"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." 1 Peter 3:15

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Integrity part 3: Lessons from the life of David

King David’s life slipped into territory reserved strictly for weekday soap operas pretty quick. Ironic since the whole incident started with a bath gone horribly wrong (get it…soap opera, bath…soap…bath…funny, right?). Equally ironic since the lady bathing was named Bathsheba…but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s look at David’s blunder, and the how he responded to the confrontation of his sin.  2 Samuel 11 says,

1 In the spring of the year, when kings normally go out to war, David sent Joab and the Israelite army to fight the Ammonites. They destroyed the Ammonite army and laid siege to the city of Rabbah. However, David stayed behind in Jerusalem.

There is a bit of a conflict in that first verse. It was the time of year when kings go out to war, yet David was bumming at the palace. David was not where he was supposed to be. There was a battle for him to be fighting
Like David, we too have been given a war to fight. Ours is a spiritual battle. We have been called to make disciples, to share the gospel of Christ. To do this effectively, we also have to battle our own sinful desires. But doing both of these things works best with a team of warriors fighting beside us. 4th lesson in integrity: Are you fighting your battle with a team of soldiers?

God has graciously given me a group of guys who I meet with regularly. They are my fellow warriors. Like David’s army, they are mighty men. Friends, we need brothers and sisters in arms fighting the spiritual battle with us—fighting our own sin and temptation to maintain integrity, and fighting to win souls. What is church if not that? I want to be a battleship—not a cruise line. When Christ returns what do you want to say to him—I sought souls for your kingdom, or I spent my years warming a pew?

2nd Samuel 11 goes on to say,

2 Late one afternoon, after his midday rest, David got out of bed and was walking on the roof of the palace.

Let’s just stop there, shall we? What was David up to? Napping mid-day, taking strolls on the roof…there is no problem with finding rest every now and then—in fact God asks us to, but this was not the right time for it, not when his men are out fighting his battles. He is not using this time wisely. Chances are if you got a bunch of free time with nothing constructive to fill it with, you also have a lot of sin issues that need dealing with. Idle time is the breeding ground of all sorts of evil. 5th Lesson in integrity: Don’t be idle?

…As he looked out over the city, he noticed a woman of unusual beauty taking a bath.

David was in the danger zone. He saw a beautiful woman and instead of fleeing temptation he lingered. Jesus says in Matthew 5:28 that if you look at a woman with lust in your eye, you have already committed adultery with her in your heart.  6th Lesson in integrity: Flee the danger zone.

What temptations do you need to flee from? Gossip, alcohol, anger, sex? We all have our sins of choice—let’s not give ourselves an opportunity to choose. When temptation attacks, run for your life!

3 He sent someone to find out who she was, and he was told, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4 Then David sent messengers to get her; and when she came to the palace, he slept with her…

And that dirty slushy ball of sin grew as it snowballed down the hill. Unrepentant sin tends to breed new sin. David got Bathsheba pregnant, and attempted to cover it up through deceiving her husband; inviting him home from the battlefield, with the hope that he would sleep with his wife. Because Uriah is an honorable man, he refuses to face the comforts and pleasures of his wife’s company while so many others were suffering out on the battlefield. Since Uriah doesn’t bite the bait, David conceives a plan to have him killed.

David the king  royally messed up!

So, how does David’s response to confrontation compare with Saul’s? Let’s read it:

2 Samuel 12: 1-13,

1 So the LORD sent Nathan the prophet to tell David this story: “There were two men in a certain town. One was rich, and one was poor. 2 The rich man owned a great many sheep and cattle. 3 The poor man owned nothing but one little lamb he had bought. He raised that little lamb, and it grew up with his children. It ate from the man’s own plate and drank from his cup. He cuddled it in his arms like a baby daughter. 4 One day a guest arrived at the home of the rich man. But instead of killing an animal from his own flock or herd, he took the poor man’s lamb and killed it and prepared it for his guest.”

5 David was furious. “As surely as the LORD lives,” he vowed, “any man who would do such a thing deserves to die! 6 He must repay four lambs to the poor man for the one he stole and for having no pity.”

7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are that man! The LORD, the God of Israel, says: I anointed you king of Israel and saved you from the power of Saul. 8 I gave you your master’s house and his wives and the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. And if that had not been enough, I would have given you much, much more. 9 Why, then, have you despised the word of the LORD and done this horrible deed? For you have murdered Uriah the Hittite with the sword of the Ammonites and stolen his wife. 10 From this time on, your family will live by the sword because you have despised me by taking Uriah’s wife to be your own.

11 “This is what the LORD says: Because of what you have done, I will cause your own household to rebel against you. I will give your wives to another man before your very eyes, and he will go to bed with them in public view. 12 You did it secretly, but I will make this happen to you openly in the sight of all Israel.”

David Confesses His Guilt

13 Then David confessed to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.”

7th Lesson in integrity: Do you have a Nathan in your life? Are you willing to listen to him or her? I have a friend who really cares about me. He asks me the tough questions. When I fall short, he calls me on it, and helps me get my feet walking in the right direction again. We all need a Nathan in our life.

When looking at Saul and David and comparing their two mistakes, if you were to ask me, it appears that David’s was a little bit more extreme. Yet, David was the one who was made right again. Why is that?

What sets Saul and David apart in their responses to the criticism from the Lord they received through two godly prophets? Like Saul, David confessed his sin, but unlike Saul, David admitted his sin right away without any justification. Why was David’s confession more favorable to God then Saul’s? We are not told, and can only guess. God does not look to our outward actions, but the motives of the heart. David was truly repentant, when it appears Saul was not. David cared about what God thought, while it appears Saul was concerned with the opinions of others.

David wrote a Psalm in response to his sin. I will share a few verses with you. Notice how similar his words are to the response given to Saul after he fell from grace.

Psalm 51:10-12, 16-17

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a loyal spirit within me.
11 Do not banish me from your presence,
and don’t take your Holy Spirit[d] from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and make me willing to obey you...

...16 You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
You do not want a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

May we walk in companionship with the Lord our God with repentant hearts, and offering our obedience through a spirit broken for his Glory.

Integrity part 2: Lessons from the life of Saul

We all have moments in life when we forget that God is with us behind our closed doors. Instead of boldly proclaiming “I will not be shaken”, we stumble and fall. Let’s look at two men who took some pretty significant spills in their lives: Saul and David. Both men were anointed by God to be king of Israel. But only one was called a man after God’s own heart.

In both instances, these men were confronted by Godly men. What can we learn from these men’s mistakes, and how they respond to confrontation? First, we will look at Saul. In our next post we will look at David’s great stumble found in 2 Samuel 11.

We read in 1 Samuel 15 that God commanded Saul to wipe out the entire Amalekite nation—all the people, and even their animals. It is hard for us to grasp how a loving and gracious God could command such a thing, but we must remember that God’s mind is much bigger than our own. He is just, righteous, and cannot sin. Israel were his chosen people, and he did not want them intermarrying with people who would bring their false gods into the lives of his people, robbing them of the joy they could find in him. The Amalekites were also a very violent people group who could harm Israel…and had done so in the past. God’s extreme response was to wipe them out—completely.

1st Lesson in integrity: What are the Amalekites in our lives—those things that desire to pull us from God and harm us? We all have things in our lives we need to kill off. Is it an unhealthy relationship that needs to end? Sever the ties. Temptations online? Get rid of the Internet in your home. Debt on a card? Fast from needless spending. Are these extreme responses? Yes—but so was Gods. Jesus says in Matthew 5, if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out, and if your hand causes you to sin cut it off—it is better for these parts to parish then for the whole body to be thrown to Hell!

Saul failed to obey the task God gave him, leaving the king alive, and taking the best of the livestock. Deuteronomy 25:18 tells us that the Amalekites did not fear the Lord. Saul’s disobedience shows that neither did he.

When confronted by the prophet Samuel, Saul justified his disobedience saying the plunder of the battle was to be sacrificed to the Lord. But God desired obedience over sacrifice. 2nd Lesson in integrity: We too must ask ourselves, what sin are we justifying in our lives? Justifying sin reveals the true nature of our heart before God.

Samuel responds to Saul’s justifications in verses 22-23

22 But Samuel replied,
“What is more pleasing to the LORD:
your burnt offerings and sacrifices
or your obedience to his voice?
Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice,
and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.
23 Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft,
and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.
So because you have rejected the command of the LORD,
he has rejected you as king.”

In verse 24 of 1 Samuel 15, we see Saul finally admit his sin, and plead for forgiveness. Next week, we will see that David too admitted his sin to the Lord. Yet, God’s response to these men is strikingly different. The Lord does not forgive Saul like he does to David. Why is this? We are not told directly, we could only guess. But I think the passage gives us hints.

Verse 12 tells us that after fighting the Amalekites, Saul set up a monument to himself. Only a man very full of himself would do such a thing, right? Yet, verse 17 reveals that God knew how little Saul actually thought of himself. When Saul confesses in verse 24, he admits that he was afraid of his people and did what they demanded—this is why he disobeyed the Lord. After confessing, he begged Samuel to honor him before the people by going to the temple to worship the Lord with him.

It appears that Saul’s heart found its value in what his people thought of him. He was more concerned in pleasing others than in pleasing the Lord. 3rd Lesson in integrity: Who are our hearts set to please?

Integrity part 1: God behind our closed doors

I look forward to being a father one day. In all honesty, I shouldn’t. I know what kind of child I was. I am the reason patience is also called “long-suffering”. I have put my parents through a lot! Many of you have an idea of the different uses of a spatula—flipping pancakes, lifting fresh cookies from a hot tray. When I was a child, I had a very different understanding of the spatula. The spatula was a tool of discipline…one which paid me a visit quite often!

I bear no ill will towards my parents for my many spankings, in fact, I am grateful. They always came from a place of love; wanting to see me learn to walk in right behavior. They were always partnered with a “this is what you did wrong, this is how we can make it right, and here is the game plan to keep from making this mistake again.”

Part of growing up is learning through discipline, maturing, and putting childish behaviors behind us.

This is true in our Spiritual maturity as well. But sadly, as a pastor friend put it, there are many white-haired spiritual babies; grown men and women who have never grown in spiritual maturity; never learned to walk with the Lord in integrity.

I’d like to look at two men: Saul and David, and what their lives can teach us about integrity. Both men were anointed by God. Both were given the responsibility of ruling the nation of Israel. Yet, only one was called a man after God’s own heart.

1 Samuel 24 reveals an incident that was significant to both Saul and David’s lives. At the time, Saul held the thrown of Israel, but because of his disobedience, he’d already been told that God had found a man after his own heart who would rule the thrown. David was that man; he had already been anointed as the next king.

Saul wanted to see David dead. David hid with his soldiers in the wilderness of En-gedi, and Saul came with 3000 men to hunt him down. It just so happened by divine providence that Saul stepped into the very cave David and his men were hiding in to “relieve” himself. David literally caught Saul with his pants down—he was completely helpless! David’s men encouraged him, “now is your chance!” David snuck up behind the king, and snipped off a piece of his robe…and that’s when his conscience got the best of him.

I love this—David was so in tune with God, his conscience troubled him for damaging the clothing of the man who came to murder him in cold blood! Saul on the other hand, had closed God off so much that not only did he want to kill David—he dragged 3000 other men into sin with him.

There couldn’t be a greater contrast between David and Saul here. What sets them apart? The most simple, basic answer is that one recognized the presence of God while the other didn’t.

David listened to his conscience—Saul had shut his off.

Huddled in a room, there we sat— a group of friends confessing our trials; opening up behind a closed door in our chaotic college dorm. Many of us admitted the deep struggle it was to keep our minds and eyes pure behind the closed doors of our dorm rooms. “I don’t have a roommate…there’s no one to see what I do! How can I remain pure?” After a pause, one of my best friends thoughtfully spoke. “I’ve been thinking…what if we really…I mean really…believed that God is always with us—that he is there behind those closed doors. That he sees what we do. How would that change the way we live?

That question stuck with me and has formed the way I understand integrity. Integrity is recognizing that God is always with us, and living as such.

If we are honest, there are many times that we perhaps don’t want God to be with us. In those moments, it is only because we hold a skewed view of God. It is easy to slip into seeing God as a cosmic referee—he’s just waiting to blow the whistle when we mess up! You can’t do this, you can’t do that—can’t, can’t, can’t! In our skewed perception, God looks like a major killjoy. But how could the author and creator of joy kill it? No! God wants to bring us true joy, and let us experience it to the fullest! He’s like the father of a toddler who reaches down to grab the dog food, worm, or pine cone from his child’s hand before the tot’s pudgy fingers plop it in his mouth. “No! You don’t want to eat that! I have something better—much, much better for you.” False joys leave a bad taste in our mouth. Our greatest joy is found in walking with God.

David writes in Psalm 16 about the joy found living one’s life in companionship with God. Here are a couple verses…

… 8 I know the LORD is always with me.
I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.

... 11 You will show me the way of life,
granting me the joy of your presence
and the pleasures of living with you forever.

As we continue this blog series on integrity, we will look at those moments when the “I will not be shaken” becomes the stumbling and falling down that we all do. Both Saul and David had some significant slip ups. Both were confronted by godly men for their sin. What can we learn from their mistakes, and the way they responded?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Lord's Prayer

One of the most beautiful things about becoming a Christian is that as the Holy Spirit transforms our lives, He begins to align our desires with those of the Father so that as we mature in our prayer life, we begin to pray not for the desires of our flesh, but for the desires of the Father.  Our desires become one and the same with His.

I love to look at the Lord’s Prayer in light of that truth.  Matthew 6: 9-13 says,

9 “This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’

Right before these verses, Jesus warns his followers not to babble on like the pagans when they pray.  The sad irony is that the words of the Lord’s Prayer have become so familiar to us that it is easy not to really think of what it is we are saying.  What I love about this prayer is that it’s active—it is a prayer we participate with the Spirit of God in answering as we align ourselves with Him.  What do I mean by that?  Look at this:  How is it that our Father’s name is hallowed?  We lift up his name!  It is our privilege and responsibility to lift up our Father’s holy name and proclaim it to those who are lost.  How is it that the Father’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven?  We do his will!  It is our privilege and responsibility to follow the Spirit’s leading, and to obey God in carrying out the Great Commission He has given to us in going and making disciples.  How is it that God provides us with our daily sustenance?  It is not through our slothfulness that God provides for us, but we can praise Him for giving us the ability and opportunity to be able to work hard in order to provide food for our tables.  We can thank Him that we live in a place where hard work can provide food.

A foolish man prays for God to open locked doors…and then never reaches out to turn the knob himself!  James 2:16-17 says,

16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

How important that our prayer life is accompanied by action.  After all, God is not our servant—we are His!  That we participate in answering our own prayers does not make the answers any less amazing—if anything, the answers are all the more amazing as they reveal our transformed hearts.

                There is one part of the Lord ’s Prayer we cannot participate in.  We cannot forgive our own debts.  Only the blood of Christ can forgive us our debts, and deliver us from evil.  We, however, are given the responsibility and the power to forgive the debts others have against us.  What a beautiful opportunity to mirror our heavenly Father—to live in his transforming power. 

                Matthew 6: 14-15 says,

14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

                This is a verse that should cause each of us to pause.  Some pains are hard to let go.  It’s easy to cling to a grudge, massaging it in the palm of our hand.  But what this reveals is that we don’t truly recognize what it is that Christ did in forgiving us.  We become no less foolish than the servant who demanded his payment of a few coins when the king had released him his debt of thousands (Matt 18:21-35)!  When we refuse to forgive, we reveal the true heart within us.  Is yours a prayerful heart transformed by the King, or a demanding heart convinced that it is king?  Align your heart with the Fathers—let your prayers be active, and your forgiveness mirroring the likeness of Christ’s.