A sermon by Nicholas J. Holmes at Mt Refuge Church, North Brisbane.
I saw a question in an online forum recently which went something like, “What is the one thing your father taught you that has stayed with you your whole life?” What an interesting question.
My initial response to this was that there were so many things that my Dad used to say, that it would be hard to pick just one. When I was a teenager, my Dad was a taxi driver. He would finish a shift, then he would come and sit in the kitchen, pour a beer, light his pipe, and call me to the kitchen so he could tell me about life and advise me on many topics.
But I guess if I had to pick one thing that has stayed with me all my life, it’s this: My Dad told me, if you tell somebody you’re going to do something – you better do it.
Responsibility. And accountability. With those simple words my Dad taught me that it matters what you say, and who you say it to. It matters what you do and what you forget to do. Why? Because it impacts other people.
When I proposed to my wife, I had to go and visit her parents and talk with them about it. I remember very clearly the advice my father-in-law gave us. When I met my wife I was a single parent, and my father-in-law said to us that no matter how our relationship worked out, the most important thing was that we looked after that boy. I was touched by the acceptance of both myself and my child into the family, to the extent that the well-being of my son over-shadowed his concern for my wife and me.
Such is the heart of a father.
Another thing I recall about my wife’s family was whenever we would have a ‘family talk.’ We went around the room and everybody got to say what they thought, and they could say whatever they wanted. Then after everyone had had their say, Dad said, “Ok, I’ve heard what everyone has said, and this is what I’ve decided.”
Later on, when someone tried to change the plan, Margaret’s older brother said, “No – you heard what Dad said, this is what we’re doing.”
Such is the heart of a son.
Today we are talking about Sons & Servants. And the last part of the story I just told you was just one illustration of what it means to be a son. Someone who knows his father’s business and carries it out. Did he agree with what Dad had decided – I don’t know. But it didn’t matter. He knew what the decision was and he stuck by it because of his relationship with his father. And leadership experts will tell you that to be a good leader, it doesn’t always matter if you are right – it matters that you are clear. My brother-in-law was clear on the decision and he owned the decision by becoming an enforcer of it. This is what the son does. He enforces his father’s will.
This is similar to my own journey. Shortly after I became a christian, I left my parents’ home and moved from a small town in the South Island of New Zealand up to Wellington in the North Island to start my first job. Being on my own and not knowing anyone gave me a lot of time to read the Word and listen to music, and I had previously made the decision that although I liked my rock music, I was only going to listen to christian bands, and so those things were my influences. I never got caught up in the party scene and, because I was an introvert, rarely stayed for drinks after work. Even during my lunch break I had my head in the bible.
My favourite parts of the bible to read were through 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, and 1 & 2 Chronicles. I enjoyed reading about the rise and fall of Saul, the rise and fall and rise of David, and the kings who came after him. I was particularly interested in the interactions between David & Saul and the choices David made not to lay a hand on Saul. The other thing that particularly gripped me were the stories of David’s Mighty Men. And I’d like to read you a little bit about them from 2 Samuel 23, starting at verse 8:
David’s Mighty Warriors
8 These are the names of David’s mighty warriors:
Josheb-Basshebeth, a Tahkemonite, was chief of the Three; he raised his spear against eight hundred men, whom he killed in one encounter.
9 Next to him was Eleazar son of Dodai the Ahohite. As one of the three mighty warriors, he was with David when they taunted the Philistines gathered at Pas Dammim[d] for battle. Then the Israelites retreated, 10 but Eleazar stood his ground and struck down the Philistines till his hand grew tired and froze to the sword. The Lord brought about a great victory that day. The troops returned to Eleazar, but only to strip the dead.
11 Next to him was Shammah son of Agee the Hararite. When the Philistines banded together at a place where there was a field full of lentils, Israel’s troops fled from them. 12 But Shammah took his stand in the middle of the field. He defended it and struck the Philistines down, and the Lord brought about a great victory.
13 During harvest time, three of the thirty chief warriors came down to David at the cave of Adullam, while a band of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. 14 At that time David was in the stronghold, and the Philistine garrison was at Bethlehem. 15 David longed for water and said, “Oh, that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!” 16 So the three mighty warriors broke through the Philistine lines, drew water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem and carried it back to David. But he refused to drink it; instead, he poured it out before the Lord. 17 “Far be it from me, Lord, to do this!” he said. “Is it not the blood of men who went at the risk of their lives?” And David would not drink it.
Such were the exploits of the three mighty warriors.
18 Abishai the brother of Joab son of Zeruiah was chief of the Three.[e] He raised his spear against three hundred men, whom he killed, and so he became as famous as the Three. 19 Was he not held in greater honor than the Three? He became their commander, even though he was not included among them.
20 Benaiah son of Jehoiada, a valiant fighter from Kabzeel, performed great exploits. He struck down Moab’s two mightiest warriors. He also went down into a pit on a snowy day and killed a lion. 21 And he struck down a huge Egyptian. Although the Egyptian had a spear in his hand, Benaiah went against him with a club. He snatched the spear from the Egyptian’s hand and killed him with his own spear. 22 Such were the exploits of Benaiah son of Jehoiada; he too was as famous as the three mighty warriors. 23 He was held in greater honor than any of the Thirty, but he was not included among the Three. And David put him in charge of his bodyguard.
And then it goes on to name the rest of the mighty men. And at the age of 18 I took note of how dedicated these men were to David. They were not his servants. They joined him of their own free will and became his enforcers.
At that time I had joined a little church in an unlikely place called Cannons Creek, and my Pastor’s name was Gary. Gary didn’t think like other pastors I had known. When Gary discovered that there were a lot of creative people in the church, he allowed them to create presentations of the gospel using various creative means, and they used them to amplify his sermon.
Gary’s attitude to ministry created a lot of opportunities for things to get involved in. When Gary got involved with a cross-denominational men’s event called Promise Keepers, he dragged us all along with him. Gary gave people opportunities to be involved with what he was doing.
Now remember that I was 18 at this time. I had been bullied growing up, and I had exactly zero confidence. I was incapable of making decisions, other than the one I had made to leave home. And so I arrived in the big wide world with very little street smarts to handle it. And so the beauty of what Gary did by allowing us to be involved was that it built confidence. He allowed us to make mistakes, and when we made mistakes, it built character and we gained wisdom. He made me feel like one of David’s Mighty Men. It’s something I am incredibly grateful for.
For me, this is what it means to be a son of the house. You get involved not because of duty or obligation but out of gratitude. Gratitude firstly to God, but also to the leaders who gave you their support to be where you are today. You’re not “doing stuff for the church” – you ARE the church. This is the difference between Law & Grace.
I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to serve in the church and in support of my Pastor. That’s why, when we moved to Brisbane, I immediately began looking for a church to go to. Because having been brought up as a son of the house, it’s not an option for me to sit on the sideline.
One of the first things I noticed when moving to Brisbane was that when I googled churches, there were many new startup churches. Lots of people saying “God called me and my wife to start a church”. Now I knew that was not my calling. I knew I wanted to come and support an existing church and be one of David’s Mighty Men in this church, supporting my leaders. Part of my reason for that is my view that if you are seeking power instead of to serve, then you have missed the point of leadership.
1 Cor 6:19-20 says your life is not your own; you were bought at a price.
David’s men understood this. Why did they understand it? They understood it, because David understood it. Our Pastor, Abraham spoke about David last week, and how he served his father taking care of the sheep, and how he went to face Goliath knowing God was on his side. David as you also may remember had served under King Saul at the height of his madness. I really can’t think of a better of example of “love your enemy” or a spirit of sonship than David’s attitude to Saul.
You can read all about it. In 1 Samuel 18, you can read an amazing story, where Saul is jealous of David, and has an evil spirit overcome him, and he throws a spear at David and tries to pin him to the wall. But David eludes him twice.
The thing that most people miss about this interaction is that David’s reaction was completely unnatural. All he did was dodge the spear. And since we know he had to dodge it twice, it means he didn’t attempt to stop Saul.
Any other person in this world that I know of would have done what? Pick up the spear and throw it back. And this is what the world tells us – if someone attacks you, fight back. Defend yourself. You now have a valid license to kill. You can easily master the art of returning thrown spears. And if you do it often enough and for long enough, you can get quite good at it. In twenty years time, you could be the best spear thrower in the land. And also, quite insane. Just like Saul.
But no – David had the spirit of a son. He repeatedly said “I will not touch the Lord’s anointed.” If we read further as I did in my lunch break all those years ago, we learn that David repeatedly refused to harm Saul even when given multiple opportunities. And when David fled the kingdom for his life, he didn’t do what many Christians do today and try and take half the church with them – no. He left by himself. He made the decision to leave by himself. It was after that that men began to seek him out of their own free will, because they wanted to follow him.
And what did they follow him into?
Wars. Fights. Battles. Skirmishes. Set-to’s. Rumbles.
Now, there’s nothing like a good war to separate the men from the boys. Do you know that we are in a spiritual battle? And we didn’t enlist, we were all drafted. We’re in it whether we want to be or not. Knowing who you are as a son or daughter of the house is never more important than it is when the enemy attacks us or people we know.
I heard a quote once from a book called “Into The Storm: A Study in Command”, written by retired General Fred Franks. Fred Franks had served in Vietnam and stepped on a landmine which blew his leg off. Then in 1991 when the Gulf War came around, he petitioned the government to be allowed to serve as one of the few disabled commanders in US military history. He was involved in Operation Desert Storm.
Now I want you to take note of this and think about spiritual warfare.
Fred Franks said this: In war there is no such thing as a fair fight. 100 to nothing is about the right score, and so you do everything you can to make the fight as unfair as possible, as rapidly as possible. Why? Because of the stakes. It’s life or death.
And then he said this – so build strong teams. In actual combat conditions, soldiers fight for their friends. Not those in power. Not the General. He didn’t say they do it for Annastacia Palaszczuk. They don’t do it for Scott Morrison. Soldiers fight for their friends.
That’s why David’s men were loyal to him. Because he didn’t abuse power – like Saul. He had the spirit of a son.
So with all this in mind, we should fully expect that our brothers and sisters in the church should support us. Again, because of the stakes. We are not just dealing with life and death. For the people we encounter, it’s eternal life, or eternal death. I fully expect that if we have the spirit of sonship then we will take that seriously and treat each other accordingly. Now I fully realise that that’s not a small thing to ask. There are high stakes involved for high reward. That involves trust. That involves risk. That involves making ourselves vulnerable, which is exactly the time when people usually will hurt you.
In David’s case, Saul was motivated by an evil spirit, which we know because the bible tells us. But in the case of people in church, we don’t know anyone’s motives. Only God knows.
I was astounded at the story Kathleen told us a couple of weeks ago about the way she was treated in another church, being accused of having a spirit of this and that. I was very sorry to hear that happened to you Kathleen and appalled that people would have the audacity to think they know what’s going on in someone else’s head. It reminded me of a song I used to listen to – by one of those christian bands. They were called Third Day and they had a song called How Do You Know? I related to it because the lyrics talked about people coming to tell the singer what they thought he should be doing with his life. And the chorus went something like this.
How Do you know what I’m supposed to be doing?
Why do you go on thinking you know my fate?
So many times I lost my step but never lost my way
How do you know when I don’t know myself?
I also related to that place of darkness you mentioned, and I believe that only those who have suffered those kinds of attacks can truly understand what you mean by that…
Galatians 5 warns us against that kind of thing. It says If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
So regardless of what we think we see, we don’t know the motives of other people. We don’t read minds. Paul even went so far as to say it doesn’t even matter. In Philippians 1:18 he says what does it matter? the important thing is that whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. So Paul wasn’t even concerned about worrying about people’s motives.
John 15:5 tells us I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
I just want to mention one more thing I learned from my time serving under Gary. And this is the attitude of a son, but it’s a wrong kind of attitude. I noticed over time that certain people would mess up over and over again, and they would come back. And Gary never hesitated to forgive them. I developed an attitude like the older son in the Prodigal son story, you know the one who said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “I’ve been here the whole time and you want to roll out the red carpet for this person who keeps disappointing everybody”. I complained to God about this. And God spoke to me clearly and he basically said what business is it of yours? He said when that person dies and they stand before me, they wont have any excuse, because I can point to the Pastor and say that man gave you so many chances. Wow. I never has that attitude ever again.
The fact of the matter is that God’s mercies are new every morning. Every day above ground is a good one. The Lord is patient, unwilling that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9)
Once you die there’s no more chances. All those people who are so quick to want euthanasia or those ones who commit suicide…
Do you know that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem?
And what happens after that? Not peace. My brother sent me a book called A Land Unknown by B.W. Melvin. Its an amazing story about a man who had one of those near death experiences where he saw Hell. His book is very descriptive and he has scripture to back up everything he describes that he saw. Its a very sobering read. Hell is to be avoided at all costs.
So if you’re still here, then it is evidence of God’s mercy towards you. So now is the time for us to get it right, while we still can. Now is the time to live as sons and daughters, as brothers and sisters. Not devouring each other as in Galatians, but serving each other. Not because we are Servants, but because we are Sons & Daughters of the House.
A Tale of Three Kings | A Study in Brokenness by Gene Edwards
Leadership: It’s a Life or Death Deal by Bill Hybels (Willow Creek Leadership Summit 1996)
Into the Storm: A Study in Command by Tom Clancy with General Fred Franks