Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Lengths We Will Go

I feel kind of sorry for Saul in a way. His pride ended up costing him the kingship over Israel. It's kind of a metaphor for when we decide that we know better than God.

Saul abandoned God and so God said he was taking the kingdom from Saul. It's possible that if Saul had really repented and been healed from his pride and arrogance that God might have changed His mind, but then again, God knew Saul wouldn't change.

So Saul in 1 Samuel 28 faces a major adversary. He knows he is incapable so he tries to seek the Lord. But it was way too late for that. God was letting Saul have what he wanted, autonomy. You can't have it both ways with God. Either you trust and cling to Him or you don't.

So Saul ended up seeking out a medium - something specifically prohibited by the Law of Moses and something even Saul himself had outlawed. But apparently wasn't really interested in hearing from God, he just wanted advice from whatever superstitious supernatural source he could find.

Let's not make that mistake. First, cling to the Lord and let Him renovations on your soul to rid you from pride and independence. Secondly, if when you seek the Lord you don't get an answer don't just go out and get any advice you can. Wait on the Lord. Sometimes no answer is the answer.

Pastor Tom

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Serving Interests

In 1 Samuel 22 and 23 there is a great contrast between Israel's current king, Saul, and its future ruler, David. It shows us the difference between serving our own interests and God's.

David had been anointed king after Saul disobeyed God in the battle with the Amalekites. Saul was trying to kill David, and so David had fled. At Nob David had been spotted by an Edomite on the payroll of Saul (by the way - what was Saul doing consorting with an Edomite who were sworn enemies of Israel?).

So we see Saul coming down to Nob saying "Why have you conspired against me, you and the son of Jesse, in that you have given him bread and a sword and have inquired of God for him, so that he has risen against me, to lie in wait, as is this day?"

The accusations were not true, of course, but Saul was deluded and was willing to commit murder in order to protect something God had given him but that he had squandered (the kingship). Saul had Doeg the Edomite kill Ahimelech and all the priests at Nob - a terrible crime.

Then we see David in chapter 23. He is not yet king but when he hears that the Philistines were attacking a city he asked God if he should go and fight against the Philistines and God said "Go and attack the Philistines and save Keilah."

Here is David, being chased by Saul and under a death sentence, and he is less worried about his own life than in protecting the lives of God's people. Pretty gutsy and it shows us a model: David looked out for God's interests, not his own. Sometimes it's good for us to take a look at whether what we are doing solely serves us at the detriment of others, or serves God sometimes to our own hurt.

Pastor Tom

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Attracting the Unattractive

1 Samuel 22:1-2 David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. And when his brothers and all his father's house heard it, they went down there to him. 2 And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became captain over them. And there were with him about four hundred men.

At first blush it sounds as if David got a pretty raw deal there at the cave - all the miscreants and no-gooders from Israel went to him!

But you know what happened? David was such a good leader, a god fearing and obeying man, and a role model, that the men who started as as bitter and in distress ended up being molded into a cohesive fighting force of patriots never again seen in Israel. David transformed this group of baddies into a kingdom.

Did you know that the Son of David, Jesus Christ, also attracted the sinners and outcasts of His day? You'd think then that the group of disciples and believers would be the lowest of the low and not worth much.

But the transforming power of Jesus touched the lives of those rejected and accepted them into His kingdom. He cleanses the sin, He changes the heart, He bandages up the wounds and transforms us into His glory for His glory.

Don't think that God is of the opinion that he got a raw deal. Jesus loves you and if you belong to Him he calls you friend (John 15:15)

Pastor Tom

Monday, March 26, 2007

Values Exchange

King Saul of Israel had a choice. Samuel the Prophet had delivered the command from God: destroy everything of the Amalekites, including all the oxen and sheep. Saul went to war as God told him but something happened on the way to victory that cost Saul dearly.

1 Samuel 15:9 "But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fatted calves and the lambs and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction."

That one act cost Saul the kingdom. Saul's problem (one of them anyway) was that he misjudged what was important to God. When Samuel anointed Saul king he hid away showing to others that he felt little of himself. In doing so he denigrated the fact that whom God chooses God uses. Later here we see him misjudge what is of value to God. Saul perhaps thought that God wouldn't mind if he decided what should be kept. Not only was that wrong, it was also disobedient.

Just because the Word of God doesn't seem to make sense doesn't mean we have the option to disobey. When Jesus said "Pray for your enemies" He didn't mean "pray for your enemies except those you want to blast off the face of the earth!"

God's values are not the same as our human values. When it comes down to a choice I encourage us to determine what God considers worthy and focus on those things.

Pastor Tom

Friday, March 23, 2007

Mixing It Up

Judges 17:3-4 And his mother said, "'I dedicate the silver to the Lord from my hand for my son, to make a carved image and a metal image. Now therefore I will restore it to you.' 4 So when he restored the money to his mother, his mother took 200 pieces of silver and gave it to the silversmith, who made it into a carved image and a metal image."

This is an unbelievable story that gets even more weird, but shows how we humans get our gods all mixed up.

The period in which this story happened was among the darkest in Israel's history. The people had allowed the religions of the land to infiltrate their lives and they didn't pay close attention to their relationship with Yahweh.

So here we have a son who stole money from his mom. When she finds out instead of punishing him like a good parent she tries to turn it into some kind of religious expression.

How could she think that she could dedicate something to the LORD (the capital L-O-R-D stands for the name of God: Yahweh) and then use it to make a carved image, which is something God specifically prohibited (Exodus 20:4) and was used to worship gods other than Yahweh?

Do we sometimes make the same mistake, though? You can't just say "I'm giving this money to the Lord" and then turn around and use it to buy something that creates sin or temptation in yourself or others. Neither can you dedicate your life to Jesus then pray to Buddha just to "cover your bases." Just be clear about it. Either you are serving God or you are not serving Him. Don't try to mix hot and cold water. That results in luke warm, something God will spew out of His mouth (Revelation 3:16).

God wants an exclusive relationship with you, and the only way to have it is through a one-on-one relationship with His Son Jesus.

Pastor Tom

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Quick - Send for the Ark!

The story in Judges 4 - 6 is one of the saddest in Israeli history. I don't know what got into the minds of the elders of Israel, but they had the brilliant idea of bringing the Ark of the Covenant into battle with the Philistines thinking that "it may come among us save us from the power of our enemies." (4:3) What were they thinking?

The Ark was taken, of course, and the battle lost. You can't superstitiously use God as a magic talisman to do your bidding. You can't put God in a box. Perhaps they saw the Ark used at Jericho and thought that was some kind of formula for using God's power. There is no formula. You don't use God, He uses you.

So, interestingly enough, once the Ark goes to the Philistines all kinds of bad things happen to them. I think that may be where the scene in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark came from - you know - where the Nazi symbol is burned black and where the beautiful-then ugly creatures come out and attack the Nazis who opened the Ark?

So what's the difference? Well, for one thing, I think that while the Israelites denigrated Yahweh - knowing full well who He was - the Philistines thought they had captured a god and put him on par with Dagon, their god. They didn't know Yahweh, but soon found out.

Yahweh will compete with no one, so that's why Dagon and his followers suffered. It wasn't the Ark as much as the Lord of the Ark.

So what's the lesson? Religious rituals, beads, rote prayers, or even just using God's name indiscriminately, will not get you anywhere but defeated. Call out to the Lord and through yourself on His mercy and allow Him to use you. He'll quickly turn defeat to His glory.

Pastor Tom

Friday, March 16, 2007

Infant Baptism or Dedication?

There is a lot of controversy between Christians on this topic. Many believe that infants should be baptised. I myself was baptised as an infant. I don't knock anyone who holds to this, though I personally think that baptism should be the choice of someone who gives their heart to Jesus. Baptism itself does not save you but what it represents, a heart washed by the blood of Jesus (see 1 Peter 3:21).

So for many Christians there is an alternative: dedication.

Where does this come from? 1 Samuel chapter 1. There we read about Hannah who was barren. She prayed to God and he granted her a son: Samuel. Hannah said that if she were to have a son that "then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life..." (1 Samuel 1:11).

There is no Scriptural mandate to dedicate children in this way. But it is a great story that acknowledges that 1) children belong to the Lord and that 2) we should create an environment where our children can serve the Lord all of their days.

Ephesians 6:4 tells us to bring up our children in the training and admonition of the Lord. Many Christians find it a blessing to have the pastor, themselves, and the congregation of their church pray for this effort as they publicly dedicate the child to the Lord.

Again, nothing mystical about it and nothing really happens, except perhaps that the Lord hears and answers the prayers!

Pastor Tom

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The World Loves You (?)

Judges 16:4 "And after this he loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. And the lords of the Philistines came up to her and said to her, 'Seduce him, and see where his great strength lies, and by what means we may overpower him, that we may bind him to humble him.'"

Samson loved a woman of the Philistines, and later she used this love as a hook to get Samson to tell her the secret of his strength (which was God in him - and when he told them about his hair he was breaking the Nazirite vow and God's Spirit left him at that point).

Delilah didn't really love Samson, she was a plant by the enemy to make Samson ineffective.

If you think about your relationship with the world - the world is full of Delilahs: beauty and fame and riches and power. They seem like they are your friends and you can easily fall in love with them (even if you don't end up attaining them).

But the world doesn't love you. Sin and temptation are there as plants of the enemy, Lucifer, to get you to compromise and give up the secret of your strength (the Holy Spirit in you). Unlike Samson, if you are a Christian God doesn't take salvation or his Spirit away from you every time you sin, but it does hurt your effectiveness and fellowship with God.

Don't be fooled by fained love by the world.

Pastor Tom

Monday, March 12, 2007

Loving What You Hate and Vice Versa

Judges 14:3 "...But Samson said to his father, "Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes." Samson saw something appealing in a Philistine woman - a people God would call him to destroy. How could he love an enemy of God?

You probably know the story of Samson. Israel rebelled against God and so the Philistines oppressed them until they cried out for a deliverer. That person was Samson. But when Samson grew up his first encounter with the Philistines was that he lusted after one of their women. This woman later became a real snare to him (not Delilah, that comes later).

It took this incident and others to show Samson who the enemy was. For those of us who call on Jesus as Lord and Savior, sometimes the world around us appears very attractive. We see the success of others, the appeal of beauty and sensual pleasure or the power of money and fame. Sometimes it takes a real taste of that to see how much of enemy to your spiritual life these things can be.

Now I am not suggesting that you live in sin in order to know God better. But I think it is sometimes true that the bitter taste we get from trying to be satisfied with the world can lead us to our true mission: to put to death the deeds of the flesh.

Think back on the true results of sinful behavior. Paul in Galatians 6 says that if you sow to the flesh you will from the flesh reap corruption, or death. Look beyond the shiny appearance and see the slavery and death that await you. Learn from Samson and identify your enemies early.

Pastor Tom

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Problem With Fleeces

You probably know the story of Gideon; how God called him and how Gideon wanted a sign to know if God was going to deliver Israel by his hand. We find the story in Judges 6.

Gideon asked for a sign and many Christians have used what Gideon asked for as a way to gauge God's will. I'm not so sure that's wise.

Judges 6:37 "Behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said."

God did as Gideon asked, but that didn't satisfy him so he then asked for the opposite: that the fleece be dry and the ground wet. Now God doesn't fault Gideon for doing this so I'm not saying that he did anything wrong.

But often we use a "fleece" as a way to judge God's will. I think this is a mistake. We treat God like tea leaves: we ask that if a door opens it means we are to walk through it. We ask that if someone says a particular thing to us that it means a particular way is the right way.

I'm not convinced this works. I think we end up walking through doors we really shouldn't and relying on "signs" instead of the Spirit's witness in our lives.

So how to determine God's will? Ask Him and check your attitude about it (James 1:8). Seek his peace in your heart and test the answer by the fruit of the Spirit and the wisdom from heaven (Galatians 5:22, (James 3:1-17). Finally, if it will bring God glory then it's probably okay. God expects us to depend on Him and use our heads as to what is reasonable.

As a good pastor friend of mine says: it is hard to miss the will of God if you just love him.

Pastor Tom

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Finishing The Task

After rebellion in the desert, a re-born Israel started out great in the Promised Land. So what happened?

Israel finishes up in Joshua on a high note having driven out the people who inhabited the land that God gave them. And they start out great in Judges where now individual tribes take on the Canaanites and win.

But something happens in Judges 1:27 "Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of ..." That same phrase is repeated over and over again. It's almost like the Israelites grew tired of the battles and just gave up, allowing the Canaanites to live with them in the land. What a mistake!

God told them to completely wipe out the Canaanites or they would become a snare that would lead Israel into idolatry and rebellion once again. And that's exactly what happened.

I think the lesson for us is to not give up on getting rid of the flesh and wordly influences in our lives. We get saved and forgiven but the old nature still tries to bring us down from within and the world system around us tries to draw us away from God.

In the meantime the Holy Spirit is in the process of transforming us into God's image. He does this through our relationship with Him and through trials. James tells us to let those trials have their perfect work. In other words, let the process continue. Don't get to a certain point and think you have arrived as a believer. You may find yourself being drawn away or down. A boat in a river will always float downstream unless someone is paddling.

Pastor Tom

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

You Can't Do It

Joshua 24:19 "You are not able to serve the Lord for He is a holy God."

Believe it or not this verse is very hopeful. For many generations the Jews thought they could do it. They thought that they were capable of actually serving God enough to be His people.

I wish they had taken Joshua's words to heart. Just before this Joshua tells the people to make a choice: serve the gods of Egypt where you came from or Canaan where you are, or serve the Lord - but make a choice.

They said they chose to serve God but Joshua knew better. He knew the fallen human nature would be drawn off to sensuality and practicality and that their hearts would go away from faith in God.

If only they had fallen on their faces and said "we know we are incapable of serving this holy God. Lord have mercy on us and help us!"

If only we'd do that too. The only way we can serve God is to have His holiness. And the only way to have that is to get it by giving your life to Jesus Christ then living day by day by the power of the Spirit; yielding your life to Him and yielding your desires and weaknesses to Him.

Choose you this day whom you will serve ... but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (by His power)!

Pastor Tom

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Getting A Raw Deal from God

At a certain point in our Christian walk we begin trusting God. We start small; asking small things and getting small answers. It boosts our faith to begin asking for bigger things and entrust to God situations in our lives that really matter to us. You'd think that the more faith we have, the more maturity we have, the more likely God will answer us. Not so.

As the children of Israel settled the Promised Land God gave out large portions of property to the various tribes. I'm sure the various tribal leaders were excited to learn what God was giving them after they had worked so hard to take the land from the Canaanites.

But one tribe got this response: Joshua 18:7 "The Levites have no portion among you, for the priesthood of the Lord is their inheritance."

So, in other words, they served in the Temple (or Tabernacle at that time) and that was it. Yes, they got some towns to live in, but no huge tracts of land to own and look over and say "that's my spread!" Perhaps they were a little jealous of their other brethren. After all, it was their faithfulness to God against sin that got them named as priests. What did their loyalty get them really?

Sometimes we might feel that same way. We grow in God, we mature, we learn right from wrong, we stand up for God in situations, we allow ourselves to be used by Him and we give up lots of stuff others, even younger Christians, don't give up. And yet God still doesn't give us materially what we wish for. We are still struggling financially or with our health or relationships and we wonder why.

We need to take a lesson from the Levites. They got the better part of the bargain. Material things will waste away and will eventually burn. The best thing is knowing God personally and spending time in His presence. That's what heaven will be like.

So why not rejoice that you can come boldly into the throne room of God at any time; that you can worship Him and have Him inhabit your praises? Let God be your inheritance.

Pastor Tom

Friday, March 02, 2007

It Takes A While

Joshua 11:18 "Joshua made war a long time with all these kings."

We like to think of God moving quickly when we are in need. In fact, even when we read passages like the conquest of Canaan we are left with the feeling that God just swept in and in a couple of days all the enemies were toast. Not so.

That's why it's interesting to read Joshua 11:18. Just so we don't think that it happened overnight, God tells us that Joshua fought "a long time." That meant many days fighting on the battlefield and many nights sleeping on the ground. It meant many times when he had to rely on God just to survive and many times when he saw God come through in the pinch.

God does the same with us. We get very impatient, especially when He's given us the promise that He will be victorious on our behalf. We want answers now and we don't want to have fight anything or anyone to get it. But the flesh, the world, and the enemy stand in our way and they are not easily defeated.

We too must spend many days in the battle, and many nights away from comfort. The process of changing a life into the image of God takes time. Victory takes time. Let God take the time He needs in you to win the battle on your behalf because it is just as much about changing you through the battle than winning the battle for you.

God is patient, the victory is ours in Christ Jesus. We need to be patient too.

Pastor Tom