[Apr 30]--Changing My Mind

2 Samuel 7:1-17; 1 Chronicles 22:6-10

One of the last conversations that David had with Solomon his son was about his fondest unfulfilled desire. David was a godly man who loved his Savior God, and he wanted to honor him in the best way he knew how—building a temple for his Lord which would be the source of envy and awe for all the world.

Let’s take this story step-by-step and see what we can learn from it, shall we? David knew that the Lord deserved a much better “house” than the tent which'd been covering his Ark for several centuries. He thought it wrong that he lived in a palace of cedar (the finest wood available) while God “lived” in a tent. Of course, David knew his theology too well to believe that the Lord was really restricted to that tent. But as the dwelling place for the Ark of the Covenant, it was the official meeting place between God and man. David believed that the God of Israel deserved much better.

So he proposed to his resident prophet Nathan his plans, and the man of God put his stamp of approval on them. That night, the Lord intervened and told the prophet to tell the king to change his course. And per usual, David listened to the word of the Lord and obeyed.

Here are some lessons we can learn. Numerous people have asked me, “How do I know the will of God? I know about his general will for everyone; I know it’s not his will for me to steal, lie, or cheat on my wife. But what about things that aren’t addressed specifically in the Bible?” My response: Relax! Are you doing what you know God wants you to do? Are there any areas of habitual disobedience? Do you truly desire to honor, please, and obey your Savior? Then don’t worry so much about less important issues like which college to attend, or which job to take. Here’s why.

David had a good desire, namely to build a temple for the Lord. However, the Lord had other plans. So it’s entirely possible to desire a good thing which is not in accord with God’s will. But here’s the good news. If you’re doing what you know you’re supposed to be doing, then if you’re heading in the wrong direction, God will change your direction! Do you really think he wouldn’t? Do you think he wants you to stumble around in the dark? Or even worse, do you really think he'd blame you for going in the wrong direction if he held back specific guidance from you?

So here are two simple hurdles on getting God’s guidance. First, make sure you’re being obedient to his clearly revealed will. Second, make sure you’re spending time listening to what God has to say, both in your TAWG and as a part of the Body of Christ. When the Holy Spirit points out something to you that needs cleansing, ask for forgiveness and repent. This ain’t rocket science, folks.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

[Apr 29]--Free Sacrifices

1 Chron. 21

Today’s reading (and the parallel account in 2 Samuel) recounts an interesting story about David, mostly presenting him in a positive light. He started off badly, giving in to Satan’s influence and, despite the objections of his advisor Joab, initiating a census to count all the nation’s men of fighting age. The problem was not in the census itself: God himself had Moses do two of them, and this is the reason why the fourth book of the Bible is called “Numbers.” The problem was that this showed that David wanted to trust in his military resources instead of relying on the Lord’s protection.

The Lord was going to punish Israel and David, and gave him a choice as to how to go about it. He refused to make the choice, but asked that he fall into the hands of the Lord, not men. He knew from personal experience that you can rely on the Lord to be merciful even in the midst of judgment, but not so much with human beings. And so the plague began.

From this point forward, David’s better aspects of his character shone through. After watching the suffering of his people, he pled with God to have the punishment fall upon himself instead of the nation. The Lord, moved by his own compassion, decided to stay the death angel’s hand, and the plague ended at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.

As he was instructed by the Lord, David approached the threshing floor and offered to buy it in order to build an altar. Araunah offered not only to give the king his property, but also to provide oxen, wood, and grain for the offerings. David’s response is good model for all of us: “I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”

Let me be completely frank here. David’s attitude and actions in this story shame me. My idea of sacrifice usually means getting up early on Sunday morning, when I’d rather sleep in. Paying my tithe on time. Reading my Bible, and praying.

According to this passage, it’s only sacrifice if it actually costs me something. Something dear to me. Of course, everything I am and have belongs to him. I’m not my own, I’ve been bought at a price. I just wish that I lived like it.

Lord Jesus, whatever you ask for, it’s yours. Everything I am, it’s yours. Whatever I own, it’s yours. It belongs to you, twice over.

[Apr 28]--Unfailing Love

2 Sam. 22: 47-51

Of all the men in the Bible, David is certainly the one most likely to be described as a “Renaissance Man,” meaning a man of many talents. He had many years’ experience as a shepherd, and during the lonely days and nights watching the sheep he'd apparently developed other skills as well. He was an accomplished musician, both as a player and as a composer. He was a brave and fierce warrior, having fought off both lions and bears who thought they could walk off with one of his lambs. He was a charismatic leader, as shown by how quickly he won over all the military officers and other people in Saul’s administration. And best of all, he was a godly man who loved his Lord and was dedicated to him.

One of his greatest psalms is the 18th, also recorded in today’s passage. There is one word, however, found at the end of the chapter which is worthy of a study all by itself, and I thought this would be a great springboard for it. It’s translated as “unfailing kindness” in the NIV, but it's been rendered in several different ways, since it’s very rich in meaning, and there’s no one English word which captures it.

The word is chesed, and it’s one of my favorite words in the Old Testament. If you want to pronounce it, you first have to sound like you’re about to “hock a loogie” and spit something up—so if you don’t know how to sound it out, don’t worry about it. As I mentioned before, it’s translated in several ways: “mercy,” “lovingkindness” (in the old King James Version), and “unfailing love.”

Psalm 136 has this word repeated in all of its 26 verses: It tells the story of Creation and the Exodus and sounds the refrain at the end of every single verse: “For his chesed endures forever.” In other words, his love and mercy are interwoven into every aspect of creation. In all his dealings with us--as his people and as individuals--his unfailing love overshadows everything. In his unfailing love we live and breathe and walk. It surrounds us, and we can’t get away from it completely in this life, even if we want to.

After the incident with Bathsheba and Uriah (no, I’m not going to start bashing David again), the forgiven and repentant king wrote the 51st Psalm. The first verse spells out his reason for confidence: “Have mercy on me, oh God, according to your unfailing love.” He knew that there was no animal sacrifice which would cover his sin, no way he could “make up” for what he'd done, so all he could appeal to was God’s chesed.

But there’s another interesting use of the word. The prophet Micah, speaking on behalf of the Lord, laid out what he expects of his people:

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy [chesed]
    and to walk humbly with your God."

In other words, since the Lord has shown us mercy, kindness, and unfailing love, he expects us to follow his example.

Father, your love and mercy are everywhere, if I only have the eyes to see it. Please, make me like you, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.

[Apr 27]--Listening To Your Enemies

2 Sam. 16:5-14

Lately there have been a number of books which are on the forefront of what's called the “New Atheism.” These are atheist “evangelists” who aren't satisfied with disbelieving in God themselves. They spend time, money, and resources to convince other people to abandon theism. Of course, in America, their main target is Christianity, since that’s the religion that most people claim as their own. Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Samuel Harris, and others have written bestselling books which tell us why belief in God is not just irrational, but harmful and a retardant on our growth into civilized beings.

I’ve listened to several debates between Hitchens and theists (mostly Christians), and I find them fascinating. The thing I find most amusing is his claim boasting that HIS arguments are going to bring down Biblical Christianity like the house of cards it is. The funny part is that he’s presenting them as new arguments, which they’re definitely not. The church has been under assault from these exact same attacks for over 2,000 years, and I don’t think that this man (or any other) is going to come up with the unanswerable point that’s going to cause it to collapse, especially since he isn’t saying anything new.

The reason I bring it up is because I think that listening to his arguments is healthy (for the most part), not harmful. I think it’s good to listen to our enemies. Most of what they say is utter garbage, but some of what they say might be valuable. All of us are subject to self-deception at times, and the church might even be talking past the rank-and-file Non-Christian because of ignorance of what they’re thinking.

Is there a biblical precedent for my thinking on this? Why, yes there is.

Even in the midst of a life-threatening crisis, David knew this principle. He was on the run from his own son, who was trying to steal the kingdom from him and was presumably looking to take his father’s life. While on the march, a man named Shimei cursed him in the name of the Lord. David’s followers in loyalty wanted to silence the man permanently, but David forbade them from doing so. He believed that God might have incited him to make these accusations, and that the jury was still out on whether the Lord was still with David or not. In other words, even his enemy’s taunts might have enough truth in them so he didn't want to dismiss them out of hand.

How do we distinguish the true from the false when examining what our enemies are saying? The same way we examine everything else—we hold it up to the light of God’s word. When someone's criticizing us, either as an individual believer or as a representative of the church, we ought to prayerfully listen and be able to pick out the bad from any solid points they might be making.

Lord Jesus, when someone is hurling an accusation against me, help me to listen, because your voice just might be behind it.

[Apr 26]--David’s Other Failure

2 Sam. 13:1-22

I promise that this’ll be the last day I spend criticizing David for a while, but this chapter highlights something that I thought very important. We mentioned yesterday the four-fold punishment that David received for his sin, and today’s reading focuses on the second part. The sordid tale is told of Amnon’s unnatural lust towards his half-sister which culminated in rape. As you read through the rest of the chapter after today’s reading, you can see how Absalom, the full-blooded brother of Tamar, plotted and carried out the cold-blooded murder of the rapist. This led to the estrangement of Absalom from his father, their temporary reconciliation, and his eventual plot to steal the kingdom from David and usurp the throne.

The reason I brought up this story is because it points out a little-known and rarely considered effect of sin. Let’s start with an obvious question: Where was David during all of this? Amnon had despicably used him to ensnare Tamar in his trap, raped his sister, and then threw her out of his living space. The writer reported in vs. 21 that “David was furious,” when he heard what had happened, but there's no record of him doing anything about it. He didn’t arrest Amnon and bring him to justice (rape was a capital crime), and please remember that as the king he was supposed to be the primary law-enforcer in the land. For him to ignore Amnon’s crime was a crime in itself. His lack of action is probably what spurred Absalom on to taking the law in his own hands.

Why didn’t David do anything himself? My theory would be lack of spiritual and moral authority. Amnon’s crime had to do with sexual immorality, and Absalom committed murder, and it’s likely that David hesitated because he felt like a hypocrite taking action against them. Whatever the reason, as a father and as the king, he utterly failed to live up to his responsibilities.

This is a major problem in modern society, and it’s going to get worse. As the generations who grew up during the 1960’s and 1970’s become parents, they’re going to find themselves in a quandary. They don’t want their children to engage in premarital sex, but they don’t relish having to say “Do as I say, not as I did.” They know that children are VERY sensitive to any hypocrisy on the part of their parents, and this is a subject on which they don’t feel like they have a lot of moral authority.

To these parents, you have my sympathy. You made some bad decisions, and now that the Lord's forgiven you, you want to do the right thing. However, you can’t let your past failures dictate how you raise your children. If you don’t want to watch your children make some very self-destructive choices, you have to teach them now about choosing God’s way over what they feel like doing. And of course, you can provide them with a role-model from this point forward.

And to all those reading this who aren't parents yet, please take this into consideration. Keep this mind, tattoo it (figuratively) on your forehead: Sin will take you further than you want to go and cost you more than your're willing to pay. Yes, the Lord's promised to forgive you the moment you confess and repent, but the earthly consequences will be horrible, and you might not be the only one paying a price. Your children probably will as well. The choices you make today will someday affect your children who aren't even born yet.

David had a lot of good qualities, but as a parent he apparently did a horrible job. To all the parents out there, I plead with you: Don’t let the failures in your past become a family tradition.

Father God, I know that little eyes are watching me, even if I’m not a parent yet. You’re the perfect Father. Please help me learn from the Best.

[Apr 25]--Truth and Consequences

2 Sam. 12:15-25

We touched on this subject yesterday, but today we’ll examine further the consequences that David faced because of his sin. Again, we need to remember the difference between eternal judgment and earthly consequences. As believers in Jesus, we need never fear eternal judgment for our sin. All of the punishment due for my sin was placed upon Christ on the cross, and I'll never have to face it again. I don’t know about you, but I’m very grateful for this.

However, the Bible teaches that even forgiven believers will often face the consequences of our sin. This is not really an issue of us getting punished, since that would imply that we’re getting what we deserve. As a redeemed child of God, I will never get what I really deserve from him. But although I will never get what I deserve, I will get what I need. His overarching goal for me is to be conformed to the likeness of Christ, no matter what that takes, no matter what it costs either me or him. This means that if I start to go astray from this goal, he'll sometimes use very unpleasant means to bring me back on track. And as a general rule, the further off-track I get, the less pleasant the course correction is going to be.

This is certainly the case with David. He'd been forgiven, but his discipline for this was pretty harsh. I remember one of my Bible teachers in college pointing out the supreme irony of David’s hypocritical outburst after Nathan’s story. What was his angry snap-judgment in vss. 5-6? “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity." Let’s do a brief review of what David went through in the rest of 2 Samuel, shall we?

1. His infant son (the product of his adultery) caught ill and died.
2. One of his sons (Amnon) raped his (Amnon's) sister (Tamar).
3. Another son (Absalom) murdered Amnon.
4. Finally, Absalom incited a rebellion against David and came within a hairs-breadth of succeeding in overthrowing him. And died in the attempt.

Whenever I read the sad chapters of 2 Sam. 11-12, one thought keeps coming back to my head: “I hope this was the best sex David ever had! Really, I hope he thoroughly enjoyed that night with Bathsheba!” Because it certainly ended up costing him enough. Reading onward through the rest of 2 Samuel, David never fully recovered from this. He never ever again reached the high point we read about in 2 Samuel 10 before this sordid affair began.

On another more pleasant note, let’s talk about babies for a moment. First, I’d like to point out that even in the midst of this painful discipline, the Lord demonstrated that he wasn’t through with David yet. It’s been said that every baby is proof that God hasn’t given up on humanity yet, and David's second son Solomon (which means “peace”) was also named Jedediah--“loved by God.” Even through all the heartache David would experience over the next few years, this son acted as a beacon of hope for a glorious future.

The other point I would make about babies is what David said about his infant who died. The Bible doesn’t really give us much information about the eternal destiny of infants who die, but this passage gives the clearest answer we have. When he heard that his son had died, he pronounced about as sure a hope as he could hold onto (as an Old Testament believer): “I will go to him, but he will not return to me." In other words, he believed that he would end up in the same place in the afterlife as his son. If you’ve lost a child, please take note, and hold onto this hope of David.

Lord Jesus, please help me to take sin as seriously as you do. It looks so appealing, and it’s so deadly. Open my eyes.

[Apr 24]--Accusations and Grace

2 Sam. 12:1-14

I've got to nominate Nathan as one of the bravest and wisest men in Scripture. He was called to a job that no one would've volunteered for: Personally confront and accuse the King of wrongdoing and call him to account. Although David was a good man and was theoretically under the Law, you never could tell in situations like this. One word from David could make his life very unpleasant and short.

You also have to admire his tactical approach. I remember reading a book about persuading people, and it emphasized that telling a story can lower someone’s defenses like nothing else. His allegorical fiction had its intended effect: David was furious with the offender who had stolen the beloved lamb. His hypocrisy was striking—he was all bent out of shape over stealing an animal, when he himself was guilty of stealing an innocent man’s wife and life. Don’t you think it would make a great scene in a movie: Nathan points his finger at David and exclaims “You are the man!”

I’ve mentioned before that the preceding chapter was the low point for David, but this is a turned corner for him, and his nobler qualities start shining through. Think about all the responses that he could've made. He didn’t threaten Nathan to silence, he didn’t plot and arrange murder #2, and best of all, he didn’t make any excuses for his behavior. Notice the huge difference between David and Saul when confronted by a prophet in 1 Sam. 13:1-11. Saul coughed up a list of excuses for his disobedience, and God was most definitely not impressed. When Nathan brought David face-to-face with his sin, the next words out of his mouth were “I have sinned against the Lord.” No denials or excuses. Just straight up confession and (implied) repentance.

And please note the next words out of Nathan’s mouth: “The Lord has taken away your sin.” And where did that sin go? It didn't just disappear into the ether. Where did the Lord take it? As New Testament believers, we know that his sin (along with yours and mine) was placed upon the Lord Jesus on the cross and was judged there.

David had committed two crimes worthy of the death penalty under the Law (adultery and murder), but he'd been pardoned. But notice the second half of the pronouncement: He'd been forgiven by the Lord, but would still have to bear some earthly consequences for his sin. This story illustrates the perfect balance in Scripture. 1 John 1:9 is one of my favorite promises in the Bible, and it’s very clear: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Theoretically, I could pull out a gun, shoot a man dead, and then ask God to forgive me, and he will. What the Lord does not promise, however, is to spare me from the electric chair or prison. In fact, I can expect quite the opposite. Forgiveness from God is free for the asking, but the earthly consequences might affect me for a lifetime.

So today’s reading has messages for two groups of people. If you think God could never forgive that sin, look at David and take heart. If you're tempted to sin just because you know God’s grace will cover it, look at David and take a step back.

Father, thank you for the full, free forgiveness I have in Christ. Lord Jesus, your precious blood saves from wrath and makes me pure. The words "thank you" seem so inadequate, so let me demonstrate it with my life.

[Apr 23]--“I Got Away With It!”

2 Sam 11:22-27

I recently listened to a friendly debate between Christopher Hitchens (a prominent atheist) and Michael Medved, a talk-show host who’s also a practicing Jew. The discussion topic was the existence of God, and Medved brought up how the fact that the Lord is always watching was a source of accountability to him. Hitchens replied, and I’m paraphrasing from memory, that the idea of a “Dictator in the Sky” constantly monitoring us was “repugnant” to him. I thought this was very interesting, as it lifts the curtain on a lot of people. I submit that a lot of atheists, if not most of them, are claiming not to believe in God because an all-knowing, all-seeing Judge is very discomforting.

Even though David still believed in God theoretically, he was what I call a “practicing atheist” at this point, acting as if there’s no God watching us. Notice that in this chapter, the Lord’s name is not mentioned at all until the very end. It’s almost as if the inspired author didn’t want the Lord to be associated in any way with this nasty business.

But it looked like David had gotten away with it with no bad consequences: the lust, the adultery, the deceit, the cold-blooded murder. This was not 20th century America, where we impeach Presidents who are accused of breaking the law. He was king, and although in theory he was as much under the law as anyone else (lex rex), it usually didn’t work out that way. Most people would never know about it anyway, and the few palace officials and co-conspirators like Joab knew better than to open their mouths. After all, if a king was willing to murder one innocent man, why stop there?

But I love how the last verse of the chapter puts a whole new light on David’s cover-up. He might be tempted to think “I just got away with murder!” but this puts a screeching halt to that silly notion: “the thing David had done displeased the Lord.” He hadn’t gotten away with anything. Everyone around him was either ignorant or intimidated; there was probably not a court in Israel that would haul him into a trial. But there was one court and one Judge who'd seen everything, and this Judge was not pleased. And he was about to do something about it.

Lord Jesus, your eyes pierce through my masks, my deceits, my façade. Please cleanse and clean out what you see there. Please.

[Apr 22]--How The Mighty Have Fallen!

2 Sam. 11:14-21

Remember that saying about sin that I mentioned a while back? “Sin will take end up taking you further than you want to go and cost you more than you’re willing to pay.” Let’s go through David’s fall step by step. It started out with mere laziness, preferring to sit around a comfortable castle while others were out in the field of battle. Idle on the roof of his home, he happened to see a beautiful woman bathing, Instead of turning away, he let his glance turn into lust. Lust turned into action: He sent a servant to fetch her to his quarters, so he committed adultery. When she notified him of her pregnancy, he attempted to cover it up by ordering her husband back home from the field. His plan-to make Uriah think the child was his--failed miserably, all because Uriah was a more honorable man than he was.

Finally, in order to hide from the shame and other potential problems, he did the unthinkable—he arranged and ordered the murder of one of his best officers. If you read 1 Chronicles 11, there’s a list of “The Thirty,” the mightiest and most trustworthy of his soldiers, the rough equivalent of the Special Forces in the Army. Notice whose name is listed in verse 41: Uriah. Of course, this isn't too surprising: The same qualities that made Uriah an honorable and trustworthy soldier in 2 Samuel would also tend to qualify him for any group of any elite soldier group. And in a perfect case of adding insult to injury, David had Uriah carry back the orders for his death back to his commanding officer in his own hand!

As I stated before, David is one of my favorite characters in all the Bible, and he had a lot of great qualities. This, however, has got to be the lowest point for him. And it all started with a minor flaw like laziness, something with which I have a constant struggle. I keep telling myself that I would never fall that far, that I would never do what David did, under any circumstances. But if Christ wasn’t holding me up, I could.

I’m very glad that David’s story doesn’t end in shame like Lot’s does, and there's repentance and grace in his future. But right now we need to remind ourselves just how serious sin is. I promise you, God takes it infinitely more seriously than we do, and only he knows how bad it truly is. My sin is what nailed Jesus to the cross, not the soldiers. The thought of taking upon himself the punishment for my sin is what caused Jesus to literally sweat blood. In fact, he still carries the marks of my sin on his body, and will do so for all eternity. That’s how bad sin is, and that’s how much he loves you and me.

Lord Jesus, words are so inadequate to give you the praise and thanks you deserve. Please help me to follow you more closely, to listen more carefully. Without you. . .no, I don’t want to even think about it.

[Apr 21]--Cracks in the Foundation

2 Sam. 11:1-13

I sold termite warranties for a pest control company for years, so I’m familiar with what termites can do to a home. When I presented the warranty to a potential customer, I always explained that termites can get into your home through a crack no more than 1/16 of an inch wide, the width of a business card. As time progresses on a new home, the constant weather changes cause the house to shift imperceptibly, causing little hairline cracks in the foundation of the home. These cracks don’t change the value of a home, but they provide an opening. Once termites find the home, all they need is moisture, darkness, seclusion and time to destroy a home from the inside-out.

There are times when I really wish that David’s biography ended in 2 Sam. 10. He was on top of the world: Every enemy either subdued or on the run, the whole nation of Israel loyally following him, and other nations bringing him tribute. He had all the money and women a man could desire, and the adulation of millions. Unfortunately, this apparently went to his head and he started believing all the hype about himself. And cracks started to form without notice.

Of course, we need to remember to be careful when reading narratives. Today’s passage doesn’t really go into David’s emotions or motivations at all. It’s almost as if the inspired writer didn’t want to look too closely at him, and tried to be detached from what was happening. But I think there's a major clue in the opening words: “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war. . .” David sent his men out and stayed at home. Scripture doesn’t tell us why, but I'd like to think it was merely laziness instead of cowardice. Whatever the reason, it looks like the writer is indirectly indicting David for dereliction of duty.

Then he was out on his rooftop, enjoying the night air, when it happened. He happened to see a beautiful woman bathing, and a glance turned into a lustful gaze which blossomed into sinful desire. There’s no indication that Bathsheba was doing anything improper--that she was trying to lure David into adultery--but that doesn’t really matter. There’s also no indication that she put up any resistance to David’s advances, although in her defense this was the king who was summoning her, so maybe she felt coerced. We really don’t know.

We do know, however, the end result: a very unwanted pregnancy. He tried to cover it up by bringing the husband home and making him think the baby was his (Uriah’s). Unfortunately for David, Uriah was a far more honorable man than the king at this point. He refused to spend time with his wife (despite David’s best efforts), and look at his reasoning: “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife?" It seems like every word here is designed to twist the knife a little deeper. As if David didn’t have enough reason to feel guilty!

This is how it starts—with little cracks.

Lord Jesus, I need your help. You can see things I can’t or don’t want to see. Through your Spirit, please search me out.

[Apr 20]--Kindness of a Stranger

2 Sam. 9:1-13

I’ve mentioned before that one of the best characteristics David exhibited was his loyalty to his friends, and that’s certainly on display here. What you need to keep in mind is how unusual today’s story was. Most often, once a man ascended to the throne, one of his first pieces of business was to hunt down all the relatives of his predecessor and kill them, especially any male descendants. In fact, this was considered standard procedure, since every relative of the last king (especially a son) was a potential threat.

But David and Jonathan had made specific promises to each other, even going so far as to make a covenant of peace. David had also promised Saul not to wipe out his descendants, but this went much further than that. In the memory of his fallen friend, David sought out a descendant of Saul, preferably a child of Jonathan, on which to shower kindness. Considering the standard procedure, we can thoroughly understand why Mephibosheth was terrified and tried to “suck up” to the king in hopes of having his life spared. Not only was he not killed, but he was elevated to a permanent place of honor before the king. The king also took care to make sure his property was restored, and put Ziba in charge of it. Just to bring the image home even further, the writer says that Mephibosheth "ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons." Basically David was treating him as if he was adopting him into his own family.

It’s a very touching and beautiful story, but it has a deeper meaning for us as Christians. I’ve repeatedly pointed towards the fact that we sometimes suffer for the bad decisions that others make, since we need to accept that as part of life in a sinful world. But we also benefit from the decisions of others as well. I enjoy the blessings of being an American because others were willing to risk--and even give up--their lives. On an infainitely greater scale, every Christian can relate to the concept. I think that Mephibosheth is a wonderful illustration of who we are as believers.

Like him, we deserve nothing from the King. In fact, we have every reason to expect the death penalty. But he shows us grace and kindness beyond our wildest dreams and fantasies. He welcomes us with open arms, honors us far above what we deserve, and gives us a permanent place by his side at his table. He restores our inheritance, and makes sure that we're well provided for. And all of this because of Another.

Father God, you're so good to me. Grace defines every aspect of how you treat me. You take a “dead dog like me” and adopt me as your child. Thank you.

[Apr 19]--“You Were Serious About That?”

2 Sam. 6:1-11

I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but one of my favorite movies of all time is My Cousin Vinny, starring Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the movie, Pesci plays Vinny Gambini, a brand-new lawyer from Brooklyn who has to defend two young boys who are accused of murder in the deep south. The judge is very strict about procedure and propriety, and thus he angrily rebukes Vinny for coming into his courtroom dressed in a leather jacket, not in a suit and tie. The next day, the judge has him stand up and asks him “Didn’t I tell you to dress appropriately in my courtroom?!” Vinny stares at him for a split-second and disbelievingly asks “You were serious about that?” The very next scene immediately cuts to showing him on a jail bus heading to lockup for contempt of court. If you haven't watched it, please be advised that it's got quite a bit of "salty" language. If you can ever catch the edited version of it on TV, I'd highly recommend it.

I think about that scene every time I read the story in today’s passage. The scene started out as pure celebration: David was officially recognized as king over all Israel, he had captured Jerusalem, the Philistines were subdued, and now they were to officially inaugurate Jerusalem as the capital of Israel by bringing the Ark of the Covenant into it. David and thousands of people were singing, dancing, and praising the Lord with all their might.

Then tragedy struck. They were transporting the Ark on a cart drawn by oxen, and one of the animals stumbled in the mud. One well-meaning man, namely Uzzah, reached out his hand to steady the Ark so that it wouldn’t fall into the mud. Apparently God was not impressed with his sincerity, since he struck the poor guy DEAD ON THE SPOT.

We might read this story and think that God is a horrible monster for killing a man just for touching a box. If we think that way, then we need to look a little deeper. First off, they were not supposed to be transporting the Ark on a cart with oxen. This is why God told them to attach poles to it. In doing this, David was following the example of the Philistines, not usually a good idea. Second, God warned them specifically not to touch the Ark. Aaron’s own sons had died because they didn’t follow God’s instructions, so he had NO excuse. Just like Vinnie in the movie, their attitude towards God's instructions was "You were serious about that?" Yes. He was. And he is.

There are quite a few things we can learn from this, but I’ll limit it to two. First, I think Uzzah is a great object lesson on the importance of reading your Bible and taking it seriously. Whether consciously or unconsciously, they'd acted as if God is impressed enough with our sincerity that he’ll overlook disobedience, and a man died because of this mistake. Second, we must approach God in the way he’s revealed to us, not making it up as we go along. The way to approach God is humble, repentant trust in his Son Jesus Christ. I have trouble understanding why even some Christians have trouble accepting this, but I guess it’s only natural. The problem is that we’re in danger of following David’s example, and people suffer as a result. You might have heard that "ignorance is bliss," but don't buy it.It might start out as blissful, but it never ends that way.

Lord Jesus, you're my only hope of being accepted by God, but you're my SURE hope. Your word is a lamp to my feet and light for my path. Without it, I’m just stumbling around in the darkness.Help me pay attention to it. 

[Apr 18]--Good Things. . .

1 Sam. 25:36-44

Abigail went back to her husband, who was completely clueless about the danger she had saved him from. Her quick thinking, humility, and wisdom had saved his life while he was getting drunk at a party. And she saved not only the life of her worthless husband but those of every male in the household. By the way, the phrase “holding a banquet like that of a king” is probably meant to compare him to Saul. It turns out this man was not only an ingrate and a drunk, he was a coward as well. Some type of attack, possibly a stroke, struck him, and he died a few days later.

David, who'd seen what kind of woman Abigail was, wasted no time in proposing to Abigail, who accepted. Thus everything worked out perfectly for everyone, except of course for Nabal. The old cliché “Good things come to those who wait” certainly applied in this case. David had been patient and waited on the Lord to vindicate him in his own way and time, and it happened.

We’ll look more closely at justice in this world in a couple of months, but I think this merits some examination now. I heard Dennis Prager once opine that he can’t see how anyone can believe in a just God and not believe in an afterlife. The reason he advanced (and I heartedly agree) is because there's so much injustice in this world. Innocent people get killed by guilty people every day, and nothing happens to the guilty. The wealthy and powerful exploit the weak and powerless, and they seemingly get away with it. The reason why this story appeals to me (and probably to you) is because it worked out so perfectly: Nabal got what he deserved when he treated David unjustly. Not only that, but David got “the girl” just like in the movies. Unfortunately, this sort of thing is the exception, not the rule.

I also want to point out--again--that the best of God’s people still have trouble sticking to God’s plan. Of course I'm referring to the fact that David unfortunately followed the common pattern of his time in indulging in polygamy. We've discussed this before, but just to summarize: The Lord allowed it, some of the best men of the Bible did it, but that doesn't make it good or right. God never indicated that he smiled upon it, and in every single instance of it in the Scriptures--no exceptions--it's always a source of perennial strife in the home. I guess it’s a common male fantasy to have multiple women at your beck and call, but I assure you, the fantasy is a lot better than the reality. I always wonder at the foolishness of men who have a wonderful wife and who throw that away in order to follow their hormones. You don’t need to trust me, just trust your Maker. If someone designed an automobile, then don’t you think he knows better than anyone how it works? Why do we think we know better than the One who designed our brains and who invented human sexuality? If you have a wife like Abigail, please cherish her like the treasure she is. If you’re single, please don’t settle for anything less than God’s best.

Father, I want to show more gratitude for the incredible spouse you’ve given me. She's the most important person in my life after you. Please help me to show her that.

[Apr 17]--Standing In The Way

1 Sam. 25:14-35

I guess I’m an oddball, but I've never been interested in reading the parts of the newspaper that most people read. I like to read the comic strips and “Dear Abby.” Even when I disagree with her advice (which is pretty often), I find it fascinating to see what she’ll say when someone writes in with their problems.

There’s another Abby, however, who runs circles around the columnist when it comes to wisdom. Abigail's husband had definitely “married up,” and this is obvious from today’s passage. When the servants came and told her about how her husband had treated David’s men, she immediately knew what was about to happen—does she know men or what?! She loaded up donkeys with lots of food and rode out to intercept David before he got to the house. She approached him with complete humility, taking on the responsibility for how he was treated (even when she had had nothing to do with it).

Also notice her argument against his course of action: Everybody knows that you’re going to be king soon. Don’t ascend the throne with innocent blood on your hands. Don’t try to avenge yourself--let God handle your enemies for you! If you concern yourself with God’s business, he’ll take care of yours.

It is true that Scripture describes her as "beautiful" (vs. 3), but apparently David was impressed with way more than her looks, since he took her wise counsel. In fact, he thanked her for stopping him from doing something he would regret later. He recognized what an asset she would be to any man who had her by his side, and they parted ways. My friend, my sincere hope is that if you’re married, you have a spouse like mine. My wife frequently takes on the spirit of Abigail and keeps me from pursuing a foolish course of action. And if you aren’t married, I hope you have at least one true friend. What do I consider to be an essential mark of a friend? Someone who'll stand in your way and yell “STOP!” when you need it. As David’s son Solomon put it, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted." If you don’t have a friend like this, you need to pray for one. And you might consider praying for a spouse who'll do for you what Abigail did for David.

I also think that Abigail’s argument deserves a second look. Maybe I’m not contemplating murder, but the root of David’s actions lie in all of us. When someone attacks me, even verbally, how quick do I step forward to defend myself? How obsessed am I to “set the record straight”? Do I trust God to take care of my reputation, or do I try to “avenge myself”?

Lord Jesus, at your trial, you didn’t try to defend yourself because you trusted your Father. I need that attitude. Very badly.

What Difference Does The Resurrection Make? (Easter Meditations)

Easter Sunday Meditation

1 Corinthians 15:35-58

The gospels all include an account of the Resurrection of Christ, but in order to have its meaning explained to us, we need to turn to passages in the Epistles like this one. In fact, this passage, more than any other in the Bible, explains why the Resurrection is so important.

First, we need to know that Christ’s resurrection is intimately linked to ours. Just as Christ was raised from the dead, so will we. We’re connected to him, and his fate is permanently and eternally linked to ours. The fact that he walked out of that tomb after being dead for three days means that I will one day do the same (assuming I’m not still alive when he returns).

Second, Paul felt the need to clear up some misunderstandings. The main point of the Resurrection (Christ’s and ours) is not immortality of the soul. The Greeks believed in that, along with several other ancient religions. However, what the Bible teaches is not just the fact that we’ll live forever, but that in some mysterious way we’re going to be reunited with a material body. Our final state is NOT to be spirits floating around. When Christ returns, every believer’s soul will be reunited with a physical body.

However, as Paul had to explain to them, this body is very dissimilar to the old one in various ways. It is not subject to sin, decay, sickness, weakness, or death. In fact, here’s a radical thought, but it’s entirely biblical—Everything Jesus is as a man, I will be. Now, please note the italics. I'm not saying that we’re one day going to be what Jesus is as God—that’s Mormonism. No, everything Jesus is as a human being, I will be (see 1 John 3:2). Everything Jesus can do as a human being, I will be able to do. We have not even scratched the surface of everything that this means, since the Bible gives only hints.

So what does this mean to me, today? I mean, my job is lousy or non-existent, my marriage is in trouble, and I’m encountering problems every day which don’t seem to be impacted in the slightest by the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. For one thing, it means that everything will be made new one day. The sinful world around me, the intermittent triumph of evil, the sickness and death around me, all of that does NOT have the final word. Jesus does.

Second, for me personally, it means that my struggle with sin and sickness is going to have a “happy ending.” There will come a day when I confess my last sin to the Father. That insulin pump at my side and the glasses on my nose will be gone. I’ll have a fresh new body, one that will never be subject to sin, sickness, weakness or death.

Third, it also means power, in the here and now. Paul said in Ephesians 1:18-23 that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in me. Think about the supernatural power that it would take to raise Jesus from the dead after three days. That power lives inside of me, today, 24-7. It’s just a question of accessing it.

Now what Jesus said takes on a whole new meaning: “Because I live, you also will live."

Now here's a great song by Michael Card, "Love Crucified Arose."

Lord Jesus, your life is mine. Because you live, so do I. Help me to live like a someone who’s alive. I don’t want to survive, I want to thrive. Nothing less than your best, ever.

[Apr 16]--Temper, Temper!

1 Sam. 25:1-13

As I mentioned before, David's one of my favorite heroes in the Bible, but Allister Begg’s saying is still true: “The best of men are men are men at best.” I remember studying 1 Samuel in depth for the first time using a guide from Navigators, and I was struck by an important point that they made about this story.

David was presented with an opportunity to kill Saul, not once but twice. Both times he said no to what his friends, his common sense, and circumstances all seemed to tell him to do, namely to end the threat once and for all. He had two reasons for saying no. First, as we noted before, he viewed the king as a divine appointment and firmly believed that only the One who put him into this office had the right to remove him from it. But the second is an even more immediately practical lesson for us. Earlier, when reasoning with Saul, he appealed to the Lord as the Judge between him and Saul, and called upon this Judge to bring about justice between him and the mad king. He never even harbored a treasonous thought, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t call upon the Lord to deal with Saul as he deserved.

In today’s reading, however, David’s natural leanings were on full display. Apparently, David’s patience towards Saul was not because of an easygoing attitude or an even temper, but because of a strict adherence to principle. The reason we might suspect it is because when it came to Nabal it was very different. All Nabal did was insult him and his men, and David ordered his men to strap on their swords. His plan was to invade Nabal’s home and kill every male living within its walls. This one offence was enough to stoke David’s temper out of control.

Um, David? What’re you doing?! This fool is no threat to you or your men. True, what he did was inexcusable, and his lack of gratitude was shocking. But does that justify killing the man, much less murdering all the innocent men and boys within his household?

What this reminds me of today is that all of us can fall. The best of us can, in a moment of anger, make rash decisions which we’ll regret for a lifetime. Several years after this incident, David’s son Solomon wrote “Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control." In other words, if we don’t have self-control we’ll be under the control of whoever happens to be passing by during the moment. If someone can make you lose your temper, they're controlling you. David let his temper get the best of him, and it nearly made him do something he'd regret for the rest of his life. Thankfully, there was someone to stand in his way, who'll be the subject of tomorrow’s reading.

Lord Jesus, how quickly I can fall when I let my emotions take control. The only one I want controlling me is you. Please.

[Apr 15]--Shrewd as a Snake, Innocent as a Dove

1 Sam. 24:1-22

David has long been one of my favorite heroes in the Bible, and I think I have good reasons for this. He was obviously courageous and trusted in the Lord, as shown in his encounter with Goliath (I wouldn’t call it a “battle”). He was a born leader, as demonstrated by how many people in Saul’s administration admired him and abandoned Saul in a heartbeat in order to join David in exile. He was a loyal friend, as displayed by how he treated Mephibosheth (we’ll discuss that later). But the quality he showed in today’s passage is very rare, and I'd love to have it. I’m not exactly sure what to call it, except a balanced perspective regarding people.

Jesus commanded us to be “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves," and I love the perfect tension there. But just like with most good qualities in tension, most of us tend to fall off on one side or the other. Many people, especially as they get older, get cynical about human nature. They always expect the worst out of people, and they have a really hard time trusting them. They’ve been disappointed by friends or relatives in the past, and they spend their waning years bitter about it. Others, on the other hand, are hopelessly naïve about human nature. They always want to believe the best about people, and there's a real danger that they’ll trust someone who isn’t worthy of it.

What we need is a biblical perspective. While the Bible tells us that all of us are sinners and fall short of God’s standards, that doesn’t mean that everyone around us never does anything good. Of course they do, as long as we're talking about on a human level. Theologians have a term for this: Common grace. The Wikipedia article (which is really good) defines it as "every favor, falling short of salvation, which this undeserving and sin-cursed world enjoys at the hand of God; this includes the delay of wrath, the mitigation of our sin-natures, natural events that lead to prosperity, and all gifts that human use and enjoy naturally."

This would include a conscience, some understanding of good and evil, and some degree of desire to do good instead of bad. Atheists love their families, have compassion on the needy, and try to become a better person. Again, this in no way lessens the truth in the Scriptures cited in the last paragraph about our sinful nature. The Bible tells us that all of us--at rock bottom--are sinners and rebels under God's righteous judgment, and it also tells us that none are as bad as we could be, and it affirms the existence of a moral conscience. 

This means that we need to find a balance between naïveté and cynicism.

In today’s passage this balance was showcased perfectly in the actions and attitudes of David. He had zero respect for Saul as a man, but for David the office of king was totally sacrosanct. He saw government--and the kingship in Israel in particular--as appointed by the Lord, not as a human invention that can be changed when we feel like it. He saw Saul as being directly appointed by God, and as far as he was concerned the only one with the right to remove Saul was the One who put him into power. And obviously he was willing to trust people who deserved it: his close friends and followers, and even the son of Saul.

But when it came to Saul’s character, he wasn't willing to put his trust in the promises of a man like this. Saul had made promises like this before, and his word was worth less than something you scrape off your shoe. Hence the last verse of today’s reading.

I think the key to this is wisdom and guidance. We need the Holy Spirit to give us insight into how to treat people who've hurt us. We must forgive them, which means we hold no ill will towards them and demonstrate sacrificial love towards them. But there may be cases in which someone has a track record of breaking promises. In that case, keep in mind that there's NO command in Scripture to put our trust in someone who’s unreliable. Remember: Shrewd as a serpent, innocent as a dove.

Lord Jesus, in every interaction I have with someone today, please give me your wisdom. Whenever I listen to your voice, everything’s in perfect balance.

[Apr 14]--Jonathan: Unsung Hero

1 Sam. 18:1-4

Another person I’d like to add to my list of unsung heroes is Saul’s son, Jonathan. This passage is but one of many which I could note as showing us the true character of this man. Let’s go through some of his attributes and see what we can learn from him as an example to follow.

First, this young man trusted in his Lord, and he displayed it in some of the most courageous acts recorded in Scripture. He was introduced in chapter 14, when Saul was on his personal vendetta against “[his] enemies” (discussed yesterday). All of Israel was demoralized and panicky about the upcoming battle, mainly due to their lack of equipment and proper weapons. Jonathan and his armor-bearer decided to take the battle to the enemy, and climbed up a cliff to them. Believing that the God of the universe was surely strong enough to give their enemies into their hands, they killed twenty soldiers by themselves and unintentionally started a rally among the Israelites and a wholesale panic among the Philistines. Thus the Lord gave them a huge victory that day.

Second, this man was loyal, both to his friend and to his father. Today's passage describes beautifully how he and David became the closest of friends, symbolized by giving him his clothes and sword. When his father and his best friend had a falling out, there’s no hint that he conspired or plotted against his father. Instead, he did his best to reconcile the two, defending each one before the other. Even when his father pointed out the obvious, namely that Jonathan would NEVER become king as long as David lived, he never wavered in his love for his friend.

Third, he was extremely humble. When it became obvious to everyone (eventually including Saul himself) that David was going to be the next king, there is absolutely positively no trace of resentment or bitterness recorded. He was perfectly willing to step aside, expressing a hope that he could be second-in-command when his friend finally achieved the throne. This word of encouragement was extremely helpful to David as he was living as a fugitive from Saul.

Regrettably, this hope was not to be. Ever loyal, even to those who didn’t deserve it, he died while fighting alongside his father. Even after all Saul had done, Jonathan respected his father’s office and put the needs of Israel above his personal feelings. This respect for Saul’s position (without respecting the man personally) mirrored David’s actions as well.

This message is for people working “in the shadows.” Maybe you’re working hard for the Lord, and you’re not getting the attention you deserve. Maybe someone else is in the spotlight, and you’re discouraged because no one is noticing that you’re stepping aside for the good of God’s work. You might think this, but you’re dead wrong. Someone IS noticing. He sees when you’re willing to be in “second place” for the good of others. Please read Hebrews 6:10 again, and be encouraged.

Lord Jesus, yours is the only applause I need or even should want. Please change me, I really need it.

[Apr 13]-In Sync

1 Sam.17:45-47

One of the marks of maturity in a believer is realizing my ultimate purpose in life, in seeing the big picture instead of just focusing on how things affect me. This is illustrated beautifully in the difference between Saul and David.

In 14:24, Saul foolishly put an extra burden on his soldiers, forbidding them to eat anything until they achieved victory over the Philistines. Setting aside the stupidity of not feeding your troops and expecting starving men to fight better, notice his particular phrasing: “[until] I have avenged myself on my enemies!” Apparently he thought of the wars on the Philistines as a personal vendetta, not as a mission assigned to him from the Lord. He was not some self-made king; he was anointed by the Lord as his representative. He was not supposed to be out on his own little personal grudge-match. Any slights against Israel were against him personally.

Not so with David. The first time he heard Goliath making his blasphemous threats and boasts, his concern was not for his own glory, or even the glory of Israel. He immediately volunteered to face the giant (something which Saul had failed to do), and we need to notice HIS focus, his goal, why he was out there: “[that] the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.” He did not give a moment’s thought to his reputation, but for how the world would view his God. He wanted the Lord to get as much glory and praise as possible.

Do you realize that this is the Lord’s primary concern as well? You might be tempted to think it’s egotistical for him to have this as his ultimate concern; however, the difference between humanity’s pride and God’s desire to be glorified is that he deserves it. If all creation purposefully and wholeheartedly devoted itself to his praise for all eternity, then that would be nothing more than exactly what he deserves.

This affects everything in our lives, especially when it comes to ministry. When our church is not doing so well (financially, spiritually, or in attendance), we tend to take it personally. This is OUR church, after all. We also make the same mistake when our church is doing really well. This is OUR church. Well, it is and it isn’t. It’s our church in the sense that we belong to it, but it does not belong to us. It is owned by the Lord Jesus Christ: He sought it out, chose it, and paid for it with his own blood. Whatever happens to the church, whether success or body-blows, happens to him. When it expands, he’s glorified. When it suffers apparent setbacks, then we need to deal with it under his leadership, not going off on our own tangent. Just burn this catchphrase into your brain, and you’ll be fine: “IT’S NOT ABOUT ME.” When we follow David's example in having God's glory and renown as our primary concern, we're in sync with our Father. And that's a good thing.

Lord Jesus, it seems that this is a lesson I need to learn and relearn. Please refocus my eyes on what’s really important. Make me a man after your own heart.

[Apr 12]--Human Help?

1 Sam.17:20-26

I remember the first time I intensely studied 1 Samuel using a guide from Navigators. The guide pointed to the main reason why the Israelites were clamoring for a king (“to lead us into battle”) and then repeatedly, throughout the study, asked “So how was this working out for them?” This was the first of many times in which their desire for a warrior-king turned out not as well as they’d hoped. They were confronted by the Philistines, specifically their champion Goliath. This giant of a man (over nine feet tall) continually stood defiant against Israel. He issued the challenge, and where was the king in whom they had put their trust? On the front lines, standing up to this blasphemous pagan? Um, no.

Along came David, who was only there because his father wanted to bring a care package out to his sons and to get some news of the battle. He overheard the blasphemous giant, and immediately was wondering out loud why no one had killed this guy yet.

The reason I brought this up is to discuss the issue of ultimate trust. As we discussed before, getting a king was not a bad thing in itself. David was obviously a good thing for Israel. But blessings are almost always dangerous, because we tend to put our trust in them instead of the Blesser. He allows us to get ahead a bit financially, and we gradually think that money is our security. He blesses us with a wonderful spouse and family, and we start putting them first instead of our Heavenly Father. He gives us skills and talents, and we forget that he can just as easily take them away. Even the perfect gift of salvation through Christ can be abused when we “pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality."

I think I’ve figured this out in my head, but I need to actually start practicing it. When the Father sees that I can handle a certain blessing without it harming me in the end, he’ll give it to me. Do I think he’s somehow stingy, like a miserly old uncle who has to be strong-armed to give me good things? Absolutely NOT! He loves to bless his children, and is looking for excuses to do so. The only thing I need to do is really learn this lesson, but I’m still working on it.

David learned this the hard way. In Psalm 60 he expressed a lot of frustration when God decided to teach his people that armies don’t win battles unless he (the Lord) is behind them. He was finally forced to cry out “Give us aid against the enemy, for human help is worthless!" Hopefully we won’t have to get to such desperate times before we learn the same thing.

Lord Jesus, you are my all in all. You know what I need, and I trust you. Please take away any blessing which gets between me and you.

[Apr 11]--What Catches God’s Eye?

1 Sam.16:1-13

I’ve always loved 16:7, especially once it became clear that God had not exactly given me the height of a basketball player. My wife is even shorter than I am, and early on in our relationship she laughingly referred to her height. My response: “You know what you are, sweetie? A dime among pennies!” Oh yes, major points earned that day!

I think about that phrase whenever I read this story. Samuel had been instructed by God to officially anoint the man whom he had chosen to be the next king of Israel. When the people were introduced to Saul, they apparently were impressed by his height (10:23), particularly since they were seeking a king to lead them into battle. They wanted a leader who could intimidate the enemy and give confidence to the troops, so it appeared that Saul was their man. Unfortunately, it looked like Samuel had fallen into this trap as well, considering his response to the eldest son of Jesse and the Lord’s mild rebuke to the prophet.

Instead of looking for someone physically impressive, the Lord was looking for a “man after his own heart” (13:14). What does this mean, exactly? It means that David sought the Lord; he desired to think like him, to like what he liked and hate what he hated. This certainly didn’t mean David was sinless, but it did speak of the general direction of his life.

What about us? Ours is a society which is infatuated with beautiful people, and I can’t think of a more meaningless criteria with which to judge someone. We tend to be dazzled by how well a politician speaks in public, and we don’t pay nearly enough attention to the merits of his proposals. Even in the Christian world, we’re often impressed by how big a church building is, or how many attend it, or how big the budget is. I’m not saying that having a big church building or million dollar budget is necessarily bad, but this may not be all that important to God. If I really want to be a man after God’s own heart, then that means I need to realign my priorities to his. What’s important to me should adjust to what’s important to him. It seems that my Lord has to continually remind me “I don’t look at the things man looks at. You look at the outward appearance, but I look at the heart.”

Father, please change my perspective, my outlook, my viewpoint. Please give me a heart after yours.

[Apr 10]--Veracity of Scripture

1 Sam. 11:1-14

If you ever venture outside the “bubble” of Evangelical Christianity (or as I like to define it, “Christianity which actually takes the Bible seriously”), you’ll find a lot of biblical “scholars” who refuse to let the Bible speak for itself. It claims to record the stories of God’s encounters with real people, and it claims that these people actually lived, just like Abraham Lincoln lived. It claims that these stories actually, literally happened, like the Battle of Gettysburg, on land that can be stood upon today. It is not a bunch of made-up stories to teach us a lesson.

Why is this important? Why does it matter if Moses actually talked with God, or even if there was even such a person as Moses? Because this is what the Bible claims. If we don’t ascribe any credibility to its narratives, then why should we ascribe any credibility to its teaching portions? Why should we pay any more attention to its counsel on marriage than to, say, Dear Abby? It doesn’t matter that much if Buddha never really lived, because his teachings are independent of his historicity. He taught that the physical world is an illusion anyway, so what difference does it make? But the Bible claims to be a true record of the God of the universe “invading” history. If he didn’t, then the Bible is just good advice, and I can pick and choose what I want to believe and follow. So then the standard isn't really the Bible at all; the ultimate standard is me.

Having said that, I’d like to present one strong piece of evidence of the veracity of the Bible. This chapter describes the beginning of Saul’s leadership, and in this chapter he performed spectacularly. He showed incredible courage, skills in persuasion, military tactics, and great humility and forgiveness in dealing with the people who initially doubted him. If this chapter was all you knew about Saul, then you'd predict a bright future for this guy. Of course, assuming you’ve read the rest of 1 Samuel, you know how he ended up, and it wasn’t pretty.

Here's the point: If the writer was not under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, why would he include this? By the time of its writing, Saul would have been long dead and David’s kingdom would've been everyone’s standard of comparison. Why would the writer include good things about Saul and bad things about David (which 2 Samuel certainly does), if he just wanted to make up some stories? This is one of the best evidences I've seen of the trustworthiness of Scripture. Its record, virtually unique in ancient history, show severely flawed heroes.

The Bible is the record of real people who really lived and who really encountered God in real time and in real places. He's not unconnected with history, not knowing or caring about what happens with us. And the same God who invaded human history and spoke to Moses and who walked this planet for 33 years wants to invade your story as well.  The Savior God we serve is concerned about our real problems in today’s world. He's here, right now, and he’s talking to you. Are you listening?

Yes, Lord, I’m listening. What do you want to tell me?

[Apr 09]--Wanting the Right Thing

1 Sam. 8:1-5, 19-20

One of my favorite books of all time is The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. This book is the fictional series of letters from a demon to his subordinate on how to corrupt a man’s soul. His advice, given from the perspective of our Enemy, is quite insightful. One of the points that Screwtape makes in his letters is that Satan is not creative. God is the only one who creates anything, including pleasures, and the Enemy’s “research department” has yet to produce a single pleasure. The only thing that our Enemy can tempt us with is something good that God has already created, but in the wrong way, in the wrong time, or with the wrong person. For example, Satan can’t create sexual pleasure, so what he does is offer it at the wrong time or with the wrong person.

That temptation is displayed quite profoundly in today’s passage. The people went to Samuel and requested (actually demanded) a king. Was the request for a king a bad thing in and of itself? Let me answer by acknowledging first off that there are several biblical scholars who say yes. I understand their reasoning, but based on passages like Deut. 17:14-20 (which assumes that they would eventually get a king) and the last verse of Judges (which seems to suggest that not having a king was a bad thing), I respectfully disagree with them. So assuming that having a king would not be an intrinsically bad thing, what was God’s problem?

I think that there are two very good reasons for God’s reluctance. First, note a repeated phrase: “like all the other nations.” That phrase alone would've set off alarm bells in Samuel’s mind, and it alone would be sufficient to deny their request. Since when was it supposed to be their goal to be “like the other nations”?! The whole reason why God had rescued them from Egypt, led them to the Promised Land, and given them the Torah was so that they could be different from the other nations.

Second, I believe that their timing was lousy. We're not sure if David was  alive at this point, but if he was, he wasn’t ready yet. So in order to show them the folly of not listening to him, God did the worst possible thing he could've done: He gave them what they wanted. All they cared about was a warrior to lead them into battle (notice that there’s no mention of a desire for a king to bring spiritual renewal and unity), so he gave them a king who physically towered over them. They were totally willing to settle for Saul as their king, while David was waiting in the wings. Presumably if they'd just be willing to wait until the Lord's timing, then David would come up when called and they would've spared themselves a lot of grief. All speculation of "what ifs" aside, my favorite aphorism still is true: No one ever did things God's way who ended up regretting it. And the converse is true as well: Everyone who didn't do things God's way ended up suffering bad consequences. 

The point I’m making here is the value of waiting on God’s timing. It is entirely possible to want the right thing for the wrong reason and at the wrong time. We might be willing to settle, but instead we should commit ourselves to, as my youth minister once put it, “never settle for anything less than God’s best.”

Father, that’s my commitment. I am NOT interested in anything other than your best. Let’s do things your way.

[Apr 08]--Blissful Ignorance?

1 Sam. 6:13-16, 19-21

It’s been a old and time-worn cliché that “Ignorance in bliss” and in some situations people might say “What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.” What they mean is that in certain circumstances there are some things that people are better off not knowing. Someone might be ignorant of the fact that their spouse had an affair, and some people would question the wisdom of telling them about this on your deathbed. There are things we don’t tell children about, and sometimes with good reason.

But when it comes to dealing with God, just ask the people of Beth Shemesh about this saying. They didn’t consult God’s word about how the Ark was supposed to be handled, and because of this oversight people DIED. Talk about the need to study your Bible. If they'd read the Torah, they would have known quite well that the Ark was not to be touched, much less looked into, and their ignorance cost them.

So this raises an interesting question: What about people who are ignorant about God’s word? Does God hold them responsible for things they don’t know? Or does he simply say, “Ahh, we’ll let that one slide”? Well, he’s perfectly just, so obviously he’s not going to judge them on things they couldn't know. But if they have access to a Bible, then apparently they didn’t take advantage of what he offered them.

But what about those poor pygmies in Africa (which skeptics love to bring up) who've never had access to a Bible? We’ll delve into this subject more later, but for now the short answer is this: the Lord has been reaching out to them. The first two chapters of Romans describe two witnesses he has given to everyone on earth: creation and conscience. Everyone knows that there's a Creator, and they know that there's a difference between right and wrong, and they can figure out that they have done wrong. The problem is NOT that God hasn’t given them enough light, the problem is that whatever light he has given them, they run away from it.

But when each of us stands before the Throne one day, the topic of discussion will not be the Pygmies in Africa. The subject will be what we did with the truth that he gave to us. Dr. Sproul says that the scariest verse to him in all the Bible is Luke 12:48-“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Consider a Christian over in China, who only has access to portions of the word, and he has little or no access to deep teaching or Bible study helps. Do you think the Lord is going to hold him to the same standards as me, who has access to commentaries, the Bible in several translations, and good teaching and preaching? I think you already know the answer to that question. Yikes.

Lord Jesus, please use your truth to change me. I know that your grace covers my sin, but I need your word to not only give me truth but to make me true. Please.

[Apr 07]--Stubborn Stupidity

1 Sam. 5:1-12

I really think that the two words in our title go together quite beautifully, especially when it comes to our relationship with our Lord. You have to be very foolish when it comes to being stubborn and rebellious against Almighty God.

The Philistines certainly displayed this when they “captured” the Ark of the Covenant. As if the Lord of the universe is going to be held hostage! First off, he’s not contained in that Box. I know a lot of Christians believe that God can actually be contained in a box, but it’s not so. Second, he’s omnipotent (meaning he can do anything he pleases), and they’re not.

But the real foolishness came out when they presented the Ark to their god Dagon. The next morning they came into the temple and Dagon had fallen on his face before the Ark. Friend, if you need to pick up your god after he falls on his face, you need to trade up.

So they try again, and the next morning, they not only see Dagon kissing the floor before the Lord, his hands and head had been broken off. His head represented understanding, and his hands reflected his power. How much more plain could the Lord be: “Your god has no understanding and no power. You need to need to worship me, the one true God!”

So what did they do? They made up a rule that from now on they wouldn’t touch the threshold of the temple. What????!!!!! How’s about thinking long and hard about giving up this block of stone and finding something better? Nope. I know that it's popular sometimes to think of idol worship as people reaching out to the one true God, and I used to hold to this belief. But the raw truth is that idol worship is man's way of running away from the Lord. They're not worshiping idols just because they haven't been exposed to Someone better. They're worshiping their idols because they don't want to turn away from their sin.

Then they started noticing that people around them were getting sick and dying. And they eventually noticed a pattern: “We stole the Ark of the Covenant from the Hebrews, and people started getting sick. Coincidence maybe?”

We might have good laugh at the antics of these stupid Philistines. But do you think we’re much better? Well, not if you think that God is contained within a building. Do you think that the church building we meet at on Sunday morning is actually “God’s house”? Or does your Savior have any rivals in your heart for your loyalty and devotion? Remember the lesson we learned from Joshua? If you aren’t worshipping the God of the Bible, then it doesn’t matter what you worship. Dagon might be a bit more inconvenient to carry around than other idols, like the love of money, but he’s no worse or better. If you don’t let the Lord do some housecleaning, then the laugh might be on you.

Father, you are worthy of all my devotion and worship. Whatever idols are taking up residence in your temple, please show no mercy to them. Please be ruthless.

[Apr 06]--When God was “Kidnapped”

1 Samuel 4:1-11

The book of 1 Samuel starts out with a beautiful story about Hannah and how the Lord gave Samuel, the last Judge, to Israel for the first three chapters, but the writer makes it clear that the spiritual condition described in the book of Judges was still going downhill. They needed a leader to unite all of Israel, as the last verse of the book made clear, and the Lord heard the cries of godly people all over the nation and sent someone to do so ("Samuel" means “heard of God”). Chapters 4-5 echo Judges 18 in being comical and tragic at the same time, and for the same reasons.

The people had not been faithful to the Lord, and unfortunately the priesthood, instead of standing against the decline, participated and added to the problem. But when they faced the Philistines in battle, they wanted God “on their side” so they would have a chance at victory. Sadly they had a “magical” view of the Lord. What do I mean by this? Well, what is magic? It's an attempt to harness supernatural forces for your own ends by manipulating it to do what you desire. I use the term “forces” with a point in mind: In magic you're trying to tap into an inanimate force, almost like electricity. Think of a wizard: He uses potions, chanting of the right words, the right gestures, etc., to get what he wants; if he performs the right formula, he’ll succeed. I can't emphasize enough how different this is from the God of the Bible. He is not a force to be manipulated, he is a Person to whom we relate. We talk to him, and he talks to us. He has emotions, a will, memory, and desires. We do NOT attempt to manipulate him like a magician—we ask him for what we want, with the understanding that he might not grant our request in the way we expect.

Do you see how the Israelites were displaying a magical viewpoint? Is there any sign that they asked God about his plans? Did they ask him about whether they were being obedient to his word in their lifestyles (the answer would have been no)? No, they figured that as long as they had the Ark of the Covenant with them, God’s presence would be there and would give them victory. Of course, this didn’t work out well, BECAUSE MAGIC DOESN’T WORK! For all the good it did them, they might as well have brought a rabbit's foot and a 4-leaf clover out to the battlefield.

You know why I love the Raiders of the Lost Ark movie? Well, there are tons of reasons, but one of them is because it actually gets some of its theology right. The U. S. government agents and Indiana Jones at the beginning of the story are terribly worried that the Ark will fall to the Nazis, and unimaginable power will be placed in Hitler’s hands. The Nazis want to find and possess the Ark because they start from the same theological premises as the protagonists: The Ark is like a magical charm that will give supernatural power. Whoever (God?) is behind the power of the Ark can be manipulated and even forced into serving whoever possesses the Ark. This is a perfect example of the magical worldview we're describing. But what happens at the end of the film? The Nazis have captured our hero, and they're preparing to open the Ark using some Jewish-looking rituals. Dr. Jones, at the last minute, realizes that the God of Israel isn't a force like electricity and can't be manipulated into serving sinful people, and the Nazis--like the Israelites in today's reading--pay (in a pretty gruesome fashion) for their poor theology.

This is something that the typical modern American Christian seems to miss: Bad theology has really bad consequences. It really does matter what you believe. Ignorance might start out as bliss, but it doesn't end blissful.

How about you and me? Do you try to manipulate God into doing what you want? Do you think that he cares more about the exact wording of your prayer more than he cares about your obedience? Do you think your Bible is a “lucky charm”? Or do you actually connect to God as your Father, someone you can have a personal relationship with but who also knows SO much better than you do?

Father, you are so patient with me. Please change me, mold me into the likeness of your Son.

[Apr 05]--Open Doors

Ruth 4:13-22

I remember taking an Intro to Missions class in seminary, and I really enjoyed it. One of the major sections of the class was the biblical basis for international missions. Of course, a lot of Christians are familiar with “the Great Commission” found in the last three verses in Matthew, and there’s some type of worldwide mandate to spread the Good News in every one of the Gospels, and of course this theme runs throughout Acts and the Epistles. God’s plan to redeem people out of every nation is found on almost every page in the N.T. What a lot of people don’t know, however, is that God’s plan for bringing all the nations back to himself is found in many places in the Old Testament as well, starting with Genesis 12:1-3. The Lord desires people from all different backgrounds, cultures, and nations to be adopted (as equals) into his family, and the Gospels are not the first place he’s displayed this desire.

Ruth came from Moab, which was one of Israel’s worst enemy in the book of Numbers, and was responsible for thousands of Hebrews dying under God’s judgment (remember Balaam?). But as we saw with Rahab, God always stood with open arms for any Gentile who would sincerely turn to him.

Our Savior certainly didn’t come from an all-Jewish ancestry. The happy couple in Ruth married and produced Obed, who was the grandfather of David, through whom the Messiah eventually came. And anyone who thinks that the Jewish people were somehow more righteous than Gentiles hasn’t read the Old Testament: It’s filled with page after depressing page about how bad Israel was acting.

I wonder sometimes if we fall into this trap of ethnocentrism without even realizing it. I mean, hopefully most of us have gotten past racism as far as Black/White relations are concerned, and it’s hard to ignore the explosion of the Church in the East-Asian world, such as in Korea. In fact, there are more non-white than white Christians in the world. But what about the Arab world? Have we written them off? “They’re all Muslims, and they’re closed-minded, they’re terrorists, and they’re hardened to the Gospel.” It is true that the most under-evangelized sections of the world are in the NAME area (North African, Middle East), but one of the most under-told stories of the last few decades has been the rise of the Church among Arabs and other traditionally Muslim peoples. It’s been largely unknown partially because the church there has to be mostly underground: Most Muslim majority countries outlaw the propagation of the Gospel, and have severe penalties for any converts to Christianity from Islam. But just because it's not in the headlines, that doesn't mean the Lord isn't doing incredible work in those areas. He is.

So do we really believe that God doesn’t want anyone to perish and all to come to repentance, or are we going to let our prejudices and (justified) anger at terrorism blind us? Is our heart in tune with our Father’s?

Father God, your desire is to finally give your Son his inheritance, the nations of the world. What can I do to help make that happen?

[Apr 04]--Kinsman-Redeemer

Ruth 3:10-13

Today’s passage was read yesterday, but since it’s so central to the book of Ruth, I thought this would be a perfect time to discuss the concept of the "Kinsman-Redeemer."

Today we have some idea of family loyalty. Hopefully if I’m in a really bad situation, then my family would help me out. In the ancient Middle East, however, this loyalty to one’s family went much further than most of us in modern America could understand. Unlike today, in which people are encouraged to turn to the government for assistance during financial hardships, the complete lack of any welfare state forced most folks to turn to their family for help first. The Old Testament had a specific term for the relative, supposedly the relative who was nearest in blood to those affected by the dire situation, who would step forward and volunteer to help out: kinsman-redeemer. This simple Hebrew word, goel, holds a depth of meaning for us.

The first use of this term is found in discussions about the Cities of Refuge. Remember the “Avenger of Blood” (such as in Numbers 35:25)? When someone was killed (even accidentally), the goel was expected to hunt down the killer and exact justice on behalf of the family.

Or say that a widow had to sell her house or property because she was without any income (very common in those days). The goel would step forward and buy the land so that it wouldn’t leave the family inheritance. If someone became so destitute that they only could sell themselves into slavery (which was really indentured servitude), then the goel would buy his relative and set him free.

This is the story in the last couple of chapters in Ruth. Boaz was more than willing to marry Ruth, but there were larger issues at stake. Along with marrying Ruth, the Kinsman-Redeemer was obligated to redeem Naomi’s land from whoever had purchased it, and the first child he and Ruth produced would be counted as one of Naomi’s family, not Boaz’s. Most importantly, the goel was supposed to be the closest relative to Naomi, and as Boaz pointed out to Ruth, there was another man who was closer. He desired Ruth as his wife, but he refused to bypass God’s law in order to do it. Thankfully, in the next chapter Boaz and the other fellow agree that the closer relative would step aside.

There is a profound reason why this word and concept are so important to us as believers today. The book of Proverbs warns us against theft and oppression for a very good reason: Their “Defender” would make sure that justice was done. Obviously this Defender is the Lord himself, but what’s especially interesting is that this word-“defender”-is goel. What it's saying is that if someone is being exploited or oppressed or taken advantage of, then if no one else will step up, then the Lord himself is saying "If no one else steps forward to be this poor person's Defender, their Kinsman-Redeemer, I will."

The book of Hebrews brings this into the New Testament era for us. I'd recommend you click on the link and let that passage sink into your heart. You probably know that as a believer you’ve been adopted as God’s child, but these verses underscore our relationship with Jesus. As our Elder Brother (astonishingly enough, not ashamed to claim us as such), he has stepped forward as our goel: He has redeemed us from slavery; he has gotten us our inheritance as adopted children; he counts himself as our Avenger and Defender, and he always has our best interests at heart. Not because someone forced him to, but because he loves us.

Lord Jesus, thank you for volunteering to be my Kinsman-Redeemer. You are so good to me.

[Apr 03]--Doing It God’s Way

Ruth 3:1-18

As I mentioned before, there are romantic elements in this story, and the matching up of Boaz and Ruth is really touching. Encouraged by her mother-in-law (really her adopted mom), Ruth went to Boaz’s threshing floor at night. Her request for him to “spread the corner of your garment over me” is about as bold a proposal for marriage as a woman could've presented, especially during that time. He had made his attraction to her about as obvious as it could get, humorously telling his workers to “accidentally” drop some stalks on the ground for her to pick up. He was a kind and generous man, but the fact that he went so far and above what the Law required displayed pretty clearly that he thought of her in terms other than merely an object of his welfare.

Now the woman he’s been eyeing for several months comes and literally lies at his feet and pleads for him to marry her. The way he reacts to her shows just how decent and honorable he is. There isn’t even a hint that he even considered taking advantage of her desperate state, which undoubtedly would've been common during those days.

He’s perfectly willing to marry her, even eager to do so (he’s a single guy, and she’s a beautiful young woman, so duh). But even so, he’s not just an honorable man but a godly one as well. Before he can marry her, there’s another man who actually has the first right to do so as the Kinsman-Redeemer (which we’ll discuss tomorrow). He'd love to get married tomorrow, but he's determined to do things God’s way.

Since I once was a single guy engaged to a beautiful young woman, I can definitely relate to how difficult that can be. One of the most difficult things I’ve ever done is drive away from my beloved fiancée, leaving her at her parents’ home, night after night for several months. I don’t condone sex before marriage, even between fiancées, but I can certainly understand how tempting it is to take “shortcuts.” Anybody who’s single and trying to stick to the Lord's plan has my sympathies.

Trust me, though, it’s worth it. My beloved and I were able to give each other the best wedding present of all: our virginities. One day, we’ll be able to tell our children and grandchildren “Do things God’s way like we did” instead of “Please do things God’s way instead of what we did.” God forgives and restores no matter what our past, but it’s always a great idea to follow God’s plan RIGHT NOW FROM THIS POINT FORWARD. Doing so will produce the absolute minimum of heartache. Don’t take my word for it, ask any long-term believer. In all the history of mankind, there has never been anyone who did things God's way who ended up regretting it.

Father God, your plans for me are nothing but good and perfect, plans to prosper me and not to harm, plans to give me a future and a hope. Whatever you want, the answer’s “yes.”