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.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Prayers answered!

My Life Group lesson for June 5, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...

Think of the word "entrust."

It makes a difference it makes in our lives when we understand that everything we have—family, friends, material possessions, physical health, spiritual gifts, time, and so forth—are gifts that God has entrusted to us.

In our study of 1 Samuel, we will be looking at the lives of several individuals to whom God entrusted great responsibility.

Today we will be discussing our responsibilities when God entrusts something to us.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

1 Samuel 1:1–2:11

*** We're studying the book of 1 Samuel for the next 12 weeks this summer.

*** 1 and 2 Samuel used to be one book in Hebrew texts. Jewish tradition says that Samuel wrote the first part of the book, which was continued by Nathan and Gad. But there had to be another, too, since the prophets lived at the same time as David.

*** 1 Samuel tells the history of Israel’s first kings and of wide-ranging wars and royal squabbles.

*** In the timeline of the Old Testament, Samuel lived about 1105–1030 B.C.

*** 1 Samuel comes after Judges, which ends with Israel in moral chaos and oppressed by the Philistines.

*** First, though, we meet Hannah, an Israelite woman who lived during this time of the judges (pre-Saul, David and the rise of kings).

*** Hannah could not have a child, and the book begins with an account of how God answered her prayers and gave her a son, Samuel.

HANNAH’S PRAYER (1 SAM. 1:10-11)

10 Deeply hurt, Hannah prayed to the LORD and wept with many tears. 11 Making a vow, she pleaded, “LORD of Hosts, if You will take notice of Your servant’s affliction, remember and not forget me, and give Your servant a son, I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and his hair will never be cut.”

*** The hand that rocks the cradle.

--- Hannah is one of the most sympathetic people in the Old Testament. She just wanted to have a child, to nurture and raise and to give her beloved husband Elkanah an heir.

--- Hannah wasn't just sad, the scripture says she was "deeply hurt."

--- The words translated as deeply hurt are literally “bitter of soul.” This is similar to how Naomi spoke of herself in Ruth 1:20: “Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara.” Mara is the Hebrew word found in 1 Samuel 1:10. As we shall see, Naomi and Hannah were in one respect in the same situation.

--- Elkanah even had a second wife, Peninnah, who was a real pill. Elkanah married her just so he could have kids to pass on his property, so she taunted Hannah constantly.

(Remember how Abraham had to deal with his servant having a child and shoving it in Sarah's face. Polygamy wasn't explicitly forbidden in the OT, but it never seemed to work out very well, either.)

--- The Bible makes clear that Elkanah loved Hannah more and deeply than Peninnah, but in that time it was so important for a man to have a son to pass on his property, and a woman needs children to care for her in old age.

--- If Elkanah died, Hannah might very well find herself kicked out of the home, and she wouldn't have anyone to help her.

--- Remember what happened to Naomi in the book of Ruth, whose husband passed and she needed a relative, Boaz, to take responsibility for Naomi and Ruth.

*** Question - Through prayer, Hannah directed her pain toward the Lord. Why is it important to be honest with God about our pains and frustrations?

What do we always say about prayer? To take all of your cares – your discouragement, your pain, your despair, your suffering – and give it to God? Hannah is a great example of someone who did just that.

*** Let's make a deal.

--- In her desperation Hannah prayed to the Lord for help, with a promise.

--- Hannah vowed that if God gave her a son, she would give him up to God and he would be a Nazirite (see Numbers 6:1-21 for the rules).

--- This meant that Samuel wouldn't touch anything dead, wouldn't cut his hair and wouldn't eat or drink grapes or anything made from grapes.

--- The vow usually was in force only for a short period of time to show devotion to God.

--- We know of only two men who were consecrated from birth to be lifelong Nazirites—Samson and Samuel. Both were born to women who had previously been barren, and both became judges in Israel.

*** Question - So what do you think that Hannah seems to be making a bargain with God?

--- Usually we say that someone doing that doesn't understand God or pray often. But even believers can be desperate enough to try to make a deal with Him because of illness, financial crisis, etc.

--- The Bible does not forbid the making of vows, but it does encourage restraint and forethought. (Numbers 30:1-6)

--- Ecclesiastes 5:4-5 says clearly: “When you make a vow to God, don’t delay fulfilling it, because He does not delight in fools. Fulfill what you vow. Better that you do not vow than that you vow and not fulfill it.”

--- God is free to answer a personal appeal as He wishes. He can accept the proposal, or not. God's gifts are according to His grace, not because we make a grand bargain.

--- We must never bargain with God, but if we make a vow to Him, it is sacred.

ELI’S AFFIRMATION (1 SAM. 1:12-18)

12 While she continued praying in the LORD’s presence, Eli watched her lips. 13 Hannah was praying silently, and though her lips were moving, her voice could not be heard. Eli thought she was drunk 14 and scolded her, “How long are you going to be drunk? Get rid of your wine!” 15 “No, my lord,” Hannah replied. “I am a woman with a broken heart. I haven’t had any wine or beer; I’ve been pouring out my heart before the LORD. 16 Don’t think of me as a wicked woman; I’ve been praying from the depth of my anguish and resentment.” 17 Eli responded, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant the petition you’ve requested from Him.” 18 “May your servant find favor with you,” she replied. Then Hannah went on her way; she ate and no longer looked despondent.

*** You got to pray just to make it today! (With apologies to MC Hammer.)

--- Hannah and her household were in Shiloh, which was an important religious center before the kings and where the Ark of the Covenant was kept.

--- Eli the high priest is sitting nearby and sees Hannah praying so hard and emotionally that he thinks she is drunk. (Like the people who thought the followers were drunk during Pentecost.)

--- It’s possible that Eli’s never seen anyone actually pray so fervently. Or he’s seen too many people make a show out of praying just to look holy.

--- When Eli realized that Hannah wasn’t drunk but was pouring out her spirit to the Lord, he comes around and blesses her effort that God would give her as she asks.

--- He didn’t know what she wanted, but prayed for her “unspoken request” nonetheless.

*** How Hannah got her groove back.

--- After her prayer and Eli’s blessing Hannah is at peace. She looks good, and even gets her appetite back.

--- Her circumstances hadn’t changed, but she changed after casting her cares on the Lord. She left it in His hands.

--- Psalm 55:22 says to “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.”

--- In other words, God’s got this.

--- In this case, God blessed Hannah with a son, Samuel, who grew up to be a great man of God and the last of the judges.

*** Question - If you could ask God any question about prayer, what would it be?

(The disciples even asked Jesus how to pray correctly. We want to be worshipful, we want our prayers heard.)

HANNAH’S PRESENTATION (1 SAM. 1:26-28)

26 “Please, my lord,” she said, “as sure as you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the LORD. 27 I prayed for this boy, and since the LORD gave me what I asked Him for, 28 I now give the boy to the LORD. For as long as he lives, he is given to the LORD.” Then he bowed in worship to the LORD there.

*** I love it when a plan comes together.

--- God answered Hannah’s prayer, and Hannah kept her vow.

--- As soon as they got back home Hannah got pregnant and had Samuel.

(Various meanings of the name “Samuel” have been suggested, including “heard by God,” “he who is from God,” “name of God,” and even “son of God” (as one “given” or “promised” by God).)

*** Ultimate child dedication service.

--- As soon as Hannah weaned Samuel, she took him to Eli so that Samuel would be of service to the Lord.

(At the child dedication two Sundays ago, you would have left your kids with Pastor David and said, “Here you go.”)

--- Eli didn’t adopt Samuel, but took on the role of father and mentor to his young apprentice.

--- Hannah went back home where she was even more blessed with three other sons and two daughters.

--- 1 Samuel 2:19 says that while Samuel grew in the temple, Hannah, every year, sent him a little robe. She’s still his mom!

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Nothing gets our prayer life going like being desperate.

When we’re at rock bottom, hopeless, helpless, ready to surrender, God does His best work.

God uses our troubles and our faith to bring out what’s best for us according to His will.

Question - What was a time when you have experienced a change of attitude as a result of praying about a difficult situation?

This chapter is about an ordinary woman who was in great distress and who prayed to God.

This is what gives it such appeal. Life is made up of the struggles of ordinary people, and while God’s work may have meant deliverance for Israel, it also meant deliverance for the private torments of one person.

When praying know that there is a specific reason the Lord has led you to the place you are currently in, with the people currently around you, with the job or no job you currently have, and in the specific time period you currently live in.

Paul wrote to the Philippians (4:6-7): Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

*** Think of your greatest disappointment in life at this moment. Take time to pray about this issue, following the example set by Hannah.

*** Don’t give up. Give it up to a gracious and holy God.

*** Think of one area of your life in which you need to be a more faithful steward of what God has given you.