Posts Tagged ‘trusting in the Lord’

1 Samuel 6:1-18
The Philistines Return the Ark

Last night, at the dinner table, as has been our practice here lately, we read one of the Psalms. We have been reading through them consecutively for about two months. Not every night but most nights where we are home for dinner. We read it and then we discuss what the Psalm means (using the footnotes in our study Bible to make sure that we are not too far off course as to the true meaning of the passage) and how that affects us. Last night, we read Psalm 35. In that psalm, David laments about being under attack. David laments about the difference between evil and righteous people. David calls out to the Lord to deliver him. Elena mentioned something that I kind of thought myself but was afraid to verbalize it was that toward the end of the psalm, it almost sounds like David is bargaining with God. God if you do this, then I will praise you. We both discussed out that would seem so out of character for David. Though David was a flawed man in many ways (particularly when it comes to family relationships and women), he was a man after God’s own heart. He loved the Lord. He respected the Lord. He is greatest joy was in the Lord and following the Lord’s commands. How then, can he in that psalm seem as though he is expecting God to do so something as if it is almost a demand – that he is somehow equal to the Lord such that he can demand things from Him.

But is that really what David was doing? Was he really bargaining with God? Or was he a godly man simply asking and pleading with God to demonstrate His power to David’s enemies. Sure, David would benefit from that, but the most important thing to David was that God be glorified in the process. I don’t think that David was being inconsistent with his understanding of and his deep and abiding relationship with God. He was not like us after a hard night of drinking and now making offerings to the porcelain god from the very depths of our stomach and bargaining with God about how we will never drink again if God will just make it stop. David was being pursued for the threat that he posed to the kingship of Saul. David was God’s anointed future king. It is similar to say a Christian in an Islamic prison for being a Christian and being tortured for it. It is not bargaining. It is calling out to God to end our suffering. It is calling out to God to show and demonstrate His power to our enemies. To say that we will praise him for that is not so much bargaining as it is promising God that we will celebrate Him so mightily when He delivers us from the clutches of evil that has been forced upon us. David is asking God to show His power and that He will celebrate Him when He does. David had a firm faith that God would deliver and vindicate those who chased after God’s heart.

That idea of the difference between bargaining with God and promising God to celebrate Him when we are delivered by His power is what I thought about again this morning when I read this passage, 1 Samuel 6:1-18. Let’s read it together now:

Chapter 6

1The Ark of the Lord remained in Philistine territory seven months in all. 2 Then the Philistines called in their priests and diviners and asked them, “What should we do about the Ark of the Lord? Tell us how to return it to its own country.”

3 “Send the Ark of the God of Israel back with a gift,” they were told. “Send a guilt offering so the plague will stop. Then, if you are healed, you will know it was his hand that caused the plague.”

4 “What sort of guilt offering should we send?” they asked.

And they were told, “Since the plague has struck both you and your five rulers, make five gold tumors and five gold rats, just like those that have ravaged your land. 5 Make these things to show honor to the God of Israel. Perhaps then he will stop afflicting you, your gods, and your land. 6 Don’t be stubborn and rebellious as Pharaoh and the Egyptians were. By the time God was finished with them, they were eager to let Israel go.

7 “Now build a new cart, and find two cows that have just given birth to calves. Make sure the cows have never been yoked to a cart. Hitch the cows to the cart, but shut their calves away from them in a pen. 8 Put the Ark of the Lord on the cart, and beside it place a chest containing the gold rats and gold tumors you are sending as a guilt offering. Then let the cows go wherever they want. 9 If they cross the border of our land and go to Beth-shemesh, we will know it was the Lord who brought this great disaster upon us. If they don’t, we will know it was not his hand that caused the plague. It came simply by chance.”

10 So these instructions were carried out. Two cows were hitched to the cart, and their newborn calves were shut up in a pen. 11 Then the Ark of the Lord and the chest containing the gold rats and gold tumors were placed on the cart. 12 And sure enough, without veering off in other directions, the cows went straight along the road toward Beth-shemesh, lowing as they went. The Philistine rulers followed them as far as the border of Beth-shemesh.

13 The people of Beth-shemesh were harvesting wheat in the valley, and when they saw the Ark, they were overjoyed! 14 The cart came into the field of a man named Joshua and stopped beside a large rock. So the people broke up the wood of the cart for a fire and killed the cows and sacrificed them to the Lord as a burnt offering. 15 Several men of the tribe of Levi lifted the Ark of the Lord and the chest containing the gold rats and gold tumors from the cart and placed them on the large rock. Many sacrifices and burnt offerings were offered to the Lord that day by the people of Beth-shemesh. 16 The five Philistine rulers watched all this and then returned to Ekron that same day.

17 The five gold tumors sent by the Philistines as a guilt offering to the Lord were gifts from the rulers of Ashdod, Gaza, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron. 18 The five gold rats represented the five Philistine towns and their surrounding villages, which were controlled by the five rulers. The large rock[a] at Beth-shemesh, where they set the Ark of the Lord, still stands in the field of Joshua as a witness to what happened there.

In this passage, we see the Philistine priests of their false gods and diviners devised a test to see if God was really the One who had caused all their recent troubles. Two cows who had just given birth and had never previously been yoked were hitched to a cart and sent toward Israel’s border carry the Ark of the Covenant. This was significant in that (1) a mother cow leaving her nursing calf would go against her very nature as a mother (her nature would have been to search and find her nursing calf) and (2) the fact that the cows had never been yoked would have most likely caused the cows to work against each other and wander around aimlessly if they got anywhere at all. Only God, who has the power of the natural order of the universe could cause this to happen. God sent the cows directly toward Israel. God did not do this to pass some test that the Philistines had devised but rather to show them His mighty power. How often do we devise tests for God…if you do this then I will do that? How often should we be asking God simply to show His mighty power in our lives?

Do you know the difference between bargaining with God and praising God for His deliverance? Here the Philistines were basically bargaining with the God of Israel. If you do this Lord, then, we will know that it was you that caused our plague. So, they put God to the test. If this happens, then this God of Israel is real. If not it’s just chance. How often do we play this game? God, I need a sign from you before I will believe in you. If you do this, then, I will believe in you. If you get me out of this jam, I will give my life to you. If you get me out of this financial trouble, I will believe in you. If you find me a boyfriend or a girlfriend, I will believe in you. If you find me a husband or a wife, I will believe in you.

There is a big difference between that kind of “if…then” temporary life changes like the Philistines and the real deal like David. Let us be a people that pray to God to have His way in our lives. Let us be a people who firmly believe and have faith that God will deliver us from times of trouble not because we deserve it but because God is that powerful. We have faith in Him and one who is faithful to us. We have confidence that no matter how bad a situation gets that God will deliver us and set us on high ground. We want to celebrate that. Bargaining with God is selfish and prideful. Celebrating God’s power to deliver and trust that He will do it. We have no doubt about it. We believe in Him that firmly. Not just when we get in a jam. We believe that God will deliver because we believe in how powerful He is. We do not have the Philistinic “if…then” kind of faith. We have the Davidic faith that God will deliver and man how we will celebrate that when He does it. That’s a big difference don’t you think?

Amen and Amen.

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1 Samuel 1:9-18 (Part 2 of 3)
Hannah’s Prayer for a Son

If you were alive back in the late 70’s to mid-80’s, there was a show called Fantasy Island, starring Ricardo Motalban. Fantasy Island was a unique resort in the Pacific Ocean, where there was very little that the mysterious overseer, Mr. Roarke (played by Ricardo Motalban), could not provide. Visitors could experience adventures that should be impossible, but this island could deliver. However, what actually happened was often far more than they expected as they faced challenges that test their character in ways they never imagined. “Da plane, da plane!” was the famous line uttered by vertically challenged Herve Villachase in his role as “Tattoo”, Mr. Roake’s little assistant. The plane he was talking about, of course, was the one that was delivering new arrivals to the island, each of whom had lain down a sizable sum of money to have his or her personal fantasies fulfilled. Mr. Roarke would take it upon himself to greet every guest as they stepped onto the island and then describes to Tattoo the nature of their fantasy request. Of course, being a supernaturally-powered mentor, Mr. Roarke very rarely allowed his guests’ fantasies to play out in the way they expected them to.

And quite often the fantasies themselves were used to teach each guest an important moral — one intended to open their eyes to some facet of their own lives they might have been neglecting. Or to teach them to appreciate what they have. Or just simply, to be careful what you wish for. But rather often, everybody just had a good time, even if it wasn’t what they were expecting. It was predictable formula each week even though the characters and the fantasies that they wished to live out were different, the pattern was the same. During the first half of the show, the guest characters would be living out their fantasy and it was working for them. It would be great. During the second 30 minutes of the show, things would start going wrong with the fantasy and the guest character would complain to Roarke how the fantasy was not at all what they were expecting. Then, in that moment, Roarke would teach some moral lesson to the guest character based on the experience. By show’s end, the guest character had come to terms with the way the fantasy played out and the lesson that they learned from it. Everybody was happy. Got back on the plane and went home. Each changed in some way by their experience on Fantasy Island.

We all have fantasies of what life would be like if we just had the opportunity to do something. For example, here in the last few blogs, I have been lamenting the lack of God’s action on His calling on my life to be in full-time ministry. Maybe, I should go to Fantasy Island and have Mr. Roarke show me what it would be like. Maybe, I would find out that it is more than I bargained for. Maybe, even though I am aware of all the unique pressures of being a pastor, as I have been close to the pastorate most of my life, it is a whole different thing to live it out. In my Fantasy Island adventure, maybe Mr. Roarke would design to expose my ability to deal with the pressures of being a full-time vocational pastor. Maybe, Mr. Roarke would put me through the paces of being a full-time pastor. I read something once about a job description for a pastor that said it was a job description fit only for Superman. It said,

“A pastor is expected to make house calls as willingly as yesterday’s country doctor, to shake hands and smile like a politician on the campaign trail, to entertain like a stand-up comedian, to teach the Scriptures like a theology professor, and to counsel like a psychologist with the wisdom of Solomon. He should run the church like a top-level business executive, handle finances like a career accountant, and deal with the public like an expert diplomat at the United Nations. No wonder so many pastors are confused about just what is expected of them and how they will ever manage to live up to all those expectations. – excerpt Frank Minirth and others, What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1993), 165.

Maybe, Mr. Roarke would arrange events during my fantasy that would expose cracks in my moral fiber, and my ability to make good moral choices. Maybe, he would expose areas of my life where I am not spiritually as mature as I will need to be as a pastor. Maybe, he will arrange things to show me that I am just not ready yet. As well, maybe he will show me what my true ministry calling will be – maybe its not as a pulpit pastor. Maybe, it is as teaching pastor such as a discipleship pastor. Maybe, it is as a teacher in a seminary. Or maybe it will confirm that God is readying me for just that right group of people in the right place at the right time at the right church that either exists or will be planted by me. Maybe, during my trip to Fantasy Island, I will learn who that people group is and will set me on fire to seek them out.

That’s what I thought of this morning – being careful what we pray for and being careful about demanding things from God in prayer. Let’s read this passage, 1 Samuel 1:9-18, once again, now:

9 Once after a sacrificial meal at Shiloh, Hannah got up and went to pray. Eli the priest was sitting at his customary place beside the entrance of the Tabernacle.[a] 10 Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord. 11 And she made this vow: “O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, if you will look upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you. He will be yours for his entire lifetime, and as a sign that he has been dedicated to the Lord, his hair will never be cut.[b]”

12 As she was praying to the Lord, Eli watched her. 13 Seeing her lips moving but hearing no sound, he thought she had been drinking. 14 “Must you come here drunk?” he demanded. “Throw away your wine!”

15 “Oh no, sir!” she replied. “I haven’t been drinking wine or anything stronger. But I am very discouraged, and I was pouring out my heart to the Lord. 16 Don’t think I am a wicked woman! For I have been praying out of great anguish and sorrow.”

17 “In that case,” Eli said, “go in peace! May the God of Israel grant the request you have asked of him.”

18 “Oh, thank you, sir!” she exclaimed. Then she went back and began to eat again, and she was no longer sad.

In this passage, we see that we must be careful what we promise God in prayer because He may just take you up on it! Hannah so desperately wanted a child that she was willing to strike a bargain with God. God took her up on her promise, and to Hannah’s credit, she did her part, even though it was painful (see 1 Samuel 1:27-28). Although we are not in a position to bargain or barter with God, He may still choose to answer a prayer that has an attached promise. When you pray, ask yourself “will I follow through on this promise that I made to God if He grants my request?” It is dishonest and dangerous to ignore a promise, especially to God. God keeps His promises and so should we.

This episode in Hannah’s life reminds us that we must have trust that God will shine the light on what we need to see when we are ready to see. Sometimes that is so difficult to do and we begin to bargain with God. How would you like to be Hannah. So desperate for a child and then have to later give him up to the priests at the Tabernacle. Of course this was all part of God’s plan and we see that play out in 1 Samuel – heck the book carries the name of Hannah’s son, sure fire evidence that this was part of God’s plan. But what about us. If there was ever an impatient people, it is 21st century Americans. We want what we want and we want it now. That’s our mentality. We, as Christians in America, often act the same way with God. We want him to fulfill our dream prayers immediately. Sometimes, God’s best answer to us is no response or a not yet response. Let us remember that we work on God’s timetable and not ours. Let us remember to have trust that the Creator of all things has a plan for your life and mine. It may not always play out in the exact timing or in the exact manner we envision. But we must trust the Lord. We must as limited humans trust the Eternal Creator God. We must trust in the Lord. We must trust Him even when it seems like He is not doing anything for an extended period of time. Let us trust that He is pruning us and readying us for His answer to our prayers and for the fruition of His plan for our lives. We will have our moment with God where He reveals why things turned out the way they did and we will have our eyes opened. We will then grasp why things happened the way they did and then use that live out what His plan for our lives really is. It’s not Fantasy Island. It is the real deal.

Amen and Amen.

Ruth 2:1-23 (Part 4 of 5)
Ruth Gleans in Boaz’s Field

Thank you, Naomi, for you faith in God even when our world seems to be falling down around us or things just seem to be working out the opposite of our desires. We all go through those periods of time. I have them. You probably do too.

The most recent thing for me was back in January of this year when I came this close to be offered a job as an executive pastor at a church in north central Ohio. I mean we were so close to it that we had been brought up to Wooster, OH for a weekend of interviews and being shown around town and even had a real estate agent take us around neighborhoods in the town to see where we wanted to live – all as part of the interview process. I was interviewed. Elena was interviewed. We were interviewed together. We felt good about the senior pastor. We really liked him. He seemed to get it. He was so much like my current senior pastor, Pastor Jeff, that it was not even funny. After all the phone interviews and then our discussions with Pastor Nick by himself when it was just the three of us, it gave us comfort that we were going to be at just a much larger LifeSong Church. The church was LifeSong about 10 years from now as far as size of the church and the development of the church and of the staff. It just felt right as the next step and my and Elena’s ministry as a ministry couple. However, the fatal flaw in the interview process was that they felt like the job was not going to be “a destination job” for me. They felt, from the things that I said, that I was wanting to be more than an executive or administrative pastor and that I would not stay long. They wanted a person that would want to be in that job for a long time. So…I didn’t get the job offer. We were ready to move to Ohio. We had reconciled ourselves that we would be leaving South Carolina again. But we got the news that we did not get the job. We were crushed.

Because of the lack of previous job offers and the length of time that this process had taken, I was crushed. I knew that we may never come this close for a long time. The drought would continue. I would have to go back to the drawing board and go through application processes again. I would have to fill out job applications again. I would have to give my salvation history again. I would have to have initial phone interviews again (if any of the applications got that far – most don’t). I would have to have second phone interviews again (if any of the applications that far – most don’t). l would have to have first on-site interviews again. I would have to have second on-site interviews. That is if I even got past the initial application acceptance/rejection phase which is where most of them end. I knew it was like starting over again. I knew we missed the golden opportunity to make it into full-time ministry serving the Lord daily as my full time vocation. I knew we were it would be a long time before we got this close again. I was right too! Here, we are 9 months later. I have had two or three applications that have turned into initial phone interviews but nothing beyond that.

Off and on here the last nine months since Wooster’s close call, I have at time been like Naomi wanting people to call her Mara. I was bitter. I was despondent over my circumstance. But, here, lately the Lord has been telling me to trust Him in a deeper way and that my ways are not His ways. I must trust that He is working His plan whether I can see physical evidence of it or not. He is teaching me to trust Him more deeply and more profoundly. He keeps telling me to plow the field that is front of me. It kind of reminds me of my morning walks. If I think of the whole walk of at least five miles every morning, it seems daunting. But I break down the walk into segments and within those segments I really do just focus on the cement slabs of the sidewalk that are directly in front of me, especially on the walk up the hills on my course. If I look up at how steep and long the incline is, I will inevitably slow down because of the bigness of the challenge. That’s when I just put my head and focus on the individual slabs of the sidewalk right in front of me. That’s kind of like the idea that God is drilling into my head, keep your head down and plow the field in front of you. Be faithful in the segment of the walk that you are in right now. Trust me with the rest of the steep include. Just focus on what right now in front of you. I will take care of the rest. Trust me with it. God says, “I got the rest of the hill! You just focus on this slab of sidewalk.” That’s what I see in Naomi in this passage. Even though she went through a period where she got down, God must’ve reminded her that He has got it covered. In this passage, she praises God when in the previous passage she wanted people to call her Mara because she was bitter. God must’ve reminded her that He had her covered even though it did not seem like it at the time.

That was the thing that struck me when I read this passage/chapter of Ruth for the fourth of five reads through this morning – how Naomi’s faith in God won out over her bitterness about her situation. Let’s read through Ruth 2:1-23 once again today:

2 Now there was a wealthy and influential man in Bethlehem named Boaz, who was a relative of Naomi’s husband, Elimelech.

2 One day Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go out into the harvest fields to pick up the stalks of grain left behind by anyone who is kind enough to let me do it.”

Naomi replied, “All right, my daughter, go ahead.” 3 So Ruth went out to gather grain behind the harvesters. And as it happened, she found herself working in a field that belonged to Boaz, the relative of her father-in-law, Elimelech.

4 While she was there, Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters. “The Lord be with you!” he said.

“The Lord bless you!” the harvesters replied.

5 Then Boaz asked his foreman, “Who is that young woman over there? Who does she belong to?”

6 And the foreman replied, “She is the young woman from Moab who came back with Naomi. 7 She asked me this morning if she could gather grain behind the harvesters. She has been hard at work ever since, except for a few minutes’ rest in the shelter.”

8 Boaz went over and said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields. Stay right behind the young women working in my field. 9 See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to the water they have drawn from the well.”

10 Ruth fell at his feet and thanked him warmly. “What have I done to deserve such kindness?” she asked. “I am only a foreigner.”

11 “Yes, I know,” Boaz replied. “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. 12 May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.”

13 “I hope I continue to please you, sir,” she replied. “You have comforted me by speaking so kindly to me, even though I am not one of your workers.”

14 At mealtime Boaz called to her, “Come over here, and help yourself to some food. You can dip your bread in the sour wine.” So she sat with his harvesters, and Boaz gave her some roasted grain to eat. She ate all she wanted and still had some left over.

15 When Ruth went back to work again, Boaz ordered his young men, “Let her gather grain right among the sheaves without stopping her. 16 And pull out some heads of barley from the bundles and drop them on purpose for her. Let her pick them up, and don’t give her a hard time!”

17 So Ruth gathered barley there all day, and when she beat out the grain that evening, it filled an entire basket.[a] 18 She carried it back into town and showed it to her mother-in-law. Ruth also gave her the roasted grain that was left over from her meal.

19 “Where did you gather all this grain today?” Naomi asked. “Where did you work? May the Lord bless the one who helped you!”

So Ruth told her mother-in-law about the man in whose field she had worked. She said, “The man I worked with today is named Boaz.”

20 “May the Lord bless him!” Naomi told her daughter-in-law. “He is showing his kindness to us as well as to your dead husband.[b] That man is one of our closest relatives, one of our family redeemers.”

21 Then Ruth[c] said, “What’s more, Boaz even told me to come back and stay with his harvesters until the entire harvest is completed.”

22 “Good!” Naomi exclaimed. “Do as he said, my daughter. Stay with his young women right through the whole harvest. You might be harassed in other fields, but you’ll be safe with him.”

23 So Ruth worked alongside the women in Boaz’s fields and gathered grain with them until the end of the barley harvest. Then she continued working with them through the wheat harvest in early summer. And all the while she lived with her mother-in-law.

In this passage, we see that Naomi had felt bitter (Ruth 1:20-21), but her faith in God was still alive, and she praised God for Boaz’s kindness to Ruth. In her sorrows, she still trusted God and acknowledged his goodness. Often, we may feel bitter about a situation, but as Christ followers, we must never get so wrapped up in our bitterness that we forgot to trust that God will pull us through the tough times. Today is always a new opportunity for experiencing God’s care. As widows, Ruth and Naomi could only look forward to difficult times, but when Naomi heard of the news about Boaz, her hope for the future was renewed. God may not seem like He cares because we want our bad situations to be gone immediately but God is working the situation always and He uses our bad situations to teach us to trust him more and mold us and ready us for the next phase of our lives where we can use our current situation as (1) evidence that God does pull us through our tough times and (2) part of our ministry to others, usually to people who are going through what we had been through in the past.

If you are in troubled times, and it seems like God has abandoned you and or left you hanging about some calling He gave you and you have gotten bitter at God, remember Naomi. She never lost faith even though she had a period of despair at her situation. Her faith was stronger than her despair. Remember me on my walks each morning. Be faithful in the cement slab that you are walking on right now. It may be a steep and long incline that you are on overall but keep your head down and focus on getting slab to slab. God has got the whole steep incline covered. He will get you up the hill and you will, after having been faithful and make the steps slab to slab will look back down the hill after you have made it to the top and say thank you Lord. Thank you Lord for seeing me to the top of the hill. Thank you Lord for the experiences of stepping slab to slab. It was hard and it was tiring and I was worried that I would give up. But you pulled me through it Lord. I can tell people that you can make it up the hill through the strength of Lord and doing our part in trusting Him. We can shout to the world that the Lord will get us to the top of the hill. The getting there is part of our ministry. The struggle of getting up the hill is part of our ministry. Be faithful. Keep plowing. Keep plugging. God will use it as part of His calling on your life. Trust that! Trust Him!

Amen and Amen.

Judges 6:1-32 (Part 4 of 5)
Gideon Becomes Israel’s Judge

After a dry spell since late January of this year since I have had a job interview toward my goal of going into ministry full time, I had two initial job interviews over the weekend. One was a phone interview for an executive pastor’s position for a large Methodist church in Charlotte, NC and one for another executive pastor’s position for a large Baptist church in Columbus, GA that was a “one-way video” interview. The latter interview was a new one on me. I had never heard of one-way video interviews before. In that situation, you sign on to this video interview service, they present you preformatted questions and then you have to record your video response to the question posed and you have a specified length of time that the video answer can be. Strange but I can see how it is an effective candidate review tool. Like I said, these interviews ended a long, dry spell without any interviews at all.

Even with that one, ministry interviews have been few and far between since graduation back in May 2014. But that one in January was close. We (I say we because in ministry your wife is an integral part of your ministry) almost had that job. It came down to me and one other guy, I believe. After a weekend of interviews, we thought we had it. All the interviews went well. We were in sync with the vision of the church. We got along really nicely with the senior pastor and his staff. It just seemed we were a good fit. Although it would have meant relocating to north central Ohio (eight hours drive from where we live now close to family and friends), we were ready to launch. We were ready to go. We mentally already had our bags packed (even though we had just moved into our new home here in Lyman just two months previous). We were already talking about the community up there and how we both seemed ready to love it. We were “all-in”, as the saying goes for Clemson Tiger football fans. We were ready to move to that next phase of God’s calling on our lives to go into full-time ministry. As the old song, Leaving on a Jet Plane, said, “My bags are packed. I’m ready to go!” We have heard God’s call on our lives to be in full-time ministry and we are ready. That failure to get the job in Ohio was a crushing blow.

We were right there. We could smell the job. I was already thinking about how to take on the job. It was an administrative pastor’s position and I was already thinking about what a thrill it would be to serve the Lord in this way. But the failure to get the job and scarcity of job interviews made me realize that it may be quite some time before we would be this close again. That was the heartbreaking part. It boiled down to an answer to one question about whether I would be happy in the position given that I had teaching aspirations as I had said earlier in the weekend. I thought I had answered the question well enough to quell their concerns. But the thing, the one thing, that took me off the table with them was that they did not feel like it was a “destination job” for me. They felt I would be there only a couple of years and move on. Wow! I asked the senior pastor, “if you are not hiring people that somewhere down the road other people are going to want, are you really hiring the right people!” I don’t remember now what his answer was. However, like I said we were one question away from that job. One answer to one question. We were both heartbroken that I did not get the job offer. And I knew it might be a good while before I got another job interview…and I was right. That was the heartbreaking thing to me. It only takes one job offer and then you’re done, you’re in, it’s time to get about the work of the Lord. But getting in has been the issue. It was not so much that I lost the opportunity in Ohio but it was that I knew that it would be a while before another interview would come along. And typically the job interview process for executive pastor positions are a multi-step, multi-level process that can take over a month and a half to complete and you can get knocked out of the running at any one of those steps.

In the last seven months since the last job interview, that scarcity had begun to make me question my calling. Why would God pick me to go into ministry? Why? I have been in the finance/internal audit/accounting world in the secular domain for 33 years now. Was it all just a pipe dream that I made up in my mind? Did God really call me? Why would he call someone that still has so many flaws? Why was I so stupid to think that God had called me? I cried out to God for answers and no answers came. I finally came to the realization that God is in control of this thing. Yes, He did call me to ministry. I know that. It is because of the fact that it would be easier not to. It is because of the fact that it sounds crazy and far-fetched for a man with a long career in the secular world to be called to ministry. It is because it will be hard. It is because that even after all this time since I felt called to the ministry, the calling is still there, that I believe the calling is real. It is not mine to understand why God is taking this amount of time. I must trust that He is working out a plan both in me and for the place that I will land in ministry. He is working on my flaws and on my pride and on my need to be more dependent on Him.

And He is working out the details of that church, a new one or an established one, where I will land right now wherever that may be. In a famous line from the show, How I Met Your Mother, Stella tells Ted that his soulmate that he will marry “is getting here as fast as she can!”, meaning that God is working out that plan of life for the woman that Ted would meet and marry right now as they spoke. It has not come to fruition yet, but Ted’s “dream girl” was working through the decisions of life and destinations of life that would bring them together. I must trust the same idea. God is working out the details. My dream church is getting here as fast as she can. I must trust that God is working out the details to bring us together – my dream church and me. The almost of Ohio was part of the plan to see if I could deal with heartbreak in ministry. The almost of Ohio was just that she was not right dream church at the right time for me according to God. The almost of Ohio was to make me appreciate it so much more when I meet the dream church that God has for me. It may be that the dream church and dream position that is getting to me as fast as it can is right where I am at. Maybe, God is working it out right now for somewhere next year, the year after, that the dream church with the dream job will be LifeSong itself. It may be somewhere else. It may be even starting something completely new. But God will make it abundantly clear when I meet my dream church that she and I were destined to meet. Of that I am certain.

In the meantime, I plow the field in front of me with happiness and joy because I know that my season in my current function at LifeSong is not over yet. There are still things that have to be worked out. There are still things to be learned. There is deepened trust in God’s plan for my and my wife’s ministry that must be worked out. I must trust that the calling is real and that God is getting it together out there somewhere as fast as He can, according to His eternal timetable not mine. Meanwhile, I cannot let the doubts of Satan make me give up before I even start.

Today, as we look again at Judges 6:1-32, we are reminded how we tend to give up before we even get started with God’s calling on our lives. I so see myself in Gideon in this passage. Gideon does the same thing here v.14-16. Let’s read the entire passage once more with an eye toward that thought. Here is the passage now:

6 The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. 2 Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. 3 Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. 4 They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. 5 They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count them or their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. 6 Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.

7 When the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian, 8 he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 9 I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10 I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.”

11 The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. 12 When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

13 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

14 The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

15 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

16 The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”

17 Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. 18 Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.”

And the Lord said, “I will wait until you return.”

19 Gideon went inside, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah[a] of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to him under the oak.

20 The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And Gideon did so. 21 Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread with the tip of the staff that was in his hand. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the Lord disappeared. 22 When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!”

23 But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”

24 So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord Is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

25 That same night the Lord said to him, “Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one seven years old.[b] Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole[c] beside it. 26 Then build a proper kind of[d] altar to the Lord your God on the top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the second[e] bull as a burnt offering.”

27 So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the townspeople, he did it at night rather than in the daytime.

28 In the morning when the people of the town got up, there was Baal’s altar, demolished, with the Asherah pole beside it cut down and the second bull sacrificed on the newly built altar!

29 They asked each other, “Who did this?”

When they carefully investigated, they were told, “Gideon son of Joash did it.”

30 The people of the town demanded of Joash, “Bring out your son. He must die, because he has broken down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.”

31 But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, “Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.” 32 So because Gideon broke down Baal’s altar, they gave him the name Jerub-Baal[f] that day, saying, “Let Baal contend with him.”

In this passage, we see that God promised to give Gideon the strength that he needed to overcome the opposition, and God told him, “I will be with you!” In spite of this clear promise for strength, Gideon made excuses. Seeing on his limitations and weaknesses, he failed to see how God could work through him. Like Gideon, we are called to serve God in specific ways. Although God promises us the tools and the strength we need, we often make excuses. Reminding God of our limitations only implies that we have a lack of trust in him and that He does not already know what our weaknesses and flaws are. We are implying that God made a mistake when He chose us for the calling that He has laid upon us. We are implying that He made a mistake in evaluating us and calling us to the task. God doesn’t call us to a task without knowing deeply what makes us tick, what our weaknesses are, and so on. If He is the God of the universe, Creator of all things, then we should be about His business and rely on Him to make our path forward for us.

What is that God is calling you to do that seems crazy? What is that He is calling you to do that He seems to be taking His sweet time in making happen? Are you questioning God’s calling on your life? Are you afraid to do anything about the calling on your life? Are you afraid to step out in faith?

How big is your God? If He is big enough to create the universe, He is big enough to make your path through the darkness clear. If you have followed God’s call and it seems that He is taking forever to bring it to fruition? Who is God? You or Him? Like Gideon, we tend to make ourselves the judge of whether we can do what calls us to. Like me, we tend to think that God should do things on our timetable when we do accept His call. Who is God, Mark? God or you? The answer is obvious. We must trust in the Lord and follow His call. AND we must trust in the Lord about the timing of what He has in store for us! We must trust that intersection of God’s call and our passion for that call is coming up as fast as God wants it to. Trust in the Lord not in ourselves. Trust that God will enable us to do what He calls us to do. Trust in the Lord to bring about the circumstances, people, time, place that will be that soulmate job, that dream job, that He has called you to do.

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 3:1-11

Victory over Og of Bashan

Yesterday, we talked about how sometimes conflict is unavoidable. Situations and circumstances, people and their immovable positions often force us to take a stand for what we believe is right. So, today, let’s take a look at it from the perspective of being forced or feeling forced into conflict and you accept that challenge. What now? What do you do? You are a person that likes to avoid conflict at all costs but you are in it now! What now?

 

Being a person who avoids conflict at all costs, any conflict seems like an insurmountable conflict. What do you do? For me, one of those times was at work. At my job, the company that I work for, Fujikura America, Inc. (FAI) is a legal subsidiary of its American sister company, America Fujikura, Ltd. (AFL). However, from an operational perspective, we report our results to both companies’ ultimate parent company in Japan, Fujikura, Ltd. (FJK), separately. We report managerially separately, too. There is a separate chain of command and we have a separate president from AFL. However, from a legal perspective, we are a subsidiary of AFL. It can cause confusion for us, much less you reading this. In November 2013, Japan felt it was best that we quit using our separate accounting systems and use the same accounting system as AFL. The implementation was like that of a big brother thinking that anything that little brother did was silly and insignificant. As a result, they did not put much effort into our implementation. Nowhere in the process did they ever tell us that there were two levels to the general ledger system where AFL corporate personnel could make entries to FAI’s books in what is known as the consolidated ledger in addition to what we used for the normal operations of FAI in what is known as the local ledger. This became important in the looming conflict that I will tell you about. As part of our switching to their general ledger system, we were also forced to join their centralized banking program, too. This plays a role in the conflict as well. Centralized cash and them being able to make entries to my books at the consolidated ledger level is the crux of the conflict to come, in addition to poor implementation training.

 

After the rocky road of the initial implementation of AFL’s general ledger system at FAI, we finally were able to understand the system and make it work for us three months after the conversion. Those first three months were a nightmare that I won’t talk about here but it was just rough as hell, know that. So from January 2014 to March 2014, we thought we were smooth sailing again after the conversion. However, in April, at the year-end audit of AFL and its legal subs, including FAI, it came to light that what I had been reporting to Japan did not match the financials that the auditors were getting from the general ledger system on an AFL consolidated basis. It was a major issue. It almost cost me my job. It was a conflict of the highest order. Come to find out, AFL’s corporate finance group was routinely making cash entries at the consolidated ledger level of FAI’s books. I was reporting to Japan only what was in our local ledger books. I was never told that they would be making entries to my books without my knowledge. AFL corporate personnel were throwing me under the bus by saying that I was keeping my own set of books as if I was being fraudulent in some way. My contention to Japan as all this came to a head, where my job was on the line was that:

 

  • Training on the all the ins and outs of the general ledger system that they forced us to use was shoddy at best. It may have been great for operations personnel (customer service, billing, and accounts payable) but general ledger training was almost non-existent.
  • Never were we told that manual journal entries were going to be made by corporate personnel in this “consolidated ledger” level of our books that only corporate has access to.
  • I contended that the “consolidation ledger” should be used only to consolidate our data with all the other business units and not for making actual journal entries.
  • I contended too that if I am being held responsible for the books of FAI, which I am, then, I need to be informed of any entries being made to my books so that I can review and approve of them.

 

There were about 3 months from April – June 2014 where I was uncertain if I was going to survive this crisis. I think that the only thing that saved me from being thrown under the bus completely without being vindicated was my track record with the company over the previous 6 years before the crisis. I was the one that moved FAI’s finance group from complete disarray into the most reliable financial reporting group among the US group of Fujikura companies. Never had there been any audit findings regarding FAI Finance before this. And I had a reputation within the group for having the cleanest and tightest set books in the group of companies. Why then all of a sudden would AFL accuse me of being fraudulent in some way. There had to be a reason for the crisis. It was the new general ledger system and it was how they were using it.

 

Since AFL had grown into a large organization but the AFL corporate finance organization had not grown to match, it was often easier for them to make adjusting entries at the corporate level on the books of the subs rather than make the subsidiary adjust their books. It had become a habit. Because they had not fully trained us on the general ledger and not made us responsible for recording our cash activity from the new banking system, all those cash inflow and outflow entries from the centralized cash management program were not being recorded manually at our local level of our books. They were just booking it at the corporate consolidated level of our books. Not knowing that I had to report to Japan both what they were doing to our books at the corporate level in addition to all the regular activity in our local level of our books, you can see how the conflict arose.

 

You can ask my wife, as I had to explain and defend myself over a three month period, I would literally come home and cry on her shoulder. It was seemingly an insurmountable war in which I was in the middle of this huge fight that I did not want to be in and was not really of my making. The biggest thing that I would cry about was that people were questioning my integrity when it was really about the lack of training and the lack of communication with regard to this new general ledger system. It was a nightmarish time. My wife and I prayed constantly during these three months and it seemed bleak at times. It was like being on trial for a crime that you did not commit. It was like going to battle against a great army and you were just a bunch of ill-equipped revolutionaries. It was a time that I was humbled before the Lord. I laid it at his feet and just had to trust that the man the Lord had made me into over the years since salvation would trump this temporary maelstrom.

 

It was that idea of simply having to lay it at the Lord’s feet and trust that God will deliver you against what seem like insurmountable odds is what I thought of when I read this passage. Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt to prove it. Let’s read this passage, Deuteronomy 3:1-11:

 

3 Next we turned and went up along the road toward Bashan, and Og king of Bashan with his whole army marched out to meet us in battle at Edrei. 2 The Lord said to me, “Do not be afraid of him, for I have delivered him into your hands, along with his whole army and his land. Do to him what you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon.”

3 So the Lord our God also gave into our hands Og king of Bashan and all his army. We struck them down, leaving no survivors. 4 At that time we took all his cities. There was not one of the sixty cities that we did not take from them—the whole region of Argob, Og’s kingdom in Bashan. 5 All these cities were fortified with high walls and with gates and bars, and there were also a great many unwalled villages. 6 We completely destroyed[a] them, as we had done with Sihon king of Heshbon, destroying[b] every city—men, women and children. 7 But all the livestock and the plunder from their cities we carried off for ourselves.

 

8 So at that time we took from these two kings of the Amorites the territory east of the Jordan, from the Arnon Gorge as far as Mount Hermon. 9 (Hermon is called Sirion by the Sidonians; the Amorites call it Senir.) 10 We took all the towns on the plateau, and all Gilead, and all Bashan as far as Salekah and Edrei, towns of Og’s kingdom in Bashan. 11 (Og king of Bashan was the last of the Rephaites. His bed was decorated with iron and was more than nine cubits long and four cubits wide.[c] It is still in Rabbah of the Ammonites.)

 

Here, in this passage, you will remember from Numbers, of which this passage is a recap, that the Israelites faced a big problem when it came to battle King Og. His army was well-trained and all of the major cities were well fortified. The Israelites hardly stood a chance. But they won because God fought for them. God can help His people regardless of the problems they face. No matter how insurmountable the obstacles may seem, we must remember that God is sovereign and He will protect those who earnestly seek after Him. We can place our hope and confidence in Him to protect us and keep us safe even in the worst of the storms of life. We must cling to the hope that He provides us. God is the creator of the universe. Let us remember that. He is greater than any created thing. He is therefore greater than any problem that we face.

 

When you are in a conflict that is forced upon you, when you are having to stand up against the tide, when you are in a fight and you wish you were not in it, and you are afraid, and you feel all alone, remember that God is with us. He is our Emmanuel. He will never forsake us. Often, it is in the storms of life that we learn how to truly love the Lord. The storms teach us that we are insufficient to go up against what we are facing but that He is. It teaches us to be thankful for His sovereignty over us and over all creation. Trust in the Lord in the storm. He will deliver you just as He has delivered me on countless occasions. I love the Lord because He has seen me through many a storm and has set me safely on the shore each time.  Without fail. It makes me trust Him more and more with each storm. Trust in Him.

 

Amen and Amen.