Friday, September 30, 2011

An appeal for gracious communication

Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.
Philemon 21

Paul could have chosen to agressively confront Philemon. But Paul was not that kind of encourager. He knew that a moment of divine providence needed to be followed up with gracious confidence. The story of the short book of Philemon is just that: grace following in the heels of God's sovereign work.

Philemon was a church leader familiar to Paul. He was part of the upper eschelon of Roman culture. He had a large household that included slaves. One of his highly trusted stewards, Onesimus, embezzled from him and ran to Rome. And there, thinking he might hide in the big city, by God's providence came into contact with Paul. And Paul led him to faith in Christ. Paul instructed the new convert to do the right thing... the unthinkable thing: return to Philemon with this letter in hand. Paul trusted Onesimus to obey God. And in the letter, Paul trusted Philemon to obey God as well.

Grace followed in the redeeming of the soul of a runaway criminal slave. Grace followed in Paul's careful admonition to Philemon to receive back a repentant brother in Christ. Grace followed in Paul's confidence that both of them would follow Jesus and do the right thing.

I find it instructive that Paul wrote so confidently and graciously about all this. I wish we Christians could learn Paul's grace and method of confident affirmation when communicating to one another. It makes the gospel very attractive. So many times in the age of social media on the internet, I have seen great sin in the lack of grace we extend to each other in our "discussions". And with sadness and a repentant heart, I acknowledge before God and others that I have been guilty of this as well from time to time. My take-away from Philemon is to be comitted to gracious speech, even when I have to say hard things. Confident encouragement should guide my communication with my brothers and sisters in Christ. Who is with me on this one?

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

Thursday, September 29, 2011

spiritual muscle

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.
Ephesians 6:10

Real spiritual strength has to come from a source beyond my self. It has to come from the Lord. The obedient believer finds himself relying more and more on God's work in him, realizing his work for God can only be accomplished by God's power anyway. It is a strange, paradoxical sort of moment... one that Paul conceded with his statement: "when I am weak, then I am strong". We often cannot know God's power until we come to the end of ourselves in some fashion.

I have to be honest: for much of my Christian life it has been easy to give in to the temptation to fake Christian spirituality by my own efforts. Churches are notorious for creating systems that look impressive and make people look spiritually sound. All I have to do is show up at the right place, smile, and thoughtfully nod at the right words that someone else says, then say a few of the right things myself. It can appear to be all that is necessary to appease the system. But that is not Christian living. It is instead a devilish kind of formalistic righteousness.

Instead of this, we need to realize that Christian strength and maturity are rooted in relationship with Jesus. It is bound up in life experience with Him. A program of study or activity might evidence that, but until individuals learn to dig deep in life connection with Jesus, such strength does not come to them. I think that church has to "grow small" and resist programming to be obedient to this teaching and see it happen in the lives of its people. We have to encourage real relationships among believers. That is why for me, some kind of small group or one-to-one mentoring relationship must be encouraged as the mechanism of discipleship. And those kinds of relationships can empower people to passionately pursue Jesus. Such people who are strong in that kind of commitment will live it out to the world. The gospel will advance.

Real spiritual strength can't be found by visible medals of achievement that we display on our chests. Instead, it is known by the change that Jesus makes in our hearts. It is found in abandonment of personal pride in our religious efforts. It is known by people who identify with saving and sustaining grace and who give up on their own self-righteousness. That is the spiritual muscle that I want to have!

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

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Love is hard.

And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Ephesians 5:2

Loving others
means loving my Savior
enough to love them
as He loved me.
Jesus gave His life to love me.

Loving my brother
can't be easy
because he can hurt and wound.
Just because he is not me
does not give allowance to withold love to me.

Loving another
takes sacrifice and commitment;
it means setting aside my agenda,
letting God change me
so that I ought to be the kind of love He is in me.

Loving gathers
me to my Savior
where with other believers I find the true picture.
I reflect His love for me
to all those around me.

Loving others
will never be insignificant;
sacrifice never isn't!
May God change me
into the kind of love He wants of me!

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

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Grow up!

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Ephesians 4:15-16

A big part of Christian maturity is meant to take place as a corporate experience. Call it group growth. Christians are meant to grow and learn in a dynamic setting of mutual ministry. The church grows like Christ together. We are meant to know this experience as the means to real maturity.

So much teaching on spiritual growth today focuses on the individual. And ultimately that is important, but individuals cannot truly mature in faith outside the culture and context of the local church. Paul gives clear teaching that is worth examining in this passage.

First and foremost, the church provides the context, meaning, and culture for growth. This is bound up in the phrase "speaking the truth in love". For me to grow, I must be regularly shown God's truth from other Christians. And interaction with the teaching (the "speaking") of God's truth through the church is absolutely essential. In a traditional church setting this might begin on Sunday in a service. It should not end there. Other Christians in relationship should speak the truth to me so that I may grow.

The emotional nurturing soil of Christian growth is love. We grow in the love of the Lord and of other believers. We grow to love our world. And the truth is taught to us in love. The two must go together to avoid the extremes of stale doctrine or meaningless emotionalism.

The direction that we grow is Christlike. Together Christians grow into or toward "the head" of the Church. And that mutual direction brings unity, purpose, and a commonality that cannot be equaled. Ultimately, we begin to see Jesus in each other this way.

We grow together and build each other. It is not about me growing as a separate organism. I think that is how we tend to see Christian growth. We have it all self-focused. We could not be more misguided. Instead, Christian growth is about building the body. It is about me serving others and helping them grow. It is about the church growing together, not just meeting together on a Sunday. We need each other. We are one body and I am just one part of that greater experience. Growth is about the church building itself up in love. When Christians get this and live it out, the world is changed, not one Christian at a time, but one church at a time!

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

Monday, September 26, 2011

The plural of "christian" is "church". that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
Ephesians 3:10

Paul saw God's sovereign plan at work collectively among Christians and he gave it a name: "church". The work of the church is focused and extensive. Through the church God is making His complex wisdom known. That is worth considering. It is not just one message the church proclaims. It is multi-faceted and always layered around the gospel. It is a wisdom that speaks to all of humanity and to every condition. And God has decreed that Christians gather as the church to get His wisdom known in every way that they can do so.

This presupposes that the church first knows what to proclaim. If we are to make it known, we better know it. So the church should first be teaching itself the ways in which God's wisdom, contralized in the gospel, affects our own hearts and lives without need for any worldly philosophy to direct us. The sufficiency of God's Word combines with the personal direction of His Spirit to unify us in a common impact to the world with God's wisdom. We know the truth. The truth sets us free in more ways than we may know.

This requires that Christians learn how to make God's wisdom known. The church should be training believers. And this involves not just a program of discipleship or a mechanism for evangelism. It involves Christians learning to dispense practical wisdom to each other and to the world in which we live. It means we live out a practical concern and demonstrate effort to help deal with key problems around the world, always with the gospel clearly on display. Our conversations should revolve around the saving wisdom of God. What good does it really do if I feed a hungry person but keep Jesus' love in the gospel message away from his starving soul? What good is it if I speak against violence, but do not tell people how to find rest for their souls with the Prince of Peace?

We should not be quick to attack the collection of Christians known as the church. Individual local churches might have problems. My experience is that they ALL do because ALL people are still being redeemed, and endemic sin keeps us all a little messy still. Still, all Christians following Jesus should love their family in Christ, even the weird ones who do ignorant things sometimes. False doctrine and sinful practices among us should be confronted with an attitude of gentleness and restoration (Galatians 6:1-2). But the church should commit to the wisdom of God. We should align ourselves around biblical truth and values and together LIVE OUT the gospel, making the wisdom of God known in the world.

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

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Why good works must exist

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:10

It is God's design that Christians do good things on this earth... right here... right now. It is His purpose for us and a big part of what it means to be a Christian. But we must understand exactly WHY we do these things. And that has been a source of confusion for many. Scripture gives us clear guidance into understanding our motivations to do the good things we have been called to practice.

WE DON'T DO GOOD WORKS TO SAVE OUR SOULS. The Christian life is a life of practical theology. What I mean is that Christians believe and have received a life-changing faith. It shows in us and how we relate to other people. It must start with what we know. In the context of this passage about good works, Paul makes it clear that works in no way save us from our sinful selves. God acted in grace through Christ. Salvation is by Christ alone, through grace alone and by faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). Nothing that I could do could save me. Works alone will never bring solutions to the sin problem. Only Jesus can do that through His atonement at the cross. So nobody can be called a Christian by thinking that doing good works made them worthy of relationship with Christ.

WE CAN'T EXPERIENCE SALVATION WITHOUT SUBSEQUENT GOOD WORKS. Good works do not bring us salvation, but they do naturally result from our salvation. We are saved FROM sin. We are saved TO do good works. AW Tozer liked to say it this way: "we are saved TO as well as FROM". We were created in Jesus to do good works. Jesus, our Lord and Master, cared for people in a way His world had not seen. He commissioned His followers to demonstrate a love for people that sought them out, even in their lostness, to proclaim and demonstrate "good news": the gospel. This gospel is about the saving grace that is in Christ. If we proclaim it we must also live out something new and good and transforming.

We must live out these two truths in balance. Christians must teach biblical doctrine with clarity and reach people with Christian charity. Emphasize one without the other and we miss our calling. It is that vital. Without this kind of Christian love actively reaching our world, Christianity will become a stale institution. We become either a theological fortress of imposing doctrinal walls, or we become just a powerless social institution bereft of eternal impact. But if we put them together...! WOW! The truth will set people free! That is why God created us to do good works. They validate the truth claims of the gospel, bringing a change that shows a new creation in Christ, one human life at a time.

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

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

to church or not to church

And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Ephesians 1:22-23

Jesus is the head of the church. And the church is the body of Christ. Jesus died to bring the church to Him. And He rose to show us His authority over all things, even death. Jesus is supposed to permeate and fill believers and thus fill His church. This is His church, and we have no business trying to tear it down.

I have seen a disturbing trend among many Christians in the past fifteen years or so. We have Christians advocating the abandonment of the local church. It usually comes with great criticism of the contemporary church. And the reality is that they are critical of some program or strategy, confusing it with the theologicial construct known as the church. It may be some personality of some Christian leader that upsets them. Their solution is to emphasize personal spirituality over corporate spirituality. They will then gravitate towards family first or self first in order to justify the abandonment of the church.

In many cases their criticisms are spot on and I would share them. The reactions against excess are justified. But the solution proposed does not fit the problems described. The solution should be to follow the biblical command to gently instruct and reform the church, not to abandon it altogether. Some people have become so antagonistic that they refuse to even use Jesus' word for His own body. They refer to themselves as living in a "missional community" rather than a "church". This is probably a sin on my part, but when I run into someone like that, I like to tweak them just a bit by continuing to use the word church to describe their experience.

I don't think it is wrong to avoid a building or a structure. The early church evidenced in scripture was so persecuted that they probably never would have considered owning a building. However, I do think it is wrong to abandon the assembly of believers. It is God's design to reach the world. And to refuse to fellowship with believers in a traditional church altogether is disfiguring to the Bride of Christ. Paul did not tell us he went around establishing "communities" or "households" on his missionary endeavors. He left behind local churches, often still in development, with leadership and structure in place, and possessing a body of teaching centering around the gospel of Jesus Christ. I bet it was a pretty messy experience at times.

To one degree or another a holy discontent ought to always describe the church. Lord knows I have had well nigh enough of contemporary excesses such as lavish buildings, Christian marketing, personality-driven ministry, slavishness to faddish programs, Christian celebrity idolatry, anemic curriculum-based sub-par teaching, and a caricatured Christian sub-culture that somehow wants to be as cool as the world's "real" culture... just slapping Jesus onto worldly desire or trend. Even with all my discontent, I know that leaving the church behind is not the answer. Instead, proclaiming and modeling authentic Christianity within the community of believers collectively known as THE CHURCH is absolutely necessary. Jesus died for the church, which is comprised of all Christian followers of Him, and He knew what we would become when He did so. If my Lord and Master loves this messy church Bride, so should I! He calls us to just passionately follow Him, laying aside the charts, the self-enamored thinking, and the programs we want, refusing to take our eyes off Him. Jesus is the head of the church!

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

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

conscience-stricken confession

But David's heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said to the LORD, "I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O LORD, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly."
2 Samuel 24:10

David knows he has willfully sinned against the Lord by the taking of a census of the fighting forces of Israel. The text is silent as to exactly why this was a sin. We do know that generally in the past any such census would have been done at God's command, and that is absent in this text. We also know that Joab provided advance warning to David concerning the wrongness of these actions, but David refused to listen to his general (2 Samuel 24:3-4). The census was performed clearly as an act of sin from that point onward.

Eventually after the final count reaches the throneroom nine months later, David is conscience-stricken over the sin he has committed against God and comes to the Lord in confession, begging to receive God's forgiveness for his sin. David's confession here is instructive. it gives insight into how we should deal with our own sin.

The terms in which David refers to his actions show us what confession involves. The first three words set the tone: "I have sinned..." David did not evade responsibility by calling his actions anything less than sin. He took full responsibility by adding the phrase "what I have done".

David also knew that only God could bring the healing of forgivenss and "take away the iniquity". He was appealing for God's mercy and grace to a sinner. He also realized that his actions were stupid and foolish. But that was the last way he talked about his sin. I find that insight to be challenging. Usually at war with my pride, I may concede an action as dumb, but not easily will I acknowledge it as sin. That needs to change if I am going to be a man of confession and change!

The power of Christianity lies in its tranformative ability to find God's grace and live in it. It comes by acknowledging our broken sinful selves and exchanging that life for the life of Christ. And it starts with honest confession of sin. Christians can't be apathetic when it comes to our own sin. We should still readily identify ourselves as sinners when we need to confess. It keeps God in proper perspective. Oh what a beauty of humble confession would adorn the church if such a real view of sin would mark our prayers, our commitments, and our lifestyles!

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

Monday, September 19, 2011

famous last words

The God of Israel has spoken; the Rock of Israel has said to me: When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, he dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth.
2 Samuel 23:3-4

These "last words" of David (probably the last recorded psalm of David) are filled with wonder at the power of God at work in his kingdom. David was amazed. He has been a man of warfare all his life. He has seen a lot of violence. Yet he has lived to be an old man despite all the struggles, the sins, and their consequences. He has been blessed in spite of it all.

In this short psalm he summarizes his experience as king by summarizing what God has done for him. He begins with the miracle of God's Word, claiming that God has used him to speak His Word (2 Samuel 23:2), a clear and rare personal reflection on the theology of inspiration and inscripturation. He then speaks of God's honoring Himself in David's rule. There was a unique relationship with God that David experienced as king. When he ruled "in the fear of God", his kingdom was a blessing to those he ruled.

David then reflects on the wonder of having God make a unique, uni-lateral covenant with him in which God promised an everlasting dynasty to David (2 Samuel 23:5). This was the most amazing part of David's life. He was chosen and his house was chosen by God... and this was the secret to his success. God had done everything for him to honor His covenant with David. David knew it all came from God's grace to him.

David ends his last psalm with an observation that contrasts living under God's care with livng a "worthless" life in disobedience or disregard of God (2 Samuel 23:6-7). The end of such living is waste and destruction. The righteous ultimately prosper in God's embrace while those who reject God are miserably destroyed. David knew that the peace with which his life was ending was God's final verdict on his life and his kingdom. He is happy to thrive in such blessing.

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

Thursday, September 15, 2011

grace as far as the eye can see

He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.
2 Samuel 22:20

David rejoiced in the incredible experience of God's grace. He experienced it in almost every category of his life, even while still a boy. It made him who he was. It made him the kind of king that he was as well.

David's poetic description of that grace is profound. It gives me insight into God's care for me right now. God's desire to save us, to rescue us, is in no way restrictive. Instead, it is meant to give us the kind of freedom He made us to enjoy with Him. David says that God brought Him out into "a broad place". There was plenty of room to enjoy all the good things God was giving him. Grace is not constricting... it is liberating.

I know that kind of liberation in Christ, and in many ways, I know it to a greater degree (at least from a New Testament perspective) than David could have ever imagined. I have the capacity to do what is right. Not on my own, but through the enabling of the Holy Spirit and the equipping of God's Word. The real rescue that I can live is what Jesus brought to the world. It is a rescue from the worst effects of sin. It is a rescue from the worst defects of self. And I am a new creation in Christ, set free to wander the vast expanse of the new frontier of God's grace!

God delights in His children. David could sing of that despite all the hardships and the discipline that he had received for his sin. God was good and God is not out to make life miserable. He delights in us and that is why grace is offered to us. I am a child that God loves. That is a profound truth and the very best way to define myself.

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

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

a change of seasons

But Abishai the son of Zeruiah came to his aid and attacked the Philistine and killed him. Then David's men swore to him, "You shall no longer go out with us to battle, lest you quench the lamp of Israel."
2 Samuel 21:17

David is not the same young warrior that he used to be. He has returned to his old pattern of fighting as warrior king beside his troops in battle. Only now he is an older man. His children have grown. He is not the agile young fighter that he used to be. He is growing weary in the battle. This is a liability now. It has been great to have him leading the battle, but not in the thick of it where it has become a distraction.

David was always a target, so that is not what his men are getting at when they swear to no longer take him into the heart of the battle. The issue is that David's crucial role as unifying king is too important for the nation. He is too great a risk in battle. And he cannot stand up to the rigors of hand to hand combat like he used to do. He is the "lamp of Israel" to his men, and they can't stand the thought of losing him in battle.

This is a season of change. David truly has a warrior's heart, but that energy needs to be directed somewhere other than in hand to hand combat. He needs to be leading, not participating, in the battle. And David humbly accepts the change. He is not the young fighter of giants anymore. His men will follow him anywhere, but he must continue to lead the army of Israel another way.

Life has its seasons, and David must now adjust. It is time to let young warriors kill the giants (which is a key chapter theme here). Just as David proved his manly courage while still a shepherd boy by killing a Philistine giant, so do his young troops dispatch four of them again in this account. It is clear the torch has passed with greater results. He could see Israel's army do greater things under his leadership than David would accomplish alone. So the reward of this change of seasons for David was the fruitful increase in the army's overall success. I take note of that as I read it today. As our years increase, the chance to see the next generation do more than we ever did also increases. And God can use us to help see that happen. That is encouraging. It gives purpose to the relentless movement of seasons of change.

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

rebellion again

So all the men of Israel withdrew from David and followed Sheba the son of Bichri. But the men of Judah followed their king steadfastly from the Jordan to Jerusalem.
2 Samuel 20:2

David gets very little relief from the civil war trauma in Israel. No sooner does he end one rebellion than a new one arises. Again a Benjamite gives David trouble. Sheba manages to lead away the armies of most of Israel in a short-lived rebellion. While David should be attending to restorative duties, he is forced to continue to wage a war at home against his own people.

David hopes to quickly control this insurrection. He dispatches his new "head general", Amasa (a political move since he came from the armies of the northern tribes), to rally the Judean army in three days time. But Amasa fails to achieve this task by the due date. David then appoints Abishai, the brother of his demoted general Joab, to finish the task. That sets in motion more of Joab's reckless bloodthirsty cruelty. Taking matters into his own hands and without the authority of the king's orders, Joab tracks down Amasa and murders him in full site of the armies of David. He then assumes command of the forces and chases down the rebel Sheba, who is now defensiviely holed up in the fortified Israeli city of Abel.

Joab lays seige against a leading Israelite city, threatening great loss of life and destruction to get his man. A wise woman of the city negotiates with Joab at the wall of the city. By the end of that day the city leaders toss the head of Sheba over the wall and Joab is satisfied. He gets what he wants by any means necessary.

Horrible things happen in war time.This is evident by what we see occurring at the hands of Joab. Ideally, Amasa should have been relieved of his command by David. But Joab seized control quickly by violence. Eventually David would never forgive this of Joab. He is a powerful general, but ruthless, because he is a morally weak person. He is more of a gangster than a real leader. Yet even in the messiness of human sinful actions in war, God protected David and delivered Israel back over to David's leadership. The real picture is God's sovereign control over all these wild and wrong political and military actions. Not even the worst sins that people commit against one another can thwart the plan and power of God. No human rebellion will succeed against God's rulership.

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

Monday, September 12, 2011

the homecoming

Then all the people went over the Jordan, and the king went over. And the king kissed Barzillai and blessed him, and he returned to his own home. The king went on to Gilgal, and Chimham went on with him. All the people of Judah, and also half the people of Israel, brought the king on his way.
2 Samuel 19:39-40

David is on his way back to Jerusalem to have the kingdom restored to him. It has been a difficult moment. He has had to set aside his overwhelming grief over his son's death to get back to the business of the kingdom. He does not get the luxury of wallowing in his grief. Joab confronts him and calls him to walk once again among the people who are hurting from the civil war just like he was hurting at the death of Absalom.

David is filled with a thankful and gracious spirit. David expresses gratitude to the aged octogenerian Barzallai. The old man had taken David in and used his wealth and resources to take on the needs of David and his family as they fled to safety from Absalom's forces as they took Jerusalem. David offers the man who took him in a position at the palace. But Barzillai politely refuses. David expresses his gratitude and still repays Barzillai by taking Chinham at his suggestion.

David finds ways to show mercy and grace as well. He continues to be gracious to Mephibosheth, who explains to David that Ziba stole from him and lied to the king about his loyalty. David accepts the disabled son of Jonathan back into the royal household. Bigger grace is shown when Shimei greets David again, this time repentant over his actions at cursing David. The king is merciful, refusing to continue any punitive bloodshed against Shimei. Instead, David accepts the apology and actions, forgives Shimei in mercy, and refuses to allow violence to continue to tear Israel apart.

So this homecoming for David was a mixed bag of emotions. But he kept his head, having clearly been taught by God through these events. What comes out in David is the kind of character that only God can give a man. And that is instructive for all Christians who may find themselves in unthinkably difficult circumstances.

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

Friday, September 9, 2011

unreconciliable grief

And the king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!"
2 Samuel 18:33

This is poignant, raw grief... and yet, so much more. David is inconsolable at the moment. I believe the depth of emotion stems not just from the death fo Absalom. I think a huge amount of regret is in this sorrow over David's LIFE with Absalom. David is mourning all the lost opportunity with his son. He never really reconciled with him, and that is very, very painful.

There is a grief that comes with a lost reconciliation. It is multiplied in David due to the factors involved. David did not reconcile with his son. He chose to ignore him. The closeness of the relationship demanded he act on the opportunity to restore. David did not do so. He put it off to the point that his inaction eventually involved the entire nation of Israel in a civil war. It was a big mess. Perhaps David secretyly hoped that Absalom would surrender in the battle or be captured alive so that a reconciliation might be possible under David's exclusive terms. But that was a fantasy... a deadly delusion.

David had to know that the troops would be making Absalom the first objective. If given him as a target of opportunity, they would take it. He warned the generals to spare Absalom. But this was war, and in the mix of God's providence (Absalom's hair snares him in a tree) and war's uncontrolled passion (Joab and his troops target Absalom), the king's wish is not followed.

All this speaks to the tragedy of missed restoration. In David's case a paralysis of leadership mixed with personal pride and political protocols to short-circuit the process. And it led to literal warfare before it all ended... badly. The warning to us is that failure to extend grace, mercy, and to act on a commitment to the hard work of reconciliation can lead to awful personal devastation. Absalom was not the only Israelite to die in the guerilla warfare in the forest of Ephraim on that day. Unresolved conflicts claim many casualties in the collateral damage of the battle.

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

Thursday, September 8, 2011

a friend in need

After they had gone, the men came up out of the well, and went and told King David. They said to David, "Arise, and go quickly over the water, for thus and so has Ahithophel counseled against you."
2 Samuel 17:21

in times of trouble
friends that come
to minister
and help with love
can be worth double

when trials rage
and your heart is broken
by circumstance
friends are a God sent token
graciously turning the page

friends who care
for your deepest pain
and commiserate
are like refreshing rain
watering desert, bringing cool air

and God sends love
at the friend's hands
to illustrate
His sovereign plan
a little help from above

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

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

adding insult to injury

So David and his men went on the road, while Shimei went along on the hillside opposite him and cursed as he went and threw stones at him and flung dust. And the king, and all the people who were with him, arrived weary at the Jordan. And there he refreshed himself.
2 Samuel 16:13-14

David is now so humbled by the events surrounding him that he just keeps taking further humiliation without resistance. There are three major humiliations added to his exile in this chapter. The first one is when David is told that Mephibosheth has stayed behind in Jerusalem in that hopes that Israel will anoint him as king as the last survivor of the house of Saul. All the years of faithful care of Jonathan's crippled son have been for nothing. This is a high insult. Sometimes the people to whom we extend the most grace become the least respectful of it.

The final humiliation in this chapter comes when David's own counselor, Ahithophel, advises David's son, Absalom, to publically shame his father. Absalom pitches a tent on the palace roof and there publically beds the king's harem that David left behind to care for the palace. This was the symbol of Absalom's seizure of the throne and the life of his father and was an atrocious form of disrespect not only for his father's kingship, but for all respect for him whatsoever.

But sandwiched in between these episodes is a third humiiation at the hands of a strange little character named Shimei. This previously unknown Benjamite runs alongside the hillside above the road from Jerusalem to the Jordan valley, hurling curses as he pelts David and his retinue with dust and stones. David instructs his bodyguard to let this man keep up his taunting. He sees the actions as perhaps from the hand of God. The 21 mile hike out of Jerusalem is punctuated with the jabberings of this angry Benjamite.

David is completely humbled by his current situation. He has lost the throne and virtually all dignity among the people of Israel. And the humiliation is accepted, mostly without comment. David believes God is working in all this. David seems to be at his best when running for his life, just as he did many years ago under the persecution of Saul. He is in a position of trust again, and that is something that will make the difference for him.

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

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

a lesson in failed fathering

And a messenger came to David, saying, "The hearts of the men of Israel have gone after Absalom." Then David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, "Arise, and let us flee, or else there will be no escape for us from Absalom. Go quickly, lest he overtake us quickly and bring down ruin on us and strike the city with the edge of the sword."
2 Samuel 15:13-14

Thus begins a sad episode in the life of David. His own son, Absalom, manages to lead a conspiracy of revolutionary proportions. The result is that David believed the reports of Absalom's success and in fear vacated the throne. He wished to avoid a civil war, but conflict would be unavoidable.

Absalom had crafted this rebellion over four years. He saw his father as weak and indecisive. He set himself up at the gates of Jerusalem to judge matters that people were wanting to bring to the palace. He managed to endear himself to the people through his handsome friendliness and really, back-slapping politics, all in the name of justice. The nation knew that Absalom was the prince that did the work of the king. Absalom was probably very self-assured in this practice of his. He had seen his father neglect justice twice with his own family. I am sure that Absalom believed himself to be the victim who understood other's rights and was thus an empathetic judge. He was very personable with all who came to him and that is how he eventually won a substantial following (2 Samuel 15:4-6).

David's powerlessness to confront Absalom led to his present exile. As he weeps his way through the city, the days of David the giant killer and darling of all Israel seem distant, ironically given over to his scheming son. The years of sorrow and neglect of his family come to visit David painfully on this slow journey marching out of the palace. The consequences of his own sins keep visiting him in new and painful ways. It is not pleasant to read.

David's paralysis of leadership in his own home is instructive. It warns fathers in particular of the dire issues at stake in caring for children with God's mercy and justice. David had struggled with seeing his own sons commit his own sins. He has been inconsistent and unresponsive to the spiritual needs in his home. And now that his oldest son has risen against him, he accepts the humiliation. The consequences of failed fatherhood are haunting his every move as he weeps with each step that leaves his kingly life behind into unknown exile.

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

Friday, September 2, 2011

the tragedy of half-hearted reconciliation

And the king said, "Let him dwell apart in his own house; he is not to come into my presence." So Absalom lived apart in his own house and did not come into the king's presence.
2 Samuel 14:24

David was willing to appear to forgive, but only on his terms and only to a certain point. We can't even know for sure from the context whether or not reconciliation with Absalom without sentencing him for murder was the right thing for David to do. The circumstances that led to this uneasy stance are suspicious. Joab is behind them. He was notorious for circumventing the rules, putting his agenda above anybody else's concerns.

Joab's involvement as a "peacemaker" is highly suspect. Remember, when he had the cance to bend the rules to seek personal vengeance against Abner, he did so and took the life of the general that had killed Joab's brother in battle. He did this explicitly against the king's wishes (see 2 Samuel 3:26-39). He can hardly speak as an expert in forgiveness and reconciliation!

For this and other personal reasons David arrives again at a very indecisive compromise on the subject of his relationship with his oldest son. He is still paralyzed by this whole mess. This is not the way that David needed to be with the son who would be his heir apparent. This coolness toward Absalom, as well as the physical distance would only breed further problems. The wound festers for two more years. Altogether it has been seven years since the rape of Tamar, the murder of Amnon, and Absalom's fugitive flight. David has done nothing except tacitly letting Absalom return to Jerusalem with his diplomatic consent.

There is a principle I use in counseling that comes into play as I look at this situation: EVENTS + TIME = DISTORTION. The longer David puts this off, the more twisted, complicated, and distorted it all becomes. If he takes action on it, much of the outcome will be delayed to deal with the seven years of festering feelings, pain, and inaction. This deflects from the heart of the issue.

Really, there is no real peacemaking being done by David. He is accomodating. He may be dabbing ointment on a troubled conscience. But he is only aggravating the issue by this half-hearted "peace-faking" response. It will not lead anywhere good for David, for Absalom, or for the kingdom.

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

Thursday, September 1, 2011

sin leaves nothing good behind

And as soon as he had finished speaking, behold, the king's sons came and lifted up their voice and wept. And the king also and all his servants wept very bitterly.
2 Samuel 13:36

This family sorrow comes as a direct result of God's pronounced consequences upon David's sin. The upheaval in the royal family was inevitable. Through it all, David's moral indecision is remarkable. He seems powerless to act in an outrageous situation. And as time wore on it just got worse. The outcome of painful consequence that Nathan prophesied as a result of David's adultery and murder is coming to pass. The sword will not leave David's own house (2 Samuel 12:10).

The family conflict is gross, twisted, and complicated. David's oldest son, Absalom, had a sister named Tamar. David's other son, Amnon, was infatuated with his half-sister. Amnon's cousin, Jonadab, suggests a plan to lure her into seduction. Amnon follows the advice of a scoundrel and ends up raping his half-sister. Then in his shame and scorn, he sends her home. She is traumatized, abused, broken, and ashamed. David does absolutely nothing about it once he finds out. He just gets angry. And over two years, Absalom's seething, bitter rage toward Amnon just grows. It is the epitome of family dysfunction.

Absalom decides to deal with Amnon with his own sense of justice. He convenes a "party" for all the princes in Israel (David had many wives... there were a lot of the king's sons), and there Absalom executes a conspiracy that murders Amnon. In the chaos, all the king's sons flee and a confused report comes to David that Absalom has killed all his brothers. Eventually, when everyone returns to the palace, it is clear that Amnon alone was murdered by Absalom as a revenge killing for the incestuous rape of Tamar.

Sadly, David still does nothing. Over two years he sat idle over Amnon's sin. Now over a three year period he will do nothing to deal with Absalom's sin. David was a sexual predator himself to a degree. He had seduced Bathsheba. David was a murderer himself. He had killed Uriah with a complex conspiracy. Perhaps that is a reason for his moral paralysis. Both sons had done things he himself had done. But the brewing pain in this season of sorrow just kept making things worse.

When I read this account, I am warned that the consequences of my own sins are much deeper than I usually suspect. It forces me to admit that I don't always take sin as seriously as I should. And I know that God forgives. That is not the issue. But even in forgiveness, there are still consequences. It might still mean that sorrow will visit with sin's effects.

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