Posts Tagged ‘integrity’

1 Samuel 4:1b-11 (Part 1 of 3)
The Phillistines Capture the Ark

Yesterday morning, I found out as soon as I returned from my usual morning 1 hour and 40 minute walk (usually between 4:20am and 6:00am weekday mornings) that my Michelle (my stepdaughter) lost her paternal grandfather to the Lord this morning. He had been lingering on in hospice care for the last few weeks. This grandfather is Michelle’s biological father’s dad. Although Michelle’s mom and dad divorced long ago, Elena still has fond memories of her ex-husband’s parents. Michelle was close with her paternal grandparents so you can understand that she is distraught this morning. But from what I understand of Michelle’s grandfather, he was a devout Christian and a caring man. Just and old school Southern man that loved the Lord and did things the right way and a man of honor, dignity, and morality. You might consider him backward or boring by today’s standards. He saved his money, lived modestly, gave generously and quietly, and provided for his family. From what I know of this man from the glowing reviews that my wife gave him, there is no doubt in my mind that at 5:55am this morning, Michelle’s grandfather made the transition from his earthly shell of a body into the presence of the Lord and is no longer wracked by the pain of being a soul in an earthen vessel that was incapacitated. Michelle can take comfort in knowing that her grandfather is now in heaven and is free of pain and is celebrating the joy that is living in the actual presence of God in heaven. She can take comfort in knowing that her grandfather was not one to fake his faith. He lived it out quietly and unassumedly each day. He was, from what I understand, the real deal. What he was at church on Sunday is what he was on Monday-Saturday, every day. The fact that this man lived out his faith every day is something to take comfort in. There is joy in knowing that someone you loved is dancing in heaven right now and will do so for eternity.

For what shall we be known when we die? Will we be known for being a man of God? Will we be known for being a man whose word you can count on? Will we be known for being a man of integrity? Will we be known for being a man of morality of doing the right thing even when it costs us something? Will we be known for being a man who would give another person the shirt off their back if necessary? Will we be known for being a man who was generous to a fault? Will we be known as a man who lived by biblical principles? Will we be known as a man who shared his faith whenever the opportunity was presented?

Or will God be our fallback position? Will we love God only in times of crisis? Will we love God only when the chips are down? Will we love God only when we have no other option? That’s what I thought of this morning as I read through this passage, 1 Samuel 4:1b-11 – how there are people who treat God as a fallback position or as a last resort. Let’s read the passage now:

At that time Israel was at war with the Philistines. The Israelite army was camped near Ebenezer, and the Philistines were at Aphek. 2 The Philistines attacked and defeated the army of Israel, killing 4,000 men. 3 After the battle was over, the troops retreated to their camp, and the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the Lord allow us to be defeated by the Philistines?” Then they said, “Let’s bring the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord from Shiloh. If we carry it into battle with us, it[a] will save us from our enemies.”

4 So they sent men to Shiloh to bring the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, who is enthroned between the cherubim. Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli, were also there with the Ark of the Covenant of God. 5 When all the Israelites saw the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord coming into the camp, their shout of joy was so loud it made the ground shake!

6 “What’s going on?” the Philistines asked. “What’s all the shouting about in the Hebrew camp?” When they were told it was because the Ark of the Lord had arrived, 7 they panicked. “The gods have[b] come into their camp!” they cried. “This is a disaster! We have never had to face anything like this before! 8 Help! Who can save us from these mighty gods of Israel? They are the same gods who destroyed the Egyptians with plagues when Israel was in the wilderness. 9 Fight as never before, Philistines! If you don’t, we will become the Hebrews’ slaves just as they have been ours! Stand up like men and fight!”

10 So the Philistines fought desperately, and Israel was defeated again. The slaughter was great; 30,000 Israelite soldiers died that day. The survivors turned and fled to their tents. 11 The Ark of God was captured, and Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were killed.

In this passage, we see that the Ark of the Covenant, as you may know, contained the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses. The Ark was supposed to be kept in the Most Holy Place, the most sacred part of the Tabernacle that only the High Priest could enter only once per year. Hophi and Phinehas desescrated the room unlawfully by entering into the Most Holy Place and removing it. Not only were they not the High Priest and not only was it not the proper time of year for the room to be entered, they did not enter for the right reasons. The only reason that the High Priest was to enter was either to prepare the entire Tabernacle to be moved or to enter at that one time per year that he was to intercede on behalf of the people of Israel for their sins during the past year. It was always to be entered into in humility and honor. I bet most likely Eli’s horrible sons probably just ran in there slammed things around and took the Ark out without paying due honor and respect for where they were and to God himself.

Here, we see these men, the sons of Eli, who were immoral, greedy, lecherous men. They seduced women and had sex with them because they had loose morals. Sex was a recreation sport to them. Stealing was a way of adding to their wealth and power. Taking advantage of people was the way they accumulated wealth and showed their power. A relationship with God was not a part of their lives. They were out to satisfy their lusts for power, money and sex. And they were destroying Israel in the process. They were causing distrust of the Tabernacle as a place of worship. They were breaking down the honor and integrity of the priesthood. They were all about getting what they could get and as much as they could get. It did not matter who they hurt in the process. However, when the chips were down and Israel was about to be crushed. They went “oh, yeah, there is God. He will help us!” Living all their lives thumbing their nose up at God but now when they were about to lose their wealth and power, they fall back to God. Sound familiar? Are you and I out for ourselves and God is the farthest thing from our minds until something doesn’t go our way and THEN we cry out to God? Don’t we live our lives for ourselves more often than not? Doing things and wanting things and not caring who we hurt to get what we want? Are we not Hophni and Phinehas? Are we not arrogant in the face of God thinking we know better and thinking we can do it all by ourselves? Do we not try to get all we can get when we can get it? We know of God but we don’t care about Him until something goes awry? We think we can fix our relationship with Him later? You know later in life when we get older? You know! Some time before we die! God is our fallback position. That was me before I met the reality of my eternal destination of the night of my salvation. That was the way I lived my life before Jesus. I am not perfect post-salvation for sure, but I do love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. I want to please Him now. He is front and center in my life. He is part of my everyday life. He is part of everything I do. He is no longer my fallback position.

Hopefully, when I die, people will speak of me as I have been hearing about Michelle’s paternal grandfather. God was not his fallback position. He lived it and breathed it when it came to his faith. Because in the end, it is when we meet our Maker that we want Him to say to us “well done, good and faithful servant! You have run the good race. You have fought the good fight!” Welcome to your mansion that I have prepared for us. When we only use God as a last resort, Jesus said that there will be many running around saying “Lord! Lord!” but he will say “away from me for I never knew you!”

The choice is yours. You can be like Hophni and Phinehas that used God as a good luck charm for bad times or you can have a real relationship where you love Him and put Him first in your life and obey like Michelle’s paternal grandfather, Paw-Paw.

Are you going to be Phinehas or Paw-Paw?

Amen and Amen.

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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.

Joshua 14:6-15 (Part 2 of 2)
Caleb Requests His Land

Elena and I have a running bet each year. She is a University of South Carolina Gamecock fan. I am a Clemson University Tiger fan. As you may or may not know, depending on where you live when reading this, the Gamecocks and Tigers are archrivals. Tiger fans and Gamecock fans typically don’t like each other for the simple fact that the other pulls for their hated archrival. In a state as small as South Carolina is, you never have to go too far to find the enemy. Sometimes, like in our case, the enemy lives in the same house. In other larger states, the two rival schools have specific following in particular areas of the state. South Carolina is different in that your neighbor or even your own spouse in your own house can be a fan of the other team. And, in this state, Tigers and Gamecocks are competitive in everything. Some say that if the Gamecocks and Tigers had chess teams, the games between them would be heated. But regardless of what sports the two schools play against each other, nothing compares and nothing matters more than the results of the annual Palmetto Bowl football game. Clemson holds the edge in the series that dates back to 1896 with 68-42-4 record against the Gamecocks. The series was stopped briefly from 1902-1909 due to the fact that after the 1902 game a riot broke out after the game. It has been continuously played every year since 1909 and is currently only behind Minnesota vs. Wisconsin as the longest continuously played rivalry football game in the country. So, with that background, Elena and I started a tradition back in 2009 when we first became a couple.

Each year beginning with the 2009 game, the loser of the game has to wear the colors of the winner’s team to church the following day. When we started the bet, Clemson was a real tear in the series. From 1976-2008, a period of 32 seasons, Clemson had won 23 games, lost 8, and tied 1 in the series. In fact, in the overall series, Clemson, on average, wins 2 games to every 1 game won by the Gamecocks. So, the bet seemed a pretty safe one to me. Clemson was coming off two straight victories in the series in 2007 and 2008 and like I said, from 76-08, Clemson just had Carolina’s number. What happens? Carolina starting that year goes on a five-year run in the series. They win five straight in the series – 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013. I had to wear a Gamecock sweatshirt that is that hideous combination of garnet and black. It is just not in my color wheel! Five years in a row! Even Clemson with its overall advantage in the series (68-42-4) has never won more than 4 consecutive games in the series. This was egregious! Order has been restored in the series with Clemson winning in 2014, 2015, and 2016. But those five years in a row still are a wound that Tiger fans alive during it will never forget. For me, it meant keeping my word for five consecutive years. Pictures of me in five different shots in a Gamecocks sweatshirt can most likely be found on my wife’s Facebook page somewhere. It was humiliating. I am the biggest of Tiger fans. Everyone who knows me knows that I am a Tiger fan. My mood on Sundays in the fall is directly correlated with how the Tigers did on the gridiron the day before. Wearing Gamecock attire is akin, to me, to wearing a scarlet A on my clothing in colonial New England. It was embarrassing and degrading. Oh the pain! Oh the agony of it all! Five straight years! But during that five year stretch (when it got progressively harder each year to put that dreaded Gamecock sweatshirt on), I never failed to keep my word and wear the sweatshirt so my wife could take my picture, several in fact. Oh that fourth and fifth year, I was so hurt by the Tigers losing, that I almost did not wear the sweatshirt. But your word is your word. You have to do it to keep your honor and integrity even if it means having to wear that dreaded garnet and black. Because I did not call off the bet and kept my word, my wife has not been able to get out of wearing that beautiful combination of burnt orange and white for the last three years. Sometimes, it takes a while for having to keep our word to be an advantage for us, but it will always have a positive long-term effect. Oh how I pray that my wife will have to wear orange and white again this November!

 

That was the thought that came to mind for some reason this morning. I think it is because the passage is about God honoring a 45 year old promise. God never breaks a promise. Like during that five year stretch where Clemson lost to Carolina five years in a row, I had to keep my word. It was a small, insignificant thing. A humorous little bet between a husband and a wife. We would think any less of each other if we did not keep our word heading into the 2017 college football season as we are now. The results of the 2017 Clemson-Carolina game (in Columbia, SC this year) will determine the “winner” of the 9th Annual “Sunday After” Shirt of Shame. We do not have to keep our word on this but it is just a small matter of integrity. To us, if we roll back against the bet, just a little tiny shred of integrity will be lost. It’s not like it an earth shattering thing but it is about integrity and reliability nonetheless. That’s what I think about when I think of God and his promises. Let’s read Joshua 14:6-15 together this morning with that thought in mind:

6 Now the people of Judah approached Joshua at Gilgal, and Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, “You know what the Lord said to Moses the man of God at Kadesh Barnea about you and me. 7 I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh Barnea to explore the land. And I brought him back a report according to my convictions, 8 but my fellow Israelites who went up with me made the hearts of the people melt in fear. I, however, followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly. 9 So on that day Moses swore to me, ‘The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly.’

10 “Now then, just as the Lord promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the wilderness. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! 11 I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. 12 Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.”

13 Then Joshua blessed Caleb son of Jephunneh and gave him Hebron as his inheritance. 14 So Hebron has belonged to Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite ever since, because he followed the Lord, the God of Israel, wholeheartedly. 15 (Hebron used to be called Kiriath Arba after Arba, who was the greatest man among the Anakites.)

Then the land had rest from war.

When Joshua gave Caleb his portion, it fulfilled a promise God had made Caleb 45 years earlier. God has integrity and reliability. Do we have the same integrity and reliability? Would we honor a 45 year old promise? God would and does. Even today, He is honoring a promise that He made thousands of years ago. There are promises God has yet to fulfill, but with His integrity and reliability we have no doubt that He will keep His promises.

That’s the takeaway this morning. God always keeps His promises. God promises will always come true. If He says in His Word that I am saved when I proclaim with my mouth and believe in my heart that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior and that He was bodily arisen from the dead, then, I must trust and rely on that. If God takes 45 years to fulfill a promise made to Caleb, then, I can rely on what God’s Word says and on what God says to me through the Holy Spirit, even if it is not happening as fast as I want it to. God has an eternal view and I have a temporal one. What seems like an eternity of five years to me is just a whisp of wind for a fleeting millisecond to God. I must trust that He has my best interest at heart and trust and obey Him. I must trust that He will only give me what is best for me. I must trust that sometimes the best kept promise of God is not to give us what we want because our desires are often not what is best for us. Sometimes, we may desire something that is perfectly in line with God’s will but He may seem to be delaying on keeping His word to us, but He is God and He knows when and where and how and what we need. He sees the big picture and we see only what is right in front of us.

Sometimes, God wants us to not get so caught up in the promise that we forget to enjoy the journey to the promise. Along the way, God is teaching us things that we need to know and need to experience so that when He does grant His promise to us, we will be ready for it. Would Caleb have really appreciated the land that he was given if it was just, bam!, given to him 45 years earlier. Think of all the things that Caleb had to go through in those 45 years. I bet he was beyond thankful to God for the land to be at rest once he conquered his land. I bet he was oh so thankful just to be in one place and building a life after all that wandering. I bet he was thankful to God for even the smallest things about his land that he would not have even cared to notice 45 years earlier. So, if you think God is not answering your prayers or keeping some promise to you. Think again. God is a promise keeper. He is truth so He cannot lie to you. He will keep His promises to you. You must simply trust that this period right now where the promise seems unfulfilled is a time that you must learn to trust in the almighty, eternal God who will fulfill His promises to you when He deems that you are ready to appreciate and understand what He is doing for you. Don’t forget to enjoy the journey to the promise. Let go and trust in God that He is developing you and moving you to that place of promise on His timetable. Trust in the Lord for He is reliable, trustworthy, and true. He is a God of His word. He is integrity.

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 25:13-16

Honest Weights & Measures

My stepdaughter, the middle child of my three girls, only three months younger than my oldest daughter, works in retail. She is the general manager of one of a chain of popular women’s beauty products stores. She loves it. She loves the managing of a store-full of employees, the purchasing and logistic of product supply, the marketing and so on. She, I think, even loves the wacky hours and holiday work. Some people are just built for retail and Michelle is so. One of the things that I found odd though when talking about retail with her was that they do what they can to prevent theft (shoplifting) but they are not, by policy, to pursue someone once they get outside the store with stolen property. It is simply part of the business in retail.

 

Inventory loss due to shoplifting, employee or supplier fraud and administrative errors cost U.S. retailers an estimated $44 billion in 2014, according to a survey by the National Trade Federation (NRF) and the University of Florida. The survey, which during March and April interviewed 100 senior loss prevention executives from various retail sectors, found inventory shrinkage, or loss, averaged 1.38 percent of overall retail sales, which stood at $3.19 trillion in 2014. Shoplifting accounted for the largest portion of the loss at 38 percent, followed by employee theft at 34.5 percent, administrative and paperwork theft at 16.5 percent, vendor fraud or error at 6.8 percent and unknown loss at 6.1 percent, according to this study. Wal-Mart, the retailing giant whose annual gross revenues rival some small nations, alone, loses $3 Billion a year to shoplifting and employee theft. Theft is just part of the game in retail and guess who pays for the additional costs created by theft, you got it, the overwhelming majority of shoppers – the honest shopper.

 

Fraud and dishonesty (theft in all its forms, embezzlement, kickbacks, dishonest gains, etc.) cost our American economy over $200 Billion annually. Retail losses are only a quarter of the dishonesty cost in the American economy. Law enforcement agencies are having to reallocate resources or add staff to combat the growing wave of unethical business behaviors. It seems that the problem has become so rampant that it is simply an accepted part of business. You have to build in a certain percentage of your sales prices to cover the cost of fraud and theft whether you are selling merchandise or you are selling services. Cheating on our taxes, both at the personal and corporate levels, cost the federal government an estimated $300 Billion in lost tax revenues. Even churches are not immune to theft and fraud. In the United States, the estimate of the extent of fraud against churches perpetrated by employees works out to around $9 Billion annually. US churches spend more on theft and embezzlement than they do on community outreach activities at the local church level.

 

It is the lack of honesty that seems to permeate business dealings these days that I thought of when I read today’s passage. Let’s read it now together:

 

13 Do not have two differing weights in your bag—one heavy, one light. 14 Do not have two differing measures in your house—one large, one small. 15 You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. 16 For the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly.

 

God’s displeasure at dishonest business dealing is stressed throughout the Old Testament (Lev. 19:35, 36; Prov. 11:1; 16:21; 20:10, 23; and Mic. 6:11). The Bible has nothing good to say about those who cheat or are dishonest in their dealings with others. God is the embodiment of truth, and dishonesty is a insult both to God and our neighbor. This was a law of commerce dictating that you could not have one set of scales where a pound, say, equaled only 14 ounces and another where it equaled, say, the normal 16 ounces, for the purpose of cheating people. It teaches a broader principle that we must be fair and consistent in every area of life. We must have integrity in our dealings with other people.

 

How are we to live in a world like this where honesty and virtue seem to be liabilities to an employee? There is no advantage on earth as it descends generation by generation into the world mentioned in Revelation. There is absolutely no advantage. In fact, it is a liability to be honest in today’s world. It often angers me that I have more in taxes taken out on me than some people preachers make just out of seminary serving their first church. It angers me that I get back about ¼ of what I pay in taxes while others cheat like crazy and get big refunds. There is no advantage on earth for being honest.

 

However, there is eternal significance. There is eternal advantage in being honest. God is truth. Truth is honesty. To be honest is to be like one of the qualities of our eternal Father. We most likely all have moments where our flesh kicks in and we are dishonest too many times to count. However, we should purposely try to root our penchant for dishonesty and the Holy Spirit works on us about that very fact. When we can be honest when no one is looking is practice for being honest when everyone is. By being different from a world where theft and fraud are a natural part of life, we draw people unto Jesus Christ. By being ethical people in an unethical world, we draw people unto Christ. When we have opportunities “to take advantage of the system” but do not, we draw people unto Christ. When you can pad your expense account (and nobody will know) but do not, we are learning the discipline of honesty in our dealings with others.

 

We want to please God first and foremost. He will honor our integrity. He will bless it either here on earth or in eternity or both. He will bless it for sure. God has no deception, no lies, no untruth, no unethical qualities. We want to please Him by being truthful and honest. Second, as Christ followers, we are commanded to go and make disciples of Jesus Christ. The best way to do that is to be examples of Christ. Honesty, integrity and ethical behavior are rarities in our world today. The way we live our lives with honesty, integrity and ethical behavior make people ask questions. Being little Christs as we are, we must stand out as different so that people will look at us and ask questions. That is our opportunity to speak of the different way of living known as a relationship with Jesus Christ. Through our accepting Him as our Savior and He sending the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, we are changed. We are different. We have a different agenda of loving God and loving people. Being honest and forthright in our dealings with other people is how we love God and love people. Let us be quirky and different. Let our integrity and honesty draw people unto that which is so different from the common ways of man today.

 

There is no advantage in this world of being honest. There is an out of this world, eternal reason to be honest – to please God and to draw people unto Christ. Be different. Be honest. Stand out. Let people see your integrity so that they will be drawn unto Christ.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 22:1-3

Returning Lost Property

Have you ever been walking along the sidewalk and you see a $20 bill laying on the ground? You quietly pick it up and quickly stuff in your pocket and look around suspiciously to see if anyone saw you pick it up. Assessing that this not some Candid Camera or Punk’d  prank, you quickly walk along thinking of how fortunate you are. Have you ever wondered what happened to the person who lost the $20 bill? Or did you just think of how fortunate you are and spend it on something frivolous?

 

We have all found money before in public places and the money has no identification with it. What did you do? What’s the right thing to do? What do you do if you say find a camera in a chair at a public train station or in the back of a taxi? What do you do? Cash or property, what do you do? What if it were a significant amount of money (say a wad of $100 bills rolled up in a rubber band) or some fancy, expensive item that a person would truly miss? What would you do?

 

Elena and I had this issue happen to us while we were on our first (and her only) visit to Japan in February 2010 (the ultimate parent company of Fujikura America, Inc. that I work for here in the States is Fujikura, Ltd. Headquartered in Tokyo). I have been to Japan two other times after that, but on this first visit to Tokyo for my job, we had a profound experience with regard to personal property. Within the first 24 hours that we were in Japan, Elena lost her digital camera in Tokyo Station (the largest train station in Japan, and probably one of the largest in Asia). The night before, after we had landed at Narita Airport and had taken the one of the buses to Tokyo Station’s bus terminal and then gotten a cab to take us to our hotel the financial district of downtown Tokyo, I had lost my own digital camera in the backseat of that cab. Neither of us even noticed it when we got out of the cab. When Elena lost her camera at Tokyo station, she was being escorted by one of the ladies from the corporate finance group at Fujikura, Ltd. around the sites of the city. So, they were on and off the subways all day. Elena did not realize that she had left her camera in one of the waiting area seats at Tokyo Station until several hours had passed.

 

Here we are, both of us losing our digital cameras (which were pretty cool gadgets back in 2010), within 24 hours of each other, in Tokyo. Tokyo, as of 2016, is the largest urban area in terms of population in the world. It has overtaken Mexico City as the world’s largest urban area. Back in 2010, it was still a very large city, the second largest behind Mexico City. To give you scale, Tokyo’s urban area has about 25 million people – that’s three times larger than New York City. It’s big! Really big! It is a mass of humanity and steel. In the mass of humanity and steel, what do you think happened? In a faceless, nameless, anonymous mass of one of the top two population centers in the world, what would you expect? In America, even here in the South (where we pride ourselves on our honor and on the reputation of our families), you would never see those cameras again. In New York City, you could fohget about dit! Nowhere in America, rural or urban, would I have expected to find those cameras again. However, the people of Japan are just different I guess. In each case, the finders of our cameras (the taxicab driver with my camera, and some anonymous stranger with Elena’s camera, both turned in the cameras to the lost and found, one at the cab company, the other at the lost and found office at Tokyo Station). Both of us got our cameras back! Un-wait for it-believable. That was the most amazing thing I had ever heard of. I thanked God for the honor of those people involved that I did not even know. I then began to question myself as to what I would have done in the same situation?

 

What would I do and what would you do? That memory of the honor of two Japanese people in the largest city in the world came rushing back when I read through the passage for today, Deuteronomy 22:1-3. Let’s read it now together:

 

22 If you see your fellow Israelite’s ox or sheep straying, do not ignore it but be sure to take it back to its owner. 2 If they do not live near you or if you do not know who owns it, take it home with you and keep it until they come looking for it. Then give it back. 3 Do the same if you find their donkey or cloak or anything else they have lost. Do not ignore it.

 

In this passage, the Isrealites were to care for and return lost animals and any other possessions to their rightful owners. The of the world, by contrast, has the philosophy of “finders keepers, losers weepers” for the most part. As children of God, we are expected to go beyond the pale to return things that don’t belong to us to their rightful owners. What if that wad of cash that you found was somebody’s down payment on a surgery that their spouse needed and they did not have any insurance. Maybe, they did have insurance but the spouse has cancer and the medical bills, even with insurance, are massive. What right do we have to claim that money because of a momentary second of carelessness by the rightful owner. We should always be thinking of others rather than just ourselves. We should have honor enough to try to figure out who the rightful owner is.

 

We can inform authorities that we have property that has been found, leave our contact information, and pray that the rightful owner contacts us. If they don’t contact you within say 30 days, then, contribute the money to your church or a charity in full. These are just practical things that we can do. You don’t even have to be a Christ follower to do these things.

 

However, as Christ followers, we should be setting the example of doing the right thing even when no one is looking. We should be living lives marked by integrity and consistency of that integrity. We should be the standard setters for ethical behavior. People often scratch their head as to why all the events that LifeSong holds on campus are free to the public. They wonder why we would do that. It is because we, as Christ followers, set the standard for uncommon love and uncommon generosity and uncommon integrity. We do these things, like returning lost property to the rightful owner (when we could have easily pocketed the money or property), because we want to draw people unto Christ and we do it in ways that make people want to know this Jesus. It’s all about him. How well do you represent Him? How well do I?

 

Amen and Amen.

Luke 16:1-18 — In vv. 10-11, Jesus hits us square in the eye when he says, ““If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven?”

Our integrity is often on the line when it comes to matters of money. God calls us to be honest even in the small details of life that sometimes we often ignore. If we are not trustworthy with our money, no matter how much or how little we have, we cannot be trusted with greater riches of the kingdom of God. How often do we cut corners morally when it comes to money. Nobody will know. Everybody does it. God sees how we use every dime we have. There are several ways that we show God how trustworthy we are when it comes to money. First, how do we honor God with our money. Second, how transparent are we with our money dealings. In the business world, we have to issue financial statements to our senior management and to the outside world. We have to go through year-end audits where our financial statements are picked over by the auditors to make sure that we are using our stockholders resources in a wise, efficient, legal and moral manner. What if we were required to personally issue financial statements to the outside world on a regular basis? What if we had auditors come in at the end of the year and validate our the rightness of our financial statements and the financial dealings that they represent?

First, how do we honor God with our money? In Randy Alcorn’s book, The Treasure Principle, he references a saying, “show me your checkbook. Show me what you invest in, and I’ll tell you about the depth of your spirituality.” I have also heard the saying expressed this way, “show me your checkbook and I’ll show you what you worship.” The sentiment is this is that our financial dealings are a reflection of our relationship with our Creator. If we are dishonest with our money, if we worship things more than we worship God, it is reflected in our personal financial statements. If people would create their own personal financial statements each month like most businesses do, we would see in black and white what is important to us and how we deal with others financially. If we created financial statements, would it show that you swindled a friend to make a fast buck. It would show up in your personal financial statements. There is another old saying from sports, “ball don’t lie” (meaning that a person’s true talent will come out when they get in the game). Checkbook don’t lie. Financial statements don’t lie. If we honor God with our money, our financial statements will reflect it. Cutting corners on taxes, spending money in dishonorable ways, spending money on things that are far from God, all of these things would be reflected in our personal financial statements. Let us take account of how we honor God with our money. Are we being God honoring with every dime we spend or find? Jesus says that if He can’t trust to have integrity with our worldly money, how can He trust us with the riches of the kingdom.

Second, how transparent are you with your money? When I was speaking of personal financial statements earlier, would you be willing to share them with others. Are you willing to let others see what you spend your money on. Outsiders looking at what you spend your money on. There are some husbands and wives out there that have separate checking accounts. What does this say about what they spend their money on? What does this say about their marriage? If you don’t share your finances, your checking account, with your spouse what does this say about us? Excuses are that we each have our responsibilities and we pay for them. We have debts that we brought to the marriage that the other should not have to be touched by. All of this seems a nice argument. However, it boils down to not trusting your spouse or not being willing to share what you spend your money on with your spouse. It just amazes me when spouses don’t share the basics of family finance, the checking account. What if we were required to issue personal financial statements to our spouses to view? What if you together were required to issue personal financial statements to a friend that you respect highly? What if? There is also an old saying that says, before you do something think about whether you would want your mother reading about it in a newspaper the next day. What if we thought about how we spent our money in this way? If you knew your checkbook was going to be a headline in the newspaper tomorrow would you spend it on what you’re spending it on. I am not trying to guilt anyone into to good behavior here but the point is clear, Jesus wants us to be open and transparent in our dealings with money. We should want that as an act of worship to Him. Our money, what we spend it on, should reflect integrity, honesty, morality, and be God-honoring. Our checkbooks should be an open book for the world to see, warts and all. Our dealings with others when it comes to money should reflect these same principles. Let us not go to church on Sunday and agree with the preacher when he says we should love our fellow man but yet go to work next week and screw our co-worker over to get a raise, to get more money. Let us not read this passage and agree with it and go out and sell a car to a stranger knowing full well that the transmission is about to fall out of it. Let our dealing with others financially reflect a God-honoring sense of integrity.

The love of money has sold many a man’s integrity down the river. None of us are perfect and we all have cut corners morally when it comes to money. Have you been completely honest always when it comes to money? Sometimes our pragmatic needs outweigh our morality and we fail when it comes to money. However, for the Christ follower, our integrity when it comes to money speaks to the world around us. As well, when we are dishonest with money or in dealing with others about money, the Holy Spirit should be making us feel sick to our stomach. We have the Holy Spirit living in us and we grieve Him when we are dishonest in our money dealings. Jesus tells us that He wants us to have the riches of the kingdom but He says how can I trust you when you cheat on your taxes? How can I trust you when you screw someone over to make a buck? How can I trust you when you do something immoral to get more money? Let us really pray about this issue. Our dealings with money reflect to the world who we are as Christians.

Help us Lord to think about how we act about money. Help us to honor you with our dealing with money. Help us to reflect Christian principles in how we use it, obtain it, spend it, think about it, you name it. Help us to use it as a tool that uplifts rather than destroys. Help us to use it to develop trust rather than distrust. Help us to use it to right wrongs rather than to create wrongs. Help us to use it to make the world a better place rather than a more immoral on. Help us to use it to fight injustice rather than create injustices. Help us to use it help others to lift themselves out of their situation rather than to create situations that oppress others. Help us to use it to show the love of Christ to others. Help us to honor you with it in all the ways we use it. Amen.