Monday, August 22, 2016

Respect

My Life Group lesson for August 21, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide, with an assist from John McClendon and Love Worth Finding ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

American gold medal-winning swimmer Ryan Lochte, ak.a. the Real Swim Shady, made some bad decisions this week. First, he and three of his swimming bros acted dumbly at a gas station in Rio, had "security" guards point guns at them and demand money to leave. Then Lochte came up with a tale of being robbed by fake cops and lied to his mom about having a gun cocked at his head, which led to a feeding frenzy by the media and apologies from the United State Olympic Committee to Brazil.

Ryan and the other swimmers obviously lost sight of how their actions make them look and how they represent the United States.

Similarly, when we choose a path outside of God’s will, we lose sight of how our actions represent Christianity and affect the spread of the Gospel.

Before we make a decision that could affect the rest of our lives, we need to:

--- Trust in God
--- Wait on Him
--- Pray for His will
--- Watch Him work

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT
1 Samuel 24:1-22; 26:1-25

*** We continue our study of David and Saul.

*** From the time David was anointed and throughout his adult life, he's lived in fear of King Saul.

*** Even when David had a chance to kill Saul in a cave in 1 Samuel 24, end the chase and take the throne, David remained loyal to the man chosen as king by the people and the Lord.

*** In chapter 26 David has another chance to kill Saul.

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS (1 SAM. 26:7-8)

7 That night, David and Abishai came to the troops, and Saul was lying there asleep in the inner circle of the camp with his spear stuck in the ground by his head. Abner and the troops were lying around him. 8 Then Abishai said to David, “Today God has handed your enemy over to you. Let me thrust the spear through him into the ground just once. I won’t have to strike him twice!”

*** Listen! That’s David’s music!

--- Now a fugitive on the run, David had an opportunity to kill Saul but refused to take the easy way out.

(For WWE fans, it was as if God had distracted the ref in a wrestling match so that David could surprise Saul and smack him with a chair.)

--- David and his merry men had been pursued by Saul. They were outnumbered, but they knew the terrain and had the advantage of surprise.

--- Rather than flee the area or inflict an attack, David did something very risky. He tiptoed into Saul's camp as the army slept.

--- David asked two men to go with him, and while one didn't, Abishai did volunteer to go with David.

*** Finish him!

--- On the surface, it appeared that God had handed Saul right into David’s hands.

--- When David and Abishai came across the sleeping king, Abishai did what you'd expect, he eagerly volunteered to end the conflict once and for all.

(Think of the U.S. troops who would gladly be the one to take down Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein.)

--- Abishai could make it easy for everyone. With Saul dead David would be king, David wouldn't be blamed for killing him.

--- How often do we hear, “When God closes a door He opens a window?”

--- To Abishai this was a sign from God, so obviously God intended for Saul to be killed.

--- Similarly, David could have thought, “If God wants me to be king, and He does, and God has placed Saul in my hands, and He has, then obviously God wants me to kill him.”

--- However, an opportunity does not always mean an open door to act.

*** Question - What are the dangers of equating an open door with God’s will? How does one know the difference between a true open door and a test disguised as an open door?

David knew God’s Word and God’s ways, so he was able to discern the truth in this opportunity.

Imagine if you had a chance to take out a co-worker to get that promotion you want. Does that make it OK?

GODLY RESPECT (1 SAM. 26:9-12)

9 But David said to Abishai, “Don’t destroy him, for who can lift a hand against the LORD’s anointed and be blameless?” 10 David added, “As the LORD lives, the LORD will certainly strike him down: either his day will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. 11 However, because of the LORD, I will never lift my hand against the LORD’s anointed. Instead, take the spear and the water jug by his head, and let’s go.” 12 So David took the spear and the water jug by Saul’s head, and they went their way. No one saw them, no one knew, and no one woke up; they all remained asleep because a deep sleep from the LORD came over them.

*** Out, out, darn spot!

--- Assassinating Saul would have left David with blood on his hands, like Lady Macbeth who couldn’t wash out the guilt.

--- Instead of taking advantage of a sweet situation, David continued to be loyal to Saul as God’s chosen leader of Israel.

--- He also knew that if Abishai did the killing it wouldn’t rationalize the act as a will of God.

*** Leave it to God.

--- He trusted God, leaving the future in His hands. Even if Saul was undeserving of such respect, his position as God’s anointed was deserving of respect.

--- David also knew that God would come through on His promise to make him king and in His own time.

--- David didn’t know how Saul would finally die, but not long before this in chapter 25 David saw how God dealt with Nabal.

--- David would receive the crown as a gift from God, he would not seize it by force.

--- David's survival and ultimate success were divinely directed.

*** Saul takes Supernatural Sleep Time Tea.

--- It seems impossible that David and Abishai could walk around Saul’s camp and not one of the 3,000 men was a light sleeper.

--- However, we see in verse 12 that God was working in this. God put the soldiers in a deep sleep.

--- On his way out David grabbed Saul’s beloved spear (which we’ve seen him hold and throw several times) and his water jug to prove to Saul that he could have taken him out if he so chose.

--- By taking these two items he was showing that he held Saul's life in his hands. His spear represented military power, and water was a precious commodity traveling through the wilderness.

*** Question - Respect is often seen as something that must be earned. David showed respect to someone who didn’t show respect to him. Why is it hard to respect people who disrespect us? Why should we?

REMORSE (1 SAM. 26:21-25)

21 Saul responded, “I have sinned. Come back, my son David, I will never harm you again because today you considered my life precious. I have been a fool! I’ve committed a grave error.” 22 David answered, “Here is the king’s spear; have one of the young men come over and get it. 23 May the LORD repay every man for his righteousness and his loyalty. I wasn’t willing to lift my hand against the LORD’s anointed, even though the LORD handed you over to me today. 24 Just as I considered your life valuable today, so may the LORD consider my life valuable and rescue me from all trouble.” 25 Saul said to him, “You are blessed, my son David. You will certainly do great things and will also prevail.” Then David went on his way, and Saul returned home.

*** Catch Me If You Can!

--- Out of the camp, David crossed a gorge separating his camp from Saul's.

--- David called out to alert the army to his presence, and showed the spear and water jug to prove that he'd been right in the middle of them.

--- It also proved that if not for David's mercy and sense of honor, he could have killed Saul but he had no desire to do that.

--- David even returns Saul’s spear, which was a sign of Saul’s royal power. If he kept it then he might look like he’s seeking the throne and to humiliate the king.

--- Verses 23 and 24 make it clear that David was appealing to God to be the ultimate judge in this trial. But would Saul continue to be judge, jury and executioner?

*** Sinner, sinner, chicken dinner.

--- After twice being told about his chances of death at the hands of David, Saul acts regretful and repentant.

--- But was this genuine repentance?

--- The first time David spared Saul's life - in the cave - Saul similarly expressed remorse. Of course, it didn't stick.

--- Here's what he said, in 1 Samuel 24:17-21 - “You are more righteous than I,” he said. “You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly. You have just now told me about the good you did to me; the LORD delivered me into your hands, but you did not kill me. When a man finds his enemy, does he let him get away unharmed? May the LORD reward you well for the way you treated me today. I know that you will surely be king and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands. Now swear to me by the LORD that you will not kill off my descendants or wipe out my name from my father’s family.”

*** David could certainly doubt Saul’s sincerity.

--- Notice that David didn’t take the spear and jug back to Saul himself. When you’re dealing with someone who has constantly rebelled against God, we are cautious.

--- Saul sounds more like Pharaoh in Exodus 10:16-17, when he said he sinned against Yahweh and asked for relief from the plagues. After letting Israel go, he went after them again.

--- Saul was morally degenerate and like the pharaoh, unable to be trusted.

--- Showing remorse isn’t the same as being genuinely repentant.

--- Saul goes back home, but in chapter 27 it wasn't until David flees to Philistine territory that the scripture says Saul finally “no longer searched for him.”

--- Galatians 6:7 says we’ll reap what we sow, and Saul would find that out soon enough.

--- David, meanwhile, showed a more forgiving heart, closer to how we’re supposed to live, “Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive” (Col. 3:13; see also Eph. 4:32).

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Adrian Rogers once said, when you fly in a plane, does the law of gravity no longer exist?

Of course it’s there.

But the law of aerodynamics is even greater.

It’s the same in our Christian walk. When we get right with God, the law of sin and death are still there. But we have a new law, a life in Jesus Christ that frees us from sin and death.

David’s obedience may have cost him. He could have had the throne as a much younger man. But his focus wasn’t on Saul but on God.

When Peter walked on water to meet Jesus, he let his eyes wander and began to sink. If we take our eyes off Jesus and into our own hands it creates more pain in the long run.

*** (1) Humility and respect are related. If you humble yourself before others you will treat others as important as God sees them.

*** (2) What open doors are in front of you? Seek God’s counsel to make sure which ones are within God’s will.

*** (3) When we wait on God and follow His ways instead of our own, we see what God can do.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Protected From Ourselves

My Life Group lesson for August 14, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide, with an assist from John McClendon ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

Have you ever wanted to see bad things happen to bad people?

For example, have you ever been tempted to retaliate when a driver cuts you off driving down the interstate? How about when a boss treats you badly? Or when a spouse is treated badly and you want to come to their defense?

How did you react? Were you tempted to “get back at them” in some way?

Where is the line between defending yourself and trusting God to step in on your behalf? How do you know when to wait patiently on God when the only thing you want to do is defend yourself or those you love?

While many Christians want their actions to be guided by prayer, grace, love, and patience, it’s too tempting to settle for homegrown justice.

We lash out in anger instead of waiting patiently on God. We buy into the cliché that it’s better to ask forgiveness than ask permission.

And yes, it may feel good in the moment, but will it be good in the long run?

Where is the line between defending yourself and trusting God to step in on your behalf? How do you know when to wait patiently on God when the only thing you want to do is defend yourself or those you love?

Today we'll study how David was treated unfairly by Nabal, and ultimately learned it was up to God to provide justice.

God is sovereign and we are to focus on our relationship with God and allow Him to judge accordingly.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT
1 Samuel 25:1-43

*** In chapter 24 David spares Saul's life in the cave. As chapter 25 begins Samuel dies.

*** David and his men are in the wilderness in southern Israel.

*** It is there that David asks a rich man named Nabal for money in return for protection in the region.

(David was sort of like a warlord in that he and his men controlled this large territory. Nabal's flocks were in David's territory, but David didn't want to take anything, so he asked.)

DISASTER FORESEEN (1 SAM. 25:14-17)

14 One of Nabal’s young men informed Abigail, Nabal’s wife: “Look, David sent messengers from the wilderness to greet our master, but he yelled at them. 15 The men treated us well. When we were in the field, we weren’t harassed and nothing of ours was missing the whole time we were living among them. 16 They were a wall around us, both day and night, the entire time we were herding the sheep. 17 Now consider carefully what you must do, because there is certain to be trouble for our master and his entire family. He is such a worthless fool nobody can talk to him!”

*** R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what that means to me.

--- When David’s men asked Nabal for help they found out that he was a hard-hearted jerk.

--- Nabal scoffed, insulted David and told them to get off his lawn, so to speak.

--- David doesn't accept this in a godly manner and tells his men to grab their swords for slashing time.

--- Nabal had violated one of David's core moral principles: he had repaid good with evil.

--- David's a soldier. He valued loyalty. He was loyal to Saul even though the king was trying to kill him. So Nabal’s refusal to help was the hardest kind of offense to forgive.

--- One of Nabal's shepherds was a courageous peacemaker and knew that this wouldn't end well, so he went to Nabal's wife Abigail for another option.

--- He was right to do so, because Abigail was wise and resourceful.

--- He explained that even though David could command as he wished, his men had protected the men and their flocks, and never harmed anyone.

--- Both Abigail and the shepherd knew that by the code of the wilderness, David’s troops were owed compensation.

*** Abby to the rescue.

--- Abigail decided to act on her own and loaded up “200 loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five butchered sheep, a bushel of roasted grain, 100 clusters of raisins, and 200 cakes of pressed figs, loaded them on donkeys” and went out to meet David before his men arrived to kill all of Nabal’s men.

--- She lied down in front of David and apologized for the “stupidity” of her husband, which was fitting since his name in Hebrew means “insolent, selfish, and stupid person.”

(Not sure why a parent would name their kid that, but nowadays we see some weird names.)

--- Abigail is an example of grace in action, interceding for her worthless husband who didn’t deserve her intervention.

*** Question - Do you feel David’s response was a “knee-jerk” response? What else could he have done?

DAVID RELENTS (1 SAM. 25:32-35)

32 Then David said to Abigail, “Praise to the LORD God of Israel, who sent you to meet me today! 33 Your discernment is blessed, and you are blessed. Today you kept me from participating in bloodshed and avenging myself by my own hand. 34 Otherwise, as surely as the LORD God of Israel lives, who prevented me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, Nabal wouldn’t have had any men left by morning light.” 35 Then David accepted what she had brought him and said, “Go home in peace. See, I have heard what you said and have granted your request.”

*** Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

--- How often do you watch a baseball game and a pitcher retaliates by hitting a batter?

--- Usually what happens is a bench-clearing brawl. But more often than not someone usually comes out to hold the players back and things calm down.

--- With Abigail's action, David realized he'd been a fool and was saved from a terrible sin.

--- Think back to last week's lesson when Saul had dozens of priests and the entire village of Nob massacred when he wrongly assumed that Ahimelech was helping David.

--- David knew that his anger was out of control and he was about to do what Saul had done, no matter how much Nabal deserved punishment.

--- David and his men were about to murder innocent people to avenge one arrogant man.

--- Think of the damage this would do to David's reputation as well. All the goodwill he'd built up to be king after Saul would vanish.

*** Let it go.

--- David repented, did not taunt Nabal and did not warn him about future indiscretions. He simply went turned around.

--- This is a good model for letting go of anger and bitterness.

--- When turned away from doing evil, we should thank God for those who intervened and turn away entirely. Don't hold on to it to use later.

(Even when they cut in front of you in the after-school car line.)

--- David learned what we see in the New Testament as our new covenant: Turn the other cheek, no eye-for-an-eye, love thy neighbor as thy self.

--- In the Old Testament people were allowed to stone sinners. As we saw with the woman caught cheating on her husband, Jesus, however, has us drop our rocks.

--- Paul writes in Ephesians 4:31-32 - "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you."

*** Question - Can you recall episodes in your life when someone turned you from a wrong and foolish act? (How did this serve as a milestone in your Christian walk?)

GOD INTERVENES (1 SAM. 25:36-38)

36 Then Abigail went to Nabal, and there he was in his house, holding a feast fit for a king. Nabal was in a good mood and very drunk, so she didn’t say anything to him until morning light. 37 In the morning when Nabal sobered up, his wife told him about these events. Then he had a seizure and became paralyzed. 38 About 10 days later, the LORD struck Nabal dead.

*** Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.

--- When Nabal was insulting David and living the life of spring break in Florida, he was blissfully ignorant that his life was in danger.

--- When he learned about what Abigail did, he had a seizure, became paralyzed and died.

--- Was he terrified of his fate? Was it a heart attack from anger at Abigail’s intercession?

--- Whatever it was, the Bible says simply that the LORD struck him dead.

--- Nabal had a hard heart, and it cost him his life.

*** Vengeance is not ours to give.

--- Contrast three verses back-to-back-to-back in Romans. First, 12:19: “Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord” Question – Does this mean that we hope people who have wronged us will “get what they deserve?”

(Had David backed off, yet said, “God give him what he deserves” would he have truly repented?) (No)

--- Now check out what Romans 12:20-21 says right after that: But If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.

--- If we only isolate verse 19 of Romans 12, then we miss out on the complete principle. David did not hope for any kind of retribution against Nabal. He simply backed off. The rest was left up to God.

--- When we, by faith, receive God’s mercy, we are saved. However, when we reject God’s mercy, we place ourselves in the path of God’s wrath.

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Today’s session focuses on King David’s relationship with a haughty sheep rancher named Nabal.

After David and his men protected Nabal, Nabal disrespected David. This caused David to launch an attack against Nabal.

But before David reached Nabal, his wife Abigail intervened.

But – a plot twist! - it was actually David who was protected!

David recognized that he did not have to take matters into his own hands.

Ultimately, it was God who punished Nabal and saved David’s honor.

Often, we take matters into our own hands, not waiting on God’s perfect plan.

Today’s lesson reminds us that God is so big, so completely in control that He doesn’t need our help to defend His honor or His people, no matter how awful it seems to us.

From David’s limited perspective, he needed to act for the problem to be solved.

From God’s complete perspective, the problem was already being solved without David’s help.

*** (1) Proverbs 16:9 says “A man’s heart plans his way, but the LORD determines his steps.” God is never late, nor is He early; He is always right on time.

*** (2) We should be thankful when He keeps us from acting out of selfish motives. Believers can trust that God will bring about judgment against evil.

*** (3) Decide today that you will go to God in the face of conflict, instead of taking matters into your own hands. Even if the outcome isn’t pleasant, your relationship with Christ will be strengthened.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Blinded by Ambition

My Life Group lesson for August 7, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide, with an assist from John McClendon ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

What are your favorite conspiracy theories?

--- Assassination of John F Kennedy (Oswald, mafia, Russians?)
--- Roswell UFO (Weather balloon, aliens?)
--- NASA faked the moon landings (Shot in the desert!)
--- The Illuminati (shadowy cabals control the world!)
--- Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married (It's in a popular book! There's a V in The Last Supper painting!)
--- Shakespeare wasn't Shakespeare (other writers did the work, not much historical evidence this guy did anything)

Why do we tend to believe that people are conspiring against us?

Our study today focuses on Saul and his unwillingness to recognize David as the anointed one of God.

Instead, the king was consumed by ambitious pride, triggering a chain reaction of jealousy, fear, hatred, paranoia, and desperate decisions. David’s popularity, success, and favor with God placed him in Saul’s crosshairs.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT
1 Samuel 21:1–23:29

*** Many years before the events of chapter 22, God told Samuel to let Saul know that his line would go bye-bye.

*** Saul—towering, stately, physically robust—had been the people’s choice to be Israel’s king, but he had failed miserably and sinned egregiously, so God rejected him.

*** Saul wasn't about to give up his crown so that this heroic and newly anointed pretty boy could take over, and even worse, he didn't care that he was disobeying God.

*** Saul was so jealous of David and determined to hang on to his crown that his son Jonathan told David to flee far and fast, lest he be killed.

*** This week we'll read about David on the run from Saul's increasing paranoia.

PURSUED BY SAUL (1 SAM. 22:6-10)

6 Saul heard that David and his men had been discovered. At that time Saul was in Gibeah, sitting under the tamarisk tree at the high place. His spear was in his hand, and all his servants were standing around him. 7 Saul said to his servants, “Listen, men of Benjamin: Is Jesse’s son going to give all of you fields and vineyards? Do you think he’ll make all of you commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds? 8 That’s why all of you have conspired against me! Nobody tells me when my own son makes a covenant with Jesse’s son. None of you cares about me or tells me that my son has stirred up my own servant to wait in ambush for me, as is the case today.” 9 Then Doeg the Edomite, who was in charge of Saul’s servants, answered: “I saw Jesse’s son come to Ahimelech son of Ahitub at Nob. 10 Ahimelech inquired of the LORD for him and gave him provisions. He also gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine.”

*** It’s not paranoia if everyone is in fact out to get you.

--- Saul's throwing a royal pity party.

--- Note how Saul is behaving: Feeling rejected, acting closed-minded, defiant, argumentative, and disagreeable. He's decided that he's on his own, and everyone's out to get him.

(In short, non one loves him, guess he'll go eat worms.)

--- Saul is known for having a violent temper, and he's holding a spear in his hand, ready to strike anyone who acts against him. (Just as he threw it at David twice, and Jonathan once, in earlier Scriptures: 18:10-11; 19:10; 20:33)

--- Saul was equally paranoid that his son Jonathan had conspired against him and helped David set up an ambush, which was a blatant lie.

--- Saul’s jealous clinging to power had made him irrational, and he may well have believed the lies he was telling.

--- Of course, Jonathan had been helping David, but not because they were trying to kill Saul, but to protect his friend. David was always steadfast in his loyalty to Saul as his king.

*** A royal pain.

--- Think back to 1 Samuel 8:11-18, when Samuel warned the people against asking for a king. Samuel said that kings would favor their friends and oppress everyone else.

--- It's clear in verse 7 that Saul has been using his kingdom to give his fellow tribe of Benjamites power and property.

--- David was a member of the tribe of Judah, so Saul was trying to make his followers as paranoid as he was about losing power.

--- Paranoia is what happens when you focus on yourself and believe everyone is out to get you. It causes you to assume things that aren’t true and to jump to conclusions that destroy relationships.

*** Question - One might say that hate leads to fear, and fear leads to suffering. How do unchecked ambition and pride lead to paranoia and fear? (How can people convince themselves that what they want to believe is true?)

GUILT BY ASSOCIATION (1 SAM. 22:11-15)

11 The king sent messengers to summon Ahimelech the priest, son of Ahitub, and his father’s whole family, who were priests in Nob. All of them came to the king. 12 Then Saul said, “Listen, son of Ahitub!” “I’m at your service, my lord,” he said. 13 Saul asked him, “Why did you and Jesse’s son conspire against me? You gave him bread and a sword and inquired of God for him, so he could rise up against me and wait in ambush, as is the case today.” 14 Ahimelech replied to the king: “Who among all your servants is as faithful as David? He is the king’s son-in-law, captain of your bodyguard, and honored in your house. 15 Was today the first time I inquired of God for him? Of course not! Please don’t let the king make an accusation against your servant or any of my father’s household, for your servant didn’t have any idea about all this.”

*** Saul's reign of terror. (Like the French Revolution, anyone, including other revolutionaries, were guillotined.)

--- Saul's paranoia ended up costing Ahimelech the priest his life, and his entire house.

--- Unfortunately, David played a part in this story, as told in chapter 21.

--- David had moved from town to town, he was hungry and desperate, and told Ahimelech that he was still working for Saul on a super-secret mission.

--- Ahimelech didn't know what he was getting into. He gave David bread and the sword of Goliath.

*** Law & Order.

--- Saul's henchman, Doeg the Edomite, had been in Nob when David was there, and leaked the information about Ahimelech.

--- Saul summons the priest, who came with his whole family, not knowing he was about to be charged with treason and tried in a kangaroo court.

--- Ahimelech, as we know, was misled by David. But Saul assumes that the priest plotted with David, and that's enough for him. No evidence required.

--- Saul’s personal ambition now ran amok. He was blinded to Ahimelech’s loyalty to God and the king and blinded to Ahimelech’s obedience to come when summoned.

--- Ahimelech displayed insight and courage in dealing with King Saul. He was “honest, sincere, and well-crafted” as he “defended David’s character.”

--- Look at the five truths that Ahimelech used to defend David: He’s faithful, Saul’s son-in-law, captain in the military, honored among the king’s house, and sought God.

--- David was the kind of guy who followed the Lord’s way: The golden rule, treat others as you want to be treated.

--- Saul, on the other hand, believed that those who ruled could treat others as they wanted.

*** No listening to reason.

--- David had been loyal to Saul. Ahimelech, too. There was no rebellion.

(No one was going “Rogue One” on Saul’s home looking for plans to destroy his Death Star.)

--- When selfish ambition takes hold, it is like looking at a distorted mirror at a funhouse: reality becomes misshapen.

--- We become suspicious, hostile, and quick to judge, and we do it in a particularly irrational manner.

--- Jesus showed us a different and better way. He humbled Himself and took the form of a servant. Paul tells us to make our own attitude that of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5)

--- Jesus hung out with the edges of society. David did, too, and they flocked to him. Saul not so much. He verbally abused his people and gave favors to his tribe.

*** Question – How do you respond when you watch someone allowing personal ambitions to destroy them?

In our law courts we have “due process” for dealing with an accused person. What kind of internal “due process” should take place in our heads when dealing with people that we think have done something wrong to us?

How could a person use the approach taken by Ahimelech when responding to a critic or when accused?

Are there other steps Ahimelech could have taken that would not have compromised his integrity?

DESPERATE MEASURES (1 SAM. 22:16-17)

16 But the king said, “You will die, Ahimelech—you and your father’s whole family!” 17 Then the king ordered the guards standing by him, “Turn and kill the priests of the LORD because they sided with David. For they knew he was fleeing, but they didn’t tell me.” But the king’s servants would not lift a hand to execute the priests of the LORD.

*** I’m Spartacus! No, I’m Spartacus!

--- The king's temper had so overcome him that even his servants were refusing to do his evil bidding to kill a priest and his family.

--- This is the ultimate in “killing the messenger” rather than dealing with the truth.

--- Ahimelech’s fate wasn’t due to his own sin, but to the sin of Saul.

--- Just as Jesus’ fate wasn’t due to any faults of His own, but religious leaders of His day who refused to see reality and demanded He be crucified.

*** A tragic ending.

--- To the guards’ credit, they weren’t going to do the king’s bidding, knowing it was immoral and part of Saul’s personal crusade against David.

--- Think about it. These guys are under orders to do whatever the king says. Many are fellow Benjamites.

--- When everyone you used to trust is telling you that you’re a fool, you should pay attention.

--- Unfortunately it didn't end there. Saul's henchman, Doeg the Edomite and his men were just fine with killing Ahimelech and 84 other priests.

--- They then went to Nob and kill all the people there, which would have been all the families of the priests, their servants, and even ordinary people who had nothing to do with the priests.

--- As news of the massacre spread, more and more Israelites sympathized with David against Saul.

--- Before this there was no rebellion, no real dissent. But Saul brought it all on himself.

--- The longer one refuses to believe in the truth, the harder his or her heart becomes.

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Saul was breaking bad, like a high school teacher-turned-meth dealer.

Saul could have had greatness, but instead he chose murder and madness.

We may ask what Saul should have done.

The answer is surprisingly simple: he should have acknowledged David as the anointed one of God.

Had he done so, Israel could have had peace instead of civil war, and David could have served as Saul’s military commander until he became king.

There was no danger that David would seek to eliminate Saul or his family. He was never hostile, and he willingly entered a covenant with Jonathan. But Saul could not stand the thought of losing his crown.

The prophet Jeremiah declared, “The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable—who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).

We can easily be led astray by our own ambitions.

All of our goals and desires need to be filtered through the will of God.

When Jesus called for His followers to deny themselves, He included personal ambitions (Luke 9:23).

God is not out to strip us of the joys of life. Instead, He wants us to experience the greater joys of life, not settling for what the world has to offer. We must trust that His ways are better than our ways.

We must allow Him to shape our ambitions so that we can find true and lasting satisfaction.

*** Personal ambition when left unchecked can lead to sin and destruction.

*** When you are confronted with a leader or someone close to you who has let personal ambition cloud his judgment, be willing to say “no, I can’t do what you have asked me to do."

*** Take some time to evaluate your ambitions and motives for what you do. Ask God to reveal to you any selfish ambitions you need to give to Him.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Faithful Friends

My Life Group lesson for July 31, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide, with an assist from John McClendon ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

How many “friends” do you have on Facebook?

Except for family, how many would you actually keep in touch with if not for the internet?

Why is having good friends important?

One of God’s blessings is our ability to have close friendships. Much of our joy in life is found through connections with other people.

Today we’re going to study how best buds Jonathan and David helped each other, served each other, sacrificed for each other, and respected each other.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

1 Samuel 18:1–20:42

*** In chapter 16 David was anointed king, but it would take years to become the ruler of Israel.

*** In chapter 17 David knocked out Goliath with a rock then cut his head off.

*** We cover chapters 18-20 today, the period during which David served in Saul’s military.

*** To put it mildly, David is military rock star, even killing a couple of hundred Philistines to win the hand of Saul’s daughter.

*** David’s so successful, in fact, that Saul wants him dead and no longer a contender to the throne. Lucky for David, Saul’s son Jonathan is David’s best pal.

TRUE FRIENDS (1 SAM. 18:1-5)

1 When David had finished speaking with Saul, Jonathan committed himself to David, and loved him as much as he loved himself. 2 Saul kept David with him from that day on and did not let him return to his father’s house. 3 Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as much as himself. 4 Then Jonathan removed the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his military tunic, his sword, his bow, and his belt. 5 David marched out with the army and was successful in everything Saul sent him to do. Saul put him in command of the soldiers, which pleased all the people and Saul’s servants as well.

*** You’ve got a friend in me.

--- We start out with events that took place after David defeated Goliath.

--- Saul drafts David and keeps him from going home. Saul is jealous and fearful of this new hero.

--- Jonathan was himself a courageous hero after climbing a cliff (like the Army Rangers going up Point du Hoc on D-Day) and routing a Philistine garrison in chapter 14.

--- Traditionally in cultures, as the son of the king Jonathan would be next in line. And as a leader he had the backing of his soldiers.

--- Jonathan no doubt watched the battle with Goliath closely and could see that David was brave, cunning, and devoted to God.

--- Like a quarterback who just saw a younger, stronger, and faster rookie score a touchdown, Jonathan could have reacted with pettiness, and he could have set about trying to undermine him or, in this violent era, plotted to murder him.

--- Nonetheless, he committed himself to the new champion, and continued to give himself over to David.

--- Jonathan, unlike his father, believed that David was the true chosen king. He literally gave him the robe off his back to prove it.

*** David and Jonathan's bromance.

--- Twice here it says that Jonathan loved David “as much as himself.”

--- Loving others more than one’s self is the hallmark of any great friendship.

--- When we love ourselves more than others, we begin to use others to benefit ourselves rather than helping them flourish and succeed.

--- “A friend is the first person who comes in when the whole world goes out.” (Henry Durbanville)

--- Saul loved himself and was bent on protecting his name and his title and his power.

--- Jonathan, however, bound himself to David even against his own father.

--- This was not the only covenant between the two men; they made another covenant on the day David fled from Saul (20:8,16), and yet another while David was a fugitive (23:16-18).

*** Question - Instead of being jealous, Jonathan rejoiced at David's success. What are some ways you've seen how rivalry and competition can destroy relationships? How should we react as Christians to the success of others?

TESTED FRIENDS (1 SAM. 20:35-40)

35 In the morning Jonathan went out to the field for the appointed meeting with David. A small young man was with him. 36 He said to the young man, “Run and find the arrows I’m shooting.” As the young man ran, Jonathan shot an arrow beyond him. 37 He came to the location of the arrow that Jonathan had shot, but Jonathan called to him and said, “The arrow is beyond you, isn’t it?” 38 Then Jonathan called to him, “Hurry up and don’t stop!” Jonathan’s young man picked up the arrow and returned to his master. 39 He did not know anything; only Jonathan and David knew the arrangement. 40 Then Jonathan gave his equipment to the young man who was with him and said, “Go, take it back to the city.”

*** Shooting straight.

--- Through chapters 18, 19 and 20, Saul's jealousy caused David to go into hiding and Jonathan to risk his own life to protect David.

--- Jonathan wasn't sure at first, though, that his dad truly meant harm to David (who believes the worst in their father?), so they cooked up a plan to prove it.

--- David would be absent from the king's table at the New Moon banquet, and Jonathan told Saul that he allowed David to go to Bethlehem with his family.

--- David was actually going to hide in a field and wait.

--- If Saul got angry that David wasn't there, it would prove that Saul wanted David there to arrest and kill him.

--- Jonathan would go out to the field with a servant boy for target practice with his bow and arrows.

--- If Jonathan shot the arrows next to the stone, then David would know he was safe. But that's not how it went down.

--- By overshooting his target, Jonathan signaled that Saul lost his temper and David should flee.

--- Considering that Saul yelled that Jonathan was the "son of a perverse and rebellious woman" and threw a spear at Jonathan, this also showed Jonathan that his dad was serious about killing David.

--- In verse 38 Jonathan added, “Hurry up and don’t stop!” These words were spoken to the servant, but meant for David, telling his pal to flee as far away as fast as possible.

*** BFFs: Best Friends Forever!

--- This was a decisive moment in Jonathan’s life. He knew that his father’s hostility to David was wrong, but he had to make a choice. He could continue to show friendship to David, or he could join his father in trying to kill him.

--- True friendship never requires us to do what is evil, but it may require us to break other bonds in order to do what is right. Because of his loyalty to David, Jonathan could clearly see how immoral Saul’s behavior was. Had Jonathan been more neutral toward David, he might have supported Saul out of filial loyalty even though he knew that killing David was not right.

*** Question - How do you think Jonathan felt about being caught between his father and his friend?

TIMELESS FRIENDS (1 SAM. 20:41-42)

41 When the young man had gone, David got up from the south side of the stone Ezel, fell with his face to the ground, and bowed three times. Then he and Jonathan kissed each other and wept with each other, though David wept more. 42 Jonathan then said to David, “Go in the assurance the two of us pledged in the name of the LORD when we said: The LORD will be a witness between you and me and between my offspring and your offspring forever.” Then David left, and Jonathan went into the city.

*** There and back again.

--- After Jonathan sent the boy away, David emerged from his hiding place, and the two embraced in tears.

--- It seems weird that David and Jonathan would bother with the elaborate plan since they ended up talking face-to-face anyway. But they may not have been able to do so, and if others had seen David and Jonathan together it could have meant a death sentence for both of them.

--- Even though David was now a fugitive, Jonathan reminded him of the covenant promise between them, in the name of the Lord.

(Jonathan would always answer David's texts. David would happily help Jonathan move. They would spot each other on leg day at the gym. They would be each others' wingman checking out the ladies.)

--- No matter what happened, their friendship would endure to the end.

--- That is why a man and woman take marriage vows. While one might think that love would keep the couple from straying, it is important that they reinforce their mutual commitment with solemn vows.

--- In much the same way, God’s covenant relationship with us through Jesus will always endure all things, thus providing us with security and hope.

*** Loyal to the end.

--- David went back into hiding, Jonathan back into the city. Saul spent the rest of his life hunting David, the rest of his life. David spent that same amount of time fleeing, hiding, surviving until Saul finally died.

--- The Lord always protected David, and all of this activity made him an even greater general, a greater military man in the future when he took his throne.

--- This would not be the last time that David and Jonathan saw one another. They met at least one more time, when David was on the run from Saul and hiding out in the Wilderness of Ziph (1 Sam. 23:16-18). Jonathan went to see David, and the fact that he could find him implies that the two had stayed in communication. On that occasion, Jonathan encouraged David to have faith in God. Jonathan’s words on this occasion were particularly poignant and ultimately sad. Jonathan was sure that David would win the crown in the end and that Jonathan would serve as his second-in-command. No doubt this would have happened had Jonathan survived, but he died in battle against the Philistines alongside his father at Mount Gilboa.

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says that “Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up.” Did you know that some studies indicate that someone's number of "true friends" has declined from 3 to 2 in the past 25 years?

Did you know that other studies indicate there is a link between socially isolated people and heart disease? We need to understand that strong friendships don’t just happen. They require work, sacrifice, and intentionality.

Pastor Ron Edmondson lays out four characteristics of true friendship:

Unconditional love - A true friend loves at all times. Regardless of what you do, what happens, or where life takes you, a true friend loves at all times. On your worst day—when you aren’t even fun to be around—a true friend still takes you to lunch. (And likely pays.)

Unwavering support – True friends are in it for the long haul. Even when you’ve fallen—or agree with you completely—a true friend is in your corner. When you call—even when you’re in trouble—they come. True friendships may only be for a season. I have many of those. But if we run into each other again we pick up where we left off. Trust is already established. The relationship is just as strong. True friendships are consistent.

Willingness to challenge – Love and support is not ignoring the words you need to here. A true friendship makes you better. The Bible says “iron sharpens iron.” True friends will correct you if needed. Proverbs 27:5 says, “Better an open rebuke than hidden love.” Friends won’t let you injure yourself or others if they can intervene. They won’t remain silent with what you need to hear—and it will be shared in the deepest of love.

Full of grace – True friendship weather the sometime difficulties of relationships, forgiving when needed, and loving each other even when it hurts. A true friendship isn’t one-sided. Both friends are willing to lay down their life for the other. Grace is freely and generously given.

David and Jonathan’s friendship stood the test of distance, time, and trials.

In 2 Samuel he even brought in Jonathan’s disabled son and took care of him.

*** (1) Think of people who consider you their true friend. What characteristics do you demonstrate toward them that communicate to them that you are a true friend?

*** (2) Godly friendship is built on commitment to God and provides lifelong encouragement.

*** (3) Think about your Christian friendships. Approach them as a covenant commitment, intending to bless the other person.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Anointed

My Life Group lesson for July 17, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

What qualities do you look for when choosing a leader?

When we think of what makes someone a good leader, we usually consider things such as impressive résumés, rugged good looks, intellectual competence, courageous innovation, and impeccable communication skills. Names like William Wallace, Winston Churchill, and Ronald Reagan might come to mind.

How much does a person’s physical and outward appearance contribute to your perception of him or her as a leader?

(Don't blame me, but ...) Research indicates that there is a correlation between a person’s height and the salary he or she earns. This is particularly true in occupations where the perception of others is crucial, such as sales and management.

It is also documented that height is seen as a social asset and perceived as indicative of a person’s competence. Of course, no research suggests that taller people actually fulfill these perceptions. It is merely indicative of the way we often judge people.

Since 1900, Americans have elected the taller presidential candidate about 2/3 of the time.

Even Samuel the prophet was not immune to the persuasion of outward appearance. Saul, the first king of Israel, was taller than most of his peers (1 Sam. 9:2).

In contrast, God seems rather unimpressed by the things that impress us. God prefers to find a man or woman after God’s own heart.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

1 Samuel 16:1-23

*** Saul has been king of Israel for many years, and grew from a timid young man hiding among the people's luggage (10:20-22) to a victorious leader in battle.

*** Unfortunately, by the time we get to 1 Samuel 16, Saul is a different man. He became so determined to hold onto power that Samuel feared that Saul would kill him in order to hold on to his throne (16:2).

*** Samuel is appointed by God to anoint a new king.

SAMUEL’S ASSIGNMENT (1 SAM. 16:4-5)

4 Samuel did what the LORD directed and went to Bethlehem. When the elders of the town met him, they trembled and asked, “Do you come in peace?” 5 “In peace,” he replied. “I’ve come to sacrifice to the LORD. Consecrate yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

*** High Noon.

--- Showing up unexpectedly in Bethlehem certainly panicked the people, like a Western movie when trouble comes to town and all the people flee indoors and duck down, like in “High Noon.”

--- Prophets had a history of bringing bad news with them – messages of doom and judgment – so people preferred they stay away.

--- For example, when Elijah turned up at the court of Ahab, he received the greeting, “Is that you, you destroyer of Israel?” (1 Kings 18:17).

*** Just here for a sacrifice. Yeah, that's the ticket.

--- God actually commands Samuel to use a bit of sleight of hand to find and anoint a new king among the sons of Jesse.

--- God had rejected Saul, but the king wasn’t going to go quietly.

--- Samuel had feared that he would be killed by Saul for selecting a new king.

--- God replied that Samuel should take a young cow with him and tell people that he had come to Bethlehem to make a sacrifice (which he did, but only as part of the story).

--- Despite his fear of Saul, Samuel trusted God and did what the Lord directed.

--- As it turned out, it was too soon for Israel to be made aware of David’s anointing.

--- David would first need to build up the people’s confidence by his great deeds, such as the slaying of Goliath.

--- Apart from how Saul would react to hearing that this boy in Bethlehem had been anointed, the people of Israel as of yet had no reason to embrace young David as their king.

--- At this time, even David’s brothers had little use for him (see 17:28).

*** Question – Like Samuel coming to town and causing fear, leadership roles can often lead the leader to a place of isolation. In what ways does pursuing the call of God upon one’s life bring isolation from others? What are the risks and rewards of such a pursuit?

GOD’S CRITERIA (1 SAM. 16:6-10)

6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and said, “Certainly the LORD’s anointed one is here before Him.” 7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or his stature, because I have rejected him. Man does not see what the LORD sees, for man sees what is visible, but the LORD sees the heart.” 8 Jesse called Abinadab and presented him to Samuel. “The LORD hasn’t chosen this one either,” Samuel said. 9 Then Jesse presented Shammah, but Samuel said, “The LORD hasn’t chosen this one either.” 10 After Jesse presented seven of his sons to him, Samuel told Jesse, “The LORD hasn’t chosen any of these.”

*** Check the merch.

--- Samuel's wasn’t picking the king. God had already done that.

--- God could have told Samuel ahead of time which son to anoint, but He allowed Samuel to discover God's will.

--- Samuel anticipates incorrectly, though, that God would choose Eliab, someone similar in stature to Saul (i.e,, tall, dark and handsome).

--- It turns out, moreover, that Eliab did not have a particularly strong character. In the Goliath episode, Eliab proved himself to be petty and jealous. He said to David, “Why did you come down here? … Who did you leave those few sheep with in the wilderness? I know your arrogance and your evil heart—you came down to see the battle!” (17:28). A man who could be so unfair and spiteful toward his own brother would not refrain from vengeful recriminations against anyone else. He would not have been a good king. In the same measure God rejected all the sons of Jesse who were present at the sacrifice.

*** But he has a great personality.

--- It is easy, even among God’s people, to be attracted to charismatic, celebrity-type leaders, assuming that God must be just as impressed as we are by their charms.

--- But God has a different criterion for selecting His leaders.

--- God is not interested in outward appearances but the inner workings of the heart. Man looks outside. God looks inside.

--- God chooses the foolish, the weak, the insignificant, and the despised so that no man may boast before the Lord’s presence.

--- 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 - 26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.

--- Consider a church that is evaluating two men for the job of pastor. Each comes with good recommendations and with support from the search committee. They both preach to the congregation, and both have good content and good delivery. One is tall, athletic looking, and strikingly handsome, but the other is overweight and physically unimpressive. Which one is likely to get the call? How might someone justify voting for the more handsome candidate?

*** Does anyone have an experience in which the Lord allowed you to explore different possibilities before leading you to the right direction for your life? (Ex.: Searching for different jobs, looking at cities to move to, or trying different opportunities for service in the church.)

DAVID’S SELECTION (1 SAM. 16:11-13)

11 Samuel asked him, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” he answered, “but right now he’s tending the sheep.” Samuel told Jesse, “Send for him. We won’t sit down to eat until he gets here.” 12 So Jesse sent for him. He had beautiful eyes and a healthy, handsome appearance. Then the LORD said, “Anoint him, for he is the one.” 13 So Samuel took the horn of oil, anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and the Spirit of the LORD took control of David from that day forward. Then Samuel set out and went to Ramah.

*** The No. 1 pick in the draft.

--- Jesse didn’t even bother to bring David to the draft, assuming that he was unworthy to be anointed, too young and small compared to his brothers.

--- Shepherds were considered near the bottom of the society’s totem pole. But it was there that David learned to worship, hunt and protect the sheep from enemies (1 Samuel 17:36).

--- The pasture was God’s training ground for the making of a king.

--- Samuel wasn’t having any of Jesse’s excuses, so he said that they’d just twiddle their thumbs until David arrived. (No eating, even! Don’t touch those cocktail weenies!)

*** That’s him. That’s the one.

--- Apparently as soon as he saw the boy Samuel heard the voice of God telling him that this was the one to anoint.

--- The main lesson is that the choice of David was entirely God’s; Samuel was merely the agent for designating him as the next king.

--- You might have noticed that, right after telling us that people look on external appearance but that God looks on the heart (v. 7), the passage says that David “had beautiful eyes and a healthy, handsome appearance.” The implication may be that God had so endowed David as a concession to human weakness. God chose David to be the next king, but the people probably would not have accepted him if he had been plain or homely.

After the monarchy and a system of succession were well established, the physical appearance of a king was of less importance. It is no doubt significant that Absalom, David’s son, who with popular support illegally seized the throne, was a man of striking physical beauty (2 Sam. 14:25).

*** We’ve got Spirit, how ‘bout you?

--- Note that after being anointed, David was guided by the Holy Spirit from then on.

--- David’s anointing was precursor to the coming King of kings who would be a descendant of David. Jesus is the ultimate King and leader who is also the Shepherd of His people.

--- The very city in which David was anointed king (Bethlehem) would be the place which the prophet Micah prophesied would be the birthplace of the King of Kings, the Promised Messiah, Jesus Christ.

--- God’s leader is dependent on God’s Spirit.

--- We all have that power now as followers of Jesus.

--- We’re all anointed to do God’s work.

--- Romans 8:9 - You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

The Republican National Convention is this week in Cleveland.

There, delegates will likely nominate Donald Trump as their presidential candidate. The Democrats will nominate Hillary Clinton next week in Philly.

We would certainly be better off if voters used Exodus 18:21 as God’s directive for selecting leaders – “But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.”

Of course, some would say it’s too late to nominate someone worthy, so we’re stuck with what we’ve got. Maybe we’d be better off with a daily president like David Rice Atchison -- Forget what the history books say. The 12th president of the United States was David Rice Atchison, a man so obscure that Chester A. Arthur seems a household word by comparison. At exactly 12 noon on March 4, 1849, Zachary Taylor was scheduled to succeed James Polk as chief executive. But March 4 was a Sunday and Taylor, a devout old general, refused to take the oath of office on the Sabbath. Thus, under the Succession Act of 1792, Missouri Senator Atchison, as President ProTempore of the Senate, automatically became president.

Atchison was said to have taken the responsibilities of his office very much in stride. Tongue in cheek, he appointed a number of his cronies to high cabinet positions, then had a few drinks, and went to bed to sleep out the remainder of his brief administration. On Monday at noon Taylor took over the reins, but the nation can look back fondly on the Atchison presidency as a peaceful one, untainted by even a hint of corruption. (From SermonIllustrations.com)

Does God already know who will be selected? (Yes)

What is God trying to teach His church through this presidential election cycle?

In today’s lesson, God had rejected Saul and Samuel had the task of anointing the new king.

God directs Samuel where to go with new instructions "don't look on the outside but look at the heart".

*** He has anointed each of us to do His great work and He has put His Spirit inside us to guide us and show us the way. The question is if we will yield or not.

*** God does not choose His leaders in the same way the world does. God’s criteria include a heart committed to Him.

*** We should pray about our choice when voting. But we should always remember that our leader, as Christians, is Jesus Christ, and He is in control regardless of the outcome!

Friday, July 01, 2016

Feared

My Life Group lesson for July 3, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

What are some of the most common phobias?

Check out this list and see how you compare:

Arachnophobia: The fear of spiders
Ophidiophobia: The fear of snakes
Acrophobia:The fear of heights
Pteromerhanophobia: The fear of flying
Mysophobia: The fear of germs or dirt
Astraphobia: The fear of thunder and lightning
Omphalophobia - Fear of navels (belly buttons)
Trypophobia - Fear of holes
Papaphobia - Fear of the pope
Somniphobia - Fear of falling asleep
Hylophobia - Fear of trees
Globophobia - Fear of balloons popping
Ergophobia - Fear of work
Chrometophobia - Fear of money
Triskaidekaphobia- fear of the number 13
Nomophobia - Fear of being without mobile phone coverage

The Oxford University Press cites more than 200 phobias.

Why are humans so fearful?

Today we’re going to examine the differences between fearing the Lord and fearing people or things.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

1 Samuel 12:1-25

*** Through their early history, God had always saved Israel from their troubles. But last week we talked about the people demanding a king like all of the other pagan nations, despite Samuel's warning that it wouldn't go as well as they hoped.

*** In chapter 12, Samuel inaugurates Saul as their king and gives his farewell address to the nation.

*** Samuel’s last words to the people touched on what was most important. Israel’s demand for a king other than God revealed that that they had lost sight of the greatness and power of God.

The prophet called on the nation to renew their covenant with God, in fear and reverence to God.

But now that they were a monarchy, God’s judgment would reference the ruling kings. All of Israel would be evaluated by whether the king did good or evil in the eyes of the Lord (see 1 Kings 11:6; 15:26; 16:25; 2 Kings 8:18; 10:30).

THE COVENENT REVISITED (1 SAM. 12:12-15)

12 “But when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites was coming against you, you said to me, ‘No, we must have a king rule over us’—even though the LORD your God is your king. 13 Now here is the king you’ve chosen, the one you requested. Look, this is the king the LORD has placed over you. 14 If you fear the LORD, worship and obey Him, and if you don’t rebel against the LORD’s command, then both you and the king who rules over you will follow the Lord your God. 15 However, if you disobey the LORD and rebel against His command, the LORD’s hand will be against you and against your ancestors.

*** We did the monster Nahash, it was a graveyard smash.

--- Israel went from having no central government to being a monarchy, mostly because the people were afraid of external threats such as Nahash the Ammonite.

--- The new king, Saul, was filled with the Spirit of God and routed Nahash.

*** The Lord's directives.

--- Though God had given the people the king they asked for, He did not walk away from them. He still had expectations.

--- They were to continue to fear the Lord, serve Him, and faithfully follow Him.

--- If they lived according to His standards, all would go well.

--- God still had a plan in spite of their rejection of Him.

--- God continued to relate to His people and they were to continue to relate to Him. Nothing had changed in what was expected of them. God was still their King, and His will was for Him to be their unfailing rule of life.

--- However, if the people and the king failed to meet those standards, the hand of God would be against them and their king.

*** It applies to us as well.

--- For the past 50 years America’s motto has been “If it feels good, do it.” We celebrate anti-authority figures and our culture celebrates abortion and gay marriage.

--- When we look around our society today, it doesn’t seem like there is much fear of the Lord.

--- Our fallen, sinful nature makes full obedience to God’s standards and His Law impossible, because no one is righteous (Rom. 3:10).

--- Therefore, it is impossible to be saved according to our own goodness, because we will always fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).

--- The Bible tells us that genuine worship is like sweet incense to the Lord. So when you are sending up sin and negativity, how does that smell in heaven?

*** Fear and trust.

--- Fear played a big role in Israel's demand for a king.

--- But the people really needed to focus on "fear of the Lord."

--- "Fear of the Lord" was fundamental for blessings in Moses’ day (Deut. 6:2, 24; 10:12; 31:12, 13), in Joshua’s (Josh. 4:24; 24:14), and now in the new era of the monarchy.

--- “Fear of the Lord” means standing in awe of Him and giving Him the honor and obedience that is His due as God and gracious Father.

*** Question - How would you describe their relationship with God now that they had a king?

A SIGN DELIVERED (1 SAM. 12:16-18)

16 Now, therefore, present yourselves and see this great thing that the LORD will do before your eyes. 17 Isn’t the wheat harvest today? I will call on the LORD and He will send thunder and rain, so that you will know and see what a great evil you committed in the LORD’s sight by requesting a king for yourselves.” 18 Samuel called on the LORD, and on that day the LORD sent thunder and rain. As a result, all the people greatly feared the LORD and Samuel.

*** The thunder rolls, and the lightning strikes. (Another love grows cold, on a sleepless night.)

--- Samuel made his case against the people, and drives it home with a dramatic demonstration of God's power.

--- A thunderstorm would have been unexpected to the Israelites.

---Rain came to Israel in a predictable pattern. The rainy season in Israel began in late October and lasted until February. The wheat harvest probably took place in May and June, in Israel’s dry season.

--- Such a storm posed a threat to the yet-to-be harvested crops.

Proverbs 26:1 alludes to this: “Like snow in summer and rain at harvest, honor is inappropriate for a fool.”

If the fields were wet, it would be very difficult to cut, bind, carry, and thresh the heads of grain. Wet grain would be more likely to rot. And, of course, the crops could be badly damaged if the storms were severe.

Storms in May implied that the harvest would be ruined; by analogy, Israel’s request for a king would end badly. It could be an economic disaster. Samuel had warned the people that having a king would be economically ruinous for them. The king would seize their lands, their cattle, their servants, and even conscript their children (1 Sam. 8:11-18).

--- The storm demonstrated that God was ultimately in control of all things.

--- God could easily show them the power He holds in His hand, the destruction He could inflict on them and their property.

--- The sign works, and the people repent for their sins. They realized that they were dependent on the grace of God.

*** Question - Today, insurance companies still often use the phrase “acts of God” to describe catastrophic weather events. Why are people more likely to recognize God’s power after an unexpected weather occurrence?

GOD’S MERCY AND GRACE (1 SAM. 12:19-22)

19 They pleaded with Samuel, “Pray to the LORD your God for your servants, so we won’t die! For we have added to all our sins the evil of requesting a king for ourselves.” 20 Samuel replied, “Don’t be afraid. Even though you have committed all this evil, don’t turn away from following the LORD. Instead, worship the LORD with all your heart. 21 Don’t turn away to follow worthless things that can’t profit or deliver you; they are worthless. 22 The LORD will not abandon His people, because of His great name and because He has determined to make you His own people.”

*** Johnny Football.

--- The father of NFL quarterback and notorious partier Johnny Manziel has given up on helping his son:

"He's a druggie. It's not a secret that he's a druggie. I don't know what to say other than my son is a druggie and he needs help. He just hasn't seeked it yet. Hopefully he doesn't die before he comes to his senses. That's about all you can say. I don't know what else to say. I hate to say it but I hope he goes to jail. I mean, that would be the best place for him. So we'll see."

*** Question - Do you sometimes get so frustrated at decisions a family member, friend, or church member has made that you cease to pray for them?

--- In God’s name, Samuel showed grace to the Israelites despite their sins.

--- Samuel vowed that he keep praying for Israel and would not give up on the people.

--- Samuel did not deny that what the people of Israel had done was wrong. But he knew that God was forgiving and could redeem even bad decisions.

--- Just as God tells us over and over to not be afraid in life, but be strong and courageous, Samuel tells the people the same.

--- Samuel knew our weaknesses. He knew we turn away when we get discouraged and feel guilty for our sins.

*** Israel’s responsibility.

--- It is noteworthy that they did not try to take back their request for a king. They knew that what was done could not be undone. They instead asked Samuel to intercede for them.

--- The people still had to live up to their covenant, and Samuel said the Israelites would need to do two things:

--- First, they should remain loyal to God. They should not turn away from following Him. They should resolve to continue to serve God and to do what is right even though their actions make them feel unworthy.

--- Second, they should shun all idols, the “worthless things” in verse 21. Ancient peoples turned to idols for health, for prosperity, and for protection from enemies. If the people would simply place their trust in God, He would continue to watch over them and sustain them, king or no king.

--- Asking for a king was a sin, but it was not a fatal sin. Worshiping an idol was a fatal sin.

--- Sin does not have to have the last word. The Lord will not forsake His people because of who He is.

*** Question - How would you describe the difference between godly fear and sinful fear?

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

The Olympics in Rio de Janeiro begin August 5, but a lot of top athletes won't be there to represent their countries.

Many have already said they would stay home because of Zika, the virus spread by mosquitoes that has been linked to brain defects in newborn babies.

It's not just women, either. Men such as golfer Rory McIlroy have also pulled out.

If you had a chance to compete in this year's Olympics, would you go? How much concern would you have?

In today’s lesson the Israelites had ceased to have a healthy fear of God.

The Israelites made a bad decision that changed their nation forever.

But even very big, very bad decisions do not mean that our relationship with God is forever ruined.

God showed grace and mercy in the midst of the Israelites’ rebellion.

No matter what we have done, God’s marching orders for us remain unchanged: that we should believe and obey the gospel of Jesus Christ.

God does not forsake His people, and Jesus said so in John 10:25-29 - 25 Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.

*** God’s love extends to us even after we have blown it big time. No matter how many times we fail God, we should never be afraid to run to Him.

*** While we will face consequences for the wrong choices we make, God still offers forgiveness and grace to those who turn back to Him.

*** He will not forsake us. Through His jealous love, God brings us to repentance, redemption, and restoration.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Give us a king

My Life Group lesson for June 26, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

You know how General George Washington led American troops to defeat the British in the Revolutionary War.

But did you know … the rest of the story?

Allegedly, at least.

Legend has it that, after his victory in the Revolutionary War, Washington was so popular that a group of citizens frustrated with the Continental Congress wanted to make him king of the new nation. He turned the suggestion down. It's probably just as true as Washington chopping down the cherry tree.

After the war, in London, English King George III questioned the American-born painter Benjamin West what Washington would do now he had won. West said he would return to his farm. "If he does that," said the king, "he will be the greatest man in the world."

We also know that as president, Washington stepped down after two terms to set a precedent of leaders not holding onto power for too long.

Like those early Americans looking for King George Washington, the Israelites sought a king for leadership. Problem is, they were rejecting the ultimate King.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

1 Samuel 8:1–11:15

*** It might be difficult to believe in our age of government control and bureaucracy everywhere, but prior to King Saul, Israel had no central government to enforce Old Testament law. After Joshua's leadership to conquer Canaan, early Israel had no king or national ruler, no capital city, no bureaucracy, no tax collectors, no highway department, no national court system, no representative body (like a congress or parliament), no welfare department, and no standing army.

*** God would raise up "judges" sporadically to deal with foreign oppressors, such as when Gideon fought the Midianites. There was no official office, and no system of succession.

*** Local affairs would be taken care of by elders in cases of criminal or civil law. Militias served as defense against intruders.

*** The Israelites were expected to be faithful to their covenant with God as their king, without enforcement necessary by a central state.

*** This brings us to 1 Samuel chapter 8, and now the Israelites want a human king to lead and protect them.

A KING DEMANDED (1 SAM. 8:4-5)

4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and went to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not follow your example. Therefore, appoint a king to judge us the same as all the other nations have.”

*** Game of Thrones.

--- As Samuel grew old, he named his sons as judges. This was rare; the sons of earlier judges did not take over from their fathers. (The one exception was Abimelech, son of Gideon, who tried to succeed his father and to actually claim the title of king. That ended in complete disaster (Judg. 9).)

--- However, just as Eli the priest's sons were awful, Samuel's boys, Joel and Abijah, "turned toward dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice," according to 8:3.

*** All the king’s men.

--- A group of elders told Samuel that since his boys were corrupt, he should appoint for them a king.

--- The elders, therefore, had rejected that God was their king, and that He had appointed Samuel.

--- They could have asked Samuel to step down and take away his sons' authority. Israel had survived for hundreds of years without a constant leader.

--- The elders reveal their true desire by saying that they wanted a king "the same as all other nations have."

--- Israel wasn't supposed to be like the other nations. they were supposed to be better according to God's leadership.

--- Instead, Israel had a history of idolatry, and demanding a king was just one more example of giving lip service to their trust in God while proving faithless in their actions.

--- Our actions can reveal our spiritually blindness to God's power and leadership, too, when we trust in man instead of trusting in the Lord.

*** Question – Is it easier to trust in a strong leader or in God?

REJECTION DECLARED (1 SAM. 8:6-9)

6 When they said, “Give us a king to judge us,” Samuel considered their demand sinful, so he prayed to the LORD. 7 But the LORD told him, “Listen to the people and everything they say to you. They have not rejected you; they have rejected Me as their king. 8 They are doing the same thing to you that they have done to Me, since the day I brought them out of Egypt until this day, abandoning Me and worshiping other gods. 9 Listen to them, but you must solemnly warn them and tell them about the rights of the king who will rule over them.”

*** You've made your bed, now lie in it.

--- God reassures Samuel that the people weren't rejecting Samuel's leadership, but far worse, a rejection of God as their king.

--- God tells Samuel to go along with their request.

--- According to Deut. 17:14-20 this was permissible, so long as God chose the king.

--- This does not mean that God approved of their action. He is willing to let people choose their own path, even if their choices are poor and will cause them pain and regret.

--- Israel had been turning from God ever since the exodus from Egypt. (Lack of faith, idolatry, and corruption became a pattern.)

--- The period of the judges was a time of freedom. From the time of King Saul through the Roman emperors, they would always be under a king, whether their own or a foreigner.

--- Samuel warned the people in verses 11-18 that if they had a king, he would have the power to confiscate wealth and property, draft men into the army for his own purposes, and take women to use for royal service.

--- The end result was that the Israelites would discover they had no rights at all: “He can take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves can become his servants. When that day comes, you will cry out because of the king you’ve chosen for yourselves, but the LORD won’t answer you on that day” (1 Sam. 8:17-18).

*** Question - What kind of consequences should we consider when we turn our faith and dependence away from God and place it in someone else?

REBELLION DETERMINED (1 SAM. 8:19-22)

19 The people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We must have a king over us. 20 Then we’ll be like all the other nations: our king will judge us, go out before us, and fight our battles.” 21 Samuel listened to all the people’s words and then repeated them to the LORD. 22 “Listen to them,” the LORD told Samuel. “Appoint a king for them.” Then Samuel told the men of Israel, “Each of you, go back to your city.”

*** Gods and Kings.

--- The Israelites were determined to live under the own system, to fight their own battles instead of following God’s will.

--- Instead of bowing to God, they would bow to a man the same as “all the other nations” did with their pagan kings.

--- The other nations treated their kings as gods, as if they had superhero powers to defeat their enemies and bless the people:

Egyptian pharaohs were kings of Ancient Egypt, and were considered gods by their culture.

Some of the Roman emperors, including Julius Caesar, Caesar Augustus and Caligula claimed divinity.

Japanese emperors claimed to be divine.

Dalai Lamas are considered divine re-incarnations in Buddhism.

We saw in Acts 12:20-23 last month, Herod Agrippa I so impressed the Phoenicians with his generosity and splendor that when he spoke, they shouted, “It’s the voice of a god and not of a man!” But God was not impressed with Herod. He struck him with a severe and sudden illness, and he died.

This doesn’t even count rulers treated as a personality cult such as Adolf Hitler, or the rulers of Iran who claim to speak for God while running police states.

Of course, the most famous movie example, Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars. He starts off as a senator, then manipulates events so that the people clamor for a strong leader to crush rebellion, and ends up as the evil emperor of the Galactic Empire.

--- The saying goes, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Israel would be led by some competent and faithful kings, but too often Israel would find itself in ruin because of ungodly leadership.

--- When we fail to acknowledge Jesus as our Savior and the King of kings (Rev. 19:16), chaos will be the inevitable result.

*** Question - How is it spiritually dangerous to look to a human being as your savior? What will that do to your relationship with God?

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

How often do you tell your kids, "If you would just do as you are asked, you wouldn't be in trouble right now?!"

How often do you tell them, "I can't do that for you right now. You'll understand someday?"

If the Israelites had been faithful to God, He would have protected them and given them all the prosperity they could handle.

We can repeat the same foolish decision made by Israel by turning away from Jesus, the one true King.

We read God's Word and it convicts us of the sin in our lives and yet we justify and continue on without any consideration for what God says knowing that we are doing things outside the blessing of God.

*** Only God is worthy of being looked to as the Ruler of His people and of His creation.

*** When we turn to other things to provide us satisfaction, protection, security, and purpose, we become idolaters. Jesus is the One whom God appointed as the true King—the One who died and rose again! We must ask ourselves, "Who sits on the throne of our hearts?"

*** Sometimes the best answer God can give us is “no” when we ask for something that’s not in our best interest. At other times, God allows us to have what we demand—along with the negative consequences—to teach us that His plan is truly the best path for us.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Worthy!

My Life Group lesson for June 19, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

This past Monday was Flag Day in the United States.

Think about how mad we get when we see our country’s flag torn down or burned.

You may not know Rick Monday’s name but he’s a flag-saving baseball hero.

Monday played centerfield for the Cubs in L.A. on April 25, 1976, when two protestors ran into the outfield and tried to set fire to an American flag during the 4th inning. Monday ran over and grabbed the flag while the intruders were arrested. When Monday came to bat the next inning, he got a standing ovation from the Dodgers crowd and the stadium flashed the message, “Rick Monday, you made a great play.” He later said, "If you're going to burn the flag, don't do it around me. I've been to too many veterans' hospitals and seen too many broken bodies of guys who tried to protect it." Monday had served a commitment with the Marine Corps Reserve as part of his ROTC obligation after leaving Arizona State.

In what ways do we honor the United States flag? (the way we display it; the way we fold it; it can’t touch the ground; it should never be dipped to any person or thing; etc.)

What are some symbols of the Christian faith? (Bible, cross, church buildings, etc.)

How do we feel when these are disrespected?

We are right to be angry when our symbols are trampled, but we must be careful not to misplace our trust and worship any symbol or person, or anything over God. This is the lesson the Israelites had to learn and that we need to learn as we study this week's study.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

1 Samuel 4:1–7:17

*** Samuel grew up in Shiloh in Israel’s primary sanctuary. Several sacred items were stored there, most notably the ark of the covenant that contained the Ten Commandments and a jar of manna, which served as a symbolic throne of God.

*** 1 Samuel 4 tells how Israel lost the ark to the Philistines. They carried it into battle, thinking it would guarantee victory, but were defeated, the ark taken and Eli the high priest’s sons were slain. They had been displaying superstition and not genuine faith.

*** This week we’ll see what happens to the Philistines when the ark is in their possession and God takes control.

THE HOLY GOD (1 Sam. 5:1-5)

1 After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod, 2 brought it into the temple of Dagon and placed it next to his statue. 3 When the people of Ashdod got up early the next morning, there was Dagon, fallen with his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord. So they took Dagon and returned him to his place. 4 But when they got up early the next morning, there was Dagon, fallen with his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord. This time, both Dagon’s head and the palms of his hands were broken off and lying on the threshold. Only Dagon’s torso remained. 5 That is why, to this day, the priests of Dagon and everyone who enters the temple of Dagon in Ashdod do not step on Dagon’s threshold.

*** Raiders of the lost ark.

--- The Philistines treated the ark as a trophy of their victory over Israel. Bad idea.

--- In the Old Testament, the ark was God’s dwelling place on earth. The ark itself was not God, like other nations had man-made idols, but God used the ark to display His power and glory:

Exodus 25:21-22 - Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the tablets of the covenant law that I will give you. There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the covenant law, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.

Numbers 7:89 - When Moses entered the tent of meeting to speak with the Lord, he heard the voice speaking to him from between the two cherubim above the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant law. In this way the Lord spoke to him.

--- The Philistines placed the ark in the temple of their god Dagon as if it had defeated Israel’s God.

--- This puny idol stood no chance next to a jealous and mighty Lord. (Isaiah 42:8 – “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.”)

--- God made a mockery of Dagon, which was found face down before the ark, then broken into pieces.

--- The Philistines would see that all must bow before the one and only living God.

--- They should have recognized that Yahweh was so awesome that even their own so-called god bowed to Him.

--- Today we might not worship at the feet of a statue, but we’re just as susceptible to idolatry when we look to man-made things for our joy and contentment.

--- We must submit all that we are and have to the Lord to keep everything else from turning into idols of the heart.

*** Question - In what ways does God demonstrate His superiority over false gods? How would you describe to a friend the destructive effect of worshiping a false god instead of the God of the universe?

INSTRUCTIONS FOLLOWED (1 Sam. 5:6, 6:11-12)

6 The Lord’s hand was heavy on the people of Ashdod, terrorizing and afflicting the people of Ashdod and its territory with tumors. …
11 Then they put the ark of the Lord on the cart, along with the box containing the gold mice and the images of their tumors. 12 The cows went straight up the road to Beth-shemesh. They stayed on that one highway, lowing as they went; they never strayed to the right or to the left. The Philistine rulers were walking behind them to the territory of Beth-shemesh.

*** Vengeance belongs to the Lord. (Like Liam Neeson in “Taken,” He will find you …)

--- Once God humiliated Dagon and the Philistines for blaspheming Him and the ark, they were afflicted with a traumatic sickness.

--- There are consequences of idolatry. God does not share His glory with anyone or anything.

--- The plague might have been bubonic plague. The tumors that the verse mentions may have been buboes, the inflammation of the lymph glands associated with bubonic plague. Also, the offering that the Philistines sent when they returned the ark included golden images of mice (6:4). Infected fleas that infest rodents often spread plague, and thus the Philistines may have associated their affliction with mice.

(The ancient Greek translation of this verse includes the words, “And (the hand of the Lord) came against them and spread to them in the ships, and mice swarmed over the middle of the land itself.” This implies that the infected mice arrived in Ashdod on cargo ships and then carried the disease throughout Philistia. This has a parallel in the European Black Death of the 14th century. It began in 1347, when galleys containing infected men and rats landed in Sicily and then in Genoa, Pisa, and Venice. Philistine Ashdod, like those cities, was on the coast.)

--- Whenever one Philistine city would send the ark off to another one of their cities, almost immediately the new possessor of the ark would experience the disease (5:7-12).

*** Send it back!

--- Realizing that nothing good was coming from holding onto the ark of the covenant, the Philistines decided to send it back.

--- Their own pagan priests decided how to do so, without asking an Israelite priest or prophet such as Samuel.

--- They sent the ark back with five gold mice and five gold tumors (gee, thanks?), because they knew that somehow they had to honor the Lord God Almighty so their afflictions would stop. (The number five represented the five cities of the Philistines: Ashdod, Gath, Gaza, Ekron, and Ashkelon.)

--- They hitched the cart carrying the ark to two cows. If the cows went toward Israel (Beth-shemesh) then they knew it was the Lord who did this and all the troubles weren’t by chance.

--- The cows headed for Israel, proving to the Philistines that it was no coincidence.

--- In a primitive way, the Philistines were asking God to forgive them.

--- The apostle Paul would tell the Athenians (Acts 17:29-31) that God “overlooked the times of ignorance” when pagans worshiped gods of wood and stone and when they lived by myths and omens. Now, though, there must be repentance and following Jesus Christ as Savior.

*** Question - What was the message God was sending to the Philistines through this incident?

(They may have been allowed to beat the Israel army, but the Israelite God was sill superior to their god. Even their god bowed before the God of Israel!)

WORSHIP OFFERED (1 Sam. 6:13-16)

13 The people of Beth-shemesh were harvesting wheat in the valley, and when they looked up and saw the ark, they were overjoyed to see it. 14 The cart came to the field of Joshua of Beth-shemesh and stopped there near a large rock. The people of the city chopped up the cart and offered the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord. 15 The Levites removed the ark of the Lord, along with the box containing the gold objects, and placed them on the large rock. That day the men of Beth-shemesh offered burnt offerings and made sacrifices to the Lord. 16 When the five Philistine rulers observed this, they returned to Ekron that same day.

*** Hark! There is the ark!

--- Beth-shemesh was a town in southwestern Judah on the edge of Philistine territory, so the people knew all about their brutal and pagan neighbors.

--- For them, seeing the ark coming was experiencing God’s salvation.

--- God had shown Himself to be more powerful than the Philistines and their gods.

--- In contrast to the Philistines, the Israelites jumped for joy at getting the ark, treating it with reverence and worshipping God with gratitude and praise.

--- The way the people of God worshiped served as a testimony to the Philistines who saw it.

--- In the same way, the church’s worship is a witness to the community of how much we value God.

*** Winner, winner, chicken dinner.

--- As an epilogue, the people of Israel turned back to the Lord.

--- In Samuel chapter 7, Samuel implores the Israelites to put aside their idols and serve the idols only.

--- With a renewed worship, they were able to rout the Philistines in battle, keeping them away throughout the rest of Samuel’s life.

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

In today’s lesson we focused on (1) The misplaced worship of the Israelites; (2) The misdirected worship of the Philistines; (3) The refocused worship of the Israelites.

We live in weird, troubled times, and as a country you could make a case that we have lost our way when it comes to worshipping the one true God.

We’re no better than the ancient Israelites when it comes to letting Christ be dishonored and our Christian symbols desecrated.

Jesus said, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6).

Adrian Rogers wrote that what most of us are hungering and thirsting after happiness instead.

We are seeking to satisfy the hole in our heart with things of this world instead of He who died to save the world.

Rogers writes that he believes happiness is something you stumble over on your way to seeking righteousness.

When you are serving, worshipping, and praising the Lord, happiness is a by-product.

The deepest need of your heart will only be met in Jesus.

*** Only God is truly holy, and only He has the power to save. Neither the ark of the covenant nor anything, any action, or anyone other than Christ has the power to save us.

*** Think of one thing you think you could not live without. What is the object of our affections, our efforts, and our attention? Where does the majority of our time go? On what do we spend the greatest amount of our resources? Pray about that one thing this week to determine if you have let it become an idol in your life.

*** There is only one true God who is worthy of worship and praise. Our worship is to be focused on God and not our own tastes and preferences. It is not about us.

Called

My Life Group lesson for June 12, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

“Stupid autocorrect.”

Modern technology is great. We talk into our phones and the text magically appears. We type and it completes the words for us.

Unfortunately, sometimes the message gets a bit messed up.

Anyone have any examples of autocorrect errors that were humorous and even problematic?

Spiritually, our leaders are tasked with knowing what God desires and sharing that with the people. Sometimes they fail, like we'll see with Eli today. And other times the message is loud and clear, as we'll see with Samuel.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

1 Samuel 2:12–3:21

*** Last week we began our study of the book of 1 Samuel. We talked about Samuel’s mom, Hannah, and how her prayers and faithfulness to have a child were answered after years of desperation.

*** The end of the period of Israel being run by the judges was a time of immorality, chaos and idolatry. No matter how many times the people would suffer and call out to God for help, they would go back to their old ways.

*** God called Samuel to lead the people as He prepared them for the time of the monarchy.

A VOICE (1 Sam. 3:1-10)

1 The boy Samuel served the Lord in Eli’s presence. In those days the word of the Lord was rare and prophetic visions were not widespread. 2 One day Eli, whose eyesight was failing, was lying in his room. 3 Before the lamp of God had gone out, Samuel was lying down in the tabernacle of the Lord, where the ark of God was located. 4 Then the Lord called Samuel, and he answered, “Here I am.” 5 He ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” “I didn’t call,” Eli replied. “Go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down. 6 Once again the Lord called, “Samuel!” Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.” “I didn’t call, my son,” he replied. “Go back and lie down.” 7 Now Samuel had not yet experienced the Lord, because the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8 Once again, for the third time, the Lord called Samuel. He got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli understood that the Lord was calling the boy. 9 He told Samuel, “Go and lie down. If He calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 The Lord came, stood there, and called as before, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel responded, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.”

*** You better shape up, 'cause I need a man (to be a prophet).

--- Samuel was a boy at this time, possibly around 12, maybe older, taking care of tasks such as making sure the menorah kept burning through the night.

--- The Scripture makes it clear that God wasn't talking directly to His people during this time, likely due to the corruption of the religious leaders who were unworthy (1 Sam. 14:37; Ps. 74:9; Lam. 2:9; Amos 8:11, 12).

--- You can understand Samuel's confusion, then, since even though he slept within view of the Ark of the Covenant every night, he didn't know what God's voice sounded like.

(How many Christians can say the same thing, though, that even though the Lord speaks to us through His Word, it's not recognized?)

--- This is a good indication, then, that the Lord found favor with Samuel.

--- After a long period of silence, God was again speaking, and Samuel would be his messenger.

--- Symbolically the light in Israel was about to go out, but the ministry of Samuel would be the dawn of a new day and new hope.

*** Here am I, Lord, use me.

--- It takes a few tries to get through, but God kept calling until Samuel was ready to listen.

--- It can be that way for us today, too, when we are called to a task, to the ministry, to anything in God’s service, and we must yield to His call.

--- Eli had his failings as a priest (especially in how he let his sons get away with atrocious sins), but he recognized that God was speaking to Samuel and advised him on how to respond.

--- If we want to be receptive to the word of the Lord, we must not harden our hearts (As said in Hebrews 3:15 -As it is said: Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.).

--- A willing and receptive heart prepares us to hear from God.

*** Question - How can we prepare our hearts to hear God’s voice?

--- God still reaches people today, though we don’t have to wait for him to kick us awake with an angel. The Bible and the church are right here, and we grow in faith by reading the Word and gathering together.

A MESSAGE (1 Sam. 3:17-18)

17 “What was the message He gave you?” Eli asked. “Don’t hide it from me. May God punish you and do so severely if you hide anything from me that He told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything and did not hide anything from him. Eli responded, “He is the Lord. He will do what He thinks is good.”

*** The truth hurts.

--- Eli’s sons were bringing down the whole family of Eli. They were out of control, stealing offerings and sleeping with women who worked in God’s sanctuary.

--- Eli had not stopped his sons from defiling the temple, and in chapter 2 someone called a “man of God” prophesied to Eli about what was going to happen.

--- The man said that the sons, Hophni and Phinehas would die on the same day and die young and without an heir, and then a “faithful priest” would do God’s work.

--- By the time Samuel delivered God’s message to Eli, there was no longer any room for repentance. God had determined that the time for judgment had come.

--- The next morning Eli demands that Samuel tell him what God said, and after the boy tells reaffirms everything Eli had been warned about, Eli accepts God’s will.

--- Samuel is young and has been raised by the priest, so it surely took some steel nerves to tell him everything.

--- Eli in many ways is a tragic figure. Unwilling to keep his boys out of trouble and removing them from the priesthood, he could only respect God’s verdict without complaint.

--- However, Eli’s loyalties were divided. Jesus later said that allegiance to the cross takes priority over the natural ties of life:

Matthew 10:35-37 - For I came to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. The person who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; the person who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of me.

--- Later, for Eli’s sake, when the Israelites went off to war against the Philistines, Eli was far more concerned about the safety of the ark of the covenant than he was about the safety of his sons (4:13,17-18).

--- As Samuel didn’t hide from telling Eli what God had said, when we hear God’s Word, we in turn must share it without compromise.

*** Question - How can we end up failures not by own personal problems but by the people we love?

A PROPHET (1 Sam. 3:19-21)

19 Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him, and He fulfilled everything Samuel prophesied. 20 All Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a confirmed prophet of the Lord. 21 The Lord continued to appear in Shiloh, because there He revealed Himself to Samuel by His word.

*** My buddy and me.

--- God was right there as Samuel grew up on a path of godliness.

--- We don’t know everything that Samuel prophesied, but the Bible tells us that they all happened because as Peter wrote, a prophet does not speak on his own but is carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21).

--- Samuel’s fame spread around Israel, from Dan in the north to Beer-sheba in the south. (As we’d say, from “coast to coast.”)

--- From the perspective of the books of Samuel, it is God’s presence with someone that makes the difference between success and failure.

*** Question - Can you recall any time of crisis when one person arose with the faith and strength necessary to hold things together and enable people to make it through to the end of the trouble? Have you seen such a thing in a church, a business, or a family?

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

What would life be like if God revealed His will to you audibly, giving directions at every turn, like on a GPS? (And hopefully using Morgan Freeman's voice.)

What are some questions people would like God to answer? (Ex.: Should I take a new job? or Should I move to a new city?)

While God can speak in any way He chooses, most often He speaks to us through His Word, the Bible.

As Samuel grew, Eli helped him learn to recognize God’s voice.

Today we looked at the importance of recognizing God’s voice when He calls.

***God deeply desires to communicate with His children. God communicates directly to a quiet heart that is prepared to listen and obey.

*** Look for affirmations from others that reflect the direction God is leading. Look for how others are being impacted by what you are doing.

*** Ultimately, all Christians are called. We are called first and foremost to God Himself through Jesus Christ. We must first answer the call of the Lord concerning our salvation, and then we can begin to discern what it is He wants us to do with our life.