Saturday, 25 March 2017

My David makes me righteous (1 Samuel 26)

I have never done a completely righteous thing in my life.  Even as I stand here, hoping that my words will inspire you to love God, I am also hoping that they will inspire you to think that I am a good preacher.  My ego is so fragile that if Caroline gives this sermon the thumbs down I will likely spend the afternoon filled with self-pity.
Do you ever do something nice for someone, and hope that they think that you are a really decent person?  Do you ever do something kind, and hope people will notice?  Of course you do!  We are self-centred and self-absorbed.  Indeed, when you do manage a secret act of kindness you get puffed up with self-congratulation.  All of my best deeds are tainted by my massive ego.
Yet, although I have never done a completely righteous thing in my life, I can stand here with confidence and tell you that God delights in me.  My Heavenly Father loves me as much as he loves his Son, Jesus.  Even though I experience defeat every day in my Christian life, I am as much a child of God as the godliest of people.  If you think that the righteous judge of the world will have any reservations about accepting you into his heaven then you have not grasped how amazing his grace is!
This morning we are going to see how the Son of David makes us righteous.
My David refused to take the easy route to the throne
This is the second time that the Ziphites have informed Saul on David’s whereabouts.  Saul goes with three thousand of the best and bravest soldiers in search of him.  When Saul is asleep David, Ahimelech the Hittite and Abishai approach him.
Hittites weren’t a part of Israel.  But Ahimelech has found refuge with David and his men.  Throughout the Old Testament we see people from the nations finding a place amongst God’s people.  In the New Testament Jesus sent the disciples to the ends of the earth.  We are a part of a beautiful multi-ethnic people that God is gathering around his Son.  Abishai was the son of David’s sister Zeruiah—he will turn up later in the story as a rather blood-thirsty man.
This passage has similarities to the events that took place at the cave at Engedi.  There Saul was vulnerably placed before David, David’s men urged him to take Saul’s life and David refused to kill Israel’s king.  Now Abishai says God has handed Saul into David’s hand and he offers to do the dirty deed for David.  But David is going to ascend to his throne in God’s time and in God’s way.
The temptation that is being presented to David is to take an easy route to the throne.  Kill Saul, and then you will no longer have to spend life on the run.  Something similar happened in the wilderness, when Satan offered Jesus a throne.  Satan was saying, ‘you don’t need to go to your throne via the cross.’  Later, Peter tried tempted Jesus not to take his throne via the cross, and received the rebuke, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’  Christianity without the cross is what the devil wants.   For without the cross there is no justification of the ungodly.  If Jesus only serves you as a good moral example then you are still a guilty wretch.
Before we look at the exchange of words between David and Saul, notice the reason why no-one woke up when David approached: a deep sleep from the Lord had fallen on them (12).  Yet again, God is protecting his man.
My David makes me righteous
While David addresses Saul’s commander, Abner, from a safe distance, Saul recognises David’s voice.  ‘Is this your voice, my son David?’   These are the same words that Saul used to address David outside the cave at Engedi.
David protests his innocence and Saul admits that he has played the fool.  Fools are what we are when we centre our lives on anything other than God.  So often we are foolish.  We foolishly forget that God always wants what is best for us and that it is in obedience to him that we experience spiritual blessing and joy.
‘Here is your spear, O king.’  This was the spear that had whistled by David’s head three times as Saul tried to kill him.  This was a spear that David would not let Abishai drive through Saul. 
Then David explains that ‘the Lord rewards every man for his righteousness and faithfulness.’  David has acted righteously in valuing Saul’s life and trusting the Lord with his own life. 
Of course, David’s righteousness is imperfect, like ours.  David would later pen a psalm in which he admits that he was sinful from the time his mother conceived him.  In the very next chapter of this story, David doubts and acts deceitfully.  But this righteous act of David looks forward to the perfect righteousness of the Son of David.  Jesus is the only person who has every acted with complete rightlessness and he alone deserves the title ‘Righteous One’ (Acts 3:14).
Indeed, because the Son of David refused to take the easy route to the throne, but went to the throne via the cross, we can receive the gift of his righteousness.  The Apostle Paul explains to the Christians in Philippi, ‘I don’t have a righteousness of my own, but I have a righteousness that comes through faith in God’ (Philippians 3:9).  The Christian is someone who is comfortable admitting their many sins because we do not have to justify ourselves.
Not only does Jesus make us righteous, he makes our sin-stained attempts to please our Heavenly Father righteous.  Even though sin taints everything I do, grace cleanses my deeds of their sin, and so the Father is pleased with them.  Grace enables us to bring a smile to his face.
Jesus is my David.  Like this David, my David (and your David, if you trust in him) refused to take the easy to the throne, but went via a cross where he died to make me righteous.  While this David acted righteously on this occasion, my David always acted righteously, and because I am in him, God sees me as righteous.  My David takes my weak, imperfect, impure deeds and purifies them by his blood so that they please my Heavenly Father.
Have your really grasped that righteousness is a gift?  Rosie Marie Miller knew the gospel for years before an understanding of grace made its way into the marrow of her bones.  It was during a communion service that she had a new realisation that Christ had been broken for her. 
‘Before that Communion service I saw myself as basically a good person with a few flaws.  I had felt guilt before—lots of it and all the time—but it was guilt over my failures more than guilt because I had sinned against God.  I was now utterly humbled that my sins were all forgiven because Christ had died for me.  He loved me—me, the unloving one.  I longed to know more about him from the depths of my heart.’
What was the result of such a realisation of grace?  She began to experience a freedom and joy that had never been there before.  Her view of God changed.  She experienced confidence before God.  She became more gentle and loving.    She became less judgemental and legalistic.  She no longer felt the need to run about proving she was a good Christian.  Now she was free to love.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

1 Samuel 30: 'The Christ is Kind'

There was a great Methodist minister in London during the last century by the name of William Sangster.  He was a kind man.  One of his friends said, ‘whenever he met someone, his attitude seemed to be, “how can I help this person?”’  When Sangster died, his wife received over fourteen hundred letters.  Over a thousand of those letters mentioned some particular kind act Sangster had done.

The passage that we are looking at this morning encourages me.  You see, in this chapter David acting with kindness.  Now remember that David is the king that God chose for himself (1 Samuel 16:1).  He has been anointed by Samuel (and the word christ/messiah means anointed one).  When David acts as he is called to act he gives us a picture of what God’s King and Christ is like.  This verses tells us that Christ is kind!

The Christ who cares (1-4)

David had got himself in a mess.  He had gone over to Gath, and served the Philistine king, Achish.  However, when the Philistines decided that they were going to attack Israel, God rescued David from his mess.  The Philistine commanders didn’t trust him, and so he was sent back to Ziklag—where his and his men’s families were stationed.  However, they were in for a nasty surprise.  When David and his men came to the city, they found it burned with fire, and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive (3).  They wept until they had no more strength to weep.

I don’t know if you grew up being told that big boys don’t cry, but God’s people shed plenty of tears.  David wept because he cared about the suffering of those taken into captivity and he cared about his men.  The Son of David also wept.  Jesus feels pain when his people suffer.  We may not be able to answer all the questions that are raised by our troubles, but we can be sure that we follow a Christ who cares about our suffering.
The Christ who looks to God for strength (5-6)
David’s men weren’t all that impressed by his tears.  They became angry with him.  They talked of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul (6a).  Yet I think that there is grace in the fact that he did not walk away from his angry people.  Sometimes our pain turns to anger, ‘Jesus, how could you let this happen to me?’  But Jesus is patient with us.

The Son of David endured so much anger.  However, ‘when he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly’ (1 Peter 2:23).  David entrusted himself to God as he strengthened himself in the Lord his God (6b). 

Look at David seeking God’s strength.  Look at the many occasions in the gospels where Jesus takes himself off to find strength in his heavenly Father.  Then ask yourself this, ‘if they needed God’s strength, don’t I?’  An awareness of need provides a great motivation for prayer.  You just can’t live a life pleasing to God without continually looking to him for strength.  So cry out to him who is willing to do in you what you can’t do for yourself!

Christ is kind to the weary (7-14)

Now we come to my favourite part of this chapter, where David is kind to the weary, and we see the contrast between how Christ treats people the world treats people.

Having been assured of success, David and his men set off to rescue their people.  But, two hundred men stayed behind, who were too exhausted to cross the brook Besor.  After all, they had just completed a sixty-mile march to Ziklag.  They had done that march in three days.  It was understandable that some would be too tired to go off to battle.  David is sympathetic about their exhaustion. 

Do you realise that the Son of David cares about your weariness?  Do you remember that Christ knew what it felt like to be tired, and to need time to be restored?  Have you ever heard his invitation to rest?  He does want you to drive yourself into the ground.  He is the sort of king who does not break a bruised reed.

Look at what a contrast this is to the way the world operates.  They found an Egyptian … servant to an Amalekite … whose master had left him behind because he had fallen ill.  That’s what the world does.  When you are no longer of use, you get thrown on the scrap-heap. 

The church must not be like the world.  We must look after our wounded.  We must not be critical of the tired.  We must be patient with those who are struggling.  We must be gentle to those who are ill.  We must not value people only for what they can do for us.  In contrast to the Amalekites, David welcomes the Egyptian and cares for him. 

The Christ is given God’s victory (15-17)

God’s greatest kindness was sending his Son to the cross for us.  We see a picture of the cross in the account of David’s battle.

I am sure that David’s soldiers were involved in the fighting, but the author describes the battle as David’s victory.  David struck them down from twilight until evening of the next day (17).  In defeating his enemies he freed those who had been taken captive.  The Apostle Paul tells the Colossians that, on the cross, Christ disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them (2:15).  Satan’s accusations are emptied of their power for Jesus has paid for your sin.  When he reminds you of your sin remember Jesus who has freed you from all guilt.

The Christ restores what was lost (18-20)

There is a repeated emphasis on the fact that David recovers everything that was lost.  Jesus said, ‘this is the will of him who has sent me, that I shall lose none of those he has given me, but raise them up on the last day’ (John 6:39).  While David’s people had to pass through a time of trial, everything was restored.  The world may take the Christian’s comfort, reputation and popularity.  The world even martyrs many who love God’s king.  Yet in this life there are so many blessings to being one of his people.  In the life to come our Christ will not only restore what was lost, he will give us an exceeding abundance.  For Christ is gracious.

The Christ is gracious (21-31)
When they return to the two hundred who were too weary to fight, all the worthless and wicked fellows among the men who had gone with David said, ‘because they did not go with us, we will not give them any of the spoil that we recovered, except that each man may lead away his wife and children and depart’ (22).  The primary reason they are ungracious is that they don’t see that it was God who gave the victory—they speak of the spoil they recovered.  There are always those who associate with the Christ who do not get the concept of grace.
These worthless and wicked fellows want what they deserve.  But what do they really deserve?  They deserve to be reminded of how they, along with the rest of David’s men, wanted to stone him.  They deserve to be told that it was the Lord who gave the victory through David, and that they have no prior claims to the spoils of battle.  They deserve to be told to depart, because they were wicked and worthless.
Yet David graciously recognises that the weary had looked after the baggage and enabled the rest to go off and fight.  Then he kindly divides the spoils evenly.
Raja Wijekoon pioneered the ministry of Christian drug rehabilitation in Sri Lanka.  He had been converted in prison while he was serving a sentence for armed robbery.  In prison he had been given a Bible and was struck by the words of Jesus, ‘Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’  Jesus’ kind invitation led him to yield his life to Christ.  After his release, he began a ministry with drug dependants.
At his funeral three former drug addicts spoke of his ministry.  They each talked of his kindness.  He had always accepted them back, even after they had fallen and returned to drugs.  One of the men shared that he had ten relapses into his addiction before finally experiencing lasting freedom.  Every time he returned to the rehab centre, Raja took him back in the hope that this would be the last time.
Where does such kindness come from?  It came from constantly remembering Christ’s kindness to him and depending on the Holy Spirit.  The Apostle Paul tells us to put away anger, malice and slander, and put on compassion, kindness and humility (Colossians 3:1-12).  Strengthening yourself in the Lord your God, that he might make us kind.   

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Meditate a little on the mercy of God (1 Samuel 29)

One Thursday I called to see Ruth Campbell.  Ruth was a quiet, elderly lady who has been coming to our church for the last two years.  We only knew Ruth at the end of her life, when dementia was beginning to take hold of her, but Ruth had lived as a joyful and lively Christian.

That evening it was clear that Ruth was on the final part of life’s journey.  She was weak but peaceful.
I noticed that she had a number of devotional books beside her bed.  One of these books was particularly worn.  It was written by the greater preacher, Spurgeon.  As I looked through it, I could see that one page was underlined more than the rest.  It began, ‘meditate a little on the mercy of God.’  Ruth had underlined the words tender mercy, great mercy, underserved mercy, rich in mercy, abounding mercy and unfailing mercy.
This morning’s passage is full of mercy.  I want you to see that God shows undeserved mercy to his children, even when we fail him, and that this mercy is the primary reason to obey him.
God shows mercy to a deceitful man
David had got himself in an awful mess.  Despite the fact that God had rescued him on many occasions, David doubted God’s faithfulness.  He reasoned that Saul was going to kill him, even though God had promised to make David king.  So David went to Gath, the home-place of Goliath, and offered himself as a mercenary.  He deceived Achish, the king of Gath, by pretending to plunder the Israelites, when in fact he was attacking other towns and villages.
However, things heat up for David when the various kings of the Philistines decide that they are going to attach the Israelites.  What is David going to do?  Surely the future king of Israel cannot fight against his own people!  How is God going to rescue him from this impossible situation?
God rescues David in the most unusual way.  You see, the commanders of the Philistines are not as naïve about David as Ashish was.  The commanders don’t believe that David can be trusted.  They remember how the Israelites used to celebrate David’s victories over them.  So Achish apologetically breaks the news to David.  He is not going to battle against Israel.
David had doubted God, but God never stopped being faithful.  David had acted deceitfully, but God remained true.  David had made wrong choices, but God did not give up on his plans for him.  God quietly worked in the background securing David’s deliverance.  We are great at getting ourselves into messes.  We let him down every day.  Yet God shows us undeserved mercy.
At one stage on that visit to Ruth, I read her something about the grace of God, and then said, ‘God is good.’  She responded with a smile and declared, ‘he is amazing!’
During the summer holidays, a mother took her children to the park to break the boredom of looking after the children at home all day.  But what she saw broke her heart.  She saw a young woman drive up, leap out of her car and virtually skip out of her car to a table by the lake.  Who was the young woman so excited to be meeting?  She found out as the young woman took out her Bible and began to read. The mother wondered why her enthusiasm for God had faded, that she no longer delighted to meet with him.
The next day she took her children to a Holiday Bible Club and she discovered why her faith had run dry.  When she arrived to pick the children up the club was running late.  She sat there listening to the children laughing inside.  She felt sad as she remembered that Jesus used to another word to her for joy; when folding her hands in prayer meant you were talking to God; and when you said, ’Lord, I’m sorry,’ you felt really forgiven.  Then she overheard the words of the children’s closing song.  ‘I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever.’   Suddenly she realised that this is what she had forgotten.  Somewhere in the business of life, along with the sense of guilt that accompanied a thousand failures, the negligence of a thousand duties, and the pursuit of a million priorities other than God’s, she had lost her focus on the sheer undeserved mercy that God lavishly pours out on his children.  ‘Affirmation of God’s mercy was the way back into his arms and all the joy that was there’ (Chapell).     
God shows mercy through an innocent man
God shows mercy to David, and what David does next is truly audacious.  He has just been told that he will not have to go into battle with his own people, and he complains!  He protests to Achish, ‘what have I done?  What have you found in your servant from the day I entered your service until now, that I may not go and fight against the enemies of my lord the King?’  One commentator writes, ‘the cunning rascal!  In fact, David is so cunning at this point that it is difficult for us to see what he is up to.’
There may be a hint in these words of what David is planning.  A couple of chapters ago, David had used the phrase ‘my lord the King’ of King Saul (when he addressed him outside the cave of Engedi).  Perhaps David was planning to march into battle with the Philistines, and then turn and fight with the Israelites against them.  Of course the problem with that plan lies in what David does not know—Saul is going to be defeated and killed by the Philistines.
Notice that these verses sound like a trial.  David is being accused, before an ungodly leader, who protests his innocence, but is too weak to resist.  Does that sound familiar?  It has been suggested that this scene anticipates the trial of Jesus, the Son of David, before Pilate.  To the commanders of the Philistines, Achish declares, ‘I have found no fault in him’ (3).  To David, he states, ‘… you have been honest … I have found nothing wrong in you’ (6).  Again, Achish says to David, ‘I know that you are blameless in my sight as an angel of God’ (9).  Similarly, Pilate tells the crowd, ‘I find no guilt in him’ (John 19:4) and he tells the chief priests and officers, ‘I find no guilt in him’ (John 19:6).  Yet, like Achish, Pilate gave in.
Achish’s claims that David has been innocent and honest ring a little hollow.  David had not plundered the Israelites, and so remained true to his promises to Saul, but he had deceived Achish and doubted God.  It is the Jesus, the Son of David, who is the only blameless one.  The Apostle Peter wrote of Jesus saying,   ‘He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth’ (1 Peter 2:22; cf. Isaiah 53:9).
God’s undeserved mercy comes to us through the innocent man.  In that Spurgeon devotional Ruth had written words from the hymn, ‘Man of sorrows’.  ‘Guilty, vile and helpless we, spotless Lamb of God was he.’  God’s mercy flows to us because that spotless Lamb of God was sacrificed for our sin.  In a great exchange, God made him who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God.  God not only put his sin upon our shoulders, but treats us as if we live Jesus perfect life. 
Conclusion—Mercy is the motive for holiness
John Bunyan was a great preacher of God’s mercy, in the sixteen hundreds.  Some of his opponents complained, ’If you keep assuring people of God’s love they will do whatever they want.’  He replied, ‘If I assure people of God’s love they will do whatever he wants.’
One of the reasons I want us to meditate of God’s mercy is that mercy is what motivates us to be holy.  The Apostle Paul writes, ‘therefore, I urge you, in view of God’s mercy, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.’
It is mercy that motivates holiness.  If we think that God’s love is conditional on our obedience, then we will end up insecure and resentful.  If we allow pride be the motivation for our holiness, we will change outward behaviours, but our hearts will be cold.  A sense of guilt must not be our motivation, for the Christian confesses their guilt and then rejoices in the mercy of God.  But when we truly understand God’s mercy our hearts will be softened and thankful, and our desire will be to please the one whose love amazes us.
Therefore, mediate a little on the mercy of God! 

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

You don't have to face death without hope (1 Samuel 28)

Rico Tice was visiting a person from his church who had a brain tumour.  As this woman prepared for her operation, she reminded herself of the wonderful words from Isaiah.  ‘Fear not, for I am with you.  Be not dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you.  I will uphold you in my right hand.’  Those words were on her lips as she went in for six hours of surgery.
What a contrast that is to what we see in this morning’s passage.  Here, Saul in facing death having been told that is forsaken by God.  These verses are filled with despair rather than hope.  We want to be sure that Saul’s story does not become our story.  How can we know that God is with us rather than against us?  How can we know that we will face our death with confidence?
Saul faces death without hope.
Saul has spent years ignoring, disobeying and rejecting God.  Now, in his time of crisis, he finds that God has rejected him. This is an upsetting passage.  One Bible commentator entitles his thoughts on this chapter quoting the words, ‘it was night.’  Another preacher says that these verses are disturbing, dark and difficult.
When Saul is told that God will not listen to him, he does something that reveals the wickedness of his heart.  That night, he disguises himself, and consults a medium.  Saul knows that God hates such things, for he was the one who had expelled the mediums and spiritists from the land.  When the woman fears that she will get in trouble for what she is about to do, Saul vows, in the name of the Lord, that she will not be punished.  What sort of person invokes God’s name to encourage them to do something God despises?
I have to warn you that the Bible sees such things as séances and Ouija boards as being very dangerous.  This is more that counterfeit spirituality, this is the occult.  It would seem that when a medium relays voices from the dead, what they are actually doing is deceiving you, or worse still, they are being deceived by demons.  When people die, they either go to heaven or hell.  Mediums cannot bring them back.
If that is the case, then how come God permits this woman to raise Samuel from the dead?  A man called Matthew Henry explains that this was a once off event, where God allowed the prophet Samuel confront the Saul after death, as he had in life.  Samuel had been the one brave enough to speak to King Saul about his sin.  Saul had always ignored him.  It is no different now.  The only new piece of information that Samuel tells Saul is the fact that he is going to be killed tomorrow.
While the questions around Samuel being raised from the dead have been debated for centuries, two things are very clear: there is not an ounce of repentance in Saul and not crumb of comfort from Samuel.
Samuel asks Saul why he has disturbed him.  Saul responds with some of the saddest words in the Bible.  I am in great distress, for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams.  Therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I should do’ (15).
What Saul should do is repent of his sin, but that is the one thing that Saul had always refused to do.  Even now, Saul will not acknowledge that he has done anything wrong.  He knew that consulting a medium was detestable to God but all he does is offer an excuse.  Look back over Saul’s life and all you ever hear is excuses.  Saul actually seems incapable of repentance.
Compare Saul’s unwillingness to acknowledge his sin with an event that took place during the Great Awakening in America in the 1700s.  There was a prayer meeting with eight hundred men.  Into the meeting a woman sent a message asking the men to pray for her husband.  The note explained that her husband had become unloving, proud and difficult.  The leader of the meeting read the message in private and then did something daring.  He read the note allowed and asked if the man who had been described would raise his hand, so that they could pray for him.  Three hundred men raised their hands.  Each been convicted by the Holy Spirit of their sin, and now longing to confess.  ‘’Rather than hiding sin, or minimising it, or blaming others, the repentant heart longs to confess’ (Bryan Chapell).  
Samuel could have recalled a whole catalogue of ways in which Saul had disobeyed God—Saul had offered unlawful sacrifices at Gilgal (and blamed his actions on Samuel turning up late), Saul set up a statue in his own honour, he was filled with murderous jealousy towards David, he tried to kill his own son, and, most shockingly, he had slaughtered the priests of Nob.  But the incident that Samuel recalls was the time Saul refused to obey God’s instruction to destroy the Amalekites, kept the spoils of war for himself, lied about it, and offered excuses rather than repentance.  That had been the moment that confirmed that the kingdom would be taken from him.
Saul’s life is a stern warning against refusing to listen to God.  You know those before and after photos that diet-clinics produce.  Well the before and after photo for Saul is desperately sad.  When we are first introduced to him he is a peerlessly impressive man (handsome, and a head taller than anyone else).  He seemed to be humble, and we were given the impression that he knew God.  Yet it soon becomes clear that this is not the case.  In a few short years Saul becomes a corrupt, paranoid, fearful and brutal man who craves power and will do anything to ward off those who might threaten his place in the world.  Now, forty years later, he is a shivering wreck, without hope and incapable of change.
God had been patient with Saul.  He is patient with all of us.  God has repeatedly spoken to Saul, and Saul has continually ignored God.  Instead of being drawn into a life of repentance, Saul’s heart became impenetrable.  The sunlight that melts the frost also hardens the clay.  God wants his word to draw you to him, yet your refusal to listen can insulate your hearts from his calling, and leave you worse off than you were before.
Jesus faces death to bring us hope
To face death apart from God is the most tragic of all human predicaments.  Many face death unaware that they are about to experience the judgement of the God they have ignored.  Yet I have had the privilege of being at many funerals where the sorrow of loss was mingled with a confident joy that the deceased is now far happier than they ever were in life.  They are now in the presence of the God they love. 
How can we be confident that God is with us as we pass from this life?  After all, like Saul, we have ignored God every day! 
The writer to the Hebrews says, ‘today, if you hear God’s voice, do not harden your hearts.’  Biblical repentance is a gift of God where (unlike Saul) we offer no excuses for our sin but rejoice in the truth that God will not despise a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17).  Biblical repentance is about acknowledging our guilt and trusting the one who has taken the punishment we deserve.  The difference between the Christian and Saul is not the absence of sin but what we do with our sin.  The Christian trusts in the loving God who gave his Son to die for me while I was till his enemy.
You see, the major lesson from the life of Saul is that we need a better king.  The people had rejected God’s rule over them when they demanded a worldly king, in order to appear as impressive as the other nations.  They got a king that reflected their own rebellious hearts.  It was a disaster'
But there is another king, a king who perfectly reflects the heart of God.  Like King Saul, Jesus was deeply troubled the night before he died.  In a walled garden he sweated drops of blood.  The next day he was pinned to a cross, where the physical pain was surpassed by the spiritual despair.  Darkness fell in the afternoon, and the Son of God cried out, ‘My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?’  Because Jesus was forsaken in death, Saul’s experience need never be ours.  In Christ alone we will not face death alone.  Jesus promised never to drive away anyone who comes to him.  Let his love melt your heart and give you hope.    
I began this sermon by telling you of a woman who faced a six-hour operation with words from the prophet Isaiah on her lips.  Let me finish with a few more words from Isaiah.  God says, ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and revive the heart of the contrite’ (57:15).
The Christian should be the most humble person in the world.  We deserve what Saul experienced, but Jesus died so that we would not have to.  Yet sadly, people often see us a self-righteous and proud.  We know that our guilt was so serious that Jesus had to be forsaken in death to take the punishment we deserved.  We don’t need to offer excuses when we are confronted with out failings.  Instead we should rejoice in the truth that the Son of God loved me, and gave himself for me, and so I will never face any crisis alone.

Friday, 17 February 2017

How to love when you are under pressure (1 Sam. 27)

There was a woman in America who was so fed up with the behaviour of her family that she put a sign in her front garden reading, ‘Mom of Strike!’  Then she went out to the back garden and took up residency in the tree house, saying that she would not come down until the back-biting and lack of co-operation stopped.
Maybe you know how she feels.  It could be your work-life, your home-life, your wider family circle or even people in this church that put you under pressure.  You feel like everyone wants a piece of you and you are ready to snap.
The problem for me is that when I snap I don’t like what comes out of me.  Pressure makes me irritable, impatient, harsh and loving.  Jesus speaks of these things coming from our hearts.  So it is not so much that pressure makes us bitter, but rather pressure brings our bitterness to the surface.
This morning we see David snap under immense pressure.  Sadly, what surfaces from his heart is terrifying.  Thankfully, he has a God who does not treat him as his sins deserve but according to his loving-kindness.  I want you to see that there is hope for our hearts, even when our hearts are put under huge strain.
When you are under pressure, don’t tell yourself lies
Life is very difficult for David.  King Saul has been relentlessly pursuing him.  Some of his own people have betrayed him.  He has no home to go to for refuge.  He has responsibility for a rag-tag crew of six-hundred men and their families, who have placed themselves under his care.  It all seems too much to him, and it seems that he crosses over to the dark side.  Deceit, selfishness and even murder come to the surface.
Part of David’s problem is found in how he talks to himself.  ‘Then David said to himself, “Now I shall perish at the hand of Saul.”  That’s not true!  God had promised David that he would be king.  God had demonstrated his faithfulness David time and time again.  In a previous chapter we read that God did not hand David over to Saul (1 Samuel 23:1).  David should have remembered God’s promises and recalled God’s faithfulness.  David could have sung, ‘through many dangers toils and snares, I have already come.  It was grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.’
What do you say to yourself, when you are under pressure?  Do you say, ‘this temptation is too much for me’?  God’s word says, ‘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’ (1 Corinthians 10:13).  Do you say, ‘God has let me down’?  When God has actually promised, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’ (Hebrews 13:5).
I may never have passed through the trials you are going through, but I have seen God’s faithfulness.  I can think back to a time, in my early twenties, when I lost all hope, could see no light and was filled with the most awful anxiety.  I didn’t see how I could get through.  But God did bring me through.  He will bring you through too.  And even if the pain does go away in this life, he has promised to bring you to a home where he will wipe away all your tears.
When you snap, thank God for his grace
So David arose and went over, he and his six-hundred men who were with him, to Achish the son of Maoch, king of Gath (2).  Gath was where Goliath was from.  The future king of Israel is siding with the Philistines.  This is shocking.
David serves Achish as a mercenary.  In order to convince Achish that he has turned against his own people he pretends to go raiding the Israelites.  Instead he raids the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites.  He leaves neither man nor woman alive, in case they tell Achish what he has done.  That is a bit like what he does to Uriah—having he murdered to cover his tracks.
Amazingly, despite David’s deceit and wickedness, God does not let Achish find out what he is up to.  Even when David is walking in disobedience God continued to deliver him.  In fact, God would keep his promise to put this flawed leader on the throne.
When we snap, and the bitterness comes to the surface, don’t forget that God still loves you.  He is the perfect parent who loves his children even when they are being naughty.  He still loves you with the same love that he has for his Son, Jesus.  He wants to put you back on your feet and use you for good.
When the pressure is on, think of Jesus
Why should God forgive David for the evil he did when the pressure was on?  Why should he remain committed to me when I continually let him down?  He remains committed to us because he is faithful, and in his faithfulness Jesus took the punishment for all our bitterness.
Think of the pressure that Jesus experienced.  He was pursued by the leaders of his day.  He had crowds make unreasonable demands of him.  He was let down by his own people—even by his immediate family.  He was rejected by the people he came to save.  He was a man of sorrows and familiar with grief.  He not only faced the threat of death, he willingly walked towards his death.  He was under so much pressure that in anguish, he sweet drops of blood and would cry out in anguish.  He was forsaken so that we will never be forsaken.  Yet when he was at the snapping point, what was revealed about his heart?  He cries out, ‘father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!’
Someone produced a poster that read, ‘Please forgive me for the things I said when I was hungry!’  How are you when you are hungry?  How are you when you are tired?  How are you in the mornings?  How are you when everyone is demanding your attention?  What is your driving like when you are running late?  Do you like the things that come out of your heart when the pressure is on?  I don’t!  My heart gets exposed as irritable, unloving and self-centred.
So what hope is there for us?  Speak the truth to yourself.  God will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear but will give you the strength you need.  But remember that this promise is only true because Christ dwells in your heart.  Only Jesus can enable you to respond to pressure with love.  So keep on asking him to do a work in your heart.  When you do snap, and bitter words come out from your mouth, apologise to those you have hurt, but also thank God that even though you let him down every day he never stops loving you.  Look to Jesus as the evidence of God’s love and faithfulness.  He was perfectly faithful so that our bitterness is forgiven.  He experienced the most extreme pressure anyone has ever known, and it exposed the beauty of his heart.  Let his love change you. For as one seventeenth-century Christian explained, ‘there is nothing more powerful than love.  Things impossible to others are possible to them that love.’

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Chlldren's Talk: God tells us what to do because he loves us

Explanation:  I am aware that one of the purposes of God's commands is to expose the fact that we have disobeyed him, and so they cause us to look to him for mercy and grace.  However, recently I have been made aware of the fact that God also gives us commands because he is the perfect parent who wants what is good for us.  The commands of Jesus clearly demonstrate this.

toothbrush, carrot and DVD
sheets with the words 'love', 'truth', 'forgiveness' and 'Jesus'
a lemon, a stone and a drawing of a snake.

What to do: 
Put everything in the box. 
Call the children to the front. 
'In our house we have some rules.'  Take out toothbrush.  'What do you think the rule is about teeth?' (Wash your teeth in the morning and evening.)  Take out carrot.  'What do you think the rule is about vegetables?'  (Eat them with our dinner).  Take out DVD.  'What do you think our rule is about DVDs?'  (Don't spend all day in front of the TV and don't watch things that are not for your age).

'But here is the question?  Why would Caroline and I have such rules?  Is it because we don't want our kids to have fun?  Is it because we don't like them?  Of course not!  It is because we love them and we want what is best for them.  If they don't wash their teeth, their teeth will rot.  It they don't eat their veg, they will become unhealthy.  If they watch things that are scary, it will mess up their minds.  Caroline and I are very imperfect parents, but we know that good rules are good for our children.

'So what are some of the good rules that Jesus gave to his followers?'  (listen for answers). 

Let me show you three of his rules. 

Take out sign saying 'love'.  'You know what happens if you ignore this rule?'  Take out stone.  The Bible says that you become hard and uncaring. 
Take out sign that says ''forgiveness'.  'You know what happens if you refuse to forgive?'  Take out lemon.  The Bible says that you become bitter. 
Take out sign that reads, 'truth'?  'Do you know what happens is you speak lies?'  Take out picture of snake.  You become sneaky and deceitful.

So ask Jesus for the strength to obey his commands.  And you know what happens when you love, forgive and tell the truth?  Take out sign saying Jesus.  You end up becoming more like the person who gave us these wonderful commands.

Jesus tells us what to do because he knows what is best for us.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Why should I be thankful? (1 Samuel 25)

H. A. Ironside was a famous Bible teacher during the first half of the last century.
On one occasion he was in a crowded restaurant.  Just as he was about to begin his meal, a man approached and asked if he could join him.  Ironside welcomed him to have a seat.  Then he bowed his head and quietly gave thanks for his food.  When he opened his eyes the man looked at him in bemusement and asked, ‘Do you have a headache?’  Ironside assured him that his head was fine.  ‘Well, is there something wrong with your food?’  Ironside explained that he always gave thanks before he eat.  The man greeted his words with disdain.  ‘Oh, you’re one of those, are you?  Well, I want you to know I never give thanks.  I earn my money by the sweat of my brow and I don’t have to give thanks to anyone when I eat.  I just start right in.’ 
‘Yes, you’re just like my dog,’ replied Ironside.  ‘That’s what he does.’
This is a sermon about something far more important than simply saying grace before meals.  I want to talk to you about thanksgiving.  We all have reason to be thankful to God.  James writes, ‘every good and perfect gift is from above’ (James 1:17a).  But the Bible tells us that at the heart of the problem with humanity is the people neither honour God nor give thanks to him’ (Romans 1:21).
This morning we are going to see an ungrateful fool and his heroic wife.
Behold, the fool (1-11)
Nabal’s name means ‘fool’, and that is what he was.  He had plenty of possessions and the most wonderful wife, but he was neither thankful nor generous.  In fact he was both harsh and mean.
David has been good to Nabal.  David has been living in the territory where Nabal’s herds and flocks grazed.  Not only has David resisted the temptation to steal from Nabal, he has sought to protect Nabal’s possessions from harm.
There was a custom at that time, that when the sheep were sheered the owner of the animals would set aside a portion of his profit and give it to those who had protected his shepherds while they were out in the fields.  ‘It was kind of like tipping a waiter.  There was no written law saying you had to do it, but it was a way of showing gratitude for a job well done’ (Swindoll).  So David’s request was neither usual nor unreasonable.
In fact it is notable that David’s request humble and polite.  He tells ten young men, ‘Go up to Carmel, and go to Nabal and greet him in my name.  And you shall say to him: “Peace be to you, and peace to your house, and peace to all that you have … Your shepherds have been with us, and we did them no harm … Therefore let my young men find favour in your eyes, for we have come on the feast day.  Please give whatever you have at hand to your servants and to your son David”’ (5-8).  There is absolutely no sense of threat in David’s approach.
However, while David has been good to Nabal, Nabal responds to David’s kindness with a calculated insult.  ‘Who is David?’  David was famous, everyone knew he was.  David was a national hero who had saved the nation by killing the mighty Goliath.  Yet Nabal insinuates that David is simply a disloyal rebel who is like any other bandit roaming the land.
Nabal is like that man who said to Ironside, ‘I never give thanks.  I earn my money by the sweat of my brow and I don’t have to give thanks to anyone.’  Not only is Nabal unthankful for what David has done for him, much more importantly, he is unthankful to God.  Look at how he talks of what he has!  ‘Shall I take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my sheers and give it to men who come from I do not know where?’
A guilt-bearer saves the day (12-35)
As we have studied the life of David, we have said that there are aspects of his life that point forward to his great descendant, Jesus Christ, who is referred to as Son of David.  However, in this passage David does not act like Jesus.  David is an imperfect man, and if Abigail had not intervened, this story would be covered in blood.
When David hears that Nabal has responded to his request with a deliberate rudeness, he tells his men to get their swords ready. 
Bible commentator, Alan Redpath, writes, ‘David!  David!  What is wrong with you?  Why, one of the most wonderful things we have learned about you recently is your patience with Saul ... But now, look at you!  Your self-restraint has gone to pieces and a few insulting words from a fool of a man like Nabal has made you see red!  David, what’s the matter?’
God recently showed me how I am guilty of David’s sin.  I realised that there was a common characteristic about three people who I find difficult to love: the each have a tendency to talk down to me.  Why should it bother me if people act like they know better than me?  My problem is arrogance and pride.  How are you when people treat you as a ‘nobody’?  Christians should be the most humble of people.  We are loved despite our many failures and anything truly good about us is a gift from God.
What a contrast there is between our proud anger and Jesus’ gentle humility.   Peter tells us that when Jesus was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.  He himself bore our sins on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Peter 2:23-24).
Abigail is one of the many marvellous women heroes in the Bible.  She not only saves the day by facing David and telling him to act in a Christlike fashion, she actually gives us a picture of what Jesus has done for us.  She takes Nabal’s guilt upon herself, ‘On me alone, my Lord, be the guilt’ (24a).  ‘Please forgive the trespass of your servant (the feminine is used here, referring to her)’ (28).  Christ took the guilt of our ungrateful hearts upon himself and so he saved us from the judgement we deserve.
The king falls from his throne (36-43)
The chief problem in Nabal’s life is that he had placed himself at the centre of his world.  When Abigail returns home, Nabal is holding a banquet like that of a king.  Nabal’s lack of generosity was rooted in the fact that he is the king of his life and he is like his ruler.  Our world will always be small and mean until we take ourselves off the throne and see the beauty of living under God’s rule.
This passage comes with a health warning.  The next morning, when Abigail tells him what she has done for him, his heart died within him … and about ten days later the Lord struck Nabal, and he died (37-38).
God has been exceedingly generous to every one of us.  He has given us life and breath and everything else.  But there will be a day when he will no longer be generous towards those who refuse to honour him.  He will show his beauty in demonstrating his justice.  He has given his Son to die for ungrateful hearts, but if we refuse to have him as our king we will face the consequences of spurning his kindness.  It is not easy to talk about subjects like judgement and hell, but Jesus spoke of them in the hope that the Holy Spirit would bring us to our senses and enable you to delight in his forgiving, generous, kind and gracious love.
The Babylon Bee is a Christian satirical website—a Christian version of the Waterford Whispers, if you are familiar with that.  It pokes fun at attitudes within and towards the Christian community.  One feature read, ‘“What has God ever done for me?” asks man breathing air.’  Another headline reads, ‘Local man relieved after spiritual gift test comes back negative for “giving”.’
However, God calls us to lives of thankfulness and generosity because he loves us.  Unlike David, Jesus does not ask us to give because he is in need, for he is in need of nothing.  The Son of David asks us to give because he knows that it is more blessed to give than receive.  He calls us to a life of thankfulness and generosity because it enlarges our hearts.
If you have enthroned Christ as your king, then you are a beloved child of God.  Thankfulness and generosity can’t earn you any more of God’s love—for you are loved perfectly—it can help you experience more of God’s love.  It can help you see how thrilling God’s love is as you his love flow through you.  Tozer wrote, ‘Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one the poorest of us can make and be not poorer but richer for having made it.’