Archive for December, 2017

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.

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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.

1 Samuel 5:1-12
The Ark in Philistia

There are some things in life that, as we say in the South, “gets your goat!” For the under-educated folks not having been blessed by God by being born and raised in the South, when something “gets your goat”, it means that something has really irritated you, made you mad to the point of exasperation because they is nothing that you can do about it. Like when somebody cuts you off in traffic, that act can “get your goat”. Just because of the nature of driving, you don’t really know the person, often, that cuts you off in traffic and you will probably never see them again. And, it’s not like you can stop traffic and hop out and have it out with them. So it’s just something that gets your goat and you just have to live with it and move on.

Something that gets my goat these days is those bumper stickers that say, “Co-exist” and it is spelled with the symbols of the world’s major religions. These symbols are as follows:

The ‘C’ is a symbol for Islam.

The ‘O’ is a symbol for Pacifism.

The ‘E’ is a symbol for gay rights/gender equality, depending on whom you ask.

The ‘X’ is a symbol for Judaism.

The ‘I’ is a symbol for Paganism.

The ‘S’ is a symbol for Taoism.

The ‘T’ is a symbol for Christianity.

These bumper stickers basically saying that there is no one belief system that is better than another and that they all have kernels of truth in them so, therefore, we should be tolerant of all belief systems. It espouses the liberal theology of tolerance. It espouses that all religions are man-made and thus are our attempts to achieve some oneness with a higher power or that oneness with the force of the universe or whatever you want to call it. This liberal theology says that all religions are attempts by us to reach a higher level of consciousness and none of these religions are in and of themselves superior to another. They are all after the same thing, a purity of heart that leads to higher consciousness that leads to self-improvement which leads to loving others which leads to spending the afterlife in some pleasurable state. And, if you don’t want to believe in a belief system, just believe in yourself. Just believe in man. Just belief that man is innately good and can achieve the highest levels of morality, integrity and honesty if we just focus our energies in that direction. It’s the all roads lead to heaven, nirvana, supreme consciousness, or union with the fabric of the universe, or being positive energy, or ending life (without an afterlife) with a good feeling about yourself (if you are an atheist). That’s the essence of the “Co-Exist” bumper sticker. It is the outward and visible sign of tolerance theology, the cooler way to think in today’s world.

This theology of tolerance of all religions is a cop-out. It gets my goat. In tolerance theology, people can be lazy. Whatever they believe in can be true for them. They do not have to make choices. And it relieves the world and even us Christians from having to evangelize the world. Everything’s ok so you don’t have to bother. You can pick and choose what you want to believe from this religion and that religion. You know! Whatever works for you. It’s OK! Create your own religion. Heck, that tolerance theology means too that even if you are anatomically one sex but you just feel like another sex, you can be the sex that your heart desires and not what the absolute true evidence of what you gender is. In the religion of tolerance of all religions to say that your religion is superior to another is blasphemy of the highest order. To not believe that we all have a right for ourselves to choose what we want to believe is true and define for as true for ourselves is the most grievous sin of all in the bland, mix it all together, everything’s ok religion of tolerance.

As Christians, we believe that we believe in the one true God and that all other religions whether they say they believe in the one true God or not all false or at the very least incomplete and thus ultimately false. Critics often ask why Christianity is any better than any other religion in the world. Of all the religions that exist, how can it be that only Christianity is true? If God exists, why can’t God use different religions? Don’t all paths lead to God? Skeptics ask these kinds of questions all the time; and unfortunately, few Christians have the answers.

That trying to hedge our bets with all religions being equal and picking and choosing what we want to believe that is so prevalent today and so evidenced by the popularity of the flawed “Co-Exist” stickers is what I thought of this morning when I read this passage. In this passage, the Philistines just added the God of Israel to their pantheon of gods. It is not unlike the tolerance theology that has overtaken the world today. Let’s read this passage, 1 Samuel 5:1-12, with that idea in mind:

5 After the Philistines captured the Ark of God, they took it from the battleground at Ebenezer to the town of Ashdod. 2 They carried the Ark of God into the temple of Dagon and placed it beside an idol of Dagon. 3 But when the citizens of Ashdod went to see it the next morning, Dagon had fallen with his face to the ground in front of the Ark of the Lord! So they took Dagon and put him in his place again. 4 But the next morning the same thing happened—Dagon had fallen face down before the Ark of the Lord again. This time his head and hands had broken off and were lying in the doorway. Only the trunk of his body was left intact. 5 That is why to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor anyone who enters the temple of Dagon in Ashdod will step on its threshold.

6 Then the Lord’s heavy hand struck the people of Ashdod and the nearby villages with a plague of tumors.[a] 7 When the people realized what was happening, they cried out, “We can’t keep the Ark of the God of Israel here any longer! He is against us! We will all be destroyed along with Dagon, our god.” 8 So they called together the rulers of the Philistine towns and asked, “What should we do with the Ark of the God of Israel?”

The rulers discussed it and replied, “Move it to the town of Gath.” So they moved the Ark of the God of Israel to Gath. 9 But when the Ark arrived at Gath, the Lord’s heavy hand fell on its men, young and old; he struck them with a plague of tumors, and there was a great panic.

10 So they sent the Ark of God to the town of Ekron, but when the people of Ekron saw it coming they cried out, “They are bringing the Ark of the God of Israel here to kill us, too!” 11 The people summoned the Philistine rulers again and begged them, “Please send the Ark of the God of Israel back to its own country, or it[b] will kill us all.” For the deadly plague from God had already begun, and great fear was sweeping across the town. 12 Those who didn’t die were afflicted with tumors; and the cry from the town rose to heaven.

In this passage, we meet the Philistinian god, Dagon. Dagon was the chief god the Philistines, whom they believed sent rain and a bountiful harvest when the people pleased him and would withhold the same if they did not. In addition to Dagon, the Philistines worshiped many more gods, just as did most the other surrounding pagan nations. The more gods they could have on their side, the more secure they felt. That was why they wanted the Ark. Their thought process was that the God of Israel was like any of their man-made gods and that if it helped the Israelites, it could help them too. When the people living nearby began to get sick and die, the Philistines realized the Ark was not a good omen. It was a source of greater power than they had ever seen. Although the Philistines had just witnessed the power of God over their man-made god, Dagon, they did not act upon that insight until they were afflicted with tumors. Today, many people want to hedge their bets by believing in as many religions as possible so that they can feel secure that all roads lead to heaven.

This tolerance theology of all religions and belief systems or lack of belief is all ok because ultimately all roads lead to heaven is just plain flawed and here’s why (thanks to http://www.carm.org):

If truth is relative, then the statement that truth is relative is an absolute truth and would be a self-defeating statement by proving that truth is not relative. But, if truth is absolute, then the statement “truth is absolute” is true and not self-defeating. It is true that truth exists. It is true that truth will not contradict itself as we have just seen. In fact, it is absolutely true that you are reading this paper.

If we can see that there is such a thing as truth in the world, then we could also see that there can be spiritual truth as well. It is not absurd to believe in spiritual absolutes anymore than physical or logical absolutes. Even the statement that all religions lead to God is a statement held to be a spiritual absolute by many people. This simply demonstrates that people do believe in spiritual truth. Why? Because truth exists. However, not all that is believed to be true actually is true. Furthermore, all belief systems cannot be true since they often contradict each other in profound ways–and truth is not self-contradictory.
Religions contradict each other; therefore, they cannot all be true.

Mormonism teaches that there are many gods in existence, and that you can become a god. Christianity teaches that there is only one God, and you cannot become a god. Islam teaches that Jesus is not God in flesh–where Christianity does. Jesus cannot be both God and not God at the same time. Some religions teach that we reincarnate, while others do not. Some teach there is a hell, and others do not. They cannot all be true. If they cannot all be true, it cannot be true that all religions lead to God. Furthermore, it means that some religions are, at the very least, false in their claims to reveal the true God (or gods). Remember, truth does not contradict itself. If God exists, He will not institute mutually exclusive and contradictory belief systems in an attempt to get people to believe in Him. God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33). Therefore, it is reasonable to believe that there can be an absolute spiritual truth, and that not all systems can be true regardless of whether or not they claim to be true. There must be more than a mere claim.
Fulfilled Prophecy concerning Jesus

Though there are other religions that have prophecies in them, none are 100% accurate as is the Bible; and none of them point to someone like Jesus who made incredible claims and performed incredible deeds. The Old Testament was written hundreds of years before Jesus was born, yet the Old Testament prophesied many things about Jesus. This is undoubtedly evidence of divine influence upon the Bible.

Please consider some of the many prophecies of Jesus in the following chart:
Prophecy Old Testament Prophecy New Testament Fulfillment
Born of a virgin Isaiah 7:14 Matt. 1:18, 25
Born at Bethlehem Micah 5:2 Matt. 2:1
He would be preceded by a Messenger Isaiah 40:3 Matt. 3:1-2
Rejected by His own people Isaiah 53:3 John 7:5; 7:48
Betrayed by a close friend Psalm 41:9 John 13:26-30
His side pierced Zech. 12:10 John 19:34
Crucifixion Psalm 22:1,
Psalm 22:11-18 Luke 23:33;
John 19:23-24
Resurrection of Christ Psalm 16:10 Acts 13:34-37

Fulfillment of prophecy can have different explanations. Some state that the New Testament was written and altered to make it look as if Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecy (but there is no evidence of that). Others state that the prophecies are so vague that they do not count (but many of the prophecies are not vague at all). Of course, it is possible that God inspired the writers; and Jesus, who is God in flesh, fulfilled these prophecies as a further demonstration of the validity of Christianity.
The Claims and Deeds of Christ

Christianity claims to be authored by God. Of course, merely making such a claim does not make it true. Anyone can make claims, but backing up those claims is entirely different. Jesus used the Divine Name for Himself (John 8:58), the same Divine Name used by God when Moses asked God what His name was in Exodus 3:14. Jesus said He could do whatever He saw God the Father do (John 5:19), and He claimed to be one with God the Father (John 10:30; 10:38). Likewise, the disciples also called Him God (John 1:1, 14; John 10:27; Col. 2:9). By default, if Jesus is God in flesh, then whatever He said and did would be true. Since Jesus said that He alone was the Way, the Truth, and the Life and that no one can find God without Him (John 14:6), His words become incredibly important.

Again, making a claim is one thing. Backing it up is another. Did Jesus also back up His fantastic words with miraculous deeds? Yes, He did.

Jesus changed water into wine (John 2:6-10).
Jesus cast out demons (Matt. 8:28-32; 15:22-28).
Jesus healed lepers (Matt. 8:3; Luke 17:14).
Jesus healed diseases (Matt. 4:23, 24; Luke 6:17-19).
Jesus healed the paralytic (Mark 2:3-12).
Jesus raised the dead (Matt. 9:25; John 11:43-44).
Jesus restored sight to the blind (Matt. 9:27-30; John 9:1-7).
Jesus restored/cured deafness (Mark 7:32-35).
Jesus fed the multitude (Matt. 14:15-21; Matt. 15:32-38).
Jesus walked on water (Matt. 14:25-27).
Jesus calmed a storm with a command (Matt. 8:22-27; Mark 4:39).
Jesus rose from the dead (Luke 24:39; John 20:27).
Jesus appeared to disciples after resurrection (John 20:19).

The eyewitnesses recorded the miracles of Jesus, and the gospels have been reliably transmitted to us. Therefore, we can believe what Jesus said about Himself for two reasons: one, because what He said and did agrees with the Old Testament; and two, because Jesus performed many convincing miracles in front of people who testified and wrote about what they saw Him do and even his enemies living at the time of these published writings could not and did not contradict the eyewitness testimony of others.

 

Christ’s resurrection

Within Christianity, the resurrection is vitally important. Without the resurrection, our faith is useless (1 Cor. 15:14). It was Jesus’ resurrection that changed the lives of the disciples. After Jesus was crucified, the disciples ran and hid. But when they saw the risen Lord, they knew that what Jesus had said and done proved that He was indeed God in flesh, the Savior.

No other religious leader has died in full view of trained executioners, had a guarded tomb, and then risen three days later to appear to many many people. This resurrection is proof of who Jesus is, and that He did accomplish what He set out to do: provide the only means of redemption for mankind.

Buddha did not rise from the dead. Muhammad did not rise from the dead. Confucius did not rise from the dead. Krishna did not rise from the dead, etc. Only Jesus has physically risen from the dead, walked on water, claimed to be God, and raised others from the dead. He has conquered death. Why trust anyone else? Why trust anyone who can be held by physical death when we have a Messiah who is greater than death itself?
Conclusion

Why should anyone trust in Christianity over Islam, Buddhism, Mormonism, or anything else? It is because there are absolute truths. Only in Christianity are there accurately fulfilled prophecies of a coming Messiah. Only in Christianity do we have the extremely accurate transmission of the eyewitness documents (gospels), so we can trust what was originally written. Only in Christianity do we have the person of Christ who claimed to be God, performed many miracles to prove His claim of divinity, who died and rose from the dead, and who said that He alone was the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). All this adds to the legitimacy and credibility of Christianity above all other religions–all based on the person of Jesus. It could not be that Jesus is the only Truth, and other religions also be the truth.

Either Jesus is true and all other religions are false, or other religions are true, and Jesus is false. There are no other options. I choose to follow the risen Lord Jesus. What’s your choice? You cannot Co-Exist.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 4:12-22
The Death of Eli

Well, it looks like Israel has hit its rock bottom here in 1 Samuel 4:12-22. Two generations or so removed from entering the Promised Land, they are about as bleak and godless a people that would rival any of the pagan nations that surrounded them. They started out so well. They were God’s chosen people. He had some them great favor. He had rescued them and protected them. He had shown himself to them as their guiding pillar of fire, had audibly spoken to Moses daily, had provided them food and performed other great miracles before their very eyes. How quickly things can turn after you have been provided great riches.

Think about all the grandchildren and children of the ultra-rich. They are spoiled brats and just live for the party. Living for the moment from party to party and seeking all kinds of hedonistic pleasures. In trouble with the law frequently because they know they have the money and influence to get out of any jam they get in. You know the type. We see it on the celebrity worship shows and on the nightly news shows. These brats smear the good name of their hard working, wealth-building fathers or grandfathers. There are televisions shows, movies, books, mini-series, etc. about this age old concept of wealth being wasted on unappreciative punk kids or grandkids. That’s kind of the way Israel was during the time of the judges. They had been given every privilege of being God’s people. God make their way for them. He protected them. He gave everything to them. They had it made. But over time, they began to stray from being an appreciative, obedient people and began drift away from the very source of their blessings.

When I read through Judges and this first part of 1 Samuel, I cannot help but think about the United States in this, the modern day. This country was founded on biblical principles and we were a very religious, God-fearing people for many generations. We integrated God into our daily lives as a nation. We made Him a part of the fabric and texture of our culture. Men and women in political office didn’t think twice about referencing God in every other sentence. Decisions were made with reference to the Bible. The Bible was a very active part of public life. The Ten Commandments were often displayed in court rooms because these laws are universal in truth. God was just front and center a part of American life. As a result, God blessed our nation richly. We defeated the world’s greatest empire to win our independence – and when you read the history of the American Revolution, there is nothing but repeated evidence of God’s protection and God’s favor being shown to our fledgling nation. So, we owe our very existence as a nation to God’s favor. And, we lived it our for many generations. We were a nation openly and willingly desiring to be obedient to God and to follow His commands.

However, something began to happen in the post-World War II era when we truly became the world’s greatest economic and military power. Before World War II, we were a great nation among several competing world powers. However, with the destruction wrought by World War II, we firmly established ourselves as the greatest single world power on the planet. We were the top dog. The strange thing that happened though after World War II with all the wealth and prosperity that came with emerging as the world’s greatest nation is that we began to forget about God. We became the spoiled rich kids of a wealthy father or grandfather. We became self-indulgent. We became preoccupied with our wealth. We became preoccupied with things. We became more interested in stuff than we were in God. We became a very me-centered people. We began to see our individual needs as more important that the greater good of society. We began to drift toward personal rights and away from the collective good. We began to see the self as more important than what is good for the nation as a whole. We began to see what I want as more important than sacrificing for the good of our families, towns, cities, states and the nation. We became a people who believe that we are entitled to the wealth that we have been granted. We became our own gods and determine for ourselves what our own truth is. We became our own gods and our own little universes where what I want is what matters and screw everyone else. We forgot God. We pushed God aside. We are so interested in our own right and desires that we no longer see God’s Word as important to our lives. We do away with anything like the Bible that says we cannot pursue that which makes us internally satisfied. If it contradicts with my personal rights and desires, we do away with it. if says what I am doing is a sin, we do away with it as old-fashioned because I have my rights. I have a right to be happy and if my sin makes me happy is it really a sin? That’s the nation we live in now. It is a dark time and it’s getting darker.

Here we see ourselves in the nation of Israel at the end of the period of Judges. That’s the thing that struck me this morning – how much like the nation of Israel we as the United States in the 21st are. In the name of seeking self and making ourselves as our own individual gods, we have become the nation of Israel at the end of the period of the judges. Let’s read this passage with that in mind, 1 Samuel 4:12-22:

12 A man from the tribe of Benjamin ran from the battlefield and arrived at Shiloh later that same day. He had torn his clothes and put dust on his head to show his grief. 13 Eli was waiting beside the road to hear the news of the battle, for his heart trembled for the safety of the Ark of God. When the messenger arrived and told what had happened, an outcry resounded throughout the town.

14 “What is all the noise about?” Eli asked.

The messenger rushed over to Eli, 15 who was ninety-eight years old and blind. 16 He said to Eli, “I have just come from the battlefield—I was there this very day.”

“What happened, my son?” Eli demanded.

17 “Israel has been defeated by the Philistines,” the messenger replied. “The people have been slaughtered, and your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were also killed. And the Ark of God has been captured.”

18 When the messenger mentioned what had happened to the Ark of God, Eli fell backward from his seat beside the gate. He broke his neck and died, for he was old and overweight. He had been Israel’s judge for forty years.

19 Eli’s daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant and near her time of delivery. When she heard that the Ark of God had been captured and that her father-in-law and husband were dead, she went into labor and gave birth. 20 She died in childbirth, but before she passed away the midwives tried to encourage her. “Don’t be afraid,” they said. “You have a baby boy!” But she did not answer or pay attention to them.

21 She named the child Ichabod (which means “Where is the glory?”), for she said, “Israel’s glory is gone.” She named him this because the Ark of God had been captured and because her father-in-law and husband were dead. 22 Then she said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the Ark of God has been captured.”

In this passage, we remember that at this time, the city of Shiloh was Israel’s religious center (see also Joshua 18:1 and 1 Samuel 4:3). The Tabernacle was permanently set up there. Because Israel did not have a civil capital – the seat of the national government – Shiloh was the natural place for a messenger to deliver the sad news of this battle with the Philistines. Many scholars believe that it was during this battle mentioned here that Shiloh was destroyed. Also, we see here the end of the dark period of the judges when most of the nation of Israel had turned their backs on God. Although Samuel was also a judge, his judgeship marked the end of that period and the transition to rule by monarchy. It marks the beginning of the great revival that Israel would experience for more than a century. However, in this present scene as presented in this passage we see that this incident illustrates the spiritual darkness and decline of Israel.

We, too, are in a dark time in the United States spiritually speaking. We have become just as Israel is here. We will pay the price for our straying from God and kicking God out of our national and individual lives at some point. Maybe we have not yet hit our low point as Israel has here. But we are the frog in the pot of water with the temperature slowly being turned up. We are pushing God out of our lives and He will eventually fully withdraw His blessings from our nation. It’s guaranteed. We will in our enlightened reason say that it’s because of this or because of that, but it will be the evidence simply that God no longer is showing us favor because we are no longer a nation that worships God.

But from the darkest days in Israel here, there came a great awakening later under David and Solomon and Israel became a great nation once again under the rule of men who feared God. I think and have hope that God will bring about an awakening in our nation as well. He will bring forth a great man of God who will lead our nation back to God. We will have another great awakening in our nation one day. But it’s going to take some committed Samuels out there. As we are going to see, Samuel was instrumental in bringing about restoration to the nation of Israel and ushering in the greatest period of Israel’s history under Davidic rule. David was a man after God’s own heart and God blessed him and as a result blessed Israel. To restore our nation to God, it starts with us as His church in America. We must begin sharing the gospel story each and every one of us. We must no longer sit quietly by as our nation drifts further and further away from God and just say there’s nothing we can do about it. We must introduce the gospel to a nation that is now into third generations of families who do not go to church, do not know what the Bible is or says, and who do not know really who Jesus is. Let us not think it is somebody else’s job to change our nation. Let us be spiritually alert and ready to share God’s Word one person at a time. Let us change our nation from the inside out.

Amen and Amen.