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James Merritt - Honesty, Nothing But the Truth

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    James Merritt - Honesty, Nothing But the Truth
TOPICS: Mirror Image, Honesty

Well, I wanna say good morning to those of you who are at our Sugarloaf Campus, that those that are watching online, those at our Millcreek Campus, those who are watching by TV, thanks for being a part of us today. I wanna begin today, and I don't do this too often, but I wanna ask you a personal question. And it really is a very personal question. The question I wanna ask you, have you told a lie to anyone in the last week? Now, think it through. Think through the week, maybe you told a lie at work, told it at home, on the phone call with your mother-in-law, and just ask yourself honestly, can you really say that you have been in a lie-free week?

Now, if you're one of those people who said, "Nope, I hadn't told a lie this week," you probably just lied. Because the truth of the matter is, the average person in America tells 13 lies every week. Every week, two a day. Matter of fact, I've got a book in my study, it's a fascinating book, the title of it is, "Everybody Lies," and it was written by an Ivy League educated former Google data scientist. And what he did was, he went on the internet, he went to social media, he went to all these different venues where people give information. He studied billions and billions and billions of pieces of data, and here's what he discovered. He discovered everybody lies. And he discovered that a lot of what we believe is right is really dead wrong, because people not only lie, they lie to everybody. They lie to their friends, they lie to their doctors, they lie to their pastors, they lie to their family, they lie on surveys, they even lie to themselves.

I read the other day about a man that was standing on a street corner with a dog. And he was holding up a sign, and it said, "Talking dog for sale, $10". Well, this guy walked by and he said, "Are you serious about that"? He said, "Well yeah, I am". He said, "That dog can't talk". And just as he said, "That dog can't talk," the dog looked at him and said "Sir, please buy me, please". He said, "This man is mean to me. He never takes me for walks, he hardly feeds me. He keeps me locked up in a cage all day long. I cannot stand being with this man another second. Would you please buy me"? Well, the guy looked at the dog's owner and he said, "That dog really can talk. Why are you selling him for just $10"? And the man said, "Because all he does is lie".

We're living in a world today where frankly lying is common. Lying is practically expected. It's kind of the way we do business. And it's part of the reasons why we started a series last week that we're calling Mirror Image. If you're here for the first time or you missed last week, we're talking about character, and what we said was this. Imagine you had a mirror that would show you not what you look like on the outside, but you look like on the inside. Imagine you had a mirror that would not reveal your reputation, it would reveal your character. And we said, what would you see, what would your heart show? We began by saying last week that the foundation of character is integrity. And integrity is simply doing the right thing at all times and all places regardless of what it costs.

Well, we're gonna build on that foundation. And today we're going to learn that the very first fruit of integrity is honesty. Now, you can have integrity, but you cannot have it without honesty. But at the same time, integrity is more than just honesty. You can be honest, but not have integrity. You rob a bank, you get caught, and you honestly say, "I robbed the bank," you're being honest, your integrity is greatly in question. And today we're going to look at one of the lesser known figures in the Bible. As a matter of fact, when I read about this man, I'm shocked that we don't know more about him. I'm shocked that a lot of you probably have never heard about him. Probably many of you have never even read about him. And yet, without question, he's one of the most prominent people in the Bible because he was known for one thing, his honesty.

I'm gonna tell you who he was, and a lot of you are gonna go, "Never heard of the guy". His name was Samuel. There are actually two books in the Bible that are written by him and they're titled with his name. And frankly, he's one of those unsung heroes in the Bible that deserve a bigger name on the front page of the paper. He deserves his name to be in lights. He deserves his name to be well known. He deserves to be talked about. He is one of the greatest men that we know very little about, I'll tell you why. In the game of baseball, if you like baseball, I'm a three sport guy, I like football, baseball, basketball, so most of the time I'm pretty happy. I'm not one of these people if you like football you jump off the cliff after January or whatever. No, I just move from football to baseball, basketball. I love all three, but I do love baseball.

And if you know anything about baseball, scouts are always looking for what they call five tool players. They're looking for players that can do five things excellently. They're looking for players who can run, who can throw, who can catch, who can hit for average, and hit for power. They make the most money because there are very few of them in the history of baseball, there have been very few five tool guys. For example, if you know anything about baseball, I'll give you an example. Willie Mays was a five tool guy. Willie could run like the deer, was the best center fielder probably who ever played, could catch anything, he had a cannon front arm, he hit over .300 almost every year, and he was a great home run hitter. He was a five tool guy.

In the Old Testament, there were five different positions that a person could hold, five different offices that a person could fulfill, here were the five. You could be a seer, you could be a priest, you could be a judge, you could be a prophet, or you could be a military leader. Now, the reason why that's such a big deal is there's only one man in the entire Old Testament that held all five of those offices. And his name was Samuel. First of all, he was a seer. You say, "What is a seer"? Well, a seer is a person who sees, we get the word seer from that, and when you think about a seer, you may think about like a psychic or a medium, but that's not what a seer was.

A seer was someone who had visions, he had dreams. And they always came from God. And God would not only give this seer a vision or a dream, he would give the seer the ability to interpret that dream so everybody'd know what God was saying through those visions. Then most of your are familiar with the priest. A priest was a religious leader of the people. He was the intercessor, he was the go-between. He made sacrifices for all the people because of their sins. And then after Israel entered into the Promised Land before they selected their first king, for over 300 years they were ruled by judges.

Now, a judge in the Old Testament was not what you think about, a judge in the Old Testament was not someone that adjudicated cases and decided who was guilty and who was innocent. A judge was kind of like a Marvel superhero. What would happen was, for 300 years the nation of Israel, they'd go in cycles. They'd walk with God, then they'd forget God, they'd walk away from God, they'd disobey God, they would get into trouble. Other nations would begin to try to take them over. And a judge was kind of like the guy that came in on the white charger. He would gather the people together, he would tell them to come back to God. He would lead them into battle, if he had to. And he would restore them into a right relationship with God.

Then you had the prophets. A prophet was the spokesman for God. His job as the prophet was to do what I'm doing right now, teach people and preach to people, tell them the truth of what God said and reveal to them what God would want them to do. And then finally you had the military leader. He was a commander, he would lead the troops into battle, he would defend the nation, protect the country. Samuel is the only man in the entire Old Testament that fulfilled all five of those roles. He was, you might say, a spiritual superstar. He was by far, he was the man. But that is not what set Samuel apart. This is kind of the amazing thing. That is not what makes Samuel's star shine so brightly. What elevated Samuel, what lifted Samuel up, not just in the eyes of the people but in the eyes of God was one thing, he was a man of absolute, unfailing, uncompromising honesty. I mean, truth was his middle name.

And what distinguished Samuel was not the high position that he held but the honest person that he was. We're gonna study him today, and if you brought a copy of God's Word, I'm gonna make this very easy, go to the ninth book of the Old Testament. Just start in Genesis, go eight books over, you'll hit Samuel, or if you don't even know what this is, go to your iPhone or go to your pad and just google First Samuel. We're in First Samuel chapter three. Let me kind of tell you what's going on before we get into this story. Israel has chosen a king. They had a king, His name was God. They had the best king that you could ever hope to have for. But they got tired of having God as their king. They looked at all the other nations around, and everybody else had a king. They said, we wanna be like everybody else. We want our own king. We want a king with flesh and blood and eyes and ears. We want a king we can look at. We want a king that we can approach and go to. We want a king with a crown and a throne.

So God gave them their wish, God gave them a king. Samuel now knows his time is over. They've got a king, it's time for him to exit the stage. He's about to give his farewell address. But before he leaves, he wants to set the record straight about who he was, how he had lived, and all the things that he had said. Because when he died, he wanted four words on his tombstone, nothing but the truth. And when you read about Samuel, he actually does us a favor. He teaches us what honesty looks like in the mirror. If you were to look in the mirror and you were to see an honest person, this is what would be true about you. First of all, honesty means that you speak truth with your lips. Honesty means you speak truth with your lips. Now, before we get to Samuel's farewell address, that's a few chapters over here, we'll get there in just a minute, you gotta go all the way back to when Samuel was a boy.

Let me tell you kind of his biography. Samuel was a miracle, his mother was Hannah, she could not conceive. She tried and tried and tried, she and her husband, she could not conceive. She begins to ask God to give her a child. God hears her prayer, God allows her to conceive, Samuel is born. She is so excited about having a little boy and she's so grateful to God and she's so understands that except for God she would have never had a child, she does something wonderful. She says to God, "You've given him to me, I'm gonna give him back to you". So she dedicates Samuel to God, and she says, "You're gonna serve God all of your life". So she takes Samuel when he's just a little boy, she takes Samuel to the temple. The high priest, his name was Eli. She takes Samuel to the temple, she says, "Eli, I want you to adopt Samuel. I want you to become his foster father. I want you to become his guardian. I want you to become his mentor. I want him to become just like you".

Because we're told back in that day there were very few visions from the Lord. So Samuel goes and he's been living with Eli for a while, and one night he goes to bed and he hears this voice calling his name. He thinks it's Eli, so he gets up out of his bed and he goes into Eli's bedroom, and he said, "Did you call me"? And Eli said, "No, I didn't call you," and sends him back to bed. Second time, he's about to go to sleep, he hears this voice calling his name. Samuel says, "Okay, it's gotta be Eli". He goes back to Eli the second time, "Nope, it wasn't me". Third time it happens all over again. Samuel hears his name, he goes back. Now Eli's kind of figuring out what's going on. He said, "I don't think, it's not me, I think maybe God's talking to you". So he said, "Samuel, here's what I want you to do. If you hear that voice again, here's what I want you to say, speak Lord, for your servant is listening".

Samuel goes back to bed, his name is called. He says, "Speak Lord, for your servant is listening". And then the Lord reveals to Samuel in a vision something that Samuel wished he didn't see. He reveals to Samuel what is going to happen to Eli. Because Eli, as great a man as he was, Eli had failed miserably. He had two associate priests, they happened to be his sons, and his sons were doing terrible things. They were defiling the altar. They were actually skimming money off the top. They were taking offerings that did not belong to them. And on top of all of that, they were actually sleeping with other women in the temple. And Eli had turned a blind eye. Eli had not disciplined his sons. Eli had let this business go on. So now God's telling Samuel, "This is what I'm going to do to Eli".

So we pick up the story. And the Lord said to Samuel, "See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle. At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family, from beginning to end. For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about. His sons blasphemed God and he failed to restrain them. Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, The guilt of Eli's house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering". Now, you're Samuel, you're just a little boy. You're about 10 years old, maybe 11. You're shocked, you're stunned, you're saddened. Because remember, his hero was Eli. This was a man that had taken him under his wing. This was a man that had shown him the ropes, taught him the tricks of the trade. This was a man that poured his life into him. And Samuel is the last guy in the world that wants to go tell Eli what the Lord said.

So he decides to say nothing, but inevitably you know what's going to happen. Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, but Eli called him and said, "Samuel, my son". Samuel answered, "Here I am". "What was it He said to you"? Eli asked. "Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything He told you". Whew, so you're Samuel, what are you gonna do? I mean, you're not even old enough to drive a chariot. You're not even shaving. This man is your hero, he's your mentor. He knows more about the Word of God in his finger than you know in your whole body. You know what you wanna tell him. Um, we're going to Disney World. But he can't do that. He wanted to, he wanted to lie. And by the way, keep this in mind, even though he's a little boy, this is a test for Samuel. 'Cause now he's heard the truth. He has seen the truth, he knows the truth.

Now the question is, will he tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help him God? Because even though it will be tough and difficult, he's gotta make a decision. Do I wanna tell Eli what he wants to hear, or do I wanna tell Eli what he needs to hear? I'm gonna take a little break from my notes here for just a second, I'm gonna just say one thing and just in passing and I'm not thinking of anybody or any church or anything and I'm not throwing rocks at anybody, I just wanna kind of advise you of something. There are only two kinds of churches in the world. There are churches that you can walk into and they'll tell you what you want to hear. And there are churches that you walk into and they'll tell you what you need to hear. And I don't say this to brag and I don't say it with any arrogance whatsoever, but if you're a guest of ours, you just need to be apprised of this.

You come to our church, you're gonna hear what you need to hear. You're gonna hear what God says to hear. Whether it's about abortion or homosexuality or fornication or immorality or profanity or pornography or whatever it may be, we're gonna tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And the simple reason for that is one day this guy right here is gonna stand before God and God's gonna measure one thing, me by one thing, by every word I've ever said on any platform I've ever been on, and here it is, James, did you always tell my truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? So Samuel's being tested right now. Okay, Samuel, what are you going to do? Well, the next verse says it simply. So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, "He is the Lord, let Him do what is good in his eyes".

Samuel never forgot that all of his life. He never forgot not Eli's pain but his own. But God was teaching him at a very early age, Samuel, honesty is the best policy. It is the best policy. God is a God of truth, and when you tell the truth, here's what God promises. It may not be easy, it may be hard, it may be painful, but I will stand with you. Because when Samuel does what Samuel should have done and he tells Eli the truth, here's the very next verse, listen to this. The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up. He let none of Samuel's words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. This is a 10 year old, an 11 year old boy. And all of a sudden word spreads like wildfire. There's this kid, he's like 11 years old. This kid will tell you the truth no matter what. He'll say exactly whatever that God tells him to say.

Even to the point that now he is officially recognized by the nation as a real, bonafide prophet. And from that point until he retired, until he died, here's what everybody said. You got a problem with your marriage, you got a problem with your finances, you got a problem with your kids, you got a problem with your business, you got a problem with your morality, you got a problem with how to do your taxes, Samuel's your go-to guy. He will tell you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. He always speaks the truth with his lips. Now, I've not told you anything you don't know. Sure, that's what honesty does, but that's where too many people stop. Because honesty not only means that you speak truth with your lips, honesty means that you show truth through your life. Because this is really about to get a lot deeper and a lot better.

Now we're gonna fast forward about 40 years. Samuel is about maybe 50, 55 years old. His ministry's coming to a close. Israel now has a king, it's time for him to exit the stage. It's time for him to move on and go do something else. But before he does, he wants to say a final goodbye to the nation that he served for 40 years. So we're in First Samuel 12, we pick up the story. Samuel said to all Israel, "I have listened to everything you said to me. I've set a king over you. Now you have a king as your leader. As for me, I'm old and gray and my sons are here with you. I have been your leader from my youth until this day". That's right, my youth until this day. I got kind of lost in my own thoughts there.

Samuel has a 40 year track record. He says, You know what, you've watched me since I was a boy. Many of you have grown up with me. I went to school with a lot of your kids. Some of you taught me, I've worshiped with you. You brought your problems to me. I've gone into battle with you. And then he's kind of setting them up, because he makes one of the boldest statements about character you will ever find anywhere, not just in the Bible, but in all of history. Listen to what he says. He says, "Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the Lord". He's talking to the whole nation. "Testify against me in the presence of the Lord and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these things, I will make it right".

Now, he's standing before the entire nation. Neighbors he grew up playing with, kids he went to school with, people who taught him, people he did business with, his family, people that know him inside and out. He says, listen, I want a full-blown audit. I want you to open the books. I want you to check the records. I want you to investigate your witnesses. You see what you can find. I don't need a lawyer, I don't need an attorney, I don't need a mediator, I don't need an arbitrator. I'm not equivocating, I'm not hesitating. I have been honest every day in every way all of my life. And he says, I'm given you right now carte blanche. I defy anyone to prove I've deceived, I've deluded, I've defrauded anybody. Check my tax returns, check my expense reports. They're accurate to the penny. I have never played favorites, I've never taken any bribes. Because to Samuel, honesty was not just the best policy, it was his policy.

Now, I just have to say this, wouldn't it be great if every politician that retired from office could make that statement? I mean, wouldn't that be just... I gotta tell you this, there was a bus full of politicians, and they were speeding down a country road and the driver lost control and crashed into a tree. Well, the farmer who owned the field heard the bus crash and ran outside and he went over to investigate. And he dug this big hole and he buried all these politicians. A few days later the sheriff drove by and he saw this overturned bus and he said, "Hey, we've been looking for a busload full of politicians," he said, "is that the bus"? He said, "Well, yeah, it is". And he said, "Well, where are all the politicians"? He said, "Well, I buried all of 'em". He said, "Well, were they all dead"? He said, "Well, some of them said they weren't, but you know how politicians lie".

Now, if you're a politician, be cool, I'll vote for you, listen. The truth of the matter is, not all politicians lie, but some do, not all pastors lie, but some do. But what Samuel wanted them to know was this, this is one politician that's never lied to you. This is one priest that never lied to you. This is one prophet that never lied to you. This is one judge that never lied to you. I never told you a lie, this was one that didn't. So what was the conclusion? He said, Okay, you're the judge, you're the jury, give me your verdict. Listen to what they say, this is awesome. "You have not cheated or oppressed us," they replied. "You have not taken anything from anyone's hand". Samuel said to them, "The Lord is witness against you, and also his anointed is witness this day that you have not found anything in my hand".

Samuel stands before his people and he says, listen, I'm retiring, I'm outta here. I don't want a gold watch. I don't want a framed certificate. I don't want a trip to Disney World. I'm not even looking for a pension. Here's what I do want, I want a divine certification and I want everybody here to sign it that I've been a man of honesty and my integrity. And I wanna tell you, when I read that when I was preparing this message, I thought to myself, is there anything better, is there anything greater, is there anything higher than ending your career and ending your life where you have so walked with God that nobody can find anything about you? Nobody can say anything negative about you. The IRS can't touch you, the FBI can't touch you, the CIA can't touch you, your own family can't touch you.

When people say, you know what, you didn't just talk the talk, you walked the walk. That's what honesty does. You speak truth with your lips. You show truth in your life. But then there's one last thing. Honesty means you share truth in your love. Now, let me tell you why this is so important, because we kind of stop at the first two things. See, there's a method to Samuel's madness. Why do you think Samuel is doing this? Why do you think Samuel's really getting the people to tell him what everybody already knows anyway? Do you think they didn't know he was honest? Do you think he didn't know that they knew he was honest? Of course, you say okay, why did he do it? Was he trying to get a pat on the back? Was he trying to get people to brag on him? Absolutely not, he's setting them up. Because he's forced them to admit, so you will agree, I'm honest, you will agree I've never done anything but tell you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

You will agree that if I tell you something you can take it to the bank. You will agree if I tell you something you can absolutely believe it and you can absolutely live by it. And they're all saying, absolutely, we know you always tell us the truth. And then he says, wonderful, because I'm about to tell you more truth, and you're not gonna like it, so just sit down and buckle up. Let me just stop right here and just as an aside. The reason why he's about to tell them what he's about to tell them is because he loves them. And I have a question I wanna ask every one of you in this room, and you've come to know the truth called Jesus Christ, you've come to believe the truth that we call the gospel, here's my question, do you love people enough to share that truth with them? Do you love people enough to share that truth with them?

Because the most important truth you will ever share with anyone is the gospel. The most important truth you'll ever share with anyone is this, you're broken, but God can fix you. You're lost, but God can find you. You're a sinner, but God can save you. As a matter of fact, God loves you so much He sent Jesus Christ to die for you, brought Him back from the dead so that I would have the truth to tell you and that I would tell you the truth. And we think it's such a big, big, big deal. Samuel loves his people enough he says, okay, let me tell you the truth. I wanna prepare you for what is about to come. So here's what we read in verse seven. "Now then," he says, "stand here," now this is important, just keep that in mind, "because I'm going to confront you with evidence," that's important, "before the Lord as to all the righteous acts performed by the Lord for you and your ancestors".

Now, it's often been said that the reason why, that one thing that we learned from history is, we don't learn from history. So Samuel said, your ancestors made some big mistakes. And I wanna make sure you don't make the same mistake. So I love you enough to tell you the truth. So he says, "Stand here". Now, you don't know this but in the Hebrew language that has a judicial nuance to it. And what he's basically telling them is, court is in session, I am the prosecuting attorney, I want you to sit still and I want you to listen. I'm gonna confront you with evidence, which literally means we're gonna decide a case of litigation. And Samuel's about to present his case, not just about the righteousness of God, they know that, he's about to share with them how all of their ancestors kept doing something over and over and over and over. They would rebel against God. And every time they rebelled against God, every time they turned against God, they always got in trouble.

And there's one part of this sentence that bites like a shark. He says, "They forgot the Lord their God". He said, I want you to learn something. I'm trying to help you. Every time you forget God, it will bite you in the rear. Every single time. Every time you forget the Lord your God, you're gonna wind up in one big mess. And I can just say this even today in the 21st century, and I can say this 'cause I'm not the president, but if I was I'd say it anyway, the number one problem we have in our country, it's easy, we've forgotten God, period. We've forgotten God. Alzheimer's is a terrible disease, terrible, but there's nothing worse than spiritual Alzheimer's. When individually or as family or as a nation or as a world we forget God. And Samuel pulls no punches. In fact, he goes on to share in this chapter, he says, let me tell you three ways you know you've forgotten God. Let me tell you three things you'll have in your nation when you know you have forgotten God.

When you are falling into this pit, you will know it, because there'll be three things you'll see in your nation. He said, first of all, you'll see idolatry. You'll forget God and you'll turn to some other God. It may be money, it may be success, it may be popularity, it may be sex, but you'll know it when in your nation you forget God you turn to idolatry. And then he said the second thing you'll see is immorality. Particularly sexual immorality. And he said the third thing you'll see is you'll see iniquity, and what that means is you just kind of do your own thing, go your own way, you put God on the shelf, we don't need God, let's kick God out of this, let's kick God out of that, let's put a curtain over God and just do what we want to do. So Samuel closes with these words. "You be sure to fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully with all your heart, consider what great things He has done for you. Yet, if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will perish".

Now, you talk about truth. He said, let me leave you with this. When it comes to knowing God and loving God and serving God and obeying God and remembering God and worshiping God, it's not just about religion. As a matter of fact, it's not even about religion. It's a lot bigger than religion. He said here's how important it is. It is literally a matter of life and death. Because if you don't remember God, worship God, love God, serve God, fear God, you and your king will perish.

So the superstar Samuel began his life by being honest and telling nothing but the truth, and he walks of the stage doing exactly the same thing. There was a young lady that was lying out on the beach and she was sunbathing and a little boy in swimming trunks came over to her and he was carrying a towel and he said, "Excuse me, ma'am, can I ask you a question"? She said, "Sure," he said, "Do you believe in God"? And she said, she was kind of shocked by the question, she said, "Well, yeah, I believe in God". He said, "Do you go to church"? And she said, "Yeah, as a matter of fact I do go, I go every Sunday" and he said, "Do you believe the Bible"? And she said, "Yeah, I believe the Bible". He said, "Well, do you pray"? And she said, "Absolutely, of course I pray".

Now she's really curious where this boy was going. He said, "So, you believe in God, go to church, read the Bible, pray"? "Absolutely". Relief comes over his face and he looks at her and he says, "Would you hold my $2 while I go swimming"? That little boy was looking for an honest person. So is God, God's looking for honest people. God's looking for people who will be honest whether anybody's looking or not. God is looking for people who will tell the truth even when it's not popular. People who will keep their promises even if it costs them everything they've got. People whose word is their bond, why? Because when He speaks, He doesn't tell anything but the truth, and neither should we.
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