Archive for January, 2018

1 Samuel 15:10-23 (Part 4 of 4)
The Lord Rejects Saul

This morning, after reading through the passage at hand, 1 Samuel 15:10-23, we see how Saul rationalized away his rebellion against God’s commands, I tried to think about something else but the controversial subject on Capitol Hill recently about the legislation to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy was the unescapable thing that pressed into my soul. I knew that there was to be a vote here this month about it from news feeds on social media. And according to the website of the New York Times, that vote occurred on Monday. I spent yesterday struggling with the similarity between Saul’s rationalization of his failure to obey God’s command concerning the Amalekites and the controversial issue of our time, abortion. The Times reported,

“The Senate rejected a bill on Monday to ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, a largely symbolic vote aimed at forcing vulnerable Democrats to take a stand that could hurt their prospects for re-election in states won by President Trump. By a vote of 51 to 46, the measure fell well short of the 60-vote threshold required for the Senate to break a Democratic filibuster. The outcome was not a surprise, and the vote fell mostly along party lines.”

This vote effectively kills the late term abortion issue at the federal level for another election cycle. At the state level, there are a mixed bag of reactions by the states to the issue with bans on late term about in around 20 or so states. Because of this mixed bag, many are pushing for a federal law.

Of course the issue of abortion is a hot-button issue altogether for our society. It is an unavoidable issue for Christians as well. Late term abortion, early term abortion, day after pills, they are all issues that the church often finds itself square in the middle of controversy. It is one of those issues that we must respond to when confronted with it. It is simply an issue where we may find ourselves at odds with mainstream culture.

It is the cry of many liberal activists that abortion should be legal so as to prevent women from having to carry fetuses that are the result of rape or incest. However, less than 1% of all abortions are the result of those heinous crimes. Therefore, over 99% of all abortions are because the pregnancy is simply inconvenient and the baby unwanted. Many in the culture cloak abortion in terms of what almost amounts to certain inalienable rights of human beings. They call it reproductive rights. They call it the right to choose. Many in the culture call it a woman’s right to control her own vagina. They even march on Washington with outfits that are in the form of the vulva of the female vagina and rail at the nation of men that they see as controlling their “reproductive rights.”

If 99% of abortions are simply a form of birth control, we can dress it up with fancy legal terms like reproductive rights but really it is about having sex with whomever we want, whenever we want, and have a fallback plan if our birth control does not work. If we sweep away the rhetoric and the legal jargon, the bottom line is that abortion is our culture’s failsafe backstop for our culture’s changing moral view on sex. Sex is now a given in dating relationships. Sex is a recreation sport that is part of the dating landscape. Extramarital affairs are commonplace. Our culture glorifies blatant in your face sexuality and “did you sleep with him yet or her yet are the common questions asked. Having sex by at least the second or third date is expected in our culture. Our young girls are brought with oversexualized idols such Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears and others who just about show us their junk on stage. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a prudish type. I think women are God’s ultimate creation and they can be sexy just by wearing only showing an appropriate amount of their female figure. Miley Cyrus twirking on stage is just raw, ugly, leaving nothing to the imagination oversexualization. But that’s our culture, sex is no longer a sacred gift from God, it is a amateur athletic sport these days. Abortion, when you boil it down, and strip away the fallacy of the preponderance of rape and incest, abortion, is simply the culture’s backstop for our lowered moral values about sex. Abortion is not some high minded right of women. It is simply birth control. If you add in the abortions performed because the baby is defective or deformed in some way, that percentage only rises to 4% in any given average year. So these arguments for pro-choice come to the right to abort for convenience’s sake.

So, what does the Bible say about abortion. Does it speak to the issue? First, we must clarify a few things. Some who call themselves “evangelicals” argue that since the New Testament does not directly address the matter, we should not be dogmatic about it. They say that it is a “difficult moral issue,” where we need to allow room to differ and not impose our personal views on others. Many evangelical pastors refrain from speaking on the subject because it is controversial and potentially divisive. And many pastors dodge it because they have drifted from the Bible as the source of absolute moral truth.

Christian pollster George Barna recently reported that only half of the country’s Protestant pastors have a biblical worldview, which he defined as believing that absolute moral truth exists, that it is based upon the Bible, and having a biblical view on six core beliefs (the accuracy of biblical teaching, the sinless nature of Jesus, the literal existence of Satan, the omnipotence and omniscience of God, salvation by grace alone, and the personal responsibility to evangelize). Southern Baptist pastors ranked highest, with 71 percent holding to a biblical worldview. Among other Baptist pastors, it fell to only 57 percent. Other denominations ranked much lower. I believe that the Bible gives us God’s absolute moral standards that apply to every culture and every age. Furthermore, the Bible warns that God will judge every person based on His righteous standards (Acts 17:31; Rev. 20:11-15). We cannot plead ignorance as an excuse for disobedience or apathy (Prov. 24:11-12). When we make the Bible relativistic instead of a source of absolute moral truth that universal and timeless, we can then begin to mold the Bible into what we want it to say to fit the time and the age in which we live rather than the other way around.

 

That’s the thing I thought of this morning as I read through 1 Samuel 15:10-23 for the fourth of four blogs on this passage. That thing was the fact that Saul just couldn’t help himself it seems. He would relativize and rationalize how his behavior was within some strained boundary of God’s commands. He would come up with some academic gymnastics of sorts to demonstrate how his behavior was consistent with God’s command (like a slick lawyer defending a criminal who was caught red handed in a crime). Let’s read the passage now and then we will get back to the similarities between the pro-choice arguments and the rationalizations of Saul in just about every instance where he had clearly disobeyed God:

10 Then the Lord said to Samuel, 11 “I am sorry that I ever made Saul king, for he has not been loyal to me and has refused to obey my command.” Samuel was so deeply moved when he heard this that he cried out to the Lord all night.

12 Early the next morning Samuel went to find Saul. Someone told him, “Saul went to the town of Carmel to set up a monument to himself; then he went on to Gilgal.”

13 When Samuel finally found him, Saul greeted him cheerfully. “May the Lord bless you,” he said. “I have carried out the Lord’s command!”

14 “Then what is all the bleating of sheep and goats and the lowing of cattle I hear?” Samuel demanded.

15 “It’s true that the army spared the best of the sheep, goats, and cattle,” Saul admitted. “But they are going to sacrifice them to the Lord your God. We have destroyed everything else.”

16 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! Listen to what the Lord told me last night!”

“What did he tell you?” Saul asked.

17 And Samuel told him, “Although you may think little of yourself, are you not the leader of the tribes of Israel? The Lord has anointed you king of Israel. 18 And the Lord sent you on a mission and told you, ‘Go and completely destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, until they are all dead.’ 19 Why haven’t you obeyed the Lord? Why did you rush for the plunder and do what was evil in the Lord’s sight?”

20 “But I did obey the Lord,” Saul insisted. “I carried out the mission he gave me. I brought back King Agag, but I destroyed everyone else. 21 Then my troops brought in the best of the sheep, goats, cattle, and plunder to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.”

22 But Samuel replied,

“What is more pleasing to the Lord:
your burnt offerings and sacrifices
or your obedience to his voice?
Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice,
and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.
23
Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft,
and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.
So because you have rejected the command of the Lord,
he has rejected you as king.”

In this passage, we see that rebellion and stubbornness are serious sins. They involve far more than being independent and strong minded. Scripture equates them with witchcraft and idolatry, sins worthy of death (Exodus 22:18, Leviticus 20:6, Deuteronomy 13:12-15, Deut. 18:10, and Micah 5:10-14). Saul became rebellious and stubborn so it is little wonder that God finally rejected him and took away his kingdom. Rebellion against God is perhaps the most serious sin of all because a person who rebels closes the door to forgiveness and restoration with God. The sad part with Saul is that he was always trying to minimize his disobedience, put a positive spin on it, and twist God’s commands to his own advantage so as to support his selfish desires. That is where I see the similarities in Saul’s behavior in this passage to the pro-choice argument when compared to God’s Word.

First, we have to establish some groundwork. Some who call themselves “evangelicals” argue that since the Bible, or at least the New Testament, does not directly address the matter of abortion, we should avoid the argument. They say that it is a “difficult moral issue,” where we need to allow room to differ and not impose our personal views on others. Many evangelical pastors refrain from speaking on the subject because it is controversial and potentially divisive. And many pastors dodge it because they have drifted from the Bible as the source of absolute moral truth.

Christian pollster George Barna recently reported that only half of the country’s Protestant pastors have a biblical worldview, which he defined as believing that absolute moral truth exists, that it is based upon the Bible, and having a biblical view on six core beliefs (the accuracy of biblical teaching, the sinless nature of Jesus, the literal existence of Satan, the omnipotence and omniscience of God, salvation by grace alone, and the personal responsibility to evangelize). Surprisingly, most denominations are drifting away from this worldview so as to be “relevant” to the culture. Only 71% of Baptists adhere completely to a biblical worldview and other denominations come up percentages below that mark.

I believe that the Bible gives us God’s absolute moral standards that apply to every culture and every age. Furthermore, the Bible warns that God will judge every person based on His righteous standards (Acts 17:31; Rev. 20:11-15). We cannot plead ignorance as an excuse for disobedience or apathy (Prov. 24:11-12). God holds us accountable to the standards of His Word, whether we want to believe that or not. Saying that there is no absolute moral truth that is timeless and ageless established by the Creator and wired into our DNA does not make it go away just because we don’t want to believe it!

Thus, what the Bible, inspired by the Creator himself, says about the sanctity of life must be true eternally and agelessly regardless of whether we have cast off the truths of the Bible or not. Being on a plane that is about to crash does not become any less of a plane that is about to crash by ignoring the fact that it is about to crash or saying to yourself that it is not about to crash. That is where the argument of pro-choice seems to be to me. Before we look at what the Bible says about abortion, let me briefly comment on what abortion is. Abortion is the extraction or expulsion of the immature human fetus from the mother’s womb with the intent to end the life of that fetus prior to natural birth. Fetus is a perfectly good medical term, as long as you remember that it refers to a developing human baby. But you will never hear abortion advocates speak of it as a baby or child. Sometimes they even call it the “product of conception,” or a piece of tissue!

First, the Bible says that human life is unique and we are created in His own image. even the most ardent evolutionist behaviorally affirms that human life is distinct from animal life. Imagine Mr. Evolutionist driving along when he encounters a squirrel in the road, still writhing from being hit by a car. He slams on his brakes, jumps out of his car, and frantically dials 911 on his cell phone. “I’d like to report an injured squirrel! If the paramedics get here quickly, they may be able to save him!” But, alas, they are too late! The man sits by the squirrel corpse, sobbing, until the mortuary arrives. He will never forget this tragic scene. Ludicrous? Yes, but change the squirrel to a human baby and that scene would be truly horrific. Why? Because we all recognize that people are distinct from animals. The reason, according to the Bible, is that people are created in God’s image; animals are not. In the pro-choice argument, we thus equate the human fetus as if it were an indiscriminate animal or worse yet, property. What it boils down to is that which is not life is property. When life is considered property then you can do with it what you please. We have the right to enjoy property as we wish. If a person is not considered a person, then what are they? Our nation once saw negroes as not better than the swing on your front porch – to do with what you pleased. As property they had no rights. No more than a lamppost has rights in the court of law. Under Roe v. Wade, a fetus has no legal standing in the court of law. A fetus is not considered a person who has the whole avail of privileges guaranteed citizens under the laws and constitution of our country. Fetuses have the same lack of constitutional rights as negroes prior to the long history of constitutional amendments and laws that won their rightful place beside other persons of our country. Under the reckoning of Roe v. Wade, it had the same impact of the Dred Scott decision of the same court, the Supreme Court of our land. The academic gymnastics of the pro-choice movement requires that you do not think of a fetus as a developing human being. It must be considered an expendible animal or property like a chair on the front porch.

Second, the Bible forbids the shedding of innocent blood. The Bible clearly commands, “You shall not murder” (Exod. 20:13). The Bible does not forbid all killing, such as in capital punishment by the government, national defense, or personal defense. But murder is forbidden. The Bible uses the phrase “innocent blood” about 20 times, and always condemns shedding innocent blood. God chastised the Jews for shedding innocent blood when they sacrificed their children to the idols of Canaan (Ps. 106:38). As John Piper argues, “Surely the blood of the unborn is as innocent as any blood that flows in the world” (Brothers, We are Not Professionals [Broadman & Holman], p;. 222).

Third, pre-natal human life is fully human and thus precious to God. God superintends life in the womb (Ps. 139:13-16). David is affirming in poetic language that God superintended his formation in the womb (also, Job 10:8-12). The Bible repeatedly affirms that God’s providence governs everything from the weather (Ps. 148:8; Job 37:6-13), to animals’ food and behavior (Ps. 104:27-29; Job 38:39-41; Jonah 1:17; 2:10), to seemingly random events, such as the rolling of dice (Prov. 16:33). Surely if God governs these relatively minor things, then He also governs the formation of people in the womb. The Lord tells Moses, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Exod. 4:11). So even birth defects, which science attributes to freak occurrences in nature, are under God’s direct superintendence for His sovereign purposes!

Fourth, the Bible affirms the distinctiveness of individuals in the womb, thus showing that they are fully human. Jacob and Esau were distinct individuals in the womb (Gen. 25:23; Rom. 9:11-12). Samson’s mother was not to drink wine, because her son was to be a Nazirite, who would abstain from alcohol (Judges 13:3-5). Jeremiah and Paul both acknowledged that God formed them in the womb and knew them by name (Jer. 1:5; Gal. 1:15). Isaiah 49:1, 5 affirms the same thing about Messiah.

John the Baptist recognized Jesus while both were still in the womb (Luke 1:35-36, 39-44)! This is an amazing text! Elizabeth was in her sixth month of pregnancy when Mary conceived Jesus by the Holy Spirit. Mary went to visit Elizabeth before John was born. Thus Elizabeth would have been in her last trimester, while Mary was in her first trimester. Yet John recognized Jesus in those early months of Mary’s pregnancy! I think that this is the strongest passage that a baby in the womb in the first trimester is a person created in God’s image. We are not free to take the life of such a child just because it is not convenient to have a baby!

Fifth, to view babies as inconvenient to the point of killing them is to violate Jesus’ view of children. In Luke 18:15-17, people were bringing their babies to Jesus so that He could touch them. The disciples rebuked the parents. Jesus had better things to do than to bless babies! It was a great inconvenience! But Jesus rebuked the disciples and welcomed the children. The Greek word for infant in Luke 18:15 is the same word Luke uses for the infant in Elizabeth’s womb (1:41, 44). God shows His great love for us by calling us His children (1 John 3:1). Surely, we should have the same attitude as Jesus towards our children from the time of conception onwards!

Sixth, to kill babies in the womb in an attempt to avoid suffering is to make ourselves gods and to prevent God’s sovereign purposes from being played out in our lives or the lives of the unborn children. To abort because having a child would cause emotional or economic duress wrestles away God’s sovereignty and makes us the determiner of the future value of a human life. To argue that it is better to kill a deformed child in the womb than to allow him to live is an affront to the thousands of people born with severe handicaps, but who live meaningful and productive lives. It is an affront to the many families that love and care for such children. On rare occasions, there may be the difficult dilemma of performing an abortion to spare the mother’s life. But even then, the goal should be to preserve the lives of both the mother and the child, if possible. To abort even a potentially healthy human life is simply saying that there could be no purpose in the life force given by God to that unborn multiplying and forming set of cells that become a fetus that becomes a child. Who are we, as humans with our knowledge limitations as to the future of a child’s life, to abort what God gave the spark of life to in a mother’s womb. That’s simply taking God’s sovereignty unto ourselves.

In conclusion, there is just a great amount of academic gymnastics you have to play to make the Bible support the pro-choice arguments. If we are believers in Jesus Christ, we must affirm the value of human life from the time of conception as the sovereign will of God. To do anything else is to be like King Saul who twisted the truth to fit his circumstances and desires. Do we shun those who have abortions or support abortion rights as we walk our Christian walk? Of course not! Do we bomb abortion clinics? Of course not! Do we appear as angry protesting mobs or even peaceful mobs at abortion clinics? I don’t think so!

Do we love those who are considering abortion, yes! Do we counsel them privately one on one about what God says about abortion and the value of each and every human life, yes! Do we help those women who have had abortions who inevitably are emotionally tormented by that decision, yes! We love them back to life. We tell them of God’s great grace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. We help them every step of the way one on one. We love them. We cannot change or minimize the sins of the past but we sure can demonstrate to them that we are all sinners in need of grace. Each of us has sins that condemn us just as taking of an innocent life in the womb is a sin. We all fall short of the glory of God. We all need forgiveness. We wrap our arms around those who have had abortions and love them back to restoration in God’s love. Further, as Christ followers, we should invest ourselves in those who choose to have their children even if they were born out of wedlock. We disciple them to move toward relationships that are lasting and meaningful with godly men. We do not kick them to the curb because they decided to keep a child. We help them with their children. And those who have decided to keep their child who has a birth defect or a mental challenge, we especially need to support and celebrate their courage and we stand in the gap with them. We love them, help them, care for them and their child. That’s where grace, love, and the value of human life intersect.

Amen and Amen.

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1 Samuel 15:10-23 (Part 3 of 4)
The Lord Rejects Saul

Last night in our life group, we began our new semester of meeting together weekly. Our life groups at LifeSong meet on a cycle similar to the typical college academic calendar. We meet from late August/early September until a couple of weeks before Christmas and then take a Christmas/New Year’s break and start back up again in mid- to late-January. For our life group, we all had holiday travel, vacations, family time, and so on during the break, so last night was our first Sunday night together since before Christmas. It was great to get back together. Everyone seemed eager to get back in the life group groove.

Last night began a study of the book of James in the New Testament. We started with a look at who James was. It was interesting for me when I was doing the research to lead the discussion Sunday night. Just getting at who James was. As you may know already, James was the oldest half-brother of Jesus. Because of the research that I found that really emphasized the fact that James, his brother and his sisters (the brothers and sisters of our Lord Jesus Christ – and yes, my Catholic friends, the biblical record is pretty clear that Mary and Joseph had marital relations and had other children contrary to the extrabiblical traditions built up by the church over the centuries) were not believers during Jesus’ earthly physical lifetime. In fact, James being the second in the birthline of Mary and Joseph’s children may have had a seething jealousy of his big brother, Jesus. How we started our conversation last night was I asked the question “how is your relationship with your siblings? How did you and your siblings get along growing up?” Almost to a person, male and female in our life group, they talked about having some anger and jealousies and animosities toward one or more of their siblings growing up. I had to be transparent to get the conversation started. I told them about how rocky my relationship with my own brother was growing up. By the time we were teenagers, we literally could stand to be around each other. Even now, as adults, we have grown out of a lot of those hatred and jealous emotions of our youth but the scars of our all-out wars with one another growing up remain. I know if I needed my brother, really needed him, he would be there for me but yet we still don’t have a relationship where I can say my brother is my best friend. We most likely would not be friends if we were not brothers. We are just that different.

And it’s funny how growing up with someone can so radically effect how you think of someone. To me, my brother is Little Ralph (my dad is Ralph, Jr., my brother, the first born son, is Ralph III). To the rest of the world, my brother is a career pastor in the United Methodist Church. He has served half his career in the South Georgia Conference and half here in the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. To others, he is an effective Methodist minister who has served long stretches at most of his appointments (7 or 8 years at each one after a bit of a rocky start right of college but since then its been long appointments). To me, he is this the kid that I grew up with that I saw as a pain in my back side, someone who was the dark side to my light. He was the Gamecock to my Tiger. He was the opposite of everything I was and we clashed like positive and negative electrical charges. To others, he is the consummate professional as a pastor. To me, he is my brother who I knew as an annoying big brother growing up. And pretty much to a person around the room there was some pain of having brothers or sisters that caused us pain in some way. Seeing facial expressions tighten, voices tighten there were memories being dredged up as we went around the room. Even if we have resolved our relationships with our siblings, there are things that we will never be able to forget. For some in our group, those relationships still have not been mended and the pain was evident and even some tears came flowing (as we say in our life group, “it ain’t life group until somebody cries!”). But even with those who now have good relationships with our siblings or at least have relationships where we now tolerate each other, those hurts and pains and jealousies of how parents treated us different is as real and as raw as if it just happened.

I said now imagine being Jesus’ next youngest brother. To the rest of the world, he was this amazing prophet whom we now know and understand was the Son of God. He was the perfect son. He needed no discipline for their was no disobedience (beyond not letting his parents know that he was at the temple at age 12). He was far superior in every aspect of life to his siblings – he was God in the flesh after all. His wisdom and intellect was far superior to his brothers and sisters. He He would be the favorite kid. That is not a stretch. I mean, that is zero-maintenance parenting. He must have been the envy of His siblings. He must have been the point of jealousy. His parents could do nothing but heap on Him love, never disciplined, never reprimanded. And I think from a human viewpoint, that’s why His brothers and sisters rejected Him, and they did. Even His lifelong perfection, thirty years in the house, didn’t persuade them of His Messiahship. According to John chapter 7 and verse 5, His siblings did not believe in Him. They envied Him. They resented Him. Mark 3:21 says, “21 When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him away. “He’s out of his mind,” they said.”

He hadn’t performed any miracles for them growing up. He hadn’t raised any dead playmates. He hadn’t created birds. John 2:11 says that when He turned water into wine it was the beginning of the signs that He did. His childhood was normal from the standpoint of absent miracles and supernatural works. But His perfection was obvious to all. He lived a life that was in dramatic contrast to James, Joseph, Simon, Jude, and the girls. But it didn’t convict their hearts, and it didn’t convince them of His true identity because, as we all know, familiarity breeds–What?–contempt, and perfection generates rejection. And in their minds they had scorn and disdain for Him so that they designated Him as a man who was out of His mind, to make the claims that He made when He began His ministry.

Even at Jesus’ death, his brothers and sisters are nowhere to be found in the biblical narrative. They aren’t there to defend Him. They aren’t there to stand by Him. They aren’t gathered around Mary as she stands alone as a widow at the foot of the cross. They’re not anywhere. They don’t find their way among the apostles in the Upper Room. They’re nowhere to be seen, which indicates to us that they were still in unbelief. But undoubtedly in that moment of which Paul speaks when He appeared to James, that stunning reunion became the moment of James’ conversion, when He saw the risen Christ, his brother, Jesus. And that explains why he and the other brothers are gathered in the Upper Room and the sisters as well. James, the stubborn, skeptical, second-born son of Mary, comes all the way to saving faith, puts his trust in his older half-brother, the Lord Jesus Christ, through a post-resurrection appearance. And then is there with the rest of the family in the Upper Room on the Day of Pentecost.

To them all the way up until Jesus appeared to them after the Resurrection that their minds were changed about Jesus. To them, to his brothers and sisters, he was this annoying perfect big brother that they were no doubt constantly compared to. They loved him for sure, because who couldn’t of loved Jesus if you got the privilege of knowing him personally during His time on earth but I bet they didn’t particularly like Him. He was not the Savior of the world to them. He was their annoyingly perfect big brother.

That’s the thing I thought of this morning as I read through 1 Samuel 15:10-23 for the third of four blogs on this passage. That thing was the fact that sometimes our past follows us. For Jesus’ own family, the past was an impediment to their own salvation. They did not see the Savior of the world. They saw a brother of whom they were jealous and thought he was “out of his mind” saying he was the Son of God (see Mark 3:21). It is sometimes the expectation that we have is that our past disappears when we accept Christ is our Savior, but that’s just not true. Sometimes, our sins follow us and sometimes people’s opinions of us do not change. Sometimes, we still have to pay for the mistakes we made before salvation. Let’s read the passage now:

10 Then the Lord said to Samuel, 11 “I am sorry that I ever made Saul king, for he has not been loyal to me and has refused to obey my command.” Samuel was so deeply moved when he heard this that he cried out to the Lord all night.

12 Early the next morning Samuel went to find Saul. Someone told him, “Saul went to the town of Carmel to set up a monument to himself; then he went on to Gilgal.”

13 When Samuel finally found him, Saul greeted him cheerfully. “May the Lord bless you,” he said. “I have carried out the Lord’s command!”

14 “Then what is all the bleating of sheep and goats and the lowing of cattle I hear?” Samuel demanded.

15 “It’s true that the army spared the best of the sheep, goats, and cattle,” Saul admitted. “But they are going to sacrifice them to the Lord your God. We have destroyed everything else.”

16 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! Listen to what the Lord told me last night!”

“What did he tell you?” Saul asked.

17 And Samuel told him, “Although you may think little of yourself, are you not the leader of the tribes of Israel? The Lord has anointed you king of Israel. 18 And the Lord sent you on a mission and told you, ‘Go and completely destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, until they are all dead.’ 19 Why haven’t you obeyed the Lord? Why did you rush for the plunder and do what was evil in the Lord’s sight?”

20 “But I did obey the Lord,” Saul insisted. “I carried out the mission he gave me. I brought back King Agag, but I destroyed everyone else. 21 Then my troops brought in the best of the sheep, goats, cattle, and plunder to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.”

22 But Samuel replied,

“What is more pleasing to the Lord:
your burnt offerings and sacrifices
or your obedience to his voice?
Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice,
and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.
23
Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft,
and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.
So because you have rejected the command of the Lord,
he has rejected you as king.”

In this passage, we see that Saul’s excuses had come to an end. It was the time of reckoning. God was not rejecting Saul as a person. He could still seek forgiveness and restore his relationship with God, but it was too late to get his kingdom back. His actions though had permanent consequences that could not be avoided. Even for us, there are consequences to our sins even after seeking forgiveness from God. God will grant us forgiveness for our sins through Jesus Christ even we come to Him with a repentant and humble heart.

However, that forgiveness does not change what can be the real consequences of our sins. There can be relationships that are beyond repair or at least will never get back to where they used to before sin got in the way. There are sometimes legal consequences to our sins that cannot be changed that forever follow us through our future lives even after salvation, even after years of growing in Christ. We may still be labeled as something that we no longer are. I knew my brother way back when and it affects how I perceive him. A lot of people who knew me prior to my salvation at age 39 may find it laughable that I am going in the ministry now but those who have known me since then see it simply as the next progression of a man who loves the Lord. At the same time, there are consequences of my sins prior to my salvation that still haunt me today. It’s not just incredulity of people who knew me in my wild child days. There are consequences of sin that follow me to this day. That’s the way sin is. It is a permanent stain. It has unchangeable consequences on our lives. Saul is a perfect example of that. However, because of Jesus, we are not destined to stay shackled by the results of our sins, not destined to stay shackled to what people who knew us when say about us, not destined to stay shackled to the hurts and angers of those that we have disappointed, we are made new even if we still suffer the consequences of our past sins. We are made new through Christ. We no longer have to live in the dungeon of what other people think of us. We no longer have to live in the dungeon of our sins. We have been set free through the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

To James, his big brother was a pain and annoyingly perfect and a person for whom he held great jealousy. But he was changed by Jesus. He became a pillar of the early church. He was the leader of the Christians in Jerusalem. He was so changed by Jesus that he called what was his annoying big brother, his Lord in the opening to his book/letter. What a radical change.

With family, we may have hurts and angers that still pain us to this day about our siblings, but we can get beyond them through forgiveness and the healing power of time. We can come to have close relationships with our siblings because of forgiveness and realizing that hey we aint perfect either. We can change our opinions and grow to have solid, loving relationships. But that past will still be there. The past will still hurt. I am sure James could kick himself for how he treated his big brother Jesus over the years and it probably was an impetus for the depth of gratitude He had for Jesus’ saving grace in his own life. But there surely was remorse at the missed time of knowing who Jesus really was. That was a consequence of James’ sin.

Saul could have been reclaimed personally by God through repentance, but the consequences of sin would have remained. He lost his kingship no matter what even if he did repent. We cannot change the stupid mistakes of the past even after we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior. Some may scoff at our new life and never believe that we are changed. We may continue to have pain for what has happened to us or what we have done to others. But that’s just it. The past is the past. Can’t change it. Saul couldn’t change it. James could kick himself for how he treated Jesus growing up but he couldn’t change it.

That’s the thing about Jesus. He knows our past. It’s plain as day to Him. It’s there for Him to see. He knew how James treated Him. He knows how we treated Him. But He still loves us anyway. He may allow our past mistakes to play themselves out in our lives even after salvation but He does not define us by our past. Jesus just cares about your future. He will forgive you. He will accept you and love you and throw your past self aside and love you despite who you used to be. He makes us new. He made James new. He can make you new.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 15:10-23 (Part 2 of 4)
The Lord Rejects Saul

How are Elena and I supposed to approach this new job as a pastoral couple when we move to Illinois and I become the executive pastor at Calvary Church? Our motives make all the difference in the world. If we are not doing it for the right reasons, this move will be a disaster for us personally and for me professionally. This move will involve a serious change both monetarily for both of us and professionally for me. Whatever cracks there may be in our faith will be exposed by this drastic change. I will be earning less than half than what I make in here in South Carolina. It will be a drastic change in what I do for a living. I will, yes, be using my financial skills developed over a 33 ½ year career in finance and accounting, but doing it as a pastor in a church setting full-time (not as a side job as it has been at LifeSong) will be a radical change. We will be in a new region of the country, a new state, and a new town – a place that neither of has ever lived or even visited before. It will all be new and challenging.

If we are doing this for show – to show how religious we have become. If we are doing this out of ego or some need to be in the spotlight. If we are doing this because of the local celebrity that comes with being a pastor brings. If we are doing this to gather praise for the sacrifice that we are making, then, we are doing it for all the wrong reasons and we will fail. Yes, we have been faithful servants at LifeSong Church here in Lyman for the last seven years. We have done whatever has been asked of us. We have served the church in just about any way we can serve it. We love LifeSong. That is evident to anyone who goes to our church. We have gained great respect and much love from the people who claim LifeSong Church as they home. This is the place where we grew from toddlers in Christ to the spiritual young adults that we are now. But if we have done any of the things that we have done because we want the popularity that it brings or the accolades and praise of other church members then we have done it for the wrong reasons.

The only right reason to become a minister and leave LifeSong Church for Calvary Church, the only right reason to serve in positions of leadership in our current church and our future church is because we want more than anything to be obedient to the Lord’s call on our lives. The only reason to serve as we have served at LifeSong over the years is that we love God and love His people. The only reason to go into full-time ministry is that God has called you to do it and you, in your heart, can do nothing else than to obey that call and that you will be miserable if you turn down the opportunity as presented. The only reason for us to leave is that, after much prayer over the years and being patient and then feeling from the first interview to the last that this new pastoral position is what we were supposed to do. I have felt something special about Calvary Church from the moment that I had my first conversation with the Senior Pastor there. Our weekend there a couple of weeks ago was less a third interview than it was spiritual confirmation to everyone involved that God has called us there, that this was intended by God. Sure, it would be easier, oh so much easier to turn this opportunity down, but honestly I must tell you that I think I would turn out to be miserable from this point forward if we do not answer the call. So, this is not about show. It is not about minor celebrity. It is not about gaining praise for our faithfulness. It is simply about being obedient, about being appreciative of what God has done in our lives, about being faithful to the Lord, about doing what He asks of us with complete love for Him. We are obeying the Lord because we love Him.

Some people say we are crazy – to give up this wonderful and settled life that we have here. We have it made here. Good job that has blessed beyond belief over the past decade and would continue to do so until I retired if I stayed here. Great church where we are trusted leaders and have made oh so many friends, really good friends, and some really, really close friends. We have our family here. Our children and one grandchild are all within a 1 ½ radius of our home. We have an adorable granddaughter who is 18 months old and is just so adorable and so smart and has such an amazingly good personality for a child her age. All of these things are perfectly good reasons to stay and not obey what God has laid in front of us. If we were just doing this change in our lives for the celebrity of it all or to garner praise and respect from others, then, we will fail and come running back home within six months from now.

The only way that this radical change in our lives, in our employment, in our place to live, in our marriage, in our family life and in our church life is that we simply can do nothing else other than be obedient to the Lord’s call on our lives. God desires our obedience not some flashy shows of religiosity. If we do things just to be seen doing them, then we are not being obedient, we are being prideful. The only reason that we are moving to Moline, IL and going off into the unknown is that we want to be obedient to what we know is God’s call on our lives. That’s it. That’s all. That’s all it can be. There will be rough times ahead. Ministry is just that way. Satan targets you when you go into the ministry. There is a target on your back. He will find your cracks in your armor and will attack you there. If we are doing this for show, then we will crumble under the attacks that will come. If we are doing this because we love the Lord and are willing to be obedient to whatever, wherever, He leads, we will still have attacks from Satan and we may get knocked down, disappointed, ocassionally disillusioned but we will get back up and get back in the battle because we cannot be comfortable doing anything other than be obedient to the Lord.

That’s the thing I thought of this morning as I read through 1 Samuel 15:10-23 for the second of four blogs on this passage. That thing was how God wants obedience from us more than following ritual for ritual’s sake. How God wants us to obey Him not out of obligation or showing off to others but because we dearly love Him so much that we seek His agenda and not our own. Let’s read the passage now:

10 Then the Lord said to Samuel, 11 “I am sorry that I ever made Saul king, for he has not been loyal to me and has refused to obey my command.” Samuel was so deeply moved when he heard this that he cried out to the Lord all night.

12 Early the next morning Samuel went to find Saul. Someone told him, “Saul went to the town of Carmel to set up a monument to himself; then he went on to Gilgal.”

13 When Samuel finally found him, Saul greeted him cheerfully. “May the Lord bless you,” he said. “I have carried out the Lord’s command!”

14 “Then what is all the bleating of sheep and goats and the lowing of cattle I hear?” Samuel demanded.

15 “It’s true that the army spared the best of the sheep, goats, and cattle,” Saul admitted. “But they are going to sacrifice them to the Lord your God. We have destroyed everything else.”

16 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! Listen to what the Lord told me last night!”

“What did he tell you?” Saul asked.

17 And Samuel told him, “Although you may think little of yourself, are you not the leader of the tribes of Israel? The Lord has anointed you king of Israel. 18 And the Lord sent you on a mission and told you, ‘Go and completely destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, until they are all dead.’ 19 Why haven’t you obeyed the Lord? Why did you rush for the plunder and do what was evil in the Lord’s sight?”

20 “But I did obey the Lord,” Saul insisted. “I carried out the mission he gave me. I brought back King Agag, but I destroyed everyone else. 21 Then my troops brought in the best of the sheep, goats, cattle, and plunder to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.”

22 But Samuel replied,

“What is more pleasing to the Lord:
your burnt offerings and sacrifices
or your obedience to his voice?
Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice,
and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.
23
Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft,
and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.
So because you have rejected the command of the Lord,
he has rejected you as king.”

In this passage, we see that this is the first of numerous passages in the Bible where the theme, “obedience is better than sacrifice”, is stated. Other examples included Psalm 40:6-8, Psalm 51:16-17, Proverbs 21:3, Isaiah 1:11-17, Jeremiah 7:21-23, Hosea 6:6, Micah 6:6-8, Matthew 12:7, Mark 12:33 and Hebrews 10:8-9 are other examples. Was Samuel saying that sacrifice is unimportant? No, he was urging Saul to look at his reasons for making the sacrifice rather than at the sacrifice itself. A sacrifice is a ritual transaction between a person and God that physically demonstrates a relationship between them. However, if the person’s heart was not truly repentant or if he did not truly love God, the sacrifice was a hollow charade. Religious ceremonies or rituals are empty unless they are performed with an attitude of love and obedience. “Being religious” (going to church, serving on a team at church, or giving to a church or a charity) is empty is we do not act out of devotion and obedience to God.

Do you go to church to worship the Lord every Sunday with all your heart or do you go to church because your church is the cool, hip, trendy church in town? Do you go to church to love the Lord in praises of thanksgiving or do you go because of the networking that benefits your career or personal life that your church affords you? Are you involved in the ministries of your church because your best friends are doing it? Are you involved in the ministries of your church so people will see you doing it? Do you get involved because your wife made you? Do you go to church so you can check it off your list of duties to be done? Do you go to church and praise the Lord on Sunday but live like hell the rest of the week?

God want us to praise Him, love Him, and serve Him not because of obligation or because it makes us seem religious or to be seen being religious? He wants our heart. He wants our obedience because we love Him. He wants our obedience because we are so thankful to Him for what He has done for us through Jesus Christ. He loved us so much that he left the 99 sheep to find us. He loved us so much that He sacrificed His Son on the cross and the once and final sacrifice for our sins. Jesus went to the cross and suffered the most gruesome of deaths known to man as an act of obedience to His Father because He loved us that much. Why then cannot we simply do what God asks of us, obedience to His Word and to His call on our lives, out of that same kind of devotion and love? He saved us from hell by what He did on the cross. Wow! Obedience to what He commands then should be done out of this heart swell of love for Him. Obedience should come out of our amazingly thankful hearts for what we were saved from – a soul destined for the eternal flame of hell. Obedience should come out that love for what He has done for us. That’s it. That’s all. That’s all it can be.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 15:1-9
Saul Destroys the Amalekites

In this passage, we see Saul execute the will of God. Saul is the immoral, self-centered king that God has already said would lose his throne because he continually failed to honor and obey God. He is kind of the ancient equivalent of Donald Trump.

Before I start with my Trump illustration. Don’t mistake me for one of the mass of liberal Trump haters out there and also don’t confuse me with the right wing that defends Trump no matter what idiotic thing he does or says. The liberal Trump haters out there don’t like the way Trump breathes. No matter what he does they don’t like it. He could save a baby from a burning building and they would find some way to criticize the way he did it. Conversely, there are conservatives out there that no matter what stupid thing Trump tweets or says that is offensive even to the most reasonable man who will defend him as if what he said was some golden nugget of truth. Conservatives are so fearful of a Democratic sweep in the coming two election cycles (the off-year congressional elections in November 2018 and the next presidential election in November 2020) that they will defend Trump’s self-centered, unbridled egotism to the death.

I am not in either of these camps. I do not hate Trump at all. I do think with him being a Republican and a former businessman that there is more focus on making the US a business friendly nation once again (and the economy is percolating along rather nicely right now). However, I am of the belief that Trump is just an egotistical bastard who wanted to win the election to see if he could do it and win it. He treats the job as if he is still president of a private company who can say and do whatever he wants. He fails to see the position that he holds is quite different from anything he has ever done. He also seems to have no real sense of how to get things done and he burns bridges at every turn just because he thinks whatever he says is gold and he has surrounded himself with yes men rather than with people who will tell him the truth about his actions. He irks me too because he claims to be a Christian man but that is only to gain advantage with the majority of Americans who claim to be the same. He would throw off Christianity in a minute if it was not to his advantage to say that he was a Christian. As Galatians tells us, there are fruits of the spirit of person who is a Christian and Donald Trump does not display any of those qualities.

When I read about Saul in the Bible these days, I think of him as the ancient equivalent of Donald Trump. Saul was one who did what his heart desired and damn be the fallout from my self-centered, self-promoting, self-preserving results. He would feign publicly his faith in God so as to demonstrate to the priests and the people that he was a godly king. However, inside the man, Saul was no believer in God. He was all about himself. He was a self-absorbed, paranoid egotist. Saul was Saul’s favorite person. He was all about preserving his position. He was all about making the name of Saul great. He was, in effect, the ancient equivalent of Donald Trump.

That gets you to thinking…so why did God allow Saul to have great military victories and allow him to solidify Israel behind the throne of Israel. It begs you to ask the same question, why did God allow Donald Trump to become President. Neither of these men were or are the right man for the job. President Trump became president because he was a name-caller like a schoolyard bully and people felt like he was saying the things that they were afraid to say. He became president because he vocalized all that was wrong with the country but he offered no concrete plans of how to fix it but the people loved that he was complaining about the things they complained about. He became president because the average joe was so afraid of a Clinton presidency. But why, why did it have to be Trump? What purpose does God have in a Trump presidency? What purpose did he have in a Saul kingship? That’s what I thought of this morning as I read through this passage? What was God’s purpose in Saul as king? What did God have Saul wipe out the Amalekites? Likewise, in our modern times, what is the purpose in God’s plan of having an egomaniacal man like Donald Trump in the White House at this critical time in our country’s history? The questions abound. Let us now read this passage, 1 Samuel `5:1-9:

Chapter 15
1 One day Samuel said to Saul, “It was the Lord who told me to anoint you as king of his people, Israel. Now listen to this message from the Lord! 2 This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has declared: I have decided to settle accounts with the nation of Amalek for opposing Israel when they came from Egypt. 3 Now go and completely destroy[a] the entire Amalekite nation—men, women, children, babies, cattle, sheep, goats, camels, and donkeys.”

4 So Saul mobilized his army at Telaim. There were 200,000 soldiers from Israel and 10,000 men from Judah. 5 Then Saul and his army went to a town of the Amalekites and lay in wait in the valley. 6 Saul sent this warning to the Kenites: “Move away from where the Amalekites live, or you will die with them. For you showed kindness to all the people of Israel when they came up from Egypt.” So the Kenites packed up and left.

7 Then Saul slaughtered the Amalekites from Havilah all the way to Shur, east of Egypt. 8 He captured Agag, the Amalekite king, but completely destroyed everyone else. 9 Saul and his men spared Agag’s life and kept the best of the sheep and goats, the cattle, the fat calves, and the lambs—everything, in fact, that appealed to them. They destroyed only what was worthless or of poor quality.

In this passage, we again must ask a question. This time it is, “Why did God command such utter destruction?” Well, I think the answer lies in who the Amalekites were. They were a godless, pagan band of terrorists. Their whole purpose in life was plundering other nations and people groups and carrying off their wealth. They were really not productive in any way of their own. They were a parasitic people. They sucked off the hard work of others. They did not think anything about the fact that people had worked hard for the goods and peaceful lives that they had built. They just were marauding thieves who had no morality or sense of respect for the work and toil of others. They just felt they were entitled to sweep in and steal and kill and kidnap and destroy.

They, in fact, were the first to attack the Israelites as the entered the Promised Land, and they continued to raid Israelite settlements at every opportunity after that time. God knew the Israelites would never live peacefully in the Promised Land as long as the Amalekites existed. He also knew that their corrupt lifestyle and idolatrous religious practices threatened Israel’s relationship with Him. The only way to protect the Israelites’ bodies and souls was to utterly destroy this warlike, idolatrous, immoral, unproductive band of marauders and all their possessions, including their idols.

I can understand that in the grand plan of things that God allowed the Amalekites to be destroyed. We have already seen in Israel’s history so far in the book of Judges and prior that the Israelites were so easily taken in by the pagan practices of the cultures around them. God wanted his people to be set apart as different, as a holy nation, from which the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, would come. To keep them from becoming just like everybody else, the cleansing of evil influences had to be done to keep the nation holy. Just as we often have to remove ourselves from ungodly influences when we become Christ followers, I can understand the need to get rid of the influence of this immoral, ungodly, evil people, the Amalekites.

The thing that plagues me is why give Saul all this success if he was a godless, self-centered man himself. Like I said, he was the Donald Trump of his age. It was all about Saul and what He wanted. What purpose did God have in letting him be king and then allowing him to be successful through his victories? What was the purpose?

I had to rely on an article to get an answer. I read “Understanding God in Troubled Times: God’s Use of the Ungodly” by Bob Burrage at http://www.genevaninstitute.org/articles/studies-in-habakkuk/gods-use-of-the-ungodly/. Burrage’s article is pretty good. He says that material success of the ungodly is not a reliable measure of their true success. When we don’t see the ungodly punished immediately, or when they seem to be successful in their evil ways, we should not assume that God is beaten or is pleased to turn His head.

God will surely judge all rebellion, secret and open. We should never presume to say to an unbeliever, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” We can’t know that. God will bring ultimate and final judgment upon all ungodliness. He may for a time use the ungodly to bring deserved chastising upon the hypocrites among His own people, and to show his uncompromising wrath upon those left to what we all deserve aside from the work of his grace.

We are called to be among his faithful people. He sent His son to pay a most costly price for the sin of His people, for those who trust in Him. Will we show forth God’s glory in our obedience and in our receiving of His covenant blessing? or will we in our rebellion demonstrate the just curse of His covenant warnings?

Those who look to themselves, will eventually and always reap their just punishment. Those who turn in humble trust to the Lord, who rest in His work of redemption, who seek to walk in his ways, and who turn in humble repentance when they fail, will receive His righteousness, and blessing forever. This is the grace of God as revealed in His merciful covenant.

Thus, God may use the unjust and the ungodly to achieve part of His grand plan for His people and to judge other wicked and unjust. However, that point should never be confused for his condoning of or approving of the person or people through whom does these things. They will meet their end and it was be in a way that demonstrates God’s holy justice. He used Saul in some way to lay the groundwork for the greatest of Israelite kings, David. He may have used Saul as a contrast for His people to see how clearly that David was a man after God’s own heart. Who knows?

Maybe, by allowing Donald Trump to be POTUS, God is executing judgment upon our country for the hedonistic, godless culture that we have become. Maybe it is to wake up our people to truly care about who runs our country. Maybe it is to revitalize the public debate of what is right about our country. Maybe it is to wake us all up both liberal and conservative to return to the days when compromise was what made our country work in the past rather than today’s gridlock of polarized politics. Maybe it is to pave the way to real discourse about our nations problems. Maybe it s to pave the way for us to talk about the government no longer being our savior through government programs for this and that and to teach our people again to seek greatness through hard work. Maybe it is to make us realize that things are not really as bad as the liberals think they are and not as good as the conservatives feel they are. Maybe it to pave the way for the greatest president that we will ever have just as David was the greatest king of Israel who followed after maybe its worst, Saul.

Our duty as Christ followers is to pray. Our duty as Christ followers is to submit ourselves to God’s will. Our duty as Christ followers is to care and not withdraw. Our duty as Christ followers is to get into the political arena and change the world for Christ through godly political service. Our duty as Christians is to pray for our leaders. Our duty as Christ followers is to trust God to work out His plan in the life of our nation and in our own lives. Our duty as Christ followers is to trust the Lord even in times when it appears ungodliness reigns.

Amen and Amen.

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.

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.