Tainted love

Ask just about anyone on the street and they’ll tell you that you should be able to love whoever you want however you want. It doesn’t hurt anyone. Do what makes you feel good. Love is love.

In the course of time, Amnon, son of David fell in love with Tamar, the beautiful sister of Absalom, son of David.

2 Samuel 13:1 (NIV)

So what if Amnon loves Tamar? He should be able to love whoever he wants! Right? Well, if Tamar is the sister of a son of David and Amnon is a son of David, doesn’t that make Tamar, at the very least, his half sister? Not so lovely to love now, is it? But that didn’t matter to Amnon. He had to have Tamar no matter what. He loved her after all. He deserved to have her love him back.

So he came up with a plan to lure Tamar into his bedroom. Because Amnon was her brother, Tamar figured she was safe. Until Amnon made a completely inappropriate pass at her. She tried to fight him off.

But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.

Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her. Amnon said to her, “Get up and get out!”

2 Samuel 13:14-15 (NIV)

Amnon, in his obsession assumed that, by having what he wanted, his needs would be satisfied. Instead, his passions were reversed.

Aren’t we like that sometimes? We can obsess over something, love something, want something so bad that we are willing to do almost anything to get it. We should be able to love whoever or whatever we want, shouldn’t we? If it makes us happy, shouldn’t we do what we can to get it?

Just because we want something doesn’t mean we should have it. It doesn’t mean it’s good for us to have it. It doesn’t mean it’s ours to have. And it rarely means what we think it will mean.

During the hippie era, free love was the fad. In recent years it’s #LoveWins. We are constantly being told that if it feels good, do it. Love what you love. You can’t help who you love. In all of the noise, we as believers must remind ourselves of what love really is. We must recognise that the world, who has rejected Jesus and the God who is love, cannot really know or experience true love unless they acknowledge the single greatest act of love in the history of humankind.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (NIV)

That is what love looks like. It certainly wasn’t the thing Jesus wanted most. It didn’t feel good. It didn’t cater to his wants or desires nor did it fulfill any fantasies.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a (NIV)

Amnon’s tainted idea of what love was fell short of nearly every point Paul made regarding love in his letter to the church at Corinth. His love for Tamar was all about himself. The love Christ calls us to has nothing to do with our own satisfaction, but is all about others.

Read: 2 Samuel 13-14, Luke 20:1-26

If these stones could talk

In rooms that may have seen a lot of action or secrets, one might wonder what the walls would say if they could talk. Since much of what is recorded in the Bible took place outside or in tents, if these walls could talk isn’t really pertinent. But there is something else that was present at pretty much every major biblical event. Stones.

Rocks, not even precious ones, hold great importance in scriptures. Jesus himself is referred to as a stone.

The stone the builders rejects
has become the capstone.

Luke 20:17 (quoting Psalm 118:22) (NIV)

In Joshua 22:10, the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh built an altar of stone to stand as a witness to future generations that they worship the Lord.

In Joshua 4:7, Joshua commanded that twelve stones be taken from the middle of the Jordan River that Israel had just crossed. Those stones would become a memorial to Israel for all God has done for His people.

Elijah, in 1 Kings 18:31, took twelves stones to repair the altar of the Lord.

In 1 Samuel 17:40, David selected five smooth stones to take with him into battle against Goliath.

When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem for the passover, his followers shouted his praises. The Pharisees, as usual, weren’t impressed and wanted Jesus to silence them. He refused.

“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

Luke 19:40 (NIV)

I don’t think that Jesus meant every inanimate stone laying on the ground would suddenly find its voice. I believe Jesus was referring to every stone set up as a memorial in God’s name, every stone used in the name of the Lord, every stone that stood as a witness to God’s glory and greatness.

And Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God. Then he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak near the holy place of the Lord.

“See!” he said to all the people. “This stone will be a witness against us. It has heard all the words the Lord has said to us. It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God.

Joshua 24:26-27 (NIV)

If we keep silent in our praise, I believe that God truly can make these memorial stones speak out. They have been made witnesses to miracles and wonders—the very things we should be proclaiming at every opportunity.

We may wish to know what the walls of The Oval Office may have to say if they could talk, but we shouldn’t have to wonder what the stones would say. We should be saying it for them.

Read: 2 Samuel 10-12, Luke 19:29-48

Sovereign

SOVEREIGN: Supreme in power; possessing supreme dominion.

I doubt many of us have anyone in our lives we’d consider to be supreme in power or possessing supreme dominion. And most of us would probably like to keep it that way. But one man, a very long time ago, recognised someone as supreme—sovereign.

What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Sovereign Lord.

2 Samuel 7:20 (NIV)

This wasn’t the only time David referred to God as Sovereign Lord, either. Seven times in this passage, David repeats the moniker.

Maybe you’re a believer in the meaning behind numbers in the Bible, maybe you’re not. But no matter how you put it, saying something seven times over the span of eleven verses seems rather significant, and maybe more so because of the importance of the number seven.

Seven, you see, is the number of completion or spiritual perfection. We see it first in Genesis. On the seventh day, God rested because creation was complete. In the account of David, God has just announced to the king though the prophet, Nathan, that David’s kingdom will endure forever. God has made an everlasting covenant, a covenant that will never be broken. That’s some pretty weighty news for a man who was anointed king as a shepherd boy in the field.

David responds by referring to God as Sovereign Lord, acknowledging God’s supreme dominion over him. For many men, news that their lineage would last forever could have gone straight to their heads. But not David.

Do as you promised, so that your name will be great forever. Then men will say, ‘The Lord Almighty is God over Israel!’ And the house of your servant David will be established before you.

2 Samuel 7:25b-26 (NIV)

Hundreds of years before Jesus arrived on the earth, God’s covenant with man was made and acknowledged to be complete by the man with whom the covenant was made. David couldn’t have known that his lineage wouldn’t sit on an earthly throne forever. Nor could he have known that God Himself would plant a seed in one of his descendants. A seed that would grow up to be known as the Son of David.

God, though, being sovereign, knew exactly what He was doing when He made such a great promise to David. He set in motion an extravagant plan to save mankind from their sinfulness. Unlike David, God knew that the man with whom He made a covenant would stumble and fall. So would his son who succeeded him on the throne. And so would countless others in the long line of King David.

Yet it wasn’t so much the obedience that God was looking for—He knew the standards He set before men were impossible to keep, but He was looking for willing humility.

For the Lord takes delight in his people;
he crowns the humble with salvation.

Psalm 149:4 (NIV)

David’s humility earned him a crown which led to salvation for all. Like David, we can never know the far reaching effects of our willingness to set ourselves aside and acknowledge God as Sovereign Lord, supreme in power. The best that we can do is humble ourselves before the Lord, accept what He has so freely given to us, and continue to chase after his heart like David did.

Read: 2 Samuel 7-9, Luke 19:1-28

Out of the ordinary

 

Do you ever wonder why Jesus performed certain miracles for certain people? I don’t think it was so much that he was selective about whom he did things for, I think he performed miracles for those who went to the trouble of getting his attention.

Once Jesus’ ministry took off, he was in high demand. People followed him everywhere he went. And, let’s face it, if you knew he was going to feed you, you’d probably show up, too. There were always crowds around him. He healed a lot of people. I’m sure the Gospels only list a small portion of what he really did. But the ones that stand out are those who took the extra effort.

In Luke 18, there’s a blind man. He discovers Jesus is nearby.

He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Luke 18:38-39 (NIV)

There was no way this man was going to let Jesus go without getting his miracle. And he did. All his hollering got Jesus attention.

Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.”

Luke 18:42 (NIV)

This blind man wasn’t the only one to take extra effort in getting Jesus’ attention. Remember those four crazy friends who tore a hole in a roof to lower their paralysed friend down in front of Jesus (Luke 5:19)? What about the sinful woman who came into the Pharisee’s house and dumped a bottle of expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:38)? Or the woman with the issue of blood who crawled through a crowd just to touch the hem of Jesus’ cloak (Luke 8:44)? Then there were the ten lepers who stood at a distance yelling at Jesus to heal them (Luke 17:13).

It seems to me that those who want something from the Lord, really want something, will do whatever it takes to get it. And here we sit and pray a little prayer once and assume it’s not God’s will if it doesn’t happen immediately. Have we really done all we can to get Heaven’s attention? Have we, like the blind man, called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” until he has no other choice but to acknowledge our cry?

Those who received the most from Jesus are the ones who couldn’t care less what society thought of them. They were the ones who shoved social and cultural norms aside and said to themselves, if Jesus is able to do this, I’m going to make sure he does.

Maybe, just maybe, we don’t see the signs and wonders we want to see because we’re not really asking for them. What have you done lately to capture Jesus’ attention? Have you done anything unusual or out of the ordinary?

Read: 2 Samuel 4-6, Luke 18:18-43

Amazing grace

Do you ever see yourself in Jesus’ parables? Maybe you’re the widow giving your last few cents. Perhaps you’re the servant who buried and hid what had been given to you for safekeeping. Or you could be the Good Samaritan, giving of yourself to a complete stranger.

Today, I am the brother who stayed at home with the father.

‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of your was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’

Luke 15:31-32 (NIV)

Sometimes, when I hear the stories of those whom God saved from lives of sin and destruction, I think, God, I haven’t experienced that much grace. Why has that person received so much from you, but I haven’t?

You see, I was born and raised in a Christian home. I was four years old when I made a decision for Christ, barely older than that when I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues, and just eight years old when I was water baptised. My parents have both been leaders in the church for as long as I can remember, and my grandfather, until he moved to heaven, was my pastor. I started playing on the worship team when I was twelve, leading worship when I was sixteen, and have never looked back. I have literally lived my life in the church. I am the older brother who stayed home.

For those who have grown up similarly to myself, we see what God has brought some people out of and easily forget, like the older son, that God has given us the very same grace that He’s given to the greatest of sinners. The thing about grace is that it’s amazing no matter how it’s applied.

For me, I have to remind myself that I have been spared a lifetime of memories and regret that come with a worldly life. I have great memories from my childhood of God working in mighty and miraculous ways. Those things are because of amazing grace.

For those who have come to Jesus later in life, or have still yet to come, the grace you receive is just as amazing. While the grace I have received has allowed me to grow up knowing God and His infinite love, the grace you receive allows you to see the extent to which He will go to bring you to Him. The grace you receive covers your life of memories and regret. And you can live the rest of your life knowing that, like the prodigal son, your Father has welcomed you back with open arms.

Grace isn’t only amazing because it saves us from ourselves, it is amazing because it keeps us close to God no matter where we find ourselves in life. And what makes it even more amazing is that it’s the same grace that covers us all.

Read: 1 Samuel 19-21, Luke 15:11-32

Teach. Pray.

It is our duty as believers to pray for one another and to pray for the Church. Prayer is good and it is right, but it cannot take the place of teaching.

Near the end of Samuel’s life, he has a heart-to-heart with Israel. He’s been their spiritual Father for many years. He’d made his fair share of mistakes. So had Israel. But at this point in time, Israel was on the road to repentance. What Samuel really wanted to do at times was walk away from them as a parent might wish to walk away from a belligerent child who just can’t seem to learn his lesson. But because the Lord was faithful to Israel, Samuel would be, too.

He encourages the people to set aside all idols and worship God alone. He tells—he teaches—Israel the right way in going about life as God’s chosen people. Prayer is all fine and good, but if someone is never taught the right way to do something, their chances of getting it right are slim. In addition to praying for them, Samuel chose to tell Israel what to do.

As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right. But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.

1 Samuel 12:23-24 (NIV)

And he prayed that God would help them to do what is right.

Train a child in the way he should go,
and when he is old he will not turn from it.

Proverbs 22:6 (NIV)

Obedience and faithfulness must first be taught. To neglect teaching it to remain ignorant and immature.

Then we must pray that those lessons we have learned take root and grow and become fruitful. Once we learn what God says and how He says it, our prayers allow us to hear His voice so that He can continue to train us in the way we should go.

Read: 1 Samuel 10-12, Luke 13:22-35

The common denominator

Canada (and much of the world) was brought to its knees recently with the news of a horrific bus crash that took the lives of sixteen individuals on or working with the Humboldt Broncos, a junior hockey team. Prayers went out. Millions of dollars raised to cover expenses. The nation grieves. I know that some (if not all) of the victims were believers. It is impossible to make sense of the event. In some way, we all feel impacted by these senseless deaths.

Several attempts were made to kill a certain man. Eventually, in 1994, he was beaten to death. How does that make you feel? Do you feel a similar kind of grief that you felt when you heard the news of the bus crash? What if I told you the man who was beaten to death was mass murderer, Jeffrey Dahmer? Did he get what he deserved?

There is an account of Jesus with his disciples where a similar comparison is made.

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Luke 13:1-5 (NIV)

I believe there is little to compare between Jeffrey Dahmer and the Humboldt Broncos, but it is a stark contrast and, when we think about our own responses, it sheds a bit of light on our attitudes.

The disciples shared an account with Jesus painting the Galileans as horrible sinners because of the manner in which they were killed. Jesus compared them to eighteen people who were killed in a tower collapse. By the disciples reckoning, those eighteen must also have been terrible sinners to have died in such a manner. While we might say that Jeffrey Dahmer deserved to die a horrible death, I don’t think anyone would say such a think about a group of young men entering the prime of their lives.

There is one common denominator between us all. Jesus went on to say not once, but twice that unless you repent, you too will all perish. Death is a staggering statistic. One in one will die. Ten of ten who are now living will die. No matter how you place the numbers, there is a 100% chance of death at the end of this life.

Our sin is not the direct cause of physical death, nor will righteousness spare us from it. It is not the manner of our deaths that will define us, but the way we live.

Repentance is the only true guarantee of life beyond this earth. A sinner can die in peace while a believer dies in violence. The only constant is that we are all guilty unless, like Jesus said, we repent. Upon repentance, we receive a guarantee from Jesus himself of life after death. Eternal life. Abundant life.

Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

1 Corinthians 1:21-22 (NIV)

Read: 1 Samuel 7-9, Luke 13:1-21