Posts Tagged ‘putting God first in our lives’

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

Yesterday morning, I found out as soon as I returned from my usual morning 1 hour and 40 minute walk (usually between 4:20am and 6:00am weekday mornings) that my Michelle (my stepdaughter) lost her paternal grandfather to the Lord this morning. He had been lingering on in hospice care for the last few weeks. This grandfather is Michelle’s biological father’s dad. Although Michelle’s mom and dad divorced long ago, Elena still has fond memories of her ex-husband’s parents. Michelle was close with her paternal grandparents so you can understand that she is distraught this morning. But from what I understand of Michelle’s grandfather, he was a devout Christian and a caring man. Just and old school Southern man that loved the Lord and did things the right way and a man of honor, dignity, and morality. You might consider him backward or boring by today’s standards. He saved his money, lived modestly, gave generously and quietly, and provided for his family. From what I know of this man from the glowing reviews that my wife gave him, there is no doubt in my mind that at 5:55am this morning, Michelle’s grandfather made the transition from his earthly shell of a body into the presence of the Lord and is no longer wracked by the pain of being a soul in an earthen vessel that was incapacitated. Michelle can take comfort in knowing that her grandfather is now in heaven and is free of pain and is celebrating the joy that is living in the actual presence of God in heaven. She can take comfort in knowing that her grandfather was not one to fake his faith. He lived it out quietly and unassumedly each day. He was, from what I understand, the real deal. What he was at church on Sunday is what he was on Monday-Saturday, every day. The fact that this man lived out his faith every day is something to take comfort in. There is joy in knowing that someone you loved is dancing in heaven right now and will do so for eternity.

For what shall we be known when we die? Will we be known for being a man of God? Will we be known for being a man whose word you can count on? Will we be known for being a man of integrity? Will we be known for being a man of morality of doing the right thing even when it costs us something? Will we be known for being a man who would give another person the shirt off their back if necessary? Will we be known for being a man who was generous to a fault? Will we be known as a man who lived by biblical principles? Will we be known as a man who shared his faith whenever the opportunity was presented?

Or will God be our fallback position? Will we love God only in times of crisis? Will we love God only when the chips are down? Will we love God only when we have no other option? That’s what I thought of this morning as I read through this passage, 1 Samuel 4:1b-11 – how there are people who treat God as a fallback position or as a last resort. Let’s read the passage 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 Ark of the Covenant, as you may know, contained the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses. The Ark was supposed to be kept in the Most Holy Place, the most sacred part of the Tabernacle that only the High Priest could enter only once per year. Hophi and Phinehas desescrated the room unlawfully by entering into the Most Holy Place and removing it. Not only were they not the High Priest and not only was it not the proper time of year for the room to be entered, they did not enter for the right reasons. The only reason that the High Priest was to enter was either to prepare the entire Tabernacle to be moved or to enter at that one time per year that he was to intercede on behalf of the people of Israel for their sins during the past year. It was always to be entered into in humility and honor. I bet most likely Eli’s horrible sons probably just ran in there slammed things around and took the Ark out without paying due honor and respect for where they were and to God himself.

Here, we see these men, the sons of Eli, who were immoral, greedy, lecherous men. They seduced women and had sex with them because they had loose morals. Sex was a recreation sport to them. Stealing was a way of adding to their wealth and power. Taking advantage of people was the way they accumulated wealth and showed their power. A relationship with God was not a part of their lives. They were out to satisfy their lusts for power, money and sex. And they were destroying Israel in the process. They were causing distrust of the Tabernacle as a place of worship. They were breaking down the honor and integrity of the priesthood. They were all about getting what they could get and as much as they could get. It did not matter who they hurt in the process. However, when the chips were down and Israel was about to be crushed. They went “oh, yeah, there is God. He will help us!” Living all their lives thumbing their nose up at God but now when they were about to lose their wealth and power, they fall back to God. Sound familiar? Are you and I out for ourselves and God is the farthest thing from our minds until something doesn’t go our way and THEN we cry out to God? Don’t we live our lives for ourselves more often than not? Doing things and wanting things and not caring who we hurt to get what we want? Are we not Hophni and Phinehas? Are we not arrogant in the face of God thinking we know better and thinking we can do it all by ourselves? Do we not try to get all we can get when we can get it? We know of God but we don’t care about Him until something goes awry? We think we can fix our relationship with Him later? You know later in life when we get older? You know! Some time before we die! God is our fallback position. That was me before I met the reality of my eternal destination of the night of my salvation. That was the way I lived my life before Jesus. I am not perfect post-salvation for sure, but I do love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. I want to please Him now. He is front and center in my life. He is part of my everyday life. He is part of everything I do. He is no longer my fallback position.

Hopefully, when I die, people will speak of me as I have been hearing about Michelle’s paternal grandfather. God was not his fallback position. He lived it and breathed it when it came to his faith. Because in the end, it is when we meet our Maker that we want Him to say to us “well done, good and faithful servant! You have run the good race. You have fought the good fight!” Welcome to your mansion that I have prepared for us. When we only use God as a last resort, Jesus said that there will be many running around saying “Lord! Lord!” but he will say “away from me for I never knew you!”

The choice is yours. You can be like Hophni and Phinehas that used God as a good luck charm for bad times or you can have a real relationship where you love Him and put Him first in your life and obey like Michelle’s paternal grandfather, Paw-Paw.

Are you going to be Phinehas or Paw-Paw?

Amen and Amen.

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Judges 8:22-35 (Part 1 of 3)
Gideon’s Sacred Ephod

You see it all the time. Pastors who become enamored with the influence that they have. Pastors of large churches that they founded that are independent of denomination or any sort of accountability structures. Big mansions are the first sign of slippage. Security details are another sign of becoming enamored with self. Speaking engagements around the country. Authoring books. Rapidly expanding churches. It can all be overwhelming. There are many that started out as humble men of God with a passion to reach people for Christ. God shows them favor and everything they touch seems to turn to gold. Their churches explode. Their churches become magnets for other preachers who want to learn how they did it. Next comes the conferences for other preachers to teach them how you did it. God is given praise through it all. Books come next on leadership in God’s church. Next comes further explosion of the church and more campuses. Then, the books on your thoughts about living the Christian life. Next thing you know, you’ve got a big house in an exclusive neighborhood. You spend more time traveling to speaking engagements than you do with your family or the church you founded. You become the darling of Christian media as guy who is doing it right and being blessed. Your church is the cool church. New buildings with the latest church style that promotes “fellowship and community” and has the latest in seating design and sound systems and lighting. Your worship music ministry begins to draw great talent from around the region of the country in which your church is located. You get the best musicians. They are awesome. They are so good that they record albums and they are of course big hits with millions of downloads and lots of airtime on Christian radio. They get on the radio to promote their tours and all the while they give you credit as well as the Lord above. Your church employment structure grows and grows and you get the best talent for your staff.

It all seems to be working well. Then, the pastor becomes enamored with self and with pride and the next thing you know they are promoting more of a prosperity or self-help Jesus that the Jesus of the Bible. The next thing you know they begin to believe there is justification for everything they do. Everybody loves me they say so there seems to be no pushback for decisions that begin to stray from God’s Word and His design for your ministry. Next thing you know, there are the private moral lapses known only to the staff. Next thing you know there is a public scandal that everyone knows about. And, then, there is the fall from grace. You are no longer the trusted man of God and no longer the head of this wow, now, pow growing by leaps and bounds church movement.

The battlefield with Satan is filled with men of God who started with good intentions, with God intentions. They started out with a passion for Jesus Christ. They loved Him like nobody’s business and it showed and it led them to aggressively seek after Him and to seek after the lost. And, they did, did, did love seeing people coming to Christ. They truly were men of God. But with being a successful man of God comes the target on the back of such men. When we have success it is easy to listen to pride through Satan and becomes harder and harder to open your eyes to your own shortcomings and weak spots. Satan will attack there. We’ve seen it before. Great men leading great church movements. Mark Driscoll, Tullian Tchividjian, Darrin Patrick, Bob Coy, and most recently, Perry Noble come to mind. Flasback to the 1980’s when the non-traditional church movement began with the failures of Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker. It is a danger when things start creeping in that start becoming more important to them than the churches they founded. The attention, the money, the glamour, the riches, the ego massaging, the success itself. Success is a cruel and unrelenting seductress that has led many a man to moral failure. But similar to the fact that most commercial airliners don’t crash, when they do it is spectacularly horrendous. It is the same with large or megachurch pastors. Most are god fearing men who steer their ships well, but when one does fall it is spectacularly horrendous. When an executive in the business world has an affair, it might be news but it might not. When a megachurch pastor has a moral failure, it is always news. Why is that these men who were passionately following God at the beginning, and even in the middle of their ramp up to megachurch status always seem to end up having some moral failure.

That is why I pray for megachurch pastors that have not yet fallen that they would take notice of the moral failures of other such pastors. Right now, I pray that Steven Furtick, founder of the wildly growing network of Elevation Church in the Charlotte, NC area. He is the next rising star. He is a hot commodity. Passionate preacher. Wonderful organization. New campuses in the ever expanding Charlotte metro area every couple of months it seems. Each campus is vibrant and active. Steven is demand for speaking engagements and he wows crowds with his speeches and sermons. He has written books. His worship music team is wildly popular nationally among Christian contemporary music fans. It’s all been an amazing thing to watch from this North Greenville University alum who had a passion and a burden for Charlotte and started in a storefront. He is the next great megachurch pastor. He is also the next one who is line for a big fall. I am not saying that he will and pray that he doesn’t. His church is reaching a segment of Charlotte’s population that would otherwise not be churched had he not started Elevation. But he already has built a big fine mansion. I fear that more of the same indicators of the falls of previous megachurch pastors are to come. As a North Greenville alum and a fan of Steve’s preaching and his church, I pray wholeheartedly that he stays grounded. That he remembers that if it doesn’t align with Scripture, don’t do it. I pray that he has men around him that will hold him accountable and tell him the truth when it needs telling. He needs men to tell him that poop is poop and not roses.

The fall of many megachurch pastors is what I thought of when I read this passage about Gideon. He was a man from humble beginnings and really didn’t want the mantle of being Israel’s savior from the Midianites. However, he took on the battles and even says here at the beginning of this passage that he wants to follow God. However, he was not aware of his weak spot and it shows right away when he becomes a leader. He was susceptible to the need for wealth and displays of wealth. His pride was going to get in the way, we see right from the beginning. He always needed validation externally. Remember the fleece episode. Now he is seeking validation through wealth, even though feigning that Israel should put God first. Let’s read, Judges 8:22-35 now, with special attention to vv. 22-25:

22 The Israelites said to Gideon, “Rule over us—you, your son and your grandson—because you have saved us from the hand of Midian.”

23 But Gideon told them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.” 24 And he said, “I do have one request, that each of you give me an earring from your share of the plunder.” (It was the custom of the Ishmaelites to wear gold earrings.)

25 They answered, “We’ll be glad to give them.” So they spread out a garment, and each of them threw a ring from his plunder onto it. 26 The weight of the gold rings he asked for came to seventeen hundred shekels,[a] not counting the ornaments, the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian or the chains that were on their camels’ necks. 27 Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.
Gideon’s Death

28 Thus Midian was subdued before the Israelites and did not raise its head again. During Gideon’s lifetime, the land had peace forty years.

29 Jerub-Baal son of Joash went back home to live. 30 He had seventy sons of his own, for he had many wives. 31 His concubine, who lived in Shechem, also bore him a son, whom he named Abimelek. 32 Gideon son of Joash died at a good old age and was buried in the tomb of his father Joash in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

33 No sooner had Gideon died than the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals. They set up Baal-Berith as their god 34 and did not remember the Lord their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side. 35 They also failed to show any loyalty to the family of Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) in spite of all the good things he had done for them.

In this passage, in vv. 22-25, we see that the people of Israel wanted to make Gideon their king, but Gideon stressed that the Lord was to rule over them. Despite his inconsistencies, Gideon recognized here the importance of putting God first, for both a nation and an individual. Is God first in your life? If he is, he must affect every dimension of your life, not just what you do in church or other public settings where you can seen as godly. Here, we see an indication that Gideon struggles with prideful behavior. This type of behavior can bring down many a leader. As was the custom in these days, those who were wealthly put ornaments on their camels as a way of displaying their riches. Women wore vast amounts of jewelry as a display of their husband’s wealth. Gideon’s desire here shows that he seems to have been enamored with displays of wealth.

When we start letting things get in the way of our relationship with the Lord, we will fail. When we let having things and trinkets get in the way, we will fail. When we let lusts of the heart (for women, for money, for power, for attention, for approval, for an addiction) get in the way of putting God first in our lives, we will fail and we will fall. We need to put God first in our actions as much as in our words. We must put His Word as the governing priority in our lives. We must compare what we think, do, and feel to what Scripture says. We must love God more than we love anything else. We must love him with a passion. We must have people in our lives to tell us that our poop is poop and not tell us what we want to hear. We need to realize that we are here on earth only because God willed it to be and we are here to serve Him. He is God and we are not. We must remember to make him the passion of our lives. We must make him the all to end all. Not things. Not people. Not acclaim. Not approval. Not wealth. Not anything on this side of eternity. All here is temporary and fading. Nothing lasts. Think on eternal things and of pleasing the Eternal One. He will never fail us or forsake us. Pleasing Him is what we are here for.

Amen and Amen.

Luke 12:22-34 — Several years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Charles Lea Center in Spartanburg, SC with a group from our church. It is a former school that has been converted into an activity center for mentally challenged people of all ages. We visited on a Saturday morning and at the end of the visit, we sang Christian songs with them. The passion with which these folks sang (not caring about whether they were in tune or who heard them) reminded me of this passage. These folks just had an unadulterated love of their Father in heaven. It was a simple faith that they were displaying. They just loved Jesus and that’s it. No high minded theological discussions just a simple love of Jesus.

It was not long after that visit that I had the opportunity to go on a mission trip to Haiti. While there, I got to visit a Tuesday night prayer meeting at the church that was the center of activity for our mission trip, Restoration Church. In this prayer meeting, people just came to the church to pray. There was no order of service. There was no preaching. People just came to the church on Tuesday nights to pray. There was no organized service. At that prayer service, as people came in and the church filled up with people, they were all praying out loud in French Creole, the language of Haiti. As the evening drew deeper into the night, the passion of their prayers became more intense until the air was filled with the passionate words of prayer. Just think of about 150 people all praying out loud, all with passionate pleas to the Father. I felt the Holy Spirit that night. I tasted the power literally of the Holy Spirit in mouth. It was the most awesome church service I had ever been to. I could not understand a word they were saying but I knew they were intimately reaching out to their Father in heaven. Never seen anything like it before or since. These people live in the poorest country in the western hemisphere, one of the poorest countries in the world, but these saved souls pour out their praise on their Savior more deeply and intensely than any American Christians would ever dream of doing.

These stories are the first thing I think of when I consider what Jesus says, “Seek the kingdom of God above all else, and He will give you everything you need.” Some translations say “seek the kingdom of God first, and all else will be added.” Seek the kingdom of God first. Everything else is secondary to that. We must make Jesus the King of our lives. He must be put first in every area of our lives. When we seek to honor God first as the clients at the Charles Lea Center do, as the worshipers at Restoration Church in Jacmel, Haiti do, everything else gets put into perspective.

Since I don’t have time to write a book this morning about all the areas of life where we should put God first, I am going to concentrate this blog on one thing. The one area that most of us give to the Lord last is our finances. We think we are the owners of the money we make rather than seeing that God gave us the talent to earn it. We often put God last in our finances. He is an afterthought. We do not put God first. God is a leftover God when it comes to our finances.

My passion about putting God first in our finances leads me to teach and write about it often. I don’t teach it without experience. I have lived life of trying to keep up with the Jones. Divorces and other events of life led me to a life of financial burden. My credit report was awful looking. It was not til I met Elena that I began to see that debt, debt, and more debt was not the answer. Getting out of debt was. Although she did not see the eternal perspective of what getting out of debt was at the time. She just taught me that it made sense to have a good credit score. God was working through her toward me. When she became saved and as I matured as a Christian myself, we began to raise God to the place He should be in our finances. First.

When we put God first in our finances, we honor God with the money we make. We give to Him first and live off the rest. We no longer buy in to the American dream rat race. When we honor Him in our finances, we honestly do not care about the latest, greatest cars or houses. As long as we have what we need to survive in the culture we live in, then everything else is just gravy. When you put God first in your finances, the debt, debt and more debt merry-go-round that most of us live on, you finally decide to get off it and start paying off debts, keeping assets longer, and work your way to being debt free some day. When you do not live off of 105% of what you make (as most Americans do), you are capable of now honoring God by giving when there is a need, seeing the importance of tithing because God commands us to give Him our firstfruits and not our leftovers. Imagine if all American Christians truly tithed their first ten percent of their income to their local churches. Average giving in American churches is $20 per person per Sunday. I dare say that if that were a tithe we Americans average making $200 per week, or $10,400 per year. True average American income is now $53,000 per year or a little over a $1,000 per week. Average giving should then be $100 per week per person. Thus it is obvious most that we are not putting God first in our finances. We put things ahead of God.

If we do not honor God with our finances, we miss opportunities to participate in Christ’s ministry in the world. When we do put God first there, we cannot help a friend in need, we have to pay for that car we cannot afford nor really need. When we do not put God first in our finances, we cannot go on a mission trip to help save victims of the sex trafficking trade in Asia escape that lifestyle with no hope, we have to pay for that jet ski. When we see the single mom struggling with medical bills and she is about to be kicked out of her home, we cannot help because we have to pay for all the money we spent on that cruise that we went on last summer. Can’t you see my friends, how much is enough? We miss the opportunities to serve the kingdom and teach people about agape love of Christ when we do not put God first in our finances. Instead this being the last area we bring under submission to Christ, it should be the first.

Trust God with your finances and all the things you NEED you will have. He will provide for you. Just let Him have your first fruits. Trust Him to provide for you. All else will be added unto.

Just as the clients at the Charles Lea Center and the worshipers at Resotration Church give God great praise with unbridled joy. God is everything to them. He is first in their praise. He is first in their life. May we take example from them and put God first in everything. God should not be a compartment to our lives. He is not a box that we pull out and play with and then put back up making sure that it does not touch the other boxes. He should be our lives. He should permeate every area. We should put Him first in every area of life including our finances. When we put Him first over every aspect of our lives, we will finally find peace and rest and most of all joy. Joy at trusting that God has our back just as the people in my illustrations do. That is joy. Joy is knowing that we are secure in God when we give all areas of life over to His Lordship.