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.

 

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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.

 

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

 

The Power in Death

After this he loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. 5 And the lords of the Philistines came up to her and said to her, “Seduce him, and see where his great strength lies, and by what means we may overpower him, that we may bind him to humble him. And we will each give you 1,100 pieces of silver.”
Judges 16:4-5

Dear God, I can’t help but think about all the times I’ve been seduced by worldly desires Like Samson, at times I’ve let confidence in myself be the backbone of my battles instead of You.  I’ve pushed aside Your Spirit’s wisdom speaking warning into my mind, and chose willingly to arrogantly rely on my own tactics to win the battle. You are the giver of all good gifts. Any strategies I might consider come from the intellect You have given me.  My passion, my boldness, my strength, just like Samson, came from Your design. I was made to worship You and be a tool of Your kingdom, yet I have pursued victory with arrogance and trust in my own power.

I know that the lesson here can be that You will still use me, sloppy and self-serving as I am, for Your greater good, because that’s what You do.  You chose to partner with me, knowing my flaws. But Lord, I think the deeper lesson for me is that the enemy is tricky and will beguile me into falling for schemes that cause me harm.  If I would take the time to be vigilant and watch for the attack of the enemy, my defense will be stronger. I would rely on You for my salvation, instead of myself.

You want me to use the gifts You have given me, but under Your leadership and authority.  When You give me power, it must be for Your Kingdom and not my own. I can’t serve myself and also serve You.  That’s Christianity 101. I know that.

So why do I fall short?

I’m so broken, Lord.  

Create in me a clean heart, O God
    and renew a right spirit within me.
Psalm 51:10

Then maybe we can get some stuff done!  I love you, Jesus. Thanks for taking me broken and gluing me back together with Your Spirit.  I will walk in Your restoration. Only when I die to myself and my own strength, can we truly win the battle for life that is Your Victory.

 And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” Then he bowed with all his strength, and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life.
Judges 16:30

Samson did so much for You God.  He judged Israel for twenty years.  But He didn’t truly have victory until He’d experienced the truth of his power: that all his power was from God and not from himself.  He had to die to himself and live for Your Victory, knowing that only His death could bring victory.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
2 Corinthians 4:7

Jesus said it best:

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
Matthew 16:24-26

 

Lost in the Land of Shadows and Dirt

The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. 2 And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds.
Judges 6:1-2

It’s crazy what disobedience can do to people.  Disobedience fills us with fear, shame, and guilt, and drives us out of all the good things God wants to give us.  Disobedience causes us to stop trusting in God’s provision and start trusting in fear. We let fear become our leader instead of God.  And it takes us nowhere good. For the Israelites, disobedience to God led them to do evil in the sight of God, which ultimately led to their self inflicted exile out of the Promised Land and into the mountains to hide in caves.  They went from the Land of Milk and Honey to the Land of Shadows and Dirt.

“For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. 4 They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. 5 For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number—both they and their camels could not be counted—so that they laid waste the land as they came in.
Judges 6:3-5

God allowed the Israelite’s enemies to take over the land He had given to them so that they would repent and recognize that the Land and God’s protection were by His sovereign hand alone.  As the people of God walked away from the worship and trust of Yahweh, The One True God, they also walked away from His blessing and provision. The people began to worship the false idols and put their trust in those things to provide for them and it had them living in the dark in caves!  How often have I found myself living in a cave because of my own lack of trust in God. I fall into fear and doubt and worry, and then there I am: in the dark instead of the light, afraid and hungry.

And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the Lord.
Judges 6:6

So, what do we do when we have thrown ourselves into the dark? We cry out to God!  He is our rescuer and our salvation. If we know God, then we are all too familiar with His love and mercy and His longing to restore us into a right relationship with Him.  But God isn’t content to just save us, though that would surely be enough for us! Instead, He lovingly teaches us and guides us, so that we will understand how to avoid going into the dark again.  

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
   his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23

For the Israelites, God’s compassion and deliverance came from a curious source.  And over and over again we see God do this. As it says in 1 Corinthians 1:27, “God chose the foolish things to confound the wise.”  That’s just how God rolls. And the Israelites needed to see that even though they were weak and afraid and living in caves, He could rescue them from their own failings and bring them back into the inheritance that He had planned for them from the beginning.

And so God chooses Gideon whom He calls “a mighty man of valor”. Gideon who hid from his enemies in a wine press to beat out his wheat. Gideon, who doubted and questioned even after the miraculous sign of the appearance of the “Angel of the Lord”.  Gideon, who even after he agreed to do as Yahweh commanded, took it upon himself to do it under cover of darkness so no one would see him do it! (reference Judges 6:11-40)

Yes, God chose Gideon, because Gideon bodily encompassed everything that the Israelites had become.  Gideon was afraid, in the dark, and doubted God. And don’t we all do the same thing? Don’t we all fall short a thousand times a day?  Don’t we all fall back on fear and hide in the dark? Thankfully, our God knows that about us, and just like Gideon, He will patiently teach us again and again that He is faithful and He will save us.  Our inheritance is ours for the taking if we will simply cry out to Him from the darkness and trust Him.

 

  

The Gibeonite Consequence: the Flipside to Mercy

A few days ago I talked about the profound mercy of God when Joshua got tricked by the Gibeonites into a false covenant.  But now it’s time to look at the flipside of this egregious error. Disobeying God led to tragic consequences for the people of Israel.  The very thing that could have been a gift of mercy became a thorn.

It’s easy to look at our lives at times and think about how clever we are, or how kind, or how forgiving, but at the end of the day, if we aren’t obeying God, we will find ourselves, no matter how clever we think we are, on a path of tragedy.  If we truly believe that God is sovereign and omniscient, why do we rely on our own reason in any matter? Why do we presume to know what’s best, when only the Lord can know? God has given us a direct line of communication with Him through His Spirit, but we flounder in our self-sufficiency and fall short of all the good God has planned for us, as well as suffer the consequences for our poor choices.

What started out as an opportunity to show mercy with the Gibeonites became a stumbling block for all of Israel.  By enslaving the Gibeonites (and others along the journey) instead of destroying them, Israel brought upon themselves the taint of false worship and the lie of doing what seemed best in their own eyes.  The consequences of not asking God’s opinion brought profound suffering to the Israelites.  And don’t we think the same things?  How many times have I thought, “wow, God, that’s harsh” and questioned His judgement?  Thoughts like that or troublesome to Believers.  We want to believe God, but sometimes we don’t understand or see the big picture.  Why did God let that person die?  Why does God let bad things happen at all?  If God is love, why doesn’t He “accept” everyone?   Having faith and trusting God is hard.   

And they (the Israelites) abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. 13 They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. 14 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. 15 Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them for harm, as the Lord had warned, and as the Lord had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress.
Judges 2:12-15

Just as the Lord had warned, by allowing anyone to enter into their fellowship who was not willing to follow and obey Yahweh, the Israelites became influenced by, and began to worship, the pagan gods of their enemies.  They got sucked into evil by their own compromise. They incurred the wrath of the One True God and broke the covenant Yahweh had made with their ancestor, Abraham. Fortunately, however, the covenant Yawheh made with Abraham did not rely on the obedience of Abraham’s descendants.  (See Genesis 15) It was God alone who took responsibility for both sides of the covenant with Abraham. And just as God foretold would happen, the descendants of Abraham fell short of their obligation and promise to God.  They didn’t trust God to provide a way for them.  That’s why it’s so powerful that Abraham trusted God to provide a sacrifice when He was asked to sacrifice his own son.  Abraham trusted God and it was counted to him as righteousness!

And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
Genesis 15:6

God allowed the consequences of disobedience to be revealed and experienced by His people in the hope of showing them that trusting in God would bring them salvation, while trusting in false gods or themselves would bring only destruction.  Time and time again, Yawheh raised up leaders for His people to guide them in His ways. And time and time again, the people would be led for awhile and then fall away when their leaders died.  They failed again and again to trust the God who made them and saved them.

8 Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. 19 But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways. 20 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he said, “Because this people have transgressed my covenant that I commanded their fathers and have not obeyed my voice, 21 I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, 22 in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their fathers did, or not.” 23 So the Lord left those nations, not driving them out quickly, and he did not give them into the hand of Joshua.
Judges 2:18-23

It seems clear to me that God’s mercy is great, so great in fact, that He is willing to see us hurt ourselves if it means we can learn that trusting in Him is better than trusting in ourselves or the things of this world.  We can’t ever fall into the trap of thinking we know best, especially if we feel confident that we are walking with God and know Him well! That is when we are in even deeper danger of straying away! If we gain too much confidence in ourselves, we begin to believe we know the will of God even if we haven’t asked Him!  We can trust the Spirit of God within us will guide us, but we need to take caution before making decisions. We need to stop and listen before we act rashly.

Jesus, I’m so thankful for the Holy Spirit within me that helps me and guides me.  Lord, thank You that You have done everything to teach me, guide me, and fulfill Your promises for me.  Thank You that You are not content to leave me where I’m at. You’re not content to see me suffer in the consequences of my past mistakes.  You’re not content to see me walk in the paths of death. You want me to be free. You want me to be strong. You want me to learn and grow and thrive in life.  So, Lord, I submit to Your rule in my life and in my decisions. Help me to stop and listen before I act. Help me to know Your will by communing with You regularly and keeping Your Presence near to me at all times.  Protect me from foolish choices and lead me in the paths of righteousness for Your namesake. Thank You that where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom! Help me to trust You more.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
2 Corinthians 3:17