Category: 1 Samuel (page 1 of 3)

Trading Places

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as children, the redemption of our bodies.” ~Romans 8:22-23

HealingCrowdsScripture gives us many metaphors for what God is up to in this world. One of the most prominent word pictures or set of images is the motif of changing places. Switching roles. The rich and powerful being brought down and the poor and weak being lifted up. God is turning things upside down. It’s Freaky Friday to the max. Actually, it’s more like Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd in Trading Places, only without the one dollar bet and gorilla costume.

The way the world is right now, all the power structures, the way things are: all the people in charge and all the people in the streets; the people who are oppressed and the people without a care in the world; people who are trapped in hopeless cycles of despair and people who are living high on the hog — God is working to totally flip it all around. God’s day of glory is going to be opposite day!

We look around at all the brokenness — there’s a lot of it — and we groan. We see the devastation in Syria, and we groan. We see the body bags in Iraq and Afghanistan and Oregon, and we groan. Deadly flooding. Racism and violence. Senseless crime. Extreme drought. We see the rich get richer and the poor get poorer; we see the innocent oppressed and watch the guilty go free. Creation is not in harmony with its maker, the nations do not bow down to God, and we don’t even like our neighbors! And we groan.

Jesus&JairusWe know it’s going to change. We know it’s coming. We can sense it. We can feel it. It’s going to happen. We don’t groan because we don’t know what’s going to happen; we groan because we know exactly what’s going to happen. Everything is going to be turned upside down.

The psalmist groans. He can feel it. Sense it. Anticipate it. It’s going to happen.

“He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes, with the princes of their people. He settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children. Praise the Lord!” ~Psalm 113:7-9

He’s actually borrowing from Hannah’s prayer. Listen to the reversal language here. Trading places.

“The bows of the warriors are broken, but those who stumbled are armed with strength.
Those who were full hire themselves out for food, but those who were hungry hunger no more.
She who was barren has borne seven children, but she who has had many sons pines away.
The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up.
The Lord sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts.
He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes.” ~1 Samuel 2:4-8

Hannah can feel it. She knows it. She’s waiting for it. She groans.

Mary the mother of Jesus knows what the coming of the Christ means and she expresses it in praise to our God.

“He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” ~Luke 1:52-53

Then Jesus comes! Yes, finally, the Holy One of Israel comes! And what does he preach?

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh…” ~Luke 6:20-22

JesusHealsManThis is Act Four of the Story of God. The Creator comes to us in the Messiah Lord. Emmanuel. God with us. Jesus comes to us to reverse the curse. Jesus is all about turning things upside down.

He heals the Centurion’s servant. He brings the widow’s dead son back to life. He drives out demons and heals the sick. And he doesn’t just heal the physical things. When Jesus heals, he fixes everything: physical, spiritual, emotional, relational. God works through Christ to totally restore. Peace. Shalom. Wholeness. Completeness.

The woman caught in adultery. Jesus gets involved and she moves from her day of public execution to a brand new life without sin. Lazarus is dead, he’s been dead for four days. His sisters are groaning, all of Bethany is groaning and grieving. And Jesus says this is not how things are supposed to be. And he reverses the curse.

Jesus is dying on the cross. He’s suffering and suffocating. He’s moments away from dying. And I imagine he lifts his head up and prays to his Father:  “Dear Father, please let me do it one more time. Let me fix one more thing. Let me turn one more person’s life upside down.”

And the criminal being hung on Jesus’ right turns to him. And he groans. “Jesus, remember me.” And Jesus says, “Done. You’re with me.”

Everyone Jesus met, he saw as beautiful. Beautiful because of what they were meant to be. Beautiful because of what they were created to be. Beautiful because he saw in them what they were actually going to be. They were groaning and he turned their lives upside down.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” ~Romans 8:18

God is giving glory to his people and to his entire creation. God is working right now to transform his people into the perfect image of the Christ. That’s the climax. That’s where we’re headed. Us and all of creation.

The groanings in the world, the groanings in your own life, I’d say, are actually proof that the God who began a good work in you, in us, is indeed bringing it to completion.

Peace,

Allan

Returning to the Lord

The first Sunday in January is a good time for a congregation of God’s people to renew our dedication to the Lord. It’s the perfect day to start over, to renew vows, to make fresh commitments. And in Scripture, a lot of the time, when God’s people seek renewed relationship with the Lord, they begin with corporate confession and repentance.

Using biblical texts from 1 Samuel 7, Ezra 9, and Daniel 9, we spent this past Sunday together at Central confessing our corporate sins as a 107-year-old body of believers. We talked about the sins of pride and racism, legalism and sexism, self-reliance and apathy, consumerism, materialism, sectarianism. We haven’t committed all these sins ourselves. Our leadership and our church today are not guilty of all those sins. But in the history of our congregation and in the history of Churches of Christ, we have all been guilty of all of it. Some of these sins we still commit. All of them still impact us to some degree. So, in the manner of God’s people as described in Scripture, we confessed.

One of our shepherds, Tim McMenamy, worded a heart-felt, gut-wrenching prayer of confession from his knees on behalf of the church, recalling the sins of our past and the sins of our present. Another of our elders, Steve Rogers, led a prayer of corporate repentance from his knees, making vows to God on behalf of the congregation that we would renounce the sins of our past and present and seek only the Lord and his ways. And then we offered the church some time to confess their own sins, sins in their families, sins from their distant past, or sins that have them ensnared in the present. Our elders and ministers and our spouses were positioned all around the worship center to graciously receive and pray for our people. We lifted them up to God and begged him to provide his promised forgiveness and righteousness and peace.

It was different. It was very quiet in there. And powerful. Only a few, it appeared, actually took advantage of the opportunity. But those who did experienced those blessings of forgiveness and righteousness and peace.

Immediately after the service concluded, several people came to me to thank me for the special focus of the morning and for the way the assembly had been planned. And I think I must have expressed — non-verbally — some disappointment in the visible response from our congregation during the time of confession and repentance. One of my many, many faults — one I should probably confess regularly before the church — is my sin of impatience. I’m terrible with that. I don’t very much of the time practice what I preach there. And I do a lousy job of hiding it. But, good grief, of all people the preacher should know that God is at work in powerful ways that we don’t always get to see.

And Clay Harper reminded me of that Monday.

Clay called me on the carpet for my disappointment. That’s what good and faithful Christian brothers do; that’s what happens in genuine Christian community. And then he reminded me of the truth I had preached the day before, that God answered the prayers and provided the promised blessings regardless of how engaged the people were in what was happening.

In Samuel, the people approached the prophet looking for ways to fix their relationship with God. They begged him to intercede for them and participated fully as a congregation in the prayers of confession and repentance. In Ezra, the leaders of the people came to the prophet and the people (a lot of them, but maybe not all of them) eventually followed and participated in the confession and repentance, some of them under the threat of loss of their property. In Daniel, it doesn’t look like anybody else is there. The prophet prays confession and repentance to God on behalf of the people, but there’s no indication anybody has any idea he’s doing it.

More than likely, we have people in our church family located at every point on that continuum. From begging to make things right with God and willingly putting away their idols and sins, to almost being forced to confess and repent and reluctantly participating, to not taking part in the exercises at all, we’ve got folks all over the map there. All those different reactions and responses were present in our assembly Sunday.

The good news is that in all three scenarios in Scripture, God answered the prayers immediately, while the prayers were still being prayed, and provided the forgiveness and peace.

In Samuel, while the people are in the middle of confessing and repenting, God answered. God showered his people with victory. He destroyed their enemies right there on the spot and blessed them with peace. Same thing in Daniel. While he was in the middle of his prayer of corporate confession and repentance, God spoke to Daniel about forgiveness of sin, about everlasting righteousness, and peace. In Ezra, God provided his grace immediately and withdrew his anger.

I don’t know where you are with confession and repentance before God. I think if you’ve made some New Year’s resolutions to our Lord, they have to begin with confession and repentance. I don’t know where your church is with that. I don’t know how your elders might feel about corporate confession in a church assembly. I don’t know how many in your family or your congregation would enter in to that kind of exercise willingly, how many would have to be dragged into it kicking and screaming, and how many just wouldn’t participate. I don’t know.

But I do know this: the common thread in all three stories of corporate confession and repentance in Scripture is that God answered. He responded immediately, as soon as the prayers began. He did it consistently then and he’s doing it faithfully right now. Why don’t you and/or your church give it a try?

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Congratulations to Central’s own Joe Bain who will be inducted tomorrow into the Panhandle Sports Hall of Fame here in Amarillo. Coach Bain was the boys track coach at Amarillo High School for 30 years, winning 15 district championships, including one in his last season in 2006. He also served as a long time assistant coach for the Golden Sandstorm football team under Larry Dippel, coaching the defensive backs in 1992 when the Sandies advanced to the state semi-finals.

Coach Bain poured his heart into hundreds of young men in this region, constantly encouraging them, consistently challenging them to be better, always leading to greatness by the example of his own deep character and integrity. Lots and lots of young men are thanking Coach Bain this week for the tremendous influence of godliness he had on their lives. And at least one older guy who only just met Coach Bain three years ago is thanking him for that same leadership and influence he has on my life right now.

Peace,

Allan

Because the Lord

In one of the last stories about David before he is crowned King of Judah in Hebron, he and his nephew, Abishai, walk through the middle of three thousand of Israel’s mightiest soldiers to find Saul sound asleep on the ground. David and Abishai make it past all the guards, all the men, all the horse and chariots, all the spears and swords, right into the very center of the army’s camp, right next to Saul’s sleeping bag. These two are standing by Saul’s head and having an argument about what to do. Abishai’s adrenaline is rushing and he’s ready to kill the enemy king. David is holding his young nephew back and waxing theological about what God is and isn’t doing this night. So they eventually decide to grab Saul’s spear and water jug and leave camp the way they came in.

“No one saw or knew about it, nor did anyone wake up.” ~1 Samuel 26:12

How is that possible? I’m a fairly heavy sleeper; I can sleep through almost anything. But I know what it’s like to sleep on high alert. When two little girls are throwing up and the other one has a fever, you go to bed on high alert. In the dead middle of the night the least little sound from the other end of the house causes both Carrie-Anne and me to jump straight out of bed and grab the mop! Recently, we’re going to bed more and more often with one or two of our girls still out on the town. We go to sleep knowing they’ll be home in a couple of hours. And I promise I can hear Whitney exit Bell Street three miles from our house! I’m wide awake before the garage door opens!

The king and his bodyguard and three thousand trained soldiers. How did not one single person wake up and catch David?

“Because the Lord had put them into a deep sleep.” ~1 Samuel 26:12

Because the Lord.

God causes three thousand men to fall into a deep sleep so David and Abishai can slip into camp, discuss what they’re going to do, take the royal spear and canteen, and get away undetected. Do David and Abishai think it’s because of their own skills they’re able to get away with this? Are they aware at all of the miraculous nature of what just happened? The writer is very clear: God is personally involved in protecting and defending David and keeping him safe. But I don’t think David knows all the details of God’s involvement like the writer and reader do. Yes, David is growing in confidence that God is working to bring Saul’s reign to an end and put David on Israel’s throne. But the comment about the deep sleep is between the author and the reader. Yes, David is more convinced than ever about the truth of God’s activity in his life, but he’s unaware of the specifics.

Get the picture: David is working his way here in the dark, on the run, under attack, picking his way through the nitty and gritty details of the task at hand, and not fully aware of the very specific way God is intervening to help him and make sure the mission is accomplished.

Same with us: We walk through this life in this place where God has put us, doing his will, sometimes under attack, occasionally on the run, trusting God to provide, putting faith in God to deliver, totally convinced that God loves us and he’s involved in our lives, but not fully aware of the specifics.

Because the Lord.

I am breathing today because the Lord. You are where you are right now because the Lord. I am typing this post because the Lord. You are reading this at home or at work or in traffic because the Lord. I can show patience and restraint because the Lord. I can show compassion, I can demonstrate love because the Lord. I don’t worry about enemies or the economy or the elections because the Lord. I am fully protected against any one or any thing that could ever do me harm because the Lord. My sins are forgiven, my future is certain, my past is redeemed, and my destiny is decided because the Lord.

Peace,

Allan

Lord Forbid!

I have been intrigued the past couple of weeks with David’s decision, as recorded in 1 Samuel 24, to NOT kill Saul in that dark cave at En Gedi. It’s so uncharacteristic of David. It goes totally against David’s nature to NOT kill Saul. As a boy, David was killing lions and bears to protect his father’s herds. He began his military career by killing Goliath. He killed 200 Philistines for the right to marry Michal. He routed the Philistines at Keilah. He massacred more Philistines at Baal Perazim. He slaughtered them in the valley of Rephaim. And not just Philistines. David killed more than his share of Geshurites and Girizites, Amalakites and Kenites, Moabites, Edomites, and Ammonites, Stalagtites and Gigabytes — all kinds of -ites and -tites. David has killed his tens of thousands, remember? They wrote a song about it and it went straight to the top of the charts!

David was a killer. And he didn’t kill Saul. Saul is the one man out of the tens of thousands David had the most motivation and the most reason to kill. Saul was chasing David like a pig through the canyons and wadis of the Judean Desert. But David let him go. Why?

“The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed.” ~1 Samuel 24:6

David’s men see their ruthless enemy in a humiliating and vulnerable position, totally helpless right in front of them. But David sees the magnificent — flawed, yes; sinful, yes — wonderful king anointed by God. And David submitted to him. David turns this course and crude scene in a dark cave in the wilderness into a beautiful act of faith and worship to the Lord. He made it a sacred moment. Complete surrender to God. Total faith in the protection and provision of his Lord, no matter what.

If David doubted for a second that God was protecting him, he would have killed Saul. If David had been concerned about his own reputation, he would have killed Saul. If pride were motivating David, if he were moved by his own instinct of right and wrong and timing and personal safety, if he were compelled by the world’s sense of justice and revenge and power and fairness, he would have slashed Saul’s throat right there on the spot. But David is purely motivated by his genuine trust and faith and devotion to God. The idea of taking Saul’s life is unthinkable. He regrets even cutting his robe. Not because of Saul, but because of God.

David shows us in this cave at En Gedi that trusting God is much more than just going to church and writing a check and watching your language. Faith in the Lord to protect and provide is a faith that the Lord will protect and provide in every single situation. It’s knowing that God is in charge, not us. Jonathan had told David previously that this Kingdom thing is going to work out. David professed that same faith, and he acted on it. His faith in the Lord controlled David’s thoughts and actions. David refused to take part in a bloody and violent solution to his problems, even though his very best friends were telling him it was God’s will. Yeah, the Kingdom was falling apart. Yes, David was being treated unfairly. But Saul was the Lord’s anointed. Period. And David was going to let the Lord take care of it.

You know, we’re living in a world today that none of us has ever lived in before. As disciples of Jesus here in the West, the threats to our comfort and security are as bad as they’ve ever been. And it’s getting worse. As culture and society line up to oppose our Lord and his Kingdom, we’re tempted to take matters into our own hands with the violent and bloody methods of the world. We’ll sometimes confront people of different lifestyles with a face-to-face verbal assault. In David’s words: Lord forbid. We’ll slash the throats of lawmakers and government officials with angry letters and insulting emails. Lord forbid. Young people who think differently, older people who act differently, foreign people who dress differently, people who vote differently, people who believe differently — we’ll cut out their kidneys with an accusing finger in their face, we’ll take out their knees with our harsh words and bitter complaints, we’ll rip out their hearts with our bumper stickers and boycotts and petitions. Lord forbid.

We live in a spiritual landscape that’s every bit as hostile and threatening, dangerous and deadly, as the cliffs and caves of the Judean Desert. Just like David, suffering from thirst and mortal danger, we too face death and destruction. Sometimes it feels like we’re running for our lives. But our help comes from the Lord. It’s only in God through Christ where we find true, ultimate safety and security, salvation and hope.

This Kingdom thing is going to work out. God’s perfect time frame. God’s perfect plan. God’s perfect ways.

Peace,

Allan

Doing Things We’ve Never Done

We’re in a battle. God’s Church is locked in a war right now with the prevailing culture and the shifting world view. Today in the West, right now in this country where God has placed us, the prevailing culture and the world view is aligned against our Lord and his Kingdom. And it can be intimidating. We don’t live in the same world we lived in twenty or thirty years ago:

Post Modernism – We can no longer ignore or deny that the dominant world view in the United States today is post modern. The culture argues that there is no absolute truth. Nothing is inherently right or wrong, nothing is fixed as eternally correct or false. Men and women my age and younger  see almost everything today as a personal choice, a matter of individual freedom. You find peace and happiness your way and I’ll find peace and happiness my way and nobody has to get upset. Nobody has to preach to anybody. I’m doing what’s right for me; you do what’s right for you. “Yeah, but the Bible says…” Don’t quote the Bible to me! “Well, history would show…” Don’t talk about the past! Anti-institutional. Anti-authority. Anti-oppressive-religion. Don’t judge me. Don’t tell me. Don’t make me. In today’s society, the religion is individualism, the prized virtue is tolerance, and the controlling creed is “Whatever!”

And you feel it. You sense it. If you’re paying attention at all, you experience it every day.

Post Christendom – The culture in the U. S. no longer supports the Church. Today’s society doesn’t prop us up anymore. Remember prohibition? Blue laws? Prime time family hour on TV? No homework on Wednesday nights? No youth sports events on Sundays? Those helps for the church are a thing of the past. The media has an agenda, and it’s not neutral. The culture is on an around-the-clock mission to shape us, not into the image of Christ. You can’t turn on your computer, you can’t buy a loaf of bread at Walmart, you can’t go to a high school basketball game, without it being shoved in your face. Realize the only network television show on the air today that portrays drinking and gambling and materialism as bad, illicit and extra-marital sex as evil, and going to church and being honest and living right as good is The Simpsons!

Guess what? We’re on our own nowadays.

Post Denominationalism – Brand loyalty to a particular kind of church is gone today. Just because your grandparents and your parents and your spouse were all born and raised in the Churches of Christ doesn’t mean that your son won’t go to a Baptist university and meet a Presbyterian girl at a Christian concert at a community church, get married in a Lutheran chapel and raise their kids as Methodists. That kind of thing is happening all the time. You know it. Something like it has already happened in your own family.

We live in a world today we’ve never lived in before. None of us. It’s different. It looks like and it can feel like the odds are stacked against us. It’s threatening. Disorienting. We’re not sure how to tackle it. It’s all so new and it’s changing so stinking fast.

“Make the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” ~Ephesians 5:16

We have to do things we’ve never done for the sake of a world in which we’ve never lived. We can view the things in our society and culture that stand against God’s Kingdom today as frightening enemies or as exciting opportunities. We can shrink in the threatening presence of so much rapid change or we can rise to meet the exciting challenges head on. If we’re living in a brand new world, we must adapt and be flexible with doing brand new things.

Post Modern? Yeah, nobody’s interested in absolute truth anymore. Here at Central, we said “phooey!” to that last October and the Lord rained down over $353,000 in foreign missions money! Post Christendom? Yeah, nobody wants to go to church anymore. Last summer, we said “fine!” and we canceled church. For eight Wednesday nights in a row we canceled all our worship and classes and took church to the people, blessing our neighbors and our community with the love and grace of God. Post Denominationalism? Yeah, the lines are blurry. So, this past year we’ve partnered with the other churches in downtown Amarillo. We’re working and worshiping with them, serving and helping with them, combining our prayers and resources, consolidating our Kingdom energies, for the sake of our city.

We’re doing things we’ve never done for the sake of a world in which we’ve never lived.

We can’t compete anymore with the giant influence of the culture. We can’t win against the enormous scope of entertainment options. We can’t defeat the monster of technology and the almost militant individualism it nurtures. But that’s OK. That’s actually good news if we’ll just admit it. The truth is that not one single thing for the Kingdom of God is going to be won in your city with bigger programs, bigger buildings, bigger budgets, more manpower, or better technology. Instead, we should be laser-focused on raising up and encouraging the leaders in our congregations who see the tremendous potential in this new world and are excited about the Kingdom possibilities. When they propose doing something different in an effort to reach the community for Christ, don’t say, “Well, we’ve never done that before!” Remember, we’ve never lived here before.

Peace,

Allan

Songs that Soothe

“Whenever the [tormenting] spirit from God came upon Saul, David would take his harp and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.” ~1 Samuel 16:23

I’m particularly curious about what kinds of songs David played and sang for King Saul that brought him so much comfort and peace. As the writer of so many corporate psalms and congregational hymns, I’m convinced that David sang familiar temple songs for the king, songs both he and Saul would have recognized and known. Those old familiar hymns seem to be the ones that bring us the most comfort. Personally, a song like Be With Me, Lord has powers to calm me down, to re-orient my hectic life, to re-order my confused priorities:

Be with me, Lord — I cannot live without Thee, I dare not try to take one step alone,
I cannot bear the loads of life unaided, I need thy strength to lean myself upon.
Be with me, Lord, and then if dangers threaten, if storms of trial burst above my head,
If lashing seas leap everywhere about me, they cannot harm, or make my heart afraid.

Every phrase of this old song is intended to comfort, to soothe, to calm the troubled soul. Every stanza is meant by the writer and sung by the singer to restore belief, to strengthen faith, to increase confidence in the face of distress. It reminds me that I’m not alone, that even when God is not visible or not easily recognized as present, he has never abandoned me. He will never leave me. “A constant sense of thy abiding presence.” What a song.

In our Bible class this past Sunday we browsed through the song books together and remembered the songs that speak so powerfully to us in times of stress and despair. We shared our favorites with one another and told the personal stories that go along with each song and each specific set of circumstances. “Sweet Hour of Prayer.” “As the Deer.” “A Wonderful Savior.” “It is Well.” “Because He Lives.” “As the Mountains Surround Jerusalem.”

I wonder generally about the power of music and its deep connection with our God’s Holy Spirit. By playing and singing these soothing songs, David brought great peace and comfort to Saul. Most English translations of the above verse from 1 Samuel say the king was “refreshed” or “relieved” by the music. But the meaning of the original Hebrew wording is that God’s Spirit actually returned to Saul while David was singing. The tormenting spirit would leave and the Spirit of God would return. Through his music, David becomes a mediator of God’s Spirit; David brings life to Saul — Holy Spirit life — in his songs. In our Scriptures, spiritual music and the Holy Spirit are deeply connected:

“Be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.” ~Ephesians 5:18-19

It was good to flip through the song books together on Sunday and to be reminded of all those hymns that have brought us so much comfort through the years. These songs mediate the presence of God, they have the power to give life.

What’s the one song that has brought you the most comfort, the song that has soothed you during times of trial? I think my two are “Be With Me, Lord” and “It Is Well.” How about you?

Peace,

Allan

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