Posts Tagged ‘preacher’s kid’

Numbers 18:1-7 (Part 2 of 2)

Duties of the Priest & The Levites

When I was six years old back in the day, my family was living in a small farming community in between Sumter, SC and Camden, SC. Sumter’s claim to fame is that it is home to Shaw Air Force Base and is named after the revolutionary war hero, Thomas “The Fighting Gamecock” Sumter and probably not much else. Camden has a bit richer history in that it is the oldest inland town in South Carolina and there was a major revolutionary war battle fought there for which there is a historical preserve just outside of town that commemorates those events. Both though are small southern towns that are not of any particular import these days. And, we lived in an even smaller town in between the two, Rembert, SC.


In that small area, it was so small population wise, we had to be bussed to our school over near Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter. Back in those days, the elementary school, the junior high and the high school were all on the same property. This point has a lot to do with my illustration this morning. That year, my 1st grade year, it was time for the homecoming football game, and apparently the homecoming committee (some of the high school kids) came down to the elementary school part of the campus on a Monday and was looking for a first grade boy and girl to be the crown bearer and the flower bearer for the homecoming game to held the following Friday. They looked in each classroom of first graders and were going to select some boy and some girl at random to become part of the homecoming court that Friday. By some twist of fate, I was selected. It may have had something to do with my innate cuteness at that age! LOL! However, it was not because of something I had done or something I had qualified for. It was simply that I was chosen by the girls of the homecoming committee because for whatever reason they just liked me.


It got me and the young girl whose name I cannot remember these 48 years later out of class twice that week to practice with the homecoming court. I was to carry the crown, which was attached, to this white satin pillow and my fellow cute first grader girl was to carry the roses that were to be bestowed upon the 1968 Homecoming Queen of Hillcrest High School. We just did what we were told. We were guided into our positions in practice. Then on Friday, during halftime of the homecoming game, we did it all again for real. Although we practiced it twice during the week, being there during the game under the lights with at least two thousand spectators there, I was a bit nervous. Must not drop the crown. Must not drop the crown. Must not walk faster than the girl I am with. Must not walk faster than the girl I am with. It was a great honor. Even though we were only first graders, if you find a 1969 Hillcrest yearbook, you will see two little first graders in the homecoming court picture. Why I was chosen for this honor still eludes me a half a century later. No one knows in my family why I was chosen. It was just that the homecoming committee’s teenagers just thought I fit the look or whatever. It was not that I was from a power family in the region. My dad had just been transferred to be the pastor of a couple of rural Methodist churches just a few months before so it wasn’t that I was like the child of this longtime preacher in the region. My mom was a working mom so she was not one of those 1960’s stay at home moms that was heavily involved in the school. None of those reasons that you might think in this situation was an explanation here. I was simply chosen at the whim of a few teenagers who peaked into Mrs. Lipsey’s first grade classroom that day. No pedigree. No history. No who ya know. Just chosen.


It is that idea of unmerited choice that I thought of when I read Numbers 18:1-7 for our second and final pass at this Scripture this morning. Let us read through it together now:



18 The Lord said to Aaron, “You, your sons and your family are to bear the responsibility for offenses connected with the sanctuary, and you and your sons alone are to bear the responsibility for offenses connected with the priesthood. 2 Bring your fellow Levites from your ancestral tribe to join you and assist you when you and your sons minister before the tent of the covenant law. 3 They are to be responsible to you and are to perform all the duties of the tent, but they must not go near the furnishings of the sanctuary or the altar. Otherwise both they and you will die. 4 They are to join you and be responsible for the care of the tent of meeting—all the work at the tent—and no one else may come near where you are.


5 “You are to be responsible for the care of the sanctuary and the altar, so that my wrath will not fall on the Israelites again. 6 I myself have selected your fellow Levites from among the Israelites as a gift to you, dedicated to the Lord to do the work at the tent of meeting. 7 But only you and your sons may serve as priests in connection with everything at the altar and inside the curtain. I am giving you the service of the priesthood as a gift. Anyone else who comes near the sanctuary is to be put to death.”


Here you see that the Levites were chosen by God to serve, not because they were anything special, not that there was a competition among the clans to see which clan got to be the priestly clan and they won out. There was no competition as to which clan was most holy all the time. None of the clans would have qualified under those circumstances. Yet, they were called out by God. They were chosen by Him to carry out the honorable duties of the Tabernacle (and later the Temple). This unmerited choice emphasized the fact that these priests, and these people had done nothing to merit the provision. It was wholly one of grace, a gift from God. Therefore, it was not less, but more, important that they should recognize its sanctity. Whatever service is ours as a result of the giving of grace, is the most holy and sacred service, and therefore to be rendered with the utmost devotion.


When we accept Christ as our Savior, we are given an unmerited gift than cancels out the penalty of our sins for which we deserve eternity in hell, separated from God, where there is burning of flesh and the gnashing of teeth eternally. That is what we deserve. That is what we have earned. We cannot do enough good deeds to undo the effect and the penalty of our sins in the absence of the grace, the unmerited gift of salvation, of Jesus Christ. Why then are we so often seen as a sorrowful people, the people of the church. We should be the most joyous people on the planet. We actually know what we deserve and where we were headed in the absence of the gift that we did not deserve. We know that hell exists and that were pulled back from its precipice. Not because we deserved it, no! We know that we rightfully by our own merits should be eternal residents of hell. But when we throw ourselves on the mercy of the Lord, He released us from our sentence through salvation in Jesus Christ. Through grace by faith, we have been set free. We don’t deserve it by any means. There should be such great joy, tempered with great humility. There should be this outpouring of “this is what Jesus has done for me” that we cannot hide it or help it from pouring out of us. We are like prisoners who are granted a reprieve from the electric chair. We are murders, rapers, liars, whores, prostitutes, thieves, prideful, arrogant, greedy, needful, all of us. None deserve being chosen through grace by faith. But we are chosen and set on the high, dry rock above hell’s flames. We are placed on the rock of Jesus Christ through faith and extended grace that we do not deserve. How’s your joy? How well do you serve the Lord just to pay him back just a .000000000001 of what we should do for our Savior?


Do you see serving the Lord as an imposition? Do you think that other things are higher priorities? Are all these other things that we involve ourselves in more important than showing God honor for what He has done for us through Jesus Christ? Whatever we do, it will never be enough for the grace He has extended us? No way no how. There is not enough we can do to serve our Lord! We must do it with passion and fervor because of what He has done for us. We cannot boast because we do not deserve anything other than the fiery flames of hell. Grace is a gift. We should be like kids on Christmas morning with our gift of grace that we do not deserve.


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.