Friday, May 31, 2019

Pressed Figs

As a result of his own sin, Hezekiah - who's actually been a pretty good king for much of his reign - is afflicted with a terrible disease that he's told will kill him. He repents, turns back to God, and begs for his life, and he is healed. But his healing requires the application of pressed figs. 

If you know me, you know that one of the themes I really pay attention to in the Scripture is tracking the figs through God's story. 

In fact, figs are so prominent and prevalent in God's story that I think there's good reason to believe that the forbidden fruit that started this whole mess of sin was itself a fig. One good reason to believe this is that there is no fruit mentioned more often by type in all of Scripture than the fig. (Perhaps the pomegranate, but it is most often referred to as a material representation and not as the actual fruit itself - see the building of the Tabernacle and Temple.)

So how does this work in the case of Hezekiah's illness? Why would pressed figs, the fruit of sin, be used to heal his disease?


Hezekiah sins, although he hasn't really led a life of sin. His kingship has actually gone pretty well, and he's done a good job of helping the people return to the Lord. But at some point, he starts to think he knows better than God - to believe in his own knowledge over the Lord's and simply doesn't ask for God's advice. This is exactly what Adam and Eve were thinking was going to happen to them - they were going to eat the fruit of this tree, their eyes would be opened, and they would know at least as much as God and wouldn't need Him any more. Once they knew, they believed they knew better.

But then, Hezekiah realizes what he's done. He recognizes his own sin and is convicted of it. He discovers that he had a sin of arrogance and knowledge, believing himself to have known better, but it has not paid off for him. It wasn't true/real. What he thought he knew, he didn't know, and now he knows only that he never really knew it. So he turns to God and repents of his sin.

Then God, in all His glory and majesty, takes the fruit that promised knowledge and presses it, squeezes all the life and good and sweetness out of it, mashes it together and makes a paste, and covers Hezekiah's body in it.

Are you seeing the symbolism here? A fruit with nothing left to offer is used to heal the affliction of a man who attempted to live by what the fruit claimed to offer.

It's the fig tree in Jerusalem all over again.

Remember this story? Jesus is walking through Jerusalem with His disciples when they come up on a fig tree that isn't bearing any fruit. Jesus curses it, and it never bears fruit again. Doesn't even come close. Kind of like, perhaps, a tree promising the knowledge of good and evil that hasn't made men any smarter on the subject but has instead turned them to sin. The tree Adam and Eve ate from never bore the fruit it promised for them, so Jesus curses it right there in the streets and now, there's no hope or promise of fruit ever again.


If you ever want to have some biblical fun, follow the figs. They're everywhere, and they may tell us a lot about what we thought we were getting but never really got. 

Thursday, May 30, 2019

A Word

In 2 Kings 18, Israel is deep into her tumultuous history of wandering away from the Lord and occasionally, sorta-kinda coming back every now and then. Some of her kings have undertaken reforms, but many have not and none so completely as to turn her from her sin. And as we enter this scene, another enemy is pressing in. 

This enemy comes taunting the people of God, as many of them do, but this one's taunt cuts right to the heart of the Judeo-Christian faith. This enemy mocks Israel and Judah for continuing to cling to her Lord when "all" she has is "merely" "a word." 

In other words, your God, you fools, has done a lot of talking, but so what? What good is merely a word? 

Let's, as Paul so eloquently does in his letter to Philemon, not point out the obvious right now. I mean, we could easily talk about how anyone who speaks poorly of the power of a word must use words to do it and therefore refutes his own argument. What does the enemy think makes his words any more powerful than the "mere" words that he mocks Israel for clinging to? If words are just words, then the enemy's words are also just words and...what's his point? He can't possibly have one. 

But like Paul, we won't even bring that up. It's hardly worth mentioning. (I hope you understand the tongue-in-cheek here. If not, read Philemon, where Paul says he won't even mention that the man owes him his life.) 

Anyway, the enemy taunts Israel/Judah for so firmly holding onto what seems like merely a word, but let's be honest about what this word of the Lord is: 

It is everything.

Maybe God's people "only" have a word, but God's people have always had a Word. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. In the beginning, God spoke a Word and the entire universe came into existence. 

Into Abraham's ear, God whispered a word. From the mountains outside of Egypt, He declared a word. To the prophets, He gave a word, pronouncing both blessing and curse upon His people, Israel. By a word, He foretold the coming of the Word into the world, the redemption of all mankind, and He's even given a word for what is yet to come, the re-creation of all things. 

And every single word that God has given His people has come true. Every. Single. One. 

So when the enemy of God's people comes against them and laughs and points fingers and mocks and jeers and says, "You foolish people! All you've got is a word! Your God, He just does a lot of talking!" then God's people should rejoice, dance, and celebrate, for we have always had a Word and we thank the good Lord that He talks so much with us! 

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

A Slain King

It must be "power and authority" week, or maybe that's just the nature of lessons we take from 2 Kings.

In 2 Kings 14, we have another king who is killed by his own people. Now, I'm assuming (from human history itself) that it takes quite a bit of dissatisfaction and rebellion to kill one's own king, but the people do. And then, they bring the body of the king back and bury it in the tomb of the kings. 

Let that sink in for a minute. The people are so unhappy with their king that they decide to kill him, due to his ineffectiveness and disastrous rule. But then, they do their due diligence to bring his body back and bury it with the other kings, his fathers, in the special place set aside for their leaders. 

There are a couple of lessons to take from this, but the one perhaps most important to pick out is that your power and authority don't protect you.

A lot of us spend our time trying to get influence in the world. We want to be in a position that nobody can take from us, a place where we feel safe and secure because of who we are, what we do, how important that is, or whatever it is that we use to judge such things. And it doesn't matter whether that's on a great scale or a small one - you can aim to be CEO of a Fortune 500 company or the head of the garbage man's union or the lead nurse on a hospital unit or whatever it is. We all seem to seek that place where we make it so that our world can't live without us, as though that is some kind of protection. 

But the truth is that this world can recognize who you are and still reject you. It can declare your power and authority and still kill it. It can come after you in a thousand different ways, and then give you all the due honor you thought you death. 

Power and authority are no protection for life.

If you need further witness to this, just look at the lives of the prophets. To a man, they were protectors of God's people. They were the ones who had the truth in the midst of the lies. They were the ones who knew the answers to the questions the people were asking...and the questions they weren't. The prophets were the ones who had the secrets to life, real life, and who were able to lead the people out of their disaster and back into God's good graces. If there was anyone in the world worthy of protection for their power and authority, certainly, it had to be the prophets. 

Yet many of the prophets suffered the same fate: they were killed. The people came after them and killed them. Elijah spent a lot of his life running from those who wanted to take it. 

And not because the people didn't realize these were prophets; they knew. They knew without a doubt that these men were prophets, but that wasn't enough to save them. In fact, it probably condemned them all the more. Tell the people they killed the prophet, and they're like, "Yeah, we know. We buried him with all the honor of a prophet." 

So, too, in the case of some kings. The people knew this was the king, but they killed him anyway. And then buried him with the kings because, well, he deserved that.

Your power and authority, your place in this world - it doesn't protect you. Others knowing who you are doesn't save you. You don't get a pass because of your position. In fact, it's entirely possible that only in death with others recognize you for who you are, knowing all along but not letting it influence them when it comes to your life. 

There must, then, be something more to life than power and authority, there must be something better than position and prestige. And there is. 

It's love. 

Go love somebody.

Love probably won't save your life, either - not if someone's out to get you. But Love already saved your life. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

A Gracious King

Yesterday, we looked at the difference between what the king did for the widow and what God did for her - the difference between a favor and a miracle. And you may be thinking that there are a lot of similarities between what the king did for the widow and what God does for His people. 

After all, the king used his power and authority to stoop low and to provide for a single widow who he didn't previously know, all so that she could have the fullness of what was hers in this world and this life and be restored to herself. 

If that doesn't sound like Jesus, I don't know what does. 

But again, we have to be careful or we might be tempted to believe that Jesus was "nice." We might believe that God sending His one and only Son to earth to die for our sins was "nice." Oh, what a nice God we serve. Always doing such nice things for His people. Always using His position and His power and His authority to make sure we have nice things. 

But again, we have to remember what the difference is between a favor and a miracle. 

Jesus is, was, and always will be miraculous. 

Yes, it's nice of Him to come. It's even good of Him. But the very fact that the Creator God could and would create flesh for Himself and come to live among miraculous. Only God can do that. No one else can create flesh; no other god would desire to. If you don't believe that, just ask how many other gods have ever given up something essential about their nature to become more like us in order to live and love among us. (Spoiler alert: the answer is 0.) 

The very fact that Christ could offer Himself as a sacrifice once for all miraculous. God's people had been offering sacrifices since Cain and Abel, and it had never been sufficient to redeem them. Not once. If it had, we wouldn't have needed Jesus at all. Yet, Jesus comes and declares Himself a sacrifice and we bring Him to the altar...and it's over. Forever. That's not just "nice." That's not some favor God's done for us. It's glorious, and it's a miracle. 

The very fact that God would tend to the needs of the smallest, most powerless person in all His Kingdom - you and miraculous. The king didn't know the widow at all. It was someone else who was telling him about her story when she happened to walk in. (I know, "happened to," but let's leave that for now.) God knows intimately the stories of every widow, every orphan, every man and husband and father, every woman and wife and mother, every son and daughter, every old and young, every everyone and chooses to act for the smallest, most powerless persons in all His Kingdom. He doesn't need anyone else to tell Him the story; He knows it. And loves it. And comes into it. On purpose. That's miraculous. 

There are plenty of parallels in Scripture between men and God, between gracious acts of a human being and glorious wonders of God. But let's not let the flesh on the man diminish the glory of God. Let's not forget that while men may do nice things for one another from time to time, God does miraculous things for His people all the time. What God does for us is so far beyond and above what we do for one another that although it looks similar, it is truly no comparison at all.

Monday, May 27, 2019

A Favor and a Miracle

Things in Israel are...rather unstable for much of the Old Testament. The people sin, come back, are sent away, are restored, feast, have famine, and so on as their human flesh battles against the Lord's Spirit on them. We're taken on a roller coaster ride that has our emotions all over the place, and only rarely do we get a place to truly settle out. 

One of those places is in 2 Kings 8, when the widow whose son had been revived by the prophet has her land and possessions restored to her by the king. 

It's deeply satisfying in our souls to see this widow taken care of...again. There's something about seeing this story tied up in a nice little bow that makes us breathe a sigh of happy relief. Yes, we think - this is what God does. This is how things turn out when God is in control. 

But let's not lose sight of the difference here between two stories in this woman's life: 

The king merely did a favor for a woman for whom God had done a miracle.

The king had every authority in all of the world to give the woman her land back. He had the power in his position to decide what happened to the land of his kingdom. By nature of his position, he was able to simply speak a word and restore to her all that she had lost in yet another period of downturn for God's people. 

Yet we read that story and think, "What a good king!" There must have been something special about that king, something special indeed. That he would stoop so low to care about just one person in his kingdom, that he would use his power and authority to do this for a woman he didn't even really know. That he would take care of a widow, just the way that God wants His people to do. Ah, yes, what a good king. 

But men do favors for one another all the time. We're always using our power and authority and ability to shift pieces around on the board in favorable ways for those to whom we have some sort of obligation. It's what we do. Who among us wouldn't lend a quarter to a person in front of us at a grocery store who is just a little short on her total? Who among us wouldn't help a neighbor move a piece of furniture that's too large for just one person to handle on his own? Who among us wouldn't return what we borrowed? 

We're nice. Let's not, though, confuse that necessarily with holy.

Because when we confuse "nice" with "holy," we lose part of the essence of our holy God, who is so far beyond nice that we can't even fathom it. God raised this woman's son from death to life. That's a miracle. That's provision. That's incredible and amazing and wonderful.

And so much more than "nice." 

If we let ourselves get away with thinking that God is nice, then we expect that God should be nice to us. If what we think of His greatest works is how nice they are, we start to believe that our God is nice. And He is, but He's much, much more than nice; He's glorious, and He's good

In fact, I think this is one of the greatest challenges we've created to our own Christianity. We have come to a place in our faith where we believe that our Lord is "nice," and we've forgotten that He is good. We don't even expect Him to be good any more. Or glorious. Or holy. Or amazing. Or indescribable. Or wonderful. Or miraculous.

We just expect Him to be nice. 

In doing so, we miss out on the very essence of all that He is, which is so, so much more. 

Friday, May 24, 2019

An Ax and a Cross

Once we see the fulfillment of all things in Christ, it's easy for us to look back and see parallels in the Old Testament, things that seem to foreshadow the life and work of Jesus. One of those things on which Jesus shines light is a weird little story in 2 Kings involving the prophet Elisha. 

The story goes something like this: there is a man working with a borrowed ax when the ax head flies off and lands in the water and sinks. The man cries out because the ax wasn't his and now, he is responsible for it, and the prophet Elisha comes over. He asks where, exactly, the ax head sank and the man points to a spot in the water. Then, Elisha throws a piece of wood into the water and when the wood hits, it causes the heavy iron ax head to float. The man plucks it out and returns it to its owner. 

And it's a weird little story. It's one of those stories that makes you wonder why it's in the Scriptures. What's important about it? Why does it matter? Maybe you think it's just meant to show the prophet's power and the miraculous things that God does on behalf of His faithful ones. 

But then you read Jesus, and you realize it's more than that. 

Because Rome in the time of Jesus is known as a powerhouse. We all get that. We understand that the heaviest of all power in the world was Rome; they ruled everything. In Daniel, when Nebuchadnezzar has a dream about a statue made out of different materials, each representing a different kingdom, Rome is represented by iron. And that's exactly how it was known. 

Interesting, then, that this prophet/priest/king Jesus would come and make the world's heaviest kingdom float...with wood. 

A cross. A simple cross. Two beams of wood on the outskirts of town, and Jesus turned this iron kingdom upside-down. What was heavy becomes light, what sinks floats. And what is returned.

Think about that for a minute. It's probably easier if you're Catholic, but even if you're not, you have to confess the history of the faith and of the church. After Christ, there's a period of persecution, but eventually, Rome becomes the very heartbeat of Christianity. The faith as we know it today was shaped more in Rome than it was in Jerusalem or Galilee (sadly, but it's true). 

And God says that He uses the other kingdoms for His glory, that He's the one who gives them their power and authority in the world. The statue in Nebuchadnezzar - the foretelling of ruling powers was God's idea. In the New Testament, they talk about obeying your earthly authorities because God has put them there. We know from God's history that He uses other nations, so whatever power Rome thought it had was on loan from God. He created Rome because He was using it. 

Then He took that power back with a simple piece of wood. 

I don't want to go too deep into this because I want you to delight in the joy and the mystery of how all of this works. I want to give you just enough to reflect on, just enough to think about so that this kind of thing can get deeply into your own soul. This is the kind of thing God does all the time. He's still doing it all the time. All these weird little things in the world that help us to understand Jesus better. 

Including a weird little story in 2 Kings where a prophet's wood makes an iron ax head float. 

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 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 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? 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. 


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). 


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?


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?


And me, too. 

Friday, May 3, 2019


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.