United Church of God

Letter From Lewis VanAusdle - June 9, 2023

Letter From Lewis VanAusdle

June 9, 2023

Letter to the Congregations: 10th June 2023

Our Dear Brethren,

Many of the people were trembling with fear. Some ran away, crossing the river that ran through the land in hopes that their enemies wouldn't easily find them. Others hid in caves and planned to wait until the anticipated fighting would stop. Still others who had been called up to fight trembled as they stood before their king. Saul was worried that the enemies would come up and overtake them unprepared. He also heard the murmurings of his armies who doubted that they could win such a battle. The Lord had saved them before, but would the man of God arrive in time to bring the offering before Him, to thank Him for His protection and ask Him for another victory?

"Bring a burnt offering and peace offerings here to me," the king spoke with authority, as the men brought the animal over and prepared it for the offering (see 1 Samuel 13:9). Saul was told to wait for seven days and then Samuel the prophet would come and perform the offering before the Lord as was his duty. Only moments later, Samuel could be seen walking up to the king. Saul, expecting a warm greeting and possibly praise for having honored God with that offering, was instead greeted with shame. "What have you done?" Saul tried to explain himself to the prophet, revealing that he had followed his impulses based on the fear he and the people felt. In that moment of rebellion the king had forgotten who it was who had given him the authority to reign over his brethren, and who had filled him with the Spirit to be guided by.

That day the Lord was merciful for the sake of His people, and He gave them victory over their enemies the Philistines. But from that time forward Saul's heart was further led by the fear of the people rather than by his fear of his God. And God began seeking "for Himself a man after His own heart" who would keep His commands in leading His people (1 Samuel 13:14).

Even though Samuel had promised that the kingdom would be torn from the hands of Saul, the king was still the king and still commanded the army of God's people. In a way he was given another opportunity to demonstrate his loyalty to God, but failed once more to follow direction. Instead of utterly destroying the nation of Amalek, including the king, the people, and the animals, Saul left Agag alive. "And the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good" he and the people of Israel "were unwilling to utterly destroy" (1 Samuel 15:9). Once again Saul had rejected the commands of God for fear of the people.

"When you were little in your own eyes, were you not head of the tribes of Israel? And did not the Lord anoint you king over Israel?" Samuel questioned Saul rhetorically, in hopes of getting across to him the fact that pride and fear had overtaken his judgment. "Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do evil in the sight of the Lord" (1 Samuel 15:17 & 19)? Saul only made excuses and tried to justify himself, claiming he had disobeyed God with the intent of honoring Him with burnt offerings and sacrifices.

"So Samuel said: 'Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king'" (1 Samuel 15:22-23). God chose another man, a more humble man, to be king over His people, and He took His Holy Spirit from Saul. Saul had rejected God's lead and followed his own.

Distressed by evil spirits already, and desperate for the wisdom from God he had walked away from, Saul tried to reach out to the Lord through rebellious means, consulting "a medium for guidance" (1 Chronicles 10:13). This act is essentially seeking after the guidance of Satan rather than God. Truly an act of rebellion against God influenced by the adversary who was the first to rebel against his Creator. "Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits [i.e. those who are possessed or by demons, and demons themselves]; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God" (Leviticus 19:31). "And the person who turns to mediums and familiar spirits, to prostitute himself with them, I will set My face against that person and cut him off from his people" (Leviticus 20:6). God had kept His promise and made another man king instead of Saul. The royal line was also removed from him so that none of his descendants would sit on the throne after him.

We have been called to follow the lead of our Lord which He provides through His word and through His Holy Spirit within us. We are being prepared to be kings and priests alongside the King of kings. But when we turn to our own fears and pride, or when we rely on superstitions and mediums, we rebel against that Spirit within us. We reject the proper fear and worship of God. When we rebel against the lead of God, either directly through disobedience or in rejecting those faithful leaders He has put in place, we follow in the footsteps of Saul. Attitudes of rebellion and stubbornness can begin to lead us down that path. Rather than bringing iniquity and self-seeking attitudes before our God, we should instead bring what He truly desires from us: "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart--these, O God, You will not despise" (Psalm 51:17).

Our love is with you,

Lewis VanAusdle

Pastor, United Church of God

NYC, NJ, CT, Malawi, Zimbabwe