Saturday, June 16, 2007

A little something for Father's Day

Well, tomorrow is Father's Day. And below is my sermon for that very occasion. Although since not every man in our church is in fact a father, I'm addressing it to all the men of the church. Hope you enjoy!

"Men After God's Own Heart"
1 Samuel 16: 1 -- 13; Acts 13: 22

Introduction—“The Lord looks on the heart”
(David and his brothers—1 Samuel 16: 7)

What is the measure of a man? I’m sure if we were to take a survey some of the following things would appear: physical strength, physical appearance, money, success, power and position. Maybe more positive things would also make the list. But in general our culture has a superficial view of what makes a man a man.

And this was no different in David’s day. God told Samuel to go Bethlehem, the home of Jesse, to have a church service and to invite Jesse and his boys. God was going to choose a new man to lead his people. So once Samuel got there Jesse paraded all of his sons before him. And with the appearance of the first son Samuel thought, “Well, God, this guy looks pretty impressive. This must be the one.” But God let Samuel in on an important little secret: “The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

All of David’s brothers were probably impressive by outward standards—but none of them passed muster. What’s funny is that Jesse didn’t even think David worthy enough to invite to the party. So after Samuel had gone through the list, and God had vetoed each of Jesse’s sons as potential kings, Samuel sheepishly asked, “Are all your sons here?” In other words, Samuel thought, “Maybe this Jesse guy is holding back.” Jesse, maybe a little embarrassed, sent for David. When he arrived God told Samuel, “This is the one.” And as God told Samuel, “The Lord looks on the heart.”

This morning I want to look at David as an example of a man after God’s own heart and to say that this is how God measures the man: the heart. Acts 13: 22 says: “I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.” David’s life is evidence for all of us that men who make a habit of God will grow a heart for God. So this morning I want to look at four stories from David’s life that marked him out as a man after God’s own heart.

Having confidence in God—“The battle is the Lord’s”
(David and Goliath—1 Samuel 17: 47)

In our first story, young David, still a shepherd, later on found himself delivering provisions to his three eldest brothers, for they were part of the Israelite army and were on the front lines facing off against the Philistines. Unknown to him, the Israelites had already been challenged by the Philistine’s prize-fighter, Goliath. Every time this ten-foot warrior stepped out into the light, the Israelite army fled to the shadows, terrified.

So David shows up with food for his brothers, and while chatting with them out walks Goliath, insulting the Israelite army. David, the runt of the litter, can’t believe that no one is willing to take on Goliath. He says as much: “For who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

And when he said this, his brothers even got ticked off at him and told him to mind his own business—what did he know about war and battle and what it meant, well, to be a real man? Of course, all of this came from a bunch of guys who cowered in the corner every time Goliath showed his ugly face! Even Saul didn’t think much of David. “For you are just a boy,” observes Saul. Failing to see David’s heart—and therefore the Lord’s—all he sees is the outward appearance.

David gathers five smooth rocks from a brook and then moves in to square off against Goliath. Already he’s been ignored and insulted by his brothers and Saul, so now the armoured behemoth chimes in: “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?”

David makes sure that Goliath and everyone else knows how he can stand up to an enemy of such might and stature: “You come to me with sword . . . but I come to in the name of the Lord . . . the Lord will deliver you into my hand . . . so that all the earth may know that the Lord does not save by sword . . . for the battle is the Lord’s.” How many times does David refer to the Lord? And then David slung one of those stones through the air and it landed smack in the middle of Goliath’s forehead—the story says it “sank into his forehead”—and he fell to the ground dead.

Everyone else only believed what they saw with their eyes. Tall giant. Young kid. No chance. But that’s not what David saw. He saw a God that had already rescued him from bears and lions. He saw a God who was a living God, who was present and active. David’s confidence was in the Lord.

David called God the living God—this is not a god of museum and memory, trapped in the past, but a living God, available, reliable, stable, present, and personal. This was God—the living God—and he was worthy of David’s confidence and trust. When David faced Goliath, he wasn’t doing so alone—“the battle is the Lord’s,” he said.

As a man after God’s own heart, he had confidence and trust in the living God. If we are to be men after God’s own heart, we too need to be confident in God, the living God. Having confidence means more than believing in God. When I am confident that someone I know will do something or act a certain way, that’s the sort of confidence we’re talking about here. Our confidence is in God, not ourselves.

Being present to the living God—“O Lord God, you are God”
(David and God—2 Samuel 7: 28)

The second story isn’t a story; it’s a prayer. And it’s more than one prayer; it’s a book of prayers. I’m talking about the book of Psalms. David’s life was a prayed life; he lived in the presence of the living God. Having confidence in the living God doesn’t happen just by accident; it happens when we talk to this God, when we speak to him, and when we listen to him. If David was anything, despite his sins and failures, it was this: he was pretty consistently present to the living God.

To take one example, listen to Psalm 27. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh—my adversaries and foes—they shall stumble and fall.” David had fought plenty of enemies, but when I hear these words, I think of his confrontation with Goliath—“the battle is the Lord’s.”

And here is another, Psalm 56: “Be gracious to me, O God, for people trample on me; all day long foes oppress me; my enemies trample on me all day long, for many fight against me. O Most High, when I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God whose word I praise, in God I trust; I am not afraid; what can flesh do to me?” Being present to the living God, being confident in him, doesn’t mean we never fear what’s going on. Even David knew fear. But being present to God means turning to him when we’re afraid just as David did.

If we men want to learn what it means to be men of prayer, we can turn to David and to the Psalms—he is our teacher and they are our school. David didn’t allow the reality of his enemies to define him; he lived a God-defined life. God was at the center, not the circumference. You know why coming together on Sundays to worship is important? It’s not because God is confined to this time and this place, but because our tendency to neglect him, as Eugene Peterson says, “is so relentless that if we don’t deliberately interrupt ourselves regularly, we have no chance of attending to him at all at other times and in other places.”

Being present to God—through regular worship, prayer, and reading Scripture—will be what helps us to have confidence in the living God. Like David, we are called to be men who cry out to our God, like in his prayer in 2 Samuel 7, “O Lord God, you are God, and your words are true.”

Cultivating friendships from God—“He loved him as he loved his own life”
(David and Jonathan—1 Samuel 20: 17)

But we can’t do this alone. If we want to be present to and have confidence in the living God, there is no such thing as rugged individualism. There is no such thing as lone ranger Christianity. No man is an island. Insert your macho cliché here. None fit what it means to be man after God’s own heart.

David, you see, eventually earned an enemy in Saul. Because of his success against Goliath, Saul decided to put him in charge of the army. And when David began racking up victory after victory, the comparisons started: “Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” Saul was not impressed by the comparison. He soon became David’s enemy. “I will pin David to the wall,” said Saul. And Saul attempted this on more than one occasion.

But David was not alone. There was Jonathan, Saul’s son, of whom it says in 1 Samuel 18, “was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” Jonathan and David were as committed to one another as two friends could be. You can see their friendship unfold in 1 Samuel 18 – 20. One part of the story goes like this. Jonathan had already convinced his father once—or so he thought—to leave David alone. Jonathan saved David’s life. So later when David told Jonathan that Saul was still out to get him, Jonathan didn’t want to believe it. So David cooked up a scheme to prove to Jonathan that he wasn’t just being paranoid.

Once when David was supposed to join Saul for dinner, he and Jonathan concocted a cover story to explain why David was a no-show. David instead had to go and join a religious celebration with his family. If Saul had no intentions to murder David, then all would be fine. But if he had planned on using this chance to murder David, he’d be angry. And this is exactly what happened. Jonathan fed his father the story about David having to visit his family and Saul was furious.

So Jonathan realized David’s fears were well-founded. And Saul also figured out that David and Jonathan were in cohoots. This put Jonathan’s life in danger, and Saul attached him too. Saul “threw his spear at him to strike him.” He saved David’s life again.

That’s a friend. And David needed such a friend. Jonathan “loved him as he loved his own life.” Jonathan’s friendship with David revealed a deep, Christ-like love, one willing to go more than the extra mile. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friend,” said Jesus to his disciples. “The Lord shall be between you and me,” says Jonathan to David.

So much of life is anti-God and anti-Christ. And it seems so often that life is out to get us. This is why we need friendships. To be men after God’s own heart, we need friendships with other men who are after God’s own heart. Such friendships help us remain confident in God even when life tells us it’s senseless to do so and helps us remain present to God even when life does everything possible to distract us from prayer and worship. Such friends may even save our lives.

Recognizing our sin before God—“I have sinned against the Lord”
(David and Bathsheba—2 Samuel 12: 13)

But after all of this, there remains one more story to tell. Sometimes the men who pursue God with the fiercest devotion, men like David, can fall into the deepest traps. For all of his accomplishments and victories, David was not invulnerable to temptation and sin.

Our last story, in 2 Samuel 11, begins like this: “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle . . .” When kings go out to battle. But what does David do? David sent Joab his commander to lead the battle and stayed behind. David the king is acting, it seems, decidedly un-kingly. Here we have an older David, one who is perhaps weary of fighting.

The man who once as a boy squared off against Goliath and escaped the clutches of Saul, who prayed as a refugee in the wilderness, who fought victories and won by the help of the Lord, now remains comfortably behind in his palace. And what happens as a result?

With nothing else to occupy his attention, David is lazily strolling about on the roof of his palace. From there he spies a beautiful woman. Liking what he sees, he finds out who she is and has her brought to him and sleeps with her. Her name is Bathsheba and she was married. But of course, she likely did not have much a choice in this lurid transaction—how much of a willing participant could she be? After all, David was the king! And David, thinking he’s more or less gotten away with it, sends her home after he’s gotten what he wanted. This is bad enough, but that’s not the worst of it.

Bathsheba sends David a message. She’s pregnant, and there’s no way this is her husband’s child because he’s in the field fighting. “Uh-oh,” David thinks, “This isn’t good. Now what do I do?” He sends for Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, ostensibly to get a report on the battle. This is all a ploy. David figures he can get Uriah to go to bed with his wife while home. Uriah says, “All my fellow soldiers are still fighting and so there’s no way I can enjoy my home and be with my wife. It wouldn’t be right.” Uriah is the honourable one. So David instructs Joab to make sure that in the next melee Uriah gets in the line of fire. And so it happens. Uriah is killed. David literally gets away with murder. That is, until the prophet Nathan, at the prompting of the Lord, pays David a visit.

Nathan tells David a story about a man who has all kinds of sheep. He’s a rich man, one of the wealthiest in town, but when a house guest is on the way this arrogant rich man decides to take a sheep from the poorest man in town—the only sheep he had!—to prepare a meal for his guest rather than use one of his own. David, thinking this story to be literally true, is incensed. And he wants justice. “The man who has done this deserves to die,” says David. Then Nathan’s punchline nails David squarely on the jaw: “You are the man!” The truth comes out. David is found out. And David, cut to the heart, laments, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

We’re going to sin. That’s a given. David’s sin had come home to roost. He had exploited and demeaned Bathsheba, and he had deceived and killed Uriah. Worst of all, he had “sinned against the Lord.” This man, upon whose heart God had looked with favour all those years ago, who had shown his confidence in God before a Philistine giant, and enjoyed a friendship given to him by God, and who had spent his life being present before God in worship and prayer, had now violated this relationship to end all relationships: he had taken God from the center and put himself first. The result is a violated woman and a dead soldier. And the child born to Bathsheba also dies, despite David’s tears, prayers, and fasting. Sin leads to death—not David’s, but he is left to deal with the aftermath, to contend with the consequences.

David’s response to his sin is a lesson for all of us. He worshipped. We see this response in Psalm 51. “Create in me a clean heart,” David cries. “Do not cast me away from your presence,” he pleads. “My sin is ever before me,” he confesses. “Wash me thoroughly,” he prays. And when we sin, David’s prayers become ours. Having confidence in God—being present to him—includes how we deal with our sin. We recognize our sin before God. We let him deal with our sin. We confess. We cry out. We plead. We pray. Listen to what David says in Psalm 32:

“While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me.” But, thankfully, the Psalm doesn’t end there. David continues, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” Like I said, when we mess up, David’s prayers become ours.

Conclusion—“A man after my heart”
(David and us—Acts 13: 22)

So, what makes a real man? Instead of asking that question today, let’s ask whether we are men after God’s own heart. Let’s ask ourselves these questions:

First, do I have confidence in God? Do I believe that “the battle is the Lord’s” like David? Do I believe that God will act faithfully? Do I believe that God is who he says he is?

Second, am I praying regularly, reading my Bible regularly, worshipping regularly, attending church regularly? Am I attending to the reality of God in my life? Do I make sure that I deliberately set time aside to worship, to be present to God?

Third, am I cultivating friendships from God? Do I have godly friends who encourage me to read my Bible, pray, and go to church to worship? Do I encourage other men to do this? Who has God placed in my life to help me be a man after his heart?

And last, do I recognize my sin for what it is? Do I openly confess before God when I try to go my own way rather than his way? Am I willing to fess up to my wrongs? Do I open myself up to the forgiveness God offers?

I mentioned at the start today God’s description of David from Acts 13: 22: “I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.” Men who make a habit of God will grow a heart for God. What kind of men do we want to be? Do we want to spend our lives trying to get our own way or would we rather live for God and do what he wants to do?

Being a man after God’s own heart means wanting his will accomplished in our lives rather than our own. It means having a heart of confident in God. It means having a heart of loyalty and friendship, a heart that finds life and joy in worship, fellowship with God in prayer, and one willing to admit when we’ve screwed up big time and we’ve got no one to blame but ourselves. In the end, having a heart for God means being able to say along with David, “You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Because whatever we see, or what we think others see, it is what the Lord sees that matters, and “the Lord looks on the heart.”

1 comment:

Janis said...

Wow - preach it, brother! I finally got the chance to sit down and read this lengthy post, and I'm so glad I did. It speaks not just to men, but to all of us. Thank you!