Friday, February 26, 2010

Who Keeps You From Fizzling?

An author told how someone said derogatory words about her early writing. Even though the writer has many books on store shelves, she said the harsh words and the accompanying unfriendly tone hang over her head like a curse. Even today, the long ago misspoken words sometimes surface to produce a fresh “word curse,” causing this godly author to doubt her calling.

It’s nearly always non-friends who utter “word curses.” Those words wound. They hurt. They last. Even though we try to slay them in our minds, they often resurrect to gouge a new gash.

Conversely, friends who champion and campaign for our good, their words can bless like no others’. We know the hearts from which they originated. We know the mettle of those true friends.

David had more than a few run-ins with non-friends, who wished him dead, all before he ever became king. Edomite Doeg plotted against him. Later, Doeg proved that evil lined his soul when he killed 85 priests, their women, children and cattle. An evil spirit had captured King Saul’s soul as well and he made at least six attempts to kill David. He hurled javelins; at night the king sent men to murder David as he slept. The king sent the shepherd boy into other hot skirmishes with the Philistines, hoping that they would do his dirty work and kill off the lad. David desperately needed a friend who would stick closer than a brother and he found him.

The one unlikely person to befriend David was King Saul’s son Jonathan. In traditional monarchies, Jonathan would stand next in line for the throne of his father. Perhaps that is why the king urged, “Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David.” Yet, Jonathan “was very fond of David and warned him” time after time of his father’s evil plots. (1 Samuel 19:1).

Even while his father pursued the anointed king David, Jonathan secretly sought out his friend with warnings and humble assurances, “You will be king over Israel, and I will be your second in command” (23:17). David and Jonathan made a covenant between their houses, vowing that they would esteem each other and their children to come after them. Eugene Peterson says that “Jonathan’s friendship entered David’s soul in a way that Saul’s hatred never did.”

This time of David’s life must have been difficult. He did good deeds and was attacked in spite of goodness. He had slain the Philistine giant, ridding Israel of the tyrant, and when King Saul had a tortured spirit, David, played soothing music. If we are confronted or attacked for doing bad, we expect that, but assaults are more painful when we are on our best behavior. At those times, we especially need a friend to come alongside us.

I haven’t had any javelins thrown at me of late but I have had a few “word curses” thrown my way over the years. That’s when I go to my longtime friend and confide in her. I rarely tell her the names of the non-friend, word-hurlers. There’s no need. I’m not looking for finger-wagging at them. I’m looking for someone to help me defuse my whining and feeling sorry for myself. She stomps out the fire of revenge. She points me to my gifts. She points me to God.

That’s what Jonathan did for David. David had a great beginning to his God-calling—anointed to be next king, slaying the over nine-foot giant (oops last week, I tagged him a mere seven foot). David’s road toward kingship started off with a bang. But then the opposition started. David could have given up, but he didn’t.

Jesus said that good-deed-doers will be persecuted. It’s the way of the world. Satan wants to make us whiners instead of winners. As this story progresses, we will see King Saul—bent on evil—in a decline. We will see David—still under attack—with a friend by his side and he will succeed.

Value friendships—word-bless and support each other—because friends keep us from fizzling out.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Who/What Dominates Your Heart?

At first, I crawled around on my hands and knees like a toddler—all I could manage to do. Are you asking what circumstances caused this? The cause—my fear of heights.

I help my husband Dave un-tarp our alfalfa when he brings it in every two weeks. The load is 8 foot wide, 48 foot long, and over 14 foot high. Years ago, when I first started helping him, I could only crawl like a baby on top of the load—very slow help at best. No courage whatsoever, and to worsen matters, the load of hay also rocks a bit when we move around.

Also, the black tarp that protects the alfalfa hides spaces between the hay bales. If a misplaced foot sinks down in those crevices, a tumble could happen. After years of trusting my husband to grab my hand or steady me if I totter when near the edge, I can walk around at those heights. And I’ve even learned to look for blessings up there—one is rubbing shoulders with the early morning songbirds.

Trust is the first step toward acquiring courage. One time in David’s saga, he faced a surprise battle where trust and courage triumphed. During a cheese-and-bread run to a battlefield to deliver homemade vittles to his three older brothers, the kid who was too young for the army heard a giant enemy bellow a taunt.

David arrived just in time to hear Goliath, the Philistine’s champion soldier, defy Israel’s army and God. He wanted a one-to-one, man-to-man fight by his rules. If the giant champion won, nothing would change—the Philistines would remain the victors. But, if an Israelite man won, then the oppressors would become the servants. The Philistines had subjugated Israel for many years and rid the territory of all blacksmiths, fearing the making of weapons. The only two swords or spears in all of Israel belonged to King Saul and his son Jonathan. I suppose Israel’s ragtag army equipped themselves with farm tools—not much of an armory. I imagine that the glint of enemies’ weapons in the early morning sun added to Israel’s fear.

News reached King Saul that a young lad had volunteered to meet the champion Goliath in the Valley of Elah (between the two encampments). Saul armed the slight youth with a bronze helmet and his own armor, but after the dress rehearsal David shed the unfamiliar clunky armor. He told the king, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17: 37).

The well shod Goliath had dominated and terrified Israel for days upon days. Fear fueled and ruled the camp of Israel. Tension had multiplied. No one wanted hand-to-hand combat with this massive soldier. David left the king’s presence with his shepherd’s staff and a slingshot in hand. He stopped at a brook and chose five smooth stones. David didn’t quaver. He didn’t cower. He stood. Then he walked on to meet a nearly seven foot giant bully.

Eugene Peterson says David’s had a “God dominated imagination.” His trust in God increased his courage. King Saul to the lowest servant had been demoralized by Goliath’s colossal threats against them and their God. But David’s notions were dominated by his enormous God. He had witnessed his faithfulness in peace and combat with the wild.

The vast giant saw the young boy and his shepherd’s staff and scoffed and cursed David by his pagan gods. He saw the simple staff and asked, “Am I a dog that you come at me with sticks?” (vs.43). David’s’ heart may have pounded, but his whole body counted on help from God and we’re told that this youth “ran quickly toward the battle line to meet [Goliath]” (vs. 43).

You know the conclusion of the story. David one. Goliath none.

What giants do you face? Are there heights you fear scaling? Are you toddler- crawling when you could be walking and accomplishing your calling?

Trust the Chief Shepherd to give you a God dominated imagination. He has an ample supply of courage to pass out to receptive hearts.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Interim Times

“The story of David starts in the middle of another story. All stories do. We never get a clean start in this business of life,” says Eugene Peterson, author of “Leap Over a Wall ~ Reflections on the Life of David.”

Isn’t it true? When we arrive on earth, we enter the story of our parents’ lives, no matter how settled or chaotic those might be. We first encounter David’s name after he is anointed as the next king of Israel. Israel’s current king is Saul, so David’s anointing must have been an obscure event or discounted by any witnesses.

Even though the anointing takes place, at least a decade will pass before David officially becomes king, allowing the young David to develop a leader’s heart. I’ve especially thought about the word “anointing” this week—a word almost obscure except in religious connotations. According to Encarta World English Dictionary, “anoint” means to “bless someone with oil” or to “ordain somebody: to install somebody officially or ceremonially in a position or office.”

Some people don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. Early on, David knew his destiny. Even before the bloom left his youth, David’s résumé included shepherding, lyre-playing (a stringed instrument), and slingshot expert, all used in the years leading up to his kingship.

Lyres were hand-held musical instruments, strummed with a plectrum, similar to a guitar pick, rather than the strings being plucked. David, skilled at a young age, was summoned when King Saul grew ill-tempered to play a soothing song for the king. This required courage. Lopping off heads, throwing javelins at guests—some restless kings were not that hospitable.

Before David’s coronation there was a time lapse of 10 years. His experiences through that time can give us clues about how to live through our waiting rooms. First, David didn’t dwell on his future kingship, but went back to his day-job of shepherding. Whether we are called to grand destinies or fifteen minutes of fame, the grunge work of life is still there.

For families, churches, and businesses to function well during the in-between times, someone needs to attend to the everyday activities of living. The lower echelon jobs keep us humble. Even a CEO can benefit. Grunge work puts dirt under our fingernails—it takes the swagger out of celebrity.

A second observation about David: his interim years allowed him one-on-one time with God. God’s handmade world and his Holy Spirit inspired David to write psalms about God that still breathe life into our days, “[G]reat is you love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies . . . let your joy be over all the earth” (108:4-5). During those pastoral times, he gained strength and led helpless ewes and lambs. When sheep and shepherd were physically threatened, David used weapons and hand-to-hand combat to slay predators—a lion and a bear.

Third, while waiting to become king, his trust in God grew. David faced a giant, cruel opposition from citizens and King Saul, but he did not forsake his integrity and seek power early or by force.

What happens when you are in life’s waiting room? When you imagine bigger and better things for your life? How do you cope when your grand expectations are a no-show? Some may fret and halt most efforts to move forward. Others keep hoping and keep preparing.

From David’s waiting room, I see the message to spend time wisely. Just as God ordained David’s anointing, he has anointed our stories. He knew the beginning, he knows our current story, God will write The End when we have finished our work. Wherever you are in your life, follow David’s lead—put to good use the interim times.

Friday, February 05, 2010

My grandchildren like to hear stories about when their parents were children, and their favorites involve a snake in the chicken pen and an opossum in the garage. They also love Bible stories, especially when they hear a bit more detail than before. Of course, they are entertained through storytelling, but more than that, they connect with family and God. These stories are requested again and again.

David is a character in the Bible who is worthy of revisiting. Each time I read his story, I leave with a better connection to his humanity, his frailties, and his passion for God. For the next few weeks, we’ll consider some of the David-stories that the Holy Spirit handed down to our generation. First, a bit of general background about David, Israel’s second king.

David’s story is not sugar-coated. His sins and his love for God are revealed. The tough life of a warrior king resounds through his psalms — his cries of feeling forsaken echo through his talks with God. But once vented, God nudges his heart and he is reminded of God’s eternal, loving-kindness and attention. A study of David will also help us better understand the humanity of Jesus, who was often referred to as the Son of David.

David’s name first appears in scripture in the book of Ruth. Actually his name is the last word in that book, in a genealogy listing ancestor Perez down to “Jesse the father of David” (4:21). The first appearance of David is in the book of 1 Samuel.

The nation of Israel rejected God as their supreme leader and demanded a king like the pagan countries surrounding them. God is called the “the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God” (1 Timothy 1:17), but rejecting God as the king of lives and souls was common then and now.

The prophet Samuel traveled to Bethlehem, commissioned by God to anoint a replacement for Saul, the first king of Israel. He requested the elders of the city to consecrate themselves and the family of Jesse, who had eight sons. Seven of the sons prepared for the meeting with Samuel. When Eliab, the oldest, passed before Samuel he thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord” (1 Samuel 16:6), but God cautioned the prophet to not consider these sons and their regal bearing, height, or good looks. Firstborn Eliab did not fit God’s qualification for next king of Israel, nor did the six other sons of Jesse.

Samuel asked, “Are these all the sons you have?” (vs. 11). That’s when Samuel heard about the youngest, the son in the field, the unconsecrated boy, who rubbed shoulders with the sheep and sunshine. Looked over in the brother-roll-call, Jesse said, “There is still the youngest, but he is tending sheep.”

Jesse didn’t even call his son’s name to Samuel. Eugene H. Peterson says the Hebrew word used here for “youngest” is “huqqaton” which carries “undertones of insignificance,” and “certainly not a prime candidate for prestigious work.” David the least and last in his family was summoned from his shepherding and brought before Samuel.

That’s when Samuel finally got affirmation from the Lord, “Rise and anoint him. He’s the one.” God didn’t call him by name either, but why did God pick David? Not for his name, or physical characteristics, or his family rank. God knew that David’s heart -- even after committing deadly sins -- would always turn back to the King of kings. Earlier, Samuel had foretold about David to the outcast King Saul that “the Lord has sought a man after his own heart.”

Bernard of Clairvaux (1153) said, “Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.” That’s the crux of God choosing David. God knew that long after the tender shepherd years, long after his kingship, and long after his glory days, even at the end of his life, David’s heart would still be chasing after God’s heart. What a foundation for a kingship. What a superb ending to a life story.

It’s a worthy goal and legacy for our life-stories: Don’t outlive your love for God. And long after our names are forgotten, the heart of God will still survive in the lives of generations who come after us.