Monday, 31 May 2010

Committed or cowed?

Now Eliab his oldest brother heard when he spoke to the men; and Eliab's anger was aroused against David, and he said, "Why did you come down here? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your pride and the insolence of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle." And David said, "What have I done now? Is there not a cause?" - 1 Samuel 17v28-29

What is bigger our lives, the giants of opposition or the cause of Christ? David faced a similar situation when he saw the giant Goliath. The army cowered in fear whenever the giant appeared. They ran from the opposition. David’s brother and others mocked him for being there and jeered him for his questions.

‘Now what have I done wrong?’ asked David (a typical response from the youngest brother, by the way). ‘Is there not a cause?’ Something had to be done no matter what the circumstances or how bad it looked. If no one else was going to do it then David had to do it himself.

My problem is that I can often lose sight of the cause because the giants are so big. I look out and all I see at times is giants so I can, like the army, run from the fight and hide in the shadows.

But David had a cause. Yes, there was a giant in the way, but that did not negate the cause. David knew that God was on Israel’s side. As the Veggietale song puts it ‘God is bigger than the giants are. He’s bigger than Godzilla or the monsters on TV.’

So we have a simple question this morning. What is bigger in our lives, the cause of Christ or the giants in our lives?

Are we committed to the cause or cowed by the giants?

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Who does he think he is?

And all the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him and were dreadfully afraid. So the men of Israel said,"Have you seen this man who has come up? Surely he has come up to defy Israel; and it shall be that the man who kills him the king will enrich with great riches, will give him his daughter, and give his father's house exemption from taxes in Israel." Then David spoke to the men who stood by him, saying,"What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?" – 1 Samuel 17v24-26

The army was in a panic. Battle customs said that the champions of two armies could fight to determine the outcome of the battle. The Philistines had a qualified veteran of many years as their champion. Not only was he experienced, he was also more than four metres tall. Day after day his challenge to Israel went unanswered. No one was willing to step up and meet Goliath in the field of battle.

While David was visiting the troops he heard this challenge and he saw the troops cowering in fear. In his youth he could not believe that the nation was afraid. Perhaps it was as simple as the fact that he was not experienced enough to be afraid. ‘Who is this guy that he will defy the armies of the living God.’

Naivety, impetuosity, inexperience, or whatever else David knew that something was wrong. Israel were God’s people. He fought on their side. Who was this clown to defy God and His people?

As I look at my own life I realise that there are many times when I am so intimidated by my own enemies that I can forget that the same God that David trusted is on my side today. When my own giants rear their ugly heads and challenge me I too often am cowed by them and shrink away in fear. Yes, they are indeed giants, but God has promised me over and over again that He is with me. Would that I would have the courage to facer my giants, not in fear and trepidation, but with the knowledge that I am a child of God and that He fights with me!

Saturday, 29 May 2010

David and duty

So David rose early in the morning, left the sheep with a keeper, and took the things and went as Jesse had commanded him. And he came to the camp as the army was going out to the fight and shouting for the battle. For Israel and the Philistines had drawn up in battle array, army against army. And David left his supplies in the hand of the supply keeper, ran to the army, and came and greeted his brothers. – I Samuel 17v20-22

There is a lot to admire about David, even with his flaws. He was after all a man after God’s heart. I don’t think we can err by examining the kind of person he was. We start seeing some of this while he is still and young man. David stayed at home to tend the sheep while three of his older brothers are off to war. He was probably not much more than a boy. If he was typical of a young guy he probably was jealous of the brothers who were able to go off to war with all of what he perceived as its glamour and excitement.

Finally he had his chance. His dad sent him off to the battle front with food for his brothers, provisions for the army, and instructions to see how the boys were. I suspect that mist young men would just have grabbed the wagon and headed off. We see however that there was more to David than that. First he made sure that the sheep were tended. Then, when he arrived he made sure that the provisions were cared for. Then, and only then, did he head off to where the excitement was.

I like this. I like the fact that he had enough character to carry out his responsibilities. I think here we see a picture of who David really was much better than in some of the decisions he make later. David was dedicated to his duty. May we strive for that kind of dedication.

Friday, 28 May 2010

There remains yet the youngest

And Samuel said to Jesse, "Are all the young men here?" Then he said, "There remains yet the youngest, and there he is, keeping the sheep." And Samuel said to Jesse, "Send and bring him. For we will not sit down till he comes here." So he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, with bright eyes, and good-looking. And the LORD said, "Arise, anoint him; for this is the one!" – 1 Samuel 16v11-12

All these fine strapping sons. Jesse had a bunch of boys, even more than we do. Most of them were grown. One by one they walked into the room to see if this was the son of Jesse who was ordained to be king of Israel. And, one by one Samuel knew this was not one. It kind of reminds me of the Disney Cinderella story where the guy travels the whole kingdom trying to find the girl that fit the glass slipper.

When all the older guys had had traipsed in Samuel asked Jesse, ‘Is this it? Are these all of your sons?’ You can almost hear Jesse, ‘Well, yeah, all but David. He’s out taking care of the sheep.’ One of two things was true here, either Jesse did not want David to go, or he thought that the notion of David being king was so silly he didn’t even bring him out.

So they sent for David. He walked in healthy looking, bright eyed, and good looking. The Lord told Samuel, ‘Okay, this is the one.’

I am encouraged by this. David was the little guy, the last one on the list. All these big, grown up brothers who looked so much more able to be king and God chose David. The youngest brother never gets picked. I think about Eoin and being the low guy on the totem pole. (Although I heard not too long ago that this was apposition of honour, but you know what I mean). I am encouraged because God has a record of using the guy or gal that no one else would think of.

Praise God that He is the God who uses the one who is there when the world says, ‘Is there anyone else left?’

Thursday, 27 May 2010

The Lord looks at the heart

But the LORD said to Samuel,"Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; a for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." – 1 Samuel 16v7

Outward appearance is obviously the first thing to catch our eyes. We see and too often make judgements about people by what we see the first time we see them. Sadly it often takes us a while to get over it and get to know the real person.

But God does not see like a man sees. We look at the outward appearance. God looks at the heart. Here, Samuel was at Jesse’s home looking for the new king. The oldest son, Eliab, was sent in and Samuel thought that surely this man should be king. Then God told Samuel to not be so quick to judge by appearance, but instead to wait for God because He sees the heart.

There are two ways we can look at this truth. First we can be comforted that when men see us wrongly and misjudge us based on our appearance that God knows our heart. As long as our heart is truly right we can be comforted, but we had better be sure that our hearts are truly right and we are not using this verse as an excuse for our behaviour.

On the other hand there is a thought provoking and convicting aspect to this. We can put on the right appearance. We can dress right, get our hair cut right, listen to the right music, say ‘amen’ at just the right time, carry the right Bible, and go to the right church. We can certainly make the right impression to everyone who sees us. That is something that we can really get to be good at.

Remember though, that is not what God sees. God looks at the heart. We can do all those things and more and still have a rotten, stinking, filthy heart. We can fool everyone, including ourselves, but we cannot fool Him who knows our hearts.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

That I may worship

Then he said, "I have sinned; yet honor me now, please, before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may worship the LORD your God." So Samuel turned back after Saul, and Saul worshiped the LORD. – 1 Samuel 15v30-31

Saul knew that his reign as king was over. He admitted his sin. He knew that it has its consequences. To be honest I am not sure what happened here. Saul’s walk with God is an enigma, but I think we can glean something from this. If I am wrong, well, there’s always a first time.

Perhaps Saul’s move was only political. Perhaps he was only thinking of the good of the nation. Perhaps he was a hypocrite, but I suspect other wise because of Samuel’s response to Saul’s request to go and worship the Lord.

In spite of all that happened Saul seems to have a desire to return and worship the Lord. He has confessed his sin to Samuel’s satisfaction so Samuel allows him to do so. It appears that Saul struggled with his spiritual life. He seems to have a desire to do right, but too often allowed his flesh to control his decisions. Sadly, he never seems to really get it sorted.

There is something in Saul that I think we can all identify with. It is something that Paul acknowledged in Romans 7. Our walk with the Lord is a struggle. The great thing is that with the indwelling Christ we have the victory. All we have to do is to walk in that victory.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

People fearing

Then Saul said to Samuel, "I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. – 1 Samuel 15v24

‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’ The sage words form the basis of the book of Proverbs. ‘Fear the Lord’ is usually found in any list of instructions to the people in the Old Testament. When we fear the Lord we reverence Him, we honour Him, and we stand in awe of Him. Fearing God precedes wisdom and it is vital in serving Him.

Saul’s problem here is that he forgot who to fear. To his credit he did acknowledge his sin in disobeying God and Samuel. Then we get to the reason – ‘I feared the people.’

People fearing is a huge problem. We talk about good God fearing people while in reality most of our people fearing people. When we fear the people we too are going to obey their voice. We fear what people are going to think about us. We fear what they can do to us. We fear the loss of friendships. We fear losing recognition.

Only God is worthy of our fear. When we fear people we proves our lack of reverence and trust in Him.

Who are we going to fear today?

Monday, 24 May 2010

Rebellion and stubbornness; witchcraft and idolatry

For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He also has rejected you from being king." – 1 Samuel 15v23

‘…Sweetly submitting to authority, leaving to God the rest…’

I know it must seem that I harp of submission to authority. I think the reason is that it is something that does not come naturally to me. There are far too many times when I think that I know better than those in authority know.

Rebellion’s partner in crime appears to be stubbornness. It doesn’t take much examination to realise that the core problem with both of these is self-centredness and pride. Saul’s action is a clear example of both of these.

Being known as a rebel can almost be a badge of honour. The high school I went too used the Rebel as their mascot. Cork proudly proclaims that they are the Rebel County. I am not being critical of those, after all they are only mascots and mottos. The problem comes when a rebel mindset creeps into the church.

God paints the sins of rebellion with a terribly ugly comparison. Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft. Stubbornness is like idolatry. At the core of witchcraft is the concept of seeking leadership through some kind of pagan divination. Idolatry is putting something is a place of God. Both of these displace God from His rightful place. Rebellion and stubbornness do the same thing. Thy kick God off the altar and replace Him with the god of self will.

Rebel is an appellation which should never be applied to God’s people.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Obedience is the very best way…

So Samuel said: "Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. – 1 Samuel 15v22

‘O-B-E-D-I-E-N-C-E, obedience is the very best way to show that you believe.’ This is such a great little children’s’ chorus. ‘Obedience is the very best way, to show that you believe, doing exactly what the Lord commands, doing it happily. Action is the key do it immediately and joy you will receive.’

Sometimes the kid’s choruses are so simple and so familiar that we can forget the importance of the truths they teach. If they are good enough for our kids, though, surely they are good enough for us.

‘To obey is better than sacrifice.’ What a great little way to summarise just how important obeying God really is. We can do all the work and sacrifice and labour and service and rituals and routines and efforts that we want, but unless we are obeying Him we are falling short and not really delighting Him.

The problem with obedience is that it requires trust. When our children are little we expect them to obey even if they do not understand. There are things they cannot comprehend. The same is true for us. We cannot understand everything. We are finite. Sometimes, even when we don’t ‘get it,’ we just have to trust and obey.

God delights in our obedience. Do we trust Him enough to obey Him?

Saturday, 22 May 2010

JAB – a forgotten hero

So his armorbearer said to him, "Do all that is in your heart. Go then; here I am with you, according to your heart." - 1 Samuel 14v7

I don’t think I had noticed this before, but am greatly blessed by Jonathan’s armour bearer. When we look at Jonathan’s faith and courage it is easy to forget that somebody else was there as well.

JAB (Jonathan’s armour bearer, thanks Caleb for the nickname) is one of those many nearly forgotten and unnamed heroes of the Bible. This is all we know about him. While the whole army of Israel was camped in safety Jonathan and JAB went off the fight the Philistines. Jonathan had what must have seemed like a crazy notion – ‘They have us outnumbered 300 to one, we have them right where we want them!’

So how did JAB respond? ‘Okay, let’s do it. I’m with you.’

I am touched by those three little words, ‘I’m with you.’ I think how comforting those words are. When I think about times when it has been tough and lonely I have had friends say something similar – ‘Stay at it brother, I’m with you.’ It is of course a special blessing when someone is physically there to be with us, but there is a special comfort when someone is with us in prayer.

Just a thought for this beautiful Saturday morning in Naas – look for someone who is struggling, having a hard time, lonely, discouraged, or defeated. Let them know that you are with them, then prove it in a tangible manner.

Friday, 21 May 2010

By many or by few

Then Jonathan said to the young man who bore his armor, "Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the LORD will work for us. For nothing restrains the LORD from saving by many or by few." So his armorbearer said to him, "Do all that is in your heart. Go then; here I am with you, according to your heart." - 1 Samuel 14v6-7

This passage will always be special to me. During the real slow discouraging days the Lord used several passages to speak to my heart about His work. This was one of those key passages that came at just the right moment.

Saul and about 600 men were camped at making no moves toward dealing with the Philistines. Jonathan decided that something had to be done so he took his armour bearer and headed toward the enemy. Jonathan and were successful in their attempt because Jonathan knew that the Lord would fight for them.

The encouraging thing was the attitude expressed by Jonathan before they even arrived at the camp. ‘Nothing hinders the Lord. He can do His work with many or with just a few.’ This is such a comfort. Our culture teaches us that success in contingent on numbers. It says that bigger is better. That has crept into the mindset of our churches. Especially I fear in an American context.

There is nothing wrong with numbers. But there is a comforting theme in the Bible. Remember Gideon who had too many men to go to war? God can do His work. He delights in using the weak and foolish and base things of the world to confound the strong the wise and the noble things.

The next time you feel all alone or feel that your ministry is too small or insignificant remember Jonathan’s powerful words – ‘Nothing hinders the Lord from saving with many or few.’

Thursday, 20 May 2010

I made myself do it

then I said, The Philistines will now come down on me at Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the LORD. Therefore I felt compelled, and offered a burnt offering." – 1 Samuel 13v12

Saul knew what he should have done. He knew that he was to wait for Samuel to come and offer the sacrifice. All he had to do was to sit back and wait on the Lord and for Samuel to get there.

But he just could not do it. He waited the allotted seven days, but Samuel was not yet there. He felt compelled to act. The King James translators used ‘I forced myself therefore.’ I like that. I know it captures how I feel when I get impatient. I know I need to be patient, I know I need to wait, but I feel so compelled to act that it is like I make me do it. My wife often has to step in and stop me before I do what I am compelled to do. It drives me nuts when something needs to be done that I am pretty sure I can do and I have to rely on someone else to do it.

This is what can happen when we take things in our hands. Moses did it and suffered the consequences. Here Saul just can’t wait for Samuel to get there. Seven days had passed, Samuel was not there. Saul just could not wait another minute. He didn’t even pray about. He just offered the sacrifice. And, like happens so often, as soon as he was done Samuel arrived.

As a result of Saul’s feelings he lost the kingdom. There is often a big difference between our feelings and God’s plans. We always err when we allow our feelings to rule. Saul faced the age old battle of flesh versus spirit and he let the flesh win out, even though it was well intentioned.

Walk after the spirit and not after our feelings, otherwise we are doomed to failure.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

I will teach you

Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you; but I will teach you the good and the right way. – 1 Samuel 12v23

I was going to jump over this, but thought there is something more worth sharing.

Samuel made it clear that it would be sin to stop praying for the people. He saw that there was also another responsibility as well. ‘I will teach you the good and right way.’

Samuel was the spiritual leader of the land. He was handing over his political leadership to Saul. He would pray for them, but he said that he would also teach them. How could anyone know what to do unless they have a teacher?

‘Teacher’ has always been a special word to me and teaching a special blessing. Those of us who have been saved a long time have a special responsibility to teach others. It is easy to sit back and criticise young believers for their actions or attitudes, but there is something we can do about it.

Older men are told to teach the younger. Older women are told to teach the younger women. Teaching is just part of what Christians are supposed to do. It is part of the sharing and communication that the New Testament talks about. The responsibility to teach is not just for those who have been saved a long time. As we grow and develop and learn God’s word we all must use our knowledge and skills and our talents to teach others as God gives us opportunity.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Ceasing to pray

Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you; but I will teach you the good and the right way. – 1 Samuel 12v23

I have said it before and I will probably say it again. I don’t full understand how prayer works, but the more I think about it the less I think I have to understand it.

Passages like this one remind of why I don’t have to understand prayer in order to see it as important. Samuel encouraged the people to serve the Lord, then put it very plainly that he would be praying for them.

Not only is it wrong not to pray for the people, but Samuel says that it is a sin against the Lord not to pray for them.

Think about that for a second. Think about how important prayer is. When we don’t pray for each other, apparently, we sin against them and against the Lord.

Praying for each other is a special privilege and a blessing. I have had a couple of occasions to pray for specific people in specific situations the last couple of days. They have been situations where I could not do anything but pray. I found that as I prayed for them I, in a sense, entered into whatever they were facing with them. Their burdens became my burdens.

There are blessings to prayer that we cannot fully comprehend. Praying for others is imperative. God forbid that we should sin against Him by ceasing to pray for each other.

Monday, 17 May 2010

All the vain things that charm me most

And do not turn aside; for then you would go after empty things which cannot profit or deliver, for they are nothing. – 1 Samuel 12v21

‘Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast. Save in the death of Christ my God! All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood.’

I love a lot of the old hymns. One of my several favourites is ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.’ It never fails to move me and thus stanza came to mind when I came across this passage in 1 Samuel.

Samuel was preparing the nation for living under a king. He addressed the king and the people with some very basic instructions. In verse twenty he told the people to serve the Lord with all their hearts. Here in verse twenty-one we read something specific about that.

‘While you are serving the Lord don’t be turned aside, because then you will go after the empty things. They won’t profit you or deliver you from anything. The vain things are nothing.’

There is a lot of wisdom packed in this little verse. If we want a good Bible lesson on what is vain we can read and study the book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon went so far as to say, ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’

The truth is pretty simple actually. We can examine God’s word to see what it can teach us about the ‘vain things’ that we have to deal with.

But I think it goes a little beyond that. If we are saved and striving to serve the Lord we know what these vain things are. As I type these words I know what vain things I have to deal with that tempt me away from faithful service. I would guess that most readers are doing the same right this moment. These are the ‘nothing things’ that can wreck our lives if we don’t deal with them.

The vain things are profitless, and useless. The vain things are nothing. Why do they have so much draw on us?

‘All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood?’

Sunday, 16 May 2010

See the great things the Lord will do

"Now therefore, here is the king whom you have chosen and whom you have desired. And take note, the LORD has set a king over you. If you fear the LORD and serve Him and obey His voice, and do not rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then both you and the king who reigns over you will continue following the LORD your God. However, if you do not obey the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then the hand of the LORD will be against you, as it was against your fathers. "Now therefore, stand and see this great thing which the LORD will do before your eyes: - 1 Samuel 12v13-16

‘Fear the Lord, serve Him, obey His voice, and do not rebel against Him.’ That sounds like a pretty good recipe for success doesn’t it? Israel had begged for a king and God had given them one. He had put His man in place as their king and now it was time to move forward as a nation. If they feared God, served Him, obeyed Him and did not rebel against Him they could stand and watch Him do great things for them.

I know this was a specific promise for a specific time but there is still a great principle laid out here that runs throughout the Bible. Sometimes we get so busy doing thing our way and trying to sort things out and running ahead of God that we may miss the blessings that He has force us if we would just fear Him, serve Him, and obey Him.

The key to success is not in our doing or sacrificing but in our obeying. Moses learned this the hard way. It won’t be long before Saul does the same. We have their examples. Lets just do things His way then watch for the great things He will do.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

So they despised him

But some rebels said, "How can this man save us?" So they despised him, and brought him no presents. But he held his peace. – 1 Samuel 10v27

Just a brief note this morning. The more I read and the more I study the more convinced I am about the importance of submission, obedience, and respect for those in authority.

We know the background here. Saul had been anointed king after Israel had plead for one despite the fact that they had been warned of the consequences. The nation is glad to have a king. Samuel confirms that this is God’s choice for king and the people had responded ‘God save the king.’ It looks like everything is ready to move forward.

But then we read about the ‘sons of Belial.’ This is a strong term and we cannot express clearly enough how bad this word is. Some translations say ‘wicked men.’ Some say ‘rebels.’ In other places this word is translated as evil or wicked or ungodly or worthless. To put it plainly these are not nice men.

The problem with these men is that they are the ones who question Saul’s kingship and despise him and do not honour him.

This is a trend through scripture. This is the kind of person throughout the word of God or rejects authority. This is what rebels are really like.

I have to wonder if it is fitting that men of God today put themselves in the same position of despising authority.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Another man, another heart

Then the Spirit of the LORD will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another manGod gave him another heart – 1 Samuel 10v6,9

It is obvious what the Holy Spirit did not work in exactly the same was in the Old Testament as in the New Testament, but there are still some similarities. Here is a classic example of that.

Saul and Samuel stepped aside alone to prepare for Saul’s coronation and reign. We have indications all along that Saul is fearful and anxious about this big change in his life. There are a couple of key phrases that stick out for us.

‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you…’ Literally, the Holy Spirit will come like a rushing wind.’ Sound familiar? Just thought I would drop that in, even though it is not a part of today’s thought.

The key here is what brought about the change. God was going to make a ‘new man’ out of him and he would do so by giving him a ‘new heart.’ It is a little mysterious how the Holy Spirit worked in the lives of believers in those days, but He was vital in changing lives.

The Holy Spirit has a similar ministry today. When we are saved He does come on us ‘like a rushing wind.’ He creates a new heart in us and makes us into new people. Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. The old man is dead; the new man is made alive in Christ.

The problem comes when we allow the new man to be drawn away by the flesh. Our new man still lives in the flesh with all of its issues. Saul’s problems are going to come when his new man with a new heart still chooses to follow his fleshly human logic.

The new man is empowered to have victory over sin. May we live our lives as new creations with new hearts in submission to the Holy Spirit instead of in submission to the flesh.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Stand still

As they were going down to the outskirts of the city, Samuel said to Saul, "Tell the servant to go on ahead of us." And he went on. "But you stand here awhile, that I may announce to you the word of God." - 1 Samuel 9v27

Things were moving at a fast pace. One day Saul was tending the family livestock, and the next thing he knew he was going to be the king. Saul had protested, but things started to fall into place. He had a feast with family and friends. He and Samuel had an all night conference on the rooftop. Then, the time came for Saul’s anointing and coronation.

As Saul and Samuel came down from the meeting to the outskirts of the city Samuel told Saul to send the servant on his way. ‘Stand still,’ Samuel said, ‘that I may show you the word of God.’

This is a great reminder for everyone at anytime they are preparing for a big change of life. It is often neglected, but still vital, that we pause and listen to God before we enter into any venture.

Sometimes the best thing we can do when things start to get hectic is to stop, get alone, open our Bibles, and listen for God’s direction.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

God's way or man's way?

And he had a choice and handsome son whose name was Saul. There was not a more handsome person than he among the children of Israel. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people. – I Samuel 9v2

If anyone could lead Israel as their first king it would seemingly be Saul. His dad was Kish, a ‘mighty man of power’ from the tribe of Benjamin. Saul himself was a ‘choice young man.’ He was the best looking guy around. He was literally head and shoulders above the rest of the people. Sure, he was from smallest tribe in the nation, but other than that he looked like the obvious choice.

Sure enough, after some initial reluctance Saul accepted his God anointed and appointed role. He was God’s chosen man to be the king that the people had demanded. God changed his heart and his outlook to make him king.

So it all seemed sorted. Who could have foreseen the tragedy that was to come later?

I think there is a lesson for use here. A good start is no guarantee of a good finish. Saul had it all going for him, but before too long he will fail.

The problem is that having a king was not God’s perfect plan for the nation. He allowed it because of the people’s insistence, but He knew it would cause problems. The people though they had what they wanted.

Obviously, I don’t understand all of this fully. But it makes me wonder how often God allows us to see the consequences of our own self will instead of enjoying the benefits that would come with accepting His perfect plan.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Give them what they want

So the LORD said to Samuel, "Heed their voice, and make them a king." And Samuel said to the men of Israel, "Every man go to his city." - 1 Samuel 8v22

Man can really be stubborn. I mentioned recently how I don’t fully understand how prayer works. Here is another example. God seemingly did not ‘want’ Israel to have a king, yet they rejected that and begged for a king no matter what the consequences. He warned them of the consequences. So, from our perspective God relented and gave them what they wanted.

We do know that God knew everything. He knew what would happen. I guess the best we could do to try and sort it out from our perspective Is that God wanted them to know all that they were getting themselves into so that when it all went wrong they would have to recognise that they were suffering the consequences of their own action.

Hezekiah asked God to let him live a little longer. He did, and as a result he saw the destruction of his nation.

In same way that we cannot fully comprehend there are times when God lets people have what they want even though it is not what He wants for them. Ultimately it all works into His perfect plan.

I think in some way there is a lesson here for us. We need to be careful what we ask for. Our plans are not always in accord with us. His will will be accomplished, but He may allow us to take another more painful route there to teach us that His way is always best.

Monday, 10 May 2010

We WILL have a king

Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, "No, but we will have a king over us, - 1 Samuel 8v22

It made no difference what Samuel said about having a king to replace him. A king would draft their sons into his army. He would take their daughters to serve the troops. He would nationalise their lands and use them for His people. He would take 10% of their crops in taxation. He would take their servants and their livestock from them. They would become slaves to the new king.

They didn’t care though. All that counted was being like everyone else. They saw that other nations had kings so they wanted on too. They remind me of my grandchildren. Their greatest motivation to play with a certain toy comes when one of the other ones picks it up. They can be totally content with the toy they are playing with while another toy lays unused, but as soon as another moves in that direction they must have THAT toy.

This little passage reveals to us one of the basic characteristics of our sinful nature – we are greedy. We are always afraid that someone will get to have something that we will not have. Their stubborn self-will is something that I think most of us are familiar with.

We look at our children and grandchildren in amazement when they act like that. We think how foolish Israel was to reject God’s way for theirs. And yet, how do we react when someone else ‘gets’ something that we don’t? Are we ever tempted to say ‘I WILL have this or that’ no matter what the consequences?

Sunday, 9 May 2010

They have not rejected you

And the LORD said to Samuel, "Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them. – 1 Samuel 8v7

We have all felt rejected at times. Any one who tries to serve the Lord will certainly feel rejected in their efforts to serve Him. If we are not careful we can let rejection get in the way of our faithful service.

Samuel was faithfully leading the people as priest. This was one of those times when Israel had what came closest to being a Theocratic form of government. The leadership of the nation was in the hands of His appointed priest.

That did not set well with the people. Everybody else had a king so they wanted one too. ‘You are getting old Samuel. Your sons are not following you (that had to really hurt). Make us a king so we can be like everyone else.’

Samuel did the right thing about it. He prayed. God told him – ‘Don’t worry Samuel. They have not rejected you; they have rejected me as their King.’

I think we can take heart in these words. If we are going to be faithful to the Lord people are going to reject us. Doors, literally or figuratively, are going to be slammed in our faces. When we stand for Christ we have to know that it is going to be a ‘turn off’ for some people. We can’t let that discourage us. We have to remember that what they are rejecting is our Lord. Instead of making us discouraged that should break our hearts and motivate us even more to serve Him and let them know the One they are rejecting.

Don’t get discouraged by those who reject our message. Lets get motivated to let them get to know the One they are rejecting and see the love that He has for them.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

The sons of Samuel

Now it came to pass when Samuel was old that he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. But his sons did not walk in his ways; they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice. – 1 Samuel 8v1-3

Parenting is an amazingly wonderful job. I am so proud of all our kids. Believe it or not though, not one of them is perfect. They take after their dad in that regard. We have tried to do our best to raise them up and teach and guide them in the ways of the Lord, and praise Him for the results so far. God has worked and He is working in their lives to shape and mould them into the people they need to be.

We are told in Proverbs that if we ‘train up our children in the way they should go, when they are old they will not depart from them.’ That is an interesting passage, especially when we see how seldom that happens with the men and women of the Bible.

Here for example we have Samuel, and faithful servant of God whose sons reject all that he stood for. What happened here? Did he fail to teach them properly? Did he neglect his responsibilities at home? Did he fail at parenting where he seemingly succeeded in His service for God?

I don’t know and far be it for me to judge his parenting. There is a debate about the passage in Proverbs. Is it a hard and fast promise or is it a principle? After all this time and life experience I have to say that I just don’t know.

Obviously men of God have children who don’t always turn out ‘right.’ Is it their fault? Did they do something wrong? How do we balance that with children making their own choices and decisions as adults?

I don’t have all the answers. I think however of the father of the prodigal son when his son went astray. He waited for his son to come back. He was ready to receive him home. When children go astray, or even when they don’t go exactly the way we think they should, we still are their parents.

If and when our children do not walk in our ways I don’t think we can mull over whether or not we somehow ‘blew it.’ We love them, we pray for them, we offer godly counsel and advice, and we make sure that our hearts and door are always open for them. The we trust the One who loves them more than we possibly can.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Here I raise mine Ebeneezer

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, "Thus far the LORD has helped us." - 1 Samuel 7v12

I grew up with the old hymns. I still love them deeply. They are a part of my life and my fibre and God has used them in great ways to speak to my heart. One of the many hymns I loves is ‘Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing’ written by Robert Robinson in 1757.

The most popular version has the following for the second stanza.

Here I raise my Ebenezer;

Hither by Thy help I'm come;

And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,

Safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,

Wandering from the fold of God;

He, to rescue me from danger,

Interposed His precious blood.

I love this and the Bible account behind it. One hymnal I know of changed ‘Here I raise my Ebenezer’ to ‘Here I raise my sign of victory’ and I was not happy with it. I think there is still some traditionalist in me J.

I like the picture of the Ebenezer. After God answered Samuel’s prayer and delivered the nation Samuel set up a memorial stone. When I read this I thought about the mystical standing stones we see all over Ireland. No one knows for sure why they were set up, but I wonder now if they were not someone’s pagan equivalent of an Ebenezer to commemorate some great event.

Eben-ezer means ‘stone of help.’ Some say that the words were carved on the stone. The purpose of the stone was to remind whoever saw it of the great victory that God had provided that day. God was truly Israel’s Ebenezer.

The word pictures quickly come to mind. God is called our Rock. Jesus is the Rock. He is the One who has been our help over and over again. When trials come we would be wise to look to our own perfect Ebenezer and remember the help He has provided in the past and cling to His strength during the present crisis.

Whatever battle we are in we can always raise our Ebenezer and run to our great Help!

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Ceaseless prayer

So the children of Israel said to Samuel, "Do not cease to cry out to the LORD our God for us, that He may save us from the hand of the Philistines."1 Samuel 7v8

I was talking with the family the other day about the power of prayer. We discovered, as I am sure a multitude of believers have since the very beginning, that a full understanding of prayer is impossible. It is simply beyond our human understanding. How does prayer work with the sovereignty, omniscience, and immutability of God? I simply don’t know.

But I do know this – God wants His people to pray. Later Samuel will talk about the sin of ceasing to pray for the people. We read about praying without ceasing. We read that men ‘men ought always to pray.’ We are told that no matter what the situation we are not to worry, but ‘in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.’

I wish, in my human mind that I had an answer. How do we reconcile God’s perfect knowledge and immutability with His desire for us to pray? That is one of those things I think we may have to wait until we get to heaven for understand.

In the meantime may we, with Samuel, ‘cease not to cry unto the Lord.’

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

We have sinned

So they gathered together at Mizpah, drew water, and poured it out before the LORD. And they fasted that day, and said there, "We have sinned against the LORD." And Samuel judged the children of Israel at Mizpah. 1 Samuel 7v6

Israel only had one way out of their condition. They were in sin. The nation was a mess. Leadership had failed them. Even though the ark had been returned twenty years passed and they were still in sin. There had been no moves to repentance and the worship of false gods had become well entrenched.

Finally Samuel confronted them. If they did not repent and turn back to God the Philistines would soon conquer them. Israel responded, they put away their false gods, and they gathered together at Mizpeh.

What happened next is key. What they did is the only beginning of any true revival. They had put away the false gods. They fasted. Then they said ‘We have sinned.’

There can be no true revival until we admit that we are in sin. We can deny it, blame someone else, say it is not our fault, or whatever, but until we admit that we are the fault for our condition we will see no repentance or revival in our lives.

‘I have sinned.’ Until we learn how to say those simple words we are doomed to be mired in nothing more than a mediocre spiritual life.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

But Samuel ministered

But Samuel ministered before the LORD, even as a child, wearing a linen ephod. – I Samuel 2v18

I apologise for some of the jumping around here, but every time I get ready to move on I see something else I want to share, so please bear with me. This little passage caught my eye as I was reading over the other passages and I though it had a very important, if brief, thought for us.

We know from the previous days readings that things were falling apart in Israel. It got so bad that people even thought that God had left the nation to fend for itself. All sorts of wickedness were going on right there in the temple. The verse just before the one above says ‘Wherefore the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord…’

But then we come to Samuel. While all this was going on we read, ‘But Samuel ministered before the Lord, even as a child…’

While it was all falling apart the child Samuel just kept on serving the Lord. Without mentors or spiritual leadership Samuel just kept on serving. All alone Samuel kept on serving.

What a great example for us who serve the Lord. There are times when that service can get lonely. It is those times that we need a gut check to see if we have the same level of service and dedication that Samuel, while he was still a young child, had.

Monday, 3 May 2010

The glory has departed

Then she named the child Ichabod, a saying, "The glory has departed from Israel!" because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband. – 1 Samuel 4v21

Poor Mrs Phinehas. Her husband was dead. Her father-in-law Eli was dead. The Philistines had defeated Israel and captured the ark of God. Now a single mom she gave birth to a child. Those with her tried to console her with the fact that she had a son, but she was still in despair. She named her son ‘Ichabod.’

That name even sounds terrible doesn’t it? The name means ‘no glory.’ In her mind it could not get any worse. God and His glory had abandoned them.

I think we have all been where she is. It seems like there is no good news. The storms keep rolling in. It is one thing after another, much like it was with Job. We can all imagine if we are not careful that we can right Ichabod on our lives.

The truth is though that God was not done with Israel, and He had not gone anywhere. True, the ark was a reminder of His presence and there was ‘something’ about it, but He was not bound to that container.

I have heard it preached that this declaration was an indication that God was well and truly gone, but I am not so sure she was right. God was still there, He cannot be anywhere without His glory. The problem was a loss of their perception of him. Whenever our eyes are on our circumstances and they go badly, we will lose sight of the glory of God and His power.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

The Lord revealed Himself by the word

Then the LORD appeared again in Shiloh. For the LORD revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the LORD. – 1 Samuel 3v21

Even before we have the written word of God we have an indication of how the Lord is going to appear to man. We know already that the word of the Lord was a rare thing in these days. It was a rough time for the nation. If, as it appears, Eli was typical of the nation, it really was bad. His sons, Hophni and Phinehas were vile men.

Even in these most wicked of days, even when there was a ‘famine of the word,’ God appeared to Samuel at Shiloh.

It is how God appeared that caught my eye. We read here that the Lord revealed Himself to Samuel through the word of the Lord.

I realise that we cannot draw too much from this little phrase, but I think there is a principle for us. God revealed Himself to Samuel through, apparently, a spoken revelation. This was the ‘word of the Lord.’ His revelation of His word was directly to Samuel, and we are able to read about it today through the written word of God. His revelation was always consistent with Himself.

That was precious for Samuel. We might think about how wonderful it was for Samuel to have God speak directly to him.

When I read of this I think about how blessed we are to have, to my mind, something so much better. God still reveals Himself to His people today. We don’t have to go a specific place like Samuel did. We don’t have to depend on our memories and powers of recall to have His word with us. God has blessed us with the written word of God. I can go back to the same passages I first learned decades ago and still have God speak to me though His word.

I am glad that God revealed Himself to Samuel through His word. I am glad that reveals Himself to us through His word today.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

According to My heart and My mind

Then I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who shall do according to what is in My heart and in My mind. I will build him a sure house, and he shall walk before My anointed forever. – 1 Samuel 2v35

What kind of service are we to give the Lord? What should motivate us? How should our service be carried out?

Eli had really blown it. He had not done the job right. We can speculate as two the reasons. We do know that the primary reason for God rejecting him was the behaviour of his sons. Perhaps his problem was that he neglected his family in because of his service. We just don’t know, but there had to be someone to take his place.

So God would raise up a new priest. We know that Samuel was being prepared for the job. Samuel would be the man who would be the faithful priest. His faithfulness would be seen in that he would do what was in God’s heart and in His mind.

This challenges my heart. Am I the kind of faithful servant God wants me to be? Am I led by His heart and His mind, or do I dictate what I am going to do and say and how I am going to act?

We are fortunate. We don’t have to guess or speculate at God’s heart and mind. God has revealed His heart and mind to us in His word. With the indwelling Holy Spirit I can be sure of doing His heart and His mind as I walk in obedience to His word.

May we each seek to have a Samuel-like service.