What is it?

Looking through my journals and email, I found out that I was wishing for a lot of good things to happen. I claimed to be “hoping,” but I did not/could not be confident the desired outcome would happen. That is not what hope is about. Hope is more than wishing. [Want to know more? Click here.]

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Accurately Handling the Word of God

Some thoughts from 1 Samuel 24. I know I’ve missed sharing from 1 Samuel for a few weeks, but I felt there were more important things to talk about at those times. Today I get back to my 1 Samuel study.
In chapter 24 we find the familiar story of David cutting off the edge of Saul’s robe while Saul was “relieving” himself in a cave David was currently hiding in. Perfect opportunity to end Saul’s reign was at hand. That’s exactly what David’s men told him to do. They even said it was God’s will by attempting to quote what God had told David.
1 Samuel 24:4 tells us what the men were thinking.
The men of David said to him, “Behold, this is the day of which the LORD said to you, ‘Behold; I am about to give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it seems good to you.’”
David’s men interpret that promise to David as a warrant/command for David to destroy Saul. It was a great opportunity; however, not every opportunity is from God. And, what David seemed to think was good in this situation was to cut off Saul’s hem but spare his life. Even doing that bothered David’s conscience because doing that was an assault on Saul’s dignity and position (verse 5). In verse 6, David explains to his men his remorse:
So he said to his men, “Far be it from me because of the LORD that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD’S anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, since he is the LORD’S anointed.”
David was not a typical man seeking to ascend to the throne. He was committed to letting God determine the path and would not take anything as serious as killing a reigning, anointed by God king into his own hands. That was the sign that this was a different kind of kingdom – not at all like the kingdoms around them where the standard was for eliminating kings to gain the throne or eliminating possible contenders for the throne. David’s kingdom (because it was God’s kingdom) would be much different – one that relied on the one true God to rule and determine the leadership.
Side notes done, let me tell you what my application is from the first part where David’s men purported to know that God told David to take advantage of this opportunity to kill Saul and begin his rule over Israel. It’s quite simple really. I need to be careful to handle the Word of God carefully – not stretching it’s meaning or diminishing it. We are told this same thing in 2 Timothy 2:15: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” For me, that means studying the Word, consulting commentators about the Word, talking with my Bible study partner about the Word we are studying, and, most of all, praying about how the Word applies to my life (and then doing as I’m instructed).
What does “accurately handling the word of truth” mean for you?

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Hope Within

It’s different this time. I have hope. Where does this hope come from? Why am I not pessimistic like during times past? There are two simple reasons.
First, I know I do not want to die. Two years ago I discovered this truth. I was diagnosed with cancer and suddenly realized that I had a lot of good stuff (and some bad stuff) yet to live for. During most of my childhood, teenage years, young adult, and middle age I’ve thought that dying (i.e. suicide) was always a way to end my pain. But in that one moment in February of 2017, I knew I wanted to live and suicide became a non-issue. It was completely off the table and no longer an option. Since I no longer had a “way-out,” I needed to find new ways to think and feel about the suffering in my life. This includes the ups and downs of my bipolar.
Which brings me to the second reason things are different. I have hope. In the past I viewed my illnesses as enemies to be beaten into submission. And I felt it as a losing cause. There would always be problems with no solutions and everything could only get worse. Yet, my life had proven over and over again that my mood will change and will even stabilize at some point. But I thought it was only temporary and I waited for the other shoe to drop, living in dread every day of my life. There was always something hanging over me.
As I said, my life story should’ve proven to me that there was always hope. I just couldn’t see it, but with no other options available to me, I decided to believe. Believe in a God who saved me through His Son the Lord Jesus Christ. Believe in the principles of the AA program. Believe in my professional caregivers. And, last but not least, believe in myself. All those beliefs together give me an incredible amount of hope.
Let’s live in hope today.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Hills and Valleys

Where are my keys? Did I take my medicines this morning? What was I supposed to get at the grocery store? Do I have to make dinner? Do I have to make that phone call to the doctor’s office? Do I have to deal with the insurance company? Can I wait until tomorrow to work on the book? Can I wait until tomorrow to write a blog article? Can I just take a nap? Why am I so distracted? Why do we have to decorate for Christmas? Do I have to wrap presents? Do I have to feel these feelings?
Those are the questions flying around my head recently. I haven’t felt like doing any of those things – except the nap – and I know I have to anyway. There are other things I’m having trouble enjoying that I usually get great pleasure from. Everything is beginning to feel like a chore. Ever been in this place?
For me these questions are warning signs. Bright flashing yellow lights. They are the signs that a valley is approaching in my life. I’ve been enjoying a mountaintop with the beautiful sights and closeness to God. Now, I realize that I’m sliding down the side of the mountain and have some choices to make. I may not be able to prevent the sliding (my bipolar disorder will cause me to make swings in moods – often without my being able to do anything psychologically, physically, emotionally and, even, spiritually to prevent them).
My pastor recently shared from the book of Habakkuk in the Bible. Habakkuk experienced the let downs of feeling distant and alone, separated from God. Habakkuk felt God was letting the whole nation of Israel down. He felt God was letting wickedness to prevail. And he railed at God to do something about it.
Then God says, in verse 5, “Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days – You would not believe if you were told.” The point for me is that even in the midst of what seem like terrible times, God is at work. I just can’t see everything He’s doing. I can’t see how He’s going to use the current situation for His glory. I need to rest assured that He is at work carrying out His promises. I also need to be praising Him and thanking Him for what is to come. This is where my hope comes from each and every day.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Spirit of the Law

In 1 Samuel 21 we see several acts of deception. David misleads Ahimelech, the high priest, by telling Ahimelech that he is on a mission from Saul when he was really fleeing Saul. The high priest was suspicious of David’s actions and motives for coming to the temple, and David lies to him in several ways. Later in chapter 21, David feigns madness to mislead Achish the king of Gath (Goliath’s hometown).
Is telling lies okay with God? Tom Bradford, a commentator, indicates that there is a place for lying, although it is still sin to do so. There are several times in Scripture and throughout history where sinning seems to be okay, however, it is not an example we should follow on a regular basis. Bradford gives the example of Corrie Ten Boom who hid Jews and lied to the Nazi’s in order to save lives. She was disobeying the authorities God had placed over her instead of serving the political policies of her government. Was Corrie wrong to do that? Bradford says that we must not go against the spirit of the Law to fulfill the letter of the Law. Obeying authorities is the letter of the Law. Loving people is the spirit of the Law.
Another commentator, Matthew Henry, put it this way: “Mercy is to be preferred to sacrifice.” He also shared a passage in Matthew 12 where Jesus uses David’s act of deceiving Ahimelech as acceptable because, “I [Jesus] desire compassion, and not a sacrifice” (Matthew 12:7). Henry points out that ritual observance must give way to moral duties.
Knowing this, we must not deceive ourselves into thinking that it’s okay to sin if we think we are doing it for the greater good. David’s deception with Ahimelech led to disastrous consequences. 1 Samuel 22:21-22 tells us what happened: “And Abiathar told David that Saul had killed the priests of the Lord. Then David said to Abiathar, ‘I knew on that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul. I have brought about the death of every person in your father’s household.’” All the priests in Nob were killed by Saul and his men for entertaining David.
Whatever the reason for our sin, as noble as we think it might be, it may lead to terrible results. Only God can know what the greater good is, and it’s only by earnestly seeking Him that we have a chance of making the right decisions. Let us not fool ourselves and excuse our sin as being the right thing to do without consulting God and His Word for guidance. Whether it’s telling a “little white lie” or disobeying government authorities, we need to seek out God’s will.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Adoration vs. Thanksgiving

At this time of year we hear a lot about being thankful. In AA November is “Gratitude Month.” We think about the things we are grateful for and give thanks. And giving thanks to God is appropriate this time of year. However, we are told to be thankful all year long and doing so can relieve anxiety all year long (Philippians 4:6, 7).
So giving thanks for all the things that God has given us or seen us through is commanded of us, but an often forgotten element of our worship of God is praise and adoration – not for what He’s done, but for Who He is. God deserves our praise and adoration even if He has never and will never do anything for us. His character traits and power deserve our praise. Just think of the work of creation. What power that took. How creative the Creator is. He is beautiful beyond our imaginations. He is supreme ruler over all the earth and the people in it. His glory and majesty greatly surpass a brilliant sunset or the heights of the mountains. We do not have the words to describe Who He is. Our attempts make Him pleased, but they are feeble compared to the reality of His personhood.
I try to practice praise and adoration every morning and throughout the day. Sometimes I forget that I’m doing it just because He is and not for what He’s done. In part, that’s because His character traits make it impossible for Him not to be involved in our lives. He’s merciful and exercises mercy toward us. His lovingkindness is everlasting as He moves in our lives. He is totally trustworthy and that means we can trust Him to keep His promises. He is a righteous judge so He will make wise decisions toward us. He will discipline us for falling short of His commandments, but in His mercy He will forgive us. I have to remember that even if He did not involve Himself in my life, He is worthy of praise. I have to remember that even if He kept Himself only in the heavens, He is worthy of my honor. I have to remember that even if He was only watching from heaven, He is worthy of my adoration.
However, the truth is He is involved, He is not isolated in heaven, and He is instrumental our lives. That is consistent with His character and is how He’s done things since the beginning of time.
Praise, adore, and worship Him this season of thanksgiving. Not for what He’s done, but for Who He is.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Garments of a Servant

Looking at 1 Samuel 19 again we see Saul sending out “messengers” to find David and dispatch him – put him to death. Three times Saul sends groups of these messengers to Ramah where David was hiding with Samuel. Each group of messengers is overcome by the Word of God, and drops their weapons and start prophesying along with the prophets. They forget the mission Saul sent them on and no harm comes to David. The spoken Word of God effects change in the hearts of Saul’s messengers.
 Finally, Saul decides to do the job himself and proceeds to Ramah. He is told that David is in Naioth (a dormitory for the prophets). After Saul’s inquiries,
He proceeded there to Naioth in Ramah; and the Spirit of God came upon him also, so that he went along prophesying continually until he came to Naioth in Ramah. He also stripped off his clothes, and he too prophesied before Samuel and lay down naked all that day and all that night. (1 Samuel 19:23-24)
The Word of God humbled Saul. The only problem was that it was temporary. As soon as Saul left the presence of the Word being proclaimed, he fell back into his evil ways. This can be contrasted to David taking on the garments of a servant to honor God as the Ark of the Covenant is carried into Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:14, 20-22). David submitted voluntarily and the presence of God did not leave him when the festivities were over.
The point for me is that some will profess Christ when they hear the Word of God, but maintain evil in their hearts. Everyone will eventually submit and worship the Lord. Some will be forced to by His power at His second coming. Some will do it voluntarily now and then and be honored by God for being His true servants. Don’t be fooled. Some who proclaim Christ in public hold evil or self-gain in their hearts and will not be honored by Christ when He returns (or even see the fruits of the Spirit develop in their life on earth). The few will submit willingly now and forever and see spiritual growth in their lives: kindness, mercy, love, patience, joy, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, peace, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
Which will we choose? I choose to willingly and lovingly submit in obedience to God’s Word. I look eagerly forward to submitting voluntarily at the Second Coming.  

Thursday, November 8, 2018

One Foot in Spiritual or One Foot in World

It is time for David to make a permanent break from Saul’s court. In 1 Samuel 19, Saul attacks David for the third time. Each time Saul hurled is spear at David with expertise, but David dodged it and the spear stuck into the wall behind David. The previously two times, Jonathan talks to Saul and Saul says he will not attack David again. So, based on Jonathan’s assurances, David returns to Saul’s court.
This time, David “fled and escaped that night” (1 Samuel 19:10). Tom Bradford, a Hebrew Christian, comments that David is on the run from then on. However, Jonathan still tries to hold onto his dad and yet remain loyal to David. This is a struggle many of us share in one way or another.
For me, one of the struggles was holding onto the belief that I grew up in an idyllic middle class household versus recognizing that everything was not perfect. My parents did many things right. They did handle some situations as best they knew how, however, there were lasting impacts on my life that turned out to be detrimental to my emotional and mental development. Like Jonathan, I wanted to believe that my parents were totally good people with minor frustrations that led to consequences for me that hindered my dealing with emotions and events in my life in the best ways possible. I wanted to believe they were all good. Don’t get me wrong, I do not now or have ever believed that my parents purposely set out to hurt me; it just happened as a course of living. It was hard for me to learn to effectively deal with life on life’s terms – a process still in progress.
Jonathan wanted to be loyal to his father and to his covenant friend (1 Samuel 18:1-4). He had one foot in his dad’s camp and one foot following David. How often do we try to do the same thing when it comes to following God? We want to follow God with our whole hearts, but we make choices that place us firmly in the realm of worldly living (whether it’s telling little white lies or hanging around things we know turn us away from God’s best for us). I want to participate in “fun” things in this world and yet still profess to be a follower of Christ. The problem is living like that is energy sapping. It also becomes unmanageable and wrought with problems. In my case trying to be a Christian and engaging in alcohol abuse, led to emotional and physical catastrophe. I couldn’t do both an maintain a balanced emotional life. I see other areas of my life even today that can be like that – if not to the same extreme. I have choices to make and if I waver between the choices of this world and the choices of serving God, my mood and responses to life suffer.
This is an area we all need to consider in our lives. Are we trying to live with one foot in the spiritual world and one foot in the amoral world?

Thursday, November 1, 2018

No Room For Envy

David and Saul’s story continues in 1 Samuel 18 with several situations that go in David’s favor. At the end of chapter 17, David had just slain Goliath and was presented to Saul as the “champion” who had saved Israel from the onslaught or take over by the Philistines. After David had been identified as the champion by Saul’s general, Abner, Saul becomes concerned with what this might mean for his kingdom.
In verse 1 of chapter 18, Saul’s oldest son, Jonathan, was moved to align himself with David. He didn’t totally split from his father, but he pledged his dedication and friendship to David. Jonathan even gave David his royal garments and armor as a sign of his covenant with David (vs. 3-4). Saul, who was aware of God’s blessings being removed from him (because Samuel had told him so back in chapter 15, verse 28), was suspicious of David. I can only imagine Saul’s reaction to Jonathan’s covenant with David.
A few verses later, we read what Saul’s reaction was to David’s continuing military success and popularity among the people. As David, and presumably Saul, retuned from battles,
The women sang as they played, and said, ‘Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands.’ Then Saul became very angry, for this [song] displeased him and he said, ‘They have ascribed to David ten thousands, but to me they have ascribed thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?’ Saul looked at David with suspicion from that day on. Now it came about on the next day that an evil spirit . . . 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] Saul hurled the spear for he thought, ‘I will pin David to the wall.’ 1 Samuel 18:7-11
Saul was angry, suspicious, and envious. These feelings and thoughts opened the door for evil behavior. Saul wanted David dead and no longer a rival for the people’s affection or loyalty. So in a state of rage, Saul acted. These thoughts and actions would not subside for the remainder of Saul’s life and evil would continue to rule his life.
Matthew Henry in his commentary on 1 Samuel 18 gave me an application for this passage – and a warning for everyone. He basically said that envy and uncharitableness gives a place for the devil to lead us to evil actions. I’ve experienced phenomena like this in my life. Imagine being overlooked at work for a promotion. How does that make you feel? I became envious and resentful – and as a result I held back on doing the best work I could in my job. Fortunately, it wasn’t the downfall of the organization I was working for, but as long as I remained bitter, the flow of creative ideas I often received from the Holy Spirit (a big part of my job) was stifled. I learned to appreciate the decision to go with a colleague as I had a set back with my mental illness that kept me totally away from work for a week. God knew what He was doing and I had nothing to be envious about.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Right Sized For Service

We have a photograph of our son when he was about two standing in his uncle’s very large work boots. He looked so proud of himself. He even tried to take a step. We all had a good-natured laugh, however, I wonder now about just what he was thinking. Was he trying to grow up fast? Was he showing us he’s a man? Was he trying to be funny?
Trying on other people’s belongings, behavior, or ministry may have that same effect – humor. In 1 Samuel 17:38-40 there’s the account of David preparing to do battle with Goliath, the Philistine. David was far smaller and younger than the 9-foot, 9-inch professional warrior Goliath, so to help prepare David, Saul gave him his battle garments to make David look fiercer. When David tried to walk decked out in Saul’s armor, he experienced great difficulty. Saul was a tall and strong man (the person the people saw fit to be their king; 1 Samuel 9:2). Saul’s armor probably hung lose and heavy on the smaller David. I picture it a comical sight, much like my son in his uncle’s boots.
“So, David said to Saul, ‘I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.’ And David took them off. He took his stick in his hand and chose for himself five smooth stones from the brook . . . and his sling was in his hand . . .” (1 Samuel 17:39-40). David did not try to be someone he was not. David did not try to act like a mighty warrior. David did play the role God had given him: a shepherd boy going to battle with his sling and his faith in God. (A sling was not a toy. It was a very accurate weapon in the hands of the right people. In Judges 20:16 we are told, “Out of all these people 700 choice men were left-handed; each one could sling a stone at hair and not miss.” David had already used it to protect his sheep from bears and lions. It did not seem a match for Goliath, however it fit David’s skills, personality, and faith.
When I was a young Christian, I wanted to be the next Billy Graham bringing large numbers of people to Christ at one time. That was not the weapon or skill or gifting God gave me and it never happened. As I grew in my relationship with Christ, I began to realize that my gifts from God were for small groups or one-on-one relationships and out of those relationships “many [would] see and fear, And [would] trust in the Lord” (Psalm 40:3). Now “many” is a relative term. I haven’t brought new people into faith in Jesus Christ in the same way or to the same extent as Billy Graham, but there have been some seeds planted, some growth toward Christ, and a few blossoming plants. Failing to wear the right armor and do the right ministry as designed by God leads to despair and hopelessness. As long as I keep using the gifts and skills God has given me, I will not fail to succeed in the tasks God sets before me.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Dealing With Disappointment in Ministry

Is it hard to move on after someone has disappointed us? We grieve and we hurt, but how long should we stay there? I’ve experienced this bitterly when someone I was working with to help them grow deeper with Christ and excel at their work just stopped coming around. I contacted them. I wrote them. I prayed earnestly for them, but they had turned away from the Lord and me. I was heartbroken. It paralyzed me from seeking out others who might be interested in learning more about God. I felt I had done something wrong. Maybe my sense of pride at “my” accomplishments in that person was attacked.
Possibly, Samuel felt this way about Saul. In 1 Samuel 14 Saul didn’t follow through on God’s command to him. In 1 Samuel 15 Samuel confronts Saul and asks for him to repent and put God first in his life. Saul thought he knew better and refused to repent. In 1n 1 Samuel 16 we see how Saul’s disobedience and turning away from God affected Samuel. Samuel was grieving over Saul (vs. 1). In the New Century Version (NCV) of the Bible it says that Samuel continued to feel sorry for Saul even though God had said He was done with him. The New International Version (NIV) says Samuel was mourning over Saul. “Now the Lord said to Samuel, ‘How long will you grieve over Saul . . .?’” We don’t know how long Samuel was feeling bad for Saul. This verse seems to indicate that it had been awhile. Commentator Tom Bradford in his Torah Notes, thought that it happened pretty quickly and that there should be no chapter break between 15 and 16.
There are three possible lessons for me in this. First, I did not “make” someone follow God with his or her whole heart. Even if the person I’d been working with had continued to follow God, it wasn’t my doing – it is always God’s doing. As I didn’t make them faithful followers of Christ, I didn’t do something to make them make other choices. It’s always about individual choices. As a result, whatever happens with the people I’m working with, I need to let go and turn it all over to God. I need to let the Holy Spirit work in their lives and trust Him for the outcomes.
Second, whether it’s been a short time since a follower has wandered away from Christ or a long time, feeling some grief or regret is reasonable, even if it’s not desirable. I must use that grief to pray for those people. It’s okay to continue to love them, but a certain sense of detachment is needed, just like a parent with an adult child who wanders away from the Lord. (Side note: When opportunities arise where a parent can gently direct their child back to the ways of God, those opportunities should be taken. Key word: gently; not with heaping amounts of judgment.)
Third, God wants us to quickly take up His message again and push ahead with His agenda. I learned that there were others waiting and looking for some help in their relationships with God. If I stayed mourning too long, I might miss those needs. Staying focused on the past and on seeming failures, leads to depression or fear or discouragement, which lead us to inaction. Inaction is not God’s desire for His people. He expects us to be about doing His business. Doing so will lift our spirits and give us a new sense of purpose. We will be operating within God’s will. There’s still much to be done, and like Samuel, we need to be following God’s directives and keep moving ahead.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

A Healthy Fear

What do you think of when you hear the word, “fear?” Fearful? Afraid? Scary? Doom? Terror? Panic? Dread? Dismay? Distress? Horror? You might think I’m talking about watching horror movies or observing Halloween, but the way I think about fear is completely different.
I’m thinking about a different kind of fear – a Biblical definition of fear. There may be an element of feeling I need to fear the judgment of God, but that is a very small part of what it means to “fear God.” I once felt a dictionary definition when it came to fearing God. I knew I was a bad person who was unable to be the perfect person I felt the religion of my childhood expected me to be. Fear was wrapped up in having “a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid” (dictionary.com). Yes, that was it. I was afraid of God and the sure punishment He would exact from me and toward me. That left me feeling hopeless, shameful, and depressed. I just knew that I could never please God.
The definition of fear does not end there when you look at it from a Biblical perspective. Online I found this quote by Robert B. Strimple: “There is the convergence of awe, reverence, adoration, honor, worship, confidence, thankfulness, love, and yes, fear.” The article went on to say, “ . . . Some translations of the Bible, such as the New International Version, sometimes replace the work “fear” with “reverence.” Other translations use the word, “respect” instead of “fear.” A Biblical fear of God involves our recognition of His greatness. It involves recognizing His unique characteristics, such as omnipotence (all power), omnipresence (always present), and omniscience (all knowing). The Lord alone has these characteristics those (although some people may think they have these characteristics). God’s character is merciful and righteous at the same time whereas people sway between one and the other.
God’s characteristics create wonder in me. That wonder leads to the Biblical explanation of fear of Strimple’s definition above. I do have awe and reverence for God. I do adore Him and honor Him. I fall on my knees in worship and thankfulness. And, I have confidence in His love for me. That love that I cannot fully understand results from looking at God’s character and fearing Him. Each morning I pause and look at God’s character and fear Him. I worship Him. I give Him all the respect humanly possible for me to give. That’s a good place to start fearing God in the Biblical sense.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

True Success

What is a writer’s (or anybody else’s) measure of true success? Borrowing from Karen Ball and Erin Taylor Young (https://www.writefromthedeep.com/), speakers at the Maranatha Christian Writers’ Conference, I’m going to talk about what being a successful writer means to me. These are principles for everyone to keep in mind.
Success doesn’t mean getting published. Of course, as a writer, that is a goal; it’s just not the goal. Other people have other goals – acquiring wealth, providing for their families, moving up the corporate ladder, a new car, a new house, getting married, having children, etc. Don’t get me wrong; those things are good and worthwhile to an extent. They may bring a measure of happiness to people’s lives, however, the thrill of achieving this kind of “success” will fade and people will want more. It’s that way with writing and getting published, also.
True success that lasts over long periods of time – may I even say, “over eternity” – comes from bringing God glory in all that is done. As a writer, my material or manuscript may be rejected by big publishing houses or by smaller publishing houses. That’s really out of my control, but I’m not going to measure my success by what publishers have to say. It would be nice to be appreciated and published, but that is not why or for whom I write. I write because God gave me this gift, this talent, and the mindset to pursue writing. It’s part of who I am – since childhood. It’s how I figure out what’s going on in my head and in my life. It helps me make sense of the world and my role in it.
Writing for God’s glory means I use the gifts and talents He’s given me to the best of my ability. Striving for excellence is part of it. I define “excellence” as doing the best possible with the resources, tools, and time available. Success is measured by how well, how often, and how lovingly I carry out the tasks God has given me. This is true for everyone no matter what gifts and talents God has given to an individual. If a person has the gift of being the perfect hostess (hospitality), let them exercise that skill by serving others. If a person has the gift of preaching, they better be about preaching. True success, again, is using the gifts God has given to minister to others. I do that through my writing.
Whether I ever get published or not, as long as I’m writing with God’s purposes in mind, I am being successful. If only one person reads my blog each week, if I have faithfully written as God has directed me, I am a success. That one person may be God’s intended audience. That gives new energy to my writing practices. It also gives me new motivation for doing what God has directed me to do: WRITE.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Partial Obedience

Is there such a thing as partial obedience to God? Saul felt so, but it greatly displeased God and Samuel, and cost Saul the kingdom. In 1 Samuel 15, God, through Samuel, gives Saul a direct order. This order was to be followed in every aspect.
God called for a war with Amalek because of the way Amalek had treated the Israelites when they first left Egypt and were crossing the desert on their way to the promise land. Amalek had attacked an unarmed Israel without cause. Now, several hundred years later, God passes judgment on Amalek. His order is to completely erase Amalek from the face of the earth: “Go and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are exterminated” (1 Samuel 15:18b). There was supposed to be nothing left of the Amalekites – no buildings, no people, no animals.
However, Saul only partially obeyed God’s orders. He kept the healthiest of the livestock and he captured Agag the king of Amalek, bringing Agag back to the camp. When Samuel confronts Saul, Saul says,
I did obey the voice of the Lord, and went on the mission on which the Lord sent me, and have brought back Agag the kind of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took some of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the choicest of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God at Gilgl (vs. 20-21).
Samuel laid out the offense Saul committed in verse 22: “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.’” God obviously was not impressed with Saul’s behavior. God saw right through Saul’s act of loving and serving Him. God’s penalty for Saul is found in verse 23 as Samuel relays God’s message to Saul. “Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has also rejected you from being king.”
The chapter goes on to record more of Saul’s excuses and his false worship of Samuel’s God (Saul keeps saying to Samuel, “your God,” instead of submitting to Him for himself).
Saul’s example challenged me to look at my own life. Am I practicing “partial obedience?” I’d say that partial obedience is not obedience at all. God is not satisfied with His people picking and choosing which parts or phrases of Scripture we are going to do. He wants us to apply everything we know from the Word to our lives. One commentator said that “partial obedience” is actually an oxymoron (“a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction”). I believe making specific, measurable applications from what we read and hear from Scripture is the way to lay aside our partially following Christ and lead changed lives that show just how great God is.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Rash Decisions

In the second part of 1 Samuel 14 we see Saul making more impulsive decisions which affect Israel’s success in battle, their relationship with God, and created long-term consequences. Before we criticize Saul too much, we need to reflect on our own decisions because we are much like Saul.
The first impetuous oath we see from Saul happens in verse 24. This was after Jonathan had success, with only his armor bearer with him, in attacking the Philistines and before Saul decided to join in the battle. The oath or vow was this: “Cursed be the man who eats food before evening, and until I have avenged myself on my enemies.” First, Saul was concerned about his success and reputation; he focused on himself avenging his enemies. Not God’s enemies, or Israel’s enemies, but he claimed the battle was his to win or lose. The long-term effect was that the warriors did not eat honey flowing from the ground when they came upon it and they were weary from the battle. This left them weakened and tired. What the army gained in time by not stopping to eat, they lost in strength and the victory was still not complete.
The second oath resulted from Jonathan, who had not made the oath because he was not present when Saul forced it upon his soldiers, eating the honey. When Saul thought to consult God, the priests were unable to get any answers, so Saul assumed someone had sinned or violated the oath to not eat. His oath this time, in verse 39, says, “For as the Lord lives, who delivers Israel, though it is in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die.” Was Saul really ready to forfeit his son over this? We find later that he was, whether out of maintaining his own pride or for some other reason, because Providence caused the lot to indicate the “sin” had fallen on Jonathan.
When Saul found out the “guilty” party was Jonathan (but not really since Jonathan had not been present for the oath and did not know he was not supposed to eat), he made another oath: “May God do this to me and more also, for you shall surely die, Jonathan” (verse 44). Basically, what Saul asked is that God punish himself with the same consequence as Jonathan’s if he didn’t follow through on the second oath. Well the people spoke up and said they refused to let Jonathan die because Jonathan obviously was doing God’s work and brought great deliverance to Israel during this battle with the Philistines. As a result, Saul did eventually lose his throne and his life; and Jonathan also never gained the throne, dying at the same time Saul did (Chapter 31).
Aren’t we also fragile, insecure and ego-driven as Saul was? Saul failed to glorify God and to put God first, trusting in Him for everything. Saul made his own decisions, acted rashly, and there were severe consequences for doing that. I know if I’m not careful I make impulsive and not well thought out decisions that affect my relationship with God and with other people. Sometimes those decisions lead to long-term consequences that I have to deal with for the rest of my life. So, I should not look too harshly upon Saul or other people who seem to be acting impulsively. I am just like them.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Boundaries and Counselors

There were many lessons and applications to be had in 1 Samuel 14. I found two, with the help of a commentator, in the first several verses. One was about how God sets boundaries on the enemies we face. The other was about surrounding ourselves with people who will tell us what we need to know and not just what we want to hear.
The first thoughts came from the commentary by Matthew Henry as introduction to chapter 14. The Israelites had been holding back from the battle with the Philistines, partly because of Saul’s timidity and partly because Saul was left with only about 600 men. The other men (part of a 3,000 strong army) had deserted and hidden in the nearby mountains. The Philistines could have easily routed the Israelites. Why didn’t the Philistines attack?
The answer may be more complicated, but we cannot dismiss God’s role in this. God sets the boundaries. He held back the Philistines from attacking. God was protecting Israel from the enemy. Henry went on to say it’s the same for us today: “Invisible power sets bounds to the malice of the church’s enemies.” Reflecting on my life, I see that principle played out in my own life in various ways. One way has to do with my enemy of suicidal ideation. Thinking about and planning for suicide, at one time in my life, was a regular activity. I even attempted a few times. Some people might say I wasn’t serious about it or I’d have managed to actually die. Looking at the principles in this opening to 1 Samuel 14, I see that God was setting and holding the boundaries. He just would not let me die. The enemy was lurking, but God held it back and protected me.
This brings me to the second lesson and application. In verse three, we are told that Ahijah, a descendent of Eli (under whose tutorage Samuel was raised) was acting as a high priest. The problem with this is that Ahijah was not from the Levite family God designated to be the high priests, just as Eli had not been. Saul preferred Ahijah to Samuel. Henry, in his commentary, gives a possible reason for this, and it’s a reason or excuse many people still give for not choosing to listen to wise counsel. Saul wanted a high priest that would listen to him and do what he said. Saul sought someone who would tell him what he wanted to hear. From previous encounters with Samuel, Saul knew Samuel would not do this, but would confront him and reprove him according to God’s designs and will. Saul did not like what Samuel had to say.
I have fallen prey to this deception. I have sought out people I thought would agree with me. Making decisions based on what I wanted to hear often led to more trouble and struggles. At one point in my recovery from my mental illness, I decided to seek out wise and godly counsel hoping for better results. I did not like what my doctors and therapists had to say most of the time. They challenged me and confronted me and urged me to change the way I acted and thought. I did not fully trust them. It was often uncomfortable, however, as a result of heeding their wise instructions, I began to recover and my mental illness stabilized. Today, I may not like or agree with what my therapist and psychiatrist want me to do, but I do what they suggest anyway and am led back to right thinking, right living, and a right relationship with God.

Thursday, August 30, 2018


There are hoards of things that compete in my mind for the space God deserves. Unlike the Israelites at the beginning of Saul’s reign, my distractions are not responsible for the downfall of nations. They do get me sidetracked from serving God in the most productive ways possible.
The Israelites in 1 Samuel 13 had let the Philistines strip them of their skilled metal workers. At first it probably appeared that it was a small concession for peace to let the Philistines have all the metal workers. The Philistines had basically said, “You will send all your skilled iron craftsmen to us and we will make what you need for you, and we will not come against you in war.” The Israelites were lulled into thinking that it was a good trade. The Philistines, however, were being sneaky and taking away the opportunities for the Israelites to make anything out of metal for their use. This was especially dire when king Saul decided to fight against the Philistines and push them out of the Promised Land. The Israelites were left with wooden implements (mostly farming implements) as weapons, no match for the swords and spears the Philistines had available to them. It is likely that Israelite craftsmen were actually making the weapons that would destroy Israel!
While the Philistines were quietly making it impossible for the Israelites to make physical weapons of war that could be used to fight in God’s name, there are also subtle things sneaking into my life that render me less effective for God. Most of these things are time consumers or time wasters. Some are attitudes and things I allow to corrupt my thoughts and lead me away from God’s truth.
Can you think of any of those things in your own lives? Mindless activities serve a purpose – when they do not interfere with developing a closer walk with God. I enjoy watching television in the evenings when my mind is tired and I’m physically tired out from the day’s activities. Yet I also watch TV when I could be worshipping and praising God, when I could be praying for my concerns or the concerns of others. I often think I’ve done enough and God will let me off the hook for further learning about Him for the day. Yet I am not totally at peace within my soul and therefore there is more space for Him to fill me. That doesn’t happen by watching TV or playing solitaire on my phone.
I want to intentionally change and trust God to help me not let “sneaky” things interrupt my relationship with Him. I want to intentionally be filled with the Holy Spirit in such a way as to be more useful in God’s battles. I don’t want to be caught without my spears and swords.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

An Assignment

God had appointed a king over Israel through His man, Samuel. With this appointment of Saul as king, Samuel’s role changed. Before, Samuel had been God’s spokesman in all aspects of the Israelites lives. He was the “political” leader, the “governmental” leader, the “judge,” and the spiritual connection to God. Now, in 1 Samuel 12, we see his role shifting. The political and governmental leadership (and the people’s allegiance in those areas) was placed on the person of Saul, the earthly king that made them just like the other nations. Saul would also be responsible to set up a system to judge the people when there were disputes or wrongdoing.
In 1 Samuel 12:23 Samuel explains his new role in the kingdom of Israel: “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you; but I will instruct you in the good and right way.” Samuel’s ongoing assignment was to pray for the people, and instruct them, when asked, “in the good and right way.” He went on to give them some instruction in verses 24-25:
Only fear the Lord and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, both you and your king will be swept away.”
This caused me to consider what my assignment is. Samuel’s was to keep praying and listening to God. I think God gives Christians many “assignments” from studying His Word to being kind and considerate to others. One of these assignments is the same as it was for Samuel: to pray on behalf of people.
God has been bringing this issue to my attention for quite some time now. Back in January of 2016, I was prompted to start using a “prayer journal” again. I started one, writing prayer requests and answers down inconsistently from January to August. Then I started again in January 2017 writing a total of 7 requests down during 2017 (all in January). In 2018, I again opened my prayer journal beginning in April and was more consistent than in the previous years. Yet there are many missing days.
That’s not to say I didn’t pray. I pray all through my day, everyday; however, it’s not intentional, dedicated prayer time. These short, on-the-go prayers have been answered and I continue to pray many of them as I go about my days. I’m not saying that doing that is wrong – even if it’s the only kind of praying we do. I just feel that God has given me an assignment to be more intentional about my prayers. He wants me, for my own mental health, to write the prayers down, pray them through regularly, and make notes of answers to the prayers. When I do this, I am so encouraged and am able to trust God to a higher degree. And, in keeping with Philippians 4:6-7, God’s peace washes over me even as I wait for the prayers to be answered.
I want that kind of peace in my life. My intention is to be as committed to prayer as Samuel was. That starts today.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Anxiety and Trust

This week’s blog is going to deviate from the series on 1 Samuel. Due to a complicated life filled with trips to pick up and take back a daughter to college, a wedding shower, shopping and baking for the wedding shower, and dealing with a medical issue I did not have time to do my normal Bible study. It would’ve been on 1 Samuel 12, but that will have to wait until next week.
I am struggling with bucketfuls of anxiety these days. Due to my husband’s recent retirement, we have new medical insurance. I am very thankful we have a good retirement insurance plan, but it’s not great like the insurance we had before retirement. Thus there are some issues, which, at this point, are not being resolved in a favorable manner. I am working with my doctor to come up with alternate solutions, but it’s a slow process, and time is running out before things might turn into living in a hot frying pan.
Praise is my solution to my anxiety in this situation. Giving glory to God, recognizing Him for Who He is, has been a way to relieve the paralyzing fear and worry. This is what David faithfully did as shown in many of his Psalms. Those Psalms indicate David was worried, afraid, lonely, unsure, and facing trouble. David spoke to God about all these concerns even to the point of tears and suicidal depression. God wants us to bring all our concerns before Him; however, like David, He also wants us to look at the bigger picture remembering the obstacles God has overcome in the past and remembering His promises that He will do so again. We see that bigger picture when we praise God.
So in my attitude and posture, I bow before God and share all my struggles with Him (of course, He already knows all about what’s going on and is already working to see His plans come to fruition). I find myself acting and thinking like David. I just did it in the last sentence: I remember the truth about God and trust Him in each situation. I’m able to relax and find peace when I do it. Most often the peace does not last very long, sometimes only 10 minutes. The solution is to take notice again of God’s greatness and love by praising Him.
I am far from having this down pat. It is something I try to practice and I surround myself with people who remind me to stop, relax, praise God, and experience His peace. Someone is not always around; so then I rely on the Holy Spirit to nudge me in the direction of pausing and praising.
I will end these thoughts and stop and praise God, to gain peace in this moment. Maybe I will be able to concentrate for a time on some productive activity as a result of that peace.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Historical Patterns

As I studied 1 Samuel 11, I didn’t have any great insights leading to practical application for me. The notes I referenced, Tom Bradford’sTorah Class, told readers of the historical books to be looking for patterns that occur over time and throughout the books of the Bible.
His thoughts were that things and events in Scripture do not happen in isolation. The events in Scripture build upon one another. I think we should have started our study of these historical books in the book of Judges, but even then there are links and patterns dating even further back in history.
For instance, 1 Samuel 11:6-7 give us an account of the way Saul called all the people of Israel together – by cutting apart two oxen and sending parts to each of the tribes with the message to all the able-bodied warriors to meet Saul in Bezek. The purpose was to form an army strong enough to go out against the army of Ammon who had severely threatened a town in Benjamin.
It’s kind of gruesome; however, it was not done in isolation. It actually had occurred before where the individual cut up was a man’s concubine who had been murdered by the people. In that situation, the tribes were gathered together to avenge those who did this wrong to the woman. Here, in 1 Samuel, Saul is reminding the tribes of this incident and asking them to come defend the city where that man had lived, kind of as pay back. (See Judges 19-21 for the background and beginning of this pattern.)
There are many more examples of events that happened in this chapter that can be seen as a pattern throughout the history of Israel. Without the help of the commentators, they are sometimes hard to see. I think, as we do our daily reading of the Bible, we need to take into account the whole picture. This is why Bible reading is as important as daily excursions into individual passages or chapters (Quiet Times), and deep and devoted time spent in Bible study. We need the overview. We need to watching for patterns and repeated commands so we don’t see each event and situation in isolation from the rest of Scripture. If you are not currently doing an “overview” type of reading the Bible, just start somewhere, keep track of where you’ve been, and look for the patterns.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Salvation Before the Law

    1 Samuel 10 gives the account of how Saul was both privately and publicly announced as king of Israel. Part of Samuel’s conversation with Saul in private included a series of events that would happen to confirm to Saul that Samuel’s message was from God. These prophecies immediately occurred and, hopefully, confirmed to Saul that he was designated by God to be the first king of Israel, although Saul was initially not very excited about the idea.
     Samuel gathered all the tribes of Israel so God could reveal the anointing of Saul to them. After a process of elimination, Saul was the “chosen” one, however, Saul could not be found. He was hiding with the baggage. We are not told why he was doing this; it could be from humility, fear, reluctance, or something completely different.
Before the choosing process occurred, the Lord spoke to the people through Samuel. “Thus says, the Lord, The God of Israel, ‘I brought Israel up from Egypt, and I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the power of all the kingdoms that were oppressing you.’ But you have today rejected your God, who delivers you from all your calamities and your distresses; yet you have said, ‘NO, but set a king over us!” (1 Samuel 10:18-19).
     The point I want to look at comes from the description God gave for what He did for the people: “delivered” and later, “delivers.” Some translations use the words “saved” and “saves.” This is an account of God’s salvation being freely offered to the people of Israel. The same salvation He offers to us. Notice, God said He saved them before they had one word of the Law. The Laws is not, then or now, the means of salvation. Salvation is a choice God makes and provides a way for us to access it through faith.
     This is an important truth for every person on this earth. Following the precepts and statutes of the Old Testament saves no one. That is not the purpose of the Old Testament, even the first five books, the Law. Romans 3:20 tells us the purpose of the Law: “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” The Old Testament account here of the words of God reveals the same truth to us. This is the message of all of Scripture. This is the truth from the beginning of time. 
     Whether a Jew or Gentile we are saved apart from the Laws God gave Moses. It’s been salvation then Law since the beginning of time. Therefore, we should not expect people to follow the Laws (of society or of God) before they are saved. Obedience to the Law only becomes possible after being saved. Let me say it again: it is not the Law that saves us. It’s God’s grace and mercy and power.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Seek Wisdom

1 Samuel 9 gives us the account of the future king of Israel, Saul, meeting Samuel for the first time. Although Samuel’s circuit, described in 1 Samuel 7:15-17, brought Samuel close to where Saul lived, it seems from the text that Saul did not know of him. At least Saul did not recognize Samuel (1 Samuel 9:18).
This tells me something. It appears that Saul was not interested in spiritual matters. It appears that Saul did not attend any of the events hosted by Samuel or in Samuel’s honor when Samuel was nearby. We can’t tell if this meant that Saul was totally oblivious to God and His teachings, but it may be indicative of the state of the general population of Israel at the time.
Later, Saul is looking for some lost donkeys. His father had sent him on this mission. After a few days, when Saul and a servant had not yet found the donkeys, Saul was ready to give up. Granted, he did not want to be gone even longer and cause his father to be concerned (vs. 5). That’s to be admired; however, there is no record of Saul and the servant praying for guidance. Saul especially seemed to rely on his own wisdom and skills, and became discouraged when they could not find the donkeys.
This man that God picked to be king is not noted for his wisdom, virtue, leaning, or piety. No real accomplishments are even mentioned. Saul was probably around 40 at the time of these events, yet did not have servants of his own to send to find the donkeys. He was also still under the leadership of his father (this may have been cultural). It does not appear as though Saul had any distinguishing characteristics of a good leader. What Scripture does record are Saul’s physical characteristics, those characteristics that would appeal to the people as being someone fit for a king (vs. 2). Those are the characteristics that the kings of other nations displayed, and the people of Israel wanted a king like the other nations.
Back to the story of Saul meeting Samuel: While Saul was not inclined to seek wisdom from the spiritual leaders of his time, the servant did remember that there was a “seer” or “prophet” in a nearby town. The servant suggested they seek him out for advice. Saul had some objections, but the servant’s opinions prevailed and they went looking for the seer. So, even though Saul is not recorded as being a man of prayer, because it was convenient, they went to seek Samuel out.
My contention is that things may have gone differently if Saul and the servant had considered seeking wisdom out in the first place. I take this as a warning for me. I need to seek wisdom first in any decisions or endeavors I attempt. I also, unlike Saul, need to seek it even if it means going out of my way. Waiting for a convenient time should not be an option for me. I must seek out wisdom through prayer and wise counsel, right from the beginning of the decision-making process.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Each His Own Grace

At the beginning of 1 Samuel 8 we have a description of Samuel’s family. Scripture doesn’t tell us Samuel was married but we can make an assumption that he was because he had children. We don’t know what Samuel did as a father. We don’t know what kind of teacher he was for his children. We don’t know anything about his wife. What we do know is found in verses 1-5:
And it came about when Samuel was old that he appointed his sons judges over Israel. Now the name of his firstborn was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judging in Beersheba. His sons, however, did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after dishonest gain and took bribes and perverted justice. Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah; and they said to him, “Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways . . .”

For whatever reason, Samuel’s sons did not turn out well. Was it Samuel’s fault? Did he fail to learn from Eli and his sons? Did he try to do the right things, but the sons were still disobedient and dishonest? We just don’t know.
What we do know is that the children of a good man and servant of God had turned aside from God’s ways. We know that the sons were in a town quite a distance from Samuel. Possibly Samuel sent them there because it was in an area Samuel’s regular circuit didn’t take him to and the people there needed judges. Maybe the power and influence the sons had in that area inflated their egos so they thought they were above the laws.
I learned two important things from this passage. First, honor and prestige can change men’s minds and hearts – and not usually for the better. We need to watch out for that in our own lives especially if we achieve some measure of earthly prominence in society. Second, God extends His grace to individuals, not families (or churches). It’s up to each person to recognize God’s grace and choose service to God over worldly possessions and prestige. Samuel’s faith could not blanket his children. They each have to make the decision to follow God on their own. That’s still true for us today. Whether we did all the right things in raising our children or not, ultimately, it’s up to each child to make a decision to do what is right in God’s eyes. Parents can’t force it on their offspring, and parents can’t make the decision for each individual under their care.
So, whether I did everything right or not, it’s up to my children to come to depend on divine grace for themselves. I hope my instructions and example influenced them in their decision-making process. I did the best I could. Still, ultimately, it’s up to them to depend on God and gain salvation for themselves.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

My Places of Worship

In rereading 1 Samuel 7 the last verse spoke to me: “But Samuel always went back to Ramah, where his home was. There he judged Israel and built an altar to the Lord” (New Century Version). I’m not sure why, but I have a fear of the idea of building an altar to the Lord as part of my spiritual practice. Maybe because many of the altars built in Scripture were to false gods and I don’t want to make that mistake.

Yet as I thought about this, I realized that in a way there is an “altar” in my heart. I’ve dedicated the core of my being to the Almighty God. This is not a stagnant place, but a growing, changing, dynamic aspect of my walk with God. As I bow before God, which I can do no matter where I am, I worship and remember Him. I can bring Him glory through my attitudes and behavior.

We are not required to offer Old Testament style sacrifices, so an actual altar built with stones and mortar is not necessary. This being said, God still desires our sacrifices – sacrifices of service. Romans 12:1 tells us about this kind of sacrifice: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” A living and holy, active and pure service to God is our new form of sacrifice. In order to follow through on the kind of sacrifices God wants from His New Testament followers, we need to be in service to Him.

Then I thought again about having an altar in my home. In a way I do have one. It’s my desk where I have my personal time with God each morning, use my prayer journal to pray, write my daily praises on Facebook, study God’s Word, and meditate and consider what to write in my weekly blog post. It’s where all my study materials are kept and used. It’s where I prayerfully conduct daily business, and write letters and work on writing books. I can’t approach my desk without thinking of and worshiping my God.

What’s the condition of your heart altar? Do you have a place set aside to worship and serve God? Consider making such altars in your world.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Thanksgiving; 1 Samuel 7

In 1 Samuel 7, there’s the story of the Israelites gathering, at Samuel’s suggestion, to mark the occasion of returning to the Lord (20 years after the Ark had been returned to Israel). It took the people that long to “lament after the Lord” (vs. 2). Samuel’s recommendations were for the people to separate from their idols and to engage in service to God. As part of that service, Samuel had them “gather all Israel to Mizpah” (vs. 5), and he would pray for them.
The Philistines got worried thinking Israel had gathered as a rendezvous for war against them; however, they were just there to pray and worship God. The Israelites did not have weapons with them, and when they saw the Philistines posturing for battle against them, they became fearful. They asked Samuel to “cry to the Lord our God for us, that He may save us from the hand of the Philistines” (vs. 8). There’s a lesson here about relying on God as our only weapon, but that’s not what I’m going to talk about in this article.
God answered Samuel’s prayer and the Philistines ended up confused and routed by the Lord, without the Israelites doing a thing. The Israelites “pursued the Philistines, and struck them down as far as below Beth-car” (vs. 11). “Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us’” (vs. 12). So, even though there was unfinished business in the political arena and the future of Israel (and their obedience to God) was yet unfinished, Samuel made sure they acknowledged what God had already done.
One commentator, Matthew Henry, also directed us to Acts 26:22 to see Paul’s reaction to similar circumstances (seeing God work and waiting to see what else will happen): “Having therefore obtained help from God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great . . .” (KJV). I’m convicted that my lack of thankfulness for what God’s already done, especially in some recent issues in my life, is hindering me from proceeding in faith in other areas of my life and ministry. I don’t give thanks and I worry. I don’t acknowledge what God has already done and fail to recognize what He can do in the future. My anxiety level increases and my joy decreases.
This is contrary to what I learned studying Philippians 4:4-9 where in verses 6-7 we are given the “formula” for less/no anxiety: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” My prayers and supplications are not enough. They need to be done with thanksgiving – acknowledging what God has already accomplished in my life and situations – in order to experience the peace God offers. Also, doing that takes my mind off my own problems and allows me to better minister to others. So, I’m pausing right now to give thanks. Do you need to take the time to do the same?

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Some Thoughts From 1 Samuel 5-6

As I reviewed my notes in preparation for my study of 1 Samuel 7, a couple of things jumped out at me. These thoughts, mostly contrasts between then and now, lead me to be thankful and full of praise.
First, the ancient peoples had gods. Many of them. They would incorporate any conquered nation’s gods into their own system of belief. They were afraid of offending any god and believed the more gods there were on their side, the better. They offered gifts, sacrifices and offerings to all the gods hoping it would bring favor upon them. Yet, they were never sure that any of that made any difference so they would increase the stakes and offer even more and more outrageous things (even to the point of sacrificing children). No matter what they offered, success and good fortune were still up for grabs and a matter of luck.
Fortunately, we have one God, who is able to act on our behalf. Our one God showed Himself to be infinitely more powerful than the god of the Philistines (without the help of humans, He knocked over their god and broke off its head and hands). God is truly at work in our world, then, throughout history, and today. He can act apart from our actions, but He wants to act in response to our steadfast and believing prayers. He can intervene on behalf of His own glory and honor, but He’s given us responsibility to call Him into action. That doesn’t mean He changes His mind because of our prayers, but it does mean when we pray we will see the “supernatural invade the natural” (Pastor Mark Wilson, June 2018).
Second, the ancient people had to worry about retaliation by the gods. They feared punishment. However, because of Christ’s sacrifice fulfilling all the rituals once and for all, we do not have to fear punishment from God. He doesn’t approve of disobedience to His commands (both those in the Old Testament and the New Testament), but He doesn’t mercilessly punish us. He does discipline us in hopes that the discipline (like that of a good Father) will lead us back into obedience and right living. We must also keep in mind that His commands are designed with our wellbeing in mind. Obedience leads to healthier lives, better relationships, and greater purposes as we go through life on this earth. Temptations will still come; we live in a sinful world. However, obedience lessens the impact of those temptations and gives us the tools we need to do the right things in spite of the temptations Satan throws at us.
I’m thankful there is a God who is powerful and at work in our world (and my life) today. I’m also thankful that my God is a merciful God who disciplines me so I can live a better, safer, happier, and healthier life.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Examine the Word

The next part of 1 Samuel I studied is chapter 6 where the Philistines decided to send the Ark of God back to the Israelites because of the illness and death the Ark had brought upon them. The leaders decided to consult their priests and diviners (verse 2) and asked them how to go about doing so. The plan included two untrained cows hitched to a previously unused cart (verse 7), and a guilt offering of gold (verse 8).

The Philistines were still not sure it was Israel’s God of the Ark that had caused all the trouble in their cities, so they were testing God to see if He could/would bring the cart into Israel even with no rider. Also the cows were untrained to pull a cart and they had calves at home they would be tempted to turn back for. They were trying to determine if the illnesses were just a coincidence and not related to the Ark.

The cart went true without going to the right or the left and arrived in Beth-shemesh safely. Beth-shemesh was one of the 48 cities allotted to the Levites (Joshua 21:16). That’s important to note and a key element of my thoughts for today. The city had a large proportion of the Levites, those appointed priests to minister to God in Israel. Yet, Israel or its priests were not following God’s system very closely. While the Ark was in Beth-shemesh God “struck down some of the men of Beth-shemesh because they had looked into the ark of the Lord” (verse 19). This was strictly forbidden; only the Levites from the family of Kohath were supposed to touch the Ark or carry it. However, it appears that the Levites in this city did not know the laws and statutes, nor did they bother to consult the Scriptures. They asked, “Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God? And to whom shall He go up from us?” They sent messengers to another town asking them to come down and get the Ark.

My application: Consult God’s Word when I want to know what God’s will is for my life. I do not know everything God has commanded us, so I am comparable to the Levites in Beth-shemesh in that regard. However, I do know God has rules to follow and I can verify what those rules are by studying and consulting His Word. A good practice for all of us to follow.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

God Alone

Continuing in my study of 1 Samuel this week, the behavior of the Philistines after “capturing” the ark of God from the Israelites was intriguing. The first thing they did was take the ark and place it at the feet of their stone God, Dagon, in Dagon’s temple in Ashdod. It was like a trophy to be displayed and a way to say, “Our god is better than your God.” They seemed to think that it was Dagon who had provided the victory over the Israelites and their God.

However, God had a different idea. The next morning when the Ashdodites arose early and went to Dagon’s temple, they found their god knocked over before the ark. They probably thought it was weird, but set Dagon back up. (As a side note, what kind of god is it that needs its followers to stand it up?) However, during the next night, God not only knocked Dagon down again, He went further. “And the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off on the threshold” (Verse 4). Furthermore, God “ravaged them and smote them with tumors” (Verse 6).

The Philistines acknowledge that, “The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us, for His hand is severed on us and on Dagon our god” (Verse 7). The surmised that God was acting, but they did not renounce Dagon as their God. They saw the power of God and decided to remove the ark from their midst by sending it to another of the Philistines’ cities. In that city, and the successive one as well, the people got ill with some dying and the others getting the same illness as those in Ashdod. So, the Philistines moved the ark again.

A key concept in the commentaries was that God is a jealous God. He will not tolerate other gods before Him, alongside Him, or anywhere near Him. One quote said, “God is not worshipped if He’s not worshipped alone.” Also, worship is more than a song sung in church. It’s about God Himself and our service to Him and Him alone. How do we see God working in and around us in our lives and yet, try to mingle worship of Him with worship of other things, ideas, people, etc.? That is a question each of us needs to answer for ourselves. We should not view it lightly.