Thursday, July 28, 2005

When It Goes From Bad to Worse

The timeline's a little fuzzy, but as best we can figure it David spends 10 years bouncing from cave to cave -- running for his life. And from a human perspective, it looks like God's promises aren't going to come true. This is not like having a bad day or a bad week. David is having a bad decade!

He wasn't completely alone during this time. He had some people who gathered around him and formed a little community, but they weren't a real promising group. The Bible says, "All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their leader. About four hundred men were with him" (1 Samuel 22:2).

This is David's community: the distressed, indebted and discontented.

Q: What's worse than one depressed guy in a cave?

A: 400 depressed guys in a cave.

So, they bounce around for a while and eventually establish a refugee camp in a place called Ziklag. They actually get married and raise families, and periodically they'd go out and raid an enemy village. That's how they survived. But one day they come home to find that their little camp was gone -- burned to the ground. Their wives and children were gone -- taken captive. These men -- outlaws and fugitives from their own country -- established a refugee camp where they could raise their kids -- and now it's all gone. "So David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep" (1 Samuel 30:4).

Have you ever wept like that? Wept until there aren't any more tears left? Wept until you can barely stand up?

Then, believe it or not, things go from bad to worse for David: "David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him..." (30:6a).

Here's David -- a fugitive from his own country, his own king trying to kill him, his mentor is dead, the Philistines don't trust him, his wife and kids are gone, his best friend is gone, his ragged little community of friends is ready to stone him. There's no one left to turn to. And next comes one of the greatest statements in the entire Bible: "But David found strength in the Lord his God" (v. 6b).

It's great to find strength in others. To gather together in little groups of people and find strength in friendships. It's fantastic that we can read a book or listen to a CD that encourages. But when you're in the cave, and there's no one to turn to -- you can find strength in God alone. That's a skill we all need to cultivate.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Life in the Cave

David's living in a cave. No explanation why. No word when it'll be over or if it will ever be over.

The cave -- you know this place. This is where you end up when all the props have been kicked out -- all the things you've been leaning on vanish. The cave is where you find yourself when you thought you were going to do such great things for God, have that great marriage, those wonderful kids. But then it all went down the tubes.

Some of you have been there. Some of you are there right now. Trust me: if you've never been there, you will be. Nobody plans on it, but sooner or later we all spend time in the cave. And it's here that you start to wonder, "Has God lost track of me? Has he forgotten? Does he even remember where I am? Does he hear? Does he care? Will I ever get out of here? Am I going to die here?"

Two things you need to know about the cave: (1) You will spend time here; (2) God does some of his best work here.

It's not usually in the palace, it's in the cave where you meet God. When all the props are gone and all you've got left is God -- that's when you find out that God is enough all by himself.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Palace

David had been anointed by Samuel, employed by King Saul, defeated Goliath, embraced by the people. They wrote songs about him. Everything he touched turned to gold.

Then a funny thing happened on the way to the palace. He lost everything.

He's been promoted from shepherd to court musician to officer in the army. But then Saul became jealous, threw a spear at him (you think you've got problems with your boss), and David disappeared. No job, no income, no security. He goes from being an officer to being a fugitive.

He married Saul's daughter Michal, but Saul sends some hit men to kill David. Michal helped David escape but is captured by her father. Eventually Saul has her marry someone else. Now David has no job and no wife.

He runs to Ramah where his mentor Samuel lives. Samuel -- you'll remember -- is the guy who started this whole thing by anointing David and telling him that he would be the next king. David seems to have been perfectly content out there with the sheep until Samuel pulled him in for the big family meeting. Still, David knew Samuel was a safe person -- knew Samuel spoke for God. But Saul heard about it and sent soldiers to Ramah. Now David has to make another escape. Samuel is old and cannot go with him. Shortly after this, Samuel dies. David has lost his job, his wife and now his mentor.

He runs to his best friend Jonathan -- the one person David could trust with everything -- the one person who knew David better than anyone else. Jonathan stood up to his father (Saul) and risked his life for David. But Jonathan couldn't leave the court and go with David. He couldn't raise a sword against his own father. So David has to run once more, and now he's lost his best friend.

Eventually, David runs to the Philistine city of Gath. He's lost his home and has nowhere to go but to his enemies. They don't trust him, and he ends up in the cave of Adullum surrounded by people who were in distress, in debt or just discontented.

He was on his way to the palace. He was expecting to take his seat on the throne. He had wealth, power, beauty, fame, friends, security and what he thought was a guaranteed future.

Now his life is one big mess. No money, no home, no friends, no job, no advisors. He's running for his life. He expected a palace and ended up in a cave. He doesn't have an explanation why this has happened. He doesn't have any word when it will be over. He doesn't even know if it will ever be over.

So, what do you do when you find yourself in a cave? When all your props and crutches -- everything that's been holding you up -- all the scaffolding is torn down? When you thought you were going to do great things, have a great family, be a great person, but things haven't worked out the way you planned -- what do you do now?

Monday, July 25, 2005

David & Jonathan

Question: What's the single most important factor in shaping human character?

A. Education
B. Media
C. People
D. Monkeys

As valuable as education is, as influential as media is, as funny as monkeys are, I don't believe there's anything more important in shaping our character as people.

Sometimes people we haven't known for very long can have a tremendous impact. Sometimes it's people we have known for years. But the people who have the greatest influence over us are people we call "friends."

What a great word "friend" is. There's nothing better than having a real friend. In fact, I don't think you can have a friend and be considered poor. On the other hand, you can have all the money in the world, but if you don't have a friend -- you're not wealthy.

We've been looking at the early portion of King David's life -- the part before he was king. And we cannot really understand David as a young man without examining the friendship between David and Jonathan.

They were both warriors -- both strong-willed. Jonathan was the son of the king and heir to the throne. He was kind of the golden boy who might have been king. But David was going to prevent that from happening. We would expect them to be at each other's throats.

Instead, we find they are very close friends. Their relationship was never easy, never convenient. It wasn't a conventional friendship, but there was an unmistakably deep bond between the two of them. We're even told in 1 Samuel 18:1-4 that they made a covenant and Jonathan gave David his robe, his armor and his sword. It was Jonathan's way of telling David that he would not fight against David under any circumstances. He recognized that David was chosen by God to be the next king, and he would not stand in David's way.

Jonathan was willing to risk everything -- his future, the throne, his place in the family, his father's hatred, even his own life -- for his friend. There is nothing in the world like a friend.

Unfortunately, Jonathan was killed in battle, and David had to go through the majority of his life without his best friend. He had other friends, to be sure. But you never replace a friend like that. And I wonder -- how often did David take out that sword and look at it? How often did he try on that robe and think about his friend and their oaths of loyalty?

Did David take out that sword after he's won a battle? Did he look at the robe after he brought back the Ark of the Covenant and danced like a whilrling dervish? His wife didn't think he was very kingly that day. Maybe he took out the robe and remembered that his best friend Jonathan thought he looked like a king.

Did he think of his friend after he'd been broken by his own sin with Bathsheba? Would it have even happened if he'd had someone like Jonathan serving as his advisor?

Years later, when David was an old man, he asked, "Isn't there anyone left from Saul's family that I can show kindness to for Jonathan's sake?"

He find Mephibosheth -- Jonathan's crippled son. David brings him to court and sits him at the table and treats him like a son.

When David looked at Mephibosheth, he must have remembered his friend and that promise they made that nothing could break -- not rivalry, ambition, families, war, geographic separation, political factions, not death itself.

There's nothing in all the world like a real friendship.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Ontological Dualism

Wow! That's a compelling title, isn't it? But it's really important when facing giants to remember that Christians are ontological dualists. By that I mean that we believe there are really only two categories of things that exist: (1) God; (2) everything else.

Normally, we draw lines of distinction in the wrong places: male/female; animal/plant; physical/spiritual. That last one is the favorite of most Christians. We think there are things that are physical, and there are other (more important?) things that are spiritual. We tend to draw vertical lines to separate things from other things. But we ought to draw a heavy horizontal line to show that every thing -- male, female, animal, plant, physical or spiritual -- it all goes into category #2: everything else.

Only God is God.

The Bible is not God. The Church is not God. You are not God. I am not God. Prayer is not God. Evangelism is not God. These are all good things -- godly things. But they all go into category #2: everything else.

Here's what this matters. I do not know what your giant is. I don't know how big your giant is. I don't know if your giant has a sword, spear, javelin, helmet, shield, etc. But I do know which category your giant is in (hint: it's not God).

Cancer is not God. Divorce is not God. Unemployment is not God. Depression is not God. Fear is not God. Addiction is not God. These are all bad things -- ungodly things. And they all go into category #2: everything else.

Here's one other thing I know: Category #1 is larger and more powerful than all the contents of category #2 combined.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Pressure to Conform

When you decide to do something no one else is willing to do -- when you decide to step up and face a giant that everyone else is hiding from -- you need a brave heart. And that heart doesn't just develop out of thin air. It is forged in the heat of everyday obstacles and challenges. In the mundane, daily grind of life is where character is developed, and if you haven't shown a courageous willingness to face down the lions and bears in your normal life, you won't have the strength to step up and face down a giant like Goliath.

When you do finally step out of the crowd and choose to face Goliath, you're going to encounter opposition and unfair criticism. Be prepared for that. But there's something else you're likely to encounter: pressure to conform.

For David -- who is apparently too young to join the army but old enough to be trusted to run errands on his own -- this pressure to conform comes from King Saul. First, Saul tries to talk David out of taking on the giant, but David succeeds in persuading Saul to allow him. It's probably a sign of just how desperate Saul had become that he would even listen to a young boy. But Saul does not trust God to work independently of the latest technology:

"Then Saul outfitted David as a soldier in armor. He put his bronze helmet on his head and belted his sword on him over the armor. David tried to walk but he could hardly budge. David told Saul, 'I can't even move with all this stuff on me. I'm not used to this.' And he took it all off."

Turns out, the armor didn't fit. Saul was a 52L; David was a 36S. Saul was a man; David was a boy. Saul was a seasoned veteran; David was a rookie. Saul was the Commander in Chief; David was too young to join the army. Saul was the King; David was a loyal subject.

Think about this: David could have said, "Okay, you've been there and done that. You must know more about this than I do. I'll wear it."

But David knew that when he stood facing the giant, it was going to be his hide on the line -- not Saul's. Here's an important lesson: when you face Goliath, it's you. It's not your parents, your friends, your pastor, your teacher, your spouse. It's you. And you are no one's mini-me.

That's what Saul was trying to create: a mini-me of himself. But you can't fight Goliath wearing someone else's armor.

Sometimes we want other people to make our decisions for us -- to choose our weapons and decide what giants we should face and how. Usually the reason we want that is so we can have someone to blame if things don't work out well. But nobody can choose your weapons for you. These are your gifts, your kids, your time, your possessions, your mind, your calling. And on the last day, it's you who will stand before God and answer this question: What did you do with all that stuff I gave you?

No one is going to answer that question for you.

Our world is going to put pressure on you -- pressure to do only certain things and to do them in only certain ways. "You're going out to face Goliath? No, you don't want to do that. Oh, you really do? Well, put this stuff on. I know it doesn't fit and will probably get you killed, but that's what you get for going out against Goliath in the first place. It's a hopeless cause to begin with, but at least this way it won't hurt as bad. Maybe you'll get in a couple of good shots."

Don't you give in to them. Don't let them conform you to the pattern of this world. Withstand that pressure and fight with what God's put in your hands. Fight with the weapons you know.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Unfair Criticism

If we are going to develop bold and courageous hearts -- hearts like King David -- we cannot wait until there's a giant in the valley calling us out. We're going to have to develop that boldness and courage in the face of everyday challenges in unseen places. God does some of his best work in unseen places -- in the midst of our everyday mundane activities.

But, I must warn you: if you step out of the crowd, you're going to encounter unfair criticism and opposition. For David, it came from his own brother Eliab:

"Eliab, his older brother, heard David fraternizing with the men and lost his temper: 'What are you doing here! Why aren't you minding your own business, tending that scrawny flock of sheep? I know what you're up to. You've come down here to see the sights, hoping for a ringside seat at a bloody battle!"

Those are some cheap shots Eliab throws at David. David came because his father asked him to. He was being obedient. And he left the sheep in the care of another shepherd. He was being responsible. What's up with Eliab? What caused him to lose his temper like that?

Here's what I think is happening: Eliab is afraid. Goliath has come to dominate his entire existence. Every day for 40 days, Goliath came out and taunted the army. Every day for 40 days, Eliab slunk away with his tail between his legs. Every day for 40 days, Eliab died a little.

It's one thing to be around other people who live in fear. But when someone comes along and says, "I'll do it" -- well, then you see what a coward you've become. You don't know you're a coward until you see someone who is brave. If you let Goliath intimidate you, eventually it'll kill your self-respect. You'll be okay as long as you stay around other intimidated people, but when you meet someone with a brave heart, you'll start looking for a way to make yourself feel better. Sometimes, the quickest way to make yourself feel better is to try and make someone else feel worse.

Eliab sees what bravery looks like, and it comes in the form of his little brother. Eliab is ashamed. So, he lashes out unfairly at David.

But notice how David responds:

"'What is it with you?' replied David. 'All I did was ask a question.' Ignoring his brother, he turned to someone else."

If that was me, I would have either stood there and argued with Eliab, or (more likely) I would have pulled out my sling and gone looking for rocks. But David knows the heading in this chapter is David and Goliath not David and Eliab. So, he refuses to allow unfair criticism to have that much power over him. He won't be sidetracked by unfair criticism.

As far as I can tell, criticism falls into one of two categories: (1) accurate; (2) inaccurate. If it's accurate criticism, fix what needs to get fixed and move on. If it's inaccurate, follow David's example: ignore it and move on. Don't allow it to bog you down.

When you get serious about trusting God and facing Goliath, there will be people who won't like it. They'll be threatened by you or shamed by you, and they'll try to hold you back. You're doing what they know they should be doing. You'll face opposition and criticism, and often it will come from those closest to you.

You could give up and lose heart.

You could get defensive and waste time trying to straighten them out.

Or you can say, "As best I can discern, this is what God is calling me to do, and I'm not going to let you stop me."

Friday, July 15, 2005

Everyday Challenges

David actually wants to fight Goliath. And I think everyone reading this wants to face gigantic problems with that kind of courage -- the kind that says, "Let me at it! I'll tear it apart! I can't wait to defeat this giant!" But few of us actually respond that way.

Part of what we're noticing here is that if we wait until the giant calls us out, we're sunk. Courage like that is developed intentionally over time.

David wants to fight Goliath, but everyone -- including the commander of the armies (King Saul) tries to talk him out of it. So, David has to talk Saul into letting him go and fight this battle (this battle, by the way, that Saul himself should have fought). Here's what David says:

"I have been taking care of my father's sheep," he said. "When a lion or a bear comes to steal a lamb from the flock, I go after it with a club and take the lamb from its mouth. If the animal turns on me, I catch it by the jaw and club it to death. I have done this to both lions and bears [oh my!], and I'll do it to this pagan Philistine, too, for he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who saved me from the claws of the lion and the bear will save me from this Philistine!"

David has actually prepared himself for battling Goliath by dealing with hard things that came up in his everyday life. Imagine you're David. You're 11 or 12 years old, and you're out watching your father's sheep. No one notices you. You don't get called in when the prophet Samuel comes to your town looking for the new king. You're doing grunt work that no one else wants to do.

And all of a sudden a bear comes walking out of the woods and grabs one of your sheep.

Quick: What do you do? If it's me, I run. They're not even my sheep. They're my father's sheep. And when he dies, they're going to become my older brother's sheep (and he's kind of a jerk). First of all, no one's going to know if you run. Second of all, if anyone did find out, they're not going to blame you. You're a kid with a stick. That's a bear. Apparently, a hungry bear.

But David stayed and fought and learned something. But notice this: he does not say, "I learned that killing bears is easier than you'd think." Neither does he say, "I learned that I'm a pretty good bear killer. I'm thinking of taking it up as a career." He says, "God delivered me then, and he'll deliver me now."

Here's the truth: You can hear that God is faithful a thousand times. You can read that God is faithful in a hundred books. But you will never believe it until it happens to you. You may know that God is faithful like you know that there is no gravity in outer space. But it will not be a reality deep down in the marrow of your bones until you put your life on the line and say, "God if you don't deliver here, I have no plan B." Until you test it out with your own life, you'll never really know how faithful God is.

Think of your little flock. Is it your family? Your small group? A team of people at work? A project you've been assigned? Whatever it is, rest assured there will be lions and bears (oh my!) that come out and attack. It will happen early and often.

You could avoid it. You could run away. Maybe no one would know. If they did, who would blame you? It's a lion or a bear, and what are you? You could run away. You could avoid confrontation? You could procrastinate and say, "Maybe it'll get better by itself."

Or you could say, "God, with your help, I'm going after that bear."

In everyday moments when no one is watching -- in unglamorous jobs that no one else wants to do -- it's in those days when boldness is built. If you run, you'll lose heart, and it'll be a little easier to run the next time. If you face it (even if it doesn't turn out well), you'll become a little more courageous, and the next challenge won't seem as scary.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

David & Goliath

Thanks to those of you who asked about last night's class...and about my overall state of mind. I'm feeling a little better. What I really need to do is turn my phone off, put on Mozart or Dexter Gordon or something soothing and read a book. That's what re-charges me. I've been dumping so much content out of my brain that sometimes I forget to refill it.

Last night's class went pretty well. If anyone's interested in CDs of this David series I'm doing (or from the Moses series I did in the Winter/Spring) drop me an email or leave a note in the comments.

I'd like to walk through some of the stuff I talked about in last night's class -- just to make sure I really believe everything I said. Most of you -- Christian, Jewish or other -- are probably familiar with the story of David & Goliath. If not, it's found in 1 Samuel 17. It's probably one of the best-known stories in the Bible.

The Philistine armies had been waging a war with the Israelites -- trying to cut the nation in half. But the Israelites, under the leadership of King Saul and his son Jonathan, had beaten the Philistines back to the border of the two nations. Now, the Philistines were camped on one ridge, the Israelites were camped on another ridge, and there was a valley in between them. Neither side wanted to make the next move. They were at an impasse.

So, out of the camp of the Philistines stepped this giant named Goliath. The Bible says he was nine feet tall and his armor weighed between 125-175 pounds. He was huge, and he calls out to the Israelites: "There's no need to involve everyone here. Why don't you just send out your biggest, baddest dude, and let's settle this one-on-one?"

All the Israelites look at Saul. He's the tallest. He's the King. He's the commander-in-chief, their fearless leader. Except he says, "Yeah, I don't see that happening so much."

He puts together a lucrative compensation package designed to lure some poor sap into doing this for him. He promises an enormous sum of money, tax-exempt status for life, and he throws in the hand of his daughter for good measure. Saul was not nominated for "Father of the Year" that year.

Here's the problem: no one goes for it. No one steps up. And this goes on for 40 days. It's the original 40 Days campaign: 40 Days of Fear, Intimidation and Self-Loathing. Not even Rick Warren could sell that one (although most churches I know are in the midst of it right now).

Meanwhile, 10-15 miles away, David is tending sheep for his father. One day, his dad says, "Here, take this food to your three brothers who are serving in the army. And take their commander this gift. Bring back news from the battlefront." So, David gets someone to watch after the sheep and hurries to find out what's going on in the war with the Philistines.

Let me stop here and make this comment: I believe we all want to have a brave heart like David had against Goliath. I do not believe anyone wants to live this timid, cowering, fear-based life. I've written about this before (here, here and here). I think all of us want to be courageous and bold. But we live with this illusion that in our moment of crisis, when we come face-to-face with Goliath, we'll just magically be transformed into giant-killing machines. Our hearts will just become bold when we finally need them to.

The truth is -- if you wait until you're standing in across the field from Goliath, you're screwed. Courage has to be cultivated. It doesn't just happen. You'll never drift into being a courageous, bravehearted person. It happens as a result of time and intentionality.

So, for the next few days, that's what I'm going to talk about here. We're going to think about the circumstances that build boldness in our hearts. And this is important because I think what God wants is people who will walk with boldness and courage and bravery in what is pretty much a timid and cowardly world.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

David's Heart (part 4)

I'm trying to get ready to teach tonight. We're up to the story of David and Goliath, a story so well-known that I'm struggling to figure out what to say that hasn't already been said.

I'm also struggling with anger right now. I'm so angry at so many different people and situations. I'm angry at the fact that 30,000 people will die in Africa before the sun goes down today. I'm angry that I've got thousands of dollars of outstanding invoices and stacks of unpaid bills. I'm angry that God isn't clearer in his guidance. I'm angry that he sometimes blesses people who are jerks and seems to withhold blessings from people who are desperate. I'm angry that sometimes things seem to move too fast and sometimes not fast enough. Angry that my phone won't stop ringing. Angry that I can't form the words for this next chapter in the book.

I'm angry at myself. Angry at people I've never met. Angry at people who are close. Angry at people who are far away.

David was a passionate man. We've seen that. When he felt something -- whatever it was -- gratitude, lust, anger, joy, sorrow -- whatever he felt, he felt strongly. He gave his heart away with wild abandon. But he tempered that by also having a heart of deep reflection. I've tried reflecting deeply today, and it just made me mad.

So, there is this third aspect of David's heart that I'm going to attempt to imitate today. David's heart was stubborn. When he gave his heart to someone, he didn't take it back. When David loved you, you stayed loved -- even if he hated you sometimes.

Think about the people in David's life. First, there's King Saul. He was once a promising young king, but now he had become increasingly corrupt, tormented by a pathological jealousy of David, paranoid and eaten up by his own anxiety. Several times he tried to kill David, but David just kept loving Saul. Twice David could have killed him, but he wouldn't. He probably would have been justified in doing it, but he refused. And when Saul eventually died, David wrote one of the most heartwrenching poems for him. "How the mighty have fallen," he said of Saul. Knowing everything he knew of Saul, he wept at his death. He loved Saul to the end.

Then, of course, there's Jonathan. He was Saul's son and could have been David's rival for the throne. You might have expected them to be at each other's throats, but instead they had one of the great friendships in all of literature.

Many years later, after both Saul and Jonathan were dead, David started looking for someone from their families just so he could show that person kindness. Someone eventually found a guy named Mephibosheth -- Jonathan's son who had been crippled in a childhood accident. David went and got him and brought him into the royal court. He treated Mephibosheth like a son because of his intense love for Jonathan.

And then there's his own son, Absalom. He tried to overthrow his father and take the throne. He actually takes over the capital city and forces David into exile. As soon as he's in power, he stages an elaborate orgy held in broad daylight on the rooftop with all of David's concubines involved. That's detestable. But when David finally is restored to power and he receives word that Absalom has been killed, he doesn't rejoice in the fact that he is safe and secure. Rather, he cries out that he would gladly exchange places with his son. He wishes that he had died in Absalom's place.

When David loved you, you stayed loved. I so badly want a heart like that. A heart that says regardless of what you have done, are doing, will do, might do, you are loved. I want myfriends to know that. I want my daughters to know that. I want my wife to know that.

That's God's heart for us. When God loves you, you stay loved. No matter what you try to pull. No matter how much unrealized potential. No matter how distant and separated you may be. No matter how rebellious you've been. God says, "Oh, I wish I could die in your place." And that is precisely what he has done.

David's heart was characterized by this stubborn love. And that's the final reason why I think he was called a man after God's own heart.

Monday, July 11, 2005

David's Heart (part 3)

David was a true Renaissance man: poet, warrior, musician, statesman. He was a bold and charismatic leader, handsome, fierce, intense. He wrote the prayer book for the human race. He played so skillfully that he was the only one who could calm King Saul's nerves. He defeated a giant and gathered some of the greatest warriors of the day to become his "Mighty Men." He lifted Israel to a level of economic well-being and political stability that has forever been regarded as Israel's Golden Age -- Israel's Camelot.

And yet it was none of these accomplishments that caused God to call him a man after his own heart. It was something deeper, something internal. We've already seen that a part of what made David's heart so great was his willingness to give it away with such wild abandon. Whatever David did, he did with all his heart -- no reservations, nothing held back.

A second remarkable feature of David’s heart -- and one that is rare in people whose hearts are so wild and intense -- is that he is clearly a man of deep reflection. Usually, you find in a person one or the other -- either they give their hearts with this sense of wild abandon OR they are deeply reflective. But David combines both.

At the end of Psalm 139, for example, David writes, “Search me, O God, and know my heart.” He is deeply concerned that his heart often reflects conflicted loyalty, so he begs God to give him an undivided heart. Obviously, it takes a heart that has spent time in deep reflection to pen the words to the 23rd Psalm: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul.”

In the very first Psalm, David uses this great image of a tree. He says that the godly man or woman is like a tree, planted by rivers of water, whose roots go down so deep that producing fruit almost comes effortlessly. The tree can’t help but produce fruit because the root system is so deep and the tree is so well-nourished that it just flourishes.

I don’t know much about gardening, but I know this: you can’t develop a root system in a hurry. It takes time and stillness and waiting.

When was the last time you saw someone whose life was always a blur -- a rushing, swirling mass of chaos -- and they were also deep? You can be hurried OR you can be deep. You can’t be both.

I live life at breakneck speed -- squeezing the most out of each day and oftentimes neglecting the command to be still and know that God is God (and by means of implication: I am not). I have bought the lie that my worth is determined by my productivity. My heart is not often characterized enough by deep reflection. My heart doesn’t often look like David’s, but I want it to. I want a heart of deep reflection like David's. He took time -- out with the sheep -- hiding in the caves -- alone with God, allowing God to shepherd his heart.

That’s another reason why David is known as a man after God’s own heart.

Friday, July 08, 2005

David's Heart (part 2)

Thanks to all the people who played along and said hello. I still don't know who is in Minneapolis -- or Egypt for that matter! Still, it's fun to see who stumbles across my blog. Lots of folks from the Dallas/Fort Worth area lately. Hmmm....

The question on the table is still this: Why was David known as a man after God's own heart? I mean, if we look honestly at what the Bible says about him, his record isn't that impressive. Sure, he was a great musician, intense warrior, poet and statesman. But he was a disaster as a husband and father. He did really stupid, disastrous things. When he sinned, he sinned big.

This is not the kind of man we normally think of when we think of being a person after God's own heart.

But we noticed before his unwillingness to turn away from YHWH. He had no other gods, and when he messed up he took his mess to the only God he had. I think that's part of what made David's heart so special.

Another thing about David's heart is that it is characterized by a sense of wild abandon. When David praised God, he did it with his whole heart (see Psalms 9, 86 and 111). He didn't hold anything back, wasn't calculating and cautious with his heart.

There's a great story of David dancing for joy with all his might. I have three little girls in my house, and they are like that. They dance and get so excited about things that sometimes they just jump up and down squealing. When Anabel was a little younger, she would hear the theme song to her favorite show and say, "Oh! It's time to dance!" And she would just dance and twirl and jump and squeal with delight.

That's what David was like. That is nothing like me at all. Unless I'm at a baseball game.

Ugh! That last line says something about me, doesn't it?

I was raised in a very conservative church. We were not prone to be wild and reckless with our hearts. We were not real big on the jumping up and down part of worship. If we got really excited, we might say, "Amen." That's about it. If we got really, really excited -- in a way that you'd remember for years, we might say, "A-men." That was over the top.

But David was like a little kid in his excitement over what God was doing, had done or was going to do. When's the last time you were so overwhelmed with what God was doing that you just had to jump up and down and high-five the person next to you?

I want to have a heart like that. I don't want to go to my grave with a heart that was cold and calculating and protected and safe. I want to have a passionate heart that is sold out to God with a sort of wild abandon. After all, that's the kind of heart God has for me. God is not neutral about me. He is for me. He cheers me on. He longs to lavish good gifts on me. It's almost as if God can't help himself -- he just loves us so much that he is willing to go to incredible lengths to restore us and draw us back to himself. God himself gives his heart to us without holding anything back. As the Apostle Paul says, "If God didn't hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn't gladly and freely do for us?" (Romans 8:32, The Message).

David had a heart like that. He gave it with wild abandon, and that's another reason why he's called a man after God's own heart.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Small World

Those of you who are regular visitors here know that I recently changed the look of my blog. In doing so, I lost the counter I had at the bottom of the page. To my astonishment, it had just flipped past 15,000.

Anyway, I installed a new counter that comes with all kinds of bells and whistles. For example, I can now tell where my visitors come from and, sometimes, how they found me. And this is absolutely baffling. I find myself wondering who I know in Michigan or why someone from Minneapolis would read my blog.

So, let's hear from you. You there in Monroe, Louisiana. What's your name? Dale, Wisconsin -- introduce yourself. Miami, Florida -- tell us what you think. Don't be bashful now; let's see how many states/countries we have represented here. How many of you know each other but don't know that you know each other?

Note: It's kind of scary what you can find out these days, but I assure you this -- I can only tell where you are in a general sense. No names, addresses or phone numbers.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

David's Heart (part 1)

There are a few things that I think make David a man after God's own heart. He was far from perfect, and one of the things I love about the Bible is that the writers refuse to gloss over his character flaws. He was deeply troubled and dysfunctional. He had eight wives, 11 concubines, rebellious children, adulterated relationships all over the place.

But he only had one God.

Unlike most of the other kings in Israel's history, David never bent his knee to a false god. He never went over to Baal or Asherah or Dagon. When he failed (which he did often) he took his regret and his brokenness to one source: YHWH. When he was confused or afraid, he did not seek refuge in the gods of the Philistines or Moabites. He went to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

At the end of his most famous poem David wrote, "I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever" (Psalm 23:6b). Usually, we think of this line as if it refers to heaven and eternity. I'm not sure that's what David had in mind.

Maybe David was an old man when he said those words, with a long, gray beard and a wrinkled face. Maybe he remembered when he was young and handsome, and that weird old man, Samuel, poured oil over him and said the mysterious words that started it all. Maybe he remembered how on that day, so many years ago, the Spirit of the Lord came upon him.

Maybe he remembered how he decided when he was a young man -- the way young men do -- that when he was king things would be different. He'd get things right. Sometimes he did, and sometimes he didn't. But he stayed in the house of the Lord.

He did not write, "I hope I will stay there" or "Maybe I'll stay there." He said, "I'm staying in the house. I'll make a mess sometimes. I'll spill stuff on the carpet and knock over lamps and break expensive things. It will be a pain having me in the house, but you're going to have to drag me out of here kicking and screaming. I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

That may be why one reason why David is known as a man after God's own heart.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

A Man After God's Own Heart?

I'm starting a teaching series on King David from the Old Testament. He was known as a "man after God's own heart." But he was guilty of adultery, deception and murder. He had eight wives and 11 concubines. He was a disaster of a father. How in the world does that qualify as a "man after God's own heart"?

Friday, July 01, 2005

Answering Tiffany

In light of my last post, my pal Tiffany asked me: "[D]o you think Paul and Silas thought they would get out of prison that night the earthquake set them free? Or were they praising anyway, confident that even if the Romans exiled or executed them, God was still in control? I think they always assumed they knew a miracle was in effect, but that's probably just my American showing. I wonder now."

Wouldn't it be great if all you had to do when you find yourself in bad circumstances was press play and the ground would shake and your chains would fall off miraculously? There are preachers out there (mostly on television) who will tell you that when you're up against something terrible, press play and God has to deliver you. Praising God puts God in your debt, and he is obligated to deliver.

That's just not true. Here's something from the story of Paul and Silas that really blows my mind: after the earthquake, all their chains fell off, but they didn't leave. And they still had their wounds. God had just shaken the ground and caused all the chains to fall off, but he didn't heal their wounds, and they didn't get up and run away.

Lesson: you don't press play to get delivered; you press play because you are delivered. Paul and Silas had already been delivered in a bigger sense than just physical. That's why they could face uncertainty with singing -- they weren't uncertain about the big story, just this particular scene.

Choosing to press play might change your circumstances -- and it might not. But choosing to press play will always change you.

Here's one more point: If Paul and Silas had thought the story was all about them, they would have run away as soon as they realized what had happened. But they knew the story is about God, and because they stayed where they were the Philippians jailer and his whole family had a chance to hear the good news about Jesus and were saved.