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Faith in the Storm

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Our lives often are hard.  Indeed, I believe that without God, they are unbearably hard.  However, our heavenly Father comforts us through His direct intervention, the love of our brethren, and His witness in the word.  The Bible contains numerous stories of God’s people enduring suffering and trial.  When they overcome those things through God, it reveals His faithfulness and gives us confidence that we can overcome too.

We often gain such inspiration from the life of the apostle Paul.  He had a downright miserable life by earthly standards, but with God’s help, he made it through.  This evening, let’s consider his perseverance through the perils of Acts 27 to see what we can learn from his faith in the storm.

Because this is such a long story, I’m not going to follow a conventional outline.  Instead, I’m going to read the chapter, pausing from time to time to make application.  Our first chunk of narrative is Acts 27:1-12.  From this, we should learn that SOMETIMES OUR TROUBLES ARE OF OUR OWN MAKING.

In this, I’m not talking about Paul and his companions, but rather about the centurion.  By the time they reached the south coast of Crete, it was too late in the year for safe sailing.  Paul was an experienced seafarer.  He warned the centurion that continuing on likely would lead to the loss of the ship and their own lives. 

However, the captain and the owner knew that staying where they were would be hard on the ship, so they advocated for one more short voyage that would lead to a better harbor.  The centurion listened to them, and off they sailed into disaster.

The same often is true for us.  We end up in trouble not because of bad luck or the wickedness of others, but because of our own foolishness and evil.  I’ve known people who never have had a problem that was their own fault, and they invariably live horrible lives because they never take responsibility for their own actions.

Instead, we must make a habit of relentless self-honesty.  We have to look straight at ourselves in the mirror and ask how we are contributing to difficulties in our families, problems at work, or struggles at church.  Rarely are we guiltless, and only when we own our own share of culpability can we progress toward greater wisdom and godliness.

Let’s keep going through Acts 27:13-20.  Here, we see that GOD CAN GIVE US MORE THAN WE CAN HANDLE.  We’re dealing with competent sailors here.  They do everything they can think of to make it through the storm.  However, the last thing they do is to throw the ship’s tackle overboard.  They’ve given up hope of being able to control the ship’s movement anymore, and everyone on board has lost hope of survival.

All of us have heard the saying, “God never gives us more than we can handle,” but this is one of the many places in Scripture that proves the saying is untrue.  There was no way for anyone on that ship to handle the fix they were in!  The lesson is not for us to rely harder on ourselves; it is to stop trusting in ourselves and start trusting in God.

Our next reading is Acts 27:21-26, and it teaches us that WHEN WE ARE FEARFUL, WE SHOULD PRAY FOR OTHERS.  I’ve been talking about this one for several months like I figured something out, and I have to admit that when I was studying for this sermon and realized what Paul was doing, I was chagrined.  I could have saved myself a lot of misery if I’d been a better Bible student!

Look at the evidence.  First, note that the angel tells Paul not to be afraid.  I like Clay’s rule of thumb here—whenever God tells somebody not to be afraid, it’s because they are afraid.  Likewise, notice that the angel says that God has graciously given Paul the lives of everyone on the ship.  What can that mean except that Paul has been asking for the lives of everyone on the ship?

Praying for others when I’m afraid is something that I do regularly these days, especially when I wake up in the middle of the night with ALS on the brain.  Frankly, I love everything about it.  It calms my spirit, and it gets me focused on my love for others instead of on my fear for myself.  The next time you find yourself being anxious, fearful, or depressed, try it, and keep trying it.  I think you’ll be amazed at how well it works.

After this, we come to Acts 27:27-38, which shows us that FAITH SHINES IN TIMES OF CRISIS.  This affects not only brethren but also unbelievers.  Before, the centurion ignored Paul’s advice.  Now, he listens to everything Paul says.  When Paul tells the ship’s crew that they all will survive, they are encouraged and eat for the first time in two weeks.  They can tell that he has a Rock that they don’t.

This is no less true today.  Over the past few months, Lauren and I have gotten to know my home-care nurse pretty well.  She’s good to us, and we like her a lot, but she’s not a religious woman. 

However, last Thursday, before we got to the alcohol-swabs and poking-with-needles part, she made a little speech about how impressed with and inspired by me she was.  She sees a lot of terminally ill patients, and she said that usually they just curl up and die, but I’m not like that.

Of course, we know that the credit doesn’t go to me.  It goes to the God who strengthens and sustains me.  Through Him, we can bear up under anything, and when we do, we shine to those who don’t have what we have.

Let’s finish up with Acts 27:39-44.  It reveals that GOD CAN DO MORE THAN WE CAN IMAGINE.  Let’s think for a moment about what a ridiculous story this is.  The storm wrecks their ship on an offshore sandbar.  There are 276 people on the ship, many of whom can’t swim.  Nonetheless, every one of them makes it safely through the storm-tossed surf to land.  That only can be explained by providence verging on miracle!

So too, we can face every crisis in our lives secure in the knowledge that God will deliver us.  It might not be our preferred deliverance on our preferred timetable.  It might be safe deliverance to His heavenly kingdom.  In no case, though, does God forsake His people.  If we put our trust in Him, at the end, we will have no complaints.

Devoted to the Teaching of the Apostles

Friday, February 11, 2022

As hopefully everybody is aware by now, our theme for the year is “Devoted”, and we will spend the year in extended contemplation of Acts 2:42.  The first topic of the four in the verse is “devoted to the apostles’ teaching”, and over the past couple of weeks Clay has done a fine job of highlighting examples of apostolic teaching.

This morning, though, I wanted to return to our keynote verse in an attempt to broaden our understanding of our subject.  “Devoted”, “teaching”, and “apostles” all have dictionary definitions, but all three concepts appear frequently in Scripture, and a study of these Scriptural uses will help us with everything else we study for the rest of the quarter.

It's not enough for the Jackson Heights church to have the theme of “Devoted”.  I applaud the elders’ decision in selecting that theme, but that decision pales in comparison with the decision to be devoted that each of us must make.  Devotion is personal, and if you personally are not devoted, the devotion of the congregation will not help you at all.  Let’s consider, then, what devotion to the teaching of the apostles means.

Naturally, the first idea we examine will be DEVOTION.  Let’s start with Acts 18:1-5.  Here, we learn that when Paul first came to Corinth, he met up with Aquila and Priscilla and started making tents with them.  This wasn’t because Paul wanted to make a fortune with his tentmaking; instead, he was out of money and needed a job to keep body and soul together.  This affected his preaching and teaching.  He was limited to proclaiming the gospel on Saturdays because he was working the rest of the time.

However, in v. 5, Silas and Timothy show up.  We know from Philippians 4 that they brought money with them from the church in Philippi.  Because of this gift, Paul was able to devote himself to preaching.   He was out there preaching that Jesus was the Christ seven days a week.

From this, there’s a simple conclusion that we can draw about the nature of devotion.  If you aren’t devoted to something, you only will do it part of the time.  If you are devoted to it, you will do it all the time.

At this point, brethren, it’s time for me to bring up a sensitive subject.  Let’s talk about how the attendance patterns of this church have changed since COVID.  Sunday morning numbers are closer to where they used to be.  Sunday and Wednesday evening numbers are not.

If devoted is full-time and not-devoted is part-time, what does the record of your attendance say about you?  If you’re not sure about how you’ve attended, talk to Dave Ledford.  He keeps records for every member here, and he would be happy to show you yours.  Can you personally look down at your sheet and say, “This is the way a devoted Christian would have attended?”

I don’t say these things to shame you.  I say them because I love you and believe in you, and I think that for many of you, those numbers are not who you want to be.  I think you want to be devoted because you know this is most important, but since the pandemic, it’s been easy to lose the habit.  It’s time to go back to that habit.  I’m not going to lie to you.  A positive change is going to take a lot of time and effort, but isn’t God worth it?

Next, let’s explore the concept of TEACHING.  Our text this time will be 1 Timothy 4:13-16.  Note that other translations here will say “doctrine”, and both “doctrine” and “teaching” come from the same Greek word.  For some reason, doctrine has gotten a bad rap among many Christians today.  They’ll try to make a distinction between gospel and doctrine, or they’ll say that they care about Jesus, not doctrine.

Frankly, this baffles me.  I don’t know where they’re getting it, but they’re not getting it from the Bible.  The Scriptures do distinguish between sound and unsound doctrine, but they don’t distinguish between gospel and doctrine.  Everything we know about Jesus or the gospel is doctrine.

Look at what Paul says about the importance of teaching here.  Timothy is supposed to give his attention to teaching.  He’s supposed to practice it, be committed to it, and progress in it.  He’s supposed to persevere in it.  Though the text doesn’t use the word, it’s entirely justified to say that Timothy is to be devoted to doctrine.

Paul justifies this emphasis at the end of v. 16.  This devotion to doctrine will save Timothy and those who listen to him.  This is how important teaching is.  It’s life-and-death important.  It’s heaven-and-hell important.  Devotion to teaching will save us.  Indifference to teaching will cost us our souls.

All other things being equal, then, the more doctrine we have in our lives, the better off we will be.  What kind of doctrine?  Any kind, as long as it’s sound.  It’s possible to emphasize one part of sound teaching to the detriment of other parts, but the more teaching we consume, the more we protect ourselves from this problem.  Our assemblies are a great place to hear teaching, but for the rest of the time, all of us have Bibles and Internet connections at home.  “Too much doctrine” simply is not intelligible as a spiritual problem.

Finally, let’s ponder what it means that this teaching is from the APOSTLES.  As a starting point, let’s read 2 Thessalonians 2:13-16.  This passage begins by describing what God has done for Christians.  He has chosen us for salvation through the Spirit and the word.  He has called us to glory through the gospel.  However, if we want to receive these blessings, we must do two things.  We must stand firm and hold fast to the traditions.

“Traditions” here is interesting.  Usually in Scripture, traditions are negative.  Jesus frequently warned against exalting human tradition.  Here, though, “traditions” is positive.  Paul is talking about the traditions handed down by the apostles and their closest followers through the Spirit, the things they said and wrote.

Today, everything we know about apostolic tradition is contained in the word of God.  We know what Paul said to the Ephesian elders on his way to Jerusalem because of the Bible.  We know what Peter wrote to Christians in the Diaspora because of the Bible.  At this point, 2000 years later, there is no other reliable record of apostolic teaching.

This answers a question some of you may have noticed in the last point.  Sound doctrine is vital, but how do we know whether doctrine is sound or not?  Simple.  Doctrine is sound if it’s apostolic and unsound if it isn’t.  If we are holding fast to apostolic tradition, we are holding fast to the things in the Bible and only those things.

Why does this matter so much?  Why are we such sticklers for following the Scriptural pattern?  Why are we devoted to the doctrine of the apostles?  The answer is in the text.  Holding firm to the traditions is the only way to ensure that we hold fast to the salvation to which God called and chose us.  If we let go, we’re letting go of God too.

How We Should Walk

Thursday, January 13, 2022

All of us know Christians who have fallen away.  Even though they committed their lives to Christ, they broke the covenant that they had made and now are living the doomed life of the people of the world.  Usually, they didn’t make this change all at once.  Instead, the devil used subtle temptations to lure them away from the Lord bit by bit.

These tragic stories are more than just a source of grief to us.  They also are a warning.  None of those Christians who have fallen from grace obeyed the gospel intending to abandon Jesus.  They all thought they were going to stay faithful and inherit eternal life—just like we do.  However, the devil enticed them away, and he would love nothing more than to do the same to us.

It’s vital, then, for each of us to hold the line against worldliness.  All of us are constantly tempted, and without constant determination and vigilance, Satan will get us where he wants us.  The grace of Christ will do us no good if we turn our backs on it.  With this in mind, let’s examine a text from Ephesians that tells us how we should walk.

The first portion of this context instructs us in PRESERVING OUR INHERITANCE.  Let’s read from Ephesians 5:3-7.  Paul warns us about two classes of spiritual problems here.  The first is a familiar list of sins:  sexual immorality, impurity, and greed.  The second is speaking crudely about or joking about sexual immorality and impurity.

I understand the latter temptation all too well.  I love words, and I love joking.  I know that if I were not a Christian, I would have a potty mouth and make lots of dirty jokes.  However, we must recognize the great spiritual danger that comes with so doing.  Once we start talking about sex and sexual sin in careless, ungodly ways, we open the door to careless sexual sin.  What is on our lips is in our hearts and soon will be in our lives.

This could not be more consequential.  Paul tells us plainly that if we give in to the sins he discusses, we will lose our inheritance in the kingdom of God.  We must remember how deceitful the devil is here.  On the one hand, he is working as hard as he can to get us to spend eternity in hell.  On the other hand, he constantly is whispering in our ears that it’s never going to happen to us. 

If he can keep us fooled until our lives end, he’s got us.  Sadly, there are going to be lots of surprises on the day of judgment, and none of them will be good.  There are going to be countless millions of people who believed Satan when he told them that their sins weren’t a big deal, and they will find out too late just how strongly God disagrees.  We must not let that happen to us!

As part of our vigilance, we must beware of the empty, deceitful arguments that the world around us makes.  The worldly redefine sin as love and then ask how love can be wrong.  They suggest that shacking up is a great way to prepare for marriage.  They tell us that more money and more stuff will make us happy.  All of those and many others are lies, and if we believe them, they will cost us more than we can afford.

Additionally, Paul tells us that we must live AS CHILDREN OF LIGHT.  Let’s keep going with Ephesians 5:8-14.  The first thing that Paul tells us is that this involves a walk.  Here, as elsewhere in Scripture, we are confronted with the difference between walking in the light and walking in darkness. 

This isn’t about any one action or any one choice.  It’s about the total of all the choices we make.  Either we are walking with Christ and sharing in the benefits of His grace, or we aren’t.  We’re not supposed to see how close to that line we can get.  We’re supposed to do our best to make sure we aren’t anywhere near it.

If we are walking in the light, it will produce fruit in our lives, fruit like goodness, righteousness, and truth.  As is true throughout this lesson, this passage calls us to relentless self-honesty.  Everybody wants to believe that their lives bear this kind of fruit.  Do ours really?  Or, instead, do we justify our apathy and sin by pointing to the few exceptions? 

One of the best tells here is our willingness to expose the unfruitful works of darkness.  This doesn’t mean pointing to the enemies of the gospel and decrying their sin.  It means exposing sin among our own.

Sad to say, Christians have had a hard time with this since the days of Ananias and Sapphira.  Maybe the sinner is a family member, so we turn a blind eye to their misdeeds.  Maybe the sinner is a church leader, a preacher or elder engaged in sexual sin, so we try to deal with the sin quietly or maybe even ignore the accusation altogether.

In all these instances, Satan is trying to use fear of the consequences to manipulate us.  We worry what will happen to our families, our churches, or even to us if the truth comes out.  Brethren, God is not pleased with those who condone sin out of fear.  Whatever we fear the consequences of telling the truth will be, the consequences of hiding the truth will be even worse.

Finally, our walk should involve MAKING THE MOST OF THE TIME.  Our reading concludes with Ephesians 5:15-17.  Notice that this reading begins with another appearance of a theme from the context:  the importance of walking carefully instead of carelessly.  People who walk carelessly don’t pay attention to what they’re doing or where they’re headed; people who walk carefully pay a great deal of attention to both.  The latter is obviously harder, but we must remember that nobody goes to heaven by accident.

Second, Paul urges us to make the most of our time.  If I remember correctly, the first sermon I ever preached in the Dowlen Rd. preacher-training program was about this verse, so I’ve been familiar with it for a long time.  However, I will say that since my diagnosis, it has taken on a whole new importance.  I know that my time is limited, so I want to use the time I have left as effectively as I can for the Lord and the people I love.

Really, though, isn’t that the way that every Christian should be living all the time?  We all have limited time, even though we usually don’t know how limited.  God and others are most important in all of our lives, even if circumstances haven’t brought that fact to our attention yet.  If we live with those priorities and that sense of urgency, we never will regret it.  The times we will regret are the times we don’t.

Last, Paul tells us that wisdom entails not only walking carefully but also understanding the Lord’s will.  No matter how carefully we drive, unless we have a road map that tells us where we’re going, we’re going to get lost.  In this case, God isn’t going to drop the road map into our minds for us.  We have to seek that map for ourselves through study and prayer if we want to understand His will.

Having the Mind of Christ

Thursday, December 30, 2021

If you were to listen to modern Christmas radio these days and didn’t know anything about the history of the holiday, you would be justified in concluding that it is primarily a romantic event.  There are innumerable songs on the theme of “all I want for Christmas is you”, more about how awful it is that the singer’s jerk significant other dumped them for the holidays, still more about being lonely during Christmas, and so forth. 

Interestingly, this represents not only a departure from discussing the birth of Jesus as traditional carols once did but also a departure from the spirit of Christ. Like most modern songs, these modern Christmas songs are self-centered, which Jesus was not.  Selfishness and godliness are opposites.  To the extent that one exists in a human heart, the other cannot.

We, of course, do not honor Christ only during this season, nor do we seek to imitate Him only during the holidays.  All day, every day, He is both our Lord and our example.  This morning, then, let’s consider what we can learn from Paul’s discussion of Jesus’ birth about having the mind of Christ.

In pursuit of this goal, we’re going to take a familiar text and rearrange it a little bit.  First, we’re going to consider WHAT CHRIST DID.  Let’s read from Philippians 2:5-7.  I believe that this is the single longest discussion of the birth of Christ in any of the epistles, and the perspective it takes on that event is revealing.

If somebody asked us what the meaning of Christ’s birth is, we might talk about the joy and wonder of God becoming flesh.  We might discuss the way that he fulfilled the prophecies concerning His birth—born of a virgin, born in Bethlehem, and so on.  However, Paul doesn’t go in any of those directions.  Instead, he says that the spiritual essence of Christ’s birth is His humility. 

We see this humility most spectacularly displayed in v. 6.  I think that many of our translations here are opaque.  They translate the words of the Greek without giving us much insight into its meaning.  We struggle to figure out, for instance, what it means when our Bible says that He did not regard equality with God as a thing to be grasped.  In English, is equality a thing?  Can we grasp it?

I think that some of the freer translations can help us out here.  The NLT says that Christ didn’t think of equality with God as something to cling to.  The NIV tells us that He didn’t consider it something to be used to His own advantage.  My favorite, the CSB, reports that he didn’t consider it something to be exploited. 

Taken together, they give us a new and challenging insight into the nature of humility.  We think of the humble person as one who does not thrust himself forward and demand credit for his achievements.  That’s not what Christ did, though.  Instead, He was in a position of immense privilege, but He didn’t use that privilege for His own advantage.

Today, the people of our country love to talk about their rights.  Indeed, the Constitution grants us many rights, but as we contemplate those rights, we also must remember that we serve One who had the right to equality with God in heaven and gave it up.  If we follow Him, we often will find ourselves turning our backs on the rights that we have in order to better serve others.

Next, let’s consider Paul’s thoughts on BEING LIKE CHRIST.  Look at Philippians 2:1-2.  Notice first of all that Paul is pulling out the heavy artillery in his efforts to get the Philippians to live in harmony.  He lists several of the greatest blessings we have as Christians then says that if we have enjoyed any of these things, we should seek like-mindedness with each other.

This too is an attempt to jar us out of the self-seeking mindset of the world.  Even as Christians, we like getting the good stuff from others, but we struggle with dishing it back out.  We love it when others encourage us, but it’s easy for us to go through life in our self-centered little bubble and never think to encourage others.  We’re so appreciative when others show us affection and compassion in our failure and sin, but when somebody lets us down, too often our first instinct is to throw the book at them!  Brethren, the only right measure of the grace we show others is the grace we want to receive.  I need mercy from God and others so often, and when I am tempted to be unmerciful, that is the very thing I must remember.

Next, Paul urges us to a level of unity that seems impossible.  We live in a deeply divided country, in the midst of a deeply divisive pandemic.  We are separated by differences of race and gender.  We have different backgrounds and different life experiences.  For that matter, we study the same passage or Scriptural topic and reach different conclusions.

In the face of that, Paul tells us that we must be of the same mind, maintain the same love, be united in spirit, and seek the same goal.  Surely he’s living in la-la land if he wants us to do all that, amirite?

Before we get too dismissive, though, we ought to remember that the divisions in the first-century church were, if anything, even worse.  Consider, for instance, the devout Jew who becomes a Christian and, next Sunday morning, finds himself rubbing shoulders with a Gentile who is a former homosexual prostitute.  There was no rehabilitation for guys like that under the Torah; instead, they were stoned to death.  Do you think that such people found it easy to be of the same mind?

In fact, the answer for us is the same as it was for them:  we learn to see one another through the eyes of Christ.  We don’t always agree about everything, but our attitude toward one another never changes.  We press on together toward the goal, and we show the world by our love for one another that we are His disciples.

Finally, Paul points us toward ACTING LIKE CHRIST.  Consider Philippians 2:3-4.  The first part of this, though it is very difficult, at least is plain.  Christ never did anything selfish.  We shouldn’t either.  Christ never acted out of vain conceit.  Neither should we. 

Instead, the attitude that our actions should shout is humility.  Everybody who looks at our behavior should be able to tell whom we think is most important, and that person should never be us.  That’s what a Christian looks like, and if this verse doesn’t make us feel about six inches tall, we probably don’t understand it.

Last, we learn that we are supposed to look out for the interests of others as well as our own.  This seems like a relief from all the toe-stepping in the previous verse, but it isn’t.  There are few things in this life that are harder than loving others and being deeply invested in their welfare. 

It means that you’ve got a lot of people on your heart, all the time.  It means that you spend sleepless nights worrying and praying about them.  It means that when they sin, you feel worse about it than they do.  We might ask why on earth anyone would take up a burden like that.  The answer is simple:  because Jesus did.

Departing from the Pattern

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

The Biblical plan for the New Testament church is simple.  There are a few things we are supposed to do in our assemblies, a few more that we are supposed to do with our money, and that’s it.  The scope of the Biblical pattern is extremely narrow.

It is unsurprising, then, that since the beginning, God’s people have been unsatisfied with that pattern and have wanted to depart from it.  The church of the first century became the Catholic Church of later centuries, which bears little resemblance to anything in Scripture.  In our own time, whenever churches have gotten wealthy and powerful, they’ve started coming up with all these other ideas for other things that the church might do, especially with money.  However, there is no Biblical precedent for these new works.

What do we do with that?  Is it OK, for instance, for us to alter our singing by bringing in a band to help us worship?  Is God pleased when churches start spending money on whatever they think is right?  Or is there another way that we should be looking at things?  Today, let’s use a story from 1 Samuel 8 to guide us as we consider the subject of departing from the pattern.

The first part of the story concerns A DEMAND FOR A KING.  Let’s read from 1 Samuel 8:1-5.  The fact pattern here is straightforward.  Samuel’s sons are corrupt judges, so the people come to him and ask him to appoint a king instead.

This process reveals several important truths to us.  First, people want to abandon the pattern when they think it’s failing.  The Israelites didn’t want a king when Samuel was in his prime.  They only sought change when Joel and Abijah started messing up. 

So too today, people want to change the worship and work of the church when they perceive that the church is failing.  The singing is rotten, so bring in the band.  The poor are hungry, so start up a food pantry, and so on.  We abandon the pattern when we think the pattern isn’t working.

However, both the Israelites and people today make the same mistake.  We like to blame the pattern when people are at fault.  In the Israelites’ time, the problem wasn’t with the judgeship.  It was with the judges.  Sadly, rather than removing the judges, their solution was to abandon the judgeship.

We too, when God’s work isn’t getting done, prefer to blame the pattern instead of ourselves.  We don’t fix the rotten singing by singing more enthusiastically.  We don’t care for the poor by using our own money.  Instead, we want the church to change because that’s a quick fix that doesn’t require us to grow in Christ.

Finally, departures from the pattern generally are influenced by the world.  The Israelites didn’t only want a king; they wanted a king like the nations around them.  When the Lord’s people abandon the pattern, they also are not very original.  Our progressive brethren think they’re breaking new ground, but really, they’re becoming exactly like the denominational churches around them.  3000 years later, things still play out the same.

Next, we see GOD’S REPLY to the Israelites.  Consider 1 Samuel 8:6-18.  In this section, He identifies three problems with their demand.

The first is that departing from the pattern rejects Him as king.  They didn’t want to be ruled by God anymore.  They wanted to be ruled by one from among themselves.

The same holds true for us.  When we reject God’s pattern, we reject God’s kingship.  If we truly want His will to be done in all that we do, we will confine ourselves only to what we read in the Scriptures. 

On the other hand, when we start doing things that aren’t in the Bible, that’s no longer God’s will.  It’s our will.  We only go along with God when He tells us to do what we want to already.  That’s not obedience.  It’s coincidence.

Second, God says that abandoning the pattern is the same thing as idolatry.  This seems like a strange claim for Him to make, given that the story contains no graven images.  However, the idol to which He is referring is the most dangerous idol of all:  the Israelites themselves.

For us too, self-idolatry is a deadly spiritual danger.  Let’s be honest for a moment.  When we abandon the old path of the New Testament for a new path of our own invention, whom are we exalting?  Whom are we lifting up? 

Is it God and His wisdom and authority?  Or is it we ourselves, with our human ingenuity and cleverness?  How wonderful it is, that in our wisdom we have come up with this great new work for God’s church that surely He would have included. . . if only He’d been a little smarter!

The idolatry’s not hard to see, is it?

Finally, God points out that the Israelites haven’t thought through the consequences.  Once they get a king, he is going to take their children, their property, and their own selves.  Even though God doesn’t mention it here, there are going to be severe spiritual consequences too.  Ultimately, the kings will lead Israel into apostasy and captivity.

Historically, leaders in the Lord’s church haven’t been great at anticipating consequences either.  When the second-century church started appointing single bishops over cities, I’m sure that no one foresaw it eventually would lead to the appointment of a pope, but it did.  In our own time, I doubt that the leaders of the institutional split thought their teaching would lead to female preachers, adoption of the instrument, and downplaying the necessity of baptism, but it has. 

Brethren, none of us are God.  We’re rotten at seeing the end from the beginning.  Rather than striking out on our own, we’re much better off confining ourselves to His revealed will.  He’s thought His ideas through, and we haven’t.

Last in this story, we see THE PEOPLE’S DECISION.  It appears in 1 Samuel 8:19-21.  Despite God’s warnings, they persist in their demand for a king.

Notice, though, that a new motivation has appeared.  The people don’t just want a king to judge them.  They want a king to go out before them and fight their battles for them.  That way, they don’t have to do anything.

In the same way, I fear that a lot of Christians want the church to fight their battles for them.  They don’t want to embarrass themselves with heartfelt singing, so the church needs to bring in the instrument.  They don’t want to be hospitable, so the church needs to build a fellowship hall.  They don’t want to interact with the poor, so the church needs to do that for them.  By the end of this process, the church does everything, and the disciples do nothing.  It’s perfect for people who want to be do-nothing disciples.

Finally, though, notice what God tells Samuel to do with the people who want to depart from His will.  He tells him to give them the king they have asked for.  They don’t want to do right, so He will allow them to do wrong.

So too today.  God doesn’t force any of us to do right, and we don’t force anybody to do right either.  We can warn others, we can point them to the word, but we can’t control them without abandoning the pattern ourselves.  All we can do is make sure that in our lives and in our congregation, we remain faithful.

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