At times, we don’t experience the gracious heart of God in daily life, because we insist that God must be gracious in the particular way we want him to

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I promised I wouldn’t preach the same sermon yet again, and I won’t. However, I do want to preach this time from the same text as the last sermon. Last time we looked at what this text meant for who we are as Christians, and how we should function as a church. But there is a lot more here to consider as well.

The first thing that struck me when I read this was the safety and freedom there is in living in daily relationship with God. God doesn’t allow our misguided good intentions to go unchecked. Both Nathan and David had their hearts in the right place. They were sincere. Both of them, however, were sincerely wrong. Even so, because they were keeping in step with the Lord, they were able to hear when the Lord corrected them. And the Lord did correct them. He didn’t say, “shoot, they got it wrong again. Oh well.” No, when they didn’t get it right away, he spoke to them again. So we can trust God’s leadership. Picture someone walking with a friend who is blind and using a cane. They come the corner of a street where there is traffic. The friend says quietly, “stop here.” The blind person doesn’t hear it, and keeps walking. Of course the guide is going to repeat himself, more loudly, and maybe even grab onto his blind friend, to prevent him from being hurt. Do we expect any less from God?

Now, one important thing here is that Nathan and David really did want to do whatever God wanted in this situation. They weren’t insisting on their own way. So when they made the wrong choice, they were able to hear the Lord when he spoke to them about it. Unfortunately, sometimes we are like a blind person who says to our guide, “I don’t trust you, so I won’t go where you are taking me.” We ignore Him when he says “turn here,” or “stop there.” Then, sad to say, often we blame God the bad things that result from our unwillingness to listen to him. But when Nathan and David were open, the Lord kept them moving in the right direction, and they were able to hear it.

This is tremendously comforting to me. Sometimes, we get so caught up in wanting to do the right thing that we become almost paralyzed with fear that we will make the wrong choice. We think, “If I screw this up, it will be disaster. I could destroy God’s plan for my life. I could destroy my chance at happiness.” Maybe we’re looking at a job or career move. Maybe we’re buying a house, or choosing a college or deciding what we want to be when we grow up. Maybe we’re trying to decide if we should marry someone or not. Brothers and sisters in Jesus, we can have tremendous freedom, hope and joy in these choices. If we truly want God to do what he wants in and through our lives, then step forward boldly and make your best choice. If you are wrong, the Lord will correct you. We don’t have to be experts at hearing from God. But we have to be open to letting him do whatever he wants. If we maintain that openness, we’ll be able to hear it if we start down a path where he doesn’t want us to go.

The fact that we really can trust the Lord to guide us is wonderfully comforting. It is part of God’s grace. But wait, there’s even more. David, good-hearted man that he was, was thinking like this: “God chose me. He delivered me from Saul. He gave me victory over the Philistines. I have a secure place and even my own palace. God’s done so much for me. Now, I want to do something for God.” So he said, “I will build you a house, God.”

But God said this: “No. I know you want to do something for me. But I want to do more for you. You want to build me a house. Instead, I am going to build you a house.” The word used for “house” is the same all the way through. It is the Hebrew word pronounced “va’yit.” This is a pretty flexible word. It is used for David’s palace, for describing a dwelling and also for family, line of descendants and so on. I think the Lord deliberately inspired the writer to use the same word, in order to emphasize what he was doing. He was piling on the grace.

What God promises is that David will have a descendant who will rule forever. David’s descendant will preside over the kingdom of God. This is a prophecy. Now, I have said before that prophecy is kind of like viewing a mountain range from a long way away. It looks like all the mountains are next to each other in a line across the horizon. But when you actually get into the mountains, you often find a great gap between peaks that looked like they were right next to each other when viewed from a distance. In the same way, it looks like all parts of the prophecy are supposed to take place at the same time; yet when it comes you find that parts of prophecy were fulfilled a few years after, and others hundreds of years later. Here, the prophecy is not a perfect revelation. But it shows that there will be a descendant of David who reigns forever. This descendant will be chastised and punished – just as Jesus was punished for our sins. God will do something eternal through this person. There are a few things here that may refer to Solomon, but clearly, the prophecy is talking mainly about Jesus.

God didn’t just say that David was his favorite choice for king. He didn’t just give him victory over a giant. He didn’t just take care of him in those years of hardship and trouble. He didn’t just protect David during battle and make him victorious – often against overwhelming odds. He didn’t just actually make David king. He didn’t just deliver David from his enemies and give him a secure place to live and rule. He also promised (and delivered generations later) that David’s name and family line would be honored forever. He promised that the messiah would be descended from David. He is showering grace after grace upon David. You can’t out-give God.

David, understandably, was overwhelmed. He went and “sat before Lord.” And then he prayed. David says something very important in verse nineteen that seems to be lost in translation in many English versions of the bible. He says,

What You have done so far was a little thing to You, Lord GOD, for You have also spoken about Your servant’s house in the distant future. And this is a revelation for mankind, Lord GOD. (2Sam 7:19, HCSB)

In the NIV this reads: “Is this your usual way of dealing with man?” In the NAS it says “And this is the custom of man.” But the literal Hebrew says this: “And this the torah mankind, Lord God.”

The Hebrew word “torah” has various related meanings, as many words do. It can mean custom or rule. But the most common meaning is “law of God.” In fact, during the time of Jesus, torah is one of two terms that describe God’s revelation in the Bible. When a Jew said “the torah (law) and the prophets” he meant “the word of God as revealed in the bible.”

So what David is really saying here is also a kind of prophecy. He is saying that this promise of the descendant who will come – this promise of a messiah who will reign forever – is God’s very word for mankind. It is a law and a promise for all humanity. The gospel of John describes the Messiah (Jesus) like this:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14)

One thousand years before John, in this text, David said, “this promise of a Messiah is the Word of God.”

In verse 21 David says this:

Because of your promise, and according to your own heart, you have brought about all this greatness, to make your servant know it.

This shows us that the promise is according to God’s own heart. Some translations have “will” but “heart” is more literal. This promise reveals the generous, gracious, loving, wise heart of God.

So let’s make this personal right now. Do you believe that this extreme graciousness is according to the heart of God? Even more personal – do you believe that this great grace is the way that God deals with you?

Let me remind you about David. He lied in a moment of pressure. He blew his top when he was insulted. He ignored what God said about marriage. He was not perfect. God was not gracious to David because David deserved it. David did not deserve it. God was gracious because that is the heart of God.

So set aside any thought of “well, I don’t deserve God to treat me that way.” Of course you don’t. Neither do I. Neither did David. Do you understand and believe that if you let him, God will deal with you in the same way he dealt with David?

I would guess that a lot of us don’t experience God in this way, and sometimes we believe that we cannot. There are reasons for this.

At times, I think we don’t experience the gracious heart of God in day to day life, because we insist that God must be gracious in the particular way we want him to. We want a better income, and so if he doesn’t do that, even though he is offering us tremendous joy through relationships with dear friends, we don’t really receive that grace. We want healing, and so we spurn the grace he offers us to grow and have joy even in pain. We want our spouse to change, and so we don’t want to receive the grace the Lord offers us through that person – just as he is. When we have an attitude of entitlement – “God must provide grace in exactly the way I want it” – it is difficult to really receive.

Jesus was full of sorrow at the way so many people refused the grace he has to offer:

37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! She who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her. How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, yet you were not willing! (Matt 23:37, HCSB)

At other times, we don’t recognize the gracious heart of God because we have allowed lies about God into our lives, especially through difficult events. A child dies. A spouse leaves. And we interpret those events in such a way that we begin to distrust the heart of God. The first problem creeps in when we insist on understanding everything. Why did the child have to die? I’m not saying we can’t ever honestly struggle with our pain, but I do believe that sometimes the answers to those questions are simply bigger than we can understand. When we demand that everything must make sense in a way that we can understand, it is easy to start to believe that God isn’t the good Person that the Bible tells us he is. Don’t get me wrong. If you follow this blog, you know I am an intellectual, and I’m all for using your mind. But the human mind is finite. Trying to understand an infinite God is not logical. At times, faith calls us to trust even beyond our understanding. When we can’t understand, we are faced with a choice – will we trust that God’s heart is good and gracious towards us in ways we can’t comprehend, or will we demand that the universe function according our own personal sense of justice and goodness? This text calls us to trust is that the heart of God is good and full of gracious intentions for us.

Professional Level Prayer?


Too many Christians pray out loud in ways that are downright silly. We use fancy words. We repeat ourselves like idiots. Jesus told us not to do that. He taught us to pray simply and directly.

Next week, I’ll preach a real sermon again. This week we did some work-shopping in church about sermon from last time. So for the blog, I’ll post some thoughts I’ve been chewing on lately.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time lately, thinking about how people pray publicly. It’s a bad habit I have. What strikes is me is how common it is for Christians to ignore what Jesus said about public prayer. And the worst offenders are usually the “very holy and mature” believers. This often makes other Christians feel unworthy and second class, because they can’t pray like these believers who really know how to “pray up a storm.”

I recently took a Sunday off and attended a different church. They had a guest speaker who was very inspiring and entertaining. Afterwards, he invited people up for prayer and ministry. He had them stand in a group, and he prayed over them through the microphone. He probably prayed for five or ten minutes. His prayer was powerful – at least externally. His prayer was full of emotion. His prayer was full of words. His prayer wore me out, and I wasn’t even one of the people who went up for ministry.

I am continually struck by the widespread ignorance among “mature” Christians concerning Jesus’ own words about prayer, and about Jesus’ own actions when it came to bringing healing and deliverance.

Here’s what Jesus said:

1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 6:1)

5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:5-8. Followed by the Lord’s Prayer)

Let me tell you, I’ve heard a lot of people pray in a way that seems aimed at showing others that they are good at it. I’ve heard an awful lot of empty phrases and extra words heaped up over the years. I have several thoughts about this.

First, I wonder this: do these people even know that Jesus said these things? These words of Jesus come from one of the best known portions of scripture: The Sermon on the Mount. Specifically, Jesus spoke them right before “the Lord’s prayer” in Matthew chapter six. So these people who pray such impressive sounding prayers may actually be very young in the faith and even ignorant of the bible. If you hear someone praying in a way that seems designed to impress others, you should understand, that is not the prayer of a mature believer. If you hear someone heaping up words and fine-sounding phrases, that person still has a lot of growing to do. Don’t be intimidated by them. PLEASE, don’t feel like you have to copy them.

Now, I have no doubt that some of these professional-level creators of empty phrases know what Jesus said. If so, then they are being disobedient. They are like Moses, who didn’t believe it was enough to simply speak to the rock, but also had to put on a show, striking the rock twice and acting out in front of the Israelites (Numbers 20:1-12). Jesus said, do not be like them. Do not be like the people who think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like the people who heap up empty phrases when they pray. And yet so many Christians – even leaders of churches and ministries – are exactly like this when they pray.

Another question is raised in my mind. What kind of relationship do these folks have with Jesus that they talk to him in this way? Jesus invites us into an intimate, real, loving daily relationship with himself. He came explicitly to remove the barriers between us and God. Yet when people heap up these empty phrases and pray impressively in front of others, it doesn’t sound like they are particularly close to him. I have never, not even when I was very young, gone to my human father and spoken like this:

“Father, Oh Father who gave birth to me; Father you have provided for me, father; Father, I just want you, father, to reach out, father, and touch me father, and just give me a peanut butter sandwich. Because, father, you are the king of peanut butter sandwiches. As far as I know, you invented peanut butter. As far as I know, you invented bread. You are the one who feeds me, you are the one who makes the money, and then you take the money and deposit it in the bank, O father, because you are wise. And then father, you take your debit card, and you are the one who goes to the store, you are the one who buys the bread and the peanut butter. You might buy Jiffy, or Peter Pan or even the generic store brand father, but you are the one who does it. And then you take it home in our 2005 Buick, father, because in your wisdom, that is the car you chose to purchase. And then father, you are the one who takes the bread, and the knife and the peanut butter and creates the sandwich, all for me. Even though I don’t deserve it father, because I failed to clean my room this morning. From my birth you have been giving me these delicious sandwiches, father, and I want you now father, to give me another one. Peanut Butter. Oh I ask you for peanut butter. I yearn for peanut butter, father. Peanut butter; peanut butter; peanut butter.”

If I did speak to my earthly father in this way, what would it say about the kind of relationship I have with him? Unless I was joking around with him, it would reveal that our relationship is strange and twisted; almost certainly unhealthy. This kind of talk shows that I

don’t interact at a very intimate level with my father. In fact, it strongly suggests that I am very uncomfortable relating to him. I am speaking to him in a way that I would never use to speak to a close friend. It unveils a belief that I think I must use a lot of words and a lot of inane flattery to get him to do what almost any other father would do if his child simply said, “Dad, could you make me a peanut butter sandwich?” Jesus said much the same thing:


11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? (Luke 11:11-12).

These long, repetitive, wordy prayers are either mere show for others, or they reveal a distant, impoverished relationship with God that is completely unlike the one that Jesus came to give us.

Now, I have had conversations with people who make the point that sometimes we are praying not just to God for ourselves, but to God on behalf of others and in front of others. Therefore, the way we pray out loud can be used to encourage those around us. I agree with this entirely. Jesus prayed out loud to encourage his followers in their faith. Here is one example:

“Father, I thank You that You heard Me. 42 I know that You always hear Me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so they may believe You sent Me.” 43 After He said this, He shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out! ”

This doesn’t sound much like most of the public prayers I hear in churches and prayer meetings. It’s simple. “Father, I am praying this out loud so others can hear and believe that you are working through my prayer.” Then the ministry time, the altar call for all who need a resurrection in their life. It consists of three words. Three.

You see, if we are praying out loud to encourage others to put their trust in Jesus and to get closer to him, we should consider if our words actually do that or not. A long prayer with a lot of empty and fine sounding phrases – what does that communicate to those who listen? I think it gives listeners these kinds of ideas:

Prayer is a skill. It takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of repetition. We can’t just ask for what we need – we must set it in a context, we must use holy words and phrases, we must prove our earnestness by making it long. We need to keep talking to make God show up and do something.

In fact, Jesus didn’t pray that way, and he didn’t teach us to pray that way either. To repeat:

Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

So if you are praying out loud to benefit others (which I agree is a good thing) remember – it does NOT benefit others if you are praying like a pagan with a lot of fancy words and fine phrases. It doesn’t benefit others to make prayer sound like a professional-level skill.

We often make the same mistakes in prayer and altar ministry. I am continually struck by the fact that when I offer to pray for others, either God will show up, or he won’t. For example, I’ve prayed for many people to receive the gift of tongues. Many times, the Lord has given the person I’m praying for that gift. Sometimes, he has not given it. Whether it happens or not, I always pray basically the same prayer: “Lord, please give (name) the gift of tongues right now. Amen.” Our Father knows if the person needs the gift or not. I don’t have to stand there thinking up words to say while God makes up his mind. If he wants to do it, he does. If he doesn’t, my long winded prayers won’t change his mind.

Look at the way Jesus did ministry:

“Lazarus, come out.” (resurrection ministry)

“Get up and walk” (healing ministry)

“Little girl, get up” (resurrection ministry)

“Thank you father for the food. Please bless it” (providence ministry for five thousand)

“Come out of him,” (deliverance ministry)

“Receive the Holy Spirit (baptism in the Holy Spirit)

In these examples, Jesus uses an average of eight words. I have to admit, I made up the prayer about the feeding of the five thousand – it could have been a lot longer. Or a lot shorter. But the others are verbatim quotes from the gospels. Jesus is simple and direct.

You see, I think we, like Moses, are afraid to leave it that simple. If we keep talking, maybe God will show up just to make us quit. Or, if we keep talking, maybe we can cover up the fact that no one is getting healed tonight.

Thus, our ministry times often reflect a confusing contradictory message. The overall gist of it goes like this: “God has a gift he wants to give you now. He wants to give it to you, so come up to receive it. Now, once you come up to receive it you can’t just receive it. We have to work hard and pray long so that you can get it.”

Jesus never did ministry that way. The disciples after Pentecost never did ministry that way. And the fact that so many churches do engage in ministry that way sends the wrong message to people about prayer and about Jesus himself.

I think two of the biggest causes for this kind of praying and ministry are fear and self-reliance. If we keep it short and simple, will God really do it? Maybe if we pray long and hard, we can kind of motivate God to do what we ask. We are afraid to simply say, “Jesus come and do this please,” because what if he doesn’t? The reason that scares us is because we have forgotten that this is all about him, not us. We will end up looking silly if we speak less than fifteen words during our ministry time and nothing happens. But it isn’t supposed to be about how we look. It is supposed to be about what Jesus wants to do.

And so we buy into the idea that a longer, better-sounding prayer is in fact a better prayer. Because that gives us a measure of control. We start to believe we can make it happen if only we pray correctly. We want to believe that we can do something to make God show up. Because doing something is easier than waiting quietly in faith.

Most of the people I know who pray and do ministry with heaps of empty words are good-hearted people. I believe that many of them have a much closer relationship with Jesus than their prayers would lead you to suspect. But I think they are sincerely misled in this matter. Maybe you have been too. It isn’t complicated. Jesus made it quite clear in his teachings and in his examples: Keep it short and simple and trust God to do what you are asking.



Saul begins to reap the deadly benefits of religion without relationship.

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1 SAMUEL PART#27. Chapter 28

Remember all that we have learned about king Saul. One of the most important things we discovered is that he was a religious man, but not a man of faith. Time after time, when he felt he could somehow use or exploit God, he did so. But when he was confident in himself, or when he felt that God had nothing to offer him, he ignored God. He had the trappings of religion and he used them to control others and manipulate God. But he did not live in a day to day walk of faith, trusting God in all things, relating to him, loving him. The depths of Saul’s spiritual poverty are revealed in 1 Samuel chapter 28.

Saul, having no real trust in God, was terrified when he saw the Philistines. Now consider something. Every time Saul was involved in a battle with the Philistines up to this point, God saved the Israelites. The Lord used Jonathan in chapter 13, and David in chapter 17, and several other times. But none of that seemed to make any difference to Saul. He was just as scared and faithless as he had always been.

I want to pause and say something about that here. Sometimes we think that if God just did a miracle for us, then we would really trust him. If we saw the Lord do something really great, then we wouldn’t doubt, then we wouldn’t disobey or draw back in fear. But that wasn’t the case with Saul. God’s previous miracles didn’t matter. The same was true with the first Israelites who came out of Egypt. They saw many miracles. Their food and water were daily miracles. And yet it did not help them to have faith and surrender to the Lord.

Jesus addressed this issue in his own ministry. Though he did many miracles, often people came and demanded miracles on the spot – basically asking him to prove himself to them. Jesus addressed this Luke 11:27-29:

27 As He was saying these things, a woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “The womb that bore You and the one who nursed You are blessed! ” 28 He said, “Even more, those who hear the word of God and keep it are blessed! ” 29 As the crowds were increasing, He began saying: “This generation is an evil generation. It demands a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. (Luke 11:27-29, HCSB)

John records that many miracles (‘signs’) still did not convince people who did not want to be convinced:

37 Even though He had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in Him. (John 12:37, HCSB)

In another place, Jesus told a story about a poor man named Lazarus, and a rich man. At the end of the story, the rich man found himself in hell. He begged that someone be sent from heaven to tell his family the truth about the afterlife. Jesus concludes the story like this:

31 “But he told him, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’ ” (Luke 16:31, HCSB)

When people in the New Testament say “Moses and the Prophets” they mean “the bible” since that was as much Bible as they had at that time. What Jesus is saying is this: if you don’t trust God’s word and the promises in scripture, no amount of miracles will cause you to trust.” The problem can’t be fixed by a miracle. That is both hard and good for us to remember. Seeing is not believing. With God, believing is seeing.

So Saul, in spite of all that he has seen God do, is a religious pretender, not a man of real faith. Therefore, now, facing the Philistines, he is quaking in fear. It says that he inquired of the Lord. As before, Saul doesn’t go to the Lord unless he thinks God can do something for him. So now, he inquires of the Lord only out of fear and a desire to manipulate God. It doesn’t tell us what Saul was asking God. I think it is most likely that he made an animal sacrifice to the Lord, and was hoping for some prophecy that God was pleased with the sacrifice, and would give Saul the victory. But he didn’t hear anything by way of the “sacred dice” (the urim and thummin) or through prophets, or in dreams. Basically, Saul is demanding another sign here, before he will really trust God. He has had God’s help all his life, but he still won’t trust the Lord without some kind of additional sign.

God has been working on Saul all of his life. Remember how he called him to be king? Remember how he gave him the victory at Jabesh Gilead? Remember how even after Saul proved to be useless to God, God kept pursuing Saul’s heart, sending him a troubling spirit to get him to turn to the Holy Spirit for relief? Saul has had decades to surrender his heart to the Lord. The Lord has never quit trying to win him over. I think this lack of a sign is one more chance for Saul to surrender his heart. The Lord has put him in a crisis where he has the same two choices he has always had: 1. Trust God, or 2. Manipulate God and other people to control his own destiny, and get the outcome he wants. Before this, Saul has always chosen #2. He doesn’t know it, but this will be his last chance to give his heart to the Lord.

Tragically, Saul once again chooses to try to control his own life and outcomes, rather than trusting God. When he doesn’t hear from the Lord, trust is not even an option. Saul simply must find some way to manipulate God into saying what he wants to hear, or doing what he wants God to do. So he seeks out a medium, or witch, or spiritist, or whatever you want to call it.

Deuteronomy 18:9-14 says this:

10 There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer 11 or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, 12 for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you. 13 You shall be blameless before the LORD your God, 14 for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do this.

These practices were part of the reason for Holy War, which Saul failed to carry out as king. Not only were the people of God not supposed to do these things, they were supposed to wipe out those who did. Such things separate people from God and put them under the influence of hell. Saul did make some attempt to stamp out the practice of the occult, but obviously he wasn’t entirely successful. And now he is willing to deliberately abandon faith in God, abandon his previous laws against these things, and seek help from the dead.

Here is the final proof of Saul’s internal condition. Religion is just something to be used and manipulated, and if one approach doesn’t work to accomplish his aim, he’ll try another. So he and a few of his men disguise themselves and go to the witch. The disguise is actually pretty pathetic. The woman lives not far from the battlefield. Her visitor is the tallest man she’s ever seen, and he wants to talk to the ghost of the prophet Samuel. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out it is Saul. So at first she thinks it is a trap. Then when she is convinced, she pretends that the ghost of Samuel told her who Saul was.

Now it is natural to wonder, what really happened here? Was the woman a charlatan who made it all up? Was there really a spiritual presence there? And if so, was it really Samuel?

To answer that, we need to consider what the Bible says about life after death. Certainly, the entire New Testament teaches that at the end of time, there will be a judgment day. Those who rejected Jesus will be thrown into a lake of fire with the devil and his demons. Those who receive him will be physically resurrected to an eternal, joyful existence.

But there is that period of time in between. Samuel was in the period, as is every person who has died up until today (except for Jesus). Some people believe that in that “between-time,” you are unaware of existence until judgment day, at the end of time. Others believe, as I do, that there is a period of time when dead souls are either with Jesus in joy and freedom, or in hell. The presence of Moses and Elijah with Jesus in Matthew 17, suggests this very strongly. Jesus painted this picture of life after death in his story of Lazarus and the rich man. Revelation 6:9-11 shows people who have died, yet are aware and are waiting for the final judgment day and the resurrection. Actually several passages in Revelation suggest that there is life with Jesus between death and the physical resurrection that will occur at the end of time.

Therefore in order to believe that it really was the spirit of Samuel, we have to believe that some people on earth – mediums, fortune tellers etc. – have the power to pull people out of the presence of God and back to earth so we can talk to them. I don’t buy it for second.

There is another reason to believe that this was not really Samuel. God chose not to answer Saul when Saul wanted some reassurance. He did not answer through the urim, or through the prophets or in dreams. If God would chose not to speak to Saul through these holy and righteous means, why would he then work through the unrighteous means of a medium – basically rewarding Saul’s wicked behavior?

Even beyond these most significant facts, there are other things in the text which suggest that this was not Samuel. Saul himself could not see the spirit – he had to ask the medium what he looked like. Her reply was very vague: “An old man wearing robes.” That’s pretty much how I picture Samuel myself. Saul accepted this description as true, but there is nothing in it that actually identifies Samuel personally.

Finally, there is the message that Saul got from this apparition. Once again we need to question why God would speak through this illegitimate means after not answering by any legitimate route. But secondly, listen to the tone of the message. It is angry, bitter and hopeless. There is no encouragement. There is not even any opportunity for repentance. Not too long after this, Saul becomes wounded and commits suicide, rather than fight on with courage. I personally believe that his encounter with this evil spirit contributed to that act.

I do believe that there was something spiritual going on here – something creepy and utterly evil. Remember the other Saul, in the New Testament, the one who repented and came to Jesus, and later was known as Paul? He encountered a girl who could tell the future. But it was an evil spirit that gave her the power of limited fortune telling (Acts 16:16-19). I met someone once, who used to be involved in fortune telling, and spirit communication for money. She became a Christian and rejected all that. We asked her what was involved in it. She said that sometimes, she was just tricking people by being observant, and making vague statements combined with educated guesses. But she also told us that sometimes, she was aware of a spiritual presence which gave her information – which she now realizes was a demon.

I personally believe that Saul unknowingly sought (and received) an audience with a demon, masquerading as Samuel. Saul was rewarded with the kind of the thing you would expect from a demon: condemnation and hopelessness. By turning to witchcraft and séance to try and control his life, he was turning his back utterly on God and seeking help from hell. And he got exactly what you might expect from hell.

So where to do we go with this text?

First, if this isn’t too obvious, don’t play around with séances, spirit-guides, mediums, psychics and so on. That stuff comes straight out of the pit of hell, and you are inviting the depths of hell into your life if you fool with it. Saul’s results were dramatic and self-destructive.

I find some reminders here about religion. There are many people like Saul who go to church and talk the religious talk as a way to manipulate God or influence others. It became a way of life for Saul, and ultimately it destroyed him. God never gave up on him, but by his empty religious spirit, Saul took himself out of God’s jurisdiction. I hate religion. I love Jesus, but I hate religion. I think maybe God hates it too. Religion is about appearance and manipulation. Real faith is about surrendering your heart to the One who created you, and cares about you more than anyone else in the universe. Saul had plenty of religion. David had faith.

There is also a caution here about how you view miracles. I’ve seen miracles. I love it when God does them. But my faith does not depend on them, and I know I cannot demand them from God, on my cue. We sometimes think (like Mike and the Mechanics) that all we need is a miracle. Not so. All we need is the Lord, and to get him all we need is faith to believe he is there and to trust him. Miracles are real, and great, but if we make them necessary to trusting God, we are in trouble. Jesus himself warned against that attitude.

I think there are many times when we get ourselves into situations like Saul’s. We come face to face with a problem. We can try to manage and control life ourselves; or we can trust the Lord and surrender to him. I pray that we make the second choice, not the first.

I guess the main message is the same message we hear over and over through scripture: Trust the Lord. Base that trust on his word and his promises, not on anything else.


How do you react to broken dreams? Do you seek life in things and people apart from Jesus, or do you recognize that True Life is only in him. We have movie clips this, so enjoy the message!

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It’s always a challenge for me to preach about the Resurrection of Jesus. It is the central truth of our faith. Jesus physically rose from death; you either believe it or you don’t. In the past I have offered many facts and logical arguments that tell us it is reasonable to believe it. But this year I want to look at the difference it makes in our lives. It makes a huge difference in eternity, of course – the difference between heaven and hell. But it starts to make a difference right now, in the choices we make, and in how we deal with disappoint and grief here in this life.

One of my favorite movies of all time is Cast Away starring Tom Hanks. Hanks’ character, named “Chuck,” is on the verge of proposing to his girlfriend Kelly, the love of his life. But he has to take a business trip first. Over the Pacific Ocean, his plane goes down. He survives the next four years completely alone on a deserted island. Finally, he is rescued. But four years with no word is a long time. When he returns, he finds that everyone had given up on him, and considered him dead. Even his true love Kelly, had mourned him, and then moved on. She is now married, with a toddler.

Naturally, when Chuck returns – from the dead, so to speak – it is traumatic to both of them. Chuck drives to see Kelly at her house in the middle of the night, as the rain pours down. They both say goodbye in a heartbreaking scene, where much is left unsaid. Then, as Chuck pulls down the driveway, Kelly comes running out in the rain, calling his name. They stand in the rain, hugging and kissing. Then Kelly says:

“I always knew you were alive, I knew it. But everybody said I had to stop saying that, that I had to let you go.” Kelly pauses while they stare at each other. “I love you. You’re the love of my life.”

After another long pause while they look at each other, Chuck says, “I love you too Kelly, more than you’ll ever know.”

They get into Chuck’s car and sit in silence. But they both know that Kelly has to go back home, that it is too late for them to ever be together like that again. And so he drives her back up the driveway, and leaves her there.

There is a lot of tragedy in this scene that is simply the result of circumstances that neither one of them could control. But there is also the tragedy that Kelly gave up on Chuck, even when deep in her heart, she knew that she shouldn’t stop hoping. So she settled for life as best as she could get it. She quit working on her dream to be a professor. She married a decent man and had a child. And so when Chuck came back, it was too late. She had already made another life for herself, and there was no place for Chuck in it anymore.

This is heartbreaking, but it is, after all, just a movie. Even so, I think this part of the movie taps into a spiritual truth. It reveals the struggle of faith that we have sometimes as Christians. Our Lover – Jesus – has been gone for a long time now. All around us, voices tell us to give up, to move on, to settle for life as best as we can get it. But if we do that, we find, like Kelly, that when Jesus returns, we have no room for him in our lives anymore.

Jesus’ very first disciples struggled with this. They traveled with Jesus, watched his miracles and heard him preach. They came to believe that he was God’s chosen Messiah – true God in the flesh, their only true hope for salvation and real life. And then he was killed. Now they didn’t know what to do with all their hopes and dreams. It was all over. On the third day after his death, some of these disciples went on a short journey. A stranger joined them as they walked and asked them why they seemed so sad. They told the stranger about Jesus and all he had done and said, and then they told him how Jesus had been handed over and killed. They end with a brief and poignant expression of their loss and confusion:

“But we were hoping that he was the one who was about to redeem Israel.”

You can almost hear the pain in their words. Things didn’t turn out the way they planned. They were sure they were following God. They were sure they had it right, and that their future was bright with their savior. They are hurt and lost. They had put their hope in Jesus, and now Jesus wasn’t there anymore.

Only he was.

He was right next to them. He was the very stranger that they were talking to. This is extremely important. In our everyday life experience, we may feel far removed from the resurrection of Jesus. We may feel like it has nothing to do with us, like from now on we just have to get on with life as best we can. But Jesus is walking right next to us. Feeling or no feeling, whether we can perceive it somehow or not, the Resurrection of Jesus was real, and the resurrection life that he offers us is just as real.

The disciples’ lack of faith is surprising. Jesus told them exactly what was going to happen. He said several times that he would be taken captive by the authorities and executed, and then that he would rise from death on the third day. They didn’t want to believe the part about him dying, until they had no choice. They wouldn’t accept what he was saying. Peter told him not to have such a negative outlook. The others heard too, but it bounced off their skulls like water off a duck. They simply didn’t get it. And then when he did die, they still didn’t believe the part where he told them he would rise again physically. So the death of Jesus destroyed them mentally and emotionally. They were completely lost.

Sometimes, we are like those disciples. Jesus told us exactly what is going to happen. He said we would have trouble in this world (John 16:33), but he also told us not to let our hearts be troubled (John 14:1). Living in a world of sin, we will experience sorrow and grief. But living in faith in Jesus Christ, those sorrows and griefs are not the final word. They are not as real as the great reality that is coming for those who trust Jesus. The pain and severe disappointment experienced by those disciples walking along the road was real. But the man walking beside them was real too, and he had already overcome their grief, even before they were aware of it. The reality of his resurrection was greater than the reality of their sorrow, whether they knew it or not.

I think the danger we face as believers in the risen Messiah is that, like those other disciples, we forget the promises of Jesus, or we think he is not close, not next to us. And so, in the meantime, we try to just go on and get some kind of life and hope for ourselves.

There is another poignant scene in the film Cast Away. For four years alone on the island, Chuck had no companion. So he began to talk to a volleyball that had a face-shaped bloodstain on it. He called it Wilson. In a strange way, he grew to care for the volleyball and became deeply attached to it. When he is sailing to try and find help, the volleyball comes loose from where it is tied. Chuck tries to swim after it but he is held back by a rope that attaches him to the raft. He finally needs to make a choice whether to hold on to raft, which is his only chance at living and seeing Kelly again – or swimming after the volleyball, and drowning with it in his arms.

He reluctantly chooses life, but he cries his heart out at the loss of Wilson. It may be just a stupid volleyball, but it is all he has had for four long years. It is hard to blame Chuck for being so broken up after he lets Wilson go. We can understand it and even feel some of his pain. In the context of the whole movie, it is actually a very moving scene. And yet even though it is perfectly understandable, we know (and even the character Chuck knows) that ultimately, it is just a volleyball. It isn’t a real person. It isn’t worth giving your life for.

Sometimes I think we spend half our lives like Chuck in that scene, tugging on the end of the rope, not quite sure whether we are going to give up the raft, or give up the volleyball. Chuck’s problem was that after four years alone, part of him actually believed that Wilson was a real person. He wasn’t sure of the truth. He may not have been fully convinced that the raft would really bring him back to civilization and real people. Because of his experience, Wilson seemed more real, more important than the raft.

We are like that sometimes. This life sometimes seems so much more real than the Resurrection Life that Jesus told us about. The things we can have here tempt us to believe the lie that they are more real and more important than our eternal future. This is understandable. It is understandable also to have a hard time giving them up, just like Chuck had difficulty letting go of Wilson. But even though we understand, and it is hard, the choice is perfectly and completely clear. There is nothing in this life that is worth holding on to if it keep us from the real Life that Jesus offers us.

Will we hold onto something that is ultimately worthless, or will we give it up for real life? To give it up requires faith. It requires us to trust that there is a real resurrection, that real life is still waiting for us. We can see and touch the fake things, like Chuck could touch and see the volleyball Wilson. But those things are not as real and true as what awaits us when we trust in Jesus. Jesus said:

1 “Your heart must not be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if not, I would have told you. I am going away to prepare a place for you. 3 If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also. 4 You know the way to where I am going.”

5 “Lord,” Thomas said, “we don’t know where You’re going. How can we know the way? ” 6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. 7 “If you know Me, you will also know My Father. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.” (John 14:1-7)

The fact of the resurrection tells us that there is real life waiting for us. There is still true love possible. Our dreams have not been shattered and lost. We just need to recognize that the time is not yet. We are in the dress rehearsal, the practice before the real game begins. We are camping in a tent, not living in our home. We are practicing to love, practicing to be great.

One of the things that helped Chuck through, was his hope of the life that existed away from his island. So I want us to dwell for a little bit on the resurrection life that waits for us, away from this little island that we mistakenly call life.

I think a lot Christians have the feeling that the resurrection life will be a never ending worship service. Let me be honest with you. I am a pastor, and that thought does not excite me. Don’t get me wrong, I love to worship the Lord with other believers. But I also love to fish, to hike and come around the corner of ridge to a new vista I’ve never seen before. I love to just hang out and laugh with my family and close friends. I like to write, and read and experience moving stories. I believe amazing worship will be part of our experience of resurrection life. But I think there will also be so much more.

John Eldredge writes that you cannot hope for something you do not desire. The overwhelmingly good news is that resurrection life is where our deepest, strongest, purest desires are fulfilled. The desire for intimacy that sometimes we get confused with a desire for only sex – that intimacy will be fulfilled in resurrection life. The desire to be deeply connected to beauty – the thing that causes us to ache when see a beautiful person, or an awe-inspiring view, or hear uplifting music – that will be fulfilled. The desire to be significant, to be recognized for who you are and for the God-given gifts you have – that will be fulfilled in resurrection life. That thing in your that loves to rise to the occasion and meet challenges – that will find its ultimate expression in resurrection life.

We won’t be ghosts or angels, floating around somewhere. Jesus was not resurrected as a spirit – he had a physical body. On several occasions after he was raised, he sat down and ate with the disciples. He promises us resurrection bodies also (1 Corinthians 15). He promises us a new heavens and new earth (Revelation 21 & 22) where will live and love and do the things we love to do, and be connected to God and to each other without the destruction and cruelty of sin and sorrow.

I will never get the love I am seeking from human beings. I may never be recognized for who I am I this life. My talents might go unappreciated. I might have to toil and spend a lot of time doing things I don’t really want to do. If this life is all there is, that would be tragic. But if all that is fulfilled in the next life, in my resurrection, which Jesus made possible – then what I face here and now is bearable. It isn’t the final word. I’m not getting too old – I’m actually getting closer to the fulfillment of all I want as I age.

I’ve heard an expression: “Some people are so heavenly-minded, they are no earthly good.” I detest that expression. It is entirely false. I have never met anyone who is too heavenly-minded. And the most resurrection-oriented people I know are the ones who have done the most for the Lord and for their fellow human beings here and now. It is only when we lost sight of resurrection that we become focused on making ourselves happy here and now, whatever the cost.

Think back to Kelly, from Cast Away. Deep in her heart, she knew Chuck was alive. But she lost faith. She gave up that hope and settled for what she could get at the moment. Because of that, she missed out forever on the life she might have had with Chuck if she had only held on.

We who are Christians know that Jesus is alive. We know it through faith. We know there is more life, better life waiting for us with him. We know it. But everyone keeps saying we have to move on. Everyone tells us we shouldn’t spend so much time thinking about it. Sometimes it feels like God hasn’t come through. But we know better. Don’t let go of that knowledge. Don’t give up that hope. Don’t fill your life with other things, don’t make yourself a life apart from the one who truly loves you and is coming back for you, no matter how long it seems.

He is Risen!