Tuesday, August 29, 2017

EmmDev 2017-08-29 [Lessons from Samuel] Criteria


God has rejected Saul as king of Israel and instructed Samuel to anoint "a man after His own heart" (1Sa13:14). Samuel has arrived at the house of Jesse and is meeting Jesse's sons....
1 The LORD said to Samuel, "How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king." 2 But Samuel said, "How can I go? Saul will hear about it and kill me."...
6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, "Surely the LORD's anointed stands here before the LORD."
7 But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."
It's very easy for us to be depressed and dejected when we have had to deal with corrupt and failed leaders. Samuel was in that space.
Not only was he depressed, but he was consumed with fear and doubt.

God has to push him to get him to the house of Jesse.

There at the house of Jesse Samuel is quick to grasp at the first available straw... Jesse's oldest son, Eliab, is an impressive man, imposing in looks and height (as Saul had been) but God says: "You look at the outside, I look at the heart."

Samuel will have to look through seven of Jesse's sons, learning seven times over to listen to God and not to grab at the obvious options. Eventually David, the eighth son, the "runt of the litter" will be summoned from the fields and the sheep before Samuel gets the go-ahead from the Lord.

We look at the outward appearance - God looks at the heart.

It's a solid reminder that we need to think carefully about the criteria we apply when we select and elect leaders. Sometimes it means that we pass over gifted and talented people, sometimes it means we get to the end of the list. Sometimes we have to wait.

Sometimes we're in real danger of jumping from the frying pan into the fire. This is especially true when our leaders have been bad.

But this is not only true for choosing leaders. It's true when we choose our friends and those who will influence our lives.

Proverbs 18:24 says: A man of many companions may come to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Let's be thoughtful about who we elect as leaders, who we choose as our friends and who we let into our hearts...

Friday, August 25, 2017

EmmDev 2017-08-25 [Lessons from Samuel] Free will and Grief

Free will and Grief

Then Samuel left for Ramah, but Saul went up to his home in Gibeah of Saul. 35 Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the LORD was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel.      (1Samuel15:34-35)
Although a monarchy (a nation with an earthly king) was second prize to theocracy (a nation who chose God as their king) and although God and Samuel warned the Israelites that asking for a king was a risky business, Saul's failure as not a given or a foregone conclusion. It was his own failure and his own fault.

In these two poignant verses we see Samuel and God's hearts. Both God and His prophet Samuel grieve deeply for Saul. Saul was a young man who had great potential and could have been a great leader. But, as we saw last week, he had three major shortfalls: Insecurity, keeping up appearances and pride. These shortfalls caused him to make critical mistakes in his thinking and in his behaviour.

His insecurity made him reactive and defensive. Then his desire to keep up appearances made him a slave of people instead of a servant of God. Finally his pride prevented him from returning to God and receiving the help he needed.

It could have turned out differently.

Saul could have repented.
He could have found security in God as his father. He could have been affirmed by walking in His father's will rather than pleasing people and he could have delighted in the Lord instead of delighting in himself. But he settled for trying to be his own god.

And God grieves and Samuel never visits him again because he's not going to turn around. He's ignored all the previous warnings. His heart is hardened.

But God does not delight in Saul's failure. He grieves.
He grieves when you and I sin. He grieves when we miss His plan for us.

That's why Jesus came.
That's why He sends the Holy Spirit into our hearts.

Maybe today you're at a point where insecurity, keeping up appearances and pride have driven you into a corner...
God grieves for you.
Don't harden your heart like Saul.
Return, Repent, and Come HOME.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

EmmDev 2017-08-24 [Lessons from Samuel] Keeping up appearances

Keeping up appearances

Then Saul said to Samuel, "I have sinned. I violated the LORD's command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them. 25 Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the LORD."
26 But Samuel said to him, "I will not go back with you. You have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you as king over Israel!"
27 As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore. 28 Samuel said to him, "The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbours--to one better than you. 29 He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind."
30 Saul replied, "I have sinned. But please honour me before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me, so that I may worship the LORD your God." 31 So Samuel went back with Saul, and Saul worshiped the LORD.      (1Samuel15:24-31)
For a moment it looks like Saul is ready to come to the Lord in unreserved repentance. At first glance his words look good:
- I have sinned
- I have violated the Lord's command and your instructions
- I was afraid of the people and I gave in.

This is such a promising beginning. He takes it on the chin. He admits responsibility, he acknowledges those he has wronged (God and Samuel) and he even reveals and owns the underlying cause (his fear of people).

But in v.25 we see the real agenda: "Come back with me, so that I may worship the LORD." There were public sacrifices to be made. Saul wanted Samuel to be there with him to legitimise the sacrifices and Saul's role as king.

Initially Samuel refuses.
Saul's reaction is not one of remorse, but anger.
He grabs Samuel's robe so hard that it tears.

And Samuel informs Saul that his reign will not last.
But it is as though Saul can't see past today, because he simply disregards Samuel's pronouncement. He doesn't ask, "how can I become right with the Lord again??" His request reveals the fragile ego that is his achilles heel: "I have sinned. But please honour me before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me, so that I may worship the LORD your God."

Samuel agrees to do this and I imagine EmmDev 2017-08-24 [Lessons from Samuel] Keeping up appearancesit is for the sake of the morale of the Israelites. But it is a very tragic picture: An insecure king making sacrifices to a God he has disobeyed, kneeling next to God's prophet who he is actually passive aggressive toward and all of this just to keep up appearances.

Insecurity is a very dangerous thing.
When we seek security from people instead of God we will end up like Saul....

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

EmmDev 2017-08-23 [Lessons from Samuel] The tragic downfall of Saul

The tragic downfall of Saul

But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs--everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.
22 But Samuel replied:
"Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.      (1Samuel15:9-23)
God asked Saul to completely destroy the Amalekites. It was because the Amalekites epitomised radical evil and God wanted to show that this was not acceptable.

Saul disobeyed. And it broke God's heart and Samuel's too:
Then the word of the LORD came to Samuel: 11 "I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions." Samuel was troubled, and he cried out to the LORD all that night.

Sadly Saul's heart has become consumed with pride and greed. Look at what Samuel discovers the next day:
Early in the morning Samuel got up and went to meet Saul, but he was told, "Saul has gone to Carmel. There he has set up a monument in his own honour and has turned and gone on down to Gilgal."
13 When Samuel reached him, Saul said, "The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD's instructions."
14 But Samuel said, "What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?"
15 Saul answered, "The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God, but we totally destroyed the rest."

There are three things that stand out here:

  1. Saul is building monuments to himself. His ego has become his enemy.
  2. Saul is duplicitous. He tells Samuel that he was going to sacrifice the animals. But then why didn't he summon Samuel to come and do it? Was he planning to play the role of priest again? (This got him into trouble in ch.13...) Saul also spared the Amalekite King, and we read later that the king thought he was going to escape...
  3. Saul doesn't say "the Lord our God" but the "Lord your God". He has lost connection with God. His faith is second-hand.

It is easy to look down on Saul for being self-serving and greedy.
But the compromises can come along easily:

  • Let the soldiers have a few sheep, destroying them seems such a waste
  • Spare the Amalekite king and use your political credit to get ahead. (Later we read that king Agag was convinced he was going to be spared.)
  • Make a big show of sacrificing some of the animals so that you look like you're holy and good.

But these little compromises steal Saul's heart.
They show that Saul is willing to keep, lie about and even hide the symbols of evil rather than put God first.

It is just better to obey...

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

EmmDev 2017-08-22 [Lessons from Samuel] A tough passage

A tough passage

Samuel said to Saul, "I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD. 2 This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. 3 Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.' "      (1Samuel15:1-3)
This is one of those tough passages that many would prefer was not in the Bible...

It is, on face value, a God-given order for genocide. Saul is clearly instructed to go and utterly wipe out the Amalekites: men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.

What do we do with a passage like this?

Firstly, let's understand what they did to the Israelites... Apart from regularly attacking the Israelites in the wilderness and in the time of the judges (often teamed up with other enemy nations), Deuteronomy 25:17-18 best describes what they did: "Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and cut off all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God."
Essentially the Amalekites behaved as predators. They pounced on the stragglers: the weak, the weary, the old, the worn-out and children. And they did it because they "had no fear of God."

Secondly, this idea of irrevocable destruction, was seen as an ultimate giving over to the Lord. As though to say - the only way for such evil to be redeemed is for it to be utterly destroyed. There is no fear of God - they are not going to turn...

Thirdly, the Old Testament deals differently with nations and individuals. A nation can be condemned and an individual can still find salvation. Rahab the prostitute is rescued and saved (in the fullest sense of the word) while Jericho is destroyed. Nations represent evil systems and the Old Testament makes it clear that evil systems must be destroyed.

Fourthly, in the Old Testament we are dealing with "Revelation History" and not "Precedent History". The Israelites are the fledgling priesthood nation who carry God's word and message to the world. Their story is a parable of God's Word coming to us. What happens in Israelite history offers us principles but not precedents. The principle is that evil systems had to be destroyed. To make this a precedent for destroying people is not valid.

Fifthly, all this difficult history must be seen through the lens of the Cross, where Jesus was utterly obliterated as the scapegoat and Passover Lamb being utterly cut off from God.

So, to sum up this very difficult passage: When we deal with terrible evil, we cannot hesitate - we must break the systems. In ancient societies evil became imbedded in nations and this power had to be broken. But the New Testament shows us how evil has been conquered by the One who was utterly destroyed for our sake and so we never have to repeat the history of the OT.

This tough story reminds us that evil is real but that God is just and takes evil seriously. The cross reminds us that God's justice is also ultimate love.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

EmmDev 2017-08-17 [Lessons from Samuel] Jonathan's contrast #4

Jonathan's contrast #4

So Saul asked God, "Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will you give them into Israel's hand?" But God did not answer him that day.
38 Saul therefore said, "Come here, all you who are leaders of the army, and let us find out what sin has been committed today. 39 As surely as the LORD who rescues Israel lives, even if it lies with my son Jonathan, he must die." But not one of the men said a word.
40 Saul then said to all the Israelites, "You stand over there; I and Jonathan my son will stand over here."
"Do what seems best to you," the men replied.
41 Then Saul prayed to the LORD, the God of Israel, "Give me the right answer." And Jonathan and Saul were taken by lot, and the men were cleared. 42 Saul said, "Cast the lot between me and Jonathan my son." And Jonathan was taken.
43 Then Saul said to Jonathan, "Tell me what you have done."
So Jonathan told him, "I merely tasted a little honey with the end of my staff. And now must I die?"
44 Saul said, "May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if you do not die, Jonathan."
45 But the men said to Saul, "Should Jonathan die--he who has brought about this great deliverance in Israel? Never! As surely as the LORD lives, not a hair of his head will fall to the ground, for he did this today with God's help." So the men rescued Jonathan, and he was not put to death.      (1Samuel14:37-45)
One of the lessons the Israelites had to learn was that having a king meant that they would bear the consequences of the king's spiritual choices...

Saul made a vow to the Lord, binding his men to a fast on the day of the battle. Although the vow was foolish, it was binding. Because Jonathan (unknowingly) had eaten honey, the vow had been broken and so when Saul wanted an answer from God, God was silent.

Saul totally over-reacts. With pious fervour he declares "Come here, all you who are leaders of the army, and let us find out what sin has been committed today. As surely as the LORD who rescues Israel lives, even if it lies with my son Jonathan, he must die."

The soldiers know it is Jonathan, but they're silent. So, they cast lots and Jonathan is singled out - and Saul, in order to save face, is ready to kill him. (This is Saul's self-imposed consequence, not God's...) Jonathan is flabbergasted. The punishment doesn't even come close to fitting the crime. The soldiers are adamant - Jonathan and not Saul has been the hero of the day and so they protect him.

Saul had lost perspective. He wasn't seeing or thinking clearly.
Not only was Jonathan his son, but Jonathan was a hero and someone whose actions were Divinely inspired and blessed. Saul would have done better to repent of his foolish vow than to want to put Jonathan to death. Jonathan, on the other hand, doesn't even try to exploit the foolishness of his father.

This account shows how Saul's leadership failures multiply:

  • His insecurity causes him to make an ill-considered vow
    and it makes him dogmatic about killing Jonathan.
  • His desire to appear "spiritual" makes his choice of vow foolish
    It also makes him come up with the over-the-top death penalty plan
  • His pride makes him want to chase his enemies in the dark
    It also makes him unwilling to admit his mistake
    And it makes him willing to kill his son, the hero
    Later, when David threatens Saul's limelight, he wants to kill him too...

Insecurity, keeping up appearances and pride are deadly enemies to people who are called to serve and lead. We should check our own souls carefully...

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

EmmDev 2017-08-16 [Lessons from Samuel] Jonathan's contrast #3

Jonathan's contrast #3

That day, after the Israelites had struck down the Philistines from Micmash to Aijalon, they were exhausted. 32 They pounced on the plunder and, taking sheep, cattle and calves, they butchered them on the ground and ate them, together with the blood. 33 Then someone said to Saul, "Look, the men are sinning against the LORD by eating meat that has blood in it."
"You have broken faith," he said. "Roll a large stone over here at once." 34 Then he said, "Go out among the men and tell them, 'Each of you bring me your cattle and sheep, and slaughter them here and eat them. Do not sin against the LORD by eating meat with blood still in it.' "
So everyone brought his ox that night and slaughtered it there. 35 Then Saul built an altar to the LORD; it was the first time he had done this.
36 Saul said, "Let us go down after the Philistines by night and plunder them till dawn, and let us not leave one of them alive."
"Do whatever seems best to you," they replied.
But the priest said, "Let us inquire of God here."
37 So Saul asked God, "Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will you give them into Israel's hand?" But God did not answer him that day.      (1Samuel14:31-37)
Saul, in an attempt to be pious, made his men fast on the day of battle - a day that God had put divine panic into the Philistines and Israel had the opportunity to win a major victory. Because of the fast, the men were soon exhausted and the victory was not as great as it could have been.

Jonathan warned that his father's decision would "cause trouble" for the Israelites and the diminished victory was just the start...

At the end of the day the soldiers pounced on the cattle, butchering them and eating the meat before the blood had been drained, as the kosher laws required, and thus defiling themselves. It was so bad that Saul had to intervene and get them to do the right thing...
This is a very sad moment. The kosher laws were deeply embedded in the culture and lifestyle of the Israelites. It was "default behaviour" to drain the blood when animals were slaughtered. Saul's religious restrictions created a situation of such frustration and desperation that they abandoned default behaviour for defiling behaviour.

What's even more tragic is that Saul then "leads" the men in sacrificing to God at the altar - and we read that this is the first time that Saul has built his own altar and made his own sacrifice to the Lord! Here's a man who didn't have a personal and intimate relationship with the Lord previously who is now taking on Samuel's role as the high priest and making binding vows to the Lord!!

It's a clear case of saying "do as I say and not as I do"...

And then, because their victory hadn't been as complete as it could have been, Saul suggests that they pursue the Philistines through the night, but this scheme seems a little contrived. The soldiers are ambivalent and the priest wisely counsels Saul to hear from God.

The priest had an ephod - a garment with ornate stones that God would cause to glow in response to inquiries from the priest. But that day the Lord would not respond to Saul's question.

This is yet another consequence of Saul's foolish vow about not eating on the day of battle and we'll look at it tomorrow...

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

EmmDev 2017-08-15 [Lessons from Samuel] Jonathan's contrast #2

Jonathan's contrast #2

BACKGROUND: Last week we saw how God honoured Jonathan's faith and courage by sending the Philistines into panic and confusion. The sight of Philistines fleeing brings the Israelites out of hiding and Saul's army grows in number and confidence. Then Saul calls for a priest enquire of the Lord, but the tumult increases even more (may this have been God's answer?) and so they go into battle. But Saul insisted that the soldiers fast for the battle...
Now the men of Israel were in distress that day, because Saul had bound the people under an oath, saying, "Cursed be any man who eats food before evening comes, before I have avenged myself on my enemies!" So none of the troops tasted food.
25 The entire army entered the woods, and there was honey on the ground. 26 When they went into the woods, they saw the honey oozing out, yet no one put his hand to his mouth, because they feared the oath. 27 But Jonathan had not heard that his father had bound the people with the oath, so he reached out the end of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it into the honeycomb. He raised his hand to his mouth, and his eyes brightened. 28 Then one of the soldiers told him, "Your father bound the army under a strict oath, saying, 'Cursed be any man who eats food today!' That is why the men are faint."      (1Samuel14:24-28)
Today's passage raises challenging issues...

We've seen Jonathan's trust in the Lord. It is a "rough and ready", relationship-based spirituality. Jonathan walks closely with the Lord, and instinctively is guided by God and God honours Jonathan's trust.

Saul, on the other hand, tries to "do" the religious "thing". He was supposed to wait for Samuel, but then makes that sacrifice for the army himself. When the Philistines are thrown into panic, the writer of Samuel tells us that it was a "panic sent by God" but Saul doesn't seem to recognise it. He calls for the priest to "enquire of the Lord" and then when the pandemonium increases, he tells the priest to withdraw.

So one might commend him for wanting to enquire of the Lord, but sadly, he missed the obvious fact that God was already doing something. That God was doing something special should have been as obvious to Saul as the nose on his own face, but he doesn't see it!

Then, again in an attempt to "do a religious thing" he binds his troops to a fast on the day of battle. One might see this as a noble action, trusting God and dedicating the day to God, but this seems to be Saul's idea and not God's...

Jonathan knows nothing of Saul's restrictions. He finds honey and eating it gives him the energy needed to keep fighting the fight. When he is confronted, his opinion of his father's instruction is classic:
Jonathan said, "My father has made trouble for the country. See how my eyes brightened when I tasted a little of this honey. How much better it would have been if the men had eaten today some of the plunder they took from their enemies. Would not the slaughter of the Philistines have been even greater?" (1Sam14:29-30)

The absolute common sense of his answer makes Saul's behaviour look controlling and contrived.

Now, one needs to be very careful here:
The issue is not dedication vs pragmatism.
It's not about enquiring & fasting vs grabbing the opportunity.
It is about listening to God and being in touch with Him vs trying to appear religious.

We'll look at the "trouble" Saul caused tomorrow...

Friday, August 11, 2017

EmmDev 2017-08-11 [Lessons from Samuel] Jonathan's contrast #1

Jonathan's contrast #1

BACKGROUND: There is still a stalemate between Israel and Philistine. Saul's army has shrunk to 600 and only Saul and Jonathan have steel weapons because the Philistines have killed all the blacksmiths in Israel - effectively disabling the Israelites who can't even sharpen a plowshare without going to a Philistine blacksmith. Saul is pacing around ineffectually in Gibeah while his son, Jonathan, is scouting the enemy.
Jonathan said, "Come, then; we will cross over toward the men and let them see us. 9 If they say to us, 'Wait there until we come to you,' we will stay where we are and not go up to them. 10 But if they say, 'Come up to us,' we will climb up, because that will be our sign that the LORD has given them into our hands."
11 So both of them showed themselves to the Philistine outpost. "Look!" said the Philistines. "The Hebrews are crawling out of the holes they were hiding in." 12 The men of the outpost shouted to Jonathan and his armor-bearer, "Come up to us and we'll teach you a lesson."
So Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, "Climb up after me; the LORD has given them into the hand of Israel."
13 Jonathan climbed up, using his hands and feet, with his armor-bearer right behind him. The Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer followed and killed behind him. 14 In that first attack Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed some twenty men in an area of about half an acre.
15 Then panic struck the whole army--those in the camp and field, and those in the outposts and raiding parties--and the ground shook. It was a panic sent by God.      (1Samuel14:8-15)
Jonathan is very different from his father...
Saul is fearful and conscious about what people think. Saul is led by people's opinions.
Jonathan is courageous and trusts God. Jonathan leads people by example.

This account is a lovely example of Jonathan's faith, leadership and courage:

  • Jonathan is a Godly leader: Listen the the conversation between him and his armour bearer when they decide to venture into the "no-man's land" between the Israelites and Philistines:
    Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, "Come, let's go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised fellows. Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few." "Do all that you have in mind," his armor-bearer said. "Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul."(1Sam14:6-7)
    This is wonderful faith and great leadership!
    The armour bearer doesn't even have a steel weapon, but he is willing to lay his life on the line following Jonathan.
  • Jonathan trusts God to guide him. We might be very sceptical of Jonathan's "fleece" - "If they come down we run, if they call us up God is with us." But Jonathan is willing to act on whatever the guidance is. He is open and ready to follow where he thinks God is leading.
  • Jonathan is courageous. It is tactically disadvantageous to go up to your enemy. The hill is so steep he has to climb with his hands and feet - he can't even hold his weapon. But he gets to the top and with deep faith in God's promise, he defeats the enemy.

    And God blesses Jonathan's faith, courage and leadership.
    The enemy falls and divine panic consumes the Philistines.
    This panic will lead to overall victory for the Israelites, but more on that next week...

  • Thursday, August 10, 2017

    EmmDev 2017-08-10 [Lessons from Samuel] Fear before faith

    Fear before faith

    Saul has been installed as King and has gathered a small army (2000 with him and 1000 with his son Jonathan). Jonathan attacked a Philistine outpost and the Philistines responded with a massive counter-attack. The news went out to Israel: "Saul has attacked the Philistines and become a stench to them". Saul and his army waited for the men of Israel to come to their aid, but the men, seeing the impossible odds, hid in caves and fled across the border....
    Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. 8 He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul's men began to scatter. 9 So he said, "Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings. " And Saul offered up the burnt offering. 10 Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.
    11 "What have you done?" asked Samuel.      (1Samuel13:7-11)
    Saul is a tragic mix of good and evil. On the one hand he takes the blame for attacking the Philistines so that Jonathan isn't blamed, but on the other, he usurps Samuel's role as priest.

    One has some measure of sympathy for Saul. His little army of 3000 is faced with the Philistine army which has 3000 chariots, 6000 charioteers and soldiers "as numerous as the sand on the seashore." He is completely and utterly outnumbered.
    And Samuel is late!
    And Saul's soldiers are beginning to leave...

    So Saul calls for the appropriate offerings and fellowship offerings and offers them up himself.

    This is a presumptuous move fuelled by desperation and a desire to save face in the eyes of his troops.

    I have a measure of sympathy for Saul - I am the kind of person who is good at improvising when circumstances change. I think about alternatives and try to come up with the most efficient solutions. But there are some lines that mustn't be crossed...

    Saul's end (receiving God's blessing for the battle) didn't justify the means (presumptously taking over Samuel's role).
    By his actions Saul indicates that:
    - He assumed that Samuel wasn't coming and that Samuel didn't care
    - He worried more about departing soldiers than he trusted God
    - He believed that he was worthy/entitled to offer the sacrifices

    It's a classic case of fear before faith and Samuel summarises it well: "You acted foolishly," Samuel said. "You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. 14 But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD's command."

    Tuesday, August 8, 2017

    [Pray for our Land] Thoughts on a big day in Parliament

    Thoughts on a big day in Parliament

    12 Arise, LORD! Lift up your hand, O God.
    Do not forget the helpless.
    13 Why does the wicked man revile God?
    Why does he say to himself,
    "He won't call me to account"?
    14 But you, O God, do see trouble and grief;
    you consider it to take it in hand.
    The victim commits himself to you;
    you are the helper of the fatherless.      (Psalms10:12-14)

    Today our parliament faces big decisions...

    Our country faces big challenges.

    • Violence and Crime are escalating
    • Corruption and abuse of power are the order of the day.
    • 27% of our working class are unemployed
    • Our children face challenges in every sphere of life.
    • Fake news and controversies are used to distract us from the real issues
    • The hope and optimism of our rainbow nation is on an ever-diminishing ebb.
    • We live in a VUCA world (VUCA stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity)

    Regardless of the outcome of today's events in parliament, we have to recognise that our foundation and hope at times like this can never be in a person, party, or philosophy.

    Our hope must be in God.

    This is not always easy.
    I want to leave a few thoughts with you from Psalm 10 - a song written by an unknown psalm-writer wrestling with the times he is living in. (The whole psalm is at the end of this email)

    He starts off with his struggle:
    1 Why, O LORD, do you stand far off?
    Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

    This is something we all wrestle with - we wish God would come in and sort things out, but God is at work - not always in the ways we expect or would like, but He is at work.

    I recently read an article that suggested that in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world emotions rule the day and not rationality and common sense. The analysts are arguing that the surprising election results in America and the Brexit decision were "backlash" decisions driven by disillusionment and frustration. These kind of emotions threaten the psalmist's heart too, but he takes his concerns to God and so although the Psalm is a lament, it is addressed to God instead of walking away from God.

    And so the Psalmist "unloads" to God describing the impact and reality of evil:
    2 In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak,
    who are caught in the schemes he devises.
    3 He boasts of the cravings of his heart;
    he blesses the greedy and reviles the LORD.
    4 In his pride the wicked does not seek him;
    in all his thoughts there is no room for God.
    5 His ways are always prosperous;
    he is haughty and your laws are far from him;
    he sneers at all his enemies.

    We have seen plenty of this arrogance in public figures who have claimed they will be in power until the Second Coming and have laughed in the face of appropriate criticism.

    After continuing to describe the arrogance of the wicked and the victimisation of the helpless, the Psalmist prays:
    12 Arise, LORD! Lift up your hand, O God.
    Do not forget the helpless.
    13 Why does the wicked man revile God?
    Why does he say to himself,
    "He won't call me to account"?
    14 But you, O God, do see trouble and grief;
    you consider it to take it in hand.
    The victim commits himself to you;
    you are the helper of the fatherless.
    15 Break the arm of the wicked and evil man;
    call him to account for his wickedness
    that would not be found out.

    On 22nd of April, Christians all over South Africa gathered in Bloemfontein and in local settings to plead with God for our land. Since then there have been significant court pronouncements and the leaking of emails that have revealed the mechanics of the corruption we have faced. There have been wide implications and the reality of media manipulation has become clear too.

    There are many positive steps that have been achieved. Regardless of the outcome of today's events, we cannot put our trust in human processes, but in the power of God.

    The Psalmist concludes:
    16 The LORD is King for ever and ever;
    the nations will perish from his land.
    17 You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted;
    you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
    18 defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
    in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.

    Today is just another step in the process of facing the wickedness that threatens our land. But let's not put our faith in parliament's decisions. If the vote of no-confidence fails there is work to do. If it succeeds, there is still work to do.

    Let's keep earthly rulers in perspective: They, the "man, who is of the earth" will be brought to a place where they can "terrify no more."

    Our task is to remember that the Lord is King.
    It is the afflicted, the oppressed and the fatherless who are on the King's agenda.
    When we neglect them, we are no better than the wicked.
    Our task as believers is to trust God, to pray fervently and to radically do good:
    - See all people as beloved in the eyes of God
    - Lift up the poor and helpless wherever and whenever you can
    - Don't be overcome with evil but overcome evil with good. Rom.12:21

    Please bow your head right now and join me in a moment of prayer for our nation....
    "Lord, you see the trouble our nation is in.
    You hear the cries of Your people.
    We pray for ALL our leaders today
    And for Your guidance in the outcome of today's complex issues.
    We pray for our land which is Your land and for its people.
    We pray for leaders in politics, economics, media, social and church settings.
    We pray for the angry and frustrated.
    We pray for the desperate and the helpless.
    We pray for justice and righteousness to flourish.
    And then....
    Help me to be part of the solution and not the problem.
    Show me where I can make a practical difference.
    Deal with me where I may be hard-hearted to my fellow human.
    Give me Your heart for the afflicted and oppressed.
    Help me overcome my fears and excuses.
    Show me how I can be the difference in our land.
    Lord hear our prayer.

    With much love,

                  PSALM 10
    1 Why, O LORD, do you stand far off?
    Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

    2 In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak,
    who are caught in the schemes he devises.
    3 He boasts of the cravings of his heart;
    he blesses the greedy and reviles the LORD.
    4 In his pride the wicked does not seek him;
    in all his thoughts there is no room for God.
    5 His ways are always prosperous;
    he is haughty and your laws are far from him;
    he sneers at all his enemies.
    6 He says to himself, "Nothing will shake me;
    I'll always be happy and never have trouble."
    7 His mouth is full of curses and lies and threats;
    trouble and evil are under his tongue.
    8 He lies in wait near the villages;
    from ambush he murders the innocent,
    watching in secret for his victims.
    9 He lies in wait like a lion in cover;
    he lies in wait to catch the helpless;
    he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net.
    10 His victims are crushed, they collapse;
    they fall under his strength.
    11 He says to himself, "God has forgotten;
    he covers his face and never sees."

    12 Arise, LORD! Lift up your hand, O God.
    Do not forget the helpless.
    13 Why does the wicked man revile God?
    Why does he say to himself,
    "He won't call me to account"?
    14 But you, O God, do see trouble and grief;
    you consider it to take it in hand.
    The victim commits himself to you;
    you are the helper of the fatherless.
    15 Break the arm of the wicked and evil man;
    call him to account for his wickedness
    that would not be found out.

    16 The LORD is King for ever and ever;
    the nations will perish from his land.
    17 You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted;
    you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
    18 defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
    in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.

    Friday, August 4, 2017

    EmmDev 2017-08-04 [Lessons from Samuel] Grace


    BACKGROUND: After Saul's victory over the Ammonites, Samuel called the people together to reaffirm Saul's Kingship. At the ceremony Samuel confronted the people about the evil of asking for a king and even prayed for a thunderstorm to reveal God's presence. This is what happened after the storm.
    The people all said to Samuel, "Pray to the LORD your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king."
    "Do not be afraid," Samuel replied. "You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. 21 Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless. 22 For the sake of his great name the LORD will not reject his people, because the LORD was pleased to make you his own. 23 As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right. 24 But be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you. 25 Yet if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will be swept away      (1Samuel12:16-25)
    Sometimes when we make a mistake, we think that it is the end.
    We think that we've "blown our chances".

    Our passage today is a beautiful reminder of God's grace and love...

    Upon witnessing the thunderstorm that Samuel had prayed for, the people recognised God's power and authority and the magnitude of their failure. Their repentance was immediate and desperate. They feared that they had "blown their chances."

    But God offers Amazing Grace. He forgives those who reject Him.
    But grace can/should/will transform those who truly receive it...

    I'm fascinated by what follows: (Each of these points is a message in itself, but today I'll just mention them...)

    1. "Do not be afraid." Our relationship with the Lord should never be based on fear. ("Perfect love drives out fear" 1John4:18)
    2. "Serve the Lord with all your heart." This is what God wants - ALL of us. And we have to steer clear of idols. Whether idols are statues or materialism or fame or whatever, the point is that they steal parts of our hearts. If there is a part of our heart that doesn't belong to God, we will find an idol there...
    3. God's love for us is based on His goodness and His name and not our achievements. His love and grace glorifies Him and gives Him pleasure.
    4. Samuel commits himself to praying for the people and teaching them. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit who prays for us (see Romans 8) and teaches us (see John 14). We don't have to struggle on our own, the Spirit will guide us.
    5. "Consider what great things He has done for you." Gratitude is the best posture for spirituality.
    6. Persistent evil will have consequences. If we don't let grace work in us, then destruction will work in us.

    Which of these points speaks to you today?
    Make it your point of reflection and action for the weekend!

    Wednesday, August 2, 2017

    EmmDev 2017-08-02 [Lessons from Samuel] At his best

    At his best

    BACKGROUND: Jabesh Gilead was a frontier town east of the Jordan. It was being besieged by the Ammonites and when they offered to surrender because of the overwhelming odds, the Ammonites set gouging out the right eye of every citizen as the condition of peaceful surrender... (The elders of Jabesh Gilead sent out a cry for help.)
    When the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul and reported these terms to the people, they all wept aloud. 5 Just then Saul was returning from the fields, behind his oxen, and he asked, "What is wrong with the people? Why are they weeping?" Then they repeated to him what the men of Jabesh had said.
    6 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." Then the terror of the LORD fell on the people, and they turned out as one man. 8 When Saul mustered them at Bezek, the men of Israel numbered three hundred thousand and the men of Judah thirty thousand.      (1Samuel11:4-8)
    It's a striking picture: The King of Israel coming out from ploughing his fields... Is it humility - being simple king, or is it a denial of his kingly responsibilities? I'd like to think it is the former...

    But when a need is brought to his attention, Saul doesn't hesitate.
    He is filled with Divine indignation.

    Earlier in the chapter we are told that there were some citizens who did not support Saul - they despised him and didn't send gifts. Saul was aware of them but took no immediate action.

    Now Saul's actions are decisive.
    He acts firmly and resolutely.
    To our modern sensibilities his actions may seem extreme and excessive, but in the situation it was what was needed and the Israelites turned out in force and defeated the Amalekites.

    After the victory, the people are ready to execute Saul's critics but look at how Saul responds: "No one shall be put to death today, for this day the LORD has rescued Israel."

    This is Saul at his best:

    1. Keeping things simple (he's still looking after his farm himself)
    2. Moved by the needs of his people
    3. Empowered for action by the Holy Spirit
    4. Gracious to his critics
    5. Giving the glory to God.

    In the light of Saul's subsequent failures, these leadership principles are thought-provoking. When we are young or new in leadership, these principles should be a priority.

    Tuesday, August 1, 2017

    EmmDev 2017-08-01 [Lessons from Samuel] Uncertain King

    Hi everyone,
    EmmDevs are back after a bit of extra break-time. We're continuing our journey through the first book of Samuel.
    Hope you find it meaningful!

    Uncertain King

    When Samuel brought all the tribes of Israel near, the tribe of Benjamin was chosen. 21 Then he brought forward the tribe of Benjamin, clan by clan, and Matri's clan was chosen. Finally Saul son of Kish was chosen. But when they looked for him, he was not to be found. 22 So they inquired further of the LORD, "Has the man come here yet?" And the LORD said, "Yes, he has hidden himself among the baggage." 23 They ran and brought him out, and as he stood among the people he was a head taller than any of the others.      (1Samuel10:20-23)
    Israel wanted an earthly king and, after giving them numerous warnings about this, God gives them their wish...

    (Here's a summary of what happens in 1 Samuel 9...)
    Saul, son of Kish of the Tribe of Benjamin, was a very tall young man who had lost his donkeys. When his search was unsuccessful, his servant persuades him to go and ask Samuel the prophet who happens to be in one of the nearby towns.

    Samuel, in the meantime, has received a revelation from God that Saul is to be the first king of Israel and so Samuel treats Saul as an honoured guest, hosts Saul in his home and talks to him at length about kingship.

    When he sends Saul home, Samuel anoints him as king and tells him about an experience that he will have on the way home when he encounters some prophets who are on their way to worship. It will be a moment, says Saul, that will transform Saul's heart.

    Everything happens to Saul as Samuel had explained. He encounters the prophets and is drawn into their prophetic act of worship-dancing which is witnessed by a number of people.

    A few days later Saul is publicly appointed as king, but he is nowhere to be found! Our passage tells us that he was hiding in the baggage of all the people who had travelled to the gathering.

    Is hiding in the baggage quaint humility or a symptom of deep insecurity? If it were an isolated incident we might say it was humility, but the truth is that when Samuel hinted that Saul would be king at their first encounter, Saul responded by saying: "But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?"

    If the heart changes that happened to Saul after meeting Samuel had been seeds that fell into deep fertile soil, I'd like to think that he wouldn't be hiding in the baggage... But it seems that the seed fell into shallow rocky soil - the seed grew, but it didn't last...

    None of us is perfect, but God calls us regardless of our imperfections, and when we answer His call, His Spirit can transform us. What kind of soil are we going to let God's seeds of transformation fall into?