October 1 | Confession

Text: 1 Samuel 7.5-6

This past weekend Pastor Jeff Manion pointed out the brevity of Israel’s statement, “We have sinned against the Lord” (1 Samuel 7.6). Israel’s confession is simple but profound. They not only admitted their need for God’s help, but they agreed with God about their sin: they confessed their actions as a direct offense against God himself.

Sadly, when we find ourselves in a spiritual predicament where we need God, we’re often unwilling to admit our wrongdoing in the matter. We struggle to let God reveal where our thoughts, words, or actions missed the mark as we refuse to see sin as it truly is—an offense against God himself. We may attempt to ignore the situation or try to muscle through, but God is neither oblivious nor obligated to bless us.

Israel experienced consequences for embracing other gods: they couldn’t live under the favor with God unless they confessed their sin. Pastor Manion reminded us this warning for Israel is also huge for us! If we run from God—if we defy him—and ignore all of the warnings he sends, we can’t think he’ll obligate himself to bless us.

However, “if we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1.9). Stand firm on that promise and begin a regular practice of confessing sin by writing out a prayer specifying ways you have offended God today.

September 30 | Only

Text: 1 Samuel 7.1-4

Samuel addresses Israel’s idolatry when he declares, “. . .rid yourselves of the foreign gods… and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve him only . . .” (1 Samuel 7.3). In one word Samuel communicates that God is not one of many, but the one and only God.

“Only” is a word of priority, simplicity, and exclusivity. While the importance of prioritizing and need for simplicity is easily admitted and admired, the idea of exclusivity is not often praised. Rather, uneasiness seems to accompany the concept of “only” in our culture, especially in terms of love, sexuality, religion, and even salvation. Perhaps this perspective resonated in Israel as they worshipped a multiplicity of other gods.

If we’re honest we, too, have idols. We often look to people and things around us to fill an inner void for security and significance. Even good things creep in and we fail to see them as vying for our love—and competing for the place of God—in our hearts.

In fact, our hearts are idol factories.

Rather than ridding ourselves of idols, we give up one and quickly turn to another. But God desires the priority and exclusivity of our hearts even as we battle with competing desires.

This week’s One Big Question is … What in your life is competing for total devotion to God? Be prepared to discuss this in your small group. Take time to humbly encourage and pray for one another to serve God only.

 

September 29 | Spiritual Crisis

Text: 1 Samuel 4.1-7.4

The temple of God seems an unlikely place to experience crisis, but spiritual crisis was running rampant throughout Samuel’s ministry: the priests cared more about their stomachs and women than honoring the Lord (1 Samuel 2.12-25), the Ark of the Covenant had been captured (1 Samuel 4.1-11), and Israel was greatly influenced by the surrounding nations which worshipped statues in place of God (1 Samuel 5.1-5).

Twenty years pass and Samuel reenters this story after a period when God no longer pacifies the people’s offenses. Instead, the Lord reveals his established consequences for sin (1 Samuel 2.30-34).

Wherever the Ark of the Covenant went, people cowered and panicked knowing the presence of the Almighty God was near. But not Samuel! He refused to shy away in fear, back down in the face of major spiritual crisis, or push the issues of sin under the rug.

Samuel courageously moves toward the spiritual crisis with truth (1 Samuel 7.3), reminding the people of God’s instructions and his compassion and graciousness toward all who turn from their sin.

Just as Samuel guided the nation of Israel through their spiritual crisis, we can move forward spiritually without fear.

As you begin your week, consider the areas where something spiritually is holding you back or weighing you down. Whatever it is, don’t delay in asking for help: call a trusted friend or your small group leader to help you walk in truth and remember, as Samuel reminded the Israelites, if you choose to return to God, then God will deliver you (1 Samuel 7.3).

September 26 | Stand Out

Text: Matthew 5.13-16

Because Samuel began his ministry in a dark season of Israel’s history (1 Samuel 2-3), he could’ve just blended in: follow the crowd, blame his surroundings, and worship just like everyone else. But he didn’t! Samuel decided to stand out. In the same way, we can point to a host of cultural pitfalls that might cause us to blend in–but we shouldn’t. In fact, God desires for us to shine bright in the darkest environments.

Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, declares his disciples are “the light of the world, a city set on a hill” (Matthew 5.14). As transformed followers of Jesus, we actually become beacons of truth and hope to a searching world. As Pastor Manion put it, we can either “blend in or stand out.”

In places of constant bickering, we can offer a kind word. In places of deceit, we can offer truth wrapped in love. In places of immorality, we can offer a life lived with integrity and purity as unto the Lord. Though you may not see the results immediately, God is using you as a beacon to draw others to himself.

Today, consider again the environments that offer you the greatest opportunity to stand out. Then, take out a piece of paper and list the individuals you know who present significant challenges in those places. Finally, ask God to give you a soft heart towards these people as you demonstrate kindness, truth, and integrity.

 

September 25 | Speak Truth

Text: Ephesians 4.11-16

The Apostle Paul teaches that the Church, the Body of Christ, exists to help people become mature in their faith and walk with Christ (Ephesians 4.11-13). One of the chief ways we accomplish this is by speaking the truth to one another in love (Ephesians 4.15). In relation to our study in 1 Samuel 3, the boy Samuel had the incredibly difficult task of speaking the tough truth to his mentor Eli (1 Samuel 3.11-21).

Some people pride themselves in “speaking the truth,” which is really just a defense for being nasty towards others. This is not what Paul is talking about. The aim of our truth-speaking is to build others up. When we have others’ best interests in mind, we love them with the truth.

The reverse is also true. We can say we love someone, but if we withhold the truth from them in fear they may be offended, we’re not really loving them at all. We’re just coddling their insecurity.

Truth in an atmosphere of grace is the medicine we all need. The message of the cross is the perfect example: none of us likes to hear we’re separated from God for eternity because of our sin, but without grasping that reality we’d never understand and accept Christ’s gracious work on the cross.

As you welcome God into your day, consider how you can “speak the truth” as you ask God to give you the courage and compassion you need.

September 24 | Listening

Text: 1 Samuel 3.1-21

At Ada Bible Church we talk often about having a “relationship with God.” That’s a tricky statement for the simple fact God is invisible—we don’t actually see him. This reality was also difficult for Samuel. As a young boy, in the service of the temple priests, God spoke to Samuel while he was sleeping.

While not being able to see God made his relationship a little more complicated, Samuel eventually learned to listen to God and became a great spokesman for God to the people of Israel.

In our relationship with God we, too, need to learn how to listen to the invisible creator God—a God who wants to have intimate and regular conversation with us. A primary way God speaks to us is the Bible; hence the Bible is often referred to as “God’s Word.”

One way of listening to God from the Bible is the practice of contemplative prayer: intervals of prayer revolving around one specific passage of Scripture.

Today, spend some time praying over Psalm 1. Try reading the passage, asking God to teach you from it, and then simply meditate on the text. Repeat the process focusing on different portions of the passage. Try reading it in different translations of the Bible. The goal of this exercise is to quiet all the other voices competing for your attention and just listen to God speaking through his Word.

September 23 | Time’s Up

Text: 1 Samuel 2.27-36

For years Eli, the head priest, allowed his priest sons to live in open contempt of God’s worship. Their behavior was abominable as they used their position and authority to fleece God’s people and take advantage of women serving at the temple gates.

It may have seemed like God was not paying attention to these atrocities, but he was fully aware and eventually his patience ran out. Eli and his family had ample opportunity to repent and return to God, but God had waited long enough. God’s response: “Time’s up!”

Eli received a troubling message from the Lord, “The time is coming when I will cut short your strength and the strength of your priestly house, so that no one in it will reach old age. . .” (1 Samuel 2.31). God was going to end Eli’s lineage.

This passage serves as a warning to all of us. God regularly presents himself to us in Scripture as a gracious, loving Father (which he is!), but he also takes sin and rebellion very seriously. If you’re living in open rebellion to God, know for sure God is aware and cares deeply. He wants you to turn around, let go of your habit or rebellion, and step into the light.

Today, spend some time journaling a prayer of disclosure to God. If the Holy Spirit is prying at something in your heart, confess it to God in prayer and consider confessing to a fellow Christian. King David’s prayer in Psalm 139.23-24 is a great model of inviting God to search our hearts. Use his words to guide your own prayer.

September 22 | Faithfulness

Text: 1 Samuel 2.12-26

This past weekend Pastor Jeff Manion described the culture of temple life during the adolescent years of Samuel. Two priests, Hophni and Phineas, were living in open rebellion to God and treated God’s sacrifices with “contempt” (1 Samuel 2.17). Even though their father was Eli, the head priest, they still walked in open opposition to God, abusing the sacrifices and violating the women who served in the temple courts. This was the example that was being set for young Samuel.

Despite this, Samuel “continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with people” (1 Samuel 2.26).  Amazingly, Samuel was able to thrive in an environment that was anything but conducive to growth. Samuel is fully devoted to God, living a life of integrity in the middle of an institution marked by serious corruption.

Many of us face similar challenges every day: the environments in which we work or live can be challenging to live with integrity, purity, and mission. Yet, as people transformed by walking with Jesus, we have the potential to grow and shine just as Samuel did.

The One Big Question for you to consider this week is. . . In what environment do you find it incredibly difficult to live as a fully-devoted follower of Jesus? Be prepared to discuss this with your small group. Take time to encourage and pray for each other to live faithfully in these challenging situations.

September 19 | Giving Back

Text: 1 Samuel 1.19-28

When Hannah cries out to God for a child, she makes a sacrificial promise to give the child back to God. God gives her a son, Samuel, and when he is weaned she does just that—she releases him to God. In our culture it’s difficult to understand why she’d be willing to give up the child she so deeply and desperately wanted.

The answer is in her attitude toward God. When she gets up from her prayer of lament, Hannah is no longer troubled. She’s at peace, showing she totally and completely trusts God. She truly believes if he gives her a child, this child already belongs to him and will be safe and secure as his dedicated servant.

By dedicating Samuel to God, Hannah gives Israel one of its strongest and godliest leaders. By taking him to the temple at such a young age, he’s raised in an atmosphere that teaches him what he needs to know and believe to serve God and his people well.

If you’ve been given children, consider dedicating them (and you as a parent!) to God. If you haven’t done so already, plan to dedicate your children at a service in November. You can find out about child dedication and the dates at your campus here.

September 18 | Mercy and Movement

Text: 1 Peter 1.6-9

Peter tells us, “There is wonderful joy ahead, even though the going is rough for a while…these trials are only to test your faith…”(1 Peter 1.6-7 TLB). Our Lord can bring positive spiritual movement in our lives from some pretty wretched situations. This past weekend, Pastor Manion encouraged us to think beyond what we see as the silence of God to what he’s doing in our life that we can’t see right now.

God lets us endure pain because he has a plan—he wants us to learn and grow through the pain as we await his mercy. As we trust him we can say, “Here I am what’s left of me, where Glory meets my suffering, I’m alive” (MercyMe, “The Hurt and the Healer”).

Listen to the song “The Hurt and the Healer,” by MercyMe. As you welcome God into your day, reflect on how he has grown you through the pain in your life.