David – What Happened?

This week the Narrative Lectionary points us to 2 Samuel 11-12 and Psalm 51.

It’s a part of King David’s story that is both shocking and disappointing. It’s not shocking for a King to use his power to use people, but we know King David as a ‘man after God’s own heart‘. He is exalted in Scripture in a way that few are. Yet as we read his descent into abhorrently destructive behavior we wonder where the David we know and love went off to?

David – what happened? How do you fall so far? We probably don’t ask those questions very loudly. We know very well the deceptiveness of sin and the lust of the flesh. It is just that we hope that someone of David’s stature can show us how to avoid falling into sin. But he doesn’t.

David is someplace he shouldn’t be. Why isn’t David at war? The text says that it was “the time when kings go out to battle” (2 Samuel 11:1), but David sends Joab and he remained in Jerusalem.

David is watching something he shouldn’t watch. We are human. We know that beauty, as we see it, attracts our hearts, minds, thoughts. Humans aren’t strangers to the allure of sexual attraction. We know we can look away, but do we? David didn’t.

David acts upon his thoughts in a way he shouldn’t have. Sending for Bathsheba is both an act of privilege and power, as well as physical lust. We have no idea from the text that David is interested in Bathsheba as a person. She is merely an object to him.

David attempted to cover his shameful behavior. Uriah is a potable figure in this story as well. He is another person David uses as a means to an end. The shame of this is multiplied by the faithfulness of Uriah to his King.

David descends deeper into sin and shame by having Uriah killed. These were days of brutality and King David, writer of the Psalms, lover of the ways of God,  has spiraled into a barbaric act of desperate self-preservation.

Enter Nathan the Prophet. Nathan would play a key role at times of David’s life (and Solomon’s) when he needed to hear the word of the Lord. This is one of those times. Nathan’s parable enraged David, but it was only when he revealed the true meaning of the parable that David began to understand what he has done.

The suffering David brings into the lives of others and himself is immense. The son born to this union becomes ill and dies. Bathsheba has lost husband and son. David is humiliated in the mess he made of his own life and others.  His life at this point is a poor reflection on the people of God.

The Narrative Lectionary has us reading Psalm 51-:1-9, but I think 1-17 would be more complete. The utter contempt with which David views his sin, his desire to be cleansed, to express his heartfelt desire to be restored to a walk with the Lord – are all signals to us that David recognized the truth about his own actions.

In preaching this month on being faithful to our Faithful God, I think we should consider that faithful Christians yield and repent to the Lord. Nowadays nothing is a sin. The only sin  is to label something a sin! But David sees the way he has let God down by his actions and his heart.

Are we ever broken over our own sins? Do we find ourselves in the death spiral of David … following the flesh, covering up our sins, wounding others to make ourselves look better, abusing our power and privilege to lift up ourselves … I don’t know about you but I’ve been down some of those roads. Let us hear the calling to be broken over our sins, not dismissive of them. Feel the pain of how we displease the God who loves us so much, instead of pretending He doesn’t notice. When is the last time we wept tears of bitterness over our own fallenness?

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. – Psalm 51:17

This episode of David’s life stands out to the Biblical writers. In our less patriarchal times, we are mindful of the pain and loss suffered by Bathsheba. But the Hebrew writers continue to point out Uriah as the one who was hurt. And he did pay a price for his loyalty.

1 Kings 15:5 For David had done what was right in the eyes of the Lord and had not failed to keep any of the Lord’s commands all the days of his life—except in the case of Uriah the Hittite.

Matthew doesn’t let us forget this episode in the genealogy of Jesus when he writes:

Matthew 1:6 David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife…

This was not the last word in David’s life. He wasn’t ever perfect. But he did go on to lead productively and the rule of Jesus was referred to as the ‘Throne of David’ that would have eternal implications. Our worst moments do not define our entire journey either. But they do remind us of the need to be committed to hearing the Lord and maintaining a penitent spirit.

Resource: NATHAN THE PROPHET

For discussion and resources for the Narrative Lectionary texts each week, join my Facebook group called Narrative Lectionarians.

Blog Tour #3, My Entry: In Search of The Search

God created mankind upright, but they have gone in search of many schemes. – Ecclesiastes 7:29

In one respect I think we can say that people are always searching for something. There’s some unmet need, some empty place that needs to be filled, some missing component that has left our hearts lacking. Epic poems and long novels have been written about the search for … that unidentifiable something. So I do stipulate that this is a realistic expectation for many. Most? I don’t know.

Overstimulated and Overwhelmed” is how one article describes the condition so many are facing today.

“This overstimulation can come from a variety of sources including excessive noise, multitasking, and cluttered surroundings.  Overuse of electronic media is a modern phenomena particularly linked to issues of anxiety, depression, and isolation.  This is unfortunately wide-reaching, as the average American spends most of their waking hours (about 11) on electronic media and internet.”

Can we make the case that we are so intent on searching for meaning and connection with God that we’ve exhausted ourselves? Or could we make the case that we’ve exhausted ourselves and the search is no longer interesting to us. We’ve given up.

…There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. – Romans 3:11

Maybe it’s just me, but American Christians (some? most?) are suffering a slump of sorts. Any search we can identify seems to be on hold while we explore some of those ‘many schemes‘ the wise man wrote about in Ecclesiastes. Sometimes I feel that the spiritual search has fallen off of our radar while we seek fulfillment and excitement elsewhere.  If that’s true, why is this?

Could it be that we have taken our eye off of the Savior? Instead of intentionally being committed disciples of Jesus, we sought to have bigger, better, brighter experiences in life, in relationships, in worship. Something to make us feel something.  Have we chased after the experience but forgotten to love and serve the people around us in the name of Jesus?

“I began to wonder if what we were doing in evangelical circles had more to do with redeeming ourselves to culture than it did with showing Jesus to a hurting world, a world literally filled with outcasts.”
Donald Miller, Searching for God Knows What

God has promised that if we search for HIM, He will be found. Jesus said that if we seek the Kingdom first, our other needs would be met. 

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.- Jeremiah 29:13

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. – Matthew 6:33

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. -Hebrews 11:6 

For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. – Luke 11:10

If you are feeling empty these days, look in the mirror and ask that person if they have been searching for God with their whole heart. I can’t prove it, but I think there are many people suffering from a spiritual emptiness they cannot identify. It’s not that they do not desire God. It’s more than that. It is that somehow the noise and distraction of life has kept them from desiring to desire God. The search for the Search has been put on hold. Indefinitely?

How do we break out of spiritual disenchantment and renew the search for the Search? How do I learn once again to be captivated by the beauty of the Savior and in awe of the power of the Father and feel the holy fire of the Holy Spirit? I hope you’re not looking for something to dazzle you here. I can’t offer you more of the stuff that has us numbed to the Spirit’s call. I can only think we must go back to basics.

Have I been spending time in the Word? I’m going to suggest paper, not screen. Too many distractions and temptations when we’re staring at the glow. Break free.

Have I asked God to reignite the passion for Kingdom living in my heart? Am I talking to Abba about the distance between us?

What have I done for someone else lately? Not for pay, not for recognition, not for anything except the opportunity to serve.

Have I been quiet? No tv, no small screens, just you and God and… no words. (It’s ok if you fall asleep… fall asleep in His presence… He loves you. You can grow in this area of listening prayer.)

Am I walking alone or do I have fellow disciples to serve, study, pray and love alongside?

Contemporary Christian group Building 429 sang a song about The Space In Between Us. That’s what we’re trying to bridge. Regaining the search for the Search is my desire for us.

God, for the days when I’m so distracted by the world around me and in front of me, give me the energy and strength to turn it off, turn away, and turn toward you. Grow within me the burning desire to know you more completely and serve you more faithfully. I not only desire to seek you, I desire to desire to seek you. Thank you for knowing what that means. Amen.

 

Resources

Overstimulated And Overwhelmed: Sensory Overload, Anxiety, And Depression

Joshua and a Call to Commitment

The Narrative Lectionary this week points us to Joshua 24:1-15 [16-26]. We are at the end of Joshua’s colorful life. The most familiar verse in this text is in verse 15:

“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

This text serves as a recommitment to the task of serving God only.  

We could begin our sermon with a lame preacher riddle about which Bible character was the son of Nun (which sounds like none). But please don’t. I digress.

A couple of preaching points occur to me on an initial reading, centered around commitment.

Commitment to God leads to a life God blesses. Joshua has lived a life of commitment to God. This text is at the end of his life, giving a retrospective. The faith of Joshua is amazing. One could begin with the amazingly brave faith he and Caleb had as they reported to Israel what they had found in Canaan. Both Joshua and Caleb were lifelong unmovable servants of Jehovah. In this text Joshua speaks on behalf of God to Israel’s leaders (Joshua 24:1, 2). He reminds them of God’s faithfulness to Abraham (whose father was an idol worshiper), Moses, Aaron.  I find some humor in verse 7, “Then you lived in the wilderness for a long time.” Boy did they!  

Joshua 24:13 “ So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.’

Commitment to God is challenged by the presence and appeal of other gods. This was the biggest struggle of Israel, and it’s ours as well. Joshua counters this by lifting up the power and faithfulness of God and asking for a commitment:

Joshua 24:14-16 “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua is issuing a challenge to consider that there are other gods, and we are free to make the choice to live for them. It seems clear, though, that God demands that a voice be made. He won’t tolerate sharing our hearts with inferior gods. The false gods of our time are attractive, alluring, captivating even. If you want to get in trouble you can start naming the gods of our time, but be aware that everyone has ‘gods’ nearby that are asking for head/heart space. So if you want to tell how evil someone else’s gods are, include your own. But are we willing to lose our connection with God in order to serve them? Joshua affirms you can make that choice, but as for him and his house, they will serve the Lord.

Commitment to God influences family systems. This chapter begins with Abraham taking a different path from his family. Terah evidently served idols, but God removed Abraham from that setting and sent him on a new journey. We have to wonder what this says about…

*Leadership in the Family

*Religious unity in the Family

*Willingness of a family to be different from the world around it

Joshua is committed to leading his family in love and service to God. Are our families today united in devotion to God? Or are we torn in our various pursuits of other gods?

Commitment to God requires strength and courage. Reading through Joshua it is hard to miss the theme of courage. “Be Strong and Courageous” is found at least five times.  Joshua heard this admonition both from Moses and the Lord in Deuteronomy 31. Perhaps this is where Paul is inspired to write in 1 Corinthians 16:13, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.”

Commitment to God is a testimony to the world about what is really important in life.  In Clarence E. Macartney’s The Greatest Men of the Bible, he points out that Joshua is the equivalent of the New Testament name Jesus. He writes, “Joshua is the Great Heart of the Old Testament.” He recounts Joshua’s encounter with the commander of the army of the Lord (Joshua 5) and writes, “Back of his heroic achievements was a deep acquaintance with the holiness and the majesty of God. It cannot be otherwise with us in the battle of life.” He concludes, “The world needs men who can preach like Joshua; not only rehearse and describe the great things of God and of Christ, but persuade men to choose them, and to choose them now.” Also, “There are plenty of gods won you can serve, aside from the true God and his Son Jesus Christ. Among these gods are business, society, money, power, fame, appetite, pleasure. But what are all these gods compared with Jesus Christ? … Who ever chose God and lived to regret that choice?”

Commitment to God provides a powerful example. God’s final testimony about Joshua:

Joshua 24:31  Israel served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the Lord had done for Israel.

Commitment to God leaves behind a legacy of faith. These are some of the last words of Joshua, from the previous chapter:

Joshua 23:14-16 “Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. 15 But just as all the good things the Lord your God has promised you have come to you, so he will bring on you all the evil things he has threatened, until the Lord your God has destroyed you from this good land he has given you. 16 If you violate the covenant of the Lordyour God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you.”

I’m sure my sermon will take on a form I can’t quite picture at this moment. This are some initial thoughts as I look at the text for next Sunday.

John

If you’d like to join our Facebook discussion group,  Narrative Lectionarians, click HERE.

Blog Tour #2 by Matthew Stidham

The Seeker’s Heart

“You are what you love.” That’s the title of a book by James K. A. Smith that has challenged my life, particularly my heart. I’ve learned that my heart isn’t always focused on what it should be, regardless of what my actions show. This realization led me to the Sermon on the Mount, one of Jesus’ longest teaching passages in Matthew 5-7. Some view this passage as a checklist we need to keep to please Jesus. But viewing the Sermon on the Mount as a checklist shows you’ve missed the point.

Take a look at this summary of the teachings in this passage:

– Attitudes (5:1-12)
– Actions/Witness (v13-16)
– Righteousness (v.17-20)
– Conflict (v. 21-26)
– Marriage and Adultery (v. 27-30)
– Divorce (v.31-32)
– Honesty (v.33-37)
– Revenge (v.38-48)
– Giving (6:1-4)
– Prayer & Forgiveness (v.5-15)
– Fasting (v.19-24)
– Worry/Self Dependence (v.25-34).

That’s a lot of topics! It seems Jesus has something to say about nearly every part of our lives. But Jesus isn’t addressing a bunch of topics here. In reality, he addresses one topic and applies it to many different areas. What’s the one topic? The heart.

In every instance, Jesus is teaching us how we should orient our heart. We can try to follow checklists all day, but without our heart being right we’ll never be the people God calls us to be. Take a look at his teaching on murder, or adultery in the passage. The issue wasn’t outward actions, rather a matter of the heart.

Let’s look at one two more statements. In Matthew 5:16 Jesus says “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Yet chapter 6 starts with “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.

How are we supposed to keep both of these? There’s no way to check these off a list. Logic says you cannot do both, but it all boils down to what our heart is seeking. Are we honoring God and glorifying Him, or showing off and honoring ourselves? If the heart is in the right place, we are doing exactly what Jesus wants. It all boils down to 6:21- “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Smith puts it this way: “…if the heart is like a compass…then we need to regularly calibrate our hearts, turning them to be directed to the Creator, our magnetic north.” In other words, what we do shapes us into who we become. The life of a Christian should be drastically different than a non-Christian. So how are we doing? Do we have a heart seeking God, or are we chasing after the world? What you love shapes your life. So, what are you seeking?

It’s time for a heart check. If we orient our heart toward seeking God, our attitudes will be God-focused when we’re mistreated (5:1-12). If our hearts are right, we will be salt and light (both of which are elements that change every situation they enter) for God’s glory (v. 13-16). If our hearts are seeking Christ and his righteousness, we will want to be righteous in our actions (v.17-20). If our hearts are seeking the Father, we won’t mistreat our brothers and sisters (v.21-26). If our hearts are centered on the covenental Creator, we will honor our spouses by remaining pure and committed to each other (v.27-32). If our hearts are on the God of justice, we will show love and honesty, and not seek revenge when we are wronged (v.33-48). If our hearts are pure we will give generously, not for our own glory, but to honor God (6:1-4). If our hearts are right we will pray heartfelt prayers that lift up others and don’t glorify ourselves…we’ll forgive others as we’ve been forgiven (v.5-15). If our hearts are right we’ll focus on God because of our want of relationship with him, not to impress others (v.19-24). If our hearts are right we’ll rely on Him for our needs without worry (v.25-34).

“You are what you love.” What does your heart seek? Do you seek after the things of God, or chase after whatever the world calls important? Jesus reminds us to “…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Keep your heart focused on God. Keep honoring Him in everything you do. Seek him first and foremost. Only then will you have the true heart of a seeker.

Matt Stidham is the Preaching Minister for the East Side congregation in Snyder, TX. He and his wife Jennifer have three beautiful children. You can connect with Matt on Facebook (@matthew.d.stidham), on Twitter (@MatthewStidham), or at his blog – www.crosseyedchristianity.wordpress.com.

Ten Commands

The Narrative Lectionary texts this week are Exodus 19:3-7; 20:1-17. These are some initial thoughts looking ahead to Sunday.

The giving of the ten commands is a prolific shift in culture and community that affects us even today.  The posting of the Ten Commands in public places has become controversial.  Last June in Little Rock a privately funded 6 foot tall statue of the commands was placed on the grounds of the Capitol. It cost more than $26,000. Less than 24 hours later Michael Tate Reed drove his car into it while filming it on his cellphone and posting the video on Facebook. It was destroyed. (Link). There were other objections also. The commands relate to the importance of loving God and loving others.

In my life within churches of Christ I was taught that we are not obligated to keep the Ten Commandments as such because they were a part of the Old Covenant. I was also taught that Jesus taught nine of the ten commands, so, in effect, we are to keep them. Precise, I suppose.

Law. Humans rebel against laws. It’s our nature. Adam and Eve had one law and failed to keep it. We break laws all the time and hope we don’t get caught. Has anyone driven over the speed limit lately ? I rest my case. The Israelites affirm here that they will keep this covenant, but Bible students know it won’t be long until they are bowing before a golden calf.  We struggle with laws, we want to jump fences, we long to push the limits, we cross boundaries even when we know it will hurt us or others. We run over the commands in more ways than one.

All of which ought to motivate us to be in love with God’s law, and more specifically the God of the law. The law can’t save our souls but it can save us a lot of heartache.  It is for our good to delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on it (Psalm 1).

As disciples of Jesus we love the law and word of God. Jesus quoted Scripture (Hebrew Bible) often. He calls us to love a God and one another with everything we have. What would call us from being lawbreakers to law lovers? When we see the benefits of living according to God’s framework for civilization we are drawn to Him. They are “…For your own good” (Deuteronomy 10:13).

Once we become Christians we are called out of a life of being commandment wreckers to being commandment keepers. Inasmuch as we fail, we remain dependent upon the God who is faithful to us and covers us with Grace.

The man who ran over the Ten Commandment statue was acquitted recently due to mental illness. Not everyone who hates the commands are mentally ill. But I would propose that loving God, resting, respecting our parents, respecting the lives of all humans, and loving our neighbors are all the basis of a well adjusted mentally, emotionally, and spiritually healthy life. God knows us well!

Thanks for reading. JED

You are welcome to join our group discussing the Narrative Lectionary here:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/NarrativeLectionarians/

 

Blog Tour #1: Peter Horne

For the past few years, Peter Horne has organized a “Blog Tour”. It’s a way for several bloggers to share ideas and introduce themselves to new readers. I always look forward to this and am grateful for Peter’s organizational skills. This is the first in the series about What Are You Seeking? I hope you enjoy the weekly posts and you’ll check out the great blogs of these impressive writers. JED

What Are You Seeking… Really?  By Peter Horne

Several weeks ago I was having a conversation with someone about worship. Suddenly, it dawned on me how much my thought process differed from other worshippers. 

  1. There are some people who come to church each week asking “Will they sing the songs I like?” “Will the sermon meet my needs?” “Will my friends be there?” “Will my prayers be answered?” “Will my life be improved?”
  2. Then there’s another group of people who come wondering who God will bring this week. They’re praying for opportunities to speak encouragement into someone’s life. They’re looking around for people they can meet and serve, and hoping that some first-time guests will attend this week.

At first glance, I hope that #2 seems more spiritual, more godly, more mature. Generally speaking, I agree. But generalisations have exceptions. We should bear in mind that we all have times in our lives where we need to receive rather than give. We need to be served rather than serve. Additionally, at some point, almost all of us walked through the doors of a church as guests with a list of questions asking whether this was the right church for us.

We were seekers seeking.

Some of us knew what we seeking. Others found the object of our search only when we stumbled upon it. We were all seeking.

Jesus asked a crowd of people a similar question in Matthew 11:2-15. Jesus’ cousin John has been imprisoned by Herod and sends messengers to Jesus. It seems that John wants confirmation that his ministry and now suffering were for the right reason, that they were worthwhile and that they mattered.

Jesus responds by giving a list of examples from his ministry, such as “the blind can see” that can be connected to messianic prophecies in the book of Isaiah such as Is 61:1-3. But then he turns to the crowd and asks this important question:

“Who did you go out into the wilderness to see?”  Who were you seeking?

Matthew 3:5 records that, “People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan river.” That’s a lot of people going to see and hear John the Baptizer. Now, some years later Jesus asks, “Who did you go out into the wilderness to see?”

He gives some choices: “Was it a reed, blown in the wind, waving this way and that?” “Was it someone in fine linens who’d make your life more comfortable and prosperous?” “Or did you go to see a prophet.”

Jesus knew well that people came to see him for a variety of reasons: Entertainment, financial gain, truth-seeking, overthrowing the Romans, or protecting the status quo.

This blog series challenges us to reconsider our motives as we follow Jesus.

  • Do we participate in his kingdom out of obligation or passion?
  • Does our status as adopted children of God seem real to us, or a theoretical concept?
  • Do we worship to please others, or because we love God?
  • Do we desire to participate in expanding the borders of God’s kingdom, or do we like our church the way it is?
  • Do we long to grow our relationship with God, or are we comfortable with our current level of knowledge and commitment?

What are you seeking? Really?

Imagine you had the opportunity to interview Jesus like you might interview the leader of a church you’re considering attending. What would you ask him?

  • Jesus, will my relationship with God be restored if I follow you?
  • Jesus, will my relationship with my husband be restored if I follow you?
  • Jesus, will my family finally accept me if I follow you?
  • Jesus, how much (or little) money do I need to give you to make you happy?
  • Jesus, will I still get to do the things I really enjoy doing?
  • Jesus, can I keep my friends?
  • Jesus, how much time will I need to give you each week?

Without putting on your holy hat, what would you ask Jesus? What are you seeking… really? Will you take 10 minutes and make your list? When you’ve done that, pray over it. Read it to Jesus and see how the Holy Spirit moves your mind.

Peter Horne moved to the United States from Australia in 1999 to pursue training for ministry. Having filled the roles of children’s minister, youth minister, and college minister in various locations around the US and Australia, he now gladly serves as the minister for the Lawson Rd Church of Christ in Rochester, NY. You can find more of his writing on his blog: www.aussiepete.wordpress.com. He also writes to equip multi-ethnic churches at www.culturalmosaic.org.