Archive for March, 2018

1 Samuel 25:1a
The Death of Samuel

Can you imagine what the disciples of Jesus must have felt like today, the Saturday before Easter Sunday? They did not have the advantage of almost 2,000 years of hindsight and history that we have. We know now that Jesus bodily arose from the dead, on Easter Sunday. We know that now and if we try to impose our historical perspective on the situation, then, we miss something, I believe.

Even though Jesus had told the disciples that He would arise from the dead and even though they had seen Him perform multiple miracles (that defy scientific explanation) on multiple occasions over their 3-year ministry with Him, how many of them actually believed that He was going to rise from the dead. As a matter of fact, they saw his beaten and bloodied, almost beyond recognition, body (and most movies with the exception of The Passion of the Christ sanitize his crucifixion) nailed by the hands and through his feet (an excruciatingly painful thing to think of by itself when you think of how many nerves are in your hands and feet). Then raised up to hang on the crucifixion apparatus until he died. They saw all this on Friday.

The most lethal effect of crucifixion was that it was designed to interfere with a condemned prisoner’s ability to breathe. That process likely began before the crucifixion, when guards brutally beat the condemned with a flagrum, a short whip with sharp objects interwoven into its thongs. As medical examiner Frederick T. Zugibe noted in his book “The Crucifixion of Jesus: A Forensic Inquiry,” the repeated blows would cause broken ribs, lacerated and collapsed lungs, and damaged the muscles in the torso, which would make it difficult and painful to breathe. He then would be dragged to his feet and forced to carry part of the cross to his place of the place of execution, which weakened his body even more. According to the New Testament, Jesus and other unfortunates were attached with nails. It is thought that the feet were nailed vertically to the upright beam with the knees bent at around 45 degrees.

Otherwise, as the cross beam was put into place, the prisoner’s thigh muscles would eventually fail, so that he couldn’t support himself with his legs. That, in turn, transferred his body weight to his arms, pulling his shoulders from their sockets. He was left in a position in which his chest and rib cage were thrust forward. As the prisoner struggled to get air, the lack of oxygen in the blood would damage his body’s tissues and blood vessels. That, in turn, would allow fluid to diffuse out of the blood into the tissues, including the lungs and heart sac. The lungs would stiffen, and the pressure around the heart would make it more difficult to pump. The decreased oxygen also would damage the heart muscle, which could cause cardiac arrest. Either way, an agonizing death eventually would result. Sometimes, the executioners would speed the process by breaking the condemned’s legs, which would hasten suffocation. Whatever the combination of factors that come into play in causing one’s death on the cross, we sanitize it for motion pictures (with the exception of the one film we noted). It was a horrible and grotesque form on punishment that was as horrible to watch as it was to suffer through.

The disciples knew all about this. Why did He not save Himself? Was He just a man as the Jewish religious elite claimed? Could you imagine how desperately lonely they felt on this long day in between Jesus’ death and His resurrection? Their leader, the miracle worker, was dead and gone. They feared for their own safety as they were known to be cohorts of this Jesus guy! They had no leadership on this Saturday. They were afraid and in hiding. Could you imagine how they felt? Could you? They did not have the advantage of see forward into Easter Sunday Morning? They only knew what they saw. They saw or heard that Jesus died the ugliest of deaths. They saw or heard about His lifeless body being placed into the tomb and the stone rolled over the opening. To them, the great three year ride was done. All the things that Jesus had said and done were now all finished. To them, they had to eventually go back to their normal lives as fishermen, tax collectors, rebels with a cause, and so on. Back to life. Back to reality. The wonders of the past three years were finished and complete. It was like being part of the road crew of an exceedingly popular rock band and then the moment of fame passes and everybody goes back to their old life. Changed. But back to the old life.

Imagine how their felt. Rudderless. No direction. No leadership. They were scared. They were confused. They did not know Easter was coming the very next day. All they know is that it seemed that Jesus was defeated and the Jewish elite and Romans had won. The revolutionary idea that life was about a relationship with God and not going through the motions of religious ceremony was gone. It was back to the same ol-same ol’. How would you have felt had you been them on this Saturday? Without knowing what was about to happen? Would you have felt scared? Would you have felt lost and defeated to the point of desperate depression? How would you feel about yourself knowing that you and everyone of your brethren disciples deserted Jesus to save you own and their own skin. How would that be making you feel right now on this Saturday nearly 2,000 years ago?

That idea of the loss of spiritual leadership is what came to mind this morning as I read this simple one verse passage in 1 Samuel (1 Samuel 25:1a). Samuel died. It’s a very simple verse. However, the fact that Samuel died is important. He was the glue that held Israel together. He was the spiritual leader of Israel for a long time – even in the midst of Saul becoming more and more maniacal. Samuel was the calming influence on the nation. With him gone, what was Israel to do for spiritual leadership? Samuel was the best spiritual leader, High Priest, that the nation had seen since Joshua and Moses before him. I bet the nation of common Israelites felt lost with Samuel now gone. That got me to thinking about how the disciples must have felt on the Saturday in between the crucifixion and the resurrection. They must have felt spiritually lost and all alone in the absence of Jesus’ leadership. Let’s read this one verse passage:

Chapter 25
1aNow Samuel died, and all Israel gathered for his funeral. They buried him at his house in Ramah.

On this short passage/verse, we see that Saul was king, but Samuel had been the nation’s spiritual leader for an extended period of time. As a young boy and as an older man, Samuel was always careful to listen to the Lord. With Samuel gone, Israel would be without spiritual leadership until David became king.

That is the thing that strikes me here. Samuel may have died and the nation probably had to suffer for about two years before Saul died and David became king. However, the momentary darkness did not last forever. Help was on the way. David became king and spiritual leader of the nation. Israel became a blessed and highly favored nation during his reign. He unified the country. He expanded its influence in the world. Darkness was followed by the bright future.

The same thing happens for the disciples of Jesus. The Saturday was followed by Easter Sunday. Can you imagine the utter and complete joy they felt when they saw the Risen Lord. He was not some ghost but and actual bodily incarnation of a man. Could you imagine after the dark, dark horrid feelings of Saturday followed the inexplicable, indescribable, amazing joy of Easter Sunday. He was what He said He was. He proved it with the resurrection. Could you imagine how insanely pumped the disciples must have been after the depressive depths of Saturday? He is risen and they are about to embark on changing the world, literally! The world was changed by these guys who survived the darkness of Saturday and saw the wonder of Sunday. They went on to spread the gospel throughout the Roman Empire and into as far as India during their lifetimes. Subsequent followers whom they taught and generations after them have spread the gospel the world over. Why? Because the disciples saw the Risen Lord! They knew the utter depths of depression and failure that they felt during the dark Saturday only to be followed by the validation and joy of seeing Jesus Christ – proving that He was the Son of God.

That’s the story of us. We make a mess of our lives and find ourselves spiritually lost and feel the depths of our own failures and mistakes and we are just at our lowest point. Just as David was brought to Israel to deliver it out of its depths after the death of Samuel, God provides us a way out too. His name is Jesus Christ. His death on the cross pays the debt we owe God for our sins, a debt that we could never repay. But Jesus paid it all for us. In Him, we have resurrection just as He arose from the dead. There should be this amazing joy that you and I have as a result. We were sinners but Jesus paid it all for us. He saved us from eternity in hell. We have seen the Risen Lord! We are to be the joyous ones who are changing the world. We were dead but now we are alive in Jesus Christ. We are risen just as He is risen!

The desperate feeling of loss and failure on Saturday is followed by Resurrection Sunday. It changes everything. For the disciples 2,000 years ago. For you and me, 2,000 years later.

Amen and Amen.

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1 Samuel 24:1-22 (Part 2 of 2)
David Spares Saul’s Life

As my wife has returned to her native Charlotte, NC area home at the moment to begin preparations for her father’s funeral and wrapping up of his earthly affairs, it is time to reflect some on the past. One of the things that we have deal with at the moment are the traditions and the past of the Catholic Church. Elena’s mom and dad, due to their Hispanic roots (her dad was from Cuba and her mom from Venezuela), were Catholic (nominally so in the past 20 or so years but nonetheless Catholic by identification). In the Catholic church, there is apparently a tradition of the past that is carried forward today that you cannot have funerals during Holy Week. So, the earliest the funeral can be now is next week. With family situations of children and grandchildren, the funeral may not been until the end of next week. Traditions and the past are things we think about today.

When I reflect on the South that Raul Aizcorbe, Sr., his wife, his eldest son and the baby at that time, Elena found when they moved to Belmont, NC was quite different from the Belmont, NC of today. Elena and her brothers were all born in the United States. However, Raul, Jr., was born while Elena’s dad and mom still lived in Cuba. They emigrated to the United States in 1958 just at the beginning of the Castro revolution. They basically left Cuba with just a couple of suitcases and their oldest and then only child. The initially settled in Winter Park, FL where Elena was born in January 1961. A few years later though, they moved further north to Belmont, NC just outside of Charlotte in what was then a mill community (now it is one of the many old mill towns that are now just suburban communities of the urban sprawl that is metro Charlotte, NC).

The stories of the South of two or three generations ago and beyond (back in the day) is a South that is so different from the South I have come to know as a teenager and as an adult. Back in those days, it was different. Black and white waiting rooms at doctor’s offices. Black and white restrooms and water fountains in public places. Things were just different back then. Segregation was just there and nobody seemed to have the kahunas to change it. It was this unspoken thing that just hovered there. There were often no laws against blacks being allowed to do certain things or be certain places but it was just customs that everybody observed as if they were scared to break with the code, as if big brother was watching. Most Cubans are different from mainland Latin America in that many Cubans descend directly from Spain and look just as white as any white Southerner of Scotch-Irish descent. So on that count, the Aizcorbes were given a pass except their last name gave them away as “not being from around here!”

But being from a culture different from the Southern culture, Raul Aizcorbe, Sr. never had a segregated waiting room at his doctor’s office. He just didn’t understand or see the need for it. As a result, Dr. Aizcorbe ended being relegated to serving the poor whites and the blacks of the Belmont community in a time when a white man should not be doing such things. Because of the clientele he served, Raul Aizcorbe never got rich being a doctor. He would rather serve those who needed serving than stand with the practices of segregation in that day. He was one of those that did not follow the herd on segregation. He did not observe the customs because “that’s just what you do!” He questioned it and when he saw no valid, logical reason for it, he said my waiting room is going to be for all people. It does not sound like much now in 2018 as Raul Aizcorbe passes into eternity but it was a big deal back in the early 1960s. For all his faults and Raul Aizcorbe, Sr. had many (just like the rest of us), I am proud to say my father-in-law was a subtle champion against the unspoken rules, the pall that sat over the South, called segregation. He stood up (maybe naively) against the foolishness that was segregation in the only way he knew how – in how he ran his business.

That’s what I thought of this morning as I read of David standing against the tide of popular opinion of his own men. He had an eye to the future and an eye toward that which is right in God’s eyes. The combination of reading this passage and reflecting on the passing of my wife’s father yesterday morning made me think of his standing up for what you know is right even when its not popular. Let’s read the passage now:

 

Chapter 24

1After Saul returned from fighting the Philistines, he was told that David had gone into the wilderness of En-gedi. 2 So Saul chose 3,000 elite troops from all Israel and went to search for David and his men near the rocks of the wild goats.

3 At the place where the road passes some sheepfolds, Saul went into a cave to relieve himself. But as it happened, David and his men were hiding farther back in that very cave!

4 “Now’s your opportunity!” David’s men whispered to him. “Today the Lord is telling you, ‘I will certainly put your enemy into your power, to do with as you wish.’” So David crept forward and cut off a piece of the hem of Saul’s robe.

5 But then David’s conscience began bothering him because he had cut Saul’s robe. 6 He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this to my lord the king. I shouldn’t attack the Lord’s anointed one, for the Lord himself has chosen him.” 7 So David restrained his men and did not let them kill Saul.

After Saul had left the cave and gone on his way, 8 David came out and shouted after him, “My lord the king!” And when Saul looked around, David bowed low before him.

9 Then he shouted to Saul, “Why do you listen to the people who say I am trying to harm you? 10 This very day you can see with your own eyes it isn’t true. For the Lord placed you at my mercy back there in the cave. Some of my men told me to kill you, but I spared you. For I said, ‘I will never harm the king—he is the Lord’s anointed one.’ 11 Look, my father, at what I have in my hand. It is a piece of the hem of your robe! I cut it off, but I didn’t kill you. This proves that I am not trying to harm you and that I have not sinned against you, even though you have been hunting for me to kill me.

12 “May the Lord judge between us. Perhaps the Lord will punish you for what you are trying to do to me, but I will never harm you. 13 As that old proverb says, ‘From evil people come evil deeds.’ So you can be sure I will never harm you. 14 Who is the king of Israel trying to catch anyway? Should he spend his time chasing one who is as worthless as a dead dog or a single flea? 15 May the Lord therefore judge which of us is right and punish the guilty one. He is my advocate, and he will rescue me from your power!”

16 When David had finished speaking, Saul called back, “Is that really you, my son David?” Then he began to cry. 17 And he said to David, “You are a better man than I am, for you have repaid me good for evil. 18 Yes, you have been amazingly kind to me today, for when the Lord put me in a place where you could have killed me, you didn’t do it. 19 Who else would let his enemy get away when he had him in his power? May the Lord reward you well for the kindness you have shown me today. 20 And now I realize that you are surely going to be king, and that the kingdom of Israel will flourish under your rule. 21 Now swear to me by the Lord that when that happens you will not kill my family and destroy my line of descendants!”

22 So David promised this to Saul with an oath. Then Saul went home, but David and his men went back to their stronghold.

In this passage, we see that the means that we use to accomplish a goal are just as important as the goal we are trying to accomplish. David’s goal was to become king, so his men urged him to kill Saul when he had the chance. David’s refusal was not an example of cowardice but of courage – the courage to stand again the group and do what he knew to be right. Let us not compromise our moral standards by giving in to group pressure or taking the easy way out.

David stood against the tide of opinion of his own men and did the harder thing – spare the life of his enemy. Even though the revenge of it would have tasted so sweet, it would have been against God’s plan for Saul and David each but it would also have thrown Israel into an all-out civil war if he had assassinated the reigning king. David was a wise man and a godly man. He showed in this passage that he had the character to do what was right when it was called for.

Both David of biblical times and Raul Aizcorbe, Sr. of modern times were both imperfect men who made mistakes but both stood up against the tide of public opinion and did what was right in God’s eyes at critical times in their lives. David showed mercy to the reigning king. Raul Aizcorbe refused to buy into the lie of segregation in his medical practice over the years.

May we all be men and women of courage who stands up for what is right in God’s eyes. May we stand for what God stands for regardless of public opinion or public pressure.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 24:1-22 (Part 1)
David Spares Saul’s Life

Donald Trump. OK. Don’t stop reading.

This is not a political post. This post is not defending him or glorifying him. This post is to lead us to a discussion of mercy as demonstrated by our passage today, 1 Samuel 24:1-22.

Donald Trump. The mention of the name inspires emotions of the highest order on both sides of the political spectrum. He inspires emotion – more so than any president that I can remember.

I was not old enough to remember how much Johnson was despised. I do remember the backlash against Nixon. It was a different kind of dislike for him. He represented the establishment to many younger Americans and so he kind of set up a generational skewing between those who respected the old ways and those who were wanting to change the old ways. Ford and Carter were considered inept as presidents by most and the nation slipped into a period of self-doubt and a sense that our way of life was disappearing and a new less palpable world order was emerging. Reagan was another lightning rod of a president. After years of malaise, Reagan reignited the conservative political right and it became cool again to love capitalism and self-determination and less government and ambition. The elder Bush was simply an extension of the Reagan years with no real distinctives to his presidency. Clinton was a charismatic middle of the road Democrat who happened upon the presidency during an economic expansion which glossed over a lot of his personal moral failures. It was his presidency that introduced us to political spin (the deft art of making the best out of an obvious compromising political situation). Clinton inspired intense loyalty and hatred but not on the order of what we see today. The younger Bush was up and down as president and presided over a time period in which our country was attacked by terrorists on a scale never seen before or since. Obama was probably one of the most liberal presidents ever to hold the office it was during his presidency that the gridlock of political views took hold. It was during the Obama presidency that art of compromise in Congress (that political meeting in the middle that our founders encouraged by how they structured our government) became a lost art as more and more of my generation and my children’s generation took office (my generation and the ones after it have a more self-centered view of life and have never experienced the sacrifices required of previous generations). Finally, now we come to the current presidential administration. Donald Trump.

Both liberals and conservatives are just sadly humorous right now. For present day liberal thought, it does not matter what Trump says or does, they will not support simply because it is Donald Trump who supports it.  “Not My President” is the cry of the political liberals of today. The conservative side of the political spectrum defends Trump with the same maniacal fervor that liberals hate him. It does not matter what stupid thing Trump says. The conservatives will put a positive light on it. The sharp contrast and political divide that exists between liberals and conservatives is the widest chasm that I have ever seen in my lifetime as it now exists.

I count myself as a conservative when it comes to political matters. I prefer less government and more personal freedoms. I prefer self-determination over the government telling me what I should think. I prefer our government to align itself with the constitution rather than having judges create law by their rulings that usurp the role of Congress or have the president create law through administrative rulings. I am in favor of allowing the marketplace to regulate itself. I am in favor of allowing the push of economic innovation be a driver toward breaking down social ills. If the pie expands through less government taxation and regulation, all get a piece of the bigger pie because it just makes more economic sense to have an expanded pie. So, yes, I am by today’s standards a political conservative. However, having said that, Trump is not my favorite president even though he was the winner of the conservative camp’s political process for president.

On the Trump issue, I am a middle of the roader. I do not hate him with the passion that liberals do. I do not hate whatever he says just because he says it. On the other hand, will someone make it illegal for this president to have a twitter account! Please! The dude is his own worst enemy with that twitter account of his! Trump does not know when to keep quiet and he doesn’t seem to think his statements through before he lets them escape his mouth or his fingertips on a keyboard. I am realistic about this man and do not try to defend his stupid comments at times. It is my opinion that he simply ran for president to see if he would win, to see if he could add that feather to his cap, rather than any real passion to change the world or to accomplish something specific while in office. He is self-absorbed. He is unprepared for the office. He has no clue of constitutional directives and limitations.

On the other hand, he is by being the bull in the china shop that he is, he is making both sides of the aisle really think for the first time in a generation. He is incredibly embarrassing as president but yet at the same time, he has awakened the conservatives and liberals alike as to the direction of our country. I see the upcoming 2020 and 2024 presidential elections as the most important elections in the history of our country as a result of this lightning rod called Donald Trump.

The thing that the Trump presidency has brought into focus is that we are no longer a country of compromise. The very political bedrock that our founding fathers built into our government – forcing us by its structure to seek compromise that gives everybody something of what they want but not all of it – is now a lost art. We will stop the government from being effective just to prove a point to those who are on the other side of the political spectrum. We no longer respect the opinions of others that are different from ours. That’s the thing that is scariest to me is that both conservatives and liberals no longer seek compromise with one another. We have become so polarized politically in this country that it makes you worry for the future of our country.

The polarized political landscape where there is this vast immovable schism between liberals and conservatives in our world today is what I thought of when I read this passage for the first time this morning of two reads I plan to take on this passage. Here is this passage, we see David respect the office held by the man who is hellbent on David’s destruction. David had him in a compromising position and could have easily ended the threat that Saul was to his future. But he didn’t. That is so different from the landscape of politics in which we live today. There is a huge lesson that we can learn from David here. Let’s read the passage now:

 

Chapter 24

1 After Saul returned from fighting the Philistines, he was told that David had gone into the wilderness of En-gedi. 2 So Saul chose 3,000 elite troops from all Israel and went to search for David and his men near the rocks of the wild goats.

3 At the place where the road passes some sheepfolds, Saul went into a cave to relieve himself. But as it happened, David and his men were hiding farther back in that very cave!

4 “Now’s your opportunity!” David’s men whispered to him. “Today the Lord is telling you, ‘I will certainly put your enemy into your power, to do with as you wish.’” So David crept forward and cut off a piece of the hem of Saul’s robe.

5 But then David’s conscience began bothering him because he had cut Saul’s robe. 6 He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this to my lord the king. I shouldn’t attack the Lord’s anointed one, for the Lord himself has chosen him.” 7 So David restrained his men and did not let them kill Saul.

After Saul had left the cave and gone on his way, 8 David came out and shouted after him, “My lord the king!” And when Saul looked around, David bowed low before him.

9 Then he shouted to Saul, “Why do you listen to the people who say I am trying to harm you? 10 This very day you can see with your own eyes it isn’t true. For the Lord placed you at my mercy back there in the cave. Some of my men told me to kill you, but I spared you. For I said, ‘I will never harm the king—he is the Lord’s anointed one.’ 11 Look, my father, at what I have in my hand. It is a piece of the hem of your robe! I cut it off, but I didn’t kill you. This proves that I am not trying to harm you and that I have not sinned against you, even though you have been hunting for me to kill me.

12 “May the Lord judge between us. Perhaps the Lord will punish you for what you are trying to do to me, but I will never harm you. 13 As that old proverb says, ‘From evil people come evil deeds.’ So you can be sure I will never harm you. 14 Who is the king of Israel trying to catch anyway? Should he spend his time chasing one who is as worthless as a dead dog or a single flea? 15 May the Lord therefore judge which of us is right and punish the guilty one. He is my advocate, and he will rescue me from your power!”

16 When David had finished speaking, Saul called back, “Is that really you, my son David?” Then he began to cry. 17 And he said to David, “You are a better man than I am, for you have repaid me good for evil. 18 Yes, you have been amazingly kind to me today, for when the Lord put me in a place where you could have killed me, you didn’t do it. 19 Who else would let his enemy get away when he had him in his power? May the Lord reward you well for the kindness you have shown me today. 20 And now I realize that you are surely going to be king, and that the kingdom of Israel will flourish under your rule. 21 Now swear to me by the Lord that when that happens you will not kill my family and destroy my line of descendants!”

22 So David promised this to Saul with an oath. Then Saul went home, but David and his men went back to their stronghold.

In this passage, we see that David had great respect for Saul, in spite of the fact that Saul was trying to kill him. Although Saul was sinning and rebelling against God, David still respected the position that he held as God’s anointed king. David knew he would one day be king. He knew it was not right to strike down the man God had placed on the throne. If he assassinated Saul, he would be setting a precedent for his own opponents to remove him some day. Romans 13:1-7 tells us that God has placed governments and their leaders over us in power. We may not know why, but, like David, we are to respect the positions and roles of those whom God has given authority. There is one exception. Because God is our highest authority, we should not allow a leader to pressure us to violate God’s law.

David teaches here that we have to take a long-term view of things in politics and in life in general. Would we rather have a momentary victory right now that will massage our ego and gain us short-term political gain but will lose us the long-term cooperation of others and reconciliation and compromise that is good for everyone. David took the long view here. He could have been expedient and killed Saul and took over as king right then and there. But he saw that it was best to respect the office now so that others would respect his office later. He could have polarized the Saul camp against him with his murder of Saul. David ultimately wanted a united Israel so that Israel could accomplish God’s purpose.

That’s the lesson we need to learn here is that we must keep God’s plan in view when dealing with others. In our flesh we often want to grab a quick victory that drives our opponents in the dirt, not just politically but in our personal lives as well. We want our way to win and to drive those who oppose us into the dirt. What David teaches us is that we should respect others and their opinions and have an eye toward reconciliation always. We should always seek to keep communication open so that we have to opportunity to show the love of Christ to others. We come at people from a position of love rather than defensively trying to protect our position or turf or political view or whatever. David showed love and mercy just as God showed us love and mercy through Christ.

God could just cast us into the abyss of separation from Him in hell because we are so opposed to his righteousness with our daily sins and lifetime of sins. But he shows us mercy as David showed Saul mercy. He gave us mercy through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross that reconciles us to Him. Reconciliation of us to Him is the desire of God rather than to gloat over His righteousness vs. our sinfulness.

Maybe today in today’s polarized political climate and self-centered society, we can learn from David of the mercy that we should be demonstrating to one another. We can learn from David that destroying our opponents right now may give us great feelings of victory but at the expense of future reconciliation. We can learn from David that mercy is what God shows us through Jesus Christ. If God can show us mercy through Jesus Christ when we deserve destruction, then, why can’t we learn to show mercy to those who are against us, those who have different opinions from. Help us to learn from David to take the view of reconciling others to God is the long view that we should be taking of life when dealing with others. Let us be a people that draws others unto Jesus Christ by the mercy we demonstrate that is so different from the world in which we live.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 23:1-29 (Part 3 of 3)
David Hides in the Wilderness

What is the mark of a true friend? They know the real you and still hang around you any way. A true friend is one that has had an argument with you but does not let it end the relationship. A true friend always comes back. How many true friends have you had in your life? I have had maybe three true friends. I have had a lot of acquaintances in life but only a few true friends. For the purposes of this blog, I want to limit true friends to those of the same sex. My wife would qualify as one of my truest friends but that would be a totally different kind of blog for another day. So, who have been my best guy friends over my lifetime and why.

When I sit down and think about it, there have been only three guy friends over my lifetime that I would consider my best friends. Those guys who got to see the real me – the one that doesn’t put on a show for the outside world. The first of those close friends had to be Donnie Garrison. He was my best friend when my dad was serving as an associate pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Anderson, SC from June 1974-June 1976. Our friendship lasted beyond our moving away in the Summer of 1976. He fell out of my life by the early 1980s because of logistics and different interests but those best years were when we lived in Anderson together. Donnie lived on his family land which used to be a farm but now was just this huge piece of land on Lake Hartwell (one of the largest man-made lakes in terms of shoreline in America). Because of that Donnie was an avid water skier from an early age. I learned to water ski because of Donnie and I quickly became almost as good as him. We loved to water ski. We loved to swim. We loved to go exploring in the woods. And we loved, as tweeners at the time (middle schoolers), to lip sync and play air guitar to our favorite bands. Mainly at that time, we were big KISS fans. He would be Gene Simmons and I would be Paul Stanley. When we weren’t doing those things, we would just talk for hours about girls, about parents, about life. We were the best of friends. We remained friends after my dad got assigned to Travelers Rest United Methodist Church and Jackson Grove United Methodist Church in Travelers Rest, SC in 1976, but the move changed the close proximity we used to have and the friendship died on the vine after a time. That and having those first high school girlfriends with all the passion and I can’t live without them feelings that those girlfriends in those years brings.

The next best friend I had was Ernie Choice. Ernie and I met as co-workers at the Furman University dining hall. Furman was just down the road from Travelers Rest, SC (known as TR to the locals) where we moved in 1976. My mom went to work there shortly after we moved to TR. Working at the dining hall was my first job. I was a custodial engineer there at the dining hall and Ernie, about two years older than me worked in the room where they washed all the huge utensils and pots used in the cooking of food for the 2,000 students at the university. We just became fast friends in the break room and sitting on the loading dock during breaks and so on. We began to hang out together outside of work. It became a friendship that saw me through thick and thin. Ernie was just one of those guys that you could call and he would be right there for you. He was there with me through the tough times of when a marriage ends and picking up the pieces of your life. He was always there when times were tough. We did single guy stuff together. We did married guy stuff together. We did stupid stuff together. We had profound conversations together. He was the guy that I would tell my deepest darkest secrets to. He was my best friend. Although we do not talk much anymore just because of busy and different lives now. There was that season of 30 plus years of friendship. I am sure that, even though I have not spent time with him now in about 4 or 5 years, that we could pick our friendship back up in a moment’s notice.

The most recent best friend that I have had is Humberto Perez. We met at the men’s weekly life group at LifeSong Church in Lyman, SC where we just moved away from. He was my first best friend since I became a Christ follower that did not know me before my salvation. Humbert and I became fast friends because we have the same kind of ironic, sarcastic and sometimes 15 year old boy sense of humor. Because we were both Christ followers, there was a uniqueness to this friendship that my previous “best friend” relationships. I think that I got more honest and real with Humbert than I have with any of my other guy friends. Maybe, it was age and maturity. Maybe, it was being a Christ follower and no longer wishing to be anything less than transparent. But Humbert is my homeboy. He lives 900 plus miles away from me now and I miss him dearly. As Tom Cruise said to Ken Watanabe at the end of the movie, The Last Samurai, “I am going to miss…our conversations!” I miss my conversations with my bro, Humberto. Because God called me and my wife to Illinois, I do not know what will happen with our friendship. I know from experience that distance and separate lives can cause guy friendships to drift apart and die. But I will forever be appreciative of the past 7 years that Humbert and I have been friends. He has told me I was full of it when I needed to hear and I have done the same for him. It was and is the realest guy friendship that I have ever had. I know that he would drive 900 miles right now at the drop of a hat to be with me if I needed him here in Moline for whatever reason. He knows all my warts and pimples and is still my best friend. He knows my fears and failures and is still by best friend. That’s a friend. That’s a guy friend!

That’s what I thought of this morning as I read through this passage/chapter again. I thought about the close friendship that David and Jonathan had. It was thicker than blood relationships. It was a lifelong friendship. It was one of those guy friendships that guys hope to have at some point in their lives. Let’s read the passage now together for the third of three reads:

Chapter 23
1 One day news came to David that the Philistines were at Keilah stealing grain from the threshing floors. 2 David asked the Lord, “Should I go and attack them?”

“Yes, go and save Keilah,” the Lord told him.

3 But David’s men said, “We’re afraid even here in Judah. We certainly don’t want to go to Keilah to fight the whole Philistine army!”

4 So David asked the Lord again, and again the Lord replied, “Go down to Keilah, for I will help you conquer the Philistines.”

5 So David and his men went to Keilah. They slaughtered the Philistines and took all their livestock and rescued the people of Keilah. 6 Now when Abiathar son of Ahimelech fled to David at Keilah, he brought the ephod with him.

7 Saul soon learned that David was at Keilah. “Good!” he exclaimed. “We’ve got him now! God has handed him over to me, for he has trapped himself in a walled town!” 8 So Saul mobilized his entire army to march to Keilah and besiege David and his men.

9 But David learned of Saul’s plan and told Abiathar the priest to bring the ephod and ask the Lord what he should do. 10 Then David prayed, “O Lord, God of Israel, I have heard that Saul is planning to come and destroy Keilah because I am here. 11 Will the leaders of Keilah betray me to him?[a] And will Saul actually come as I have heard? O Lord, God of Israel, please tell me.”

And the Lord said, “He will come.”

12 Again David asked, “Will the leaders of Keilah betray me and my men to Saul?”

And the Lord replied, “Yes, they will betray you.”

13 So David and his men—about 600 of them now—left Keilah and began roaming the countryside. Word soon reached Saul that David had escaped, so he didn’t go to Keilah after all. 14 David now stayed in the strongholds of the wilderness and in the hill country of Ziph. Saul hunted him day after day, but God didn’t let Saul find him.

15 One day near Horesh, David received the news that Saul was on the way to Ziph to search for him and kill him. 16 Jonathan went to find David and encouraged him to stay strong in his faith in God. 17 “Don’t be afraid,” Jonathan reassured him. “My father will never find you! You are going to be the king of Israel, and I will be next to you, as my father, Saul, is well aware.” 18 So the two of them renewed their solemn pact before the Lord. Then Jonathan returned home, while David stayed at Horesh.

19 But now the men of Ziph went to Saul in Gibeah and betrayed David to him. “We know where David is hiding,” they said. “He is in the strongholds of Horesh on the hill of Hakilah, which is in the southern part of Jeshimon. 20 Come down whenever you’re ready, O king, and we will catch him and hand him over to you!”

21 “The Lord bless you,” Saul said. “At last someone is concerned about me! 22 Go and check again to be sure of where he is staying and who has seen him there, for I know that he is very crafty. 23 Discover his hiding places, and come back when you are sure. Then I’ll go with you. And if he is in the area at all, I’ll track him down, even if I have to search every hiding place in Judah!” 24 So the men of Ziph returned home ahead of Saul.

Meanwhile, David and his men had moved into the wilderness of Maon in the Arabah Valley south of Jeshimon. 25 When David heard that Saul and his men were searching for him, he went even farther into the wilderness to the great rock, and he remained there in the wilderness of Maon. But Saul kept after him in the wilderness.

26 Saul and David were now on opposite sides of a mountain. Just as Saul and his men began to close in on David and his men, 27 an urgent message reached Saul that the Philistines were raiding Israel again. 28 So Saul quit chasing David and returned to fight the Philistines. Ever since that time, the place where David was camped has been called the Rock of Escape.[b] 29 [c]David then went to live in the strongholds of En-gedi.

In this chapter/passage, we see that as true friends Jonathan and David were more than just companions who enjoyed each other’s company. They encouraged each other’s faith in God and they trusted each other with their deepest thoughts and closest confidences. These are the marks of true friendship. Not all of us have a friend like that. Maybe some of us have a friend like that for a time. I know I have.

When we find one of these guy friendships, we should consider ourselves lucky. They may last a lifetime and they may not. We should treasure those friendships while we have them. Sometimes, they are moments in time never to be recaptured again. But those friends, those best friends are the ones we have our best memories with. Those are the ones that know all our darkest secrets and still are hanging around. Those friends are the ones that know the real us. Those are the friends that will be there for you in a moments notice. If you had to make that one phone call to a friend to get you out of a jam or to come pick you up when everything has fallen apart, who would that be. Who would ask no questions and just come pick you up. Who is THAT guy friend?

The only thing that I can compare to that is what Jesus means to us. He knows us. He knows better than a best friend what our deepest, darkest secrets are. And He still loves us anyway. He will be there for us when everybody has abandoned us. He knows the real us. He is there when the chips are down and we have failed and we are in a bad light. He knows us. He loves us despite us. He will tell us when we are full of it and kick us in the rear when we need it. He is the best of the best of the best friends that a guy … or a gal … can have.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 23:1-29 (Part 2 of 3)
David Hides in the Wilderness

How do you tell the difference between a God calling on your life and a personal, egotistical desire? Sometimes, they look, smell, and feel the same so how do you know? For me, that was a question that plagued me as to my calling into full-time ministry. Was it from God or was it just a personal desire? I am sure that you have an example from your own life. Is it from God or is it just my ego talking?

For me, the question was one of significant importance. Am I going to follow God’s call or my own desire when it comes to full-time ministry. It was not only a question of eternal significance, but it was one of financial significance as well. On the latter significance alone, it was a profound question. Am going to risk considerable financial security for a God-calling or an ego-calling? The answer to that question is that following a God-calling is worth it but if the answer is that I was following an ego-calling is that it would be the most incredibly foolish thing I have ever done. How do we know the difference between the desires of our own heart and a God-calling on our lives?

There are several markers to me of the difference between Holy Spirit guidance and ego guidance. The first thing is that Holy Spirit guidance will never draw you to do something that is inconsistent with Scripture. So, going in the ministry full-time wins on this count but yet it could still be ego-driven so we need to investigate further.

The Holy Spirit will consistently and repetitively give you the same calling whereas your ego will bring something at you out of the blue and then it will flit away with the wind. That’s where I begin to see the God-calling in this. Ever since I became a Christ follower in December 2001, when I accepted Christ as my Savior, this calling has been building and has overcome every excuse I have thrown at the Holy Spirit over the past sixteen years. The calling has been particularly strong since the Summer of 2011 when I had no more excuses or roadblocks to throw up at the Holy Spirit. Prayer to take this burden away could not take it away. The burden did not go away even when I had done everything God had led me to do in preparation (going to seminary at North Greenville University’s graduate school and beginning my doctoral studies) and nothing happened. There was a long period of patience there between going to seminary beginning in the Fall 2011 and my accepting a pastoral position in Winter 2018. Our God callings will be burdens that stand the test of time and even when these calling try our patience and we want to give up on them. There was one of my favorite sci-fi movies, Independence Day, where the President’s team convinces him that a nuclear strike against the city sized alien spacecrafts hovering over the big cities of the world was the best course of action. After testing the theory over Houston, TX, the explosion occurs and the President continues to ask the spotters despite the celebration going on whether or not the target has been destroyed. Finally, the spotters report to the President, “the target remains, sir. The target remains.” That’s the way it is with a God-calling, the target remains regardless of time, troubles or bumps in the road. The calling will remain no matter the passage of time, the occurrence of troubles, or whether there are bumps or delays in the process.

The Holy Spirit’s call on our lives will be one too where you will follow it regardless of whether it makes sense to other people or not. God led Noah to build an ark when there was no evidence otherwise to build one. Remember the movie, Evan Almighty? I can see how the reaction to the original ark builder, Noah, would have been no different than the ridicule that Evan suffered in that movie. If you calling is from God, you will not let ridicule dissuade you from God’s calling. God callings have a positive energy to them. Ego driven callings do not. God callings give us the feeling that we are doing the right thing even if it seems crazy to others. God callings will give us a sense of peace even when it seems like the most odd thing to do in the world.

Divine guidance makes us feel as though that everything we have done in life was in preparation for the moment that we follow God’s calling on our lives. Even if God calls you to a radical change in your life, He gives you peace that your entire previous life was a prelude to this moment in time where you enter into His calling on your life. The Holy Spirit will demonstrate to you how the entirety of your life (even before salvation) will be part of the message that your following God’s calling sends to others and He will demonstrate to you how you will be able to use the history of your life in your calling. Nothing is wasted in God’s calling on our lives. It is all prep work for the moment your follow His calling.

Divine guidance makes us uncomfortable doing anything else other than following our his calling on our lives. If the call remains and won’t go away and it wakes you up at night. If it won’t go away and you will be uncomfortable doing anything else other than following God’s calling on your life, it is for real. Ego driven desires can be easily forgotten and will disappear like vapor. But a God calling on your life is a burden that you cannot get rid of. It is a burden that must be fulfilled. It is a burden that makes you uncomfortable doing anything else – even if that anything else has all the trappings of comfort in life.

That’s what I thought of this morning when I thought of Saul. He was a man who constantly mislabeled his personal egotistical desires as the will of God. He was an ego-driven man who was trying to hold on to his crown even though God said it was over. He would be like a president who spins the truth to suit his own desires and needs. He was labeling his own desires as the will of God and getting people to buy into that. That idea of discerning the difference between egotistical desires and God-callings came to mind as I read this passage with an eye to examining Saul’s motives this morning. Let’s read the passage now together for a second of three reads:

Chapter 23
1 One day news came to David that the Philistines were at Keilah stealing grain from the threshing floors. 2 David asked the Lord, “Should I go and attack them?”

“Yes, go and save Keilah,” the Lord told him.

3 But David’s men said, “We’re afraid even here in Judah. We certainly don’t want to go to Keilah to fight the whole Philistine army!”

4 So David asked the Lord again, and again the Lord replied, “Go down to Keilah, for I will help you conquer the Philistines.”

5 So David and his men went to Keilah. They slaughtered the Philistines and took all their livestock and rescued the people of Keilah. 6 Now when Abiathar son of Ahimelech fled to David at Keilah, he brought the ephod with him.

7 Saul soon learned that David was at Keilah. “Good!” he exclaimed. “We’ve got him now! God has handed him over to me, for he has trapped himself in a walled town!” 8 So Saul mobilized his entire army to march to Keilah and besiege David and his men.

9 But David learned of Saul’s plan and told Abiathar the priest to bring the ephod and ask the Lord what he should do. 10 Then David prayed, “O Lord, God of Israel, I have heard that Saul is planning to come and destroy Keilah because I am here. 11 Will the leaders of Keilah betray me to him?[a] And will Saul actually come as I have heard? O Lord, God of Israel, please tell me.”

And the Lord said, “He will come.”

12 Again David asked, “Will the leaders of Keilah betray me and my men to Saul?”

And the Lord replied, “Yes, they will betray you.”

13 So David and his men—about 600 of them now—left Keilah and began roaming the countryside. Word soon reached Saul that David had escaped, so he didn’t go to Keilah after all. 14 David now stayed in the strongholds of the wilderness and in the hill country of Ziph. Saul hunted him day after day, but God didn’t let Saul find him.

15 One day near Horesh, David received the news that Saul was on the way to Ziph to search for him and kill him. 16 Jonathan went to find David and encouraged him to stay strong in his faith in God. 17 “Don’t be afraid,” Jonathan reassured him. “My father will never find you! You are going to be the king of Israel, and I will be next to you, as my father, Saul, is well aware.” 18 So the two of them renewed their solemn pact before the Lord. Then Jonathan returned home, while David stayed at Horesh.

19 But now the men of Ziph went to Saul in Gibeah and betrayed David to him. “We know where David is hiding,” they said. “He is in the strongholds of Horesh on the hill of Hakilah, which is in the southern part of Jeshimon. 20 Come down whenever you’re ready, O king, and we will catch him and hand him over to you!”

21 “The Lord bless you,” Saul said. “At last someone is concerned about me! 22 Go and check again to be sure of where he is staying and who has seen him there, for I know that he is very crafty. 23 Discover his hiding places, and come back when you are sure. Then I’ll go with you. And if he is in the area at all, I’ll track him down, even if I have to search every hiding place in Judah!” 24 So the men of Ziph returned home ahead of Saul.

Meanwhile, David and his men had moved into the wilderness of Maon in the Arabah Valley south of Jeshimon. 25 When David heard that Saul and his men were searching for him, he went even farther into the wilderness to the great rock, and he remained there in the wilderness of Maon. But Saul kept after him in the wilderness.

26 Saul and David were now on opposite sides of a mountain. Just as Saul and his men began to close in on David and his men, 27 an urgent message reached Saul that the Philistines were raiding Israel again. 28 So Saul quit chasing David and returned to fight the Philistines. Ever since that time, the place where David was camped has been called the Rock of Escape.[b] 29 [c]David then went to live in the strongholds of En-gedi.

In this chapter/passage, we see that when Saul heard that David was trapped in a walled city, he thought that God was putting David at his mercy. Saul wanted to kill David so badly that he would have interpreted any sign as God’s approval to move ahead with his plan. Had Saul known better, he would have known what God wanted and would not have misread the situation as God’s approval for murder.

We must understand that not every opportunity is sent from God. We may want something so much that we assume any opportunity to obtain it is of divine origin. As we see from Saul’s case, this may not be true. An opportunity to do something against God’s will never be from God because He will never tempt us to do evil things. We must examine our motives. We must make sure that we are following God’s will and not just our own desires.

I am happy to report that my calling is one that met all those tests above. It really doesn’t make sense for me to be in full-time ministry. I am not a career pastor. I don’t have the long resume of lifelong service to God. I am though a man that loves the Lord and will follow where He leads even if seems incredibly stupid and foolish to others. I have had a peace about this step in my life as I built my ark and waited for the waters to come. I trust that the Lord will take care of Elena and me. I have peace. I also have a burden to give my talents to Him on a full-time basis and nothing has changed that since the calling came. All of it feels right even when it seemed foolish to pack up and move to Illinois. All of it seems right now as I am learning something completely new for the first time in a decade in a new position. There is a peace about building the ark even when the waters are small and just beginning to cover the earth. There is a peace that the waters will float the boat. God has seen us this far. He will take us the rest of the way.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 23:1-29 (Part 1 of 3)
David Hides in the Wilderness

If you have ever been a dad to small children, you probably still have nightmares about the phrase, “some assembly required.” That phrase even haunts us as adults. About a year and a half ago, when we moved into our cute little bungaloo in the Mill Village (our second home while living in the Lyman-Duncan-Wellford, SC area). Our first home in Duncan (which was built in 2007 and was only 3 years old when we bought it), the house had a built-in recessed area where we could put our television. It had compartments too where you could put the components of your entertainment system (cable box, DVD player, Apple TV box, etc.). It was just above the fireplace. It was a cool idea by whomever designed the house. However, at our next home which was in Lyman’s mill village that we bought in late 2016. The community was a collection of older houses built in the early to mid-1920s. All of the houses in this neighborhood had been remodeled and flipped. In most cases, the remodels retained the character of the old 1920s homes while adding modern conveniences. Ours was no different. It was just the neatest old house and we loved it.

However, one thing it did not have was that recessed entertainment center area that our previous home had. The living room/great room or whatever you want to call it was just a room with no built-ins. So to accommodate all the electronics of my entertainment system and the wires that go along with it, I figured that I needed to buy and entertainment center. I looked at the big name store websites and there were ones that I really liked that were made out of cherry wood or mahogany or other such fine woods. These things were fine pieces of furniture, ya know, and they had fine furniture price tags too. Most were well over a thousand dollars. That was money I just didn’t want to spend. So, I began looking at websites like wayfair.com and others like it. I finally settled on an entertainment center that looked good but that only costs like $380 before shipping and handling. I patted myself on the back for my frugality and placed the order and then waited for the shipment to arrive.

When the thing arrived, I figured it would be in a couple of boxes. However, when it arrived on my front porch via UPS, I first had to pause and pray for forgiveness from the UPS delivery guy after I tried to lift what I thought was going to be something lightweight! Holy moly, that box was as heavy as it was long. It is a sure bet that the UPS guy was cussing me the whole time he was trying to get that thing up the three steps from the street to our sidewalk to the porch and then those 10 very steep 1920’s steps up to the porch itself. You should have seen me trying to get that thing into the house by myself. It was one those times where you walk it back and forth one side to the other and then lifting it over the lip of the doorway was fun. Finally inside, I had to walk it into the middle of the living room. Then, if getting it into the house was not fun enough, there was the opening of the box and then the finding out about the contents.

Since the box was so long and so tightly packed, it was difficult to get it opened. I had to use a box cutter to get it open; trying ever so carefully not to scrape, cut or scar anything on the inside of the box. In order to get it open as it lay on the floor and as heavy as it was there was no way I was going to stand it up and open it. I had to leave it laying on its side and cut it open the length of the box. Like I said, all the while trying to be aware that I had to cut it carefully so as not to penetrate too deeply into the box such that I would scrape or scar the contents. That was fun! Not!

Finally, after getting all the box cut open so I could basically fold out the top half of the box and reveal the contents. Oh my God! The opening of the box revealed like a billion long, short, and medium sized wooden pieces, and bags of fixture attachments, nuts, bolts, screws and wooden dowels. There weren’t a billion wooden pieces but there were at 200 I would venture to guess. Usually, I am a guy that just plows right into building something and then looking at the instructions later. Usually, it often requires me to re-do some parts of the assembly process too but most of the time, the project is small and the re-do’s are not that extensive. Most of the time, projects like this are pretty intuitive to me. However, this time was different. This was to be 5ft 8in or 9in tall entertainment center with shelves and cabinets and all…I said and I cannot emphasize this enough, ALL….did I say, ALL!!!…all of it required assembly. There was absolutely no portion of this entertainment center that came pre-assembled. So, there was no intuititiveness about it. All the boards, shelves, backings, attachments, nuts, bolts, screws and dowels were by themselves not looking anything like any of it going together. I tried to segregate everything by their part numbers or sizes. I had stacks of wooden pieces all over the living room and part of the kitchen/dining room. It was going to be a massive undertaking for which I had no idea how to start.

That nightmare of my not just “some assembly required” but “all assembly required” entertainment center was what I thought of this morning as I read through this chapter and noticed what David did before he did anything else. I hope you notice it to when you read this passage/chapter, 1 Samuel 23. There was something I had to do with that entertainment center first before I did anything else also. Let’s read the passage/chapter together now so that we can begin to tie together my illustration with this passage.

Chapter 23
1 One day news came to David that the Philistines were at Keilah stealing grain from the threshing floors. 2 David asked the Lord, “Should I go and attack them?”

“Yes, go and save Keilah,” the Lord told him.

3 But David’s men said, “We’re afraid even here in Judah. We certainly don’t want to go to Keilah to fight the whole Philistine army!”

4 So David asked the Lord again, and again the Lord replied, “Go down to Keilah, for I will help you conquer the Philistines.”

5 So David and his men went to Keilah. They slaughtered the Philistines and took all their livestock and rescued the people of Keilah. 6 Now when Abiathar son of Ahimelech fled to David at Keilah, he brought the ephod with him.

7 Saul soon learned that David was at Keilah. “Good!” he exclaimed. “We’ve got him now! God has handed him over to me, for he has trapped himself in a walled town!” 8 So Saul mobilized his entire army to march to Keilah and besiege David and his men.

9 But David learned of Saul’s plan and told Abiathar the priest to bring the ephod and ask the Lord what he should do. 10 Then David prayed, “O Lord, God of Israel, I have heard that Saul is planning to come and destroy Keilah because I am here. 11 Will the leaders of Keilah betray me to him?[a] And will Saul actually come as I have heard? O Lord, God of Israel, please tell me.”

And the Lord said, “He will come.”

12 Again David asked, “Will the leaders of Keilah betray me and my men to Saul?”

And the Lord replied, “Yes, they will betray you.”

13 So David and his men—about 600 of them now—left Keilah and began roaming the countryside. Word soon reached Saul that David had escaped, so he didn’t go to Keilah after all. 14 David now stayed in the strongholds of the wilderness and in the hill country of Ziph. Saul hunted him day after day, but God didn’t let Saul find him.

15 One day near Horesh, David received the news that Saul was on the way to Ziph to search for him and kill him. 16 Jonathan went to find David and encouraged him to stay strong in his faith in God. 17 “Don’t be afraid,” Jonathan reassured him. “My father will never find you! You are going to be the king of Israel, and I will be next to you, as my father, Saul, is well aware.” 18 So the two of them renewed their solemn pact before the Lord. Then Jonathan returned home, while David stayed at Horesh.

19 But now the men of Ziph went to Saul in Gibeah and betrayed David to him. “We know where David is hiding,” they said. “He is in the strongholds of Horesh on the hill of Hakilah, which is in the southern part of Jeshimon. 20 Come down whenever you’re ready, O king, and we will catch him and hand him over to you!”

21 “The Lord bless you,” Saul said. “At last someone is concerned about me! 22 Go and check again to be sure of where he is staying and who has seen him there, for I know that he is very crafty. 23 Discover his hiding places, and come back when you are sure. Then I’ll go with you. And if he is in the area at all, I’ll track him down, even if I have to search every hiding place in Judah!” 24 So the men of Ziph returned home ahead of Saul.

Meanwhile, David and his men had moved into the wilderness of Maon in the Arabah Valley south of Jeshimon. 25 When David heard that Saul and his men were searching for him, he went even farther into the wilderness to the great rock, and he remained there in the wilderness of Maon. But Saul kept after him in the wilderness.

26 Saul and David were now on opposite sides of a mountain. Just as Saul and his men began to close in on David and his men, 27 an urgent message reached Saul that the Philistines were raiding Israel again. 28 So Saul quit chasing David and returned to fight the Philistines. Ever since that time, the place where David was camped has been called the Rock of Escape.[b] 29 [c]David then went to live in the strongholds of En-gedi.

In this chapter/passage, we see that David sought the Lord’s guidance before he took action. He prayed and then he listened. He listened to God’s directions and then proceeded accordingly. Rather than trying to find God’s will after the fact or having to pray to God that He will undo the results of our hasty decisions, we should take time to discern God’s will beforehand. We can hear Him speak through the counsel of others, His Word and the leading of the Holy Spirit in our heart, as well as through the circumstances of our lives.

With my “all assembly required” entertainment center, I had to go to the instruction manual first. This project was so massive that I had to do that before I started. Otherwise, I would not have been able to tell one part from another and the sequence in which the multiplicity of parts needed to be put together. I HAD to study the instructions. Aren’t our lives like that sometimes. Sometimes, the problems that we face are too big for us just to blindly jump into them. We need to pray for God’s guidance. We need to seek His wisdom. We need to seek understanding of how this step will lead to a next step. As we pray through a problem from day to day, we see how God is fitting it all together into a greater whole. We can begin to see the finished product as we pray through our problems each and every day.

That’s what David does in this passage before he gets started on his escape plan. He prays. He seeks God’s guidance through prayer. And He follows God’s instructions. When we seek God’s guidance, we must follow His instruction plan. He guides us through prayer. He also guides us by us reading His Word. We must then put that knowledge from God into action. David prayed first. David then put God’s answer into action.

Do you pray first and act second? Or are you like me where you act first and then ask God for a re-do? Let us take some wisdom from David here. If you are like me, you need this lesson – pray first, act second.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 22:3-23
The Slaughter of the Priests

The thing that came to mind today is how each of may have to make a stand for Jesus one day. And when that time comes, how will we react? The reason that this idea has been weighing on my mind is because of a song and because of the radical change that Elena and I have recently made in our lives.

First, the song. As many of you know, I love Christian contemporary music. I particularly love Christian contemporary music that has a gutsy edge to it. For example, I love Jesus Culture. I love Elevation Worship. I was a Creed fan when they were still together. David Crowder is awesome. For King & Country is another of my list of faves. The Fray is another. Gungor is cool. Hillsong Worship/Hillsong United has some great stuff. Jars of Clay was a fave back in the day. Jordan Feliz is a new favorite. Kutless, LeCrae, Lifehouse, Need to Breathe, Royal Tailor, Skillet, Switchfoot, Thousand Foot Krutch, Zach Williams, all these artists are on my playlist. But today, I have been getting more and more into Toby Mac. Sure, he has some top 20 Christian hits that everybody knows but lately I have been exploring the songs that don’t get as much airplay on Christian contemporary stations. You know, the songs that weren’t selected to be released as radio songs. One of Toby’s that just has struck me lately is “To the Day I Die”. They lyrics go like this:

I’ll keep swingin’ for the fences
It’s like this heart is defenseless
Against the passion that’s pumpin’ through my veins
Blood, sweat, tears, it’s a callin’
And if I can’t walk, then I’m crawlin’
It might flicker, but they can’t kill the flame
I can’t stop I can’t quit
It’s in my heart It’s on my lips
I can’t stop, no I can’t quit
It’s in my heart, yeah I’m all in

‘Til the wheels fall off
‘Til the spotlight fades
I will lift your banner high
I will lift your banner high
And ’til the walls crash in
For the rest of my days
I’ll lay it all on the line
‘Til the day I die
‘Til the day I die
‘Til the end of the line
‘Til the day I die
It’s Your name I’ll glorify

It’s runnin’ deeper than the ocean
This ain’t religion, it’s devotion
Three, six, five every minute, everyday
So in the middle of the madness
They can stretch me out like canvas
But I ain’t ever gonna fit in their frame
I can’t stop I can’t quit
It’s in my heart It’s on my lips
I can’t stop, no I can’t quit
It’s in my heart, yeah I’m all in

‘Til the wheels fall off
‘Til the spotlight fades
I will lift your banner high
I will lift your banner high
And til the walls crash in
For the rest of my days
I’ll lay it all on the line
‘Til the day I
‘Til the day I die
‘Til the end of the line
‘Til the day I die
It’s Your name I’ll glorify

‘Til I die and they put me in the coffin
Don’t matter if I’m on the road or if I’m recordin’
Tell me what you think about me, that really ain’t important
You know I’mma represent um, I ain’t playin’, can’t afford to
I only got one life and I get it though
And this is not an act, not a movie, not a TV show
I don’t know what quittin’ means, I don’t ever take it slow
You know I’m on the grind, me and Toby in the studio
Do it for the King, what you know about that?
Say you goin’ harder, mmm I doubt that’

You say you doin’ work, but you’re asking where the couch at
How you doin’ work when you asking where the couch at?
God is not a crutch, you can use Him when you wanna
You only look to heaven when you goin’ through some drama
And when they goin’ through some problems and that’s the only time they call Him
I guess I don’t understand that life, wonder why ’cause I’m all in

‘Til the day I die
‘Til the wheels fall off
‘Til the spotlight fades
I will lift your banner high I will lift your banner high
And ’til the walls crash in
For the rest of my days
I’ll lay it all on the line
‘Til the day I (‘Til the day I)
‘Til the day I die
‘Til the day I
‘Til the day I die
‘Til the end of the line
‘Til the day I (’till the day I)
‘Til the day I, ’til the day, I fly
‘Til the day I die
‘Til the end of the line

Man, those are powerful words. I particularly am blown away where Toby says “You say you doin’ work, but you’re asking where the couch at! How you doin’ work when you asking where the couch at?” Those words sting hard when you think about how we serve God up to the point that it begins to hurt. Toby is asking the question as to whether we have the guts to serve God past the point of comfort – when it will really cost us something.

That got me to thinking too that some people have been patting me on the back for going into full-time vocational ministry. And, yes, I did sacrifice a secular career as a corporate financial executive that had been very good to me, my wife and our grown kids even. But even then, in the eyes of this question, how much have I sacrificed? I still have a roof over my head. I still have the ability to pay for that roof over my head. Sure, we no longer are going to be able to afford the luxuries that we once had back in South Carolina with my secular career (and my part-time service to my church there). But how much have we really sacrificed? Don’t get me wrong, I fully trust that the Lord will provide for us in miraculous ways at times going forward because we have chosen to follow Him into ministry full-time. But I have an office that’s beautiful in its simplicity. I have computer technology all at my disposal. I have an amazing senior pastor who is my boss but who also is just the most encouraging man I have ever met. I have a collection of coworkers, pastors, directors, and staff, that together could be a comedy troupe. Everyday at the office is full of laughter, sometimes to the point that you can’t breathe you are laughing so hard. It’s just a fun place to work. I am completely blessed that God saw fit to place me at this church with these people at this time in this place to accomplish His tasks for us.

But it got me to thinking, what if God calls me to further sacrifice one day such as being a permanent missionary in the field of a third world country or a country that is hostile to Christians. Will I be willing to forget “where the couch at”? Will I be willing to push it deeper. Or even less stark as that, what if there is an issue that comes up in life right here in the confines of the United States somewhere down the road that requires me to stand up for what is right rather than what is comfortable? Will I do it? Or will I ask “where the couch at”? Will I be willing to sacrifice it all to stand up against that which is evil in God’s eyes but that which is accepted as good by man? Will I be willing to push it to the day I die? Will I be willing to die for the cause of Christ? Will I be willing to stand up or will I sit on the couch and let evil flourish?

That’s what I thought of this morning as read through this disturbing passage, 1 Samuel 22:3-23. The question that plagued me was where were the men of courage in Israel? Why did no one say no to Saul when he ordered the deaths of 85 priests and their families? Edmund Burke once said, “”The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

I am reminded of World War II in Germany. There were very few who stood up to the evil of the Nazi Party and Adolph Hitler. Most Germans were content to let the evil flourish as long as they had all their comforts of life. They would rationalize away why they could do nothing to stop the insanity of the holocaust against Jews and any other enemies of the state. As long as they towed the line, they would be safe and they would maintain their comforts of life. That’s what I thought of this morning, where are the men of courage in this passage? Good men did nothing and allowed Saul’s evil to flourish. Let’s read it together now:

3 Later David went to Mizpeh in Moab, where he asked the king, “Please allow my father and mother to live here with you until I know what God is going to do for me.” 4 So David’s parents stayed in Moab with the king during the entire time David was living in his stronghold.

5 One day the prophet Gad told David, “Leave the stronghold and return to the land of Judah.” So David went to the forest of Hereth.

6 The news of his arrival in Judah soon reached Saul. At the time, the king was sitting beneath the tamarisk tree on the hill at Gibeah, holding his spear and surrounded by his officers.

7 “Listen here, you men of Benjamin!” Saul shouted to his officers when he heard the news. “Has that son of Jesse promised every one of you fields and vineyards? Has he promised to make you all generals and captains in his army?[a] 8 Is that why you have conspired against me? For not one of you told me when my own son made a solemn pact with the son of Jesse. You’re not even sorry for me. Think of it! My own son—encouraging him to kill me, as he is trying to do this very day!”

9 Then Doeg the Edomite, who was standing there with Saul’s men, spoke up. “When I was at Nob,” he said, “I saw the son of Jesse talking to the priest, Ahimelech son of Ahitub. 10 Ahimelech consulted the Lord for him. Then he gave him food and the sword of Goliath the Philistine.”

11 King Saul immediately sent for Ahimelech and all his family, who served as priests at Nob. 12 When they arrived, Saul shouted at him, “Listen to me, you son of Ahitub!”

“What is it, my king?” Ahimelech asked.

13 “Why have you and the son of Jesse conspired against me?” Saul demanded. “Why did you give him food and a sword? Why have you consulted God for him? Why have you encouraged him to kill me, as he is trying to do this very day?”

14 “But sir,” Ahimelech replied, “is anyone among all your servants as faithful as David, your son-in-law? Why, he is the captain of your bodyguard and a highly honored member of your household! 15 This was certainly not the first time I had consulted God for him! May the king not accuse me and my family in this matter, for I knew nothing at all of any plot against you.”

16 “You will surely die, Ahimelech, along with your entire family!” the king shouted. 17 And he ordered his bodyguards, “Kill these priests of the Lord, for they are allies and conspirators with David! They knew he was running away from me, but they didn’t tell me!” But Saul’s men refused to kill the Lord’s priests.

18 Then the king said to Doeg, “You do it.” So Doeg the Edomite turned on them and killed them that day, eighty-five priests in all, still wearing their priestly garments. 19 Then he went to Nob, the town of the priests, and killed the priests’ families—men and women, children and babies—and all the cattle, donkeys, sheep, and goats.

20 Only Abiathar, one of the sons of Ahimelech, escaped and fled to David. 21 When he told David that Saul had killed the priests of the Lord, 22 David exclaimed, “I knew it! When I saw Doeg the Edomite there that day, I knew he was sure to tell Saul. Now I have caused the death of all your father’s family. 23 Stay here with me, and don’t be afraid. I will protect you with my own life, for the same person wants to kill us both.”

In this passage, we must ask the question, “Why did God allow 85 priests and their families to be killed for no other reason than to satisfy the whim of a madman?” Their deaths served to dramatize to the nation of Israel how their king had become an evil tyrant. Where were Saul’s advisers? Where were the elders of Israel? Evil flourished here because good men said nothing. Many of us expect that God’s blessings upon are wealth, success and health. We often do not expect that we must sacrifice our comfort zones to serve Him. We will serve God only but so far.

When it calls for us to give up our wealth, our comfort, and maybe even our health, we tend to shy away. When it comes down to it, will we serve God when it hurts? When it comes down to it, will we do more than go to church and say amen when the preacher preaches to us about being “all-in”? When it comes down to it, will we do more than attend nice little church functions while the world burns outside our doors? When it comes down to it, will we stand up against that which is evil but is now called good even if it costs us our comforts? When it comes down to it, will we follow Jesus beyond the comforts of our job and our home and our friends and our home entertainment systems? That’s not just some sermonizing to other people. That’s a question that plagues me personally. If I had to choose between comfort and Christ, will I shrink away to my couch? If with a gun to my head and if I do not deny Christ, the trigger gets pulled, what will I do? Less than that, if our country (which is headed that way) becomes more and more hostile toward Christianity and there comes a day when it will cost me my comfort, my freedom, will I take it to the max and fly Christ’s banner high or will I shrink away to the couch?

I pray for boldness for myself and for you, as a fellow Christ follower. Because the thing that I know is that none of us can do anything bold in the absence of Jesus Christ. Bravery is not the absence of fear. It is doing what needs to be done despite the fear. May we pray for boldness and bravery that comes only from Jesus Christ. May we be bold and brave when Jesus burns it in our heart to stand up against that which is evil and is being allowed to flourish because no one is speaking. May we be bold and brave when it counts. May we be bold and brave to cast aside our couches when and if God calls us to go beyond our comfort zone whether it being standing up against evil or giving up our creature comforts to follow where God calls us to go. May we be bold and brave through the power of Jesus Christ. May we have that first century Christian boldness where they put it all on the line until the wheels fell off, ’til the walls crashed in. May we have that first century boldness and braveness through Jesus Christ where we will lay it all on the line til the day we die. May we have that boldness to overcome our fears and lay it all on the line til the day we die.

Amen and Amen.