Wednesday, August 31, 2011

three parts to confession of sin

David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD." And Nathan said to David, "The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die.
2 Samuel 12:13

"I have sinned against the LORD." With these six words David confesses and turns from his sin. They are some of the most difficult words any person has to say in this life. But with them David acknowledges several things. It is worth analyzing this confession to understand just how we may need to own up to our own sins.

First, David took personal responsibility. "I have sinned" could not blame anyone else. He did not justify. He admitted that he was responsible for his sin. There could have been easy justifications... "Bathsheba was out of line by bathing on her rooftop where I could see her..." "She did not refuse me..." "Uriah did not comply with my command to go home..." etc. Instead, David chose to quickly confess his role as the owner of the sin, thus owning the consequences. He did not evade the guilt that comes with being culpable.

Secondly, David did not diminish the actions of his sin. They were wrong and sinful. He saw them as sin, as something completely wrong, and not as something else. The adultery was sin. The murder of Uriah was sin. The cover-up of these actions was sin. By agreeing with God on these matters, David has made a true confession. He is quick to deal with facts and to own his sinful role in the matter.

The third element of David's confession is the magnitude of his guilt. He acknowledges that his sin is against God. Ultimately he committed a kind of idolatry. He chose to devote himself to illicit sexual pleasure rather that to God's plan for him as king. He chose to sinfully defend his personal reputation and pride when Bathsheba became pregnant. Whe he clearly could not do so, he resorted to murder to take control of the outcome. He sinned against God's Word. He tried to usurp God's sovereignty over the outcome of these events. In confession, he acknowledged that God was sinned against.

It was in a confession that fully embraced these three areas that David returned to God. And despite the consequences that would turn to him now, David found that God was remarkably merciful. God let David live and continue to rule Israel. But nothing would be exactly the same for him. Yet, there is always some mercy when we repent. And that is a truth that all sinners (including myself) still find in God.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

ruined by unguarded alone time

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.
2 Samuel 11:1

David does something dangerous. He chooses for whatever reason to remain in Jerusalem, leisurely strolling his palace while all the army of Israel is at war. It leads to personal disaster. It was in this unguarded and "alone" moment that David slipped into his worst season of life. What he did with his personal time led to a flaw in his character opening up into a major sinful chasm that ran deep and dry for a long, long time.

The story is rife with deliberate sinful choices. David may not have meant to stay back from the battle in order to commit adulty with another soldier's wife, but that is where his choices eventually took him. And the tale of treachery and murder that unfolded is a dark chapter in David's history. His life would never be quite the same after it. And it began with reckless and unguarded alone time where he indulged himself. By the time 2 Samuel 11 ends, David is involved in murder and has created a government conspiracy to cover it up. And it all began by first choosing to stay alone at home while others went to fight.

Men can have particular challenges with "alone" time. I know this for a fact in my own experience. I have seen my experience duplicated countless times in counseling men. Even cases of severe sexual sin often start with a pattern of unguarded and unprepared alone time. It is just too easy to give in to a glance just like David did. Today, internet porn provides a massive pipleline of illicit temptations to stare down from our private rooftops at anything imagineable. And it never is the simple indulgence that men make it out to be. Porn use is not harmless. That is without debate in the serious counseling community. It easily becomes a consuming, raging, wasting, life-dominating habitual sin. I have had guys tell me they re-arranged lives, risked losing jobs, neglected family in order to create time and dangerous ways to be alone with their computer or secret porn stash. It is no different than David sending his servants to bring Bathsheba to him.

We need to rethink porn. It is not a simple pleasure. It is destructive and sinful. It is a cancer that eats at the heart of a man's soul. Sexuality is part of the core of every person God created... "male and female... he created them". To mess with that is a key component of Satan's plan to thwart God and deceive us. Porn messes with it by exalting the body over the soul. Women are degraded and abused. Men are degraded by being taught to do whatever is imagineable to a woman's body. Souls are destroyed. Porn is not about the body. It is about the destruction of the human soul.

The reality men face is this... men in particular need to guard alone time, not just coast through it blindly. With internet porn as a major temptation, men need to actively pursue accountability with Christian brothers. But my experience in ministering to men with this issue leads me to also recommend a step prior to that. Men need to create a scheduled plan for all alone time. We should talk about it to God and to at least another man. We should read the warnings in David's story. We should see him and weep at the outcome of unguarded time, realizing that guarding our own hearts could prevent us from suffering the same types of consequences. It is time to come down from the rooftop of leisure and selfish sexuality. It is time, instead, to go to war.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Monday, August 29, 2011

a soldier's theology

Be of good courage, and let us be courageous for our people, and for the cities of our God, and may the LORD do what seems good to him.
2 Samuel 10:12

These words come from the top tier of the military leadership of Israel under David's command. This is what Joab, the top general of Israel, said to rally the troops. They serve as an example of how conflict was approached by the army of Israel. And in the approach is instruction for handling unknown and fearful difficulty.

The first part of this address to the troops is a call to courage. It is a speech to build morale. Israel had been painfully insulted at a diplomatic setting. At a state funeral in Ammon, the Israeli delegation had been clearly singled out for humiliation. The new king of Ammon felt threatened and chose to physically taunt Israel's power by sending the delegation home shaved, and naked from the waist down. This was a clear message of hatred, of emnity to David. Then Ammon allied with the rest of Israel's historic enemies and prepared for battle.

The sudden move to wartime footing required courage. Israel's armies were facing a cleverly prepared defensive battle in enemy territory and the Ammonites and Syrians set up plenty of troops and resources to this advantage. They expected to humble Israel in battle just like they had humiliated and laughed at the delegation.

There was a call for the Israeli army to remember their unique call as soldiers. They were to be courageous for the people. National honor and the unique status of Israel as God's chosen nation was at stake in this war. And the call of the generals was a reminder of who they were fighting for and just how important the outcome must be.

The charge then moves into a reminder of God's unique call to Israel. The cities of the nation, each hometown of each soldier, all the territory the Jews occupied had been given by God and belonged to God first and foremost. They were fighting to hold on to that unique gift. This was personal and spiritual.

The final part of this short rallying speech was a call to be reminded of God's sovereignty. There was Someone Whose reputation was greater than the reputation of the army. God would ultimately hold the outcome of this war in His control. They army would ultimately submit to that truth as they fought the fight. Each soldier and each skirmish had to align with God's sovereign leadership. Even the generals could not outrule God in that regard.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Friday, August 26, 2011

carried to the table

And David said, "Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan's sake?"
2 Samuel 9:1

David's heart longed to acknowledge in gratitude, the debt he owed to his good friend Jonathan. His memories of the joy of that relationship with Saul's son and valiant hero of Israel led him to pursue finding anyone of the house of Saul on whom to express that grace. This was not proper protocol. Kings sought to eradicate any bloodlines from past dynasties. In this case, David longed to preserve it. Imagine his joy when a son of Jonathan is found!

Mephibosheth was by this time a young man with a son of his own. But David reaches out to him, deep need and all. He is cripplied and unable to walk from a childhood injury. David takes him into the palace and feeds him like a prince at his own table. The son and grandson of Jonathan are loved like David's own children. This was a merciful love, the king do extravagant grace that showed just how much David truly was a man after God's own heart. he was merciful and gracious because God was merciful and gracious.

David's example of grace is powerful and instructive. It causes me to look at my own heart. Am I as willing to sacrifice and take into my life good people in deep need? Am I willing to reach out to those I don't HAVE to love and reach out to help? That is what mercy and grace will do in me because that is what God's mercy and grace did for me! Will I do the same when the time comes to do so?

I keep hearing Leeland's haunting song... "Carried to the Table":
Wounded and forsaken
I was shattered by the fall
Broken and forgotten
Feeling lost and all alone
Summoned by the King
Into the Master’s courts
Lifted by the Savior
And cradled in His arms

I was carried to the table
Seated where I don’t belong
Carried to the table
Swept away by His love
And I don’t see my brokenness anymore
When I’m seated at the table of the Lord
I’m carried to the table
The table of the Lord

Fighting thoughts of fear
And wondering why He called my name
Am I good enough to share this cup
This world has left me lame
Even in my weakness
The Savior called my name
In His Holy presence
I’m healed and unashamed

You carried me, my God
You carried me

So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king's table. Now he was lame in both his feet.
2 Samuel 9:13

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Thursday, August 25, 2011

a process for peace

So David reigned over all Israel. And David administered justice and equity to all his people.
2 Samuel 8:15

This summary statement shows the net effect of David's leadership in Israel. It comes near the end of an account of David's military conquests. There are campaigns against the Philistines, the Moabites, the Arameans, and the Edomites. The historic foes of the Jewish state are conquored by David. He brought a peace to the nation and extended its national borders. This came by way of military expansion and brutal fighting. Yet the untested armies of Israel kept having victory after victory. The secret is explained twice in chapter eight: "And the Lord gave victory to David wherever he went" (2 Samuel 8:6, 14).

But peace came at a price. Before Israel knew this national prosperity, it first experienced the hard work and pain of numerous wars and conflicts. David's authority was challenged by the people groups surrounding Israel. David conquered these nations in order to secure the borders of his land. But in the end, after the fight, the nation found a security, a "Pax Davida", that was new, refreshing, and prosperous.

The outcome of David's administration came through the paradox of difficult hard work, and clear trust in God. The nation had to keep securing her borders from outside threats. David had to transition from the role of hard-nosed general to the rule of a fair and just king. And in all that, God brought victory to David.

In the case of David's reign, peace came at a price. The armies of Israel were busy for quite a while. Once the nation was secure from external threat, the internal work of legal justice and equitable rule secured the internal structure. Now all the promises that God had given David had the best climate for fulfillment. The price of peace was paid in military action. The result of peace was the security of societal stability. And Israel prospered as David let God work among the people in this way.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

overwhelmed by intimacy with the Almighty

Then King David went in and sat before the LORD and said, "Who am I, O Lord GOD, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?
And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord GOD."
2 Samuel 7:18-19a

David's passion for God was rewarded with an intimacy with God that resulted in overwhelming blessing and joy. David planned to build a permanent temple for the worship of the Lord in Jerusalem. He first approached Nathan the prophet to confirm his desire to do so. The prophet told him to move forward with the idea. And that is the start of the Davidic covenant.

God then came to Nathan with a revelation for king David. He confirmed his kingship and promised him an heir forever on Israel's throne. He told him that his son would complete a temple in Jerusalem. But first, God wanted to build something. God wanted to build the household of David before David built a house for God. God was doing something trans-generational. In fact, this was a vital part of the history of redemption. Of course we know where this all went... Jesus is the Son of David by lineage. But God wanted this done before the temple construction. The covenant was most important to God, even as David benefited from it. It was a unilateral covenant... God was going to do all the work.

David responded to this communique from God by entering the tabernacle, sitting before the Lord, and offering an intimate prayer of gratitude and submission to the plan of God. He accepts the covenant and agrees to it. He was humbled by all God had done. He used a personal, emotional, and intimate title for God, praying with the address, "O Lord GOD" numerous times in his short prayer. He commits to the covenant in this conversation with God. It is really quite beautiful to read and reflect upon.

This episode lets us in on the nature of God in relationship with us. He seeks to reward those who "diligently seek Him"... those who obey and follow Him. He enters into relationship. God pursues us with His blessings.

I need that reminder. I often think of my faith as something I do or have. I mistakenly see it as all up to me. But God is passionate about me. He is merciful, forgiving, and has provided the means for even a miserable sinner like me to find grace through my Savior, Jesus Christ. God wants to commune with me. He loves me. He delights in me as He delights in His Son. And He longs for me to be as close to Him as I can be. I need to hear from Him. I need to obey His Word. I need to talk with Him as freely as David did.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

divested of dignity

And David danced before the LORD with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting and with the sound of the horn.
2 Samuel 6:14-15

This was a realistic worship in its purest form. David has longed for Jerusalem, his new capital city, to house the tabernacle for the worship of the Lord. And now the time has come to see this dream become fact. As the ark of the covenant is carried through the streets of the city, David leads the joyful procession. He dresses, not in royal robes that draw attention to him as king, but in the simple linen ephod that any Levite might have worn in service before the Lord, showing himself to be a willing worshipper. It is a humble designation.

David is exuberant, and he worships the Lord as the musicians loudly play by leading the procession in a free-form whirling dance of pure joy! He is running and spinning like a child in the freedom and joy of the home of his father! It is a liberating and instructive worship. Israel sees the king humbling himself joyfully before God. It was a deeply spiritual and also a wildly happy day for David and the nation.

Of course, this is not kingdom protocol. And someone gets upset. In this case, that someone is Michal, daughter of Saul, David's wife. She chides David for his lack of royal decorum (2 Samuel 6:20) and expresses her snide disapproval. She did not get it. While the entire nation rejoiced with the king in worship of God, she held back because she could not see that the true King of Israel was honored by the ark's coming into Jerusalem.

Thankfully, David does not let her sarcastic lecture deter his enthusiasm for God's worship. He plainly tells her that he would gladly humble himself even more in worship of His God. He is willing to strip himself of all dignity before God if that is what worship means. He refuses to let stuffy palace propriety ruin his heart before God. And in so doing, he shows us that kind of passion we ought to bring in our own worship of God.

I am afraid that for many evangelicals, a relationship with God and worship of God is shackled by the trappings and protocols of worship decorum. And it can be different in different church settings. You hear things like: "We have to have a quiet prelude with piano and organ"; "We need a band and laser lights!" "No musicians! They are a distraction!" "Lots of music and a full orchestra!" The list is really endless because it boils down to a personal cultural preference. We need to instead bring our own hearts into worship, whether corporately or privately. There we humble ourselves, divested of our dignity, to find God's wonder-filled grace and the true meaning of worshipping our great God.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Monday, August 22, 2011

Secret of Success

And David became greater and greater, for the LORD, the God of hosts, was with him.
2 Samuel 5:10

Achievement gained
goals attained
or goods obtained
in David's reign
came from a great God

Battles won
victory's done
in daylight's sun
kingdom begun
directed by God's hand

Kingdom grew
to something new
trusting through
what David knew
God had given him

Success lived
in what he did
fame spread
and David said
it was all God's gift

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Thursday, August 18, 2011


How much more, when wicked men have killed a righteous man in his own house on his bed, shall I not now require his blood at your hand and destroy you from the earth?
2 Samuel 4:11

David is administering justice with this statement. Ish-bosheth, Saul's son and acting king of Israel, was assassinated by two of his trusted military commanders. The two Benjamite brothers, Baanah and Rechab, entered into the palace and as Ish-bosheth lay napping they murdered and beheaded him. They then fled to Judah with their grisly trophy, hoping they would appease David with the head of Israel's king, ending the last resistance to a united Israel.

They did not count on David's sense of justice convicting them of the evil that they had done. But David had refused to kill Saul who had sent army squads out to destroy David. At issue was the fact that God had not called David to fight his way to the throne. David was upset when a non-soldier had performed a "mercy killing" on Saul as he was wounded on the battlefield. He ordered that Saul's killer by avenged with capital punishment. These two calculating murderers would face the same sentence.

David had many times negotiated peace with Saul. I believe he was committed to a peaceful transition of the kingdom, even as the civil war had raged. The text is clear that Israel was at a point where negotiations might have been effective. Ish-bosheth knew that the war could not continue without Abner as the general in charge of his armies. The soldiers were demoralized. The king was dismayed and lacked the will to fight (2 Samuel 4:1). David very well may have been able to easily march into the palace and depose Ish-bosheth by treaty.

Now, with the murder of Saul's son, and the killers seeking to gain favor with David, it outwardly looked like David was behind the assassination plot. David deals with this by justly executing the assassins. By taking care of the needed justice, he clearly spoke to the nation that he was outraged at the death of Saul's son. He defused any further accusation of his own complicity in the awful events of Abner's murder and the assassination of Ish-bosheth.

David was really a man of peace. He could fight with great courage when he needed to, but he knew where peace was possible, and he pursued it. He was also a just ruler. He would not acknowledge that a murder ever advantaged him and that shows his moral leadership. He led in justice and in peace.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

long wars test character

There was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David. And David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul became weaker and weaker.
2 Samuel 3:1

I am sure that David did not ever plan to have to fight this long civil war in order to unite Israel under one king. But the political manipulations of Abner are what kept the war going. Eventually Abner would change "parties" when offended by Ish-bosheth. But even that change would prolong the war rather than end it. The political and military intrigue in this section of 2 Samuel shows us what power and a lust for greatness coupled with revenge will do.

There was a personal feud between the two opposing generals, Abner (Israel's general under Isho-bosheth) and Joab (Judah's commander under David). Abner had killed Joab's valiant brother in previous battle action. Joab held a grudge and vowed to kill Abner. When Abner made a move to defect to David, leaving the army of Israel (Ish-bosheth had smudged his honor by accusing Abner of a sexual liason), Joab used that moment to exact his revenge. Joab pretended to meet with Abner privately to discuss terms. And in that deceptive moment he killed Abner in cold, calculated revenge. This was not just a breach of diplomacy. Joab acted on a personal vendetta. This was not leadership. He took advantage of an arrangement David had made in order to kill Abner himself. This was also disobedience to the king.

David made it clear that he was outraged at Joab's actions. He put on a full state funeral for Abner. He insisted that all go into official mourning and was upset at any other suggestion than this (2 Samuel 3:36). Even as these circumstances pretty much ensured victory for David, he refused to delight in the wrongdoing of another person. David's heart was for peace in Israel. This civil war was breaking his heart.

David's character was tested in this long war. Even as others resorted to letting the worst in them gain the upper hand in the civil unrest, David held firmly to his values. And his character led the nation. It was his determination to do the right thing that prevented societal chaos and collapse of morals. Had he approved of Joab's revenge, he would have led Judah to continue a campaign of plunder. By demonstrating real character, he showed himself to be a true leader worth following. It would help heal a divided nation.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

divided kingdom

Ish-bosheth, Saul's son, was forty years old when he began to reign over Israel, and he reigned two years. But the house of Judah followed David.
2 Samuel 2:10

David's reign began with division. After the death of Saul, there was controversy for two years over who should be king in Israel. Most of the Israelites were persuaded to follow tradition and became subjects of Ish-bosheth, the son of Saul. But the text is clear that really a general was the power behind this throne. Abner was the real force behind this succession (2 Samuel 2:8). What followed was a period of military skirmishes between Abner's army, and the troops loyal to David in Judah.

The account of this brief period prior to David's united reign is told to us through military history. It is as if the military archives were opened for the writer of 2 Samuel to research. Battles take place that create an inevitable shift of power to Judah. Abner may have been a general with political sensibilites, but his army was no match for the army of Judah commanded by Joab. Little by little, it became clear that the military strength resided with Judah and the army that fought with David. This brief civil war would eventually come to an end under the king that God had anointed for Israel.

I am sure that this was not the way David wanted to begin his rule. But the divisiveness in the nation led to this period of civil unrest. David was smart enough to let his premeire general lead the engagements. And eventually this strategy would be met with acceptance on all sides. But David would not ease into the throne of Israel. It would be fought for just as he had fought for his reputation as he defended Israel under Saul.

A divided kingdom was not what David would accept. This was the circumstance he faced, but he did not cause it. Abner led the opposition against David. David is caught in a position where another man's ambition for power is focused against him. And really Abner was opposing God first and foremost. David knew this. That is why Abner's plan was destined to fail miserably.

God would use the political machinations of a scheming general opposed to God's plan to eventually bring about the result of a unified Israel under David. God would defend the king. David trusted the call and purposes of God, even as he instructed Joab in his confrontations with the rebel general. God will work beyond human ambitions. He always has and always will!

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Monday, August 15, 2011

leadership in tough times

And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and Jonathan his son,
2 Samuel 1:17

David's strong emotion at the death of the house of Saul comes from two sources. First, David is weeping like any other Israelite, at the death of his king. He had sworn to protect the life of Saul. This was severely tested by Saul himself. He had made a unique covenant with the king, even in the worst days of running from Saul as an outlaw fugitive. It was a sad day for Israel with their king now dead in battle. As David deals with this news, he mourns the loss of Israel's leader.

The second reason for his sorrow is that Jonathan was also dead. In one family David had his bitter foe (Saul) and his best friend (Jonathan). And now his best friend is dead in battle as well. The lament that David leads for Jonathan is especially vivid and poignant. He knows that in the friendship with Jonathan, he experienced a unique king of surpassing love. Jonathan sacrificed his own claim to the throne. He risked his own life to save David's life. He trusted God more than his own position as crown prince in order to keep David alive. He vowed allegiance to David as God's next anointed king. And David was drawn to this heroism and courage. This friendship surpassed all others because of Jonathan's great sacrifice. And now, with his best and most courageous friend dead, David weeps.

The key components of David's next steps are apparent before him. The throne of Israel is now vacant. The people know he has been anointed as king. He has a good reputation as a hero and a military leader at a point where the nation is stinging from defeat. All he needs to do is step in and lead. But David is not a shrewd politician. He is a leader. And he shows real leadership by recognizing the national pain as well as his personal grief. He finds consolation in God and leads the troops and the nation through a proper expression of grief. Sometimes leadership is a sad thing because that is what a leader must experience with his people. In hard times, realistic leaders go through the pain, don't minimize it, but instead are strengthened with their people by it.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The comfort of God's sovereignty

Saviors shall go up to Mount Zion to rule Mount Esau, and the kingdom shall be the LORD's.
Obadiah 1:21

In the end, God rules everything. This is the eschatological summary of all things. It is the conclusion that Obadiah reaches about Edom. Mount Zion (where the temple of God sits) overrules Mount Esau (the center of Edom's political power). The Lord would provide salvation for His people Israel. They would be restored by human deliverers who would bring them back to the land as God honored His covenant with the nation. And they would reign where Edom fell.

It took a long time for Obadiah's vision to be reality. In fact, Edom endured in various forms right through to New Testament times. Herod the Great was an Edomite. But eventually, Edom's demise was inevitable. And today, Israel is a thriving nation. Edom is a tourist destination for wandering archeological ruins. God honored His covenant and His prophetic word. The Word of God is established by our knowledge that what Obadiah predicted, God brought to pass in hundreds of years of human history. It is fact. It is verifiable and in the realm of established knowledge now. When God says something, it is guaranteed. His truth is indisputably real.

God will turn the tables on any human event. Nothing is outside the power of His sovereign control. And no human power can supercede what He has willed. That is the comfort and the concern I find in reading the prophets.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The nearness of God's justice

For the day of the LORD is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head.
Obadiah 1:15

Two principles stand out from this verse concerning the judgment and justice of God. The first has to do with an eschatological urgency. The text calls both Edom and the Jewish nation to know that the day of the LORD is "near". Some people mistakenly mock certain evangelicals for the New Testament teaching on the "imminent return" of Christ. But right here in the Old Testament, God reveals that His day of judgment is as sure as tomorrow and just as close at hand.

The Bible has always stressed the fact that God's justice is uncomfortably close. The day of the LORD is a kind of theological shorthand in both testaments to refer to end days and the final judgment. And in Obadiah's warnings we find this vivid reminder that the dawn of each new day could bring with it THE day... the day of the LORD. Imminence then is not the invention of any one eschatological interpretive group. It is the clear teaching of the holy scriptures.

The second principle has to do with God's manner and standard of judgment. Judgment is always given on the basis of works. God will make the standard equal for "all the nations". The bais will be the things that people have done. And that is always what God judges. People mistakenly think judgment is about an arbitrary opinion. It is not. It is about our actions and whether they are right or wrong when evaluated by and holy and just God. He has revealed His standards in the Bible. Ultimately the scale of judgment is based on how my actions square up with the things that God does and says I should do.

Related to this is the means of judgment. Again, our specific actions will be the potential evaluation. "As you have done, it shall be done to you." This is the mechanism of "sentencing" or "rewarding". Jesus turned this concept around to an application for us in His famous "Golden Rule": "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Jesus is God and Judge and was simply teaching something consistent with His own clear standard of justice.

I should not fool myself into thinking God's justice is a LONG way off. It is as close as my next breath. And I should not think my actions affect only my outcomes for the moment. Deeds have eternal and "final consequence" as God evaluates them. In Christ my sin is atoned. But I still answer for my commitment to do deeds consistent with the holy standard of my Savior.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

vicarious violence

Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever. On the day that you stood aloof, on the day that strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them.
Obadiah 1:10-11

God considered Edom complicit in the crimes against Israel and Judah, not because Edom was actively violent, but because when the attacks came against the Jews, Edom did not resist and instead rejoiced to see them happen. There is a guilt that can come to a person or a group of people for the sheer sin of doing nothing. If you are capable of stopping violence, or of at least intervening, and instead take no action, you have done a great injustice yourself. God says to Edom that their inaction and amusement at Israel's demise made them just like the invaders. And for the apathetic approval of violence, Edom was coming under God's judgment. His justice would prevail over those who laughed at the injustices done to their brothers.

This is a reason why Christians ought to at least consider the issue of vicarious violence as it relates to our culture. There are two facts to think through: 1) Apathy is inaction, and 2) desensitization through amusement by violence. The first fact is very real problem of Christian apathy. What are followers of Jesus doing to stand against violence? Are we really demanding an end to child abuse, to human trafficking, to the drug culture, to domestic violence, to gang warfare in our cities? Do we help those who are hurt by these things? We certainly should minister the gospel in these situations and not apathetically retreat to holy huddles in our church buildings.

The second important piece involves how the culture at large views violence. Entertainment saturates us with it. Television shows, the movies, and video games in particular, thrive on a high degree of it. Each time we unwittingly allow ourselves to be entertained by it without thought, we vicariously participate in it. And that just can't be a good thing in terms of developing a proper viewpoint on the issue. I am not saying these things make us actual killers... but could they make me easier to be like Edom? I think they have a high potential to do so.

A sense of God's justice should lead us to minister the gospel to our violent culture. Sinners need to repent of their violence and find peace in the Prince of Peace. That justice should lead us to critically examine how being amused by violence slowly desensitizes us to the bigger issues at stake. And if we do that, we will be led to reject our culture leading us into the vicarious participation and acceptance of violence so that then justice and mercy may be seen in God... in us.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Monday, August 8, 2011

God's gonna' cut you down.

The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rock, in your lofty dwelling, who say in your heart, "Who will bring me down to the ground?" Though you soar aloft like the eagle, though your nest is set among the stars, from there I will bring you down, declares the LORD.
Obadiah 1:3-4

God had plans to alter the opinion that Israel's enemy, Edom, had about its own security. Ethnically, as the descendants of Esau, Edom had a racial connection with the Jews. Both nations were descended from Abraham. But Edom was not a nation that blessed Israel. Instead, they hated them and there was constant friction with Israel. And they had grown proud of their fight with the Jews.

It did not matter that Edom had strong cities carved into cliff faces. It did not matter that they had a firm military advantage. It did not matter that they were strong. And when God has decreed it, the deal is done! That is what this little book of Obadiah is all about.

Part of the reason that I enjoy reading the Old Testament prophets is that they show the wisdom and power of a sovereign God. Many of the words of the minor prophets have already been fulfilled in history. God has shown us that His word is true and that He is in control in human events. We see that in how He handled Edom. We see that in how He speaks into our own lives today!

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Friday, August 5, 2011


Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Hebrews 13:8

One eternal stream
flowing from my wounded Savior's side
loves and saves and secures me
keeps me pure and stems my pride

One holy bride
ransomed by Jesus' blood
will join Him at His side
when we walk with Jesus up above

One reigning Lord
for all eternity
is Who we worship and adore
remembering His power and humility

From His followers words
came the gospel call
now it is our turn
to leave nets, give Him our all

He is the same
unchanging love and grace
in Jesus' name
we are all saved!

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Thursday, August 4, 2011

those who cheer us on

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:1-2

The metaphor of running the race is a common one in the New Testament. It is used here, and Paul makes regular athletic references to encourage believers to be disciplined and committed in their pursuit of the righteous life in Christ. This passage is unique in that it gives us some powerful external factors to consider. It lets us know who is "watching" our race.

The first group of spectators is found in the past example of a vast group of "witnesses'. Obviously the "cloud" referred to here are all the Old Testament saints whose examples spur us to faith in Chapter 11 of Hebrews. And they testify to us of the faithfulness of God. They have run the race and their inspiring stories keep us moving on at a good pace. They are also witnesses of our run, watching from the stands and encouraging us to continue and to run at our very best.

The second factor to consider is the goal of our race and just Who awaits us at the finish line. We are looking to Jesus, whom the text says is the founder and the perfecter of our faith. It is His example that sets the race course for us. And it is His strength and coaching that will strengthen us to have a good run. He showed us that the race is not easy, but it is rewarding.

Jesus will help us through the most difficult parts of our run through life. He endured a cross for us. We can endure the race for Him. He despised the shame and suffering in light of our salvation. We can "suck it up" and face public scrutiny for His sake. He is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. And we see Him there, cheering us on from the finish line!

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pilgrims & Aliens

Faith is required to live as one of God's people in this world. It is not at all optional. We must keep trusting what God has promised. This has always been the case. In the spotlight on faith in this chapter, we are given numerous Old Testament examples of people who trusted God by faith. And they all have one thing in common: they died still believing, having not fully received all the promises of God.

God does not give us all that we trust Him for in this moment. There is more to come. Faith keeps pushing us to trust God for that future. In Christ, we have all the promises of God fulfilled. And certainly by trusting Him, we have a peace, a contentment, a satisfaction that makes sense of life. But there is still that sense of promise driving our faith. And even Christians die waiting by faith for what Jesus promises.

A life of faith must always be trusting God for more to come. It is essential to the life of a Christian. When we stop doing that, we lose the vitality of our commitment to Christ. We have to acknowledge that we always need to trust God. We can taste of His goodness. We can see our confident hope in the distance. But we have to keep looking to the promises of God until the day we die.

There is an attitude that keeps us living in faithful expectation. It is a pilgrim passion. We know that we are on a journey through life to a greater place. We allow God to lead us there. We acknowledge that this world is not our final destination. We are only traveling to the best place... forever with our Lord. Bunyan captured it clearly when Christian is set with a vision to travel to the Celestial City. His whole life's story is summed up in the faith that it took to take him there.

We must acknowledge our refugee status and long for our real home. If we are not exiles on this earth, then faith makes no sense at all. If we truly are pilgrims and aliens, then faith is the roadmap we trust as we full Christ to His upward call.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

how to keep from being a Loser Christian.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Hebrews 10:23-25

There are two admonitions given in this passage that are crucial to Christian discipleship. We should insist that all who call themselves Christians know, understand, and commit to these calls upon us all. If we don't, faith in Christ will die out in this generation.

The first exhortation is to a tenacious belief. We hold fast without wavering to our hope in Christ. Hope in Christian theology is not a "cross your fingers, close your eyes, and make a wish" kind of experience. It is the exact opposite of this. It is an assurance. It is a very real, very confident expectation. It is an assurance that what has been promised to us in Christ will come to pass. It is a guarantee. It is certainly a hope for all eternity, but it is also a real hope for right now. It changes us right here and right now! God is real and is at work in our lives. We confess (talk about) that hope and focus our lives around that truth every day. That is what it means to hold fast to our hope.

The second command is to live that hope out in Christian community. We share that experience in the local church, with other believers, in the daily contact in the Body of Christ. We need to always be ready to move our brothers and sisters on to love like Jesus and to do His good works. We need to be pushed and encouraged by them to do the same. The Christian life is deliberate. We do not engage this call in neutral or by ourselves. The church as a collected group is about people shifting into gear and going somewhere that Christ commands us! That "somewhere" involves love to people and doing good things in this world right now.

There is additional commentary to the second command. It involves loving the Church and NOT leaving it. I know how hard this is, mostly because I know how hard it is to love me. I can be unlovable. I don't think that just because people are hard to love gives anybody an "out" on being a part of the church. I really don't care for the criticisms made by those who only want to snipe at the church's faults while abandoning the chance to meet together with ALL the saints. They are guilty of not loving the Body of Christ. Sadly, this is becoming increasingly more popular, driven by consumerism. a desire to justify a certain practice, or doctrinal division. And it is stunting the advance of the gospel.

Christians thrive in a community of other Christians. It is what Christ wants. And that community is expressed in the local church. Christians who will not worship and assemble with and encourage other Christians will fail at love and good works. Yes... I said fail... as in Loser with a big "L". That is the implication built into the warnings in this passage.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Monday, August 1, 2011

eagerly awaiting my appointment

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
Hebrews 9:27-28

By facing down the fate of all mortal men, Jesus secured for us the deliverance from that worst that death brings. Jesus willingly gave Himself as our sacrifice. This was absolutely necessary to secure our salvation. And Jesus did this as both priest and as sacrifice for sins. He did this to provide final redemption for us. Our lives are no longer imperiled by sin when we come to Him as our Savior.

Jesus' entire mission was about this commitment to "deal with sin" as the test says here. He came as the clear and decisive solution to the sin problem. We know there is no other way to settle the wrongs that we do. We must trust in the work of Jesus on the cross. It is there that sin was atoned. It was there and only there that death has finally died.

But there is more to the work of Jesus than just securing salvation from eternal damnation. He also came to save us in time. And there is a time coming when He was save those who eagerly wait for Him, whether that time is at the end of their mortal lives, or in His physical return. This is in correlation to the first part of the passage. The flow of thought in verses 27-28 looks something like this:
Man ==> dies ===> goes into judgment.
Jesus ==> sacrificed ==> saves from judgment, comes to execute judgment

Thinking about future judgment before God is very far from most men's minds. I have only seen this really processed by the dying. And they know that when they are in Christ, deliverance is the focus. Their mortal bodies experience death, but their souls know a peace and a deliverance in Jesus. The worst death could offer has been taken away. And Jesus as Savior is a very real strength to face mortality.

The reason the call to proclaim this exists is that there are many people who are going to be under the judgment their sins deserve. It is the fate of all people who do not trust Christ. They dread this certain appointment: death and judgment. They do have a Savior. They need to know and trust Him because they are appointed to die. But once they trust Christ and receive His forgiveness, they are appointed to eagerly await their future with Him! Amen!

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13