Saturday, July 31, 2010

Daniel 7-12: Prophecy and Stuff. I don't get it, and neither does Daniel.

From Garden to City reading: Daniel 7-12

I've been remiss in blogging the last few days.  I was writing other stuff, and just didn't feel like blogging.  And then I got an email from Human Resources asking to set up an exit appointment on August 16.  The date didn't surprise me--I've known this was coming since April, but knowing the date made everything seem so much more final and depressing.  So I didn't return the email.  I will.  But I haven't yet.

And we're reading Daniel.  The first six chapters are pretty cool, but after that, most of it doesn't make sense.  Daniel, the smartest guy in the kingdom, dreams crazy, crazy dreams. Giant lions with eagle wings.  Flesh-eating bears.  Four-headed leopards with wings.  And another beast with ten horns and iron teeth.  The Ancient of Days is there, and I think that's God.  His hair is white, his throne is on fire, and a flaming river flows out before him.

It doesn't really make sense.  Not to me, and not to Daniel.  In his dream, Daniel asks someone what it all means.  It totally troubles Daniel and even makes him sick.  He writes down what he sees, and he fasts and he prays.

A few years ago, when I worked for Pastor Mike, he did a sermon series titled "The End."  I got to do a lot of research with him and compile sources for him.  The most useful book, especially for understanding the book of Daniel, was actually one that Robert Wachs recommended, The Footsteps of the Messiah by Arnold Fruchtenbaum.  I recommend this book if you enjoy studying end times prophecy.  Otherwise, read the dreams and ask God to speak to you.

We may indeed be living in the end times.  Or we may, like Daniel, go our way till the end, rest, and then rise to receive our allotted inheritance.  (Daniel 12:13)

Either way, we want to serve God with all our hears.

Daniel 6: Everybody Loves Daniel

From Garden to City reading:  Daniel 6

Remember that show, Everybody Loves Raymond?  
His mother loved him so much that it basically didn't matter what inane thing he did, she blamed his brother, his father, his wife.  Great show on dysfunctional family dynamics.

More than once people have compared Duane to Raymond.  Maybe it's his dry sense of humor, or maybe it's his deep voice.  I think Duane's way better looking than Ray Romano, and I don't think Duane's wife is as neurotic as Debra.

Lately I compare Duane to Raymond because basically everybody seems to love him.  Except the people who don't.  But they shall remain unnamed.  And this time it's not because of a crazy-mixed up mother.

It wasn't always like that.  For at least twenty-five years, all our friends were my friends.  And most people knew me, but didn't even know Duane and I were married.  And then all of a sudden, Duane came alive.  He moved with integrity and served with humility.  Where he was once invisible, now everybody know hims.  He goes into Lowes or the post office or Starbucks and makes friends.  People offer him discounts and free mailbox keys.  He remembers their names.  He calls them.  He prays for them.  He checks in with them.

And I joke, "Everybody loves Duane."  (Maybe I am the neurotic wife.)

But I digress.
Sometimes God gives people favor.  I think that's what is happening with Duane.
And that's the only explanation I can give with Daniel.  He serves three kings, and they all love him.  It causes him some problems, too.

After Belshazzar is assassinated, the new king, Darius, loves Daniel so much that the other advisers become jealous and concoct a plan to get rid of him.  They know Daniel prays, and so they make prayer illegal for thirty days, punishable by death.  Now Daniel prays even more intensely.  In fact, he holes himself up in his room and gives thanks to God.

And sure enough, the advisers go to Daniel's room, find him praying, and arrest him.  King Darius must obey his own law, and Daniel goes into the den with the lions.

I wonder what's going on in Daniel's head.  It's not like he and his friends haven't been in worse situations before.  Is he confident? Scared? Hopeful, but not sure?

The Lord God delivers Daniel from the lions, and King Darius praises God.
And Daniel prospers during the reign of Darius and also during the reign of Cyrus.

Yes, everybody loves Daniel.
But it isn't as much about Daniel as it is about God's plans for Daniel.  And Daniel's willingness to go along with God's plans.  He takes risks for God because he knows God.  He knows God's greatness.  He knows God's power.  And he looks to God constantly.  He seeks him continuously.  He obeys him gratefully.

God's plans for each of us is different.
God delivers Daniel.
But John the Baptist gets his head chopped off.
But Stephen in Acts 7 gets stoned.
All of them serve God.
And in every situation, God's is glorified.

Dare to be a Daniel.
Dare to be a John the Baptist.
Dare to be a Stephen.

Daniel 4-5: God's Power and Glory versus Ours

From Garden to City reading:  Daniel 4-5

For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.
Romans 13:1 (NLT)

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.
1 Peter 5:5-6 (NIV)

Nebuchadnezzar and then his son Belshazzar rule over the most powerful kingdom in the region.  I suppose if I were in their position, I'd let it go to my head.  Just a little bit.  Or a lot.  

It's sort of like being president of the United States.  Except you don't have congress or the people telling you what to do.  Or like being head of the EU.  Or like being Kim Jong Il of North Korea.  Or Castro. 

All power comes from God.  
All authority ultimately belongs to God.  
Yes, God allows imperfect people to lead.  
And yes, they often forget (or never realize) God is the source of their power.  

But these men have Daniel in their lives.  They've seen God work, and they've even recognized his power.  And they still get caught up in their own power structures.  God warns Nebuchadnezzar with a dream, yet he still declares, "Is not this the great Babylon I have built . . by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?"

And Nebuchadnezzar's fall from power should serve as a warning to Belshazzar.  

Certainly none of us rule over kingdoms the size of Babylon, but how often do we get caught up in our own successes?  And how often do we get caught up in our own little power structures.  

It seems that unless we keep our eyes on God, and our hearts fixed on his glory, we fall prey to pride.   Only God is great.  All power, all authority comes from him.  And we belong to him.  

Let us humble ourselves before God, and he will lift us up in his time.  
But we will never be higher than God.

Daniel 3: Through the Fire

From Garden to City reading:  Daniel 3

Another familiar story, at least to the Sunday School crowd.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to bow before an idol.
They would rather die in a blazing furnace.

They declare, "God has the power to save us, and he might save us.  But he might now.  Either way, we won't bow down to anyone but God."

If you're part of the Sunday School crowd, you know the ending.  An angel--or God--shows up in the fire with them.  They walk out of the fire without burns, and they don't even smell like smoke.  Happy ending.

Sure.  But these three men don't know about the happy ending when the soldiers throw them into the fire.  For all they know, they're going to die.  What's that like?

When everything's going well, we attribute the success to our hard work and wisdom, but desperate times reveal God's awesome power and glory.

Desperate times.
Willing servants of the most high God.

How badly do we want to be like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego?

Daniel 1-3: Welcoming the Challenge and Making it Riskier

From Garden to City reading (almost a week ago):  Daniel 1-3

I avoid risks.
I avoid risky situations.
I like to know what's going to happen next.
Or at least what's likely to happen next.

August 16 is my last day of work.
My job is being eliminated.
My schooling and internship at SDSU mean that any future job must be part-time and offer a fairly flexible schedule.

I had a plan-I could tutor.  I applied for nearly a dozen positions, but got no callbacks.
At least I can tutor at SDSU, I thought.  Yesterday I found out that my two internships at SDSU have maxed out my hours, and I can only tutor for two hours per week.

No clear plan.
Nothing but risk.
I don't know what's going to happen next.
I would never willingly place myself in this situation.

I'm waiting for God to do something fantastic.
Really that's the only thing I can do.

We all love to see God do fantastic things.
We just don't love being in the position of needing Him to do those things. We like to have backup plans just in case God doesn't do something totally awesome.  I don't like to struggle or not know what's happening next.

Now I don't have a backup plan.

All year long we have been reading about Israel, her kings, her battles, and her sins.  It's a cycle really.  The people forget God and turn to idols, a neighboring city conquers them, they call out for help, and God rescues them.  This time Judah gets conquered by Babylon, and this time Babylon takes captives, the best and the brightest in Jerusalem.  The Babylonian king wants to educate and train them to serve in his kingdom, and so he treats them like Babylonian princes, feeds them the best food and wine, and gives them the best teachers.

Enter Daniel.
Daniel resolves "not to defile himself with the royal food and wine" and he asks the royal official for permission to eat only vegetables and water, and his three friends--we know them as Shadrach, Meshach, and Adbednego--join him.  The official really likes Daniel, but he worries that Daniel and his friends will start looking sick and the king's guards will notice.

Daniel says, "Test me for ten days.  If we look sick, we'll eat your food."

I've been thinking about this passage for several days now.
And yesterday it hit me.
Daniel chooses risk.
And then he makes it risker.

Oh, he didn't choose captivity, but he did choose to make it more challenging.
He said, "I'm going to honor God, and God will take care of me."

At the end of ten days, Daniel and his friends looked healthier and better nourished than any of the other young men.

Daniel does basically the same thing in chapter two.  He hears about King Nebuchadnezzar's dream, about the death sentence for all the wise men and magicians, and he goes to the king and says, "Don't put them to death.  Let me ask God, and God will interpret your dream for you."

I was stunned when I read this.  Remember, I avoid risk.
What if God doesn't come through?
What if God doesn't speak to Daniel?
What if . . .

But God does speak to Daniel.

And so yesterday, when my plans fell through, I thought of Daniel, who embraced risks.
I remembered a journal entry from last May, when I wrote about my frustrations with work and how I desired to focus on school and writing.  Well, now I have that opportunity.

It's what I wanted.  Kind of.
I just don't know what God's going to do.
And I'm not sure I have the courage to take the risks Daniel took.
The story doesn't end with the food.  He goes to the King and asks to interpret dreams.  He embraces situations that require God to intervene.

He can't change his captivity, but he allows God to work through it.
I can't change my job situation, but I want to allow God to work through it.
That means I'm going to have to take some risks.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Jonah 1-4: Willing to Die for What He Believes

From Garden to City reading:  Jonah 1-4

I thought about skipping the book of Jonah.  I mean, I've read this book lots of times and heard the story in Sunday School way more times than that.  (Sunday School teachers love the story of Jonah and the big fish!)  And after all, I'm behind on the whole blogging thing.  A little thing called life got in the way this week.

And then my rules-based psyche kicked in, and I decided to go ahead and read it.  I mean, how long could it take?  That was back on Monday.

You probably know the story.
Jonah is a prophet in Israel, serving the one true God.
You recall that Israel became a divided kingdom after Solomon's son decided to take bad advice.  At that point, Solomon's son ruled Judah, the southern kingdom, and some other king--I don't remember who--ruled the northern kingdom, which was known as Israel.

Neither kingdom worshiped God consistently, but Judah had a better track record.  Israel mostly had ungodly kings who sought after other gods, but in this short period of time, Jonah's time, Israel has a godly king, Jeroboam.

And this is significant because Israel is always needing God's mercy.
Israel is always needing God's deliverance.
They may be God's chosen people, but they sure don't live like it most of the time.
And Jonah doesn't seem to get it.

So when God tells Jonah to go to the evil Ninevites and "preach against it because its wickedness" has come up before the Lord, he jumps on a ship going the opposite direction.

Those people are not chosen, and they do not deserve to hear from God.

And when Jonah's ship encounters a storm, he tells the sailors to throw him overboard.  God is mad at him.  Death doesn't bother Jonah as much as going to Ninevah.

And when he's in the belly of the big fish, Jonah praises God.
My NIV study Bible, so helpful in understanding some of the back story, says Jonah is praising God because he knows he will be delivered, but I'm not so sure.  He's in a fish.  How's he going to get out?  And even if he does, how's he going to get to shore?

I think he's still a little full of himself.
"When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord . . .
Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.
But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you . . ."

Jonah isn't afraid to die.
He's not like those who "cling to worthless idols" and forfeit grace.  Grace belongs to Jonah.

And so the fish vomits Jonah onto dry land, Jonah decides to go to Ninevah, he preaches, the Ninevites repent, God doesn't destroy them, and Jonah pouts.

He says, "God.  This really ticks me off.  I knew this would happen, and this is why I didn't want to come here. I knew they would repent, and then you would have compassion, and you wouldn't give them what they deserve."

They worshiped other gods, and they forfeited any grace that might have earned.
And once again he would rather die.  He says, "Oh Lord, take away my life for it is better for me to die than to live."

Oh, Jonah.  Don't you get it?
How many times has God had compassion on the Israelites when they repented?
Are the Ninevites really so different from the Israelites?

The thing is, and I hate to admit it, I sort of identify with Jonah.
Sometimes I want people to get what they deserve.
Not people like me, of course.  We deserve compassion.

But THOSE people, the people who are not like me.
They're bad people, and they should be punished.
And maybe I run the other way when God asks me to love them, to spend time with them, to share my life with them so that they can see His love.

And I think maybe I'm not alone.
I think we all have a tendency to identify with some people and classify some people as "others."  We don't know them.  They're different.  The things they do offend us.  We avoid them.

We want them to get what they deserve.

And now I'm stepping out on a limb.
Who do we identify as "other"?  (The answer different for all of us, depending on our own life experience.)

The homeless?
Mexicans crossing the border illegally?
Drug users?
Muslims?  Arabs?

Who do we avoid?
Do we judge them?  Are our hearts open to God's compassion for them?
Is God asking us to go to them?
What might God want to do through our lives?

God doesn't see any of us as "other."  He loved the Israelites, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  He loved the Ninevites.
He loves homeless people and criminals.  He loves Mexicans crossing the border.  He loves drug users.  He loves Muslims.  (And all the "others" I haven't mentioned or even thought of.)

I have some friends in Fiji right now.  They're installing water filters in predominantly Hindu and Muslim villages, sharing the love of God as they go.  For them, the villagers are not "other."
They're almost done right now, but the work goes on even when they're not there.

Let's pray for them today.
And let's pray for each other, that we would see people the way God sees them.
That when God calls us to go to the "others" that we will go instead of running the other way.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Hosea 6:1-3 "Let us return to the Lord."

The book of Hosea is hard to understand.
Israel.  Ephraim.  Judah.  
All reject the Lord.  They chase after other gods.
And God turns them away.
More than that, God pours out his wrath on them.  

But God never stops loving them, and he longs for them to return to Him.  He longs for their love.  
This is the story of Hosea, the prophet, and Gomer, the prostitute.  
This is a story of God's relentless love for people who continually turn away.  

I think the first three verses from chapter six tell the story.   Listen to the this passage set to music by Shane and Shane, and you will hear the sadness, the mourning, the desperation, the hope.  

"Come, let us return to the LORD. 
       He has torn us to pieces 
       but he will heal us; 
       he has injured us 
       but he will bind up our wounds.
  After two days he will revive us;
       on the third day he will restore us,
       that we may live in his presence.

  Let us acknowledge the LORD;
       let us press on to acknowledge him.
       As surely as the sun rises,
       he will appear;
       he will come to us like the winter rains,
       like the spring rains that water the earth."

Today I'm thinking about my son, who I love intensely.  
He is broken, wounded, injured, torn into pieces.
And it breaks my heart.  
I long to see the day when he will "return to the Lord," when the Lord restores him and revives him.  

And I'm thinking about the times when I have turned away from God.
Like Gomer in the book of Hosea, who thinks her lovers give her riches and doesn't recognize that her gold and jewels come from her husband, I don't always realize that my blessings come from God until they are taken away.  In my desperation, I return to the Lord, and he restores.  

May we always seek God with a note of desperation, with recognition that He is the source of life, of love, of hope.  

Friday, July 23, 2010

Hosea 1-3: Redeeming Love

From Garden to City reading:  Hosea 1-3

Throughout the Old Testament, the writers compare the people of Israel to adulterous wives who reject the husband (God) who has rescued them, loved them, provided for them, and turned to other lovers (the gods of other nations).  

The book of Hosea takes this metaphoric description and makes it real.  God instructs Hosea to marry Gomer, a prostitute, to love her and provide her.  She turns to other lovers again and again, and finally Hosea leaves her to those lovers.  Ultimately she chooses Hosea and he rescues her and loves her again.  

It's an intriguing book.  Why does Hosea marry her, knowing she will betray him?  Why does he take her back again and again.  

Of course, the answer is because God said to do so.
A bigger question is, why does God choose the Israelite people, knowing they will betray him again and again.  Why does he take them back again and again?  
The biggest question is why does God send Jesus to die, to redeem the world, even though he knows that most will reject his gift of salvation? 

The answer is love.

Some years ago the women in my small group passed around a copy of Redeeming Love  by Francine Rivers, a retelling of the story of Hosea and Gomer.   I'm not a huge fan of western novels, and I swore off romance novels more than 30 years ago, but after a great deal of encouragement, I bought my own copy.  It's worth reading to see the unrelenting love of God played out in a more familiar setting.  

Personally, I prefer When Heaven Weeps by Ted Dekker.   It's a more modern setting with some international intrigue and a link to World War Two.  

Both Rivers and Dekker bring the love story of Hosea and Gomer to life. 
More importantly, we see ourselves in the role of Gomer and we see God's persistent love, rescuing us over and over again.  

The rest of the book of Hosea is full of symbols.  I don't understand most of it, but I'll read it anyway.
As we read God's word, he faithfully brings pieces to life.
He faithfully surprises us with nuggets of truth.  

I'm looking forward to reading the book of Hosea again.
It reminds me of the women in my small group.  A few of us read the book of Hosea through.  God really blessed us in the reading of this book.  

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

2 Samuel 19-24: David Dies (it's kind of a strange day)

From Garden to City reading (for Monday and Tuesday):  2 Samuel 19-24

Monday's reading threw me for a loop.

Apparently David's soldiers weren't as moved by David's love for Absalom as I was.  It makes sense.  Absalom would have killed David and all of them if they hadn't killed him, but David wouldn't have cared as much about that.  And I didn't know quite what to say beyond--sometimes you have to do what you have to do.  But it doesn't mean you can't be sad.   And apparently I have codependent tendencies.

Tuesday I had a lot to say, but no time to say it.  
To make a long story short, David gets old--too old to fight--but God still delivers the Israelites from the Philistines, David sings a song about God's love and his own righteousness, he sins again, the people suffer, and then he offers a sacrifice.  

And then he dies.  

Today we've got a new book, Hosea.  Tough read.  God tells the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute.  And he does.  And she rejects him.  And then God says to take her back.  

But today's an odd day.
I had a nightmare, woke up, and couldn't get back to sleep for a couple of hours.  So I slept until 7:00.  And then the AC man came to fix the AC at 7:30 and wasn't done until 10:30.  

Late start.  
No devotions.
No motivation.  
Lots of distractions.

It's kind of a strange day.  
And I really need to do a few things before Duane gets off work.  
I probably should take some time to pray first.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

2 Samuel 16-18: O my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you . . ."

From Garden to City reading:  2 Samuel 16-18

No matter what Absalom does, David never stops loving his son.
Absalom murders another brother.
Absalom overthrows his father's kingdom.
Absalom sleeps with his father's mistresses.
Absalom tries to kill his father.

And David still loves his son.
When Absalom dies, David says, "If only I had died instead of you--O Absalom, my son, my son!"

That's crazy love.
And I've been sitting here on my bed thinking about this, thinking about how much God loves us and thinking about how we are so much like Absalom.

We rebel against God all the time.
Our stories probably aren't as dramatic as the story of Absalom's rebellion.
But rebellion is rebellion.

And I'm thinking about how God loves us so much that he sent Jesus to die instead of us.
And in spite of this love, we still rebel against him.
Or we think we can earn God's love.
Or maybe disqualify ourselves from God's love.
But God keeps loving us.

I'm thinking about Brennan Manning, who asks,
Do you really accept the message that God is head over heels in love with you? I believe that this question is at the core of our ability to mature and grow spiritually. If in our hearts we really don't believe that God loves us as we are, if we are still tainted by the lie that we can do something to make God love us more, we are rejecting the message of the cross.
David received mercy and forgiveness when he least deserved it.
He would have extended that mercy to his son.

We received mercy when we least deserved it.
Do we even see how undeserving we are?
Do we receive that mercy with open arms, as undeserving, rebellious children?
And are we so incredibly grateful for the gift of God's love that we are willing to give it to the people around us?

Even the people who despise us, who try to kill us, who overthrow our kingdoms?

Okay, so no one is trying to kill us or overthrow our kingdoms, but are we willing to give mercy to the people around us?

Do we mourn for the Absalom's in our life?
Do we keep loving no matter what?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

2 Samuel 13-15:

From Garden to City reading:  2 Samuel 13-15

I don't know who Bill Perkins is, but I saw a quote by him in the Leonard Sweet book I'm reading right now.
If you think you can't fall into sexual sin, then you're godlier than David, stronger than Samson, and wiser than Solomon.  
It's pretty profound, and fairly stunning.  And if you think God ultimately forgave David so it's no big deal, then these chapters will remind you that there are serious consequences to sexual sin.  Honestly, all sin has consequences, and we often overlook the potential ramifications of our sin.  But we're talking about David here, and these are the consequences of adultery and murder.

Essentially David loses the respect of his sons.
His son Amnon rapes his daughter Tamar.
His son Absalom murders his son Amnon.
His son Absalom runs away and hides.

And David does nothing.
He doesn't reprimand Amnon.
He doesn't protect Tamar.
He doesn't correct Absalom.

And when Absalom returns from hiding, he initiates a plan to make himself king.
Some of the people support David; others support Absalom.
Some of David's soldiers support David; others support Absalom.

To save his own life, David runs away.
He mourns as he climbs the Mount of Olives, weeping, his head covered and his feet bare.

He mourns the loss of his sons.
He mourns the loss of his kingdom.  

Our consequences may not be as dramatic as what we see in this passage, but we aren't kings.  
And right now I feel pretty exempt from the sins of David, Samson, and Solomon.
And I guess most of us feel pretty exempt from the BIG sins that we hear about on television like murder, bank robbery, embezzlement. 

But this passage should serve as a caution.
None of us are exempt from temptation.
We must guard our hearts.
We must seek the Lord.  
Remember, David, Samson, and Solomon had stopped putting God first in their lives and seeking him.

David's story could have been so different.

Friday, July 16, 2010

2 Samuel 10-12: Bare Beards and Buttocks

"From Garden to City" reading:  2 Samuel 10-12

So David pays his respects to the son of the Ammonite king after the king dies, and the son freaks out because just maybe David has actually sent the men as spies.  And so they shave off half of each man's beard and then "cut off their garments in the middle at the buttocks" and send them away.

I'm thinking these guys looked pretty funny.
It sounds like fraternity pranks, except that David takes it totally seriously and starts a war in which thousands of men from both sides lose their lives.

Now I'm pretty sure I'm missing the cultural ramifications of shaving off beards and exposing the backsides of David's men, but really?

The Ammonite king humiliated the men and by extension David, but he didn't hurt them.
David's strictly fighting for honor here.

And basically, we see Samuel's prophecy about kings and kingdoms fulfilled once again:  "This is the way the king of king you're talking about operates.  He'll take your sons and make soldiers of them--chariotry, infantry, regimented in battalions and squadrons.  He'll put some to forced labor on his farms, plowing and harvesting, and others to making either weapons of war or chariots in which he can ride in luxury . .  ."
(1 Samuel 8:10-18).

And this whole episode, this fight for honor, this unnecessary loss of life to avenge shaved beards and bared buttocks sets up the scene in which David stays behind in battle, sleeps with Bathsheba, and then murders her husband Uriah.

We don't see David asking the Lord whether he should go to war.
We don't see David asking God whether or not he will successful.
We don't see David seeking godly counsel.

We see David defending the honor of Israel, fighting for his own respect as a king and a commander--without the blessing of God.

In the battle against the Ammonites, it looks like David won.
In the war for honor and respect, with his family and even his people, apparently he lost.
Nothing is ever the same again.

And I've never heard any of this in a sermon before so maybe I'm a little bit off, but I think it's worth saying that the minute we become more concerned with our honor than with God's honor, and more preoccupied with the way people treat us than we are with the way we treat others, or treat God, we put ourselves and our future at risk.

And when we get so obsessed with asserting our rights, personal, political, or economic, that we stop seeking godly counsel or asking God whether or not he wants us to fight for them, we risk losing his grace.

Humility before man . . . humility before God.
Love and mercy.

Micah 6:8
O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
      and this is what he requires of you:
   to do what is right, to love mercy,
      and to walk humbly with your God.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

2 Samuel 7-9: Sounds like a good idea!

"From Garden to City" reading:  2 Samuel 7-9

Some people, apparently, pray about what to major in when they go to college.
I remember hearing Pastor Mike talk about that in a sermon, and it was a novel idea to me.
I just knew.
It totally made sense.
What else would I want to study?


Still, it seemed like an interesting idea, praying about what to study.  I thought, maybe I'll do that if I go to grad school.

And then I heard about the program in rhetoric, and I didn't pray about whether or not this was the right program.  I just knew.  It totally made sense.  What else would I want to study?

It's not that I'm not prayerful, and I did spend a lot of time praying about whether or not to go to school.  But not about the major.

Of note, I also did not pray about WHERE to go to school.
SDSU was the only school in San Diego that offered a French major.
SDSU was also the only school in San Diego that offered a masters in rhetoric.
Again, obvious choice.

I tend to rely on intuition.  Gut feelings.  Holy hunches.
I have learned over the years that God speaks to me through these hunches.

But sometimes the things that totally make sense, that just seem right, are not right at all.
Sometimes God has other ideas.

And that brings us to 2 Samuel 7.
David gets this fabulous idea . . .
Let's build a house for God!
And it does seem to be a great idea.

Wisely, David has learned to seek counsel from godly people in his life, and so he talks to Nathan before he begins his wonderful project.

Nathan's totally on board with the idea.
David's heart is for God.  And this does seem to totally make sense.
And so he says, "Yeah!  Great idea!  God's with you--so go for it!"

The thing is . . .
This great idea is not God's idea.
At least not for right now.
And not for David.

And the "word of the Lord" comes to Nathan as he is lying in bed at night.
And the answer is:  "No."

Not a great idea.
Don't do it.

God's not mad at Nathan - or at David.
He just has other plans.

And I love this episode in David's life.
It speaks to those of us who tend to rely on our hunches for direction in life in a few ways:

First, we see David seeking godly counsel before he acts on his great idea.
Nathan knows David, and he knows David's heart.  They have a relationship, and even though David's the king, Nathan has permission to say hard things, tough things, to David.

We all need to have these kind of people in our lives.  Godly people who know us, who know our hearts.  People who pray, who listen to God.  People who have permission to say tough things to us.

I know that sometimes it's hard to establish those relationships, and they take time to develop, but those relationships are essential.

Next, even though Nathan has already given an answer, we see that Nathan still listens to what God has to say on this matter.

Sometimes the gut response, the response that totally makes sense, isn't God's plan.
Are we open to God's plan? Are we listening?  Do we continue asking God what he thinks, even after we have already made plans?

Are we willing to change our plans to fit God's plans?
Are we willing to listen to godly counsel that contradicts our plans?

Nathan was still asking and still listening, and so God spoke to him and opened up new and wonderful new promises for David.

And David's heart was open to God's word, and he received the change in plans with thanksgiving and praise.

And as I write this, suddenly God is speaking to me.
The thing that made total sense to me was working for Newbreak until I finished school.
But God's plans are not my plans.
God's plans are always better than my plans, even when mine appear to make more sense than God's.

And as I seek godly counsel, and my godly counsel reminds me every time that God's got something good.  Something wonderful.
Something new.

God is good.
He is faithful.

And I can receive these promises with praise and thanksgiving--like David--or I can cling to disappointment and fear.  I think I have done both over the last few months.

If David had rejected Nathan's counsel, if David had rejected God's instructions, he would have missed the amazing plans God had for him, and he would have missed the wonderful promises God had for his family.

Right now I am grateful for godly friends who speak into my life.  Who remind me of God's truths.  Who remind me of his character.  Who remind me of his love.

And I need to take a few minutes to pray about this before I start my day.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Leaving the Oasis

How I wish we had one more day in Palm Springs.
One more day to splash in the pool.
To read.
To reflect.
To pray.
To laugh.
To play games.

I thought about using these days to get a jump on the weeks work, but the little voice in the back of my head said, "No."

The little voice, which is the Holy Spirit, said, "Renew your spirit.  Rest. Let me bring healing to your heart."

Work starts again this afternoon as soon as I return.
But I am grateful for rest and for resting.
I am grateful for sunshine and splashing and laughing and sharing time with my family.

And I want to build rest into my life.
It's been too long.

2 Samuel 4-6: The Holy and the Undignified

Reading for today: 2 Samuel 4-6

I used to get quite upset when I would read about people who died because they touched the ark or got too close or whatever.  It just doesn't seem fair.

Uzzah was trying to help.  He was trying to keep the ark from falling.  And then he's dead?  How unfair is that?

I have a really difficult time with the concept of holiness, of God who is so other that I can't look on him, touch him, connect to him without the sacrifice of Jesus.

Think of Isaiah--"Woe is me for I am a man of unclean lips"
Think of John in the book of Revelation, who falls down as though dead.

God is holy.
He is awesome.
He is fearful.
He is Other.

Uzzah forgot that.
He knew God's laws and he broke them because it made sense at the time.
We can never rationalize breaking God's laws, even now.
Not even to fix things for him.

How grateful I am for Jesus, for grace, for forgiveness, that we can call God Father.

Second major thought in this passage--
David dancing around in his underwear and his wife rebuking him saying, you looked really stupid.  Silly.  Foolish.  Undignified.  Kings should never do that.

None of us are kings, but we often worry about appearing foolish or undignified in worshiping the true King.
Raising our hands in worship.
Singing loudly.
Going to the altar.
Weeping loudly.
Falling face down on the ground.

David understood that although he was a king, he was subject to the King of all Kings, the Lord of all Lords.
And he made himself nothing in worship before his God.

David understood that God is holy.  Awesome.
His crazy undignified worship reflected his position before the Lord.

And this is why David was a man after God's own heart.
May we be the same.
May we do the same.

2 Samuel 1-3: David the King - sort of

I started to blog yesterday about King David.
My first thought was that he had a pretty significant life journey to even become king.
We know Samuel anointed him, but apparently that didn't make much difference to most of the people.  It definitely didn't make a difference to Saul or Saul's family.

My second thought was that he's pretty brutal, killing people all the time, driving swords through their bodies so that they come out the back and such.  Hardly the "Lord is my shepherd" type of guy.

Even after he became king, for a long time he was only the king of some of the people, not all of them.  And even then he traveled around a lot to avoid getting killed.

Some years ago I was getting my hair colored and saw an article in a magazine that said King David was nothing more than a tribal king.  And Solomon wasn't "all that" either.

At least as far as David was concerned, I don't think the article contradicted Scripture.  When we think of "king," we think of castles and thrones and sovereignty and lots of gold and jewels.  I'm not reading a lot about that in David's life just yet.

So then yesterday I started trying to find that article because it really bothered me at the time and I thought it might help me write this blog.  That sent me on a rabbit chase and I didn't find what I was looking for, but I did get distracted and found a lot of articles that indicated that David was nothing more than a tribal king.

Whatever David was or was not, we know he was God's servant.
He played a role in the God's story of love and redemption.

And the prophecies about his greatness mostly referred to his lineage.
Apparently not Solomon or the ones who came after them.  If you've been doing the From Garden to City reading plan, you know they weren't all that admirable.

I'm rambling, and I really want to get out of this blog neatly.
So I'll draw two conclusions that have some application to our lives.

First, even though Samuel anointed David as king when he was just a kid, it took years and years and many battles before David actually became king.  The waiting years taught him to battle, taught him to depend on the Lord, taught him to surrender his life and his future to God.

Sometimes we know where we're headed.  Sometimes we don't.
It doesn't matter.
We have to live out our lives, the good parts and the bad parts.

As in the life of David, the journey of life is as valuable than the ultimate destination or goal.

Second conclusion, and this one draws on yesterday's post.
We tend to draw conclusions about the Bible based on stories told over and over.  When we read the stories in context, we often get a very different picture.

The Israelites weren't always faithful to the one true God.  In fact, most of the time they weren't.
Gideon wasn't really a mighty warrior--until God got a hold of him.
Samson was pretty messed up.
David was incredibly violent.

Our view of these people changes as we spend time in Scripture, getting a handle of God's big picture story.

And one final thought-reading about archaeology that potentially contradicted Scripture really freaked me out a few years ago.  After a closer reading of Scripture, I don't know that it does.

But it doesn't matter.
We believe by faith.
Science and scientific conclusions shift over time.
God's love, his plan, his redemption never does.

Monday, July 12, 2010

1 Samuel: Holding Tightly to Power

1 Samuel ends with Saul facing defeat at the hands of the Philistines.  Unwilling to surrender and face potential mutilation and ultimate death, he takes his own life.  The Philistines cut off his head and hang his body on the wall.  After a time, the people of Israel take the body down, burn it, and bury the bones.  And they mourn the loss of their king.

I'm going to make a bold statement.
Saul's death was not as great a tragedy as his life.

Despite Samuel's misgivings about the monarchy, he had great hope for Saul.
Saul worshiped God.  God filled him with his Spirit.  God empowered him to fight for the Israelites.

But Saul grew to value his power over his relationship with God.
And when God rebuked him, telling him that his kingdom would end, he clung to that power instead of repenting.

He repeatedly attacked David even though he knew God had chosen David to reign after him.  (As if killing David could change God's mind about his own throne.)

He threatened his own son.

He visited a witch--totally against God's commands.

Basically Saul would do anything to retain his kingdom.
He forgot he hadn't earned his position--it was a gift.
He forgot the giver of that gift and focused on the gift itself.

I wonder how many times we do the same thing.
Not that any of us are kings, but we have our own positions, or own glories, our own power structures.
And what will we do to keep them?
Even after God has said, "No more."
Even after God has asked, "Am I the most important thing in your life?"
Even after God has instructed us, "Look at me.  Listen to me.  Love me."

1 Samuel: David - A Many of Many Mysteries

When we think of David, we think of vignettes that tell a story:

  • David and Goliath -  Little children learn to sing about "Only a boy named David" who, against all odds, beats the giant using only his slingshot.
  • David the mighty warrior, fighting and defeating the Philistines
  • David the mighty king
  • David, a man after God's own heart, who writes most of the Psalms
  • David, the righteous man who won't kill Saul, the Lord's anointed
  • David and Bathsheba - sure, David commits adultery and kills Uriah, but he repents and God forgives him
The really awesome thing about reading through Samuel is that we get to see a more complete picture.  

David the Raider:  Really, this is his day job.  He and his men go off in the day and raid other villages, mostly enemies of God, take their livestock and other stuff.  

And speaking of his men, chapter 22 tells us they are a mishmash of debtors, the discontented, and the distressed.  Chapter 30 tells us there is a smattering of evil men and troublemakers in their midst.

David, the warrior who fought the Philistines also fought FOR the Philistines until King Achish sent him away. 

David is not a civilized king, as we think of civilized kings.  If we met him today, I'm not sure we would like him very much.  He's pretty much a barbarian, driven by his passions, his lusts, his desires.  

And by God.   

Yes, David is a man of mysteries.  Like the rest of us, David is a complex character, not all good, not all bad.  Not easily defined unless we limit his life to a few short vignettes taken from Scripture.

But we know he loved God.  Throughout his life, sometimes more often and sometimes less often, David sought the Lord and sought to please him.

May we do the same.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

1 Samuel 16-18: It's Complicated

Reading:  1 Samuel 16-23

Leonard Sweet keeps writing really good books that I want to read.  Right now I'm reading So Beautiful: God's Divine Design for Life and the Church.  Next on my list is 11: Indispensable Relationships You Can't Be Without.

The things is, relationships are complicated.  
Look at David in this passage.  

We've got David and his brothers.  David goes to the battlefield to take his brothers some food, and presumably to watch the excitement.  And David's brother calls him on it.  Apparently sibling arguments are nothing new.  

And then there's Saul.  They know each other already--David's been singing and playing the harp for Saul.  Apparently worship music quiets the evil spirits playing havoc in Saul's imagination.  But when David kills Goliath he starts to get a little jealous.  So he sends David to war, hoping the Philistines will kill him in battle.  Unfortunately for him, David becomes a pretty decent warrior.  That's when Saul snaps and tries to kill him himself.   

It gets more complicated when David gets married to Michal, Saul's daughter.  And to Abigail, Nabal's widow.  And some other woman.  

Relationships are definitely complicated.  Facebook even has a category for that.  
I used to think I could do without people, and I wonder if David thinks that too sometimes.  
But then there's Jonathan.
Jonathan would die for David. 
When David's in hiding, Jonathan risks his own life to keep him safe.  
And it's Jonathan who helps "him find strength in God" when David's in the Desert of Ziph.  (23:15)

We need community. 
We need people to help us find strength in God.
We need people who encourage us when we're struggling, and we need to return the favor when others struggle.  We need each other.  

And yes, relationships are complicated, and yes they take time, and sometimes they're a lot of work.  
Sometimes the friend we hoped was a Jonathan was actually a Saul.
But if we don't take the risk, if we don't put ourselves out there, we never meet the Jonathan.  

I need a few Jonathans in my life.
And I want to be a Jonathan. 

Friday, July 9, 2010

1 Samuel 16-18: In Mourning

There's so much that I could write about David, and maybe I'll do that later, but right now I want to look at Samuel.

Right now I relate to him a lot more than I do to David.  I mean, David's a kid, just starting out in life.  He loves his work as a shepherd.  He gets to spend a lot of time dreaming, hoping, writing songs, rescuing sheep.  Who knows what life holds for him?

Samuel, on the other hand, has lived a lot of years.  He's dedicated those years to serving God, to honoring him, obeying him.  He's been disappointed more than a few times.  He's experienced rejection, like when the people begged for a king and they ignored his advice.  Samuel clings to God's truths in spite of the disappointments.  

Samuel invested his life in Saul, who also rejected his advice.  And even though Samuel knew it was coming, he had hoped it would turn out different.

And now he knows for sure that Saul's kingdom will come to an end.  He mourns the loss of Saul's kingdom.  He mourns Saul's separation from God.

The Bible doesn't say it, but I think Samuel feels like his life has been a failure.
The people.  Saul.  His own children.
They all reject God and God's plans.

Samuel knows God is faithful, but he just can't see how God is going to work things out.
And so he shuts down.  He mourns.
And he's a little afraid of what Saul may do to him.

And then one day God comes to Samuel and says, "How long will you mourn for Saul?  Get up.  I still have things for you to do."

It's like God says, "The story's not over."
There's more.

There's always more.
It's interesting to me that although this book is named after Samuel, the story's not really about Samuel.  Samuel plays a pivotal role in setting the stories in this book into motion, but the stories are not about him.  They also are not about Saul.  Or David either, for that matter.

These are stories of God's love for the people he has chosen, and the way he continually draws them to himself.

And my stories, even if I want them to be, are never about me.
They are about the way I allow (or don't allow) God to use me as part of  the story he is telling in the world.
The same is true for all of us.

And when we feel like we have failed, like the story is falling apart, God comes to us and says, "How long will you mourn?  Get up and get on your way.  I'm sending you in a new direction."

Thursday, July 8, 2010

1 Samuel 12-15: No More Excuses

I never understood Sunday School Saul and why God punished him for making an offering when Samuel was late.

How unfair of God.
How undemocratic.
How un-American.

Except that God's not about being fair.
And God isn't democratic.
And God isn't American.

God is supreme.  Above all things.  Above all people.

Still, it's good to look at this more closely to hopefully understand what's going on in this story, to ask why Saul offers the burnt offering and why God, through Samuel, responds by taking away the kingdom.

We've got some pride going on.  Some rebellion.  Some rationalization.
The Philistines have assembled and are waiting for a battle.
And Saul has called the people to join him.
And now they're waiting.  Waiting.
Some of Saul's soldiers hide in caves.  Some leave.
The rest are "quaking with fear."

Now Samuel had said, "I'll be there in seven days."
And on the seventh day, Saul took matters into his own hands.

It's important to recall that in those days, God spoke through Samuel.  Samuel's words were God's words.
When Saul took matters into his own hands, he was really saying, "I've got it, God.  But I can go through the motions--I'll ask for your favor on my own."

Samuel asks, "What have you done?  Why didn't you wait?"
Saul offers excuses.  The men were leaving.  You were late.  I had to do this.

No repentance.
No mourning.
No submission.
Not even after Samuel tells Saul that his kingdom will not endure.

After that it just gets crazy.
Saul makes arbitrary rules.  Like telling his soldiers not to eat.  His own army has to rescue Jonathan, who didn't know the rules because he was off saving Israel.

And Saul picks and chooses which of God's instructions to obey.  And which ones to ignore.
Like when God says kill all the Amalekites and all their lifestock.  And he decides to save the best livestock in order to offer it as an offering.

But the Lord doesn't delight in burnt offerings as much as in obedience.
Because when we obey, even when we don't understand, we acknowledge God's sovereignty, his supremacy, his role in the world.  We acknowledge that God is greater than we are.

This time Saul is sorry. But it's too late.
And it's not about fair.
It's about surrender to a living God.

1 Samuel 12-15: Samuel retires.

At some point, we grow old, we slow down, and someone else steps in to take the role we once played.  Yes, that could sound a little bitter or depressed, but I'm not bitter or depressed.  In fact, I love the way Samuel plays out this retirement party that also celebrates the new king.  

Samuel knows he is old.  He knows he won't be around forever.  He knows his own sons can't take his place, and so he did exactly what God told him to do and he anointed a king.  

And now he gives a speech.  

There are two ways to look at this speech.  The first is that Samuel is a little whiny:
"You asked for a king, and now you've got it.  Don't say I didn't warn you."

I don't take it that way. 
Here's how I look at it . . . 

Samuel is a servant.  He serves God.  He listens to him.  He serves people.  
This is who he is.  It doesn't matter how old he gets--he is still a servant.  
Part of this role is to direct people to God, to remind them to love him, honor him, obey him.

And so he takes this opportunity to do just that.  
It sounds prophetic.  And it sounds a bit harsh.  
But later on they can't say that God didn't warn them.  

First Samuel makes sure he has wronged no one.  (Major humility here.)
And next, he reminds them of Moses.  Of Aaron.  Of Egypt.  
He reminds them that forgetting who God is has consequences.  
He reminds them that rebellion has consequences.
He reminds them that they asked for a king.

And then he offers them a promise:  
IF you fear God and serve him and obey him and
IF you do not rebel and 
IF you and the king follow the Lord, then GOOD.

But IF you don't and IF you rebel against God's commands, then God's hand will be against you.
And then Samuel calls down thunder and rain.  
And then the people repent.  

They repent for having asked for a king.
They repent for their own sin and the sin of their forefathers.
And they ask for prayer.

And Samuel prays for them.
But I think he knows the people's hearts are fickle.  I think he knows they will rebel.
Because the last thing he says is: ". . . if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will be swept away."

How great God's love is for them.  
He chose them while they were sinners.
He corrects them and rescues them.
He delivers them again and again and again.  

And how great the Father's love is for us.  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.