A Deliverer of Grace

One of the Bible’s most beautiful stories introduces the reader to a man by the name of Mephibosheth. It is another story related to the life of David.

King David one day asked, “Is there anyone left of the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?”

Ziba, a servant of Saul’s household, answered, “There is a son of Jonathan (Saul’s son); he is crippled in both feet.”

“Where is he?” the king asked.

Ziba answered, “He is at the house of Makir, son of Ammiel, in Lo Debar.”

So King David had him brought from Lo Debar, from the house of Makir, son of Ammiel.

This man, Mephibosheth, had been injured when, at the age of five years, he and his nurse were fleeing from an enemy. Since then he had lived in obscurity for fear that some enemy would kill him, knowing that he was a grandson of Saul and a possible threat to the throne.

When Mephibosheth received the summons to appear before the king, he was petrified. Were they after him because he was related to King Saul? However, fear was taken away when David said, “Do not be afraid for I will certainly show you kindness for the sake of your father, Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”

Mephibosheth’s life was changed. David was a deliverer of God’s grace.

Why do you suppose David acted with such kindness? We know from other accounts in the Bible that David and Jonathan had made a covenant that they would always deal with one another in kindness. This covenant was to endure even after one of them had died. But I wonder if it was not more than just keeping a promise.

God had showered His grace on David. God had strengthened him when he saw little or no purpose in living. Now David had the opportunity to be gracious in dealing with another person who was hurting. Without a doubt Mephibosheth, who had come from royalty, lived in obscurity with many days of depression. Why should I continue to live? Here I am Ð a crippled man. There is no future for me. Eventually the enemy will catch up with me, and I will be killed. Where is this God about whom my father Jonathan and my grandfather Saul talked? Life is meaningless.

Now, as the deliverer of God’s grace, David was used to change all of this thinking. God’s grace moved David to be His servant in delivering this gift to Mephibosheth. That is the way God works. The recipients of His love become the deliverers of His grace. The heart that has experienced God’s grace and has seen what He has done in their life is anxious to share this gift of kindness and love with others.

Think of the people whose lives would be so different if God had a place in it. Would it not be reasonable for us, whom God has blessed, to ask, “Is there someone in need today who is depressed, sees no purpose for living, or is filled with guilt?” Learning of that person we are challenged to reach him or her as David did with Mephibosheth and share the blessings God has in store for the individual.

David challenges us who are the recipients of God’s love, to share it with others.

Living in a Wilderness

Have you ever lived in a wilderness? I haven’t, and I would assume most would answer in the same way. Perhaps we have spent a few days on an exotic camping trip just to see what “roughing it” is really like. The closest I have come in getting some understanding of the wilderness was an experience I had a few years ago.

We were visiting a friend who had a beautiful home in Carefree, Arizona. The backyard of her home looked over an undeveloped area of the desert. As I sat on an elevated patio, which has some character of the wilderness, I could watch the coyotes, javelins, and other animals. One morning I walked on the edge of this wilderness when an unfriendly cactus plant threw some needles into my backside. It took my wife more than an hour to remove them. That little walk was enough of the wilderness for me.

Our text today places David living in the wilderness. This was not unusual territory for him. As a shepherd boy, he had become well acquainted with the wilds. Now he was escaping from the sword of King Saul, who was insanely jealous of David and feared he was a threat to the throne.

Nothing was domesticated or civilized. It was rough living, but the time came that for his own safety he had to live in hiding. The Bible says, “David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. When his brothers and father’s household heard about it, they went down to him there. All those who were in distress or debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their leader. About four hundred men were with him” (I Samuel 22:1-2).

Not only was it rugged terrain, the people with him were not Israel’s cream of the crop. However, during the ten years that David lived with these people they became his family. He loved them, and they served one another well. One soon learned in the wilderness that you could not exist alone. You need others around to encourage you.

When the Bible does not mention that they became a spiritual community, Eugene Peterson has to be correct when he assumes that living with David called for God’s Word to be central in the conversation. In Psalm 133 David writes, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! For there the Lord bestows his blessings.” Perhaps this was a reference to those ten years in the wilderness. There the group lived until they learned that Saul and Jonathan had been killed. Now it was safe for David to return to civilization and become the ruling king.

Eugene, in his book Leap Over a Wall, writes that the word wilderness can be used geographically and as a spiritual metaphor. Used as a spiritual metaphor, we all live in a wilderness. Our spiritual wilderness can be described as a place where Satan rules and sin is out of control. While humans can take a geographical wilderness and turn it into a safe and enjoyable place to live, they are not able to bring the spiritual and moral madness of the population under control. A family can build a million-dollar house fully equipped with every convenience and luxury and the fight from morning until night. That is spiritual wilderness.

The college campus is known as the cultural center of the city. Minds are trained in every discipline, yet women do not dare to walk unattended after dark for fear of being raped. That is the spiritual wilderness in a cultural setting.

The corporate headquarters of our nation’s prosperous businesses are beautiful buildings, but what goes on inside the building is called into question. Huge profits are made that provide excellent salaries for employees and attractive earnings for stockholders. All is well until greed gains control, and unscrupulous business ethics take over. That is a spiritual wilderness. Executives are expected to park their ethics at the door upon entering the morning lest their old-fashioned absolutes conflict with business procedures. More than one God-fearing employee has left with his final message being, “I could not take it any longer.”

The modern highway system takes you through our beautiful land. We have changed it from a dangerous desert to a place where it is supposedly safe for people to travel. Then an intoxicated person driving down that highway kills a mother and father of three small children. You can read a story like this in nearly every morning paper. This is the dangerous spiritual wilderness.

How do I live in this wilderness? Perhaps we can learn something from King David.

First, we must learn to accept our world for what it is. While humans have done much to make this a comfortable and exciting place to enjoy life, we must remember in some ways it is still a wilderness. In a wilderness, we walk in danger and must always be alert to those who not only destroy physically, socially, and financially, but also spiritually.

Peter warns us: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.” This world is not a utopia. Temptation is all around us.

Second, as we live in this dangerous spiritual environment, we need a close personal relationship with Christ. He alone can give us strength to resist this temptation and forgiveness to make it possible for us to start over when we fall in sin.

Third, we need the fellowship of believers to walk with us through life. Remember, David had his own little group who brought each other spiritual comfort. Likewise, we need a Christian spouse to whom we can turn to find comfort and to be comforted. We need a family to whom we can retreat at the end of a tough day and be loved. We need friends with whom we can work and play and be assured that we would profit little if we gained the world and lost the Savior.

Do you find life frightening? Many of us do. Many things can hurt us. Yet, when we are close to the Lord Jesus, all is well. Even in the most civilized, affluent society, the wilderness is still there. Still, God walks with us in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.

An Invitation for All

Jesus’ invitation, “Come to me all who are weary, and I will give you rest,” is an invitation we can hardly decline, for who of us do not know experience these wearisome times.

Sometimes the routine of life causes exhaustion. What is it that the old rhyme says? “Man works from sun to sun; but mother’s work is never done.” The routine of life can kill you. It’s the same thing over and over. Standing behind a machine in a factory for thirty-five years makes the thoughts of an early retirement look like a new life is just around the corner. At other times, big problems tax a person’s strength. A friend said it all in her suicide note when she wrote these words: “I am at the end of my rope.”

Related to the subject, Eugene Peterson, in his book Leap Over a Wall, asks, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion?” At times, I have felt this way, but never felt free to discuss the question with others for fear I would discourage someone from joining the local congregation. If this is the case, Dr. Peterson points to Jesus who says, Come to me, and you will recover your life. I will show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me. Watch how I do it. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill fitting on you. Keep company with me, and you will learn to live freely and lightly.

The sermon is directed primarily to those of us who have been members of the visible church for many years. We love the church, but have to admit it frustrates us to no end from time to time.

First, it is necessary to define how I use the term church in this context. It is the local congregation or denomination to which a person belongs. It is not the New Testament Church, which is the body of baptized believers in Christ. Here all people are believers in Christ. This is not true in local congregations, for many join the local churches for a host of reasons and are not Christians. This being the case, is there any reason to wonder why the local congregation sometimes behaves as it does?

Yet, despite its many shortcomings, we love this local congregation. It introduced us to Jesus in Sunday school classes. It helped us a great deal in our youth by introducing us to good friends, teaching us God’s Word, and providing us with a basis for the faith we believe. It is where we met our spouse and were married. It helped us raise our children. It provided us with care and comfort when loved ones were ill and some died. Thank God for the visible church. It has blessed our families, and we ask what life would have been like without the church, in spite of its shortcomings.

At the same time, we have to admit that this church can be very disappointing at times. In fact, it can be a powerful weapon in Satan’s hands to weaken our faith. We do not always practice what we preach.

That was the accusation of some college students in my office one day. It was during the Vietnam War. Young men were dying in this war, and these visitors to their pastor’s office were not convinced that we had any business as a nation in the war. I had not preached against the war. I did not believe then, and do not feel now, that this is why people come to church on a Sunday morning. I did not have the necessary information to say whether our nation should be a part of this war. I had to leave this to our national leadership.

During their brief visit, the men told me with strong language that the church was hypocritical. We taught that people are to love one another, but then we send young people several thousand miles away to be killed in a war that had no purpose and would never be won. After expressing their feelings about the church’s position, they assured me they would not continue as a part of the church. To the best of my knowledge, at least two of the three have kept this promise and have nothing to do with the church. They were burned out on religion.

The church has offended some when brothers and sisters in Christ show hatred toward each other. It is at times of disappointment that people have been tempted to forget the church. They are fed up with the church not living up to what it teaches. We say one thing and do another. This is offensive.

It is at times like these that we need to remember the visible church is made up of sinners like you and me. We are imperfect people who make up an imperfect church. At no place in His Word does Jesus say, When weary and troubled go to the visible church and you will find rest for your soul. No, our Lord says, “Come to me. I will give you rest. Immerse your soul in the Gospel. I love you.”

That is the invitation to us when we wrestle with the burdens of life. It is the invitation extended to the wife who wrestles with an alcoholic husband. It is the invitation extended to us when a sharp tongue legalist, who claims to have all the answers to the Christian faith, is willing to send anybody to hell that does not agree with him or her on any insignificant doctrine. It is the invitation given to the church member when some church politicians become very offensive. People see their willingness to compromise the basic teachings of Scripture as they work their way up the church’s ladder on the road to becoming a part of the church’s hierarchy, which can be corrupt.

Yes, the answer is to come to Christ. He alone can give us rest.

Love the Church. Christ does. With all of its imperfections, it is still the Body of Christ.

When the church’s sin burdens you, move beyond the congregation to the Lord Jesus Christ. In Him you will find rest. Amen.

A Time to Remember and a Time to Anticipate

My life has been blessed recently in reading the book, Leap Over a Wall, by Eugene Petersen. This book confronts us with some powerful thoughts coming from the life of King David, Israel’s greatest leader. During the next few weeks, I will base my sermons on some of these Biblical thoughts that come from this book. Please remember that Dr. Peterson is not responsible for what I have done with these reflections.

Today my theme is A Time to Remember and a Time to Anticipate. Let us pick up David’s life after he had been anointed king over Israel. He was thirty-seven years old, and it was evident that the Lord, who had called David to be His servant, had watched over him.

¥ God protected David when, as a shepherd boy, he fought with lions and bears from the wilds of the wilderness.

¥ As a boy, he fought and killed Goliath, the giant.

¥ As a young man, he served as a musician in the court of King Saul. His music comforted Saul in these times of depression.

¥ As a warrior, he fought Saul’s battles, coming home the victor.

¥ As a fugitive in the wilderness, he escaped the sword of King Saul who insisted that David be killed.

¥ As the king over Judah, he served for seven and a half years.

¥ Now he was being anointed king over all Israel, a position David held for thirty-three years.

David could have written many books telling of his experiences during those years of leadership with just one theme: the grace of God in David’s life. It was the grace of God that took a young shepherd boy and made him the king who brought great blessings to his people. It was God’s grace that forgave him when he sinned. It was God’s grace that directed him when he sought to escape jealous King Saul who sought to kill him. It was God’s grace that strengthened him when he faced the impossible from a human point of view.

The Bible says that David became more powerful because the Lord God was with him. The presence of God is woven through all parts of David’s life.

This described David’s past. Now, as the king of Israel, David could anticipate the future with a positive attitude certain God would walk with him.

This is the thought that we should apply to our lives. It is good to face the future by looking back and seeing how God has been at work in our life. If He provided for us yesterday, and He is with us today, why should we fear tomorrow?

I suggest you take paper and pencil and walk through your life asking the question, has God been walking with me? Has He been present in my life?

Childhood Ð did you have a family who loved you? Did they provide for your needs seeing that you were well cared for physically, socially, academically, and spiritually? Did your family teach you about God’s love and what Jesus has done for you through His death at the cross? When you were little, did you learn about the forgiveness of sins?

High school and college years Ð these were fun years, but they can be frightening times too. They were days of temptation, and sometimes you were quite messed up morally and spiritually. You wanted to be accepted by the crowd, and that meant doing things that were not good for you and displeasing to God. However, they were also the days when you were deciding what to do with your life. Remember how God guided you? He closed one door and opened another.

For some of you they were years spent in the military. You can sit back now and tell your war stories. Nevertheless, God’s protecting hand was clearly with you at Normandy, Saipan, Korea, Vietnam, or in the Mideast.

Those “settling-down” years Ð these were the years when you were finding a job, getting married, having children, moving far away from home and only seeing friends once a year if you were lucky. These were also the years when you realized that your marriage was not going to work out. There were those tough decisions about divorce for some of you. You began to realize how right your parents were when they urged you not to marry that person, but you did. You did not need another scolding. You knew what a mess you had made out of your marriage. What you needed was to hear the Gospel. You did not expect God to excuse you, but to forgive you and let you have another chance to start over. That is what we call grace. You experienced God’s presence Ð not condoning your past, but forgiving it.

Mid-life Ð maybe you did not have that home in early childhood that introduced you to the Lord Jesus. Perhaps your parents did not relate to the Church. However, in your 30s, you met a friend who shared the Gospel with you, and Christ became your Savior. Then you and your family became active members of an evangelical church and experienced what true friendship really was. That was God’s guiding hand at work in your life.

Old age Ð now we are thinking about what lies ahead of us. We read the obituaries: old friends are dying. Our own body hurts. We sense there is not the strength that we once had to get things done. It is hard to see, hear, and walk. Wow! And I am beginning to be forgetful. Now is the time to anticipate the future.

We can anticipate the future in a positive way, because God has shown us from our past that His grace is sufficient for us. He promises to help us face reality. Our bodies are wearing out, and medical science can do only so much to keep us going. It is possible that we will run out of money and will rely on the government to take care of us until we die. It is not a pleasant thought, but God will provide. We could join the millions who spend their last days in nursing homes or assisted living facilities. That, for some, is not as appealing as the luxury of their own homes, but God will give us strength to make that adjustment.

Through it all our Lord has given us a promise. Christ assures us that, when these days are over, He will receive us to Himself “that where He is, there we will be also.”

God was with King David from the cradle to the grave. He has given us the same promise if we will but trust Him. Amen.