Posts Tagged ‘Methodist preacher’s kid’

1 Samuel 3:1-4:1 (Part 3 of 3)
The Lord Speaks to Samuel

Preacher’s kids are the worst kind. Have you heard that phrase? I was a preacher’s kid (PK). I grew up as the son of a South Carolina United Methodist Church minister. I have lived in Lamar, SC. I have lived in Anderson, SC once. I have lived in Walhalla, SC. I have lived in Rembert, SC. I have lived in Hartsville, SC. I have lived in Elgin, SC (just outside of Columbia, our state’s capital city). I have lived in Anderson, SC. I have lived in Travelers Rest, SC (just outside of Greenville #yeahthatgreenville), all before I graduated high school. Such is the life of a Methodist minister and his family – moving…a lot. You would think that I would have grown up and gone in the ministry as some PK’s do. My brother did that. Being a Methodist minister in the South Carolina Conference of the church is kind of the family business. My dad was a Methodist minister in South Carolina. My uncle Doug was a Methodist minister in South Carolina. My brother is a Methodist minister in South Carolina. My brother married the daughter of a Methodist minister in South Carolina. It’s the family business. However, I was the black sheep of the family! LOL! I became an accountant. And by my teenage years, I helped add to the mystique of preacher’s kids being the worst kind and as an adult I may have gone to church regularly up until about 1992, it was a nothingness, just something you did. After marrying right after my freshman year in college, I continued to attend my wife’s small 40 people at church on Sunday church that was nothing more than a glorified social club (at least that is what it seemed to me) rather than a place of spiritual challenge and growth in discipleship. So, in those years church was just something I did – nothing that caused me to accept Christ as my Savior or that would challenge me to grow in my faith if I had done so. Church, there. Church, always there. Church, not really meaning anything that just always being there, part of my life.

You would think that growing up in a preacher’s home and all that it entails that I would have grown up more spiritual in nature, more attuned to church, more studious in God’s Word, and most certainly one of those who accepted Christ at a very young age. I may have professed maybe even multiple times as a child that I had accepted Christ as my Savior but I do not ever remember a specific moment of having had the salvation experience. I did not fully experience anything like that until December 2001 when I was 39 years and 4 months old. When I was growing up, church was the family business. We often lived in parsonages that were right next to the church. Churches that my dad served were the playgrounds for me and my brother to entertain ourselves in. On Sundays it was all church business but during the week we would ramble around and through my dad’s churches as if they were daily adventures in a theme park. Back in the days when we were little, re-runs of Star Trek (The Original Series) had captured our imagination. So, of course, my dad’s churches became the Starship Enterprise. We play out episodes of the show in our starship I mean church building. Outside would be the foreign worlds where Star Trek landing parties would go. In general, we were always at the church. Since mom worked full time, Dad was the one to take care of us in the afternoons after school and in the summer time. So, while he would be in his office doing his ministerial duties, we would wander around the church buildings having our adventures. We were always at church. All the time. I guess when you are there all the time you became numb to its glory and power.

Over the years because I was always there, it was no longer special. It was just part of the scenery, the background of a little kid’s life, the background of tweener’s life, the background of a teenager’s life. With what I am about to say, don’t let it come across as though I hate the way I grew up. Don’t ever think that. When I look back on how my parents raised me, I am thankful, oh so thankful, for the way they raised me. My dad, especially, instilled in us to work hard, to know right from wrong, to treat others fairly regardless of who they were, what they looked like, where they came from, or the color of their skin. My dad instilled in us a desire to learn, to love learning, to love school, to love to learn something new every day. My dad taught us about being men. He taught that no matter what men have to work all of their lives with no breaks and that sometimes you get knocked down, things happen where people screw you over, things happen in life that are not fair, but as a man you have to get up, dust yourself off, and keep moving on. He taught us to be good providers for our families and to do whatever it takes to keep our families fed, clothed, and protected. My brother and I have grown up to be productive and generally successful in our respective fields of endeavor. So, don’t get me wrong. I had a good life growing up. I would not take anything for the great times that we had as a family and some of those great father-son moments that I had with my dad. I have no issue with the way I grew up except for one.

I think that my dad kind of ignored the spiritual condition of his children once we got past those little kid years. I think that he thought after those years just being exposed to the life of minister that we would learn, grow, accept Christ, mature as a disciple and all of that by osmosis. It was either that or Dad was so busy with church stuff from the morning in the office until sometimes late in the evenings with meetings, counseling sessions, and any other of a multitude of church activities that occupies the life of a minister. It is more than just your 8 hour a day factory or office worker job. It is from daylight til well into the night pretty much 6 to 7 days a week. A preacher is always on duty. So, when my Dad was home maybe he just wanted to decompress and church was the farthest thing from his mind. Or maybe it was that he didn’t want us to be weird, wacked out religious freaks. Our home after we were little was as secular as yours. As we got older, dad’s career progressed. So, as we got older, every succeeding church that Dad served got bigger. With bigger churches comes more responsibility. It may be all these things combined. But after early childhood, I really don’t remember my dad being our spiritual mentor. He was great in every other aspect of being dad but his spiritual leadership of me and my brother when I reflect back on it was lacking.

As many great preacher’s kids that come out of preacher’s homes that go on to be great assets to the church of Jesus Christ, there are just as many who fall away from the church and/or grow up to be wild childs. I was one who struggled with church. I was one who lived a life of self pursuit. I was one who partied up as a teenager and as an adult. I was one of those PKs. Was it because my dad kind of ignored my spiritual development? Don’t get me wrong, I accept full responsibility for the choices I have made in life but did Dad’s desire to not be a preacher when he got home play a small role in my not coming to Christ until my late 30’s?

As I read through this passage for a third time, that was what I thought of. We can never just think our kids are going to get it. We must be their spiritual leaders. We must not take for granted that just by taking our kids to church that they will be tuned in, turned on, and saved by Jesus Christ. Now, with these thoughts in mind let’s read the passage again this morning, 1 Samuel 3:1-4:1:

3 Meanwhile, the boy Samuel served the Lord by assisting Eli. Now in those days messages from the Lord were very rare, and visions were quite uncommon.

2 One night Eli, who was almost blind by now, had gone to bed. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was sleeping in the Tabernacle[a] near the Ark of God. 4 Suddenly the Lord called out, “Samuel!”

“Yes?” Samuel replied. “What is it?” 5 He got up and ran to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?”

“I didn’t call you,” Eli replied. “Go back to bed.” So he did.

6 Then the Lord called out again, “Samuel!”

Again Samuel got up and went to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?”

“I didn’t call you, my son,” Eli said. “Go back to bed.”

7 Samuel did not yet know the Lord because he had never had a message from the Lord before. 8 So the Lord called a third time, and once more Samuel got up and went to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?”

Then Eli realized it was the Lord who was calling the boy. 9 So he said to Samuel, “Go and lie down again, and if someone calls again, say, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went back to bed.

10 And the Lord came and called as before, “Samuel! Samuel!”

And Samuel replied, “Speak, your servant is listening.”

11 Then the Lord said to Samuel, “I am about to do a shocking thing in Israel. 12 I am going to carry out all my threats against Eli and his family, from beginning to end. 13 I have warned him that judgment is coming upon his family forever, because his sons are blaspheming God[b] and he hasn’t disciplined them. 14 So I have vowed that the sins of Eli and his sons will never be forgiven by sacrifices or offerings.”
Samuel Speaks for the Lord

15 Samuel stayed in bed until morning, then got up and opened the doors of the Tabernacle[c] as usual. He was afraid to tell Eli what the Lord had said to him. 16 But Eli called out to him, “Samuel, my son.”

“Here I am,” Samuel replied.

17 “What did the Lord say to you? Tell me everything. And may God strike you and even kill you if you hide anything from me!” 18 So Samuel told Eli everything; he didn’t hold anything back. “It is the Lord’s will,” Eli replied. “Let him do what he thinks best.”

19 As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him, and everything Samuel said proved to be reliable. 20 And all Israel, from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, knew that Samuel was confirmed as a prophet of the Lord. 21 The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh and gave messages to Samuel there at the Tabernacle.
4 And Samuel’s words went out to all the people of Israel.

Here, in this passage, we see that Eli had spent his entire life in service to God. His responsibility was to oversee all the worship in Israel. However, in pursuing this great mission, he neglected the responsibilities in his own home. Don’t let your desire to do God’s work cause you to neglect your family. If you do, your mission may degenerate into a quest for personal importance, and your family will suffer the consequences of your neglect.

Let us as parents never take for granted that our kids just by exposure to our faith that they will “get it”! We must speak to them about Jesus Christ. We must evangelize our own children. We must guide them to the cross and pray daily that they accept Christ as their Savior early (so that they won’t have to live the life of idolatry and sinful lusts that we lived). We must and equally as important once they accept Christ as their own personal Savior disciple our children. We must observe the fruits of their spirit and guide them in all righteousness. We must teach them how to mature in their walk with Jesus. We must take an active role in discipling our children – not depending on them to get it by osmosis, not depending on them to get it by exposure, not depending on them to get from their children’s pastor or the youth pastor. We have to do it. It is the most important aspect of our job as parents – to teach, to lead our kids to the cross, and to lead and to teach them after the cross. It has eternal importance.

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 8:1-29 (Part 3 of 3)

The Israelites Defeat Ai

I remember when I was in fifth grade and sixth grade, my family and I were living in Elgin, SC where my dad was serving two Methodist Churches in that rural community outside Columbia. Back in 1972-74, Elgin was truly a rural community made up of old farming families that had been there for generations. Now, it is has been swallowed up by the expansion of suburban Columbia, SC. The town does not even look the same now. But I digress. Back in those days, I was a huge Alice Cooper fan. His “Killer” album was just an awesome album to a 10-12 year old boy. I admit that I still love that album. I did not appreciate how well constructed the melodies of that album were and how it was almost a hard rock symphony of sorts where the album told this story in progression. It was quite simply a masterpiece of the hard rock era.


I played and played that album on my first real phonograph. Back in those days, there were no miniature speakers with the sound quality of huge speakers. There were no earbuds with high sound quality. There was simply whatever phonograph you happened to have and how loud you could play it without your parents yelling “turn that dang thing down!” Alice Cooper’s music was heavy metal but it was not guitars wailing for no reason. Every song had purposeful use of guitars, drums, and keyboard. I wore that album out which my cheap phonograph.


It was not until I was 15 years old, a couple of years later, that I actually had a decent stereo system. Back in the Elgin days, it was a cheap phonograph and transistor radios tuned to WNOK in Columbia. It was the hit music station and it played, at that time, all the heavy metal bands that I liked. I could not touch my dad’s console stereo on which he played his classical music, his fifties music, and that sickening pop music of the early 1970’s with the Carpenters, Chicago, and other pop drool that had no guts.


Back in those days, radio was king and vinyl albums were not just novelties but the currently common medium. Eight track tapes were just beginning to come in vogue and cassette tape car stereos had not even been thunk of yet (yes, that’s a Southern word, thunk, the past tense of think). Music videos or music video television channels had not come into being yet. So, the only way you could see your favorite artists was on random television specials, late night music shows such as the Midnight Special, occasional appearances on late night talk shows or variety shows and sometimes on the annual music award shows such as the Grammys. It was all very limited glimpses of your favorite popular music artists. There was no MTV. No video downloads. You had to take what the three network (ABC, CBS, NBC) realm of television was giving you. I remember in like the Winter of 1974 (just before we moved to Anderson the following June) when Alice Cooper was at the height of his early fame, I found out that he was going to be appearing and playing two of his “Killer” songs on the Grammys that night. I freaked out. Alice Cooper on TV. I could see him live. I was never old enough at the time to go to one of his concerts so this would be like such a special treat.


You remember when you were a kid. You had a set time by which you had to have your homework done, a set time for having your nightly bath done, and a set time for being ready for bed and in bed. But it was the Grammys and Alice Cooper was going to be live. The Grammys came on and I kept expecting Alice Cooper to come on at any minute. So, I kept putting my dad off about getting my bath, you know, as kids are famous for doing. Finally, he reminded me that he was doing me a favor by letting me stay up on a school night to watch the Grammys so I owed him one any way. Now, GO TAKE YOUR BATH! OOOooookaaay! If there was ever a land speed record for having taken a bath by a 12 year old boy, it was that night. Some people today might call it today a “whore bath” where you just wash the essential parts of the body and get back at it. I don’t think my bath could have lasted 10 minutes max from being fully clothed walking into the bathroom, disrobing, washing in the shower, getting out drying off (what water that may have hit my body that night), putting my ever necessary clean underwear that mother’s obsess about (what if you are in an accident…LOL), putting my PJs on and brushing my teeth. As you can see, that’s a whole lotta ground to cover in 10 minutes. But all the while, it was running through my mind that I was going to miss Alice Coopers performance.


But bam I was done. Back in the kitchen watching the black and white portable TV on the kitchen counter, waiting for Alice to come on. Yeah, I had made it. Still to Come the announcer said, blah, blah, blah of other artists names, and … Alice Cooper. Great I didn’t miss it. But there was a problem. My dad. He knew that this All-American boy who got sweaty and dirty every day even in the winter time. He knew that I had barely taken a bath. If I had used soap I do not remember. I may have just rubbed a wet wash cloth over parts of my body. My dad was a stickler about us obeying his commands and not taking shortcuts to do it. We had to do our chores exactly to his instructions or we would have to do them again. This bath situation was no different. Go take a real bath this time. But Dad it’s Alice Cooper. He’s coming on. I don’t care if it’s the Pope, Go take your bath and do it right this time.


You guessed it. Because I had not done it right the first time, my second bath was supervised by my dad hollering at me through the bathroom door about each thing that I must do to have taken the approved bath and follow-up activities. I was so mad at him. This bath must have taken 30 minutes because of the details that I had to follow that Dad would have just taken for granted normally. It seemed like an hour to me though. I was going to miss my chance to see Alice Cooper live on television. I wisked right by dad on the way to the kitchen and that portable TV. You guessed it. I almost completely missed Alice Cooper’s performance catching the tale-end of his second song. I was grateful to see what I did but I had missed out on the whole thing practically. Isn’t funny how when we don’t do things the right way the first time, we have to go back and do them again, and then miss the prize that we were seeking.


That’s what I thought of this morning as I read through Joshua 8:1-29 for the third of three times. Let’s read the passage together this morning:


8 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land. 2 You shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king, except that you may carry off their plunder and livestock for yourselves. Set an ambush behind the city.”


3 So Joshua and the whole army moved out to attack Ai. He chose thirty thousand of his best fighting men and sent them out at night 4 with these orders: “Listen carefully. You are to set an ambush behind the city. Don’t go very far from it. All of you be on the alert. 5 I and all those with me will advance on the city, and when the men come out against us, as they did before, we will flee from them. 6 They will pursue us until we have lured them away from the city, for they will say, ‘They are running away from us as they did before.’ So when we flee from them, 7 you are to rise up from ambush and take the city. The Lord your God will give it into your hand. 8 When you have taken the city, set it on fire. Do what the Lord has commanded. See to it; you have my orders.”


9 Then Joshua sent them off, and they went to the place of ambush and lay in wait between Bethel and Ai, to the west of Ai—but Joshua spent that night with the people.


10 Early the next morning Joshua mustered his army, and he and the leaders of Israel marched before them to Ai. 11 The entire force that was with him marched up and approached the city and arrived in front of it. They set up camp north of Ai, with the valley between them and the city. 12 Joshua had taken about five thousand men and set them in ambush between Bethel and Ai, to the west of the city. 13 So the soldiers took up their positions—with the main camp to the north of the city and the ambush to the west of it. That night Joshua went into the valley.


14 When the king of Ai saw this, he and all the men of the city hurried out early in the morning to meet Israel in battle at a certain place overlooking the Arabah. But he did not know that an ambush had been set against him behind the city. 15 Joshua and all Israel let themselves be driven back before them, and they fled toward the wilderness. 16 All the men of Ai were called to pursue them, and they pursued Joshua and were lured away from the city. 17 Not a man remained in Ai or Bethel who did not go after Israel. They left the city open and went in pursuit of Israel.


18 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Hold out toward Ai the javelin that is in your hand, for into your hand I will deliver the city.” So Joshua held out toward the city the javelin that was in his hand. 19 As soon as he did this, the men in the ambush rose quickly from their position and rushed forward. They entered the city and captured it and quickly set it on fire.


20 The men of Ai looked back and saw the smoke of the city rising up into the sky, but they had no chance to escape in any direction; the Israelites who had been fleeing toward the wilderness had turned back against their pursuers. 21 For when Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had taken the city and that smoke was going up from it, they turned around and attacked the men of Ai. 22 Those in the ambush also came out of the city against them, so that they were caught in the middle, with Israelites on both sides. Israel cut them down, leaving them neither survivors nor fugitives. 23 But they took the king of Ai alive and brought him to Joshua.


24 When Israel had finished killing all the men of Ai in the fields and in the wilderness where they had chased them, and when every one of them had been put to the sword, all the Israelites returned to Ai and killed those who were in it. 25 Twelve thousand men and women fell that day—all the people of Ai. 26 For Joshua did not draw back the hand that held out his javelin until he had destroyed[a] all who lived in Ai. 27 But Israel did carry off for themselves the livestock and plunder of this city, as the Lord had instructed Joshua.


28 So Joshua burned Ai[b] and made it a permanent heap of ruins, a desolate place to this day. 29 He impaled the body of the king of Ai on a pole and left it there until evening. At sunset, Joshua ordered them to take the body from the pole and throw it down at the entrance of the city gate. And they raised a large pile of rocks over it, which remains to this day.


From this passage, we see that the conquest of Ai was very important to the Israelites. Only 11 miles away from Jericho, Ai was a key stronghold for the Canaanites and a buffer fortress for Bethel. If the Canaanite kings had gotten wind of an Israelite defeat at Ai, they could have united in a coordinated attack. They did not know that God had restored His power and protection to Joshua’s troops. We must depend on God with absolute obedience to be sure of the victory that He promised.


That was the thing that struck me here was that night that I missed out on what I considered a blessing (seeing my favorite artist live on television in an era where heavy metal artists rarely made it to mainstream television) because I took a shortcut on something my father expected of me. He had granted me grace by letting me stay up and watch the Grammys that night but I abused the privilege by not doing what he required of me. I ended up losing that night because I had to retake the bath and missing most of my favorite musician’s set on the show that night.


We see the same from Israel in this passage, they did not seek the Lord after their victory in Jericho. They thought they had this when it came to little old Ai. It was nothing. We don’t need to consult God on this one. It’s an easy victory. We don’t even need to send the full army (kind of like me taking a “whore bath” instead of the full bath). They got beaten badly at the first battle of Ai. Why? Because they took shortcuts just like I did in my bath. They did not do what their Father in heaven expected of them. He had led them by His power and might and they should have seen what great grace they had been given to be God’s people. They should have sought His instruction at every turn. When you have been given great grace, there should be dependence on our Father in a way that we want to obey His every command. But we are rebellious. We think we can do it our way. We think we can take shortcuts on obedience to God’s commands. We think we skirt obedience or give seeming outward obedience to His commands so that we can do things our way and get what we want.


We always have to go back and clean up the mess that comes from disobedience to our Father in heaven. We have to go back and do things the right way. We pay the price for our disobedience. We miss out on the blessing because we take shortcuts to get things the way we want them or think that we want them. Then we miss what God had intended for us. Why can’t we just be a people that obeys God the first time around. We would save ourselves a lot of heartache and a lot of backtracking in the process.


Amen and Amen.

Numbers 12:1-16 (Part 2 of 2)

The Complaints of Miriam and Aaron Against Moses

I have used this illustration before but it seems so appropriate here that I must use it again. Back when I was about to turn 14 years old, in the Summer of 1976, I was a happy camper just living the life of a popular kid at Lakeside Middle School in Anderson, SC. I had just finished my 8th grade year at the school and was about to move up to the 9th grade at Westside High School. In my 8th grade year at the middle school in this town that we had lived in since the summer of 1974, I was really coming into my own. I was a big man on campus. I was in the “in-crowd”. I had some really close friends and a ton of acquaintances. The girls there thought I was one of the cutest boys in school and at age thirteen I was really discovering girls and found out that kissing them and making out with them gave me this wonderful feeling that was about the coolest thing ever! We were going to be moving that June. It was to be the middle of the month after when had finished the school year in early June.


Previously, in all our moves as a Methodist preacher’s family, I was too young to care or object to any of the moves. But now in the summer of ’76, I was 13 years old, a teenager, and would turn 14 just two months away in late August. This time, the move was traumatizing. I was going to be cut out of social circle that I dearly loved. I hated the fact that we moved. I didn’t want it all. If there was any way that I could stay in Anderson, I would have. There was just no way. In Anderson, I had everything. I had a best friend in Donnie Garrison. We did everything together. We were inseparable. At school, I had a lot of really good friends that I used to hang out with at the malls and at sporting events. I had a lot of female friends that I flirted with and would go steady with (as much as 13 year olds can go steady) for weeks (at 13, going steady with a girl for more than a couple of weeks was a big deal). I was popular at the school and was involved in the drama club, was on the middle school football team, and was a key player on my church league basketball team. I was connected. Even when I got in trouble at school, the principal was a friend of the family from church so going to the principal’s office was meeting a friend not a death sentence. It was just a fun time in my life. Everything was going great.


Then, it happened. We moved to a city that even its name was an irritation to me. Who names their town “Travelers Rest”? It sounded like a rest stop on the highway. But, yes, there is a town in South Carolina named Travelers Rest just north of Greenville, SC. I will live it to you to google and find the history of the town. It was there, to me, that I was being sentenced to the wilderness. In 2016, this little town of Travelers Rest is the next chic suburb of Greenville. Everybody wants to live there now as sits nestled just below the beginning of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It certainly has natural beauty galore in this unique setting. However, in 1976, it was just a small town. It was town where everybody knew everybody and they distrusted anyone who did not grow up there. It was my Patmos Island. I hated it that summer. I was heartbroken. Anderson was only an hour away but to a thirteen year old boy, it might as well been a million miles away. I did not want to be there. My anger at the move took on grave proportions.


One of those summer weeks before school started in the fall, I had my friend Donnie, from Anderson, up for a week to hang out with me. We were a mischievous set. Back in Anderson, since he lived out at the lake, we would hang out at his place which was a four acre small farm right on Lake Hartwell. We had fun exploring the woods all the time. We would enjoy finding stuff and figuring out ways to blow it up or burn it. We were the quintessential mischievous boys. So, of course, in Travelers Rest, I lived right in town, near the business district of this small town. And we were mischievous. Business districts and mischievous 13 year olds are not a good combination. We spent the first few days stealing bubble gum from convenience stores. Exploring the woods behind dad’s church. Shooting bee bee guns at birds. Throwing rocks at whatever we could throw rocks at. Then, that day came. We got the idea that it would be cool to vandalize Travelers Rest Elementary School. We decided that pulling the incoming phone wires out of the junction box at the main office of the school would be cool. We got caught. We got arrested. Worse than that, yeah, worse than that, I got in trouble with my dad. He was the brand new preacher in town and what does his youngest son do within the first month of his arrival in town. He gets arrested for vandalizing the local elementary school.


Fast forward to our trial date, which because we were juveniles in Greenville County, SC at the time, meant a private meeting with the judge. Little known to me and Donnie, my dad and his dad had paid to have the phone system at the school repaired. However, they did not tell us that. They had worked out a deal with the school district that if they would pay for the repairs the district would not press the vandalism charges against us. But our dads let us think that we were facing being sent to teenager prison in South Carolina, the John G. Richards School for Boys in Columbia (or JGR as it was known by every boy in the state). I am certain it does not exist anymore in the coddled child world in which we live now but it was a reality then. I had heard rumors about how rough that place was and we were looking at a sentence of at least 6 months there. And, by all rights, we knew that we deserved that punishment that would going to be the toughest thing we ever did to that point in our lives. However, at the trial the judge tells us that we needed to thank our dad for paying the price for our crime. He told us that the charges against had been dropped because of the kindness of my dad and Donnie’s dad. We were free (at least from the law, maybe not from our dads). We were not going to go the hellhole of JGR, the fear of all teenage boys in South Carolina. We did not have to pay for our crime by going to hell, the hell that was JGR.


Our dads had shown us loving mercy. Although they could have easily let us, in their anger at us (and yes they were angry and they did make the rest of our summer just whole loads of fun), let us be sentenced to a place that would have made us into God knows what. They paid the price for our crime so that we would not have to suffer the likes of JGR. They showed us mercy that we did not deserve. My dad, Donnie’s dad, could have just washed their angry hands of us and let us go to teen prison. We did suffer the consequences of our sins at the hands of our fathers at home but they did not let us pay for our sins permanently (a criminal record and a visit to JGR would follow you the rest of your life).


It reminds me of the mercy shown to Miriam in this passage that we read today for the second and final time, Numbers 12:1-16:


12 Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. 2 “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the Lord heard this.


3 (Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)


4 At once the Lord said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, “Come out to the tent of meeting, all three of you.” So the three of them went out. 5 Then the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When the two of them stepped forward, 6 he said, “Listen to my words:


“When there is a prophet among you,

    I, the Lord, reveal myself to them in visions,

    I speak to them in dreams.


But this is not true of my servant Moses;

    he is faithful in all my house.


With him I speak face to face,

    clearly and not in riddles;

    he sees the form of the Lord.

Why then were you not afraid

    to speak against my servant Moses?”


9 The anger of the Lord burned against them, and he left them.


10 When the cloud lifted from above the tent, Miriam’s skin was leprous[a]—it became as white as snow. Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had a defiling skin disease, 11 and he said to Moses, “Please, my lord, I ask you not to hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. 12 Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother’s womb with its flesh half eaten away.”


13 So Moses cried out to the Lord, “Please, God, heal her!”


14 The Lord replied to Moses, “If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days? Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that she can be brought back.” 15 So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on till she was brought back.


16 After that, the people left Hazeroth and encamped in the Desert of Paran.


Spitting in someone’s face was considered the ultimate insult in this society (and it certainly is still insulting today but the insult was of a higher offense than even today back in the ancient Middle East). It was a sign of shame imposed on wrongdoers. Remember, in Matthew 26:67, the religious leaders at Jesus’ so-called trial spat in His face to degrade and insult Him in the highest possible way. It was the Jewish way of saying that you are lower and less worthy than the dirt on the ground on which I normally spit. It was a deep insult according to ancient Middle Eastern customs. God punished Miriam for smug attitude not only toward Moses but toward God Himself. He struck her with leprosy. Since she bucked the authority of God, it would seem that this punishment was quite lenient. A week was the length of time she would be excluded from camp if someone had spit in your face. How much more did she deserve for standing against the authority of God. But yet, God was merciful to her. He could have struck her down where she stood and she would have been no more and she would have suffered the ravages of hell for thumbing her nose at God. But no, God was merciful.


What we see here is that Miriam did suffer the consequences of her sin by being struck with a skin rash and being excluded from the fellowship of the nation of Israel for a time, but God restored her fully after that time. She did not get the punishment she deserved from a just and righteous God. She was granted new life by a loving and merciful God. We do often have to live with the consequences of our sins in life but, through Christ’s mercy on the cross (taking the punishment we deserve), we do not have to pay the eternal price of condemnation to eternity in hell. We are redeemed from the hell we deserve and we are restored to good standing in the presence of the Father through Jesus Christ.


Just as Donnie and I were shown mercy by our earthly fathers, just as Miriam was shown mercy by God, we too are shown mercy eternally through our acceptance of Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.


Do you think your crimes against God are too great to be forgiven? Do you think that you are too far gone? Do you think that you do not deserve God’s love? Think again. No matter what you have done, if you repent of your sins and call on the name of Jesus as your Savior and Lord and believe that He paid the price for your sins on the cross, then you will be shown mercy. You will be restored to God’s family. No longer will you be outside the camp. Call on Jesus’ name. Receive your mercy!


Amen and Amen.

Numbers 10:11-36 (Part 1)

The Israelites Leave Sinai

Ch-ch-ch-changes. Turn and face the strange ( David Bowie had it right when in the song by the same name, he tells us that we must turn and face the strange. Change is never familiar. It is always different. If it was the same ol’, same ol’, it would not be change. I guess for me, in my life, change has been the only thing that hasn’t changed. I grew up, as many of you know who follow my blog, as a preacher’s kid, a PK, a son of a United Methodist preacher, a SOUMP, if you will. I was born on August 25, 1962 (yes my birthday is next Thursday and even though it will be the 54th anniversary of my birth, I still look forward to my birthday – it’s Christmas in the summertime!). At the time I was born, my dad was serving three churches in the Lamar, SC area (yeah, see if you can find that on a map of South Carolina), where he had been serving since June 1960. The Lamar Circuit (as this group of churches was called in the South Carolina Methodist Church) was my dad’s first full-time appointment after he was ordained as a pastor. He was a mere 21 years old at the time he was appointed. Mom was already one-month pregnant with my older brother when dad was appointed his first churches. She was a just a girl herself at age 20 at the time. She was only 18 years old when they married back on Christmas Day 1958. My brother was born in February 1961. My mom was only “un-pregnant” between my brother’s birth and my conception for 9 months. I came along in August 1962.


After those things happening, dad marries his high school sweetheart near the end of 1958. He gets his first appointment as a Methodist preacher, a year and half later in June 1960. My brother was born in February 1961. I follow up 18 months later in August 1962. Talk about the changes to my dad’s life all in a matter of 44 months. Guess what happened next? We moved in June 1963. I wasn’t even a year old, the first time we moved. My brother was just a little over 2 years old. My life was full of changes from that point. We moved from Lamar in June 1963 to Anderson, SC where we lived and dad served until June 1966. That year we moved to Walhalla, SC where my dad served 4 churches in the extreme northwestern part of South Carolina, at the tip of the Appalachian Mountain chain. Two years later in June 1968, we moved to another of the small towns of my life, Rembert, SC (near Sumter, SC which about an hour southeast of Columbia, home of Shaw AFB). In June 1970, we moved on again. I guess you have noticed, by now, that Methodist preachers move in June. In the 1970 version of June, we moved to Hartsville, SC. Hartsville’s claim to fame is that it the home to a huge Sonoco Paper Mill and that it is about 20 minutes away from the Darlington Raceway (over in, you guessed it, Darlington, SC). After that in June 1972, the Methodist Church moved us to Elgin, SC (just outside of Columbia). Elgin was at one time Blaney, SC. But at some point when the Elgin Watch Company built a plant there, they changed the name of the town. Talk about trying to make a new employer in town happy! In June 1974, in the wisdom of the Methodist Church, it was time for us to move again. This time, we moved to Anderson, SC for the second time. We were there until June of 1976. That particular June, we moved to Travelers Rest, SC (yes, that’s an actual town name – look it up, it’s a neat little town now as a suburb of Greenville, SC, but back in 1976 it was still very small town). By the grace of the Methodist Church, my dad was able to stay there until 1980. By that time, I had graduated high school and was in college down the road from Travelers Rest at Furman University – the Yale of the South, as it is called.


So, when you add it up. I went to K5 in Walhalla at Walhalla Elementary School. I went to 1st grade and 2nd grade at Hillcrest Elementary School in Dalzell, SC (yeah another small town) when we were living in Rembert, SC. I went to third and fourth grade at Thornwell Elementary School in Hartsville, SC. I went to 5th grade at Blaney Elementary School in Elgin and to Lugoff-Elgin Middle School for the 6th grade. Seventh and eighth grade saw me at Lakeside Middle School in Anderson, SC and then I actually got to put four grades back to back in one place in high school at Travelers Rest High School.  Let’s count that up. That’s seven different schools that I went to by the time I graduated from Devildog Nation in Travelers Rest. Change was simply part of my life. Change continues now in my adult life but God tends to let me live places a little longer now than He did went I was a kid. Ch-ch-ch-changes. Turn and face the strange. I guess because of the multitude of changes that I grew up with as a child, I tend to adjust to change pretty well. That was one of the advantages of growing up the way that I did. Some people have a hard time with change. I think all of us do to a certain extent. In order for many of us survive change, there must be some things that we hold onto. Family. Familiar objects like toys, cars, blankeys. All these things give us constants in times of change. For me it was family and the Methodist Church. No matter where we moved. I had my family. We were a tight-knit foursome, our little family was. Sure, me and my brother had our knock-down, drag-out fights but the family was the constant. And the church nearby that we served was a constant. I say we served. Because as a preacher’s family, the preacher might be the one getting paid but the whole family is serving even the kids. The church was the family business. It was the constant and we were the traveling band going from town to town. We were the Jesus gypsies. The Methodist vagabonds moving from one town to the next. The church was always there. The local franchise of the Methodist Church was there.


That was the thing that came to mind this morning. My vagabond, traveling vaudeville show of a lifestyle that I lived (and loved and sometimes hated) growing up. That moving from one place to the next but there being constants in all that change was what I thought of as the Israelites move from Sinai to begin their, what would become, circuitous journey to the Promised Land. The constant in all of that was the constancy of the Tabernacle and the presence of the Lord. Let’s think about that as we read this passage for the first time today, Numbers 10:11-36:


11 On the twentieth day of the second month of the second year, the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle of the covenant law. 12 Then the Israelites set out from the Desert of Sinai and traveled from place to place until the cloud came to rest in the Desert of Paran. 13 They set out, this first time, at the Lord’s command through Moses.


14 The divisions of the camp of Judah went first, under their standard. Nahshon son of Amminadab was in command. 15 Nethanel son of Zuar was over the division of the tribe of Issachar, 16 and Eliab son of Helon was over the division of the tribe of Zebulun. 17 Then the tabernacle was taken down, and the Gershonites and Merarites, who carried it, set out.


18 The divisions of the camp of Reuben went next, under their standard. Elizur son of Shedeur was in command. 19 Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai was over the division of the tribe of Simeon, 20 and Eliasaph son of Deuel was over the division of the tribe of Gad. 21 Then the Kohathites set out, carrying the holy things. The tabernacle was to be set up before they arrived.


22 The divisions of the camp of Ephraim went next, under their standard. Elishama son of Ammihud was in command. 23 Gamaliel son of Pedahzur was over the division of the tribe of Manasseh, 24 and Abidan son of Gideoni was over the division of the tribe of Benjamin.


25 Finally, as the rear guard for all the units, the divisions of the camp of Dan set out under their standard. Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai was in command. 26 Pagiel son of Okran was over the division of the tribe of Asher, 27 and Ahira son of Enan was over the division of the tribe of Naphtali. 28 This was the order of march for the Israelite divisions as they set out.


29 Now Moses said to Hobab son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, “We are setting out for the place about which the Lord said, ‘I will give it to you.’ Come with us and we will treat you well, for the Lord has promised good things to Israel.”


30 He answered, “No, I will not go; I am going back to my own land and my own people.”


31 But Moses said, “Please do not leave us. You know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you can be our eyes. 32 If you come with us, we will share with you whatever good things the Lord gives us.”


33 So they set out from the mountain of the Lord and traveled for three days. The ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them during those three days to find them a place to rest. 34 The cloud of the Lord was over them by day when they set out from the camp.


35 Whenever the ark set out, Moses said,


“Rise up, Lord!

    May your enemies be scattered;

    may your foes flee before you.”


36 Whenever it came to rest, he said,


“Return, Lord,

    to the countless thousands of Israel.”



Those who travel, move, or face new challenges know what it is to be uprooted. Life is full of changes. It is “fuller” of changes for some than for others, but we all face change at some point or points in our lives. Few things remain stable forever in our lives. Friends come. Friends go. Wives and husbands may even come and go. Houses are bought. Houses are sold. We move from town to town. We may even move from state to state or country to country. Through the circumstances of our lives, God leads us through many changes.  The people, places, and things in our lives change constantly. For example, in our church and if you work in a large enough church, there are constant changes in the staff. The only constant to a church staff is that is frequently changes. If you lead a small group, the people in it tend to change over time as the changes of participants lives cause them to leave or to come to your small group. Changes happen. My daughter and her husband face the daunting changes to the rest of their lives that a baby brings. Ralyn has already changed their lives in many ways. A birth can bring about major changes to our lives. Death can too. A friend of mine right now, whose wife died at age 41 after succumbing to the ravages of cancer, is dealing with a change that he did not desire. Life changes. Changes in jobs. Changes in schools. Changes. Ch-ch-ch-changes. Turn and face the strange.


The Israelites were constantly moving through the wilderness. They were able to handle change only because of God’s presence in the Tabernacle was always with them. He was their constant. He was their familiar. The portable Tabernacle signified God and his people moving together. For us, God, too, is our stability. He is our constant when life around us is changing. Life is a river that is constantly changing. It is not meant to stay the same. Time presses on and change is a result of that. The universe was created by God in one big instant and the universe has been evolving and changing ever since. It is simply the way things are. Change is real and change is constant. But, amidst all the changes, just as wherever I lived as a child I knew our church was nearby, we too know that God is nearby to us. He is with us. He is the pillar of smoke and fire that is the constant leading in our lives. God is with us always. He is our permanence. He is our reliability. He is our constant. He is the one thing that we can count on always. When everything else is changing around us, God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He is perfection. He is permanence. He is our rock. He is our anchor in the stormy sea of changes.


Ch-ch-ch-changes. Turn and face the strange…with full knowledge of the constancy of God!


Amen and Amen.