J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

To Serve and Protect – 1 Samuel 2:9-11

The audio for this sermon can be found here.

 

“To Protect and To Serve” is the motto of the Los Angeles Police Department.  However, over the past two decades, the phrase has become synonymous with almost every police force in the country.  The idea behind the motto is that your police force is to protect and serve the citizenry from those who would commit crimes and injustices, and that idea has become ingrained in our subconscious.  Whether or not people especially like their police, they typically think that is what a police force is supposed to do.  The idea is that citizens should feel safer because the police are present.

 

Though I know some police and law enforcement agencies have debated the exact nature of what it means to protect and serve, I think most folks are comfortable with the idea.  In fact, what happens is that we begin to think that every civil authority should have the same ideals.   The police, firemen, EMS, judges, teachers, should all protect and serve us.

 

We even take this attitude and apply it to what we think God should do.  God should protect and serve us.  I guess the question is, “Should He?

 

What you either believe about God or know about God will determine how you answer that question.  But here is thing, whatever you think you now about God is not going to change whether God will protect and serve you.  God does as He will.  If God is going to protect and serve, it is only going to be because protecting and serving is consistent with His character.  And the only place we are going to discover an immovable and unchangeable view of God’s character is in His scriptures.

 

So, this week, we are going to wrap up the song of Hannah from 1 Samuel 2.  In the last few verses of her song, she is going to speak very much about God’s character and how He interacts with us.  So with that in mind, let’s answer this Big Picture Question:

 

Big Picture Question:  How does God serve and protect His people?

 

Over the last two Sundays, we have explored Hannah’s song as she gives her son, Samuel to God to serve in the priesthood.  In a quick summary, Hannah emphasized that we should live several ways before God.  First, our hearts should exalt in who God is.  Our joy comes from loving God for who He is not because of what God can do for you.  Second, God opposes anyone who trusts in their own strength.  Trusting in your own strength is not trusting God’s strength in the day to day.   God opposes anyone who doesn’t trust Him.  Third & most importantly, God has the right to lift up some & bring some down.  We are to walk in humility before God and trust that He pours grace out to those who are humble.  Having said those things, let’s jump into verse 9.

 

9“He (God) will guard the feet of his faithful ones,

The faithful ones that are mentioned here would be the poor, humble people that trust God seen in verse 8.  In humility if you trust God for both salvation in the eternal sense, and the strength and wisdom in the every day sense, you are considered faithful according to the scriptures.  In fact, the word for faithful ones there can also be translated this way.  “God will protect those who are in covenant with Him” or “He will guard the feet of His covenant ones.”  I bump into people all the time who say they have faith in God, yet they still seem so far and distant from what the Bible describes as a trusting faith.  Maybe a better question would be, “Have you covenanted with God just like in a marriage?”  If you have, God pledges to guard your feet.  God promises to protect you and guard your feet if you are in covenant with Him.

 

Let’s make it specific, if you have pledged yourself to Jesus by faith, declaring that you and your household will serve the Lord, God pledges Himself to you in protection.  In the smallest of ways, each and every day, in ways that we cannot always ascertain, God is about guarding the feet of His children.  And we should look for, expect, and celebrate each of these small protections and blessings as they are a token of the larger salvation and deliverance that we will enjoy with God ultimately in heaven and the coming of His kingdom.

 

Unfortunately, as weak people, we sometimes overlook God’s small blessings in our lives because we want giant large ones.  Let me give you an example:  We miss out on praising God for protecting us in our car (and if you have ever ridden with me, you know what I’m talking about) because we want God to pay off our credit cards.  We miss out on praising God for protecting our children at school because we want God to help us quit fighting with our spouse.  We miss out on praising God for this wonderful church family because we wish the music was different or that we offered some ministry or some service that we presently don’t have.  We miss out on smaller blessings of God because we only satisfied with giant blessings.  Can’t see forest for the trees type of thing.

 

Again, Dale Davis in his wonderful commentary on 1 Samuel gives us a way to enjoy and celebrate these guardings that the Father does for His children.  He says, “A happily married woman may wear a diamond ring and/or a wedding band.  And, if you asked her, she would likely admit that the ring is a token or a sign of the love her husband has for her; she would acknowledge that it is only a sign or a symbol and that the ring is certainly not the love itself but that the real thing is much greater than the ring or symbol of it.  But she will not for that reason despise the ring; she won’t reason that since it is only a symbol she might just as well sell it at her garage sale.  No, because of the deeper reality it signifies she treasures it, though it is, admittedly, relatively insignificant.”  “Likewise, you should not despise or demean these little salvations God works in your behalfs, these little clues he gives, these clear but small evidences he leaves that he is king and the he has this strange way of raising up the poor from the dust and lifting the needy from the ash heap to make them sit in the heavenly realms with Jesus Christ.”

 

God promises to protect you if you are His child by faith.  Even in the smallest of ways each day, He is protecting you.  As you celebrate each small way in which God protects you, your affection for God grows in anticipation of the greater protection there will be in heaven one day.  Perhaps we would do well to consider what are the small blessings that we forget to thank God for?  But as we all know, there is no true protection unless one’s enemies have been defeated.  Look at what God does in verse 9.
But the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall a man prevail. 10 The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven.

 

Now this is strong biblical language:  The wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall a man prevail.  So in the same way that every small rescue for God’s children is a foretaste of an ultimate deliverance and salvation in the coming kingdom, so every small challenge and difficulty that those who do not trust Jesus face is a foretaste of the judgment to come.  God will not let anyone who declares themselves strong apart from God remain standing.  Any strength a person has comes from God, and if a person continues thinking that their strength is their own and never repents, God will humble them for a time but ultimately humble them in punishment in hell – here described as being cut off in darkness.

 

So, here is an interesting question.  How should you react when a professed non-believers in Christ struggling?  Someone you know who clearly does not claim Jesus as their Savior, when they struggle what do you say or really what do you think?  Should you say, “Yeah, that’s what you deserve”?  Or should you say, “God is judging you”?  Though I think you could say both of those I guess, the better picture is to offer them is hope in Christ.  Perhaps God is using this present difficulty to bring them to know Him.

 

To anyone who does not know Christ, you can say, “I don’t know whether God is judging you or not, but I do know that God promises to protect and guard the feet of those who are have faith in Him trouble.  Do you think God is using this situation to get you to think about him?  Does this situation cause you to think about having faith in Jesus?  Is God trying to get your attention by protecting you so far?   A lot is at stake in the midst of our day to day lives.

 

Hannah goes on to make some pretty strong statements.  She matter of factly says, “The adversaries of the Lord will be broken to pieces.  He will thunder out of heaven against them.”  You see, Hannah had an enemy in this world:  Peninnah.  In every way you can imagine, Peninnah was an enemy to Hannah.  She sought to steal the affections of Elkanah, Hannah’s husband.  She mocked Hannah.  She conspired to make her jealous.  She took advantage of things like her ability to have children and mocked Hannah for her inability.  It wasn’t Hannah’s fault that she couldn’t have children, but Peninnah mocked her nonetheless.  And Hannah received rescue from her enemy.  God rescued her.  It’s as if Hannah celebrates her God who would rescue her, and she thinks, “If my tiny, temporal enemy has been defeated, then how much more will God defeat His enemies?”

 

  • God will defeat the proud and all that trust in themselves.
  • God will defeat Satan and all His hellish crew.
  • As certain as the victory of which Hannah sang, so much more will God’s victory be.

 

You know, at SK, we speak of grace and love here as we rightfully should, but God is also a God of justice & wrath opposing all who would stand against Him.  As we saw last week, God gives grace to the Humble but He opposes the proud.  God will break His adversaries to pieces.  None will be left standing to shake their fist at God.  Look at verse 10.

 

The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king and exalt the power of his anointed.”

 

Now, these two statements back to back don’t seem to make much sense.  In the context of what God is saying, it makes sense that God speak about judging everyone to the ends of the earth.  But who is this king that God will give strength to and exalt by the power of his anointed?  What God is speaking of here is the means by which He will judge the earth.  He is going to appoint a King.  He is going to give strength to this King.  And then God is going to lift and exalt this king.  In fact, this King will be His anointed and God will give Him the power to judge.

 

Now, let’s remember, at the time of this writing, Israel does not have a king.    Israel has had several judges that served in similar roles as a king, but as of yet, the people of God have not been ruled over by one person.  The book of 1 Samuel is really about the establishing of Israel’s king, but having this language pop up in the song of a formerly barren woman in the middle of nowhere is odd.  What we have here is no less than God’s promise to save His people.  It is as important as the promise of Jesus coming in Genesis 3:15-16 when God promised that the seed of woman would crush the head of Satan.  God promises here to judge the earth while giving strength to his king and his anointed.

 

Do you remember how last week, we looked at God’s declaration that the pillars of the earth were His?  The entire earth is sustained by God.  Ultimately, Hebrews tells us that it is Jesus who sustains all things by His powerful word.  Because God creates the earth and because God sustains it, He will also will sent His son Jesus one day to judge it.  Whenever God promises to eradicate and conquer sin in this world, it always comes in judgment.    Let’s make this clear:  God is gracious.  His love is poured out to those who have faith in Him.  But God’s grace is never poured out on sinners unless His wrath is poured out on sin in Jesus Christ.  There is no enjoyment of the grace and love of God unless sin has been judged.  And all sin will be judged.  Every sin will be judged.  Either Jesus pays the penalty of sin or you will pay the penalty of sin.

 

This will be helpful as we understand and apply theses verse.  Ask yourself, how will God judge sin?  The answer is that God has given all judgment and authority over to His son, Jesus Christ.

 

  • John 5:22 The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son,
  • 2 Timothy 4:1 – I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:
  • Romans 2:16 – on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
  • 2 Corinthians 5:10 – For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

 

So, all the way back in 1 Samuel 2, when Hannah sings of God judging the earth, she was speaking of the work that Jesus was going to do.  To begin that process of both gathering in His people for grace and giving out judgment on sin, this verse says that God gives strength to His king.  But this is no earthly king being spoken of here.  Yes, we are going to see King Saul, David, Solomon and others step in and fill the title of king, but this is not the king that is being spoken of here.  This is a king whose reign will extend to the ends of the earth.  No human king has done that.  This will be a king over all creation.

 

God is using Hannah to prophecy that God is going to bring a Kingly judge who will be His anointed.  When this passage speaks of exalting the power of God’s anointed, it is specifically speaking of the messiah.  His anointed translates to Messiah in the Hebrew and in the New Testament, anointed or anointed one translates into…Christ.  This is the first time in the entire Bible that we see God speaking of a coming anointed, messiah…a coming savior.   God is promising to judge sin, rule His people, and to save them all through the coming Messiah.  And this coming judge, king and anointed one is the one who is called Christ:  Jesus Christ.

 

Now, so far, we’ve heard that Jesus is going to protect His children.  He is going to defeat the enemies of God and God’s people.  He’ll defeat Satan and the power of sin.  He’ll judge the enemies of God and the enemies of God’s people.  But are we going so far as to say that God serves His people?  Can the God of all creation actually serve His creation?  Isn’t that blasphemous?

 

It would be if it were not for what the scriptures call the incarnation.  The incarnation is the act where Jesus Christ who was fully God took on a human nature so that He might live, die, and live again for His children.  The incarnation explains how God’s Judge and King will do His work.  That work is ultimately an act of service.  Listen to how Philippians 2 explains this.

 

Philippians 2:5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

 

Jesus, who was fully God, didn’t cling to status as we most certainly would.  Instead, He made Himself a servant by becoming a man.

 

8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

Jesus Christ served sinners.  He served them by dying for sin.  And God highly exalted Him to a place of honor which is above each and every name in this world so that sinful men and women can proclaim faith in Him and be forgiven.  Jesus served you by dying for your sins if you have faith in Him.  But if you do not have faith in Him, Jesus is not your servant.  He will be your judge.  Folks, this truth is astounding, so astounding I’m almost scared to say it aloud.

 

  • Jesus, God incarnate, serves His children.
  • He serves them by taking on the weakness of human flesh.  (Phil 2)
  • He serves them by living perfectly where our father Adam sinned.  (Rom 5.25)
  • He serves them by dying for sin in their place.  (1 Corinthians 15)
  • He serves them by rising again from the dead so they might obey. (Romans 8)
  • He serves them by interceding in their prayers before God the Father in Heaven. (Hebrews 7)

 

Have you noticed, how Jesus’ service always takes the form of something redemptive?  Notice that Jesus did not serve you so you could get rich and drive a fancy car.  Notice that Jesus did not serve you so you could receive your every whim on this earth.  Jesus served you so that you might be brought into the blessings of God and secure a right relationship with God.

 

In light of these truths, it is fair to ask, “How do we live under the service and protection of our Lord Jesus Christ?”  I would say two ways:  In Contentment and Service

 

Let’s look at contentment for a minute.  We see this in 2 Corinthians 2:9-11 – 9 But he said to me, “My (God’s) grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

 

If you have faith in Jesus, you imitate Him in His weakness.  Jesus served you by becoming weak and God lifted Him up.  We trust not our strength but instead boast in our weakness because in our weakness we see God’s grace poured out.  Imitating Christ is the pathway to contentment.   Seeing His weakness, His insults, His persecutions, and His calamities, we are strengthened as we face the ours.  Ask yourself, “Do I have Christ?  If the answer is yes, then you have more than enough in this life.”  But as much as we live under the protection of God by being content, we also live by imitating Jesus in service  Listen to what the scriptures have to say about that.

 

  • 2 Corinthians 4:5 – For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.  Paul saw himself as a servant to other Christians because Jesus was a servant to him.
  • 1 Timothy 4:6 – If you put these things (Godliness and contentment) before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.

 

Encouraging people to obey God and to be content, is being a servant of Jesus because Godliness and contentment are imitations of Jesus Christ.  Because God serves and protects us through Jesus, we are to be content and serve as Jesus did.  If you have faith in Jesus, God protects your steps.  He guards the steps of His faithful ones.  That does not mean that no tragedy will befall you in this life.  Any pastor that is teaching that all God promises is good times free of pain and tragedy is merely blowing sunshine.  We are to as Philippians 2.5 says take on the same mind of Jesus who humbled Himself by taking on the form of a servant.  And just as God lifted up Jesus, our Father in Heaven will lift us in small ways now and in ultimate ways one day.

 

We should examine our hearts just as Jesus commanded the people in John 10:24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

 

They wanted to know.  Are you this anointed one that was promised?

 

25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock.  27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

 

Those who seek to imitate Jesus’ life of service are those who hear Jesus the shepherds protective voice calling them.  Those that don’t are not of His flock.  Folks, I know that with all that we have here, it is easy to forget that God is protecting you and serving you.  When the house is mess, we forget.  When the bills are greater than the income, we forget.  When our marriages are a mess, we forget.  When our child is sick, we forget.

 

But God the Father is ordaining all of these circumstances in order to pour out His love and affection on you.  He is ordaining these things so that the world will see the testimony of your heart when you say, “I boast all the more in my weaknesses because that was the life of my Savior, Jesus, and I want nothing more than to be like Him.

 

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January 5, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Strengthening Holiness – I Samuel 2:1-4

It’s a very common in the beginning of a movie for a character to be deathly afraid of something, and then after a period of time, they realize the thing that they were afraid of is not scary at all.  Then the movie ends with the main character teaming up with the thing that was scary to battle some very real mean and evil force.  This is the premise of Transformers, Terminator 2, Shrek, and even Alvin and the Chipmunks.

The idea behind these movies is that you need to give things that are different a second chance.  Don’t be so quick to jump to preconceived notions.  Things that are different might not be so scary once you get to know them.

Unfortunately, this is exactly how we approach God’s holiness, and I think this is a mistake.  God’s holiness is not something that we get used to.  God’s holiness is His complete otherness from us.  If other becomes comfortable, then it is no longer other, and holiness is always other.

Scripture tells us that God is completely holy and without sin whereas we are completely sinful and even antagonistic towards God apart His help.  For example, the scriptures say this about God’s holiness.

  • 1 Samuel 2:2 There is none holy as the LORD: for there is none beside you: neither is there any rock like our God.
  • Psalms 145:17 The LORD is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works.

And this scriptures say this about our lack of holiness.

  • Romans 3:23 – for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
  • 2 Chronicles 6:36 – “there is no one who does not sin”

The amazing thing is that as you have faith in Jesus, God forgives you of your sins, and God’ holiness is given to you through Jesus Christ.  Because of this, you now have access

to God.

Hebrews 10:19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

But here is the thing I want to hold before you.  Though we may approach the throne of grace because of Jesus’ death on the cross, and though we have full access to God the Father because of the work of Jesus Christ, God is not now our buddy to help us go fight the Decepticons.  He is our loving and holy heavenly father.  And because of that, we must never lose a healthy fear of and adoration of God’s holiness, His otherness.

Yes, we are declared holy in God’s sight through Jesus, but any holiness we have is just the holiness of Christ granted to us.  By God’s amazing grace, we share in Jesus’ holiness and are called holy by God, but we must always revere, respect, and worship our God who is Holy.  We must never grow accustomed to it as it as foreign to us as flapping our wings is to flying.  But here is what I would offer to all of us as encouragement.  Though we share in God’s holiness only as He gives it to us, and though God is completely holy and we are completely sinful apart from Him, God’s holiness is intended to strengthen you if you have faith in Christ.  We are not to play loose with holiness or take is lightly, but God’s holiness is intended to strengthen His people.

Though this may seem like something we have never considered before, let’s explore it this week as we watch Hannah sing in praise God as she gives her son, Samuel over to God in the priesthood.  With that in mind, let’s answer this Big Picture Question.

Big Picture Question:  How does God’s holiness strengthen his people?

2:1 And Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in the Lord.

Remember the setting here.  After so many years of being barren and hopeless, God has given Hannah a son, Samuel.  And after enjoying him and raising him for 3 years, she has weaned him and is now offering him to God in service of the priesthood.  From this moment on, she will only see her son occasionally, but she will know that Samuel is her son and that He is God’s amazing gift to her.  As she offers him to God, she breaks into prophetic song celebrating what God has done.

In one of the most painful moments a parent can imagine, she gives her son away, and she sings and prays.  She says, “My heart exults in the Lord,” and “My strength is exalted in the Lord.”  How amazing are those two statements?

First, let’s explore what it means for one’s heart to exult in the Lord.  Let me approach the statement by asking you this question:  Ask yourself, “What makes you happy?”  I know small things make us happy like enjoying a good cup of coffee or eating ice cream, going for a good run, getting in a walk with your spouse, playing a video game.  Those things are great, but most everything I mentioned there is a short term happiness.  What makes you truly happy?  An enduring joy is what I’m talking about.  I’ll be honest, most people I know really aren’t that joyful.  I see people who either have decided to just think the worst of this life so as not to be disappointed or have never found anything with which to find true joy.  Oh people love to tell you, “Oh, I’m doing great,” or “I’ll be fine once I get to vacation,” but a person of real joy is rare.  I think that’s because our hearts exult or lift up or find joy and peace in so many shifting and changing things.

Only when the heart finds something of real, eternal, and everlasting value, will joy then overflow into the rest of their life.  If you exult and take joy in the fact that your relationship with God is repaired, restored, and secure, then you live joy in other places of life.  This is understanding the depth of the Gospel.  Exulting in an ever present, eternal, unshakable, affection and love of the Father poured out on your behalf because His wrath was poured out on His son, Jesus on the cross.

What Hannah is doing here is saying, ‘My heart, my whole being, exalts God.”   She is lifting up God above all because He has been so gracious to her.  This joy, the exultation in who God is, gives her strength.  She can endure the painful moment of giving her son away into the priesthood because her strength is not in her kids, it’s not in her husband and it’s not in the ease of her circumstances.  Her strength is in the good and gracious God who loves her and takes care of her.  Folks, before we move forward, please think on this.  Think about where your joys fall short and where you might have given up on finding joy.

If you can think of places that you expect to find real joy apart from God, I pray that you can repent right now of trying to find any lasting joy in this world outside of God.  Pray that God gives you an over exulting joy in celebration of what God has done for you so that you can then enjoy the joyful aspects of this life in their proper perspective.  You can enjoy you spouse or your children or your job or your church knowing that they are smaller joys that God gives, but they pale in comparison to what Jesus has secured for you:  a peaceful, restored relationship with God.  This was definitely something Hannah understood despite being born thousands of years before Jesus Christ.  Look at the next verse.

My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation.

It’s shocking to see in Biblical print, “My mouth derides my enemies.”  Isn’t it?   You have to ask, “Is Hannah mocking Peninnah who once mocked her?  Well, what we have here is another one of those very difficult words to translate.  “My mouth derides” can also be translated “My mouth opens wide against my enemies” but I don’t know if that helps things at all.  I’ve read commentator after commentator that say that Hannah is not speaking of Peninnah here, but it is pretty hard to get away from it.  Though that language may not mean “I’m mocking” my enemy, it is saying that God has defended Hannah against her enemy.

You see, when Peninnah mocked Hannah, she wasn’t just making fun of her because of her bareness.  Peninnah’s accusations were really mocking God.  They were mocking Hannah’s prayers and desires to have a child.   They were diminishing God’s power and ability to gift Hannah with a child.  So Hannah was rescued, she enjoyed salvation in the sense that she has been delivered from the one that oppressed her.

Before we get all excited and think, “Yeah, God is going to go after that person that spoke sarcastically to me in the grocery store,” consider this.  Your enemy as scripture defines it is not just a person who disagrees with you or confronts you.  Your enemy is the person who openly mocks or attacks you because of Jesus Christ.  You see we have this tension in scripture.   One where David would pray to God for Him to strike down his enemies and the other where Jesus tells you to love your enemies and to pray for their blessing.

When Hannah says that her mouth derides her enemy, she does it not by wishing to see her enemies humiliated but by lifting up salvation.  Rejoicing in your enemy is not mocking them on facebook or a blog or secretly wishing for their doom.  The only true victory one can have over their enemy is the lifting up of the salvation that God offers.  In this case, Hannah couldn’t have children, she was mocked by Peninnah, God gave her children, so Hannah lifts up the one who rescues her as a testimony to any and all that doubted or mocked Hannah for her faith.

You see, Hannah doesn’t lift herself up in the midst of all these things.   She lifts God up.  Her rescue is a lifting up of God and God alone.  And if you are going to lift up God, then you will lift Him up as Hannah does.  Look at the next verse.

There is none holy like the Lord; there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God.

Has your heart ever cried out this way?   I don’t ask you that question to mock you or shame you.  I ask you because I so badly want this kind of cry of the heart for you and me and everyone here.  Hannah had the very real sense that God was completely other, completely wonderful, completely beautiful, completely holy, and she also had the very real sense and resting assurance that because God is so wonderfully beautiful and different, her life can rest in Him – hence God is the rock of her salvation.

You might hear that and say, “Well, Gordon it is easy for Hannah to say that.  She got what she wanted.   I’ve been struggling for years for what I want and God has never given it to me, so though I believe in Jesus and have my sins forgiven.  So, no I’ve never or at least not recently said ‘There is none like God.  There is none beside Him in my heart.’”  That’s the real issue for all of us isn’t it?  Will we be happy?   Will we be content?   Will we find great joy even if we don’t get what we want?

Well, what does Hannah emphasize here?  That God is the one who will give you what you want?   No she emphasizes that there is no one holy like God.  There is no one that is that is perfect and righteous like God.  She could have spoken of His great power and how He is the only one that can open and close a womb, and she would have been correct, but that is not the focus of her prayer here.  What comforts Hannah is God’s holiness.  You might wonder, “How is that possible?”   How does God’s holiness comfort and help?

Let me explain it in this way – we have gotten used to God’s holiness.  God’s holiness is like Bumblebee from the Transformers the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz.  At first we were scared of it but now God’s holiness like a friendly pet who helps us out.  But this is not the picture of God’s holiness we should have.  God’s holiness is His absolute perfection and goodness that separates Him from all evil.  Yet God’s compassion moved Him to send His perfect son to pay the penalty for sin so that those who have faith in Jesus can now share in the righteousness and holiness of Jesus and have fellowship with the father.

I’m afraid that we grow so accustomed to this truth that we forget its immensity.  Our hearts begin to want lesser goods because God has granted us the greater good of salvation.   Without actually voicing it, we are tempted to live our lives thinking, “Well if God can forgive me and save me, then surely he will give me the things I want, the desires of my heart.  And though God obviously and quite clearly can give you the desires of the heart, God still gives and grants according to the counsel of His holy will. God gives only that which is consistent with His holiness and the giving of Him glory.

So Hannah celebrates that by saying that God’s holiness is what gives her strength.  God’s holiness is what encourages her.  It is like saying, “Perfect holy God, would you listen to me?   Would you incline your ear to me?   That you, Holy God would listen to me a sinner is what strengthens me.  ‘The fact that you God would seek me out and repair my relationship with you, that you would pity me when in need, that is my strength.

That attitude should give your life the proper perspective.  That helps us to find contentment in whatever we have or don’t have because our perfect holy God has cared for enough to restore our relationship and hear our cries.  This is the attitude of Paul in Philippians 3:7 when he says

Philippians 3:7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—

Paul says, I am not holy because of anything I’ve done.  I’m holy because of what God has done in Jesus for me.  Because of that anything else I might gain is nothing because I have the greatest thing that I could ever hope for: I have Jesus’ holiness and a restored relationship with God.  This is humbling language and it causes Hannah to cry out in verse 3.

3 Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.

Last week we talked about the temptation we have to say, “I’m going to do this.  I’m not going to do that.  I have my plans and it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks.”  And sometimes our plans are couched in a more supposed Godly language.  We say, “Surely God will give me the desires of my heart.  Why would He give me this desire if He didn’t want me to have it?”   That of course assumes our desires are given to us by God which is not always the truth.

That type of language is incredibly arrogant, and Hannah sings of silencing such arrogance before a holy God.  Arrogance is assuming anything about our selves (either action or thought) apart from our dependence of  God.  As Paul says, once you professed faith in Jesus Christ, “Now for you to live is Christ; to die is gain.”   The life of faith in Jesus is the giving over of yourself in service of Jesus Christ because when we give ourselves away, then we find true joy and happiness.   That is what living is.  Assuming otherwise is arrogant.  Why? Because God alone is wise and God alone is holy.

God is a God of knowledge which means He decrees and ordains all things wisely according to His own wisdom.  Have you ever noticed that we rarely see a connection between wisdom and holiness?   If you google search it all you get is quotes from the Dalai Lama.  But that is no help because all you will find there is human wisdom.  But human wisdom and God’s holiness are always at odds with each other.

As 2 Corinthians 1 says 12 For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with holiness and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.

God’s holiness is always connected to God’s wisdom.  So Hannah celebrated that God was holy, that God was wise, and therefore God is perfect in all His actions.  If God decided to make Hannah suffer at the hands of bitter rival, and if God caused Hannah to suffer and wait for a child, then so be it because she knew that God was holy and wise in everything that He does.  Even if Hannah’s or your heart cries out to God, your waiting to understand God’s holiness and wisdom does not make God any less holy or wise.  If you wait in patience with great love and respect for God, then what happens is you become more wise, more holy and ultimately strengthened as your wait.   Look at verse 4.
4 The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength.

In faith, in trusting a holy and wise God, the mighty, the proud and the strong will be broken and brought low because pride and self-sufficiency stand opposed to God.  But the feeble, those that recognize their complete dependence on a holy and wise God are ultimately lifted up and find strength because they gather it from the one true place that it can be found: the God of all wisdom, might, and holiness.  What I want all of us to do right now and as we go forward is to celebrate God’s holiness and wisdom, and I want it to produce in us a lifestyle and a culture of worship.   We celebrate that we are weak and needy and that God is the only hope that we have to be strengthened.  Worship God because He is holy and see yourself strengthened, lifted up and encouraged.

  • 1 Chronicles 16:10 Glory ye in his holy name: let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord
  • Psalms 99:5 Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at his footstool; for he is holy.

What I’m hoping is that we won’t shy away from being weak or pretend that we have it all together but that in the creating of community that we desire to do at ce groups, fight club and project runway, we’ll be honest and vulnerable and share both the struggle to be weak and the joy of having an all holy, all wise God strengthen us as we worship him.  That way when you engage your neighbors or the police, or the EMS or Hayes Place or your coworkers, you don’t have to pretend to have it all together.  You don’t have to pretend that you no longer have any needs because you met Jesus.  Instead you can tell your neighbors and other folks that you serve, “I’m as needy as you, I’m as messed up as you, I’m as confused as you and I’m as sick as you, but I have found that God alone in Jesus Christ is wise and holy.  The fact that God is so different is what strengthens me and so as I trust that God is wise and holy and different than me, I’m encouraged and strengthened as I either wait for Him to answer my prayer or I wait for him to change my heart and my desires.

But I am not left alone.  I’m strengthened as I trust in God – come join me and the rest of the messed up people at SK as we worship this holy wise God who sent his holy and perfect son Jesus to love and care for us.  And you know what?  Garner and this places that you live hate this message.   It is the bad news of the good news.  The fact that you are here may mean you love it or it may mean you are struggling with it, but it is the Gospel.  It is however the message that will take root in our community if we ask God to make it take root in us.  None of us should expect the gospel to transform any one else if it is not transforming already transforming us.  Thankfully, our hope and our strength is that our Holy God seeks to love us and transform us through the beautiful work of His Son, Jesus Christ.

September 29, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

What Gives You the Right? – Notes from 1 Samuel 1:21-28

Last week, we looked at Hannah’s desperate plea before God to give her a child.  Hannah had suffered for years not being able to have children, she was mocked regularly by her husband’s other wife, her husband just couldn’t see the depths of her pain, and her pastor thought she was a drunk.  At the end of her self, she cries out to God telling Him that if He would grant her a son, she would give him back to God as a Nazirite Priest.

And we spent considerable time last week discussing this idea of making a vow or bargaining with God, and we came away with two guiding principles as we offer our requests to God.

First, every thing that you claim as yours (your career, your home, your car, your family), God already claims as His possession.  We saw this in our Call to Worship.  Psalm 24:1 The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.  Practically, that means that even if you earn something by your own sweat and effort, God claims it as His because it is God who equips, trains, and ordains.

Secondly, when petitioning or desiring something from God, you have nothing with which to negotiate.  God, as we have seen Him described in the book of 1 Samuel, is the Lord of Hosts.  This is a title of God that describes His all-sufficiency, complete adequacy, and His lacking of no good thing.  With this, there is nothing that you can offer to God when praying.  He needs nothing from you.

God knows your faith and does not require you to prove it.   God desires for you to exercise your faith but only in Him.  You already gave away everything when you proclaimed faith in Jesus.  God wants you to trust that Jesus has secured all of your hope for you and because of that, you don’t have to negotiate with God.

Practically, these truths should refine our prayers.  God has the absolute sovereign right to do as He wills with every thing, circumstance, and person.  Anything that you ask of Him, you ask as Jesus did when He said, “Not my will, Father, but yours be done.”  Our prayers should be offered with the sense that whatever is being asked for, is already God’s possession and to be used for God’s glory.   Practically, just don’t ask for anything that you aren’t willing to completely use and see as strategic in the service of God. .

So this week, as we watch Hannah fulfill her vow in giving Samuel back to God, we should look and consider God’s right over all things before we consider any rights that we think we might have.  Trust me, though it may not sound like it, but this is a gracious truth, and hopefully, we’ll see that.  So this week, let’s attempt to answer this Big Picture Question:

Big Picture Question:  What right does God have over a person’s life?

I Samuel 1:21 The man Elkanah and all his house went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice and to pay his vow. 22 But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, “As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, so that he may appear in the presence of the Lord and dwell there forever.”

The time comes for Elkanah and His family to once again offer their yearly sacrifice.  Along the way, we see that Elkanah also has a vow to fulfill.  Quite honestly, we have no idea what it was.  We just know that the family Elkanah was fond making vows.  But we do know this, Elkanah and His family should be commended as they saw family worship and sacrifice as the centerpiece of the family.  In our day and age, when we can casually choose not to worship as a family or comfortably take a few Sunday off from worshiping with our church family, we miss out on the central significance that many in the OT understood.  A binding together, a strengthening of the family occurs as a family worships together at home and more importantly, when they worship together with the people of God as we see Elkanah doing several times here.  Elkanah’s family, though dysfunctional, valued and protected family corporate worship with God’s people.

This time however, Hannah chose not to go with the family.  She knew that as soon as the child was weaned, he would be offering him to God in the service of the priesthood for the rest of his life.  She chose to practically, but probably emotionally, steal these last few moments with her dear son, before she gives him away.

Last week, I may have made it sound like Hannah’s vow to give her son away to the priesthood was not great thing because God already claims all things as His possession, but I did not mean to give the impression that Hannah was not making a sacrifice.  That was not my intention.  Though Hannah had nothing with which to negotiate with God, she did make a great sacrifice.  I cannot imagine wanting a child so badly, having him, and then knowing that he would have to be raised by someone else.  Maybe she thought, “It is better to have had and held and fed this wonderful child and give Him away to the service of God, than to have never had the chance to see his sweet face and hear his sweet voice.”

Now some wonder how old Samuel was at this point.  Well according to 2 Chronicles 3:16, you had to be at least 3 years old to enter service in the temple, so more than likely, Hannah wants to wait until he is 3 before she gives her son into service of the God.  Again, I can’t imagine, 3 years.  A 3 year old knows their mom and dad.  They are talking, walking, interacting…they are little people.  My heart hurts at just the idea of not seeing my kids…I can’t imagine what Hannah went through.

23 Elkanah her husband said to her, “Do what seems best to you; wait until you have weaned him; only, may the Lord establish his word.” So the woman remained and nursed her son until she weaned him.

Now, this is amazing to me.  Samuel is Elkanah’s kid yet he agrees to let him go into the priesthood.  Men, can you imagine wanting a son so badly, and then once you have a son, finding out that your wife has promised to give your son away to God?  I don’t know how many marriages are Godly enough to endure that.  Most couples will argue if one spouse promises to do something on a weekend without asking the other.  You’ll hear things like, “Well, you made that promise.  I didn’t.  I’m not going anywhere this weekend.  You can go if you want, but I ain’t going.”  Picking the wrong restaurant can cause a fight.  But Elkanah is a Godly man.  He knows that he and Hannah never would have had Samuel without God’s help in the first place.  He also knows how great of a sacrifice this must be for Hannah, so he says, “Keep him until he is weaned.  Get those last few minutes, sweetheart, and then we’ll send him off.  Then Elkanah says something that seems very odd.  After telling Hannah to keep Samuel at home until he is weaned, he tells her, “Only, may the Lord establish his word.”  What an odd thing to say.  In light of Hannah’s vow to send Samuel into the Priesthood, you would think that Elkanah might say, “Keep him until he is weaned, but be sure to keep your word.”  But instead, he emphasizes that it is the Lord’s word that must be established.

What gives?   Well, remember, Hannah does not have a child because she because of her vow.  She has a child because God was gracious and granted her a son.  Elkanah is perhaps more Godly than I thought because he sees that.  Elkanah knows that the only reason they have a child to send into the priesthood is because God established it by the word of His power.  That is how powerful the word of God is.  Now, we see this is true in many places of scripture.

  • Genesis 1 shows us that God spoke creation into existence.
  • John 11 Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead by a spoken word.
  • Hebrews 1:3 tells us that “Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power”
  • The Holy Spirit seals and protects the powerful word in Ephesians 1:13
    “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit”

Any and everything that God ordains to happen comes about by the word of God’s power.   God ordained that Hannah, the barren woman, was going to have children, and God ordained that Samuel was going to be a priest.  There was not a single thing on earth that was going to stop or frustrate either one of those things from happening.

As Romans 9:16 says, “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”

This is a moment of application for us, and it is also one of the ways in which we address our Big Picture Question.  You see God has absolute right over each and every person born because He is the Father of all Creation.    God spoke all things, including human beings, into creation, the Son Jesus Christ upholds all things by the word of His power, and the Holy Spirit applies the proclaimed Word of God to people’s hearts.  To those who have faith in Jesus, God’s right is exercised graciously in their life because judgment for sin has been poured out on Jesus.  And to those who do not have faith in Jesus, God’s right is exercised as judgment to them for penalty of their sins.

Even knowing that God exercises His sovereignty over us graciously doesn’t always help.  When we want something to happen, it is very hard to discern why God does or does not do certain things that we want Him to do.  For example, right now, some of you may be immensely frustrated in the sense that you keep trying and trying, but whatever it is that you are striving for, never seems to come about.

  • There feels like no progress and no improvement.
  • Maybe you are trying to potty train a child and no progress is being made.
  • Maybe you are trying to lose weight and you aren’t anywhere close to your goal.
  • Maybe you are looking for a job and there is just nothing out there.
  • Maybe you want to try to read your Bible every day.
  • Maybe you want to communicate with your spouse but just keep fighting.
  • Maybe you have shared Jesus with a friend over and over yet they continue not believing.

And each day, you wake up and say that you are going to do this and do that.  We do that all the time.  We declare what we are going to do and what we are not going to do.  And the temptation is to live your life as if there is no other countering influence at play.  But as Elkanah said, “May the Lord establish HIS word.”  God claims absolute divine right in your life, about your life, and for your life.  God answers your prayers in the positive or the negative according to the counsel of His own will and for whatever brings Him glory.

You might hear that and say, “Well, how in the world am I supposed to live if I can work hard, put everything I have into something, but still have to wait on God?  The intention of this truth is not to frustrate you, but instead its intended to provide you perspective and encouragement and we find them both in

Romans 11:33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!  34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”

In God’s grace, He has revealed so much about Himself through His scriptures.  We can know things like God’s characteristics and how we can reflect those characteristics in our lifestyle.  We can know God’s history of saving and redeeming people, and we can know His future promises for those things as well.  But we are not God’s counselor.  Prayer is not advising God about what would be best.

  • We are not saying, “Hey God, let me give you a little bit of advice…”
  • Praying and petitioning are merely humble requests from a child to a Father.
  • Prayers are offered to God in understanding that it is up to the wisdom of God to decide and discern what is best and what is His will.

Elkanah knew this.  He knew that it was God who established both the birth of Samuel and ultimately Samuel’s future life as a priest in service to the Lord.  This gave Elkanah great peace and faith to worship God here.  Folks let’s make this the first of our large applications this week.  Let’s speak apply it individually here and we’ll apply it to families at the end of the sermon.  So much of our day to day frustration is because we live our lives as if we are completely self-sufficient people who have a sugar daddy in heaven who can help us out in pinch.  Because of this, we get really frustrated when things go our way.    We get really frustrated when even the good things we want are beyond our grasp.  But the fundamental problem here I believe is that we make the mistake of thinking that our lives our own.  But if you have given your heart to Jesus, your life is not your own.  What you buy, where you live, where you work, what you do, these are not your freedoms anymore.   They are merely further avenues to serve God, so we ask God for wisdom in these things, but then grow in resting that ultimately, our good and gracious Sovereign God will choose these things for us, and as His children, we are called to rest in what He chooses for us.

If we don’t get this, we become discontent and even bitter because we always want something different than what we have.  Having said that, let’s moved towards the end of the passage, and it will allow us to speak to how these verses apply to how we raise our children.

24 And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and she brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh. And the child was young.  25 Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli.

When you look at this sacrifice, this is a whopping sacrifice.  It is a rich man’s sacrifice.   The bull would have been enough, but they add an ephah of flour and an entire jug of wine.  It is almost like they were saying, “We are going to celebrate this incredibly difficult and painful moment.”  Hannah is giving away what she longed for.  Hannah will not nurse Samuel anymore.  She won’t hold his hand anymore.  She won’t look into his face and see herself in his reflection.

So, instead of sulking at the sacrifice she has to make or running from God in the face of a difficult thing, she celebrates.  She worships God in the midst of her pain.  She worships knowing that this wonderful gift of a child is going to enable people to worship God.  Folks, I know this is incredibly hard to do.  I’ve seen it the difficulty of worshiping in the midst of painful circumstances especially this week.  But I’ve also seen God gift and bless incredible amounts of peace and faith when people worship Him in the midst of their pain.  Waiting for everything to get better before worshiping God is wasting the opportunity God has given with challenging circumstances.  Many of you might think, “I just need my circumstances to change,” and though they might, what many of you need is to worship God no matter what.

In Hannah’s praise, you hear that she knows that she is a secure child of God and that enables her to endure pain for herself and her child, because she trusts God.  That is the spirit of sonship that makes your hearts cry out “Abba Father.  As our children’s catechism asks, “Why ought you to glorify God?”  And the answer is “Because He loves me and takes care of me.”

What Hannah does here is a vivid picture of what every Christian parent is to do.   No, not every parent is to send their child into the priesthood.  However, each parent is to live as if they are training their children to be given over to the service of God.  We raise our children saying, “Use this child for the advancement of your kingdom and the lifting up of your glory God.”  In whatever way you think is best God, we offer them to you.  So, Hannah and Elkanah offer their child to Eli to be trained in the priesthood.   What a wonderful picture of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Hear the similarities:   God made a vow to save His people from their sin in Gen 3:15.  God secured all blessings for those who have faith in Him by being faithful to His word, offering up His son into the priesthood so that Jesus could be both the perfect sacrifice and the perfect, sympathetic High Priest who declares His people forgiven.

Jesus became a greater Samuel so that you might know forgiveness and grace.  Look at Hannah’s heart cry as she gives her son away in verse 26.

26 And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. 27 For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him.   28 Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.”  And he worshiped the Lord there.

As Hannah says goodbye to Samuel, she cries out as I imagine many of us would as well.  She cries, “Lord.  You are my Lord.”  By calling Him Lord twice, she is emphasizing that God has absolute sovereignty and claim over her life.  She goes on to say, “And as you live, as you sustain all life by your word, I stand here before you.  I asked you for this wonderful child, I prayed day and night in tears, and you heard my cry and answered my prayer.  Because of that I lend this child to you.  As long as he is alive, I will lend him to you God.    This is where we find comfort as we know that Lydia Grace King has leukemia.

Now, when we read this, it sounds like God has taken out a loan or something.  To our ears, Hannah’s language sounds like she is saying, “Hey God, I know your priests aren’t really getting it done, so I’m giving you a loaner until they do.”  You see the word “lent” here is incredibly difficult to translate into English.  Some translate it “give back” but that is not big enough of a picture.  This is more of an idea of “He is made over to God” or “He is given over to God.”  The word picture that Hannah is using is the idea of looking at something you own, in this case your child, and saying, they are not really my possession.  They are God’s, so I’m going to make this moment an act where I give this child over in ceremony to offer my child to God.

“Any parents who are living in covenant with the Lord should find themselves following Hannah in general principle even if not in precise practice.  We should solemnly and passionately desire that each child be “made over to God.”  God’s gifts are to be given back to Him.”  Dale Davis

We do this when we baptize our children.  We by faith are saying, “My child is lent or made over or given over to God.”  Whether or not you have children, you do this as members of the church when you promise to help parents raise their children.  We are to live this out in every choice we make for our children.   How we teach them.  How we train them.  What we expect of them.  What we communicate about the promises of God to them.  Every thing we do in raising our children is to prepare them for greater service to God.   Why?  Because God claims an absolute right over you AND your children.  Let me give you an example of what this looks like from scripture.

Give ear, O my people, to my law; incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from the children, telling to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and His strength and His wonderful works that He has done.  For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children; that the generation to come might know them, the children who would be born, that they may arise and declare them to their children, that they may set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments (Psa 78:1-7).

So, in light of the fact that God promises to work in our families and claims an absolute right in that work, how should we respond?    Well, I would say in our usual Create and Engage fashion.  Knowing that God is going to work in our children’s lives AND that we are called to be responsible in that work in their life, SK is excited to offer a few new things to help care for our children and assist parents.  Sunday School, children’s bulletins, Nursery.  Knowing that God’s common grace is poured out even to parents who do not claim Jesus as their savior, we are to serve this community with our children and by offering to help parents and children here in town.

Let me give you an example of a tremendous privilege my family had the other day.  Amy and I were recently invited to a birthday cookout from a friend of ours on RFD.  They encouraged us to bring our children along.  Once we got there, we realized that we only knew 2 people in the whole crowd.  So, here we were, Amy, the girls and I, among a huge crowd of police, EMS, and FD that for the most part I imagine didn’t claim to know Christ, celebrating a birthday with a cookout, beverages, volleyball, cornhole and all the other stuff that goes alone with cookouts.  My kids are playing with their kids, we are grilling, laughing, joking, and establishing the relationships that are essential so that we might share Christ with others.

Ultimately, the questions of life come up, and whether you have kids or not, get to offer a wonderfully gracious, sovereign God who proclaims grace to all who faith in Christ.  As you place yourself intentionally in people’s lives as God has with you, those opportunities will arise, and we at SK are dead set are providing those opportunities for you and for us as a church.

September 16, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Grace to the Humble – SK Service Preview for 080810

When God answers Hannah’s prayer and gifts her with a child after years of barreness, there is much more going on than the mere asking for and answering of prayer.  As Dale Davis says in his wonderful commentary on 1 Samuel,

“This is no piddly affair – this is a manifestation of the way God rules and will bring his kingdom.  Hannah’s relief is a sample of the way God works and of the way he will work when he brings his kingdom in its fullness.   The saving help God gave Hannah is a foretaste, a scale-model demonstration of how God will do it when he does it in grand style…every time God lifts you out of the miry bog and sets your feet upon a rock is a sample of the coming of the kingdom of God, a down payment of the full deliverance, the macro-salvation, that will be yours at last.”

The story of Hannah and the subsequent giving away for her son Samuel is a beautiful picture of what God does for all those who have faith in Jesus.  He rescues us.  This week, at SK, we are going to continue looking at the song that Hannah sings as she present her son Samuel to the ministry.  We are going to see a wonderfully in-control God pouring our blessings on the humble and opposing the proud, and in it, I hope we can all find ourselves as the humble beautiful a wonderfully, gracious God.

If you would like to worship with us at SK, we meet each Sunday at 10:30am, and you can find directions to our space here.

August 6, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Let’s Make a Deal – 1 Samuel 1:9-20

Nowhere in scripture, does God ask you to prove your faith to Him.  You are not asked to do some heroic act.  You are not commanded to undertake some gargantuan effort.  God does not ask you to cut a deal with Him in order to get your prayers answered.  As we mentioned last week, faith in God is measured in faith in God the person, not in you the person.  Contrary to popular belief, faith is not measured by how great of an act you perform.  Faith is measured by your understanding of how big a God you have.  Great acts of faith are just the result of the great acts of God

We receive the clearest definition of what faith is in the book of Hebrews 11:1-2.  Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation.  What follows that verse is often called the Hebrews Hall of Faith.  It lists ordinary people of great faith in the OT.  For example, Abraham is commended for his faith in leaving his homeland and trusting God for a son, Moses is commended for leading the people of God out of slavery in Egypt, and Gideon, David, and Samuel are commended as well.

Now you may hear these things, and say, “Hey Gordon, I thought you said faith is not measured in great acts done for God?  Isn’t that what these folks are commended for?”  At first glance you might say so, but the end of Hebrews 11 makes it clear why these believers are being commended.

39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us.

The people in Hebrews 11 are commended for their faith in a Savior yet to come.  They did all of those things without fully understanding the completed work of Jesus Christ on the cross for the forgiveness of their sins.  They had great faith in both what God has done AND what He promised to do.  That is what fueled their obedience and great work.

When our hearts struggle with having this great faith, right or wrong, we begin to think about God giving us what we want.  We think, “If I have enough faith will God answer my prayer?”  Those thoughts center around the idea of God’s favor falling on us.  Our minds and hearts wonder, “If I’m in God’s favor, then God will help me get out of debt, pay off my bills, get healthy, lose weight, get a job, quit looking at porn etc.”

Unfortunately, this is not what either faith or the Lord’s Favor means when we examine scripture.  What we are going to do this week is examine a lonely, desperate woman cut a deal with God.  In looking at it, we are going to see some things we should imitate and some things we shouldn’t.  With that in mind, let’s ask this Big Picture Question:

Big Picture Question:  What does it mean to find the Lord’s Favor?

I Samuel 1:9 After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. 11 And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”

This passage comes right after Hannah’s husband, Elkanah, offered a peace offering to God at Shiloh.  Once done, Elkanah gave the required amount of the sacrifice to the priests to eat, then he gave another portion to his wife, Peninnah, and her children, then he gave a double portion of the food to Hannah because she was barren and he wanted her to be blessed.  After this, Hannah is distressed.  She just can’t take any more.  She has been mocked by Peninnah for her inability to have children.  Elkanah kindly but quite naively tried to comfort her but to no avail.  She just can’t take it anymore.  She leaves the dinner and goes outside.  Eli, the priest, the father of Hophni and Phinehas, see her walking out and takes notice of this woman who would leave the family dinner to wander alone.

Imagine Hannah’s heart and imagine the emotions that she might be feeling right now.  Perhaps you can relate.  Maybe you have wanted something so badly or perhaps you have felt incomplete because you think you are lacking some good thing.  This is where Hannah is, and she has been this way for years.  She starts weeping and praying bitterly.  In her desperation and pain, she comes up with an idea:  she’ll make a vow.  She’ll cut a deal with God.   Here it is.   She prays to the Lord of Hosts and says, “I am your servant.  If you will see my affliction and not forget me, and if you’ll give me a son then I will give him back to you.  In fact, no razor will ever touch his head.”

Now what she is vowing is called a Nazirite Vow.  Numbers 6 details what these look like, but the idea is to dedicate a child to be a priest of the Lord.  Part of that dedication is that they will not cut their hair, they will not drink anything, whether grape juice or wine, from a grape vine and a few other things.  This is the same vow that apparently John the Baptist took.  Hannah is promising to send this son into the priesthood.

Now we should highlight a couple of things about her vow.  Note who she is praying to:  the Lord of Hosts.  We mentioned this particular name of God last week.   The Lord of Hosts is a title of God that speaks to God’s absolute adequacy and power.  It gives the idea of the Lord of great riches or the Lord of a vast army of angels or the Lord over a giant military.  Is anyone noticing a contradiction or maybe an irony here?  Hannah is praying to the all adequate and all powerful God, and to sweeten her deal, she offers the God of all power and all sufficiency, the God who lacks nothing, she is offering Him something if He will answer her prayer.  Hannah is offering her child back to God.  She is bargaining with the Lord of Hosts

Now, here is the problem.  In principle, every gift given from God is to be returned to God.  Jesus told a parable to emphasize this point:  the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25.  In that parable, the master gives 3 stewards or servants some money to take care of while He is gone.  The first servant invests in wisely and gives the master a return on His money as well as the second servant.  But the third servant was scared of His master and of losing the money, so He just hid it.  That servant is rebuked by the master and the master calls that servant worthless because He didn’t see Himself as one entrusted with the masters money.  The point is that everything you have is God’s.  He has entrusted you with the stewardship of all of those things whether it be your money, your house, your car, or your children.  And there is nothing of which you should ask of God that you do not intend to then return to God in use to the glory of God and the advancement of the Kingdom of God.

And here is another problem with bargaining with God:  you have nothing He needs.  God is all-sufficient lacking no good thing.  God is not in this situation thinking, “You know Eli, Hophni and Phinehas are not really getting it done as priest.  What I really need is someone new.  What was that?  Hannah you’ll offer me your son?  Hey, I could make this work.  There is no bargaining with God.  Anything you could offer to God, He already claims as His possession.  You think you have made some sacrifice by saying you will give something to God or do something to God when the life of faith is already living and doing and the giving of all things to God in thankful praise of His merciful grace poured out to you.  You give everything to God when you profess faith in Jesus Christ.

Folks, don’t get me wrong.  Hannah is a great women of faith but not because she was willing to offer her child back to God.  Something you have, want, acquire or hope for is to be God’s anyway.  Hannah is a great woman of God because she knows that the only hope she has is the Lord of Hosts.  He cares for her and hears her cry.  That is the Lord’s favor – not bargaining with God to convince Him what you want.  Being in a relationship with God where He cares for you and hears your cries is being in the Lord’s favor.  Don’t’ be fooled into thinking that you have a popularity meter with God and once you’ve pushed it from “really angry” to “really happy” you are in His favor.  If you have a relationship with God and your sins are forgiven by the work of Jesus Christ, you are in God’s favor.

Now, while Hannah is pouring her heart out to God, Eli has watching kinda creepily all along.  Look at verse 12

12 As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. 14 And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.”

As Hannah was praying, Eli was watching her.  Hannah was praying silently, but in her grief she was mouthing the words that she was saying.  Basically, praying quietly.  Eli jumps to the conclusion that she is a drunk woman and rebukes her.  He tells her, “How long you going to be drunk, girl?  Put away that wine.”  Now, why would Eli think that she was drunk?  Honestly, I think Eli’s assumption is in part because he is not the sharpest tool in the woodshed, but there is some reasoning behind his thinking.  The sacrificial meals that Elkanah and his family were enjoying surrounding the Peace Offerings given to the Lord of Hosts generally included wine with the sacrificial meat.  More than likely, this is not the first time Eli, the Priest of the Lord, had to rebuke someone for getting drunk after the sacrificial meal.  This happened in that day and it happened in the meals surrounding the Lord’s Supper, and Paul rebuked folks in 1 Corinthians 11 for getting drunk then too.

But I read this and I think, Poor Hannah:  her husband is clueless, her husband’s other wife is merciless, and her pastor thinks she is a lush.

15 But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 16 Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.”

Hannah cries, “No, no, no, no, no, no.  I am not drunk; I am troubled in spirit.  I have not been pouring wine down my gullet all night long; I’ve been pouring my heart out to God.  She begs of Eli, “Please don’t think I’m a drunk and a worthless woman.  I’m just overwhelmed with anxiety.”  Hannah is not eating remember.  She has been so depressed that she hasn’t had been eating or drinking anything at all.  Eli is just too quick to judge and he doesn’t give the benefit of grace or the judgment of charity.  He assumes sin.  Maybe this a common occurrence from the folks in Shiloh and when we take a better look at the ministries of Eli, Hophni, and Phinehas, we’ll see that they are not very discerning priests anyway.  But once again, we are called to have compassion for Hannah.  She feels as if God, her household, her pastor, and pretty much every other person in the world is against her.

17 Then Eli answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” 18 And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.

Eli finally gets the big picture.  Instead of rebuking Hannah, he pronounces a blessing.  He tells her to go in peace and then tells her that the God of Israel will answer her prayers.  How can Eli do this?  Apparently, in addition to be a Priest of the Lord, Eli was used by God at this point and time to be a prophet.  He tells her that everything that she has hope and prayed for is going to be granted by God.  Hannah, by faith, immediately believed Eli’s announcement.  By saying, “Let your servant find favor,” she is saying basically, “I hope and pray you are right.”  She believed it though because for the first time in who knows how long, she goes away, gets a big kosher burger, and her countenance is lifted.

Hannah walked away with real hope for the first time in a long time.  Can you imagine how she might be feeling?  She probably sat down at the table to have Peninnah, her husband’s fertile myrtle second wife jeer and sneer at her, but it didn’t matter.  She could, I don’t know, rest for the first time in a long time.  As excited as she was about having a child, I’m sure it was just as encouraging to know that God heard her and cared.  That’s part of the struggle when we have prayed for the same thing over and over isn’t it?  Even if you are not praying, but just achingly wanting something to change, it would be comforting to know that you were heard and genuinely cared for.

Right now, I imagine some of you feel unheard or maybe even ignored.  I had a conversation the other day with someone who was just flat out struggling.  Pretty much every area of life was a mess:  work, home, health, etc.  This person’s thoughts weren’t about having every one of those things change.  That would be nice, but their pain was way beyond that.  The question in that person’s heart and mind was, “Who cares?  Who is listening?  Where is God in the midst of all this?”  And despite the fact that we all happily sang some songs to Jesus a few minutes ago, I bet many of you are at that exact same point right now.  Like last week, we call that the Fellowship of the Barren.  There are things that we need that we just seem to be going without.  Maybe you hear Hannah’s story and find hope or maybe you hear it and think, “There is just another person getting what they want while I don’t.”  Hang in there, let’s look at verse 19.

19 They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her. 20 And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord.”

The family gets up the next day, worships one more time before making the trip back home, and then they pack up the family truckster and head back to their house.  Elkanah and Hannah conceive a child, and between verses 19 and 20, we cover nine months of pregnancy.  I wonder how the family dynamic changed?  I wonder how Peninnah handled the news that Hannah was going to have a child?  We don’t really know, but this much is true:  Hannah and her faith are famously told of and spoken of in scripture, and we are later told that she ultimately had five children…and we never hear of Peninnah again.

Once Hannah’s son is born, she names Him Samuel.  Samuel can mean “offspring of God” and it can mean “name of God” but either is fitting because Hannah asked God for Him and the only way she was going to have any offspring was if God did it.  There was not way that Hannah could take credit for this blessing.  It came only from God.  So that leaves us with the thought:  should we make vows to God if we want or really need something?  Well scripture gives us two ways to view that.

  • Psalm 76:11 Make your vows to the Lord your God and perform them;
  • Matthew 5:34 I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

At first glance, this would seem to be an apparent contradiction, but upon further examination, its not.  You see, Psalm 76 is speaking of the declarative praises of God in the sanctuary, and those are called “vows” – you guys all just did that when you sang a moment ago.  The words you sang are vows to the Lord, and rightfully so, you are all called to live a life consistent with the praise you just sang.  That’s why we take the words we sing very seriously here.  Your words are promises and declarations to God.

In Matthew 5, Jesus is rebuking people who felt that the only time they had to keep their word was when they made a vow.  This is sorta the opposite of crossing your fingers.  People in that day were promising to do things, and when they didn’t keep their promises, they would just say, “Hey, I didn’t take a vow.”  Jesus is telling them to make every yes a yes and every no a no.  Speak truthfully in every word.  No, the great hope that you and I have for both the taking of vows and the gaining of God’s favor is that someone has already done both on our behalf.

Listen to the declarations that Jesus makes in John 5:30 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.  Jesus has explains there His vowed to obey God and to obey God perfectly.  Jesus only did that which His Father wanted Him to do.  And in His keeping of this vow, He displays that He carries God’s blessing to tell us who He is.  Listen to verse 36.

36b For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me.

Jesus keeps His vow to obey the Father so that you may know who He is.  In agony, as Jesus sweat drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed once again, to be bolstered to remain faithful to that which He promised to do.  Matthew 26:39 My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.  Yet, in anguish, Jesus faithfully kept His vow of obedience bringing those who have faith in Him into His favor.  Jesus’ obedient life, and ultimately, His obedience to die on the cross on your behalf, ushers you into God’s favor.

Philippians 2:8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus’ enabling your dead heart and still tongue to cry out that He is lord is God’s favor poured out on you.  You see the favor God is equal to the mercy of God.  Psalm 119:58 I entreat your favor with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise.  Psalm 106:4 Remember me, O Lord, when you show favor to your people; help me when you save them,  Favor equals mercy.

And when Jesus was obedient in life and death, He earned God’s favor.  He faithfully obeyed and kept His vow on your behalf, and because of that, every blessing of Christ becomes your blessing.  Let me give you an example.  Remember when the scriptures describe Jesus’ early life?  Luke 2:52 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.  When you experience the love, grace, and faithfulness of God earned for you by Jesus, you are described in the exact same way.  Proverbs 3:3-4 Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.  4 So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man.

Folks, if we ever think, “What have I got to do to get God to give me what I want?” we have left the service of God and entered into the foolish realm of trying to get God to serve us.  God will not serve you by capriciously giving you what you want.   He grants your prayers according to the mysteries of His will, and of that, I will not dare to speak.  You have been served though by Jesus Christ.  When you heart is gifted with faith, and you cry out to God just as Hannah did, for God to bestow His grace and mercy, then you walk in the favor of God.  Jesus faithfully keeps all vows while we are so poor at keeping any.  But Jesus’ faithful vow keeping in obedience to His Father’s will and obedience to death on the cross, ushers you, by faith, into God’s blessing and favor.

It is there that you live as a child of God.  Knowing that you cannot be blessed in any way greater than by being blessed with salvation and mercy, you can yet still ask God for His blessings for particular you need.  It is as that point that you merely ask the Lord of Hosts to bless you in His wisdom know that you are already blessed as Christ is blessed and there is no greater place of blessing to be known.

July 28, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

SK Service Preview for 07/25/10

The questions being asked in our day are surprising.  Yes, folks want to know about the BP Oil Spill leak and what’s going to be done about that, yes, folks want to know about the economy, and yes, folks are dying to find out how good the Dallas Cowboys are going to be this year (maybe that’s just me).

But from the conversations that I’ve had this week, others questions are taking center stage in people’s hearts and minds.  Questions like:

“Am I in the career that God would have for me?”

“Is it possible to do what I enjoy and still please God?”

“What does it mean for my family to serve God?”

“Am I unhappy because I missed out on what God would have me do?”

Despite all that is going on with the economy and other pressing national events, most everyone’s questions for me this week have centered on living the life that God would have for His people.  Perhaps the instability of finances and jobs has caused people to wonder, but who knows?  No matter the motivation, this is definitely a time for people to ask God lots of questions.

This week at Sovereign King, we are going to continue our “Transition” series from 1 Samuel.  In the passage, we are going to see Hannah keep her vow and send her son, Samuel, into priesthood.  In examining this incredible act, we get to ask all the same questions from above and hopefully find some answers as we examine just what right God has on people’s lives.

If you would like to join SK for worship, we meet each Sunday at 10:30am, and you can find directions to our space at http://www.sovereignkingpca.net/1.2.html.

July 23, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

SK Worship Preview for 071810

So, we are in our new space.  We have had our grand opening.  There are still new things to come as the gazillion details necessary for the upcoming Sunday School launch are under way, but the big push to get in new building has come and gone.  What do we do now?

We live the life of the church.

Without hyperbole, I think the “Transition” sermon series has the potential to transform us in ways that we have never seen as a church.  In it, we will see faithful and unfaithful people walking before God in practical issues of faith like desperation, bareness, government, leadership, parenting, worship.  1 Samuel is like almost no other book of scripture in that way.

For example, this Sunday (11/18), we are to see a lonely, desperate woman cry out to God because the one thing she feels will make her happy is beyond her grasp.  How many of us can relate to seeing what we need or want just beyond our grasp?  How many of us wonder what is going on in the mind of God when we struggle like that?  This Sunday, we get to see both the heart of a person in need and the responsive heart of God to that person.  Opportunities like that are very real, very practical, and very much needed.  It is the kind of opportunity we shouldn’t squander and one we should share by inviting others to worship with us.

Simultaneously, the remainder of SK’s church life is taking shape as the new CE Groups are launching this week and next.  We just served the EMS this week by serving them dinner, and new opportunities to serve them, the GPD, and Hayes Place are on the horizon.

I hope to see you all again this Sunday as we gather, worship, and find ourselves transformed.  See you then.

If you would like to worship with us, we meet each Sunday at 10:30am, and you can find directions to our space at http://www.sovereignkingpca.net/1.2.html.

July 16, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Hope for the Hopeless – 1 Samuel 1:-18

In my brief seven years as a pastor, I’ve already been involved with or visited what would seem to be like a myriad hopeless situations.  As police chaplain, I’ve had to inform a 10 year boy that his mother had passed away.  I’ve held the hand of an 80 year old man as his wife of 50 plus years died.  I’ve prayed with folks as they watched their marriage come to an end.  I’ve visited Holly Hill Mental hospital to help folks who are struggling with addiction and suicide.  I’ve preached funerals and prayed with people whose parents have passed away.  I’ve attempted to encourage people who have lost jobs and seen dreams dashed.

Knowing the willingness of Sovereign King Church to be involved in the lives of others at the most difficult levels of pain and hurt, many of you have encountered similar and perhaps even more hurtful and discouraging situations.  In the moments of our grief, it can feel incredibly hopeless.  Our hearts cry out, “What now? Or What else?” Sometimes, we cry out,  “Why God, why?”

Often we meet our grief with a variety of things to soothe our hearts and minds.  We’ll lose ourselves in mindless television.  We’ll eat our troubles away.  We’ll skip eating all together.  We’ll drink until we don’t have to think about what bothers us.  Every now and then we handle these situations healthfully.  We’ll go running or exercise to burn off the stress.  We’ll spend time in prayer or study of the scriptures or find comfort in the community of the church.

You know, if in some way, we don’t meet the every changing difficulties of life with the never changing truths of scripture, hopelessness is the appropriate response.  Vague ideas of who God is just don’t get it done.  Expressions like, “God never closes a door without opening a window” are shallow and ineffective aside from being confusing.  I don’t even know what that one means.  If you are struggling with hope or the lack thereof, the firm foundational truths of who God is, what He has done, and what He promises to do are what the heart needs more than anything else.

In light of those truths, we are embarking on a brand new series today on the book of 1 Samuel entitled “Transitions” – in it, we are going to see folks going through some of the most difficult challenges any human beings have ever gone through.  There we will discover that their need for hope is the same as our need for hope.  With that in mind, let’s answer this Big Picture Question:

Big Picture Question:  How is God hope for the hopeless?

1 Samuel 1:1 There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite. 2 He had two wives. The name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other, Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.

In this amazing complex couple of sentences, we meet a man named Elkanah.  He lived in the hill country of Ephraim with a known genealogy and family history.  Many assume he had a decent amount of wealth.  More than likely, Elkanah was financially doing okay.  We have no idea whether he was rich or not, but he was doing well enough to afford two wives.  So we immediately know something Elkanah:  he was smart enough to make a decent amount of money, but not smart enough to know that its hard enough to keep one wife happy, much less two.

Nevertheless, this was a period of time, where many men would take multiple wives. Elkanah’s first wife was named Hannah and she was barren meaning she had no children.  His other wife was Peninnah had lots of children.  Now, I can imagine this family dynamic was just a flat out disaster.  In a culture where having children, leaving a legacy to live beyond your years, and basically finding your value in your family, you can imagine Hannah had a tough go of it.

First of all, bareness hurts.  Wrestling with the fact that you may never have or not have any more children can be crushing.  If the desire of your heart is to have children, and you can’t, your heart feels deflated.  Amy and I went through that for over two years, and I know many of you have and are struggling with the hopeless feelings that come from wanting children and not being able to have them.

Children are a good desire.  Not being able to have them is confusing and painful.  Sometimes spouses aren’t on the same page with one wanting kids and another not.  Lots of issues like faith, finances, and feasibility come into play, but lying in bed at night, none of these things matter when you want a child.  For Hannah, she lived with a daily reminder of her struggles as her husband had children but with another woman.  She had to look at those kids, that woman, and her husband playing with someone else’s children every day, and I imagine her heart hurt in ways that are hard to understand unless you have experienced bareness.

Fortunately, bareness is a life circumstance used by God to display and demonstrate His power and grace.  Think about all the examples of God displaying His power and grace through women by overcoming their inability to have children.

  • Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was barren and advanced in age when God made the promise to make a people for Himself from her children.   Gen 11:30
  • Rebekah had to wait 20 years before she could have children.  Gen 25
  • Rachel was barren in Gen 29 but God opened her womb in Gen 30
  • Samson’s mother Manoah was barren for years until God moved in her life so that she might have a son Judges 13.
  • Elizabeth was old and childless when God blessed her with the birth of John the Baptist Luke 1.

“Barren women seem to be God’s instruments in raising up key figures in the history of redemption, whether the promised seed (Isaac), the father of Israel (Jacob), saviors or preservers of Israel (Joseph, Samson, Samuel), or the forerunner of the King (John the Baptist).”  Dale Davis

Bareness, and really, any other helplessness that we feel is only met and assuaged as we experience the hope and presence of God.  Our hopelessness, our inabilities, appear at the moment to be the thing that makes life for us impossible or intolerable whether that hopelessness comes from being barren, divorced, unemployed, etc.  If you have ever or are presently struggling with hopelessness, then you share a fellowship with Hannah.  One author calls that the Fellowship of Bareness.

“And it is frequently in this fellowship that new chapters in Yahweh’s history with His people begin – begin with nothing.  God’s tendency is to make our total inability His starting point.  Our hopelessness and our helplessness are no barrier to His work.  Indeed our utter incapacity is often the prop He delights to use for His next act.  This matter goes beyond the particular situations of biblical barren women.  We are facing one of the principles of Yahweh’s modus operandi.  When His people are without strength, without resources, without hope, without human gimmicks – then He loves to stretch forth His hand from heaven.  Once we see where God often begins we will understand how we may be encouraged.”  Dale Davis

This is where we often go wrong don’t we?  We are hopeless and helpless.  We either run towards the wonderfully gracious care of our Father in heaven or we run away from Him because we feel that He has not heard our cries.  Some of you, very much so, right now, are in that situation.  You feel that you are centrally lacking something that you need or so desperately want.  You will either trust God in this moment and find hope, or you will trust yourself and continually find yourself hopeless.  Let’s see what happens with Hannah.

3 Now this man used to go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord.

It was Elkanah’s practice to go worship and sacrifice to the Lord of Hosts at Shiloh once every year.  This is our first interaction with the title “Lord of Hosts” in scripture.  The title implies the Lord over many as in the Lord over a host of angels or a large military.  It is a title to display the unfathomable and limitless power and riches of Yahweh.  This is the God to whom Elkanah would worship and sacrifice each year.  Despite being a wealthy man with two wives, he was a man who was without children by the wife he so dearly loved.

Working at the sanctuary in Shiloh are two central characters for us in the beginning of the book of I Samuel:  the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the Lord.  We will learn a great deal about them, but let’s allow the scriptures to tell that story as we get there.  Our story progresses in verse 4.

4 On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. 5 But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb.

The sacrifice that Elkanah would offer each year was more than likely a peace offering as sacrifices for the atonement of sin would happen in more central places for the people of God and not in more remote areas like Shiloh.  All sacrifices in some way were an offering for the forgiveness of sin but a peace offering was really more of an offering of thanks and asking for the blessing and favor of God to fall on a particular person.  So after the sacrifice was made, the remaining parts of the animal would be divided up to be eaten by the priests and the family who offered the sacrifice.  So Elkanah would give the prerequisite portions to Hophni and Phinehas and then give a portion to Peninnah and his children through her for them to eat.  This was a meal of blessing that celebrated the peace of God and His provision and protection resting up on all that ate it.

Then we see something incredibly heartwarming.  In the culture of that day, when Elkanah discovered that his wife Hannah was barren, he could have cast her aside as useless.   It wouldn’t have been biblical but it wouldn’t haven’t been shocking or out of place.  But instead of looking at Hannah with disdain because she could not provide him an heir, Elkanah looked at his wife with compassion.  He gives her twice the portion of the sacrificial meal that he gives Peninnah because he loves her and has compassion on her as the Lord has closed her womb.

Now as you can imagine, Peninnah has feelings as well.  It appears that Elkanah loves Hannah more than he loves Peninnah, so she decides to start treating Hannah terribly because she is tired of losing the best of her husband to another woman.

6 And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb.  7 So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat.

Now, no one enjoys being teased.  More than likely, at some point in time in your life though, someone has picked on you.  When I was in 6th and 7th grade, it was the worst.  I was the tiny, short kid with curly hair, bad teeth, and more mouth than brains.  Getting picked on was a day to day reality for me.  In some ways, that time of life toughened me up and it other ways it scarred me.  I went home early the last day of 6th grade because some kids run up behind me bulldogged my head into the ground.  When I woke from being knocked unconscious,   I stumbled to the office and just went home.  It was like that.

Some of you have gone through similar situations.  You have been picked on for being overweight or for having acne or being tall or short.  Some of you have been picked on for just having emotions being told to suck it up or quit being so sensitive.  Sometimes, these pains have come from loved ones, even parents, and those wounds cut deeper and last longer than most.  Whether you call it being teased or being bullied or whatever, some of out most lingering pains come from when people have made fun of us.  Hannah is going through that.  She is in incredible pain.  She wants to have a child with her husband, but she can’t.  When she couldn’t, he married another woman and had a gang of kids.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the new wife now provokes her and irritates her.  In her moment of greatest pain, she is being mocked and taunted by an uncaring woman who seems to have it all.  According the passage, this went on for years.  It’s one thing to be teased in a moment.  It is another thing to be mocked repeatedly year after year.  Hearts grow dim and hearts grow cold in times like that.

Like many people who have suffered as Hannah has, she got so upset, she quit eating.  Her depression was so great, the only thing she could do was weep.  Food was the furthest thing from her mind.  She was probably withering away and perhaps that explains why her husband brought her a double portion of the sacrifice.

Now before we go any further, let me say some things about Elkanah, her husband.  Elkanah is a paradox. On the one hand, he has shown himself to be a pretty caring dude in a culture that didn’t seem to have too many caring men.  But on the other hand, he is big dumb male as well.  So we gotta give him a little bit of the benefit of the doubt, but let’s just see what happens.

8 And Elkanah, her husband, said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

Okay, let’s not forget everything what came before this passage.  Elkanah is his culture could have just discarded Hannah for being barren and unable to give him an heir.  It wouldn’t have been biblical, but it wouldn’t have been socially shocking either.  He loved Hannah and wanted her to be blessed.  He didn’t need an heir any more.  He had plenty from Peninnah.  What he wanted was for his grieving wife to be comforted and for that day and age, I say, “Good man, Elkanah.  You are far from perfect but a bit more upstanding than a lot of other dudes.

Having said that, however, the words that come out of Elkanah in verse 8 are pretty naïve and belie the fact that this guy just doesn’t understand the pain of his wife.  He asks her, “Hey, why the sad face?  Why are you crying?  Aren’t I just such an outstanding husband?  I mean I’m such a good husband, aren’t I better than ten sons?”

This comes from the man who married another woman when his wife was barren.  Elkanah, for all his good qualities, is clueless.  Yes, I’m sure that Hannah is very thankful that Elkanah didn’t cast her away when he discovered she was barren.  She is probably thankful that he doesn’t mock her like Peninnah does.  She is probably thankful that he cares and wants to comfort her when she cries.  But when the heart hurts, the heart hurts, and Hannah’s clearly hurt.   In many ways, the very thing that defined her as a woman in that day was just beyond her grasp.  The Lord had closed her womb.  She could not have children.  She was in love with her husband but more than likely felt incredibly inadequate because she couldn’t provide a child for him.  She had the pain of watching her husband woo another woman who apparently was as a fertile myrtle.  This woman was not compassionate but actually antagonistic towards her.  She would openly mock Hannah for her inability to have kids.  Hannah’s pain is an emotional pain that is so bad, she is at the point she doesn’t even eat any more.

Now, I have no desire for anyone among us to dredge up these kinds of feelings but there are some here that can relate to Hannah.  Perhaps, you can relate to the inability to have a child or the inability to have another child, and your body and soul just ache.  Perhaps, you can relate to feeling as if the whole world looks at you with the eyes of Peninnah, mocking you and insulting you.  Sometimes we just wonder if we have missed out on what we thought would make our lives fulfilling or enjoyable.  These things make us so discouraged and depressed that we can’t even eat.

Now, what we are going to see next week is that Hannah has not abandoned God in all of this pain though many people would have long ago.  She is going to get desperate enough to try to cut a deal with God, but she hasn’t abandoned him.  But we don’t want to get to that point just yet.  If we are going to see God move in amazing ways in this woman’s life, then we need to feel her depths of pain.  To truly understand what it means to have your needs met, then you must wrestle with helplessness.  We see that with Hannah.  She has no option or hope for a child outside of herself.  There are no options outside of God’s work and intervention.

We, however, have a hard time getting to that point.  It is hard in this day and age, as smart and accomplished, and prideful as we are all, to flat out, lay it out before God and say, “I can’t change this.  Without your help, with your intervention God, I am helpless and hopeless.”  But let me assure you of something that is going to be a continual theme for the next few sermons:

  • Faith in God begins where your ability ends.
  • Faith in God begins where your self-sufficiency ends.
  • Faith in God begins where your options end.

Contrary to popular belief, faith is not measured by how great of an act you perform.  Faith is measured by your understanding of how big a God you have.  Great acts of faith are the result of the great acts of God.  As our children’s bulletins will state, for us to have hope, just as Hannah had to have hope, we need two things:

  • The love to care that there is a problem.
  • The power to fix the problem.

The only place that is found is the person of Jesus Christ.  Hear these comforting words of hope from Hebrews 4

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.

Verse 14 reminds, us that Jesus is our great High Priest.  In the OT system, the High Priest would intercede between sinful men and women and the holy God.  Interceding means that the High Priest would act as a go between.  He would offer sacrifices for sin and he would plead to God for mercy.  Verse 14 tells us that our confession, our statement of faith and that which we hold to, is that God has sent His son, Jesus to be our High Priest.   God interceding for sinful and hopeless men and women to God.  The one who pleads your case before God the Father is the gracious, merciful, beautiful Jesus Christ.  Why is this hopeful?

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Jesus is sympathetic.  If you come to Him with pain, misery, and the need for mercy and hope, He offers it to you.  Jesus suffered in every way while here among us.  He was beaten, rejected, lied to, and spat upon.  He was homeless and at times penniless.   His best friends left Him, betrayed Him, and deserted Him.  He knows what it feels like to be alone.

And Jesus was tempted to sin in every way that you are tempted to sin.  But here is how He is different.  He lived obediently and triumphantly and that is your hope.  He was perfect and righteous, and He is still sympathetic to your needs.  Jesus does not disdain you in your sin and fear and hopelessness.  Jesus sympathizes with you and intercedes on your behalf to God.

16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Right now, each and every one of you in your hopeless, confused, desperate state of mind, draw near to the throne of God with your cries of praise and cries for help.  Don’t approach God in fear if you approach through Jesus Christ.  Approach confidently as loved sons and daughters to the throne of grace.  There you will receive all the mercy and grace that you need in your time of help and your time of hopelessness.

You have no other hope in this world except the man Jesus.  Rest in that hope today either for the first time or yet again.

July 12, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment