photo credit: Donald Trump via photopin (license)

photo credit: Donald Trump via photopin (license)

In the last few months, Donald Trump vaulted to the lead in the GOP primaries generating an excitement no one in the party has produced in at least the last decade. The fact of his surge was not as surprising as the source of it, conservative Southern evangelicals. Many who say they follow Jesus cheer with each of Trump’s over the top statements, particularly with his insults towards those with whom they disagree. The more Trump excoriates those with whom they disagree, the more they like him.

Many Southern evangelicals say they are tired of an easily offended, politically correct culture and find someone who says exactly what he thinks to be a breath of fresh air. In a classic case of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” Southern evangelicals trumpet Trump’s push back against the perceived ills in our culture. Unfortunately this means many Christians embracing speech which insults women who ask tough questions, treats almost every Mexican immigrant as a criminal, and makes many boasts which are contrary to our faith.

Despite the photo at the top of this post and the first two paragraphs, this post is not exactly about Donald Trump. My larger point is examine whether Christians cheering and championing every Trump insult betrays the faith we claim to stand for. The Biblical writers show the indispensable connection between our faith and our speech. Jesus said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” and “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.” The Apostle James likewise reminded his listeners, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” These three verses show we cannot divorce what we say we believe from the way we speak to and about other people.

King Solomon wrote Proverbs to his son to instruct him in wise living. Short statements on different aspects of the life characterized by wisdom comprise the bulk of chapters 10-31.. An astonishing number of the Proverbs deal with our speech, particularly how we speak to and about other people. By examining some of these Proverbs, we learn what should mark both the content and manner of our speech. Think about what he says about wise speech and examine whether this marks our words and the words we endorse through our approval and social media sharing.

“With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered.” Proverbs 11:9

“Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.” Proverbs 11:12

“A man who is kind benefits himself, but a cruel man hurts himself.” Proverbs 11:17

“Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” Proverbs 13:3

“By the mouth of a fool comes a rod for his back, but the lips of the wise will preserve them.” Proverbs 14:3

“Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” Proverbs 16:24

“Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” Proverbs 17:27

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” Proverbs 18:2

“A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating. A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul.” Proverbs 18:6-7

“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” Proverbs 18:13

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” Proverbs 18:21

“Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” Proverbs 21:23

In our constantly changing culture, Christians must remember there is something in the world way more important than politics. Every man, woman, boy, and girl have been created in the image of God. We all bear the stamp of his image, but have fallen into sin and stand worthy of God’s judgment. God’s own Son came into the world and gave his life for us. Because of his life, death, and resurrection the person who repents and has faith in Jesus stands before God righteous, forgiven, adopted, and filled with hope. We want people to hear and believe this Gospel, but too often we speak of people in ways which betray it. How will people hear our message if we are insulting them and cheering for those who do? What good will it be to gain the White House and lose our witness?

Related Posts:
Learning to Watch our Words

For Further Reading:
Resisting Gossip by Matthew C. Mitchell

Samuel and Saul

August 28, 2015 — Leave a comment

(We are currently in a series on the life of David at Chelsea Village. As I’ve written before I attempt to write a full manuscript of my sermon before preaching. Throughout this series I’ll be posting some of the sermons I think will be helpful. If you would rather listen to the sermon, you can find it here.)

This week hackers released the database containing email addresses, user names, billing addresses, and credit card information for the users of the website Ashley Madison. The website, whose slogan is “Life is short; Have an affair,” is a place where people looking to step out on their spouses could meet each other. The first thing I heard about the release of the information was the number of .gov and .mil accounts in the leak. Next I heard people were scouring the information looking for politicians and other celebrities. Then we had a bombshell drop and Josh Duggar was a customer. He admitted what he had done. Next the head of the GOP in Louisiana turned out to be a customer and he claimed he was on it for research. Then the news came out that a credit card for a Montgomery mayoral candidate was in the list and he says he was the victim of credit card fraud.

Any man who would step out on his wife and any wife who would step out on their husband suffer from serious character deficiencies. At the same time, doesn’t it say something about us that we can’t wait to find out who might be on the list so we can wag our fingers and feel superior to them? Isn’t it fun to find out someone who holds themselves up as an example is actually an example of the kind of person you don’t want to be?

On the other side of the coin we have had the constant barrage of videos coming out from the Center for Medical Progress. They did an undercover sting on Planned Parenthood and have discovered they are taking part in some activities which are most likely illegal. Whether they are illegal or not is actually beside the point, as these videos have opened up for us in graphic detail the horrors of the abortion industry. Planned Parenthood and the politicians and celebrities who endorse them would have you believe the Center for Medical Progress are the bad guys. They claim the videos are underhanded and deceptive.

I bring up these potentially inflammatory issues up this morning because we are always discussing sin and the effects of sin. We don’t like to use the word, and in fact we like to make up other words for it. Notice Ashley Madison’s slogan is not “life is short; commit adultery!” They call it an affair because nobody likes to sign up for adultery. This is why the abortion lobby uses “fetus” and “embryo” instead of baby. Just so we hit even closer to home, I really appreciated the preaching and teaching of a pastor who is Billy Graham’s grandson. He was a pastor in south Florida and the week I was headed down there it came out that both he and his wife committed adultery. In preparation for his “Festival of Hope” in Birmingham, Franklin Graham, who would be this pastor’s uncle was asked whether this hurt the Graham family’s reputation. His response was, “this young boy and his wife have had a major failure in their life.” Go look at Franklin Graham’s Facebook page. Every day he calls something evil and says we need to repent. He advocates calling sin what it is, but when it is his family he calls a forty-one year old man a “young boy” and says he “had a major failure.” He said this after saying every family “has issues.” Do you see how it even affects people who say they believe the Bible? We always discuss sin, but we don’t like to call it that.

Every one of us has an innate sense of right and wrong. We look at things and know they are evil. I may not like to call my pet sin “sin,” but I instinctively know some things are right and others are wrong. The problem is we like to see the sin in everyone else. It’s easy for me to look at women walking into Planned Parenthood or a guy signing up for Ashley Madison and call what they are doing evil, but do I turn that same honest and intense eye on myself? Am I willing to look into he depths of my own heart and name what is going on inside of me? In addition, am I willing to be honest about my sin, knowing this is the only path to redemption?

Today we are going to talk about this from 1 Samuel 15:11-35. We are going to fast forward to the moment before we meet David. Israel cried out for a King, which we will discuss, and this king has turned aside from following the Lord and made the people complicit in his sin. As we look at the inner workings of Saul’s sin against the Lord, we will see the heart of our sin too, as well as the path to redemption and restoration.

The word of the Lord came to Samuel: “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the Lord all night. And Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning. And it was told Samuel, “Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself and turned and passed on and went down to Gilgal.” And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed be you to the Lord. I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” And Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?” Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the Lord your God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction.” Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! I will tell you what the Lord said to me this night.” And he said to him, “Speak.”

And Samuel said, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. And the Lord sent you on a mission and said, ‘Go, devote to destruction the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you pounce on the spoil and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?” And Saul said to Samuel, “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord. I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.” And Samuel said,

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,

as in obeying the voice of the Lord?

Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,

and to listen than the fat of rams.

For rebellion is as the sin of divination,

and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.

Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,

he has also rejected you from being king.”

Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me that I may bow before the Lord.” And Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.” As Samuel turned to go away, Saul seized the skirt of his robe, and it tore. And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.” Then he said, “I have sinned; yet honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may bow before the Lord your God.” So Samuel turned back after Saul, and Saul bowed before the Lord.

Then Samuel said, “Bring here to me Agag the king of the Amalekites.” And Agag came to him cheerfully. Agag said, “Surely the bitterness of death is past.” And Samuel said, “As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women.” And Samuel hacked Agag to pieces before the Lord in Gilgal.

Then Samuel went to Ramah, and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.
1 Samuel 15:11-35

The Heart of Our Sin

Though Saul’s fall here we see what lies at the heart of our sins. At the same time we should see how the sin of the people led to the Saul’s sin. This narrative begins in chapter 8 and in it we meet Samuel’s sons. His sons were not like their father. They were unfaithful to the Lord and cheated the people by taking bribes and perverting justice. The people began to cry out to Samuel and ask for a King so they could be like the other nations. Herein lies the first problem with the people’s request. God put them in the land to be different from the other nations around them. Being like the other nations is not a thing to be desired, but to be avoided. They asked for a king who would judge between them and go out to fight their battles for them.

What does it sound like they want to you? They essentially wanted someone to be for them who God could only be for them. Listen, can a person lead them into battle and judge between them in one sense? Sure, but ultimately they should instinctively know that the Lord is the one who brings justice and fights their battles for them. However they look at the nations around them and they long to have what they have. They see the King, the victorious warrior fighting for them and they want that too.

Right off we have a problem don’t we? They are going to raise Saul up to a level he should not inhabit to begin with. He looks up to the task. He is a strong, handsome, and heroic man. He stands a head taller than any of them. When I picture Saul I picture a taller version of Thor. He won some great battles but he began to go astray. He offered unlawful sacrifices and made a rash vow which could have cost his son’s life.

Ultimately the problem with Saul was the people’s expectations they placed on him. They looked for Saul to be for them what only God should be for them. We talked about this last week, but frankly we should probably talk about this every week. When we look to other people to be for us what God should be for us, we will crush them and ourselves. We crush other people because we put expectations on them they could never carry. How on earth could another person carry the expectation to be God for you? Do you know how hard it is to carry another person’s sense of acceptance and self-worth on your shoulders?

It also crushes you to put your expectations on another person like this. When you put expectations on another person that only God can carry do you think there is any chance they will ever deliver? Absolutely not. You will make them miserable and you will make yourself miserable, so look to God who is the only one who can be God for you. He is the only with shoulders broad enough for you to find your acceptance and identity in him. In fact he invites us to do this. He invites us to put all of our identity on him. He can handle it, in fact  he is the only one who is up to the task.

If I can have a brutally honest moment this morning, I couldn’t help but think as I was working on this about a particularly difficult time I was having recently. I was talking to one of my friends about what I was struggling with and he asked me, “how do you think God views you right now?” At the time I had to be honest and say it felt like God had abandoned me. As we worked through what was behind that, what I concluded was that was behind was I felt like I had earned God treating me a certain way. Once I got that out there I could hear how ridiculous it sounded. How often do we think God has abandoned us or is treating us in a way that is less than we deserve. Listen to me, if you have trusted in Jesus you are a child of God the father. We’re going to be adding a song in a few weeks called “A Son of God.” Do you know why it’s called “A Son of God” and not “A Son and Daughter of God?” Every single Christian receives an inheritance as if they were the first born son. There are no step sons of God and there are no black sheep in God’s family, we belong to him and so we rest in who he is for us.

You could see Saul’s downfall coming. In chapter 13 Saul wanted to make a sacrifice before going into war. He waited for Samuel to come down and make the sacrifice but he did not show up on Saul’s timeline. Instead of not making the sacrifice or waiting longer, Saul took on the role of priest and offered a sacrifice to the Lord himself. In fact the reason he do so was because he wanted the Lord’s favor in battle. Instead of doing God’s work God’s way, he wanted God’s blessing so he did his thing his way.  Samuel shows up right after Saul did this and tells Saul that the Lord is going to take his kingdom away from him and instead give it to someone who would be after God’s own heart.

Saul follows in a similar path in the passage we read. They are going up to defeat the Amalakites and the Lord instructed them through Samuel to devote the Amalekites to destruction. They were to wipe out everything and keep nothing for themselves. Samuel walks out to see what became of the battle and Saul meets him to say he had performed the command of the Lord. He had not performed the command of the Lord though. He saved the best and said he was going to offer it as a sacrifice.

Then though notice what he does; he blame shifts. “But the people took the spoil.” Oh, the people took the spoil. Heaven forbid the king could not tell the people not to take the spoil. What is Saul doing here? He blames the people for the thing that was his responsibility. He tries to downplay his sin by shifting the problem onto everyone else. Saul is not the first person to do this. In fact when the first sin took place Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent. We have been trying to get out of our guilt since we fell in the garden.

Isn’t this a problem we all face? Don’t we all like to paint situations so it looks like we have some type of diminished capacity for our sins? Don’t we often blame our issues on someone else or on something else? We like to put ourselves in the best possible light even when there is no way to make ourselves look good. We must resist this. It’s only when we truly open ourselves up and are honest about our sins that we experience redemption.

Now sometimes you might wonder what the big deal is about Saul making the sacrifice instead of Samuel, but we have to remember the Lord is holy. He made us and not we ourselves. Because God is holy there is a certain way he must be approached. We know this instinctively. If you were going to meet the President you would probably take a bath and I doubt you would wear a Tapout shirt, jean shorts, sandals with socks, and a fanny pack. In the same way, but way more important, the Lord cares about how we approach him and our willingness to approach his in the right way shows something of our heart towards him.

Another great biblical example comes from the life of Moses. One time Israel had no water and they were whining to Moses about it. God told Moses to strike a rock and water flowed from the rock. All the people had plenty to drink. Down the road the people were complaining about a lack of water again. This time the Lord tells Moses to take up his staff and speak to the rock so that they might receive water from it. Instead of speaking to the rock Moses says, “Hear now you rebels, shall we bring forth water from this rock” and then he struck the rock. The Lord told Moses he would not be allowed to enter the land of promise because he did not treat the Lord as holy in the midst of the people. The issue was not just about Moses breaking the rules the Lord laid out for him. The Lord told Moses to speak to the rock. Moses arrogantly asked if he should bring forth water from the rock and struck the rock. His actions, breaking the Lord’s command, showed his heart towards the Lord. He did not treat the Lord as holy among the people. He did not love God, fear God, honor God, and obey God among the people.

This gets to the heart of our sin. We have idols and we are disobedient because we do not rightly love and esteem God. If we loved him, feared him, and honored him we would obey him. We cannot get to claim we love God while we do not live life in the manner he has deemed acceptable and in the manner he has prescribed.

If we are honest we spend a lot of time focusing on what the sin is “out there.” Conservatives think liberals are destroying the foundations of our culture with a lack of respect for life and authority and by jettisoning the way we have viewed moral issues for centuries. Liberals think conservatives are hypocrites and stand in the way of genuine social progress. They think if it wasn’t for conservatives there would be great education, healthcare, environment, and freedom. What we ignore in the midst of our finger pointing is that the greatest struggle I face is not with the people who disagree with me but with the person in the mirror. This rebellious idol factory in my chest is my gravest problem, and until I admit how much I share in common with Saul in this passage I will not be able to accurately see the way of redemption.

I just want to say a quick word about how this applies to parenting for a second. We spend a lot of time trying to keep the world out of our homes and out of our children’s lives. I feel this acutely, especially with a daughter who is essentially in her tween years. I understand that once she hears something she can’t unhear it and once she sees something she can’t unsee it. We rightly understand the music our kids listen to and the movies they watch effect them. We also know through social media how many avenues of evil and sin can be ushered into our children’s lives. The problem though for us as parents will come when we act as if all of the sin your kids need to worry about is the sin out there. Your kids can never watch TV, never listen to the radio, never touch the internet, never go the movies, and not have social media apps and still be plunged into all kinds of evil because our sin comes from within. Other things may fan the flame, but the spark and the gasoline all reside within us.

Honestly I think we all know this intuitively even if we don’t outwardly admit it. Look how much money we spend on self-improvement. We are constantly trying to work hard to make ourselves better because we know something is not right. Often our prescription is wrong, but we are moving towards an accurate diagnosis. The prophet Jeremiah says “the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked.” Once we come to grips with the depth of sin within us we can begin to see the way to redemption, restoration, and forgiveness.

The Rescue from Our Sin

The rescue for our sin is clearly laid out in this passage. Saul proved himself to be a poor excuse for a King. He made rash vows, half-heartedly obeyed, and showed himself to be a man who was unhappy with the Lord’s timing. The Lord regretted making Saul king and promised to depose him.

The Lord said he would set up a king who would be a man after his own heart. Now we know most immediately this is going to be David. David is going to give Israel rest in the land and the people will enjoy unparalleled times of peace and affluence under his leadership. At the same time you get the picture things won’t last this way forever. The Lord will not allow David to build the temple because he has shed too much blood. You know David is going to die because the Lord promises someone from his line will always sit on the throne. Then things fall apart for David, first with Bathsheba and then with one of his sons raping one of his daughters and his other son killing his brother. Then his son turns and tries to kill David so he can be King. David cannot be the forever King. You think it might be his son. He builds the temple and the Queen of Sheba comes to learn from him. Maybe he is the one in whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed as the Lord promised to Abraham. Then Solomon goes haywire and every king after him is a mixed bag at best.

Then Jesus comes on the scene. He proclaimed the kingdom was at hand, so the authorities became preoccupied with his claim to be a King. They thought they had snuffed out his claims to kingship when the nailed him to a cross, but actually they were paving the way for his kingship to become a reality. His people would not be able to stand before the king because of their sins, but Jesus paid the debt we owed by sacrificing himself. Jesus did not die as a helpless victim. He used his authority to lay down his life for his people, then he took his life up again when he was raised from the dead. Jesus ascended into heaven where he is seated on a throne, and when he comes he will come on a white horse to fight the final battle to free his people.

Interestingly enough Paul speaks of becoming a Christian as a transfer of kingdoms. We once were in the domain of darkness, but through faith we are transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved son. Before coming to Christ we lived under the reign of sin and death, but when we trust in Christ we are brought under the reign of grace.

This is why when Paul wants to encourage Christians to put our sin to death, he doesn’t just tell us to try harder and do better. In Romans 6 Paul wants to show why the person who has experienced grace no longer walks in a pattern of sin. He reminds us of who we are in Christ. He reminds us that we have been united with Christ in the likeness of his death and resurrection. He doesn’t start with “get your act together,” but with a reminder that we are new creatures in Christ Jesus. Then he says since we are new people, “do not let sin reign in your mortal bodies that you should obey its lusts.” What did he do there? He reminded us that we are new people and because of this we should live as citizens of Jesus’ kingdom. We should live in such a way that is consistent with the kingdom transfer we have experienced. Sin does not reign over you any longer. The thing in your life that you hate the most does not have the final say; Jesus does. By the power of his grace and the Spirit he sent let us put sin to death!

This happens through faith and repentance. Saul bowed before the Lord after his sin. Samuel killed King Agag as Saul should have done. We can talk more about holy war another week, but here’s the main point. Samuel and Saul both modeled repentance for us. What does a Christian do when we sin? We mourn over our sin and we confess it to the Lord. Then we turn from the bondage of this sin and we walk in the freedom of God’s grace. We know holiness is freedom and sin is a prison, so we walk in holiness putting our sin to death. This is the constant cycle in the life of the Christian. We may sin, but we do not excuse it or coddle it. We repent, confess, and walk in freedom.

So today recognize who your king is. Bow your knee before this gracious king and walk in the power and freedom of his grace.

Related Posts:
Hannah and Samuel
Samuel, Eli, and the Ark of the Covenant

For Further Reading:
1 Samuel by Dale Ralph Davis
Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller

Depression Dark Clouds

photo credit: Clouds via photopin

Many people often go through periods of darkness, sadness, and difficulty. Often in our day we call this depression. Our forefathers called it melancholy and Winston Churchill nicknamed it “the black dog.” We often do not know where to turn when we wrestle with bouts of depression. Many times we find ourselves embarrassed because we don’t know how many other people struggle through intense periods of depression too. In addition, depression becomes particularly difficult for the Christian because often in Scripture we are commanded to have joy and the way we feel during times of depression is anything but joyful.

Depression is real, painful, and defies easy answers, but the follower of Christ has tremendous resources at his disposal for fighting off “the black dog.” I want to highlight three in particular.

(Note: This post primarily deals with the spiritual aspects of depression. Depression can also have physical and physiological components which I am not qualified to address and will not get into in this post. If you find yourself wrestling with intense periods of darkness, or you are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, I would encourage you to talk to your physician soon.)

Fight Depression with Prayer and God’s Word

I bring up prayer and the Bible first with some trepidation. The last thing you need to hear is to pray harder and you’ll be okay. Also I do not want to insinuate depression is necessarily caused by a flaw in your spiritual life. We need to discuss prayer and the Bible first though because of what the Bible says. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s words from Philippians 4:6-7 remind the Christian he does not have to carry his depression alone. When stress, anxiety, and depression hit, turn to the Lord and unload it on him. He invites us to do so, in fact Peter says in 1 Peter 5:7 we can do this because “he cares for you.” God loves you and wants to carry your burdens so you can have peace. Who else in your life is offering to carry your burdens? Turn to him and don’t try to carry your pain alone.

God’s word also gives us encouragement during times of anxiety and depression. In the next section we will reflect on the Gospel, and we need to bathe in the passages of Scripture which remind us of our standing before God and relationship with him. We also need to read the invitations to pray we covered in the last paragraph. These verses help us remember to pray when times are hard. Sometimes we want to run from prayer when we are depressed either because we are ashamed or don’t think God will listen, but the invitations to pray show us we should not be ashamed of our anxieties and let us know God intently listens to us as we pour out our heart to him. The Psalms also help fuel our prayers. Many of the Psalmists composed these prayers and hymns during intense periods of darkness. Reading and praying through the Psalms give you a vocabulary for your prayers. If you struggle with prayer, let the Psalms teach you how to pray.

Fight Depression by Remembering Your Identity

Often depression can make life feel like a hall of mirrors. In this carnival staple you can walk past one mirror and look taller then by another one and look much shorter. If you lived inside a hall of mirrors, you would have a distorted view of how you actually looked. Depression can cause the same kind of distortion with our sense of identity. A Christian going through a period of depression may believe God abandoned her or convince herself God is punishing her for something she has done. Prolonged spells of depression tends to leave a Christian devoid of real hope and doubtful about the future. The only answer to this hall of mirrors is to remind ourselves of what the Bible says is true about us because of Jesus. When the reality of who we are in Christ is distorted because of pain and darkness, the only answer is to go to the eternal truths of God which anchor our souls in times of turmoil and trouble.

Two truths in particular provide balm to the soul of the Christian when times are hard. The person who trusts in Christ is no longer condemned before God. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” When a man, woman, boy, or girl has faith in Jesus, they no longer stand before God defined by their sins. Instead the Christian experiences God’s free forgiveness because of the death of Christ for us. God also credits the perfect life of Christ to our life so we stand before God fully justified. Our sins are wiped away and he sees the perfect life of his Son when he looks at us. Christian, you may walk through times when you feel worthless and guilty, but remember God loves you and gave his Son up for you. You are not worthless, because Jesus gave his life for you; and you are not guilty because Jesus took your guilt upon himself.

We should also remind ourselves of our adoption as the children of God. I can personally testify how remembering this truth during times of darkness provides comfort and encouragement. God adopts every person who trusts in Christ as his own Son and promises we will be co-heirs with his perfect son Jesus. Where before we were spiritual orphans with no hope or future, in Christ he brings us in as his own and gives us the promise of an incredibly glorious future. This truth helps during times of depression because it reminds us we have not been abandoned. God is the perfect father, and he never leaves us or takes us through anything that doesn’t work for our ultimate good.

Fight Depression with God’s Creation and Exercise

At the outset of this post I mentioned we would primarily deal with the spiritual aspects of depress. Going outside to exercise does not feel like a spiritual answer, but history provides us with great examples of Christians who fought depression with God’s creation. Charles Spurgeon, a Baptist pastor in London in the late 19th century, battled depression the rest of his life after a horrid incident at the Surrey Music Hall. An estimated crowd of 10,000 gathered to hear him preach when someone in the upper gallery yelled “fire!” and the ensuing panic led to the trampling of seven people. Surgeon’s critics blamed him for the disaster and the pain followed him the rest of his life. Spurgeon spoke to his ministry students about the pain of depression which can be brought on by previous pain or by spending too much time inside. His admonition, while spoken to those studying for the ministry, applies to any person dealing with depression. (You can find this quote on page 158 of Lectures to My Students.)

Let a man be naturally as blithe as a bird, he will hardly be able to bear up year after year against such a suicidal process; he will make his study a prison and his books the warders of a gaol, while nature lies outside his window calling him to health and beckoning him to joy.
He who forgets the humming of the bees among the heather, the cooing of the wood-pigeons in the forest, the song of birds in the woods, the rippling of rills among the rushes, and the sighing of the wind among the pines, needs not wonder if his heart forgets to sing and his soul grows heavy.
A day’s breathing of fresh air upon the hills, or a few hours bramble in the beech woods’ umbrageous calm, would sweep the cobwebs out of the brain of scores of our toiling ministers who are now but half alive.
A mouthful of sea air, or a stiff walk in the wind’s face, would not give grace to the soul, but it would yield oxygen to the body, which is next best.
Heaviest the heart is in a heavy air,
Ev’ry wind that rises blows away despair.
The ferns and the rabbits, the streams and the trouts, the fir trees and the squirrels, the primroses and the violets, the farm-yard, the new-mown hay, and the fragrant hops—these are the best medicine for hypochondriacs, the surest tonics for the declining, the best refreshments for the weary.
For lack of opportunity, or inclination, these great remedies are neglected, and the student becomes a self-immolated victim.

This never made real sense to me until a few years ago. I went through a particularly difficult time during January and February. Depression, frustration, and anger marked those two months. Then something changed the first weekend of March. The sun came out and the weather was a little warm, so I went in my backyard to do some work and read on the back porch. During those hours I began to feel alive again and tried to put together why I felt so much better. Then I remembered how dark and cold it was the previous two months. Most of my time was spent indoors and I was not going to the gym. This reality hit me again during a recent bout with some melancholy which was accompanied by some circumstances which kept me inside and away from the gym. Finally I was able to get back outside to walk and workout. After walking two miles outside I went to the gym. On the sixth rep of my third set on bench press, I realized I felt the best I had in weeks. None of the external circumstances which had me down had changed, but the combination of time outside and exercise helped my mind and body deal with the difficulties. If you find yourself struggling and spend a significant amount of time inside, go outside. Sit on the back porch, go for a walk, or head into the woods and hike. God’s creation and some physical exertion will be good for your soul.

Bible study,prayer, remembering the Gospel, going outside, or exercising probably will not immediately “fix” the period of depression you are going through. You may even need to get outside help from your physician, but these resources God has given us help give us a different perspective on the darkness we walk through.

Related Posts:
Fighting Depression with Creation
Why You Should Read the Psalms

For Further Reading:
Depression by Ed Welch
When the Darkness Will Not Lift by John Piper

In the last several years many observers of American church life have noted how the definition of a regular church attender has changed. With increasing affluence, mobility, commitments, and entertainment options many Christians simply gather with their church family less often than they did ten years ago. Previously a regular church attender was a person who “only” gathered with their church one time a week. Now a regular attender is a person who may attend two or three times a month.

We don’t typically think about what happens when we don’t regularly gather with our church. Sure, we may think about what “I” might miss. “I won’t hear the sermon today, but I can read a book, listen to Christian radio, or catch up on the podcast.” “I love to sing worship music, but I can do that in the car on the way to where I am going today. I don’t have to go to a building to sing praises to Jesus.” We tell ourselves these things often and use them to justify how “I” can make up for what “I” am missing when “I” miss gathering with the church.

What if there is something I miss something bigger than me when I don’t gather with my church body? We have heard the words of Hebrews 10:24-25 often. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” These Hebrew Christians faced the temptation to stop meeting together because of the persecution they were facing, but they could not stop. The writer of Hebrews reminds them they must stir up one another to love and good works. Notice “not neglecting to meet together” modifies this command and then is followed by the positive modifier “but encouraging one another.” Christians must stir each other up to good works and encourage each other. This cannot be done if we are not regularly meeting together.

You come to an important realization when comtemplating the message of these verses. Instead of thinking about what you miss when you miss gathering with your church family, you need to think about what other people are missing because of your absence. Do you see the difference in perspective here? When only thinking about what you aren’t getting, you view the church with a consumer mentality. The church just becomes another place where you receive goods and services. However, when you begin to see the church as a people to whom you belong, your motivation for gathering changes. The main worship gathering, community groups, and having people over for dinner become a means for you to give as well as receive.

You may think people don’t miss much when you aren’t around, but consider the metaphors the Bible uses to describe the church. Paul pictures the church as a body, a temple, and a family. Every one of these metaphors stresses the church’s interdependency. If the church is a body and you go AWOL, the body will not function properly. Since the church is a family, when you don’t gather with them there is an empty seat at the table. When Paul says the church is a temple, this means you are a brick in it and the whole structure is weaker and more vulnerable when you are not there.

How many times have you been encouraged by a quick word from another Christian? How often have you shared your burdens with another Christian in a short conversation and discovered they were praying for you a month later? When you first visited the church you currently attend, wasn’t it helpful to see people there you already knew? You have the opportunity to be the same blessing to others. The Sunday you want to sleep in may be the Sunday one of your neighbors decides to attend and feels more comfortable because he sees someone he knows. The week you gather around the table with other Christians for lunch instead of running home to catch a football game might be the opportunity to encourage someone who is carrying a hurt and hasn’t told another person about it. You might get the opportunity to be a strong shoulder for a hurting friend the day you gather with your group instead of scheduling something else.

God could accomplish all of his purposes without us, but he most often works through means. The Lord works through our lives to accomplish spread his Kingdom and build up his people. His ministry of encouragement takes place through ordinary Christians praying for and helping each other. He often brings comfort to his hurting children not through an angel from heaven, but through the people he has redeemed.

In two years, you may not remember the sermon you heard when you gathered with the church this week, but a hurting or discouraged friend will remember the kindness you showed them. Today begin to see the church as something so much bigger than a place you go to get the religious things you need. Start viewing the church as a people to whom you belong and who need you so they can grow into the image of Christ. If you belong to Jesus, he has gifted you to build up his people and his kingdom. Gather with his people this week not only thinking of yourself, but how you might be God’s means of building up another.

Related Posts:
The Missional Church in the Rural and Suburban South

For Further Reading:
Everyday Church by Steve Timmis and Tim Chester
A Meal with Jesus by Tim Chester

(We are currently in a series on the life of David at Chelsea Village. As I’ve written before I attempt to write a full manuscript of my sermon before preaching. Throughout this series I’ll be posting some of the sermons I think will be helpful. If you would rather listen to the sermon, you can find it here.)

Any person who has been a Christian for more than a few days figures out pretty quickly that you go through times where you wrestle with half-heartedness and sin. Our enthusiasm for our walk with the Lord and our consistency in our walk with him waxes and wanes. Now, we pray as we grow that the times of dryness and moving backwards will be less frequent, but both new Christians and people who have been Christians for decades all deal with this. Then, the longer your dry spell lasts the more you feel guilty. The guilt drives you even further away.

Here’s the good news, God does not waver in his love for you when you waver in your love for him. You belong to him and he remains steadfastly committed to his people. What he does do though is to work to bring us back to him. This isn’t just true for you as a person, he also does this with churches. Local churches collectively can have high times when they are passionate about Jesus and bringing glory to him, and there are times when churches collectively grow lethargic and half-hearted.

Christians in 2015 are not the first people to grow cold in our love for God or to struggle with sin. In fact the Bible is filled with examples of God’s people living in half-heartedness and rebellion, and then God calling them back to him. So this morning we want to ask, how does God work to bring his people back to him? What does he do to pull us out of half-heartedness and sin and into walking joyfully and passionately for him?

We are going to look at this today from a large swath of Scripture in 1 Samuel. We will look at 1 Samuel 2:12-7:17. Now ordinarily I would read the entire passage we are going to talk about, but today we would not have time to talk about much else if we did that. So what we are going to do is to read a section at the beginning and we will read a few more sections as we work through this passage.

We started last week this new series on the life of David called the “Shepherd King.” Now we did not really talk about David last week and we won’t much this week or next week. We won’t meet David until the next week, but we need to understand the times in which David lived in order to understand what the Lord was doing through his life. Plus, last week we met a baby named Samuel and next week we will meet a man named Saul. We need to meet them and find out what the Lord is doing through them because of their prominence in the life of David.

By Giving His Word to Us

In the first chapter the writer mentioned Hophni and Phineas who were the priests at the temple in Shiloh. Their father Eli was a priest there as well. We find out in chapter 2 that they are wicked men. They short circuit the way they are supposed to offer sacrifices so they get better cuts of meat in direct violation of the Lord’s word. They also were laying with the women who served at the temple. So they did not trust that what the Lord gave them was good enough and took something else for themselves and viewed the women serving the Lord as playthings to be used for their pleasure.

A man of God came to Eli and told him the Lord was going to bring down his house. We pick up with this man’s words and the Lord’s answer.

“And this that shall come upon your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, shall be the sign to you: both of them shall die on the same day. And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. And I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed forever. And everyone who is left in your house shall come to implore him for a piece of silver or a loaf of bread and shall say, “Please put me in one of the priests’ places, that I may eat a morsel of bread.”’”

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD in the presence of Eli. And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was.

Then the LORD called Samuel, and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down.

And the LORD called again, “Samuel!” and Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.

And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant hears.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

And the LORD came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” Then the LORD said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”
1 Samuel 2:34-3:14

So the man of God comes to tell Eli his house will be dethroned. The evidence of this will be his wicked sons dying on the same day. Then he says he will raise up a faithful priest who will do the Lord’s will. The Lord will build this man a sure house and he will go in and out together. Now we’re about to find out this immediately refers to Samuel, but we need to remember there is something in the Bible we call “double fulfillment.” Often the prophets who spoke had an immediate reference and a future reference. So here we see there is going to be a priest raised up who will be faithful to the Lord. Samuel will die one day though. Then the Lord will raise up for himself his ultimate priest- his own Son. Jesus will be faithful as a priest over God’s house. In fact, didn’t we see this very language about Jesus when we looked at Hebrews 10 two weeks ago? The Lord has deposed the sinful priests. He’s going to raise up a faithful one, but he’s going to die. Ultimately the Lord will raise up a faithful priest to represent his people who will never die; and when he did, he was raised from the dead.

Then we turn from the prophecy of the fall of Eli’s house to the reminder of Samuel in the temple. The writer emphasizes the lack of prophetic words from God in those days. Revelation was still unfolding and God going quiet was always the sign something was amiss, but also the sign something astounding was about to happen. This is borne out in Amos where he prophesies there will be a famine among the people, but not a famine of bread or water. This would be a famine of God’s word. However, when you reflect on the times God went silent, something incredible always happened when his word was heard again. There were the four hundred years between Genesis and Exodus. When the word of the Lord came it came through Moses leading the people out of slavery. Here we see silence in the period of the judges, but the Lord is about to raise up the prototypical King. There were also four hundred years after the return of Israel from the exile, but that silence was broken by John the Baptist and ultimately Jesus. Since then there has been no silence from God since as his word thunders forth to the ends of the earth.

Samuel laid down to go to the sleep in the temple. Three times the Lord calls Samuel’s name and three times Samuel goes to find out what Eli wants. Eventually Eli perceives the Lord is calling Samuel and Samuel says, “speak Lord, for your servant hears.” The Lord tells Samuel he is going to do an amazing thing in Israel, and it begins with the Lord reiterating his promise to depose the family of Eli from the priesthood. Eli asks Samuel what the Lord says and Samuel tells him. Eli knows this is from the Lord and knows he cannot stop it, so he submits to it. By the way, this is a completely different response from the King of Nineveh who heard God was going to destroy them and he called everyone to repent. Instead of repentance, Eli simply accepts what happens.

As Eli’s house would fade, Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord. The Lord revealed himself by his word to Samuel. The people of God were now no longer without a prophetic word. Okay, let’s think about this practically. When is God the most distant from us and when do we grow the most spiritually lethargic? Doesn’t it seem to happen the most when God’s word is distant from us? When we neglect the Bible, we will not grow spiritually for any substantive amount of time. However, when we are attentive to the words of the Bible we see more of God, more of the Gospel, and more of his fruit being borne in our lives. I want to encourage you today to make God’s word a priority in your life. So for a lot of you you are getting into a new routine as school begins. What if one of the things you did was to reevaluate your morning and evening routines to see when the best time would be for you to devote time to God’s word? Then what are you going to read in God’s word and what are you going to work on studying and memorizing? If you are stuck with where to start here is what I would encourage you to do. Everyday read one chapter of the Gospel of Mark and ask yourself two questions. First ask, “what is God saying to me in this passage?” Second ask, “how am I going to respond?” Can you imagine the tangible growth that will take place in the life of a Christian if every day you are asking what God is saying through his word and thinking through how you should respond to it?

By Showing His Glory to Us

After this we read the Lord’s word went out from Samuel to all of Israel. Then the Philistines came up against them from the west. The Israelites and the Philistines went back and forth in battle many times, particularly in the book of Judges. They defeated Israel and killed four thousand of their soldiers. Israel could not believe they had lost and wondered why the Lord was against them in battle that day. Then they had an epiphany. When they were marching across the Jordan River and taking the land of promise, they had the ark of the Covenant with them.

The ark of the Covenant was a box which was 45 inches long, 27 inches wide, and 27 inches high. It was laden with gold both inside and out. There were rings on each leg with a pole running through it could be carried. The ark of the Covenant contained the testimony of the Old Covenant and Hebrews tells us it also contained Aaron’s rod and a golden pot which contained manna. On top of the ark was the mercy seat which had a cherubim at each of the ends facing each other. The ark was supposed to remain in the holies of holies because this was the place where the high priest made atonement for himself and the people on the Day of Atonement. The presence of the Lord would meet with his people at the ark of the Covenant.

The ark of the Covenant tells us something about God. Every other statue of monument of a god was chiseled into an image of the god. What was on top of the ark though? There were two angels bowing down presumably before the presence of the Lord. Is there an image of him there? No! How can you contain the glory, the majesty and the might of the almighty God in an image? This is why the second commandment forbids making graven images. There is absolutely no way any human creation, no matter how beautiful it looked, could ever give us an accurate image of who he is. Furthermore, what compels us to worship him is his character, his being, his majesty, and his might. Besides, if we were even able to come close to visually capturing the glory of God, you wouldn’t be able to look at it. When the people of Israel heard God speak at Mount Sinai they asked Moses to talk to God so they would not have to. God is overwhelmingly glorious, and it’s the absence of a visual image of him which shows how glorious he truly is.

At the same time I think it’s instructive that where you would expect an image of God to be on the ark is the mercy seat where the priest would sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice. This tells us something important about God. The incredible glorious God is a God of mercy and grace. He forgives the sin of his people and he restores us back to him. He is infinitely holy and majestic, yet he forgives his people and draws near to us.

Israel brings the ark out because they think of it as a good luck charm. I read someone this week say they treated it like a lucky rabbit’s foot. Now knowing what we know about God, does he seem to be honored or even amused by using him for our own purposes? In chapter 4 we see Hophni and Phineas carrying the ark. They march out into battle with the ark, one of the major symbols of the Lord’s presence among his people. They begin to fight and the Philistines thoroughly route them. Everyone who survived ran to his own home. Thirty thousand of them did not make the trip home thought because they died in battle. Hophni and Phineas both died in the battle, fulfilling the prophecy about them. The ark gets captured and taken back to the land of the Philistines. When the report of what has happened reaches Eli, the ninety-eight year old man falls over backwards and breaks his neck. The writer makes sure we know Eli was a heavy man and this led to his death. His daughter-in-law hears about her husband, her father-in-law, and the ark, which causes her to go into labor. She names her son Ichabod because the glory had departed from Israel.

“When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon. And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold. Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him.”
I Samuel 5:1-4

The Philistines bring the ark in and put in in the room with their god Dagon. Dagon was the corn god and they viewed their overwhelming victory to be the victory of Dagon over the God of Israel. They came in the next morning and Dagon had fallen flat on his face before the ark of the Covenant. They stood him back up. I think we should point out that this is a perfect example of what our personal idolatry looks like. Their god could do nothing for them, but they had to do everything for him. How pathetic is a god who has to be stood up? Isaiah makes this very point in Isaiah 46. The false gods they were tempted to worship had to be carried. They were heavy and wore down their donkeys and mules who had to carry them. Then he contrasts that with God who is the one who carries them. Then he uses this to go into a diatribe about the incomparability of God. God alone is the one who can defend his people, carry his people, and protect his people.

God’s incomparability is demonstrated beyond any shadow of a doubt the next morning. The people come in to find Dagon lying flat on his face before the ark of the Covenant with his hands and feet cut off. Think about it for a second. He is an impotent God who has no power, no knowledge, and is unable to do anything or deliver anyone. Then the people of the city begin to be afflicted with tumors. They recognize God is against them and their God, so they send the ark to another city. The same thing happens there is Gath so they try to send it to Ekron. By now the word has gotten around about the fate of the cities who hosted the ark, so the leaders meet the Ark at the entrance to the city. “They have brought around to us the ark of God to kill us and our people.” Then they determined to send the ark back to Israel.

What do we learn from seeing the visible sign of the Lord’s presence wreak such havoc? Here we see the incomparability of God. There is no one like him and he has no rivals. He alone set the world in its place and he alone dwells in eternal glory. The Lord alone should be praised and the Lord alone should inspire the love and awe of his people. As Israel was prone to look to the gods of the nations around them for protection and deliverance, we tend to look to manmade things to provide us with protection, security, joy, and fulfillment. How often have you looked at your money and said, “you are my security?” Then when there is not enough money how often have you felt exposed and insecure? Have there not been many times when you looked at the approval of other people and found your identity there? Then when you found the disapproval of other people doesn’t that tend to kill our joy and make us wonder who we are? We need to ask ourselves where we find our joy, security, and sense of identity. At the same time we need to look at the things which make us insecure, miserable, and lose our sense of identity. These are the things we are looking to instead of the Lord of glory. What we want to see is the Lord in all his glory. We want to remove anything we desire which could lead us away from him.

By Demonstrating His Mercy to Us

Now the Philistines brought the ark back to Israel and made an offering there. Some of the people of the town were stuck down because they looked upon the ark, leading the people to exclaim, “who can stand before the Lord, this holy God?” Who is it who can stand before this unique God? Who can stand before his triune glory and not shutter? Who can stand before him with us being sinful and him in his shining holiness?

“And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the LORD with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the LORD only.”

As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel. But the LORD thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were defeated before Israel. And the men of Israel went out from Mizpah and pursued the Philistines and struck them, as far as below Beth-car.

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the LORD has helped us.” So the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel. And the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. The cities that the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron to Gath, and Israel delivered their territory from the hand of the Philistines. There was peace also between Israel and the Amorites”
1 Samuel 7:3-4; 10-14

Samuel brings the people together and calls them to repentance. What we mean by repentance is a mourning over sin and a whole hearted turning to the Lord. Samuel puts it here as “returning” to the Lord. The picture here calls to mind the prodigal son returning from his journey in shame hoping his father will take him in. What did the prodigal find though? He did not find the father shaking his head in disappointment. Rather he found the father running toward him. Middle eastern men did not run. They had no desire to look foolish. Yet this father picked up his robe and ran to greet the son. Jesus tells this story because he wants us to see the attitude of the father towards the sinner who comes home. The father welcomes us with open arms.

We must understand the joy of repentance. We don’t see repentance as a joy because our enemy has convinced us that sin brings joy. Honestly though, has sin ever followed through on what it promised? Did sin ever give us any real lasting joy? Did it ever satisfy us for more than a season? The problem is we are so quick to believe the lies of the evil one. Remember in the garden the serpent was not wearing a sign that said, “I’m here to destroy you.” No, he appealed to Eve’s eyes and her heart. After he spoke she saw the fruit was a delight to the eyes and desirous to make one wise. Then she ate it. Notice how she saw sin as enticing. The same thing happens with us today. Satan knows us well and he will use whatever bait he has to so we will take the hook. Therefore we must know his schemes and be quick to run to the fountain of true joy. When we find ourselves running away from the Lord, let’s turn and run back. There is more joy for one second in Christ than there could every be in a lifetime of sin.

Notice what repentance entailed here. First it had to do with the Israelites putting away their foreign gods. Apparently with some of the losses Israel had seen over the years the people had begun to turn to the foreign gods seeking protection. These gods, which they worshipped in direct violation of God’s covenant, had to be put away immediately. The people then came together and they admitted their sin before the Lord. Samuel prayed for them and led them that day. He offered up a burnt offering for the people and the Lord answered the prayer of Samuel. The Philistines came up against Israel and Israel prevailed. Their cities were restored and they began to live in peace.

This entire passage if you look at was about the Lord taking away Israel’s evil leadership and enthroning a godly leader. This leader was both a prophet and a priest. He spoke God’s word to the people, prayed for the people, and sacrificed for the people. Have you noticed how much of the Old Testament is taken up with this theme of the leader of the people? We saw it with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, the Judges, Samuel, and we will soon see it with Saul and David. We know intuitively that we need a victorious warrior to fight for us, we need a king to lead us, we need a priest to make atonement for us, and we need a prophet to teach us. Samuel was never all of these things, and soon enough Samuel is going to die. I don’t want to blow next week just yet, but Saul will be a disaster, David is coming next and he will be the prototypical King, but he will sin and he will die. Yet the Bible reaches its ultimate point in the prophet, priest, and king who never sinned. This man, Jesus, did die, but his death was not like the other deaths. He had no sin for which he should die, so he gave his life for us. Then he was victoriously raised from the dead. We can entrust ourselves to this leader because of who he is, what he has done, because of what he is doing now, and what he will do when he returns and we see him in all his glory.

Samuel does something interesting here. He sets up a stone and calls it “Ebenezer” because the Lord has been their help. So when we sing “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” and we get to “Here I raise mine Ebenezer,” this is what we are talking about. The Lord is our helper. Have you noticed how often in the Bible the Lord gave the people tangible reminders of what he has done? Think about it- the ark of the covenant, the Ebenezer stone, the temple, the stones in the Jordan River, and then for us the Lord’s Supper. Why does the Lord keep giving his people these physical reminders of the things he has done? The answer is simple really, we are a people who are quick to forget what the Lord has done. We forget the Gospel.

You want to know why your love for God grows cold? Do you want to know why we go through times of spiritual dryness? Do you want to know why there are times when sin seems better than holiness? This happens because we forget the Gospel. We forget the extravagant love of God we have received. We forget the mercy and the grace we have been shown. We forget our position as the children of God. We forget that we have died to sin and now live to God. We forget our redemption from previous sins. We forget the glorious inheritance that is ours in Christ. We forget about the dear dying lamb who gave his life for us and the victorious king who rose from the dead for us. Today, recover the beauty of the Gospel in your own heart. Remember the mercy you have been shown and remember the promise of eternal life. Remember you are a child of the king and you will reign with Christ forever. Flee from sin, flee from half-heartedness, and run to Christ in whom we find rest and redemption.

Related Posts:
Hannah and Samuel

For Further Reading:
1 Samuel: Looking to the Heart by Dale Ralph Davis

Nancy Jo Sales talked to singles in Manhattan, Indiana, and Delaware about their experiences with dating and hookups for her Vanity Fair article, “Tinder and the Dawn of the Dating Apocalypse.” In the article, which I must warn you contains a fair amount of graphic language, she shares how the rise of dating apps like Tinder have pushed us past traditional dating rituals and into the era of fast, meaningless hookups. Hookup culture is nothing new, but she argues the rapid acceleration of technology has in turn rapidly ushered in what one interviewee called, “the dating apocalypse.”

Sales’ article reveals troubling trends arising from this new culture and in doing so inadvertently shows the beauty of the Gospel, marriage, and the Christian sexual ethic.

Selfishness v.s. Selflessness

One of the article’s most revealing moments occurs in a conversation with two men she calls Nick and Brian. (Sales says she changed some names for the article.) Neither Nick nor his friend John have had girlfriends in the last several years. In fact Nick, who lives with his mother, bragged that he recently slept with three women in four nights and only spent $80 on the three girls combined and John boasted of his ability to get a woman’s number on Tinder only from sending her emojis. Brian broke rank with his friends and had a girlfriend for a while before she broke up with him before she found out he was cheating.

None of the three guys are remotely interesting in being in a relationship anymore. Nick would rather hookup than be in a relationship because “I don’t want to deal with all that- stuff,” and Brian echoed the sentiment saying, “You can’t be selfish in a relationship. It feels good just to do what I want.” We should at least give these men the credit for being honest. They want the benefits of a relationship, sex, without the woman asking them for anything in return. The selfishness demonstrated by many young men in our culture that one woman interviewed in the article talked about how surprised she was when one guy drove her home the next morning after they hooked up.

Contrast this unrestrained selfishness with the Christian vision of marriage and relationships. “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Christian marriage pulls people away from their innate selfishness, which few cultures regarded as a virtue before ours began to exalt it as something to be admired. In his words to married Christians, Paul points to the example of the greatest man who ever lived. Paul commands husbands to love their wives in the same way Christ loved his church. How did Jesus love the church? In his life he came “not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” In his death on the cross, Jesus sacrificed himself for his people to bring them back to God. He laid down his life for the good of those he came to save. Eschewing relationships and using people for selfish ends leaves us as people with poorly developed character. Marriage forces a person to look in the mirror and recognize how deeply rooted our selfishness really is. Rather than coddling our selfishness, the example of Christ calls us to crucify our selfishness and grow in sacrificial love for the sake of another. Then, in the ultimate coup in our selfish culture, we find that putting our selfishness to death and looking out for others is the path to genuine joy.

For my entire life I have heard people say that a male who looks at pornography and sleeps with every willing woman is, “just being a man.” May I be honest about this? The male who consistently consumes pornography and uses women solely to fulfill his sexual desire is the exact opposite of a man. He’s a selfish pervert who exploits the vulnerable for his own interest. Men recognize they were made by God and exist for him and not for themselves. Because they know they are dependent upon the sacrificial grace of Jesus, men sacrifice for others instead of using them. Men know they were made in God’s image to tend and cultivate the earth, so they take responsibility rather than avoiding it. Men embrace Jesus’ call to look out for the least of these, so they protect and care for the vulnerable instead of using them to fulfill their selfish desires. When men come face to face with the reality of their selfishness, perversion, sin, and exploitation they repent rather than excusing what they have done.

The Devastating Effects of Pornography

(Warning: There will be some frank discussions about sexuality in this section.)
One particularly graphic section of Sales’ article recounts a discussion with a gathering of college on the front porch of an off-campus house one morning. On this particular Sunday morning these University of Delaware students were recounting the events of the previous night. Some of them talked about their hookups and it led into a discussion about hookup culture and sex on their college campus. Among the topics covered were the number of young men who experienced some type of sexual dysfunction. Several of the girls recalled instances of young men who were unable to “perform” and they placed the blame on the over-consumption of porn among this age group.

This group of sorority girls actually hit on something an increasing number of people have noted of late. Pornography rewires the brain and make it more difficult for men to enjoy intimacy with actual women. The brain releases dopamine when we encounter an enjoyable behavior we want to repeat. The more enjoyable the experience, the higher the level of dopamine that is released. (Contrary to popular belief, it is dopamine, not testosterone, which provides the main fuel for the male sex drive.) The brain initially reacts to pornography the same way it responds to an actual sexual act. Yet if a person watches the same type of pornography over time they will need to seek a more extreme form of pornography to satisfy the urge for a dopamine release the brain craves. The result is that over time the consumption of pornography rewires the way the brain works. It should be no surprise then to find men who consume pornography growing bored or frustrated during sexual acts with a real woman because they do not involve the sensationalized scenes their brains have grown accustomed to desiring.

This phenomena shows why, in a turn of events our sex-crazed culture would never expect, research has shown that married men report being more satisfied with their sexual experiences than their single counterparts. God did not create sex to be enjoyed outside of the union of husband and wife; and he especially did not create it to be a spectator sport. The married man and woman are no longer two, but instead they are joined together as one flesh before God. They experience a unity of life which includes all of who they are. Sexuality is not the sum of their relationship, instead it is part of the larger picture of their union. Furthermore sex within marriage frees people from the guilt, shame, manipulation, and potential embarrassment which plagues sexual relationships outside of marriage. Sexuality within marriage becomes a vehicle for unity, service, and the expression of shared love.

The Beauty of the Gospel and Marriage

I highly doubt Nancy Jo Sales intended to show the beauty of Christian marriage when she began interviewing twenty somethings about Tinder, dating, hookups. As she writes about manipulation, embarrassment, and selfishness of the hookup she demonstrates by contrast why Christian marriage provides the best context for human joy and flourishing. Christian marriage pictures the great love story between Jesus Christ and his church. Through faith in Jesus who died for us, the infinitely holy God sees redeemed sinners as a beautiful bride adorned for her wedding day. We bring him our sin, shame, and filth and in exchange he forgives us, adopts us, declares us righteous, and promises we will reign forever with Christ. Because of our overwhelming over the grace we have received, Christians love God and live our lives to bring him glory. As a husband loves his wife sacrificially, he points to the reality of the sacrificial love of Christ for his people and the wife points to our love for God as she loves and trusts the leadership of her husband.

Among the many things which saddened me in “Tinder and the Dawn of the Dating Apocalypse,” I was most struck by the cynicism of the young women Sales interviewed. Their words reveal they know they should be loved, cherished, and respected; but they have given up on this happening and settle for being flattered by a guy who drives them home the morning after or texts them the next day. It demonstrates how sin, rather than giving us the joy it promises, leaves us cynical, jaded, and used. The Gospel of Jesus Christ delivers what it promises. The God who created the world knows us more deeply than anyone in the world and loves us more deeply than anyone. He sees the ugliest depths of who we are and responds with faithful love and grace. In him we do find the hope and the joy for which we spent our whole lives searching.

Related Posts:
Husbands, Be a Patient Listener
Husbands, Be Kind to Your Wives

For Further Reading:
Finally Free by Heath Lambert
What Did You Expect? by Paul David Tripp

Hannah and Samuel

August 10, 2015 — 1 Comment

(Yesterday we started a new series on the life of David at Chelsea Village. As I’ve written before I attempt to write a full manuscript of my sermon before preaching. Throughout this series I’ll be posting some of the sermons I think will be helpful to people. If you would rather listen to the sermon, you can find it here.)

I once heard a man tell a story about what he calls the worst sin he ever committed. He was getting in his car after his wife had another miscarriage. Notice I said “another.” This humble, godly couple wanted a child and were going through terrible heartbreak in the process. He left his wife at home to go to work. When he got in the car he heard about a celebrity who had a baby. This was a person who had put out a lot of work which could only be described as immoral, filthy, and disgusting. This person had mocked Christianity in their art and done everything they could to advance bizarre sexuality. So, here this man’s faithful godly wife sat in grief while this celebrity who mocked the things of God was in the hospital enjoying her new baby. He heard himself say out loud in a sarcastic tone, “that’s fair.” In his heart he was questioning the goodness of God as he saw the wicked prosper and the humble wallow in pain.

Let’s be honest, his pain and frustration are not foreign to us. Often we look at the pain of this life and wonder where God is when his people suffer. We want to know why those who live faithful and godly lives seem to have such a hard time while those who seem to the stand for the most horrific forms of evil get to prosper. We want to know why God allows suffering and pain for his people and why those who live with no regard for him get to avoid so much of it. Where is God when we are in pain? Why does he allow his people to suffer and why does he allow wicked people to prosper? How can we trust God when he seems to have such an inverted sense of justice?

Today I want you to see that God is with his people in their pain and hardship; and I want you to see that God ultimately exalts and vindicates his people while bringing low the people who oppose him. We are going to look at this today from the book of 1 Samuel 1:1-2:11. We are beginning a study which will take us through the fall in the life of King David. You can read about David here in 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Chronicles, and the read his works in the book of Psalms. David is a pivotal figure in the life of the Old Testament and God made many promises to him. Because of these promises, he is referenced many times in the New Testament. Many times this was in reference to Jesus fulfilling things which were spoken to David, by David, or about David. This is going to be a fun series as we are going to cover a lot of really interesting narrative.

To tell the story of David’s life, we need to understand some things that took place before he was born. God created the world and everything in it, including people in his image. Human beings fall into sin and God promises he will send a seed from the woman who will crush the had of Satan who tempted Adam and Eve. Much of the Old Testament assumes the question, “is this the one who will deliver God’s people?”. An important point in Old Testament history happens at the end of Genesis 11 when we meet Abram. God promises his that through his family all the nations of the earth will be blessed. Only Abraham has reached the age of seventy-five and has no children. His wife Sarah eventually gives birth to their son Isaac who has two sons Jacob and Esau. We’ll mention Jacob again in passing, but he had twelve sons by his two wives and their two servants. The family winds up in Egypt where they stay for four hundred years and grow to a nation of hundreds of thousands. The Egyptians enslave them, but God sends Moses to lead them out of slavery into the land God promised to Abraham. They wander in the desert for forty years before coming into the promised land through the leadership of Joshua. They were to be a people who were wholly devoted to the Lord, but the book of Judges records the descent of God’s people into idolatry and horrific sin. In Judges we see a cycle of the people rebelling, God raising a leader called a judge who would deliver the people, and then they would fall into the same practice as before except things would get worse. The last line of Judges is “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” 1 Samuel picks up where Judges leaves off. What is God’a answer going to be for the rebellion of his people?

Our story today will center on a man named Elkanah and his two wives Peninnah and Hannah. We will quickly see how this narrative focuses on one of these wives and through this we will see how God in our suffering and difficulty God is with his people, for his people, and will ultimately vindicate his people. Let’s look at 1 Samuel 1:1-2:11.

There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite. He had two wives. The name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other, Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.

Now this man used to go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the LORD of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the LORD. On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the LORD had closed her womb. And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the LORD had closed her womb. So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the LORD, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. And Elkanah, her husband, said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the LORD. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly. And she vowed a vow and said, “O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”

As she continued praying before the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.” Then Eli answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.

They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the LORD; then they went back to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her. And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the LORD.”

The man Elkanah and all his house went up to offer to the LORD the yearly sacrifice and to pay his vow. But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, “As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, so that he may appear in the presence of the LORD and dwell there forever.” Elkanah her husband said to her, “Do what seems best to you; wait until you have weaned him; only, may the LORD establish his word.” So the woman remained and nursed her son until she weaned him. And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and she brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh. And the child was young. Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the LORD. For this child I prayed, and the LORD has granted me my petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the LORD. As long as he lives, he is lent to the LORD.”

And he worshiped the LORD there.

And Hannah prayed and said,

“My heart exults in the LORD;
my horn is exalted in the LORD.
My mouth derides my enemies,
because I rejoice in your salvation.

“There is none holy like the LORD:
for there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God.
Talk no more so very proudly,
let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the LORD is a God of knowledge,
and by him actions are weighed.
The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble bind on strength.
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.
The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.
The LORD kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
The LORD makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low and he exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s,
and on them he has set the world.

“He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness,
for not by might shall a man prevail.
The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces;
against them he will thunder in heaven.
The LORD will judge the ends of the earth;
he will give strength to his king
and exalt the horn of his anointed.”

Then Elkanah went home to Ramah. And the boy was ministering to the LORD in the presence of Eli the priest.

Hannah’s Pain

When we read the Bible, it’s important to remember what came before and what is coming after the passage we are studying. The last time a person reading straight through the Bible would have encountered the phrase, “there was a certain man of,” it was to introduce a man named Manoah would be the father of Samson. Samson, while having many sketchy character qualities, did deliver God’s people from the Philistines. This happened at a particularly dark time in Israel’s life and so you get the impression that maybe something good is about to break through this dark time as well.

We meet Elkanah and his wives Peninnah and Hannah. We need to address something about this arrangement from before we get too far into the narrative. In many of the debates about marriage recently many people have said there is no such thing as a “biblical marriage” because the Bible has polygamists. We need to understand there is a difference between what the Bible reports and what it endorses. While the Bible does show men with multiple wives, it never says anything positive about them and the writers go to great lengths to show their disapproval. We see an immediate problem here because Penninah has borne children to Elkanah but Hannah has not.

The family left their home in northern Palestine to make the fifteen mile journey to worship at a permanent temple structure which had been built there. Eli’s sons Hophni and Phinehas are the priests there and they will figure into our story in the next few weeks. They went up for what is likely the Feast of Tabernacles and each family would take part in a family feast as part of the festivities. Elkanah gave out the portions to Peninnah and her children, but he would give double to Hannah. However Peninnah harassed and provoked Hannah because the Lord closed her womb.

Many of you know this, but infertility, childlessness, and miscarriage is terribly painful. Wanting to have children but not being able to conceive tears at your heart and everywhere you go there are reminders of your burden. Then add to this for Hannah that she lives in agrarian society with no Social Security. A woman needed children to work in the fields and take care of her in her old age. Young men were needed for the military to protect the people and in a day where only four of ten babies born would make it to adulthood you needed to give birth to many children. In addition your children became tied to your standing in the community. A woman without children dealt with despondency, derision, and an uncertain future.

Hannah wept and would not eat. We will talk about this some in this series because there are times when David deals with sleeplessness. When you are despondent, worried, or scared one of the major symptoms is a change in the way you interact with eat and sleep. You will either not be able to eat or you will gorge yourself because it feels like food is the only enjoyable thing you have in your life. Also, you will either have difficulty sleeping because you are racked with anxiety or you sleep all the time because you do not want to face the things that scare you.

Hannah weeps for her childlessness and Elkanah tries to turn her attention from her childlessness to him. He asks if he is not worth more to her than ten sons. He envisions her womb being opened in an extraordinary way and basically asks her if his love is not even greater than the possibility of her having ten sons. We do see he loves her greatly, but he tries to make her a bargain which won’t help her at all. She’s weeping and unable to eat, so he basically says to her, “stop finding your identity in your lack of children and try to find it in me.” He hits here something we often do. We try to find our identity in something and find it unfulfilling, so we turn to find our identity in something else. If we look to find our identity in anything other than Jesus we will constantly turn to people and circumstances to bring us joy. Either things will go well and we experience pride or they go poorly and we are shattered.

For many people, the existence of suffering like what Hannah is facing causes them to question the existence of God. The unique message of Christianity answers the question of suffering in ways other faiths and philosophies cannot. The triune God is not immune to the pain of this world. In fact his own son entered into this world of pain and suffered for us. Here the words of Bible teacher John Stott.

“I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross.’ In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in Godforsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross.”

Hannah’s Peace

After the meal Hannah runs into the temple to pray. We do not have a record of Hannah responding to Peninnah’s taunts or Elkanah’s appeal about the worthiness of his love. Instead she goes to the temple where she pours out her heart before the Lord while weeping and makes a vow to him. Her prayer is laced with all kinds of theological terminology and flashbacks to what the Lord has done in the past. When she asks the Lord to remember her and not forget her, she is using covenantal promise language. In Genesis 6 the Lord tells Noah to build an ark for the preservation of his family because God is going to destroy the world with a flood. Noah builds the ark then the rain falls and the waters rise. At the beginning of Genesis 8 the writer says “God remembered Noah” and at that point a wind blew and the waters began to subside. “Remember” is covenantal language reminding us that God is faithful to his promises and that he intimately knows his people.

Then she begins to lay out her petition. She asks that he would give her a son and if he does she will give the son back to him. She does not pray “give me a son and I will do something for you.” No, she asks for a son so she can give the son to the Lord. She knows if she has a son it would be through the sheer mercy of God and so how could she not give the son back to him? This is the heart of Christian worship 1050 years before Jesus is born in Bethlehem. Because of his great love and grace toward us, we give God that which is most precious, our very lives, back to him as an act of worship. This is why Paul says in Romans 12, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice to God” and then says this is our service of worship. If our salvation were a matter of our own good works, then we could bargain with God about what we do for him. Since our present salvation and future inheritance come from grace alone, there’s no limit to what he can ask us to do for the sake of his name.

She promises he will become a Nazarite. They were characterized by not cutting their hair and not drinking any strong drink. While she is praying and making her vow she is not speaking out loud but pouring out her heart silently. Eli thinks she is drunk. This is everything you need to know about the spiritual state of Israel at this point. The priest sees someone praying and assumes they are drunk. She tells him that she is not drunk, but that she is pouring out her heart from anxiety and vexation. He essentially wishes her well and then says a prayer of blessing for her to receive the petition she asked for.

I find what happens next to be astounding. She goes on her way and she eats. Her face is no longer sad. Before she poured her heart out to the Lord she can’t eat and she is weeping. After she prays she has peace. Notice she did not get peace because she knew her circumstances would change. Notice this, it’s so important. She had peace before her circumstances changed. I think we mentioned this last week but it bears repeating. In Philippians 4 Paul says to “be anxious for nothing, but in everything let your requests be made before God; and the peace of God which surpassing all hearts and minds will guard your hearts in Christ Jesus.” You should pray for anything that causes you anxiety or stress. Bring it before the Lord and you will find peace in your soul. This does not mean everything in your situation will turn out the way you think it should, but it does mean you will not be bearing your burden alone. One of my good friends asked me one of the most important questions I’ve ever been asked last year. I told him about a difficult situation I was facing and he asked, “Have you prayed about it?”. “Yeah, I’ve prayed about it.” “But have you prayed about it?” This question reminded me I had only offered half-hearted prayers, but had not genuinely come and brought my burdens to the Lord so I could experience his peace.

I love how the writer says that Hannah conceived and bore a son, “in due time.” God’s word reminds us here of the Lord’s perfect providence and timing. The desires of our heart will not necessarily come to us at all and they definitely do not come on our timetable. We entrust ourselves to the manifold wisdom of God, delighting ourselves in the Lord in the meantime. Psalm 37:4 says “delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” This tells us to find our joy in God and God alone. He is an inexhaustible fountain of joy. Psalm 16:11 says, “in your presence there is fullness of joy and at your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” Think about this for a second. In God we find fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. We find full and endless pleasure and delight in the Lord while we wait on him. The problem with “delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” is we misunderstand “he will give you the desires of your heart.” We think this means “delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you what your heart already desires.” Instead the word here for “give” has more to do with creating the desires of our hearts. It is not that we delight ourselves in him and he gives us what we already desire. No! We delight ourselves in him and he changes and creates what we desire and long for. Waiting for, entrusting ourselves to, and delighting ourselves in the Lord changes who we are at our core. We become different people, transformed into his image by our repeated audiences with the Lord.

Then Hannah has her son and names him Samuel. She recognizes he came to her from the Lord and knows the Lord answered her prayer. In fact at the end of the chapter she says the Lord granted her petition and now she gives her son back to the Lord. After she has weaned Samuel, she brought him to the temple and presented him to Eli in fulfillment of her vow. Then she makes an offering and it is three times what would usually be brought. She recognizes the overwhelming grace she has received and she gives in response to this grace.

This is so important for us to get today. We don’t obey God to get things from him and we don’t obey God to pay God back. God’s not a slot machine and he’s not a loan shark. God shows grace, and we obey because of grace. We have been restored back to him and want to live lives that honor him. His grace motivates our obedience and calls us to continue to follow him when we begin to falter.

Hannah’s Prayer

Next we have a record of Hannah’s prayer after presenting Samuel in the temple. Her prayer begins by rejoicing in who God is. Notice the description of how she praises him. “My mouth, my horn, my heart.” (An animal’s horn was its glory. They would often lift it high after goring and defeating an opponent. So here she is glorifying God in the victory she experienced.) The three-fold repetition underscores how all of who she is praises the Lord. This comes from the depths of her heart and engages her whole being.

She exults in who God is. Three times she underscores the uniqueness of the Lord. He is holy, there is none besides him, and there is no rock like him. I love the imagery here of God as a rock. He is stable and strong. We can hold on to him in times of difficulty. In a storm a rock can be a place of refuge or if you ignore it it can smash you. Hannah’s major point here is that God is utterly unique. There is none like him. All too often Christians get engaged in debates with people who are not Christians and we wind up talking circles around each other because our views are so divergent on life’s most important issue. We see this in debates about marriage and it is evident in the current discussions taking place around Planned Parenthood. Ultimately we have to bring these discussions with our nonChristian friends back to who God is. We cannot talk as if everyone just has their opinions and none is better than the other. No, instead we must deal with the truth that God is real, he has stamped eternity in our hearts, and we will either bow our knees to him in salvation or we will bow them in judgement. God is the ultimate reality in the world.  All of life must flow from our recognition of his existence and his utter uniqueness and glory.

Hannah begins to show how God overturns all of the ways of our world. Often we believe evil is winning and the enemies of God’s people have the upper hand in the world. It may not happen on our timetable, but the Lord brings ultimate justice. “The bows of the mighty are broken.” “The wicked are cut off in darkness.” “He breaks his adversaries into pieces.” “He judges the ends of the earth.” Hannah’s prayer shows how the those who rebel against the Lord and revile his people face his ultimate justice. Her prayer reminds us that evil may seem to be winning the day, but all evil will see its end. We may wonder “where is the justice in this world,” but we must know ultimate justice is a long game. The Lord delays his ultimate justice so more people might repent, but there will be a day when the delay will end. So we must recognize today that the time is short, and if you have not decided what you are going to do with Jesus Hannah’s prayer should remind you that is not a matter to be put off. Thankfully the doors of God’s salvation are open to all who would come to him in repentance and faith. Every person who trusts in Jesus, though they may be worthy of God’s judgement, will receive his grace and become part of his family.

At the same time the Lord judges the haughty evil doer, he reverses the fortunes of and changes the lives of the lowly. “The feeble bind on strength.” “Those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.” “The barren has borne seven.” “He raises the poor from the dust and the needy from the ash heap so they sit with princes and inherit a place of honor.” He can do this because the pillars of the earth belong to him. When we are attacked and when we go through pain, we must know beyond any shadow of a doubt that the Lord vindicates and comes to the aid of his people. He does not leave us alone. He may allow us to walk through horrid things, but we never walk alone. And in his perfect timing he delivers and we get to share in his ultimate victory over evil.

At the end of her prayer Hannah prays for the Lord to give strength to the king and exalt the horn of his anointed. There is no king though, so why even mention it? She is saying more than she knows and foreshadowing God’a anointed King David who will reign for forty years and win many battles for God’s people. Unfortunately, David will prove himself to be sinful, unfaithful, and eventually he will die, but there will be a king who will come from his line who will never be unfaithful and he will always obey God by doing good and not evil all the days of his life. Then he dies too, but he does so as a sacrifice for the sins of his people. How do we know this? We know this because the grave was not the last word for Jesus. He died like every person before, but God vindicated him by raising him from the dead never to die again and brought him back to heaven where he waits to return again for his people. Jesus is the Lord and Jesus is the King. This King always does what is right and his people can find refuge in him. The storms, the pain, and the adversity may rain down upon us, but our anointed King is our perfect refuge in times of trouble. The king of the world who reigns in heaven is the one in whom we hide and find our help.

Because Jesus  cried “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me,” we have confidence that we will never be abandoned. We know the Lord will always be with us, and will ultimately vindicate us and deliver us. Because of Christ, we are the children of the Father, the brothers of the King, and are filled with God’s Spirit. Today, let us lay aside our pride and lay aside our fear. Let us take our anxiety and our pain and bring them before the Lord. There we will find the God who holds up, encourages, calms, and empowers his people. And then let us with great courage, humility, and boldness fight the good fight of faith and run the race set before us, knowing that God always gives his people ultimate victory in Christ Jesus.

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For Further Reading:
“1 Samuel for You” by Tim Chester


photo credit: Typography via photopin (license)

Yesterday my Bible reading brought me to the Psalms. Wanting to read slowly and meditatively, I sensed my heart begin to stir as I read these prayers and songs composed by God’s people hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus. Because of the wide variety of Psalms, they stir and help the Christian in a myriad of ways. Here are three reasons you need to give greater attention to the Psalms.

The Psalms Present Us With a Full-Orbed View of God

The Psalm writers praise God for what theologians have often called his transcendence. “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.” In this quote from Psalm 8:1, David points to the majesty and glory of God. God is altogether unlike us. He eternally exists in perfect holiness and splendor. The Lord of the Psalms dwells in heaven, does what he pleases, and his very being should inspire the highest praise from his people. When we are tempted to have a domesticated view of God, the Psalms provide the resources to recapture our view of God as he actually is.

God’s transcendence should not make us think he is detached from the lives of his people. Just as the Psalm writers extol the transcendence of God, they also consistently point us to his nearness. The writers point to God as a hiding place in whom they can take refuge to find peace and safety. The almighty, transcendent God uses his limitless power to protect his people. In addition the Psalm writers appeal to God’s grace, compassion, and patience. For them, God’s transcendence and immanence don’t contradict each other, instead they are complementary attributes. God’s grace and care for his people is only effective because of his glory, holiness, and strength. If you struggle with believing God is distant from you, read the Psalms. You will see he is high and lofty, but he also stoops to come near to us.

The Psalms Give Us a Vocabulary for Our Emotions

When I was younger I wondered why many of the Psalms sounded so whiny. After walking through more years of life these are the heart cries of people who have dealt with real world pain. Many of the Psalms show their writers in dangerous or difficult situations. Their prayers reflect an honesty we often find embarrassing as they wonder why God seems to have abandoned them and why the wicked seem to be flourishing. When you find yourself walking through a struggle, the Psalms give you the words to work through your pain. They help you understand where you are and point to the solution found in our all-powerful God.

We also discover a vocabulary for praise in the Psalms. Often we only thank God for our temporal blessings. The Psalms teach us how to praise God for his being, his compassion, his deliverance, and his blessings. For the person who struggles understanding how to express praise and thanksgiving, reading through the Psalms will give you the vocabulary to do so.

The Psalms Encourage Us in Our Prayers

How often do we go to pray and don’t even know where to start? Start reading and praying through the Psalms. You can either pray the Psalms as they are written or use the words of the Psalms as a launch pad into your own prayers. To do the latter you read a line or a couple of verses and begin to pray based on what you read. Was there something in the verse you could praise God for? Or did you see a sin you should repent of or a petition you needed to echo in your own life. Maybe the Psalm reflects the pain you currently experience and provides you with a model for how to pray through it. Christian struggling to pray, read the Psalms for the sake of your prayers.

For an introduction to the Psalms read Psalm 1 and know meditating on the following chapters will plant you like a tree by streams of water. If your walk with the Lord has been dry, turn to David’s intensely personal words in Psalm 63. Psalm 3 would be a great help to anyone wrestling with fear. The 145th Psalm helps the Christian understand both God’s immanence and his transcendence. When you have struggled with sin pray through the words of Psalm 51. Read Psalm 95 before you gather with God’s people for worship this coming Sunday.

What is your favorite Psalm and which ones should you start reading next?

Related Posts:
Why You Should Read the Bible
When Prayer is Difficult

For Further Reading:
How to Read the Psalms by Tremper Longman III
Praying the Bible by Donald Whitney

"Grand Canyon" by John Fowler. Available at Flickr  (license)

“Grand Canyon” by John Fowler. Available at Flickr (license)

Monday at SBC Today Dr. Michael Cox asked the question, “Is Calvinism Spiritual Racism?”. ( If you are unfamiliar with the terms, Calvinism is the nickname for a theological position which exalts the sovereignty of God in the process of man’s salvation. At its heart, the Calvinistic position understands God created the world and made human beings in his image. While the first humans were holy and happy, they fell from their original innocence through breaking God’s command and all humanity was plunged into sin through their transgression. Left to ourselves, no person would come back to God because we are “dead in our trespasses and sins.” Thankfully, God determined before the world began to save a people for himself by sending his son to die in the place of sinners. Those whom he chose will hear the Gospel and respond in faith, being justified before God, forgiven by God, adopted into God’s family, filled with God’s Spirit, and given an everlasting inheritance with Christ.

Dr. Cox believes these doctrines share more in common with Hinduism and Racism than Christianity. His most basic point seems to be showing how these doctrines create a spiritual caste system where one group of people is superior to another because they have been chosen by God. Then he says those who embrace the Calvinism, or the doctrines of grace, embrace “spiritual racism” because they view one group of people superior to another. In addition he says this view is fueled by pride which he sees as a necessary byproduct of believing you have been chosen by God for salvation.

While many things could be said about Dr. Cox’s post, I want to focus on his contention that Calvinism produces spiritual pride. My reading of Scripture and personal experience have led me to the opposite conclusion. Nothing has humbled me more than knowing my salvation did not originate with me. In fact, there are three distinct ways the doctrines of grace have impacted me personally which stand in stark contrast to what Dr. Cox says.

The Doctrines of Grace Smash our Pride

Romans 9 stands as one of the classic texts for discussing the truth of election. Dr. Cox maintains the person who believes they have been chosen by God for salvation will promote prejudice, pride, and elitism. While discussing how Christians can be confident God’s promises have not failed, Paul alludes to Jacob and Esau to show God’s purpose of election stands, “And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Notice an important line, “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad.” God’s choice of Jacob was not based on anything he had done but by God’s mercy alone.

Paul follows this with the example of Moses and Pharaoh, applying it to our own salvation. “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” Human salvation is not an act which depends merely on an act of the human will. It ultimately depends on God who shows mercy. When we understand humanity in its depravity, we know no one would come to Christ on their own. God, in his mercy chooses to show mercy to a multitude of people and pursues them by his grace.
Rather than increasing human pride because the person received a “spiritual elite” status, the sovereignty of God’s mercy smashes our pride and increases our humility. No Christian can stand up and say, “I am a Christian because of the things I have done” or “I am a Christian because God foresaw something good in me,” but every Christian from every age in every place joins in a chorus and sings, “I am a debtor to mercy alone.”

Are there many who believe the doctrines of grace who become arrogant and look down on those who believe this truth? This is absolutely true and I went through this the first few years I believed these truths. However, this pride was not produced by the doctrines themselves but by my sinful heart believing I had found a reason to boast about knowledge I learned. Those who believe the doctrines of grace must continually think about how these truths must shape the attitude of our hearts. If we believe we are saved by grace and mercy alone apart from our goodness, how can we respond in arrogance to those who disagree with us? When we believe these truths and are shaped by them, we will show profound humility, gentleness, and patience to the people around us.

The Doctrines of Grace Increase our Love

This point is closely related to the previous one. One of the greatest evidences of a person’s spiritual maturity is the way they treat other people. The Apostle John says if we claim to love God whom we have not seen we will love our brothers we have seen. The doctrines of grace help a person grow in this because they reveal God’s overwhelming love for us. The person who has grasped these doctrines knows he has not earned the favor of God by his good works or by conjuring up the good sense to believe in the Gospel. Instead the doctrines of grace remind us we have been saved by God’s grace alone. Paul reminds us of this truth in 2 Timothy 1:9 when he says God, “who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.”

Knowing we have not earned earned our salvation, but instead received it by faith through God’s grace changes the way we feel about and act toward others. The person who believes the doctrines of grace should show greater grace to the people around him. He knows he is saved by grace, so he should be becoming more gracious as he comes to a greater understanding of grace. In the same way the doctrines of grace help a person to be patient with the failings of others. The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints teaches us that God remains faithful to his promises and keeps us to the end. He continues to be faithful to us even when we are unfaithful to him. How can a person who has experienced God’s perfect patience be impatient with the weakness, sins, and ignorance of others?

Many people who say they believe these doctrines become arrogant and treat other believers with contempt. This kind of attitude is not produced by the doctrines of grace, but by our sinful hearts twisting God’s word for our own purposes. If you hold to the doctrines of grace and find yourself constantly running other Christians in the ground, please take a few minutes and remind yourself of the things you claim to believe. Then ask yourself if they way you treat your brothers is in line with the truths you confess.

The Doctrines of Grace Destroy Racism

Far from creating a group of people who see themselves as a spiritual elite, the doctrines of grace open a person’s heart to love across lines of ethnicity, language, and social status. The Calvinist understands all people are made in the image of God, so there is no hierarchy built into creation. He also understands all people are born in sin and spiritual bondage. Each person experiences the gripping effects of sin in every aspect of their lives. No person and no ethnic group is free from this curse and no group experiences the sting of sin more deeply than another. Finally he knows the full benefits of salvation are available to every person who believes and there will be people who believe from every tribe, tongue, and nation on earth. Therefore the person who believes the doctrines of grace knows the family of God encompasses people who may be from different ethnicities but are being built into one new man through the Lord Jesus Christ. Before the world began, the Father set apart a people from every ethnic and linguistic group who would be trophies of his grace and would gather around the throne to sing “worthy is the Lamb.”

Because the person who believes in the doctrines of grace knows what he does about the image of God, the fall, and salvation through grace alone he seeks to put to death every vestige of racial superiority in his heart. He knows every person has dignity and worth in the eyes of God. He lives with the realization that no ethnic group is more or less sinful than another. He is gripped by the Bible’s picture of God building a worldwide people whom he will redeem for his glory to forever belong to him. Because he knows these things the Calvinist loves and pursues brothers and sisters from other ethnic groups. He does not look toward them with an eye of suspicion, but welcomes them in as brothers and sisters.

Related Posts:
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For Further Reading:
Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul

A Few Good Reads

July 13, 2015 — Leave a comment


photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

Behold, the Beta Males Who Feel Good About Watching a Man Die
On July 4 a man was stabbed by a teenager on a DC metro train while ten people stood and watched in horror. This crowd included several men who were larger than the attacker and have recently said they were glad they did not intervene because it meant they did not get hurt too. John Daniel Davidson bemoans their both the lack of intervention and the relief at not getting involved. He asks what happened to our spirit of protecting others even if it means we get injured as well. “That no one did displays not just cowardice but also a callous and unthinking selfishness. The Reddit eyewitness had no idea at the time how many more people Spires would kill, no idea if he would attack the 52-year-old woman or an elderly passenger. He just let him walk off the train into the subway, covered in Sutherland’s blood.”

The Surprising Benefits of Marrying Young
Brett and Kate McKay married in their early 20’s and just celebrated their tenth anniversary. While many people advocate marrying later in life, the McKay’s list some of the benefits of early nuptials. “When you marry young, you and your wife have less exes, old flames, comparisons, and retroactive jealousy of each other’s past relationships to deal with. You can start life together with more of the guileless freshness that lends itself to unabashed and lasting romance.”

Is a Gay Man Suing Bible Publishers for $70 Million?
Rumors and misinformation circulate quickly through social media. This week I saw many people link to a story about a gay man suing Zondervan for $70 million. Did this happen? Yes, in 2008 and the case was dismissed several years ago. Aaron Earls gives a rundown of the story so we can get our facts straight. “So no, this is not the result of President Obama’s policies or the Supreme Court’s ruling. This happened while President Bush was in office and before the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.”