Hope and Obedience

“Hope and Obedience”



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A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span.[a] He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels[b]; on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels.[c] His shield bearer went ahead of him.

Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” 10 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” 11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.

32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”

33 Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”

34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”

38 Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. 39 David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.

“I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off. 40 Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.

45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.

50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.

The Lord Speaks- Servants Listen



1 Samuel 3:1-10
New International Version
The Lord Calls Samuel

3 The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.

2 One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the Lord called Samuel.

Samuel answered, “Here I am.” 5 And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.

6 Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

“My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”

7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.

8 A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. 9 So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

All Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

Speak, for your servant is listening

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2nd Sunday after Epiphany
1 Samuel 3:1-10

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, do you know how to listen? One key skill that every person needs to develop in order to have healthy relationships with other people is something that is called “Active Listening.” In other words, you’re actively listening and actively engaged paying attention to what the speaker is saying. Here are some tips that people have come up with to assist in active listening: face the speaker and maintain eye contact, be attentive but relaxed, keep an open mind, listen to the words and try to picture what the person is saying, don’t interrupt and impose your solutions, wait for the speaker to pause before you ask clarifying questions, ask questions only to ensure understanding, try to feel what the speaker is feeling, give the speaker regular feedback. So, are you a good listener? Certainly we all want to learn good listening techniques when we’re dealing with other people. But what about with God? Are we active listeners when it comes to what God has to tell us?

In Samuel’s day we’re told that the Word of the Lord was rare. It seems that for about 300 years during the period of Israel’s history while they were ruled by people called judges, there were only 2 prophets from God that we know about. You see, one of the greatest judgements from God on a certain people is that when they no longer appreciate his Word, He takes His gospel from them. That doesn’t surprise us. A few weeks ago we saw how King Herod and the religious officials from Jerusalem heard the Magi message, saw the prophecy in Scripture where the Christ was to be born, but they didn’t appreciate the message, so only the Magi got to see their Savior and their salvation. The same is true today. Let us continue to appreciate God’s message!

How do we do this? By continuing to listen to our Lord’s voice, His speaking to us, to keep saying with our thoughts and words and actions, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” That’s what Samuel did. When we find Samuel in our text this morning we’re not exactly sure how old he is, but some have supposed he was around 12 years old. If you remember Samuel’s background, he was the son of a woman named Hannah. Hannah had been barren and prayed to the Lord that if he would give her a son, she would give him over to the Lord for service in God’s house. In mercy, the Lord granted her request and she brought Samuel up in the training and instruction of the Lord and taught him to honor, respect, and obey. Then, when he was very young, she brought him to the house of the Lord and stayed there day and night. He probably did things like open the doors for people to come in, replenish the oil in the lamps, and so on. Part of his job was also helping out the aging priest, Eli, who was getting quite old and we’re told was not able to see well anymore.

One night, as Samuel was in his bed sleeping and it was probably very early in the morning since the “lamp of God had not yet gone out,” Samuel heard someone call, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel dutifully jumped out of bed and ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Now, I’m a parent and I have young children, now, when I try calling them in broad daylight, in the middle of the day, when they are wide awake, it may take 4, 5, 6 times of calling before they slowly and sluggishly come or say, “just a minute.” But Samuel was different. Three times he was called and each time he came running to Eli to see what he wanted and Eli kept telling him, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” Now we’re told that “Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.” It would be terribly naïve of us to think that means Samuel didn’t know who the Lord was. He had been brought up by a God-fearing mother, he was working in the house of the Lord day and night. He knew the Lord. But what had never happened to him before was that the Lord was speaking directly with Samuel, he didn’t recognize the Lord’s voice and that’s why he kept thinking it was Eli who was calling him.

Well, finally the third time Samuel went to Eli and Eli finally realized what was going on. He “realized that the LORD was calling the boy.” So, Eli correctly told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.” There is nothing better in all of life that Eli could have directed someone than to say those words. So, Samuel went back and lay down as before. And then the Lord Himself came and called to Samuel the fourth time: “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Samuel would go on to become a great prophet leading the nation of Israel through the transition of having judges to kings. Yet, what made Samuel great was not so much that he could speak to people, but that he would listen. Listen to the Lord speaking to him. And I would say to you that no matter what you strive for in life, what will make you or me someone great, isn’t so much how well we speak, but how well we listen, and not just how well we listen in general, but how well we listen to the Lord.

And notice something else. Samuel had no idea what the Lord would require of him or what the Lord would ask of him. He didn’t know the ins and outs of what God was going to tell him. He didn’t know where the Lord’s direction would lead him. He didn’t know what his future held. But notice his response, his attitude: “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

The truth is that’s what God calls each of us to as well, to actively listen to Him. And how do we listen to God’s voice? When Martin Luther was a student at the University of Erfurt he was studying in the library when he came across a Bible and he happened to open it up to this account and began reading. He was fascinated and thought how great it would be to be like Samuel and to hear God’s voice. But the truth that he rediscovered is that God DOES speak to us! He speaks to us through the words of the Bible.

So, are you listening? Am I? Do we have the same attitude as Samuel, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening?” What is our attitude toward God’s Word? Is listening to our God’s Word the most important thing we do each day? If someone was objectively watching your life or mine on a day to day basis would they be able to tell that the most important thing to us is listening to our God?

And it’s not just listening either, is it? God also wants us to be ready to do whatever it is that he tells us to do no matter the implications. God asks husbands and fathers to lead their homes by being the greatest servants and putting their family before their own interests. “But, but, I just need time for myself, I work hard all day isn’t that enough?” No. “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” God asks wives and mothers to be servant helpers to their husbands and families. “But, how could I possibly submit to my husband, when he rarely shows me he loves me?” “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” God wants children to obey their parents. “But, I want to do my own thing, I know what’s better for me than they do.” No. “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” How often are we not all guilty of presuming to know more about how to run this universe, what would be best for our lives, what God should be doing than God does.  How much don’t we say, “Listen Lord, your servant is speaking?”  “Listen Lord, I could sure use more money in the bank account, a better job, a new car, more obedient children, a more understanding spouse, etc, etc.”

But remember Samuel. What made him such a good prophet of God wasn’t so much what he said, but that he listened, listened to God.  But why? Why would Samuel characterize his life by listening to God? Why would we ever want to conform our lives to listening to God? It’s because of who our God is. You see, we have a God who listened to us and to our needs far before we were even able to speak. We have a God who planned out our eternal rescue from horridness of sin’s slavery, the fear of death, and the punishment of hell, long before we were even born. We have a God who listened so intently to our every need that He came in this world. Jesus came in order to be the perfect listener, to listen and to do perfectly everything that God wanted from you and me in our place. Jesus even listened to the point of going to the cross and assuming in Himself God’s righteous wrath for all of our sins. Why would we ever want to listen to our God? Because again and again through God’s Word He reminds us of the precious good news of His endless love for us, of His joy in rescuing us eternally, of His plan to bring us home to heaven.

So what do you do? Where do you start? First, make it a habit, schedule a time every day where you can say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” Open the Bible or if you have an audio Bible listen to it. Second, meditate on it. Take a short section and ask yourself over and over again, “What does this mean? What is my Lord telling me here?” What’s amazing is that in the Hebrew the word “meditate” is also used for the word “growl”- it’s like what a dog does with a large bone. It takes it to a quiet place, it chews on it, relishes it, turns it over. Do that with God’s Word. Thirdly, keep at it. Chinese bamboo is very interesting. When you plant it, it spends over 4 years underneath the ground, nothing is seen, but then in the fifth year it grows some 80 feet in just 6 weeks. Perhaps we’re tempted to stop listening to the Lord because something is difficult, but don’t give up, keep at it, the Lord will bless it. And finally, don’t just listen, do what the Lord tells you. Why? Because you know that the Lord who loved you so much to rescue you eternally, will only tell you what will bless you eternally. May you have such a Samuel attitude, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Amen.

Given to the Lord

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7th Sunday of Easter
1 Samuel 1:21-28

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear people of God, What are you sacrificing for? We make sacrifices all the time for a greater good, don’t we? Let me explain: If you’re planning to take an expensive vacation or buy a new boat or get a new car or purchase a new home or whatever, you have to make sacrifices. You decide not to buy any and everything that you’d like, you might decide not to go out to eat so much, you might decide to not take a vacation one year so you can have a better one the next year- you make sacrifices for the greater good. Those sacrifices become the means to achieve a greater goal. It’s also why we’re celebrating what we’re celebrating this weekend. This weekend we’re honoring those men and women in our armed forces who are or were willing to sacrifice many things – even their lives – for the greater good of preserving the ideals and values that our nation holds dear, particularly our freedoms. Their own lives become the means to the end goal of preserving our nation’s freedoms.

We do this sort of thing all the time in our lives, don’t we? We make sacrifices for a greater goal. And, yet, so often for some not-so-honorable goals. We might have an end goal in life of being able to retire and be financially sound or have a lot of money, but what are we willing to sacrifice for that end goal? Our marriage? Our relationship with our children? Our health? All those things- marriage, children, health – have become the means to the end goal of money. Or, we might have a goal of being popular or well-liked by many people, but what are we willing to sacrifice for that? Our values? Our faith? Compromise and do things we know are wrong or sinful?

What we have here in our text this morning is an end goal switch in Hannah’s heart that makes all the difference. Let’s look at: Hannah’s hurt Hannah’s hope, our hurt, our hope

To understand our text we have to first understand that this is part of a larger account. You see, we’re told right away that Hannah’s husband Elkanah had two wives. Now, perhaps you’ve noticed that this comes up a number of times in the Old Testament and perhaps you’ve struggled a bit with these polygamous marriages that we see in the Bible. But if you ever come away from one of these texts and think that God is condoning polygamy, you’re not reading it. Every time that it comes up we see it bring just incredible disaster and hardship and problems to families. This is one of those times.

Hannah could not have children, Peninnah – Elkanah’s other wife – could. So, Peninnah mocks and taunts and ridicules Hannah and Hannah is devastated, she weeps, she can’t eat, she’s crying all the time. Now, why is Hannah so devastated? We have to understand the context of this time. At this time both family and society depended on women having children. First, the more children you had, the more money you had. More children meant more workers the family had in the field. The more workers, the greater prosperity you enjoyed. Secondly, the more children you had, the greater chances you could live into old age with some degree of comfort. They, of course, didn’t have social security or 401ks, so older people were cared for by their children. And lastly, your country needed a lot of children because the more children the country had the more people it had, the more people, the greater the army. If your army was larger than the enemy, it was more likely that you would win. So, women who had children were viewed as heroes, they were patriots.

So, NOT being able to have children was essentially equal to hopelessness. It meant no foreseeable future for your family, for yourself, or for your nation. And that’s what Peninnah reminded Hannah of over and over again.  To them in that culture having a family was the ultimate thing. But every culture has a value system, it does this to something, it makes something the ultimate thing so that if you don’t have it, you’re nothing, you’re worthless. Perhaps today it’s achievement, prosperity, or popularity – if you don’t have it, you’re considered less and not important.

So that was Hannah’s hurt. But what did she do? She made a resolve. Once, while the family was at Shiloh- where the tabernacle was, Hannah made a resolve, she went to the tabernacle, prayed to the Lord and made a vow that if the Lord should give her a son, she would give her son to the Lord to serve him for his whole life. He would become a Nazirite. Now, at first, it seems like she’s making some kind of a deal with God: Give me a son and I’ll give him to you. But that would still be making having a child the ultimate thing and God just a means to that end. But that’s not what Hannah did. You see, after she made this vow to the Lord, she went home, she ate, and she was no longer downcast. In other words, she had peace. If it was a bargain she was making with God it would have gone like this: prayer, pregnancy, and then peace. But it doesn’t work that way. She has peace before she gets pregnant. And she promises to give her son to the Lord. Should the Lord give her a son, she would give her son to be a non-Levitical priest, a Nazirite. This meant that her son would live in God’s house from the time he was very little – probably 3 years old. That means she wouldn’t have a son to show off to all the people, he wouldn’t be there – he’d be at the tabernacle. That means she wouldn’t have a son so that the family could prosper, the son would be doing the Lord’s work. That means she wouldn’t have a son to have some financial security because he’s gone, he’s dedicated to service in God’s house.

And so, can you picture it? They are on their way to Shiloh- Elkanah has a massive 3 year old bull that he’s leading – which would have been a huge sacrifice for a farmer, and Hannah is leading her little 3 year old boy hand in hand to give him to the Lord. Wow! How could she do that? How could she give up her son like that? Well, this is what changed in Hannah- she says, “I’m not going to rest my heart in what society says, I’m not going to rest my heart in culture or in my husband’s love or in the desire to have a child, I’m going to rest my heart in the Lord, I’m putting my hope in the Lord.” No longer is she wanting a child for her, but for the Lord. She doesn’t want a child for her sake, but for the Lord’s sake. God is no longer the means to the end of having a child, but having a child is the means to the end of glorifying the Lord. See the difference? Israel was a terrible spiritual disaster at this time- they needed a solid spiritual leader. Hannah says, “I no longer want a child for me, I want a child for the Lord, I want a child for spiritual strength of the nation through whom God is going to send the Savior into the world.” In other words, she set her sight not on the temporary, not on the seen, but on the unseen, the glory and salvation of God and His kingdom.

What about you? Do you have a hurt like Hannah? Do you have a hole in your life that you want desperately to be filled? Has God become just the means to the end of having whatever it is your heart is really desiring? Are you willing to dedicate your job, your career, your family, your prized possessions to the service of the Lord? Are we willing to say, “Lord, thank you for this job you’ve given me, the career you’ve blessed me with, may I use it for your glory?” Are we willing to say, “Lord, thank you for the family you’ve given me, may I honor and glorify you with it.” Fix your eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

But how does that happen? How do we have that eternal perspective? How can we have that willingness to sacrifice for the greater good of the Lord and His kingdom like Hannah? It doesn’t come from within us, it comes from outside of us. Hannah prayed for a son to be given for the work of the Lord. Hannah then gave that son up for the work of the Lord. The work of the Lord, however, was all working toward one goal: to bring the Savior into this world. Yes, Hannah sacrificed having her son for herself for the greater good of God’s work and His kingdom. But, that doesn’t come close the sacrifice God made on behalf of you and me. Jesus, God’s own Son, wasn’t only given to the work of the Lord, but Jesus was sacrificed- not just by living in God’s house – but really sacrificed on a cross.  In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, “Lord, your will not mine be done.”  Jesus kept God’s plan of salvation first and foremost- even above His own life, He did so in your place and mine for all the times we’ve selfishly made other things more important than God and His work.  And He was dealt all the blows, all the wrath, all the punishment from God Himself for all your sins and mine. Why? Because in the heart of God is a love so great, so boundless, so amazing that the greater good to God is having you and me in heaven with him forever.

Perhaps you’re feeling the hurt of some hole in your life right now or perhaps you’re tempted to be controlled by the value system of the society, culture, and world that we live in- as if money, things, relationships are the ultimate goal that you should sacrifice everything else for. But don’t focus on the seen, but the unseen. Realize what Hannah realized: In the Lord you have all the significance, worth, and love you’ll ever need. And since you have him you can sacrifice all the lesser things for the greater goal of having the Lord and doing His work and like Hannah have peace.  Amen.

Where is True Courage Found?

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4th Sunday of Easter
1 Samuel 17:34-37

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,

Do you ever have nightmares? I think we all know what they are but a nightmare is an elaborate dream full of imagery that incites us to fear, anxiety, stress, or sadness. We often remember them because they cause us to suddenly wake up and perhaps even in a sweat. Whatever it was that we were dreaming about seemed so real and so horrible and so terrifying. Even children can experience nightmares. There will be times when we’ll hear one of our children crying during the night and the only explanation is that they had a nightmare. But whatever it is that we have nightmares about can reveal to us what it is that we are actually afraid of in life. Maybe it’s losing something or losing someone, maybe it’s being humiliated or embarrassed, or being a failure of some kind. And everyone has different fears and it’s not always physical pain or death. Some people are more afraid of being humiliated or embarrassed or feeling like a failure than dying.

We humans, by nature, are fearful. In that way, we’re actually quite similar to sheep. As I understand it, sheep are very fearful and skittish. I once read a story about how some visitors came to a farm and had their tiny puppy jump out of the car and the mere sight of that unknown little animal caused the farmers entire flock of 200 sheep to stampede across the field in sheer terror. So what is it that makes you afraid? What gives you nightmares?

At the time of our text there’s a whole army that’s paralyzed by fear. The Israelites are at war with the Philistines. And they’ve drawn up battle lines. There’s one side, there’s no man’s land, then there’s the other line of battle. And every day the Philistine hero Goliath- who happened to be just a massive person – 9 feet tall, his armor weighed some 125 pounds. He would come out taunt the Israelites, mock them, insult God, mock God, and he made an offer. Instead of both armies fighting it out, they could pick one individual to fight for them and he would fight for the Philistines and whoever one that one-on-one match, that side would win the war.

But here’s the problem: King Saul isn’t fighting him, no one in the army is volunteering to fight him, they’re all cowering in fear. But there’s more, by NOT fighting him, they’re allowing him to go on these tirades insulting the Lord, mocking the Lord, and by allowing it they’re actually giving some credence to what he’s saying! They’re full of doubt about the Lord’s ability and power and love to rescue and deliver them!

But then comes David. He’s apparently for whatever reason not fit to be in the army. He’s been tending his father’s sheep. He comes bringing a care package for his brothers in the army and he hears what Goliath is saying and he’s appalled. He can’t believe no one is standing up to him, no one is confronting him. So, David says, “I’ll do it, I’ll go.” They bring David to Saul and Saul says, “You can’t go, you’re only a boy, and he’s an experienced soldier!”

But this is David’s reply. He’s been shepherding sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, David went over and above the normal call of duty – shepherds were not required to risk their lives on behalf of their flock- but David went after the lion or the bear, rescued the sheep from their mouths and when the vicious animals turned on him, he grabbed them and struck them, probably with a knife killing them. Now can you imagine what kind of a heart for sheep such action requires? I mean, I’ve never tended sheep, but I have a feeling that if I did and a lion took one of the sheep and I didn’t have a rifle, I’d probably write that sheep off. I can imagine David not relishing the idea of fighting a lion or a bear, but he had such care for the sheep that he did. Those would have certainly been challenging experiences, but notice what God was doing with them, He was training David for this moment. God often builds our trust in him by bringing us through challenging circumstances.

But notice David’s confession of faith: “This uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” Courageously David steps up and you know the end of the story, David defeats Goliath and Israel routs the Philistines.

So what does this mean for us? Who are we more like in this account? We all would probably like to think that we’re like David, but isn’t it true that we’re far more like Saul or one of the men in the army? Aren’t we all too often the cowards? Yes, we face many things in life, we can experience nightmares, maybe it’s losing someone, or losing something, maybe it’s being humiliated or embarrassed or feeling like a failure and that will drive us to live our lives in fear so that ________ doesn’t happen to us.

But the reality is, we face something much worse that we don’t often consider. God says, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” What ought to fill us with a great amount of fear are the spiritual battles that we face day in and day out. The temptations to sin, the temptations to give anything less than 100 percent commitment to our spouse, the temptation to give more to our work and our jobs than to our families, the temptation to be angry, bitter, jealous, selfish, prideful. Like ignorant sheep we often wander right into sin and temptation and that ought to terrify us because any sin seperates us from our God and puts our souls and our salvation at risk!

We need courage. We need courage to face our fears, we need courage to face the daily battle against sin, Satan and temptation. Where is courage found? Saul had no courage- he just melted in fear. Goliath had courage, right? But it was a false courage. Goliath’s courage was in himself, in his strength, in his abilities, in his armor. But it was a false courage. He failed. Perhaps we might look at an account like this and get the wrong idea- the lesson is that I need to trust God more, if only I could find it in myself to have more faith, more courage so I can act like David against the big things in life that I’m facing. But all that is is Goliath type courage. True courage doesn’t come from yourself.

Rather, look at David. David had a shepherd’s heart, he put himself on the line in order to rescue a sheep. Against Goliath he really become a substitute, he represented the nation of Israel against Goliath, but he knew it wasn’t him who was going to win the victory, it was the Lord. By God’s grace we have an infinitely better shepherd than David. In Jesus we have a Shepherd who stepped into battle as our substitute. He faced something infinitely worse than a lion, a bear, or a Goliath, he faced the wrath of God for the sins of the world. He faced the nightmare of all nightmares. You see, the ultimate nightmare is standing before a holy and perfect God and having to answer for every careless word, every shameful thought and every disgusting deed we’ve done.

But that’s what your Good Shepherd, Jesus, faced in your place and in mine.  See, God doesn’t save us by giving us an example to follow, like be a better David, no, He saves by substitution. Jesus came so that His perfect life has become your perfect life, his innocent death has become the payment for all your sins, and his resurrection is your guarantee of eternal life. And knowing that is who your God is and who your Good Shepherd is gives true courage. Jesus, the Lord of the universe, left heaven to experience humiliation, rejection, pain, and death and all for what purpose? Only one: to rescue His sheep, to rescue you!

Knowing that gives true courage. Since Jesus faced the ultimate nightmare for me I can face the little nightmares of life knowing it’s going to be all right, I can face them all knowing that my salvation has been already won and eternal life is my future. Amen.


Bathsheba: My Son, My King


3rd Wednesday of Advent
2 Samuel 11:1-17

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, Why does God give us certain commands? Why does God want us to obey what He tells us? Is it just God’s way of holding us back, does God just want us to miss out on the fun that the sinful world has to offer? Does God just not understand how much better it would be for us to sin than not to sin? Is God just restricting us? Why does God give us certain commands? If we think those things, we don’t truly know who our God really is. Yes, God is the ultimate and final King, so if He tells us to do something, we have no right to question Him in any way. But there’s far more to it than that. Our God is also a God of love. So, even the commands that God has given us are expressions of His deep care and love for us His people.

Disobeying God and sinning always bring about pain and heartache. And we see that in this familiar account of David and Bathsheba. Well, what do we know about Bathsheba? For the few things that we do know about her, there’s a ton that we don’t know. We know that she lived in a home that wasn’t that far from the king’s palace, perhaps that indicates that she was part of circle of people close to the king. We know that she was the daughter of Eliam, an important official of David’s. We also know that she was the wife of Uriah the Hittite, who was also one of David’s royal guard, his mighty men, an excellent and devoted soldier, a close friend of his, who happens to be gone fighting for His king and country. And we know that she was very beautiful.

And one evening David’s at home and he has nothing better to do, so he looks out over the city and sees her bathing. Well, first we must ask, “Why was he at home?” Where should he have been? He should have been off at war with his fellow soldiers- that’s what kings were supposed to do. But, David is at home. He’s unfaithful in something rather small, but look where it leads. As he sees her he covets, he lusts, he inquires about her and sends for her. What’s going on with David? This is how sin often begins, isn’t it? Can you just picture David spinning a web of rationalizations, defenses, self-deception as he concocts a plan? “I deserve this, I’ve been such a hard worker, I’ve been so faithful, I deserve this “little” self-indulgence, no one will know about it, it will happen only this once, after all I am the king, after all God clearly loves me- I can do what I want.” That’s not a little baby step towards unbelief, that’s a huge leap! “God loves me, I can do what I want.”

What happens next? Bathsheba comes. Now, we don’t know exactly what’s going on with her. We don’t hear about her protest or refuse to come or even try to turn him down in anyway. But we also have to understand that David was a king, he was a dictator, there weren’t any checks and balances like we have in government, he was king and when the king summoned, you came. He used his power as king to commit sin and include someone else in his sin! She goes to him, she sleeps with him, and she finds out that she’s pregnant.  And what’s the punishment for adultery? Death for both the man and the wife.

Then what follows is David’s attempt to cover everything up, first he brings Uriah home, hoping he’ll go home sleep with his wife and no one will know the difference, but when Uriah doesn’t go home, David gets him drunk, still doesn’t go home, David sends him back to battle with directions to essentially murder him (and the other soldiers with him). And when it happens, David responds callously, “Well, that’s what happens in war, people die.” And then takes Bathsheba as his wife and nine months pass.

But the pain begins. Sin always, always brings pain and heartache. We hear about some of David’s pain throughout this nine months from the Psalms. David talks about how when he kept silent his bones wasted away, groaning all day long, God’s hand was heavy upon him, his strength was sapped. That’s what guilt does. When we try to hide our sins it eats us away spiritually, emotionally, and even physically. But there was going to be more pain too. His child was going to die, in fact, he was going to end up losing 4 children and deal with all kinds of trouble in his family. Sin always, always brings pain and heartache.

What about Bathsheba? Is it fair to say that she, too, struggled with guilt from their sin? She, too, would experience the loss of her child, something I’m sure she would never be able to completely forget about. Sin wreaked havoc on her life too: adultery, involved in the corruption of power, loss of a husband by a violent act of murder, loss of a child.

There’s a saying which says, “You can choose your sin, but you can’t choose its consequences.” As believers we face choices every day. We have choices to either obey God or sin, God or our sinful nature. And while we can choose to do evil, we can’t forecast all the pain, hardship, and heartache that it will wreak in our lives or the lives of others. The reality is that sin always has consequences.

You see, all this started when David broke God’s commands: Do not covet, do not lust, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not murder. God’s commands are not here to restrict us, burden us, cause us to miss out. God’s commands really exist for our blessing, to protect us from the pain and consequences of sin. You see, it’s sin that separates us from our God. But God in His grace wants nothing less than to draw ever closer to us.

So what does God do? He allows there to be consequences to sin. If David didn’t feel any consequences for his sin, he would have kept going down a path that leads away from God and finally to unbelief and hell. By God’s grace, God doesn’t abandon David or Bathsheba, but He sends the prophet Nathan to confront David with his sin and by the power of God working through His word David was convicted of his sin, repented and immediately forgiven.  That’s the grace of our God, He wants nothing less than to draw us to Himself with His forgiving love.

And yet after confronting them and forgiving them, God does something even more! He blesses them with another child, Solomon, and how fitting that his name means “the peaceful one” and we’re told was loved by the Lord. In spite of their sin, their rebellion against God and His commands, God forgave them and blessed them with another child, the peaceful one. What was it that was going to cleanse them from the guilt of their sins? What was going to sustain them through the future painful consequences of their sin? What was going to motivate them to follow God’s laws in the future? It was knowing who was coming. And in the genealogy of Jesus in Mathew 1 we’re told that Jesus, the Savior, descended from Solomon, the peaceful one, whose father was David and whose mother “had been Uriah’s wife.”

Do you see the grace of God? He brings the Savior into the world from sinners in order to save sinners. God took all the filth of David’s sin, all the filth of Bathsheba’s sin, all the filth of your sin and my sin, and put it on Bathsheba’s son Jesus who paid it in our place on the cross. Yes, Bathsheba suffered because of the sin and lust of someone else, but Jesus was totally innocent and yet He suffered all the pain and punishment of the sin of everyone else. Yes, David was a king who used his power to commit sin, but Jesus is THE king who used His power to NOT sin and to pay for and forgive the sin of all.

That’s the son we’re preparing to receive this Advent season. And we prepare by listening and obeying the gracious commands of our true King and live to thank our true King for the real peaceful one, the one of whom angels sang was born to bring peace and pardon to people on whom God’s favor rests.  That’s Bathsheba’s Son, our Savior and our King. Amen.

The Battle is the Lord’s!

14th Sunday after Pentecost
1 Samuel 17:41-50

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ.  What is anxiety?  Well, according to the dictionary it is a feeling of worry, nervousness, unease typically over some imminent event or something with an uncontrollable outcome.  It involves concern, apprehension, and fear.  It often gnaws on minds and causes physical problems like ulcers, restlessness, stress, headaches, lack of sleep, and makes people irritable.  But perhaps the better question is what causes it?  What causes a person to feel anxiety?  What worries or troubles you?  What keeps you from moving forward confidently in life?  At times each of us is faced with something that seems insurmountable that threatens to fill us with anxiety.  For the disciples, it was small boat in a very big storm.  It was surrounded by mountainous waves that filled them with fear and anxiety.  For King Saul and the Israelite soldiers, it was the mighty Philistine army with their giant hero Goliath.  But in the end, whatever causes you or me to be filled with anxiety is finally thinking that either God is not capable or God does not care.  Either God does not have the power or capability to do what we need or He doesn’t care about us.  Both of which are lies, untrue, false.

And we see it in this text.  This is likely one of the most famous accounts in the Old Testament.  It would be easy to breeze over this account and think the main point is “good little man whips big bad man,” but there’s far more here than that.  So what’s going on?  Well, we’re at the time in Israel’s history when they were being ruled by their first king, Saul.  Saul had a good start but soon turned away from God and His Word and then his world began to crumble.  There’s a big lesson there for each of us: whenever we turn away from God and His Word our world will eventually crumble somehow.  The Philistines were an arch enemy of the Israelites, a foreign people whom they had failed to drive out of the Promised Land and became a continual scourge for the Israelites.  Perhaps the Philistines had heard about Saul’s mental and emotional struggles and launched an attack against Israel.  They marched into Israel and were not too far from Bethlehem, David’s hometown.  The Israelite army met them and they drew battle lines on the opposite side of a valley.

The Philistines had one warrior who was over 9 feet tall.  His armor weighed around 125 pounds, the head of his spear weighed 15 pounds, and he used a shield bearer to carry his shield into battle for him.  To all human judgment the chances of victory seemed to be on the side of the sword and the spear.  He also had a “humane” way to deal with the war.  The Israelites could pick one guy who would fight him one on one and the winner would take all.  Instead of the whole armies going to battle whichever representative won the other side would become their slaves.  Well, none of the Israelites wanted anything to do with this one-on-one challenge.  Instead, they were terrified, including King Saul – who, as king, was supposed to lead the people and fight their battles.  But remember, they were God’s chosen people, God promised them this land, God promised to be with them, God promised to bring a Savior into the world through them, and this guy was mocking and ridiculing God’s honor.  So what was the real problem?  Either God is not capable or God does not care.  No one was willing.

No one, that is, until David showed up.  David was bringing a care package from his father to his older brothers when he heard Goliath mocking the Israelites and the Lord God.  He asked about this Goliath guy and eventually was brought to king Saul.  Then David, probably in his late teens, offered to take on Goliath’s challenge.  Why?  Because, he often had to fend off wild animals from his the sheep he shepherded and “the LORD who delivered me from the pau of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (37).  Did you notice where David placed his confidence?  It wasn’t in himself, it wasn’t in his superior strength, it wasn’t in his abilities, it wasn’t in his weapons, it was in the LORD.  The LORD who was on the Israelites side, hence on David’s side.

So off David goes into battle armed with a sling and five smooth stones.  Goliath sees him and he’s enraged.  “Am I dog, that you come at me with sticks?” “Come here and I’ll give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field.”  If anyone had confidence in himself, it was Goliath.  David’s response is key: “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you defied.  This day the LORD will hand you over to me…all those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”  It wasn’t David’s battle, it wasn’t Goliath’s battle, it wasn’t the Philistines’ battle, it wasn’t Israel’s battle, it was the LORD’s battle.  He is the LORD – David’s Savior God of free and faithful love.

Then David rushed Goliath slung the stone, hit Goliath in the forehead, Goliath fell and David finished him off with his own sword, the Israelites were re-energized and routed the Philistines.  It was a huge victory for Israel.

We, like those Israelites, can easily fall into anxiety when we face things in life and conclude: either God is not capable of helping or God does not care, both of which are lies.  But when we believe either we’re easy victims of worry and fear.  Goliath was certainly an enemy of the Israelites, but all he could attack was the body.  We face battles every day.  Battles against Satan, battles against the vices of this world, battles against our own fears, our own worries, our own anxiety, our own self-confidence, our own pride.  Each of us faces time and again insurmountable odds, insurmountable obstacles, insurmountable giants.  And each can fill our hearts and our souls with worry and anxiety, each can make us question whether or not God is capable, whether or not God cares, each can skew our perspective and focus us not on God but on ourselves and what we need to do in order to help ourselves.  By ourselves we’re no match for the battles our souls face every day.

We need a leader, we need a leader greater than David.  And in Jesus we have such a leader.  He went into battle, the most important battle ever waged, the battle against Satan and every temptation, he went into war against Goliath of Golgotha taking upon Himself the sin of every human being- yours and mine included- dying on the cross for every time you and I have been worried, nervous, anxious, and afraid.  Then in a glorious display of triumph and victory he rose from the dead showing that our hero, our leader, our Lord is BOTH capable of doing anything AND He does care about us more than we will every fathom.  He cares about us enough to win eternal life for us and give it to us as a free gift!

So where does confidence come from for life?  What’s the answer to worry and anxiety?  Worry and anxiety happen when we lose our focus, lose our perspective, we take our trust off of God and place it something else.  It’s amazing how much we want to be like David, the underdog who goes into a seemingly insurmountable battle with essentially only trust in God, we want to be like him, but how often do we live like Goliath?  We do so when we put our trust in “spear and sword.”  When we find or security in life in our careers, in our savings accounts, in our health, in our homes, in stuff, but stuff can’t save us.  Stuff can’t free us from worry and anxiety because it IS incapable and it doesn’t care about us.

So what’s the answer to worry and anxiety?  With David look to your faithful, saving Lord.  Look to Jesus and you’re reminded that the Lord who loved you enough to send His Son for your salvation is not going to abandon you ever.  Look to Jesus and you’re reminded that God’s wisdom is far greater to anything this world can come up with and so whatever giant you’re facing is an opportunity to trust in Him.  Look to Jesus, and you’re reminded of God’s power – power to change circumstances and help you through the worst of circumstances.  Look to Jesus, and you’re reminded that even if you’re facing death itself, this life isn’t it and because Jesus lives you will live eternally in heaven.

So, who are you doing to be?  An Israelite soldier who faces life’s troubles questioning whether God is capable or God cares?  Facing life with resignation, fear and worry?  A Goliath who trusts in stuff that WILL fail?  Or a David, who faces battles, troubles, and insurmountable objects with joy and confidence because you look not to yourself, not to stuff, but to your faithful Lord and Savior who IS capable of anything and has shown time and again that He DOES care about you and your salvation?  Be a David, trust in your Savior, for the battle- every battle- is the LORD’s.  Amen.

The Heart Makes All the Difference

1st Sunday after Epiphany
1 Samuel 16:1-13

Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, I’ve known my wife for almost 10 years; you know that’s almost a whole decade!  We knew each other as acquaintances/classmates for about 2 years, we were dating and engaged for about 2 years, and this year we are going on 6 years of marriage!  That’s almost 10 years!  We’ve moved about 5 times together, lived in 3 different states together, traveled together, done all kinds of things together, are in the process of raising 3 kids together, and after all that and after doing all that together, spending all that time together, I still can’t actually see inside my wife’s heart. J

Now, I’ll bet if you asked anyone in here who’s been married to their spouse for even over 50 years!!  (Can you imagine 50 years together and all the things you’ve done or been through?)  My guess is that they’d tell you that they, too, can’t actually see inside their spouse’s heart.

And yet, even though I can’t see inside Katie’s heart, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that she loves me.  Why?  She’s shown it to me in many countless ways!  Told me in more ways than I can ever remember!  But I can’t actually see into her heart of hearts.  God has reserved that ability to look inside someone’s heart only for Himself.  But even though we are limited from seeing each other’s hearts, our relationship still works.  How is that?  Because our relationship still depends on what’s inside our hearts.  What goes on inside of us – the love, the compassion, the commitment, the forgiveness- that keeps us united as we live out our days together.  And I’m confident that’s true about every married couple here today.

Well it’s also true about another relationship you and I have: our relationship with God.  What matters most of all is our heart.  The heart makes all the difference.  Our text for this morning illustrates that so well.  Samuel was a prophet of God, someone with whom God spoke directly.  And when the people of Israel complained to God that they wanted a king just like all the unbelieving nations around them, Samuel anointed Saul as their king.  Saul was impressive- tall and powerful.  He looked every inch like a king was supposed to look.  If you were there and saw him you’d say, “Now there’s a king!”  But unfortunately what looked good on the outside became terrible on the inside, he ended up turning away from God in pride and rebellion and wickedness.

So, God directed Samuel to go and anoint someone else to be king, someone GOD was going to choose.  At first Samuel hesitated, “How can I go?  Not only is Saul incredibly jealous, but he’s likely to kill me if he finds out I’m anointing someone else as king!”  But wait a minute.  Samuel’s talking with whom??  He’s talking with God!  God’s directing him to go!  Come on Samuel!  Who’s stronger God or Saul?  But the same is often true with us, right?  Who’s stronger God or that big challenge were facing?  God or that thing that’s filling us with fear?

Well, Samuel went with a dual purpose to offer a sacrifice and anoint a new king and when he arrived at Bethlehem, at first, the elders of the people were trembling and asked him, “Do you come in peace?”  At first we might wonder, “Why are they so scared that Samuel came?”  Apparently, Samuel had a reputation – especially at this wayward time of Israel’s history- to suddenly and unexpectedly show up and confront and punish sinful and wicked behavior.  In the previous chapter Samuel had just shown up at a certain place and killed a wicked, heathen king in front of a bunch of people because Saul had refused to.

So Samuel assures them that he’s come in peace and then he takes Jesse off to the side and sees his first son, Eliab, certainly a fine young lad with fine features fit for a king.  But the Lord said, “No, not him.”  Then the second son, then the third son, and down the line through each of the 7 sons of Jesse.  Each one was a “no.”  You can just imagine Samuel thinking, “Umm, God, did I miss something here, we’re running out of sons!”  But wait!  There’s one still left, the youngest one, the one his father didn’t even consider enough of to have at the sacrifice, HE was the one God had chosen!  No human would have ever made that choice for the king, but God did.  Why?  Because to God the heart makes all the difference, the heart matters more than the looks, God cares about the heart, the heart that only He can see.

You see God has the awesome ability to look right past our appearances right down to our very heart and soul.  He can see right through us down to our innermost being.  He looks right past our outward actions down to our very motives and our very thoughts.  His ears pierce right through our words and hear the inner attitudes of our hearts.  And that is where God goes to make His judgments about us.

You see, we might be able to hide our hearts from other people, other human beings, but we can’t hide our hearts from God.  And what exactly is it that God sees as he looks right down inside of our hearts?  Does He not see that our actions – even our most pious ones- are still tainted with sin and selfishness?  Does He not see that so often our motivation behind even the good things we do is a false idea that we can earn something from Him?  He sees the uncaring, unkind thoughts and feelings behind our seemingly good words.  The fact that God can see our hearts must leave us with the conclusion that our relationship with God cannot be good.  He hates sin and here I am full of that sin!  That sin that condemns me.  That sin that kills me.

But what about David?  Was he anything special?  Was his heart completely clean when God chose him?  We know what his record was – certainly he did some great stuff- but at the same time he also did some horrendous things!  His heart was just as wretched as ours.  And yet, unworthy as he was, the Lord still chose him, still anointed him to be His servant!  What love of our God!

And what love of our God for us!  We are nothing special before God.  There’s nothing beautiful or special or righteous about us.  But in spite of our ugliness, our sins, God still chooses to make us His own!  If anyone could see inside our hearts, they’d never guess God could pick us.  If anyone could actually see the filth of what’s inside of us, they’d laugh at the prospect of God choosing us.  But, God “saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.

It was God’s mercy that led Him to send His own Son.  It was mercy that led Jesus to be baptized.  No, Jesus wasn’t baptized because He had to be, He had no sin, His entire life He had no sin.  His heart was completely pure, completely clean.  His heart just overflowed with love for people to help and serve them no matter the cost, His heart was completely empty of unkind thoughts, revenge or anger.  He wasn’t baptized for Himself, rather He was carrying our problems, our infirmities, our weaknesses, our sins upon Himself, He became like us in every way, He submitted Himself under every law in order to redeem you and me, He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, His punishment brought us peace and He did this in order to fill our empty, sinful hearts with His love and His holiness.

If God did this for David a murderer and adulterer, if God did this for Paul a persecutor and killer, then He’s certainly done it for you also.  How can you know it for sure?  Look to when God anointed you with the Holy Spirit, look to your baptism when God the Holy Spirit entered your heart to make His home there, look to your baptism where you were washed in the forgiveness of Jesus’ own blood, look to your baptism where God removed your filthy heart of sin and gave you a new, clean heart.  He saved you through “the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”  In your baptism God anointed you, chose you, marked you, saved you, to be his child and heir forever!

Now God looks into our hearts and he sees faith.  He sees His own Holy Spirit working trust and hope in Christ.  He sees a new heart that wants to love and live for God; that wants to be kind, compassionate, caring and serve other people.  You see, our heart makes all the difference because His heart has made all the difference for us.  He looks right into our hearts, he looks at all of us, and because of His Son, he can say of you and me as he did of His own son, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Amen.