Archive for January, 2018

1 Samuel 14:47-52
Saul’s Military Successes

When I was going through my divorce from my first wife, it was a horrendously bitter divorce. I think that she became obsessed with making my life miserable. She harassed me at work with phone calls during my work day. She would harass the receptionist when I would not answer my direct line. She would leave nasty, hateful voicemails on my work phone and my home phone (yes, this was back in 1993-1994 when cell phone were still very exclusive and land lines and pay phones were still the main ways to communicate). Once she figured out that I would not be harassed into returning home to the hell that was our home prior to the separation, she began refusing to allow me to have my visitations with my daughters as prescribed by our separation agreement (I was supposed to get my girls every other weekend from Friday at 6pm to Sunday at 6pm and then on Wednesdays for three hours on the weeks that I did not get them on the weekend). After about attempting and being denied my children for several months, I decided to go back to my divorce attorney and file a contempt of court complaint against my estranged wife for violation of the separation agreement terms about visitation.

Her getting served with the papers caused a firestorm in and of itself from Lisa and even from her mother. The harassment was disconcerting and deflating at times. All I was doing was trying to see my girls that I dearly loved. However, I was being treated as if I was a traitor and was destroying the girls by wanting to see them. They treated me with disgust, contempt, derision and whatever other negative emotion you can think of. They were offended that I had fought back against them for preventing me from seeing my kids. They thought, they really did, that I deserved to be punished in this way for destroying the family and the girls. There was no recognition of the mistakes that Lisa had made in our relationship that drove me away. That was OK I guess by their point of view. So when we finally got our court date, I had not been able to see my girls in probably four or five months solid by that point. Then, at court, as a defense for her not allowing me to see my children, Lisa claimed that I had molested my oldest daughter on the last weekend visitation that she had allowed me to have with them and that was why she was preventing the girls from going with me all those months. Nuclear bomb dropped. I was devastated at the accusation (because it was most assuredly not true). I figured that there was no way that the court would believe that. I figured the would see it for the lie that it was as a justification for just plain out spite all these months. C’mon guys, can’t you see what she’s doing?

But that starting in motion a rollercoaster ride that none of us would get off until three years later when I finally got custody of my girls in 1996. DSS became a fixture in our lives. For the first six months after the accusation, I was not allowed to see my children at all. I was treated like a criminal. I even had to take lie detector test with the Sheriff’s Department. Even though I passed the test and was cleared by the Sheriff’s Office as they believed me that I had done nothing and that this was simply a court tactic by my ex-wife. However, that didn’t keep DSS from being in our lives. That didn’t keep DSS for many months thinking that I was a danger to my kids. But as they started working with Lisa, they began to see the truth of who she was and what she was about. However, it took an incident outside the courtroom after one of the multitude of DSS hearings that we had for the tide to begin to turn in my favor. Right there in the middle of lobby of family court in downtown Greenville, Lisa and her mother started screaming and yelling at me in front of everyone (including my girls) about how I was destroying the girls and calling me ugly things in front of lawyers involved in the case for DSS, my lawyer, her lawyers and a host of unconcerned witnesses. It was ugly, mean, and disgusting. Even though I was not a saved soul at that point in my life, the Lord held my tongue because I needed to come across as the calmer, more reasonable member of my children’s family. With the previously beginning to mount evidence concerning my ex-wife vindictive nature, toxic attitudes toward me that she was instilling in the girls, and just her unstable nature, this ugly, ugly public display was the last straw to DSS concerning the environment that my girls were living in. It was not long after that display that the girls were removed from Lisa’s care.

Once that happened, I thought well that’s finally over with and DSS finally sees what I had been dealing with for a year. However, DSS gave custody of my children to my parents (which in hindsight was the best thing for them – to get them out of Greenville and away from the nastiest divorce ever). DSS continued to be in our lives until 1996 when I was granted custody of my girls. It was a long, hard road from 1993-1996. My ex-wife also remarried in 1996 and the firestorm that was her nature about me dissipated greatly (though her hatred for me continued until she died at the young age of 55 in July 2015). Those years, from 1993-1996, from the time Lisa and I split up until she remarried not long after I was granted custody of my kids was a long and arduous road. It was a time that though I 99% of the time took the high road in my dealings with Lisa, it just seemed the hatred she had for me was the victor. She was a charming one and could tell people what they wanted to hear so as to cover her real motives. It seemed as though the truth was a lost art in the separation and divorce. It seemed that my trying to take the high road and not reacting to all her hatred was the wussy way of dealing with her. It seemed to never end that the hatred was the victor. It took a long time for the truth of her motives to come out. It took a long time for people to see how toxic she really was. It took a long time for people to see that I was not the Satan that she portrayed me to be. It all just took too long. It was a painful experience that can dredge up emotions that can send chills down my spine if I let myself think about it even today some twenty plus years after the fact.

That was the thing that I thought about this morning is how even though Saul was told my God through Samuel that he was not the anointed king of Israel that he was allowed to have great victories. It got me to thinking about how and why sometimes people with evil or selfish motives often are allowed to have the sunlight for long periods of time over the righteous. Not that I was a righteous person before my salvation in 2001 nor am I deserving of the righteous label on my own merit now, I was a good person who grew up as a preacher’s kid and was taught to do the right thing no matter what. I was taught not trade evil with evil. I was no saint but I didn’t purposely try to hurt people. Reading this passage made me think of that long stretch in 1993-1996 where it just seemed that those with malice in their hearts are often victors for long periods of time over people with kind hearts. Why is that? It leads you to think about God’s sovereignty and why he allows things to happen the way that they happen. With that in mind, let’s read this passage now, 1 Samuel 14:47-52:

47 Now when Saul had secured his grasp on Israel’s throne, he fought against his enemies in every direction—against Moab, Ammon, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines. And wherever he turned, he was victorious.[a] 48 He performed great deeds and conquered the Amalekites, saving Israel from all those who had plundered them.

49 Saul’s sons included Jonathan, Ishbosheth,[b] and Malkishua. He also had two daughters: Merab, who was older, and Michal. 50 Saul’s wife was Ahinoam, the daughter of Ahimaaz. The commander of Saul’s army was Abner, the son of Saul’s uncle Ner. 51 Saul’s father, Kish, and Abner’s father, Ner, were both sons of Abiel.

52 The Israelites fought constantly with the Philistines throughout Saul’s lifetime. So whenever Saul observed a young man who was brave and strong, he drafted him into his army.

When we read this passage, a question come to mind, “Why was Saul so successful right after he had disobeyed God and been told that his reign would end?” (remember 1 Samuel 13:13-14). Sometimes, ungodly people win battles. Victory is neither guaranteed nor limited to the righteous. God provides according to His will. God might have given Saul success for the sake of His people, not for Saul. He might have left Saul on the throne for a while to utilize his military talents so that David, Israel’s next king could spend more time focusing on the nation’s spiritual battles, developing the people into a more cohesive nation, and fleshing out the infrastructure of the nation. Regardless of God’s reasons for delaying Saul’s demise, his reign ended exactly the way God had foretold. The timing of God’s plans and promises is known only to Him. Our task is to commit our ways to God and then trust Him for the outcome.

For me, that experience with my ex-wife taught me that good does triumph over evil and that no good ever comes from repaying evil with evil. I so wanted to swing at my ex-wife’s pitches in the dirt. I did so want to retaliate with a tit for each tat. But God and my earthly father kept telling me to hold on, don’t swing, don’t retaliate and that Lisa would reveal her true self to those that mattered in due time. It just seemed like it was taking forever for those revelations to come about. I grew weary under the strain of the harassment and having to keep my cool in the face of the hatred. Sometimes it takes a long time as you are walking through an evil time.

Sometimes, we wonder at why God is taking so long to answer our prayers. Sometimes, we wonder at why God is allowing evil to have victory over us, as it seems from our perspective. One thing that I learned from that whole experience is that you have to trust God to pull you through the tough times. Hang on to that sliver of hope that is God whispering in your ear that things will get better. Even if you are impatient with God about answering your prayer, realize that He is God and that the righteous, the humble, those who love the Lord will have the sunshine on their face in the future. We have hope in eternity through Jesus Christ. We have hope that brings joy even in the toughest of times. We can have joy even when life seems to be total crap around us. What I learned from that (and especially have seen it since my salvation) that God never forgets us and that our hard times are to teach us real faith in Him. It is when it seems that life is falling apart or when it seems that God is not doing things the way we want Him to is when we learn real faith in Him. Sometimes, he sends us through a dry place, a desert, a tough time, a time when it seems He is not answering us to teach us to trust in His sovereignty.

My experience has been that God will give us the sunshine in His due time and that we simply have to straight up trust Him sometimes (when there is no evidence that we should by human standards). Trust in God no matter what. Even is the yuckiest of times, He is there. He is teaching. He is teaching us to straight up, all-in to trust in His Sovereignty.

Amen and Amen.

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1 Samuel 14:16-46 (Part 3 of 3)
Israel Defeats the Philistine & Saul’s Foolish Oath

My dad, as I have stated many times before, is a man of many sayings. My dad has a D.Min. degree. He is an overly educated man who is a ravenous reader. There is not much that he cannot offer an educated opinion on. He is an excellent pulpit preacher who writes well-crafted sermons. His illustrations are always so point on with his sermons. He has a way of preaching that is captivating. He’s my dad so I think he’s pretty damn good at everything he does. Not only is he academically astute but he grew up as a farmer’s son so he knows how to fix stuff and seems to have an understanding of how mechanical things work that escapes me. Because of growing up in the rural South, he is also the master of these pithy little sayings. Two of those sayings come to mind this morning – “such is life” and “sometimes life just ain’t fair”. These two saying were often used by dad to tell me and my brother that the world is sometimes rough place and you just have to deal with what life throws at you. Sometimes, it’s not fair. Sometimes, you have to deal with the fallout of other people’s decisions. Sometimes, things happen that you have no control over that you have to deal with. Sometimes, people will take advantage of you. Sometimes, people have more advantages than you that allow them to pass you by even though you can’t help how you started in life. Inherent in these two sayings is the questions, “So what are you going to do about it? Are you going to whine and complain or are you going to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move on?” Life just ain’t fair sometimes and we have to decide whether we let what happens to us destroy us or make us stronger. There’s another old saying that my dad didn’t use but is from the South nonetheless and was made popular by the movie, Steel Magnolias, “that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger!”

That’s the striking difference I think between me and my first wife. My dad raised me to be a person who, no matter the circumstance, that I would not let my circumstances, what happened to me in life to define who I was. My dad taught me that we have to keep going and keep pushing even when we are hurt physically or emotionally. The keeping going is the thing. Not letting the world defeat you was the thing. I hated it growing up that my dad would not allow us to make excuses for things. When we made commitments, we had to honor them. When he gave us chores and assignments, we had to do them regardless of circumstance. When we had to do tough things, he would not allow us to shy away from them. When we got physically hurt, he made sure we were alright and, if we were, he taught us to shake it off and move on. And when it came to discipline, there were defined lines in the sand that we could not cross. We were well aware of our boundaries. We were well aware of the consequences. And when we did cross those boundaries, there were real consequences. Those consequences were always executed, no matter what. There was no negotiating our way out of it. We suffered the consequences no matter what excuses we had. When it came to punishment, I did not realize how hard that was for him until I became a parent myself. Often times, the punishments that are the toughest to enforce are not the whippings but the restrictions of freedoms. These are often more inconvenient to the parent than to the child. Many parents cave on restrictions because of this fact and children then learn the art of excuses and negotiating their way out of punishment. My dad was a master at not caving in to any inconveniences to him. It was more important that we learn that there are consequences in life for our behaviors.

In contrast my first wife had plenty of excuses as to why she should be allowed not to pay for the consequences of her behavior. First, at age three, her family was in this horrendous car accident that left her mom wheelchair bound for the remaining years of her life. That same accident took the life of her father. Her mom thus had to raise her son and daughter from a wheelchair. Because of this, people often took pity on Lisa and allowed her to get away with things that should have been punished. Further, her mom would often have difficulty enforcing punishment on her kids once they learned that a mom in a wheelchair with no dad around was a recipe for a lack of enforcement of consequences to bad behavior. Further, when Lisa was 19, her brother was also killed in a car accident. That accident changed her life and she began letting all the things in life than had happened to her define who she was. Sure, she had a right by the world’s standards to give up and she did. She had spurts of greatness after that but it was more a downward spiral of whoa is me and what the world has done to me. She gave up and made excuses. She had been spoiled growing up because of her circumstances and later in life she let them define her. She became a victim and everything in life was someone else’s fault not hers. All of these things led to an increasing paranoia, cynicism, and drug abuse (though all legally prescribed). She lived most of the remainder of her life medicated in some way. She gave up and withdraw into her own world that she and her second husband created. It was a world of us against the world. They were right and the whole outside was wrong. It was a world of defeatism.

The contrast between the way we were raised is a telling tale in American society today. We can either make excuses about why we do what we do and why life is not fair and let it define us or we can accept that “sometimes, life just ain’t fair” and overcome the obstacles that life puts in front of us. We can blame everyone for what lot in life we have or we can overcome it. We can blame economics on why we act the way we act. We can blame our race on why things are the way they are for us. We can blame our parents for why we are the way we are. Or we can simply accept where we are starting from and overcome the obstacles. We can say, “such is life” and work hard to overcome our circumstances rather than letting them define us.

We can also learn to accept the consequences of life and move on from them and learn from them. We can also learn to accept that sometimes there are circumstances not of our own making that ain’t fair but that we must work our way through them instead of stopping, curling up in a corner, and whining about our lot in life. Life ain’t fair. It’s just a reality of life that we are failing to teach our children and grandchildren these days. Sometimes, you just get kicked in the teeth and it’s not because of something you caused. A lot of times in life, there are things that happen that knock us for a loop but none of it was caused by us. That’s the life ain’t fair thing that is real. How we react to such things is the thing that we are not teaching successive generations after us.

That’s the thing that I thought of this morning when I read this passage – how there is such a contrast between the self-centered Saul and the more godly man, his son, Jonathon. Saul was more concerned about image and self whereas Jonathon owned up to a mistake (even though he could have easily and justifiably claimed ignorance). What kind of man are you? What kind of man am I? Are we ones to make excuses rather than accept the consequences of our actions (regardless of whether we have an easy out or excuse)? Are we going to whine about this is not my fault or are we going to accept that life ain’t fair and overcome it or let it define us. Let’s read this passage now, 1 Samuel 14:16-46:

 

16 Saul’s lookouts in Gibeah of Benjamin saw a strange sight—the vast army of Philistines began to melt away in every direction.[a] 17 “Call the roll and find out who’s missing,” Saul ordered. And when they checked, they found that Jonathan and his armor bearer were gone.

18 Then Saul shouted to Ahijah, “Bring the ephod here!” For at that time Ahijah was wearing the ephod in front of the Israelites.[b] 19 But while Saul was talking to the priest, the confusion in the Philistine camp grew louder and louder. So Saul said to the priest, “Never mind; let’s get going!”[c]

20 Then Saul and all his men rushed out to the battle and found the Philistines killing each other. There was terrible confusion everywhere. 21 Even the Hebrews who had previously gone over to the Philistine army revolted and joined in with Saul, Jonathan, and the rest of the Israelites. 22 Likewise, the men of Israel who were hiding in the hill country of Ephraim joined the chase when they saw the Philistines running away. 23 So the Lord saved Israel that day, and the battle continued to rage even beyond Beth-aven.

24 Now the men of Israel were pressed to exhaustion that day, because Saul had placed them under an oath, saying, “Let a curse fall on anyone who eats before evening—before I have full revenge on my enemies.” So no one ate anything all day, 25 even though they had all found honeycomb on the ground in the forest. 26 They didn’t dare touch the honey because they all feared the oath they had taken.

27 But Jonathan had not heard his father’s command, and he dipped the end of his stick into a piece of honeycomb and ate the honey. After he had eaten it, he felt refreshed.[d] 28 But one of the men saw him and said, “Your father made the army take a strict oath that anyone who eats food today will be cursed. That is why everyone is weary and faint.”

29 “My father has made trouble for us all!” Jonathan exclaimed. “A command like that only hurts us. See how refreshed I am now that I have eaten this little bit of honey. 30 If the men had been allowed to eat freely from the food they found among our enemies, think how many more Philistines we could have killed!”

31 They chased and killed the Philistines all day from Micmash to Aijalon, growing more and more faint. 32 That evening they rushed for the battle plunder and butchered the sheep, goats, cattle, and calves, but they ate them without draining the blood. 33 Someone reported to Saul, “Look, the men are sinning against the Lord by eating meat that still has blood in it.”

“That is very wrong,” Saul said. “Find a large stone and roll it over here. 34 Then go out among the troops and tell them, ‘Bring the cattle, sheep, and goats here to me. Kill them here, and drain the blood before you eat them. Do not sin against the Lord by eating meat with the blood still in it.’”

So that night all the troops brought their animals and slaughtered them there. 35 Then Saul built an altar to the Lord; it was the first of the altars he built to the Lord.

36 Then Saul said, “Let’s chase the Philistines all night and plunder them until sunrise. Let’s destroy every last one of them.”

His men replied, “We’ll do whatever you think is best.”

But the priest said, “Let’s ask God first.”

37 So Saul asked God, “Should we go after the Philistines? Will you help us defeat them?” But God made no reply that day.

38 Then Saul said to the leaders, “Something’s wrong! I want all my army commanders to come here. We must find out what sin was committed today. 39 I vow by the name of the Lord who rescued Israel that the sinner will surely die, even if it is my own son Jonathan!” But no one would tell him what the trouble was.

40 Then Saul said, “Jonathan and I will stand over here, and all of you stand over there.”

And the people responded to Saul, “Whatever you think is best.”

41 Then Saul prayed, “O Lord, God of Israel, please show us who is guilty and who is innocent.[e]” Then they cast sacred lots, and Jonathan and Saul were chosen as the guilty ones, and the people were declared innocent.

42 Then Saul said, “Now cast lots again and choose between me and Jonathan.” And Jonathan was shown to be the guilty one.

43 “Tell me what you have done,” Saul demanded of Jonathan.

“I tasted a little honey,” Jonathan admitted. “It was only a little bit on the end of my stick. Does that deserve death?”

44 “Yes, Jonathan,” Saul said, “you must die! May God strike me and even kill me if you do not die for this.”

45 But the people broke in and said to Saul, “Jonathan has won this great victory for Israel. Should he die? Far from it! As surely as the Lord lives, not one hair on his head will be touched, for God helped him do a great deed today.” So the people rescued Jonathan, and he was not put to death.

46 Then Saul called back the army from chasing the Philistines, and the Philistines returned home.

In this passage, we see that Saul had issued a ridiculous command and driven his men to sin, as a result. However, he would not back down from it even if it meant he had to kill his son. When we make ridiculous statements, it is difficult to admit that we are wrong. Sticking to the story, just to save face, only compounds the problem. It takes more courage to admit a mistake than to hold resolutely to an error. In contrast, in this passage, we see the spiritual character of Jonathon. He admitted what he had done. He did not try to make excuses. Even though he was unaware of Saul’s oath, Jonathon was willing to accept the consequences of his actions. When we do wrong, we should act like Jonathon and not like Saul.

That’s the thing that strikes me about Saul. This situation was not fair at all. He had no idea of the vow his father made. He could have justifiably offered up that excuse. He could have whined and complained his way out of it. He could have pouted and run away. He could tried to negotiate his way out of the deal with his dad. He didn’t though. He accepted the circumstances even though he knew nothing of the vow to begin with and it was not until after he had violated it that he became aware of its existence. No excuses. No blame game. No whining. No complaining. He simply manned up and was willing to accept the consequences. Wow! Are we men like that? Do we man up when required?

Or do we make excuses? Blame others? Feign ignorance? Do we try to worm our way out of consequences or our actions? Do you blame your ex-spouse for your divorce? Do you blame your boss for why you got fired? Do you blame your parents for why you are disadvantaged in some way? Do you blame your race for why you are not better off than you are? Do you blame events in your life as the reason you are not achieving your potential? Or is it time for you to accept responsibility for yourself, dust yourself off, and live the rest of your life undoing the mess you’ve made, or overcoming the obstacles placed in your life by others or by circumstances? Are you going to let what has happened to your define you or are you going to realize “such is life” and develop a plan of action to rise above it? Whine or win? Be defined by circumstances or overcome them?

It is only through the love of Jesus Christ and realizing that we are sinners that we can begin to truly learn that we can overcome our circumstances. In our salvation, we realize that we start off in life at an eternal disadvantage that can be traced back to Adam and the first sin. We come into this world as sinners. We are defeated from the beginning. We sin and we are done. The only way we can change our circumstances for eternal damnation is through accepting the work of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins. We can change our circumstances through Jesus Christ. Through salvation, we learn that we are not the center of the universe and not everything is about us. We learn that everything is about giving glory to God. We also learn also that the God that loved us that much through Jesus is the same God, far superior to us, can help us overcome anything. When we know our eternity is secure with the Creator of the Universe through Jesus Christ, we realize that life ain’t fair but we can overcome it through our faith in Jesus Christ. We have a God that made the universe and because of that we can rise above life not being fair and such is life. We can withstand anything and overcome anything in Jesus Christ. We don’t have to blame others anymore. We have security beyond ourselves. We can accept it when we make mistakes. We are no longer about self-preservation and making ourselves look good. We can own up to our mistakes. We can live in truth and transparency because we are no longer define by our own image maintenance. We are children of God.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 14:16-46 (Part 2 of 3)
Israel Defeats the Philistine & Saul’s Foolish Oath

What would you do? What if you told God that you would do whatever he asked and then crunch time came? Most of us are like Peter at the first Lord’s Supper who vowed that he would die for Jesus rather than desert him. Then crunch time came. He crumbled. He denied Jesus not once, not twice, but three times. He was afraid. He was scared. He was relying on himself rather than on God. He valued his earthly existence more than his heavenly reward. That night of denying Jesus in crunch time ended up being the fuel that powered Peter for the rest of his ministry. When Jesus forgave him and commissioned him to look after Jesus’ flock, Peter felt as though he didn’t deserve the love and forgiveness he got from Jesus and it fueled his passion for the gospel the rest of his life. When we read the Bible, we know in advance that Peter is going to deny Jesus three times. We have heard the story since we were children so we know it’s going to happen.

But what if we were there that night. What if you and I had been with Jesus for three years, virtually day and night, when we not out fishing or spending time with our families. These guys had been with Jesus for those three years and they felt pretty strongly that they were tight with Jesus. They had ate meals together. They had traveled together from town to town. They had sat around campfires. I can envision that at those campfires, there was laughter and sometimes jokes (seeing as how God invented humor and Jesus was God in the flesh). I bet those were some great times. And I bet around those campfires, Jesus had them captivated with his lessons about God’s Word and about the meaning of life and about anything. Jesus I bet was a captivating small group leader. These guys had done everything with Jesus and they knew he loved them and he knew that they admired and loved him in return. So, at the Lord’s Supper, the thought that they would betray him was beyond comprehension for them. They thought they had what it took. They thought their love for Jesus and their loyalty to Him was greater than any fear of losing their life. But, then, crunch time came. They all scattered. They all crapped out. They all shrunk away from the moment. In the grand scheme of things, God used it to ensure the establishment and survival of God’s church but they made these grand vows to Jesus that they would never betray or abandon Him but when it came crunch time, they bailed.

Some of us find ourselves there. We may grand vows to God. We may say to the Lord while we live in our cushy little worlds and our safe jobs and surrounded by our families and the safety of the known and familiar that we will follow wherever God leads us. You may even pray earnest prayers from deep in your soul that you will leave everything behind and follow wherever God leads you in addition to making public vows of the same.

Then, crunch time comes. God provides the opportunity to keep your vow that you have made and the prayers you have been praying. Then, the fear comes. The doubt comes. You then list the 100 reasons why right now is not the best time for me to fulfill my vow and act on answered prayers. We begin to think of how hard it is to follow the Lord in what He is asking us to do. We shrink away. We think that we cannot do what we have vowed we would do. We begin thinking about security and safety and our kids and maybe if you are lucky enough to have them, grandkids, and our life that we have made in the place that we are. We tell the Lord then, there are too many obstacles. We look horizontally instead of toward the heavens. We think of our control and not His. We wonder how we would actually live in doing what God has called us to do and what we have vowed to do. Have you ever had a crunch time like that with the Lord? Have you shied away from a vow that you have made to the Lord because when it came down to it, you did not trust your own power to do it rather than trusting the Lord to empower you and keep you and make it glorifying in some way to the kingdom?

I think we all have those moments where in the safety and security of the world we know that we vow to God that we will do this for Him or that for Him such as dropping everything to be a missionary in a foreign land, or to be a church planter in Connecticut when you live now in little ol’ Lyman, SC, or to go into the ministry full time, or to even just start tithing when your budget is tight as a drum right now. When it’s crunch time, when God presents you with the opportunity to follow through on your promise to Him, what will you do? Trust yourself and shy away or will you trust God and move forward in doing what you promised God you would do?

That’s the thing that I thought of this morning when I read this passage. It is how Saul talked a big game about being the Lord’s man but really in the bottom line, he trusted himself more. Everything that he may have couched in terms of honoring God, it was really about him trusting himself more than he trusted God. That led him to make rash decisions. That led him to make rash vows. That led him to make foolish vows. Another example of this I trust myself more than God mentality of Saul can be found in this passage. Let’s read this passage now, 1 Samuel 14:16-46:

 

16 Saul’s lookouts in Gibeah of Benjamin saw a strange sight—the vast army of Philistines began to melt away in every direction.[a] 17 “Call the roll and find out who’s missing,” Saul ordered. And when they checked, they found that Jonathan and his armor bearer were gone.

18 Then Saul shouted to Ahijah, “Bring the ephod here!” For at that time Ahijah was wearing the ephod in front of the Israelites.[b] 19 But while Saul was talking to the priest, the confusion in the Philistine camp grew louder and louder. So Saul said to the priest, “Never mind; let’s get going!”[c]

20 Then Saul and all his men rushed out to the battle and found the Philistines killing each other. There was terrible confusion everywhere. 21 Even the Hebrews who had previously gone over to the Philistine army revolted and joined in with Saul, Jonathan, and the rest of the Israelites. 22 Likewise, the men of Israel who were hiding in the hill country of Ephraim joined the chase when they saw the Philistines running away. 23 So the Lord saved Israel that day, and the battle continued to rage even beyond Beth-aven.

24 Now the men of Israel were pressed to exhaustion that day, because Saul had placed them under an oath, saying, “Let a curse fall on anyone who eats before evening—before I have full revenge on my enemies.” So no one ate anything all day, 25 even though they had all found honeycomb on the ground in the forest. 26 They didn’t dare touch the honey because they all feared the oath they had taken.

27 But Jonathan had not heard his father’s command, and he dipped the end of his stick into a piece of honeycomb and ate the honey. After he had eaten it, he felt refreshed.[d] 28 But one of the men saw him and said, “Your father made the army take a strict oath that anyone who eats food today will be cursed. That is why everyone is weary and faint.”

29 “My father has made trouble for us all!” Jonathan exclaimed. “A command like that only hurts us. See how refreshed I am now that I have eaten this little bit of honey. 30 If the men had been allowed to eat freely from the food they found among our enemies, think how many more Philistines we could have killed!”

31 They chased and killed the Philistines all day from Micmash to Aijalon, growing more and more faint. 32 That evening they rushed for the battle plunder and butchered the sheep, goats, cattle, and calves, but they ate them without draining the blood. 33 Someone reported to Saul, “Look, the men are sinning against the Lord by eating meat that still has blood in it.”

“That is very wrong,” Saul said. “Find a large stone and roll it over here. 34 Then go out among the troops and tell them, ‘Bring the cattle, sheep, and goats here to me. Kill them here, and drain the blood before you eat them. Do not sin against the Lord by eating meat with the blood still in it.’”

So that night all the troops brought their animals and slaughtered them there. 35 Then Saul built an altar to the Lord; it was the first of the altars he built to the Lord.

36 Then Saul said, “Let’s chase the Philistines all night and plunder them until sunrise. Let’s destroy every last one of them.”

His men replied, “We’ll do whatever you think is best.”

But the priest said, “Let’s ask God first.”

37 So Saul asked God, “Should we go after the Philistines? Will you help us defeat them?” But God made no reply that day.

38 Then Saul said to the leaders, “Something’s wrong! I want all my army commanders to come here. We must find out what sin was committed today. 39 I vow by the name of the Lord who rescued Israel that the sinner will surely die, even if it is my own son Jonathan!” But no one would tell him what the trouble was.

40 Then Saul said, “Jonathan and I will stand over here, and all of you stand over there.”

And the people responded to Saul, “Whatever you think is best.”

41 Then Saul prayed, “O Lord, God of Israel, please show us who is guilty and who is innocent.[e]” Then they cast sacred lots, and Jonathan and Saul were chosen as the guilty ones, and the people were declared innocent.

42 Then Saul said, “Now cast lots again and choose between me and Jonathan.” And Jonathan was shown to be the guilty one.

43 “Tell me what you have done,” Saul demanded of Jonathan.

“I tasted a little honey,” Jonathan admitted. “It was only a little bit on the end of my stick. Does that deserve death?”

44 “Yes, Jonathan,” Saul said, “you must die! May God strike me and even kill me if you do not die for this.”

45 But the people broke in and said to Saul, “Jonathan has won this great victory for Israel. Should he die? Far from it! As surely as the Lord lives, not one hair on his head will be touched, for God helped him do a great deed today.” So the people rescued Jonathan, and he was not put to death.

46 Then Saul called back the army from chasing the Philistines, and the Philistines returned home.

In this passage, we see that Saul made this vow because was overly anxious to defeat the Philistines and wanted to give his soldiers an incentive to finish the battle quickly. In the Bible, God never asked His people to make oaths or vow, but, if they did, he expected them to keep them (Leviticus 5:4, Numbers 30). Saul’s vow is not something God would have condoned, but still it was a vow. And Jonathon, though he was not aware that the vow had been made, was nevertheless guilty of breaking it. Saul made a vow that risked the life of his own child just like Jephthah in Judges 11. Fortunately, Saul’s own people intervened to prevent the heir to the throne from being killed. This vow was not intended to honor God. It was intended to get what Saul wanted. He was not thinking of God’s power. He was thinking of his own will. He wanted what he wanted. He made a show of honoring God but he was really thinking under His own power and not trusting God. If he had trusted God, he would not have made such a foolish vow. The foolishness of his vow is just ample evidence of how Saul trusted himself more than God.

It’s crunch time. Do you trust God or do you trust your own power (even though you may couch it in terms of God just doesn’t want you to do what you promised right now). Maybe, it is time for you to put your trust in the Lord. Maybe instead of thinking and praying about what you will do for the Lord and it being some far off dream, there will come a day when you have make a choice. Do what you have promised God and even prayed to God to come true or shy away? Is following God beyond the comfort zone more than you are really willing to do? Is participating in outreach events ultimately the most you are willing to do? Is going on a mission trip ultimately as far as you are willing to follow God even though you have promised God that you would leave everything behind and follow Him if he sent you to Haiti or southernmost Mexico, or Japan, or Iraq, or Iran, or wherever? Have you prayed for these things but really in the back of your mind you knew it would never come to pass so realllly your faith would never have to be tested. What if it was actually crunch time? There are 100 reasons not to do what you promised to God and only 1 reason to do what you promised to God. Faith in God to provide for you and protect you and trust that some kingdom good will come our out of our faith in Him. Do you trust God or yourself (like Saul)?

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 14:16-46 (Part 1 of 3)
Israel Defeats the Philistine & Saul’s Foolish Oath

Today as we open up a three-part look at 1 Samuel 14:16-46, the first thing that struck me about this passage is the subject of using God as a last resort. How many times are we like that? I used to be like that.

Growing up as a preacher’s kid, I was always aware of who God was. I was aware of Jesus Christ. I knew who he was. I knew He died on the cross and that it was somehow for our good. I attended church every Sunday growing up. It was the family business after all. I knew church. It wasn’t like I had no exposure to Christianity. I was not like the growing number of Americans today who are growing up in households that may be now either the second, third or even fourth generations of a family that has never darkened the door of a church. We were the church. My dad was a preacher. I knew the hymns. I knew the general overview of the Bible though I did not read it much growing up – surprisingly so growing up as a preacher’s kid. I knew the general nature of salvation was in Jesus Christ and when you said you believed in Him that you would go to heaven, but I did not really grasp why that was. I just knew that Jesus was the key to going to heaven. I knew that sin was bad. I knew that bad behavior was sin and that we needed to be on our best behavior. But being in the church all the time, it was the family business. It’s what we did. I knew that we were different from everybody else. My dad was a preacher. He worked at the church. He wrote sermons. He had meetings with people who attended the church. He preached on Sunday mornings. The church was the center of our universe. But I really never truly got it. Never really got the point of it all. I know people that have come to salvation as small children over the years but I never really got it. I knew that there was a God. But He never was the center of my being.

I did not come to know Jesus Christ as my Savior until I was 39 years old and it has been the Holy Spirit’s work since then to make Him also my Lord. Prior to my acceptance of Christ as my Savior, God was my fallback position. I knew who He was and would even talk to Him and I recognized that He existed. However, He was always in the background. He was a side thing to me. He was the one I would go to when things weren’t going my way. He was my superhero that you called in at the last minute when things looked bleak and things were falling apart. I would shine my bat signal in the night sky when I needed God to intervene on my behalf. I called upon Him when I needed a supernatural, super power, superhero intervention. When I was down and out and blue, I called upon the Lord. I did not have a real relationship with God. He was not part of my daily lifestyle. I did not walk with Him and talk with Him and I did not ask Him to tell me I was His own (old hymn reference there! LOL!). Is that you? Is that where you are at today? Do you know God exists, but He is your superman, superhero that you call on when the chips are down?

That seems to be the case with Saul after we read this passage. That was what I thought of when I read this passage for the first time of three reads today – how Saul reminds me of myself back in the day. I would call upon the Lord when I could not work things out myself. God was my superman but He was not my Lord. I did not put Him first in my life and I treated Him as that las resort supreme being that so many of us treat Him as. Let’s read this passage now, 1 Samuel 14:16-46:

16 Saul’s lookouts in Gibeah of Benjamin saw a strange sight—the vast army of Philistines began to melt away in every direction.[a] 17 “Call the roll and find out who’s missing,” Saul ordered. And when they checked, they found that Jonathan and his armor bearer were gone.

18 Then Saul shouted to Ahijah, “Bring the ephod here!” For at that time Ahijah was wearing the ephod in front of the Israelites.[b] 19 But while Saul was talking to the priest, the confusion in the Philistine camp grew louder and louder. So Saul said to the priest, “Never mind; let’s get going!”[c]

20 Then Saul and all his men rushed out to the battle and found the Philistines killing each other. There was terrible confusion everywhere. 21 Even the Hebrews who had previously gone over to the Philistine army revolted and joined in with Saul, Jonathan, and the rest of the Israelites. 22 Likewise, the men of Israel who were hiding in the hill country of Ephraim joined the chase when they saw the Philistines running away. 23 So the Lord saved Israel that day, and the battle continued to rage even beyond Beth-aven.

24 Now the men of Israel were pressed to exhaustion that day, because Saul had placed them under an oath, saying, “Let a curse fall on anyone who eats before evening—before I have full revenge on my enemies.” So no one ate anything all day, 25 even though they had all found honeycomb on the ground in the forest. 26 They didn’t dare touch the honey because they all feared the oath they had taken.

27 But Jonathan had not heard his father’s command, and he dipped the end of his stick into a piece of honeycomb and ate the honey. After he had eaten it, he felt refreshed.[d] 28 But one of the men saw him and said, “Your father made the army take a strict oath that anyone who eats food today will be cursed. That is why everyone is weary and faint.”

29 “My father has made trouble for us all!” Jonathan exclaimed. “A command like that only hurts us. See how refreshed I am now that I have eaten this little bit of honey. 30 If the men had been allowed to eat freely from the food they found among our enemies, think how many more Philistines we could have killed!”

31 They chased and killed the Philistines all day from Micmash to Aijalon, growing more and more faint. 32 That evening they rushed for the battle plunder and butchered the sheep, goats, cattle, and calves, but they ate them without draining the blood. 33 Someone reported to Saul, “Look, the men are sinning against the Lord by eating meat that still has blood in it.”

“That is very wrong,” Saul said. “Find a large stone and roll it over here. 34 Then go out among the troops and tell them, ‘Bring the cattle, sheep, and goats here to me. Kill them here, and drain the blood before you eat them. Do not sin against the Lord by eating meat with the blood still in it.’”

So that night all the troops brought their animals and slaughtered them there. 35 Then Saul built an altar to the Lord; it was the first of the altars he built to the Lord.

36 Then Saul said, “Let’s chase the Philistines all night and plunder them until sunrise. Let’s destroy every last one of them.”

His men replied, “We’ll do whatever you think is best.”

But the priest said, “Let’s ask God first.”

37 So Saul asked God, “Should we go after the Philistines? Will you help us defeat them?” But God made no reply that day.

38 Then Saul said to the leaders, “Something’s wrong! I want all my army commanders to come here. We must find out what sin was committed today. 39 I vow by the name of the Lord who rescued Israel that the sinner will surely die, even if it is my own son Jonathan!” But no one would tell him what the trouble was.

40 Then Saul said, “Jonathan and I will stand over here, and all of you stand over there.”

And the people responded to Saul, “Whatever you think is best.”

41 Then Saul prayed, “O Lord, God of Israel, please show us who is guilty and who is innocent.[e]” Then they cast sacred lots, and Jonathan and Saul were chosen as the guilty ones, and the people were declared innocent.

42 Then Saul said, “Now cast lots again and choose between me and Jonathan.” And Jonathan was shown to be the guilty one.

43 “Tell me what you have done,” Saul demanded of Jonathan.

“I tasted a little honey,” Jonathan admitted. “It was only a little bit on the end of my stick. Does that deserve death?”

44 “Yes, Jonathan,” Saul said, “you must die! May God strike me and even kill me if you do not die for this.”

45 But the people broke in and said to Saul, “Jonathan has won this great victory for Israel. Should he die? Far from it! As surely as the Lord lives, not one hair on his head will be touched, for God helped him do a great deed today.” So the people rescued Jonathan, and he was not put to death.

46 Then Saul called back the army from chasing the Philistines, and the Philistines returned home.

In this passage, we see many things that are distressing to God. The first one that is important is the fact that after being king for several years, Saul built his first altar to God, but it was only as a last resort. Throughout Saul’s reign, he constantly approached God only after he had exhausted all other avenues. This was in sharp contrast to the priest, who suggested that God be consulted first. How much better would it have gone for Saul if he had consulted God first. God is too great to be an afterthought. When we turn to him first, we will never have to turn to him as a last resort. Often, we turn to God only after we have messed things up so badly we cannot figure out how to fix them ourselves. What if we treated God as the center of our lives rather that some rabbit’s foot, good luck charm, or get out of jail free card?

1 Thessalonians 5:17 says that we are to pray without ceasing. God is to be God of our every moment. He is to be our Lord. We are to have intimate conversations with Him. He is to be a part of everything that we do. We must do more than simply recognize His existence, but yet try to live our lives though we are in charge. We make the calls. We do not consult God. We do everything the way we want it done and then even have the audacity to claim that God wanted it that way. The only way that we can know God’s will is if we live in it. We must be in a relationship with Him. Just as many people in cartoons did not have a relationship with Superman or Batman, they sure would call upon their names when times got card or things had turned into a disaster.

I thought the best illustration of this idea was in something I read this morning at crosswalk.com in an article by Kelly Needham called “Are You Using God?”. In that illustration she said, “Have you ever been used by someone? Maybe you have needy friends or family members who only pursue you because of your wealth. Or it might be that your husband only seems interested in you when he desires physical intimacy. Maybe you are a single woman and all your married friends tend to assume you are most valuable as a babysitter. Whatever the case, it feels horrible to be used.” She goes on to talk about the difference between a God-seeker and a God-user.

We will never experience the fullness of a relationship with God until we are intimate with Him. We will never experience the fullness of a relationship with God when we put ourselves first in that relationship and not Him. When we put ourselves first, we can make Jesus a friend not a necessity. When we put ourselves atop the list, we can excuse our sins by thinking we can be good enough by trying to make our good deeds outweigh our bad (a foolhardy dream that many of by into). When we put ourselves first, we can make certain sins that we favor go away as not being sin. When we put ourselves first, we can ignore certain eternal facts and call ourselves enlightened and modern.

When we put ourselves first, we do not need God. He is the God of last resort. He is our fallback good luck charm that we can wave around when we need it the most. He is not the Lord of our lives and we define the game as a result. What we fail to see is that God is the Creator and we are the created. He defines the game not us. He is the one who gave us His Word. It is eternal truth. It is not something that is subject to change and it is not something whose meaning changes with the times. It is through God’s Word that we know that God is perfect and that we must be perfect to exist in His presence in eternity (and there is one!). However, because of the Fall of Man in the garden and that Fall is substantiated by the evil that we have seen around us and in us since the beginning, we are not perfect. In fact, we are ugly sinners. God hates sin and it cannot exist in His presence. Yet, we are sinners every day. Just one sin though, that first one, not to mention a lifetime of sins that we commit, disqualifies us from existing in God’s love in eternity. We are doomed to hell, the place for sinners. Just one sin sends us there. That’s it! That’s all it takes! The first sin sends us there. All the other sins that we commit daily are just character references in the court of our judgment. It just takes one and we are done. There’s nothing we can do in our own power to change that. There is no bat signal that can change that.

That’s where salvation comes in. That’s the moment that we realize that we are hopeless sinners in the crosshairs of a just and perfect God. That’s where we must through ourselves at the feet of Jesus and beg Him to become our Savior, our Interventionist, our Reprieve from our just and deserved punishment in hell. When we call on the name of Jesus Christ and we believe that He is the Son of God who died on the cross as an intervention for our sins and our just punishment for our sins. Then we are saved.

When we believe that we do not have the power to be good enough, when we believe that we are sinners through and through and that God saved us through Jesus, then we can begin to have a real relationship. When we realize that we are sinners saved by grace not by our works and our ability to control our lives, that’s when relationship starts. When we realize just what God through Jesus Christ saved us from, then we can put Him first in our lives. When we realize that just how unmeritoriously lucky we are to have Jesus step into the courtroom of righteous justice and claim us from the jaws of a just and righteous sentence to hell then and only then can we really have relationship with God where we are his thankful servants and seek Him in everything that we do and put Him first in every moment of our lives. Instead of calling on God as a last resort, we seek Him daily because we are so thankful for the gift of salvation that He gave us in Jesus Christ. We are forever in God’s debt because of what He did through Jesus. Because of that we are and should be like the little yapping dog in the old Looney tunes cartoon that followed the big bulldog around saying repeatedly, “what are we doing now? What are we doing now? Huh? Huh? Huh?” That is the way we should be with God. We must seek Him in everything and in every minute, not as some altar built at the last minute because we are unsure of what to do next? Not as some promise we make while hugging the toilet? Not as some last minute prayer when things are falling apart around us!

What are we doing now God, huh huh huh? Lead on God. You are my Master. You are my intervention and my key to life. I would be destined to hell in the absence of your grace through Jesus Christ. You are my Lord. Where are we going and what are we doing today? What are we doing this minute? Be the Lord over it all God! Lead me. Show me. Teach me. You are my Lord!

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 14:1-15
Jonathon’s Daring Plan

So many decisions in life always come down to money. Choosing between alternatives. Weighing options. What’s the best choice both for the short term and for the long term? Sometimes the choices are obvious and the answers are no brainers. When reading this passage this morning, that’s the thing I thought of. Sure, the passage is about choosing to go into battle as an undermanned and ill-equipped contingent of two against a whole garrison of Philistines. Jonathon went into battle because he trusted the Lord to give them victory. What’s more he chose to step out and take the battle to the Philistines because God led him to do so. He could have said to the Lord that he had weighed the options of what God was leading him to do and said no, I don’t think that is wise. But, that was not what Jonathon did. God called him to do what seemed crazy and insane and he said yes, Lord, I will do it. By horizontal, human standards, he was absolutely nuts to do what he did. It made no sense at all. It was just him and his armor bearer. Those two against a garrison of hundreds of Philistine warriors. By horizontal standards, it did not seem like a fair fight. By human standards, they were fools to do what they did. However, as Jesus stated, in Matthew 19:26, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible!”

How much do you trust the Lord? How much do I? How much do we trust the Lord when He calls us or leads us to do something that just seems absolutely crazy by human standards? The real question is though how often do we shy away from what God has called us to do because it seems too hard, too difficult, too scary, too much, too whatever the excuse may be? God may have called you with your wife and young kids in elementary school to Africa to be missionaries. You choose not to because (1) you would be pulling your kids out of American schools with their structure and comparatively higher academic standards than in the country in Africa that you being called to. You choose not to because (2) you don’t know how you are going to make it financially. You choose not to because (3) you would have to give up our two story house with all its modern conveniences, cable TV, video games, sound system and so on plus your brand new cars with equally awesome entertainment and technology features as you house. You chose not because (4) you’d love do it because you love the Lord but you think you will fold under the pressure of the calling and being so far from home and just feeling totally inadequate to the task.

Your calling may not be as radical as going to a third world country in Africa, but yet still many of us cower away from what God has called us to do because it just seems too hard and too radical of a lifestyle change. Maybe you have cowered away from something here at home in the US like leaving your current job, moving to Connecticut, taking any job you could find because the main reason that you are there is to plant a church in New England – what is now one of the most spiritually dead place in America where only 2% of the population attends church on a regular basis. The home of the Great Awakening that spread and renewed gospel fervor in the United States two centuries ago is now hard soil in which to plant a church. I have friends that have done just that. My friend is the pastor of a church plant in Manchester, CT because he felt called to be a part of the church plant team there. He was not the lead pastor at first. He was just part of the original team. But he has such a passion for sharing the gospel, the lead church planter groomed him to take over the pastoral duties so that he could be Paul and move on to the next thing that God led him to do. My friend is not some preacher’s kid that grow up in the church. He was a wild child that barely made it through high school because he was all about having a good time. He was a wild child as a adult too until he ran into Jesus Christ. He says that he would be dead now if it were not for Jesus Christ. He knows what he has been saved from both physically and spiritually. That fuels his passion on a daily basis to spread and share the gospel news of Jesus Christ in a dark spiritual place. He is a wild child for Jesus Christ now. But even for him, leaving Upstate South Carolina to go to what seemed like a foreign land in New England after having lived in the Lyman, SC area all his life just seemed crazy. Why do this? You have a good paying job right here in the area. You have a great church in LifeSong. You have many, many Christian friends and you are known as a man on fire for Jesus. People respect you here so why do it? It’s crazy! You are going to go broke. You are going to fail. You will come back home with your tail tucked between your legs. You are going to lose everything you’ve worked so hard for. You are just plain stupid to do this. If my friend had listened to all the naysayers, they would still be here in Lyman wondering what might have been. And maybe just maybe there would have been people in New England that would have not come to know Christ (or it would have been delayed in some way) if it were not for the passion for evangelism that my friend, Jason Edwards, possesses. He did not listen to those that thought he was a fool for leaving South Carolina with its security of a known job, plenty of family and plenty of security. He only knew that God was calling him to Connecticut. He had doubts I am sure. It took two years from the call to the time they actually left. It took two years for them to be ready to make the move. Doubts I am sure crept in during the prep time. But with Jason, it was more about pleasing God than family or friends. But with Jason, it was about trusting God. But with Jason, it was about having faith that God would give provision and protection to his family. He trusted that God would make a way for he and his wife, daughter, and son to thrive in Connecticut. He probably could have given you 100 reasons why the move was crazy but only 1 reason why he HAD to go – God called him there.

What is God calling you to do that seems completely crazy, stupid, radical, a complete departure from the safety and security of your current life? That is what I thought about this morning – why we so often cower away from what we know to be a God-calling on our lives because it seems like it would be too hard, too difficult, too something to follow it. With that in mind, let’s read this passage, 1 Samuel 14:1-15, together right now:

Chapter 14
1 One day Jonathan said to his armor bearer, “Come on, let’s go over to where the Philistines have their outpost.” But Jonathan did not tell his father what he was doing.

2 Meanwhile, Saul and his 600 men were camped on the outskirts of Gibeah, around the pomegranate tree[a] at Migron. 3 Among Saul’s men was Ahijah the priest, who was wearing the ephod, the priestly vest. Ahijah was the son of Ichabod’s brother Ahitub, son of Phinehas, son of Eli, the priest of the Lord who had served at Shiloh.

No one realized that Jonathan had left the Israelite camp. 4 To reach the Philistine outpost, Jonathan had to go down between two rocky cliffs that were called Bozez and Seneh. 5 The cliff on the north was in front of Micmash, and the one on the south was in front of Geba. 6 “Let’s go across to the outpost of those pagans,” Jonathan said to his armor bearer. “Perhaps the Lord will help us, for nothing can hinder the Lord. He can win a battle whether he has many warriors or only a few!”

7 “Do what you think is best,” the armor bearer replied. “I’m with you completely, whatever you decide.”

8 “All right, then,” Jonathan told him. “We will cross over and let them see us. 9 If they say to us, ‘Stay where you are or we’ll kill you,’ then we will stop and not go up to them. 10 But if they say, ‘Come on up and fight,’ then we will go up. That will be the Lord’s sign that he will help us defeat them.”

11 When the Philistines saw them coming, they shouted, “Look! The Hebrews are crawling out of their holes!” 12 Then the men from the outpost shouted to Jonathan, “Come on up here, and we’ll teach you a lesson!”

“Come on, climb right behind me,” Jonathan said to his armor bearer, “for the Lord will help us defeat them!”

13 So they climbed up using both hands and feet, and the Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armor bearer killed those who came behind them. 14 They killed some twenty men in all, and their bodies were scattered over about half an acre.[b]

15 Suddenly, panic broke out in the Philistine army, both in the camp and in the field, including even the outposts and raiding parties. And just then an earthquake struck, and everyone was terrified.

In this passage, we must ask the question, “Why would Jonathon go alone to attack the Philistines?” Jonathon may have been weary of the long, hopeless standoff in the battle, but it is evident that he trusted God to give victory and wanted to act on that trust. He also knew that the number of the Philistine warriors was no problem for God. Jonathon and his armor bearer weren’t much of a force to attack the huge Philistine contingent of warriors. However, while everyone else was afraid, they trusted God, knowing that the size of the army they faced would not restrict God’s ability to help them. God honored the faith and brave action of the two men with a tremendous victory. Have you ever felt that you were facing overwhelming odds or that you were being called to do something that seems impossible or even crazy to do by the standards of other people? God is never intimidated by the size of your enemy or the obstacles that He has called you to overcome or by the complexity of your problems. With Him, there are always enough resources to resist pressure and win the battle. If you God has called you to action, then bravely commit what resources you have to God and rely upon Him to lead you to victory.

What is the seemingly crazy thing that God has called you to do? Are you willing to trust the Lord? Is it to move across the country or across the world to spread the gospel? Is it to leave your cushy and secure life that you have right now to do something that will require you to live off half or less than what you are making now? Are you being called to stay right here, give up your great job with a great salary to start some type of helps ministry right here in Upstate South Carolina or wherever you live. Is God calling to radically change your lifestyle, your safety and security of the things that you’ve known for a lifetime, to serve him where you are just going to have to pray that and believe that God will provide for you? Are you willing to trust God that much? Do you have the trust of Jonathon that God will make a way for you?

Sometimes, it comes down to that? How much do you trust the Lord? Do you trust him enough to just contribute to mission work and feel good about that or do you trust him enough to be out there doing God’s work into a place that He has called you, or a job that is radically less financially rewarding that what you are currently doing? Just how much do you trust in the Lord? He does not call all of us to be radical and doing something that crazy, radical. He does call us to trust Him and follow His lead even in the small stuff – sharing the gospel with people we meet, doing things God’s way even in the face of a culture who rejects him. He does call some to do the crazy over the top stuff like moving away from everything you know and the security that you know to be on the front lines of the battle. In either case, how much do you trust the Lord? Do you have Jonathon trust?

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 13:15-23
Israel’s Military Disadvantage

Have you ever had to step out in complete and total faith in the Lord? Or did you hide in the rocks and let the opportunity pass and then forever kick yourself for not acting in faith? That may be the choice that I am faced with very soon. This coming weekend, my wife and I will travel to western central Illinois to interview for an opportunity for me to replace a retiring executive pastor at a non-denominational church there. Already, I know that the job will be for significantly less money than I am making now in my equivalent position in the secular world as the chief financial executive for Fujikura America, Inc. (FAI).

We knew that from Day 1 when God called me and my wife to ministry. We knew that we had to prepare. We have been shedding ourselves of debts and selling our first house together to downsize both in space and in the monthly mortgage. We have maxed out my 401k contributions and we have been setting aside money in savings wherever we can. I am completely and utterly thankful to the Lord in how he has blessed us through my current job. The way FAI has taken care of us has given us financial stability and it has, because of our willingness to live simply, allowed us to be generous to our church, to family, to friends, and to complete strangers. Without my job at FAI, my life over the past 10 years might have looked completely different. I will be eternally grateful to the Lord and to my bosses over the past decade at FAI for the opportunity that they provided me and the wonderful financial blessings that this job has provided. I cannot stress that enough. And with my passion for excellence and just wanting to do my best at whatever I do, I could work at this job at FAI for another 10 years and retire at age 65 after what would be then 20 years in this job. Although the job is now more of maintaining a certain level of expected excellence, it has provided many challenges over the years that has kept the job interesting. I am not yet at the point where I am bored with this job. I have now as of December 2017 month-end gone through 111 month-end closings with FAI but yet it is still an interesting job. I love the fact that I am a big frog in a little pond at FAI but yet part of this global organization of our ultimate parent company in Japan. Although FAI is a small part of the bigger whole, there are people in positions at the top of the global company that know who I am and like me a lot. So, it is a great job in so many respects. I could not ask for anything better. My current boss, the third president I have served under at FAI, is an openly Christian man and we discuss faith matters often when we are together (he works on the west coast and I on the east). So, for a Christian guy like me, what else could you ask for? A great place to work with great benefits and an awesome compensation package. A great boss who thinks the world of me and who is a fellow follower of Jesus Christ. Why then would I want to change anything?

That will be the challenge this weekend or shortly after the visit to west central Illinois if they offer me the job as their executive or administrative pastor. Knowing what I have in the bag at FAI that is real and tangible. It is in my hands and it is a known commodity. It is safe. It is known. It is what I have done for a decade. But God has called me to ministry. Full-time ministry. That is what is unique about this particular job interview cycle with this particular church is that they sought me out instead of me going through the typical job post response and selection process. They contacted me. And the phone interviews have been like old friends talking to one another. It has been so comfortable as if it is meant to be. We shall see but I would not be surprised if there is a job offer within a few days of our return from Illinois. I might be wrong about that. I guess the difference too in me this year is that I will not be shattered if the job is not offered. Based on my experience last year with coming so close with that church in Ohio last year and then being severely disappointed when we did not get the job, I am trying to think of every reason in the world not to take this job so that I will not be disappointed if a job offer is not made.

But what if this is it? What if a job offer is made? There are a million reasons for me not to take the job. My daughters, my stepdaughter, and my little 17 ½ month old granddaughter all live within an hour and half max of me and my wife right now. How can I leave them? The job offer if it comes will most likely be for half or less of what I make now. How are we going to make it? Did I mention my granddaughter lives within an hour? My youngest daughter is estranged from me by her own choosing and because of her lifestyle choices that are so far below her potential. How can I leave her when I know she is going to hit rock bottom one day and really need me? How can I leave her? Did I mention I have a great job that pays me well?

These are the caves that I live in. They are safe. They are warm. They are secure. But sometimes God calls us out of the safe and secure so that we can learn that the source of our strength, the source of our provision is Him. Sometimes, we have to step out in faith so that we can realize just how amazing God is? Will I be able to step out the safe cave?

That’s the thing I thought of this morning when I read this passage – how the Israelites were playing it safe in the caves and in the hills rather than having faith in their God and stepping to face their enemies. Sometimes, radical faith is required. Are you in a similar position? Are you going to stay in the cave because it seems impossible or even crazy to do what God is asking you to do? Let’s read the passage now, 1 Samuel 13:15-23:

15 Samuel then left Gilgal and went on his way, but the rest of the troops went with Saul to meet the army. They went up from Gilgal to Gibeah in the land of Benjamin.[a] When Saul counted the men who were still with him, he found only 600 were left! 16 Saul and Jonathan and the troops with them were staying at Geba in the land of Benjamin. The Philistines set up their camp at Micmash. 17 Three raiding parties soon left the camp of the Philistines. One went north toward Ophrah in the land of Shual, 18 another went west to Beth-horon, and the third moved toward the border above the valley of Zeboim near the wilderness.

19 There were no blacksmiths in the land of Israel in those days. The Philistines wouldn’t allow them for fear they would make swords and spears for the Hebrews. 20 So whenever the Israelites needed to sharpen their plowshares, picks, axes, or sickles,[b] they had to take them to a Philistine blacksmith. 21 The charges were as follows: a quarter of an ounce[c] of silver for sharpening a plowshare or a pick, and an eighth of an ounce[d] for sharpening an ax or making the point of an ox goad. 22 So on the day of the battle none of the people of Israel had a sword or spear, except for Saul and Jonathan.

23 The pass at Micmash had meanwhile been secured by a contingent of the Philistine army.

In this passage, we see that Israel was in no position to conquer anyone. The army had no iron weapons, and there were no facilities for turning their tools into weapons. In fact, if an Israelite wanted to sharpen his tools, he had to pay a Philistine blacksmith to do it because the Philistines had a carefully guarded monopoly on iron and blacksmithing. They charged high prices for sharpening farm implements. With their tight control over the ironworks technology, along with their continuous surprise raids, they demoralized the Israelites and kept them oppressed. Against such superiority, the Israelites were at a serious disadvantage. As a result, they hid in caves when the Philistines would raid into their territory. How could they hope to have victory over a technologically superior oppressor? Only with God’s help! God wanted to give Israel victory without swords so they would realize the true source of their strength. It would require faith in the power of God to do that, however!

The thing that I request prayer from each of you who read this blog is that you pray for my wife and I to be able to hear the voice of God this weekend. Please pray for us to know if this moment is the right one for us to step out of the safety of the cocoon of FAI/Lifesong Church/Lyman/friends we have known for nearly a decade/family close by world in which we live and into complete and utter faith in God. It is crazy for us to do this if it offered. It makes no sense at all. It will be a crazy thing if we are offered the job and we take it. The only reason to take is that we have heard from God that this is what we are supposed to do with our lives. It will be a huge faith step. Just as the Israelites needed complete and utter faith in God to defeat a far superior opponent in the Philistines, we will have to have complete faith in God that He will take care of us, take care of our families, and all that. We will have to have complete faith that we are being called to this new place with less money, great fear of the unknown, but maybe just maybe in the process we will see the awesome power of God in our lives when we demonstrate complete and utter faith against all that seems right, sane, and safe.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 13:1-14 (Part 3 of 3)
War with Philistia, Saul’s Disobedience, and Samuel’s Rebuke

Elena and I had been through two divorces by the time we met each other. We were both weary of marriage not so much from the perspective that we blamed the ones we married previously for the mistakes of our marriages but from the perspective that we no longer trusted ourselves at judging the people we were to marry. After two failed marriages each, we did not want to jump into marriage again. We knew that we loved each other. We knew that we connected on a soulful level. We knew those things but getting married. Wow, that was the last thing we wanted to do. Not another failed marriage. That was not for us. So, we were happy with dating. Having our separate spaces as our fallback positions. She was downstairs at Paces River Apartments in Rock Hill and I was upstairs. It was convenient. Her place or mine. Downstairs or upstairs. We ignored God’s commands when it came to sex outside of marriage. Marriage was that final commitment that neither one of us was ready to take. But we wanted the fun. I was very convincing in that regard. We were committed to each other from the time we started seeing each other exclusively in October 2007 and things were great. Separate apartments but spending all of our time together either at her place or mine.

Then the unthinkable happened. I was transferred by my job to California to assist the finance team out there to get the finance department of my company’s buy-resale division out in the San Francisco Bay area cleaned up and operating correctly. It was to be a temporary assignment that began in May 2008. I was to be back in South Carolina by Thanksgiving 2008. But lo and behold, the existing controller, a person that was over their head in the job (how she got the job I still don’t understand), saw the handwriting on the wall that she was on the way out. In October 2008, she resigned to take a job elsewhere. Immediately, the company offered me the job and I accepted. The job was now a permanent one out there in California. Although my and Elena’s relationship had survived the bi-coastal nature of our love affair from May to October, it was seen as a temporary problem to be overcome. When the job became permanent, we continued to try to make it work. Then, in the Spring of 2009, the seeing each other only every three or four weeks and flying back and forth across the country to do it became too great. We broke up for like two days. The worst two days of each other’s lives. We resolved then that we had to do something. Elena decided to put in for a transfer with her company from their Charlotte, NC facility to their facility in Stockton, CA. It all got approved and by early August 2009, we found an apartment in Livermore, CA which was about halfway between her job and mine.

When moved in together in Livermore, CA that August. It was an adjustment at first. New job for her. New community for us both. Long commutes for us both but we were together. No long flights across the country. It all made sense. But the marriage thing. We just weren’t ready for that. While we were living in Livermore, we found a great new church that was meeting in a school building using the gym and some of the empty offices and classrooms there. We got heavily involved in the church. Although I had accepted Christ as my Savior back in 2001, I was still a spiritual baby up until we started going to Livermore Alive Community Church. Elena accepted Christ as her Savior in October 2009 during a small group meeting at our pastor’s house. The pastor and his wife became our best friends. Although they were 10-15 years younger than us, the pastor and his wife were our spiritual mentors. They grew us up from spiritual babies. We were so rooted in culture that growth in the Spirit was foreign to us but we ate it up under their mentorship. We grew a lot. But as spiritual mentors do, they wait til you have grown up a bit before they start challenging you on how and where your life differs from Scripture.

Our living arrangements were the area that our pastor blasted us after we had grown up some in the Lord. Up until that point, we ignored the fact that we were living together but not married. We had all the excuses in the world. Two failed marriages each. What does a piece of paper mean in a relationship? It’s just a piece of paper. We are committed to each other. We have tried the marriage thing. It didn’t work twice for either one of us. You know the excuses. I bet some of you who are reading this may be in a relationship right now where you are having sex outside of marriage and/or are living with the person to whom you are not married. You probably have your justifications. You probably think it’s cool. It’s modern and all that. We thought that too.

But yet at the same time, we wanted to grow in our walk with Jesus Christ. We just ignored the whole marriage thing. We did not see what we were doing as fornication, as lustful pleasures. We certainly did not see it as wrong. It is funny how when we are immature in Christ how we can ignore our favorite sins as being OK for us. Just as homosexuals ignore the Word of God as their type of relationship being wrong and justify it through detailing their special circumstances, so too do we as heterosexuals often ignore God’s Word about fornication and lust because we build up our own special circumstances as to why God’s Word does not apply to us in this area. This is OK for me because….(insert your justification for actively opposing God’s Word here). We were the same way. We thought we had been granted a special exemption for our fornication because we had earned it from our failed marriages. We were engaged and that was enough of a commitment for us. We were playing married without the full commitment. Our pastor called us on it. He confronted me about it as the man of my house. He iistened to my excuses and to each one, he said “what does God’s Word say?” He went on to tell me that I could not be in any leadership position at our church until I dealt with this open rebellion to God’s Word in my life. It was tough love from a man I highly respected and was my best friend at that point in my life.

What’s your excuse for actively participating in sin? Do you rationalize away the Bible? Do rationalize away that the Bible is antiquated and we can pick and choose what we want to believe in it? Ignoring sin so that you can participate in the sin of your choice does not make it any less sin. God’s Word is timeless and eternal just as the One who inspired it. What was truth in eternity is still truth now.

That’s the thing that I got this morning on this third reading of this passage – how we justify our pet sins that we do not want to give up . Let’s read the passage now:

 

Chapter 13
1 Saul was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned for forty-two years. 2 Saul selected 3,000 special troops from the army of Israel and sent the rest of the men home. He took 2,000 of the chosen men with him to Micmash and the hill country of Bethel. The other 1,000 went with Saul’s son Jonathan to Gibeah in the land of Benjamin.

3 Soon after this, Jonathan attacked and defeated the garrison of Philistines at Geba. The news spread quickly among the Philistines. So Saul blew the ram’s horn throughout the land, saying, “Hebrews, hear this! Rise up in revolt!” 4 All Israel heard the news that Saul had destroyed the Philistine garrison at Geba and that the Philistines now hated the Israelites more than ever. So the entire Israelite army was summoned to join Saul at Gilgal.

5 The Philistines mustered a mighty army of 3,000[c] chariots, 6,000 charioteers, and as many warriors as the grains of sand on the seashore! They camped at Micmash east of Beth-aven. 6 The men of Israel saw what a tight spot they were in; and because they were hard pressed by the enemy, they tried to hide in caves, thickets, rocks, holes, and cisterns. 7 Some of them crossed the Jordan River and escaped into the land of Gad and Gilead.

Meanwhile, Saul stayed at Gilgal, and his men were trembling with fear. 8 Saul waited there seven days for Samuel, as Samuel had instructed him earlier, but Samuel still didn’t come. Saul realized that his troops were rapidly slipping away. 9 So he demanded, “Bring me the burnt offering and the peace offerings!” And Saul sacrificed the burnt offering himself.

10 Just as Saul was finishing with the burnt offering, Samuel arrived. Saul went out to meet and welcome him, 11 but Samuel said, “What is this you have done?”

Saul replied, “I saw my men scattering from me, and you didn’t arrive when you said you would, and the Philistines are at Micmash ready for battle. 12 So I said, ‘The Philistines are ready to march against us at Gilgal, and I haven’t even asked for the Lord’s help!’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering myself before you came.”

13 “How foolish!” Samuel exclaimed. “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you. Had you kept it, the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14 But now your kingdom must end, for the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart. The Lord has already appointed him to be the leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.”

In this passage, we see that Saul had plenty of excuses for his disobedience. But Samuel zeroed in on the real issue, “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you.” Like Saul, we often gloss over our mistakes and sins, trying to justify our actions because of special circumstances or extended logical reasoning that favors us. But our excuses are nothing more than disobedience. God knows our true motives. He forgives, restores, and blesses only when we are honest about our sins. By trying to hide his sins behind excuses, Saul lost God’s blessing over his kingship, pretty much before he got started reigning as king over Israel.

I am pleased to report that because of the tough love shown us by our pastor while we were living in California and our desire to grow in Christ, we recognized our sin as sin. We saw that living together and having sex outside wedlock was wrong. We knew that we loved each other and we know that we wanted ultimately to do things God’s way. We had tried the world’s way for so long. We decided that we wanted to be more like Christ each and every day and in each area of our lives. We no longer ignored and reveled in our sin of not being married but living together. We no longer justified because of our special circumstances. We just saw it for what it was – sin. We married right after a Sunday church service at our church on Sunday, March 21, 2010. We are now approaching our 8th wedding anniversary. It is amazing how God has blessed our marriage and how we have grown together since that confrontation about sin. Certainly, there are sins we each still commit everyday that God is still working on in us. But that recognition of our obvious and blatantly rebellious sin in our lives opened our eyes to all our sins. It opened our eyes to each stronghold sin has in our lives. We are no longer arrogant enough to think that we are good enough or that there are excuses for sin. That realization also makes us oh so grateful for the grace covering that we have in Jesus Christ and thankful for the scales being removed from our eyes by the Holy Spirit. We are aware of our sins and desire to be subject to the chiseling of the Holy Spirit concerning each one.
What are you justifying as an OK sin? What are you ignoring in God’s Word? I have been there. I get you. Open your eyes to the eternal truth of God’s Word and see that which you justify for what it is.

Amen and Amen.