Posts Tagged ‘obedience to the Lord’

1 Samuel 15:10-23 (Part 2 of 4)
The Lord Rejects Saul

How are Elena and I supposed to approach this new job as a pastoral couple when we move to Illinois and I become the executive pastor at Calvary Church? Our motives make all the difference in the world. If we are not doing it for the right reasons, this move will be a disaster for us personally and for me professionally. This move will involve a serious change both monetarily for both of us and professionally for me. Whatever cracks there may be in our faith will be exposed by this drastic change. I will be earning less than half than what I make in here in South Carolina. It will be a drastic change in what I do for a living. I will, yes, be using my financial skills developed over a 33 ½ year career in finance and accounting, but doing it as a pastor in a church setting full-time (not as a side job as it has been at LifeSong) will be a radical change. We will be in a new region of the country, a new state, and a new town – a place that neither of has ever lived or even visited before. It will all be new and challenging.

If we are doing this for show – to show how religious we have become. If we are doing this out of ego or some need to be in the spotlight. If we are doing this because of the local celebrity that comes with being a pastor brings. If we are doing this to gather praise for the sacrifice that we are making, then, we are doing it for all the wrong reasons and we will fail. Yes, we have been faithful servants at LifeSong Church here in Lyman for the last seven years. We have done whatever has been asked of us. We have served the church in just about any way we can serve it. We love LifeSong. That is evident to anyone who goes to our church. We have gained great respect and much love from the people who claim LifeSong Church as they home. This is the place where we grew from toddlers in Christ to the spiritual young adults that we are now. But if we have done any of the things that we have done because we want the popularity that it brings or the accolades and praise of other church members then we have done it for the wrong reasons.

The only right reason to become a minister and leave LifeSong Church for Calvary Church, the only right reason to serve in positions of leadership in our current church and our future church is because we want more than anything to be obedient to the Lord’s call on our lives. The only reason to serve as we have served at LifeSong over the years is that we love God and love His people. The only reason to go into full-time ministry is that God has called you to do it and you, in your heart, can do nothing else than to obey that call and that you will be miserable if you turn down the opportunity as presented. The only reason for us to leave is that, after much prayer over the years and being patient and then feeling from the first interview to the last that this new pastoral position is what we were supposed to do. I have felt something special about Calvary Church from the moment that I had my first conversation with the Senior Pastor there. Our weekend there a couple of weeks ago was less a third interview than it was spiritual confirmation to everyone involved that God has called us there, that this was intended by God. Sure, it would be easier, oh so much easier to turn this opportunity down, but honestly I must tell you that I think I would turn out to be miserable from this point forward if we do not answer the call. So, this is not about show. It is not about minor celebrity. It is not about gaining praise for our faithfulness. It is simply about being obedient, about being appreciative of what God has done in our lives, about being faithful to the Lord, about doing what He asks of us with complete love for Him. We are obeying the Lord because we love Him.

Some people say we are crazy – to give up this wonderful and settled life that we have here. We have it made here. Good job that has blessed beyond belief over the past decade and would continue to do so until I retired if I stayed here. Great church where we are trusted leaders and have made oh so many friends, really good friends, and some really, really close friends. We have our family here. Our children and one grandchild are all within a 1 ½ radius of our home. We have an adorable granddaughter who is 18 months old and is just so adorable and so smart and has such an amazingly good personality for a child her age. All of these things are perfectly good reasons to stay and not obey what God has laid in front of us. If we were just doing this change in our lives for the celebrity of it all or to garner praise and respect from others, then, we will fail and come running back home within six months from now.

The only way that this radical change in our lives, in our employment, in our place to live, in our marriage, in our family life and in our church life is that we simply can do nothing else other than be obedient to the Lord’s call on our lives. God desires our obedience not some flashy shows of religiosity. If we do things just to be seen doing them, then we are not being obedient, we are being prideful. The only reason that we are moving to Moline, IL and going off into the unknown is that we want to be obedient to what we know is God’s call on our lives. That’s it. That’s all. That’s all it can be. There will be rough times ahead. Ministry is just that way. Satan targets you when you go into the ministry. There is a target on your back. He will find your cracks in your armor and will attack you there. If we are doing this for show, then we will crumble under the attacks that will come. If we are doing this because we love the Lord and are willing to be obedient to whatever, wherever, He leads, we will still have attacks from Satan and we may get knocked down, disappointed, ocassionally disillusioned but we will get back up and get back in the battle because we cannot be comfortable doing anything other than be obedient to the Lord.

That’s the thing I thought of this morning as I read through 1 Samuel 15:10-23 for the second of four blogs on this passage. That thing was how God wants obedience from us more than following ritual for ritual’s sake. How God wants us to obey Him not out of obligation or showing off to others but because we dearly love Him so much that we seek His agenda and not our own. Let’s read the passage now:

10 Then the Lord said to Samuel, 11 “I am sorry that I ever made Saul king, for he has not been loyal to me and has refused to obey my command.” Samuel was so deeply moved when he heard this that he cried out to the Lord all night.

12 Early the next morning Samuel went to find Saul. Someone told him, “Saul went to the town of Carmel to set up a monument to himself; then he went on to Gilgal.”

13 When Samuel finally found him, Saul greeted him cheerfully. “May the Lord bless you,” he said. “I have carried out the Lord’s command!”

14 “Then what is all the bleating of sheep and goats and the lowing of cattle I hear?” Samuel demanded.

15 “It’s true that the army spared the best of the sheep, goats, and cattle,” Saul admitted. “But they are going to sacrifice them to the Lord your God. We have destroyed everything else.”

16 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! Listen to what the Lord told me last night!”

“What did he tell you?” Saul asked.

17 And Samuel told him, “Although you may think little of yourself, are you not the leader of the tribes of Israel? The Lord has anointed you king of Israel. 18 And the Lord sent you on a mission and told you, ‘Go and completely destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, until they are all dead.’ 19 Why haven’t you obeyed the Lord? Why did you rush for the plunder and do what was evil in the Lord’s sight?”

20 “But I did obey the Lord,” Saul insisted. “I carried out the mission he gave me. I brought back King Agag, but I destroyed everyone else. 21 Then my troops brought in the best of the sheep, goats, cattle, and plunder to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.”

22 But Samuel replied,

“What is more pleasing to the Lord:
your burnt offerings and sacrifices
or your obedience to his voice?
Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice,
and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.
23
Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft,
and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.
So because you have rejected the command of the Lord,
he has rejected you as king.”

In this passage, we see that this is the first of numerous passages in the Bible where the theme, “obedience is better than sacrifice”, is stated. Other examples included Psalm 40:6-8, Psalm 51:16-17, Proverbs 21:3, Isaiah 1:11-17, Jeremiah 7:21-23, Hosea 6:6, Micah 6:6-8, Matthew 12:7, Mark 12:33 and Hebrews 10:8-9 are other examples. Was Samuel saying that sacrifice is unimportant? No, he was urging Saul to look at his reasons for making the sacrifice rather than at the sacrifice itself. A sacrifice is a ritual transaction between a person and God that physically demonstrates a relationship between them. However, if the person’s heart was not truly repentant or if he did not truly love God, the sacrifice was a hollow charade. Religious ceremonies or rituals are empty unless they are performed with an attitude of love and obedience. “Being religious” (going to church, serving on a team at church, or giving to a church or a charity) is empty is we do not act out of devotion and obedience to God.

Do you go to church to worship the Lord every Sunday with all your heart or do you go to church because your church is the cool, hip, trendy church in town? Do you go to church to love the Lord in praises of thanksgiving or do you go because of the networking that benefits your career or personal life that your church affords you? Are you involved in the ministries of your church because your best friends are doing it? Are you involved in the ministries of your church so people will see you doing it? Do you get involved because your wife made you? Do you go to church so you can check it off your list of duties to be done? Do you go to church and praise the Lord on Sunday but live like hell the rest of the week?

God want us to praise Him, love Him, and serve Him not because of obligation or because it makes us seem religious or to be seen being religious? He wants our heart. He wants our obedience because we love Him. He wants our obedience because we are so thankful to Him for what He has done for us through Jesus Christ. He loved us so much that he left the 99 sheep to find us. He loved us so much that He sacrificed His Son on the cross and the once and final sacrifice for our sins. Jesus went to the cross and suffered the most gruesome of deaths known to man as an act of obedience to His Father because He loved us that much. Why then cannot we simply do what God asks of us, obedience to His Word and to His call on our lives, out of that same kind of devotion and love? He saved us from hell by what He did on the cross. Wow! Obedience to what He commands then should be done out of this heart swell of love for Him. Obedience should come out of our amazingly thankful hearts for what we were saved from – a soul destined for the eternal flame of hell. Obedience should come out that love for what He has done for us. That’s it. That’s all. That’s all it can be.

Amen and Amen.

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Deuteronomy 28:15-68

Curses for Disobedience

Unmerited Grace. Obedience through our works. The great struggle of the Christian faith.

We are saved by grace. There is no doubt of that. Scripture is clear that one sin, just one sin, disqualifies us from existing in the presence of God in eternity in heaven. It’s a one and done deal. Commit just one sin on this side of eternity and we are condemned to an eternity in hell where there is gnashing of teeth and the burning of flesh for eternity. That is the whole purpose of Jesus Christ on the cross. There, He took on the wrath of God against sin for all mankind for all time. It is there that our slate is wiped clean through accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. All we must do is to believe fully that He was the Son of God, that He died on the cross for our sins, and that He was resurrected from the dead to give us hope of a new life and a life in the presence of God with Him. Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins and the cleansing that comes to us when we believe in Him is the grace of salvation. We are given an unmerited gift. There is no need for God to give us that gift. By all rights, our first sin and all the sins that we commit after the first one show us to be habitual sin criminals that deserve the penalty that rightfully should be handed down to us. It’s not like we are some first time sin criminal. We are habitual sin criminals that deserve the fullest extent of punishment possible. However, through faith in Jesus Christ, true repentant faith, we are set free by Jesus and through what He did on the cross. In no way did we deserve it. In no way did we do something to earn it. One sin makes us imperfect so its not like we can fix it! Like pouring Kool-Aid granules into water, it forever changes the color of the water and nothing can change it back, so, too, are we forever tainted before God by our first sin. Nothing we can do to change us back.

 

Why is then that God expects us to obey His commands? If we are saved by grace through faith alone. Why does it matter? Why do so many of us ignore God’s commands and say we are New Testament Christians? Why do we act as if we can do whatever we want because we are covered in the grace of Jesus Christ? This is the fear of many throughout the ages that concept of grace allows us to commit sins with impunity. We can live the way we want to live because of the wonderful grace that God has given us through Jesus Christ. Some Christ followers won’t even crack open the Old Testament books, because they say it does not apply to them because of what Jesus Christ did on the cross. It’s not worth reading, they say. Grace trumps the commands of the Old Testament they say. Why should I obey commands when I am covered by grace?

 

It was this concept of grace vs. obedience that came to mind when I read this rather extensive passage this morning, Deuteronomy 28:15-68:

 

15 However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you:

 

16 You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country.

 

17 Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed.

 

18 The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.

 

19 You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out.

 

20 The Lord will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him.[a] 21 The Lord will plague you with diseases until he has destroyed you from the land you are entering to possess. 22 The Lord will strike you with wasting disease, with fever and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew, which will plague you until you perish. 23 The sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron. 24 The Lord will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder; it will come down from the skies until you are destroyed.

 

25 The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You will come at them from one direction but flee from them in seven, and you will become a thing of horror to all the kingdoms on earth. 26 Your carcasses will be food for all the birds and the wild animals, and there will be no one to frighten them away. 27 The Lord will afflict you with the boils of Egypt and with tumors, festering sores and the itch, from which you cannot be cured. 28 The Lord will afflict you with madness, blindness and confusion of mind. 29 At midday you will grope about like a blind person in the dark. You will be unsuccessful in everything you do; day after day you will be oppressed and robbed, with no one to rescue you.

 

30 You will be pledged to be married to a woman, but another will take her and rape her. You will build a house, but you will not live in it. You will plant a vineyard, but you will not even begin to enjoy its fruit. 31 Your ox will be slaughtered before your eyes, but you will eat none of it. Your donkey will be forcibly taken from you and will not be returned. Your sheep will be given to your enemies, and no one will rescue them. 32 Your sons and daughters will be given to another nation, and you will wear out your eyes watching for them day after day, powerless to lift a hand. 33 A people that you do not know will eat what your land and labor produce, and you will have nothing but cruel oppression all your days. 34 The sights you see will drive you mad. 35 The Lord will afflict your knees and legs with painful boils that cannot be cured, spreading from the soles of your feet to the top of your head.

 

36 The Lord will drive you and the king you set over you to a nation unknown to you or your ancestors. There you will worship other gods, gods of wood and stone. 37 You will become a thing of horror, a byword and an object of ridicule among all the peoples where the Lord will drive you.

 

38 You will sow much seed in the field but you will harvest little, because locusts will devour it. 39 You will plant vineyards and cultivate them but you will not drink the wine or gather the grapes, because worms will eat them. 40 You will have olive trees throughout your country but you will not use the oil, because the olives will drop off. 41 You will have sons and daughters but you will not keep them, because they will go into captivity. 42 Swarms of locusts will take over all your trees and the crops of your land.

 

43 The foreigners who reside among you will rise above you higher and higher, but you will sink lower and lower. 44 They will lend to you, but you will not lend to them. They will be the head, but you will be the tail.

 

45 All these curses will come on you. They will pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you did not obey the Lord your God and observe the commands and decrees he gave you. 46 They will be a sign and a wonder to you and your descendants forever. 47 Because you did not serve the Lord your God joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity, 48 therefore in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and dire poverty, you will serve the enemies the Lord sends against you. He will put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you.

 

49 The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, 50 a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. 51 They will devour the young of your livestock and the crops of your land until you are destroyed. They will leave you no grain, new wine or olive oil, nor any calves of your herds or lambs of your flocks until you are ruined. 52 They will lay siege to all the cities throughout your land until the high fortified walls in which you trust fall down. They will besiege all the cities throughout the land the Lord your God is giving you.

 

53 Because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege, you will eat the fruit of the womb, the flesh of the sons and daughters the Lord your God has given you. 54 Even the most gentle and sensitive man among you will have no compassion on his own brother or the wife he loves or his surviving children, 55 and he will not give to one of them any of the flesh of his children that he is eating. It will be all he has left because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege of all your cities. 56 The most gentle and sensitive woman among you—so sensitive and gentle that she would not venture to touch the ground with the sole of her foot—will begrudge the husband she loves and her own son or daughter 57 the afterbirth from her womb and the children she bears. For in her dire need she intends to eat them secretly because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege of your cities.

 

58 If you do not carefully follow all the words of this law, which are written in this book, and do not revere this glorious and awesome name—the Lord your God— 59 the Lord will send fearful plagues on you and your descendants, harsh and prolonged disasters, and severe and lingering illnesses. 60 He will bring on you all the diseases of Egypt that you dreaded, and they will cling to you. 61 The Lord will also bring on you every kind of sickness and disaster not recorded in this Book of the Law, until you are destroyed. 62 You who were as numerous as the stars in the sky will be left but few in number, because you did not obey the Lord your God. 63 Just as it pleased the Lord to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you. You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess.

 

64 Then the Lord will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship other gods—gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your ancestors have known. 65 Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the Lord will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. 66 You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread both night and day, never sure of your life. 67 In the morning you will say, “If only it were evening!” and in the evening, “If only it were morning!”—because of the terror that will fill your hearts and the sights that your eyes will see. 68 The Lord will send you back in ships to Egypt on a journey I said you should never make again. There you will offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but no one will buy you.

 

As you see here in this passage, disobedience leads to curses are just as negative as the blessing are positive. As the blessings represent the fullness of life, the curses represent the opposite – the deprivation of life, the presence of death, disease, defeat, and exile. But, you will note, that these curses are multiplied far more than the blessings so that they never seem to end. Israel would as we know lose their place as a blessed nation because of rampant disobedience to God.

 

There is a powerful parallelism between what happened to Israel and what can and frequently does happen to members in the body of Christ. Many have pointed out that Israel received the promised land as “an unmerited gift”; and indeed they did, in exactly the same way that the grace of God, through his unmerited favor, receives followers of Christ today into his kingdom. Furthermore, even if Israel had faithfully obeyed God’s commandments and kept his statutes, even the fullest possible measure of their obedience could never in a million years have altered the “unmerited” and “unearned” nature of blessings which they received. However, reckless disobedience and rebellion against God’s rules could, and in the case of Israel, did forfeit all of those unmerited favors.

 

Does this mean that I must obey the Lord to keep my salvation? Can I lose my salvation if I don’t do works of obedience? What does this all mean? Is it not also true in the kingdom of Christ? Saved by grace as we surely are, recipients of unmerited favor from God, rejoicing in a salvation we did not earn nor could we ever earn; but we may surely forfeit all such mercies and blessings through willful and continual disobedience and rebellion against the ordinances and statutes God has commanded. Why even bother keeping the Lord’s commands if (1) we are saved by grace through faith alone  and (2) never in a million years could we expect win favor from God by our obedience to His commands.

 

How do we reconcile this apparent contradiction in the basic theology of the Christian faith? I think we need something to bring the two concepts together. Just as a bridge connects land that cannot be traversed one to the other without the bridge. We need a bridge between the Land of Grace on one side and the Land of Obedience on the other. That bridge is called repentance.

 

We are saved by grace through faith alone. Without fully believing that we are natural born sinners that are destined for hell on our own, without full believing that we are in need of an intervention because we are hopelessly mired in sin that separates us from God, we cannot come to faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior. We first must believe that we are need of saving and that nothing else will do because we cannot win heaven on our own by our own behavior because of our hopeless sin nature. We must first believe that we are doomed to hell in the absence of an intervention. That intervention is in Jesus Christ alone. He is God in the flesh and He is perfect. He came to earth to dwell among us and to live the one and only ever perfect and sinless life. Since He was the only sacrifice ever to be completely perfect and completely sinless, He completed the Old Testament sacrificial system. His blood makes us clean. His death on the cross cancels out the cost of our sins because He bore the punishment for our sins by being that once and final sacrifice of the perfect sinless One.

 

Once we believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins and that He arose from the dead because He is God in the flesh, we are saved by grace. Once our sins are cleansed away by the grace of Jesus Christ, our souls are made holy. Only then can the Holy Spirit dwell in our souls. The Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son to dwell in us so that we will have the glory of the Lord within us to guide and direct us.

 

The Holy Spirit is the difference. It is through the Holy Spirit’s action in our souls and through His guidance that we repent of our sins. It is through the Holy Spirit that we find disdain in continuing to live in ways that are dissatisfying to the Lord. Sure, there are some sins that we like to continue committing more than others and the Holy Spirit must often work an entire lifetime to rid of us our desire to continue committing certain of our pet sins. Accepting Christ as our Savior and Lord does not mean that we are automatically perfect. The Holy Spirit spends a lifetime teaching us about obedience to the Lord and pointing out to us where our lives are displeasing to the Lord. We cannot lose our salvation because true salvation leads us to WANT to please the Lord through obedience to His commands. True salvation allows us to see ourselves as sinners that are being sanctified by the Holy Spirit daily to cleanse us of our sinful ways. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes to the fact that without Jesus we are condemned. Through the Holy Spirit, we begin to be revolted by our sins and through the Holy Spirit we are gradually made more like Christ each day where we are turning away from sins we once enjoyed committed or weren’t even aware that were sins previously.

 

So if we cannot lose our salvation then what is the benefit of obeying the Lord’s commands? First, there’s the want-to that comes from the Holy Spirit. We WANT to please the Lord. We WANT the Holy Spirit to point our where we are unholy so that we can make it holy. We want to please the Lord so we are willing to obey His Word. Then, there’s the issue of the consequences of sin.

 

There are always consequences to our sins even after salvation. We may have our sentence to hell exonerated through grace but the consequences of our sins follow us even after salvation. Sins we commit after salvation have their consequences. Israel paid for its disobedience to the Lord over and over. So shall we. For every sin we commit even after salvation. There are consequences. Sin is against the nature of God and anything that is against His nature has negative consequences. So, as we grow and mature in Christ, we realize that there was, there is, and there will be consequences to our sins. Sin is against God’s nature and every sin has negative consequences on our lives. We know through the Holy Spirit opening our eyes to these facts. We already know through salvation that we deserve hell but that we have been given an eternal reprieve through Jesus Christ. We then spend the rest of our lives trying to openly and humbly please Him through the conduct of our lives. The Holy Spirit is there to keep us humble and to point out the ways in which our lives continue to be unholy and begins to create revulsion in us for those things that are not of God because first and foremost through salvation we are desirous now of pleasing God above all things. Repentance and the desire to please the Lord through our obedience to His Word is the essence of the Christian. Salvation. Repentance the bridge. Obedience to the Lord. Blessings for Obedience. Curses for Disobedience.

 

Obedience brings blessing and disobedience brings curses. True before and after salvation. Salvation brings the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit brings about the desire to obey. This is just the truth of God. Plain and simple. If you are having to throw away parts of the Bible to justify why your sin is no longer sin or was never sin in the first place…it is sin. Plain and simple. We must come to the Lord through the Holy Spirit and repent of our sins. May the Holy Spirit be a powerful force in our lives to show us our sins and influence us to repent from them and turn away from them and no longer justify our sins as OK. We WANT to please the Lord through our obedience to His Word. Holy Spirit point out to us where we need to repent because we have the DESIRE to be more like Jesus each day because we want to make Him smile and allow Him to bless us. Help us, Holy Spirit. Help us!

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 28:26-31

The Festival of Pentecost

Today, we have the closing on the sale of our house for the past six years, and during the past six years, our house, bought at the bottom of the Great Recession (2008-2010) in 2010, has since appreciated in a nice little way. It has increased in value by 13% in those six years. Today, we harvest that crop, that value increase. It is a reminder of God’s faithfulness to us even in uncertain times. When we bought the house six (6) years ago, Elena and I were still newlyweds having been married about a year and a half. So, this house was our first major purchase together and it was in this house that we learned greater and greater dependence on the Lord. Until one of our friends in California told us to just check and see if we were pre-qualified for a mortgage, we would not have even considered buying a home when we moved back to South Carolina in 2010. We were thinking of continuing to rent until we followed the advice of this friend. We thought because of my credit past that we would never qualify. However, while in California, we faithful in taking on my past credit mistakes and paying them off as we could. Instead of blowing refunds and bonuses on extravagances, we paid off old debts and negotiated settlements on them to clear my credit profile. That plowing of the fields in preparation was necessary for us to be in a position in 2010 to buy our first house together as a couple. The purchase of the house was a seed planted. Today is the harvest of the planting.

 

During the past six years, we have been faithful to the Lord with our firstfruits of my income. We have been faithful in that. The Lord has taught about being obedient to Him in our finances and we have learned to be less concerned with keeping up with the Joneses and more concerned with pleasing God. During this time, we have learned that the blessings of obedience to the Lord in our finances is not some investment/payback scenario where you invest in God and he will bring you cash blessings as some huckster media preachers might suggest. The blessing of being financially obedient to the Lord means that He changes your mindset about riches and what blessings are. The blessing is no longer chasing after things but rather seeking to be generous to God and watching Him use it to bless the world around us. The blessing is changing from a mindset of consumerism to a mindset of generosity. The peace that comes with being obedient to the Lord and seeking to live on 90% or less of what we make is amazing. The peace that comes desiring fewer things and less debt is eye-opening. Being able to be generous instead of just wishing to be begins with being faithful to God’s Word when it comes to our finances. The peace of knowing that God will provide when we quit worshiping our money and our things is the biggest blessing of all. Placing our trust in the Lord through obedience begins with our finances and trickles down to the rest of our lives.

 

Today, when we close on the sale of our house. It is a celebration of what God has done in our lives during the past six years. It is a time to celebrate His provision in our lives. It is a time to celebrate how He has grown Elena and me over the past six years. Six years ago, we might not have seen the power of God’s provision in our lives as we do today. It would have been seen as more of as the luck of the market. But six years later, we are able to see God’s orchestration of our lives. The way that He orchestrated our desire to live more simply in a smaller home, the timing of our meeting our real estate agent, the timing of our finding the home that we are going to purchase, all of it stems from our being faithful and obedient to the Lord. Today, we celebrate the growth that God has done in us through our obedience to Him. Today is more than a sale of a house, it is a celebration of God’s provision. I do not tell you these things to boast but rather as a signal to those who wonder if it is worth to be obedient to the Lord in the last area of our lives that we typically give up to Him – our finances. Our finances, our harvest, is one area that the Lord invites us to test Him as He states in Malachi.

 

Ours is a story of trying to live our lives our own way and not being obedient to the Lord. Our finances are the evidence of the things that we worship and thus making our finances obedient to the Lord is the first step in being obedient to the Lord in all areas of life. Being obedient to the Lord in our finances is not some cash invest/cash return scheme. It is about learning to trust the Lord to provide for us. It is about trusting that God is our provider and that He will never leave us. It is about changing your mindset about money. So, this is not boasting, but as evidence of how trusting the Lord with your finances brings blessing of peace that are what He desires for us. Today, we celebrate God’s provision and His blessing upon our lives. Today, we celebrate what He has done in our minds, hearts, and souls over the past six years. It’s more than a sale of our house. It is celebrating God’s bounty and His provision in our lives.

 

It is that idea of being obedient to the Lord and reaping the blessings from that I thought of when I read today’s passage, Numbers 28:26-31, with its talk about the offerings to be made at the Festival of Pentecost, fifty days after the Festival of First Fruits. The Pentecost festival was a celebration of the harvest. It was a celebration of what God has done and how He has provided for His people. The similarities of this festival to the life event that Elena and I go through today is not lost on me. Let’s read the details of the offering together but keeping in mind what the Festival of Pentecost was all about:

 

 

26 “‘On the day of firstfruits, when you present to the Lord an offering of new grain during the Festival of Weeks, hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. 27 Present a burnt offering of two young bulls, one ram and seven male lambs a year old as an aroma pleasing to the Lord. 28 With each bull there is to be a grain offering of three-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour mixed with oil; with the ram, two-tenths; 29 and with each of the seven lambs, one-tenth. 30 Include one male goat to make atonement for you. 31 Offer these together with their drink offerings, in addition to the regular burnt offering and its grain offering. Be sure the animals are without defect.

 

 

To the Jews, this time of celebration is known as Shavout, which is the Hebrew word meaning “weeks.” This is one of three separate names that are used in Scripture to refer to this important Jewish feast. Each name emphasizes an important aspect of the feast as well as its religious and cultural significance to both Jews and Christians. Besides being called the Feast of Weeks in Leviticus 23, this special feast celebration is called the “Day of the Firstfruits” in Numbers 28:26 and the “Feast of Harvest” in Exodus 23:16.

 

The Feast of Weeks takes place exactly 50 days after the Feast of Firstfruits. It normally occurs in late spring, either the last part of May or the beginning of June. Unlike other feasts that began on a specific day of the Hebrew calendar, this one is calculated as being “fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath” (Leviticus 23:15–16; Deuteronomy 16:9–10).

 

The festival was instituted by God to remind His people to be thankful to Him for His provision in the harvest. How often do we forget that it is through God’s providential care for our lives that He provides us with the talents that we have? He gifts each one of us with the talents that we have and that makes each one of us unique qualified to do something. We use these talents to earn money in the vocations that he gives the talent for. God guides us toward those vocations that will use the talents that He gives us. Some are accountants, some are mechanics, some are engineers, some are talented to be stay at home wives and mothers, and so on. We all have God given talents that we use to earn money. Thus, our money comes from Him and the way He talents us. Thus, should we not honor Him by giving Him the first fruit of the harvest of our wages? He commands that we give Him the first fruits of our labors. When we are obedient, He provides and He blesses. There are times that we must celebrate that. Today, Elena and I celebrate our Pentecost Festival. It is not lost on us how God has provided for us and how He has changed us and how He is the Master of everything. So, it’s more than just a sale of a house today. It is a celebration of God’s provision.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 8:5-26 (Part 2)

The Levites Dedicated

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

According to www.gotquestions.com, it says,

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Amen and Amen.