Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

Joshua 6:1-27

The Fall of Jericho

My favorite song right now is “Do It Again” by Elevation Worship, the worship band for Elevation Church, the multi-site and one of the top 10 fastest growing churches in America with campuses across the Charlotte, NC area. It is has that great combination of great lyrics and great music. The opening stanza’s lyrics to the song go like this:

 

Walking around these walls

I thought by now they’d fall

But You have never failed me yet

Waiting for change to come

Knowing the battle’s won

For You have never failed me yet

 

The idea of this opening stanza is that sometimes we wonder why we are doing what we are doing for the Lord. Sometimes it’s hard to see the end game. It’s an idea that is close to my heart right now as I spiritually struggle with what the future holds. In the song, I see a group of Israelites on like the fifth pass around Jericho on the fifth day. They had walked around Jericho four times on four different days now. They are on the fifth pass on the fifth day. They still have tomorrow single pass around the walls of Jericho. And then there are the six passes on the seventh day where nothing will happen before that fateful seventh pass when it is time to shout, to blow the horns, and for the walls to fall and for the hand to hand, house to house Battle of Jericho to begin.

 

It kind of reminds you about playing football back in school. You have the two a day practices in the August heat with no game on the immediate horizon. You are busting your butt doing drill after drill and all the exercises, all the wind sprints, the suicides, the hill climbs, the stadium step climbs, the dreaded six inch drills, the high step running through the tires, the one on one blocking drills. The two-a-day practices in August are more about conditioning than they are about installing an offense and defense and about running plays. It’s about breaking down your pride and pushing you to your physical limit. All of it is done so that when the game is on the line in the fall that you have the stamina, the heart, and the willingness to follow instructions to win the game.

 

In both situations, the fifth time around Jericho with much behind you and much ahead that does not necessarily produce immediate results was a test of the soldiers’ willingness to follow God. Just as the August two-a-days test your willingness to lay it all on the line for the team, we are faced with those situations ourselves at times. I remember in football, there were always people that quit during August two-a-days. Those that wanted the glory of game day without the hellish work of the August two-a-days. Imagine being the soldiers at Jericho. I wonder if any of them quite on the fifth day – thinking it stupid that soldiers should have do this silliness of walking around the city of Jericho in the hot weather of spring and/or summer in Palestine. What’s the point of it. Why can’t the walls just fall down after one pass? Why must we do this day after day with no results. Why can’t we just attack the city now? What is God waiting on?

 

Walking around these walls

I thought by now they’d fall

 

 

For me, I am walking around the walls thinking by now they should have fallen so that I can go into Jericho and begin the fight. Why is it that God gave me the passion, the desire, and the calling to go into ministry but yet nothing has happened? Walking around these walls. Why have the walls not fallen? Why has there not been any opportunity for my to have my entry into the “city” of full-time ministry.

 

Some have suggested that I plant a church if there is nothing opening up for me in established churches. Yes, that’s certainly an alternative. But someone once told me that you should have a burden for a certain people group or location of people to plant a church. He said that you needed to have that burden be so great on you that you can do nothing else but to go that people and/or location and plant a church. You ache for those people and their lostness. I wish that were the case for me. I wish that I had that burden. Maybe I will someday soon. Maybe, I will encounter a people and a place that God just strikes me down to the core to go to them. But maybe right now, God is testing my resolve to follow Him. I am on the fifth pass around Jericho. I still have tomorrow’s single pass and the next day after that there is the 6 passes before the all important final and seventh pass. I think that we all have had times in our past where we have gotten on spiritual highs and dedicated ourselves to be better Christians. Then, something happens where it gets too hard and we quit. Sometimes I think God puts us through spiritual two-a-days like in August preparing for the high school football season.

 

To continue with the football analogy, what if you have made it through two-a-days in August and you haven’t quit. But now it’s football season and you must endure classes all day during the week and then practice after school 4 days a week. Those after school practices can test your resolve too. Three hours of intense work after you have already been in school all day. Then, after you go through all that work during the week, you are not a starter yet. You must put in all that work but you are not a starter on Friday night. That can test your resolve to your team. You put in all the work but you do not get to play under the lights with the stands filled with fans. It’s like walking around the walls of Jericho on that fifth day. You are putting in the work but no results yet. You are doing the work but nothing is happening.

 

It’s that idea of following through on God’s direction even when you do not see immediate results is what struck me this morning when I read this 6th chapter of Joshua this morning. How often do we give up on God’s call on our lives when it gets difficult or when there are no immediate astounding results? That’s what I want us to have in mind as we read it together now:

 

6 Now the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in.

 

2 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. 3 March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. 4 Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. 5 When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.”

 

6 So Joshua son of Nun called the priests and said to them, “Take up the ark of the covenant of the Lord and have seven priests carry trumpets in front of it.” 7 And he ordered the army, “Advance! March around the city, with an armed guard going ahead of the ark of the Lord.”

 

8 When Joshua had spoken to the people, the seven priests carrying the seven trumpets before the Lord went forward, blowing their trumpets, and the ark of the Lord’s covenant followed them. 9 The armed guard marched ahead of the priests who blew the trumpets, and the rear guard followed the ark. All this time the trumpets were sounding. 10 But Joshua had commanded the army, “Do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout. Then shout!” 11 So he had the ark of the Lord carried around the city, circling it once. Then the army returned to camp and spent the night there.

 

12 Joshua got up early the next morning and the priests took up the ark of the Lord. 13 The seven priests carrying the seven trumpets went forward, marching before the ark of the Lord and blowing the trumpets. The armed men went ahead of them and the rear guard followed the ark of the Lord, while the trumpets kept sounding. 14 So on the second day they marched around the city once and returned to the camp. They did this for six days.

 

15 On the seventh day, they got up at daybreak and marched around the city seven times in the same manner, except that on that day they circled the city seven times. 16 The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the army, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city! 17 The city and all that is in it are to be devoted[a] to the Lord. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent. 18 But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. 19 All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the Lord and must go into his treasury.”

 

20 When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. 21 They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.

 

22 Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring her out and all who belong to her, in accordance with your oath to her.” 23 So the young men who had done the spying went in and brought out Rahab, her father and mother, her brothers and sisters and all who belonged to her. They brought out her entire family and put them in a place outside the camp of Israel.

 

24 Then they burned the whole city and everything in it, but they put the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron into the treasury of the Lord’s house. 25 But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho—and she lives among the Israelites to this day.

 

26 At that time Joshua pronounced this solemn oath: “Cursed before the Lord is the one who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho:

 

“At the cost of his firstborn son

    he will lay its foundations;

at the cost of his youngest

    he will set up its gates.”

 

27 So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land.

 

The first thing that comes to your mind when reading this chapter/passage is the question, why? Why did God give Joshua all these complicated instructions for battle? I think there are several reasons. First, God wanted it to be undeniably clear that the battle’s outcome would depend on Him, and not upon Israel’s weapons and expertise. To support this claim, it is why priests carry the Ark of the Covenant, not soldiers, lead the Israelites into battle. Second, this strange military maneuver was a test of the faith and resolve of the Israelite people in following the Lord’s instructions completely.

 

That’s the thing. So many times in life we are quitters. We don’t want to put in the work necessary to achieve our goals. We sometimes quit sports teams when we are young because the practices are too hard and we don’t get to start on game day. It takes dedication to the team to put up with the hard hitting practices during the week to then sit on the sidelines waiting for your opportunity to get in the game. You have the heart and the passion for the game, but it’s just not your time to start. What if it takes three years for you to become a starter? Are you willing to continue to work at it till it’s your turn. Are you willing to continue walk around those walls on the fifth day with still more walks to come before the big chance to show what you’ve got?

 

Sometimes, God tests our resolve to follow Him. If He is going to entrust us with much, He wants to see how obedient we are going to be on that fifth trip around Jericho with still much more to come before He grants us the right to join the fight, to jump in the game. Sometimes, you and I find ourselves in spiritual dry places where nothing seems to be happening. We pray and pray and God seems not to hear us. We do and do and work and work but God does not reward us. We keep putting in the effort but nothing seems to come of it. Are you in that place? Are you in a spiritual desert where you feel like you are just going through the motions and you see no results? You can either quit on the fifth time around Jericho or you can keep going. If we quit on the fifth time around Jericho, we will miss that miracle on the seventh time around on the seventh day. How many miracles have we missed because we gave up on God, we gave up on prayer, we gave up on doing what He called us to do, because it was too hard, too mundane, too little immediate results.

 

The thing that keeps being drilled in my mind by God here lately is “keep plowing the field in front of you.” Sometimes we have to keep our land to the plow and till the land for many months before we see crops grow. Sometimes God wants to make sure that we are going to keep our hands to the plow before He reveals the fruit and the harvest. When we get into full-time ministry there are going to be times where the pressure’s on and there is no way out of making the tough decisions, no way out but doing what is unpopular but what is godly, no way out but to follow God instead of following public opinion. He wants to see how dedicated we are in the trusting department before He entrusts us with the souls of the sheep.

 

Are you in dry place? Has God not answered your prayers? Has the miracle you asked for not yet come? Are you studying the Bible but not getting anything out of it? Is your prayer life hit a place where it just feels empty? Is what you are asking God for not coming? Are you a single mom just trying to keep your head above water and there’s no end in sight to the responsibilities of both parents that you are carrying by yourself? Are you praying for your grown child to find their way in life so you don’t have to worry about them anymore but there is no change in them? Are you a couple who has been trying to get pregnant for five years but nothing has happened yet?

 

Keep plowing the field. Keep trusting. Keep praying. Sometimes God breaks down to the point of giving up on Him so that we will know that what He gives us as the answer is truly a God thing. Sometimes, He pushes the envelope with us to see how strong and how long we are willing to trust Him. We are temporary and God is eternal. Sometimes, his clock is different from ours. Sometimes, we have to just keep plowing the field til the miracle comes. Sometimes we have to keep walking around Jericho the fifth time, the sixth time on the sixth day and then the first six times on the seventh day before the miracle come on that seventh trip around. Sometimes we have to pay our dues on our football team before we become a Friday night starter. Sometimes we have to pray for years before our prayers are answered. In the process God has taught us to trust Him and not ourselves.

 

Walking around these walls.

I thought by now they’d fall.

But You have never failed me yet

BUT YOU HAVE NEVER FAILED ME YET.

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 3:1-17 (Part 1 of 4)

The Israelites Cross the Jordan

One of the famous lines from the movie, Steel Magnolias, was during the scene where M’Lynne and her diabetic daughter, Shelby, are discussing her previously unannounced pregnancy. M’Lynne is so angry at her daughter for getting pregnant because of the fact that pregnancy and child birth could likely kill Shelby. Because of their mother-daughter relationship where mom had always found some kind of fault in everything Shelby did, this discussion became a monumental watershed moment in their relationship. Once of the classic lines of the move and of this particular scene in it was where Shelby says,

 

Mama, I don’t know why you have to make everything so difficult. I look at having a baby as the opportunity of a lifetime. Sure there may be risk involved, but that’s true for anybody. But you get through it and life goes on. And when it’s all said and done there will be a little piece of immortality with Jackson’s good looks and my sense of style, I hope. Please, please I need your support. I would rather have thirty minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special.

 

Last week, one of the things that came out of our staff development meeting was the idea of what are the unconfessed sins of us collectively and individually as a church that is holding back God from expressing his full glory through our local church. God has a specific mission for each of the churches that God allows to be created. Each one has its purpose and mission in God’s redemptive plan. Each church is supposed to fulfill its mission in the spectrum of missions that God has for each in His grand plan for redeeming the world through His Son. There is a mission for each church. There is no church that is still in existence that does not still have its unique mission from God. The question is that have we settled for mediocrity because of collective unconfessed sins. Have we settled for a lifetime of nothing special rather than God’s design for us for our “wonderful”? Have we settled because we do not want things to change from the mediocrity that we are wallowing in?

 

Our senior pastor challenged us as leaders to examine ourselves for the things in our lives that are holding back God’s glory from being fully expressed through our church. What is it that is holding back the 30 minutes of wonderful in exchange for the lifetime of nothing special in our church. Is it us? Is it me? We must examine ourselves for unconfessed sin. Do we have pride that is preventing us from working together or from submitting to leadership? Are any of us so convinced that we have the corner on the market of this “being a Christian” thing that we no longer need instruction from our leaders? Do any of us have trouble submitting to leadership because we think we know better than they? Do we have a sin in our lives that would destroy our church if it came out under the pressure cooker of moving our church to the next level? Do any of us want to be carbon copies of other leaders? Do we simply try to do what’s been proven elsewhere rather than listening to what God says is the specific thing that He wants from our church that is unique, untested and never done before? Do any of us not trust God enough to find our own voice, to find that unique mission of our church? Do we have sins in our closet that prevent God’s glory from being fully expressed through our church? Remember the sin of Achan that caused the Israelites to lose the Battle of Ai that we will see when we get to Joshua 7. We must confess our sins and repent of them so that God can express His full glory through us. What is holding you back from experiencing the glory of God? What is it that you have exchanged God’s glory for a lifetime of nothing special?

 

That was the thing that I noticed here this morning in the first of four blogs on Joshua 3. That thing being how the people sought to purify themselves before battle and how that was similar to the guts of our staff development meeting this past week. What is it about us collectively and individually that is holding us back from the victory that God has set in front of us? We must examine ourselves and then repent of our sins and then commit ourselves to doing whatever it takes, whatever sacrifices that are needed, whatever risks need to be taken so that God’s glory is shown through in that specific mission that he has for our church. Let’s read this chapter of Joshua together now:

 

3 Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over. 2 After three days the officers went throughout the camp, 3 giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. 4 Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits[a] between you and the ark; do not go near it.”

 

5 Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”

 

6 Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people.” So they took it up and went ahead of them.

 

7 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. 8 Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.’”

 

9 Joshua said to the Israelites, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God. 10 This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites. 11 See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you. 12 Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. 13 And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord—the Lord of all the earth—set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.”

 

14 So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. 15 Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, 16 the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17 The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.

 

In this passage, we see that, before entering the Promised Land, the Israelites were to perform a purification ceremony. God often required such acts such as before offering a sacrifice or before witnessing a great miracle of God. His Law showed the Israelites could become unclean in many ways – eating certain foods, giving birth, dealing with disease, touching a dead body. God used these various outward signs of uncleanness to illustrate a person’s uncleanness that comes as a result of sin. The purification ceremony pictured the importance of approaching God with a pure heart, a focused heart, having confessed our sins, and concentrating on giving God His glory and our total attention.

 

Are you willing to take the time to seek to purify yourself before God? I am not talking about some ritual but a soul searching? Like those videos you see of football players going through their pregame locker room processes of putting on their uniforms before a big game. You see them thinking and visualizing and praying about the battle in which they are about to partake. They are laser focused on their part of the game plan. They are in deep thought and often don’t even talk to each other. Each thinking on the big game ahead and their part in it.

 

May we have that same laser focus when it comes to playing our role at church? God has a mission for our church. God has a victory for our church in His grand redemptive plan for the Lyman-Duncan-Wellford area, SC. We have a specific mission. God has a game plan for us. However, we must be focused in on God’s mission. In order to be laser focused on his mission, we must examine our weaknesses and sins that can be exploited by the enemy in the heat of battle. What are the sins that I am protecting that can be exploited by Satan that will prevent or hinder the full glory of God from being expressed through our local church. What sin am I not confessing before the Lord? What sin are you not confessing before the Lord? We need to purify ourselves. We need to identify our sins that we think are not sins such as pride and arrogance. We need to identify the lusts of our lives that we are protecting and hiding and confess them before the Lord so that He will not withdraw His glory from our house of the Lord. Or are you willing to settle for mediocrity. Are you happier with things the way they are? Are you willing to settle for a lifetime of nothing special so that you or I can keep our sins that we want to keep? What is it that is making us into a lifetime of nothing special. Don’t you want God’s glory to be fully shown through you and I and the church we call home?

 

Let us examine ourselves. Let us confess our sins. Let us live for God and not a life where we are protecting our pet sins. Let us live the “wonderful” that God has for you and for me and for our church. Let us not settle for a lifetime of nothing special just so that we can exist. Let us be willing to sacrifice it all for the Lord by being fully purified, fully confessing, people that are willing to do whatever God directs us to do to be in that wonderful place (aligned with God’s will) rather than a lifetime of mediocrity of not fully seeing what happens when God has a people that are sold out for Him. Thirty minutes of wonderful vs. a lifetime of nothing special?

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 31:1-8 (Part 2 of 2)

Joshua Becomes Israel’s Leader

You see it a lot in professional sports. A guy who has stayed one year too long in the league. No longer are they able to perform at the high level they once did, but too proud to say that it’s time to hang it up. One of the famous examples of this phenomenon was Joe Namath. Back in the days before the merger of the American Football League and the National Football League, Joe was one of the first high profile college quarterbacks to accept a contract from the younger, upstart league (the AFL was formed in 1960 while the NFL dates back to the early 1920s). The NFL always got the best the college prospects but this time the New York Jets of the AFL offered Joe Namath a contract that the NFL owners would not be willing to match and Joe became a Jet. He was young, brash, and loud, but he could always back up his mouth with his play on the field. His leading of his New York Jets to victory over the vaunted Baltimore Colts in the 2nd Super Bowl (after the 1969 season) was a landmark moment in the rivalry between the two leagues that ultimately led to the merger of the two. In the years after that Super Bowl, Joe continued to have a couple of really good seasons after that but knee injury after knee injury began to slow him down.

 

He became at the end a shell of the great quarterback that he once was. Yet, he would not retire. He was eventually traded to the Los Angeles Rams and ended his career quietly and with little fanfare at the end of the 1977 season. There are many such examples in pro sports of hanging on too long and not leaving with dignity. Joe Montana was another great quarterback that spent all but one year of his NFL career with the San Francisco 49ers but because of pride refused to retire as a 49er when management thought it was time to hand the reins off to the younger (and equally talented) Steve Young. Montana robbed his fans in San Francisco and the NFL in general of that farewell tour for the man who was the face of the franchise for more than a decade. Instead, he still wanted the glory. Although he performed well in KC, he was injured for about half the time he was there. He finally retired after the 1994 season, but what a spectacle it would have been if he had retired as a 49er, going out at the height of his career three years earlier.

 

These are celebrity superstar football players that are in the news, but sometimes we see it right around us. In old traditional Baptist churches, you will see pastors who had been at a church for 30 or 40 years and it is obvious that they have outlived their prime and their greatest effectiveness as pastors. They are a shell of the pastor that they once were, but because of the honor of the powers-that-be at the church, they want to the let the pastor retire on his own terms rather than being forced out. In the Methodist Church where, because of the system that they use, pastors at best will stay at a church for a decade at the most, you will see pastors who refuse to retire and end up being transferred to backwater circuits where they are serving small little country churches when they once pastor large metropolitan churches. Knowing when to quit is important. Knowing when it is time to move on is important.

 

That’s what I thought this morning as I read about the commissioning of Joshua as the new leader of Israel. Man, could you imagine how Moses felt at this moment. Let’s read the passage together, Deuteronomy 31:1-8.

 

31 Then Moses went out and spoke these words to all Israel: 2 “I am now a hundred and twenty years old and I am no longer able to lead you. The Lord has said to me, ‘You shall not cross the Jordan.’ 3 The Lord your God himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you will take possession of their land. Joshua also will cross over ahead of you, as the Lord said. 4 And the Lord will do to them what he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, whom he destroyed along with their land. 5 The Lord will deliver them to you, and you must do to them all that I have commanded you. 6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

 

7 Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. 8 The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

 

Man, could you imagine being in Moses’ position. He was the grand poobah of the people of Israel and had been for about 42-43 years. He had be the guy in charge that led his people out of Egypt through mighty confrontations with the Pharoah. He had managed the people as they became the people of God at Mt. Sinai. He had an intimate relationship with God himself. He had been in the presence of God more times than you could count. He had developed the system of government and dispute resolution of the Hebrew people. He had ran the nation of people and had put up with a lot of bellyaching and complaining over the years. But God tells him that He will not get to the Promised Land. God tells him that he will die before he gets there. He had done a lot of hard work, thankless work over the years. But he would not get the credit of being the guy who led them to that final destination. You would think He would be bitter, but he was able to address the nation and reaffirm the covenant that the people had with the Lord and to pass on the mantle of leadership to Joshua.

 

What struck me this morning is how we finish is as important as how we start and how we are at the height of our skill. As leaders, we must know when to say when. We must be willing to accept that we are no longer performing at our top level. Also, we must know when it’s time to move on even if we are doing great right where we are. For example, with Moses, he was just what the people of Israel needed when they were a nomadic people who had only periodic skirmishes or battles with other people groups. However, what was called for when entering into the Promised Land was going to be a leader that was a great military leader for one thing and a great leader of a settled nation with boundaries and cities and towns, a standing army, actual buildings of the seat of government and so on. Knowing when its time to turn over the reins of leadership to someone who is better equipped for the new phase of your organization is the toughest thing to do especially when you are still in your prime. Sometimes, it is as important as knowing when to retire.

 

If you are a pastor who can handle the management of a smaller church of 200 or less but you are not equipped to handle a church’s growth past that barrier (where the pastor personally knows and interacts with each member of his flock), it may be best for you to move on to allow someone who is more gifted and talented at managing other pastors and more gifted at administration to take over. That type of pastor is more equipped to take the church to 500 and maybe to a 1000 or more.

 

For us personally, do you know when it’s time to move on? Do you know when it’s time to retire? Are you serving in a capacity at church but refuse to give up your position because of pride? Are you willing to say, this is what is best for the church – to allow someone to take my place who has the ability to move the ministry to the next phase of its life cycle. That is not to say that they are better at leading than you. It is simply recognizing that you may have been the groundbreaker and the builder but the next person is the one who builds on what you have done. This leader may have not been the one who could have founded the ministry. They did not have those talents to create something out of nothing like you, but they do have the skills for the next phase of ministry for your ministry.

 

It is important for us as leaders of the church to do what is best for the church and not necessarily what we want. Sometimes, we get God’s church and Our church confused. I once heard my senior pastor say that the church is the bride of Christ, not my bride. He said we as leaders of the church cannot forget that. We are simply hear to prepare the bride to meet Christ when He returns. We must know when to say when. We must know when it is time for us to allow others to lead and so that God can show us what is next for us in ministry. What if Moses had refused to leave Midian? He would have never experienced the greatest part of His ministry and His greatest moments of closeness to God. Here, though, at the precipice of the Promised Land, Moses was man enough to accept God’s will and pass on the leadership of the people to Joshua.

 

Finishing well is important, whether its retirement or moving on to the next thing that God has for us. Finishing well requires prayer. We must have an intimate prayer life so that pride does not get in the way of letting go to another leader. We must through the counsel of the Holy Spirit through prayer and through God’s Word to be able to hear that it is time to close out this chapter of our lives and move on. Knowing God’s will requires intimacy with him and the humility to understand when it’s time to say when! We need to prepare the way for the next leader. We must also be aware and open to what God has in store for us. What if Peter had refused to leave the fishing boats? What if he had not been open to the Holy Spirit’s influence on his life? Man, what he would have missed? What if Paul had refused to listen to what Jesus had to say in his vision on the Damascus Road? Where would the church be now? Where would the New Testament be (about one half its final canon)? What if we were so prideful in trying to hold on to what we have right now that we refuse to see the opportunity that God has for us next? What if it involves not moving from the church you are at now but changing roles at the church you are at now? We must listen for the Lord to tell us when to stay and when to go. We must do that through being obedient to His counsel through prayer and through God’s Word.

 

Let us learn to finish well. Let us learn to know when its time to stay and when its time to move on. Let us be open to what God has next for us. Let us be willing to hand the reins to another for the good of the bride of Christ. Let us be willing and open to do that so that God can show us what comes after Midian, what comes after the Damascus Road, what comes after the fishing boats, what comes next! Finish well!

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 20:1-20 (Part 3)

Regulations Concerning War

As I have been reading this passage multiple times over the past few days, it was easy to pick out and write about facing opposition and about destroying bad influences in our lives. Those things were pretty obvious. However, those things are wrapped around a couple of verses that have been in the back of my mind the whole time the past two days. The first four verses of the passage were where I drew the inspiration for Sunday’s blog about facing opposition and then vv. 10-20 were the source for yesterday’s blog about staying true to God’s Word and not immersing ourselves in sinful situations. Then, there was vv. 5-9. Why did God inspire Moses to write those words? Why was he sending people home from the army of Israel?

 

I think the best way to understand these verses is through an illustration and through the context of what comes before and after these verses in the passage. The illustration here comes from the 2016 version of my favorite college football program, the Clemson University Tigers. In 2015, the Tigers came within maybe 2 minutes of winning the national championship. They played well enough to win that game against Alabama but there were two plays in that game that cost them the title. The game proved that Clemson and Alabama were equals when it came to talent and desire. However, it was two special teams plays that cost the Tigers the championship. The onside kick by Alabama, a brilliant move by Coach Saban of Alabama, that they recovered (because of something they saw on film about the Tigers’ kickoff return team’s habits), in effect, stole a possession away from Clemson and allowed Alabama to score against an already tired Clemson defense. The second special teams play was a kickoff return by Alabama where a few Tiger coverage guys blew their assignments and got out of position. It is the little things that are the difference in the battles between two equally matched teams.

 

One thing about this past year’s (2016’s) Tigers was that they had great resolve. There was one goal and one goal only that would suit this band of Tiger footballers. It was getting back to the championship game, and, hopefully, against Alabama. Even the upset loss at home to Pittsburgh, it seemed to further steel their resolve to do all the little things right from then on. After the loss to Pittsburgh, the Tigers were one focused football team. Coach Swinney said that this particular team was his easiest to coach. To a man, the players policed each other, encouraged each other, and were willing to do all the hard work on the little things to get back to the championship game. He did not have to create motivation for this team. All of his previous teams were ones that he motivated by saying that no one respects you – so go out and prove you belong among the elite programs in the country. This team, though, he simply said to them, “embrace the target.” Everyone knew the Tigers of 2016 were going to be national championship caliber but the issue would be whether they wanted it bad enough. Ultimately, Coach Swinney said that this team was willing to make the sacrifices, willing to put their hearts on the line, do what was necessary and by far the easiest team to coach he has ever had. There was commitment. There were no distractions for this team. They wanted it. Everybody was all-in. Anything less than a title shot in 2016 was unacceptable. A national championship was their heart’s desire and everyone was “all-in”. The question now becomes, for the Tigers, is now that the leaders of the 2015/2016 Tigers are all gone off to the NFL, will the 2017 team have that same hunger and same commitment. When you look at the 2017 roster and the recruiting class coming in, the 2017 team has the talent to make it to the college football playoffs for a third straight year, but will they be “all-in” like the 2016 team? Will they have that complete focus without letting the distractions of being the reigning national champions get in the way? Will they have that inner drive that compels them to greatness like the 2016 team did?

 

That’s what I thought of this morning when reading about sending people home from the battle preparations and it became clear in the context of the Scripture before and after vv. 5-9 and in context of what I have written about the last two blogs. Let’s read the whole passage now with particular focus on vv. 5-9 and how it fits into the whole passage:

 

20 When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you. 2 When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army. 3 He shall say: “Hear, Israel: Today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not panic or be terrified by them. 4 For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”

 

5 The officers shall say to the army: “Has anyone built a new house and not yet begun to live in it? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else may begin to live in it. 6 Has anyone planted a vineyard and not begun to enjoy it? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else enjoy it. 7 Has anyone become pledged to a woman and not married her? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else marry her.” 8 Then the officers shall add, “Is anyone afraid or fainthearted? Let him go home so that his fellow soldiers will not become disheartened too.” 9 When the officers have finished speaking to the army, they shall appoint commanders over it.

 

10 When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. 11 If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. 12 If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. 13 When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. 14 As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the Lord your God gives you from your enemies. 15 This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby.

 

16 However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. 17 Completely destroy[a] them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you. 18 Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God.

 

19 When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees people, that you should besiege them?[b] 20 However, you may cut down trees that you know are not fruit trees and use them to build siege works until the city at war with you falls.

 

In this passage, we see the commanders sending people home from the battle preparations. This fact seemed hard to comprehend at first. But then, I got to thinking about how little things can defeat and how complete focus can lead to victory which led me to think about the 2015 Tigers compared to the 2016 Tigers. Attention to detail and complete focus was that minute little difference between a runner 2015 team and the 2016 team. If we have something that takes our focus away from God, it will defeat us. We must have attention to detail as Christ followers. We can never cruise. When we become complacent as Christians, we take shortcuts in our walk with Christ. We quit doing the little things that bring us victory over sin. When we become focused on other things, we first cut out prayer time. Then, as we become slack, we cut out our bible study and meditation upon what we read. Next, participation in ministries becomes optional. Next, we get into little battles of ego with people and leaders at church. Next, church attendance becomes optional. Next, we are not attending church at all. Next, you can’t tell the difference between us and the culture that we live in … and we accept sinful lifestyles as OK.

 

We cannot half-ass our walk with Christ no more than football players win championships without sacrifice and hard work. We will face opposition and we will face influences that require us to be completely focused on God’s Word and on the Holy Spirit’s guidance in our lives. We must be all-in. Otherwise, we never grow as Christ followers. We never make it to being championship-level Christians. We cannot dabble in the sins of the culture and expect to be championship-level Christians. We cannot overcome opposition to being a Christ follower without that steely-edged resolve to cling to the Father even if it leaves us standing alone against the crowd. Opposition will come to us. Satan wants mediocre Christians that he does not have to worry about. Satan wants there to be Christian soldiers who are distracted and will not be much trouble. He would rather have Christians who must be sent home from battle because they have their love in other things. What Satan worries about is those all-in, do-whatever-it-takes, battle-tested, full-of-passion-for-the-Lord Christians who will not turn and run because of opposition. He is afraid of those who cling to Jesus and believe His Word, study His Word daily, pray daily, submit themselves daily to the Lord. He is afraid of these championship-caliber Christians who are all-in, no guts-no glory kind of Christians. Embrace the target, to borrow Coach Swinney’s phrase. Embrace the target of being an all-in Christ follower. If we are all championship-caliber Christians who were willing to do anything for the Lord, just imagine how different our world would be.

 

Let us no longer accept being mediocre, distracted Christians. Let us be totally focused, all-in Christians. Let us change the world for Jesus Christ! Let us be able to hear him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant!”

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 15:37-41

Tassels on Clothing

How do you remind yourself of things? For me, I am a list person or an electronic calendar person. I often tell people that if it is not on my electronic calendar, it does not exist. This means that I have become so dependent on my calendar list of to-do’s with its reminder warnings that if it’s not on my calendar list of to-do’s then I will not remember to do it. That’s just for appointments and deadlines for doing things. On a day to day basis at work, I make very detailed lists of to-do’s for that day. I just don’t want to forget even the smallest detail of things I have to do this day. The calendar gives me the wide view of what I have to do this month and my handwritten daily to-do lists are the small view of what specific steps I have to take get my to-do list today.

 

One of my lists that I utilize is an extremely important one.  It goes to the core of my responsibilities as chief accountant for my company. Although it is not the totality of what I do, I am responsible for getting our books closed out each month and issuing the financial reports for the month to our management team and to our parent company in Japan. It is the most outward and visible sign of what I and my staff do. Needless to say, it is extremely important. In order to get that done each month, each member of my staff, including myself, has specific tasks that they must perform so that we can get the books closed in two days and get the various “slicing and dicings” of reports done in the two days after that. It is a lot of work in a short period of time. Just so that none of us forgets critical tasks in that process that could bring the validity of our financial statements into question, we have month-end checklists. Checking off those tasks means that we have done what we need to do to get the books closed and the financial statements issued. The task list is also gauge of how efficient we are being during month-end closing. Because of my team’s experience at doing this now for quite a while, we have our tasks segregated by day as to what tasks we need to get accomplished on Day 1 of closing, on Day 2 and so on. If you are behind or a task takes too long, you can see where you stand on getting all of a day’s tasks done on that particular day of the closing cycle. When you get behind, it means either longer hours or being even more efficient on getting the remaining tasks for that day done. It is a measure. To see where you are against the list at 4pm in the afternoon on Day 1 is a good thing. It kind of gives you a measure of where you stand. Oh Lord, what would I do during month-end without my month-end checklist.

 

After having been the comptroller at Fujikura America, Inc. now for 8 years (eighth anniversary will be 10/06/16) and this September 2016’s month-end closing will be the 96th month-end closing I have supervised and participated in, I am pretty sure that I could do our month-end closings now with me eyes closed and just do it by feel. However, even after 95 completed closings, I still use my checklist each month. Sometimes, after having done something repeatedly as I have our month-end closings, you take things for granted and you might miss some routine, simple task in the process and think that you have done it but really haven’t. Maybe I would drop a task from the list without thinking about it going forward. All the tasks on the list are necessary so I need reminding. I need the visual markers. I need reminding. I need a gauge to measure against. I need to see where I am at. I need this constant reminder of what I already should know in my mind that I have to do. But, having it visually in front me at each month-end gives me assurance that I will not forget critical tasks. It gives me peace knowing that I have my list of tasks and that my staff does to. Even after years of doing this – I have been comptroller for eight years, my general ledger accountant five years, my accounts receivable specialist six years, and my accounts payable specialist four years – we each have our month-end checklist that reminds us of what we already know to-do but acts our measuring stick, our assurance, and reminders to not forget during month-end closing.

 

It was my to-do lists, particular my month-end closing checklist that I have in my job as comptroller of my company, that came to mind when I read through this passage today, Numbers 15:37-41:

 

37 The Lord said to Moses, 38 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. 39 You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. 40 Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God. 41 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the Lord your God.’”

 

It is interesting to note that the tassels noted here come into play in the New Testament in the story of the woman with the continuous menstruation. She was healed through her faith in Jesus by simply touching the tassel on the hem of his outer garment that he was wearing. Jesus was a good Jewish boy and observed the requirements of His Father in heaven in every detail. Even Jesus participated in the reminder. Even He who is the same essence as God had the visual reminder. The tassels on the garments were to remind people not to seek after their own lustful desires but to seek the Lord. It is a reminder that we are here to serve God not the other way around.

 

Although we may not wear tassels on our clothing today, we need to establish our own reminders of our own relationship to God. What disciplines do you employ to stay close to God? We have need to have our reminders of what we already know. We need to employ disciplines that remind us of our relationship to God, our responsibilities to God, our responsibilities before God, and our redemption and need for thankfulness before God for our salvation. We need reminding so we don’t forget this important stuff. We need to have disciplines that we employ to remind us of these things. We need to read and meditate on God’s Word daily. We need to pray. We need to have fellow Christians with whom we discuss God’s Word. We need to memorize verses. We need our tassels. We need our visual cues. No matter if we have been a Christian for 20 years or 20 months, we need reminding of the fact that we need to be in awe of our God and the redemption that He gave us through Jesus Christ. We need ways of reminding that our salvation comes as a gift and not by our efforts. We need reminding to be humble before our Lord. We need reminding of how desperately we need Jesus on a daily basis. We need our own tassels! We need our own ways of remembering!

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 13:1-25

Twelve Scouts Explore Canaan

Have you ever made knee-jerk decisions? Have you ever gone to school without having first done your homework? Have you ever had to go to a meeting at work where you had to give a presentation for which you had not done any preparation or study? I think that we have all been there and probably more than once in our lives. I have certainly had those same situations occur to me before. However, that is a situation that I loathe to be in.

 

I would rather work my tail off and be over-prepared, present too much information, write too much, over-document and so on. Never want the metaphorical dream of being in a meeting and realizing that you are in your underwear only and you don’t realize it until you are already in the meeting.

 

I guess it has to do with a basic insecurity about my value in my soul. Growing up as a Methodist preacher’s kid and moving every couple of years, I was always an outsider. I always felt that I had to prove myself because of it, prove that I belonged. In addition to that, as a student, I was a good student but I had to work it. In high school as I was in higher level classes, I always felt that I was not as smart as others so I worked twice as hard, stayed up later doing homework and so on so that I could keep up. Others seemed to come at this higher level academic stuff naturally whereas I got it but simply had to work harder at it. In college, I went to a school that is reserved for the wealthy and privileged, Furman University. Its nickname is “the Yale of the South.” Rich kids from up north and from Florida predominated. There were very few of us local Greenville, SC types at Furman. The only reason that I got to go there was that by the time I was ready for college my mom had been working there long enough for me to get a 50% discount in tuition and then Pell grants paid the rest. Otherwise, I would have had to go somewhere else. Especially here, where kids had grown up with the best tutors and the best schools and the best of everything, you can imagine how this played into my academic and social insecurities. There,  I really did have to work twice as hard just to keep up with these privileged kids. I always felt like there was some class on “smarts” that I missed. I busted my tail there. While working full-time and being married after my freshman year, it was a tough time. I don’t think that I slept much those four years.

 

In much of my career after Furman, I have been an internal auditor (I am the senior financial executive for the company by which I am employed now but the bulk of my career has been in auditing). In that job, you have to be able to perform audit programs that will show you whether a process is working properly or not, document the problems or errors, make recommendations for improvement, and sell the recommendations to the auditee in an audit report. In that kind of environment, you cannot afford to be wrong or make statements for which you have no substantiation. You have to back up what you claim. In order to back up your claims, you must document your findings to prove the error or inefficiency or the need for improvement or compliance. Because of that need and because of my own insecurities about my value and my intellect, I would tend to overkill on documentation. My workpapers (what we auditors call the evidence of our work that back up and support how we have performed our work, what evidence we have to support that we have done the audit program, what evidence we have of our findings and so on) were meticulous and voluminous. I never wanted to be caught off guard in my review by my audit supervisors or by our auditee. My workpapers were usually about twice what others produced and after reading through them there would be no doubt as to how I came about my findings for my parts of the audit reports. I was always the one that worked til 2am in the morning and back up at 6am ready for the next days work at the audit assignment. I was always prepared, but it was not because I was super-intelligent but rather just an insecure boy desperately trying to make sure there were no holes in my work that would cause my ridicule. The worst fear was to get to the audit meetings at the end of an audit and the auditee say that you were wrong about your finding and prove why. That was the biggest fear of all – when you have that dream of being in a meeting in your underwear and you don’t realize it until everyone is staring at you. That’s the feeling you get when you are in an audit closure meeting where you present your findings and the auditee management balks at what you say and proves why. I never wanted experience that humiliation because I was already a guy who thought he was a step behind everybody else anyway.

 

In Moses’ commands here, I felt a kindred spirit of auditing with him. He prepared a team to go do an audit of Canaan. In order to know what the issues were, Moses had to send in an audit team. They were to investigate the land, from the people, to the land itself, to the cities, to economic power of the region. They were to go in and gain and understanding of Canaan and report back to Moses. Moses appears to be a guy that made decisions based on solid information. I like that. Let’s read about this process in Numbers 13:1-24 below:

 

13 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.”

 

3 So at the Lord’s command Moses sent them out from the Desert of Paran. All of them were leaders of the Israelites. 4 These are their names:

 

from the tribe of Reuben, Shammua son of Zakkur;

 

5 from the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat son of Hori;

 

6 from the tribe of Judah, Caleb son of Jephunneh;

 

7 from the tribe of Issachar, Igal son of Joseph;

 

8 from the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea son of Nun;

 

9 from the tribe of Benjamin, Palti son of Raphu;

 

10 from the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel son of Sodi;

 

11 from the tribe of Manasseh (a tribe of Joseph), Gaddi son of Susi;

 

12 from the tribe of Dan, Ammiel son of Gemalli;

 

13 from the tribe of Asher, Sethur son of Michael;

 

14 from the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi son of Vophsi;

 

15 from the tribe of Gad, Geuel son of Maki.

 

16 These are the names of the men Moses sent to explore the land. (Moses gave Hoshea son of Nun the name Joshua.)

 

17 When Moses sent them to explore Canaan, he said, “Go up through the Negev and on into the hill country. 18 See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. 19 What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified? 20 How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees in it or not? Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land.” (It was the season for the first ripe grapes.)

 

21 So they went up and explored the land from the Desert of Zin as far as Rehob, toward Lebo Hamath. 22 They went up through the Negev and came to Hebron, where Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, lived. (Hebron had been built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) 23 When they reached the Valley of Eshkol,[a] they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs. 24 That place was called the Valley of Eshkol because of the cluster of grapes the Israelites cut off there.

 

In this passage, we see that Moses decided what information was needed before the people could enter the Promised Land, and took careful steps to gain that information. When we are making decisions or entering in new areas of experience that you have never had before, remember these two important steps. Common sense is a valuable tool in accomplishing God’s purpose. One of the biggest weapons that we have in accomplishing God’s purpose is prayer. In prayer, God will reveal to us what information that we need to have about decisions that we make.

 

God is not a god of disorder. He wants us to make decisions with the best information we can have available to us. He wants us not to jump headlong into something without having prepared for the jump. He does not want us to lead a growing, burgeoning church without developing understanding of how to lead a fast growing church. He wants us to read and learn and observe from the experience of others. Sometimes, sure, we have to make snap judgments in certain situations but if we always keep the Bible’s basic story in our mind and be consistent with God’s message in our decision making then we will be OK. But even there, knowing your biblical themes and theology requires study so that when snap judgments are required you are prepared. It is only when we let our ego get in the way when we think we have got it made that we begin to make faulty, non-biblical decisions.

 

God wants us to be prepared for what we are about to encounter. He gives us the tools. Prayer and Preparation. He will make it clear what we need to know, what we need to investigate through prayer and through His Word. God wants us to be ready and we must do the work. We must seek Him and we must study His Word so that we are ready. Without prayer and without study of His Word, we are unprepared. Like the guy who goes into a meeting in his underwear. Like an auditor who goes into the closure meeting without support for his audit findings and recommendations.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 11:16-30 (Part 3 of 3)

Moses Choses Seventy Leaders

I may have spoken about this before, but it was a profound moment in my life that I will not soon forget. We were on our first mission trip to Haiti, our first mission trip altogether. The getting to Jacmel, Haiti was an ordeal. Leaving the church at midnight to drive to Atlanta. The hauling of our baggage and supplies that we taking to Jacmel. The arrival in the hottest city on the planet, Port-au-Prince. The chaos of baggage claim and customs that is Port-au-Prince in the stifling heat inside what would be best be described as the equivalent of a tobacco aging warehouse in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina. Old and rickety with very little ventilation. Then after walking out there you walk through the equivalent of those haunted house where hundreds of people are reaching out to touch you. It was intimidating and scary. All of these people are trying to “assist” you with your luggage. Once they “claim” you, you are expected to pay them for this valuable service of pushing your luggage cart out to the awaiting van from the church in Jacmel with whom our church has a relationship. Church vans are not always top-notch as you know. Church vans in Haiti are rugged and show the rough life of a vehicle in Haiti. Then, there is the long three-hour drive to Jacmel from the P-a-P airport. Not only is it blazing hot but you are driven through what has to be the poorest big city that you have ever seen as you drive through Port-au-Prince. Dirty. Nasty. Trashy. After you escape the sensory overload of Port-au-Prince, you still have two hours to go over twisting, turning narrow roads through the mountains of Haiti to get to the other side of the island where we will find Jacmel. Then, in Jacmel, our room has no air conditioning that first year we were there. Where it was situated in building, there was absolutely no airflow into our room. It would get so hot in our room that the sheets would stick to you because of being dripping wet with sweat. The days were hotter and sweatier and the work was hard. It began to make me wonder why I came. I felt no particular spiritual uplift from hauling cement from one place to another or from digging holes for fence posts. I enjoyed being with my friends on our mission team, but, hey, I could have enjoyed that back home in Duncan.

 

Then, Tuesday night came. We were invited to come to the prayer service at the church. At first, when we got there, not but a few parishioners were there. Then, they began to pray out loud each one. There was no agenda for this meeting just prayer. There was no preacher just prayer. As the evening continued, more and more people filed into the church. Prayers being offered up by all. All at the same time. In French Creole, their prayers were offered up to God. Have you ever heard 100 or so people praying at the same time? It was a cacophony of sound. You could hear the rising power of emotion in prayer and the coming down from the high of emotion. The power with which each one was praying was something to behold. Although I could not understand the creole dialect of French, I could understand the intensity with which they were praying to God. In this land where Christianity battles with voodoo for hearts of people, these prayers seemed more intense than any prayers that I had heard ever back in America. I simply closed my eyes and just allowed my auditory senses take over and the walls of sound of 100 people praying with great fervor all at once. I swear that night I could sense the presence of the Holy Spirit in that room. His presence was palpable. Your heart could feel it. The rest of the mission trip was put into perspective by this night. No longer did I view it as a struggle. No longer was it something that I just had to get through. It really helped me see that in the simple lives that these people lead, they are more in tune with the moving of the Holy Spirit than we are as Americans. We have so much noise that we let into our lives that we do not sometimes sense the power of the Holy Spirit’s presence.

 

In that prayer service, these people were in touch with the Holy Spirit in their lives, that indwells in them and in us. However, there was a fervor and a sense of real need of God’s help in their prayers that I have never sensed before or since in the prayers of American people including myself. We do not pray in the same way as these Haitian Christians do. Our prayers are passionless by comparison. We would be made to feel uncomfortable here in our country, if we prayed with the same passion and fervor as these members of Restoration Ministries Church in Jacmel, Haiti. I long to feel the palpable presence of the Holy Spirit as I did that night back some four (4) years ago now. Do I have too much noise and clutter in my life to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit who lives inside of me each and every day? Do I need carve out time to feel Him, to hear Him speak to me, to taste Him in the air, to sense His presence fully?

 

It is that idea that we have an advantage over pre-Pentecost people of God in that we have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives daily, but yet we do not sense it sometimes that came to mind when I read through today’s passage, Numbers 11:16-30, today for the third and final time.

 

 

16 The Lord said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with you. 17 I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone.

 

18 “Tell the people: ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow, when you will eat meat. The Lord heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the Lord will give you meat, and you will eat it. 19 You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, 20 but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it—because you have rejected the Lord, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?”’”

 

21 But Moses said, “Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, ‘I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!’ 22 Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?”

 

23 The Lord answered Moses, “Is the Lord’s arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you.”

 

24 So Moses went out and told the people what the Lord had said. He brought together seventy of their elders and had them stand around the tent. 25 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took some of the power of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied—but did not do so again.

 

26 However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. 27 A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

 

28 Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!”

 

29 But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” 30 Then Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.

 

Moses’ reply in v. 29 was looking forward to the day when all God’s people would experience the pouring out of God’s spirit. The prophet, Joel, recorded God’s promise to pour out His Spirit on all believers in Joel 2:28-29, which was fulfilled at Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21). Believers today can be sure that they have the Holy Spirit when they become Christ followers (Romans 8:9). We also can pray to live by the Holy Spirit’s power (Galatians 5:16-26). If you desire to have the full throttle of the Holy Spirit’s power in your life, pray for Him to fill your life with His presence and strengthen you to follow Christ more closely.

 

Moses says, “I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit on them!” It is only through the acceptance of Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord that we can have the Holy Spirit dwell in us. In the absence of Jesus’ imputed perfection to us, we are not holy and thus the Holy Spirit cannot dwell in us. Christ gives us our perfection and it is through that perfection that our souls become a holy temple in which the Holy Spirit can reside.

 

Is that not amazing. That same power that rose Jesus from the grave lives in us, as the song by Jeremy Camp states (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NcEkEeghYQ) . That same power that commanded Lazarus to wake from his death slumber is the same power that resides in us. That same power that causes a raging sea to calm on His command lives in us. We have God’s power living in us. Yet, we do recognize it. We clutter our lives with toys, concerns of how to pay for this and that, concerns over first world problems, such that we cannot sense the Holy Spirit’s presence and power in our lives. What Moses could only wish for is a present reality for all believers. However, we do not sense the power of the Holy Spirit in us at times. How going to poorest country in the Western Hemisphere made me realize that these people who live with so much less clutter in their lives actually realize and sense the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

 

We are the children of Jesus Christ! We can call upon His name through the Holy Spirit dwelling in us and we can conquer anything that troubles us through that power. When we realize that we really do not need any more than that and rely on that is when we really start to grow in Christ. The Holy Spirit lives in us. We are more than conquerors. There is nothing that we cannot overcome when we call upon His name. Let us begin to understand the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Let us declutter our minds and souls and hear His voice. Let us pray with fervor. Let us pray with passion. Let us taste the presence of the Holy Spirit in the air. Let us sense His presence.

 

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 11:1-15 (Part 2)

The People Complain to Moses

Sometimes being a parent can be exasperating. It is the toughest job you will ever have. When your child is a newborn baby up til about 6 months old, you play a guessing game as to what is making them cry. Are they hungry? Do they have wet or messy diaper? Are they sick in some way? Sometimes you are clueless as to how to make them stop crying. Sometimes the crying goes on and on and on and you have done everything you know to do. And then there is the lack of sleep. Getting up 2 or 3 times in the night. Walking around like zombie with “I have a newborn baby in the house” brain where you brain is not functioning properly because of lack of sleep. You feel like you are outside yourself watching yourself function. Then, life, you think, begins to get a little easier when your child starts sleeping through the night (a praise to God when that happens, huh?). When the start crawling, you have a whole ‘nother set of problems. No longer can you just carry them on your hip, you must watch them constantly and keep them from putting their fingers in electrical sockets, pulling things off end tables and so on. Then, there’s the whole getting them dressed thing at this age. What an ordeal that can be? Who designs these clothes for infants anyway? Then, they start walking and talking in the toddler years. Those are the years where rebellious attitudes begin and you hear “no”, “mine”, and temper tantrums in the grocery store, where you think of the old Southwest Airlines ad campaign where something embarrassing happens and the voice over says, “wanna get away?”

 

Then, there are elementary school years where you worry when they go off to school as to how they are going to react to being away from you most of the day and how you are going to react to them being away from you. There titanic dramas at school that must be dealt with. How to stand up to a problem that won’t go away at school. How to defend oneself and yet not be a bully. How to deal with bullies. How to deal with social pressure and people making fun of you. Trying to get your elementary school kid to do homework. Trying to get your elementary school kid to understand a math or science concept or an English grammar concept when, though you know it yourself, cannot find the words to properly explain it to your kid. And, if you kid just somehow innately hates school and homework, although you loved school, can be like two nations coming together to negotiate a peace treaty after long and dreadful war.

 

Then, come the middle school years and social media and 24/7 involvement of other kids in their lives. Cell phones, dances, and heartbreaks. Gossip that can be dreadfully painful. He said. She said. Heartbreak over romances. Fist fights. Girl fights. Boy fights. Algebra. Field trips. Fund raisers. I need money for this thing at school. I need money for that thing at school. I forgot my lunch money. Can you take me to the mall? Cliques. Developing into women. Developing into men. Rebellious attitudes. Wanting to be an adult (when it’s advantageous). Wanting to be a child (when it’s advantageous). Homework! School projects! Boys! Girls! Trying to help them navigate through the landmine filled world that is the junior high social scene.

 

Then come the high school years. Peer pressure increases. Social media influences exponentially increase. Them thinking they’ve found the love of their life. Desperately in love. Sexual intercourse. Fears that they are having sex. Fears that they are going to get someone pregnant or get pregnant. Really hard subjects in school that require late night study and since they now teach things in middle school that you learned in high school and your child is taking subjects that are beyond your own abilities that you are at a loss as to how to help them. Them not wanting to go to college but you wanting them to because you know their life will be limited without a college degree. They can’t understand your rules and curfews and groundings when they disobey. They hate you. They complain about you. They want all the toys and gadgets and expect you to pay for them. You use the hated phrase from your own childhood, “Because I said so” and “for as long as you live in my house and sit down at my table for meals” more often than you would like.

 

And, then…they leave home to go to college and there are the mighty financial burdens that it brings and hoping and praying that they make the right choices about life and drinking and partying and driving and fraternity parties and fraternity guys and … and … then they graduate … and they are gone … and though you still have them as a big part of your life, but it’s different. They are on their own…they are gone.

 

You miss all the troubles and travails of parenting them. You miss all the classic family moments that live in your family’s memories forever. Those moments of seemingly unending laughter at the dinner table. Those victory moments in a child’s life, a teenager’s life. You miss those moments where they crawl up in your lap and ask you to make it all better. You miss those moments when they see you when you come home from work and they run and jump into your arms. Ah, you miss it all. The heartaches, the heartbreaks, the laughter, the tears, the drama, the victories, the defeats, the highs and the lows, the hugs, the kisses, those classic moments that burn into family memory. It’s all different now. You miss the long and winding road of parenting a child. It’s different when they are adults and, yes, they still need you as adult children but it’s different from the time when they are at home. It just is and you miss it.

 

You miss it even though it was most freaking hard, exasperating, vexing, anger-inducing, insanity-inducing, yet completely fun, satisfying, fulfilling thing you have ever done – being a parent. I don’t know why but the exasperating parts of being a parent (the toughest job you’ll ever love) is what I thought about when I read through this passage, Numbers 11:1-15, today for the second and final time today. I think it was because I was concentrating on what is known as “Moses’ Lament” in vv. 10-15:

 

 

11 Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. 2 When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the Lord and the fire died down. 3 So that place was called Taberah,[a] because fire from the Lord had burned among them.

Quail From the Lord

 

4 The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. 6 But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”

 

7 The manna was like coriander seed and looked like resin. 8 The people went around gathering it, and then ground it in a hand mill or crushed it in a mortar. They cooked it in a pot or made it into loaves. And it tasted like something made with olive oil. 9 When the dew settled on the camp at night, the manna also came down.

 

10 Moses heard the people of every family wailing at the entrance to their tents. The Lord became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled. 11 He asked the Lord, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? 12 Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their ancestors? 13 Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.”

 

Here, Moses is like a completely exasperated parent of teenager who insists on being rebellious even though you see that they have got it made living with you. With our teenage kids, and particularly if you have managed to do well in your own career and have a good financial situation, they seem to think that the 2,000 plus square foot house, the three or four cars in the yard, one of which you have given to them, and the nice clothes and the nice neighborhood, and the nice teenage gadgets, and the nice vacations, and the cash is all entitlement. They think it’s a baseline. They do not realize what a blessing all of the trappings of their life is. They don’t see all the hard work that brought them this life. They do not appreciate the dedication that you have to providing for your family. They are just used to certain expectations and think that they don’t have enough. It can be exasperating and sometimes we as parents have to let off steam to someone we trust about our children when they seem to want more and more but yet have plenty.

 

That’s how I see Moses’ Lament here. He’s just fed up. They have just barely begun their journey and the people are complaining about the daily miracle of manna that provides for their needs abundantly is not good enough. They want more. They want what they don’t have. Moses is fed up. He is tired of hearing what a “bad parent” he is for taking them out in the middle of the desert. He is just fed up with the bellyaching. We all have those moments as parents where we just want to go out in the woods and scream to the top of our lungs and punch a tree because our kids have exasperated us so much and we don’t want to take our anger out on them. Moses here goes and complains to the only one he can, his Father in heaven. Reactly badly to the bad behavior of the children of Israel would have made the situation worse. So, Moses goes to God to vent his anger. As we see Moses here, we see him as just as human as we are. He’s pissed off at his kids because of their whining and complaining about their wants when all their needs are being met.

 

I think that’s the takeaway here for me today. God wants us to come to Him with all our baggage. He wants us to come to Him when we are angry and pissed off. He wants us to run our anger by Him before we react to situations. He wants all of us. He wants to hear us when we are happy and when we are sad. He wants to come to him with our joys and our sorrows. He wants to hear from us when we are angry. He even wants to hear from us when we are angry at Him. He is the Creator of the Universe so I think He can handle it when I am angry at Him. He doesn’t want some pre-canned table prayers from us. He wants the real us. He wants to hear it all from us. He wants us to be intimate with Him. He wants our inside the store prayers not our storefront prayers. He wants us to really talk to Him and be intimate with Him. Moses was very intimate with the Lord as we know from Scripture. He talked to Him everyday as we see from Scripture. That intimacy allowed Moses to be able to vent to God and for God to diffuse Moses anger toward his people. Let us be able to go the Lord with our anger at others and at Him and work through it and find the best way to respond to situations.

 

As we see Moses go on from here and he deals with much with the children of Israel, but it is evident that he loved them. He stuck by them. He led them. He loved them. It was frustrating at times. But I guarantee you that Moses missed it all when we watched his people leave his parenting and go into the Promised Land. It was the toughest job of His life but He loved His people Israel. They drove him crazy but he loved them. Moses learned, as we as parents have to learn, that we must take everything to God in prayer. We cannot make godly decisions without being constantly in prayer to God. How can we take on the daunting task of being parents without being intimately in prayer constantly with God. And God wants it all. He wants or questions, our doubts, our anger, our joy, our sorrows, our highs, our lows. He wants it all.

 

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 9:1-14 (Part 4)

The Second Passover

Significant decisions. Life changing decisions. They are tough to make. We’ve all been there at one time or another or maybe even multiple times in our lives. What to do? What to do? Pros and cons. Trying to make a decision that will make everyone happy. Probably one of the most momentous decisions that I have ever had to make was in the Fall of 2008. At the time, I was working as a consultant here in Duncan, SC with America Fujikura, Ltd. (AFL) (an American subsidiary of the Japanese publicly traded company, Fujikura, Ltd.) helping them with the implementation of the Japanese parliament’s mandated internal control systems law. Just as the American congress had passed a law called the Sarbanes-Oxley law (or SOX) as the result of financial scandals in the US in 2001, the Japanese had suffered through the same thing in 2007. Since the law passed by Japan was so similar to the American law, many called it JSOX. Anyway, the JSOX law implementation at AFL had provided me with a long-term assignment. I was here for 8 months solid working on the project. The full-time work for us consultants was coming to an end. However, one of the subsidiaries of AFL was a mess when it came to financial reporting and internal controls. It was their California subsidiary, Fujikura America, Inc. (FAI). As the director of internal audit found, it was impossible to remotely get things corrected out there. They needed a consultant to go out there and stay out there for 6 months. They asked me to go. That was not the tough decision. It was only a six-month assignment. I would get to come home every three weeks or so. It was temporary. And in 2008, it was right at the beginning of the worst US recession since the Great Depression. Work was hard to find back in those years between 2008-2010. The decision to continue this consulting gig, though in California, was not a real tough decision. It was to be a 6 month adventure in California. What a unique opportunity! No that was not the tough decision!

 

Six months later, when this consulting gig (that had started in October 2007 just when I needed a job) was now ending. By Thanksgiving 2008, I was to be finished. The internal control system at AFL’s global operations had been completed. My work at the FAI subsidiary out in California was coming to a close based on what I was being told. I knew as early as September that I would be packing up and heading home by late November. However, it was in mid-September 2008, that a decision began looming on my horizon that would change my life. The controller at FAI at that time was a pitiful excuse for a leader and as an accountant. Because of poor hires by FAI over the previous six years, they had gone through 3 controllers and this latest one was one of the worst accountants that I had every personally met. The accounting function at FAI was a complete mess and an utter failure when it came to the reliability of any data or any financials that came out of that place. I guess she saw the handwriting on the wall, that she was in over her head, she resigned suddenly to take a purchasing job at another Japanese-owned company in the Bay Area. Because of the experience that AFL financial management and FAI senior executives had with me over the previous 11 months, they immediately offered me the job as controller at FAI. Ok. Now, there’s the tough decision. Momentous decision. The toughest decision of my life.

 

I am a South Carolina boy. I had up to that point always lived in South Carolina. I love the Southern culture and the Southern life. My family is rooted here going back many generations. My girlfriend at the time (now, my wife of six years, Elena) was back here in South Carolina. My kids, my girls, were back here in South Carolina. Everything about my life was South Carolina. Although my past employers over my career had allowed me to see the world, literally, through my travels as internal auditor, I had always come home to South Carolina. This is my home. I love travel but South Carolina is home. There is just something intrinsically good about living here. The people are nice and race relations, though they could be improved, are a far-cry better than the stereotypes the rest of the nation places on the South and a far-cry better than they are in other parts of the country. People here are just nice for the most part. People here are all about what’s good for the economy. People here are about hard work. People here are about not taking hand-outs from the government. People here still see God and the Bible and church as a necessary part of life (though this is in decline like much of the rest of the nation). So, this place I love calling my home is South Carolina. Temporary assignments away from it were no big deal to me, but a permanent one away from South Carolina. And we are not talking a state next door, like Georgia or North Carolina. No, this was California – completely across the continent. It’s a four-day drive to California if you drive 10 hours a day for four days. It’s a long way away. I mean a loooooong way away from South Carolina. What to do? It was 2008. Jobs were scarce. Nobody was hiring. Back then, if you had a job, you considered yourself lucky and you stayed put at that job and held on for dear life. What to do?

 

This was momentous decision. Back then, I was a baby Christian. I had not grown very much in my walk with Christ in the 7 years (at that point in 2008) that I had been a Christ follower. Never in my life had I had to make such a momentous decision. To move to California permanently might as well been like moving to Mars. It was like the biggest decision EVER. Elena and I had been dating bi-coastally for a while but it was seen as a temporary problem til now. We would be bi-coastal permanently (unless she moved to California). My girls were back home and they had their lives firmly rooted here. My mom and dad and the whole Bowling clan was basically all here in South Carolina. Tough decision with wide-ranging implications. Although I had not been much on prayer up to that point (and am still in need of improving my prayer life to this day), that was one weekend that I had a mighty struggle in prayer with God. It was a weekend where nothing felt right. It was a weekend where I toss and turned and could not sleep. It was a weekend where there was a continuous on-going conversation with the Lord. Although I longed for home, for South Carolina, the feeling that I kept getting from the Lord was to take the job. It was that feeling that won out.

 

I took the job. It not only changed my career but it also changed everything for me (and for Elena) in our walk with the Lord. If I had not accepted this job in California, Elena would not have moved to be with me. If she had not moved to be with me, we would not have settled in Livermore, CA (where Elena found Jesus and I finally started maturing as a Christ follower). If we had not settled in Livermore, we would not have met Luke & Felisha who nurtured our faith and unknowingly readied us for our return to South Carolina in 2010. And it is here that we found LifeSong Church where we serve the Lord with great passion. All of it hinged on that one tough decision that required a weekend of anguished prayer as to whether to take a permanent job in California or not. I am thankful to the Lord that He influenced me to go against the grain and take the job. Everything has changed with that decision. Where would my life be without that one decision? I shudder to think about it. I know that it was God’s plan for it to happen the way it did. I am thankful that I listened to the Lord. I sought the Lord for once and listened to Him for once. It was the start of me trusting in Him, for real.

 

Let’s read through the passage, Numbers 9:1-14, for the fourth time this morning and for this morning, let’s concentrate on v. 8 today:

 

 

9 The Lord spoke to Moses in the Desert of Sinai in the first month of the second year after they came out of Egypt. He said, 2 “Have the Israelites celebrate the Passover at the appointed time. 3 Celebrate it at the appointed time, at twilight on the fourteenth day of this month, in accordance with all its rules and regulations.”

 

4 So Moses told the Israelites to celebrate the Passover, 5 and they did so in the Desert of Sinai at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. The Israelites did everything just as the Lord commanded Moses.

 

6 But some of them could not celebrate the Passover on that day because they were ceremonially unclean on account of a dead body. So they came to Moses and Aaron that same day 7 and said to Moses, “We have become unclean because of a dead body, but why should we be kept from presenting the Lord’s offering with the other Israelites at the appointed time?”

 

8 Moses answered them, “Wait until I find out what the Lord commands concerning you.”

 

9 Then the Lord said to Moses, 10 “Tell the Israelites: ‘When any of you or your descendants are unclean because of a dead body or are away on a journey, they are still to celebrate the Lord’s Passover, 11 but they are to do it on the fourteenth day of the second month at twilight. They are to eat the lamb, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 12 They must not leave any of it till morning or break any of its bones. When they celebrate the Passover, they must follow all the regulations. 13 But if anyone who is ceremonially clean and not on a journey fails to celebrate the Passover, they must be cut off from their people for not presenting the Lord’s offering at the appointed time. They will bear the consequences of their sin.

 

14 “‘A foreigner residing among you is also to celebrate the Lord’s Passover in accordance with its rules and regulations. You must have the same regulations for both the foreigner and the native-born.’”

 

Here, in this passage, Moses had a momentous decision to make. The easy way out would have been to compromise God’s standards and allow them to partake of the Passover rites. They accidently and unknowingly defiled themselves. They did not do it on purpose. It would have been easy for Moses to make a knee-jerk, immediate decision and compromise the holiness standards established by God for the Passover. Moses knew that the easy way out might bring further and deeper complications such as consequences from God for not following his requirements. Tough decision. Take the easy way out or take the harder road. Satisfy the crowd or satisfy God. What does Moses do? He delays his decision until He can pray and hear from the Lord. Because, above all, Moses wanted to satisfy the Lord. He did not want to make a decision clouded with personal desires and the opinions of others. He wanted to take time to pray and get His direction from God.

 

How do you make decisions? Do you pray about them? Do you even pray? I admit that my prayer life still to this day is not what it should be? I need to learn to set aside time for intimate one-on-one prayer with God without distractions. We need to become intimate with Him like Moses was. We should aspire to be able to discern God’s voice through the clutter of life and the chatter of opinions of others. We need to sit down and pray. We need to listen. Sometimes our prayers might simply be to be quiet and alone and undistracted and simply listen for God’s voice. Sometimes, we need to implore and beg and plead with Him. Sometimes, we need to shout in anger. Sometimes, we need to sing in praise. We just need to spend intimate time with Him. How do we have great relationships with our wives? We talk with them. We get to know them deeper and deeper in conversations over the years. Why are we not like that with the Lord? In order to be intimate with Him, to better know His will for our lives, we have to talk to Him every day. We need to consult Him in everything. Especially those big decisions that change the course of our lives. When we listen to the Lord, when we seek Him in prayer, you can look back almost a decade later and see how listening to the Lord and seeking Him in prayer has been the most important thing you ever did.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 8:5-26 (Part 5)

The Levites Dedicated

The “pinkie swear” was serious business when we were kids. When you linked pinkie fingers with one of your buddies, it was a serious deal. Whatever you said during a pinkie swear, you were bound by the honor code of childhood friends to do what you said you were going to do. It was a verbal contract. You would lose honor in the kid world if you went back on your word. Usually, too, there were witnesses to a pinky swear. That made it official and public. We had to keep our word when we made a pinkie swear. It was a reputation thing. You would no longer be trusted as a true friend within your circle of friends in life of kids. It is funny how we, as parents, think we know our kids through and through, but there are certain parts of childhood that parents just have no clue. The world of school kids starting about 3rd grade and on through high school, there are social currents and social structures that kids navigate and understand that parents are clueless about. But, that is just the way of the world as children grow progressively more independent from their parents. Although the pinkie swear takes many forms over the years, it is part of the social justice system of kid kingdom. Sometimes, requirements of parents (unaware that a pinkie swear has been made) conflict with the kid social justice system of the pinkie swear. Kids understand that parental authority trumps the society of the kid kingdom so it can cause conflict with a pinkie swear made. If you promise to be there on a Saturday morning at the ball field to stand with a friend against your enemy but yet you haven’t finished your home chores, the pinkie swear gets trumped by parental authority. Thus, kids who make pinkie swears take it seriously because you are saying that this oath to do something is important. I am willing to risk the uncertainties of the future conflict of parental authority and the pinkie swear. I am that serious about this. A pinkie swear meant that you didn’t know what conflicts lie ahead with your promise but you were willing to put your honor on the line and keep your word. Ah, the pinkie swear! It was serious business. When you were a kid, you did not need a voluminous contract (like Sheldon’s roommate agreement in the show, The Big Bang Theory) to solidify your word. All that it took to mean that you were serious about keeping your word was the pinkie swear. It was your contract. It was your honor. It was your commitment. It was the contract of the kid kingdom. If you weren’t willing for a promise made to be a hill worth dying on to keep, then you didn’t pinkie swear. If you were not willing to put your honor on the line, the pinkie swear was not made. If you were lying about your ability to do something, you did not pinkie swear. It was reserved for brothers-in-arms. It was reserved for those friends that you would go to battle with. It was reserved for those most serious of commitments. It was serious business, this pinkie swear.

 

As adults who are evangelical Christ followers, we have our things that mark seriousness as well. It is the pinkie swear. It is classic evangelic Christian stuff. I’ve done it. If you are an evangelical Christian, you’ve probably done it, too. It is the laying on of hands to another person during a prayer. It means more than just your average prayer. It is more than your normal spectator public prayer. It shows that you are serious about this prayer. You want the person to know that you are not praying some platitude over them from afar. You are physically touching them. In some of the big laying on hands in prayer for a person or persons in a large group, you may end up laying a hand on a person who is laying a hand on a person who is laying a hand on a person who is laying hands on the person being prayed for, but the idea is the same. It takes getting out of your seat. You are demonstrating your seriousness. And if you lay on the hands during your small group meeting, whoa, that’s evangelically serious! The laying on of hands is the pinkie swear of evangelical Christians. That idea of serious commitment was what came to my mind through the Holy Spirit this morning. Let’s read the full passage together and then let’s concentrate on v. 9-10 for today after we have read through it:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Here we see the Levites being brought before the Lord and the people of Israel were to lay hands on them as they were being dedicated to the Lord. This is serious business. But it got me to thinking, what does the laying on of hands mean in the world of God’s people. You hear about it. You see it all the time. But what does it really mean? According to Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary, in its summation of what the laying on of hands had meant through the various instances it has been used in the Bible, it wraps it up by saying,

 

“There is a sense in which the idea of separation for a special purpose, so clearly visible in many instances, binds together all the occurrences of the phrase. Even in the context of formal blessings and astonishing miracles, the imposition of hands signifies the separation of a person, a people, or even a bodily part (Mark 8:25) as the recipient of an unusual manifestation of God’s grace.”

 

In this particular instance, the laying on of hands upon the Levites was to signify that Israel was calling upon the Lord to show the Levites special grace, an unusual manifestation of understanding of their work and their purpose. The Levites were being set apart for the full time service to the Lord. They were being set apart for a holy purpose. Often, when a person is being ordained into the ministry, we lay hands upon them as they are being committed to this holy purpose, we are committing them the Lord. We are committing and pledging our support of their endeavors. We are showing how serious we are in support of their sacrifice of their time, talents, and resources to the full-time service to the Lord. It is a public commitment. It is not some private ceremony. It is a public one where we and the person being ordained as a minister are saying, we are serious about this person being set apart for the service of the Lord. It is a high calling to serve the Lord. It is a high calling to lay hands on them and dedicate them to the Lord. It is not some half-hearted thing we do. It is not something we do for the notoriety of it. Being fully dedicated to full-time ministry is a tough job and is not for the faint of heart or for someone who is in it to have their ego massaged.

 

Likewise, when we are praying for someone and we feel compelled to lay hands on them during the prayer, it is reserved for the most serious and most somber of prayers. We are praying boldly for God’s healing power to be manifested upon the person being prayed for. We are praying boldly for God to specifically intervene in physical, emotional, marital, financial issues of a person’s life. When we lay hands on a person in prayer, it is serious business. It is more than a holding hands prayer which is serious but not quite the same. It is more serious than sitting in a circle praying. It is more serious still than a generalized public prayer. Laying on of hands on a person signifies the gravity of seriousness with which we pray. It is calling upon the Lord, begging the Lord boldly, to show special grace to this person being touched by our hands. They are usually kneeling and we are in a circle around them laying our hands on them. We all pray for them and it is usually with a great deal of fervor. If you are not serious about praying for a person, you sit the laying on of hands prayers out. This is serious business. It is not for the faint of heart or those who lack commitment to the fervent praying for God’s intervention of special grace. When we lay on hands, we are saying that we fully believe in the power of prayer. We are committed to the belief in the mightiness of God. It is serious business. It is the pinkie swear of evangelical prayer.

 

Are you willing to pray with a pinkie swear? Are you serious about what you are praying? Are you dedicated to the prayer? Are you believing in the prayer to the Lord? Do you believe that God will intervene in a holy and miraculous way? Do you believe He will be imbue those who serve the Lord? Do you believe He will protect those who serve the Lord? Do you believe that God will intervene and change a person’s life? If you don’t believe in the power of God really, don’t pray. If you don’t pray boldly for God’s grace to be manifested upon a person, don’t lay on hands. When we believe in a mighty God, a real mighty God who can do anything and for whom nothing is impossible, we are ready to pray with the laying on of hands. Otherwise, we must pass on this serious commitment of our beliefs. It is the pinkie swear of evangelical prayer. It is serious business.

 

Amen and Amen.