Reciprocation

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I think we would all agree that it is certainly easier to have a friendship or a relationship with another person when that person likes us. When they treat us with respect, we are more apt to want to spend time with them.  When they do kind things for us, we want to return the favor and do kind things for them.  I met a lady last week that moved about the same time we did last year and has a daughter the same age as our youngest high school daughter.  We moved from similar areas.  As we were parting ways she said, “It would be nice to get together and have coffee sometime.”  I emailed her later and her response was again very pleasant and encouraging, “I was serious about getting coffee together.”  It certainly makes us want to reach out to someone that wants to spend time with us.

Why is it when God said in I Samuel 12:24, “Only fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully with all your heart, for consider what great things He has done for you,” the Israelites did not follow His commands?

As we were reminded in the last blog post, the Israelites were in a constant routine of disobedience, punishment, cry for help, then obedience.  It seems easy for me to look at them and think, “What on earth was their problem?”  God had saved them from their Egyptian slavery, divided the Red Sea so they could cross on solid, dry ground, defeated numerous enemies, provided food for 40 years, and gave them a land “flowing with milk and honey.”

As we have looked at this passage in I Samuel 12:20-24, God has been giving the Israelites instructions through Samuel.  These instructions are summarized again in verse 24, “fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully.”  Two instructions that must be followed and why should the people do this?  “Consider how great things God has done for you.” (I Samuel 12:24).

It is much easier for me to have a relationship with someone who reciprocates.  Here is God saying to the people, “I have done all these things for you and all I ask is for you to do two things: Fear Me and serve Me faithfully.”

So why was it so hard?  Selfishness.  Pride. Desire to be like the others.  Desire for instant gratification.  Greed.  Do we not grapple with these same issues?

Fearing the Lord is having a deep respect and awe for the Lord.  It is having no other gods before the One True God.  We may not worship idols, but there are many other things we do place before God in our priority list that God would consider an idol.

One of the things that God desires in this area of fearing Him is having a relationship with Him.  It is hard to have a relationship with someone we do not spend time with.  It is also not a very meaningful relationship if all we ever do is ask for things.  Is your time with God each day time with the most important person in your life?  Is your time with God guarded from any interruptions?  Is your time with God put above anything else that seems to be pressing in on your day?  I have used these examples before but many great men of the faith such as George Mueller spent more time with God each morning the busier they were rather than less time.  We would be wise to follow suit.

One of the main purposes God created us is to have a relationship with Him.  After all He has done for us, we would be wise to plan our days around our time with the Lord, rather than fitting Him into the time we have left over.

Serving God faithfully looks different for each person.  God has a different plan for each of our lives.  He created each of us with different abilities.  Yet, whatever we do should be done in faithful service to Him.

After all that God has done for us, we should desire to fear Him and serve Him.  This is not just any ‘ole someone that desires this.  This is the God of the universe. He created you.

Rather than go to coffee with a friend, pour yourself a cup of coffee (or in my case brew a cup of tea), sit down with God’s Word, and seek His face.  There will be no regrets.

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Keep Praying! Keep Teaching! Keep Doing Good!

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I have been on a mission for the last 15 months to improve my prayer life.  I do not think I have it all figured out.  For several weeks during the spring (2017), I went to a prayer time for the missionaries our church supports.  I enjoyed my time with those that were there praying with me immensely.  They were retired missionaries and other senior saints that blessed me and taught me.  As we sat talking about prayer before our actual prayer time one of these gentleman said, “I keep changing my prayer method trying to improve on what I had done previously.”  What a blessing to me to hear others that are far wiser than I struggle with the same things I do.

I Samuel 12:23 reminds me how important and integral prayer is to our lives.

“Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.” (I Samuel 12:23).

I have been writing about this section of Scripture for a few weeks now.  Just a little reminder of what we have learned. This is the conclusion of Samuel’s farewell address to the children of Israel.  They had asked for a king and God gave them a king.  Samuel reminded them that asking for a king was evil.  He reminded them, though, that now that they had a king they needed to remember a few things:

  1. Do not turn aside from following the Lord
  2. Serve the Lord with your whole heart
  3. Empty things do not profit
  4. Fear the Lord

As Samuel was reminding them of these key things, he told them that he also had a responsibility.  It was not just for them to follow God, he also had a responsibility: PRAY AND TEACH.  Samuel did not just instruct others.  He also informed the Israelites of his responsibility and if he did not fulfill his responsibilities, it was a sin against the Lord.  What was this sin against the Lord:  ceasing to pray for the Israelites.

The Israelites were a tough crowd.  They continued to follow after sinful things.  Even when instructed to do what is right and committing to do what is right, they still sinned.  They worshipped false gods.  They married foreigners.  They adopted pagan ways.  They forgot God who had brought them into the Promised Land.  They repeatedly were in a cycle of apostasy, judgment, servitude, crying out to the Lord for relief from their servitude, repentance, and rescue.  Then they would forget what God had done for them and start the cycle again.

I am sure Samuel would get discouraged with these people he was attempting to shepherd.  They had ears but did not listen.  Yet, he had a responsibility: pray and teach.  Samuel was challenging himself not to give up.  The way seemed uphill every day.  Easy to want to quit.  Since we know the rest of the Old Testament story of the Israelites, the other prophets continued to pray and teach the Israelites and they continued to have ears that did not hear.  God knew this, yet he kept sending prophets to teach them.

Do you feel like giving up on a good deed?  The Bible is full of stories of those who had insurmountable tasks.  Paul being one of those and yet he reminded the Thessalonians and he also reminds us

“Do not grow weary in doing good.” (I Thessalonians 3:13).

Let me challenge you along with challenging myself: Keep praying! Keep teaching!  Keep doing good!

“For in due season, we will reap if we faint not.” (Galatians 6:9).

 

 

 

Empty or Full

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During my high school and college days I feel like I had a singular focus:  Get through college without any debt.  I worked as much as I could while still finding time to study and get good grades.  I spent as little money as I could on things that did not last.  I saved my money for books and tuition.  I worked as a waitress throughout my college days.  I saved all my tips, but one thing I did that I did not have to do was claim all my tips on my taxes and tithe on all my money.  Who would ever know?  The government did not know how much I made in tips.  My church or my parents did not know.  Yet, I remember thinking I needed to do the honest thing.  I claimed every penny I made on my taxes and tithed on the money I made to my church.  I also spent one summer on a missions trip (no income) and another summer as a camp counselor (minimal income).  I was careful, even frugal, in how I spent my money.  I never went out to eat or bought a treat for myself.  I was careful to only spend money on necessities.

I had a goal and that was to complete college.  As I look back on that time in life and evaluate my time, my talents, and my treasure, I see that the Lord blessed me.  I used my time to work, study, and serve the Lord.  I used my talents to work and serve the Lord on a mission trip and at a camp.  I used my treasure to pay for college and carefully only spend money on necessities.

The Lord blessed me immensely, but I have only seen this as I looked back.  I payed for my entire way through college except for $2000 my parents gave me as a result of some money willed to them.  I had taken out a loan at the beginning of my college career for $5,000.  That money sat in my bank account and collected interest and at the end of my college days I payed that loan back without any penalties all the while it sat in the bank for four years earning interest.  I needed a new car so I bought myself a “new to me” car.  I graduated from Cedarville University without any debt.

I spent my time, talents, and treasure on the things that honored God and God blessed me.  I did not strive for empty things because in the end they would have left me empty.  Rather I strove for things that were pleasing to God.  I did not graduate empty, I graduated full.  I sacrificed much, but the blessings are immense.

What is empty will take our focus off God.  Is our focus on what pleases God or pleases ourselves?  God knows and we know.

“And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty.”                                                                                                                                                                                 (I Samuel 12:21).

Empty things leave us feeling empty and searching for more, full things leave us satisfied and content.

We each must evaluate our motives to determine what is empty.  God sees our hearts.  He knows what is in our hearts.

If we look at the three “T’s” and evaluate our lives based on them, we might get at the heart of what is empty.

TIME

TALENTS

TREASURE

How do you spend your time?  Do you plan your day or “fly by the seat of your pants?”  Do you spend your time on things that you would not want the Lord finding you doing when He returns?  How much time do you spend watching TV, looking at digital media, selfish endeavors?  If you took an accurate account of your day and wrote down everything that you did, what would you find filled your time?  Could you pinpoint the empty endeavors?

How do you spend the talents God has given you?  God gave us talents to be used for His glory?  Do we use our talents whatever they may be for His Glory?  Or for our own glory and recognition?

What about your treasure?  Your bank account does not lie.  It is easy to see what you spend your money on.

Empty things leave us feeling empty and searching for more, full things leave us satisfied and content.

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”

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I am reading a book called “The One Thing” by Gary Keller.  The premise of the book is what is the one thing each of us wants to accomplish in our lives and how do we go about accomplishing that.  There are no Scripture references in the book and yet the principles are Scriptural.  If we were to write down what the one thing is that we want to accomplish in life and then work backwards to accomplish it, we would have daily purpose.  Oftentimes, we start each day off without a particular purpose and end up “flying by the seat of our pants.”  Think about this thought, “what is the one thing we want to have accomplished in our lives.”  These are the big dreams.  Michael Jordan did not one day wake and say he was going to be a great basketball star and then try out for the Chicago Bulls.  Neither did Thomas Edison decide to make a light bulb, then it happened.  These men had a goal and then worked backwards and dedicated much time to the neglect of other things in order to accomplish this goal.  They had one thing.

As Christians we should want to hear at the end of our earthly journey, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23).

How each of us get to this “one thing” is going to look different, but the verses in I Samuel 12:20-24 help us to have a direction in order to work towards that one thing.  The old saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” fits perfectly into this idea.  “Flying by the seat of our pants” may be easier but it is hard to accomplish anything this way.

 

…but serve the Lord with all your heart.  And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty.  For the Lord will not forsake His people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make a name for Himself.  Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and right way.  Only fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things He has done for you. (I Samuel 12:20-24).

These instructions given to the Israelites can help us to set a course towards being good and faithful servants.  Here is a condensed list of these things.

  1. Serve the Lord with all your heart
  2. Empty things are empty for they do not profit or deliver
  3. Pray
  4. Instruct what is good and right
  5. Fear the Lord
  6. Serve Him faithfully with your whole heart

Let’s look at each of them seeking to apply them to our lives today.

“Serve the Lord faithfully with your whole heart.”  This is included twice in this list so it must be important.  Serving comes from an attitude of humility.  An attitude of humility comes from a proper view of ourselves.  God does not ask us to do something that He Himself was not willing to do.  This is seen as Jesus walked the earth: washing the disciples’ feet, eating with the down and out people, caring for the poor and destitute.  Jesus did not seek positions of leadership but rather positions of service.  In serving others, we can serve the Lord.  This is not something that is done inconsistently but rather it is to be done “faithfully with our whole heart.”

Ask yourself a few questions:

Do you serve with joy or grumbling?

Do you look for ways to serve or do you have to be told what to do?

Which jobs of service do you seek: the ones that will get noticed or the ones that go unnoticed?

As you are serving is your attitude one of serving for self-gratification/self-pleasure/self-recognition or to please the Lord?

When you perform an act of service are you sure to draw attention to yourself and what you did or do you seek to give others credit for what they did?

Some of these answers are seen by others and others are known only by you and the Lord.  Examine your heart.  Focus on serving faithfully with your whole heart.

We can all “fly by the seat of our pants” or we can have a purpose and determination in our days.  Think about the end of your life and work backwards.  As you do plan the course, be sure to keep the end in mind.

“Serve the Lord faithfully with your whole heart.”

(We will finish looking at these principles in future blogs.)

Suggestions or Rules to Live By

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I must be honest, I don’t like to read instructions.  I would rather try to figure things out.  Recipes for me are guidelines or suggestions but not necessarily something that must be followed exactly…unless I am baking and then I follow the directions pretty closely.  Of course, the time in the oven is negotiable. Every oven is different so when I bake I have to get to know my oven.  I have figured out that chocolate chip cookies need 8 minutes and 20 seconds.  They are done perfectly with this amount of time…just a bit of crisp on the outside and soft in the middle.  Many times when I make something new and it tastes really good my family will ask, “Will it ever taste like this again?” since I don’t always follow a recipe exactly and I don’t write down my modifications the taste is not usually quite the same.  I guess it keeps them guessing.

God did not leave instructions in His word as suggestions to be taken in whatever way we want or pieced together in our own way.

He left exact instructions for us to follow.  As seen throughout the many pages and stories of peoples’ lives, when God’s instructions are not followed life does not go well.  Not following God’s directives results in punishment, broken relationships, hardships, and broken hearts.

Unlike my cooking and baking, we cannot play around with God’s directives and pick and choose how or when we want to implement them.  They were meant to be followed just as they were written.

…but serve the Lord with all your heart.  And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty.  For the Lord will not forsake His people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make a name for Himself.  Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and right way.  Only fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things He has done for you. (I Samuel 12:20-24).

These verses were written\spoken by Samuel to the Israelites but have great application for our lives today.  Samuel gives directions to the people and to himself from God.

  1. Serve the Lord with all your heart
  2. Empty things are empty for they do not profit or deliver
  3. Pray
  4. Instruct what is good and right
  5. Fear the Lord
  6. Serve Him faithfully with your whole heart

Results:  The Lord will not forsake His people

Why:     Consider/Remember the great things God has done for you

It seems pretty straightforward.  Jesus when He was on earth simplified the directives given in the Old Testament to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30, 31).  We see throughout the pages of Scripture examples of how individuals lived out these directives and others who did not.  As we read through Scripture, we see an elaboration of these commands so we have a better understanding of how loving God and loving others looks like.

The six instructions listed above help us better understand how to love God and love others.  As most of us know, the more we love God the easier it is to love others.

God’s recipe for life is tried and true.  Look at the examples in Scripture.  We don’t have to guess what pleases God; He told us exactly what pleases Him.

Follow the recipe exactly so you don’t have to guess at the outcome.

Do as I say…

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We are all familiar with the saying, “Do what I say, not what I do.”  We tend to call these people hypocrites.  Not too many people will readily take advice from a hypocrite.  Actually, not too many truly like to take advice from anyone.  None of us like to be told what to do, rather we think we have the answers and want to execute life according to what we think not what anyone else thinks.

In the Old Testament book of I Samuel, Samuel lays out some instructions for the Israelites and amongst those instructions to the people he lays out his own personal responsibilities.  Let’s take a look and see how it applies to our lives today.

 

Serve the Lord with all your heart.  And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty.  For the Lord will not forsake his people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.  Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.  Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart.  For consider what great things he has done for you.  But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king. (I Samuel 12:21-25)

 

These verses can be broken down into three parts:

The Israelites responsibility:        Serve the Lord with their whole heart

God’s response:                                The Lord will not forsake His people

Samuel’s Responsibility:                Pray for the Israelites and instruct them in the                                                                               right way

 

The people were not the only ones who had a responsibility.  Israel was to serve the Lord with their whole hearts.  God’s response to Israel’s obedience was that He would not forsake them.  Samuel was not only supposed to pray for the people but also to teach them the good and right way.

I think we would all agree that those we respect are those who lead by example.  A servant leader is much easier to follow than a boss or a dictator.  It is much easier to follow the example of Jesus because He showed us how to live out the instructions He taught in the New Testament rather than someone whose life does not back up their words.

Samuel lived his life serving and fearing the Lord.  The Israelites had an example to follow.  Samuel walked with the Lord and modeled the behavior he expected from the Israelites.  There was no hypocrisy or discrepancies in his life.

Hypocrisy will ruin relationships.  Hypocrisy will ruin our character.  Hypocrisy will ruin our integrity.  Hypocrisy will ruin our reputation.  Hypocrisy will ruin our testimony.

Avoiding hypocrisy comes through humility.

Humility comes through authenticity and fearing the Lord.

Authenticity comes with self-examination through a transparent relationship with the Lord and a humility with others.  Do others feel comfortable pointing out your faults?  When others do point out your faults what is your response?  Proverbs gives us clarity.

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” (Proverbs 18:2)

“Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.” (Proverbs 19:20)

Avoid hypocrisy.  Embrace humility.  Seek Authenticity.

Like Other Nations

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“But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel.  And they said, ”No!  But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations…”  (I Samuel 8:19, 20).

The Israelites have a story like no other nation.  They were slaves.  They wandered in the desert for 40 years.  They walked between walls of water on dry ground not once but twice while following a cloud.  They ate bread that fell from heaven.  They drank water that came from a rock.  As they wandered in the desert for 40 years, their shoes never wore out.  Above all else, they are called “God’s people.”

The Israelites will never be like any other nation.

They have a story and a history that is rich with the hand of God seen in many ways.  The hand of God was obvious to all the nations surrounding them. This is what Rahab told the two spies that were spying in the city of Jericho.  “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you.  For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond they Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction.  And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, He is God in heavens above and on the earth beneath.” (Joshua 2:9-11).

If God who had done all these wondrous, magnificent, and mighty acts on behalf of the Israelites which had struck fear in the hearts of the nations surrounding the Israelites, why did they want to be like all the nations?

They had the Creator of the Universe leading them.  They had God who divided the waters of the Red Sea directing their steps.  They had Jehovah Jirah who provided for their basic necessities.   They had God who is rich in love and mercy protecting them and fighting for them against their enemies.  They stood out among the nations.  “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God.  The LORD you God has chosen you to be a people for His treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 7:6).

Why would these people want to be “like all the other nations?”  They were unique, special, and chosen.

They wanted a king who would “Judge them and go before them and fight their battles.” (I Samuel 8:20).  It seemed God had done this for them and yet they were not satisfied with the leadership God had provided them.  They were not satisfied with the care that God had provided them.  They wanted what they thought they were missing out on.

Rather than enjoy the uniqueness of their nation, they desired to be like everyone else.

As the history of Israel is traced throughout Scripture, this desire to be like all the other nations caused them great heart ache, captivity, wars, separation of families, slavery, and death.  The blessings that God had so richly bestowed on them vanished in the presence of their desire to be like the other nations.

People of God cannot be like other nations and a treasured possession of His too.

Today, in our culture many strive to be like the world in the way they dress, the way they talk, and the way they live their lives.  Rather than strive to be set apart before God, they strive to be the same as the world.

God did not call Christians to sameness, He called us to uniqueness.  “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness in His marvelous light.”  (I Peter 2:9).

As Christians God has called us to be different.  If we live like the world, we have lost our uniqueness.  The whole purpose of being different is so that we can proclaim the Excellencies of God.  If we live like the world, God’s excellencies cannot show through our lives.  As the Israelites followed the king, the great and awesome works that God had done to bring them to the Promised Land stopped.

God allowed the Israelites to have a king.  He gives us each a choice.  We either follow Him or live like the world.  Those around us can see how we are living.

“Choose you this day whom you will serve…” ( Joshua 24:15).