Archive for May, 2010

It happened in the spring of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the people of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. 2 Samuel 11:1

While the combat zones may vary for each of us, the focus (Jesus) and mission (the Gospel message) are always the same. The born-again believer is [in one sense] the instrument God deploys within the enemy’s territory. However, despite being exposed to the enemy’s weaponry, we’re divinely sheltered. Therefore it stands to reason that the safest place for the Christian is on the front lines ~and~ fully engaged.

Blessed be the LORD my Rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle – my lovingkindness and my fortress, my high tower and my deliverer, my shield and the One in whom I take refuge… Psalm 144:1-2a

David’s choice to stay off the battlefield illustrates the point and further demonstrates that we don’t fall into sin accidentally, but that we freely walk into it one step at a time. Have you heard it said that, ‘Idle hands are the devil’s workshop?’ Well that phrase is not from the Bible, but the standard surely is. Why should we be hands-on, clear-headed, and attentive?

…Because (our) adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 1 Peter 5:8b

Does that mean we can never come in off the battle field, kick-back, and relax? Of course we can, as long as we never to lose our focus. The moment we lose sight of Jesus; the moment the ‘fear of the Lord’ takes a back seat to recreation, we willfully and knowingly take that first step toward sin. The good news is that God will warn us before every illicit step we take.

And someone said, “Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” 2 Samuel 11:3b

“Umm David…she’s married,” someone said.

By the way, that someone was God, speaking through one of His instruments and David purposely and deliberately dismissed the good counsel he had received. God does the same thing with us. If we sin, we know it’s wrong because God told us so before we did it. The fact the God gave us the story of David and Bathsheba proves the fact.

Anyway, we know where the story goes from here and there’s no sense in recounting each of David’s perverse steps. The point I wanted to camp on is that our sin always begins with one seemingly innocent step which when examined reveals it was a step away from God.

But if you do not do so, then take note, you have sinned against the Lord; and be sure your sin will find you out. Numbers 32:23

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And so it was, when those bearing the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, that he sacrificed oxen and fatted sheep. 2 Samuel 6:13

I’m going backwards. I was supposed to begin chapter eight of Second Samuel today, but for the last forty eight hours or so, my mind has been flipping back to this passage from chapter six. I have gotten the sense that I should unpack the verse some more.

We would recall that the first official act of King David was to bring the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem and that the feat was a total catastrophe. As a result Uzzah died and the Ark was sent away. Obed-Edom housed the Ark for ninety days and old Obed and his family were blessed by God. Quoting from my blog of two days ago…

In the three month period Obed-Edom had the Ark, David did his homework. The prescribed manner to move the Ark was six paces at a time. Every six steps the procession would stop, an altar would be erected, and animals would be sacrificed. The ritual would continue until the Ark reached its resting place, regardless if was ten feet or ten miles.

That got me thinking. If stopping to offer sacrifice and praise to God every six steps was appropriate then, is it not proper for us today? I’m not being legalistic, I’m being realistic. Is the God we worship today somehow not as worthy to be praised and exalted as He was in these days? Of course He is worthy; nothing at all has changed, except the fact that we don’t have an Ark to move around.

So What Am I Saying?

I am saying that this practice has an application for us today ~and~ it is not unreasonable for us to stop every six steps and offer our sacrifices of praise. What would that look like? First, jot down on a piece of paper what you typically do on a normal day numbering them. For example, my day looks something like this:

1) Wake up
2) Get dressed
3) Do ‘bathroom’ stuff
4) Breakfast
5) See the family off to work and school
6) Check emails
7) Ministry stuff
8) Bible study
9) House chores
10) Guitar practice
11) House chores
12) Lunch

That’s only half my day and I purposely left out a lot of incidentals between entries, but looking at the list would it not be considered reasonable to pause at every sixth item to give thanks in prayer and check in with the Lord? I believe it is reasonable and in so doing we will bless God and He will in turn bless us. Going back to the previous blog entry for a moment…

To me it (pausing every sixth step) speaks to my continual need to be reminded of Christ’s presence in my life. The fact is I can finish praying or reading His word, get up and take six steps and forget all about Him. This passage reminds me of that deficiency in faith walk. It also reminds me in simplicity to draw near to God and He will draw near to me (James 4:8), to acquaint myself with Him, to be at peace and good will come to me (Job 22:21), to deny myself and take up my cross daily (Luke 9:23), and finally, as often as I eat the bread and drink of the cup, to proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes (1 Corinthians 11:26).

The world is into efficiency and frankly, stopping in the middle of the day to do anything other then what we have scheduled seems unproductive. However, our God is a God of quality, not quantity. He has so much more in store for us then we could ever begin to imagine. Remove Jesus Christ from the equation and every aspect of whatever we’re involved with suffers.

I would suggest that you give this six-step program a try, for its model has divine roots. While it’s not commanded of God, we can read the biblical account and make the application understanding the spiritual implications. I suspect that for many of you [that] as you go about making your daily lists you’ll discover you’re already doing it (and didn’t realize it) or you discover (like did) that there are significant gaps in your day when you are out of contact with the Creator of the universe.

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Also the Lord tells you that He will make you a house. 2 Samuel 7:11

David’s first official act as king over Israel was to recover the Ark of the Covenant. His second official act was going to be to build God a Temple that would house the Ark. David’s heart was in the right place, his desire was biblically sound, and he had the spiritual support of the prophet Nathan, but what he didn’t have was God’s approval. Through Nathan, God would in effect tell David, “Did I ask you to build Me a house? I anointed you as king because you’re a shepherd, not a builder. I have a builder in mind and you ain’t him!” We might think this would be upsetting to David.

God Never Says No

Or more accurately, God never says just no. In other words if our Father seemingly vetoes our plans, it is only because He has something better in store for us. That’s a very good thing to remember when we pray. The fact of the matter that David was not qualified to build the temple because of the blood on his hands is not relevant—God had bigger plans for David since time began and the good news is that He has bigger plans for us also.

But What About Psalm 37:4

Didn’t David write in the Psalm, “Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart,” and wasn’t building God’s Temple the desire of David’s heart? It most certainly was his desire. But the reality is that when we pray and when God rejects our plans, we better learn to pray according to God’s will. The lesson David learned was that his desire (initially) was not God’s desire. Twenty four hours later, when David got the word from Nathan, he knew God’s heart as it pertained to this matter and as a result he was ecstatic.

“Who am I, O Lord God? And what is my house, that You have brought me this far…what more can David say to You? For You, Lord God, know Your servant. For Your word’s sake, and according to Your own heart, You have done all these great things, to make Your servant know them…You are great…there is none like You, nor is there any God besides You…For You have made Your people Israel Your very own people forever; and You, Lord, have become their God…O Lord God, the word which You have spoken concerning Your servant and concerning his house, establish it forever and do as You have said…let Your name be magnified forever…O Lord God, You are God, and Your words are true, and You have promised this goodness to Your servant” 2 Samuel 7:18-28 (abridged)

Does this sound like a man whose desires and plans were rejected by God? Absolutely not! David got it; he saw the bigger picture. God didn’t tell David ‘No,’ He told him, “I’ve got better things for you my son!” The truth is that God has better things for us too, regardless of how He responds to our prayers. Like David, He wants to build a house for us as well! Check this out…

…As living stones, are being built up a spiritual house…no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. 1 Peter 2:5a + Ephesians 2:19-21

If you’re not fired up, you should be. God’s building a house for Himself and we are that house! Like David, we should proclaim to Him, “Who am I, O Lord God? And what is my house, that You have brought me this far!”

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So they set the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill; and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drove the new cart. And they brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill, accompanying the ark of God; and Ahio went before the ark. Then David and all the house of Israel played music before the Lord on all kinds of instruments of fir wood, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on sistrums, and on cymbals. And when they came to Nachon‘s threshing floor, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. Then the anger of the Lord was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his error; and he died there by the ark of God. 2 Samuel 6:3-7

One of the first official acts of David as king over all of Israel was to bring the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem so that Israel might experience the glory of God. The word glory in the Hebrew is Kabowd (Chabod) and it quite literally means weight; or that which has significant substance. Obviously the glory of God is of the utmost weight and substance and one might say, “God is the heaviest man!”

The reality is that everyone desires it; every human being yearns for a connection of magnificent relevance whether they realize it or not. God in fact placed that desire in our hearts hoping that we would choose to fill the emptiness with Him. Sadly, some opt to fill that space with drugs or alcohol, sex, material possessions, or wealth.

“There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus” Blaise Pascal

The Bible records for us the first-ever attempt to fill the vacuum. The funny thing is that Adam and Eve had the Kabowd; God’s glory was all around them. That is until in disobedience they ate of the forbidden tree. They made a horrible choice and then went about the task of filling the void in their flesh, demonstrating quite effectively that itchy leaves are a poor replacement for God’s glory.

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. Genesis 3:7

Back to the Story

David wants to bring the Kabowd of God to Israel; up until this time the Ark of the Covenant sat 13 miles away in Kirjath Jearim. We would recall that it wound up there after Israel brought the Ark into battle as a ‘good luck charm’ and ended up losing it to the Philistines, who ended up getting rid of it because of the plagues it brought. The trouble was that David’s plan to recover the Ark was a work of his flesh and although Uzzah’s death is directly related to David’s blunder, it is Uzzah who becomes our example. You might say that Uzzah’s death was his ministry.

What Did David Learn?

David was afraid of the Lord that day; and he said, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?”

Isn’t David’s question the very same question we ask, “How can God’s glory come to me?”

David learned that serving God, knowing Him better, and experiencing His presence is not a work of the flesh. David made huge plans and designed a grand thirty-thousand man parade, but it in the end discerned that the work is God’s and submission to His will is ours. Like David, we should take note (in 2 Samuel 6:11), that “the Lord blessed Obed-Edom and all his household,” for doing nothing but merely being in His presence.

So Samuel said: “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. 1 Samuel 15:22

In the three month period Obed-Edom had the Ark, David did his homework. The prescribed manner to move the Ark was six paces at a time. Every six steps the procession would stop, an altar would be erected, and animals would be sacrificed. The ritual would continue until the Ark reached its resting place, regardless if was ten feet or ten miles. We might ask why and God might answer, “Because the world is into efficiency while My thing is effectiveness.

But Why Every Six Steps?

To me it speaks to my continual need to be reminded of Christ’s presence in my life. The fact is I can finish praying or reading His word, get up and take six steps and forget all about Him. This passage reminds me of that deficiency in faith walk. It also reminds me in simplicity to draw near to God and He will draw near to me (James 4:8), to acquaint myself with Him, to be at peace and good will come to me (Job 22:21), to deny myself and take up my cross daily (Luke 9:23), and finally, as often as I eat the bread and drink of the cup, to proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes (1 Corinthians 11:26).

There are days when I need to stop every few steps and reflect on who my God is, what He has done, and what He continues to do for me and the world (those who love Him and those who do not even know His name). The truth of the matter is that today is one of those days. God is Master and I am but a tool in His toolbox whose only real function is to dutifully avail myself to Him.

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Therefore David inquired of the Lord, and He said, “You shall not go up; circle around behind them, and come upon them in front of the mulberry trees. And it shall be, when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry trees, then you shall advance quickly. For then the Lord will go out before you to strike the camp of the Philistines.” 2 Samuel 5:23-24

David is poised to battle his adversaries again. The Philistines had attacked once previously, but David was victorious because he dropped to his knees to pray before he stood up to fight. Wisely, David returns to his knees before taking further action. David could have marched into battle without making inquiry of the Lord, but fortunately he perceived that yesterday’s divine strategy was for yesterday. The lesson of course is for us to bring every matter before the Lord never assuming that divine tactics are etched in tablets of stone. The bonus, as it were, is that persistent prayer improves perception.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. James 1:17

Both non-believers and biblical scholars have scrutinized the passage, “When you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry trees,’ and have theorized that the breeze-in-the-trees was merely some kind of natural phenomenon. Some have even speculated that the marching column of Philistine soldiers was enough to rattle the branches of the delicate Mulberry. Perhaps. They can choose to look at the incident like that if they want, but oh boy, are they missing out on something truly spectacular. Personally, I prefer to see the rushing wind as the Holy Spirit for which it is.

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Romans 1:20-21

The fact of the matter is that the disconnected aren’t able to see God’s hand in these things because they aren’t willing to. Self-disabled, they regard things as naturally occurring rather for the supernatural occurrences they are. In contrast, and as the detractors shake their collective heads in astonished disbelief, the purposed Christian can look at any component of God’s good creation and rightfully proclaim, “I see God’s handiwork.”

“Oh well,” we rejoin, “their loss!”

The reality is that bringing this to their attention will probably not influence them to abandon their skepticism, but I’m not writing this them…I’m writing this for me (and maybe you). The truth is that I occasionally forget that ‘Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above;’ I am the one who needs the reminder. When I step outside the refuge of Christ Jesus and neglect the components of my faith, I run the risk of seeing things as the world sees them—pleasing, but nevertheless catastrophes of nature; accidental pleasantries if you will. Oh how sad it is to miss the gargantuan quantity of blessings God has bestowed upon us. The resolute know that standing close to Jesus improves our vision.

“God will not be behind-hand in love to us: for our drop, we shall receive an ocean. Thomas Watson

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God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1

David is about to be anointed king, but in chapter four of second Samuel we witness an ugly little turn of events. Abner, the former commander of King Saul’s army is murdered by David’s nephew Joab.

Abner had just negotiated a peace accord with David paving the way for him to become ruler over all of Israel, but this didn’t sit well with Joab. We would recall that Abner had killed Joab’s brother Asahel in the civil war that preceded this episode.

However, he refused to turn aside. Therefore Abner struck him in the stomach with the blunt end of the spear, so that the spear came out of his back; and he fell down there and died on the spot. 2 Samuel 2:23

So working behind his Uncle David’s back, Joab lures Abner back to Hebron. Abner likely thinks nothing of it since he had made peace with King David, so he meets Joab outside the city gate. It was there we are told that Joab took him aside privately and killed him so that he would die for the blood of Asahel.

King David is enraged by Joab’s deed, but he is also grieved by Abner’s death, so much so he composes a funeral dirge for him. Odd as it may seem, in the lament King David implies that Abner, this man he loved, honored, and respected, died as a fool dies. Why would David insinuate such a thing? I submit to you that David did so as a warning for us!

“Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Appoint for yourselves cities of refuge…And when he flees to one of those cities, and stands at the entrance of the gate of the city, and declares his case in the hearing of the elders of that city, they shall take him into the city as one of them, and give him a place, that he may dwell among them. Then if the avenger of blood pursues him, they shall not deliver the slayer into his hand, because he struck his neighbor unintentionally, but did not hate him beforehand. And he shall dwell in that city until he stands before the congregation for judgment, and until the death of the one who is high priest in those days. Then the slayer may return and come to his own city and his own house, to the city from which he fled.’ ” Joshua 20:2a, 4-6

Why was Abner a fool? He was a fool because Hebron was a city of refuge and the moment he left the confines of the city wall, he was fair game to any avenger of blood; in this case Joab. David’s hands were tied: Joab had the right to avenge and Abner forfeited his protection. In that respect, Abner was indeed a fool.

The Question is, “Are You a Fool?”

What we need to know is that in typology these cities of refuge illustrate the safety and security that is afforded the Christian when they abide in Christ Jesus. When we choose to step outside of this sphere of protection, we run the risk of subjecting ourselves to satan’s fury. Clearly stated, Christian’s who step out-of-bounds are fools.

C. H. Spurgeon wrote,

“By nature I am in myself, and in sin and I am, therefore, condemned; but when the grace of God awakens me up to know my ruined state, then I fly to Christ. I trust alone in His blood and righteousness, and He becomes to me the cleft of the rock, whereas I hide myself from the storm of vengeance justly due to me for my many offences. The Lord Jesus is typified by the city of refuge.”

The question that often arises is, “If a Christian steps outside Christ’s loving arms and dies as a result, is that foolish person now doomed?”

We can only answer that question by first proclaiming that only God know if a person was or is truly saved. However, if a true born-again believer wanders beyond Christ’s refuge, and dies, his or her salvation is not necessarily lost. I will tell you what does occur—that person now becomes an example for the rest of us of what not to do. In essence, dying a fool becomes that person’s ministry and we can all thank them when we get to Heaven.

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It happened after this that David inquired of the Lord, saying, “Shall I go up to any of the cities of Judah?” And the Lord said to him, “Go up.” David said, “Where shall I go up?” And He said, “To Hebron.” So David went up there, and his two wives also, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess, and Abigail the widow of Nabal the Carmelite. 2 Samuel 2:1-2

There might be scores of reasons why God isn’t talking to you and I don’t want to explore them all right here right now. I simply want to say that perhaps one reason God isn’t talking to you is because you aren’t talking to Him.

When I read the Bible passage above, one thing that leaps off the page is that God’s response to David’s first prayer is extraordinarily concise. Why, when David asks the question, “Shall I go up to any of the cities of Judah?” doesn’t God simply give him the entire answer at once? Why doesn’t God respond, “Yes David, go up and specifically I want you to go to Hebron.” It’s almost as if God is making David ask more questions.

I submit to you that is exactly what God is doing with David. In the same way a parent draws out conversation from a child, our Father in Heaven elicits prayerful exchanges with us. Our Father calls for more than communication; He desires communion. The reality is that He loves us so much He wants to converse with us continually and the deeper those conversations are, the better they are. Consider the inferences revealed in these quotes:

“Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire.” Corrie Ten Boom

“I have so much to do that I spend several hours in prayer before I am able to do it.” John Wesley

“Is the Son of God praying in me, or am I dictating to Him…Prayer is not simply getting things from God, that is a most initial form of prayer; prayer is getting into perfect communion with God. If the Son of God is formed in us by regeneration, He will press forward in front of our common sense and change our attitude to the things about which we pray…Prayer does not fit us for the greater work, prayer is the greater work.” Oswald Chambers

“Why is it so important that you are with God and God alone on the mountain top? It’s important because it’s the place in which you can listen to the voice of the One who calls you the beloved. To pray is to listen to the One who calls you “my beloved daughter,” “my beloved son,” “my beloved child.” To pray is to let that voice speak to the center of your being, to your guts, and let that voice resound in your whole being.” Henri Nouwen

Our Father seeks our intimacy, our honesty and our accessibility and wants nothing more than any parent desires from their adored child – an authentic relationship.

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