Posts Tagged ‘pride’

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.

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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?

Luke 18:9-14 — The timing of God is so completely awe-inspiring at times. I call it God’s synchronicity. He teaches me things in small windows of time with the same message from multiple different sources in many different ways.

Yesterday, I got to take part in honoring the life of a dear friend of mine, Marvin Williams. I was given the honor of speaking of Marvin’s life since I was his small group leader, not the main sermon but about a 5-6 minute speech about the man that I knew. The burden that was placed on my heart from the time that I knew I had to speak was the comparison of Marvin’s life to that of the Apostle Paul. The similarities are there. Paul was a highly religious man who knew Scripture frontwards and backwards. He was high up in the ranks of the Jewish religious power structure. He studied under the greatest biblical scholar of the day, Gamaliel. He knew everything there was to know about what we call the Old Testament. He was scholarly with much religious zeal. He was enamored with His own understanding of Scripture. But yet, he could not see the Messiah. He was so zealous in defense of his way of life, his power, his pride that he persecuted, literally, those who believed that Jesus was the Messiah. It took a watershed moment in his life. The Damascus Road Experience we call it. It was not until he had a vision from our Savior Jesus Christ that His life took a 180 degree turn.

Marvin’s life was similar. He was in church all his life. He knew Scripture well. He could have biblical debates with the best of them. He even taught Sunday school. There were even young men who had been in his Sunday school class that went on to be pastors. Yet, for all his doing the right stuff. He could not see the Messiah. It took a watershed moment in his life to see that all the things that he had talked about all his life were real. He had to pull his car over on the side of the road to finally see Jesus. To finally see he needed Jesus. It was until this side of the road experience that he finally accepted Christ as his Savior at age 65.

Today, in this passage, I see Marvin pre-salvation and I see Marvin post-salvation. The Pharisee was Marvin before salvation. The Pharisee did not go to the Tempe to pray but to announce to all within earshot how good he was. He wanted people to see his puffery. The Pharisee was proud of who he was and how devout he was. Aren’t many of us like Marvin. Aren’t many of us like the Pharisee. We do all the right things. We say all the right things. We go to church. We serve at church. We participate in community events held by the church. We might even help a family in need. As many of you who read my blog may already know, my wife and I are the directors of the community outreach activities of our church. At one of our events, a person at our church got mad at me for having placed her in what basically amounted to an out of sight position at a community event. It was our Thanksgiving Meal Giveaway where we giveaway complete meals to the needy in our community. They come by and pick up a turkey and a full bag of groceries so that they can have a family Thanksgiving in their own home. Since this person had not participated in any of the planning or training meetings for the event and just showed up the day of the event, I assigned her the job of helping keep the bags of groceries stocked for the ones who actually gave the bags to the recipients. This person actually got mad at me because she was not put in a visible position basically. She wanted to be seen by others. A lot of us put on a show of religiosity but do not know the Messiah. Marvin was not alone in this. The Pharisee was not alone in this. We get so busy doing the right things we mistake this for salvation. It becomes all about earning brownie points. It becomes about the heavy burden of being better than the next guy. Do you do all the right things but yet do not know the Messiah? Do you think that this is salvation? Do you know the Messiah? Is he in your heart?

What does it take to know the Messiah? The hated tax collector knew. He went to the Temple recognizing that he was a sinner. He recognized that he needed mercy. There are none of us that can do enough good things to earn our salvation. We must throw ourselves at the mercy of God through Jesus Christ. Marvin arrived at this destination on the side of the road one day at age 65. For all his churchiness before this day, Marvin realized that day that he was a sinner in need of a Savior. He had been blind to the Messiah. Now, he saw Him on the side of the road. Like Paul’s Damascus Road Experience, Marvin had his Side of the Road Experience. Like the tax collector who saw himself honestly and humbly as unworthy of the Father in Heaven, Marvin laid it all bare inside that car that day. His pride, his bravado, like that of the Pharisee in this parable, were all laid to waste. He was transformed from the prideful Pharisee to the lowly, humble tax collector. Gone was the pride. Gone was the checklist of doing the right things. Gone was the Paul-like pre-salvation arrogance. Gone was the ambition and zeal for self-serving. The reality that Marvin met with that day was that he was destined for hell because of his sin-filled nature. There was nothing that he could do to change that. All he could do was, like the tax collector in this parable, was to beg for mercy. There is the moment that we see the Messiah.

The Messiah died for our sins so that we would not go to the fiery pit permanently separated from God forever. When we believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior, we are made clean. We are made a child of God. We are raised into new life. That was the joy of the remainder of Marvin’s life. It fueled his life. It changed his life. He lived a life of joy his last 7 years (even though the last couple of months were full of physical suffering to the point he was just ready to go home to his Father in heaven). He served in those last 7 years not because of duty but because it was the least he could for the Savior that saved him. Are you like old life Marvin, straining under the heavy burden of checklist religion. Are you straining under doing the right thing. Are you like pre-salvation Paul who knew Scripture and did all the checklist “right things”. Man, is that tiring trying to be the proud Pharisee. It is tiring trying to be good and making sure others see us being good even though we are sin-filled inside. We are in need. We have a need. We need a Savior. Do you know Him, really know Him?

We are all the tax collector. We need mercy. Marvin found his. He saw the Messiah that day on the side of the road. He was relieved of his burdens that day. He lived a life of joy that surpasses all understanding the rest of the way. He now rests in his mansion of glory with His Savior. Are you tired of trying to be a Pharisee when you are really a tax collector. Call out in humble honesty to Jesus that you are a sinner and no matter how good you try to be you are imperfect and always will be. Call out to Jesus and tell him that you know what your fate is without His help. Call out to Him to save you from your fate. Call out to him to take over your life and be your Lord. Call out to Him now! Marvin did, so can you!