Archive for November, 2017

1 Samuel 2:12-25 (Part 3 of 6)
Eli’s Wicked Sons

“…And the Lord gave Hannah three sons and two daughters…” The Lord blessed Hannah far beyond what should could have imagined those years back when she cried out to the Lord in anguish at the altar at the Tabernacle. She cried out in such anguish that Eli, the high priest, thought she was drunk. Now, look at her, she’s got five kids at home at one kid that serves the Lord full-time at the Tabernacle. She got her blessing in full from the Lord. She asked for one child and promised that she would give him to the Lord and then God gave her that plus five other kids. Wow! How God blesses us sometimes. However, it is in His timing and not ours. He blesses those who are faithful and obedient to Him.

We sometimes pray to the Lord and expect immediate results. We treat God like a vending machine. We push the button for the product that we desire and then it is served up to us immediately. I know I have been like that here lately with what’s going on with my calling to full-time ministry. I am pushing the button on the vending machine and nothing is happening. Sometimes the worst thing with a vending machine is when you can see the snack that you want. You push “D4” or some combination thereof. The slot that contains you selection starts moving but right before machinery drops the package to the bottom where you can reach in and grab, it get hung up. Kind of dangling there. You would think a small snack like that would be easily shaken loose. But nooooo! You beat on the vending machine glass. You shake the entire vending machine. Nothing the package is just stuck there. You spent good money on it and you’re left empty. After we bang on the machine. Shake it. And repeat that process several times. We walk away angry and we swear we will never buy anything out of that vending machine again. Sometimes, too, we push the button that we think is what we want and then for some reason a different slot than what we ordered begins spinning and drops something other than what we thought we ordered. But I ordered Welch’s Fruit Snacks! But the machine gave me Peanut M&M’s! Arrrrrghhhh!

Is it not that way with our prayer life over the things in life that we desire – even the God-ordained things. I know that God has called me to the ministry. I know that he has given me great passion for His Word. I know that He has given me passion to teach believers about His Word. I know that He has given me a shepherd’s heart when it comes to caring for the people in the flock. I love to watch people grow in the faith and maybe have just a little tiny hand in that growth. I love to see the light bulb come on in a person’s mind when it comes to financial stewardship. I love to help people understand the beauty of salvation especially after we have been a Christian for awhile (sometimes we forget the wondrous joy of grace). However, I am still at the altar praying like Hannah. I get angry at times because God has not dispensed my desired product out of His vending machine. Every time a rejection letter comes from a executive pastor position search committee, I kick the vending machine. The product is there dangling but just won’t fall. Why is the vending machine not vending!!! I can see what I want but nothing’s happening.

That’s the thing that struck me this morning as I read this passage again – how God rewards those who are faithful and obedient and how sometimes that is the hardest thing to do in the world. With that in mind, let us read 1 Samuel 2:12-26 for the third of six reads of this loaded passage today:

12 Now the sons of Eli were scoundrels who had no respect for the Lord 13 or for their duties as priests. Whenever anyone offered a sacrifice, Eli’s sons would send over a servant with a three-pronged fork. While the meat of the sacrificed animal was still boiling, 14 the servant would stick the fork into the pot and demand that whatever it brought up be given to Eli’s sons. All the Israelites who came to worship at Shiloh were treated this way. 15 Sometimes the servant would come even before the animal’s fat had been burned on the altar. He would demand raw meat before it had been boiled so that it could be used for roasting.

16 The man offering the sacrifice might reply, “Take as much as you want, but the fat must be burned first.” Then the servant would demand, “No, give it to me now, or I’ll take it by force.” 17 So the sin of these young men was very serious in the Lord’s sight, for they treated the Lord’s offerings with contempt.

18 But Samuel, though he was only a boy, served the Lord. He wore a linen garment like that of a priest.[a] 19 Each year his mother made a small coat for him and brought it to him when she came with her husband for the sacrifice. 20 Before they returned home, Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife and say, “May the Lord give you other children to take the place of this one she gave to the Lord.[b]” 21 And the Lord blessed Hannah, and she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile, Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.

22 Now Eli was very old, but he was aware of what his sons were doing to the people of Israel. He knew, for instance, that his sons were seducing the young women who assisted at the entrance of the Tabernacle.[c] 23 Eli said to them, “I have been hearing reports from all the people about the wicked things you are doing. Why do you keep sinning? 24 You must stop, my sons! The reports I hear among the Lord’s people are not good. 25 If someone sins against another person, God[d] can mediate for the guilty party. But if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede?” But Eli’s sons wouldn’t listen to their father, for the Lord was already planning to put them to death.

26 Meanwhile, the boy Samuel grew taller and grew in favor with the Lord and with the people.

In this passage, we see that God honored the desires of faithful Hannah. We never hear about Peninnah or her children again, but Samuel was used mightily by God. God also gave Hannah five other children in addition to Samuel. God often blesses us in ways we do not expect. Hannah never expected to have a child at her age, much less six of them! We must learn not to resent God’s timing. His blessings might not be immediate but they will come if we are faithful and obedient to what God teaches us in His Word.

Hannah was human. She wailed and cried at the altar. She was having a hard time with God’s timing. She may have even wondered if God was ever going to grant her a child. She probably had some dry times in her prayer life. She may have even questioned why she was praying at all. However, even if she had times of doubt, she never lost her faith in God. Sometimes, during dry seasons, that’s when it is hardest to keep the faith – when there is absolutely no evidence that God is hearing your prayers (at least as far as we can see on this side of eternity). That’s real faith – when you keep on believing God to do a miracle but it has not happened yet and it seems to everyone around you that God is not going to answer. That’s when it gets down to real faith. Hebrews 11:1 tell us, “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.” Sometimes, we have to just keep on keeping on and believe fully that God will answer our prayers. What about those stories of mothers who pray for 20 something years for the salvation of her children. What about Joseph in prison in Egypt for 12 years. What about those who survived the Holocaust in death camps in World War II under Nazi domination. These are stories of people who kept their faith in God despite all evidence to the contrary. Sometimes, we may have to wait a while by our standards for God to answer our prayers. Sometimes, we must trust that God is preparing us for what He has prepared for us. Sometimes, He may wait to see how faithful we will be when there is no “push the button, out pops the product” response. We must learn to trust God and love Him for just being God rather than loving Him to get what we want and desire. Do you love God for granting your heart’s desire or do you just love God and as a result He has blessed you?

Let us be a people that simply loves God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. Let us simply love Him as our heavenly Father. Let us live lives to please Him first and ourselves second. Let us trust Him with our wishes and desires and how He sees fit to meet our needs and wishes. Let us love our Father because He is our Father. Sometimes with our own children, we wonder whether they love us or they just love us for what we can do for them. I am sure that God feels that way about us at times. Let us be His children that simply love Him because He is our Daddy, our Abba Father.

Amen and Amen.

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1 Samuel 2:12-25 (Part 2 of 6)
Eli’s Wicked Sons

One of my senior pastor’s continuous sayings is for him and for us, his staff (the other elders and church employees), “to be clean and close!” What does that saying mean? Pastor Jeff means that we need to be (1) above reproach and (2) seeking to always be close to the Lord in our walk. For me as director of finance for our church, I am therefore charged with being clean and close in my responsibilities for the financial reporting of the church.

The first part of that clean and close statement is the clean part. We must be clean in how we operate our church’s finances. We first must never be secretive about the financial position of our church. To that end,

• we have established financial reporting systems to allow us to know exactly how the church is performing from an incoming donations and outgoing expense standpoint. We can produce financial statements on the spot when requested. At no time will we ever have to say, we will get back to you about where we are as a church financially. We have an established routine of closing our books on a monthly basis and reporting the financial performance to the elders each month. Along with the financial statements, I provide them with a monthly commentary on what all these numbers each month means.

• We also have established our financial reporting systems around the four stakes of ministry plus one as we call it. The four stakes of ministry plus one are the four areas of ministry that we focus on at our church and the plus one is the administrative function of the church. Our four stakes of ministry, the things that we want to concentrate on as a church, are Sunday Morning Experience, Next Generation, Revolution (local, national and international missions), and Life Groups/Discipleship. All of our budgeting and expense tracking revolves around these four stakes of ministry. Then, the plus one, is the administrative side of the church (all the operating expenses of the church such as salaries, utilities, repairs and maintenance, all the needed expenses of keeping an enterprise going). Everything is controlled around these points of accountability. Each elder is charged with responsibility and accountability of one or more of these stakes of ministry and administration.

• These reporting systems allow us to generate financial statement at will and on a routine basis. Any member of our church can come in and ask to see the financial statements for any period or year and we can generate them on the spot. We also can provide our bank with whom we have our checking accounts and our bank loans with annual financial statements and budgets. We have been told that we have the most professional financial reporting of any church that our bank deals with and, in some cases, they say we have better financial reporting than some of their business clients such as small businesses, etc.

• Finally, we have systems of internal control to ensure that no one person in our organization has access to all steps in the financial reporting process or in the handling of cash, checks, or any form of monetary value. We segregate duties in accounting for our weekly Sunday morning collections. Our church financial manager does not even have complete access to the cash/checking function. Even I as director of finance does not even have the ability to generate a check from our accounting software. We are that concerned about real issues of fraud that are rampant in churches today but also even the perception that we are not above board or secretive or even that their would be a hint of impropriety in how we handle our people’s gifts and donations and then how we spend that.

The second aspect of this clean and close concept is the close part. How does how we handle our church’s money reflect that we are walking closely with the Lord. The systems that we have in place ensure that we are accountable to God for how we use the funds that are given to His glory and that we are entrusted by our people and by God himself to spend. Our financial reporting systems help us demonstrate that we spend our money wisely and on what we say we are going to spend it on. Our philosophy, starting with Pastor Jeff as senior pastor on down, is to spend all our money on ministry and to only build up cash reserves as is required by our banks to support/secure our loans. We are never going to be a church that builds up cash to build fancy buildings with gilded edges. Our pastors don’t want big fancy offices or mahogany desks or cherry wood conference tables with built in audio visual systems. We don’t want the major focus of our church to be building up investment accounts or giving huge bonuses and fancy cars to our elders. We want the money and the point of our spending to be on effectively spreading the gospel and then growing people into full devoted followers of Jesus Christ. That’s what it will be about always. Our financial reporting systems help us document this fact. If we are not walking closely with the Lord as a staff then our spending as reflected in our financial statements would reflect that also. So our financial reporting systems hold us accountable and encourage us to take seriously our walk with the Lord as a staff of one of God’s local churches.

That’s the thing that struck me this morning as I read this passage again. There was no accountability for Eli’s son. Without a framework of accountability, we as church leaders can easily get off track as to what our true purpose is. We have seen is so often lately in the news with the fall of numerous megachurch pastors. So with that idea of lack of financial and moral accountability in mind, let us read 1 Samuel 2:12-26 for the second of six reads of this loaded passage today:

12 Now the sons of Eli were scoundrels who had no respect for the Lord 13 or for their duties as priests. Whenever anyone offered a sacrifice, Eli’s sons would send over a servant with a three-pronged fork. While the meat of the sacrificed animal was still boiling, 14 the servant would stick the fork into the pot and demand that whatever it brought up be given to Eli’s sons. All the Israelites who came to worship at Shiloh were treated this way. 15 Sometimes the servant would come even before the animal’s fat had been burned on the altar. He would demand raw meat before it had been boiled so that it could be used for roasting.

16 The man offering the sacrifice might reply, “Take as much as you want, but the fat must be burned first.” Then the servant would demand, “No, give it to me now, or I’ll take it by force.” 17 So the sin of these young men was very serious in the Lord’s sight, for they treated the Lord’s offerings with contempt.

18 But Samuel, though he was only a boy, served the Lord. He wore a linen garment like that of a priest.[a] 19 Each year his mother made a small coat for him and brought it to him when she came with her husband for the sacrifice. 20 Before they returned home, Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife and say, “May the Lord give you other children to take the place of this one she gave to the Lord.[b]” 21 And the Lord blessed Hannah, and she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile, Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.

22 Now Eli was very old, but he was aware of what his sons were doing to the people of Israel. He knew, for instance, that his sons were seducing the young women who assisted at the entrance of the Tabernacle.[c] 23 Eli said to them, “I have been hearing reports from all the people about the wicked things you are doing. Why do you keep sinning? 24 You must stop, my sons! The reports I hear among the Lord’s people are not good. 25 If someone sins against another person, God[d] can mediate for the guilty party. But if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede?” But Eli’s sons wouldn’t listen to their father, for the Lord was already planning to put them to death.

26 Meanwhile, the boy Samuel grew taller and grew in favor with the Lord and with the people.

In this passage, we see that we must ask the question, “What were Eli’s sons doing wrong?” They were taking parts of the sacrifices before they were offered to God on the altar at the Tabernacle. They were also eating the meat before the fat was burned off. This was against God’s law (Leviticus 3:3-5). In effect, Eli’s sons were treating the offerings to God with contempt. Offerings were given to show honor and respect to God while seeking forgiveness for sins, but through their irreverence, Eli’s sons were actually sinning while making the offerings. They were using the offerings to their own advantage before they were given to God. To add to their sins, they were also sleeping with women who served at the tabernacle.

Like Eli’s sons, some religious leaders today act as if they deserve large automobiles, large homes, fancy clothes, expensive vacations, chartered or private jets. Often their “overheads” take away directly from the ministry that they say they are doing. As leaders of the church, we must be aware and accountable for how handle gifts given by our people and be transparent in how we handle the money that has been entrusted to us. Sure, full-time and part-time church leaders and employees have got to eat (i.e., earn enough of a living to take care of themselves and their families), but we should never our personal desires for fame, fortune and power take precedence over the work that we have been entrusted with by the Lord.

We must develop systems of accountability financially and morally to ensure that we can preach the gospel with integrity and never let ourselves become a detractor to that message. When moral failures of church employees and pastors become the focus, then the gospel message gets lost and people are led astray as to what Christ’s church is all about. It should always be drawing people unto Christ and then growing them to maturity in their walk with Him so that they too can draw others unto Christ and then grow them to maturity in their walk with Christ. Nothing else matters. Thus, I take seriously how I protect the gospel message through the financial reporting sytems and systems of accountability at my church that I am in charge of. It is all about protecting the message of the gospel. We must be clean and close so that the message of the gospel is the message that we sent – not anything else!

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 2:12-25 (Part 1 of 6)
Eli’s Wicked Sons

One of the quiet sins that plagues men today and even among men who consider themselves Christ followers is pornography. It is rampant to the point of being a disease on our culture. According to a survey taken by the Barna Group for Proven Men Ministries back in 2014 among a representative sample of 388 self-identifying Christian men from around the country, the problem is real and yet it is one that is rarely talked about among Christian men. Among survey participants between the ages of 18-30, it was found that 76% of males in this age group view pornography of some kind at least monthly. In this age, group 36% of the survey participants admitted to not only viewing it monthly but also on a daily basis. Almost 1/3 of the men in this age group admitted to being addicted to pornography. Among 31-49 year old men in the survey, 77% admitted to viewing pornography in some form during the past three months, 64% view it monthly, 18% admit to being addicted to it. Joel Hesch of Proven Men Ministries, who commissioned the survey, says, “”It’s abundantly clear that pornography is one of the biggest unaddressed problems in the church.” Even among pastors, the problem is real. In a 2016 survey of 770 pastors by the Barna Group for Josh McDowell Minstries, they found that 57% of pastors and 64% of youth pastors admitted to having had a struggle or were in active struggle with pornography. Of those that gave that now or in the past response, 21% of youth pastors say they are currently in struggle along with 14% of pastors. Ten percent (10%) of youth pastors and 4% of pastors admit to being addicted to porn.

Most churches ignore the problem because it is not an open “in your face” kind of sin. It is a hidden sin that eats away at the soul of a man. It is one of those sins that a man thinks that he can dabble in and no one will know. With the advent of internet pornography, men can more easily access and more easily hide their sin more so than ever. It used to be before the internet that you had to buy pornographic magazines and such magazines had to be purchased in somewhat of a public setting such as a magazine store, a convenience store or whatever, but now, a man can sit behind a computer screen and hide his sin so easily. Some men claim that it is harmless fun. Some men claim that it makes them want their wives more because of the arousal. Some men claim that pornography is simply an art form about one of the most beautiful creatures God created, woman. Some men claim that viewing pornography is better than them going out and having an affair with a woman who is not his wife. Some men claim that pornography is keeps down men’s sexual aggression toward women, through masturbation over the naked women in a magazine, instead of going out and having forced, non-consensual sex with a woman (this includes rape or sexual encounters are borderline to rape). Some men, thus, argue that pornography is almost like a public service serving the public good. Pardon my French, but that’s all bullshit! We always dress up our sins as being OK and justifiable and we make arguments as to why our sin is OK. In our mind, it makes sense. In our mind, we develop these perfectly logical arguments as to why pornography is not a sin. Anything that causes you to lust after a woman that is not your wife is a sin, plain and simple. Jesus said so himself. Anything that you have to hide because deep down in your soul you know it is wrong is a sin. Anything that you have to develop significant amounts of arguments and think on it a long time as to how to justify it, it is most likely a sin. Just as the reams of paper and court cases that have been devoted to why homosexual marriages are OK and of benefit to society kind of tells you what the deal is. In contrast, no highly skilled lawyers writing sophisticated and lengthy technical briefs as to how and why heterosexual marriage is OK and right. There has never been a court case as to the validity of male-female marriage. It is just the way God intended things. Anything that is a sin must be justified with layers and layers of arguments to convince us of its rightness. Pornography is the same way. No matter what, layers and layers of arguments have to be made to make it seem OK and it’s just not. It’s just wrong. It’s just sin no matter how you slice it. If you have to think like a lawyer as to why a sin is not really a sin, it is a more than likely a sin.

Ignoring pornography will not make it go away for the church. It is an integrity problem for the men of the faith. We are called to be examples of Christ in this world and nothing taints our testimony than sitting in the garage or back room of our houses looking at porn. Our wives should be the source of our sexual pleasure in a loving and devoted relationship. It is hard in our society to stand firm against porn because even television shows and commercials can offer up soft porn right in our living rooms without us even intending to be exposed to it. As the church, we must address this sin or it will continue to destroy our families. Pornography violates our bond with our wives. Pornography is the first step on the road to adultery. Pornography leads to divorce. We cannot ignore this sin any longer in the church. We must address and address it hard and address it now.

It is the silent rot of our social fabric and social morality that porn is today that I thought of when I read about how Eli was handling the sin of his sons. He kept sweeping it under the rug instead of dealing with it and it would lead to disastrous consequences for his sons as well as the people they served. Let us think about the silent social killer than the swept under the rug sin that porn is as we read 1 Samuel 2:12-26 for the first of six reads of this loaded passage today:

12 Now the sons of Eli were scoundrels who had no respect for the Lord 13 or for their duties as priests. Whenever anyone offered a sacrifice, Eli’s sons would send over a servant with a three-pronged fork. While the meat of the sacrificed animal was still boiling, 14 the servant would stick the fork into the pot and demand that whatever it brought up be given to Eli’s sons. All the Israelites who came to worship at Shiloh were treated this way. 15 Sometimes the servant would come even before the animal’s fat had been burned on the altar. He would demand raw meat before it had been boiled so that it could be used for roasting.

16 The man offering the sacrifice might reply, “Take as much as you want, but the fat must be burned first.” Then the servant would demand, “No, give it to me now, or I’ll take it by force.” 17 So the sin of these young men was very serious in the Lord’s sight, for they treated the Lord’s offerings with contempt.

18 But Samuel, though he was only a boy, served the Lord. He wore a linen garment like that of a priest.[a] 19 Each year his mother made a small coat for him and brought it to him when she came with her husband for the sacrifice. 20 Before they returned home, Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife and say, “May the Lord give you other children to take the place of this one she gave to the Lord.[b]” 21 And the Lord blessed Hannah, and she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile, Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.

22 Now Eli was very old, but he was aware of what his sons were doing to the people of Israel. He knew, for instance, that his sons were seducing the young women who assisted at the entrance of the Tabernacle.[c] 23 Eli said to them, “I have been hearing reports from all the people about the wicked things you are doing. Why do you keep sinning? 24 You must stop, my sons! The reports I hear among the Lord’s people are not good. 25 If someone sins against another person, God[d] can mediate for the guilty party. But if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede?” But Eli’s sons wouldn’t listen to their father, for the Lord was already planning to put them to death.

26 Meanwhile, the boy Samuel grew taller and grew in favor with the Lord and with the people.

In this passage, we see that Eli knew that his sons were evil but he did little to correct or stop them, even when the integrity of the tabernacle was threatened. As the high priest, Eli should have responded swiftly and severely as required by Mosaic law. He feared losing his sons more than he feared confronting their sin and the effect that it was having on the nation. Eli let his sons ruin their lives and the lives of many others. There are times when serious problems must be addressed even when the addressing of the problem will air out all our dirty laundry and dirty little secrets. We must lead in the confrontation of sin and we must confess our sins instead of hiding them. Ignoring sin does not make it go away. It only allows it to fester and grow to the point that it consumes us, our families, our nation.

Today, pornography is just such a sin. As a person that grew up in the middle of the sexual revolution of the 70s, pornography was seen by me as an innocent diversion even up until about a 7 or 8 years ago. God has convicted me of this sin and I purposely try to avoid it whenever possible. God has taught me that letting go of pornography shows respect to my wife and honor to God. Yes, women are still the most beautiful creatures God created, but pornography plain and simple disrespects my wife and our marriage. This is a sin that we need to address broadly in the church and address hard. We need to bring this sin out in the open and deal with rather than hide it. Ignoring the sin will only continue to destroy our families that make up our churches and lessen the integrity of our witness to the world around us that is drowning in sexual sin.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 2:1-11 (Part 3 of 3)
Hannah’s Prayer of Praise

In the deep dark days of our lives, we wonder if we are going to make it through it, whatever that may be. Each of our valleys are unique to us. We all have them. If you don’t have those deep, dark valleys in life, then, most likely you are not really living. We all encounter low points in our lives where we find it difficult to put one foot in front of the other. Sometimes, we have multiple bad things to happen to us in succession. Sometimes, we have multiple bad things going on at the same time. It is at these times that we wonder if we are going to make it. It is at these times that we may just want to stay in bed for days on end with the lights off the drapes drawn and the bedroom door closed. Those times where you just want to sleep so you don’t have to think about the dark hour of life that you find yourself in. There are days in life where the darkness, the trouble, the hurt, the loss that you can sometimes feel makes it difficult for you to even talk to people. There are those times where you feel less than everybody else because you have this loss, this hurt, this pain in your life that won’t go away. There are times where you feel like you have a horn sticking out of your head and everybody is looking at you as if you are freak or something. There are times in our lives where you are so painfully aware of your loneliness you feel like people can see inside you and see how worthless that you feel. It is like that dream where your dream starts and you are walking from the parking lot to the office and you don’t realize til you are walking to your desk that you are in your pajamas still and people are making fun of you. Or your dream starts and you are walking somewhere in public and all you have on is your underwear and everybody is gawking and pointing at you. That’s how you feel sometimes when you are going through a rough patch in your life.

Although I am living on the mountaintop or at least a mesa in my life right now where things are generally as good as they have ever been in my life, there were times in my life where I can identify with the above paragraph. It was not written fancifully. It was not written from imagination. It was written from real feelings that I have had in my life. There have been stretches in my life where I have had to literally force myself out of bed in the mornings and go to work. There were times in my life where I hated the end of the work day because I no longer had something to divert my emotional attention away from the dark, deep pain of loneliness and hurt. I have had times in my life where I would not leave my apartment from the time that I got home from work on Friday until it was time to go back to work on Monday and in between that Friday and Monday all I wanted to do was sleep but couldn’t. Or I would sleep all day and then could not sleep at night. Therefore, if you are going through a dark pit right now, please know that I can identify with what you are going through. These descriptions are real. I can still feel the pain of those times in my life right now as I write these words. I can taste, smell, see and sense the hardness of those times as I sit here and remember. Those memories are vivid and when I write about them. I can drift back and see and remember those times as if I was back in them. I know your pain of loneliness, of hurt, of pain, of worthlessness, of wondering what the point of it all is, of wandering why I was born, of wondering who the hell cares, of wondering when is this pain going to end, of wondering when I am going to again be like the normal people outside the doors of my apartment, of feeling like I had two heads anytime I walked out my door. You know those feelings right now. I knew them on more than one occasion in my life. I have often written about them here. I know your pain.

I know that it sounds trite and non-soothing at this moment where you are at your darkest hour but I will say it because it is true, “This too shall pass!” Thank God, God saw fit to see me through those dark times even when I thought he hated me or was out to get me or that He was punishing me somehow. Even in the darkest hours of my life, there was always that sliver of hope however tiny it was – that things would get better. That kept my eyes blinking. That kept my heart beating. That kept my feet going one in front of the other. That kept me moving even when I didn’t feel like moving. That sliver of hope however faint is the Holy Spirit telling us to hang in there. It is in these dark times, where that sliver of hope is the only thing that we have to hold on to is the very thing that pulls us through. It is the very thing that makes us appreciate that God is sovereign. It is the very thing that makes us realize just who God is. We may not realize it until we start emerging from the pit of darkness and pain that it was God that was there. It was God that was the sliver of hope. It was God that was actually helping you breathe in the worst moment of your life. It was Him. He loves you. He is keeping you alive right now. Keep breathing. Keep breathing. Keep breathing.

With that idea in mind let us 1 Samuel 2:1-11 now for the last time before we move on to the next passage:

2 Then Hannah prayed:

“My heart rejoices in the Lord!
The Lord has made me strong.[a]
Now I have an answer for my enemies;
I rejoice because you rescued me.
2
No one is holy like the Lord!
There is no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.

3
“Stop acting so proud and haughty!
Don’t speak with such arrogance!
For the Lord is a God who knows what you have done;
he will judge your actions.
4
The bow of the mighty is now broken,
and those who stumbled are now strong.
5
Those who were well fed are now starving,
and those who were starving are now full.
The childless woman now has seven children,
and the woman with many children wastes away.
6
The Lord gives both death and life;
he brings some down to the grave[b] but raises others up.
7
The Lord makes some poor and others rich;
he brings some down and lifts others up.
8
He lifts the poor from the dust
and the needy from the garbage dump.
He sets them among princes,
placing them in seats of honor.
For all the earth is the Lord’s,
and he has set the world in order.

9
“He will protect his faithful ones,
but the wicked will disappear in darkness.
No one will succeed by strength alone.
10
Those who fight against the Lord will be shattered.
He thunders against them from heaven;
the Lord judges throughout the earth.
He gives power to his king;
he increases the strength[c] of his anointed one.”

11 Then Elkanah returned home to Ramah without Samuel. And the boy served the Lord by assisting Eli the priest.

In this passage, we see that it is easy for us sometimes to forget that God is in control. We may wonder if He is at all. For others, it is the darkest hour of their lives and and the darkest hour seems to be lasting forever. For some, and Hannah can identify with it, and I can identify with it, it is just hard to even breathe right now because the pain of life is so real that you can physically taste it. For some, whatever is going on in your life, you are just having trouble getting out of bed in the morning. You are wondering what the purpose of life is. You are wondering why you are so lonely, so depressed, so in pain, and so wanting to be with people but yet feeling alone and scared in a crowd. You are wondering if this dark night will ever end. I know. I have been there. I cry tears for you right now.

However, in this passage, Hannah reminds us that no matter how remote God may seem at times to the point that you cry from you innermost being, He is still there. Hold on to that small sliver of hope that your time of pain and loneliness and hurt will end. It will. I promise you. It was the same for Hannah. But she saw God as a solid rock, the One who knows what we do, sovereign over the affairs of all people, and the Supreme Judge who administers the Perfect and Final Justice. Remembering God’s sovereign control helps us remember that He is our sliver of hope in desperate times. Keep breathing. Keep stepping. Keep getting out of bed. He is there. He is the thing that is keeping you alive. He is keeping you alive for a purpose.

It is from our darkest times, that we learn to cling to hope and faith in the sovereignty of God. Hold on to it. Let it help you breath. He will bring you through the valley of darkness. I promise you. It may not look like what you wanted it to look like before the valley. But your survival of the dark times will be your testimony to the faithfulness of God. It will also make your truly, truly appreciate the mesas and the mountaintop periods of your life. Hang on. Hold on. Breathe. God is still there. He wants you to cling to His hand and draw close unto Him. He will bring you out of the pit and set up upon solid ground. That’s the sliver of hope. That’s what gets us through. God is there. He is with you. I promise. I know!

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 2:1-11 (Part 2 of 3)
Hannah’s Prayer of Praise

In the world of divorces, there is this thing about “winning the divorce” or “winning the breakup.” What that means is whose life turns out better in the long run of the two people who were in the previous relationship. Luckily, my divorces occurred before the advent of the major social media forums such as Facebook and ones similar to it. Nowadays, when a relationship breaks up, we get to be vicarious observers of who “wins the breakup” in many relationships. Back in the 1990’s and early 2000’s when my divorces occurred, it was simply word of mouth about who won the breakups. So many people are hellbent on revenge in relationship breakups. That’s not winning the breakup. That’s just allowing yourself to be consumed. The best revenge in a breakup is living a happy life in the wake of something horrible that happened.

When I look back on my first two marriages, they ended in different ways. My first marriage was good for maybe the first 5 years of it but then my wife’s drug addiction, affair, and spending addiction after all that and just plain out meanness were contributing factors toward me committing the same sin of adultery with the woman who would become my second wife. Later, because of the conflict ever present in our marriage about my responsibility toward my children and me not being man enough to do what I needed to do for my kids out in the open, it lead her to have an affair which lead to my second divorce.

After my breakup with my first wife, she made it her mission in life to destroy me. Though she had an affair during our marriage, the fact that I had one consumed her. She wanted to win the divorce by destroying me. It was a divorce that could have been a made-for-TV movie. It was ugly. Harassment. Nasty and mean phone calls at all times of day or night. Daily voice mails from overnight when I got to work that were just pure hatred. She become consumed with consuming me. It was pretty intense from 1993-1996 in so many ways. It was not until she remarried in 1996 that she relented somewhat on her hatred. However, she never let go of it and it consumed her life even until the day she died in 2015. My second wife after our breakup was the party girl of all party girls. She was living the nightclub scene. She seemed to be winning the breakup in those early years. It was about two years ago that I heard from my youngest daughter that my second ex had gotten messed up with drugs and ended up losing her job at the bank she had worked for much of the time since our breakup, had lost her house to the bank, and was living with one of her sons.

As for me there were dark days after both of these breakups where I did not know whether I was emotionally going to make it through it. After the breakup of the first marriage, accusations of inappropriate conduct with one of my daughters that were unfounded but had to be investigated kept me from my children for over six months. And the sheer poverty of starting over again after that marriage was rough. There was a time I remember stopping by the local hot dog restaurant and buying four hot dogs with $7 of the last $10 I had in the bank so that I could have two hot dogs each night the next two nights for dinner. I remember after the second marriage breakup just being so down and blue that I hated weekends because I did not have work to distract me. It was rough for a long time just getting my head around being single again. It took a good while for me to get off my pity pot after the second breakup while she had hit the ground running even before the final breakup staying out all night and partying with her single friends.
But now looking back at it, yes, you could say I won both my divorces in the sense that my life is better than it ever has been. I am more settled, more financially stable, and have the best wife a man could ask for. I married well this third and final time. Elena has been a godsend to my life. She gives me stability, unconditional love, and a sense of home and sense of belonging that I have never felt in my life. I am living well.

But the thing that I know the most is that it is only by the grace of God, go I. He has ordered my steps and now when I look back at the past it is not a matter of saying I won the divorces. It is a matter that God pulled me through them. It is only by His hand that I made it through the dark times. I even pray that my first wife found a deeper relationship with Christ (if she was saved) or found Christ before she died and was able to let go of all the anger that she had inside her that destroyed her life to the point that she died at age 55. I pray that my second ex-wife will find Christ and that she will get her life together and not be consumed by the fact that her life did not turn out anywhere near what she dreamed it would be. I don’t want to have won something. There are no winners in broken relationships. There are no winners when you try to win the divorce. There are no winners when we become consumed with hatred to the point that we lose sight of God. There are no winners when we let anything get in the way of our relationship with God.

Reading Hannah’s prayer this morning shows us how Hannah was above “winning the relationship battle” with her co-wife, Peninnah. Sure, Peninnah deserved to be driven into the ground by Hannah, by our human standards of revenge. But that’s not the road that Hannah took as evidenced by her song of praise. Let’s read 1 Samuel 2:1-11 now:

2 Then Hannah prayed:

“My heart rejoices in the Lord!
The Lord has made me strong.[a]
Now I have an answer for my enemies;
I rejoice because you rescued me.
2
No one is holy like the Lord!
There is no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.

3
“Stop acting so proud and haughty!
Don’t speak with such arrogance!
For the Lord is a God who knows what you have done;
he will judge your actions.
4
The bow of the mighty is now broken,
and those who stumbled are now strong.
5
Those who were well fed are now starving,
and those who were starving are now full.
The childless woman now has seven children,
and the woman with many children wastes away.
6
The Lord gives both death and life;
he brings some down to the grave[b] but raises others up.
7
The Lord makes some poor and others rich;
he brings some down and lifts others up.
8
He lifts the poor from the dust
and the needy from the garbage dump.
He sets them among princes,
placing them in seats of honor.
For all the earth is the Lord’s,
and he has set the world in order.

9
“He will protect his faithful ones,
but the wicked will disappear in darkness.
No one will succeed by strength alone.
10
Those who fight against the Lord will be shattered.
He thunders against them from heaven;
the Lord judges throughout the earth.
He gives power to his king;
he increases the strength[c] of his anointed one.”

11 Then Elkanah returned home to Ramah without Samuel. And the boy served the Lord by assisting Eli the priest.

In this passage, we see that there is no doubt, as Hannah said these words, she was thinking of Peninnah’s arrogance and chiding. Hannah could have gotten even with Hannah by reacting in some way about her finally giving birth to a child. Hannah did not though! She knew that God is all knowing and that He will judge all sin, pride, and arrogance. Hannah wisely left judgment up to God. We have to resist the temptation to take justice into our hands or to go after revenge. However, God will weigh our deeds as well as the deeds of those who have wronged you.

No stronger statement in this regard was ever made than at the arraignment hearing of Dillon Ruff in Charleston, SC after the Emmanuel AME Church shootings, where one by one the families of the slain victims told Dillon that they had forgiven him and it was done only through the power of Jesus Christ. They could have been bitter and wished him to the pits of hell on national television but they chose to demonstrate God’s love to the very man who had cold-bloodedly killed their loved ones. They won the relationship breaker that day. They could have continued the hatred that would have made Dillon feel validated in what He had done. But they chose to stop the cycle of hatred and show love and forgiveness through broken hearts toward the very man who had broken their hearts.

How much can we learn from these beautiful people of Charleston in our own relationships where revenge and winning the break up seems to be the order of the day. Jesus did not care that we have thumbed our nose at him, mocked him, shunned him, and said that He doesn’t exist. He stilled died for us anyway. He still loves us anyway. God could so easily just say it’s done. I am tired of these stiff-necked people hating me and disobeying me and acting as if anything else is better than me. He could take His revenge and no questions asked just send us all to hell. But He loved us so much that He has taken a higher road. He has offered us His Son as the way to be reconciled to Him.

So, next time, when you think about winning a relationship whether it’s a marriage, a relationship before marriage, a friendship gone wrong, a work relationship where you’ve been betrayed, or any relationship where you have been hurt in some way, what is the cost of winning? What is the cost of driving another person into the ground. Sometimes the best revenge is forgiveness. Sometimes the best revenge is letting God handle it. Sometimes the best revenge is just moving on with your life and not letting that other person live rent free in your head. Sometimes showing no response when a response is the norm is the best. Sometimes showing love where hate is the norm is the best response.

Through trusting in Jesus Christ to handle our hurts and angers we can live again. We can live well. We can rise above that which has hurt us. If we let our obsession with winning something we let pride win. We let hate win. We let something get in the way of our relationship with Him. Let Jesus handle your hurts. Lay them at the cross and walk away. I am not saying that we forget hurts but we do lay them at the cross and not let them become our god instead of God. Instead of our victory. Let God have the victory.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 2:1-11 (Part 1 of 3)
Hannah’s Prayer of Praise

Yesterday, we talked about what a difference it would make if we focused our resources on God first and the things we treasure after that. Today, in Hannah’s prayer of praise, I wanted to expand upon that theme.

As you know, I am a big college football fan. Saturdays in the fall at my house is an overdose on college football. Watching football games all day is the norm. One of those games is always my dear Clemson Tigers. Yesterday, my Tigers clinched the Atlantic Division of the ACC for the third straight year and for the fifth time in the last nine years. We have won the last two ACC championship games and we will be there again for the third year in a row. We have been to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game the last two years running (losing to Alabama by 5 two years ago and beating Bama by 4 last year). With a victory over Citadel next weekend, Clemson will have won at LEAST 10 games in a season for the seventh straight season. To say that these are great times in Clemson football is an understatement. But one thing that I know at age 55 is that this too shall pass and we as fans of the Clemson University football team need to really appreciate where we are at the moment. All football programs rise and fall. It’s just the nature of things.

Clemson was a great program under Danny Ford and Clemson was a nationally relevant program from 1977-1992 and then things went south. Clemson was a mediocre program from 1993-2010 being a team that could win 6 or 7 games in a season but always losing games they shouldn’t lose and getting blown out in games against top 10 opponents. University of Miami is a similar story. They have returned to relevance here in 2017 but in from 1984-2002, they were always in the top 10 in the country and relevant every year. Then things went south and from 2003-2016, they were just mediocre at best. Just look at Alabama, the might Crimson Tide has been the standard of college football since 2008. However, between Gene Stallings national championship in 1992 and 2008, even Bama was inconsistent and failed to win on a consistent basis. So where these three programs are right now, if you are a fan of one of them, you need to appreciate the moment. It may last a decade. It may last 15, 16, maybe even 20 years, if you are lucky. Appreciate the moment. Savor it. For this too shall pass.

Reading Hannah’s prayer this morning reminded me of how fleeting things can be. And anything that we put our faith in during this lifetime other than God will pass away. Let’s read 1 Samuel 2:1-11 now:

2 Then Hannah prayed:

“My heart rejoices in the Lord!
The Lord has made me strong.[a]
Now I have an answer for my enemies;
I rejoice because you rescued me.
2
No one is holy like the Lord!
There is no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.

3
“Stop acting so proud and haughty!
Don’t speak with such arrogance!
For the Lord is a God who knows what you have done;
he will judge your actions.
4
The bow of the mighty is now broken,
and those who stumbled are now strong.
5
Those who were well fed are now starving,
and those who were starving are now full.
The childless woman now has seven children,
and the woman with many children wastes away.
6
The Lord gives both death and life;
he brings some down to the grave[b] but raises others up.
7
The Lord makes some poor and others rich;
he brings some down and lifts others up.
8
He lifts the poor from the dust
and the needy from the garbage dump.
He sets them among princes,
placing them in seats of honor.
For all the earth is the Lord’s,
and he has set the world in order.

9
“He will protect his faithful ones,
but the wicked will disappear in darkness.
No one will succeed by strength alone.
10
Those who fight against the Lord will be shattered.
He thunders against them from heaven;
the Lord judges throughout the earth.
He gives power to his king;
he increases the strength[c] of his anointed one.”

11 Then Elkanah returned home to Ramah without Samuel. And the boy served the Lord by assisting Eli the priest.

In this passage, we see that Hannah praised God for being a Rock – firm, strong, and unchanging. In our fast-paced world, friends come and go, and circumstances change. It’s difficult to find a solid foundation that will not change. Those who devote their lives to achievements, causes, or possessions have as their security that which is finite and changeable. The possessions that we work so hard to obtain will all pass away. Only God is always present, unchangeable, and eternal. Hope in him. He will never fail.
Why is it that we put our faith so much in things on this side of eternity? Our jobs. Our money. Our toys. All of it is dust in the wind. All of it will not last. Houses, cars, money…all the things we trust in on this side of eternal will return to dust. The only thing that lasts forever is God. Thus, let us begin to change our mindset to think on things that will last. Let us invest in things that matter in eternity. Let us use our dollars and our time and our resources to point people toward Jesus Christ. Sure, you gotta buy food, clothing and shelter, but let us not be consumed by those things as if they are the all that ends all. Let us remind ourselves that this little blip of time that we are here on earth is pale in comparison to the eternal glories and riches of heaven. Let us live our lives with eternity in view. Let us set our priorities toward that which is eternal. Let us put God first in our finances. Let us put God first in what we invest our time in. Let us think of God first. Let us think on Him for He is eternal. He is not temporary. He is always. He is forever. He lasts. He endures. He is God.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 1:19-28
Samuel’s Birth and Dedication

It is at this point every year that we begin our budgeting process for coming year at my church. The new calendar and budget year are really not that far away. This year, 2017, is winding down. As of this morning, there are only 50 days left in 2017. Next year, 2018, is right around the corner – just over 7 weeks from now. It is now that we start thinking about the dollars and cents of ministry. It is time to prioritize what we can do and what we cannot. Sometimes, there are tough decisions to be made. To hire for a much needed position within the church or not to hire. To spend money on certain ministries or not to spend. To replace equipment or not to replace equipment. Tough choices sometimes. It all comes down to what we feel that God is leading our people to give on an annual basis.

When reading today’s passage, it made me think, being our church’s finance director and all, about “what if…” What if God’s people were sacrificial in their giving? What if we gave in the way that Hannah did? So many of us Christians nowadays do not think in this way. Often we are no different than the culture around us. Many of us see it as someone else’s responsibility to give sacrificially. So many of us are just like the culture in that we live off more than we make. The typical middle class American lives off their salary plus credit. In other words, we live off more than we make. The society seems to think who has the newest, most expensive toys wins the contest in the end. We as Christians are often no different. We think we have to have the newest car. We think we have to live in the neighborhood that’s just beyond our means. We think we have to have the latest electronics. We think we have to have the boat and the jet ski. We think we have to have an expensive vacation every year. But when you think about it from an eternal perspective, the old saying holds true, “You can’t take it with you” and “you never see a U-Haul behind a hearse.”

That is why it is one of my passions to teach God’s people about biblical financial principles. I have lived that life of chasing the rainbow and never being satisfied with what you have and always wanting more. I have lived the life of maxxed out credit cards. I have lived that life of too much month and too little paycheck. I have lived that life of creditors calling me to the point I dreaded hearing my phone ring. It took my wife and I a good long while to get free of our smothering of debts. We had to quit renting houses at the beach that cost almost $3k for the week. We had to quit blowing bonuses and tax refunds on additional stuff and start paying off debts with them and not acquiring new debt just because we paid off an old one. Even recently, we downsized our home and mortgage. We cut our mortgage payment by 1/3 by getting a smaller house. After living in our previous house for seven years we realized that we did not use half of that house so it was time to downsize. What if we had started living that way from the time we left our parents’ homes. What if we had lived frugally from the beginning of our adult lives.

One of the things that we learned early on in this process was to honor God with our finances. We could not tithe at first but we began to get our way there a percentage point at a time. We made honoring God first a part of who we are as people. The first check we write when I get paid is to honor God. We learned to live off the rest instead of living beyond our means. I want to teach our people the peace that comes from “living off the rest”. I want to teach people that honoring God with our finances changes our perspective about our things that we have to have. The freedom of heart that has come from putting God first in our finances has enabled us to appreciate why He commands us to tithe. As with all things, God gives peace to those who honor Him. We trust him with our finances. We as a result are able to give more than just our tithe now. We have opportunities to help others now that we would have had to forgo in years past. Being able to use our money to demonstrate God’s love to others has reminded us of why we work hard to keep our finances under control.
What if more of God’s people learned what we have learned? What if more people gave to the church more than the spare $20 bill that they might have in their wallet on Sundays? What if more people saw honoring God with their finances to the point they could be obedient in the tithe? What if people lived off less and gave more? What if just our people at our local church did that? What if that did happen? What if we as a people at our church became sacrificial givers? What if our church’s budget was 2.5 to 3 times bigger than it is now if all of our people tithed or just gave more sacrificially? Imagine the ministry that we could do through our church. Imagine the quality of the people we could hire to lead our ministries. Imagine how many more lives that we could touch with the gospel. Imagine how many more ways we could reach into the community and show them the love of Jesus Christ. Imagine if our people started thinking with an eternal perspective. Imagine each of us living off 90% or less of what we make. Imagine a people focused more on being generous. Imagine a people putting God first in their finances so that they could put forth the gospel first with their paychecks rather than the car sitting in the driveway. Imagine us being a sacrificially generous people. Just imagine that!

That’s the thing I thought of this morning as I read how Hannah, so deeply desiring to have a child, sacrificially gave her son up to the Lord. She gave til it hurt. What if we had that kind of heart of sacrificial giving? Let’s read 1 Samuel 1:19-28 now:

19 The entire family got up early the next morning and went to worship the Lord once more. Then they returned home to Ramah. When Elkanah slept with Hannah, the Lord remembered her plea, 20 and in due time she gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel,[a] for she said, “I asked the Lord for him.”

21 The next year Elkanah and his family went on their annual trip to offer a sacrifice to the Lord and to keep his vow. 22 But Hannah did not go. She told her husband, “Wait until the boy is weaned. Then I will take him to the Tabernacle and leave him there with the Lord permanently.[b]”

23 “Whatever you think is best,” Elkanah agreed. “Stay here for now, and may the Lord help you keep your promise.[c]” So she stayed home and nursed the boy until he was weaned.

24 When the child was weaned, Hannah took him to the Tabernacle in Shiloh. They brought along a three-year-old bull[d] for the sacrifice and a basket[e] of flour and some wine. 25 After sacrificing the bull, they brought the boy to Eli. 26 “Sir, do you remember me?” Hannah asked. “I am the very woman who stood here several years ago praying to the Lord. 27 I asked the Lord to give me this boy, and he has granted my request. 28 Now I am giving him to the Lord, and he will belong to the Lord his whole life.” And they[f] worshiped the Lord there.

In this passage, we see that to do what she promised (1 Samuel 1:11), Hannah gave up what she wanted the most – her son – and presented him to Eli to serve in the house of the Lord. In dedicating her only son to God, Hannah was dedicating her entire life and future to God. Because Samuel’s life was from God, Hannah was not really giving him up to God. Rather, she was returning him to God, who had given Samuel to Hannah in the first place. These verses illustrate the kinds of gifts we should give to God. Do you gifts cost you a little (Sunday mornings, a comfortable donation of time and/or money) or are they gifts of sacrifice? Are you presenting God with tokens or are you presenting him with your entire life?

Let us resolve to live off less and give more sacrificially? Let us resolve to arrange our finances such that we can give more to our church and assist in the spread of the gospel in our community, nation and world. Let us arrange our finances so that we think first of eternal things instead of temporary things. Let us arrange our finances so that we can think of others instead of ourselves. Let us arrange our finances so that we can be sacrificial givers instead of wishing we could give anything. Let us arrange our finances so that we can invest in the eternal destinations of the people in our community. Let us be able to participate in leading people to our doors where they can hear the gospel preached and react to it. Let us be sacrificial because eternity is at stake. Let us help assure the eternity with Jesus in heaven for more and more people because we were so concerned about it that we gave up our pursuit of new houses, new cars, new toys. What if we had a sacrificial mentality to spread the gospel? What if our finances reflected our concern for the salvation of the world rather than our next new toy?

Amen and Amen.