All Because of Good Intentions

And Samuel said,
“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
   as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
   and to listen than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
   and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
   he has also rejected you from being king.”
1 Samuel 15:22-23

I feel really sorry for Saul.  He was handsome and strong and a head taller than everyone.  He looked good. In the eyes of the world he was the perfect leader, and yet he was an utter failure.  I think that’s why God chose him. Had Saul submitted to God when he made his decisions, he would have been blessed by the Lord.  But Saul had a lot more confidence in worldly strength than he did in God.

It’s sad, because on the surface it appears as though Saul did inquire of God.  He constantly inquired of the Lord after he made a decision to do something, he had the Arc of the Covenant with them, and he even had a priest traveling with him, ephod and all.  “…The people who were with him were about six hundred men, 3 including Ahijah the son of Ahitub, Ichabod’s brother, son of Phinehas, son of Eli, the priest of the Lord in Shiloh, wearing an ephod…” 1 Samuel 14:2-3 But appearances and tradition are never what God wants from us.   Saul never looked to God until after he’d made up his mind what he wanted to do. He decided his plans were great (probably because he’d been chosen by God, so who needs to ask God again, right?) and then asked God for a blessing after he’d made up his own mind. He did it when he performed the sacrifice to God, instead of waiting on Samuel.  And he did it before going into battle with the Philistines.

Saul’s son Jonathan, on the other hand, boldly moved forward to defeat his enemies by trusting in the power of God to provide the victory even against all odds.  We know this because Jonathan sees an oportunity to attack the Philistines in a really strategic way, and moves forward to act with only his armor bearer to help him!  But where Jonathan differed from Saul is in this: Jonathan inquired of the Lord before He asked. He felt confident that his plan was solid, but he still asked God to make it clear by asking for a sign, and didn’t move until he’d gotten the clear sign of God’s promised victory.  (See 1 Samuel 14 for all the details.)

And so we go back to poor Saul.  This earthly king, chosen by God, who looked the part well and surrounded himself with all kinds of powerful heroes in order to ensure his military victories.  He made sacrifices. He had the Arc. He had his priest. He even had a prophet. The people loved him! After all, they constantly deferred to him, saying, “Do what seems good to you!” (1 Samuel 14:41)  He had everything he needed to look and act like the best darn victorious king who ever lived. And that was his downfall. It became all about him and not about God.

Justifying our bad behavior for the sake of serving God is a terrible crime!  How many times have I justified an act of my own choosing because I had decided it was best without looking to God for wisdom and permission first?  Seriously! If I’m being honest with myself, I do it all the time! Even though the Lord has told me that I need to limit nutritionless food to honor him with my body, I justify dessert because I’m celebrating or I crave it, or I’m free in Christ.  I go on fad diets, justifying the extremes in order to get quick results. I make plans for vacation because I need a break instead of needing sabbath rest, or I read a book instead of read my Bible because I’m tired, or I don’t have time.  If I think about it too hard, I think I could quickly fall into shame over it all!

But that’s not why I’m here.  That’s not why God put me on this planet.  He put me here to worship Him, to partner with me in love and friendship, and to have us be together in all things.  He wants me to be unified with Him and with His Church. I make presumptions that I know what God wants from me, so I don’t need to inquire of Him, and that only leads to rebellion. Rebellion to my solitary purpose in Christ is a stepping stone for sin and more rebellion.  And that disobedience from good intentions leads me further and further away from my King, which is definitely not God’s good plan for me!

I look again to Samuel’s words to Saul after yet another huge failure with good intentions that would lead to God’s rejection of him as King:

And Samuel said,
“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
   as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
   and to listen than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
   and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
   he has also rejected you from being king.”
1 Samuel 15:22-23

Sadly, Saul’s response to this fall from grace is to blame the people he was leading.  

Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. 25 Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me that I may bow before the Lord.” 26 And Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.”

His intentions were so pure, weren’t they?! (Yes that’s sarcasm.) And yet, how many times have I been blind to my own excuses and good intentions? So. Many. Times.  I’m so thankful to have the sealed promise of the Holy Spirit within me to convict me of my wrongdoing and correct the flaws of my thinking. Our Lord is not content to leave us where we are.  When we sin against Him and go to Him for guidance through repentance, He is quick to show us what we’ve done and what we need to do differently. It hurts. It’s no fun. Frankly, it sucks. But it is so good, too! Unlike Saul, I have the glorious forgiveness of Messiah, Jesus, to pay for my failings and shortcomings, to pay for my sin, and to give me life and victory.  And He is so quick to forgive and to teach, that the mercy that flows through Him to me would spill out of me into others, and thus share the fruit and life that comes from submitting to the will of God.

 

Harsh. True. Humbling.

And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14 But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”
1 Samuel 13:13-14

Saul gave up the beautiful blessing of Godly leadership over himself and his people, and he gave up the legacy of being the line from which Messiah would come.  Saul had everything a man could want: looks, strength, a commanding presence. He looked like the perfect person to be a king. But in fact, Saul was fearful, arrogant, and unwilling to follow God.  The world is a liar! It is self serving and shallow. It puts looks above the substance of the heart. It glorifies self sufficiency and a handsome appearance over humble servanthood and an obedient heart.  And Saul was the poster boy of worldly royalty.  

Even though Samuel had warned the people of the folly in demanding a human king, the people would not listen.  The result was utter failure. Their human king wanted God’s blessing, but wasn’t willing to obey God in order to receive it.  Saul didn’t want to share the glory. He didn’t want to wait on the Lord. He let fear and arrogance be his compass. And it led to grievous sin against God.  God is not a lucky charm. He is the Almighty Creator, Our Mighty Defender, Our Solid Rock! And Saul’s impatience made the Solid Rock of Yahweh nothing more than a stepping stone to his own glory.  Saul’s arrogant, fear-driven foolishness became the cornerstone of his defeat. He gave up God’s blessing because he was driven by his own desire and fear, and not by trust in the Lord.

What do I give up when I act against God’s will for my life? 

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
Romans 1:21-25

Harsh.  True.  Humbling.  

Lord Jesus, help me not to give up the truth for a lie because of fear or arrogance or desire for glory!  Humble me and encourage me after Your own heart, that I might be able to walk in the truth for the rest of my life.  I recieve Your loving forgiveness that I never earned or deserved, and I accept again Your leadership in my life. Keep me from fear based decisions by building up my faith and confidence in who You are.  Help me know You better and trust You more. Draw me nearer to You, so Your light surrounds me and casts out all darkness. Create in me a clean heart, O God! Restore me to Yourself. Cast me not away from Your presence!  Lead me in the paths of righteousness for Your Namesake. I will trust You. I am Yours.

 

God’s Got a Plan. Really.

There is a way that seems right to a man,
   but its end is the way to death.
Proverbs 16:25

Sometimes I feel like my life could be defined by failure after failure after failure, as I’ve turned away from God and His protection countless times in order to defend myself by my own means.  I didn’t know that’s what I was doing, but it’s the truth nonetheless. Like all people, I have a tendency to think I know best. And honestly I can’t help a bit of sardonic laughter at the thought of that because I’m acting like I know better than the Creator of the Universe.  The One who made all things. The One who made me. And everyday it seems that I can find at least one opportunity to say boldly in the face of the Lord of Hosts, “Nah, I got this one, Jesus. I can handle it.”

This isn’t a new concept for me.  I know this stuff. I know I need a Savior.  I know I’m hopelessly lost without Jesus. And then the whim hits me, and I let sin take charge, and voila: folly.

Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,
   and shrewd in their own sight!
Isaiah 5:21

Yep, that’s me.  Everyday. I get so darn cocky about how wise I am and how smart or safe or satisfied I will be making choices for myself.  God doesn’t need to be bothered with this little stuff. God’s busy running things in the world, He doesn’t have time for this sort of thing.  And he gave me an intellect, I should use it. That’s how He helps me, right? After all, it’s my life, so it’s my choice. Right? Sure, ok. And the Lord says to me, “How’s that working out for you, Daisy?”

In a word: badly.

I find myself in a constant state of repentance with that kind of behavior.  I approach the throne of grace with hat in hand, embarrassed and ashamed, ready to sing out the Britney Spears line, “Oops I did it again!” to the Lord.  And the Lord shakes his head at me and responds with open arms and a forgiving smile. He isn’t asking for me to be ashamed. He isn’t asking me to be afraid.  He just wants me to believe Him when He says He knows best for me.

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

But, God, I screwed up.  I knew the truth and I stubbornly chose to act against it.  I deserve to be punished. I need to be humbled. I need to be chastised.  I need. I need. I need.

And God responds with a solid and resounding, “Nope, nope, and nope. Look to the cross, my silly little daughter.  Punishment paid in full. Now stop whining, pick yourself up and let’s try this again. Only listen to me this time, would ya?”

And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. 21 And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. 22 For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.
1 Samuel 12:20-22

Sounds like a good plan, Jesus.  Help me trust You this time.

 

Help Them to See

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
   They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity;
   there is none who does good.
Psalm 53:1

That seems to be the world today.  Carnal and selfish pursuits are the gold standard for humanity.  The world proclaims itself as god: capable of determining right and wrong for itself.  The lie of the enemy from the beginning has been that we could be like God and choose for ourselves right from wrong.  

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.
Genesis 3:1-6

The arrogance to think that we could no better than the one who made us.  We are like little children talking back to our parents, insisting we are right and they are wrong.  Insisting we know better. Insisting we choose for ourselves what is best. It is complete folly!

I know that it is only by the grace of the One Who Made Me, Jesus Christ, that I can even comprehend this great tragedy.  It was only when I made the decision as a small child to let the King of my Heart be Jesus instead of myself. One small act of obedience led to an understanding of God’s goodness that I will carry with me for eternity.  God is love and light. In Him is no darkness. He knows what will be best for me and I can trust Him like the good Father He is. I can trust that He will lead me in the straight path and protect me from the wickedness of my own arrogance.

Because isn’t that the crux of the matter?  People don’t want to submit to any authority but their own.  Why would they want to let someone else tell them what to do? It sounds so much better to choose your own path.  

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
Genesis 3:7-8

And all this knowledge that they had chosen for themselves separated them from God by shame.  They suddenly knew shame and fear. Things that had never been in their lives before. I wish people could see how simple it is.  I wish they could see that trusting You is good and trusting in ourselves only leads to fear and shame and death away from Your Goodness.

Lord, help them to see that the time is short.  Help them to see that Your ways are good. Open their eyes and let them see that they can be made righteous by Your Son, Jesus.  Help them to see, Lord. Help them to see.

 

To Go From Knowing to Doing

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us.
1 John 4:18-19

Lord, I’ve been afraid of a lot of things lately and I didn’t even know it.  It’s a true tragedy to realize that the enemy has convinced me so often that the fear I’m feeling is not fear especially in regard to the judgement of God.  I have spent 45 of my 49 years of life as a believer in Jesus, and I guess I thought that I had established a deep understanding of God’s love and forgiveness.  I’ve certainly asked for it enough times! Sin sneaks up on me and the next thing I know I’m calling out to You, God, asking You to please, please forgive me.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
   a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51:8

I know you love a repentant and contrite heart. I know that You are most pleased when I choose to submit to Your will for my life instead of choosing to rebel.  I know that Your plan for me is so much better than anything I could plan for myself. Frankly I KNOW a lot of things. But knowing and doing are two very different things.  And I don’t do near as much as I know.

Lord, how else can I bridge that gap except to call upon You?  You are my Creator. You are my strong Tower. You are my bridge to salvation.  You can be my bridge between knowing and doing.

So, help.  I need help, God. I’m tired of being afraid.  I’m tired of letting fear, disguised as a million different things that seem ok, rule my choices and my life.  I want to walk in the confidence of your forgiveness so that I can walk through life without fear of judgement.  If I am going to believe that the judgement of my sins were poured out on the cross of Christ, then I’m not supposed to walk in guilt any longer.  I am forgiven so I don’t need to be afraid of You, God. Let Your perfect love cast out all fear in my life as I submit to Your sufficient and all encompassing forgiveness.  Perfect Your Love in me, Lord Jesus, so that I can help show others how to have the peace of Your forgiveness. No one who trusts You will ever need to fear the judgement of their sins.  Silence the enemy and all the lies he spreads that say we’re not worth it, or we don’t deserve it, or what we did is too horrible. Help all people to find and recieve Your free offering of life and love without judgement, by Jesus on the cross. It seems a very fair punishment for anything anyone could do.  Help me to accept it more fully. And help others to find it and be free of guilt. Amen.

But I call to God,
    and the Lord will save me.
Psalm 55:16

A Call to Repentence

And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” 4 So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the Lord only.
1 Samuel 7:3-4

Beloved Savior, the people are dying.  They are defeated and broken and lost and they don’t even know it.  Your Presence is so far from them, mighty Yahweh! They don’t even believe You exist anymore.  Show them, my King, show them You are real and true. Show them that Your Power will save them if only they would turn away from the false gods they serve and look to You for their salvation.  

You are asking so little of us, Lord.  You ask so very little.

if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Romans 10:9-13

Why are they so stubborn, Lord?  Please Father, break their hardened hearts to pieces.  Show them the power of Your love against their enemies and urge them into the shelter of your Presence.  It is Your Presence, Your Salvation, Your Power that brings salvation to the lost. Not images. Not ideals.  Not even crosses. It is Your Victory over the cross that brings salvation to any who would believe it!

Even the Philistines got it eventually.  Sort of.

Why should you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? After he had dealt severely with them, did they not send the people away, and they departed?
1 Samuel 6:6

They finally acknowledged what they were dealing with, and tried to make amends to You with a guilt offering.  (see 1 Samuel Chapter 6) Our world now doesn’t even believe the history that has been protected for thousands of years, a history that declares Your faithfulness and Your salvation offered for all of humanity.  It took the Egyptians ten plagues that eventually led to death, just to submit to Your will. Even then they didn’t repent. And the Philistines, who finally acknowledged Your existence with terror, only wanted You to go away.

I feel like that’s the world we live in now, God.  Only it’s even worse than that. People refuse to see You.  They refuse to acknowledge You. And their time is running out.  Their hearts are so hardened and so committed to the lusts of their own desires, that breaking through that seems an impossible task.  But You are faithful, Yahweh! You can breathe life into the things of this world that are dead, even if they don’t yet know they are dead.

So breathe Your life into the world one last time before the end.  Perhaps a few will recognize their folly before it’s too late. And let Your words permeate this planet as a final warning siren of Your eminent judgement.  Lord, I know that it is your will that none should perish. Please, convince them, Jesus. Convince them that Your love and forgiveness are worth turning away from the false idols that have given the world nothing but death, war, famine, and pain.  Fleeting pleasures are nothing compared to the glorious riches that await the ones who recieve Your Life and Your Salvation.

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
2 Peter 3:8-10

 

When I am Faithless…

I seem to start a lot of my conversations with, “I’m sorry, God.”  Lord, I know full well that repentance is a fine and necessary thing.  But Lord, I’ve neglected to accept Your punishment for my crimes against You as already PAID IN FULL.  I’ve walked around, suffering and moaning with the failures that surround my day. I am sad and I hear myself say, “I know I’m just suffering the consequences of my own actions.”  So sad. And I know that I often do have to suffer the consequences on occasion. But I have neglected to fully receive from You that the consequences for my sin were paid on the cross of Christ.

I have victory.  I am forgiven. I have let the enemy convince me that I have neither!  I have walked in grieving and loss. I have walked in guilt and shame. I have walked in all the things You conquered for me in Your payment for my sins on the cross.  You rose from the dead! You PROVED your victory. You proved it and proclaimed it and then sealed it as a promise in our hearts by giving us–giving me–Your Holy Spirit.

But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.”
Ruth 1:11-13

Why do I ever think You’ve left me to my fate?  Why do I act the way Naomi did when everything she depended on in the physical world had been taken from her.  Distraught, she cried out in her misery, but not to You, God. She cried out in shame and worry and hopelessness.  How many times have I felt that same way? I’ve walked in the sorrow of my circumstances instead of the peace of Your Gospel.  

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”
Ruth 1:16-18

Ruth, on the other hand, who had nothing, and by worldly standards was fated to a worse fate than Naomi, chose to trust in You.  As a foreigner she had no hope without You, and so she chose by faith to walk to the very end trusting You regardless of how things looked.

I’ve always thought I knew the story of Ruth and Naomi.  I’ve always thought of Naomi as so faithless. And today I saw that I have been walking like Naomi, in faithlessness.  But You are faithful even when we are faithless. Thanks for that, God. Please give me more faith. Teach me to trust You more and hope in Your salvation.

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
2 Timothy 2:11-13