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  • Uncertainty

    Posted on January 4th, 2009 admin No comments

    Last Sunday I was sporting what I thought were very nice gray woolen pants recently purchased in Kansas City. I walk past another pastor in the hall and he says, “You look churchy.” He said it twice: churchy. He was blasting my fashion. Later in the morning I added a nice quality red tie. I met friends in the hall who were visiting from out-of-town. A few minutes of chit-chat and the lady politely asks, “Can I be honest?” I was like, “O’ boy, here we go.” She said, “It’s the tie. It’s not working. You need to ditch the tie.” I was like, “This is a nice quality red tie. The gray stripe matches my gray woolen pants.” I started thinking about it and remembered buying that tie in 1996. OK, maybe it is time to ditch the tie, but its still nice quality. Besides, there is no way of being certain that its replacement will be any better.

    There is a lot of uncertainty in fashion.

    Think of tattoos. You better be certain the design you get has staying power. I mean, is the eagle still the thing or is it the bumble bee? Seriously, I’ve met a man who has a bumble bee tattoo. If I were to get such a tattoo, something would happen where the bumble bee tattoo symbolizes something I don’t want it to symbolize.

    You’ve seen those tattoos people get on the small of their back. I’m thinking there is a correlation between those tattoos and how low people wear their pants these days. Young people wear their pants low so that people can see the stamp. As you get older, you don’t want your grandkids seeing that thing, so you start cranking your pants higher and higher. By the time you are 70 your belt buckle sits above your belly button. You’ve seen it. I’m caught in the middle, uncertain about how high I should wear my pants. I don’t wanna go low, but I don’t wanna go high either.

    Until recently, I’ve been very certain that I wear a 34”x34.” Now I can’t button a 34” waist. I tried the 35” and it still wasn’t enough, so I moved to a 36”. 36”x34”. The problem is that I’m walking all over 2” of fabric, so I move to a 32” inseam. That puts me at a 36”x32”. Not only am I getting fat, but I’m shrinking. I could stick with the 34” inseam, but I’d have to start cranking my pants higher & higher, and I’m not ready to do that.

    There is a lot of uncertainty in fashion. Styles change. Sizes change. So much uncertainty.

    There is a lot of uncertainty in other areas of life too. Look at the financial markets. If you were long last year, you are hurting. How about that French investor who lost $1.4 billion in Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. The Tuesday before Christmas he takes pills, slices both wrists and is found dead in his New York office.

    Last May the California Supreme Court rejected Proposition 22. They ruled that marriage is a fundamental right under its state Constitution.  Elvis flew from Vegas to San Francisco to marry scores of same-sex couples. Last November California voters passed Proposition 8; 14-words which say, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” Which is it?  People are thinking, “Are we married or not?” (Not me, but many couples in California.)

    Check out the Middle East. The United States sends millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to the Palestinians through the United Nations. Hamas takes that money and buys weapons they use against Israel. Israel responds with air strikes destroying homes and infrastructure. In eight days of airstrikes more than 460 Palestinians have been killed. Last night the IDF entered the Gaza strip.  Hamas has “threatened to resume suicide attacks inside Israel.”

    What about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan? When are the troops coming home? When should they come home?

    Global warming: fact or fiction?

    The sanctity of life. Religious freedoms. Can Muslims fly AirTran? Bailout dollars. Let’s take care of the steel industry while we are at it. Who’s next? We don’t know what 2009 holds other than tons of uncertainty.

    If you are like most people, this world of uncertainty has the potential of sending you into a spiritual tailspin. You’ve saved your entire life. You are a few years from retirement and now you are down 30%, maybe more. Books titled, “Dow 14,000” have been replaced with talks of Dow 6100. You’ve worked hard and have given several years of your life to a particular organization, but the boss says it’s time for you to move on. Some say the United States is quickly loosing its position as a world power. What happens if Russia joins forces with a middle eastern country and together they develop a weapon that penetrates our defensive perimeters and wipes out entire states?

    Today we want to learn what is certain in a world of uncertainty. There must be something we can count on, something we can dig our feet into, something we can be certain about.

    Our text is 1 Samuel chapter 11. (If you need help finding 1 Samuel, turn to the table of contents in the front of your Bible. You will see it is near the front of the Old Testament.) Before reading this story, let me introduce you to a few characters. 1) Nahash the Ammonite. He rules the area northeast of Moab between the Arnon and Jabbock Rivers and eastward to the Syrian Desert. The chief city of this area is modern dayAmman, the capitol of Jordan.  2) The people of Jabesh. Jabesh is a town south of Mt. Gilboa, east of the Jordan River. It’s eastern locale makes it vulnerable to attack by eastern enemies. 3) There is Saul. Saul has been privately anointed king by Samuel after the people of Israel demanded a new form of government.

    This morning insert yourself into the story as the people of Jabesh. Resist the urge to be Nahash the Ammonite, King Saul, the messengers or even the oxen. You are the people of Jabesh. Got it?

    Let’s read 1 Samuel chapter 11 verses 1 through 11:

    1 Now Nahash the Ammonite came up and besieged Jabesh-gilead; and all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, “Make a covenant with us and we will serve you.”
    2 But Nahash the Ammonite said to them, “I will make it with you on this condition, that I will gouge out the right eye of every one of you, thus I will make it a reproach on all Israel.”
    3 The elders of Jabesh said to him, “Let us alone for seven days, that we may send messengers throughout the territory of Israel. Then, if there is no one to deliver us, we will come out to you.”
    4 Then the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul and spoke these words in the hearing of the people, and all the people lifted up their voices and wept.

    5 Now behold, Saul was coming from the field behind the oxen, and he said, “What is the matter with the people that they weep?” So they related to him the words of the men of Jabesh.
    6 Then the Spirit of God came upon Saul mightily when he heard these words, and he became very angry.
    7 He took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces, and sent them throughout the territory of Israel by the hand of messengers, saying, “Whoever does not come out after Saul and after Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen.” Then the dread of the Lord fell on the people, and they came out as one man.
    8 He numbered them in Bezek; and the sons of Israel were 300,000, and the men of Judah 30,000.
    9 They said to the messengers who had come, “Thus you shall say to the men of Jabesh-gilead, ‘Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you will have deliverance.’ ” So the messengers went and told the men of Jabesh; and they were glad.
    10 Then the men of Jabesh said, “Tomorrow we will come out to you, and you may do to us whatever seems good to you.”
    11 The next morning Saul put the people in three companies; and they came into the midst of the camp at the morning watch and struck down the Ammonites until the heat of the day. Those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.


    This morning you are going to see: 1) uncertainty is a fact of life, 2) God works through uncertainty, 3) we will answer the question, “what is certain?”

    First, uncertainty is a fact of life. (1-4)

    Our story takes us back to the 11th century B.C. Nahash the Ammonite is eager to regain power over “Israelite settlements in the Transjordan.”  He marches his troops North to Jabesh. He assembles his troops on the open plains East of the Jordan river. He then surrounds the city with armies prepared to destroy all walks of life. The people of Jabesh are confined by the high, thick stone walls that form the perimeter of their city. Inside the city babies cry, and kids sense that something is awry as the women huddle their children to shelter. The men scurry for their defensive weapons and position themselves in the main arteries leading to their homes. On the other side of those walls are the enemy Ammonites. They have gained control of all routes leading into and out of the city. No more food. No more water. No more supplies needed to live.

    What do you do mom? You can hear the commotion outside your front door. You can feel your house shake as battering rams hit the city walls. Your kids are pulling at your arms wondering what’s going to happen. Your husband is out running around like an ant in a tin can.

    What do you do dad? Your family is scared to death, hunkered down in your little house. No matter which way you look, your city is surrounded by confident warriors. You are outnumbered and you are out armed. You know there is only so much food and many people with whom you must share it.

    Do you want to talk about uncertainty? This is it. You have no idea what the future holds. You may die anytime.

    Men, when the dust settles from the commotion and the chickens quiet down, you decide, “It’s time for diplomacy.” You choose compromise over death. You send a message to Nahash, “Promise that you will let us live, then we will open our gates and serve you.” Nahash replies, “I will let you live on this condition, that I will gouge out; literally, “scoop” or “hollow out;”  the right eye of every one of you.”

    Now that’s not good. Loosing your right eye guarantees you will no longer be a militaristic threat to Nahash. In battle you would fight behind shields with only your right eye exposed.  Loose your right eye and you loose your ability to defend yourself. Loose your right eye and you can’t aim your bow and arrow. Without your dominant eye in the heat of battle you’ll miss your target every time; you will be easy to control.

    ILL: To illustrate this problem, choose a point on the stage and point at it with both eyes open. Align the end of your finger with that point just as you would aim a bow. Now close your left eye. For most of you, your finger is still aligned with that point because your right eye, which is dominant, is still open. Now open both eyes and close your right eye. If your alignment is off, you are going to have problems firing an arrow because you’ve lost your dominant eye.

    ILL: There is something about eyes that wigs me out. I’d love to have lasik surgery but I can’t get over the thought of a laser slicing my cornea. That is child’s play compared to this 11th century B.C. eye gouging procedure. Imagine the pain; the yelling and the screaming. What, do you get in line and wait your turn? Yikes. Too much for my stomach to handle. What about you, people of Jabesh? You are waiting, not knowing if you are going to get slaughtered or mangled. The uncertainty makes you sick.

    In verse 3, the elders of Jabesh tell Nahash, “Leave us alone for seven days. We’ll send messengers through all of Israel. If no one comes to deliver us, we will come out to you.”

    “If there is no one to deliver us.” Talk about more uncertainty. You don’t know if the people who receive your message, who hear that you are in trouble, will come to your rescue. At least you are doing something by sending a message, “help”, but you are doubtful anyone will respond. Nahash is thinking the same thing, “No one is going to help you. I could destroy you now, but sure I’ll give you a seven day grace period.” Nahash is confident that he is going to take you down, but you are uncertain about your future.

    APP: You don’t have to pretend you are the people of Jabesh, because there is some aspect of your life that is there now. You are not surrounded by enemy warriors, but you are surrounded by the circumstances of life. Behind the façade of Christmas lights and wrapping paper, you are trapped by uncertainty. You peek out over the defensive wall built around the real you, and you see nothing but reminders that uncertainty is a fact of life. You are doubtful anyone will come to your rescue.

    APP: Uncertainty is interfering with your abundant life. You’ve lost your job. You are about to loose your job. You are in debt up to your ears. Your life savings has disappeared. Your business is losing money; you have to lay someone off. You’re lonely. You doubt you’ll ever get married or have kids. Your poor health is quickly taking years off your life. Your child’s poor health makes you doubt God’s love. Your child’s choices make you wonder where you went wrong. You tell yourself, “Just a few more days to get over this hurdle of uncertainty, then everything is going to be alright.” But, deep down you question if anything is ever going to improve.

    ILL: Along my travels on New Year’s Eve I encountered a sign that read, “Blind child at play.” I doubted the validity of that message. Are you telling me there is a blind child playing anywhere near this gravel road at 10 o’clock on New Year’s Eve? Crazy sign. Still, I wonder if all of us should take that sign and hang it around our necks. I mean we are so busy trying to plan our future, set goals for the New Year, strategize our way to success, when in reality we can’t see past the end of our noses much less how to get through all of the uncertainty life brings. We are like blind children at play; for, we know not what tomorrow holds.

    In verse 4 the messengers hurried across the Jordan river and South to Saul’s hometown. Physically shaken by urgency and mentally overwhelmed by uncertainty, they share the message so all can hear: “The Ammonites have besieged Jabesh!” All the people begin weeping. They know your destruction is imminent. Uncertainty enters their mind as they consider what could happen to them if the Ammonites regain power.

    This is uncertainty as to who is in control.

    ILL: Look at the US Senate. Is Roland Burris going to replace Barak Obama even though he was appointed by a governor under investigation for trying to sell that seat? How about the election recount in Minnesota? Last Tuesday Al Franken wrote, “Today I’ve got good news to report: it looks like we’re on track to win.” The Coleman camp has suggested if Franken wins, “they will legally appeal the result.”  That legal process could drag on for months. Minnesota’s Secretary of State responded to Franken’s comment, “No human being can predict the future… there is no way to predict who will win or lose.”  Sounds like he has read the Bible. From our limited human perspective, life is full of uncertainty.

    Second, God works through uncertainty.

    In verse 5 of our story the messengers have shared the bad news. People in Saul’s town are weeping. Saul has been out plowing the back field. Here he comes walking behind the oxen. He sees the people and asks, “What’s going on here? What’s the matter with everyone?” They tell him, “The Ammonites have besieged Jabesh!”

    Watch what happens next in verse 6, “Then the Spirit of God came upon Saul mightily when he heard those words, and he became very angry.” This guy was big. “From his shoulders and up he was taller than any of the people” (9:2). He was just working in the field, directing big, strong animals. He has calluses on his hands. He is not a city boy who uses lotion and plucks his eyebrows. When he gets angry, you get out of the way. You know what I mean?

    This is a beautiful picture of righteous anger. The Spirit of God comes upon Saul and fills his mind with thoughts. He is angry at the Ammonites for messing with the people of Jabesh. He is angry at the people of Jabesh for not telling him about the threat sooner; they could see the Ammonites approaching from a distance. He is angry that people of his town are weeping rather than preparing for war.  “Don’t sit around here weeping, cowboy up! Put your faith into action.”

    Saul cut oxen into pieces and sent them throughout the land. He was reminding people to obey the Lord by following him into battle. Don’t fear Saul, fear the Lord. He is the One who made Saul king. He is the one who said in Deuteronomy 28, “Obey the Lord your God and you will be blessed. Disobey the Lord your God and you will be cursed. Your ox shall be slaughtered before your eyes, but you will not eat it. The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar. It shall besiege you in all your towns until your high and fortified walls in which you trusted come down throughout your land.”  Saul’s threat, and his power to carry it out, put “the fear of God” into the Israelites. They volunteered for service and met Saul at Bezek, a small town south of Mt. Gilboa.

    ILL: Today we’ve been so influence by the Swedish depiction of the sweet, gentle Jesus that we think mature people of faith are to sit idle in fields of flowers and wait upon the Lord. Yes, there is a time to wait, but never a time to do nothing. You don’t know what the future holds. So, put your faith into action by doing something that shows: You are trusting God to open doors; You are trusting God to direct your steps; You are trusting God to empower your work done in His strength, for His glory.

    This Spirit of God who came upon Saul,  who came upon Balaam (Numbers 24:2), who came upon Azariah the son of Obed (2 Chron 15:1), who came upon Zechariah (2 Chron 24:20), He indwells you. He will stir up your spirit, as He did in Saul, and cause you to turn your faith into action. He will cause you to encounter the fear of God and to see that obeying Him is your only option because when your world is uncertain, He continues to work.

    Remember, you are in the story. You are the people of Jabesh. You are still hunkered down, uncertain about your future. Not sure if you are going to die or lose an eye. By sending out the messengers you have done something; you’ve put your faith into action, but you are still uncertain. Notice that as you wade in uncertainty, God works. You have no idea that the Spirit of God has come upon Saul. You have no idea that just on the other side of the Jordan river, God has assembled thousands of troops who are coming to your rescue. Your messengers return and tell you that deliverance is coming. As the sun sets that evening, the Israelites start marching your way. The next morning the sun crests over the eastern horizon and you hear the blood curdling screams of grown men. The Ammonites begin to fall. The slaughter lasts until noon. By that time any enemies who survived are scattered.

    The Lord your God has delivered you. He worked behind the scenes, without your prior knowledge, to bring you the very thing you needed.

    God has worked through uncertainty since the beginning of creation. Without uncertainty, there would be no need for faith. If you knew exactly what tomorrow held, there would be no need to fall on your face before God in prayer. You would know the cancer will be healed. You would know your wayward child will turn back to the Lord. You would know that God is going to give you a job. You would know your marriage is going to survive. However, you don’t know those things, because the world is uncertain. Yet, when you believe that God works through uncertainty, you fear Him. You cry out to Him. You worship Him. The Spirit of God stirs your soul and tells you, “The only thing that is certain in this world of uncertainty is God.”

    What is certain?


    He is defined. He is dependable. He is reliable. He is undeniably the one who holds all things together in the palm of His hand.

    Direct your attention to verse 9. The people of Jabesh hear from their messengers, “Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you will have deliverance.” Don’t you love the note at the end of verse 9, “and they were glad.” No, really? Of course, “they were glad.”

    Their attitude change is confirmed in verse 10. They tell the Ammonites, “Tomorrow we will come out to you and you may do whatever you want to us.” (Literally, “according to all that is good in your eyes.” Do you see the word play?) Given the history of Jabesh, that is a bold statement. This city knows what it means to fall by the sword. Years ago, according to Judges 21, all but 400 young virgin women in the city were destroyed. We are talking men, women, boys and girls.

    Why the attitude change? Why no more weeping? Why no more “if-then” statements? The people of Jabesh have been reminded that God is at work behind the scenes. Even though you may not know what God is doing, you can be certain that He brings deliverance.

    When you know God is certain, you can face any uncertainty thrown your way.

    In the Bible, many people were certain of God. He was their rock in the midst of uncertainty.

    Noah kept building that big boat. “Are the rains ever going to come?” People were talking, “This guy is nutty.” But, Noah kept building because He knew, God is certain.

    Abraham bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar. “Lord, are you going to provide?” He reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son because He knew, God is certain.

    Job endured intense suffering. He lost all of his possessions, including his children. His body was covered with boils and sores. His wife asks, “Why don’t you curse God and die.” He remained faithful because He knew, God is certain.

    Hosea loved his adulteress wife by purchasing her out of prostitution. He showed steadfast love for Gomer, because he was certain of God’s steadfast love for His people.

    Mary poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet. She worshipped wastefully because she was certain Jesus Christ was worthy of worship.

    The blind beggar called out “Jesus, Son of David have mercy on me!” Those leading the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he was certain Jesus could heal. He shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

    The poor widow gave two very small copper coins into the temple treasury. She gave all she had, certain that God would provide.
    Jesus Christ died on the cross. He knew God’s plan for redeeming creation required His death. His resurrection proved that God was victorious over death.

    Steven kept preaching Christ before the Sanhedirn. Full of the Holy Spirit he looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. He said “Look” I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. The crowd started yelling. They dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Steven kept preaching until his death because He knew Christ is certain.

    The Ethiopian Eunuch knew God was certain when after reading Isaiah 53 said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized.”

    Paul and Silas knew God was certain as they sang praises to Him in the Philipian jail cell after being severely flogged.

    More recently, Edward Mote, who wrote the hymn, “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less,” knew God was certain when he penned the refrain, “On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is stinking sand.”

    He must have borrowed from David the psalmist who wrote:

    “The Lord is my rock,
    my fortress and my deliverer.” (Psalm 18:2),

    “My soul finds rest in God alone;
    my salvation comes from him.
    He alone is my rock and my salvation;
    he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” (Psalm 62:6),

    “Praise be to the Lord my Rock,
    who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle.
    He is my loving God and my fortress,
    my stronghold and my deliverer,
    my shield in whom I take refuge,
    who subdues peoples under me.” (Psalm 144:1-2).

    Let me ask you, when faced with uncertainty, where do you turn? When besieged by the circumstances of life, to whom do you look? When blinded by darkness, who is going to light your path?

    He is God. You know Him through His Son Jesus Christ. He gives you hope of eternal life. He gives you peace. He assures you that He works through uncertainty.


    Jill and Thomas own a farm down the road from my Maryland home. On Wednesday, December 17th Jill recieved a call from school saying their 7 year old son Brian was not feeling well. 18 hours of vomiting and the loss of balance led Jill to take Brian to the ER. On the way to St. Mary’s Hospital in Southern Maryland Brian couldn’t turn his head because his neck hurt. A CT scan found a brain tumor.

    The doctor arranged a transport flight to Children’s Hospital in Washington, DC. Surgery was scheduled for the following Monday. If all went well, Brian would only lose balance – not speech, the ability to eat or move facial muscles.

    8 o’clock Monday morning nurses took Brian to the OR. Updates come throughout the morning. Brian was out of surgery, recovering by 1 pm. By 5 Brian had returned to ICU to begin his 24 hour recovery. Brian spent Christmas day at home, yet with fever and vomiting.

    On Friday Jill writes on Caring Bridge, “We were hoping we’d be telling you pathology came back clear, however that’s not the case even with all the prayers that have been going out for Brian.”

    Six weeks of radiation begins this week. After that, chemo. 55 weeks of treatment.

    Even though we don’t know what He is doing, God works through uncertainty. Put your faith into action by counting on Him. Fall on your face before Him. Pray, “Lord rescue me from this uncertainty.”


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