1 Samuel 8:1-9
Israel Requests a King

Last night I finished one of the books I have to read for my next semester (my third semester) in my doctoral program. I am not the fastest reader in the world so I began reading the first of 10 books I have to read before the end of the third week in February on Monday night. This first book was probably the shortest (and smallest) of the books I have to read. It was entitled Autopsy of a Deceased Church. In this short 100-page book, Thomas Rainer had done research on the deaths of 14 different churches and from that research developed the common themes of why churches decline and die. To add to what Rainer states in his book I found that in a recent sermon, Pastor James McDonald from Walking in the Word Ministries revealed these shocking numbers about Christianity in America:

• Of the 250,000 Protestant churches in America, 200,000 are either stagnant (with no growth) or declining. That is 80% of the churches in America and maybe the one you attend, if you attend at all.

• 4,000 churches close their doors every single year.

• There is less than half of the number of churches today than there were only 100 years ago.

• 3,500 people leave the church every single day.

• Since 1950, there are 1/3 fewer churches in the U.S.

Thomas Rainer bolsters the above statistics by saying that only 10% of churches in America are truly healthy, 40% of churches are showing signs of sickness, 40% of churches are sick and dying, and 10% of churches are about to die. The main troubles of sick and/or dying churches, according to Rainer? His research of these 14 churches, these “autopsies” of churches that died, revealed some interesting facts. They became increasingly inward focused over the years. They became resistant to change. Their budgets became less and less focused on outreach and more and more focused on programs to serve the needs of the people within the church. They became more like the old Janet Jackson song from 1986, “What Have You Done for ME Lately?” As funds dwindled due to the slow decline of membership, the first things that were cut was the very thing that they needed to be spending their money on – reaching out into their communities. They became fearful of the world around them and had defeatist attitudes about reaching their town with evangelistic efforts. And most of all, they quit praying fervently in a corporate fashion. Sure, they would pray before church meals and during services but there was no longer is passion corporately to pray for the lost and for ways to reach them. There was little if any discipleship. Church became about traditions and resistance to change. Church became a social club. Often these churches that died, clamored for more people and often switched pastors often when that did not happen. However, pastors who came in and wanted to make sweeping changes to “stop the bleeding” were often rebuffed because people did not ultimately want to give up leadership to new people, did not want to give up traditions. Did not want “that kind” of change. They wanted to continue doing what they were doing but get a different result.

They lost sight of what the church was for. The church is not for them. The church is there for the lost, to draw them unto Christ, and then to develop them into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. We must be obedient in this effort as a church or your church, my church, any church will die. What does this have to do with today’s passage where Israel is clamoring to have a king? Everything as we will see. Let us read the passage, 1 Samuel 8:1-9, once again together:

8 As Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons to be judges over Israel. 2 Joel and Abijah, his oldest sons, held court in Beersheba. 3 But they were not like their father, for they were greedy for money. They accepted bribes and perverted justice.

4 Finally, all the elders of Israel met at Ramah to discuss the matter with Samuel. 5 “Look,” they told him, “you are now old, and your sons are not like you. Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.”

6 Samuel was displeased with their request and went to the Lord for guidance. 7 “Do everything they say to you,” the Lord replied, “for they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. 8 Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment. 9 Do as they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will reign over them.”

In this passage, we see that the people clamored for a king, thinking that a new system of government would bring about a change in the nation. However, their basic problem was disobedience to God. Their other problems would only continue under the new form of administration. What they needed was a unified faith in God not a unified form of governance. Had the Israelites submitted to God’s leadership, they would have thrived beyond their expectations (see Deuteronomy 28:1). Our obedience to God’s commands as his newest expression of “His people”, the church, is crucial to our ability to thrive as instruments of God.

Jesus commanded his church to go. Jesus commanded his church to make disciples of all peoples. Jesus commanded them to baptize people in the name of the three expressions of the Trinity (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). Jesus commanded us to teach them everything that He taught us. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) is what we are here for – nothing else. We are not here to build buildings with our names on them. We are not here to use church to build a power base. We are not here for me to have a professional network so that I make all the right contacts “because we go to the same church”. We are not here to have a place to entertain our kids. We are not here to be babysitters for your kids. We are not here to have our names on pews, windows, or classrooms. We are not here to make ourselves feel good. Even in modern church, we are not here to have the cool church. We are not here to have field trips for our teenagers. We are not here to have the most expensive lighting and sound system in town. We are not here to have the loudest band and the band with the most albums out there on Christian radio. Sure, we can have those things but they cannot be the things that we are here. They must be byproducts of a church that is obedient to its calling from Jesus Christ.

We must go. We must focus our money and our people on sharing the gospel in their day to day lives. We must urge them to see the urgency of what is at stake – the eternal destination of our friends, neighbors, co-workers, extended families, all those in our individual spheres of influence. We must remind our people that their a members of a priestly order. They are ministers themselves. They can touch more people themselves than our pastors can ever dream of reaching by themselves. We are the church. Let us go. Let us get out there and share the gospel. Let us share the gospel not in just how we act and carry ourselves but actually sharing the gospel. Let us teach our people to think with a kingdom mindset – to think of every situation as an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ. We must “Go” if we are “to make disciples. We must go if we are to baptize. We must go if we are to teach. We cannot do any of the last three subcommands of the Great Commission if we are not obedient in the going.

When we quit going, we start dying. When we are disobedient in the going, we quit thriving and a church begins its slow death march to the closing of the doors of a church. Just as Israel clamored for a king, thinking a change would make them thrive again, we often clamor for change as our churches decline. However, just as Israel did not change its ways and continued in its disobedience to the Lord and it began its slow death march toward the end of what we knew as ancient Israel, we too as churches cannot expect renewal unless we are obedient to the commands of the Lord. We must change our ways or more churches will close. We must move away from church becoming self-serving. We must never forget the passion for the lost. We must not lose our love for the going. We must not lose our love for baptizing and teaching. We must not lose our love for making disciples.

The commands are simple. That is what we are here for. That is what we must be obedient toward. Nothing else. It’s all very simple. It is about going. It is about making disciples. It is about baptizing. It is about teaching. If your church or my church becomes about anything other than being obedient to this commands, then, we too like many other churches every year and like the nation of ancient Israel, we will die. God does not bless disobedience. He blesses obedience. Everything we do as a church must be measured by whether it represents:

1. Going
2. Baptizing
3. Teaching
4. Making Disciples

Everything. Everything must be measured by our obedience to these four simple commands. Anything else is not worthy of doing. Anything else is disobedience.

Amen and Amen.

Advertisements

 

1 Samuel 8:1-9 (Part 1 of 2)

 

I know that I was not the best parent to my children. God knows I made enough mistakes with them to last several parental lifetimes. But they always knew, I think, that when the chips were down I would always be there for them even before accepted Christ as my Savior and even before I began to grow up as Christ follower and as a father. That took a long time though. From the troubles that my girls lived through in my first marriage – their mom’s drug addiction, rehab visits, her affair, our temporary separation after it, our tenuous reconciliation, my on again/off again affair, our on again/off again separations, our final breakup. To my second marriage – where my second wife and her boys were jealous of my girls to the point that I basically did only and exactly only what I was required to do by law and nothing more just so as to prove my love to my second wife. To my lifestyle after the second marriage ended that was a lot of drinking and chasing women and throwing money at my kids so as to make up for be so absentee as a dad when I was married to my second wife.

 

 

 

That’s not to say that we, my girls and me, did not have our awesome times during all of that. We have memories that we will never forget like the road trip to Orlando for the Champ Sports Bowl in Orlando to see our Tigers play – that was one of our special moments. There was the beach trip at Ocean Lakes where we rented that big house. Trips to see the Backstreet Boys in concert with Taylor (my ears start ringing with the sounds of 13 year old girls screaming to the top of their lungs anytime I think about that). Great conversations with my oldest, Meghan. There are some really good memories in there. And the girls love those memories too til this day. However, when I think about the good times, I always drift to the mistakes and the things that you are ashamed of when you were a non-Christian parent or an immature Christian parent. If I had it to do all over again, my God, how I would change things. But that’s the sad part of being a parent is that you don’t get to make up for your mistakes. All you can do is start from now to be the best parent you can be.

 

 

 

One of the things that I beat myself up about is the fact that I came to Christ so late in life myself (age 39) that I failed to be a good example to my kids in their formative years. Big regrets there! By the time I accepted Christ as my Savior, my kids were ages 16, Meghan, and 11, Taylor. What’s worse was that I did not begin growing up as a Christian until 2009-2010 time frame when we had our discipling mentors, Luke and Felisha, at Livermore Alive Community Church in Livermore, CA. By the end of our time there, in 2010, I was then 48 years old and my children were aged 25 and 20. Wow, the missed time. Wow, the opportunities to impart the gospel to my children missed in all their formative, teen, and early 20’s years. This is not to say that I did not mend my relationships with my girls after the second divorce which I did, but I feel as though I failed them from a discipleship perspective. It is my biggest failure as a parent. However, I cannot change the past. All I can do is be a living example of the gospel story to them and to disciple them now based on what God has done in my life. He has redeemed this hedonistic, self-centered party boy into something beautiful and one who knows he has been redeemed from the depths of hell. I am joyful in the love and grace shown to me by my Lord and Savior. Wow, I know what I was and what He has made me. All I can do is live and breath that in front of my children.

 

 

 

Another thing that I have to realize is that even if I had become a Christ follower and a maturing disciple say even before they were born, I cannot impart salvation to my children. They are responsible for making their way to the cross. I can set the atmosphere. I can live out the life in front of them. I can take about Jesus and teach them about Him, but it is up to them as to whether they ask Jesus to be their Savior and Lord. I can advise them in a godly fashion. I can teach them what the Bible says about this thing and that thing in life. But they must be responsible for their own relationship with God.

 

 

 

That’s what I though of this morning as I read through this passage, 1 Samuel 8:1-9, this morning. In this passage, similar to the high priest, Eli, the sons of Samuel turned out to be nothing like him. By all accounts in the Bible, Samuel was a great man of faith and a great man of integrity and he was a great judge for Israel. However, his sons turned out to be greedy and power hungry. With these thoughts in mind, Let us read the passage now:

 

 

 

8 As Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons to be judges over Israel. 2 Joel and Abijah, his oldest sons, held court in Beersheba. 3 But they were not like their father, for they were greedy for money. They accepted bribes and perverted justice.

 

 

 

4 Finally, all the elders of Israel met at Ramah to discuss the matter with Samuel. 5 “Look,” they told him, “you are now old, and your sons are not like you. Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.”

 

 

 

6 Samuel was displeased with their request and went to the Lord for guidance. 7 “Do everything they say to you,” the Lord replied, “for they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. 8 Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment. 9 Do as they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will reign over them.”

 

 

 

In this passage, we see that as an old man, Samuel appointed his sons to be judges over Israel. But they turned out to be corrupt, much like Eli’s son (see 1 Samuel 2:12). It is impossible to know what kind of parent was to his children. We do know that he was busy with the work of the nation of Israel. Maybe as a byproduct of not being their for his kids, they grew up resenting him and his work for the nation. By all accounts though, Samuel was a great man of faith. We don’t know what the reasons were for his sons becoming something different from him – all we know is they did. The only mention of his kids here are that they were grown men. We must be careful not to blame ourselves for the sins of our children. They are responsible for their own lives when they are adults and they are responsible for their own sins and their consequences. They can blame us. We can blame us. However, they are ultimately responsible for their own lives and actions.

 

 

 

Sure, we can still influence our adult children. Sure, we can regret to the point of tears about how we messed up as parents while our kids grew up and rightfully so. And, yes, we can make up for as we have matured in Christ and now can be examples to them of what redemption and grace and a relationship with Jesus Christ looks like. We can pray for opportunities to share the gospel with our kids. I know that my oldest daughter demonstrates the fruits of the spirit of a child of God. I am confident that she has asked Christ into her life and is living it out now. I pray for my youngest to demonstrate the fruits of the spirit that would demonstrate that she too has accepted Christ as her Savior and I pray for opportunities to share the gospel truth with her.

 

 

 

I can kick myself for all the stupid #$%( that I did to mess up their lives when they were young. I can beat myself up for all the things I am ashamed of in my life prior to the cross that they got to observe in my life. I can kick myself for not accepting Christ as my Savior until my late thirties. I can kick myself for not growing up as a Christ follower until my mid- to late-forties. But I cannot give salvation to them like I do Christmas presents. They must deal with Jesus on their own. No amount of apologies to God will take away their own responsibility for their own relationship with the Lord. I can be a positive influence in that regard for the remainder of my life, demonstrating a maturing Christian in front of them, but they must have a personal relationship on their own with Jesus.

 

 

 

In the meantime, I pray. Pray. Pray. Pray to have opportunities to get real with them in conversations about Jesus. To help one grow in Christ. To help the other to the cross.

 

 

 

Amen and Amen.

 

1 Samuel 7:3-17 (Part 3 of 3)
Samuel Leads Israel to Victory

Water is important. Water is the elixir of life. Without it, we will die. We live in a water-like substance for the first nine months of our existence within our mother’s wombs. We need it to survive outside our mother’s womb. Watch any marathon, you will see that they require water stations at multiple points throughout the race. And, you have seen what happens to a runner who is not properly hydrated in a marathon race. Some will faint and collapse in a heap during the race. Some will have their muscles seize up on them because of the lack of hydration in their bodies. Water is important.

Water was always important in my family growing up. My mom would take us swimming from the time we were little boys, babes in arms almost. As a result, my brother and I loved the water growing up. Whether it be going to a swimming pool when we had a YMCA nearby or just running through the sprinkler in the backyard or swimming in a lake, we loved it. When we moved to Anderson, SC when we were middle schoolers, we thought it was the coolest thing that we had Lake Hartwell nearby. My dad bought a boat and through one of the best friends I had when we lived there, Donnie Garrison, we had access to a private cove on the lake. His dad owned a big farm right there on the lake. Donnie and I were in the water all the time during the summers. Water skiing was our thing on the weekend and when we weren’t skiing we were swimming. Lake Hartwell was the fluid that lubricated our friendship. When we were not swimming, we exploring the woods around the lake on the Garrison property. Man, I remember those summer weekends, my dad would be pulling us the skis behind the boat for miles and miles and it was an every weekend thing from May to September. It was so much fun. And dad had gotten really good about knowing how to maximize our leanouts on turns. Donnie and I had gotten so good at skiing that on our leanouts on turns we would almost be horizontal. The g-force against us was wild. We would probably be doing about 30 miles per hour going through those turns (and it seemed like 60 mph when you were on the skiis and leaning out almost down to the water on a turn). Man, I still remember those days. I can still feel the speed on those turns in my mind right now. And the wipeouts on turns would be spectacular…like a rock skipping on water. And the one of us that didn’t wipe out on the turn would be laughing like crazy when dad would have to circle back around to pick the downed skier back up. Water was so important to us in those days. Had to be in it, on it, or by it.

Water is important to the Christian faith as well. Jesus, the man who needed no forgiveness for He was God in the flesh, was immersed in water to fulfill all righteousness when He began his public ministry. We are baptized in the water as a public profession of what God has already done in our souls through the salvation of Jesus Christ. It is symbolic of the change wrought by believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died for our sins and rose on the third day to give us hope of eternal life with Him. It is the symbol of our salvation. Water is important and it is symbolic to Christians. When we get baptized, we are lowered into the water as persons with no hope and that are mired in the scales of sin. We are immersed in the water and it is during that immersion that it is symbolic of what Jesus has done for us. He has washed away our sins by His death on the cross. He took our sins with Him to the tomb and left them there. Just as the immersion in the water is what cleans away the dirt and nastiness of our sins. Further, just as Jesus was laid in the tomb, we are immersed in the water. Just as Jesus left death and sin in the grave, we leave symbolically our sins in the waters of salvation. They stay there. We are redeemed and made clean in the waters of Jesus’ gracious salvation. Just as Jesus arose from the grave, our coming out of the water in baptism symbolizes our new life in Christ. It symbolizes our victory over death in our sins. Jesus’ resurrection from the grave assures us that that we have new life and no longer are we suffering under the death penalty of sin. Our arising from the water in baptism symbolism that new life. We have been bathed in the water covering of what Jesus did for us on the cross and we symbolically arise from the water clean and free from the death sentence of our sin’s filth. You can, thus, kinda say that water is a wee bit important as a symbolic thing in the Christian faith. It is important to God that water be a symbolic of life. It is important in the organic world and it is important to us as God’s people as a symbol of the necessity of God in our lives, the necessity of faith, the necessity of cleansing ourselves and making ourselves right with God. Water is important.

It is that idea of the importance of water in the physical world and in God’s relationship with man that I thought of this morning. Just as water was pretty much the basis of my and Donnie Garrison’s friendship, we see the importance of water in the life of God’s people as well in this passage, 1 Samuel 7:3-17. With that in my mind, let’s read it together right now:

3 Then Samuel said to all the people of Israel, “If you want to return to the Lord with all your hearts, get rid of your foreign gods and your images of Ashtoreth. Turn your hearts to the Lord and obey him alone; then he will rescue you from the Philistines.” 4 So the Israelites got rid of their images of Baal and Ashtoreth and worshiped only the Lord.

5 Then Samuel told them, “Gather all of Israel to Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you.” 6 So they gathered at Mizpah and, in a great ceremony, drew water from a well and poured it out before the Lord. They also went without food all day and confessed that they had sinned against the Lord. (It was at Mizpah that Samuel became Israel’s judge.)

7 When the Philistine rulers heard that Israel had gathered at Mizpah, they mobilized their army and advanced. The Israelites were badly frightened when they learned that the Philistines were approaching. 8 “Don’t stop pleading with the Lord our God to save us from the Philistines!” they begged Samuel. 9 So Samuel took a young lamb and offered it to the Lord as a whole burnt offering. He pleaded with the Lord to help Israel, and the Lord answered him.

10 Just as Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines arrived to attack Israel. But the Lord spoke with a mighty voice of thunder from heaven that day, and the Philistines were thrown into such confusion that the Israelites defeated them. 11 The men of Israel chased them from Mizpah to a place below Beth-car, slaughtering them all along the way.

12 Samuel then took a large stone and placed it between the towns of Mizpah and Jeshanah.[a] He named it Ebenezer (which means “the stone of help”), for he said, “Up to this point the Lord has helped us!”

13 So the Philistines were subdued and didn’t invade Israel again for some time. And throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the Lord’s powerful hand was raised against the Philistines. 14 The Israelite villages near Ekron and Gath that the Philistines had captured were restored to Israel, along with the rest of the territory that the Philistines had taken. And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites in those days.

15 Samuel continued as Israel’s judge for the rest of his life. 16 Each year he traveled around, setting up his court first at Bethel, then at Gilgal, and then at Mizpah. He judged the people of Israel at each of these places. 17 Then he would return to his home at Ramah, and he would hear cases there, too. And Samuel built an altar to the Lord at Ramah.

In this passage, we see that pouring water on the ground “before the Lord” was a sign of repentance from sin, turning from idols, and determining to obey God alone. It was Samuel’s way of demonstrating to God that the people were ready to repent of their sins and become a renewed people before God. The people of Israel during the time of the judges had been a horrid, sinful lot and it is here that water poured on the land was symbolic of how they wanted to turn from their sin and return unto God.

When I read this passage I really picked up on that water thing because I understand the importance of baptism as a symbolic gesture in the Christian faith. The water symbolism used in Christian baptism has its roots in the Old Testament. Here we see one of the examples of how water is symbolic of the cleansing of the people. That is what baptism symbolizes in the Christian faith. The people of Israel had already committed to repentance and Samuel’s pouring out of water on to the land “before the Lord” was symbolic of what had already happening in the life of the people of Israel. Similarly, baptism, the act, does not in and of itself impart salvation. It is simply a beautifully symbolic and powerful testament to what has already occurred in the believer’s soul. Salvation has already occurred and baptism is how we “go public” about our faith, about our already occurred salvation experience. Water is important. It is important to God. It is important symbolically in God’s relationship to man. Water is reality is the most important thing that we need physically to survive and not die. It is the same as a symbol of what God does for us through Jesus. We need Jesus as much spiritually as much as we need water physically. It is no wonder that God influenced us to use water as the most central symbol of the Christian faith.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 7:3-17 (Part 2 of 3)
Samuel Leads Israel to Victory

Donald Trump has become a god for liberals and anyone who is not white. I know that it is a brash statement but he has become just that for them. And before I proceed, please understand that I am not a fan of Donald Trump. I personally think he is an egotistical, arrogant, vain man who ran for President for no other reason than to accomplish the task, to see if he could win. He never thinks before he speaks and because of that he has lost more allies than he has won during his short time in office.

However, by his very existence in the office of President of the United States, he has become the pariah of the liberal cause. He has become so hated by the liberals that it approaches a god-like status. Liberals blame Trump for everything. If you listen to the liberals on television and they certainly dominate that medium, America is in ruins and that they live in some desperate wasteland that has gone terribly wrong. Trump is to blame for it all. They live and breath hating Trump. If it is raining outside, it is because of some Trump conspiracy. If there is a natural disaster somewhere it is Trump’s fault. Just last night, I was watching Saturday Night Live (SNL) and their opening skit. It opened with a scene with kids visiting Santa and it was all very innocuous as each child sat down on Santa’s lap but the final child was asked what she wanted for Christ and she said “I don’t really want anything for Christmas. I just want everything to be OK.” Then one of the elves bends down and tells that though our country is in shambles right now that one day it will be ok again.” And then she proceed to give a day count of what appeared to be the number of days remaining in Trump’s term as president. To hear the liberals tell it, nothing is right in America. Everything has gone wrong. All the sexual scandals in Washington are Trump’s fault. Black leaders stay away from the opening of a civil rights museum in Jackson, MS yesterday because Trump was there. A star skier on the US Olympic ski team that is favored to win a medal has already come and said if she wins any gold medals in her downhill events that she will not go to the White House if invited (and I bet she would protest if Trump decided not to invite her). It’s gotten to the point that no matter what Trump does it is going to be dissected by the liberals as somehow wrong. The sky is falling. The sky is falling. The sky is falling.

Again, don’t get me wrong. I am not a big fan of Trump. I would have rather the Republicans nominated someone else for me to vote for as President. But, what has changed so drastically since Trump became President. When I wake up on Monday mornings and go to work, I see an economy that has continued to grow and prosper under Trump as much as it did during any Obama years. The economy is percolating rather nicely. NFL football player are still making millions of dollars and even the ones who ride the bench make 10 times what the average American makes. No civil rights laws have been repealed. We still have checks and balance in our three headed monster government (executive, legislative, judicial). We can still buy homes. We still buy gasoline. We can still go to college. We can still live life in the very same we did before Trump was inaugurated. You may not like Trump and may even hate him because he does not watch what he says and he says some politically stupid stuff. The liberals are like little kids who did not get what they wanted at the toy store and are pitching a conniption fit right there in the store for all to see.

The hatred for Trump has reached such god-like status that it does not matter if Trump divorced his wife and became an openly gay man and took a “life partner”, the liberals would say that Trump was mocking them rather than accepting him as one of their own. Trump is a god to them in that they are obsessed with hating him. It is a mob mentality. It’s like when a someone gets accused of a crime, he gets tried in the court of public opinion and becomes a pariah because it the fashionable thing to hate that person for what they think a person has done. Then, we find out later that the person was innocent. It doesn’t matter. The damage is done. The person’s life is ruined. No matter that he was innocent. He is still a social pariah after even being proved innocent.

Trump has become that way for the liberal cause. He is more hated I think Nixon was by the anti-war movement in the late 60’s/early 70’s. He has become an antichrist to the liberals. Whatever is wrong, whatever is ignoble, whatever is false, whatever is horrid, it is Trump’s fault. He is to blame.

Making idols or false gods even negatively is wrong. When we worship things even in a negative way and have let them totally preoccupy our lives, we are sinning. Even hating Donald Trump can become your god. With that thought in my mind, let’s read this passage, 1 Samuel 7:3-17, one more time together right now:

3 Then Samuel said to all the people of Israel, “If you want to return to the Lord with all your hearts, get rid of your foreign gods and your images of Ashtoreth. Turn your hearts to the Lord and obey him alone; then he will rescue you from the Philistines.” 4 So the Israelites got rid of their images of Baal and Ashtoreth and worshiped only the Lord.

5 Then Samuel told them, “Gather all of Israel to Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you.” 6 So they gathered at Mizpah and, in a great ceremony, drew water from a well and poured it out before the Lord. They also went without food all day and confessed that they had sinned against the Lord. (It was at Mizpah that Samuel became Israel’s judge.)

7 When the Philistine rulers heard that Israel had gathered at Mizpah, they mobilized their army and advanced. The Israelites were badly frightened when they learned that the Philistines were approaching. 8 “Don’t stop pleading with the Lord our God to save us from the Philistines!” they begged Samuel. 9 So Samuel took a young lamb and offered it to the Lord as a whole burnt offering. He pleaded with the Lord to help Israel, and the Lord answered him.

10 Just as Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines arrived to attack Israel. But the Lord spoke with a mighty voice of thunder from heaven that day, and the Philistines were thrown into such confusion that the Israelites defeated them. 11 The men of Israel chased them from Mizpah to a place below Beth-car, slaughtering them all along the way.

12 Samuel then took a large stone and placed it between the towns of Mizpah and Jeshanah.[a] He named it Ebenezer (which means “the stone of help”), for he said, “Up to this point the Lord has helped us!”

13 So the Philistines were subdued and didn’t invade Israel again for some time. And throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the Lord’s powerful hand was raised against the Philistines. 14 The Israelite villages near Ekron and Gath that the Philistines had captured were restored to Israel, along with the rest of the territory that the Philistines had taken. And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites in those days.

15 Samuel continued as Israel’s judge for the rest of his life. 16 Each year he traveled around, setting up his court first at Bethel, then at Gilgal, and then at Mizpah. He judged the people of Israel at each of these places. 17 Then he would return to his home at Ramah, and he would hear cases there, too. And Samuel built an altar to the Lord at Ramah.

In this passage, we see that Samuel urged the Israelites to get rid of their foreign god. Idols today are much more subtle than gods of wood and stone, but they are just as dangerous. Whatever holds first place in our lives or controls us is a god. Money, success, material goods, pride, or anything else can become an idol if it take the place of God in our lives. The Lord alone is worthy of our service and worship and we must let nothing rival him. If we have “foreign gods”, we need to ask God to help us dethrone them, making the one true God our first priority. The pouring of water on the ground before the Lord was a sign of repenting from in, turning from idols, and determining to obey God alone.

For the conservatives among us, the majority of us are not enamored with Trump, but we at the same time do not see him as the antichrist. He is a one-termer to us. We must find a more polished and less divisive presidential candidate in 2018. We must. However, as we say that, I take comfort that the economy is in great shape. We can go to work on Monday and work for companies that are having great sales and profit years this year. We can go to work still knowing that the laws of our land are the same as they were before January 20, 2017. We can be discerning about that which is good and bad about what our president does. Let us take example from the liberals that we can never let our hatred of a political figure reach god-like status. We must keep perspective.

We must be the same in our personal lives. We cannot let anything come in between us and God. We can let hatred of others become gods to us. For example, a person who hates another so much, that hatred can become a god. Like the Trump situation for liberals, I have seen people going through divorces that they become so obsessed with destroying their former spouse that the hatred became their god. We can let love of others become a god when the pursuit of women or pursuit of men become a god. We can let pursuit of money become a god. We can let pursuit of power, pursuit of things, pursuit of good times, pursuit of the party lifestyle, pursuit of drugs, pursuit of alcohol, pursuit of anything that is not God can become idols to us.

We must worship God first in everything we do from our finances, our jobs, our relationships, you name it. God must be first. Nothing else. Anything else is idolatry. Let us examine our lives for what we put before God. What are those obvious things? Even harder, what are the subtle things that we put before God. Let us pour out water before the Lord and repent of those things. Turn away and come back to the Lord.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 7:3-17 (Part 1 of 3)
Samuel Leads Israel to Victory

Have you ever thought what would have happened in your life if a certain event had not happened? Those moments may have not even seemed significant at the time but when you have time later on down the line, you look back and go “Oh wow! That moment right there was truly pivotal in my life.” Well, Elena and I have one of those moments in a string of oh wow moments back in 2007-2010. There were a series of events back in that time period that are truly pivotal in our relationship with each other and with our respective relationships with the Lord. God’s guiding hand was there. We see it now when looking back. But for today, I want to talk about the last of that pivotal string of events. It has to do with license plates and closed post offices.

License plate and closed post offices? Mark, what are you talking about? Well, you will see why this moment was a pivotal moment. Prior to moving to the Duncan-Lyman-Wellford, SC area, I had been living “temporarily” in Santa Clara/San Jose, CA for three years. Finally, when my job out there was finally considered “permanent”, I finally moved my stuff from storage in South Carolina, Elena’s stuff from her apartment, and the cars out to California. So, Elena and I lived together and then finally married while we were living in our first place together in Livermore, CA (one of the eastern suburbs in the Bay Area). We figured this thing was going to be a permanent gig. So, we became Californians. We registered our cars in California. Got California licenses. The whole smash. We were official California residents. We immersed ourselves in that foreign culture. We enjoyed exploring our newfound homeland every weekend. We also loved “going into the city” as it is called out there. When you go to San Francisco from any of the suburbs, it is called “going into the city.” San Francisco was such a neat place. Art. Culture. History. Great food. So much to see there. We “went into the city” so many times during that year but yet we never saw all the sights. It was a fun experience that I will never forget.

Then, all of sudden the powers that be within the Fujikura world in which I work decided to consolidate my company’s accounting/finance function with that of the rest of US-based Fujikura companies at the US headquarters of our sister company, AFL Telecommunications, in Duncan, SC. So, about one year after my company spent about $20 grand to move my and Elena’s belongings to the Bay Area, they would now spend another $20 grand to move it all back to the east coast. We found a nice home with a big lot in Duncan when we moved back (we lived in that house from August 2010 til we sold it in October 2016 and moved to our current home in the Lyman Mill Village). During that first couple of weeks we lived there in Duncan, we were desperately trying to find a new home church that we could call our home church. We had visited one church and knew that it was NOT it. We were researching on the internet to find a church with a modern worship style and a relentless pastor of the Word and top-notch musicians. We had all that in Livermore. We wanted that here. But back to the story.

But because we had become Californians. We had to become South Carolinians once more. We had to get new South Carolina drivers licenses and car tags. Then, as part of the re-acclimation to South Carolina, we had to mail our California car tags back the California DMV after we had received our SC tags. So, being the great wife that Elena is who takes care of all the details of my life so I don’t have to, she got the tags all prepared to mail. She then that next morning set off for the Duncan post office. But being a small suburban town’s post office, it was actually closed for lunch. Can you believe that? No one’s there from like 12pm to 1:30pm. Well, Elena didn’t have time for that so she pulled out her trusty GPS on her phone and found the nearest next post office was in Lyman. So, she took off to the Lyman post office. While she was there she noticed LifeSong Church across the highway from the Lyman post office. LifeSong did not have the new worship center back in August 2010 but the sign outside was modern but the building looked like an old school church. So, Elena rushed back home after mailing off our car tags back to the California DMV and looked up LifeSong on the internet. Man, it looked and felt like what we had at Livermore. So, we went the next Sunday to check it out. That was on August 15, 2010….and the rest is history. It’s been pretty well documented here in my blogs over the past 4-5 years that we are now in leadership at LifeSong. LifeSong is such an integral part of our lives and we have grown so much spiritually there. No matter where God leads us from this point forward and even if He eventually leads us away from this area, LifeSong will stand as the most instrumental place in our lives. And I cannot overstate that more!!!

And it’s all because of license plates and closed post offices. Every time I pass by Duncan’s post office, I thank God that it was closed that when Elena went by there. We may have never found LifeSong otherwise. So, the Duncan post office is a mile marker for us. Every time I pass by it, I think of God’s providence. Every time I pass by it, I thank God that it was such a small post office that it was closed for lunch.

Those mile marker moments in life is what I thought about after reading today’s passage, 1 Samuel 7:3-17, for the first of three reads today. With that thought in my mind, let’s read it together right now:

3 Then Samuel said to all the people of Israel, “If you want to return to the Lord with all your hearts, get rid of your foreign gods and your images of Ashtoreth. Turn your hearts to the Lord and obey him alone; then he will rescue you from the Philistines.” 4 So the Israelites got rid of their images of Baal and Ashtoreth and worshiped only the Lord.

5 Then Samuel told them, “Gather all of Israel to Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you.” 6 So they gathered at Mizpah and, in a great ceremony, drew water from a well and poured it out before the Lord. They also went without food all day and confessed that they had sinned against the Lord. (It was at Mizpah that Samuel became Israel’s judge.)

7 When the Philistine rulers heard that Israel had gathered at Mizpah, they mobilized their army and advanced. The Israelites were badly frightened when they learned that the Philistines were approaching. 8 “Don’t stop pleading with the Lord our God to save us from the Philistines!” they begged Samuel. 9 So Samuel took a young lamb and offered it to the Lord as a whole burnt offering. He pleaded with the Lord to help Israel, and the Lord answered him.

10 Just as Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines arrived to attack Israel. But the Lord spoke with a mighty voice of thunder from heaven that day, and the Philistines were thrown into such confusion that the Israelites defeated them. 11 The men of Israel chased them from Mizpah to a place below Beth-car, slaughtering them all along the way.

12 Samuel then took a large stone and placed it between the towns of Mizpah and Jeshanah.[a] He named it Ebenezer (which means “the stone of help”), for he said, “Up to this point the Lord has helped us!”

13 So the Philistines were subdued and didn’t invade Israel again for some time. And throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the Lord’s powerful hand was raised against the Philistines. 14 The Israelite villages near Ekron and Gath that the Philistines had captured were restored to Israel, along with the rest of the territory that the Philistines had taken. And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites in those days.

15 Samuel continued as Israel’s judge for the rest of his life. 16 Each year he traveled around, setting up his court first at Bethel, then at Gilgal, and then at Mizpah. He judged the people of Israel at each of these places. 17 Then he would return to his home at Ramah, and he would hear cases there, too. And Samuel built an altar to the Lord at Ramah.

In this passage, we see that the Israelites had great difficulty with the Philistines, but God rescued them. In response, the people set up a large stone as a memorial of God’s great help and deliverance. During tough times or times of transition or just any unique moment in our life history, we may need to remember the crucial turning points in our past to help us through the present. Memorials can help us remember God’s past victories in our lives and as such they can remind us that God will have victory again in our lives.

For Elena and me, we look back at how God’s guiding hand has been in our lives at every point. What seemed like random events to the casual observer of our lives, we see that God’s providence has been all over our lives. This happened leading that happening leading to this happening. It is God pointing and guiding to where we are today. That gives us great confidence for the future. We trust the Lord with our future. We know that He will be ahead of us already addressing what is next for us before we even get there. I think these things because of license plates and closed post offices.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 6:18-7:2
The Ark Moved to Kiriath-Jearim

“You are on restrictions for the rest of your life!”, my ex-wife would scream at her boys in a fit of anger over bad behavior of her kids. I would tell her not to say things like that because you really need to be prepared for the kid to be on restrictions “for the rest of your life” when you make a statement like that. The discipline of my stepsons in my second marriage was a bone of contention that would be one of the wedges that split our marriage in two.

In that marriage, I inherited her sons when they were ages 3, 6, and 9. Don’t let anybody fool you into thinking that you can change children’s behavior patterns (even the 3 year old) when real discipline was not a part of the plan before you got them. The boys had already learned the way to deal with their mom about bad behavior. First, you survive her initial anger at the behavior and maybe even a small whipping if the behavior was bad enough. Second, you listen and then whine about your justifications for your bad behavior. Third, you accept the direction to go to your room and the punishment of a certain number of days or weeks on restrictions. Fourth, you wait an hour or so and then come back to mom all sweet and apparently remorseful and pour on the “Puss-N-Boots” eyes. Fifth, with the effective sweet child act, the would break down the defenses of their mom and she would relent a day or two on the restrictions and sometimes to the point that they had effectively negotiated away their punishment. Even if she stuck to her guns and a day or two or a week remained after the “puss-n-boots” negotiation period, she would give up on the restrictions after they proved to be inconvenient to her.

Further, when I would try to take a hard line with the boys about their being real and lasting consequences for their bad behavior. They would go behind my back to their mom and the above-noted cycle would be in play and thus forever undermined my authority with the boys. They knew that there would be times she would back me up if they had done something egregious enough, maybe, but the majority of time, they could effectively negotiate away my punishments through their mom. The result was that I had little power over the boys. And the result of my ex-wife’s inability to enforce discipline that she meted out was that the boys were brats, plain and simple. They were destructive. They were unruly. They had their good moments don’t get me wrong but geez they cared about nothing. Their rooms had holes in the walls from fits of anger, rambunctious play, with no consequences. They never had a toy they did not destroy. They never had a car they didn’t tear up. They grew up with no consequences. They did not have discipline at school as a result and they did not do well with the requirements and consequences of school. Trey, the oldest, began to see things clearly by the time he was a junior in high school but his untimely death in a car accident prevented me from seeing what he could have become. Josh didn’t really get what I was trying to do until he had a son of his own. And Dillon, well, I am not sure he’s got it yet to this day.

Raising kids is a tough ball game. Some parents want to be their kids’ best friend and let them get away with any behavior and it never works. The mushy, blurred lines of discipline always leads to bad behavior unrestrained and ultimately to a child that has difficulty dealing with the world when they are adults. It is the same way with God, there are consequences to violating God’s commands. Sin always has its consequences that are detrimental to us. God cannot let sin exist in His presence. There must be consequences or the commands of God are meaningless blurred, mushy lines just like with parents who won’t carry out discipline with their kids.

That idea of firm and defined lines in the sand where consequences are known and carried out is what came to mind when I read this passage, 1 Samuel 6:19-7:2, this morning. Sin is sin is sin and it has established consequences. It is a universal truth. With that in mind, let’s read the passage now:

19 But the Lord killed seventy men[a] from Beth-shemesh because they looked into the Ark of the Lord. And the people mourned greatly because of what the Lord had done. 20 “Who is able to stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God?” they cried out. “Where can we send the Ark from here?”

21 So they sent messengers to the people at Kiriath-jearim and told them, “The Philistines have returned the Ark of the Lord. Come here and get it!”

7 So the men of Kiriath-jearim came to get the Ark of the Lord. They took it to the hillside home of Abinadab and ordained Eleazar, his son, to be in charge of it. 2 The Ark remained in Kiriath-jearim for a long time—twenty years in all. During that time all Israel mourned because it seemed the Lord had abandoned them.

In this passage, the first thing that you wonder about is why were people killed for looking into the Ark? The Israelites had made an idol of the Ark. They had tried to harness God’s power for their own purposes, a victory in battle. However, the Lord of the universe cannot be controlled by humans. To protect the Israelites from His power, he had warned them not to even look at the sacred sanctuary objects in the Most Holy Place or they would die (see Numbers 4:20). Only Levites were allowed to move the Ark. Because of their disobedience, the previously stated judgment was executed. It’s similar to the fact that an exposed electrical wire is dangerous all the time but it won’t hurt you til you are foolish enough to touch it. God could not allow the people to think that they could violate his universal and eternally true commands and use His power for their own ends. He could not permit them to disregard His warnings and come into His presence lightly.

He did not want a cycle of disrespect, disobedience, and defeat to start. God did not kill the men of Beth-shemesh to be cruel. They suffered the consequences of violating a universal and eternally true command made by God. God does not let sin slide or give disobedience a pass. It is like a parent who has firm consequences for the misbehavior of their children. Consequences have to be consequences no matter which child violates family rules. Otherwise the rules become meaningless as boundaries of behavior become mushy and not firm. The rules become meaningless when there are no consequences.

In God’s economy, sin disqualifies us from being in and enjoying the presence of God. We know the consequences for sin. It is imprinted in our souls (to know the difference between right and wrong) by God whether we believe He exists or not. He placed that in us. But we also have His Word that tells us what God expects of us. We are without excuse. But we sin and sometimes with impunity. We thumb our nose at God and His Word. We call it old fashioned and we ignore it. We want what we want and we want it now like children. God has firm lines in the sand that disqualify us from being in heaven when we die. He has firm lines in the sand that cast us into hell based on our sinful nature. Our first sin casts us into hell. We are doomed after that first sin not to mention the lifetime of sins we commit.

It is only through the grace of Jesus Christ that we can be saved from our fate. In the absence of Jesus, we are condemned. He is the one that sets us free from our consequences. We are sinners on our own. We deserve God’s justice. It is only through Jesus that we can avoid our deserved fate in hell. Think about it. Our sin calls for punishment. God allows the known consequences to play out in our lives. It is only through Jesus that we are set free from the justice for our sins.

Amen and Amen.

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.