In this brand new video series, Pastor Todd of First United Methodist Church of Newton, NJ brings passionate awareness and helpful tips on various transformational Christian practices and theology. Each episode will inspire and motivate spiritual growth through time-tested practices and and wisdom.
This week’s episode invites you to RECLAIM the Bible as a means of grace for us in our daily lives. In this episode, Pastor Todd will discuss how to know which translation to pick, how to read the Bible and why it is important to make reading Scripture a part of our daily routine.
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE Saul groaned to his armor bearer, ‘Take your sword and kill me before these pagan Philistines come to run me through and taunt and torture me.’ But his armor bearer was afraid and would not do it. So Saul took his own sword and fell on it.” (1 Samuel 31:4 NLT)
When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.
Part 44: Saul. Well, we come to yet another character in the Bible that people think they know pretty well. Right? We who grew up in the church, we know who that nasty, no good, wicked, egotistical, jealous, power-crazed, heavy-handed King Saul was. There’s no need to discuss him, right?
He was that king who promised to follow God and then didn’t follow through. He was the king who refused to do as God instructed, but went his own way. He was the one who, though anointed by God, he led like he was in league with the devil. He was an inefficient leader, one who became increasingly paranoid, who murderous in his paranoia and, let’s face it, the dude totally tried to kill the epic, rockin’, swave David. What is up with that?
Well, to be honest, David really wasn’t as rockin’ or swave as people give him credit for. Epic? Sure. But that discussion is for another time and place. In this devotion, we are dealing with Saul and, as much as we would like to view Saul as the villain, he really is more of a tragic hero. Do you know what I mean about that, he is the hero that has it all going for him, the guy who was on the rise until his character flaw got the best of him and he came crashing down, taking others (including his family) with him.
Let us not forget that, when the people rejected the judges, God led Samuel to discover and anoint Saul as their king. Saul was God’s child, God’s chosen leader, and had the potential to be a great king. I am sure that Saul had really good intentions on the way in too; however, you know the phrase: the power went to his head.
Instead of leading by example and pointing the people to be faithful in their relationship with God, instead of ruling God’s people in a holy manner, Saul became more concerned with establishing and solidifying his reign and his dynasty. Instead of taking no prisoners, as God commanded of him and the Israelites, Saul not only took prisoners of war but he took them as slaves.
In fact, it was that disobedience that caused Saul to fall out of favor with God. One might want to have pity on Saul because he chose to keep the King alive (which would seem like an act of mercy); however, he did so only for his own gain, not because he had any sort of benevolent heart within him. He didn’t spare anyone else but the king who he could display as his war trophy.
What’s more, we need to understand that the Amalekites were not good actors, but were attacking the Israelites and trying to eradicate them. A ruler is supposed to do what is in the best interest of his/her people, and keeping one’s people safe and ensuring their survival is at the top of the list. Yet, in his disobedience, Saul showed that all he really cared about was his own vainglory and popularity.
In the end, Saul was rejected by God and he further fell into the abyss from that point on. David was chosen to be the next King (more on that later) and that literally drove Saul mad. He spent the rest of his years chasing after David in order to kill him so that his sons could maintain the throne, and he ultimately failed. Saul, once the hero of his people and the first king of Israel, died defeated in battle along with his sons, his armor bearer, and his entire army.
While it is easy for us to look at Saul as villain, how much harder is it to see ourselves in him; however, is he that different from us? Have we not been chosen by God to reflect the true king, Jesus Christ? Have we not also, time and time again, let our own vainglory (aka excessive pride in ourselves and our achievements) stand in our way? Have we not sought to take control away from God so that we can be in control? Have we not lived our lives with the motto, “my kingdom come, my will be done”, which is the antithesis of the Lord’s Prayer?
Each of us has missed the mark in one way or the other, just like Saul did. The challenge is to repent and turn back to God, rather than letting our desire to be God bring us to our own demise. Repent, profess Jesus as your Lord, and be filled with love, grace, and the God-given power to transform this world through and through.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” – John Emerich Edward
Lord, help curb my pride and remind me of the need to humble myself before you. I am not Lord, you are. Forgive me. I accept your Lordship over my life. Amen.
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” (Titus 3:9 NRSV)
All I have to do is turn on cable news to remind myself that I simply DO NOT like politics. Actually, it reminds me of ancient Rome and all of the in-fighting, maneuvering, slandering, backstabbing, and power-grabbing reminds me of ancient Rome. Julius Caesar worked his way up the ranks and nearly claimed being KING…only to be assassinated by his friends who didn’t want to see him have that kind of power…who were in turn executed for treason by the great nephew of Julius (someone who never would have been named an “heir” by Julius himself)…who then makes himself Emperor for life. Of course, once that life is extinguished, a whole new slew of Emperors take power, are corrupted by the power, and are assassinated by people who then, in turn, take power and are corrupted by it. And this is just Rome we’re talking about. We now will turn our eyes to the church.
Ailment of the Church #10: Glorifying One’s Bosses. A lot of people will say that they do not like politics. In fact, I opened up this devotion with that very statement. When that is said, I think most people realize that politics are a vital part of how our society is held together. We all, everyday, live according to and are held accountable to the social contract that governs our society. Without that, one could argue that complete chaos would ensue because it would be each for his/her own. Whether or not that is true, and there others who would argue the other way, politics are a reality within the governance of a country, society or institution.
And that is just as true within the church as it is in any other organization. Along with the positives that we can find in being organized, comes all of the negatives as well. In churches, at the denominational level as well as at the local level, we find in-fighting, maneuvering, slandering, backstabbing, and power-grabbing that is commonplace in all organizations. We have people who think one way pitted against others who think another way. We have people who look up to positions and status within the church hierarchy in ways that bring glorification, value and power to those positions and statuses.
This issue of “politics” goes well beyond the walls of the church and into our everyday lives. Do you consider yourself a Christian? If so, have you ever sought a position of status or power? Have you taken measures to ensure getting into position. Have you competed against others for positions and/or statuses? Have you ever in used the phrase, “the end justifies the means?” I think when we all pause and think about this for a moment, we can all say, “Yes, I’ve done that.”
I am not trying to knock success, or structure, or healthy competition, or positions of responsibility, or even power. These things can, and have been, used for good; however, when we glorify those things above Christ, when we seek them out at all costs, when we neglect our call as Christians or, worse, when we allow positions, statuses, and power define us as Christians, we’ve abandoned Christ and failed to be Christ’s true followers. We have been called to make Christ our valuable treasure that we seek. We are called to make following Christ our life’s goal. We are called to seek out and invite others to join us, as equals, in embracing the status of “children of God.” So let us drop the politics and HONOR God by picking up that identity, embracing it, and sharing the GOOD NEWS of it to all the world…just as the CHURCH has been commissioned by Christ to do.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“We need to avoid the spiritual sickness of a church that is wrapped up in its own world: when a church becomes like this, it grows sick.” – Pope Francis I
Lord, help me to move beyond my own struggle for position, status and power so that may be solely focused on you and your will for me. Amen.