David’s Bildungsroman part 2

Psalm 78:70 says that God chose David from the sheepfolds.

David was the youngest of Jesse’s eight sons. With red hair and apparently a handsome kid (see 1 Samuel 16:12), he tended the sheep on his dad’s pasture. The strength and courage needed to kill Goliath had been developed through the years protecting them from lions and tigers and bears. Oh my. Okay, not really tigers, but he does say he killed the other two in protecting his flock (see 1 Samuel 16:35; the story of David and Goliath takes place in chapter 17). Jesus does that. He says He’ll leave the “ninety and nine”  to go after the one stray, lost sheep (Luke 15:4).

Life doesn’t necessarily contain many life or death moments–that is unless you’re a soldier (or a Marine) or police officer or firefighter. At least not in our “civilized” western world. Making these hard decisions is far less frequent than, say, in feudal Japan under a shogunate (where slight mistakes are atoned for by ritual and assisted suicide) or among the Yanomamo tribe of South America. The Yanomamo are excruciatingly violent toward, not just neighboring tribes, but also their own members. Point is, violent force is not necessary in today’s world to get our point across. In defending our loved ones however, I believe it can be necessary. With Goliath however, diplomacy was already out of the question. The other Israelites were content to lie down and let the Philistines encroach. But I believe the real reason David decided to go and fight Goliath was because he “def[ied] the armies of the living God” (1 Samuel 17:26). I’m reminded of “Beat It” by Michael Jackson. David’s the exception to that song. The rest is history. And now we have the perfect metaphor for dealing with the problems of our own lives that not only seem, seem huge and insurmountable, steadily creeping and seeping into our life, but that no one else wants to face. Goliath stood on the other side of the battlefield and taunted the Israelites. Empty threats as far as David was concerned.

Before I go any further, if you’re having an issue with this story, as far as its solution (i.e. the slaying and decapitation of Goliath, 17:51) may I plead the rule of cultural relativism? One corollary of cultural relativism says that it’s wrong to judge other cultures with the morality of our own. That may have pulled the story from the sea of subjectivity only to have it cast again into the deep end, but it was indeed a different time and place.

Consider this verse from Isaiah: (40:11) “He (God) shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.”

The pastoral vocation was common in the Middle East during that time. Still is. David tended sheep because he was the youngest. Probably because no one else wanted to do it, too. This verse in Isaiah describes the character of God as kind, gentle, caring, concerned. God is like this all the time. Even when we don’t feel it. Even when we think that He’s just the opposite or not even real at all. One question I have for you is, with the unique spiritual problems you’re facing, do you think that God might choose you to be the one to deal with them, once-and-for-all? If so, have at it! If we have the courage to believe that God is as this verse describes–even when the devil shouts at us and fear and shame and discouragement begin to press in–then we are believing what is true. And God will prove Himself to be the best that we believe. Conversely, if we choose not to believe, God isn’t necessarily obligated to reveal Himself to you. If you know anyone like that, pray for ’em.

So, what are the huge crises that are worrying you? (financial, physical, familial…?) This takes real effort, but choose, will to believe that God is bigger and that He has a way out of this suffering. Paul said as much. “God will also make a way of escape so that you’ll be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). He was referring to temptation but don’t you think that David was tempted to run from Goliath? Maybe not. Maybe through the years of his shepherding routine, he developed the resolve that stood up and in the face of the audacity of Goliath. Resolve to remain faithful through the slow downtimes of your life and you’ll be slaying giants before you know it.

Jesus says to “say unto this mountain…” (Mark 11:23). See what happens in verse 24.

God bless you!

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David’s Bildungsroman part 1

Psalm 27 is a wonderful expression by David of complete confidence in God. He sees God as parent (verse 10), as provider (4), as strength (1) and refuge (5).

The life of David is somewhat of an enigma to me. I’ll explain. David lived before Jesus in a time when anyone who was Jewish was expected—commanded—to live under the law of Moses. A strict regiment of outward proofs of inward allegiance. Yet David exhibited something deeper and more profound. Namely, the grace of God. And he communicated through the Psalms an understanding of Him that was light years ahead of his peers. That’s not to say that he was without his flaws but in my opinion that’s neither here nor there. To a degree, it doesn’t make sense to me why the positive lessons inherent in the character of the biblical characters need always be tempered with the negative. Yes we need lessons in what to do and what not to do, but a person’s sin and shortcomings are never mentioned in their eulogy. If one feels the need to tack on mention of David’s sins to every lesson from his life, why don’t they deal with their own instead? Some Christians naively dismiss their own while condemning him. And the cycle will repeat itself in others with whom they come into contact with. I have a whole book entitled THE SINS OF KING DAVID. Okay, the title’s not in all caps but it may as well be. The cover sports a renaissance painting of David lecherously luring Bathsheba into adultery. How hypocritical. As an aside, this is why anyone who dies who we think may not have been Christian should still be treated with respect and honor as creations of God. The best of someone should still be believed.

I suppose the reason David experienced God in this way throughout his life is because he did just that. He believed the best of God through all of the times in which circumstances might dictate God’s character as something other than what David encountered as a child while tending sheep and composing hymns in the pasture.

When I consciously met God at 17, life became beautiful and wondrous and full of exciting encounters with Him in unexpected places. But it also lacked the stability and temperance and wisdom of a life that had stuck with God when things were hard. We can’t live on the mountaintop all the time. Yet there are pastures on mountains and in the valleys. Anywhere we are–high or low–we can sing to God.

A bildungsroman is a story (usually fiction, in this case non) detailing the spiritual development of its main character. Asaph wrote of David in Psalm 78 (verses 70-72):

“He chose David also his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds: From following the ewes great with young he brought him to feed Jacob His people, and Israel His inheritance. So He fed them according to the integrity of His heart; and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands.”

Over the next few days, I’m going to flesh out this passage and see how it applies to the ups and downs that we all face in some way shape or form—for today.

Making It Happen

So, chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re still here. Take heart! Trust me, you didn’t miss the Rapture. Wasn’t it supposed to happen yesterday? One of the questions I have is, how could Harold Camping find some numerological thread that has no basis in truth and then calculate it out to mean that the Rapture, and/or Second Coming was supposed to happen yesterday? October twenty-first, two-thousand eleven. I don’t mean to be rude, but at what point in his life did he begin to see numerical coincidences as overarching truths? Does this mean I can start reading and relying on my horoscope? The so-called “Bible Code” might be compelling and hard to assail but non-believers tear it apart and laugh in its face. Besides, Jesus didn’t ask us to believe on that, He commanded us to believe on and in Him. At no point in history has an end-of-the-world prediction come true (obviously). And why is everyone in such hurry to leave? Isn’t love supposed to “bear all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7)? Jesus said that no man (or woman) knows the day or the hour (Matthew 24:36). He also said to “occupy till I come” (Luke 19:13). No sense in busying ourselves in futile matters of false prediction. The Old Testament imposed harsh judgment on false prophets.

A better time-marker would be Jesus’ declaration that His Gospel would be preached to everyone before His coming (Matthew 24:14). And maybe that’s happened, I don’t know. God bless the translators who are feverishly working to translate the Bible into all of the world’s languages, but consider this: St. Francis said to “preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words”. Brilliant. I can guarantee you that hasn’t happened. When Christians don’t act any better than the spiritually-dead people they used to be, you can understand why people would want us to leave! Unsalty salt is “good for nothing” (Matthew 5:13). Yet another instance of Christians being made to look bad by one of their own.

Keep your head up. Watch. Hearts and minds take time to change and if we’re looking to escape the world at large without attuning our minds to the frequency of Heaven, we’d feel out of place even if we were raptured in an instant. The answer is: what would God have you do right now? And now? And now? Revelation (19:7) says that “His wife has made herself ready”. This is how. Live with God in the moment and that “moment” will be here before we know it.

One more thing! This is my hundredth post. It couldn’t have happened if I wasn’t here to write it. Thank you so much for reading! More to come…

The Synonymity of the Miraculous and the Mundane

It is a truth universally acknowledged–that fact is stranger (and more wondrous) than fiction.

More than serendipity, more than coincidence or happenstance, a miracle is something that is not only beneficial, but also–depending on whether or not you believe in God–impossible. I’ll explain. A Christian “miracle” is defined as a supernatural agency (God, the Holy Spirit, angels) working on the behalf of the recipient to produce a result or results that are intended to bless or better said recipient.

(Before I go any further, I would say that a lot of what we do and how we interact with others determines the quantity and quality of the miracles in our life.)

Back to defining miracles. (I’m going to call it a miracle for the sake of argument) A broader definition—whether one believes in God or not—says that miracles happen all the time. The question “why is there something rather than nothing?” (a rhetorical one?) is answered by appealing to the miraculous. As life is not inherently malefic, or miserable*, and it has more good than bad, the defining qualifier of inherent goodness means that life is a miracle. Do you follow my logic? Do you agree? Whether you take things at face value or not, the fact that there is something rather than nothing, and so many of those “somethings” (fresh blueberries, brown corduroy, the smell of honeysuckle, to name three) are so wonderful—that’s the Latin root of ‘miracle’ by the way, wonder—makes life a miraculous and joyous thing to experience. And I would rather exist than not. Any beautiful thing that we experience, in order for it to have happened at all—from time immemorial, to the moment of experience—is a miracle. Think about it. And thank God for it, if you feel so inclined.

What do you do when you encounter people or events or gifts that are beautiful and unexpected? Does something resembling gratitude well up inside of you? If so, direct it to God. If you can’t believe in God or if you don’t think that He’d be responsible for the small graces that make life wonderful, then be sure to thank the people involved. And if gratitude finds no purchase in you at all, what’s wrong?

Our vernacular overuses the word miracle. Or does it? Things like healing and deliverance and visions certainly fall under the miracle category, but so too, do things like desperately-needed job offers, unexpected checks in the mail, a break in the fever or a call from an estranged family member. The point is, we use the word “miracle” all the time but seldom do we realize just how right that label is. The things that God does for us are impossible to overestimate in value. And gratitude is certainly due Him and those (if any) He chooses to use.

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” -Albert Einstein

*Misery is transitory. Beauty is forever.

Etiologies

Where do we begin?

Some etiologies are more important than others. That’s what it is by the way. The understanding of beginnings. An etiology is how something gets it’s start.

Next time you sit down to breakfast, take a single cornflake or oat kernel from your cereal bowl. And if you don’t like either of those, or you’re having lunch, use any food at hand. Now consider all of the steps taken to get it from the farm—to your tummy. So many people, interconnected, worked together to bring you your breakfast. The farmer. The hired hands. The produce company that shipped the food to the warehouse. The shipping company that brought the food from there to the supermarket. The person who stocked the shelf from which you picked it up. The cashier who rang you up. All of these people have families. Concerns, needs, issues and problems. They also have feelings, hopes and dreams. I don’t mean to sound too saccharine here and lose sight of practicality. Hundreds, maybe thousands of people were involved in getting that bowl of cereal to you. On time. Think about them, pray for them. God knows and loves each and every one.

Now let’s explore a little deeper: Can you explain to me in any sort of detail why you think the way you do? Do you recall the instances and events in your life that led you to become the person you are today with the opinions and viewpoints that are integral to your worldview and philosophy? Are you on autopilot? I’m talking about the things that may not be at the forefront of your mind all the time but are what cause you to interact with the world at large in the manner you normally do. Are you generally optimistic? Are you sarcastic or sardonic? Are you cynical or merely pessimistic? (I hope neither) I suppose what I’m asking is for everyone to perform a little self-psychoanalysis. Dispassionately if at all possible. Take a step back from your own mind and feelings. Not so far that you become schizophrenic, mind you. And don’t self-medicate. That’s dangerous as well. What I would suggest, as a Christian, is to take a look at the topic of the mind through the lens of God’s word. One question you might have is whether or not the mind is epiphenomenal (in this case, secondary or unrelated) to the brain. If you can show the tiniest glimmer of belief that God is real and He loves you, then take Him at His word and consider what He has to say regarding the mind. I believe consciousness is more than a byproduct of the brain. I suppose that’s a debate for another time, though.

And I am not above dispassionate inquiry.

Firstly, upon receiving Jesus as our Savior, the real work of “renewing our mind” (Romans 12:2) comes in to play. This is what I’m getting at. Proverbs 16:3 says: “Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established.” This is a good cure for depression—I know. Clear thinking is the product of an uncluttered mind. And if you’re having trouble lining out your thoughts, then maybe some decluttering is in order? After my parents’ divorce and the disintegration of my family, my mind was so full that I had no choice but to write for a living. Not for a paycheck, mind you. For survival. A verse from Isaiah (26:3) follows the verse from Proverbs. It says that “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee: because he trusteth in Thee.” God’s peace is more than just the right balance of neurochemicals. His peace is centered in your spirit and is not affected by circumstances. It’s a great place to start. But where do we go from there?

I know this is a bold statement but, all of our thought patterns need to be partnered, in some way, with how God thinks. With love as a basis, our opinions and outlooks will naturally flow into a worldview that exemplifies the way that Jesus thought and acted—towards others, Himself and God. And not necessarily in that order.

First comes lust, then comes adultery (Ten Commandments Redux pt. 7)

The seventh commandment says “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 2:14).

If one needs God to tell them this, then their moral compass must be way off. So much goes into the act of breaking the vow of marriage (which, while I’m not familiar with the history of the custom, is something that all cultures do and have done, regardless of belief system, from time immemorial): deceit, betrayal, coveting, discontent, ingratitude. And lust.

And there you have it. All sins of the interior. As hatred is to murder (see 1 John 3:15), so is lust to adultery. This being said, we break God’s heart by turning, from Him, to lust after someone, long before we turn from our spouse to the “other person”. Jesus said as much. “Any man who looks upon a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). And this doesn’t just implicate men. Both sexes are guilty.

When a person lusts after something, they wrongfully believe that whatever they desire so strongly, will meet the need that, to their limited perception, is so vital and necessary for their happiness. The corollary is that, lust and adultery are unnecessary–when God says He’ll meet your needs (see Isaiah 26:3). Insert it here, whatever need you have. The classic and oft-repeated story is that of David, who lusted after Bathsheba, spying on her as she bathed on her roof (see 2 Samuel 11:2). Wait. What? What was she doing taking a bath on the roof? And don’t tell me it was local custom. That may be the reason, but it doesn’t speak to the right-ness or wrong-ness of what she did. Of course, he did have an affair. The child from that union ended up dying (see 2 Samuel 12:18). The entirety of Psalm 51 is David’s prayer of confession and repentance to God. Something I’m sure both he and Bathsheba worked through.

I would say that both men and women are bombarded with lust, more so today than ever before in the history of humanity. Consequently, keeping one’s heart pure in the face of such effrontery has become more and more difficult. But it’s not impossible. Prior to marriage, one is free to serve and love God as he or she chooses. Marriage not only complicates things, but brings with it its own set of exclusive difficulties. So much so that Paul asks: “Art thou loosed from a wife? Seek not a wife” (1 Corinthians 7:27). And that he wished that everyone was single (and celibate) “even as I myself.” (1 Corinthians 7:7) He’s not condemning the act of marriage, he’s saying that it’s easier to serve God in a pragmatic and practical way before you meet the person He’s made for you. All the while, busying yourself with the work that He gives you to do, keeping your attention upon Him. Another huge component to this whole thing is the realization that God is greater—in strength (“my grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” 2 Corinthians 12:9), beauty (“and let the beauty of our God be upon us…” Psalm 90:17), compassion (“it is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed…” Lamentations 3:22), kindness (“Though the Lord be high, yet hath He respect unto the lowly…” Psalm 138:6), fulfillment (“But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19)–than any human being could (mis)represent themselves as.

God understands our needs. He doesn’t like to see us seeking their fulfillment in any other way than through the channels which he has provided–either through Himself spiritually, or the spouse with whom He’s gifted us.

In closing, I will say this. The dissolution of any marriage involves both spouses, and blame is to be leveled at both. Don’t break God’s heart over lust and don’t break your spouse’s heart either.

“Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled…” (Hebrews 13:4) Keep it that way.

May God help you.

Absolute Love > Absolute Knowledge—Omniscience

Omniscience is all-knowledge. John says that “God is greater than our heart and knows all things” (1 John 3:20, emphasis mine). God showed this to Job when He took him all over the world and revealed the details no one else could know (see Job 38-39). The devil may have showed Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world” (Matthew 4:8) during His time of temptation in the wilderness but his motive was to get Jesus to disobey His Father. And Jesus loves His Father too much to do that. All that knowledge, all that power and influence—while it was rightfully God’s—had been stolen and misappropriated by satan. The devil doesn’t have all knowledge. We see this as he couldn’t even tell that Job was vulnerable (Job 1:10). With Lucifer (satan), we have a perfect example of what Paul calls “ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). The knowledge that you are loved by God. That is truth. That is perfection. When we forget that God is love, we end up on a quest for knowledge when what we need is love. “To know the love of Christ which passes knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19).

That which caused the devil to go crazy with conquest—knowledge and power—humbled Job. And while Job came again to know the love of God, the worldwide influence that satan had was stripped when Jesus defeated him in death. And resurrection. When the devil tempted Jesus by revealing all the kingdoms of the world and offering them to Him in exchange for acquiescence and obeisance, it should be understood that, the devil couldn’t offer to give what he didn’t have.

Knowledge might be power. But without influence? What good is it?

The term “know-it-all” has always had a negative connotation. So what good is the acquisition of knowledge for its own sake? Colossians (2:3) says that “in Him (Jesus) are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” It goes on to say, in sewing up such a bold statement, that “we are complete in Him who is the head of all principality and power”. Those two things principality and power are what (along with satan, himself) Jesus encountered when the devil tempted Him in the desert and then subsequently conquered when He died and rose again. Jesus said that the hairs on our head were numbered (Matthew 10:30). So are the stars (see Psalm 147:4). But what is that without love? Paul says in Corinthians that even if he had “all knowledge”, bereft of love, he was “nothing”. (1 Corinthians 13:2)

So how does this relate to God’s omniscience? I am reminded of a quote from J. I. Packer, who said, very simply that, “God is omniscient, but I am responsible”. This means that God isn’t obligated to reveal Himself and the depth of what He knows if we aren’t humble and love Him in return. He doesn’t stay where He’s not wanted. Does this exonerate God from culpability regarding world disasters and tragedies when they could have been prevented by someone who was omniscient? And omnipotent? Yes. Because God tries to prevent things, by urging His people to pray: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). A heavy responsibility to be sure, but one without any negative consequences. Many Christians will point to this sin and that sin and the ensuing disasters and tragedies as the logical outcome of such actions. I would have to say that, while sin can and does have dire consequences, Christians who don’t realize and appropriate God’s help—through His omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence—certainly have their share in the blame for what goes on in the world. Please forgive us. This is why we need God and His love, in totality.

Deuteronomy 29:29 says that “the secret things belong unto the Lord our God”. It continues, but what it doesn’t say is that He won’t share those “secret things” with us. Have we ever asked God to show us what He knows? Or do we already know it all?