Sunday, December 14, 2014

Compelled by force to stop ministry - and then taking it up again

As I got ready for work on Friday morning, I just happened to choose the book of Ezra for my audio Bible to play. Someone had made an offhand comment about the book of Ezra, and I had said to myself, “Oh, Ezra. I haven’t read that book for a long time.”

Therefore, I thought I was just “refreshing my memory” on Ezra, but I was struck by the passage that talked about them building the temple (chapter 3-6). It was a mortal battle between the enemies of the Lord and the servants of the Lord regarding whether or not the temple would be built. 

Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the LORD God of Israel; then they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief of the fathers, and said unto them, 
“Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither.”  
But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel, said unto them, 
“Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the LORD God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us.” 
Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building, and hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. (Ezra 4:1-5)
This was the first sortie. The people had been blessed by God. They had been granted the king’s permission to return. Cyrus had even sent back the vessels of gold and silver that had been taken from the temple by Nebuchadnezzar. The people were blessed with money and an official decree to go and do this work (chapter 1).

Then the enemies of the Lord’s servants came, and notice how subtle their tactic was. “Let us help you. Let us build with you.” But Zerubbabel and Jeshua saw through it and would have none of it. The malice of the initial attack was revealed, and they had to resort to direct means of opposition, since they could gain no access to corrupt the project from the inside.

In my life, I have also warded off the initial sortie. The adversaries who would oppose the edification of my life as a temple of the Lord have sought to gain access from the inside, and they have been repelled. And their opposition, though frustrating and troubling, did not cause the work to cease. 

Power changed from the hands of Cyrus to the hands of Artaxerxes, and after an exchange of letters, the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin actually got Cyrus’s decree reversed. Artaxerxes sent a cease-and-desist order, and Rehum and Shimshai and their companions gleefully went to enforce it. 

Give ye now commandment to cause these men to cease, and that this city be not builded, until another commandment shall be given from me. Take heed now that ye fail not to do this: why should damage grow to the hurt of the kings?  
Now when the copy of king Artaxerxes' letter was read before Rehum, and Shimshai the scribe, and their companions, they went up in haste to Jerusalem unto the Jews, and made them to cease by force and power.

Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. (Ezra 4:21-24)

They made them to cease by force and power. 

Then ceased the work of the house of God. 

This is the same exact thing that happened in my life in at the end of May. The enemy caused the work to cease by force, and thus it ceased. 

The continuous direction that I had been going in my life, the way I had been living, the choices I had been making, were all leading up to something being built, a house of worship to God, a work of grace, a temple for the glory of God. This was the only thing I was living for. I didn’t want anything else. God was blessing it. The decrees had been given. The attacks of the enemy had been thus far repelled. 

And yet, it was brought to a screeching halt by force. 

Interestingly, I had attributed it to God. 

This was the enemy’s work. 

Who else would be interested in bringing it to cease?

Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied unto the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, even unto them. Then rose up Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem: and with them were the prophets of God helping them. (Ezra 5:1-2)

Haggai and Zechariah prophesied, and Zerubbabel and Jeshua promptly moved back into action with the same original direction they had taken.

After I listened to Ezra, I listened to Haggai and Zechariah on my way to work, and I was freshly struck again with how striking the similarities were to my case. 

Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, This people say, The time is not come, the time that the LORD'S house should be built.  
Then came the word of the LORD by Haggai the prophet, saying, Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste? (Hag. 1:2-4)

The people said ‘The time is not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.” 

That is exactly what I have concluded! 

They were stopped by force, and the most natural thing in the world is to attribute the delay to the timing of the Lord. It must just not be the time. 

NO—the Lord begs to differ. He says, “Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste?” This smote me to the core. What have I been doing but pursuing my own house to dwell in? 

Is it time for me to dwell in a house in America and have a comfortable life while the Lord’s work lies waste? 

I was made to stop by force—yes—and the only thing that occurred to me to do was to occupy myself with my own house. Because I incorrectly attributed the cause of stopping to “The Lord’s Time,” I had nothing else to do for Him until His “time” came back. 

In my case and in the case of the people of the land, this was not an opportunity to throw up my hands and say, “Well, the Lord allowed it to stop; guess I’ll just go do my own thing now.” Rather, it was an opportunity to recognize the spiritual attack as what it was and keep on building anyway, in the face of a decree that stopped them by force. The Lord has endorsed this work, and therefore, we will go on with it, come what may. 

After Haggai and Zechariah’s prophecy, the people had to act in direct rebellion to an order from the highest earthly authority in order to obey the Lord, but they did it, and they went on building, and this time, they were unstoppable.
But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, that they could not cause them to cease. (Ezra 5:5)

More letters went back and forth, but this time the Jews’ argument was in the ascendant, and Darius the king not only confirmed their side of the story, but prescribed curses against anyone who would hinder them. 

Let the work of this house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews build this house of God in his place.  
Moreover I make a decree what ye shall do to the elders of these Jews for the building of this house of God: that of the king's goods, even of the tribute beyond the river, forthwith expenses be given unto these men, that they be not hindered.  
And that which they have need of, both young bullocks, and rams, and lambs, for the burnt offerings of the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the appointment of the priests which are at Jerusalem, let it be given them day by day without fail: That they may offer sacrifices of sweet savours unto the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king, and of his sons.  
Also I have made a decree, that whosoever shall alter this word, let timber be pulled down from his house, and being set up, let him be hanged thereon; and let his house be made a dunghill for this.  
And the God that hath caused his name to dwell there destroy all kings and people, that shall put to their hand to alter and to destroy this house of God which is at Jerusalem. I Darius have made a decree; let it be done with speed. (Ezra 6:7-13)

The next thing that happened was that they builded, prospered, and finished the temple.
And the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.  
And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king. (Ezra 6:14-15) 
And they kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for the LORD had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.” (Ezra 6:22)

• • • 

The implications for my life, given this picture, are tremendous.
The Lord said in Haggai 1:8, “Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the LORD.” 

In other words, don’t just sit around waiting for something to happen, waiting to see the temple rise up out of the rubble. Go up to the mountain and bring wood. Go get the practical stuff that is necessary in order to make the work go forward. But when you do, the Lord will take pleasure in it, and He will be glorified. Is not this the cry of my heart? Is not this the yearning of my soul? OH, LORD, that You would be glorified in and through my life! But HOW does He say He will be glorified? When I sit around in my lovely house, surrounded by comforts, not lifting a finger to the work, because after all, I have been stopped by force? No. He will take pleasure in the going to the mountain to bring wood. He will be glorified by the temple going up. 

THE LORD IS NOT GLORIFIED BY A HALF-COMPLETED TEMPLE, even though even that much being accomplished is testament to His work, His favor, and His enablement. HE IS GLORIFIED BY THE WORK CONTINUING ON TO COMPLETION. And how much more is He glorified when the completion of the work involves the overcoming of massive obstacles!? 

The Israelites were allowed to go through the disorienting and disillusioning experience of having the work brought to a halt by force. And yet, they were asked to continue. Is not this the essence of faith? Is not this the evidence of grace being poured out? Will not grace always be greater than any obstacle we could encounter? Yes, since grace is the unlimited power of God, which always surpasses earthly power. 

My ministry work has been brought to a halt. I have not done anything in 6 months. I have thought I was not allowed to. I have thought that it was taken from me by force by God. 

Now I see it in a much different light. Undoubtedly, I was brought to cease by force by none other than the enemy of my soul. I will not go by this most recent decree. I will go by the original decree that I received from the Lord, and when search is made even by my most violent opponents, they will find that they must come into alignment with God’s decree rather than me coming into alignment with their decree.

This means that I am not only FREE to do ministry, I am COMMANDED to do it. 

This means that my life is NOT ABOUT getting a house. It is about building the Lord’s house. 

This means that I can go back to the way I lived before, trusting the Lord, seeing Him provide, and not living for my career or my salary or my comfort. 

This also means that I am acting in direct defiance and rebellion of the ways of the enemy. If it was the enemy who told me to stop, then for me to proceed forward again is only to incur his wrath. I can only expect him to unleash his rage in a rabid fury against me. If I was brought to cease by violent measures before, the measures will have to be only more violent next time. And yet, I expect that this time, the work will be unstoppable, no matter what trouble is unleashed against me. I expect to be able to walk in perfect peace, protected by the Hand of the Lord from the storm that rages against me. He will let nothing reach me. He allowed the adversary to test me, just as he allowed his children to be tested by the governors and opponents in their day. 

I raise my head in defiance of the enemy’s schemes. I will no longer flounder about, making excuses about it not being the Lord’s time and wondering if I had it all wrong in the way I ordered my life. 

I will go forward in boldness and persistence to do the Lord’s work, to build His temple, and to glorify His name. 

My life is an unfinished work, but it is the temple of the Holy Spirit. No longer shall it decay in neglect and disrepair. The Spirit shall have His way. His original decree shall be fulfilled. It shall be for His glory and honor and pleasure. 

Oh thou enemy, how darest thou put a stop to the work that the Lord has decreed should proceed forward? Let the curse of the Lord abide on thee forever. Let timber be pulled down from thy house, and being set up, let thou be hanged thereon; and let thy house be made a dunghill for this. 

• • •

How does that look? What does that mean?

All of a sudden, all my criteria have been reset to correspond to whether or not they foster the completion of the temple or comply with the enemy’s demand that it cease.

The Lord has raised me back up on to my feet and has given me the assurance that He does indeed have work for me to do, and I will proceed forth in victory according to His grace and enablement, in the face of the enemy's violent opposition. Great joy has come in this, and a great heaviness has lifted. 

At the same time, a soberness and stability has settled over me. No longer am I blithely waltzing forward into the work of the Lord with youthful enthusiasm and naivete. Now, I am picking myself up off the ground after the enemy's beating and deliberately moving forward in direct rebellion to his demand that I cease and desist.

• • •

"God will not look you over for medals, degrees, or diplomas, but for scars." What nobler decoration of honor can any godly man seek after than his scars of service, his losses for the crown, his reproaches for Christ's sake, his being worn out in his Master's service!
--Streams in the Desert, Dec. 12

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Apples, flip flops, and Christ's love

UPDATE 12/13/14 - Two days away from starting the program, they have $1000 of the $5000 they need. I wait with bated breath to see what will happen. Yet I catch myself: the question is NOT "Will God be found to be faithful?" but rather, "How is He going to do it?"

• • •

One thousand children in the Philippines are going to experience the wonder of Christ's love this Christmas for a whole week. In a fun and powerful VBS program, they are going to receive instruction, meals, and two very special gifts. 

I would like to introduce you all to the man who is making this happen. He is someone who is walking by faith in our generation, demonstrating the power of God, and seeing great things come to pass as a result. 

Pastor Narciso Gautane (who goes by "Jong") is a missionary in the Philippines. I met him when he spoke at my church in 2009, and ever since, I have been truly blessed to receive his emails and learn about what the Lord is doing through his life.

This Christmas, he is conducting an exciting outreach from December 15-19, 2014. He is holding a Christmas Vacation Bible School (CVBS) for the children in five villages, and 1,021 kids are registered. (I don't know about you, but I've worked in VBS before where the total enrollment was about 50 kids, and that seemed like a lot. Try 1000!)

This is the fourth year they are doing this CVBS, and each time, it has opened up doors for the gospel, leading to wonderful opportunities to establish churches and mission works. 

Not only that, it has also become one of the most awaited occasions for the village kids every year. Rather than wishing and hanging stockings in the windows waiting for Santa Claus to bring gifts, these children are being raised up to learn to pray and ask in the name of Jesus for Him to meet all their needs.

Last year, the Christmas VBS had around 500 kids. This year, the registration has doubled. This was accomplished without anyone going from house to house inviting kids to come--it was all the effort of the kids who experienced the joy of the program last year, who invited their friends to come this year. God is raising them up to be little evangelists and missionaries.

Most remarkable of all, at the moment of this writing, Pastor Gautane has the provision for 70 of these kids. That leaves 951 more to go. He and his church are walking by faith, trusting God to provide the $5 per child which will allow them to accommodate all 1021 children. 

This week, I wrote to Pastor Gautane and asked his permission to share a brief interview with my readers on my blog. Be blessed as you get to know him and hear his heart.

Tell me about your family.
My name is Bro. Narciso M. Gautane Jr. I am 35 years old and a Baptist missionary to the Philippines. On November 26, 2001, I married Rodelyn I. Septimo, and our marriage is blessed with three beautiful kids, Rona Gabrielle (12 years old), Ronan Ysrael (11 years old), and Ron (6 years old).

Could you describe your ministry in the Philippines?
We started our church planting ministry as a local Pastor in 2005 and pioneered a mission work in the village of Balibago 1, Tarlac City. After years of pastoring and eventually establishing the mission work into a church, God opened a door for me to come to the U.S. to study for my Master's Degree in Pastoral Theology in 2009. I eventually had the opportunity to go on deputation for my mission support every weekend. I came home to the Philippines in August of 2011 and guided our church at Balibago village through its transition period of leadership by the men that were trained in that ministry, and I started a new mission at Nazareth village early in January of 2012. After two years of ministering in this village and establishing a church, in 2014, we started two new mission works in the village of Maluid and Calibungan. 
We are also blessed with the opportunity to exclusively handle the Department of Social Welfare development program of the government to do counseling, Bible studies, and preaching for more than 2,000 families every month. This includes evangelism to children, youth camp programs, and teaching in our Bible College.

How did you come to know Jesus as your Savior? 
At the age of 11, I came to know the Lord Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord on July 14, 1990 through the child evangelism program of Victory Baptist Church in my hometown.

What happens in the Christmas VBS?
  1. They will have different Bible programs throughout the week and will be divided in to two sessions, from 7am to 11am and 1pm to 4pm. Each class will be divided into 20 groups to ensure that every child who comes will be properly attended throughout the week-long program.
  2. The event will consist of Bible classes, teaching of Christian songs and musical instruments, fun games, and team-building activities, followed by a meal at the end of every session.
  3. Each child will be given a pair of flip flop and one apple at the end of the CVBS as their token and Christmas gift.
You might ask, "Why flip flops and apples?" It is because the majority of the kids that we are ministering to belong to poor families in 5 different villages that we will cater to this year. Their parents hardly earn $2-$4 for 12 hours of working in the field every day, and it is a delight and very special for these children to have a bite of apple once a year that their parents could never afford to buy them. For most of them that will come, this will be their first time to know what apples taste like at the age of 3 to 14 years old. Their families cannot afford to buy them a pair of flip flops to wear, either. They will appreciate so much having flip flops that will cool their feet from the hot ground as they come to the Bible meeting and hear about the Word of God. This ministry has been our tool in establishing good social relationships with the village people and has been the way in establishing churches and mission works in our church planting ministry.

How do you manage 1000 children?
Our Bible College Students and young people from our church at Balibago, Nazareth, Maluid Mission, and Calibungan Mission will be divided and designated to handle the programs in five villages that we will cater to this year for CVBS.

What has God been teaching you recently that could you share with us?
Missions must be the heartbeat of every church, and of every believer in Christ. It is the great commission that Christ has entrusted to us, to reach those who are lost, even unto the uttermost part of the world. It has never been an easy life to go on missions. It is characterized with tears, heartbreaks, pain, struggles, selflessness, and unending needs, and yet it is the most rewarding field you could ever be in through witnessing lives that have changed, people that have been delivered from sin, and families that have been rescued from destruction by the Word of God. Truly we have experienced God’s faithfulness and presence in this ministry. To God be all the glory.

Get involved! 

I am calling my readers to see what impact we can have on this program. At $5 per child, that is a total of $5105 to give each child an apple, a pair of flip flops, and daily meals for a week. To date, they have raised $350.

Seeing all this challenges my own thinking. Would I, with $350 in hand, be able to go ahead and register 1021 children for a program that is happening next month, and trust God to bring in the $5K? I stagger at the thought. I question whether I could. And yet, I'm working! I have a job and a regular income! I live in America, where proportionately more people have that kind of money at their disposal! So in the natural realm, it would seem more likely for me to achieve it than if I was living in the Philippines, walking by faith, and pouring out my time on ministry. Yet there they are, doing it in the Philippines, while it has never entered my head to put together an event for that many people.

Let us be the hands and feet of Jesus to these children. Let us each take this VERY ACHIEVABLE amount and ask ourselves how many children we could sponsor for $5 each.

Who is in?

This is easy!

  • Forego one coffee and send $5 to sponsor one of these children for the VBS program. 
  • Share this post with your friends on Facebook and Twitter. 
  • Pray for the impact of this program on the children.

Send your gift by Western Union to Narciso M. Gautane, Jr, Tarlac, Philippines, and then email him at ptr_jong [@] yahoo [dot] com [dot] ph with the control number. While you're at it, ask him to add you to his email list. 

Do it today!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Is skiing meaningless?

In which I drive 200 miles and pay $126 to ski down a hill one time

At the end of last winter, I couldn't believe that I had lived in Colorado of all places and had never actually taken advantage of the opportunity to ski a single time. It has been years since I skied, because the winter before last, I was in Haiti, the winter before that, I was in Betel, and the winter before that, I don't remember whether I skied or not.

Some early cold and snow fell this week, and it occurred to me that I was free on Saturday, so I determined to go skiing. I went by a local ski rental place Thursday, where they fitted me for skis and I paid for the rental and bought goggles ($64). Then on Friday evening after work, I picked up my skis and packed a backpack for going up to the mountains early in the morning.

Saturday morning the forecast was calling for snow, and I briefly reconsidered whether I would go, but I decided to try it. After all, if the roads got really bad before I got there, I could always just turn around.

However, it wasn't just the snow that was causing me to pause in my decision to go. The snow perhaps provided an excuse, but my dilemma stemmed from a much deeper philosophical question:

Is skiing meaningless? 

What is the point, the use, the value, or the profit in skiing? What good can it possibly do me? How am I the better for having skied? Why should I ski? And by extension, what does that say about other things that I do with my time in the recreation category? Are those things meaningless, too?

So as I drove down the road toward the ski place, having rented my skis and decided to head in that direction, I was not at all sure if I would not come to the conclusion of my debate and take a random exit to turn around and go home, snow or no snow, already-paid rental and all.

I felt there were a number of possible conclusions on the table.

  • Skiing is meaningless, and therefore I will not do it; I will turn around and go home and turn my back on skiing forever.
  • Skiing is meaningless, but I will do it anyway because of a reason. For example:
    • I don't care if I do things that are meaningless, or, 
    • It's fun--and I am choosing to exempt "FUN meaningless things" from the category of what I eliminate from my life
  • Skiing in and of itself is meaningless, but me deciding to go skiing today can have a higher purpose, like running into an improbable strategic personal connection that wouldn't have happened otherwise. 
  • Skiing has a meaning and a purpose that I haven't figured out yet, but when I discover it, I will be able to joyfully go skiing without hesitation.
  • Asking whether something like skiing is meaningless is the wrong question; it is a false and artificial mode of thinking to divide things into categories of "meaningful" and "meaningless" 

As I processed the careful consideration of these options, my thoughts progressed through the following things.

Skiing used to be one of the highest levels of exhilaration I could experience. I remember the first time I ever went skiing, around the age of 10. Before that point, the greatest experience of my life had been galloping on a horse. Skiing so far surpassed and eclipsed the enjoyment of galloping that I remained for about two weeks after our ski trip with my head in the clouds, dreaming and reliving the experience on the slopes. Subsequent ski trips proved to be no disappointment. The dizzying acceleration of speed, the adrenaline rush of pushing my skills to the limit, the sharp wind streaming the tears out of my eyes, the smooth swoosh of curving back and forth, and the constant desire to go ever faster, never failed to produce in me a satisfying and enduring thrill.

However, since the last time I went skiing, I have experienced an even greater thrill, and just like skiing eclipsed galloping, this new experience has eclipsed skiing, yet in so much higher a proportion as to be almost incomparable. If we were to place things along a continuum, galloping would be a 1, skiing would be roughly a 10, and this new discovery would rank 1000 or 10,000, it so far surpasses all other things. This has become the standard by which I judge all the experiences in my life. This one thing, crossed off my bucket list, makes crossing anything else off unnecessary. I could travel, make discoveries, learn things, acquire possessions, and have experiences throughout the entire earth and never improve upon this. I do not even need to have a bucket list, for I am not seeking anything, I have found it. I have already seen the Thing beside which all other things pale in comparison. I have found the Definition for which all other thrills are merely symbols and shadows.

I am talking about loving Jesus and being loved by Him, walking in the Spirit, dwelling in Christ, Him dwelling in me, and working according to His purpose. I saw this very clearly while I was in Haiti, and I said to myself then, "I have found a thing to live for which is so great, so glorious, so satisfying, and so right that I am never going to live for anything else." In the ensuing chaos and spiritual attack that came from the whole Haiti situation, the ministry activities themselves were stripped away from me, and the attack left me temporarily reeling and forgetful of my declaration--but my grasp on Christ himself was never loosened, and the memory of that statement came back to me as I held my little philosophical discussion with myself in the car. The contrast between the joy of skiing and the joy of being in Christ showed itself with startling clarity There is no comparison! Skiing, which formerly held out the promise of such tantalizing and incredible happiness, now revealed itself to be fundamentally empty. Skiing? I could take it or leave it. It didn't matter, though, because I had something so much better.

Another thing that seemed relevant to my discussion was an idea that I had just recently been introduced to by reading Francis Schaeffer's masterpiece of a work, How Shall We Then Live? In it, he traces, among other things, the development in Western thought of the concept of a "lower story" and an "upper story," in which we artificially divide the secular from the spiritual, or the rational from the supernatural, in our way of thinking. This is actually a relatively new concept of thought, and it is not rooted in a Christian worldview, but rather in a secular humanist worldview. I discovered, to a shocking extent, how much my own thinking has bought into a concept that is not Biblical, and I was fascinated to be informed of the main players in developing this system of thought, until by now it is diffused throughout our thought patterns so thoroughly that we don't even recognize its existence, much less that it is incorrect. I unequivocally reject the idea of dividing my thinking into an "upper story" and a "lower story," but the extent to which I have actually rooted out these patterns is yet to be determined. It is an area that bears further thinking and study.

Finally, in my debate with myself whether skiing was meaningless, I thought of Solomon's oft-repeated phrase, "vanity and vexation of spirit" in the book of Ecclesiastes, so I pulled it up on my phone and listened to the entire book of Ecclesiastes on the way up the mountain. It was almost as if I could suddenly identify with what Solomon meant when he said "vanity and vexation of spirit," whereas I had never really understood that feeling the least bit before. And what is more, Solomon pointed out that there were many more categories than the one I was turning over that turned out to be "vanity." I was merely looking at the particular idea of skiing, and, by extension, the pursuit of recreation in general, but Solomon explored a lot more categories of things, which all turned out to be vanity. Solomon was seeking for what would bring true, lasting, enduring, genuine satisfaction, and he did not find any of these in all of his pursuits until he came to the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commands, for this is the whole duty of man. There, and only there, lies meaning and purpose. Everywhere else, it is all vanity and vexation of spirit. In other words, all these pursuits that were supposed to deliver on their promise of fulfillment all turn out to be frustratingly empty and devoid of meaning and value.

So where does that leave us with regard to skiing? How does skiing fit in to fearing God and keeping His commands? Is it an incorrect mode of thinking to put skiing in the "lower story" and then reject it as meaningless? Is skiing simply a legitimate way of rejoicing in the reward of my labor?

By the time I got to the ski place, I had not reached a firm conclusion that it would be wrong to ski, so I did the thing that I had come up there to do: I bought a lift ticket ($51). Then I went into the lodge, where I rented a locker ($7) where I could store my backpack and shoes, because my car was parked in the remote lot that I could only reach by shuttle, so it didn't make sense to store it in the car and go back and forth if I wanted any of my stuff. I had also bought a water bottle ($2) and a coffee ($2) during my drive up, bringing my total of expenses to $126 (if you don't count gas, which would have been another $15-20 round trip).

My gear safely stowed, I awkwardly clumped down the stairs from the lodge to the rack where I had left my skis. This is where I made a blunder. My coat malfunctioned due to user error. I have two zippers on my coat, one for the inner liner and one for the outer shell. I mistakenly zipped one side of the inner liner with the other side of the outer shell. I actually have no idea how it worked to even begin to zip it up, but I got it zipped about two inches up, and then I was stuck. I couldn't zip up or down from there. I played with it for a few minutes and finally gave up with a shrug of the shoulders. "Oh well," I thought. "I guess I'll just have to ski with my coat unzipped."

It was then that I realized a disappointing thing: My strength was already spent.

Just the effort of carrying my skis, boots, and backpack to walk from the car to the shuttle and the shuttle to the ticket window, and then stowing my gear, putting on my ski boots, clumping down the stairs, and fighting with my zipper, I had used up my energy. It was that same spent feeling that I used to get when I was sick in Haiti in April of 2013, when I couldn't even do so much as lift a mop. I have recovered a great deal of health since then, so that I can do a lot more before I come to the end of my strength, but the fact of this weakness has become an all-too-familiar experience. And here it was again.

Determined and undaunted, with my mostly-unzipped coat, I went to stand in line for the lift. It was quite a long line because there was only one open lift, but I finally got on and had a lovely, relaxing ride up to the top.

At the top, I still hadn't recovered my strength despite the long rest sitting on the lift. I chose the green dot slope (the easiest level) and began my descent, skiing very slowly and carefully. I found that while I had the memory of the technique for how to ski, what was totally and completely missing was the excitement, the adrenaline rush, and the delicious feeling of leaping up on the inside that had always before come with skiing. I was so focused on getting down to the bottom safely, and I was skiing so cautiously, I didn't get the least little rush.

Three times on the way down, I had to come to a complete stop and sit down in the snow to rest. I pulled out my phone, took a couple of pictures, and sent a couple of texts. When my hand started to get cold, I stood up with a sigh and resumed my careful, slow, focused descent. I felt like an old, old woman. Actually, I had seen quite an elderly woman in the lodge, dressed in her ski gear and glowing with energy, and I thought she was probably vastly stronger than me.

When I got to the bottom, I briefly considered the question of whether I would stand back in line to go up to the top again. "Nope! I'm done," I realized. So I clumped back up the stairs to the lodge, removed my items from the locker, got onto the shuttle, went back to my car, and drove home.

I was even sore the next day from my one pathetic little run down the green dot slope. This was sad indeed.

What is not settled is the answer to the fundamental question.

How does a Christian think properly about something like skiing?

I have more thinking to do on this, but I would love to hear your input.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The resurrection, the cover-up, and the behavior of dead bodies

John 20:2 Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the LORD out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.

Matthew 27:62-66 Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first. Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can. So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.

Matthew 28:11-15 Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done. And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers, saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. And if this come to the governor's ears, we will persuade him, and secure you. So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.

• • •

Mary's reaction is the natural reaction the typical person would experience if they came to the tomb and the dead man was missing. It is a simple and logical deduction of the human mind based on the common facts about life.

If Jesus is gone, then the first question in everyone's mind is "who took him" and "where did they put him?" A dead man has joined the category of inanimate objects; therefore the question on NO ONE'S mind would be "where did he go," or "what did he do with himself?" It would be like a woman going to a certain drawer where she keeps some diamond jewelry. She opens the drawer and it's not there. What does she say to herself? "Why is my jewelry missing? Someone must have taken it."

But notice how Satan works with these natural human reactions in order to blind people to the reality of the resurrection. He must dance on an extremely fine line of deception, gambling with improbable assumptions, taking the risk that people will fail to observe the preposterous element in the story they are swallowing. It is fascinating to observe how cleverly he conceals the big fat red X in his story, minimizes it, and cloaks it in a web of deception--only to turn around and tell the exact opposite story just hours later, without people seeming to notice anything amiss. At every level, he has to use lies to make his story work, but because the lies are woven in so softly, and because the rest of the logic seems rock-solid, people swallow the whole story.

While Jesus is still dead, the enemy starts his damage control (which, as an aside, implies to my mind that he didn't know at this point that Jesus would actually rise from the dead, since he had to later backpedal on this whole situation and literally turn his lies in the opposite direction). In essence, he whispers to the Pharisees, "If the disciples steal the body, everyone will believe that Jesus has risen from the dead."

No they won't. They will wonder, like anyone else would, who stole the body and where they put it, and an investigation will be conducted, and the facts will come to light, and it will put an end to any more rumors of a resurrection. The disciples themselves came immediately to this conclusion when they found him missing. They were not superstitious, irrational thinkers.

But the enemy is bent on preventing the disciples from stealing the body, so he gets the Pharisees to act on an assumption that is actually counter-intuitive, an assumption that is so well-hidden that it gets eclipsed in the urgency of the danger that the "last error could be worse than the first." All the enemy actually says is that the disciples could "say unto the people, He is risen from the dead." The assumption is, "...and everyone will believe it," but the enemy doesn't even have to say this; it is the hearer's mind that fills in the assumption as if it was stated, and the officials jump into agreement with the necessary action without recognizing that they even made the assumption, much less that it was illogical and improbable. The logical, normal, reasonable reaction of people would be "So? Where did you hide his body?" The enemy bases his whole action strategy on the assumption that masses of people everywhere will suddenly behave in a way that is counter-intuitive and against the normal grain of experience and logic, not in the light of any evidence, but just because they were told a story by a bunch of fishermen and tax collectors. Nevertheless, the Pharisees and Pilate act on this suggestion and guard the tomb. The enemy's gamble paid off, and the leaders fell in line with his manipulation.

Guards and a sealed tomb would likely have successfully kept out even a determined band of loyal body-stealing disciples (if they had come), but no guards could ever prevent the Majesty from on High from rising from the dead, passing through walls, and marching forth onto his now-conquered earth. All things were now under his feet. The enemy was vanquished, stripped of all authority, humiliated. All the enemy had left was deceit.

Jesus rises from the dead, and suddenly the enemy's damage control has to switch gears completely. After the resurrection, things suddenly go from it being the worst thing in the world for the disciples to get the body and tell people that Jesus rose from the dead to "Here's money; tell everyone in the world that the disciples stole the body and announced that Jesus rose from the dead." Now Satan leverages our natural and reasonable expectations about the behavior of dead bodies in order to cast doubt on the resurrection.

Curiously, no one seems to notice that suddenly the positioning message has switched 180 degrees overnight. The deceiver dances the deception dance with skill and alacrity, playing expertly upon people's distractiblity and forgetfulness. The body is missing? Why, someone must have taken it. This is the most common and plausible sounding thing in the world. It's already right there in everyone's minds.  Indeed, it would seem to the reasonable person that he was walking in the truth to believe the "stolen body" version of the story. It goes to show how subtle the enemy's deception is, and how even facts and experience and logic can combine in his hand to keep people in the dark about the truth.

What I find amusing, when all is said and done, is that the setting of the guard actually caused the circumstances to point to the resurrection more than to any other explanation, literally ruling out the likelihood that anyone could have stolen and hidden the body. What do people do when the body turns up missing? They investigate. The investigators would have questioned every interested party to distill the facts. And the facts known to them then would have been the same as the facts known to us now---that the disciples themselves didn't expect the resurrection or have the savvy to concoct a falsehood like stealing the body, that they couldn't have done it anyway because there was a guard, that the guards saw the earthquake, fell down as dead men, and woke up to find an empty tomb, and that they were paid off to report the body was stolen. The dead body never turned up--but the living person of Christ did, and was seen by at least 500 witnesses. The only story that points to is a genuine resurrection. Satan played right into God's hands, even in the midst of weaving his webs of deceit.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Trail Ridge Road

There is a gorgeous place on earth that I have fallen greatly in love with ever since I first saw it.

You get above the treeline. You probably see lots of elk. You also see incredible views.

Trail Ridge Road.

The highest paved road in the United States, it takes a body up to over 12,000 feet without the necessity of hiking a single step. You just drive up the road and the car does all the work for you.

Of course, this could be a benefit or a drawback, depending on how you look at hiking. I love to hike with all my heart--but this lessens not at all my affinity to go back again and again and simply drive up Trail Ridge Road.

I think part of the charm is that you can drive farther and get more views in a shorter amount of time than you could ever get on a hike. And for people with young children or limited mobility, it makes accessible the tremendous kinds of vistas that would otherwise be available only to hikers.

Some people think it's scary to drive on this road because of the dropoffs in certain places. For me, this is part of the attraction. I wish it was a lot scarier so that I could at least feel a little tiny speck of an adrenaline rush...but for me, it is pure wonder and admiration. EVERY time I go, though, I hear some woman saying to her husband, "Honey, this is really scary. It's getting windy. I don't like it up here." People.

One of the mind-boggling things to me is the height of the poles along the side of the road once you get above the treeline. This is how high the snow must get. They close the road from the end of October through Memorial Day because of "adverse conditions." I can believe it.

And there you have it. It's worth a drive. Especially at sunset. Or sunrise. Or the middle of the day. It's awesome in spring. And summer. And fall. You can't go in the winter, but undoubtedly, it's awesome then, too. 

Anyone want to come to Colorado? :-)

Saturday, November 1, 2014

An Unexpected Pattern of Suffering and Glory

A friend emailed me this week with an article called A Forever Change in Perspective by Sara Hagerty, and I related to it in so many ways that it got me thinking. 

In my own life, I have passed through a season that has been very hard, and going through hard things requires one to begin to learn how to deal with hard things. 

It is easy to joyfully live the Christian life when nothing bad has ever happened to you. 

It's different when you live the Christian life in the way you thought you were meant to live it, only to have everything come crashing down in a ruin around your feet, see the end of the desires God had planted in your heart, and experience the bewilderment of not understanding what went wrong. 

Not only did my experience not seem to fit the pattern of what I expected the Christian life to be, I also thought that I was walking completely alone in the way things were taking place.

Reading this article, however, alerted me to the fact that my experiences are not a unique haphazard case of perplexity and mystery, but rather part of a general pattern of God's dealings with his children. And this blew my mind. 

If this is a pattern, then Scripture must have led us to expect it--so the fact that I had not expected it must reveal that somewhere I have an insufficient view of Scripture. 

Here is the beginning of the pattern: 
God plants a desire in my heart, a desire that is good and beautiful, but one that has abundant propensity to bring pain; one that, if left unsatisfied, seems like it would be better not to have had in the first place; and one that has absolutely no guarantee of being fulfilled. 

Here is the middle of the pattern: 
The desire that was planted springs up and takes root, but rather than being watered and cultivated and sheltered by God, I find that it is crushed, it withers, it dies, it is uprooted, not even under pretense of negligence, but done as the purposeful action by His very own hand. 

Here is the end of the pattern: 
Life comes out of death, victory out of defeat, and the express fulfillment of the very same desires that God had planted at the beginning, in a way that is surpassingly beautiful and much more satisfying than anyone would have dared to imagine. 

It was arriving at the stage in the middle of the pattern that knocked me off my feet and caused me to doubt the nature of God and become utterly bewildered as to what was taking place. What did I do wrong? 

This deficiency and incomplete knowledge of what Christianity ought to be led to the formation of the conditions that allowed me to be hurt, to doubt God's nature, and to think that something was terribly, dreadfully wrong. But all along, it was right there in the Bible in plain sight. The real question is how I had ever missed it. 

Seeing the pattern in Scripture: Joseph

There is Joseph, for instance. God gave Joseph the dreams. He didn't ask for them. And then God led Joseph down one dead-end road after another. Ridiculed by his brothers. Sold as a slave. Thrown into prison on an unjust accusation. This would have felt like a disaster, an increasingly hopeless nightmare, an unsalvageable wreck of the purposes that were supposed to happen. But one day, Joseph was allowed to clean himself up, walk into the princely station that God had prepared for him, get a wife and have children, get his father and family back, and see the fulfillment of all God had promised. 

The pattern is there.

But even more obvious, front-and-center, and unmistakable, the pattern is at the cross. 

Seeing the pattern in Scripture: The cross

Man is lost in sin, and so God plants in the human race the desire for a Savior, the Messiah. If God had never done anything to cause us to desire this, we would have gone on without this desire, oblivious to the possibility that we could be saved, and accustomed to the fact that we live our 70 years and then disappear off the face of the earth forever, to go we-know-not-where. Only after death would we each find ourselves in hell, too late for a remedy.

Man waits, and God increases the desire for this Messiah by developing a complex set of criteria by which we will recognize Him. The hearts of men of faith nearly faint within them, sighing over the evil as they wait for this Deliverer.

Jesus comes! The desire on earth heightens to its highest pitch. "He is here! Now we will see how He will accomplish it. Surely it will be soon, and He will deliver us." 

Then--what is this? He dies!? 

All that for nothing? Would it not have been better to have not desired anything in the first place? 

How dare He lead us down a dead-end road? 

What kind of God would toy with our hopes, manipulate our emotions, and heighten our expectations--only to dash them at the end? 

Can we trust His nature? Dare we commit ourselves into His hand for anything ever again? Will we ever venture to follow His leadership after this? 

(Imagine that at this very juncture, the voice of God speaks to the hearts of men to say, "If you never have a Savior, will you still love me?" 

From this point in history, post resurrection, we can understand God's worthiness to still be loved right then, because we know what happened on the third day, and we know that their deliverance was accomplished and that the object of their desire was right around the corner.

But to the person who is still in the dark and yet continues to trust, what staggering amounts of faith it would take, what robust confidence in God, what a mind-boggling apparent contradiction it would be, for the man or woman then who joyfully runs to God and fixes upon Him a loving gaze and declares, "Yes! I will love you!") 

Three days of darkness and sorrow and untold grief pass. 

Then comes the glory and splendor of the Majesty on High rising from the dead, living to die no more, having vanquished death, crushed the power of sin, done away with the flesh, and defeated the enemy. His glory knows no bounds. The deliverance He has wrought is infinitely superior to anything anyone ever imagined. The kingdom He established is infinitely more glorious than a Roman-conquering battle-won world dominion. It was worth it to be done that way. It was worth the wait. It was worth desiring. And desire did not go unfulfilled.

The possession and increase of desire was worthwhile. 
The death of desire was not the end of the story. 
The accomplishment of desire was surpassingly glorious.

How then, do I think properly about suffering? 

There is one type of suffering which a person brings upon himself. Painful consequences come as the direct result of incorrect action. The inviolable law of sowing and reaping takes effect, whether or not you expect it or admit it. This kind of suffering is one that an individual can hopefully avoid altogether. Live according to wisdom and righteousness, sow to the spirit, and avoid the spankings. Also, this kind of suffering is one that an individual should not be surprised at. The guilty conscience should expect and indeed welcome the chastisement that comes as a direct result of unlawful deeds. This kind of suffering I believe I had understood since childhood, and I had ordered my life, to the best of my ability, to minimize it.

There is another type of suffering which involves seemingly-random acts that produce pain which a person did nothing to directly deserve (such as the death of a child, or a Christian being persecuted for his faith, or being born in a country like North Korea). This kind of suffering, while it is a mystery, is ordained by the inscrutable wisdom of God for our good, and I accept by faith that it is in accordance with the nature of a loving God. This kind of suffering, too, I had been taught about since childhood, and I always hoped that when it came to be my turn to go through the fire, I would submit with loving trust, endure it with patience, and find out the results in eternity. 

But there is another type of suffering which I am talking about, a category that is entirely brand new to me. It is the suffering of reaching "the middle of the pattern." It is not a mysterious "fire" of suffering that falls upon you in a random area of your life. It is the destruction of the very thing you thought God wanted you to desire, the collapse of the precise area that He had asked you to give your life for, the ruin of something you would have never even done if it were not for God, a ruin that comes, not randomly, but by the direct work of His own hand. 

This was a staggering blow to my soul. I doubted God's nature, His ability to lead me, and my ability to perceive what He wanted. If all this could happen when I thought I was walking in the light and conforming my actions as completely as possible to His ways, then something must be dreadfully wrong. 

I wondered, "How do I order my life from here, when the way I have lived has brought me to this?"

But recognizing that it has been in Scripture all along gives me hope. Seeing that it is a pattern allows me to place myself within that pattern, and therefore, understand what stages I have passed through and what stage is before me. In my own life, I see that I am in between the end of the middle of the pattern and the beginning of the end of the pattern. 

I am at a juncture where I am looking at the wreck and seeming disaster of a desire, a long-held desire that was pure and admirable and surely from no other source than God. It was the desire to do missions. A lump comes into my throat and tears into my eyes just to think of it. I am living, as Sara Hagerty put it, "on the underside of mystery," and I find myself totally perplexed. The Lord allowed this good thing to be cut off. It was not that I was merely attacked and spoiled by the enemy--if it was just that, I could have borne it--but the Lord Himself took away from me the very offering that I made of my life to the Lord, until I felt that I was overlooked and abandoned by God. 

What is this, and where do I go from here, and how do I even think properly about that? 

I can do nothing but lie quiet and unresisting under His hand, accepting the loss of what was precious and sacred to me.

I am also at a juncture where the only stage before me is the resurrection! There has been death, but that death fits specifically into an area that none other than God himself brought to life in the first place. Therefore my expectation need not be a hopeless giving up of everything I had lived for and a pointless searching for another way to order my life. I fix my eyes upon the Savior and count these recent circumstances as an absolutely irrelevant factor in His ultimate ability to accomplish the purposes for which He placed that desire in me in the first place.

• • •

Is it possible that God leads us through the most preposterous, perplexing situations, simply to increase His glory when He comes through marvelously with the plans and desires that He planted in our hearts long ago? 

And is it therefore correct for me--not to squash the desires and assiduously keep myself from wanting anything ever again--but to allow those desires to take root, and then to foresee and expect them to be crushed, to wither, to die, to be uprooted, and yet, undaunted, to expect God to bring the very fulfillment of those dead, withered, hopeless things? 

Is this not the essence of faith? 

Would this not drop the jaw of the observers in the heavenly realms, if they saw a believer whom they knew to be completely in the dark, acting upon a confident expectation of God's accomplishment of hopelessly impossible desires? 

And will not I myself be "as those that dream" when I see the fulfillment of the absolutely impossible when God brings it to pass?

The possession and increase of desire is worthwhile. 
The death of desire is not the end of the story. 
The accomplishment of desire is surpassingly glorious.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Movie Review: Heaven Is For Real

I read the book and liked it. The book was heartwarming, well-written, and thought-provoking. Whether or not I think there is a theological discrepancy between the heaven that the book presents and the real heaven, the book was a good read. It neither bolstered my faith nor attacked it. I didn't need this story to convince me that there was a heaven, because I already knew there was, not because I have been there, but because I know the Creator of heaven, and I trust what He has told me in His word. Overall, it was a cute story, fun to read, planted a "maybe" or a "what-if" in my mind regarding certain topics (like what happens to miscarried babies), and said nothing (in my opinion) overtly objectionable.

The movie, on the other hand, was terrible. I did not like it, it was a waste of time, it was very poorly done, it didn't resonate, there was no pacing or climax or fluid movement from scene to scene, and overall it attacked the true, Biblical heaven more than it upheld it. They left out good scenes that were in the book and put in cheesy, eye-rolling scenes that were not in the book. The overall effect of the movie was to emphasize doubt rather than belief in heaven's existence. All through the movie, I kept wanting to walk out of the room. It was that bad.

One scene that I particularly disliked was of the family in the car, driving to Denver and singing a Bible chorus together (I think it was the B-I-B-L-E). They are singing half-heartedly, and Colton, the little boy, is not singing at all. He interrupts the music to ask, "Can we sing 'We Will Rock You'?" The whole family stops singing the other song and immediately launches into "We Will Rock You" at the top of their lungs, obviously smiling and having a much better time. Therefore, it depicts Christian songs as boring and Christian people as being incapable of worship, while it depicts worldly songs as universally enjoyable.

Then, when the movie depicts Colton's journey into heaven, it shows him walking into the church and the angels are singing to him. It is truly angelic music, and he interrupts the song to ask them, "Can you sing 'We Will Rock You'?" The angels laugh, a subdued, tittering, sporadic laugh that was so fake and so dumb that it made me groan.

Another scene that is at the top of mind to point out as particularly problematic was when Todd (Colton's father and also the pastor of the local church) is at the graveyard and runs into a woman who is one of his parishioners and who has previously been outspoken and argumentative with him regarding the whole heaven thing. She is there to mourn her son, who was in the military and died at a young age. She is sad and vulnerable and apologetic for being argumentative. She admits that she is mad at God.

"Do you think my son is in heaven?" she asks Todd.

Todd asked her, "Do you still love your son?"

She nods yes.

Todd says, "Do you think I love mine?"

She nods yes.

Todd says, "Do you think God knows I love my son?"

She nods yes.

Todd says, "Do you think God loves my son more than your son?"

She dissolves into tears and shakes her head no and gives Todd a hug while she lays her head on his shoulder and cries tears of relief. The obvious implication that Todd is making is that her son is in heaven. The question is completely ignored of whether or not her son met the Biblical criteria of faith in the work of Christ and repentance from sin.

Finally, there is a scene near the end of the movie where Todd gets a phone call from the local radio station and he is informed that he is live on the air. The talk show host begins to ask him about his son's experience in heaven. Todd says, "Come to the church on Sunday morning and I'll tell you all about it." Up until this point, Todd has been conflicted, doubting, trying to make sense of his son's stories, and trying to make sense of his own faith. This is supposed to be his public statement vindicating the truth of heaven and faith and the resolution of his turmoil. Church is packed and Todd gets up and preaches THE W.O.R.S.T. sermon I have ever heard. It was so unbiblical, so deficient of value, so substance-less, so utterly lousy, and so worthy of ridicule that I literally had to get up and walk back and forth in the kitchen. When I did, my friends asked me, "Are you crying? Or are you laughing?" I replied, "I don't even have words for the contempt I feel for this right now." The film showed the faces of the congregation as Todd preached. They looked sincere. Some were nodding and others had tears in their eyes. It made the whole congregation into a superstitious bunch of idiots to have been moved by a message like that.

If I were to detail all the things I dislike about this movie, they would stretch from the beginning to the end of the film. I am looking for anything at all positive to say about it, racking my brain to think of any redeeming value it has in, and I literally cannot think of one thing. It would be better not to watch this at all than to watch it. I watched it to satisfy my curiosity, and I came away utterly disappointed.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Saul and the premature sacrifice

1 Samuel 13
5  And the Philistines gathered themselves together to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen, and people as the sand which is on the sea shore in multitude: and they came up, and pitched in Michmash, eastward from Bethaven.
6  When the men of Israel saw that they were in a strait, (for the people were distressed,) then the people did hide themselves in caves, and in thickets, and in rocks, and in high paces, and in pits.
7  And some of the Hebrews went over Jordan ot the land of Gad and Gilead. As for Saul, he was yet in Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.
8  And he tarried seven days, according to the set time that Samuel had appointed: but Samuel came not to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him.
9  And Saul said, Bring hither a burnt offering to me, and peace offerings. And he offered the burnt offering.
10  And it came to pass, that as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might salute him.
11  And Samuel said, What hast thou done? And Saul said, Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that thou camest not within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered themselves together at Michmash;
12  Therefore said I, The Philistines will come down now upon me to Gilgal, and I have not made supplication unto the LORD: I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering.
13  And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the LORD thy God, which he commanded thee: for now would the LORD have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever.
14  But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the LORD hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the LORD hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the LORD commanded thee.

This is such a sad story, and it makes me think on so many levels.

Verse 5-7: There was truly a dire situation going on. Invasion of Philistine armies for Saul was objectively much more intimidating than anything I face (simple lack of income).

Verse 8: He did wait. He waited seven days. He waited past the point of logic or endurance. The situation was getting worse by the minute. The Philistines were encroaching upon him and the people were departing from him and he only had 600 men left. But this apparently hopeless situation was, as we see from Samuel’s words in verse 13, precisely God’s test on Saul to see if he would break and turn to himself or continue to trust in the Lord. He did not trust in the Lord, and God took the kingdom away from him. Are my impending dire circumstances merely the Lord’s pressing, merely the test of faith, merely a proving ground to see where I will break and turn back to self and worldly solutions? Then let me stand fast in the face of impending doom, at the risk of losing everything, even my life. Let me steadfastly look to the Lord for His deliverance, trusting purely and solely in Him, no matter how threatening the circumstances become.

Verse 9: Saul offered the burnt offering. On the outside, an offering is good, but the motive it sprang from proved that he was far from God. It shows how a person can offer lip service to God while all the time their heart is far from Him and their faith is nonexistent. Lip service, like burnt offerings, are not acceptable because of the right wording or the proper outward ceremony. They are only acceptable when they spring from faith.

Verse 10: At this point, Saul did not feel guilty for what he had done. He saw Samuel, and he went out to salute him. It was just, “Hi, how are you?” There was no hint of hiding from Samuel or avoiding him that would indicate that Saul felt ashamed. Saul was justifying himself in the thing that he had done, convincing himself that it was the only proper and necessary step, something anyone would have done, something that had a valid and understandable explanation, so surely God would understand.

Verse 11: Samuel said, “What hast thou done,” and Saul’s answer started with “Because.” Samuel asked “WHAT have you done,” but Saul answered as if the question was “WHY have you done it.” Objectively, the answer to “What hast thou done” is “I offered the sacrifice that I ought to have waited for you to offer, and that was disobedience. I recognize that that is a punishable offense in the eyes of the LORD.” Samuel is seeking to pin Saul down with the truth, and Saul is slithering out from being pinned down, protesting, “Oh, but wait until you hear the reason, and you will see why it was really the only option available to me.” How often have I made excuses and therefore evaded the clear and living truth? How often have I clouded up my own situation by rationalizing and redefining and explaining my justification for why I did it? How clear everything would be if I simply walked in the truth.

Verse 12: “I forced myself therefore.” Saul’s wording makes it sound like he only took this step reluctantly, as a last resort, and that he would not have done it if the situation had been different or if Samuel had come earlier. But is that not the precise thing that God was testing? What is he really saying? “I forced myself to take matters into my own hands.” It was a deliberate step away from trusting God, even while He was offering a sacrifice, calling it "his supplication unto the LORD."

Saul, as a picture of the flesh, gives us insight into the deeds of the flesh. The flesh waits seven days for the Lord, not as a gesture of trust, but as a symbolic gesture of proving to self that the LORD is not coming through and that if anything is to be done, self is going to have to do it. The LORD waits just longer than the flesh holds out in order to prove who is really controlling the man’s decisions. “I forced myself” is a revealing statement of whose dominion Saul was under. A man under the dominion of the flesh is subservient to the flesh. Self is shackled to the will of the flesh, and the flesh, as a vicious taskmaster, forces self to comply with its demands. The flesh is a ruthless dictator who rules with absolute authority and lets no prisoner escape. The flesh is enmity against God. It is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. The flesh forced Saul to commit an action that proved to Samuel and to God that Saul’s trust was not in the LORD. However, Saul does not say, “Somebody forced me,” he says, “I forced myself.” This is because the flesh and the man are inextricably linked. The flesh and “I” are synonymous. It is only when a man dies that he can be released from the flesh and freed to serve the Lord by faith. Glorious gift of the gospel! I can enter into Christ’s death by faith. I can be crucified and buried with Him, the flesh can be left behind, and I can rise to newness of life to serve God in purity and truth without anybody (my flesh) forcing me to live in the old way.

I have entered into this resurrection life, and therefore I am not subservient to the flesh, and therefore I do not have to listen to the flesh’s screeching calls that the Lord is not going to come through for me and that I must turn back to the world’s way of doing things. That is nothing more than so much noise. I am free from that. I can walk by faith, looking unto Jesus, my eyes fixed on Him, and my trust unabated, though the winds and waves rise boisterous to threaten to overwhelm me.

Verse 13: “Thou hast done foolishly.” Oh, how the wisdom of God is foolishness to the natural mind, and how the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God! To the natural mind, it seemed foolish to wait any longer on the sacrifice when the people were departing from him and the doom was increasing. But the real foolishness was departing from the trust in the LORD, who was the only one who could save the situation and bring victory against impossible odds.

“Thou hast not kept the commandment of the LORD thy God, which he commanded thee.” If Saul had walked in faith, then his obedience would have followed, for true faith always results in obedience, and true obedience is only possible to the man who believes his God. The disobedience was the proof of the lack of faith.

“For now would the LORD have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever.” God was looking for a man of faith to rule his kingdom, and if Saul had been proved here and passed the test, then he would have had the kingdom forever. In that sense, the test was like a door. Would he go through the door or not? Would he turn back to the ways of the flesh, or would he place his trust unflinchingly in the Lord? He could press forward and get through that door and live by faith, or he could shrink back and stay on this side of the door and never cross the line into victory and blessedness and permanent stability. He chose a direction, and therefore he received the corresponding consequences. Oh, how necessary it is, how vital it is, how crucial it is to persevere in trusting the Lord, no matter how black the circumstances look! In each increasing test of faith, there is an additional proving ground. Will we go through the door of faith, and look at the situation from the secure position of being hidden in the strong tower, being built upon the rock, being clothed in impenetrable armor? Or will we shrink back from the door of faith and remain in the cold and windswept land of self-effort, where we will surely be defeated? It would be madness not to enter the Lord’s protection by faith. It would be foolishness! Let the flesh howl its protests. Let the natural world cast up all its arguments against the sufficiency of the Lord. I will not look at them. I will not listen. I will lose my gaze in the beauty of the Holy, Holy, Holy one, and look to Him to be my defense and my aid, and He will come through for me.