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Category Archives: The Rise and Fall of King Saul

SLOW DOWN, PART 3: HOW TO REFOCUS

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As we continue our series on slowing down, I can’t emphasize enough what slowing down in life has done for me and countless others. We are exhorted in the Bible to:

  • Redeem the time
  • Make the most of every opportunity
  • Number our days right
  • Live a life worthy of our calling
  • Live a life worthy of the Lord
  • Set our affections on things above
  • Keep in mind that life is a mere vapor
  • We are pilgrims and sojourners on the earth
  • It is appointed unto man once to die

Way too many of us believers, churches and ministries are a mile wide and an inch deep. We grow in lots of ways in life, but often don’t get around to becoming mature in our faith. Most of us wouldn’t dare to say, “Follow me as I follow Christ” because we know very well that we are much better at living as a typical American than living as a disciple of Jesus. We are way too busy. Yet the corridors of eternity still echo with “Be still and know that I am God.” Few of us are take much time to be still, and even fewer of us really know God like the saints of old whose most pressing concern was to seek the Lord while He may be found. Sure, they had other responsibilities also, but no clock. When something with eternal consequences came to their attention, it kept their attention and they had the time or made the time to tend to it.

Most of us have no intention of giving up our conveniences and way of life and relative prosperity. I get that. I don’t want to go back to outhouses and no electricity either. Lots of life in the good old days wasn’t really that good. But we can learn a thing or two from our ancestors about slowing down and perhaps re-evaluating our priorities and how we use time. If we want to have some success in deepening our walk with God like the saints of the past, something in our busy lives has to change. Being still before God has no replacements for successful growing deeper in God. Though far from being comfortable saying, “Follow me as I follow Christ,” I have changed some things in my life to try to prioritize God and His kingdom to be first. Here are some things I have found helpful in my own life to slow down, re-set priorities and grow deeper in my faith in this shallow time in history:

  • Sunday is God-day. This is not a religious thing for me, Sunday is not the Sabbath. It is just a good day to set apart for spending more time with my God
  • Wednesday is also God-day. Midweek I try to re-set my focus to spend more time with Him in the hopes that I will continue to remember what is important in life throughout the week. Sometimes this extra time with Him isn’t all that much extra time, sometimes it is hours. Either way, I refocus and it is way better than the week getting away from me while too often concentrating only on secular things
  • Give more. What Jesus said is true…where your treasure is, there will your heart be also
  • Practice the presence of God daily in everyday life. Becoming more and more conscience of the presence of God during our mundane tasks in life greatly helps priority selection, making the right decisions and consciously living for Him first and foremost. A saint from years past, brother Lawrence, who had great success in practicing the presence of God in everyday life wrote a series of letters on this subject and it has been compiled in book form. It is called, Practicing the Presence of God, and is still available today in modern English and free on Kindle. Follow the link to get your copy
  • We are told to test ourselves to see if we remain in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5), and God-days are a great time to assess how things are going in our life spiritually. Honestly, evaluate how you are doing with growing in the Lord. And change things that need to be changed.
  • Spiritual retreats are a great way to slow down and perhaps re-set our lives spiritually. For several years, I have spent some days and nights in a cabin in the woods to spend time with God, and He never disappoints. One great place to do this is Pacem in Terris in St. Francis, MN. It is a Franciscan retreat center created especially for people to check out of busy life for a time and connect with God. What great times I have had there!
  • Embarking on a study of a book of the Bible or a certain subject is always very rewarding. It is “Studying to show yourself approved (2 Timothy 2:15), you might say. When you devour a subject in the Bible your come to really know that subject and what and why you believe. Beware, though! Sometimes when you honestly study the Bible you find that you may not have been believing something right and have to change!
  • A day of prayer. The National Day of Prayer, this year on May 5, is a wonderful opportunity to take off work a half day or a day and spend extra time praying. Or, if one can’t get off work, dedicate all or most of your non-work time that day to sanctify the day for the Lord
  • Fasting has always been a common thing to do in the Christian faith. It isn’t a way to manipulate God into getting your way. Fasting helps one become victorious over the flesh and deny the flesh. It is an opportunity to become more sensitive to the things of the Spirit

To conclude, growing in our faith and having the best priorities has to be intentional. If we don’t do something to that end, we will slide through life, less than we could be, and reach old age wondering what happened to all the time. Many believers desire or intend on getting control of their life and schedule with great hopes for success. But few ever actually get control and live a life of great purpose. Life gets away from most of us, but it doesn’t have to. Doing something, anything, toward slowing down and making sure our God gets the best of us is better than doing nothing. Slow down, resolve to make some changes today, and do it!

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SLOW DOWN PART 2

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Last time we began to talk about how different life and ministry has become in the past 200 years or so. In both business and ministry goals are often set, often without consulting God but assuming that if we grow bigger it is better. We often make OUR plans and ask (or demand) the Lord to bless them rather than consult Him first and get on board with HIS plans. As so often happens, the attitude and method of the world is slowly adopted by the church. And the world’s definition of success is often adopted by the church too. One of the blessings of America is that it is the land of endless opportunity. The more we work, the more we grow, the more productive we become, the more money we can make. The opportunity for incredible worldly success has caused greed to abound in America. The love of money is everywhere in spite of the scriptures warning us that the love of money is the root of evil. And the obsession with money and success has permeated the church along with greed and the misplaced priorities that come with it. Church folk have become as busy as the unbelievers in their quest to conquer in business and ministry. But it hasn’t always been this way, and the words of God still plead with 21st century Christians:

Be still, and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).

When David heard that King Saul and David’s good friend Jonathan had died, he stopped everything and mourned. Throughout David’s life, he checked out of busy life regularly and meditated, worshipped and wrote Psalms. In spite of having more responsibility than most on earth at the time, he had margin in his life. He kept demands at arm’s length and had the great resource of time available as needed. Several years ago I read a book by a doctor who had enough of life spinning out of control because of busyness. He took control of his life back and slowed down. His name is Richard Swenson and he wrote a book about getting control of his life again called Margin. At the time, I was also struggling with what so many are challenged by misplaced priorities and just general busyness. I stopped the madness and have never regretted it. No one who slows life down does regret it. Our only regret is that we didn’t do it sooner.

A slower life is basically what the godly have lived since the beginning of time. Whether they knew it or not, their theme verse was the verse above about slowing down and knowing God. They sought God first and whatever came out of that time with Him was their priority. They consulted God for His will rather than busy themselves with too many things and demand or request that God somehow get involved. Maybe their ministry never got beyond their small circle of friends and family, maybe it expanded. But it wasn’t their great marketing skills or fancy church service that expanded their reach. It was the Spirit of God advancing their influence as they became equipped through walking intimately with God.

When you have no goal to become well known or grow a large ministry, you generally live and stay humble. And when you live humble, you are the one most surprised when your influence grows. Your influence grows because God sees in you one who He can trust, one who can say, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”

Next time we will conclude our series on slowing down. To read part one follow this link:

https://danspulpit.wordpress.com/2016/04/19/slow-down-part-1/

 

 

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SLOW DOWN, PART 1

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David was anointed as king but had not yet assumed kingly responsibilities. Saul was still alive and on a mission to find and kill David. David was in hiding with the Philistines. By and by a battle ensued between the Philistines and Israel. Saul and his son Jonathon, David’s good friend, were both killed in the battle. In 1 Samuel chapter 1 David laments the loss of King Saul and Jonathan and it sounded something like this:

The beauty of Israel is slain on your high places! How the mighty have fallen! O mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew nor rain upon you. O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul. How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle! Jonathan was slain in your high places. I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; you have been very pleasant to me; your love to me was wonderful, surpassing the love of women.

The thoughts that came to me as I read this lament had little to do with the text. As I read the stories of the Bible and of church and secular history, I am impressed that until the last 200 years or so, life was generally pretty slow. If someone like David needed time to lament, he took the time to do just that. In some parts of the world and in rural America we still see a slow, less hectic lifestyle. Not so much in most of the western world!

When a person catches a vision to accomplish something for God in these modern times, goals are set with a plan to accomplish those goals. Ministry has become quite similar to the way things are done in business when a new product is launched, a company is built, or new star is marketed. This includes lots of multitasking, plugging every day with as much productivity as possible, and maybe more than possible demanding overtime. Ministry, like a business, overcomes us and life becomes fast and busy.

We would do well to consider the ways people of old built their ministries, or for that matter, their business. We read their stories and wonder at the great things they accomplished for God. But they did it a lot different than we do today. We think our ways are better because they are bigger. Bigger and more productive is not always better. The truth is, few if any in the Bible and church history set out to build a ministry with any type of goal similar to the lofty goals we have in ministry today. Saints of old set out to minister, yes, and if some kind of ministry happened as a result of ministering, so be it. But they didn’t fill every day with a goal of building the next greatest ministry in the church. People were more important than ministry. Ministering was more important than a ministry.

Many of us in society and in the church think that if we don’t make some kind of name for ourselves and grow and grow, we are pretty much a failure in ministry. Nearly extinct are those who are more concerned about quality and a job well done than quantity. A pastor of a very small church whose life is all about making disciples of his small flock couldn’t possibly be near as important as the TV pastor that has a flock of millions and a bank account with millions too. Who will hear “well done?” I don’t know, but not the man with all the numbers just because he has all the numbers.

Spiritual people in the Bible and most of church history didn’t set goals to build a ministry and become a household name. Their first priority was to know God and live every day life in a manner worthy of His name. Their definition of success largely included things like being a servant of God and others and living a Sermon on the Mount lifestyle, and hopefully, others would catch on. They sought the kingdom of God and His righteousness first, way before any ministry ambitions. Life was slow, not hurried, and no one had a watch or an alarm. When something came up that demanded time to rightly address it, they didn’t have to pore over their schedule and see if they could find a hole in it. Because of margin in their slower lives, they actually had time and willingly gave of that time whatever it took to minister to the need. Next time, more on slowing life down for the glory of God and for ourselves too.

 

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THE RISE AND FALL OF KING SAUL: PARTIAL OBEDIENCE

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On Dan’s Pulpit, we have talked before about lessons from the life of King Saul. I recently read his story again and have some more thoughts that I will add to the previous series of blogs.  We start with God’s commandment to Saul to destroy an ungodly tribe of people called the Amalekites:

Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, do not spare the. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey (1 Samuel 15:3)

When the Israelites crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land, God used them to judge many of the nations on that side of the Jordan. The price for generations of wickedness was finally coming due. And the hand of God for judgment was Israel. In the verse above we see that His instructions were very specific and clear. Amalek was to be no more. But Saul thought he could improve on God’s commands:

But Saul and the people spared Agag (the king) and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them. But everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed (1 Samuel 15:9).

So Saul and the troops obeyed regarding the unwanted things but disobeyed regarding the things they deemed valuable. Surely God wouldn’t really want them to destroy perfectly good stuff! They valued the stuff more than they valued the words of God. Do we ever do that? Do we ever value stuff more than the words of God?  Hmm? So they partially obeyed. Of course, they followed orders on the worthless things; there was no sacrifice there. The valuable stuff, however, wasn’t as easy to destroy. It had value and surely Saul and Israel could put it to good use…all for the glory of God, of course. But God’s instructions were clear…destroy it all.

I am reminded of the times our children only partially obey or just blow us off altogether. There is a saying for this: Partial obedience is disobedience. What we asked them to do or not do either doesn’t make sense to them or they don’t understand the significance of the timely obedience. Most of our requests of our children have a purp0ose in the big picture—something that at their age they haven’t become skilled at considering. All they think of is the now, themselves, and the inconvenience of obedience. But we have a greater purpose not fully appreciated by them.

God also has reasons for His commands, even the inconvenient ones. He knows the end from the beginning. He is a big picture God. His commands have a greater purpose in the big picture. It’s a matter of trust. Do we trust He has the best for us in mind? Are we willing to just go with it rather than kick against His will? Must we analyze it to death? The truth is, He is always right and we are always right to submit. Eventually, we may see the wisdom of His instructions, or maybe we won’t. But do we trust Him anyway? Is He God or not? Is He a good God or not? Is He a trustworthy God or not? Do we trust Him?

 

For more in the Rise and Fall of King Saul, follow this link:

https://danspulpit.wordpress.com/category/the-rise-and-fall-of-king-saul/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE RISE AND FALL OF KING SAUL: THE SAD FINAL CHAPTER

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This is our sixth and final observation on the rise and fall of King Saul. There is no way or reason to candy coat the story of Saul’s life: it is a very sad story with a sad ending. He had so much promise, and the Lord himself chose him to be king. The Lord offered him the chance to always have one of his heirs on the throne of Israel. But Saul became someone important in his own eyes to the point of picking and choosing which of God’s commands he would obey. Finally, the Lord had enough and departed from Saul, withdrawing His great blessings. Here were some of the results:

  • A distressing spirit from the Lord troubled him
  • The Philistines began to torment Saul
  • Saul and Israel were greatly dismayed and afraid
  • Saul became afraid of David, for the Lord was with David
  • Saul repeatedly tries to kill David, who the Lord had now chosen to be king
  • He found himself fighting against God
  • Saul tried to kill his own son Jonathon
  • When Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him
  • Saul seeks help from a medium, something he had previously outlawed
  • The Lord said, “My mercy I took from Saul”

Life just stinks without God. Much of the above was unthinkable much of Saul’s life. But the Spirit of God left him and then anything became possible. My former pastor often said something like this: Sin will take you farther than you ever thought you’d go. Indeed, and you end up thinking and doing things formerly unthinkable. This should be a warning to all Christians. Sin and disobedience leads you down dark roads. There are consequences to willful sinning. The church often has the idea that it is all under the blood, but the Bible says if we willfully keep on sinning, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of the coming wrath (Hebrews 10:26-27). These words are spoken to Christians. Sure, the grace of God extends way beyond most of our needs for forgiveness. A lukewarm Christian and even a backslidden Christian has great hope for forgiveness with repentance. But too much sinning can lead to apostasy and the Lord God giving even a Christian over to their sins. Also spoken to Christians are the words, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). Saul certainly never dreamed that sin, disobedience, and compromise would lead him down the road he eventually traveled. Though most Christians are not in danger of apostasy at all, our precious salvation is still nothing to mess with.

For the rest of Saul’s tormented life, he had times of conviction and times of all out sinning. So it is with the tormented soul who isn’t sold out to his God. They know the things they ought to do and the way they ought to live. Sometimes they do it right and sometimes they don’t. And life is miserable because of it. Most of us have had times of obedience and times of disobedience. And the results of disobedience are never good. A dark cloud hangs over our heads until we get right with God. He takes us back, but often much damage is often done in the interim. The road back can be long and hard because of our foolish choices.

The latter part of Saul’s life was not pretty and there is little positive to say about it. Ultimately he fell on his own sword and ended his formerly promising life. For me, it is one life among many Biblical lives that I can learn from. Throughout the Bible, we see the blessing of God on the obedient, and the blessing removed from the disobedient. I am reminded of the words of an old hymn:

When we walk with the Lord, in the light of His word;

What a glory He shed on our way. While we do His good will,

He abides with us still, and with all who will trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way

To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

 

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THE RISE AND FALL OF KING SAUL 5

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Sometimes, in this feel good, positive confessing time in history, I cringe at what I write. But if you read much of the Bible at all, even the New Testament, it isn’t always all that positive. Sometimes it is downright bleak.  So I write what I write, and I guess the reader can decide if there is a witness in their spirit with what is written or not.

I didn’t expect to write so many blogs on Saul, but his life is so rich with life lessons, we must go on another time or two. We will continue with the scene we left off with last time. Saul was commanded to utterly destroy the Amalekites and all their possessions, leaving no hint of them left on the earth. This was often the Lord’s righteous way of purging the earth of evil. He did it with Noah, Sodom and Gomorrah and lots of nations when Israel crossed over into the Promised Land. Some would criticize, but who are we, the creation, to find fault with the Creator? He is justified in doing what pleases Him and anyone who sins has disobeyed and deserves whatever they get. That goes for us today, too.

Anyway, Saul thought he could improve on the commandment of God and partially obeyed, something we often are also guilty of. He and the people did what seemed right to them, instead of just obeying God and trusting His judgment. We also often think we can improve on God’s ways:

  • Depending on our brand of church, we often create “better, non-biblical ways of being saved
  • We redefine what a set apart Christian life should look like, complete with excuses for sin
  • When we do read the Bible, we read the Bible in light of our beliefs and doctrines, not allowing the Word to influence us to right believing
  • We do church in whatever way we see fit at this time in history. This isn’t necessarily all bad, but we look down on others who do church differently
  • We allow worldly ways of thinking and dealing with our problems to replace Gods ways of thinking and dealing with our problems
  • Sometimes, like Saul, we convince ourselves that we are indeed obeying God, but an open, sincere study of our Bibles shows we are found wanting

God has given us the capacity to think so we should think indeed. However, that’s’ what Saul did and it got him in trouble. Sometimes we are just called to stop thinking and just obey, and trust God to make sense of the details. God said, “To obey is better than sacrifice.” And this is still a true statement today. Both are important. The sacrifice must be made, but then obedience is a way of life following the sacrifice. Extensive disobedience can cause the sacrifice to be annulled. In the case of New Testament believers, the sacrifice has been made. So we go about the business of obeying.

It was not the will of God that Saul should sin. He was not a chosen “instrument of wrath”. Saul, like all of us, had a free will, and he exercised it to his demise. The Lord regretted choosing Saul. Sometimes in the Bible God says it didn’t even come to His mind what someone would do. I’m not sure we should box God up into our foreknowledge and predestination boxes. Sometimes He influences things, declares things, and sometimes He lets things play out how they will. All the more reason for us to walk close to Him and obey.

When you were little in your own eyes…The Lord anointed you king…(1 Samuel 15:17).

Here is where Saul went wrong: He increased and the Lord decreased in his life. We see it in him making up his own rules, partially obeying, and even setting up a monument to himself. Without pointing fingers, I wonder how much of this goes on in today’s church. Are our ministries and buildings monuments to ourselves? Are we creating a Christianity that resembles the Christianity of the Bible less and less? Is there an American Christianity that is different than the Christianity of the rest of the world? If you led someone to Christ and the only influence they had was a Bible and the Holy Spirit, would they come up with what we see in the American church today? Certainly yes, in some cases, but certainly not in others!

I love the church, and much good is happening in the church. However, just as in Paul’s epistles, the problems must also be exposed in the church and in our own lives and dealt with appropriately. One of the reasons I don’t shy away from speaking bluntly about the problems in the church is that too few do. Far too many have their heads in the sand, or are plugging their ears saying, “lalalalala”. No amount of positive thinking or confession changes God’s holy ways. We must embrace the good, even making it better, and expose the bad, repent of it, and purge the leaven from the lump. This has always been God’s way, clearly outlined in the Scriptures, and His ways, which are above our ways, will never change.

 

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THE RISE AND FALL OF KING SAUL 4

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As we continue our observation of King Saul’s victories and failures, remember that the people chose to have a king, but God chose who the king was to be. And there were rules:

Samuel also said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over His people, over Israel. Now therefore, heed the voice of the words of the Lord” (1 Samuel 15:1).

We have talked about this before but I’m not sure we can emphasize it enough: God requires obedience. We live in a day when so many sermons (too many) are about inner healing, self-actualization, the blessing of God and how you can get your healing, and well, all about what God can do for us. There are precious few talking about what God requires of his people. There is no doubt that God loves His people and loves to bless them. But, along with the blessings of God mentioned in the New Testament, there are far more verses that talk about living right. Is it a coincidence that ignoring the requirements of God in the pulpit translates in to ignoring the requirements of God in the pew? Saints from 100 years ago would be appalled at the curve we now grade ourselves on.

Anyway, Saul is given another chance at obedience with the command to attack wicked Amalek and annihilate them completely. So Saul gathered 210,000 soldiers and did indeed attack Amalek. But instead of ridding the earth of all that is Amalek, Saul and the people kept the king of Amalek alive, and also spared the best of the flocks. In fact, 1 Samuel 15:9 says they destroyed everything worthless but keep the best alive. But that wasn’t God’s instructions.

When the prophet Samuel came on the scene, Saul said, “I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” He graded himself on a curve, because he did most of what God commanded. I have always been amused at Samuel’s response: “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears?” Again, Saul said, “but the people…” It reminds me of Adam’s excuse, “But that woman you gave me…”

It seems that we always have a reason to mostly obey God. In an effort to flee legalism we accept partial obedience as a legitimate part of our lives. But if the Bible shows us anything it is the insistence by God that we obey Him completely. This means things like:

  • Always forgiving
  • Giving faithfully
  • Praying faithfully
  • Denying ourselves
  • Abstaining from sin
  • Loving one another
  • Walking in the Spirit
  • Being baptized
  • Telling others about Jesus
  • Seasoning our conversation with grace
  • Do not love the world or the things in the world
  • Renewing our minds

Far more emphasis is placed on obedience than blessing in the Bible. That suggests to me that obedience may be more important than blessing. Or maybe God knows it is harder to get us to obey than accept blessing. Regardless, we take tests, listen to Christian motivational speakers and sojourn from conference to conference to find out the will of God for our lives. And all the while it is under our noses in the Bible:

He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8)?

Solomon, after experimenting with all the world had to offer summed up his findings at the end of his life:

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

 

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