Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Limits of Power

One of the more interesting stories in the Bible is the story of a man named Naaman. He was an official in a foreign land who was living with a terrible skin disease. One of his servants told him there was a God in Israel who could heal him, so they set out to be healed. When Naaman finds the prophet, the prophet gives him the most basic, unglorified instructions for healing in all of Scripture - go and wash in the river 7 times - and Naaman protests. Then, his servant says to him, "But if he had asked you to do some grand and glorious and difficult thing, wouldn't you have gladly done it?" 

And that's often what we take away from this story, as well we should. I have had a number of Naaman moments in my life, moments that seemed too easy. But then, that's the grace of God, isn't it? It just seems too easy. If it were more difficult, it seems it'd be easier to do somehow. 

But there's a part of this story that we often read right past, and it's important, too. Especially in a day and age where we worship power and authority and celebrity.

You see, when Naaman comes to Israel, he goes straight to the king. This makes sense. Since Naaman is an official in his own land, he comes to the official in the other land. He comes bearing a letter from his own king, requesting his healing and giving him the authority to ask for it. Politics, you know. Always politics. 

When Israel's king reads the letter and hears Naaman's request - this official of another kingdom - he freaks out. He starts worrying, severely. He tears his robes and cries out, asking this Naaman just how he thinks the king is. Is he God? Can he heal anyone? 

It seems like a setup. It seems like something fishy is afoot. A foreign king sends his servant to Israel's king to be healed, but Israel's king knows he can't heal anyone. If he fails to heal the servant, however, then what will happen to his kingdom? The other king will come and attack! He'll claim betrayal or something! He'll rally the troops and exact vengeance on Israel's failure to act! This couldn't be a bigger disaster, not only for the king but for his kingdom! 

It doesn't seem to occur to the king at all that he doesn't have to personally heal this man. It doesn't seem to occur to him that there might be someone in his kingdom who is capable of doing what he is incapable of doing. It doesn't occur to him to ask anyone else for advice or suggestions. It doesn't even occur to him to think about the God of his land, the Lord Himself, who might be able to do this. 

All he's thinking about is his own inability. After all, he's the king. He is the seat of unlimited power and authority; he should be able to do all things.

But he can't do this.

It takes a servant to say, wait a second. There's a man of God here. He can probably do it. What you need is not power, but prophecy, and I know just where to get it. 

Read that again - what you need is not power, but prophecy. Not authority, but truth. Not politics, but faithfulness.

How easy it is for us to forget that there is a God in our land, in our hearts, in our souls who is able to do immeasurably more than we are able to do. We think we always have to act out of who we are, our own power and authority, our own skills and abilities, but really? Really what we need is His. 

Not politics, but faithfulness. 

So before you tear your robe and cry out about your own insufficiencies, ask yourself this: is there someone else who can do it? Someone else capable of what you are incapable of? Is there a God in the land who is a Healer? Send for Him. Seek Him. Ask Him. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

On Mission

Yesterday, we looked at the difference between mission and truth, as shown in the story of Elisha and his servant attempting to revive the widow's son. The servant only tries once; the prophet again and again until he gets it. And the question we raised is this:
Do you see what you see or do you see what God sees?

This question, and this discussion, is fundamental to what we are doing as a church. Not as a local church, but as a global one - as a body of Christians with a message for the world. It is fundamental to the way we're doing outreach, to how we are evangelizing the world. 

Here's what I mean: it's a little late, but let's take Easter as an example because it's a good one. When Easter starts to come around, most of our churches start talking about the importance of inviting others to the Easter service. Invite your friends, your family, your neighbors, your community. Go out and invite one person. (We put an emphasis on one because it seems doable to most everybody.) 

And most church members will go out and invite someone to the Easter service. It's true. It works. And some of them will even come. 

But here's the thing - are our people going out and inviting that one person to Easter because they have a mission...or because they have a truth? 

A mission means the primary goal is to invite someone. It's to get someone to potentially come to the service and fill another seat. It's about getting the numbers, getting humans in the door. It's about believing in the church and its programs and pumping them up in our communities. Yes, you should totally come to my church for Easter - we have great music, a good sermon, snacks and coffee in the lobby, a fellowship meal afterward, friendly folks, and a casual dress code. You'll absolutely love Easter at my church. And we think that what's important is getting that one person to the Easter service. That's everything. 

A truth, on the other hand, means that you can already see what happens as a result of the Easter service. You have your eyes on a life transformed. You have a vision for a soul redeemed. You are thinking about brokenness healed, blind who can see, lame who can walk. You're burning with a passion for this Jesus that someone you know could come and meet on Easter Sunday, if only you could get them in the pew. 

The vision in truth is larger; it looks beyond what seems like the goal and burns in the soul. It doesn't see the task as the end game; it knows there's something larger at play.

Are your people inviting someone to the Easter service because they love the Easter service and the church and think it will be fun and cool and neat to have their friend/family/neighbor there with them? Then your people have a mission. They are servants. They'll try once and if it doesn't stick, they'll just move on. And probably never invite that person again

Or are your people inviting someone to the Easter service because they love Jesus, believe in the power of the resurrection, preach the Good News, know how it can heal the broken and redeem the sinner and find the lost? Are they inviting others to the Easter service because they can already see how Jesus can radically transform someone's life for the better? Then your people have a truth. They are prophets. They'll keep going at it again and again and again until it works, and they'll invite that same person every year until they come. 

It's a sad reality that most of our churches are churches on mission, not churches on truth. Most Christians today have lost that essential essence of this thing called truth, this burning passion for the lost, the absolute belief that Jesus saves and transforms the lives of sinners, and the vision to see it before it even happens. Most Christians today are working for the church, not for the Christ - for our programs and not for the Promise. 

Imagine what would happen if that weren't the case. Imagine if more of us were prophets, not servants. Imagine if we ministered out of truth, not mission. Imagine...

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A Servant and a Prophet

In keeping with the pattern of the prophets, it's not long after the widow receives a miracle in the blessing of the ingredients that her son, her only son, dies and she turns to the prophet in anguish.

In this case, Elisha's servant runs ahead of him and reaches the boy before the prophet does, following precise instructions precisely one time to revive the boy...and failing. By the time Elisha arrives, his servant has a report: I did what you told me to do, but it didn't work; the boy is truly dead.

But then, Elisha himself tries to revive the boy. And that doesn't work, either. 

But then, Elisha tries again. Until it does work. 

And that is the difference between mission and truth. 

The servant only had the mission in him - go and revive the boy. Follow these precise steps in pursuit of this precise outcome. Do this very thing in the hopes of achieving this certain thing. He was on a mission, following orders, and when it didn't work, well, it didn't work. Because all he had in him was what he was supposed to do; all of the "facts" were outside of him. And the fact was that the boy was dead. 

The prophet, on the other hand, had the truth in him - this boy will not die. He's not dead. He might be dead right now, but he's not really dead. The prophet saw more than the situation showed him, and so he was able to persist and to keep on in the face of what seemed like "facts" because he had truth in his heart - this boy would live. It was such a real, powerful, vital truth for Elisha that he could already see it. 

It's a question for all of us to keep in mind when we pursue the things the Lord calls us and sends us to do in the world. Do we have in our hearts just a mission? Just something we're supposed to "do," a plan to follow? Or do we have in our hearts a truth, an ability to see beyond what is right before our eyes and to know something that doesn't seem possible to know right now?

Do you see what you see or do you see what God sees?

The answer to this question will change the way we engage the world. If you only have a mission, then you go and do and whatever happens, happens. However it turns out is how it turns out. You tried...once. You see no point in trying again. You did it. It's over. It either "worked" or it didn't. 

But if you have a truth, you'll keep at it. You'll pursue it. You'll try again and again and again, go harder and longer and faster until what you know is true becomes real right before your very eyes. Until God does the thing God has shown you God will do, God is doing. Until the so-called dead boy lives. You'll persist because you already have your eyes on what you cannot yet see, and you know that it's real and powerful and vital. It's truth. 

So the question again - do you see what you see or do you see what God sees? Are you a servant or a prophet? Do you have a mission or do you have truth? 

How does that impact what you're doing and how you're doing it?

Monday, May 20, 2019

Sell the Oil

Prophets in the Old Testament seem to have a thing for finding widows, and it happens again in 2 Kings 4. And again, the story centers around oil.

Here, we have Elisha come upon a widow who is down to her last little bit, the same way that Elijah had not long ago. And he tells the widow to find herself a bunch of jars, as many jars as she can find, as many as her neighbors are willing to give to her. Go, ask everyone for jars until there's not one more jar that she can find anywhere to have or to borrow or whatever. And then, he says, shut the door and start pouring your little bit of oil into the jars. 

She does this, and by God's good grace, every jar is filled up with oil. Filled to the brim. Overflowing. She's got more oil than she knows what to do with. And that's...well, that's something. 

But the widow doesn't know what it is, so she goes back to the prophet to ask what to do next, now that she has all of the jars and all of the jars are full.

It seems rather obvious to most of us, doesn't it? She doesn't probably have a personal use for so much oil. There's only so much you can do with oil if you don't have any of the other ingredients needed to make anything of nutritious value. It's a raw ingredient, not a finished product. And having oil won't really provide for her family the way that she needs to...unless she sells it.

Apparently, though, that thought didn't cross her mind. Nowhere do we see her pouring oil and thinking out loud, "Gosh, what a great abundance of oil. I could sell this for a pretty penny!" Rather, she just pours the oil and then goes back to the prophet and says, "What next?"

He tells her what seems so obvious to us - now, sell it. 

But how often are we guilty of missing this crucial second step? How often are we guilty of going ahead with what seems right and obvious instead of asking what's next in God's plan? 

God often gives us something to go on, a new direction to turn, a next step to take. We often get a glimpse of where we might be going, and so often, we are a people who move impulsively after the first "yes." God says one thing, and then we fill in the blanks and take off running toward what seems obvious.

What, though, if it's not? 

What if the prophet had said something else? What if the plan wasn't to sell the oil? What if what seems obvious only seems so because it's all we can think of, the best we can imagine, the product of our own limited perspective? What if there's something we can't see, something we have to ask God about? 

What if it's not always so simple?

Maybe it is. Maybe it really is that simple. Maybe the obvious thing is also the right thing. But the point is that we don't know - not for sure - until we ask. And most of us aren't asking. 

What if we did?

Friday, May 17, 2019

When God Speaks

We are living in a time and place that likes to say that God is whatever you make of Him and that faith is such a private thing that whatever you believe, it's probably true...at least for you. We're told we can't question what someone else says, does, or thinks because if they say, do, or think it, then it's valid for them and for the version of God that they cling to. And He loves them for it, unconditionally and without expectation. 

And while it seems like such a time is strange and new, like the concerns of the postmodern, relativistic 21st Century are beyond anything that Scripture has to say to us, there are a couple of stories in 1 Kings that remind us how dangerous our world's mindset really is and how real, righteous faith offers us something more solid to stand on.

The first of these stories comes in 1 Kings 13. Here is a story of two old men, one of whom is a prophet. He speaks to the king and then turns to go home another way, just as the Lord has commanded him. In fact, he's pretty clear on what God requires of him - he is to come, speak, and go home another way and not to go with the king or to stay with him or accept any invitations. This, he does.

But then, another man comes along and tells the prophet to come and eat at his house. The prophet repeats the orders that he has from the Lord and refuses, but then the other man says, "Oh, I'm also a prophet, and God told me to do this." So the prophet goes, and he loses his life for disobedience. 

Because it turns out, of course, that the other man was no prophet at all. 

The moral of this story is simply this: if the Lord has spoken, He will not say one thing to you and something contradictory to someone else. If He has said it, it is true and real and valid and vital, and He will not give someone else a message that contradicts it. 

This is a bind that we're put into all the time. God says something and we know it, but then someone else claims that God spoke something to them that is different and would actually negate what we know. Our world solves this problem by telling us that both are equally true, but we know that they can't be - and so what we must decide is which is true. We do this by knowing what is the character, heart, and reality of God. Which would He have spoken? And whatever God has spoken, we must act on and throw the other out. Otherwise, we condemn ourselves. 

The second story comes just a couple of chapters later in 1 Kings 20. King Ahab goes into battle, and he has explicit orders from God to kill the competing king. But the enemy king is captured and is brought to Ahab, where he begs for his life. Ahab, thinking himself cunning, makes a deal with the king and sets him free, at which point a prophet of the Lord comes to Ahab and tells him that Ahab is now the condemned man because he has not done what God desired him to do to the enemy king.

And this, too, is something that we're familiar with. We're told we can't judge anyone's actions or motive or behaviors or beliefs, that we're supposed to just make peace with everyone and let them live the way they want to live. That even God doesn't expect anything out of them, but simply loves them. 

But Ahab had mercy where God did not have mercy and thus brought the other man's curse upon himself, and we, too, are living this. Our children are living this. We're living in a society that doesn't have structure or rules or expectations because we've let this go on for far too long, and we are now reaping what we've sown in a generation that doesn't know how to live or act. We are a cursed generation because we have mercy where God has none, and we have replaced conviction and standards with "tolerance" and blind affirmation. 

So although it seems that maybe our times are not like any other times or that the Bible doesn't speak to today, there are still some powerful lessons we can learn from the Scriptures about what it means to be a people of the 21st Century in our postmodern, relativistic culture. We don't have to, and we shouldn't, just go blindly along with it.

Lest we condemn ourselves. 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

A Matter of Perspective

After Solomon, Rehoboam becomes king of God's people and very early on in his reign, a telling scene takes place. Rehoboam has to figure out who he's going to listen to - his elders or his friends.

He first seeks the counsel of his elders, of men who served his father wisely and well for a number of years and have been part of seeing the kingdom of God prosper. Life is pretty good in Israel, relatively speaking, and that's due to the way things have been run under the kingship of Solomon. That's not to say that it's always come easy; there were many tough decisions that had to be made along the way, and even some errors, but these elders are the men who were there to make them. They're the ones who have invested the energies to get it right, have corrected when they've gotten it wrong, and have learned to seek the Lord in all things. Naturally, Rehoboam asks them for their advice...and he gets it.

But then, he turns around and asks his friends. Friends who are his own age, who have only known what he knows. They know how good life in Israel has been because they've lived it, but they haven't really had to work for it. So they are only really interested in securing their own place and position, in making sure their good life continues. And the best way to make sure things don't change is to control them with a heavy hand, which is exactly what they advise Rehoboam to do - rule with an iron fist. Maximize your power. Make sure the people know who's in charge here - and it's you. 

He takes the advice of his friends, and it ruins everything.

It's a natural temptation for us, though, even though it competes against our own wisdom. Most of us know that life is better seen in hindsight. It's 20/20 when you can look back and see how you got here and begin to understand things you never even noticed or knew while they were happening. We understanding, instinctively and through our own experience, that having lived life gives you a different perspective on it and you know more today than you knew then, often even concluding that if you were given the chance to do it over, you'd do it differently. (Or sometimes, you wouldn't.) 

And yet, when we're looking to make decisions, we don't often look to those who have had to make them before. We don't look to those who have already traveled these roads. We don't look to those who are looking back on where we are now, having the benefit of 20/20 vision for what we're about to enter because it's in their rearview mirror.

When it comes to making our life choices, when we're staring ahead down the road that stretches before us, most of us don't ask those who are looking back at us; we ask those who are standing next to us. Because we want the perspective of someone who's seeing what we're seeing. Someone who's looking at what we're looking at. 

From here, we're staring at the same horizon. From here, we're looking into the same future. From here, we have a common starting point, a place from which we have a fellowship, just by nature of being right here together. That's valuable to us. It seems that way. 

From here, it looks like the variables are the same. We can look out and see point A and know how to reference it to someone standing next to us. Someone further down the road? It may look completely different to them, and we never seem like we're talking about the same thing. We are, but we just don't understand that they see what we can't see, and we think they're not seeing what we're looking at. 

So it's tempting to ask someone who's standing where we are. Our friends, not our elders. Even though we know that when we become elders, we will know better, by virtue of having lived it. Right now, it doesn't seem that way, and we forget our own wisdom. 

Like Rehoboam, it leads us astray. 

So who are you asking for advice? Are you asking your elders or your friends? And who are you listening to when you hear them? Is it possible that someone else is seeing what you can't even imagine yet? Can you trust them if they are? 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

May You Hear

Solomon is a king who is known for his wisdom, but he's also a very powerful pray-er, and we are blessed to have a number of his prayers recorded for us in Scripture. At the blessing of the Temple, he prays a rather lengthy prayer, including a number of groups and possible situations that could occur in Israel, mentioning each by name for perfect clarity about what he expects of his God - and his people.

And these prayers are things we can relate to. Most of us, anyway. They are prayers for sinners who turn away and then turn back. They are prayers for natural disasters and illnesses that come upon us. They are prayers for strangers and aliens living in the land. They are prayers for very human things that happen to all of us at one time or another, prayers for the people of God as they live their very human existence in a fallen world. 

But the pattern that Solomon develops across his prayers, across this prayer in particular, is something that ought to make us pause for a minute and think about our own prayer. 

Every time Solomon asks in his prayer for the Lord to ask, he always asks first for the Lord to hear. 

The pattern is something like this, "When your people...and then turn to this Temple and pray to you...then hear them...then act." Every time. Hear them...then act. When they pray, hear them...then act. 

Most of us would rather God just act. Wouldn't we?

That's what we pray. We don't pray for God to hear us first. We don't ask Him to listen. We don't want Him to pay attention or notice us or anything like that; we just want Him to act. To do what we're asking Him to do. To move on our behalf. To fix things. To make things better, to make things right. We want God to be moving all the time, to be working and redeeming and fixing and healing and atoning and defending and strengthening and loving...not many of our prayers any more ask Him to hear us. 

It seems strange, I know. It's because we have a faith that tells us that God is always listening, that God always hears us. We have a faith that tells us that we don't even have to pray out loud because God can hear our "hearts," which means our thoughts, too. (Which always sounds strange to me, by the way, because I don't necessarily want God to be paying attention to all of my thoughts, but then I wonder how you're supposed to think in your heart that you want God to pay attention to the next ones...and He is supposed to hear that when He's not supposed to be listening to you, so that He knows to listen to you...do you get my point?)

But hearing is a fundamental part of God's relationship with us. It's what makes Him so different from all of the other gods that humans have had over the course of history. It's what makes Him unique. And it's what makes Him, fundamentally, the God that He claims to be - because He's told us it's all about relationship, all about love, and relationship rests on truly hearing and listening to one another. Communication. 

Which means that when we pray for God to hear us, we're not just asking Him to listen and to pay attention to our words; we're asking for Him to be who He claims to be, to be the Lord who loves His people, to be the God in relationship with His creation. We're asking Him to be present in His whole heart, in our hearts, in the image of Him in whom we are created and to whom we are called to intimate wonder. 

Hear us, Lord. Be wholly You. Be the fullness of who You are...and then act. Act out of that fullness. Act out of that goodness. Act out of that love. 

It starts with hearing. Hear us, Lord. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

A Pillar of the Temple

Solomon, as we know, built the Temple of the Lord, a house for God among the dwellings of His people in the Promised Land. And we know that the Lord provided the plans for the Temple, down to the measurements and weights of every smallest item. But did you know that the Temple was also deeply endowed with meaning?

The Temple was built with two pillars in a particular spot, pillars that upheld the structure and secured its position and strength. When these pillars were put in place, we are told that Solomon named them. And one of them, he named "Boaz," which the Scriptures tell us means, "in Him is strength." 

Ah, yes, you say. That makes sense. Strength is something we always want to associate with our God, and what a wonderful thing it is to build His Temple upon His strength as a constant reminder to His people of one of His greatnesses and wonders. 

But maybe you're also thinking, Boaz...Boaz...that sounds...familiar? And indeed, it does.

Boaz is a character whose name shows up in a couple of other places in Scripture. It shows up first in the story of Ruth, given its own book, and then again in the genealogies of Jesus. Yes, that's right - one of Jesus's great-great-great-great-great...grandfathers is this man named Boaz.

Now, Boaz comes in Ruth as the family redeemer. He is the man who is able to redeem the line of Naomi's dead husband and sons, and it is in his field that the Moabitess Ruth finds provision and protection while she is gleaning grain for herself and her mother-in-law to live off of. Boaz is the one who instructs his men to guard her and to give her some easy gleanings. He is the man to whom she went in the barn and laid at his feet. He is the man who righteously offered her first to the most rightful redeemer and then, at his rejection, took her upon himself and provided for her offspring in the line of her father-in-law and husband. 

If ever we want to talk about kinsmen-redeemers, Boaz is the guy. And everybody knows it. 

Which means that when Solomon names one of the pillars of the Temple "Boaz," yes, he's talking about the literal meaning of the name - "in Him is strength" - but he's also talking about so much more. He's calling to mind the kinsman-redeemer, this well-known story in all of Israel. And he's foreshadowing the One to come, who is the cornerstone on which the Temple is built. 

In the Temple, then, we stand by the pillar and we know - the Lord is our strength. He is our kinsman. And He is our redeemer. All of that in one little word, a name which is a name and is yet so much more.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Wisdom and Truth

There's a difference between wisdom and truth that we don't often think about any more, as we consider the two to be pretty much the same sort of thing. But truth is whatever information is accurate, valid, and worthy; wisdom is knowing what to do with truth. 

The Scriptures share an interesting story meant to illustrate the wisdom of Solomon, a story that most of us know fairly well or have at least heard of. What we often miss, however, is that nowhere in this story are we told the truth. This is where we must be careful.

The story is about two mothers, each with young children. Some versions tell us the women are prostitutes, although that doesn't really have any bearing on the story itself. (Think about this the next time you're tempted to label anyone anything - does that label have any bearing on the story, without you attaching a judgment to it?) 

While the women were sleeping, one of the babies died, and one of the mothers accuses the other of switching the dead baby with her living baby, thus kidnapping her child and claiming it as her own. They argue back and forth over this, which seems fairly easy to do and to get lost in if you're reading along, and then Solomon raises a hand and quiets them. 

It's fairly simple in his eyes: take the living child and cut it in half. Give half to each mother, then they will each have part of a baby. 

That's not really what Solomon is proposing; he has no interest in sawing live children in half. But he knows that the child's true mother will have a protective instinct over the baby and will object to the plan, while the mother seeking to replace her lost child will think it a great plan and settle for what she can get. As he expects, one of the women agrees wholeheartedly to the plan and praises it, while the other woman is horrified and objects loudly. He then gives the living child to the objector.

Question: which woman was which?

The Scriptures don't tell us. They don't tell us whether the first woman, the one bringing the case, was the actual mother or whether the second woman was. They don't tell us which woman agreed and which objected. There's no way for us, thousands of years later, to sort it out between parties; we can only know that wisdom prevailed and revealed the truth, a truth that we are not privy to, though we hold onto the wisdom.

Our natural inclination is to think that the woman identified first is a certain of the women, thus leaving the other woman to be the other party. It's the way our minds are trained - it's the fallacy of primacy. Because she is mentioned as speaking, standing, replying first, we assume one thing about her, but that may or may not be the case. 

It's possible that the true mother of the child came to the courts to fight for her child back. But it's also entirely possible that the mother of the dead child came hoping to hold onto anything at all of any child and to deceive the courts into giving her a consolation for her dead child...perhaps even by awarding her the living one. We just don't know. 

And while we want to say, "Oh, the first woman is clearly the mother" or "clearly not the mother," our natural inclination to do so also inclines us toward a good and beautiful story. We want it to be a certain way because it is most satisfying that way, and yet, we know from our lived experience that this isn't always the case about stories. 

It's just an interesting scene for us to think about because I know that when I read this passage, I have a certain understanding of what truth is about these two women, but when I read it closer, I realize that the Scriptures here don't give us the truth; we impose it. The Scriptures only give us the wisdom. 

And if that is true in this story, in how many other stories in the Bible is it also true? Where have we claimed truth when the Bible has given us wisdom? Where do we need to humble ourselves and confess this, and then live accordingly? 

Friday, May 10, 2019

What Costs Nothing

And then, we have yet another scene where the man after God's own heart, David, commits another sin in the Lord's eyes. This time, the Lord gives him a choice as to how he will receive the punishment for his sin - and David chooses to submit himself, and his people, to the Lord's hand directly, rather than into the hands of men. 

An angel of the Lord then comes and begins to destroy the nation of Israel, killing men left and right until he comes to the threshing floor of a little-known (to this point) man. Then, God's mercy takes over and He calls the angel off. Enough vengeance for now. 

David then journeys out to the threshing floor and arranges to buy it from its owner so that he can build an altar to the Lord there and offer sacrifices on it. The owner tries to give him the threshing floor for God's glory, and even some animals for sacrifice, but David refuses. He will not accept it as a gift; he insists on buying it. 

I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing (2 Samuel 24:24).

Oh, how much we have to learn from David.

See, for most of us, we're content to offer God whatever we have leftover. Whatever we have that's extra, that's for Him. That's true of our money. It's true of our time. It's true of our talents. We invest them first in ourselves, and then we take what we have that we don't need and we won't miss, and we give it to God. 

And we call it a gift.

As though it's somehow pleasing to Him that we remember Him after all of our own needs are taken care of.

David had a chance here. He could have taken another man's stuff and given it to God, and it wouldn't have touched his own wealth at all. And we know from earlier this week that he's really not particularly opposed to doing this. He took Uriah's wife, after all. What're a few cows between friends? Or, you know, between a king and his subject?

But David says no. He won't give it to God if it doesn't come from him. He won't offer something that cost him nothing. It's the right thing to do. And so, even though the owner of the threshing floor says it's not that big of a deal, that the total price is not that much (and names the price), David accepts the price and pays it before he even strikes the match to light the holy fire.

What does your offering to God cost you? What price are you willing to pay to give it to Him? Or do you only give God what's leftover, what you don't think you'll miss? Do you give to God first, or only after your needs are met? What if you trusted Him to meet your needs? 

I won't give to God what cost me nothing. How about you?

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Undue Honor

Absalom, David's son, committed some truly despicable acts, many of which have already come up this week as we discuss this section of the Old Testament. He attempted to usurp the throne from David and make himself king; he slept with his father's concubines on the very same room where his father slept with another man's wife; he gathered a following among the people. These are sins for which he was excommunicated by his father and then eventually brought back. 

And then a battle breaks out among Israel. 

Joab, David's faithful commander, leads the troops out to squash the rebellion and David has just one command for him: whatever you do, don't kill Absalom. 

Don't. Kill. Absalom.

Okay, boss. Got it. Don't kill your son.

Then, Joab goes out and kills Absalom. Yes, really. (You can read this in 2 Samuel 19.) 

He comes back to David and says he's got great news, fantastic news, wonderful news, the best news that David is ever going to hear! ...Absalom is dead. 

This is terrible news to David. First, he told his troops specifically not to kill Absalom, so he's been disobeyed. Second, his son is now dead making this the third son he's lost; regardless of what Absalom has done, he's still David's son and that's a loss too great to bear for a father. And third, now, he's got to figure out what to say to the troops. 

He's not exactly generous with his words for his armies. In fact, he's so distraught and upset that he doesn't do much as a commander-in-chief at this point. Then, Joab comes to him and says something completely perplexing:

You're discouraging your troops. They went out and fought a great battle for you today and killed your enemy, and you should be rejoicing and congratulating them. Since you haven't, they are filled with shame and don't know what to do with themselves. You need to get it together, David, and honor them. Or at the very least, thank them.

In other words, your troops went out and did the one thing you told them not to do, and now, they are discouraged and upset and ashamed because you haven't thanked them for it yet. Don't you think you should thank your troops for disobeying you and killing your son? 

Uhm...no? Not really?

It's bizarre, right? And yet, it's something that we can relate to, particularly in our current day and age. We're living in a world where we're told we have to acknowledge, affirm, and celebrate every decision that others make with their lives, even if it runs perfectly counter to what we believe is right or good or best. We have to congratulate and thank others for doing what they do, even if we don't agree with it or even if it causes us distress or damages something core to our being. Otherwise, they might feel shame. And, well, we can't have that. 

This puts most of us, like David, in a tough spot. On the one hand, we are messengers of Christ and want to bring real, legitimate, awesome love into this world, just as He both commanded and demonstrated for us. On the other hand, there are many in the world who think this means we love everything and think everything that everyone does is great and awesome. 

The truth is that some things aren't great news; they aren't even good news. Some things aren't worth congratulating or celebrating. Some things cut to the core of who we are, and we don't have to stand up and say thank you for these things. Sorry, but we don't. We don't have to put on a brave face or pull up our "big girl panties" or whatever you want to say about it and pretend that it's awesome that someone just did something we're not thankful for. 

And listen, don't read into this more than I'm saying here. It's easy to read into it the hot-button issues of the day or our personal perspectives or whatever it is, but I'm not talking just about massive social movements; I'm talking about even the little things that happen every day. Things we don't often even think about, except to know that they annoy us and yet, we feel the tension of being expected to appreciate them anyway. 

You don't have to appreciate everything in this world. Some things are just broken. Some things are just wrong. Some things are just perverse and damaging and demeaning and degrading. Some things are just bad news, even for those of us who have the Good News. That doesn't mean that we stand in judgment of everything or that we thump our Bibles on street corners and condemn sinners to Hell; that's not our job. But it's also okay for us to stand here and say, you know what? No. No, I'm not going to say thank you. No, I'm not going to pretend that's awesome. No, I'm not going to affirm what you've done that runs counter to what I believe at my most fundamental about what is good and right and God-glorifying. 

It's okay to not be thankful for bad news. Even if someone else feels shame over that. Jesus has an answer for shame. It's okay. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Sins of Our Father

David recognized, eventually, his sin with Bathsheba. He lost the son that they had together, and he accepted this. He humbled himself and repented, acknowledging that what he had done was wrong. And then he was kind of in a difficult spot. 

On one hand, it might be valid to say that he should have then divorced Bathsheba. He didn't honorably attain her, and he didn't deserve her. She already had a life somewhere else, and it was not right for him to live with his sin forever. It would have been better for them both if they split and went their own ways. 

On the other hand, divorce was tremendously taboo in Israel. And David also runs the risk of adding to his sin by divorcing her - not just because of the divorce itself, which was enough, but because he would essentially be abandoning the woman.

On yet another hand (are we out of hands? sorry), continuing to live with Bathsheba as a wife keeps his sin not only in front of him, but in front of his family. His sons, in particular. And we're not really sure what kind of posture David kept about this little story in his life after his initial repentance. It could be he didn't really talk about it, didn't bring it up, even though he knew his sons knew. It could be he talked about it openly. Maybe he pretended it wasn't any different than any of his other relationships; maybe he despised it. Who knows? 

What we do know is that when David's son Absalom attempted to usurp the throne, one of his tactics was to sleep with David's concubines in sight of all Israel...on the very same rooftop where David first spotted Bathsheba.

Think about the significance of this for a minute. Absalom's gut instinct is to go to the place his father sinned in order to sin against his father. 

There are some important and interesting differences, to be sure. What David did on the rooftop was secret, meant not to be seen. Nobody really knew what he saw that day or what happened in his heart, and they may not have understood the scheming that went into pulling it off. What Absalom did, however, was meant to be seen. He made a spectacle of it in the very place where secret things were once done. 

Same sin, different day. 

It's not really malicious. I mean, Absalom meant the act to be malicious, but he probably didn't plan on the depth of maliciousness in being in the same spot as his father. He likely didn't think about what it meant to take his father's concubines to that same rooftop, except that the rooftop was the best place to be seen by everyone. 

Rather, the rooftop had become so much a part of his story that it just seemed the natural place for him to go in this case. He grew up with so much narrative around this rooftop that it was the place for him where stories took place, and if he was writing his own story right now, then the rooftop was where he should do it.

We have these things, too. We have narratives that we've grown up around that we don't even think about, things that are significant for reasons we don't really think about or understand. They just seem so normal and natural to us that we don't question why they are normal and natural; they just are. 

Which is why and how it's so easy for us to perpetuate the sins of our own families. Their stories have become so much our stories, our narratives wrapped so deeply in theirs, that when we start to write our own chapters, these are the natural and normal places that we do them, often without thinking. It really takes a great deal of thought and imagination and prayer and devotion to change the scene. 

But it can be changed.

What scenes in your story are more malicious than you even considered? What are you doing normally and naturally that might not be normal and natural after all? Do you know your narratives? What could you change if you changed them?

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Hide and No Seek

David really is an interesting character, not just for the good things that he does or for his devout and faithful heart or for his honest and humble repentance; he's an interesting character because he is so much like so many of us. He is just so...human.

We can really see this in some of his instincts, in the habits that he's developed that keep him doing the same things over and over and over again. Like running away. 

Running away is not usually something that we associate with David. For us, one of the greatest - if not the actual greatest - stories about David is when he stared down the giant and defeated Goliath. A little boy with a slingshot and a few select stones standing before an enemy who had intimidated Israel's best forces for far too long doesn't really seem like the kind of guy who is prone to running away. And yet...

David comes into the service of Saul and also finds himself under the anointing of God as the next king of Israel. Saul knows this, and his jealousy builds until he begins to throw spears at David's head and plot against him. David, figuring all of this out, takes off into the fields and starts hiding in caves. When he gets the chance to kill Saul, he doesn't take it (for good reason), proves himself worthy, and returns...only to be targeted again and to run back into the hills. 

This happens a couple of times, and in fact, it's in the hills and the caves and Philistine territory where David actually builds his following. 

But fast-forward to after David has been king for awhile. He's firmly established on his throne, beloved by almost all, solid in his rule. Great things are happening in Israel, and Israel knows these things are in no small part due to David. Life is good. 

Until one of his sons goes rogue and tries to declare himself king, usurping the throne and gathering a following of his own. David hears about it, starts to tremble in his boots...and runs away. 

Yes, the mighty king of Israel finds himself hiding in yet another cave despite the fact that he's the most powerful man in all the nation. 

What gives? David is king, which means he has the power and authority to squash any rebellion of the people. He's father to this usurper, which means he could spank the kid if he had to or at least ground him, if you're not into the whole spanking thing. But David does neither - he doesn't take advantage of the authority that he has either relationally or politically. Instead, he runs off into the hills. 

Again.

When we read this, there's something in us that can't help but say, "Really? Really?" But yes, really. Because that's what David is hard-wired to do. It's a pattern for him. It's how he deals with these things. Even when he has other options available to him, it's his default; he doesn't consider any other course of action. He can't. 

Like I said, he's so very human. Because this is the way that all of us operate. It's our M-O. We get into these patterns that are set pretty early on in our lives, and that becomes just what we do. It's why it's so hard to change some of our behaviors, even when we really, really want to. It's why we keep doing the same things over and over again. It's why we kind of just are who we are, even when we know we aren't that person any more. It's just what we do. 

That doesn't mean it's the best way for us to be. Think about how David's story could be different if he'd recognized his authority as king and father and acted on it, rather than reacting from his auto-programming. Think about what it would mean to be different when your natural inclination is so strong. 

One of the greatest challenges of our lives is learning to live differently when we discover that we are, in fact, different today than we were yesterday. It's hard to do new things in new ways. It's hard to remember that we don't have to do the old things any more. They just come so easily to us. 

But easy doesn't mean good. 

How would your story change if you knew that you have already changed? If you knew today was different because you're different? By the grace of God, you're different.... 

Monday, May 6, 2019

Mirror, Mirror

For being a man after God's own heart, David seems to have at least one very significant blind spot - he doesn't seem to be able to see his own sin. 

Unless, of course, you tell him a story about another man who did what he did. 

And then he's outraged, vengeful, and motivated to action.

This happens more than once in the stories that we have of David. It happens in 2 Samuel 12, after David has had Uriah the Hittite killed in battle in order to secure for himself the beautiful Bathsheba, whom he has impregnated whilst her husband was off fighting. We don't see a twinge of guilt or remorse in David for his actions. Until, that is, Nathan the prophet comes and tells him a story about a rich man who has everything but kills a poor man's lamb to feed a visitor. 

David starts stomping about, ranting and raving, ready to rain down judgment upon the rich man. How could he do such a thing to the poor man? David's even ready to kill him - As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! (v. 5). Then, Nathan points a finger and says, YOU are the man! (v. 7). 

Oops. 

But then, just two chapters later in 2 Samuel 14, it happens again. This time, David has excommunicated one of his sons (who killed another son, which seems like a decent reason for excommunication, perhaps) and the commander of his army isn't keen on this. He sends a woman to tell David a story about two of her sons (a made-up story, of course) who got into a fight and one ended up dead and now, she's got nothing because everyone wants to exact revenge on the one who killed the other. Meaning that she will end up losing both of her sons. And a widow already, no less! 

Again, David is furious. He's ready to use his authority as king to issue a decree to protect the remaining son, even though he has killed his brother. And then, a thought dawns on him...

You're talking about me, aren't you, woman?

Yup.

It's easy for us to think, ah, David, you're such a fool. Of course they're talking about you - everyone in the world can see what you're doing except, apparently, you, so there had to be some way to get through to you! But the truth is that most of us are no better than David in this area. It's far easier for us to see - and to condemn - our own sins in someone else than it is to see - and condemn - them in the mirror. 

We look at ourselves and justify what we've done, having a good reason for everything we've undertaken because if we didn't, we wouldn't have done it in the first place. But then, put in front of us someone who has done the very same thing and the mercy that we have for ourselves is surprisingly absent for them. They don't deserve it.

Spoiler alert: neither do we. 

And it's not just about sin, not just about the things that we do "wrong" or the things that we do against one another. This is true of our insecurities, too. There are persons in this world that it's just plain hard for us to get along with, and if we dig deep into a lot of those dynamics, what we find is that they live our own insecurities in such a way that to be in relationship with them would require us to face them. And we can't. And they annoy us. We don't know why they annoy us, but they just get on our very last nerve. And it is because they are so much like us that we can't stand it. 

It's something we have to think about when we are troubled by something in a relationship, when something about someone else strikes us as completely and totally unbearable. Is it really them? Or could it be that they are showing us something of ourselves that we haven't seen yet? 

More often than not, it's the latter. In which case we, like David, must humble ourselves. 

You're talking about me, aren't you?

Yup. 

And me, too. 

Friday, May 3, 2019

Move

David is often called "a man after God's own heart," but that doesn't mean he was perfect; we know that, too. One of his greatest sins involves a woman named Bathsheba, the wife of another man. David saw her, desired her, pursued her, and impregnated her, then he had her husband killed in battle so that he could have her. And when his child was born, God spoke and told David in no uncertain terms that he couldn't keep the boy; the child would die. 

David tore his clothes and fasted and prayed, hoping to change the mind of the Lord. Repentant of his sin, he didn't want the child to die on account of his sin, so he did all he could to show how contrite his heart was. He paced the floor and threw himself prostrate and cried and prayed and begged. His servants were starting to get worried about him. 

And then, the child died. Just as the Lord had said that he would. 

The servants didn't know what to do. Here was David, hopelessly forlorn and severely distraught while his son was alive; how could they tell him that his son had died? They start to whisper among themselves, trying to figure out what to say. Trying to figure out who should say it. Remember, this is the same David who has killed men for bringing what they thought was good news; his servants know this is bad news, and he's already in a bad place. 

But he's a smart guy and he figures it out when he hears all the whispering. "My child has died, hasn't he?" David asks, and his servants confirm it. Probably standing with one hand on the doorknob in case they need to make a quick exit. Probably standing with one foot already turned toward the door. Probably holding their breath. 

Then David does something unexpected. He gets up, cleans himself up, and sits down to eat a meal. Everyone is confused and asks him how he changed his attitude so wholly so quickly, and his answer is quite simple: until it came to pass, there was room to pray. But God had acted according to His promised word on the matter, and now, it was time to move on. Time to live a new reality. Time to get going. 

We're faced with these kinds of David moments all the time, even as persons of deep faith. God speaks, and we know what He intends to do. Or we have at least an inkling. But we spend our time in deep mourning, praying for something different. Praying for something else to happen. 

When God acts, however, we become less David-like. We often continue our grief. We often intensify our prayers. When our child dies (metaphorically), we fall on our knees and refuse to get up until our child lives. God resurrects the dead, right? Well, let's go, God. Get on that already. We double-down on our sackcloth, double up on our ashes, stomp our feet, and become more insistent, absolutely convinced that if we just throw a big enough tantrum (although we wouldn't call it that), God will listen and do exactly what we wanted him to do in the first place. 

But that's not faith. I say that knowing that that's a hard truth for a lot of us, who are taught so strongly to believe in the power of God to do anything. We're taught that if we just keep believing, just keep hoping, just keep praying, then Lazarus walks out of the grave and rainbows and unicorns and all that. We're told that's what faith looks like - it never gives up. And in some sense, that's true. 

Faith never gives up, but it does give over. It gives God the authority to act as God has determined to act, and it adjusts itself accordingly. It learns to live in new spaces all the time, based on what God has done and is doing. It accepts that God can change who we are, how we live, what we do, what's going on, anything at any time and it embraces when He has. 

Faith is persistent, raw, and real, but it doesn't stomp its feet and raise its voice and throw a tantrum until it gets what it wants. It accepts what it has, knowing that it comes from a good and gracious Father, and it learns to live accordingly. Faith prays and mourns and grieves, but then it gets up, dusts itself off, and sits down for a meal. 

Faith holds on, but it doesn't hold out. It moves on. What do you need to move on from?

Thursday, May 2, 2019

A Crazy Man

Whilst David was on the run from Saul, he took his band of men into Philistine territory to settle. There, the locals picked him up and took him to one of their authorities, concerned that this "Israelite" was actually a spy - someone who was going to infiltrate them from the inside. Being not a spy and desperately needing a place to hide out from Israel, David begins acting like a madman in the official's presence (think: drooling on himself and speaking nonsense) and the authority is convinced that he's nothing at all. In fact, he dismisses both David and the locals and says, "What? Do I have any shortage of madmen on my own?" There are enough crazy persons in the world; why did you bring me another one?

Except...David might have actually been crazy.

The Philistine town to which he ran, with at least 600 men, was Gath. That may sound familiar to you from the name of a semi-famous character from the Bible - Goliath of Gath. If you're playing along at home, this is the giant that David killed just a few chapters ago, sealing a victory for all of Israel. So David-the-Giant-Killer runs to the hometown of the giant he killed while trying to escape the friend-turned-enemy for whom he secured the victory. 

Who's crazy now?

And don't think, oh, the people of Gath probably don't know anything about that. It's not like there was social media or even a legitimate newspaper back then. They probably thought nothing of little David except that he was an Israelite (which was enough). They probably didn't even know how Goliath died. 

Except...when the Philistines later kill Israel's King Saul, they behead him in exactly the same way that David beheaded Goliath. They knew. And they didn't forget. And every man on that battlefield that day, many of whom likely came from Gath with Goliath, knew what this little runt of a man, David, looked like. 

It's a strange place, then, to hide out with a massive army of followers. By yourself, you slew the champion of the town and now, you stroll in with 600 men and asked for a place to stay so that your former boss doesn't kill you. And now, drooling on yourself and speaking nonsense makes perfect sense.

David was insane.

It's not that the leader of Gath was wrong - there are enough crazy persons in the world. More than enough, really. But David wasn't just crazy; he was a brilliant, faithful kind of crazy. And that...that's rare. We could use more of that in our world. 

Because somehow, by his special kind of crazy, David was able to hide in the last place that Saul would ever think to look for him - among his enemies, among the family of the man he just killed - and he was able to convince his enemies that he wasn't worth bothering about. Somehow, David found safety in the most dangerous place in all the world for him. It's crazy, but that's how God works. That's exactly how God works.

Could you use a little more crazy in your life? I could. Not drooling-on-yourself, speaking-nonsense kind of crazy, but a brilliant, faithful kind of crazy that ends up safe amid danger, loving amid hate, living amid death. It's the kind of crazy God uses, and it's the kind of crazy we need. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Brothers

Just after David defeats Goliath, he receives the praise of King Saul. But someone else is watching, and that someone is Jonathan - Saul's son who ought to become king, if only Saul had remained faithful and retained the Lord's anointing. And in 1 Samuel 19, just after David comes before Saul with the head of the Philistine giant, we are told this:

After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself. 

Now, it's easy in the way that we read stories to think that Jonathan loved David because he was just as impressed with the young man's victory over the giant as everyone else. Because he had just seen what David did on behalf of Israel and well, that was pretty cool. Being perhaps roughly the same in age, they're like any boys - Jonathan is drawn to David because he thinks they could be friends. 

But that's not what this Scripture says. This Scripture says that Jonathan fell in love with David as a brother (other translations specifically say it this way) after he saw how the young man talked to his father.

And the same should be the standard for us. 

Most of us, as Christians, think that our brothers (and sisters) are those who talk to us in a certain way. In a way we can understand. They agree with us on certain things, things we've deemed non-negotiable. They worship the way we do. They pray the way we do. They preach the way we do. They break bread the way we do. They believe the way we do. They live the way we do. We are brothers with those who agree with us, as though the greatest judge of friendship - or better yet, kinship - is how we talk to one another. 

But that's not what this Scripture says. In fact, that's not what any Scripture says. Scripture says that we are brothers and sisters of one Lord, that we are bound together by our Christ and our faith, not our actions. Scripture says that it is a heart turned toward God that makes someone our brother or sister. 

In other words, we can tell who our brothers and sisters are by the way they talk to our Father

That's it. All of it. Right there. It's not how they worship or how they dress or what they eat or whether they cuss or how many tattoos they have (or don't have) or whether they dance, drink, or play cards or what version of the Bible they read or what denomination they belong to or whether they take the Lord's Supper every day, every week, every month, or not at all or whether they were dipped or dunked or sprinkled or how many WWJD bracelets and cross necklaces they own...it's how they talk to God, how their hearts connect with Him, how they love and long for Him. That's it. 

We ought to spend more time looking at that. We ought to invest ourselves in seeing how faithful our brothers and sisters are, and if we did, well, maybe we'd find that we have a lot more of them to walk with in this world. Because that guy you're busy judging for his unorthodoxy? He's got a straight-as-an-arrow heart toward God, and that makes him your brother. That woman with a past she can't seem to shake? She loves Him and speaks boldly and vulnerably with Him all the time, and that makes her your sister. The one speaking in tongues, the one pouring the wine, the one sneaking in the back, the one sleeping in on Sunday, the one you just cast out and dismissed because they don't speak your language...they're speaking His, if you'll listen. And that makes them your brothers and sisters. 

Just like Jonathan with a young David, we ought to become one in spirit with them on this basis alone. 

It would change a lot of things. Including, but not merely...us. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Armor-Bearers

I have a question. It may seem like a rather silly question, in the context of all of the possible questions that we could ask about Scripture, but it's something that jumped out at me as I read through the Old Testament and well, any question is a good question if you ask it for the sake of knowledge. 

So here it is: how big was Goliath's armor-bearer?

No, seriously. The Bible tells us that when Goliath stepped forward to challenge the armies of Israel, his shield-bearer stepped forward with him. And I just wonder how much good an armor-bearer is for a guy who is already bigger than everyone else. Picture it: big, looming giant with a massive sword...little tiny Philistine with a regular-sized shield. 

No wonder David had no trouble hitting the guy in the head. His shield-bearer wasn't tall enough to protect him. Wasn't big enough to make a difference. Wasn't agile enough to matter. 

And yet, even the big, strong, tall, fearsome giant wouldn't go into battle without him. 

Contrast that with David, the little shepherd boy delivering vittles to his brothers on the front lines. Saul tried to put armor on the young lad, but it was so heavy and over-sized (think about that - Saul's armor was too big for David while Goliath's wasn't big enough for the giant) that it made the little boy clumsy, so he threw it off and went to the front lines anyway. And David went not only without armor, but without an armor-bearer. 

Or did he? 

When David approached that battle line bare-boned, he had all of the armor that he needed. He'd already covered himself in prayer and brought the Lord with him into battle. Although you couldn't see it, he was protected by a shield. 

And unlike Goliath's armor-bearer, David's was big enough to matter. David's Armor-Bearer covered him, wrapped around him, enveloped him at the front line. David's Armor-Bearer was tall enough, big enough, strong enough, and agile enough to keep him safe. David's Armor-Bearer stood fearlessly between the little boy and the battle and kept him safe while he delivered a fatal blow over a little tiny Philistine with a too-small shield. 

So I have a question: how big is your armor-bearer? In whom do you trust to shield you on the front lines? Is he tall enough, big enough, strong enough, agile enough, loving enough to protect you? 

Or have you settled for a little tiny Philistine with a too-small shield?

Monday, April 29, 2019

A Good Friend

What does it take to be a good friend? What is it worth to have one? 

These questions arise, and are answered, in an odd scene in the life of Israel's King Saul. Chosen by God, he was favored for quite some time until his own disobedience caught up to him and stripped him of God's anointing over his life. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him when he prophesied to begin his kingship, but after his disobedience...nothing. The Spirit of the Lord was replaced by a spirit of torment (also sent by the Lord, though far less pleasant and less easily-recognized as God, particularly as a desirable God). 

And it was at this point that Saul met David. For one of his servants said to him, I know a man who has the Spirit of God in him. We should bring him here and let him hang out with you. 

So that's what they did, and so began one of the strangest, most volatile on-again, off-again friendships in all of Scripture, but it's an important one for understanding what it is that we need to look for in our friends.

Essentially, the Spirit of God.

Because there will come times in our life when we are separated from God, for one reason or another. There will be times when the Lord who seemed so close now seems so far and it's almost impossible for us to connect to Him. There will be times when we who once felt so blessed now feel so degraded, discarded. When we who were loved feel unloved. When we who had the Spirit of the Lord dancing in our hearts now find it replaced by a spirit of torment. Or depression. Or disease. Or dis-ease. Or...name your battle here; you're going to have one. 

And at times like these, there is nothing like a good friend. But what makes a good friend? It's someone who can bring us back in touch with the Spirit that we've lost. It's someone who's still holding onto what we've let go of. It's someone with open hands for our clenched fists. 

It's someone who makes beautiful music against the backdrop of our own dischord (intentionally misspelled for effect). 

That's what David was for Saul. When the Spirit of the Lord left him, he found someone who still had it and brought him close. When he stopped dancing in prophesy, he found someone who made music to stir his soul. When he lost everything that mattered to the depths of his being, he found someone who still had it. That's a good friend. 

Are you blessed with good friends in your life? Has God sent to you those who remind you how near He is, even in those times when He feels so far away?

Are you a good friend in someone else's life? Do you hold out the same hope of life for them as David did for Saul? Do you remind them how near God is when He seems so distant?

Friday, April 26, 2019

A Faithful Son

We hear fairly often about characters in the Old Testament who are in some way like Jesus. Adam, for example, is often compared to Christ and Christ Himself talks about giving the people the "sign of Jonah." But there is a character in the OT, in what seems like the smallest scene, who is very much like Jesus that you never really hear of. 

It's Jonathan.

Yes, Jonathan - the brilliant and devoted son of Saul, king of Israel, and the friend of David - a friendship that cost him his own chance at sitting on the throne. 

The scene we're looking at takes place in 1 Samuel 14, where the Philistines have set up camp against Israel and it seems like the enemy has the upper hand. Israel doesn't know what to do with herself. She's waiting on someone to break through, in one direction or the other, and actually start this battle, but it's also true that the Philistines have the high point - they are camped out at a vantage that allows them to look down upon Israel, which means that any attempt the Lord's people make to go up to the Philistines will be seen immediately and squashed. The Philistines will readily attack while the Israelites' hands are busy climbing, and it's a sure defeat. 

Except that Jonathan doesn't think so. He grabs his armor-bearer and says, basically, c'mon. Let's go. And up they go, right to the steep climb that will take them into Philistine territory. He decides that if they let him climb up, he'll kill them all, and if they don't let him climb up, well, that's okay, too. He's ready to give his life for the cause. 

They let him climb up, taunting him all the way, and when he reaches the top, he starts the slaughter. There's so much chaos in the Philistine camp that Israel can't figure out what's happening. They see the victory taking shape, but they don't know how and they start looking around until they find out who's missing from their camp. It's Jonathan.

The enemy has been foiled by a faithful son. 

The confident, cocky, sure-of-itself enemy is put to death by a son so faithful he simply goes where he's sent, right where the action is, and starts taking matters into his own hands. 

And if that doesn't remind you of Jesus, I don't know what will. He is the ultimate Faithful Son.

But the story doesn't stop there. While Jonathan is up fighting the battle - kicking tail and taking heads - Saul declares such great victory that they should fast in honor of it. No man is to eat anything until the next day, in recognition of the great thing that God is doing. Except, of course, that Jonathan doesn't hear this decree. He's kind of busy at the moment. So when the battle is over, he wearily dips his staff into the honey and tastes it. (You might contrast this with Jesus, who was offered vinegar on a stick and did not take it.) 

All of a sudden, there's panic and distress in the camp. Someone has sinned! Who was it? Lots are cast and drawn, and the Lord reveals that it is Jonathan, who confesses to eating the honey and is ordered put to death by his father, Saul. 

That's when the army, the people, step up and start shouting. No way, they say. This guy just won the whole battle for us. He just put himself on the line for everything. He just stepped out BIG in faith, and you want to kill him over a little honey? The people themselves, en masse, declare him righteous and spare his life. And all is well in the camp. 

And this, too, brings us to Jesus, who experienced a bit of the opposite. The crowds here shouted and called Him a sinner and sought His death. Crucify Him! Crucify Him!

So we, who so fondly look for comparisons and contrasts between the Gospels and the Old Testament, who look for signs everywhere that point us to Jesus, cannot ignore the story of Jonathan and the Philistines - where a faithful son foils the enemy and is redeemed by his people on account of his righteousness and a Faithful Son foils the enemy and is persecuted by His people on account of His righteousness...and then, for good measure, foils the enemy again. 

Because that's who Jesus is. 

(Clearly, I have oversimplified this comparison, figuring you do not want to read an entire thesis on the matter, but I hope that I have given you something to think about that perhaps you have not thought about before.) 

Thursday, April 25, 2019

A Servant's Gift

When we first meet Israel's to-be king Saul in the Scriptures, he's taken off from home in pursuit of some lost donkeys. They aren't his donkeys, but his father's donkeys, and he and a servant set out to find them. They look everywhere, but several days pass with no sign of the animals, and the conversation is starting to turn from "Where have the donkeys gone?" to "Where is Saul?" as though he could not find his own way back home. 

Meanwhile, Israel is pressing in on the prophet Samuel, demanding a king just like all of the other nations have. The prophet is grieved, and so is the Lord, but the Lord comforts Samuel and tells the prophet that it is the Lord the people have rejected, not him. God then promises to reveal to Samuel who he is to anoint as this desired king.

Now, all we have to do is get a man out looking for his father's lost donkeys to meet up with the prophet looking for the Lord's anointed king. 

Enter the servant.

Saul is starting to understand that his father, at this point, is probably more worried about where his son is than where his donkeys have wandered off to. It's even possible, as Saul and the servant discuss, that the donkeys have long since made their way back home and now, it's just Saul that needs to return. But of course, he has no way of truly knowing this; it's just a theory. 

Then the servant says that there happens to be a seer - a prophet - in a town nearby and that maybe the two of them should go and talk to this man, as this man can tell them where the donkeys are. (Let that sink in for a minute - they are going to ask a prophet they've never met to ask the Lord where their donkeys are. Oh, how much we could learn from just that! But that's for another day.) 

Saul thinks this is a great plan that the servant has, but there is one catch - Saul has used up his provisions. He doesn't have anything left that he could offer to the prophet as a gift, and you don't come to the prophet without a gift. Even if he wanted to, he can't go and ask Samuel anything. That's when the servant, who had the idea in the first place, pulls out a tiny little bit of silver that he has leftover and offers it to Saul to offer to the prophet. 

With a quarter of a shekel of his servant's silver, Saul travels into town to see the seer...and is prophesied the king of Israel. 

Whatever little gift you have, give it freely to those who seek the Lord. For you never know when what seems like an odd question becomes a greater thing. And it may just be your quarter of a shekel of silver that makes it possible. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Stolen Offerings

For being the men chosen to serve nearest to God in the Tabernacle, the priests sure cause a lot of problems in Israel. This is the case when we first meet the sons of Eli the priest, priests themselves, who will very shortly be smitten by the Lord for their unfaithfulness.

God had set apart a special portion of Israel's sacrifices for the priests; it was their payment, their provision, for doing the work that He had called them to do. Since most priests were so busy with their duties at the Tabernacle that they didn't have time to really build their own homesteads or tend their own land or flocks, this was God's way of making sure that they eat.

The problem with Eli's sons is that they weren't content with the provision that God had made for them and started making provision for themselves. Specifically, they started taking portions of Israel's offerings before they were appropriately given to the Lord.

Imagine if you brought your ram, lamb, or one-year-old male goat and only, say, 2/3 of it ever made it to the altar. Imagine if you were the Lord who required an offering made by fire and the aroma pleasing to you was 1/3 less than what it should have been. 

This is the problem the priests were causing. Not only that, but they were taking the women who served at the tent and turning them to serve the needs of the priests before the needs of the Lord. This was a serious abomination, as it was well-known that other nations had cult prostitutes at their worship sites - a sin that the priests themselves probably knew of when they started this whole thing - and now, Israel's priests were turning her faithful women into prostitutes at the worship site. No good.

Fast forward several thousand years, and it's a fine line that we walk in our churches on this issue. 

No, I'm not talking about shady/dirty pastors or priests who are skimming off the top. I'm not talking about persons in our churches who are taking advantage of others. I'm not talking about those who are trying to get ahead by taking what others have. I'm talking about something much more pervasive and so commonplace in our churches that it slides sinfully right under the radar:

The volunteer system.

So many of our churches run on volunteers. They're stepping up everywhere and in every capacity to do the kinds of things that need done in our churches - cleaning our buildings, teaching our children, changing our light bulbs, running our sounds systems, handing out our bulletins, tending our parking lot, locking and unlocking our doors. If you're in a church, no matter what your capacity, you know just how many opportunities we have for the members of the church to serve. 

The question we have to ask is...who, or what, are they serving?

We have persons graciously teaching our children who have no business teaching our children. Not because they aren't loving, caring, compassionate individuals, but because they don't have a spiritual calling to teach our children. We have persons who are changing light bulbs just because they are the least busy persons and have the time to do it, not because they feel any special inkling to be the ones to step up for that ministry. We have persons passing out our bulletins whose gifts are wasted at our front doors. 

We are stealing the spiritual capital of our congregations and putting it to use for our own purposes, convincing our members to offer themselves to the church before they offer themselves to the Lord. 

Read that again. Because it's absolutely true. You have persons right now in your church whose spiritual gifts are going to waste because they've been commandeered by the church herself and put to work in service of programs and ministry "needs" rather than any particular calling or giftedness. Maybe you're one of those persons. 

And you think, maybe, that some things in the church just have to be done; they don't require a special calling, but someone's got to do them anyway. Bull. There is nothing that needs done in our churches that God hasn't put one someone's heart. Our challenge is to find the places where our needs feed the souls of the called, not the pursuit of the programmed. 

Yes, there are persons whose souls are nourished by fixing toilets. I'm serious. There are persons who thrive on being the face at the front door. There are persons who give their best to God when they are teaching our children or watching our infants. Our challenge, as the church, is to match these persons not with our needs, but with God's needs and put them in places that God needs them. 

Right now, sadly, that's just not often the case. More often, we're co-opting them, taking advantage of their good nature to serve our more pressing needs. But what if we took advantage of their best nature and put them where they could shine?

What if our priority was that every man, woman, and child in our churches gave their offering to God first? And then we, the church, feasted on what God has given us from that? 

It would revolutionize our churches. But even more than that, it would revitalize our Christians. And it would reinvigorate our faith.