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The Wife of Noble Character (part 2)

She was whisked away as fast as she entered in chapter 12.  She was a blip on Solomon’s radar; but King Lemuel, he took some time to dwell on her.  The structure of the end of Proverbs is unique in its formation.  Two things make it stand out from the rest of the book.

First, it is a unit.  For much of Proverbs, aside from pieces here and there, the author makes statements that stand on their own.  The prologue to the book (1.1-9) and Wisdom’s Poem (8-9) being the obvious exemptions.  For much of the book it is stuff like you find in chapter 10.  Its a couple verses about obtaining wealth (10.2-5ish); the way to walk (6-9); thoughts on the tongue (10-14); then back to the wealth (15-16); verse 17 is an outlier; then back to the tongue (18-21); the wicked and the righteous (22-30); and finishes with the tongue again (31-32).  If you have ever tried to outline the book of James or even the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus, you would know the frustration of trying to put an outline to the book of Proverbs.  The themes bounce around, into and off of each other like particles at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.  But not in this chapter and not for King Lemuel.

Lemuel wants to dwell on this topic of the Woman of Noble Character.  It is shown in the number of verses she has devoted to her.  Twenty-one verses are devoted to describing her character, her worth, her activity.  I guess it depends on how you divide it up and how you categorize and group them, but there aren’t many topics that warrant the amount of ink as the wife of noble character.  Wisdom, Righteousness, Discipline, Money are on the short list that get more press than her.

Its not only the number of verses he devotes to her, it’s the way he arranges them.  The end of Proverbs 31 is an acrostic poem.  Each subsequent verse begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  He begins in verse 10 with the letter aleph: “‘isha-chayil“.  The translation is “a wife/woman of noble character”.  The use of ‘isha in scripture is a bit ambiguous.  Going back to a previous post of first text principle in Genesis 2.23-25.  The word is used 4 times in four verses; once in 22, 23, 24, and 25.  The first two times the NIV translates it as woman, and the last two wife.  To say that this only applies to a married woman, rendering ‘isha as wife, would, I think be hermeneutically arrogant.  I would feel safer applying this to all women.

The second word of that first verse chayil is an interesting word.  It is most commonly translated as “army” or “wealth”.  If you remember from the last post, the word for “helper” [‘ezer] has military implications. Those are the literal translations.  The meaning, the thought, behind the word is “strength”.  Kings are only as strong as their armies and their wealth.  Joel and Habakkuk knew the meaning of this word.  Habakkuk writes: “The Lord is my strength [chayil]…” (Hab. 3.19) and Joel adds: “The Lord thunders at the head of his armies [chayil]” (Joel 2.11).

Moving on the second verse (11) beings with batach…the hebrew letter bet, translated as “trust”.  The following verse begins with a gimel.  The hebrew word is “gemalathu” meaning “she will give”.  Hebrew (and greek for that matter) is not as confined to sentence structure as the English language is.  English sentences are usually constructed as “subject-verb”.  The components are generally determined by their location in the sentence.  Hebrew, on the other hand uses suffixes to words to denote their function in the sentence.  That being said, the order of the sentence is not nearly as important in the Hebrew.  King Lemuel utilizes this freedom.  He begins verse 10 with noun-adjective; verse 11 with verse-preposition-verb; verse 12 with a verb…and so on.

He continues throughout the Hebrew alphabet, all the way through too “tav”.  Twenty two letters (or 21 if you combine the letters sin and shin, which are used interchangeably as the Psalmist in 119 does as does King Lemuel) leading the verses about the woman/wife of noble character.  Psalm 119 is the perfect example of this.  Most NIV Bible’s even begin the sections with the Hebrew letter that will lead the sentence in the subsequent sections.

When’s the last time you composed a poem?  Haiku’s not included.  Have you ever tried to sit down and write one?  Forget a poem.   Just try a word.  On the left side of a piece of paper, write the alphabet vertically with one line per letter.  See if you can come up with something that starts with that letter using a theme.  Pick one: animal, college, chemical element, or food.  See how long it takes.

I wrote one about Taco Bell (An Ode to Taco Bell).  It took me a while during last summer.  To get the right words, in the correct order, to convey the meaning, to clarify thought, was a stressful and intellectually challenging endeavor…and it was about Taco Bell, something so insignificant.  Can you imagine, King Lemuel agonizing over the proper words to get his point across?  Can you picture, King Lemuel, being poured into by the Holy Spirit, and the words flowing from his pen as he describes the heroine of the story?

The woman of noble character was worth all of the effort.  All of the time spent describing her was worth spending.

Just like a Knight who has earned the scars from battle and now gets to bask in the affection of the Damsel, he would say: “it was worth the effort.”

Just like Jacob, who worked 7 years for Rachel’s hand in marriage but they only seemed like a few days because of his love for her. (Gen. 29.20)  Ask him if it was worth it?

King Lemuel would answer the affirmative.  Most certainly yes! She is worth it.  That is why he composes this poem to her honor.

 

 

 

 

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Citizens of the Kingdom

img-thing“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household…” (Philippians 2.19)

It sucks being the outsider.  When I was in 3rd grade, a buddy of mine invited me to this thing called Church Camp.

We drove down to the K-mart in North Topeka and purchased a $3 KJV Bible.   We didn’t own any Bibles and we figured one was just as good as any other.

The first thing we did every morning was raise the flags, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, recite the Christian Pledge, and the Bible Pledge.  I was good on the first one.  The other two were completely foreign.

During the day, we had devotions and teachings; but, the other kids Bibles had different words than mine.  Not totally different, but different enough.

That night it rained.  We were shuttled into the Chapel where we watched a pickle singing about a hairbrush.  No Lie!

I remember thinking that night: “If this is what Christianity is all about, count me out!”

I was the outsider.  In language, culture, thinking, and everything.  VeggieTales just revealed it.

Now its exactly opposite…trying to navigate the shop, the pens, or Walmart, there is a vernacular, culture, thinking, and language that I am unaccustomed too.

When a culture begins to feel home, you have left one and became a citizen of the other.

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but citizens…” Paul says.

They were called out of one culture, the culture of Ephesus, and into a new one.  They were learning a new way of living, a new vocab, a new thinking.  Ephesians is rich with all the basics and foundational teachings on this new culture.

Ephesians 1: “In him we have redemption through his blood…”

Ephesians 2: “Dead in transgressions…alive in Christ…saved by grace”

Ephesians 3: “…through the Church, the manifold wisdom of God is made known…”

Ephesians 4: People are equipped “…for works of service to build up the body”

Ephesians 5: “Be imitators of God…just as Christ gave himself…”

Ephesians 6: “Finally be strong in the Lord…”

The basics are a fantastic place to start!

 

 

When Cultures Collide: Committed to Scripture

(This is a summary of a chapter from a book I’m finishing up)

Culture is constantly in flux.  It changes by the second; an avalanche of ideas and information.  We are overtaken by changes every breath we take on this earth.

As mentioned before, Daniel is in a centerfuge of change.  His world is spinning around and he is trying to keep up.  Prayer has sustained him thus far and given him stability in his time of service in Babylon, but now a new ruler is in town.  Daniel 9 begins like this: “In the first year of Darius…in the first year of his reign…”. Daniel has a new boss.  This is right around the same time as the den of lions event where Daniel was/will be persecuted for his prayer life.

During this regime transition, Daniel is studying the Scriptures, specifically Jeremiah.  Seventy-five or so years prior to Daniel studying this passage, Jeremiah first delivered it.  Daniel, a man familiar with God’s words, attributes the passage not just to Jeremiah, but to the Lord as well.  The passage he was studying was from Jeremiah 25; a prophecy about the seventy years of captivity that the nation of Judah would endure because of their unfaithfulness and sin.

In the midst of his Bible study, Daniel is confronted with the same question we are when we open up the scriptures: “What now?”

What happens when we read and study Scripture?  What happens when we approach God’s Word seeking understanding?  What happens when we look to apply it in our lives?

Confession

When committed to reading God’s word, I realize how far short I fall of what God desires, has commanded, has loved.

“So I (Daniel) turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and position, in fasting, and in sack cloth and ashes.” (Dan. 9.4)

Daniel assumes a posture of mourning and begins to pray.  In this prayer, Daniel confesses:

  • “…we have sinned” (5, 8)
  • “…we have been wicked and rebelled” (5, 9)
  • “…we have turned away” (5)
  • “…we have not listened” (6)
  • “…we are covered in shame…because of our unfaithfulness” (7)
  • “…we have not obeyed” (10)
  • “…all Israel has transgressed your law and turned away.” (11)

Scripture acts as a mirror showing a reflection of the life before it.  Only when it is read and studied is sin revealed.  When sin is revealed, the only acceptable response is confession.  Daniel shows this in his transition to his next thought in the book when he says: “While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel…” (9.29)

Daniel’s reading of scripture led him to confession.

Worship

When reading and studying Scripture becomes a priority, worship ensues.  Notice how Daniel’s prayer begins: “Lord, the great and awesome God…” (Dan 6.4). There is no question about who He is addressing.

Daniel isn’t the only one who began his prayer in worship.  Jesus did it in Matthew 6: “Our Father in Heaven, hallowed (or holy) is your name…” (Matt 6.9)  Habakkuk begins his prayer in chapter 3: “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord.” (Hab. 3.2).

Daniel doesnt just stop there.  Sprinkled throughout the prayer are acclamations of God’s character, His activity, and His presence.  Isn’t that what worship is?  A person acknowledging who God is and honoring Him?

According to Daniel, based on his study of Scripture, God is, as attested to by his prayer, merciful (9, 18), righteous (7, 14), forgiving (9), and the one who brought them out of Egypt with his mighty hand (15).  Daniel voices his adoration and worship throughout this prayer and it all began with the study of Scripture.  As the Psalmist writes: “I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws.” (Psalm 119.7)

The connection between study and worship is as real today as it was for the Psalmist and Daniel.

Identity

A commitment to understanding scripture brings with it an reminder of the readers identity.  It’s easy to lose ourselves in the surrounding culture. (See chapter 2)  In the pace of life, amongst the media, the expectations, and the rituals of the world, the things that make believers unique can get left behind and forgotten.

Daniel has been in Babylon for a long time…and the people have been there a long time.  They wrote about this experience: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion…How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?  If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill.” (Psalm 137.1,4-5)

But they had forgotten.  Here they were God’s people, their temple destroyed, their walls crushed, their pride gone.  When they did return home to the land, when Ezra read the law to them in Nehemiah 8, it had to be translated because they had forgotten the Hebrew language.  The people of God, had forgotten the name they carried.

Daniel ends his prayer: “Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.” (19)

For Seventy years the identity, their name, had been last; but Daniel, in his study, remembered who they were as a people.

In this prayer three things are tied together: 1) who we are: confession; 2) who God is: worship; 3) what God has made us into: identity.

These themes, as a result of the study of Scripture occur elsewhere.  Two examplesstand out in Scripture.

Josiah, as an 18 year old King, gets handed the Book of the Law found in the Temple. (2 Kings 22.10) It is read to him and upon hearing, he immediately fears his clothes and confesses the sins of his people (10-13).  Then he reads it to the people and they celebrate Passover for the first time since the era of the Judges (21-23).  The central event of Hebrew history hadn’t been done in their memory. They worshipped and recovered their identity.

Nehemiah 8 tells of a time just years after Daniels prayer.  After the Jews had returned to the land, rebuilt the walls and resettled their towns, they assembled and Ezra the priest read the law to them.  The priests translated and explained to the people what it meant (8.2-3,8).  The people wept as they listened to the words being read (9-10).  Thy stopped weeping and celebrated God and His works that they now understood (12).  When they heard Ezra read about the festival of booths, they realized  that God had commanded them to live in shelters every year, just as they did when God had brought them out of Egypt (Lev. 23.37-40; Neh. 8.13-15).  A central tenant of the Jewish faith, it hadn’t been done for years, since “the time of Joshua” (17).

When a commitment to study and understanding of Scripture is made, revival happens.

 

Animal Farm: A Fair-ey Story

My rules for literature consumption:

1. No reading The Shinning before vacation.

2.  The Hunger Games should be read every year before school starts just to remind us how shaky the house of cards really is.

3.  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is read every Christmas. No exceptions.

After following these rules faithfully for the last couple years, in the wake of last nights Jackson Co. Fair visit, I have added a fourth literary rule:

4. Never read Animal Farm before going to a fair.

The basic plot of the Orwell classic is this: Farm animals feel exploited.  A rebellion, began by the old pig Major, is executed by Napoleon and Snowball, two pigs and his juniors.  The animals take over the farm, throwing off their human masters with the sheep chanting the mantra, “Four legs good, two legs bad.”  Snowball is the thoughtful and calculated leader, but Napoleon is the brash and charismatic leader.  He also has two advantages over Snowball as he grabs sole control over the Farm: 1) he has Squealer, a pig who is gifted at controlling, spinning, and disseminating information to the other animals; 2) he has the dogs.  When a litter of puppies is born, Napoleon puts them in the loft, cut off from the other animals, and put himself in charge of their education, turning them into his own henchmen posse.  Napoleon expelled snowball (labeling him a Traitor), works the animals to death, and controls all the decisions on Animal Farm.  He is a paranoid dictator, exploiting the labor of even the most loyal of animals, Buck the draft horse.  The novel ends with the animals realizing their new animal overlords, the pigs, are not an improvement over the humans.  Things are worse than ever.

Walking into the beige barn that rises up in the middle of the Jackson Co Fair grounds, I was ready to watch the steer weigh in.  Then I saw it.  Some pigs were being driven in the show pen.  Every other animal gets a halter and a lead rope…but not the pigs.  The are untethered.  Their handler, if you can really call them that since they are not attached, has a little stick to direct their pigs with taps on the side.  Some pigs are pretty tame…some are fairly insane.  Then I looked to the pens where they are being fed fine grain, lounging under fans, and getting baths.  Wilbur from Charlottes Web never hadn’t it so good.  That’s when I began to look at every pig in the barn with a healthy suspicion.

On the west end of the barn were the sheep.  The dim witted animals of the novel that represented the masses.  They blindly followed orders, never thinking for themselves.  I had no fear in the west end of the barn.  But the east end left me with an uneasy feeling, as though we were in.ching ever closer by the second to an uprising.  There was a plot a-ungulate-foot.  No wonder the Hebrews were forbidden pigs.

I felt like they knew that I had had bacon that morning.

Read the classics, but don’t do it during fair season.

Isaiah 53: Mark’s Added Verse

Erie Ks 2013In Sunday School classes across the country, there was a game that was played as I was growing up.  They called it “Sword drill” after the Hebrews 4 passage comparing God’s Word to a sword.  The game is quite simple.  The Bible is held on top of the students head until the teacher calls out a scripture.  Students slam their Bibles on the table and frantically search for the scripture that was called out.  The first to arrive at the passage and begin reading would get a point.  I have better and kinder Sunday School teachers than I was as a teacher.  My two favorite verses to call out to my students were: Acts 8.37 and Mark 15.28.  Most likely they are quoted in the footnotes of your Bible, but it is not often they are found in the actual text of your Bible.  They are called textual variants (more on that later) and scholars don’t really know what to do with them.  It brought me great joy to see the confusion on some of my kids faces…kinda mean right.  I always gave them doughnuts to make up for it.   

The quotation of Isaiah 53.12 is the textual variant, the added verse, of Mark 15.

Prior to Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in 1439, manuscripts, books, and correspondence was copied by hand.  It was an arduous, time-consuming, and precise.  Errors in copying, both intended and unintended, happened.  Sometimes, scribes hust heard things wrong.  At other times things were misspelled.  Think back to a time before word check and spell check.  Sometimes, the scribe felt background information was needed for the reader to understand (see John 5.4).  Or the scribe wanted to harmonize two passages (Luke 11.2-4 and Matthew 6.9-13).  It wasn’t an exact science nor is it an easy topic to study.  But what does this have to do with Mark 15.28.

It too is a textual variant that most scholars would argue was not in the original text of Mark.  Mark was the first gospel written.  It lacks the intricate structure that the other gospels possess.  It show signs of being written rather hastily.  It also doesn’t use OT prophecy in the same way, nor the volume of the other gospels.  Mark is like a 6th grader on Red Bull, bouncing around telling the story at a fast pace, hoping his readers can keep up!   One of his favorite words is euthus meaning “immediately”!  The oldest, most complete, and best preserved manuscripts, codices, and papyri, do not have this verse in them.  Some later families have the verse inserted.  It is doubtful that Mark wrote this verse.

So if Mark didn’t write it, who did?

This is not meant to weaken anyone’s faith in the Bible or the accuracy of Scripture.  To the contrary, I think it can strengthen it.  The Bible is more complex yet so simple.  It is a simple story of God loving the World, with a storied history.

The early church’s used to get letters and books from writers, make copies, and then send them on to the next one.  People would copy down reports and books for their own personal libraries.  They shared with one another, traded with one another, and compared libraries.  With the same veracity of a 9 year old with Pokemon cards, men of ancient renown collected volumes of documents.

There is no doubt in my mind that John Mark wrote the original gospel of Mark.  Ancient historians attest to it, the content seems to point to him, and I believe that he even wrote himself into the book (Mark 14.51-52).  But once Mark wrote down his gospel and made his own copies (however many there were); he sent them out to the Church’s as a testimony to the identity of Jesus.  And somewhere along the way, someone inserted this verse and it got copied over and over and over.  Many later copies of Mark have this verse.  It is in both manuscripts and papyri.  It is wide spread.    

So if it wasn’t original to Mark, and someone else inserted it after the fact, why worry about it here?  Why Easter?

First off, Isaiah 53 is finally put in the “right” place.  It’s a passage about the sacrifice of the servant in place of the people.  And every other place its been quoted, it wasn’t at the crucifixion!  Some early scribe, probably thinking about Luke 22, put this verse about “counted with the transgressors” at the cross.  Some early believer knew this was something that needed to be spelled out to the readers of Mark.

Secondly, it connects with the mission of Mark.  The main point Mark is trying to make is communicated in Mark 10.45: “For the son of Man came not be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  If that isn’t the thrust of Isaiah 53, I certainly don’t know what is.  If that isn’t the main thrust of the Crucifixion in Mark 15, I certainly don’t know what is.  Some early scribe connected the two and took away the doubt.

Finally, it says something about Isaiah 53.  All of the major New Testament authors drew from Isaiah 53 in vastly different ways and for many different purposes.  Mark, or should I say the scribes and copiers of Mark, used it in the most straight forward way possible.  Jesus hangs between 2 criminals…which is exactly what Isaiah said.  Could it possibly be that a scribe, who knew that they did not have apostolic authority or the direct access to an apostle, shouldn’t stray to far from what would be called direct application?  Just a thought.

The point is that Isaiah 53 has more than just crucifixion in mind as evidenced through the last week.  But when it comes down to it, the major application, the major point of Isaiah 53 is straight forward: a servant took on our sin.

“For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10.45)

 

Through the Bible in a Month

In rereading Scot McKnights book The Blue Parakeet, I am reminded of the storybook nature of the Bible.  Not a mythical story, or a fairy tale, but a narrative including characters, in depth story lines, a central plot, and revelation.  The story can be lost with too narrow of focus so, just like I will present to the Middle Schoolers at camp tomorrow morning, I have put together a reading plan to capture the whole story.

Reading Plan

Type One

image.jpegIt was three years ago that I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.  While I still don’t have it completely under control, I am getting better.  Type 1 is usually found in kids and teenagers, but no shocker to most of you, I matured a little bit later than most.  Yet I can’t imagine how a 4 or 5 year old kid can manage this disease, or their parents for that matter.

With the kick off of A1C camp at Gage park this week, I wanted to let you know about an opportunity for you to help many others who have this disease. Penny and I have signed up to raise money for JDRF, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and we hope to raise $500 at the rodeos and camps that we will be at during the months of June, July, and August.

We made leather steer-heads with the blue circle for Diabetes Awareness and with a donation to JDRF you can stick one of these guys on a gear bag, hang it from a purse, or attach it to a saddle and help fund research for juvenile diabetes.

Just a little update for you.

Phillippian Joy: The Gospel

11247808_593978151979_640348591101436360_nThere have been many places where joy found me.  Last year at Chariton Hills Rodeo Bible camp was one of them.  I watched from the top row of a sale barn/chapel, as two young men shared the gospel with some of their bullriding students.  I didn’t know what to call the feeling then, but I certainly do now.

It found me at the Burlington Pizza Hut.  Sitting around 3 large pizzas with a group of young rodeo athletes as our talk transitioned from a book to the gospel, it hit me.  I couldn’t put my finger on the feeling, but I can now.

It arrived at Hog Wild BBQ around my second helping of seasoned fries.  I was discussing the attributes of God with a young man when we got on the topic of grace.  Then the feeling struck me.  I couldn’t explain it at the time, but can definitively explain it now.  It wasn’t the heartburn from the two helpings of brisket, or the numerous seasoned fries…it was the same thing that made Paul sing in spite of his chains.  It was joy.

Paul found joy in the preaching of the gospel.  The communication of God’s love for humanity, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and his resurrection, and the reconciled relationship between us and God.  This is what brought Paul joy in Philippians 1.

The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.  And because of this I rejoice. (Philippians 1.18)

The backstory here is fairly simple. Paul, once again, is in chains.  While sitting in a jail cell, he passes the time by writing to some of the congregations that he began during his early travels.  He is writing this letter the the Phillippians.  They know about his checkered past because his first visit there resulted in his imprisonment (Acts 16).

As discussed prior, Paul’s circumstances didn’t dictate his demeanor.  He was joyful in every surrounding, even a prison cell.  But while he is in prison, some have begun to preach the gospel for profit and fame.  They are doing it for selfish reasons, for rivalry and competition (1.15).  Yet, Paul’s attitude about it is not what we would expect.  He takes the same approach as he does toward everything else.  It doesn’t get to Paul because the outcome, regardless of motive, is the preaching of the gospel.  Christ is preached…I rejoice (1.18)

The gospel, the good news of salvation, has always carried with it joy.  Luke 15, “the lost chapter”, there are three parties.  When the shepherd finds his sheep he says “rejoice with me, I have found my lost sheep.” (Luke 15.6)  When the woman finds her coin she says: “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.” (15.9)  When the prodigal son returned his father said: “Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; was lost and is found.” (15.24)

When the gospel is preached, when it is experienced, when it is lived, joy is the natural by product.  Luke communicated the connection in his “lost chapter”.  He was, after all, a traveling companion of Paul.  I wonder where he picked this up at?  It was modeled and lived by Paul.

Paul saw the connection between the gospel and joy and wanted the Phillipians to catch it as well.

When you are down on joy, search out the place where the gospel is being preached.  Surround yourself with those on the front lines of evangelism.  Write a missionary, volunteer with a youth group, join the welcoming committee.  Do something to place yourself in a place where the gospel is being lived out and taught to those without it and there you, like Paul, will find joy.

Philippian Joy

photo

One of my partners in ministry

As I sat down to study over the last few weeks one thought has raced through my mind: during this time of transition, what type of man do I want to be.  It’s not a question of what I want to do or accomplish, but who I am becoming.  After a few weeks of studying, listening, and absorbing, I have found that I want to be a giving man, a praying man, and a joyful man.  The first two are fairly easily remedied.  I should pray more and give more, but how does one become joyful?  Quoting John Ortberg: “I am joy impaired!”  So I asked the question: What gave Paul joy?

Paul’s letter to the Philippians is packed with joy, but the circumstances of the letter was not.  Paul is in prison for preaching the Gospel.  To pass the time, he picks up a pen and writes to a body of believers that understands what persecution looks and feels like.  In spite of his current condition, joy flows from his pen.  It was these very people who saw Paul and Silas beaten and thrown in prison on their first visit to Philippi.   They were also the people who heard that at midnight their songs and prayers filled the prison (Acts 16.25).  What gives a man joy that allows him to sing while in chains?  Philippians 1 gives us a glimpse.

It’s the joy of partnering with others.  Joy can be found in the people sharing the fox hole.  “I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayer for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel…” (Phil 1.3-4)  The Philippian Church was a vital partner in the ministry of Paul.  So much so that he would take a rabbit trail in a letter to another church, the Church at Corinth, to brag on the Macedonian churches.  

“And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.  Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.  For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.  Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in the service to the saints.” (2 Cor. 8.1-4)  

The ones who are doing ministry alongside him, gives him the joy to sing.  This week I was brought joy by:

  • Watching a soccer coach pour into her athletes, so much so that they call her their ‘soccer mom’.  The love of Jesus is being shown through her life.
  • Riding with a horse trainer talking about the opportunities he has been given this summer for clinics and competitions where he will have contact with more lost people than most people do in a lifetime.
  • Eating Mexican food with a good buddy talking about his future fatherhood
  • Talking to the youth ministry students at Ozark
  • Bringing my buddy, Penny-Dog to school and watching her love the kids…she is my partner in ministry.

The joy of partnership can fade circumstances and situations into the background.  The joy that is found in partnering to advance the gospel cuts through the dark, rises above the fog, and brings clarity and freedom.  Paul tells Timothy, in 2 Timothy 1.4, “I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy”.  Partnerships are what made Paul sing.

It’s the joy of grace.  Paul continues his letter: “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.” (1.7)  The greek word for joy, chara, is very similar to the greek word for grace, charis.  Over half the times the word ‘grace’ is used in the New Testament, it is by Paul in his letters.  It is a concept Paul cant communicate enough of.  These words also form the root of one of the words translated in Scripture as ‘forgive’, charizomai.  The point is that joy is not to be separated from grace and forgiveness.  Paul sings because of the grace he has been shown by God.  The gift of grace, extended to the chief of sinners, is a reason to sing.  Paul tells Timothy:

“The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of who I am the worst.  But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as a an example for those would believe on him and receive eternal life.  Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever…Amen.” (1 Timothy 1.14-17)  

He ends that passage with doxology, a song.  Song flows out of the grace that he himself has been shown.  When is the last time your heart was moved to song because of a gift?  Scripture, song, and prayer have been composed in some dark places: Job’s trials, David’s retreat, Jeremiah’s tears, Jesus’ night of agony.  But song and prayer overflows in times of refuge and peace as well…”Shout for joy to the Lord all the Earth” (Ps. 100); “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” (Ps. 150).  Now Paul finds himself in the midst of both.  He is in chains but his heart is in joy.   He is drowning in persecution, but his heart is overflowing with joy.  The joy of being shown grace.

It’s the joy of being rooted in God.  Just like Nehemiah and David before him, Paul knew the source.  “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8.10)  and “…David found strength in the Lord his God.” (1 Sam. 30.6)  “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ,filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God.” (Phil 1.9-11)  Joy only comes through a relationship founded in Jesus Christ.  One of the byproducts of the Spirit, the fruits as Paul puts it in Galatians 5, is joy.  Paul’s joy is a direct result of his daily connection with God.  His joy comes through his relationship with Jesus Christ.  And he prays that the Philippian joy comes in the same way, from the same source, through the same work of Jesus.  

Joy is found despite what we are covered in, surrounded by, or in the midst of.  Paul had more things go wrong than most, still he was known by his joy.  What makes a man sing in prison, amid shipwrecks and beatings, abandonment and persecution, in a word: joy.

A Man after God’s Heart: Taken

2014-07-12 016 N Top RodeoForgetfulness is the hardest part of learning.  I have learned where power comes originates…but I forget often.

David’s story is really told in two parts and it all centers around a man named Nathan. Nathan the prophet arrives on the scene in 2 Samuel 7, stays until 2 Samuel 12, during which he puts a kink in all of David’s plans. The problem in a nutshell was power; Nathan pointed that out.  It was his words, given by God to David through him, that tells Davids story best: “I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel” (2 Samuel 7.8).  The power the was given David from God, was lost after he gained the throne because David forgot from where it had come.

The beginning of David’s story is well documented. David, the youngest of a group of brothers is anointed by Samuel to be the next King of Israel (1 Samuel 16.7). The problems in, no particular order, were these: 1) there was already a king (King Saul); 2) He wouldn’t have even been the first pick of his family (that was usually the oldest); 3) He wasn’t that spectacular (contrast him with Saul in 1 Samuel 9.2 and 11.24).

The thing that made David stand out is recorded from the mouth of God in 1 Samuel 16.7: “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Throughout David’s ascent to the throne, there were times that other’s tried to change who David was. “David you have too look like this to have power”; “David, you must do this to be powerful” and so on.

Before fighting Goliath, what did Saul have him do? “Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.” (1 Samuel 17.38) Saul was saying: “David, you have to be like me to go do this.” Do it this way and gain power! But it was the heart after God in David that was powerful enough to face Goliath, not the power of armor and the sword of the King.

In 1 Samuel 24, Saul has been pursuing David for some time. Saul knows that killing David will give him the undivided loyalty of the people and cement the throne for him for some time. He got sidetracked with a Philistine invasion as he was closing in on David the first time (1 Samuel 23.26-29). After subduing the invaders, Saul has resumed the chase. But like anyone on a long journey, nature calls sometimes. The King went into the very cave where David and his men were hiding to take a potty break. David’s men saw the fortune in this and said: “This is the day the Lord spoke of when he said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands for you to do as you wish.” (1 Sam 24.4). What do you think the men of David expected? “David, kill him and end our hiding!” “David, finish him and you can be King!” Do it this way…and get power!

Later on David would have the chance once again to get Saul. He and his army were camped alongside the road. David took one of his three closest men, Abaishai (2 Sam. 23.18ff.) down to the camp at night. They saw that Saul had fallen asleep with his spear next to him. Abaishai turns to David and says what we are all thinking: “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands. Now let me pin him to the ground with one thrust of my spear; I wont have to strike him twice!” (1 Samuel 26.8) Translation: “David, this is how you do it!”, “David, get your throne by killing him!”. Do it this way…and get the power!

Of course David refused all three things, the armor of Saul, the murder in the cave, and the spear by Saul. His idol and hero, his men, and one of his closest friends, all had the wrong way to power. And David withstood all of them. David’s heart towards God was all the power he needed to journey to the throne.

But something strange happens in 2 Samuel 10. David takes Bathsheba, sleeps with her, and then kills her husband. David has the power of the throne and uses it. No longer is his connection with God the source of his power, but the throne. Nathan is the one who calls him on it.

David not only took what he wanted (Bathsheba) and tried to cover it up (death of Uriah), he sought power with the men in his command. In 2 Samuel 24, David counts the men in his army. In short the message was this: “the power is found in who has the biggest army!” David heard the message! Shortly after he had done this, you feel the pain in David’s spirit.

“David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the Lord, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, O Lord, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.” (2 Samuel 24.10)

David’s life is a story of two halves. The first half, was one of power gained by faithfully following God. The second half, was one of power lost, by trying to gain it by himself. Jesus says: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” (John 12.23-26)

He says in Mark 8: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (34-35)

The message of the Gospel is this: We live by dying and power only comes by submission. He is most powerful who has no power left to defend. Jesus taught that we live by dying to ourselves. When the glory of God is all that we care about, there is so much that we can look past. David’s power came from his relationship with God, not from what the world said.

David’s heart was powerful because it was in submission to God. When his mentor, the world, and his friend was telling him that power was to be found in a certain way…his heart after God told him differently. He followed God instead of their teaching. Jesus teaches that power comes from himself, not from the places we often look. We look towards things, idols, relationships, and abilities, but the Gospel shows that power comes only when we give it up to God! Go figure…