Sunday, August 26, 2012

How to Face Today's Challenges

Read 1 Samuel 17.

For forty days, several times a day, Goliath challenged Israel with his words.  No one had the courage to take on this bully.  Saul offered money, his daughter in marriage, and literally the royal treatment if someone would step up.

What moved David to act with such confidence?  It was all a matter of perspective.  The difference was why he stepped forward. 
-David never saw this as a territorial, political, or even a physical fight.
-It was not a matter of stirring up enough courage with skill, experience, and luck to kill Goliath. 
-David did not see these men as the army of Israel, but the army of the living God.
-It was not a battle of them against us, but them against God.

Why didn't God  just strike Goliath dead on the spot?  He could have, but most often God will use the right person at exactly the right time to do His will.

1. David's Motive. (v.36)
He could not stand by and do nothing while God and God's people were being ridiculed and cursed.

2. David's Faith. (v.37)
His trust was not solely in his own ability and experience but in God's deliverance.

3. David's Method. (vv.38-40)
He learned from his past.  God had tested him previously in life threatening situations.

4. David's Message. (vv.45-47)
He was there for one reason: "that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel."

5. David's Humility. (v.58)
His response was not about replacing Saul as king, but "I am the son of your servant."

How do you see your challenges today?  Is it us against them, or them against God?  As tested servants of God, we trust Him to deliver us.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Number One Evaluator of People

Read 1 Samuel 16.

The LORD announced to Samuel, "I have provided myself a king".  It was not wrong that Israel wanted a king, but the timing and the selection of Saul proved to be a temporary concession.  God had foretold of them one day having a king, but he would come from the tribe of Judah.  Saul came from the tribe of Benjamin.  Samuel's instructions were to go to Bethlehem and choose from the family of Jesse.

What we learn nine things about David in this chapter.
-He was the youngest of eight sons.
-He tended the family's flock of sheep.
-He had a ruddy complexion, beautiful eyes, and a handsome face.
-He was a skillful musician.
-He was a man of valor.
-He was a man of war.
-He was prudent in speech.
-He presented himself well.
-Most of all, people knew the LORD was with him.

With his good looks, skill and experiences David would, of course, be an obvious pick.  Right?  God gave to Samuel an important principle for evaluating people.

"For the LORD sees not as a man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart."

A heart that is right with God will always win in the long run over good looks and great skill.

Friday, August 24, 2012

4 Powerful Statements for Self-examination

Read 1 Samuel 15.

Warren Buffet once said, "In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don't have the first, the other two will kill you."
In Saul's case, he lacked integrity and his intelligence was questionable.  This particular episode in Saul's life began in 14:16.  God used Jonathan to put the Philistines into great confusion, fleeing and even killing each other.  When an Israeli scout saw this, he alerted Saul and his army.  The full attack and rout was on.  The men were exhausted from battle but Saul inexplicably decided to declare a fast.

Out of his own insecurities, he sought reassurance from God.  It seems that every time Saul became hard pressed he wanted to do something religious, whether it was the right thing to do or not. 
-He summoned the ark of God in battle, a symbol of God presence.
-He declared a fast for a battle-weary army.
-He pronounced a curse of death on the starving who might disobey his order.
-He built an altar to sacrifice to the LORD.
-If the people had not intervened, he probably would have executed his own son to save face.
-He built a monument to himself (15:12).

However, he was the king and as such God used Saul to turn back all of Israel's surrounding enemies.  It was a time of victory for the nation and exalted Saul's leadership.  One of these enemies that the LORD wanted destroyed was the Amalekites.  God never forgot their mistreatment of His people during the exodus (15:2).  The order from God was clear; total annihilation.  But 15:9 describes how Saul disobeyed.

God sent Samuel to confront Saul about this sin.  The first words from Saul to Samuel was a lie (15:13).  The second sentence he spoke was another lie (15:15).  He blamed the people for his own disobedience and tried to make it sound like a good thing.  Samuel was already angry (15:11) and yelled, "Stop!"

Even when confronted about his disobedience, Saul stuck to his story, claiming he did what he was supposed to do and blaming the people.  It is only when Samuel pronounced God's judgment upon him that Saul repented.  In chapter 13, Saul lost his dynasty as Samuel told him "the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart" (13:14).  Here God rejected Saul from even from being king of Israel "and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you" (15:28).

Samuel made four powerful statements that exposed Saul's sin. (15:22-23)
1. Sacrifices to the LORD are to represent a heart and life of obedience to Him.
2. Obedience is better than going through the motions of religious ritual.
3. Disobedience is rebellion and compared to witchcraft and divination. 
4. Stubborn arrogance is compared to the sin of idolatry.

The Apostle Paul wrote: "But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.  But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world." (1 Corinthians 11:31-32)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

5 Keys to Confronting a Challenge

Read 1 Samuel 14.

Quite often the focus of this chapter is on Saul's continued foolish decisions.  In doing so one might miss the sterling character of Jonathan.  He became overshadowed by his father and by then later by the rise of David's leadership.  But this man was as cunning, brave and godly as any in the Bible.

When confronted with a threatening challenge, we learn 5 things from Jonathan's example.
1. He sought an opportunity for success.
-He did not sit and wait for someone else to do something.
-He did not ask permission or approval to investigate.
-He ventured as close as he could without risk.

2. He checked out the opportunity to see if this is what God wanted done.
"It may be that the LORD will work for us..." (v.6)
God's power and ability are unquestionable!  But is this what God wants us to be doing?  If it is, then He will demonstrate His power.  If not, we should not proceed.

3. He had predetermined what would indicate whether to go or stay. (vv.9-10)

4. He took the first step.
-There is always a risk when exposing one's ideas or availability.
-Mark Twain said, "Courage is resistance to fear, not the absence of it."
-When ridiculed he did not flinch.  He was prepared.

5. His ultimate trust was not in himself but the LORD.
-"...for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few." (v.6)
-Try to find in the Bible where the will of God was ever determined by a majority vote.
-Though he certainly was cunning, possessed skill, and had a supportive partner, the only explanation for what took place is the Hand of God.

This incredible victory happened because one man sought an opportunity for success and was willing to go see if God was in it.

What do you see today?

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Test of Success

Read 1 Samuel 13.

Whenever there is a success, a victory, a blessing, or a stand taken on an issue, expect that it will be tested.  Saul demonstrated national leadership and experienced a win over the Philistines.  He had been established as the first king of Israel.  Next came the test.

Israel continued to be oppressed and controlled by their neighbors, the Philistines.  They would not stand by and let Saul flex anymore military muscle against them.  When the Philistines amassed their army to fight against the Israelites, all the men of Israel feared for their lives.  They fled and hid themselves.

There is nothing like a threat to cause people to lose all self-reliance and cast their total dependence on God. 

The situation called for a time of national repentance and worship.  Saul had been given instructions to wait for Samuel, the High Priest, to offer sacrifices and to deliver God's instructions for the nation.  But Saul, out of his own insecurities, his impatience, and his fear, took matters into his own hands.  He was the king; he was the leader.  Who needed Samuel?  In doing so, he abused his power, he violated the Mosaic law from God, he broke fellowship with God, he damaged his relationship with Samuel, and he lost the dynasty of his kingship.  This was a test.  Saul had failed.

It is never right to do wrong.

When Samuel arrived, his words were clear, straightforward, and painful.  "You have done foolishly.  You have not kept the command of the LORD your God..." (v.13)

A leader must understand the real issues.
-The real challenge was not the Philistines.
-The real problem was not the ritual of the burnt offering.
-The real test was obedience from the heart to the LORD.

Let's determine in advance to make an A on our tests today.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

An Example of Spiritual Leadership

Read 1 Samuel 12.

While the national leadership transferred to Saul, Samuel continued to be the spiritual leader of the nation as High Priest.  The inauguration of the king afforded Samuel the opportunity to preach one last challenging message to the people.

1. Samuel's Integrity. (vv.3-5)
Imagine beginning a Sunday sermon in this manner.  The people acknowledged that in all his life of ministry he had wronged no one; not one person had anything bad to say about him.

2. Israel's History (vv.6-13)
Starting with Moses and the exodus from Egypt, Samuel recounted for them how they got to where they were.  The story of Israel was one of God's leading, the sin of the people, their repentance, and God's faithfulness.  It was theocracy but at this point they cried out for a king.

3. The People's Charge (vv.14-15)
If the people fear, serve and obey the LORD, "it will be well."  If they do not, then "the LORD will be against you and your king."

4. The Confirmation of the Message (vv.16-20)
At that exact time and place, an unusual storm of thunder and rain came.  This validated that Samuel's message was not from himself, but came directly from the LORD.  The people got it.  They feared for their lives.  In other words, it put the fear of God in them.  The people cried out for Samuel to intercede for them.

Now that God and Samuel had their attention, they were ready to listen as to what to some instruction and responsibilities.
1. God's Character and Ownership.
He will be faithful.  Why?  These are His people. They belong to Him.  He will do this, not for them, but for Himself.  It is His name and His reputation on the line.

2. The Spiritual Leader's Responsibilities to the People.
Two basic responsibilities: First is prayer.  Failing to pray for the people under his care would be a sin.  Second is wise instruction based upon what God has said.

3. The People's Responsibilities to God.
-To fear God.  This requires diligent respect His presence and dread the consequences of any disobedience.
-To serve God.  This requires one knowing how God designed them and finding an appropriate place to put that purpose into practice.
-To be grateful.  This requires thinking and thanking the LORD for all He has done. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

6 Indispensible Principles for Organizational Achievement

Read 1 Samuel 11.

Saul had gone back home and continued farming.  But when he got the word that his home town was threatened by the Ammonites several things immediately took place.
1. The Spirit of the LORD "rushed upon Saul".  This ignited a godly motivation.
2. Saul became angry.  He could no longer continue doing what he had been doing.
3. He took drastic and immediate action.  Indeed, he killed his own oxen to get the message out.  That was his livelihood he sacrificed.  There would be no turning back.

330,000 men showed up at Saul's call.  Saul organized them and they experienced a great victory.  Previously he had been selected as king, but now he demonstrated national leadership.  This prompted Samuel to inaugurate Saul to the position.

6 indispensable principles for organizational achievement.
1. There was an urgent need.
This was not just a nice idea or the selfish plan of a leader.  It was about others.  Lives were in the balance.

2. The Holy Spirit moved on the heart of the leader to act.
This was not personality or position driven.  This is what God wanted done.

3. The people responded in unity.
There is great power when people are willing to drop their own concerns to meet an urgent need that God wants done.

4. Everyone followed through on the plan. 
They did not show up to discuss and vote on a plan.  No.  These people showed up ready to take action.

5. The leader must remain humble in victory.
In verse 13a, Saul refused to use his position and the opportunity to exercise power against others.

6. The glory must be given to the LORD.
Saul said, "For today the LORD has worked salvation in Israel" (v. 13b).  God empowered the leader, gave them unity, and ensured the deliverance of Jabesh-gilead.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Responding to God's Opportunities

Read 1 Samuel 9-10.

This is truly a picture of contradictions.  Here are just a few:
Israel wanted a king.
But it was not God's timing.

Saul was from a wealthy family.  He was personally taller and more handsome than anyone else.
But he does not have any experience in leadership..

He was being looked to as a leader.
But he lacked self-confidence and displayed insecurities.

He was from the tribe of Benjamin.
But the kingly tribe was to be Judah (Genesis 49:10).

God answered the people's request.
But Samuel told them they had rejected God.

From the start Saul's selection appears to be a temporary appeasement until the real king is ready.  In the meantime, God did some wonderful things for Saul.  He gave him resources and opportunities to succeed, from the inside out.  The future would then be up to Saul's response to God and these God-given opportunities.

What did God do initially to help Saul?
1. "The Spirit of the LORD " rushed upon him (10:6).
2. "God gave him another heart" (10:9).
3. He was noticeably a changed man (10:11).

As Samuel prepared the nation for this leadership transition, he gave them a bit of a history lesson and closed by charging them in writing.  In doing so, he reminded them of God goodness to them in a phrase in mid-sentence. "...who saves you from all you calamities and your distresses" (10:19b).

"His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises..." (2 Peter 1:3-4a).  Today, the LORD has already provided all we need to live for Him.  Our life story is told in how we respond.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Timing can mean everything

Read 1 Samuel 8.

Now, Israel wanted a king.

What prompted this?
Samuel was elderly and his two sons who would have succeeded him were corrupt.  Unlike the Elders in Eli's day, the national Elders here came to Samuel to make a change in leadership.  Instead of another Judge, the people wanted a king.  Samuel took it as a personal rejection. 

What was the real problem?
The request was not out of the will of God.  In fact,  God told the people back in Moses' day that once they settled into the land that He would establish a king for them (Deuteronomy 17:14-15).  But the timing and spirit of the people was wrong.  God felt rejected also (v.7).

What did it cost them?
At least in the ESV, no less than five times in verses 10-17 the phrase "he will take" appears.  Israel will look good in battle with a royal leader arrayed in his finest, but the cost will be substantial.  The greatest cost would be when the people realize their mistake the LORD will not answer their prayer (v.18).

Someone once said, "Be careful what you ask for.  You might just get it."  There are never any regrets when we trust in God's timing to unfold His plan for us.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Addressing the true needs of the nation

Read 1 Samuel 7.

Here we receive a sweeping overview of the ministry and spiritual impact of Samuel, the last Judge of Israel.  The nation lived under the defeat, fear and oppression of their neighbor Philistia.  What should they do?  Some would have concluded that at least they were alive and just keep peace.  Others would have launched into a massive military build up to go to war.  But instead Samuel called for a national repentance.

The root of the problem was spiritual.  Until the people acknowledged the real problem and dealt with it, God would continue to use the Philistines to gain their attention.

The call to the nation included the following elements.  By the way, these are the same for us today.
1. Returning to the LORD with all their heart.
The definition of repentance is not saying you are sorry.  It involves turning around from going one's own way and turning to God Himself.  It is not joining a church and engaging in religious activities.  It is first and foremost a wholehearted embracing of the One who loves us and gave Himself for us.

2. Putting away the false gods.
The proof of repentance and a love relationship with God is riddance of all that caused us to go our own way in the first place.  Certain people, places and things of pleasure, passion, and possessions can distract us from real life to one of sinful and empty pursuits.

3. Gathering publicly for repentance, prayer, fasting, offering and worship.
No one grows in their faith in a vacuum.  God's design for us to mature in our faith is to engage with other believers.  We all need to be taught the Word of God and be led in putting it into practice with others.  As believers we are part of a family of faith.  A Christian alone is contradiction.

The result is undeniable and powerful.  When God's people joined together with pure hearts for prayer and fasting, the enemy became energized to attack.  We should expect such opposition from Satan and his minions.  But based upon the sacrifice and prayer to God, the LORD answered (v.9).  He acted swiftly and powerfully on their behalf.  Israel was delivered.

Based on the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus, "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:16)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Some lessons when God came to Visit

Read 1 Samuel 5-7:2.

The Philistines beat Israel badly and captured the Ark of the Covenant.  They placed it before their god, Dagon, as a spoil of war and probably as a sign of submission to their idol.  However, God allowed the Philistines to take the Ark in order to demonstrate His great power to them.

Here are a few insights:
If you have to keep helping your god stand up, maybe you need a new god.
If your god needs you to repair it, maybe you need a new god.
If your god keeps falling down before the presence of the God of Israel, maybe its trying to tell you something.

Next, God caused physical discomfort by sending a plague of tumors among them.  There were five city-kingdoms among the Philistines ruled by five lords.  Moving the Ark from city to city only proved that the tumors came with it.  The false priests and so-called "diviners" came up with a plan to appease the God of Israel and return the Ark.

Do not miss their statement in 6:6.  They knew the power of God.  They knew what He done to the Egyptians in the Exodus.  They even included as part of their plan "a guilt offering" (vv.3, 8).  Yet, instead of such knowledge and experience leading them to repentance of their sin and embracing the LORD, they only devised a plan to rid themselves of Him.

Once across the border, the men of Beth-shemesh celebrated in worship, making sacrificial offerings to the LORD.  Worship and offerings are inseparable in the scriptures.

Some of the men decided to look inside the Ark and make sure all the contents were still there.  This was directly against what God had instructed.  Such foolish action cost them their lives.  Unlike false gods, the LORD is able to take care of Himself.

The Ark remained there for the next twenty years; just enough time for Samuel to mature, reestablish true spiritual leadership in the nation, and prepare it for the next leader (7:2).

The people asked a great eternal question in 6:20- "Who is able to stand before the LORD, this holy God?"  On our own, the answer is no one.  "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).  That is the bad news.  The good news is this-"And are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:24).

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Would anyone notice if God left?

Read 1 Samuel 4.

This chapter tells a tragic story in the history of Israel.  There was plenty of blame to go around.  Eli served as the High Priest and Judge of the nation for 40 years.  His two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, used the privileges of their position to feed their own lusts.  Israel needed strong spiritual and judicial leadership.  Instead, they were led by sinful, evil men and no one held them accountable, except God.     

As we have seen all along in the Bible, when God disciplines or punishes a nation of people, He uses an opposing nation to do His work.  In this case He raised up the Philistines.  When Israel lost the first battle, they acknowledged for the first time that something was wrong spiritually.  However, they did not repent and take action against the sin among them.  No, they just wanted to do something religious.  Well, God is not a good luck charm!

They sent for the Ark of Covenant in Shiloh.  In the Tabernacle, the Ark was set behind a thick curtain.  The very presence of God hovered over the Ark.  Even the High Priest could only enter that holy place once a year and that with the annual blood of atonement.  So, unless God's presence moved they would have died on the spot.  They did not die because God was no longer there.  To be sure, the LORD would have protected the contents of the Ark with all His power, but the nation entered a life and death battle with their trust only in a gilded box.

Success would not be the result of going through the motions of ritual, but personal and national dependence on the presence and power of God.

What went wrong?
1. When the sin of the two in leadership became known, Eli should have relieved them of their positions immediately.
2. When Eli did nothing, the Elders should have stepped in and dealt with the issues.
3. When the Elders did nothing, the people should have kept up their protest (2:16) until the sinful men and practices had been removed, instead of accepting the evil and allowing it to continue.

As a result, everyone suffered.  34,000 men of Israel died in the war.  Hophni and Phinehas were killed by the Philistines.  Eli died.  Phinehas' wife died.

The summation is found in verse 21.  Ichabod, "The glory has departed."  The real tragedy of this story is that because of the unchecked sin God's glory departed a long time ago and no one noticed.  It took God's intervention to shame and embarrass the people into submission and to replace the national leadership.

Two leadership models.
Godly leadership has purpose and clear direction.  It is characterized by self-sacrifice, strength, and willingness to say to "no" to what is wrong in order to say "yes" to what God wants done.  This creates a people with an attitude of service.

Corrupt leadership is characterized by the leader's self-indulgences and pride.  Therefore, they willingly give into whatever the people want.  This creates a people with an attitude of selfish entitlement.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Are you listening?

Read 1 Samuel 3.

Hearing and responding to the God's voice is not limited to age, experience, or position.  Samuel was very young.  Not only did God speak to him directly, but "came and stood" by Samuel to deliver the message (v.10).  The content of the message had to do with what God had already told Eli in chapter 2.

The important take away for us is found in verse 9: "Speak, LORD for your servant hears."
This is the goal of every person who wants to live wholeheartedly for God.

Four observations about Samuel's call.
1. The call came to Samuel while he was serving God.  Many want to know the will of God for their lives who are not doing anything in the way of ministry for Him.  Someone once said, "You cannot steer a vehicle that is not moving."

2. The call of God was personal.  The LORD had particular plans for Samuel's life.  The fulfillment of those plans only came as Samuel personalized what God wanted done in serving Him.

3. The call of God was an assignment.  There would be an overhaul of spiritual leadership for the nation.  God wanted Samuel ready to lead.

4. The call of God took time to unfold.  Samuel needed time to mature both physically and spiritually before assuming national leadership.  Because Samuel's mind and conscience were sensitive to listening to God and obeying what He said, "the LORD was with Him as he grew" (v.19).  Note that this was in spite of the evil environment in which he was raised.  And, the LORD revealed Himself directly to Samuel later (v.21) and at other times in his leadership.

The Holy Spirit speaks to us today primarily through the Bible.  Often we understand an application of His word through sound teaching or wise counsel.  Throughout the day God is speaking to us in the observations of life.

Sometimes His voice is a loud crash.  But most often, it is a still small voice.  "And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying 'This is the way, walk in it,' when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left." (Isaiah 30:21)

God is speaking all the time.  Are you listening?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

What does God want from us?

Read 1 Samuel 2:12-36.

The contrast in this chapter is unmistakable.  In the first part, we are told of a godly woman who worshipped, who prayed, who experienced the LORD's blessing.  In the second part, we find that the priests were spiritually and morally corrupt.

Eli was not only the High Priest but he was also the father of these two men.  Was Eli responsible for their sin?  No.  These were grown men and fully responsible for their own behaviors.  Should Eli have confronted the sin and removed them from service?  Absolutely! High Priests served for life.  Eli was quite elderly.  He knew what was happening and only reprimanded them.  Sin is like a cancer.  Left unchecked it will only spread and become fatal.

We are not left in doubt as to what God was thinking and wanted said.  He sent an unnamed "man of God", a prophet, to deliver His message.  The message had its roots in the book of Exodus where the LORD chose the tribe of Levi to professionally serve Him.  These men had received a special and godly heritage to steward.  Instead, they treated what God had given them with "scorn" (v.29).  That root attitude of rebellion against the LORD and His plan for them is a key definition in the Bible of sin for which Jesus died (Isaiah 53:6).

What does God want from us? 
There are two key verses here that answer that question.
1. "...for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed." (v.30)
Do my thoughts, my words and my actions moment by moment honor the LORD?
This requires self-awareness and self-discipline.
"So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31)

2. "And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind..." (v.35)
Under the New Covenant (New Testament), believers in Jesus are His priests.  We have a heritage of faith and service to steward.
How can we honor Him if we do not know what is on His heart and on His mind?
This requires reading, meditating, and being taught the Word of God. 
"I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you." (Psalm 119:11)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

How Great is Our God!

Read 1 Samuel 2:1-11.

There is no joy that compares to a direct answer to a prayer from God.  When there is a specific, urgent need, and our dependence is cast solely upon Him, and we get to see the Hand of God move in our favor, we rejoice. 

Hannah's prayer is one that expresses her clear view of who God is and how he has vindicated her.  Her thoughts were not about herself and what she got, but how great the LORD is.  Keep in mind that she lived in a time without a Bible and without a local church.  But she worshipped God, she had been taught, and God had revealed Himself to her.
"There is none holy like the LORD"
"There is none besides you"
"There is no rock like our God"
-The God of the Bible is the only God there is.  There are not mulitple gods to believe in that humans can merely choose what they want to believe.  There is no one else but this One.
"The LORD is a God of knowledge"
"By him actions are weighed"
-The God of the Bible is omniscient.  He knows and is concerned with the details of every life.  He is the Judge of the universe.  One day, everyone will be held accountable before Him for their actions in this life.
"The LORD kills and brings to life"
-He hold the power of life and death.
"The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and exalts."
-He is potter.  We are the clay.  As the owner of all things, He fashions each life as He desires.
"For the pillars of the earth are the LORD's, and on them he has set the world."
-Creation is not confined to the book of Genesis.  The God of the Bible is the Creator and Controller of all things.
"He will guard the feet of his faithful ones."
-His personal care of each life is especially demonstrated in how He protects and provides for those who are good stewards of His stuff.
"The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces"
"The LORD will judge the ends of the earth"
-Those who choose to rebel against Him by their actions or by their apathy will one day pay an awful eternal price.  No one who rejects the LORD gets away with it.

How great is our God today!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Where do babies come from?

Read 1 Samuel 1.

The times of the Judges in Israel were repeatedly labeled as "everyone did what was right in their own eyes" (Judges 21:25).  Yet, the Bible provides occasional stories of those who stood in contrast to their culture and who followed the LORD wholeheartedly.  One was Ruth.  Now, we learn about the last Judge of Israel, Samuel.

Elkanah and his family worshipped God.  Hannah knew her husband loved her, but the emptiness she felt from having no children became excruciatingly painful.  To add insult to injury, the other wife proved fertile and used it to emotionally and verbally abuse Hannah.

As a godly woman, Hannah went to be alone with God and pour out her heart to Him.  In her prayer, she made a vow to God.  If He would grant her a son, she would dedicate him to God's service with a Nazarite vow.  Samson was dedicated before birth with the same vow.  The High Priest, Eli, saw her in such distress but heard no sound.  He thought she was drunk.  When he realized his error, he gave assurance that she would receive the answer to her prayer.

By the next year when Elkanah's family arrived for the annual sacrifice, God had given them a son.  It is believed that Samuel was probably three years of age by the time Hannah presented him to Eli.

While it is difficult for us to even think about giving up a child at age three, Hannah's statement in verse 27 is on the hearts of every Christian parent.

1. Believing parents pray for their children even before they are born.

2. The LORD grants children to parents.  They are not biological accidents.  They belong to God.
Psalm 127:3-"Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb is his reward."

3. The LORD lends children to a mother and father as a stewardship.
Ephesians 6:4-"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord."

Monday, August 6, 2012

Everyone Loves a Happy Ending

Read Ruth 4.

I have always been impressed with the cleverness of Boaz in this chapter.  He arrived early at the gate of the city where business was conducted.  He was prepared with what he would say.  He knew the man would be coming and waited for him.  At first, the deal was presented only as a real estate transaction.  But truly Boaz had only one thing in mind and that was Ruth.

The nearer kinsman became eager for Boaz to step in.  The reason had to do with the law.  To refuse outright would have meant public shame.  The custom was that one took possession of land by literally walking upon the soil.  Symbolically, by removing his shoe the man gave up his right to walk on that soil as the owner.  Because this was a friendly transaction, there was no spitting in his face, as Deuteronomy would have required.

This story is an exception during the time of the Judges when "everyone did what was right in their own eyes".   Here we are told that not everyone rebelled against God.

Who does not love a happy ending?  This is one of the best in the Bible.

Boaz became a happy husband and father.

Naomi's bitterness was changed to praises to God for what He has done in providing for them. (v.14)

Ruth, the Moabite, embrace the LORD, the people of God, and now a husband who had redeemed her from the destitute situation of widowhood.  She became a mother.  Indeed, she was the great-grandmother of King David. 

By the way, this story took place in the city of Bethlehem...later to be known as the city of David.  Over a thousand years later, the Roman government sent out a decree that all the world should be taxed (Luke 2).  Mary and Joseph had to journey to Bethlehem of Judea for the registration.  That is where Jesus was born.  Ruth is one of five women mentioned in Matthew 1 in the lineage of the Messiah.

I wonder what great plans the LORD has for each of us today.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

3 Lessons while waiting on God

Read Ruth 3.

God's plan began to unfold.  But that does not mean those involved could see either when or how those plans would all be accomplished.

The attraction between Ruth and Boaz changed in this chapter to love and commitment to each other.  Naomi knows that Boaz is a relative of her late husband.  Under the law (see Deuteronomy 25:5-10), childless widow's had certain rights and claims on the rest of her deceased husband's family.  As a near kinsman, Boaz could legally buy back Ruth's deceased husband's property for her and marry her. 

Naomi's instructions to Ruth in verse 3 for this encounter were to get cleaned up, dressed up, fixed up and go meet him.  However, she was to wait until he had finished his dinner.  Good idea!

Nothing immoral is suggested here.  He is a godly man.  She has a virtuous reputation (v.10-11).  In this public place with plenty of people around, and as a servant, she warmed his feet as he slept.  No engagement ring was given.  However, spreading the corner of his garment over her symbolized his intent to care for her and protect her. 

The plot thickens.  Boaz revealed to her that there was a kinsman closer than he.  They would have to wait until morning to find out if there would be any future to their love relationship.  Then, Naomi also told her to wait (v.18).

When a friend noticed the great preacher of New England, Phillips Brooks, pacing the floor back and forth, he asked, "What is the trouble"?  To that Brooks replied, "The trouble is that I'm in a hurry, but God isn't!"

Lessons while you wait.
Lesson #1
Do all you can to make yourself ready to receive the answer to your request and then be prepared to wait for God's timing.
Lesson #2
While waiting, obey God completely and wait with confident faith in Him and His ultimate plan.
Lesson #3
Blessing follows obedience.
"I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry.  He drew me up from the pit of destruction, our of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.  He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.  Many will see it and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.  Blessed is the man, who makes the LORD his trust..." (Psalm 40:1-4a)

The wait will be worth it.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

There is Hope for Tomorrow

Read Ruth 2.

One of the amazing characteristics of the LORD is His omnipresence.  He works in lives of everyone at the same time, fulfilling His plans.  In this chapter, we get to see God work in three people simultaneously.  Verse 3 uses the phrase "she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz."  It may have seemed to just "happen" to her, but it was no accident.  God was in full control, leading her to the exact spot at the exact time.

-He was a godly and wealthy bachelor.   
-He was kind.  Notice the way treated his employees with a blessing.
-He was respected.  Notice the response of his workers to him. 
-He was attentive.  He spotted Ruth immediately and wanted to know all about her.
-He was a caring and generous man.
-He became a protector for Ruth.

-We learned from chapter one how she felt God was against her (1:13).
-She was bitter because of her sufferings (1:20).
-She knew the LORD but could not process her pain with her faith.
-But notice her words in 2:20.  The light went on regarding God's care and possible plan for her.

-She was an alien in a new land.
-She was willing to work to support herself and her mother-in-law (vv.2,18).
-She was an attractive woman, even as she worked in the field (v.6).
-She had the reputation of a hard worker (vv.7,17).
-She was humble in her attitude (v.10).
-She listened and followed wise counsel (vv.22-23).

Now, all three of them had a spark of hope for their futures.  Suffering and disappointment do not have to mark the end of our hope.  Indeed, our losses may be the very stepping stones that God will use to take us to His place of blessing.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Today Matters

Read Ruth 1.

In tough times folks choose how they will respond.  Some become discouraged and even bitter.  Some throw up their hands and regress in life.  While others make good decisions that set the course for their future hope.  In this first chapter we see all of these.

Chapter one is a introduction to three widows.
Naomi lost her husband and both her children.  She wanted to be known as Mara, which means "bitter".  She interpreted her sufferings to mean that God was punishing her.  Naomi knew the LORD but could not yet process her emotional losses. 

Orpah's response to the death of her husband was to go back to her Moabite family.  This also meant that she would return to the worship of the false gods of Moab (v.15).  She married into a family of faith in the LORD but did not personally embrace Him as her own.

But then there was Ruth.  She suffered the loss of her husband and had no children.  Widows in that culture without other family members to support them were destitute.  However, Ruth's response to her circumstances was to make new commitments that would secure her future, indeed her eternity.

Verses 16-17 are among the most powerful statements of commitment in all of the scriptures.  This passage has often been used at weddings, but actually it is the vow of a daughter-in-law to her mother-in-law.
1. She committed herself to her mother-in-law.
"...where you go, I will go..."
2. She committed herself to the people of God.
"Your people shall be my people."
3. She committed herself to the LORD.
"...and your God my God."

Though not of Jewish descent, Ruth had no idea how these choices would bless her life, the life of her mother-in-law, and bring her into the very lineage of Messiah!

Dr. John Maxwell wrote a wonderful book entitled, "Today Matters."  In it he writes, "the way you live today impacts your tomorrow."  Ruth is a great example of that principle and provides an excellent model for our life decisions today...they matter.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Case for Spiritual Leadership

Read Judges 19-21.

These closing chapters recount one of the saddest times in Israel's history.  The sexual immorality in the tribe of Benjamin at the time takes us back to the story of Sodom.  History is clear that homosexuality is the doom of a culture.  Verse 22 of chapter 19 calls them "worthless".  It is the last straw for God to execute judgment.

 Human life had lost its value.  A young girl was abusively murdered.  The actions of the Levite, though gruesome, accomplished its intent to rile a nation to do something about the sin.  They rallied in unity (20:11) to "purge evil from Israel" (20:13).  Everyone suffered.  In the end, 25,100 men of Benjamin died.

The tribe of Benjamin was the smallest of the twelve tribes.  With such great losses of men, in chapter 21 the nation had to agree to a plan to maintain the tribal heritage.

People need spiritual leadership.  God never intended for us to grow and live out our faith in Him by ourselves.  We all need to be taught, to be accountable, and to interact with others as we put the Word of God into practice.

When the book of Judges repeats the theme "in those days there was no king", it is the dangerous reminder that they had no spiritual leadership.  "Everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (21:25)  In other words, left to ourselves, humans do not naturally lean toward God.  Even our faith is a work of the God, the Father.  Jesus said, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6:44).

In this day and age, there is no substitute for active involvement in a local church of believers.