June 7, 2017 Courage Has Its Rewards, and Selfishness Has Its Consequences – 1 Samuel 25:35-42

Abigail

Then David received from her hand what she had brought him; he said to her, “Go up to your house in peace; see, I have heeded your voice, and I have granted your petition.”

Abigail came to Nabal; he was holding a feast in his house, like the feast of a king. Nabal’s heart was merry within him, for he was very drunk; so she told him nothing at all until the morning light.  In the morning, when the wine had gone out of Nabal, his wife told him these things, and his heart died within him; he became like a stone.  About ten days later the Lord struck Nabal, and he died.

When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Blessed be the Lord who has judged the case of Nabal’s insult to me, and has kept back his servant from evil; the Lord has returned the evildoing of Nabal upon his own head.” Then David sent and wooed Abigail, to make her his wife.  When David’s servants came to Abigail at Carmel, they said to her, “David has sent us to you to take you to him as his wife.” She rose and bowed down, with her face to the ground, and said, “Your servant is a slave to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.” Abigail got up hurriedly and rode away on a donkey; her five maids attended her. She went after the messengers of David and became his wife. 1 Samuel 25:35-42 (NRSV)

On one level this narrative is a cautionary tale regarding natural law, or of “what goes around comes around.” It is human nature to find it rewarding to see someone reap the natural consequences of his or her actions (or of his or her failure to act.)  It is a bit more humbling to realize that as much as we would want to always be an Abigail or a David in this story, we are also Nabals.  Save by the grace of God, we could all be considered selfish, short-sighted and possibly even drunken fools, just as deserving to be struck down as Nabal was.

There is peace to be found in having the courage to do the right thing.  Not only did Abigail avert the sure wrath of David and his men by making provision for them, but she also got God’s attention.  God responded to her dilemma and rewarded her faithfulness by improving her situation.  As cruel as it may sound, Abigail and her household likely had great peace when Nabal dropped dead.  No more drunken ravings.  No more offending all the neighbors and putting up with loud parties in the middle of the night and slogging through the inevitable clean up in the morning.  No more having to cover for someone too drunk to think rationally.  Those who have lived with alcoholics or those addicted to other drugs know what it is to always be walking on eggshells, not knowing what will trigger the next drunken, destructive rage.  Living with someone who is not in their right mind for whatever reason is a stressful and soul killing way to live.

It is true that the reward for being courageous is not always readily apparent, and the consequences for foolishness are not always so swift or obvious. Sometimes we do not see our reward while we live on this earth, even though in Christ we can be confident that He is storing our treasures in heaven.  We live under God’s grace, and He knows that we fail and don’t always succeed at doing the right thing.  He gives us many chances to repent (to turn around and go the opposite direction) when we are headed the wrong way.  If we were left to the harsh reality of natural law apart from the grace of God, none of us would be able to stand on our own merit.

The wisdom to be found here is in listening to the voice of God, and in appreciating (and extending) the grace and mercy of God. Do we heed the warnings of others like David did when Abigail approached him and apologized for her husband’s surliness and inhospitality?  Do we extend grace even in situations in which it would be justifiable to lash out?

June 6, 2017 – Courage in Generosity- 1 Samuel 25:18-19, 1 Kings 17:8-16

 

Generosity

Then Abigail hurried and took two hundred loaves, two skins of wine, five sheep ready dressed, five measures of parched grain, one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs. She loaded them on donkeys, and said to her young men, “Go on ahead of me; I am coming after you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal. 1 Samuel 25:18-19 (NRSV)

Not only did Abigail respond in a crisis, but she responded generously, and with prime provender. She didn’t pack up the generic mac-n-cheese or last week’s stale potato chips.  She sent the very best of her household’s goods- not leftovers, not expired canned beets and dented cans of creamed corn, but the good stuff.  She brought out the stuff you would serve to your own family and friends.

It takes a certain amount of selflessness to give others the prime stuff we would rather keep for ourselves. But it is true courage in generosity to give the best of ourselves to others, even when it is at risk of our own personal loss.

Many of us are not wealthy as Abigail was. Many of us are at places in our lives in which we don’t have abundance to give freely and to be generous from.  It is good that God Himself is the source of all good gifts.  Even if we think we have nothing to give, God provides.  It is often when we come to the end of ourselves and of our resources that God gives to us and through us, just as the story of Elijah and the widow illustrates:

Then the word of the Lord came to him, (Elijah) saying,  “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.”  So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.”  As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.”  But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”  Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son.  For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.” She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.  1 Kings 17:8-16 (NRSV)

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It takes courage to be generous when we have very little. But God can multiply that very little and make that very little to be something very significant.

God calls us to come as we are, to bring what we are able, and to let Him make us His heroes through our generosity.

 

 

June 5, 2017 – Everyday Courage- 1 Samuel 25:14-18

abigail-intervenesBut one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, “David sent messengers out of the wilderness to salute our master; and he shouted insults at them. Yet the men were very good to us, and we suffered no harm, and we never missed anything when we were in the fields, as long as we were with them; they were a wall to us both by night and by day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep. Now therefore know this and consider what you should do; for evil has been decided against our master and against all his house; he is so ill-natured that no one can speak to him.”

Then Abigail hurried and took two hundred loaves, two skins of wine, five sheep ready dressed, five measures of parched grain, one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs. She loaded them on donkeys,  and said to her young men, “Go on ahead of me; I am coming after you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal. 1 Samuel 25:14-19 (NRSV)

The name “Nabal” means “fool.” As we all know, sometimes foolish people are put in positions of authority.  Sometimes others (and sometimes we do too) make bad decisions that put many people’s livelihood or safety at risk. Then we can be brought to a decision of our own.  Do we just go along with the fool in charge for the sake of our own stability or to preserve our own skin, or do we do the right thing even though it might put our own livelihood or safety at risk?

nabal the fool

Courage has been defined as, “feeling the fear, but doing the right thing anyway.” Being courageous is not the same thing as being fearless.  Knowing the risk and the possible consequences that can result from taking action requires even more courage.  There can be very real dangers involved in “doing the right thing anyway.”  Radical courage can cost us our possessions, our wealth and even our earthly lives.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor in Germany during WWII who opposed Nazi control of the churches, and actively worked to help Jews escape from Germany.  He was imprisoned for his vocal opposition to the Nazi regime, and died in a concentration camp.  Bonhoeffer carried on his message and his work for justice even though his courage in doing so ultimately cost him his life.  God may only call a few of us to the extraordinary courage of a Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but He calls all of us to everyday courage.

dietrich bonhoeffer

We may not be put in a place where we have to stand up to Hitler, but there are everyday places where we have to stand and just do what’s right even when we are afraid. We all have to deal with everyday jerks who treat others unfairly.   Sometimes like Abigail we have to just do the right thing and not worry about the jerk who would whine and cry about it, the jerk who would try to forbid it, or the jerk who could possibly cause us harm in retaliation.

While Abigail was ultimately rewarded for her courage, she took a great risk. In her day, her husband could have had her tortured or killed or sold into slavery, had he been sober enough to realize that she had defied him.

Abigail still made the right decision for her family and her household when her husband would or could not do the right thing. That put her in an awkward position, just as sometimes we get put in awkward positions when we try to do the right thing.  Do we look the other way when we know there is domestic violence or drug abuse going on in a friend or family member’s home?  Do we fail to intervene and perhaps avert a tragedy because we are afraid?  Do we look the other way when we know others are lonely or hungry or in need of a friend?

Everyday courage for us may mean a series of little things that add up to big things. Everyday courage may mean taking a moment to compliment someone, or to help out in a little way- holding a door, carrying a package, or maybe writing a note of encouragement to someone who is struggling.

Abigail could have ignored the needs of David and his men. After all, in her day women were supposed to be subservient to their husbands even when their husbands were fools.  But she took the high road of courage and did the right thing.

God created us to be courageous. Our purpose is to bring about His kingdom here on earth.  Even though many times we are afraid, God equips us for the purpose He created us for.

June 2, 2017-1 Samuel 16:10-13 God’s Chosen, God’s Heroes

Viktor Vasnetsov God of hosts

Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.”  Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.”  He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.”  Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah. 1 Samuel 16:10-13 (NRSV)

God’s choices are not necessarily our choices. Why would God choose the shepherd boy when He could have set any man as king over Israel?  It is true that David had a heart for God, and God sees beyond a person’s appearance or status.  The point could be argued that God created David in just the right time and place and circumstance for His purpose.

God puts us in just the right place and circumstances for His purpose also, although sometimes that’s not easy for us to see. It is especially hard to see God’s place and purpose for us when we are in the places we don’t want to be, such as in places of trial or hardship or mourning.

Sometimes our heroism is hidden, and only God sees it.  As Jesus taught:

“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.  But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:2-4 (NRSV)

The reason why God chose David for such a lofty purpose-David, the man who would be king, the earthly forefather of Jesus, was because of his heart for God.  David had a heart surrendered to God.  David wasn’t about being the one with the highest status or the person that other men would think highly of.  He valued God more than the world and all its distractions and riches.

God sees and knows our every sacrifice, our every tear, our every joy.  He invites us to share in the heroics of HIS story, every day.

JOY

May 30, 2017 A Man After God’s Own Heart- 1 Samuel 16:6-7

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When they came, he looked upon Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look upon his appearance or on the height of his stature, for I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”  1 Samuel 16:6-7 (NRSV)

Throughout Scripture King David is known as a man after God’s own heart. In spite of his many failures and episodes of disobeying God, and in spite of the fact that he was a rather ruthless warrior, God loved David and used him in mighty ways. God loved David so much- in spite of David’s shortcomings- that he is included in Jesus’ human ancestry, along with some other unlikely people such as Ruth the Moabitess and Rahab the prostitute.

Even though David screwed up (a LOT,) he always had a heart for God even when his actions were questionable.

This is the quality God saw in David when he chose David to take Saul’s place as king. David wasn’t a perfect man.  God wasn’t looking for a perfect man, but an authentic man.  In some ways David reminds me of the heart behind Martin Luther’s admonition to “sin boldly.” Sometimes that quote is misused to infer that we have license to do anything because we are named and claimed by God, which is not the message at all.  The meaning of “sin boldly,” is that we are intended to live life honestly and authentically, without being timid and afraid, confident of God’s grace. The reality of living honestly and authentically is that in being human, we are going to screw up along the way.

David was a very unlikely pick for God. He was young.  He had older brothers who looked like better choices on the surface.  Still God saw beyond David’s years and beyond the appearance of his brothers.  God has a reputation for choosing unlikely people to do His greatest work.  God doesn’t always do what we expect Him to do.  God is not into the latest trends, and He doesn’t have a bias toward what society considers the beautiful people.  Jesus Himself is even referred to in Scripture as “the stone the builders rejected.”

The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. – Psalm 118:22 (NRSV)

Jesus explains the concept that God chooses as He chooses, in more depth –

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone-this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes.’

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” – Matthew 21:44 (NRSV)

It may sound strange, that Jesus says the one who “falls on this stone will be broken to pieces.”  Yet we understand this when we come to the point of crisis, or of rejection versus faith, that C.S. Lewis describes as, “It’s Christ or nothing.” When we come to the end of ourselves, and fall upon the Chief Cornerstone, we are broken- but then He puts us back together- His way.  God gives us every opportunity to “fall on Him” rather than to be crushed by our rejection of Him and our indifference to Him.

This is good news for those of us who have flaws, those who are materially or spiritually poor, and those of us who don’t necessarily meet society’s standards of prosperity and beauty and influence. God has a purpose for everyone, and the capacity to make a hero out of anyone. He will build His kingdom with anyone He chooses.  It doesn’t matter to God what flaws you were born with, or whether you are the first or the fifteenth child, or whether you are male or female.  God chooses who He chooses, likely or unlikely, for the purposes He created us for.  He wants us to see our worth in HIM and He wants us to walk in the confidence that it’s HIS will that prevails.  He wants to use us as His instruments to make His will happen here on earth- just like we pray in the Lord’s Prayer.

The fact that God chooses the unlikely for His purpose should also caution us to seek the Holy Spirit and His discernment when we deal with others. Outward appearances can be deceiving.  Society may have a bias toward the “beautiful people,” but what does God consider beautiful?  Can someone have a rough exterior but a heart that is beautiful and dedicated to God?  How is God working in and through unlikely people – people who might not appear to meet our requirements or standards?

When we remember that God is the ultimate hero of the story we can see where it is God Who makes everything out of nothing. It is God who restores and transforms and brings life where there was no life.

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May 25, 2017- The Blessings of Surrender- Genesis 22:15-19

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The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba. Genesis 22:15-19 (NRSV)

Do we truly seek God’s will and are we open to the work of the Holy Spirit? Even as we ask this question, in the back of our minds we should understand that we are not the Lone Ranger.  God provides the Lamb.  He equips us to fulfill the missions He gives us, spiritually, emotionally, physically and materially. He sends us people to walk with us and to be part of our purpose as well.  He works the impossible with the ordinary, and He can make everything out of nothing.

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God does ask of us both obedience and surrender, even when we fail miserably at it. Do we have a willingness to do what God asks of us, even when it is difficult or painful, or it involves the sacrifice of something priceless and irreplaceable to us?

There are rewards inherent to obeying God and being willing to surrender to Him, even if we don’t see it immediately, or the world makes it look like no good deed goes unpunished.

Jesus taught us to store up our rewards in Heaven- to live for what really matters- instead of chasing what’s temporary. Abraham didn’t live on this earth to see his legacy fulfilled, but his obedience was rewarded.  He would not keep back any of his gifts from God, including his precious only son.

It’s a countercultural message to go against the tide of instant gratification and the “me, me, me” mentality.

Sometimes we have to sacrifice in great ways and we don’t necessarily see results. Sometimes we are called to keep working on a difficult relationship, or to walk with a person in crisis instead of following pop culture and leaving the scene as soon as the skies turn dark.  Society doesn’t necessarily reward doing the right thing, especially when the right thing is hard or costly and it doesn’t bring forth an appreciable immediate benefit.

There is blessing in obeying God. We might not see it right away, but God notices.  God cares.  God provides.

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May 23, 2017- God Provides the Lamb- Genesis 22:6-14

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Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together.  Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”  Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.  Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.  But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”   And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.  So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided .” Genesis 22:6-14 (NRSV)

Scripture doesn’t really tell us if Isaac was pretty freaked out at this point.  I don’t think it’s very easy for a parent to imagine setting one’s child on fire, on purpose, either.  Isaac’s reaction isn’t that important to the point of the story,  although it was probably very important to Isaac at the time.   God provided the sacrifice.  Think of the phrase Lamb of God and you get the drift.

God was testing Abraham’s ability to trust Him and Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his gifts to God’s will and purpose, which is important.  More importantly, God was also showing Abraham that God is the One Who ultimately provides the sacrifice that covers us and redeems us.

God’s Son, given as a sacrifice to save us.  Given from God’s heart of anguish and at His great pain so that we are spared the penalty of sin and death that we have earned.

This is a great foreshadowing of the sacrifice to come.

We are powerless to save ourselves, We don’t have the means even if we would be willing to sacrifice that which is most precious to us.  God does test us and God does desire that we are willing to give of ourselves, but it is only in and through Him that our gifts can be made active and useful.

God can and does work wonders with willing hearts.  He makes a way even when the way seems impossible.  He has provided the Lamb.