Snapshots: Day 202

Snapshots: Day 202

The Snapshot: the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.” (1 Sam 15:35b) This is a strange verse, the counter-balance to Samuel mourning for Saul. There are two aspects of God we need to understand. First there is the God who stands outside of time and sees and knows everything from beginning to end – the God who knows. But then there is the God who dwells in time and space and shares in our world. This God (the same one, don’t misunderstand) acts as if He were experiencing it for the first time and almost appears surprised by what happens. He had chosen Saul because that’s what the people had wanted – they had to learn. Yet, despite all He does for Saul, Saul doesn’t live up to the possibilities.   God is sorry it had to be that way. Grieve with Him.

Further Consideration: So let’s think on some more about this God who chooses people yet can regret it. I happened to be reading Luke 6 and was struck by verse 35 that speaks about God: “he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” These are the people God has to deal with; we’re all like this in some measure or another. One day Jesus amazingly healed ten lepers and only one came back to say thank you (Lk 17:12-19). I say again, these are the sort of people we are. When we first come to Christ we are often full of praise and thanksgiving but the ordinariness of daily life seems to dissolve that and we come to take these amazing lives for granted – and God knew we would be like that. We have to learn afresh the wonder of who we are and come to appreciate life – and especially our Christian life- afresh.

The truth is that some of us will step out in lives of incredible faith, men or women who, through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword.” It is worth reading the whole of that passage in Hebrews 11:33-38, these were people who were outstanding in the faith. But let’s be honest, they were exceptions, most of us live lesser lives – significant nevertheless – lives that are not so startling, but they are lives of faith. And then there are some who draw back and the Bible isn’t shy of talking about them (e.g. Jn 6:66), they are the prodigals who left the fold. Now here’s the thing: God feels differently about each one according to what He finds in us. Yes, some He will rejoice over, some He will grieve over, some over whom He will be angry. He feels, He has emotions and He expresses them. Here’s the other thing: you and I have the ability to bring joy or grief to our heavenly Father by the way we live, the way we respond to Him, or not. God calls many, but the way they work out is not guaranteed, for we each have free will. Challenging!

Snapshots: Day 201

Snapshots: Day 201

The Snapshot: Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him.” (1 Sam 15:35a) Saul has blown it and been told he will lose the kingdom. He will eventually die in battle. Samuel can do no more; it’s a lost cause. But note this: until he himself died, Samuel mourned for Saul. God’s men and women ache for God’s reputation, God’s cause, God’s people, even when the people blow it. Lost potential, what could have been never apprehended, people who were just too shallow, got side-tracked by the world (Mt 13:18-23) and so on, who never received all the goodness God was handing out. This indeed is a real cause for mourning and grief. How tragic. Let’s make sure we’re not those who miss it.

Further Consideration: There are two sides to Christian experience; there is praise, worship, and thanksgiving for the wonders of all that God does for us, and there are the sorrows and sadnesses for the failings of mankind, of others and of ourselves. I suspect this second group often escape our thoughts; in some ways they are too great a burden to carry. Guilt and shame we take to the foot of the Cross, it is the only way to deal with them.

Samuel mourning for Saul – while he is still alive – is a challenging thought. Samuel had been part of the process that had brought Saul to kingship. Samuel had been on the end of the complaints of the people who demanded they have a king like other nations. He had prophesied over Saul and seen the potential for both good and bad, he had had to rebuke Saul for his failures and then, when the Lord says He will replace him with a man after his own heart, I would suggest that Samuel senses, catches and shares something of God’s heart that is sad that Saul doesn’t live up to the people’s expectations and his potential.

This is a whole area fraught with danger, the danger of letting the enemy dump guilt upon us for not being what we could be. There was the father who cried to Jesus, I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24) and in that is the recognition that we are believers who still struggle with unbelief AND we need the Lord’s help to overcome that. All such thoughts drive us back to the Cross with the acknowledgement that none of us is perfect and we all fall short of the potential, the glory that God offers us (Rom 3:23) – and we have to learn to live with that, the recognition that we have great potential but, for a myriad of reasons, we often don’t achieve that potential – and yet God still loves us and called and saved us knowing we were like this. There are times when we will really see this paradox and mourn but yet for most of the time just live with it. We cannot live with constant mourning and so have to balance it with the wonder and praise view of our lives.

Snapshots: Day 200

 Snapshots: Day 200

The Snapshot: Why did you not obey the Lord?” (1 Sam 15:19) We mentioned obedience recently as one of the ingredients that makes a spiritual person. Saul was not such a person. There is little or nothing in him – or seen in the records about him – that indicates a heart after God. He became a charismatic as we’ll see later, but that was a sovereign God act, not the response of a heart-after-God man. He is given a task by God and only half does what he’s told: partial obedience = disobedience. But now he’s a leader and leadership of God’s people requires a heart after God and that includes complete obedience. He has just disqualified himself and that is tragic as we’ll see. Let’s check ourselves to see we are obedient to God.

Further Consideration: Sometimes some of the lessons of scripture are so simple and straight forward that we take them for granted, forget them, or even ignore them. Consider obedience which is compliance with a command. Why does God have to give a command? Because He is dealing with a fallen human race who have a propensity for getting it wrong and therefore who need constant correcting.

Take that most famous verse in 2 Tim 3:16 – “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” Observe those first three activities: Teaching = imparting information to remove ignorance. We all need teaching because sin has blinded us to the truth and we need to have it put before us again and again. Rebuking = telling off, challenging over error or wrongdoing. Sin is the propensity to be self-centred and godless which results in wrongdoing. We constantly need challenging over that and God does it to save us from self-destruction. Correcting = putting right by showing the right way. Although we surrendered our lives, we can get into this Christian life only with the knowledge of how we get it wrong and so we need showing the different way to live. That is why the New Testament is so full of instructions that are contrary to the way we used to live before we came to Christ.

Now here’s the obvious things about all of this, unless we let the Bible (and the Holy Spirit) teach us, rebuke us and correct us, it will not be able to train us in righteous living. Many of us get away with it by ignorance – we don’t know what the Scriptures say, but the Law showed that God does not accept that as an excuse, because the truth is that His Spirit will be prompting us all the time to take on board these three activities. Failure to go along with them is disobedience. Put it the other way round, God expects us to obey what His word says. Will we get to heaven and find the Lord with tears running down His face saying, “Why did you not obey? You missed so much that could have been yours.”

Snapshots: Day 199

 Snapshots: Day 199

The Snapshot: Samuel was angry, and he cried out to the Lord all that night.” (1 Sam 15:11) It is easy to become angry with the Church, with the world at large, and even God, but mostly our anger is either unfounded or misplaced. But the thing is that where lukewarm faith prevails, or unbelief weighs down, it is difficult not to be angry but that anger is so often simply a sign of frustration. And the answer to that? Pray – and keep on praying and praying until either your view is changed or the people or circumstances are changed. If there is anger make sure it is linked to ongoing intercessory prayer. If we don’t our own righteousness is suspect.

Further Consideration: Anger it is a strange thing: it can be righteous or unrighteous. I say it can be righteous because God gets angry. But what is anger? A dictionary definition is “a strong feeling of annoyance or displeasure or response to hostile provocation.” The apostle Paul taught that anger should not be allowed to continue (Eph 4:26) which suggests that it tends to be an emotion that is provoked by the words or actions of someone else.

The Lord got angry with Moses when he kept making excuses why he wasn’t up to going to deliver Israel from Egypt (Ex 4:14). The Lord knew Moses was up to the task and so these were mere untrue excuses. The Lord later taught Moses that He was slow to anger (Ex 34:6) but that implies what is sometimes seen, that He did sometimes get angry.

Anger is an emotional expression of displeasure in response to something wrong. That’s why Samuel was angry. Scholars suggest that when Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus, there was an element of anger behind the tears. One version speaks of Jesus being “deeply moved in the spirit and was agitated.” It appears an anger at the effects of sin that resulted in tears and anguish of these people. If only Adam and Eve had never sinned, if only the human race could have not sinned, then all these awful effects of sin could have been avoided.  

In Samuel’s case Saul had been given a clear instruction and had blatantly failed to obey. He was supposed to be the Lord’s anointed, for goodness sake! He’s supposed to take a lead and be an example for his people, and what does he do? Disobey God! Some psychologists maintain that all anger is good in that it vents and reveals the emotions but if the emotions are self-centred and godless, then they cannot be said to be good. Paul wrote that love, does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” (1 Cor 13:5) implying that getting easily angered tends to be self-seeking and caring little of others, i.e. an expression of the absence of love – to be avoided.  

Snapshots: Day 198

Snapshots: Day 198

The Snapshot: Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving.” (1 Sam 14:6) I love the faith of young people, it’s just a shame that so often they aren’t challenged to rise up and achieve their potential in God. Jonathan is a young man who is being a thorn in the side of authority – his father, the king. He keeps on stepping out and doing faith stuff, and faith stuff upsets those who prefer the safe path. Jonathan finds an enemy lookout outpost – in Israel – and he wants to challenge these unbelievers who have no right to be in the Promised Land. Let’s see, he says to his servant, what God might do about this if we put our head above the parapet (literally). They rout the enemy; it just needed faith and trust in God. More please Lord!

Further Consideration: I find young Jonathan’s attitude delightful. Let’s see what God will do, because one thing I know is that He wants to save, deliver, bless, encourage and build up His people. Is this an opportunity for Him to do that through us.

Ah yes, there is the catch. Rather like Moses when God says: “I have indeed seen … I have heard … I am concerned …. So I have come down …..So now, go. I am sending you!” (Ex 3:7-10). Isaiah caught the same thing: “Here am I, send me.” (Isa 6:8). Or in the New Testament with Jesus, Peter who calls out, Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” (Mt 14:28)

Do you see the extravagant faith in each of these, in the Lord’s expectation of Moses, in Isaiah having just been cleansed and made holy, and Peter willing to try and do the impossible? Crazy, each one of them!

But isn’t that exactly the attitude of Jonathan. He’s at the bottom of cliff so it needs a vulnerable climb up in the sight of the enemy who probably outnumber and are better armed than them. Just him, a young man, and a young armor bearer, against seasoned fighters. Just like David taking on a giant. Crazy! But hold on, look what he says, “perhaps the Lord will act.” Or Peter, “if it’s you Lord.” If God is in this then watch out world! Do we let the enemy intimidate us with numbers and our insignificance? It doesn’t matter how small and insignificant we were: “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things.” (1 Cor 1:27,28) It’s not going to be your clever organizing or planning: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” (Zech 4:6)  Sorry, I feel on old song coming on, “Oh when will they ever learn?” It’s not us, it’s Him, what He can do. All He wants is our availability and youthful bravado, a bravado that trusts, not our ability but His. May He find more of that in us.

Snapshots: Day 197

 Snapshots: Day 197

The Snapshot: The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart.” (1 Sam 13:14) We said in an earlier ‘Snapshot’ that it needs a ‘heart-man’ to lead, a man after God’s own heart, who is moved by God’s heart, jealous for God’s heart, stirred and energized by God’s heart. Saul didn’t have it and was removed by God. David did have it and was called by God to take over. All spiritual leaders, at whatever level or of whatever nature in ‘the Church’ are called to be ‘heart-men’ or ‘heart-women’, not running on intellect, not on cleverness, but moved and energized by the heart of God, and that calls for spending time in His presence, lots of it. When we do that it will be seen by those who are spiritually hungry and thirsty. They will be fed and led. Pray for it throughout the whole Church.

Further Consideration: Now what does it actually mean that God wants a “man after his own heart”?  It is interesting looking up the paraphrases for they each seem to completely miss the point talking about obedience. But obedience is only a small part of this. When we look at David’s life we can catch something of this. When we observe him coming against Goliath we see a man who is incensed that God’s name is being demeaned by this Philistine. A heart man starts out with a deep sense of wanting to honour God’s name and when they pray, I suggest, “for you name’s sake” they truly mean it. The name and honour of the Lord is all important.

But then we see David having opportunity of killing Saul – twice – but twice he refuses. Again it is partly to do with the name of the Lord. Saul is anointed by God and as such cannot be touched. A heart man respects everything and everyone who God has chosen. We see this again (and we’ll see it in a later study) when Saul is killed and David grieves over him. A heart man does not rejoice when sinners fall; they grieve at the loss of what could have been. God is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance,” (2 Pet 3:9) God seeks for the redemption of every person and when they refuse to heed His call, I believe He grieves over them. Now when we look around the congregation and we measure or assess people, I am sure looking at the way some churches are run, people are assessed by their standing in the community. I remember a Baptist  church I was part of as a young Christian and when the twelve deacons trouped out of the vestry at the beginning of the service followed by the minister, a more respectable bunch of businessmen or bankers you couldn’t hope to find – but ‘hearts after God’? I think that was something else. How about the spiritual leaders in our churches? Well qualified from college, but heart men? Are they men whose hearts are knit with God, who yearn after God, who feel with God….? Pray for them.  

Snapshots: Day 196

Snapshots: Day 196

The Snapshot: And Saul offered up the burnt offering.” (1 Sam 13:9) Well that sounds very spiritual. After all it was there in the Law. But the trouble was that Saul wasn’t a priest; Saul was going beyond his calling, trying to manipulate God by religious activity, apparently doing the right thing – but in the wrong way. I wonder how many of us ‘try to be religious’ or ‘try to be spiritual’ and go beyond our calling and gifting? I believe it is very common in leaders – it was in me once upon a time. We feel we ought to live up to people’s expectations and so we try to be all things to all people. Good shepherds sometimes try to be good preachers but fail abysmally. Good preachers try to be good prophets but fail abysmally. Let’s each be what we’re called to be – and that’s all.

Further Consideration: Possibly one of the most ignored passages of the New Testament is 1 Cor 12, all about us each being a part of the body of Christ, the church. The primary point that Paul makes is that we are all different. He clarifies that in Rom 12 where he again talks about the body: “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.(v.6) i.e. we are what we are in this ‘body’ according to the nature of the grace that God has imparted to us when we turned to Christ.  It comes in the form of spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:4) or service that he calls us to (1 Cor 12:5), maybe even ministries to build up the rest of the church (1 Cor 14:12, Eph 4:11,12, Rom 12:6-8)

Now what is sad is that in very many churches these verses are never taught and therefore there is no expectation within the body of being able to move according to the grace God gives us. The result of this is that most people sit in the congregation expecting others to spoon-feed them and opening their mouths to receive is all that is required of them. Thus the local body never grows to, become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph 4:13) and it is not surprising that the church has such little impact on the modern world.

The other outworking of this failure is that we are so often left with one-man ministries and the local church expects him/her to do everything that is ‘spiritual’ (leaving the notices, handling the finances and arranging the flowers to the ‘laity’). That poor person becomes a Saul who, in the apparent absence of any other ministry turning up, feels called to do what they are not called to do.   Perhaps we need to do a serious series of 1 Cor 12 applied to the life of the local church so that we can put these things right. But again, tragically, such leaders are wallowing in failure because God is not blessing them as a teacher / prophet / evangelist etc. etc. because they are drowned in the things they should not be doing because God has not gifted them accordingly. Much thought, prayer and change needed.

Snapshots: Day 195

Snapshots: Day 195

The Snapshot: Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the Lord and his anointed.” (1 Sam 12:3) Samuel approaches the end of his life and stands before his people and challenges them, tell me if you have found me deficient, tell it to God. You have a problem with someone? Tell it to God. But be careful of the pointing finger. Remember the four fingers that point back at you. But what a challenge: can I look back with a clear conscience? No I can’t, but I rely on the Cross. Samuel asked about his honesty and integrity and on that score, I hope I could say the same. But Samuel didn’t get it right with his sons. We all have feet of clay. All of us with have something to confess about the past, but it does not disprove that I am still a child of God, still loved by Him.

Further Consideration: These present truths that we are examining through this part of scripture in 1 Samuel may seem somewhat negative but they come to us as both am explanation and a warning. The explanation – in the things we have recently been considering – show us why humanity is like it is and challenges us to be honest and face up to the truth: we all have what I refer to as feet of clay and get it wrong sometimes and we all need God’s help to deal with our guilty consciences and inabilities to live perfect lives. Samuel has done so well in so many ways walking the lonely path of the sole prophet leading Israel, but yet there is his inadequacy in respect of his sons: “his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.” (1 Sam 8:3) It was partly for this reason – or at least it was the reason the people latched onto – that was the basis for the people demanding a king.

I think most of us would like to make excuses for Samuel here because we feel vulnerable in respect of our own parenting abilities. I confess to feeling like this in respect of our three (now grown up) children (although my wife says I’m wrong to feel like this) who are all doing well, but could they all be stronger in the faith than they are?

Solomon wrote, Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” (Prov 22:6) Other versions start it, “train up a child in the way he should go…” and the Message version says, “Point your kids in the right direction….” The truth is that this is just another area where our inadequacies are revealed. The best we can do is love your children, always be there for them, teach and train them and provide a good example for them and pray for them. When they leave home we can still love them, be there for them and pray for them, and after that, the rest is down to them.   Apart from this, can we say with Samuel, check my integrity and honesty and find me true? 

Snapshots: Day 194

Snapshots: Day 194

The Snapshot: The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person.” (1 Sam 10:6) The grace of God appears in a variety of ways. The people have rejected the Lord, they have chosen a king instead of God but the Lord goes along with them – they will learn. When Saul is chosen (by both God and the people) the Lord does all He can to bless and encourage Saul. It is a lost cause but no one can say the Lord wasn’t there to steer Saul in the right direction. It was just a shame his heart wasn’t up to the job. But despite this – and the Lord must have known this – the Lord blesses him and he becomes a charismatic. Unfortunately that’s not enough. It needs a heart person to be godly king (see 1 Sam 13:4).

Further Consideration: Two very clear lessons here: the goodness of God and the inadequacy of man. Looking first at the big picture of the Bible we see fallen mankind and a God who is described as love and goodness, and who is perfect (in everything He thinks, says and does) who does all He can in respect of mankind, working within the restrictions of having given mankind free will (that we saw in the previous study), to bless mankind and draw them to Himself.

He gives them a beautiful Garden which they reject, He reaches out to various individuals, He draws one into relationship and through him creates a nation through which He can reveal Himself to the rest of mankind. When, time after time, they mess us, He sends His Son to die as a sacrifice for Sin, and to all who received him He gives His Holy Spirit. It is all there in the bible for anyone who has a heart to go looking for it. It is only the spiritually blind who cannot see His goodness in all this, especially when you balance the other lesson.

To call man inadequate is an understatement. If Adam had been up to the task of being a perfect human being he would have never let Eve sin or followed her in that sin. Abram wouldn’t have stumbled around in his newfound faith, and so on.  In fact no human being – without God’s help – is up to the task of being a sinless human being. So why did God make us with free will which we could exercise to mess up? Because it was the only way to create a sentient being that could love Him and enter into a relationship with Him. In the previous study I suggested there are two nerve-wracking realities in life. I will add a third one: despite all of God’s love reaching out to us – as demonstrated in Saul – a large percentage of the human race will reject Him and do their own thing and bring destruction upon themselves, and it is their own fault. We can never blame God for our failures. He doesn’t give us that option. He loves and loves, and still some reject Him. How terrible.

Snapshots: Day 193

Snapshots: Day 193

The Snapshot: Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.” (1 Sam 9:2) I say it with tongue in cheek, but I feel like saying, “Lord, that was a bit unkind giving Israel what they wanted, a guy who looked good on the outside, even if he wasn’t too bright spiritually. Yes, I know Israel weren’t thinking spiritually, but to match their lack of spirituality with an unspiritual guy? Come on!” I sense the answer: “That’s what they wanted and I did all I could for them. They had to learn, even if it took time.”  I wonder if we have learned this lesson, that it’s not those who ‘look good’ but those who ‘are good’ and goodness is on the inside? Spirituality is on the inside, not in just words and good appearance.

Further Consideration: There are two nerve-wracking realities in life. First, that God has given us free will and, second, He allows us to live with the consequences of us using that free will unwisely. We see it very clearly in this episode in the life of Israel. They had judges, then they had a prophet leading them but now they want a human king leading them. That is their choice, that is what they have chosen to do.

Almost surprisingly, they ask or demand of Samuel that they can have a king. They don’t ask him to be that king because he’s not the stature of the sort of king they want. They want someone who is big and tall and can beat up lessor mortals and is the sort of charismatic person who can lead other big and tough fighting men. So if that is all they want, God knows exactly the man who fits some of those criteria at least. He is handsome, he looks good. He is a head taller than anyone else so, yes, we will all look up to him.

But the trouble with this sort of thinking is that it is inadequate, more so because of who Israel are. They are a people chosen by God to reveal Him to the rest of the world, and so any leader needs to be a godly man, a man after God’s own heart who can understand God, what He wants and how He wants it to happen (because as we’ve said previously He’s better at these things than we are!). But they haven’t learnt this yet, they are still only at the human, material, limited-in-understanding level. Big is best. Well, actually, no it’s not. Godly is best.

I wonder if this is a general principle we need to understand and build into our lives – what looks good isn’t necessarily the best. There is a saying, ‘you get what you pay for’ and that applies to cheap good and it applies to cheap, shallow lives, that have always sought to take the easy way out, avoid the struggles and lessons of life, and just look good. It’s not about what it looks like, it about what is on the inside, whether that applies to cheap steel, cheap bright plastic or cheap, bright plastic human lives. Will we learn?