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Series: Faith in God

We are focusing on faith because this is how we receive God’s blessings. So let me just ask, “How many of you want to receive the blessings God has for you?” “Do we want God to provide for our material provisions, to give us peace, to give us more and more of the Spirit – and all of God’s other promises to us?” Well, we must ask for these things and we need to ask fully trusting in God and God’s promises to us.

But let’s just note the obvious. Faith doesn’t just spring up within us. It’s not a natural part of us. We would much rather walk by sight;that is, by what we can see and control. But God calls us to walk by faith; that is, trusting in God even when we can’t see what’s ahead or control things (2 Corinthians 5:7).

And so, like the disciples, we too don’t trust God at times. We can honestly say, “I don’t have this kind of faith!” Or “Where does it even come from?” You know, “How can I have confident assurance in God’s promises to me?” And we especially ask these questions when what faith we have is being stretched and tried by difficult life circumstances.

Well, this is what we’re here to talk about today – overcoming doubt so that we can walk in the path of faith, so that we can receive God’s blessings in our lives.

Last week we looked at –

What doubt is

And specifically about how Scripture speaks of doubt, not really about intellectual doubt, but concerns of the heart about God’s faithfulness.

Doubt means that you are not fully convinced that God is able to do what he has promised (Romans 4:21). The reason for doubt is that you fear that God will fail you. When you look at the circumstances and difficulties around you, you think, “Is God going to come through for me?” And, then you think, “If God doesn’t come through for me, this could get really bad.”

Doubt is really about wavering. It’s a state between firm faith and unbelief. You say, “I should trust God.” But then you say, “No, I shouldn’t trust God.” You are double-minded, going back and forth between the two. And the end result is that doubt keeps you from acting on God’s promises. It’s too risky if you aren’t sure God will come through. So you “shrink back” (Hebrews 10:39).

What can you do to overcome doubt?

Perhaps you are trusting God to provide for a need, or as we looked at last week, to give you the words to share with a friend who doesn’t know the Lord. Whatever your situation –

1. Fight your fear. Fear is where our doubt comes from, so this is key.

Last week we saw how Jesus told Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe” – Mark 5:36. He was afraid that since his daughter wasn’t just sick, but had died, Jesus couldn’t help him. Well, when we think that God can’t help us we need to hear this too! “Don’t fear, only believe.”

Here are two ways to fight your fear: Ask the Spirit to give you the strength to be courageous. Our flesh is weak and vulnerable to fear. But the Spirit can give you the strength to die to your fear, to crucify it and to trust in God’s promises. As Jesus said, “the flesh is weak.” But he also said, “the Spirit indeed is willing,” that is, willing to help us and empower us – Mark 14:38.

Next, when Satan tries to reinforce your fear rebuke him in the name of Jesus. Tell him to go away. He comes to us and puts ideas in our head  – “you should be afraid!” Or “God won’t come through for you!” As James 4:7 says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

When you are seeking to trust in God to come through on his promise to you, and your fear rises up – fight it in these ways. Draw on the power of the Spirit to strengthen your heart and on the power of the name of Jesus to clear your mind.

2. Keep God’s word in your heart. Where does faith come from? “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” – Romans 10:17. Now this is talking about the promise of salvation through Jesus. But the general principle stands: God’s word to us builds faith within us.

God can speak to us through the Scriptures. And I don’t mean merely reading Scripture. The word is powerful and alive. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active . . ..” So, I’m talking about when we read Scripture and God’s truth comes alive and goes down into our heart and touches us. And we know the truth at a level that goes beyond simply the mind and the senses.

When God speaks to us like this and we receive it God’s word builds us up and strengthens our faith. Something supernatural takes place within us, that is powerful and life changing. So when you are struggling, immerse yourself in God’s word and let the power of his word work in your heart.

3. Remind yourself of God’s faithfulness. First, remember that God is always faithful. Lamentations 3:21-23 helps us see this. The writer here, is despairing and is suffering greatly after the destruction of Jerusalem. And then he says, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” He finds hope in God’s unchanging character, despite his awful circumstances.

Second, remember that God has always been faithful. This is not a theoretical concept. God has a track record that you can look at. In Psalm 77:11-12 the writer is troubled and concerned. Is God still faithful? He feels that God has deserted him. But then he says, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.” He goes on to remember God’s miraculous deliverance of his people from Egypt. And this encourages him. God has always been faithful. And the Psalm then ends on a note of faith.

You can remind yourself of God’s faithfulness too. Recall Scriptural stories of God’s faithfulness, perhaps toward Abraham or David. Think about stories of God’s faithfulness in history or People’s testimonies that you know. And remind yourself how God has been faithful to you; how God has answered your prayers and come through for you in the past. Remembering these things build up our faith. It will strengthen and encourage you.

 4. Keep your focus on God, not your obstacles. Stay focused on God’s truth to you, and God’s faithfulness. Otherwise you will be overwhelmed by your difficult life circumstances; by the heaviness of it all; by the craziness going on around you. It is these that feed our fear and doubt.

Remember Peter walking on the water? He started out great! He walked on the water to Jesus. That’s amazing! But when he took his eyes off of Jesus, and started to focus on the circumstances – the strong wind and no doubt the waves, he became afraid, he doubted and he sank – Matthew 14:30. This is a perfect picture of what happens to us when we focus on the wrong thing and fall into fear and doubt.

What you choose to focus on makes a difference. Focus on God.

5. Remember faith is a choice, not a feeling. Feelings you can’t always control. But you can control your choices. So deal with what you can control, your choices. Even if you feel fear (you’re all alone, it’s gonna fail, God’s not gonna come through) still make right choices. Your feelings will come into alignment with God’s truth eventually, if you keep making choices of faith.

2 Corinthians 5:7 says, “We walk by faith not by sight.” And we could just as easily say, we walk by faith and not by feelings. Let the reality of God’s truth determine what you choose, not your feelings about your present difficult circumstances.

6. Be around others who will encourage your faith. Especially if you are struggling. Fellow Christians can help build up your faith, encouraging you, praying for you and ministering to you.

The writer of Hebrews says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” – Hebrews 10:23-24. The problem here is wavering and the answer is to be stirred up by others, knowing that God is faithful.

So this is –

How we overcome doubt

  1. Fight your fear
  2. Keep God’s word in your heart
  3. Remind yourself of God’s faithfulness
  4. Keep your focus on God, not your obstacles
  5. Remember faith is a choice, not a feeling
  6. Be around others who will encourage your faith

I encourage you to put these lessons into practice in your life. I want each of us as individuals, and as a congregation to receive all that God has for us. And trusting in God is how this happens.

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Series: Faith in God

We are getting back to our series on faith in God. Our question today is “Faith or Doubt?” Which will it be in our lives as we face situations that call for us to trust God and God’s promises to us?

But first, let’s begin with a bit of –

Review

True, biblical faith has three parts. And you need all three of these to receive from God:

1. A word from God to stand on.

2. Firm trust in God and God’s word to you.

3. Appropriate action based on God’s word to you. That is, acts of faith.

This is how it works: God’s truth comes into our mind’s comprehension and then goes down into our heart where we say, “yes, this it true and I choose to trust it.” And then our heart faith goes out of us in our words and actions, which express what is in our mind and heart (Matthew 12:33).

And as we express this faith, all three parts of it – then God acts to fulfill his word and promise. That’s when we receive from God.

But when it comes to faith, there are obstacles that we can trip over. One is presumption, which we have talked about. This has to do with the first part of faith. We presume upon God to do something that he never said he would.

Today, as I said, we focus on another obstacle to our faith – doubt. Now doubt can mean many different things, but here I speak of it in the way the Scriptures speak of it. And in this sense, it has especially to do with the second part of faith – firm trust.

What is doubt?

If faith means, in the words of Paul, that you are “fully convinced that God is able to do what he has promised,” as he said of Abraham in Romans 4:21, then we can say that doubt means you are not fully convinced that God is able to do what he has promised.

It means, in the words of Hebrews 11:1, that you do not have an assurance of things hoped for, that is, what is promised. And you do not have a conviction of things not seen, that is, that the promise will be fulfilled. You are unsure of God; uncertain of his word to you.

The effect of doubt is that it causes you to waver. Paul says of Abraham’s faith, “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God” – Romans 4:20. Well, when you doubt, your distrust does make you waver. Since you aren’t certain, you go back and forth. Should I or shouldn’t I? Should I trust God and act on this? Or should I hold back?

As James says, “The one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind . . .  he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” – James 1:6; 8. The image of the “wave” pictures one who has no firmness; one who is wishy-washy. Someone who is pushed around by other forces. You are always shifting according to the way the wind is blowing. You are ruled by circumstances. The phrase “double-minded” means that you are of two minds. You don’t know what to do. “I should trust God.” “No, I shouldn’t trust God.” You are indecisive. You are divided within. This is a portrait of one wavering between faith and unbelief.

Now, take notice of what I am saying here. Doubt is not the same as unbelief. It’s a place between firm faith and unbelief. It has to do with going back and forth between these. It’s not the opposite of faith – unbelief is. It’s what’s between them, so that you have some of both.

The result of doubt is that you don’t act on God’s promises. To use the words of Hebrews 10:39, you “shrink back” from acting because of your doubt. So not only does doubt affect the second part of faith, firm trust, it precludes the last part of faith as well, appropriate action based on God’s promises.

Now let’s look at –

The source of doubt

Simply stated, doubt is rooted in our fears. Here are some examples from Scripture:

  • Mark 4:40 – When the disciples thought that their boat was going to sink in the storm, Jesus said, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” They were afraid that instead of showing them the way of the kingdom, Jesus would let them die. Notice  how faith and fear are juxtaposed.
  • Mark 5:36 – When Jairus heard that he should stop asking Jesus for help, since his daughter was now dead, not just sick, Jesus said, “Do not fear, only believe.” He was afraid Jesus couldn’t help him anymore. Notice again how faith are fear are juxtaposed.
  • Luke 12:32 – When Jesus taught us to trust God to provide for our material needs, he said, “Fear not . . ..” Because he knew we would be afraid and worry that God would not provide for us.

In all these examples the disciples want to trust in God, and do to a degree. It’s just that when the circumstances get tough, our fear causes us to focus on the obstacles; on all that is going wrong.

What is it that we fear? It can all be boiled down to this – we fear that God will fail us. We too, like in the Gospel stories, wonder if God will be faithful.

  • Will God come through for me? Is God reliable?
  • Will God come through for me? Maybe he will come through for others, like in the Bible, but what about for me?

Let me give you –

An example of how doubt works

This has to do with sharing your faith. You have a good friend who doesn’t know the Lord. And you want her to hear the gospel. But you aren’t really good at that kind of thing – talking off the top of your head and you feel like you wouldn’t know what to say.

Well, one day while reading the Scriptures you come across Matthew 10:19. It talks about giving witness to Jesus, and says, “do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.” And God impresses on your heart that he will give you the right words to share with your friend; that this is a promise for you.

So you keep your eyes open for an opportunity. And sure enough, a week later your friend asks you why you go to church. An amazing open door to share. But you start thinking , “I have never been able to say things well, and my friend’s really smart; and what would happen if she asked a question that I can’t answer?” And you remember the time when you had to stand up in class and give a speech and how badly it went when people asked you questions about your presentation. And so you just say to your friend, “Well, lots of people I know go to church, so it’s a place to hang out.” In other words you totally miss the open door in front of you.

In this example we see that 1) you fear that God won’t come through for you. You see the obstacles; how hard it is for you to say the right things. That’s what fear does. 2) This makes you waver. You’re uncertain now of God’s promise to give you the right words. Maybe God will. But what if he doesn’t? 3) And so you don’t act. Better safe than sorry, right? So you “shrink back” (Hebrews 10:39).

This process of doubting God can creep into all kinds of areas of our lives. Not just sharing our faith.

  • Will God provide for me? I have bills to pay.
  • Will God protect me if I love my enemy?
  • Will God help me in my job, if I don’t go along with their unethical practices?

And the message today is that –

We have to choose

Will we doubt or trust in God?

Doubt is a sad thing. It keeps you from experiencing the blessings that God has for you. It will hold you back in your life with God. For instance, the example of sharing faith with a friend. Think what it would have been like if, in this example, the person didn’t focus on the obstacles and problems and instead focused on God? And so God would have given just the right words to say.

It’s a powerful thing to see God work! And it’s even more powerful to see God work through you. It propels you forward in your Christian life and is a great encouragement.

And what if your words had a real impact on that person!

But we have to choose faith to see all this. If we live in fear and always shrink back, we will never experience this.

James tells us, without faith we should not “expect to receive anything from the Lord” – James 1:7. Doubt is the path of discouragement, a stunted Christian life and a lack of God’s blessing. But with faith, Jesus tells us “all things are possible” – Mark 9:23. We can receive all that God has for us. We can be encouraged; we can grow in our Christian lives. And God can work through us to touch the lives of others. Which will you choose?

Next time the plan is to share about how to overcome our doubt, so that we can walk in the path of faith.

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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 1 Samuel 9-10:16

Last week we saw an amazing display of God’s knowledge and ability  when he providentially orchestrated the events surrounding the anointing of Saul. It’s really quite incredible. Today we pick up the story and see how it ends. And it’s ending will give us insight into Saul and much of what is ahead in these stories about Saul in 1 Samuel.

By way of review we read again in v. 1 about –

Saul’s anointing

1aThen Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on his head and kissed him and said, “Has not the Lord anointed you to be prince over his people Israel? And you shall reign over the people of the Lord and you will save them from the hand of their surrounding enemies.

Right after this Samuel predicts three signs that are meant to fully convince Saul that he is to be king.

 1bAnd this shall be the sign to you that the Lord has anointed you to be prince over his heritage.

Remember, he wasn’t looking to be king, he was looking for donkeys. And you can understand some measure of reluctance. And so God is merciful to him to make it as clear as clear can be.

Sign one:  2When you depart from me today, you will meet two men by Rachel’s tomb in the territory of Benjamin at Zelzah, and they will say to you, ‘The donkeys that you went to seek are found, and now your father has ceased to care about the donkeys and is anxious about you, saying, “What shall I do about my son?”’

He came to Samuel concerned about donkeys. And he leaves with witnesses attesting that they have been found, confirming Samuel’s word to him.

Sign two: 3Then you shall go on from there farther and come to the oak of Tabor. Three men going up to God at Bethel will meet you there, one carrying three young goats, another carrying three loaves of bread, and another carrying a skin of wine. 4And they will greet you and give you two loaves of bread, which you shall accept from their hand.

The items they have are for sacrifice at Bethel. They give Saul two loaves of bread. He came to Samuel without bread and he leaves with bread.

Sign three:  5After that you shall come to Gibeath-elohim, where there is a garrison of the Philistines. And there, as soon as you come to the city, you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre before them, prophesying. 6Then the Spirit of the Lord will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man.

He came to Samuel looking for a prophecy about his donkeys but on his way home he prophesies.

The mention of the Philistine garrison is key. The Philistines were once again ascendant and had a group of soldiers stationed in or near this city, which is Saul’s hometown (It is called Gibeah in v. 10 below. See 10:11 – they knew him. Also see 11:26)

Samuel promises that when the reality of the anointing comes; that is, when the Spirit comes upon him, he will “be turned into another man.” This means that the Spirit will empower him to fulfill his calling of king and deliverer.

Then Samuel shares what Saul is to do after the signs.

7Now when these signs meet you, do what your hand finds to do, for God is with you. 8Then go down before me to Gilgal. And behold, I am coming down to you to offer burnt offerings and to sacrifice peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, until I come to you and show you what you shall do.”

The phrase, “do what your hand finds to do, for God is with you” implies that Saul is to do something. What he is to do, is to attack the previously mentioned Philistine garrison. And after he provokes them, he is to gather the Israelite army and go to Gilgal. And he is to wait seven days for Samuel to come to give further instructions. (These instructions are referred to again in chapter 13. Even though there it is Jonathan, Saul’s son who attacks a Philistine garrison and so provokes them, both Saul and Samuel know that now these instructions come into play. And Saul does not keep these instructions and is judged.) (I am indebted to V. Philips Long in his book, The Reign and Rejection of King Saul for this interpretation.)

This is how his anointing is to be made public.

Well, sure enough everything comes true.

9When he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart. And all these signs came to pass that day.

 Everything happened just as predicted. (The statement “God gave him another heart” is probably summative of the events of the whole day, or the change began then and continued on through to his Spirit experience – see 10:6) 

And then the third sign’s fulfillment is narrated.

10When they came to Gibeah, behold, a group of prophets met him, and the Spirit of God rushed upon him, and he prophesied among them. 11And when all who knew him previously saw how he prophesied with the prophets, the people said to one another, “What has come over the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” 12And a man of the place answered, “And who is their father?” Therefore it became a proverb, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”

As predicted “the Spirit of God rushed upon him” and he prophesied. This prophesy was an outward sign of his possession of the Spirit, even though it was temporary. (This is similar to what happened in Numbers 11:25ff, when the Spirit came upon the elders of Israel and they temporarily prophesied as a sign of their being chosen.)

Those who knew Saul from before are witnesses that the Spirit is upon Saul and they are surprised. They say, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” He was not known to be a prophet, nor perhaps anyone in Kish’s family. But then someone suggests, “And who is their father?” referring to the other prophets, making the point that prophecy isn’t hereditary. The basic point of the question, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” seems to be that someone unexpected has the Spirit working through them. (This is repeated in 19:20 when Saul was hostile to the prophets and so again his prophesying here is very unexpected. This phrase appears with Saul’s first and last encounter with the Spirit.)

Here again, with these three signs, we see God’s providential oversight.

  • Samuel predicted he would meet two men who would say such and such, and it happened.
  • Samuel predicted that he would meet three men who would give him two loaves of bread, and it happened.
  • Samuel predicted that he would meet a band of prophets and he would prophesy, and it happened.

I just have to say, wow! Isn’t God amazing?

But then we come back to our story and Saul’s missed opportunity.

13When he had finished prophesying, he came to the high place. 14Saul’s uncle said to him and to his servant, “Where did you go?” And he said, “To seek the donkeys. And when we saw they were not to be found, we went to Samuel.” 15And Saul’s uncle said, “Please tell me what Samuel said to you.” 16And Saul said to his uncle, “He told us plainly that the donkeys had been found.” But about the matter of the kingdom, of which Samuel had spoken, he did not tell him anything.

He didn’t attack the Philistine garrison. He was told to “do what your hand finds to do.” But he does nothing. So there’s a disconnect. And since this was how he was to make public his role as king, and he didn’t do it, he hid his anointing and what Samuel said about kingship from his uncle. And so the story just kind of fizzles out.

 

I want us to focus on this, because we can learn from it. Here we begin to see –

Saul’s core weakness

As we will clear soon enough, Saul ends up being a failure as a king – rejected by God and a scourge to God’s people. And it all stems from his inability or unwillingness to deal with his core weakness, which is fear.

He was afraid to act even though he was given very clear confirmations that he was to be king and the job description of a king included delivering Israel from the Philistines. And he was next to the the outpost in own hometown after the Spirit came on him, and he did nothing.

And this will become a characteristic throughout his story – fear that leads to not carrying out God’s will.

  • fear of the Philistines (here and in chapter 13)
  • fear of even being king (the rest of chapter 10)
  • and fear of his own people (chapter 15)

As the story goes on from here – the question for the first time reader is, “Which way will Saul go? Will he overcome? Or will he be overcome?” Well, we already know, but we will find out what his failure looks like in great detail in chapters 13-15 and beyond.

But let’s not just focus on Saul.

What is your core weakness?

We each have an area (at least one) that can keep us from being all that God wants us to be; where we struggle to be faithful; that can keep us from fulfilling God’s purposes. We all struggle with whether we will overcome it and be fully faithful to God or whether it will get the best of us, so that we don’t do God’s will.

Do you know what your weakness is? Are you attending to it to make sure that it isn’t keeping you from doing God’s will? Are you praying to be strong, seeking God’s help and the help of others? Are you asking to be filled with the Spirit to overcome your weaknesses? Saul received the Spirit but failed to do his part. When the Spirit comes to help you, do you do your part to step out in faith to act? (Dave Weaver)

What is the story of your life? Of victory or defeat? Will you be a Saul who fails or a David who succeeds despite failure along the way?

Well, your story isn’t over yet, and so I encourage you this morning to press on and to be an overcomer.

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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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You may not have noticed, but there is an election coming up. Some of us will vote, some will not – out of Christian conviction. Those who do vote will  have to decide their approach – are you a single or big issue voter or are you more pragmatic looking for some smaller Christian issues where you think a candidate can make a difference.

Given all this, I thought I would say a few things over the next few weeks about the election. And the word for today is – don’t be driven by fear. Politicians and political parties love to motivate by fear. But we are, of all people, to be a people of faith and hope. And that is because we look to God and not the resources of the world or the flesh.

Psalm 146:3 says, “do not put your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation . . .” Rather we need to understand what Daniel 5:21b says, “the Most High God is sovereign over all the kingdoms of the earth and  sets over them anyone he wishes.” Now I might just add, either for blessing or judgment, depending on God’s purpose.

As a follower of Jesus, do what you think is right in this election. But know that it is God at work. It is God’s choice that matters. He holds the key to the forward movement of history. And we can trust God.

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Well, there’s nothing to celebrate in the two announcements we’ve just heard. It’s all sadness upon sadness. Yes, we have been through a really hard time.

The title this morning is, “Why, God?” Why do you allow us to go through such difficulties? Asking God why in times of trial is a biblical practice. Here are some examples from the book of Psalms:

  • I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me?” – Psalm 42:9
  • Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? – Psalm 10:1
  • My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? – Psalm 22:1
  • Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction . . . ? – Psalm 44:24

God allows us to go through really hard times as individuals and as congregations. So difficult that it seems like God is far away, while we suffer and struggle. But I want to encourage you this morning, by reminding you of five things about the God we serve.

1. God loves us

To be more specific, God loves Cedar Street. Paul says in Romans 8:32 – He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Paul’s point is that if God has already given us his Son to die on the cross to show his love for us, we can be sure that his love to us is secure and will continue. If he has already given that which is most precious to him, he will for sure show us his love in lesser situations.

And just because we are going through hard times doesn’t change this. Paul goes on to say in Romans 8:35, 37 – Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Brothers and sisters, don’t fear. God loves us in the midst of our trials.

2. God knows all about our situation

God has not been caught unaware by any of this.

It may seem like God is far away, as the Psalmists say, because of our troubles. But God knows every detail of what is going on, and every detail of all the pain that has been experienced by each one of us. The psalmist writes in Psalm 56 about his trials, talking about his enemies – 5All day long they injure my cause; all their thoughts are against me for evil. 6They stir up strife, they lurk; they watch my steps . . .” He has some serious problems.

But then he goes on to say to God, 8You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” God knows all about it. In the same way, God knows all of our sleeplessness, all of our tears, all of our distress. They are in his book. There is a careful record of our pain and suffering.

Sisters and brothers, don’t be afraid. God knows what we are going through.

3. God is in control

Let me read some excerpts from Isaiah 44:6-8 – Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel . . . “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? . . . Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen. Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it?”

God has a plan from of old. That’s why he can declare what is yet to come. And it includes each one of us in this congregation.

Don’t think that God is scrambling or that God has to scrap his purpose and plan for us. God knew we would be here today, going through what we are going through. And God is so great that he can even use the actions of those who oppose him or our own failures to accomplish his plans. You can’t thwart God, you can only decide if you want to be a part of what he is doing and be blessed, or not.

I believe that going through our recent difficulties has conditioned us and put us in a place to be able to receive what God wants for us.

Don’t be overwhelmed. God has a purpose and a plan in all this.

4. God always works for our good

A part of God’s plan is that he uses our pain and suffering; he redeems it so that good can come of it. Paul says in Romans 8:28 – And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

God’s heart and purpose is that good can come of our trials, for us and others.

Don’t be afraid. God can bring something amazing out of all this.

5. God is able to handle things

Jesus said in Mark 10:27 – “All things are possible with God.”

When we are in a trial, it’s hard to see this. All we see is the bad. We want to say, “yes, God you can accomplish anything, but look at this and look at that.” But God is able to accomplish all that God purposes. And so we should pray, “God we know you can do it. Bring forth your will.”

  • Can not the one who created all things out of nothing bless and help us?
  • Can not the one who brought a group of slaves out of the empire of Egypt save us?
  • Can not the one who raised Jesus from the dead bring new life to us?

In all of this I am encouraging you not to fear. Or to say it positively, Have faith in God!

We can’t always answer the question why God lets us go through things. But we can answer the question of who; who our God is. We serve a God:

  • who loves us
  • who knows all about our pain
  • who is in control and has a plan
  • who always works for our good
  • and who is able to accomplish his will

And so because of who God is, we can move forward in faith.

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