A Man after God’s Heart: Taken

2014-07-12 016 N Top RodeoForgetfulness is the hardest part of learning.  I have learned where power comes originates…but I forget often.

David’s story is really told in two parts and it all centers around a man named Nathan. Nathan the prophet arrives on the scene in 2 Samuel 7, stays until 2 Samuel 12, during which he puts a kink in all of David’s plans. The problem in a nutshell was power; Nathan pointed that out.  It was his words, given by God to David through him, that tells Davids story best: “I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel” (2 Samuel 7.8).  The power the was given David from God, was lost after he gained the throne because David forgot from where it had come.

The beginning of David’s story is well documented. David, the youngest of a group of brothers is anointed by Samuel to be the next King of Israel (1 Samuel 16.7). The problems in, no particular order, were these: 1) there was already a king (King Saul); 2) He wouldn’t have even been the first pick of his family (that was usually the oldest); 3) He wasn’t that spectacular (contrast him with Saul in 1 Samuel 9.2 and 11.24).

The thing that made David stand out is recorded from the mouth of God in 1 Samuel 16.7: “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Throughout David’s ascent to the throne, there were times that other’s tried to change who David was. “David you have too look like this to have power”; “David, you must do this to be powerful” and so on.

Before fighting Goliath, what did Saul have him do? “Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.” (1 Samuel 17.38) Saul was saying: “David, you have to be like me to go do this.” Do it this way and gain power! But it was the heart after God in David that was powerful enough to face Goliath, not the power of armor and the sword of the King.

In 1 Samuel 24, Saul has been pursuing David for some time. Saul knows that killing David will give him the undivided loyalty of the people and cement the throne for him for some time. He got sidetracked with a Philistine invasion as he was closing in on David the first time (1 Samuel 23.26-29). After subduing the invaders, Saul has resumed the chase. But like anyone on a long journey, nature calls sometimes. The King went into the very cave where David and his men were hiding to take a potty break. David’s men saw the fortune in this and said: “This is the day the Lord spoke of when he said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands for you to do as you wish.” (1 Sam 24.4). What do you think the men of David expected? “David, kill him and end our hiding!” “David, finish him and you can be King!” Do it this way…and get power!

Later on David would have the chance once again to get Saul. He and his army were camped alongside the road. David took one of his three closest men, Abaishai (2 Sam. 23.18ff.) down to the camp at night. They saw that Saul had fallen asleep with his spear next to him. Abaishai turns to David and says what we are all thinking: “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands. Now let me pin him to the ground with one thrust of my spear; I wont have to strike him twice!” (1 Samuel 26.8) Translation: “David, this is how you do it!”, “David, get your throne by killing him!”. Do it this way…and get the power!

Of course David refused all three things, the armor of Saul, the murder in the cave, and the spear by Saul. His idol and hero, his men, and one of his closest friends, all had the wrong way to power. And David withstood all of them. David’s heart towards God was all the power he needed to journey to the throne.

But something strange happens in 2 Samuel 10. David takes Bathsheba, sleeps with her, and then kills her husband. David has the power of the throne and uses it. No longer is his connection with God the source of his power, but the throne. Nathan is the one who calls him on it.

David not only took what he wanted (Bathsheba) and tried to cover it up (death of Uriah), he sought power with the men in his command. In 2 Samuel 24, David counts the men in his army. In short the message was this: “the power is found in who has the biggest army!” David heard the message! Shortly after he had done this, you feel the pain in David’s spirit.

“David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the Lord, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, O Lord, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.” (2 Samuel 24.10)

David’s life is a story of two halves. The first half, was one of power gained by faithfully following God. The second half, was one of power lost, by trying to gain it by himself. Jesus says: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” (John 12.23-26)

He says in Mark 8: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (34-35)

The message of the Gospel is this: We live by dying and power only comes by submission. He is most powerful who has no power left to defend. Jesus taught that we live by dying to ourselves. When the glory of God is all that we care about, there is so much that we can look past. David’s power came from his relationship with God, not from what the world said.

David’s heart was powerful because it was in submission to God. When his mentor, the world, and his friend was telling him that power was to be found in a certain way…his heart after God told him differently. He followed God instead of their teaching. Jesus teaches that power comes from himself, not from the places we often look. We look towards things, idols, relationships, and abilities, but the Gospel shows that power comes only when we give it up to God! Go figure…

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Taken: Gideon

IMG_1473Surrounded by sagebrush, arid desert, and scrub grass, stood an isolated tree. Three cowboys atop low headed, weary horses, rode to its shade. It had been hours since they had seen life or water. As heat lines danced on the horizon, they stopped to rest in the shade of the lone tree. They dismounted and crawled underneath the sparse limbs and sat with their backs against the rough trunk of the tree. They tried to take deep breaths but the warm desert air prevented it. They tried to catch a nap but the bright sunshine found the holes in the canopy of the tree. They tried to spit but couldn’t pool enough moisture in their cheeks. It was one of those Southwestern days where there was no respite from the desert heat.

Sitting under the tree was a tarnished can of chew.  The first cowboy to see it picked it up to inspect it and out popped a genie (not to be confused with Baxter Black’s Genie in Hey Cowboy Wanna Get Lucky, however, it is possible the genies could be kin).  The cowboys took stock of this un-entombed paranormal entity.  By the observation of his disheveled appearance, threadbare boots, and unkempt clothing, the gene had taken the form of a rough-stock rider.

The genie pipped up: “I am a wish grantor,” he said to the trail weary cowboys. “I grant wishes. And since I usually grant 3 wishes to one person, I will grant 1 wish to each of you three.” The cowboys were astonished at their current fortune.

Immediately, the first piped up: “I want to be in a tropical paradise, with no work to do, and with a beautiful girl on my arm and my friends around me.” Poof! He disappeared from under the tree and reappeared in Cancun with all of his wishes granted.

Seeing his buddy gone, the second answered: “I want to be at a winter resort somewhere, away from this heat, with no work to do, and a beautiful girl on my arm.” Poof! He disappeared from under the tree and reappeared at Breckenridge, with a set of ski’s and a beautiful woman sitting next to him in front of a roaring fire as the snow fell outside.

The genie turned to the third cowboy and asked, “What is it that you desire?”

The third cowboy responded: “I wish my friends were here with me!” Poof! His two friends reappeared with him under the tree.

Some of the greatest meetings of all time happened underneath trees: Santa Anna’s surrender, Newton’s theory of Gravity, or Winnie the Pooh’s meeting of how to get him unstuck. In Judges 6 there is a great meeting that takes place under the tree of Ophrah.

It was there, under the tree in Ophrah, where Gideon was threshing wheat…[dramatic pause]…in a wine press. A little back story is necessary here. The Midianite’s came into the land of Israel like a “swarm of locusts”. The number of camels was so high that the Israelites couldn’t count them. So the people of Israel deserted their towns, ran in fear, and hid in caves.   But they still had to live, but when the Midianite’s found out the Israelites had food, they would take it. So the people of Israel had to hide the food they had.

Gideon was threshing wheat in a wine press under a tree. A wine press was a small hole in the ground where grapes would be stomped on. A threshing floor on the other hand, was out in the open, where the wind would separate the wheat from the chaff using the wind. So a winepress was hidden and secretive, and a threshing floor was open and vulnerable. Gideon was threshing wheat, a job for the open and in view of his enemies, in a wine press, a secluded place not conducive to being able to do his job. So our guy, Gideon, was too scared to do his job and wanted to hide his stuff from the Midianites.

Gideon, the scared farmer, meets and angel of the Lord, or the Lord Himself, under the tree that represents his cowardice, where the Angle says: “The Lord is with you Mighty Warrior!” The hebrew words [gibbor’Im] would be used later of David’s mighty men (2 Sam 23.8) and previously of hero’s of old (Gen. 6.4).   The word was used of great hunters, feared warroiors, and men of respect.   Gideion was…none of these. What has he accomplished when God called him “mighty warrior”? He threshed his wheat…in secret? He provided for his family…in quiet? He has done nothing “warrior-like”, yet God calls him this.   Could it be that God sees in him what he doesn’t even see in himself?

God looked at Paul, a pharisaic Jew and saw the world’s greatest Chruch planter. God looked at at Abraham and saw “the father of Nations” in a random face in Ur. Now God sees a great warrior in the heart of a coward, under the tree at Ophrah.

Trying to understand what God saw in Gideon is hard to understand because it was God who saw it. But if we look at the rest of Gideon’s story, there may be more to it than what we can originally comprehend. So what makes one of God’s “Mighty Warriors?”

  1. Mighty Warriors of God show up in times of injustice (Judges 6.1-6):
  2. Mighty Warriors see themselves as God see’s them (Jud 6.11-16):
  3. Mighty Warriors worship (Jud 6.17-22):
  4. Might Warriors need others to stand with them (Judges 6.33-35):
  5. Mighty Warriors communicate with Command (Judges 6.36-40)
  6. Mighty Warriors fight for their Commander (Jud.7.1-8)

God saw in Gideon, what he could have never seen in himself. God looks at us and sees our potential fulfilled, not our present state.   Back in Genesis 1, God created us to be “made in his image” (Gen 1.28-31) but disobedience and rebellion has marred and blemished our reflection of God (Gen. 3). Like a fractured mirror, the image is hard to see, but a rough outline can still be made out. We still posses a fuzzy image of God, but it has been made hazy by our sin. When we take a long look at who we are, sin, failure, and rebellion shows through.

When God met Gideon that day under the tree, Gideon saw his flaws as clear as day. He was from a weak family, hiding in the hills, struggling at his job, fearing for his things…but God calls him “mighty warrior”. Could it be that God saw in him what he didn’t even see in himself? Check the list of things that makes a mighty warrior above. Has Gideon shown any of them? Nope. In time of injustice, Gideon hid; he saw his flaws, God saw his potential; Worship wasn’t a priority; he’s threshing his wheat alone; being in communication with God went bye-bye a while ago; and Gideon really only fought for himself.   Not one quality of a mighty warrior was shown before the meeting at Ophrah. But God says: “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?…I will be with you and you will strike down all the Midianites together!” (Judges 6.14,16) The math is simple: Gideon + God = Victory. Gideon has power and ability that he has never tapped into…God has a plan to use him to do what he never thought he could.

Could it be that God thinks higher of us than we do of ourselves? Somewhere in the history of Christian thought, we lost the ability to look adequately at ourselves. We know we should value human life (life begins at conception; every life matters) but we have a self-deprecating view of ourselves. Sure we are sinful people, with our own issues, that need to be looked at honestly, but we often extend grace to others while berating the person in the mirror. God loved us so much that he sent his son to die for us while we were messed up and blemished. God saw in us great potential to be not what we once were. Not a cowardly farmer, but a mighty warrior for the Kingdom.  We look in the mirror and see anger issues, drug dependence, a silent abuser, a liar, a thief, or an imposter.  But God sees the cross of Christ covering those things and a bearer of His image.  We see our problems, he sees our potential.

God sees in us, what we often don’t see in ourselves.  Gideon was taken from a cowardly farmer to a mighty warrior because of what God saw that he didn’t.

Taken: Joseph

Three cowboys were caught stealing horses down around the Rio Grande. The posse who apprehended the miscreants had their right to do what they wished with them. Horse thieving was a hang-able offense, so they decided to go that route. But what would they do with the bodies? They had no intentions of touching the dead wranglers so they hatched a brilliant plan. They would hang them from the trees on the cliff that hung over the river. Once they quite kicking, they would cut the rope and the bodies would float down river, peacefully carried along by the meandering current of the Rio Grande.

The tied the noose’s, attached the to the trees and picked their first victim. The executioners asked him if he had any last words. His reply: “The horses were worth it!” Then they kicked him off the solid ground and his feet began swinging. The noose, however, did not pull tight and he slipped through the knot. Splashing into the river, he chuckled, waved to his apprehenders, and joyously floated down the river, relishing in his positive turn of fortune, and second chance on life.

The second man up had the same result as the first. When asked for his last words, he simply said: “Death don’t scare me!” Then he slipped through the noose, splashed into the river and swam out of sight. The posse, never the quitting type, proceeded onto the third man. They put the noose around his neck and offered the chance to say a few final words.

After pausing for a second, the horse thief said: “Can you tighten this noose a little bit? I can’t swim!”

When it comes to deserved punishment, everyone likes to see it doled out. Justice is a central desire of a man’s heart. When people have wronged us, been unfair, or unjustly praised or successful, there is a little bit of us that wants to see retribution. For many it’s a little bit bigger than a “small part of us.” Justice is even sweeter when we get to hand it out. When our fingers get to rest on the cold steel of the switch or we are kicking them off the cliff. When the key to their cell goes in our pocket or we get to clamp the chains on their wrists. Punishment, sentencing, discipline at the hand of the offended is the way we would like it but contrary to the way God intended it.

If there was anyone in scripture who had a reason to want justice it was Joseph. He was apprehended by his brothers, thrown in a pit, and sold into slavery. His brothers had had it out for him for sometime and then acted upon their jealousy. They lied to his father about his whereabouts.

But God took him from slave to second in command of Potipher’s house.

While he was in Pothiphar’s house “the Lord was with Joseph and he prospered” and his “master saw that the Lord was with and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did”. (Gen. 39.2-3) Potipher worried about nothing in his house because Joseph, through God, had it covered. Second-in-command is far from where he was in slavery with the Ishmaelites, but not far enough away to never return. A false accusation from Potipher’s wife, another lost coat, and once again Joseph finds himself in chains. This time it was the prison of the Pharoah.

But the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success and the Lord took him from prisoner to second-in-command of the prison. (Genesis 39.30-23) Still a prisoner, but one with power and authority.

As a powerful prisoner, God gave him the opportunity to influence people, interpret dreams, and tell his story. And just as we the readers are privy to the whole story, Joseph fills in those in prison. He says: “I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in this dungeon.” (Gen 40.15) In contra-distinction to God, the cup bearere would forget Joseph. (Gen 40.23) God never did!

Two years later, when Pharoah had a dream, Joseph was called into action.   When Joseph had interpreted the dreams of Pharoah, he was promoted to second in command of the kingdom of Egypt.

Joseph again was taken, by God, from prisoner to palace, from slave to second in command.

But for what purpose?

Reading the story for the first time, without any prior knowledge, this story would be a frustrating tale. Repetition and duplication abound in this story. He’s lost two coats, ended up a slave/prisoner twice, been in charge twice and interpreted 3 different sets of dreams. Much of this story has not even touched the main conflict that began it: Joseph and his brothers.

God has been at work for the last 13 years all to bring about this meeting in Genesis 42. God has brought famine to the land of the Hebrews, dreams to Pharaoh and position to Joseph, all in order to bring Joseph and his brothers face to face in chapter 42 (and a second time in 43). During the ensueing chapters, the tension builds to a breaking point with Joseph. In the beginning verses of chapter 45, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers.

In that moment his brothers were “terrified [hb. bahal] at his presence” (Gen 45.3) Here this man, who they thought had been dead for years, has appeared before them. Where they terrified at what they thought he would do to them? Terrified that he was a ghost? Terrified at the thought of his power?   Scripture isn’t explicit, however, Joseph has a choice here:

  1. He is the 2nd most powerful man on earth and he can fix this wrong that’s been done to him.
  2. He can start anew and move on from the 13 years of torment that started that fateful day in the Judean wilderness.

In the New Testament a couple different words are translated “forgive”. One of them, aphiemi, means ‘to let go”; like a jar left [aphiemi] at a well (John 4.28) or a fever that leaves [aphiemi] a person (Mark 1.31). Go ahead, sing the song…you know you want to bust out a few lines of “let it go” from Frozen.

Another word translated “forgive” is the word charizomai. Literally, the word means to give grace like it is translated in Romans 8.22. This is one of Paul’s favorite words for forgiveness. It puts the second touch on the process of forgiveness. Which is clearly seen in the Joseph.

Step 1: “Let it go!” Joseph met with his brothers a couple times before he became known to them (Gen 45). He spent considerable time with them and asked them a couple times, in odd ways, if they had learned their lesson. Joseph was in the place where he finally had to let it go and move on. He released the act from his mind.

Step 2: “Give grace” Joseph could have let it go, but still turned his back on them; “Stab me once shame on you, stab me twice shame on me” kind of thinking. But forgiveness is a two-step process. Letting go is the first step, but giving grace is the second. Joseph saved his family…he gave grace. He treated them better than he had before the transgression had taken place.

When you have been wronged; when the chance comes up to “settle” or “forgive”, how do you respond? Can you “let it go” without “giving grace”? Do you respond by treating them well, but never letting it go? Does bitterness take root?

Joseph’s next 30 years would be forever changed because he was able to “let it go” and to “give grace”. His family was saved, the people of God saved, because Joseph was able to forgive. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen 50.20)

From slave to savior…because of forgiveness.

Taken: Abram

Another Face in the Crowd
Another Face in the Crowd

The quest for an identity begins early on in a man’s life. It begins with things like action figures, big wheels, and Tonka trucks (and for the younger readers they used to be made of metal and were way cooler). Overnight it changed to girls, sports equipment, legos, video games, and bikes. High school brought girls, cars, sports feats, buckles, and video games. With college came girls (have you noticed a pattern), cars, video games, buckles, saddles, and money. Then after college, when the real world starts, identity shifts to wives, career, house, money, kids (and their accomplishments), trucks, trailers, buckles and saddles.

We are pretty convincing about the good intentions of our pursuit of identity. Rationalization comes pretty easily. Like the old cowboy proverb says: “The biggest liar you will ever have to face, watches you shave your face in the mirror every morning.” If you’re like me, my pursuit of identity is still just action figures, big wheels, and tonka trucks. It’s just that they cost more now.

Identity is rooted in a fear of irrelevancy and a fear of being a nobody. We pursue things because if we don’t we think we will be relegated to an also ran, an extra, another face in the crowd. I will never forget the time I showed up to fight bulls for the first time with a guy I had never met. After he pointed out my store bought belt buckle, he informed me that I didn’t belong there. I was another face in the crowd.

Abram was another face in the crowd at one time. He grew up in Ur [Gen 11.31], one of the oldest cities on Earth as part of the oldest civilization on Earth. Ur had been around for centuries by the time Abram had arrived on the scene. Their civilization was advanced, their worship was organized (and extremely polytheistic [Joshua 24.2]), and their society was growing. In the center of town was a huge ziggurat that rose high above the surrounding city and surrounding lands. The title of the architect of this great structure, Ur-Nammu, stamped his title and his name on the bricks, as a testament of the great building feat. It rose 70’ high in its day with a base 200’ by 150’.** In front of the monumental artificial mountain where worship would take place was the market where people would gather and mill around exchanging goods and food. Worship, community, and society were foundational to city life in Ur. Abram was just a face in the crowded streets.

But God took him, a man in the crowd, and made him the “father of nations” (Abraham means ‘father of many’).

Abrams story beings in Genesis 11. He, alongside his father and family took off from Ur to the north and west, to Haran. Stephen, in Acts 7.2-3, indicates that the call of the first few verses of Genesis 12 took place while Abram was still in Ur. Moses apparently felt it best to wrap up Terah’s story with his death in Haran before moving on to Abram’s, but that is beside the point. God has chosen Abram to do His work. Just take a look at some of the verbs in the first few verses of chapter 12:

  • “the Lord had said [to Abram]…” [hb. ‘amar]
  • “I [the Lord] will show you [Abram]…” [hb. ra’a]
  • “I [the Lord] will make you [Abram]…” [hb. ‘asa]
  • “I [the Lord] will bless you [Abram]…” [hb. barak] – 2 times
  • “I [the Lord] will curse those who curse you [Abram]…” [hb. ‘arar]
  • “So Abram left…” [hb. halak]

The first five were the actions of God and the last one of Abram. Abram was taken on the ride of his life. Going to an unknown place, with a brand new [to him] God. He grew up in a polytheistic nation (meaning many gods were worshipped), when the Lord called him out to follow where He is leading. Abram has one job…to follow. A face in the crowd in Ur, Abram is asked to go where God is leading.

With this single act, Abram will be forever remembered.

“Abraham believed the Lrod, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15.6)

This verse summed up the way he lived his life. He garnered more mention in the New Testament than any other person aside from Moses. It was his faith that gave him his identity and made him what he was known for. He would be renamed Abraham, which means “the father of many”, in Genesis 17.5, but his identity would forever be cemented long before that.

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going…” (Heb. 11.8)

The author of Hebrews (Heb 11), Paul (Rom 4, Gal. 3), James (2.21-23). and Stephen (Acts 7) all understood Abram as a man of faith; a faith that leads to righteousness. When it comes down to it, Abram could have remained in Ur and lived his life as another face in the crowd. But God, who made the move and took the initiative, took Abram from the crowd of Ur, into the land that he chose. Abraham needed faith.

All too often we attempt to make and manufacture our own identity instead of letting God do what he does. It’s interesting that the people who amazed Jesus were not the intellectuals, the super-religious, or the most successful. Jesus’ amazement was directly correlated to a person’s faith. The centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant, not by attending to him, but by a word, he amazed Jesus with his faith (Mat 8.10; Luke 7.9). It’s also clear that he was taken by the faith of the Canaanite woman, who begged Jesus to heal her daughter. His answer to that request: “Woman, you have great faith!” (Matt 15.28) It is fitting that Jesus was also amazed at the absence of faith. When he spoke to the people of his hometown and they took offense to him, he was “amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mark 6.6) A Roman Centurion and a Canaanite woman, forever remembered in God’s word because of their faith, just like an ancient face-in-the-crowd.  That’s what I want to be known for, not buckles or awards, things or titles, but faith.

We can get so bogged down in trying to make a name for ourselves here on this earth, but Abraham shows us that if we are faithful, God provides us with an identity. It reminds me of one of my favorite poems growing up by Walt Huntley that reads:

Your name may not appear down here 

In this world’s Hall of Fame.

In fact, you may be so unknown 

That no one knows your name;

The Oscars and the Praise of men

may never come your way

but rest assured God has rewards

the He’ll hand out someday.

 

This Hall of Fame is only good

As long as time shall be;

But keep in mind, God’s Hall of Fame

Is for eternity

This crowd on earth they soon forget

The heroes of the past.

They cheer like mad until you fail

and that’s how long you last.

But in God’s Hall of Fame

By just believing

on His Son

Inscribed you’ll find your name.

I tell you, friend, I wouldn’t trade

My name, however small,

That’s written there beyond the stars

In that Celestial Hall,

For any famous name on earth,

Or glory that they share;

I’d rather be an unknown here

And have my name up there.

 —

**Unger, Merrill F. Archaeology and the Old Tesatament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954) 107-112