Posts Tagged ‘grace’

Deuteronomy 6:1-25 (Part 6 of 6)

Love the Lord Your God

Although I am not an architect or a carpenter who design and then build things from scratch, when I look back on my career, I have been a build it from scratch kind of guy. In every job I have ever had, it seems, I have either created a function that did not exist before or I have had reclaim or rebuild something. Much of my career, I have been internal auditor which means you often have to audit business units of your company that have never been audited before. Even when those business units have been audited before, each audit is a unique animal unto itself. As an internal audit director in one of my jobs, I had to create a department that did not exist before.

 

When I have been on the other side of the accounting fence, as a controller of a business or controller of a business unit of a larger organization, I have often been hired to create or reclaim. In my first controller’s job, I had to create the corporate function of the small business that I was working for that had multiple plants and was growing through acquisitions. In my current job as controller, I had to reclaim a finance function that had gone haywire because of poor leadership and underqualified individuals holding the position of controller. I spent the first year on my current job just trying to figure out our balance sheet and income statement. Many, many hours were spent reconciling balance sheet accounts that had not been reconciled or reconciled properly in over 3 years. It was a mess. Back in those days, I was working 70 hours a week, in the office and at home, just to clean up the mess that was my company’s finance function. I had to write, institute, and enforce policies that had not existed before. I had to establish structure that had not existed before. I had to provide leadership to employees who pretty much had danced to their own drummers as the previous three inept controllers were in the position. Our legal parent company thought Fujikura America, Inc.’s (FAI) finance function was a joke (and it was!). No one at the corporate office of our parent company trusted any financial report that came out of FAI and who could blame them. It was a long struggle to get things whipped into shape but now 8 years later, our financial statements, our general ledger, our reconciliations and the trustworthiness of our financial statements is without question. Internal Audit at our parent company often uses our reconciliations of general ledger accounts as examples to the rest of the companies that they own and manage.

 

In the same way, I have accomplished the same thing in my role at my church. Prior to my becoming involved in the financial management of my church, there was nothing but a checkbook. Managing a church through a checkbook is fine when it is a small church and money is small and the need for information is small. However, my church had grown to a church of 700 people. Financial performance could not be determined by looking at a checkbook. Sure, a checkbook tells you how much net cash you have but it does not tell how much we are spending on payroll, how much we are spending on office supplies and how much of each type of revenue we received and so on without extensive work. In order to refinance our church’s debt, we had to establish structure where none had existed before. We had to create a chart of accounts. We had to go through three years of excel checkbook registers and assign revenue and expenses to our account structure so that we could generate financial statements. It took about three months to wade through all of that. Once we established where we were at as of 2013, we implemented an enterprise management software. As my position at the church has evolved into not only finance but also administration, it is again charting uncharted waters for a church that is only 9 years old. Most of the time, whatever I do from a financial or administrative standpoint at my church is something that has never been done before.

 

So, I guess that’s me. I am that something out of nothing guy. I am that fixer guy. I am an architect and carpenter of sorts that creates a building from nothing. I am accounting architect and carpenter. Having said all I guess that is the thing that intrigued me about the verses in this passage, Deuteronomy 6:1-25, that we are going to focus on today. Those verses are vv. 10-13. Let’s read with a focus on those verses as we read through this whole passage one last time before we move on:

 

6 These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. 3 Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.

 

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

 

10 When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

 

13 Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. 14 Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; 15 for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land. 16 Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah. 17 Be sure to keep the commands of the Lord your God and the stipulations and decrees he has given you. 18 Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors, 19 thrusting out all your enemies before you, as the Lord said.

 

20 In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” 21 tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 Before our eyes the Lord sent signs and wonders—great and terrible—on Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. 23 But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land he promised on oath to our ancestors. 24 The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. 25 And if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.”

 

Here, in vv. 10-13, God tells the Israelites, through Moses, that He is giving them the Land that they are entering and that it will not be a situation where they are having to start from scratch as they did at each stop in their wilderness journey. There would be cities but they did not build them. There would be houses that they did not build. There would be goods in those houses that they did not produce. There would be water cisterns that they did not construct. There would vineyards and olive trees that they did not plant. The Promised Land was ready made for immediate occupation like a move-in ready house. They did not build it but it was ready for them. They did not earn it but it was gifted to them.

How contrasting that is to what I have had to do in my career. In most of my jobs, I have had to create something out of nothing or organize what was once chaos. When I look back at how I left those positions and when I look back on what I have accomplished in the last eight years in my current job (as well as what I have accomplished in the last four years in my functions at my church), you can look back and say I did that. I accomplished that. In each of the past jobs, I have left the function better than it was before I got there. Now, in each of my full-time job at FAI and my part-time job at LifeSong Church, I can look back and see how far we have come. We have accomplished a lot. And we are better off than before I got there. You could say I have earned the success that I have encountered. The attaboys are because of a lot of hard work and sacrifice.

 

However, sometimes we think of our salvation in the same way. We think that if we do all the right things, God will smile upon us and let us into heaven. We think if we do more good than bad that He will smile upon us and let us into heaven. It is a lot of hard work to try to be good enough to get into heaven. When heaven is based on me doing more good than bad, that can be and is an all-consuming balancing act because of our penchant for doing bad things.

 

What the Bible tells us though is that we can never do more good than bad to get into heaven. Just one sin is enough to condemn us much less the daily sins that we commit. Just one. That’s all it takes. God is holy and pure and righteous and is truth. Everything about Him is pure and positive. Therefore, we cannot exist in His presence with our impurities, our sins. We are condemned by the fact that we are impure in His sight. Just as a single ink drop into a glass of pure water will taint the water and eventually permeate the whole glass of water, we are the same before God. Our first sin taints us. Our subsequent sins permeate our being. We simply cannot come before God and are condemned to hell by Him because we are not holy, pure, and righteous like Him.

 

The only chance that we have is through Jesus Christ. He is our gift. He suffered on the cross to take our condemnation away from us. Through Jesus Christ we are gifted the Promised Land. Our entry into the presence of God will not be because of our own efforts to be more good than bad. It is simply the gift that is the Son of God. We will enter the gates of heaven because of His gift. We will not have earned. We will praise God all day long not because we the builder and achiever of our lives but because of the gift of Jesus Christ. We will walk the streets of gold not because we accomplished great things for the Lord in this life, but rather because we beneficiaries of the mercy and grace we have received through Jesus Christ.

 

Amen and Amen.

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DEUTERONOMY

Last Friday, Elena and I had to sign our names like at least 20 times when we closed on the purchase of our new home. We had to sign this document and that document. We had to sign the mortgage itself between us and the bank. We had to sign the deed and numerous other documents that defined what we could and could not do as it relates to the parties to the sale, the real estate agents, the lawyers, and the bank. It was all rather blindingly confusing and fast. Although the closing attorney tried to explain everything to us, it became a blur of documents to sign after a while. I am sure that all these documents are required because at some point in the history of real estate transactions did something to cause the need for each of these documents. It’s kind of like those warning labels on things. The warning label was required because some idiot caused the need for warning label. For example, you know those silica gel packs that you often find in shoes (what purpose they serve for new shoes I am not sure), they always have a warning written on them, “Do not eat”. I look at those gel packs and think, “why in the world would anybody want to eat that? That’s a stupid warning!” However, at some point, somebody must’ve tried to eat the silica gel packs, got sick, and sued the manufacturer of the shoes. We encounter many situations like that everywhere.

 

So, I assume that all these documents that we had to sign were to limit our ability to sue others, others’ ability to sue us, establish the rights and obligations of all the parties involved in the sale and also the rights and obligations of us and the financial institution that holds our mortgage. Most certainly, when it comes to the mortgage, most of the rights are given to the financial institution because they are the ones that are taking the biggest risk – lending us a six figure amount of money to purchase a home. The bank has the advantage in the mortgage. We are the ones that have to execute certain acts throughout the life of the mortgage to retain the right to continue owning our home. If we fail to execute those acts, the bank can foreclose on our home and kick us out of it and sell it off. Thus, we have to do what the bank says so that we can live in our home. If we do not satisfy the bank, the mortgage, a kind of covenant or contract between us and the bank, gives them the right to take our ownership away from us. The mortgage is definitely slanted in the bank’s favor. It is kind of like a treaty between a conquering nation and an conquered nation at the end of a war. It definitely gives all the advantages to one party over the other because they won the war. You have a victorious party that grants certain rights to the conquered and restricts others. It requires the conquered party to recognize the superiority of the victorious party in the relationship.

 

It was that idea of there being a superior party, the bank, over us, my wife and me, as it relates to the home and property that we just purchased. When it comes to that house we live in, we must recognize the bank as the superior party. They are the ones that loaned us the money. We are subject to the bank when it comes to the ownership of our home. The mortgage establishes that relationship and defines the bank as the superior party and it tells us what we can and can’t do financially and legally with regard to our home. It is that idea of a covenant between a superior party and an inferior party that comes through loud and clear as we step into our next book, Deuteronomy. Let’s take a quick overview today before we get started:

 

Overview of the Book of Deuteronomy

 

The genre of the book of Deuteronomy is not much different from that of Exodus. It is Narrative History and Law, although there is a Song from Moses just after he commissions Joshua. This song describes the History that the Israelites had experienced. Moses wrote Deuteronomy approximately 1407-1406 B.C. The key personalities are Moses and Joshua.

 

Moses wrote this book to remind the Israelites of what God had done and to remind them of what God expects of them. The name literally means “Second Law”. Moses gives “the Law” for the second time.

 

  • In chapters 1-4, Moses reviews some of the details of the past history of Israel such as the Exodus and the wandering in the wilderness. He then urges that they obey the Laws of God.

 

  • Then, in chapters 5-28 Moses restates the Ten Commandments to the Israelites. Moses explains the principles and instructions for living a Godly life as God’s chosen nation. These include how to love the Lord, laws of worship, laws regarding relationships (like divorce), and also the consequences and penalties if these laws are broken.

 

  • Chapters 29-30 there is a move to commit themselves, as a nation, and to stand apart unto God. This consists of not only knowing the many laws that God has commanded, but also obeying them and placing God first.

 

  • Finally, in chapter 31 through 34, we see the first change in leadership in Israel. Moses, the one who has been leading them the entire time, hands over his authority to Joshua, and commissions him. Moses blesses the tribes, which reminds us of Jacob blessing his sons almost 450 years earlier. In the last chapter, God shows Moses the promise land, although he cannot enter it, after this, Moses the servant of the Lord dies on Mt. Nebo.

 

The book takes almost the form of a contract between a superior nation (God) and an inferior, conquered nation (the people of Israel). The following outline represents a fairly widely held consensus of the shape of the book as a covenant document:

 

  • The preamble, which provides the setting in which the Great King presents the covenant text to the vassal ( 1:1-5 ).
  • The historical prologue, which recounts the past relations between the two contracting parties (1:6-4:49).
  • The general stipulations, which present the basic principles of expectation of behavior that underlie the relationship (5:1-11:32).
  • The specific stipulations, which provide interpretation or amplification of the general stipulations, usually in terms of actual cases or precise requirements (12:1-26:15).
  • The blessings and curses, which spell out the results of faithful adherence to or disobedience of the terms of the covenant (27:1- 28:68).
  • The witnesses, that is, persons or other entities to which appeal can be made as to the legality of the covenant instrument and to the commitments made by the contracting parties ( 30:19 ; 31:19; 32:1-43 ).

 

In light of the indisputable connection between form and function, it is safe to say that the concept of covenant lies at the center of the theology of Deuteronomy. Covenant, in turn, by its very definition demands at least three elements: the two contracting parties and the document that describes the purpose, nature, and requirements of the relationship. Thus the three major rubrics of the theology of Deuteronomy are Yahweh, the Great King and covenant initiator; Israel, the vassal and covenant recipient; and the book itself, the covenant vehicle, complete with the essentials of standard treaty documents.

Thus, the takeaway that I have after reading through all the summaries of Deuteronomy this morning and yesterday, as I was preparing for this blog, is that God is the sovereign king and we are his subjects. He has made covenant with us that establishes our relationship with Him that we might come into his presence through keeping his covenant requirements. He is a holy God and the Law is the way in which we are to be holy just like Him. Deuteronomy also shows us that it is impossible for us to keep the law 100% of the time for 100% of our lives. The covenant establishes the consequences of our failure to keep the Law.

 

Deuteronomy also reinforces the concept of grace in my mind. It reminds me of our need for Jesus. Deuteronomy points out to us that we are insufficient to maintain the Law perfectly all the time. Thus, Deuteronomy teaches that we are convicted by our inability to be perfect all the time. Just like with our mortgage, it does not matter how many years we pay our mortgage on time each month, if we fail to make a payment and continue in that delinquency, the bank can take our house away. It is the same way with God, it does not matter how many good deeds we do, if we fail to keep his law perfectly throughout all of our life, He will condemn us to hell. When we sin, we fail to keep the law. When we sin just one time (no matter how good we have been previously), we are done. God can come in and take our heavenly house away. We are done. We are convicted. We are delinquent on our mortgage with God.

 

Just as the bank does not want to go through the hassle of enforcing its rights under our mortgage agreement when we are delinquent, the bank will give us a grace period to catch up on that payment. In that situation, they have every right in the world to come down hard on us for missing a payment or paying late. The bank knows it and we know it. All parties know that they have the right to come down hard on delinquency. However, banks will give you time to cure the breach of the mortgage.

 

It is kind of like that with God. He has every right to come down hard on us and send us to hell based on the fact that we are totally incapable of keeping his laws. We are sinful. We have sinned. It makes us delinquents. We are convicted for having transgressed God’s law. It is evident to all parties and we know it ourselves. However, God gives us grace. The grace comes from Jesus Christ. He is the cure to our breach of God’s law. He makes us compliant with our mortgage with the superior party, God. He gets us back current with God. He cures our delinquency for us. It is through the grace of Jesus Christ that God does not enforce His covenant-given rights to condemn us. When God sees us after salvation (after we have taken advantage of grace), He sees the purity of Jesus. He does not see our delinquency. He treats like a bank treating us as if we have never made a late payment on our mortgage. He wipes off the delinquency off our eternal credit report. We are made whole.

 

Deuteronomy reminds us of the power of Jesus’ grace and that it is a gift to us and not something that we can do ourselves. We are sinful people deserving of punishment but He has given us, given us, grace through Jesus Christ.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 21:1-3

Arad Destroyed

Have you ever been given a reprieve from punishment that you knew that you deserved? I know I have. I know that I have told this story before here but seems appropriate again as my illustration for this morning. Back when I was just about to turn 14 years old, as the son of a Methodist minister, we were required by the Methodist Church in South Carolina to move from my dad’s appointment as the associate pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Anderson, SC to become the pastor of Travelers Rest and Jackson Grove United Methodist Churches in Travelers Rest, SC, north of Greenville, SC. It was in Anderson that I had become a teenager and it was there that I had kind of come into my own socially and was beginning to develop that sense of independence and separateness from my parents that you develop at that age. You start doing things separately from them. You start having a sense of your own life at that age. So, it was in Anderson that I was really enjoying life. I was a popular kid at school. I was on the middle school football team. I was part of the in-crowd. The girls thought I was cute. I was big flirt too. It was a grand time and in the fall I would have moved up Westside High School. I was very comfortable there and wanted and prayed that my dad would be there until I had graduated from Westside. That was my plan, but that was not the plan of the South Carolina convention of the United Methodist Church. We moved in June 1976. I was an angry, distraught young man.

 

Later than summer, my best friend from Anderson came up to Travelers Rest to spend the week with me so that he could join me on our church’s youth trip to Six Flags over Georgia down in Atlanta on like Wednesday of that week. However, on Monday, when we were just hanging out at the house while my parents worked, Donnie and I got bored and started roaming through town to see what we could get into. We stole some candy from the drug store near our house and we spent the day doing things that teenage boys with too much time on their hands might do. Then, we came upon the elementary school. We decided that it would be fun to vandalize the school in some way. We decided that fun would be to pull the telephone wires out of the junction box on the outer wall of the school outside the office. This would be where the telephone wiring from the road meet the telephone wiring of the school. We thought that would be funny. When we yanked on those wires, the janitor was looking through a nearby window and saw us and hollered at us. We took off running down the street to a nearby convenience store and try to act cool as if we were shopping for candy and soft drinks. But being a small town and city hall being just blocks away from the school, the cops were upon us in minutes. We got arrested. In Greenville County, SC at the time, all the small towns had an agreement with the City/County Detention Center to transfer criminals for incarceration to that facility. So, my parents not only get shocked to find out that we had committed a crime, they had to drive to downtown Greenville, some 25-30 minutes away from our house, to come pick us up. The next hours were a blur and I dreaded seeing my dad more than anything law enforcement could throw at me (at least that’s what I worried about most was his anger and his disappointment in me).

 

We were released to there custody and we could not leave their sight. Donnie’s parents were in Arkansas visiting family so sending him home was not an option. Thus, there we were right up my parent’s butts the next day all day. And, our punishment on Wednesday was to not to allowed to leave their sight while our youth from both churches were on the trip to Six Flags. That was a punishment worse than death to a teenager. To have to hang out with our parents all day at an amusement park. It would have been a humiliation of the worst order. That was what I had to tell these teenagers from the church that I barely knew for less than a month. It was embarrassing. However, I don’t know what possessed my dad to do it (because he, before and since, was a dad who always enforced his punishment without exception and without concern for the hardships that punishing us would cause him), but my dad on this one day set us free when we got to Six Flags. We were going to have to pay for our crimes in the coming months after that in various ways but on this day, we were given a reprieve. We were given the freedom we sought. We were given freedom beyond what we deserved. I will never forget that grace that my dad showed us that day. We did not deserve anything but humiliation that day and we knew it and were resigned to our fate. Yet, we were given grace even still.

 

That was what I thought of this morning as I read through today’s short passage, Numbers 21:1-3. The Israelites were given victory even though they really didn’t deserve it when you consider the previous 37 years of history of these people. Let’s read this passage together this morning:

 

21 When the Canaanite king of Arad, who lived in the Negev, heard that Israel was coming along the road to Atharim, he attacked the Israelites and captured some of them. 2 Then Israel made this vow to the Lord: “If you will deliver these people into our hands, we will totally destroy their cities.” 3 The Lord listened to Israel’s plea and gave the Canaanites over to them. They completely destroyed them and their towns; so the place was named Hormah.

 

It is a short passage but one that I find intriguing anyway. What’s the takeaway here? It is the fact that the Israelites were a rebellious people throughout their time of wandering in the desert. God would punish them for this disobedience but yet they would still complain. God would provide for them but they would still complain. God required obedience from them but for the most part all he got from His chosen people was disobedience. They were not the poster children for obedient children of God. Why He did not completely destroy them is a testament to God’s patience with them. Here, after years of disobedience, whining, complaining, and doing often exactly the opposite of what God commanded, He shows them grace and gives them their first victory in what would become the war to take the Promised Land. If you have read any this history of Israel in the Old Testament, you know that they were a stiff-necked, stubborn people who rarely gave God the honor that He deserved. They rebelled against Him at every turn even though they had seen all these miracles of God’s protection and provision. They did not deserve victory on this day. They deserved to be roundly defeated. They deserved to be crushed. But, yet God in his grace and mercy gives His people victory.

 

God certainly does allow us to suffer the consequences of our sin, you and me, but yet He gives us grace through Jesus Christ. We do not deserve God’s grace. What we deserve is to be written off by Him eternally. We rebel against Him at every turn. We have done our deeds of disobedience and they are plain and clear to see. There is no negotiation away or acting as if our crimes were not committed. We have been caught with our sins in our hands. Our sins are laid bare before the Lord. He knows all that we have done. He is the judge with the photos from the crime scene spread out before Him. We are caught dead to rights. We are deserving of our punishment and we and God know it.

 

But He loves us anyway. Just like a couple of teenage boys with a punishment of hanging out with my parents the whole day at Six Flags who are suddenly told that we are free to do as we please (within reason) that day, we are too set free through Jesus Christ and the grace that He provides us at the cross. Our slate is wiped clean. We are covered by His grace that we do not deserve. The Israelites were given their first victory in the conquest of Canaan here even though they surely did not deserve to be providentially protected and guided in that victory. God’s grace abounds even to those who do not deserve it – which is every last one of us. God gives us victory though we are yet sinners. God gives us victory though His Son, Jesus Christ.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 18:1-7 (Part 2 of 2)

Duties of the Priest & The Levites

When I was six years old back in the day, my family was living in a small farming community in between Sumter, SC and Camden, SC. Sumter’s claim to fame is that it is home to Shaw Air Force Base and is named after the revolutionary war hero, Thomas “The Fighting Gamecock” Sumter and probably not much else. Camden has a bit richer history in that it is the oldest inland town in South Carolina and there was a major revolutionary war battle fought there for which there is a historical preserve just outside of town that commemorates those events. Both though are small southern towns that are not of any particular import these days. And, we lived in an even smaller town in between the two, Rembert, SC.

 

In that small area, it was so small population wise, we had to be bussed to our school over near Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter. Back in those days, the elementary school, the junior high and the high school were all on the same property. This point has a lot to do with my illustration this morning. That year, my 1st grade year, it was time for the homecoming football game, and apparently the homecoming committee (some of the high school kids) came down to the elementary school part of the campus on a Monday and was looking for a first grade boy and girl to be the crown bearer and the flower bearer for the homecoming game to held the following Friday. They looked in each classroom of first graders and were going to select some boy and some girl at random to become part of the homecoming court that Friday. By some twist of fate, I was selected. It may have had something to do with my innate cuteness at that age! LOL! However, it was not because of something I had done or something I had qualified for. It was simply that I was chosen by the girls of the homecoming committee because for whatever reason they just liked me.

 

It got me and the young girl whose name I cannot remember these 48 years later out of class twice that week to practice with the homecoming court. I was to carry the crown, which was attached, to this white satin pillow and my fellow cute first grader girl was to carry the roses that were to be bestowed upon the 1968 Homecoming Queen of Hillcrest High School. We just did what we were told. We were guided into our positions in practice. Then on Friday, during halftime of the homecoming game, we did it all again for real. Although we practiced it twice during the week, being there during the game under the lights with at least two thousand spectators there, I was a bit nervous. Must not drop the crown. Must not drop the crown. Must not walk faster than the girl I am with. Must not walk faster than the girl I am with. It was a great honor. Even though we were only first graders, if you find a 1969 Hillcrest yearbook, you will see two little first graders in the homecoming court picture. Why I was chosen for this honor still eludes me a half a century later. No one knows in my family why I was chosen. It was just that the homecoming committee’s teenagers just thought I fit the look or whatever. It was not that I was from a power family in the region. My dad had just been transferred to be the pastor of a couple of rural Methodist churches just a few months before so it wasn’t that I was like the child of this longtime preacher in the region. My mom was a working mom so she was not one of those 1960’s stay at home moms that was heavily involved in the school. None of those reasons that you might think in this situation was an explanation here. I was simply chosen at the whim of a few teenagers who peaked into Mrs. Lipsey’s first grade classroom that day. No pedigree. No history. No who ya know. Just chosen.

 

It is that idea of unmerited choice that I thought of when I read Numbers 18:1-7 for our second and final pass at this Scripture this morning. Let us read through it together now:

 

 

18 The Lord said to Aaron, “You, your sons and your family are to bear the responsibility for offenses connected with the sanctuary, and you and your sons alone are to bear the responsibility for offenses connected with the priesthood. 2 Bring your fellow Levites from your ancestral tribe to join you and assist you when you and your sons minister before the tent of the covenant law. 3 They are to be responsible to you and are to perform all the duties of the tent, but they must not go near the furnishings of the sanctuary or the altar. Otherwise both they and you will die. 4 They are to join you and be responsible for the care of the tent of meeting—all the work at the tent—and no one else may come near where you are.

 

5 “You are to be responsible for the care of the sanctuary and the altar, so that my wrath will not fall on the Israelites again. 6 I myself have selected your fellow Levites from among the Israelites as a gift to you, dedicated to the Lord to do the work at the tent of meeting. 7 But only you and your sons may serve as priests in connection with everything at the altar and inside the curtain. I am giving you the service of the priesthood as a gift. Anyone else who comes near the sanctuary is to be put to death.”

 

Here you see that the Levites were chosen by God to serve, not because they were anything special, not that there was a competition among the clans to see which clan got to be the priestly clan and they won out. There was no competition as to which clan was most holy all the time. None of the clans would have qualified under those circumstances. Yet, they were called out by God. They were chosen by Him to carry out the honorable duties of the Tabernacle (and later the Temple). This unmerited choice emphasized the fact that these priests, and these people had done nothing to merit the provision. It was wholly one of grace, a gift from God. Therefore, it was not less, but more, important that they should recognize its sanctity. Whatever service is ours as a result of the giving of grace, is the most holy and sacred service, and therefore to be rendered with the utmost devotion.

 

When we accept Christ as our Savior, we are given an unmerited gift than cancels out the penalty of our sins for which we deserve eternity in hell, separated from God, where there is burning of flesh and the gnashing of teeth eternally. That is what we deserve. That is what we have earned. We cannot do enough good deeds to undo the effect and the penalty of our sins in the absence of the grace, the unmerited gift of salvation, of Jesus Christ. Why then are we so often seen as a sorrowful people, the people of the church. We should be the most joyous people on the planet. We actually know what we deserve and where we were headed in the absence of the gift that we did not deserve. We know that hell exists and that were pulled back from its precipice. Not because we deserved it, no! We know that we rightfully by our own merits should be eternal residents of hell. But when we throw ourselves on the mercy of the Lord, He released us from our sentence through salvation in Jesus Christ. Through grace by faith, we have been set free. We don’t deserve it by any means. There should be such great joy, tempered with great humility. There should be this outpouring of “this is what Jesus has done for me” that we cannot hide it or help it from pouring out of us. We are like prisoners who are granted a reprieve from the electric chair. We are murders, rapers, liars, whores, prostitutes, thieves, prideful, arrogant, greedy, needful, all of us. None deserve being chosen through grace by faith. But we are chosen and set on the high, dry rock above hell’s flames. We are placed on the rock of Jesus Christ through faith and extended grace that we do not deserve. How’s your joy? How well do you serve the Lord just to pay him back just a .000000000001 of what we should do for our Savior?

 

Do you see serving the Lord as an imposition? Do you think that other things are higher priorities? Are all these other things that we involve ourselves in more important than showing God honor for what He has done for us through Jesus Christ? Whatever we do, it will never be enough for the grace He has extended us? No way no how. There is not enough we can do to serve our Lord! We must do it with passion and fervor because of what He has done for us. We cannot boast because we do not deserve anything other than the fiery flames of hell. Grace is a gift. We should be like kids on Christmas morning with our gift of grace that we do not deserve.

 

Amen and Amen.

Matthew 19:16-30
Jesus Speaks to the Rich Young Man

On Valentine’s Day, we like to be recognized for having been a good husband, good boyfriend, good wife or a good girlfriend. We starve for recognition. We want to feel important. We like for attention to be drawn to ourselves and have a moment in the spotlight. That is the nature of the Valentine holiday is the recognition of the importance of the people that we love in our lives. It means that we notice. We see what our loved ones do for us. But Valentine comes just once a year. If we do not spend the other 364 days (the other 365 this year, a leap year), loving our husband, wives, boyfriends, and girlfriends daily without recognition then Valentine’s Day is meaningless. If we do not do the hard work of being sacrificially loving to our loved ones during the rest of the year, Valentine’s Day is just done because it is what you are expected to do. Valentine’s Day should be a celebration of saying, “Hey, baby, I notice all the little things that you do everyday that show you love me! It doesn’t go unnoticed! I just save up all the goodwill and shower you with it on one day!”

Yesterday, my wife and I were discussing the fact that she so appreciated me going with her and spending all day long getting her mother moved from her senior independent living apartment into an assisted living facility. It was a day-long affair because her mother though had packed some had not packed a lot. We also had to cram a two bedroom apartment into what amounts to a studio one bedroom apartment. Elena was very thankful that I decided to go with her because this ended up being an all day affair. She said I scored points big time with her! It got us to thinking about with men relationships are point systems. The more points that you accumulate the better probability of getting paid back in amorous ways by our wives. We built up points so that we can cash them in amorous ways. But, as the discussion continued, the points we men gain do not have permanent value. You know, a point gained today devalues over time. A point gained with your wife in 2016 is worth like may a quarter of that value, if any at all at this time next year. So, we as men, must cash our points in within a certain short period of time after we earn them because as we said, our points lose value the longer we hold on to them. As well, if we do not cash them in pretty quickly, we may do something that causes points to be taken away from our point bank by our doing things that disappoint or hurt our wives. We laughed hysterically about the fact that men must cash in their points quickly before they lose value or they do something to lose points. It’s all about the points in the bank baby, I said. We laughed hysterically! As you know, the thing that makes humor, humor, is that the funny is in the kernel of truth that exists in it. Husbands and wives play the points game. Wives control the issuance of the points or the point deductions, we all know that and we all live with it as part of the wonderful dance that we call male-female relationships.

The sad thing about this fact is that we often make our relationship with God about points. Just we men try to earn love points with our wives so that they will give us something in return, we often make our relationship with God the same way. Let’s read about this fact in Matthew 19:16-30:

16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

18 “Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’[a] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]”

20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife[c] or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
Are we living life to earn points with God like we try to earn favor with our wives? There is nothing that we can do to earn enough points to gain access to heaven. That’s what the rich young ruler wanted to learn. How to assure himself of heaven by his deeds! Just as husbands may try to go over the top today to earn favor with their wives to get the reward that they seek, this rich young man wanted to know what the check off list of ideas, what combination of good deeds would assure him of heaven. In this passage we learn that it’s not about the deeds. Yes, we do good deeds as part of being Christians but the good deeds are not the thing, they are the effect. Jesus is the cause and the good deeds are the effect. As Christians we realize that we are sinners and it is only through the mechanism of grace that we stand right with God. No checklist of good deeds can every make us worthy of heaven in the absence of the humble sovereignty of God in our lives. We must love God like we love nothing else. We must love God with intimacy. We must love God with great joy. We must love God in a greater way than any possession that we have. When we love God that much and are so humbly thankful for our salvation that comes only through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross on our behalf, our good deeds pour out of us. We do good deeds as a natural outpouring of our humble service and love of God for what He has done for us. We are so thankful for what He has done for us and from our own realization that hell was our future without Jesus that we pour out good deeds so that others will come to know what we know.
Good deeds just for the sake of good deeds means nothing. If we do not have love for God in our hearts, good deeds are just for show and nothing else. It is the same for us in our relationships with our husbands or wives. If you are not loving your wife daily in sacrificial and sometimes unnoticed ways on a daily basis, your point system is diminished. Your good deeds without love in your heart for your spouse are just meaningless shows if you are not loving your spouse with conviction and heart the other 364 days of the year (365 days this year, a leap year). The points we gain and put in the bank with our wives have greater value and sustain their value longer if we show them that we love them in small loving ways each and every day. If you depend on Valentine’s Day to gain points with your wife and are an ass toward her the rest of the year, you cannot gain enough points on Valentine’s Day to make things right. Love your wife all year long in small loving ways that may or may not get rewarded by her. Just love her and be thankful that she hasn’t kicked you to the curb for being a jerk all these years. Be very thankful. Start today to love her every day and not just Valentine’s Day because you expect a great reward today.

May we love God daily too. We cannot do enough good deeds to earn his love. He loves us despite us only being worthy of being kicked to the curb by Him. But He continues to love us anyway. He gave us Jesus as our reconciliation to Him. He loves us that much. Should we not love Him that much back for what He has done for us. We deserve to be kicked to the curb, but He loves us. Oh how He loves us! Be thankful for that! Celebrate God’s love for us daily in how we live, how we treat others, what we do for others…because we are loved by God and because we cannot do enough to earn it but He loves us oh how He loves us!

Amen and Amen.

1 Corinthians 13 — Yesterday, we talked about how pretty much every gift given from God is meaningless unless we love, unless we show love, unless we act in love. Then, that begs the question, What is love? In this next paragraph of this chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul describes love. It reminds you of that scene from the movie, Forest Gump, when he asks Jenny to marry him for the first time and the speaking parts of the scene end with Forrest saying, “I might not be a smart man, but I do know what love is!” Paul, in this paragraph, tells us what Forrest already knows. Since love is the central theme of Christianity, we will spend a few days here on these definitions of love. Just think how patient Forrest was with Jenny. That was patient love. That was abiding love. We can learn a lot from how Forrest loved Jenny.

The first definition of love is that love is patient. Right out of the gate, Paul uses patience to describe love. It must therefore be a primary characteristic of love. Just as food labels are required by law to list the ingredients of food you purchase in their order of relative content in the food. If patience is listed first, it must mean that Paul sees it as the most important ingredient in love. What is patience then? Dictionary.com defines patience as the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain, without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like. It goes on to define patience as an ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay. Patience is also quiet, steady perseverance; even-tempered care; diligence. To be patient is to have these qualities and to live out these qualities. Love is patient.

According to gotquestions.com, patience is noted as part of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. Love is also mentioned there, revealing the close connection between these two attributes. Both love and patience are products of the Spirit’s presence in one’s life. Without patience can we truly love? The lack of patience in relationships means that we are not willing to invest in them. Lack of patience with others means that we see our agenda as greater than theirs. Impatience is the fruit of selfishness.

Patience means setting aside getting my needs met. That is where impatience is born is in our selfish, depraved, sinful desires to get what I want and I want it now! We start out young being impatient. Babies that do not get their needs met immediately shower us with their curdling cries and screams. We come into this world wanting what we want and wanting it now. Patience only comes when we care about the needs of others more than our own needs. Think of the wife how suffers through decades of her husband’s alcoholism but still loves him. She still sees the best in him.

Patience gives us hope. Patience believes in the best in others. Just think of the joy that she has when her husband finally admits his problem, joins Celebrate Recovery, and begins his sobriety journey. Impatience would have ended that marriage decades ago. Patience is rewarded in this scenario we are talking about. Often the strongest marriages are those that have survived devastating setbacks, pain, and troubles. When marriages come out of the valley, one or the other or both see the godly love that has been shown them by their spouse and it deepens their love for one another. Without patience that would never happen.

Patience sees potential in others. Patience allows us to nurture that which is good in others. It allows us to invest in another person even though right now that person is so annoying. Patience allows us to give them space to be themselves. Patience concentrates on that which is good in others rather than that which annoys us.

Patience allows us to grant others grace, the same grace that we have been shown by Our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. In a world where Christians are bombarded by a world now that sees what is wrong as right and what is right as wrong, patience can be in short supply. We want to wash our hands of a world gone mad. We may find it disgusting and it may turn our stomach and make us nauseous to watch Bruce Jenner in an evening gown being rewarded for his courage. We can lose our patience over things like this because it just seems that the world now glorifies everything that is the opposite of what we think is right. But weren’t we ourselves ones who used to shake our fist at God by the way we lived our lives in opposition to Him. Unless you were one of the lucky ones who accepted Jesus as your Savior as a child, then, you and me have lived lives that grieve the heart of God. It was not until God allowed circumstances in our lives to bring us to our knees before Him that we quit shaking our fist at God. We must be patient with those whose lifestyles are in opposition to God’s Word. We must offer them the same grace that we have been given.

Patience allows us to be like Jesus. When we are like Jesus, it means that we don’t write people off as beyond redemption. We don’t write people off because what they do makes us sick to our stomach, literally. Jesus would have encountered Bruce Jenner not rejected Him. Jesus would have ate dinner with a same-sex couple. He would have not waffled on God’s truths with them. He would have told them like it was, but He would have done it in a way that made them think. He would have done so in love. Imagine the patience of Jesus with us sinners. He loved us. He sat down with us in the midst of our sins. He went to the cross and died for us and patiently waits for you to accept Him as your Savior even now while you shake your fist at Him.

Jesus, The Holy Spirit and The Father are one. In Scripture it says God is patient. According to gotquestions.com, since God is love (1 John 4:8), He is necessarily patient. “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6; see also Psalm 86:15; 103:8; 145:8). Even in judgment, God’s patience is evident: “God’s patience waited in the days of Noah” (1 Peter 3:20).

If we are to be like Christ, if we are to be little Christs, we must have love in our hearts for others. We must be able to set aside our need to have our needs immediately met. We must have godly patience with others. We must love them to the cross. Sometimes that takes long-suffering patience. Patience is the hallmark of love. Patience means never giving up, never writing off, always hoping, always seeing a child of God in others even when they are shaking their fist at us and everything that we hold dear. God, grant us patience daily! OK. Let’s go watch Forrest Gump again!

Luke 6:24-26 — Today, we come to the end of this “woeful” passage. The first thing that comes to mind when I read this passage is the old saying, “Even a dead dog can swim with the tide.” Today’s verse, v. 26, is about being part of the in-crowd and selling your soul in the process. There is trouble ahead for those who live for the approval of others rather than for the approval of the One who made us.

If I was in the crowd at the Sermon on the Plain here in this passage, I would have felt like this statement Jesus made was preached right at me right between my eyes. Have you ever heard a sermon where you thought the preacher was preaching right at you. Growing up as a preacher’s kid, I was constantly moving. Living in a new town every couple of years. I had to learn to adapt and fit in so that I would not be singled out as the new kid for very long. I became a chameleon at an early age. I did whatever it took to win the approval of the in-crowd. I was good at. I was so good at that it affected my entire life. Seeking and looking for the approval of others.

As I grew into adulthood, it became about seeking bedroom approval, as I will call it, from every woman that I was in a relationship with. Bedroom approval was everything. I lived my life for it. I compromised my principles for it. I sold my soul for it. Keeping access to the pleasures of the bedroom ruled my life no matter who I was married to but particularly in my second marriage. As a classic second marriage, it was ruled by my kids vs. your kids issue. So, my second marriage set up the ultimate battle of my life – my kids/your kids vs. keeping bedroom approval.

I regret to say that I failed in this battle. My relationship with my kids ended up being only what I had to do legally rather than being a real dad to them. I would compromise being a dad to them rather give up access to bedroom approval. Thus my second wife became my god. Her feelings about me ruled how I felt about myself. I do not blame my second wife for this, anymore. I blame myself. I could see what was happening but was not man enough to stand up and say that I am going to be a real dad to my girls. I allowed this whole thing to happen. My second wife was taking the ground that I gave to her just like anyone does in a relationship. I could have changed things early on but never did just to keep approval. That has been the story of my life from the beginning. Approval seeking. Making gods of approval in whatever form it may take.

Thank God and my salvation and two very loving daughters that I still have a relationship with them. As a matter of fact, our relationship now is a deep and abiding relationship that has survived and flourished. My girls are. It reminds me of how God sees us. We disappoint Him mightily each day but He still loves us and accepts us into His arms daily even when we have just blatantly all out said I think this thing is god and not you, Lord. He loved me anyway.

Whenever you make something other than God to be your god, you will make compromises on things that really matter like integrity, responsibility, and doing what is right. When you make something other than God your god, it or he/she will disappoint. When we make something that was created by God a god, it will fail us in some way. It is only when we find our value, our intrinsic value in God through Jesus Christ that we can get off the approval meter. It is when we find our value in Jesus Christ that we finally see that compromise is not the answer. Fitting in by compromising that which is right is only temporary. As humans, we change the rules about what is right and wrong as time marches on, but the principles of Jesus Christ stand forever. When we get to our judgment, are we going to say, “Lord, I did the best I could to fit in with the crowd?”

Each one of us has a judgment day coming. It is inevitable. It will be either at our own death or when Jesus Christ returns with the sound of trumpets in the eastern sky. We will be judged by our Creator. Why then do act as though our judgment is not coming by living lives of compromise just to fit in. We all recognize that there is an end to this life and some form of judgment awaits regardless of whether we believe in any god at all. Our Father in Heaven wired us that way. It is in Jesus Christ, who knows what lousy scoundrels that we are, that we find forgiveness and being made right with God. Even when we have flaunted our nose up at him for years and years. He is ready and waiting for you to see that man-made gods are not the answer. He wired you to worship Him, recognize Him. He gave you free will and you used it to worship other things just like me. I worshiped approval from others, from women, from things, from security, from fitting in until I was age 39. It was then I found that all of that was meaningless. Again, I come to Matthew 6:33, seek the kingdom of heaven first. Seek the approval of the one who really matters in eternity first. Everything else is temporary. Seek Jesus first. Please Him. All this other stuff is all secondary to that.

It is funny that when you quit the rat race of approval seeking from others and begin seeking His approval, that God will bring you the man or woman that He designed for you. When you quit chasing anything else beside Him, He will fulfill you and give you different eyes. It was only when I laid down my need for approval from women and what they offer a man that I finally found true relationship in that area. God had Elena finding her way to me but God would only allow me to see her when my eyes were focused on Him. We make mistakes in life that we regret, but through Jesus’ grace, our Father says welcome home, I am glad that you can finally see me.

Final thought – live your life with a vertical approach (seeking approval from the Father in Heaven) instead of a horizontal approach (seeking approval from other people or things that are here on earth).