Sam I Am : God In A Box
August 25, 2019, 11:15am | Ed Young
I want to welcome everyone to Fellowship today. I’m continuing this series called Sam I Am. Many of you probably read the book Green Eggs and Ham maybe as a child. It’s a Dr. Seuss book. The chief protagonist in that is a character named Sam-I-Am. He was trying to get Joey to eat green eggs and ham.
I just thought, hey, wouldn’t it be cool to do a series from scripture on the character Samuel and maybe call him Sam I Am? One of the names of God, God called himself the great I Am, so Sam I am. You get it? Yeah.
Always remember … Thank you. Always remember this is a two way conversation, so help a brother out. You can clap now and then. I’m not saying that I’m saying something profound, but just you can clap, and smile, and have a good time. Church should be an exciting place, a fun place. That’s why our church is named Fellowship church. It’s not just something it is. It’s something that we do.
Let’s give a big round of applause for all of our different locations. I just drove in from our Frisco campus. You know, we had over 100 students at our Frisco campus this past Wednesday night. Isn’t that amazing? I thank you for your generosity in making that happen.
Okay, let’s talk about Sam I Am. What do you say? I’ve got 27 minutes to do it, and I think we can all concentrate for 27 minutes. You know, I’m ADD. They didn’t diagnose me back in the day because they didn’t even know what ADD was back then, but I am ADD. So when I start boring myself, I’ll change the subject. Sometimes I’ll just end it, so that’s hopefully helpful to those. I’m glad I have ADD. I am. ADD is a good thing.
See this box. We love boxes. Boxes are everywhere. Have you ever put God in a box? I have. I hate to confess it, but I have. I’ve put God in a box. There you go. You’re in this box, a neat little box and, and I’ll just carry God around, and I’ll sort of use God for myself. When it’s convenient, I’ll take him out and use him when I need a blessing. When I need something good in my life, when I need something supernatural, sort of an add on, I’ll use God.
Today we’re talking about that very subject. Do you use God? Do you use God? It’s tempting for us to use God. We’re going to find out though that God doesn’t want you and me to use him. He does however want us to remain and to be usable. In other words, God wants to use you. God wants to use me. Isn’t that a great thing? I don’t use God? God uses me. Are you usable to God?
So often through the Bible, I love how the Bible is so relevant, it’s so real. Throughout the scriptural record, we see people trying, even God’s people, to use God. When we use God, we’ll end up in defeat. Let me say that again. Whenever I’ve tried to use God for my own purposes, it’s not worked out very well. Yet, when I’ve said, “God use me. No matter what, God use me,” he uses me. If we’re usable to God, he’ll just wear us out. Isn’t that great?
We put God in a box. God’s people put God in a box. Do you remember the Ark of the Covenant? You might’ve seen Raiders of the Lost Ark. God in a box; the Ark of the Covenant, that box; the Ark of the Covenant with cherubim on either side; the Ark of the Covenant, gold; the Ark of the Covenant, the 10 commandments, the staff of Aaron, a jar of manna. During part of the history of God’s people, they worshiped, listen to these words, the God of the box. But something changed. There was a sea change, and God’s people began to worship the box of God.
Which side are you on? Do you worship the God of the box or the box of God? Do you carry God around and you want to be a part of the bless me club? God’s kind of your Rabbit’s foot, a Four-Leaf Clover. We’ve all been there. We’ll do what we want to do. We’ll make our own plans, and then we’ll say, “God, bless me. God, God now, now God, I’m just going to use you. I’m going to manipulate you to get the benefits from you, and then I’ll put you back in the box.”
Years ago, a young man that I got to know here at Fellowship Church walked up to me and with tears streaming down his face, he said, “Ed, would you please pray with me?” I knew his story. I knew the marital mayhem. I knew he was a serial adulterer. I knew he had been disjointed and separate from his kids. I knew that he was a workaholic. I knew that he always didn’t tell the truth.
He looked at me and he said, “You know, I own this company, and I have an opportunity to make a lot of money because I’m selling the company. It’s going public.” He said, “But through a unique turn of events, my board, they’re trying to fire me before this windfall, and I want to do it God’s way.” He said, “I’m tired of living this life of disobedience.”
So we talked briefly about it, and I looked at him and I said, “You know, I’ll pray for you,” but I said, “Let’s pray that you’ll be usable to God. I have no idea if you’re going to get the money. I have no idea if it’s going to go through. I have no idea what’s going to happen,” but I went through some basic things. I said, “God loves you too much and I love you too much not to tell you the truth.” So I went through these things, and we knelt, and we prayed, and I thought, “Yay God!” Because so often we don’t turn to God until we experienced personal pain.
About a week later, I heard that the deal did go through, the board didn’t fire him, that he did receive the windfall, and from that moment on I watched him face defeat after defeat. Now and then, I creep on social media and just see how he’s doing. He’s not doing well.
You see, we think the blessings of God are like limited to what we think is so important. You might go, “I’ve got 1.3 million followers on social media. Man, God has blessed me.” Not necessarily. You hear A-listers and other people say, “Wow, I’m so popular, I’ve made so much money, millions and millions of dollars a month. I’m so blessed.” Not necessarily. “I have this family. I’m so blessed.” Not necessarily.
Blessings, that phrase is so misunderstood, and misjudged, and misused. So often when I say, “God, I want to be usable before you,” okay, God uses me. He uses you. The blessings come after obedience, but the blessings in my life and yours aren’t necessarily the blessings that we think they should be. They’re God’s blessings. Does that make sense? Sometimes it can be through fame, if God wants it. Sometimes it could be through millions and millions of dollars. It could be, if God desires it. We have to trust him.
God’s people, they went through a phase where they were trusting God. Then though, everything began to go sideways. Samuel was a young guy, a young leader who was doing some cool stuff. He grew up in a very ungodly environment, yet he lived for the Lord.
Judges 17:6 tells us a little bit about the situation that Samuel, an old Testament figure, was dealing with. “Every man did what was,” what? “Right in his own eyes.” Does that sound like our culture or what? I’ve got God in a box. This is my philosophy. This is my situation. This is my ideology. This is my truth, and I’ll do what quite frankly I want to do.
God will allow us to do what we want to do. He will allow us to face the consequences. That’s what he did with his people. God’s people, they had God in a box, the Ark of the Covenant. It’s a picture of Jesus. Whenever you read the Bible, if you don’t see Jesus, reread it. The Ark of the Covenant is an illustration of Jesus. You had, as I said earlier, the artifacts in the Ark. The Ark represented the presence and the power of God. On the Ark was the mercy seat. The Ark resided in the Holy of Holies. The holiest man would walk into the Holy of Holies on the Holiest day of the year, Atone, and make an animal sacrifice to satisfy the wrath of God, sprinkled the blood on the Mercy Seat. Fast forward to Jesus, our ultimate sacrifice, who died in the Cross for all of our sins, shed his blood on the ultimate Mercy Seat, rose again, thereby giving us an opportunity to know him personally. God in a box or the God of the box. Samuel grew up in this crazy environment. He was a difference maker, and the first three chapters of First Samuel, he’s like front and center. Yet in chapters four, five, six, and seven, he fades into the background like a good pair of Levi 501 jeans. Do you remember those? I sometimes do shout outs for those of us who were over 50. 501s are still popular, but not really.
So Samuel kind of fades, and the reason he faded is because God’s people were fading. God was judging his people because they were disobedient. When you use God, you’re going to live in disobedience. God always judges disobedience. God rewards obedience. He does. Now, those rewards, let me say it again, don’t always look like the rewards that you would pick, or I would pick. God, though, he knows what’s best for us. So, here’s the cliff notes, very quickly, Wikipedia version. God’s people, they had an impressive one loss record. I mean they had dominated so many people. There were in the promised land, their Archenemies where the Philistines, the Philistine machine, they were people who were tough. The Philistines had a corner on the iron market. They were wackadoodle-do. They worship all of these gods, lowercase G. A lot of their worship was very sensual, temple prostitution, child sacrifice. It was mayhem. They were always the thorn in God’s people’s side.
You have these epic battles with God’s people, the Israelites and the Philistines. Well, the Israelites have an impressive record, and the Philistines knew it. The Philistines attacked God’s people, and they opened up a can; 4,000 thousand of the Israelites were killed, 4,000. So they’re licking their wounds, and Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso and others were talking about the loss and everybody was just blowing up social media. How could God’s people lose? What happened? Do they need a new quarterback? Was the defensive line all messed up?
So all the elders of Israel gathered together, watched some game film, and they were trying to break down the game film. If someone said, “Oh, let’s bring a suggestion box and let’s just kind of drop some suggestions in regarding why we lost.” These people, God’s people, hadn’t even thought about God. God wasn’t the first thought, he was the last resort. So then they were like, “I know why we lost.” Why? Why? Why? We didn’t have the box of God with us. We didn’t have the Rabbit’s Foot. We didn’t have the Lucky Charm. We didn’t have God in a box. Because I remember, back in the day, our homeboys, they had God in a box and God in a box, the Ark, was like central and God used them and they won and they entered the promised land. Whoo! Let’s go get the box. Let’s go get the box. Because we’ve done everything we can, if we have God in a box, because we got him in the box, the Ark of the Covenant, we’ll win.
You can’t use God. The Bible tells us specifically, 1 Samuel 4:3: “When the soldiers returned to the camp,” after getting whipped, “the elders of Israel asked, ‘Why did the Lord bring defeat upon us today before the Philistines?'”
Why? Why God? It’s your fault, God. You ever said that? “God, it’s your fault that’s why I didn’t make the cheerleading squad. God, it’s your fault that I got fired? God, it’s your fault I didn’t marry him. God, it’s your fault. It’s your fault that I’m not where I thought I was going to be.” We turn God into the villain and then we become the victim.
Have you ever thought about the different generations: Blaming Boomers, Generation Excusers, and the “My-llineals”? Have you ever thought about that? We’re so narcissistic and self-absorbed, we’ve had to make up problems about ourselves. The other generations didn’t. All these different psycho babbl-ish disorders that we have, and I’m not saying that they’re all wrong, I’m just saying, you got to go, “What?” Say, “What?”
So they were turning God into the villain. There were the victims. Let’s go get the box of God. They ask … to show you how just self-unaware they were … they asked Hophni and Phinehas, the worst preacher’s kids in the history of theology to walk into the holy of holies. The holiest man had to do that, once a year, and grab the box of God. We’re talking Hophni and Phinehas.
That’s why God was judging Israel, one of the many reasons, Hophni and Phinehas, and their dad Eli. Hophni and Phinehas bring the Ark on a cart to the Israelites and they’re like, “Oh man, we got it now,” and I don’t have time to read it, but the Bible says the Israelites cheered. I’m talking a standing ovation. The Israelite band, when they saw the Ark coming, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam. The Ark is back. That ain’t no Jack. The Ark is back. Bam, bam, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. They were going crazy. Well, the Philistines heard that and the Philistines freaked. They knew the history of God’s box. It was legendary. They were like, “Oh no, oh no, we’re going to face the Israelites and we don’t want to play on their home field.”
Look at the last part of verse three (1 Samuel 4:3) “Let us bring the Ark as a sign of God’s covenant, of the Lord’s covenant from Shiloh, the Holy City. So that it, it, it … let me … it, again, they were worshiping the box of God, not the God of the box, may go with us and save us from the hands of our enemies.”
So they gathered together. They put the box of God out front. They faced the Philistines. Who do you think won? Philistines. The Philistines killed 30,000 of God’s people. Wow. God was not worshiped. You can’t use God. See, God is going to be glorified, no matter what. We think God is only glorified in victory. Wrong. Many times God is glorified in defeat. When we use God, we’ll suffer defeat. Wow, that swims against our philosophy, which so often is the Philistine philosophy. The Philistines had all these gods and they, wow … the Bible says they not only killed 30,000, they captured the box of God. They captured the Ark of the Covenant, and they were so excited. We’ve got God’s mascot. We’ve got him in a box. We’ve got God. You can’t use God, but God wants to use you.
The second thing I want you to notice, You Can’t Capture God, But God Wants To Capture You. Let’s keep reading. 1 Samuel 4:10-11, you can’t capture God, “So the Philistines fought and the Israelites were defeated.” They just… I mean, it was embarrassing. “And every man fled to his tent. The slaughter was very great; Israel lost 30,000 foot soldiers. The Ark of God was …” Say it with me. “Captured”.
“Captured and Eli’s two sons,” there we go, the worst preacher’s kids ever, “Hophni and Phinehas, died.” Okay, the Philistines were like, “We’ve got the Ark. We’ve got God in a box. They got what they wanted, they did not want what they got, the Philistines. Oh my God, God. Whoo! Yeah! But very quickly they were like, “Oh no, what have we done?” iPhones are lighting up. Everybody in Israel is absolutely losing it. They see all these selfies with the Philistines and the Ark of the Covenant. Eli sees all this on social media, and the Bible says, (1 Samuel 4:18) “When Eli heard that they had captured the box of God and his sons were killed, he fell over dead.” But check this out. (1 Samuel 4:19) Phinehas’s (says Hophni’s) wife, one of the crazy preacher’s kids, she had a semblance of God. She was nine months pregnant when she heard through social media what was going on. She had a baby right there on the spot. They named her child Ichabod, which means, listen to this, “the glory of God has left Israel.” Then she died. Powerful stuff. You can’t use God.
Number two, you can’t capture God. We try though, don’t we? Well, the Philistines had the box of God, and bad things started happening. (1 Samuel 5) They put the box of God in front of their main God, Dagon, this fish God, and they began to have tours already. Buses were pulling up and there they were touring because the box of God was legendary. Dagon fell prostrate in front of the Ark of the Covenant. His limbs were off. Then all of a sudden, they were plagued with rats. Then they had these tumors growing in very private areas. It was not a good thing.
So to show you how wheels off the Philistine philosophy was and even is today, they thought, (1 Samuel 6:8) “We’ve got to get the Ark. We’ve got to get the box of God back. If not, we’re going to be in a box six feet under,” so they made some gold tumors. I’m not making this up. Some gold rats, and sent the Ark on a cart, sound effects mine, back to Israel. They had a bunch of cows taking it to Israel. These cows had just had calves, and the Philistines were like, “Well, if God’s in this, then these mama cows are going to leave their calves.” Sure enough, they did. They went to God’s people.
You know something else about God’s people? God’s people received the Ark. Some of God’s people were like, “Man, the Ark is back,” and they began to get right with God. The Philistines, though, were fearful of God. They were so fearful, they were like, “Get him out of my sight.”
Why don’t people come to church? Why is that person that you know you’ve been inviting so often, why do they keep a wide berth? Why do they stay away from church? The Philistine philosophy. They don’t want to hear about the judgment of God. But if they’ll come to church and listen to God’s word, they can experience forgiveness and grace. God will use them, and God will capture them with His grace and truth and mercy.
Now, some of God’s people looked at the Ark casually. The Philistines feared it. Some received it, “Thank you Lord,” but some just kind of casually, they were like, “Oh, would you open that up? I’d like to see what’s inside the- …” They were taken out. God said throughout his word, “Don’t touch holy things.”
Isn’t it true that we have casualized God too much? We’ve lost the reverence of God, the holiness of God. A lot of us still have that Philistine philosophy. All these idols, the idol of sports, the idol of popularity, the idol of a physique, the idol of possessions, and maybe a car or a house. Oh, yeah. We have our idols; we have our Baal’s. We have our Astaroth’s. It’s easy to spot here in church and any other churches where I travel, because you see people during the time of worship, just standing like statues. They’re not worshiping, just kind of enduring it.
Philistine philosophy. You’ve wasted your worship on chasing after money, chasing after a fun fix, chasing after the next trip, the next game. Oh, yeah. The Philistine philosophy is alive and well. God is an add on. Oh, I’ve got God. Oh, yeah. God and I are all right. We’re cool. I’ll keep him here, and at the right time, I’ll open him up because I want him to bless me. If I do one or two things, he’s going to bless me. He’s going to get me out of this difficult situation. He’s going to take care of me. God, you’re the mop God. I can screw up and mess up. Hey God, come on. Come on out of the box, would you? Would you clean up my mess, please? God doesn’t work that way. I’ll say it again. You can’t use God, God wants to use you. I’ll say it again. You can’t capture God, god wants to capture you.
Return to God like Samuel encouraged God’s people to do. The Bible says that Samuel stood before the people and basically said, in 1 Samuel 7:3-4 “If you’re returning to the Lord with all of your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods.” What are you ridding yourself from when you turn to God? He’ll deliver you. Read it there. From the Philistine philosophy. The Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtaroths and served the Lord only. I pray that we personalize this text and say, “You know, the Fellowship-ites, beginning with me, put away your Baals and Astaroths, and we served the Lord only.” You can’t use God. You can’t capture God. God wants to use you. God wants to capture you, and we’ll discover that, as we know, the great I am.
Father, in the name of Jesus, thank you for this message. Thank you for this talk. Lord, forgive me when I have used you and tried to capture you for just my own benefit. Father, I pray that we as a church would stand before you and say, “God use me. God capture me with your grace and love and mercy.” If you want to make a faith decision and ask Christ to come into your life, you can simply say, “Jesus, come into my life. I admit to you that I’m a sinner, and I need you, Jesus,” because God saw our greatest need. It was a savior. He knew our greatest issue, a sin problem, so he sent Jesus to live and to die on the cross and rise again, to spill his blood on that mercy seat, so just receive it. Others of us here need to return to God. We’ve been using God, we’ve been trying to capture God, but it’s time to realize that God transcends all areas. Thank you for this time, Jesus, and we ask all these things in your precious and Holy Name.