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Monday, September 30, 2013

Wisdom for Newly Published Authors

I've been saving this article for several years now because it seemed very wise when I first read it.

But now that Resisting Gossip is out, I appreciate it even more:

Letter To a Soon-to-be-Published Author by Andy Crouch

Jaroslav and Natalija Elijas on "Resisting Gossip"

Jaroslav and Natalija Elijas are national Christian workers in Serbia. They attended Moody Bible Institute (where Heather and I met them) and later Lancaster Bible college after which they returned to Europe. They have been in full-time ministry since 1991 through the Christian Evangelistic Center. Over the years they have been involved in various areas of work, including radio broadcasting, humanitarian aid, leading a choir, teaching, preaching, children and youth ministry. God has blessed them with 7 terrific children.

I was very thankful to have their input during the developmental phase of Resisting Gossip as they brought a different, yet encouraging, perspective to the work. It is my joy to have received their endorsements:
"Isn’t it sad that we fear people and their opinions more than we fear God? This really is the heart of the matter. Matthew Mitchell’s book explains this issue very well.  The book is very easy to read, even for someone whose native language is not English. It is understandable and simple in style. I think it would be useful for any Christian, whether new or seasoned. I also think it would be very useful for young people in a youth ministry." – Natalija Elijas, Children’s Ministry Leader at the Christian Evangelistic Center and Baptist Church in Glozan, Serbia; Women’s Conference speaker
"This book presents real-life examples that I can identify with. They are engaging because, let’s be honest, we love to hear a good story. The reader is drawn in by the example and then confronted with the spiritual ramifications because of the biblical content and teaching on the subject of gossip. The supporting references and practical advice does not leave much room for misunderstanding or not being practical enough. On the contrary it brings one to the point where the final decision has to be a matter of the heart, before God and man." – Jaroslav Elijas, Director at Christian Evangelistic Center, Serbia, and Assistant Pastor at Glozan Baptist Church, Serbia

Sunday, September 29, 2013

[Matt's Messages] "Who Can Stand in the Presence of the LORD, This Holy God?"


“Who Can Stand the Presence of the LORD, this Holy God?”
A Heart for the Heart of God: The Message of 1 Samuel
September 27, 2013 :: 1 Samuel 5:1-7:17

Our series is called “A Heart for the Heart of God,” and while Samuel himself seems to be developing a heart for the heart of God, nearly everyone else around this young prophet (save his mother Hannah) does not seem to have a heart for the heart of God.

Hophni, Phinehas, Eli, and the whole nation of Israel have repeatedly broken the covenant God had made them, and we saw last week that God had finally lowered the boom and brought judgment.

A little baby was born and was named Ichabod because the glory of God had left Israel.

Eli’s family had been judged. Hophni and Phinehas had died in battle with 30,000  foot soldiers.  Eli, on hearing the news, died as well. And Phinehas’s wife died in giving birth to Ichabod.

One of the worst days ever in Israel’s history.

But the worst of the worst was that the ark of the covenant had been captured by the Philistines.

The Israelites needed to learn that God will not be used.

The LORD is not “God in a box” ready to serve as a good luck charm or a magic weapon against their enemies.

In fact, God was willing for the ark of the covenant to be captured to teach them that lesson.

So, the ark of the covenant had been taken out of Israel’s possession and into the territory of the enemies of Israel, the Philistines.

And we get what Paul Harvey would call “The Rest of the Story.”

What happened next?

What happened to the ark when it went into the enemy territory? And what does it mean to us today?

The title for today’s message may take the cake as the longest title for one of my sermons so far.

I lifted it right out of chapter 6, verse 20. It’s a good question right out of the mouths of the men of Beth Shemesh who ask, “Who Can Stand in the Presence of the LORD, This Holy God?”

What do you think the answer is?

This is one of my favorite stories in the Old Testament.

Not because I understand it all but because it’s so funny.  The LORD makes His point in such a humorous way.

It’s a strange time for humor. The glory has left Israel. The ark is in captivity. V.1

“After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then they carried the ark into Dagon's temple and set it beside Dagon.” Stop there

Now, the Philistines think they have won...why?

Because their god is greater. Whoever has the bigger god will have the best army will have the advantage in battle and will win, right?

And they won, right? So, what god is the best?

Dagon, right? Dagon, the god of the Philistines.

And they have a temple for him, and they put the ark of covenant into Dagon’s temple. Why?

Because they figure that it’s an idol, too.  They figure that it can be part of their spiritual arsenal.

They think, like Israel did, that’s it’s basically “god in a box!”

They won it fair and square and now it will sit in the temple of Dagon enriching his reputation in their chief city of Ashdod.

That’s how they interpret this!

Now, just because the LORD allowed them to capture the ark doesn’t mean that He is going to allow them to think that Dagon is greater than YHWH.

Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?

Not Dagon. V.3

“When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! They took Dagon and put him back in his place.”

Ha! Don’t you just love it?

Before breakfast the priests of Dagon find him paying homage to the LORD. Fallen on his stony face before the ark of the LORD.

Now, it doesn’t say how that happened. And remember, the ark is not magic, but God is supernatural.

And don’t miss the irony of that sentence. “They took Dagon and put him back in his place.”

Note to self: If you have to pick up and put your god back in its place, you don’t have much of a god!

Now this might have been a coincidence... V.4

“But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained. That is why to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor any others who enter Dagon's temple at Ashdod step on the threshold.”

Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?

No Dagon. Not some false deity.

There is no coincidence here. No accident. It looks like an execution, in fact.

One author said that Dagon simply got “the godness knocked out of him” that day.

Here’s the message: The LORD is God and God alone!

And He means it when He says, “You shall have no other gods before me.”

All other “gods” are rendered powerless.

Just ask Dagon.

V.6 “The LORD's hand was heavy upon the people of Ashdod and its vicinity; he brought devastation upon them and afflicted them with tumors.”

Dagon has no hands. But the LORD’s hand is heavy. What’s going to happen next is totally amazing. The LORD is going to get the ark of the covenant back into Israelite territory...all by Himself.

First, he brings devastation on the people of Ashdod. Some kind of a sickness, perhaps the bubonic plague or something like it. Tumors. V.7

“When the men of Ashdod saw what was happening, they said, ‘The ark of the god of Israel must not stay here with us, because his hand is heavy upon us and upon Dagon our god.’ So they called together all the rulers of the Philistines and asked them, ‘What shall we do with the ark of the god of Israel?’ They answered, ‘Have the ark of the god of Israel moved to Gath.’ So they moved the ark of the God of Israel.”

Why move it to Gath, I don’t know. Maybe they thought the LORD would be less powerful over there. V.9

“But after they had moved it, the LORD's hand was against that city, throwing it into a great panic. He afflicted the people of the city, both young and old, with an outbreak of tumors. So they sent the ark of God to Ekron.”

Do you see how funny this is?

It’s not funny for the Philistines. They are suffering left and right for their wickedness.

But here are they are trying to move the ark from city to city. V.10

“As the ark of God was entering Ekron, the people of Ekron cried out, ‘They have brought the ark of the god of Israel around to us to kill us and our people.’ So they called together all the rulers of the Philistines and said, ‘Send the ark of the god of Israel away; let it go back to its own place, or it will kill us and our people.’ For death had filled the city with panic; God's hand was very heavy upon it. Those who did not die were afflicted with tumors, and the outcry of the city went up to heaven.”

Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?

Not the Philistines.

Chapter 6, verse 1.

" When the ark of the LORD had been in Philistine territory seven [awful] months, the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, ‘What shall we do with the ark of the LORD? Tell us how we should send it back to its place.’

They answered [as if they knew!], ‘If you return the ark of the god of Israel, do not send it away empty, but by all means send a guilt offering to him. Then you will be healed, and you will know why his hand has not been lifted from you.’

The Philistines asked, ‘What guilt offering should we send to him?’ They replied, ‘Five gold tumors and five gold rats, according to the number of the Philistine rulers, because the same plague has struck both you and your rulers.

Make models of the tumors and of the rats that are destroying the country, and pay honor to Israel's god. Perhaps he will lift his hand from you and your gods and your land.

Why do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did? When he treated them harshly, did they not send the Israelites out so they could go on their way?

‘Now then, get a new cart ready, with two cows that have calved and have never been yoked. Hitch the cows to the cart, but take their calves away and pen them up. Take the ark of the LORD and put it on the cart, and in a chest beside it put the gold objects you are sending back to him as a guilt offering. Send it on its way, but keep watching it. If it goes up to its own territory, toward Beth Shemesh, then the LORD has brought this great disaster on us. But if it does not, then we will know that it was not his hand that struck us and that it happened to us by chance.’”

Now, I think that this is supposed to be funny, as well.

These “oh so powerful” Philistines have been laid low by the God whom they think they’ve captured.

Of course, we know that God does not live in the box!  And that you cannot capture Him.

He is free and self-sufficient and supreme!

But they are so panicky that they just want to do whatever it takes to get out of their trouble.

And their witch-doctors, their priests think that God would be honored by some golden rats and golden tumors!  I just don’t even know what to think of that.

I don’t even want to think about what that looked like.

That’s how idolaters think, I guess.

They set up a test, as well. They hitch the cart carrying the ark of the covenant to some mama cows who have never been yoked and never separated from their babies.

And they reason that if those cows leave their mooing babies and pull that cart all by themselves back to Israelite territory, then it must have been the LORD all along, and not chance.

Now, God is not obligated to do things their way. But He is obviously desirous of getting that box back into Israelite hands and getting credit for it. So, He passes their test! V.10

“So they did this. They took two such cows and hitched them to the cart and penned up their calves. They placed the ark of the LORD on the cart and along with it the chest containing the gold rats and the models of the tumors. Then the cows went straight up toward Beth Shemesh, keeping on the road and lowing all the way; they did not turn to the right or to the left. The rulers of the Philistines followed them as far as the border of Beth Shemesh.”

God is not accepting their ugly offering, but He is making it clear that He is brining the ark home all by Himself. V.13

“Now the people of Beth Shemesh were harvesting their wheat in the valley, and when they looked up and saw the ark, they rejoiced at the sight.”

“Look what we have here!”

“The cart came to the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh, and there it stopped beside a large rock. The people chopped up the wood of the cart and sacrificed the cows as a burnt offering to the LORD. The Levites took down the ark of the LORD, together with the chest containing the gold objects, and placed them on the large rock. On that day the people of Beth Shemesh offered burnt offerings and made sacrifices to the LORD. The five rulers of the Philistines saw all this and then returned that same day to Ekron. These are the gold tumors the Philistines sent as a guilt offering to the LORD–one each for Ashdod, Gaza, Ashkelon, Gath and Ekron. And the number of the gold rats was according to the number of Philistine towns belonging to the five rulers–the fortified towns with their country villages. The large rock, on which they set the ark of the LORD, is a witness to this day in the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh.”

“But God struck down some of the men of Beth Shemesh, putting seventy of them to death because they had looked into the ark of the LORD. The people mourned because of the heavy blow the LORD had dealt them, and the men of Beth Shemesh asked, ‘Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?”

Not disrespectful Israelites!

Not Dagon.
Not the Philistines.
And not even Israelites who do not believe and do not behave.

The ark of the covenant should not be out there in the field!

And it was bulls, not cows that should have been sacrificed.

The ark of the covenant should be hidden away in the holy of holies, not peeked into by casual and curious Israelites!

The men of Beth Shemesh are so right to ask, “Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?”

The LORD is holy!

The New English Bible says in v.20, “Who is safe before the LORD?”

The men of Beth Shemesh sure didn’t feel safe. V.20

“Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God? To whom will the ark go up from here?’ [Get it out of here!] Then they sent messengers to the people of Kiriath Jearim, saying, ‘The Philistines have returned the ark of the LORD. Come down and take it up to your place.’ So the men of Kiriath Jearim came and took up the ark of the LORD. They took it to Abinadab's house on the hill and consecrated Eleazar his son to guard the ark of the LORD.”

Now, I’m not sure why these particular guys got picked, but it was probably because they were going to do it right. Perhaps there was a remnant of godly Levites in Kiriath Jearim who would with Eleazer’s leadership take care of the ark the way it should be.

For whatever reason, for the time being Israel was no longer going to be casual about the ark of the covenant. In fact, it is going to safely sit there until 2 Samuel chapter 6.

God is holy and should not be messed with.

Here’s application point #1 of 3 this morning:

#1. REVERE HIM ALONE.

The LORD is holy, so worship Him alone.

Does anybody here have a statue of Dagon in their house or garage or back yard?

No, I didn’t think so.

So, that means that we don’t have a problem with idols, now do we?

We don’t substitute in other things to take God’s place do we?

No, of course not. Not money, or popularity, or sex, or entertainment, or sports, or fame, or possessions, or people’s approval, or the government, or anything else that people could set up in a private little temple?

Well, actually, we often do, don’t we.

And more than that, we want the Lord to share space with those idols, those God-replacements.

But LORD will not share space with Dagon.

We’ve seen what happens to Dagon.

Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?

Nobody.

Nobody can casually stand in His presence.

He is holy!

Revere Him alone.

What Dagons need to be toppled in your heart and life?

I know what mine are.  Do you know what yours are?

The LORD will be first. He will not allow any rivals to stand.

Revere Him alone.

#2. RETURN TO HIM AGAIN.

Chapter 7, verse 2. “It was a long time, twenty years in all, that the ark remained at Kiriath Jearim, and all the people of Israel mourned and sought after the LORD. And Samuel [Hey! There he is again!] said to the whole house of Israel, ‘If you are returning to the LORD with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.’”

It’s good to have Samuel back on the scene! He’s been gone since the first verse of chapter 4.

Twenty years have passed. He’s a much older man now. And, under his ministry, Israel has finally started to come to their senses.

And they want to repent.

The Hebrew word for “return” here is “shuv.”  Samuel is giving them a little “shuv” in the right direction. V.3

‘If you are returning to the LORD with all your hearts, then (1) rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and (2) commit yourselves to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.’”

Notice that it’s not enough to just feel bad about your sinful idolatry.

True repentance does something. It includes action.

You rid yourself of your foreign gods. That Dagon has to go.

And you turn around, you repent. You commit yourself to the LORD and serve Him (or worship Him) only, that is, alone.

Israel needed to do this in a big way.

And so does anyone who has not yet trusted Jesus as their Savior and Lord.

But all Christians need to do this on a regular basis, as well.

We need to return to Him again and again and again.

Martin Luther famously said that the Christian life is a race of repentance.

Where we regularly turn away from allegiance to the Dagons of this world and turn into the arms of our Savior.  V.4

“So the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths, and served the LORD only.”

This is the first positive thing that Israel did spiritually since the time of the Judges!

God used Samuel’s spiritual leadership to lift them up out of the quagmire they had gotten into and to back onto the straight and narrow path of following the LORD.

Return to Him again.

How does that apply to you this morning?  In what ways have you lost your first love? Or allowed something to take His place?

Or have you been treating God casually and forgetting that He is a holy God?

Just because the Lord is amazingly gracious and richly merciful does not give us license to act however we please.

God is holy, holy, holy, and we would be wise to remember it all of the time.

And return to Him again.

And, the good news is that when we do that, we experience His blessing! V.5

“Then Samuel said, ‘Assemble all Israel at Mizpah and I will intercede with the LORD for you.’ When they had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the LORD. On that day they fasted and there they confessed, ‘We have sinned against the LORD.’ And Samuel was leader of Israel at Mizpah.”

Here is a ceremony of national repentance. They are returning to the LORD. However... V.7

“When the Philistines heard that Israel had assembled at Mizpah, the rulers of the Philistines came up to attack them. And when the Israelites heard of it, they were afraid because of the Philistines. They said to Samuel, ‘Do not stop crying out to the LORD our God for us, that he may rescue us from the hand of the Philistines.’ Then Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it up as a whole burnt offering to the LORD. He cried out to the LORD on Israel's behalf, and the LORD answered him.”

“While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. But that day the LORD thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites. The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Car. Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far has the LORD helped us.’

So the Philistines were subdued and did not invade Israelite territory again. Throughout Samuel's lifetime, the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines. The towns from Ekron to Gath that the Philistines had captured from Israel were restored to her, and Israel delivered the neighboring territory from the power of the Philistines. And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites.

Samuel continued as judge over Israel all the days of his life. From year to year he went on a circuit from Bethel to Gilgal to Mizpah, judging Israel in all those places. But he always went back to Ramah, where his home was, and there he also judged Israel. And he built an altar there to the LORD.”

Here’s our third and last point of application:

#3. REMEMBER ALL HIS HELP.

When Israel committed themselves fully to the LORD, they experienced His blessing.

He thundered on their behalf, and they won.

Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?

Not the entire army of the Philistines!

And Samuel, very smartly, set up a stone of remembrance. He named the stone “Ebenezer” “Stone of Help” to remind the Israelites every time they saw that stone how much God had helped them.

“Thus far has the LORD helped us.”

1 Samuel 7:12 was the theme verse of our church’s 50th and 120th birthday celebrations. For the 50th it was in Swedish, 1942.

“Hitintills Har Herren Hulpit Oss.”

That’s all I know in Swedish, but it’s a good thing to know.

It’s a good thing to remember.

It’s a good thing to remind ourselves of just how much God has helped us.

That’s why we give testimonies.
That’s why we have a celebration Sunday as a church each year. The next one will be November 3rd.

That’s why we eat and drink the Lord’s Supper every month.

To remember. To remember how much God has helped us.

Have you trusted in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?

I invite you to receive Him today.

He died on the Cross to save His people from their sins.

A Holy Savior as a sacrifice for our unholy sins so that we can...catch this!

STAND in the presence of a Holy God!

Not above Him, not His equal, but standing in awe of Him in His presence.

Not banished. But accepted and home.

Because of what Jesus did for us on the Cross.

On that Cross as Jesus died the wrath of God was satisfied.
For every sin on Him was laid // Here in the death of Christ I live.

In Christ alone!

Not in Dagon.

But in Christ alone.

And for those of us who are trusting in Christ alone, we have so much to be thankful for and so much to remember.

We should be setting up Ebenezers every where we go.

What Ebenezer should you raise today for how God has helped you this week?

What can you do to rehearse it in your mind and celebrate it and thank God for it and remember it in the future?

Is there a worship song that has “Ebenezer” in it?

Anita, let’s change our closing hymn to #2, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” and let’s sing for verse 2 this version, which is not actually the first version of the song but one that many used to sing:

Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I'm come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.


***

A Heart for the Heart of God

01. Hannah's Prayers
02. Those Who Honor Me I Will Honor
03. Speak, LORD, for Your Servant Is Listening

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Wary and Weary of Self-Promotion

A good friend jokingly asked me the other day, "So, did I hear that you wrote a book?"

He was gently making of fun of how my blog and Facebook are filled up with a steady stream of announcements about a certain book which won't be linked to in this post.

I take his point. My life (at least online and a good deal offline) has been consumed with getting the word out about that certain book which won't be linked to in this post.

I'm wary of self-promotion. Proverbs 27:2 says, "Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips."  And it's not good enough to say, "I'm just passing on what someone else said about me." There are many dangers inherent in tooting your own horn, not the least of which is overweening pride, a deadly sin that kills relationships with both God and people.

On the other hand, I'm very excited about the message about that certain book which won't be linked to in this post and want others to be blessed by it. This article by Mary Keely on a better approach was very helpful to me in giving me a good perspective on the right motivation for "marketing." [Owen Strachan had some good things to say about "re-tweeting" oneself, as well.]

But on the third hand, I'm very aware of my tendency to justify whatever it is that I want to be doing. So, I continue to watch my heart in this area and maintain a careful wariness of my motives and actions. For example, I try to focus on promoting the book and not its author, though the two are inextricably linked, of course. I also remind myself regularly to not believe my own press clippings and never take myself seriously. My wife helps me with this by calling me "Dr. Fathead."

And on the fourth hand (What am I, an octopus?), I'm also weary of self-promotion--both in others and myself. Nobody enjoys a proud person who is self-focused. I don't want to be Narcissus--what a useless bore! I want to be a humble person who serves the people around me. If I become convinced that my posts about that certain book which won't be linked to in this post have stopped serving others, then I'll close up shop right then and there.

One of the reasons why I mention this today is that I'm headed into a busy week of promotion for that book that won't be linked to in this post, and I'll soon be even asking you readers to help me get the word out about that certain book that won't be linked to in this post, and I want you to know why it's important to me. It's not because I'll get rich or famous. It's because I care about what God has said about the topic of the book and believe God has graciously given me something helpful to say about it to bless other people.

I don't pretend to have it all figured out, but I do know that I want the Lord Jesus Christ to get the real promotion and all the glory.

Harebell

 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Gossip and the Journal of Biblical Counseling

I love the JBC. I can remember reading it for the first time more than a decade ago--even the spot where I laid it down in between readings.

The current issue came out when we were on vacation this Summer, and I didn't get to read it through until recently.

I was helped by each of the articles, and was struck with how many had a direct bearing on the subject of resisting gossip:



Announcement:

For years, it has been on my "bucket list" to be published in the JBC. I'm excited to share that the next issue of the Journal of Biblical Counseling will include an article that is a chapter lifted and lighted edited from Resisting Gossip. Thank you, Lord!

Conversations at the Castle

Looking forward to taking part in this event next week with Gordon Gregory.



Thursday, September 26, 2013

Simply Stay Silent (Instead of Gossip) [Video]


Defense 1: Stay Silent from Matt Mitchell on Vimeo.
In starting to list practical steps to protect ourselves from gossip, defense one is to simply stay silent.

"When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise." - Proverbs 10:19

Pastor Matt Mitchell teaching the Resisting Gossip Live Seminar, March 2013, at Miracle Mountain Ranch.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Interview with Frank Viola about Resisting Gossip

Today's interview with blogger Frank Viola about Resisting Gossip.

Frank says "Matthew’s book contains a much needed message for the Body of Christ today," and then asks:

  • Matthew, instead of asking, “what is your book about,” I’m going to ask the question that’s behind that question. And that unspoken question is, “how are readers going to benefit from reading your book?”
  • Tell us a bit about the experiences that shaped the insights in the book.
  • Why do you think so many Christians believe that gossip is a far less serious sin than say premarital sex, adultery, stealing, and viewing pornography?
  • Give us two or three insights on gossip that would be helpful to Christians.
  • What has the response been to the book so far?
  • What else do you want readers to know about your book?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Reflections on Today's Prayer Retreat

Today, I headed off into the woods of Black Moshannon State Park with a pile of prayer cards and a determination to bear the burdens of the flock under my care, the families of Lanse Free Church, to the one who bears our burdens (Ps 68:19).

I saw the sun (and the moon!), beautiful Fall colored trees, sparkling water on the lake, a loon, leaves all over the path, and white tailed deer running in the distance.

I breathed in delicious fresh air and breathed out desperate prayers.  So many of our folks asked me to pray about difficult situations: trials, health trouble, difficult job situations, and especially un-saved family members.  I asked the Lord so many times to "Please, capture the heart of ...."

My prayer hike was good for me, too. I started with praise and adoration and then moved into personal confession--one of my biggest prayers was for help in not being lax about prayer, a pastor needs to pray for his people.  I want to become an Epaphras, whose people know that he "is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured" (Colossians 4:12).

It came to me today what a privilege it is to be able to pray--that God listens to the request of His people. And what a joyful privilege it is to be set aside for the Word of God and prayer! So thankful that I don't have to carry our little flock's burdens on my own, but am able to cast them on the Lord because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). Looking forward to seeing how God answers some of today's prayers.


***

Confession:  This picture is from Cook Forest State Park. I couldn't find a picture of old Blackie on my computer today and didn't take a camera with me.

On the "It's the Ride Home" Program This Afternoon

I'll be live with John and Kathy at WORD-fm this afternoon at 4:40pm.

You can listen online wherever you are here. Tune in if you can.

UPDATE:  Needed to reschedule. I'll let you know when we will be on.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Bob Kelleman on "Resisting Gossip"

Bob Kelleman, of RPM Ministries and the Biblical Counseling Coalition says:

“Does the gospel have anything to say about gossip? Matt Mitchell’s engaging writing demonstrates that every Christian needs to understand the hope-giving promises of the Gospel for addressing the heart issues behind gossip. Building upon a relevant biblical definition of gossip, Resisting Gossip empowers believers to apply the Gospel to uproot the weeds of gossip. Mitchell’s principles for cultivating a gossip-resistant church were worth the proverbial price of the book.” —Bob Kellemen, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, Author of Equipping Counselors for Your Church

Sunday, September 22, 2013

[Matt's Messages] "God in a Box"

“God In a Box”
A Heart for the Heart of God: The Message of 1 Samuel
September 22, 2013 :: 1 Samuel 4:1-22

Our current sermon series is called “A Heart for the Heart of God: the Message of 1 Samuel,” and we’ve learned a little bit about what it means to have a heart for the heart of God.

In chapter 1, we learned that it involved a prayerful heart, like Hannah who prayed for a child, and God answered with Samuel.

In chapter 2, we learned that having a heart for the heart of God includes having an honoring heart, a heart that wants to honor God. And we learned that God loves to honor those who honor Him.

Last week, in chapter 3, we learned that having a heart for the heart of God includes having a listening heart, a heart that wants to hear God speak and to carry out God’s will. Young Samuel said, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

Those have been the positive things we’ve learned along the way as young Samuel has been born and grown up around the tabernacle, growing in stature and favor with God and men.

However, that’s not all that we’ve seen.

We’ve also seen that Israel is in a bad place spiritually at this time. And a big part of that is because of who Israel has leading it spiritually.

Eli, the high priest who is basically blind, in more than one way. He is both physically blind and spiritually blind.  He has turned a blind eye to the sins of his sons and is not able to recognize genuine holy spirituality when he sees it. He has gotten fat off of the shearing of his flock done by his wicked sons.

His sons are named Hophni and Phinehas and they are lustful, covetous, gluttonous, and ruthless.  And, they are the priests!

Eli has not stopped them and the people of Israel have not stopped them. They have just accepted their wicked spiritual leadership.

And God has promised to judge them.

God has said that He will not only honor those who honor Him, but also that those who despise Him, He will disdain.

No less a prophet than Samuel himself has prophesied the downfall of Eli’s family.

The family he has lived with all of these years.

Today, is when that downfall comes.  1 Samuel chapter 4.

And here is our title for today’s message: “God in a Box.”

Unfortunately for them, the Israelites are going to be shown that you can’t put God in a box.

How often do people try to get God to fit into their little box and to do the things they want Him to do for them?

You can’t put God in a box. He will not fit. He will not crawl in there and cooperate.

This is one of the saddest stories in the Old Testament. In fact, this is probably the lowest of the lows in the time of the Judges.

Lower than Gideon.
Lower than Samson.
Lower than Jephthah.
Even lower than the Levite and his concubine!

Because by the end of this story, it is clear that God has laid the entire nation low under His judgment.

But I think there are at least 2 important lessons for us to learn from it for our lives today, and as we go along, I’ll share them with you.

Now, one of the ways we know that this is going to be bad a sad story is that Samuel disappears in verse 1 and doesn’t show up again for 3 chapters!

Here is he is in verse 1.

“And Samuel's word came to all Israel.” Samuel is the prophet given to Israel.

But before he can step up to the plate, the previous generation needs to strike out for good. V.1

“Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines. The Israelites camped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines at Aphek. The Philistines deployed their forces to meet Israel, and as the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand of them on the battlefield.” Let’s stop there for second.

Now, we’re introduced here again to a very important group of people–the Philistines.

They were mentioned as “bad guys” who had attacked and oppressed Israel during the book of Judges.

They are going to be the main enemies of Israel throughout the book of 1 Samuel.

They are the Israel’s main opponents at this time. They worship other gods, they are numerous and powerful. They have superior weapons to the Israelites, and at times they are going to totally dominate them.

Chapter 4 begins by telling us that the Israelites were at war with the Philistines.

And the Philistines whipped them badly. V.2, “Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand of them on the battlefield.”

A very sad day.

Now, after any defeat like that, there is going to be some locker-room analysis by the coaches.  V.3

“When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, ‘Why did the LORD bring defeat upon us today before the Philistines?”

That’s a good question! That’s a question they should have been asking.

And we know the answer. We know that Israel had grown spiritually blind and fat.

We know that everyone was doing what seems right in their own eyes.  And they were breaking the covenant that the LORD had made with them at Mount Sinai.

That’s the obvious answer, but these generals of Israel just flat out miss it. V.3

I know what we should do!

“Let us bring the ark of the LORD's covenant from Shiloh, so that it may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.”

Yeah. What a great idea!

I don’t think so.

The ark of the covenant was a relatively small box, about 4 feet long, 2 and a half feet wide and 2 and a half feet high.  It was made of wood and it was covered in gold.

And there were some pretty important gifts that sat inside of it.

The ark is going to be pretty important in this story for the next several chapters.

The ark was a symbol given by God of the covenant that He had made with His people.

More than that, it was a symbol of redemption because blood was sprinkled on it every year to symbolize the atonement that the LORD provided for His people.

And more than that, it symbolized God’s presence among His people.  It had two winged creatures molded on its lid that faced one another called “cherubim.”

And symbolically, that was like the LORD’s throne.

Do you think that this is a good idea that the elders of Israel have?

Why might they have had this idea?

They might be trying to recreate the battle of Jericho.

Remember that?  The armies of Israel marched around the city with the ark of the covenant, and the walls came tumbling down.

So, here, the leaders say, “Let’s go grab the box. Let’s go grab the LORD’s box and take it with us.”

If you have a footnote on v.3, you’ll see that it’s even possible that they were saying, “Let us bring the ark of the LORD’s covenant from Shiloh, so that HE may go with us and save us.”

Let’s go grab God in His box and take him to war with us!

What could go wrong?

Whenever we’ve got the box, we never lose.

God has to save us if we have the box!

He would hate to look bad in front of the Philistines!  V.4

“So the people sent men to Shiloh, and they brought back the ark of the covenant of the LORD Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim. And Eli's two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.”

Oh great! Those two guys.  Here’s the problem. There is no repentance here. There is no seeking the Lord. These two guys are with the ark?

There is no seeking the Lord here. There is just using the Lord like they’ve done all of their lives and ministries.

And God will stand it no longer. V.5

“When the ark of the LORD's covenant came into the camp, all Israel raised such a great shout that the ground shook.”

Wahoo! Here we go. We’ve got God in a box, and we’re going to get you back!

It’s going to be just like Jericho.

And that’s just what the Philistines are afraid of. V.6

“Hearing the uproar, the Philistines asked, ‘What's all this shouting in the Hebrew camp?’ When they learned that the ark of the LORD had come into the camp, the Philistines were afraid. ‘A god has come into the camp,’ they said. ‘We're in trouble! Nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the desert. Be strong, Philistines! Be men, or you will be subject to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Be men, and fight!’”

It almost looks like this plan is going to work, but it actually has the opposite effect. It galvanizes the Philistines to fight harder than ever, and they win. V.10

“So the Philistines fought, and the Israelites were defeated and every man fled to his tent. The slaughter was very great; Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers. The ark of God was captured, and Eli's two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died.”

Here’s our first lesson in God’s ways from this sad day.

#1. GOD WILL NOT BE USED.

The LORD will not be manipulated.

He refuses to play that game.

God does not live in a box that can be drug around and used for our own purposes.

He will not let His arm be twisted. We cannot force His hand.

If Israel had 10,000 arks of the covenant, they would not have won that battle.

God is not magic. He does not live in a magic box that we manipulate.

He is not a rabbit’s foot or a lucky charm.

God will not be used.

I can think of a lot of ways that people try to use God.

For one, they try to use His symbols as lucky charms. Some people wear a cross around their neck for good luck. Some carry their Bibles under their arm.  Some slap a fish sticker on their bumper.

Now, it’s fine to wear a cross, carry a Bible, and have a Christian bumper sticker.

But we can’t think that any of those will provide protection or blessing to us.

What really matters is whether or not we believe in the Cross, read and heed our Bibles, and truly witness with our lives and words.

Or on a bigger level, revival is not going to come to America because we post the 10 commandments at the courthouse, or we are allowed to set up a nativity scene in the public square, or have state-sponsored “prayers” led by the staff at our schools, or force employees to say “Merry Christmas.”

Now, some of those are not bad things, but they are not magic.

God will not be used.

Many politicians want to use God, as well.

They want their political platform to appear to be God-blessed, that God is on their side.

Democrats do it. And Republicans do it. And so do many of the others.

Abraham Lincoln was told by a pastor once that he “hoped the Lord is on our side,” and the President wisely said, "I am not at all concerned about that.... But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord's side."

God will not be used.

How might you and I have tried to use the Lord recently?

I know some folks try use God to stop or win an argument.

Or to “baptize” some idea of their own as present it as God’s will.

Others try to use prayer or fasting to force God to do their will.

I believe in both prayer and fasting but God will not be used.

God does not live in a box that I can drag around to win the battles I choose to fight.

Does that make sense?

In fact, God does not exist for me. I exist for Him.

God does not exist to make me happy or to feel loved.  I exist to glorify Him.

And amazingly, when I do, I feel joy and know His love!

When we get it into our heads that God will not be used, then some people who have claimed to be Christians will head for the exits.

Because many people only want to be known as Christians for the benefits.

I know people who do their daily devotions because when they do, their day goes better.

Now, I believe that that if you do daily devotions, you’ll experience a better life.

But notice the motivation–I do daily devotions, not to get more of God but so my day goes better?!

Author Dale Ralph Davis says it this way, “Whenever the church stops confessing ‘Thou art worthy’ and begins chanting ‘Thou art useful”–well, then you know the ark has been captured again” (1 Samuel: Looking on the Heart, pg. 55).

God Will Not Be Used.

He refuses to play that game.

Now, I think that the elders of Israel thought that God would refuse to lose if His portable throne was brought to the battle.

But God chose, not only to let them lose the battle, but for capture of the ark.

Because God had His own purposes to achieve. V.12

“That same day a Benjamite ran from the battle line and went to Shiloh, his clothes torn and dust on his head. When he arrived, there was Eli sitting on his chair by the side of the road, watching, because his heart feared for the ark of God.”

We don’t know where Samuel is at this point. He might be right there witnessing this, the fulfillment of his first prophecy. V.13

“When the man entered the town and told what had happened, the whole town sent up a cry. Eli heard the outcry and asked, ‘What is the meaning of this uproar?’ The man hurried over to Eli, who was ninety-eight years old and whose eyes were set so that he could not see. He told Eli, ‘I have just come from the battle line; I fled from it this very day.’

Eli asked, ‘What happened, my son?’ The man who brought the news replied, ‘Israel fled before the Philistines, and the army has suffered heavy losses. Also your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.’

When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell backward off his chair by the side of the gate. [Smack!] His neck was broken and he died, for he was an old man and heavy. He had led Israel forty years.”

This is the worst day ever in Eli’s life. And it is his last.

It was a day of death, but also of a birth.

Eli’s grandson was born that day; however his birth was also not a happy one. V.19

“His daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant and near the time of delivery. When she heard the news that the ark of God had been captured and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she went into labor and gave birth, but was overcome by her labor pains. As she was dying, the women attending her said, ‘Don't despair; you have given birth to a son.’ But she did not respond or pay any attention. She named the boy Ichabod, saying, ‘The glory has departed from Israel’–because of the capture of the ark of God and the deaths of her father-in-law and her husband. She said, ‘The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.’”

This poor boy lost his mother, his father, his uncle, and his grandfather all on the very same day.

And when she died, his mom named him, “No Glory” – Ichabod.

She recognized what had already been true, the glory had departed from Israel. God was gone.

And, yet, I also think she might have been kind of wrong.

She might have thought that God was so tied to that ark of the covenant, that the glory of God was now gone because the ark had been captured.

If that’s what she meant, then she might have thought that God had just been kidnapped! God-napped.  Captured.

But we know that God does not come in a box.

And He does not go in a box!

The glory had departed from Israel because Israel had departed from God.

And the ark being captured was just a very sad symbol of that truth.

Here’s the second and last lesson in God’s ways from this sad story today.

#2. GOD WILL DO WHAT HE SAID.

The LORD will do what he said He would do.

The whole point of this story is that God has promised to bring Eli’s family to judgement.

He said it in chapter 2. He said it in chapter 3.

They never repented, and He brought the judgement in chapter 4.

God always keeps His promises, including His threats.

We all know parents who threaten discipline but never carry it out.

Kids learn pretty fast if Mom and Dad really mean what they say they are going to do.

They can hear it in the voice. “Ooh, now they’re serious! Better do it.”

God always keeps His promises, including His threats.

So, we better take Him seriously.

The punishment meted out on Israel here and on the house of Eli stands in our Bible to remind us of the judgement that will come on all of the wicked.

We use the phrase, “There will be Hell to pay,” but we often don’t mean it.

God does.

The Lord Jesus talked about it.

He said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

God will do what he said.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that God is not paying attention.

That you can put Him aside in a little box and go your own way.

No, God is a god of perfect justice.

He will do what He said He will do.

You can count on it.

And we should count on it!

Because we know that God won’t just carry out His threats, He will also carry out every one of His good purposes to bless His people.

God always keeps His promises, and all of His promises are “YES!” in Christ Jesus.

God has promised to save all of those who put their trust in Him.

God has promised to never leave nor forsake His children.

God has promised to work all things to the good of those who love Him and called according to His purposes.

God has promised for King Jesus to return and take His people to be with Him where He is and rule with Him forever.

And God will do what He said.

Therefore, we need to trust Him.

Sometimes, it seems like the worst day ever.  This was a pretty bad day.

But know that God was still working for the good of His people.

We know that God was up to something good, even in the darkest day.

Next week, we’ll see how God got glory for Himself even while the ark was in captivity!

And we know that God was going to do more through Samuel and then through other prophets and kings and eventually in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The day Jesus died seemed like the worst day ever–and in many ways it was, because the God the Son was crucified!  That’s even worse than the ark of the covenant being captured.

But we know that God was doing what he said He would do.

And that makes all of the difference.

Let’s trust Him, brothers and sisters.  He knows what He’s doing.

He’s doing what He said He would do.

He will not be used. He will not be boxed in.

But He will keep all of His promises in Jesus Christ.

And one day, the glory will return and will stay forever!


***

A Heart for the Heart of God

01. Hannah's Prayers
02. Those Who Honor Me I Will Honor

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Lupines

 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Greg Strand on "Resisting Gossip"

Greg Strand highlighted Resisting Gossip today on his excellent blog (of which I read every post because of how deeply I respect Greg's theological acumen and pastoral heart).

After giving a taste of the book's contents and surveying recent reviews, he adds his evaluation:
Karen, my dear wife, asked me, “Do you have this book? It looks good.” My response. I do, and it is!
Thanks, Greg!

Bless with Words [Video]


Clip 5 - Bless with Words from Matt Mitchell on Vimeo.
Ephesians 4:29 teaches that we are not only supposed to refrain from sinful talk but to use our words to bless others.

Pastor Matt Mitchell teaching the Resisting Gossip Live Seminar at Miracle Mountain Ranch.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Urban Legends and Gossip

In an interview with Chris Brauns from last year on the connection between urban legends and gossip, Chris asked:

  • What is it about urban legends that appeal to people?
  • Would you consider urban legends a kind of gossip?
  • Do you think small-scale urban legends happen within local churches?
  • How should we respond if we hear an urban legend at church?

Read my answers here.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Who Is Susan Stallings?

When I asked Susan Stallings, the writer of the previous post's endorsement, to describe herself and her qualifications, she answered:

"I am Aunt Susie who changed the author's diapers and have come to really respect what he had to say."

Susan Stallings and the Author of Resisting Gossip circa 1982

Thanks, Aunt Susie, for all of your help (and your small group's aid) throughout this whole process of writing Resisting Gossip!

Susan Stallings on "Resisting Gossip"

Susan Stallings was the first leader to take her small group of adults through the material in Resisting Gossip. These folks from West Shore Evangelical Free Church served as "guinea pigs" in the Fall of 2011:

Justin and April Biggs
Wes and Louise Bookamer
Barbara Bradshaw
Rich and Antonia Cardel
Dave and Irene Lepley
Bob and Nancy Reed
Rich and Susan Stallings

The feedback they gave, especially for the discussion questions at the end of each chapter, was incalculable. When the book was published this month, it was a pleasure to send each of them signed copies.

Susan Stallings also helped as a critical reader on Resisting Gossip sending copious notes of encouragement and suggested improvements, so it was a joy to receive her endorsement:

This book provides step-by-step guidelines to make real and practical change in the life of the reader. As a group leader, I like the fact that the discussion questions at the end of each chapter are based in Scripture, making it excellent Bible study material.  As far as application of what the group is studying, no one can read this book without having to make a decision that affects the heart.” – Susan Stallings, small group Bible study leader, West Shore Evangelical Free Church, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Fear of Man Leads to Gossip [Video]


Fear of Man Leads to Gossip from Matt Mitchell on Vimeo.
We may gossip out of the fear of man - we all want people to like us. The cure is to fear the Lord more.

Pastor Matt Mitchell teaching the Resisting Gossip Live Seminar, March 2013, at Miracle Mountain Ranch.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Tim Challies on "Resisting Gossip"

Tim Challies reviews Resisting Gossip:
I do not consider myself particularly prone to gossip. At least, I didn’t. But this book showed me that I may be more susceptible than I like to think. I tend to be comfortably legalistic by keeping my definitions so narrow that they exclude me. But by widening the definition of gossip—and doing so biblically, I believe—Mitchell showed me that I may be more of a gossip than I care to admit. And isn’t it interesting that I kept trying to rewrite that sentence to keep from labelling myself a gossip. I will own being drawn to it or prone to it, but I resist owning it.
I enjoyed Resisting Gossip in the most lasting sense, because there were several areas in which it challenged and criticized me and then offered me hope. 
Read the whole thing.

Jim Bzdafka on "Resisting Gossip"

Pastor Jim Bzdafka of Providence Church in Avon Lake, OH writes:

"I got Resisting Gossip several weeks ago and love its clarity. It is deep enough to unearth the biblical foundation of gossip/communication but written in a style and with an approach to make it VERY applicable and practical to daily living. It is 'paced' well, also…meaning you don’t spend too much time or space on a subject once it is addressed. In my opinion that is the bane of most Christian books.  God will use this book, Matt. That is really what matters."

Thanks, Jim!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

[Matt's Messages] "Speak, LORD, for your Servant Is Listening"

“Speak, LORD, for Your Servant Is Listening”
A Heart for the Heart of God: The Message of 1 Samuel
September 15, 2013 :: 1 Samuel 3:1-4:1

This is one of the most famous of the stories in 1 Samuel, the calling of the prophet.

Other than David and Goliath, this is probably the most famous story in the whole book.

Many of us who grew up in Sunday School have heard it a million times.

I loved telling this story to my kids when they were very little.  Because Samuel is still a young’un when this story takes place, and it’s exciting.

The point of this story is that God is planning something good for Israel.  He has not given up on His wayward people. He is planning to send them...a prophet.

And, sometimes that big point gets lost when we tell this story because we focus in on the details and miss the big picture.

The primary message of 1 Samuel 3 is that God is gracious and is still speaking to His people. What’s also great is that Samuel is listening.  Today’s message is titled, “Speak, LORD, for Your Servant Is Listening.”

The secondary message of this story is the example of Samuel, of being someone who is listening for the word of God and is willing to share it with others and willing to obey when they hear it.

Our series is called “A Heart for the Heart of God.”

Having a heart for the heart of God means having a heart that wants to hear from God.

A listening heart.

And I pray that as we listen to God call Samuel, our hearts will grow in a Godward direction, as well.

1 Samuel chapter 3, verse 1.

“The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.”

Now, that first sentences reminds of us what we have seen so far.  Samuel’s life story so far. He was a child born as an answer-to-prayer, and he was dedicated to life at the tabernacle at a very early age.

Last week we saw that he continued to grow in good directions.

But he was not in a good place. He lived at the tabernacle, the tent of God, but sons of Eli the high priest were wicked and growing more wicked day by day. They were lustful and gluttonous and thieving and blasphemous.

And Eli had not stopped them.

It was a dark time in Israel and a dark time in to grow up ministering before LORD under Eli.

But the worst part about that time was the second sentence in verse 1.

“In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.”

That’s a sad thing. “The word of the LORD was rare.”

The people of God were not hearing from God.

“There were not many [prophetic] visions.”

And where there is no prophetic vision the people perish, things fall apart.

This was a judgment on Israel. Israel was doing what was right in their own eyes, and the LORD was letting them!

It was like it says in Amos chapter 8, there was a famine in the land.  Not of bread but of hearing the word of God.

You know there is kind of famine like that right now in our land.

But it’s famine caused, not because God has spoken, but because there is no appetite for eating His Word.

Today, we have the Bible. And we have it in our language. Multiple versions in our language. And tons of books about the Bible to help us understand it.

But there is lots of apathy about the Word of God.

People can’t be bothered to read it.

“In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.”

But God is gracious!  He still had a plan to bless His people. He was going to speak to them again, forcefully. He was going to send them a prophet.

And so, He called Samuel. Verse 2.  Setting the stage.

“One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was.

Then the LORD called Samuel.”

Samuel!

“Samuel answered, ‘Here I am.’ And he ran to Eli and said, ‘Here I am; you called me.’ But Eli said, ‘I did not call; go back and lie down.’ So he went and lay down.”

This is always a fun part of the story.

Do you get the picture in your mind?

These two live at the tabernacle. Probably there is a structure, like a house built onto or next to the tent itself and made into a little home for the priest and his family including Samuel.

It’s night time and old fat Eli has gone to bed in his usual place.

He can’t see much.  I think there’s a double meaning to that–he doesn’t have much spiritual sight either, does he?

And it’s early evening before the lampstand has run out of oil. Little Samuel, not sure how old he is, probably 12 or younger, has also gone to bed, but he’s attentive to the call of his master.

It’s a little spooky here. The ark of the covenant is nearby. We’re going to hear a lot about that ark in the next few weeks.

It’s dark.  Who knows what Hophni and Phinehas are up to at this hour.

And Samuel hears his name being called.

So, he presents himself to Eli.

It’s not strange that he thinks it’s Eli. Eli probably called for him a lot.

In the Summer of 1993, I traveled with a circus. And the director of that circus was handicapped and couldn’t move his legs. He was in a wheelchair during the day. When his wife had to travel away from the circus, I was asked to sleep in his room and wake up when called me to adjust his legs so that he could be comfortable.

Some nights, he had to call me a few times for that kind of help.

It was great for me to learn how to serve someone in that way.

Eli was old and blind and fat. He probably called Samuel fairly often.

But it wasn’t Eli who called Samuel that day.

“Samuel!”

“Samuel answered, ‘Here I am.’ And he ran to Eli and said, ‘Here I am; you called me.’ But Eli said, ‘I did not call; go back and lie down.’ So he went and lay down.”

“Here I am.”

What good words those are. Samuel is the picture of obedience.  “You called?”

Nope.  But he hears it again. V.6

“Again the LORD called, ‘Samuel!’ And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, ‘Here I am; you called me.’ ‘My son,’ Eli said, ‘I did not call; go back and lie down.’ Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.”

Samuel was not yet a prophet. He had never heard the voice of God talk to Him in this way.

This is not an indictment of Samuel. He is not to blame.

He is living in a time when God hasn’t been speaking. No wonder he didn’t know what God’s voice sounded like.

And up to this time, “The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.”

But now it is! V.8
“The LORD called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, ‘Here I am; you called me.’ Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy.”

Eli is not used to hearing from God, either.

But he finally a gets a clue and tells Samuel what to do. V.9

“So Eli told Samuel, ‘Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, 'Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.'’”

That’s some good advice.

That’s what you do with the word of God.

You say, “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.”

A few weeks ago, I preached a message called “What You Hold In Your Hands” from 2 Timothy 3.

And a lot of you have told me that message hit home for you.

This is the word of God. God has spoken to us and we have it in a book!

We need to be opening it and praying, “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.”

Today, I have just three words of application of this message. Three areas to work on, and they all have to do with the word of God.

Number one is simply this:

#1. HEARING.

Hearing the word of God.

It’s saying to the Lord, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

Of course, how it worked with Samuel is not the normal way God speaks to His people today.

I don’t expect that tonight any of us will hear a audible voice that we mistake for our parents but it turns out to be God booming our name.

“Matthew!”

Not that God couldn’t do that, but that He mostly doesn’t.

He mostly didn’t back then!

Now, He’s giving us this book you hold in your hands.

And the question is: are we hearing what He has to say?

With Samuel, the fourth time was the charm. V.9

“So Samuel went and lay down in his place. The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ Then Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’”

See how patient God is?

This is a time when nobody seemed to care what God said.

And Samuel missed it 3 times. Nothing magical about the number 3 here.

But God doesn’t say, “Nope. Three strikes you’re out!”

He gracious speaks again.  And Samuel says, “Here I am. I hear you.”

“Speak, for your servant is listening.”

I think that we are supposed to learn from Samuel’s example here.

If you have a heart for the heart of God, you have a heart that wants to hear from God.

Are you reading your Bible?

Are you memorizing your Bible?

Are you sitting under good preaching?

Are you in a Bible study?

Are you praying as you read, asking God to reveal His truth to you?

Are you hearing from God?

“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

Now, what God actually says to this young person is disturbing. It is not encouraging.

We don’t emphasize that when we tell the story to our kids.  But this is what the LORD says. V.11

“And the LORD said to Samuel: ‘See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. [It’s going to shock them.] At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family–from beginning to end. For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them. Therefore, I swore to the house of Eli, 'The guilt of Eli's house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.'’”

That was the first message that God gave to Samuel.

It was not good news.

The message was that the LORD is planning to carry out everything we heard Him promise last week in chapter 2.

“Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained.”

Eli and his family are going to get it.

And we’ll see that next week.

And this bad news presents the first major problem for Samuel as a prophet.

Should he share it or not? V.15

“Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the LORD. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision...”

First time God talked to Him, and it was bad news for his master.

What does he do?

He told God that he was listening!

But does he tell anyone what he heard? V.16

“...but Eli called him and said, ‘Samuel, my son.’ [This time it was Eli!] Samuel answered, ‘Here I am.’

‘What was it he said to you?’ Eli asked. ‘Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.’”

Here’s our second application word for today.

#2. HIDING.

Eli says that Samuel should not hide anything of what God has said.

He needs to give the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God.

Not just the soft message but the hard message, too.

Not just the good news but the bad news, as well.

No hiding the word of God, no matter whether it is happy or sad.

I think that a lot of Christians are tempted to hide the hards parts of the Word of God.

I know I am.

I like to preach the soft and gentle and encouraging parts of God’s Word.

I don’t always like to preach the sharp and pointy edges of the sword.

But Eli was right. We can’t trim the truth. When we do, it makes it an untruth.

We need the hard truth with the soft truth.

We need the bad news to understand the good news.

For example, to understand the gospel, you have to understand that you are a sinner who has earned judgment.

You have to know that there is a Hell to really understand how to get to Heaven.

Jesus’ death makes no sense if He isn’t substituting Himself as a sin-bearing sacrifice on our behalf.

You’ve got to get the bad news to get how good the good news is.

Is there part of the word of God that you have been hiding from others?

Not that we always say everything we know. But when we know something that they need to know, we should share it even if it won’t make us popular.

There are Christians dying around the world because they are saying what the Bible says and not hiding it under a bushel. No!

And that’s the right thing to do. Be unpopular. Die for the truth if you must.

But don’t hide the truth.

Now, hear me. Don’t be unpopular because you are just plain annoying.

Be unpopular because you speak the truth in love.

And sometimes the world doesn’t want to hear the truth.

But don’t hide the truth just because people don’t want to hear it.

Speak the truth in love. The whole truth and nothing but the truth, in love.

Thankfully, for Samuel, Eli wanted to hear the truth, no matter what it was. V.17 again.

‘What was it he said to you?’ Eli asked. ‘Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.’ So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, ‘He is the LORD; let him do what is good in his eyes.’”

And that’s Eli at his best, right there.

Accepting what God has said as the way it is and the way it should be.

“He is the LORD; let him do what is good in his eyes.”

That’s the opposite of the how things were in Israel during this time of the Judges.

Everyone else was doing what was good in their eyes.

But, “He is the LORD; let him do what is good in his eyes.”

I’m going to use this word to describe that attitude:

#3. HEEDING.

Having a heart for the heart of God means heeding the Word of God.

Accepting is as His word and obeying its call.

The rest of the chapter shows how Samuel’s prophetic ministry not only began on this day but grew and spread. V.19

“The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground. [They all came to pass.] And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the LORD. The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word. And Samuel's word came to all Israel.”

There was now a national prophet.

Not just a man of God here and there with a short word from God.

But a tested and attested man of God who spoke for God and was heard throughout the nation: Dan to Beersheba. We’d say from Florida to Alaska.

The famine was over! God was speaking to His people again.

Not because they deserved it, but because He was so gracious.

God was giving His people a prophet like He had promised to do.

“He let none of his words fall to the ground.”

Each one as it came out of his mouth, zoomed out and hit the target it was aimed at.

And the question was, would Israel listen?

Would they heed the word of the LORD through Samuel?

They should!

When God speaks, His people should heed His Word.

Having a heart for the heart of God means heeding the Word of God.

Not looking into the mirror and then forgetting what you saw there.

But having a heart like Samuel’s that says, “Here I am. Speak, Lord, for your SERVANT is listening.”

A servant is someone who does what His master says.

And how much more should we now heed what our master says when our master is revealed as the Son of God? (Hebrews 1 & 2)

Our Lord Jesus said that the authenticity of our salvation is shown by whether or not we heed His words.

He said, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

It’s not good enough to just talk the talk, we’ve got to walk the walk.

Hearing the Word of God.
NOT Hiding the Word of God.
And Heeding the Word of God.

Because we have a heart for the heart of God.


***

A Heart for the Heart of God

01. Hannah's Prayers
02. Those Who Honor Me I Will Honor

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Friday, September 13, 2013

"Resisting Gossip" in the Philipsburg Journal

Our most local paper with the front-page story and headline, "Pastor pens gossip book."  Sounds juicy!

 

Speaking at the CLC Clergy Appreciation Breakfast

Pastors and chaplains and folks on church staffs, if you are anywhere near the Philadelphia area, I'd love to see you at this free event.


Register here.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

"Killing Gossip for the Glory of God" by Marty Schoenleber

Marty Schoenleber writes today about gossip:
It destroys love.
It destroys unity.
It harms relationships,
sometimes beyond repair.
It creates barriers to reaching others.
It dishonors God.
It poisons work environments.
It undermines trust.
It is condemned in Scripture.
It pollutes our spirit.
And most of us tolerate it in our lives everyday.
It has to end if we want to get serious about making disciples for the Lord of Truth.
Marty also strongly encourages people to read Resisting Gossip:
I am an unabashed supporter of Matt Mitchell’s new book, Resisting Gossip. Honestly, I don’t think there is a more practical book for every Christian in America to read this year than this just released book. Here’s three reasons why.
(1)We are being pickled in a culture of gossip....
Read the whole thing.
 

CLC World Magazine

CLC World Magazine is a great way to find out what God is doing internationally through this unique ministry.  Their current issue is available in print and online (clickable) and PDF.

The current issue, edited by Dave Almack, includes an excerpt from the introduction to Resisting Gossip and a back-page ad inviting Philadelphia-area church staff to the CLC Clergy Appreciation Breakfast where I'll be speaking on October 3rd.

But more interesting are the stories about missionary publishing interns, bookshops around the world (Portugal, Poland, Thailand, Austria, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, etc), and the ongoing ministry in the USA.

It's a joy for me to be partnering with such a great global work.