Archive for August, 2018

2 Samuel 23:1-7
David’s Last Words

To hear people call me Pastor Mark these days is just a testament to the grace of God. When I look back at my past, I think how can this be? I grew up as a preacher’s kid. I was at church every time the doors were open. But accepting Christ as my Savior was not part of the deal for me, then. I was numb to the church. I was there all the time. The majesty and wonder of church, of Jesus Christ, of the things of God is was all just part of the “family business” to me. Then, after getting married at age 18, I was in a little family church made of three main families of which my first wife was a part. The church was more of a social club than a church. There was no discipleship. No challenges to be more than just a good person making good choices. I was never confronted with who I am in Christ. Then, in college, at a liberal arts university, all my beliefs were challenged, especially about the existence of God, who Jesus was, and what the Bible was. My faith was so shallow that it blew me away.

Then after college, life happened. My life revolved around not so much about pleasing God but pleasing the women in my life and living the rollercoaster that such a world is. I made poor choices. I bent my morality to the breaking point whenever it was convenient. Life was a series of two marriages, divorces, seeking value in sex and alcohol and never truly finding it. When I look back on the man that I was before I finally came to Christ as my Savior at age 39, it sickens me. What I could have done differently if I had just met Jesus when I was younger. I envy those who accepted Christ as a child or even as a teenager or early 20s. The pastors that I work with are career pastors who have been in Christ since they were teens. Then there’s me. When I think about the mess that my life was before Christ and even in the maturation process in Christ since the cross, it saddens me deeply at the man that I was.

To hear someone call me Pastor Mark is surreal. This is something that I have been aiming for in some way, shape or form since the day of my salvation in December 2001 but specifically since 2011 when I entered seminary. The road from who I was at age 18 when I married the first until that point is a testament to the loving nature of God – how he guided me to the cross, how he guided me toward preparing for ministry, and how he guided me to this day where I am a pastor. But to think of the depths of my sinfulness and to now be a pastor with a desire to go wherever, and do whatever God desires of me is a testament to Holy Spirit sanctification.

To think of the man that I was, the sins that I committed, and to think of how God redeemed all of that and has made me His child and His child who is serving Him full-time is evidence that the Holy Spirit does indeed change us from the inside out. To me, I do not want to ever lose the memories of the man that I was. I want to continually look back and be revolted by the pre-salvation Mark. It will keep me humble. Grace is a wonderful thing but if I ever forget that I was the worst of sinners then I will become prideful and think that I have arrived. It is through my past littered with sins, broken relationships, poor choices, situational ethics, etc. that it keeps me humble.

So, when people at my church lovingly call me Pastor Mark, it almost makes me cry when I think of it. To know that God reclaimed me, a dreadful sinner, and cleaned me up and set me on a high place just makes me well up with emotion. To know that He sees enough usable materials in me to allow me to become a pastor is just, well, an indescribable miracle gift. Now, the thing is to move forward and use my past to help others see the cross and accept Christ as their Savior. Now, the thing is to help Christ followers deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ. Yes, I have a past that makes me want to throw up but God will make it useful in the kingdom. Yes, I have a past but God has washed me clean and set me free from the penalties of my sins. Yes, I have a past but God makes us useful to Him. Each one of us who is a Christ follower most likely has a past that we are not proud of. Let it keep us humble. The only difference between us and the non-believer is salvation in Christ. We are all sinners granted grace. None of us have a right to be proud. We are sinners who have been granted a reprieve from the penalty of our sins and have been made clean and useful. So, that on our final days on this earth, we can say that we are forgiven, we have been useful and that the Lord sees us as pure and spotless.

I hope that I never get any less emotional to the point of tears when I hear someone call me Pastor Mark. That is just an amazing testimony of what God can do. That idea of how we are made clean in Christ is what I thought of when I read this passage, 2 Samuel 23:1-7, this morning and how David can sincerely make these claims in this passage even though he was a dreadful sinner as king of Israel. Let’s read it now together:

Chapter 23
1 These are the last words of David:

“David, the son of Jesse, speaks—
David, the man who was raised up so high,
David, the man anointed by the God of Jacob,
David, the sweet psalmist of Israel.[a]

2
“The Spirit of the Lord speaks through me;
his words are upon my tongue.
3
The God of Israel spoke.
The Rock of Israel said to me:
‘The one who rules righteously,
who rules in the fear of God,
4
is like the light of morning at sunrise,
like a morning without clouds,
like the gleaming of the sun
on new grass after rain.’

5
“Is it not my family God has chosen?
Yes, he has made an everlasting covenant with me.
His agreement is arranged and guaranteed in every detail.
He will ensure my safety and success.
6
But the godless are like thorns to be thrown away,
for they tear the hand that touches them.
7
One must use iron tools to chop them down;
they will be totally consumed by fire.”
Our text says, “Now these are the last words of David” (v. 1). However, 1 Kings 2:2-9 give us David’s real last words—David’s instructions from his deathbed to Solomon, who will succeed David as king. Those words are quite different from the lofty words of our text from 2 Samuel. In 1 Kings 2, David instructs Solomon to be faithful to God. Then he instructs Solomon to deal loyally with the sons of Barzillai, who had supported David in his hour of need. He instructs Solomon to deal harshly with Joab and Shimei. So, maybe, this is David’s last public words or last written words. Regardless, the words here are pretty lofty when you think about all that has transpired in David’s house since he became king.

Is David’s house really like this? David’s house, where Amnon raped Tamar? David’s house, where Absalom killed Amnon and raised an army against his father? David’s house, where the royal line will proceed through the child of Bathsheba, a woman whom David “took” both before and after killing her husband? David’s house, under which the people have suffered civil war already and under which they will come to suffer conquest? David may be the beloved of God, but is his house really like the sun? However it was intended, the identification of David’s house with the righteous sun in verse 5 includes both an affirmation and a question.

Remember, too, that David was just a lowly shepherd boy. He had no great lineage as the son of Jesse. Much earlier, while Saul was king, God sent Samuel to anoint David as Saul’s successor (1 Samuel 16). We remember how Jesse marched one tall, good looking son after another before Samuel, but God rejected each of them. After Jesse had marched seven sons before Samuel, Samuel had to ask if Jesse might have another son. Then Jesse remembered that he did, indeed, have one more son—David, his youngest son, who was tending sheep in the wilderness. Jesse hadn’t thought of David sooner, because Jesse had so many other sons who seemed better candidates than young David. But God chose David, the least of Jesse’s sons, to become the greatest of Israel’s kings. God often chooses the least likely candidates for the greatest tasks, because that makes it clear that the resultant successes are due to God’s power—not the person’s strength or wisdom.

What we might be inclined to forget is that Jesse was as unlikely a candidate to become the father of Israel’s great king as David was to be that king. Jesse was just an ordinary man—common—undistinguished. God didn’t choose Jesse because he was great, but because he was not great. When our text says that David was “the son of Jesse,” it reminds us that David came from undistinguished stock. Not that Jesse and David would remain undistinguished! Not at all! But Jesse and David became great because God chose them—not because they were inherently great. God exalted David, anointed him, and made him his favorite. As a result, David enjoyed great success as Israel’s king. Now David shows that he realizes that his success was God’s gift. It was God who chose him. It was God who gave him the victory over Goliath. It was God who gave him victory over his enemies. It was God who gave the city of Jerusalem into his hands.

When we look back at our lives and all the stuff that we did prior to accepting Christ as our Savior, it makes us look as though we are unlikely candidates to be the favored ones of God. In my own life, I know, like David, there is so much that I am ashamed of. There is so much in my past that I wish that I could change. There is so much back there that curdles my stomach to know now that I did those things with impunity back then. It was either outright rebellious sin (the “I don’t care if this is a sin” attitude) or sins committed under the influence of others or sins that I committed because I thought of me and God having a deal to suspend His laws in this one area for me alone (because of all I had been through). It sickens me to think of those things. I am sure that David felt the same way about his past as he draws near to the end of his life.

However, true repentance in Jesus Christ washes away our sins and makes us clean and whole and as bright as the noonday sun. Our salvation in Jesus Christ changes us from the inside out such that we become more and more like Him each day until we are made perfect on that day that we meet Jesus in heaven. We still sin along the way but those sins revolt us in our gut as we mature in Christ such that the Holy Spirit moves us away from one sin type after another through the sanctification process. We are made fresh and new like the dew on newly cut grass on a summer morning. Our house is made clean. Our house is made clean through the gift of grace that is an everlasting covenant between us and God. He doesn’t need to give us this gift. We are dead to rights in our sins. But He loves us so much that He gave us Jesus Christ.

So, at the end of his life, David was able to speak with a clear conscience. Though there had been many consequences to his sins over the years that made his reign seem like a couple years in the storyline of your favorite soap opera, he has sought repentance and was granted forgiveness. Just as David was made clean through repentance and forgiveness, so too can we find forgiveness in Jesus Christ through repentance over our sins. That does not change the past and the horrible things that we did and we should feel revulsion and shame each and every time we reflect on our sins but through Jesus Christ we can be made clean and whole again in the presence of God.

May we come to tears when we think of this fact. May we stay humble because of it. May we be brought to the point of tears when someone calls us a Christ follower. What greater compliment can be paid to us knowing what Jesus reclaimed us from than for someone to note that we are a Christ follower.

Amen and Amen.

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2 Samuel 22:1-51
David’s Song of Praise

Wow! What an amazing passage this is! It is a psalm hidden in 2 Samuel! David enumerates just some of the qualities of God in this passage and it takes up a whole chapter! It is funny how God teaches us things through multiple sources at the same time. Through seemingly unrelated sources, we often get the same message from God! And when you realize it, you go “OK, God, I get the message/lesson you are sending/teaching me!” I call it, for the lack of a better term, “God’s synchronicity”. That’s when you the same word from God through different people’s conversations with you and/or through the things you read either in the Bible or through another book.

Last night as I was reading the beginning parts of the book, Christianity at the Religious Roundtable: Evangelicalism in Conversation with Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, by Timothy Tennant. In my readings last night, I learned a new term, aseity. Asiety is a category of theology focusing on God as He is in and of Himself, apart from His actions. Asiety is a way of stepping back and acknowledging that God was still God in all His fullness before He created the universe, before He created Man, or before we needed to be redeemed. Not only was God free NOT to create, but God did not NEED to create to fulfill something lacking in Himself. We have been guilty at times of presenting God as good, not simply because He is good in and of Himself but because of what He can do for us. When we view God from the perspective of Him being full and complete in and of Himself and that He chose to create universe and all that is in it including Man, it makes His grace offered to us through Jesus Christ all the more astounding and awe inspiring.

Sometimes, in our daily journey of life, we forget about God being who He is. We try to make Him our buddy and pal. We try to make ourselves on par with Him. We try to make Him smaller or ourselves larger. We see Him as a personal servant sometimes. We get pissed at Him when He doesn’t do what we want Him to do. We ask Him for something as if we have earned the right to speak to him as if we are equals. We demand things from God and we don’t get them we act as if God has disappointed us, his best buddy. We have tried to make ourselves so equal with Him that in a lot of writings you read these days that we no longer even capitalize personal pronouns when they are used in connection with God. It used to be the standard in writing of God that when we used a personal pronoun such as Him, He, You, Thou, and so on you would capitalize it. It’s just a little thing but it shows how we have lost some awe when it comes to God.

I am guilty of this behavior toward God as much as anyone. Here, lately, I have been struggling with this new calling on me life and why things are happening so slowly (considering that I am 56 years old as of last Saturday). And what I have had to come to realize is that I am Mark and He is God. I must trust Him with my career, my life, my soul. I must realize my weaknesses that have to be developed into strengths. I must realize too that there are just some gifts that God in His providence did not give to me and that I must live with that. I must realize that He has made me for specific roles in specific places at specific times and those roles will call upon what He gifted me with and either steer me away from areas where I am not gifted or put me through a process of chiseling to develop those gifts. I have been learning that God is not my equal. He is God and I am a mere human. It is in Him that I must trust. I should not trust my own savviness as to how to proceed in my new career as a full-time pastor. I just need to trust the Creator of the Universe and be excellent in the avenues and the places to which He has me assigned.

That is what I thought of this morning is how David firmly expresses this idea of just some of the mighty qualities of the Creator of the Universe, God. Let’s read now what David has to say in 2 Samuel 22:1-51:

Chapter 22
1 David sang this song to the Lord on the day the Lord rescued him from all his enemies and from Saul. 2 He sang:

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior;
3
my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.
He is my shield, the power that saves me,
and my place of safety.
He is my refuge, my savior,
the one who saves me from violence.
4
I called on the Lord, who is worthy of praise,
and he saved me from my enemies.

5
“The waves of death overwhelmed me;
floods of destruction swept over me.
6
The grave[a] wrapped its ropes around me;
death laid a trap in my path.
7
But in my distress I cried out to the Lord;
yes, I cried to my God for help.
He heard me from his sanctuary;
my cry reached his ears.

8
“Then the earth quaked and trembled.
The foundations of the heavens shook;
they quaked because of his anger.
9
Smoke poured from his nostrils;
fierce flames leaped from his mouth.
Glowing coals blazed forth from him.
10
He opened the heavens and came down;
dark storm clouds were beneath his feet.
11
Mounted on a mighty angelic being,[b] he flew,
soaring[c] on the wings of the wind.
12
He shrouded himself in darkness,
veiling his approach with dense rain clouds.
13
A great brightness shone around him,
and burning coals[d] blazed forth.
14
The Lord thundered from heaven;
the voice of the Most High resounded.
15
He shot arrows and scattered his enemies;
his lightning flashed, and they were confused.
16
Then at the command of the Lord,
at the blast of his breath,
the bottom of the sea could be seen,
and the foundations of the earth were laid bare.

17
“He reached down from heaven and rescued me;
he drew me out of deep waters.
18
He rescued me from my powerful enemies,
from those who hated me and were too strong for me.
19
They attacked me at a moment when I was in distress,
but the Lord supported me.
20
He led me to a place of safety;
he rescued me because he delights in me.
21
The Lord rewarded me for doing right;
he restored me because of my innocence.
22
For I have kept the ways of the Lord;
I have not turned from my God to follow evil.
23
I have followed all his regulations;
I have never abandoned his decrees.
24
I am blameless before God;
I have kept myself from sin.
25
The Lord rewarded me for doing right.
He has seen my innocence.

26
“To the faithful you show yourself faithful;
to those with integrity you show integrity.
27
To the pure you show yourself pure,
but to the crooked you show yourself shrewd.
28
You rescue the humble,
but your eyes watch the proud and humiliate them.
29
O Lord, you are my lamp.
The Lord lights up my darkness.
30
In your strength I can crush an army;
with my God I can scale any wall.

31
“God’s way is perfect.
All the Lord’s promises prove true.
He is a shield for all who look to him for protection.
32
For who is God except the Lord?
Who but our God is a solid rock?
33
God is my strong fortress,
and he makes my way perfect.
34
He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
enabling me to stand on mountain heights.
35
He trains my hands for battle;
he strengthens my arm to draw a bronze bow.
36
You have given me your shield of victory;
your help[e] has made me great.
37
You have made a wide path for my feet
to keep them from slipping.

38
“I chased my enemies and destroyed them;
I did not stop until they were conquered.
39
I consumed them;
I struck them down so they did not get up;
they fell beneath my feet.
40
You have armed me with strength for the battle;
you have subdued my enemies under my feet.
41
You placed my foot on their necks.
I have destroyed all who hated me.
42
They looked for help, but no one came to their rescue.
They even cried to the Lord, but he refused to answer.
43
I ground them as fine as the dust of the earth;
I trampled them[f] in the gutter like dirt.

44
“You gave me victory over my accusers.
You preserved me as the ruler over nations;
people I don’t even know now serve me.
45
Foreign nations cringe before me;
as soon as they hear of me, they submit.
46
They all lose their courage
and come trembling[g] from their strongholds.

47
“The Lord lives! Praise to my Rock!
May God, the Rock of my salvation, be exalted!
48
He is the God who pays back those who harm me;
he brings down the nations under me
49
and delivers me from my enemies.
You hold me safe beyond the reach of my enemies;
you save me from violent opponents.
50
For this, O Lord, I will praise you among the nations;
I will sing praises to your name.
51
You give great victories to your king;
you show unfailing love to your anointed,
to David and all his descendants forever.”

In this psalm-like passage, we see that David praises God wholeheartedly. Praise is not just a song about God. It is a song TO God. In this song, David uses many word pictures, such as rock, light, and shield to portray God’s marvelous attributes. Praising God has several aspects to it. We praise God when we:

(1) Say thank you to Him for each attribute of His divine nature. As you read the Bible, look for characteristics of God for which to thank Him.
(2) Focus on our hearts on God. Take one attribute of God, say for example, his mercy, then concentrate on it for an entire week in your bible study and prayer.
(3) Thank God for His many gracious gifts to us. Make a list of ways in which you have experienced or are experiencing blessings from God (i.e., count your blessings). It is amazing how this can change your perspective.
(4) Thank God for our relationship with Him. Through Christ we have been given the greatest gift of all, salvation. Take time to tell God anew how much your salvation through Jesus Christ means to you.

As stated earlier, God’s synchronicity is when you hear or read the same message from Him from multiple different sources. Message received Lord! I have drifted away from being in awe of my Creator as if He owed me something. He owes me nothing. He does not need me. He created the entire universe and everything in it! He is complete in and of Himself. He has no needs. He has no equals. He is the King and I am the subject. He is limitless and I am just a mere and limited mortal. He is Creator and I am the created. We are not equal. He is not my push-button vending machine. I do not demand things because I am not on equal footing with Him. He is God. I am just Mark.

However, though God does not need me and He is Almighty and Powerful and I am limited and weak, He chooses, get that – chooses, to care about me. The Mighty One chooses to call me His child. He created me and knows me like an earthly father knows his child. He knows my gifts and talents that He gave me. He knows my weak spots. He knows my blind spots. He cares for me. He loves me. Though I am not equal in any way to Him, He cares for me even when I do not realize it – because I am His created child. Because He is almighty and all powerful combined with the fact that He loves me more than I will ever know, I just need to trust my Abba Father with my life – my work, my play, my everything.

David’s song is a reminder to us all to use some aseity when it comes to God. Sometimes, we need to step back and realize just who we are praying to, who we are singing to, who God is. There is an old traditional church hymn that I still get chills on those rare occasions that I get to hear it that explains it best. It is called How Great Thou Art. Let’s revisit those lyrics as we close out:

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!
When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation,
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration,
And then proclaim: “My God, how great Thou art!”

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,

How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

 

Nuff said. Amen and Amen.

2 Samuel 21:15-22
Battles Against Philistine Giants

Have you ever had to come to some harsh realizations about yourself? Realizing where you are not as talented as you have made yourself out to be in your mind? Even though I am making about 40% of what I used to make in my previous job, I am learning things as a staff pastor and department head (business services) that I thought I already knew. It makes me realize that I have lived in a leadership nirvana of sorts for the past decade.

In my previous job (in the secular world), by the time I left that job in February 2018, I had been in that job for 10 years. Certainly, the job and my responsibilities accumulated grew over time as I became the financial and administrative expert in our organization. However, from a leadership perspective, I had the same work force for the last 7 ½ years that I was there. Sure, there was coaching to be done over the years but in those last few years, my department had become a well-oiled machine. Everybody knew their jobs very well. Everyone was compensated well and was happy working for the company. All of us had the intent of being long-termers. I had three women, each very professional working for me, so my management style over the past decade had become more suggestive than directive as each one had a desire for excellence that reflected my own. Basically, it was had become a pretty easy job and I would still be there had God not called me into full-time ministry.

Here, at Calvary, with a different mix of people and talents, I have learned that my management style needs growing and also more shockingly to myself is that I am not the best and most talented among the department heads at my church. I am not THAT guy. I have learned that my public speaking skills need so much work. I feel like that new kid just out of college in their first job and having that realization that nothing that you learned in school is going to help you in the practical day to day of your first job. I am learning that I need help to grow into the leader that I need to be within our church. I am having to learn that I am not the most charismatic guy on staff. I am having to learn that I am not as talented as I thought I was. I am having to learn that I must submit myself to the ways things are developing at church where I am not that guy that’s “all-that”. Recognizing that you are not as talented and not as good a leader as someone else and recognizing that they are simply more talented in every possible way than you is a tough realization. What I am learning is that, I am always going to be a learner. I am learning that it’s OK not to be the most talented ballplayer on the court. Even though that’s a tough realization, it’s a good one to learn. There is humility in that. There humility in saying that I have so much more to learn to be a good pastor. There’s humility in simply doing what’s in front of me and leaving the rest to God. There’s humility in recognizing that you need assistance from others to grow into what God has for you – even at age 56 (as of this past Saturday).

That’s what I thought of this morning as I read through this passage for today, 2 Samuel 21:15-22. David had to recognize here that he is “not all that and a bag of chips”. David had to recognize his limitations and that he needed help. Let’s read this passage now:

15 Once again the Philistines were at war with Israel. And when David and his men were in the thick of battle, David became weak and exhausted. 16 Ishbi-benob was a descendant of the giants[a]; his bronze spearhead weighed more than seven pounds,[b] and he was armed with a new sword. He had cornered David and was about to kill him. 17 But Abishai son of Zeruiah came to David’s rescue and killed the Philistine. Then David’s men declared, “You are not going out to battle with us again! Why risk snuffing out the light of Israel?”

18 After this, there was another battle against the Philistines at Gob. As they fought, Sibbecai from Hushah killed Saph, another descendant of the giants.

19 During another battle at Gob, Elhanan son of Jair[c] from Bethlehem killed the brother of Goliath of Gath.[d] The handle of his spear was as thick as a weaver’s beam!

20 In another battle with the Philistines at Gath, they encountered a huge man[e] with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in all, who was also a descendant of the giants. 21 But when he defied and taunted Israel, he was killed by Jonathan, the son of David’s brother Shimea.[f]

22 These four Philistines were descendants of the giants of Gath, but David and his warriors killed them.

In this passage, we see that David needed help. David is getting older in this scene. He is not a young buck anymore. He can’t go full-bore, all-out in battle for extended periods of time as he could when he was a younger man. Here, he got tired and weak and made mistakes that allowed him to get cornered. He needed help to survive. He got the help he needed. He took their advice too about changing his role when it comes to future battles. Even when we are older, we must be capable of recognizing our limitations and I am not just talking about physical ones.

We must be able to admit that maybe there is some young dude that can do what you want to do better than you can do it. We must be able to admit that we still have things to learn. We must be able to say hey you know what, I need help in this area where I am weak. For me, that means seeking mentoring relationships with my fellow staff pastors and my senior pastor. For me, it is saying to them this is where I am weak, I admit it, and can you help me? For me, that means having the humility like David to realize that I need a helping hand. For me, that means having the humility to realize that not all of my talents are superstar status. For me, it is part of God’s chiseling process for me to make me more and more into Christ’s likeness. When we think we got it all covered, God finds it harder to teach us anything. When we come to those humble realizations that hey maybe we are not the superstar we think we are, then, then, God’s got some clay to work with, to mold us into the man of God that He wants us to be. It’s starts with that humble statement of saying, “I just don’t have what it takes for this Lord! I need you to show me the way. I need you to help me do this thing that you have called me to do. I feel so inadequate so it’s gotta be you working through me to make this happen because I cannot do it without you.” There is a freedom in that humble statement. There is peace in letting it go and depending on God.

Amen and Amen.

2 Samuel 21:1-14 (Part 3 of 3)
David Avenges the Gibeonites

Oh a mother’s love! It is a love without end. It is an enduring love. It is a steadfast love. My mom will have been dead for 8 years this coming November 17th. I hate to admit that I do not think of her as often as I should. My life is pretty busy right now with church and school so I barely have time to reminisce about the past with the present so occupying my limited mental faculties. However, when I do think of my mom, I think of how she loved me.

My mom loved me no matter what. She was my biggest fan. Just by the nature of personalities, I guess, my brother was and is more close to my dad than I. Conversely, I was closer to my mom than my brother was. My brother and my mom just always seemed to be at odds. She loved him no less than she did me. She was no less proud of him than me. She would take a bullet for him no less than me. However, to say they were close would be a matter of degree in comparison to my closeness with her. My mom, as we grew into middle aged men, would just grate on my brother’s nerves.

My brother is no walk in the park, mind you. He is opinionated. He is brilliant. He has an eidetic memory. He can remember obscure facts with ease on a multiplicity of subjects. All of those things are great but he must dominate conversations to the nth degree and must always demonstrate just how brilliant he is. I love my brother immensely. Some people just don’t get him. But because he is my brother for eternity, I get him. I understand him. And I love him anyway! LOL! So, when his personality and my mom’s all-up-in-your-business personality meet, there was always a tenseness and sometimes even conflict.

My relationship with mom was different. I am more of a subtle personality than my brother. I may not be as smart as my brother but I am pretty intelligent. I can match my brother in academics but I just have to work a lot harder at than he does. Because of my more low-key, come-what-may personality, my mom and I were very close. The thing I love about my mom still to this day is the fact that she just loved me. There was a comfort in that. No matter how bad things got in my life – even the messes that I created for myself – she loved me. I miss having her around. She was my biggest fan. Sure, she would tell me when I did something wrong but it was never condemning. I always felt safe in my mother’s love. She just thought I was the cat’s meow. She would be oh so proud now that I have finally followed God’s call on my life into full-time ministry. She had begun to love Elena before she got sick and passed away. I am sure they would have been as thick as thieves now if she had been living these past 7 ¾ years. She was lukewarm about the other women in my life over the years but Elena was the one in her eyes. The one that she thought was best for me. I miss having my mom around for those unanticipated 40 minute phone calls that you would have to be somewhat rude to end. I wish for my mother’s presence in my life now. I miss her being all-up-in-my-business.

That idea of a mother’s love and how it is symbolic of God’s love for us is what I thought of this morning as I read this passage for the third and final time before we move on. Let’s read the passage, 2 Samuel 21:1-14, now, and what Rizpah’s love and devotion to her sons even in their death:

Chapter 21
1 There was a famine during David’s reign that lasted for three years, so David asked the Lord about it. And the Lord said, “The famine has come because Saul and his family are guilty of murdering the Gibeonites.”

2 So the king summoned the Gibeonites. They were not part of Israel but were all that was left of the nation of the Amorites. The people of Israel had sworn not to kill them, but Saul, in his zeal for Israel and Judah, had tried to wipe them out. 3 David asked them, “What can I do for you? How can I make amends so that you will bless the Lord’s people again?”

4 “Well, money can’t settle this matter between us and the family of Saul,” the Gibeonites replied. “Neither can we demand the life of anyone in Israel.”

“What can I do then?” David asked. “Just tell me and I will do it for you.”

5 Then they replied, “It was Saul who planned to destroy us, to keep us from having any place at all in the territory of Israel. 6 So let seven of Saul’s sons be handed over to us, and we will execute them before the Lord at Gibeon, on the mountain of the Lord.[a]”

“All right,” the king said, “I will do it.” 7 The king spared Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth,[b] who was Saul’s grandson, because of the oath David and Jonathan had sworn before the Lord. 8 But he gave them Saul’s two sons Armoni and Mephibosheth, whose mother was Rizpah daughter of Aiah. He also gave them the five sons of Saul’s daughter Merab,[c] the wife of Adriel son of Barzillai from Meholah. 9 The men of Gibeon executed them on the mountain before the Lord. So all seven of them died together at the beginning of the barley harvest.

10 Then Rizpah daughter of Aiah, the mother of two of the men, spread burlap on a rock and stayed there the entire harvest season. She prevented the scavenger birds from tearing at their bodies during the day and stopped wild animals from eating them at night. 11 When David learned what Rizpah, Saul’s concubine, had done, 12 he went to the people of Jabesh-gilead and retrieved the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan. (When the Philistines had killed Saul and Jonathan on Mount Gilboa, the people of Jabesh-gilead stole their bodies from the public square of Beth-shan, where the Philistines had hung them.) 13 So David obtained the bones of Saul and Jonathan, as well as the bones of the men the Gibeonites had executed.

14 Then the king ordered that they bury the bones in the tomb of Kish, Saul’s father, at the town of Zela in the land of Benjamin. After that, God ended the famine in the land.

In this passage, we see that Rizpah’s actions here are symbolic of our relationship with God. For those that the Spirit is drawing near, God is our defender. In our state of death in our sin, we are not aware of God’s protection of us from the ravages of sin. Like Rizpah fending off the vultures and wild animals from her dead sons’ bodies (they in their death do not know of her actions), God is fending off Satan’s vultures from us until we recognize His presence in our lives. He is faithful to us even when we are dead in our sins and do not recognize His actions in our lives. For those who are already one of His children, He is still our defender in the spiritual realm. We are often unaware of the demonic forces that are trying to attack us daily. He defends us with His wrath against Satan and his minions. He also defends us through the Word of God. In our human temporal state, we must have God’s Word as a defense against our own fleshly, sinful nature. We sometimes do not even recognize our sins until we are convicted by His Word. Rizpah is therefore symbolic of God’s defense of us against evil and sin.
A mother’s love is unconditional in good times and bad, happy or sad. They just love their kids no matter what. They gave birth to us and nursed us. There is just something about that whole process that sears a child into a mother’s heart. God loves us the same way. Never forget that. He is not sitting around waiting to see how He can crush you. Rather, He loves you so dearly that He sacrificed His Son on the cross so that you could come into His presence without blemish. In this, we see the qualities of a mother’s love for her son – always waiting, always defending, always hoping, and waiting with open arms.
Amen and Amen.

2 Samuel 21:1-14 (Part 2 of 3)
David Avenges the Gibeonites

In this second blog on this passage, the thing that is the play within the play here is the woman and mother, Rizpah. There is so much richness to this character from the Bible. From her, we can learn much.

Before we proceed into Rizpah’s part in today’s passage, we need to understand the background of her story line. The Old Testament is often rich in continued storylines. Rizpah is one of those. The Bible is not just a collection of disjointed passages and books that have nothing to do with each other. In this case, 2 Samuel 21:1-14 is not the first time we have heard Rizpah’s name. Remember the last time she was mentioned in 2 Samuel?

Sometimes in life we get dealt a raw deal. That is certainly the case with Rizpah. it’s important that you realize that this incident in 2 Samuel 21 was not the first time Rizpah had become an innocent victim in a bigger battle that was out of her hands. I wonder do you ever feel like that? Something is going on in your life, and you’ve no control over it, and as far as you’re concerned it’s not your fault, and you class yourself a victim. Well Rizpah was in 2 Samuel 21, but if you turn with me now to 2 Samuel chapter 3, you will see the first time (as far as we know from the biblical record) that Rizpah suffered victimization from the selfish hands of others. In 2 Samuel 3:7, Ishobesheth accuses Abner, the general of Saul’s armies of having sexual relations with Rizpah, one of Saul’s concubines. There’s her name! It’s the same woman!

If anyone was to have sexual relations with one of the king’s women, whether it was the king’s wife or the king’s harem, such an act was understood in the customs of the ancient Middle Eastern cultures as an attempt to take the throne. So by taking his bride or by taking one of his concubines, you were saying that you were in authority and you wanted, or were taking the kingdom. Now what’s going on here in 2 Samuel 3 is that Saul has died, and Ishbosheth Saul’s son has now accused Abner of relations with Rizpah. He suspects that Abner’s toward the house of Saul is dissolving.

Now, Abner denies vigorously that he even laid a hand on Rizpah. If Abner’s loyalty was waning before, this incident causes pushes Abner over the edge. He immediately transfers his allegiance to David and brings the eleven tribes over with him. Now we don’t know from the Bible whether Abner was guilty of sleeping with Rizpah – but either way, it doesn’t really matter whether he did or whether he didn’t, who is the victim in this whole scenario? Rizpah. Regardless of whether the accusation was true or not, her reputation in the royal court of the house of Saul was now in tatters, and all at the expense of someone else’s squabble.

Before we even get to today’s scene in 2 Samuel 21, the biblical author gives us glimpse of Rizpah as a woman who was beset by tragedy that was out of her control. Her reputation ruined by an accusation that may or may not have been true. To make matters worse, Abner leaves her in the dust to go over to David’s side. She is left behind as a woman that is now considered a tainted woman by the royal court. Many feel like that in life. Now Rizpah suffers a second cruelty, for her two sons to King Saul are now hanging on a tree – Armoni is the name of one, and Mephibosheth the name of the other (and that is not Mephibosheth that was Jonathan’s son) – and they are both dead.

To add insult to injury, the fact of the gruesome death is not enough, they are not granted a proper burial – there they are left to hang in the open air, exposed to the elements. Did Rizpah’s deserve this? Had she done anything to warrant such treatment? She is suffering for the selfish sins of another. We see what those sins are, turn back with me to 2 Samuel 21 and verse 2 and we see that the cause of this bloodshed is because of the bloodthirsty house of Saul. The biblical author paints a portrait for us of Rizpah as one who was beset by tragedies that were not of her own making. The only other biblical character that I can think that had similar multiple tragedies that befell him or her that were out of their own control was Job.

Man, Rizpah is a hard luck woman. She has been given a raw deal in life. We probably know somebody like Rizpah in our own lives in the 21st century. If you pick up on this character in the biblical play that is 1 and 2 Samuel, she is a person that we can identify with, some can sympathize with and even some who can empathize with. We all know people like Rizpah. Maybe, we are a Rizpah. Maybe, you have gotten a raw deal in life. Many of us can blame our mistakes and bad decisions for our lot in life, but there are those who seem to be beset by tragedies (notice the plural of tragedy). Some of us seem to have tragedy befall us one after another.

What can we learn from Rizpah that we can use in our 21st century lives then? Let’s read the passage, 2 Samuel 21:1-14, now, and see how Rizpah handles this situation:

Chapter 21
1 There was a famine during David’s reign that lasted for three years, so David asked the Lord about it. And the Lord said, “The famine has come because Saul and his family are guilty of murdering the Gibeonites.”

2 So the king summoned the Gibeonites. They were not part of Israel but were all that was left of the nation of the Amorites. The people of Israel had sworn not to kill them, but Saul, in his zeal for Israel and Judah, had tried to wipe them out. 3 David asked them, “What can I do for you? How can I make amends so that you will bless the Lord’s people again?”

4 “Well, money can’t settle this matter between us and the family of Saul,” the Gibeonites replied. “Neither can we demand the life of anyone in Israel.”

“What can I do then?” David asked. “Just tell me and I will do it for you.”

5 Then they replied, “It was Saul who planned to destroy us, to keep us from having any place at all in the territory of Israel. 6 So let seven of Saul’s sons be handed over to us, and we will execute them before the Lord at Gibeon, on the mountain of the Lord.[a]”

“All right,” the king said, “I will do it.” 7 The king spared Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth,[b] who was Saul’s grandson, because of the oath David and Jonathan had sworn before the Lord. 8 But he gave them Saul’s two sons Armoni and Mephibosheth, whose mother was Rizpah daughter of Aiah. He also gave them the five sons of Saul’s daughter Merab,[c] the wife of Adriel son of Barzillai from Meholah. 9 The men of Gibeon executed them on the mountain before the Lord. So all seven of them died together at the beginning of the barley harvest.

10 Then Rizpah daughter of Aiah, the mother of two of the men, spread burlap on a rock and stayed there the entire harvest season. She prevented the scavenger birds from tearing at their bodies during the day and stopped wild animals from eating them at night. 11 When David learned what Rizpah, Saul’s concubine, had done, 12 he went to the people of Jabesh-gilead and retrieved the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan. (When the Philistines had killed Saul and Jonathan on Mount Gilboa, the people of Jabesh-gilead stole their bodies from the public square of Beth-shan, where the Philistines had hung them.) 13 So David obtained the bones of Saul and Jonathan, as well as the bones of the men the Gibeonites had executed.

14 Then the king ordered that they bury the bones in the tomb of Kish, Saul’s father, at the town of Zela in the land of Benjamin. After that, God ended the famine in the land.

In this passage, we see Rizpah’s deep love for her sons caused her to take sackcloth (symbol of sorrow), spread it on a rock and she kept a vigil day and night over the bodies of her sons, keeping the birds and animals from devouring their bodies. This watch could have lasted anywhere from three to six months. Could you imagine how she felt? Not only had her life been in tatters since the Abner incident but now she was forced to live with the sacrificial deaths of her sons because of the sinful actions of Saul. Their deaths though sacrificial were still the deaths of her sons. Her actions show us true devotion to God even in the face of a world that has come crashing down on her. Her love for her sons was unaffected by the tragedy. Her belief in their honor led to a proper burial. Her perseverance brought David to reconcile himself to the legacy of Saul. Her endurance shows that we sometimes cannot see what our faith in God will produce – we just trust Him regardless of circumstance. Even in this situation where there is no sense to her as to why this happened to her sons, she continues to have faith as demonstrated by her endurance in this effort.

Sure, you know this woman is heartbroken (if you have ever lost a child to premature death you can identify with her). Her two sons were dead way too soon. Our sons and daughters are supposed to bury us not the other way around. Others may think her way of dealing with her obvious grief was pretty wacko even for the time period involved here (the wackiness of her act by human standards is why the author of 2 Samuel chose to include this information). Sometimes, in grief, we must put one foot in front of the other day by day. Nothing else and nothing more. We deal with a sudden death in different ways. However, Rizpah in doing what she was doing was defending the honor of her sons. So, she was actually productively handling her grief.

She was there as an act of love and devotion. She was not permitted to move the bodies of her dead sons, but she could keep the buzzards and coyotes away! What a testimony to abiding love! It reaches past the boundaries of this life and extends beyond the grave. Death could not diminish her love. Though her boys were grown and dead, though their bodies were left hanging as a sign of contempt and condemnation, she still loved them.

The news of this reached David and he was so moved by Rizpah’s actions that he went personally and retrieved the bones of Saul and Jonathon and buried them, along with these seven men in the tomb of Saul’s father. Because of Rizpah, the saga of King Saul ends with an honorable burial, an act that perhaps symbolized David’s own reconciliation with the man who had persecuted him. Not only this, her actions also won, for her sons, an honorable burial, instead of their bodies hanging in disgrace and being devoured by wild animals. Here is a woman who was grieving deeply, yet she allowed her grief and love to motivate her to action, and her actions brought peace and reconciliation. After this, God is entreated for the land of Israel and the drought was lifted. Her actions were a catalyst for closure. They brought closure to the famine, closure to the feud between the house of Saul and the house of David and closure in her own life and loss. Rizpah was a healer, a reconciler. This is a mark of true love. Love always seeks peace, healing, and reconciliation.

I could go on and on about this woman in this passage. Her act here in this passage teaches us much. She is a woman dealing with something that we often have to deal with in life – a tragedy befalling us that is not of our own making and we are left to figure out how to deal with it. She shows us a productive handling of her grief. She shows us love and devotion. She shows us enduring faith that we sometimes have to have when dealing with loss. We just simply trust God that there is some purpose in our suffering – it may take a long time or a lifetime to figure it out, but we still trust. We keep going. We don’t give up. We keep moving. We keep trusting in the Lord as a conscience decision.

Just read and re-read this passage and soak in what Rizpah does and means here. Tomorrow we will look at the symbolic nature of what she is doing in this passage. For now, we close with…

Amen and Amen.

2 Samuel 21:1-14 (Part 1 of 3)
David Avenges the Gibeonites

It would be easy for the United States to abandon Israel. That would be the politically expedient thing to do. The region of the Middle East is full of oil rich nations that fuel the American economy to the tune of about 25% of our petroleum use each year. It would be economically smarter for us to wash our hands of Israel. However, they have been a key ally in the region since the nation was established via conquest in 1948. Prior to and during World War II, millions of Jews fled Nazi-occupied Europe for America (to escape detention in death camps). After the war, millions more came to America to restart their lives in a new land – those that did not participate in the establishment of the Jewish state in what was once their Promised Land. Further, Israel is the lone democracy in a region ruled by wealthy oil-rich despots in most of the Arab countries surrounding Israel. Militarily, Israel is a key ally that helps us keep tabs on Islamic radical groups. Further, there is the innate, almost unspoken need of the American culture to support an Israeli state because of our diminishing but latent Judeo-Christian influence in our society. In that perspective, Israel represents God’s still-chosen people. Thus, from a Judeo-Christian perspective, we must support Israel.

Keeping promises is often a difficult thing to do. The United States has often since the rise of Arab nationalism in the early 1970s paid the price for our friendship with Israel. All of the hate of the United States can latently be tied back to our friendship with Israel. In the American press, Israel is often made out to be the villain that creates refugees of Palestinians and the killers of hundreds and thousands more. So, it certainly would be easier for us to say to Israel that you guys are on your own. It would be easier to break all of our previous promises to Israel and just walk away. It would be cheaper too. According to most of the sources I have read, our military and diplomatic support of Israel costs this country about $4 Billion annually and rising each year. That’s a significant investment. It’s a significant investment that often has a backlash for us. The Arab world has favor in the world of public opinion when it comes to Israel. Most Westerners feel guilt for having been complicit in the wresting of Palestine from the regional facts of what was left of the Ottoman Empire. Thus, in the world of public opinion, Israel is the Donald Trump of their region. No matter what they do, it is soundly condemned. Most European countries join in the condemnation of Israeli actions because of their proximity to Arab nations, the large influx of Arabs to Europe, and their fear of Arab retaliation. Keeping promises to Israel by the United States is a hard thing to do. It is inherited by each President and they must make the unpopular decisions each and every year to support Israel in one way or another.

The promise-keeper relationship that we have with Israel in the 20th and 21st centuries was what I thought about this morning as we see what David does about the promise-keeper relationship his kingdom has with the Gibeonites. Let’s read the passage, 2 Samuel 21:1-14, now:

Chapter 21
1 There was a famine during David’s reign that lasted for three years, so David asked the Lord about it. And the Lord said, “The famine has come because Saul and his family are guilty of murdering the Gibeonites.”

2 So the king summoned the Gibeonites. They were not part of Israel but were all that was left of the nation of the Amorites. The people of Israel had sworn not to kill them, but Saul, in his zeal for Israel and Judah, had tried to wipe them out. 3 David asked them, “What can I do for you? How can I make amends so that you will bless the Lord’s people again?”

4 “Well, money can’t settle this matter between us and the family of Saul,” the Gibeonites replied. “Neither can we demand the life of anyone in Israel.”

“What can I do then?” David asked. “Just tell me and I will do it for you.”

5 Then they replied, “It was Saul who planned to destroy us, to keep us from having any place at all in the territory of Israel. 6 So let seven of Saul’s sons be handed over to us, and we will execute them before the Lord at Gibeon, on the mountain of the Lord.[a]”

“All right,” the king said, “I will do it.” 7 The king spared Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth,[b] who was Saul’s grandson, because of the oath David and Jonathan had sworn before the Lord. 8 But he gave them Saul’s two sons Armoni and Mephibosheth, whose mother was Rizpah daughter of Aiah. He also gave them the five sons of Saul’s daughter Merab,[c] the wife of Adriel son of Barzillai from Meholah. 9 The men of Gibeon executed them on the mountain before the Lord. So all seven of them died together at the beginning of the barley harvest.

10 Then Rizpah daughter of Aiah, the mother of two of the men, spread burlap on a rock and stayed there the entire harvest season. She prevented the scavenger birds from tearing at their bodies during the day and stopped wild animals from eating them at night. 11 When David learned what Rizpah, Saul’s concubine, had done, 12 he went to the people of Jabesh-gilead and retrieved the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan. (When the Philistines had killed Saul and Jonathan on Mount Gilboa, the people of Jabesh-gilead stole their bodies from the public square of Beth-shan, where the Philistines had hung them.) 13 So David obtained the bones of Saul and Jonathan, as well as the bones of the men the Gibeonites had executed.

14 Then the king ordered that they bury the bones in the tomb of Kish, Saul’s father, at the town of Zela in the land of Benjamin. After that, God ended the famine in the land.

In this passage, we find that the main action of 2 Samuel concluded with 2 Samuel 20. The remainder of the book. As you can see from the opening words of 21:1, the episode is described with a very generic time stamp: “in the days of David”. Chronology is not that important here. These last four chapters of 2 Samuel are a kind of composite conclusion, that is, different kinds of David-centered material stitched together by the writer in order to give us a final assessment of David.

Here, in this passage, we see David as the mediator for his people. He seeks the Lord on behalf of his people. In this, he is similar to the high priest who goes into the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle (and later, the Temple). He intercedes on behalf of his people to find out why there is famine in the land. David probably didn’t see a spiritual reason in every problem, but he did not shut his eyes to the hand of God in circumstances. The first and second year he might look upon it as a punishment laid upon them for the common sins of the land: but when he saw it continuing a third year also, he thought there was something in it more than ordinary, and therefore, although he well knew the natural cause to be drought, yet he inquired after the supernatural, as wise men should do.

When David heard it was because of an attack against the Gibeonites, a chill probably ran up his back. He knew they were a people especially wrong for Saul to attack and kill. In the days of Joshua – more than 400 years before David’s time – Israel swore not to harm the Gibeonites, a neighboring tribe (Joshua 9). God expected Israel to keep its promise, even though the Gibeonites tricked Israel into making the agreement. Saul’s crime was not only in killing the Gibeonites but also in breaking this ancient and important oath. God expects us to keep our promises. God expects nations to keep their promises. Time does not diminish our obligation to promises.

So, what can we take away from this today? We must keep our promises that we have made before God and men. We must keep them even when it is politically a disadvantage to us. God has kept His promises always to us. He promised us that He would bless us if we would be obedient to Him. Through Jesus, He has fulfilled His promise to us to make us righteous. God keeps all His promises. We should too.

Amen and Amen.

2 Samuel 20:1-26 (Part 3 of 3)
The Revolt of Sheba

Every stop along the way of our journey of faith in Jesus Christ is preparation for what has for us next. Right now is preparation for what comes next. Tomorrow has been prepared by what we understand and learn from God today. My previous senior pastor at LifeSong Church in South Carolina used to say (and I am not sure if he coined the phrase or not but it was go-to phrase for him), “God is preparing us for what He has prepared for us.” The issue then becomes whether we have the humility to learn what God is teaching us in the “here and now” so that we will be prepared for what He has in store for us in the “there and later”.

The reason that I speak of this issue is that today is my 6-month anniversary of having moved to the Quad Cities (specifically the Illinois side of the Quad Cities). Six months ago, in February 2018, we arrived at our temporary apartment home at about lunchtime on a Saturday. Fifteen minutes after we arrived, it began to snow and we ended up with 3 inches of snow before it was all said and done. To me, that was a big deal but that’s just a sprinkling of snow around these parts. It was a cold. Part of me was thinking, yeah we have cold Februarys back in my native South Carolina but 3 inches of snow, even on a Saturday, would have shut the Upstate of South Carolina down. All the milk, bread, and eggs would already be gone from the grocery stores. In the South, snow is an unofficial opportunity to have a holiday. To Southerners, snow is like waking up thinking that it is a workday and then having that soothing realization that it is the weekend and you go back to sleep. Snow brings out the kid in all Southerners. Snow gives Southerners an excuse to relax, goof off, and reconnect with our spouses and kids. Up here in northwest Illinois though, snow is just another day. It’s just something you have to deal with in the wintertime.

I was thinking to myself, these people don’t even seem to care that it is snowing. No one is playing in it. No one is walking by with sleds or snow discs to the nearest hill and enjoy the fun of sliding down a hill as fast as you can and crashing out at the bottom. What is going on here? What have I got myself into? That has been a question not only that first day here as we were unpacking six months ago today but also one that I have been asking myself frequently since I got here. Why am I here? Am I just an accountant at a church or am I a pastor? My title is Director of Business Services/Staff Pastor but am I really a pastor? What am I doing here, Lord? Why did I answer your call to full-time ministry when it seems in a lot of ways just a change in geography? This question has been one that I have struggled with off and on since I left my secular job in South Carolina and my part-time church position there to go full-time into the ministry here in Illinois.

In answering that question, I recently heard a profound saying by Zig Ziglar that was repeated in a promotional video that I saw for the upcoming football season of my favorite college team, the Clemson University Tigers. In that video, Clemson’s head coach, Dabo Swinney, repeated the words of Ziglar when he said, speaking of the constant work and continuing work of building the Clemson program into the success that it is right now, “There is no elevator to success! You have to take the stairs!” As you may know, when Dabo Swinney took over the Clemson program in the middle of the 2008 season, the program was about as bottomed out as it could be. However, since that time, Coach Swinney has worked hard to establish the culture of the program by the systems he has put in place to ensure accountability, systems to ensure that the athletes are positioned for success, and to go after only those football players that fit the culture at Clemson (not just because they are the best 5-star recruit at a particular position). It was a bumpy road at first. Those first two and half years under Coach Swinney the Tigers had a record of 19-15 over that time. However, Swinney asked the Tiger faithful to have faith in him as he worked his plan. They did and he did. Beginning with the 2010 season and through the conclusion of the 2017 season, the Tigers have now ripped off 7 consecutive seasons with 10 or more victories in each season. They are 82-15 over those 7 seasons, have won 4 ACC championships, appeared in the national championship game twice, won one national champion and have appeared in 3 of the 4 college football playoffs since that system was instituted four seasons ago. Sometimes, a little trust in the plan is all it takes. The powers that be at Clemson trusted that Coach Swinney had a plan and would work it to fruition and they have been rewarded for that trust.

I throw in illustrations from Clemson as much as I can, as you know, but it really does fit the situation that I am talking about today. We sometimes have to trust the process of what God is trying to do in us as He prepares us for what He has in store for us. I think that here at Calvary Church of The Quad Cities, the thing that is coming out to me is that I have been put under the tutelage of a senior pastor who is the master organizer. He is extremely gifted at it. It is from him that I am learning that organization, details, plans, being prepared is just as much key to the success of a church as is evangelism and discipleship.

From my senior pastor here, I am learning to think ahead of the game more so than I ever have. To grow a church from the ground up as he has this church (to now where it is 23 years old and counting), you must think high and low at the same time. You must have a vision for where you want to be five years from now and then build systems and processes now to make sure that you get there in the best and most efficient way possible. You have to have that guiding light of where you need to be five years from now but you cannot forsake accountability and efficiency for the dream of five years from now. There may be an express elevator to the top at the Sears Tower in Chicago but for success there is no elevator. You must take the stairs. You must understand how to structure things for success. You must think worst case scenario/what could go wrong so that you build systems and processes that will help you minimize the damage of what could go wrong.

That all sounds very mundane in the world of church doesn’t it. But that’s the thing to me is that I must trust what my senior pastor and boss is teaching me. He is bringing me along slowly so that I see each floor as we take the stairs to success. He wants me to see what I need to know. He wants me to smell it and take it in. And one of those things is being organized. Here, I am learning that how you structure the staff and the levels of accountability in the structure can help determine success. Again, it’s organization. You must have a properly aligned organization and be organized yourself and stay ahead of the game. Organize yourself for the success that is expected to be there five years from now. With the proper systems in place, it eliminates organizational and procedural problems from getting in the way of doing real ministry. That’s what I am here to learn as much as anything. Yes, I am here too to learn how to be a spiritual leader of the people under my care that God has sent to us but I am also learning that we must have systems and processes in place that work well so that they don’t get in the way of ministry.

Then, you have days like this past Wednesday. We have what we call “Pastoral Connections”. These meetings are where we meet with people who have been through our membership class process and have decided that they want to be members of our church. After the membership class, our office receptionist and admin assistant to our senior pastor schedules times for each of the potential members to meet with either the senior pastor or one of us three staff pastors (the worship pastor, the family pastor, and me, the administrative pastor). It is these meetings that we go through and in-depth interview process (not the word process – there are guided questions, membership profiles, and salvation story documents involved) with the potential members. The process, the organized nature of it, makes it easy for the pastors, I can tell you that.

Well, having those processes and systems in place, allowed me to really get to the heart of an issue with a couple where they needed some real counseling. It was one of those watershed moments for me. YES! This is why I became a full-time pastor. This is why I followed God’s call. This is why!!! I really helped a couple see a matter from a biblical perspective (and I was able to use my own past experiences outside of full-time ministry to help – you know the “using my past mess as part of my message” thing). This is why God pushed me into full-time ministry – to use my skills and mistakes altogether to help people on their journey to the cross and beyond.

But the thing that is striking me this morning is that if my senior pastor was not the master organizer that he is, this couple and I may have not had that moment in time, that opportunity for the counseling that they needed right at that moment. The thing is that if we did not have that membership class/pastoral connection process in place, this counseling may have never taken place or at least got long delayed. Be organized. Have systems. Position yourself for effective ministry. That’s the deal. That’s what I am learning from my senior pastor, Tim Bowman.

That’s the thing that connected to me this morning as I read 2 Samuel 20:1-26 for the last of three times before I move on to the next passage – that idea of having proper organization so that it positions you for success (and success in ministry is reaching people for Christ and discipling Christ followers into deeper and deeper relationships with Him). Why did this come to mind from reading this passage? The last few verses identify the organizational structure of David’s organization and the whole passage demonstrates that there was organizational structure to the army. Let’s read the passage now with that in mind:

Chapter 20
1 There happened to be a troublemaker there named Sheba son of Bicri, a man from the tribe of Benjamin. Sheba blew a ram’s horn and began to chant:

“Down with the dynasty of David!
We have no interest in the son of Jesse.
Come on, you men of Israel,
back to your homes!”

2 So all the men of Israel deserted David and followed Sheba son of Bicri. But the men of Judah stayed with their king and escorted him from the Jordan River to Jerusalem.

3 When David came to his palace in Jerusalem, he took the ten concubines he had left to look after the palace and placed them in seclusion. Their needs were provided for, but he no longer slept with them. So each of them lived like a widow until she died.

4 Then the king told Amasa, “Mobilize the army of Judah within three days, and report back at that time.” 5 So Amasa went out to notify Judah, but it took him longer than the time he had been given.

6 Then David said to Abishai, “Sheba son of Bicri is going to hurt us more than Absalom did. Quick, take my troops and chase after him before he gets into a fortified town where we can’t reach him.”

7 So Abishai and Joab,[a] together with the king’s bodyguard[b] and all the mighty warriors, set out from Jerusalem to go after Sheba. 8 As they arrived at the great stone in Gibeon, Amasa met them. Joab was wearing his military tunic with a dagger strapped to his belt. As he stepped forward to greet Amasa, he slipped the dagger from its sheath.[c]

9 “How are you, my cousin?” Joab said and took him by the beard with his right hand as though to kiss him. 10 Amasa didn’t notice the dagger in his left hand, and Joab stabbed him in the stomach with it so that his insides gushed out onto the ground. Joab did not need to strike again, and Amasa soon died. Joab and his brother Abishai left him lying there and continued after Sheba.

11 One of Joab’s young men shouted to Amasa’s troops, “If you are for Joab and David, come and follow Joab.” 12 But Amasa lay in his blood in the middle of the road, and Joab’s man saw that everyone was stopping to stare at him. So he pulled him off the road into a field and threw a cloak over him. 13 With Amasa’s body out of the way, everyone went on with Joab to capture Sheba son of Bicri.

14 Meanwhile, Sheba traveled through all the tribes of Israel and eventually came to the town of Abel-beth-maacah. All the members of his own clan, the Bicrites,[d] assembled for battle and followed him into the town. 15 When Joab’s forces arrived, they attacked Abel-beth-maacah. They built a siege ramp against the town’s fortifications and began battering down the wall. 16 But a wise woman in the town called out to Joab, “Listen to me, Joab. Come over here so I can talk to you.” 17 As he approached, the woman asked, “Are you Joab?”

“I am,” he replied.

So she said, “Listen carefully to your servant.”

“I’m listening,” he said.

18 Then she continued, “There used to be a saying, ‘If you want to settle an argument, ask advice at the town of Abel.’ 19 I am one who is peace loving and faithful in Israel. But you are destroying an important town in Israel.[e] Why do you want to devour what belongs to the Lord?”

20 And Joab replied, “Believe me, I don’t want to devour or destroy your town! 21 That’s not my purpose. All I want is a man named Sheba son of Bicri from the hill country of Ephraim, who has revolted against King David. If you hand over this one man to me, I will leave the town in peace.”

“All right,” the woman replied, “we will throw his head over the wall to you.” 22 Then the woman went to all the people with her wise advice, and they cut off Sheba’s head and threw it out to Joab. So he blew the ram’s horn and called his troops back from the attack. They all returned to their homes, and Joab returned to the king at Jerusalem.

23 Now Joab was the commander of the army of Israel. Benaiah son of Jehoiada was captain of the king’s bodyguard. 24 Adoniram[f] was in charge of forced labor. Jehoshaphat son of Ahilud was the royal historian. 25 Sheva was the court secretary. Zadok and Abiathar were the priests. 26 And Ira, a descendant of Jair, was David’s personal priest.

In this passage, we see that David for all his faults and failures (that led to all these rebellions) must have been a master organizer. He had a definitive way that he had the people reporting to him. He had guys assigned to do certain things. Everyone had their lane of responsibility. And we see from Joab at the scene of this siege that everything was very organized. Even though the woman here in this passage changed his mind about how to win the day, we see how the men knew their responsibilities and positions and began building the siege ramps and so on. There was no disorganization. They were organized for success. Sometimes, it may seem that in ministry that we don’t need organization but we do!

If we are falling all over each other as we build the siege ramps to a society that needs to know Jesus Christ and to fight Satan himself, we will lose the battle. We must know our roles. We must have systems in place to ensure that we are successful. We must invest the time in building and understanding our systems so that they operate efficiently. We must take time to build systems and organizational structures such that we are prepared for the influx of new people. There is an old church growth saying that says “if you are a 1,000 member church, act like you are a 2,000 member church.” In other words, you need to be prepared for managing a church that is larger than where you are at now so that you will always be ahead organizationally for where your church is now. I have seen churches and read about churches that were not prepared for the growth that they experienced and the church lost people over it (because things were so disorganized). Your church will lose people to the point of the capabilities of your organizational structure and systems. If you are a 1,500 member church but your organizational structure and systems are built to handle only about 1,000 people, guess what will happen. Over time, your church will shrink back to 1,000 people.

Without proper organization and proper systems and processes, we fall all over ourselves and miss ministry opportunities. Without proper organization and proper systems and processes in place, we may not even recognize that we missed a ministry opportunity. We may not even know that it is there.

So, I thank God for my senior pastor and what he is teaching me about church and being a pastor. I see the value of systems and processes. Without it, I would not have had the opportunity to truly minister to two members of God’s family and potential members of our church. Without it, I would not have been able to say, “This is why I became a pastor!”

Amen and Amen.