Friday, August 29, 2014

U Turns: A Journey Through Samuel


1 Samuel 7

And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the LORD with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the LORD only. (1 Samuel 7:3-4 ESV)

If you say you are going to return to the Lord, then ...
  • Put away [what you worship more than Him]
  • Direct your heart to Him
  • Serve Him
                                        ... then you will be delivered.
When I read this passage it reminded me clearly of the hope and expectation He has for us. This is not a vending machine make-deals with God. This is not a health, wealth, and prosperity gospel. This is a simple relationship reality check. Do you love me? Then obey me; and if you obey me, it shows that you love me. (John 14:21-24)

One who has a heart towards God obeys out of love. Even if one may not feel like obeying, they should do so fully submitting to God in His infinite wisdom and mercy. If in your heart you are submitting to God because "you don't want to get punished" I think your heart is in the wrong place. Not that you are failing and undeserving (I feel the same way at times) but it is a good opportunity to realign yourself and not think about just consequences, but rethink who you are to Him.

You alone are valuable enough for Jesus, the son of God, to die on a cross. Even if you were the only soul that was saved, you were worth it. You are worth the birth, life, teaching, torture, death, and resurrection of God. You.

Humbling is it not?

So how do we respond to such a reality? Take a u-turn on sin. Leave those 'things' behind ... give your heart to Christ ... and serve Him.

You may be far from God, on the fence, newly enlisted in His army, or a long-time veteran. In any case, I am sure that there is a u-turn somewhere we all need to take ... something in our life ... maybe even right now at this moment. Think. See it?

Take it ...

His,
~Matt

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Until the Cows Come Home: A Journey Through Samuel

1 Samuel 6

Often I come across common phrases in Scripture that we use today. I don't really know if there is any history to the expression "Until the cows come home" from 1 Samuel 6 but if so, it's somewhat appropriate. Not exactly something the cows would fondly remember, but it's a story nonetheless!

So here we see that the Philistines had enough of this ark because they think God may be punishing them, something they didn't have to stretch too far to see, and discussed how they didn't want another "Egypt" situation to happen. So they slap the ark on a cart, find a couple milking cows that recently gave birth, locked their calves up, and hooked them up to a cart. While I could go into various detail about cows (not the most exciting lesson) I think it's suffice to say that these 'milking' cows would not be good at this, enjoy this, know what to do, and certainly would not willingly leave their calves behind for the benefit of both (another lesson I care not to explain right now). In any case, guess what the cows do? Yep ... they go home.

OK, well not their home ... but they brought the ark "home" so to speak. (We can talk about God's amazing control and sovereignty another time!)

Anyway, the people were thrilled when the saw the ark coming! So thrilled they chopped up the cart to use for a fire to sacrifice the cows ... poor cows. :|

(side note: While I deeply appreciate the meaning behind the sacrifices, reflect often on the penalty of sin and what these sacrifices represented, I am thrilled that we are living after the One Final Sacrifice that was made! So the minute you (or I) start grimacing at the idea of more blood spilled (like I grimaced above), let us not forget Calvary. Brutal beyond brutal ... blood like no other ... pain, suffering, and death ... for you. Because you and I are heirs ... )

As much as I sometimes see me and my sin in the Israelites, I do see them do something so often (and again in this chapter) that I need to do more in my life. Maybe physically, maybe spiritually ... maybe something seen, or maybe just something told over and over again. When God does something for you what do you do? Do you know what they often did?

Build a memorial ... build an altar ... set a stone ... to remember!
The great stone beside which they set down the ark of the LORD is a witness to this day in the field of Joshua of Beth-shemesh. (1 Samuel 6:18 ESV)
"Your life is progressing spiritually when you stop making deals with God, and start building altars." - Steven Furtick

Are you hoping to see any cows on your horizon? Are you waiting for that cart to arrive? I pray that when you do, you run to them, rejoice in the moment, and place a stone ... to remember.

His,
~Matt

Monday, August 25, 2014

False gods: A Journey Through Samuel

1 Samuel 5

Idolatry is a sin and theme we see illustrated in Scripture repeatedly. Even God's chosen people have used the ark as an idol as we previously have seen by seeing it as an object of protection, and missing the One to for Whom it was created. While sacred and a gift, it still was a mere dwelling place. It was only sacred because of Who it was for ...

Yet, God did dwell there, and this stark difference is seen in this almost humorous passage of Scripture:
Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon. And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold. Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him. (1 Samuel 5:2-4 ESV)

There is nothing that shall reign supreme over our Lord; especially something that is worshiped. While we could go into some of the history behind Dagon, the threshold, and people during that time, the point simply remains that God will make a mockery of anything that tries to mock Him.

As Isaiah points out, individuals can even make a mockery of themselves by treating these objects as gods to begin with:
He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!" (Isaiah 44:14-17 ESV)
Deliver me [piece of wood] ... you are my god!

A King ... (chess piece that is)

Ridiculous, but sadly apt for today as well. Deliverance, release, and rescue. My life will be better if I am delivered from what? Deliver me doctor! Deliver me friend! Deliver me judge! Deliver me Mr. President! Deliver me spouse! Deliver me job! Deliver me temptation! Deliver me retirement! Deliver me ... deliver me ... deliver me ...

God delivers; He alone. Jesus.

How often do we see peace, joy, harmony, contentment, just around the corner. After "this" then I will be able to relax and enjoy life more. That thought is destructive to ourselves, our family, our friends, and ultimately and most importantly our relationship with the Lord. It is sin.

May we learn more each day to rest in Him, trust in Him, and let loose this bondage we call control. It's a false god that promises but will never deliver, because only One can.

His,
~Matthew

Sunday, August 24, 2014

God is not a Tool: A Journey Through Samuel

1 Samuel 4


If you want to catch a fish, you bring a fishing pole right? It's a tool to do the job. No fishing pole, likely no fishing victory! OK, perhaps you are good with a spear, but I think my point is fair enough. If there is a job to do, bring a tool for the job.

Unfortunately this is how some of God's people also thought ... about Him.

They felt they could use God as a tool for victory.
And when the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the LORD defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.” So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. (1 Samuel 4:3-4 ESV)
Let me just say that this did not end well ...

Did God fight for Israel? Absolutely. However you often see other things first such as: Prayer, Guidance, Direction, Questions, Adoration, Sacrifice, Worship, Seeking Approval, etc. Not to mention the most important fact that it wasn't about the ark ... it was about God!

We are God's tools, He is not ours.

We seem to want to bring God into our lives when needed, upon request, with specific tasks in mind to perform. He is not a tool ...

"We often pray to be more like Christ, but whenever something comes into our life to make us more like Him, we immediately send out prayer requests to get that situation removed from our life!" - Henry Blackaby

He is not a tool ...

     He is God.

          He is Jesus.

May you and I simply seek Him first, and let the rest follow.

Love and Blessings,
~Matthew

Drawing Near: A Journey Through Samuel

1 Samuel 3



There are few things more precious to me than the sight of a child sleeping. The peace, comfort, and security (combined with the total dependence on a parent) has always drawn me to gaze upon precious sleeping faces. It becomes even more emotional when that sleeping face is next to yours as they cuddle with you because they simply want to draw near to your presence.

This picture is shown in Scripture as Samuel is simply drawn to the presence of God:
"Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD in the presence of Eli. And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his own 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.(1 Samuel 3:1-3 ESV)

He simply cuddled next to God and was lying down in His presence.

I do not feel like this was a rare moment that just happened to be mentioned in this passage. I believe that this is a sign and example given to us to show how he was drawing near to God. He simply wanted to sleep in His presence and be in His proximity, and I think this was something he did many times growing up.

Have you ever simply drawn near to God without words or any other intention than simply being with Him? I have, and I can tell you it is the most comforting place to be. Many times I have not had words to say (or was simply tired of talking about a situation) and just closed my eyes, relaxed, and sometimes drifted off to sleep. I usually begin by laying down at the foot of His throne (though I somehow always ended up in His arms).

If you haven't experienced God in this way, I can't encourage you enough to just develop a relationship with Him where you simply just learn to draw near to Him. Let not the world tell you that emotional relationships are not for men, hardly. There is far more strength required to show emotion than to conceal it.

Draw near.

Praying for you,
~Matthew

Thursday, August 21, 2014

When God calls ...

Over the past 18 months, my life has entered what I would consider a desert season. God hasn't been less present in my life, I've just been wandering. Much of this struggle has surfaced in my work environment. Many people have commented on the amount of travel I get to do (internationally) and enjoy my stories, pictures, and memories I share. While I certainly try to make the most out of my trips, focus on the positive, enjoy meeting new people, and experience different cultures, it also comes with a price. Emotionally and physically it is exhausting ... but there is something more.

It has surfaced for me how much of our world is hurting and in need. The picture below is just one small example of the contrast. Staying in one of the most luxurious hotels I've ever stayed in was built in the middle of one of the poorest areas I've ever seen.
A view inside and outside my hotel (ITC Grand Chola, Chennai - India)
However what I noticed just as much as the contrast in wealth, was a sad similarity inside and outside the hotel. Empty eyes and heavy hearts; wealth may have granted physical comfort, but it certainly does not grant lasting joy. I think I may have seen more smiles admits the poverty than among the wealthy during my visit.


In any case, sitting with these images and memories causes the inability to see things from just an American perspective. I return from some of these trips impacted so deeply only to find our culture arguing about meaningless things and ignoring atrocities and other serious matters that we leave up to self discovery, tolerance, and relative truth. What is going on? I echo the words from another era, and country ...

"Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened." - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (The Templeton Address)

Yet what is forgotten can be remembered ...

♫ I woke up this morning
Saw a world full of trouble now
Thought, how’d we ever get so far down
How’s it ever gonna turn around
So I turned my eyes to Heaven
I thought, “God, why don’t You do something?”
Well, I just couldn’t bear the thought of
People living in poverty
Children sold into slavery
The thought disgusted me
So, I shook my fist at Heaven
Said, “God, why don’t You do something?”
He said, “I did, I created you”
(Matthew West - Do Something)

I wanted to share all of those thoughts only to bring me back to where I wanted this to go in the first place; God's calling. Have you ever noticed how when God calls it's often not in an area we may choose ourself?
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. (Acts 8:26 ESV)
This is a desert place to which God was calling him. God called him to a desert to deliver a message. He didn't call him to a place of comfort and refuge, but He called him to the desert.

A desert? What about my desert? Has He brought me here for a reason? Have you been brought to a desert for a reason? Is He calling? Are we listening?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Collisions, Insurance, and Assurance

This afternoon I was going on some errands at lunch; bank, bank, auto parts store, and finally a neighborhood store to pick up a handful of quick 4x6 prints to fill my fridge with some recent memories. On the way out, my truck was backed into by another vehicle. The small dent in my truck and a cracked piece of glass was nothing compared to what I saw when I stepped out and looked at the other vehicle!
Notice the dent under my tail light? (and some cracked glass)

A slightly different story for this poor vehicle!

Nobody hurt, friendly exchange, and even some laughter at the comparison in damage! I don't recall much other than being hit, but even if they were pulling out fast (which I'll assume they were) I still am surprised at what a seemingly minor impact can accomplish.

Have you ever thought of what a single harsh word from your mouth can do to another? A shove? Rolled eyes? Crude joke? Sarcastic comment? Inappropriate tease? A jab back?

Have you ever returned someone giving you a ding, with a smash?

There are however other types of collisions, those that are more serious; much like there are other types of hurts, pains, and destruction. Adultery, abortion, death, rejection, rape, murder, abuse, etc.

With an insured vehicle, dents, bangs, and smashed glass can all get repaired, and even the owner will hardly know the difference. In fact, sometimes it's even better than before! However with an individual, healing doesn't quite come quickly if really ever for some. Painful memories become burdens that we struggle to let go, and hurtful people seem to find ways of lingering in our broken minds and hearts.

Yet admits all that, there is one Source of true renewal ... this is not insurance, but assurance ... 
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV)
Notice the passage does not read that the 'hard' has passed away and the 'easy' has come. Hardly, in fact much of our Christian walk is of struggle, rejection, and suffering. Yet even in the middle of this struggle, rejection, and suffering, He grants us peace, joy, and love. This reward is more than this world could ever offer. What's the trade off? 100 years of finite wealth compared to eternity with the Creator of the Universe as heirs?

Bad trade brother or sister, tap out! You may have to seek peace and pursue it, but you will find it!

I pray each time I see another accident, minor or major, that after praying for God's hand in that situation, that I remember and recall my assurance. That I remember and recall my hurts, and hurts to others. That I remember and recall that I was made new. That I remember and recall that life is not easy, nor is it meant to be, but I have promises of peace, love, and joy that are as true now as they were when Jesus spoke them in the flesh 2000 years ago.

They are true for you too, and I pray you accept them if you have not yet already from the only Source that can provide.

His,
~Matthew

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1 ESV)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Cautious Beauty




My wife and I decided to take our daughter on a walk at a nearby park this afternoon. There were quite a few deer that we got to see, including one that was obviously very used to us humans! Down the road she walked as we headed towards her. I would have thought eventually she would bolt into the woods and let us by; not quite! After this picture above my daughter kept getting closer and closer until I had to hold her back and wait until it was safe to pass. (all the while hearing the wise words of caution from my wife behind me)

Afraid of a deer? Not so much afraid, but I appreciate the power that a feeding animal can show off with it's hooves or head as you approach it, especially to a 3 year old body, and from a young energetic deer built of lean muscle.


Beautiful, graceful, docile, and often gentle ... yet still warrants caution.
One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless. (Proverbs 14:16 ESV)
Evil deer? Perhaps if you tune into to some late night zombie deer apocalypse flick on television, but I think my point is a bit more fundamental. To be cautious is wise, especially when evil is involved; and carelessness is the work of a fool.

If there is one tip that I could offer to my peers, and future generations it is this; slow down. To quote a song: "We're all one phone call from our knees."

Perhaps right now you or I are about to walk into a situation where life may take its hooves and hit us in the chest. Perhaps you or I hear that whisper of Love Himself telling us to stop, hold His hand, and take caution. Perhaps you or I just want to reach out our hand and pet this beautiful looking object, telling ourselves that it's just a moment, we have this under control. Perhaps you or I are drawn to the beauty of this world and are about to throw caution into the wind as the world tells us to "follow our heart". Perhaps.

If we are ...
One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless.
God Speed,
~Matthew

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Next Time, I Hope to Bother Somebody

I feel our culture is pushing us in a direction that is leading to a loss in a sense of community. I know for many of you this statement is hardly surprising, and not very original. Regardless, I would like to sit with this thought for a while as I think it is challenging to accept, and even more so, change. Besides, I also have a story to share about it ...

First, I just want to reflect on this Scripture ...

"Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common." (Acts 4:32 ESV)

Some have used this passage in an attempt to support socialism or communism, however this is not a mandated lifestyle, but rather one of the heart. This is not a regulation, but rather a proclamation. A proclamation of who and Whose they are.

So now time for a short story ...

Earlier today I was trimming my lawn with my weed whacker (or weed whip, but whacker sounds much more destructive, which is what I was doing to the weeds!). Regardless, I was reflecting on how this lovely piece of machinery was in my garage. Recently my gas powered one quit, and I decided to purchase a replacement; this time cordless. Before my purchase my neighbor offered to let me use his (cordless) since I didn't have one. It worked fine, was right next door, and certainly was cheaper!

However, I didn't have one of my own. After all, it's my lawn, and I need my own stuff right?

I reflected how my neighbor commented how he loved his, but the battery was dying and he needed to get a replacement soon. I wonder if I approached him and asked: "Hey, how about I buy a new battery and we just share the tool?"

Good idea, but that's OK, I have one of my own now ... after all, if we did have some agreement then perhaps I would have to bother him. Right? Bother him ... with what? Talking? Sharing a quick word as he opens his garage? Smiling as I wave to their child? Striking up a conversation about work, weather, faith, family, life?

But it's OK ... I have my own now ... success right?

Right?

Maybe next time I'll choose to bother somebody ...
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