The voice of Jesus and the voices all around us…

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John 10:1 (Jesus said) “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”

It was a constant battle – the conflict between the impulse to follow Jesus and the voices of those discouraging them from doing so. Fortunately, Jesus’ disciples followed him around wherever he went. Their engagement with Jesus was far deeper and of greater duration than the voices of those those calling them away from Jesus.

For many Christians today, engagement with the Lord is far more limited. If we tallied hours listening to podcasts and TV broadcasts and streaming TV shows and social media content, the number of hours spent listening to the voices of the world FAR EXCEEDS hours spent hearing the voice of God by reading scripture or praying or worshipping or studying the faith. BTW I’m talking about myself right now – and I’m a pastor! I think it’s one reason why the conflict and anxiety in the world around us has infiltrated many of our churches, to our detriment.

Lord Jesus, yours is the voice of wisdom and peace and life. Give to us a desire to spend of our limited time hearing from you. We pray this in your holy name. Amen.

Taking his medicine and trusting God…

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2 Samuel 16:When King David (on the run from his own son Absalom) came to Bahurim, a man of the family of the house of Saul came out whose name was Shimei son of Gera; he came out cursing. He threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David; now all the people and all the warriors were on his right and on his left. Shimei shouted while he cursed, “Out! Out! Murderer! Scoundrel! The Lord has avenged on all of you the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned; and the Lord has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. See, disaster has overtaken you; for you are a man of blood.” Then Abishai son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head.” 10 But the king said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the Lord has said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’ ” 11 David said to Abishai and to all his servants, “My own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord has bidden him. 12 It may be that the Lord will look on my distress, and the Lord will repay me with good for this cursing of me today.”

The man Shimei was throwing stones and cursing David because Shimei was from the tribe of Benjamin, as was the former king Saul. Saul’s people resented the fact that the throne did not stay within the tribe of Benjamin upon Saul’s death, but was given by God to David who was of the tribe of Judah. In Shimei’s mind, David was getting what he had coming to him.

Now, as a king (even a king on the run) David had military assets at his disposal. One of David’s advisers named Abishai wanted to take the cursing man out. Putting up with such insults made David look weak to those around him. This is completely understandable and a problem most of us would likely want dealt with immediately. But David wasn’t particularly concerned with what other people thought. He was far more concerned with how God viewed the situation. In David’s mind the man’s insults were an extension of God’s punishment for David’s acts against Bathsheba and her husband Uriah. As a servant of God, David needed to take his medicine rather than eliminate it.

This is one of the things I admire most about David. He’s definitely a flawed human being like the rest of us, but he has great confidence in the Lord. Throughout scripture, there are times when David refuses to fight his enemies and instead stands down to allow God to protect him. He could act on his own behalf, but chooses not to – as a sign of faith and confidence in his relationship with God. It’s his way of honoring the prayer, “Lord not my will, but your will be done”.

Lord give me a heart that trusts you as David did. Amen.

Betrayal from his own son…

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2 Samuel 15:At the end of four years Absalom (King David’s son) said to (his father), “Please let me go to Hebron and pay the vow that I have made to the Lord. For your servant made a vow while I lived at Geshur in Aram: If the Lord will indeed bring me back to Jerusalem, then I will worship the Lord in Hebron.” The king said to him, “Go in peace.” So he got up, and went to Hebron. 10 But Absalom sent secret messengers throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then shout: Absalom has become king at Hebron!” 11 Two hundred men from Jerusalem went with Absalom; they were invited guests, and they went in their innocence, knowing nothing of the matter. 12 While Absalom was offering the sacrifices, he sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counselor, from his city Giloh. The conspiracy grew in strength, and the people with Absalom kept increasing. 

As I mentioned in my last post, King David was punished by God for his treachery against Bathsheba and her husband Uriah. Part of God’s judgment was that David would experience continual strife in his own family until his death. The passage today is an example as his son Absalom attempts to usurp David’s throne. It’s one thing to be attacked by a stranger. It’s another to be undermined by one’s own son.

Our passage has me thinking about my own relationships with my three young adult children. They are precious to me, so I cannot imagine David’s heartbreak when he learned of his son’s betrayal. Lord, watch over us who are parents, grandparents, children, and so on. Help us to love one another as you love us. Amen.

The messiness of being human…

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2 Samuel 13:1 Some time passed. David’s son Absalom had a beautiful sister whose name was Tamar; and David’s son Amnon fell in love with her. Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her. But Amnon had a friend whose name was Jonadab, the son of David’s brother Shimeah; and Jonadab was a very crafty man. He said to him, “O son of the king, why are you so haggard morning after morning? Will you not tell me?” Amnon said to him, “I love Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.” Jonadab said to him, “Lie down on your bed, and pretend to be ill; and when your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘Let my sister Tamar come and give me something to eat, and prepare the food in my sight, so that I may see it and eat it from her hand.’ ” So Amnon lay down, and pretended to be ill; and when the king came to see him, Amnon said to the king, “Please let my sister Tamar come and make a couple of cakes in my sight, so that I may eat from her hand.” 

Amnon lured Tamar into his room and proceeded to rape her. It’s an awful story found in the rest of chapter 13. “What led to this?” you may ask. In chapters 11 and 12 King David had a child out of wedlock with Bathsheba (a woman who was totally innocent throughout), the wife of a man named Uriah, whom David had killed. It’s a tawdry story that reflects poorly on David, God’s anointed king. As punishment for his sins, God told David the child he conceived with Bathsheba would die – which it did. There was more tragedy to come for David as we read in chapter 13 and beyond.

What I appreciate about this awful story is the fact it was not omitted from scripture. David is a hero of the faith in the Jewish and Christian traditions, but he was not without fault. It would have been easy to white-wash the narrative to present David as more virtuous than he was, but that’s not what happened. David experienced failure, disappointment, tragedy, grief, and loss like everyone else. Stories like this one make David real for me, which I appreciate.

Lord have mercy on us all as you had on David. Amen.

I delight in it…

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Psalm 119: 33 Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end. 34 Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. 35 Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. 

The other day I wrote that perhaps the writer loved the blessings of observing the statutes of God (protection, provision, abundance) more than the statutes themselves. However as I read this text I am changing my mind. Perhaps, with maturity and greater intimacy with God, the psalmist really does delight in the statutes of God.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you know I don’t write as often in this space as I once did. It’s not that I don’t enjoy writing or have time to write, but after a number of years writing I find myself repeating certain themes and lessons over and over again. I’m not sure if that’s your experience in reading, but it is with my writing. And so instead of writing about a particular theme or topic – again – I will simply stop after reading.

However, just because I don’t write every day doesn’t mean I don’t read every day because I generally do. And I read, not because I HAVE TO but because I enjoy it. I like the fact that scripture is a living document, or library of documents. No matter how many times you read it, there are always more layers that open up. One could even say, I delight in reading scripture each day.

What are the spiritual practices in which you delight?

It takes what it takes…

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Psalm 119: 17 Deal bountifully with your servant, so that I may live and observe your word. 18 Open my eyes, so that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. 19 I live as an alien in the land; do not hide your commandments from me. 20 My soul is consumed with longing for your ordinances at all times. 

The laws and ordinances God gave to Israel via Moses (think Ten Commandments) laid out the boundaries God demanded in order for there to be right relationship between God and his people. Follow the ordinances of God and receive the blessings of God. Violate the ordinances of God and suffer the consequences of God’s displeasure. Pretty simple. What I find interesting about our passage is the description of one who is “longing for your ordinances at all times”.

My sense is that the author doesn’t so much long for God’s ordinances as much as he longs for the benefits and blessings of following them. With God there is protection and provision and abundance, things we still value today. Do I long for these blessings? Sure! Do I long for the ordinances that produce them? Not as much.

I was listening to a talk by Nick Saban, legendary head coach of Alabama football. Though I’m not a ‘Bama fan I appreciated what he had to say to his players. He said (I am paraphrasing here) there are players who can be “good” with modest talent and a strong work ethic. Other players can be “good” with above average natural talent and a so-so work ethic. Most “very good” players have both above average natural ability as well as a strong work ethic. But then there are the “elite” players with which one can build a national championship team.

Elite players have God-given ability as well as “a special intensity, a special focus, a special commitment and drive and passion to do things at a high level and high standard all the time”. He is clear that is what he expects from those who are part of his organization – coaches, players, whatever. Why? Because achieving the results they’re looking for simply takes what it takes. There are no shortcuts. Expecting to achieve the results without the work is folly. But if you show up every day with that elite mindset, to function with that sort of focus and intensity, over time, good things will happen.

For whatever reason, this is what I hear in the passage for today. To be “consumed with longing” for God’s ordinances is what it takes to see the blessings which are the goal. Salvation is already mine in Christ Jesus, but there are other elements of the Christian life which require my effort. This morning I’m asking the Lord what is being asked of me today, that I might enjoy the blessings of God.

Ain’t no feud like a family feud…

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2 Samuel 2:1 After (David learned of the death of Saul and Jonathan) David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah?” The Lord said to him, “Go up.” David said, “To which shall I go up?” He said, “To Hebron.” So David went up there, along with his two wives, Ahinoam of Jezreel, and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel. David brought up the men who were with him, every one with his household; and they settled in the towns of Hebron. Then the people of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah… But Abner son of Ner, commander of Saul’s army, had taken Ishbaal son of Saul, and brought him over to Mahanaim. He made him king over Gilead, the Ashurites, Jezreel, Ephraim, Benjamin, and over all Israel. 10 Ishbaal, 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. 11 The time that David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah was seven years and six months. 

Saul was David’s predecessor as king. When Saul was killed in battle, David (who had been chosen by God) was anointed king. However, not everyone was onboard with this. Ancient custom was that the eldest son would assume the throne upon death of a king. Abner, Saul’s commander, sought out Saul’s son eldest Ishbaal and made him king. So the kingdom of Israel was divided with some people following David and others following Ishbaal. Eventually David would be sole king, but it wouldn’t last. Within two generations of David, Israel would be divided once more – never to be reunited.

When you read the Old Testament and the New Testament there are some marked differences in the way God guides and directs his people. In the Old Testament, taking retribution on the enemies of Israel is perfectly acceptable, even sanctioned by God. Yet the New Testament is filled with teachings on forgiveness, perhaps most clearly illustrated with the words of Jesus himself:

Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven…”

You might wonder why the change of tune related to forgiveness. I believe our story for today may shed a bit of light on the issue. The resentment of David as he followed Saul as king, rather than Saul’s son Ishbaal, was deep and lasting – particularly by the tribe and clans of Saul. During the reigns of David and his son Solomon, Israel experienced a season of relative peace within. But after the rule of Solomon, the old grudges re-emerged to the point that Israel split into a northern and southern kingdom.

The people of God spent so much time fighting each other over hundreds of years they were weakened from within, to the point they became vulnerable to attack from outsiders and were eventually conquered as a kingdom. One expectation of a Messiah was that God would send a king who would unite Israel and restore the united kingdom that was lost.

Human grudges are alive and well, aren’t they? I’ve seen them in my own extended family – it’s not pretty. Unforgiveness can tear apart kingdoms as in the bible, but can also tear apart families, communities, churches, and so on. Lord, search my heart for unforgiveness and give me grace to give it to you. Amen.

Leaving things in God’s hands…

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1 Samuel 24:1 When Saul returned from following the Philistines (looking for David), he was told, “David is in the wilderness of En-gedi.” Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel, and went to look for David and his men in the direction of the Rocks of the Wild Goats. He came to the sheepfolds beside the road, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the innermost parts of the cave. The men of David said to him, “Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it seems good to you.’ ” Then David went and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul’s cloak. Afterward David was stricken to the heart because he had cut off a corner of Saul’s cloak. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to raise my hand against him; for he is the Lord’s anointed.” So David scolded his men severely and did not permit them to attack Saul. Then Saul got up and left the cave, and went on his way. 

V.2 tells us there were 3,000 men with Saul, which is almost 10 times the number of men with David. David is vastly outnumbered and then finds himself trapped in a cave in which Saul, the man who wants ti kill David, enters the cave to relieve himself. If there was every a golden opportunity to take out Saul, this was it. But David refuses, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord…”.

In one sense, this may have been a strategic move. David would likely have succeeded in killing Saul, but that would still leave him outnumbered almost 10 to 1. David would likely have ended up dead along with all of his men.

However, the sense I get from the passage is that David didn’t think it was God’s time yet. He believed God would make good on his promise to make him king of Israel – eventually. And given God’s faithfulness to David in the past, David could afford to let Saul live.

One of the clearest traits I admire about David is his faith that the Lord would keep his promises. Trust means I can leave things in God’s hands when appropriate. It’s not all up to me. Lord let it be so. Amen.

Many Samaritans in the city believe in him…

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John 4:So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?”… 16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem… 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”  28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him… 39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.”

Sorry for the long passage, but sometimes we need more than a few verses. This is a remarkable story though it’s veiled in an unfamiliar culture. As you likely gathered, Jews did not think much of Samaritans (v.9). We’re also told in v.6 “It was about noon.” That might seem like an unimportant detail, but it’s not. There’s a reason John included this nugget of information in the story.

In that part of the world, like my home state of Texas in summer, it gets really hot in the middle of the day. Carrying water from a well to a home could be a long walk – and if you’ve ever carried buckets of water you know that water is very heavy, so getting water was hard work. Most people went to draw water early in the day, when it was still relatively cool outside. So why would this woman show up at the well to draw water – at noon? We’re told in v.17-18. A woman with five husbands, and living with a man who was not her husband, would likely have been a bit of an outcast. She may have chosen to get water at noon to avoid having to deal with the whispers and dirty looks from others getting water earlier in the day. There would have been more heat, but perhaps less hassle. Makes sense. What’s the point?

This woman, as described in the cultural context of the story, was likely someone with a less than stellar reputation in her village. She is not the sort you would likely choose to be your advocate among her people. Yet this is exactly what Jesus did. We learn the result in v.39:

“Many Samaritans in the city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony…”

Jesus did this over and over again. He didn’t usually send the reputable, highly regarded persons to be his advocates, instead choosing the poor, the marginalized, the castoffs of society. And with “the least of these” he changed the world. Therefore, don’t be surprised when the Lord chooses you to be his advocate, to tell his story, do his works, speak his name to others. If you don’t think you’re good enough, smart enough, prepared enough to do the Lord’s work… you’re exactly the sort our Lord tends to choose.

Lord Jesus give us courage to trust you when you call upon us to do your will and your works in the world. Amen.

Facing our Goliaths…

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1 Samuel 17:19 Now Saul (the king), and (young David’s brothers), and all the men of Israel, were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. 20 David rose early in the morning, left the sheep with a keeper, took the provisions, and went as Jesse had commanded him. He came to the encampment as the army was going forth to the battle line, shouting the war cry. 21 Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. 22 David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage, ran to the ranks, and went and greeted his brothers. 23 As he talked with them, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines, and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him. 24 All the Israelites, when they saw the man, fled from him and were very much afraid. 25 The Israelites said, “Have you seen this man who has come up? Surely he has come up to defy Israel. The king will greatly enrich the man who kills him, and will give him his daughter and make his family free in Israel.” 26 David said to the men who stood by him, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine, and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

The passage paints such an interesting scene for us. The armies of Israel, thousands of warriors equipped with armor, sword, and shield, form a battle line – only to turn back when they see the giant Goliath. But not David, who was just a teenager with no armor or weapon or training in warfare. As we will read in the passage for tomorrow, David volunteers to fight Goliath when no one else in Israel’s army steps up. At first it seems laughable, even suicidal, that David would fight Goliath. But then we read the last sentence above:

“For who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

Every other warrior of Israel looks at Goliath, sees a mountain of a man, and hides. David sees Goliath and feels no fear. Why? Because David understands it is the living God who fights for Israel, not the warriors of Israel. As such David knows he has nothing to worry about. Hence, he volunteers to fight on Israel’s behalf.

As I think about our passage this morning I see Goliath as a metaphor for the struggles, cares, problems of life. We all have at least one Goliath we’re batting right now. Maybe several. I’ll admit there are many times I’m much more like the warriors of Israel than I am like David. This morning I’m asking the Lord to search my heart for places of fear. Fear is normal – it happens. But our passage is reminding me that I do not face my Goliaths alone. God goes into battle with me, and with you, every day.

Lord give us grace to trust your presence in and around us. Turn our hearts from fear to hope in you. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.