Archive for April, 2018

OVERVIEW OF 2 SAMUEL
Personal Reflection as We Begin 2 Samuel (Part 2 of 2)
After we spent almost 6 months in the Book of 1 Samuel, we now move on to the second book that bears of that same last judge of Israel. However, make no mistake about it, the second installment of these writings, it is fully about David as he ascends to the throne and the story of his reign. I think that there are two things that I can identify with in the book of 2 Samuel. Those two things are that (1) are you ready for the office you are about to hold and (2) the fact that, though David is a flawed man, God uses our mess to become part of our message. Today, we will focus on the second point, how, though David was a flawed man, God uses our mess to become part of our message.

In the book of 2 Samuel, David becomes king. After years of running for his life, he is now king. All of his life before this, the being a poor shepherd boy, being the youngest and the least by earthly standards among his brothers, being anointed the next king, serving the king, becoming a trusted warrior/leader in the king’s army, running for his life after the king becomes jealous of him, living on the run, living in caves, sleeping with one eye open at all times, and wishing for a simpler time. It all led up to his becoming king. Then, assuming his duties he becomes a wise and efficient and powerful king (expanding the territory of Israel to its largest land area before or since). But as we have seen so many times lately with powerful and influential men of God, David lets the power and notoriety go to his head and he has a moral failure. Not only does he have a moral failure, he compounds it through deceit and even having a hand in murder. Although David later deeply and soulfully repents of his sin, the kingdom is never the same after the Bathsheba incident. David’s sin has it consequences that lead to rebellion and civil war within Israel and one of the principal leaders of the rebellion was his own son. Although David had repented of his sin and had received God’s forgiveness for his errors in moral judgment, sin always has its consequences. David goes down in history as the greatest king of Israel, but he would be the first to tell you that his mistakes in judgment, his allowing pride to enter into his life almost cost him everything and effected his rule of Israel from that point forward. David would be the first to tell you that his mess he made should not be replicated. His mess becomes his message to us.

As we begin 2 Samuel, I see that there are two things that I need to take to heart. First, though I have not been a pastor for life like my colleagues at the church we all serve, there are things that I bring to the table as a second career pastor that they cannot. There are hills and valleys that I have been through that they have not. I have lived life going down the wrong paths for 39 years of my life. There are things that I pursued that are not of God during those years before salvation and even things that the Holy Spirit had to wrestle from my soul in the years since. There are people coming to Calvary whose lives are a wreck and are seeking, hunting, trying to find what’s missing in their lives. I know that feeling. They have made major mistakes and had lapses in moral judgment in their lives. I know that feeling. They have had sins that have haunted them for a long time. I know that feeling. I know what it’s like to go through divorce. I know what it’s like to start over again after one. I know what it’s like to experience the loneliness that comes with it. I know and have been through what a lot of people coming through our doors are going through. There’s a message in my mess that led me to the cross and beyond it. I can empathize as well as sympathize.

Another thing that I see is that after David become king, he let the power and the notoriety of being king go to his head for a time. He began to feel that he could do what he wanted and it would not matter – because he was king. He probably in this period of his life took a line from that Mel Brooks movie, History of The World, “it’s good to be the king!” He lost his moral compass for a time. It almost cost him his throne. It did cost him the greatness of Israel. The kingdom was never the same after that. Fractures began to appear in the solidarity of the Israelite kingdom that would ultimately be its undoing after Solomon’s death. All of that started with David’s lapse in judgment. David’s mess becomes a message to me as a pastor. We must stele ourselves against the darts of temptation that Satan will throw against you when you are a pastor. We must not even get into the same zip code as temptation. We must analyze those places that we are weakest and know them and steer clear of them. We must never let our position as pastors go to our head. As a pastor, you can become a minor celebrity among your flock. You can let that go to your head and pride leads to moral lapses in judgment. You can build a career of many years in ministry that can be destroyed in a momentary lapse in moral judgment or even the appearance of a lapse. We must, as my former senior pastor, Jeff Hickman, always said, “Lord, keep me clean and close.” Let us always remember that we are flawed individuals as pastors and that God called us to what we do – we did not come to where we are because we are something different or higher or better than those we lead. We must remember we are susceptible to temptation like any other man. We must remember that with the position comes no protection against our own pride. Let us stay clean and close to God.

That is what I think about today as we start 2 Samuel. How our mess can become part of our message and the warnings of David’s mess. To set the stage for our walk for the next few months through 2 Samuel, here, just in case you missed it yesterday, is some background information on the book we are about to embark on our journey through.

Overview of 2 Samuel (as provided by reformedanswers.org)
Purpose:
To explain that David’s dynasty remained Israel’s hope for the future in spite of the curses that David and his house had brought on the nation

Date:
930-538 B.C.

Key Truths:
• God wanted his people to have the king he would choose.
• God carefully prepared the way for the king of his choice.
• God chose the house of David as the royal family forever.
• Despite the weakness of David’s Kingdom, the hope for God’s people still remained in his family.

Author:
The books of Samuel were originally one work that was later divided into two. This book offers no clear guidance on the question of authorship. It seems likely that the attachment of Samuel’s name simply reflects the role he played in the early chapters of the book. Samuel is described as an old man in 1 Samuel 8:1 and as dead in 1 Samuel 25:1, which would have been long before many of the events of 1 and 2 Samuel took place. However, 1 Chronicles 29:29 attaches the names of Samuel and his prophetic successors Nathan and Gad to certain written sources, some of which may well have been incorporated into this written history of Israel as it took shape.

Time and Place of Writing:
The book of Samuel offers several clues as to its date of final composition. The writer relied on a number of prophetic and royal sources for his history, but the earliest likely date for the book is indicated by the fact that it looks back on “the last words of David” (2 Sam. 23:1); i.e., David’s final official words before his death. Also, 1 Samuel 27:6 remarks that Ziklag remained under the control of “the kings of Judah,” which probably acknowledges the division of Judah and Israel in 930 B.C. If so, the book could not have been written until after the division of the nation that resulted from the failures of David and his house. If Samuel was written at this time, the book affirmed hope in David’s line despite the troubles of the divided monarchy.

The latest likely date for final composition is the return from exile in 538 B.C. The writer of Chronicles used Samuel as one of his most important sources (see “Introduction to 1 Chronicles: Author”). Moreover, the book of Kings appears to pick up the history of Israel’s throne where Samuel left off (see 2 Sam. 23:1-7; 1 Kings 1:1), and 1 Kings 2:27 refers to the fulfillment of 1 Samuel 2:27-36. Therefore, Samuel was probably written before Kings, which is dated between 561 and 538 B.C. (see “Introduction to 1 Kings: Time and Place of Writing”). If Samuel was written at this time, the book declared hope in David’s line despite the exile, which largely resulted from the disobedience of David’s royal sons.

It is impossible to arrive at firm dates for many of the events that are described in 1 and 2 Samuel. There is broad consensus that David had consolidated his rule over the tribes shortly before 1000 B.C. (Judah c. 1010 B.C. and Israel c. 1003 B.C.). David’s lifetime extended from c. 1040 to c. 970 B.C.

Purpose and Distinctives:
With Saul dead (1 Sam. 31:1-13), the way was open for David to take the throne without lifting his hand against the Lord’s anointed. 2 Samuel 2:1-5:5 records the steps by which David became king, first over Judah and then over all Israel. Although his ascendancy over the former proceeded smoothly, blood was spilled before the way was clear for him to become king over the latter. The narratives are careful to make the point, however, that David was as innocent in relation to the deaths of Abner, Saul’s former general, and Ish-Bosheth, Saul’s surviving son, as he was in relation to the deaths of Saul and Jonathan.

With David king over a united Israel, 2 Samuel 5-10 summarize the transactions, both political and theological, by which David’s throne was established. 2 Samuel 5-6 recount David’s acquisition of a capital city, his resounding defeat of the Philistines (Israel’s archenemy from whom Saul had failed to deliver the people) and his transference of the ark of God to his newly established capital. 2 Samuel 7 records the very significant Davidic promise (or “dynastic oracle”) in which the Lord, after refusing David’s offer to build the Temple (“house” in Hebrew), promises to build David a dynasty (also “house” in Hebrew) that will endure forever. This promise to David marks the continuation and specification of the divine promise of blessing made to the patriarchs and is a major new development in the Messianic hope that finds its ultimate fulfillment in Christ (see note on 2 Sam. 7:4-17). 2 Samuel 8-10 summarize some of David’s principal achievements; e.g., his victories and his covenant faithfulness to Jonathan in showing kindness to Mephibosheth.

The Davidic promise of 2 Samuel 7 establishes, beyond all doubt, that the purposes of God for the house of David are sure. This in no way implies, however, that David or his descendants would not forfeit some of the temporal benefits of their privileged position if they were to fall into sin. 2 Samuel 11-20 depict the domestic and political chaos that followed in the wake of David’s sins of adultery and murder (2 Sam. 11:1-27). When confronted by Nathan in 2 Samuel 12:1-31, David’s repentance was genuine and God’s forgiveness immediate, but sin still had its consequences. With his ability to exercise proper authority impaired (perhaps by a sense of guilt), David witnessed his own sins replicated in the lives of his sons (see note on 2 Sam. 13:21). Not until he had experienced two rebellions, the first by Absalom and the second by Sheba, son of Bicri, did David’s reign regain a measure of equilibrium.

2 Samuel 21-24, which together form a kind of epilogue, provide thematic closure for the book of Samuel. These chapters recount a collection of events that took place at different points in David’s life. At the heart of these chapters are two Davidic poems celebrating the two fundamental reasons for David’s blessedness: The Lord: (1) was his deliverer and (2) had made an “everlasting covenant” with him (2 Sam. 23:5). Framing this central core are two lists of Davidic champions, the human agents of David’s success. Finally, bracketing both the poems and the lists are two accounts of how David’s intercession relieved Israel from divine judgment for Saul’s sin and for his own sin. These chapters left the original readers with clear pictures of the hope they could have in the house of David despite the troubles that David and his sons had brought upon God’s people.

Christ in 1 & 2 Samuel:
Christ stands in contrast to the many examples of the sinful leaders of Israel who appear in the book. More than this, however, Jesus is the heir of David’s throne, and David’s career set in motion and anticipated the person and work of Christ. Both David and Jesus had prophetic sanction, David by Samuel (1 Sam. 3:20; 16:13) and Jesus by John the Baptist (Matt. 14:5; John 1:29-31; 5:31-35). The Spirit of the Lord came upon both (1 Sam. 16:13; Mark 1:9-11), and both did mighty works (1 Sam. 17:1-58; Matt 11:4-5), were involved in holy war (1 Sam. 17:1-58; Col. 1:20), and were rejected by jealous kings (1 Sam. 18:9; Matt 2:16) and warned to flee for their lives (1 Sam. 20:1-42; Matt. 2:13-15). Rejected by their own people without just cause (1 Sam. 23:12; John 19:15), both learned in exile to depend on God. Both interceded on behalf of God’s people (2 Sam. 21, 24; John 17), and both were highly exalted by God (2 Sam. 23:1-8; Isa. 52:13; Phil. 2:9). In these and many other ways, David’s life foreshadowed the accomplishments of Christ, his son.

CONCLUSION
Let us look at 2 Samuel as comfort and warning at the same time. It is comfort in that 2 Samuel shows us that David was not superhuman. He was just like you and me. His story is one of sin, repentance and redemption. The mess that David made becomes part of his message. Just like you and me, our mess can become a powerful message to others about the redemptive power of Jesus Christ. It is also a warning to us to recognize those times when we are most susceptible to falling into sin and steer clear of them. We must not put ourselves into positions where we will fall prey to our sin weaknesses. We must stay in God’s Word daily. We must pray daily. We must have accountability from other Christian friends. We can throw away a whole lifetime of work for the Lord in one moment of moral failure. In that, we can take away that we must stay clean and close to God.

Amen and Amen.

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2 SAMUEL
Began: April 29, 2018 – Ended:

OVERVIEW OF 2 SAMUEL
Personal Reflection as We Begin 2 Samuel (Part 1 of 2)
After we spent almost 6 months in the Book of 1 Samuel, we now move on to the second book that bears of that same last judge of Israel. However, make no mistake about it, the second installment of these writings, it is fully about David as he ascends to the throne and the story of his reign. I think that there are two things that I can identify with in the book of 2 Samuel. Those two things are that (1) are you ready for the office you are about to hold and (2) the fact that, though David is a flawed man, God uses our mess to become part of our message. Today, we will focus on the first point, are you ready for the office you are about to hold?

Are you ready for the office that you hold? 2 Samuel gives us a view of David who knew for many years that he was the next king of Israel. He paid his dues by running for his life for a long, long time. Saul wanted him dead to preserve his throne and his legacy as king. David was running for his life but it was also a kind of paying his dues. It was a time where he could have given up but he kept the faith. As has become one of my main mottos of the last year, he “kept plowing the field in front of him.” David was on the run but he always seemed to be in the moment. He lived life as it was presented to him. If that meant, he was on the run, he still found joy in life as he lived it, no matter if he was having to survive in the wilderness or living in a town where he could rest for a while. He paid his dues to be king for sure. Now…well now…it is time to be king in 2 Samuel. Saul is dead. His long hard road is over. He is no longer living a hand to mouth existence and defending his own life. He no longer is in the wilderness. He is no longer running for his life. He is now going to be king. I am sure that in those years on the run, I am sure that he had conversations with his elite fighting men about the day he would be king. It is now here. Can you identify with that? I know that I can.

After years of “plowing the field in front of me” (sometimes patiently, sometimes wondering if anything was ever going to happen, sometimes be impatient with God’s timing), the time is now here. I am a pastor now. No turning back. We “sold the farm”, so to speak, and are all-in on this journey. I relinquished a job that was comfy and cozy and oh so financially secure and beneficial to Elena and me to follow God’s call on my life. Here we are, inside what we had been praying to God about for several, several years. We had been waiting, learning, and plowing. We dreamed of what it would be like to be in ministry. It is now here. Are we ready for the office that we hold as a pastoral couple? We dreamed of it. We prepared for it for years. That next season is here. I know as we start 2 Samuel that David had those moments after the grind was over of just staying alive that he probably thought, “OK, now what?” It was one thing for the future to be out there. It is another for your time to be here. We always say to ourselves, “if only…this” or “if only…that”. What are you about to take on? What have you been praying for God to deliver you from? What have you been praying for God to deliver you to? What happens when that time is here.

That’s how I relate to these Old Testament characters such as David, Moses, Samuel, and all the others in the history of God’s people. I try to view them as people like you and me that have been called out by God to do special things for the kingdom. They were just guys or gals like you and me. They had real emotions and real fears and real failures just like you and me. Can you imagine David, just a shepherd boy, who became a warrior for the nation of Israel and became a leader of men. All those things are admirable but it’s a whole different ballgame when you are the king. He had been running for his life since Samuel anointed him as the next king. He literally had been running for his life. During all that time, I bet he said to himself, “if only…I was king.” And now the time is here.
That is what I think about today as we start 1 Samuel. Are you ready for what God has for you in this new season? Are you ready for that thing that you have been praying for. To set the stage for our walk for the next few months through 2 Samuel, here is some background information on the book we are about to embark on our journey through.

Overview of 2 Samuel (as provided by reformedanswers.org)
Purpose:
To explain that David’s dynasty remained Israel’s hope for the future in spite of the curses that David and his house had brought on the nation

Date:
930-538 B.C.

Key Truths:
• God wanted his people to have the king he would choose.
• God carefully prepared the way for the king of his choice.
• God chose the house of David as the royal family forever.
• Despite the weakness of David’s Kingdom, the hope for God’s people still remained in his family.

Author:
The books of Samuel were originally one work that was later divided into two. This book offers no clear guidance on the question of authorship. It seems likely that the attachment of Samuel’s name simply reflects the role he played in the early chapters of the book. Samuel is described as an old man in 1 Samuel 8:1 and as dead in 1 Samuel 25:1, which would have been long before many of the events of 1 and 2 Samuel took place. However, 1 Chronicles 29:29 attaches the names of Samuel and his prophetic successors Nathan and Gad to certain written sources, some of which may well have been incorporated into this written history of Israel as it took shape.

Time and Place of Writing:
The book of Samuel offers several clues as to its date of final composition. The writer relied on a number of prophetic and royal sources for his history, but the earliest likely date for the book is indicated by the fact that it looks back on “the last words of David” (2 Sam. 23:1); i.e., David’s final official words before his death. Also, 1 Samuel 27:6 remarks that Ziklag remained under the control of “the kings of Judah,” which probably acknowledges the division of Judah and Israel in 930 B.C. If so, the book could not have been written until after the division of the nation that resulted from the failures of David and his house. If Samuel was written at this time, the book affirmed hope in David’s line despite the troubles of the divided monarchy.

The latest likely date for final composition is the return from exile in 538 B.C. The writer of Chronicles used Samuel as one of his most important sources (see “Introduction to 1 Chronicles: Author”). Moreover, the book of Kings appears to pick up the history of Israel’s throne where Samuel left off (see 2 Sam. 23:1-7; 1 Kings 1:1), and 1 Kings 2:27 refers to the fulfillment of 1 Samuel 2:27-36. Therefore, Samuel was probably written before Kings, which is dated between 561 and 538 B.C. (see “Introduction to 1 Kings: Time and Place of Writing”). If Samuel was written at this time, the book declared hope in David’s line despite the exile, which largely resulted from the disobedience of David’s royal sons.

It is impossible to arrive at firm dates for many of the events that are described in 1 and 2 Samuel. There is broad consensus that David had consolidated his rule over the tribes shortly before 1000 B.C. (Judah c. 1010 B.C. and Israel c. 1003 B.C.). David’s lifetime extended from c. 1040 to c. 970 B.C.

Purpose and Distinctives:
With Saul dead (1 Sam. 31:1-13), the way was open for David to take the throne without lifting his hand against the Lord’s anointed. 2 Samuel 2:1-5:5 records the steps by which David became king, first over Judah and then over all Israel. Although his ascendancy over the former proceeded smoothly, blood was spilled before the way was clear for him to become king over the latter. The narratives are careful to make the point, however, that David was as innocent in relation to the deaths of Abner, Saul’s former general, and Ish-Bosheth, Saul’s surviving son, as he was in relation to the deaths of Saul and Jonathan.

With David king over a united Israel, 2 Samuel 5-10 summarize the transactions, both political and theological, by which David’s throne was established. 2 Samuel 5-6 recount David’s acquisition of a capital city, his resounding defeat of the Philistines (Israel’s archenemy from whom Saul had failed to deliver the people) and his transference of the ark of God to his newly established capital. 2 Samuel 7 records the very significant Davidic promise (or “dynastic oracle”) in which the Lord, after refusing David’s offer to build the Temple (“house” in Hebrew), promises to build David a dynasty (also “house” in Hebrew) that will endure forever. This promise to David marks the continuation and specification of the divine promise of blessing made to the patriarchs and is a major new development in the Messianic hope that finds its ultimate fulfillment in Christ (see note on 2 Sam. 7:4-17). 2 Samuel 8-10 summarize some of David’s principal achievements; e.g., his victories and his covenant faithfulness to Jonathan in showing kindness to Mephibosheth.

The Davidic promise of 2 Samuel 7 establishes, beyond all doubt, that the purposes of God for the house of David are sure. This in no way implies, however, that David or his descendants would not forfeit some of the temporal benefits of their privileged position if they were to fall into sin. 2 Samuel 11-20 depict the domestic and political chaos that followed in the wake of David’s sins of adultery and murder (2 Sam. 11:1-27). When confronted by Nathan in 2 Samuel 12:1-31, David’s repentance was genuine and God’s forgiveness immediate, but sin still had its consequences. With his ability to exercise proper authority impaired (perhaps by a sense of guilt), David witnessed his own sins replicated in the lives of his sons (see note on 2 Sam. 13:21). Not until he had experienced two rebellions, the first by Absalom and the second by Sheba, son of Bicri, did David’s reign regain a measure of equilibrium.

2 Samuel 21-24, which together form a kind of epilogue, provide thematic closure for the book of Samuel. These chapters recount a collection of events that took place at different points in David’s life. At the heart of these chapters are two Davidic poems celebrating the two fundamental reasons for David’s blessedness: The Lord: (1) was his deliverer and (2) had made an “everlasting covenant” with him (2 Sam. 23:5). Framing this central core are two lists of Davidic champions, the human agents of David’s success. Finally, bracketing both the poems and the lists are two accounts of how David’s intercession relieved Israel from divine judgment for Saul’s sin and for his own sin. These chapters left the original readers with clear pictures of the hope they could have in the house of David despite the troubles that David and his sons had brought upon God’s people.

Christ in 1 & 2 Samuel:
Christ stands in contrast to the many examples of the sinful leaders of Israel who appear in the book. More than this, however, Jesus is the heir of David’s throne, and David’s career set in motion and anticipated the person and work of Christ. Both David and Jesus had prophetic sanction, David by Samuel (1 Sam. 3:20; 16:13) and Jesus by John the Baptist (Matt. 14:5; John 1:29-31; 5:31-35). The Spirit of the Lord came upon both (1 Sam. 16:13; Mark 1:9-11), and both did mighty works (1 Sam. 17:1-58; Matt 11:4-5), were involved in holy war (1 Sam. 17:1-58; Col. 1:20), and were rejected by jealous kings (1 Sam. 18:9; Matt 2:16) and warned to flee for their lives (1 Sam. 20:1-42; Matt. 2:13-15). Rejected by their own people without just cause (1 Sam. 23:12; John 19:15), both learned in exile to depend on God. Both interceded on behalf of God’s people (2 Sam. 21, 24; John 17), and both were highly exalted by God (2 Sam. 23:1-8; Isa. 52:13; Phil. 2:9). In these and many other ways, David’s life foreshadowed the accomplishments of Christ, his son.

CONCLUSION
As Elena and I have begun our journey into ministry as a pastoral couple, are we ready for what we have been praying about for years? The thing that has been pressed into my soul today (I started this blog this morning and had to shelve it because of church) is seeking humility and trusting in the Lord.

As David assumes the throne there was so much that he probably did not know and he had to rely on the support systems that God had put in place. I am the rookie among the bunch of pastors at Calvary. Even though I am the second oldest among them (except our senior pastor who is 3 years older than me), each one has loads of experience in full-time ministry compared to me. Although I had seven years of unpaid and part-time paid positions at my previous church, this is my first time being a full-time pastor. I must remember to listen. I must remember that I have much to learn about being a full-time pastor. It’s just different than bi-vocational. It’s different from part-time. It’s different from volunteer unpaid. I must sit and listen more than I talk. I must not feel less than them, but recognize they are the support system that I need as I grow in full-time ministry. I must be humble enough to realize that they have worlds more experience than me. Just as David when he assumed the throne and he must’ve been at least slightly overwhelmed with it all, I must humbly watch and learn.

When I begin feeling less than the other pastors, I must trust in the Lord. I must trust that He has things for me to learn. When I begin feeling that I am not up to being both parts of my title, director of business AND staff pastor. I must remember to trust the Lord with the process of becoming as much of a pastor as I am a business/finance guy. I must trust the process. I must trust that if I keep learning, plowing the field in front of me, listening, learning, watching that I will develop into the pastor that God wants me to be. I am the rookie that was just drafted. I must learn from the guys on the team that have played the game on this level for years and years. I must trust the process. Keep plowing in this new field and trust me with the rest. There is freedom in trusting in the Lord. In trusting in the Lord, I don’t have to self-promote. I don’t have to tell others how good I am. I don’t have to fight for “air time” in meetings. I just have to plow, learn, watch, and soak it all in. Learn from those that are more experienced than me. Watch how they do it and how they live it. Soak all their experience in and use what God wants me to see and learn. Just trust God with the rest as to what the future holds. Trust that he will guide me to my niche. Trust that God will. Trust that God will.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 31:1-13
The Death of Saul (Part 5 of 5)

So, today, on April 27, 2018, we end our journey through 1 Samuel that we began back on November 5, 2017 – a month before we had even heard of Calvary Church of the Quad Cities in Moline, IL. Isn’t that amazing when you reflect on it. Almost six months ago, when I started this study, I had no clue that when I ended this study I would be living in another state and fulfilling a dream of the previous decade to be in full-time ministry.

I did not even know that Calvary Church existed until I got an email from him on December 7, 2017. In that email, he asked if I was still looking for a business position in a church. He had found my resume on churchstaffing.com. That email set off a chain reaction of events that has brought to this place at this moment in time.

Prior to that, we had some close calls with ministry positions over the previous 3 ½ years since my graduation from seminary at the graduate school of North Greenville University, but nothing had come of them. One church in Ohio, we had come within an inch of a job offer in January 2017 but after that we had sort of resigned ourselves that full-time ministry was just out there somewhere. God had given me a word after that of “just keep plowing the field in front of you!”. In other words, he being faithful doing what you are doing and trust me with the future. That word from God came to me about 3 months before that email from Pastor Tim. During that time, we just rededicated ourselves to being faithful in the field where we had been plowing for the previous 7 ½ years – we were both, Elena and me, heavily involved in leadership at LifeSong Church in Lyman and I was also the controller for a division of a large multi-national company headquartered in nearby Duncan. That word from God just kind of released us from the worry of when, or where, or what our ministry future would look like. It also rededicated us toward being the best that we could be in our leadership positions in church and in my secular job.

But particularly at church, it was a reminder to be faithful, to be humble, to be available, and to be teachable. It was a reminder of the blessings that God had already bestowed upon us. It was a reminder that God is the one who held our future and not us. It was freeing. Some might call it resigning yourself to your fate and giving up. But no this was different. It was God telling us to trust Him with the future. It was God telling us to trust that He has it under control. It was God saying that you still have work to do where I have you planted. It was God saying you still have some last lessons to learn before I think you are ready to move to the next season that I have for you. It was God telling us that we can have joy at the end of a season as much as the middle of it. It was God telling us to always keep learning. It was God telling us to soak in all that we can soak in as we serve Him. It’s not defeatist. It is God saying that where you are at this moment is where I want you – even if it is a time of pain, pruning and chiseling. It is a reminder not to try to get out ahead of God. It was a reminder not to take God’s sovereignty into our own hands. Trust and obey. Give your trust to Him and let Him lead in the dance that we are in with Him. When we try to lead it always ends up with a failed and awkward dance. Let the Lord lead. Follow His lead.

When we released our angst over when, where, how and…when…and when…to God and just plowed the field in front of us to be best of our ability and to the glory of God for just letting us be a part of His team, that was when we were ready. To just find the joy in serving Him that is in front of you and trusting God to do with it what He will and to trust Him with what’s next is what He wants from us. That deep abiding trust that even in the valley when things don’t seem to be going right (and even when they seem to be going nowhere or when things seem to be in the crapper) is when we must trust Him most. He wants us to be able to find joy in Him no matter the circumstance and that the circumstances can become part of our message of the wonders of God. Trust. Trust. Trust In Him.

My and Elena’s time after my graduation from seminary was that kind of time for us. It was where we had to learn trust. It was where we had to learn to plow the field that God had us in and trust Him with the next field on the horizon. That trust was what I thought as I reflect on the end of Saul’s life and his history throughout the Book of 1 Samuel. Even in his death, he lacked trust in God. It was confirmation of his lack of trust in God throughout his time as king. With that overarching theme of trusting God with the where, the when, the how, let’s read through 1 Samuel 31 for the final time and close out our visit to the Book of 1 Samuel now:

31 Now the Philistines attacked Israel, and the men of Israel fled before them. Many were slaughtered on the slopes of Mount Gilboa. 2 The Philistines closed in on Saul and his sons, and they killed three of his sons—Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malkishua. 3 The fighting grew very fierce around Saul, and the Philistine archers caught up with him and wounded him severely.

4 Saul groaned to his armor bearer, “Take your sword and kill me before these pagan Philistines come to run me through and taunt and torture me.”

But his armor bearer was afraid and would not do it. So Saul took his own sword and fell on it. 5 When his armor bearer realized that Saul was dead, he fell on his own sword and died beside the king. 6 So Saul, his three sons, his armor bearer, and his troops all died together that same day.

7 When the Israelites on the other side of the Jezreel Valley and beyond the Jordan saw that the Israelite army had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their towns and fled. So the Philistines moved in and occupied their towns.

8 The next day, when the Philistines went out to strip the dead, they found the bodies of Saul and his three sons on Mount Gilboa. 9 So they cut off Saul’s head and stripped off his armor. Then they proclaimed the good news of Saul’s death in their pagan temple and to the people throughout the land of Philistia. 10 They placed his armor in the temple of the Ashtoreths, and they fastened his body to the wall of the city of Beth-shan.

11 But when the people of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, 12 all their mighty warriors traveled through the night to Beth-shan and took the bodies of Saul and his sons down from the wall. They brought them to Jabesh, where they burned the bodies. 13 Then they took their bones and buried them beneath the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and they fasted for seven days.

In this passage, we see that Saul’s death was no different than his life. Saul tried to please God on his own terms. He tried to please God with spurts of religiosity. He more often than not though tried to wrest control of his future from the hands of our Sovereign God. He would never fully trust God. Spiritual growth comes from stacking days of obedience one on top of another. Like a bricklayer builds a wall one brick at a time, our faith in God deepens through daily obedience bricks being laid. Our faith is deepened when we trust God even when our heart and our emotions scream out that we want things a different way. Our faith is deepened when we trust God when things don’t happen on our time schedule. Our faith in God is deepened when we obey Him even when the results are not what we wanted to happen or the way that we wanted things to happen or in the time period that we wanted them to happen.

In this book of 1 Samuel, we see that Saul was impetuous and trusted God only when it seemed that God had given him what HE wanted. We see that Saul glorified God when circumstances matched up with his fleshly desires. When things didn’t go as he wanted them to he strayed from God. He wanted his God to give him what he wanted and when that did not happen he took matters into his own hands. We want to disdain Saul for that. However, he was a reflection of who the whole nation of Israel was at the time. All of Israel was the same way from the time they were in the desert in Exodus to right here in 1 Samuel. They loved God when He gave them what their flesh wanted and strayed from him when God was asking them to simply trust Him no matter what.

We want to disdain Saul for being who he was and his lack of faith and trust in God. However, he stands before us as a mirror. How much like Saul are we sometimes? We want what we want and we want it now. We want what we want and want God to vend that to us from the His eternal vending machine. We push a button and expect that to be dispensed. Where we grow in God is when we trust Him completely no matter what is happening to us good or bad. Where we grow in God is when we trust Him with the timetable of our lives. Where we grow in God is when we trust Him even when our heart screams that things are not happening fast enough, if at all. Where we grow in God is when we find joy in the field that we are plowing for Him right now and trust Him with when it is time to move to the next field beyond the horizon. The trust is in the plowing of the field in front of you.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 31:1-13
The Death of Saul (Part 4 of 5)

In my previous blog, I talked about how I remember the day of my salvation like it was yesterday. The memory of the location, the sights, the sounds, my breathing patterns, my heartbeat, the details of the play that I was attending. It is all still fresh in my mind – even now, a little over 16 years after the event. Salvation is an event, but sanctification is a process. Salvation is the beginning of a life change from the inside out. Sanctification is the hard work, the process of the Holy Spirit chiseling away that which is not of God and replacing it with that which is of God. The difference between salvation and a spiritual warm-fuzzy is that salvation is followed by a lifetime of Holy Spirit changes in our life, our outlook, our priorities that progressively makes us more and more like Christ. A spiritual warm-fuzzy, as I like to call it, is a emotion induced spiritual high (following powerful worship at church and a powerful sermon). However, in a spiritual warm fuzzy situation, there is no life change. There is no desire to chase after God. There is no ravenous appetite for God’s will. There is no desire to let go of things that are in opposition to God’s Word. You can have many spiritual warm-fuzzy experiences in life but only one day of salvation.

When I read through this passage this morning for the fourth time, that’s what struck me was the difference between spiritual warm-fuzzies and true salvation. When you bottom line 1 Samuel, you have the contrast of Samuel and Saul. Samuel must’ve had a salvation experience at a young age. His entire life was dedicated to doing God’s will. Not out of some attempt to appease God by doing the right things but rather a complete all out desire to please God and to do His will. Saul, on the other hand, had spiritual warm-fuzzy experiences throughout the history that is presented in 1 Samuel. He would have those moments where you think he finally “gets it” but then as we follow him further in the book, he just blows it and does such selfish and sometimes evil things. His actions are to satisfy his personal desires, even his so-called spiritual experiences. They were done for show or they were done in an emotional moment after it appeared that God had granted his desires. The difference between Samuel and Saul was the motivation. Because Samuel had true salvation he came at things from desiring earnestly in his heart to do God’s will whereas Saul was completely consumed with his “me-first” attitude and simply used God to validate that, if he could. His love of God was based on his outward circumstances rather than an inner love for the Lord of the Universe.

How often for us as Christ followers have we lived that way before our true salvation experience. We had spiritual warm-fuzzies galore. We may have raised our hands multiple times when a pastor asks at the end of the service who has come to Christ today. We may have gone to the altar many times to accept Christ as our Savior. Like Saul though there was no real life change. I know that was the case with me over the years before that night in December 2001. I modified my behavior for a while but would return to my old ways rather quickly just like Saul. It was not until I completely surrendered my will to that of Jesus Christ that real life change occurred. The Holy Spirit cannot enter our hearts until we open the door, really open the door in total honor and submission.

That difference between spiritual warm-fuzzies and true salvation came to mind this morning as I read through this final chapter of 1 Samuel for the fourth of five times this morning. Let’s read through 1 Samuel 31 once again now:

31 Now the Philistines attacked Israel, and the men of Israel fled before them. Many were slaughtered on the slopes of Mount Gilboa. 2 The Philistines closed in on Saul and his sons, and they killed three of his sons—Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malkishua. 3 The fighting grew very fierce around Saul, and the Philistine archers caught up with him and wounded him severely.

4 Saul groaned to his armor bearer, “Take your sword and kill me before these pagan Philistines come to run me through and taunt and torture me.”

But his armor bearer was afraid and would not do it. So Saul took his own sword and fell on it. 5 When his armor bearer realized that Saul was dead, he fell on his own sword and died beside the king. 6 So Saul, his three sons, his armor bearer, and his troops all died together that same day.

7 When the Israelites on the other side of the Jezreel Valley and beyond the Jordan saw that the Israelite army had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their towns and fled. So the Philistines moved in and occupied their towns.

8 The next day, when the Philistines went out to strip the dead, they found the bodies of Saul and his three sons on Mount Gilboa. 9 So they cut off Saul’s head and stripped off his armor. Then they proclaimed the good news of Saul’s death in their pagan temple and to the people throughout the land of Philistia. 10 They placed his armor in the temple of the Ashtoreths, and they fastened his body to the wall of the city of Beth-shan.

11 But when the people of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, 12 all their mighty warriors traveled through the night to Beth-shan and took the bodies of Saul and his sons down from the wall. They brought them to Jabesh, where they burned the bodies. 13 Then they took their bones and buried them beneath the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and they fasted for seven days.

In this passage, as we approach the end of our visit to the Book of 1 Samuel, we must consider the difference between the last judge of Israel and first king. Samuel, the last judge, was characterized by consistency, obedience, and a deep desire to do God’s will. He had a genuine desire for an abiding relationship with God. Saul, the first king, on the other hand, was characterized by inconsistency, disobedience, and self-will. He did not have a heart for God. When God called Samuel, he said “Speak, your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10). In contrast, when God, through Samuel, called Saul, he replied “Why are you talking like this to me?” (1 Samuel 9:21). Saul was dedicated to himself. Samuel was dedicated to God.

My prayer this morning is that we all have that true moment of salvation where you come before the Lord with our hat in our hands and humbly kneel before Him knowing that we do not deserve what He has to offer. Knowing that we have made a mess of our lives. Knowing that one sin disqualifies us from heaven. Knowing that a lifetime of sins piled on top of that first one just adds to the justice of us being sent away from God to a place called hell. Knowing that we have nothing to negotiate with before a righteous God. Knowing that it is only Jesus who can snatch us from our eternal fate. We beg him to pull us out of our nightmare and our nightmarish fate. There can be no greater moment of humility than our moment of salvation. We are beggars look for a scrap from the Master’s table. It is only then that we are ready for the Holy Spirit to enter in and change us from the inside out.

We go from trying to do the right things seeking behavior modification to a soul change that desires to please God in everything we do. We go from despair to joy even in the hardest of times. We go from living like hell during the week and trying to make up for it by going to church on Sundays to a real desire to live our lives according God’s Word and to really, really want to please God. We go from “have to’s” to “want to’s”. That’s the difference between Saul and Samuel. That’s the difference between spiritual warm-fuzzies and true salvation.
Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 31:1-13
The Death of Saul (Part 3 of 5)

I remember my day of salvation like it was yesterday. I remember living my life before that, knowing of Jesus Christ and calling myself a Christian but not really having a relationship with Him. I was born into a preacher’s family. My dad was a preacher in the United Methodist Church, South Carolina Annual Conference, for 53 years when he retired, just a few years ago. I was raised in the church. Every time the church doors were open, I was there. Often the church or churches that my dad served over the years of my brother and me growing up were our playgrounds. We used to run around the church building playing cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians. Sometimes, since we were big Star Trek fans, the church and it’s, if it had one, educational building or wing would be our USS Enterprise. The pulpit area would be our “bridge” or control room where we would be Spock, Bones, Capt. Kirk, and so on. The rest of the church and educational wings of the buildings would become the rest of the ship. Outside the church would be our alien planets where we would be the landing party or away team. We had quite the imaginations.

Church was sometimes just next door to the parsonage. Church was our life. I guess I became numb to it because it was like the family business. So after leaving home and getting married at 18 and going to college, my faith was just nominal and certainly was not saved. I knew all about Jesus but little about the Bible. I continued to go to church after marriage but the church I went to was my first wife’s family church and it was more of a social club than it was a discipling church. There was no discipleship at all. It was just a small three main families church that got together on Sundays and had potluck dinners at the drop of hat. It was fellowship for sure but challenging anyone to go deeper in their faith, it was not. Between the liberal arts “question everything, including religion” education that I got at Furman University, it rocked my world and my belief systems. My life after that became increasingly secular. Living for the moment. Living for the weekend. Living for myself. It was not until I was in my late 30’s in December 2001 that I came to Christ.

On that night that I came to Christ, there was a play at the church that I attended at that time, Abundant Life Church (a non-denominational church) in the Berea area of Greenville, SC, that was part of the church’s lead-up to Christmas. It was a play about this guy, who happened to be named Mark in the play, who lived a party lifestyle. Even though he had kids, he was all about the party, hanging out with his buddies at the bars, and just living a very self-centered life. He was blaming everybody else for whatever hardship he had in life. He never took responsibility for anything. The irony of the main character in the play being named Mark was that the Holy Spirit made me realize that the play on stage was matching the track of MY life. It was like watching a movie of my life. I was him and he was me. In the play, a little over halfway through it, the main character got into a car accident. During the time that the main character was unconscious, he was able to see the eternity that was awaiting him. Even though he was not a believer, the reality of hell became very real. He got revisit via video the first half of the play to show how arrogant and self-centered and self-seeking that he was. Of course, he tried to argue his way out of hell but there was no disputing the facts and ultimately he falls to his knees and cries out to God to give him another chance. The guy playing the part really sold it. He was literally sobbing like a baby on stage with real tears. He finally just goes out cold again and the lights go dark. Next thing you see when the lights come back up are the EMTs on top of him jolting him back to life. After that experience in hell, the character, Mark, was a changed man. He became a Christ follower from that moment forward and restored his marriage, his relationship with his kids, and just became a true disciple. We see him turn down opportunities to go bar hopping with his old friends, turn down opportunities to be unfaithful and so on. His attitude this time around was not that he HAD to turn down these opportunities, he WANTED to.
For me, that was it. It was my moment to come face to face with who I was and where I was headed. My heart was pounding. I could hear myself breathe. I could hear my heartbeat. I knew this play was FOR me. It was about me. It was the Holy Spirit finally getting through to me about my need for a Savior. I gave my life to the Lord then and there. I was baptized the following summer in 2002.

As all Christ followers know, salvation is just the beginning of the journey. Things did not suddenly get better in my life because of salvation. In those early years after salvation, the circumstances of my life actually got worse in some ways. I would like to say that, even in the troubled times, that I continued an upward trajectory toward spiritual adulthood, but I was a spiritual baby for a long time. There were idols in my life that the Holy Spirit had to get rid of before I could begin maturing. That took a while and was painful at times. I think I really didn’t start growing up in Jesus Christ until 2009 while I was living in California and met Luke and Felisha Brower, my pastor and his wife. They became our close friends and each of them were instrumental in the growth of Elena and me. Even though they were younger than us by an average of 10 years, they grew me with hard confrontations about my faith and cherry picking what I wanted to believe. They led Elena to the cross while we were under their spiritual care. Then the growth that we had at LifeSong when we moved back to South Carolina between late 2010 and early 2018. We became leaders in the local church there. We became ravenous for Christ there. We went deeper and stronger there. Now, we are here in Illinois serving the Lord full-time and waiting to see what the Lord will do with it – with excitement, we can’t wait to see what God is going to do!

What a journey it has been since December 2001 for me. Back then, I would have laughed at you if you had told me that I would end up in Illinois and being a pastor. I would have laughed at you if you had told me that I would have a wife that was all-in for what God was calling us to do. I am amazed at what God has done in my life since salvation. When I look back on that night at that play, it was indeed the biggest decision of my life. It changed everything. Who knows where I would be now if it were not for that night. That night I realized that I needed a Savior not just behavior modification. I needed Jesus to change me from the inside out. Through the Holy Spirit, He is still working on it. I am by no means perfect now. Still a bunch of things that God has to do in me and will continue to have to do in me until the day that I am called home to heaven. Before that night in December 2001, I thought I could will myself into being a better person. I thought if I just did more good than bad then I’d be OK. That night changed all that. I needed an intercessor. I needed Jesus.

Being presented with that moment where we have to make a moral choice is what I thought of this morning as I read this passage/chapter, this final chapter of the book of 1 Samuel. That’s what I thought of this morning as we see the end of Saul’s life in 1 Samuel 31. Let’s read about it now:

31 Now the Philistines attacked Israel, and the men of Israel fled before them. Many were slaughtered on the slopes of Mount Gilboa. 2 The Philistines closed in on Saul and his sons, and they killed three of his sons—Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malkishua. 3 The fighting grew very fierce around Saul, and the Philistine archers caught up with him and wounded him severely.

4 Saul groaned to his armor bearer, “Take your sword and kill me before these pagan Philistines come to run me through and taunt and torture me.”

But his armor bearer was afraid and would not do it. So Saul took his own sword and fell on it. 5 When his armor bearer realized that Saul was dead, he fell on his own sword and died beside the king. 6 So Saul, his three sons, his armor bearer, and his troops all died together that same day.

7 When the Israelites on the other side of the Jezreel Valley and beyond the Jordan saw that the Israelite army had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their towns and fled. So the Philistines moved in and occupied their towns.

8 The next day, when the Philistines went out to strip the dead, they found the bodies of Saul and his three sons on Mount Gilboa. 9 So they cut off Saul’s head and stripped off his armor. Then they proclaimed the good news of Saul’s death in their pagan temple and to the people throughout the land of Philistia. 10 They placed his armor in the temple of the Ashtoreths, and they fastened his body to the wall of the city of Beth-shan.

11 But when the people of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, 12 all their mighty warriors traveled through the night to Beth-shan and took the bodies of Saul and his sons down from the wall. They brought them to Jabesh, where they burned the bodies. 13 Then they took their bones and buried them beneath the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and they fasted for seven days.

In this passage, we see that Saul hasn’t changed a bit. Saul is being that Saul that he has always been throughout the book of 1 Samuel – always taking matters into his own hands without thinking of God or asking for His guidance. Even with regard to his death, Saul responded the same way he responded to things during his life. Often we think we will change how we act later, always later in life rather than now. None of us knows when our end is going to come. Why do we think we have time to change our ways? We will get our act together and then we will come to Christ … later. Saul did not change even at the end.

Are you the character in the play? Are you living for yourself and for your selfish desires and not caring about how you impact others or about your eternal destiny? Do you think you’ve got time? Do you think that you’ve got time to get right later? Are you of the mind that you have to give up something to become a Christ follower and you are not willing to do that yet? Those were all yes answers for me at one time in my life. Later. Later. Later. The play that night showed me that we are not guaranteed anything in this life. We have no guarantee of later. The time is now. The urgency is now. You need Jesus now. Don’t wait til later! Your eternity is now. Don’t be like me and wait til you are almost 40 years old to come to Jesus. What you are living for now is a hopeless search for something to fill the hole in your soul that only God can fill and the hole was only designed for Him! Don’t waste any more time. The time is now. Eternity is now. Tomorrow may be too late.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 31:1-13
The Death of Saul (Part 2 of 5)

On my favorite show from the past, Friends, Phoebe wrote a song for young Emma’s first birthday, the first line of which was “Emma, you name poses a dilemma. Nothing rhymes with Emma.” That song has no deep meaning to this blog. I just love making references to Friends and the fact that in this song, Phoebe actually incorporated the word, dilemma, into the words of a song. And dilemma is certainly what we have here in this passage. A moral dilemma.

Have you ever been in a situation where you have been asked to violate a law or Christian ethical standards? Have you ever been in a situation where you had to “throw somebody under the bus” to save your own skin? Have ever been in a situation where you had to lie to keep from some negative outcome? We as Christians are faced with moral dilemmas quite often. We may face these moral crossroads on a daily basis without even thinking about it. What would you do is the age old question posed to us in classrooms or work-related roundtable discussions and so on? We often do case studies of moral failures in school. And we analyze and breakdown, in these discussions, what the moral failing was and sit there and wonder how this person could have done what he/she did. We say to ourselves, I know I would have made a different choice. I would have avoided that moral failure. I know I would have, we say to ourselves. We say to ourselves, I would have recognized that critical moment where we had to make a choice between right and wrong and made the right choice. How arrogant are we when we say such things?

We think of many reports in recent years of the moral failings of high-profile pastors of these super large megachurches. Usually, it has involved inappropriate sexual relationships outside of marriage. This type of thing is commonplace in politics where every couple of years a representative or senator is taken down by thinking that having sex with someone who is not his wife is OK. As a Christian all of these things are most troubling. As a Christian and a pastor, the moral failings of these high profile megachurch pastors are particularly troubling to the witness of Christians to the world in which we live. It also reminds me that we, too, as local pastors, even as ones who do not have national or international celebrity are not immune to such moral failures that could disqualify us from being leaders in our local churches and that could cripple us from ever being a pastor again in the future.

We must remember that as leaders and as those who have dedicated their life to serving the Lord, we have a target on our back. And it doesn’t have to be preachers. We could be a really effective Christ follower who works a regular job in the secular world but is a person known to be a Christ follower through years of living with integrity and living to share the gospel through actions and words. Each of us as Christ followers who are actively seeking to expand the Kingdom has a target on our back. Satan is coming after us. He will influence people and situations to give us choices that when making the right choice with gather no press. But when making the wrong choice can discredit and disqualify us and tear down what we may have been doing for a lifetime. Satan always attacks us in what our weak point is – presenting us with situations where we have to make a choice between right and wrong. It often starts small and Satan sees that we will waver in that small choice and then he knows he’s got a weakness in us and will hammer away at it. Sexual sin, for example, always starts with innuendos, jokes with double meanings, touches, brushes up against someone’s body, a discussion about the failings of one’s spouse, and off to the races to adultery people go. Sexual sin, sins with money, and other moral failings of us as Christ followers do not up and happen one day. They are the end of a trail of smaller moral rationalizations and failures.

With all the moral failures of late of high profile pastors of large megachurches, we as pastors of smaller, less well-known local churches should take heed and notice. What are we doing to keep ourselves from those moments of moral choice where we have the opportunity to rationalize away a wrong moral choice? Where are we weakest? We can say it will never happen to us but there are moral failures daily around the country that cause pastors to have to resign their church and sometimes even have to quit being pastors altogether. We can say it will never happen to us but it can. We can say that we would make the right choice in those situations but Satan can cloud our judgment at times even if we are long-time pastors. And those of us who are new pastors such as myself, we must learn from these situations so that we can recognize the warning signs of a moral failure being on our horizons.

Being presented with that moment where we have to make a moral choice is what I thought of this morning as I read this passage/chapter, this final chapter of the book of 1 Samuel. That’s what I thought of this morning as we see the end of Saul’s life in 1 Samuel 31. Let’s read about it now:

31 Now the Philistines attacked Israel, and the men of Israel fled before them. Many were slaughtered on the slopes of Mount Gilboa. 2 The Philistines closed in on Saul and his sons, and they killed three of his sons—Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malkishua. 3 The fighting grew very fierce around Saul, and the Philistine archers caught up with him and wounded him severely.

4 Saul groaned to his armor bearer, “Take your sword and kill me before these pagan Philistines come to run me through and taunt and torture me.”

But his armor bearer was afraid and would not do it. So Saul took his own sword and fell on it. 5 When his armor bearer realized that Saul was dead, he fell on his own sword and died beside the king. 6 So Saul, his three sons, his armor bearer, and his troops all died together that same day.

7 When the Israelites on the other side of the Jezreel Valley and beyond the Jordan saw that the Israelite army had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their towns and fled. So the Philistines moved in and occupied their towns.

8 The next day, when the Philistines went out to strip the dead, they found the bodies of Saul and his three sons on Mount Gilboa. 9 So they cut off Saul’s head and stripped off his armor. Then they proclaimed the good news of Saul’s death in their pagan temple and to the people throughout the land of Philistia. 10 They placed his armor in the temple of the Ashtoreths, and they fastened his body to the wall of the city of Beth-shan.

11 But when the people of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, 12 all their mighty warriors traveled through the night to Beth-shan and took the bodies of Saul and his sons down from the wall. They brought them to Jabesh, where they burned the bodies. 13 Then they took their bones and buried them beneath the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and they fasted for seven days.

In this passage, we see that Saul’s armor bearer faced a moral dilemma – should he carry out a sinful order from a man he was supposed to obey? He knew he should obey his master, the king, but he also knew that murder was wrong. He decided not to kill Saul. There is a difference between following an order that you do not agree with and following an order that you know is morally wrong. It is never right or ethical to carry out a wrong act, no matter who gives the order or no matter what the consequences of disobedience may be. Can you and I find the courage to follow God’s commands above human commands?

Maybe we are not being asked to commit murder in our roles as pastors. However, we must make similar moral choices at times as to whether to follow God’s commands and it makes no headlines. Doing the right thing often never makes headlines. However, we must always be cognizant as pastors and as Christ followers in general of our witness. It can take years to develop a reputation as person that is known to do the right thing because of being a Christ follower and can take one minute to destroy it all with a moral failure.

As Christ followers, and as pastors, let us think be aware that Satan is out for us. When we are doing nothing for Christ, Satan doesn’t care. He leaves us alone. If we are being effective for Jesus, Satan puts a target on our back. We must remember to we are sinful creatures with moral weakspots and we must seek God’s protection. Be honest with Him about where we are weak and seek His help. We must seek to steer clear of even the zip code of where we moral failures can happen and particularly those areas of morality where we are weakest and we all have a weak spot. Satan will find it and attack you there. Stay clean and close my friends. Stay close to God and pray that He helps you make the right moral choices. Satan’s coming after you. You can bank on it!

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 31:1-13
The Death of Saul (Part 1 of 5)

Isn’t it sadly funny that some of today’s most popular personalities are “reality” television show stars. The only reason that they are celebrities is because some producer decided it would be interesting to follow their lives. And the so called reality of their lives, often much of which is staged, is what has made them stars. They have no talent to speak of to make them worthy of stardom on their own. They just happen to have their lives exposed on television. Many of these reality show stars have parlayed their instant fame into wealth. One of the families that fall into this genre of instantly famous reality show celebrities is the Kardashians. We, as the American television audience, seem to be fascinated by the lives and exploits of sisters, sisters Kim, Kourtney, Khloe, Kendall and Kylie. Kim, in particular, has become an major celebrity. All five of these girls are indeed beautiful women. However, none of them have a lick of marketable talents outside their physical beauty. However, we have as collective TV viewers become so interested in their lives that their “show” has been on the air for fourteen seasons now. Can you believe that?

They used to call the show, Seinfeld, “the show about nothing!” It was a tongue-in-cheek homage to the fact that the show would create these wildly funny episodes that would start out about this trivial things that grew into these major things by the end of the show. It was witty and funny and the actors were very talented at their craft. However, Keeping Up With the Kardashians is truly a show about nothing. The shows are about gossip, clothes, boys, sex, and showing off the bodies of the Kardashian girls. That’s it. That’s all. We have now a whole generation of girls that have grown up watching the Kardashian girls parlayed meaningless, vapid, mindless girls who use their sexuality to get what they want. It’s all about the next party and whose doing it with who. It is worse by far than the worst episode of the worst show ever, Three’s Company, back in the 1970s. Kim Kardashian is the most famous of the sisters because she has created this celebrity aura about herself that has gotten her into relationships and marriages with several major musical artists or athletes. It is amazing to me that we as a country of television viewers actually care about this. To live in a society that objects to objectify women for their sexuality, these girls, and particularly Kim, glory in it. But the bottom line to it all is that the Kardashian girls are celebrities because of television. They have nothing to offer. They have no talent. They are not seeking to stamp out social injustice. They are not innately funny. They do not provide us with satire or social commentary. They are not even good actors. But yet they are valued by our society because they are on TV and they look good and that is it. No other reason. They revel in their immorality and sexuality plastered all over our television screens. And to top it off, they off screen lives are now deemed important by celebrity magazines. It makes you want to scream…why? We are a nation enthralled with celebrities. We have even made one our President.

We seem as a nation to care more about style than substance. We care more about Kim Kardashian than we do about the education of our children. We care more about Snookie on Jersey Shores than we do about crime in Jersey City. We care about style than things that matter. That’s what I thought of this morning as we see the end of Saul’s life in 1 Samuel 31. Let’s read about it now:

 

31 Now the Philistines attacked Israel, and the men of Israel fled before them. Many were slaughtered on the slopes of Mount Gilboa. 2 The Philistines closed in on Saul and his sons, and they killed three of his sons—Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malkishua. 3 The fighting grew very fierce around Saul, and the Philistine archers caught up with him and wounded him severely.

4 Saul groaned to his armor bearer, “Take your sword and kill me before these pagan Philistines come to run me through and taunt and torture me.”

But his armor bearer was afraid and would not do it. So Saul took his own sword and fell on it. 5 When his armor bearer realized that Saul was dead, he fell on his own sword and died beside the king. 6 So Saul, his three sons, his armor bearer, and his troops all died together that same day.

7 When the Israelites on the other side of the Jezreel Valley and beyond the Jordan saw that the Israelite army had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their towns and fled. So the Philistines moved in and occupied their towns.

8 The next day, when the Philistines went out to strip the dead, they found the bodies of Saul and his three sons on Mount Gilboa. 9 So they cut off Saul’s head and stripped off his armor. Then they proclaimed the good news of Saul’s death in their pagan temple and to the people throughout the land of Philistia. 10 They placed his armor in the temple of the Ashtoreths, and they fastened his body to the wall of the city of Beth-shan.

11 But when the people of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, 12 all their mighty warriors traveled through the night to Beth-shan and took the bodies of Saul and his sons down from the wall. They brought them to Jabesh, where they burned the bodies. 13 Then they took their bones and buried them beneath the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and they fasted for seven days.

In this passage, we see the end of Saul’s life. It was a life of contrasts. Saul was tall, handsome, strong, rich and powerful, but all of these things were not enough to make him someone we should emulate. He was tall physically, but he was small in God’s eyes. He was handsome, but his persistent, unrepentant sins made him ugly. He was strong, but his lack of faith made him weak. He was rich in earthly treasures but he was spiritually bankrupt. He was powerful in that he could give orders to many but he couldn’t command their respect or allegiance. Saul looked good on the outside, but he was decaying on the inside. A right relationship with God and a strong character are much more valuable than a good looking exterior.

Lord, please help us to become a people that care about the things that matter. Let us ditch our infatuation with meaningless celebrity. Let us emulate those who have strong character and celebrate that. Let us be not like Saul or Kim but seek to be people who care less about image than we do about real things that matter and promote and celebrate and seek after those things. Help us to seek after you and your qualities, Oh God. Let us take a look at the things we celebrate and compare them to the qualities that You desire us to have. Let us be less like Saul and Kim and more like your Son, Jesus Christ. Let us care about the things that He taught us to care about.

Amen and Amen.