Posts Tagged ‘obedience’

2 Samuel 5:1-5
David Anointed King in Hebron

Patience. It is a virtue. It is one of the fruits of the Spirit as enumerated by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:22-23. Of all the qualities of the Christian soul, this one may be the hardest one to accept and make a part of character. It is the one that God has been working on with me for the last four years in spades. I am an impatient person by nature. It has cost me a lot over the years in pain, heartache, and sometimes in my finances. Of all the qualities that I admire about my wife, it is her patience that I have learned the most from her.

To compare us in that regard, just take shopping. Elena will research what she wants. Weigh options. Look for the best combination of price vs. quality, price vs. reliability, price vs. durability. An example would be the car that she purchased right after we met. Her Chevy Blazer was about to die a slow cruel death from years and years of use. She began patiently evaluating cars that would meet her needs. Did a lot of research and then settled on a Mazda 3 as the best car for her at that point in her financial life. Then, she went shopping at several car dealerships and walked away if the deal was not right for her. Finally, she found the dealership that gave her the deal that she could reasonably afford and give her the all the options that she could reasonably afford on this cute little gun-metal gray Mazda 3 with black interior. It was an awesome car. She drove it from 2008-2016. It was our family car. When we had trips to take, it was in this car. It was comfortable and rode well for a small car. It never gave any trouble from a major mechanical standpoint. It was just the best car ever. The only reason that we are not STILL driving that car is that we gave it away to my youngest daughter to help her out in a time of real need. Elena made the right choice with her patience in looking for the right car for her (and then for us after marriage) for the long haul. Our Mazda 3 was a good looking car and one that was built for the long haul. Patience in the selection process was key to getting that right combination of stylishness, price vs. value, and durability.

She is the same way about purchases for the house, even the little stuff that you have to buy for a house. She researches. She is patient. She gets the best value. Although it is frustrating at times, her wisdom in contributing in this way to the financial success of our marriage is one thing that I love about her. She never spends money foolishly. She often forgoes buying things for herself that she really needs so as to be able to help us save money. How important that is now to cannot be understated. When we knew that the Lord had call me to full-time vocational ministry, we knew that it would be a drastic reduction in income for us compared to my income in the secular world. We began preparing by paying off debts rather that creating new ones. We began downsizing our financial appetites. We even downsized our house and our mortgage. Elena’s patience and wisdom in this regard cannot be understated either. We could have made purchases that met real needs in our life that we could have afforded rather easily but her influence on our decisions to be patient and wait on the Lord to reveal is a testament to her submission to the Lord.

She knew that someday we would be in full-time ministry. She knew that someday some church would take a chance on me so patience was called for. She was a calming influence on me as I became increasingly frustrated with the slow pace at which God was moving us toward full-time ministry. For this, I thank her for her patience and her support. God knew what He was doing when he aligned our lives such that we would meet when I moved from Greenville, SC to Rock Hill, SC (just outside of Charlotte, NC) and moved her from Clover, SC to that very same town and that very same apartment complex and that very same building within that apartment complex. What God began in Rock Hill in 2006 has now come to fruition in 2018 in Rock Island. It is ironic that we met in Rock Hill and now we are in Rock Island. The commonality is the Rock.

It has been between the towns with Rock in their names that God has taught me much through Elena and directly in His dealings with me. Through His influence through Elena and through his direct words to me, He has taught me to know the concept of “plowing the field in front of you!”.

These are the things that I thought about this morning as I read and studied 2 Samuel 5:1-5 about David at long last becoming king of all Israel. What a long hard road that was! Let us read now about David finally coming into the promise made to Him by God:

 

Chapter 5
1 Then all the tribes of Israel went to David at Hebron and told him, “We are your own flesh and blood. 2 In the past, when Saul was our king, you were the one who really led the forces of Israel. And the Lord told you, ‘You will be the shepherd of my people Israel. You will be Israel’s leader.’”

3 So there at Hebron, King David made a covenant before the Lord with all the elders of Israel. And they anointed him king of Israel.

4 David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years in all. 5 He had reigned over Judah from Hebron for seven years and six months, and from Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah for thirty-three years.

In this passage, we see that David did not become king over all of Israel until he was 37 years old, although he had been promised the kingdom many years earlier (see 1 Samuel 16:13). During those years David had to wait patiently for the fulfillment of God’s promise. While David had to live the life of an outlaw for many years, the outlook was often bleak, but God’s promise to make him king over the entire Promised Land of Israel was now coming into focus. Following God’s calling on our lives sometimes requires a great deal of patience, and we may desire to speed up God’s plan under our own power. We may try to push forward with impatience into what we think God has in store for us. However, when we want to short-circuit God’s plan and achieve right now what God has in store for us, let us remember David’s patience. Just as his time of waiting prepared him for his important task, learning to trust God and wait patiently as He works out the details of His plan for our lives will allow Him to prepare us such that we are adequately prepared and ready when His timing is achieved.

Right now as I meet me three month anniversary of being the administrative pastor at Calvary Church of The Quad Cities here in northwest Illinois, I must continue to be patient. But without the history of learning to plow the field in front of me and trusting God that I learned over the years waiting to get here and through the influence of my wife, I could easily become impatient. I am 55 years old. I have a relatively short time to be productive for the Lord, by my estimation. Without the example in real life of the patience of my wife, without the direct teachings of the Lord to be patient and just wait on Him, I could try to short circuit God’s plan for me here at this place at this time with these people in this place. I must trust that my senior pastor will develop me into the pastor that God intends me to be. He put me under the leadership of Pastor Tim and I have learned over the years since hearing the call to ministry to trust the Lord. He constantly pours into my heart that I must plow the field in front of me and trust Him with what’s next. Be faithful where you are at. Plow the field in front of you. God will reward your patience and obedience. Sure, we as limited mortals want to jump ahead to what we think it is that God has in store for us. But one thing have learned in the years since graduating from seminary, it is to plow the field in front of you. God has a reason for you to be in the field that you are in so plow. Just plow. Be faithful. Work the soil that you have in front of you. Work it to the best of your ability and to the glory of God.
Just as I learn patience from my wife that it does get rewarded. Her patience in buying that Mazda 3 a decade ago gave us a car that saw us from Rock Hill, SC to Livermore, CA to Lyman, SC and had we not given it away it would be here with us in Rock Island. Patience lead to the right choice there. Patiently waiting and learning over the years at Livermore Alive Community Church under Pastor Luke Brower readied us for waiting and learning over the years at LifeSong Church under Pastor Jeff Hickman. Thus, patience now at age 55 as I serve at Calvary Church and Pastor Tim Bowman is something that is easier for me to do. Without the experiences of the past and the example of my wife, I have come to see the value of patience. In patience, comes humility. In patience, comes trust in the Lord. The plowing of the field in front of me has led me from Rock Hill where I met my wife to here in Rock Island where, after years of patience, we are now serving the Lord full-time. I am now able to just say to the Lord, do with me what you will at the rate and pace that I trust you know that is best for me. I trust that He has me under the right man at this right time. Plowing the field. Plowing the field in front of me. Trusting God with the rest of it. He has not guided me wrong in the past – from Rock Hill to Rock Island.

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 11:16-12:24

Summary of Conquests

 

Last night, I watched a movie that I had last seen in the movie theatre. Now, last night it was on TBS. It was the movie, Interstellar, starring Matthew McConoughey and Anne Hathaway. It is one of those movies that messes with your head. It is well-written but it deals with some heady scientific concepts. The theory of relativity plays a front and center role in the movie. That is a pretty high-brow concept to be the star concept of a movie. The movie does not dumb down the science and the theory and it challenges you to consider the concepts of their being different dimensions of life that we are not aware of outside of time, spatial relationships, and motion.

 

The story centers on Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper, a former NASA pilot turned farmer, who discovers mysterious coordinates to a top-secret government project. He is recruited by his old colleague Professor Brand (Michael Caine) to lead a journey into the nether regions of space to, essentially, find a new home for humanity. While it’s somewhat glossed over in the film, the reason for this mission is because the Earth’s resources are dwindling rapidly, with the “blight” rendering the planet incapable of yielding any crops except for corn, although that will be over soon as well.

 

At any rate, despite the protests of his young daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy), Cooper joins this all-important mission aboard the Endurance spacecraft alongside Brand’s daughter and biologist Amelia (Anne Hathaway), physicist Romily (David Gyasi), geographer Doyle (Wes Bentley) and two androids known as TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin) and CASE (voiced by Josh Stewart). Their mission is to enter a wormhole and explore the three planets orbiting the black hole Gargantua, which are named Miller, Mann and Edmunds, after the astronauts who explored them in the previous Lazarus missions. In Interstellar, Cooper wrestles with the decision to join the Endurance, since he knows he will be separated from his young daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) and son Tom (Timothée Chalamet) for an unknown amount of time. He doesn’t know then that years upon years will pass, with Murph (Jessica Chastain) and Tom (Casey Affleck) growing up never knowing if and/or when their father will come back. It’s Murph’s undying faith that Coop will return that provides a heart-wrenching payoff.

 

What a quandry this film proposes, saving humanity (where through the vagaries of the relativity you only age a few years) at the expense of spending time with your family over a period of sixty or so years on earth. Which would you do? Do something that no one on earth will possibly remember that will save their lives or stay on earth, not take the risk and suffer and die with your family as the planet wastes away. Would you rather take the risk of failing in an effort to save humanity for which you may never get credit for and risk alienating and destroying family relationships to save something greater, humanity?

 

Sometimes, we have choices like that to make. We can take the easy way out or we can do the hard work whose fruit might not been seen in this lifetime or, at least, not for many years. We may choose comfort over doing hard work that may take many years to realize. We see this in this passage. Remember, back in the first approach to the Promised Land, the Israelites did not want to do the hard work of conquering the Promised Land. Wandering in the wilderness for 40 years was preferable to having to fight and claw and scratch out the conquest of the Promised Land. Remember, God promised them the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey, but they did not want to do the work that was necessary to obtain it. Here in this passage, we see just how hard that work was. Let’s read it together now:

 

 

 

16 So Joshua took this entire land: the hill country, all the Negev, the whole region of Goshen, the western foothills, the Arabah and the mountains of Israel with their foothills, 17 from Mount Halak, which rises toward Seir, to Baal Gad in the Valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon. He captured all their kings and put them to death. 18 Joshua waged war against all these kings for a long time. 19 Except for the Hivites living in Gibeon, not one city made a treaty of peace with the Israelites, who took them all in battle. 20 For it was the Lord himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the Lord had commanded Moses.

 

21 At that time Joshua went and destroyed the Anakites from the hill country: from Hebron, Debir and Anab, from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua totally destroyed them and their towns. 22 No Anakites were left in Israelite territory; only in Gaza, Gath and Ashdod did any survive.

 

23 So Joshua took the entire land, just as the Lord had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions. Then the land had rest from war.

List of Defeated Kings

 

12 These are the kings of the land whom the Israelites had defeated and whose territory they took over east of the Jordan, from the Arnon Gorge to Mount Hermon, including all the eastern side of the Arabah:

 

2 Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon.

 

He ruled from Aroer on the rim of the Arnon Gorge—from the middle of the gorge—to the Jabbok River, which is the border of the Ammonites. This included half of Gilead. 3 He also ruled over the eastern Arabah from the Sea of Galilee[a] to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea), to Beth Jeshimoth, and then southward below the slopes of Pisgah.

 

4 And the territory of Og king of Bashan, one of the last of the Rephaites, who reigned in Ashtaroth and Edrei.

 

5 He ruled over Mount Hermon, Salekah, all of Bashan to the border of the people of Geshur and Maakah, and half of Gilead to the border of Sihon king of Heshbon.

 

6 Moses, the servant of the Lord, and the Israelites conquered them. And Moses the servant of the Lord gave their land to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh to be their possession.

 

7 Here is a list of the kings of the land that Joshua and the Israelites conquered on the west side of the Jordan, from Baal Gad in the Valley of Lebanon to Mount Halak, which rises toward Seir. Joshua gave their lands as an inheritance to the tribes of Israel according to their tribal divisions. 8 The lands included the hill country, the western foothills, the Arabah, the mountain slopes, the wilderness and the Negev. These were the lands of the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. These were the kings:

9 the king of Jericho       one

the king of Ai (near Bethel)         one

10 the king of Jerusalem              one

the king of Hebron          one

11 the king of Jarmuth  one

the king of Lachish          one

12 the king of Eglon       one

the king of Gezer             one

13 the king of Debir        one

the king of Geder             one

14 the king of Hormah  one

the king of Arad               one

15 the king of Libnah     one

the king of Adullam       one

16 the king of Makkedah             one

the king of Bethel            one

17 the king of Tappuah one

the king of Hepher          one

18 the king of Aphek      one

the king of Lasharon      one

19 the king of Madon    one

the king of Hazor             one

20 the king of Shimron Meron   one

the king of Akshaph       one

21 the king of Taanach one

the king of Megiddo      one

22 the king of Kedesh    one

the king of Jokneam in Carmel  one

23 the king of Dor (in Naphoth Dor)        one

the king of Goyim in Gilgal         one

24 the king of Tirzah      one

thirty-one kings in all.

 

In this passage, we see that much of the conquest of the land of Canaan seems to have happened quickly (we can read about it in just a few pages), but it actually took seven (7) years. We often expect quick changes in our lives and quick victories over sin, over circumstances that oppress us, over obstacles to our successful enjoyment of life. However, our journey with God is a lifelong process and any changes in our lives or victories over that which we want to conquer may take time. It is easy to grow impatient with God and feel like giving up hope because things are moving too slowly, according to our standards. When we are too close to a situation, it is difficult to see progress. But when we get a chance to reflect, we can see that God never stopped working. In this passage, we see that this information is a summary of the first half of the book of Joshua. It lists kings and nations conquered by Joshua both east and west of the Jordan River. The accumulation of evidence here suggests that, even though it takes time sometimes, obedience to the Lord will result in victory and not just some quick fix.

 

That’s the thing that we must grapple with in our relationship with the Lord. If we are to grow in our relationship with Him sometimes we have to put in the work that we may not see immediate results from it. We want quick answers to our prayers. We want a “if I do this Lord, you will do that immediately” relationship with the Lord. Just think of how long Moses had to work in Midian before God called him to lead His people. Just think of Moses leading Israel in the desert for 40 years and not getting to even go into the Promised Land. He never got to see the fruition of the conquest, but without Moses’ efforts Israel would have never made it back to the Promised Land. Just think of Joseph toiling away in prison, falsely convicted of a crime he did not commit, mind you, for 12 years. Twelve years in prison for a crime he did not commit, but he continued being faithful to God (even when there was not immediate results). Jesus lived for 30 years in the flesh before He began His ministry. Was it wasted time? No. It was necessary for Jesus, the God in the flesh component of the Trinity, to know the feel, the touch, the everything of our merely mortal existence. He knows what it is like to cry over loved ones who have passed. He knows the joy of life’s great events in our lives. He knows pain of hitting his thumb with a hammer. He knows the pain of being beaten within an inch of His mortal existence. He knows it all from the human point of view. It took thirty years. Also, think of Jesus from His humanity’s perspective knowing that His death on the cross would give us a way to be reconciled forever with God but He had to endure real human suffering and a gruesome death for that to happen. He even asked the Father to take that cup from Him. What a choice that would be do something that will matter for eternity but you gotta put in the work on the cross that nobody will notice until they understand that you were not just human but you were the fully divine presence of God. Millions of people will ignore what you did. Millions more won’t even recognize that you even existed. But in order for everyone to have access to the Father through your payment on the cross, you must do this.

 

Sometimes, we must do the hard things to grow in Christ. We must do more than just what’s easy. We may suffer hardships as a result of our faith but the rewards go far beyond the here and now. Is God asking you to do something hard that will take a long time to see any benefits of. Sometimes being a Christ follower involves obedience without any tangible earthly results. But we must do them any way because God has directed us to do it. We may have a cushy life and a comfortable life now but God may be calling us to do something that is really hard? Are you willing to trade the here and now benefits of this life but miss out on God’s eternal blessings? What is God calling you to do that is hard and you are shying away from it? What if you miss the real eternal blessing that God has in store because what lies ahead seems to hard? The safety of here and now pales in comparison to the blessings that come from obedience.

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua1:10-18 (Part 4 of 4)

Joshua’s Charge to the Israelites

Yesterday, at our church’s staff development meeting, one of the things that we talked about how we, as the leaders of the church, are responsible for creating the culture of our organization. It is us who must promote the values and the mission and the vision of the church. God has a specific mission and vision for our church and we are the ones who must give flesh and bones to that idea and make it a part of our own mission and vision for our individual ministries within the church. What are we hoping for God to do in our midst? Do we have a glowing dream of a glorious church going forward winning battles? Or do we lack a vision for the church? Or even worse our vision is on self-fulfillment? Without a vision, we will focus on how the church is around us and what we can get from it. We will copy whatever the latest fad is from other churches and try to be like other churches. Also, we can go down the road of just accepting things the way they are. Oh we can never do that – we don’t have the resources that nearby megachurches have. How is it that we can differentiate ourselves? Is there any hope for us? What is needed to make our church a model people for the Lord?

 

We must have a clear vision of what we want to do. If we do not know and believe in where we are leading our people how can we expect them to buy in. We must create the culture that we expect our organization to have. We must define that, live that, and educate the people that God has given in what that vision and culture of our church is. We must have a clear idea of what God’s will is for our church, what His desire is for us to move forward into the next phase of our development. We can do that only through prayer. It is through prayer that we know what God’s will is for our church. Then, once we know God’s will, we must be willing live that out on a daily basis. We must also be willing to accept what God points out in each of us as those areas in our life where we are not fully surrendered to Him. Just imagine what a people we could be at LifeSong if we as the leaders were fully surrendered, fully understanding of the purpose and mission that God specifically has for our one local outcropping of Christ’s church, and be able to communicate that to the people in such a way that they too have a burning desire to buy in to that mission and vision.

 

That is the question that we must answer. What is that made Joshua’s people the most awesome generation of the Israelite people. They accomplished so much. They were Israel’s greatest generation. The generations before and after this one in Israel were often destructive to themselves and kept them from being the best that they could be. It reminds me of the generation that we as Americans have labeled our “Greatest Generation.” They were the generation that built the America that my generation and succeeding ones were handed on a silver platter. This was the generation that was born during the depression years. This was the generation that either served directly in the world war to end fascist and evil tyranny or worked in factories that supplied the war effort. They all sacrificed for the greater good. They did without so that factories could be converted to build munitions and supplies for the war. It was a total commitment both in Europe and Asia and here at home by our people. They did it willingly. We gained victory because of that total commitment. This generation submitted themselves to the cause because they believed in the cause. And it was that solidarity of purpose that lead them to willingly sacrifice so that the war effort would catchup and surpass what needed to be done. We were not ready for a World War as we are now so the entire economy had to be converted to the war effort. Now, we have whole industries devoted to the war effort but not then. There was great sacrifice required. America did it through the greatest generation. It was that solidarity, ingenuity, willingness to sacrifice that made America such a dynamo after the war was over. America exploded with new ideas, new wealth, new everything after World War II and we became the world’s preeminent power – all because of a committed generation of people that we will never duplicate again.

 

That idea of being the greatest generation is what I think of today as I read through this passage a third time with a focus on Joshua 1:16. The whole passage of Joshua 1:10-18 says this:

 

10 So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: 11 “Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own.’”

 

12 But to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, Joshua said, 13 “Remember the command that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you after he said, ‘The Lord your God will give you rest by giving you this land.’ 14 Your wives, your children and your livestock may stay in the land that Moses gave you east of the Jordan, but all your fighting men, ready for battle, must cross over ahead of your fellow Israelites. You are to help them 15 until the Lord gives them rest, as he has done for you, and until they too have taken possession of the land the Lord your God is giving them. After that, you may go back and occupy your own land, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you east of the Jordan toward the sunrise.”

 

16 Then they answered Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. 17 Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses. 18 Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey it, whatever you may command them, will be put to death. Only be strong and courageous!”

 

In this passage, with particular focus on v. 18, we see that, when God commissioned Joshua, he was told three (3) times to be strong and courageous (see Joshua 1:6-7, 9) Here, Joshua was given the same kind of encouragement from the people. Apparently, he took God’s message to heart and found the strength and courage he needed in his relationship with God. So it is with us, any time we are afraid to do what is right, we must remember that strength and courage is readily available through our relationship with God.

 

In this passage, we see three things that we can lead us to be a church that is strong, courageous and a massive change agent for Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. We see a people that are fully obedient. We see a people that are dependent on God. And, we see a people that are acceptant of discipline.

 

Verse 16 tells us that the people willingly submitted to leadership of Joshua and told him that they would do whatever he commanded and would go wherever he sent them. They would not have followed Joshua if they did not believe in his leadership. They knew that he was a faithful child of God. Because they knew of the rightness of his cause, they were willing to follow Him. As leaders, we must be willing to submit ourselves to God’s will and live lives in such a way that we are known for being obedient to the Lord. Let us live lives that are based on biblical principles such that we inspire others to follow us where we lead. Let us lead in such a way that people trust our judgment. It is only through that trust that people are willing to submit to the leadership that we offer. We must also have a passion for what we are about to embark on doing for people to follow us. FDR inspired millions of Americans of the rightness of our cause in World War II. He could have framed in terms of national politics and how Germany was trying to change the face of the world political landscape – and it was! Rather, he framed in terms of tyranny and oppression and of how America stood for what was right and moral and decent. America bought into its role as the keeper of liberty for the world. Joshua was passionate and had a vision and the people followed because of the trust that they had in him. They trusted that he was a man who was after the heart of God and they willingly followed. Can we be that kind of people at LifeSong? Can we be that kind of leader that inspires people to do great things that have never been done before? Are we the kinds of leaders that the people trust as being submitted to God?

 

In this passage, we see a people dependent on God. In Verse 17 when they tell Joshua that they pray that God will be with him as God was with Moses. As leaders we must be dependent on God so as to example that to our people. We must seek God. They knew the Lord’s power and how Moses had led them into victory. They also knew they had no chance if God would not be with them as He was with Joshua. The Lord likes His people dependent upon Himself. Sometimes people trust leaders, but when the people of God trust God and follow God, then God is able to mightily use them. We as leaders must demonstrate this same dependence on God. We others see there leaders dependence on God, it inspires them to seek a deeper dependence on the Lord themselves. It is through our dependence on God that His greatness can be show through us. Shouldn’t we be so dependent upon the Lord that we wouldn’t want to live without Him? Why do we let jealousies, worries and selfishness get in our way? Why tolerate such unholy things when we could choose and be delighted with the best? Should we live our lives without His presence? I should hope not. He is our God and we want Him great in our midst.

 

In this passage, we see a people willingly submit themselves to discipline of the Lord. In Verse 18, we see the people tell Joshua that anyone who rebels against his orders and does not obey Joshua’s words will be put to death. This is kind of a drastic statement, but it does point out that they knew the nature of man. We have a tendency to compromise and end up choosing something less than the greatness that God has planned. We as leaders must examine ourselves for those areas of life that are not in complete submission to the Lord and deal with those areas. We must examine ourselves with the question, “Lord, is there anything in me that is hindering our church from achieving the greatness that God has planned for it?” Man, how many churches fall into this trap where egos and selfish desires get in the way of the greatness God had planned. Is there anything about me as a leader that would make God withdraw his blessing from our church. Let us examine ourselves and deal with the hard questions about ourselves as leaders? Remember, we will see later in Joshua where disobedience of one family in keeping the booty from a victory caused God to withdraw his protection from Israel in the next battle and they were beaten badly. Is there something that God needs to discipline me over? Am I willing to see it and allow God to take that part of my life into submission to Him? Am I willing to give up my pet sins so that God can greatly express Himself through my church? Let us pray that God reveals through prayer in each of our leaders what we need to put into submission to Him so that God can more fully express himself through a fully submitted church with fully submitted leaders.

 

What is it that we want? We want to lead people to be the greatest generation of Christ’s disciplines ever. We want to be change agents for Christ – the most impactful generation ever. We want there to be an explosion of evangelism in our midst such that people can only explain by giving credit to the greatness of the Lord. We want God to be glorified on a scale never seen before. We want to be the Joshua generation of the 21st century. We want to be the greatest generation that takes on a mighty, insurmountable task and wins victories in the name of the Lord. We face a world of tyranny and fascism against faith in Christ. We want to change the world. We want to be than generation that accomplishes and establishes a new world order for Christ Jesus. We want to be the generation that returns the world to the Lord. We want to be the generation that draws a line in the sand and says, as Jean-Luc Picard said about the Borg, “this far and no farther!” We will be the generation that ends the tyranny of the devil and leads people back to God. Let us be that greatest generation. It begins with prayer. It begins with submission. It begins with dependence on the Lord. It begins with sacrifices my selfish desires to the desires of God.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 29:1-29 (Part 2 of 4)

Moses Reviews the Covenant

What is it that parents want for their children? It is not for them to grunt under the strain of their teaching and parenting. Parents want their children to grow up and be able to function and take care of themselves in society at large. Parents simply want to have the assurance that when they depart from this life that they are leaving behind children that will prosper and not fall part under the pressures of life. For a Christ follower, there is the additional desire that their child come to know the saving grace of salvation. Some may have a desire for their children to have riches beyond measure, but most parents just want their children to be able to take care of themselves. It’s like the title of that old Journey song, “I’ll Be Alright Without You!” Although Steve Perry sang that he was fooling himself in that effort in that song. That is what we want for our kids, that they will be alright without us.

 

I do not care if my girls are rich or not. I do care though if they are capable of making their own way in life. I do care if they are well-adjusted and happy with the lifestyle that they are living. My oldest daughter is a school teacher who is married to a cop. They are both public servants so they will likely never be rich. However, that is not a big deal to me. I do want my daughter and my son-in-law to be happy with the life path that they have taken. I do want them to realize that even though they may not have great earthly riches that they both are investing in the future of people’s lives. As a school teacher, you are investing in the future of children. I don’t know about you but there is always a teacher in our pasts that had a profound effect on the future of our lives. For me, it was Mrs. Wayner, my 11th grade English teacher. She taught me so much about writing and expressing myself well in words that I still use today. She taught me that life is full of challenges every week that we must be ready to withstand and to conquer, that it was up to us to accomplish our goals, that nobody was going to do it for us, that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Meghan may not even know for years what impact she is having on students. Curtis, as a cop, and enforcing the law may change the direction of people’s lives for the better by doing his job. It may be an encounter with the law that causes a person to take stock of where their life is headed. By enforcing the law, he may be preventing an evil person from hurting others in the future. He may never know what impact he is having.

 

My second oldest daughter, my stepdaughter, Michelle is the general manager of a beauty products store. You might say what difference can she possibly be making in people’s lives at a place devoted the vanity of women. However, the difference she can make in people’s lives have nothing to do with the products she sells and everything to do with them. First, her greatest impact that she can have is on the people she supervises. That has nothing to do with the product she sells and everything to do with developing people. Typically, girls come to work at her location of the beauty products chain store because they think it would be fun to sell the products and get discounts. They are usually young and inexperienced in the working world. Michelle’s greatest impact will be in how she develops their work habits and teaching them about life’s demands, about seeking excellence in everything you do no matter the job. Equally, her products make women feel pretty and self-confident. What she knows about these products and what will work best for each woman who enters her store can help a women feel her best and most confident in a world that rightly or wrongly judges women by their appearance. If that little boost of self-confidence helps a woman achieve her potential in life, then, her products are more than just vanity.

 

My youngest daughter, Taylor, is still struggling to find her way in life. She has had starts and stops and seems to struggle in identifying that “it” in her life that is her life’s work passion. Because of that, I worry about her the most of my three girls. Because of that, our relationship has been a tough one over the past couple of years. Taylor is probably the smartest of the three girls and me. She has great potential. I just want her to find her sweet spot in life. That thing that she loves doing as a career or a profession. I want her to be well-adjusted and not live a hand to mouth existence. I want to not worry about her making it on her own in life. I want not to worry about whether she has electrical power in her home or heat or air conditioning. I want not to worry whether she has a home or not. I want to leave this earth one day knowing that she can take care of herself – the basic desire of all parents for their children.

 

To know that you children can take care of themselves, that they are doing something they love for a career or profession, and that they will survive and carry on after we leave this earth is a fantastic blessing for parents. To know that they are going to be OK is the blessing, not whether we have left them wealthy or that they will make themselves wealthy. Just knowing that they will survive without you here is the blessing. Knowing that you raised them to be well-adjusted, income earning, law-abiding citizens will allow us to go to our graves satisfied.

 

The greatest blessing above that is to know that they know Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. I got such a late start on that myself, I have worried about that issue for my children over the years. Then, even when I accepted Christ as my Savior, I was a spiritual baby for a long time. It has only been within the past six or seven years that I really began to grow in Christ and understand the faith and what Christ expects of us. Even with the late start of being a Christ follower and how that may have affected my children’s own walk to the cross is one of the greatest worries of my life. I have beliefs about the positions of each of my girls in their relationship with Jesus Christ and I pray for them to know Jesus Christ in a deeper and deeper way each day. I pray for them to know the fellowship of believers and how it helps us to grow in Christ. Ultimately, the greatest blessing in life is to know that they have a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus Christ. Knowing that means knowing that not only will they be able to handle the vagaries of this life in an eternally meaningful way but also that their eternity is assured. The greatest blessing will be reunited with them in heaven one day. What greater blessing could there be than that?

 

That was the thing that came to mind today. What constitutes a successful life as a parent of children! We want our children to be blessed. What is a blessed life? So, let’s read Deuteronomy 29 another time this morning. This time let’s focus on vv. 8-15 and what it has to say about a blessed life:

 

29 [a]These are the terms of the covenant the Lord commanded Moses to make with the Israelites in Moab, in addition to the covenant he had made with them at Horeb.

 

2 Moses summoned all the Israelites and said to them:

 

Your eyes have seen all that the Lord did in Egypt to Pharaoh, to all his officials and to all his land. 3 With your own eyes you saw those great trials, those signs and great wonders. 4 But to this day the Lord has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear. 5 Yet the Lord says, “During the forty years that I led you through the wilderness, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet. 6 You ate no bread and drank no wine or other fermented drink. I did this so that you might know that I am the Lord your God.”

 

7 When you reached this place, Sihon king of Heshbon and Og king of Bashan came out to fight against us, but we defeated them. 8 We took their land and gave it as an inheritance to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh.

 

9 Carefully follow the terms of this covenant, so that you may prosper in everything you do. 10 All of you are standing today in the presence of the Lord your God—your leaders and chief men, your elders and officials, and all the other men of Israel, 11 together with your children and your wives, and the foreigners living in your camps who chop your wood and carry your water. 12 You are standing here in order to enter into a covenant with the Lord your God, a covenant the Lord is making with you this day and sealing with an oath, 13 to confirm you this day as his people, that he may be your God as he promised you and as he swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 14 I am making this covenant, with its oath, not only with you 15 who are standing here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God but also with those who are not here today.

 

16 You yourselves know how we lived in Egypt and how we passed through the countries on the way here. 17 You saw among them their detestable images and idols of wood and stone, of silver and gold. 18 Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the Lord our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison.

 

19 When such a person hears the words of this oath and they invoke a blessing on themselves, thinking, “I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way,” they will bring disaster on the watered land as well as the dry. 20 The Lord will never be willing to forgive them; his wrath and zeal will burn against them. All the curses written in this book will fall on them, and the Lord will blot out their names from under heaven. 21 The Lord will single them out from all the tribes of Israel for disaster, according to all the curses of the covenant written in this Book of the Law.

 

22 Your children who follow you in later generations and foreigners who come from distant lands will see the calamities that have fallen on the land and the diseases with which the Lord has afflicted it. 23 The whole land will be a burning waste of salt and sulfur—nothing planted, nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it. It will be like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboyim, which the Lord overthrew in fierce anger. 24 All the nations will ask: “Why has the Lord done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”

 

25 And the answer will be: “It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt. 26 They went off and worshiped other gods and bowed down to them, gods they did not know, gods he had not given them. 27 Therefore the Lord’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book. 28 In furious anger and in great wrath the Lord uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now.”

 

29 The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.

 

What is the best way to prosper in life? For the Israelites, their first step was to keep their part of the covenant. They were to love God with all their heart, soul and strength (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). We, too, are to seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33), then, true success in life will follow as a blessing from the hand of God.

 

So, many of think of blessings in life being monetary ones. God guarantees that we will be blessed by Him if we obey Him. Thus, a lot of us get confused that our obedience to God will bring prosperity and material blessings. However, the blessings of obedience to God come in the peace that comes to our souls. God’s desire for us is to be at peace with Him. Obedience brings that peace. When we do what God says in His Word, we are led to lie down by the still waters. Even if the world is raging around us, we still have the peace of God with us. As parents, we want our kids to be handle the world on their own after we are gone. We want them to not be raging against the machine and losing. We want them to be well-adjusted and at peace. Similarly, God knows that when we disobey Him we will find all kinds of destruction and self-loathing and unhappiness. God wants us to be at peace. When we learn to trust God with our very existence, we will find peace. When we accept Christ as our Savior and Lord, we know the peace of God. We know that no matter what the world throws at us, we have the peace of salvation. We have the peace of knowing that there is more to life than just this. We have the peace of knowing that we will spend eternity with Him. We have the peace of knowing that God’s ways are better than our ways. We have the peace of knowing that God’s Word is proven and true. We have the peace of knowing that obedience brings peace and that is the blessing.

 

That is what God, our Father, our Eternal Parent, wants for us. To submit to His loving leadership so that we will be blessed by knowing the peace of God and knowing that if we fully trust Him with our lives that we will spend eternity with Him through our faith in Jesus Christ. That’s a blessed life!

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 28:1-14

Blessings for Obedience

How often do you sit back and think about how many blessings that God has given you? It is so easy to focus on the negative things that happen to us, and not be able to see the blessings that we have been given. We take our blessings for granted and focus on the things that we do not have or that God has not given us yet. It is kind of the opposite of a married man glorifying his single days and how much fun they were yet not remembering that there the good times of single-dom were the highlights, the peaks of that period of life surrounded by valleys of loneliness. So, sometimes we must take stock of the blessings that we have been given and give them some focus instead of the problems that we have.

 

When I think of how God has taken care of me over the years, it makes me stand in awe. There are so many times that He could have just washed His hands of me and tossed me away. However, He is a God who loves us. He is a God that will never abandon us nor forsake us. I just think of the times even when I was not a Christ follower that I can now see how He took care of me even then. I think of how He has sine then too. I don’t have to look very far. I just have to think of my career and how He has blessed. The blessings from my career have led to so many other blessings as well.

 

I remember right before I accepted Christ as my Savior, I lost my job due to some stupid mistakes. It was right during the middle of the recession back in 2000 when what they called “the internet bubble” in the stock market burst. Overnight, stock values dropped and the economy went in the tank for about year and a half. I was out of work for about two months but even then I was underemployed. I did not return to full professional employment until about six months after I had lost my job. However, in the intervening time, God provided me an opportunity to work for a private investigator service going undercover as a warehouse employee at the big Bi-Lo grocery store chain warehouse in Mauldin, SC (just outside of Greenville). The company, Bi-Lo Stores, Inc., was trying to figure out why they had such a high turnover rate among their warehouse workers in that warehouse. The PI service was hired to help figure it out. The PI service then ran ads to get people to work undercover for them posing as just a normal warehouse worker. We would work a daily shift at the warehouse and then file weekly reports about what we saw and observed there. Those few of us that took this job received not only a paycheck from Bi-Lo but we also got the same amount of pay from the private investigator agency. This was a blessing. It was the hardest physical labor I have done for pay in my life. It was “balls to wall” work everyday. I was 10 hours of work a day for 5 days. Overtime was good, but by the end of the week, man, I was wore completely out. But, regardless of the aches and pains and the abuse that you took at that warehouse from not only the supervisors but from the more tenured warehouse workers, it could have been seen as something dreadful (and at times when going through that stretch I did) but it kept food on the table for my family. It was not what I was making before, but it kept my family afloat until I could return to a job in my profession. That was a blessing.

 

One other time that I lost my job was in 2007. The company that I was working for in Charlotte was bought out by this British company. They did not need our corporate headquarters as they already had one in London. They shut down our corporate operations there in Charlotte and everyone of us 20 folks that worked at that office lost our jobs. I was out of work for about 4 weeks after that. However, as I was applying for jobs all over the place, I came across this consulting firm, Vaco Resources. They would send out professional accounting consultants to companies to help with special projects, to fill accounting positions on an interim basis, to bring in expertise for companies when they did not have the expertise on staff. So, right during the middle of the Great Recession (2007-2010), I was able to work as a consultant on a long-term project down in Duncan, SC for the company, AFL Telecommunications. The consulting job was a boon for me. Not only was I making an hourly consulting rate that was equivalent to what I was making at the company I had been working for in Charlotte, but I was getting per diem for my hotel and meals. It was a good gig. I ended up as part of this consulting gig having to go to California to help clean up the accounting function at the subsidiary, Fujikura America, Inc. (FAI). It was while I was out there that I was at the right place at the right time to get the job as comptroller of FAI – the job I hold continue to hold now, some 9 years later. This job has been a real blessing to me and my wife. Over the past nine (9) years this job has blessed us in so many ways. We have met people in our personal lives that (1) led Elena to the Lord and (2) challenged me to grow up as a Christ follower. This job has allowed us to clean up my credit to the point that we have about as high of credit scores as you can have. This job has allowed us to be generous.

 

This job has led us back to South Carolina 7 years ago and to LifeSong Church where we have grown so much in Christ. As part of the maturation in Christ, we have learned to live more simply and not try to keep up with the Joneses. So, while this job has taken care of us so abundantly financially, we live simply and have been able to prepare for the future financially and, at the same time, be generous to our church, family, and friends. We have been blessed. It all comes from being obedient to the Lord. He blesses those who are obedient to Him. Sure, there have been struggles along the way. Everything has not been perfect. There are challenges in my secular job that on some days have made me want to cry and throw in the towel. Like even this week, it was brought to my attention that I have to really ramp up my management of one of my employees that will require me to more closely supervise this person so that they will become what the company wants them to become. It will require me to micro-manage a person. It is not my style as a leader and it will test me in what I consider distasteful ways. There are challenges in my calling to the ministry that are ongoing right now. I could get frustrated at God not opening doors for me to go into full-time ministry. Sometimes, I wonder why He is not opening these doors. Sometimes, I wonder why He even gave me the calling. I have done what He has led me to do but now we just wait and it gets frustrating sometimes to the point of wanting throw in the towel. There have been challenges in my personal life when it comes to my relationship with my youngest daughter. It is so frustrating sometimes with that situation that it just makes me want to cry and throw in the towel.

 

Life is never easy. There are always challenges. However, sometimes, we have to take a break from the challenges and look at how God has blessed us over the years. Just look at what He has done in our lives. For me, just looking back at the trail of my life after I lost my job in 2007 and how God took care of me will do that. Just looking at the things, events, and people that He has orchestrated into the lives of my wife and me during the past decade, it is simply amazing what God does with those who are faithful and obedient to Him. That’s what I thought about this morning when I read this passage, Deuteronomy 28:1-14. Let’s read it together now:

 

28 If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. 2 All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God:

 

3 You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country.

 

4 The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.

 

5 Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed.

 

6 You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.

 

7 The Lord will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven.

 

8 The Lord will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The Lord your God will bless you in the land he is giving you.

 

9 The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the Lord your God and walk in obedience to him. 10 Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will fear you. 11 The Lord will grant you abundant prosperity—in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your ground—in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you.

 

12 The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. 13 The Lord will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom. 14 Do not turn aside from any of the commands I give you today, to the right or to the left, following other gods and serving them.

 

Sometimes, we have to quit being like ants crawling on a basketball where we can only see what is in front of us. We need to step back and see the whole basketball. We need to really examine the totality of what God has done in our lives. He takes care of us, even sometimes, when we do not realize He is taking care of us. He will bless those even in the smallest things. He will bless our coming in and our going out. He is in the details of our lives. He does care about us. He does guide and direct our steps. Sometimes, we get so caught up in the details of life and the immediate things around us that we fail to see what God has done. We need to step back then and take a look at the whole picture of where we were when we met Christ as our Savior and where we are now. Think about the blessings that He has given us. Think about the good things and not just the bad. Even the bad things are used by Him to grow us into more mature Christians. Take stock of what God has done. That can bring a smile to your face and help you deal with the challenges that you are facing now and the ones that lie ahead. God is in it. Remember that! You will see that God has had His hand in your development thus far. He has blessed you in sometimes earthly ways but most definitely in eternal ways. Trust Him. Obey Him. Observe His blessings that come.

 

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 14:22-29

The Giving of Tithes

Back in 2000, there was a song that was one of those one-hit wonders of a band called Nine Days. It was called “Absolutely (The Story of A Girl)” from the group’s debut album, The Madding Crowd. The lyrics of “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)” portray John Hampson’s (lead singer and main lyricist for the band) love towards his girlfriend, despite her tears and sadness. “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)” is the presentation of an undying declaration of love between Hampson and his girlfriend at the time. Hampson and his girlfriend supply the basis for the characters. It peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 at number 6. It was one of those songs whose chorus sticks with you, years afterward, and it is part of that chorus that I am thinking of this morning. The chorus goes something like this:

 

This is the story of a girl

Who cried a river and drowned the whole world

But while she looks so sad in photographs

I absolutely love her

 

The first two lines of the chorus are what I want to rip off from the band and tell you a story of a girl who cried a river and drowned the whole world. There is a single mom in my town. She is nameless and faceless. She sits at her kitchen table on a Saturday morning while her kids are outside playing in the parking lot outside her low-rent, government-subsidized apartment in a low-rent part of town. She is trying to figure out how to pay the bills. Her baby daddy of a husband flew the coop after the second child was born and she doesn’t know how she is going to make ends meet. She has more bills than she has month. She finds it hard to find a good paying job because no one wants to give her chance. And when she does have a job, the fact that she is the sole-caretaker of her children causes to have to miss work when one or both of the kids are sick. She has lost two jobs that way already. She wonders how it all ended up this way. She was once one of the most popular girls in high school just six years ago. She got in with the wrong crowd, started partying, fell in love with the local bad boy. Got pregnant. Had to drop out of school and get married. The marriage was doomed from the start. He didn’t want to be tied down and cheated on her while she was pregnant. She thought another child would make him love but it made him leave instead. Now, she doesn’t know where he is. Probably in prison by now. People thinks she wants her life this way. She sits at the table on a Saturday this fall morning. Trying to figure out what happened. Her life is a mess now in epic proportions. She feels like she deserves the fate of her life. She has made poor choices. She knows this. But she doesn’t know how to get out this hole that she and her six year old boy and cute as buttons three year old girl find themselves. She promised to take the kids to Burger King today so they could play in the indoor playground. A simple pleasure to most but she doesn’t know if she will even have the money to do that little thing. The kids are oblivious to the financial mess as kids are. They are just happy and playing outside. She watches them through the apartment window and she cries. This is the story of a girl who cried a river and drowned the whole world.

 

The in the stack of mail she sees a card from LifeSong Church about the Fall Festival that they are having this year. It says it is all completely free including the food. She says to herself. What’s their angle? Completely free? What’s up with that? Everybody wants something these days, even churches. But something inside tells her to go even though she is afraid of church people. She has been judged by churchy people before for the mistakes she has made. They have said to her face that she deserves this lot in life. But she goes. She has heard that LifeSong is a different kind of church compared to most. So, she grabs up the boy and the girl and buckles them into the car. She is nervous about stepping foot on the property of a church where she knows no one. Will they judge her too? She comes up to see kids running everywhere and booths with games and rides and bounce houses and little ponies for the kids to ride. The kids are excited. She comes up to the first booth and one of the young ladies in the booth and she is so nice and they strike up a conversation. The young lady in the booth tells her that she is a single mom too and the people in the booth are all members of the life group that she is part of. She explains what a life group is and tells her how it actually saved her life. This life group that she is in is her family. They care about each other and they help each other out when help is needed. The members of the group actually helped her find a job and they helped find affordable child care. When she had surgery, the life group helped her with the kids. The girl who cried a river found out that people at this church actually care about each other from that conversation. She takes the kids over the bounce houses and she finds men from the Ironmen ministry helping with the kids. These men are actually laughing with the kids and hugging them and kidding around with them and the kids just love it. Wow! Men who actually love children. That a new one to our girl. She visits the pony rides and meets people from Celebrate Recovery and she talks about how the hardness of her life drives her to anger. Her divorce has made her bitter. Her deadbeat dad of a husband is nowhere to be found and he doesn’t support the kids. The lady that runs the Celebrate Recovery ministry invites her to come back to church on Tuesday and hang out with people with the same hurts and hang-ups as her. She gets free food for the kids and people smile at her as they serve her and her kids. These people are from the Kidzlife ministry and they tell her about all the cool stuff they do with the kids on Sunday as they teach them about the Bible. Before she leaves she stops by a booth where the ladies from the Elevate ministry are there to pray with anyone who wants to or needs to. These ladies are so much fun and so normal and so not churchy. After spending the whole day there on Saturday. Kids with full bellies and are tired beyond belief. She goes home. She thinks about how nice the people at LifeSong are and decides to go to church for the first time since she was a kid at home that next day, Sunday.

 

When she arrives she is greeted by the parking lot attendants who welcome her. They tell her where Kidzlife is and she takes them there. Everyone is so nice to her. She then goes in the main building and everyone greets her and makes her feel at home. She thinks wow these people are nice. They tell about the church and then help her find a seat in the auditorium. The music starts and it is so not churchy. It’s actually music that has a beat to it and they have drums and guitars and she likes it. No pipe organs here. She then hears a sermon by the lead pastor and she feels as though he is preaching to her alone. Her heart starts pounding and everything drowns out and she is hearing straight from God through the lead pastor’s words. She knows she is a sinner for the first real time in her life. She knows that she doesn’t deserve God’s grace but the pastor says that it is a gift. We cannot earn it. She is filled with hope and joy and when the pastor calls for those who need prayer after the sermon, she comes down. She begins to cry a river and it changes her whole world. The pastor leads her to the cross and she accepts Christ as her Savior. She still has problems now but she has a hope that passes all understanding in Jesus Christ.

 

Fast forward a year later, a young lady with two little boys comes up to a booth at the next festival and meets our girl who cried a river and it changed her whole world. Our girl tells the new girl about how this church and Jesus Christ changed her whole life because of the generosity of these people. Our girl tells the new girl that there is hope and there is strength. She tells her about this life group that she is with that changed her whole world. They are her family. Right there, a new girl cries a river and it changes her whole world.

 

That’s what I thought of this morning as to why we give our best tenth of what we have to the Lord as a tithe when I read Deuteronomy 14:22-29. Let’s read it, you and me, together:

 

 

22 Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. 23 Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always. 24 But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the Lord your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the Lord will choose to put his Name is so far away), 25 then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the Lord your God will choose. 26 Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice. 27 And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own.

 

28 At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, 29 so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.

 

We give the Lord our first tenth, the best tenth, of the fruits of our labors not because of it being some money making scheme for the church. It is because of obedience. We are to do it in trust in the Lord. We don’t do it because we get some investment return on it although God does provide for those who obey Him (but it is not always with some earthly financial windfall). We do it because the Lord tells us to do so. We trust Him with the results. He takes it and multiplies with the tithes of others. He takes and uses it to minister to the world around us. He takes it and allows churches to be show uncommon kindness to a world that so desperately needs it. He takes it and uses it to minister to His people through the ministries of the church that disciple them into deeper walks with the Lord. He takes and invests it in the community and world around us. He takes it makes a difference with it.

 

He takes it and uses it to minister to a girl who cries a whole river and cannot change her whole word. He uses it to reach her with the gospel message of Jesus Christ. He takes that girl who cries a river and changes her whole world. He takes it to leads her to Christ. He takes and uses it to change her whole world and that of her children. He takes it and redeems lives with it.

 

Who are we then not to be obedient to the Lord when there are people out there that need to know Jesus Christ. It may be that you tenth helps reach someone for Jesus Christ and it changes their whole world. Do you not want to be a part of eternity? Or is that newest house, that newest dress, that newest rifle, that newest boat, that newest house really better than effecting the eternity of a story of a girl who cried a river and your obedience to the Lord in your tithe changed her whole world?

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 35:1-8

Towns for the Levites

As many of you know, I grew up as a preacher’s kid. My dad was a minister in the South Carolina conference of the United Methodist Church. For much of his career with the church as I was growing up, he served rural churches in farming communities outside of mid-sized towns in South Carolina. I was born during my dad’s first appointment in Lamar, SC. After that we moved to Anderson, SC. Then onto Walhalla, SC followed by Rembert, SC. After Rembert, we moved to Hartsville, SC. From there, we moved to Elgin, SC. From Elgin, we moved to Anderson for a second time. Once we were done in Anderson, we moved to Travelers Rest, SC (and, yes, that is the actual name of the town). After the Methodist Church decided to move my dad from Travelers Rest, I stayed behind at college at Furman University and got married to my high school sweetheart. My dad then moved on to Charleston and then to Spartanburg, SC. After Spartanburg, the church moved him to Woodruff and then to Bluffton, SC. After Bluffton, came Georgetown. After Georgetown came Conway. After Conway, came Union, SC. Finally, after 14 appointments and more than 50 years of full-time ministry, my dad went into semi-retirement and started serving two small churches in Iva, SC that could not afford a full-time pastor near his lake home until he fully retired a few years ago.

 

In all that time, as I was growing up and then watching my father as an adult, he earned his living and paid his bills based on the generosity of the members of the churches he served over those 50 plus years. He was a minister of God’s Word and he relied on the generosity of those who attended the churches he had served. We lived in parsonages as I was growing up. There was no home of our own to speak of growing up. My dad did not purchase a place to call his own until we were about to move from Anderson to Travelers Rest when I was a teenager. The parsonages were provided by each church and each parsonage was constructed by those churches, or purchased by those churches, through the generosity of the people of those churches. It kind of set up situations where the salary and the home were contingent upon not making people angry with the double edge sword of God’s Word. My dad was never shy about choosing to speak the truth of the Bible rather than compromise to keep his appointment to that church. In the Methodist Church with its interconnectional nature, every preacher is guaranteed a church and every church is guaranteed a preacher. So, there is a little more freedom to speak the truth of God’s Word because you know that the Methodist Church would move you to a new church if things got too rough. However, they could withhold raises and refuse to contribute their apportioned requirements to the state conference as retribution against a pastor.

 

Amazingly enough over those years, even with dad walking the tightrope of pleasing people while holding to the integrity of God’s Word, we never went without. Sure, being a preacher’s kid and my dad having a preacher’s salary, we did not have the finest things in the world, but we never starved. We never went without clothing. We never lived in a dark house with no electricity. The Lord always provided for my dad and his pursuit of ministry in the Lord’s name. I never noticed anything less than a normal childhood just like any other kid (except for the moving every two or so years). The Lord provided for us as my dad ministered to the people that God chose for him to serve.

 

It was that idea of making provision for those who dedicate their entire lives to serving the Lord as a full-time occupation that came to mind as I read today’s passage, Numbers 35:1-8:

 

35 On the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho, the Lord said to Moses, 2 “Command the Israelites to give the Levites towns to live in from the inheritance the Israelites will possess. And give them pasturelands around the towns. 3 Then they will have towns to live in and pasturelands for the cattle they own and all their other animals.

 

4 “The pasturelands around the towns that you give the Levites will extend a thousand cubits[a] from the town wall. 5 Outside the town, measure two thousand cubits[b] on the east side, two thousand on the south side, two thousand on the west and two thousand on the north, with the town in the center. They will have this area as pastureland for the towns.

Cities of Refuge

 

6 “Six of the towns you give the Levites will be cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone may flee. In addition, give them forty-two other towns. 7 In all you must give the Levites forty-eight towns, together with their pasturelands. 8 The towns you give the Levites from the land the Israelites possess are to be given in proportion to the inheritance of each tribe: Take many towns from a tribe that has many, but few from one that has few.”

 

The Levites were ministers. They were supported by the tithes of the people. The people gave them homes, flocks, produce, grains, and pasturelands. Likewise, we are responsible to provide for the needs of our ministers and missionaries so that they can be free to preach God’s Word in spirit and truth. We are responsible to provide for them even when their sermons cut us like a knife and expose our own sins. We are to provide for them because it is a command of God to provide for them. We are to be obedient to the to support our local church not because we like or love or dislike or hate the preacher. We are to support the mission of God’s church not necessarily the people carrying out the mission. It is not between us and the preacher. It is between us and God. He expects us to put him first in every aspect of our lives and that includes our finances. We are to give him the firstfruits of our labors. We are not to give it begrudgingly. We are simply trusting the Lord to bless our obedience. We give not to have a stake in what is done in our church. We are giving to be obedient to the Lord.

 

What results from that? We provide for God’s purposes in this fallen world. We provide first for our ministers who lead us in the ways of the Lord. We provide second to finance the spreading of God’s Word outside the church. We are to give not necessarily to finance big buildings and monuments to ourselves that our physical churches can be but we are to provide for a base of operations from which we fan out into the world. We provide to help people who need help. We provide to help get the gospel out into the world around us locally, nationally and internationally. We provide to help disciple our people into deeper and deeper relationships with our Savior. We provide to help preach the gospel to the next generation. We provide to help create weekly worship events where the gospel is preached and God is worshiped. We provide to make sure in any given week someone will meet Jesus Christ as their Savior. That is what we give for – for people to come to know the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

 

What if we are stingy and are not obedient to the Lord with our tithes or more (10% of what we make or more)? We cause all of the above to suffer. It is not someone else’s job to give to the Lord through your local church. It is about you and God. When you stand before the throne on your judgment day, when God asks about what you did with your life, can you present your boats, cars, vacations, and trinkets? When we stand before the Lord we want to say that we provided for eternal things. We provided for our ministers. We provided for Christ’s church. We provided for the gospel to be spread among the nations! We provided for the saving of souls. When I look back on my days as a preacher’s kid, I am thankful for those who provided my dad with a salary that, in turn, provided for my mom, my brother and me. So, my dad could preach the gospel for 50 plus years. So, my dad could preach God’s Word for to two generations of people that passed through the doors of churches he ministered. Are you investing in eternity? Or are you chasing temporary things? Things that you cannot carry to heaven! Would you rather stand before God and say that you were obedient to His commands and that you invested generously and happily in the kingdom of God!

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 33:1-56 (Part 3 of 3)

Remembering Israel’s Journey

 

Have you ever wondered if some Old Testament judgment is coming upon the United States? We live in a country far different from the one our forefathers founded. We have removed the Ten Commandments from schools and courthouses. We have eliminated prayer to God at sporting events. We are persecuting Christians for standing on their religious beliefs when it comes to marriage. We punish the State of North Carolina for passing a law that negates a Charlotte ordinance that would allow people with sexual identity crises to use whatever bathroom they desire. Certain sexual lifestyles are seen as hip in popular culture and are glorified on television. Certain city governments are requiring pastors to submit their sermons for review on issues of sexual preferences. Anyone who takes a stand against certain lifestyles based on God’s Word are vilified in the public forum for being backwards and out of step with the times. Public schools teach Darwinism but not Intelligent Design. Remember, not too long ago, when President Obama gave a speech at Georgetown University; his people requested that all visible symbols of the Christian faith be covered up. Georgetown a Catholic University complied. For under the banner of being politically correct, the school denied the God they profess to serve. In the Democratic Party’s platform for the 2016 presidential election, any references to God were removed so as to be more inclusive of those who are not of Judeo/Christian roots and those who do not believe in God at all.

 

As we head down this path of political correctness toward humanism and ultimately atheism, there has been a steady moral decline in our country. Once acknowledgement of God’s existence is removed, there is no absolute basis for morals, and a free society drifts toward anarchy. Since prayer was removed from public school classrooms in 1962, when the assault on God began, Eric Hovind in his article, “Prayer in School Affects All Society” at the website, www.creationtoday.org, says,

 

“…we have had a six-fold increase in violent crime, our divorce rate has tripled, births to single mothers have increased five-fold, the teenage suicide rate has tripled, and SAT scores (standardized college entrance test) have dropped 80 points (approximately 10%). The removal of prayer may not be the only cause of social ills, but the negative trends are certainly a symptom of the spiritual decline which is at their root.”

 

It is ironic that my wife’s parents escaped from Cuba just as Castro was taking power and made their way to America in search of greater freedoms to pursue life, liberty and happiness. In Communist Cuba, God was removed from society and anyone who professed belief in God and not the humanism of communist thought was to be jailed. Praying to God meant that you felt that there was something higher and more important than the Cuban government. We see how the communist experiment has worked out in Cuba. If the political correctness and drift toward humanism is what we seek in America and the quieting of Christian moral values, then we must look at our neighbor nation in Cuba. America is drifting toward what Cuba became. Political correctness is the new communism. When we dare to oppose the tolerance of anything goes in our society we are sued, we are arrested, we are vilified and we are crushed. Sound familiar. It is the path of Cuba since 1958. You never hear of people trying to get into Cuba; only out of it. Are we becoming Cuba? Cubans have been fleeing that country for decades seeking freedom but yet what are they fleeing to now? Is America not becoming a godless nation similar to Cuba. Maybe that is why we are starting to normalize relations with Cuba – because we are becoming more and more alike each day.

 

As we continue down this road of ignoring and expelling God from the public square and from our private lives, I am reminded of the judgments that came upon the Canaanites through God’s people, Israel, as I read this chapter of the Book of Numbers (Numbers 33) for the final time before we move on. Let us read it together once more now:

 

33 Here are the stages in the journey of the Israelites when they came out of Egypt by divisions under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. 2 At the Lord’s command Moses recorded the stages in their journey. This is their journey by stages:

 

3 The Israelites set out from Rameses on the fifteenth day of the first month, the day after the Passover. They marched out defiantly in full view of all the Egyptians, 4 who were burying all their firstborn, whom the Lord had struck down among them; for the Lord had brought judgment on their gods.

 

5 The Israelites left Rameses and camped at Sukkoth.

 

6 They left Sukkoth and camped at Etham, on the edge of the desert.

 

7 They left Etham, turned back to Pi Hahiroth, to the east of Baal Zephon, and camped near Migdol.

 

8 They left Pi Hahiroth[a] and passed through the sea into the desert, and when they had traveled for three days in the Desert of Etham, they camped at Marah.

 

9 They left Marah and went to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there.

 

10 They left Elim and camped by the Red Sea.[b]

 

11 They left the Red Sea and camped in the Desert of Sin.

 

12 They left the Desert of Sin and camped at Dophkah.

 

13 They left Dophkah and camped at Alush.

 

14 They left Alush and camped at Rephidim, where there was no water for the people to drink.

 

15 They left Rephidim and camped in the Desert of Sinai.

 

16 They left the Desert of Sinai and camped at Kibroth Hattaavah.

 

17 They left Kibroth Hattaavah and camped at Hazeroth.

 

18 They left Hazeroth and camped at Rithmah.

 

19 They left Rithmah and camped at Rimmon Perez.

 

20 They left Rimmon Perez and camped at Libnah.

 

21 They left Libnah and camped at Rissah.

 

22 They left Rissah and camped at Kehelathah.

 

23 They left Kehelathah and camped at Mount Shepher.

 

24 They left Mount Shepher and camped at Haradah.

 

25 They left Haradah and camped at Makheloth.

 

26 They left Makheloth and camped at Tahath.

 

27 They left Tahath and camped at Terah.

 

28 They left Terah and camped at Mithkah.

 

29 They left Mithkah and camped at Hashmonah.

 

30 They left Hashmonah and camped at Moseroth.

 

31 They left Moseroth and camped at Bene Jaakan.

 

32 They left Bene Jaakan and camped at Hor Haggidgad.

 

33 They left Hor Haggidgad and camped at Jotbathah.

 

34 They left Jotbathah and camped at Abronah.

 

35 They left Abronah and camped at Ezion Geber.

 

36 They left Ezion Geber and camped at Kadesh, in the Desert of Zin.

 

37 They left Kadesh and camped at Mount Hor, on the border of Edom. 38 At the Lord’s command Aaron the priest went up Mount Hor, where he died on the first day of the fifth month of the fortieth year after the Israelites came out of Egypt. 39 Aaron was a hundred and twenty-three years old when he died on Mount Hor.

 

40 The Canaanite king of Arad, who lived in the Negev of Canaan, heard that the Israelites were coming.

 

41 They left Mount Hor and camped at Zalmonah.

 

42 They left Zalmonah and camped at Punon.

 

43 They left Punon and camped at Oboth.

 

44 They left Oboth and camped at Iye Abarim, on the border of Moab.

 

45 They left Iye Abarim and camped at Dibon Gad.

 

46 They left Dibon Gad and camped at Almon Diblathaim.

 

47 They left Almon Diblathaim and camped in the mountains of Abarim, near Nebo.

 

48 They left the mountains of Abarim and camped on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho. 49 There on the plains of Moab they camped along the Jordan from Beth Jeshimoth to Abel Shittim.

 

50 On the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho the Lord said to Moses, 51 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, 52 drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places. 53 Take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess. 54 Distribute the land by lot, according to your clans. To a larger group give a larger inheritance, and to a smaller group a smaller one. Whatever falls to them by lot will be theirs. Distribute it according to your ancestral tribes.

 

55 “‘But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live. 56 And then I will do to you what I plan to do to them.’”

 

When people read about the conquest of the Promised Land, we often asked the question, “why were the Israelites allowed by God to destroy and kill the Canaanites?” Why were the Israelites supposed to completely annihilate these people? If God is a God of love, why then would he allow the Israelites to kill them all – men, women and children (though the Israelites did not follow God’s command to the letter). What we don’t remember about the Canaanites was that God had compelling reasons to render judgment upon these people. It was not a random act of a capricious and mean God. There were several compelling reasons. First, God was stamping out the evil and wickedness of an extremely sinful group of nations. The Canaanites brought on their own punishment. Idol worship expressed their deepest evil desires. Child sacrifices. Sexual immorality in the name of worshiping their gods was rampant. It all ultimately led to the worship of Satan and in the total rejection of God. Second, God was using the Israelites to judge Canaanites for its unrepentant sinful ways. Judgment was justified when you study the history of the Canaanite people. Another thing that was happening here, too, was that God wanted to remove all traces of pagan beliefs and practices from the land. He did not want His people to mix or compromise with the idolatrous ways of the Canaanite people in any way.

 

However, as we know, the Israelites did not fully carry out the command of God when conquering the Promised Land. They compromised. This compromise of God’s commands and values led Israel down a path that led to cycles of obedience and disobedience to God. The Canaanite worship of idols and the temptations to the Israelites to the same was a constant problem for Israel. God’s people were judged themselves more than one time for turning their back on God. When a nation turns its back on God, that nation will be judged. It is certain. We are a nation turning our back on God and it has been progressively getting worse for decades. We will be judged.

 

So, in a society running away from God, what do we do as Christ followers? It is easier and less painful to go with the flow and do like Georgetown University did. We can cover up the fact that we are Christians in an effort to fit in. We can try to blend into a nation that is headed for judgment. Or we can be true to God and not deny His existence. We can honor Him by knowing and obeying His Word. We must be different and distinct. We must engage the culture and change it. Preachers can only do so much. We must as individual Christ followers not leave the job of changing our nation to the preachers. We must take responsibility for evangelism ourselves in our daily lives of one on one interactions with the world around us. All of us are ministers but we have abdicated our ministerial role to those we pay to be ministers. We think it’s their job to save the nation not ours. We just sit idly and quietly by as our nation becomes less and less Christian by the day. I call out to you and to me that it is our job to save the day. It is our job to tell people about Jesus. It is our job to return our nation to God. Let us be like Joshua and Caleb and say that we can win this fight rather than be like the other 10 spies and say that the problem is too big and there are too many giants out there. We are the ministers of the gospel. Let us take it to the streets and tell people to repent and return to the God who wants to love them but who is a God of justice who will judge them if they do not repent.

 

Amen and Amen.

Matthew 17:24-27 (Part 2)
The Temple Tax

There are stories that I hear from fellow church members through the years how the Lord has provided for them financially at just the right time and in just the right moment, when we are obedient in our giving to honor Him – when we tithe. My friend, Candice Brevard, going on her first mission trip is given a gift of money to finish paying for her trip as they were loading up the church van to head to the airport. When I was trying to clean up my credit of some bad debts seven years ago, I was able to negotiate lowered payoffs for these debts and all of it worked out to be exactly the amount of annual bonus at work less my tithe. My friend, Anthony Weston, has his story of how a neighbor made it possible for his mission trip without the neighbor directly giving toward his mission trip. There are people who have had no idea how they were going to follow God’s call to full time ministry or to full time mission work, but God always makes a way for them. There are many other stories out there about God being on time in the nick of time in just the right amount for those who are obedient to Him with their lives and with their finances. The thing is that most of us do not trust God with our finances and do not trust that when we follow Him obediently that He will make a way for us. So, let’s re-read the passage:
24 After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”

25 “Yes, he does,” he replied.

When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?”

26 “From others,” Peter answered.

“Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. 27 “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”

How much do you trust Jesus? Apparently, Peter did. We do not read anything after this about Peter balking at what Jesus said. We hear nothing else from this scene. So, two things happened by deductive reasoning since the scene ends here. Peter did what Jesus told him to do and the tax was paid. Peter was obedient and there was provision. Jesus recognized the need and made provision. Jesus knew the need was an honorable one and He made a way for the obligation to be satisfied.

That’s the thing that I think we need to chew on today. Many of us do not really trust God with our lives and we definitely don’t trust Him with our money. First, let’s talk about trusting Him with our lives. Many of us trust God up to a point in this area. However, have you really trusted God with your future? Sometimes, God calls us to do the unusual, the out of the ordinary. Sometimes, He may call us to open a soup kitchen and make that our life’s work and walk away from a good paying job to do it. He may call us to move 800 miles away to plant a church in a spiritual dark part of the country where only 2% of people attend church regularly. He may call you to leave a cushy job and leave your sons or daughters behind when you do that. He may call you to full time ministry when you have built a career in a different vocation for many years. He may call you to move to another continent to work to free young girls from the sex slavery trade even though you have never had exposure to that type of thing before in your life. He may call you simply to go on a one-week mission trip to Africa, Central America, South America, or Asia. How much do you trust Him? Do you believe He will provide a way? Do you really trust God? Do you trust Him enough not to listen to friends who want you to stay in your comfort zone and theirs? Do you use excuses for why it can be done instead of trusting that it will be done. Do you find reasons for not doing what God called you to do because it is just easier not to. It is easier to do the easy thing. John F. Kennedy once said,

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.” (from speech at Rice University, September 12, 1962).
God does not call us to the easy. He calls us to the challenges that need to be faced in the name of Jesus. He calls to do the difficult things because they need doing. He calls not to the easy things but to the hard things. He called Moses to free his people from the mightiest empire on earth at that time, the Egyptian Empire. It was not easy. It was hard. It took 10 plagues and leaving in the middle of the night. It took miracles. Through it all Moses trusted in the Lord. Sure, he had his times of doubt but He always bottom line trusted in the Lord. God calls us to serve our fellow man not because it is easy but because it is hard and because it needs doing. Through serving our fellow man we get to tell them of Jesus. When we do what seems impossibly tough, we learn too to depend on the provision of God. Isn’t that what He really wants from us is to fully depend on Him. When we step out of our comfort zones where we are king and into the unknown we learn to put God first because He is the only way that we are going to accomplish what He called us to do. The story in this passage abruptly ends because Peter obeyed even though it sounded far-fetched and beyond reason. But because of Peter’s obedience, the provision was there. God orchestrated someone losing a coin near the shore. God orchestrated the fish finding and swallowing the coin. God orchestrated the timing of Peter’s line in the water at the same time the fish with coin was swimming by. He made the moment happen. He created the intersection. He will make provision for us as well when we trust Him with our lives. He will make a way for us when we fully trust Him and follow His calling on our lives.

We also have to learn to trust Him with our finances as well. So many of us get it backwards from the beginning. We learn to spend, spend, spend. We never learn to put God first in our finances. From the beginning we place our needs over our obedience to the Lord. We go to church and we hear about how we should be obedient to the Lord in our finances. We give our $20 that we have left over from the weekend in our wallet and we call that tithing. That is not tithing unless you make $200 or less per pay period. We give God our leftovers. We do not trust to live the tithing lifestyle. We want more toys. We are taught that whoever has the most toys in the end wins. We spend more than we make in most cases. Then, our obedience to the Lord in our giving becomes a far off concept. We pat ourselves on the backs when we actually do give instead of most weeks where we do not. Why did we not learn at an earlier age that spending less and saving more is God-ordained. Why did we not learn to live off of 90% or less of what we make? Man, I have my first grandchild due in July of this year. From the beginning, I am going to teach this blessedly awaited child to save and to tithe. I want her (notice I said her – trusting the Lord on that one!) to learn that just because you make it does not mean you spend it. I want to grow up learning the blessings of obediently tithing from the beginning so that she does not have to suffer with the consequences of disobedience in our lives. I want her to make the right choice to learn to live on 90% or less than what she makes from the beginning. I don’t want her to have to carve out the painful overspending so that she can get to a place where she can honor God with the first 10% or more of her money. There is a peace in the obedience to the Lord in our finances. When Elena and I decided to quit running the rat race of having more and more and newer and newer and started paying off all our debts there is a peace that comes. You learn that newer and newer is not always better and better. You learn satisifaction with what you have. You learn that the Lord will honor and bless your obedience when you are not so caught up in having the next greatest thing. It’s all just toys. It’s all just temporary. Honoring God with our finances is a path to peace and a path to understanding the eternal ways of God. He will provide for us. We don’t need newer, better, faster, if we have our relationship in order with God. There is no more of a deep core way to start your path to living a life that is God honoring that to begin with your finances. It is the basic thing of life – how we spend our money. If as children we learn to set aside 10% or more to honor God, man, how much easier our life will be and how more of a basic way to make God honoring a part of your daily life than that! Let us commit as adults to teach our children this. Let us commit as adults to begin to arrange our lives in this way so that we can work our way to honoring God with the first 10% or more of our income. When we learn to honor God with our finances, He gives us peace and He blesses our understanding of the fact that we honor Him. I know there are those who make honoring God with your money about this investment-payback scenario but the real payback is not in financial blessings that He gives us but rather is not being a slave to our money and seeing our money as a way to honor God. We must trust God on this one. The blessings are not always financial but rather in the peace that passes all understanding, the peace of knowing you are honoring your Creator. We must trust Him. We must be like Peter. We hear the command and we obey. The scene ends. No other information is needed. We trust. We obey. We depend on the provision of God…with finances, with our very lives, and our life’s work.

There is an old hymn that says it best. It was written by John Sammis in 1887 and part of it goes like this:

But we never can prove
The delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay
For the favor He shows
For the joy He bestows
Are for them who will trust and obey

Trust and obey
For there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus
But to trust and obey.

Trust and obey is what Peter did. The coin was there. May we do the same with our lives and with our finances. Amen and Amen.

Luke 3:21-22 — Why did Jesus allow Himself to be baptized by John The Baptist? He was sinless wasn’t He after all? There are several reasons. First, it is symbolic of Jesus’ earthly life.

First, it was symbolic of Jesus’ earthly life. Jesus lived an earthly life (symbolic of Him prior to immersion in the water). He lived here among us as a human being. He know the life that we live. We have that in common with Jesus Christ, God in the flesh. As we have discussed here before, Jesus understands the human existence. He lived it. The only difference between Him and us was that He was able to go through this life without sinning. We see in Matthew 4:1-11 that Jesus was tempted by Satan Himself during Jesus’ human existence but never failed, never sinned. However, His lack of sin does not mean that He does not understand our existence. He lived among us. The next step in the baptism process is the immersion in water. This is symbolic of Jesus’ death on earth. Being in the water symbolic of the time from Good Friday at sundown to sunrise on Easter Sunday morning when Jesus was in the tomb. Again, it is a reminder that Jesus experienced death just as we do. Jesus’ death was an excruciating ordeal on the cross. Jesus knew that physical pain that sometimes occurs as we die. He knows of slow agonizing death. He knows of welcoming His last breath. He knows that hour when the body gives up and shuts down and stops working. He knows of that moment when the life force stops. But that is not the end of the story with Jesus nor is it the end of story for us as His followers. The next step in the baptism process is the rising out of the water. It is symbolic of Jesus’ resurrection into new life, and a new body. He arose from the dead just as he arose from the death of the water. There is such beauty in this symbolism.

In another gospel, John The Baptist ask this same question. Jesus said that we must carry out what God requires (Matthew 3:15). The baptism thus was not about a symbolic rejection of sin, because there was no sin in Him. It was about carrying out God’s mission. Jesus was baptized because it is symbolic of Him taking on the sins of his nation and of all people. He was following Nehemiah, Ezra, Moses and Daniel. In His baptism, He again identifies with you and me and any who would believe in Him. He who was without sin was baptised. Again, He shows that He is willingly taking our place though He had no personal need to do so. He shouldered the sins of the world on the cross. He is doing it here as well. The sinless substituting Himself for the sinner. He is identifying Himself with those who are repentant. You will notice He is in the water with the penitent ones not up on the shore with the watching Pharisees. There are some today who stand on the shore and believe that they are righteous in their own right. Jesus does not stand with them. He stands in the mess of the murky water with us, the sinners. Jesus, the perfect man, did not need baptism as the symbolic gesture of rejecting our past life of sin, but He accepted baptism because He, as the Son on earth, was being obedient to the Father. His Father in Heaven was well pleased in the obedience of His Son and what it means to us.

The baptism is also an annoucement. It is announcing to the world that Jesus’ ministry has begun. It is public now. All the preparation is over. There is no turning back from the pre-ordained trajectory of Jesus’ life by the Father. Jesus’ baptism is saying to the Father, I am ready. Let’s do this. Prior to arriving at the Jordan, Jesus had been preparing for His ministry for 30 years. He was learning the human experience. He lived it from birth til now. No one could ever say that Jesus could not possibly understand what it’s like to be human. He did it for 30 years! He did not magically appear. People knew him as one of them. He was a tradesman’s son. He lived the life. He experienced joy, laughter, happiness, pain (physical and emotional). He was a child and knew what that experience was like. He was a teenager and knew what that experience was like. He was a young man learning to make a living in the world. He knew what that was like. He was now ready to end that portion of His existence with all that it allowed Him to experience and move on to the specific purpose for which He was sent. As Rafiki says to Simba, “It is time.” It is now time for the stakes to be raised. The game is on. It is also interesting to note that Jesus’ announcement of the beginning of His ministry begins in humility, on the fringes, in the dirty water, not in the main court of the Temple. He went to the river and identified Himself with those who were actually interested in repenting of their sins. This annoucement is humble. He submits Himself to John just as He submitted to the Father in everything He did. Jesus was so humble and obedient to His Father. He was obedient to the point of death on the cross because that was what God required of Him. It all starts right here.

Right here in this moment of baptism, we see our humble Savior saying to us, “I am with you.” I identify with you. I know what is like to be human. I know and understand it from birth to death. He knows how hard it is for us to not sin and how hard our very existence is. In this moment of baptism, He is telling us that He is taking on our sins – a theme that took him through the remaining three years of His life to the cross. The baptism and the cross are book ends to His willingness to take on the sins of His nation and the sins of the world. He loves us that much. His entire earthly existence was preparation. It was understanding of the human experience. It was all pointing toward taking on our sins. He came to give us an out from the condemnation that we deserve. The baptism was the beginning of the ministry. The crucifixion was the literal sacrifice. The baptism the symbolic one. Through His literal sacrifice on the cross, He did what God required to solve man’s sin problem permanently. But like the end sequence of His baptism ritual, that’s not the end of the story. Jesus came out of the water at His baptism. Jesus came out of the grave after his sacrificial death. He demonstrates to us that through Him we have conquered sin and death. We have promise of eternal life with Him through His resurrection. It all starts right here in the Jordan River. The ministry that changed the world begins here in the murky, muddy waters of the Jordan.