David was misunderstood, falsely accused, and therefore on the run. He needed an army to protect him. So he cried out to God and his prayer was answered … sort of.
“All those who were desperate, in debt, or destitute rallied around him [David], and he became their leader. About 400 men,” scripture says. Four hundred misfits. Many Bible teachers point out that this motley group was eventually transformed into valiant, victorious warriors, citing that as some kind of miracle. OK. But perhaps there’s a greater message here for us ordinary folk.
Why is it that David’s followers consisted only of broken lives? The answer is simple: Because all lives are broken. The candidate pool didn’t include anything else.
It’s healthy to surround ourselves with people headed in the right general direction. It’s wise to avoid negative influences and stay close to souls who at least admit that there might be a bright side. After those bases are covered, however, a huge dose of grace must kick in.
Humans, all humans, are damaged goods. The best we can do is accept that about one another. Then dialogue together, listen, make allowances, try to understand. In due course, magic happens. A ray of light penetrates the darkness as wounded lives connect.
Desperation, debt, a destitute state. Those were universal traits among David’s companions. And that sounds pretty normal to me.
Another year is over. A great deal happened in the past twelve months. Every area of life has been affected, from the personal levels of career, family, finances, health – to global matters such as elections, wars, and natural disasters. Looking back, we might want to ask “Who could have seen all that stuff coming?” Fortunately, there’s an answer.
“Remember this and be brave”, the prophet stated speaking for God. “I declare the end from the beginning.”
I can’t say whether those words apply to what I’ll have for breakfast, or how my day will be spent tomorrow, or the method by which all humankind may someday be wiped off planet Earth. Nonetheless, an all-knowing, all-powerful, loving Father said to remember that he sees the entire way down the road, so we don’t have to fear.
Call me simple, but I’ll leave it there and just try to be brave to the end.
In a letter to a group of people centuries ago, the apostle Paul wrote that they had each been given one or more gifts. He even provided a partial list: wisdom, knowledge, discernment, generosity; the ability to encourage, heal, help, or guide; and the greatest of all, love. Then the zinger comes: None of these are meant to benefit the gifted one … they’re “for the common good,” Paul said.
I once received a tin of popcorn around Christmas time. I rarely eat popcorn, but knew someone who enjoyed it, so I passed the goodies her way. She was very appreciative, and no one was aware of my secret (until now.) Later I learned that there’s a word for this – Regifting.
While the practice may carry a bad rep in the natural world, it seems to have been God’s plan for the spiritual realm all along. Indeed my own life has gaps that can only be filled by the skills of those around me. Apparently, the situation is universal.
During a certain season it’s customary to bestow presents on friends and family. Here’s to a new tradition – spiritual regifting, all year long.
Words are funny things. One person says “house” and listeners know generally what it means. But there are many types of houses, vastly different from one another, so the concept presented is far from precise. A picture may be required, several in fact. Even better would be to experience the place personally for a time.
Perhaps the most confusing word of all is “God.” Scripture states, “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.” Although preachers claim to have that figured out, it’s pretty abstract to an average guy like me.
The passage continues with something that makes more sense. “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (Born in a manger … his mother a virgin … most everyone knows the story.) Later, as an adult, this word-made-flesh was simply himself in the presence of all those paying attention, most notably a small band of followers who watched his every move and bombarded him with questions nearly 24/7 for more than three years. One of the names he was called is even more telling – Immanuel, translated “God with us.”
So what did the breathing, walking, talking word, who was God in our midst, reveal about the divine nature? Many pages have been written concerning that. Love, grace, mercy, service, and the like lead the way if you ask me.
The term “God” needs further illumination. Fortunately, he found a way to explain, living it out in full view, a word to be read by anyone so inclined.
At this time of year people send and receive presents. Some trace that back to when gifts were bestowed upon the baby Jesus, who is often worshipped as Deity. So, what would a person bring to Christ today?
Centuries ago a man named Cornelius was approached by an angel. Though understandably frightened at first, he was comforted when the messenger relayed the purpose of the visit. “Your acts of charity have come up as an offering before God,” the spirit said.
Gift cards and gadgets are great. I like them myself. But expressions of love – abstract and practical – seem to be what’s on the Almighty’s wish list.
The God who already owns everything doesn’t need more gold, frankincense or myrrh. Acts of charity to those he’s placed in our paths are apparently more his thing.
The Noah account is well known. God gets fed up with human rebellion, wipes out nearly all of creation, and starts over. But the way it comes down presents a glimpse into the divine nature.
We have Noah building a huge boat to exact specifications. The chore of gathering every species of living thing. Then heavy rain for forty days, with the ark finally floating peacefully while a bird provides environmental intelligence. And those are only the highlights. There’s much more.
Why all the drama? Couldn’t God have simply sent a cosmic gamma ray and accomplished the same thing in a millisecond? A co-worker recently opened my eyes to a possible answer during an unrelated conversation. “God loves a good story,” she said.
That could explain a lot. Perhaps life’s challenges, joys, even sufferings, are part of a huge intersection of complex tales … His, yours, mine, everyone’s. God could snap those heavenly fingers and circumvent thousands of intermediate steps, but we’d lose all the nuances of the process. And would our experiences be as beneficial?
As much as I sometimes long to see a magic wand rescue mankind – and me – instantaneously, that’s not likely to happen. Since I can’t understand or explain, I’ll rely on my friend’s insight. God just loves a good story.
It seems that every time I embark upon what should be a simple home project, it winds up taking all day. A number of steps inevitably go wrong while the job is underway.
Let’s suppose I want to hang a picture. The drill’s battery is dead, the right screwdriver is nowhere to be found, my measurements are two inches off, something falls on the floor and breaks – you get the idea.
Though a direct analogy to God is theologically incorrect, I wonder if he feels something even a little similar. Could it be that the Almighty sits in heaven thinking “I created a beautiful world, and those humans polluted it, used its resources for all the wrong reasons, and wound up hating one another.”?
In my case, the task is always successful by the time the saga ends. The picture gets secured to the wall, perfectly centered, with no evidence of the struggles that were involved.
Likewise, God’s plan hasn’t totally played out yet. The yearning of loving hearts is that eventually this whole situation will be as he designed it, even if that occurs only in some other realm.
What we see as current chaos is likely a freeze frame of a work in progress that will one day be completed magnificently. At least let’s hope so.
Loving people can be difficult. They’re just so … un-lovely at times. The offenses range from cutting ahead in a merging line of traffic to unspeakable crimes. What to do?
Perhaps an answer lies in looking at the root causes of this ugliness. At first it might seem that pride, selfishness, jealousy, and so forth drive the deeds that drive me crazy. That’s true to a degree. But if I search deeper still, something much more profound emerges.
Greed could lead a man to steal from his employer, but what led the man to greed? If one accepts the biblical account, the answer is that we are all trapped in a nature which often voluntarily makes wrong choices – sometimes extremely wrong. Our level of control over that is a matter of debate, but it’s clear that strengths and weaknesses vary by the individual and the situation.
Fully realizing that I possess the capacity to do whatever horrible act someone else has done causes me to soften a bit. Maybe turn down the judgment and turn up the mercy. As John Bradford stated upon seeing a procession of condemned prisoners, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
Should terrible behavior be tolerated by society? Not at all. Appropriate consequences for actions? Certainly. None of this, however, restricts my liberty to feel and show compassion toward a fellow human being. I’m free to love.
An old joke says that a salesman died and was given a chance to visit both heaven and hell before choosing where to spend eternity. The devil gave him a tour of hell, where everyone was singing, dancing, and having a good time. Next, St. Peter showed the man heaven. Its inhabitants sat idly on clouds, playing harps.
“Hell looks like a lot more fun,” the man said. “I’ll go there.”
The next morning, he was ushered in. As the door opened, there was nothing but flames and torment. “What’s going on?” the deceased salesman asked. “This isn’t what I saw yesterday.” The devil replied, “Yesterday you were a prospect. Today you’re a customer.”
Religion does something similar. Early on I was told that God was merciful and ready to extend forgiveness with no requirement on my part other than to believe. Only after I acknowledged assent was I given the nearly endless list of dos and don’ts. I was told how to act, speak, vote, and think … what to read, watch, hear, and say … where to go, what to do, who to make my friends.
For a time, I bought it all. Finally, however, the bondage of that man-made system became clear and the freedom of truth broke through.
Today I simply try to live a life pleasing to my heavenly Father – a disciple of his only begotten son, who is my example. I guess you could say I took my business elsewhere.
Regardless of what one believes of Jesus, among the things he said was this: “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the father.” What an outlandish statement.
People debate constantly about the nature of God. Does he want us to destroy our enemies, or love them? What are the absolutes, if any, that he considers sin? Does he torment unbelievers for eternity, or give everyone a pass in the end? The dialogue gets heated to the point of rudeness, all in the name of seeking truth.
I’ve noticed that Christ’s followers almost always promote the side of him that fits their belief of God’s character. One group focuses on Jesus forgiving a woman caught in the act of breaking a law punishable by death. Another reminds us that he angrily rebuked the insincere and toppled a greedy commercial enterprise.
Though there are certainly those who disagree, my personal belief is that Jesus identified more with the humble than the proud. I think he leaned heavily toward mercy rather than judgment. That he chose grace over toeing the line. Peace instead of conflict, whenever possible. And I’m absolutely convinced that he looked to the heart and preferred seekers to the religious. But maybe I’m jaded by my own assumptions.
If we want to know what God is like, the suggestion of the one who claimed to be his son is this: “Look at me.” Sadly, it’s not so easy, but it’s a place to start.