Posts Tagged ‘pride’

2 Samuel 11:1-27 (Part 1 of 5)

David Sins with Bathsheba & Arranges Uriah’s Death

Yesterday, I was having a conversation with another church employee about potential leaders for Sunday morning teams. We discussed a few options and some of the people we discussed were already serving in multiple areas. That point led to discuss the fact that we needed to be looking at people who may have not been in leadership positions before. That point led me to discuss the fact that some of our volunteer teams are aging and that often in churches we count on the same people to most of the work because they are familiar and are known quantities and, as a result, churches often do not develop volunteer team members toward the goal of some being in leadership. That point led me to discuss that we as leaders of volunteer teams at church must constantly be recruiting new members for our teams. We cannot let up on that one point. Without constant eyes on recruiting new members for our teams, we handicap ourselves into (1) keeping people in the positions that they are in even when they may have leadership talents, (2) preventing rotations of leaders, (3) people suffering burnout from leading teams where burnout volunteers don’t show up because they are tired of serving all the time, and (3) not being able to replace leaders or volunteers when they get too old to serve anymore or when someone leaves the church. Recruiting is a constant must in churches.

I likened it to a college football team where recruiting is the lifeblood of great teams. If the coaching staff every loses focus on getting the best and brightest young men for their football teams, the football program will suffer. A perfect example of this statement would be when Steve Spurrier was the coach of the University of South Carolina Gamecocks football team. Steve became the coach of the Gamecocks in 2005 and slowly built up the program from the mediocre state that it was in when he took over. It took a while but by the 2011 season they began a three year run where they had three consecutive 11-2 seasons. Each of those seasons with a different bounce of the ball in the two losses in each of those seasons, they could have easily been a 12-1 or 13-0 team. They were that good during those three years. But something happened to Steve and his staff when they were in the midst of that three year run where they had some of the best and grittiest players in the country. They stop caring about recruiting it seems. The backups behind the stars of the 2011-2013 were not superstars and the recruits coming in were no longer 4 and 5-star recruits. By 2014, the Gamecocks fell to 6-6 in their record for the season. In 2015, they got worse and ended up with a 3-9 record and Steve resigned at mid-season. Any analyst will tell you, the problem was that Spurrier and his staff started slacking off on the recruiting trail and it came back to haunt them.

We must always remember that our purpose in churches is to disciple people to deeper and deeper commitments to Jesus Christ. When we give up on doing that right, we give up on recruiting people to being on service teams. We give up on developing new leaders. We give up and then we wonder why the church has aging leadership and fewer and fewer volunteers. We cannot forget to be always on the recruiting trail and that also forces us to be on the leadership development trail – not just counting on the same old crowd to pick our volunteers and leaders from.

That was the thing that I thought of this morning as I read 2 Samuel 11 for the first of five times this morning – David forgot his purpose and it caused him to fail just as when we forget that discipleship is our purpose in churches we will fail. Let’s read 2 Samuel 11 now:

Chapter 11

1 In the spring of the year, when kings normally go out to war, David sent Joab and the Israelite army to fight the Ammonites. They destroyed the Ammonite army and laid siege to the city of Rabbah. However, David stayed behind in Jerusalem.

 2 Late one afternoon, after his midday rest, David got out of bed and was walking on the roof of the palace. As he looked out over the city, he noticed a woman of unusual beauty taking a bath. 3 He sent someone to find out who she was, and he was told, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4 Then David sent messengers to get her; and when she came to the palace, he slept with her. She had just completed the purification rites after having her menstrual period. Then she returned home. 5 Later, when Bathsheba discovered that she was pregnant, she sent David a message, saying, “I’m pregnant.”

6 Then David sent word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” So Joab sent him to David. 7 When Uriah arrived, David asked him how Joab and the army were getting along and how the war was progressing. 8 Then he told Uriah, “Go on home and relax.[b]” David even sent a gift to Uriah after he had left the palace. 9 But Uriah didn’t go home. He slept that night at the palace entrance with the king’s palace guard.

 10 When David heard that Uriah had not gone home, he summoned him and asked, “What’s the matter? Why didn’t you go home last night after being away for so long?”

 11 Uriah replied, “The Ark and the armies of Israel and Judah are living in tents,[c] and Joab and my master’s men are camping in the open fields. How could I go home to wine and dine and sleep with my wife? I swear that I would never do such a thing.”

 12 “Well, stay here today,” David told him, “and tomorrow you may return to the army.” So Uriah stayed in Jerusalem that day and the next. 13 Then David invited him to dinner and got him drunk. But even then he couldn’t get Uriah to go home to his wife. Again he slept at the palace entrance with the king’s palace guard.

 

14 So the next morning David wrote a letter to Joab and gave it to Uriah to deliver. 15 The letter instructed Joab, “Station Uriah on the front lines where the battle is fiercest. Then pull back so that he will be killed.” 16 So Joab assigned Uriah to a spot close to the city wall where he knew the enemy’s strongest men were fighting. 17 And when the enemy soldiers came out of the city to fight, Uriah the Hittite was killed along with several other Israelite soldiers.

 18 Then Joab sent a battle report to David. 19 He told his messenger, “Report all the news of the battle to the king. 20 But he might get angry and ask, ‘Why did the troops go so close to the city? Didn’t they know there would be shooting from the walls? 21 Wasn’t Abimelech son of Gideon[d] killed at Thebez by a woman who threw a millstone down on him from the wall? Why would you get so close to the wall?’ Then tell him, ‘Uriah the Hittite was killed, too.’”

 22 So the messenger went to Jerusalem and gave a complete report to David. 23 “The enemy came out against us in the open fields,” he said. “And as we chased them back to the city gate, 24 the archers on the wall shot arrows at us. Some of the king’s men were killed, including Uriah the Hittite.”

25 “Well, tell Joab not to be discouraged,” David said. “The sword devours this one today and that one tomorrow! Fight harder next time, and conquer the city!”

 26 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. 27 When the period of mourning was over, David sent for her and brought her to the palace, and she became one of his wives. Then she gave birth to a son. But the Lord was displeased with what David had done.

 In this passage, we see that David’s sin started off by him no longer remembering his purpose as king. He got lazy and stayed home. He felt that he was too important now to be out with his army. He got proud of his accomplishments and was resting on his laurels. There is a danger in anything when we think we have “arrived”! In any job, when you think you have all the knowledge and skill that you will ever need, you will stop paying attention to details. You will stop learning or be willing to learn. You will stop thinking that others may have the ability to teach you anything particularly those that are organizationally below you. You will begin too thinking that those above you are idiots and that you could run the organization better than they can. When you begin resting, you begin decaying. When you begin resting, you do not grow. When you begin resting, you become prideful. When you begin resting, you become defensive instead of offensive (meaning that you protect the present turf rather than trying to expand it). When Rome began building walls around their empire was the moment that they began decaying as an empire. When the Romans were at their best was when there was an urgency to expand the kingdom. Just as David here make the mistake of becoming prideful and resting on his achievements of the past, that was when he became most susceptible to decay. That decay expressing itself in indulging in his selfish desires.

 

That’s the takeaway for today. As Christ followers, we can learn from David. We can learn from Steve Spurrier. We can learn from the Romans. The day we rest on our achievements and stop working to expand God’s kingdom is the day we begin to decay. When we stop recruiting new people to our ministries, when we stop sharing the gospel, when we stop evangelizing, because we think we have it made is when we start decaying and settling into sinful pride and all that it entails. That is when we start excluding people. That’s when it becomes us vs. these new folks coming in our church. That’s when it becomes religious arrogance. That’s when it becomes about the color of the carpet. That’s when we start defending our turf instead of expanding it. That’s when we think we don’t have to read the Bible anymore because we got this Christ follower thing down cold. That’s when we think we do not have to grow anymore because we have “arrived” at that place where we do not want to move on from. That’s when we get comfortable. That’s when we are ripe for the temptations of sin – it’s OK for me, I’m a king, I’m a long-time Christian, I’m a mature Christ follower. I’m a…

 

Father in heaven, please help us to read this story of David and realize that pride can enter into the lives of each and every one of us no matter how long we have been Christ followers. Please help us to stay humble. Please help to stay hungry for you just as we were on the day of our salvation. Please help us to seek you daily in prayer and in studying Your Word. Please help to see that following you is a journey and not a destination. Please help us to always see that we can learn much from the infinite God that you are. Please help us to understand that only you are perfect and holy and that we are prideful and sinful such that we understand that we never have it made, that we are imperfect beings incapable of perfection in the absence of the covering of the grace of Jesus Christ. Help us to remember our position in relation to you. We are sinful. You are sinless. We need help daily from the grace of Jesus and to have the humility to always put you first in our lives and to give you glory in everything that we do.

 

Amen and Amen.

2 Samuel 10:1-19
David Defeats Ammonites

Have you ever reacted hastily to something and then defended the decision even though it was the wrong decision when you should have just admitted you were wrong and sought peace? When I went through my divorce from my first wife, her intentions were clear – to punish and humiliate me to the point that I would come home like a beaten puppy dog that had run away from home. Because she knew of my love for my children, that was one of her main weapons was to withhold the children from me on my designated visitation times. It came to the point as time progressed that she would no longer allow me to pick up the kids at all. It got to the point that I to take legal action filing a contempt of court request with the family court that had jurisdiction over our separation and divorce proceedings. That started a firestorm of the highest order.

Instead of admitting that she had been wrong to withhold my children from me as a weapon to drive me into submission, she continued to try to justify her behavior. Instead of righting a wrong, she added another wrong to it to help justify her first actions. She went as far as to claim that I had molested my oldest daughter when I had her last. Talk about knocking you for a loop. My girls were the reason that I got up in the mornings during the darkest days of the last years of my marriage to their mom. I adored those girls so to make this claim she knew that would be a dagger to the heart to me. It was just plain out mean and hateful. The weird thing in her mind was that if she humiliated and punished me enough I would give in and come home to her. Strange way to show love, huh? If I had done such a thing, why did she not call the cops immediately when this supposedly happened? She waits til the court hearing on the contempt request. Convenient cover for her behavior.

I had to endure police interviews. I had to take a lie detector test (which of course I passed). I had to endure DSS interviews and numerous court hearings. During the course of DSS’s involvement in our lives, it became apparent to the all the principals in our case that my first wife was coming loose at the hinges and had become so preoccupied with destroying me that she was failing to properly take care of the girls. The girls were removed from her care and placed with my parents for a while and then ultimately with me after an arduous three year period in which DSS and family court hearings were a part of our weekly and monthly life. It was not until my first wife remarried some 3 ½ years after our split and all the ugliness in between that she began to settle down. She never lost her hatred for me and was always filling the kids heads with misinformation about me over the years but she was no longer as public about her hatred for me after her remarriage.

Just thinking about those years back in the mid-90s makes me relive those deep down sorrows of the heart as if they just happened yesterday. Intense emotional pain and sorrow can come back to your mind in an instant when you let yourself pull those videotapes out of the mental storage lockers that we have for our past memories. And the sad thing about it was that my first wife never ever admitted that she was wrong about any of these things. She simply compounded one error with another. One lie with another. One meanness with another meanness. Those who all things that I can relive the hurt but I it is with an eye now that it did not have to be that way rather than boiling anger toward her. I can relive the hurt but I chose to move on and forgive her a long time ago. It is a lesson that we all must learn. There will be people who hurt you and then will compound the original problem with justifications instead of seeking true reconciliation. There will be people filled so with pride that they will never admit a wrong to you but will simply add to it to justify their behavior as being right.

That was the thing that I thought of this morning as I read through 2 Samuel 10:1-19 this morning. Let’s read the passage now to see why:

Chapter 10
1 Some time after this, King Nahash[a] of the Ammonites died, and his son Hanun became king. 2 David said, “I am going to show loyalty to Hanun just as his father, Nahash, was always loyal to me.” So David sent ambassadors to express sympathy to Hanun about his father’s death.

But when David’s ambassadors arrived in the land of Ammon, 3 the Ammonite commanders said to Hanun, their master, “Do you really think these men are coming here to honor your father? No! David has sent them to spy out the city so they can come in and conquer it!” 4 So Hanun seized David’s ambassadors and shaved off half of each man’s beard, cut off their robes at the buttocks, and sent them back to David in shame.

5 When David heard what had happened, he sent messengers to tell the men, “Stay at Jericho until your beards grow out, and then come back.” For they felt deep shame because of their appearance.

6 When the people of Ammon realized how seriously they had angered David, they sent and hired 20,000 Aramean foot soldiers from the lands of Beth-rehob and Zobah, 1,000 from the king of Maacah, and 12,000 from the land of Tob. 7 When David heard about this, he sent Joab and all his warriors to fight them. 8 The Ammonite troops came out and drew up their battle lines at the entrance of the city gate, while the Arameans from Zobah and Rehob and the men from Tob and Maacah positioned themselves to fight in the open fields.

9 When Joab saw that he would have to fight on both the front and the rear, he chose some of Israel’s elite troops and placed them under his personal command to fight the Arameans in the fields. 10 He left the rest of the army under the command of his brother Abishai, who was to attack the Ammonites. 11 “If the Arameans are too strong for me, then come over and help me,” Joab told his brother. “And if the Ammonites are too strong for you, I will come and help you. 12 Be courageous! Let us fight bravely for our people and the cities of our God. May the Lord’s will be done.”

13 When Joab and his troops attacked, the Arameans began to run away. 14 And when the Ammonites saw the Arameans running, they ran from Abishai and retreated into the city. After the battle was over, Joab returned to Jerusalem.

15 The Arameans now realized that they were no match for Israel. So when they regrouped, 16 they were joined by additional Aramean troops summoned by Hadadezer from the other side of the Euphrates River.[b] These troops arrived at Helam under the command of Shobach, the commander of Hadadezer’s forces.

17 When David heard what was happening, he mobilized all Israel, crossed the Jordan River, and led the army to Helam. The Arameans positioned themselves in battle formation and fought against David. 18 But again the Arameans fled from the Israelites. This time David’s forces killed 700 charioteers and 40,000 foot soldiers,[c] including Shobach, the commander of their army. 19 When all the kings allied with Hadadezer saw that they had been defeated by Israel, they surrendered to Israel and became their subjects. After that, the Arameans were afraid to help the Ammonites.

In this passage, we see that Hanun listened to the wrong advice. He suspected the motives of the ambassadors and humiliated them. Then he realized that he made David angry by his actions and then began to marshal his forces to go to battle. Hanun should have thought through the advice more carefully. But even if he had not reviewed the situation more carefully, he should have tried to negotiate with David. Instead, he refused to admit any fault and got ready for war. Often, we respond angrily and defensively rather than admitting our mistakes, apologizing, and try to defuse the situation. Instead of blazing forward with war, we should seek peace. Instead of harboring pride, let us think of what is best for the situation even if that means that we do not get our way.

Father, help to see that pride is such deceitful emotion that blinds us to the things that we need to change about ourselves. Help us to see that pride will cause us to compound one hurt with another just so that we do not have to admit wrongdoing to another person. Help us to admit when we have hurt another person and seek to make things better in humility. Help us to seek peace rather than seeking in pride to continue to a war. Help us Oh Lord. Help us!

Amen and Amen.

2 Samuel 2:18 – 3:1
The Death of Asahel

Recently, Elena and I had a very long phone conservation with a very dear friend of ours. Though we have not seen this friend in several years. He and his wife were so instrumental in our growth in Jesus Christ that we are intentional about staying in touch with them. He and his wife are a mile-marker kind of relationship for us. Profound is the word that I would use. To say that we love them both, both him and her is an understatement. However, in all the time that we have known the husband of this couple, he has made his relationship with his wife an idol. He was consumed with her. He lived his life trying to control her view of him.

Although he is a brilliant guy. He is kind of like my brother in that regard. He has detailed knowledge of so many things that you kind of feel like the dumbest person ever when you hear all the knowledge on so many things this guy has. I have surface knowledge of many things but he has detailed knowledge of many things. He has an eidetic memory like my brother. However, when it comes to matters of love, he became stupid when it came to his wife. He was so insecure in his relationship with her that he overcompensated. He was too much. He made her his idol. He somehow drew his value from how she felt about him. So, he spent all of their marriage trying to manipulate and control the responses that she gave him. When you are trying to please a god it is difficult at times to manage and manipulate the responses of the god. When you make a god of another human being, you will be constantly trying to curry favor and enough is never enough. When you make your spouse your god, you will be living an exhausted life because trying to manage their responses to you is like a drug. It needs to be refueled and re-appeased every day. Hour by hour and minute by minute sometimes.

That rollercoaster ride and constant emotional turmoil self-imposed in homage to his god actually drove his wife away from him instead of closer to him. But there is no excusing her responses to her husband making her a god. Infidelity is never a response that brings good. Their co-dependency has been so destructive for them both. She is the master and he has been the slave in their co-dependency. She had learned a long time ago that she could pretty much do whatever she wanted and he would respond like a dog seeking a treat. Her infidelity exacerbated his insecurity in their relationship and he was willing to put up with anything and everything she did just to be in a relationship with her. In the midst of trying to control her responses to him (appeasing his self-imposed idol), he ended up taking a wrong turn into porn (as place to control, in his mind, the responses of a woman). The marriage had become a train wreck of epic proportions. However, in the crux of it all was this co-dependence and idolatry.  Somehow, though he would dispute it to your face, he defined himself by being in this relationship with her. It was sad to watch him respond like a puppy dog to everything she did. He thought he could make her love him again and he would accept whatever actions or terms she set in front of him. The marriage was a train wreck. He has been a train wreck. It was just sad to see him go down this path of constantly pursuing what he could not catch. She was a drug to him. And even though everyone could see the self-destruction he was causing to himself, he had to have more of the drug.

The sad thing here was that I did the very same thing in my previous marriage. Every mistake he has been making. I know it because I lived it. Living at the mercy of another’s persons feelings about you and trying to control their responses by how you acted is idolatry at its finest. I lived it. It was a rollercoaster ride that someday you have to get off. Finally, in our conversation yesterday, he finally shed himself of the slavery of co-dependency. He finally has gotten to the point that he no longer sees her as a god in his life. The freedom in his voice was noticeable. The relief in his voice is noticeable. Finally, to get to that point, where you realize that you have been worshipping someone and built altars to them in your life and finally say “I can’t do this anymore!” is where we have to get. When we remove our obsessions and our idols that stand in the way of our relationship with God, there is freedom there. I have been there myself. That day that I finally smashed the idols that I had created of my previous wife was the day I finally felt free and could actually breath without wondering if she would approve of my breath patterns. There was such freedom in that.

Who knows what is going to happen between this dear friend and his wife. Their marriage is on the rocks and may not recover because of this war that has ravaged it. His obsession with her to the point of idolatry and her seeking affections elsewhere and refusing to fully give that up may have done too much damage to the relationship. But one thing is for certain, for my friend, to remove her as his idol, as his god, he has gained a closer walk with Christ in the process. Maybe in letting her go, maybe in releasing her as his god, they will find reconciliation in their future. God never gives up on people so I think that He does not give up on marriages either. Maybe with all the damage that has been done by the sins of idolatry, pornography and infidelity they need some time apart to heal.

This is not story book Christianity here where reconciliation is going to happen right away. There is so much damage to their relationship that has been done. It is going to take a long time for them to repair – if they are willing to repair it at some point. I love both of these two people. Maybe, who knows because of the consequences of sin, they may never get it back together. I cannot say. I wish I could say. However, I do know that when their marriage was not so damaged as it is now, they were an awesome couple for the Lord. They were plain out amazing together as a couple. It was this wife that lovingly led my wife to the cross. It was through this husband that I was challenged to grow up in Christ. He challenged me to be more than a Christ follower who thinks Sunday morning is it. He challenged me to make Jesus Christ my Lord and not just my Savior. He challenged me to make Christ the center of my world, 24/7/365. To see their marriage ravaged by sin, maybe beyond repair is heartbreaking. Even Christ followers can get turned sideways by idolatry and pride. We can ruin our witness and make ourselves ineffective for God’s kingdom when we follow Satan’s siren call.

That obsession with an idol whether it be a person or a prize or a goal or a job is what I thought of this morning as I read this passage, 2 Samuel 2:18-3:1. It cost Asahel everything. To pursue what amounts to the pursuit of pride destroyed him. Let us read this passage now:

18 Joab, Abishai, and Asahel—the three sons of Zeruiah—were among David’s forces that day. Asahel could run like a gazelle, 19 and he began chasing Abner. He pursued him relentlessly, not stopping for anything. 20 When Abner looked back and saw him coming, he called out, “Is that you, Asahel?”

“Yes, it is,” he replied.

21 “Go fight someone else!” Abner warned. “Take on one of the younger men, and strip him of his weapons.” But Asahel kept right on chasing Abner.

22 Again Abner shouted to him, “Get away from here! I don’t want to kill you. How could I ever face your brother Joab again?”

23 But Asahel refused to turn back, so Abner thrust the butt end of his spear through Asahel’s stomach, and the spear came out through his back. He stumbled to the ground and died there. And everyone who came by that spot stopped and stood still when they saw Asahel lying there.

24 When Joab and Abishai found out what had happened, they set out after Abner. The sun was just going down as they arrived at the hill of Ammah near Giah, along the road to the wilderness of Gibeon. 25 Abner’s troops from the tribe of Benjamin regrouped there at the top of the hill to take a stand.

26 Abner shouted down to Joab, “Must we always be killing each other? Don’t you realize that bitterness is the only result? When will you call off your men from chasing their Israelite brothers?”

27 Then Joab said, “God only knows what would have happened if you hadn’t spoken, for we would have chased you all night if necessary.” 28 So Joab blew the ram’s horn, and his men stopped chasing the troops of Israel.

29 All that night Abner and his men retreated through the Jordan Valley.[a] They crossed the Jordan River, traveling all through the morning,[b] and didn’t stop until they arrived at Mahanaim.

30 Meanwhile, Joab and his men also returned home. When Joab counted his casualties, he discovered that only 19 men were missing in addition to Asahel. 31 But 360 of Abner’s men had been killed, all from the tribe of Benjamin. 32 Joab and his men took Asahel’s body to Bethlehem and buried him there in his father’s tomb. Then they traveled all night and reached Hebron at daybreak.

Chapter 3

1 That was the beginning of a long war between those who were loyal to Saul and those loyal to David. As time passed David became stronger and stronger, while Saul’s dynasty became weaker and weaker.

In this passage, we see that Abner repeatedly warned Asahel to turn back or risk losing his life, but Asahel refused to turn from his self-imposed duty. We see nowhere in this passage that he was commanded by Joab or even given a word by God to chase down Abner. Persistence is a honorable trait for sure but only if it is for the right reasons. But if the goal is only personal honor, gain, glory or control, persistence may be no more than stubbornness, an unwillingness to see things that are important and an all consuming focus that blocks out all things that are important. Asahel’s stubbornness not only cost him his life but it also spurred unfortunate disunity in David’s army for years to come (see 2 Samuel 3:26-27 and 1 Kings 2:28-35). Before you become obsessed with a goal, let us make sure that it is a goal that gives God glory and does not become an all consuming idol in our lives.

Please thank God for my friend’s realization that he had made and idol out of his wife and realizes it now. That is spiritual growth that was sorely needed. Please pray to God that they can someday restore their marriage through repentance and humility before the Lord. If you are similarly situated, I pray that this blog about my friend and his estranged wife will help you see your life in its proper light. When we pursue that which is not God honoring, when we obsess over someone or something, we can make it our god. When we put things before God, whatever it may be, we bring destruction to our lives. I pray that you see it before it is too late if you find yourself there.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 15:24-31
Saul Pleads for Forgiveness

Recently, I found out some dear friends of mine that live in another state have separated and are living apart now. That kind of blew me away. This couple was oh so very important in the process of my wife and I going deeper in our respective relationships with Jesus Christ. If it were not for this couple, we might have fallen away from church again when we moved to back home to South Carolina back in 2010. But, they instilled in us a hunger for a relationship with Jesus and instilled in us a hunger for the fellowship of other Christ followers. It is because of that hunger that they nurtured in us that we were ready for LifeSong Church when LifeSong Church came into our path in August 2010. They were our spiritual parents even though they were both 10-12 years younger than us. Without their one-on-one nurturing discipleship in that small but growing little church in California, we would not have been ready to take off and fly and grow in our walk with Jesus nor been ready for positions of leadership there nor been ready for where we are today – about to embark into full-time ministry when we move to Illinois in two weeks. To say the least, these two people were like the most pivotal people in our lives.

Yes, my senior pastor and my discipleship pastor, Pastor Jeff and Pastor Tim, here at LifeSong have been incredibly impactful in our lives and wow, where would we be without their influence. These two guys are spiritual giants in our lives. But this couple while we lived in California set the stage for what Pastor Jeff and Pastor Tim have done in our lives. They are like the parents that raised us up and then sent us off to school, ya know, and Pastor Jeff and Pastor Tim took what these spiritual parents had done and challenged us to deeper and deeper depths. So, the fact that this couple is separated now just profoundly saddens me. It demonstrates that sin can come into even the most ardent of Christ followers and devour and destroy a marriage. These guys were Christ followers since they were little kids. They fell in love as teenagers and had been together ever since. Then, ministry in Young Life. Then, seminary at the prestigious Trinity Divinity School in Chicago. He is an incredibly brilliant man with an eidetic memory. She is a brilliantly creative artist and about the most creative person you would ever want to meet. Her art and photography is amazing. He was an awesome pastor who could inspire you with his words. He could play the guitar with the best of them. An awesome athlete. They were like this super couple. Young. Good looking. Talented. You loved them and were jealous of how cool they were all at the same time.

The thing that saddens me the most about our spiritual parents is how this deterioration of what was once an awesome pastoral couple happened. Each one sins against their marriage have been made public to one another by the fact that each spouse caught the other in the midst of their sin. For him, it was a pornography addiction and for her it was infidelity. However, where they are at now is that they seem to be remorseful that they got caught in their sin. They are remorseful over the consequences that they sin has wrought. But neither are remorseful over the sins themselves. They say they are in counseling with a Christian couple that goes to the same church that they do (they got out of the ministry themselves several years ago as their marriage began to crumble toward where it is today). The trouble is that each one is blaming the other for the state of their marriage. She blames him for how his addiction and his controlling behavior drove her to her sin. And he blames his addiction and controlling behavior her because of his insecurities related to her flirtatiousness and infidelities. It is a sad sad downward spiral that has been going on now for 5 or so years. I covet your prayers for them. I beg your prayers for them. This is a situation similar to when you as an adult who has been living on your own for about a decade and have a life of your own now find out that your parents back home are split up. It just blows you away even though you are not living at home anymore. Then you talk to your parents and find out the skinny on the situation and you realize that your parents are each maximizing the sins of the other parent while using that to justify their own sins.
These spiritual parent of ours is what I thought of this morning as I read through Saul’s pleadings in this passage. The impression that I got from this passage is that Saul is more concerned with the consequences of his sin and how to minimize that rather than being truly repentant for having sinned at all. That’s the feeling that I get from my spiritual parents is that they are trying to minimize, justify, and deflect the impacts of their sin rather than being truly and humbly repentant for their sin. The only way to save the marriage will be when they reach that low place where they are on their face before the Lord and are truly repentant for their own sins. Let’s read the passage now, 1 Samuel 15:24-31:

24 Then Saul admitted to Samuel, “Yes, I have sinned. I have disobeyed your instructions and the Lord’s command, for I was afraid of the people and did what they demanded. 25 But now, please forgive my sin and come back with me so that I may worship the Lord.”

26 But Samuel replied, “I will not go back with you! Since you have rejected the Lord’s command, he has rejected you as king of Israel.”

27 As Samuel turned to go, Saul tried to hold him back and tore the hem of his robe. 28 And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to someone else—one who is better than you. 29 And he who is the Glory of Israel will not lie, nor will he change his mind, for he is not human that he should change his mind!”

30 Then Saul pleaded again, “I know I have sinned. But please, at least honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel by coming back with me so that I may worship the Lord your God.” 31 So Samuel finally agreed and went back with him, and Saul worshiped the Lord.

In this passage, we see that Saul was more concerned about what others would think of him than he was about the status of his relationship with God (1 Samuel 15:24). He begged Samuel to go with him to worship as public demonstration that Samuel still supported him. Even in this scene where Saul is admitting that he disobeyed the Lord, he demonstrates that he is more concerned about his public persona and preserving his position than he is with any real repentance for having sinned. That’s the difference for us to when we often are simply remorseful that we got caught in some sin than we are remorseful about having committed the sin itself.

Are you in the same situation as my spiritual parents? Are you remorseful that you got busted in your sins or are you truly and humbly seeking the Lord’s forgiveness for the sin itself. We must get to the place where we see the sin for what it is – a wrongful and willful rebellion against God. We must get to the place that we are not justifying our sins because someone else hurt us. We must get to the place that we are not blaming others for the way we act and the things we do. We must stand before the Lord and make no excuses for our sin. We must see our sin as sin. We must not try to minimize it or justify it. We must not try to save face in front of others. We must be prostrate before the Lord and say Lord, I just royally screwed up. I have no excuse before you. All my excuses are just to save face in front of others or to gain pity from others. All my excuses are meaningless before you. Cover me in your grace even though I do not deserve it and I would not blame you if you condemned me to hell right now because I have no excuse. Cover me in your grace and please forgive me. I know I have wronged you and you are Lord. I fall at your mercy Lord.

That’s where we need to be. That’s where my spiritual parents need to be. That’s in a state of humble repentance wrapped in the grace of the Lord.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 4:1b-11 (Part 3 of 3)
The Phillistines Capture the Ark

There was a song back in the 1990s power surge by country music when artists like Garth Brooks and Shania Twain were the biggest selling male and female artists of any musical genre that Shania had one of her biggest hits that got airplay on more than just country stations. It was a huge crossover hit. It was called “Looks Like We Made It!” It was a beautiful song about her relationship with her songwriter husband and how they had been through thick and thin together. How they had been through rough times together and here they were all grown up and mature. The words Shania sang were a tribute to lovers who are still together after all these years. It is often used at like 25th anniversary, 50th anniversary celebrations for couples. The reason that I bring that beautiful song is that I want to borrow the title for a little bit. Sometimes, we can easily sing this song when we talk about our walk with Jesus Christ. Looks Like We Made It can be a dangerous song title for our lives in our Christian walk.

Sometimes in ministry, you run into people who once were great servants of God, but have gotten sideways in the walk with God without even realizing it. I hope that I never get that way. It is so easy to do. Luckily right now in my walk, I am still far enough behind people that I consider my spiritual mentors to realize “when I am getting too big for my britches.” OK. Let’s get that joke out the way. Yeah that’s why I am exercising 5 days a week now is ‘cuz I got literally too big for my britches (and for those not born and raised in the American South, “getting too big for your britches” means that you are acting as if you are high and mighty when you really aren’t). I am not speaking of my weight but of the figurative meaning that I just mentioned. I am close enough to ground zero in my spiritual maturity to still be able to check myself when I begin to get prideful in where I am at spiritually.

However, over the past 7 years of leadership at church in one form or another, you do run across those that have been Christians as long or much longer than me that think they have cornered the market on spiritual maturity. The ones that speak proudly of their past performance in the church. You know the ones that have done everything at the church and are quick to tell you about it. You know the ones who pontificate with all the right buzz words of Christianity. You know the ones make you feel as though you are less spiritually mature than they. You know the ones who decide what churchwide discipleship activities they will and will not participate in. You know they can choose that because they are spiritually mature enough to decide for themselves. The spiritually mature ones, you know, that know as much about leading a flock of Christians as the pastors do. You know the ones. You know the ones that say that they don’t need to participate in a church wide book study because they’ve grown beyond the need to do what less mature Christians need to do. You know the ones that are quick to criticize but slow to praise. You know the ones that read the latest Christian books but no longer read the Bible. You know the ones who think that they are too mature to go through training classes for leaders at church because, well, they just don’t see the need.

It was that thought of how we sometimes feel like we no longer need help, how we sometimes have gotten “all growed up” as Christians, where we define for ourselves what is best for us as Christians. How we get to that point where we rest on our laurels of the past and feel as we no longer have nothing to learn and no more need to mature. That’s what I thought of this morning as I read this passage and how Israel felt as though, since God was good to them in the past, He would protect them now even though they had strayed from God in reality in the here and now:

At that time Israel was at war with the Philistines. The Israelite army was camped near Ebenezer, and the Philistines were at Aphek. 2 The Philistines attacked and defeated the army of Israel, killing 4,000 men. 3 After the battle was over, the troops retreated to their camp, and the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the Lord allow us to be defeated by the Philistines?” Then they said, “Let’s bring the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord from Shiloh. If we carry it into battle with us, it[a] will save us from our enemies.”

4 So they sent men to Shiloh to bring the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, who is enthroned between the cherubim. Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli, were also there with the Ark of the Covenant of God. 5 When all the Israelites saw the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord coming into the camp, their shout of joy was so loud it made the ground shake!

6 “What’s going on?” the Philistines asked. “What’s all the shouting about in the Hebrew camp?” When they were told it was because the Ark of the Lord had arrived, 7 they panicked. “The gods have[b] come into their camp!” they cried. “This is a disaster! We have never had to face anything like this before! 8 Help! Who can save us from these mighty gods of Israel? They are the same gods who destroyed the Egyptians with plagues when Israel was in the wilderness. 9 Fight as never before, Philistines! If you don’t, we will become the Hebrews’ slaves just as they have been ours! Stand up like men and fight!”

10 So the Philistines fought desperately, and Israel was defeated again. The slaughter was great; 30,000 Israelite soldiers died that day. The survivors turned and fled to their tents. 11 The Ark of God was captured, and Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were killed.

In this passage, we see that the Philistines were afraid because they remembered stories about God’s intervention for Israel when they left Egypt. However, Israel had turned away from God and was clinging only to a form of godliness, a symbol of former victories. People and churches often try to live on memories of God’s blessings. The Israelites wrongly assumed that because God had given them victory in the past, He would do it again, even though they had strayed far from him. Today, as in biblical times, spiritual victories come from a continually renewed relationship with God. Don’t live off the past. Keep your relationship with God new and fresh. Because if we don’t pride tends to kick and we began to think that we have cornered the market on spiritual maturity and begin to stray from God.

That thought of those who feel like they have “made it” as Christians and no longer need spiritual guidance, no longer need spiritual leadership, and no longer need to grow is the beginning of pride for us. Just as Israel got prideful and began to stray from God, it is so easy for us as Christians to think that we have made it. That is where pride sneaks in. That is where sin begins to sneak in to our lives. When we think we no longer need to check ourselves is when we get in trouble. That’s when the sin slippage begins. This is OK because I can handle it. I am mature. I got this. But a lot of times, we may not slip into moral turpitude but we simply stop growing as Christians because we think we got it made. Looks like we made it Christians. But the fact of the matter is .. is that we are never mature enough. We need to realize that we are only sinners covered by grace. We are just God’s grace away from be a lost person. In the absence of grace, we are all just stinking, ugly sinners in the eyes of God. It is only because of the beauty of salvation in Jesus Christ by grace through faith and faith alone that we are saved. We are nothing compared to Jesus Christ and we always will be less than Him. We will especially be less than on this side of eternity. We must forget our puffed up pride in how long we have been a Christian. We must realize that even if we have been Christians for 30 years that we still have so much we can learn from the Bible that we may have read cover to cover 100s of times. We still have to humble before our Lord and Savior. We are not, never have been, or never will be worthy of His grace and we will never come near His knowledge and perfection. We will never have it made. We will never arrive. We must always be humble enough to realize that we can still learn more and go deeper in our relationship with Jesus. We are just scratching the surface of our relationship with him at year 1 after salvation and we have only pricked the top soil like an ant at 30 years down the road. We can go deeper. We can learn more. We can become more and more and more in love with our Savior and make him more and more and more our Lord. We can not let ourselves increase. We must continue to make ourselves less and less as He becomes more and more. May we as Christians never sing “Looks Like We Made It” because our relationship with Jesus is a continuing journey not a destination.

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 23:1-8

Exclusion from the Assembly of the Lord

Have you ever felt that you were not good enough to go to church? Have you ever been made to feel that way when you went to church? There was a story that circulated around on the internet a few years back about how the pastor of a church decided to dress as a homeless man on the morning that he was to be introduced as the new senior pastor at a 10,000 plus member church. How much truth there is to this internet legend I do not know, but the reason it got traction was there certainly a kernel of truth to it that at least made it believable. The story goes that only three people greeted him at all as the thousands entered the church. He tried to greet people but he was given dirty looks in return rather than acceptance. He attempted to sit in the front row of the church but he was asked by ushers to go sit in the back. When all the morning announcements were made, the church elders were excited as they came on stage to introduce the new senior pastor. When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation. “We would like to introduce to you Pastor Jeremiah Steepek.” The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation. The homeless man sitting in the back stood up and started walking down the aisle. The clapping stopped with all eyes on him. He walked up the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment then he recited Matthew 25:31-46 (The Parable of the Goats and Sheep). He then looked towards the congregation and told them all what he had experienced that morning. Many began to cry and many heads were bowed in shame. He then said, “Today I see a gathering of people, not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples. When will YOU decide to become disciples?” He then dismissed service until next week.

 

Like I said earlier, whether this internet legend has any truth to it or not is not the point. The point is that is that it could so easily be true. That was my first impression when I read today’s passage about those that were to be excluded from worship. It seems kind of brutal to me when I first read this passage and maybe even contradictory to the message of Scripture as a whole so it really troubled me. Let’s read it together now:

 

23 No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord.

 

2 No one born of a forbidden marriage nor any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation.

 

3 No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation. 4 For they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim to pronounce a curse on you. 5 However, the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam but turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loves you. 6 Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them as long as you live.

 

7 Do not despise an Edomite, for the Edomites are related to you. Do not despise an Egyptian, because you resided as foreigners in their country. 8 The third generation of children born to them may enter the assembly of the Lord.

 

I struggled with this passage because it seemed so exclusionary, just like the internet legend of the pastor dressed up as a homeless man. It seems as though God was saying that certain people groups are not deserving of entering the house of the Lord. What does that mean?

 

I finally came to this conclusion. We must not enter the house of God if we are taking our worldly customs with us when we come into the house of the Lord. We cannot worship other gods and come into the house of the Lord. We cannot be one foot in the world and one foot in the Lord’s house. We cannot worship gods that require some men to be castrated. We cannot be enemies of God’s people. We cannot be worshippers of money and other idols and be pure enough to enter into the house of the Lord.

 

Then, that got me to thinking a little deeper. Why was Israel allowed to be in the house of the Lord and these others not. Israel was often a rebellious, stiff-necked people that did not deserve to be in the house of the Lord. What made them different? They were God’s chosen people. They did not earn their place in the house of the Lord that is for sure. They were chosen by God to be His people from which the Messiah would come. They did not deserve their special favor in God’s eyes. They could do nothing to earn it. Their indiscretions and idol worship over the years of wandering should be enough by itself to disqualify them permanently from the house of the Lord. Were it not for the special favor of the Lord, were it not for the special place that Israel held in God’s heart as His chosen people, they would be excluded. Even then, there was something missing though. The Israelites were such a sinful lot that they could not come into the presence of the Lord and had to rely on priest (who had been purified as prescribed by God) to intercess in the presence of the Lord on their behalf.

 

Is it not the same with us as Christians? We, too, do not on our own merits deserve to be in the house of the Lord each Sunday. Think about it. We should consider it great privilege that the Lord allows us to enter our respective houses of worship each Sunday. We walk onto holy ground each Sunday and think nothing of it. We walk into God’s local holy temple and we think nothing of it. We should realize that the only reason that we can enter the house of the Lord that is our local church is not because we have earned it, not because we deserve it, but rather because of the grace of Jesus Christ. He makes us holy in the presence of the Lord through his imputed sinless nature. We are made clean through Jesus Christ. Therefore, we may worship the Lord through the covering of Jesus Christ. It kind of changes your perspective about entering the House of the Lord. We do not deserve to be there even if we have been Christ followers for decades and even if we have the highest and best moral standards and even if we are generous with every dollar that we have, none of us deserve to be in the house of the Lord.

 

All of us are born sinners with the stains of a lifetime of sins on our hands that cannot be washed off. It is only through the covering of the perfect sinlessness of Jesus Christ that we are made clean. Nothing else. No high horse that we have earned. We are there in God’s chosen people because of His favor not because we earned any of this. Therefore, we should have a humility and a joy when we enter the house of the Lord to praise and worship a God who gave us favor that we did not deserve through Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

 

Even in our modern churches today where we pride ourselves for not being exclusionary, what would you do if a homeless dirty, ill-shaven man came on to your campus or mine. Would you shun him because he is not wearing the coolest and latest modern church fashions? Would you usher him to the back row. Would you look down on him? Would you ask the security team to keep an eye on him?

 

None of us deserve to be in God’s holy house! None of us! We are filthy dirty sinners in the absence of the grace of salvation through Christ Jesus. None of us deserve to have pride when we walk into the house of the Lord. None of us! Help us to remember that we cannot and do not deserve to be in the House of the Lord. Were it not for grace, we could not enter.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 20:14-21 (Part 1 of 2)

Edom Refuses Israel Passage

Have you ever held a grudge against someone? A seething anger toward someone that makes you grow cold toward someone over time? It may have started as a small offense and has now grown to this major deal that causes you and the other person to not speak, to distrust, to suspect, and not to associate. Unless you are lucky, you have probably held a grudge against someone or someone has held a grudge against you. I have seen grudges in action both by my first ex-wife toward me and by my uncle toward my paternal grandparents.

 

With my ex-wife, it was a lifelong desire of hers to show anger toward me for having ended what had become a violent relationship. We had both had affairs during our marriage. There was her drug abuse, my co-dependency for years, just a toxic relationship where God was nowhere to found. Although I had forgiven her affair, by the time I had mine, it was a breath of fresh air that I was unwilling to give up. That does not make my affair justifiable in hindsight but it was my view at the time. I was literally afraid to leave her because of her vindictive nature. And, that assumption certainly played itself out in the years after she and I split. Any subsequent relationships that I had after her were marred by her anger and her hatred. She would tell anyone who would listen what a horrible person that I was. Her hatred toward me consumed her life. It was her raison d’etre. It was her reason for being. The grudge was its most intense during the three years between my split with her. It involved harassing phone calls. It involved preventing me from seeing my children to the point I had to take her to court over the issue. Her reaction was to justify the withholding of visitation rights by accusing me of having molested my oldest daughter during one of the visitations that I did get to have with my kids. That began years of vindictive behavior, particularly toward my second wife, that was only calmed in intensity when she remarried in 1996. Even after that, though not as vocal or expressive, I always learned through my daughters that my first wife still had this seething hatred for me. Even years later. My anger toward her for the things that I had put up with since our breakup (and during our marriage) became forgiveness and then pity. My first wife let her anger toward me become this all consuming reason for being that became her god and destroyed her life and what was once a promising nursing career.

 

With my one of my five uncles on my dad’s side of the family, it was my grandparent that said something about my uncle’s manhood when he and his wife had to adopt children. They were unable to have children of their own. My paternal grandpa said something really base to my uncle about his manhood and my uncle stormed out of my grandparent’s house in 1966 and never returned, never reconciled with the other brothers even after my grandparents’ respective deaths in 1979 (Pop) and 2008 (Granny), and my uncle’s death in 2014. My uncle went as far as to “adopt” a family in Inman as his “parents”. He would claim to others that his parents had died in a train crash. The irony of it all is that my uncle was a minister in the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. He was a very successful pastor and worked his way up to the largest United Methodist church in South Carolina before he retired. He refused to come home for Christmas, Thanksigiving, or any other family event, even the funerals of his parents. He refused to give the forgiveness he preached. My grandparents were equally as stubborn over the disrespects shown them over the years. They refused to forgive those things. And each year the list of offenses and reasons not to forgive and grew ever larger. And it all started with a remark made by my Pop in 1966. Knowing my shoot from the hip Pop who was rough, gruff and said everything that was on his mind no matter what, my Pop probably made the remark flippantly. I am sure that it was insensitive and maybe even deeply hurtful to my uncle but that was Pop. He had no filter to hold back comments that came to his mind. I was too little when my uncle left the family in 1966 to know the exact details of it all, but knowing my Pop and some of the rough, gruff and sometimes personal things he said to me and even my firs real long-term relationship (with the woman who became my first wife), I can see him saying something that was nothing to him but something big to my uncle. A flippant remark became a family feud that never ended even with my grandparents passed away and even to my uncle’s death. Even in his obituary, my uncle claimed no relationship to our family. Even in his death, there no forgiveness for his parents by reclaiming them as his valid and very real parents.

 

Grudges. Man can they kill your joy! My own experiences with major grudges is what I thought when I read through today’s passage, Numbers 20:14-21. This passage is a classic of an old grudge still living on years later:

 

14 Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom, saying:

 

“This is what your brother Israel says: You know about all the hardships that have come on us. 15 Our ancestors went down into Egypt, and we lived there many years. The Egyptians mistreated us and our ancestors, 16 but when we cried out to the Lord, he heard our cry and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt.

 

“Now we are here at Kadesh, a town on the edge of your territory. 17 Please let us pass through your country. We will not go through any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the King’s Highway and not turn to the right or to the left until we have passed through your territory.”

 

18 But Edom answered:

 

“You may not pass through here; if you try, we will march out and attack you with the sword.”

 

19 The Israelites replied:

 

“We will go along the main road, and if we or our livestock drink any of your water, we will pay for it. We only want to pass through on foot—nothing else.”

 

20 Again they answered:

 

“You may not pass through.”

 

Then Edom came out against them with a large and powerful army. 21 Since Edom refused to let them go through their territory, Israel turned away from them.

 

Let us go back in time to reflect on this passage. Two brothers became the ancestors of two nations. The Edomites descended from Esau and the Israelites from Jacob. Thus, the Israelites were “relatives” of the Edomites. Because of their common ancestry, Moses sent a brotherly message to the Edomite king. The Edomites refused. Why? Do you think it had its roots in the saga of Jacob and Esau? Most likely it did. There was distrust of the Israelites by the Edomites. This distrust and maybe even hatred had its roots in the two brothers, Jacob and Esau. The Edomite king not only said no but sent troops to prevent the Israelites from even touching their land. Jacob and Esau were the classic sibling rivalry. They even struggled with one another in the womb. The rivalry was so bad that Jacob bamboozled Esau into selling Jacob his birthright for a pot of stew. That began the enmity between Esau and his descendants for Jacob and his. A pot of good smelling stew to a weak minded man began a family feud that grew and grew and never relented. This confrontation here is not the end of it either:

  • Israel’s kings had constant conflict with Edom
    • Saul 1 Sam. 14:47
    • David 2 Sam. 8:13-14
    • Solomon 1 Kings 11:14-22
    • Jehoram 2 Kings 8:20-22; 2 Chron. 21:8ff
    • Jehoram 2 Kings 8:20-22; 2 Chron. 21:8ff
    • Ahaz 2 Chron. 28:16
  • Edom urged Babylon to destroy Jerusalem – Psalm 137:7 Remember, O Lord, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell. “Tear it down,” they cried, “tear it down to its foundations!”

 

What is our takeaway from all of this? Let us go to Psalm 130:3-4 If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? [4] But with you there is forgiveness. Let us go to elsewhere in God’s Word:

 

  • 1 John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
  • Matthew 6:14 says, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”
  • Luke 6:37 indicates “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
  • 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
  • Jude 1:20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,

 

We have been forgiven by God through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We did not deserve forgiveness. We stand accused before a mighty and holy and perfect God. We are dead to rights in our sins and should be justly sent to hell. But God in his infinite love for us gives us a way out, a way to be reconciled to Him. So, then, how can we withhold forgiveness for others? How can we keep a record of offenses and yet claim the forgiveness and clean slate that we have in Jesus Christ? That’s pride my friends. Pride is sin. So, we compound sin with sin when we refuse to forgive.

 

True forgiveness is to forgive those who are not forgiving us. When we wait to do some mutual forgiveness thing at the same time or are waiting for the other person to step forward first, the list of offenses will simply grow. We cannot make these offenses against us our god. We cannot let them rule our lives. Take the first step. Be Jesus to those who have a grudge against you. Don’t let it last a lifetime. Don’t let it last generations. Be the change that you seek in others. Be the first to forgive. Step forward. Give you anger and hurt to the Lord and let Him guide your steps in reconciliation. Do not let your anger or your hurt be your god. Let God be your God. Be Jesus to the very people that have hurt you. Be the one who opens their life up and lives transparently in front of the other. Let them see that you are a sinner just as much as they are a sinner. Let us be the one that starts the peace process by opening up our lives to the other person even if they don’t ever forgive you. Getting payback of I forgive you if you forgive me is not what Jesus seeks. He gave his life for us when we were yet sinners. Someone has to stop the madness. It is you, the Christ follower. We must show the same love without expectation of payback that Jesus showed us. Jesus loved us so much that He died for us even before you and I were born and even before you and I accepted Him as Savior. How’s that for taking the first step? Love instead of hate. Trust instead of suspicion. Open book instead of hiding things. Take the first step. Be the change you seek. End the grudge now! Amen and Amen.

Numbers 12:1-16 (Part 1 of 2)

The Complaints of Miriam and Aaron Against Moses

 

Have you looked at the on-stage members of your church staff and became jealous because they get to be on-stage and you’re not. Have you ever wondered why your talents are not being recognized at church? You say to yourself, I feel called to be a preacher and you go to seminary but yet you never get to preach? Have you ever felt pigeon-holed into certain tasks at your church simply because that is what you have done for a living for all of your adult life? You think to yourself, I have been in my profession for all these years because that’s just how life worked out and it was the easiest path using one of the talents that God has given you. You think that God has given you the skill of writing and He has given you great passion for God’s Word but yet He is providing you no outlet to pursue and use those passions. No churches are calling you to be their preacher and there seems to be no outlet it for it for you at your present church, your home church. Jealousy is divisive emotion. It can cause bitterness and disillusionment. Jealousies are not of God and they are the division-building sins that Satan whispers in our ear.

 

During the past year, I have struggled with this very sin. Jealousy is really a sign of something deeper. It is really about pride and often hides the real issue. Those Lord has dealt with me on this issue and humbled me on it and I now realize that the real issue was that I was angry at Him for not letting me have my heart’s desire. Often we are jealous of others and the positions that they hold because we want what they have for the wrong reasons. Do you think that maybe God was dealing with pride on my part? Did I really want to be a preacher who preaches every Sunday because of some amount of fame that it might bring me? Was I really wanting to be a public preacher without going through the planned process that God has for me in this? Are there things that God is working on in me that need to be worked on before I can hold the position of on-stage preacher at our church or as the solo preacher at a smaller church? Could it be that there are still things I need to learn before I take the next step? Even worse in my prideful heart, could it be that I am not meant to be that public face of my church or any other and that God has me exactly where He wants me? That was a crushing thought to my pride. Maybe, you are already in your ministry. Maybe, the reason that you, as you see it Mark, feel into your accounting career and have excel reasonably well in it is because that is what your God-given talent is. Yes, He has talented you to be a writer, and a prolific one through this blog at that. Yes, He has given you great passion for God’s Word. Yes, this passion is such that you rarely read any other books than books that give you greater insight into God’s Word. It is so obvious to others and to God but it was not to me. Pride simply is a lack of trust in the Lord. Pride can lead you to be angry at God for not giving you, like a two year old child, the toy that you wanted. It is only through painful self-examination in prayer that I have come to realize that I have not been trusting the Lord with my pastoral future. I must realize that God is in control.

 

I liken myself to Joseph and Moses in coming to realize that I must serve the Lord in the capacity that He has me in at the moment and do it with fervor, passion, and with great love for my Lord. I must do what He has in front of me and trust Him with the rest. What if Moses had complained about living in Midian for forty years before he was called to come free his people from Egypt. What if he had whined during those forty years and complained and didn’t see that his time as a herdsmen was necessary for the last forty years of his life where he was the leader of a nomadic people in the Sinai peninsula. What if Joseph, falsely accused of having inappropriate sexual relations with an Egyptian governor’s wife, had whined and complained about being falsely accused and just sat in prison in brooding anger. Instead he became a trusted servant of his jailors which led him to be in a position to become the second most powerful man in Egypt. Each of these men faithfully went about what God had placed in front of them and served in that capacity to the best of their ability for as long as was necessary. They trusted God with the rest. They did not really have much concern about what was next because they knew that God had their back and would open doors as He saw fit. In them, I see men who maybe thought to themselves that this is it. God has me where He wants me and maybe this is where He wants me for the rest of my life and be good with that. How much do we trust the Lord is the ultimate issue or how much will be let our pride take over and destroy what God has planned for us? Some might say that this is a defeatist attitude. But it is more of a trusting attitude and a giving-God-control attitude.

 

I have had to learn to trust God in that way myself. I have had to learn that maybe this is exactly what God intended all along. That struggle in my own heart is what I thought of when I read today’s passage, Numbers 12:1-16:

 

12 Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. 2 “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the Lord heard this.

 

3 (Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)

 

4 At once the Lord said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, “Come out to the tent of meeting, all three of you.” So the three of them went out. 5 Then the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When the two of them stepped forward, 6 he said, “Listen to my words:

 

“When there is a prophet among you,

    I, the Lord, reveal myself to them in visions,

    I speak to them in dreams.

7

But this is not true of my servant Moses;

    he is faithful in all my house.

8

With him I speak face to face,

    clearly and not in riddles;

    he sees the form of the Lord.

Why then were you not afraid

    to speak against my servant Moses?”

 

9 The anger of the Lord burned against them, and he left them.

 

10 When the cloud lifted from above the tent, Miriam’s skin was leprous[a]—it became as white as snow. Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had a defiling skin disease, 11 and he said to Moses, “Please, my lord, I ask you not to hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. 12 Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother’s womb with its flesh half eaten away.”

 

13 So Moses cried out to the Lord, “Please, God, heal her!”

 

14 The Lord replied to Moses, “If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days? Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that she can be brought back.” 15 So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on till she was brought back.

 

16 After that, the people left Hazeroth and encamped in the Desert of Paran.

 

People often argue over minor disagreements, leaving the real issue untouched. Such was the case with Miriam and Aaron. They represented the priests (Aaron) and the prophets (Miriam), the two most powerful groups of the Israelites, next to Moses. The real issue was their growing jealousy of Moses and their own anger at God caused by their pride. Since could not find fault with Moses’ leadership, they chose to criticize his wife. Rather than face the problem squarely by dealing with their envy and pride, they chose to create a diversion from the real issue. Miriam was punished by God and not Aaron not because she was a woman and Aaron was a man but rather because, based on the Hebrew grammar of the sentence, she was the one who started the whole jealousy conversation with Miriam. It has been amply proven in Exodus that Aaron was not strong-willed when it came to resisting public opinion even when he knew it was wrong. Miriam was the instigator here.

 

Miriam held an important position in the people of Israel. God had given her great talent of prophecy and of song. She was important among the Israelite people and that is why her story is included here. It shows how jealousy caused by pride can take our eyes of the gifts that God has given us. It can take our eye of serving the Lord in the capacity that He has us. It gets our eyes of the fact that God has us where He wants us at the moment, and maybe even forever, because that is where He needs us to be. It takes our eyes off the good that we are doing in the capacities that we are in. We must learn to trust the Lord that He has us where He wants us and that it is HE that will make it abundantly clear to us (with no sense of dissension but rather a sense of peace) when it is time to take the next step. Joseph was a servant in a jail for 12 years, but He trusted God and served there to the best of his ability. Where would the people of Israel have been without Joseph having served to the best of his ability in that jail. They would be dead due to famine. There would have been no Moses, no Exodus, no Promised Land. What if Moses had not dutifully served his father-in-law in Midian for 40 years. The Israelites may well have not survived in the wilderness without Moses’ experience living the nomadic lifestyle. Without that, there would be no people Israel. No promised land. No people from which Jesus Christ would come.

 

Let us begin to trust God with place that He has us right now and serve Him in that capacity to the best of our ability for as long as God would have us do that. No, that’s not some defeatist, status-quo attitude. That is trusting God with our future. That is trusting that He will make a path for us. That is trusting that He will make our way clear. That is trusting that He will let us plainly see and feel that is time for the next thing. In the meantime, we shout the gospel through our trust in Him to serve Him in the capacity that He has us right as if this is the final thing, as if we are in our sweet spot, as if we are preaching to the world by the way we serve the Lord in the place that He has us. That’s trust. That’s humility. That is putting our pride in its place.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 11:16-30 (Part 2 of 3)

Moses Chooses Seventy Leaders

As our church begins planning for one our main events of the year, as we call it, The Thanksgiving Meal Giveaway (TMG, for short), I am reminded of how sometimes people forget that we are ministering to others but rather see such events as ways to make themselves known. I remember the first year that Elena and I were in charge of the event (which was the second year of the event) I had a situation that simply baffled me as to where a person was at in their spiritual walk. I had this one lady who not once came to any planning meetings or any of the volunteer meetings nor did they commit in any of the volunteer sign-ups for the event. However, on the day of the event, they just showed up. And they showed up with expectation because, at that time, she and her husband were members of the small group that I and my wife lead. This lady thought that because we had pushed participation to our small group members and that because she knew us that she would get a special position or something at the TMG.

 

In this event, we make it known to the community through various helps agencies that we will be giving away 500+ turkeys and dry goods for families to have a nice thanksgiving meal at home with their families. It is a big event with lots of moving parts to it. It is a big event with Elena and me as the overall event leaders and then leaders of the ten different functional teams underneath us and then probably 350 volunteers from our church participate in the event (between the 350 volunteers and 15 leaders at various levels, it involves almost half of the 770 regular attendees and staff of our church). It is an event that has taught me more about leadership than any of my secular jobs put together. Needless to say, it’s a big deal that pushes our church’s people resources to the limit each year. However, anyone who has ever participated in it comes away humbled by seeing the needs of the community around us that often remain hidden from our eyes. It is to teach our people that there are needs all around us and that we have to be bold in engaging the culture around to find out what our neighbors are going through and meeting those needs as we are talented by the Lord.

 

I digress on the beauty of not only the beauty of giving to our community without expectation but also the discipling that the event does for our people. Back to this lady of which I have spoken. Although we had meeting to which she did not come where we told people to be there by 7am so that we could marshal all our volunteers into place and advise them of what their functions were and to pray at length for what was about to happen, she shows up at 9am – an hour after the doors opened for the event at 8am. She immediately sought me out and asked where I wanted her. I told her that since she did not sign up for anything that I would have to find a place where we did not have enough volunteers. I knew that we were weak in the “bag room” (where we were handing out the bags of dry goods to our visitors). In that room we had 600 bags containing canned yams, canned green beans, canned corn, etc. that had been donated by our church members and regular attendees. There were people at the counter in that particular room that would actually hand the bags to our guests and interact with him. Behind them were volunteers who would hand to the bags to the counter folk and people behind them that were keeping the inventory of bags moving forward as the inventory was being depleted. This last part was where we were weak and this is where I put this lady.

 

I learned later that she was outraged at me for having put her in the “back of the back of the back” of the event as she called it. She thought that just because she was in our small group that she was going to be given a place of privilege even though she did not take the time to be part of any of the meetings in preparation of the event and did not show up when all the other volunteers did. She wanted a visible position because she knew me. She wanted to be out front and seen. Needless to say, my putting her in the back of the back of the back of the event caused to not only caused her (and her husband) to leave our small group. They eventually left our church over this one offense toward her pride.

 

It is that idea of having our pride get in the way of ministry that came to mind when I read through today’s passage, Numbers 11:16-30, today for the second time. Today, my eyes and my heart were particularly drawn to vv. 26-29:

 

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.

 

In vv. 26-29, we are reminded of a similar incident in Mark 9:38-41. The disciples wanted Jesus to forbid others to drive out demons because they were not part of the rock band, “Jesus & His Disciples”. The narrow view of Joshua here with Moses and the disciples with Jesus was condemned both by Moses and by Jesus. Moses correctly asserts that oh that all of Israel were prophets. Jealous pride can make our churches into cliques. I am part of the in-crowd and you are not. I have special privilege because I know the preacher and you don’t. I am privileged because I know an event leader and you do not. As leaders too, we can become smug in the power that we have obtained or, even in the fact that we are so in-tune with the Spirit and most of our church folk appear to be here just for what they can get from the church. There is a smugness that God detests in that. God can choose whomever He wants to work through. Just because I have been at my church six years longer than you does not mean that you must wait six years to be on par with me. You are my equal child in Christ. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. We are here for one thing. To give God the glory. We are not here for our glory. We are here to lift Jesus up high!

 

When you may have a chance to get offended at church, think about why you are offended. Are you harboring the sin of pride? When you as a leader of the church start feeling that you get it and your people do not? Whose fault is that? As leaders, we are not here to massage our egos. We are here to grow people up in Christ. We are grow them up to “get it!” just like somebody grew us up where we got to the point that we “got it!”. We are to develop those who we lead. We are to disciple them so that they can take our place. As the old saying goes in the business world, “the best manager is the one who works himself out of his job!”. That means that you have developed your people so well that the best of them would be able to take over your job when you leave it. That means by developing your people that you give away your job to them by offloading responsibilities to them as they grow. It means by doing that you can take on more responsibilities from those above you and make yourself more valuable to the organization. In Christian organizations, we are to reproduce the leaders that we are in the people beneath us. As a church volunteer or as a leader in the church, we cannot let pride and possessiveness get in the way of ministry. We must humble ourselves to the ministry of Jesus Christ. We are not here to stake out our realm of power. We are here to give glory to God through the love that we show to others in whatever way we can participate in it. We are here to give glory to God by developing disciples who have the hunger and passion that we do and develop them so that they can take our place (when God calls us to the next step within our church or in another avenue of service to the cross).

 

That’s what we are here for!

 

 

Amen and Amen.

Matthew 6:1-4
Giving to the Needy
Buildings with our names on them. That is a lofty aspiration to have. The Mark Bowling School of Theology at North Greenville University. Wow! That would be something, wouldn’t it? That would require me to be much richer, by worldly standards, than I am right now. Sometimes, you wonder when people give huge sums of money to their alma mater as to what was their motivation. Was it a tax write-off as their main motivation? Was it to see their name on the side of a building forever (well, at least until the building falls down 150 years from now)? Or was it because they wanted to see the school be able to educate young minds in way that was financially and physically impossible before? When we work at the biggest event of our church each year, the Thanksgiving Meal Giveaway, do we do it to make ourselves feel good? Do we do it to be seen doing it? Do we participate in the corporate events so that our fellow church partners will see us and then we do not care for the widow next door? Do we walk down to put our offering in the plate to be seen giving but yet we don’t have but a dollar bill in the envelope? Do we give sacrificially or give our leftovers? Do we give coats to a coat drive but yet fail to care for a family in need because there is no one there to see us do it? Just what is our motivation for charity? Are we giving and doing for others because we expect to get something back from it (fame, notoriety, tax deduction, eternal servitude from the one we helped)? Jesus hits us square in the eye with His next statement.

As we open Chapter 6 of Matthew, here in Verses 1-4, Jesus takes us to task as what our motivation for being his follower truly is when He says, 1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

In his sermon on this passage, “What is Ted Turner Doing”, Rev. Adrian Dieleman says, “In our text Jesus speaks against strippers — spiritual strippers. ‘Spiritual exhibitionism’ is repulsive to Him.” What Dieleman is getting at is about our motivations for Christian, or perceived Christian, acts. Are we performing acts of kindness out of genuine care for our fellow man or are we doing it to get our name in the paper or at the very least a public pat on the back? In the Scripture, Jesus asks this very question. Therefore, it appears that Jesus ultimately is getting at pride. Our righteousness should be authentic and personal. What we do should be for the honor and glory of God; not ourselves. If the cameras aren’t there, if there isn’t a chance for personal publicity, if there is not a chance for a public ego massage, would we still help a family in need? Would we donate money to a worthy cause? Would we donate our time to uplift those less fortunate? Jesus says God knows our heart and knows our motivations.

This passage reminds me of the You Tube video that many of you have seen called “The Good-o-Meter”. Here’s the link if you have not seen it – http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=The+good-o-meter&aq=f. All of the people that get passed over are telling of all the positive things for society that they have done. As it is said in the Bible that faith without action is dead; then so the opposite is also true. But if you do good works but don’t have genuine faith, then you are just as spiritually dead, because the works aren’t really “good.” They are done for your glory and not for God’s. Works without faith is just as dead. As noted in the clip, God sees straight those to our true motivations. Our proud expectations of what will be said to us at the Pearly Gates will be confounded because of the lack of a humble heart. As the clip also shows us, regardless of what we do, we are doomed to failure at God’s throne as it is said in Romans 3:23-24 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. It is from this realization that our entrance to Heaven is ONLY through grace and our own humility at how far short we measure up against God’s standard of perfection can we realize the glories of Heaven. It is from this undeserved gift that we arise feeling truly, truly blessed. We consider ourselves as freed criminals who deserved the death penalty. What joy there is in our salvation through the gift of Jesus Christ! It is joy my friends. That joy is where our motivation must come. We are just giddy at the freedom from sin’s penalty that we have been granted (not earned).

When we are full of this joy that comes from our salvation, we can’t help ourselves from helping others. It is from our overflow of joy. We want others to experience the same joy that we have found. It matters not whether the stage lights are on or not. We love and we care because we have joy. Our motivation is to give God glory and give Him thanksgiving. We are driven to give God glory in everything. We are driven to see joy amidst struggle because we know what we have been saved from. Even in our darkest hours, we can see a way toward joy. We can see that it will get better. It will get better either in this life or in heaven, one or the other. There is peace in that knowledge. Let us be a people that are motivated by the joy of our salvation in Jesus Christ. Let us be a people who give to others not because we want something in return but rather that we find it as a way to give glory to God. Let us be a people that give because, maybe, in the giving, we can show others who Jesus Christ is in real, practical ways.

This is not some check your salvation thing if you are not giving generously or if you have some self-centered motivation for your giving. Our salvation is secure when we proclaim to the universe that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior and believe wholeheartedly in Him. However, we are to examine our motives because we are of sin nature. Our salvation is secure but our sanctification is a life-long process of the Holy Spirit becoming greater and our sin nature becoming less as we mature in Christ. Part of maturing in Christ is to see the areas of our life where we need to give control over to the Holy Spirit. As we mature in Christ, we make conscious choices for change when the Holy Spirit points out to us where we are not like Christ. Pride is certainly one of those areas that we struggle with as maturing Christ followers.

Jesus, thus, in this passage, is calling us to check our motivations. Is it for God’s glory that we do things publicly in His name? Do you want a position of leadership at church so as to glorify God or further your agenda? Is me desiring full-time ministry a God-calling or an ego-calling? Is pride motivating you or is giving glory to our Savior motivating you? If the latter is true, it will not matter whether people see us helping our neighbor or not. You help your neighbor because of giving glory to God and to allow others to see God at work through us. It’s all about Him! That should be our catchphrase! That should be the test by we measure everything we do. Is this all about Him?