Craig Smith - The Weight of Glory - Part 1
Well, welcome to Mission Hill, so glad you’re here at all of our locations, our campuses, our microsites, as well as if you’re joining us from Church Online from somewhere in the world. Just really honored you’d spend a little time gathering together with us today. We are gonna be launching a new series today. Kind of a miniseries honestly, just two weeks on one of my favorite stories from the Bible. I just need to be honest with you right now, though, and tell you, it’s not my favorite story because it’s a whole lot of fun. It’s my favorite story because God’s just used it really consistently in my life to help me kind of take the next step forward in becoming like Jesus and joining him on mission.
That’s what we’re all about at Mission Hills, helping people become like Jesus and joining him on mission. But if you’re like me, I think all of us are kind of in the same place. There are often things that keep us from doing that. Things that hinder us, that hold us back, that kinda trip us up. And what God has done consistently in my life through this particular story is sort of helped me identify those things that are holding me back or tripping me up and then help me move forward. Sometimes, you know, sometimes we already know what the things are and we just kinda need somebody to light a fire under us who will do something about them. Sometimes that we’re not quite sure what they are, and this story both lights a fire under us but also gives us some really practical ways to identify those things that are holding us back or tripping us up. So I’m confident guys are gonna use it in your life in that way.
So why don’t you go and grab a Bible and start making your way to the book of 1st Samuel Chapter 4. If you’re not quite sure where to find 1st Samuel, it’s here. I’ll give you a clue, if you come to 2nd Samuel, you’ve gone too far, you wanna back up and that’s probably enough. You’ll be able to find it. Feel free to use a table of contents. But 1st Samuel 4 begins this way, it says, “And Samuel’s word came to all Israel.” Now, Samuel was a prophet. Especially in the days before we had scripture, the Word of God primarily really only came through prophets, and so Samuel is one of those prophets. And so to say that Samuel’s word came to Israel really is to say that the Word of God through Samuel came to all Israel. You can read about Samuel’s calling as a prophet. It happened when he was a very young child. You can find about it in chapter 3 of 1st Samuel. But what’s happening here is that Samuel is all grown up and he’s been recognized as a prophet. He’s been recognized as somebody that God sends his word to his people through by all of Israel. That’s a really important thing to understand. Samuel’s grown up and he’s been…everybody is basically like, “Yeah, he’s legit. He’s an actual prophet of the Lord. The Word of God comes through him.” And I want you to file that fact away because it’s gonna become important in just a moment, that all of Israel sort of recognized him as a prophet.
The other thing I want you to understand though is that Samuel’s rise also signals a transition period for the Nation of Israel. Israel was between two different things. When God set Israel free from their slavery to Egypt, they were led by a man named Moses. Maybe you’ve heard of him, right? Well, when Moses died, he was led by…Israel, was led by a group of people called judges. In fact, there’s an entire book in the Bible dedicated to that time period, and it’s called the book of Judges. It didn’t go real well during that time period, and in fact, here’s what we see at the end of the book of Judges. We’re told this, “In those days, Israel had no king and everyone did as they saw fit.” And as Americans, we’re like, two thumbs up, right? Right. They were free to do whatever they wanted. You know, no government involvement, they just kind of all did their own thing. Well, honestly, that’s probably not the best way to run a nation. And so really the book of Judges, kind of details the decline of Israel, really their…kind of their decline into anarchy. And now as Samuel is raised up as a prophet, one of the things that God’s gonna use Samuel to do is to anoint a king over Israel.
And so Samuel kind of represents the transition from anarchy to a monarchy. Okay? And here’s why that’s important. Here’s something you need to understand about transitions. Not just in the Bible, but in all of our lives, transitions expose our weaknesses. Do you know that about transitions? They expose our weaknesses. So we can get really comfortable in one kind of way of doing things, and until we’re forced to transition, we can get pretty good at making it look like we’re actually better than we are because we just have gotten good at making sure that the weakness has never come out. But when we have a transition, suddenly those weaknesses come out. And so, right, you know, when you make a transition from being single to being in a relationship, it exposes our weaknesses when it comes to communication. Anybody have that experience? Right. When it was just me, when I was just single, I had no communication problems. And then I got into a relationship, and then I got married, and I was like, “Wow, I am not nearly as good at communication as I thought I was.” It exposed my weakness. When you make a transition from being childless to having children, exposes the fact that we’re actually a whole lot less patient and a lot more selfish than we thought we were up until that point.
When you make a transition from being, you know, a student to being an employee, then it certainly that can expose gaps in our education or in our skill set, right? You know, before you have a job, you’re like, “Hey, this whole job thing’s going to be super easy. I got my degree, I’m ready to go.” And then like they’re paying you to do it and you’re like, “They should not be paying me to do it. I do not know what I’m doing.” Right? It exposes those gaps. When you make a transition from being, you know, an employee to being a manager or a boss, that exposes gaps in our leadership ability. I remember when I was an associate pastor, I remember looking at the lead pastor and thinking like, “What is wrong with this guy?” Right? “He just needs to do this and this and this and we’ll be good to go. And then I became a lead pastor and I was like, “This and this and this is really hard and I’m not really good at making that happen.” And so I had to push into my leadership stuff. When I made the transition from a smaller church to Mission Hills, exposed new gaps in my leadership abilities.
Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, the reality is that when transitions expose our weaknesses, that allows us to push into those areas that we need to grow. And so we can pray about them, we can develop growth plans around them. So it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a reality that transitions expose our weaknesses. Now, Israel is in a transition period. And we’ve already seen one of the weaknesses, everybody was kind of doing what was right in their own eyes, as they saw fit, and then they kind of descended it into anarchy. But as the story goes on, we’re gonna see another significant weakness that this transition was exposing. And so back to 1st Samuel Chapter 4, “Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines.” Those are traditional enemies of the Israelites. Now the Israelites camped at Ebenezer and the Philistines at Aphek.”
Did you hear that, Church? The Israelites camped at Ebenezer and the Philistines at Aphek. And everybody went, “So?” Right? Right? That’s actually maybe more significant than we think. Ebenezer means something like a stone of remembrance or a stone of commemoration, and the Israelites would build them at certain points in their journey with God. And really what they were doing was they were kind of building a monument to remind them that God has been faithful up to this point, which means that we can trust God’s faithfulness as we go forward, right? So looking back at what God has done to look forward to his faithfulness. So they’re camped at a stone of remembrance. At a place where they sort of commemorate God’s faithfulness.
Now Aphek in Hebrew means something like strength. So there’s kind of a battle being set up between the faithfulness of God and the strength of their enemies, the Philistines. Now, you don’t have to spend a lot of time in church to know how this should go, right? When the faithfulness of God comes against the strength of our enemies, who wins? God does, right? And so, verse 2, “The Philistines deployed their forces to meet Israel, and as the battle spread, Israel was defeated. Israel was defeated by the Philistines who killed about 4,000 of them on the battlefields.”
Now that’s not the way that story’s supposed to go. The faithfulness of God has come up against the strength of their enemies. The strength of the enemy should have failed at that moment. God should have defeated them. And that’s especially true because Israel had a covenant with God. A covenant is kinda like a formal agreement. When God led them out of Egypt, he entered into this kind of formal agreement. And God basically outlined, and he said, “Here’s all the things that I’ll do for you.” And there was a ton of stuff. It was crazy stuff. And he said to the Israelites, “I’m gonna do all these things. There’s just one thing that you’re supposed to do. Your part of the agreement is that you’re to be obedient. I’m gonna give you the Commandments and you’re gonna follow those Commandments, and that one little thing is gonna unlock all of these promises that I’m giving you as part of this agreement.”
And by the way, one of those promises, book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 7, “No one will be able to stand against you.” In other words, you’re gonna win all of your battles. That’s one of the many promises God gave. He said, “All that you have to do is be obedient to me.” You know, and I came out to my car this morning, you know, my car is a pretty good-sized object and it’s got all this power under the hood, all this engine, everything. And I got in and I pressed a little button to start, and absolutely nothing happened. And I realized it’s because I forgot the key fob. And so it’s amazing. I mean, I had this big car with all this power and energy, but I had to go and had to get this little thing that’s about like that big to unlock all that potential power there. Well, obedience was a little bit like that. It’s, “As long as you’re obedient, all these problems, including this one, you’ll never lose your battles. No one will be able to stand against you. That’s what I’ll do for you.” But here they’ve lost a battle.
Now, it doesn’t take a bible scholar to figure this one out, right? If God is big enough to defeat our enemies, and there’s no question about that, and he’s promised to be faithful to defeat our enemies as long as we’re obedient, if we don’t win our battle, that must mean we have an obedience problem, right? So what they should have done at that point is going, “We need to do an obedience audit. We need to kind of take stock. How have we gotten out from under God’s blessing. How have we began to live in such a way that we’re no longer having God fight for us? We’re actually fighting the battles on our own and then kind of looking over our shoulder going, “Where did he go?” It’s because we’re out there on our own. So they should have pulled into that kind of a conversation and investigation. But that’s not what happened. Here’s what happened, Verse 3.
“Now when the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the Lord bring defeat on us today before the Philistines?” Now, that’s not a horrible question. They’re at least pointing in the right direction, right? I mean, they’re not asking the question, you know, “What was wrong with our battle strategy? What was wrong with our troop tactics?” They weren’t asking, you know, “Were our weapons not up to the task? Did we just not have good enough gear?” They’re asking a spiritual question, but I want you to notice the way that they asked the question, “Why did God do this to us basically?” They lost the battle and then they’re basically going, “Why did God do this to us?”
I don’t know if you’ve ever known anybody… I know you’ve never done this, none of you have ever done this, but maybe you’ve known somebody that’s found themselves in a very difficult place. They’ve experienced some very significant defeats or setbacks in their life. So they’re in a very hard place and you know…again, it’s somebody else, not you, but you know that it’s because of the decisions they made. You can see the string of them that led them into that place, and yet they get into that place where their decisions have led them, and then they kind of look up and they’re like, “God, what’s your problem? Well, why isn’t God doing what I need him to do? Why isn’t God showing up?” And that’s kind of what’s happening here. Why did God do this? Why did God bring defeat upon us?
Now, here’s the interesting thing about questions. Did you know that the kinds of questions we ask determine the kinds of answers we get? It’s true. The kinds of questions we ask determine the kinds of answers that we’ll get. I mean, I get this complaint from parents a fair amount. It’s about their teenagers. And one of the most common complaints I get is, you know, “My teenager just won’t communicate with me. They just won’t tell me what’s going on in their lives. They just won’t open up,” and you know, it’s I’ll go, “Well, you know, how do you try to start the conversation?” They go, “Well, I ask the same question every day.” I’m like, okay, “Problem number one. Maybe you’re starting to sound like a broken record, but what question do you ask?” And I so often get the same. I go, well, whenever they come home, I ask, you know, “How was your day?” And I’m like, “Just stop right now. I feel a prophetic word coming on, word of knowledge has come into my spirit that I can see the end. I think the answer you get day after day is fine.” Like, of course it’s fine, because you asked a question that could easily be answered with a one-word answer. Kinds of questions we ask determine the kinds of answers we’ll get.
We figured this out in my house a long time ago and so we stopped asking that question. We very rarely ask that question. We ask much more specific, and some of those weird questions, honestly. We’ll ask questions like, “Hey, what happened today that you can count as a win? What happened today that was most challenging? What happened today that surprised you? What did you learn today that you’re gonna like put into practice tomorrow?” That you can’t answer those questions with fine. They’ll try at first, by the way. If you try to make this shift in your parenting, you can be like, “What was, you know, what happened today that was a win for you? And they’ll be like, “Fine. Wait, wait, what did you ask? I don’t even,” right?
Sometimes at dinner, like we have guests over and we’ll have these kinds of conversations and people think we’re very strange. Because my kids get in on it, and sometimes the questions are weird. And we had some guests over a while ago and it was my youngest daughter’s chance to ask the question, and she goes, “Hey, so if you’re day to day was a fruit, what kind of fruit would it be and why?” And our guests were like, “What is wrong with you people?” But you know, you can’t answer that with a one-word answer. And so, here’s the thing, this is kind of a freebie actually. Your next breakthrough in life, your next breakthrough might be a better question. That might be the key that unlocks your next break. That’s a better question. Your next breakthrough as a husband or as a father, as a mom or as a wife, as a son or a daughter, as an employer or an employee, whatever it is, your next breakthrough in life might actually be asking a better question that leads to a different answer than the one that you’ve been giving or getting.
So they asked the question very specifically, “Why did God do this to us? What’s interesting is that by asking the question that way, they seem to lean towards an answer that’s like, “Well, here’s how we can make him do what we want him to do.” Check this out. They said, “Let us bring the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant from Shiloh.” That’s the town it was housed in. “Let us bring the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant from Shiloh so that he may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.” That’s an interesting thing to say. They say, “You know what we gotta do, we gotta bring the Ark. We gotta we gotta bring with…now, if you don’t know what the Ark is, let me catch you up real quick. The Ark was this very ornate box that God had had them make while they were in the desert moving into the Promised Land. And into the Ark went a couple of things.
Number One, the Ten Commandments that Moses got on the mountain side. They were in there. It’s kind of a reminder of their part in the agreement., they were supposed to be obedient to that. The other thing that went in there was some of the manna, that’s bread like substance that fell from the heavens and it is what they were able to eat and sustain them during their journey through. That was a sign of God’s faithfulness. There was a rod, probably Aaron’s rod which Moses used to hold out over the Red Sea when it parted. So those were signs of God’s faithfulness, but there’s also a sign of sort of their part in it that unlocked all those promises. It was there in the Ark. And very often what would happen is when they would go into battle, they took the Ark with them. And the Ark itself was just a box. It was a symbol of God’s presence and of this covenant.
But what seems to have happened over time as they began to kind of confuse the symbol of God’s presence with the actuality of it, they began to think that the box itself contained God. Now you notice they said, “So let’s bring the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant so that he may go with us.” By the way, I used to be able to just say this and assume everybody knew what I was talking about. But now I have to say, if you’re old enough to remember “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” you know when they took the lid off and everybody’s faces melted, that’s the box we’re talking about. Okay? It was a symbol of God’s power, but it wasn’t God himself. But you notice they thought, “Well, let’s bring the box so that God will go with us.” There seems to be a sense in which they’re thinking God is either connected to or confined by the box itself. And so if they bring the box, then God will have to fight for them. Simple math, right?
Well, listen, what they’re basically doing is they’re trying to control God. And we should probably understand this, is the more that we try to put God in a box, the more tempted we are to think that we can control him. Whatever those boxes look like, the more we try to put God in a box, the more tempted we are to think that we can exert some kind of control over God, we can make him do what we want him to do. And you know what God loves to do with the boxes we try to put him in? Yeah, he loves to blow them up. But that doesn’t usually go well for those of us who are trying to put him in the box. They said, we need to bring the Ark.
I wonder what that was like. I wonder how the conversation went, right? You know, they’re trying to figure out, why did we lose the battle? And at some point, somebody’s looking around and going, “I don’t know. We’re usually with the Ark we…” “You didn’t bring the Ark?” “Me? Wasn’t on my packing list. I thought you were in charge of the Ark.” “No. Okay, seriously, nobody brought the Ark? Nobody brought God? We left God back in… Oh my… Wow. Okay. Go…somebody go get God.” And so they go. And so the people sent men from Shiloh and they brought back the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord Almighty who is enthroned between the cherubim. And I think there’s a certain amount of sarcasm there. See, on top of the Ark, there were these two cherubim. Cherubim is a Hebrew word for angels, and there were carved angels on top of the Ark.
Now, in reality, God is enthroned between the cherubim. We actually find that statement throughout the songs, but we mean in heaven, right? In heaven, the angels flock around him and God’s between them on his throne. But they had this idea that between the literal carvings, God is somehow enthroned right there. He’s there with the box. So there’s some sarcasm there. “And Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas were there with the Ark of the Covenant of God.” And that’s really interesting. Eli, Hophni and Phinehas they’re priests in Israel. Eli is actually the Chief Priest and Hophni and Phinehas are his two sons. And what’s interesting is that if anybody in Israel should have been able to correct their error, if anybody in Israel should have been able to go, “Wait, wait, no, no. You’re thinking about this all wrong. The question shouldn’t be, how can we make God fight for us? The question should be, what have we done that’s taken us out from under God’s blessing so that we’re fighting on our own? But it’s not God’s fault, we need to do an obedience audit. We need to figure out where we’re failing to be faithful. If anybody should have understood that that was an important question to ask, these are the guys who should have understood it, but that’s not what they did. Instead of correcting Israel’s error, they went along with it.
What’s really interesting is that they talked to these guys instead of to Samuel. Remember I said to put in kind of a pin in this, hold this thought, that the Word of God has come to Israel through Samuel. He’s a legit prophet. Everybody recognizes God’s speaking through him, so they should’ve gone to Samuel. Why on earth did they go to these guys? Especially, and we haven’t known this yet, unless we’ve been reading the book of Samuel up to this point. But if we had been reading it, we would have understood that everybody understood that Eli, Hophni and Phiniehas they’re corrupt priests, they weren’t good holy men. In fact, they’re stealing from the sacrifices of God for themselves. They’re taking the best portions of the sacrifice for themselves. I mean, they’re corrupt. They’re not good men. So why on earth would you go to corrupt priest instead of a man everybody knows is a prophet of the Lord? And I think the answer has to be because they knew they wouldn’t like the answer they got from Samuel.
And we all have this temptation, don’t we? We have this temptation to go to the people who will go along with the plan rather than telling us that we might be part of the problem. Like we don’t like those people, do we? We have them in our lives, but we tend to avoid them, right? You know, we go to the other people. You know, the guy that he’s so frustrated with his marriage. He goes to his buddy and he goes, “She’s just nagging me all the time. It’s just nag, nag, nag, nag, nag, and she just never stops. I think maybe we just need to get a divorce.” He’s going to go say that to the buddy who’s going to go, “She does nag you, man. She just never stops. I don’t know how you put up with it. You know what? You deserve to be happy.” As opposed to that buddy who’s likely to go, “Hey, I know that’s frustrating, but can I say something? I wonder if maybe part of the reason that she seems to kind of always be on your case is because you don’t have a good track record of following through on doing what you say you’ll do.” Oh we don’t like that guy, right?
When we’re frustrated with our kids, we wanna talk to the woman who will go, “You’re right. They never do what you tell them to do. I’ve noticed it.” As opposed to the woman who might say, “Hey, I know that’s frustrating, but you know, can I be honest? Can I say that? I’ve noticed that when they do do something that you’ve asked them to do, you’re really critical about it. There’s always something that’s never quite good enough, and I wonder if maybe that’s contributing to them feeling like, I shouldn’t even try.” Like, we don’t like that woman, right? We really prefer the people who go along with our plan, who commiserate with our pain rather than the people who might point out that we could be part of the problem. That’s what’s happening here.
But listen, we need to seek out people who will tell us the truth even when it’s hard to hear, right? Amen. We gotta have people in our lives that will tell us the truth even when it’s hard to hear. We need to not shut those people out of our lives because God often speaks to us through them. That’s not what’s happening to go to the people who go along with the plan. Now, “When the Ark,” verse 5, “When the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant came into the camp, all of Israel raised such a great shout that the ground shook. And hearing the uproar, the Philistines asked, ‘What’s the shouting in the Hebrew camp?’ And when they learned that the Ark of the Lord had come into the camp, the Philistines were afraid. ‘A God has come into the camp,’ they said.” Where do you think they got that idea? That’s what they hear in Israel, shout. And they said, “Oh no, nothing like this has happened before.”
That’s an interesting statement. To understand, you need to understand something of the way that the ancient people, especially in the Ancient Near East, thought about gods and goddesses. They tended to think that the gods and goddesses were sort of limited geographically. So they had a center of power, and that’s where the temple was typically. But as you got away from the temple, the power of that god or the goddess, it declined. And so if you got far enough away, they just…they didn’t have any real ability to do anything, but they were kind of locked into their temple, sort of an idea. And so now the Philistines, they’re cleaning up after the battle, they’re celebrating their victory. They’ve been listening all day to the Israelites on the other side of the hill. And they’re, you know, they’re weeping and they’re wailing, and they’re kind of congratulating each other.
“Yeah, we totally kicked their butts.” And then sometime later in the day, there’s a little bit of a change in the sound, it starts to get louder. There’s more voices, and the tone of it’s different. And then the ground actually begins to shake, and they go, “What is going on? Somebody just go find out.” And I know how it works. You find the shortest guy, “Because like nobody’s gonna notice you. Go sneak over there, find out what’s going on.” So he climbs the hill, he looks down, he listens for a while, and then he comes back. He’s terrified and he’s spreading the panic. He goes, “Okay. Okay. Wow. So, I know, there’s…Okay. They’ve got a portable God. I know, I know. I’ve never seen, but…you…it’s not…portable. That’s not supposed to happen, right?” And so, they’re panicking. They’re saying, “A god has come into camp.”
Now here’s an interesting thing that’s happened. The Israelites have just gained a tremendous strategic advantage, right? Their enemies panicked. And when you’re panicked, you don’t make good decisions, right? Panic does not equal good planning. It just doesn’t. And so they’ve gained an advantage. Their enemies are panicked and they’re probably ripe to be defeated at this moment. So Israel has gained a strategic advantage, but you didn’t understand something. The advantage they’ve gained is based on a theological error. And listen to me, bad theology never produces long-term results. Long-term success. It might produce a short-term success, but bad theology never produces long-term success.
I have a friend in Dallas, he’s faithfully pastored a church and they’ve been committed to sound theology, good solid Bible teaching, for 35 years he’s pastored that church. And they’ve grown steadily over the years. Several years ago they got to a place that they had a worship center that seated about 1,000 people or so. And they were just maxed out in the number of services they were able to do. Everybody was kind of getting weary, but they were continuing to grow, but they didn’t really have the finances to go anywhere else. So they kind of got stuck. Now, down the street there was another church that had just come in existence just a couple of years before and it was a church that taught what we call the prosperity gospel. If you don’t know what that means, basically the prosperity gospel takes some teachings from the Old Testament and from the New, and it twists them around into this kind of strange promise that God never made and they say, “Hey, as long as you have enough faith, you’ll always be healthy and wealthy.” That if you have any financial problems or if you have any health problems, it’s because you don’t have enough faith. As long as you have enough faith, you’ll always be healthy and wealthy.”
By the way, churches that teach that often teach, “Hey, by the way, you know, just saying, one of the best ways you can demonstrate how much faith you have is by giving to this church. So if you really wanna show God you have enough faith, if you wanna get wealthy, you’ve gotta give a lot of money to the church.” And people bought it and the church grew really fast, explosively. And they had enough income coming in. They were able to go to a bank and convince the bank to loan them enough money to build a 5,000 seat worship center. And they moved in and it lasted about a year. And then they found out that pastor was doing some shady stuff with money and with his secretary. There were a number of other leadership things that were going on and the whole thing just fell apart. And suddenly, the church that had moved into a worship center of 5,000 people had about 500 people. And the leadership learned this lesson. They learned that bad theology never leads to long-term success. They might have a short term positive, but it never has a long-term success.
So the leaders of that 500 person church, they went to my friend down the street and they said, “We have a novel financial plan. How about we switch buildings?” And so my friend was handed the keys to a worship center of seats 5,000 people. They’re a church of about 16,000 people now, preaching Jesus throughout the Dallas area. It’s an amazing thing. They didn’t have the money to do that, but they had no problem taking on the mortgage payment. God’s good, right? And he brings good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose and teach good theology. It’s not actually in the verse, but it’s underlying it.
Bad theology never leads to long-term success. The Israelites have gained a short-term sort of advantage. Their enemies are panicked, but it’s on bad theology. Verse 8, “The Philistines said, ‘We’re doomed. Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness. Be Strong Philistines, be men, or you’ll be subject to the Hebrews as they have been to you, be men and fight.’ And so the Philistines fought and the Israelites were defeated. Every man fled to his tent. The slaughter was very great. Israel lost 30,000 foot soldiers. The Ark of God was captured and Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas died.”
Well, that went south quick, didn’t it? Here’s an interesting reality. The first battle they lost and they lost 4,000 soldiers, which was a pretty big number, right? But it was nothing compared to the 30,000. But you understand that, like, they could have easily lost that 30,000 in the first battle, right? There’s no particular reason why their losses had to be limited to a fairly small number. It could have easily gone as bad as it ultimately did right off the bat. What’s interesting is I think they looked at those 4,000, which turned out to be a fairly minor defeat, and they said, “This is terrible. Why did God do this to us?” But, you know, if they learned the lesson from that, they would have repented, they would have turned around and they wouldn’t have had that much greater defeat a little while down the line.
So they looked at the 4,000 they said, you know, “Why has God abandoned us?” Rather than, “Why have we abandoned God? What’s let us to fight on our own out from under his blessing?” The asked, “Why has God done this? Why has God left us?” But the reality, honestly, I think is that God hadn’t left them at all. God was actually there limiting their losses. God was there protecting them from the possible consequences of their sin to a large degree, and he allowed them experience some of the consequences of their sins as a warning sign, it’s time to turn around because if you continue down this road it’s gonna get so much worse. Their first loss wasn’t…it wasn’t a sign of God’s anger, it was discipline. It was discipline to draw them back so they wouldn’t continue down a road that would lead them to a harm so much greater than they could even imagine.
You know, we often look at these difficult things that we get ourselves into. We look at God, “Why has God done this?” But maybe those things, sometimes those difficult things we experience because of our choices, maybe those are actually a sign not of God’s displeasure, but of his love. Because discipline is a sign of love. You understand that? Listen to this Proverb. Proverbs 3:11, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resist or resent his rebuke because the Lord disciplines those he…” Say it with me, Church. “Loves. As a father, the son, he delights in.” God disciplines us because he what? Because he loves us. God disciplines us because he loves us.
And some of you are hearing this and it’s striking a little too close to home, and I get that. I promised them that this one wasn’t gonna be fun, but it’s gonna be important. Some of us are hearing this and we’re going, “I know exactly what I’ve done. I know exactly the choice I’ve made. I know exactly the sins that I’ve allowed into my life, and it’s led me to this place where I’m experiencing this difficulty,” and I’m asking you to recognize that the difficulty, it’s not just a result of your sin, but it actually might be a sign from your incredibly loving Father to get you to wake up and turn around before something much worse happens. You know, Jesus himself said that to a man. He healed a man of something and he said to him these interesting words, he said, “Now, stop sinning or something much worse will happen.” Some of the difficult things we face, they’re disciplines from God so that we don’t end up in a much worse place than we already are by our own decisions. God disciplines us because he what? Because he loves us.
Discipline is a sign of God’s love. And if we’re experiencing that discipline, we need to rejoice in the fact that God loves us enough to bring that discipline into our lives, and then we need to respond to it. We’re not always sure exactly what that is. Sometimes we know. Sometimes some of you are going, “I know exactly what it is,” and sometimes we’re not so clear. And next week we’re gonna unpack some things that God teaches about how we unearth those things that are holding us back and tripping us up that we might otherwise kind of be unaware of, but they’re still doing that negative work in our lives. So don’t miss next week.
But as we think about how we just kind of incorporate this truth into our lives, let me give you some questions to ask. The first question is just this, what transition am I experiencing? What transition am I experiencing right now? And what need for growth is it revealing in my life? You know, we said that transitions expose weaknesses, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. God wants to meet us in those. He wants his strength to be ours. So, we take a look at those transitions that we’re experiencing in life. And I think probably almost every one of us is experiencing some kind of transition right now. Well, what weaknesses is it exposing? We can begin to pray in that area and we can begin to work with the Lord to develop ways to grow in that area.
Second question is this, what boxes am I trying to keep God in or out of? You know, we probably aren’t real prone to make their mistake and go, “Well, you know, God’s in this little box right here.” You know, we go, “No, no, no, he’s not.” But it’s interesting that we do kind of put God in physical boxes that we call churches, right? And we go, you know, “The church building, that’s where God is.” Like I was taught that growing up. No, nobody would ever actually say that, but they’d said strange things. Like I got caught running in a church once. Once. And a deacon read me the riot act. He’s like, “You do not run in God’s house, boy.” I was like, “My Sunday School teacher just told me the earth is the Lord’s and everything in. I didn’t realize, like, that this was a different place than the rest, you know. Can I run out there?” “No. Yeah. Okay. What’s…”
You know, and sometimes in our odd little ways like that, funny little ways, but sometimes in much more serious ways, we somehow manage to communicate that God is in the box. He’s in the church building. And I think one of the reasons that we tend to do that, we tend to think God’s in the box or leave God in the box, is because honestly, we’ve got a bunch of other boxes we really want him to stay out of, right? “You stay in the box of church God, I’m really glad to meet with you there. That’s awesome. But if you could just stay out of my relationships, that’d be awesome. If you could stay out of my finances, that’d be great. If you could stay out of my career life,” right?
We have these boxes that honestly we want God to stay out of, and so we try to keep him in other boxes. We keep God in a box of that hour a weekend where we go to meet with him. And then we find that he’s trailed his home and he’s trying to get involved in another box, and we’re like, “Hey, stay in your box.” So what boxes am I tempted to try to put God in or to keep him out of? Because listen, we already said it right? You know what God does love to do with boxes that we try to keep him in? Blow them up. But that’s painful. It’s painful for the box builders. So we need to recognize that question, wrestle with it.
We also need to ask this, am I seeking counsel from people who will speak the truth to me even when it’s hard to hear? Do we have people in our lives that we can count to speak truth even when it’s hard? Because God often speaks to those people. He also often leads us to understand that he’s disciplining us out of love. So, do we have these people in our life? If we don’t, then we need to pray that God would send them into our lives and give us the courage and the humility to listen to them, and God will answer that prayer, I promise you. If you are ready to listen to people who will speak hard truth in your life, he will send those people. Just ask him
And then last, and again, you can always get these questions on the Mission Hills app or on the church website so that you don’t miss any of them. But this last question to wrestle with is just this, is there anywhere in my life that I’m trusting in bad theology? Because bad theology never leads to long-term success. So we need to find those areas that we’re kind of building ourselves and our lives on bad theology. And you’re like, “Well, how would I know?” Well, the Israelites could have known if they’d just gone to the right source, right? If they’d gone to the Prophet who spoke the Word of God. Well, maybe we don’t have a prophet in our lives, but you know what? We do have the Word of God that came to us through prophets. And Scripture is what we use to test every teaching. You should use it to test anything that I say. Anytime anybody says, “This is what God wants you to know, it should be tested against God’s Word. He’ll never contradict himself.
It’s also, it’s helpful to have people in your life, especially teachers in your life, who can help you to make sure you’re understanding God’s Word correctly. Because we have a tendency to read God’s Word and get out of it what we were really hoping it was gonna say, right? So it’s important to have people in our lives who also speak those hard truths to us, whether they’re gifted teachers or just trusted advisors or friends around us. But we need to make sure that we have those people in our lives who speak the hard truth even when it’s hard to hear. Because it’s only in these ways that we recognize that our eyes get opened to the reality that sometimes what we experience in life is because God is disciplining us. And then we come to this incredible important realization that God disciplines us because he loves us. Why don’t you pray with me?
God, it’s easy to thank you for your love when what we get out of your love is comfort and joy and peace and blessing. But Lord, we also recognize that it might actually be a greater sign of your love that you discipline us, because it’s a demonstration of your unwillingness to allow us to continue down a road that leads from bad to worse. Lord, would you give us eyes to see your discipline in our lives where it’s happening, and hearts that recognize that it comes from love, the love of our Father. Lord, root out of our lives those things that are keeping us from becoming like Jesus and joining him on mission in the world. Those things that are holding us back and tripping us up, show them to us. Lord, we know that you will show them to us because you love us too much not to. If you’re a follower of Jesus, would you just begin praying right now for the people seated around you, the people on our campuses and locations, people watching online from all over the world, because I believe in all of those places. There are some people who don’t have a relationship with God. They don’t have a relationship with this good and loving Father. And I think if that’s you, you know it. And I’d just like to speak to you for just a moment, because it may be that you’re in a place in life where things are very hard. And if you’re really honest, you’ll recognize that you’re probably in that place because of some decisions that you’ve made.
Sometimes it’s things that have been done to us, but very often it’s the ways that we respond and it’s decisions that we make. And maybe you’re in that difficult place and there’s something in your heart that’s tempted to blame God. You know, why would he do this to me? And maybe today, for the first time, you’ve heard something that’s turned on a light bulb and you’ve recognized that maybe the difficulty you’re facing isn’t a sign of God’s anger or his disinterest, but it’s a sign of his love. He’s disciplining you to turn you back to him.
And if you’re listening to this and you know you don’t have a relationship with a God who loves you, please hear this news. He does love you so much. He loves you so much that he puts discipline in our lives to turn us back to him. But it’s not just that, he loves us so much he sent his own Son to pay the penalty for our sin. He sent his Son Jesus, who lived a perfect life. He had no sin to pay for, nothing to separate him from the Father. But he took our sin on his shoulders, he died on the cross and paid the penalty of our wrongdoing with his blood. Every wrong thing you’ve ever done, he’s paid it. Every sin you’ve ever committed, I’ve ever committed, he has paid it all. Three days later, he rose from the dead. The grave is empty, and he is offering us new life, forgiveness, freedom from sin. A relationship with the God who loves us enough not just to discipline us, but to pay the price necessary to bring us back to him.
And if that’s you and you know you don’t have a relationship with God through faith, but you’re ready to begin that relationship, you’re ready to come back to God. You’re ready to say yes to faith in Jesus, would you just slip your hand up right now? That’s awesome. Fantastic. If you’re watching online, just click the button right below me. And wherever you are, you just have this conversation with God in your heart. You say:
God, I’ve done wrong. I’m sorry. Like I’ve realized that some of the difficulty that I’m facing in life is because of my sin. It’s hard to say, but Lord, thank you for loving me enough to discipline me. Jesus, thank you for loving me enough to die on the cross in my place. I believe that you rose from the dead, and I believe that you’re offering me your forgiveness, new life, adoption into the family of God, a relationship with my loving heavenly Father. Jesus, right here, right now, I’m saying yes to you. I’m putting my faith in you. Jesus, come into my life. Be my Lord, my Savior. I’m yours for now and forever. Amen.