The Church and the Ox-Cart // II Samuel 6:1-15

Note from the President: May God bless you today. Many have asked for a copy of my message from Shift in which I challenge the Missionary Church to explore a path toward wider participation by the body of Christ, rather than just having our pastors shoulder the entire load.   In II Samuel 6, a […]

Note from the President: May God bless you today. Many have asked for a copy of my message from Shift in which I challenge the Missionary Church to explore a path toward wider participation by the body of Christ, rather than just having our pastors shoulder the entire load.


 

In II Samuel 6, a STRANGE STORY is found. The scene opens with all of Israel gathered around the Ark of the Covenant, that mysterious golden box that you all remember from studying the Old Testament (or from watching “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”)  Look in your mind’s eye at the thousands of Israelites, led by King David as they go to get the Ark of the Covenant, and HOLD THAT PICTURE, because

First, we have to watch a flashback from 20 years earlier.

One day Israel went out to fight the Philistines, but the first day of the war went badly, and 4,000 men of Israel died. Those who made it back to camp asked the right question: “Why has God allowed this to happen to us?” But BEFORE ANYONE COULD ANSWER, somebody said, “Hey, I’ve got an idea! Let’s go grab the Ark of the Covenant! If we march THAT thing out in front of our army, God will HAVE TO defend it, and we will win for sure!!”

So the armies of Israel went and grabbed the Ark of the Covenant. CAN YOU IMAGINE?? They thought God’s holy Presence was like a tool they could grab out of the tool shed when it was needed!!

In ONE HORRIBLE DAY (found in I Samuel 4… a judgment day from God)…

  • the Ark of the Covenant was CAPTURED by the Philistines,
  • the High Priest’s two sons died in the battle, so he had no heir to become high priest after him,
  • the High Priest (named Eli) fell backward out of his chair when he heard the news, broke his 98-year old neck, and died.
  • Eli’s daughter-in-law heard that her husband had been killed and that her father-in-law had died, and she was so devastated that it caused her to go into labor. She gave birth to a boy, but she began to hemorrhage during the delivery, and slowly bled to death.  As she was dying, since her husband was already dead, they asked her what they should name the little boy that was about to become an orphan.  She said, “Name him ICHABOD.”  I-CHABOD.  Departed, gone, is the glory. Israel’s glory was gone, because the Ark, (the symbol of God’s Covenant with Israel) was gone.

TOTAL DISASTER!!

But a funny thing happened in the land of the Philistines. For 7 months, everywhere the Ark went, BAD THINGS happened. Pretty soon, all of the towns were saying, “Don’t bring that thing in here!” It got so bad that they decided to return it.

To make a long story short, the Philistines put the Ark of the Covenant onto a flat cart, hitched two milk cows to it, and stood back to watch what would happen. What happened was… the two cows walked directly to Israel, pulling the cart and mooing the whole way, and then they stopped when they got just inside of Israel, and just stood there. And the Ark stayed there IN A GUY’S HOUSE on the border for 20 YEARS!

It SAT there while David grew from boyhood to manhood.  It was sitting THERE while David killed Goliath; Sitting THERE while Saul tried to kill David; Sitting THERE when David was crowned king.

That brings us to II Samuel 6.  (Read II SAMUEL 6:1-15)

WHAT A STRANGE STORY!!  And disturbing.  Here’s a guy who died for trying to keep the Ark of the Covenant from tipping.

It sounds like God blew his cool! But…

WE KNOW THAT GOD IS NOT HOT-HEADED or short-tempered. And we also know from I Corinthians 10:11 that according to the Holy Spirit, These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.”

EVERYTHING that happened to THEM (the people in the Old Testament) was recorded in Scripture for US, as examples and warnings.

SO WHY DID THIS TRAGEDY HAPPEN, AND WHAT DOES IT TEACH US ABOUT GOD, THAT HE KNEW FOR SURE THAT WE NEEDED TO KNOW??

Actually, looking at the situation in the rear-view mirror, the WHY part of this tragedy is pretty obvious.

Uzzah grew up with the Ark of the Covenant literally sitting in his house.  His daddy, Abinadab, had received the Ark 20 years earlier, and his older brother, Eleazar was hired to keep an eye on it.

Can you imagine growing up with the Ark of the Covenant sitting in your living room?  When it first arrived, it would
be this awesome, splendid, sight.  But as the years went by, it became just part of the furniture, just one more thing in
the house… to a little boy who had never known a time without it.  A little boy named Uzzah.

How many of you were raised in Christian homes?  How many of you have been handling the things of God in ministry for more than YEARS and YEARS? Sometimes there comes a gradual erosion of our awe, a dangerously comfortable situation in which we become accustomed to handling the things of God.

Has the handling of the Word of God become so routine to you that you have grown blind to the solemn privilege that you have been given?

I think Uzzah had lost his reverence for God’s Presence and that’s OFTEN fatal.

Not only that, Uzzah was a part of the CELEBRITY family that day!  It was “THEIR” new cart, and “THEIR” prize, being brought up by parade from “THEIR” house.

Combine Uzzah’s lifelong familiarity with the Ark with the spotlight of celebrity, and you have a recipe for real
destruction.  Today, ALL EYES were on him and the part he was playing. EVEN THE KING’S EYES!  THERE IS A     
     SECRET SATISFACTION OF THE SPOTLIGHT THAT SUCKS US IN!

This was a PROUD DAY for Uzzah.  And we all know what PRIDE goes before, don’t we?

THEN IT HAPPENED: Simply put, the oxen stumbled. (Now, we’re NEVER TOLD that the ox-cart ITSELF lurched, or that the Ark slid or teetered at the edge.  We sort of conclude that all by ourselves.  So did Uzzah!)

To him, there was suddenly a chance to appear VERY IMPORTANT, by “helping God out.”  I mean, this was a CRISIS!! (Wasn’t it?)

He didn’t just lay his hand on top of the Ark. It was MUCH more dramatic than that.

I see we need to talk about the WEIGHT of the Ark of the Covenant.

Scholars say that if the gold were hammered to approximately 1/32 of an inch, the ark would weigh approximately 545 pounds, and if we add the weight of the stone tablets (the TEN COMMANDMENTS) and the GOLD jar that carried the Manna, and the staff of Aaron that budded… we’re probably looking at 600 pounds EASILY!

So when the oxen stumbled, you wouldn’t lay your hand on it to steady it. (If you could steady it like that, you would be from the planet Krypton!!)  No way. You would PUSH!! It would be DRAMATIC!!

God DIDN’T NEED UZZAH TO HANDLE A CRISIS. I THINK THAT SOMEWHERE IN HERE, UZZAH WANTED A CRISIS TO HANDLE.   Some people do ministry like adrenaline junkies.

If Uzzah REALLY wanted to help out, he should have grabbed the poles!!

Did I mention the poles? THOSE POLES bring me to the question,

 

How was moving the Ark SUPPOSED to work???

Let’s read the Ark of the Covenant Owner’s Manual.

Bezalel made poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with gold.  And he inserted the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry it. Exodus 37:4-5 

The poles were to REMAIN in the rings of the ark; they were NEVER to be removed. (Exodus 25:15)

WHY??

Because they were the ONLY way that the Ark was to move. The Ark was NEVER supposed to be loaded onto a flat cart, with oxen pulling it.  Instead, the two poles were supposed to be used, with priests on each side resting the poles on their shoulders, and thereby carrying the Ark.

I WAS TRYING TO THINK OF AN ANALOGY FROM TODAY. The only thing that we use today that follows the same principle is a casket. Pastors, how many times have you preceded the casket in that solemn procession to the graveside? The casket has a long handle (like the poles of the ark of the covenant) built into the long sides of the wooden box. And the pall-bearers get on each side of it, and they all lift at the same time, and TOGETHER they are able to bear the weight of the body of their loved one.

THAT’S HOW IT WORKED, TO MOVE THE ARK.

No man (NO MATTER HOW MIGHTY), could carry a casket by himself very far.

BUT WITH WILLING HAND AND SHOULDERS ON EACH SIDE? That’s a whole different story!!

The weight is great, but the workers are many. SO IT WORKS!

 

GOD’S                                                                            DESIGN                                                                         PLAN…

FOR A REASON!

Remember when I told you that the Philistines sent the Ark back to Israel? Remember how they did it? They put it on a cart! That was the PHILISTINE way! In fact, they relied TOTALLY on the cart, and never even sent men with it!!    ALL MACHINERY, AND NO MEN.

But God NEVER wanted the instability of animals or men’s machines to do this work.  Walking and working together, they could do it smoothly.

And you know?  God’s purposes STILL NEVER go forward by machinery, or methods, but always by the
people He has chosen
.  Always by men and women!  That is what He commanded.  Whenever the Ark moved, it
was supposed to be on the shoulders of His leaders.

     THE MINISTRY OF GOD MOVES FORWARD ON THE SHOULDERS OF HIS PEOPLE, AS THEY
EACH BEAR THE WEIGHT EQUALLY!!

It actually DELIGHTS God to use MORE people, each one carrying their share of the load!

Why is that so important?? The Ark symbolized God’s Presence!!

So when the Ark was carried among them, it symbolized that GOD HIMSELF was among them!!

The early Church understood that. They even considered Mary, (the mother of Jesus), as a human version of Ark of the Covenant, since for 9 months she carried around within HER the Presence of God!))

Now brace yourselves. I am going to be very straight with you, because I BELIEVE WITH ALL MY HEART that the LESSON that God had for us in this account is CRITICAL for the Missionary Church today.

WE ARE IN TERRIBLE DANGER OF BECOMING UZZAH, IN GOD’S EYES!!

In the United States, the PASTOR has come to be seen as a human version of the Ark of the Covenant, and people view the Pastor as symbolizing God’s Presence and ministry among us.

IN ELI’S DAY, INSTEAD OF SEEKING GOD’S FACE, ISRAEL SOUGHT HIS ARK.

AND WHAT DO WE DO IN THE CHURCH TODAY? INSTEAD OF SEEKING THE FACE OF JESUS, WE PUT THE PASTOR ON SPEED-DIAL. He’s the new Ark!

  • “We need to start a new ministry!” Let’s try to get the Pastor to do it (because we don’t have apostolic people identified in our congregations!)
  • “My son-in-law is drifting into bad doctrine,” a mother worries in her small group. Someone says, “Quick! Call the pastor!” (because we don’t have prophetic people identified in our congregations, who can call out the problem when someone starts drifting into sin.)
  • “My dad doesn’t know the Lord, and I think he’s dying.” “Let’s see if the Pastor will visit him.” (Because we haven’t identified and utilized the EVANGELISTIC people God has given us!)
  • “I don’t understand what this verse means. Hey, Pastor. Have you got a few minutes?” (because the POWERFUL BIBLE TEACHERS are going unnoticed among us!)

Oh, I’m getting close to being in trouble, here!

Can you use your sanctified imagination, and place yourself in the scene where Uzzah died for a minute?  Look at him there on the ground, next to the Ark. HE’S NOT MOVING.

And neither is anyone who just saw what happened. HE’S NOT BREATHING!

And neither is anyone who just saw what happened.  Everybody is just sort of frozen.

Now look back OVER YOUR SHOULDER.

Who is that group of men standing around with nothing to do? It is the Levites… the men who GOD assigned to do the work of carrying the ark.

Listen to what King David said after a few weeks of processing what had happened. He is speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit:

I Chronicles 15:13             It was because you, the Levites, did not bring it up the first time that the Lord our God broke out in anger against us. We did not inquire of him about how to do it in the prescribed way.”  

After King David explained this to the Levites, the next verse says,

14  So the priests and Levites consecrated themselves in order to bring up the ark of the Lord, the God of Israel. 15And the Levites carried the ark of God with the poles on their shoulders, as Moses had commanded in accordance with the word of the Lord.

 

God’s work MUST be done God’s way.      (Repeat)                  (Say that with me, if you believe it.)

 

GOD’s way for ministry to be carried forward is always on the shoulders of His PEOPLE, not by methods, not by mechanisms or ANY CLEVER STRATEGIES that make it no longer necessary for the ASSEMBLED group of people to work TOGETHER.

Man’s tendency, though, is to try to find the most efficient way on his own… to rely upon methods instead of God’s revelation of how He wants things done.

Our CONSTANT TEMPTATION is to say to God, “Hey, that sounds great. But listen: it isn’t practical. We are sophisticated enough now that we’ve decided that the better way is to do it THIS way.”

Did JESUS ever command His disciples to go out and do ministry ALONE, like Pastors end up having to do 99.9% of the time?? How did He ALWAYS send them??

THAT’S NOT PRACTICAL, STEVE!

Exactly! That’s why the OX-CART is such a WONDERFUL idea. We can get this thing done with WAY LESS PEOPLE doing WAY LESS WORK. The method You are describing is… impractical, for busy people like us, Lord. I’m sure you understand.

WE HAVE DESIGNED A SYSTEM, LORD, WHERE WE GET ONE MAN TO DO THE WORK OF THE APOSTLE, THE PROPHET, THE EVANGELIST, THE PASTOR AND THE TEACHER.

THINK OF HOW EFFICIENT WE ARE!! We can lead a church of 100 with only ONE MAN planning new ministries, like apostles used to do, and listening for your voice like prophets used to do, and leading people to Christ like evangelists used to do, and meeting the people’s needs, like the shepherds used to do, and teaching all the people the Bible.

God, I’m sure your way worked fine back in the day when people walked around in the desert and wore robes and sandals and stuff, but we live in a BUSY time, Lord… a MODERN time, with cell phones and people working overtime at their jobs, and budgetary constraints.

I’m sure you understand. Now we can use ONE MAN to do all of that stuff, because we have invented ways to make that work. One man, Lord!

 

We can work him like an ox, Lord, and …IF HE STUMBLES… we can always replace him with another ONE!

SUPER LONG PAUSE!!

 

Oh. And those people who no longer are needed, like they used to be? Well, they can… um… they can make more money! Maybe put more in the offering plate. It really makes the most sense, now that we are MODERN, Lord.

((               GRAB A DIRECTORY OF THE MISSIONARY CHURCH.                ))

Please look up and lock eyes with me: I need to SAY something very carefully that you hear VERY CLEARLY: We have a section in the back of our Missionary Church Directory that is called “Secular or in Transition.” What that means is, these people have had credentials, and they still do at the moment, but they are no longer serving in one of our churches or ministries. That list has 47 people on it.

THIS IS NOT THE MANY WONDERFUL PEOPLE WHO ARE SERVING BIVOCATIONALLY.

But that’s not all. I am told by those who keep these records for us that we have a LARGE number of people who NO LONGER hold credentials with us. They USED to, but they DON’T anymore. Do you know how many of THOSE we have on the books over this last 50 years in which we have existed as the Missionary Church, Inc.?    985.

You might be thinking, “Does that include all the people who are retired? Nope. They get to keep their credentials. Does that include those who have gone on to heaven and received their reward? Nope. Their records are in a different file.

Those 985 are basically people who have dropped their credentials, had them removed for violating our standards of holiness, or in some cases, have transferred to other denominations.

ADDING TOGETHER THOSE who are ONLY IN SECULAR WORK NOW but are licensed or ordained for the ministry, AND THOSE WHO HAVE TURNED IN THEIR CREDENTIALS AS MINISTERS OF THE GOSPEL, WE GET 1,032 PEOPLE.

That’s basically one pastor EVERY OTHER WEEK FOR 50 YEARS.

…who burn out in the ministry.

Or who decide that they aren’t cut out for the pastorate. (Who can do all this???)

Or who get so wounded in the work that they think, “I don’t need this!”

Or who commit ministry suicide by having an affair.

Pastors’ wives, some of YOU know what I’m talking about. You look at your husband, and you shake your head and think, “If he doesn’t get some help, I am afraid of what might happen!”

Or you think, “Our kids don’t even know him.”

COULD IT REALLY BE that this is the way that God intended ministry to move forward?

SOMEONE BAILING OR SOMEONE FAILING EVERY OTHER WEEK????

Or is there –maybe, just maybe- ANOTHER explanation?

WHAT IF WE’RE DOING IT WRONG, AND THE CHURCH IS RUNNING ON ONLY 20% OF ITS CAPACITY??

THE WORD OF GOD RUSHES INTO OUR MINDS AND IS WHISPERED IN OUR HEARTS BY THE HOLY SPIRIT IN THIS MOMENT…

JESUS “gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service…” Ephesians 4: 11-12

People were MEANT to fill these FIVE roles!! Jesus GAVE us these people to fill these roles!!

If you give someone a gift, you want that person to open the gift, to appreciate that gift, and to use it.

Jesus gave the church a beautiful gift: A matched set of 5 power tools to make the church EFFECTIVE and beautiful. The Church opened the gifts, but SOMEHOW it has used the Pastor gift to exhaustion (and to some extent the Teacher gift) while leaving the others on a shelf.

 

THERE IS A BETTER WAY, AND WE ARE GOING TO LEARN IT!!


  • We’ve got apostles who had to pretend to be pastors all these years, because their gifts weren’t embraced in their local church.
  • We’ve got prophets trying to be pastors, and correcting everyone all the time.
  • We’ve got evangelists filling pulpits as pastors when their whole heart is to walk and work among lost people.
  • We’ve got teachers trying to be pastors so they will have a place to teach, but believe me, you would NOT want some of them to sit at your bedside at the hospital, or visit your mom in the nursing home. They are TEACHERS, not shepherds!

There IS a better way. If the Bible is without error, then Paul was RIGHT when he said that JESUS gave to us (the church) apostles and prophets and evangelists and shepherds and teachers

My dad was an expert on Abraham Lincoln, and he told me that when he was young, he heard one of the earliest recordings broadcast on the radio, of an OLD man who when HE was young, actually attended Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

The radio host asked the old man what he could remember from that historic day. He said, “I remember two things the most clearly. First, Mr. Lincoln had a high, piercing voice, more like a trumpet pitch than the usual famous speakers of that day.

And the SECOND thing I remember is how Mr. Lincoln ended his speech, and everyone today has it all wrong. I am referring to that famous conclusion, ‘that this nation OF the people, BY the people, and FOR the people shall not perish from the earth.”        This old gentleman said, “That was all wrong. Mr. Lincoln pronounced it completely differently! HE said, ‘that this nation of the PEOPLE! By the PEOPLE! And for the PEOPLE! Shall not perish from the earth.’

Other people put the emphasis on the prepositions, but Mr. Lincoln put the emphasis on the PEOPLE.


 

FATHER, YOU HAVE ALWAYS DESIRED TO MOVE YOUR MINISTRY FORWARD ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIFTED PEOPLE WHO EACH TAKE THEIR ROLE… WHO EACH SHOULDER THEIR PART OF THE LOAD.

JESUS, IT WAS YOU WHO GAVE US THOSE PEOPLE AS A GIFT, AND WE HAVE FAILED TO NOTICE. PLEASE FORGIVE US.

HOLY SPIRIT, TEACH US WHAT JESUS MEANT BY GIVING US THIS MATCHED SET OF GIFTS, WHO WERE ALL SUPPOSED TO WORK IN A BEAUTIFUL AND HARMONIOUS WAY TO CARRY YOUR WORK FORWARD.

 

In the name of Jesus, Father, UNLEASH your church!

  • (Russ Johnson and Dan Grider, Dave Engbrecht and Edilson de Silva, please stand__)

Jesus, release your apostolic people to flourish in their role of starting new ministries!

And all God’s people said, “Amen!”

  • (Jose Mendez and Sam Gallucci, Geoff King, Pat Ryan, Kelli Jones, Joe Johns)

Jesus, release your prophetic people to flourish in their role of keeping ministries on track Biblically, and in tune with your Holy Spirit’s direction.

And all God’s people said, “Amen!”

  • (Kent Fishel and Ken Smeader… ____________)

Jesus, release your evangelistic people to flourish in their role of expanding the ministry by bringing the gospel to lost people.

And all God’s people said, “Amen!”

  • (Gary Aupperle and Becky Baker, Jim Jordan, Mark Douras, K. Paul)

Jesus, release your shepherding-oriented people to flourish in their role of caring tenderly for the needs of the church body.

And all God’s people said, “Amen!”

  • (David McCabe, Dave DeSelm, David Mishkin _____________)

Jesus, release your teaching-oriented people to flourish in their role of training our people to know the Word of God and to be wise in its application to our lives.

And all God’s people said, “Amen!”

LET’S ALL STAND, AND I AM GOING TO ASK YOU TO PRAY THIS TOGETHER, IN UNISON.

UNISON:

In the name of Jesus, Father…

     UNLEASH THE POWER OF YOUR CHURCH.

     RELEASE THE POTENTIAL OF YOUR PEOPLE!

     RELIEVE THE BURDEN OF YOUR PASTORS!

And Father? Let this moment be HISTORIC. We ACCEPT your call for us to act on this revelation from your Word and from your Spirit… in the STRONG name of Jesus. Amen.

If you are excited about being part of this journey of discovery, please see me after we close, right over here.

God bless you. Have a great evening!!