Saturday, March 31, 2012


"When the men of Israel saw that they were in a strait (for the people were hard-pressed), then the people hid themselves in caves, in thickets, in cliffs, in cellars, and in pits. Also some of the Hebrews crossed the Jordan into the land of Gad and Gilead. But as for Saul, he was still in Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.Now he waited seven days, according to the appointed time set by Samuel, but Samuel did not come to Gilgal; and the people were scattering from him.
So Saul said, “Bring to me the burnt offering and the peace offerings.” And he offered the burnt offering. As soon as he finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him and to greet him.  But Samuel said, “What have you done?” And Saul said, “Because I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the appointed days, and that the Philistines were assembling at Michmash, therefore I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not asked the favor of the LORD.’ So I forced myself and offered the burnt offering.” 
Samuel said to Saul, “You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you, for now the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever.But now your kingdom shall not endure. The LORD has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.” 
1 Samuel 13: 6-14

Within this particular chapter of the Old Testament, we find Israel's king Saul in a moment of difficulty.  With the Philistine army swiftly approaching for battle, his own troops were deserting him and hiding in fear. Not only that but his one source of connection to God ( and supernatural favor in said battle) was "late" for a very important appointment. At this time, kings and military leaders were forbidden to make sacrifices to God. That task was reserved only for those within the priesthood as Samuel was.  Making the offering would result in Saul completely disregarding an order from God. Saul found himself with a choice to make, wait on Samuel to arrive and risk possible defeat, or act against a command from the Lord to ensure the sacrifice would be made.
As we know, the king unfortunately acted recklessly and didn't make the right decision. The story of Saul's downfall paints a clear portrait of what pride and impatience can do. Out of both he deliberately disobeyed God as it pertained to how offerings should be given and by whom. He saw the circumstances at hand and instead of waiting on God ( waiting on Samuel) chose to take matters into his own hands. This one mistake caused him to pay a high price, through it he lost his kingship and a legacy. He could have had a kingdom but instead he was left without the favor he so desperately sought. God would give another man, one who was "after his own heart," all of the blessings first intended for him. 
Saul was arrogant and foolish in thinking 1) that God would fail to show up exactly when he said he would 2) that claiming control and disobeying would actually end in receiving blessing. What would have happened had he acted out of patience and trust, choosing to honor God through his actions? Could things have turned out differently for this great king? 
Although it would be easy to judge Saul for his actions, if all of us take an honest look at ourselves, it would be easy to find that we react in a similar way when we're asked to wait. The fact that patience is a virtue doesn't make it any easier to practice. Although we may not face physical battles, there are many circumstances where we are patiently waiting for the presence and favor of God to arrive. Whether it be a job opportunity, spouse, or spiritual breakthrough; we each have our own personal " Samuel" that's on its way. We also have a choice, either to trust in God to act in his time or attempt to take control ourselves.
The thing that strikes me most about this passage is that fact that Samuel didn't show up late as Saul so feared but arrived on the seventh day, exactly when he was meant to.  In fact, verse 10 even says that "As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, Samuel came." 
There's a particular scene in Lord Of The Rings where Gandolf doesn't show up exactly when he's meant to. Upon being confronted by Frodo he cleverly replies "A wizard is never late, nor is he early, he arrives precisely when he means to." To me, this perfectly describes the nature of God as well. While his pace may not match our own, he is sovereign and his timing is perfect. He has promised to send us his presence, just as he sent Samuel to Saul, and he always delivers. It is simply up to us to rest in that truth and to trust him in our moments of waiting. He will arrive precisely when he's meant to.
What are some "Samuels" that you are waiting on? Do you choose to react in patience instead of pride and fear? How can we glorify God more in our waiting, knowing that he always comes through?

Fully Armed.

"Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by His vast strength. Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics of the Devil.  For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. This is why you must take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand.  
Stand,therefore, with truth like a belt around your waist, righteousness like armor on your chest,  and your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace. In every situation take the shield of faith, and with it you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word." Ephesians 6:10-17
Any wise person who's facing a fight is not going to go into it unprepared. In this particular passage of Ephesians, Paul is speaking to the church of Ephesus about the battle they are facing. He tells them clearly and plainly that their enemy is not physical but spiritual, a force to be reckoned with that should not be taken lightly. Their enemy, the Devil, is tactful, authoritative, and a presence both here and in the heavens. No matter how powerful he may seem, however, the apostle reassures the Children of God that they have no reason to fear him. Because he has made readily available the most powerful weapons we could brandish. 
It would be easy to look at these verses and to only view them as a cheesy war metaphor ( especially if you're like me and have grown up going to one too many VBS weekends where everyone dressed like soldiers). The temptation to glance over them and not see the truth behind them is great, but let's not take what Paul is saying here for granted. Just as his words were relevant then, they are still true for you and I today. There's no question that everyday we wake up we face something that is vastly bigger than ourselves. We have a choice to either live as the defeated or to take a stand against every source of discouragement, frustration, and pain.  
It is up to us to utilize the weapons that God has given us, but first we have to know what they are:   
The Belt Of Truth: Jesus himself is the truth that we hold close to us ( John 14:6, 1 John 5:20)
Righteousness Like Armor: On our chests, which means over our hearts. ( Romans 1:17, 1 John 5:20)
Readiness For The Gospel Of Peace: On our feet, the things that take us from place to place. We are motivated and compelled to move by it. ( Colossians 3:23)
The Shield Of Faith: A source of defense we carry with us at all times. ( 2nd Thess. 3:3, Hebrews 4:3)
The Helmet Of Salvation: On our heads, near to our minds. We must always be mentally aware of the grace that God has given us.( 1 Thess 5:8)
The Sword Of The Spirit: Something that we wield. (Galatians 5:25, Psalm 51:11, Romans 8:9, Mark 14:47)
Through God we have vast strength and a hope that doesn't waiver. Because of his Gospel, his truth, his Spirit, and his righteousness; we are equipped and ready to face whatever might come our way.

To Be A Castle.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about what it means to be perfect. Not necessarily in a physical sense but a spiritual one. I myself am a person who is constantly working towards being something more; when I make mistakes I do my best to learn from them. If I'm being completely honest, I've been guilty of perfectionism in most areas of my life. 

In my pursuit of self-betterment, though, I've often caught myself chasing after a sense of accomplishment that I could never obtain. No matter how much effort I put forth in attempting to become a better artist, a better friend, a better follower of Christ; I was always left feeling as if I'd fallen short. I was never satisfied because in spite of all my strengths, my weaknesses still remained. I let my imperfections define me and in doing so never found freedom from them.  

It's taken me a long time to realize how wrong my way of thinking was, it required God revealing his truth through his Word. In Matthew 5:48 Jesus himself tells the disciples " Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." While it's true that we are told to be perfect, Jesus never says that we achieve this by our strength. There's a particular line in the song Lazarus by My Epic that sums it up perfectly. It says "I quit striving for perfection and surrendered up to instead." In the act of perfecting, God requires only one things of us. He asks for complete and unreserved surrender. Left to ourselves, we will never muster the piety that is required to live an utterly righteous life; but that doesn't mean we stop pursuing the God who in his goodness makes us holy. Instead we  should freely place ourselves in his hands and allow him to mold us into the creatures we're meant to be. It is a constant, painful, and life-long process; but it's a beautiful one. To me, nothing is more encouraging than the knowledge that with each day I choose to follow the perfect Creator of the Universe; he is shaping me to look more like the portrait of perfection that is his son Jesus Christ.

There's a particular parable by George McDonald that I have read countless times. I'll leave it with you and hope ( no matter where you might be when it comes to this subject) that it is as encouraging to you as it is me:

"Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way the hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of –throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself."

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Good Soil.

As Volunteer Coordinator at Murray Hill, I have the privilege of writing devotions for the newsletter that we send out every week. I thought it would be a good idea to post them here as well. With that being said, here's the first devo I put together for it, and my first blog of the year. 

Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow; as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately sprang up because it had no depth of soil. And after the the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold."
Mark 4:3-8

The parable of the soils has always been one of my favorite passages of Scripture to read and meditate on. Through it we're provided with a brilliant visual of the human heart and how it responds to the Gospel. Jesus himself reveals the metaphor's importance when he says that to understand the rest of the of the parables about the kingdom, the disciples must first comprehend this particular one ( Mark 4:13). He goes into great detail to explain it to them after they fail to understand the meaning behind it. I think we too can benefit from learning what each description represents. If we look closely at those around us, we'll find that these comparisons still remain true and accurate. 

The Wayside Soil: A road near a field's edge, with a hard surface due to constant traffic. "When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes the Word that was sown into their hearts"(vs 15).

The Stony Soil: Too deep for the plow, too shallow to allow a plant to reach water and develop a system of roots. "When they hear the word, they immediately receive it with gladness; and they have no root in themselves and so endure only for a time. Afterward when tribulation or persecution arise for the Word's sake, immediately they stumble"( vs 16). That phrase "receive it with gladness" equates to an enthusiastic, emotional yet superficial response to the Gospel that does not take into account the cost involved.

The Thorny Soil: Tough, thistle-bearing weeds that use up the available space, light, and water which good plants need. " Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things entering in choke the Word and it becomes unfruitful"( vs 18-19). Cares of this world: temporal issues which blind believers to any serious consideration of God. 

The Good Soil: An average ration of harvested grain to what had been sown was 8 to 1, with 10 to 1 considered exceptional. " But these are the ones who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit; some thirty-fold, some sixty and some a hundred" (vs 20). The yield Jesus refers to is like an unbelievable harvest.  

As followers of Jesus Christ, we have the responsibility of making sure our hearts remain as good soil for the Word of God to take root in. It requires us to open op our minds and spirits so that he can transform our lives. 

We don't maintain good soil or produce fruit simply for our own benefit, either. We're filled to be emptied and given much to give much. We are meant to share what we have with those around us, whether they be a fellow believer or not. As I was researching gardening ( the Google nerd in me couldn't resist) I came across this quote. While it's speaking of literal ground, I believe it perfectly describes our roles as well:

"The first and foremost thing to remember is that good soil is a living, breathing mass. Try to picture your soil as a living being, it needs to breathe, retain moisture, and provide a good food supply to all the microorganisms and other members of this intricate community.

It is vital for us to maintain good spiritual soil, for the benefit of those who may not be able to themselves. We do so by continuing to keep " hydrated through God ( Hebrews 10:22) and making sure our hearts stay cultivated by spending time with him through prayer and His Word. The result of these efforts is being able to bear spiritual fruit. What we sow, we reap (Mark 4:24). When we do this, we ready ourselves so that change can be brought and seeds can be planted in the name of Jesus Christ. If we ourselves aren't healthy, then how can we show the rest of the world what it means to be so? How can we share the fruits of the Spirit with those around us if there are none produced? 

So I would dare to ask the question, how's your heart soil looking lately? Is is stony or filled with thorns? Or is it soft and palpable, ready to reap a great harvest for the kingdom of God?