Posts Tagged ‘grace of Jesus Christ’

1 Kings 1:28-53
David Confirms Solomon as King

Have you ever heard someone say, “he is only remorseful because he got caught!” when speaking of someone who has committed a wrong and has been caught doing it. That’s the case here with Adonijah. Knowing what we know about the rest of the book of 1 Kings already, we know that Adonijah ultimately rebels again against the kingship of his brother Solomon and ends up being executed. But here in this passage, he seems contrite and accepts the grace of his brother and goes on home.

When I was a teenager, although I was not a bad seed and never was in trouble with the law, never did badly at school (I graduated high school with a 3.4 GPA, basically a 5 A’s and a B kind of student each 9 week grading period), but I pushed the boundaries of my dad’s hard and fast rules of behavior on every occasion I could. I was that classic preacher’s kid who was a little on the anti-authoritarian side. I remember right after we moved to Travelers Rest, SC (TR) (where my dad’s next appointment as a United Methodist Church preacher in South Carolina was located), me and one my buddies from the town we just moved from (Anderson, SC) who had came up to visit got bored during his summertime visit. We proceeded to walk around what was a small town then in the mid-70’s, TR. We got it in our teenage heads (me, age 14, and my buddy, age 13) that it would be a good idea to see what we could get away with that day. One thing was to vandalize the local elementary school building (it was summertime and nobody was there but the 12-month employees). For some reason, that I cannot figure out all these years later, was why we thought this was a good idea. But I am 56 now and I think so much differently than I did at age 14. But at age 14, it seemed like a good idea to see what we could get away with. Well, we vandalized and we got spotted and we ran. We ran to the local convenience store right down the street from the school – dumb mistake. By going inside, we cornered ourselves and the local police just came in and got us. Talk about being embarrassed. Talk about being fearful. Talk about a small town potential scandal for my dad who just moved to town as the pastor of the local United Methodist church.

Since small town TR did not have a detention facility and particularly for underage boys, we were transferred to the custody of the Greenville County Sheriff’s Department and taken to their law enforcement center (LEC) in downtown Greenville. All the while, I was worried about going to jail and worried about my steely blue-eyed dad whose stares could bore a hole through you when he was mad at you. I was more worried about the punishment than the crime. No matter what happened with the law I knew that my dad was going to eat my lunch, so to speak. Finally, my dad came to get us at the LEC. And, yes, those steel blue eye bore holes through me when he saw me. He said nothing until we got in the car. He was so mad at me. I could feel the tension in the car on the way home. He finally spoke and none of it was flattering. He spoke of how stupid I was. He spoke of how he had raised me to know better than to do such stupid things. I dreaded this drive home almost as much as being in the LEC. Needless to say, my friend’s dad had to make the hour’s drive up from Anderson to TR to pick up his son. And oh my, the two dads together let us have it and talked of all the punishments that we would have to suffer separately and the fact that we would not see each other for a long time after this. This day and night go down as one of several seminal bad days in my life. It certainly was the worst day of my life to that point at age 14.

Hanging over both of us for the next six weeks or so was the upcoming pre-trial intervention meeting with the youth offender’s county official/attorney. Since we had no prior criminal record, the case was diverted into the county’s pre-trial intervention program. During that meeting, I learned that my friend’s dad and my dad had paid to have the damage that we had caused to the school repaired and that no charges would be filed against us. We would not have that hanging over us the rest of our lives. Oh what joy that brought my heart. Up until that point, I was more concerned about having been caught and what the possible punishment for that would be than what I had done wrong. In that sense, I was like Adonijah in this passage.

However, that day, I was shown grace by so many people that saw me as a kid with potential that did not need to be marred for life by a stupid mistake at age 14. How different would my life had been if I had not been shown grace that day back in 1976? I shutter to think about it. At that moment, I realized that I had done wrong and that I had been graciously forgiven for it. Not that I deserved it in anyway. I deserved whatever punishment that came from it. Not only did my friend and I get shown grace that Monday morning in the Fall of 1976 in the face of the law but my dad and my friend’s dad took us down to Anderson, SC that day and celebrated with a day on Lake Hartwell where my friend and I water-skied all day long. Not only did we get shown grace but we were shown a banquet of sorts by doing what my friend and I loved most at that time in our lives – skiing on Lake Hartwell, our water home. The moment was not lost on me then and especially not now as a middle-aged man. What grace was shown us that day! My friend and I are forever thankful and grateful for the grace shown us that day. What great love was shown us that day. We didn’t deserve it but we got it. It changed our thought process about life that is for certain. No longer were we kids after that day. We did understand what we deserved and how by miracle of our parents we had been shown grace. After that, we drew back from our “pushing the envelope” teenage ways because we had been shown grace. Life was altered that day – for the better.

That’s what I thought of this morning, how my event back in 1976 was similar to what happened with Adonijah. He had done wrong obviously but Solomon showed him grace. Then, what matters after that is what we do with our grace. As we shall see, in a future passage in 1 Kings, that Adonijah did not heed the grace that was given him. He simply saw it as getting a reprieve but there was no life change. Let’s read the passage now, 1 Kings 1:28-53:

28 Then King David said, “Call in Bathsheba.” So she came into the king’s presence and stood before him.

29 The king then took an oath: “As surely as the Lord lives, who has delivered me out of every trouble, 30 I will surely carry out this very day what I swore to you by the Lord, the God of Israel: Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he will sit on my throne in my place.”

31 Then Bathsheba bowed down with her face to the ground, prostrating herself before the king, and said, “May my lord King David live forever!”

32 King David said, “Call in Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet and Benaiah son of Jehoiada.” When they came before the king, 33 he said to them: “Take your lord’s servants with you and have Solomon my son mount my own mule and take him down to Gihon. 34 There have Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anoint him king over Israel. Blow the trumpet and shout, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ 35 Then you are to go up with him, and he is to come and sit on my throne and reign in my place. I have appointed him ruler over Israel and Judah.”

36 Benaiah son of Jehoiada answered the king, “Amen! May the Lord, the God of my lord the king, so declare it. 37 As the Lord was with my lord the king, so may he be with Solomon to make his throne even greater than the throne of my lord King David!”

38 So Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, Benaiah son of Jehoiada, the Kerethites and the Pelethites went down and had Solomon mount King David’s mule, and they escorted him to Gihon. 39 Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the sacred tent and anointed Solomon. Then they sounded the trumpet and all the people shouted, “Long live King Solomon!” 40 And all the people went up after him, playing pipes and rejoicing greatly, so that the ground shook with the sound.

41 Adonijah and all the guests who were with him heard it as they were finishing their feast. On hearing the sound of the trumpet, Joab asked, “What’s the meaning of all the noise in the city?”

42 Even as he was speaking, Jonathan son of Abiathar the priest arrived. Adonijah said, “Come in. A worthy man like you must be bringing good news.”

43 “Not at all!” Jonathan answered. “Our lord King David has made Solomon king. 44 The king has sent with him Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, Benaiah son of Jehoiada, the Kerethites and the Pelethites, and they have put him on the king’s mule, 45 and Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet have anointed him king at Gihon. From there they have gone up cheering, and the city resounds with it. That’s the noise you hear. 46 Moreover, Solomon has taken his seat on the royal throne. 47 Also, the royal officials have come to congratulate our lord King David, saying, ‘May your God make Solomon’s name more famous than yours and his throne greater than yours!’ And the king bowed in worship on his bed 48 and said, ‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has allowed my eyes to see a successor on my throne today.’”

49 At this, all Adonijah’s guests rose in alarm and dispersed. 50 But Adonijah, in fear of Solomon, went and took hold of the horns of the altar. 51 Then Solomon was told, “Adonijah is afraid of King Solomon and is clinging to the horns of the altar. He says, ‘Let King Solomon swear to me today that he will not put his servant to death with the sword.’”

52 Solomon replied, “If he shows himself to be worthy, not a hair of his head will fall to the ground; but if evil is found in him, he will die.” 53 Then King Solomon sent men, and they brought him down from the altar. And Adonijah came and bowed down to King Solomon, and Solomon said, “Go to your home.”

In this passage, we see that Sometimes, it takes getting caught before someone is willing to give up his scheme. When Adonijah learned that his plans were doomed to fail, he ran in panic to the altar, the place of God’s mercy and forgiveness. He went there, however, after his plans for treason were exposed. If Adonijah had first considered what God wanted, he might have avoided trouble. So, in getting the process backwards, Adonijah thought he would be safe by clutching the horns (or corner posts) of the sacred altar of burnt offering in the Tabernacle court. By doing this, he hoped to place himself under God’s protection. Solomon granted Adonijah a reprieve, hoping this grace-filled act would end Adonijah’s conspiracy. Unfortunately, as we shall see in a future passage here in 1 Kings, it did not, and Adonijah was later executed.

What road are you on my friend? Do you need to be shown what could be in your life? Do you need to be brought to the edge of the cliff of hell? Are you one who can understand that God is trying to get in touch with your heart and change your path? Any grace that you have been shown so far – do you see it? Or do you see it as having been lucky and are hellbent on continuing your current lifestyle? Or are you one who thinks that because of the bad things that you have done, you are beyond the reach of God’s grace? The thing is here in this passage is what you do with your grace? All of us are sinners to the core. All of us, even those of us who are in fellowship with Jesus Christ as our Savior, are sinners who do not deserve grace. One sin taints us, not to mention our lifetimes of one sin piled on top of another. If we were literally on trial for our sins, and tried to claim that our sin for which we are being tried, God would bring out the evidence of our lifetime of sins. We are habitual sinners. We are addicts in need of a fix when it comes to sin. We have no excuse before God, our righteous Judge. We cannot claim that it was a one-time thing and we can throw ourselves at the mercy of the court because of that. Nothing can be repaid by us to make things right. We are no longer pure with our first sin. And then the purity is further and further degraded with each and every sin that we commit daily.

It is only through Jesus Christ that we are set free from the penalty of our sin. We are given a pardon and are set free only through Jesus. He died on the cross so that we would not have to suffer the consequence of our sins. All we have to do is cry out to Him to take over our life and cover us in His redemptive grace. He will come to us before the Judge of All Things and say I have paid the price for His sins, Father. Please let this one go. He is mine. Just as our earthly fathers did for us back that day in 1976, they paid the price for us to be set free. Just as our earthly fathers wanted us not to have permanent scars that follow and dog us for the rest of our lives, Jesus does the same for us. He cleanses us through His sacrifice and makes us pure and spotless before the Judge.

And even more surprising than that, we are treated to the banquet with the saints much as the prodigal son was by his father in the parable. We are treated as if we have simply come on and we are celebrated as being a member of Jesus’ banquet table. We are made worthy to be at the table through his grace. Just as me and my friend were shown a day of fun in the September sun on Lake Hartwell as if we were being celebrated, so too can you and attend the banquet of the King, Jesus Christ, with all rights and all honors accorded to a child of God (even though we certainly do not deserve such treatment) through the grace of Jesus Christ. You have a place at the table of celebration. Come home to Jesus.

Amen and Amen.

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Deuteronomy 24:17-22

Help for Foreigners & Widows

The Statue of Liberty stands in the New York harbor as a stark reminder of the fact that we are all immigrants in this country. Other than native Americans, none of us can trace our lineage in this country back more than 450 years or so. Most of us can trace our lineage in this country back more than 250 years or so. A large majority of Americans can only trace back 100 or so years. At some point, depending on when your ancestors came to this country, we have to return to Europe, Asia, the Middle East, or Africa. We are all immigrants.

 

Why is it then that we all of a sudden have such a hard time with immigrants coming into our country here in the 21st century. Before you quit reading right here and get angry at me, I am not for free and unfettered immigration. I believe that all those who come to our country must be subjected to the same rigors of immigration as were our ancestors. We should have to go through a process to become American citizens and not just come into this country without some process of vetting in place. This is true because no longer does every immigrant want to come here to pursue opportunity. Some wish to enter the country to cause havoc and destruction. I am all for vetting those who come through our immigration points. Allowing unfettered immigration or allowing people into our country through illegal entry is an affront to those who come to our country through the proper channels. It takes usually around 7 years to become a full-fledged American citizen once you apply for citizenship. To allow unvetted entry or to allow illegal entry or to give amnesty to those who have entered illegally is a slap in the face of those who do it the right way.

 

Somehow though in the last few years, we have forgotten that we are all immigrants. None of us have natural claim or right to be in this country. We invaded it and we conquered it. We act as though we have some inalienable right to live here that has been granted us by our ancestors. To a certain extent that is true. We are citizens, most of us, by birth. However, our living in what we call the United States was accomplished by conquering a land that did not belong to us to begin with. Because of the arrogance of the supremacy of the white man, we invaded this country from day one and we progressively stole each inch of it from the native Americans of this land. We now accept this land as ours and with each successive generation it becomes more and more ours. However, our ownership of it is flawed by its very nature. It was theft. It was imposing our will on others we considered savages and beneath us. Therefore, our arrogance now over immigration is surprising in light of how we obtained our land that started our country. We must find a way to make workable solutions to immigration issues. We cannot ignore the call of those who pay taxes while immigrants pour into our country illegally. We can’t treat them like, wow, they did not know they coming into the country illegally. They’ve got to know there is a price to be paid for illegal entry. If America is worth what we project to the world, then, there is a right way to get in here. But let us not ever forget that (1) we obtained this land not by purchasing it from those whom it really belonged, and (2) we are all immigrants at some point in our family’s past. Maybe the remembrance of these two things will reduce some of the bravado of those who want to cut off all immigration on one side and those on the other that do not want to anger anyone but making it more difficult to come here illegally.

 

It was that repeated idea in this passage that struck me this morning. In Deuteronomy 24:17-22, the phrase, “always remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God redeemed you from your slavery” is repeated twice in five short verses. Under divine supervision of the Holy Spirit, Moses wrote this phrase twice. It must, then, be important to the point of the passage. Let’s read it together now:

 

17 Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. 18 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this.

 

19 When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. 21 When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. 22 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this.

 

In this passage, we see the continuation of an Old Testament theme in which God tells His people to treat the poor with justice. The powerless and poverty-stricken are often looked upon by some as incompetent or lazy, when, in fact, those facing that situation may be the victims of oppression or circumstance. God says we must do all we can to help those who are needy. His justice does not permit the Israelites to insist on profits or quick payment from those who were less fortunate. Instead, his laws gave the poor every opportunity to better their situation, while providing humane options for those who could not. None of us is completely isolated from poverty. Many of us face needs at one time or another. God wants us to treat each other fairly and do our part to meet one another’s needs.

 

As well, in this passage, God’s people were instructed to leave some of their harvest behind in the fields so that travelers and the poor could gather it for food. This second gathering, called gleaning, was a way for them to provide food for themselves. Years later, you might remember, Ruth obtained food for herself and Naomi by gleaning behind the reapers in Boaz’s fields (Ruth 2:2). Because this law was still being obeyed years later after it was written, Ruth, a woman in the lineage of our Savior, Jesus Christ, was able to find food.

 

The instructions are clear that the Israelites were to help the poor and needy. But why did God cloak it all in the repeated phrase of having redeemed them from slavery in Egypt. This phrase is important because it would be easy for the Israelites in the Promised Land years later to develop an arrogance to the poor. They could easily develop the mindset that this is my property, my wealth, my crops and mistreat those that did not have property, wealth or crops. They could develop of mindset that this is mine and it is my inalienable right to do with what I please. They could easily develop and attitude that this is mine not yours. God repetition of this phrase twice in one passage is to remind the Israelites that they wealth that they might gain in the Promised Land was not some inalienable right. It would be a gift from God for it was not too long back in Israel’s history that everyone was poor and enslaved. They had no freedom to pursue their dreams. They had no freedom to use their talents to become wealthy. They had no land to toil to produce crops that they could sell for profit. They all had nothing but what the Egyptians allowed them to have. Therefore, with that collective national memory in mind, God wanted the Israelites to not be arrogant and care for the needy because God gifted them their nation. It was not some inalienable right they had to the land. It was under God’s divine providence that they gained the Promised Land. As a result, the Israelites were to be a thankful and generous people.

 

When you look at this passage from that perspective, it reminds us that we, now, are in a similar position. We should never be arrogant to think that others should not have the right to come to this country. We are all immigrants from foreign lands. We should never be arrogant to think that we are rightful owners of this land. We stole the land on which we live from native Americans. We may have paid France for a large portion of the United States but it was never their property to begin with. The English, the French and the Spaniards all simply claimed land but had to inalienable right from God to do so. It is from this theft that we inherited our country. Therefore, let us act with compromise over immigration issues. There must be middle ground. We cannot be arrogant enough to close our borders when we are all immigrants on stolen property to begin with.

 

This passage is also a reminder to us that it is only by grace that we have a right to claim heaven as our home. We do not have a right to heaven. We cannot earn it. We only have access to heaven because of Jesus Christ taking the punishment for our sins. We have no inalienable right to heaven even as long-time Christians. We have no merit on our own even as a mature Christian. We still sin and sin stains us. Sin prevents us from ever being in the presence of God on our own. We are destined for hell on our own merits. We must be perfectly sinless to have a right to go to heaven. Only one person ever did that, Jesus Christ. It is only through the grace of his imputed perfection that we gain access to the presence of God. It is only through Him that we can enter into the Promised Land that is heaven. We have no inalienable right on our own to heaven. We were given a gift through salvation that we do not deserve. As a result, we should be generous and thankful people. We should never be an arrogant people. We were once sinners condemned to hell ourselves. Now we are sinners wrapped in the grace of Jesus Christ. Let us as Christians never forget where we were before Jesus Christ and where we are after we accept Him as our Savior and Lord.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 10:1-11 (Part 2 of 2)

Tablets Like the First One

 

This week, we concluded our Christmas break from our small group. We call them Life Groups at our church, in part, because our church’s name is LifeSong. However, it is also because the church encourages us “to do life together.” As part of the life group meetings of course, we do some type of weekly Bible or Bible-related lesson or series of lessons. As part of my role as leader of our small group, I am, of course, in charge of leading our life group in our study sessions. While we were on our month-long break from life group for the Christmas and New Year holidays, one of the things that struck me was that over the past year and half, we have participated in book studies about books about The Book. We have read through authors writing about Scripture and how it supports the theme of their book. Immediately, don’t get me wrong. I love reading authors such as David Platt, Mark Batterson, Francis Chan and the like. These are some of the greatest Christian authors of our time. These guys really do get and really do write in a way that inspires us to take hold of the essence of Scripture and apply it to how we live our lives as the bride of Christ, his church. During the prayerful thought, it struck me that we have studied books about the Book and bits and pieces of books of The Book, but we have not studied, in depth, a whole book of the Bible. The life group that Elena and I have led these past four or five years since we became leaders have had an everchanging inventory of members. Some have left to become life group leaders in their own right. Some people have just come and gone. However, in the first group of people we had in our life group, we walked completely through the book of Matthew. It was one of the most powerful things I think we ever did in these years of leading. The message that kept coming to me during break was “get back to The Book, not just books about The Book.” So, the Lord led me to choose a book study about the Gospel of Mark. And, no, it’s not because the author had the same name as me! I really did not understand why Mark until yesterday, when I had the day off from work and had all day to prep for our life group study time last night.

 

You might wonder why I write about beginning a life group study on the Gospel of Mark while I am walking through Deuteronomy in my blog right now. Stick with me. You will see the connection to our passage today as I right about the Gospel of Mark. Since last night was the first night of the “new semester” of our life group, our participants did not have to do any preparatory study prior to the first meeting of the semester. Therefore, when I introduced what we were going to study this semester, the Gospel of Mark, I gave an overview of Mark and his gospel. In studying the background of Mark and his gospel, it really hit hard for the first time that the story of the author of this gospel is as amazing as is the gospel book itself. I had never really noticed that before. It is funny how you read the Bible or read something about the Bible a million times before but this time it just really hits you.

 

The story of the author of the gospel of Mark is the story of us. It is a story of redemption. It is also the story of Israel in this passage for today that we will be reading through for the second time, Deuteronomy 10:1-11 before we move on.

 

The first that we hear of Mark outside of his authorship of his gospel is in the aftermath of Jesus’ death and the growth of the early church in the Book of Acts. Mark is mentioned a good bit in Acts (Acts 12:12, 12:25, 15:37, and 15:39). Even his mother is mentioned in Acts. It is to her house that Peter goes after he is miraculously freed from prison. When know also from Colossians 4:10 that Mark is the cousin of Barnabus, one of the leaders of the early church and missionary journey partner of Paul. So, we know that Mark is well-connected with some the great players in the early church, Paul, Peter, and Barnabus, as was his family. In fact, when Paul and Barnabus leave on their first missionary journey. They take Mark with them. However, Mark must’ve been young and immature or at least young and immature in his faith and his willingness to be “all-in” for the cause of Christ. Because it was during this missionary journey that Mark failed miserably in the cause of Christ. Halfway through the journey, Mark bails on the missionary journey.

 

Luke, in writing this sequence in Acts, never tells us why Mark bailed out on the missionary journey. But whatever it was, it was big enough for him to go home to Jerusalem. What caused this crisis of heart, who knows? But it stands as a failure. Mark blew it. He did not have the guts or stamina or heart to continue with the missionary journey and tucked tail and went home. He failed. He screwed up. When it was time to put up or shut up, he caved in. He may have let concerns about home overwhelm his ministry efforts. He may have been afraid of the persecution and close calls that Paul and Barnabus and he were experiencing. Who knows? Bottom line is – he failed miserably.

 

So disappointed was Paul in Mark that when Barnabus wanted to again take Mark on the second missionary journey, Paul and Barnabus got into such a big argument about it that they decided to take separate missionary journeys instead of going together. Paul just did not want to be around Mark because of whatever had happened during the first missionary journey. It must have been a big ol’ shouting match between Paul and Barnabus. And a big enough of a disagreement for two friends, Paul and Barnabus, to split roads over it.

 

However, somewhere in between the beginning of Paul’s ministry that we see in Acts (where Mark disappoints him greatly) and the end of Paul’s ministry that we see in 2 Timothy, Mark must’ve done some spiritual growing up. In 2 Timothy, Paul is in prison and knows that he is at the end and he is passing on all his pastoral knowledge to his intern of sorts, Timothy. In 2 Timothy 4, when Paul is giving Timothy instructions about his next visit and he asks for his cloak and his writings and other things. However, he also tells Timothy to bring Mark with him. And you know why? Because, as Paul said, Mark was useful for his ministry. Timothy must have made up some ground in the background during Paul’s ministry to go from Paul not even wanting to be on the road with him to Mark being useful to his ministry. We know how passionate and on fire for Christ Paul was. For him to say that Mark was useful to his ministry is quite a compliment. Mark went from a spiritual baby to a spiritual grown up during that time. He was useful in spreading the gospel. He must have grown deeper in his understanding of the cost of following Christ and was now willing to pay that cost. He was spiritually mature now.

 

Additionally, in 1 Peter 5:13, Peter, when speaking to Mark, addresses him with a term of affection of that of a disciple. Peter says, “Mark, my son…” It must have been Peter that helped Mark grow in his understanding of Scripture, understanding of Jesus Christ and His purpose, his understanding of the radical and sometimes offensive nature of the gospel, and because of that the cost of following Jesus Christ. Peter and Mark and Mark’s family must’ve been tight for Peter to have immediately gone there after being freed from prison where his death was almost certain. And, it makes sense for Peter to have been the guy to get Mark to grow up spiritually. Peter was no stranger to the concept of complete and utter failure in the face of persecution. He denied Jesus Christ three times just to save his own hide. Peter spent the rest of his life in passionate thanksgiving for Jesus restoring him to a place by his side.

 

I think similarly Mark let his past failure and his redemption from it fuel the rest of his life in passionate pursuit of teaching people about the meaning of Jesus Christ. He knew he failed. He knew he blew it but yet he was restored. He was redeemed and forgiven and became a mighty man of God as a result. He went from bailing on a missionary journey, probably because of fear of persecution, probably because things were getting rough, to a man who was useful in Paul’s ministry and ultimately to a man who wrote the first gospel of the four gospels. He had an urgency to teach his audience, the new Christian converts in Rome, about the meaning and the work of Jesus Christ. He had to do it. He had an urgency to tell the story. Just as Paul failed Christ by originally trying to stamp out Christianity and that fueled him to be a passionate teller of the grace of Jesus Christ…just as Peter who had failed Jesus Christ by denying him Jesus three times and that fueled him to be a passionate and powerful expounder of the gospel to the Jews…so we find a man in Mark that was a passionate to explain who Jesus Christ is to people who had no clue as an act of thanksgiving for redemption from failure.

 

That’s what I thought about this morning as I read through today’s passage, Deuteronomy 10:1-11, for this second time. Let’s read it together now:

 

10 At that time the Lord said to me, “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones and come up to me on the mountain. Also make a wooden ark.[a] 2 I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. Then you are to put them in the ark.”

 

3 So I made the ark out of acacia wood and chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I went up on the mountain with the two tablets in my hands. 4 The Lord wrote on these tablets what He had written before, the Ten Commandments he had proclaimed to you on the mountain, out of the fire, on the day of the assembly. And the Lord gave them to me. 5 Then I came back down the mountain and put the tablets in the ark I had made, as the Lord commanded me, and they are there now.

 

6 (The Israelites traveled from the wells of Bene Jaakan to Moserah. There Aaron died and was buried, and Eleazar his son succeeded him as priest. 7 From there they traveled to Gudgodah and on to Jotbathah, a land with streams of water. 8 At that time the Lord set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the Lord, to stand before the Lord to minister and to pronounce blessings in His name, as they still do today. 9 That is why the Levites have no share or inheritance among their fellow Israelites; the Lord is their inheritance, as the Lord your God told them.)

 

10 Now I had stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights, as I did the first time, and the Lord listened to me at this time also. It was not His will to destroy you. 11 “Go,” the Lord said to me, “and lead the people on their way, so that they may enter and possess the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.”

 

Here in this passage, we see how the Israelites are reminded of their failure at Mt. Sinai. They are to be of right mind when they take the Promised Land. They are to be humbly thankful that God did not take His wrath out on them. They were continually failing the Lord but He kept loving them and redeeming them and setting them on the right path. God is a God of second chances.

 

How many times have you and I failed Jesus Christ? How long did we ignore Him before we came to Him? And remember how thankful we were when we came to realize that we deserved to bust hell wide open but that Jesus Christ saved us from it. He gave us a second chance through his payment for our sins. That day of salvation should be what fuels us to live lives of boundless joy. It should be what fuels us to lovingly serve Jesus Christ in a world that needs to know his saving grace. It should fuel us to have urgency to not want to see or worst enemy end up in hell. It should give us urgency to tell people about Him as being the only way out of our sentence to the eternal fires of damnation. We should be so joyful at our own salvation that we should be thankful as the Israelites are being shown they should be thankful in this passage. We should have the clear and utter joy of being saved from what we deserve that we go from utter failure of Christ to being useful in His ministry as Mark did. We should live lives of doing whatever it takes to spread Jesus’ name far and wide as a simple act of thanksgiving for our own salvation. We should be like beggars telling other beggars where they can find food. It should be urgent to us. The message of redemption we have lived it and we need to share. Give us that Markan urgency. Give us that Markan priority. Give us that passion to live and tell of redemption and usefulness. Let us be those humble servants that know where were bound in the absence of Jesus Christ and now have to, just have to, have to tell of the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ in everything that we do and say.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 6:1-21

The Nazarite Vow

We are to be in the world but not of it, an oft-heard exhortation to Christians. Another saying you might hear in Christian circles is “if you were put on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” There is a great tension between being a Christian and being engaged in what is a sinful world. We get so immersed in the world. It is all around us. As Christians, our home, Scripture tells us, is in heaven and we are but travelers here on earth on this side of heaven. There are all kinds of input into our minds on this side of heaven that is certainly unholy. That idea of allowing the world to enter our minds and convince us that unholy things are OK to dabble in has been plaguing my heart since this past weekend’s events at NewSpring Church, that nation’s third largest church, based in nearby Anderson, SC. This church did not exist 17 years ago and now it has 17 campuses and 30,000 regular attendees across the state. Its founding pastor, Perry Noble, was relieved (temporarily or permanently, it is not clear) of his senior pastoral duties due to dependence on alcohol. Although Perry has been controversial over the past decade (in part because of jealousies over the rapid growth of his church, I think), mainly because many perceive his theology to be “gospel lite” or “the watered down gospel” so that it appeals to the masses and that may well be true, one thing that I never expected was that another megachurch pastor would publicly implode. This time, it was not arrogance, poor financial decisions, opulent lifestyles, or sexual sin, it was an internal implosion caused by alcohol. There are those who will say, just another hypocrite celebrity preacher. Perry’s ordeal is going to be a big deal because he is a nationally known “new church” preacher. He is or was the pastor of one the largest and fastest growing churches in America. It is a big deal and he will be watched as he progresses through the arduous roads of recovery. He will be in the spotlight.

 

It got me to thinking though, what about the rest of us who serve the Lord on church staffs across the country in megachurches like NewSpring, but more commonly in large churches like mine, LifeSong Church in Lyman, SC, medium sized churches, and the most common of all, small churches? How do we keep ourselves from being the next Perry Noble whose actions might not be national Christian news like the real Perry Noble, but the next Perry Noble nonetheless? How do we as pastors, church administrators, and non-pastoral leadership keep ourselves from being the next casualty in Satan’s war against Jesus’ church. How do we keep ourselves from being that pastor or that church administrator or that lay leader whose influence in our local church is great and if he or she has a moral failure that it could have devastating effects on the flock of that local church and give non-believers more reason to stay away from the church? How are we to be in the world and not succumb to its pleasures?

 

If you are a church leader and your worldly weakness is lust for women, what do you do? If you are a church leader and your worldly weakness is desire for alcohol or drugs, what do you do? If you are a church leader and you worldly weakness is a desire for the accumulation of wealth or the trappings of wealth, what do you do? If you are a church leader and your worldly weakness is pride (which can affect your decision making and can cause you to lead people astray), what do you do? We are in this world. We, in church leadership, all have our weaknesses. We all have those places in our Christian armor where it is the thinnest and weakest. We all have our sin soft spot. That particular sin that you struggle the mightiest with. There is that one sin weakness that is the last unrepentant sin behavior that we give up. It is the one that Satan knows about and tries to exploit, particularly if you are a pastor or church leader. He wants to take you down so that he can cause ripple effects throughout the flock of believers, particularly among those that are less mature or are just hanging around the edges of church but have not yet decided to live for Christ. He knows that taking a leader down can have an atomic bomb-like effect on the flock. I pray for NewSpring Church because we have already seen within the last three years that megachurches can implode quickly as the result of something like this. Just look at what happened to Mars Hill Church in the Seattle, WA area. It was as big or bigger than NewSpring. The founding pastor was removed because of non-biblical behaviors of which he refused to repent. Within a year, Mars Hill Church as we had known it no longer existed.

 

It is for that reason that I cannot condemn Perry Noble and can only pray for him and the church that he founded with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is not one of us in church leadership that is immune to the pleasures and sins of this world. Do you know your sin soft spot? Do you know of which of sins that you justify as OK because (1) nobody knows about it, (2) it’s not hurting your ministry (yet), and (3) it’s not really that bad? Are you, am I, setting ourselves up to be the next Perry Noble in our church in our local area? It might not make national news because your or my church has maybe two or three campuses at the most and around 1,000 regular attendees or even more likely, you are at a small, single campus church with 200 or less regular attendees. The impact is the same. Are you setting yourself up for a Perry Noble fall, even though on a smaller scale?

 

Those were the thoughts that crossed my mind this morning as I read through the Nazarite Vow passage in Numbers today, Numbers 6:1-21. Let’s read through and then we will talk about why these thoughts came to mind this morning:

 

6 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of dedication to the Lord as a Nazirite, 3 they must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or other fermented drink. They must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins. 4 As long as they remain under their Nazirite vow, they must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, not even the seeds or skins.

 

5 “‘During the entire period of their Nazirite vow, no razor may be used on their head. They must be holy until the period of their dedication to the Lord is over; they must let their hair grow long.

 

6 “‘Throughout the period of their dedication to the Lord, the Nazirite must not go near a dead body. 7 Even if their own father or mother or brother or sister dies, they must not make themselves ceremonially unclean on account of them, because the symbol of their dedication to God is on their head. 8 Throughout the period of their dedication, they are consecrated to the Lord.

 

9 “‘If someone dies suddenly in the Nazirite’s presence, thus defiling the hair that symbolizes their dedication, they must shave their head on the seventh day—the day of their cleansing. 10 Then on the eighth day they must bring two doves or two young pigeons to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 11 The priest is to offer one as a sin offering[a] and the other as a burnt offering to make atonement for the Nazirite because they sinned by being in the presence of the dead body. That same day they are to consecrate their head again. 12 They must rededicate themselves to the Lord for the same period of dedication and must bring a year-old male lamb as a guilt offering. The previous days do not count, because they became defiled during their period of dedication.

 

13 “‘Now this is the law of the Nazirite when the period of their dedication is over. They are to be brought to the entrance to the tent of meeting. 14 There they are to present their offerings to the Lord: a year-old male lamb without defect for a burnt offering, a year-old ewe lamb without defect for a sin offering, a ram without defect for a fellowship offering, 15 together with their grain offerings and drink offerings, and a basket of bread made with the finest flour and without yeast—thick loaves with olive oil mixed in, and thin loaves brushed with olive oil.

 

16 “‘The priest is to present all these before the Lord and make the sin offering and the burnt offering. 17 He is to present the basket of unleavened bread and is to sacrifice the ram as a fellowship offering to the Lord, together with its grain offering and drink offering.

 

18 “‘Then at the entrance to the tent of meeting, the Nazirite must shave off the hair that symbolizes their dedication. They are to take the hair and put it in the fire that is under the sacrifice of the fellowship offering.

 

19 “‘After the Nazirite has shaved off the hair that symbolizes their dedication, the priest is to place in their hands a boiled shoulder of the ram, and one thick loaf and one thin loaf from the basket, both made without yeast. 20 The priest shall then wave these before the Lord as a wave offering; they are holy and belong to the priest, together with the breast that was waved and the thigh that was presented. After that, the Nazirite may drink wine.

 

21 “‘This is the law of the Nazirite who vows offerings to the Lord in accordance with their dedication, in addition to whatever else they can afford. They must fulfill the vows they have made, according to the law of the Nazirite.’”

 

 

In leading up to the directions for the dedication and purification of priests, the Lord gives instructions for the special Nazarite vows of the laity, those who are not in the full-time service of ministry. Both males and females could enter into periods of special service to the Lord. As a kingdom of priests, Israel was to be God’s representatives to the nations, even those who were in full-time service to the Lord such as the line of Aaron. There were outward and visible signs that a lay person had taken the vow to be in special service to the Lord for a period of time. The hair, the restrictions from wine, and other outward signs such purposefully not allowing themselves to come into contact with things that would defile them. Samson’s parents dedicated him as a Nazarite (and such was the reason for his long hair). Those who dedicated themselves for full-time service set themselves apart from the world around them. There were certain indulgences of the world that they would not participate in because it was their desire to give their full attention to the Lord’s service. They were intentional. They were open about it. They were purposeful about keeping themselves set apart for the service of the Lord.

 

What does this passage say to us and how does it tie together with my opening illustration/discussion? I think that it is clear that we must be in the world but not of it. As stated by the anonymous author at gotquestions.com, he says,

 

Believers in Jesus Christ are simply in the world—physically present—but not of it, not part of its values (John 17:14-15). As believers, we should be set apart from the world. This is the meaning of being holy and living a holy, righteous life—to be set apart. We are not to engage in the sinful activities the world promotes, nor are we to retain the insipid, corrupt mind that the world creates. Rather, we are to conform ourselves, and our minds, to that of Jesus Christ (Romans 12:1-2). This is a daily activity and commitment.

 

We must also understand that being in the world, but not of it, is necessary if we are to be a light to those who are in spiritual darkness. We are to live in such a way that those outside the faith see our good deeds and our manner and know that there is something “different” about us. Christians who make every effort to live, think and act like those who do not know Christ do Him a great disservice. Even the heathen knows that “by their fruits you shall know them,” and as Christians, we should exhibit the fruit of the Spirit within us.

 

Being “in” the world also means we can enjoy the things of the world, such as the beautiful creation God has given us, but we are not to immerse ourselves in what the world values, nor are we to chase after worldly pleasures. Pleasure is no longer our calling in life, as it once was, but rather the worship of God.

 

So, as pastors and leaders of Jesus’ church here on this side of eternity, we must purposefully set ourselves apart from that which will ensnare us and ruin our witness. We have to be real and honest about our sin weaknesses. If you have a weakness for lust for women, you must avoid situations where you can allow yourself to act on those lusts and you must seek the Lord’s help in cleansing yourself of this sin. You cannot allow it to be OK. You cannot allow it to fester even if it is just in your mind. If you are susceptible to greed, do not allow yourself to be in a position where entrusted funds can be taken. Even if it is an innocent situation where a church member asks you to take some money to give to the church financial secretary. You know your weakness. Don’t let it grab hold. Set yourself apart from your known sin weaknesses. If your weakness is pride, if your weakness is alcohol, if your weakness is arrogance, if your weakness is … whatever that gets in the way of your own relationship with God, own it, confess it, and set yourself apart from it so that it will not stain your witness or that of the church body you represent. We have to purposeful. We are not perfect. We will sometimes fail. But as in this passage, there is rededication. We start over. We rededicate ourselves to the Lord with even greater resolve to learn from the lessons that have been taught us. I pray this for Perry Noble and anyone else who is his position in the service of the Lord. We need to have those people in our lives that will tell us when we are succumbing to the pleasures and sins of the world and help us to steer clear. We have to be willing to listen to our accountability partners. We must have them.

 

We must keep ourselves, as my senior pastor says, “clean and close” to the Lord. We must be intentional about avoiding that which will defile our witness. We must be intentional about making the bride of Christ, the church, more important than our personal pleasures and desires. We must set ourselves apart. We must be intentional about saying I am a Christian and these are the values I will live by. It is a choice that we must make each and every day. It is tough, really tough at times. Satan is relentless in his pursuit of his next Perry Noble-like victim even on the small scale of a standalone church of less than 200 people. It is a victory to him when we listen to the siren’s call of unrepentant sin. It is a victory to him when he splits a church wide open and turns people away from the church. Clean and close. Set apart. Vigilant. Intentional. All these things we must be. May we cling to the Lord and ask Him to identify our weak spots, and reveal our sins and help us to repent of them so that we can stamp down hard with our foot on Satan’s neck and say we have victory. Victory through being set apart for God’s service through the grace of Jesus Christ. Amen and Amen..