Wednesday, August 31, 2005

All You Need Is Love?

There are two kinds of heartache you are likely to experience in this world. The first kind is awful, terrible, horrible but -- in the end -- it is bearable. It is the kind of heartache that pulls us closer together. You see this when a loved one dies, and the family draws tighter together than ever before. We're seeing this kind of heartache among those who have lost all their earthly belongings in the wake of Katrina. Families, churches, entire communities are drawing closer together and providing support for one another to get through the heartache that they are all enduring.

But there is another kind of heartache that is far worse than any other. It is the heartache and pushes us farther apart. The heartache of divorce. The heartache of severed relationships is a pain that lingers far longer than any other.

Why should this be so? I think it's because this second kind of heartache is further outside of God's will for humanity. God has set out to create community -- a group of people rightly related to him and rightly relating to themselves and others. Anything that tears at the fabric of God's community goes against his will. What God has brought together, let no one put asunder.

Question: Did David love Absalom?

I think it's obvious that he did. He wept over the death of Absalom and cried out how he wished he had died instead. The problem is that sometimes love isn't enough. That is, if you define love as a strong emotional feeling, then it is not right to say all we need is love.

Feeling love isn't enough. Love has to actually do something for it to be enough. And sometimes even then....

Monday, August 29, 2005

How to Cripple a Child

I want to pick up the story of King David again, and I want to spend a little time looking at a small episode involving Jonathan's son, Mephibosheth.

Mephibosheth was five years old when his father and grandfather died. News of this sad event threw the household into a panic. Mephibosheth's nurse grabbed up the five-year-old and, in her haste, dropped him -- crippling him in both feet.

A couple of observations: First, the nurse's inability to calm her own anxiety made what appeared to be a bad situation much worse. How often in our own anxious reactivity do we just end up further complicating things?

Second, think what was communicated to Mephibosheth. If the new King ever gets his hands on you, he's going to kill you. David had no such intention, but the five-year-old didn't know that. Mephibosheth goes on to spend the next 20 years or so hiding from a King who only wanted to show him kindness.

It makes me realize just how important it is to give children accurate information about God. I've known so many people who spent decades hiding from God because someone had told them he was angry and cranky and didn't have their best interests at heart. Because of the nurse's anxiety, she crippled the boy physically. Because of her misinformation about the King's true intentions, she crippled the boy emotionally.

What a tragedy it is to know that our false ideas about God's character and nature often cripple children spiritually as well.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Trusting People and Trusting God

As I sat with my friend Randy Thomas watching Married Life Live's showcase for the Drive Conference, an interesting thought occurred to me. It's not fully formed yet, but it goes something like this: Northpoint trusts people (and God) more than most churches.

We watched a video testimony about a couple who decided a few years ago to get intentional about their marriage. They started attending Married Life Live -- a quarterly event for couples. They get involved in a small group. They took the initiative.

They did not have to be guilted into doing this. They did not have someone calling to remind them to be there. They did not have someone holding their hand through the process. If they had decided not to do this, I'm not sure anyone would have noticed.

Married Life Live is an event for people who mostly want to be there. Serving on the planning team that creates the event, I know we work at creating something people want to attend. We want people to walk out of there thinking, "I might not agree with everything they said, but I'm sure coming back for the next one."

If you don't want to come, you don't have to. But if you want to grow, you have to take the initiative and the responsibility. No one's going to do it for you. And no one's going to make you do it.

Northpoint works hard to make sure you know what the next step is -- to make it easy for you to know what taking initiative and responsibility looks like. But do it -- don't do it -- it's up to you.

This is not the way most churches think. Most churches think we have to create structure that keeps people from falling through the cracks. We have to do something that keeps them tethered to the church. It's like we're afraid that if there's a chance of them leaving, they will. I wonder if church leaders think that because if they didn't have to be there, they sure wouldn't come.

All of this seems to reflect a lack of trust in people. We don't really believe that people will really want to come if they don't really have to.

Maybe more than that, it seems to reflect a lack of trust in God. Do we really believe that God is drawing people to himself without having to rely on our guilt-trips and manipulation?

What if we worked hard to create environments where people actually want to come instead of making people feel like they have to come?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Stop Praying for Vision

I get to visit churches all over the country. It's part of my job. And everywhere I go I find people praying for vision. Church leaders repeatedly ask God to give them a vision for their church. I've spent the past couple of days with 1,500 pastors, and they tell me: We're just asking God to really give us a vision for our church.

Here's the problem: I think God has already given most of these people a vision for their church. If you ask them, they have something in mind. They generally know what they'd like their church to look like. They just have no idea how to get there.

What they need to do is stop praying for vision and start praying for strategy.

And then they need to ask God for a spine.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Stop Tinkering

I say this periodically, but I don't say it often enough. I am amazed at what I get to do. Last night I sat in a room with church leaders from 37 states, 11 countries on five continents. The people there represented a total church attendance of more than 450,000 people. Think of that: the things we are going to talk about this week at the Drive Conference will impact nearly half a million people.

And I work with the people who created this conference.

Granted, I didn't do much here. Mostly, I sat and quietly nodded while Reggie Joiner rubbed his face and asked, "Does that make sense?"

Here's the issue on the table: so many leaders have bought into the myth that if they tinker enough with their churches they will eventually create wholesale change. But it doesn't work like that. At some point in time, if a church is going to survive for the next generation, you are going to have to introduce radical changes.

Tinkering is for people who don't really have the courage to make the changes they know need to be made. Tinkering allows a leader to trick people into thinking things won't really go too far. Tinkering frustrates everyone. Tinkering says we're not really serious about this whole project. Tinkering is a way of maintaining status quo while still managing to be irritating at the same time.

For a generation I heard people say that there are two speeds at which you can change a church: slow and slower. That's dumb. That's foolish. That's irresponsible.

God doesn't seem to be interested in tinkering. He calls men and women in the Bible to introduce radical change. Abraham. Moses. Joshua. Samuel. Josiah. Jonah. Peter. Paul.

Come to think of it, the church calls people to radical change in the most fundamental way. We do not call people to tinker with their way of life; we call them to repentance -- to radical change. Why in the world would we ask people to do something we aren't willing to do ourselves?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

David & Jesus

Quick question: Why was Jesus called the Son of David?

By that I mean: why David? Why not the Son of Moses or the Son of Abraham or the Son of Elijah?

Friday, August 19, 2005

Happy Blog-o-versary to Me

Hard to believe it's been a year since I started this crazy thing. Thanks to all of you who make this a regular read -- especially those of you who leave comments. You have made this an incredibly rewarding experience.

Shall we go one more year?

Thursday, August 18, 2005

When It Starts to Unravel

David has gone from drifting to blowing through yellow lights. And everything is going according to his plan. He sees Bathsheba, finds out who she is, sends for her, has sex with her and sends her home. Done.

And then the first cracks start to show in his plan.

Bathsheba sends word that she's pregnant. Up to this point, it's been David doing the sending. He finds out it's not so good when you're on the receiving end. This wasn't in the script.

How you respond when things start to unravel will determine largely how bad things get.

At this moment David could choose the end the whole thing. Apologize to Bathsheba, her husband, his own family, the nation, God, whomever. He could call the whole thing off and end it right here. But he doesn't do that.

Instead, David says, "I can handle this. I'm the King. No one needs to know about this. I'll take care of it."

Sin always does this. It refuses to stay on the script. It takes on a life of its own and refuses to be controlled by you. You start out being in control of it, but eventually it begins to control you. And it does so by promising the same old thing: You can be in charge. In essence, you can be God.

Here's David doing all the sending, moving people here and there like pieces on a chessboard. First it's bring that woman to me. Then it's bring me her husband, and I'll fix this mess. Then, when Uriah refuses to cooperate it's take this letter (which contains your death warrant) to Joab.

The same man who sang praises to God, defied the enemies of the Lord and danced with all his might at the thought of God's presence is now filled with deceit and hypocrisy and violence. David was thoroughly committed to a strategy of cover-up.

When it starts to unravel, when the consequences of your sin first show themselves, you will find yourself in one of two places: honesty and repentance or cover-up and more sin. The path you choose will determine just how bad it's going to get.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Running Yellow Lights

When it comes to yellow lights, there are two kinds of people in this world: those who slow down and those who speed up. I used to be one kind, and then I had kids. Now I am one of the most cautious drivers on the road. I don't think I'm a hesitant driver, but if it's close I'm going to err on the side of caution. My cargo is too precious. The stakes are too high.

David sends someone to find out about this woman he sees bathing on the rooftop. The guy comes back and says, "That's Bathsheba. She's Eliam's daughter and Uriah's wife."

Translation: Slow down, David. This is someone's wife and someone's daughter. You know these guys.

Let me say a word to the men who read this blog: When you find yourself tempted by the form of a woman, stop and remind yourself that you're looking at someone's daughter. At some point in time, someone held that tiny baby girl and kissed the top of her head and dreamed dreams of what she would be like when she got older. And they never imagined that she would become an object for you to use to gratify your lust. If you have kids, think forward to a time when someone will want to use your child in that way. What feelings does that inspire in you?

If that's not a sexual buzzkill -- see a counselor.

Usually, when you're about to take the plunge and do something you know is wrong, there will be a little inner voice, a message from your conscience or the words of a friend ringing in your ears. That's a yellow light. Be careful here. Proceed with caution.

David comes to this yellow light, and if he was really in a good place with God he probably would have slowed down, thought this through and come to a full and complete stop. But thinking is the last thing David wants to do. He wants to feel something. So, he pushes the accelerator to the floorboard and speeds through the intersection without thinking of what this could do to someone's wife and daughter -- not to mention his own heart and his own family.

Maybe you've moved past drifting. You haven't crossed any lines yet, but you've got a plan forming in your mind. And God brought you to this blog to ask you this question: "Will you stop and think about the possible consequences of crossing this line?"

Maybe it's sex. Maybe it's a relationship you know isn't right. Maybe it's a financial choice. Maybe it's a vocational decision. Maybe it's an honesty deal. You've got a plan forming in your brain. Will you just stop and think about the potential downside to this? What kind of legacy will this leave for your kids? What will this decision do to your relationships to those closest to you? What could happen to your heart if you go through with this?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005


I think David's first mistake could be called drifting. It was spring, and in the spring kings went to war. It was what they did. In fact, the primary reason the Israelites wanted a king was so they'd have someone to to lead them in battle (cf. 1 Samuel 8:19-20). This is what David had done every year, but, for some reason, this year he just didn't want to. He said, "You guys go on without me."

He seems bored, listless. The text says, "One evening David got up from his bed." That's what I'm talking about. What's he doing in bed in the evening?

As far as we can tell, David's about 50 years old now. He's not a feeble old geezer. But he's not a young boy anymore, either. His eyes are probably starting to dim a little. His hairline may be receding; his waistline is probably expanding. He's had them some extra fiber to the royal diet. He's got a treadmill in his office. Grandmothers come up to him now and say, "When I was a teenager I thought you were so dreamy!"

He was always so passionate -- about everything! But he doesn't feel that passion anymore about anything. He's restless. He's drifting.

There may be nothing as dangerous as a passionate man who has lost his passion. He is a danger to himself and to those around him.

The bizarre thing is that he used to talk to God about everything. Good or bad, he'd just bring it right to God. But now...he's not even talking to God about it. Maybe he doesn't know what to say. When God finally confronts David about the whole episode (through the prophet Nathan), he says, "I made you king. I protected you from Saul. I gave you this kingdom, and if all that hadn't been enough -- if you'd wanted more -- I would have given you more. Why didn't you come and talk to me?"

The best thing you can do when you're bored is talk to God about it. But a lot of us are afraid to do that. The reason I have a hard time with this is because of what used to happen when I was a kid. I would tell my mom I was bored, and she would decide that this was a good time for me to clean the bathrooms. Or mop the kitchen. Sometimes I think that if I tell God I'm bored he'll send me on some horrible errand that I'll hate and will be tremendously painful.

Do I really trust that God is good and has my best interests at heart?

That's kind of what it comes down to, isn't it? If I do, I'll be more apt to bring all my thoughts and feelings to him. If not, I'll be more likely to allow myself to just drift. And that's where the trouble really gets started.

Monday, August 15, 2005


This whole story of David and Bathsheba can be outlined with the use of the word "sent".

The story starts in the spring. This is when kings were supposed to go to war. It was what kings did. But David decides he wants to stay at home, and he sends Joab out to do David's job. One evening, David gets up from his bed (what's he doing in bed in the evening?), sees a beautiful woman and sends someone to find out who she is. After finding out who she is, he sends someone to go get her.

They have sex and David sends her away. A few weeks later, she sends word to David that she's pregnant. So David sends a message to Joab to have Joab send the woman's husband (Uriah) home from the battlefront. David sends Uriah to have sex with his wife, but Uriah -- who isn't even an Jewish by birth -- proves to be a better Israelite than the king! Drunk Uriah has more self-control than sober David!

So, David sends Uriah back with a message to Joab. He wants Joab to have Uriah killed. Joab does this and sends a messenger back to tell David that the mission has been carried out. The news is broken to Bathsheba that her husband has died in battle (she apparently had no knowledge of David's plan and believes her husband died as just a natural part of serving in the army). After an appropriate time of mourning, David sends for Bathsheba and marries her.

David thought he was in the clear. He thought he had done it! Through all his crafty manipulation -- all his "sending" -- he had managed to pull off the perfect crime. Except for one thing: "The thing he had done displeased the Lord" (2 Samuel 11:27b).

There is One who sees all and knows all and will not be sent here and there to do another's bidding. So, the last time the word appears in the story comes in the first sentence of chapter 12: "The Lord sent Nathan to David."

As much as David thought he could control the destiny of the people around him, David comes to realize that God is ultimately in control. He is the ultimate sender.

So many applications of this thought process.... What areas of life are you trying to control and manipulate for your own selfish purposes? Is there someone like Joab in your life -- someone you get to do the dirty work for you? Are there people you send here and there for no other reason than you enjoy playing God in their lives?

Here's another one: Is there someone God is sending you to -- like he sent Nathan to David?

Friday, August 12, 2005

Why That Would Never Happen to Me

I'm off to Jacksonville in a few minutes. Pray for them if I find out they've cut this year's budget for family ministry. As tired as I am, I might just speak my mind.

I wanted to say something about yesterday's post. There are things that David did that I would never in a million years do. But it's not because I'm holier or more spiritually mature than David.

I like to think that's the reason, but the truth is that a lot of times what keeps me from really sinning big is that I'm afraid of getting caught. I'm afraid of the embarrassment and the exposure. I'm afraid of what I'd lose. I don't sin like that because I'm too self-centered.

If I thought I could get away with it.... I don't even want to think about that.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

How Does That Happen?

If you ask the average person on the street about King David, they probably could tell you two stories about him: David & Goliath and David & Bathsheba.

The question few people stop to ponder is, "How does that happen? How does David allow something like that to happen?"

It's one thing when someone has a pattern of rejecting God's ways. If this was a story of a godless, womanizing heathen we wouldn't be surprised. That happens all the time. There are people -- we could all name several -- who lack integrity and moral values. If we heard that they had done something like this, if we heard that they were guilty of deception, adultery and murder, we might be tempted to say, "Well, what did you expect?"

But this is David. King David. The man after God's own heart. This is really out of character for him.

He had, after all, loved God his entire life. When he was a small boy, he took care of sheep and knew that God was with him out there. He knew when wild animals came to steal his sheep and he managed to drive them off -- that wasn't his strength. He knew, without a doubt, that God's protection was with him.

When he got a little older, he faced down a giant named Goliath. He did what no other man in Israel would do because he knew God was with him and would deliver him in battle.

When he found himself in a cave faced with an opportunity to kill his rival Saul, he submitted to God's will in God's timing. He was so committed to obeying God that he wouldn't lift his hand against Saul.

He was so passionate about God that the mere thought of God's presence returning to dwell among the people of Jerusalem inspired him to dance with all his might.

In psalm after psalm, David pours out his heart to God -- asking God to search him and know him and give him an undivided heart. He wrote about how much he loved God's law and how he meditated on it day and night.

And the end of this story David is guilty of lust, covetousness, deception, manipulation, adultery and murder.

How in the world does something like that happen? You don't just wake up one day and say, "I think I'll sleep with that guy's wife then have him killed." This kind of thing doesn't just happen.

I want to talk about how things like this happen. But first, I want us all to think about this: Is there anyone reading this who is so certain of their own spiritual maturity that you know this could never happen to you? Anyone willing to say, "I'm way more spiritual than David ever was because I would never let something like that happen to me"?

As the Apostle Paul wrote:
These are all warking markers -- DANGER! -- in our history books, written down so that we don't repeat their mistakes.... We are just as capable of messing it up as they were. Don't be so naive and self-confident. You're not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Taking Dictation

I am left to conclude that this is something of a hot topic. Traffic has been heavy on this blog, and the comments are spirited (and mostly Spirit-led). Still, there are those -- and I got your email I just can't respond to everyone right now -- who think God has pre-determined all of this. They think that, at least in a sense, we're all just taking dictation when we type our comments and are all just thinking God's thoughts after him.

Allow me to state my position clearly (in case you've missed it thus far): I do not believe that.

However, I do not subscribe to the theology known as Open Theism. I do believe that Greg Boyd and others have posed some very interesting questions. For example, does God ever change his mind? If he does, did he know he was going to change his mind? If not, why do we bother to bring our requests before him?

I know that some of this reflects in inadequate theology of prayer. It reduces prayer to a utiliatarian exercise, and perhaps prayer isn't a means to an end but an end in and of itself. Maybe the point is just to converse with God to get to know him better. But I don't think that's all prayer is. I believe James was inspired by God to write: "The prayer of a person who is living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with" (James 5:16b). I think Wesley was on to something when he suggested that there are things God may not do if we don't pray for them to happen.

I believe God knows what's going to happen before it happens. I do not believe God causes everything that happens to happen. I believe God is often grieved by the choices we make and allows us to suffer the consequences of poor choices. I think it is bizarre that we will go out to eat and order the "fried everything" platter, then ask God to bless that food to the nourishment of our bodies.

Surely, nothing is impossible for God, but still....

One more thing (and it's a big one): Back in January I was reading Steve Chalke's thought-provoking little book The Lost Message of Jesus. Though there were parts of the book I thought were over-stated, it helped me bring together a lot of thoughts that had been bouncing around in my brain for a long time. I'd like to bring something I wrote back then into the current discussion. Go read this, and let me know how you think all this works together.

How do the strands of our decisions, our prayers and petitions, God's sovereignty and Greek philosophy intersect?

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Is He Sovereign Enough?

What a weekend!

I flew to Little Rock Friday to do some training for a couple of churches there. I completed a 5-Hour Workshop on Saturday, then flew to DFW -- got in about 10:30pm, had to speak at two services, have lunch with elders, back to the hotel for about 40 minutes, Starbucks with search committee, dinner with one of their small groups, back to the hotel about a 14-hour day. Up early for breakfast with the worship leader Monday, then staff meeting, then lunch with other elders, then meet with leaders of Student Ministry and Children's Ministry, then dinner at home of Student Minister, then formal meeting with search committee. Back to the hotel -- another 14-hour day. Then up this morning for breakfast with the staff and off to the airport.

Needless to say, I'm pretty tired from the trip right now.

I'm sure you'll hear more about things as I process what I know now with Jill. For now, I'm struggling with one question that I'd like to hear your opinion on. Several people here in Atlanta who have given me "advice" on this -- and several of the people I met there in Dallas -- seem to believe that there is absolutely no way that God will allow a bad decision to be made in this situation.

They tell me that God has one guy in mind for this job and will not allow anyone else to be chosen. If it turns out that Southlake is a bad place for me and my family, God will not allow us to go there. And if it turns out that I'm the wrong guy for that position, God will not allow them to hire us.

I don't buy it.

To me, that looks like we're hiding behind God's sovereignty. It actually looks like we're twisting the idea of sovereignty into something it's not supposed to mean.

Unlike John Piper (who I really love -- even though I think he's wrong sometimes) and others, I firmly believe that there's a difference between God's permissive will and God's causative will. In other words, just because something happens, that doesn't mean God caused it. I do not believe that God caused the tsunami in Sri Lanka last year. In fact, I find it kind of offensive to think that way.


God is sovereign. I affirm that. I have not fully made peace with the arguments of Greg Boyd and Clark Pinnock and other Open Theism advocates.

But...I am no rigid monergist either -- what some people call a six-point Calvinist (the sixth point being -- if you do not affirm all five of the other points you cannot be a Christian).

I believe that many things happen that are not God's desire. People suffer, and I do not believe that is his desire. People are lonely and live in isolation. I do not believe that is his desire. Churches choose the wrong guy to be their pastor, and pastors choose the wrong churches to serve. This happens frequently, and I do not believe it is God's desire.

Clearly, God can, will and does redeem poor choices. But he does not force himself upon us. He is no puppet master. Our choices matter, and we can and do stray from his best for our lives.

Some will no doubt think I am denigrating the sovereignty of God. But I ask you: A God who feels the need to flex his muscles all the time, a God who cannot cope with our ability to choose something other than his will and his way, is that a God who is sovereign enough?

Friday, August 05, 2005

On The Road Again

Greetings from Little Rock, Arkansas: home of humidity. Actually, I guess Houston, TX, could boast that claim. But Little Rock's not far behind.

I have something to get off my chest, so if you're not in the mood for a rant, you should probably move on to the next blog. If you have anything to do with your church's budgeting process, do the world a favor: make them give more money to the children's ministry. I mean it. Yell, stomp, stage a sit-in, refuse to leave the church building, refuse to come back to the church building. Do whatever it takes to increase the amount of money allocated to children's ministry.

Here's a secret from a guy who knows how this works: more money is spent on adult ministries -- particularly ministries aimed at people in their 40s and 50s -- than anywhere else in most churches. More than outreach, more than missions, more than social programs or benevolence, more than children and youth, sometimes more than any of those combined. Anyone wanna guess why?


That's why elders and deacons and pastors and preachers are so quick to cut the budgets for children's ministry and youth ministries -- those kids don't put any money in the plate.

Here's the problem: if we don't reach them now, they won't be around to put anything in the plate later.

And we wonder why so many churches are shutting their doors and going out of business. It's because they were stupid and shortsighted and never invested in the next generation. They failed to lead with the end in mind and -- as a result -- they aborted their future.

Ah, as my friend David Blackwell said the other day: Blogs are good places to rant.

Now that that's out of my system, remember to pray for us this weekend. I'm speaking all day tomorrow to a church here in Little Rock. Then, I'm flying to Dallas to meet Jill and Amelia (the two big girls are staying with some friends -- thanks Phil/Holly and Yuriy/Nadia). We're going to visit the folks at the Southlake Church to see if that's where God is leading us. I'll make sure to find out how much they're spending on family-based ministries and demand that they increase it before I make any decisions!

For those of you who requested a copy of the article Reggie Joiner and I wrote for Wineskins Magazine, I'll send it when I get home.

Oh, and about this other church...those of you who guessed were correct. I'll tell everyone more about it later.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

A Post That's Not About David -- Or Is It?

I hate to interrupt this series of posts on the life of David, but I have a few things on my mind that I want to share with you.

First of all, there's this whole job thing. Those of you who have been following the blog know that there's a mystery church out there that has been courting me. Well...mystery over: I will be speaking this Sunday at the Southlake Church outside of Dallas, Texas. We will spend a couple of days there trying to figure out if that's what God has in mind for the next season of our lives. I would appreciate your prayers for us.

But there's another church (I'm not sure if they're comfortable going public with this yet) that has been talking to me, too. In fact, I had a really interesting and uplifting conversation with them yesterday.

And in the middle of all this, FamilyWise -- an organization I do a ton of work with already -- has asked me to consider a fulltime job with them as Director of Training. That would involve doing a lot more of what I've been doing for the past couple of years -- namely, helping churches shift their thinking from children's ministry to family-based ministry.

Needless to say, there are big decisions to be made here.

One final thing: my daughter Anabel is about to start Kindergarten, and it's an adjustment for everyone. I'm upset because -- due to a scheduling and communication mixup -- I'm going to be out of town for her first day. Jill's upset because her baby is one step closer to being launched out into the world. Anabel's a little anxious -- that combination of nervous and excited.

She's being a little clingier than usual, and this morning as I sat checking my email and trying to get that first cup of coffee down, she walked over and just plopped into my lap. And this is the great thing: she stayed there. She's so big, so tall, so strong. When did that happen?

We sat there for what felt like a long time, but when it was over...I still didn't want it to end. I wanted to hold her like that all day. I think most dads experience times like that. Times when you would be content to just stay locked in the sweet embrace of a five-year-old.

When you mention the biblical character David to people, most think instantly of "David and Goliath." Some think of "David and Bathsheba." As I get older and watch my kids, I can't help but wonder about "David and Absalom." What went wrong there? I'll be exploring their relationship in a few weeks, but this morning I sat there holding Anabel and thinking about David.

Obviously, David started as a shepherd, became a musician, a warrior, a fugitive and a king. He was a liar, an adulterer and a murderer. He was a great and powerful man with several tragic flaws. And somewhere in all that, he was a dad. I don't know what his relationship was like with his kids when they were young. But it seemed to be pretty disastrous when they got older.

I sat there with my daughter, and all of this flashed through my mind.

And I caught myself asking God, "Could you please freeze time right here?"

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Beware: Shortcut Ahead

We've been looking at what David was like before he actually became king, and it's important to remember -- he has to wait about 16 or 17 years from the time Samuel anoints him until his coronation. Think about that: 16 or 17 years. And for the last 10 or so of those years, he finds himself a fugitive -- running from cave to cave.

Now, one of the worst things about living in a cave is you get discouraged. And when you get discouraged you become vulnerable to temptation. There is a connection between being in the cave and temptation because anything that promises relief -- even temporary relief -- starts to look good.

That's what happens in 1 Samuel 24. Saul finds out where David and his men are and pursues them. David and his men retreat into a cave. Saul has to answer nature's call, and he decides to "go" in the exact same cave where David and his men are hiding.

Saul is in a very compromising position here -- he's extremely vulnerable.

David's men say, "This is it! This is the day God promised. Remember, he promised you deliverance? Well, here it is! This must be what God wants. He doesn't want you unhappy and miserable in a cave. He wants you in the palace. Now, here's your chance."

How tempting must that have been? David realizes, I could get out of the cave right now. But what kind of message would that have sent? It would have told everyone that the way to become king in Israel is to kill the old king. That's not a good precedent to set -- especially when you're supposed to be the next king!

Here's the problem with shortcuts: they promise immediate relief, but it's usually short term. In the long run, they can bring misery that makes your cave look like a vacation destination.

Okay, I know some of you are in a cave right now. And there's a shortcut presenting itself. It's tempting. But you have a decision to make. Will you submit to God's will in God's timing? Or will you take the shortcut?

Maybe you feel alone because you've been single for a long time. Maybe your marriage is in the wilderness and another relationship has come along promising what you think you're longing for. It's tempting to think, "I could get out of this cave right now. This would feel so good. It must be God's will. He doesn't want me to be miserable and lonely for the rest of my life. He wants me to be happy, doesn't he?"

You can rationalize all you want, but you know -- this is a shortcut. It is not God's will for your life. It contradicts his desire for you. And your whole future hinges on whether you take the shortcut or submit to God's will in God's timing. Will you have the strength of David here and say, "As hard as this is, I will not take a shortcut out of this cave"?

Maybe it's a financial temptation or the temptation to deceive someone. It could be the temptation to ignore a pattern of behavior that is sinful and destructive or the temptation to quite something you know God is calling you to endure.

Some of you stopped by this blog to answer this question: Will you have the courage not to take the shortcut, not to give in to temptation, to stay in the cave even though it would be easy to get out?

Shortcuts might offer short-term relief, but they can do long-term damage.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Maybe You Need to Learn How to Complain

David now lives in a cave. And he didn't do anything wrong! That's the frustrating part. If he had brought this on himself, we might be able to say, "Well, that's what you get. You've made your bed; now lie in it."

But David didn't do anything wrong (at least not yet).

So, what do you do when you find yourself in a cave, and you don't deserve to be there? Well, believe it or not, one of the best things for you to do is learn how to complain. That's right -- you read that correctly -- I am advocating that you learn how to complain.

How many of you think you already know how to complain pretty well? How many of you think that might just be your spiritual gift?

Here's why I say we need to learn how to complain: we complain to the wrong source. We take our complaints to other people. And what are they going to do? Pat you on the head and say, "Gosh, it sucks to be you, doesn't it?" They can't really do anything to help.

I mean, they can offer some advice or a strong shoulder to lean on. But that's about it. They can't really change the situation.

But God can.

See, there's where we need to register our complaints. Go directly to God. Discuss your discouragement openly and honestly with him. That's what David does in Psalms 142, 57, 34 and many others. In fact, scholars have divided the Psalms up into different categories (psalms of thanksgiving, enthronement psalms, psalms of wisdom, etc.). The largest category of psalms is the Psalm of Lament -- which is really just a fancy way of saying Psalms of Complaint.

What's interesting is that this type of literature is pretty unique to Judaism. No other ancient religion complained to its god(s). Other religions worshiped, praised and asked their god(s) to curse other people. They made requests and asked for blessings/health/prosperity/etc. But only Jews kvetched to their God.

And, apparently, YHWH doesn't mind so much. He actually allows people to do this. He can handle it.

A lot of people just don't have the courage to do this. They stuff their discouragement down and pretend to be fine. They force a smile and pretend everything's blue skies and rainbows and sunbeams from heaven. We pray polite things that have nothing to do with what's really going on inside of us.

But the only place you can meet God is in reality. And sometimes reality is a messy and confusing place. David gets in front of God and lets him know what's going on in his heart.

For those of you who are in caves, maybe you need to learn how to complain. I bet you didn't expect to hear that, did you?