Posts Tagged ‘hard work’

Ruth 2:1-23 (Part 2 of 5)
Ruth Gleans in Boaz’s Field

Our church motto is “missionaries where we live, work, and play.” The intention of the motto is to demonstrate to our people that we should be on-mission, Jesus’ mission, all the time no matter where we are or what we are doing. So often, we think of mission as being someone being sent to a foreign land to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, our church motto reminds us that our mission field is not limited to foreign lands. Acts 1:8 tells us to be Jesus’ witnesses in Jerusalem (here we live), in Samaria (in our region and nation), and to the ends of the earth (foreign lands). We are called to be missionaries just as much locally, regionally, and nationally as we are called to be missionaries in foreign lands. Each of us has a mission field in our normal everyday lives. We each have a sphere of influence that is our mission field. We each have a sphere of influence where we work. We each have a sphere of influence where we live – in our neighborhoods and in our sections of town. We each have a sphere of influence in our leisure pursuits and just normal everyday interactions with people with whom we come in contact not at work or in our neighborhood.

The motto is to encourage our LifeSong folks to be mindful that each one of us is part of the kingdom’s work each and every day no matter where we are or what we are doing. We should be “on-mission” all the time. We should consider ourselves ministers of the gospel. It’s not just the preacher’s job. Having full-time pastors in a local church is a recent development in Christendom. For most of the early centuries of the church, the job of what we call a preacher today was shared among the elders of the church and each and every member of the church was not excused from carrying the gospel just because they were not an elder. So, our church motto is one that reminds that we are a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6) as part of God’s people. Church should not be a compartmentalized thing that we do on Sundays only or at special events at other times that require us to volunteer. We should be missionaries when nobody from church is looking. We should be missionaries when the preacher is not there to pat us on the back. We should be missionaries where we live, work, and play because we are playing for “and audience of one”, as my pastor often says. The “audience of one” is God and He is the one whom we must please and not necessarily so we can gain favor with our preacher or the people that we want to impress at church. We should be doing the work of the kingdom, spreading the gospel, because we love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and because we love others so much that we want them to have the opportunity to encounter a real person who has been saved by the grace of Jesus Christ. We want people who do not know Jesus to come to know the joy and peace that comes from salvation in Jesus Christ. We should care so much about the eternal destination of all the people we come in contact with in our spheres of influence that we are on-mission every day. We think about it. We pray about it. We act upon it. We give glory to the Lord because of it.

That’s the intent behind the motto. But at the same time, if we do not live out Christlikeness in our everyday lives, then, all of the above is meaningless. I think part of the intent of the motto is also to remind us that being a Christ follower is a full-time 24/7/365 calling. It is not some box that we pull out of the storage rack in the garage on Sunday and play with its contents for a few hours on Sunday and maybe at special events of the church here and there and maybe at some small group setting on a regular basis. Being a missionary where we live, work, and play is a reminder that we are Christ followers all the time – from the time we get up in the morning until the time we go to bed at night and even while we are sleeping. During our day, we should remind ourselves that we are Christ’s representatives here on earth. We should NOT be like the old saying about church hypocrisy of “go to church on Sunday and live like hell the rest of the week.” Not that we should try to be some paragon of virtue, we are flawed, fleshly human vessels on this side of heaven, but there should be real life change as a result of salvation. We should be through sanctification by the Holy Spirit from the inside of us out becoming gradually, gradually more and more like Christ every day. We should be different from the rest of the world because Jesus sure was. We should be so different and have such different values from the rest of this fallen world that people are drawn to us and want to know why we are so different. We should live our lives in such a way that we have good reputations and people can count on our word being our word. We should be people who value integrity and honesty. We should be people who demonstrate those qualities in everything we do. We should have demonstrable faith. We should be people who are unafraid to live out the gospel in their daily lives. We should be unafraid to share our faith with others. We should have such a reputation for being a Christian that people are drawn to us and want to know how Jesus changed our lives. We should have a reputation for being ethical people even when we don’t have to be. We should have a reputation for being a hard worker. We should have a reputation for being a person that can be counted on to go above and beyond what is required. In our neighborhoods, we should be seen as people who are uncommonly kind and who care about our neighbors. All in all, we should be on-mission not only in intentional acts of evangelism but we should let our lives reflect that we are missionaries each and every day where we live, work, and play.

That was the thing that struck me when I read this passage/chapter of Ruth for the second of five reads through this morning – how Ruth was a woman of character all the time, every day. She was an example of a missionary on-mission all the time. Let’s read through Ruth 2:1-23 for the first of five blogs today:

2 Now there was a wealthy and influential man in Bethlehem named Boaz, who was a relative of Naomi’s husband, Elimelech.

2 One day Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go out into the harvest fields to pick up the stalks of grain left behind by anyone who is kind enough to let me do it.”

Naomi replied, “All right, my daughter, go ahead.” 3 So Ruth went out to gather grain behind the harvesters. And as it happened, she found herself working in a field that belonged to Boaz, the relative of her father-in-law, Elimelech.

4 While she was there, Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters. “The Lord be with you!” he said.

“The Lord bless you!” the harvesters replied.

5 Then Boaz asked his foreman, “Who is that young woman over there? Who does she belong to?”

6 And the foreman replied, “She is the young woman from Moab who came back with Naomi. 7 She asked me this morning if she could gather grain behind the harvesters. She has been hard at work ever since, except for a few minutes’ rest in the shelter.”

8 Boaz went over and said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields. Stay right behind the young women working in my field. 9 See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to the water they have drawn from the well.”

10 Ruth fell at his feet and thanked him warmly. “What have I done to deserve such kindness?” she asked. “I am only a foreigner.”

11 “Yes, I know,” Boaz replied. “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. 12 May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.”

13 “I hope I continue to please you, sir,” she replied. “You have comforted me by speaking so kindly to me, even though I am not one of your workers.”

14 At mealtime Boaz called to her, “Come over here, and help yourself to some food. You can dip your bread in the sour wine.” So she sat with his harvesters, and Boaz gave her some roasted grain to eat. She ate all she wanted and still had some left over.

15 When Ruth went back to work again, Boaz ordered his young men, “Let her gather grain right among the sheaves without stopping her. 16 And pull out some heads of barley from the bundles and drop them on purpose for her. Let her pick them up, and don’t give her a hard time!”

17 So Ruth gathered barley there all day, and when she beat out the grain that evening, it filled an entire basket.[a] 18 She carried it back into town and showed it to her mother-in-law. Ruth also gave her the roasted grain that was left over from her meal.

19 “Where did you gather all this grain today?” Naomi asked. “Where did you work? May the Lord bless the one who helped you!”

So Ruth told her mother-in-law about the man in whose field she had worked. She said, “The man I worked with today is named Boaz.”

20 “May the Lord bless him!” Naomi told her daughter-in-law. “He is showing his kindness to us as well as to your dead husband.[b] That man is one of our closest relatives, one of our family redeemers.”

21 Then Ruth[c] said, “What’s more, Boaz even told me to come back and stay with his harvesters until the entire harvest is completed.”

22 “Good!” Naomi exclaimed. “Do as he said, my daughter. Stay with his young women right through the whole harvest. You might be harassed in other fields, but you’ll be safe with him.”

23 So Ruth worked alongside the women in Boaz’s fields and gathered grain with them until the end of the barley harvest. Then she continued working with them through the wheat harvest in early summer. And all the while she lived with her mother-in-law.

In this passage, we see that Ruth’s life exhibited admirable qualities. She was hardworking, loving, kind, faithful and brave. These qualities gained her a good reputation, but only because she displayed them consistently in all areas of her life. Wherever Ruth went or whatever she did, her character remained the same. Your reputation is formed by the people who watch you where you live, work, and play. A good reputation comes by consistently living out the qualities that you believe in – no matter what group of people you are around or what surroundings you are in.
So, when you wake up this morning and go to work, and then interact with people all day at work, and then you come home to your family, and when you are out in your neighborhood, and then when you go out to eat and interact with people all along the way, will there be enough evidence of you being a Christ follower for people to notice that you are a Christian. Are you a missionary to the people you work with? Are you a missionary to your family? Are you a missionary to the people you come in contact with when you are not at work and not at church? Are you a missionary all the time? Does your life reflect that you love God and love others? Does your life reflect that you are part of the kingdom of priests and the holy nation of God’s people? Does your life reflect that you are an ambassador of Christ? Are you on-mission all the time? Are you a missionary where you live, work, and play by the actions that you take and how you live your life? Am I? Let’s pray that the Holy Spirit reveals to us where we are failing Jesus in that regard.

Amen and Amen.

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Joshua 5:2-12 (Part 3 of 3)

Israel Reestablishes Covenant Ceremonies

 

Have you ever thought about how we as the church-going general public are little babies sometimes? The 80-20 rule that you here about in the business world is so true in churches at times. You know 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people? On most Sundays, at any given church, there will be the vast majority of people who come to church and that is the only contact that they will have with the church or anything spiritual the whole week. They come to church on Sundays to get that feel good from the music and the prayers and to hear a challenging sermon. They get their spiritual high and then walk out the door and lead pretty much secular lives the rest of the week. They do not participate in small groups. They do not serve in Sunday morning assistance ministries. They do not participate in the men’s or women’s ministries. They do not participate in learning opportunities to go deeper in their faith. They do not participate in community outreach. They like the idea of mission trips but consider it too expensive and too inconvenient. And, most of all, they do not give to the church regularly and when they do it’s when they have a spare $10 bill in their wallet. They talk about the Bible based on what they have heard other people say but never read it. They may believe stuff about the Bible that is not true because they either do not have a Bible in the house or, if they do, it just sits on the shelf collecting dust.

 

Just think about it. Many of us have been there in our early our exposure to the Christian life before we accept Christ as our Savior or when we are less mature in our faith. Sometimes, we get in this same place when we get burnt out on church. We say we go to church but we wonder why our life is no different. We feel good on Sunday but wonder why by Tuesday that feeling is gone. We sit and listen attentively at church. We go to dinner with people we have met in church, but nothing about our lives seems any different than before we started attending church regularly. We want the life that the preacher talks about in his sermon and we walk away Sunday afternoon challenged. But as life creeps in and old sins that are our friends sing their siren song to us, we fall back into our underachieving spiritual lifestyle. We want the Christ-like life but we are not willing to change or are not willing to do the work necessary to grow.

 

Being a Christ follower is like when I sit here and consider why I weigh 231 lbs. There are three things at work that have caused me to be about 30-35 lbs overweight. First, I do not exercise regularly. I go through spits and spurts with it, but never do I consistently work out 20 out 30 days in a month, every month. Secondly, as my metabolism as I have moved from my 40s into my 50s, I have not reduced my caloric intake to match my new and lower metabolic rate (I still eat like I a 20 year old kid). Finally, it’s what I eat. I cannot expect to make any appreciable dent in my weight until I consistently exercise every month, month after month, until I reduce the amount of food I eat, and until I see the relationship between the types of food I eat and my weight.

 

It is the same with being a Christ follower. We cannot expect to grow if we just go to church on Sunday and that’s it. If we do not seek God in prayer on a daily basis, if we do not study (not just read to say you have read) the Bible, if we do not seek ways to interact with other and more mature Christians, if we do not participate in the ministries of the church, if we do not participate in community outreach, if we do not support or go on mission trips, if we do not go deeper into our relationship with God through learning opportunities or through life groups, if we do not learn to help others out of love and concern for them, we will not grow. We may sit around and wonder why we do not have the spiritual life that someone we admire at church but yet we are not willing to put out the effort. We would rather wake up in the morning and pick the manna up off the ground rather than plow the field and wait for the harvest. We don’t want to put in the work. We don’t want to watch what we expose our minds and bodies to. We want all the fun of being part of the church and being a Christ follower but we don’t want anything that requires us to put ourselves out. We don’t want to have to make any sacrifices for this Christ follower thing. And above all, we don’t want to give any money in any sacrificial way. We just want to sit around and criticize why the facilities of the church are not in tip top shape. We want to criticize why the church can’t do this and can’t do that and why doesn’t it offer this or that to me. Yet, at the same time, we give less than 2% of our income to the church, if we give at all.

 

We don’t pray. It seems a waste of time. We don’t study the Bible. I can’t understand it. We don’t help out on Sunday mornings. It would require me to get up early on Sunday morning. We don’t participate in men’s ministry. I might have to reveal something and then during football season it meets at the same time I go to the bar to watch Monday night football. We don’t grow and we eventually fall away. Why? Because we don’t want to work. We want the manna and not the richness of the crops because the crops require hard work. We want to be spoon-fed and never grow up.

 

That idea of growing up in our faith is what struck me this morning. That idea of doing our part not just waiting and complaining about what God is not doing for us is what hit me as I read through this passage one final time before we move on to the next one. Let us read this passage, Joshua 5:2-12, one more time together:

 

2 At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.” 3 So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath Haaraloth.[a]

 

4 Now this is why he did so: All those who came out of Egypt—all the men of military age—died in the wilderness on the way after leaving Egypt. 5 All the people that came out had been circumcised, but all the people born in the wilderness during the journey from Egypt had not. 6 The Israelites had moved about in the wilderness forty years until all the men who were of military age when they left Egypt had died, since they had not obeyed the Lord. For the Lord had sworn to them that they would not see the land he had solemnly promised their ancestors to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. 7 So he raised up their sons in their place, and these were the ones Joshua circumcised. They were still uncircumcised because they had not been circumcised on the way. 8 And after the whole nation had been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were healed.

 

9 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the place has been called Gilgal[b] to this day.

 

10 On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. 11 The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. 12 The manna stopped the day after[c] they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan.

 

In this passage, you will note in the final verse of the passage that the manna disappeared. God had supplied manna to the hungry Israelites during their 40 years in the wilderness (Exodus 16:14-31). In the bountiful Promised Land, they no longer needed this daily food supply because the land was ready for planting and harvesting. God had miraculously provided food for the Israelites while they were in the wilderness. Here, He provided food from the land itself. From this real life situation, we can see that prayer is not an alternative for preparation and faith is not a substitute for hard work. God can and does provide miraculously for His people as needed, but He also expects them to use their God-given talents and resources to provide for themselves. If our prayers are going unanswered it may simply be God’s timing vs. ours. However, it could also be that what you are praying for is already within your reach. In these situations, we must pray for wisdom to see it what’s already there and the motivation to step into it.

 

The apostle Paul told the Thessalonians that they had to continue living and not just waiting around for an expected immediate return of Jesus Christ. They should continue to work. They should continue to live. They should understand that they are secure in their salvation but every day we are here is an opportunity to demonstrate the Christ-like life to the world around us. We must strive for holiness in each day that we wait for Christ’s return. We must continue to grow in faith and in holiness so that we are pleasing to the Lord. It is the same for us. We cannot sit around and wait to be spoon fed manna. We have to participate in our relationship with God. He will provide for us but He also expects us to do the hard work of being a Christian in everyday life. We must repent of our sins. We must learn what our sins are and walk away from them as the Holy Spirit brings each one and each unholy pattern of behavior to our attention. We must be willing to live sacrificially with our time, our talents, and our resources. We must be willing to give our lives away to our fellow man. We must be givers instead of consumers. We must grow up.

 

We must plow the field even when its not fun or when we can’t yet see the plants grow instead of just expecting manna to fall from the skies. Yes, God is still in the miracle business but we can’t stay babies in high chairs waiting to be fed manna. We must get out there and exercise our faith and do the hard work of being a Christ follower that requires pain and suffering sometimes for not so immediate results sometimes. We must be willing to work for the harvest that God has for us later on down the line.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 22:4

Helping Your Neighbor

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 20:1-20 (Part 3)

Regulations Concerning War

As I have been reading this passage multiple times over the past few days, it was easy to pick out and write about facing opposition and about destroying bad influences in our lives. Those things were pretty obvious. However, those things are wrapped around a couple of verses that have been in the back of my mind the whole time the past two days. The first four verses of the passage were where I drew the inspiration for Sunday’s blog about facing opposition and then vv. 10-20 were the source for yesterday’s blog about staying true to God’s Word and not immersing ourselves in sinful situations. Then, there was vv. 5-9. Why did God inspire Moses to write those words? Why was he sending people home from the army of Israel?

 

I think the best way to understand these verses is through an illustration and through the context of what comes before and after these verses in the passage. The illustration here comes from the 2016 version of my favorite college football program, the Clemson University Tigers. In 2015, the Tigers came within maybe 2 minutes of winning the national championship. They played well enough to win that game against Alabama but there were two plays in that game that cost them the title. The game proved that Clemson and Alabama were equals when it came to talent and desire. However, it was two special teams plays that cost the Tigers the championship. The onside kick by Alabama, a brilliant move by Coach Saban of Alabama, that they recovered (because of something they saw on film about the Tigers’ kickoff return team’s habits), in effect, stole a possession away from Clemson and allowed Alabama to score against an already tired Clemson defense. The second special teams play was a kickoff return by Alabama where a few Tiger coverage guys blew their assignments and got out of position. It is the little things that are the difference in the battles between two equally matched teams.

 

One thing about this past year’s (2016’s) Tigers was that they had great resolve. There was one goal and one goal only that would suit this band of Tiger footballers. It was getting back to the championship game, and, hopefully, against Alabama. Even the upset loss at home to Pittsburgh, it seemed to further steel their resolve to do all the little things right from then on. After the loss to Pittsburgh, the Tigers were one focused football team. Coach Swinney said that this particular team was his easiest to coach. To a man, the players policed each other, encouraged each other, and were willing to do all the hard work on the little things to get back to the championship game. He did not have to create motivation for this team. All of his previous teams were ones that he motivated by saying that no one respects you – so go out and prove you belong among the elite programs in the country. This team, though, he simply said to them, “embrace the target.” Everyone knew the Tigers of 2016 were going to be national championship caliber but the issue would be whether they wanted it bad enough. Ultimately, Coach Swinney said that this team was willing to make the sacrifices, willing to put their hearts on the line, do what was necessary and by far the easiest team to coach he has ever had. There was commitment. There were no distractions for this team. They wanted it. Everybody was all-in. Anything less than a title shot in 2016 was unacceptable. A national championship was their heart’s desire and everyone was “all-in”. The question now becomes, for the Tigers, is now that the leaders of the 2015/2016 Tigers are all gone off to the NFL, will the 2017 team have that same hunger and same commitment. When you look at the 2017 roster and the recruiting class coming in, the 2017 team has the talent to make it to the college football playoffs for a third straight year, but will they be “all-in” like the 2016 team? Will they have that complete focus without letting the distractions of being the reigning national champions get in the way? Will they have that inner drive that compels them to greatness like the 2016 team did?

 

That’s what I thought of this morning when reading about sending people home from the battle preparations and it became clear in the context of the Scripture before and after vv. 5-9 and in context of what I have written about the last two blogs. Let’s read the whole passage now with particular focus on vv. 5-9 and how it fits into the whole passage:

 

20 When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you. 2 When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army. 3 He shall say: “Hear, Israel: Today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not panic or be terrified by them. 4 For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”

 

5 The officers shall say to the army: “Has anyone built a new house and not yet begun to live in it? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else may begin to live in it. 6 Has anyone planted a vineyard and not begun to enjoy it? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else enjoy it. 7 Has anyone become pledged to a woman and not married her? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else marry her.” 8 Then the officers shall add, “Is anyone afraid or fainthearted? Let him go home so that his fellow soldiers will not become disheartened too.” 9 When the officers have finished speaking to the army, they shall appoint commanders over it.

 

10 When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. 11 If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. 12 If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. 13 When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. 14 As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the Lord your God gives you from your enemies. 15 This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby.

 

16 However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. 17 Completely destroy[a] them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you. 18 Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God.

 

19 When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees people, that you should besiege them?[b] 20 However, you may cut down trees that you know are not fruit trees and use them to build siege works until the city at war with you falls.

 

In this passage, we see the commanders sending people home from the battle preparations. This fact seemed hard to comprehend at first. But then, I got to thinking about how little things can defeat and how complete focus can lead to victory which led me to think about the 2015 Tigers compared to the 2016 Tigers. Attention to detail and complete focus was that minute little difference between a runner 2015 team and the 2016 team. If we have something that takes our focus away from God, it will defeat us. We must have attention to detail as Christ followers. We can never cruise. When we become complacent as Christians, we take shortcuts in our walk with Christ. We quit doing the little things that bring us victory over sin. When we become focused on other things, we first cut out prayer time. Then, as we become slack, we cut out our bible study and meditation upon what we read. Next, participation in ministries becomes optional. Next, we get into little battles of ego with people and leaders at church. Next, church attendance becomes optional. Next, we are not attending church at all. Next, you can’t tell the difference between us and the culture that we live in … and we accept sinful lifestyles as OK.

 

We cannot half-ass our walk with Christ no more than football players win championships without sacrifice and hard work. We will face opposition and we will face influences that require us to be completely focused on God’s Word and on the Holy Spirit’s guidance in our lives. We must be all-in. Otherwise, we never grow as Christ followers. We never make it to being championship-level Christians. We cannot dabble in the sins of the culture and expect to be championship-level Christians. We cannot overcome opposition to being a Christ follower without that steely-edged resolve to cling to the Father even if it leaves us standing alone against the crowd. Opposition will come to us. Satan wants mediocre Christians that he does not have to worry about. Satan wants there to be Christian soldiers who are distracted and will not be much trouble. He would rather have Christians who must be sent home from battle because they have their love in other things. What Satan worries about is those all-in, do-whatever-it-takes, battle-tested, full-of-passion-for-the-Lord Christians who will not turn and run because of opposition. He is afraid of those who cling to Jesus and believe His Word, study His Word daily, pray daily, submit themselves daily to the Lord. He is afraid of these championship-caliber Christians who are all-in, no guts-no glory kind of Christians. Embrace the target, to borrow Coach Swinney’s phrase. Embrace the target of being an all-in Christ follower. If we are all championship-caliber Christians who were willing to do anything for the Lord, just imagine how different our world would be.

 

Let us no longer accept being mediocre, distracted Christians. Let us be totally focused, all-in Christians. Let us change the world for Jesus Christ! Let us be able to hear him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant!”

 

Amen and Amen.

Luke 10:1-16 — As we continue our look at Luke 10:1-16, today we are going to concentrate on Luke 10:3. Jesus says, “Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” Wow, that’s sound pretty inviting!

It reminds me of the football practice through the years. Football practice is where you spend most of your time on a football team. It is not fun. It is painful at times. Guys, you remember the exercise called “six inches” when you were laying flat on your back and had to hold your legs up off the ground but only at six inches off the ground. The coaches would make us hold our legs like that for about 20-30 seconds at a time. It was ok for the first two or three times you did it but we would have to do it like twenty times. By the time you got past the first two or three sets, the pain would set in and you thought you were going to die or at least puke. Either one would be acceptable! We would be put through some tough, tough exercises during football practice particularly at the beginning of the season. It was to get us in to playing shape. It was to teach us discipline. If we did not have practice, we would not have games. Playing the games each week was a welcome relief from the grueling grind of daily practice. Each year, there would be those who would quit because the daily grind was too tough. They weren’t willing to pay the cost of being on the football team. What stood between you at the beginning of each week and the glory of the lights on game night was a lot of hard work that nobody saw except your teammates. Some just were not willing to go through the gauntlet of practice. It was too tough of a calling for some. This is true whether its pee wee, junior, high school, college or pro football. Those who have the love and the passion for the game are willing to pay any cost to be able to play the game. As the stakes get higher at each level, those who are willing to pay the cost are fewer and fewer.

That point, the willing few, is kind of the point of Jesus’ statement here. Yesterday’s devotional was about the fact that the harvest was plentiful but the workers were few. The workers are few we learn today because the work is hard. Jesus says “Go!” He says that a lot. He has an expectation that we are not to simply sit still. We are not to rest on our laurels. We are to go forth and make disciples. He also says that He is sending us out like lambs among wolves. Lambs as you know are gentle creatures and just not well equipped by their mental nature or by their physical abilities to defend themselves against attack. They are easy pickings for a pack of wolves – they always hunt together. They surround their prey on all sides and slowly decrease the circle and then pounce on their prey. Jesus is saying that our work will be hard. There will be rejection, persecution, ridicule and sometimes even death in spreading the gospel message. In modern day America, where we are all about luxury and satisfying ourselves, this just doesn’t sound all that appealing. That’s why the workers are few. Jesus says if you are really my disciple, if you really love me, you will be willing to pay the price. We are lambs. We go in peace. We do not spread the gospel by war, with guns, terrorist attacks, exploding roadside bombs, by beheading people, or any other warring means. We spread the gospel in peace. We teach people of the love of God as expressed through His Son Jesus Christ in whom and through whom we find salvation and eternal reconciliation with God. The job is not fancy. The job is not to make headlines but rather quietly, softly spread the gospel message. If we are in it to be seen, it is like a football player only wanting to play on game night and not wanting to be there at practice during the week.

Jesus tells us to go where the wolves are. He tells us to go into the world and be Jesus to a world that is trying to tear Him down every day. Jesus tells us to stand up and be counted. We are to in the culture and not of it. We are to lovingly share the gospel with the world but we are not to compromise the message. We must be willing to address the hard issues out there that stand squarely against the Bible and not shy away from them. We must not avoid these issues just to fit in. We must not avoid these issues to be culturally relevant. God’s Word is timeless and so are its standards. Culture’s standard are lowered with each generation. So, what culture used to reject it now accepts. What was once considered wrong is now acceptable. It is shifting sand while God’s Word is a solid rock that will never be moved. This will bring us into conflict with culture at times. We stand not with fists raised or with guns in our hands. We stand like lambs. We are His lambs.

Jesus tells us to go where the wolves are. He tells us to take the gospel to the places that it will be attacked. We take the Bible to the hard places. We take the Bible to the places that are difficult, both here at home and abroad. We take the Bible to the homeless shanty towns in the Upstate. We take the Bible to China. We take the Bible to North Korea. We take the Bible to Hindu nations. We take the Bible to Buddhist nations. We take the Bible to Islamic nations. It is similar to Kennedy’s space program speech at Rice University in September 1962, where he said,

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win”

The harvest is plentiful but the number of workers willing to put forth the effort are few. How many of us are willing to let souls pass into eternity without hearing of the Word of God that is encapsulated in Jesus Christ? How willing are you to spread the gospel? How many of us are willing to put ourselves out to spread the gospel? How many of us are willing to do the unseen work of the gospel in the places where we live, work, and play much less spreading the gospel in ways and/or in places that make us uncomfortable? How many of us are going to put ourselves out to serve the Lord? How many of us have the attitude that I will do these things later? How many of us have the attitude that sharing the gospel in that way is just not my cup of tea? How many are the few. How many of us are willing to go through the pain of the long days of practice to get to the 3 hours of game time on Friday night? How many are the few?

Father in heaven, awaken our souls that you never said that serving you was just when it was convenient and painless. Awaken our souls to the tough work of spreading the gospel. Give us the passion to do what is necessary regardless of the cost, regardless of how inconvenient it is, regardless of how difficult it is, regardless of whether we get praise of men for it or not, regardless of whether anyone is looking or not, regardless of what we have to give up or not, regardless, regardless. Give us the passion for the hard work because we love the game, the game of seeing lost souls out there, and there are too many, come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as their Savior. That’s game night. That’s what all the hard work, pain and suffering are for, Lord. People coming to know you through Your Son!