King Saul … and You

Saul and SamuelIt seems to me that in the Old Testament King Saul did more than his share of stupid stuff. The first recorded of these is when he offered sacrifices on his own, without a priest being involved. Samuel had apparently told Saul to wait a week and he’d be there to offer the sacrifices before the army went into battle. But Saul was impatient. Samuel showed up immediately after Saul had done the deed.

Saul offered what sounds like a good excuse. “The army was scattering; they were leaving me. And I didn’t want to go into battle without seeking the favor of the Lord. So I did it myself.” (You can read the whole story and the exact quotes in 1 Samuel 13:8-12.)

Honestly, as I read Saul’s words, they sound like something I’d say. Yes, Lord, I know You said this, but I did this other thing because it seemed logical and reasonable.

Not long ago, a friend of mine suggested to me that God’s love language is obedience. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) Doing what the Lord says to do is an indication of our love for Him.

Many years ago, I heard a preacher say that if you’re not doing everything it says in His written Word, then you have no business expecting outside revelation from God. Honestly, I think that’s overly strong. We’ll never perfectly obey His Word here and now. But, willfully and intentionally ignoring what Scripture says is another matter.

The Lord wants to have an interactive relationship with us in our daily lives. Yet, if we refuse to follow what He has already told us in His written Word, we are distancing ourselves from Him.

Do you ever act like King Saul, taking matters into your own hands, instead of following what God says in His Word?

Lord, forgive us for too often acting like King Saul and not being willing to follow You and Your Word wholeheartedly.

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A Hard Pill to Swallow

hard pill to swallowRecently, I have repeatedly read through the book of Philippians. As I’ve done that, a particular verse keeps grabbing my attention. “Do all things without grumbling or questioning.” (Philippians 2:14)

That’s a loaded statement, isn’t it?

Paul doesn’t say that we should do some things – or even a lot of things – without grumbling or questioning. No, he says, “all things.” All. Things.

We know there were slaves in Philippi at this time – Paul cast a demon out of a slave-girl in Philippi – (Acts 16), and that Paul addressed the whole church in an area when he wrote. So it is likely that there were slaves in the Philippian congregation who heard these words. “All things without grumbling or questioning.” That could be a hard pill to swallow.

We also know that Paul wasn’t speaking theoretically. It was in Philippi where he and Silas were thrown into jail. But that was also the same place where they sang praises to God while in that jail cell. “All things without grumbling or questioning.” Paul wasn’t asking the Philippians to do something he didn’t practice himself.

And let me add that the word translated as “questioning” is not simply an innocent query. Other translations use words like “arguing” and “disputing.” This is clearly a strong word that has implications beyond simply asking a question.

So, in all things, we shouldn’t grumble or complain or argue. Don’t kick sand in people’s faces. Don’t dispute. Don’t argue.

All of this makes even more sense when you consider that immediately after this verse, Paul goes on to say, “that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” (Philippians 2:15)

Do you want to shine in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation? Do all things without grumbling or questioning.

I’ll be the first to admit that, from my perspective, this is much easier said than done. What are your thoughts?

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Could You Be a Brave Marsh-wiggle?

PuddleglumI have long been a fan of C.S. Lewis’, The Chronicles of Narnia. There are so many amazing life-parallels throughout the books, that no child – and perhaps relatively few adults – would ever recognize them all.

One vivid, pivotal scene occurs in the fourth book, The Silver Chair. Prince Rilian, heir to the throne of Narnia, had been held captive by the Green Witch for a decade. Jill Pole, Eustace Scrubb and the beloved Marsh-wiggle, Puddleglum, were on a mission to find him and restore him to his throne. When they finally located the Prince, they were able to free him from and destroy the enchanted silver chair to which he was bound each night. But then his captor returned, and wasn’t about to let them just walk out.

The Green Witch nonchalantly tossed some magical powder onto the fire in the hearth. It gave off a sweet enchanting aroma, and the Prince and the others immediately began to lose their bearings. The witch also picked up an enchanted mandolin-like instrument and began to gently and rhythmically strum it. As she monotonously thrum-thrum-thrummed on the instrument, she also spoke quietly and smoothly. “There’s no such place as Narnia.” She gently and persuasively countered every argument until the magic had nearly taken full effect. The four were on the verge of a trance-like state, completely convinced that Narnia and Aslan and their own homes were all just dreams.

But then something happened.

Puddleglum stepped to the hearth and stomped on the fire with his bare webbed foot. His action put out much of the fire, thereby destroying the enchanting effect of the powder that was smoldering on the coals. It also caused the room to smell of burnt Marsh-wiggle, which, as Lewis put it, “is not at all an enchanting smell.” The burned foot brought Puddleglum back to full consciousness. He spoke boldly and forcefully, confronting the witch without compromise. He told her that even if it was all a dream, that he’d take that dream over her world any day.

I think we need some bold Marsh-wiggle-like people today. Our society – and the Church – seems to be in some sort of trance-like state. We need those who are brave to speak up, not lambasting society, but boldly proclaiming the full truth of God’s Word.

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unitedI just returned from the local celebration of the National Day of Prayer. I had the privilege of praying with other Christian leaders from the area, for our community, our nation, our leaders, our families, our churches, and more.

For some reason, I’ve got this crazy notion that when Jesus prayed for His followers to be one, just as He and the Father are one – “that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:11) – that He meant it. It was an honest, sincere prayer from His heart, the heart of God.

Further, I don’t think He’s changed His mind about that. He still – today – wants His Body to be united. He wants His Church to be unified.

So as we prayed together today, I prayed that we would be united. I prayed that we as leaders, and our congregations, would willingly work together more and more. That people would recognize us as Christ’s followers because of our love for one another.

Call me crazy, but I think that’s God’s desire.

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one…” (John 17:20-21)

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Truth and Godliness

the BibleThis morning I happened to be reading through Paul’s New Testament letter to Titus. Oddly, it was the very first verse that grabbed my attention. “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness…”

Let me unpack that a bit for you. Paul was called by God “for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth.” Paul was not given to himself. He was called to help God’s people. Based on this verse we could say that Paul’s two main responsibilities were to bolster their faith and strengthen their knowledge of the truth. Unquestionably, those are major issues for Christian leaders.

But then there is that next phrase, “which accords with godliness…” If you notice, that phrase follows immediately after the word “truth.” So what is it that accords with godliness? Truth.

In other words, if you want to live a more godly life, then you need to more fully grasp the truth of God. Allow the truth of His Word to permeate you. It will cause you to become a more godly person.

For leaders, helping people to have a “knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness” means that we must not hold back the full counsel of God. Controversial issues don’t get a free pass. We dare not – just to keep everyone happy – ignore topics that might be seen as contentious.

Why? Because helping God’s people to grasp the full truth will help them to become more godly. And that’s part of the responsibility of leaders.

And let me add one final thought. This will become more difficult in a culture that has an anti-godly bias. Issues that are clear in the Bible will be mocked and ridiculed by society. That simply means that the job of true Christian leaders will become more difficult, but also more necessary.

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No Divisiveness

divisivenessNot long ago, I ministered in a church where there was a couple that was very divisive. They opposed the pastor and other church leadership at every turn. They even spread untrue rumors about some of the people in congregational leadership.

I wish it was the first time I had encountered such divisiveness, but it’s definitely not. In fact, I’ve seen it much too often. Self-appointed leaders who push their own agenda with no regard for anyone else seem to be rampant in the Church today.

Such scenarios always remind me of Titus 3:10-11. “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”

First let me say that anyone who suggests we should not judge people has not really read the Bible, and certainly not this passage. How could you know if someone is stirring up division unless you judge him? You can’t!

So, if someone is being divisive, he gets two warnings. That’s it. Two freebies and then the hammer falls. “Have nothing more to do with him.” This makes me think of the time God was violently angry with Israel because of the golden calf. In essence, the Lord told Moses, “Get out of the way so I can annihilate those reprobates.” (That’s the Tom Kraeuter paraphrase of Exodus 32:10.)

“Have nothing more to do with him.” That’s the concept of excommunication. Leave him on his own with no spiritual covering. That’s a dangerous place to be.

But it must be understood that there’s a reason for such harsh treatment. Because “such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” Warped. Sinful. Self-condemned. Those are strong words. But that’s clearly what God thinks of divisive people.

May I make a recommendation?

Don’t be divisive in God’s Church.

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Paths or Not?

pathsI have found a wonderful place for personal prayer retreats. It’s just over a half-hour from our house and it’s fabulous. Great accommodations. A scenic pond and some well-kept gardens are added attractions. But my personal favorite part is the acre after beautiful acre of nature with walking paths through fields and woods. I really like to walk and pray, and this place is like paradise for me.

Now, you should know that whether this retreat facility or others I’ve visited in the past, I have a tendency to veer off the paths. Of course, if I’m honest, this is not just a prayer retreat tendency. I regularly do the same thing in life. Nicely mowed paths just don’t offer the same intrigue as that creek bank or that forest over there.

While walking through an unmowed field on a recent prayer retreat, I came to a section where I was nearly blocked by briars and brambles. It appeared as though I might need to go back from the direction I came. But, instead, I decided to press on. Carefully picking my way through, I was able to find spots where the thorns were less plentiful. Only a few minor scratches – and a couple small thorns I found later in my socks – and I made my way through.

But I realized something in the process. I encountered no thorns – none, zero, zippo, nada – on the paths. It was only when I got off the paths that there were times when the going got a bit tougher.

See, staying on those mowed paths was safer, but it was also more bland. The views and the opportunities for things outside the norm were definitely better off the paths. I doubt I would have seen those four whitetail deer running through the woods from one of the nicely manicured paths. On the other hand, I wouldn’t have encountered the briars and brambles on the paths, either.

Some people love the paths – at the retreat center and in life. I have difficulty staying on the paths in either.

Which is your preference? Why?

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