Tweaking Church Methodology Or Repentance?

Is is possible that we have begun to believe that our methods, personality, strategies, intellect, and gifts are more important to the spiritual health of the church than a contrite heart and repentance? 

The nation of Israel in 1 Samuel came to the conclusion that what they really needed most was a new king.

4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” -1 Samuel 8:4-5

Israel thought that the most important change they could make was to establish a earthly king. Time to upgrade from judges to a king. Certainly that will fix what ails them. They were making decisions based on worldly wisdom, not the Word of God.

We know this because God informs Samuel that Israel’s desire to have an earthly king reflects the fact that they have lost interest in him being their One rightful king.

7 And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. -1 Samuel 8:7

Let’s be honest. We do this kind of thing in the church and in our personal life all the time, don’t we? Think through these questions with me. What do you think your church needs most? Better preaching? Better Worship Team? Better Children’s Ministry? More emphasis on Missions? You name it. The list could go on and on.

The same kind of question(s) could be asked regarding our personal lives. What do you think you need the most? More time? Better salary? Better spouse? New house? New career?

Leaders, when was the last time you went to a church conference where the theme was repentance? I wonder why that is. Have we lost sight of the “methods” that God uses to change lives and churches?

The point that God was desperate to get across to his people in 1 Samuel is that what they needed most was not merely to tweak their programs or their personal lives. What they needed most was to repent of their sins.

3 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.” 4 So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the LORD only. -1 Samuel 7:3

We could have the best of everything in our churches as far as staffing, resources, buildings, education, and strategy goes but if we are not seeking after God with all of our heart then it is all meaningless. Smoke with no fire. A show without substance.

One of the primary issues that is revealed in the book of 1 Samuel is that we all tend to seek after attractive substitutes (false kings) when we should be pursuing after God with a broken and contrite heart.

Blogging about this kind of stuff is really easy.  I can type this out and my heart still be far from God. It would not be the first time that happened. Living it out is a whole different thing. I can say that 1 Samuel has created a strong conviction in my own life to turn from my pet sins and seek after God with a renewed sense of urgency and passion.

Does God Speak To Us Today?

I must admit that I become super nervous when I hear someone say “God told me…” World history is littered with stories of people who mistakenly thought they heard from God. Unfortunately the voice they were listening to told them to start a cult or leave their spouse and run off with someone from work. I think it is safe to say that it wasn’t God’s voice that they were listening to.

Which leads me to 1 Samuel 3 (I’m preaching through 1 Samuel right now). It is a well known story about Samuel and how God spoke to him while he was working in the tent of meeting.

We find God talking in 3:10-11, And the LORD came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” Then the LORD said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle.

The BIG IDEA of 1 Samuel 2:12-3:21 is really all about the desperate need that the nation of Israel had to hear from God. We know that this was a major problem because we read this in 3:1, “Now the young man Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.

In Samuel’s day God’s people desperately needed to hear from God. Of course, the same thing is true for you and I. OK. So if God is speaking to us why do we so often feel like we can’t hear him? Let me suggest a few answers to that question.

  • Sin. Eli and and his sons were wicked. The sons were really wicked and dad was passive and allowed the sin to go unchecked. Poor spiritual leadership.  We are told that Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were stealing food that was meant for God and they were sleeping with women at the tabernacle! Is there any wonder that Eli, his sons, and the nation of Israel were not receiving the Word of the Lord? What about us? Are there areas in our life that we have not surrendered to God? If so there is a good chance that we are no longer hearing from God. Why would God bother to give us new insight and wisdom when we are not bothering to repent of the obvious sin that we are already wallowing in?
  • We are confused when it comes to how God speaks to us. Let me be clear. The single greatest way that God speaks to us today is through the Word of God. This does not mean that God never guides us through other means. We see plenty of examples in Scripture of God communicating to his people audibly, burning bushes, visions, signs, etc.  So I don’t want to limit the way God communicates to us. Even with that said we must keep in mind that the Word of God is inspired, trustworthy and we are under it’s divine authority. Scripture reading is the normal, day-to-day way in which God communicates to his children.  Here is a short example of why we need to trust the Word of God over our personal impulses and intuitions. This is from “Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God” by Tim Keller.

The eighteenth-century Anglican clergyman George Whitefield was one of the spearheads of the Great Awakening, a period of massive renewal of interest in Christianity across Western societies and a time of significant church growth. Whitefield was a riveting orator and is considered one of the greatest preachers in church history. In late 1743 his first child, a son, was born to he and his wife, Elizabeth. Whitefield has a strong impression that God was telling him the child would grow up to also be a “preacher of the everlasting Gospel.” In view of this divine assurance, he gave his son the name John, after John the Baptist, whose mother was also named Elizabeth. When John Whitefield was born, George baptized his son before a large crowd and preached a sermon on the great works that God would do through his son. He knew that cynics were sneering at his prophecies, but he ignored them.

Prayer Tim KellerThen, at just four months old, his son died suddenly of a seizure. The Whitefields were of course grief-stricken, but George was particularly convicted about how wrong he had been to count his inward impulses and intuitions as being essentially equal to God’s Word. He realized he had led his congregation into the same disillusioning mistake. Whitefield had interpreted his own feelings- his understandable and powerful fatherly pride and joy in his son, and his hopes for him- as God speaking to his heart. Not long afterward, he wrote a wrenching prayer for himself, that God would “render this mistaken parent more cautious, more sober-minded, more experienced in Satan’s devices, and consequently more useful in his future labors to the church of God.”

The lesson here is not that God never guides our thoughts or prompts us to choose wise courses of action, but that we cannot be sure he is speaking to us unless we read it in the Scripture.

  • We are just too busy. We are so busy with work, sports, paying bills, vacations that we simply have not left time to hear from the Creator of the universe. Read that sentence again. It’s about as sad as it gets. Will we re-prioritize our lives so that we make space to be with God and immerse our heart and mind in His Word?
  • We have lost our awe in the Bible. If we are being brutally honest we would have to admit that part of the reason we don’t listen to God through His Word is because we find other things to do that we think are more exciting. Iphones. TV shows. Sports. Social media. Hobbies. Exercise. Do we really believe that the power that created the universe is the same power in the pages of Scripture? Do we believe that the Bible has the power to heal our broken family? Do we believe that the Bible is a revolutionary book that has forever altered the course of world history? Have we lost our awe of God and how he speaks to us through His Word?

God is still speaking to us today. The question is will we make make space in our lives to hear from Him?

Picture taken from odbdotcom

1 Samuel and Modern Day Politics

I will begin preaching from 1 Samuel in a couple weeks. As I was reading through the book today I had this strong sense that 1 Samuel has much to say when it comes our attempts to change the world and modern day politics.  I have made up a fictional account of 1 Samuel 8. Let’s call it the Uninspired Michael Edition.
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19 But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, 20 that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” -1 Samuel 8:19-20

The people were #outraged over the many problems they saw in the world. They came to Samuel and told him that the answer to all their problems was to find just the right leader. Not too liberal and not too conservative. Samuel knew this was a terrible idea. He warned them that any human leader they selected would be a raging sinner and would be unable to fix all their problems. They cried out to Samuel and explained that by their estimation there were 780,093,870 different #movements that they had felt strongly about for at least 3 hours. They concluded that it was only reasonable to expect the new leader to accomplish their agenda for them. Action must be taken.

Samuel sighed deeply. He reminded them that God was to be their only king and He had already given them the plan to change the world. He told them that the place to start was a deep love for God. Moses had been clear that love was the greatest of all commands. Samuel was concerned that their political anger could spill over into actual violence in the streets. Samuel then talked about the prophet Isaiah and how he taught them that it was their responsibility to be a light to the nations. This meant living differently then the culture around them. They were responsible to live out their faith in a manner that accurately reflected who Yahweh truly is.  Living as a light to the nations might even lead to the unthinkable, getting to know their Gentile neighbors who are lost in darkness. Samuel finally pointed out that the prophet Micah had commanded them to pursue justice.  This was a roll up your sleeves, leave the confines of your tent, and actually make a difference in the world kind of command.

The people enthusiastically nodded and said they knew all of those commands because they had studied them in their Synagogue Group.

Samuel felt a sense of hope as they recited the verses out loud. But hope quickly turned to despair as the people explained to him that they wanted to elect a leader so that he could do all the things the prophets had told them to do.

So God told Samuel to go ahead and do as the people had requested. A President was elected.

But the people began to wonder what in the world they would use so that they knew how to think, talk, act and live in this new kingdom. Samuel, again, reminded them that they had the all-powerful Word of God that was sufficient for all their needs.

The people patted ole Sam on the head but they knew better. Some suggested a golden calf. Most liked this idea, very retro. But they decided they had been there, done that. Some thought they should put together a book. But they agreed that everyone was just to busy to bother reading. Finally someone suggested that instead of a calf or a book that they create a box. But what kind of box? How about a box that talks to people. This box would serve as a mechanism that would grow their power and influence in the world. It would also be a great way to indoctrinate, incite and motivate the masses. Discipleship from a box.

Through this box came news programs, talk shows and a plethora of channels that could give them the daily wisdom they were so desperate for. They would know when they should get #outraged and when to form a new #movement. The kingdom of God was taking shape right in front of their very eyes. The people cheered.

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You’ll have to read the rest of 1 and 2 Samuel to see how it all turned out. Let’s just say not good.

Photo taken from historydotcom