Isaiah 53: Paul’s Transition

If you have never had the pleasure of trying to “cut” cows on a true pure bred cutting horse…consider yourself lucky.

Most of the horses I have ridden were not bred, nor trained to cut cows.  They were ranch horses who would look at a cow but not really work one.  A true cutting horse will stop on a dime, shift its front end at break neck speed, with little warning.  If you aren’t prepared for such a maneuver, then you will soon find yourself performing different manuever that ends with you on your backside in the dirt.  But hey, I’ve never really been considered much of a horseman, so operator error is a valid explanation.  True cutting horses are quick, intelligent, intuitive, and powerful.  They will plant their back feet, roll their hips, and head another direction before the rider even cues them.  Paul does the exact same thing with Isaiah 53.  See, Paul uses Isaiah 53 as a turning point, as a transition.

The purpose of Paul’s letter to the Romans is found in Romans 1.16-17 where Paul writes:

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.  For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness from God is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.'”

Located in this verse is a comparison, a contrast, and a transition.  “First for the Jew, then for the Gentile” shows the two sides.  At this time it was argued as the two sides of salvation. The Jews were saved; the Gentiles were on the outside looking in.  That was until, Peter opened the door to the Gentiles in Acts 10.

Romans is about bringing both the Jew and Gentile to faith..but there was a problem.

What is needed is a transition in thinking.  In both of Paul’s quotations of Isaiah 53, in Romans 10.16 and 15.21, the verse begins with the word “but” (gk. alla).  “But” signals a change, a transition, in thought.  A simple look at Romans 10 illustrates this point:

  • Romans 10.1: “Brothers, my hearts desire and prayer to God for the Israelite’s is that they may be saved.”
  • Romans 10.12-13: “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile–the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all of who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
  • Romans 10.16: “But not all the Israelite’s accepted the good news…”
  • Romans 11.1: “Did God reject his people? By no means!” He then goes on about the remnant.
  • Romans 11.11: “…salvation has come to the Gentiles…”

The hinge of this entire section is verse 16 at the word “but” and Isaiah’s question: “Lord, who has believed our message?”  Isaiah and Paul both are asking where the belief lies.   Paul answers it in the “Gentiles”.  This is why he can claim in verse 13 of chapter 11: “I am talking to you Gentiles.  Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles…”

In Romans 15, instead of using “Jew” and “Gentile” as categories, he uses the terms “those who have heard” and “those who have not”.  Paul clearly states his mission as: “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.” (Rom. 15.20)  Then there is that word “rather” (gk. alla) elsewhere translated “but”.  Then he quotes Isaiah 52.15.   Thematically the end of chapter 52, starting at verse 13, gels with Isaiah 53.  For sheer ease, I refer to the whole prophecy as Isaiah 53.  In this case Paul quotes the last verse of Isaiah 52: “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.”  Paul uses Isaiah to transition thinking about who needs the Gospel.  For Paul the answer is clear…those who have not heard.  That is why Paul had not been able to come to this body of believers yet. (Romans 15.22)

Secondly, Paul Romans 10.16 as a transition of salvation.  Paul attunes his readers to the fact that the Gospel changes peoples lives.  Romans 10.9-10 makes it very clear:

“That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”

and then he adds: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (10.14)  Paul understands that hearing leads to belief, and belief to confession, and confession to salvation.

But not all Israel believed.  Then he quotes Isaiah 53: “Lord, who has believed our message?”  Isaiah was originally written in the hebrew language.  In around 270 B.C. the Old Testament was translated from hebrew into greek so that people could more easily read it.  This is called the Septuagint, or LXX for short.  Paul quotes the exact words of the LXX here.  He uses the common Greek word for belief (gk. Pisteuo) and equates it with “accepted” in the quotes introduction.  The greek word for “accepted” is intriguing. The word used here (gk. upakousan) is a word that means “to answer the door”.  It is used of Rhoda in Acts 12.3 when she “answered the door” after Peter knocked.  You get the picture here.  The Jews refused to let Jesus in…but the Gentiles were willing.  A transition in those who are saved.  But there is another transition that Paul uses Isaiah for in Romans 15.

Finally, Paul uses Isaiah 53 in Romans 15, to show his transition in ministry.  The first quotation was about salvation, this one is about evangelism.  The change in thought, led to a change in ministry.  If you are unfamiliar with Paul’s story the short version is this.  He was a persecutor of the church (Acts 8.1) but after an encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), Saul (his former name, more on this later) would spend a few years in the desert (Gal. 1.18), then 14 years preaching in Judea to the Jews (Gal. 2.1), and finally was called to preach to the Gentiles (Gal. 2.2,7-10).  He had a transition in ministry.  When Saul, a Hebrew name from his parents, took off on his first missionary journey, to plant churches among the Gentiles, in Acts 13.9, he took on a Greek name, Paul.  A transition in ministry.  He defends his ministry with this: “I have written you quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 15.15-16)

When Isaiah penned his words in Isaiah 53, 700 years before Paul, he was finishing his work.  The Servant whom this prophecy was about was the exclamation point to his entire work.  This was the figure that was the end, the goal of Isaiah’s words.  He would bring the people back from the exile.  He was the one that Isaiah waited and hoped for!.  But for Paul, Isaiah’s words were a transition.  Paul’s mission, his ministry, and understanding of salvation all hinge on Isaiah’s Prophecy in Isaiah 53.  Paul thought of Isaiah’s words as a new beginning in thought, salvation, ministry.  His words opened up the ministry to the Gentiles, it was a gateway for Gentile salvation, and a step towards a new understanding of people.  Paul makes it clear in Ephesians 2.4: “But, because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved.” For Paul, and in many ways us, Isaiah’s quotes can be seen as the first steps toward a great adventure, if we are able to understand, believe, and confess this “Suffering Servant” and his name is Jesus.  Our lives can turn on a dime; they can transition when we call on the name of Jesus.

Versatility: Isaiah 53

imageWe all have that one friend.

They can turn a hand at almost anything.  Leather work, no problem.   Roping, heels or horns, is not an issue for them.  They can diagnose a farm truck, weld a pen, train a horse, and if need be pen a poem.  They are the most interesting man in the world.  I have a few of these men in my life…and I’m jealous of them.  Lucas, Josh, Bandy, Thomas, Chuck, and the others, you guys know who you are.  Whatever your hands found you doing today, you undoubtedly accomplished more than I.

As Holy Week begins, I want to introduce you to a man who is every bit as versatile as those mentioned above.  He was a main part of whatever he was involved in; that is probably why he was invited to every party.  Like the afformentioned,  everyone wanted him around…especially when the worst happened.

Isaiah was one of the prophets of Judah.  His ministry and writings spanned a significant amount of events during some of the best and worst kings of Judah.  Then he died.  But the Words of his prophecy would be remembered and written again, long after his death.

The major players of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, and Peter) account for most of writings of the New Testament.  Every one of them in some way interacts with Isaiah’s recorded prophecy.

They all, lacking Peter, quote Isaiah 6 to some degree.  Isaiah, having been known as the “Messianic Prophet”, is littered through out the Gospel Narratives and the Pauline Epistles.  Every time Isaiah 6 is quoted, the situation is the same and the context similar: unbelief or non-understanding of the people.  This is not the case for Isaiah 53.

Isaiah 53 (really 52.15ff.) is used by all of them to explain the events that would happen in 33 a.d. that we will all celebrate and mourn this coming weekend.  When these guys went to the cross (the NT writers), they brought with them the words of Isaiah 53.  Arguably, and Psalm 22 is debatable , Isaiah 53 is the clearest picture of what took place on the day Jesus was crucified.  But each writer brings Isaiah’s words out in different was, to highlight their own arguments and illuminate their individual aspects of the cross.

The beauty of the gospel is that there is but one Gospel (the good news of Jesus coming to Earth to die for our sins and give us eternal life through his resurrection) yet there are many gospels (the individual stories of how Jesus came and what he does in us and through us).  Each NT writer lends their own aspects to the gospel narrative and each writer pulls from Isaiah 53 in a different way for a different purpose!  Paul asks a question; John makes a statement about God; Peter illuminates a doctrine.  Every one is unique.

This week I want to highlight this incredible passage of Scripture (Isaiah 53) through the lenses of the New Testament writers who bring him along to the cross in effort to put words to what they are witnessing.

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.

A Man after God’s Heart: His Sin

1403634417608“Where am I and how did I get here?”  These can be startling questions.

Sleep-walkers, Partying majors in college, and people who lack short term memory have all asked this question.  Sometimes, spiritually, this question can arise; especially when sin is involved.  David had to wonder about this question.  All his struggles are behind him, but now he faces depression and death…”how did I get here?” he wonders.  Well it was a journey that began at home.

Sin shows up where your aren’t supposed to be.  It was the spring time.  A time when “kings go off to war” (2 Samuel 11.1).  David had sent Joab out with the army, but David stayed in Jerusalem.  The recurring theme of David’s story has been this: he was a king before he was a King.  David had always acted like a King even before the title became his.  Saul on the other hand had the title but not the character.  When Goliath stood before the army of the Lord, it was David, not King Saul whose responsibility it was, who went out to fight.  David was a warrior.  His name was forged through the battles he fought, the wars he waged, and his life as a soldier.  But in this case, he skipped the battle.  He sat this one out.  Instead of wandering among the tents of his soldiers, he wandered around the roof of his palace.  The rooftops of the city spread out beneath him.  There he spied a woman bathing on one of the houses in the lower part of the city. (2)  Temptation presents itself.  Sin arrives when we aren’t where we are supposed to be.  David should have been at war, instead he is on is roof.  He is on the computer at 2 am instead of in bed.  He has multiple tabs open on his browser instead of just checking his e-mail.  He has driven across town to the gas station near the club, when he should have gone to Walmart down the street.  Sin always finds us when we aren’t where we are supposed to be.  God told Cain in Genesis 4: “sin is crouching at your door.”  Cain’s heart wasn’t in the right place, and soon they would head out to a field where he would kill his brother Abel.  Sin is ready and waiting to get us when we veer from where we should be.  David learned that lesson.

Sin thrives on curiosity.  After David saw her bathing, he had a choice: forget he saw her and go on…or explore the situation a little more.  David chose the latter.  He sent someone “to find out about her.” (3)  How different would Alice’s story be if she hadn’t followed the rabbit down the rabbit hole?  David went exploring.  Sin is a journey of curiosity.  That is how it began right?

  • “Did God really say…” (Gen 3.1)
  • “You will not surely die…” (Gen 4.5)
  • “Your eyes will opened…” (Gen 4.5)
  • “You will be like God knowing good and evil” (Gen 4.5)

Satan’s last argument, “don’t you want to know good and evil?” sealed it.   The Hebrew word, know, means “to fully experience”.  Satan says: “Eve, aren’t you a little bit curious about the good and evil that God is keeping from you?” The question was sealed with a little fruit.  Curiosity is what keeps the traffic continuous on porn sites.  Curiosity is what feeds affairs.  Curiosity is what promises excitement, freedom, and pleasure.  Curiosity is what made David search out Bathsheba.  Satan’s goal with Eve, with David, and with us, is to arise curiosity.  Doubt is at the root of this curiosity.  Can we really trust God’s word?  Does God really want the best for us?  Is God hiding something good from us?  We doubt the holiness of God, the truth of His Word, and the goodness of His character; so we are curious about what we are missing.  And sin becomes a reality.

Sin doesn’t stop itself.  It is a well known fact that sin always takes you farther than you ever wanted to go.  Anyone who has ever been caught up in sin can testify.  What began as something small escalates to full fledged addiction.  A quick glance turns into a lingering stare, a white lie into a full on story, a wish into idolatry.  David indulged his fleeting glance, entertained his curiosity, and went on a journey farther than he ever wanted to go.  He slept with Bathsheba  and she winds up pregnant. (2 Samuel 11.4)  After two attempts to get Uriah to appear to be the father of the baby in Bathsheba’s womb, David sends word to the front.  Uriah carries his own death sentence to the front lines.  Joab is told to pull back his troops, leaving Uriah alone, in the midst of the fighting (2 Sam. 11.16-17).  This is not the first time thins thinking and this plan was undertook.  If you remember, Saul wanted the Philistines to do his dirty work by killing David (1 Samuel 17.24).  A glance, fueled by curiosity, produced adultery, and ended with murder and death (2 Sam 12.19).  Isn’t that the story of sin?  It ultimately ends with death (Romans 5.12).  It takes us farther than we ever anticipated.  David learned this the hard way.
Sin is the universal diagnosis of humanity.  Everyone has felt the implications and the consequences.  Specifically, in this story, the sin was sexual immorality.  The more men I have spoken too, the more I have counsel, and, shamefully, the longer I live, the more I run into this story of David living out in my life and the men around me.  The struggle of pornography, unfaithfulness, and lust have become a pandemic among the American male.  I guess what David’s story is showing us is all the off ramps that we can take to avoid the destination of addiction.  Stop the glance by being where you are supposed to.  Starve the curiosity by filling your life with the truth.  Avoid the journey, by never taking the first step.  There are so many layers to this story, and this is just one.  Still, the message is resounding and the consequences deadly.

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.

A Man after God’s Heart: His Word

David always did things differently.  To fight Goliath, Saul tried to get him to wear his armor and take his sword.  David took a sling and stones.  To get the Kingdom, David was told to kill Saul, but twice spared his life.  He always liked to do things a little different.

So it is fitting that when David is seated on the throne, the ark is resting in Jerusalem, and the country is firmly in his hands, that he would do things differently.

Second Samuel 9 begins with a question: “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

It has been some time since David’s ascent to the throne.  The “war between the house of Saul and the house of David lasted a long time” (3.1) and has since ceased.  Things are going pretty good in the life of David.  Ish-Bosheth, the last of Saul’s line that was of age to usurp, had been killed some time back (4.6) and the throne was firmly in David’s hands.  Time for David to finally rule.

Still there was this unfinished business.  Like a pebble in a boot or a burr in the saddle, David had yet to accomplish this one thing.  He had yet to keep his word with Jonathan.

The covenant made with Jonathan in 1 Samuel 20 still stood.  A covenant relationship, by definition is eternal, but this one was also stipulated as “forever.”  There was no getting out of it.  A lot has happened since the two men made their pact of kindness (1 Samuel 20.14-16).  There had been nights sleeping in the darkness of caves, days spent on the run, times of hiding in enemy fortresses and times of madness.  Death, injury, hurt, and pain has plagued David since this covenant was made.  So is it that big of a deal?  Think of the pain that Jonathan’s family has caused David.  Now Jonathan is gone.  He is dead.  Deal off?  Not for a Man after God’s heart because he gave his word.

David wrote in Psalm 19:

“Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary?  Who may live on your holy hill?

He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman, who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the Lord, who keeps his oath even when it hurts, who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent.

He who does these things will never be shaken.

So much of this Psalm about a Godly man speaks of his words.  David knows the equation that Jesus voices in Matthew 12.34: “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”  Jesus spoke it as a rebuke of the Pharisees, but it’s true of all of us right?  Our words and heart are connected.  The man after God’s heart will be a man who keeps his word.

Exaggeration, deceit, lying, down-playing, and secrecy are the symptoms; pride, arrogance, image-control, and selfishness is the disease.  The reason David kept his word was because the cause wasn’t there.  David didn’t feel the need to manage his image like I do.  David didn’t crave approval like I do.  David didn’t watch the feed, check the ‘likes’, or bow at the altar of public opinion like I have been known to do.  David kept his word because the only one that it mattered too, God, mattered everything to him.

So David searched for a man of the house of Saul in order to keep his promise (2 Samuel 9.2-5)  Finally, Mephibosheth was found.

David’s officials couldn’t have been happy.  His own family probably was none to thrilled.  Leaving alive someone who had claim to the throne was not something that Kings did.  But as we have seen elsewhere, David was anything but a typical King.  No matter how long it took or how far he had to go, David was going to find a way to keep his word.

David showed kindness, mercy, and honor to Mephibosheth.  He restored to him all the land and a position at the Kings table (7).  He made him like one of the King’s sons (11) and he stayed in Jerusalem with the Royal family.  All of this happened because one man kept his word.

David wrote in Psalm 15 that a man “keeps his word even when it hurts.” (Ps. 15.4)  How often have I chosen a lie to avoid pain? a falsehood to avoid embarrassment? deceit to stave off shame?

I commit to things I cant accomplish because I am afraid of how I will be perceived if I say no?  My word is shot.  I lie because my worth needs to be shown in the stories I tell or the people I say I have met.  My word is shot.  Image is what drives words.

David didn’t have an image to protect, which is why keeping his word came so natural to him.  He didn’t have to make up accomplishments, didn’t have to exaggerate victories or skills.  He simply devoted himself to become God’s man for the job.  In doing so, the vulnerability that comes with keeping your word, was something he was comfortable with.  He knew who gave him his identity (2 Samuel 7.8) and in whom he found his strength (1 Samuel 30.6).  When the disease is taken care off the symptoms disappear.

 

 

 

 

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…

A Man After God’s Heart: Keep it Together

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“There is no one definition for a tough guy.  He’s not necessarily a guy for one thing.  And he doesn’t have to look physically tough, although it doesn’t hurt.  He doesn’t even have to have a mustache.  What he does consistently have is composure—an ability to react and handle any situation.” – Popular Mechanics, May 2016, pg 59.

Indiana Jones, Iron Man, Gus, Doc Holiday; they were all men who didn’t sweat and didn’t fade in the stretch.  They were calm, cool, and collected. Indiana Jones never even lost his hat.  In studying these characters, there was no situation too big, no challenge to great, and no enemy to intimidating for them to rise to the occasion with composure.

Composure is what allows the bullfighter to take pictures with a four year old before he puts his life on the line saving a cowboy.  Composure is what gives the bull rider at the NFR the ability to laugh behind the chutes seconds before putting his rope on and trust his ability on a million dollar ride. Composure is what allows the cowboy, through narrowed eyes, to stare into a thunderstorm on the horizon and kick his horse up to continue work. Composure is what keeps him driving headlong into a blizzard to find a calf.

Composure is great and makes tough men…and composure can deaden a man.

David was composed, but not always…and that made him a man after God’s heart.

He was composed in taking Jerusalem.  It wasn’t a massive complex, it had thick walls, and it was surrounded by valleys.  Both Judah and Benjamin had been charged by Joshua to take the city (Josh 15.63 and 18.28) and in 400 years they hadn’t accomplished it.  The security of the city wasn’t in question.  The Jebusites claimed “even the blind and the lame can ward off attackers.” (2 Sam 5.6)  A composed David, challenged his men and provided direction. (2 Sam 5.8)  Probably using Warren’s shaft, a tunnel leading from the spring into the walls, David’s men took the city.

He was composed in planning the city.  The Jebusite city was a small hilltop, but David turned it into God’s city.  He built up the terraces around the city providing a foundation to build a city worthy of bearing God’s name and housing God’s people.  He built walls, houses, a palace, and everything they needed.  David was leading his people to new and great heights and he did it all composed.

He was composed defeating the Philistines.  His former pseudo-countrymen, the Philistines, heard that David had taken the throne and they marched out to get him. (2 Sam 5.17)  Twice they met the forces of Israel in the Valley of Rephaim (2 Sam 5.18, 22) and twice David defeated them after inquiring of God.  The composure, the presence of mind to talk with God, was something that had been lacking in a King. (1 Chronicles 13.3)

David had it all together.  He was a tough guy.  Composed at all times; until he worships.  After bringing the Ark of God into Jerusalem, David said this to Michal describing the event:

“It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel–I will celebrate before the Lord.  I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.” (2 Samuel 6.21-22)

It would probably help to know what led up to this.  The Israelites hadn’t inquired of the Lord during the reign of Saul, through the Ark (1 Chron. 13.3), and they all thought it would be a good idea to get the ark into the City of David for protection, for illumination, and for wisdom.  Two men were guiding the cart that held the ark (2 Sam. 6.3-4; 1 Chron. 13.7) a clear violation of how the ark was supposed to be transported. (Num. 4.15)  When the oxen stumbled, Uzzah trying to keep the ark from falling, reached out his hand and steadied it.  The anger of the Lord burned against Uzzah for this irreverent act.  There Uzzah fell and died.  David was angry and afraid legitimately.  They stopped the procession and the ark rested in the house of Obed-Edom for three months. (2 Sam 6.6-11; 1 Chron. 13.1-14)

When the task of bringing the ark to Jerusalem was resumed, David wanted to do it right.  First Chronicles 15 shows the dedication to following the instructions of Moses.

David show’s his composure in how he prepares for this entrance.  David’s ritual, his kingship, his planning was so controlled, but his worship was so…not.

He is “dancing with all his might” (2 Sam 6.14); shouted and trumpeted (15).  He lept and danced (16).  This bothered his wife, Michal.  She, having a King for a father, knew exactly how kings should act and this was not how King’s acted.  King’s keep it all together.  Sound’s familiar.  Men keep it all together.  Never let emotion show.  Excitement (outside of an athletic achievement) is frowned upon.  Even raising a hand in worship makes my stomach turn.  Show what I am I to learn from David’s example?  Composure can kill a life of worship.  A man after God’s heart knows when to let it go.

David laughedm, alot.  The hebrew word translated in the NIV as “I will celebrate” in 1 Samuel 6.21, is translated other places “laughs” [hb. sachaq].  In this passage it is in the Piel stem, which intensifies the word.  Instead of a chuckle, it is a full belly laugh.  You laugh at a joke: “A neutrino walks into a bar and asks what it costs for a drink.  Bartender says ‘for you, no charge!’”  But you tear-up with laughter at a dad getting racked with a wiffle ball on America’s funniest home videos.See the difference?  David is “celebrating” and “laughing” uncontrollably.  So much of David’s worship up to this point has taken place surrounded by tragedy.  When things are falling apart, David turns to God.  From the valleys, David’s trials turn to worship..  Now on the mountain top, his laughter also turns to worship.  We laugh from joy, entertainment, and excitement.  The King is experiencing them all at one and it overflows in the form of celebration and laughter.  

David became undignified [hb. Qalal] as he worshiped.  This verb is used in the reflexive tense, called the niphal in hebrew.  It indicates that the subject it doing it themselves.  The hebrew word means to “think little” of something.  Ahab, the most evil King of Israel, “thought little” of the sins of Jeroboam, arguable the second most evil King of Israel. (1 Kings 16.31)  This word carries with it the idea of the ease of a task as well.  It was “easy” and “simple” for God to send rain during a drought or move a shadow on some steps (2 Kings 3.18; 20.10).  God is able, without much trouble, to do amazing things.  So in our passage, David is “making himself little” and  “thinking of himself simply”.  He is the King, with an army at his right hand, a people behind him, and a bright future ahead, but he makes himself simple.  That’s not what a King does.

David will be humiliated [hb. Saphal] in his own eyes.  Mostly this word is translated “lowly”.  Lowliness is praised in wisdom literature.  

  • Job 5:11: “The lowly he sets on high and those who mourn are lifted to safety.”
  • Psalm 138.6: “Though the Lord is on high, he looks upon the lowly.”
  • Proverbs 16.19: “Better to be lowly in spirit and among the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud.”
  • Proverbs 29.23: “A man’s pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor.”
  • Matthew 5.3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
  • Matthew 5.5: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

Surprised by the last two?  Jesus begins his Sermon on the mount with some wisdom literature and it is about the lowly. Paul said all his life is rubbish (Phil 3.7ff); John said “He must increase, I must decrease” (Jn 3.30); Jesus said “Glorify me so that I can return glory to you.” (Jn 17.1)  Here David declares that in his humiliation, he will worship.

These are not qualities of a man keeping it together: Uncontrollable laughter and celebration; humiliation, undignified dancing…or is it?

A man after God’s heart is a man capable of letting himself go, knowing that his strength, power, and identity come from God and God alone.  David was able to lose composure in worship because he knew where his strength and his power came.  God had given him all that he had, so he didn’t have to project an image, hold it all together, and conceal his heart.  David could lose composure because God never does.  God holds it all together, not David.  We can’t keep the mask of composure on forever, David knew when and to whom he could lose it too.