Archive for July, 2011

July 29, 2011

The More Beauty We See, the More Repentance We Feel

by Bethany

Relevant Text: 1 Sam. 25:39
Full Text: 1 Sam. 25-26 and Ps. 11

Mitigation | In law school, while interning at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, I worked on a case where the defendant was accused of having murdered two people – the drug dealer who stole his customers and the man who stole his girlfriend. Since he faced the death penalty, the court bifurcated the process into two parts. In the guilt phase, although he argued his innocence, the jury convicted him. Then, in the sentencing phase, as a mitigating factor, he argued that he felt remorse for the crimes he had committed – crimes that he had argued he had not done.

Regret | Like the defendant, Saul only felt sorry for what he had done when he was about to face the consequences. Once again, David passed over an opportunity to kill Saul and, once again, after David told him about it, Saul expressed remorse. Last time, he said, “You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly” [1]. This time, he said, “I have sinned … I will not try to harm you again. Surely I have acted like a fool and have been terribly wrong” [2]. Yet, he did not stop pursuing David. His actions didn’t change because his heart hadn’t.

Repentance | David, however, after expressing remorse to Abigail about his plans to harm Nabal, immediately changed his course of action: “Praise be to the LORD … who has sent you … May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed” [3]. Then, ten days later, when he heard that “the LORD struck Nabal and he died” [4], David said, “Praise be to the LORD, who has upheld my cause … and has brought Nabal’s wrongdoing down on his own head” [5].

Beauty | Although sin is ugly, repentance is beautiful. Yet, as Jonathan Edwards wrote, the only way to experience the sorrow of repentance is first to see the delight of God: “Repentance of sin is a sorrow arising from the sight of God’s excellency and mercy” [6]. In other words, the more captured we are by His beauty, the more grieved we are that we do not live more consistently with it.

Prayer | Lord, We long to repent as a response to Your beauty, not as a fearful response to the consequences after we’ve been caught. Give us hearts that are piqued and eyes that are open to Your delight and forgive us when we do not live consistently in it. Amen.

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[1] 1 Sam. 24:17, 19-20 NIV  |  [2] 1 Sam. 26:21 NIV  |  [3] 1 Sam. 25:39 NIV  |  [4] 1 Sam. 25:38 NIV  |  [5] 1 Sam. 25:39 NIV  |  [6] Jonathan Edwards, “The Pleasantness of Religion.” The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards: A Reader (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), pp. 23-24.

July 28, 2011

Consumed with the Lord

by Bethany

Relevant Text: 1 Sam. 24:6
Full Text: 1 Sam. 24

Fear | As C.S. Lewis reflected, to fear the Lord is to be filled with “a wonder” or “a certain shrinking” or “a sense of inadequacy” [1]. It is a fear that comes from love. Yet, how does God inspire both fear and love? As Lewis allegorically explained in The Chronicles of Narnia, “People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time. If the children had ever thought so, they were cured of it now. For when they tried to look at Aslan’s face, they just caught a glimpse of the golden mane and the great, royal, solemn, overwhelming eyes; and they found they couldn’t look at him and went all trembly” [2].

Conscience | No matter how much David feared Saul, he feared God more. On his manhunt for David in Judah, Saul unknowingly went into the cave where David and his men were hiding. Although David’s men suggested that he kill Saul, David merely cut off a corner of his robe. Later, however, David was conscience-stricken: “The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed” [3]. He then humbly approached Saul and told him how he had spared his life. Then he said, “I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life. May the LORD judge between you and me” [4]. Although David could probably have justified killing Saul in self-defense, he let judgment remain with God – for he knew that Saul could only take his body, not his soul.

Consumed | Although it is important what we think of God, it is infinitely more important what He thinks of us [5]. Not only did David know this, Jesus did, too. They were both consumed with God – even when they were unfairly pursued. As Jesus said at Gethsemane, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” [6]

Prayer | Lord, You are the only one who has power over our bodies and souls. Therefore, we praise You that, in Christ, You have declared us righteous and saved our bodies and souls. Give us courageous hearts that are consumed with what You – not others – think of us. Amen.

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[1]  C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain.  |  [2]  C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (the moment that the children meet Aslan for the first time).  |   [3]  1 Sam. 24:6 NIV  |  [4]  1 Sam. 24:11-12 NIV  |  [5]  C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Proposes a Toast, “The Weight of Glory.”  |  [6] Matt. 26:53-54 NIV

July 27, 2011

Praying to the Commanding Officer

by Bethany

Relevant Text: 1 Sam. 23:1-12
Full Text: 1 Sam 23 and Ps 54

Pray Without Ceasing | What did Paul mean, “Pray without ceasing” ? [1]. Did he literally mean to pray every minute of every day? I don’t think so. I think he meant that our hearts should depend on God so much that, even if we are not consciously talking to Him, we are deeply resting in Him. Also, I think he meant that we should pray frequently, mentioning things over and over to Him. To me, one of the best examples of what Paul means can be found in the account of David at Keilah, a city in the lowlands of Judah.

God as Commanding Officer | At Keilah, even though David was the commander of the troops, he took the posture of a subordinate officer in relation to his commanding officer – God. David was entirely dependent on the Lord’s counsel for every decision. When he saw the Philistines fighting against Keilah, “he inquired of the LORD, saying, ‘Shall I go and attack these Philistines?’ and the LORD answered him, ‘Go, attack the Philistines and save Keilah’” [2]. Even when his men questioned his decision, he returned to God and confirmed the directive [3]. Then, when David learned that Saul was coming to besiege him and his men, he again prayed: “LORD, God of Israel, your servant has heard definitely that Saul plans to come to Keilah and destroy the town on account of me … Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me and my men to Saul?” [4]. And when God told him that they would, David fled.

Wartime Walkie-Talkie | David used prayer as a wartime walkie-talkie [5] in order to advance the mission of glorifying the name of the Lord. Like the battles that David faced, our lives are war – we are constantly fighting for the assurance of our salvation and the perseverance of our faith and the advancement of His kingdom [6]. Oh that we would use prayer – not as intercoms to call the butler for lemonade – but as wartime walkie-talkies to call the Lord for tactical advice [7].

Prayer | Lord, In Christ, You have given us one of the best gifts this side of heaven – namely, access to You through prayer. Yet, we confess that we often either forsake prayer altogether or misuse it for our own means rather than seeking first Your kingdom [8]. Therefore, give us spirits that entirely depend on You, as we pray without ceasing. Amen.

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[1] 1 Thess. 5:17 NASB | [2] 1 Sam 23:2-3 NIV | [3] See 1 Sam. 23:4 | [4] 1 Sam. 23:10-11, 12 NIV | [5] John Piper has coined this phrase and used it excellently to promote the crucial nature of prayer. | [6] See 1 Thess. 3:5. 1 Cor. 9:26-27. 2 Cor. 10:3-5. See also Rev. 6:2; 12:17; 17:14. Eph. 6:12-13. | [7] Of course, our prayers are never perfect – nor need they be – and, of course, God is loves to answer our daily prayers! Yet, I have found that, to the extent that my heart “seeks first His kingdom,” my daily prayers are changed. They become more and more tethered to the mission of my life, which is to glorify the Lord. So, for example, I can pray for lemonade because I want some to quench my thirst and because I think that it will keep me hydrated to continue fighting the battle. Thus, the Jesus said, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [namely, the things that you want and worry about and anxiously pray for] will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33 NIV). | [8] When Jesus prayed for His disciples, He thought about how He was going to depart from them and He prayed a very wartime walkie-talkie prayer: “I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me … I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world” (Jn. 17:6-18 NIV).

July 26, 2011

A Reminder of the Evilness of Evil

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Ps. 52:8
Full Text: 1 Sam 22:3-23 and Ps. 52

Evil | As a natural-born contrarian, I only recently jumped on the Harry Potter bandwagon. I watched all of the movies in one weekend and, quite unexpectedly, fell in the love [1]. Yet, it was not Rowling’s fantastical creativity that captured me – even though her imagination is stunning – rather, it was the story of the triumph of Good over Evil. As Andrew Peterson wrote Rowling, “I love that you’re telling a story that is full of wisdom, a story that reminds me how evil Evil is” [2]. Me, too. As a 21st century American, who has never experienced severe injustice, I often think that I have no idea how evil Evil is.

Bloodbath | As David headed back to Judah [3], Saul was on a rampage. In his obsessive efforts to kill David, Saul accused his servants of working against him. Touting his own loyalty, Doeg the Edomite spoke up – telling Saul that, when he was at the sanctuary in Nob [4], he saw Ahimelek the Priest give counsel, food and Goliath’s sword to David [5]. Immediately, Saul summoned Ahimelek and charged him with conspiracy – sentencing him and his entire family to death. Then, he commanded the guards, “Turn and kill the priests of the LORD, because they too have sided with David. They knew he was fleeing, yet they did not tell me” [6]. Perhaps recognizing that Saul was going insane, however, the guards refused. Again, Doeg stepped up – he killed the 85 priests and then went to Nob to murder all the men, women, children, infants and livestock in the town. It was a bloodbath.

Justice | When David heard what happened, he mournfully told the only surviving son of Ahimelek, “I am responsible for the death of your whole family” [7]. Then, he wrote a song against Doeg: “Why do you boast of evil, you mighty hero? … Surely God will bring you down to everlasting ruin … But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love forever” [8].

Prayer | Lord, Even though our battle is not against flesh and blood, as David’s was, the Evil we fight against is no less real [9]. Yet, we know that, when we trust in You, everything we do prospers [10] because You love justice and righteousness [11]. Therefore, we ask You to open our hearts to hate injustice and evil – even as we obey Jesus’ command to love our enemies [12]. Amen.

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[1] Yes, I am comfortable admitting that, since I have not read the books, I am not a real fan … yet! | [2] Andrew Peterson, Harry Potter, Jesus and Me. RabbitRoom. 11 July 2011. (An excellent review of the Christian tones in the series. Thank you @ pettups – a true Potter fan – for sending it to me!) | [3] After he left the Cave of Adullum, David went to Moab, which was the land where his great-grandmother, Ruth, lived. While he was there, he sought the counsel of the Lord and met with the prophet Gad, who told him that he had to return to Judah to face Saul because confrontation with the king was an inevitable step on his way to the throne. See 1 Sam. 22:5. | [4] Nob, where the tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant were kept, replaced Shiloh when the Philistines defeated the Israelites and destroyed Shiloh. | [5] See 1 Sam. 21:1-9; 22:6-10. | [6] 1 Sam. 22:17 NIV | [7] 1 Sam. 22:22 NIV | [8] Ps. 52:1, 5, 8 NIV | [9] See Eph. 6. | [10] See Psalm 1. | [11] See, e.g., Is. 61:8; Ps. 37:28; 99:4; Lev. 20:23; Ps. 5:5-6; 78:59; 106:40; Prov. 6:16-19. | [12] For more information on the imprecatory psalms and how they relate to Jesus’ command that we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, see, e.g., John Piper, “Pour Out Your Indignation Upon Them,” the fifth sermon from the series, “Psalms: Thinking and Feeling with God.” 22 June 2008.

July 25, 2011

Trusting God in the Cave

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Ps. 57:10-11
Full Text: 1 Sam 22:1-2 and Ps 142 and Ps. 57 and 1 Chron 12:8-18

Fugitive | David’s life was a rollercoaster. One moment, he was the forgotten-about youngest son of Jesse, tending sheep in Bethlehem. The next, he was being anointed as the future king and celebrated as a national hero. Then, however, he became a fugitive – running from his own father-in-law, Saul, who wanted to kill him out of jealousy.

Surrounded | As David sat in a cave, having lost everything and everyone he loved, David felt alone: “In the path where I walk people have hidden a snare for me. Look and see, there is no one at my right hand; no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge; no one cares for my life” [1]. Yet, he cried out to God, who sent him company: “When his brothers and father’s household heard about [David’s having escaped to the cave of Adullam], they went down to there. All those who were in distress or in debt of discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander. About four hundred men were with him” [2]. Again, in an instant, David’s life changed – one moment, he was alone; the next, he was surrounded!

Praise | Although this group would one day become his army, David did not know that yet; all he knew was that they were still outnumbered 5-to-1 by Saul’s 3,000 men. David had to trust God in the middle of his troubles and, out of that difficult calling, David wrote deep and authentic psalms: “Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed. I cry out to God Most High … He sends from heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me – God sends forth his love and his faithfulness … For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies” [3].

Prayer | Lord, Just as You took the Israelites through the wilderness and David through the cave, You take us through challenging seasons so that we will learn to depend on You. Open our eyes, therefore, to see that You are loving us when You are weaning us from all the unstable and fickle things on which we rely. And when those troubling times pass, we pray that our hearts sing of Your great love that reaches to the heavens. Amen.

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[1] Ps. 142:3-4 NIV  |  |  [2] 1 Sam. 22:2 NIV  |  [3] Ps. 57:1-3, 10-11 NIV

July 22, 2011

Living as a Beneficiary of His Wealth

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Ps. 34:6
Full Text: 1 Sam 21 and Ps 34 and Ps 56

Beneficiary | Suppose you are a poor student in New York and your wealthy aunt and uncle – along with their two kids – come into town and invite you to join them for dinner at Minetta Tavern, but you don’t know whether they intend to pay for you. As you skim the menu, you awkwardly look around the table and see no clear sign that you will be the beneficiary of their wealth. So, you order the cheapest thing on the menu – carrots. Their kids, however, order beef tartare, burgers, fries, and coconut cake. As it turns out, they cover the entire bill. You somehow missed that you were included in their generosity. If only you had known, you would have ordered the Black Label Burger! Instead, you left hungry [1].

Protection | When God called David, He made him a beneficiary of His promises, including His promises of protection: “The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles” [2]. Yet, did David know? He was a fugitive – running from Saul – and, the more he fled, the more he lost. Having already left his home, job, wife, friend and mentor, David ended up leaving Israel and going to Gath, the land of the Philistines and the hometown of Goliath. He went to their king, perhaps thinking they could bond over their common enemy (Saul), but one of his servants knew the song about David: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands” [3]. Recognizing that the Philistines knew that the “tens of thousands” included their own countrymen and, of course, Goliath, David became “very much afraid” [4] and feigned insanity so that they would not be threatened by him. And it worked. God protected him. Although David was fearful and alone in foreign and enemy land, God saved him and, in response, David praised God for His generous and unfailing protection: “This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles” [5].

Prayer | Lord, Although we are the beneficiaries of Your great wealth [6], we are changed by Your generosity only when we trust and believe You. Give us hearts, therefore, that do not fearfully wonder whether You will provide. Instead, let us “taste and see that the LORD is good” [7], as we dine at the lavish table of Your magnificent promises of protection. Amen.

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[1] This picture is loosely based on a picture that John Piper offered in Future Grace (Chapter 19: “How Many Conditions Are There?”), Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Books, 1995 (p. 239).  |  [2] Ps. 34:17 NIV  |  [3] 1 Sam. 21:11 NIV  |  [4] 1 Sam. 21:12 NIV   |  [5] Ps. 34:6 NIV  |  [6] See Gal. 3:29 (noting that, those who belong to Christ, are heirs of all the promises that God made to Israel).  |  [7] Ps. 34:8 NIV

July 21, 2011

The Love of a Friend

by Bethany

Relevant Text: 1 Sam. 20:4
Full Text: 1 Sam. 20

Facebook | On Monday morning, after five years on Facebook, I deactivated my account [1]. Of course, I had thought about doing it before, but it wasn’t until a few weeks ago – when a friend messaged me, “You have a lot of friends. Wow.” – that I finally decided to. His message prompted me to question whether – with 1000+ friends – I was actually using Facebook to enhance my friendships. To be honest, I couldn’t say that I was. In fact, embarrassingly, I was probably spending more time “researching” my friends on Facebook than I was loving them in my actions [2].

One in Spirit | Jonathan and David immediately “became one in spirit” when they met [3]. Thus, when Jonathan’s father, Saul, grew jealous of David, Jonathan vowed to tell his friend if his father ever plotted against him: “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do for you” [4]. In return, David vowed never to harm Jonathan “because he loved him as himself” [5]. Then, when Jonathan discovered that Saul was, indeed, trying to kill David, Jonathan told David about it, even though he knew it meant that David would have to flee: “Then they kissed each other and wept together – but David wept the most. Jonathan said to David, ‘Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the LORD’” [6].

Friendship | Jesus designed our ultimate apologetic to be our love for one another: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” [7]. We love each other deeply and sacrificially when we offer ourselves as living sacrifices [8] – forgiving hurtful transgressions or telling sad truths. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “[T]he Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged … The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure … [T]hey meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation. As such, God permits them to meet together and gives them community” [9].

Prayer | Lord, As we travel in life together, we have many opportunities for friendship. Yet, we need Your wisdom and strength to love others as You have loved us. Therefore, we ask for friendships that pursue kingdom purposes and that are full of many joys and encouragements. Amen.

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[1] I do not doubt that many people have found Facebook to enhance their friendships and, for a time, I did. Today, though, I find that I – personally – waste too much time on Facebook – time that I could be spending on developing the in-person friendships that I have. We’ll see, of course, how long it lasts … See also Virginia Heffernon, “Facebook Exodus.” NYTimes, 26 August 2009.  |  [2] About a year ago, John Piper tweeted something that convicted me very much: “One of the great uses in Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.” Ouch.  |  [3] 1 Sam. 18:1 NIV  |  [4] 1 Sam. 20:4 NIV  |  [5] 1 Sam. 20:17 NIV  |  [6] 1 Sam. 20:41-42 NIV  |  [7] Jn. 13:34-35 NIV  |  [8] Rom. 12:1  |  [9] Dietrich Bonehoffer, Life Together. Trans. John W. Doberstein. Harper & Brothers: 1954.

July 20, 2011

My Refuge in Times of Trouble

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Ps. 59:16-17
Full Text: 1 Sam. 18-19 and Ps. 59

Success | After he defeated Goliath, David became an instant celebrity. First, he got a new job – instead of tending sheep, he was commanding troops [1]. Along with that, he became a national hero: “All Israel and Judah loved David, because he led them in their campaigns” [2]. He also got two new wives and, since both were daughters of Saul, he became a son-in-law of the king [3]. Indeed, the hand of the Lord was on David: “In everything he did he had great success, because the LORD was with him” [4].

Jealousy | Saul, however, began despising David for his popularity. He became like H.G. Well’s character, Mr. Polly – “not so much a human being as a civil war” [5]. He was miserable, possessed, suspicious, jealous, angry and paranoid. Although David served him faithfully, Saul was obsessed with making David miserable. After twice failing to kill David with his own spear, Saul sent bloodthirsty men to surround his house and kill him [6]. Since his command had the force of law, David had nowhere to turn. Therefore, David had to flee as a fugitive, leaving his home and family.

Music | Yet, David did not complain to his friends or lash out at God. Instead, he sang about the mercy and might of God against his opponents: “See what they spew from their mouths … But you laugh at them, LORD … You are my strength, I watch for you … God will go before me and will let me gloat over those who slander me … Let them be caught in their pride … Then it will be known to the ends of the earth that God rules … I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble” [7].

Prayer | Lord, Like David, You may bless us incredibly, but all of our blessings can be lost in a moment. Yet, we know that, although we may weep for a night, we will praise You in the morning – not with shallow or silly songs, but with deep and weighty ones that acknowledge the loss and the pain [8]. Therefore, we pray that You would wean us – as You did David – from our earthly attachments and help us to cling to You as our refuge and strength in times of trouble. Amen.

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[1] See 1 Sam. 18:2, 5  |  [2] 1 Sam. 18:16 NIV  |  [3] See 1 Sam. 17:25; 18:17-21  |  [4] 1 Sam. 18:14 NIV  |  [5] H.G. Wells, The History of Mr. Polly.  |  [6] 1 Sam. 19:11 NIV  |  [7] See Ps. 59 NIV  |  [8] As Charles Spurgeon said, “The music of the sanctuary is in no small degree indebted to the trials of the saints.”

July 19, 2011

Frustrated Insignificance

by Bethany

Relevant Text: 1 Sam. 17:45-47
Full Text: 1 Sam 16-17

Vice Presidents | It’s a running joke in Washington that the first question the Vice President asks in the morning is, “Is the President still alive?” Frustrated insignificance is a recurring theme among the VPs. The first one, John Adams, once wrote, “I am Vice President. In that, I am nothing.” In fact, the office has had such little respect that, during the first 176 years of its existence, it sat empty for a total of 37 years [1].

Little Things | Yet, if God had to choose between working through either the President or the VP, He would choose the VP every time. He always chooses the less significant. He sent Samuel to the little town of Bethlehem to find a replacement for Saul. God favored Jesse’s youngest son, not his oldest. He chose little David – using a small slingshot – to defeat giant Goliath. Why? Why does God choose little towns, youngest sons and slingshots? As David told Goliath, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will deliver you into my hands … and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel … [I]t is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands” [2].

Mustard Seeds | Today, He is the same [3] – He chooses the foolish things to shame the wise and the weak things to shame the strong – so that no one can boast before Him [4]. He wants us to know that we have not earned His love for us and, thus, we cannot lose it either. Our faith is a gift from Him and, even when we have very little of it, His might will overcome. As Jesus said, “Truly, I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” [5].

Prayer | Lord, If Vice Presidents feel insignificant, then what hope do we have? Yet, You have written our names in the book of life! We thank You for our faith and pray that it – no matter how big or small – would be sincere so that nothing is impossible. Amen.

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[1] Information found in: Bill Kelter and Wayne Shellabarger. Veeps: Profiles in Insignificance. Top Shelf Productions, 2008.  |  [2] 1 Samuel 17:45-47 NIV  |  [3] He chose a carpenter who was born in a manger in Bethlehem and raised in Galilee.  |  [4] See 1 Cor. 1:27-29 NIV  |  [5] Matt. 17:20 NIV

July 18, 2011

Saul’s Fatal Flaw

by Bethany

Relevant Text: 1 Sam. 15:22-23
Full Text: 1 Sam. 13-15

Self-Deception | Our hearts have almost unlimited capacities to hide the truth when it is too painful [1]. We can hear something and not really hear it; we can know something and not really know it. Although it seems easy to see such self-deception in others – e.g., Rupert Murdoch [2] – it is hard to see it in ourselves. Where are we deceiving ourselves and what is it that we want so much that we are willing to ignore the truth because it may be painful?

Disobedience | Saul started off well – he showed humility at his coronation [3] and kindness to his opponents [4]. Eventually, however, he became so enthralled with being king that he ignored the One who gave him the throne. Seeking justice – not imperialism – against the marauding Amalekites [5], God told Saul to go to battle and destroy every person and animal among the Amalekites. Yet, Saul disobeyed – he kept their best livestock as profit and imprisoned their king as trophy. Thus, God sent Samuel to confront Saul: “Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel” [6]. Saul immediately rationalized his disobedience: “[We] spared the best of the [livestock] to sacrifice to the LORD your God” [7]. Yet, Samuel rejected his self-deception: “To obey is better than sacrifice … For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king” [8].

Consequence | Although Saul knew that God gave him the throne, he did not really know it. Thus, instead of giving glory to the One who made him great, he sought to establish his own greatness among the nations by keeping the livestock – which made him wealthy in their eyes – and the king – which made him powerful in their eyes [9]. As a result, God stripped him of the throne.

Prayer | Lord, Where and why are we blind to our own disobedience? Where are we thinking about how much we can do without crossing the line – rather than about how we can gain hearts that want to stay as far away from the line as possible? Forgive our self-deception and give us pure hearts as we pursue our identity in the truth of the cross – even when it is painful. Amen.

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[1] This is the definition of “self-deception” that Tim Keller offers in his sermon about this text. See Tim Keller, “The Disobedience of Saul.” 1/4/04.  |  [2] Murdoch perhaps told himself that his papers were pursuing legitimate source-gathering so that he could continue getting the scoop over his competitors. After 168 years in print, the News of the World stopped publication a week ago because of a hacking scandal. Yet, the man at the center of the scandal – Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News Corporation, which owns NotW – did not start off his career intending to sink the tabloid. In the early 1950s, as a recent college grad, he headed to Fleet Street to learn the newspaper business so that he would be prepared to take over his father’s paper. He was immediately enthralled with the exciting life of a journalist and the stiff competition for stories – “like it was life or death” [2]. Yet, nearly 60 years later, that kill-or-be-killed attitude led to the publishing of thinly-sourced articles and allegations of illegal-source gathering. See Joe Nocera, “Murdoch’s Fatal Flaw.” The New York Times. 7/8/11. See also David Carr, “A Tabloid Shame, Exposed by Earnest Rivals.” The New York Times. 7/10/11.  |  [3] At his coronation, Saul hid among the luggage. See 1 Sam. 10:22. See also 1 Sam. 9:12 (where Saul was amazed that God would choose him to be king over Israel when he was from the smallest tribe, the tribe of Benjamin, and from the least of the families of his tribe)  |  [4] See 1 Sam. 11 (where Saul nullified the verdict against those who initially opposed his kingship).  |  [5] When Israel came out of Egypt and passed through the wilderness, the Amalekites attacked them (see Ex. 17:8-16). God gave the Israelites victory, but the evil was never forgotten (see Deut. 25:17-19). Thus, finally, when the iniquity of the Amalekites was complete, the Lord commanded Saul to execute the sentence against them (see 1 Sam. 15:2-3).  |  [6] 1 Sam. 15:17 NIV  |  [7] 1 Sam. 15:15 NIV  |  [8] 1 Sam. 15:22-23 NIV  |  [9] 1 Sam. 15:19 (suggesting that the people delighted more in the meat of the sheep and oxen than in the smile and fellowship of God)

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