Posts Tagged ‘LifeSong Church’

1 Samuel 7:3-17 (Part 1 of 3)
Samuel Leads Israel to Victory

Have you ever thought what would have happened in your life if a certain event had not happened? Those moments may have not even seemed significant at the time but when you have time later on down the line, you look back and go “Oh wow! That moment right there was truly pivotal in my life.” Well, Elena and I have one of those moments in a string of oh wow moments back in 2007-2010. There were a series of events back in that time period that are truly pivotal in our relationship with each other and with our respective relationships with the Lord. God’s guiding hand was there. We see it now when looking back. But for today, I want to talk about the last of that pivotal string of events. It has to do with license plates and closed post offices.

License plate and closed post offices? Mark, what are you talking about? Well, you will see why this moment was a pivotal moment. Prior to moving to the Duncan-Lyman-Wellford, SC area, I had been living “temporarily” in Santa Clara/San Jose, CA for three years. Finally, when my job out there was finally considered “permanent”, I finally moved my stuff from storage in South Carolina, Elena’s stuff from her apartment, and the cars out to California. So, Elena and I lived together and then finally married while we were living in our first place together in Livermore, CA (one of the eastern suburbs in the Bay Area). We figured this thing was going to be a permanent gig. So, we became Californians. We registered our cars in California. Got California licenses. The whole smash. We were official California residents. We immersed ourselves in that foreign culture. We enjoyed exploring our newfound homeland every weekend. We also loved “going into the city” as it is called out there. When you go to San Francisco from any of the suburbs, it is called “going into the city.” San Francisco was such a neat place. Art. Culture. History. Great food. So much to see there. We “went into the city” so many times during that year but yet we never saw all the sights. It was a fun experience that I will never forget.

Then, all of sudden the powers that be within the Fujikura world in which I work decided to consolidate my company’s accounting/finance function with that of the rest of US-based Fujikura companies at the US headquarters of our sister company, AFL Telecommunications, in Duncan, SC. So, about one year after my company spent about $20 grand to move my and Elena’s belongings to the Bay Area, they would now spend another $20 grand to move it all back to the east coast. We found a nice home with a big lot in Duncan when we moved back (we lived in that house from August 2010 til we sold it in October 2016 and moved to our current home in the Lyman Mill Village). During that first couple of weeks we lived there in Duncan, we were desperately trying to find a new home church that we could call our home church. We had visited one church and knew that it was NOT it. We were researching on the internet to find a church with a modern worship style and a relentless pastor of the Word and top-notch musicians. We had all that in Livermore. We wanted that here. But back to the story.

But because we had become Californians. We had to become South Carolinians once more. We had to get new South Carolina drivers licenses and car tags. Then, as part of the re-acclimation to South Carolina, we had to mail our California car tags back the California DMV after we had received our SC tags. So, being the great wife that Elena is who takes care of all the details of my life so I don’t have to, she got the tags all prepared to mail. She then that next morning set off for the Duncan post office. But being a small suburban town’s post office, it was actually closed for lunch. Can you believe that? No one’s there from like 12pm to 1:30pm. Well, Elena didn’t have time for that so she pulled out her trusty GPS on her phone and found the nearest next post office was in Lyman. So, she took off to the Lyman post office. While she was there she noticed LifeSong Church across the highway from the Lyman post office. LifeSong did not have the new worship center back in August 2010 but the sign outside was modern but the building looked like an old school church. So, Elena rushed back home after mailing off our car tags back to the California DMV and looked up LifeSong on the internet. Man, it looked and felt like what we had at Livermore. So, we went the next Sunday to check it out. That was on August 15, 2010….and the rest is history. It’s been pretty well documented here in my blogs over the past 4-5 years that we are now in leadership at LifeSong. LifeSong is such an integral part of our lives and we have grown so much spiritually there. No matter where God leads us from this point forward and even if He eventually leads us away from this area, LifeSong will stand as the most instrumental place in our lives. And I cannot overstate that more!!!

And it’s all because of license plates and closed post offices. Every time I pass by Duncan’s post office, I thank God that it was closed that when Elena went by there. We may have never found LifeSong otherwise. So, the Duncan post office is a mile marker for us. Every time I pass by it, I think of God’s providence. Every time I pass by it, I thank God that it was such a small post office that it was closed for lunch.

Those mile marker moments in life is what I thought about after reading today’s passage, 1 Samuel 7:3-17, for the first of three reads today. With that thought in my mind, let’s read it together right now:

3 Then Samuel said to all the people of Israel, “If you want to return to the Lord with all your hearts, get rid of your foreign gods and your images of Ashtoreth. Turn your hearts to the Lord and obey him alone; then he will rescue you from the Philistines.” 4 So the Israelites got rid of their images of Baal and Ashtoreth and worshiped only the Lord.

5 Then Samuel told them, “Gather all of Israel to Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you.” 6 So they gathered at Mizpah and, in a great ceremony, drew water from a well and poured it out before the Lord. They also went without food all day and confessed that they had sinned against the Lord. (It was at Mizpah that Samuel became Israel’s judge.)

7 When the Philistine rulers heard that Israel had gathered at Mizpah, they mobilized their army and advanced. The Israelites were badly frightened when they learned that the Philistines were approaching. 8 “Don’t stop pleading with the Lord our God to save us from the Philistines!” they begged Samuel. 9 So Samuel took a young lamb and offered it to the Lord as a whole burnt offering. He pleaded with the Lord to help Israel, and the Lord answered him.

10 Just as Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines arrived to attack Israel. But the Lord spoke with a mighty voice of thunder from heaven that day, and the Philistines were thrown into such confusion that the Israelites defeated them. 11 The men of Israel chased them from Mizpah to a place below Beth-car, slaughtering them all along the way.

12 Samuel then took a large stone and placed it between the towns of Mizpah and Jeshanah.[a] He named it Ebenezer (which means “the stone of help”), for he said, “Up to this point the Lord has helped us!”

13 So the Philistines were subdued and didn’t invade Israel again for some time. And throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the Lord’s powerful hand was raised against the Philistines. 14 The Israelite villages near Ekron and Gath that the Philistines had captured were restored to Israel, along with the rest of the territory that the Philistines had taken. And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites in those days.

15 Samuel continued as Israel’s judge for the rest of his life. 16 Each year he traveled around, setting up his court first at Bethel, then at Gilgal, and then at Mizpah. He judged the people of Israel at each of these places. 17 Then he would return to his home at Ramah, and he would hear cases there, too. And Samuel built an altar to the Lord at Ramah.

In this passage, we see that the Israelites had great difficulty with the Philistines, but God rescued them. In response, the people set up a large stone as a memorial of God’s great help and deliverance. During tough times or times of transition or just any unique moment in our life history, we may need to remember the crucial turning points in our past to help us through the present. Memorials can help us remember God’s past victories in our lives and as such they can remind us that God will have victory again in our lives.

For Elena and me, we look back at how God’s guiding hand has been in our lives at every point. What seemed like random events to the casual observer of our lives, we see that God’s providence has been all over our lives. This happened leading that happening leading to this happening. It is God pointing and guiding to where we are today. That gives us great confidence for the future. We trust the Lord with our future. We know that He will be ahead of us already addressing what is next for us before we even get there. I think these things because of license plates and closed post offices.

Amen and Amen.

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Numbers 8:5-26 (Part 2)

The Levites Dedicated

It was August 15, 2010, a Sunday. The second Sunday after Elena and I had moved back to South Carolina from our time in California. But before I talk about that day, a little background is in order.

I had been out there for 2 ½ years, Elena for one. During the time that we were in California together, we had become part of a wonderful church, Livermore Alive Community Church in Livermore, CA. It was at this church that I actually started to grow from a spiritual baby into something more than a spoon-fed, what-can-you-do-for-me baby. I grew into a spiritual toddler, so to speak, and maybe even a spiritual teenager while there. It was there that Elena accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior and Lord. While I had been a spiritual baby for a long time (since my salvation in December 2001), Elena grew up quickly. She devoured being a child of the One True King. It was there that we were nurtured by our pastor, Luke Brower, and his wife, Felisha. They were our mentors even though they were about 10 years younger than us. Luke and Felisha were classic California. Laid back. Low key. Satirically funny. Luke’s sermons were excellent but low key and cerebral almost. He made you think about Scripture in the deepest of ways. He preached through books of the Bible rather than being topically oriented. That was a change for me. My dad and most ministers I have been under preached topically. So, Luke’s sermons were deep into a book of a Bible. He was like this low-key, but awesomely interesting college professor. His sermons were like lectures but they were so captivating. Learning as well as being moved by his word pictures. Alas, though, after 2 ½ years getting the accounting function at my job cleaned up and operating smoothly, it was time to move the accounting function to South Carolina so that all accounting for Fujikura’s North America businesses would have their accounting done all in one centralized administrative center in the Greenville-Spartanburg, SC area. It was a bittersweet day when we had to move back to South Carolina. We had such an amazing time in that one year in Livermore that we did not want to leave it and the dear, dear friends that we had made there. But yet at the same time, we loved the fact that we would be back home close to our girls and our families.

 

So, we get back to South Carolina and move into the home that we still live in today. We move in on Friday, August 6, 2010. That next Sunday we were desperate to find our “Livermore Alive” in South Carolina. The first church we attended on Sunday, August 8, 2010, which shall remain nameless to protect the innocent, just was NOT it! We were used to modern worship and well-thought out sermons and a casual style. Although it was the kind of location we were used to. This church met in a meeting room of the local YMCA just down the road from our house. Livermore Alive met in a school gymnasium. So, it was similar in the whole set-up/breakdown mobile sound system with folding chairs kind of church. But man the music was like mountain gospel with banjos and such and the musicians had a talent level much below what we had grown accustomed to in California with Jesse Craig and Luke Brower and the amazingly talented musicians that were in Livermore Alive. And, oh my, the pastor’s sermon was a yawner and lacked Luke’s passionate delivery. Scratch that one off the list. We’ve got to find a church home. I need that. Elena needed that. We needed that.

 

By God’s design (we are still there 6 years later), we ended up at LifeSong Church in nearby Lyman, SC that next Sunday. LifeSong was an amazing church with an amazing founding pastor, Jeff Hickman, and amazing musicians. It just felt like home. However, the first Sunday there, if my wife had her way, we would not have come back. You ask why? Well, Elena was a new baby Christian at that time and had spent most of her life outside the church. Although she grew up Catholic, after about age 8, there family quit attending mass altogether. So, her first exposure to Protestant church was Livermore Alive when we were in California. Remember, I said Luke, our pastor there, was low-key. His sermons were like conversations at the dinner table. However, Elena though growing up in the South had not been exposed to Southern church, particularly Baptist church in the South. Jeff Hickman is as passionate a preacher as they come. He delivers the Word with skill and passion. He is an amazing speaker. On that first Sunday, though, LifeSong Church was at a crossroad. Continue with five, yes five, services every weekend or build a new building. The church was busting at the seams. So, the first Sunday, we were there, it was the beginning of a sermon series and a capital campaign called “Radical”. Combine passionate preacher and a sermon series called Radical, being radical in our giving and our service to Christ, you see what’s coming. On the way home, I asked Elena what she thought and whether she thought we should go back or keep searching. My wife, of laid back sermon delivery in California and no exposure to passionate Southern preachers, said, “All he talked about was money AND he YELLED at us!” The Holy Spirit guided my conversations with her to get us back there and we have been there ever since – a journey under the leadership of senior pastor Jeff Hickman that has led us closer still to the Lord and into leadership. Jeff pulls no punches when it comes to God’s Word and he will passionately lay the Word out there even if it makes you uncomfortable. No watered down gospel here. And I thank God for his leadership.

 

But, I still think of that first Sunday and my wife’s humorous statement. He talked about money and he yelled at us. Jeff is a passionate Southern preacher. Don’t think of some old guy with a suit on that is pudgy and has to loosen his tie and wipe his brow with a handkerchief kind of old school Southern. Think hip dude with jeans and a t-shirt (though seminary educated) kind of Southern preacher. His volume increases with his passion about a point he’s making. And that first Sunday was about being radical compared to this day and age of selfish desires to keep our money to ourselves and see how many toys we can get. He wanted us to be radical in being obedient to the Lord. He wanted us to think about what’s going to last – our toys or our investments in the eternity of our fellow man. He wanted us to be radical compared to our world where we simply think of ourselves and not of others. The Bible calls us to give sacrificially to the Lord and trust that the Lord will use it to reach more and more souls in the name of Jesus Christ. Being obedient to the Lord with our money is a radical thing in this time of me-me-me in which we live. So, yes, maybe in his delivery to a first timer exposure to passionate Southern preachers, he did yell at us. And, yes, he did talk about money. It was radical to Elena and challenging to me. The question was, are you being radical in your obedience to the Lord when it comes to giving of your time, your talent, and especially, your resources.

 

That first Sunday at LifeSong and exactly what these grain offerings and sin offerings and wave offerings were was what came to mind as I read through this passage once again this morning. Let’s read the full passage together and then let’s concentrate on vv. 8-9 for today after we have read through it:

 

5 The Lord said to Moses: 6 “Take the Levites from among all the Israelites and make them ceremonially clean. 7 To purify them, do this: Sprinkle the water of cleansing on them; then have them shave their whole bodies and wash their clothes. And so they will purify themselves. 8 Have them take a young bull with its grain offering of the finest flour mixed with olive oil; then you are to take a second young bull for a sin offering.[a] 9 Bring the Levites to the front of the tent of meeting and assemble the whole Israelite community. 10 You are to bring the Levites before the Lord, and the Israelites are to lay their hands on them. 11 Aaron is to present the Levites before the Lord as a wave offering from the Israelites, so that they may be ready to do the work of the Lord.

 

12 “Then the Levites are to lay their hands on the heads of the bulls, using one for a sin offering to the Lord and the other for a burnt offering, to make atonement for the Levites. 13 Have the Levites stand in front of Aaron and his sons and then present them as a wave offering to the Lord. 14 In this way you are to set the Levites apart from the other Israelites, and the Levites will be mine.

 

15 “After you have purified the Levites and presented them as a wave offering, they are to come to do their work at the tent of meeting. 16 They are the Israelites who are to be given wholly to me. I have taken them as my own in place of the firstborn, the first male offspring from every Israelite woman. 17 Every firstborn male in Israel, whether human or animal, is mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set them apart for myself. 18 And I have taken the Levites in place of all the firstborn sons in Israel. 19 From among all the Israelites, I have given the Levites as gifts to Aaron and his sons to do the work at the tent of meeting on behalf of the Israelites and to make atonement for them so that no plague will strike the Israelites when they go near the sanctuary.”

 

20 Moses, Aaron and the whole Israelite community did with the Levites just as the Lord commanded Moses. 21 The Levites purified themselves and washed their clothes. Then Aaron presented them as a wave offering before the Lord and made atonement for them to purify them. 22 After that, the Levites came to do their work at the tent of meeting under the supervision of Aaron and his sons. They did with the Levites just as the Lord commanded Moses.

 

23 The Lord said to Moses, 24 “This applies to the Levites: Men twenty-five years old or more shall come to take part in the work at the tent of meeting, 25 but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer. 26 They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the tent of meeting, but they themselves must not do the work. This, then, is how you are to assign the responsibilities of the Levites.”

 

Since we live in the time since the completion of the Old Testament sacrificial system (it was completed at the cross with the once and final sacrifice for all time in Jesus’ death on the cross), we may as modern men and women have a difficult time understanding the offerings that are noted in this passage. There is a grain offering, a sin offering, and a wave offering. It is hard for us to understand and some of it may even seem distasteful to us. For today, let us concentrate on the grain offering.

 

According to www.gotquestions.com, it says,

 

A grain offering is a type of sacrifice described in the Old Testament (Leviticus 2) that the Israelites offered to God. A grain offering would have most likely been one of wheat or barley, depending on what was available. While other sacrifices had very specific instructions from God as to how they were to be offered, the rules governing grain offerings had some flexibility.

 

A grain offering could be given to God either uncooked or cooked in an oven or pan (Leviticus 2:1; 4—5). The requirements for the grain offering were that it had to be finely ground and have oil and salt in it (Leviticus 2:1, 4, 13). It could not have any yeast (also called leaven) or honey in it (Leviticus 2:11). When a person brought a grain offering to the priests, a small portion of it was offered to God, with some frankincense, on the altar. The rest of the grain offering went to the priests (Leviticus 2:10). No specific amount of grain was required for an offering; people were free to give what they had.

 

It’s interesting to note that during the Israelites’ forty years of wilderness wandering grain would have been quite scarce. This made grain offerings more costly and precious for the people to offer to God. Giving a grain offering in those circumstances represented the Israelites’ complete dependence on God to provide for their needs each day. Jesus fulfilled the Law (Matthew 5:17), and we no longer have to do sacrifices as they did in the Old Testament. But, if the grain offering is similar to our offering of worship, it’s interesting to consider: how much does our worship today cost us?

 

That brings us back to that first Sunday at LifeSong Church those six years ago now. It was Radical Sunday. It was the beginning of a church of people being asked to look in their heart and make sacrifices of scarce resources. How much do we care about the Lord? Do we worship Him as long as it does not force us to make sacrifices? Do we really love the Lord enough to decide that it is better to make tithing and making offerings above the tithe a number one priority? Do we really trust the Lord with our finances? Do we trust that He will make provision for us when we are obedient in our giving? Are we willing to make that radical sacrifice? Are we bold enough to begin now to quit chasing after things in this life and invest in things of eternity?

 

As we begin closing in on time to start our budgeting process for budget year 2017 at LifeSong, it is a question that we must consider as this local body of the general body of Christ known as His church. On an annual basis, we average about 750 attendees on any given weekend. We have though only 450 or so giving units/families in our church. What if all of our attendees gave to the church? What if all of our attendees gave sacrificially (the tithe and more) to the church? We are known in our community as a church that does things for the community, that cares about the community? Imagine if we all, who claim LifeSong as their home, gave radically. What if we trusted the Lord enough to let go of more than the $20 bill that we happen to have in our wallets on Sundays? What if we all were radically sacrificial in our giving? Imagine what we could do in our community and our region. Imagine the love that we could share with those who do not know Christ as their Savior. Imagine the lives we could touch with the gospel in our community, in our nation, in our world. Imagine our pastors not having to struggle to make ends meet. Imagine them not having to worry about sending their kids to college. Imagine a church where meeting payroll and paying the bills each week was simply done and not sweated over. Imagine the things that we want to do to spread the gospel that we don’t do know. What a radical thought that is?

 

Can you and I be radical? Can we arrange our lives where we quit pursuing stuff so much and trusting the Lord with the first 10% or MORE of what we make and living off the rest? Can we be a people that does not try to theoretically create an argument for not giving the tithe just so we can justify trading cars every two or three years, so we can justify the buying the house that is above our means, so we can justify our jet skis and boats and summer vacations? Can we be that radical? Can we be like the Israelites in the wilderness of the Sinai desert where grain was like gold giving grain offerings to the Lord? Radical indeed. How much do we really trust the Lord? How much grain are we willing to part with? How obedient can we be? Radically obedient! Are you radical? Am I?

 

 

Amen and Amen.