Posts Tagged ‘stepping out in faith’

1 Samuel 13:15-23
Israel’s Military Disadvantage

Have you ever had to step out in complete and total faith in the Lord? Or did you hide in the rocks and let the opportunity pass and then forever kick yourself for not acting in faith? That may be the choice that I am faced with very soon. This coming weekend, my wife and I will travel to western central Illinois to interview for an opportunity for me to replace a retiring executive pastor at a non-denominational church there. Already, I know that the job will be for significantly less money than I am making now in my equivalent position in the secular world as the chief financial executive for Fujikura America, Inc. (FAI).

We knew that from Day 1 when God called me and my wife to ministry. We knew that we had to prepare. We have been shedding ourselves of debts and selling our first house together to downsize both in space and in the monthly mortgage. We have maxed out my 401k contributions and we have been setting aside money in savings wherever we can. I am completely and utterly thankful to the Lord in how he has blessed us through my current job. The way FAI has taken care of us has given us financial stability and it has, because of our willingness to live simply, allowed us to be generous to our church, to family, to friends, and to complete strangers. Without my job at FAI, my life over the past 10 years might have looked completely different. I will be eternally grateful to the Lord and to my bosses over the past decade at FAI for the opportunity that they provided me and the wonderful financial blessings that this job has provided. I cannot stress that enough. And with my passion for excellence and just wanting to do my best at whatever I do, I could work at this job at FAI for another 10 years and retire at age 65 after what would be then 20 years in this job. Although the job is now more of maintaining a certain level of expected excellence, it has provided many challenges over the years that has kept the job interesting. I am not yet at the point where I am bored with this job. I have now as of December 2017 month-end gone through 111 month-end closings with FAI but yet it is still an interesting job. I love the fact that I am a big frog in a little pond at FAI but yet part of this global organization of our ultimate parent company in Japan. Although FAI is a small part of the bigger whole, there are people in positions at the top of the global company that know who I am and like me a lot. So, it is a great job in so many respects. I could not ask for anything better. My current boss, the third president I have served under at FAI, is an openly Christian man and we discuss faith matters often when we are together (he works on the west coast and I on the east). So, for a Christian guy like me, what else could you ask for? A great place to work with great benefits and an awesome compensation package. A great boss who thinks the world of me and who is a fellow follower of Jesus Christ. Why then would I want to change anything?

That will be the challenge this weekend or shortly after the visit to west central Illinois if they offer me the job as their executive or administrative pastor. Knowing what I have in the bag at FAI that is real and tangible. It is in my hands and it is a known commodity. It is safe. It is known. It is what I have done for a decade. But God has called me to ministry. Full-time ministry. That is what is unique about this particular job interview cycle with this particular church is that they sought me out instead of me going through the typical job post response and selection process. They contacted me. And the phone interviews have been like old friends talking to one another. It has been so comfortable as if it is meant to be. We shall see but I would not be surprised if there is a job offer within a few days of our return from Illinois. I might be wrong about that. I guess the difference too in me this year is that I will not be shattered if the job is not offered. Based on my experience last year with coming so close with that church in Ohio last year and then being severely disappointed when we did not get the job, I am trying to think of every reason in the world not to take this job so that I will not be disappointed if a job offer is not made.

But what if this is it? What if a job offer is made? There are a million reasons for me not to take the job. My daughters, my stepdaughter, and my little 17 ½ month old granddaughter all live within an hour and half max of me and my wife right now. How can I leave them? The job offer if it comes will most likely be for half or less of what I make now. How are we going to make it? Did I mention my granddaughter lives within an hour? My youngest daughter is estranged from me by her own choosing and because of her lifestyle choices that are so far below her potential. How can I leave her when I know she is going to hit rock bottom one day and really need me? How can I leave her? Did I mention I have a great job that pays me well?

These are the caves that I live in. They are safe. They are warm. They are secure. But sometimes God calls us out of the safe and secure so that we can learn that the source of our strength, the source of our provision is Him. Sometimes, we have to step out in faith so that we can realize just how amazing God is? Will I be able to step out the safe cave?

That’s the thing I thought of this morning when I read this passage – how the Israelites were playing it safe in the caves and in the hills rather than having faith in their God and stepping to face their enemies. Sometimes, radical faith is required. Are you in a similar position? Are you going to stay in the cave because it seems impossible or even crazy to do what God is asking you to do? Let’s read the passage now, 1 Samuel 13:15-23:

15 Samuel then left Gilgal and went on his way, but the rest of the troops went with Saul to meet the army. They went up from Gilgal to Gibeah in the land of Benjamin.[a] When Saul counted the men who were still with him, he found only 600 were left! 16 Saul and Jonathan and the troops with them were staying at Geba in the land of Benjamin. The Philistines set up their camp at Micmash. 17 Three raiding parties soon left the camp of the Philistines. One went north toward Ophrah in the land of Shual, 18 another went west to Beth-horon, and the third moved toward the border above the valley of Zeboim near the wilderness.

19 There were no blacksmiths in the land of Israel in those days. The Philistines wouldn’t allow them for fear they would make swords and spears for the Hebrews. 20 So whenever the Israelites needed to sharpen their plowshares, picks, axes, or sickles,[b] they had to take them to a Philistine blacksmith. 21 The charges were as follows: a quarter of an ounce[c] of silver for sharpening a plowshare or a pick, and an eighth of an ounce[d] for sharpening an ax or making the point of an ox goad. 22 So on the day of the battle none of the people of Israel had a sword or spear, except for Saul and Jonathan.

23 The pass at Micmash had meanwhile been secured by a contingent of the Philistine army.

In this passage, we see that Israel was in no position to conquer anyone. The army had no iron weapons, and there were no facilities for turning their tools into weapons. In fact, if an Israelite wanted to sharpen his tools, he had to pay a Philistine blacksmith to do it because the Philistines had a carefully guarded monopoly on iron and blacksmithing. They charged high prices for sharpening farm implements. With their tight control over the ironworks technology, along with their continuous surprise raids, they demoralized the Israelites and kept them oppressed. Against such superiority, the Israelites were at a serious disadvantage. As a result, they hid in caves when the Philistines would raid into their territory. How could they hope to have victory over a technologically superior oppressor? Only with God’s help! God wanted to give Israel victory without swords so they would realize the true source of their strength. It would require faith in the power of God to do that, however!

The thing that I request prayer from each of you who read this blog is that you pray for my wife and I to be able to hear the voice of God this weekend. Please pray for us to know if this moment is the right one for us to step out of the safety of the cocoon of FAI/Lifesong Church/Lyman/friends we have known for nearly a decade/family close by world in which we live and into complete and utter faith in God. It is crazy for us to do this if it offered. It makes no sense at all. It will be a crazy thing if we are offered the job and we take it. The only reason to take is that we have heard from God that this is what we are supposed to do with our lives. It will be a huge faith step. Just as the Israelites needed complete and utter faith in God to defeat a far superior opponent in the Philistines, we will have to have complete faith in God that He will take care of us, take care of our families, and all that. We will have to have complete faith that we are being called to this new place with less money, great fear of the unknown, but maybe just maybe in the process we will see the awesome power of God in our lives when we demonstrate complete and utter faith against all that seems right, sane, and safe.

Amen and Amen.

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Joshua 3:1-17 (Part 3 of 4)

The Israelites Cross the Jordan

It does not make any sense to me at times! Here I am at 54 years old. I am pursuing my doctor of ministry degree. I just finished my first semester in the program. I am not in full-time ministry. I am barely in part-time ministry.

 

I have two secular-minded degrees, a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration from Furman University (June 1983) and a Master of Science in Business Management from Southern Wesleyan University (December 2000) to go with the one spiritually-minded degree that I already have, a Master of Arts in Christian Ministry from North Greenville University (May 2014). The business-related degrees have served me well. I have a great career in the business world. I am no great business leader on the world stage, mind you, but I have had a good career. It has been a progression of increased responsibility throughout the past 32 years of my career. There have been a few minor setbacks here and there but generally the progression has been upward in responsibility and, especially, in salary. I make good money. I am no millionaire or anything close to it, but where I am at right now, my earning ability has allowed me to take care of myself, my wife and my kids and to be a generous person to my church and to people that we see in need that we want to invest in. God has blessed Elena and I immeasurably over the past decade that we have been together (seven of which we have been husband and wife).

 

Then, why is that I am pursuing a calling into ministry when there is no evidence that it will ever come to fruition? God has not really made it abundantly clear what that call to ministry is going to look like in reality. Right now, all he has said is to get prepared. First, as part of that call, Elena and I have been working the past 8 years or so in cleaning up old debts, then, paying off current ones, and, most recently downsizing our mortgage. Both of our cars are paid for and our house payment is now about two-thirds of what it was at our previous home. We have done the background work that will allow us to deal with a reduced salary in whatever God leads us to do. God has said to pursue my master’s degree in Christian ministry and I did that and it was one of the most energized times of my relationship with Jesus Christ that I have ever experienced. It was an awesome time of learning. He has led me to pursue my D.Min. degree and I am doing that. I am not that big on recreational reading (reading for the fun of it) so all the reading that I have had to do in this doctoral program just in the first semester has been fun. This semester has been about Christian leadership principles and I have read over 2,000 pages in completing 7 different books. That’s the most I have read in one short period of time – ever! There are concepts about Christian leadership that I have learned that will help me not only in my ministerial pursuits but also in my business career.

 

But why am I doing this? It is probably foolish to some who observe my life. They may chuckle behind my back as to why would I want to pursue my doctorate when there is absolutely no evidence at the present time that I will ever have a full-time ministerial position. They might be saying that you have a good life so just enjoy that. Instead of occupying your time with what seems like a fool’s pursuit, just enjoy the last full decade of your secular career before you retire. I think for my birth year bracket that I have 13 years left in my secular career before I can retire with full social security benefits in addition to what retirement I have been able to put away in the last decade. Why not just enjoy these years of the final stretch run of my career? Why pursue a fool’s dream? Nobody is going to take you seriously in the ministry anyway, Mark!

 

Outside the ministry, people may say that I am a fool for pursuing a D.Min. degree because there is really no reason for it. Inside the ministry world, the movers and shakers and decision makers may see me as a guy that is just on some spiritual quest but one who is not truly qualified to shepherd people in full-time ministry. To them, I may be a guy that doesn’t know the secret handshakes and the inner workings on the profession that they have been in since college. They have dedicated their whole lives to it and I am just a guy that may be on a spiritual high for a couple of years (in pursuing the things that I am pursuing) that will burn out and fade away. I don’t know that my call is to be one of these radical guys who can plant churches. But I do know that I am called. God has not yet made what is behind the next door yet.

 

All He has said at this point is get prepared. It is not necessary to go to seminary or to pursue your doctoral degree to be a good preacher or teaching pastor. I know this. Just look at some of the best church planters out there. Some have formal degrees. Some do not. However, for me, God has led me to higher levels of education. I don’t know how He is going to use it yet, but that’s what He has led me to do. Part of executing God’s call on our lives is taking that first step.

 

The idea that we must sometimes step out in faith and do what God has called us to do is what struck me this morning as I read through Joshua 3 for the third time this morning. Let us read through it together once again this morning:

 

3 Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over. 2 After three days the officers went throughout the camp, 3 giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. 4 Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits[a] between you and the ark; do not go near it.”

 

5 Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”

 

6 Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people.” So they took it up and went ahead of them.

 

7 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. 8 Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.’”

 

9 Joshua said to the Israelites, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God. 10 This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites. 11 See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you. 12 Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. 13 And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord—the Lord of all the earth—set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.”

 

14 So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. 15 Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, 16 the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17 The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.

 

In this passage, we see that the Israelites were eager to enter the Promised Land, conquer nations, and live peacefully thereafter. But, first, they had to cross the Jordan River when it was at its fullest peak during the spring season. God gave them specific instructions. In order for them to cross the river, the priests had to step into the water first. What if these priests had been afraid to take that first step. Often, God provides no solutions to our problems until we fully trust Him, move ahead in faith, and do what He has called us to do. What are your rivers in your life that God has called you to cross?

 

Has God called you to do something that just seems insurmountable or maybe it is something that just seems foolish. Has God called you to do something that you might not see immediate results from it but you have taken the first step? I know that feeling.

 

Right now, I am questioning what the whole point of my pursuit of the ministry at this point. I have pursued the things that I believe God has called me toward so that I will be prepared for what He has for me. However, right now, there is just no clear evidence of what’s next. We are ready both financially and spiritually. We are eager to rush into what’s next. But God is not revealing it. He is just saying right now to step into the river. Take those steps of faith. Walk into the Jordan River right now when it is over its riverbanks and is at its most dangerous time of year. Take the steps into the river. I cannot reveal my power to you until you step into the river. That may seem foolish. That may seem contrary to all that is normal in your mind. People may call you foolish for stepping into the river with no lifeline or guarantees of what will happen next.

 

God is saying “Step into the river. Have faith. I don’t have to show you what’s next until I am ready to reveal it to you. I am asking your as your Father in Heaven to trust me enough to step into wild river because I have asked you to do so. Step out in faith. Even when it makes no sense to anyone else but you and Me. I am your God. Trust me. Just step into the river. It’s all that I am asking you to do right now. Trust me.”

 

What is God calling you to do? Does it seem too silly to consider? How can we experience what God has next for us if we do not take that first step in the journey in faith. We cannot experience that miracles that come after we step into the river…until we step into the river.

 

What’s God calling you to do? You must first step into the river in faith. It may seem like the dumbest thing you have ever done, but there’s faith that comes from not knowing what’s next. Trust God. Step into the river.

 

Amen and Amen.