What God is after

1 Samuel 15:20-22 20 “But I did obey the LORD,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. 21 The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal.”  22 But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.

Outside of the concept of the physical sacrifices of the Old Testament, this scripture reference might seem a little strange.  Imagine trying to teach it to your kids… “Son, to obey is better than sacrifice.”  Your son then teaches his little sister, “We better obey daddy because he is going to sacrifice us.”  To which she cries, “Why would daddy kill us?”  Please make sure to be clear when teaching your kids concepts out of the Old Testament.

Regardless of the potential mix-up, this is a very important concept.  In this scenario, Saul thought he was doing a good thing.  I mean, he didn’t do exactly what God asked, but he thought he would go above and beyond and keep some stuff for a burnt sacrifice to God.  The problem is that God clearly instructed him to keep nothing.  God didn’t want a sacrifice from Saul – he wanted him to follow instructions. 

We probably attempt to make these kinds of peace offerings with God too.  He calls us to something big and we compromise by fasting TV or something.  He calls us to stop living in sin and we respond by going to church more to feel better.  But He didn’t ask us to sacrifice something, He didn’t ask us to fulfill a religious obligation; He asked us to obey.  And we need to learn that following His instructions are far more important than trying to do a bunch of other things that we think are the appropriate religious measures.  He is after obedience and He is after our hearts.  Start today by aligning your heart with His.  Then start to ask Him if you have done the last thing He asked you to do.  If you haven’t, start taking the steps of obedience to walk it out.

God left that part out

1 Samuel 15:10-12   10 Then the word of the LORD came to Samuel: 11 “I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was troubled, and he cried out to the LORD all that night.  12 Early in the morning Samuel got up and went to meet Saul, but he was told, “Saul has gone to Carmel. There he has set up a monument in his own honor and has turned and gone on down to Gilgal.”

Have you ever wondered out why God leaves out some of the details?  We may spend hours with Him as He speaks to us, affirms us, and unfolds His promises for us.  We leave our time together feeling refreshed and even on a bit of a spiritual high.  “I can’t believe God just charted the waters for me!”  I hope you know what I am talking about, that mountaintop experience.  It is unparalleled with anything else I have ever experienced.  It is time with my Savior.

Then it happens – the mundane.  My next step doesn’t seem to line up with what He just told me.  But I am certain I heard Him right.  What’s going on?  Apparently it happened to Samuel, too.  Yes, Samuel.   He was one of the most anointed, greatest prophets ever and he had to stop and ask for directions immediately after a mountaintop experience.  Does this seem strange to anyone else besides me?  Samuel had just spent all night with the Lord crying out to Him.  God spoke directly to him; I bet it was even an audible voice.  God tells Samuel to give a message to Saul.  So he gets up the next morning and goes to see Saul, but Saul isn’t there.  Now for many of us, we would probably start to question if we heard God right.  “Oh, good.  I’m off the hook.  Saul isn’t here so I don’t have to deliver the message now.  I must have heard God wrong.”  No, no, no, no, no.  That isn’t the case at all.  You just have to find Saul.

I don’t really get why God didn’t just tell Samuel that Saul had gone to Carmel.  But I also don’t think it unspiritual that Samuel asked for directions.  Some might say, “why didn’t he just ask God where Saul was?”  Well, I don’t know.  All I know is that he didn’t.  He asked some people.  Through those people, he found Saul and delivered the message from the Lord.  It was just a speed bump and it didn’t stop him; it just slowed him down.

Speed bumps seem to stop us, though.  We treat them more like stop signs than detours.  Friends, we need to face the fact that God isn’t always going to tell us everything.  In fact, He rarely tells us everything.  But when we show up to a place of obedience and the situation doesn’t look right, that doesn’t mean we should shrug off what He told us to do.  We might just need to ask for directions.  Samuel didn’t seem to get hung up on having to be practical and I don’t think we should either.

Where courage comes from

1 Sam 14:6  Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised fellows. Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few. ”

Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving.  I am just letting that thought simmer today.  It doesn’t matter if the obstacle is tiny or if it is huge beyond belief; nothing can stop Him from saving.  He is that big, that powerful, and that mighty to save. 

So here’s the scenario.  The Israelites are trying to figure out how to fight the Philistines.  The problem is that they don’t have any weapons (see yesterday’s post.)  So Jonathan sneaks off with his caddy, er, I mean, armor-bearer.  Same thing, really except one carries golf clubs and the other carries weapons.  They didn’t have a golf cart handy, so they trekked through wilderness and cliffs to see the enemy.  Apparently Jonathan has a plan to take them on himself, with the help of his armor-bearing caddy.  And before he even knows how big of a task it is going to be, he utters this statement: Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving.

Here he is, about to face some insurmountable obstacle – an enemy force – and his faith rises up in the Lord his God.  Fear is nowhere to be found; only faith and courage are present.  He stops and asks the Lord what the next move will be.  When he hears from the Lord, he moves forward.  This, my friends, should be our same journey.  It should be a journey filled with faith and courage.  It should be a journey of hearing from the Lord and moving into our battle positions.  Let’s learn from Jonathan today that nothing can stop the Lord from saving!  Because that’s where courage comes from: knowing that the battle is the Lord’s and that nothing can stop Him.

Outsourcing your Sword is a bad idea

I Samuel 13:19-22  19 Not a blacksmith could be found in the whole land of Israel, because the Philistines had said, “Otherwise the Hebrews will make swords or spears! ” 20 So all Israel went down to the Philistines to have their plowshares, mattocks, axes and sickles sharpened. 21 The price was two thirds of a shekel for sharpening plowshares and mattocks, and a third of a shekel for sharpening forks and axes and for repointing goads. 22 So on the day of the battle not a soldier with Saul and Jonathan had a sword or spear in his hand; only Saul and his son Jonathan had them.

Here in the thirteenth chapter of 1 Samuel, we find the Israelites in a bit of sticky situation.  Apparently they had been living for quite some time having outsourced their weapons to their enemy.  I know, I know – it seems like quite the tactical error.   Why in the world would they rely on another country to produce all of their needed materials?  What kind of foolishness is this? I mean, we would never do that now in America.   (*cough, China)

What strikes me the most is not the fact that they outsourced, it was in what they outsourced.  They outsourced their swords.   Outsourcing your sword is never a good idea.  But I think we as Christians have a tendency to outsource or swords.  Now by swords, I mean THE SWORD, of course – the Word of God.

We rely on the preacher, the radio station, the TV, a friend, a verse of the day email, or even… I hate to say it – this blog.  And while all these things can be good (especially the blog J), they should not be a replacement for our own ingestion of the Word.  We should be diving into our Bibles and learning and studying and being thoroughly confused.  And we should be striving to understand the things that we are confused about.  The bottom line is this: let’s not outsource our Sword.  Let’s pick it up ourselves and learn how to fight with it, so we will be equipped when the battle comes.

How to respond to God’s greatness

I Samuel 12:24 But be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.

My goodness, God is good! No scratch that; God is great! I don’t have to think real hard to consider what great things He has done.  Just this morning I was seeking Him and praying for healing for my body.  I was sick and couldn’t hardly function and BAM!  He faithfully brought healing to my body.  So I am fresh off His greatness right now.  But He is so much more than that.  He is my Savior, my healer, my friend, my everything.  He has done great things and I am confident there are many more to come.  Jesus loves me, this I know.  He pursues me, forgives me, refines me, and restores me.  He always holds up His end of the relationship.

So what’s my response to Him?  What is my role in our relationship?  Samuel told the people to do two things: fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully.  And Samuel even called down thunder and rain from heaven to freak them out a little bit.  Because they obviously needed to remember how great God is.  You see they often neglected these two things, to fear Him and serve Him faithfully.  In fact, they are likely the same two things that we struggle with today.

Fear Him.  Yes, the God of mercy and grace is still a little scary.  C.S. Lewis said that if we compare God to us it would be like comparing us to a slug.  He’s that much better, that much greater, that much smarter, that much more powerful.  The good news is that He isn’t going to pour salt on us.  But that should freak us out a little, how big He is.  And it should keep driving us to being right with Him.  I am not saying that fear should motivate our relationship with Him, but we should have a basic understanding of how massive He is.

Serve Him faithfully.  Faithfully. As in not half-heartedly.  We get flaky with our faith, though.  We serve Him when we feel like it, maybe when things get rough.  But we forget Him in the pace of life.  We lose track of our relationship, our bibles, and our prayers.  I wonder why this is.  I mean, when life gets really good, shouldn’t we remember who made it good?  Our response should be faithfulness.  That’s my commitment today: I will faithfully serve you Lord with my life.  In good times and bad, you will be my God.  And I’ll even be a little freaked out by You, too.

Dumb Criminals

I Samuel 11:1-3   1 Nahash the Ammonite went up and besieged Jabesh Gilead. And all the men of Jabesh said to him, “Make a treaty with us, and we will be subject to you.” 2 But Nahash the Ammonite replied, “I will make a treaty with you only on the condition that I gouge out the right eye of every one of you and so bring disgrace on all Israel.” 3 The elders of Jabesh said to him, “Give us seven days so we can send messengers throughout Israel; if no one comes to rescue us, we will surrender to you.”

Dumb Criminal Report: A teenager was arrested by the Pennsylvania police and charged with felony daytime burglary. How did they find out? Well, the victim noticed that someone had broken into her house through a bedroom window. She also happened to check her computer…which had the burglar’s Facebook account still open. Apparently, after snatching two expensive diamond rings, he had felt the irresistible need to check his status. Can you say…”un-friend”?

I really enjoy dumb criminal stories and I actually found one in the Bible today.  You have this Ammonite guy named Nahash who comes to an Israeli town and says he is going to destroy it.  The people there ask him to make a treaty with them, but he says that he will only spare them if they agree to have their right eyeball plucked out.  What happens next is perplexing – the Israelites ask him for 7 days to rally enough people to fight him.  I would expect him to say, “how ’bout I just kill you now?”  Instead, he gives them the seven days.  How dumb can you be!?  You are going to give the Israelites a week to get an army together to fight you.  Do you not know how many of them there are?

It was the ultimate dumb criminal move on his part, because God’s people rallied.  It says that the Spirit of the Lord came upon Saul in power and he rallied the people to go out and completely destroy the Ammonites. I love the part where the men of Jabesh go to the Ammonites and say, “okay we will surrender tomorrow.” I think the Bible left out the part where they did everything possible to keep from snickering.  Seriously, it is the ultimate set up.

What I love about this story is the fact that God’s people rallied. When one of the peeps was getting picked on, the brothers came in to rescue.  They banded together and took on the bully.  We should be doing the same thing for each other.  We are called as the Body of Christ to rally around each other.  We are called to build each other up.  Unfortunately, it is often the Body that is doing the tearing down.  Let’s commit today to come to each other’s rescue, to pick up a friend who has been beat down.  Let’s take on these dumb criminals together and be the church Jesus has called us to be!

Are you hiding from your calling?

I Samuel 10:20-22  20 When Samuel brought all the tribes of Israel near, the tribe of Benjamin was chosen. 21 Then he brought forward the tribe of Benjamin, clan by clan, and Matri’s clan was chosen. Finally Saul son of Kish was chosen. But when they looked for him, he was not to be found. 22 So they inquired further of the LORD, “Has the man come here yet?”    And the LORD said, “Yes, he has hidden himself among the baggage.”

Oooo, a little game of hide n’ seek with God, huh?  Didn’t Saul know the story of Adam and Eve?  You can’t really hide from God.  There seems to be no shortage of hiders in the Bible, either.  Gideon hid because he was afraid of the enemy; God showed up and called him mighty warrior.  Jonah hid because he didn’t like God’s assignment; God sent a whale to set him straight.  But hiding in the luggage, Saul?  Really?

There’s something different about Saul’s hiding, though.  It doesn’t seem to be because of sin, shame, or fear of bad guys.  Saul seemed to be afraid to accept his calling.  You see, this assembly that Samuel called was fresh off a supernatural experience that Saul had just walked through.  He was anointed by Samuel to be the King of Israel.  The Lord not only changed his heart, but also filled him with His Spirit.  Then Saul went out and prophesied with the prophets.  He essentially became an Old-Testament, born-again, spirit filled man. Then he hid.

And it is the timing of his hiding that puzzles me most.  I mean, we all try to hide sometimes.  When the heat gets to be too hot, we’ve got to get out of the kitchen.  But I wonder if we try to hide from our calling like Saul did.  Maybe he hid because even though he was spirit-filled and anointed, he didn’t know how to be king.  He probably didn’t feel ready or equipped.  He likely worried about what everyone was going to think about him.  Whatever the reason, he attempted to hide from his destiny.

I don’t want to hide from my destiny; I want to embrace it.  Even though I don’t feel equipped and ready, I must have enough confidence in my God that I can stand tall and walk in that calling.  So you won’t find me among the luggage.  No, you won’t find me hiding.  I will walk toward all that He has for me, even when I am unsure.  He has given me a new heart and filled me with His Spirit.  I intend to do something great with it!

Looking for donkeys

I Samuel 9:5-8  5 When they reached the district of Zuph, Saul said to the servant who was with him, “Come, let’s go back, or my father will stop thinking about the donkeys and start worrying about us.” 6 But the servant replied, “Look, in this town there is a man of God; he is highly respected, and everything he says comes true. Let’s go there now. Perhaps he will tell us what way to take.” 7 Saul said to his servant, “If we go, what can we give the man? The food in our sacks is gone. We have no gift to take to the man of God. What do we have?”  8 The servant answered him again. “Look,” he said, “I have a quarter of a shekel of silver. I will give it to the man of God so that he will tell us what way to take.” 

Here in 1 Samuel chapter 9, we find Saul and his servant out on an expedition to find daddy’s donkeys.  Or so he thought.  In verse 5, we pick up at the part in which Saul is ready to give up.  He thinks dad might get worried so he should turn back.  But his servant suggests they go find Samuel and ask him for some advice.  Do you get that?  The servant is the one who recommends going to see Samuel.  And it is the servant who comes up with the quarter of a shekel of silver which makes this plan acceptable to Saul.

So as it seems, this visit to Samuel is a side trip to the journey.  In practical terms, Samuel is going to be the gas station where they stop and ask for directions.  It turns out, however, that Samuel was really God’s intended destination all along.  He used lost donkeys to get Saul there; He used a servant to get him there.  So when Saul meets Samuel, he is in for quite the surprise.  He was out looking for donkeys and found the throne. 

It strikes me as I read this that we so often don’t go look for the donkeys because we have put God’s vision for our lives in a box.   We say things like, “I’ve got a plan of royalty prepared for me.  My God has great plans for me!  I don’t have time to go out looking for donkeys.”  All the while, looking for donkeys may be the path God has for our future.  This is the way of God, isn’t it?  He wants us to go out on the journey set before us and leave the destination up to Him.  You may be on a road you didn’t plan on.  You may be following God on a donkey finding expedition.  But will you trust that His perfect plan for you has not been lost?  Saul’s journey didn’t end the way he expected it to when he first set out, but it resulted in him finding the calling on his life.

It’s okay to be you

I Samuel 8:19-20 19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” 

“If everyone else was jumping off a bridge, would you jump too?”  It’s got to be the most annoying question a parent asks a child and yet we will probably all (if we haven’t already) ask our kids the same question. It is the universal “will you follow the crowd” question.  I don’t know that I actually ever answered that question when my parents asked me it, but knowing me I probably had some sarcastic answer brewing somewhere beneath my breath.  (Sorry mom and dad – they do read my blog)  Anyhow I think the question could potentially be less rhetorical than intended with the right comeback.  My thoughts are: “if I had a bungee rope on, if it wasn’t too high and there was a lake below, maybe if I was having a bad day, and it depends on the bridge and the people jumping with me.”  All of those answers probably would have got me sent to my room so I graciously said them under my breath instead, er, I mean… said “no I wouldn’t.”

Samuel tries to ask the Israelite people the same question when they tell him they want a king.  You see, first the blame seems to be placed on the failure of Samuel’s sons.  Because they were total losers, the people wanted to have someone who they could follow.  I think that was just an excuse.  Later on, the real reason comes out – they wanted to be like everyone else.  It’s something that we all seem to want at our core.  And yet it doesn’t really get us anywhere.  Being like everyone else is selling out.  It is settling for less than who God made you uniquely to be.  But Israel wanted a king… just like everyone else.  They wanted to be normal, I guess.

God tried to warn them too.  He told them that trying to be like everyone else would just cause them a bunch of trouble.  They would find themselves slaves to a king.  They would find themselves having to hand over what they worked so hard for.  They would lose their families and their freedom.   We have similar troubles – we become slaves to fashion and stereotypes, we hand over what we worked hard for to be cool, we give up our freedom and eventually lose our families.  And its all because we desperately want to fit in with what is normal and mainstream.

I’ve got news for you: God isn’t mainstream.  He doesn’t do things like the world does.  And He certainly doesn’t want you trying to mimic their cheap knockoff second rate ways either.  He is the original creator!  He is the one who came up with all the ideas.  All them other slim shadys are just imitating.  This world and its ways can’t hold a candle to God’s.  He knows what He is up to and He knows what is best.  He knows His plan for your life better than you know life itself.  Best of all, He knows you.  He knows how He made you and who you are destined to be.  So rather than trying to fit in and be like everyone else, try being you for a change.  I think you’ll find it fits you quite nicely.

Does God have roommates?

I Samuel 7:3 And Samuel said to the whole house of Israel, “If you are returning to the LORD with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.”

Intention and action aren’t always the same thing.  Samuel surely knew the history of the Israelite people and wanted to be certain they were serious this time.  We find them in chapter 7 crying out to the Lord for help.  They were sorrowful and repentant and ready to return to God.  But God also knew the hearts of His people.  In Isaiah 29:13, the Lord says, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.”  We should know that God is not after religion; even though He made the rules, He isn’t as concerned about them as He is the hearts of man.  He wants our hearts, not just our words.

Because if we only give Him our words and not our hearts, our words are empty.  They mean nothing.  So Samuel tells the people here in verse 3, if you really mean it… if you are REALLY returning to the Lord then prove it with your actions.  Get rid of your foreign gods and idols!  God wants to be the only one; He doesn’t want to share an apartment with idols and false gods.  He doesn’t room with anyone, well, except the trinity (which is really Himself anyways).  Have you ever shared an apartment with someone?  Did you find that you had to make concessions?  Did you find yourself having to adjust to the lifestyle of the person or people you were living with?  God doesn’t do that.

Yet we ask Him to move into the apartment of our hearts with a bunch of roommates.  He says, “it’s crowded in here.”  You tell Him that He can have the master bedroom.  You tell Him that He can have most of the space in the fridge and even in the cupboards.  He says, “it’s crowded in here.”  You tell Him that you will move the idol roommates out to the garage or into the hall closet.  His response? “It’s crowded in here.”  You see, God doesn’t want to share you.  He wants your whole heart.  So we must heed the words spoken by Samuel: if you are returning to the Lord with your whole heart, get rid of all the idols and the stuff that you serve other than Him.  Don’t make God number one in your life; make Him the only one in your life.