Posts Tagged ‘obedience to God’

Joshua 18:1-10
The Allotments of the Remaining Land

The professor for my next semester in my doctoral program for my Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) degree released the syllabus for the upcoming semester. As is with this program, there is a lot of (and I mean a lot) of reading. There are two required texts which I guess would be considered the textbooks for this class since we all have to read these two books. In addition to that you have to read at least one book from each of five different categories from which we have to select. With the books, I have selected for the semester and the required texts, I will be reading a total of 2,104 pages. Because I am not necessarily the fastest reader in the world. I cannot wait until August 7th or 14th when North Greenville University’s fall semester officially begins. I must begin now, tomorrow, in fact.

Being the geeky accounting type that I am, I, of course, have a spreadsheet for all of this study. I sat down Thursday night and developed my study calendar (giving myself weekends of and such). I figured out that for my reading I will have 45 study nights beginning this Sunday and ending on Thursday night, September 7th. Then from September 10th through September 21st, I have ten nights to write and complete an essay, a book critique/review, and a research paper. All of these papers have to be turned in electronically by 11:59pm on Tuesday, September 25th. Then, the week of October 2nd-6th, we have what the university calls a “weeklong intensive” where we are on-site, on-campus from 8am-5pm that entire week. During that week, we give presentations on our work during the first half of the semester and listen and participate in group discussion about what we have learned so far. Then, after the weeklong intensive, we must complete the second half of the semester which will have its own reading and its own assignments.

Man, sitting on this side of the work where all the work for this, my second semester in the program out there in front of me, it seems like a burden that is too great to bear. It just seems like too much. The easy thing to do would be to take the path of least resistance and not do it at all. The things that you hear in the back of your mind are “Why are you doing this?” or “This is just added expense to your life, why do it?” or “What’s going to come from this? You are simply going to be the best educated church member (not preacher) there is!” or “This is just too much work and we are not going to have anything to show for it?” or “You are just delaying the inevitable realization that you will not being going into full-time ministry anywhere, anyplace!”

These are the struggles that go on in your mind when you are acting on faith. Satan will create doubt. Satan will try to make you bitter about what you are doing. Satan will make you question yourself. And, then, there is just this sheer volume of work to be done. For sure, I love being a student. I love learning. I love the climb the mountain and grab the flag accomplishment orientation of school work where there are goals established and goals achieved. I love that stuff (standing on the mountaintop after a multi-faceted task has been completed). However, at the same time, I still have my job at Fujikura America, Inc. that is as demanding as any finance job out there. It requires lots of my time even if I did not do anything else. Then add to that I am heavily involved in the leadership of our church from a financial management perspective as well as from a teaching perspective. Then, add to that I am a husband to my wife who needs my attention too. Then, I am a parent and a grandfather. Add to that I have to workout to try to get rid of this big ol’ bellay! Where’s the time. Time has to be made and carved out. Why? Wouldn’t just be easier NOT to pursue this degree that may have no visible effects once you have completed it? Why do it?

It is these doubts about what I am doing in the doctoral program at NGU and about how much easier it would be for me all around just to not do it that came to mind this morning as I read through this passage about the tribes not wanting to go and execute the plan to take their land. I could identify with their doubts and struggle of not wanting to tackle a great big old problem. Let’s read the passage together, shall we:

18 The whole assembly of the Israelites gathered at Shiloh and set up the tent of meeting there. The country was brought under their control, 2 but there were still seven Israelite tribes who had not yet received their inheritance.

3 So Joshua said to the Israelites: “How long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has given you? 4 Appoint three men from each tribe. I will send them out to make a survey of the land and to write a description of it, according to the inheritance of each. Then they will return to me. 5 You are to divide the land into seven parts. Judah is to remain in its territory on the south and the tribes of Joseph in their territory on the north. 6 After you have written descriptions of the seven parts of the land, bring them here to me and I will cast lots for you in the presence of the Lord our God. 7 The Levites, however, do not get a portion among you, because the priestly service of the Lord is their inheritance. And Gad, Reuben and the half-tribe of Manasseh have already received their inheritance on the east side of the Jordan. Moses the servant of the Lord gave it to them.”

8 As the men started on their way to map out the land, Joshua instructed them, “Go and make a survey of the land and write a description of it. Then return to me, and I will cast lots for you here at Shiloh in the presence of the Lord.” 9 So the men left and went through the land. They wrote its description on a scroll, town by town, in seven parts, and returned to Joshua in the camp at Shiloh. 10 Joshua then cast lots for them in Shiloh in the presence of the Lord, and there he distributed the land to the Israelites according to their tribal divisions.

Here, in this passage, we see that seven tribes had not yet been assigned their land. They gathered at Shiloh where Joshua cast lots to determine which areas would be given to them. Using the sacred lottery, God would make the choice, not Joshua or any other human leader. By this time the Canaanites were effectively so weakened that they were no longer a threat. Instead of fulfilling God’s command to destroy the remaining Canaanites, however, these seven tribes would often take the path of least resistance. As nomadic people, they may have been reluctant to settle down, preferring to depend economically on the people they were supposed to eliminate. Others may have grown weary of the constant state of warfare that the Israelites had been in for the past 6 or 7 years. Trading with Canaanites was seen as easier and more profitable than the destroying the suppliers and having to fend for themselves.

As well in this passage, we see Joshua asking why some tribes were putting off the job of possessing their land. Often, we delay doing jobs that seem large, difficult, boring or disagreeable. To continue putting off the taking of the land showed lack of discipline and disobedience to God.

That the thing that rings true here for me is that sometimes God calls us to do things that are difficult and seemingly insurmountable. He rarely calls us to do things that do not require a stretch. He calls us always outside our comfort zone. We could take the path of least resistance and continue to live in our comfort zone where it’s easy and known. Like the tribes here would rather trade with the enemy rather than go through the tough task of waging war to cleanse the land of the evil people, we sometimes shy away from what God has called us to do. God calls us to do what He has designed for us to do. He calls us to do what is hard for us so that we will realize a dependence on Him and express that through living in faith that God will provide us the strength, the stamina, the courage, etc. that we will need to accomplish our calling.

That’s about all that I can say to Satan or anyone else, even myself, that may question why I am pursuing my D.Min. degree – Because God has put it on my heart to do it. Whether it makes sense or not to others, whether it makes sense to me or not, He has called me to do this and I am going to do it. I can’t see what God has for me on the other side of this. That’s where faith and trust comes in. I know that whatever hardships I will encounter over the remaining 2 ½ years of D.Min. program, God will use it somehow and in some way that I cannot even see right now. When I get to the other side of this program, God will have something there that will have made all the pain and heartache of the studies worth it and make all that study useful in some way for the kingdom. I must trust that. I must then act on what He has called me to do. Anything less would be disobedience. I don’t get a choice in obedience to God. It is simply something that I must do in order to have a deeper and more dependent relationship with my Father in heaven.

 

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.

Deuteronomy 26:16-19

Follow the Lord’s Commands

The hardest part of a sermon is what some call, “bringing it home” or “landing the plane”. It is the part of the sermon where you bring it all together and make your point of life application from the scripture passage(s) that were the subject of your sermon. You summarize the points that you have made and congeal the whole sermon into something that the listeners will remember on their way out into the world as they leave the church. The same is true for writing a blog, writing a research paper, or writing a book. If you can’t “land the plane” or “bring it home”, you have failed in all that you written or spoken. It is meaningless without a conclusion and life application.

 

It was like this morning as my wife and I awoke begrudging after a very busy Easter weekend. On Friday, she was busy with preparations for our church’s “humongo” Easter egg hunt while I was busy with doing some hard yard work that I had been meaning to do since we moved in – removing a dead tree all twisted up in hard vines (that had killed the tree) from the backyard. Then, Saturday, we were busy all day with the Easter Egg hunt where we had 10,000 eggs strewn all over the back half of our church property. We had an amazing turnout of about 1,500 parents and their children from our community, plus live music from our worship band, vendors such Chick-Fil-A, a face painter, and an ice cream cone vendor as well as free popcorn, cotton candy and free water. We were on our feet all day managing that. Then yesterday, we had three services at our church for Easter Sunday (we normally have just two services). We went to the 8:00 service and then served for the last two. The last two services were seriously packed out. We had to pull out almost all of our extra chairs. We had to help people find seats. Again on our feet all morning. Then we had lunch with friends and didn’t get home til about 5pm yesterday. It was a long, hard, but a productive and wonderful weekend.

 

However, this morning, I couldn’t believe that it was time to get up when that alarm went off. It seemed as though I had just fallen asleep. It must have been the same with my wife. I usually get up about 30 minutes ahead of my wife so I can start my blog. So, I was up already when I saw her groan as she had to get out of bed and drag herself into the kitchen. There she, as she does every morning without fail, began the process of making coffee. You know, though, there are some mornings where the things that you do robotically without fail do not go as planned. In the morning, she typically does not have to think or even remember the whole coffee-making process. She can do it blindfolded 99 times out of 100. However, this morning in the fog of still being tired from a physically draining but glorious weekend, she almost started the coffee without pouring water into the reservoir on the coffee maker. It was an illustration of just what I was beginning to write about here for this passage.

 

Without water, coffee is just coffee grounds. Without coffee, water is just water. Putting them together makes something useful and wonderful. Coffee, that wonderful morning elixir, that comes from the proper combination of hot water and coffee grounds. Individually, these two ingredients are good and can be useful in other ways, but together…oh my! Did I tell ya that I love my morning coffee! Together, coffee beans grounded up and hot water make this wonderful. The hot water is the “bring it home” and the “land the plane” additive to the coffee grounds. Without pouring the hot water through the grounds, the grounds are not transformed. They are good but they have not served their full purpose. It is like Scripture without proper understanding of their life application is just good knowledge. We must be able to apply Scripture to our lives. We must bring it home. We must land the plane. Just like coffee is OK and good by itself but we must add hot water to make it something truly worthwhile. We must land the plane.

 

In this passage, it was the thought of a sermon without a good closing, a research paper without a final conclusion, a book without a proper ending that came to mind as I read the conclusion of the main part of Deuteronomy (chapters 12-26). Here, in this passage, Moses “brings it home.” Here, Moses “lands the plane.” Let’s read it together now:

 

16 The Lord your God commands you this day to follow these decrees and laws; carefully observe them with all your heart and with all your soul. 17 You have declared this day that the Lord is your God and that you will walk in obedience to him, that you will keep his decrees, commands and laws—that you will listen to him. 18 And the Lord has declared this day that you are his people, his treasured possession as he promised, and that you are to keep all his commands. 19 He has declared that he will set you in praise, fame and honor high above all the nations he has made and that you will be a people holy to the Lord your God, as he promised.

 

This passage is a solemn conclusion to the last 14 chapters of Moses where he gives so, so many life applications of the Ten Commandments in the life of the nation of Israel. As you know, when we began this journey through Deuteronomy back in late November, I had indicated that all the scholars have said that Deuteronomy is written so much like that of the treaties of that day in which the victor or superior power would spell out the terms of peace to the conquered or inferior nation. In such treaties, the victor would spell out what obedience to the terms of the treaty would bring and what the penalties would be for non-compliance. Here in this passage, Moses reminds the people of what blessings would come from obedience to God’s Commands. This formal treaty, the Ten Commandments and all the associated regulations that hang off them, is a declaration of what Israel must do to receive the blessings of God. Obedience should be a desire and not some ritualistic observance. God will bless if there is obedience. God will exalt and bless Israel above all nations if they simply keep His commands. This conclusion gives full meaning to the litany of regulations that we have just read through over the past several weeks.

 

Without this conclusion, there would be no real purpose to all the laws and regulations that were going to make Israel a different people. Without these laws and regulations, Israel would have been no different from its neighbors. But that was not what God wanted. He wanted the nation of Israel to be a beacon until the world. He wanted them to be different so as to draw all nations unto God through their differences. It was because God was going to bring the Messiah from His people Israel that He wanted Israel to be so different from the sin-filled world in which they lived. They would be blessed as a nation through obedience. They would be blessed such that other nations and other people would be drawn unto them. And, Israel would then show the world, God.

 

It is the same for us as Christ followers. It is through obedience to God’s Word that we are to be so different from the world in which we live that we are made unique. We are to be a beacon until the world to draw people into the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Without this uniqueness, there is nothing that will draw people unto Christ. We are to love God so much that we obey His Word and draw people unto Jesus Christ. If we pick and choose what we want to obey then we are not unique. We are just another option. Without obedience to God’s Word and being different from the world around us, we do not “bring it home” and we do not “land the plane.”

 

The whole purpose of our obedience to God’s Word is that it results in a blessed life that draws people unto Christ not to mention our own blessing of eternal life with God in heaven. Without these things, it is just knowledge. It is self-help. It is not landing the plane. It is not bringing it home. It is coffee grounds in the coffee maker without adding hot water.

 

Let us be obedient. Let us love God and love others in such a way that a desperate and dying world is drawn unto Christ. That’s the point. That’s the landing of the plane. That’s the bringing it home.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 24:8-9

Skin Diseases

 

Man, sometimes, when you are walking through the Bible book by book, you run across a passage that you are just stumped as to how to bring life application out of it. You look up commentaries and see what they have to say, but about these two verses, they say very little. They say very little because the passage is somewhat vague and is more of a reference to previous passages and chapters of other books, Leviticus and Exodus. The passage does not reiterate but rather just references.

 

Do what the priests tell you to do about skin diseases because I have given them instructions about it. What were those instruction? Why are they not expanded upon here? Just do as you are told by the priests? Why? Because I, Moses, said so. Moses said do what you are told by the priests because what they have been told is trustworthy and true. The idea is that God told Moses and Moses told the priests. Therefore, and ergo, what the priests are telling you, thus, comes from God.

 

Then, the second verse gives us a warning of what happens when we do not listen to God’s commands and try to go on our way. So, as I write out these questions and confoundments about what this passage has to say to me, I come to the conclusion that there is more to what meets the eye sometimes when we read passages. We must read them more than to just say we kept on schedule with our Bible plan. When we get stumped we must re-read the passage several times. Sometimes, it make take several readings of a passage to get to its point. Just start by writing down initial thoughts no matter how off the wall they may seem. When we write down thoughts or questions, the Holy Spirit tends to lead us toward where He wants us to go – the meaning of and the life application of a passage. Reading a passage without finding its meaning and figuring out how that applies to your life is simply passing words through your brain. Don’t just read the Bible for five minutes each day just to say you read the Bible in one year. So what if it takes you two years, three years, a lifetime to get through the Bible. Read it for meaning and application.

 

Stepping down from soapbox now. We resume normal broadcasting now…

 

That is where I find myself this morning with this passage, Deuteronomy 24:8-9. So, here is what I came up with for this passage after reading it, being stumped, re-reading it, still being stumped, and then re-reading it again.

 

I think the closest example of a life experience that parallels what this passage has to say is about when I was a teenager and not seeing my father as wise with his rules over me. I thought all his rules about curfews and doing chores and all that were just meant to hold me back and oppress me for the sake of oppressing me. I often that the punishment for violations were out of proportion with what I had done. What teen doesn’t? Huh? I would always try to talk me way out of my punishments. I would always try to bend his rules to the point of breaking them. I never saw any of his rules as being for my benefit. I could not see beyond the immediate future, the next day, the weekend, the next week.

 

Little did I know at the time, but, my dad was trying to grow me up into a man that could function in society. He was trying to grow me up into a man that realized that there are things that you just can’t talk your way out of. There are things that you can’t whine your way out of. Sometimes, we just have to suck it up and take our lumps and move on. Sometimes, we are going to dealt blows in life that seem unfair, illogical and just plain capricious. However, we must plow through those things and continue to hold our heads high and not let unwarranted setbacks in life defeat us. I found that my dad’s instructions and rules were not intended to hold me back from the freedom to do whatever I wanted but rather to keep me from making stupid mistakes. His rules had a long-range goal in mind. To make me a man. To make me a productive citizen. To make me a person whose word is his word. To make me an man of integrity that people can trust. To make me a man of compassion for others and not just some arrogant ass that is so self-centered that he cannot see beyond himself. Obedience to dad’s rules produced freedom, love, honor, and peace with my father. Disobedience brought restrictions, rancor, dishonor, and war with my father. Not because he was some tyrant but because he knew the end game. He knew what he wanted me to be when I ventured out on my own as a young adult flying away from the nest. He wanted me to be a man that could take care of himself and then ultimately take care of a family. That is what any father wants for his child – for them to go to their grave knowing that his child or his children are capable and ready to take care of themselves. That’s the point of the rules and boundaries when we are growing up.

 

That idea of obeying instructions and the results of disobedience is ultimately what I came to draw out this passage and not it just being about skin disease:

 

8 In cases of defiling skin diseases,[a] be very careful to do exactly as the Levitical priests instruct you. You must follow carefully what I have commanded them. 9 Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam along the way after you came out of Egypt.

 

Here we see that Moses is telling the Israelites to trust what the local priests tell them to do about skin diseases. There is more here to me than just that. It is about the fact that Moses is commanding them to trust their priest and do what he says. That goes for skin diseases and pretty much everything else about life. God heard from Moses and Moses passed on his knowledge of God to the priests. Therefore, what the priests are telling the Israelites must be trustworthy and true. Therefore, if we extend this out to modern Christianity, we must trust what our preachers are telling us because they are men of God.

 

I know you say, wait a minute? There are so many preachers out there that are not men of God and are just in the game to get a paycheck and are not really interested in our souls. I say I wholehearted agree. Don’t follow those guys. Don’t even go to their churches. But first, make sure that it’s not because you are simply rebelling against the truth of God that is cutting you like a two-edge sword. However, if a pastor by the fruits of his spirit is not evidencing the hand of God on his life, then, flee him. However, if a pastor is truly a man of God, we must listen to him and do what he says. He is our shepherd and because He hears from the Father and is living his life for the Father, then, we must listen to what he has to say because it is from God. Sometimes, what our pastor has to say on Sunday is uncomfortable for us. Sometimes, when he counsels us, it is uncomfortable for us. But if we know that He is a man of God with our best interest at heart, we must let our pastor’s words from God convict us of our path we are on. We must listen and change.

 

Miriam stands as an example of those who disobey God’s commands to us that come through our pastors. She rebelled against Moses. She disobeyed God because she was jealous of the authority God had given Moses. She rebelled and paid for it. We sometimes don’t like what our pastor tells us and we rebel against him and try to make trouble for him in church. If our pastor is the man of God he is supposed to be, he will preach the word of God unfettered and unfiltered. It will hit us between the eyes sometimes and we must be willing to say, “that was a word from God directly to me through my pastor” not that “that pastor is pissing me off. Who does he think he is?” Let God’s Word through our pastor’s anointing convict us of our sins. Let it be God talking to us through our pastor’s inspired sermon and not us thinking this pastor is just telling me I can’t do something or this pastor is a jerk! Let it be that we see it, like I know think of my dad. His instructions were not to just to jerk me around or make my life miserable. He just wanted me to grow up into a responsible man. Rebellion against that was just teenage self-centeredness. He just wanted me grow up into a responsible man. Let us not rebel against our pastor’s hard words in sermons. Let us take them deep and figure out what we must do to rid ourselves of sinful ways so that we can be more like Jesus. A real pastor that is a real man of God preaches hard to us so that we can grow into responsible disciples of Jesus Christ. Our pastors’ sermons may be hard to hear sometimes because we sometimes don’t even recognize that we are participating actively in a sin. But sometimes a hard word is what we need to grow into the likeness of Jesus Christ.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 20:1-13 (Part 2)

Water from the Rock

As many of you who read my blogs, you know that I am a really passionate Clemson Tigers fan. As any of you who follow college football know, Clemson has been very successful on the football field over the past five year and there success at present is only surpassed by the success of the football program during the late seventies through the early 90s, and then again back during the decade of the 1950s. However, the current success if continued at its current pace, it will become the new glory days of Clemson football. Beginning with the 2011 season, they have won 60 games while losing only 12, an 83.3% winning percentage. As well, just since the 2012 season including the first four games of this season, they have a 50-8 records, an 85% winning percentage. Even more impressive is the fact that over the last 29 games (since the end of the third game of the 2014 season), the Tigers are 27-2, a 93% winning percentage. Very impressive.

 

Yet, with the beginning of this, the 2016 season, there were sky high expectations for the Tigers, particularly on offense, where they had virtually the entire group of starters from last year back. This offensive unit, last year, had ended the season as almost an unstoppable force. So, this year, there was an expectation that they would pick up exactly where they had left off, a team that was within 5 points of winning a national championship. However, with the exception of a perfect first half against Georgia Tech, the offense has seemed inconsistent and unable to do what was necessary to put other teams away. They seemed unable to put together a string of consistent scoring drives. All of this lead to a lot of grumbling among the Clemson faithful as well as among the national media. The seemingly inconsistent play has cost the Tigers anywhere from 1 to 3 spots in the national polls. Starting the season ranked #2 only behind #1 Alabama, the Tigers have fallen to #3 in one national poll and to #5 in the other. However, at the same time, Clemson is 4-0. They are undefeated. At this same point last year, they have actually scored the same amount of points as they did last year at this point (134) and their defense actually seems better this year than last. It is all a matter of perceptions and expectations, I think. This same team started off slowly last year and built toward the national championship contender that it became by season’s end. I think we forget that as Tiger fans. This year we have seen other teams be offensive juggernauts from the get-go such as Alabama and Louisville and so on while the Tigers have seemingly struggled to generate big numbers.

 

As Tiger fans, we have grown accustomed to a high level of play and now complain about how many points we are scoring rather than enjoying the fact that we are still undefeated so far this season. Not too many years ago during that long dry spell of mediocrity between 1993-2009, we would have been extremely happy to be 4-0 right now, winning two road games already in places that we have rarely won over the years (at Auburn and at Georgia Tech). We would be grateful for the success. However, now after being one of the winningest college programs over the past five and one-third seasons, we start to see the problems rather that the successes. We are knit-picking and saying that the sky is falling rather than enjoying being 4-0 and ranked in the top 5 for a long time now. Myself, I believe that the Tigers can do better for sure. However, I am grateful that my favorite team has found ways to get the wins so far this season. I am thankful for the fact that our defense has really been the star this year. And, some football philosopher once said, “offense fills the stands but defense wins championships!” I guess we will find out who this 2016 Tiger team really is this weekend when they face another Top 5 team, Louisville, in a ACC showdown game, but nonetheless, in order for this to have become a big game, the Tigers have had to have remained unbeaten. For all their imperfections so far this season, they are undefeated and thus had made this game with Louisville a big one.

 

As my wife reads this blog, I am sure she is yawning about all the football commentary, but I think the comparison of the detractors of the 2016 version of the Clemson Tiger football team and how the Israelites were complaining against their leadership.

 

Let’s read Numbers 20:1-13 together for a second time this morning:

 

20 In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried.

 

2 Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. 3 They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! 4 Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? 5 Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”

 

6 Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. 7 The Lord said to Moses, 8 “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”

 

9 So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.

 

12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”

 

13 These were the waters of Meribah,[a] where the Israelites quarreled with the Lord and where he was proved holy among them.

 

What I want us to walk away with this morning is the fact that we must keep things in perspective. Here, in this passage, we see the Israelites grumbling again. Yes, grumbling again. They see what they don’t have instead of what they do have. They are alive right now and over the past 40 years because of the provision of God. He has never failed to provide for His people, but yet they complain at every turn. This is wrong and that is wrong. Nothing is good enough. Sure, we sit here reading God’s Word and say, “You idiots! Can’t you see what God has done for you!” However, we cannot speak with such derision towards the Israelites because, are we not the same? We complain about not having more than we have because we are caring more about what others have than being thankful for God’s specific provision for us in our life – not someone’s else life. We complain about our situations too when we fail to realize that our situation is of our own making.

 

The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years because of their own sin. They failed to obey the Lord and thus the wandering for 40 years in the wilderness was their just punishment. We whine and complain at where we are in our relationship. Have we ever thought that our condition is caused by our own disobedience to God? Often our disobedience to God’s Word leads us to consequences that are difficult for us to deal with and we whine and complain about how things got this way. Wake up! We put ourselves in these positions and we need to accept responsibility for them and do what is necessary to get through our consequences of sin. Let us learn to be obedient to God’s Word and work our way through the valleys of the shadow of death that we have created for ourselves. Let us learn to find joy in that journey. Let us realize and learn from our mistakes. Let us find the joy in finding a flower in the midst of the storm. Let us be thankful that God is still providing for us. Let us be thankful that He has not cast us aside. Let us be thankful that He provides even when we are disobedient. Let us take our lumps and learn from them. Let us take heed on being obedient going forward so that we do not have experience the consequences of sin going forward. Let us be thankful for what God has done for us even though He has allowed consequences to occur that were of our own making. Let us change and be thankful for His provision. Instead of complaining about what a friend or a spouse or a coworker is not doing because of the fact that we have both done things to cause distrust, let us realize that we played a role in the relationship getting to where it is and become the change we seek. Become obedient to the Lord and seek to love despite fear. Let us be the ones that seek obedience to God regardless of the situation. God provides when we are obedient. It may take time to work through the problems caused by our sin but the first step is being thankfully obedient to a God who always provides.

 

Just as Clemson fans need to keep in perspective that the Tigers are being successful though it might not be pretty, they are being successful. The victories have come. The team is undefeated. It might not be in the fashion that we have come accustomed to where it was easy and seemed a thing of precision and beauty. We cannot grumble for the way it is being done. We should remember the days when we simply celebrated victory and not how it was done. We, too, must realize that God is our provider and He will provide for us. It may not always be the way we like. All of us have created circumstances that we whine and complain about but yet we forget that it was our own disobedience to the Lord that caused things to look and smell as they do right now. But has God ever stopped providing for you? Are you not experiencing victory simply by not being completely destroyed for our disobedience? God is there for us and is providing for us. He loves us and provides for us even while He allows us to experience the consequences of our sin.

 

Let us be thankful for God being with us in the storm. Let us be thankful that we have a God who loves us despite our sins. Let us be thankful that He provides for us even when we are disobedient. Let us see that provision and be thankful for it. Let us see that obedience will lead us out of the wilderness. Instead of complaining about why we are in the wilderness and why things are not perfect like we want them, let us see the wilderness of our own making. Let us see that our sins have caused the wilderness. Let us see that our way out of the wilderness begins with our own obedience to God and not someone else’s. Let us see that obedience to the Lord is the key. Let us quit complaining about our condition and begin seeing the wonders of God’s provision even in the storm. Let us quit complaining about our condition and get to the business of being obedient to the Lord. Then, the blessings will flow. Let us quit whining and complaining and begin being obedient to the Lord. Let’s get to work on that!

 

Amen and Amen.

Romans 15:14-22 — In this passage, Paul basically tells the church at Rome that he cannot come visit them because they are doing so well that he has more important things to do. He didn’t mean this as a slam but rather a compliment. Paul had more urgent matters to tend to — to preach the gospel where the name of Christ has never been heard. It has been heard in Rome and they were flourishing. Paul was needed elsewhere.

He is saying here that hey you’re doing OK so I don’t need to visit you just now. Paul needed to go where the challenge was greater and there was a greater need. He felt that the church at Rome was in good hands. He needed to be where there was nothing. He needed to build up churches where the gospel was unknown. By implication for us, it can be said that we need to know when our work is done and its time to leave. We need to know when God is leading us to something new, something urgent, and not be afraid to leave our cocoon.

This message kind of reminds you of when you know its time to leave your current job and seek a new one. There comes a time in most jobs where you feel like you have done all you can at this time and its time to move on. It’s time for a new challenge. For example, when Steve Spurrier was at University of Florida from 1990-2001, he had the world by the tail, he won 8 division titles, 5 conference titles, and 1 national championship. However, he left it all and took on a new challenge in the NFL and that eventually led him to the University of South Carolina. The new challenges were greater than the need to maintain excellence with the Florida Gators. He has done so much more meaningful work at USC than he could’ve ever done in maintaining the program at UF. We all have opportunities in life where it is necessary to leave a good situation where everything is known and everything is neat and tidy. Sometimes it is necessary to break out into the unknown and find the new challenge. Sometimes it is time to step into what God has been preparing us for.

For some that looks like a friend of mine. She has been a ER nurse for 14 years and is very good at it. She has no reason to leave. She could stay in the job and her employer would be happy as clams with that. She is good at what she does. However, she has been called by God to teach her skill to others and to minister to others through home health care. Paul could have visited Rome but He was called to do what God prepared him to do. This friend has been prepared for the next phase in God’s plan. She can do more for Christ by teaching a new crop of nurses how being a Christ follower makes her job a ministry and also to minister to others in home visits one on one in a way she could not in the ER. The ER was not wasted though. The intense nursing required in the ER has taught her much and it will be used in this new phase of God’s plan for her life.

For me and Elena, this idea looks like this. We love LifeSong Church with all our heart. If we had our way, we would never leave. We love this church and the way it touches the community and the world around us. We love serving there in the ways we serve. I help with the financial accounting and budget processes at the church (because of my secular work background). Elena and I work together as leaders in our church’s community outreach ministries. Elena carries most of the workload there and she loves it. We are leaders of our life group and being part of the Christ following growth that is happening there. All of our friends are at LifeSong. 90% of our friends are members of this church. We could stay there forever if we had our own way. It is known. It is safe. It is good. There would be no shame in staying there.

But, as you know, I feel called to be a pastor. It is been a thought always in my mind that we are called to be God’s servant in reclaiming a dying church, to re-awaken what has fallen asleep. We could stay here at LifeSong and be very happy and participate in doing many good things for the kingdom. Sometimes though God calls us to finish the preparation time and step into that which He has been preparing us for. We can’t miss the opportunity when it is time. Paul could not go to Rome because he had urgent work to do spreading the gospel in places where it had never been heard. He COULDN’T miss that opportunity that God laid on His heart. He knew Rome would be fine until a later visit. We must seize our God-ordained opportunities when they arise. We must seize the opportunities to serve the Lord in the way He has ordained for us. When we are called to do what God has called us to do, Elena and I must recognize the Spirit’s leading and go where He leads us. We must fight the urge to stay in the known, the comfortable, and trust that God will sustain in what is unknown, uncomfortable, but yet where God intends us. Our time in Livermore Alive Community Church in California was training for being at LifeSong back home in South Carolina. LifeSong is our training for what’s next in God’s plan for our lives. We must trust in Him to sustain us for what’s next and not be afraid to step into it. We must go wherever God calls us and wherever He needs us to serve. We can’t be afraid to leave what is established and working and is a well oiled machine to do the work of the Lord that needs doing.

Just like Paul, he could have gone to Rome and had a great visit there for several months or years but Rome was already flourishing. God called him not to the flourishing but to those who did not know Jesus. Sometimes, we as Christ followers are not called to serve what is already working well but to serve where we are really needed, where the trail has not been blazed, where souls need re-awakening, where dying churches need to meet Jesus again. We all have our safe places in life, but the real rewards come from when we take on new challenges. We can stay in the safe place and be fine, but sometimes God calls us to do the challenging, the difficult, and we may fail by human standards but the success comes in the obedience to God.

Father, I know that these lyrics belong to Hillsong, but I offer them as my prayer today. Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders. Let me walk upon the waters wherever You would call me. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander and my faith will be made stronger. Help me to trust that You will sustain us in whatever you lead us to do. Help me to never be afraid to leave my boat where everything is known and safe and step out into the waters of the unknown and keep my eyes on You following wherever you may lead us. We are willing. We have been preparing. We love you, Lord. Amen.