Friday, April 20, 2012

Men of the Bible - Samuel, Saul, David and Solomon

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Samuel, Saul, David and Solomon are a mixed bunch of men, with different personalities, different ambitions and different character traits. There is much to learn from these men in the Bible.

Below I seek to outline some of the main characteristics that define who they are. Who was Samuel? What was Saul's character? Who was King David? How did Solomon become so wise?
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SAMUEL

  • Samuel was dedicated to God at a very young age - Hannah (Samuel's mother) says in 1 Samuel 1:28, 'So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.'
  • Samuel heard from the Lord throughout his life. 1 Samuel 3:4 says, 'Then the Lord called Samuel'. The author of the book of Samuel notes that during these times visions and words directly from God were rare. Though Samuel began to hear from God.
  • Samuel was called by God. 1 Samuel 3:1-21 tells of Samuel hearing the Lord, and thinking it was the Priest Eli. After the third time, Eli finally says to Samuel, 'Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening"' (1 Sam 3:9).
  • He was a righteous man, who walked in the ways of the Lord. 1 Samuel 8:3 mentions that his sons did not walk in his ways, and thus were punished by the Lord, but Samuel was righteous before God.
  • Samuel communicates to the people of Israel a defence of his own integrity. He says, '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, I will make it right.' They people of Israel reply to Samuel with, 'You have not cheated or oppressed us...' The people were affirming publicly Samuel's integrity.
  • Samuel would at times cry out to the Lord (1 Sam 15:11).
  • He may have had integrity and righteousness, but that did not make Samuel a push over! 1 Samuel 15:22-23 tells of Samuel's forthrightness towards Saul, after Saul disobeyed God. You could say that Samuel had a righteous anger at times.
  • When Samuel died, 'all Israel mourned for him' (1 Sam 28:3).

SAUL
  • Saul was physically tall and impressive. 1 Samuel 9:2 - 'Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.'
  • Samuel anointed Saul as 'ruler over my people Israel' (1 Sam 9:16). As 1 Samuel 10:1 notes, 'Then Samuel took a flask of olive oil and poured it on Saul's head and kissed him, saying, "Has not the LORD anointed you ruler over his inheritance?" '
  • The Spirit of God came upon Saul following his anointing. 'The Spirit of the LORD will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person.' (1 Sam 10:6).
  • 1 Samuel 11:6 tells of Saul burning with anger. Was this righteous anger or an anger that meant Saul lacked good character? 1 Sam 18:8 says that Saul was very angry and he was jealous of David.
  • Saul was 30 years old when he became King of Israel. He then reigned over Israel for 42 years! (1 Sam 13:1).
  • At times Saul failed to follow God's commands.
    • 1 Samuel 13:11-14: "What have you done?" asked Samuel. Saul replied, "When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Mikmash, I thought, 'Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the LORD's favor.' So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering." "You have done a foolish thing," Samuel said. "You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the LORD's command."   
  • Saul was not always wise. He told his army to not eat any food during battle, and made an oath to the Lord regarding this. When his son Jonathan ate some honey from the honeycomb, his father Saul wanted his executed. Well, they defeated the Philistines that day, but not without feeling absolutely exhausted, and with Jonathan having a close encounted with death! See 1 Samuel 14:25-30 and 1 Samuel 14:44-45.
  • So at one point he is willing to put his son Jonathan to death for eating honey, yet when the Lord commands him (for whatever reasons) to put to death the Amalekites he does not fully follow through on the command given (1 Sam 15:3, 1 Sam 15:9-11).
  • Is it true to say that Saul was proud and arrogant? 1 Samuel 15:12 reads that Saul went and set up a monument in his own honour. Something all great humble leaders do (sarcasm).
  • Interestingly he told Samuel he was afraid of the people (1 Sam 15:24). Was the monument more of a insecure way of attempting to continue to have the support of the people?
  • Now when Saul disobeyed God as mentioned above, the Spirit of God left him, and thus he became inflicted by the demonic (1 Sam 16:14). Saul tried to pin David to the wall a number of times with his spear (1 Sam 19:9). Anger, resentment, jealousy, etc. Saul's anger flared up at his son Jonathan too (1 Sam 20:30).
  • Saul was angry and jealous because of David, but the Bible says Saul was afraid of David (1 Sam 18:12). Saul was insecure?
  • Saul gradually lost the respect of the people of Israel - 'Is that why you have all conspired against me?' (1 Sam 22:8).
  • When Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him (1 Sam 28:6).
  • Saul killed himself in battle (1 Sam 31:4).


DAVID
  • David was, according to a servant who knew of him, a brave man and a warrior. He was a good communicator and a fine-looking man (1 Sam 16:18).
  • The servant also noticed that, 'The Lord is with him'. How would the servant have known this? What characteristics of David's life shone through? How did he live in such a way that this person could discern that God was with him?
  • Samuel anoints David (1 Sam 16:13), and the Spirit of the Lord comes upon him in power.
  • The story of David and Goliath, you have this sense that David is eager and tenacious. His trust in God is greater than his fear of the giant.
  • Whatever Saul sent David to do, he did it so successfully, that Saul gave David a high rank in the army (1 Sam 18:5). 'In everything he did he had great success, because the Lord was with him' (1 Sam 18:14)
  • David built loyalty amongst some. He developed a strong bond of mateship with Jonathan (1 Sam 20: 4).
  • David inquired of the Lord regularly (1 Sam 23:4).
  • David had an opportunity to kill Saul (1 Sam 24), but he cuts off a small portion of Saul's robe and becomes, 'conscience-stricken'.
  • Humility was a key characteristic of David's life. Even with Saul chasing him down wanting to kill him, David still called Saul, King, and continued to call himself a servant (1 Sam 26:18).
  • Even David questioned Yahweh's plan for him at times - 'One of these days I will be destroyed by the hand of Saul' (1 Sam 27:1). Though remember God had anointed him a long time ago by Samuel to become King. (David experiencing Doubt)
  • David was greatly stressed at one point, because people wanted to stone him (1 Sam 30:6), 'But David found strength in the Lord his God.'
  • David loved to worship God (undignified). The predominant writer of the Psalms.
  • Saul was the people's King and David was God's chosen King.

SOLOMON
  • Bathsheba gave birth to David's son - Solomon.
  • Solomon was God's appointed King of Israel (not his brother Adonijah) (1 Kings 1:11-14).
  • David said to Solomon, 'So be strong, show yourself a man, and observe what the Lord your God requires. Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and whereever you go...' (1 Kings 2:2-4).
  • Solomon was known as a man of wisdom (1 Kings 2:9).
  • Solomon was young, when given the reigns of kingship. He prayed, 'So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong' (1 Kings 3:9).
  • 'God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore' (1 Kings 4:29).
  • Men would come from all around to hear Solomon's wisdom.
  • David had a vision, through the prophet Nathan to build a temple for Yahweh. Solomon built the temple.
    • David was the visionary
    • Solomon was the organiser/administrator
    • We see these differences in many people, take for instance William Booth (the founder of The Salvation Army) was then replaced by his son Bramwell Booth (William Booth was a visionary leader, and Bramwell Booth was a adminsitrative leader). Both are needed at various times.
  • After Solomon built the temple, the Lord said to him, 'As for you if you walk before me in integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did, and do all I command and observe my decrees and laws, I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever...' (1 Kings 9:4-5).
  • Solomon failed to 'finish strong'. 'The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. (1 Kings 11:9-11). The Lord tears away the Kingdom from his successors, and so we begin the topsy-turvy period of the Kings in the Bible.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Tips on How to Communicate Effectively - You don't speak German Cat to a Polish Mouse.

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This is for all communicators. Politicians, preachers, teachers, business leaders, parents, corner shop owners, PHD recipients, mangers, and even for all the 14 year olds that are doing their first oral presentation!

I love to preach. Though most of all, I love to preach when people are listening. Further still, I love to preach, when people are listening, engaged and willing to respond to the message that is being shared. See one of my little pet hates, or frustrations, is when I communicate in a way that fails to evoke a response. I think to myself - why am I bothering? What is the point of communicating something that is not being heard?

Over the last 12 years I have spoken to various size crowds, and have learnt some things along the way. There are times I think to myself - 'YES! That was it! That really connected!' and of course there are other times I have said, 'WHY do I evennnn bother! Even I was falling asleep at one point!'

So, here are some tips on communication, or rather, tips on how to communicate effectively:
  • Know your audience - I have shared stories of Youth Groups with old people that fall on deaf ears, and I have spoken deep theological truths to young people who sit there and say, 'Huh?' The method of communication should change depending on your audience. What is interesting is that currently where I preach/communicate (Palmerston Salvation Army, NT, Australia), I am speaking to 0-90 year olds, with all the age ranges in between. I have learnt that it IS possible to engage everyone from the 7 year olds, to the youth, to the young adults, to the baby boomers, to the 80 year olds. It can be done!
  • Inspire your audience - Surely this is dead simple? I wish every communicator knew how to inspire their listeners! Sadly, many don't know! I don't always get it right, but let me add some thoughts to the mix. Whatever you are communicating, it should inspire; it is irrelevant at this point what the content of the message is, but what you are saying should positively grab the listeners ear and hook them in. On an aside note, one of the main reasons Australians are very despondent now about politics, is because every public speaker is dead boring!! Folks, you CAN make governmental policy exciting, if you think it through a little more, and attempt to engage the audience with the message.
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    Join Disciples in Training, for faith discussion and inspiration: www.facebook.com/disciplesintraining
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  • Be creative! Recently I spoke about the book of Philippians (from the Bible), and to intro the book, I had two people up the front to guess the answer to some questions. Now two of the questions were: "Who wrote the book of Philippians?" (Answer: Paul) "To what place was the book of Philippians written?" (Answer: Philippi) To help with the answers to the questions I had some products up the front to provide clues. The first clue, was a 'PAUL'S iced coffee' (A Northern Territory Australia thing). The second set of clues were a packet of Philidelphia Cheese and a Meat Pie (Phili - pie...). Anyway, the play on words was interactive, all age appropriate, and simply a creative way to engage people with what otherwise may have been a boring beginning to a series of a book of the Bible. Be creative! Don't send the listeners to sleep! "Good morning, today I am going to speak to you about the book of Philippians. This book was written by... zzzzzzzz...." I do want to add something here. Some think that being creative dilutes the importance and/or depth of the message being spoken, and I believe this to be a false paradigm. Creativity need not dilute the message, and can and usely does in fact strengthen the message, and strengthen the intellectual engagement with the content of what is spoken.
  • Ebb and Flow on Depth - This is something I have learnt about communication over the last few years, and this is most appropriate when you have a wide range of age groups present. Let me explain. In the context I am in, I have people in my congregation who are wanting to know the epistemological underpinnings of God's salvific purposes and others who are just there to hang out with their girlfriend. You understand the dilemma this poses for a communicator? Well, I think you need to tell a story and engage the crowd, then maybe go deeper for a minute, then come back out again and lighten the mood, then you might flow back into a deeper thought, and then you come back up for some lighter air. Do you understand what I mean? The depth of what you are communicating ebbs and flows. This is of course related to your context. If you are receiving a prestigous award for Physics, you may just go for a dive into the depth of scientific knowledge, and stay there for a while. BUT, I would say, that even with key note addresses like those, the audience is always appreciative of the occasional joke, or light-hearted remark. So I say again, ebb and flow on depth.
  • Understand the context - I have briefly mentioned this idea, and it is very important. I love to use humour to engage the crowd, as it lightens the mood and seems to engage the listeners. Humour is greatly effective, but is not always the best communication tool in the toolkit! Take for example, I have found it a nice challenge and a privelege when I am able to lead the ANZAC Day services in my region, where 700 people gather for a Dawn Service to pay their respects to defence force personnel, both past and present... Humour generally does NOT work in this context!! Understand the context, and use humour, stories, charts, graphs, YouTube, reports, flip charts, handouts, Powerpoint AS it is appropriate for your context. Can I say, the occasional short YouTube clip in a business meeting, can help break the ice and save everyone from business nausea.
  • Know your Content - It is much easier to communicate well, when you know your material. If you are preaching a sermon; know your Scripture back to front. If you are politician; know your policy back to front. A businessman? Know your core business back to front. An entrepreneur? Know your product back to front. A teacher? Know your curriculum back to front. You get the point. You should be spending time connecting your audience with your content, not spending your time playing brain games attempting to remember your content.
  • Speak to evoke a Response - If what you have to communicate is worthwhile, then surely you are hoping to create a response from those listening? Is it harsh to say that too many people communicate with no expectation of a response? Whether you are selling your business to investors, or preaching a sermon to a congregation, the ability to evoke a response is vital. Now, how do you do that? You speak stories/narratives that delve into the deepest parts of the human heart. If you are speaking to a crowd about vacuums it may be that the vacuum makes cleaning more efficient and thus allows you to spend more time with the family (the later being what creates an emotional response). Learning to communicate so as to evoke a positive response to the message being spoken, is something I want to learn more and more of in the future!
Thanks for letting me share some tips on communication. I will no doubt learn many more tips along the way and you may have some thoughts you want to post on to the site. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Philippians - An Introduction - Pete's Bible Commentary

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The Apostle Paul has for generations been the undisputed author of the book of Philippians. He claims to be the author in Phil 1:1. In Phil 3:5,6 he outlines some personal information relating to his upbringing (circumcised on the eighth day, from the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew and was a Pharisee in relation to the law) and this may well be enough in itself to claim Paul as the author of Philippians.

M.S. Enslin says that, 'no letter can make a stronger claim to be from Paul' (Cited in Gerald F. Hawthorne's Word Biblical Commentary - Philippians). Also, as Hawthorne writes, 'There apparently never was a question in the minds of the Fathers of the Church as to the canonical authority of Philippians or about its authorship'. We may well debate the book of Revelation being a part of the Canon, or whether Paul in fact wrote the book of Ephesians, but it is seemingly clear that Paul of Tarsus wrote the letter we now call 'Philippians', and that it holds importance and rightfully has a place in today's Biblical writings.

Paul wrote this letter from prison (Phil 1:13), and it was addressed to the church in Philippi. Philippi was a town founded by the father of Alexander the Great (Philip II of Macedon), and was established in 358-357 BC.

The book of Acts outlines some converts to the Christian faith, who resided in Philippi. Lydia was the first convert to Christianity and her story is told in Acts 16:13-15. Paul also preached to the Jailer who gave his life to Jesus and his family were saved also (see Acts 16:31-34). Interestingly the predominant group that were becoming converts to the faith in Philippi were Gentiles.

The arguments of where Paul in fact wrote the book of Philippians is extensive. The consensus seems to be with Rome, being the place of authorship for the biblical letter. If Philippians was written in Rome, it would have been between 60-62AD. Some have argued for Caesarea, Ephesus or Corinth as possible other places of authorship of Philippians.

Philippians is an encouraging book, and by way of introduction is one where you sense the suffering and pain Paul has endured, but you find yourself inspired by his optimism and joy despite those sufferings. Think of verses from Philippians such as:

Philippians 4:8 - "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."

Be inspired by the book of Philippians and if you find yourself surrounded by trouble, infliction and suffering, be encouraged by this book, as Paul wrote from the heart to the church at Philippi.
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An Introduction to the Book of Philippians is part of Pete's Bible Commentary.
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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Richard Dawkins Vs Cardinal George Pell - Q&A

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Committed to their beliefs, one a staunch Atheist, the other a staunch Catholic, ABC Network's QandA, hosted by Tony Jones, delivered some entertaining discussion on all things faith on their most recent show (Monday 9th April, 2012).

Richard Dawkins holds his atheist card high, while Cardinal George Pell is unmoveable on his Christian beliefs. It's a verbal battle that sees no winners. In a one hour program, Dawkins or Pell cannot particularly shake the other from their deeply held views, but it is entertaining nonetheless.

The questions and answers are somewhat predictable though. Cardinal George Pell's views on gay marriage, and the Catholic's stance of being negatively disposed towards it. Richard Dawkin's whinge about how ridiculous Christians are to believe in an intelligent being that created the Universe. Pell's passion for communion and confession and Dawkin's evolutionary bandwagon.

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Book Review on Richard Dawkins here: The God Delusion
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It's like a recipe for scones, where you know you must add flour and milk, but you just don't know how much you are going to add, and what it will all turn out like in the end.

Cardinal George Pell in clap-worthy fashion at one point says to Richard Dawkins that he'd rather believe in what Jesus has to say, than him.  Can't remember what in particular, but that's not the point. All Tony Jones can do is slump back in the chair and just grin.

The QandA debate stretches my mind, and challenges me to consider the answers to the tough questions in life. Now, at this point, many crack a joke about Atheism and Christianity. I tell you, I think that's done, because confronting questions like, 'How were we created?' 'What is the meaning of life?' 'Where does morality come from?' are difficult to answer! We'd rather brush it under the carpet, and hope it goes away, that way we don't have to confront the reality of the nature of the question.

I am not a postmodernist who claims we cannot really find truth, as everything is relative. I don't think truth is that easy to push to the side. I think we can find the truth to many of these questions, and many people over the years have become peaceful in themselves on the truth they have discovered.

As a Christian, I believe IN Christ there is truth. A vague statement to many, no doubt, but one that holds true for me. The answers to the deep questions of purpose and meaning, seem to find such amazing clarity to me, as I discover more about the point of my life in Jesus. A journey I am still on, and one I will continue to travel.

Let's be challeged to not just do the cultural thing that merely 'laughs off' all the tough questions, but begin to engage them, and seek out the truth.

All the best on the journey of life...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

William Booth Quote

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William Booth Quote: "Your days at the most cannot be very long, so use them to the best of your ability for the glory of God and the benefit of your generation." (October 4th, 1910).

This quote gives me shivers down my spine, as I consider the urgency of making my life count; now. I must persevere in developing Godly character; I must persevere in making my days count; I must persevere to live out and proclaim the message for which God has taken hold of me. That is, namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Wow! What a message I have been given. That through the cross of Christ, I may have forgiveness, and find hope and peace in my inner soul. That message transforms me from the inside out, and its a message I want to spend my life promoting.

Heaven forbid I spend my life playing computer games, eating fatty foods, watching mindless hours of TV and scratching myself all day long. You get the point. Our lives should be focused on the God who created us, and lived out in a way that honours the Creator.

William Booth's Quote has it right - let's spend our lives on what eternally matters. Sure, lets enjoy life, but lets make an impact on our generation, for the glory of God.

Let it be Lord. 

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