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Entries in George Wood (3)


Believe For Greater Things- Hannah

1 Samuel 1:1-28.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 10, 2016.

Again, I remind the reader that this series is an adaptation of a sermon preached by General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God USA, George Wood, at its 2013 biennial meeting in Orlando, Florida.

We first looked at Sarah who laughed at what God promised to do in her life.  Then we looked at Naomi who plodded through until she obtained what God promised.  Today we look at Hannah who wept in the midst of the promises of God.  Hannah’s weeping is not the weeping of doubt and fear, but that of faith that wrestles with God and gives birth to the things that God is building in us and doing through us.  Hannah will stand as an important person as her son Samuel would become a prophet, priest, and judge of Israel.  He would also be the one to appoint and anoint both Saul and David as king of Israel.  Let’s look at this story in 1 Samuel 1

The Faith of Hannah

In verse one it may appear at first that Elkanah is of the tribe of Ephraim.  However, the word can also be used of a person who only resides in that area.  Elsewhere it is made very clear that he is from the tribe of Levi, but lives in Ephraim.  You may remember that the Levites did not have their own “territory.”  Rather they had cities throughout all of Israel.  During this period the temple had not been built yet, and Jerusalem was still under the control of the Jebusites.  Shiloh was the place where the tabernacle was set up and all Israel brought their sacrifices.  This was also not a time of great spiritual fervor.  During the time of the judges Israel was very manic in its faithfulness to God’s commands.  Samuel will become the one to turn Israel back to the Lord and help them navigate the transition from judges to a king.

I will also give a few moments to point out that a polygamous marriage lies at the heart of this story.  Some will point to the fact that God did not outlaw them in the Law as a sign of His approval.  However, Jesus answers this line of reasoning in Matthew 19:8 when he says, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”  If God had given Israel a law that outlawed everything that was sinful, none of them would have survived.  The purpose of the Law was not to correct every wrong.  But rather, it was to convict every one of sin and guilt before God.  The Law was perfect at teaching religious people that they too were sinners, guilty before God, and in need of a sacrifice to cover their sins.  God allowed things like divorce, slavery, and polygamy not because He approved of them, but because they would serve a purpose in His plan of salvation.  These things become word pictures of very real spiritual things that we would not be able to understand otherwise.  Every time we see a polygamous marriage in the Bible, we see friction and problems.  It was not this way from the beginning.  God gives Adam one wife and together they are to become one flesh, working and operating as a cohesive unit before God and the world.  That said, this family does seem to be a family that is devoted to the things of God and worshipping Him.

Hannah’s faith endured difficult circumstances.  In verse 5 we are told that the Lord had closed her womb.  It is common in the Bible to see God as responsible for all things.  This is not the tendency of modern Christians.  We wince at such statements and try to ameliorate them through some means of protecting the righteousness of God.  The ancients did not think this way, or at least the Holy Spirit that was inspiring them did not.  God is not afraid to stand and declare that if something happens then He has sent it.  Of course this raises all sorts of questions and the answers to those things vary depending on the circumstances.  We do know that God never does moral evil.  However, He does allow things that we call bad to happen in our lives.  We are told that He does so because bad things can have good impacts.  We also see throughout the Old Testament that women who are unable to have children are a vital part of God’s plan of salvation.  Sarah couldn’t have children.  Rachel couldn’t have children.  These became a template of the barren made fruitful by the miracle of God.  This did not make it any easier for Hannah.  Her faith had to wrestle with the fact that God had let her be barren.

On top of this verse 6 tells us that the rival wife, Peninnah, taunted and provoked her.  Peninnah had no problem having children and became proud and arrogant over this fact.  She was not content to enjoy her blessing.  Instead she rubbed it in the face of Hannah through mean and spiteful words.  Perhaps, it was more in response to the love that Elkanah had for Hannah.  Regardless, Peninnah makes a choice that is wicked and evil.  Hannah’s faith was severely tested by such persecution.

Instead of lashing back at Peninnah we are told that Hannah wept before the Lord.  She took her pains and sorrows to the Lord in prayer.  The difficulties that we face in life will do one of two things.  It can harden us towards God and man as we learn to take others on and make our own way.  Or, it can break us and soften us towards God and man as we learn to depend upon the way of the Lord.  Hannah chooses the second.  She turns towards the mercy of God rather than to the things of this world to satisfy.  No amount of food will satisfy.  No amount of favoritism from her husband will satisfy.  Nothing in this world could take the place of the mercy of God for her.  A problem that Christians in America have to deal with is the tendency for us to be so satisfied with the many blessings of God in our life that we have little passion for the things that really matter.  We can give intellectual assent to the plight of those who are not believers, but do we weep in prayer over them?  Do we weep in prayer over our spiritual barrenness and the wholesale rejection of God by our society?  Or, do we just shrug our shoulders and move on to the next entertainment?  God help us to have a passion for His things to the point that we are weeping in prayer before Him.

Though our Lord warns us against making vows, in verse 11 we see Hannah making a vow to the Lord.  Notice what she is asking for.  She wants a son and yet she asks not for herself alone, but for God’s purposes also.  Yes in some ways asking for a son is selfish and yet, she then says she will give the child back to the Lord to serve Him at the Tabernacle.  Here we see that having a child is about more than just the physical.  Yes, she wants a child, but she wants the mercy of God more.  Somewhere in her struggles with Peninnah a spiritual insight develops in Hannah.  Two contrasting spirits are depicted:  the proud, arrogant ability of mankind, and the broken feeble frailty of mankind.  Hannah’s prayer is about finding out which of these two spirits God loves.  In fact the love and compassion of Elkanah becomes a picture of God’s love.  God despises the fruitfulness of the proud and arrogant, but He gives grace to the humble and feeble.  The first problem we have with prayer is that of simply doing it.  We are too often guilty of simply not praying like we should.  But, when we do pray, we can make the error of praying for things that satisfy our desires alone.  Thus we become guilty of gobbling up the grace of God without much thought to the purposes of God in giving them to us.  Peninnah was physically fruitful and a blessing to her husband.  But, instead of seeking to honor God with this, she only satisfies her desires.  In that she becomes like the devil and antagonizes another.  The gifts in our lives are given to enable us to serve Him.  They are not badges of God’s approval for which we are entitled to be smug over one another.  Am I guilty of looking at my child as a source of my happiness, fulfillment, and pride, without giving thought to how I can honor the Lord with this young person?  Do I pray for a better paying job without giving thought to how I would honor God with it?  Our actions prove which manner of spirit we are choosing to embrace.

While Hannah is weeping she has a discourse with Eli the High Priest.  It is in this encounter that Hannah senses that the Lord has heard her prayer.  We are told in verse 20 that Hannah gave birth to Samuel.  She raises him until he is weaned and then takes him to the tabernacle to hand him over to the Lord.  The normal joy of raising a child and watching them grow would not be hers.  Yes, she would see him each year and even give him a new change of clothes, but it would only be a shadow of what she would have if she raised him.  Hannah is putting her son on the altar and giving him over to the Lord.  This is a perfect picture of worship.  It is a form of honoring the Lord.  Hannah gives to the Lord what is most precious to her and thus honors Him in front of all, especially Peninnah.  We see Hannah joyful as she worships the Lord even as she gives up what she prayed for.  But for Hannah this is about more than having a child.  If you take time to read the rejoicing prayer of Hannah in chapter 2 you will see that Hannah’s faith took her thoughts much deeper than the struggle between rival wives in a polygamous marriage.  By the Spirit of God Hannah prophesies about an Anointed King (Messiah) that God would send to bring His judgment to the ends of the earth.   In fact this is the first mention of the term Messiah in relation to a promised deliverer.  May God help us to follow the example of Hannah and take our difficulties and the difficulties of people around us to the Lord in prayer.  May we learn to weep over the things that really matter in life and seek the throne of grace for help in our time of need.  May we intercede for our families, cities, nation, and world and weep over the reality that they are lost and without God.

Hannah audio


Believe For Greater Things- Naomi

Ruth 1:1-5, 15-21; 4:13-17.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty on January 3, 2016.

This sermon series is an adaptation of a sermon preached by George Wood, General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God USA, at its 2013 biennial meeting in Orlando, Florida.

We have looked at how Sarah laughed at what God was promising her.  Today we will look at Naomi and how she simply plodded through a difficult time until God’s faithfulness was revealed.  One foot after another, Naomi kept moving forward until the Lord brought her through.  Part of the difficulty of this story is the sense that God is against you.  It is bad enough when people work to bring you harm.  But who can fight God?  There is no hope when you reach this point.   Yet, we are going to see that things are not always the way they seem.  If we will trust God, He will prove faithful.

The Faith of Naomi

Normally we look at this and highlight Ruth.  But, it is Naomi who gives Ruth a connection to Israel and its God.  Without Naomi we would not have Ruth.  There are no great statements and declarations of faith from Naomi.  Rather, we simply see her moving forward despite difficult circumstances.  Sometimes a person has to just keep moving forward.  In the best case we do so because we know God will prove Himself in the end.  In the worst case, we do so simply because there is no better alternative, which is the most likely to describe Naomi.

Naomi is stripped of all that she had in the Lord.  Naomi had a husband, family, land, and connection to the people of God, but then a famine occurs.  Thus her husband decides to go to a foreign country.  There is some irony in the name of the town they lived in.  Bethlehem means “house of bread,” and yet because of the famine there is no bread.  In Moab her husband dies.  At some point her sons marry Moabite women, but then later die.  By the end of 10 years spent in Moab, Naomi finds herself without anything but her own skin.  At this point all the promises of God to His people would seem quite hollow.  It would be easy for her to be bitter and reject anything that had to do with such a God.  And, yet, when Naomi hears that God is blessing Israel with food again, she plans to go back.  It would have been easy for Naomi to choose to never go back, but she does so anyway.  Thus we have the famous scene of Naomi telling her daughter-in-laws to go back to their families.  Here one of them, Ruth, refuses to go back to her people and instead go with Naomi.  Though she doesn’t recognize it, this is the help of God in her circumstances.

In verses 15-21 we follow the next stage of the story.  However, it would be good to stop and recognize that in this very destitute condition Naomi had far more than she thought.  Why would Ruth leave her people behind and go be a foreigner in Israel?  She saw something in Naomi’s family that was more appealing to her than what she saw in her own people.  In fact, she not only identifies with Naomi, but declares she will become an Israelite and worship the God of Israel.  Naomi saw herself as destitute and yet Ruth would rather choose her than all the “plenty” of Moab.  Naomi was losing sight of the fact that she was still a child of God and she was a recipient of the promises of God.  Even the stories of the heroes of faith in the Old Testament were an amazing heritage compared to any other nation.  It is very easy to lose sight of the fact that we have far more than we know.  In fact, those who are lost and know nothing are often more appreciative of what we have than we are.  Sometimes God has to remove things from our life for us to be able to see that we still have all that matters, God’s love.

When Naomi arrives in Israel we see in her words to those who greet her that she felt afflicted and abandoned by God.  She still doesn’t see that God has turned her fortunes around.  She instructs them to not call her Naomi, which means “my delight.”  Instead, she wants them to call her Mara, “Bitter.”  Two words stand out: Bitter and Empty.  She feels that she has been treated bitterly and has nothing left.  Of course she has allowed herself to become bitter as well.  Hebrews 12:15 warns us, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.”  Naomi could have remained a bitter person that caused trouble and grief wherever she went.  However, we are going to see that she chooses differently.  When she hears about the favor that Ruth receives in the fields of Boaz, she begins to hope for Ruth more than for herself.  People who embrace bitterness do not care about the fortunes of others.  They become stuck in their own unfortunate experience and when they see others being blessed they generally try to rain on their parade.  “Don’t get your hopes up Ruth.  The other shoe will drop soon.”  “Don’t get married Ruth, God will probably kill him!”  These kinds of spiteful and venomous statements could have come out of Naomi’s mouth.  But instead Naomi comes alive with hope for Ruth.  It is often in giving to others that the Lord heals us and brings more into our life.  Of course this love story ends with one of Naomi’s relatives named Boaz taking Ruth to be his wife.  Naomi’s fortunes are turned around.

Dr. Wood told a story of a missionary William Wallace Simpson.  He ministered in China and Tibet in the early 1900’s.  His son Willie was born and raised on the field and spoke the native language of Tibet fluently.  At one point his son was ambushed in the mountains and killed.  The story is told of W.W. Simpson coming to the place of his son’s death and saying these words,

“When some distance away we saw the forlorn truck.  We galloped our horses to the dreaded lonely spot.  Dismounting, we started toward the rude grave.  How I longed for one last word with my darling boy.  Seeing a paper lying on the bloody ground, I picked it up.  It was a Sunday School paper folded on which I read, “In remembrance of Me.”  Opening it I saw smeared over the paper the blood and brain of my beloved son!  And I remembered how I had laid my son on the altar years before, knowing it probably meant his death.  And I remembered too that Paul wrote, ‘Be ye followers of God as dear children,’ and I thought, as God gave His Son to make salvation possible, I have given my son to make salvation known.  So the Lord arranged for this paper to convey my son’s last word to me.  His blood is my blood and was shed to help a party of missionaries locate on the Kansu-Tibetan border to preach the gospel to the unevangelized.”  As he stood that day on the barren mountain-side, he remembered riding over those same mountains with his son.  Then he raised his voice and began to sing his son’s favorite hymn, “Over and over, yes, deeper and deeper, my heart is pierced through with life’s sorrowing cry.  But the tears of the sower and the songs of the reaper shall mingle together in joy by and by.” 

As he sang, he testified that his heart filled with peace. Our hearts too can be filled with the peace of God even though our flesh and circumstances shout to us that God has abandoned us and left us empty.  God help us to not give in to bitterness and grief and instead keep stepping towards God and keep hoping, even if it is for the sake of others.

In Ruth chapter 4 we see the end of the story.  However, in life when you are plodding along you cannot see the end.  God had given Naomi a connection to His people, and God had given Naomi a daughter-in-law who had a heart towards His things.  God is a restorer of life to us, if we will stay with Him all the way.  He is a nourisher of our old age if we will walk with him through difficulties of our youth.  The bitterness in Naomi’s mouth is sweetened with the goodness of God that follows.  It doesn’t change the difficult things she experienced, but it helped her to see that life was not over and God had not abandoned her.  Do not let faith be drowned in the despondent sorrows of bitterness.  Rather, keep on walking with the Lord and being faithful to what He gives you because, never fear, He has not abandoned you, even to the end of the age!

Naomi audio


Believe for Greater Things - Sarah

Genesis 18:1-15.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 27, 2015.  This series is an adaptation of a sermon preached by Dr. George O. Wood at the General Council of the Assemblies of God in Orlando, Florida on August 6, 2013.  He deserves full credit for the framework and many points of this sermon.

The theme for our week of prayer next week is “Believe for Greater Things!”  As such we will spend the following weeks looking at 4 different women who were instrumental in God’s plan of salvation.  Each of them had similar experiences and yet with interesting and challenging differences.  They all were challenged to trust and believe God for the things that were being promised to them and to Israel.

When we look at faith it should be recognized that there are several aspects to it.  First there is the past aspect, in which faith looks back to what God has done.  It is that which informs the content of our faith and affirms its existence.  We believe what we do because of what God has said and done in the past.  Another aspect of faith is how it looks forward to the thing or things for which we believe.  Thus when we put our faith in Jesus we do so not just because of what happened 2,000 years ago, but also because of what is promised in our future.  Lastly there is the present aspect of faith that lives within moment by moment tension of the other two aspects.  How we live our life today has everything to do with the strength of our faith regarding the past and the future.  We must know what we believe, but we also must know the thing for which we believe, whether that is in our personal life, our family, ministry, and even our nation.

These four women: Sarah, Naomi, Hannah, and Mary helped change history.  We want to see how their faith in God was not easy and was not what most had who were around them.  However, we will also see how God used their faith to bring forth His plan of salvation to mankind.

The Faith of Sarah

Now God had already promised Abraham that He would make him a great nation in Genesis 12:2.  Later God added to this revelation that it would be done through one who came from his own body and his descendants would be as numerous as the stars of the sky, and sands of the seashore (Genesis 15:4, 5).  These promises began when Abraham was 75 and Sarah was 65 as best we can tell.  It is important to recognize the tension that exists between what God promises and what we experience day by day.  Thus God promises children to a couple who had been physically unable to have children.  On top of this He waits until she is past the age of child bearing to give the promise.  For you see, up until Genesis 18, God has not revealed that the children would also come from the body of Sarah.  Thus our story of three strangers visiting Abraham and promising that Sarah will have a child within the next year is a revelation that catches her off-guard.

Thus we are told Sarah laughs when she first hears God’s promise.  Clearly she had come to accept her lot in life.  She would never have children.  Without a word from heaven, God had made it abundantly clear to her that she would never be pregnant and give birth.  She has also had to come to terms with the reality that the great promises to Abraham would clearly not happen through her.  Most likely she struggled with guilt for not giving Abraham children, and self-esteem for being a hindrance to such great promises.  Her love for Abraham is such that she had given her servant Hagar to Abraham as a wife to raise up a child in her stead.  Thus Sarah is in the odd position of one who believes that God’s promise is true, but that His plan does not have much of a part for her.  Perhaps she sometimes thought, “Yes, God loves some people, but not me.”  I say that not because we might know how Sarah felt.  But we can know how we might have felt.  Such situations can be very trying for a woman and for a man.  Yet, here in the last years of her life she is told that she is going to give birth.  You would laugh too if promised such a ridiculous sounding thing.

Yes, Sarah was not quick to believe this new development to the promise.  Yet, God knows our frailty.  Faith is not just about an exchange of information.  It is an experience of walking day by day with a God who is far greater than we can imagine.  At scales far beyond, we are children walking with an amazing Father who does things hard for us to believe and imagine.  Thus faith is not about instantaneously believing and never having a doubt.  It is about learning to trust God as we walk with Him. 

Do you believe that God loves you and has a portion for you in the midst of what He is doing?  Don’t let the sin of bitterness and self-hatred eat you up from the inside.   Continually lay these things on God’s altar and wait upon Him.  Let Him reveal to you what He is doing.  Also, don’t let your lack of ability become the reason why you don’t trust God.  If He promises something it will not depend upon our ability to do anything but trust Him.

Another thing we see here is that God is with us when it looks like nothing is happening.   After the promise of Genesis 12, Sarah waited 10 years and yet she still couldn’t have children.  It was at that time she offered Hagar to Abraham.  Yet when Hagar had a child, God made it clear that Ishmael would not be the promised child.  Now we are 24 years after the initial promise and still nothing is happening.  It often appears in life like nothing is happening and that God’s promise was just an imagination.  Most of this is because we do not see what we expect to see, when we expect to see it.  God’s way and timing is different than ours.  Why would he wait until Sarah is 89 to give her a child?  In the walk of faith with God we may be asked to do ridiculous things, like having Abraham be circumcised at 99 years of age. 

Times of waiting are an important part of what God is doing in your life.  It may look like He is doing nothing.  But it is precisely the wait that is shaping us into the image of our Lord Jesus.

This leads to the next thing.  God is always up to something regardless of how well we believe in the moment.  Over the years a teaching has developed that promotes a kind of faith in our own ability to believe.  It simply states that if you believe enough and have no doubt, you will get what you ask for.  The problem is that God should always be the object of our faith.  His plan is not dependent upon us to the degree that it cannot happen without us.  However, our place within His plan can be impacted by our ability to learn to trust Him.  Thus we sometimes cause people to feel like the burden is on them to conjure up a mystical ability that will make something happen.  Whereas the truth is that faith grows and deepens in that moment of brokenness when we throw ourselves upon the Lord and say, “Lord, I can’t do it.  Help me!”  Yes, you are going to have to believe God.  But, it is not all dependent upon you.  God is aware of your frailties and weakness.  He is the one who is teaching you to trust Him.  He will carry you through if you will cast yourself upon Him over and over again.  Even in your times of doubt, God is bringing things to the exact place that He said He would.  Will you trust Him?

Lastly, the amazing story of Abraham and Sarah teaches us that nothing is too difficult for the Lord.  I have dealt more with the situation than I have with the story.  However, the Bible tells us that the Lord asks Abraham, “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?”  That is a question that tests us all.  Throughout His ministry, Jesus answered this over and over again.  In Matthew 19:26 he said, “… with God all things are possible.”  We have to stop looking at ourselves and our inabilities and start looking to the Lord.  Whether God is going to make an 89 year old, barren woman conceive, or simply change the hard heart of a wayward loved-one, nothing is too difficult for God.

What are you believing for?  God has given us general promises that are amazing and impossible.  If we remain in Him to the end we will have a part in the Glory of Jesus, resurrection of our mortal bodies into immortal ones, and a restoration of the heavens and the earth.  These things do not look probable, but we must learn to trust the Lord for them.  Yet, God has a particular plan for you as well.  Take time over these next weeks to pray for your life, your work, your relationships, and ministry.  Ask God to fill your mind and heart with the plans that He has for you.  I guarantee you it is greater than you think that you do.  And, you would be right.  It is not what God wants you to do, but what God is going to do in you and through you.  Let’s believe for greater things this year.

Believe-Sarah Audio