1 step in the wrong direction can lead to 100 steps in the wrong direction. If you’re not walking towards God, you’re fading away from Him.
Morning. David Sorn. Lead Pastor here at Renovation Church.
I was talking with someone the other day, and they said, “What did you major in when you were in college?”
And I jokingly said, “Ministry.”
Now, truth be told, I’m not sure they had a ministry major at St. John’s University…not unless you wanted to be a priest I guess, and my future wife was far too beautiful for me to want to be a priest.
But when I was in college, I was part of leading a Bible study that grew from 10 to 200 students in about a year and a half.
And that ministry was my life in college.
And I did classes on the side.
For my Elementary Education major that is
And I did ministry with some amazing friends in college.
Some of them have gone on to do amazing things for the Lord.
Like Bryan McInnis, one of our church planters in Plymouth.
Or my good friend, Jeremy Lind, who is the pastor of Cornerstone Community Church right here in Blaine
And yet puzzlingly, others, who were SOO passionate for God when I knew them back in college…
Now almost 15 years later…are cold towards God.
Some have even abandoned their faith.
But what happened?
How does that happen?
This morning, as we come to our 23rd and final week of studying the book of 1 Samuel, we’re going to study the life of a man who walked away from God: King Saul.
1 Samuel has much to say about Samuel, much to say about David, but it is about Saul more than any other person.
1 Samuel gives us one long look at a type of person who is unfit to lead…and unfit as a follower of God…Saul.
And today, as we end our series and this book, we will see the unfortunate end of Saul.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen the enemy of the Israelites, the Philistines amassing an enormous amount of troops for battle.
And today, they will finally attack King Saul and his forces.
(1 Samuel 31:1-13) – NIV
Now the Philistines fought against Israel; the Israelites fled before them, and many fell dead on Mount Gilboa. 2 The Philistines were in hot pursuit of Saul and his sons, and they killed his sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-Shua. 3 The fighting grew fierce around Saul, and when the archers overtook him, they wounded him critically. 4 Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me.” But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it.
5 When the armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his sword and died with him. 6 So Saul and his three sons and his armor-bearer and all his men died together that same day. 7 When the Israelites along the valley and those across the Jordan saw that the Israelite army had fled and that Saul and his sons had died, they abandoned their towns and fled. And the Philistines came and occupied them.
8 The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the dead, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. 9 They cut off his head and stripped off his armor, and they sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines to proclaim the news in the temple of their idols and among their people. 10 They put his armor in the temple of the Ashtoreths and fastened his body to the wall of Beth Shan.
11 When the people of Jabesh Gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, 12 all their valiant men marched through the night to Beth Shan. They took down the bodies of Saul and his sons from the wall of Beth Shan and went to Jabesh, where they burned them. 13 Then they took their bones and buried them under a tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and they fasted seven days.
So after being King for 42 years, Saul’s downward spiral of a life comes to an end with one final twist of sadness…fearing torture, he decides to just fall on his own sword, and take his own life.
And then we’re told that the people of Jabesh Gilead valiantly marched to Beth Shan…rescue the dead body of Saul and take him back to their land.
And this was a valiant rescue…especially for a dead body.
Let me show you a picture of what the town of Beth Shan (where they rescued the body from) looks like
(Show BETH SHAN picture)
SAUL’s SLOW FADE
And as we finish out the book of 1 Samuel…it’s a curious ending.
You might even ask, why would they do that…for such a person like Saul…his life was such a mess…and filled with such evil at the end.
Why do that?
Well, it’s because Saul’s life wasn’t always that way. Let’s look back:
When we’re introduced to Saul…(40 years earlier in chapter 9), we’re told that he is as handsome as a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel…and he was a head taller than everyone else.
When Saul was a young man, one day his donkey’s went missing, and on his search for them he ran into Samuel the Prophet…and Samuel anointed him as the 1st King of Israel
We’re then told that the spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon Saul
Saul even prophesies and the Spirit begins to change his heart more and more towards God.
We even see a shyness and humility with Saul in his early 30’s…not the overconfidence and brashness we see later in his life.
In fact, in chapter 10, when Saul’s called to come forward as King in front of all Israel, he’s found hiding in the baggage.
When you look at chapter 11, the conclusion of 1 Samuel actually makes complete sense.
Remember those men that took Saul’s body back from the Philistines? The people of Jabesh Gilead?
Way back in chapter 11, the people of Jabesh Gilead were being held hostage by the Ammonites.
And Saul…by the power of the Spirit of God (the Bible says) inspired everyone to battle, and they went and saved all of the people of Jabesh Gilead.
This was a great, great man!
And the people of Jabesh Gilead were obviously forever grateful.
But then…in chapter 13, (and you must understand this)…Saul takes a baby step away from God
It’s tiny, but one step in the wrong direction can sometimes lead to 100 steps in the wrong direction.
Saul is supposed to wait for the 7th day for Samuel to come and offer a sacrifice, and then Samuel will then tell Saul what to do in battle against the approaching Philistines.
Samuel is slow in coming, Saul panics, and offers the sacrifice himself.
It may not seem like a huge deal, but Saul is, in a sense, “using God” as a means to an end.
He makes sure to just do the religious thing quickly rather than truly wait on God’s direction.
Then it gets worse, and Saul starts to take a few more baby steps away.
He starts making sloppy decisions. Like making weird oaths that almost end in the death of his son Jonathan
A few years later…he takes his first moderate-sized step away from God
God asks him to fight and kill off all of the wicked Amalekites (Think Nazi’s but worse) and destroy all that belongs to them.
But Saul now thinks he has a better idea.
He mostly does what God asks of Him, but then Saul decides to save some of the spoils for himself (even though God said not to)
Now, Saul’s living in partial obedience
Sure God has some wisdom, but in the end, Saul knows best!
From then on Saul’s flaws start to show up all over the place
His heart is changing.
And when your heart gets blacker…so do your actions.
Saul’s too afraid to fight Goliath.
He starts to grow really jealous of David.
He thinks…and even plots about killing David.
He tries to kill David.
And then he slaughters an entire town of priests…just because they helped David.
And when he’s faced with annihilation by the Philistines, he’s so far away from working with the Lord now…he runs to get advice from a medium instead.
And finally, as we saw a few minutes ago, his sad life ends in ruin as he takes his own life on the battlefield.
SELF OBSESSION & USURPING THE THRONE
But like I asked of my college friends at the beginning….
How did this happen?
First & foremost, we must see this clearly & often this morning, this was a slow fade.
As Casting Crowns say in their song with the same title, “People never crumble in a day”
But what caused the fade?
Little decisions. Yes.
But what was wrong with the little decisions?
I’ll tell you what was wrong.
It’s what many of you have been staring at on the screen on & off again for the last year+.
It’s the whole ‘monarchy’ issue.
Which means one ruler.
The ruler is supposed to be God.
And as time goes by, Saul…ever so slowly…starts to nudge God off His throne and starts making decisions for himself.
It’s no different for us.
And the warning here is that imitating the actions of Saul can and will start your own slow fade.
Listen, you’re not going to ruin your relationship with God because one day you decide to just get absolutely hammered and have an affair out of the blue…or become an atheist out of the blue.
It starts with the little things.
And the little things are almost always laced with self-reliance…and self sufficiency .
The idea that we KNOW what’s best for our next decision (I don’t have to wait and consult God…that’s what Saul decided)
It starts there…yes…way back there.
One of the things that was difficult for me in teaching through the middle of the book of 1 Samuel last summer, is it was easy for people to ask questions like: “Why is God so angry at Saul when Saul’s mistakes seem so small?”
Because God sees what we don’t yet see.
He sees that these mistakes of Saul are the first baby steps on the path to 100 more steps in the wrong direction.
And so hear me clearly today…and hear the Word of God clearly today…that if any of us try and take God’s place…
and we start deciding what’s best for our life…and we start deciding what’s truly okay for us to do and not do…what we’re really doing is asking God to scoot over on the throne.
Hear me, it won’t end well.
The whole book of 1 Samuel is about the failed experiment of letting someone else be King rather than God.
The book starts off in the opening few chapters with the Israelites desperately fleeing with the Philistine army.
Eli…the current leader of Israel (& also their priest) hears that his sons have been killed in the battle.
And then Eli falls down and dies.
Then the Israelites declare, “No more! We must fix this! What we need…is a king…like everyone else!”
And so they get their king…
But how does the book end?!?
The book ends…just like it started.
The Israelites are once again desperately feeling the Philistine army
Saul the current leader (the “king” that was supposed to fix things) also hears (just like Eli) that HIS sons are dead.
And he (just like Eli) falls to his death…
Nothing has changed!
The book is meant to teach us about the monarchy.
This “thing called life” is never going to work unless there is just one King in our lives. God.
God has to be our leader.
FALSE ASSUMPTION: I’LL DO IT LATER
And let me tell you about what may be happening in your soul right now.
You might be going, “Okay. I get it. Yeah, God’s probably not King in my life right now.”
And yet, most of you, aren’t going to do anything about it.
How many times, in my own life, have I heard something just like this and said, “Yep.”
And then done NOTHING!
For so many of us, we “do nothing” because we’re operating under a false assumption.
We think, “Yeah, I’m not passionate about God right now. Certainly not like I used to be in college…or in my twenties. I’m just kind of…here.”
But…rather than say, “And I will do whatever it takes to fix that right now…TODAY!”
Instead, we say something like, “But I can’t right now. Life’s too crazy. The kids are too crazy. Work’s too crazy. But when I have time…I’ll get to it…later.
But it’s a dangerous false assumption.
And here’s what’s false about it: See, our assumption is that…sometime…in the future…we’re going to have more time…and also WANT to…get passionate about God again.
And here’s the danger of that kind of thinking: In reality, the more we put God off, the harder our hearts become to His advances…and thus the LESS likely we will be to want to come back to Him at a later time.
And there is perhaps no greater example in Scripture than Saul on this point.
Saul’s walk away from God is a slow fade…it really is.
It’s a bit hard to nail down exact dates, but Saul’s first little steps away take place over a period of about 10-20 years.
It’s slow…but it’s real.
And then over time, it’s like rolling a ball down a very long but gradually sloped hill.
It’s really slow at first, but by the time you get towards the end, that ball is going incredibly fast!
Saul’s baby steps eventually turn into sprinting.
Sin is cumulative.
The more you fall into deceit, the harder it is to make sense of anything.
And the harder it is to remember where you came from in the first place…and why this whole “God thing” was even worth your time to begin with.
By the time Saul got to his death, his ball was rolling away from God so fast that he didn’t even bother to ask God for help
The words of the famous evolutionist Charles Darwin are telling here:
"I came to gradually disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation …. Disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but at last it was complete. The rate was so slow that I felt no distress and have never since doubted even for a single second that my conclusion was correct." – Charles Darwin
REAPING & SOWING
And so you’ve got to know that if you’re not walking towards God…you are walking away from Him.
Most Christians lie to themselves and they say, “Yeah, I know I’m not really serious about pursuing God right now, but I’m not walking away either.”
If you’re not walking towards Him, you’re walking away from Him.
This is perhaps more obvious in philosophy…or even science.
When things are left untouched…they naturally decline, decay, and degenerate…they don’t stay the same.
If I don’t clean my house for two months…it doesn’t stay clean just because I’m not purposefully messing it up.
It gets dusty and dirty.
If you discover something in your grandparents yard that has been untouched for 70 years…it’s not “good as new”
In theology, this is called your sin nature.
If we’re not intentionally letting God pull us towards Him, then our sin nature is ALWAYS pulling us the other way.
There is no middle ground.
The Bible says we “reap what we sow”
And many of us in our passivity towards God are, unknowingly perhaps, sowing self-reliance, self-centeredness, self-help, and self-righteousness into our fields.
And thus what we’re pulling up at harvest time…is the rotten fruit of our own limited perspective & power.
And listen, this thing is cumulative.
If you keep walking away from God…or, in many of our cases, not walking towards him (which is just walking away from him with your eyes closed)
If we keep walking away from God…the slow fade will lead us deeper and deeper into reaping a harvest of pain.
Isn’t this SO apparent in Saul’s life?
It’s one long downward spiral.
As he keeps relying on Himself…his life and his choices keep getting darker & darker.
Think of it this way: Let’s say a few years ago, you had been sober as a recovering alcoholic for 2 years.
And one weekend you were faced with a choice: Some of your old high school friends are in town and want to see you, but…they’re getting together at a bar.
And so your choice is: 1) Do you go to the bar (which certainly would be a risk to your sobriety from alcohol? Or 2) Do you stay home with your spouse?
You think…it’s just one night…I’ll have a pop or something.
It’s just a baby step right?
But remember, so often one step in the wrong direction just leads to 100 steps in the wrong direction.
And when you’re 100 steps in the wrong direction, your choices are much harder…and much darker.
Instead of your choices being something like “Should I go to the bar or not,” your choices are now like, “Do I tell my spouse I cheated on them while I was drunk again…or do I keep it a secret?”
The slow fade of sin is always cumulative.
I’m telling you…please listen to me…people don’t notice the slow fade at first.
We simply don’t notice it.
If I walked from here to here over a period of a year, you’d never see me moving, and swear that I wasn’t!
You’d say, “He’s not going this way or that way…he’s just not moving”
Which is the exact same thing most of us say about our faith!
We say, “I’m not really moving one way or the other.”
But many of you are!
And it’s the wrong direction!
The bible warns us over and over again, “Do not harden your hearts”
And our hearts get hardened…when we do nothing.
I don’t know if you’ve thought about this before: Many of the people who fail in Bible do so in the second half of their life.
We so often falsely think of rebellion as something people do in the early years of their life.
That may be true of outright, and quick rebellion.
But the slower, more deadly, and significantly harder to come back from form of rebellion…happens as you get older.
Walking with Christ is a lifelong journey.
A lifelong journey of walking towards him and walking away from Him.
And every time we walk away (whether quickly or slowly), we have to make a decision to come back again.
And some of us who need to come back the most are the ones who have been following Christ the longest.
Let me explain: I don’t know if you’ve noticed this or not, but there have been an alarming number of flying accidents for single-engine planes in North America lately.
Because of that, a comprehensive study was done of the 44 most recent fatal accidents involving single-engine planes, and a few lessons stood out.
One of the most surprising lessons was that experienced pilots were responsible for a majority of the accidents.
In fact, over 75 percent of the accidents were caused by pilots with over 400 hours of flight time.
What they found was the experienced pilots assumed that because they already had a lot of hours under their belts they could cut corners and get sloppy.
They had stopped going by the book.
And for many of us…even in this room today…we have the same syndrome as many of those veteran pilots.
We’re not like the new pilot…with his book open…making sure they do everything as the book says.
We just think we know it well enough ourselves.
You’re sitting here going, “I know how do this Christian thing. Don’t do this…do this…come to church, and I’ve been fine so far. At least I’m not like so-and-so who ruined their life.”
Yet. You’re not like them…yet!
I could be them just as well as you could.
My sin nature will take me there if I let it.
And I probably wouldn’t even notice the slow fade until it was 90% complete.
Some of you, you know all the right things about God.
But guess what, so did Saul!
But his HEART wasn’t right anymore.
He continued to say all the right spiritual things on the outside, but in his heart, God’s not on the throne anymore, he IS!
How’s your heart?
Who’s on the throne?
COME BACK NOW
And so I want to plead with you this morning…if you’re not walking towards God right now…put the breaks on…turn around…and come home.
Because if you don’t do it now…there is a real danger (like Saul) that you’ll get to a point in your life…
where even though your life is now spiraling faster than ever out of control, the deceit of sin will somehow convince you that no brakes are necessary.
And at the point in your life when you need to come back the most, you’ll no longer have a desire to come back anymore.
Come back now, while you can still think straight.
Get serious about God again now.
Back in 2001, a one-year old Canadian girl named Erika somehow wandered out of her parent’s house and spent the entire night in the Edmonton winter.
When her mother found her, Erika appeared to be totally frozen.
Her legs were stiff, her body frozen, and all signs of life appeared to be gone.
The little girl was treated at Edmonton's Children's Health Center, and God helped the doctors and rescue workers bring her back to life.
And this morning, my guess is that some of you too have wandered away from your Father’s house…whether you ran away…or just slowly backed away with your eyes closed…
And right now, you may even feel like your soul is frozen.
The life has gone out of you…you’re almost dead.
But I want to tell you something about God.
He’s in the resurrection business.
He knows exactly how to take something that feels lifeless, and bring it back again.
He can infuse life back into you…it just takes faith.
And one step back in the right direction.
Because just as 1 baby step in the wrong direction can lead to 100 steps in the wrong direction.
So can 1 baby step in the right direction, lead to 100 steps in the right direction.
Grab his hand…start walking with Him again.
And c’mon, He knew you would be here.
When he made the decision to be hung up the cross, and he saw the future of your life, he saw you would be here.
And he said, “I’ll die for them anyway.”
And so you already know that his love for you…it covers this…it covers THIS.
Start walking with Him again.
His mercy is so great.
Make the decision to come back to Him and start following Him with passion again…while you still can.
And so here’s what I want to do.
I’m going to call our band back on stage, and we’re going to go back into a time of worship.
If you know God is speaking to your heart today, and you need to start walking towards Him again…
Here’s what we’re going to do: I want you to actually take a step (and not shrug this off any longer)
I want you to get up, some time during the last 3 songs and walk back to our prayer team in the back (we’ll have a lot of them back there with some of our elders as well).
And I want you to tell them you want to come back to God.
Maybe you even need to confess something.
Maybe you need to let go of something that’s holding you back.
Don’t be embarrassed about this.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to do this in my life.
It’s part of the journey.
But it’s time you put an end to the slow fade…grab God’s hand, and and take a step back towards him again.
It’s time for the ONE TRUE KING, the Monarch, to sit on the throne of your heart again.
Let me pray, and at any time, you can go back.
Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
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