My own faith story…

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John 4:42 39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in (Jesus) because of the woman’s testimony (referring to the Samaritan woman at the well), “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

It’s interesting to me that some believed in Jesus based solely on the woman’s testimony while others not before hearing Jesus’ message first hand. God used both to draw people to Jesus.

As a pastor I am called to tell Jesus’ story more often than most people. I do so within the formal setting of weekend worship services and also in more informal settings throughout the week. Over the years I’ve learned to rely on both my own faith story – and the faith stories of others – to bring the gospel to people needing to hear it.

I’m also learning that my personal faith story should change over time. If my story relates mostly to experiences from several years ago it’s time for an update. That’s one of the things I’m praying about these days. Where have I seen the Lord Jesus showing up in my life and in the world around me over these last awful months of pandemic? Lord open the eyes of my heart to see you. Amen.

Jonathan loved David “as his own soul”…

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1 Samuel 18:1 When David had finished speaking to King Saul, the soul of Jonathan (Saul’s eldest son and heir) was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. 2 Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. 3 Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. 4 Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. 5 David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him; as a result, Saul set him over the army. And all the people, even the servants of Saul, approved.

In this brief passage we twice read that Jonathan loved David “as his own soul”. It’s an interesting phrase that describes a kind of deep love and devotion men can have for one another. I’ve known echoes of this kind of love in men with whom I served in the military or served together in ministry. It is a precious thing that is also rare. I expect there must be something similar between some women as well. Or perhaps even among people of different genders. Thank you Lord for those persons whom we love as our own soul. Amen.

Goliath’s armor on display…

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1 Samuel 17:48 When the Philistine (Goliath) drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49 David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground. 50 So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, striking down the Philistine and killing him… 52 The troops of Israel and Judah rose up with a shout and pursued the Philistines as far as Gath and the gates of Ekron… 54 David took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem; but he put his armor in his tent.

How many times have I read this story? I don’t know. Many. And yet today I saw something I’d never noticed before in the last verse of our passage, “but he put his armor in his tent”. David kept the armor of Goliath as a momento – a reminder – of the great victory God gave to him and the army of Isreal that day. I wonder if he kept it out on display or in storage somewhere. I don’t know, but I hope it was displayed.

I’d like to think David may have stopped and pondered Goliath’s armor on days when things were going against him, when his enemies appeared ready to pounce, when his friends were turning away from him, when the only hope he had in this world was the hope that God might – again – come through.

I’m wondering this morning what visible reminders I have in my surroundings, to help me remember the goodness and faithfulness of God. I think I could use more of them. What about you? Lord let it be so. Amen.

Seeing with eyes of faith…

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1 Samuel 17:17 Jesse said to his son David (the youngest of eight sons), “Take for your brothers an ephah of this parched grain and these ten loaves, and carry them quickly to the camp to your brothers; 18 also take these ten cheeses to the commander of their thousand. See how your brothers fare, and bring some token from them.” … 21 Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. 22 David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage, ran to the ranks, and went and greeted his brothers. 23 As he talked with them, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines, and spoke the same words as before (challenging Israel to send a warrior to fight him). And David heard him. 24 All the Israelites, when they saw the man, fled from him and were very much afraid… 26 David said to the men who stood by him, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine, and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

You’re probably familiar with how this story ends. David goes to meet Goliath armed with only a few stones and a slingshot. But it’s all he needs. He doesn’t fight mano-a-mano with Goliath, but instead launches a stone at a high rate of speed hitting Goliath smack in the forehead – killing him instantly. What got my attention this morning is v.26:

“For who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

The soldiers of Israel saw Goliath’s enormous size and substantial weaponry and assumed he was unbeatable. David saw the situation completely differently. He wasn’t impressed with Goliath as much as he pitied him. Why? Because no warrior ever born could possibly stand a chance when fighting the armies of the living God. Today’s passage is from the Old Testament, but we read something similar in the New Testament book of Romans, “If God be for us, who can be against us?”

I don’t know what battle you’re facing right now. But if you’re like most people you believe what your human eyes tell you. It’s an impossible situation. There’s no way out. You’re through. That’s how most of us see life if we’re honest. But faith teaches us to see things differently. We don’t deny that our circumstances may not look good, but as Christians we are children of the living God. And if God is with us, anything is possible. ANYTHING. Truly.

God of the impossible, we cry out to you today. You know the nature of our struggle. You see hope fading within us. We’re tempted to believe what our human eyes tell us. So this morning we’re asking for grace to see with the eyes of faith instead – to trust that all things are possible with you, O God. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Good leaders admit their mistakes…

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1 Samuel 14:43 Then King Saul said to (his son) Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.” Jonathan told him, “I tasted a little honey with the tip of the staff that was in my hand; here I am, I will die.” 44 Saul said, “God do so to me and more also; you shall surely die, Jonathan!” 45 Then the people said to Saul, “Shall Jonathan die, who has accomplished this great victory in Israel? Far from it! As the LORD lives, not one hair of his head shall fall to the ground; for he has worked with God today.” So the people ransomed Jonathan, and he did not die. 46 Then Saul withdrew from pursuing the Philistines; and the Philistines went to their own place.

Leaders make mistakes. That’s a fact. The problem with Saul was not so much that he messed up, but that he refused to admit it. He was not teachable. He would not reverse course and correct his mistakes when they were made known to him. Which, again, has me questioning why God appointed him king in the first place.

Lord, a good leader owns up to his/her mistakes. And as much as I bang on Saul I know I’m capable of doing the same. Give grace to all leaders dear Lord, especially leaders in your church. Give us humility and teachability to grow from our missteps. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Careless words…

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1 Samuel 14:24 Now Saul committed a very rash act on that day. He had laid an oath on the troops, saying, “Cursed be anyone who eats food before it is evening and I have been avenged on my enemies.” So none of the troops tasted food. 25 All the troops came upon a honeycomb; and there was honey on the ground. 26 When the troops came upon the honeycomb, the honey was dripping out; but they did not put their hands to their mouths, for they feared the oath. 27 But Jonathan had not heard his father charge the troops with the oath; so he extended the staff that was in his hand, and dipped the tip of it in the honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth; and his eyes brightened. 28 Then one of the soldiers said, “Your father strictly charged the troops with an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be anyone who eats food this day.’ And so the troops are faint.” 29 Then Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land; see how my eyes have brightened because I tasted a little of this honey. 30 How much better if today the troops had eaten freely of the spoil taken from their enemies; for now the slaughter among the Philistines has not been great.”

The first verse in this passage tells the story. Saul committed a rash act alright. The battle was going well. Saul’s blood was up. His men were in pursuit of the Philistines and Saul expected a quick victory. That said, it’s a bad idea to withhold food from soldiers at any time, particularly in the middle of a battle. It was an act of bravado that would cost him.

I’m guessing Saul was an “extrovert”, meaning he processed things verbally. He was excited and so he expressed excitement and confidence with poorly chosen words. It’s a classic case of talking before thinking. As a fellow extrovert I’ve done this many times. This morning is a reminder to me and others. Think. Then talk. Amen.

Faith under pressure…

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1 Samuel 13:5 The Philistines mustered to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen, and troops like the sand on the seashore in multitude; they came up and encamped at Michmash, to the east of Beth-aven. 6 When the Israelites saw that they were in distress (for the troops were hard pressed), the people hid themselves in caves and in holes and in rocks and in tombs and in cisterns… 8 (King Saul) waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel (the prophet of God); but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people began to slip away from Saul. 9 So Saul said, “Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the offerings of well-being.” And he offered the burnt offering. 10 As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, Samuel arrived; and Saul went out to meet him and salute him. 11 Samuel said, “What have you done?” Saul replied, “When I saw that the people were slipping away from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines were mustering at Michmash, 12 I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down upon me at Gilgal, and I have not entreated the favor of the LORD’; so I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.” 13 Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which he commanded you. The LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever, 14 but now your kingdom will not continue; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart; and the LORD has appointed him to be ruler over his people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.”

Dang. Saul was just getting started as king yet we’re told in the passage above he was effectively done. And, as we know, the future king described but not yet named was David, Saul’s servant and slayer of Goliath the giant. Two things interest me here.

First, the prophet Samuel tells Saul that the Lord has chosen another to be king, but it would be many years before the change in leadership actually took place. In ancient Jewish culture 30 years was the age in which a man could assume a leadership role in Israel. I suppose one possible reason the Lord waited so long to depose Saul was to give David time to reach 30 years of age. Or maybe there was another reason. I’m not sure.

Second, it’s easy to be critical of Saul who caved under pressure, but I understand the impulse to act instead of wait. This might be one of the most difficult challenges we face as leaders – to keep our heads when those around us are losing theirs. To trust God despite what our eyes are telling us about our situation.

It’s not always easy to know when it’s time to act or when it’s time to wait. It’s at times like these that I tend to lean on a few spiritually mature friends/colleagues to help in making important decisions. It’s easy to make poor decisions when making them alone. It’s much more difficult when 3-4 people consider a challenge together, particularly when we agree to pray together about the situation.

So this morning I’m asking for wisdom and guidance from the Lord, and openness to invite others into the decision-making circle with me. Lord, let it be so. Amen.

Empowered in the spirit of God…

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1 Samuel 11:1 About a month (after Saul was chosen by God to be the first kind of Israel), Nahash the Ammonite went up and besieged Jabesh-gilead (a city of Israel); and all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, “Make a treaty with us, and we will serve you.” 2 But Nahash the Ammonite said to them, “On this condition I will make a treaty with you, namely that I gouge out everyone’s right eye, and thus put disgrace upon all Israel.” 3 The elders of Jabesh said to him, “Give us seven days’ respite that we may send messengers through all the territory of Israel. Then, if there is no one to save us, we will give ourselves up to you.” 4 When the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul, they reported the matter in the hearing of the people; and all the people wept aloud. 5 Now Saul was coming from the field behind the oxen; and Saul said, “What is the matter with the people, that they are weeping?” So they told him the message from the inhabitants of Jabesh. 6 And the spirit of God came upon Saul in power when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled.

This passage sets up the very first battle Israel was to undertake under the kingship of Saul. As we continue reading in 1 Samuel we will learn the battle was a great success. V.6 got my attention this morning, “And the spirit of God came upon Saul in power…”.

Remember Saul didn’t ask to be made king. In fact, Saul initially protested his selection thinking his low status as one from the smallest clan of the smallest tribe of Israel would disqualify him. But God chose him anyway and then empowered him with the “spirit of God”.

When God chooses someone for a particular task, God doesn’t leave them to sink or swim on their own merit. That would be disastrous. Instead God also empowers and equips that person for the job. If you’re feeling a bit in over your head today, let this passage encourage you. The Lord is with you every step of the way.

John the Baptist and Jesus…

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John 1:24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked (John the Baptist), “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”

V.26 seems to indicate that Jesus was among the disciples listening to John’s teaching and being baptized by him, “Among you stands one you do not know…”. Jesus was hiding in plain sight so to speak. But Jesus’ hour had not yet come to lead a ministry of his own. That would come when John was imprisoned and eventually beheaded.

John seems to be aware that Jesus’ ministry would ultimately overshadow his own, but I wonder if he anticipated the brutal and sudden nature of that leadership transition. I’ll bet not. Seems that God rarely acts as people like us anticipate.

He looked the part, but…

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1 Samuel 9:1 There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish son of Abiel son of Zeror son of Becorath son of Aphiah, a Benjaminite, a man of wealth. 2 He had a son whose name was Saul, a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he; he stood head and shoulders above everyone else.

Saul would be the very first king of Israel. We’re told in verse 2 that he was tall and handsome and came from a rich family – like a “king” from central casting. He would indeed serve as king of Israel for a time, but it didn’t go well. Despite his strong outward appearance Saul was weak on the inside. In the end he was not a good ruler and was replaced by a young man named David.

The question that emerges for me this morning is why God chose Saul in the first place if Saul didn’t have the inner fortitude to do a good job. People like Abraham and Moses were much better leaders, but only because God made them so. Saul received the Spirit of God, as we shall see in chapter 10, but it wasn’t enough. There was something fundamentally flawed in Saul from the get-go.

The writers of scripture will lay blame at Saul’s feet but I’m not sure that’s correct.