unknown and find the new challenge. Sometimes it is time to step into what God has been preparing us for.

For some that looks like a friend of mine. She has been a ER nurse for 14 years and is very good at it. She has no reason to leave. She could stay in the job and her employer would be happy as clams with that. She is good at what she does. However, she has been called by God to teach her skill to others and to minister to others through home health care. Paul could have visited Rome but He was called to do what God prepared him to do. This friend has been prepared for the next phase in God’s plan. She can do more for Christ by teaching a new crop of nurses how being a Christ follower makes her job a ministry and also to minister to others in home visits one on one in a way she could not in the ER. The ER was not wasted though. The intense nursing required in the ER has taught her much and it will be used in this new phase of God’s plan for her life.

For me and Elena, this idea looks like this. We love LifeSong Church with all our heart. If we had our way, we would never leave. We love this church and the way it touches the community and the world around us. We love serving there in the ways we serve. I help with the financial accounting and budget processes at the church (because of my secular work background). Elena and I work together as leaders in our church’s community outreach ministries. Elena carries most of the workload there and she loves it. We are leaders of our life group and being part of the Christ following growth that is happening there. All of our friends are at LifeSong. 90% of our friends are members of this church. We could stay there forever if we had our own way. It is known. It is safe. It is good. There would be no shame in staying there.

But, as you know, I feel called to be a pastor. It is been a thought always in my mind that we are called to be God’s servant in reclaiming a dying church, to re-awaken what has fallen asleep. We could stay here at LifeSong and be very happy and participate in doing many good things for the kingdom. Sometimes though God calls us to finish the preparation time and step into that which He has been preparing us for. We can’t miss the opportunity when it is time. Paul could not go to Rome because he had urgent work to do spreading the gospel in places where it had never been heard. He COULDN’T miss that opportunity that God laid on His heart. He knew Rome would be fine until a later visit. We must seize our God-ordained opportunities when they arise. We must seize the opportunities to serve the Lord in the way He has ordained for us. When we are called to do what God has called us to do, Elena and I must recognize the Spirit’s leading and go where He leads us. We must fight the urge to stay in the known, the comfortable, and trust that God will sustain in what is unknown, uncomfortable, but yet where God intends us. Our time in Livermore Alive Community Church in California was training for being at LifeSong back home in South Carolina. LifeSong is our training for what’s next in God’s plan for our lives. We must trust in Him to sustain us for what’s next and not be afraid to step into it. We must go wherever God calls us and wherever He needs us to serve. We can’t be afraid to leave what is established and working and is a well oiled machine to do the work of the Lord that needs doing.

Just like Paul, he could have gone to Rome and had a great visit there for several months or years but Rome was already flourishing. God called him not to the flourishing but to those who did not know Jesus. Sometimes, we as Christ followers are not called to serve what is already working well but to serve where we are really needed, where the trail has not been blazed, where souls need re-awakening, where dying churches need to meet Jesus again. We all have our safe places in life, but the real rewards come from when we take on new challenges. We can stay in the safe place and be fine, but sometimes God calls us to do the challenging, the difficult, and we may fail by human standards but the success comes in the obedience to God.

Father, I know that these lyrics belong to Hillsong, but I offer them as my prayer today. Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders. Let me walk upon the waters wherever You would call me. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander and my faith will be made stronger. Help me to trust that You will sustain us in whatever you lead us to do. Help me to never be afraid to leave my boat where everything is known and safe and step out into the waters of the unknown and keep my eyes on You following wherever you may lead us. We are willing. We have been preparing. We love you, Lord. Amen.