1 Samuel 12:20 | Don’t Give Up

serve

I have a few flaws. Serious character defects that I have spent a lifetime working trying to prevent from making me a living disaster. Everyone, even perfect people, have their own defects and demons to wrestle with. Some flaws are very visible and others are more easily hidden. No one wants to list their sins and hang ups because we want the world to think we have it all together. I don’t have it all together. I have sins that interrupt my relationship with God. Anxiety is first. I replay my past stupid actions over and over in my mind each day. Failures especially where others were hurt or I embarrassed myself accuse me to no end. Anxiety wears me down and keeps me from interacting with others as I should. Another issue for me is Lust. Food and fun where I am all about making myself full searching to consume everything around me. I am always thinking about what I can purchase or pursue next. Lusts of the world overpower the contentment I should have in Christ. These are the broad strokes on my defects my sins. The problem with these defects is that I choose them over a relationship with God. I don’t pray or get still to listen to God like I should or to the depth that I want because these are always before me.

I share these to make a point that all people are sinners. If you dear reader are thinking “I am a good person” and there is nothing to worry about then I have a challenge for you. First know that all people are flawed and all people are sinners. There are no exceptions.

There’s nobody living right, not even one, nobody who knows the score, nobody alert for God. They’ve all taken the wrong turn; they’ve all wandered down blind alleys. No one’s living right; I can’t find a single one. Romans 3:10-11 MSG

So here is the challenge. Take some time to get quiet. Go to a closet, a remote hiking trail, a car parked away from the crowd and ask God to show you the blind alley you have traveled down. Ask God to reveal the wrong turns taken. Ask God to reveal to you the flaws and defects that are sins against family and against Him. He will open you heart and eyes to the reality of your issues.

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! 24 And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! Psalms 139:23-24 ESV

The people of Israel wanted a king other than God. God relented and set them up with a King but he made it clear that what they asked for was evil and wrong because by asking to be like every other nation they were rejecting God as king. They took a wrong turn and found themselves in a blind alley.

20 And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. 21 And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. 1 Samuel 12:20-21 ESV

I think about my lusts and all the stuff I want. Samuel is speaking to me “things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty”. Is Christ not enough? Is a relationship with God not enough? Can I not trust him to be all fulfilling? The thing about lust is that it is never satisfied. People chase all the things of this world but those things leave them empty. What I am doing is evil. Yet Samuel also speaks to me. Don’t be afraid. Don’t give up. Don’t turn away from God. You may be chasing something or hiding from something but continue to desire God. Continue to serve Him. Peter preached a similar word in a famous sermon at the dawn of the Christian church.

36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:36 – 38 ESV

Whatever my personal sins, defects, and character flaws may be and no matter how grievous they have been to others, myself, and God they have all been forgiven. Jesus Christ died to give me forgiveness. Even though I have broken the laws he has given me a presidential pardon.

Do not turn aside. Do not give up. Repent every time. Serve God not yourself. Rest in the name of Jesus and listen to the Holy Spirit that is a gift from him. Submit and serve Jesus he makes you righteous even with your flaws.

for the righteous falls seven times and rises again Psalms 24:16a ESV

1 Samuel 8:5 | Not my President

judge2

Leadership is a valued focus of the world we live in. Books on leadership are endlessly published. At the university level there are entire classes focused on leadership. The Kindergarten teacher recommended my daughter be held back not because she was deficient in the core academic competencies but because she was immature and lacked leadership skills. We spend billions every four years to pick a leader for the country.

In the Old Testament God laid out a very strange culture and government for the nation of Israel. It was a culture that was an anti-leadership program. The government was decentralized where families and communities lived their lives free of a King. As needed the Israelite life relied on judges. These judges were not voted into office. They did not come from prescribed class or family. Sometimes they were male and sometimes female. They were priests and they were average joes. Judges were chosen by God according to his will as they were needed. They were imperfect people with all their own strengths and weaknesses. Notable judges like Samson was hardly a model citizen. Deborah a woman. Gideon came from a small insignificant family. And Samuel served as priest as well as a judge. These men and women came and went. No family dynasties. No privilege was created to carry over into succeeding generations. This type of non government is outside of human nature and must have been very difficult for the populace to accept.

4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah 5 and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” 1 Samuel 8:4-5 ESV

This was not the first time the people wanted to install a king. Gideon had been so successful as a judge that the people tried to make him a king. They were desperate to install a family dynasty to rule over them.

22 Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.” Judges 8:22 ESV

It seems so very strange. But is it? History class told me that Americans wanted to make George Washington a king and he refused. Look at modern government today. If we had polling numbers how big would the percentage be that would want President Obama to be King and rule for the rest of his life? Or how many people would want President Trump to set up a kingship with his children to rule over us into the future? I bet those percentages would be more than expected. The desire I think is born out of insecurity.

19 But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, 20 that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” 1 Samuel 8:19-20 ESV

So why did Israel not have a King like “all the nations” around them? Both Gideon and Samuel answer that question and it is an answer that all of us living even today should take to heart. The reasons they provide apply just as directly to how we live our life and how we approach the world, church, and even our own governments.

23 Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.” Judges 8:22-23 ESV

6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. 7 And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 1 Samuel 8:6-7 ESV

God organized the government into Judges because He is the King. God is the only King. The people did not need a king to rule them or to fight their battles. They had access to the very creator of the universe. When we cry out for leaders to rule over us (take ear evangelicals that are desperate for Trump to save Christianity from a liberal society! Take ear those who are woke and want government to lead society into the promised land of perfect morality and reparations!) we are rejecting the King of Kings. We are rejecting the true ruler of all things. We are clamoring for a god made in our own image and it is an evil selfish image. Salvation will not be found in books on leadership or the people who wrote them. Salvation will not be found in wall street or the mega church. Salvation will not be found in Republicans or Democrats. Salvation and true leadership will only be found in God through Jesus the King of Kings.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:15-17 ESV

1 Samuel 2:26 | #Blessed

success

Some people seem to have a perfect life. Everything they touch turns to gold. Tom Brady, quarterback of the New England Patriots, comes to mind. He has a perfect family. Financial independence. As close to perfection as one can be on the football field. He is a winner. I wonder sometimes how it is even possible to be that successful. Tom Brady has mastered the perfect media persona and there are many people who want to emulate that packaged presentation. Even everyday people like me post the best photos and highlight the events we want everyone to see. The problem with our media selves is that it is almost all fake and illusion. We present only a cherry-picked view or highlight of life. Our poor youth think that these lives online are real and then they are devastated when they can’t live up to the unrealistic expectations. Even Tom Brady is not perfect and has issues and burdens he must carry. I have observed teens absolutely melt down because of social media posts that were not favorable. The obsession around self-worth found online is more than concerning and impacts our very mental wellbeing.

Success is sometimes ascribed to God. In fact, many people do this by saying they are #Blessed because of some earthly success in their lives. If one person has more money than someone else then some believe that God has blessed the person because they have money.

blessed

Is there any truth to this perspective? Samuel the leader of Israel is one of those blessed people. He is blessed by God from the very start of his life.

26 And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the Lord and with people. 1 Samuel 2:26 ESV

Further once Samuel came into power the Bible states that the “hand of the Lord” was actively engaged to support the hot political agenda of that day in Samuel’s favor. Even further God picked sides and lifted Samuel up by pushing others down.

So the Philistines were subdued and they stopped invading Israel’s territory. Throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines. 1 Samuel 7:13 ESV

God did bless Samuel in his professional life as a ruler and priest. We also see this phrase “hand of Lord” in other places throughout the Bible. Of note is the description of the very early church.

19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. 20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. Acts 11:19-21 ESV

Here is God’s hand clearly at work and it states that their actions came with success because of God. Now before there is any confusion or taking a truth out of context there is something fundamental we can take away from these instances of God’s blessing on these people.

There are two key observations about Samuel and the early church that we must understand before we ascribe #blessings on anyone.

First the Lord’s hand is not on just anyone but on people dedicated to Him. Samuel is a priest of Israel. The early church fathers found God’s hand working for them when they were sharing the gospel of good news about Jesus.

Second of note that none of these people had perfect or pain free lives. (If you are looking for a Christianity that makes you happy and free of pain then you are looking for something that does not exist. Jesus said pick up your cross and follow me. He died a painful death on his cross)

Samuel’s life was not perfect. Like Eli before him his sons did not follow in ways of the Lord.

3 But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice. 1 Samuel 8:3 ESV

How painful must that have been to see his children not following God but following their own desires. Obviously, Samuel has serious problems on the home front. Or look at the early church who had the hand of God on their work. That blessing came in the midst of Stephen being killed. These men had fled their home leaving behind material things, family, and community because of Christ. The world that would sign #blessed for YouTube stars would call these followers of Christ losers in life.

This brings us to the conclusion that there are two types of blessings. First is the type that Tom Brady clearly has in his life. That is the general blessing of God that is on all people (some more than others). All people are created equal in the image of God but not all people are created equal in opportunity.

For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. Matthew 5:45b ESV

Success in this life is nice but this kind of success has nothing to do with the blessing of God where it matters and that falls in the second category of blessing. The blessing of God’s outpouring of eternal significance. The Philistines wanted to enslave the Israelites and corrupt them with an unholy culture. Samuel was blessed by God so that the Philistines were unsuccessful for the benefit of the nation of Israel and God’s glory. The early church found success in the murder of Stephen to share the good news of Jesus to the benefit of the church and for God’s glory.

Be blessed like Samuel and the Church fathers because their rewards are eternal. Tom Brady’s reward is here and now and will be gone in a season.

1 Samuel 2:25 | Intercede for Me

church_cross

I have made mistakes and hurt people. I cringe when some of those events come to mind. What happens when make mistakes are made that reach the court system? The idea of getting wrapped up in court or dealing with police would cause me enough stress that panic attacks would not be far behind. So when I read news reports like the recent one that an elderly nun, Sister Catherine Rose, while in court dealing with a lawsuit collapsed and died I immediately think of the frustration and the anxiety of that situation contributed to this sad news. The court case is regarding a property dispute in that the nuns wanted to sell their property to a particular individual but Katy Perry, the famed pop star, also wanted to purchase the property. Before fighting for my rights in anything when it comes to judgment of a court I would want to take measure of the cost and make sure I was well represented. This nun spent her last moments in court and her death is now sadly linked with Katy Perry and Perry must live with the result. As intimidating as man-made laws and courts might be I have a greater fear and that is standing before the God of Creation and being left to represent myself on my own merits.

Eli a priest of God for the nation of Israel had a problem with his sons. His evil sons were breaking laws of men and God for their own selfish gain. These sons were abusing the people they should have been serving. Eli pointed out a problem and truth that they refused to understand.

25 If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?” 1 Samuel 2:25a ESV

Eli’s question is profound. We have arbiters, mediators, and peace makers who might broker restitution between men but who is qualified and who is strong enough to broker reconciliation between God and man? Eli’s protégé Samuel years later answers the question that Eli proposed. Samuel had become the priest and leader of Israel when the rebellious people came to him seeking God’s mercy.

5 Then Samuel said, “Assemble all Israel at Mizpah, and I will intercede with the Lord for you.” 6 When they had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the Lord. On that day they fasted and there they confessed, “We have sinned against the Lord.” Now Samuel was serving as leader of Israel at Mizpah. 1 Samuel 7:5-6 NIV

Eli asked who could intercede between man and God. Samuel answers the question with action. As priest and leader between the people and God he could intercede and he could bridge that gap. Samuel is a great defense attorney navigating the perfect justice of God. Samuel tapped into God’s mercy just as Moses had done generations before.

7 And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. Numbers 21:7 ESV

This kind of intercessory prayer seems to have been lost in the generations between Moses and Samuel. Eli the previous priest asked the question, but had no answer and it does not appear that he knew how to intercede for even his own children. God knowing that people are limited put into motion a plan to create the perfect unlimited priest. A priest that would not die or be limited by space and time. God provided for mankind a priest that could be perfect representation to all people at all moments.

22 This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. 23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. Hebrews 7:22-25 ESV

Jesus always lives, Jesus continues to live making intercession for anyone ready to accept his gift. Notice when Moses and Samuel interceded for the people it was an act that started by the people asking for help and submitting to the authority that Moses and Samuel represented. Jesus does not just represent that authority. He is that authority and he ready to intercede for anyone who calls on his name and that is God’s perfect gift to creation.

1 Samuel 2:12 | Worthless Apart from God


fire

Is there such a thing as a worthless person? I can think of a few professions that are worthless like drug dealer and television pundit. But to call an individual worthless is hard because we are all created in God’s image. We all have worth even drug dealers and television talking heads have families that need them and love them. Yet the word of God unceremoniously tells me that there are people who are truly worthless.

12 Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord. 1 Samuel 2:12 ESV

These sons of Eli were the active priests serving in God’s presence for sacrifices being brought by the Israelites. God calls these men worthless. They were not worthless because they were born outside of a privileged cast. They were not worthless because they were the “wrong” ethnic group, culture, or skin color. To call anyone worthless because of these temporal and earthly reasons would be a sin against a fellow human. These men are worthless in their service to God and his laws. And that is the danger we all face. That God our creator might call us worthless because of our sins and rebellion against what God has called true. They are a warning to the reader. What is worthless is ultimately destroyed by fire.

But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. Hebrews 6:8 ESV

Eli’s sons were evil because they abused their power over the people to enrich themselves. In the older King James, the translation calls Eli’s sons בְּלִיַּעַל (Belial or bel·e·yah’·al) which means worthless, lawless, or wicked. Eli’s sons were much more than worthless they were worthless servants of Satan who is the father of worthlessness.

12 Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the Lord. 1 Samuel 2:12 KJV

Worth is defined as something desirable and useful. From God’s perspective if we are pursuing our own selfish desires we are not of worth. If we are following our own laws made by our selfish desires then we are not of worth. They are worthless to God because they do not believe in Him. Paul uses the word Belial to contrast the life lived apart from Christ. Righteousness vs lawlessness. Light vs darkness. Believer in Christ vs unbeliever. There is no middle ground.

14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 2 Corinthians 6:14-15 ESV

Jesus is perfectly worthy because he is unselfish even unto death. Jesus is of perfect worth because he perfectly fulfilled the laws of God. Because of Christ and his gift, we have an opportunity to be reconciled and shed the worthlessness nature of our sins. We can avoid the death that comes to worthless men like Eli’s sons. We can find life in Christ by giving ourselves to him and his perfect worth.

38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10:38-39 ESV