May 21, 2012

Step Up: The Prophet Nathan 2 Samuel 12:1-14


When we are faced with someone else’s wrongdoing...how do we respond? How should we respond? Most people fall into one of two...they either keep quiet and say nothing...or they feel the need to speak out.

For those who keep quiet, this is rooted in feelings that it is really none of their business to say anything. That person is responsible for their own actions, and who am I to step in and say something to them. They are adults. Others times it is rooted in fear of how the person will respond. If you confront them about their addiction they might become angry, alienate themselves from you, and then you will never be able to help. Or, you might feel inadequate to say something...I’m no angel. I have my own problems. Who am I to say anything to them about their actions?

The second way is to speak out. Some feel an inner compulsion to say something...this can be the result of a genuine love and concern for the person...a family member is involved in a self-destructive behavior, and out of love for them and not wanting to see them hurt, you say something hoping to help. For others this is rooted in a modern day Pharisaical spirit. They know what is right, and these people need to hear it. There is joy in point out their sins.

Both responses have their pitfalls and problems. The first response can mistake silence for grace and leave people in their sinfulness and unchanged by God’s grace. The second response can mistake speaking out for upholding truth and end up pushing people further into their sinful rebellion. The first response can mask a fear to stand up for what is right and true, and the second can mask an unholy desire to be right and to control. The first can be the result of a faulty belief system that says, Anything goes, and the second the result of a faulty belief system that says We know the truth, and if you don’t believe like me then you need to change.

As the followers of Jesus, this question is extremely important. We live in an highly volatile time where everyone has a blog, Twitter, or Facebook page where they vent about every detail and problem. Journalism is more about entertainment and gaining ratings than honestly and humbly reporting our world events.

Recently Rick Warren was accused of starting a new religion known as Chrislam. It started when he attended a meeting of Muslims to talk about His faith in Jesus and how based on Jesus’ teaching the two faiths should be able to co-exist. He talked about Christ’s love for neighbor and for enemy and how God’s grace allows Christians to love those in the Muslim community and treat them as Jesus would treat them.

A certain group of people took offense to this and rather than speak to Rick directly, they plastered their thoughts all over the blogosphere...smearing the good name of a man who has spent his life pursuing the Kingdom of God and making a difference in the world around him.

Rick Warren is as orthodox as they come in regards to the Christian faith. Only God has sold more Christian books than Rick Warren. Seriously, his Purpose Driven Life has only been outsold on the Christian market by the Bible.

We see here the trouble with confronting. What if Rick Warren was in the wrong? Shouldn’t someone say something? But then who? And more importantly how should it be handled? Certainly not as an uneducated rant on someone’s blog or Twitter feed by someone who doesn’t know him?

Is there a right way to respond when we believe something isn’t right without shrinking back in silence or overstepping our bounds and doing more harm than good?

This morning we are continuing our message series titled Step Up. We are looking at ordinary men and women...men and women who may not even have their name mentioned in the Bible...they may have only a verse or two written about them...but their faithful obedience to God extended the Kingdom. These people demonstrate that there is no such thing as a small act of obedience.

This morning we are looking at a man named Nathan. Nathan, while mostly unknown, has a decent set of credentials...

  • He is a Prophet during the time of King David and the beginning of Solomon’s reign.
  • God sends him to tell David not to build the temple.
  • He helped David prepare for building the tabernacle.
  • He renames King Solomon Jedidiah or “Loved by God.”
  • He assists in anointing Solomon as King of Israel.
  • And he helped write the Chronicles.

But Nathan is most famous for confronting King David about his adulterous affair with Bathsheeba. She is another man’s wife and when David can’t trick Uriah, her husband, into covering up the affair...David has him murdered. And in the story of Nathan, we gain some insight into answering the question about confrontation of wrongdoing.

Let’s read, 2 Samuel 12:1-14

1 The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, 3 but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.

4 “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”

5 David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! 6 He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”

7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. 9 Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’

11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”

13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. 14 But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die.”
Speaking out is hard enough, but it becomes a lot harder when you have to tell the King he has sinned! He is the most powerful man in your society, and can do whatever he wants to whomever he desires to do it. He has just murdered one of his most loyal soldiers...to confront him about his sin is like being the guy second in line after Bin Laden...you saw what was done to him...you don’t have to be very smart to know who is next!

The purpose of the confrontation wasn't to get Nathan killed...the ultimate purpose of confrontation is to help the person find God's forgiveness. If we are to do it right, the ultimate desire must be to help the person find forgiveness and healing in the presence of God.

So really, speaking up and confronting sin must start with God.

2 Samuel 12:1 says, “The Lord sent Nathan to David.”

Nathan listened for God’s voice and then went when and where the Lord sent him.

Whenever we read about the Old Testament prophets, we see them proclaiming God's judgment and telling the Israelites about an upcoming punishment...what they are doing is called prescriptive prophecy...like a medical prescription only for the soul.

They are saying, "If you don't stop doing such-and-such...then you will face these consequences." "If you don't stop mistreating the poor, the destitute, the widows and orphans, you will be exiled from the land.” The reason their prophecy came true was not because they were good at predicting the future, but because the Israelites were bad at obedience.

The prophets main purpose was not to preach a condemning judgment or to push the people away from God...it was to hear God's voice so they could call the people to God's forgiveness. Acts 10:43 says, “All the prophets testify about [Jesus] that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Our responsibility as Jesus' followers is to hear God's voice so we can go, in obedience, and offer His forgiveness to others. God speaks to us...if we will listen. And when He speaks...He will tell us when to go and when to stay! This is why prayer and silence are so important. They enable us to hear God’s voice.

One of the classic doctrines of the church is Prevenient Grace. This belief states that God’s grace, through the Holy Spirit, is already at work in the world around us. He is at work leading and guiding and preparing peope to take that final step of placing their faith in Jesus Christ.

John 16:8-11 Jesus says,
 “When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.”
A little bit later in John 16:13-15 says,
 “13 When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.
The Holy Spirit’s jobs is to convict the world of sin and lead us into truth. It is the Holy Spirit’s job...not mine to bring conviction. We must listen for the voice of God when it comes to speaking out or not speaking out. So many people have been damaged by Christians who fail to speak up after God has sent them, and many have been damaged by Christians who speak up when God has not sent them.

I was walking across the Wright State University campus with a girl I knew from a couple of my classes. We had built a friendship over the past few months. Shared our notes, occasionally ate lunch together...developed a decent friendship. One day, on our way to class, we walked past the quad, and there was a guy with a white shirt, black pants, and skinny black tie holding the largest Bible I had ever seen. He held the Bible in one hand, and lunged forward on one leg to emphasize each point he was making. He was yelling out about the sinfulness of the people there.

I’m sure he thought he was doing good. In his mind he was making a bold stand for God. The laughter and those ignoring him were just another sign He was suffering for the Truth of the Gospel.

What he failed to see was how many of them were very open to the Gospel...they just couldn’t hear it on the lips of his condemnation. I had talked openly about my faith with her, but as we walked she pointed and said, “That is why I hate Christians. They are judgmental and unloving.”

No matter how hard I tried to recover things from that point on...I couldn’t. She shut up her heart, and was no longer willing to hear. In one leisurely stroll across campus, this young man had derailed and set back what I had been working and praying about.

We must listen closely for the directions of God or we run the risk of not speaking up when we are supposed to or speaking up when are not supposed to.

And when speaking up and confronting sin...Tell a good story.

When Nathan spoke to King David...he didn't go right in and say, "You are a sinner...You committed adultery and you killed Uriah!" David's response would have been "Nathan you have lost your head!" Literally...you are going to lose your head! That approach rarely works.

Nathan told a parable...a story meant to teach a point...He told about a poor man and his lamb, and how the rich man stole it from him rather than use one of his own. Nathan knew that a story could do more than a straight confrontation.

I love to tell stories...and sometimes, when telling the stories, I exaggerate...just a little, but enough to add some flair. If it is a good story exaggeration can only make it better. I have a motto when it comes to telling a story: Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

Sometimes, though, the truth can only be told in a story. That is why many cultures have stories instead of history books. People listen to country music and the Blues because it tells a story. Movies and novels are interesting because people love stories.

The way to open the door for people to receive Jesus is by telling our story. Really that is the best place to start...our own story...What were you like before you started following God...What did God do to get your attention...What is God doing in your life now? We don’t have to have all the answers. We just have to be open and transparent with our journey.

The Bible uses the term witnesses. Acts 1:8 says,
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 
Being a witness comes from the legal world. We call witnesses to stand before a courtroom and tell people what was seen and experienced. God calls us to witness to the world what we see, know, hear, and experience of God!

So we learn to listen for God’s voice and go when He tells us to Go. We have our story ready to be a witness...

Finally, after telling our story, we must speak with humble boldness.

After telling a story about a rich man stealing the lamb from a poor man, David was enraged. Who has done this! I will take care of the man who did such a thing!

2 Samuel 12:7 says, “Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!’”

The prophets had a difficult job...their messages were not always popular.

In Hebrews 11, after telling of all the Great Heroes of the Faith, the writer says, "Others were tortured and refused to be released...Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them."

The reality is people don’t like to be told they are wrong...Prophets had a difficult job...So God often encouraged them to not be afraid...

Nathan spoke boldly, but he spoke humbly. He was there because God sent him. He was not taking pleasure in pronouncing and revealing the sins of his king...He wasn’t satisfied with just telling him about the wrong...because the ultimate purpose of this whole scene was for David to repent and find forgiveness.

When God tells us to go...we are to speak both humbly and boldly. Humbly because if we are being obedient to Scripture...we love these people to whom we are speaking and we take no pleasure in revealing sins...and because we are going in response to God’s voice not our own. But we speak boldly because we heard God tell us to speak and we are not speaking our words but God’s words.

After confronting David, Nathan said...

“This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says....” 2 Samuel 12:7

We don't speak in the name of the Lord in the same way the prophets did, but every time we hear God say, “Go!” and we share our story...God shows up and gives us the words to say.

I am amazed at how it works. I know I am supposed to say something...share how God is working in my life...but I get fearful...I wonder how the person will react...I decide to do something...say something...so I just start talking...and the words start to come.

If this only happened to me I would think it a fluke...but it happens all the time. As soon as we step out in faith...God gives us His words.

Conclusion
Our ultimate goal is to offer God’s forgiveness...not our condemnation. 2 Samuel 12:13 says, “Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ Nathan replied, ‘The Lord has taken away your sin.’” That is the goal.

After all this, David felt the pain of his sin...he was repentant...and after asking for God's forgiveness...Nathan is able to give it to him...not based on his own authority, but based on God's offer of forgiveness to David.

In the New Testament, Jesus tells his disciples...

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:19 This means God has given us the authority to help people find forgiveness when they come with repentant hearts.

[I ended the message differently from here on out...]

So what does this look like in action?

1. We start by loving our neighbors as ourselves. It has to start with that. Do you love the people around no matter who they are and what their sin? If it doesn’t start with love for the person, you aren’t being asked to say anything.
2. Then we build a relationship with those around us and pray for God to work and to open spaces and times for us to share our story with them. Do you have a relationship with that person? Do you have right to speak into their lives? Sometimes God calls us to speak to those we don’t know, but more often, God expects us to have connection with them already.
3. We live in faithful obedience to God in our everyday life. We are witnesses and part of our story and witness is what they see in us day in and day out. Does our lives demonstrate a pattern of seeking after God and being obedient?
4. We look for ways and times when God opens doors into the person’s heart. Are we listening for God’s voice instead of our own?
5. We share our story and speak out with humble boldness for God. Praying for God’s working the entire time.

There is too much to cover in this area. Invite you to read Matthew 18:15-20, I invite you to read the Gospels to see how Jesus dealt with sin...and who Jesus confronted the most (hint: it was the religious people more than any other).

May 14, 2012

Step Up: Hannah 1 Samuel 1:1-20


In May of 1999, I was working as the youth pastor at a church in Kansas City, Ks. It was a rather traditional church. I had to wear a suit every Sunday. I did the welcome and the announcements during the service, and sat in one of the chairs directly behind the large wooden pulpit during each and every service...making sure that I behaved as much as anything. Following the closing prayer the congregation would sing the doxology, and Lori and I would follow the pastor and his wife to the back of the sanctuary where we would shake people’s hands as they left.

It was Mother’s Day so it had been a great day of celebrating Motherhood. As the women passed we would use the customary greeting and say, “Happy Mother’s Day!” and congratulate them on enduring the things their children had put them through. As they passed they would wish the pastor’s wife, “Happy Mother’s Day.” But since Lori and I didn’t have any children at the time, most would simply say good bye or “Good to see you” or something innocuous like that.

Until one woman came through through the line. She wished the pastor’s wife a “Happy Mother’s Day!” and then said to Lori, “Happy Moth...oh, I can’t wish you a Happy Mother’s Day because you are not a mother.” Those words were like a knife to Lori’s soul. She had been fine up to that point. But the way this woman said what she said caused Lori to break down, and leave the church crying. I followed after her, but that afternoon and the next few months were some of the toughest of our marriage.

What this lady didn’t realize is we had been trying without success for 3½ years to have a child. We had been on many doctor visits, had been trying the various prescriptions and suggestions, and even had the difficult discussions about the “other” possibilities. We didn’t have to go through the difficulties of a miscarriage like many couples endure. We simply hadn’t been able to conceive.

Mother’s Day is a tough day for us because it can be a day of celebration or a day of struggle. It is a celebration for those who have children and celebrate their own mothers, but it is a struggle for those who long to have children or struggle to find anything good in their own mothers. In the midst of special days like this we wrestle with the biblical call of Romans 12:15 to, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”

How do we rejoice for the person whose mother was the best thing since June Cleaver when our mother was absent or abusive?

Can the joy of motherhood make room for someone else’s brokenness and emptiness as they struggle to have children?

What about those struggling to have children...can they celebrate with those who have something they have been denied?

If we takes Romans 12:15 seriously, we quickly realize how difficult it is to “rejoice with those who rejoice” and “mourn with those who mourn”

We have been working through a message series called Step Up where we have been looking at little known or unknown people of the Bible who stepped up and made a difference for the Kingdom of God. These aren’t the heavy hitters we normally hear about...Moses, David, Paul, but they serve as proof that every act of obedience and faith in God has a purpose.

Today we are talking about Hannah. Hannah is a woman well acquainted with the struggle to become a mother, and the heartache involved, and yet she was able to come to peace with things well before she gave birth to her first son. Let’s take just a few moments to look at Hannah, and then we have the privilege of dedicating 4 of children to the Lord this morning.

Follow along in your Bibles, on your phone, or on the screen. 1 Samuel 1:1-20
1 There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. 2 He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.

3 Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the Lord Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the Lord. 4 Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. 5 But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb. 6 Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. 7 This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. 8 Her husband Elkanah would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons? ”

9 Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on his chair by the doorpost of the Lord’s house. 10 In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. 11 And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty , if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”

12 As she kept on praying to the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk 14 and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.”

15 “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. 16 Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”

17 Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him. ”

18 She said, “May your servant find favor in your eyes. ” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.

19 Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah made love to his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. 20 So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.”
Hannah’s husband Elkanah really seems to be a good man. Hannah is listed first signifying her importance and primacy as Elkanah’s wife. Out of his love for her, Elkanah would give Hannah a double portion from the sacrifice when they went up to worship. He even attempted, though like any other male he failed miserably, to comfort her in her trouble.

But a barren woman, in this culture, was not easily comforted. The biblical term “barren” refers to something that has no fruitfulness...not life. Society survived and thrived on the ability of a woman to bear children...to “be fruitful and multiply.” If a family or tribe was to be prosperous...they had more children. It was expected that a woman bear children so the family name could live on.

In the Old Testament, five women are referred to as barren: Sarah (Genesis 11:30), Rebekah (Genesis 25:21), Rachel (Genesis 29:30), Hannah (1 Samuel 1:2), and Manoah’s wife (Samson’s mother, cf. Judges 13:2). And one woman in the New Testament, Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, was barren (Luke 1:7).

But barrenness also refers to the dryness or lifelessness of the land...a very common metaphor for the state of those living in the land. There are many people, who like Hannah are living with a barrenness...a lack of fruitfulness in their lives. For Hannah it meant life without a child, but for us it can mean something completely different.

Many people have barren marriages. The man and the woman have become so focused on the children they no longer have any real relationship with each other. He is an income and she is a taxi. Or they have drifted apart over the years and the life has gone from the relationship.

Some are living with barren careers. He did a good thing and got a job to pay the bills and care for his family, but pretty soon the apartment wasn’t enough. They bought a house which came with more bills, which required more hours. The boss took notice of his hard work and promoted him. He now had to meet those expectations and work harder. And before long this job, which is a necessary thing, has become the tail that wags the dog. There is no life. It is simply a way to provide money for the family.

In the spiritual life, we see barrenness in someone whose life isn’t connected to God. When we attempt to do life on their own, apart from God...even living in willful rebellion against him...and though they may be filled with some really good things...we are barren and fruitless. This form of barrenness also happens to “Christians.” We get so busy with everyday life and doing things for God we forget to spend time with God. We don’t pray or spend time in God’s word or with God’s people in life-giving relationship...so we become fruitless...lifeless...barren.

When faced with barrenness, like Hannah, despair can set in. For Hannah it was worsened by her circumstances. She was the loved wife, but her barrenness caused Elkanah to take another wife named Peninnah. Because Peninnah could have children she taunted and provoked Hannah to tears. In his attempt to show compassion, Elkanah only made things worse with his actions and words...once again drawing attention to all that Hannah lacked.

As if all this wasn’t enough, this pilgrimage to Shiloh to worship was most likely the Feast of Tabernacles. This particular feast was a religious ceremony at the end of the harvest season celebrating the fruitfulness of the land and all that God had done to bless the family. So the fruitless, lifeless womb of Hannah stood out in stark contrast to the exuberant celebration of fruitfulness going on around her.

It was more than she could take. She wept. She lost her appetite. More importantly, she decided to do something about it. Verse 9 simply says, “Hannah stood up.” These three words demonstrate Hannah’s determination to do something about her situation.

So she does what we should do...We must allow our despair to push us to our knees.

Hannah leaves the celebration and rushes into the sanctuary. She pours out her heart to God. 1 Samuel 1:10 says, “In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly.” She released all that despair into the hands of God. She laid it all out before God, and left it to him.

So often we like to wallow in our despair. It is like the scab or sore spot that we keep touching, and rather than turn it over to God...we hold on to it because our worry will do so much to correct the situation. Or, we attempt to find ways to fix the situation on our own and rush into decisions that end up costing us more in the long run. We will avoid confiding in others because we are supposed to be strong and handle things on our own.

We will hold on to the pain rather than let it push us to our knees in prayer, but only there can we learn to offer our problems and trials to a God who loves us beyond all we can imagine.

Hannah also discovered something else...Our prayer should lead us to surrender.

This is probably the most difficult thing to learn in prayer...that we must surrender. Hannah prays, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life...”

She has been trying to have a child for years...and here she is promising to give her first-born son back to the Lord. We know that after the birth of Samuel, Hannah literally commits Samuel back to the Lord and leaves him with Eli in Shiloh at the temple. Hannah was just speaking metaphorically. She surrendered the very thing her heart desired back to God.

We see this in Abraham. God promised to make Abraham into a mighty nation and to bless him through his son Isaac...and then tells Abraham to take Isaac to a mountain and sacrifice him there. I don’t know what was going through Abraham’s mind. In obedience he took Isaac to the mountain and was willing to sacrifice the son through whom God had promised to do something great. He was willing to surrender the very thing he desired most in order to live in obedience to God.

The reason we don’t get what we pray for is we don’t really have a surrendered heart. James 4:2-3 says, “You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

Hannah wanted a child...but this wasn’t going to be just any child. Samuel would lead the people through the difficulty of God’s judgment on Eli and his sons. He would lead them into choosing a King. She had to be able to release this child into God’s custody. This could not just be to satisfy Hannah’s unhappiness and desire for a child...she had to have God’s greater intentions in mind.

Why do we ask God for more money? Is it because we will invest in the Kingdom of God and care for others...or is it because we have stuff we want to buy and a more comfortable life to live?

Why do we pray for more spiritual gifts? Is it because we want to work harder and use them for the Kingdom or because it will demonstrate we really are spiritual?

Why do pray for that better job? Or for health?

If we are going to make a difference for the Kingdom of God...if our lives are going to be used for His purpose...we must surrender deepest desires, longings, and hopes to Him. Both Abraham and Hannah desperately desired to have a child, but only in their willingness to surrender that child back to God were they able to receive the gift from God. And only in our willingness to surrender all we hope to gain can we truly receive it as a gift from God.

But when we do surrender, just like it did for Hannah, Our surrender frees us to worship God.

1 Samuel 1:18-19 “Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast. Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord and then went back to their home at Ramah.”

When Hannah surrendered her desires and all hope of its fulfillment...only then could she worship God. It wasn’t until she surrendered all her hopes and dreams for having a child that she could feast and celebrate and worship in the presence of God.

So many times, we remove ourselves from the presence of God because we hold on to our hopes and desires. We refuse to really surrender them back to God. We won’t to let go, and in refusing to surrender we can not truly worship Him.

God requires what we value most. He will not share space and time in our lives with anything else. When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus responds, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”

Hannah surrendered her deepest longings to God, and it freed her to worship Him. She surrendered the situation to Him, and it was no longer her’s. She removed her hands from it, and turned it all over to Him. She never received a promise that she would conceive and have a son, but she trusted that however things turned out God was at work.

When we surrender our struggles and our deepest desires to God we are free to worship Him. We no longer have to worry. Whatever the outcome, we can trust, with the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:28, that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

We can say with James in 1:17, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

We can declare with Jesus in Matthew 7:11, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

Conclusion
There is an old story...whether it is true or not...it serves to demonstrate a point.

A young girl was visiting her grandparents, and while there got her hand stuck in a very expensive vase. Try as they could to get her little hand out of the mouth they couldn’t. Finally, they decided to just break the vase. When her hand was free they discovered she had been clutching a penny she dropped in the bottom of the vase.

So often we hold on to something we treasure at the expense of something with far greater value. But once we surrender...we are free to experience all that God has in store for us. Our barrenness is taken away, and in its place we are given life and fruitfulness. Jesus says in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.”

God’s design and desire for us is to live a fruitful, abundant life. A life that overflows with his presence. A life of worship. This doesn’t mean we won’t have trials and struggles, but living a life of surrender enables us to trust the One who can really handle it all anyway.

This morning we have the privilege to dedicate our children into the hands of God. It is a symbolic act that both reminds us that God is ultimately in control and that we as Parents and as church community have been charged with the responsibility to raise our children in the presence of God. These children are Gods. We must release them into His hands. But also recognize that we have been charged with the stewardship of their care.

We recognize it is important to ground our children in the Word of God, in prayer, in Worship, and in serving.

This morning we have four children being dedicated, we are going to do this as a two part charge. The first is a charge to the parents to raise their children in such a way that reflects God’s presence and directs them ever closer to Him. The second is a charge to us as a church to come alongside and do our part to support and empower them in their endeavor.

Parents do you promise to give your child to God all the days of her/his life. (I Samuel 1:11), to show them how to love God with all of their heart, soul and strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5), to teach them about the Lord, both at home and as you go about your daily lives (Deuteronomy 6:7), to train them up in the way of the Lord so that they will not depart as they grow older (Proverbs 22:6), and to thank God regularly for this blessing from the Lord (Psalm 127:3)?

If so, answer, “I will!”

Church, do you promise to love these children as God has loved us (1 John 4:11), to encourage them to love others and do good deeds in the name of Christ (Hebrews 10:24), to rejoice with you in times of rejoicing (Romans 12:15), to help them through difficult times and carry their burdens (Galatians 6:1-2), to pray for them throughout their lives (I Thessalonians 5:17), to treat them as a blessing and responsibility from the Lord (Psalm 127:3)?

If so, answer, “We will!”

Almost like a marriage, huh?

Pray the prayer over these parents you would want prayed over you if you were in their place.

May 8, 2012

Step Up: Naaman's Servant Girl 2 Kings 5:1-8


On March 11, 2005 Brian Nichols was escorted into the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta, Georgia to face charges on a crime he had committed. Everyone believed it would be standard procedure. The deputies had logged thousand of prisoners, the judge had presided over many cases, there was nothing to say that this day was going to be any different. Deputy Cynthia Hall lead Nichols into a cell so he could change clothes for his arraignment, but as she uncuffed him Nichols turned on her and beat her savagely dragging her into a cell and leaving her to die. He changed his clothes, and stole her keys and weapon, and slipped out of the cell unnoticed.

Instead of escaping, Nichols ran to the courthouse where he killed the judge who would have presided over his case, a court reporter, and another deputy while making his escape. He fled the courthouse by stealing multiple cars and kidnapping their occupants for cover. Over the next 26 hours, law enforcement conducted one of the largest manhunts in Atlanta history. By the time the rampage was over Nichols would be convicted of 54 felonies.

Shortly before his capture, Brian Nichols kidnapped Ashley Smith in the parking lot of her apartment complex. He forced her into the apartment and over the next few hours held her captive while he tried to figure out what to do. There was one point where Ashley could have escaped, but felt strongly that if she fled he would kill more people. So rather than flee, Ashley read to him from the Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life and from the Bible. Later when Nichols let her leave to visit her daughter, Ashley called 911 and alerted them to his location.

In the face of danger...even death, Ashley Smith responded by reading God’s Word to a man who had killed 5 people and wounded many more. For all she knew, she could be next. It was later revealed that she had struggled for years to get free from an addiction to meth, she even had some in the apartment, but in the moment of danger greatest, in the moment when she could have run back to the drug for comfort, she could have just surrendered to the situation, after all it seemed hopeless...instead she chose to trust God and share Him with her captor.

We are in a message series titled Step Up, and we are looking at men and women of the Bible who often don’t receive a lot of attention. They live in the shadows. They often receive only a verse or two in the Bible, and sometimes, like today, they aren’t even named. But what they all have in common is that in the moment that it really mattered they stepped up in obedience and made a difference for the Kingdom of God.

Today we are looking at the story of a young girl, taken into slavery by a band of raiders, and, despite her circumstances, she remained a true and steady witness for God. Rather than focus on her situation, trusted God...and change a man’s life.

Let’s read today’s passage found in 2 Kings 5:1-8,
The king of Aram had great admiration for Naaman, the commander of his army, because through him the Lord had given Aram great victories. But though Naaman was a mighty warrior, he suffered from leprosy.

2 At this time Aramean raiders had invaded the land of Israel, and among their captives was a young girl who had been given to Naaman’s wife as a maid. 3 One day the girl said to her mistress, “I wish my master would go to see the prophet in Samaria. He would heal him of his leprosy.”

4 So Naaman told the king what the young girl from Israel had said. 5 “Go and visit the prophet,” the king of Aram told him. “I will send a letter of introduction for you to take to the king of Israel.” So Naaman started out, carrying as gifts 750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold, and ten sets of clothing. 6 The letter to the king of Israel said: “With this letter I present my servant Naaman. I want you to heal him of his leprosy.”

7 When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes in dismay and said, “This man sends me a leper to heal! Am I God, that I can give life and take it away? I can see that he’s just trying to pick a fight with me.”

8 But when Elisha, the man of God, heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes in dismay, he sent this message to him: “Why are you so upset? Send Naaman to me, and he will learn that there is a true prophet here in Israel.”

This story begins with a man, a non-Jew, an Aramean named Naaman.

Naaman is a good man. His name actually means “pleasant.” He is the commander of the strongest army of his day. He is beloved by the King whose army he leads. He is successful, and he is described as a mighty warrior. But Naaman has one problem...He has leprosy.

Leprosy was a catch-all term for many different skin diseases. In the Bible it isn’t exclusively reserved for what we call leprosy today, but did include that disease. The word was used to refer to cloth with discolored patches from mildew and, when referring to a human sufferer, indicated a skin disease with discolored patches of skin. Some forms of leprosy would pass quickly, but others were long-term diseases and disrupted a person’s social standing.

The biblical word for leprosy meant “to strike down,” and the Book of Leviticus gave specific rules for dealing with leprosy and those who had it. Under Jewish Law, lepers were to remain unkempt, their beards unshaved, clothes torn, and yell out “unclean, unclean” as they walked through the streets. Even in non-Jewish settings most lepers were expelled to the edges of society and forced to live outside of human contact.

Lepers were treated this way because leprosy was seen as the judgment of God on the unfaithful. Those with leprosy is was assumed did not live according to the Law. Especially those who were not Jews.

But maybe another way to look at this is there are good people all around us with one problem...they are separated them from God. Naaman had everything he could possible want in this world, but his leprosy stood as a sign of his uncleanness before God. We know people who are good people. They are successful. They have a great family, make good money, do good things for the people around them, and yet they are separated from God.

Many find this troubling. It is difficult to believe that a “good” person is not accepted by God...somehow, on the sheer quality of their goodness. The Gospel, however, is not about good and bad. The Gospel is about whether or not we turn in faith from our sins and turn to Jesus. The fancy word we use there is repent...we repent, we turn from the path we are on. We make a 180 degree turn and in faith we follow Jesus. Naaman was a good person, but his leprosy was a physical symbol that he was still unclean before God. Without healing, his leprosy would continue to separate him from those around him and from God. Without forgiveness our sin continues to separate us from those around us and from God.

Despite Naaman’s pleasantness and success and the fact that he was loved by his King...the Jews would have a very different view of Naaman. They would assume his leprosy was punishment from God for all he had done in war against Israel...And this is where meet our unnamed slave girl.

Aramean raiders invaded her homeland, sacked and burned her town, most likely killed her family, and carried her off as a slave in the home of their commander. If anyone has the right to look at this man, whom everyone else loves, and say, “I hope you rot with this disease,” it would be this young, unnamed slave girl. No would fault her for thinking, “Naaman, you are getting everything you deserve for what you and your army did to my family and my homeland.” But she doesn’t. She does something very surprising, she takes a very different path.

It is easy for us to read through this story and not sense the outrage this story would have caused for its original listeners. The Arameans did horrific things to the people Israel, and for this story to end the way we know it does, with Naaman’s healing...would have been an outrage.

If human nature holds true, the Israelites would have been outraged at the thought of this man receiving healing after all he had done to them. But they would also have turned their anger on this young girl for even opening the door for this man to be healed. This disease is punishment from God, and Naaman deserves every bit of it in their mind.

This young girl goes to the Naaman’s wife and says, “I wish my master would go to see the prophet in Samaria. He would heal him of his leprosy.” As we look at this young girl, we learn some very powerful lessons.

This young girl could have wallowed around in her hurt, anger, and prejudice, and no one would fault her. Instead she allowed God to work in her and this opened the door for God to work in the situation.

If we are not careful our hurts, our pains, our anger and prejudice can stand in the way of God’s ability to work. There is that person at work who gets on our nerves...and then we see them distraught over something...but we walk on past...and we have kept God from speaking into that situation. There is the family member we just can’t put up with anymore...and we shut ourselves down. There is the person with that sin who makes us uncomfortable just to be around...so we do the “good” Christian thing a be separate from the world...and because of our distance from them we will never be a witness for God.

Or maybe we hinder others because they hear us proclaim a faith in God, but see how ineffective God’s work has been in our lives and how little it has helped us...then we have once again shut off the ability be a way for them receive God.

We claim to follow Christ, but our lives look no different from anyone else. We still curse like a sailor. We still share in the juicy bits of office gossip. We claim to follow Christ, but still have inappropriate sexual behavior. We are ruled by an addiction that consumes us. We claim to follow Christ, but we are greedy, or judgmentally angry, or arrogant, or selfish.

The expectation is not that we are perfect. We don’t get it right all the time. But when people look at us, when they look at our lives, do they see us reflecting Jesus? Do they see us being transformed to be more like Jesus on a regular basis? Do they see us working in the power of the Holy Spirit to bring our lives into unison with God’s Son? Because when they don’t, we are the barrier to God’s ability to work.

Because this young girl allowed God’s healing work to be done in her life, she was able to pass that along to those around her.

This young girl could have become despondent in her situation. Instead she saw God at work and became an influencer for God’s Kingdom.

When faced with horrible situations it is easy to sink into a despair, a loneliness, or maybe a period of questioning.

Why is this happening? Is God angry with me? Where is God in all of this?

This young girl, most likely, has suffered some pretty traumatic things, but rather than sink into hopeless about the circumstances...she sees how God has placed her there to do something she doesn’t fully understand.

Most of us have heard the story of Joseph. Because his father loves him more than he loves his others sons, Joseph’s brothers sell him as a slave to a band of merchants. The merchants sell him into slavery in Egypt where he works his way up in Potiphar’s household, but Potiphar’s wife falsely accuses him of attempted rape. So he is thrown into prison. In prison, he interprets the dreams of two of Pharaoh's servants. The one promises to remember Joseph and get him out, but promptly forgets. Eventually, Joseph is remembered, and interprets a dream for Pharaoh, and saves the land from famine.

Joseph’s brothers arrive seeking food, Joseph toys with them a bit, but eventually reveals his identity. The brothers fear for their lives, but Joseph says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20). Psalm 105:19 is one of my favorite verses about...It says, Until the time came to fulfill his dreams, the Lord tested Joseph’s character.”

It is easy to get into a woe is me state of mind. The situations are grave...sometimes almost unbearable. It is hard to see beyond the pain. And yet God is at work fulfilling some much larger.

Could it be that our struggle and this tough situation is a way for God to refine our character? Could our cubicle placement next to the annoying guy with the red swingline stapler result in something powerful happening for the Kingdom of God? Could the pain we experience now result in something far deeper than we could ever imagine?

The question is not Does God CAUSE it...the real question is Can God USE it? It isn’t about whether or not we feel pain or sorrow or hurt, but whether we descend into despair and hopelessness. Can we step back and see how my discomfort might be an opportunity for God to work in the world around me? Can we refuse to get caught up in despair and hopeless and believe that in all things God can bring about something good? Can we see that this isn’t all about me, me me, and that we have an opportunity in all situations to extend the Kingdom of God?

Because this young girl did not allow despair and hopelessness to win she was able to see God at work in this situation.

This young girl could have allowed her station in life to dictate her influence. Instead she realized that with God she could make a difference.

In this culture she had everything stacked against her. She was young. She was a slave. She was an Israelite. She was a girl. She had no influence. What she had was faith in the God’s ability to heal, and a willingness to speak up when it mattered.

Compared with this young girl, the King of Israel had great influence, but no faith. Rather than seize the opportunity to point this Naaman toward God, all the King could see was the potential backlash if God failed. He doesn’t even consider healing as a possibility. He doesn’t mention the Prophet Elisha. He tears his clothes and begins to mourn this dreadful situation.

This man with all the power, all the influence in the Kingdom of Israel, a man who was supposed to be a leader pointing people to the God of Israel...actually had no influence at all and made no difference for God’s Kingdom.

The King cries out, “Am I God, that I can give life and take it away?” And it is in this question that we see his problem. He is relying on...himself. No one was asking him to be God. He was simply being asked to point the way to God.

We are influencers for the Kingdom of God. No matter what our station in life, we are called to influence the world around us and move things toward the Kingdom of God. In that task, we are not called to be God...only to point the way to God. We are like living signposts.

When faced with the opportunity to pray with someone who is hurting...it is not up to us to bring healing...to make everything alright...we are simply pointing to the one who can. When given the opportunity to tell someone about Jesus...it is not up to us to “get them saved.” Salvation is God’s job...we are called to be a signpost pointing them toward God.

God places us in the right places, even the dangerous ones, maybe especially in the dangerous ones, so we can point the way to Him. Most of us will never have to face the situation this young girl faced. But we do have to own up to our call to be influencers. Probably the most important step is learning to seize the opportunities provided to us...to be spiritually aware enough to see the open door for us to point the way to God.

For many of us this means learning the fine art of listening for God’s voice...we need to pray. And not just laundry list prayers or crisis prayers...but deep times of listening for God’s guidance and leadership. This will open our eyes to the possibilities that God is opening around us.

For some of us it means learning to pay attention...being aware...learning how God’s spirit moves and being ready with what God has given us to act. Being able to see the need...sense the opening.

All of this requires long periods of time spent in God’s presence and reading His Word so we can tell the difference between God speaking and our own inner leanings or the deceiver’s words.

This young girl, with no influence to speak of, was able to point the way to the God of Israel. Because she refused to allow station in life to dictate her ability to influence, she saw God work in a powerful way in Naaman’s life.

Conclusion
If we had time, and if Naaman was the point of this message, there is a great deal to be said about how this girl’s simple statement brought about an amazing change in Naaman...his healing and the change of commitment to following the God of Israel. But none of that would have been possible if this young girl had not allowed the work of God in her life to overflow...if she had not stepped up and been obedient.

It is easy to overlook the possibilities around us. To allow our hurt and pain and prejudice to get in the way...to become blind to the possibilities because of how bad things are around us...to believe that we couldn’t really make a difference anyway! God chooses you...and then places you in particular situations so that His Kingdom will advance. This young, unnamed slave girl saw her situation as an opportunity for God to work.

We have to stop asking, “Am I God who can make this happen?” and begin saying “I serve the God who is I AM who can make this happen!” Then point the way.