Ojichan and O bachan (Gramps and Grams)

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Grandbabies

“Papaw/Memaw”, “Grandpa/Grandma”, “Nana/Papa”, “Earl/Ethel”…by whatever name you called them, many have memories of going to Grandma’s house or fishing with Grandpa.  They were there for wisdom and guidance, to spoil their grandkids, and provide a stable market for overalls and aprons. One thing to be said for Grandparents though, they are timeless.  They will always do a few things.

They always protect and admonish.  There is a chapter in David’s life that is particularly troubling.  His family is in shambles.  His eldest son Amnon (his mother was Ahinoam [2 Sam. 3.2]) raped his half-sister Tamar [2 Sam. 13].  It is not a high point in Scripture.  Absolam (his mother was Maakah [2 Sam. 3.3]) hears of this act by his half-brother upon his sister and is outraged.  He conspires a plan and waits.  Two years later (2 Sam. 13.23), Absalom killed Amnon in retribution.  David was furious over Amnon’s sin (2 Sam. 13.21) but he wept bitterly at the news that Amnon was dead and mourned for many days (13.36-37).  Absalom unsure of how his father, the King, would react, fled.  Who did he run too?  Talmai, son of Ammihud, the king of Geshur.  For three years, stayed in Geshur.  This is relevant to the conversation because of his mother’s heritage.  She had been the princess of Geshur, the daughter of Talmai.  He fled to his Grandpa.  Parents are the enforcers and discipliners; Grandparents keep Suzy-Q’s and Pepsi’s in the fridge.  Parent’s send you to your room and tell you to close your door; Grandparent’s keep the door open just to welcome you in.  Absolam proves one timeless fact about Grandparent’s: an unwavering belief that their grand-child is truly the best (as pointed out by their monogramed sweatshirts).

They have no expiration date.  Proverbs 17.6 reads: “Children’s children are a crown to the aged”  Crown [hb. ‘ataret] is actually the first word of the Hebrew sentence.  Hebrew isn’t as locked into sentence structure, especially in the Wisdom Books, as the English language is.  There is much more fluidity to be had in where words are placed in a sentence.  To emphasize the importance of a word, “crown” in this case, the writer will place it first in the thought.  Crowns are important.  The crown of the book of Proverbs displays its significance.  It is wisdom. Proverbs 4.7-9:

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.

Though it cost all you have, get understanding.

Cherish her, and she will exalt you;

embrace her, and she will honor you.

She will give you a garland to grace your head

and present you with a glorious crown.”

Since the purpose of the entire book is to “gain wisdom and understanding” (Proverbs 1.2), the importance of the crown is easily understood.  There is the “woman of noble character” in Proverbs.  She is a “crown”.  Proverbs 12.4:

“A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown,

but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones.”

Her worth is beyond compare in Proverbs.  There is wealth.  Again Solomon uses “crown” to start off this wisdom.  Crown begins the sentence that reads:

“The wealth of the wise is their crown,

but the folly of fools yields folly.” (Proverbs 14.24)

Wealth is the display of those who possess wisdom.  Crowns are gold. They’re precious. They’re valuable.  Literally, wealth.  Finally, that grey hair that adorns the elderly; it’s a crown.  Again Solomon starts the Proverb with the word “crown” as he writes:

“Gray hair is a crown of splendor;

it is attained in the way of righteousness.” (Proverbs 16.31)

Gray hair is a sign of wisdom.  A crown of survival.  Living long enough to attain a full head of gray hair, should be celebrated.

The importance of the crown motif in Proverbs can’t be undersold.  It’s a display of life well lived.  Which is why they put their Grandkids on display.  Before some guy in Japan decided to put a camera in his phone in 2000, every person born before then was subjected to a Grandmother who took way-to-many-pictures, with way-to-big-of-flash, with a zoom lens that may or may not be in focus.  But she was Grandma.  She was going to show off her grandkids.  My mother cherished pictures of her grandkids and would show them to any and everyone.  They were Her and Dad’s good life on display.  One of my greatest regrets and disappointments in life is that I couldn’t give them any.  I am the 4th generation “Gail” in the Long family and it will end with me.  They are crowned “grandparents” forever with Micaiah, Mia, Macy Jo, and Matthew because crowns don’t have expiration dates.

The last timeless aspect of grandparents is their spiritual leadership.  It was my Grandmothers who took me to Church when I was younger: East Borough Presbyterian Church and Assumption Catholic Church.  Before my family began attending a Church regularly in 6th grade, it was my Great-Grandfather who diligently prayed for our family for many years.  Who would have thought that Dad is serving in leadership of a Church, Mom knew Jesus intimately before her passing, Steph is a Church planter in Japan, and I write these words with a placard on my door that reads: “Pastor”.  All thanks to a praying Grandpa Gail.  Psalm 128 is a song that is meant to be sung on the way to worship.  Jerusalem sat on the top of a hill.  Everyone was continually “going up” to Jerusalem to go to the Temple.  As they walked, they sang.

Blessed are all who fear the Lord,

who walk in obedience to him.

You will eat the fruit of your labor;

blessings and prosperity will be yours.

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house;

your children will be like olive shoots around your table.

Yes, this will be the blessing for the man who fears the Lord.

May the Lord bless you from Zion;

may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.

May you live to see your children’s children—peace be on Israel.

When leadership, especially spiritual leadership, was needed, it was the Grandparents who led the way.  During celebrations, like Passover, it was the Oldest male in the household that led the worship.  Psalm 128 shows that worship starts on the way to the Temple.  It depicts 3 generations: Mom and Pop (1-3); children (3); children’s children (8).  Whether the grandkids are on the scene or not is not clear, but they are definitely in the picture.  The moment my sister said “yes” to her husband, my mother and father began preparing for grandkids.

By whatever name they go by they are certainly vital to the lives of our families.

A Man after God’s Heart: The Women who Make the Man

 

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Three generations of women in my life.  Miss you Mom!

“Behind every successful rancher is a woman who works in town.”

One area in which our culture is at war is in the role of women in business, entertainment, leadership, and by proxy and spill-over, the church.  I am convinced that as long as you have leaders, women will have always have assumed a leadership role.

The greatest leader in the history of Israel was David.  He was the man, the leader, that all others would be measured against.  Despite his failures and short comings, Bathsheba and the Census, David would be the one every other king would be in the shadow of.  So much of David’s leadership can be looked at in view of the women in his life.  Sure there were more important people in his ministry who played much larger roles, but the women were a fascinating group.

His Great-Grandmother, Ruth was a widower.  She was not a prim and proper woman.  She was powerful and dangerous.  She knew what needed to be done and took initiative to do it.  It was Boaz job as the Kinsman redeemer to look after the family of which she was a part.  He wasn’t doing his job, so she arranged a circumstance in which he would take his rightful role in the family.  She did what she had to do, to get him to do what he was supposed to do.  Women, in today’s world, are too busy trying to be men, that they quit asking men to be men.  It’s not just a “today problem”.  In 1821, Sojourner Truth spoke these words: “…”  It was taken from a speech that argued that she was a powerful woman who was equal to any man.  She was tuff and she was strong.  She was powerful.  But she wasn’t a man.  Women have this power to bring out the best in men.  Some may do it with a challenge like Deborah (Judges 4-5).  Some may do it with seduction (Ruth).  Some may do it with service (Abigale in 1 Samuel 25).  Some may do it with beauty and intelligence (Esther).  The point is that as many different women as there are in this world, men will do that many different things to gain the respect of women.  Ruth was a challenger of Boaz and became the Great-grandmother of the King of Israel that the Jews still honor.  She is referred to by her husband as an “isha-chayil”, “a woman of noble character”.

His Mother was a believer.  There is no mention of her in any of the Annals of Israel; none in Samuel or Chronicles.  We know his father’s name was Jesse.  He is mentioned numerous times, but his mother is not.  I just assumed she was absentee.  But as I read through Psalms, she is mentioned.  She is not named.  Who exactly she was is a debate and study for another time.  Regardless, she is mentioned briefly in Psalms 86 and 116.  Each time it is the same wording.  She is known to have worshipped the Lord in faithfulness.  She worshipped the same “compassionate and gracious God that is slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness” that Moses did.  (Psalm 86.15-16)  Literally, ‘I am your servant, the son of your mother…” (Psalm 86.16; 116.16).  “Just as” in the most recent translation of the NIV, is added in for translation ease.  I do believe it is necessary and faithful to the text.  David’s mother was a follower of Yahweh.

His Wife, Abigail, was a righteous woman.  Prior to her relationship with David, she served both him and her husband with honor.  She was faithful in her service.  When David and his men needed sustenance, her husband, Nabal, refused to help.  She took it upon herself to serve and help David in his time of despair.  He needed sustenance and she cooked.  He needed reminding of God’s plan and she guided.  He needed a woman, she was there.  Eventually it all worked in accordance with God’s plan and they ended up married after Nabal’s death. (1 Samuel 25) Proverbs 11.16 says:

A kindhearted woman gains honor, but ruthless men gain only wealth.”

His Wife, Bathsheba, bore him a child named Solomon. Though David and Bathsheba’s time began in “not-so-good-circumstances”, they would finish well. She would be one of the five women that Matthew mentions in his genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1.6).  She isn’t named, but she is still there as “Uriah’s wife”.  That has to say something about her importance.  Solomon would become the wisest king to have ruled Israel.  He would be just and fair.  Eventually he would succumb to greed, idol worship, and other sins.  He took many foreign wives and concubines. His sin was numerous, but he would still author many great proverbs of wisdom.

His daughter Tamar, whose mother was Maakah, the princess of Geshur, is the only one of David’s daughters to be mentioned in the Bible.  She has two words that describer in her short story: beautiful and desolate. Her story is tragic; but, culturally relevant today.  She was raped by her half-brother Amnon (2 Samuel 13.26).  Amnon refused to marry her and sent her away with extreme hatred.  She moved in with her full brother Absalom, despite his poor advice: “Don’t take this to heart” (2 Samuel 13.20)  In a world where 1 in 2 women will be sexually abused in their lifetime and only 31% get reported, Tamar has a familiar story.  When David hears of this, he is furious.  The Hebrew is charah meod.  “Very angry” is how it is most often translated.  Charah is anger ready to act.  I have written about it elsewhere, so there is no reason to dwell on it here; but, I will point out that these two words are paired together only 6 times in the Bible.  They are found in Genesis 4.5, Genesis 34.7, 1 Samuel 11.6, 2 Sam 12.5, 2 Samuel 13.21, and 2 Chron 25.10.  For a moment I would like to look at 2 of these from 2 Samuel.  The second on is found in this story of Tamar.  The first is found in Nathan’s confrontation.  David sinned with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11).  Nine months later, Nathan confronts him about his sin by telling him a story of two shepherds.  One has great flocks and herds; the other only has one lamb.  This little lamb was “like a daughter to him” (2 Samuel 12.3).  When a traveler came to the rich man he took the sheep from the poor man to feed him.  “David burned with anger [charah + meod]” (2 Samuel 12.5) and pronounced a sentence upon the rich man.  Then Nathan turned the story on him: “You are that man!” (2 Samuel 12.7) Literally the Hebrew reads: “You the man [‘attah hais’]”  So David is the man who has take what is not his.  He has taken someone’s daughter.  Now in 2 Samuel 13, his own daughter has been taken.  David is “furious [charah meod]” (2 Samuel 13.21).  He feels the same emotion as he did towards the rich man in the previous chapter.

Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grand-daughter Jehosheba, faced a crisis.  Her brother, Ahaziah the King of Judah was murdered by Jehu (2 Kings 9.27ff.).  Athaliah, Amaziah’s mother, upon hearing of Ahaziah’s death, assumed the role of King of Judah.  In doing so she tried to destroy the royal family (2 Samuel 11.1)  Jehosheba thwarted her plan by taking Ahaziah’s son, Joash, and hiding him in the Temple for 6 years, away from Athaliah’s wrath (2 Kings 11.3).  He would be crowned King (2 Kings 11.12) and Athaliah killed (2 Kings 11.16), all at the ripe old age of 7, because of Jehosheba.

Finally, his Great42-grand-daughter, Mary, would be the one who would fulfill God’s promise to this world (Luke 1.26-38).  She carried Jesus in her womb for 9 months and brought the Messiah into this world (Matthew 1.18ff.; Luke 2).  She was just another generation of women in David’s lineage who played a central role in God’s promise.

Women are often maligned in church today.  They are pushed to the side or shoved into a corner.  Their gifts are over shadowed, and their service is unappreciated.  David’s kingdom and his legacy was greatly influenced by women.   To eliminate or ignore them from David’s story would eliminate David.  Had Ruth not taken initiative, there would be no David.  Had there been no Bathsheba, there would be no Solomon and the outrage over Tamar probably not as severe.

Thank God for the women in life that make men.  Grandmothers, mothers, daughters, and wives…you are needed, powerful, and gifted.  Thank you.

Miss you Mom!

The Self-disclosure of God (Part 1)

untitledSelf-disclosure is one of God’s favorite things in the Old Testament.

Moses is shown “the Glory of the Lord” on Mt. Sinai. (Exodus 33.12ff.)  He is watching the power of God, the goodness of God, the glow of God.  He walked away radiated, with a glowing face. (Exodus 34.29)  What is most striking, is how God narrates the event.  God describes Himself like this:

The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…(Exodus 34.6)

This proclamation of identity would stick with God throughout the Old Testament.  I had an identity once.  At a birthday party in 4th grade (I don’t even remember who it was for), I was reaching for something in the pool at a hotel.  The party was at ice cream and cake phase so I had already changed out of my swimming suit.  I fell into the pool with all my clothes on.  I never lived it down.  It came up in 2 different graduation speechs, favorite memories from school portions of yearbooks and school news papers, and one reunion.  I will always be the guy who fell in the pool with his clothes on.  God will carry this identity through all his dealings with man.

It’s fascinating, however, how this phrase is used.

It’s worshipful.  Psalm 145 uses this phrase like a link in a chain.  Each link is a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  Verse 1 begins with aleph.  Verse 2, with a bet and so on until verse 8 when chet is the letter that is the letter of focus.  The verse begins with the word “gracious” (chanoon).  It’s just another link in the chain of attributes describing God in this Psalm.  Count the “God is…” statements:

  • “Great is the Lord…” (3)
  • “The Lord is good to all…”(9)
  • “The Lord is trustworthy…” (13)
  • “The Lord is righteous…and faithful…”(17)
  • “The Lord is near…” (18)

David will extol and praise the Lord for all that He is. (145.2)  But it’s a bigger chain than that.  Psalm 145 is also a part of a chain that ends the book of Psalms. The last 5 Psalms all begin with the word “Praise” (hb. hallel).  In the Hebrew text, the Psalm titles are considered the first verse of the Psalm.  So Psalm 145 begins like this: hallelujah.  which translates to: “Praise the Lord”.

David loves this word.  Back in Psalm 103, he writes:

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. (Psalm 103.8)

Here he attributes it to Moses, but until he makes his own purposes for the verse known.  Six times in Psalm 103 he begins a sentence with hallelujah.  I guess if you get stuck on repeat, that’s a great word to get stuck on.  Both are Psalms of Praise.

There is another type of Psalm that David wrote.  It’s called a Psalm of Lament.  These are Psalms that are written from deep despair and anguish.  They deal with the dirty issues of life.  He writes in Psalm 86:

But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
    slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. (Psalm 86.15)

It’s honest.  David is piecing together a prayer of quotations from other places: Exodus 34, Psalms 25, 26, 27, and others.  He is lamenting his current predicament.  Which predicament that is exactly is undetermined.  Is it the pursuit of Saul?  Is it the isolation?  Is it the Philistines?  Time and location aside, David prays and worships.  This is the prayer of a desperate man.  The Psalm begins:

Hear me, Lord, and answer me,

   for I am poor and needy.

Guard my life, for I am faithful to you;

   save your servant who trusts in you.

You are my God; have mercy on me, Lord,

   for I call to you all day long. (Psalm 86.1-3)

and ends with this:

Turn to me and have mercy on me;

   show your strength in behalf of your servant;

save me, because I serve

   you just as my mother did.

Give me a sign of your goodness,

   that my enemies may see it and be put to shame,

   for you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me. (Psalm 86.16-17)

David is struggling to put together a few concepts and ideas.  The beginning and end of the Psalm is works-oriented: “save me because I served” (17), “guard me for I trust in you” (1).  In the middle, the Lord is a “gracious” and “compassionate” God.  It’s a question of justice.  Why are bad things happening to a good person?  He’s served and trusted, why are things going badly.  It is the exact opposite question posed in Jonah’s prayer.

Jonah 4 begins with Jonah in a bad place.  Verse 5 let’s the reader know that he went east of the city.  That’s code for “bad times”.  Anyone going east in the Bible is not having a good day.  So he is east.  And when he is east, he prays.

Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home?  That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish.   I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4.2-3)

God did not destroy Nineveh for their sins and Jonah is upset.  It’s not that he has been tremendously faithful to God either; but it’s always easier to see the sin in others than in yourself.  Jonah laments about God’s justice.  Why do good things happen to bad people?  Jonah wants the Lord to know that he knew all along that this was going to happen.  So, in what I imagine would be a mocking tone, Jonah quotes Exodus 34.6 and part of verse 7.  Why is it mocking you may wonder?  Notice what Jonah leaves out at the junction of 6 and 7?  The “faithfulness” (’emet) of God.  In Jonah’s thinking: if God is for the Ninevites, He can be for Jonah/Israel.  Jonah is putting God perjury alert.  He is questioning God’s honesty…to be continued…

The Cave

Gollum-Smeagol-smeagol-gollum-14076878-960-403“It came to me. My own. My love. My own. My precious.” –Gollum

Deep below the Misty Mountains lay a cave.  In the cave lived Gollum, one of the River people.  Many, many years back, he obtained a Ring.  It was one of the Rings of Power that was dolled out amongst the races of Middle Earth in J.R.R. Tolkein’s Trilogy, The Lord of the Rings.  Gollum now held the most powerful ring in his hand.  Immediately, the power consumed him.  Quickly, he began to both love it and hate it.  It warped his mind, body, and spirit.  It drove him to seek shelter in the cave below the Misty Mountains where he lived in the darkness for many years.

Caves are not destination places.  They are not places that people want to end up.  They are dark places.  They are wet places.  They are cold places.  When people ask: “why don’t you duck hunt?”  I simply tell them this: “I can be wet.  I can be cold.  I refuse to be both.”  Life has cave moments.  In 1 Samuel 22.1, David is in a cave.  He escaped (hb. malat) Saul’s pursuit at Gath and fled to the cave of Adullam.  At least in Gath, he was living in a city (albeit a foreign city under guise as an insane person).  I assume it was a non-extradition city.  Saul had a long reach and David ran.  The land of Israel is littered with caves and hide outs.  Like an outlaw, David finds one and is on the lam.  While there, just like he did to pass the long nights out in the field shepherding and just like he did in the Palace of Saul, he journaled.  He composed songs, poems, acrostics, and worshiped.  Scripture contains a few of these moments that reveal some truths about caves.

David enters alone (1 Samuel 22.1).  David went into the cave by himself.  There are very few exceptions in Scripture where people enter caves with others and some of those are questionable.  Obadiah hid 100 prophets in two caves, but with a nation and a king who is trying to exterminate them, there was probably some loneliness.  Just because there are people there, doesn’t mean isolation can’t set in.

“No man is an island, entire of itself;

every man is a piece of the continent.” — John Donne

Caves are a reminder, that the inhabitant is in it alone.  His journal reads:

“Look and see, there is no one at my right hand;

no one is concerned for me.

I have no refuge;

no one cares for my life.” (Psalm 142.4)

David is isolated.  Loneliness is an epidemic in America.  As of 1 January 2018, Facebook had 214 million US users.  Those that are 18-24 years old numbered 39.4 million.  Those that were over the age of 65 numbered 21.1 million.  Yet a 2016 article on independent.com stated: “a study in 2014 found 18-24-year-olds were four times as likely to feel lonely all the time as those aged 70 and above.”  Double the number are connected to the world and yet they are 4 times as likely to feel alone.  In the same article, Heather Saul observed, “humans were built for companionship, not to be alone, at least according to the growing body of research on the effect of social isolation has on health.”  I think I’ve read something like that before…Genesis 2 perhaps?  “It is not good for man to be alone.”  The “research” is affirming what God had said all along.  David’s family would eventually arrive, but for a time, he was isolated.

David is on the run.  Saul has been after David for some time now.  Twice he’s thrown spears.  He’s chased him into foreign territory.  Saul will not rest until David is dead.  Saul has tried to trap him: “When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who watch over my way.  In the path where I walk people have hidden a snare for me.” (Psalm 142.3)  This is directly from David’s prayer journal.  But he escaped the traps, the nets and the pits (Psalm 57.6).  Then there was the chase.  David prays later on: “Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need; rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me.” (Psalm 142.6)  I’ve harvested coyotes two ways: 1) trapping; 2) shooting from the back of an ATV at 45 mph.  It couldn’t have been a more different experience.  David was the coyote.  He’s seen it all.  He says in his song, in Psalm 57, that it has been a “hot pursuit” (57.3) and that he is now amongst men like “lions” and “ravenous beasts” (57.4).

The main word in both of these passages is refuge (hb. machseh/chaseh).  Four times in the two Psalms (57 and 142) refuge is mentioned.  They are related words with the same base.  Machseh is used in Psalm 142.5: “I cry to you, Lord; I say, “You are my refuge…”  Of the 20 times its used in Scripture, 12 of them are in Psalms.  The reason is the desperation that comes through the pens of the song writers.  These are desperate men in desperate situations.  Refuge is not requested, it is required.

Along the same lines, chasah, another Hebrew word for refuge, is used 37 times, with 25 of them in Psalms.  Again, desperation begs refuge.  Psalm 57 uses this word twice.  “Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge.  I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.” (Psalm 57.1)  David employs the image of a mother bird hovering over her nest.  Its not the first time.  He quoted his great-grandfather, Boaz, in speaking to Ruth: “May the Lord repay you for what you have done.  May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” (Ruth 2.12)

The refuge of God takes many forms.  It was wings, as was mentioned before (also in Psalm 61.4; 91.4).  It was a “shield and horn”, a symbol of God’s power (1 Samuel 22.3; Psalm 18.30; Proverbs 30.5).  It was a rock that a man could tether to (Psalm 18.2;62.7; 94.22).  Refuge is the strong tower and fortress that fortifies the soul (Psalm 61.3; 91.2; 94.22).  A place of refuge is a reoccurring theme in David’s journal.  He is distressed and exhausted; on the run and growing weary.  He needs refuge.  It is fitting that “Adullam”, the cave where he is hiding (1 Samuel 22.1), means “refuge” in Hebrew. (Brown, Driver, Briggs 726)

David is worn out.  No one enters the cave at a high point in life.  The cave lies at the end of a long and arduous journey.  David’s been on the run.  He’s acted insane.  He’s been among enemies.  He has dodged spears.  He is physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausted.  “When my spirit grows faint within me…I have no refuge.” (Psalm 142.3-4)  The Hebrew verb “faint” (‘atap) is in an unusual conjugation.  It is in the hitpael stem, meaning it is to be understood reflexively.  David is “growing faint” because of himself.  Elsewhere this verb is translated “ebb away” (Jonah 2.7).  The picture is made clear.  David is wasting away because of the chase, the stress, and the isolation.  He is left in the cave to think and “grow faint”.

But there is another side to this prayer and this song.  For all the things going wrong, David trusts in this: God does his best work from caves.

“Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;

let your glory be over all the earth…

My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast;

I will sing and make music…

I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;

I will sing of you among the peoples.

For great is your love, reaching to the heavens;

your faithfulness reaches to the skies.” (Psalm 57.5, 7, 9-10)

empty-tomb-yellowFast forward 1000 years or so.  Joseph of Arimathea brought Jesus to a tomb.  They were caves back then.  Where they sealed the entrance with a stone and they left him alone.  His chase was over.  The people, the Romans, the mob, had been after him for a year.  Finally, the situation proved fruitful and they crucified him.  He had been chased down.  Jesus was exhausted from all night trials and physically spent.  He had endured the cross and the suffering.  He was worn-out.  And he finds himself in the cave.  But his road to the cave was understood in the same way that David understood his: God does his best work from caves.  Three days later, Jesus would emerge from the cave, overcoming all that it stood for.  Like David writes in Psalm 57.8:

“Awake, my soul!

Awake, harp and lyre!

I will awaken the dawn!”

That dawn, Sunday morning, was welcomed with an empty cave!

 

A Man after God’s Heart: His Sin

1403634417608“Where am I and how did I get here?”  These can be startling questions.

Sleep-walkers, Partying majors in college, and people who lack short term memory have all asked this question.  Sometimes, spiritually, this question can arise; especially when sin is involved.  David had to wonder about this question.  All his struggles are behind him, but now he faces depression and death…”how did I get here?” he wonders.  Well it was a journey that began at home.

Sin shows up where your aren’t supposed to be.  It was the spring time.  A time when “kings go off to war” (2 Samuel 11.1).  David had sent Joab out with the army, but David stayed in Jerusalem.  The recurring theme of David’s story has been this: he was a king before he was a King.  David had always acted like a King even before the title became his.  Saul on the other hand had the title but not the character.  When Goliath stood before the army of the Lord, it was David, not King Saul whose responsibility it was, who went out to fight.  David was a warrior.  His name was forged through the battles he fought, the wars he waged, and his life as a soldier.  But in this case, he skipped the battle.  He sat this one out.  Instead of wandering among the tents of his soldiers, he wandered around the roof of his palace.  The rooftops of the city spread out beneath him.  There he spied a woman bathing on one of the houses in the lower part of the city. (2)  Temptation presents itself.  Sin arrives when we aren’t where we are supposed to be.  David should have been at war, instead he is on is roof.  He is on the computer at 2 am instead of in bed.  He has multiple tabs open on his browser instead of just checking his e-mail.  He has driven across town to the gas station near the club, when he should have gone to Walmart down the street.  Sin always finds us when we aren’t where we are supposed to be.  God told Cain in Genesis 4: “sin is crouching at your door.”  Cain’s heart wasn’t in the right place, and soon they would head out to a field where he would kill his brother Abel.  Sin is ready and waiting to get us when we veer from where we should be.  David learned that lesson.

Sin thrives on curiosity.  After David saw her bathing, he had a choice: forget he saw her and go on…or explore the situation a little more.  David chose the latter.  He sent someone “to find out about her.” (3)  How different would Alice’s story be if she hadn’t followed the rabbit down the rabbit hole?  David went exploring.  Sin is a journey of curiosity.  That is how it began right?

  • “Did God really say…” (Gen 3.1)
  • “You will not surely die…” (Gen 4.5)
  • “Your eyes will opened…” (Gen 4.5)
  • “You will be like God knowing good and evil” (Gen 4.5)

Satan’s last argument, “don’t you want to know good and evil?” sealed it.   The Hebrew word, know, means “to fully experience”.  Satan says: “Eve, aren’t you a little bit curious about the good and evil that God is keeping from you?” The question was sealed with a little fruit.  Curiosity is what keeps the traffic continuous on porn sites.  Curiosity is what feeds affairs.  Curiosity is what promises excitement, freedom, and pleasure.  Curiosity is what made David search out Bathsheba.  Satan’s goal with Eve, with David, and with us, is to arise curiosity.  Doubt is at the root of this curiosity.  Can we really trust God’s word?  Does God really want the best for us?  Is God hiding something good from us?  We doubt the holiness of God, the truth of His Word, and the goodness of His character; so we are curious about what we are missing.  And sin becomes a reality.

Sin doesn’t stop itself.  It is a well known fact that sin always takes you farther than you ever wanted to go.  Anyone who has ever been caught up in sin can testify.  What began as something small escalates to full fledged addiction.  A quick glance turns into a lingering stare, a white lie into a full on story, a wish into idolatry.  David indulged his fleeting glance, entertained his curiosity, and went on a journey farther than he ever wanted to go.  He slept with Bathsheba  and she winds up pregnant. (2 Samuel 11.4)  After two attempts to get Uriah to appear to be the father of the baby in Bathsheba’s womb, David sends word to the front.  Uriah carries his own death sentence to the front lines.  Joab is told to pull back his troops, leaving Uriah alone, in the midst of the fighting (2 Sam. 11.16-17).  This is not the first time thins thinking and this plan was undertook.  If you remember, Saul wanted the Philistines to do his dirty work by killing David (1 Samuel 17.24).  A glance, fueled by curiosity, produced adultery, and ended with murder and death (2 Sam 12.19).  Isn’t that the story of sin?  It ultimately ends with death (Romans 5.12).  It takes us farther than we ever anticipated.  David learned this the hard way.
Sin is the universal diagnosis of humanity.  Everyone has felt the implications and the consequences.  Specifically, in this story, the sin was sexual immorality.  The more men I have spoken too, the more I have counsel, and, shamefully, the longer I live, the more I run into this story of David living out in my life and the men around me.  The struggle of pornography, unfaithfulness, and lust have become a pandemic among the American male.  I guess what David’s story is showing us is all the off ramps that we can take to avoid the destination of addiction.  Stop the glance by being where you are supposed to.  Starve the curiosity by filling your life with the truth.  Avoid the journey, by never taking the first step.  There are so many layers to this story, and this is just one.  Still, the message is resounding and the consequences deadly.

A Man after God’s Heart: His Word

David always did things differently.  To fight Goliath, Saul tried to get him to wear his armor and take his sword.  David took a sling and stones.  To get the Kingdom, David was told to kill Saul, but twice spared his life.  He always liked to do things a little different.

So it is fitting that when David is seated on the throne, the ark is resting in Jerusalem, and the country is firmly in his hands, that he would do things differently.

Second Samuel 9 begins with a question: “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

It has been some time since David’s ascent to the throne.  The “war between the house of Saul and the house of David lasted a long time” (3.1) and has since ceased.  Things are going pretty good in the life of David.  Ish-Bosheth, the last of Saul’s line that was of age to usurp, had been killed some time back (4.6) and the throne was firmly in David’s hands.  Time for David to finally rule.

Still there was this unfinished business.  Like a pebble in a boot or a burr in the saddle, David had yet to accomplish this one thing.  He had yet to keep his word with Jonathan.

The covenant made with Jonathan in 1 Samuel 20 still stood.  A covenant relationship, by definition is eternal, but this one was also stipulated as “forever.”  There was no getting out of it.  A lot has happened since the two men made their pact of kindness (1 Samuel 20.14-16).  There had been nights sleeping in the darkness of caves, days spent on the run, times of hiding in enemy fortresses and times of madness.  Death, injury, hurt, and pain has plagued David since this covenant was made.  So is it that big of a deal?  Think of the pain that Jonathan’s family has caused David.  Now Jonathan is gone.  He is dead.  Deal off?  Not for a Man after God’s heart because he gave his word.

David wrote in Psalm 19:

“Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary?  Who may live on your holy hill?

He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman, who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the Lord, who keeps his oath even when it hurts, who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent.

He who does these things will never be shaken.

So much of this Psalm about a Godly man speaks of his words.  David knows the equation that Jesus voices in Matthew 12.34: “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”  Jesus spoke it as a rebuke of the Pharisees, but it’s true of all of us right?  Our words and heart are connected.  The man after God’s heart will be a man who keeps his word.

Exaggeration, deceit, lying, down-playing, and secrecy are the symptoms; pride, arrogance, image-control, and selfishness is the disease.  The reason David kept his word was because the cause wasn’t there.  David didn’t feel the need to manage his image like I do.  David didn’t crave approval like I do.  David didn’t watch the feed, check the ‘likes’, or bow at the altar of public opinion like I have been known to do.  David kept his word because the only one that it mattered too, God, mattered everything to him.

So David searched for a man of the house of Saul in order to keep his promise (2 Samuel 9.2-5)  Finally, Mephibosheth was found.

David’s officials couldn’t have been happy.  His own family probably was none to thrilled.  Leaving alive someone who had claim to the throne was not something that Kings did.  But as we have seen elsewhere, David was anything but a typical King.  No matter how long it took or how far he had to go, David was going to find a way to keep his word.

David showed kindness, mercy, and honor to Mephibosheth.  He restored to him all the land and a position at the Kings table (7).  He made him like one of the King’s sons (11) and he stayed in Jerusalem with the Royal family.  All of this happened because one man kept his word.

David wrote in Psalm 15 that a man “keeps his word even when it hurts.” (Ps. 15.4)  How often have I chosen a lie to avoid pain? a falsehood to avoid embarrassment? deceit to stave off shame?

I commit to things I cant accomplish because I am afraid of how I will be perceived if I say no?  My word is shot.  I lie because my worth needs to be shown in the stories I tell or the people I say I have met.  My word is shot.  Image is what drives words.

David didn’t have an image to protect, which is why keeping his word came so natural to him.  He didn’t have to make up accomplishments, didn’t have to exaggerate victories or skills.  He simply devoted himself to become God’s man for the job.  In doing so, the vulnerability that comes with keeping your word, was something he was comfortable with.  He knew who gave him his identity (2 Samuel 7.8) and in whom he found his strength (1 Samuel 30.6).  When the disease is taken care off the symptoms disappear.

 

 

 

 

A Man After God’s Heart: Keep it Together

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“There is no one definition for a tough guy.  He’s not necessarily a guy for one thing.  And he doesn’t have to look physically tough, although it doesn’t hurt.  He doesn’t even have to have a mustache.  What he does consistently have is composure—an ability to react and handle any situation.” – Popular Mechanics, May 2016, pg 59.

Indiana Jones, Iron Man, Gus, Doc Holiday; they were all men who didn’t sweat and didn’t fade in the stretch.  They were calm, cool, and collected. Indiana Jones never even lost his hat.  In studying these characters, there was no situation too big, no challenge to great, and no enemy to intimidating for them to rise to the occasion with composure.

Composure is what allows the bullfighter to take pictures with a four year old before he puts his life on the line saving a cowboy.  Composure is what gives the bull rider at the NFR the ability to laugh behind the chutes seconds before putting his rope on and trust his ability on a million dollar ride. Composure is what allows the cowboy, through narrowed eyes, to stare into a thunderstorm on the horizon and kick his horse up to continue work. Composure is what keeps him driving headlong into a blizzard to find a calf.

Composure is great and makes tough men…and composure can deaden a man.

David was composed, but not always…and that made him a man after God’s heart.

He was composed in taking Jerusalem.  It wasn’t a massive complex, it had thick walls, and it was surrounded by valleys.  Both Judah and Benjamin had been charged by Joshua to take the city (Josh 15.63 and 18.28) and in 400 years they hadn’t accomplished it.  The security of the city wasn’t in question.  The Jebusites claimed “even the blind and the lame can ward off attackers.” (2 Sam 5.6)  A composed David, challenged his men and provided direction. (2 Sam 5.8)  Probably using Warren’s shaft, a tunnel leading from the spring into the walls, David’s men took the city.

He was composed in planning the city.  The Jebusite city was a small hilltop, but David turned it into God’s city.  He built up the terraces around the city providing a foundation to build a city worthy of bearing God’s name and housing God’s people.  He built walls, houses, a palace, and everything they needed.  David was leading his people to new and great heights and he did it all composed.

He was composed defeating the Philistines.  His former pseudo-countrymen, the Philistines, heard that David had taken the throne and they marched out to get him. (2 Sam 5.17)  Twice they met the forces of Israel in the Valley of Rephaim (2 Sam 5.18, 22) and twice David defeated them after inquiring of God.  The composure, the presence of mind to talk with God, was something that had been lacking in a King. (1 Chronicles 13.3)

David had it all together.  He was a tough guy.  Composed at all times; until he worships.  After bringing the Ark of God into Jerusalem, David said this to Michal describing the event:

“It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel–I will celebrate before the Lord.  I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.” (2 Samuel 6.21-22)

It would probably help to know what led up to this.  The Israelites hadn’t inquired of the Lord during the reign of Saul, through the Ark (1 Chron. 13.3), and they all thought it would be a good idea to get the ark into the City of David for protection, for illumination, and for wisdom.  Two men were guiding the cart that held the ark (2 Sam. 6.3-4; 1 Chron. 13.7) a clear violation of how the ark was supposed to be transported. (Num. 4.15)  When the oxen stumbled, Uzzah trying to keep the ark from falling, reached out his hand and steadied it.  The anger of the Lord burned against Uzzah for this irreverent act.  There Uzzah fell and died.  David was angry and afraid legitimately.  They stopped the procession and the ark rested in the house of Obed-Edom for three months. (2 Sam 6.6-11; 1 Chron. 13.1-14)

When the task of bringing the ark to Jerusalem was resumed, David wanted to do it right.  First Chronicles 15 shows the dedication to following the instructions of Moses.

David show’s his composure in how he prepares for this entrance.  David’s ritual, his kingship, his planning was so controlled, but his worship was so…not.

He is “dancing with all his might” (2 Sam 6.14); shouted and trumpeted (15).  He lept and danced (16).  This bothered his wife, Michal.  She, having a King for a father, knew exactly how kings should act and this was not how King’s acted.  King’s keep it all together.  Sound’s familiar.  Men keep it all together.  Never let emotion show.  Excitement (outside of an athletic achievement) is frowned upon.  Even raising a hand in worship makes my stomach turn.  Show what I am I to learn from David’s example?  Composure can kill a life of worship.  A man after God’s heart knows when to let it go.

David laughedm, alot.  The hebrew word translated in the NIV as “I will celebrate” in 1 Samuel 6.21, is translated other places “laughs” [hb. sachaq].  In this passage it is in the Piel stem, which intensifies the word.  Instead of a chuckle, it is a full belly laugh.  You laugh at a joke: “A neutrino walks into a bar and asks what it costs for a drink.  Bartender says ‘for you, no charge!’”  But you tear-up with laughter at a dad getting racked with a wiffle ball on America’s funniest home videos.See the difference?  David is “celebrating” and “laughing” uncontrollably.  So much of David’s worship up to this point has taken place surrounded by tragedy.  When things are falling apart, David turns to God.  From the valleys, David’s trials turn to worship..  Now on the mountain top, his laughter also turns to worship.  We laugh from joy, entertainment, and excitement.  The King is experiencing them all at one and it overflows in the form of celebration and laughter.  

David became undignified [hb. Qalal] as he worshiped.  This verb is used in the reflexive tense, called the niphal in hebrew.  It indicates that the subject it doing it themselves.  The hebrew word means to “think little” of something.  Ahab, the most evil King of Israel, “thought little” of the sins of Jeroboam, arguable the second most evil King of Israel. (1 Kings 16.31)  This word carries with it the idea of the ease of a task as well.  It was “easy” and “simple” for God to send rain during a drought or move a shadow on some steps (2 Kings 3.18; 20.10).  God is able, without much trouble, to do amazing things.  So in our passage, David is “making himself little” and  “thinking of himself simply”.  He is the King, with an army at his right hand, a people behind him, and a bright future ahead, but he makes himself simple.  That’s not what a King does.

David will be humiliated [hb. Saphal] in his own eyes.  Mostly this word is translated “lowly”.  Lowliness is praised in wisdom literature.  

  • Job 5:11: “The lowly he sets on high and those who mourn are lifted to safety.”
  • Psalm 138.6: “Though the Lord is on high, he looks upon the lowly.”
  • Proverbs 16.19: “Better to be lowly in spirit and among the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud.”
  • Proverbs 29.23: “A man’s pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor.”
  • Matthew 5.3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
  • Matthew 5.5: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

Surprised by the last two?  Jesus begins his Sermon on the mount with some wisdom literature and it is about the lowly. Paul said all his life is rubbish (Phil 3.7ff); John said “He must increase, I must decrease” (Jn 3.30); Jesus said “Glorify me so that I can return glory to you.” (Jn 17.1)  Here David declares that in his humiliation, he will worship.

These are not qualities of a man keeping it together: Uncontrollable laughter and celebration; humiliation, undignified dancing…or is it?

A man after God’s heart is a man capable of letting himself go, knowing that his strength, power, and identity come from God and God alone.  David was able to lose composure in worship because he knew where his strength and his power came.  God had given him all that he had, so he didn’t have to project an image, hold it all together, and conceal his heart.  David could lose composure because God never does.  God holds it all together, not David.  We can’t keep the mask of composure on forever, David knew when and to whom he could lose it too.