Thursday, May 31, 2012

God set me down

5/30/12 Tuesday I think that the Lord has set me down. Last night my big toe started getting sore and it got steadily worse till this morning it felt like I had slammed it with a hammer. The gout is back. This means I can hardly walk so working on the farm is not an option despite the fact I had so much planned to do.

What this means is that I must stay in and work on so many other things that have been put off. There is the book I am writing, and the other books too. There are bible studies to finish and put on paper, there are letters to write to prisoners and others. And there is lots of research that needs to get done as well.

Part of me would rather be out in the 100 + degree heat working on the farm. I always would do that thinking “When I come in I will do the writing and stuff” but the reality is that I am always wiped and in pain by then so nothing gets done. Let me fill in a little about what has been happening out here on Westbrook Farms, and outlining areas.

I traveled a couple of hundred miles to mow two lawns for that job working with properties owned by banks. Tired of always having every job reduced in pay I finally called them and changed my official contracted area to just Martin County. That makes everything else classified as being out of my area and so eligible for a trip charge. Before that they wanted me to travel 90 miles to Odessa to mow one lawn and only pay $35.00 for the job. Unfortunately they are holding several hundred dollars in back pay in ransom. By contract they can refuse to pay for old jobs if I haven’t completed the new ones. It is old but I will maintain my integrity and personal honor and finish what I said I would do, despite them not keeping their word.

 All the time I have spent driving to and from these jobs is time that would be better spent working on the farm and our life. While driving home from mowing the lawn in Lamesa I called Cherie. She told me that there was a rattlesnake on the veranda. The dogs were barking like crazy at it and I was glad to hear that Rascal had enough sense to be afraid of it so stayed away. Duke did not display such sense so Cherie got all the dogs in the house, where they were safe. When I got home I quickly located the snake hiding behind the love seat we have outside. It wasn’t big, about 3 foot long and I suspect is the same snake we saw in the garage a few weeks back. Now, I like these snakes for they kill off the rats and mice, and I am not too keen on mice and rats. We have lots of them here and they chew up electrical cords along with doing all sorts of damage. The thought entered my mind to just leave the snake alone, but other factors prevailed. First was my wife’s peace of mind, and second is the safety of our dogs and us too.

 The snake was hard to get at, tucked away behind the love seat out of reach. I scooted the love seat forward enough to be able to reach back behind it and took a board to pin it down. Cherie was praying up a storm in her concern as I messed with this poisonous serpent but I wasn’t worried. I played with lots of snakes as a kid growing up in Texas so it wasn’t a big deal. Pinning its head down I reached down and grabbed it behind the head and picked the not so happy critter up. Oh, it was rattling up a storm for sure and I sure wish Cherie had the camera so we could have captured a picture of its wide open mouth and fangs. But this was unnerving for Cherie as it was so I didn’t want to impose. I had a big plastic tub with a tight fitting lid ready so carefully placed the snake in it and quickly put the lid on.

 Now I know that many here in West Texas say “The only good rattlesnake is a dead rattlesnake” but I don’t buy that. All snakes perform a valuable function keeping rodents down and the only time you have to worry about a rattler is when you mess with it. They are not anxious to bite anyone and would much rather run and hide. We have to be careful out here, always observant of our surroundings, because I have often almost stepped on a few rattlers. I like them because they tend to warn you they are around and rarely strike without such warning. Besides that, I know that a rattlesnake bite is seldom deadly and am also confident that my God will not let us be harmed. So I took this snake down the road to an area that is wild and few people ever go and turned it loose.

There is a lot of frustration here, with both me and Cherie, because we see so much potential for the future of this farm and have great hopes, but struggle just to pay bills. But the most frustrating part for me is to see so many lives that need to be touched by the love of God, so many people who need help in many ways, yet not have the means or time to lead them in a right direction. Visiting at the jail last week I had a man who, as tears streamed down his face, expressed his frustration at not being able to break free of the drugs and lifestyle that he knew was harming not only himself, but his family too.

 I deeply understand that other people are far more important than me becoming a successful farmer or businessman. It wouldn’t matter if I once again became worth over a million dollars. That really doesn’t mean a thing compared to being able to save just one life. I have been blessed with losing everything I had, from wealth, life, to my mind, and then had the privilege of wandering homeless carrying everything I owned in a plastic garbage bag. “Why would you say that is a blessing?” one of you readers might say. Because it helps me understand what is truly important, especially in the long run, knowing that we will all stand before God and have to answer for every word that comes out of our mouths.

 I firmly believe that there are no accidents in my life. Oh, I have had lots of accidents and wrecks, made more mistakes than I can count, and acted the fool so many times I can’t remember. But I am confident that all those bad things now allow me to relate to and help others heading down similar roads. It gives me an insight and wisdom that can be used to help others choose wisely. I see my past life as a form of training for the future God has in store for us, but that future seems so hard to grasp and see. Plus my number one responsibility is to care for my wife, to help provide for her security, and that job I am not doing well. Hence the frustrations.

 My bible reading lately has been in 1 and 2nd Samuel. As I read about how the nation of Israel decided they needed a king and the whole story of how Saul was picked to be king, I saw so many parallels to what we see in the church today. The contrast between King Saul and David, who would become king after Saul, is a striking illustration of the good and bad we all face in ourselves, and the pitfalls that can destroy our relationship with God, and others.

 So who was this Saul that God chose to be king of Israel? He was impressive to look at, a head taller than everyone but when the prophet Samuel told him that he was the hope of Israel Saul said “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?” Point is that Saul understood he was no one special at this time. We will see how that changes. Samuel then anoints Saul with oil and tells him that he would be king of Israel.

 A very important part of this story is what follows. This can be found in 1 Samuel chapter 10 starting at verse 5. Samuel told Saul that he would be filled with God’s holy spirit, would prophesy, and that he would be a changed man. In verse 9 it says “As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul's heart”. Understand that this is as close to the equivalent to being a born again spirit filled believer as can be in the old testament. Later, when Samuel called the whole nation together and started picking out tribes and clans by lots Saul, despite having been told he would be king and experiencing these spiritual events, was hiding in the baggage. He was afraid. But we will see that change and it won’t be for the better.

So to go over the points made, Saul was appointed king, God changed his heart so that he became “A different person”, and God’s spirit filled Saul so there was a definite relationship. We can see through the coming chapters that at this point in Saul’s life he heard from God clearly.

 What we will be learning next is that God has a set of standards that He holds us to, and that there is a point of no return. Only God is the judge of where and when that point is reached but His judgment is final. The bible says God is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. He does not change. However in these latter times many have put God into the box of their choosing, creating in their mind the kind of God they want. Often this God is one who is more tolerant of their sins and allows them to continue doing what they know is not pleasing to God with no repercussions. That is a dangerous line to walk.

 Saul, after being anointed as king went home and back to work in his families fields. One day he came home from working and found everyone crying because the Ammonites were attacking one of the Israelite cities. The bible states that the spirit of the Lord came on him mightily and Saul burned with anger. Then he sent word to the nation for all to come and go to war. So far so good. Saul went out and whipped the Ammonites good, proving he was a fit leader and king. With that Saul was reaffirmed as king and the whole nation celebrated for days.

 But it didn’t take long for things to start to go sour. Saul pulled together a bunch of troops and went to pick a fight with the Philistines, who had long ruled over the area. Now he was stirring up trouble against the big boys. He sent word throughout the land for everyone to come and fight. No one had a sword or spear except Saul and his son Jonathan because the Philistines had made sure there was no blacksmith in the land. Now we have thousands of well-armed and mad Philistines gathered with chariots and foot soldiers that were so numerous they weren’t counted.

The Israelites answered Saul’s call but soon started slipping away into hiding. There was a spirit of fear that surrounded the camp as even the soldiers with Saul trembled in sandals. Samuel, the prophet of God, the source of assurance for the nation that God was with them, was supposed to come in 7 days, but didn’t. With that even more people slipped away, running scared.

 What does Saul do? Instead of waiting patiently on Samuel, instead of doing what he was told, he took matters into his own hands. The sacrifices that were being saved for Samuel to offer to God were brought to Saul on his orders and he offered them up himself. As soon as he was done Samuel showed up. “What have you done?” Samuel asked. Saul had all the excuses and made sure to put a religious spin on it saying “I had not sought the Lords favor so felt compelled to do so”. Samuel told Saul "You acted foolishly, You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. 14 But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD's command."

What is interesting to me is that Samuel is clear that God has already picked out a replacement for Saul. However Saul will remain as king for a total of 42 years. Here we find another principle in the bible, that God has his own timetable and another one is also good to note. God told Saul that He had already picked out his replacement. It wasn’t long after that that God told Saul, through the prophet Samuel, that the kingdom would be torn from him. This is found in 1 Samuel 15:28 “Samuel said to him, "The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors--to one better than you. 29 He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind."

Here is an insight we need to pay attention to. In God’s mind, once a decision has been made it is viewed as fact despite the actual physical event not having occurred yet. Samuel said “Today” the kingdom was torn from him, and given to another, but this actually won’t happen till over 20 years later.

What I want to focus on in this scriptural lesson is what it was that caused Saul to fall. We have all seen great people of God fall into disgrace and some into grave sin. There is a common root all these falls have, and that root is pride. Pride is the root of all sin, starting with Lucifer, when he said “I can be like God”. Remember Saul’s start? How he said he was the least of the least? Remember how Saul hid in the baggage when Samuel was picking out the King? There is a danger when anyone is put on a pedestal. The churches of today do that with all their leaders, placing them in front and having so many depend on these leaders for so much. It is so very hard not to let this feed your ego, so very hard not to let it go to your head when all around you tell how great you are, what a fantastic sermon that was, and how you really helped them, and on and on for years.

 In chapter 15 of 1 Samuel we read of this final straw that placed Saul into disfavor with God. Samuel came with pretty clear and specific instructions. This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. 3 Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'

 I don’t have time to discuss why God would demand such a drastic action and understand how harsh it is but what Saul did was to compromise. When he attacked he spared the life of the king and then allowed his men to keep the best of the flocks and livestock. What stands out to me later is how religious sounding Saul is when Samuel confronts him. 1 Samuel 15:13 When Samuel reached him, Saul said, "The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD's instructions."

 It is important to make note of the fact that just before this it was revealed that Saul had gone and set up a monument to himself after defeating the king in battle. Now we see the ego, the self-importance growing in Saul. And next we find how Saul justifies and makes excuses for doing what he knew was wrong.

 But Samuel said, "What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?" 15 Saul answered, "The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God, but we totally destroyed the rest."

 It doesn’t end there. Despite Samuel plainly pointing out that Saul had disobeyed God’s clear instruction Saul now begins to verbally dance, to try and talk his way out of trouble. I think we all have been guilty of that kind of dance before as we try to avoid an unpleasant truth regarding our actions. Read more of that conversation between Saul and Samuel.

Why did you not obey the LORD? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the LORD?" 20 "But I did obey the LORD," Saul said. "I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. 21 The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal." 22 But Samuel replied: "Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king."

 And here we find some truths that we should take to heart. Rebellion is as the sin of divination, or as some translations say “witchcraft” and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. I would say that the comparison of arrogance to idolatry is because when one is arrogant he, or she, basically think so much of themselves that their pride in who they are is almost like setting themselves up to be worshipped.

 I would like to point out also the blindness Saul has to his own actions, the self-deception he practices when he says “But I did obey the Lord”. Pride blinds and deceives us, causing our eyes to see a picture of our own making and a product of our imagination. How many times I have seen this and some are so infatuated with themselves that they are not willing or able to have any fault pointed out. If anyone dares to try and show them a fault it is perceived as a personal attack instead of a “you can do better” word of admonishment with the motive of raising them up.

One last point I see in this. In verse 24 of 1 Samuel 15 we read "Then Saul said to Samuel, "I have sinned. I violated the LORD's command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them". I have to wonder if Saul was really afraid of the people or perhaps just wanted to make them happy and give them what they wanted. Again this is a common issue in our modern world and unfortunately in the ministry too. So many preachers, desirous to be popular, or not wanting to lose members of their congregations, tell the people what they want to hear instead of telling the truth.  

 That is all I have time for now. There is lots to do on the farm and other places so I must go now. The gout has gotten better to the point I can put my foot in a boot and walk, though it is with pain. So I must go but would encourage you to read the rest of this story in 1 Samuel. In it you will see Saul maintaining his religious veneer as he becomes internally torn. He will say “The Lord bless you” one minute and the next kill the priests of God in a city. There are many spiritual parallels we can draw from this and apply to our lives here and now. I have seen religious people talk of the love of God and then tear down others, killing them with their words. Bye now.

1 comment:

Bob said...

I had to go online and figure out how to put spaces in between paragraphs so this is easier to read. Blogger had updated their program so doing that now requires some effort.