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Showing posts with label Bible. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bible. Show all posts

Monday, November 21, 2022

Remember Who You Are

Introduction
I love all my children.  It’s fascinating to me to see picture of them all as babies and compare them to pictures of my me and my wife when we were babies.  Can you tell who is who? (left to right, top to bottom:  Kelly, Grace, Chris, Gavin, Abigail)

We had another child before Abigail was born—in between Grace and Abilgail.  Kelly was about 7 or 8 weeks pregnant.  We had already heard the heartbeat at a doctor’s visit.  We went for another doctor’s visit and were excitedly anticipating hearing the heartbeat again; but unfortunately, there was no heartbeat.  The baby had expired.  We never got to meet that child, but we do keep a picture ornament of the sonogram on our Christmas tree.  One day, when we go Home to be with the Lord, I believe that child will be there and we will get to meet it. 

I don’t know why things happen the way they do, but I trust God does.  One thing I know is that we really love Abigail (the last child we raised).  And we probably wouldn’t have had Abilgail if the little baby we lost had been born because we were planning to stop after three kids.

God knows it all and He has a plan and He even works tragedies out for our good when we love the Lord.  God knows us before we are even born.  And that’s what this message is about to day.  It’s about the prevenient grace of God that helps us, even before we realize it.

Jeremiah 1:4-8
The Lord gave me this message:

“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.
    Before you were born I set you apart
    and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.”

“O Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I can’t speak for you! I’m too young!”

The Lord replied, “Don’t say, ‘I’m too young,’ for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you. I, the Lord, have spoken!”

Grace
This passage is the call narrative of the prophet Jeremiah.  God called him to speak God’s Word to the people of Jerusalem, even as the Babylonians were gathering around their city, poised to destroy it and carry them off to captivity.  It was a tough appointment and Jeremiah didn’t feel qualified.  He was young and had “imposter’s syndrome”.  (Most people God calls for a special purpose don’t feel qualified.)

Jeremiah felt like God had chosen the wrong person.  “I think you got the wrong guy!  I’m not made for this!”  That’s a funny thing, when a creature tells it’s omniscient Creator they made a mistake.  God says, “It’s no mistake.  I made.  I designed you specifically for this task.  I gave you your own unique personality, your strengths and weaknesses, specifically for this purpose.  I didn’t make a mistake and I’m calling you to the task now.”

You have a purpose too.  God designed you for it.  And if you’re facing an identiy crisis, trying to remember who you are and why you are here, the best place to look for answers is the Creator who made you.

God tells us in His Word that He made us all.  And even though we turned away from Him and stayed from our purpose, God didn’t give up on us.  He sent His Son, Jesus, to atone for our sins and brings us back into a right relationship with Him—not because we deserve it, but because God is gracious and full of unconditional love.

I heard a joke this week.  A priest was talking to a group of kids about "being good" and going to heaven.  At the end of his talk, he asked, "Where do you want to go?"  "Heaven! Heaven!" Yelled Little Lisa.  "And what do you have to be to get there?" asked the priest.  "Dead!" Yelled Little Johnny.

That’s a funny joke, but it’s an example of a wrong way of thinking.  Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” 

All Christian denominations believe people are saved by God’s grace alone.  It’s not by being good enough.  We cannot earn our way to salvation.  You are only saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  This is true Christianity.

Each Christian denomination emphasizes different facets of the Christian faith.  One of the distinctive emphases of the Methodist tradition is our focus on God’s grace.  Not only does God’s grace save you for Heaven, God’s grace helps you in this life.  You see, it’s not just about heaven.  God wants us to live for Him in this life too.  In the Methodist tradition, we see that God grace encompasses ever part of life and we really focus on that.

God’s grace is His undeserved, unearned, Divine help.  Jeremiah 1:5 reminds us God’s gracious help starts before we are even born.  “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.   Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.”

 

Prevenient Grace
And this kind of grace is what Methodists call Prevenient Grace—grace that helps us before we even know it.  Prevenient grace is the grace of God that Goes before.  Prevenient grace forms us, nurtures us, and pulls us toward God.  It seeks to reveal God to our developing consciousness and woos us to turn to God for a relationship of mutual love.

Infant Baptism
Infant Baptism is one of the signs of God’s Prevenient Grace for Methodists (and many other denominations). I didn’t grow up as a Methodist.  I only ever attended Baptist churches as a child.  My perspective was limited to that tradition.  Baptists have a unique view of baptism.  They are call “Baptist” for a reason, because when they formed their sect in the 1600s, they believed Christians should only be baptized after they were old enough to understand and believe in Jesus.  Thus, Baptists practice “believers baptism”, and reject infant baptism.

When I was a Baptist, I thought every Christian practiced believer’s baptism (except maybe some strange heretical cults).  I didn’t understand how anyone could think baptizing a baby made sense; I mean, a baby doesn’t understand and can’t believe.  What I didn’t understand, given my limited perspective, is that the vast majority of Christians have practiced infant baptism as opposed to believer’s baptism.  In fact, it was mostly the very first generation of Christians who were baptized as adults, because they were adults when they starting following Jesus.  However, their children were baptized as infants because those early Christians wanted their children to be part of the church from the very beginning of their little lives.  And from that second generation onward, for 2,000 years in al parts of the world, Christians have baptized their infants.  Infant baptism is the norm.  Believer’s baptism is the innovation that has only been a limited part of the Church’s experience for a few hundred years.

Infant Baptism is a sign of God’s Prevenient Grace.  Christians baptize in obedience to Christ’s command to “…go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)

Some Christian denominations consider baptism and ordinance (something done primarily out of obedience).  Baptism is a sacrament to Methodists, because we believe it is a sacred moment when God piurs out His grace upon the child, the family, and the Church.  God gives us His divine help so the child may grow up in the faith with everything they need to one day accept faith in Jesus Christ for themselves.  When they do, they confirm their faith and the Baptism is complete.

Infant baptism is real baptism.  It’ not a christening.  I often hear people where I live in the Bible Belt who are more familiar with believer’s baptism say, “I was only christened as a child.  Now I’m an adult and I want to be baptized.”  This is a misunderstanding of what happened to you as a child.  If water was placed on your head in a Christian church, you were baptized, not just Christened.  “Christening” is technically the part of the Baptism where the child is given their Christian name.  The pastor asks, “What is this child’s name?”  The parents say the name and that is the christening.  If water is placed on the child, the child was fully baptized.  There is no need to be baptized again once the child grows into an adult.  Do you not think that God did it right the first time?

You see, through sacramental infant baptism, we trust that God is acting.  God’s actions are not dependent on whether we are old enough or understand enough.  It’s not even dependent on whether the pastor does the ceremony correctly.  God is not limited by our mistakes orlack of understanding.  This grace, prevenient grace.  God does His sacred work in Baptism regardless of our understanding or ability.  And this is a good thing, because no one ever has enough understanding or ability to earn God’s grace.  Infant baptism is the perfect sign of this truth.

Remember Your Baptism
The goal should be that our children always grow up surrounded by and knowing the loving presence of God.  I often hear people apologize, “You know, I never remember a time when I didn’t know God.  I wish I had a more dramatic testimony to give.”  Don’t apologize that’s good!  And that’s what we want for our kids too, isn’t it?  Who ever says, “I hope my kids grow up and spend frty years of their life living as an absolute scoundrel until the Holy Spirit gets ahold of them, shakes them, and they fall on their knees and turn to Jesus and become a Christian.”  No one hopes that for their kids.  We want our kids to start out in the loving embrace of God’s grace, surrounded by a family and a church that loves them unconditionally, and raises them with every possible advantage until the ay they accept faith in Christ for themselves. 

From time to time in a Methodist Church, you may have moments when we are asked to “Remember your Baptism.”  For some, that’s a challenge because you were infants when you were baptized; you can’t remember the ceremony.  That only reenforces the whole point.  Aren’t you thankful for your parents and the people of your church community who surrounded you with God’s love since before you could even remember it?  So remember them with loving fondness!  Remember what they promised on your behalf.  Remember that you are walking in their legacy and you have accepted their promises as your own.  We can remember them and be thankful.  We can remember God loved us before we even knew Him—before we were even formed in our mother’s womb—and be thankful. 

We can be thankful for the love of God that drew us toward Him throughout out our lives.  Some may not have had the benefit of a loving family or congregation. Some live a hard, hard life with every reason to stray away from God.  Yet these can be thankful for God’s prevenient grace too.  God has to work extra hard for those who were wounded or traumatized as a child.  But God never gives up, and His prevenient grace is always working to overcome the brokenness that blinds people to His love.  And even those who had it all and still turned their back on God, God does not abandon them either, even though they took their blessings for granted.  For God’s grace is great, greater even than our selfish sin

Have you ever been baptized?  If not, I encourage you to find a church where you can be baptized.  It is a beautiful sacrament and sign of God’s grace to you that you are part of God’s family, saved for eternal life with Him in glory. 

 

If you have been baptized, I encourage you today to remember your baptism and be thankful.  Here is a liturgy to help you remember:

 

THE BAPTISMAL COVENANT IV

This service is for use by a congregation when there are no candidates to be baptized, confirmed, or received into baptized or professing membership, especially on Easter, Pentecost, All Saints Day, and Baptism of the Lord.

Brothers and sisters in Christ:
Through the Sacrament of Baptism
we are initiated into Christ's holy Church.
We are incorporated into God's mighty acts of salvation
and given new birth through water and the Spirit.
All this is God's gift, offered to us without price.
Through the reaffirmation of our faith
we renew the covenant declared at our baptism,
acknowledge what God is doing for us,
and affirm our commitment to Christ's holy Church.

RENUNCIATION OF SIN AND PROFESSION OF FAITH

On behalf of the whole Church, I ask you:

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,
reject the evil powers of this world,
and repent of your sin?
I do.

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you
to resist evil, injustice, and oppression
in whatever forms they present themselves?
I do.

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior,
put your whole trust in his grace,
and promise to serve him as your Lord,
in union with the Church which Christ has opened
to people of all ages, nations, and races?
I do.

According to the grace given to you,
will you remain faithful members of Christ's holy Church
and serve as Christ's representatives in the world?
I will.

Let us join together in professing the Christian faith

as contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

Do you believe in God the Father?
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ?
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
[who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and will come again to judge the living and the dead.]

Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
[the holy catholic* church,                                
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.]

[*catholic means universal]
THANKSGIVING OVER THE WATER
The Lord be with you.

And also with you.

Let us pray.

Eternal Father:
When nothing existed but chaos,
you swept across the dark waters
and brought forth light.
In the days of Noah
you saved those on the ark through water.
After the flood you set in the clouds a rainbow.
When you saw your people as slaves in Egypt,
you led them to freedom through the sea.
Their children you brought through the Jordan
to the land which you promised.

Sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Tell of God's mercy each day.

In the fullness of time you sent Jesus,
nurtured in the water of a womb.
He was baptized by John and anointed by your Spirit.
He called his disciples
to share in the baptism of his death and resurrection
and to make disciples of all nations.

Declare Christ’s works to the nations,
his glory among all the people.

Pour out your Holy Spirit,

and by this gift of water call to our remembrance
the grace declared to us in our baptism.

For you have washed away our sins,
and you clothe us with righteousness throughout our lives,
that dying and rising with Christ
we may share in his final victory.

All praise to you, Eternal Father,
through your Son Jesus Christ,
who with you and the Holy Spirit
lives and reigns for ever. Amen.

REAFFIRMATION OF FAITH

When the congregation reaffirms the Baptismal Covenant, a deacon or pastor may invite the people to come to the water as the pastor says:

Remember your baptism and be thankful. Amen.

The Holy Spirit work within you,

that having been born through water and the Spirit,
you may live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.
Amen.

THANKSGIVING

Let us rejoice in the faithfulness of our covenant God.

We give thanks for all that God has already given us.
As members of the body of Christ
and in this congregation of The Methodist Church,
we will faithfully participate in the ministries of the Church
by our prayers, our presence, our gifts,
our service and our witness
that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.

The God of all grace,

who has called us to eternal glory in Christ,
establish and strengthen you
by the power of the Holy Spirit,
that you may live in grace and peace.

 

Monday, September 26, 2022

The Year of Jubilee - Freedom in Christ

Introduction
This is our last message in a series about the ancient Israelite Year of Jubilee.  Every 50th year on the Day of Atonement the ancient Israelites would blow a ram’s horn.  We get the name "Jubilee" from the Hebrew word for ram's horn, which is jubel or yobel.  Different kinds if horns can be used for the sacred Jewish trumpet (AKA shofar).  The prefered horn is a curved ram.  Next in line would be a curved from a sheep, followed by a curved horn from any other animal--like a
kudu, which have visually striking spiral horns.  The least preferred horns for a shofar would be a straight horn or a horn from a non-kosher animal.  Cow horns were not supposed to be used.

On the Year of Jubilee, slaves were freed, all debts were forgiven, land that had been sold was restored to the original owner.  There was also no agricultural work during the Year of Jubilee.

The Jubilee was every 50th year, but Israelites also got a year off every seventh year.  

Leviticus 25:18-22
18 “If you want to live securely in the land, follow my decrees and obey my regulations. 19 Then the land will yield large crops, and you will eat your fill and live securely in it. 20 But you might ask, ‘What will we eat during the seventh year, since we are not allowed to plant or harvest crops that year?’ 21 Be assured that I will send my blessing for you in the sixth year, so the land will produce a crop large enough for three years. 22 When you plant your fields in the eighth year, you will still be eating from the large crop of the sixth year. In fact, you will still be eating from that large crop when the new crop is harvested in the ninth year. 

Israel was God’s Kingdom on Earth
Most people don’t understand how special was ancient Israel.  They were a very, very special people.  They had the opportunity to be God’s chosen nation on earth.  They were to be God’s royal priesthood who represent God to the whole world.  As such, they would enjoy many special benefits that other nations didn’t have that allowed the Israelites the freedom to concentrate on showing God to the whole world. 

One special blessing was a year off of work every seventh year.  This was huge—especially living in and agricultural economy.  Lev. 25:18-22 answers the obvious question: how can people who live by subsistence farming survive without farming for a year?


Verses 18-22 explain the Israelites would have normal harvests for five years. Then they would God would send a super abundant harvest in the sixth year.  They would eat what they wanted in the sixth year and store away all the surplus.  When the farmers took the seventh year off, they would eat some of their stores from the sixth year.  In the eighth year, they would plant they next crop, but they would have to wait until that crop matured and was harvested.  So they would still be eating the food they stored away on the sixth year and those stores would last all the way to the beginning of year ninth year when were back on track with the regular planting and harvesting cycle.  This was the blessing God promised the Israelites if they would be faithful.

God’s People Live By Faith
How could the Israelites live this way? They could only do it by trusting in their Lord.  The whole concept of Israel was based on faith in Yahweh, their God.  

Yahweh is the God who called Abraham to leave his homeland in Ur and go to a “Promised Land”.

Yahweh is the God who delivered the Hebrew slaves from Egypt—the most powerful empire in the world at the time.  Only God could defeat Egypt and win the Hebrew's freedom.

Yahweh is the God who provided mana from Heaven and water of life as the Hebrews wandered in the dessert for forty years.  There was no farming going on for those forty, but could provided.  If God can provide for forty year of wandering in the dessert, He can provide one or two years of food for the Israelite's sabbatical years.

Yahweh is the God who conquered the Canaanites for the Israelites. God did the fighting.  Take the battle of Jericho for instance.  Tha battle plan was ludicrous and designed to show everyone that it was only God who won the battle.  The Israelites marched around the city for seven days and then on the seventh day they blew trumpets.  They didn't use catapults of siege works. They blew ram's and the walls cam crumbling down!

What was required of the Israelites for all this to happen? Faith.  They had to trust God and obey.  Faith and obedience was what God required as they took possession and lived in the Promised Land.  They had to trust God to provide enough food for living—even if they took one day off per week, one year off every seven, and celebrated a Jubilee every 50th year.  This was the requirement and the blessing reserved specifically for God's people, Israel.

Unfortunately, Biblical scholars and historians say most evidence shows the ancient Israelites never fully followed the Sabbath cycle.  One of the main sins of which Biblical prophets accused Israelites is not observing the Sabbath.  They only occasionally took the seventh year off and there is little evidence that they every really fulfilled the stipulations of the Jubilee year.  They always found loopholes so they didn’t take the Jubilee year off from work.  They found ways to work around the law so they didn’t have to set all their slaves free, they didn't forgive debts, and they didn’t give land back to the original owners.  

Some religious scholars point out the seventy years the Jewish captives spent in Babylon after the fall of Jerusalem were to make up for all the Sabbath years the Israelites skipped. According to 2 Chronicles 36:20-21, “The land finally enjoyed its Sabbath rest, lying desolate until the seventy years were fulfilled, just as the prophet had said.”  Even though the Israelites disobeyed, God made sue the land had its rest.  God cares about the land, even if people don't.

That’s what people do. We don’t fully trust God.  We're disobedient.  When we don’t fully trust God, we try to work things out ourselves. We do it our own way.  We try to justify our disobedience and do what seems right in our own eyes.  

At first glance, this seems like normal behavior. It seems like we’re being prudent, like we’re only doing what makes sense.  Sin often seems to make sense when we look at it from a merely human perspective.  It’s what happened at the fall of humanity in the Garden of Eden.

God made the Garden and told Adam and Eve they could eat any fruit in the whole Garden, only don't eat the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  If they ate it, God said they would die.  Satan told Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:4-5, 4 “You won’t die! …God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”

And it says in verses 6-7, “6 The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too.”

Thus, sin entered the world and we’ve been trying to do it all our own way ever since.  Look where it’s gotten us: a broken creation, a broken humanity, and we are stressed and a mess and slaves to our own sin.

You would think God had given up on us, but he hasn’t. God still loves us. John 3:16 says – “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

And so Christ came to save us.  He left the glory of Heaven to come to our broken world.  He didn’t come in glory as he deserved. Instead, he was born as a humble child to poor parents.  He lived as one of us—ordinary people. He was like us in every way—accept without sin, for He trust God and obeyed perfectly. Jesus fulfilled God’s law perfectly.  Jesus calls us to repent of our sin, to turn to God, to trust Him and obey.  

Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty of our sin. If we trust Him, we are no longer guilty.
We have eternal life in Him and we are called to be His people.


1 Peter 2:9 says, “…for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.”

Christians who trust in Jesus as Lord are now Israel.  We are God’s chosen people.  We are the captive Hebrew slaves who have been set free, but our freedom isn't just from Egyptian slave masters (or some other earthly power).  Our freedom is a freedom from the dark power of sin enforced by Satan.

Galatians 5:1 says,  “So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.”

You have to choose freedom over slavery every day.  You see, whenever you choose to trust your own way more than God’s way, you are choosing slavery to sin.  

Think over your life. Think about how it was when you’re rejected God’s way and chosen your own path.  It may have felt good initially, but then it led to trouble, to stress and weariness and pain.  Soon you were enslaved, and it felt awful.   And the only way out is to repent and seek forgiveness.

Confession of Sin (adapted from UMH 893)
So now, let us repent and confess our sins to the Lord and receive His forgiveness.  Here is a prayer you can use.  Read this prayer of confession as your words to God today.  Adapted it and add to it according to your need.

Lord, I confess my day to day failure to be truly human.  I confess I often fail to love with all I have and am, often because I do not fully understand what loving means, often because I am afraid of the risk.  Lord, we confess to You.  I have cut myself off from others and erected barriers of division.  I confess that by silence and ill-considered word I have built up walls of prejudice.  Lord, I confess that by selfishness and lack of sympathy I have stifled generosity and left little time for others.  

Holy Spirit speak to me. Help me listen to Your word of forgiveness, for I am very deaf. Come, fill this moment and free me from my sin. Amen.

Forgiveness
My friend, with the authority God gives me, I say to you:  In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.  Amen.

Monday, August 15, 2022

The Division Between David and Saul

Introduction
It grieves God’s heart when there is disunity among His people.  His desire is that we would all be united in love and obedience to His Word.  But we also see in Scripture that God never sacrifices Truth for the sake of a false unity.  If there is to be unity, it must be a unity where people agree to worship and obey the Lord in Spirit and in Truth.  When obedience and Truth are at stake, God may be the very One who divides people.

Last week we saw how Abram and Lot went their separate ways.  Today, I want to study another division among God’s people in the Holy Bible—the division of David and Saul.

A little background.  Saul was the very first king anointed to rule God’s people in Israel.  The people wanted Saul to be their king because he looked like a king—he was tall, head and shoulders above everyone else.  Saul physic inspired people to follow him into battle to fight Israel’s enemies, but Saul’s heart was not right.  He was more concerned with what the people thought than what God really wanted.  He was always getting caught up in trying to please his constituents, even if it meant disobeying God.

And so, God rejected Saul and chose David to replace him.  David was an unlikely King.  He was the youngest of all his brothers who was always overlooked by his family.  David wasn’t as tall or physically imposing as Saul, but David was “a man after God’s own heart”.  David trusted God with his whole heart and always cared what God wanted more than what anyone else wanted.  David was the kind of man who would obey God even if no one else wanted to, even if it cost him.

So one day, God sent the prophet Samuel to call Saul out for his disobedience, and to tear the kingdom of Israel out of Saul’s hand in a dramatic display.  Saul had just won a battle against the Amalekites.  Saul won the battle but disobeyed a direct order from God afterwards.  Saul kept the spoils of the battle even though God had told him to destroy everything.  Saul’s army was greedy and thought it would be a shame to destroy all the loot they’d just plundered from their enemies.  Saul listened to his army instead of God.  God sent the prophet Samuel who called out Saul’s disobedience.

1 Samuel 15:24-25
24 
Then Saul admitted to Samuel, “Yes, I have sinned. I have disobeyed your instructions and the Lord’s command, for I was afraid of the people and did what they demanded. 25 But now, please forgive my sin and come back with me so that I may worship the Lord.”

King Saul
God is patient and merciful—even in the Old Testament.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time Saul disobeyed God.  Saul had already disobeyed God repeatedly.  This time was the last straw.  To make matters even worse, Saul is not really sorry for what he’s done.  He is still more concerned with what his people will think that what God thinks.  God is in the midst of calling Saul out for disobeying battle orders, and the most important concern in Saul’s mind is saving face in front of his army.  He want’s Sameul to join him in a public worship ceremony—probably something to honor Saul and his army for their victory over the Amalekites.  Saul is not taking his sin seriously and doesn’t even really care that he has already dishonored God by his disobedience.  To Saul, worshipping God is just a show.  He doesn’t even really care about God.  He only cares about public relations and his own position as king.

1 Samuel 15:26-29
26 
But Samuel replied, “I will not go back with you! Since you have rejected the Lord’s command, he has rejected you as king of Israel.”

27 As Samuel turned to go, Saul tried to hold him back and tore the hem of his robe. 28 And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to someone else—one who is better than you. 29 And he who is the Glory of Israel will not lie, nor will he change his mind, for he is not human that he should change his mind!”

1 Samuel 16:7
God tore the kingdom of Israel away from Saul, not just because Saul was disobedient, but because Saul’s heart was not right.  He cared more about pleasing people than pleasing God. 

And so in the next chapter, 1 Samuel 16, we find God sending the prophet to anoint David to be the new king of Israel.  David will be faithful to God.  He won’t always do the right thing.  He made some big mistakes of his own.  But the thing that was different about David is his number one concern was his relationship with God. 

God told the prophet Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

Align Your Heart with God’s
In this world, we will always be tempted to go along with the world’s values. 
We want to belong.  We want to fit in.  But the world is not right.  The world is corrupted by sin.
Part of the healing process for our soul is learning to trust in God more than our own selfish desires to fit in with a fallen world. 

Sometimes our call to keep our hearts aligned with God’s heart means turning away from a from people or groups in this world.  Even Jesus said in Luke 12:51-52, “Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other! From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two against—or two in favor and three against.  Father will be divided against son and son against father; mother against daughter and daughter against mother; and mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’”  Jesus' claim as absolute Lord of all forces people to choose sides.  Jesus doesn't want people to be divided, but inevitably some will receive Jesus as Lord and some will reject Him.  Their rejection divides them from those who accept Him. 

Has your heart been torn in two because someone you care about deeply has turned away from you because you disagree about one of your deeply held core values?  I know that hurts and breaks your heart.  But if your heart is right with God, you’ve done the right thing.

There are many hearts that are breaking in our current divides between the life of faith and the corrupt values of society.  Many of you may be facing these.  I know it’s hard.  I know it’s hard when a family member or a close friend says your religious beliefs are ignorant or outdated or hateful because you believe what the Bible teaches.

I think about so many churches in the United Methodist tradition right now.  Many churches across the state of Georgia are divided—some 70/30, some 60/40, some even 50/50—divided about whether the congregation should disaffiliate from the UMC.  In those churches, no one is going to be totally happy.  Many of those churches will end up being torn apart—whether they stay in the UMC or if they leave.

I don’t want that sort of thing to happen at Pleasant Grove.  And I don’t think it needs to because I think we are more united in our core values than most churches.  We have hearts that want more than anything to be aligned with God and His Word.  But even if we lose one family or one person through this transition, it will hurt.  Yet, we must be faithful to God.  And it is also very important that we strengthen the ties that bind us to other believers who share our values.  What are you doing  to help with that?

Let us be willing to give up any thing, but never let go of God!
Let us walk away from any relationship, but never walk out on God!
Let us be torn apart from any group, political party, denomination, faction,
      but never be torn apart from God!
Let us rend our hearts in sorrow at the loss of friends or family or church members,
      but let us always rejoice that we remain faithful and true to God and His Word.

For in the end, our relationship with God is the only thing that matters. 
It is the only thing that is eternal.  All these other things will soon melt away.

God Shelters Us In Difficult Times
But we can learn yet one more thing from the story of David and Saul.
As you can imagine, it wasn’t an easy life for David to be chosen as Saul’s replacement while Saul was still the King of Israel.  It was a dangerous life for David.
Saul grew more and more jealous of David and paranoid for his own position.
Saul went mad trying to hold onto power and a kingdom God had already torn away from him.
And Saul chased David around the countryside trying to kill him.
David had at least two chances to exact revenge and kill Saul,
but David refused to take matters into his own hands. 
David would let God work out how to finally take the kingdom from Saul and give it to David.
Through all David’s difficult years as a fugitive running for his life from Saul,
God took care of David. 
And so David could write God's sheltering protection in one of his most beautiful psalms:

Psalm 64:10 - The godly will rejoice in the Lord and find shelter in him.  And those who do what is right will praise him.

Close your eyes and consider:
In what ways has your faithfulness to God caused divisions in your life and relationships?
How can you seek shelter to protect you from pain and sorrow and even real harm?
Now imagine that God, our Heavenly Father, is with you right now, sheltering you in His loving arms.  He is pleased with Your faithfulness, despite your suffering.  And He will honor your loyalty.