The Voice

The Voice Slide 1

Yesterday was an amazing day at Shalimar United Methodist Church. We heard from two amazing young preachers that were raised in the church and are pursuing God’s call to full-time ministry. Lori Galambos is headed into her final year at Duke Divinty School. She preached in our 8:00 Traditions service that rather than being a people who “limp between two opinions,” we are to limp as those who have “struggled with God.” Hunter Griffin Bethea is halfway through his undergraduate work at the University of Alabama. In our 9:30 Connect service he challenged us to be modern day Elijah’s (whose name means “My God is Yahweh”) pointing people to God, uniting people rather than dividing them, and listening to God’s voice. We were so honored and inspired to hear both of these servants of God proclaim His message to His people. You can find both sermons here: http://shalimar-umc.org/livestream.php.

In this series we will explore one of the three “offices” or appointed roles of the Old Testament: prophet, priest, and king. Jesus fulfilled each of these. So, what was a prophet? What was his or her role? How did Jesus fulfill the prophetic role and redefine the prophetic calling for God’s people of the New Covenant? In Deuteronomy 18:14-22 God explains what a prophet is to be and why the people of God should require them. Essentially, while a priest goes to God on behalf of the people (think sacrifices and atonement for sin), a prophet is to go to the people on behalf of God to deliver His message. Jesus not only performed this job in a supreme and ultimate way, He is the Word of God, the Word made flesh (John 1:1). Jesus is the full revelation of God. The Church of Jesus Christ filled and influenced by His Holy Spirit is called to hear the voice of the Lord still today, obey it, and proclaim it. We are also called to be the megaphone for His Word to continue to pierce through the dark of a broken and distorted world. After all, His voice was first: “Let. There. Be.” It created, and it is recreating still.

They Asked for a King…

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We could accidentally read 1 Samuel 10:24 and think that Saul becoming Israel’s first king was the Lord’s idea – “Samuel said to all the people, ‘Do you see the man the Lord has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people.’” But his story makes clear that before he was the Lord’s choice, Saul was the people’s choice. He stood head and shoulders taller than any other man. And we find that the first king, though maybe not the worst king, did not get the monarchy off to a great start. Saul makes his first appearance…not at all. The prophet Samuel stands before all the people ready to crown this guy asking where he is, and they find him hiding behind a stack of supplies! He thinks so little of himself that he hides from this highest honor. And yet, he spends the end of his life and reign so eaten up with arrogance and jealousy of his God-appointed successor, David, that he disobeys God and wastes military energy trying to track down and assassinate David. In the story of Saul we learn why it really is best to have God on the throne…no matter who the earthly king might be. There are many kings, but one Lord.

This week, I invite you to . . .

Read the Scripture: 1 Samuel 10:17-24

Engage God’s Story: I invite you to think through the answers to these questions from the scriptures themselves.

  • How does the Lord begin His address to the people?
  • What is the Lord’s tone? Is He eager to give the people a king? Does He refuse?
  • How does this passage describe Saul?
  • Now read 1 Samuel 13:1-15. What did Saul do wrong? Was it more than one thing? For what did the prophet Samuel rebuke him?
  • Could arrogance and “thinking yourself insignificant” or even hating oneself be related? How so? What would be the remedy?

Apply Your Story: There is always an intersection between the truth in scripture in our experience, because God’s story is our story.

  • Where do you see yourself in this story?
  • What truth do you find in this passage? Of who and how God is? Of the human condition? How we should live?
  • Can you relate to peer pressure? Recall an instance in your life when peer pressure or “mob mentality” took over a situation.
  • Would you dare to admit which one of these you struggle with more: thinking too highly of yourself or thinking too lowly of yourself? What perspective change is help combat this?

Be Satisfied

Sunday I was sitting in one of our worship services preparing to preach a sermon on God providing water from a rock. The story is found in Numbers 20:1-13, and it fits within the context of Israel wandering in the wilderness, receiving manna (daily bread) and comes before the short account in Numbers 21:4-9 of venomous snakes attacking the people of God as a result of their sin and rebellion. God tells Moses to put a bronze snake on a pole and whoever looks upon it will live. The message I was preparing to preach was on being satisfied. For the Israelites in the desert, God provided manna from Heaven . . . Jesus is the Bread of Life. God provided water from a rock . . . Jesus is the Rock who gives living water. God put the bronze serpent on a pole. In Jesus’ death on the Cross, we see the faithfulness of God undoing the curse of sin and death at work in our race. All who eat are filled, all who drink are quenched, and all who behold and believe receive life.

tencommandmentsAs I was preparing to preach my own sermon I was listening to the preaching of our lead pastor, Dr. Philip McVay. As He was preaching the same text God began to plant a new thought in me. It didn’t make it into my sermon, so I wanted to post it here. Jesus tells us that all the Law and the Prophets are summed up in two commands: “Love God and love others.” I wonder if there is a prerequisite to fulfilling these that we struggle with. As I reflected on each of the Ten Commandments, I wondered if each one could be summed up in one additional command: “Be Satisfied.” Let’s ponder . . .

I. “No other gods before the Lord.” (Be satisfied in Him alone)

II. “No idols.” (Be satisfied by the One who is unseen so that you don’t require gods you can see and touch)

III. “Don’t treat God’s name vainly.” (Be satisfied by His name such that you treat it with reverence)

IV. “Keep the Sabbath.” (Be satisfied by six days of labor and toil, and then say, “Enough.”)

V. “Honor your mom and day.” (Be satisfied by the earthly parents you’re given even with their faults and shortcomings, being ultimately satisfied that you have a Heavenly Father who makes up for anything still lacking)

VI. “Don’t murder.” (Be satisfied in your anger such that you don’t have to carry it out in deeds. And be satisfied in God’s justice. Vengeance is His)

VII. “Don’t commit adultery.” (Be satisfied by your spouse or in singleness)

VIII. “Don’t steal.” (Be satisfied to work for what you have and receive what you’re given with grace)

IX. “Don’t bear false testimony.” (Be satisfied with the truth)

X. “Don’t covet.” (Be satisfied with what you have)

Today, I wonder . . . Many of us read the Ten Commandments and feel as though we’re doing pretty good. We try not to kill, lie, and steal. But in how many of these areas are we totally satisfied? Are our souls so satisfied by God that we are full and free to love Him with all that we are and love our neighbors as ourselves?

Good Father, give us this day our daily bread. We pray this not only because we need you to provide, but because we need to be satisfied with what you provide. Help us to seek first your Kingdom and your righteousness so that our needs and desires are redefined. And thank you that they are all met in you. Your grace is sufficient. Amen.

Oppress Them Or Else

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“Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.” So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. (Exodus 1:9-11)

Very early in The Great Story of God and His people we see a systematic symptom at work. Fear of what a person’s/group’s freedom will result in leads to oppression and convincing that person/group that their identity is “slave”. Oppress them or else their freedom might inconvenience us, weaken us, be our undoing. This is how the worldly power of Egypt treated Israel. This is how the evil one and his demons work in the lives of free children of God still today. We feel as though we have to keep throwing off the chains when Christ has already set us free! Take heart, child of God, when you hear that voice say you’ll never be free, when you feel those forces seeking to oppress and keep you down. It means the enemy’s fear is great. It means the truth is that much greater than the lie. Sing these words with a holy boldness:

“Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.”
– “And Can It Be,” Charles Wesley, 1738

God Has Come…Tears and Tables Overturned

Sunday we heard preached the Palm Sunday scene of Luke 19. But that’s not all that happens in that chapter. In verse 44, Jesus weeps as He approaches Jerusalem and says:

“They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

“God’s coming to you.” What would you think of if I said, “God came”? Would you think of a particular scripture, a particular image, or a portion of the story of Jesus? When we think of God’s coming, the Church generally thinks of Christmas. The Incarnation is the miracle of the God of Heaven condescending to earth even to the point of taking on human form and walking among us (well, first crawling). But in this passage of Luke 19, Jesus speaks as He prepares to enter the City of God of “God’s coming to you.” I don’t think He was merely reflecting back on Christmas or looking ahead to some final Judgment Day. He seems to be responding with all the emotion and intensity of a prophet to exactly what is about to happen. And how does He do so? With tears.

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This tells us so much about the heart of God. In his commentary, Luke for Everyone, N.T. Wright makes this statement about God’s judgment:

“If you’re in covenant with the holy God, disobedience doesn’t simply prevent blessings, bringing you back, as it were, to square one. It calls down the judgment that a sorrowful God will pour out on his people when they reject him and his purposes.” (Luke for Everyone, WJK Press, 2004; p.233)

The Good News still pierces through as we see the dramatic scene in the Temple, that this God-King is not above tears, is not weakened by display of sorrow, but the tears rather show the strength of His love. These are not the tears of a prophet foreshadowing the coming of God, a man weeping on God’s behalf. This is God Himself. The King has returned to His holy city. These are the tears of the God of love. If there is ever judgment upon the world, it comes from God’s heart of sorrow and love that is broken by choices of disobedience and rejection. But for all who would receive the King, we rejoice knowing that no matter what choices we have made of disobedience and rejection, there is now “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). The King has returned. O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

A Good Way to Pray Pt. 6

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:13)

As Jesus delivers the last line of His model prayer, it’s as if He already has in mind the cost of following Him. He knows the battle. He foresees the results. He began this sermon “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness.” It’s going to happen. There is evil in the world, there are evil people who do evil things. But behind it all there is an evil one. This evil one would seek to tempt us, lead us astray, and see evil done against us. Since He can’t get at God directly, the evil one will get at His heart by getting at the creatures God so loves.

James helps my understanding of God’s role in temptation even better:

13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15)

The good news is, between the One we’re praying to and this evil one we contend with, it’s not an even match, not by an eternally long shot. When we pray that God help us steer clear of temptation and deliver us from the evil one, we can count on an immeasurable and unmatched source at our aid waiting to rescue. He is waiting always to take us from a place of death to a place of life in Him.

Take heart, dear soul, your deliverer has come!

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A Good Way to Pray Pt. 5

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” . . . “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:12, 14-15)

The entire prayer that Jesus is teaching has one goal – to get our souls oriented to God’s reality. We start with who He is – “Our Father in heaven, holy is your name.” We acknowledge the truer reality of heaven, His Kingdom, and His will in order to see the reality of earth correctly. We trust Him to provide and acknowledge our need for Him. And now, the hard part. It could be said that forgiveness is the most important and telling part of being a citizen of heaven. Why would this be so? While I don’t believe forgiveness is the climax of what God did in Jesus Christ (He did way more than just forgive us), I think it is the immediate answer to getting us back into right relationship with the Father. Over and over Jesus tells broken men and women He encounters, “You are forgiven.” If we are to live in God’s reality and completely sell out to it, we must walk in forgiveness – both humbly received and freely given.

This is the only line of The Lord’s Prayer that Jesus comes back to for emphasis and expansion. He includes it in verse 12 and then comes back and adds the comment of verses 14-15. Is He actually saying that if we don’t forgive we won’t be forgiven? That sounds like works righteousness! With God you have to give in order to get, behave properly in order to escape punishment. Is this what Jesus means? This week God reminded me of something: Our life reveals what we really believe. Are we forgiven? Then, we have forgiveness to offer. Are we a citizen of heaven whose currency is love and mercy, then we walk in that love and mercy towards those who wrong us. I like what Eugene Peterson does with these verses in his work, The Message:

“In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.” (Matthew 6:14-15, The Message)

Holy Spirit, lead us on a tour today of our inner world, those places in our soul where we have been holding on rather than letting go, to hurt, to bitterness, to jealousy, and a begrudging spirit. Father, let us see the full magnitude of your love for us through the Son today. Jesus, help us meditate today on all you went through to communicate one life-changing statement: “You are forgiven.” Amen.

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A Good Way to Pray Pt. 4

“Give us today our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11)

Do you know the key to every relationship? . . .

Honesty, you say? Well, I think you’re getting at it. Trust. That’s my humble opinion anyway. Look at the beginning of The Great Story and how everything went awry. God’s humans stepped outside of trust and did the very thing He told them not to because His trust was called into question by a snake in the grass. When they broke trust with God, they found they had broken trust with one another. Shame came into the picture, fear crept in, and the rest, unfortunately, is history. Our history. So what did God start doing that very day? Rebuilding trust. The ultimate expression of this grand project is Jesus Christ. You want to see the Father, know His heart, and become convinced He’s trustworthy? Look at Jesus.

What strikes me about this line of His prayer is that the very act of verbalizing it is an act of trust. If I ask you to give me something, it’s because I am trusting that you might actually give me what I’m asking for. If not, I’m wasting my breath. Why would I ask? Jesus is not just suggesting we ask God for stuff. I think He is suggesting that we trust the Father as our source of provision for all we need. Every line of this prayer points to part of its purpose – to orient our soul. Who meets my most basic needs? Do I myself? No, Father does.

Jesus will say later in this very chapter, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (things like food and clothing). On one hand, we are to be “poor in spirit,” recognizing our utter need for God. On the other hand, we are to learn that in God we find all we need, and therefore we lack nothing. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want” (Psalm 23:1). In praying this line of The Lord’s Prayer, we rebuild trust in the One who promised in the first place to give and sustain life.

Trust me. It’s a good way to pray.

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