Monthly Archives: June 2012

Lectionary Thoughts – July 1, 2012 2 Samuel 1:1-27

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27

"David and Jonathan," by Rembrandt. ...

“David and Jonathan,” by Rembrandt. Jonathan is the figure in the turban. Hermitage News (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1 After the death of Saul, David returned from defeating the Amalekites and stayed in Ziklag two days.

17 David took up this lament concerning Saul and his son Jonathan18 and ordered that the men of Judah be taught this lament of the bow (it is written in the Book of Jashar):  19 “Your glory, O Israel, lies slain on your heights.     How the mighty have fallen!  20 “Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines be glad, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice.  21 “O mountains of Gilboa, may you have neither dew nor rain, nor fields that yield offerings of grain.  For there the shield of the mighty was defiled, the shield of Saul—no longer rubbed with oil.  22 From the blood of the slain, from the flesh of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan did not turn back, the sword of Saul did not return unsatisfied.  23 “Saul and Jonathan—in life they were loved and gracious, and in death they were not parted. They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.  24 “O daughters of Israel, weep for Saul, who clothed you in scarlet and finery, who adorned your garments with ornaments of gold.  25 “How the mighty have fallen in battle!  Jonathan lies slain on your heights.  26 I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me.  Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.  27 “How the mighty have fallen! The weapons of war have perished!”

David’s Lament over Saul by Chris Appleby  (with some slight editing – excellent thoughts on this passage)
2 Samuel 1:1-1:27

Saul was anointed King of Israel by popular acclaim, though at God’s direction. He was taller than all his peers, an apt warrior king. Just the sort of man Israel needed to oppose the Philistines. Except that he was also a flawed king. He forgot where his power as King came from. As a result God decided to turn the kingship over to David.

David wasn’t without fault but of all the kings of Israel, David stands out as the one King who throughout his life remained steadfast in his faith in the God of Israel. David is the model King, the one after whom Jesus Christ himself will be named, as the Son of David.

What’s so remarkable about David is that he maintains his faith in God throughout his life. David was chosen by God to bring his people to security and prosperity in the land God had promised to Abraham. This is the beginning of a dynasty that will start well and then fade away until God sends his own Son to bring his promises to completion.

In 2 Sam 1 David has been anointed some time before, but has had to wait 15 or 20 years for Saul to die before receiving the kingdom. As 1 Samuel finishes, Saul is defeated by the Philistines and dies on his own sword.

But there’s no sense of triumphalism in this story. This is a sad day in the history of Israel. Her first king is dead.

English: King David, second king of Israel

English: King David, second king of Israel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

David and his men were sent back by the Philistines from the battle with Saul and ended up in a battle of their own, attacking an Amalekite raiding party who had kidnapped their wives and children. Now they’ve returned, unaware of the outcome of the battle to the north. Then a man comes into their camp with news of the battle. He comes to tell David of Saul’s death.

We know what’s happened, but David doesn’t. We know that this man is a liar and con man. He’s torn his clothes and covered himself with dust to make his appearance seem authentic. He elaborates his story with all sort of details: where they were; the chariots and riders bearing down on them; Saul leaning on his spear on his last legs; his heroic action in dealing Saul the death blow and then taking the crown and arm band to bring to David. And it’s all made up! Clearly this Amalekite expects to receive a substantial reward from David.
No sooner has he told his story than he realizes his mistake. David doesn’t respond with the joy he expects. Instead he responds with grief. He takes his clothes and tears them as a sign of mourning. So do the soldiers standing around him. They begin weeping and mourning and it goes on until evening. The Amalekite is thoroughly confused.

What he’s failed to realize is that these men hold God’s choice as precious. This death that he’s reported is part of a great defeat for the people of Israel. And not only has Saul died but so has Jonathan, David’s great friend and companion.

Also, Saul is God’s anointed one. David is rightly described as a man after God’s own heart. For him, personal ambition was secondary. What mattered most was God’s right to choose, God’s right to dispose of his people as he saw fit. And when God anointed someone as King, only God had the right to take away that position.

So as the mourning subsides, he asks the man where he’s from. The man tells him that he’s the son of a resident alien, an Amalekite. The fact that he’s an Amalekite isn’t the issue here, despite the fact that David’s just come back from fighting an Amalekite raiding party. It’s that he’s a resident of Israel. That means that he would have been aware of the significance to the Israelites of Saul as God’s anointed king. He should have understood David’s attitude to Saul as God’s anointed one.

But he isn’t a theologian, he’s an opportunist. He’s thinking on a secular political level. He thinks he can manipulate David to his own advantage.

Galego: Gustave Doré. A morte de Agag

Galego: Gustave Doré. A morte de Agag (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the OT history of Israel there are 2 other Amalekites who come to prominence. One is Agag found in 1 Samuel 15 and who in the end was put to death by Samuel. The other is Haman, who appears in the book of Esther. There he manipulates events to first become powerful in the court of King Xerxes of Persia and then he uses his power to arrange for the slaughter of all the Jews living there. In the end his opportunism is overcome and he suffers a similar fate to his other 2 countrymen.
Unfortunately for this man, he hasn’t given a thought to the theological reality in which he lives. But he soon realizes it as David rebukes him, then, as the new King of Israel, passes judgment on him. “Were you not afraid to lift your hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?” “Your blood be on your head; for your own mouth has testified against you, saying, ’I have killed the Lord’s anointed.’”

The sense of relief at Saul’s death that this man expected never happens. Instead the one who claims to have killed the Lord’s anointed is executed. Instead of the great victory celebration that he expected, we find David composing this great lament over Saul and Jonathan.

“How the mighty have fallen! The glory of Israel lies slain upon the mountain tops. Don’t speak of it, lest you give the Philistines cause to rejoice. Treat the news with the reverence it deserves.” You can imagine him today, saying ’turn off the cameras. Don’t put this on CNN. It’s too serious, too tragic to make a spectacle of.’

He enjoins nature to join him in his mourning, to withhold it’s bounty: dew, rain and harvest. Mt Gilboa, where Saul died was synonymous with fertility. But now it’s been defiled by the blood of Saul and Jonathan. So he calls on nature to honor the dead, to fast and mourn out of respect for those who have died.

He celebrates the valor of these two leaders of Israel. Here we see the dual images of war, of horror and of honor. Both must be remembered. In battle, there is heroism, devotion to duty, and love of country that leads to the sacrifice of so many. But the stark reality and horror of war is there also.

That’s what we find here. There’s the blood of the slain, the fat of the mighty, but there’s the expertly wielded bow, kept steady in the face of overwhelming odds, the courageous sword that keeps swinging until the end.

And there’s the camaraderie, the partnership of father and son, joined as inseparable allies in their battle for God’s people. Certainly Saul was David’s enemy at times, while Jonathan was his unswerving friend. But when they appeared together on the field of battle they were seen to be partners, working together, equal in their strength and battle skill. Combined they were a force to be reckoned with.

But now they’re gone. Israel has lost a king and so David calls for the community to mourn. Mourning is something that needs to be done with our community. That’s why we join together for funerals.  We need a community around us when we mourn the loss of a loved. The person who’s died needs a community to express the loss that their death has brought on the world and to acknowledge their contribution to the lives of others. And so David calls on the community to mourn together.
Finally David gives a heartfelt cry of lament over his closest friend. He says “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.”

Don’t let anyone tell you this is referring to homosexual love between David and Jonathan. The whole point of what he says here is that this isn’t the sort of sexual love that he might have with a woman and David had a few wives in his time, so he knew what he was talking about!

No, this is the sort of close intimate friendship between 2 men that you don’t her about much these days. Only I’m not sure our friendship are often at this level any more. More often they’re more of the nature of acquaintances or teammates or associates. C.S. Lewis wrote in his book, the Four Loves, “This love, [i.e. friendship love,] free from instinct, free from all duties but those which love has freely assumed, almost wholly free from jealousy, and free without qualification from the need to be needed, is eminently spiritual. It is the sort of love one can imagine between angels” (p91) David and Jonathan shared a bond of friendship so close it couldn’t be broken, except by death.

And so he repeats this refrain. “How the mighty have fallen!” It’s a refrain that sums up the sense of loss and waste, coupled with the recognition of their achievements as warriors. It begins and ends the lament. It’s repeated as Jonathan is remembered. “How the mighty have fallen!” It’s a lament in fact of the human condition. All fall in the end, no matter how great they are.

Before we leave this lament for Saul, notice the significance of this form of public mourning. First notice what a beautiful thing it is. There’s something about the human mind, the human spirit, that needs beauty even in the depths of sadness. The beauty of the poetic form that we find here, takes the sadness we’re feeling and transforms it from something ugly to something that we can begin to deal with. It’s an essentially personal form of expression, a way of entering into our experiences, not just watching them happen to us.

But Lament isn’t just a personal expression. It’s a communal, public expression. There’s no doubt that this expresses David’s personal pain, but it’s also intended as a public expression of the loss of the community. That’s why he instructs that this “Song of the Bow” be taught to the people of Judah. He wants the whole nation to be able to express their sadness. He wants the people to acknowledge what’s been lost in this battle. It isn’t just a strategic loss of territory. It’s more personal, more spiritual, than that. They’ve lost the one that God anointed as their King.

David and Saul. Stained glass, Paris, 15th cen...

David and Saul. Stained glass, Paris, 15th century (some 13th century elements used again). From the Sainte-Chapelle of Paris, opening B (Kings). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As David is about to begin his reign, it’s significant that he sees with theological eyes the deeper principle at play here. The Lord’s anointed is dead. This is the cause of great sadness forIsrael. David’s reign can’t begin until the loss of Saul is acknowledged. And as he begins his reign he knows it’s not because of his own ability or wisdom or strategic skill. It’s because he too is the Lord’s anointed. The success he gains in establishing the kingdom will be the result of God’s intervention, God’s empowering. This is a lesson David had already learnt and it’s a lesson he taught to his people. Listen to the words of Ps 127, reputedly written by David’s son, Solomon: “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain.” David’s success will come from his devotion to and his reliance on the Lord, shown so clearly here in his response to the death of Saul. David is a King after God’s own heart, because he looks to God for success in all he does.

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More progress – doctor issues

An enlargeable map of the administrative divis...

An enlargeable map of the administrative divisions of the People’s Republic of China (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Korea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night we applied to two more schools as well as writing back to the University in China.  Progress continues.  This week, at my doctor’s appointment, we got a “health check letter” to send off to China as well as a promise for prescriptions for antibiotics and pain killers to take with us if we go to China.

I sent a letter to the University letting them know that we are gathering the documents.  I just got an email back from him thanking me and looking forward to receiving all the materials.

It’s looking more and more like we might actually move!!!  We pray daily for God’s guidance on this.

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James 1:2-3 Part 2 Pure Joy

Corcovado jesus

Corcovado jesus (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Continuing the study of this short passage.  Let’s look more about what this passage teaches about God because it is only if you get this part right that you can understand the rest of the passage.

Understanding this passage requires several beliefs about God.

First – God must exist.  If God doesn’t exist, this passage makes no sense.  Enjoy life to it’s fullest and die!  That’s  all there is.

Second, God must be active and involved with us.  This passage implies that God is actively doing something in our lives.  Romans 8:28, which many people quote but few understand states,  28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 

God WORKS in all things for the good OF THOSE WHO LOVE HIM, and for THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN CALLED according to his purpose.

So before we can begin counting trials as pure  joy, we need to ask ourselves 2 questions.  1)  Do I love God?  That is, do I love God by the Bible’s standards, not by my standards.  John 14:15, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”  If you are not even trying to be obedient to Christ, you don’t love him regardless of how much you pray or sing or worship.  Luke 6:46 – Jesus says, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not do what I say?”  Above all else, loving God is receiving the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for your salvation.

2) Am I called according to his purpose?  The first question is taken from a human viewpoint.  The second question is taken from the divine point of view.  Salvation is not simply a matter of what you decide.  Unless God acts, you will never respond.

Back to the passage from James.  Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds.  James writes this reminding his readers that 1) God is in charge and they belong to God through the death of His son, Jesus Christ.  And according to Romans 8:32, God is looking out for our best. 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

When I know that a loving, supremely wise, Father is sending me something, I have to assume that it is something good – if I can just look at it with the right vision.

There is a story about a little boy that was a great optimists.  His parents wanted him to calm down a bit so for Christmas, they only gave him one present: a box of horse manure.  However when we opened the box and saw the manure, he got up and started running around house, crying with great excitement, “I got a horse for Christmas!!!!!”

That is us – when we view trials as coming from the hand of our loving heavenly Father!

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James 1:2-3 (Part 1)

English: Ignatius of Antiochie

English: Ignatius of Antiochie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

This passage represents a real challenge for obedience.  Consider it pure joy.   While many people are prepared to endure trials, we are not prepared to consider it pure joy.  Some folks would look at this as a call to masochism.  Rejoice!  You’re in pain!  Count it pure joy.  One website commenting on this passage said he thought James must be doing drugs!

Since I don’t believe that God is calling us to take joy in physical suffering simply because it is physical suffering – this passage must mean something other than be crazy or a masochist.  Let’s examine it a little deeper.

The first thing to note here is what you are to consider pure joy.  He says you are to do this when you face “trials of many kinds.”  In the next verse, he links these trials to “the testing of your faith.”

This morning, I saw in our newspaper an article about a person I know who drove his van through a light pole and into a building.  This is not the first time for this kind of accident.  Is this what James is talking about?  I have heard people who are grossly obese and have developed health problems talk about the “cross they have to bear”.  Christians who overdraw their checking account sometimes want to talk about the trails they are going through.  Let me put it bluntly.  When you screw up, commit sin, abuse your body, etc. and bad things happen – this is not a testing of your faith that you are to consider pure joy!

Leaping off a building and claiming a broken leg is a testing of your faith is not spiritual – it’s stupid!

James is not talking about abstract suffering and trials here.  He links the trials to “the testing of your faith.”    Peter talks about the same subject in 1 Peter 1:6-7:  In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire —may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Peter is saying here that your faith is going to be refined through testing and this will result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus is revealed.  What these two apostles are telling us here is that there ARE situations which we may go through AS BELIEVERS, which are sent by our sovereign God.  These are sent for a purpose.

So as usual when dealing with a difficult question of Scripture, one of the key issues for this passage is our view of God.  This will be continued in part 2.

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James 1 – What about doubt?

James 1:6 “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt,”

Is doubt a sin?  Can you walk by faith and have no doubt?  Is James basically telling us we might as well give up because God is not going to give us anything?

“That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord.”  – That’s what James says.

I don’t believe that is is a case that all doubt is sin or that the reason all of our prayers aren’t answered is because we have doubt.

There are two different concepts of doubt that we need to clarify.  First – there is doubt that doubts all things – except it’s doubt.  It is unbelief, disbelief, rejection, denial, agnosticism, faithlessness.  Yes, this kind of doubt is definitely a problem when we are dealing with God.  It’s a defiance to God that says, “Regardless of what evidence you show me – it will never be enough!”

But there’s another kind of doubt that is not necessarily sinful.  It is uncertainty, lack of confidence, reservation, problematic, misgivings, skeptical, questioning,
wavering, or seeing things as indeterminate.

The New Testament uses several Greek words that are translated as “doubt” in English.

Diakrino:  This is basically uncertainty on what to believe.   It comes from uncertainty in knowing what to believe.  It is often shown in words like “How do you know?” or “Are you sure?”   1 Corinthians 14:29 NIV says, “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully ( Diakrino) what is said.”  Here Paul is teaching about judging the truth of the prophets and exposing any lies in a prophecy or teaching. This process of discerning was to protect the truth from being corrupted.

Distazo: which is found in James 1:6.   This is RE-considering whether or not something you’ve believed can or will occur.   It is a form of skepticism that is due to a lack of commitment to the choice you’ve already made.   This is giving up your conviction of faith based upon what you see or feel.

Apistea:  This is weakness of faith or a form of unbelief that shows a lack of a confidence in God to do what He has promised.  It requires repentance, not more evidence.  It is  a conscious choice to doubt.  We see it in Matthew 14:31 when Jesus reaches out to Peter, sinking in the water and said, “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”.

Apeitheia: This is being obstinate, rebellious, refusing to believe, or being apathetic.   When Jesus taught in his hometown, it says in Matthew 13:58, “And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.”  This is the hardest form of unbelief.  It is someone who has dug in their heels and refuses to believe even if he knows he is wrong.  This hardness of heart needs to be repented from in order to be right with God.

Not all “doubt” is sin – but some is.  When we think of “Doubting Thomas,” remember – Jesus didn’t condemn him for his doubt.  He offered himself as further proof.  Doubt can be proof of faith in some cases.  By questioning your own belief, you’re affirming the foundation of your own beliefs.

So can you doubt and still receive from God?  That’s where we started in James.  It all depends on what kind of doubt you are dealing with.  If you are committed to following God regardless of where the path leads and you’re just not sure where God is leading – then doubt (asking God for further direction) is not sin.  BUT – if you’re committed to going your own way – regardless of how God guides – then as James might put it today – “You’re screwed!”  You shouldn’t expect to receive anything or any help from God.  Good bye and good luck.

I’ll close with a quote from my favorite author, C.S. Lewis: “We’re not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”

Like most of my thinking and writing – this is not original.  It is a distilling of the thoughts from Daniel Slack:

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Letters of reference

Last night we asked a couple of friends to write letters of reference forus.  It seems a little strange. We are going to send these off to China so the people in China will know how great we are!  Of course, if we had friends who wrote bad tngs about us, we wouldn’t send them.

Does this seem a little odd to you?

We sent our friends some guide lines about what to write.  How they know us, what we are like and how great we are.

It makes me wonder: what do people think about us when they are not writing a letter of reference?

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At Last

I don’t know if this is where God wants us to go – but – we finally got a response from a university in China.  We will send the documents and reference letters and pray for God’s will.

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We just finished watching a mivie called “Courageous”. It is an excellent film that we rented at the Red Box in McDonnalds on Sunshine. This movie was recommended by the pastor of the Baptist church we attended this past Sunday. It concerns several men, all fathers, who realize the importance of their task and commit themselves before God and man to do what was necessary to be a good father.

I strongly recommend this movie with a warning. It is not a fun and games movie, it might make you choke up and if you are a guy, it will make you think strongly about what you are doing.

I am so thankful for my father, both earthly and heavenly. And I thank my heavenly Father for forgiving me of my sins through Christ.

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James 1:5-8

This passage raises a lot of interesting questions.

1) What kind of wisdom is James talking about?

2) Why would anyone ask for wisdom?

3) is it reasonable to say that you won’t get any wisdom from God if you have any doubts?

4) What kinds of doubts is James talking about?

5) If you have doubts, will you really not get ANYTHING from the Lord?

6) what is a double minded man?

7) How is he unstable in all his ways?

This passage clearly needs some explanation because it is ripe for misuse and misunsderstanding.  First, we need to look at the context.  This passage takes place after Acts 8:1.  ”…And on that day a great persecution began against the church inJerusalemand they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea andSamariaexcept the apostles.”

James writes this letter to the 12 tribes who are dispersed abroad.  At this time, the church is still almost exclusively Jewish.  Phillip has not gone toSamaria, the Ethopian unuch has not been baptized. Paul has not been converted. Peter has not preached to Cornelius.

But now, persecution has begun.

James has just been telling his readers his persecution, trial,  and troubles are good when he gets to this passage.

(originally published June 24, 2012)

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Life without preaching

Today marks 4 Sundays without preaching.  It feels strange.  The first Sunday, we visited in Kc.  It was women’s Sunday and there really wasn’t a sermon, just a slide show of a ladies trip toHawaii.  The 2nd Sunday, we were downtown.   This church had about 100 in attendance in a sanctuary that seats 700.  An interesting service, but they are not reaching the people who make up the square.  Last Sunday it was off to a satalite church.  The music was toooo contempary for my taste but the sermon was interesting. However in thiinking about it afterwards, there was really nothing distinctively Christian or even theistic about it.  Today, we are going to visit a Baptist church we used to attend.  Hopefully all I will have to say about it is good things. (originally published June 24, 2012)

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