Monday, July 27, 2009

Sermon: "When You Are Tempted"

David: A Man After God’s Own Heart
When You Are Tempted (David & God’s House)
(Sixth in the Series)
2 Samuel 11:1-15
July 26, 2009

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.

It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house. The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.”

So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king. But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house.

When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?” Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.”

Then David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day, David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.

In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.”

Have you ever noticed that sometimes when we make a mistake, we just dig ourselves in deeper when we try to correct it? The following advertisements reportedly appeared in a daily newspaper:

Monday: “The Rev. A.J. Jones has one color TV set for sale. Telephone 626-1313 after 7 p.m. and ask for Mrs. Donnelley who lives with him, cheap.”

Tuesday: “We regret any embarrassment caused to Rev. Jones by a typographical error in yesterday’s paper. The ad should have read: ‘The Rev. A.J. Jones has one color TV set for sale, cheap...Telephone 626-1313 and ask for Mrs. Donnelley, who lives with him after 7 p.m.’”

Wednesday: “The Rev. A.J. Jones informs us that he has received several annoying telephone calls because of an incorrect ad in yesterday’s paper. It should have read: ‘The Rev. A.J. Jones has one color TV set for sale, cheap. Telephone 626-1313, after 7 p.m. and ask for Mrs. Donnelley who loves with him.’”

Thursday: “Please take notice that I, the Rev. A.J. Jones, have no color TV set for sale; I have smashed it. Don’t call 626-1313 anymore. I have not been carrying on with Mrs. Donnelley. She was, until yesterday, my housekeeper.’”

Friday: “Wanted: a housekeeper. Usual housekeeping duties. Good pay. Love in, Rev. A.J. Jones. Telephone 626-1313.’”

That’s what happened to King David in this story about his encounter with Bathsheba. He made one mistake that was bad enough, but then in trying to correct it or cover it up, he just made it worse.

But we can learn from other people’s mistakes, sometimes more than from their successes. Today we’ll try to learn from David’s mistake with Bathsheba about how to deal with temptation.

Next week we’ll look at David’s dramatic confrontation with Nathan and see how mistakes can be forgiven, even David’s tragic mistake with Bathsheba.

The story, as it’s told in 2 Samuel 11, can be summarized pretty simply. It was the spring of the year, and instead of going to battle with his soldiers, David stayed behind in Jerusalem. David was about 50 years old by this time, so maybe he thought he was getting too old to go to war any more.

One afternoon David was walking around on the roof of his palace when he looked down and saw a “very beautiful” woman taking a bath. David sent one of his servants to find out who she was and the servant came back and reported that her name was Bathsheba
and that she was married to Uriah the Hittite.

David was so taken with Bathsheba that he had her brought to the palace. One thing followed another and a while later Bathsheba sent word to the king that she was pregnant.

David’s first instinct was to try to cover up their adultery, so David had Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, brought back from battle on furlough.

David gave him permission to go home and see his wife -- maybe Uriah could be fooled into thinking he was the child’s father.

But Uriah was such a loyal soldier that he slept at the door of the palace with the servants instead of with his wife.

Next, David tried getting Uriah drunk but that didn’t work. Uriah still wouldn’t go home to be with Bathsheba.

So finally David took a last drastic step. He ordered Uriah to be sent back to the battle and to be put on the front lines where the fighting was the fiercest. The other soldiers were ordered to draw back from him so he would be left unprotected and be killed.

Sure enough, that’s what happened. Uriah was killed in the battle and after a suitable period of mourning, Bathsheba became one of David’s wives and she had their baby.

Next week we’ll look at the aftermath of these events. Today I want to focus on the theme of temptation.

It’s obvious that David made several crucial mistakes here, and each one just seems to have made the situation worse.

David’s Mistakes:
First of all, David had too much spare time, and it got him into trouble. David should have been in battle with his troops instead of lazing around the palace.

Then, David let his power as king go to his head. I mentioned in a previous sermon that earlier in his reign David had a clear sense that as king he was God’s servant, God’s shepherd, caring for the flock, protecting them from predators, as he’d done as a boy when he was a shepherd.

David risked his own life many times to protect the people. But now he had become the predator, preying on vulnerable members of his own flock.
David’s problem was that as king he could do almost anything and get away with it. Maybe he rationalized to himself that he had done so much for the people that he “deserved” this one indiscretion.

David may have also let pride go to his head. Surrounding pagan kings no doubt had big harems. Maybe David was trying to be like them, but he disregarded God’s law in having many wives and concubines.

In Deut. 17:17 God had specifically warned that no future king of Israel should ever “multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away.” David ignored this law, setting the stage for what happened with Bathsheba.

David also made the mistake of acting on his temptation. No one would criticize David for responding emotionally to what he saw. Scripture says that Bathsheba was a “very beautiful woman.” Not just beautiful – very beautiful.

David sinned when he acted on his temptation, lusting in his heart and bringing Bathsheba to the palace to sleep with her.

Finally, David messed up when he didn’t acknowledge his sin immediately and take steps to correct it. He tried to fix things all on his own and he only dug himself a deeper hole, finally ending up by murdering Uriah.

David’s tragic story has much to teach us, not least of all about confession and forgiveness, but we’ll talk about that next week.

Today I want us to focus on dealing with temptation. We may think it’s useless to resist. But we can deal with it.

The best way to deal with temptation is to prepare ourselves ahead of time. If we wait until we are tempted to decide what we’re going to do, it’s usually too late. But if we’ve thought through our plan of action in advance, we stand a better chance of staying strong and resisting.
If I’m trying to swear off of desserts, I need to make up my mind to just have Jello before I walk into Luby’s and see that huge selection of pies and cakes. Otherwise I’m dead.

So let’s take some lessons from David’s own unfortunate battle with temptation.

1) Avoid situations where temptation is especially strong.

The best way to battle temptation is to stay away, as much as possible, from the situations where we are tempted. That sounds so obvious, I know, but how often do we forget that simple piece of advice?

It’s hard for me to go into a McDonald’s and eat a healthy meal. Chances are, I won’t order grilled chicken, salad with no dressing, and water. I’ll have a Big Mac and fries. But I will drink a Diet Coke!

If I have a problem with alcohol, I need to stay out of bars. You get the idea. Simple, but it works.

2) Take an active role in resisting temptation.

The best way to battle temptation is to stay out of situations where we know we’ll be tempted. But what happens when we find ourselves in a situation of temptation despite our best efforts to avoid it? That’s when we have to actively resist.

The Bible says that when we are tempted by sensual sins, we are to “flee,” to run, to get away. If you try to stay and fight, you’ll probably lose.

David should have been with troops, not strolling on his roof looking at pretty girls. But when he did see her, at the first sight of Bathsheba, David should have run back in the palace as fast as he could, gotten on his horse, and joined his troops in battle, or written a psalm, or built a model airplane.

If your eyes tempt you, don’t take a second look at that tempting thing. If your tongue tempts you to gossip or say unkind things, guard your tongue. Remember, you’re in charge of yourself!

3) There is a supernatural power that can help us resist temptation.

Despite our very best preparations and efforts, if we depend only on our own power, we’re in trouble. In a moment of weakness, we’ll fail. It’s a supernatural foe we’re fighting – Satan. So we need supernatural help.

God offers a supernatural power that can help us withstand temptation when our own strength fails.

1 Corinthians 10:13 is a very imp. passage:

Remember that the temptations that come into your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can’t stand up against it. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you will not give in to it. (1 Cor. 10:13, NLT)

God does not leave us to battle temptation alone. God gives us weapons against temptation.

God has given us Jesus. If we believe in Jesus, Satan can’t force us to do anything. He can only suggest.

God has given us his Word. When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, he quoted scripture. Don’t try to argue with Satan. Defeat him with the scripture you’ve memorized.

God also gives us the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5). One of the fruit that’s especially is important: self control. God promises that the Spirit bears fruit in our lives with all kinds of inner blessings: including self-control.

The Greek word literally means “in strength,” and that’s what self-control is – inner strength that gives us the power to stand firm against temptation.

Ask Jesus into your heart and he will give you that inner strength, that self-control.

God gives us other people. It helps to share our struggles with another person or a support group. Other people pray for us, encourage us, hold us accountable. It’s hard for us to admit we make mistakes – that’s pride. But there are some problems we can’t solve on our own. We need the help of other people.

Our first and best line of defense is resisting temptation:
Being aware of situations where we’re prone to temptation;

Actively resisting temptation; and

Relying on the supernatural weapons of God.

But if we do give in to temptation and sin, whether it’s as bad or David’s or even worse, there is forgiveness. But that’s the subject of next week’s message.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sermon: "When God Says 'No'"

Series: David: A Man After God’s Own Heart
When God Says ‘No’ (David & God’s House)
(Fifth in the Series)
2 Samuel 7:1-14a
July 19, 2009

Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.”

But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.

Different careers are marked by different milestones. For a lawyer, it might be winning a big case. For a real estate agent, it might be selling a million dollar home. For a doctor, maybe it’s performing a difficult surgery successfully.

For some pastors it’s a building program. Their ministerial career just isn’t complete until they’ve led a church in a successful building program.

Some ministers are known for helping churches build education buildings, sanctuaries, fellowship halls and family life centers and have done several during their ministries. We like to kid and say they have an “edifice complex.”

It never really has been my goal to do a building program, but I did help lead one from start to finish at the last church I served before coming here, Schreiber Memorial UMC. We built a Family Life Center, and I have to say that it was a learning experience.

I can understand at least a little bit King David’s desire in today’s lesson to build something great for God.

Our reading says that David was settled in his own house. It must have been a very comfortable palace. Israel was enjoying a time of peace. As we saw last week, David had brought ark of the Lord to Jerusalem.

Now that David had some time to relax and think, he noticed how ironic it was that while he, the king, enjoyed a luxurious palace, God, symbolized by the ark, had to live in a tent.

The tent was actually the tabernacle, a portable sanctuary that God had told Moses to make while the people were wandering in the wilderness, before they had moved into the Promised Land.

David just didn’t think it was right that the king should live in a palace while God lived in a tent. That really is a credit to David that he would be worried about living in a nicer house than God.

That doesn’t seem to concern some church people today. Have you ever been driving down a street lined with expensive homes, all immaculately landscaped, and then come to a church and the grass is all long and the flowers are dying and the paint is peeling and the sign out front has letters missing and you know it probably looks just as bad inside? Doesn’t God deserve at least as nice a home as most of us enjoy?

So David shares his plans with Nathan, a trusted friend and adviser. Nathan is a prophet who is tuned in to God.

Again, we see that David is learning. As we learned last week, he had made a mistake with the ark of the covenant by not seeking God’s plan first and it had ended up in disaster. David wasn’t going to make that same mistake again. This time he seeks trusted counsel before he moves ahead with his plans.

Nathan responded positively at first. “Go, do all that you have in mind,” he told the king, “for the Lord is with you.” In other words, “Go for it!”

But when Nathan went to bed that night, God spoke to him in a dream – a dream that would put the “kibosh” on David’s plans.

God’s conversation with Nathan is interesting. First, God says, “Ask David, what makes you think you are the one I want to build me a house? … I’ve been getting along fine living in a tent since the days of the exodus out of Egypt. … Have I ever said that I’d like to have a house made out of wood?”

Second, God instructs Nathan to remind David that God chose him when he was still keeping sheep out in the pastures to be the shepherd king of God’s people. That’s all God ever asked of David: to be a shepherd to God’s people.

But God isn’t angry with David. God was happy that David was thinking about God’s house and not just his own.

Later on, David’s son Solomon, who ended up building the Temple, said, “The Lord said to my father, ‘You did well to consider building a house for the name of the Lord’” (2 Chron. 6:8).

In fact, it started out that David wanted to do something nice for God and instead God promises to do something nice for David.

God says to Nathan, “Tell David that I’m not mad at him or punishing him. I’m going to make his name great, like the great names of history. And tell him that instead of him building me a house, I’m going to build him a house, not in the literal sense, but a house in the sense of a dynasty (like the house of Windsor in England) – and that his house, the house of David, will reign for ever and his son Solomon will be the one who builds my house/temple on earth.

Isn’t that just like God? We want to do something nice for God and instead God does something nice for us.

Nathan told all this to David. David must have been disappointed that he wouldn’t get to build God’s house.

But instead of griping or complaining, it says in the verses after our reading that David sat down and prayed a prayer of thanks to God for all that God had already done for him and for all that was promising to do.

David acknowledges God’s sovereign plan and says to God in his prayer, “If I can’t build you a house, then thank you for building mine.”

David did something else that showed a lot of character. Even though David wasn’t allowed to build God a house, David did everything he could to help Solomon build God’s house.

David bought the land for the Temple; he secured materials and workmen and money, even giving out of his own savings; and he drew up plans for Solomon to build from.
David could have said, “If I can’t build God a house then I won’t help the one who does.” But David showed a lot of maturity in making plans and preparations so Solomon’s job would be that much easier.

It can be very disappointing when God says no. We may have some grand plan in mind for something we want to do for God or to help our family or other people. But then for various reasons it doesn’t work out.

I knew a man whose heart’s desire was to build a sort of half-way house for people getting out of prison, to help them make the transition back into society. It was going to be a Christian ministry, sharing the gospel as well as teaching job skills, budgeting, and all the rest.

I worked with him and others for a couple of years to try to make that dream a reality but for a lot of different reasons it didn’t happen. I think God was saying “no” to him as leader of that ministry even though it was a great idea. But God used that man in other ways to bring others to Christ.

A lot of us have probably suffered disappointments like that. Some of you may have had plans for one career path when you were younger, but God led you along a different path.

Maybe you had plans to get married, but God had different plans for you as a single person.

Maybe you wanted to have a family, but God has blessed you with adopted children or helped you be like a mom or dad or a grandparent to someone else’s kids.

We’ve all had disappointments. Times when our plans didn’t work out.

David was able to get through his disappointment when God said “no” to his offer to build God a house and we can get through ours too if we will learn some lessons from David in dealing with our own disappointments.

1) Before you begin, share your plans with the Lord.

Proverbs 16:3 says,
“Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.”

It’s good for us to think and dream and plan for the future, but God may have something completely different in mind for us. From the very beginning of the planning process, we need to share our plans with God to make sure that’s what God wants us to do.

David was wise to share his plans with Nathan before he began to build. If he’d started the Temple without seeking God’s will, all his efforts would have been for nothing.

Before any church or building committee starts making plans to build or remodel or renovate, the people need to pray and ask God if this is God’s plan for the church.

As Ps. 127:1 reminds us, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”

2) When God says “no”, it’s probably because God has a better plan.

God wasn’t mad that David wanted to build God a house. God knew that David’s heart was in the right place. That’s why God promised to bless David’s descendants and make David’s name great.

It just wasn’t God’s plan that David be the Temple-builder. That role would fall to Solomon, David’s son. God’s plan for David was that David be the best shepherd and king of the people that he could possibly be. David was a warrior, not a builder.
It was David’s purpose to give Israel peace with their enemies so that Solomon, the next generation, could build the Temple.

We just have to have faith and trust that when God says “no” to our plans it’s because God has something even better planned for us.

When I started in the ministry, I thought God was calling me to teach religion at a college or seminary. But after a few years it became clear to me that those doors weren’t opening. I was disappointed that God said “no” to my plans to teach, but I’ve found even more joy and fulfillment in the pastoral ministry and I’ve gotten to know all these wonderful churches and people that I would have missed.

3) Sometimes we get to build, and sometimes we get to prepare to build – it’s up to God.

David didn’t get to build God’s house, but he did get to carry out a lot of the preparation. When I was serving in Frisco, we began to make plans to build a new sanctuary. I didn’t get to stay there to see that project through, but they did finally build that sanctuary last year.

Someone has said that being a Christian is like planting trees whose shade we will never sit under. We are harvesting the fruit of the faithful efforts that have gone before and it’s up to us to keep planting seeds so that there is always a church and there is always an alive and vital faith for them to believe in.

4) Even though God says “no”, we still have a lot to be thankful for.

Instead of getting mad that God said “no” to his plans to build a house for God, David prayed a prayer of praise and thanksgiving for all that God had already done for him and for Israel.

Sometimes it’s easy for us to focus on what we’ve missed out on and what’s been denied us instead of all the good we’ve already received. But to live that way leads only to bitterness, heartbreak, and misery. Instead, thank God for what God has already done for us in Jesus Christ and trust that God holds a future for us that is bright and full of hope.

We will always have disappointments in life. The very thing we are sure God wants us to do, God may say “no” to.

But just remember always to commit your plans to the Lord. Remember that when God says no it’s because he has a better plan.
Remember that there can be as much satisfaction in preparing for someone else to build as in building yourself. And always remember that we still have a lot to be thankful for.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sermon: "When God Asks You to Obey (David and the Ark)"

Series: David: A Man After God’s Own Heart
When God Asks You to Obey (David and the Ark)
(Fourth in the Series)
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
July 12, 2009

David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. David and all the people with him set out and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim. They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart with the ark of God; and Ahio went in front of the ark. David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.

So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing; and when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.

As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.

They brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt-offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord. When David had finished offering the burnt-offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts, and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat,
and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.

Sometimes what’s left out is more important than what’s left in. Take that infamous 18 ½ minute gap in the Watergate tapes – lots of folks would still like to know what was erased.

Last week while I was home eating lunch I happened to catch part of the memorial service for Michael Jackson (please forgive me for mentioning it if you’re on “Michael Jackson overload”). I couldn’t help but notice that one of the speakers paid tribute to Michael’s mother, his sisters, his brothers, his children, his nieces and nephews and cousins – but there was no mention of Joe Jackson, his father. Makes you wonder why he was left out.

You may be aware of something called the lectionary. It’s a three-year cycle of Bible readings, including Old Testament, Psalm, Epistle, and Gospel readings, that a lot of churches and preachers use in worship. Our readings this summer about David are part of the lectionary.

Something you may have noticed about the lectionary is that sometimes it leaves out some verses in the middle of a reading. Most often this is done to shorten a reading or to leave out something that interrupts the flow of the narrative.

But sometimes they leave things out just because they seem “offensive” or disturbing or violent, maybe. There are things like that in the Bible, you know.

I think that’s what’s going on in today’s reading about David. You may have noticed that we read verses 1-5 of 2 Sam. 6, and then we skipped down to verse 12. Now if you have your Bible with you, you can see what was left out by the creators of the lectionary. Let me read those omitted verses to you, verses 6-12a…

When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen shook it. The anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God struck him there because he reached out his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God. David was angry because the Lord had burst forth with an outburst upon Uzzah; so that place is called Perez-uzzah, to this day. David was afraid of the Lord that day; he said, “How can the ark of the Lord come into my care?” So David was unwilling to take the ark of the Lord into his care in the city of David; instead David took it to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. The ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months; and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and all his household.

It was told King David, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.”

That’s where I want to focus our attention this morning – on those verses that were left out.

There’s a book by Richard Carlson you’ve probably seen or heard about: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…And it’s All Small Stuff.

That’s probably good advice for a lot of us. We tend to make a big deal out of things that in the end aren’t all that important.

For some, that’s their picture of God: God doesn’t sweat the small stuff. God’s only concerned with the “big picture.” They think: God doesn’t really have time to worry about the details of my life.

But today’s story is about a time that David learned that small details can indeed be very important to God. If we want to be “People after God’s own heart,” like David, we may need to learn this lesson too.

Let me review the story quickly. What’s in 2 Sam. 6 is fleshed out in more detail in 1 Chron. 13-15.

David is now the king over all of Israel, and he decides it would be a good thing to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, his new capital. After all, the Ark represents God’s very presence.

The Philistines had captured the Ark many years before. They sent it back to the Israelites when bad things like plagues happened to them, and it ended up at the home of a man named Abiniadab, where it languished for years.

So David gathers 30,000 of his chosen men and they go to Abinadab’s house to get the ark. They place it on a brand new cart and start for the city, singing and dancing all the way, with David in the lead.

But then something bad interrupts the celebration. This is the part that was cut out of the lectionary reading. On the way to Jerusalem, the cart hits a bump and it looks like the Ark might fall off.

Uzzah, one of Abinadab’s sons, reaches out his hand to grab the ark to steady it. That displeases God. The Ark is holy. It’s beyond holy. It’s God’s chosen dwelling place. It’s not to be touched by ordinary mortal hands. So Uzzah dies on the spot.

That makes David mad. He begins to have second thoughts. Maybe bringing the Ark to Jerusalem wasn’t such a good idea. Maybe he can’t take care of the Ark.

So he takes the Ark to the house of a man named Obed-edom. I wonder what Obed-edom thought at first. Was it a good thing or a bad thing to have the Ark at your house? It wasn’t so good for the Philistines or for Uzzah. The Ark ended up staying with Obed-edom for three months. As it turned out, Obed-edom and his family are blessed.

In those 3 months, David tries to figure out what went wrong. Why did something he meant for good turn out so bad for Uzzah? In those three months he had time to read the law more carefully. Numbers 3-4 tell how the ark is to be transported.

It says nothing about a cart. It was to be carried on poles by Levites, so no human hand would touch it. That’s such a small detail. So small, hardly anyone would notice it.

But that detail is important to God. It’s also an important lesson for David – when God gives you specific instructions on how to do something, it’s best to follow those instructions and not try to do it your own way.

David recognized mistake in 1 Chron. 15:13…
Because [the Levites] did not carry it the first time, the Lord our God burst out against us, because we did not give it the proper care. (1 Chronicles 15:13)

So this story makes us stop and rethink the question of whether God is really concerned about the details, the “small stuff.” If details didn’t matter to God, then Uzzah could touch the ark and oxen could pull it on a cart.

But those things did matter to God. David learned the hard way that what matters to God should matter to him. And if we want to be people after God’s own heart, then that means paying close attention to what matters to God, even the small stuff.

This story reminds us that it’s not always enough just to do the right thing; we have to do it the right way when God tells us how it’s to be done.

Sometimes God gives us a general principle we are supposed to follow. An example of a principle would be: “Love your neighbor.” God leaves it up to us to figure out what the loving thing is in different situations.

It’s sort of like when you’re driving and you see a sign that says, “Drive friendly in Texas.” That’s a principle. Driving friendly in Texas may not be the same thing as driving friendly in New York City.

But if you see a sign that says “Speed Limit 35,” you better go 35 mph and not one mph faster or you might get a ticket. And 35 mph is the same wherever you go. A speed limit sign or a stop sign is a precept. Principles allow room for interpretation. Precepts must be followed to the letter.

Sometimes God gives us precepts. It was a precept that the ark was to be carried on poles on the shoulders of the priests. There was no room for interpretation; no allowing for putting it on a cart.

That was the way God wanted it – no touching holy things – and David ignored that rule at his own (and Uzzah’s) peril!

When God gives us specific instructions about something, we’d better pay attention and obey. The things that matter to God, even if they seem like small stuff to us, should matter to us.

The first crucial step in Christian discipleship is obedience.
To be true followers of Jesus Christ, we have to learn to obey. Loving Jesus with all our heart, soul, mind and strength means obeying him.

Jesus said in John 14:15…

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14:15)

This means obeying him in things we may not agree with or understand yet.

But we obey God because we know and trust that God loves us supremely and what we are asked to obey is good for us. We know this to be true as parents. Children may not understand that eating a whole half-gallon of ice cream isn’t good for them. But if they try it and get sick, they’ll see it would have been better to obey.

Because we obey Jesus, we celebrate Holy Communion, as we did last Sunday, because Jesus told us to do it. We make new disciples and we baptize new believers in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit because Jesus told us to do it.

We learn to turn the other cheek, not to condemn, not to lust after material things – because Jesus told us to and we trust that in obeying him it will be better for us than doing what we think is best.

Reaching out and touching the Ark – it seems like such a small thing. And yet, because it was important to God, David learned that it should be important to him.

That’s an important lesson to learn in being people after God’s own heart. When God asks us to obey, we just trust that there’s a good reason for it, and follow God’s way instead of our own.

Roger Staubach, who led the Dallas Cowboys to Super Bowl victories in 1972 and 1978, and who’s now enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame, once admitted that not being able to call his own plays was a source of trial for him.

Coach Landry sent in every play. He told Roger when to pass, when to run and only in emergency situations could he change the play (and he had better be right!). Even though Roger considered coach Landry to have a “genius mind” when it came to football strategy, his pride said that he should be able to run his own team. He tried many times to get Coach Landry to change his mind, but Landry believed it was the best way.

Roger later said, “I faced up to the issue of obedience. Once I learned to obey, there was harmony, fulfillment, and victory.”

David learned an important lesson of obedience. Is it a lesson we need to learn? When we do, we‘ll also experience harmony, fulfillment, and victory.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Sermon: "When You're on Top of the World (David the King)"

Series: "David: A Man After God’s Own Heart"
When You’re on Top of the World (David the King)
(Third in the Series)
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
July 5, 2009

Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron, and said, “Look, we are your bone and flesh. For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. The Lord said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel.” So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel. David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months; and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.

David occupied the stronghold, and named it the city of David. David built the city all around from the Millo inwards. And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.

In May 1996 Dr. Beck Weathers, a Dallas pathologist, was literally on top of the world, or quite near it. He was fulfilling a dream (or some might say an obsession) to climb Mt. Everest. After climbing several of the world’s highest peaks, he had joined an ill-fated expedition and had come tantalizingly close to Everest’s 29,000 foot summit, only to be turned back at the 26,000 ft. level by eye problems and horrible weather. As it turned out, missing the summit was the least of his problems.

A violent storm trapped several climbers at or near the summit of Everest and eight lost their lives. Beck Weathers got disoriented and lost in a whiteout blizzard and due to the extreme cold, fell into a hypothermic coma. His fellow climbers left him for dead in order to save their own lives and in fact his wife received a phone call back home in Texas that he had died.

Imagine the shock and disbelief when Weathers stumbled into camp the next morning, alive but with severely frostbitten hands, feet, and face. He had somehow roused himself from his unconsciousness and found his way back to camp. This is how Weathers himself describes it in his autobiography, Left for Dead:

I am neither churchly nor a particularly spiritual person, but I can tell you that some force within me rejected death at the last moment and then guided me, blind and stumbling – quite literally a dead man walking – into camp and the shaky start of my return to life.

One of the ironies of Weathers’ story is that while he was pursuing his quest to stand on the summit of Mt. Everest and on top of the world, his marriage and family life were falling apart. His long absences on climbing expeditions had led his wife, whom he calls “Peach,” to the decision to leave him shortly before his brush with death on Everest. But it was Peach’s hope and tenacity that made sure that rescue efforts continued until her husband was brought safely down the mountain and she has helped him recover from the hypothermic coma and its results. In many ways, Beck Weathers was given a chance to start his life over again, and he is trying not to make the same mistakes again.

As we follow the story of David, whom Scripture describes as “a man after God’s own heart,” we find him in today’s reading at a place that we might call the “top of the world.” King Saul has died in battle and David has become the king of Israel. He spent some time consolidating his kingdom. He moved the capital city from Hebron to Jerusalem, which came to be known as the “city of David.” As our reading says, David “became greater and greater.”

So here’s David, in his middle 30s, sitting on top of the world, master of all he surveys. We know there’s trouble lying ahead of him, as there was for Beck Weathers. We’ll be looking at some of that trouble in the weeks ahead: God says “no” to his plan to build a Temple; the business with Bathsheba and the death of their child; the rebellion of his son.

But for the time being at least, David’s on top of the world. We know our faith has a lot to say to us when we’re in trouble, when we’re facing a crisis, when we’re taking on our own version of Goliath, or we’ve just lost a friend or a loved one, like David did.

But does our faith have anything to say to us when things are going well, when we’ve realized at least some of our plans and dreams, when life is feeling pretty good? When we’re on top of the world?

I think it does, and I’d like to share four short things to remember when we find ourselves on top of the world.

First, when you’re on top of the world, remember where you came from.

It must have been one of the highest points of David’s life. He was king over all the tribes of Israel. Maybe he took time to reflect on how far he’d come, from a shepherd boy to king. There was the fight with Goliath. There were all the times King Saul had tried to have him killed and all the years spent in hiding and on the run. There was the death of his beloved friend and soul brother, Jonathan.

If you’re enjoying success or good times in your life right now, take some time to remember what you had to go through to get where you are. It helps us appreciate where we are that much more. Even if life isn’t all that great for you right now, I hope it’s a little better than it used to be.

Sometimes I might wish I had a bigger or a fancier house, but then I remember the years spent dorms and apartments, and I’m grateful.

Second, remember who got you here.

There’s an old saying: If you see a turtle on top of a fencepost, there’s a good chance it didn’t get up there by itself.

David didn’t get where he was by himself. As our reading says, And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.

God was the one responsible for David’s success. Of course, there were people who’d helped him along the way too. Jonathan had saved his life more than once. Abigail fed David and his men when they were in the wilderness. Joab, David’s general, had led the conquest of Jerusalem.

If you find yourself in a good place in life, don’t forget to stop and thank God and the people who helped you along the way. Jim Palmer, the first senior pastor I worked for in my first appointment, celebrated 50 years in ministry last year. I wrote him a note thanking him for helping me get started.

There’s a song I really like. I’ve heard Josh Groban sing it and also a group called “Selah.” It’s called, “You Raise Me Up.” The chorus goes, “You raise me up so I can stand on mountains; you raise me up to walk on stormy seas; I am strong, when I am on your shoulders; you raise me up, to more than I can be.” If we’re standing on a mountain, it’s because someone lifted us up there.

Third, remember why you are here.

David got to where he was, as the king over all Israel, not because he was smarter or stronger or braver or better-looking than everyone else. David was in that position because God had chosen him for a special purpose. Psalm 78 tells us that purpose:

God also chose David his servant,
And took him from the sheepfolds,
From the care of the ewes with suckling lambs he brought him,
To shepherd Jacob his people,
And Israel his inheritance.
So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart,
And guided them with his skillful hands.
(Ps. 78:70-72)

God chose a shepherd to be a shepherd over God’s people. David was a good shepherd for the people for many years. But then he began to forget why God had made him Israel’s shepherd. His power went to his head. In a few weeks we’ll see how that’s when it all started to come apart for David when he met Bathsheba.

If you are enjoying the goodness of life right now, remember that God has put you in that place for a purpose: so you can serve God and serve others. God blesses us to be a blessing.

Finally, remember that the top of the world can be a perilous place.

Beck Weathers almost paid too high a price for his obsession to stand on top of the world. It nearly cost him his life, his marriage, his family.

Be careful that if you are obsessed with getting to the top of your world, that you don’t pay too high a price. Don’t neglect the people and the things that are truly important to you. Don’t be like the person who said, “I spent my whole life climbing the ladder of success only to find it was leaned against the wrong building.” As they say, no one ever dies wishing they had spent more time at work.

As we’ll see in upcoming sermons, David found the top of the world a very perilous place and it led him into sins of laziness, pride, dishonesty, adultery, and even murder.

Success doesn’t mean that we will always fall into these traps, but we must be on the lookout and we must always be careful. If we’ll just remember where we came from, who got us where we are, and why we’re there, our faith can stay strong and God can use us to be effective servants.