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The Lord is With Him (1 Samuel 16)

    This morning we’ll meet a person in the Bible who was a very important person; one of the most important in the Old Testament. His story and his writings take up a good portion of the Old Testament. His introduction here though, is humble in many ways, but even with his humble introduction, there are glimpses and hints of the greatness that God had planned for this man.
    Of course, I’m talking about David.
    We’ll be in 1 Samuel 16 today, and the chapter opens with Samuel mourning the loss of Israel’s king, Saul, and the friendship that they had at one point. God starts by basically telling Samuel that it’s time to dust himself off, pick himself up, and get over it. The Lord tells Samuel that he needs to go to Bethlehem to anoint the new king that God has chosen to replace Saul. He’s to go to Jesse’s house, because one of Jesse’s sons will be the chosen king.
    Before we go any further, I want us to understand who Jesse is. We went through the book of Ruth at the beginning of our virtual church services in April, so hopefully this will be familiar to many of us. I’d like to draw your attention to Ruth 4:17. Ruth and Boaz were married and they had a child, and this verse is about their child, “The neighbor women gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi!” So they named him Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.”
    So Jesse is the grandson of Ruth and Boaz, making David, the future king of Israel, the great-grandson of Ruth and Boaz. It’s exciting to have this information because we can see what God was doing through the bold choices that Ruth made to honor Naomi and to follow Naomi’s God. He honored Ruth’s choices and gave her a hope for her family after her family had been devastated by death.
    Now, we don’t get much information about David’s early years, and I wish we did, but perhaps we can use our sanctified imaginations that have been developed by reading the Bible. My own grandmother just celebrated her 92nd birthday. She’s told me many times how much of a blessing it has been to her that she has been able to see her great-grandchildren. Not just see them, but actually get to be a part of their lives in a meaningful way!
    People live longer now, but both my parents and Jonny and I didn’t start our families until we were around 30. But, couples generally started families at a much younger age in ancient times, usually by the time a couple was 20 they had had many children. With that understanding, I can’t help but wonder if Ruth and Boaz got to see David as a child. They would have been well on in years, but it is a possibility. I wonder if maybe Boaz had gathered all his great-grandsons to him, David included, and told them the story of all that God had done when He brought Ruth to be Boaz’s wife. I wonder if Ruth and Boaz got the chance to tell Jesse how blessed they were to get to be a part of their grand-children’s lives. All this to say, that David was a child of blessing.
    He’s similar to Samson in that way, he came from a family that had made the decision to follow God, but there was something different about David that set him apart from Samson and the other evil judges, as well as King Saul.
    When Samuel got to Jesse’s home in Bethlehem, Jesse called all of his sons before him to see which son would be the one God chose to be anointed as the future king of Israel. His first son, Eliab, came before Jesse and Samuel, and we’re told that when they saw him, Samuel thought for sure that this was the one that God was going to anoint as the king. God had a different plan. 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart.”
    Jesse and Samuel went through all Jesse’s sons and all of them were rejected. So Samuel asked, “Are these all your sons?” And Jesse says, “Well, no, there’s my youngest son, but he’s out with the sheep.” For some reason, maybe because he was the youngest, maybe because he was just the shepherd, but Jesse didn’t even consider that his youngest son, David, might be the one God was going to use.
    But the key to what set David apart was what God had told Samuel, that the Lord looks at the HEART. That’s your first bulletin blank this morning. The Lord looks at the heart. What was in David’s heart set him apart as different from all his brothers and even King Saul. What was in David’s heart? We’ll explore that a lot as we focus more and more on David in the weeks to come, but simply put, what was in David’s heart was love for God.
    David is anointed in the presence of his family, but it will still be quite a journey before he actively becomes the King of Israel. See, even though God has rejected Saul as king, Saul still sits on the throne. But David will become more and more prominent as God has chosen him.
    Let’s look at 1 Samuel 16:13, “So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David…” Your second bulletin blank this morning is POWERFULLY. The Spirit of the Lord came upon David powerfully. Now that David is the anointed king, on his way to displacing Saul, chosen by God, it’s only fitting that the Spirit would come upon David. After all, David is going to need the Spirit’s help and guidance and power to be the king God needed him to be.
    Now look at 1 Samuel 16:14, “Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.”
 Just as the Spirit came upon David, the Spirit then departed from Saul. That’s your next bulletin blank, DEPARTED. God’s presence was no longer with Saul. He was not just rejected, but God took active steps to remove Himself from Saul’s life. This is certainly not a place I ever want to come close to being in.
    And what is this about an evil spirit from the Lord that tormented Saul? Does this mean that the Lord sent an evil spirit to Saul? Doesn’t that seem sort of contradictory to what God would do? 1 Samuel 18:10 and 19:9 give us a little insight into what this evil spirit was doing. “Now it came about on the next day that an evil spirit from God came mightily upon Saul, and he raved in the midst of the house, while David was playing the harp with his hand, as usual; and a spear was in Saul’s hand.” Just after this, we’re told that Saul threw this spear at David trying to kill him. 1 Samuel 19:9 tells us that this spear incident with Saul trying to murder David happened not once, but twice.
    There are quite a few Bible scholars who think that these incidents, as well as others, may mean that what Saul was dealing with was some form of mental illness that to ancient peoples would have appeared very much like demon possession. But, it is possible that Saul was actually tormented by an evil spirit, just as we read. Not sent by the Lord, but allowed by the Lord.
    This is what we see throughout scripture, any time that an evil spirit or demon possession happens, it’s always because the Lord allowed it to happen. He doesn’t cause it, because to cause evil would be against His righteous character, but He allows evil because it is the consequence of sin. In this case, Saul sinned by not being obedient to the Lord, by not depending on God, and the consequence of that sin is the removal of God’s Spirit upon Saul, which left him open to being tormented by an evil spirit, or at best, developing a mental illness.
    The good news is that this kind of torment that Saul experienced was only possible because he did not have the Spirit on him. Ephesians 1:13 says, “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise,”
    When we receive Christ, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit. If we think about a seal, there’s two things this could mean. In ancient cultures, a seal could be something that was a sign of things yet to come. Think about the seals that must be broken in the book of Revelation. These seals are a promise of things that haven’t happened yet, but will happen. In that way, the Holy Spirit is a promise given to believers to assure us that we have eternal life, even if we aren’t experiencing eternity yet.
    But a seal also preserves things. A jar that has been sealed insures that the contents of the jar stay preserved, clean of outside dirt and bacteria. In this way, the Holy Spirit insulates believers against the contamination of the world’s sinfulness. Without the seal of the Holy Spirit, we are open to any sort of sin or evil that is known to man. It is only by the Holy Spirit that we can hope to be free of that!
    So, without the Spirit upon him, Saul was open to any sort of evil spirit, to be tormented.
    Saul found that the only thing that would be able to soothe his disturbed state of mind is music.
    With that, the story shifts back to David. 1 Samuel 16:16 gives this idea to Saul, “Let our lord now command your servants who are before you. Let them seek a man who is a skillful player on the harp; and it shall come about when the evil spirit from God is on you, that he shall play the harp with his hand, and you will be well.”
    They need someone who is a skillful harp player. Someone who is good, who knows how to play their instrument really well.
    Verse 18, “Then one of the young men said, “Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite who is a skillful musician, a mighty man of valor, a warrior, one prudent in speech, and a handsome man; and the Lord is with him.”
    David just happens to be such a man. Look carefully at the description of David given to Saul. He is a skillful musician. He knows how to play his instrument really well. I want to come back to this to make my point today. But, David is also a might man of valor. This means he wasn’t afraid to do hard things. He wasn’t afraid to be put into situations that might be dangerous. He was a warrior, which is great if he’s going to be leading a nation’s army against foreign enemies. He was prudent in speech. That means he was a great speaker. We can see that clearly through the multiple Psalms that David wrote over the course of his life. He was a handsome man, too. Clearly a good choice for a king. But again, we come back to the most important of David’s qualifications, the Lord was with him.
    Without the Lord being with David, none of the other things matter at all.
    The same holds true for us. It doesn’t matter if we’re the absolute best at our talents. It doesn’t matter if our character is strong. It doesn’t matter if we’re really strong or great at physical things. It doesn’t matter if we speak well. It doesn’t matter how good looking we are. God can use all of those things, it’s true, but the Lord looks at the heart, and always chooses to work through those who love and seek Him over those who are the best at…whatever.
    But, we’re told in four separate verses that David was a great musician. He was so skilled at playing the harp that when he played, he soothed Saul’s delirious mind and Saul was given peace. David was really good! David was the best!
    The most important thing was that the Lord was with him, but David worked hard at being the best musician he could be. I’m sure he spent hours and hours, days, weeks, months, years, practicing his skill so he could take the raw talent and gift that God had given him and make it the absolute best it could be. And as a result, God used that talent to minister to Saul.
    That’s the amazing thing about our talents and gifts, that if we are living for the Lord, He takes what we have and makes it enough, makes it more than enough. But we have to offer what we have, and work hard to make it something great for the glory of God!
    David didn’t just sit around and think, “Eh, well I can play okay, and that’s good enough.” No! He took his talent and made it the best offering for the Lord that He could, not so David would be glorified, but so God would be glorified as He worked through David.
    Whatever you have, if you offer it to God, He will make it enough, He will use it. But how much more glory will the Lord receive if we take what we have and grow it as we offer it, so that what is offered is the best that we can offer.
    Jesus offered the same lesson to his disciples, and that includes us, in Matthew 25:14-30 in what we call the parable of the talents. A man was going on a journey, so he called his servants to him and gave them talents, coins. To one servant he gave five talents. To another he gave two talents. To another he gave one talent. Each servant was given according to his ability. The servant who was given five talents took what he had and gained five more talents. The servant who was given two talents took his and gained two more talents. But the one who had been given one talent, hid his, he didn’t grow it, he just saved it.
    When the master returned, he was pleased to see that two of his servants used what they had been given and grew it, and so he gave them more. But the one who had hidden his talent and didn’t grow it, he called that servant wicked and lazy and cast him out.
    What God gives us is enough, and He can use what we have been given, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that we can get away with not trying to grow what He has given us. He holds us responsible for using what He has given to the best of our ability.

1. We can sometimes be tempted to rely on our history, tradition, family, talents, etc. to be what defines us, but the most important thing is what lies in our hearts, and the presence of the Lord in our lives. What are you tempted to rely on?

2. Our talents and gifts aren’t to be neglected, but grown so we can offer our best to God. What talents and gifts do you have that can be grown to be used by God to minister to others?

Co-Dependent (1 Samuel 15)


    There are few words that sum up the Western culture like the word independent. We like the idea of independence, don’t we? From the time we signed our nation’s declaration of independence, we have been drawn to the idea of independence. It’s what lured people out of the east and into the wild west, the idea that you could be out on your own and own your own land and do whatever you wanted to do whenever you wanted to do it. Independence.
    We raise our children to be independent, don’t we? It’s a very Western idea that the moment your children hit 18 years of age, they better have a self-supporting job and be living in their own place, as far away from their parents as possible. Every parenting moment that we have is more often than not, aimed at teaching our children to be as independent as possible from an early age so they don’t have to rely on us. Independence.
    We love independence, don’t we? But at what cost? Have we sacrificed anything for the sake of gaining independence? Have we maybe sacrificed close family bonds that we see in other cultures? What affect does our independence have on our Christianity? Is it okay to be independent Christians?
    Today, we’re going to be in 1 Samuel 15. In 1 Samuel 13 & 14, King Saul begins to act in more self-assured ways. He starts to move toward doing things that God says are not right, and makes rash decisions, without consulting God first. The chapter we’re going to look at today is the last straw. Saul makes a bad decision, and doesn’t seek God’s guidance first, in fact, he goes directly against what God had told him to do, and it doesn’t go well for Saul.
    Let’s look at this last straw, and see what happened. 1 Samuel 15:2 tells us this, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt.”
    We start with the Lord setting out to punish the Amalekites for consistently being a thorn in the side of the Israelites. The Amalekites were long-time enemies of the Israelites. They can trace their lineage back to Isaac, just like the Israelites. The Amalekites however, were descendants of Esau, Isaac’s firstborn son; whereas the Israelites were descendants of Jacob, later named Israel, who was Isaac’s second-born son, and Esau’s younger twin.
    We have to remember that Jacob schemed to steal his brother’s birthright, and then schemed to steal his brother’s blessing from Isaac. He got both, but it put him and Esau at odds. Jacob had to flee from his home because Esau had his heart set on killing his brother Jacob. They were eventually able to reconcile, but it seems like their descendants weren’t able to leave the past alone.
    The incident that God is talking about in 1 Samuel 15:2 we can read about in Exodus 17:8-16, Numbers 14:45, Judges 3:13, 7:12. It happened while Moses was still alive, and Joshua was his second-in-command. Just as the Israelites got out of Egypt and into the area near the promised land, the Amalekites came against them, possibly to keep them from entering the promised land. And now, the Lord had in mind to punish the Amalekites for coming against His people.
    1 Samuel 15:3 tells us what God told King Saul, “Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, cattle and sheep, camel and donkey.”
    If you’re taking notes in your bulletin this morning, your first two blanks are CATTLE and SHEEP. God wanted Saul and his army to completely and totally destroy the Amalekites. To not leave one single person or animal belonging to the Amalekites alive.
    We’ve talked before about how odd it may seem to us that God commanded the death of people we might think would be innocent. Why put to death children and infants? Surely, they must be innocent, even if their parents aren’t? And what’s with killing the livestock?
    To answer that, I want you to remember Israel’s past. Samuel reminded the people of that past in the passage we read last week, 1 Samuel 12. They have a past of forgetting the Lord is their God. They have a past of serving other gods because they forgot that their God is the only God. They have a past of idolatry being their “pet” sin.
    Because of this past, God knows that if His people allow foreign, pagan people into their midst, it’s very possible that the Israelites will be persuaded to turn back to idols and forget their God again. In the past, this was proved to be true, when the Israelites would marry foreigners, they would indeed forget their God and worship false gods. Ordering the Israelites to put to death everyone assures that this won’t happen.
    We need to keep in mind as well, that the depths of evil that were prevalent in these ancient cultures around Israel were truly abominable. We’re talking child sacrifice, temple prostitution, and other very evil things. God didn’t want His people to be tainted by the evil that was passed from generation to generation.
    What about the animals? What is the sense in killing the livestock? It’s not to prevent the continuation of evil in Israel, or the temptation of Israel’s people to idolatry. Destroying even the livestock would show that Israel wasn’t fighting to try to get rich or gain anything; rather, they were fighting as an act of obedience to God, to carry out God’s will as He set out to right a wrong. The point wasn’t to get wealthy, the point was to do God’s will.
    So, the command is to destroy the Amalekites, people and livestock, and leave nothing and no one standing.
    What is Saul’s response?
    1 Samuel 15:9, “But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were not willing to destroy them utterly; but everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.”
    Saul and the army, the people spared the king of the Amalekites and the livestock. They were not willing to destroy them utterly. Why? We’ll see that in a bit, but the thing we need to know right now is that  once again, Saul did things his own way. He went against God’s command, a very specific command that really didn’t leave any room open for interpretation. But, Saul figured he knew better, that he could go it alone and do things his own way. He was wrong.
    God spoke to Samuel and told Samuel that He regretted making Saul king, so Samuel went to Saul to find out why. What had Saul done that would cause God to regret making him king? Saul assured Samuel that he had done exactly as God had commanded, that he had done nothing wrong.
    1 Samuel 15:14 is, in my opinion, one of the most humorous verses in the entire Bible. “But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the cattle which I hear?”
    I can almost hear Samuel saying, “Really, Saul? You’re innocent? You’ve done nothing wrong? You’ve obeyed the Lord’s command? Then why do I hear sheep bleating? Why do I hear cattle lowing?”
    “Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and oxen, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; but the rest we have utterly destroyed.” 1 Samuel 15:15 is Saul’s reply to Samuel’s skepticism.
    Saul claimed that they kept the sheep and the cattle to offer as a sacrifice to the Lord. But that’s not what God asked them to do. He didn’t ask for a sacrifice, He asked for them to do His will. To trust Him, depend on Him. The last thing He wanted was for Saul to do things his own way, even with good intentions.
    Isn’t that just like us, in so many ways? How often do we do things in our daily lives, going about from place to place, sometimes with the best intentions, but it’s not what God wants us to do? How many times do we just do what we want to do with our days, instead of seeking what God desires of us? We love our independence, don’t we? But the Christian life is not meant to be independent.
    We are meant to be co-dependent on God. We’re not meant to go it alone, we’re not meant to be lone cowboys. We need to depend on God, for everything. Every tiny little detail of our lives is meant to be dependent on the Lord. We are supposed to seek Him first for everything, to know His will for each and every step we make.
    What about Saul? Look at 1 Samuel 15:22-23, “Samuel said, “Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has also rejected you from being king.”
    OBEY is the next blank in your bulletins this morning. See, regardless of our best intentions, regardless of how independent we are and how well we think we can run our own lives, none of that matters. God doesn’t want us to just do things our own way and hope for the best. He wants us to do things His way, because it is best!
    Now, Saul had said that he spared the king and the livestock because he wanted to make a sacrifice to God, but verse 24 shows us that this isn’t true. “Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned; I have indeed transgressed the command of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and listened to their voice.”
    He feared the people and listened to their voice. We don’t know what the voice of the people was saying, exactly. Maybe they wanted to keep the plunder of livestock to provide the best food for their families. Maybe they wanted the livestock to show their power and might over the Amalekites. We don’t know what exactly the people wanted, but it’s clear that Saul was more dependent upon what the people said, than what God said.
    This verse shows us that what Saul’s sin was, and the next blank in your Bible this morning, was a lack of DEPENDENCE on God!
    Even though God was quite clear about what He wanted from Saul, clear on what Saul’s actions should have been, Saul didn’t walk in God’s ways. Saul didn’t depend on God to work in the situation and handle the victory. Saul didn’t depend on God to provide for Israel.
    This isn’t just Saul’s problem. This is a problem with humanity in general. We love our independence. We like to think we don’t need to rely on anyone for anything, including God.
    Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.”
    These two verses hit all the areas of our life where we need to depend on God: our hearts—our emotions and our feelings, we must depend on God to be the source of the emotions we dwell on because our own hearts cannot be trusted. Genesis 6:5 says that every inclination of our hearts is evil. Jeremiah 17:9 says “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” God needs to be the source of our emotions.
    Proverbs 3:5-6 also says we should not lean on our own understanding. We need to depend on God to be the source of what thoughts we dwell on. 2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. Colossians 3:2 tells us to set our minds on the things of God.
    And, Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us to acknowledge God in all our ways which speaks to our actions, what we do. Do we acknowledge God with all our actions? Do we ask Him what He wants with our days? Do we ask Him to plan each day so we depend on Him? We should!! Ephesians 2:10 reminds us that we should walk in the good works that God has prepared for us beforehand. Psalm 32:8 says that God will instruct us and teach us in the way we should go. All we have to do is ask, and be dependent upon Him.
    See, Christians aren’t called to independence. We are called to be DEPENDENT on God in all our ways. That’s your last blank this morning. We must be dependent on God for everything. Our emotions, our thoughts, our actions all must spring from our dependence on God. There’s more too, though, isn’t there? The example of prayer that Jesus gave His disciples says that we should depend on God to provide for our daily needs. He also told us not to worry about those things because God knows we need them, but rather we should fix our eyes on the things of God, in other words, we need to depend on God!
    We’re even called to depend on one another! The New Testament is full of examples of how the early church depended on one another. They depended on each other to be the means that God used to provide for their needs. They depended on the prayers of their brothers and sisters. They depended on their Christian charity and love. They depended on their work for the kingdom. We are not lone cowboys. We need God, and we need each other.
    We cannot be independent and be Christians.

1. 1 Samuel 15:24 reveals Samuel’s true heart issue: a lack of dependence on God. Are there areas in your life you need to be more dependent on God? What are they?

2. What was the response to Saul’s lack of dependence and disobedience in 1 Samuel 15:27-29?

Take Your Stand (1 Samuel 12)

    Today we’ll look at the last public address Samuel makes. We’ve seen through the passages we’ve studied in 1 Samuel that at this point, Samuel is old and one of the factors in the people deciding they wanted a king was because of Samuel’s advanced age. The people knew he wouldn’t be able to lead them as their judge much longer. God chose a king: Saul. He’s been affirmed by the people. All that’s left to do is to give one final speech, one final warning and farewell to the people. He’s in good company, too. We saw Moses and Joshua do the same thing when they were about to die. Now, Samuel isn’t going to die yet, but after this address to the people, he does fade away from public service. He still works behind the scenes though, as one who regularly hears from God, to guide Israel when having a king goes south.
    We’re going to be in 1 Samuel 12 today, and Samuel starts his farewell speech by reminding Israel that he has been a good leader to them, that even in appointing them a king, which he didn’t want to do, he has always done what they have asked of him. He asks them in verse 3, to bear witness against him before the Lord and the anointed king. What he’s asking them to do is to examine his life and see if he can be found to be good and trustworthy.
    Samuel says this, “Whose ox have I taken, or whose donkey have I taken, or whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed, or from whose hand have I taken a bribe to blind my eyes with it? I will restore it to you.” (v. 3).
    If you’re taking notes in your bulletin this morning, you’ll see that OPPRESSED is your first blank. Samuel, is trying to build a case for himself, to have the authority to say to the people one more thing that he desperately hopes they will listen to. So when he asks, “whose ox have I taken, whom have I defrauded, whom have I oppressed or taken a bribe from,” he’s reminding them that he has always treated them well. He’s always done what was right, not only by them, but in the Lord’s eyes as well. He’s reminding them that he had never given them any reason not to trust him. He led them for many many years, from the time he was a young boy to the moment they decided they wanted a king in his old age. Samuel has always done right.
    The people agree in verses 4-5 that Samuel has always treated them well. Samuel has always done right. Samuel has never wronged them. Samuel has earned the right to speak plainly, boldly, to them, regardless of what he might need to say.
    It’s the same sort of tactic that Paul used on numerous occasions, talking to different churches, writing letters to them. He would start by saying, “Look, you know me. You know my heart and my deeds. You know that I was the one who spoke the truth to you about Christ and saw you come to faith in Jesus.” That was always with the purpose of reminding the people of the truth they had accepted, and the love that Paul had for them.
    And then he would move on to the hard stuff. He would say, “You know, you started off great, but now I’m really disappointed because I’ve heard that you have quarrels and arguments between you.”
    That’s what Samuel is doing here. After he reminded them of their trust for him, and how he has always done what was right, he moves on to the hard stuff.
    Here’s the hard stuff:
    Israel’s history of forgetting the God who had set them free.
    1 Samuel 12:9 says that they forgot the Lord their God.
    They forgot all that God had done for them.
    Why is that hard stuff? You might ask. Why is it hard to be reminded of your past if it’s no longer an issue? It’s not, unless the past is still relevant.
    This is hard stuff because Israel was still forgetting the Lord their God. Look at 1 Samuel 12:12, “When you saw that Nahash the king of the sons of Ammon came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ although the Lord your God was your king.”
    They were still forgetting the Lord their God. He reminded them of their past as a way of telling them that their past was still their present reality. Their sinful attitude toward God had not changed. He was warning them not to continue in that attitude.
    Samuel gives them a prescription for their attitude as well, a way to help them keep from repeating their history of forgetting the Lord their God. Look at verse 14, “If you will fear the Lord and serve Him, and listen to His voice and not rebel against the command of the Lord, then both you and also the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God.”
    We have four blanks in that verse because I want this verse to stick with us. FEAR, SERVE, LISTEN, and REBEL, are our four blanks for this verse. “If you will fear the Lord and serve Him, and listen to His voice and not rebel against the command of the Lord, then both you and also the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God.”
    That’s what Samuel tells them to do in order to remember that the Lord is their God. He says, do these things and you and the king who is over you will follow God. Do these things, and you won’t repeat history. Do these things, and you won’t forget the Lord your God.
    Let’s look at each of these things.
    The Fear of the Lord. What does that mean? Are we to be afraid of God, the way we’re afraid of death, or public speaking? The Hebrew word can be translated that way, yes, but more often than not, when we’re speaking about the Fear of the Lord, we’re talking about a translation that means to honor, or to revere, or to hold in awe.
    For the Israelites at this time, fear of the Lord was of the highest importance. Remember that Samuel reminded them that they chose a king when God was already their king. Think about people like kings for a moment. Kings, presidents, good leaders in any community. We honor them, don’t we? We revere them, and hold them in high regard. So when the people chose to have a king appointed over them, they took the honor, reverence, and awe that should have been placed on God, and they placed it on their king, Saul. Samuel warned them that this would be a problem.
    Anytime that we hold a leader in higher regard than God, that’s idolatry. It doesn’t matter how good that leader is, it doesn’t matter if they profess Christ or not, it doesn’t matter. If we give leaders the honor, reverence, and awe that is due to God and God alone, that’s wrong. Samuel was urging the people to make sure to give God the honor that is His alone.
    Serve the Lord is the next one. What does that mean? There’s a lot of descriptions in the Bible of the relationship between God and His people as a master/servant relationship. Unfortunately, that’s been misunderstood, especially in recent years. This is not a master/slave relationship. God does not have us in bonds. He is not a puppet-master pulling our strings.
    The relationship that is described throughout scripture as a master/servant relationship, is rather one of a generous, kind, loving master whose servants choose to serve because of the goodness He has shown them and the love He has for them. They could choose to serve someone else, to work for someone else, but why would they when He treats them so well? He cares for their every need, they never want for anything, and they are compensated well for their work. Why would they leave?
    That’s the master/servant relationship described in the Bible when we hear those buzz words, words like: serve, master, servant.
    So, when we hear that we should serve the Lord, what that means is that we do what God asks us. Not because we’re obligated, not because we have to, but because we have experienced His great love, kindness, and goodness, and we know that He has our best in mind. So we do as He asks, because we know He is acting for our ultimate good. Serve the Lord. Do as He has asked.
    Listen to His voice is the third thing that Samuel tells the people to do. This is a little easier to explain and understand. In order to listen to His voice, we must know how to hear His voice. How is that? His Word. This is His voice. This is His Word and His Words. If we want to listen to His voice, we would be wise to start with Scripture.
    But, the Bible is not the only way the Lord speaks, is it? He speaks through other people, we know this for certain. He spoke through Samuel, Moses, Joshua, Abraham, so many others throughout history. He still speaks through people, doesn’t He? If I have done my job right, if I have prepared properly through time spent with Him in prayer and in His Word, if I have listened to Him, then He will use me to speak to you this morning!
    He speaks through our brothers and sisters to us. He speaks through those who are in fellowship with Him.
    He speaks in the silence, too, especially if He knows we’re listening. This is why prayer is so vitally important to those who claim a relationship with God, and why prayer must be so much more than just a list of things we want God to do. Prayer must involve long periods of silence so we can listen to what He is speaking to us. If we don’t listen, we won’t hear His voice.
    The fourth thing Samuel tells them to do is to not rebel against the command of the Lord. That is anything that the Lord has commanded, the people are to do. To obey is better than to give sacrifices, right? Those who love Him will obey His commands, right? It’s simple, what Samuel is urging the people to do is to not act in sin toward the Lord. Don’t rebel against Him. Don’t go against what He has said. That is the very definition of sin that we use as Nazarenes, that sin is a willful disobedience of a known law of God. Samuel is telling them not to sin.
    Do these things, and you will follow God and the king over you will follow God.
    This prescription Samuel gave the people to not forget the Lord their God is the same prescription we have. We might have it worded a little differently for us, for us as New Testament Christians, it sounds like this, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-38). The words are a little different, but when you really look at what it means to do this, it’s the same as what Samuel told the Israelites, “If you will fear the Lord and serve Him, and listen to His voice and not rebel against the command of the Lord, then you will follow the Lord your God.”
    Then, Samuel told them something that caught me off guard this week, 1 Samuel 12:16, “Even now, take your stand and see this great thing which the Lord will do before your eyes.”
    Those are the last three blanks in your bulletin, TAKE YOUR STAND.
    I was caught off guard by the words “even now.” If you read on a little bit, you’ll see why Samuel was saying that to them. I want you to look at verse 20, “Samuel said to the people, “Do not fear. (Why would they fear? Usually when you’re confronted with something you’ve done wrong, you’re fearful of the consequences…) You have committed all this evil, yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart.”
    The “even now” in verse 16 is talking about the state of the nation. He says, “even now”, even while you have committed evil, even while you are still in the act of not following the Lord, even while you are persisting in sinning against God, even while you have a wrong…action, word, thought, attitude.
    It’s not too late.
    It’s not too late to repent of that wrong attitude. That wrong thought. That wrong action. Those wrong words. It’s not too late.
    Even now, take your stand.
    Even now, take your stand.
    And what is the promise that goes with that? “Even now, take your stand and see this great thing which the Lord will do before your eyes.”
    I don’t know about you, but I want to see the great things the Lord will do before my eyes. I want to see them. I want to see Him move. I want to see Him change things, but that great thing starts with me taking my stand.
    Samuel’s final words of encouragement to the people echo in my ears. 1 Samuel 12:24, “Only fear the Lord and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you.” He has done great things. He has more yet that He wants to do. Even now, take your stand, and see this great thing which the Lord will do before your eyes.

If there ever was a week to answer the questions that I ask every week, this would be the week. I urge you, as one who has hopefully earned the privilege of getting to ask you to do hard things, please, answer these questions.
1. If you asked the question Samuel asks in verse 3 of your closest friends and family, what would the answer be?

2. Verse 20 indicates that even if we have done evil, it is never too late to serve the Lord. Even if we have done what is wrong, the right thing to do is to not turn from the Lord. Is there anything in your life (actions, words, even thoughts/attitudes) that are wrong right now? What can you do to right those wrongs?

3. What things might God be calling you to take a stand on in order to see the Lord do great things through that stand?


Living Proof--1 Samuel 10 & 11

    I think we’re all probably familiar with the phrase, “actions speak louder than words,” right? I think the phrase is probably self-explanatory, but just in case, the idea is that what we do, says more about our beliefs and who we are, than what we say. What we say, must be backed by what we do, or what we say means very little.
    I remember when I was growing up, you know, I’d do something I knew I wasn’t supposed to do, something that was against what my parents had taught me was right. Inevitably, my actions would come to light, and there was always a conversation with my dad about what was right and wrong in that situation. I’d say that I was sorry, and he would say that he forgave me. But he always added, “I forgive you, and I love you, but the best way to show that you’re truly sorry is to not do this again.”
    And isn’t that the definition of true repentance? That we not only say that we’re sorry for sinning against God, but we completely turn away from that sin and seek not to do that sin again. Actions speak louder than words. What we say has to be back by our actions, or eventually our words will fall on deaf ears.
    We like to take people at their word, and initially when we enter into a new relationship with someone, we take their word at face value. They say something to us, and we generally believe them because we haven’t yet been given a reason not to. As the relationship develops and grows, if that person’s actions are proof of what they say, then the trust we had at first is affirmed and strengthened. But, if at any point, a person’s actions contradict what they have said, trust is broken and we are less likely to believe the words they speak again in the future until that trust is reestablished. The more this happens, the less we trust that what that person says is true, and the longer it takes to reestablish that trust.
    The true proof of what we say lies in what we do.
    I’m going to be in 1 Samuel 10 & 11 today. It’s about the proof we have of words spoken. We pick up right where we left off last week, with Saul and Samuel speaking together about Saul being God’s choice to be the king of Israel. Saul displayed a humble attitude at first, astonished that he, Saul, from the least family of the smallest of the tribes would be chosen to be the king over Israel.
    Saul tells his servant to return home, as he and Samuel walk together so Samuel can proclaim God’s word to him. What happens as 1 Samuel 10 opens, is Samuel takes a flask of oil and pours it over Saul’s head, and says this to him, “Has not the Lord anointed you a ruler over His inheritance?”
    This is a private anointing of Saul as king of Israel. It’s not public yet, because there’s certain things that must be done before Saul is publicly affirmed as Israel’s king. But, in order to get to that point, God begins to give Saul assurance that he was in fact the one that was chosen to be the king.
    There’s a series of proofs given to Saul to assure him that he is the king chosen by God, but we’re going to see through this passage that these proofs are also given to Saul to assure him that he is a changed man; that God has done a work in him to make him new, to make him a good king.
    First, Saul gets private proof, three signs that only Saul would be aware of to look for.
    These are the three signs, 1 Samuel 10:2-5, “When you go from me today, then you will find two men close to Rachel’s tomb in the territory of Benjamin at Zelzah; and they will say to you, ‘The donkeys which you went to look for have been found. Now behold, your father has ceased to be concerned about the donkeys and is anxious for you, saying, “What shall I do about my son?”’ Then you will go on further from there, and you will come as far as the oak of Tabor, and there three men going up to God at Bethel will meet you, one carrying three young goats, another carrying three loaves of bread, and another carrying a jug of wine; and they will greet you and give you two loaves of bread, which you will accept from their hand. Afterward you will come to the hill of God where the Philistine garrison is; and it shall be as soon as you have come there to the city, that you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and a lyre before them, and they will be prophesying.”
    Three proofs, the men by Rachel’s tomb who tell him his donkeys have been found; then the men by the oak of Tabor carrying bread and wine; then the prophets near Gibeah playing instruments and prophesying. Now, none of these things by themselves gives proof that Saul is the chosen king, or that he is a changed man, but all three of them happening the way Samuel said it would gives the proof that Saul needed to know that God was the one making it all happen.
    Now, I said that these proofs are not just assurance that Saul is the chosen king, but also proof that Saul is a changed man, proof that Saul is different because God is working in him. 1 Samuel 10:6-7 says, “Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you mightily, and you shall prophesy with them and be changed into another man. It shall be when these signs come to you, do for yourself what the occasion requires, for God is with you.”
    It wasn’t enough that Saul would just be told he’s a changed man. He needed proof, not because Saul demanded it, but because God set out to assure Saul that he was a changed man beyond any doubt. Remember, actions speak louder than words, and sometimes, without proof, we are slow to believe that change has actually happened.
    God didn’t just give Saul private proof though, He also gave Him public proof. This assured the people that Saul was a changed man.
    Saul’s heart was indeed changed, 1 Samuel 10:9 tells us that, and he went out and saw all three signs, and then he began to prophesy with the prophets. I want you to look at 1 Samuel 10:11, “It came about, when all who knew him previously saw that he prophesied now with the prophets, that the people said to one another, “What has happened to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?”
    People who knew him before he was changed by God saw him prophesying and it was so unusual that they were critical of what they were seeing. “What has happened to the son of Kish?” They said. They couldn’t believe it, that Saul would be speaking the word of God.
    Have you ever had that happen to you? You run into someone you haven’t seen since before you came to Christ, or perhaps before He had changed you drastically, and they have the same skeptical reaction to your changed life? Could this really be the person who I knew before? Could this really be the person I partied with? Could this be the person I drank with? Could this be the person who always cursed? Could this be the person who did all those bad things? And more often than not, they have a difficult time believing that you’ve truly changed.
    Saul certainly had his skeptics, but when God gave this public proof of Saul’s changed life, most of the skeptics were shut up.
    Saul was chosen by lot to be the king before all the people. When he is brought before the people, and everyone sees him, this is what happens, 1 Samuel 10:24, “Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen? Surely there is no one like him among all the people.” So all the people shouted and said, “Long live the king!”
    Now, if you read through the end of the chapter, you’ll see that not all of Saul’s skeptics were silenced, but the majority of the people had his back. The majority of the people supported him as king because they saw proof of a changed man before them.
    1 Samuel 11 gives us one final proof, and that’s proof in action. It’s a chance for Saul to act on the change that has taken place in his life. It wasn’t enough to just have proof that he had changed, he had to act on that proof. Remember that actions speak louder than words.
    The proof in action in 1 Samuel 11 is Saul’s defeat of the Ammonites. He shows incredible wisdom and direction in doing this, but the truly astonishing wisdom, the absolute proof of Saul’s changed heart comes in what he does after the victory is won.
    Remember I said that most of the skeptics changed their minds when they saw that Saul had really changed, but that there were still some who were against him. After the victory over the Ammonites, some of the people came to Samuel and said, “Hey, remember those people who were criticizing Saul, well, let’s bring them here and put them to death.” All for not supporting Saul.
    1 Samuel 11:13 gives us Saul’s response to this suggestion, “But Saul said, “Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has accomplished deliverance in Israel.”
    He shows with his actions, his decision not to put to death those who spoke out against him, proof that he is a changed man. He recognizes that despite what some had said about him, God’s purposes were still accomplished, the Lord delivered Israel. He showed incredible wisdom and discernment here as he proves that he is being guided by the Spirit in his actions because he is different than he was before.
    1 Samuel 11 ends with Saul being officially made king.
    So what does all of this have to do with us? Well, I want to show you that in the same way that Saul had proof that he was changed and being used by God, we also have proof as Christians that we have been changed by God.
    We have private proof, proof just for us as individuals that we have been changed. One of my favorite passages is 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”
    One of the most compelling proofs we have for ourselves is the new person who emerges after we come to Christ. We see a change in ourselves, we see a change in our attitudes, in our mindsets, in our actions and behaviors, even if they are small at first, there is change.
    Ezekiel 11:19 and 36:26 talk about God removing our heart of stone, our hearts that are calloused toward him and lost in sin, and giving us new hearts, hearts that are sensitive to His Spirit and renewed by the forgiveness of sins.
    The fact that we are given the Holy Spirit at the moment of our coming to Christ is, to me, the most convincing evidence that we have of our changed lives. The giving of the Holy Spirit to all believers was promised by Jesus, and so if we know that we have believed in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and have surrendered our lives to Him, then He has given us His Spirit, and we are indeed saved! We are changed.
    These are the proofs we have for ourselves, so we have assurance that our faith is real and true. But He gives public assurance to others as well, so what they see on the outside matches with the change that has taken place on the inside.
    Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” And verse 24 tells us that those who belong to Christ display this fruit, and so, when you are changed by Him, you display this fruit in increasing measure. The longer you are a Christian, the longer you walk with Him and mature in Him, the more you should display the fruit of the Spirit.
    And, just like Saul was given an opportunity to put the proof of his changed heart into action, we are too. We are given a chance to act on our changed lives. We’re all familiar with the command given in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
    We spent two months studying this passage and all that it means for the church. We have the command to take all the proof that we have been given of our changed hearts and go share that with someone else, so their heart might be changed as well. That’s our proof in action.

1. 1 Samuel 10:26 tells us what happened to some of the men who were gathered when Saul was publicly affirmed as king. What might that mean for us as Christians?

2. What specific proofs of your changed life have you seen? How might you speak about those proofs to unbelievers in your life to show them what God has done in you?

3. With what we’ve seen through this message, what might you say to a Christian who is struggling to know that God has truly saved and changed them?

A Willing Heart--1 Samuel 9

    I don’t know about you, but from time to time I’ve been tempted to think that what God requires of me is perfection. Now, I’m not talking about Christian perfection, I’m not talking about heart holiness, I’m talking about worldly perfection. You know the thought, the one that says, “Okay, you need to make sure to pray for at least this amount of time each day. You need to read at least 5 chapters in your Bible every day. You need to go to all the church things and Bible studies. You need to always say the right thing at church, and always act the right way. You need to check this box and that box, all the way down the list of what it means to be a ‘good’ Christian.”
    I’m tempted sometimes to think if I just do these things, if I look a certain way and act a certain way, that is what God wants. If I’m the best I can be, that’s good! Of course, that’s not true. But have you ever had that thought? Maybe you have, and if so, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.
    We can sometimes get caught up in thinking that God looks at all the external things in order to accept us, in order to use us. But His Word proves that is not true. God cares not one bit about what is on the outside. We’re going to see that today through 1 Samuel 9, but we also see that in what we celebrate today as a Christian church: the day of Pentecost. It’s a timely lesson too, considering what has happened in Minnesota this week.
    Let’s look at God’s Word, and let His Word speak today.
    We’re on the end of the period of the Judges this morning. Samson is dead, and Samuel is the last judge to lead Israel. The people have cried out for a king to rule over them, despite all of the warnings God has given them, they chose a king. 1 Samuel 9 opens with the introduction of a man named Saul, who will become an important man in the story of God’s people.
    Let’s look at the introduction we get to Saul, 1 Samuel 9:2, “He (Kish) had a son whose name was Saul, a choice and handsome man, and there was not a more handsome person than he among the sons of Israel; from his shoulders and up he was taller than any of the people.”
    This is the first picture we get of Saul. He is a choice and handsome man. Saul was a good looking guy. He would have been the popular choice, the people’s choice because Saul looked like a king, right? He was tall, taller than anyone else, and handsome. What better choice could you ask for to rule over the people, right? I’m being a little sarcastic, of course. We already know from 1 Samuel 8:11-17 that a king is going to be bad news for Israel, that a king is going to oppress the nation, so it really doesn’t matter how attractive the guy is, does it?
    Saul isn’t king yet though. In 1 Samuel 9, he’s just a guy, an attractive and tall guy, but just a guy. A guy who goes out looking for some lost donkeys. He and his servant leave Saul’s father’s house, trying to look for donkeys that had gotten lost, and they’re not having any luck at all. Saul is at the point of giving up, when his servant who had gone with him had this suggestion, “He said to him, “Behold now, there is a man of God in this city, and the man is held in honor; all that he says surely comes true. Now let us go there, perhaps he can tell us about our journey on which we have set out.”
    The suggestion is that they go to see this man of God, a prophet, and see if he can give them any sort of direction as to where they might find their lost donkeys.
    The prophet, the man of God they go to see is Samuel, and God had already been speaking to Samuel to tell him that Saul was on his way and that Saul was going to be the one that God was going to use to rule Israel. This is what God told Samuel, 1 Samuel 9:16-17, “About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be prince over My people Israel; and he will deliver My people from the hand of the Philistines. For I have regarded My people, because their cry has come to Me.” When Samuel saw Saul, the Lord said to him, “Behold, the man of whom I spoke to you! This one shall rule over My people.”
    Alright, so not only is Saul a good choice for the people’s king because of his physical attractiveness, but we are assured that God is the one who has chosen Saul.
    I’ve always had a fascination for royal families and bloodlines and seeing how royal families can be traced throughout history. I think it’s incredibly interesting and intricate, and I love learning about the genetics of royal families. There’s a few things I’ve learned through this fascination of mine, and it’s that even though royal families will often claim Divine right, they will claim that God put them on the throne to be God’s defender, rarely is that actually the case. More often than not, royal families become royal because they murdered the right person, or married the right person, or had the right child. Royalty is usually made by men, and it is usually ill-gotten.
    But Saul is one of the few kings in all of history who had confirmation through a prophet of the Lord that he was the chosen king by God Himself. And this was something that God said He would do, all the way back in Deuteronomy 17:15, “you shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses, one from among your countrymen you shall set as king over yourselves; you may not put a foreigner over yourselves who is not your countryman.” This passage tells us that God is the one who is to choose the kings over Israel.
    Saul was that man. Good-looking, tall, but also, chosen by God.
    I want to spend some time with Saul’s reply to his servant though, when his servant suggests they go and seek help from the man of God, Samuel.
    1 Samuel 9:7 gives us his reply, “Then Saul said to his servant, “But behold, if we go, what shall we bring the man? For the bread is gone from our sack and there is no present to bring to the man of God. What do we have?”
    If you’re following along in your bulletin and taking notes, that’s our first blank this morning: HAVE. What do we have?
    It was customary for a person seeking for the prophet of God to help them, to bring the prophet some sort of offering. That’s why Saul’s first thought is to remind the servant that they have no more bread, and nothing to present to the man of God. He was aware of the custom that an offering should be brought to the prophet, but he recognized he had nothing to give.
    So he asks this question, “What do we have?”
    What do we have?
    It’s a great question. It’s a question we should ask ourselves, too. What do we have? What do we have to bring God? What offering do we bring? What does He want from us? Is it outwardly perfection, like Saul seemed to have? Does God expect for us to have it all together? Does God want us to do all “Christian” things, check all the boxed, dot all the “i’s” and cross all the “t’s”? Does He expect us to be hugely talented, the best of the best, the smartest? What does He ask us to bring to Him?
    What do we have?
    I think, at first, Saul displayed the right answer to this question, and in our questions this week to dig deeper and interact more with the passage, I’m going to ask you to look at 1 Samuel 9:21 and examine Saul’s attitude.
    What do we have?
    I want us to answer this question primarily through 2 Corinthians 8:12 this morning, “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.”
    That’s our second blank in our bulletins this morning, WILLINGNESS. What this verse is saying is that if our heart is willing, what we have to give, what we have to offer, is enough, because it is coming from a willing heart.
    This is what God looks for in those who He chooses and wants to work through. He looks for willing hearts. It doesn’t matter how talented we are. Doesn’t matter how much money we have. Doesn’t matter what we look like. Doesn’t matter how many boxes we check. The Lord looks for willing hearts. And if we come with willing hearts, He takes what we willing give, and makes it more than enough. He does the amazing and miraculous through people who are simply just willing.
    I want to look at the Day of Pentecost as well, since today is Pentecost and we celebrate this morning the gift of the Holy Spirit given to all believers. Acts 2 tells us that the early believers were gathered together, probably praying, when there was a noise from heaven like a violent rushing wind that filled the house. Then tongues of fire rested upon each of them and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. What happened next was no less miraculous. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, each began to speak in a tongue that was not their native language, and the result was that when Peter preached the good news of Christ, thousands came to believe.
    What made them special? Were they amazing men and women? Did they have it all together? Were they extremely talented, rich, or successful?
    But they had willing hearts. They were gathered together because they wanted to serve the Lord. They were gathered together because they wanted to be in the Lord’s Will. They were gathered together to give the Lord glory, to praise Him and worship Him, and hear from Him. They were willing.
    In John 14:12, Jesus tells the disciples that they will do even greater things than He did because He was going to the Father. We know that He also told them that when He went to the Father, He would send the Spirit to help and guide us. The only reason that anyone can hope to do greater things than even Christ Himself is through being willing to be used by the Spirit.
    There was nothing special or extraordinary about the early Christians of the early church…except that they were willing. God used that in mighty ways, as He has always done with those who serve and love Him willingly, who offer everything that they have, even though it isn’t much, to do God’s will, willingly.
    I want to close with God’s words to Samuel in 1 Samuel 16:7, “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
    That’s your final blank this morning: HEART. God looks at the heart, and what He requires is that the heart is willing.

Questions to answer this week:
1. 1 Samuel 9:22-27 tells us what happened between Saul and Samuel after Saul knew his donkeys were safe. In verse 27, Samuel tells Saul that they are to go on together so Samuel could proclaim God’s Word to Saul. What did Samuel do in these verses to prepare to give Saul God’s Word?

2. In 1 Samuel 9:21, what attitude does Saul seem to have at first when Samuel tells Saul that he is God’s chosen ruler?

3. 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 says a lot about why God chooses to work through those who humble and willing, rather than those who are the “people’s choice”. Why does He do this? What does that mean for us as we answer His call?

The Blessing of Choice--1 Samuel 7 & 8

    My kids haven’t been in school since March 6. The older two are done with the school year now, but their last in-person day was March 6. However, I still brought them down with me to the church building a few days a week so I could have some quiet time to study and pray and get things done that needed to be done. Every single day we were going to come here for the day, one of the kids would inevitably ask this question, “Can I bring something with me to daycare?” Sometimes it’s a toy, sometimes it’s a coloring book. Mine and Jonny’s answer is almost always the same, “No. There are toys, coloring books, etc. at the daycare.”
    And why do we tell them this? Is it to be mean? No. It’s because we know from experience that if they bring something with them, it’s going to get lost at the daycare. It’s inevitable, and it happens every single time we let them bring something with them.
    But, on the rare occasion, just to give them the opportunity to grow responsibility, we say, “Are you sure you want to bring that toy? Do you remember what happened last time you brought a toy? It got lost, didn’t it?” And they say they remember but it’ll be different this time. This time they’ll watch out for their toy and keep it safe. Some day, that might actually happen. But we know it’s more likely that they’ll lose their toy. But we let them anyway, always with this warning, “Okay, you may bring that with you, but if it gets lost, there’s nothing I can do about it. You’ll have to just deal with it being lost.”
    We let them make the choice to do something we know is not going to end well. After all, that’s part of free will, right? And part of maturing as a person is learning how to use that free will to do what is responsible and right.
    Today, we’re starting 1 Samuel. I want us to understand the history of 1 Samuel as we move into the book so we understand how it fits into what we’ve read of the Old Testament so far.
    1 Samuel opens in the time of the judges. So since we know that, we also know that the period of the judges was a very troubled time for Israel. We can use Judges 17:6 to summarize the time, “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” Everyone did what was right in their own eyes, even those who were supposed to lead the people, judges like Samson, lived according to their own ways and not God’s ways.
    As 1 Samuel opens, we’ve had about 300 years of this downward spiral of the morality of Israel, from pretty good, to okay, to bad, to worse. But we also saw glimmers of hope through Ruth’s story as we know that Boaz was one of the Israelites who still followed God’s law and loved the Lord’s ways and did what was right!
    I want us to know this morning, that Samuel, who we will meet today through Scripture, was a judge at the same time as Samson. And that’s your first blank this morning if you’re taking notes.
    1 Samuel opens with the story of a handful more Israelites who love the Lord and do the right thing. We have a priest and judge, Eli; we have a man Elkanah, and his wife Hannah; and through answered prayer, we have Elkanah and Hannah’s son, Samuel. Samuel was dedicated to serve the Lord in the Lord’s house in Shiloh with Eli as his mentor. Samuel heard the voice of God call him at an early age and he began to serve God faithfully.
    Now, leading up to the portion of 1 Samuel we’re going to look at today, we see that the Philistines are still the major problem for Israel, since we’re in the same time period as Samson. Because the Israelites did their own thing, they did evil in the sight of the Lord, God allowed for the Philistines to have a few key victories over the Israelites, and in one of these victories, the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant.
    The Ark of the Covenant or the Mercy Seat was a piece of furniture in the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, and later in the Temple. It was placed in the Holy of Holies, the Most Holy Place, the place that no one could enter except the high priest once a year. The Ark was where the Holy Presence of God rested when He descended upon the Tabernacle to dwell amongst the people. Because the Ark is where God’s Presence would rest, the Ark came to symbolize the Presence of God, even though it wasn’t actually God’s Presence.
    The people confused the Ark of the Covenant with the actual Presence of God, so much so that they thought if the Ark went with them into battle, it would guarantee that they would be victorious. Their enemies thought this too, so when the Philistines captured the Ark, they thought it was like a magic box, that if they had it, they would always be victorious.
    Of course, that wasn’t true. In fact, the opposite happened. Because the Philistines captured the Ark, God’s hand was heavy upon them. They suffered severe losses, and diseases. So, once they figured out that it was because they had taken the Ark from the Israelites, they returned the Ark to Israel.
    That takes us to our passage for this morning. We’re going to be in 1 Samuel 7 & 8. The Ark of the Covenant is returned to Israel, but the Philistines still oppress the Israelites and the Israelites just cannot get the victory.
    So, Samuel gathers all the people to him, and this is what he says to them, 7:3, “If you return to the Lord with all your heart, remove the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your hearts to the Lord and serve Him alone; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.”
    If you’re taking notes, you’ll see your next blank there, that if you return to the Lord with all your HEART. Samuel was dedicated to the Lord at a young age, like many Christian parents do with their own children, but Samuel actually made the choice to continue in the path he was set on. Samuel made the choice to obey the Lord, to follow Him and to do what was right in God’s eyes. Samuel was also dedicated to leading God’s people to make the same choice, to obey God and to follow Him and His ways.
    His call here is a call to tell the people that what was missing in their lives was a dedication to follow God. He was telling them essentially that it wasn’t the Ark that gave them victory, it was God’s Presence with them, and that without God’s Presence, there was no hope. They had to return to the Lord, they needed to cry out to God with all their hearts.
    The people are presented with a choice, return to God with all your heart or continue to suffer the consequences of God’s Presence being removed from the people. Verse 4 tells us that they made a good choice. They removed the foreign gods from among them and they turned their hearts back to God. Verse 6 tells us this about the people, too, “They gathered to Mizpah, and drew water and poured it out before the Lord, and fasted on that day and said there, “We have sinned against the Lord.” And Samuel judged the sons of Israel at Mizpah.”
    There’s our third blank in there as well, the people said, “We have sinned against the Lord.”
    They recognized that their actions, their choice to do what was right in their own eyes was in fact, sin. But, they were free to choose. At every turn, they were free to choose. They chose to do what was right in their own eyes. Then they chose to listen to Samuel, to recognize their sin and to repent and turn back to the Lord.
    That’s free will again. We let our children have the choice to choose something, even if we know that the outcome is not going to be good for them. In the same way, God lets us choose to do what is not good for us: sin. He lets us walk in that path if we really want to. Now, that doesn’t mean He doesn’t give us warnings, because He does. And that doesn’t mean that He doesn’t try everything that He can to get us to come to Him, without imposing on our free will. He does try everything He can. He lets us sometimes suffer horrible consequences in hopes that we will turn from what is bad for us. But, again, the choice is ours.
    When the people made the choice, and Samuel had offered a sacrifice to the Lord, Samuel cried out to God and the Lord heard him. Things began to turn in favor of the Israelites. They subdued the Philistines in battle and were able to keep them out of the borders of Israel. Samuel knows that the change in battle is because God helped them, not because of some magical box, but because of the actual Presence of the Lord with them.
    7:12 says this, “Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” The last blank in your bulletin this morning is helped.
    Samuel set up this stone to remind the nation that God helped them, that they needed the Presence of the Lord to be with them. It was a reminder that they needed to use their free will to choose God.
    Things seemed to go well for a time because of the people’s choice, because of Samuel’s choice to lead the people to choose God. But after some time passes, we get another choice that leads the nation in a not so good direction again.     1 Samuel 8:3 says, “His sons, (that’s Samuel’s sons) however, did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after dishonest gain and took bribes and perverted justice.” They made a choice to do what was right in their own eyes, and because Samuel had become an old man, and his sons weren’t fit to judge, or lead, the nation, the people gather together and tell Samuel they want him to appoint a king over the nation, just like the other nations have.
    Now, at first that might not seem like such a bad idea, but remember that what God’s desire for His people was, was for them to rely on God to lead them, for God to be their leader, their guide, not a human judge, not a human leader, not a king. They were meant to follow the Lord.
    It would seem by now that they might have learned that their human leaders have fallen short. Even the good ones, Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, Samuel, were only able to lead the people to the Lord for as long as they were alive, but as soon as they died, the people made the choice to do evil again. I’m not sure why they thought like a king would do better. But, that was their choice.
    Samuel was troubled over their choice to ask for a king and he took his worry to God. 8:7 gives us the Lord’s response to Samuel, “The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.” The Lord gives Samuel a warning to the people, that if they chose a king, they would face certain consequences.
    A king would take their sons into his army to fight for the king, and possibly die for the king. A king would take their daughters to work as servants. A king would take a tenth of their fields, their vineyards, their groves, their seeds. A king would take their servants as his own. A king would take a tenth of their flocks. And finally, a king would take them and they would become his servants. The warning ends with this, 8:18, “Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
    The people don’t listen, they choose to have a king anyway.
    All of this comes down to choice. They had those choices, to choose to serve the Lord, to follow Him, to obey Him, to walk with Him, or to choose not to. God let them have their choice, even though He knew what a king would do to the people. He let them have their choice.
    Even though we know sometimes how a choice our children make will turn out, we let them make their choices.
    Even though God knows how our choices will turn out, He lets us make our choices. I see that as a blessing, because we know that if we choose Him, it was because we wanted to, not because we were forced to or because we grew up being indoctrinated, but because we wanted to. Because we see His love, His kindness, His forgiveness, His compassion and grace for what it is and we are in awe. The blessing comes in knowing that beyond a doubt we are His because we chose Him.
    The blessing comes in knowing that if we listen to Him, obey Him, let Him guide us, let Him lead us, it will be well with us because He knows what is best for us, and He has good in mind for us.
    Luke 11:28 tells us what Jesus said, “He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”
    1 Peter 1:14-16 says, “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
    He is a good Father. He loves us dearly. He wants what is best for us, but He lets us choose. He always has.

1. 1 Samuel 8:18 says that some day the people would cry out because of the king they chose, but the Lord would not hear them. Why do you think God would not hear His people, even when they cried out?

2. What does God’s protection of human free will teach you about God’s character?

3. It can be a struggle to always follow God and do what He asks of us, to always choose Him instead of ourselves. What does Galatians 5:16 says about how we can overcome that struggle?

Redeemer--Ruth 3 & 4

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    Today we’ll finish the book of Ruth. In my opinion, two weeks is not nearly enough to fully delve into the pages of Ruth, but since it is a small book and we’re just doing an overview, we do need to keep our pace up.
    As we go through Ruth 3 & 4, we’ll see that Ruth’s story has a great happy ending, but we’ll also talk more about the greatest love story hinted at in Ruth that isn’t actually Ruth’s story.
    When we left Ruth last week, she had moved back to Israel, to Bethlehem, with her mother-in-law, Naomi. Naomi had lost her husband, Elimelech, and both her sons, including Ruth’s husband. To provide for both herself, and her mother-in-law, Ruth goes to a field to gather wheat left-over on the ground from the harvest. We talked about the seeming coincidences that led Ruth to this particular field, which just happened to belong to Boaz, possibly one of the few Jewish men who adhered to God’s law and was kind and compassionate, even toward Ruth who was a foreigner.
    Let’s look at Ruth 3:1, “One day Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for.”
    We’re told that some time has passed between the events of Ruth 2 and Ruth 3. We don’t know exactly how much time, but the next few verses indicate that it has been long enough that Ruth is familiar with not only Boaz, but the maids who work for him as well. She’s built up a rapport, a certain comfortable existence with them.
    The passing of time also tells us that potentially, Naomi was getting on in years and was beginning to worry that there would be nothing for Ruth to inherit and no one to care for Ruth if Naomi passed away. She wants to see Ruth set up, wants to make sure Ruth has security.
    Naomi devises a plan, which when you first read it, might seem really scandalous. This is what she told Ruth, Ruth 3:2-4, “Now Boaz, with whose women you have worked, is a relative of ours. Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.”
    Of course, there’s a lot more to Naomi’s plan that we need to understand in order to understand what exactly she’s suggesting. Here’s what Naomi knew that we need to know, too:
    She knew what a threshing floor was. Most of us are probably not familiar with this term, and have even less of an idea of what a threshing floor might actually be. So, a threshing floor was a large, usually circular plot of land that had been cleared of all plant life and had been trampled down to the point of being very hard dirt. This plot of land was very solid, in some cases there’s even evidence of it being paved with some sort of crude asphalt. It was in the open air, so not in a building of any sort, usually next to the field of wheat or grain. What would happen is the harvesters would take the grain to the threshing floor after it had dried in the sun, and they would toss it up using forks that were a sort of early pitch-fork. The good parts of the grain, the parts used for making food, would fall back down to the threshing floor, while the unusable parts of the grain would be blown away in the wind. So, that’s what a threshing floor was and what it was used for.
    Naomi also knew that in her culture, private bedrooms weren’t so much of a thing, especially for a hard-working, single, land-owner, like Boaz. Naomi knew that if Boaz even had a bedroom or a bed, it was highly unlikely he would actually sleep there. It was not unusual during harvest time for land-owners and harvesters to sleep on the threshing floor as a way of protecting their harvest from thieves. Naomi knew that since Boaz was a hard-working man, responsible and prudent, he was probably going to sleep on the threshing floor in the open air. So it wouldn’t have been a scandalous thing for Ruth to go to Boaz on the threshing floor at night. Chances are, there were probably some of his workers sleeping there too.
    Finally, Naomi knew that the act of uncovering Boaz’s feet also wasn’t a scandalous act. She knew that if Ruth uncovered Boaz’s feet and lay near his feet, then Ruth would be signifying to Boaz that she was submitting herself to serve him, to be his servant. Not only that, but according to laws found in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, Ruth had the right to claim a marriage with someone from her deceased husband’s family. Uncovering Boaz’s feet to show that Ruth was willing to submit to Boaz also showed that Ruth was claiming her Biblical right to marry a relative of her husband’s, even though Ruth wasn’t actually Jewish!
    We’ve already seen that Ruth is a loyal daughter-in-law, and has chosen to act according to Naomi’s words, and to adopt Jewish custom and laws as her own, but legally, Ruth was bound by no law to seek a marriage. But, she does as Naomi tells her to do.
    Boaz is also not bound by any legal obligation to marry Ruth, and I’ll show you why. Ruth 3:10-13, “The Lord bless you, my daughter,” he replied. “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character. Although it is true that I am a guardian-redeemer of our family, there is another who is more closely related than I. Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to do his duty as your guardian-redeemer, good; let him redeem you. But if he is not willing, as surely as the Lord lives I will do it. Lie here until morning.”
    I want to first point out that Boaz knows all that Naomi knew too, all that I’ve just pointed out. He knew the culture and the law, so he doesn’t view Ruth’s actions as scandalous either. In fact, he calls her actions, her willingness to marry him to save her family, kind.
    Because Ruth wasn’t bound by Jewish law to marry someone in her husband’s deceased family, Boaz recognized that Ruth could have set her eyes on someone younger, richer, than Boaz. Boaz also recognized that by marrying him, Ruth would help Naomi keep whatever property or possessions she had. She would be helping her mother-in-law in an incredible way.
    Because of the great kindness that Boaz sees in Ruth’s actions toward him, he agrees to do what she has asked. But there’s a catch.
    Boaz says that he is a guardian-redeemer for their family, but…he’s not the closest guardian-redeemer. There’s another man in the family who has the right to claim the marriage with Ruth and Naomi’s inheritance.
    Now, I want to come back to this idea of the guardian-redeemer, or kinsman-redeemer. But I want to first finish out Ruth’s story.
    Boaz went to the other guardian-redeemer and presented the option to buy the land to keep it in Naomi’s family. The man said he would, but when Boaz mentions that the land also comes with Ruth as a wife, the man declines because it would mess up with his own inheritance. He tells Boaz to buy the land himself.
    Boaz does of course, because he loves God’s law and is a compassionate and kind man. He buys the land to keep it with Naomi’s family, and he marries Ruth, and they lived happily ever after.
    No, really.
    We’re told in Ruth 4:11-12 that even though Ruth is a foreigner, a Moabitess, from one of the most corrupt nations at the time, she is adopted into the family of God’s people, and they considered her one of their own. Better than one of their own, they gave her a place of high honor amongst the other women of Israel whose names were well-known.
    Ruth and Boaz have a child who, as we read in Ruth 4:18-22, is listed in the line of King David. So Ruth becomes an ancestor of King David, and we also understand that according to Matthew 1, that places her in the line of Christ.
    So, happily ever after!
    But let’s go back to the guardian-redeemer.
    The kinsman-redeemer is an Old Testament idea that we’ve kind of hinted at. It was a practice we see first in Genesis 38:8. A woman’s husband died and didn’t leave her any children, so the man’s brother was told that it was his duty to marry his brother’s widow to continue the family, to pass the inheritance down. By the time we get to Deuteronomy 25, it’s a law that a woman can claim this right through a close family member of her deceased husband. That if she does this, and he wants to redeem her, he can buy the inheritance that would normally have passed to her son.
    He can choose not to redeem her, of course, but then he relinquishes all rights to the land that might come with a marriage to the woman. However, if he chose not to do this, the woman would lose any land that might go to her son, because women could not inherit property or land. If she was not redeemed by someone in her family, she would lose everything. She would have nothing of value in that society. No children, no land, no husband. That would make her worth very little at the time. Fortunately for me, and other women, that’s changed significantly.
    The guardian-redeemer, in the Hebrew is called the goĕl. The goĕl wasn’t a judge, but a comforter, someone who extended life and love. It has an exact equivalent in Greek, and in the New Testament, we translate that word as ransom.
    Now, most of us probably understand the concept of a ransom. A ransom is the price that must be paid to save someone. So, anytime in the New Testament and Old Testament that we read that Messiah, Christ will save His people from their sins, or redeem His people, or set them free, we have to understand that what that’s saying is that He does that by paying the ransom required to save us, to set us free.
    In many ways, it’s the language of love, of romance, of marriage, that we can view ourselves as the childless widow, we are lost, we have no rights, and if someone doesn’t step-in and intervene, if someone doesn’t pay the price, we lose everything. We need someone like Boaz, compassionate, loving, to pay the price to buy us back from certain destruction.
    And that’s why, as amazing as Ruth and Boaz’s story is, it’s only the second greatest love story in the Bible.
    The greatest is this:
    “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” John 3:16-17.
    “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:32, 35-39.
    Christ paid our price. He is our ransom, our goĕl, our redeemer. He is our Boaz, but so much better, because he didn’t save us from losing some land or losing some property. He saved us from death, He saved us from the destruction of our souls. He saved us from eternal suffering. That’s so much more amazing than what Boaz did.
    He paid the price, and there was absolutely no one else who could.

1. Why do we need redeeming?

2. What does it mean to you that Jesus redeemed you? How has His redemption changed your life?

3. Look at Luke 1:68-75; Romans 3:22-24; Galatians 3:13-14, 4:4-5; Colossians 1:13-14; and 1 Peter 1:18-21 for more on Christ as our redeemer.

It Just So Happened... (Ruth 1 & 2)

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    Good morning and Happy Mother’s Day! I have to admit that as we’re leaving the book of Judges, I’m actually really glad to be moving out of the book of Judges. Now, because it’s part of the Bible, I see how God has used the book of Judges to help us work through some of what has been going on in our world right now, and it was certainly God’s timing that put us in Judges at this moment. But, most of Judges is so doom and gloom that it’s hard to stay camped out there and not start to feel the hopelessness of what God’s people were going through at the time. So, I’m glad to be moving out of the book of Judges, at least in name.
    Today, we’re starting Ruth, which actually takes place during the time of the judges, but it’s a much brighter and hope-filled story that shows how God was working to bring good things even when His people had, for the most part, turned their hearts against Him.
    I love the story of Ruth. And here’s why: I grew up on fairy tales. I was a kid during the golden age of Disney, so I grew up watching the Little Mermaid, which is still my favorite Disney princess movie, and Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast; as well as the classics like Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella, and Robin Hood, which was another favorite. I had a two-volume book of fairy tales that I think I’ve read in its entirety at least a dozen times, which even had some fairy tales you’ve never even heard of! Those stories of fantasy captured me as a kid, not for the adventures or daring rescues or evil villains, but because of the love stories. I’m a romantic at heart.
    Even now, I can’t turn down a really good romance movie.
    The book of Ruth contains the second greatest love story in the whole Bible. It’s an absolutely beautiful tale that has absolutely captured my heart, but only partly because of Ruth and Boaz’s story. Mostly, I love the book of Ruth because it’s full of the greatest love story in the Bible: God’s love, His goodness, His kindness, His compassion and mercy…for us.
    Let’s dive in.
    Ruth 1:1 gives us our “Once Upon a Time” statement that sets everything up for us. “Now it came about in the days when the judges governed, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the land of Moab with his wife and his two sons.”
    So, we’re sometime in the period of the judges, though we never get a sense of who the judge was at the time, but we’re told there was a famine in the land. I get the sense that it’s possible that this famine happened between two judges, when the people had turned away from God after a judge died and began doing evil again. Mentioning the famine would be a way for the writer of Ruth to show us that this was happening in a time when God’s blessing had been removed from the people because of their actions.
    The famine affected Bethlehem, where this man, Elimelech lives with his family. Now, we know that Bethlehem becomes an important city in the Bible. It’s the city of David. It’s the city of Jesus’ birth.
    So, I really like names. I like to know what peoples names mean, and my husband and I even made sure that when we were naming our children, that we chose strong names that meant something good, names that we hoped they would grow into. The Hebrew culture was much the same way. They named their children names that highlighted a characteristic they hope their children would grow into. Like Jeremiah, our oldest, his name means “God will uplift”. And we hope and pray that as he grows, he will develop and cultivate a relationship with the Lord and God will uplift him.
    The city of Bethlehem means “house of bread”, so here in the opening verse of Ruth, there’s a famine in the house of bread that’s so bad, Elimelech feels like he must take his family out of Bethlehem to a foreign country, Moab, to keep them fed. The famine must have been very severe too, because Moab is not the kind of place that a Jewish person would want to go to. It’s full of idolatry, pagan worship, and moral corruption. So things must have been very bad in Bethlehem. Either that…or Elimelech, whose name means “God is King” doesn’t really believe that God is King, and doesn’t trust Him enough to care for his family in times of need.
    His family consists of his wife, Naomi, whose name means “sweet and pleasant”; and two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, whose names literally mean “sick” and “dying”. I don’t think that’s something any parent would hope their kids grow into. The sad fact is though, that even though Elimelech takes his family to Moab to keep them from death by starvation, they end up dying in Moab anyway, all but Naomi, and the wives of Mr. Sick and Mr. Dying, named Orpah and Ruth.
    Now, in Ruth 1:6-9, this is what Naomi says after her husband and sons have died, “Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the land of Moab, for she had heard in the land of Moab that the Lord had visited His people in giving them food. So she departed from the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her; and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you as you have dealt with the dead and with me. May the Lord grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.”
    Naomi decides to return home because there’s food in Israel again, which tells me that it’s likely that a new judge has been appointed over Israel. Maybe even one of the good judges because of the character of the people at the time. Naomi releases her two daughters-in-law and tells them to go back to their mother’s houses. She didn’t see any reason for them to still be bound to her, and was hoping that in releasing them to go back home, they would perhaps be able to remarry and start families with new husbands. That was the best that she could wish for them.
    Naomi spoke a blessing over them, and asked that the Lord would deal kindly with them, that He would show them His kindness. When she did this, what she was hoping the Lord would do is to cover them with all the blessings of His character. She was asking that God give her two daughters-in-law the absolute best that He could give them, which in any situation, is better than what we might be able to give. In other words, she was saying, “Look, I have nothing left for you, no family, no home, no land, I can’t give you anything, but I pray and hope God will give you all that He wants for you in abundance!”
    Now, this would have been contrary to what Jewish custom was. Jewish custom was that if a son died and he was married, then the widow was supposed to marry another man in the family so the property they owned would stay in the family. But Naomi tells them to go back home. Orpah did go back to her mother’s home, but Ruth, whose name means “friendly” and “companion”, decided to stay with Naomi.
    In fact, Ruth gives this speech to Naomi that is touching and very telling of the type of woman Ruth was. Ruth 1:16-17 says, “But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.”
    Not only does this tell us that Ruth is an incredibly loyal woman, but it means that as much was possible in the days before Christ came to offer salvation and inheritance of God’s Kingdom to all, this was as close as Ruth could come to making a personal commitment to God without actually being Jewish. In her loyalty to Naomi, she has chosen to leave behind her home, but more importantly, she has chosen to leave behind her false gods, the gods of Moab, and serve the One True God, the God of Israel, the God of the Covenant. That’s a huge commitment!
    They both go to Bethlehem, and we’re told at the end of Ruth 1 that they arrive in Bethlehem just in time for harvest season, which affirms for us that the Lord was blessing the nation of Israel once again because of their obedience to him during the time of a judge.
    We don’t know what sort of financial situation Naomi and Ruth are in, but it seems to have desperate enough that they couldn’t buy some necessities, like grain for bread. Ruth is a strong woman, okay, she goes out and finds a way to get grain so she and Naomi can survive.
    I want us to point our attention just for a moment to Leviticus 19:9-10, which was one of the laws that God gave to His people about how they should take care of their land and their people. “Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the Lord your God.” The same law is repeated in Leviticus 23:22.
    God is a God who is concerned for the welfare of His people, but not just those who live in the boundaries of “normal” society. From early on, God has shown His concern for the least of society as well, for the poor, for the foreigners in a foreign land. This law He gave was to tell His people that if they owned land and had a harvest, or a vineyard with a harvest, they were supposed to leave certain yields of the harvest for those who had no other way of providing for themselves. God was concerned that all people should have a way to eat.
    Unfortunately, God’s people didn’t always listen to this and follow through with it. In fact, even by the time we get to the period of the judges, most of God’s people were largely ignoring laws like this. But, perhaps because they were in a period of a good judge, or perhaps because of his strong character, there was at least one man who followed through with this law: Boaz. Boaz, whose name means “strength”, a worthy man, in fact, so worthy that one of the pillars in Solomon’s temple bore the same name: Boaz.
    Naomi, knowing that there was this law that the people were supposed to adhere to, has Ruth go and find a field to pick wheat from. Now, this is where it gets good. Ruth 2:3 says, “So she went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech.”
    This is where it gets really good. I want us to zero in on a phrase here in verse 3, “As it turned out”. If we were Hebrew and we were reading this in Hebrew, we would all laugh hysterically at this phrase, because we would know that what the writer of Ruth is saying here is sarcasm. This was no coincidence. This didn’t just happen that Ruth just happened to go to the field of a man who actually adhered to God’s laws so she and Naomi would be taken care of. This didn’t just happen that Boaz was a member of Elimelech’s family and so if Ruth just happened to marry him, all of Naomi’s land and belongings would actually get to stay in the family. This didn’t just happen that Boaz took notice of Ruth and told his servants to make sure to leave enough grain in the field for her and to make sure she had water to drink and to make sure that his servants treated her kindly.
    So the writer of Ruth is saying this phrase, “It just so happened…” but we’re to understand that though this might have seemed like a coincidence to Ruth or to Naomi or to Boaz, that really, what is happening is God working in the situation to bless Naomi and Ruth and Boaz, too!
    Remember that blessing that Naomi gave to Ruth, that she prayed and hoped for God to richly give her all of His kindness, all of the goodness of His character? “It just so happened…” means that God is answering Naomi’s prayer for Ruth.
    It also tells us something really important about God’s character that I don’t want us to miss this morning. It tells us that God is concerned for the daily lives of His people, those who have chosen Him and call Him their Lord. He cares for us. He cared enough for Ruth that He made sure that she ended up in the right field at the right time so she would be taken care of. He cared enough for Naomi to provide a way for her to keep all of her belongings, whatever they might have been. He cared enough for Boaz to provide him with a wife that would work hard and had treated all those around her with compassion.
    God is concerned for what happens in our daily lives! Why? Because He is good, and His goodness is abundant. Because His lovingkindness is never-ending. Because He is compassionate toward those who are in distress.
    There are some who have come to believe that God, if He even exists, they say, created the world and then just left it alone. There are some that say that God simply doesn’t care what happens to people in their day to day lives. Nothing could be further from the truth.
    What we see in Ruth is that God, because He is good and loving and kind, does care about the little things, even things like Ruth finding grain for bread. If He cares about something like that, what do you think He cares about in your life? The answer is everything! 1 Peter 5:7 tells us to cast all our anxiety on Him because He cares for us! Even the little things.
    So, like I said at the beginning, Ruth is not just about the sweet love story between Ruth and Boaz that starts off with the cutest little meeting in the Bible that makes my romantic heart go “aww”…it’s more about the love that God has for His people, that He would care for us and provide for us in ways we often aren’t even aware of!
    Next week, the rest of Ruth will prove this point even more. But to close, we have our questions for this week to think about and meditate on:

1. Look at Ruth’s promise to Naomi in Ruth 1:16-17. What all does Ruth give up to follow Naomi to Israel?

2. What would it look like for you to be like Ruth in your friendships, marriage, work relationships, and at church? What might you have to sacrifice to selflessly serve others as Ruth served Naomi?

3. How might you be encouraged this week by God’s never changing character, particularly His goodness and kindness for you?

Our Own Worst Enemy (Judges 16)

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    Today, we’ll be wrapping up the book of Judges with the saddest chapter in Samson’s story as a judge. Today, we’re going to talk more in depth about Samson’s own character flaws as a way to examine ourselves. We’re going to be in Judges 16 today.
    Judges 16 opens with even more of Samson’s lack of moral character. He’s misused the power of the Spirit of the Lord for his own petty and vindictive reasons, despite being set up for success. In Judges 16, we see Samson become his own worst enemy.
    The chapter opens with Samson going down to the capital Philistine city: Gaza. We’re told right away, that Samson spends the night with a prostitute. I want to revisit Judges 14 for just a second, to help us remember a little episode in Samson’s life. Judges 14:1-2 says, “Then Samson went down to Timnah and saw a woman in Timnah, one of the daughters of the Philistines. So he came back and told his father and mother, “I saw a woman in Timnah, one of the daughters of the Philistines; now therefore, get her for me as a wife.”
    In Judges 14, one of Samson’s character flaws starts off innocently enough. Samson sees a pretty girl and he likes her, so he asks his parents to arrange a marriage with the pretty girl. Never mind that she’s one of the enemies. But, overall, this flaw of Samson’s doesn’t start off too bad.
    By the time we get to Judges 16 though, Samson has stopped trying to be “innocent enough” about his most prominent character flaw: lust. At least with the first Philistine girl, he set out to marry her. Here, there’s no such pretense. Samson’s chief weakness is women, and what we see in Judges 16 is that he is willing to throw everything else away to give in to his lust.
    It only gets worse as Samson begins a relationship with a third Philistine woman, Delilah. In his love and lust for Delilah, Samson is willing to even give away the secret to the source of his strength: his uncut hair. At least, that’s what he things is the source of his strength. Really though, we have to understand that the Spirit of the Lord is the source of Samson’s strength, as we’ll see later in Judges 16.
    But, Samson gives in again, because he’s impulsive and has no self-discipline.
    Samson is also compromising, and not just in his lust. He compromised his Nazirite vow to touch the dead body of the lion, and he compromised his devotion to the God of Israel by having relationships with foreign women who introduced him to foreign gods. In just about every situation that we see him in, we see Samson bending God’s law, adjusting God’s ways to suit his own way.
    Delilah tries, on three separate attempts to get Samson to tell her the secret of his strength. After these three tries fail, and Samson doesn’t give in, we get this scene in Judges 16:15-16, “Then she said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me? You have deceived me these three times and have not told me where your great strength is.” It came about when she pressed him daily with her words and urged him, that his soul was annoyed to death.”
    Aside from the fact that this is an incredibly funny moment in the Bible where Samson feels like he is being pressed so hard by the woman he loves that he feels his soul is at death’s door from annoyance; his response to this annoyance of his soul, is to compromise his secret and finally tell Delilah that his strength lies in his hair.
    This too, is despite the fact that he should already know what’s going to happen. See, every time before when he had told her a lie about the secret of his strength, she awoke him by shouting, “Samson, the Philistines are here!” Now, he didn’t know that the Philistine leaders were actually there, because she would have them hidden, but if you were Samson, wouldn’t you be just a little suspicious? Any rational or reasonable person would probably start to see through the game they were playing.
    Samson doesn’t though, because of his pride, so he compromises. So far, we see Samson’s impulsivity, we see his compromise, and we see his pride.
    Look at Judges 16:17-20, “So he told her all that was in his heart and said to her, “A razor has never come on my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If I am shaved, then my strength will leave me and I will become weak and be like any other man.” When Delilah saw that he had told her all that was in his heart, she sent and called the lords of the Philistines, saying, “Come up once more, for he has told me all that is in his heart.” Then the lords of the Philistines came up to her and brought the money in their hands. She made him sleep on her knees, and called for a man and had him shave off the seven locks of his hair. Then she began to afflict him, and his strength left him. She said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him.”
    When he finally compromises his secret, he just goes to sleep, in Delilah’s lap, knowing that she has the secret to his strength, but he doesn’t feel vulnerable or uneasy at all. He has this over-confidence, and I want you to look closely at verse 20 to see that the reason he was proud, the reason he was over-confident, even after he had compromised himself, was because he believed that the Spirit of the Lord would not depart from him. He thought that because he was God’s instrument, blessed by God, with a divine purpose, that God wouldn’t leave him.
    Unfortunately, Samson’s assumption was very wrong. I want to come back to that though, and cover Samson’s last character flaw, and that was that he was unteachable. This was tied to his pride in some ways. But, if we go back to Judges 14, we’ll see that he refused to listen to the advice of his parents, who, from what we saw two weeks ago, had a relationship with the Lord in a way that they understood the character of God. They point out that marrying a woman who was a Philistine was a bad idea, and they offered to find Samson a bride from his own people, people who were God’s people, but Samson wouldn’t listen.
    Samson was impulsive, always acting on his chief sin: lust. He was compromising. He was prideful. And he was unteachable. Despite all that Samson had going for him, Samson was his own worst enemy.
    All of his issues were a result of him not walking in step with the Lord, not walking in step with the Spirit that was empowering him. The apostle Paul describes this sort of life in Galatians 5:16-21, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
    Samson could probably tick off each of these acts against the Spirit. He was his own worst enemy.
    How much are we like Samson? Aren’t we our own worst enemy? We give into the flesh, we walk by the sinful desires and character flaws that we have. We put ourselves into situations where we give into sin. We compromise on God’s ways. We refuse to be told we’re wrong. Even after we come to Christ, we find this inherent battle between what we know is good and what we know we should do, and what we know is not good, what we should not do.
    Samson’s weaknesses kept him from fulfilling his divine, God given purpose. In the same way, our own human failings, our own refusal to walk in step with the Spirit can also keep us from fulfilling our divine purpose.
    We have to be very careful to understand that we cannot treat obedience to God casually, and then expect to experience the blessing of God continually.
    In other words, we can’t continue to do things our way, live life anyway that we see is right in our own eyes, like Samson did, and expect for God to continue to bless us. We can’t continue to use the gifts and talents He gave us to do anything other than serve Him, and expect for Him to bless the efforts we put forth with those gifts and talents. He does ask us to obey what He has said. He does ask that we live as living sacrifices for Him, completely surrendered to Him and His will for our lives.
    Is this easy? No. If it were, then we wouldn’t have so many believers who fall back into step with the flesh over and over again. It’s not easy to live in obedience. It’s not easy to walk with the Spirit. It’s not easy to live a life completely surrendered. It’s not easy to be a living sacrifice.
    I want to read the end of Samson’s story. Judges 16:28-30, “Then Samson called to the Lord and said, “O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me just this time, O God, that I may at once be avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.” Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and braced himself against them, the one with his right hand and the other with his left. And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” And he bent with all his might so that the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he killed in his life.”
    Samson was his own worst enemy, for sure. We are our own worst enemies most of the time as well. But in Samson’s final moments, he cried out to God, finally. It’s the first time in all of Samson’s life that we see him crying out to God. He cried out, and though we don’t know if the Spirit came upon Samson again, we do know that Samson’s hair had begun to grow back. We also know that in this final moment, God’s will was still done.
    Just before this scene, the Philistines celebrated that they had captured Samson and they praised their pagan god, Dagon, for giving Samson into their hands. They mocked Samson’s God, they mocked the God of Israel, but Samson’s God had the final word. Samson cried out, and God had the victory over the Philistines and their false god.
    That should give us some hope this morning, that if God can give new mercies to Samson, impulsive, compromising, proud, unteachable Samson, then He can give new mercies to us too, if we cry out.
    Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
    Whether it’s been one day or a hundred days since you last cried out to God, His Word assures us that He hears us. That He is waiting for us to come to Him. That His love never ceases, and His mercies never end, that they are new each morning. He does ask for obedience, for a surrendered life, but when we fail to do that, He is merciful.

1. How does Samson compare to the other judges we’ve studied? In what ways did he fall short of delivering Israel?

2. When has God done something miraculous in your life? Did you recognize that what happened was from Him? Why or why not?

Misusing God's Power (Judges 14 & 15)

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    Today’s message is one that hits hard for me because of the direction that the Spirit took me when I was putting this together, something that He’s been working through me for over a year now.  It’s an idea that we see come up in Samson’s story, it’s the idea of the misuse of God’s power.
    We’re going to be in Judges 14 and 15 today, and since we’re covering two chapters today, our focus is going to be on that specific idea, the misuse of God’s power, and looking at these two chapters in Samson’s story through that idea that comes out of this passage.
    We’re going to look at three events in these two chapters today, where we’re told that the Spirit of the Lord came upon or moved Samson. Samson is now a man, and if you’ll remember from last week’s message, Samson was set up for success. He had a divine purpose, he was called by God and set apart for God’s plan. He had a faithful mother who understood the character of God, even when so many others in the country didn’t. And finally, and most importantly, he had been blessed by God and the Spirit of the Lord was upon him.
    But the first story we get of grown-up Samson is of him doing anything other than being set-apart for God. Samson sees a young woman and asks his parents to arrange a marriage between them. His parents try to discourage him from marrying this particular woman because she’s a Philistine. But this is what Samson said, 14:3, “But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she looks good to me.”
    The Hebrew phrase there, we could better understand as “Get her for me, for she looks right (or righteous) in my eyes.” And I point that out because I want us to remember what the issue was for the Israelite people throughout this period of the judges, and it’s highlighted for us in Judges 17:6, “every man did what was right in his own eyes.” Samson isn’t necessarily so concerned with making sure he was in God’s will when he acted, he just did what was right in his own eyes, and this attitude of doing what was right in his own eyes led the nation to continue to do the same.
    In pursuit of what was right in his own eyes, Samson goes down to the town where this woman was and verse 5 tells us that a lion came roaring toward him. Here’s the first event we’re going to talk about. 14:6 says, “The Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily, so that he tore him as one tears a young goat though he had nothing in his hand; but he did not tell his father or mother what he had done.”
    This is the first instance we’re told of where the Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson as an adult. What this means is that the Spirit of God enabled Samson to do the remarkable, the Spirit strengthened his physical powers to tear apart the lion that was about to attack him. Now, what we see from instances like this in the book of Judges, when the Spirit of the Lord came upon someone, it was not a permanent thing. The Spirit would come upon the judges to enable them to do the supernatural, but only for a specific amount of time. The Spirit would only come upon that person for however long it took to accomplish the work of the Spirit.
    If you joined us at any point in the past few weeks as we’ve been in Judges, you might remember the other instances of the Spirit coming upon a judge to accomplish the work of the Spirit. In the earlier examples of this, the Spirit accomplished complete and total deliverance over the enemies of Israel through the judges. But by the time we get to Samson, we see a lessening of the effectiveness of the moving of the Spirit. Why?
    Is it because the Spirit became less powerful over time? Well, we know that’s not true, it couldn’t possibly. The Spirit is the same from the beginning of Creation, present at Creation, working to bring about Creation, so His power won’t have gotten less powerful over time. So then why? Why do we see Othniel and Ehud and Deborah leading these great victories, but all Samson does is kill a lion? If the Spirit’s power is the same, why isn’t Samson able to completely deliver the Israelites from the hands of the Philistines?
    I said last week that part of the reason why this doesn’t happen under Samson’s leadership is because the people just don’t want to be delivered. They’re okay with living like the Philistines and under Philistine rule. But part of the fault lies with Samson as well.
    Samson is far from consideration for the “greatest Judge” award. Look at 14:8-9, at Samson’s actions some time after he had killed the lion by the power of the Spirit, “When he returned later to take her, he turned aside to look at the carcass of the lion; and behold, a swarm of bees and honey were in the body of the lion. So he scraped the honey into his hands and went on, eating as he went. When he came to his father and mother, he gave some to them and they ate it; but he did not tell them that he had scraped the honey out of the body of the lion.”
    Remember that Samson is meant to be a Nazirite, a person set-apart for God, for dedication and devotion to the Lord, and as part of that Nazirite vow, Samson isn’t supposed to touch dead bodies. Yet, here we have him doing the very thing he’s not supposed to do. It seems that he may have recognized it was against his vow as well, because he doesn’t tell his father or mother that he got the honey from the dead body of a lion.
    So in the first instance of the Spirit coming upon Samson as an adult, he is enabled to kill a lion, and then responds to that enabling of the Spirit by violating his vow to be set-apart for God. He has the very Spirit of God move upon him and enable him to do something he couldn’t normally, but then he turns right around and sees no issue with violating his devotion to God. It’s a sad chapter in this leader’s life, and a very disappointing response to the awesome power he got to experience.
    Unfortunately, Samson doesn’t learn from this experience and do better next time. The next instance we have of the Spirit coming upon Samson is in Judges 14:19, “Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily, and he went down to Ashkelon and killed thirty of them and took their spoil and gave the changes of clothes to those who told the riddle. And his anger burned, and he went up to his father’s house.”
    This particular event takes place after Samson’s riddle has been figured out because his new wife betrayed him. Once again, we see the Spirit empowering Samson to do something that seems less than effective when it comes to delivering the Israelites from the Philistines. And just after he’s killed these thirty men, his anger continues to burn.
    The sense that we get here from the word “anger” isn’t that it was righteous anger, or anger that was well-placed or justified, the sense we get is that it was bitter anger, it was revenge anger. And again, a very murky idea of what exactly the Spirit was empowering Samson to do. Was it really to revenge kill 30 men? That doesn’t seem likely.
    We have one more instance, one more event when the Spirit of the Lord comes upon Samson. Judges 15:14, “When he came to Lehi, the Philistines shouted as they met him. And the Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily so that the ropes that were on his arms were as flax that is burned with fire, and his bonds dropped from his hands.” This is after Samson burned their crops down by tying foxes together and lighting their tails on fire. The Philistines capture him and bind him, and in a once again, unsure display of the power of the Spirit, he breaks his bonds, and then proceeds to kill 1,000 men with the jawbone of a donkey.
    But in each of these events, these instances of the Spirit empowering Samson, the theme that ties it all together isn’t deliverance of the people, it’s petty, jealous, and vengeful human nature. It seems as though even though he is being empowered by the Spirit in mighty ways, Samson is using that power to just continue to do what he finds right in his own eyes.
    As I’ve thought about this, about Samson’s example, and about a lot of things that the Spirit has been speaking to me about for some time, I am concerned that on a whole, the Christian Church takes a very Samson-like approach to the Spirit. Let me flesh that out.
    As Christians, as believers, we have been given the gift of the Spirit to change us, to move in us, to guide us and teach us. Jesus spoke to His disciples about the role of the Spirit in the life of the believer, John 14:16-17, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth,” and in verse 26, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”
    Paul said this in Romans 8:26-27, “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
    The Spirit was given to the church to be our helper, our guide, our teacher, to be the one who goes before God for us. But think about this, believer, how often do we intentionally, purposefully seek the Spirit to do any of these things on a daily basis in our lives?
    I’ll take it a step further. Look at the early Christian church in the book of Acts. Through the power of the Spirit, the church cast out demons, they healed diseases, they spoke and saw thousands saved, they even raised people from the dead…all by the power of the Spirit that Jesus had promised God would give to them. But again, think about this, church, when was the last time we drove out demons?
    Has the Spirit changed?
    The answer lies in the response of the people to God’s Spirit. For the Israelites and Samson, it was complacent, apathetic. They either took advantage of God, or they didn’t give Him more than a glancing thought. They thought little to nothing of God’s Spirit.
    Take an honest look at the church here in our own country, in our own state, in our own little town. Do we see a vibrant church, dependent upon the Spirit for its very survival and work? Do we see a church operating in the power of the Spirit and relying on the guidance of the Spirit first and foremost through intentional prayer before doing anything? Or…do we see a church that more closely resembles the attitude of Samson and the Israelites?
    It’s a hard question, and it doesn’t have a very nice answer. But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Our attitudes CAN change. Our hearts CAN be turned back to a more active engagement with the Spirit of God. We CAN see a church so dependent upon the guidance of the Spirit that we don’t do anything unless we pray first and He moves first.
    I hope you’re asking how?
    I’ve been asking that too. We can’t make these changes happen in ourselves, we really do need the Spirit’s help to see this type of vibrant church emerge. So what do WE do?
    Let me read some passages about what the early church did to become the vibrant church we read about:
    “These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.” Acts 1:14.
    “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.” Acts 2:42-43.
    “And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.” Acts 4:31.
    “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:4.
    “And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.” Acts 6:6.
    “Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit.” Acts 8:14-15.
    I hope you see the thread that ties all these together. It’s prayer. In fact, there are 18 additional examples of the early church praying before they relied on the power of the Holy Spirit to do something incredible in the book of Acts.
    Prayer is the key! When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He taught them to pray for God’s Kingdom to come upon earth. He didn’t mean that we should wait for it to happen some day in the distant future when Christ returned, He meant now! He meant pray in such a way that brings the Kingdom of Heaven to earth now, which only happens through the moving of the Spirit in the body of Christ to do what only God can do: cast out demons, heal the sick, save people from the depths of hell. That is God’s work, only He can do that.
    I was led to a passage in 2 Chronicles 16:9 this week that says, “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.” God has a work to work in the world that only He can accomplish, but the cool part of this is that He is looking all across the earth to find those whose hearts are fully committed to Him, why? To strengthen them, to partner with them to do His work.
    He’s chosen, since the beginning of Creation, to work through people. There is no plan B. He wants us to rely on the full measure of the power of His Spirit to be His partner in His work. This happens through prayer!
    Do we pray like this?
    More often than not, what we do when we come to God in prayer is we present a check-list of things we want Him to do. Now, that’s not inherently wrong, He wants us to bring all our worries and cares to Him because He cares for us. But if that’s all we do in prayer, we are failing to use the key that God has given to us to unlock the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. When we present a check-list to God, we fail to listen to His voice, His Spirit, and like Samson and the Israelites, if we do this long enough, we will forget the character and the sound of the voice of God.
    I’m going to end with this passage from Ecclesiastes 5, and then I’m going to challenge us to answer two questions this week, and to try something a little different in our prayer time this week.
    Ecclesiastes 5:1-2, “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.”

1. What are some ways we use God for our own benefit?

2. What’s a proper view of God and His gifts? What would it look like for you to adopt that mindset this week?


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