Sunday, April 18, 2021

Four Gospel Pictures from the Parables of Jesus

"Kenneth Clark, internationally know for his television series Civilization, lived and died without faith in Jesus Christ. He admitted in his autobiography that while visiting a beautiful church he had what he believed to be an overwhelming religious experience. "My whole being," Clark wrote, "was irradiated by a kind of heavenly joy far more intense than anything I had known before." But the "gloom of grace," as he described it, created a problem. If he allowed himself to be influenced by it, he knew he would have to change, his family might think he had lost his mind, and maybe that intense joy would prove to be an illusion. So he concluded, "I was too deeply embedded in the world to change course."
-Our Daily Bread, February 15, 1994.

Many of us here at dinner church I'm sure have felt the power of God's Spirit in this room, in this wonderful dining room at The Salvation Army Owosso.  We've felt God's presence! We've been swept up into a powerful experience of His love. 

But did we allow that consuming power of God's love reshape our lives?  Did we make a decision to give our whole lives to Jesus Christ the savior of all? That is the question I want you to ask yourself today.  

Often we know God is real. We've experienced Him here. But we don't want our friends and family to think we're crazy.  We don't want to have to change our lives. We don't want to have to become a new person.  But I want to tell you day just how much it's worth it to make that decision, and commit to a whole new way of life.  

So today I want to look at four parables that Jesus taught, that give pictures of what it means to make a decision for Jesus and follow Him. 

First, the parable of The Two Sons - Matthew 21:28-32

“There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

“‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered."

Our Lord is like a father who calls his sons to work on his property. Anyone here ever worked on a farm? It's kinda like that. God is our father and says go work on my farm.  And as followers of Jesus, either we go and do the work of leading people to Jesus, or we don't.  And it's interesting, it doesn't matter what we say. We can say "oh sure i'll go do that Father!"  But then we don't.  And we can say at one time "no i wont go."  But then later we change our mind and we do it.  And it's so important that we do it. We go live it.  If we don't, then God won't accept us, plain and simple.  And even if we reject God at some point, we can always come again later and agree to go work in his field.  And he accepts us. 

The second parable, the classic Prodigal Son parable - Luke 15:11-32

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate."

Many of us have gone off in our own direction. Just like the son who spoiled his inheritance. And we're afraid to come back to God, because we're afraid he'll be mad and punish us.  But God is so good, that when he sees us coming home to him, he runs out into the road to welcome him back.

Did anyone in here have a very strict and harsh father? A dad during the time when the parable was spoken would've been very strict. The idea of welcoming home a son who had squandered his inheritance was unthinkable.  But God is like the loving father who celebrates are return to Him and gives us great blessings and restores us as his children. 

The third parable, The Pharisee and The Tax Collector - Luke 18:9-14

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Sometimes when we follow Jesus we can get puffed up and start to look down on others.  We start to think we're better than everyone else.  But Jesus reminds us that this is not so.  The Pharisee prayed to God and bragged about all the good stuff he did.  And God despised that prayer. But the tax collector cried out to God for mercy and forgiveness for sin.  And God loved that prayer.  Coming to Jesus is about throwing ourselves at the mercy of God, and seeking God's forgiveness for our many sins.  

Finally, the parable of  The Ten Virgins - Matthew 25:1-13

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

“But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

“Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

“But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour."

Ten virgins, they basically represent the church. Christians at the time of the end.  And they've walked with Jesus. But as they live day by day, they start to fall asleep, and stop watching for Jesus. They get lazy as Christians.  And as a result, they lose their inheritance in the kingdom.  
Following Jesus is about continuing with Jesus through your whole life.  Continuing to walk with Him and serve Him always.  That's a big commitment.  And that's why we attend church every Sunday, and pray, and read the Bible every day. 

Alright, tune in with me, listen very closely. What exactly must I believe, and what must I do, to make a decision for Jesus Christ?  
You must believe that Jesus Christ is really who He said He was. God come in human form.  You must believe that Jesus died on the cross. And that on the cross Jesus took your punishment, for your sins. And removed your sins from you.  Confess your sins to Him, in your mind, to Him.  How have you sinned? Ask him for forgiveness for the times that you told lies.  Ask him for forgiveness for times that you stole.  Ask him for forgiveness for sexual immorality.  Ask him for forgiveness for times you swore and spoke his name as a curse word.  Ask forgiveness for the times you mistreated others, and the times you didn't keep God first in your heart.  

As you reflect on that in your mind, recognize, these sins mean that you are guilty before God, and will be sent to hell, to a place of darkness and horror when you die.  You stand guilty before God, and the wrath of God is against you. 

But if you will believe that Jesus Christ was crucified to remove those sins from you, then you will be saved.  Jesus Christ went to the cross for you, to take all those sins you just thought about, off of you, and onto himself on the cross. So he died in your place.  Took the penalty you deserved for your sins.  

And we believe that Jesus Christ on the 3rd day rose again, we believe Jesus is alive right now. We serve a living God, not a dead god. 

That is what you must believe.  And what you must do is repent, turn away from all your past sins, those things you were just reflecting on. Commit in Christ to not do those things anymore.  

And now you must follow Jesus the rest of your life, endeavoring to win people around you to Jesus. 

Basically you're committing to put your whole life under the authority of Jesus, and committing to serve Jesus, put your full allegiance to Jesus, today, and always.

So if you're feeling God call you to do that right now, would you pray with me.

Dear Lord Jesus, we consider every time we rejected you God, every time we lied, stole, cheated, misused drugs and alcohol, committed adultery, fornicated, used your name as a curse word, when we failed to keep your first God, and we repent, we turn away from those past sins, and we trust now in our hearts, that Jesus Christ died on the cross to set us free from the penalty for those sins, which is hell. We believe our sins are forgiven in Christ. We have a clean slate.  We receive the Holy Spirit within us, to guide us on our walk with Christ always.  We commit our whole lives to you Jesus.  Amen. 

The Intense Trials of David's Early Life: Victory, Persecution, Battle & Patience

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you go on grieving over Saul? I have rejected him as king of Israel. But now get some olive oil and go to Bethlehem, to a man named Jesse, because I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” -1st Samuel 16:1-2

“So Jesse sent for him. He was a handsome, healthy young man, and his eyes sparkled. The Lord said to Samuel, “This is the one—anoint him!” 13 Samuel took the olive oil and anointed David in front of his brothers. Immediately the spirit of the Lord took control of David and was with him from that day on.” -1st Samuel 16:12-13

David is anointed king of Israel, even while Saul is still king. Very interesting. So David would be a sort of “king in exile” for quite a while. But the Lord is at work, slowly leading him toward the throne, for years and years.

The life of David is so incredibly important, because it’s a picture for us of the Christian life, the difficulties, the challenges, the growth, the victories and so on. It’s extremely important in the Bible. Study the life of David, and how he lived. 1st and 2nd Samuel are the books where it’s at.

David is viewed as a man after God’s own heart. So David’s heart, his approach to life is how God wants us to approach life. His mindset, his faith, his decisions, his judgments, his mercy, it all points us to how we ought to live as believers in Jesus.

Study the life of David! Read it and reread it. Very, very powerful saga.

David is anointed as king, but he’s still just a young shepherd caring for his flock. But God is at work, setting up divine connections.

King Saul at his palace, is very sad. The spirit of God has left him and it says in the word that a tormenting spirit from God was sent to him. And Saul felt terrible. So he asked his advisors for someone who could come play music for him to calm him down.

18 One of his attendants said, “Jesse of the town of Bethlehem has a son who is a good musician. He is also a brave and handsome man, a good soldier, and an able speaker. The Lord is with him.” -1st Samuel 16:18

So David came and played music for King Saul. And when David played from the harp, Saul would feel at peace again.

Alright, huge moment of Israel’s history. I’m sure we’ve all heard about it. At this time we know Israel was at war with the Philistines. They gathered on opposite sides of Elah Valley in Israel. And yes, the famous warrior, Goliath, the giant, stood on the side of the philistines, mocking the Israelite army for 40 days and nights.

It says in 1st Samuel 17:8-11 8 “Goliath stood and shouted at the Israelites, “What are you doing there, lined up for battle? I am a Philistine, you slaves of Saul! Choose one of your men to fight me. 9 If he wins and kills me, we will be your slaves; but if I win and kill him, you will be our slaves. 10 Here and now I challenge the Israelite army. I dare you to pick someone to fight me!” 11 When Saul and his men heard this, they were terrified.”

Meanwhile David was going back and forth between serving Saul in his court and taking care of the sheep in Bethlehem for his family. David comes to bring supplies for his brothers, and he sees what’s going on with Goliath mocking the Israelite army. And he says he will fight Goliath.

Then it says in 1st Samuel 17:31-51 31 Some men heard what David had said, and they told Saul, who sent for him. 32 David said to Saul, “Your Majesty, no one should be afraid of this Philistine! I will go and fight him.”

33 “No,” answered Saul. “How could you fight him? You're just a boy, and he has been a soldier all his life!”

34 “Your Majesty,” David said, “I take care of my father's sheep. Any time a lion or a bear carries off a lamb, 35 I go after it, attack it, and rescue the lamb. And if the lion or bear turns on me, I grab it by the throat and beat it to death. 36 I have killed lions and bears, and I will do the same to this heathen Philistine, who has defied the army of the living God. 37 The Lord has saved me from lions and bears; he will save me from this Philistine.”

“All right,” Saul answered. “Go, and the Lord be with you.” 38 He gave his own armor to David for him to wear: a bronze helmet, which he put on David's head, and a coat of armor. 39 David strapped Saul's sword over the armor and tried to walk, but he couldn't, because he wasn't used to wearing them. “I can't fight with all this,” he said to Saul. “I'm not used to it.” So he took it all off. 40 He took his shepherd's stick and then picked up five smooth stones from the stream and put them in his bag. With his sling ready, he went out to meet Goliath.

41 The Philistine started walking toward David, with his shield bearer walking in front of him. He kept coming closer, 42 and when he got a good look at David, he was filled with scorn for him because he was just a nice, good-looking boy. 43 He said to David, “What's that stick for? Do you think I'm a dog?” And he called down curses from his god on David. 44 “Come on,” he challenged David, “and I will give your body to the birds and animals to eat.”

45 David answered, “You are coming against me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the Israelite armies, which you have defied. 46 This very day the Lord will put you in my power; I will defeat you and cut off your head. And I will give the bodies of the Philistine soldiers to the birds and animals to eat. Then the whole world will know that Israel has a God, 47 and everyone here will see that the Lord does not need swords or spears to save his people. He is victorious in battle, and he will put all of you in our power.”

48 Goliath started walking toward David again, and David ran quickly toward the Philistine battle line to fight him. 49 He reached into his bag and took out a stone, which he slung at Goliath. It hit him on the forehead and broke his skull, and Goliath fell face downward on the ground. 50 And so, without a sword, David defeated and killed Goliath with a sling and a stone! 51 He ran to him, stood over him, took Goliath's sword out of its sheath, and cut off his head and killed him.”

Theme of this historical account, God speaks to us today saying no matter who is standing against you, in Christ, in faith, we can have the victory, if the Lord is with us.

David becomes extremely famous because of this great victory. He is taken into the family of King Saul. He marries King Saul’s daughter Michal. And Saul’s son Jonathan becomes close friends with David.

These are really the three things that probably everyone in this room really wants: a good job with a great company, in this case David is a leader in Saul’s army. He get’s married. And he even has a best friend. So everything is going really good. He’s coming into the blessed time of his life. But not all is well.

Saul sends David out on many missions to lead his armies against the forces of the philistines. And David is victorious in every mission he’s sent us. And eventually David is extremely famous, because he wins so many victories. The crowds cheer on David. And as King Saul watches all this happening, he becomes increasingly jealous of David. He becomes it says, David’s enemy for the rest of his life.

We should never be jealous when others do well. Instead we should be like Jonathan, cheering on someone who is doing well. It’s a good thing. We should want everyone to have great victories. No jealousy.

So Saul begins to persecute David. The Philistines attack again, but David leads Israel’s army to victory. One evening David is playing the harp for Saul, and Saul is so angry and jealous with David that he picks up his spear and throws it at David, but David dodges it and escapes.

From 1st Samuel 19:1-2 “Saul told his son Jonathan and all his officials that he planned to kill[a] David. But Jonathan was very fond of David, 2 and so he told him, “My father is trying to kill you. Please be careful tomorrow morning; hide in some secret place and stay there.”

So Jonathan is protecting David. David stops in to see his wife Michal, and Saul’s soldiers show up, so Michal helps David escape by lowering him down through a window.

Several different encounters happen during these years of David fleeing from King Saul. But always Jonathan is helping him. He has a truly blessed friend in Jonathan. Have you ever had a friend like that? I don’t think I ever have myself. Hopefully someday I will. And I hope you will too. But maybe the best way to have that friend is to be that friend for someone. Next time you have a friend in need, be there for them. Protect them. Help them. Love them deeply. I dare you!

David flees and encounters prophets of the Lord, at one point. He flees again and begins using Goliath’s old sword as his own, while being assisted by priests of the Lord. Later King Saul has the priests who helped David slaughtered, all of them. In this Saul sinned of course. At one point when Jonathan is arguing with his dad Saul about David, and saying, look David hasn’t even done anything against you why do you hate him so much, Saul throws a spear at his own son! (1st Samuel 20:32-33).

He’s gone crazy with jealousy, with revenge and with hatred for the one he knows will one day replace him. Sometimes, we can also get on the wrong side of a situation. And pretty soon we’re fighting against the people that love us so much. We’re doing evil. But we’re so filled with emotion, with a pride in our own ideas, that we can’t possibly see the other persons perspective. And that happens with Saul here. He’s in the wrong. But he thinks he’s right. And no one can tell him otherwise, because of pride.

That’s why it’s so important to stay humble. Very quickly, with pride, we can find ourselves fighting against that which God has ordained. And we won’t even realize it, because pride is the ultimate blind spot.

So for a while David is fleeing here to there, and eventually he ends up living out in a cave somewhere.

Some might think, God is against David! Look at his situation. But that’s not the case. God is with him 100% in that cave.

It says in 1st Samuel 22:1-2 “David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. When his brothers and his father’s household heard about it, they went down to him there. 2 All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander. About four hundred men were with him.”

So David lives in this cave, and basically all the outcasts gather around David. The outcasts, those in debt, discontented, the hurting and so on, and he forms them into little group in the wilderness. About 400 of them. Almost like Robin Hood in the woods, with his band of merry men. David becomes the king of the outcasts. Quite an amazing saga David’s life is, isn’t it?

But many of us in here have similarly insane stories, with twists and turns and crazy events, don’t we?

So God calls on David and his outcast gang to help a city that is under attack by Philistines. David takes him men and drives the Philistines out of the city. But King Saul hears about this and takes his army, and chases after David’s group. So at one point David’s men are running on one side of a mountain, and on the other side Saul’s army is chasing them. But they manage to escape with the Lord’s help.

But then Saul learns where David’s group is hiding. So he goes with 3000 men to locate them. As Saul’s men comb the country side, Saul goes into a cave to use the rest room, it says. Little did Saul know David and his men were hiding deep inside those caves.

David hears someone in the cave. And he sneaks over and sees Saul is in there. And he has the opportunity to kill Saul. But instead, David sneaks right over to Saul and cuts a corner of his robe off. Then David disappears. Later he calls out to Saul and shows him the cut corner of the robe, and Saul is amazed that David spared his life. And Saul leaves the area with his troops, because David spared his life.

What a strange decision right? He has an opportunity to kill Saul while his back is turned. But he refuses to do it. Why? He shows great mercy. And he doesn’t want to kill the one God still has established as king. David is very patient. He’s not willing to steal the throne by stabbing Saul in the back. He’s going to wait for God’s plan to unfold. A very important challenge for us today. Don’t take over and try to force it to happen. Let God’s plan play itself out. And it takes time. A lot of time. Look at all David is going through as he waits on the Lord. It’s terrible. But it’s Gods way. He’s preparing David to be king through all this. A good king, not a bad king. We need the waiting and trials, or the good times would turn us into prideful jerks, sadly.

Despite David’s mercy on Saul, Saul keeps trying to kill him. And a second time, David has the opportunity to kill Saul. At night, David and Abishai sneak into Saul’s camp, and find Saul sleeping.

It says 1st Samuel 26:8-11,”8 Abishai said to David, “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands. Now let me pin him to the ground with one thrust of the spear; I won’t strike him twice.”

9 But David said to Abishai, “Don’t destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless? 10 As surely as the Lord lives,” he said, “the Lord himself will strike him, or his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. 11 But the Lord forbid that I should lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed. Now get the spear and water jug that are near his head, and let’s go.”

So they don’t do it. But they take the spear and the water jug, so Saul knows that once again David spared his life. They return the spear and water jug. And Saul is amazed. From 1st Samuel 26:21-25 “21 Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Come back, David my son. Because you considered my life precious today, I will not try to harm you again. Surely I have acted like a fool and have been terribly wrong.”

22 “Here is the king’s spear,” David answered. “Let one of your young men come over and get it. 23 The Lord rewards everyone for their righteousness and faithfulness. The Lord delivered you into my hands today, but I would not lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed. 24 As surely as I valued your life today, so may the Lord value my life and deliver me from all trouble.”

25 Then Saul said to David, “May you be blessed, David my son; you will do great things and surely triumph.”

So David went on his way, and Saul returned home.”

In chapters 27 and 28 we see David fleeing and living amongst the Philistines for a while, as Saul continues to try to destroy him. In chapter 28 we see Saul consulting with a witch to try to discover if he can have victory against the Philistines who are once again attacking Israel.

He consults with a witch. What is he doing? He’s completely lost his mind. But obviously this doesn’t go well at all. He tries to conjur the undead spirit of Samuel and he gets rebuked by the spirit that appears that the witch calls us. Just some crazy stuff, black magic kind of stuff.

So the Philistines invade Israel. And Saul is on the run with his army and his sons. From 1st Samuel chapter 31:1-6: “Now the Philistines fought against Israel; the Israelites fled before them, and many fell dead on Mount Gilboa. 2 The Philistines were in hot pursuit of Saul and his sons, and they killed his sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-Shua. 3 The fighting grew fierce around Saul, and when the archers overtook him, they wounded him critically.

4 Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me.”

But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it.”

And that is how the saga concludes today. King Saul dies, he kills himself at the end, after seeing his sons killed in combat. There would be an ongoing struggle for control of the empire, with some of the left over forces of Sauls army trying to stop David from becoming king, but eventually David would become king of Hebron, then over the region of Judah, and finally over the entire nation of Israel.

Simply astonishing isn’t it? All that David had to go through, to go from being a shepherd boy, watching over his flock, to one day becoming the king of Israel. It was a long and perilous journey for David. And many times he had the opportunity to mess it up and sin, and go his own way. But he didn’t. He was so patient. So sensitive to God’s leading, that he stayed right with God through all of it. And I’m sure it was very painful. But finally, he became king, just as God had called him to be.

In conclusion today, reflect on this in your own life. As a Christian, there are going to be a lot of twists and turns, and battles, and victories and defeats and struggles and persecutions, and people mistreating you. There will be many opportunities to turn back. Horrible things will happen. But God will guide you through all of it. You’ll be in a lot of pain. David wept terribly many times through this journey. He saw himself pursued by his former friend. He saw people who helped him get murdered. Our Christian journey is not going to be the way we want it to be. It’s going to be the way God wants it to be. And it’s best now if we today simply and fully surrender to that reality. It’s not going to go the way I want it to go. It’s going to go the way God wants it to go.

So right now as we transition into our time of response. I want to challenge you today, to talk to God right now, come forward to the altars, or stay at your seat, and surrender to God’s often difficult, wild plan for your life. Let go of your picture of how it’s going to go, and embrace a simple total faith and trust in God, a childlike faith, that God is in charge, I’m not, I let go of control, whatever comes, May God’s will be done.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Life of the Prophet Samuel, the coming of King Saul

Last week we talked about the faith of Ruth and Naomi. They lived in the time of the judges, if you recall. And Israel had often been caught in the repeating cycle of sin and repentance. Before that we saw Moses and Aaron lead the Israelites out of Egypt, and Joshua later led them into the promised land. It’s all one, big story.

So this week we see the time of the judges coming to an end. And instead we have God’s speaking and leading the Israelites through a prophet.

But what is a prophet? A prophet is one who hears from God, and then speaks what God says to them to the people of Israel. Even today, in the church we have people with the gift of being a prophet, where they speak things that God tells them. I wonder if anyone here has that gifting? God will reveal it to you, if you do.

You can turn in your Bibles to 1st Samuel, chapter 1.

So this journey, of God’s prophet, who would help guide Israel, began with a woman named Hannah. She was married, but unable to have children. Isn’t it interesting that God works through people who have such difficulties? God likes to work through people who have serious problems. But Hannah goes to the temple, and prays to God, asking for a son. And there is a man there named Eli, who overhears Hannah praying. So Eli said to her, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”

God then allows Hannah to give birth to a son, and she names him Samuel. She had vowed that if God would give her a son, she would give him over to the service of the Lord. So this blessed child, Samuel, would be raised in the temple, under the care of Eli, and would grow up to be the first great prophet of God.

But during this time it was very rare for anyone to hear a word from the Lord. One night Samuel heard someone call his name. He thought it was Eli so he went to Eli, several times asking him what he wanted. But Eli said he didn’t call him. But the 3rd time Eli realized he was hearing the Lord call his name. So he told Samuel to listen for the Lord.

And God gave Samuel a prophecy about Eli’s family. That his children were corrupt and his house would be cursed. So Samuel, young guy at this point is afraid to tell Eli the prophecy, because it’s obviously not a good word, its judgment. But Eli insists to know. And so Samuel speaks it to him.

Meanwhile during this time Israel was again fighting against the Philistines, an enemy nation. And they are not doing well. So they bring out the ark of the covenant, that contains the ten commandments, the two tablets. And they bring it out with their army, because they’re hoping if they have the ark with them, then they’ll be sure to win the battle. But God is not amused with this. They aren’t obeying God, they’re just trying to use the ark as a tool to win the battle. So they lose the battle, and the philistines end up capturing the ark of the covenant. This is a nightmare really. The enemy has captured this holy ark, where God resided with the people. And it’s gone. The enemy has it.

Eli is so shocked that he falls out of his chair and breaks his neck and dies. Eli had led Israel for 40 years.

So then Samuel takes over as prophet of the Lord. And he calls the people to repentance once again saying, ““If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.”

And Israel did repent again and turned to the Lord. So the Lord granted Israel victory against the Philistines, and they were driven back and defeated.

Samuel served the Lord faithfully many, many years. But eventually as Samuel grew older in age, he planned for who would replace him.

It says in 1st Samuel 8:1-22, “When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders. 2 The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. 3 But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.

4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead[b] us, such as all the other nations have.”

6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. 7 And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

10 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle[c] and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. 22 The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”

So the people demand a king to rule over them. And the Lord is not pleased with this. Because they are basically rejecting God as their king and wanting a human ruler. But God allows them to have a king over them. But warns them of what it will mean.

In any case Samuel seeks the Lord and the Lord reveals to him, he will meet the man soon.

1st Samuel 9:15-17 "Now the day before Saul came, the Lord had revealed this to Samuel: “About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. Anoint him ruler over my people Israel; he will deliver them from the hand of the Philistines. I have looked on my people, for their cry has reached me.” When Samuel caught sight of Saul, the Lord said to him, “This is the man I spoke to you about; he will govern my people.”

So Samuel runs into Saul, and reveals to him that he is the chosen one who will become king. There are no coincidences. God ensures that we find ourselves at the right time in the right moment for His will to be done, as long as we are following Him.

1st Samuel 10:1-8 says, "Then Samuel took a flask of olive oil and poured it on Saul’s head and kissed him, saying, “Has not the Lord anointed you ruler over his inheritance?[a] 2 When you leave me today, you will meet two men near Rachel’s tomb, at Zelzah on the border of Benjamin. They will say to you, ‘The donkeys you set out to look for have been found. And now your father has stopped thinking about them and is worried about you. He is asking, “What shall I do about my son?”’

3 “Then you will go on from there until you reach the great tree of Tabor. Three men going up to worship God at Bethel will meet you there. One will be carrying three young goats, another three loaves of bread, and another a skin of wine. 4 They will greet you and offer you two loaves of bread, which you will accept from them.

5 “After that you will go to Gibeah of God, where there is a Philistine outpost. As you approach the town, you will meet a procession of prophets coming down from the high place with lyres, timbrels, pipes and harps being played before them, and they will be prophesying. 6 The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. 7 Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you.

8 “Go down ahead of me to Gilgal. I will surely come down to you to sacrifice burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, but you must wait seven days until I come to you and tell you what you are to do.”

Then it says this in 1st Samuel chapter 10:9-27: "As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul’s heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day. 10 When he and his servant arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met him; the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he joined in their prophesying. 11 When all those who had formerly known him saw him prophesying with the prophets, they asked each other, “What is this that has happened to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?”

12 A man who lived there answered, “And who is their father?” So it became a saying: “Is Saul also among the prophets?” 13 After Saul stopped prophesying, he went to the high place.

14 Now Saul’s uncle asked him and his servant, “Where have you been?”

“Looking for the donkeys,” he said. “But when we saw they were not to be found, we went to Samuel.”

15 Saul’s uncle said, “Tell me what Samuel said to you.”

16 Saul replied, “He assured us that the donkeys had been found.” But he did not tell his uncle what Samuel had said about the kingship.

17 Samuel summoned the people of Israel to the Lord at Mizpah 18 and said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I brought Israel up out of Egypt, and I delivered you from the power of Egypt and all the kingdoms that oppressed you.’ 19 But you have now rejected your God, who saves you out of all your disasters and calamities. And you have said, ‘No, appoint a king over us.’ So now present yourselves before the Lord by your tribes and clans.”

20 When Samuel had all Israel come forward by tribes, the tribe of Benjamin was taken by lot. 21 Then he brought forward the tribe of Benjamin, clan by clan, and Matri’s clan was taken. Finally Saul son of Kish was taken. But when they looked for him, he was not to be found. 22 So they inquired further of the Lord, “Has the man come here yet?”

And the Lord said, “Yes, he has hidden himself among the supplies.”

23 They ran and brought him out, and as he stood among the people he was a head taller than any of the others. 24 Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see the man the Lord has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people.”

Then the people shouted, “Long live the king!”

25 Samuel explained to the people the rights and duties of kingship. He wrote them down on a scroll and deposited it before the Lord. Then Samuel dismissed the people to go to their own homes.

26 Saul also went to his home in Gibeah, accompanied by valiant men whose hearts God had touched. 27 But some scoundrels said, “How can this fellow save us?” They despised him and brought him no gifts. But Saul kept silent.”

In chapter 11 we see that Saul leads a battle against the Ammonites, a rival nation who attack Israel and besiege the city of Jabesh. The Lord is with King Saul, and he gathers an army of 330,000 men. Saul breaks them into 3 groups and they attack the ammonites during the night, and they totally defeat them.

So the haters who didn’t want Saul as king are proven wrong. And it says this in 1st Samuel 11:12-15, “The people then said to Samuel, “Who was it that asked, ‘Shall Saul reign over us?’ Turn these men over to us so that we may put them to death.”

13 But Saul said, “No one will be put to death today, for this day the Lord has rescued Israel.”

14 Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship.” 15 So all the people went to Gilgal and made Saul king in the presence of the Lord. There they sacrificed fellowship offerings before the Lord, and Saul and all the Israelites held a great celebration.”

In 1st Samuel 12, we see Samuel’s final speech to the Israelites before he retires from being the prophet. He says a great deal to Israel and really calls out Israel for the evil of asking for a king. And how bad that was to do. Because it was really rejecting God and asking for a human ruler. The people confess their sin and ask Samuel to pray for them.

This is how he responded:

“Do not be afraid,” Samuel replied. “You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. 21 Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless. 22 For the sake of his great name the Lord will not reject his people, because the Lord was pleased to make you his own. 23 As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right. 24 But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you. 25 Yet if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will perish.”

The point here, is that even if we mess up, I mean mess up big time. The best thing to do is to turn again to the Lord, with all your heart. That’s key, our whole heart, focus in on God once again. God is pleased to make us his own. That’s the whole point is for God to bring us back to himself. Lots of great advice from Samuel. Fear the Lord. Serve Him faithfully. Think about things he’s done in your life in the past. But there’s also a warning here, verse 25, if you persist in evil, you will perish. Same thing today, if we persist in evil, we’ll get further and further from God, until we lose everything.

So now Saul is King, and he attacks the Philistines once again. He assembles two small forces, one led by him one led by his son Jonathan. And they attack. But this angers the philistines. We aren’t really sure, but it seems like Saul impulsively attacked the philistines with small forces. And then it says, “5 The Philistines assembled to fight Israel, with three thousand[c] chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They went up and camped at Mikmash, east of Beth Aven. 6 When the Israelites saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns. 7 Some Hebrews even crossed the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead.

Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. 8 He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. 9 So he said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.” And Saul offered up the burnt offering. 10 Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.

11 “What have you done?” asked Samuel.

Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Mikmash, 12 I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the Lord’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.”

13 “You have done a foolish thing,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. 14 But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.””

So for many years King Saul is constantly at war with the philistines, and it’s bitter and brutal fighting. Finally, they do win a great victory, with the help of his son Jonathan. But Saul disobeys God again, when God said to destroy the Amalekites and their king, and don’t take any of their produce or cattle or sheep, instead Saul did the opposite, sparing their king and taking their produce and cattle for his troops. So again, Samuel comes and rebukes Saul. And Saul is very upset and argues with Samuel.

Samuel goes before the Lord, and the Lord says that he regrets having put Saul as king, and indicates that another will have to replace Saul as king eventually.

This is an important reminder that we ought to always obey God. If he’s calling us to do something, or lead something, or be part of something, we ought to simply obey God. The worst place to be is outside God’s will for your life and the best place in the universe to be is at the center of God’s will for your life. I know this from experience.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Spiritual Journey: The Journey Home

A quote from business insider newspaper, “At approximately 9:28 a.m. on September 11, 2001, United Flight 93 was hijacked by four al Qaeda terrorists. After the terrorists had stabbed the pilot and a flight attendant, the passengers were told that a bomb was onboard and the plane was heading back to the airport.

But this was after two planes had already hit the World Trade Center, and the passengers on United 93 — huddled in the back of the plane — were beginning to find out what the real plan was. Beginning at 9:30 a.m., several passengers made phone calls to their loved ones.

"Tom, they are hijacking planes all up and down the east coast," Deena Burnett told her husband Tom, a passenger on United 93, in a cell phone call at 9:34 a.m. "They are taking them and hitting designated targets. They've already hit both towers of the World Trade Center." In another phone call, Tom learned from his wife that another plane had hit the Pentagon.

"We have to do something," Burnett told his wife at 9:45 a.m. "I'm putting a plan together." Other passengers, including Mark Bingham, Jeremy Glick, and Todd Beamer, were learning similar details in their own phone calls, as the plane was barreling towards Washington, DC.

The passengers voted on whether to fight back against the hijackers. Led by the four man group, the passengers then rushed the cockpit, with Beamer rallying them in his last words: "You ready? Okay, let's roll."”

So, a pastor and a homosexual man united a group of passengers to retake the plane. Interesting isn’t it? When we stop fighting each other, and unite together, we can do great things. All 44 passengers lost their lives that day. That was the end of their journey. But they did something special by stopping a terrorist hijacked plane that was headed for the united states capitol.

And today, we’re talking about the end of the journey. We’ve gone through our spiritual journey series, and eventually, yes, the journey does come to an end, at least, in this world.

The heroes journey which we’ve been examining breaks the journey into three parts, departure, initiation, and return. Today we go through the various subjects of the 3rd part, the return.

We’ve gone through the road of trials, the union with the lover, the temptation, atonement with the father, apotheosis, and the ultimate blessing. Now, the return home from the journey.

Refusal of the Return – we don’t want to return to our old life or our old ways. We embrace the new calling, as part of the body of Christ, in the army of God. We never return to the old ways.

Rescue from Without – We continue to face our battles in the Christian life, and more and more we continue to realize God swoops in and rescues us, time and again, to do in us what we can’t do ourselves.

The Magic Flight – Time and again we find ourselves in the magic flight, under attack and in persecution as Christians, and time and again, God delivers us on the magic carpet, the flight at night, among the stars, and we rest, realizing God is doing it in us,.

Master of the Two Worlds – We come to the point where we’ve mastered both worlds. You might call this “entire sanctification” we come to the point where we truly have come to understand the spiritual realm. And we’ve learned to apply the spiritual truths of the Bible to the real world. So our life in this world is fully transformed. Thus we are master of two worlds, the spiritual realm in prayer and time with God, and the physical world, how we live as Christians in this gritty real world.

Freedom to Live – Then we come to the Freedom to live. Having come to master the two worlds, we have the knowledge we need, so we learn to share the message of Christ with the world. We share with people we mentor, we share it with strangers and friends, and we become teachers, when we used to be only learners. Now we are teachers of the truth.

Crossing of the Return Threshold – Eventually, as we grow old, we come to the end of the journey, and we die. We pass on to the next world. That is the true conclusion of the journey.

Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 (ERV)12 Remember your Creator while you are young, before the bad times come—before the years come when you say, “I have wasted my life.” 2 Remember your Creator while you are young, before the time comes when the sun and the moon and the stars become dark to you—before problems come again and again like one storm after another.

3 At that time your arms will lose their strength. Your legs will become weak and bent. Your teeth will fall out, and you will not be able to chew your food. Your eyes will not see clearly. 4 You will become hard of hearing. You will not hear the noise in the streets. Even the stone grinding your grain will seem quiet to you. You will not be able to hear the women singing. But even the sound of a bird singing will wake you early in the morning because you will not be able to sleep.

5 You will be afraid of high places. You will be afraid of tripping over every small thing in your path. Your hair will become white like the flowers on an almond tree. You will drag yourself along like a grasshopper when you walk. You will lose your desire,[b] and then you will go to your eternal home. The mourners will gather in the streets as they carry your body to the grave.

Remember your Creator while you are young, before the silver rope snaps and the golden bowl is crushed like a jar broken at the well, like a stone cover on a well that breaks and falls in. Your body came from the earth. And when you die, it will return to the earth. But your spirit came from God, and when you die, it will return to him.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The Surprising Pro-Life Message of The Mandalorian

Have you seen the Mandalorian? It's a surprisingly successful television show given the failure of the Disney Star Wars movies to tell a coherent compelling story. Why is the Mandalorian so successful? One could point to many factors, strong story, mystery, action, familiar locales, and so on. But one element I'd like to point you toward is a strong pro-life message in the hit show.

Mando is a no-nonsense bounty hunter, and we see his ruthlessness displayed. He has a somewhat transcendent worldview, in his connection to the Mandalorian way. But his means to that end is defined by dispassionate pursuit of bounties against individuals, often evil in nature. 

But then Mando encounters someone special, the child. 

The child, is a baby. And despite Mando's dogged dedication to emotionless service to wealth acquisition, he encounters something that is sacred, something in the child that he recognizes as a transcendent value that must be preserved: innocence.  

The child is innocent, unable to protect itself.  So Mando launches his rescue mission, to save the child, giving up everything, becoming a target to all his former associates, and a target to the imperial remnant.

The child is a mystery, slowly being unfolded. The child is special. The child is beautiful in a way. Mando makes it his mission to protect the child. 

I can't help but see an incredibly strong pro-life message unfolding here. The child floats around in a cocoon of sorts, along with Mando wherever he goes.  The cocoon carrying pod reminds me of an unborn child carried in the womb of a mother. 

The unborn child is considered garbage to modern society. It is not protected.  It's life is forfeit.  And Mando begins by following that same ethic, turning the child in to the authorities, who proceed to begin experimenting on it, attempting to study it and gain medical insight from it. Watching these scenes I couldn't help but think of Planned Parenthood's underground sales of baby body parts, on a black market of sorts. They carve up the aborted fetus, study it, and many companies even include fetal cells in their products, like vaccines and such.  The unborn baby is seen as medical meat, to be carved up, studied, and sold on the market.  Much seems to be the same for the child in the Mandalorian.  He is regarded as a commodity. 

But Mando as he considers this reality, is moved to action. He realizes, even if no one else will protect the child, he must protect the child. Why? Because there is something sacred and special, about the innocence of a child.  The child is special, unique, worthy of life, and ought to be protected. So he makes it his new mission in life to protect the child.  The child, who floats around in a large pod, not so dissimilar from the unborn child floating in the womb of the pregnant mother.

The man, Mando, the strong male character, again another surprise from a Disney that has promoted an agenda of displaying strong female characters recently, is urged toward morality, toward sacredness, toward a transcendence, in regard to life. And this gives the character meaning. It gives the character a hill to die on.  And it inevitability begins to characterize the entire life of Mando. He is now defined in a new way, simply by recognizing a reality many of us deny, that all life is sacred, and even and especially, helpless, innocent life, the life of a child. 

And so all of us join in with Mando in his primal, basic realization, that a helpless baby is worth protecting, even if we don't know that baby by name. It doesn't matter if we're related to that baby or not, by family or by blood, the life of the child still matters infinitely. And must be protected. And as an audience we fall in love with this mission. The bounty hunter story is appealing. But it lacks transcendence. It lacks that something special that stirs the best in us. But marry the bounty hunter with protecting the child, and we find something very special indeed.  It's something we've all lacked in our lives: True meaning. It's something we all long for deep within: To believe there is something special in the universe.

Many of us have slowly died inside, listening to the skeptics and the modern philosophers who tell us nothing has any meaning, even an unborn child.  But never-the-less our hearts still ache for that cause to live for. We long to believe.  We are all the empty, miserable bounty hunter, lonely, serving wealth and status, and power. And we all long for that moment when something deep within us in stirred by the sacredness of the life of a child, that sets us on a mission to live differently. We come alive. We believe again. And we rise above our old lives, to stand for something right, something pure, something good. It changes our entire lives.  The baby is special. The baby is sacred. The unborn life truly does matter. 

So, we all ought to declare with Mando, the simple phrase, "Protect the child, this is the way." 

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Mysteries of the Crucifixion: The 7 Sayings of Christ on the Cross

The day that Jesus was crucified was one might call a nightmare day. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a nightmare day. But it began with Jesus sharing the Passover feast with his disciples in the upper room. That night Jesus prayed at the garden of gethsemane in great anguish and sorrow, because he knew what the cross meant. That night Judas betrayed Jesus to the authorities, and Jesus was arrested. He was awake all night being questioned by the Pharisees. And the next day he went before the roman officials, was beaten, scourged, and forced to carry his cross to Golgotha, where he would be crucified.

Jesus did this freely for us. No one took his life from him. He gave it up willingly. But why? To receive the punishment, we deserved for our sins.

Does it penetrate to the deepest recesses of your being, your soul, and your understanding of the world? Do we really understand the significance of the cross?

Let us consider the state of reality. Did you know that the way things are right now are not as they were intended to be? It’s true. These lives we live today are a struggle, often broken, filled with chaos and strife.

We as a species we're destined for paradise. But paradise was lost, through a string of events we call the fall of man. Today we live in the fall. But as Christians our ultimate destiny is paradise. It’s paradise regained, thanks to Jesus.

We live here 80 to 90 years. We’ll spend forever in paradise. Millions and millions of years are just the beginning of eternity with Christ. But today, right now, really matters. Because the door stands cracked open. And soon it will be shut forever. That is the door to salvation. That is the door to eternal life. Who is the door? Jesus. But once Jesus returns and sets all things right on Earth, that door will close. Many people will be very surprised, and the fate that awaits them is terrible indeed.

Every person we see, every single one is made in the image of God. Every person we see, our coworkers, our friends, family, strangers and gas station attendants. Their souls hang in the balance, today. They die for lack of knowledge. Everything is at stake right now. Right now is when we can make a difference.

Paradise was lost, but it has been regained and we are destined for that eternal city, the New City of God. This place is where I want to be! John wrote of the city when he said:

“It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. 14 The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

19 The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass.

22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” -Revelation Chapter 20

We have access to this glorious future, to eternal life, to eternal joy, to paradise itself! We know why:

Two thousand years ago Jesus willingly went to the cross, voluntarily. He was there for hours, suffering. Today as we consider reaching those in our community, I’d like to draw your attention to the 7 sayings of Jesus while he was nailed to the cross.

Our savior is nailed to the wooden cross beams, and lifted up and the cross base is dropped into a hole in the ground. And as Jesus is there, slowly dying, having been whipped and beaten, he makes several statements. Let’s take a look at these statements and see what they teach us about the mysteries of the cross.

The roman soldiers were debating over who would get Jesus’ robe. This was right after Jesus had been hoisted upon the cross. And this is when Jesus made his first statement:

Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

So often in our world violence begets violence, hatred is met by hatred. The Jews and the Islamic nations have fought back and forth for hundreds of years. Family disputes go on and on. They hurt us, so we hurt them. Back and forth, back and forth. When hate was thrown upon Jesus, when violence was thrown upon Jesus, it did not bounce back, it stopped with Jesus. At the cross, Jesus returned the hatred of his enemies with love, and He absorbed the sin of the world, ending it. Next…

The criminal on the cross says to Jesus, “If you’re really the son of God get us down from here.” Then the second criminal says, “We are punished justly, we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Luke 23:43: “Truly, I say to you on this day, you will be with me in paradise.”

At that moment, the criminal confessed his own sinfulness, and declared that Jesus Christ was the king who would come into his kingdom. And by his humility, his willingness to see the truth, that he was guilty, and Jesus was innocent, did he receive eternal life. He repented, and said that Jesus was pure, and he was justly deserving judgment. So he received grace.

Mary the mother of Jesus and John the disciple of Jesus were there when Jesus was on the cross. So after Jesus’ words with the criminal, he turns his head towards mom and says, “Mom, this is your son” gesturing toward John. And then to his dear friend John he said, “Son, this is your mother.”

This reminds of us the importance of relationships, and family.

In Matthew chapter 27 it says “42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

At this moment it is believed, that for three hours the presence of God the Father left Jesus Christ utterly alone on the cross. At this moment Jesus atoned for the sins of the world, in total darkness. An eclipse of the sun occurred, and it was completely dark.

Jesus saved others, but he did not spar himself. He went to the cross, suffered the condemnation for the sins of the world. Jesus became sin, in so doing, God the Father could not look upon God the son, but turned his being away from Him and left him alone. That is the punishment we deserved, and Jesus took it for us. What a terribly high cost.

Jesus declares forgiveness, he declares grace to those who slaughter him, but he does not spare himself the great suffering, the great passion of being utterly left alone, to have all the sin of the world poured upon him like a great river of filth and darkness descended.

Three hours, total darkness. And after three long hours Jesus cried out “Father, father, why have you forsaken me?”

He’s suffering, and he’s crying out in sadness that he has been left so incredibly alone, left condemned with the worst sinners.

Jesus’ then utters the phrase: “I thirst.” And many consider this a declaration of his extreme suffering. He is in the most intense state of suffering. He is offered the sour wine but does not receive it. He accepts no consolation.

Shortly after these words Jesus declared victory when he said, “It is finished.” He had atoned for the sins of the world, and it had been fully accomplished. Jesus was victorious to the very end, just as he is victorious in our lives today.

Then finally Luke 23:46 Jesus is reunited with God the Father, when He says “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” And then Jesus died.

Jesus cried out one last time (Matthew 27:50) and he gave up his spirit. Matthew 27:51 then says “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open.”

Jesus’s victory on the cross had torn away the veil between God and people. Jesus opened the door to relationship between God and man through his mediation. He shook the world, defeated Satan, and opened up the tombs, in that he had defeated death, and declared eternal life open to all who would believe in Him.

These things are true! And real! This all really happened. It’s recorded by eye witnesses in the gospels. Jesus Christ is alive. He is resurrected, and he has defeated sin and death. Think of the weight, value, and importance of what Jesus has done. Eternal life is open to all who would believe in Jesus. It’s open today.

Friends we are so blessed in this church, to come here every week and celebrate our glorious Jesus. But friends, there are so many out there today who don’t have that opportunity. They know nothing of Jesus. And we have to reach them. It’s easy to sit here on Sunday and worship God. It’s a lot scarier to leave our comfort zone, to step out into the community and minister to someone we don’t know much about.

Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you a fisher of men.” And he said, “go forth and preach the gospel to everyone.”

We know everything hangs in the balance. The stakes are so high. Today I invite you to go into your communities; to visit with someone who needs Jesus, develop a relationship with them, and bring them into the family of believers.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

The Faithfulness of Ruth: God's Sovereign direction in the Little things of Life

We’ve just gone through the book of judges with all these vast, brutal wars, and chaos and destruction and now we turn to the next book, right after Judges, the book of Ruth. We saw how God is very concerned with huge world events, like the nation of Israel and it’s enemies, and Israel’s sins and their leaders. But in the book of Ruth we get a whole new angle on who God is and how he interacts with us.

In the book of Ruth we learn about how God is providentially at work in the seemingly small, everyday events of our lives. God cares about the little things in our lives. Even in the life of just one person, or a small group of people. God’s hand is at work, in providence. And if you aren’t clear of the meaning of providence, providence refers to how God guides events behind the scenes. He’s at work, even in the smallest decisions we make.

So the book of Ruth, the first line of the book of Ruth tells us these events take place during the time of the judges. Scholars are uncertain as to the exact time frame in which ruth was written, but the probably author of Ruth seems to be Samuel. It’s probably written well after the actual historical events took place, as a retelling of these events.

So at this time in Israel’s history, there is a famine taking place in the land. People are starving to death left and right.

You can turn to Ruth chapter one in your Bibles. So it says in Ruth 1:1-2:

“So a man from Bethlehem in Judah left his home and went to live in the country of Moab, taking his wife and two sons with him. 2 The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife was Naomi. Their two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in the land of Judah. And when they reached Moab, they settled there.”

Notice where they’re from: Bethlehem. Very interesting. So Eli and Naomi. They’ve got two sons, Mahlon and Kilion. And they’re fleeing a famine. Very common in antiquity. There were all sorts of famines in the middle east at this time in history. Usually these famines were caused by lack of rains, or hail storms, sometimes also related to sieges from foreign nations as well.

So they head to a foreign nation, to hopefully escape the famine. They’re making decisions, to protect themselves.

Things don’t work out too well in Moab unfortunately. It says, “3 Then Elimelech died, and Naomi was left with her two sons. 4 The two sons married Moabite women. One married a woman named Orpah, and the other a woman named Ruth. But about ten years later, 5 both Mahlon and Kilion died. This left Naomi alone, without her two sons or her husband.” Ruth 1:3-5

This must’ve been extremely devastating for Naomi. She’s essentially lost everything. Her husband has died, it doesn’t say how. But it may have been that the famine spread to Moab as well. Imagine how painful that must’ve been! I saw how my grandma struggled after losing my grandpa when he died. I imagine it must feel like losing your other half.

But at least she has her two sons, and they both get married. That’s very good. But then we jump ten years into the future. And it says that both her sons died as well. Once again we don’t know how they died. But it’s possible that it was due to famine.

So now Naomi is left alone, miserable, with only two foreign women, who are both widows now as well.

Naomi hears word that back in Israel the famine has passed and there is food available. So she sets out with Orpah and Ruth. But on the way she asks Orpah and Ruth to turn back and go to Moab. She told them they should look for husbands there among their own people the Moabites.

In the ancient world, women basically had to be married to have their needs met. An unmarried woman was basically at the mercy of the world and would have nothing. So it was very important in ancient times for a woman to have a husband to work to provide for her needs. So understand that cultural context here.

Both of them refuse to leave Naomi’s side. But eventually Orpah agrees to leave and goes back to her people.

But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!”

And here we find our first principle today. The absolute and complete faithful devotion of Ruth. She loves Naomi as herself. The biblical standard of love. If only we had this kind of love amongst us. But we don’t. We’re too busy selfishly seeking our own desires. And that really needs to change amongst us. We need to learn to love each other the way Ruth loved Naomi. She was not willing to leave Naomi alone in her misery. Often times we’re too focused on getting everything we want, arguing over stupid things, and ignoring each other, to actually take time to love each other. That’s my first challenge to you today. We must learn to love each other more deeply. Loyalty. Devotion. A willingness to sacrifice for others. Guess who models that best in this room? Scott does. Always he is willing to help.

So they journeyed back to Bethlehem. So the setting is historic Bethlehem. Very interesting. As they enter the city, everyone is astonished. This was a small town kind of thing. Much smaller than even little Owosso. Everybody knows everybody in Owosso. But in Bethlehem, everybody really knows everybody, tight knit community. They’re all amazed, Naomi is back!

But she replies, “20 “Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?”

Can anyone here relate to how Naomi felt at this moment in her life? She’s lost her husband. She’s lost her two sons. She’s really lost everything. Everything aside from Ruth. She has suffered terribly. Can anyone relate here? Have you suffered? Has it felt at times in your life that the Lord has left you empty? Has it felt at times like the Lord caused you to suffer and sent tragedy upon you?

I believe the Bible mentions this incident particularly because we all face situations as Christians, and just as human beings, where we face struggle. If so, this saga of Naomi and Ruth proves one thing: God really cares about our sufferings. He deeply cares about our pain. That’s my second point for you today.

We’ll see how the changes in Naomi’s story prove to us that God cares about even the sorrows of one seemingly insignificant person. God is at work in nations, the United States, the world, but also, he is at work in your little life, and cares about you.

So Naomi and Ruth are in Bethlehem. And Ruth offers to go collect grain in the fields, because it’s harvest season. Naomi gives her permission to do so. This is a practice called gleaning. Gleaning is a concept found in the Old Testament law. Foreigners and the needy were allowed to follow after in the fields after those gathering barley. And they could collect what was left on the ground for themselves.

So Ruth goes out into the fields and begins gleaning. And it just so happens, that she ends up gleaning in the field of a man named Boaz, a relative of her deceased father in law Elimilech.

Then we see in Ruth chapter 2:8-16 “8 Boaz went over and said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields. Stay right behind the young women working in my field. 9 See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to the water they have drawn from the well.”

10 Ruth fell at his feet and thanked him warmly. “What have I done to deserve such kindness?” she asked. “I am only a foreigner.”

11 “Yes, I know,” Boaz replied. “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. 12 May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.”

13 “I hope I continue to please you, sir,” she replied. “You have comforted me by speaking so kindly to me, even though I am not one of your workers.”

14 At mealtime Boaz called to her, “Come over here, and help yourself to some food. You can dip your bread in the sour wine.” So she sat with his harvesters, and Boaz gave her some roasted grain to eat. She ate all she wanted and still had some left over.

15 When Ruth went back to work again, Boaz ordered his young men, “Let her gather grain right among the sheaves without stopping her. 16 And pull out some heads of barley from the bundles and drop them on purpose for her. Let her pick them up, and don’t give her a hard time!””

Often times, you don’t see what God is doing. Seemingly random events are taking place in your life. You get this job. You become friends with this person. You go out to eat on this day. You visit the park over the weekend. And it all seems kinda random. But quietly, beneath the surface, God is weaving strands of your life together to form a tapestry, a plan, in which your destiny, God’s will, is being unfolded.

That is my third point to you today: God’s will is being unfolded in the “random” events of your life.

So Ruth continues to glean in Boaz’s fields, and Boaz is obviously helping her and blessing her, and impressed by her faithfulness. Ladies, if you’re hoping for a Boaz to come into your life. Follow God’s will for your life. And be a faithful woman, when no one is looking. Be faithful. Be loyal to those you love. Honor God. And people will take note.

Ruth continues to glean through Spring and into early Summer. One day Naomi says to her, from Ruth chapter 3, ““My daughter, it’s time that I found a permanent home for you, so that you will be provided for. 2 Boaz is a close relative of ours, and he’s been very kind by letting you gather grain with his young women. Tonight he will be winnowing barley at the threshing floor. 3 Now do as I tell you—take a bath and put on perfume and dress in your nicest clothes. Then go to the threshing floor, but don’t let Boaz see you until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 Be sure to notice where he lies down; then go and uncover his feet and lie down there. He will tell you what to do.”

So God has brought together seemingly random events in the life of Naomi and Ruth. He’s guided events. There’s an opportunity here. So Ruth receives excellent advice and guidance from this motherly figure to her Naomi. And we should always seek the Lord when making a big decision like this.

But my fourth point to you is this: When God orchestrates His will in our lives, we must recognize the opportunity in front of us and take it. God isn’t going to force Ruth to approach Boaz. He isn’t going to force Boaz to marry Ruth. They both have free will. And Ruth wisely gets godly counsel from Naomi, and then listens and takes the advice.

Now, just a caution, sometimes we can get very bad advice from family and friends as well. So watch out for that. Always check God’s word and pray to make sure.

So Ruth does just as Naomi says. She goes to Boaz at night, uncovers his feet, and he wakes up and sees her there. Everybody please remember this is a Jewish cultural practice. This was a way of the woman to propose marriage to someone who is called a “kingsman redeemer.” For a woman that had suffered great loss, and her husband had died, a redeemer from the same family could redeem the situation by taking the widow as his wife. And that’s what Boaz does.

He realizes that there is another relative that is closer in relation to Ruth’s father in law Elimilech. So Boaz goes to talk to this person. He’s probably very worried, because he wants this honorable woman Ruth to become his wife. But he honors God by obeying the laws of that time. He goes and talks with the man, but he doesn’t want to redeem the family, because he’d have to marry Ruth. So Boaz agrees to redeem the dead man’s family name. He declares this in front of the whole crowd in the marketplace, and they’re very excited about this beautiful situation. Remember it’s a small town, and everybody knows about Boaz and Naomi and Ruth.

Ruth 4:11-12: “Then the elders and all the people standing in the gate replied, “We are witnesses! May the Lord make this woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, from whom all the nation of Israel descended! May you prosper in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. 12 And may the Lord give you descendants by this young woman who will be like those of our ancestor Perez, the son of Tamar and Judah.”

Ruth 4:13-17 "So Boaz took Ruth into his home, and she became his wife. When he slept with her, the Lord enabled her to become pregnant, and she gave birth to a son. 14 Then the women of the town said to Naomi, “Praise the Lord, who has now provided a redeemer for your family! May this child be famous in Israel. 15 May he restore your youth and care for you in your old age. For he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you and has been better to you than seven sons!”

16 Naomi took the baby and cuddled him to her breast. And she cared for him as if he were her own. 17 The neighbor women said, “Now at last Naomi has a son again!” And they named him Obed.”

My fifth point today is, When we respond to God’s opportunity, He blesses us and makes it wonderful.

Ruth and Boaz get married. She gives birth to a son. And Naomi is blessed. It’s a moment of rebirth in her family line, that looked like it was coming to an end. Naomi was completely hopeless. She was totally bitter and depressed and miserable. And God completely changed her story.

So the whole city rejoices with Naomi. And her bitterness is turned to comfort and healing. Ruth is married to an amazing man who loves her dearly. Boaz after being single for so long, he’s a middle-aged guy, is married to a wonderful godly woman.

Point number six, if you’ve been waiting on God for a long time, keep waiting, because God is faithful. He will turn your bitterness to rejoicing.

And they have this child named Obed. Does that name sound familiar? Yes. Obed was the father of Jesse. Making Obed the grandfather of David, who would become king of Israel. Not only that, guess what? Ruth and Boaz’s son Obed is part of the line of David, meaning Obed, this miracle child, is great great great great (28 greats) grandfather to Jesus of Nazareth, who would one day be born in that little backwater town of Bethlehem.

And my final point today is this: Not only will God turn our bitterness to rejoicing. Not only is Jesus Christ our ultimate kingsman redeemer, who redeems us from the grave, and redeems us from sin and death, not only is all that true, but when we obey God and become part of His plan for the universe, He gives us an honored place in his very own family. Just like Ruth and Boaz were part of the family line that would eventually give birth to Jesus the son of God. Amen!

Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Heresy of Gnosticism

Gnosticism was a large umbrella of varying perspectives around basic beliefs heretical to the Christian faith. Gnosticism tended to be based on dualism, this idea of good vs. evil, material vs. spiritual. Gnostics were always on a search for "hidden knowledge" that would bring about salvation, which is in stark contrast to the Christian faith, that indicates faith in Christ as the means to salvation.  Generally in gnosticism the idea is that the physical world is evil, the physical world is bad, the human body is bad, and things spiritual are good.  

In fact, gnostics believed that the natural world itself was the prideful creation of an evil false god.  Christ was the solution to humans escaping from the material universe. So Christ can't be physical, because the physical is evil, so Christ is seen as a ghost. Christ also isn't considered to be God either, just one of many spiritual beings.

The early church father Irenaeus dealt with the heresy of gnosticism two thousand years ago. He challenged the gnostics, not by individually dealing with all the various sects of gnosticism, of which there many, but instead by simply addressing the main ideological viewpoints of the gnostics, and refuting them.  To his mind, this was as good as refuting all the sects at once.  

Irenaeus regarded creation documented in Genesis to be fundamentally a good thing. Humanity and the universe were created good, which he would indicate is counter to what the gnostics taught, which was that creation was fundamentally bad. Irenaeus validates the doctrine of the Trinity, which of course refutes the concept that Christ is a mere spiritual being and not the son of God.

Thankfully, gnosticism did not prevail over the ages. Though it still exists in some minor forms in the modern world.  But how might things have been different if the early church lost out? 

What would it be like in modern Christianity if gnosticism had prevailed? Well, since gnosticism essentially completely departed from the scriptures, church authority, and biblical theology, I don't suppose there would be any sort of Christian movement remaining in the world, unless it picked up again after the imminent collapse of the victorious gnostic movement. Any church movement that charges in the direction of lowered view of scripture, heresies, and neglect for church authority tends to disappear over time.  At least that has been the case in more recent times with church movements that begin to depart from the authority of scripture. Though one might cite the flourishing of heretical movements like the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormon church to counter that idea.  In that case, I would suggest perhaps gnosticism would've morphed over the centuries, as such open-ended ideologies tend to, into a conglomeration of religions something similar to Unitarian universalism.  That's just a guess, but it's certainly plausible.

Share this Post!