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Tag: covenant

What To Do With An Uncontrollable God

Last Sunday we read about the first of many battles recorded in the book of 1 Samuel. And at this time in Israel’s history – their main enemy was the Philistines! The Philistines had been a thorn in Israel’s side throughout their early history – battling first with Shamgar and then Samson – later on they would battle against King Saul and against David…. but at this time there was no judge or king to lead the Israelites into battle against the Philistines. Although Samuel was widely recognized as the prophet of God by this time – He had not yet become Isreal’s judge – that would happen shortly, but at this time, Israel was led primarily by the elders – the older, supposedly wiser leaders of the different clans and tribes of Israel.

But these elders didn’t seem to be particularly in-tune with God. And as we’ve noted over the past few weeks, the nation of Israel as a whole had kinda drifted away from following God. Their relationship with God had become a religion rather than a relationship, even though they were God’s specially choose people. Out of all the people on earth, God had specifically chosen them to be His holy nation – and they would be His people and He would be their God! He even promised to dwell among them… We saw last week how the Ark of the Covenant would identify God’s presence among his people. It was from the Ark that God promised meet his people and speak to them from above the cover of the Ark.

But as we’ve noted, the people of Israel weren’t all that interested in hearing from God at this point. They chose to ignore God’s commands – and everyone did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. They had no interest in serving and pleasing God – they really just kept God around because of what God could do for them!

And last week’s battle with the Philistines was a prime example of that. After being defeated in the first battle against the Philistines, the elders of Israelites decide to go get the Ark of the Lord and carry it into battle with them. We read in 1 Samuel 4 verse 3…

Then they said, “Let’s bring the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord from Shiloh. If we carry it into battle with us, it will save us from our enemies.” 1 Samuel 4:3b

And I think it’s very telling that they say “IT will save us from our enemies” – Not, “GOD” will save us from our enemies – but “IT” – the Ark of the Covenant – will save us from our enemies.

Their faith was in a gold box, rather than in the God who spoke to them from the gold box. They had been disobedient to God for years and really had no interest in changing their ways, but yet, they thought they could harness and manipulate the power of God by trotting out the Ark of the Covenant and carrying it into battle with them.

But one of the main themes that comes out of the book of Samuel – and we’ve seen this several times already – is that God will honor those who honor Him, but he will despise those who think lightly of Him. And we see that playing out clearly in this story.

The Israelites carry the Ark of the Covenant with them into battle – hoping to manipulate the power of God in their favour, but God does not honor those who refuse to honor Him and the Israelites are soundly defeated. 30,000 men are killed and the Ark of the Covenant is captured by the Philistines!

And that leads us into our passage today. As I mentioned last week, the story of 1 Samuel doesn’t revolve around Samuel – it doesn’t even revolve around the Israelites – it revolves around God! This is His story, and so the camera pans away from the defeated Israelites and it follows the Ark of the Covenant carried by the victorious Philistines into the nearby Philistine town of Ashdod.

We pick up the story in 1 Samuel chapter 5, verse 1.

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God’s Not Your Lucky Charm

This morning we are continuing on in our study of First Samuel. For the first 3 chapters of this book, the author has focused mainly on the birth and early life of Samuel, but for the next three chapters, the focus shifts and the story revolves mainly around the Ark of the Covenant (or the Ark of the Lord.) Samuel isn’t even mentioned again until chapter 7.

And in some ways, this next part about the Ark of the Lord might seem like a bit of a rabbit trail from the story of Samuel – but it’s not a rabbit trail at all. It actually reminds us who this story is really about – this is not a story about Samuel – this is a story about God!

And that’s important to remember when we read through any of these great old testament stories! These stories are not about Daniel and the lions or David & Goliath or Moses or Jonah or any of those guys – the entire Bible is the story of God. He is the main character. These fantastic stories are only in the Bible because they teach us about God – Who He is, what’s He’s like, what He’s done, and what He’s going to do! 

So today’s passage about the Ark of the Lord is most certainly not a rabbit trail from the story of Samuel – but rather it conveys to us some very important information about who God is and how we are to interact with Him! As we go through it, we’ll see that it fits very much within the themes of the book of First Samuel!

First Samuel chapter 3 ends on the note of little Samuel growing up to a confirmed prophet of the Lord. His messages proved to be true and reliable as He faithfully delivered the Word of God to all the people of Israel.

But after saying that, the scene totally changes and we are told in chapter 4 verse 1…

At that time Israel was at war with the Philistines. The Israelite army was camped near Ebenezer, and the Philistines were at Aphek. The Philistines attacked and defeated the army of Israel, killing 4,000 men. 3 After the battle was over, the troops retreated to their camp, and the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the Lord allow us to be defeated by the Philistines?” Then they said, “Let’s bring the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord from Shiloh. If we carry it into battle with us, it will save us from our enemies.” 1 Samuel 4:1b-3

Now just for a little bit of background here, the Philistines are probably the most well-known enemies of the Israelites. We first hear about the Philistines way back in Genesis – during the the time of Abraham. But of course, there was no nation of Israel to fight with at that time – there was just Abraham’s family!

But the real fighting between the Philistines and the Israelites began during the time of the judges. We’re told that one of the first Judges, Shamgar, once killed 600 Philistines with an oxgoad! The strongman, Samson, fought his many battles against the Philistines – burning down their crops, killing them with a jawbone of a donkey, pulling down their temple on top of them! Most of Saul’s battles, as the first king of Israel, were fought against the Philistines. David’s first battle was against the Philistine giant, Goliath. And so its not unusual to see Israel at war with the Philistines! But this particular war was going to be unusual.

As we read in the passage, the first battle in this war was a total loss for the Israelites. They were soundly defeated and 4,000 men were killed. So they go back to their camp and regroup. It’s at this point that the elders of Israel ask a very important question. They say “Why did the Lord allow us to be defeated by the Philistines?”

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Firepot Promises

Learning to walk is certainly not an easy task. We probably don’t remember our own first steps as we learned to walk for the first time, but many of us have witnessed the great tumbles and falls as we’ve watched our own children try to take their first steps. It can be a bit painful to watch sometimes to see them fail, but at the same time its so exciting when they get it right! There’s always cheers and celebrations as your babies take those first steps. It’s such a milestone in their lives – being able to walk changes everything – life will never be the same again!

I think the same could be said about learning to walk with God. Certainly, we all have our share of stumbles and falls as we try to keep in step with God – learning to trust Him and to walk in his ways. We’ve experienced the bumps and bruises when we fail to trust and to follow God like we should. But most of us have also experienced the thrill of those first successful steps. Certainly, as a church we celebrate when people take those first steps of faith – because their lives will never be the same again! Learning to walk with God changes everything!

And so that’s why, for the past several weeks, every Sunday morning we’ve been learning to walk. Not physically of course, but learning to walk with God. We’ve been taking a look at the example of Abram as he learned to walk with God some 4000 years ago. And it seems that the process of learning to walk with God hasn’t changed all that much over the years.

There is so much in Abram’s life that we can relate to today – and I think that will be all the more evident as we look at our passage this morning.

Today we’re going to pick up our story of Abram in Genesis chapter 15. Now if you missed last week’s message, let me give you a quick recap. Last Sunday Greg told us about this great battle between 9 different kings – which included the King of Sodom. Now of course, Sodom (you’ll remember) was the city where Abram’s nephew Lot lived. Well, long story short – the King of Sodom lost the battle and as a result, all the people and goods of Sodom were carried away – including Lot and his family.

When Abram heard about this, he rallied his allies and chased after the army that had carried Lot away, defeated them, and recovered all that had been taken.

After winning the victory, Abram was on his way back when he was met by this guy named Melchizedek – the King of Salem and a priest of God most High. He shows up and he blesses Abram. And Abram in return, gives Melchizedek one tenth of all he owned.

And this interaction between Abram and Melchizedek is all kinda strange because as far as story goes, Melchizedek wasn’t even involved in any of these battles – this is the first time he’s ever mentioned, so what’s he got to do with any of this this? And why is Abram giving him 10% of his stuff?

And then as a further twist to the story, the King of Sodom – who was directly involved – tries to give Abram all the goods that Abram had recovered, but Abram won’t accept any of it – He doesn’t want to become rich at the hand of the King of Sodom. 

So instead of receiving payment or reward for his heroic rescue, Abram instead gives 10% of all his stuff to this guy Melchizedek who doesn’t even seem to be involved… So it’s all a little unusual and mysterious – but the bottom line at the end of the story is that God is pleased with Abram – and Abram is determined to walk with God.

And so that brings us now to chapter 15 – and we’re going to start at verse 1. Let’s read it together:

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The Sabbath Fulfilled in Jesus

Two weeks ago we started looking at the question of the Sabbath as part of our larger theme, Kingdom Living. We’ve recognized that life in the kingdom of God is very different from life in the kingdom of this world, and the idea of a Sabbath – that is, stopping all work for one full day each week to rest and focus on God – that idea is very different from the go-go-go 24/7 mentality of the world in which we live in today. 

Today we are always on – always connected – always busy doing something. Between work and school and church and all the other activities of life, we are always on the go. Even while we’re on vacation, we tend to fill our vacation days with endless activity! So the idea of a Sabbath – a whole day to completely stop our regular day-to-day activities to focus on God – that’s a very different idea.

But yet, that’s exactly what God commanded the Israelites to do. In fact, observing the Sabbath was a key part of what it meant to be an Israelite. But does the Sabbath have significance for us today? This is a question that Christians have struggled to answer since the time of Christ. Even within evangelical Christian circles, there is a wide variety of how we understand the Sabbath and it’s significance to us.

Probably the main question we wrestle with is this: Is #4 of the ten commandments still a commandment for us today, or was that only for the ancient Jews? Is it, for us, more of a suggestion – a principle to follow, or perhaps, is it completely a non-issue for us? If it is relevant to us today, how? And practically speaking, what would that look like?

And so far, we haven’t really answered those questions. For the past two weeks we’ve been exploring the Old Testament on this topic – looking at it’s origins as a commandment to the Israelites as well as noting it’s significance in the process of Creation when God rested on the Seventh Day and declared it holy.

And as we looked at those things, there seemed to be two main principles that stood out.

#1. God established a pattern of resting from our work for one day in seven. That seventh day was a day of rest intended to bring refreshment and renewal. It was a day to cease from the regular day-to-day activities of life and focus on building and enjoying one’s relationship with God and with others.

And that leads into our second principle, and that is…

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Asa – Stick With God

This morning we look at yet another king of Israel in our summer series – Lessons from the Kings. The king that we will be looking at this morning is fairly unknown. You probably didn’t hear his story when you were in Sunday School as a kid. He’s not really a famous hero like King David or an evil villain like King Ahab. He’s really just an average Joe. Just a regular guy who happened to be king.

But the Bible records his story for a reason. There is a lesson to be learned from his life. So let’s see if we can find out what it is. 

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The Fulfillment of Hope

In the month of December, we’ve been looking at the Bible as a History of Hope. Sometimes it difficult to put the whole Bible together – to see how one story connects with the others – to see how the old Testament fits with the new Testament. But over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been trying to do just that and what we’ve discovered is that the whole Bible is really the Christmas story. Everything in the old testament points us ahead to the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ – and everything in the new testament is a result of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the central figure of world history. And it’s not just history – it’s HIS STORY – God’s Story.

And so today we’re going to continue looking at God’s story. Two weeks ago we started in the beginning – with God creating the heavens and the earth. And He made the perfect system for a perfect life. That was basically, as long as mankind looked to God as the source of everything they needed in life and as long as they looked to God as their ultimate authority, their relationships with each other and with God would be sweet and life would be awesome.

But of course, we know that Adam and Eve chose to reject God as their authority and as their source – and as a consequence, their relationship with God and with each other was broken. And although the consequences of their sin would effect mankind for the rest of history, God made a promise to Adam & Eve – that one day He would set things right again.

Well, then we fast-forwarded last week to Mount Sinai – where God made a covenant – or an agreement with the Israelites. And the basic gist of that agreement was that as long as the Israelites looked to God as the source of everything they needed in life and as long as they looked to God as their ultimate authority, their relationships with each other and with God would be sweet and life would be awesome. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

The problem with that agreement was, that because the Israelites were all born with a sinful nature that they inherited from Adam & Eve, (just like the rest of us) it would actually be impossible for the Israelites or anyone else to fully obey God. Man was just too sinful. That rebellious nature in us kept us as slaves to sin. We couldn’t obey God even if we wanted to.

But God knew about that and He offered us another bit of hope. He allowed the Israelites to bring a lamb and offer it as a sacrifice for their sins. In other words, instead of that person being put to death for their sin (as they deserved), a lamb would be put to death in their place. The lamb would take their punishment.

Of course, the blood of those lambs couldn’t take away their sin, but it gave the Israelites hope that one day, the Lamb of God – Jesus Christ – would die in their place and His blood would take their sins completely away.

So that’s where we left it last week. There’s more to this story, so let’s see what happened next.

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