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Series on Faith in God

We are continuing on in our series on Faith in God. As Scripture tells us we need faith to receive God’s promises. James says without faith we should not “expect to receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:7). But Jesus tells us that with faith, “all things are possible” (Mark 9:23). All that God has for us is made available to us by faith.

We also talked about how there are three parts to faith:

  1. A word from God, which gives us something to stand on.
  2. Firm trust in God and God’s word.
  3. And appropriate action based on his word to us.

We need all three of these to have the kind of faith that receives from God.

But the sad fact is that in various ways we often get off track in our attempt to have faith in God and to receive God’s promises. We will focus on one particular problem today, which is rooted in the first part of faith, having something from God to stand on. When we try to act in faith without a word from God, this is called –

Presumption

Here’s an illustration from everyday life. I have faith in my wife that she is kind and hospitable. But if I invite over a large group of people for dinner without her saying it’s OK, well, that is presuming upon her and would likely have dire consequences for me!

To be presumptuous is to move forward with unwarranted confidence. It’s to have misplaced assurance. In the things of God our confidence is unwarranted because it’s not based on a word from God.

Now easy examples of this have to do with when Jesus will return. Not too long ago Harold Camping and his followers proclaimed that May 21, 2011 as the day. Do you remember? These people really believed. They had certainty (the second part of faith). They even had actions of sacrifice and boldness (the third part of faith). But nothing came of it because it was not based on God’s word (the first part of faith). They found themselves waiting for God to act, when God never said he would.

The point today is that we need to make sure that we are standing on God’s word with our faith; that what we claim as a word from God is indeed a word from God. Otherwise, although we may look like we have faith, it’s simply presumption or fake faith; it’s a cheap substitute.

Now there are many –

Different paths that lead to presumption

I will just give a few examples today. 1. You misunderstand a word from God. This is quite common. For instance, you might say, if I raise my child right, they will become a Christian. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”  Well, this is a proverb, not a promise. It talks about the way things usually work out. Not the way it always works out. So this doesn’t give us a guaranteed end result for every person. And as we know from other Scriptures we must all make our own moral choices in the end.

Another exampleif I have faith, my whole family will eventually be saved. Acts 16:31 says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” This is a misunderstanding of the context of the verse. Paul is saying that the promise of salvation by faith is not just for the Philippian jailer, but for everyone in his household. That is, if they believe, they too will be saved. He’s not saying that if he believes his whole household will be saved or will eventually be saved. Again, each of us have to make our choices. They can’t be made for us.

Another path to presumption is when 2. You claim a promise that has conditions, but you don’t meet them. For instance, God will always forgive me. You read the last part of Matthew 6:14 – “your heavenly Father will forgive you,” and you say, ‘Hey I prayed for forgiveness and God has promised to forgive me. I am standing on this promise!’ But you left out the “if” part; the first part of the verse. There’s a condition. It says, “if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” You won’t receive the blessing of forgiveness, unless you meet the condition of forgiving others.

Many of God’s promises have such conditions that we need to be aware of.

Another path to presumption is when 3. You trust in your own plan to fulfill God’s promise. You act without listening to how God wants to bring it to fulfillment.

Genesis 16 tells the story of Sarah and Abraham who come up with a plan to get their promised son through Hagar the servant. But this wasn’t God’s will; this wasn’t God’s plan. And it caused many problems.

Another example can be seen in Matthew 26. Peter knew that God’s kingdom was being made real through Jesus. But when the police came to arrest Jesus he took a sword and cut off a man’s ear. He thought he could make the kingdom of God come by violence, instead of the suffering love of the cross; in his own way and not God’s way.

When you act on your own to fulfill God’s plan you end up further from the blessing (not closer). And it makes a mess of things.

A final example of a path to presumption is when 4. You take a general promise and make it rigidly apply to you. You take God’s general will, and say it has to happen to you in a certain way or time.

For instance, Psalm 91 talks about the one “who dwells in the shelter of the Almighty” – and it says some pretty amazing things:

  • 10 – “no evil (harm) shall be allowed to befall you.”
  • 14 – “I will deliver him, I will protect him.”
  • 15 – “I will rescue him.”
  • 16 – “with long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

So you say, ‘this is what the Word says, God will protect me from all harm and give me a long life.’ Well, what should we make of Paul’s many trials which he enumerates in several of his letters, not to mention the trials of our Lord. Or the promise that it is through many trials that we must enter the kingdom? Act 14:22.

No, this Psalm talks about the way God works in general. God loves to deliver his own and bless them. But this doesn’t always happen, just as the righteous don’t always have long lives in this world. But this Psalm does speak to how it will be in the end for each of us. We will be delivered and blessed and live life eternal without evil or harm.

Now, if you get a specific word from God by the Spirit that says, he’s ready to deliver you or to keep it from coming to you in the first place, this allows you to have something specific to stand on, to pray in bold faith.

The difference between faith and presumption

Let’s look at the big picture. This is how real faith works: 1) We have a word from God as a foundation to stand on. 2) We have firm trust in God and God’s word to us. And 3) we have appropriate action. And then God comes through for us and we receive the blessings.

But when we 1) have no word from God to stand on, 2) we have misplaced trust, and 3) we will have wrong actions; not in accord with God’s will. And we receive nothing from God. And we will likely look foolish and cause others to scoff or stumble.

So it’s really important to learn –

How to avoid presumption

And the key here is to discern God’s will. Here are some things that will help guard us from presuming upon God.

1. Know God’s word. Know what God’s will and promises are, what the context and scope of each promise is, and any conditions that apply.

2. Know God’s voice. Now this isn’t always easy. But you can get to know what God’s voice is like. It’s clear, pure and different than you. And of course, always check any such word against the word of God which is our standard.

3. Only claim general promises in a general way. We can only stand in faith on as much as we have from God.

A good example of this comes from Daniel 3:17-18. The three young men were about to be thrown into the fiery furnace. And they said, “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” They are saying, ‘God can do it, but even if he doesn’t we are fine with that.’ God loves to deliver the righteous, but he doesn’t always.

If you want more specificity in a case, pray and ask for it. “God what is your will?” “How do you want me to pray?” And then you can pray with bold faith. But short of something more from God, ask, but leave it open to what God chooses to do.

4. Ask others for discernment. Ask other Christians, ‘Do I have something from God here?’ Let them see if it rings true to them. This is one of the ways we can help each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord.

I want to end with a Scripture that sums up what I’m saying today from –

1 John 5:14-15

“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.”

He’s talking about firm faith or as he says, “confidence” toward God. And he makes the point that our faith comes to fruition if “we ask . . . according to his (God’s) will.” That’s when we receive what “we have asked of him.”

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Series: Faith in God

Last week we looked at the importance of faith. It’s crucial to our Christian lives because as James (1:7) tells us, without it, we should not “expect to receive anything from the Lord.” But with faith, as Jesus tells us (Mark 9:23) “all things are possible.” All that God has for us is made available to us by faith. This is how we receive from God.

Today we look at the kind of faith that receives from God, getting a bit more specific. There are actually three parts to faith. And if you want to receive from God, you need all three of these working in your life.

Let’s jump right in. First of all, you need –

1. A word from God

You need something from God concerning his will and his purpose to believe in. You need something to stand on; something to claim that comes from God, not from your own mind or what someone else thought up.

Jeremiah 23:16 speaks of “vain hopes” that are not based on God’s word, but the words of people who have not heard from God. And this is what our faith is if it’s not based on what God says – “vain hope.” Rather, as the Psalmist says to God, we are to “hope in your word” – Psalm 119:114.

What we need is a knowledge of God’s promises; an understanding of God’s word; and the ability to hear God’s voice by the Spirit speaking to us. This is what makes faith possible.

As we saw last week, Abraham had a promise from God for a son. He had something from God to stand on.

  • In Genesis 12:2 the Lord said, “I will make you a great nation,” which means he has to have a child.
  • God said in Genesis 12:7, “To your offspring I will give this land.”
  • And in Genesis 17:16 God said more specifically, “I will give you a son by Sarah.”

As we see in this example, from “the man of faith” as Paul calls him (Galatians 3:9) our faith must be grounded in a word from God. Without this it’s fake faith; it’s simply presumption on our part, not faith. Without a word from God we will find ourselves vainly waiting on God to do something he never said he would do! We’ll talk more about this in a later message.

Second, you need –

2. Firm trust

I also call this “faith proper,” because this is what Scripture usually means when it talks about faith.

Hebrews 11:1 speaks of this. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” First of all, we have “things hoped for” and “things not seen.” These refer to what we are looking for God to do, based on his word to us. What we are hoping for but can’t see yet.

The firm trust is referred to by the word “assurance”, or it can also be translated “confidence.” And also by the word “conviction” which can be translated “certainty.” So, firm trust means being sure of God’s word to us. Being certain in our hearts that what God has said to us, God can and will do.

Abraham trusted in God’s promise to him. After hearing that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, it says, “he believed the Lord” – Genesis 15:6. That is, he trusted in God and God’s promise to him.

As Paul says, “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” – Romans 4:20-21. He had nothing to go on in the natural; they were both too old to have children. But he had “an assurance of things hoped for” – a promise from God; and a “conviction of things not seen” – that God would give him a son.

He trusted that what God told him would come to pass; that his circumstances wouldn’t remain the same. He was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” – which is an excellent definition of firm trust. We too need to be fully convinced that God is able to do what he promises us.

Finally, we need –

3. Appropriate action

– which flows from our certainty in God’s promise. Paul calls this the “obedience of faith” – Romans 1:5. This has to do with our actions of obedience to God in light of the promises that God gives us.

Abraham is an example. He acted on his faith in a way appropriate to the promise given to him. He left his family and home behind. He moved to Canaan. He waited for a son.

You can see his certainty in the way he acted. He would’ve never done these things if it weren’t for the promise and his firm trust in God and God’s promise. In the same way, when we are truly convinced of God’s word to us, it will show up in our actions. 

As Jesus said, a “tree is known by its own fruit” (Luke 6:44). What is within us, in our heart, whether faith or unbelief – is made known in our words and actions, what comes out of us. There is a correspondence between what is inside us and what comes out of us; the fruit of our lives.

A sure sign that we don’t really trust God is that we will hesitate to act on God’s promises. And conversely, when we have true faith, we are willing to act on that.

Putting these three parts together faith is trusting in and acting on God’s word to us.  We hear God’s word, we fully trust God in our hearts, and this flows out into how we live our lives.

So this is –

The kind of faith that receives from God

We need, not just one part or two parts, but all three.

  1. You need a word from God as a foundation.
  2. You need firm trust in this word from God.
  3. You need appropriate actions that flow out of this certainty and make your faith complete.

You need all three to receive from God.

And, in fact, all three of these are a part of the Greek word for faith:

1. This word can be translated as “the faith,” referring to what we believe , or God’s word to us. Jude 3 says, “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to you.” (Other examples: Galatians 1:23; 3:23, 25; 1 Timothy 4:1, 6; 6:21)

2. Or it can be translated as “faith” meaning firm trust, which is the most common meaning. Just to give one example, in Mark 11:22 Jesus says, “Have faith in God” that is, trust in God and God’s promises.

3. Or this word can be translated as “faithfulness.” For instance, in Galatians 5:22, “faithfulness” is one of the fruits of the Spirit. It refers to our actions of faith. (Other examples: Matthew 23:23; Romans 3:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:4)

(The context determines whether it means on specific part of faith or all of them).

These are all a part of faith, and we need them all if we want to receive from God.

This, then, brings us to –

God’s faithfulness

When we have all three parts of faith working in our lives, the result is that we receive what God has for us. God comes through on his word to us; God acts on our behalf!

God is always faithful on his end. As Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:24 – “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” He will do what he says he will do.

Abraham had faith and so he received the promise of a son. Isaac was born to him 25 years after the promise was originally given (Genesis 21). God came through for him. And God will come through for us as well.

Let me emphasize again, as I said last week –

Our faith is key

We have looked at four things today:

  1. God gives us a word
  2.  We trust in God’s word to us
  3.  We act in faith
  4.  God acts to fulfill his promise

Notice that God begins the process, and God ends it. But we have a crucial role in the middle connecting the beginning and the end. Our faith is the bridge between what God promises and what God does. (God has chosen for it to be this way)

Faith is what gets us from the promise to the reality. Before God acts to fulfill his promise we must trust and we must act on our faith (#2 and #3). God wants to see us trust and act first.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Our faith isn’t anything in itself. It’s just like the completion of a circuit so that the electricity can flow through it. It’s the electricity, or power of God that’s the big deal. God flows through our faith and then works his will in this world, bringing promise into reality.

This is what I think: God has tons of blessings, and he wants to pour them out. God want to use us in amazing ways. But we only receive a small amount. We are limited by our lack of vision and so that’s all we get. We need faith so that we can receive all that God wants to give us.

As we end, let me share with you a –

A call to faith

We are studying and praying about how God wants to use each one of us to lead people closer to Christ; that they might know him and walk in his ways. Whether that is planting seeds or harvesting, or whatever.

God’s will for us is to “make disciples of all peoples.” And this comes with the promise that Jesus is “with us always to the end of the age” to help us do this – Matthew 28:19-20. This is our foundation; a word from God for us.

And so we need to choose to have firm trust in God that he can and will use us. We don’t look at the outward circumstances – “I’m too shy,” or “I don’t know what to say,” or “I’m not good at this,” or “I don’t know many people.” We trust that God can use us.  We know that God spoke to Balaam through a donkey, so I’m pretty sure he can use me and you!

And we need to act when God opens doors for us to share with others. When the door opens, we should be courageous to speak, or serve or listen or bless – or whatever is called for in the situation, to help the person toward Christ.

Do you have this kind of faith? This is the faith that brings God’s promises into reality. This is the faith that makes all things possible. And this is the faith that I am calling you to, so that God might use you to touch people’s lives.

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Series: Faith in God

I want to begin a series today on Faith in God. Faith is absolutely central to our lives as followers of Jesus and I want to encourage you in your faith as we go through this. And this especially so, since we as a congregation are all seeking to have God work through us during this year of discernment; that God might use us to bring people to know him.

Now, when you talk about faith certainly Abraham comes to mind. In fact, in Galatians 3:9 Paul calls him simply “the man of faith.” So I want us to look at his story, and specifically at –

Abraham’s faith in God’s promise of a child

Now this story covers ten whole chapters in Genesis, but don’t worry, I’m gonna squeeze it down for you and go through it quickly.

First of all, in Genesis 12: He receives the promise. Abraham was seventy-five years old and living in Haran. And God spoke to him, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation. . .” (12:1-2)

Of course, to be a great nation means that he will have a child. And this was a big deal because Sarah couldn’t have children (11:30). Nevertheless, in faith, he packed his bags and all that he owned and went to Canaan. And once he got to there, God reaffirmed the promise in 12:7,  “to your offspring I will give this land.”

 Well, time passes. He goes to Egypt and fears for his life and then comes back. He splits the land for grazing with Lot, his nephew. And he has to rescue Lot after he is taken captive. But there is no child yet.

This brings us to Chapter 15: Where God confirms the promise. (See too the encouragement in chapter 13:14-17). And here we see Abraham’s humanity come out.

God spoke to him again about blessing him. But Abraham said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless . . . you have given me no offspring.” (15:2-3)

Then God said, “. . . your very own son shall be your heir.’ And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’” (15:4-5)

And after this amazing promise it says, Abraham “believed the Lord . . ..” (15:6). He had faith in God.

And then Abraham said, “How am I to know that I shall possess it?” (15:8). This is an honest question. He was already old. How would he know that this will happen after he is gone? And so God let him see into the future, and God made a covenant with him – a guarantee (according to the culture of that day) and then reiterated, “to your offspring I give this land . . ..” (15:18)

Next, Abraham tries to fulfill the promise on his own, through Sarah’s servant Hagar, who bore him a son named Ishmael. And this caused a great deal of conflict in his household.

This brings us to Genesis 17-18: Where God confirms the promise again. God changed his name from Abram to Abraham. God said, “for I have made you the father of many nations.” He speaks of it as if it is already done. And now Abraham has as his name “father of many nations.” How ironic that everyone calls him this, “father of many nations,” even though he has no child from Sarah.

God said to him – “I will give you a son by her” (v. 16), that is Sarah, his wife. And Abraham laughed (v. 17) because they were so old! Abraham is now 99 years old, and Sarah is 90.

Abraham asked, “Why not Ishmael?” You know, this would be a lot easier. But God said no. The son will come from Sarah and the name will be Isaac, which means “he laughs,” because Abraham laughed. And then God said that it would happen within a year (v. 21).

Then we have another story where Sarah laughs about having a child. Then Lot is rescued from the destruction of Sodom. And we have another story of Abraham’s weakness, where he was afraid he would die.

And then, sure enough, a year later, in Genesis 21: Isaac is born!

“The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him.” (21:1-2)

Abraham got off track at times, he was afraid, he questioned, he laughed about the promise, but he believed. And because he believed, he received the promise. He was 100 years old. And he had waited for 25 years.

Let’s look briefly at some –

Lessons on faith from this story

1. Be prepared for the unusual. God often works in unusual ways. He does it his way, not necessarily what we want. We want things to be quick, smooth and easy. But as we see with Abraham there were lots of difficulties and obstacles. And so it will be with us. Walking in faith is an adventure with God.

2. Faith can involve a lot of patience. As we saw, Abraham waited 25 years. And there were years at a time where there was nothing from God about the promise. Just silence and waiting, for two, five or maybe seven years at a time. And we will need patience too as we look to God in faith.

3. God often acts when we are at our weakest. God acted when they were both too old to have children, so no one would doubt that this was a miracle; that it was God working – and not just the natural course of things. And often with us as well, God waits until we know we can’t do it in our own strength, and then he answers.

These are some good things to remember. But most basically, this story teaches us that –

You need faith to receive God’s promises

And this is my point today. Abraham received the promise because he believed God and he acted on his belief.

Paul gives us an amazing description of his faith.

Romans 4:18-21 – “In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations. He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”

He did not look at the outward things, his circumstances;  how they were both too old to have a child. He looked to God and knew that God was able. And that’s all that really matters.

And just as Abraham received God’s promise by faith, so this is true of all God’s people. As Hebrews 11:33-34 says, They, “through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness . . ..” This was all through faith in God.

And just as Abraham and all these other examples received what God had for them by faith, so we receive all that God has for us by faith.

  • What do you need to receive new life from God? Faith! John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
  • What do you need to receive God’s provision for your needs? Faith! In Matthew 6:30 Jesus tells us not to be anxious or to have little faith, but to trust that God will provide for our needs.
  • What do you need to overcome the evil one? Faith! Ephesians 6:16 says, “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.”
  • What do you need to overcome the world? Faith! 1 John 5:4-5 says, “This is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”
  • What do you need to have your prayers answered? Faith! Scripture says that God gives generously to all, “But let (each one) ask in faith, with no doubting . . .” – James 1:6

And what do we need to be used by God to work at bringing people to know the Lord? Faith!!!

We can be like the people of Nazareth who received very little of what Jesus could do because of their “unbelief” – Mark 6:6. Or we can be like the disciples who, though stumbling, had faith and received what Jesus had for them. Think of them at Pentecost and in the book of Acts.

We can choose doubt, but then as James says, we will not “receive anything from the Lord” – James 1:7. Or We can choose faith, for as Jesus said, “all things are possible for the one who believes” – Mark 9:23.

Do you believe that God can work through you to touch other people’s lives that they might come to Christ, and grow and be encouraged and helped? Do you believe? It’s your choice. I choose faith. And I encourage you to do the same.

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The literary structure of 1 Samuel 11:14-13:1

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 8-13:1, plus Deuteronomy 17 and 1 Samuel 8-13:1

This morning we’re coming to the conclusion of the story of how Israel came to have kings for leaders. It all began in chapter 8 when Israel demanded a king and amazingly God allowed it.

  • After a time, God chose Saul – and so Samuel privately anointed him as prince.
  • Then Saul was chosen by lots, making God’s choice of him public.
  • Then Saul passed the leadership test by delivering Jabesh-gilead from the Ammonites.
  • And finally today he is officially installed as king.

Our passage today is 11:14-13:1. It’s too long to go through verse by verse, so I will summarize parts of it, but I encourage you to follow along in your bibles.

A change from judges to kings

Saul becomes king – 11:14-15

11:14Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingdom.” 15So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal. There they sacrificed peace offerings before the Lord, and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly.

In these first verses Samuel calls all Israel together to Gilgal, a central location used for religious and political meetings. And v. 15 says, “There they made Saul king before the Lord.”

And then, after having tried before in chapter 8, Samuel actually gives his farewell speech to Israel.

Samuel’s farewell – 12:1-2

12:1And Samuel said to all Israel, “Behold, I have obeyed your voice in all that you have said to me and have made a king over you. 2And now, behold, the king walks before you, and I am old and gray; and behold, my sons are with you. I have walked before you from my youth until this day.

He has walked before them as a leader for many years and is “old and gray.” And now Saul walks before them as the new king. Samuel will remain as a priest and prophet, but will no longer be the national leader or judge.

And then he goes on to establish his integrity as a leader – 12:3-6

3Here I am; testify against me before the Lord and before his anointed (that is, Saul). Whose ox have I taken? Or whose donkey have I taken? Or whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed? Or from whose hand have I taken a bribe to blind my eyes with it? Testify against me and I will restore it to you.”

And in vs. 4-6 they all affirm that he has indeed been a righteous leader.

 4They said, “You have not defrauded us or oppressed us or taken anything from any man’s hand.” 5And he said to them, “The Lord is witness against you, and his anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand.” And they said, “He is witness.” 6And Samuel said to the people, “The Lord is witness, who appointed Moses and Aaron and brought your fathers up out of the land of Egypt.

Can you imagine doing this at your work? Or even at church or with family?  This is a challenge to all of us to live godly lives of integrity and character, like Samuel. This is especially important for leaders who have power and can misuse it to take advantage of others.

Samuel is also drawing a contrast here between the role of a judge, who doesn’t “take” things, to that of a king who will “take” things (same word), as he warned them in chapter 8:11-17. (Notice the contrast also between Samuel and his sons – 8:3)

Next, Samuel goes through their history to make the point that God is able to deliver – vs. 7-12

7Now therefore stand still that I may plead with you before the Lord concerning all the righteous deeds of the Lord that he performed for you and for your fathers. 8When Jacob went into Egypt, and the Egyptians oppressed them, then your fathers cried out to the Lord and the Lord sent Moses and Aaron, who brought your fathers out of Egypt and made them dwell in this place. 9But they forgot the Lord their God. And he sold them into the hand of Sisera, commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab. And they fought against them. 10And they cried out to the Lord and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have forsaken the Lord and have served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. But now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, that we may serve you.’ 11And the Lord sent Jerubbaal and Barak and Jephthah and Samuel and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and you lived in safety.

  • He recalls how God raised up Moses to deliver them from Egypt
  • Then they sinned by turning to false gods and idols.
  • And so God gave them over to their enemies for instance Sisera, the Philistines, and Moab (as told in the book of Judges).
  • But in each case God heard their cry and delivered them. He raised up Jerubbaal (or Gideon), Barak, Jephthah and Samuel – and delivered them.

God has been faithful to save. And after Egypt, they only needed deliverance because of their unfaithfulness.

Now the point of this history lesson is that a king is not necessary to deliver Israel; God is able. God was their only king and there was no lack in God that they needed a human king. But they asked anyway.

12And when you saw that Nahash the king of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ when the Lord your God was your king.

It was their lack of trust in God to deliver, that led them to ask for a king. Nevertheless, despite all of this God can use kingship for his own purposes – 12:13-15

13And now behold the king whom you have chosen, for whom you have asked; behold, the Lord has set a king over you. 14If you will fear the Lord and serve him and obey his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well. 15But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you and your king.

God can use kingship. This is why he allows it, and tells Samuel to obey their voice (chapter 8).

Instead of everyone doing what is right in their own eyes (as the book of Judges talks about) a king has the power to lead the people to obey. Although, just as surely, he can use that power to lead them to disobey.

And besides, even with a king, the question is always the same, “Will Israel follow God or false gods?” Their covenant relationship with God has not changed. And so if they do what is right, God will watch over them; but if they do not, they will be judged.

Next we have a miracle that again establishes the point that God is able to deliver – 12:16-18

16Now therefore stand still and see this great thing that the Lord will do before your eyes. 17Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call upon the Lord, that he may send thunder and rain. And you shall know and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the Lord, in asking for yourselves a king.” 18So Samuel called upon the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel.

At the time of the wheat harvest there was no rain, so this was unusual. And, of course, Samuel called for it and God acted right away. Also remember, they often looked to false gods who were supposed to be in control of the rain and thunder. But God shows here that he is the only true God.

So both from their history, including under Samuel’s leadership and from this miracle it should be clear that there is no lack on God’s part to save.

But how often do we, in the face of God’s history of faithfulness and our own present experiences of this, still distrust God? God’s faithfulness is beyond question, we are the questionable ones, because we are often faithless. But still we don’t trust God.  We think that there is some lack in God, when God alone is more than sufficient.

This miraculous sign leads the people acknowledge their sin – 12:19

19And all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the Lord your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.”

Their lack of faith in God and their demand for a king was evil. As Samuel said above “your wickedness is great” in asking for a king when God was already taking care of you. And they confess this here plainly and they ask for Samuel’s prayers to avert judgment.

The next verses speak to Samuel’s continuing role among them – 12:20-25

20And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. 21And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. 22For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself. 23Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. 24Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you. 25But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.”

Samuel is no longer a judge, but he is still a prophet and priest. And as such he admonishes them:

  • He tells them to serve the Lord with all their heart.
  • They are to turn away from “empty things” that is, worthless idols and false gods.
  • And he warns them – If they don’t obey – they and their king will be swept away.

He also promises to pray for them and teach them. In vs. 23 he says, “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.”

And then our passage ends with a statement about Saul’s reign – 13:1

 13:1Saul was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned over Israel forty-two years. (NIV)

The Hebrew text literally says, “Saul was years old when he became king, and reigned two years.” It appears that the text did not survive intact. Some later versions of the Septuagint have 30 years for his age. Acts 13:21 says that Saul reigned for 40 years. (And in one place Josephus agrees with this). So this would be a rounded number for the possibly original number of 42.

Let me end by taking note of –

How great God’s grace is

God’s patience in this whole episode is truly amazing. The reason they needed to be delivered from various enemies in the first place was their unfaithfulness to God. They sinned and God gave them over to their enemies, just as their covenant agreement stipulated. In other words, it was their fault.

But they had the audacity to blame God for not being able to deliver them. They think God is inadequate to take care of them. They think God is at fault.

But then look at God’s patience and grace. Samuel says in v. 20, “Do not be afraid . . ..” God is not going to judge them for this. They will still be judged for other things, like turning to idols, as Samuel says here, but God doesn’t judge them for this.

And then in v. 22 he says, “For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.” Despite what they have done, God is still going to be their God and they will be his people.

  • He does this for his own reputation – since they bear his name.
  • And because it pleases him that they be his people. That is, because he loves his people.

They reject him as king, but he continues to accept them as his people. They wrongly look down on him and his ability to save, but he bears with their very real failures here.  They slander his ability to save, but he gives them words of encouragement. This is a truly amazing example of grace.

And in this episode we see God’s heart revealed; a heart of love for his people. And God has this same love for his people today; for us. And in this we can rejoice. What a great God and King we serve!

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The literary structure of 1 Samuel 10:17-26

Last week we finished up the story of Saul’s anointing to be king. We learned that God’s choice of Saul was made evident through a number of providential acts of God surrounding this event. And we learned that this calling was confirmed to Saul himself through three signs that Samuel predicted that all came true.

And even though at the end of the story, Saul hesitated to act after the Spirit came on him, to provoke the Philistines and then gather Israel’s army to deliver Israel, God has not set aside his plan for him.

Coming to our passage for today, since Saul’s anointing was still a private act known only to Samuel and Saul, something more needs to be done. So in this story –

Saul is chosen by lot

– as a public recognition that he is God’s choice for king.

17Now Samuel called the people together to the Lord at Mizpah.

Back in chapter 8, when Israel demanded a king, Samuel had dismissed everyone at Ramah so that a king could be selected. Here he is calling them back together at Mizpah to reveal God’s choice.

18And he said to the people of Israel, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all the kingdoms that were oppressing you.’ 19But today you have rejected your God, who saves you from all your calamities and your distresses, and you have said to him, ‘Set a king over us.’ Now therefore present yourselves before the Lord by your tribes and by your thousands.”

This confirms again why God is unhappy with their demand for a king. They thought God couldn’t take care of them and so they wanted a human king with a standing army. Human kingship isn’t wrong in itself, but their lack of trust in God is evil and a sin (12:19-20). It was a rejection of God as their king.

So God reiterates that he has been more than sufficient to care for them, delivering them from Egypt and from all their enemies; “from all their calamities and distresses.”

20Then Samuel brought all the tribes of Israel near, and the tribe of Benjamin was taken by lot. 21He brought the tribe of Benjamin near by its clans, and the clan of the Matrites was taken by lot; and Saul the son of Kish was taken by lot.

Casting lots to discern God’s will was not uncommon in Israel. (Leviticus 16:8-10, Joshua 7:10-26, 18:6, 19:51; 1 Samuel 14:41-42, 1 Chronicles 24-26, Nehemiah 10:34, Psalm 22:18, Jonah 1:7, Nahum 3:10 See also Proverbs 16:33 and Acts 1:21-26) They were probably stones or pieces of wood with marks on them that were thrown like dice. And depending on which marks came up, they would select one option between two choices.

It began with the 12 tribes, then down to the clans of that tribe, then to families and then to any sons in that family. And Saul was chosen.

Now, what do you think the odds are that among all the possible choices the lot would fall to Saul? We are talking about thousands and thousands of people. But God was in this. Saul was already chosen, and God used the lot to affirm this choice before all the people. God orchestrated all of this.

But when they sought him, he could not be found. 22So they inquired again of the Lord, “Is there a man still to come?” and the Lord said, “Behold, he has hidden himself among the baggage.” 23Then they ran and took him from there.

Saul is afraid of being king. Of course, he already knew he was the one and thus knew the result that was coming. And he hides. And so they ask, “It’s supposed to be Saul, but he’s not here – is there another?” This then requires a word from the Lord to tell them where to find Saul.

This is another indicator of Saul’s core weakness, fear, which we talked about last week. Instead of stepping forward in faith to fulfill God’s purpose for him, he hides and hopes they will find someone else.

And when he stood among the people, he was taller than any of the people from his shoulders upward. 24And Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen? There is none like him among all the people.” And all the people shouted, “Long live the king!”

Height was seen as a positive attribute for leaders in the ancient world, so Saul’s height acts to confirm his being chosen as king.

Samuel strongly affirms Saul as God’s chosen. The phrase “there is none like him among all the people” isn’t just a reference to his height. God really has chosen the best person for the job. And then Saul is acclaimed king.

25Then Samuel told the people the rights and duties of the kingship, and he wrote them in a book and laid it up before the Lord.

It’s not clear what was in this book. It seems to define the rights of a king, which were talked about in chapter 8. But here these rights are balanced by the “duties of the king” for the people, which would include providing good order and delivering them from their enemies. (Perhaps we should see the phrase in 8:20  – “to judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” – as a summary of these duties.)

Then Samuel sent all the people away, each one to his home. 26Saul also went to his home at Gibeah, and with him went men of valor whose hearts God had touched.

It’s interesting that Samuel is still in charge, he dismisses the people. As we will see, before Saul is fully established as king, he will need to pass a test to show that he is able. And that is what happens in the next story in Chapter 11.

Everyone went home, including Saul, but he goes with “men of valor” who become the nucleus of a standing army for Israel.

A story about hiding . . .

I think we should all be able to relate to Saul.

We all have fears that can keep us from doing God’s will

What has God called you to do, but your fear has stopped you from obeying?

God loves to challenge us;  to stretch us and help us to grow in terms of our character and our capacity to serve him. He often calls us out of our comfort zones, and to do things that are beyond what we would ever imagine we could do. Now, we can be like Saul and hide out of fear. Or we can step out in faith to do what God wants us to do.

And so I ask, What are you hiding from?

  • talking to a neighbor about Jesus?
  • standing up for your faith?
  • doing the right thing when no one else is?
  • beginning a new ministry role?

Hiding doesn’t work. God knows about it and has ways of calling you out. What we all need to do is let go of our fears and step out in faith to do what God wants us to do. It may seem impossible, but God doesn’t ask us to do things we can’t do; we can do whatever he wants with his help and strength. With the calling comes the anointing, just as in the case of Saul. And so we should act.

Let me end with a word of grace. Just as with Saul, if you have failed to act in faith to do God’s will or you are currently hiding from doing God’s will, this doesn’t mean that God is done with you yet. God is merciful and every day is a new day to make things right by stepping out in faith to do God’s will. And I encourage you to do just this.

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The literary structure of Psalm 13

Psalm 13 is really powerful; full of intense and honest struggle, but also faith. And I want to hold it up for you as a model for when you are being overwhelmed by difficult circumstances.

As we get started, a few words about –

Psalm 13

It is the shortest prayer for help in the book of Psalms. There are shorter Psalms, but these are not requests to God.

In terms of how it is put together, there are three obvious parts to this psalm.

  • In vs.  1-2 the Psalmist pours out his heart to God.
  • In vs. 3-4 he makes his request
  • And in vs. 5-6 he expresses his faith and hope in God

And each of these sections has the name of God or “Yahweh” in it, indicated in English by the capitalized “LORD.”

We don’t know the specifics of his situation, but it involves enemies and the threat of death. This is a Davidic Psalm (written by him or in honor of/about him) perhaps referring to his time in the wilderness hiding from King Saul, who was trying to kill him. Whatever the case may be he is facing a very serious situation and needs God’s help.

Let’s look at the first section, which is a cry of despair.

1How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?”

There is no indication in these verses that the Psalmist has sinned or has been unfaithful so that his difficulties are the result of this. He is simply in an overwhelming time of testing and trial.

Notice the phrase “How long?” This is used several times in scriptural prayers, but this is the only place where it is repeated four times, and in such a short space. There is an intensity in this prayer in asking this question of God. These questions also show us that it’s OK to ask God questions like this. God can take it. We don’t have to put on a smile, or fake it when we come into God’s presence. After all, he already knows what we are thinking and feeling. We only need be careful that we do this with proper respect for God.

You can feel the raw emotions and the brutal honesty of this prayer as you read these two verses.

  • In relation to God the Psalmist feels abandoned and ignored by God. God has hidden his face, that is it feels like God has turned away and is not looking out for him; he feels that God has forgotten him.
  • In relation to himself he feels greatly distressed within. “Taking counsel in his soul” perhaps has to do with trying to sort out what he should do, since God doesn’t seem to be acting for him; it has to do with anxious worrying. And he has sorrow in his heart.
  • In relation to his problem , his enemy, he feels defeated. His enemy has the upper hand and this means that his life is in danger.

Also notice the time indicators, the “how long?” questions, the word “forever” and the phrase “all the day.” The sense is that he is barely hanging on. He is worn down. He is at the breaking point. The test is so hard that he can’t take it anymore. So if God doesn’t act soon, it will overwhelm him and be too late.

Next we have his request to God.

3Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, 4lest my enemy say, ‘I have prevailed over him,’ lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.”

In general, he wants God to consider him or take note of his situation to answer him. He’s saying, ‘God, don’t forget me or hide your face from me.’ He wants God to act to bring him help him in the midst of his difficulty.

Specifically, he wants God to “light up his eyes.” In Scripture to have dim eyes means that you are overwhelmed, weak and weary (Job 17:7; Deuteronomy 34:7). And to have eyes that are lit up has to do with being strong, full of life and vigor (Deuteronomy 34:7; Ezra 9:8; Proverbs 29:13). Even today we can tell how someone is doing by their eyes, right? We can tell whether they are full of energy and life or whether they are worn down and discouraged. You can see it.

So, being worn down by his trials, he is asking God to give him strength, new life, vigor, encouragement and hope.

And he doesn’t just make his request for help, he gives God three reasons to act:

  1. lest he die, because he is in danger of death.
  2. lest his enemy win
  3. lest they rejoice at his downfall

In this situation the Psalmist understands himself to be in the right; he is doing God’s will but is being persecuted by evildoers. And so, yes, he wants to be saved and vindicated, and have his enemies put down. But it is bigger than this. He is appealing to God in all this to act for your Name’s sake. Since he is representing God and the righteous, it’s not good that evildoers think that God doesn’t care about their evil, or about the well-being of his own. He needs to act for his Name’s sake and for the sake of righteousness.

In section one the writer is hanging by a thread. In section two he is asking God to give him strength. And then we have a tremendous change of tone in vs. 5-6 where the Psalmist speaks of his faith and hope.

5But I trust in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. 6I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”

Two things are going on here:

1) He is given strength to trust in God. God has indeed begun to enlighten his eyes, even as he has been pouring out his heart and asking God for help. (It is healing to pour out our hearts to God.)

 Now, instead of seeing just his outward circumstances and choosing to give up, he sees God’s faithfulness; that is his “steadfast love” or “unfailing love.” This is God’s covenant love or commitment to him and his well-being. So he has his circumstances on the one hand and then God’s character and promises on the other and he chooses God. This  is called faith.

2) He now looks forward to God’s salvation; for deliverance from his trial and testing. We know he is not yet delivered because his salvation and rejoicing is spoken of as a future reality. But he can now move forward in faith and hope that God will save him, since his faith has been renewed.

  • Even though he may still have some “sorrow in (his) my heart,” – v. 2, now that his faith has been renewed he can look forward to when “(his) my heart shall rejoice” – v. 5.
  • Even though his enemies are exalted “over (him) me” – v. 2, now that his faith has been renewed he can look forward to when God will have dealt bountifully “with (him) me” – v. 6.
  • Even though his enemies are “exalted” – v. 2 over him and seek to “rejoice” – v. 4 at his demise, now that his faith has been renewed he can look forward to when he “shall rejoice – v. 6 in God’s salvation.

And this will not just be a minor thing. God will “bountifully” deliver and save him.

Finally, I want you to look at –

Psalm 13 as a model prayer

It is a model for when you find yourself in times of testing and are ready to give up. Follow the threefold pattern we find here:

1. Pour out your heart to God. Be honest with God. Express your emotions to God – about how distant he seems; about how you are in inner turmoil; about how your problem has the upper hand. And ask God questions, What’s going on? Why, God? Or as here, how long?God, I’m barely hanging on.

2. Ask God for strength. God, enlighten my eyes. Give me renewed life, vigor, vitality and encouragement. And tell him why; so you don’t give in and fail in time of trial and thus dishonor his Name; so that others will see and know that God is faithful to his own and upholds righteousness.

And then, 3. Receive renewed trust in God to make it through. Let God work a work in you as you pour out your heart and as you make your request known and as you think of his unfailing love for you and commitment to you.

Receive the strength to choose to trust in God and stand on his character and promises despite your difficult circumstances. And having been renewed, look forward to God’s salvation; deliverance from your trial when you will rejoice and sing praises to God.

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(edited)

Anytime you are involved in the work of the Lord you can be overcome by fear.

  • Perhaps God speaks to us powerfully or calls us to do something special. This can make us afraid.
  • Perhaps God asks us to do something that is really hard or involves risks. This can make us fearful.
  • Or perhaps we are serving God and are going through trials and hard times. This can cause us to be afraid.

Fear isn’t good. It doesn’t help anything

  • When we are afraid we become reactive so that we make quick, impulsive decisions; we can’t think straight or hear God.
  • When we are afraid our mindset becomes distorted; we just see the problems around us.
  • When we are afraid we just want to retreat or give up.

In short, fear will keep us from doing what God wants us to do.

For all who are feeling fear this morning, God is calling us to faith, which is the opposite of fear. It’s not that there aren’t things to be afraid of, it’s that we are called to trust ourselves into the hands of the one who can lead us through anyway.

And so we have to release our fear into God’s hands, so that we can hear God and what he wants us to do, so that once we have heard from God – we can move forward in faith.

This threefold pattern of releasing fear, hearing from God and acting in faith shows up in three examples from the Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke. I want us to look at these, and the first one is –

The story of Zechariah: Luke 1:11-20

  • Something happened to him.  v. 11 says, “And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.” Gabriel, was his name (v. 19).
  • And this caused him to be afraid. v. 12 says, “And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.” Surely the presence of the angel could cause anyone to fear and maybe he even thought he was in trouble with God.

And what is the first word given to him from God? 1. “Do not be afraid” – v 13.  You can’t hear God or do what he wants when you are overwhelmed with fear. So step one is to set aside your fear.

What’s next? 2. He listened to what God had to say. Gabriel goes on to say that he and his wife Elizabeth will have a son, even though she has been unable to and they are older. And this son will play an important role in God’s plan; he will be a great prophet – John the Baptist.

And once the message is heard, 3. He was to act in faithNow, at this step, Zechariah doesn’t fully measure up. In v. 18 he asks several questions that reveal doubt in his heart. How can they have children? And because of this he is sentenced to not be able to speak until the baby is born.

And so here we have a warning that we should act in faith when God speaks to us, or at least with more faith than Zechariah demonstrates.

Next is –

The story of Mary: Luke 1:26-38

  • Something happened to her. v. 28 – Gabriel (the angel) greeted her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you.”
  • And this caused her to be afraid.  v. 29 – “She was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.” There is an angel, and, given the greeting, it sounds like God is about to ask her to do something special. And so she is afraid.

What is God’s first word to her? 1. “Do not be afraid Mary” – v. 30.

What’s next? 2. She listened to what God had to say. Gabriel told her that she would have a son, even though she was a virgin. And that her child is the promised Messiah.

Once the message is heard, 3. She acted in faith.

Interestingly, in v. 34 she also asks questions, about a virgin birth. But these did not come from doubt. And her faith rings out loud and clear in v. 38 – “Behold I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

The final example is –

 

The story of the shepherds: Luke 2:8-20

  • Something happened to them. v. 9 says “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shown around them”
  • And this caused them to be afraid. v. 9 says, “And they were filled with fear.” What’s going on? What does God want from us?

And what is the first thing that the angels said to them? 1. “Fear not” – v. 10.

And then, 2. They listened to what God had to say. The messiah has been born and they are to go and see him; to be witnesses of this amazing event.

3. They acted in faith. 16 – “And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.”

What about us?

  • Well, sometimes things happen to us, hardships and trials.
  • And like in all these examples, our temptation is to be afraid.

But what do you think God’s first word to us is? 1. Do not be afraid. Don’t let fear and anxiety overwhelm us so that we can’t hear God, so that all we see are the problems, so that we just want to give up.

We must release our fear to God and choose to trust God, knowing that whatever happens he will take care of us. Yes, we don’t have all the answers, we don’t know the future and there might be a basis for fear and concern. But despite all this, we choose to trust and to put ourselves in a place to be able to hear from God and then move forward with whatever he says.

And 2. We need to listen to what God wants to say. This involves praying and listening to God. It involves seeking wisdom for what God wants to say to your situation. What does he want for you? What is the path forward?

3. Then we must move forward in faith. Move forward based on what you hear God saying, with trust and boldness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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