Friday, November 17, 2017

EmmDev 2017-11-17 [Lessons from 1 Samuel] Bringing it all together

Bringing it all together

The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."      (1Samuel16:7)
We've reached the end of 1Samuel...
I tried to think about how to conclude this powerful book.

We learned so much from the characters and objects in the book:

  • Faith-full Hannah who longed and prayed and trusted.
  • Elkanah her husband who was attentive and humble and willing to play second fiddle.
  • Eli the priest, with his "hits and misses": Hearing what God was saying to Hannah and to Samuel, but missing it with his boys and his appetite.
  • The ark of the covenant teaches us a lot because of the extremes of how people treated it. On the one hand the "fundamentalists" treated it like a remote control for God and on the other hand the "liberals" treated it like a tourist attraction. Both lost sight of the ark's role as a reminder of God's powerful presence.
  • Samuel, the courageous priest and prophet who held the nation and king accountable and ended well.
  • Saul - the tragic king who started so well, but let his insecurity turn him into a shadow of what he could have been.
  • Jonathan, a man of great faith and trust who stays loyal to his father and his friend David.
  • David - the man after God's heart - who stays close to God, acts wisely, cares for people, and refuses to take shortcuts.

As I read back through the book and the devotions, one truth stands out above all others...

Our hearts, which, in Hebrew culture, are the "control centre" of life, are very very very very important. What is in our hearts will impact our lives and the lives of those around us. It may even impact a nation. May we draw near to God in our hearts and in our lives. May we "guard our hearts" for they are the "well-spring" of life.
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This brings us to the end of our series on 1 Samuel. I hope you have found it meaningful. You can download a pdf of this series from http://emmanuel.org.za/emmdev-archive/devotions-on-1-samuel/

There will be no devs next week as I take a short break from writing.



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Thursday, November 16, 2017

EmmDev 2017-11-16 [Lessons from 1 Samuel] Seeing the best in people.

Seeing the best in people.

When the people of Jabesh Gilead heard of what the Philistines had done to Saul, 12 all their valiant men journeyed through the night to Beth Shan. They took down the bodies of Saul and his sons from the wall of Beth Shan and went to Jabesh, where they burned them. 13 Then they took their bones and buried them under a tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and they fasted seven days.      (1Samuel31:11-13)
The Philistines found the bodies of Saul and his sons and desecrated them. Looking back on Saul's long list of failures, we might be tempted to say "he got what he deserved."

But the men of Jabesh Gilead thought differently. Jabesh Gilead was a frontier town east of the Jordan. Years earlier, when Saul was a brand new king, the town was being besieged by the Ammonites and when they offered to surrender because of the overwhelming odds, the Ammonites made gouging out the right eye of every citizen the condition of peaceful surrender. The elders of Jabesh Gilead sent out a cry for help.

The cry for help reached the ears of a young king Saul as he was ploughing his fields: "When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he burned with anger. 7 He took a pair of oxen, cut them into pieces, and sent the pieces by messengers throughout Israel, proclaiming, "This is what will be done to the oxen of anyone who does not follow Saul and Samuel." (1Sam11:6-7) The Israelites responded immediately and rescued Jabesh Gilead.

This was Saul at his best.
And the people of Jabesh Gilead never forgot it.

In spite of all of Saul's failures they take a huge risk to do the honourable thing. They chose to remember Saul at his best and not Saul at his worst.

David does the same thing when the report of Saul's death reaches him. He cries out in a long lament for Saul and Jonathan. Part of his song of mourning has this verse:
"Saul and Jonathan--
in life they were loved and gracious,
and in death they were not parted.
They were swifter than eagles,
they were stronger than lions." (2Sam1:23)

Let's face it, if anyone had an excuse to trash-talk Saul in death, it would have been David. We could imagine him putting on a stage-whisper and saying: "Well, one doesn't want to speak ill of the dead, but Saul...." But this is not David's way and it is not the way of the men of Jabesh Gilead.

May you and I also become good at seeing the best in all people.



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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

EmmDev 2017-11-15 [Lessons from 1 Samuel] Saul's end - Some important self-searching

Saul's end - Some important self-searching

So Saul and his three sons and his armour-bearer and all his men died together that same day.7 When the Israelites along the valley and those across the Jordan saw that the Israelite army had fled and that Saul and his sons had died, they abandoned their towns and fled. And the Philistines came and occupied them.      (1Samuel31:6-7)
While David is chasing the Amelikites, Saul and his army are fighting the Philistines. The Philistine force is overwhelming and Saul and his soldiers are overwhelmed. Saul and his sons are killed. (Saul actually commits suicide to avoid torture at the hands of the Philistines.)

While David found strength in the Lord and prayed for guidance, Saul sought to consult the dead by asking the Witch of Endor to summon Samuel from the grave.

This is just the last of Saul's many failures. Although he had great potential and was even filled with God's Spirit at the start of his kingship, Saul usurped Samuel's role as high priest, disobeyed the commands of God, cared too much about what people thought of him, gave a foothold to the dark spirit of depression that came upon him, became obsessed with seeing David as an enemy and, although he reconciled with David more than once, he would revert to blind insecurity-driven unreasonable hatred.

Eventually Saul's bad choices lead to a war that he fights without God's blessing and he reaps the fruit of a life of selfish self-seeking arrogance.

Because he is Israel's king, his actions have a wider consequence. His death results in defeat for Israel and the loss of a number of Israelite cities.

The responsibility of leadership is high and the consequences of leadership failure extend beyond the individual.

This is very sobering...

Is there any of Saul in me?

  • Do I try to play roles that are not mine to play?
  • Do I "cut corners", "bend rules" or "take shortcuts" for my own convenience?
  • Do I care too much about what others think?
  • Do I nurture negative thought spirals?
  • Do I let things fester in relationships and begin to see people as enemies?
  • Do I keep coming back to my insecurities even after being reassured?
  • Do I go looking for help in the wrong places?

May we be brave enough to look into this mirror and tackle the issues we see.



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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

EmmDev 2017-11-14 [Lessons from 1 Samuel] David's wisdom

David's wisdom

When David arrived in Ziklag, he sent some of the plunder to the elders of Judah, who were his friends, saying, "Here is a present for you from the plunder of the LORD's enemies."      (1Samuel30:26)
One needs to bear in mind that while David has been clashing with the Amalekites, the Israelites are fighting the Philistines. As we will see tomorrow, this battle will end in defeat for the Israelites and Saul and his sons will perish, leaving Israel without a king.

It was known that David had previously aligned himself with Achish of the Philistines and so there would be a cloud over David's head: Had he fought with the Philistines against the Israelites?

By sending part of the Amalekite plunder to the elders of Judah, David is establishing his alibi and protecting his credibility. His gifts were not so much a bribe as evidence that he had not been involved in the defeat of Israel and the death of Saul.

David is careful and wise. He protected his credibility.

Josh McDowell, a famous Christian author and speaker, shares a story about how easily credibility could be lost. He was doing a tour  - speaking at university campuses - and, as they returned to their hotel, he asked a colleague to check his room before he himself entered. As the man entered Josh's room, he was grabbed and thrown onto the bed into the arms of a scantily clad woman and camera flashes lit up the room. The photos would have damaged Josh's credibility, but the whole thing had backfired. It was simple caution that protected him.

Our credibility and integrity are important to our witness. Like David, we should be wise in protecting these values...


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Friday, November 10, 2017

EmmDev 2017-11-10 [Lessons from 1 Samuel] In the eye of a perfect storm #5 - Attentiveness, Wisdom and Compassion

In the eye of a perfect storm #5 - Attentiveness, Wisdom and Compassion

They found an Egyptian in a field and brought him to David. They gave him water to drink and food to eat-- 12 part of a cake of pressed figs and two cakes of raisins. He ate and was revived, for he had not eaten any food or drunk any water for three days and three nights.
13 David asked him, "To whom do you belong, and where do you come from?"
He said, "I am an Egyptian, the slave of an Amalekite. My master abandoned me when I became ill three days ago. 14 We raided the Negev of the Kerethites and the territory belonging to Judah and the Negev of Caleb. And we burned Ziklag."
15 David asked him, "Can you lead me down to this raiding party?"
He answered, "Swear to me before God that you will not kill me or hand me over to my master, and I will take you down to them."      (1Samuel30:11-15)
David and his posse (now reduced by a third) come across a half-dead man in the wilderness. David and his men are anxious, angry and in "hot-pursuit" mode. One would easily expect them to run the sword through this poor unfortunate - put him out of his misery and move on - after all... they've got family to rescue and an enemy to fight.

But amazingly David and his (400) men pause. They give the man water and food and give him time to revive. And it's worth it - the man provides them valuable information.

This is just another instance of God's faithfulness and provision. While it may seem just a little thing, finding this man made a huge difference for David and his men because he could give them some critical information:

  • They're on the right track
  • Their families are still alive
  • He could give them information about the enemy and their operating procedures
  • He could lead them to their hideout.

The edge and morale boost this gives them (especially after losing a third of the team) is significant.

But they could have missed it. They could have rushed past the man. They could have killed him. Fortunately they were attentive, compassionate and wise.

God often works in little and unexpected ways. Little hints and "heads ups" that can make all the difference. Attentiveness, wisdom and compassion paid off in buckets for David and his men.

Sometimes, when we are "on a mission", we miss moments that God could use mightily to help us. So let us err on the side of attentiveness, wisdom and compassion - it could make all the difference!


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Thursday, November 9, 2017

EmmDev 2017-11-09 [Lessons from 1 Samuel] In the eye of a perfect storm #4 - Kindness

In the eye of a perfect storm #4 - Kindness

David and the six hundred men with him came to the Besor Ravine, where some stayed behind, 10 for two hundred men were too exhausted to cross the ravine. But David and four hundred men continued the pursuit.
... (After the rescue) 21 Then David came to the two hundred men who had been too exhausted to follow him and who were left behind at the Besor Ravine. They came out to meet David and the people with him. As David and his men approached, he greeted them. 22 But all the evil men and troublemakers among David's followers said, "Because they did not go out with us, we will not share with them the plunder we recovered. However, each man may take his wife and children and go."
23 David replied, "No, my brothers, you must not do that with what the LORD has given us. He has protected us and handed over to us the forces that came against us. 24 Who will listen to what you say? The share of the man who stayed with the supplies is to be the same as that of him who went down to the battle. All will share alike."      (1Samuel30:9-23)
When we're in a storm - and even in the eye of the storm we can often become very sharp and focussed. We become 'efficient', 'effective' and oft-times intolerant of weakness. And that's putting it kindly... Sometimes we become rude, obnoxious and unkind.

David doesn't fall into this trap. Of his posse of 600 men, a third were just not able to keep up. Maybe some of them were youngsters who had not yet developed the stamina that comes with experience. Maybe some of them were on the other end of the spectrum, just a little too old to manage the relentless pace David was setting. Maybe some of them had injuries that limited them. And so David leaves them with the supplies, and, thus lightened of load, they continue the pursuit.

Once they have pounced on the Amalekites and rescued their kin, they return to the 200 who couldn't keep up. Some of David's men stirred up trouble - their greed speaking loudly - they could get 50% more plunder if they could exclude the group that stayed behind. Their proposal was hard-hearted, demeaning and divisive. You can hear their arguments: "We did the hard work, we took the risks, we rescued their families - they don't get their stuff back and they don't share in the plunder. They can take their families and go."

David intervenes decisively and wisely. He points out that the 200 had guarded the supplies (which helped the 400 go faster). He makes a rule - a principle - that protects everyone's dignity and prevents the abuse of power in the storm in this moment and in the future.

Most importantly, in the eye of the storm, David is kind.
He builds his team and protects the weak.

This is good leadership.


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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

EmmDev 2017-11-08 [Lessons from 1 Samuel] In the eye of a perfect storm#3

In the eye of a perfect storm#3

Then David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelech, "Bring me the ephod." Abiathar brought it to him, 8 and David inquired of the LORD, "Shall I pursue this raiding party? Will I overtake them?"
"Pursue them," he answered. "You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue."
      (1Samuel30:7-8)
As we noted yesterday, David chose not to try and face the disaster in his own strength. He not only handed the problem over to God, but he allowed God to strengthen him with divine grace and provision. And God did it!

The next step that David takes in the eye of the storm is to ask for guidance.

David asked for the ephod (a priestly garment with gems that glowed when you asked yes-no questions) which helped him as he sought God's will.
We don't have anything like the ephod today and so we have to ask ourselves what the ephod represented. The ephod was part of the regular disciplined structured corporate worship of the Hebrews. It also represented the corporate nature of the faith as it was studded with jewels that represented the 12 tribes.

One of the best places to seek guidance is in the regular structured disciplined worship structures in our lives - reading the scriptures, our daily devotions, our fellowship group, our worship in church and the counsel of wise Christians. These are the familiar spaces that God uses to reveal his will to us.

Put yourself in David's shoes: His relatives, and the relatives of all his men, were hostages of the Amelekites. Pursuing the Amelekites could be very risky for the hostages but doing nothing could be as disastrous. What must he do? Pursue or wait for ransom demands? Before David does anything else - he seeks God's will.

Now the ephod could only indicate "Yes" or "No". But David got two messages: "Yes - Pursue them" and "You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue." Where did the second message come from? Was it words that God put in Abiathar the priest's mouth, or was it just a feeling (a conviction or whisper) that David had in his heart?
We don't know for certain, but I think it was just one of those whispers that God drops in our hearts.

But David took the "yes" and the "whisper" and stepped out in obedient faith...


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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

EmmDev 2017-11-07 [Lessons from 1 Samuel] In the eye of a perfect storm#2

In the eye of a perfect storm#2

6 David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. But David found strength in the LORD his God.        (1Samuel30:6)
We have seen the extent of the storm David was in. If we tally up the knocks that he has taken in what many would consider a "brutal war of attrition", with the final straw being his men turning on him, we would completely understand it if David simply cracked at this point.

But, at a point where he would have been physically and emotionally exhausted (If you've wept until there are no tears left you know what that's like) and where he must have been caught completely on the back foot, David doesn't crack, but finds strength in the Lord.

What does this look like? How does it work?
If we were making a movie we might see David standing the middle of the wrecked and burnt out village wild-eyed and ready to crack when he pauses and says "God help me" at which point a shaft of light shines down on him and inspirational music crescendos in the background. David's face becomes peaceful and he rouses his men with a "William Wallace speech."
But this is not a movie...

How does "finding strength in God" look in real life??
I'm not David, but I've faced some challenges and walked with others who are going through raging rivers.
I've learned that finding strength in God is not melodramatic and doesn't involve hours of prayer, church, or Bible reading.
"Finding strength in God" involves two things: reaching out for God and taking the next step.

Reaching out for God is an instinctive gut thing. "Lord I'm at the end of my tether. I don't understand what you are doing and this pain is beyond what I can bear. So I just know I need your help." It's not a prayer as much as it is simply handing over.

Taking the next step may mean getting up when you want to hide under your duvet. It may mean eating some food and going back to the books. It may mean grabbing a few hours of sleep and then going to care for your loved one. It may mean resting up and going slowly before your next round of chemo. It may mean just plodding on, but knowing you are not alone.

I watched a friend go through a series of heartbreaks. It threw him into a deep depression and, for a while, it looked like he might get stuck there. But, at his lowest ebb one afternoon, he put on some shoes and went for a walk. He told me that, as he walked, he prayed a very very eloquent prayer: "Please help me". He prayed that prayer over and over for the whole walk. The next day he went for a walk again and prayed the same prayer again. He walked again the day after that and the day after that. His prayers got longer and he got stronger in body, soul and spirit. He looks back on that first walk and his "cry of the heart" and says "That's where I found strength in the Lord my God."

Finding strength isn't often accompanied with bright light, music and instant triumphant faith. It's often just the dogged courage to take one more step and know that God will be there with us.


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Friday, November 3, 2017

EmmDev 2017-11-03 [Lessons from 1 Samuel] In the eye of a perfect storm#1


In the eye of a perfect storm#1

When David and his men came to Ziklag, they found it destroyed by fire and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. 4 So David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep. 5 David's two wives had been captured--Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail, the widow of Nabal of Carmel. 6 David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. But David found strength in the LORD his God.
      (1Samuel30:3-6)
We all know about the eye of the storm - that quiet centre in the midst of the swirling turbulence of a hurricane or a tornado. It is often the moment that makes the difference between death and life, between destruction and survival. David is in a perfect storm. Can you imagine the horror of the moment? He's been playing the very dangerous "double-agent" game. He's been under constant pressure, just one slip, one loose tongue and it would have been "game over" for him. Then he and his faithful warriors found themselves in the middle of the massive Philistine army, being regarded with suspicion by four out of five kings and they could have been snuffed out with the snap of a king's fingers. Then a supernatural reprieve comes and they're heading home!
You can imagine how much they were looking forward to a timeout in their haven with their loved ones. Husbands and dads were imagining holding their loved ones and being able let their constant vigilance down for a bit...
And then there's smoke on the horizon - too much to just be cooking fires... Imagine the adrenaline starting to churn in their systems... Blood pressure rising and pulses increasing... They get to their village and it's burnt to the ground and their loved ones are gone - not dead, but gone!
Imagine the horror and the raw outpouring of grief as they process the utter violation of what has happened. The author is eloquent: they "wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep." And then the anger begins to fester and boil:
"I knew we were taking too many chances"
"We made too many enemies"
"He let the success go to his head"
"He should have known better..."
"It's his fault!!!"
In their grief and pain, David's faithful band of warriors are ready to stone him. Their pain is so raw and overwhelming that they are on the verge of doing something completely irrational.
It's a perfect storm - they have lost everything.
But David finds the eye of the storm.
He finds strength in the Lord His God.
And it changes everything.

We'll look at the details of how David found strength next week.
But for now - simply consider the fact that we can find the eye of every storm when we find strength in the Lord...





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Thursday, November 2, 2017

EmmDev 2017-11-02 [Lessons from 1 Samuel] Faithful God #2


Faithful God #2

David and his men reached Ziklag on the third day. Now the Amalekites had raided the Negev and Ziklag. They had attacked Ziklag and burned it, 2 and had taken captive the women and all who were in it, both young and old. They killed none of them, but carried them off as they went on their way.
      (1Samuel30:1-2)
Yesterday we saw how God delivered David from a difficult predicament, where, in the midst of the massive Philistine army, he would have had to fight against his own people. But there is another predicament, and, unknown to David, a crisis.
The predicament is that the Philistines are attacking Israel and, in the battle, Saul and Jonathan will be killed. David and his men would have done nothing -- while they had not fought against their own people, they had also not fought for their own people.
The crisis is that, while they were at the battle line, Israel's other enemies, the Amelekites, had attacked David's home city, Ziklag, and carried women, children and plunder off into captivity.
If David had not been delivered from fighting in the Philistine-Israelite war, it would have been many days after the attack on Ziklag, but now it was just afterwards and David is in a position to rescue them.
But not only does their "early discharge" from the Philistine army resolve the crisis of the "Ziklag kidnapees" but it resolves David's predicament too, because now, instead of being passive while the Israelites are fighting Philistines, David is now fighting Israel's other enemy, the Amelekites.
"Ah it's all coincidence!" say the scoffers, but one cannot deny the perfect timing of all these intricate events and it's actually easier to believe that it was God's faithful hand in all this than to believe that it was random coincidence.

So too we find God mysteriously at work in the crises and predicaments of our lives.




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