Posts Tagged ‘service’

Numbers 8:5-26 (Part 2)

The Levites Dedicated

It was August 15, 2010, a Sunday. The second Sunday after Elena and I had moved back to South Carolina from our time in California. But before I talk about that day, a little background is in order.

I had been out there for 2 ½ years, Elena for one. During the time that we were in California together, we had become part of a wonderful church, Livermore Alive Community Church in Livermore, CA. It was at this church that I actually started to grow from a spiritual baby into something more than a spoon-fed, what-can-you-do-for-me baby. I grew into a spiritual toddler, so to speak, and maybe even a spiritual teenager while there. It was there that Elena accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior and Lord. While I had been a spiritual baby for a long time (since my salvation in December 2001), Elena grew up quickly. She devoured being a child of the One True King. It was there that we were nurtured by our pastor, Luke Brower, and his wife, Felisha. They were our mentors even though they were about 10 years younger than us. Luke and Felisha were classic California. Laid back. Low key. Satirically funny. Luke’s sermons were excellent but low key and cerebral almost. He made you think about Scripture in the deepest of ways. He preached through books of the Bible rather than being topically oriented. That was a change for me. My dad and most ministers I have been under preached topically. So, Luke’s sermons were deep into a book of a Bible. He was like this low-key, but awesomely interesting college professor. His sermons were like lectures but they were so captivating. Learning as well as being moved by his word pictures. Alas, though, after 2 ½ years getting the accounting function at my job cleaned up and operating smoothly, it was time to move the accounting function to South Carolina so that all accounting for Fujikura’s North America businesses would have their accounting done all in one centralized administrative center in the Greenville-Spartanburg, SC area. It was a bittersweet day when we had to move back to South Carolina. We had such an amazing time in that one year in Livermore that we did not want to leave it and the dear, dear friends that we had made there. But yet at the same time, we loved the fact that we would be back home close to our girls and our families.

 

So, we get back to South Carolina and move into the home that we still live in today. We move in on Friday, August 6, 2010. That next Sunday we were desperate to find our “Livermore Alive” in South Carolina. The first church we attended on Sunday, August 8, 2010, which shall remain nameless to protect the innocent, just was NOT it! We were used to modern worship and well-thought out sermons and a casual style. Although it was the kind of location we were used to. This church met in a meeting room of the local YMCA just down the road from our house. Livermore Alive met in a school gymnasium. So, it was similar in the whole set-up/breakdown mobile sound system with folding chairs kind of church. But man the music was like mountain gospel with banjos and such and the musicians had a talent level much below what we had grown accustomed to in California with Jesse Craig and Luke Brower and the amazingly talented musicians that were in Livermore Alive. And, oh my, the pastor’s sermon was a yawner and lacked Luke’s passionate delivery. Scratch that one off the list. We’ve got to find a church home. I need that. Elena needed that. We needed that.

 

By God’s design (we are still there 6 years later), we ended up at LifeSong Church in nearby Lyman, SC that next Sunday. LifeSong was an amazing church with an amazing founding pastor, Jeff Hickman, and amazing musicians. It just felt like home. However, the first Sunday there, if my wife had her way, we would not have come back. You ask why? Well, Elena was a new baby Christian at that time and had spent most of her life outside the church. Although she grew up Catholic, after about age 8, there family quit attending mass altogether. So, her first exposure to Protestant church was Livermore Alive when we were in California. Remember, I said Luke, our pastor there, was low-key. His sermons were like conversations at the dinner table. However, Elena though growing up in the South had not been exposed to Southern church, particularly Baptist church in the South. Jeff Hickman is as passionate a preacher as they come. He delivers the Word with skill and passion. He is an amazing speaker. On that first Sunday, though, LifeSong Church was at a crossroad. Continue with five, yes five, services every weekend or build a new building. The church was busting at the seams. So, the first Sunday, we were there, it was the beginning of a sermon series and a capital campaign called “Radical”. Combine passionate preacher and a sermon series called Radical, being radical in our giving and our service to Christ, you see what’s coming. On the way home, I asked Elena what she thought and whether she thought we should go back or keep searching. My wife, of laid back sermon delivery in California and no exposure to passionate Southern preachers, said, “All he talked about was money AND he YELLED at us!” The Holy Spirit guided my conversations with her to get us back there and we have been there ever since – a journey under the leadership of senior pastor Jeff Hickman that has led us closer still to the Lord and into leadership. Jeff pulls no punches when it comes to God’s Word and he will passionately lay the Word out there even if it makes you uncomfortable. No watered down gospel here. And I thank God for his leadership.

 

But, I still think of that first Sunday and my wife’s humorous statement. He talked about money and he yelled at us. Jeff is a passionate Southern preacher. Don’t think of some old guy with a suit on that is pudgy and has to loosen his tie and wipe his brow with a handkerchief kind of old school Southern. Think hip dude with jeans and a t-shirt (though seminary educated) kind of Southern preacher. His volume increases with his passion about a point he’s making. And that first Sunday was about being radical compared to this day and age of selfish desires to keep our money to ourselves and see how many toys we can get. He wanted us to be radical in being obedient to the Lord. He wanted us to think about what’s going to last – our toys or our investments in the eternity of our fellow man. He wanted us to be radical compared to our world where we simply think of ourselves and not of others. The Bible calls us to give sacrificially to the Lord and trust that the Lord will use it to reach more and more souls in the name of Jesus Christ. Being obedient to the Lord with our money is a radical thing in this time of me-me-me in which we live. So, yes, maybe in his delivery to a first timer exposure to passionate Southern preachers, he did yell at us. And, yes, he did talk about money. It was radical to Elena and challenging to me. The question was, are you being radical in your obedience to the Lord when it comes to giving of your time, your talent, and especially, your resources.

 

That first Sunday at LifeSong and exactly what these grain offerings and sin offerings and wave offerings were was what came to mind as I read through this passage once again this morning. Let’s read the full passage together and then let’s concentrate on vv. 8-9 for today after we have read through it:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Since we live in the time since the completion of the Old Testament sacrificial system (it was completed at the cross with the once and final sacrifice for all time in Jesus’ death on the cross), we may as modern men and women have a difficult time understanding the offerings that are noted in this passage. There is a grain offering, a sin offering, and a wave offering. It is hard for us to understand and some of it may even seem distasteful to us. For today, let us concentrate on the grain offering.

 

According to www.gotquestions.com, it says,

 

A grain offering is a type of sacrifice described in the Old Testament (Leviticus 2) that the Israelites offered to God. A grain offering would have most likely been one of wheat or barley, depending on what was available. While other sacrifices had very specific instructions from God as to how they were to be offered, the rules governing grain offerings had some flexibility.

 

A grain offering could be given to God either uncooked or cooked in an oven or pan (Leviticus 2:1; 4—5). The requirements for the grain offering were that it had to be finely ground and have oil and salt in it (Leviticus 2:1, 4, 13). It could not have any yeast (also called leaven) or honey in it (Leviticus 2:11). When a person brought a grain offering to the priests, a small portion of it was offered to God, with some frankincense, on the altar. The rest of the grain offering went to the priests (Leviticus 2:10). No specific amount of grain was required for an offering; people were free to give what they had.

 

It’s interesting to note that during the Israelites’ forty years of wilderness wandering grain would have been quite scarce. This made grain offerings more costly and precious for the people to offer to God. Giving a grain offering in those circumstances represented the Israelites’ complete dependence on God to provide for their needs each day. Jesus fulfilled the Law (Matthew 5:17), and we no longer have to do sacrifices as they did in the Old Testament. But, if the grain offering is similar to our offering of worship, it’s interesting to consider: how much does our worship today cost us?

 

That brings us back to that first Sunday at LifeSong Church those six years ago now. It was Radical Sunday. It was the beginning of a church of people being asked to look in their heart and make sacrifices of scarce resources. How much do we care about the Lord? Do we worship Him as long as it does not force us to make sacrifices? Do we really love the Lord enough to decide that it is better to make tithing and making offerings above the tithe a number one priority? Do we really trust the Lord with our finances? Do we trust that He will make provision for us when we are obedient in our giving? Are we willing to make that radical sacrifice? Are we bold enough to begin now to quit chasing after things in this life and invest in things of eternity?

 

As we begin closing in on time to start our budgeting process for budget year 2017 at LifeSong, it is a question that we must consider as this local body of the general body of Christ known as His church. On an annual basis, we average about 750 attendees on any given weekend. We have though only 450 or so giving units/families in our church. What if all of our attendees gave to the church? What if all of our attendees gave sacrificially (the tithe and more) to the church? We are known in our community as a church that does things for the community, that cares about the community? Imagine if we all, who claim LifeSong as their home, gave radically. What if we trusted the Lord enough to let go of more than the $20 bill that we happen to have in our wallets on Sundays? What if we all were radically sacrificial in our giving? Imagine what we could do in our community and our region. Imagine the love that we could share with those who do not know Christ as their Savior. Imagine the lives we could touch with the gospel in our community, in our nation, in our world. Imagine our pastors not having to struggle to make ends meet. Imagine them not having to worry about sending their kids to college. Imagine a church where meeting payroll and paying the bills each week was simply done and not sweated over. Imagine the things that we want to do to spread the gospel that we don’t do know. What a radical thought that is?

 

Can you and I be radical? Can we arrange our lives where we quit pursuing stuff so much and trusting the Lord with the first 10% or MORE of what we make and living off the rest? Can we be a people that does not try to theoretically create an argument for not giving the tithe just so we can justify trading cars every two or three years, so we can justify the buying the house that is above our means, so we can justify our jet skis and boats and summer vacations? Can we be that radical? Can we be like the Israelites in the wilderness of the Sinai desert where grain was like gold giving grain offerings to the Lord? Radical indeed. How much do we really trust the Lord? How much grain are we willing to part with? How obedient can we be? Radically obedient! Are you radical? Am I?

 

 

Amen and Amen.

Romans 16:1-16 — Women. Women. Women. OK, guys, now that I have your attention. Let us as men and women read on. In this passage, we find a who’s who list of early Christians. This passage though it seems like just a list of greetings tell us several important things about the early Christian church that we must remember today.

This passage teaches us, first, that just because a Christian woman is submissive to her husband does not mean that she cannot play important roles in the church and its work. We will look at this point today. Tomorrow (Saturday), we will look at husbands and wives as Christian teammates. Finally on Sunday, we will look at the mobility of the early church and what it compels us to be today.

First, there is Phoebe. She is mentioned first in this passage, Paul’s greetings. Some biblical scholars conjecture that since she was mentioned first here that she was the one who delivered this letter, now called the Book of Romans, from Paul to the believers at Rome. She is noted as a deacon. In the first century, deacons were not the power brokers that they are in many Baptist churches today. Back then deacon was just the first step in service to the Lord. Deacons were those that we singled out for the heart for the Lord and service to other Christians. In the early church, they were the ones who took care of the practical day-to-day matters of the church. The fact that Phoebe was a deacon reminds us that women played an important role in the early church. In a time in history, when women has little or no power and few human rights, the fact that Pheobe is named as a deacon is especially striking. This kind of debunks the sometimes held belief that the Christian church has a sexist bent. Paul mentions Phoebe as being helpful to Paul so that means most likely that she helped his ministry’s financial needs. She was highly regarded in the church. She was a woman who helped the church grow and expand. Women were part of Jesus’ town to town entourage (Luke 8:1-3) who helped meet the needs of his ministry and did so from their own means. They were not prevented from helping the church because they were women. They were empowered by Jesus and later his church.

Sure, Paul tells us in many other places in the Bible that women should submit to their husbands (who are submitted to the Lord and loves his wife the way the Lord loved his church – he gave his life for it). However, that did not mean that they were not allowed to be active, useful, and important members of the church. Throughout the New Testament women are given great value by Jesus and by his church. What mattered to Jesus and it is apparent here is that they were believers and they wished to serve the Lord. Women, as you see, here plaid prominent roles in the church. This shows that a woman can be submissive to a truly Godly man in the matters of their home and as a couple outside it but it does not preclude women from great, great servants in the church. Women are celebrated by the church. Women are gifts to us men. They are the true treasures of God’s creation. They are beauty. They are that which makes our world worth living in. They are what make this world worth fighting for. Without women, the world would be a dirty, ugly, and harsh like the nature of men. Women are made to be home. They are our safe place in a harsh world. They are important in God’s plan and they should be important in God’s church.

Let us remember as Christian men, we are given the gift of a submissive wife. With the submission of our wives to us, we are given an even greater responsibility to her (and by extension to God-fearing women in general). We must be willing to die for our wives as Christ died for us. We are called to be sacrificial for our wives. We are called to put their needs before ours. As Christ covers us with his perfection, we are to cover and protect our wives and make sure that they can grow into the flowers that they are intended to be. We are not to keep them beaten down and locked away. We are to make sure that they can flourish just as Jesus makes sure that we are made right with God. As men, we should make sure that not only our wives are allowed to flourish but all Christian women. We should create an environment that these treasures, women, can flourish and use the special gifts that God gives specifically to women. This is our job, men. The way I see it, women will willingly submit to a man when she sees him living a God-fearing life and is demonstrating a Christ-like love toward her as a wife or a Christ-like respect to her as a woman in general. We don’t get submission by being a prick to our wives or women in general.

So, there you have it, women are important in God’s plan of redemption for the world just as we men are. They played important roles in the first century church and were extremely important to the rapid spread of the church. The Christian church is empowering of women because Jesus was empowering of women. Feminists bash the Bible because they read that women should be submissive. Yes, it says that, and, yes, we believe that. However, what the feminists don’t read on and see is that men have a higher calling that results in this submission. We are called to love our wives the way Christ loved the church. How did Christ love the church? He went all out for it to the point of offering up his life so that we would be reconciled to God. We are to love our wives this way. How can a woman not submit to a husband that loves her this way? By implication too, we, men, should create an environment for all Christian women that they know that we will put our life on the line for them, that we will create an environment where they feel safe and can flourish. As men, we should empower women to become all they can be just as Jesus did. He gave them value. We should give them value. If they have talents that can benefit and further the church we should celebrate it and foster it not condemn it and hinder it. Women. Women. Women. They are God’s gift to us. Let us treat them that way. Let us help them become all they can be in God’s plan.