Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The costs and benefits of covenant (1 Samuel 20)

Sociologists in America interviewed three-thousand American teenagers about their religious beliefs, and came up with the term Therapeutic Moralistic Deism.  Therapeutic Moralist Deism is the conviction that a god exists and wants people to be nice, that the central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about ourselves, that this god in not involved in our lives unless he is needed to resolve a problem, and that ‘good people’ go to heaven.
Sadly, this self-centred undemanding belief system sounds a lot like what many people in the church think Christianity is about.
The passage before us is filled with covenant language.  A covenant is a formal binding agreement.  We can see that David and Jonathan entered into a covenant relationship with each other.  The Son of David—Jesus—calls us into a covenant relationship with him.  This is a relationship that demands great costs from us, but enjoys infinite benefits. 
We are going to look at the costs and benefits of a covenant relationship with the Son of David.
The cost of covenant
David has been on the run from King Saul.  He goes to his friend, Saul’s eldest son Jonathan, and asks, ‘what have I done? What is my crime?  How have I wronged your father that he is trying to kill me?’
Jonathan seems to be in denial.  He doesn’t seem to believe that his dad wants David dead.  That actually makes sense.  The last time Jonathan was a part of this story was when his dad promised, ‘as surely as I live, David will not be put to death’ (19:6).
You can be sure that Jonathan desperately hoped that Saul would not harm David.  He loves both his friend and his father.  Indeed, it seems that Jonathan has an especially close relationship with his father.  He tells David, ‘my father doesn’t do anything, great or small, without confiding in me’ (2).  It will break Jonathan’s heart to have to choose between his dad and David.
Jonathan had made a covenant with David.  He had given David his sword and robes, in an act that seems to point to the fact that Jonathan recognised God’s good intention that David should be the next king rather than him.  Isn’t it amazing that the crown-prince Jonathan, the eldest son of Saul, would say to a commoner like David, ‘whatever you want me to do; I’ll do it for you’ (4)?  This boy had grown up expecting everyone to do as he said.  Now he is willing to serve David!
The Son of David talks about the cost of entering a covenant relationship with him.  ‘Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it’ (Matthew 10:37-39).
A young man approached a Christian preacher after a church service and pointed out that being a Christian doesn’t make you any friends.  The preacher wanted to point the young man to all the friends that he had in the church, but he knew what the young man was saying.  Since he had become a Christian this guy hadn’t received a single positive response from anyone among his family and friends.  That hurt!
Another young man, who was very wealthy, approached Jesus and enquired about life with God.  When Jesus pointed out that God claimed the right to tell him what to do with his possessions the rich young man thought the cost was too high, and so walked away materially rich and spiritually bankrupt.
As we read this narrative we might wonder why David would even consider attending a festival with King Saul.  But the people have been talking about the fact that the Holy Spirit had overpowered Saul and caused him to prophesy.  David might be hoping that this means that Saul is now a changed man.  So Jonathan and David devise a plan that will reveal Saul’s heart towards David.
Jonathan’s heart must have broken when his father’s anger flared up.  His covenant with David is going to cost him the love of his father.  How tragic to be on the receiving end of his father’s abuse.  ‘You son of a perverse woman!  Don’t I know that you sided with son of Jessie to your own shame and the shame of your mother who bore you?  As long as the son of Jessie lives on this earth, neither you nor you kingdom will be established’ (30-31).  Could you imagine Saul’s reaction if he knew that Jonathan was happy for David to be king instead of him?  When you enter a covenant relationship with the Son of David there will be many who think that you are mad to give up your supposed right to rule your own life!
The benefit of covenant
Why would Jonathan be willing to give up the claim to the throne for David?  Why would he be willing to receive his father’s abuse for the sake of David?  It is all to do with love!
‘… Jonathan became one in spirit with David and he loved him as himself … and Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself’ (18:1-3).  ‘And Jonathan made David reaffirm his covenant of love for him, because he loved him as himself’ (17).  ‘The kissed each other and wept together, but David wept the most’ (41).
Maybe I’m taking things too far to draw any conclusion from the fact that David wept the most.  There is no doubt about the extent Jonathan’s love for David, but is there a hint that David’s love for Jonathan was even greater?  Isn’t that true of our covenant relationship with the Son of David?  We may love Jesus, but he loves us more than we will ever love him!
Love for the Son of David is God’s gift to us.  We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19) and he has poured love into our hearts.  God has knit our souls with that of the Son of David that we might love him as ourselves.  But we never out-love the Son of David.  ‘Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15:13).  Jesus laid down his life while we were still his enemies.
Jonathan did as David said, because their covenant demanded it.  Jonathan delighted to do as David said because love compelled him.  ‘This is love for God: to obey his commands.  And his commands are not burdensome’ (1 John 5:3).
The cost of not being in covenant
One theme running through this chapter makes me a little uncomfortable: Jonathan talks of the time when the Lord ‘destroys all your enemies from the face of the earth’ (15).  He envisages a day when the enemies of David will be destroyed!
He also seeks to ensure that his people will not be amongst the enemies of David.  It was common practice that when a dynasty changed the new king would wipe out the family of the old king in case any of them made a play for the throne.  Jonathan has David promise that he will not do that, and indeed I we will see the resulting kindness shown to Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth. 
No one spoke more clearly about judgement and hell that the Jesus.  God will punish those who refuse to enter into a covenant relationship with the Son of David.  Listen to the words of our Messiah: ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell’ (Matthew 10:28).
In the Christianity Explored course Rico Tice points out, ‘When we hear Jesus’ words about hell we have to ask ourselves, “Why would he talk like that?”  … The reason that Jesus warns us about hell is surely that he loves us and does not want us to go there.  He knows that if we reject God throughout our lives then ultimately God will reject us.  He knows that sin, if left undealt with, will take us to a place of unimaginable and unending suffering.  He warns us, because he loves us.’
Therapeutic moralistic deism is a self-centred belief system in a god whose only purpose is to make us feel good about ourselves.  Does your faith look like therapeutic moralistic deism, or has does it reflect the fact that you have entered into a life-transforming covenant with the Son of David?  Some of you know a little bit about the nature of a covenant relationship (when you promised to forsake all others).  Yet the covenant with Jesus is the only one that promises incomparable love and both, now and for all eternity.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Never lose the wonder (1 John 3:1a)

Tim Keller was pottering about the house, listening to some Christian music, when his heart was stirred by a line from a song.  The song quotes Isaiah.  ‘He will see the results of his suffering and be satisfied.’  Jesus suffered infinite depths of pain on that cross.  He was in agony.  Worse than any physical pain is that fact that he was abandoned by his Father.  Yet he sees the results of his suffering and is satisfied.  How can that be?  Keller realised.  ‘It was because he saw me.’  Jesus saw those who would be saved by his death and it made it all worth it.  He saw our forgiveness, our justification and our adoption as sons and daughters of God, and it consoled him.  How amazing is that?
I want to encourage you to never lose the wonder.  We are going to look at a little outburst of delight that occurs in the middle of John’s letter.  He is writing with the purpose that we might have assurance that we have eternal life.  But in the middle of his reasoning he breaks in with an exhortation.  Behold what manner of love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called sons of God.  And that is what we are.  
Be amazed that he poured out his love on someone like you
Max Lucado writes, ‘if anybody understands God's ardour for his children, it's someone who has rescued an orphan from despair, for that is what God has done for us.  God has adopted you.  God sought you, found you, signed the papers and took you home.’
But don’t be overly romantic about this adoption.  He didn’t find us as a little baby, irresistibly cute, bundled at his front door.  We were more like an obnoxious youth who wanted nothing to do with him.  We were ugly, evil and rebellious.  We did not promise to be an easy child to deal with.  He knew that we would cause him much grief.
You see John puts full weight on the word ‘us’.  Before Christ came into your life you were a natural born rebel.  So was I!  Before he softened your heart you were hostile towards his holiness, his gospel and who he really is.  The apostle Paul says that before we became Christians we were objects (literally ‘children’) of God’s holy wrath (Ephesians 2:3).  You were both an object of his kindness and his righteous anger.  It is amazing that God would chose to love someone like you and me.
J. I. Packer writes, ‘We are not fit for a place in God's family; the idea of his loving and exalting us sinners as he loves and has exalted the Lord Jesus sounds ludicrous and wild – yet that, and nothing less than that, is what our adoption means.’
Be amazed that you are a son of God
Behold what manner of love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called sons of God.  And that is what we are.  If you are in Christ then you are a son of God.  You have been adopted into his family.  In that culture sons had a special place.  That place is yours.  J. I. Packer writes, ‘In adoption, God takes us into his family and fellowship—he establishes us as his children and heirs.  Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship.  To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is greater’.

 Of course no family adopts without considering the cost.  John Piper, who adopted a disadvantaged child when he was fifty, explains that ‘there were legal realities God had to deal with.  His own justice and law demanded that we be punished and excluded from his presence for our sins.  Righteousness was required and punishment demanded.  God had to satisfy his justice and his law in order to adopt sinners into his family.  This he did by the life, death, and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ’.  The Father gave his one and only Son that you might become a son.
Think back to Jesus’ most beautiful parable—the wonderful father of the prodigal son.  When that young son goes off to the distant land the father is heart-broken.  Every day he scans the horizon in the hope that the boy would return.  One day he sees the boy in the distance his heart is filled with compassion.  Jesus says that the father literally raced to the boy.  In that culture there was a proverb that said you could tell the dignity on a man by the way he walked.  This man would not have run for decades.  But now he lifts his robes and exposes his knees—it is all highly undignified.  Then, when he reaches his son, he falls into his neck and kisses him again and again and again.  Behold what manner of love the Father has lavished onto us.
His love is out of this world
Don’t lose the wonder.  Behold what manner of love this is.  John actually uses an idiom here.  Like when people used to talk about it raining cats and dogs.  John literally says, ‘behold from what country this love is from.’  He seems to be saying that the love that God lavishes upon us is from another country altogether.  We might say that it’s out of this world.
God’s love is compared to that of a shepherd for his sheep, but it is also from a different country.  This is a shepherd who has infinite affection for that straying lamb.  God’s love is compared to a father for his children, but it is also from a different country.  Even the best of fathers cannot love you the way your heavenly Father does.  God’s love is compared to the delight of a groom for his bride, but it is also from a different country.  Even the most adoring husband does not love his wife the way God loves you.  So do never lose your wonder at the love of God for you.  Behold what manner of love the father has lavished on us that we should be called sons of God.  And that is what we are.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Loyalty from delight(1 Sam. 19)

‘You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin – to the bitter end.  And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours – closer than you yourself keep it.  But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word, Frodo … We are horribly afraid – but we are coming with you; or following you like hounds’ (Lord of the Rings)

Can’t you see that sort of loyalty in the friendship between Jonathan and David?  Don’t you aspire to such loyalty in your friendship with Jesus?  I think that this passage tells us why Jonathan was so loyal to David, and shows us how we can become loyal to Jesus.
Jonathan had met this man who was after God’s own heart, and it resonated with his love for God.  Jonathan was inspired as he saw David so passionate for God’s glory that he steps into battle with Goliath.  Jonathan celebrated David’s victory and saw that God was with him.  I believe that it was God who knit Jonathan’s heart with David, and caused him to love him as his own soul.  Jonathan gladly handed David his robe and sword.  Now we read that Jonathan was fond of David (1b).  This can be translated ‘Jonathan delighted in David’ (ESV).  Everything that Jonathan saw and experienced with David caused him to delight in his friend.  That delight was at the root of his loyalty, even when his dad put the pressure on.
Has what we have seen in the Son of David caused us to delight in him?  Have we seen that how his heart is sold out for his Father?  Have we witnessed him stand up to the plate and win the victory so that we can be free from the tyranny of sin, death and the devil?  Have we allowed God knit our soul to Christ—that we might love him as our own soul?  Have we bowed to his authority and surrendered our ambition to rule our lives?  Do we ponder his beauty in such a way that causes us to delight in him?  This is the key to remaining loyal to him! 
Loyalty remembers that Christ has been good to us (1-7)
Becoming a follower of Jesus has implications for all of our relationships.  All over the world people have displeased their parents by chosen to love God’s Messiah.  Jonathan’s love for God’s chosen king would become of bone of contention between himself and his dad.
Jonathan reasons with his father: let not the king sin against his servant David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his deeds have brought good to you.  For he took his life in his hand and he struck down the Philistine, and the Lord worked a great salvation for all Israel.  You saw it and rejoiced (4-5).
Isn’t this the message that we bring to all of Christ’s enemies?  ‘Don’t sin against God’s anointed, because he has not sinned against you.  He took his life in his hand when he faced death for you.  Through him the Lord has worked a great salvation for all.  Look to him and rejoice.’  That’s a message that should inspire us to be loyal!
Loyalty to Christ is God’s gift to us (8-17)
Saul takes David back into his presence for the last time.  Again David is granted victory over the Philistines.  However, Saul’s hatred for David comes back to the surface and he throws a spear at him.  Just as it was not the accuracy of David’s sling shot that resulted in Goliath’s death, it was not the lack of Saul’s spear throwing that saved his life.  God was David’s shield.
In Psalm 59 David speaks of God being his refuge, fortress and shield.  The title of that psalm tells us that it was written when Saul’s men went to watch David’s house in order to kill him.  This incident is both humorous and troubling.
It is humorous because when Saul’s soldiers come to kill David they are turned away by Michal’s explanation that David is ill.  They are not there to ask him out to play.  They are there to kill him.  So why would they turn away when told he is sick?  Saul has to go himself to get the job done.  This story is troubling because Michal is far less than truthful and there is mention that there was a household idol at David’s home.
How do we read Psalm 59?  We can read it remembering that God rescued David.  We can read it with Jesus in mind, seeing how God spared him from his enemies until the time came for him to lay down his life for us.  We can read it remembering that Jesus is our fortress, refuge and shield.
The fact that God is our refuge and shield does not mean that we will be spared from persecution.  Jesus warned his followers that there would be a time when, you will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you will be put to death.  You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.  But not a hair of your head will perish (Luke 21:16-19).  Some will even be martyred for their loyalty to their anointed one, yet not a hair of their head will be touched!  How does that work?  Our bodies may perish, but God will be with us, and nothing can separate us from his love.  In the time of trial he will give us the strength to remain loyal.
You can be a loyal subject now or else a reluctant subject in the future (18-24)
David flees to Samuel in Ramah.  Saul finds out and sends his servants to take him.  They come across Samuel and a band of prophets and the Spirit of the Lord overpowers them.  They had come with murderous intentions, but now they are caused to speak words of praise.  When Saul turns up the same thing happens to him.  He too ends up prophesying.  Then Saul is stripped of his clothes and lies naked all day and night.  Saul’s kingdom will be removed from him like his clothing being stripped away.
Compare Saul and Jonathan.  Jonathan loved David as his own soul, gladly handed David his robe, and delighted in the Lord’s anointed.  Saul was consumed with jealousy, did everything to keep himself on the throne, and was humiliated as his kingdom was stripped from him.  One day every knee will bow, and acknowledge that the Son of David is God’s chosen king—the question is, will we bow in delight or with reluctance?
Why was Jonathan willing to remain loyal to David, even when his father put such pressure on him?  He was loyal to David because he delighted in him.  He had seen David’s heart, celebrated his victory, had his soil knit in friendship and bowed in submission.  Like Jonathan we say to the enemy of God’s anointed, ‘he has not wronged you.  He has won a great victory for his people.  Why then did we do wrong and kill an innocent man (for we would have been in that could crying crucify)? We should see it and be glad’.
The early Christians were hated in the Roman Empire, in part because of their refusal to sacrifice to romans gods.  Around 160 AD, Polycarp, the bishop of the church in Smyrna, was sentenced to death.  He was an old man, at least 86.  He was bound and burned at the stake, then stabbed when the fire failed to touch him.  When the governor had asked him to deny Christ he had replied, ‘for eighty-six years I have served him, and he has never done me any harm, how then can I now blaspheme my King and Saviour?’
May God grant us such loyalty as we delight in his anointed!

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Delight yourself in the king (1 Sam. 18)

On 30th September 1974 Elvis was singing at a concert in South Bend, Indiana.  His attention is caught be a girl holding up a sign.  ‘What is that honey?  What is that?  It’s a sign – I can’t see it.  Wait a minute.’  Seeing that it declares that Elvis is the king he explained, ‘Oh, thank you darling, thank you very much, oh thank you.  The thought is beautiful dear, and I love you for it.  But I haven’t been caught up in this thing; I can’t accept this kingship thing, because for me there’s only one – which is Christ.’

This morning we are thinking about our response to God’s chosen king.

Jesus is God’s chosen king
Now if this is your first time listening to this series on David you might wonder what David has to do with Jesus, and why we are seeing a shadow of Jesus in the life of David.  The reason we are doing this is because Jesus told his disciples that the whole Bible pointed to him.  Earlier in the story we saw that David referred to as God’s chosen king and he was anointed by the prophet Samuel.  The title Messiah/Christ simply means God’s anointed king.  So there are aspects of David’s life which give us a picture of the greater christ to come.
Submit to God’s chosen king
Jonathan’s love for David is truly amazing.  He could have been jealous of David’s rising popularity.  He could have been filled with a competitive resentment towards David’s military successes.  He could have feared that David would one day take his place on the throne.  After all, Jonathan is the eldest son of King Saul and may have expected to one day replace his father.  But I think that we can detect the hand of God in the knitting together of David and Jonathan’s hearts.  Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved himself as himself (18:1).  A more literal translation reads, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul (ESV).
Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt (4).  It is not clear whether Jonathan knows, at this stage in the story, that it is God’s will that David will be the next king.  He soon will acknowledge that fact.  Is that what he is doing as he takes off his robe and gives it to David?  This act certainly seems to foreshadow the fact that Jonathan will surrender ambition to be king.  Soon he will declare to David, ‘You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you.  Saul my father also knows this’ (23:17).    
What Jonathan models for us in these chapters is the appropriate response to God’s chosen king.  God wants to knit our soul together with Jesus in a deep bond of friendship.  Jesus says, ‘Greater love has no-one than this that he lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you servants … I have called you friends’ (John 15:12-15).  That friendship expresses itself in joyful submission.  Like Jonathan we must surrender our claim to the throne and acknowledge him as God’s rightful king.  We want to rule our lives and set our agenda, but knowing Jesus involves letting him tell us how to live.
At the beginning of every year Methodists say the following prayer: ‘I am no longer my own, but thine.  Put me to what Thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.  Put me to doing, put me to suffering.  Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee.  Let me be full, let me be empty.  Let me have all things, let me have nothing.  I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.’
Delight in God’s chosen king
Jonathan’s delight for David is shared by others.  All the people were pleased that Saul gave David a high rank in the army.  The women of the nation sang joyful songs about David’s triumphs.  The whole nation loved him because he led them in victory.  Doesn’t the whole scene flow with joy?  We are to delight in God’s chosen king! 
Last week we were reminded that our chosen king, Jesus, has won the defeat over guilt, death and the devil.  There is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.  Death has been swallowed up in victory.  We are to delight in the freedom our champion has won for us.  We can delight in the one who loved us and give his life for us.  We love because he first loved us.  Love is the happiest of emotions, and loving God’s anointed king is to be our most wonderful pursuit.  But we are very foolish.  We come together and delight to sing, yet we go home and let the business of life crowd out this pleasure.  Don’t miss out on the daily opportunity to delight in the victory of our friend and king!
Serve God’s chosen king
But while this chapter is filled with love and rejoicing there is one person who is miserable.  The prophet Samuel had told Saul that God had rejected him as king on account of his persistent disobedience.  Saul knows that there will be another king coming to replace him.  But Saul jealously holds on to the throne.  He might have been thankful that David had stepped up to the plate and rescues the nation from Goliath.  Instead he hates to hear people singing David’s praise.  He will soon try to kill David and send him to the front lines in the hope that the Philistines will do away with him.
Earlier we read that whenever Saul saw a mighty or brave man, he took him into his service (14:52).  After David’s initial victories we see that from that day Saul kept David and did not let him return to his father’s house (2).  One preacher I was listening to suggested that there is a danger that we do the same thing with God’s chosen king.  That we seek to keep Jesus to serve our purposes!
God is generous beyond compare.  He delights to bless the friends of his son Jesus.  He loves to answer prayers that are prayed in the name of Jesus.  But at the end of the day becoming a Christian is not about getting Jesus to follow our agenda.  Perhaps this attitude is most callously seen in the prosperity gospel, where Jesus is enrolled as the guarantor of our health, wealth and earthly success. 
When we wake up in the morning’s we say to Jesus, ‘help me do all that I have to do today.’  But have we asked our king what it is he wants us to be doing?  If you take some time to sit down and ask God in what ways he wants you to follow the example and commands of king Jesus it will not be long before he shows you what he commands you to do.  If we read our Bible’s with a desire to be lovingly challenged to a life of delightful obedience it will not be long before you hear him speaking to you.
We march with our chosen king
One of the great things about serving King Jesus is that one day it will be seen that we were on the right side of history.  This chapter has many references to David’s successes.  God’s chosen king inevitably goes from victory to victory.  Our chosen king will build his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.  He will make many people his friends and subjects.  When he returns even those who have rejected his rule will have to admit that he is king of kings.
I hope that all of you claim to know Jesus as both your friend and king.  But I wonder if we are letting that reality shape our lives.  King Jesus calls us to joyful submission.  He is the one who gives us reason to delight.  We love because he first loved us.  Look to the cross where your friend gave his life for you.  If we love him we will obey him.  He has our good at heart and our delight is found in living under his rule.  The more we let him set our agenda the more we will experience the delight of being one of his subjects.  Eric Liddell said, ‘you will only know as much of God, and only as much of God, as you are willing to put into practice.’

Sunday, 18 September 2016

'Believe in yourself less and Jesus more' (1 Samuel 17)

Rebecca Manley-Pippert tells of a time when she went to a lecture given by a very successful entrepreneur.  This woman began her lecture by asking the crowd, most of whom were Christian businessmen and women: ‘how many of you believe in yourselves one-hundred percent?’  No hands were raised.  ‘Okay, then how many of you believe in yourselves ninety-five percent, or ninety percent?’  Some hands went up.

The entrepreneur then said, ‘Where did Jesus’ success come from?  It came from believing in himself one hundred percent – and so must you!  Ninety-five percent is not good enough!  Follow Jesus’ example and believe in yourself one-hundred percent!’
Rebecca Manly-Pippert watched in astonishment as the crowd applauded with enthusiasm.  So she raised her hand and said, ‘excuse me, but do you really think Jesus spent his time on earth trying to help people believe in themselves?  I’m sure Jesus was self-confident.  But then if I was God I’d be a lot more self-confident too … However … isn’t our problem today that we believe in ourselves too much?  I fear you are taking away the very thing that brings us to the truth and enables us to see our need for God – the realisation of our own inadequacy.’
I agree with Becky!  The passage that we are studying teaches us that we should believe in ourselves less and trust God more.
Our champion has won the battle  
The great nineteenth-century preacher Charles Spurgeon explained how he read the Bible by declaring, ‘I have never yet found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if I ever do find one that has not a road to Christ in it, I will make one … for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savour of Christ in it.’ 
Spurgeon is looking at the Bible the way Jesus did.  You see, after the resurrection, the risen Jesus met two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and beginning with Moses and all the prophets he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself (Luke 24:27).  These disciples later exclaimed, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’ (Luke 24:32).  When we see that the whole of the Bible points to Jesus it should thrill us!
There is some debate as to how various details in this story might point to Jesus, so I am going to keep it very simple.  This is a story of God’s champion standing before the enemy and saving his people. 
Goliath was asking Israel for what was known in the eastern world as a representative battle.  He was challenging them to find a champion to represent them in a fight.  The winner would bring victory for their whole nation.  But Israel had no champion.  They had put all their hope in Saul, a man who was a foot higher than anyone else in the country.  But a seven foot man is no solution for a nine foot problem.  Then up steps David, stands alone before the giant, trusts God and saves his people.  In the same way the Son of David went alone into battle for us, and through his death and resurrection he has won the victory.
He has won the victory over guilt.  Our accuser constantly reminds us of our sin.  But Jesus washes us in his blood.  There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!
He has also one the victory over death.  One writer in the Huffington Post says, ‘as we reach our fifties, it is common to start worrying about our mortality ... Some may even come to fear death, no matter how far it is the future.’ She suggests that we look to the various religious leaders and mystics, who may not tell you, with certainty, what happens after you die, but who can prepare you for the afterlife.  Jesus does speak with certainty on the issue—warning of the eternal hell our sin deserves and inviting us to experience the eternal life his victory has prepared for us.  Death has been swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:54).  He has destroyed the one who has the power of death, that is the devil (Hebrews 2:14).
We can live in the light of Jesus’ victory
I want to focus on just one aspect of Jesus’ victory: we can overcome temptation because Christ died for us.  Not only has Jesus’s victory taken the punishment for our sin, it has freed us from slavery to sin.  I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2:20).  We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  For the one who died has set us free from sin (Romans 6:6-7). 
Look at the army of Israel.  Before their champion stepped up to the plate they were helpless.  They were defeated and downhearted.  After their champion has triumphed they step out in battle.  We can have victory in light of champion’s victory.  Defeat is not inevitable.  But how do we live as overcomers?
The first thing to do is get your motivation right.  David sets us an example in the fact that, like Jesus, he is passionate about God’s glory.  He wants the world to see that our God saves.  One Bible-teacher explains that the driving concern of this story is the honour God’s name.  David is concerned about God’s reputation. 
One reason we are weak in the face of temptation is that our motivation is skewed.  We want to overcome that besetting sin, and change that character flaw, because we are sick of the shame, and we don’t like feeling bad about ourselves.  But such shame is rooted in pride—we think that we are better than this.  It is time to think less of yourself and more of God.
Our passion for holiness needs to be motivated by the fact that we have beheld God’s beauty and we want the world to share what we have seen.  We can be honest about our failings because our honesty magnifies the fact that our gracious God gave his Son for failed people like us and continues to keep us though we let him down.  We also want to be made more like Jesus so that the angels in heaven and people on earth can see that our God is the one with the power to make his people beautiful.
Having worked on your motivation for overcoming sin we need to think about the weapons we will use in the battle.  When you depend on your strength, you will fail.  When we depend of God’s strength we will overcome.  We need to believe less in ourselves and trust more in Christ.
Sadly, one of the reasons we are weak in the face of temptation is that we are too like Saul.  Saul was an impressive leader who was a head taller than anyone else in Israel.  The problem is that it is little use being seven-foot tall when you are facing a nine-foot problem.  The human impossibility of the situation should have driven Saul to his knees.  However, even when David steps up to the plate, Saul’s preoccupation is to get him kitted out with manmade armour and a manmade sword. 
Compare that with David who acknowledges that it is not the accuracy of his sling-shot that matters.  He remembers that in the past it was the Lord, ‘who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear and will deliver me from the hand of the Philistines’ (37).  Rebecca Manly-Pippert says, ‘David lived like a man who knew that God is real, which is why he is always praying’ (as we see when we read his psalms).
But I prayed when the temptation came and I still fell into sin.  Maybe that is because we waited until the crisis before we prayed.  David didn’t simply pray on the day of the battle.  During all those hours alone with the sheep David had developed intimacy with God.  He mediated on the God of grace.  He sang of his beauty.  He delighted in his presence.  Read the gospels and you will soon see the priority that Jesus gives to a life soaked in prayer.  If Jesus gathered strength from prayer then surely we need to do so too. 
In a book entitled ‘Saving Grace’, John Miller writes that when we come to the end of ourselves we need to consider where our faith is centred.  ‘If any problem seems unbeatable, check whether your immobilization is a result of your trusting in the wrong thing.  If your faith is centred in yourself, you are trusting in the flesh.  Know the power of your Saviour and his salvation.  The one who lives in you has all power … Develop confidence in the greatness of who you have in Christ … Begin to ask God for grace; pray that he would change how you think and what you desire.’ 
I began by saying that we need to believe in ourselves less and trust God more.  We need to realise that we will only overcome when we live in the light of Christ’s victory.  Our champion has stepped into the battle and won.  He has not only taken the punishment for our sin, he has freed us from the slavery to sin.
Let me tell you of a time when believing too much in myself and not trusting in Christ for victory lead to spectacular defeat for me.
In sixth year in school, I was a fairly weak Christian, if I was a Christian at all.  Having being useless at sports for most of my life I had become reasonably good at rugby.  I managed to make the school’s first team—being the weakest player on a reasonably poor team at a relativity humble rugby school.  However, I felt like I was living the dream.  And I got to go on tour.
On the bus in Scotland someone explained that there was an unofficial award for the person who made the biggest fool of themselves on tour.  I remember thinking, ‘I will be the last person in this squad to win that award.’  In pride I believed too much in me!  To my shame I discovered that I could not handle drink, spent a lot of tour drunk, made a complete fool of myself and was judged by the rest of the team to be the person who had made the biggest fool of themselves.
Don’t believe in yourself.  Believe that there but for the grace of God go I.  Therefore, let anyone who thinks he is strong take heed lest he fall.  No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.  God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:12-13).
Christ has won the victory.  He has freed you from the price and power of sin.  Failure in no longer inevitable!  God promises that you will never face a temptation that has greater power than the power that Christ offers to work within you.  But the proud know nothing of this power.  So believe in yourself less and trust God more.  Ask him to give you a passion for his glory and don’t simply wait until the heat of the battle before you fall on your knees in prayer.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

The church: Those considered to be the scum of the earth (1 Samuel 22:1-2)

Suppose we changed the name of our church.  Last week I told Dermot O’Mahoney (the pastor of Elevate Church) that we were going to change our name to Elevator Church.  Think of it, Jesus is the Elevator who brings us to God!  Don’t worry I wasn’t serious.
We could change our name to Grace Church.  I love the idea of being called Grace Church because grace is what we should be all about.  We want to preach and live in light of God’s unmerited, unearned and undeserved favour.
But the church name that grabs my attention is Scum of the Earth Church in Colorado.  In their mission statement they point out that there are plenty of normal churches reaching normal people, but they want to reach those who are considered outcasts among society.  (They take their name from First Corinthians, where Paul says that we are considered to be the Scum of the Erath).
This morning we see a motley crew gather around David.  These people, who might be considered the scum of the earth, are a wonderful picture of the church.
Jesus not only knows how we feel, he has experienced worse than we feel
At this stage in the story God has rejected Saul as king, but not yet removed him from the throne.  God has anointed David as king, but not yet placed him on the throne.  David has killed Goliath and become a leader in the army.  He has become best friends with Saul’s son, Jonathan.  The women of Israel have stirred Saul’s jealousy as they sing, ‘Saul has killed thousands, and David has killed tens of thousands.’  David has fallen in love with Saul’s daughter Michal, and Saul said ‘you can marry her if you bring me the foreskins of a hundred Philistines’ (he thought that this challenge would end with David’s death).  Saul tells Jonathan to kill David, but Jonathan pleads his case.  Michal has to help David escape through a window in their home, when Saul’s troops come looking for him.  David flees to Gath, offering himself as an anonymous mercenary, but King Achish’s servants recognises him, so David pretends he is a madman and Achish sends him away.  David departed from there and escaped to the cave in Adullam (22:1a).
He has been humiliated—having to let his spit cover his beard like he was insane and scratching the gates of an enemy his in order to look crazy.  But surely the humiliation is nothing compared to the pain of being separated from his wife and family, losing his job and home, and having his life in constant danger.  Have you ever felt anything like David must have been feeling?  What should you do at such moments?  You should pray!
‘With my voice I cry out to the Lord, with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord.  I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him’ (1-2).  He prays with real honesty.  Such honesty is common in the Psalms.  Pour out your troubles to God.  Take this psalm for yourself.
As often happens in the psalms, David’s perspective changes as he prays.  He grows in confidence in God. ‘When my spirit faints within me, you know the way’ (3a).  ‘You are my refuge’ (5a).
Remember that Samuel had anointed David.  David was God’s anointed leader.  The term Messiah (or ‘Christ’) comes from the word ‘anointed one.’  When I read of David’s pain in the Psalms I think of the emotions of Jesus.  These were prayers that Jesus put on his lips.  He knew what it was like to be alone, apart from his friend and family, and pursued to death.  He put a psalm on his lips as he cried out, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’  Jesus not only knows what you feel, he has felt worse than you feel.  And he has compassion on us!
Those that the world sees as the Scum of the Earth are God’s gift to us
David prayed, ‘Attend to me …’ (6), and our prayer answering God hears him.  We read, and when his brothers and his father’s entire house heard it [that he had escaped to the cave], they went down there to him.  All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander.  About four hundred men were with him (1 Samuel 22:1b-2).
One question we should ask when we read the Old Testament is, how does this point to Jesus?  Another question is how does this point to his people?  I believe that the distressed, indebted and discontent that gather around David are a great picture of the church.  He is the anointed leader and we are those who are brought to him.  We are the outcasts of society and those considered to be scum of the earth!
It’s funny, back in Psalm 142 David declared, the righteous will surround me (7), yet God surrounds him with all the outcasts of Israel.  God makes outcasts his righteous people.  He takes the broken and lost and he cleanses us through the blood of his Son.  He takes moral failures and treats us as if we had lived Jesus’ perfect life.  Jesus makes us the righteous of God.
In some ways this group of people were the last people David needed at this moment.  They are bitter in spirit.  Yet as the story goes on these very people become David’s army and the leaders in his kingdom.  God takes broken people like us, gives us gifts to serve each other and one day we will share in his reign.
Are God’s ragamuffin people your joy?  Elsewhere David will speak of his delight in God’s people (Psalm 16:3).  If you aren’t delighting in God’s people then there is a problem with your spirit.
In 2008 I was on my way to watch Munster beat Toulouse in the Heineken Cup final when I read the following in the Irish Times:  ‘Maybe in years to come, the sociologists will decide that the Munster phenomenon was down to people needing to identify with a big-hearted and inclusive movement at a time when there was a dearth of such churches.’  In this morning’s text we are going to see that God wants his church to be a big-hearted and inclusive movement.   
What a wonderful picture of the church!  And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered around God’s anointed leader.  And he became captain over them.  And they were with him.  A big-hearted and inclusive movement!
Last week, before CafĂ© Church, a young Christian asked me the question, ‘why me?’  Why had God revealed himself to him rather than other people he knew?  We agreed that it cannot be because he is any better than anyone else.  In fact I told him of what Paul declared in First Corinthians, ‘for consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many of you were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God’ (1:26-30).  This is the picture we see in this morning’s passage.  Never let the fact that you are a Christian let look down on those who are not!  You weren’t saved by your own goodness; you were saved by grace!
So go home with Psalm 142.  Next time you are in distress pray it.  Jesus knows how you feel, has felt worse, and he cares for you.  Our God answers prayer and gives us his people.  We are both nobodies who have been accepted as God’s people and children of God saved for a great purpose!  

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Jesus can rescue you from your selfie-smile (1 Samuel 16:1-3)

The Telegraph Newspaper has wondered is this generation is the most narcissistic ever.  We are the Selfie-Generation.  The phone has changed the way that we take photos.  We used to put our eye behind a lens and look out on others.  Now we turn the lens around and make ourselves the centre of the photo. 
Please don’t get me wrong.  I am not really worried about you taking the odd selfie.  Selfies can be a fun way to celebrate time with friends and travel.  However, our selfies, our Facebook profile, our pride in our children’s achievements, our attendance at church, our clothes, the education we pursue, our manners and our possessions can all be things that we use to create the carefully created image of ourselves that we desire others to admire. 
We need to be reminded that, while people look at the outward appearance [literally ‘the face’] the Lord looks at the heart.  Let me paraphrase.  ‘You may be obsessed with your selfie, but God cares more for your character.’  Jesus can rescue you from your from being overly worried about your selfie-smile! 
Saul—a king who was obsessed with appearance
The people of Israel had become image-conscious.  They wanted a king so that they could be like other nations.  The Philistines, the Moabites and the Jebusites all had kings, ‘so why can’t we?’  God gave them the sort of king they were looking for.  His name was Saul.  He was superficially impressive.  He was as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else (9:2).  They believed that a man like Saul could make Israel great again!  He was the sort of king who reflected their aspirations.
While Saul began humbly, he soon turned out to have a real character deficit.  He was selfish, angry, hateful, jealous and mean-spirited.  When he was caught red-handed in disobedience he said to the prophet Samuel, ‘I have sinned.  But please honour me before the elders of my people and before Israel, come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord your God’ (15:30).  He had displayed wicked rebellion against God, but he was more concerned about saving face than allowing God change him from within.  ‘My life may be a mess,’ we think, ‘but could you take a selfie with me to show people that I’ve got things together?’ 
A few years ago a major sports-star was caught in a very embarrassing situation.  It seemed obvious that he was cheating on his wife.  What would the public think?  What would his sponsors do?  So who is the first person he rings?  He rings his lawyer.  You see his lawyer could help him come up with a good story that would enable him to save face.  That’s a Saul-like response.
Before we look down on such people, ask yourself this, when was the last time you opened up to a fellow-Christian about a besetting sin that you struggle with?  When did you last tell them about specific temptations you battle?  When did you last follow the Biblical injunction to confess your sins to one another?  Over the last year I have been meeting with a person once a week for the sake of accountability and prayer.  I initiated this relationship because I could see that this person was not-judgemental, willing to be vulnerable and was full of grace.  Meeting with him has been life-transforming.  But I can’t be smug with you about this, for when I was applying to theological college I failed a physiological test that revealed that I was I was unwilling to be open with my interviewers about who I really was.  It doesn’t come naturally for us to let our guard down.
King David—a king after God’s own heart
God could have let the people suffer under the awful rule of the kind of king they deserved.  However, our God delights to come to the rescue of the underserving.  So he sends the prophet Samuel to the village of Bethlehem, to a man called Jesse.  One of Jesse’s sons will be the next king!
Even Samuel fell into the trap of judging by superficial appearances—when he saw Eliab, Jesse’s eldest son, he thought that this must be God’s choice, but the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him.  The Lord does not look at the things people look at.  People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’ (9).
Not even David’s father was paying attention to David’s heart.  Having being introduced to all David’s brothers, Samuel has to ask Jesse, ‘are these all your sons?’  While David may have been glowing in health, with a fine appearance and handsome features’ (12b), he was only a teenage lad tending the flock.  The Lord says to Samuel, ‘Rise and anoint him; for this is the one’ (12c).  From that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David (13).
Earlier in this book Samuel tells Saul, the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart … because you have not kept the Lord’s command (13:14).  Saul’s disobedience demonstrated that he was not a person after God’s own heart.  Many centuries later the apostle Paul explained that David’s obedience was related to the fact that he was a person after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22).  Good and evil flow from the heart.  What do our actions, loves and passions say about the state of ours?
Over the summer I read a book by Paul Tripp, in which one of the chapters is entitled, ‘Transgression.’  He writes, ‘Obedience is deeply more than begrudging duty.  It is a response of joyful willingness ignited by, and continued by a heart that has been captured by God’s glory, goodness, and grace.  Thus, you cannot threaten, manipulate, or guilt a person into obedience.  Only grace can produce this joyful submission in me.  Only grace can open my eyes to the awesome glory of God … Only grace can free me from being a worshipper of self to a worshipper of God.  Only grace can motivate me to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord until I have exited my little government of one and given myself to the work of something vastly bigger than me.’  Only grace can change my heart from one that is self-absorbed and disobedience, to one that is God-intoxicated and delights in doing his will.
King Jesus—the heart-changing king
I think there is a mistake that we can make at this point.  We can forget the order of things!  Yes, it is true that God was looking for a man with a good heart.  But it was God who had made David’s heart good in the first place.  Many years later, after a hideous series of sins, David would pray, surely I was sinful from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me’ (Psalm 51:5).  All of us are born with a heart problem, but Jesus is the heart changing king!
Like David, King Jesus, did not satisfy the aspirations of those who wanted to live under a superficial leader.  Isaiah tells us that Jesus had no beauty or majesty that would attract people to him (Isaiah 53:2).  His face in your selfie wouldn’t have enhanced your image.  Indeed, it may cause us to lose face to become one of his subjects.  But to paraphrase Jesus, ‘I pity you, if you manage to keep your image and yet lose your soul.’
Like David, Jesus was a shepherd-king.  He alone is the good shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep.  So when I read this book of the Bible and see a lot of Saul-like vanity in me I thank God that Jesus took the punishment for my sin.  In Jesus I am forgiven for my people-pleasing tendencies and my self-absorption.  The good news doesn’t stop there.  The shepherd king leads me by changing my heart.  He is the one who can free us from our preoccupation with ourselves.
People look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.  Where do you look?
If you are a parent, do you shepherd you child’s heart, or do you simply push them to improve manners and grades?  Are you keeping up appearances or are you willing to be vulnerable?  Do you define yourself by your achievements and possessions or is your delight in your relationship with God? 
One of the worst things we teach our children in school is the art of writing a resume (C. V.).  It teaches us to boast about our achievements and hide our failings.  The Bible tells us to boast about our weaknesses.  That is one way to put our image-consciousness to death.  I would also suggest that you learn to be transparent about your failings, and so bring glory to the God of grace who loves and goes on forgiving his sinful people.  Find someone you can learn to be vulnerable with, and let them pray about specific areas where your heart needs to change.  Be transparent, so that your church becomes a safe place that is soaked in grace.  Pray to the God who desires truth in the inner parts that he would cleanse you, wash you and create a pure heart and renew a steadfast spirit within you (Psalm 51:6-10).   
To a narcissistic generation God speaks the good news that while you may be obsessed with your image, God cares more for your character, and Jesus can free you from your slavery to self-obsession.