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Archive for September, 2010

Stephen J. Hawking, the famous astrophysicist known for having a brilliant mind within a broken body (he has neuro-muscular dystrophy), created quite a stir in scientific and theological circles a few weeks ago for arguing in his latest book, The Grand Design, that the universe was created spontaneously, without the need for a Creator.  Essentially, Hawking argues that our universe is a cosmic cousin of another universe within a multiverse system. Our universe spontaneously morphed out of a previously existing universe in another dimension, similar to the way an amoeba replicates or the way a drop of mercury suddenly splits in half when pressure is applied.

In a short article published in The Wall Street Journal,  Hawking presents his case.  Not being an astrophysicist, I’m in no position to criticize his argument (for that, you can visit some theological and scientific critiques here and here).  What interests me in this discussion is Hawking’s conclusion after explaining how the physical laws in our universe necessitate the existence of very few of intelligent creatures:

Each universe has many possible histories and many possible states. Only a very few would allow creatures like us to exist. Although we are puny and insignificant on the scale of the cosmos, this makes us in a sense the lords of creation.

I suppose we theists could accuse Hawking of exercising some presumption (or, perhaps, arrogance) for thinking he is a “lord of creation”. We would surely be justified for saying so.  But, for me, Hawking’s statement illustrates rather well the historic tension between Science and Faith in the modern and post-modern eras.

I tend to think the reason Christians (and other theists) often have deep suspicions of science is due to the idolatrous attitudes of scientists such as Hawking.   Those Christians who deny evolution are often derided by the smart set, but I tend to think their rebellion against the empirical evidence originates from their astute observation that scientists often direct worship away from God and onto themselves.

My point here is not to deconstruct the scientific method (indeed, Hawking’s hypotheses cannot really be tested, a fact for which he is being criticized).  I personally follow the teachings of the Catholic church on the relationship between science and faith. Rather, it is simply to point out how easily idolatry enters our lives.  For some, an idol may be sex, money, or power.  For some scientists, it is reason.  Whatever the case, our idols convince us that we are at the center of the universe, in which we pursue ungodly objects in order to satiate an unholy desire.

We theists may not always follow the empirical evidence the way we should in some cases, but at least we acknowledge who the true Lord of Creation is–the God who led Israel out of captivity, who resurrected his son Jesus Christ, and who will send his son back to us in glory to renovate a broken universe. Or multiverse, as it were.

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I am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N.

The name “Christian” has fallen on hard times.  Among members of my generation, “Christian” is no longer a title by which many young Christians would like to be known.  From their point of view, the name “Christian” has now become associated with bigotry, hypocrisy, and the Republican Party, and they therefore do not want their faith (which supposedly is none of these things) to be seen through those lenses.  Or perhaps the reason is more docile.  Perhaps we feel that simply labeling ourselves “Christian” doesn’t quite have enough pizzazz, so we need to dress up our faith a bit to make it a bit more engaging to a seeking world.  A quick glance through some of the “religion” descriptions on some of my friends’ Facebook pages will bear this out.   Several style themselves “Christ followers” (sometimes with, sometimes without a hyphen).  One describes himself as “Christo-centric.”  My personal favorite really hits the pizzazz button hard: “follower of a first century Jewish revolutionary.”   Even my own status can be construed as an attempt to avoid the title “Christian”: I belong to Jesus, particularly Jesus’ Anglican side.

The trend I see in this avoidance of the title “Christian” is not altogether a positive one.  In our efforts to unload some of the baggage we associate with that ancient title, or in our well-intentioned desire to communicate more to our peers what it is we believe, we have overlooked a fundamental reality.  The title “Christian” is almost as ancient as our Lord himself.  It was a title the disciples themselves consciously bore.  It has now survived two millennia of history, and is now as associated with the faith we practice as with the Lord we exalt.   We have, in short, trampled down one of the finest specimens of our tradition as a people for the sake of modern convenience.  This, I suggest, we must not do.  I do not make such an admonition out of some veiled love of tradition for tradition’s sake.   I feel that our claim to the title “Christian” has far more going for it that we allow ourselves to realize when we pander to purely contemporary concerns.

First of all, the title is biblical.  Beyond the fact that title “Christian” goes back nearly to Jesus himself, which is no small fact in its own right, we have solid evidence that the Apostles themselves knew of it, and appropriated it for themselves.  Further, some of the Apostles were inspired to use the term for the future benefit of Christians yet unborn.  We are told that King Agrippa asked if Paul was trying to make a Christian out of him in Acts 26:28.   The Apostle Peters exhorts his readers to bear the title “Christian” proudly when they suffer for it in 1 Peter 4:16.  In this passage, we see Peter associating the content of the Christian message with the title “Christian” itself, since it is Peter speaks concerning suffering on account of the title itself.  We are even told the history of the title in Acts 11:26.  Clearly the author in that context wanted his readers, who by the very inclusion of the story had to have known the title, to know from where the word had come.  In all of these instances, we see the Holy Spirit affirming through the inscripturation process the validity of the title “Christian” for all who publically claim to follow Jesus.  Do we truly believe that we have done the Holy Spirit a favor by “recontextualizing” our faith with titles other than the one He himself has hallowed and sanctified?  What more could we possible wish to add to so glorious an endorsement?

Second, the title has been defended with blood.  By this I do not mean the Blood of the Blessed Cross, though that is certainly a reasonable extension of the Holy Spirit’s approval of the term discussed above.   No, I am speaking of those endless multitudes who have sacrificed their lives rather than renounce the name from the days of the Apostles to our own.  Every scrap of extra-biblical evidence we possess—from letters between the Emperor Trajan and a regional governor, to the cynical musings of Tacitus the ever-jaded Roman historian, from the accounts of the martyrdom of aged Christian bishops in the arena, to the mad ravings of Emperor Nero—resoundingly affirms that the early church went by no other name but “Christian” and that further, it was by that name that they were despised, persecuted, and murdered.  Moreover, we have no scrap of evidence that the early church wanted to go by any other title, or that further, they were willing to be killed for any other title.  They seemed to wear their being “Christian” with specific and self-conscious pride.  And they have subsequently inspired generations of other disciples who would not be killed for anything less than the right to bear the name of their Lord with freedom.  There are Christians who even today face mobs of Muslim extremists, Hindi fear-mongers, and Communist oppressors because they would go by that title for which countless Christians have modeled a willingness to die.  And why are we not willing to use it?  Because it has been associated with hypocrisy?  Did not Tacitus accuse Christians of being “haters of the human race”?  Indeed, nothing has changed from his day to ours, and if the Christians of his day did not shed the stigma of the title by shedding the title, we are apt to retain the same.

Third, it has been tested in the fires of time, and has not been found wanting.  As we have already had cause to mention twice, the earliest Christians joyfully appropriated it to themselves.  Further, even the disciples of the Lord Jesus himself gladly took the title to their own deaths.   For indeed, the title itself sums up the greatness of the message we proclaim to the world.  We are Christians, “little Christs” who emulate and follow our Lord Christ as he commanded us.  We are citizens of his Kingdom, and so as citizens of America go by the title “American,” we go by the title “Christian” as a denominator of our very nationality.  The church has thus seen fit to baptize the title for wide usage in every corner of the world where Christ’s name is preached.  There is but one holy, catholic, and apostolic church, and that church has gone, is going, and will go indefinitely, by the name “Christian.”  After all the fads and vicissitudes of culture ebb and flow away, one title will avowedly remain the same, that title which all the ages of our history—ancient, medieval, reformation, modern—and all the cultures who have heard the Good News—Egyptian, Chinese, English, Nigerian—have worn with boldness.   Are we so wise in our modern age to reinvent the very name our forebears have chosen for themselves from every generation from the Apostles to ours?  Do we have a better sense for what does and does not have a staying power in our current world?   Do we really believe that with a history of witnesses as rich as we possess that the title “Christian” simply does not convey enough of what we mean when we tell the world of the hope we have?  I hardly think so.

Finally, there is nothing which has taken from the title Christian which is not more than made up for by the proud heritage we possess.  Has the Christian name been slandered by those who would claim to bear the banner of Christ, and yet only follow the ethics of this world?  There is hardly any believer out there who cannot answer this question, with tears of pain, anger, and repentance, in the positive.  Have Christians, often acting in good faith we concede, occasionally done things which have brought ill-repute on the blessed name of our Savior?  Unfortunately, we must answer again in the positive.   But far from being thus encouraged to abandon the title to those who would misappropriate and abuse it, we are apt to reclaim it for all its glory.   Rather than let two thousand years of self-titled “Christians” be suddenly deemed irrelevant by a new title we coin for ourselves, let us honor their witness, even unto death, by both proudly bearing the name Christian as well as living out in our lives all that such a title suggests.  Let us be “little Christs” who walk this world as he did spreading the Good News of the Kingdom in word and deed.  That is the task to which we are called when we call ourselves Christians, and his is the example our name compels us to emulate.  After all is said and done, Christians are what we are, and Christians are what we are to be called.  It is therefore finally my own sister’s “religion” on her Facebook that deserves to be used by all: “I am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N.”

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Some months ago I posted a short reflection lamenting the lack of “plodders” in the church–those who toil thanklessly in the trenches as they work toward the glory of God’s kingdom.  I contrasted the plodders to those Christians who pattern their behavior after rock-star Christians like U2 frontman Bono–those who save the world by “raising awareness” about social injustices, but who rarely get their hands dirty to contribute to long-term resolutions.

The post was rather provocative, and I was critiqued for going a bit overboard (one criticism coming from a favorite Jr High youth leader–which was awesome, by the way).  After all, the Christian life is hard,  especially when it comes to resolving social injustices, and we shouldn’t criticize the best efforts of God’s faithful servants.  I sympathize deeply with this thought,  but I also think it’s the responsibility of the teachers in the church to point others towards God’s truth, which sometimes requires exhortations against those behaviors in our lives that work against the Kingdom.

And so, I can’t help but think my old post was touching on some “truthiness” (as Stephen Colbert would say) after this report from The New York Post revealed that Bono’s ONE Foundation, an anti-poverty charity organization he founded in 2002,  gave only 1.2 percent from its fundraising to those in actual need.  Of the £9.6 million in donations it received,  £5.1 million went to paying salaries, with the rest dedicated to advertising,  political gifts,  and campaigns to “raise awareness” (there’s that phrase again).  Only £118,000 was donated to the poor.

The foundation defends their practices by saying the organization was never intended to donate funds to the poor–rather, they lobby others to fight poverty.  Plodders they are not.

But I wonder: is it possibe to plod along to glory and raise awareness?

UPDATE:  The ONE Foundation has provided a press release explaining their purpose and mission statement.  View it here.

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Over a lunch of biscuits, gravy, and hashbrowns on Sunday, my pastor asked me if I had ever considered becoming a deacon or priest in the Anglican church. Why, yes I have.

Everyone in my Army unit thinks I should become a chaplain. Apparently, I have the demeanor of a godly soldier. Moreover, I have wanted to do more in the church and use my abilities and time to contribute in a meaningful way. Making that official sounds like a good thing.

However, by most definitions, I have not been called.

I do not hear God that often. I believe that I have, but on a daily, even yearly basis, I do not hear a voice that I know to be God telling me to do something. As a good friend pointed out to me once, when God told people to do something in the Bible, they did not have a problem identifying the author of the voice (though some of them had problems obeying). Often when I pray, I do not hear anything with the clarity that Ananias heard the command to go and lay hands on Saul (Acts 9); when I pray, my thoughts stray onto a video game, or something going on in my life, and I often feel stray emotions that do not seem to be a divine message.

Christian life, from my perspective, can be a little frustrating in this regard. I do what I feel to be right, but I often do it without any miraculous divine assurance that this is correct. My view is that God will orchestrate my life and world in order to lead me to the right place. He will implant desires and thoughts in me without my knowledge, so that my desire to serve in the church is my call.

Of course, this becomes especially difficult when my desires are clearly not what God wants. Sifting through the muddle in my head can be very frustrating. Have I been called to be a deacon or a priest? I have already told my pastor that I want to become a deacon, and I am forced to hope and pray (because it is important, even if I do not hear an answer) that this is the right decision. Have I heard a call?

Maybe.

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God’s Lost Valuables

Imagine with me for a moment something that is quite valuable to you.  It does not necessarily have to be worth a lot monetarily.  Indeed, many of our most valued possessions may not be worth much on the open market, but are quite irreplaceable to us.  Establish a mental picture of that item in your mind and try and hold on to it there for  a few seconds.  Now, try to image losing it.  What would you do to find it?  To what lengths would you go?  You’d upturn furniture and empty out drawers, wouldn’t you?  Of course, because we know that the intensity of the search is related to the value of what has been lost.   Jesus asks the same question of his listeners in Luke 15:1-10.  To those gathered around him, he begins by asking “which of you?” thereby inviting them to make the same mental image as I have just invited you.  He then expects that they will also envision for themselves exactly what they would do to find their lost valuable.  Jesus goes on to describe his understanding of that search in three key ways.

First, the search for the lost valuable is intentional.   In the first parable, we are told that the shepherd leaves nearly ninety-nine of his other sheep to find the one missing one.  His resolve is such that he leaves much behind in the search.  In the second parable, we are told that the woman takes considerable preparations.  She lights a candle.  She sweeps the whole house.  She searches “carefully” Jesus tells us.  You can almost imagine her ducking under furniture, moving lose items about, and diving head first into open cupboards and cabinets.

Second, the search for the lost valuable is long-suffering.  Both parables make this point with their use of the word “until.”  The search goes on “until” the item is found.  But the first parable makes this point glaringly when we are told that the shepherd goes into the “open country” looking for his sheep.  The Greek word here is the word for “desert” or “wilderness.”  In first century Palestine, this would have meant putting oneself at risk of getting lost or stranded in a harsh desert, or worse, getting mauled by a wild animal.  Indeed, this is the risk to the sheep, which is why the shepherd goes to such lengths to find it.

Third, the search for a lost valuable ends with joy.  In both parables, the search continues, as we have said, until the object is found.  In both cases, extreme jubilation results.  I say extreme for a reason.  The root for joy occurs five times in seven verses in these parables.  The shepherd takes the sheep onto his shoulders “joyfully.”  He then invites his friends over for a party.  “Rejoice with me!” he exclaims.  Likewise the woman.  After finding her coin, in her excitement she also throws a party.  “Rejoice with me!” she invites.   Indeed, the objects excite more joyfulness in their having been found than they probably ever did before being lost in the first place.

What is the purpose of these descriptions?  Is Jesus simply describing the lengths we go to when looking for a lost valuable?   In both parables, he concludes with a glimpse into heaven, into the heart of God himself.  He is thus describing the intensity of God’s own search for lost valuables.  He is describing the intensity of God’s search for sinners.   He is describing God’s search for us.  We are God’s lost valuables!  By talking about a shepherd looking for sheep, Jesus points us to Ezekiel 34.  There God, describing himself as a shepherd, says “I myself will search for my sheep and seek them out… I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep.”  In other words, God is the shepherd in the first parable.  And in the ministry of Jesus, we see the intensity of God’s search in all the ways Jesus just described.   God’s search is intentional.  God came to our world with a very clear purpose.  And the lengths to which he had to go to find us are manifested in the very humanity of Jesus.  God for our sakes became a human being, and lived among us.  He experienced our joys.  He experienced our sorrows.  Ultimately, God showed us in Jesus how long-suffering was his search for us.  Jesus experienced our death.  He was challenged and rejected by many of his own people.  He was betrayed by one of his own friends.  He died ingloriously as an outcast on a Roman cross.  He didn’t even receive the dignity of being buried in his own tomb, but had to borrow someone else’s.  But God’s search for sinners doesn’t end here does it?  Because Jesus didn’t need to borrow that tomb, given to him in pity, for very long.  God’s search ends in joy when Jesus got up on the third day and showed the world the powerful extent of God’s loving search.  Indeed, no search ever cost so much.  God died.  Indeed, no search ever ended so well.  God lives!

So what are we to do with this?  What are we to do now that we know how intense, patient, and joyful is God’s search for lost sinners?  By telling us these two stories, Jesus is doing more than showing us that God so intently searches for sinners that he rejoices when he finds them.   He is inviting us into the action!  As joy is shared in both parables, God invites us to share his joy.  You see, Jesus tells these stories on the heels of another great passage.  In the previous chapter, he invites his disciples to “bear their crosses” as he bears his.  At the outset, it seems as though Jesus is telling his disciples to count the costs of discipleship.  To be mindful of the burdens of following him in a fallen world.  He calls us to reject friends and family.  He calls us to never look back.  Moreover, he calls us to take up death for his sake.  What else could he have meant by asking us to take up a “cross” for his sake?  Crosses were used for nothing else in Jesus’ time, and the Romans loved to demonstrate their usefulness.  But chapter fifteen begins with the word “now.”  It is a textual clue that what follows is connected to what precedes.  Jesus told the crowds in chapter 14 the cost of discipleship.  Hearing this, they “gathered around to hear him,” apparently hung on his very words.  He then tells them the joys of discipleship.  And that discipleship is to engage the world as God does, who intentionally, patiently, and joyfully seeks and saves the lost.  We, likewise, are called to seek the lost with intentionality, dedicating our time and talents to the search.  We are called to yearn as God yearns, patiently maintaining the search until the end.  We are thus called to share also in God’s joy, with the very angels of heaven, when we find the lost for God’s sake.   In these two parables, Jesus shows us God’s heart for the lost.  Jesus invites us to share in this heart for the lost.  Because God yearns to find the lost, we ought to yearn likewise.

But with the invitation, there is a warning.  The one thing I have neglected to mention thus far is the glaring instigation of these parables.  What prompts Jesus to say them at all is the grumbling of the Pharisees that Jesus is associating himself with sinners.   They grumble, just as the Israelites grumbled about God’s search for them at the time of the Exodus.  (Yes, the word used here is only ever used in the Old Testament to describe Israel’s grumbling against Moses in the desert.)  Moreover, by alluding to Ezekiel 34, Jesus is doing more than just describing God’s search for his lost sheep.  Ezekiel 34 begins with the prophet’s sharp rebuke of the “false shepherds,” the religious leaders of Ezekiel’s day who had so thoroughly led the people astray.  Indeed, God only begins the search himself because the people he appointed to be shepherds had failed so miserably.  Hence the emphatic tone, “I myself will search” says God.  Jesus is therefore bringing Ezekiel’s rebuke home to the Pharisees, whose religion has no room for God’s yearning heart for lost sinners.   They do not understand that God searches intently for sinners, so they do not understand why Jesus spends all his time with them.  Hence they grumble, and hence Jesus asks them what they would do if they ever lost something valuable.

Today is an ember day, a day when the Church pays special attention to the formation of leaders in her midst.  So those of us called to leadership in the church should pay head to these parables.  We should be mindful of God’s heart for sinners.  We should not be satisfied to circle the wagons of our own religiosity.  We should not be satisfied to circle the chorale of our flocks as they currently stand.  We should be out looking for more sheep!  We should be looking intently for that lost coin!  We should be willing to share in our Lord’s joy for the lost valuables of God all around us!  But I should be careful, as this message is not just for leaders.  In Jesus, all his people are called to be ministers of his joy for a lost and found world.  We are all called to yearn for God’s lost valuables as Jesus does.  And in sharing Jesus’ yearning, we will likewise share in his joy.

 

Sermon preached at Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church in Danvers, MA during a mid-week Eucharist, Wednesday, September 15, 2010, with Father Brian Barry celebrating.

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Fall Issue now published!

The Fall edition of the Center for Theology has now been published.  This issue saw a particularly strong group of writers offering their expertise for the good of the church:

Cinnamon Creeden explores how Anglican liturgy and worship serves as a point of contact for the younger generation of postmodern seekers.

Adam D. Rick begins a series of articles that tackle a challenging question:  Why did God order the utter destruction of the Canaanites at the hands of his chosen people, the Israelites?

The Rev. Lee Winters discusses how the church can make Christian teaching engage the heart, soul, and mind.

John Pryor explains how the church shapes us to love as God loves us.

The Rev. Brian Morelli explores how Medieval rites of Confirmation have shaped Anglican liturgy today, showing us in the process the importance of Confirmation to the Christian life.

Adam Mathis explains how the church prepares itself for martyrdom, so that the church can provide a witness to Christ.

Please take some time to read the articles and offer your reflections here on the comments board of this post.

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There is a cultural current in all of us against which it is very hard to swim.  I find it particularly hard precisely because we are told, even in the church, that we ought to swim with it.  Our overwhelming instinct as American Christians is to so thoroughly go with this flow, that to even suggest that it is at odds with God’s plan for his people is to smack of madness.  It’s the current of what one famous commentator called “the Protestant Work Ethic.”  It is the flow of thinking that if we only work hard enough and smart enough we can carve out our own little piece of the world.  In its American form, it’s a particularly pernicious view that suggests we can by our own labor make our own names great for and by ourselves.  It is fundamental self-reliance, and it stems, I submit, from the root of faithlessness.

Harsh words, you say?  Perhaps.  The very harshness of them to the American ear lends itself to my argument.  The idea that I would even suggest that to work hard is antithetical to the Gospel promises of our God might strike some as the pinnacle of an attitude of entitlement in which my generation so thoroughly marinates.  But I ask you to bear with me for just one moment.  I am in no wise arguing that God does not want us to work hard.  Quite the contrary in fact.  To work hard is one of the things that defined our humanity before that sin nature business snuck in a mucked it all up, a fundamental aspect of our created constitution.  In fact, it is the very perversion of a creational work ethic by that sin nature business that is at the heart of what I am saying.  In a fallen world, we work to get our own before someone else does.  We strive for our own piece of the pie because we do not, at the core of our being, truly believe our Lord when he tells us that our Father in heaven knows that we need material provision.  We are sick with frustration and distrust, so we slave away with work so that we can feel safe in that name that we make for and by ourselves.  For the sake of clarity, I will rename this kind of work “striving,” a reliance on our own energies and strengths to get what we think is ours.  Rather, God would have us wait on him and receive.

Allow me to use a biblical example to illustrate what waiting and receiving looks like.  King David is a prime example of a man who never strived in his earthly labor.  He simply went about his business day to day, faithfully executing whatever charge he happened to have at the moment.  When given the chance to make a name for himself, and to take what was seemingly rightfully his, he instead waited on God to provide. When Samuel was brought in by the Lord God to anoint one of the sons of Jesse as the next king of Israel, Jesse did not even bother to bring David inside from his work in the field, since he was the youngest and thus seemingly least fit for such an office.  But after all the other sons had been vetted, God so moved Samuel to have David brought in and anointed him on the spot at the command of God (1 Samuel 16:1-13).   Later, when David was serving as a commander in Saul’s army, Saul became insanely jealous of David’s accomplishments and tried to have him killed twice (1 Samuel 18:10-11; 19:9-16).  David fled into the desert with a small band of faithful followers, where he lived in the fringes of society for years (1 Samuel 19—2 Samuel 1).  At such a low ebb, we might expect David to do everything in his power to reclaim the honor Saul had so unjustly taken from him  Indeed, David was provided with two opportunities to do just that, when he secretly encountered Saul alone and unaware.  In both cases, David could have slain Saul by the power of his own hand and taken what was so clearly his.  But he refused.  He knew that if God was going to make him king of Israel, it was going to be in a way that everyone knew was the work of God alone (1 Samuel 24 and 26).  Later, when David sought to build a permanent house for God in Jerusalem, God prevented him from doing so.  Instead, God promised David an eternal throne from which a son of his would build God’s house.  David did not seek to thwart God’s plans in this way despite the original intention of his heart, but instead thanked God for looking so favorably on him (2 Samuel 7).   Finally, when David was forced out of Jerusalem by a coup d’état led by one of his own sons, David refused to allow his own guards to defend his honor in the face of mockers (2 Samuel 16:5-13).  Rather,  he waited to be vindicated by God alone, and cast himself on God for such vindication (2 Samuel 15:31b).  Indeed, the only time David strived on his own, we are told it went very badly for him.  Having usurped the privilege of his own office, graciously given to him by God, by sleeping with another man’s wife, no amount of scheming on David’s part could hide his actions from God.  In the end, a righteous man lost his life and David mourned to death of his own child (2 Samuel 11-12).  When David was called out by Nathan about it, he immediately confessed and submitted himself the Lord’s judgment, much to the amazement of his attendants (2 Samuel 12:21).   In all his successes in life, David had learned to wait on God.  Rather than striving and taking for his own, he waited to receive from his loving Creator.

None of this is to suggest that David did not work.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  He excelled at music, so much so that he garnered the attention of the king (again, we might add, without David striving for such attention) (1 Samuel 16:14-23).  He committed his physical prowess to combat, and won for Saul and Israel many battles (1 Samuel 17-18).  In fact, when on the run from Saul, David committed his services to a Philistine king, and his sense of duty to that commitment even compelled him to go into battle with the Philistine army against Israelite troops!  It was only at the Philistine king’s insistence that David not go up that David remained behind to guard the Philistine army’s rear (1 Samuel 29-30; we perhaps see in this example how God was working to keep David’s hands clean of Israelite blood even despite David’s intention to honor his commitments!).  David always committed himself faithfully to whatever charge God gave him in each moment.  However, God alone worked behind the scenes to make his plans for David come to fruition.  David never had to strive.  He only had to wait and receive.

Saul, on the other hand, strove.  When God rejected him as king, he humiliated himself before a large crowd by pleading with Samuel to have mercy (1 Samuel 15).  When Saul’s own son saw God’s hand on David, Saul strove to kill even him (1 Samuel 20, especially verses 32-34).   When Saul heard that David had been assisted by the priests, who had no knowledge as yet of the feud between them, Saul had them all murdered in a flagrant abuse of his God-given power as king (1 Samuel 22:6-19)  Even as his enemies moved in around him, Saul resorted to witchcraft for a word of comfort from God, only to receive a word of rebuke instead (1 Samuel 28).  In the following engagement, Saul took his own life (1 Samuel 31), and even then David refused to take credit (2 Samuel 1).  Even at the very end, Saul strove on his own strength.  He did not wait on God, but tried to take and hoard what he saw to be his.  As a result, he received nothing from the God of all good gifts.

We are all called to the same level of obedient trust.  Our God is eager to pour out blessings on his people.  In this life, the blessings may not always be what we’d expect.  David wandered in the desert for years before being vindicated, and even after he was acknowledged as king, he faced opposition, rebellion, and even his own sinfulness.   But God provided a great name for David.  We have likewise been given a great name by God in Jesus.  We have been grafted into the vine of his people, and have been promised an eternal inheritance that far exceeds anything David could have hoped for.   Our Lord has told us if we seek this inheritance with all our hearts, and wait patiently on him, all the desires of our hearts will be satisfied in him.  We do not need to strive and to take what we think is ours.  We only need to wait and receive from our God who is gracious to give.

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