Jesus with the Disciples_discipleship

Jesus is calling you – not just to be a member of a church, not only to repent of your sins and receive his forgiveness. He is calling you to walk with him daily; To have a relationship with him that is more important to you than anyone or anything else in this life.

Click in the video to play it.

To listen to audio only, click this play button:

To download audio, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Experiencing Life Together Part 5

Sign up for the podcast on iTunes. Search for “Clear Bible Tom Hilpert”

Experiencing Life Together #5: Single Purpose

John 18:36; Ephesians 2:10

The very first Christians exhibited a very important characteristic. Their lives had a single focus:

The believers had a single purpose, and went to the temple courts every day. They were joyful and humble as they ate at each other’s homes and shared their food. (Acts 2:46)

The key phrase here is “single purpose.” Their lives were aimed at one target. Their focus both individually, and as a church, was on one thing. They were led by this purpose in everything they did, and every decision they made. Their purpose was discipleship. Jesus told them to be disciples, and to make disciples.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

The word “disciple” in Greek is closely associated with learning from a teacher. As we look at Jesus’ disciples in the gospels, we see that they listened to his teaching and tried to put it into practice (Mark 3:31-34). They were “followers” of Jesus’ teachings. The disciples often asked Jesus questions, but didn’t understand when he explained the answers to them (Matthew 16:5-12; Mark 4:10-14). Even so, though they had their struggles, they made his teaching central to their lives.

They not only followed his teaching, but they followed Jesus physically, wherever he went. They shared his life and had experiences with him. They walked together with Jesus on the rough mountain roads of Galilee. They lodged together, ate together and talked together.

They went across the lake with him, and experienced the storm, and then were awed by his power over it. They went to a lonely place with him, and saw him feed 5,000 people. They watched him drive demons out of people, and heal others. They went to Jerusalem and saw him die and later they saw him alive again.

Jesus’ disciples also had relationships with each other. They weren’t isolated in their relationship with Jesus. They talked with each other, fought with each other and helped each other. Jesus called them (and us) to love each other (John 13:34-35).

Besides teaching and sharing his life, Jesus also trained his disciples. He recruited them for the same work that he was engaged in – spreading the good news (Luke 10:1-24). He involved them in exercises of faith and ministry (Matt 14:18). He gave them instructions, sent them out on tasks, and then debriefed them (Luke 10:1-24).

Jesus wanted his relationship with his disciples to be the closest, most important relationship they had. He was dramatic in stating this. He said that in comparison to their relationship with Him, it would seem like they hated their own families (Matt 10:37-39; Matt 12:48). All this is to say that He became absolutely the most important person in their lives. He took precedence in everything.

Even before he returned to heaven, Jesus gave his disciples authority to be a part of His mission, authority to accomplish His purposes in the world (Matt 10:1). He promised that he would be with them spiritually at all times (Matthew 28:18-20).They were witnesses to His life, death resurrection and power (Acts 1:8), and they had a responsibility to tell about their life with Jesus, and to recruit new disciples to Him.

In John chapter 15, Jesus called his disciples to “abide” in him. He said this just a few hours before he was captured and crucified. One of the things he meant by it, was that the disciples were to keep on being his disciples, even after his death and resurrection. Their relationship – the sharing of Jesus teaching and their lives together – would go on. Jesus would come and live with them again, this time in their spirits, through His Holy Spirit. Discipleship goes on.

So what does it all mean for us? Now that we see how the first disciples were, how can we be disciples? How can we live with a single purpose? First, I think we ought to recognize that Christians were called “disciples” before they were ever called “Christians” (Acts 11:25). In other words, the very first followers of Jesus understood that it was not about being a member of a church, or even of being converts, but rather of being learners who lived life in the midst of their on-going relationship with Jesus.

Jesus is calling you – not just to keep things as they are, not just to be a member of a church, not only to repent of your sins and receive his forgiveness. He is calling you to walk with him daily. To have a relationship with him that is more important to you than anyone or anything else in this life. To engage with him as you work, as you eat, as you rest. To be trained and equipped by him to take your part in recruiting and training more disciples. He is calling you to listen to, and follow his teachings. He is calling you to be a part of a group of disciples – folks who are a bit rough around the edges maybe, but who love one another and love Jesus like you do.

When you are a disciple, everything in your life is filtered through your relationship with Jesus. We still have to go to work, and pay the bills, and deal with crises. But we do all these things with an awareness that we are not living our own life anymore. We are here to let Jesus live his life through us. That is our single purpose in everything.

When you let Jesus live your life, that is, when you live as his disciple, you are immediately confronted by the temptations and challenges of what life offers us apart from Jesus. If we live for the single-purpose of discipleship, we might find that many things we are used to doing are actually at cross purposes with the life of Jesus. Sin, of course, diverts us from the purpose of Jesus in us. But sometimes, I think the biggest threat to Christians is not outright sin, but rather, good things; things, however, that Jesus does not want us to waste our time with. Jesus said something very challenging:

“My kingdom is not of this world,” said Jesus. “If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. As it is, My kingdom does not have its origin here.” (John 18:36, HCSB)

Are you struggling and fighting for something in this world? I know I can get sucked into this all too easily. I want to follow Jesus, yes, but I also want other things: comfort and security while I am on earth. The moment I pursue comfort and security in addition to being a disciple, is the moment I lose my single purpose. That takes me a step backward in following Jesus. Jesus’ kingdom, his life and purpose are far beyond the temporary, cheap things of this world.

This is one of the reasons the Christian faith has always appealed to the poor more than the rich. If your life right now is a struggle, and you have little hope of improving it, it is easier to place your hope more fully in eternity. Poor folks know that security in this life is not really attainable. People with more resources tend to keep believing that their salvation is in this life. They tend to keep striving for the temporary treasures and goals that this life offers.

Ephesians 2:10 says this:

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Have you ever wondered about your purpose in life? Well there it is – to do the “good works” which God created you to do. And those good works ultimately all lead to encouraging believers and reaching out to those who don’t believe. This was the single purpose of the church in Acts 2:42-47. This is what they lived for. This purpose influenced all of their decisions, particularly decisions about the use of time.

Especially in America, living with a single purpose has enormous implications for the way we use our time. I am convinced that most of us try to live with more than one purpose in life. When I try to do that, if I was honest, my purpose in life could be described as: “ To serve God, and to be comfortable.” The first part is OK, but that “to be comfortable” makes it a dual purpose. And that causes problems when the purposes conflict with each other. What if being comfortable isn’t conducive to serving God, or vice versa? Others might want to “serve God, and have a good career” or “Be a disciple, make disciples, and achieve certain financial goals.” There is nothing Biblical about this. Sometimes, God makes his servants comfortable. Sometimes he gives them fulfilling careers, or wealth. But we need to pursue God – not the other things. If wants to give the other things also, well and good. If not, can we still say, “well and good”?

Others of us really do live to “be a disciple and make disciples”. But we fall into the trap of doing many good things, instead of the two or three best things. We might run all over town participating in workshops, ministries and conferences – all good and wonderful things. But often these wonderful spiritual things, keep us from truly connecting with Jesus, and concentrating on the two or three things that will be most effective, and are most important. Many times, perhaps almost always, we need to turn down the good things for the best things; the non-essential for the essential.

In most house-churches, things are deliberately structured so that members focus on just two or three important things in the process of becoming and making disciples. They generally don’t have “programs”. They focus on ministry in the group, outreach, and equipping (worship & prayer are underlying elements of all of these). None of these things should be “programmatic” – instead they are structured so that they take place in the context of lives that are lived with a single purpose. Thus, our “community life” can be oriented to that single purpose; and we are not so distracted with the “busyness” of many other things going on all the time.

Our personal lives ought to be structured this way as well. America is the land of opportunity, but enough already! We put our three-year-olds in T-ball in spite of the fact that they will almost certainly never become professional athletes. We put in extra hours in case we miss the opportunity to make more money. We run from activity to activity and it absolutely drains us spiritually and emotionally. The crucial and difficult task in learning to orient our lives around a single purpose, is saying “no” to things that are good, but which are not best, or essential.

We strongly encourage you to pray about this during the next week, and then ask your house church for help and prayer in determining what is essential and best for you to be doing at this point in your life. Make sure to address that question with an open Bible and an open heart.



If you’ve ever wondered where the bible came from and why it is considered reliable, here’s a good place to start. Since we recently talked about the New Testament, this is a mid-week re-post about the origins of the Jewish/Christian Old Testament.

Last week we considered the Bible from a non-spiritual standpoint, evaluating it as if it were merely a system that was developed to guide human behavior (that is, a “moral” system). We found that objectively, the Bible offers a superior guide to human behavior than other “holy books” and one that is much superior to any “individual morality” that individuals choose for themselves. This week I want to dig more deeply into the origins of the Bible. This will help us to evaluate spurious claims like those of the “DaVinci Code” and the “Judas gospels” (which were touted by National Geographic last year). For now, we’ll just consider the Old Testament. We will tackle the New Testament later in the series.

Several early portions of the Old Testament were originally recited orally and passed down from generation to generation through memorization and repetition. Most of Genesis, as well as probably Ruth and Judges were all originally spoken, rather than written. How do we know this? Well, the first portions of Genesis, if accurate at all, took place before reading and writing was widespread. But even more than that, examining the Bible texts in Hebrew (which was the original language) shows several easily recognized mnemonic devices (that is, verbal cues used to help people memorize a recitation). One way to picture it this: those texts which were originally recited orally, look (at least in Hebrew) more like a play than a novel. Usually, these little memory points are lost in translation to English, but one passage in which the NIV has preserved them fairly well is Genesis 5:1-31. There are seven small sections in these verses. Each section begins with “When [somebody’s name] had lived [a number] of years…” and then some details about that person and his descendants. The section closes with “and then he died.”

If this is the first time you have heard of that, this may make you a bit uncertain about how reliable those portions of scripture could be. This is because our culture has mostly lost the art and practice of memorization. But the fact is, there used to be professional oral historians. These were people who were responsible to memorize the oral histories, word for word and teach them to the next generation. Not only that, but in the case of the Hebrew people and the Old Testament, every father had a duty to teach the spiritual history to his children. People are capable of remembering a great deal. The philosopher Socrates, who lived almost a thousand years after the time of Moses, lamented the fact that during his lifetime the Greeks started writing things down in books. He felt that if books came into widespread use, people would stop remembering things, because they would be able to simply look them up in a book. He felt memorization was a much superior way to preserve knowledge for future generations.

Even in the twentieth century, Michail Gorbachev memorized the entire text of all four gospels when he was a child. We remember more, and better, than we realize. If you have seen the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” I bet you can fill in this blank: “I’m not quite ______ yet.” If you have seen the movie “The Princess Bride” I bet you know the special phrase that Wesley says to Princess Buttercup. It has three words. These are things we memorize – word for word – without even trying. How much more are people capable of in a culture where oral history is valued and practiced!

Aside from the oral histories, other parts of the Old Testament were written down, more or less at the time the events occurred or the words were spoken. The first five books of the Old Testament are called the Pentateuch; they are also known by Jews as the “Torah,” or “Law.” Over time the Torah, and the writings of the scribes and prophets were compiled into what today we call the Old Testament. We don’t know the exact date at which the Old Testament was considered to be “closed,” but it is probably around 250 B.C.E, which is the approximate date most scholars agree that the Old Testament was first translated into Greek (the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament is called the Septuagint). We don’t have any original copies of the Old Testament. Professional scribes carefully copied the originals when they became worn, and then destroyed the originals. When the copies became worn, new copies were made and the older copies destroyed. For many years, the oldest copy that had been found was made in the 800s A.D. — much newer, in fact, than many New Testament manuscripts. Because of this, many scholars assumed that if the Old Testament manuscript copies were compared to the originals, there would be many errors. However, it should be noted that later manuscripts agree very closely with these earliest texts, which shows that the scribes took great care when making copies. In 1947, the “Dead Sea Scrolls” were discovered. These are not all Biblical writings, but among them are parts of the Old Testament. The Dead Sea Scrolls date back to 1000 years before those previous Old Testament manuscripts. As it turns out, at least in the texts that are available for comparison, during those thousand years very few copying errors were made, and none were significant. Again it is an example of how carefully the Old Testament was preserved by the scribes. I have personally seen a scroll of Isaiah that was made in about 1400 AD and used in a synagogue in Germany for 400 years — until the mid-1800s, when it was taken out of use. It looked cleaner, clearer and more pristine than these sermon notes. Taken all in all, it has been demonstrated thoroughly that the contents of the Old Testament have been preserved, largely unchanged, from when they originated.

Now, in spite of these well-preserved texts, there is a prevalent and long-standing tendency to discount the Old Testament as “religious writing” and therefore inaccurate. For many decades the trendy thing was to doubt everything the Bible said – even the “normal, historical” parts of it – unless it could be confirmed by some sort of archaeological discovery. For instance, until very recently, Skeptical scholars claimed that king David of Israel was a mythical figure who had been made up by the writers of the Bible. Unfortunately for them, archaeologists discovered a reference to David in the writings of another culture in the middle east. The reference to David matched the approximate time period that the Bible puts him in.

In the Old Testament, Isaiah writes about the invasion of the Assyrian army. He describes how they laid siege to the town of Lacish, and then how they came and surrounded Jerusalem. He mentioned Sennacherib, the Assyrian emperor at the time. Over where Assyria used to be, they have uncovered some of the records and court commissioned art from the time of Sennacherib. We shouldn’t be surprised to learn that the Assyrians recorded some of the same events, and even mentioned the name of Hezekiah, King of Judah at the time, according to the Bible.

According to the Old Testament, the Israelites destroyed the town of Jericho in about 1400 BCE. According to archaeologists, Jericho was indeed destroyed about 1400 BCE. There is not enough time and space to describe all of the archaeological discoveries which have, over and over, proven that the Bible is a reliable historical source. The people it talks about were real people; the situations it describes were real. The history it records really happened. The texts were truly written or memorized when the events they record were actually happening.

Millar Burrows, a PhD graduate of Yale University, and one of the leading authorities on the Dead Sea Scrolls, said this:

The Bible is supported by archaeological evidence again and again. On the whole, there can be no question that the results of excavation have increased the respect of scholars for the Bible as a collection of historical documents. The confirmation is both general and specific. The fact that the record can be soften explained or illustrated by archaeological data shows that if fits into the framework of history as only a genuine product of ancient life could do. In addition to this general authentication, however, we find the record verified repeatedly as specific points. Name of places and persons turn up at the right places and in the right periods.

What is strange is that some people persist in doubting the Bible until is proven by some non-Biblical source. The truth is, there is no non-biblical source that has been so thoroughly verified as the Bible itself. It is, without question, the best documentary record of life and history in the ancient middle east.

It seems to me that people are inclined to doubt the Bible because, in addition to history, the bible contains records of supernatural activity. It doesn’t just talk about kings and wars – it also talks about miracles, healings and God’s standards. It’s commonly thought that people who believe in miracles do so because their faith-system requires them to, while people who don’t believe in miracles are merely looking at the evidence. But in fact, the opposite is true. Everyone believes the Bible when it talks about a war. Why don’t some people believe it when it talks about a miracle? Because some people are inclined to disbelieve in miracles, whatever the evidence may say.

Let’s consider it from another angle. Do you believe in murders? I would guess that 100% of adults reading this, believe that murders happen. Have you ever seen a murder personally? I would guess most of us have not. Have you ever known anyone, personally, who was murdered? Again, I would guess that most of us have not. Why then, do we believe in murders? Because of the testimony of other people. Some murder testimony is written – we might see it in the newspaper. Other testimony is spoken – someone tells us about it. People write stories and TV shows about murder.

There is nearly as much written and spoken testimony throughout history about miracles as there is about murder. If a man tells us of a murder, we tend to believe it. If he tells us about a miracle, many people tend to not believe it. Why not? Because they already have a belief against miracles. They may say, “Ah, but the people telling us about miracles are unreliable. We can’t trust them, because they are biased.” The problem with that is, they would trust them if they were telling about a murder. In other words they believe in murder, so they accept what people say about it. If you don’t believe in miracles, it really doesn’t matter what anyone says – you won’t believe it. In fact, the only reason you think someone telling you about miracle is unreliable, is because you start off by not believing in miracles.

To put it simply: the reason to believe in miracles is because there is so much evidence for them. The reason not to believe in them, is because you are already starting with a belief that they don’t happen.

So it is with the Bible. We know that the texts and contents have been preserved accurately, reliably and authentically. It has been proven reliable in how it records history. We we know we can believe it when it tells us that King Sennacherib invaded Judah. The natural, objective approach would be to believe it also when it tells us of God and the supernatural.

Psalm 119:97-103 says this:

97 Oh, how I love your law!

I meditate on it all day long.

98 Your commands make me wiser than my enemies,

for they are ever with me.

99 I have more insight than all my teachers,

for I meditate on your statutes.

100 I have more understanding than the elders,

for I obey your precepts.

101 I have kept my feet from every evil path

so that I might obey your word.

102 I have not departed from your laws,

for you yourself have taught me.

103 How sweet are your words to my taste,

sweeter than honey to my mouth!


I want to briefly make you aware of our situation. This ministry (Clear Bible) until recently was supported by our local church. However, we have had some changes there, and we are now a house church. Today, we have about 8 families. Our church cannot fully support me financially any longer.

 In contrast, about 430 people subscribe to this blog, and an additional 300 or so each week come and visit the site. In other words, by far, most of the people who benefit from this ministry are not part of our little church.

 I’m asking you internet readers/listeners to pray for us. Seriously, before you give any financial support, please give us some prayer support. I value that more than anything else. Pray for this ministry to touch lives. Pray also for financial provision for my family and me.

But then, as you pray, do ask the Lord if he wants you to give financially as well. Be assured, after a small fee to Paypal, 100% of your donations will go to help support my family and me in ministry. In turn, supporting this blog means that you are helping to bless more than 15,000 people each year who visit this blog.

 Some of you may have noticed that I am also a novelist. Often, people have misconceptions about authors. Most of us, including me, make a part-time income through writing, and no more. In other words, we aren’t “raking it in” somewhere else. Now, we trust the Lord to provide, and I don’t want you to give out of guilt or fear. I just don’t want you to get the idea that your donations will only be an “extra” for us somehow.

 If most of our subscribers gave just five or ten dollars each month, (or even less, if everyone pitched in) we would be in good shape. It’s easy to set up a recurring donation when you click the Paypal donate button that is located on the right hand side of this page, down just a little ways.

 You could also send a check to:

New Joy Fellowship

625 Spring Creek Road

Lebanon, TN 37087

 Your check will be tax-deductible. Unfortunately, we cannot do the tax deductible option with the paypal donate button, however the money does go directly to support my family and me.

 Thank for your prayers, and your support!



There is no gap for you to make up. There is no fruitless striving for you to do. There are no blessings that you could ever deserve or earn. The good news is, there is nothing we can do, and so Jesus has already done it all for us.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer:
Download Galatians Part 2


This is as good a time as any to talk about the word “gospel.” When Paul writes “gospel,” he is not really talking about the books written by Matthew, Mark, Luke or John (John’s gospel was probably written after Paul died). The Greek meaning is basically, “message of good news.” As we see it used in the New Testament, it is not just any good news about anything, but rather a specific, established, consistent message: that is, the message about Jesus Christ, who he is and what he has done.

Jews in the time of Paul used to talk about “the Law.” “The Law” was a specific, established message given by God through Moses, who wrote and spoke under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Technically, what Jews call “the Law” (the Torah) is made up of the first five books of the bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). We will talk more later about different ways that the word “law” is used, but for now, it’s helpful to know this.

All of the other books of the Old Testament – those that come after the first five – are called by Jews “the Prophets.” First and Second Samuel, which we have just finished studying, are part of “the prophets.” They too represent a specific, established message given by God through people who wrote and spoke by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

By the time of Jesus, no one would think of changing the Law or the Prophets. The message was already established. Paul sees “The Gospel” as the third and final piece of God’s special revelation to human beings. It is the fulfillment of “the Law,” and “the Prophets.” It is the specific, established message given by God through people who wrote and spoke under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In the case of the gospel, the message completes the law and prophets, and is very good news for human beings.

The point is, in the eyes of the New Testament writers, you cannot change the Gospel. It is as established as the Law and the Prophets. It goes with the Law and the Prophets. If a Jew would be shocked if someone changed the message of Moses, so a Christian should be equally shocked at someone trying to change the message of Jesus Christ.

Paul gives the Galatians the gospel message in a nutshell in his greeting:

3 Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord2 Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.

That’s it: grace and peace are available to us only in Jesus, because he gave himself as a sacrifice for our sins, attaining forgiveness for us, and a restored relationship with God, rescuing us from the devil. We have some additional clues to the kinds of things that Paul preached to the Galatian Christians. In Pisidian Antioch, he said this:

Therefore, let it be known to you, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is being proclaimed to you, and everyone who believes in Him is justified from everything that you could not be justified from through the law of Moses. (Acts 13:38-39, HCSB)

In Iconium, this is what happened:

So they stayed there for some time and spoke boldly in reliance on the Lord, who testified to the message of His grace by granting that signs and wonders be performed through them. (Acts 14:2-3, HCSB)

The gospel is a message of grace. It is good news. Jesus has done for us what we cannot do. Jesus lived a perfect life on our behalf; and Jesus accepted the punishment for sin, on our behalf. Whatever was required from us has been provided by Jesus.

In Lystra the Lord did a miracle through Paul, and healed a lame man. The crowds wanted to make sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas, thinking they were pagan gods. Paul said this:

“Men! Why are you doing these things? We are men also, with the same nature as you, and we are proclaiming good news to you, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything in them. In past generations He allowed all the nations to go their own way, although He did not leave Himself without a witness, since He did what is good by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons and satisfying your hearts with food and happiness.” (Acts 14:15-17, HCSB)

His message: turn from these worthless things to the living God. What worthless things? Certainly, their pagan gods. But also this: the idea of offering sacrifices, as if you could actually please God. Paul is saying, “turn from trying to do what has already been done for you. Turn away from the worthless activity of trying to earn something from God. Jesus has already earned everything for you.”

Paul goes on to explain that God gives good things – even to pagans – to show them that he was both real and full of love and grace. You don’t get good things by being good. Instead, you get good things when God chooses to be gracious to you. You cannot earn grace. If you could, it would not be grace. It is God’s free gift, given by His choice, not in response to something you do or don’t do.

So, when Paul writes to these Christians, he is deeply distressed, because he is heard that they are already turning away from this message of grace. Apparently, certain Jewish leaders in the churches were saying something like this: “Yes, Jesus is the messiah. We need to believe that. But of course, we still need to keep the Jewish law. You can’t expect to please God if you don’t follow Jewish rules like circumcision and kosher eating. You can’t have God’s favor unless you are one of God’s chosen people – that is a Jew.”

We don’t have any writings from the Galatians themselves, so we don’t know exactly what they were saying. But it seems that the basic message was what I just shared. Now, as I mentioned before, today, you don’t hear many Christians saying that. But we do have many churches and individuals who seem to preach “a different gospel.”

What are those “different gospels” that we might hear today?

Here’s one: Jesus has done what you cannot do. But he won’t do what you can do. Suppose God is a thousand yards away from you. You, flawed human being that you are, can only move one yard in his direction. So Jesus comes 999 yards to meet you. But if you don’t move that one yard in his direction, you’re screwed, because Jesus won’t do that extra three feet when you are capable of doing that yourself. A lot of churches teach this, without putting it so obviously. I have many friends who were raised Roman Catholic, and many of them experienced something like this. The problem is this: we are always left wondering, “Did I move my full three feet? What if I’m a few inches short?” Practically speaking, you are left still trying to work your way to God. There is still a separation between you and God – and you are responsible to close that gap yourself. You always feel a little guilty, a little unsettled, because maybe you haven’t done quite enough. It doesn’t really matter if the gap is one mile or one yard – if it is up to you to close it, this isn’t good news.

Brothers and sisters, this is not the message of the gospel. Jesus came all the way to get you. You can’t move an inch to meet him, and you don’t have to. There is no part of the gap between you and God that you are expected to close. Jesus has done it ALL. Do not listen to a false gospel. The good news is truly and completely good.

Here’s another false one. Jesus has done it all. Now you are set free to try and live a good life. You’ll fail, of course, but God forgives you because of Jesus, and so you have an infinite number of opportunities to keep trying to get it right.

I read something on Facebook just the other day that captures this idea. Someone mentioned Ephesians 4:17-32 and said:

While it is impossible for us to do we are to work at it daily. When we fail we shouldn’t beat ourselves up nor should we make excuses, just pick ourselves up again and keep trying.

Does that sound like good news to you? It sounds sadistic to me – to have to keep trying to do what both God and I know I will never be able to do. To try and fail infinitely: that sounds discouraging, exhausting and frankly, pointless. It almost sounds like punishment, not forgiveness.

Thankfully, that is not the real gospel either. The real gospel tells me I can’t do a single thing to measure up. Jesus has done all the measuring up for me. I can’t add to what he’s done. I am free from pointless striving. In Jesus I have never sinned. In Jesus I have already done every good, and never failed to do what I should.

Now, in our small-group last week, the question came up: If that’s so, then why are there so many passages in the New Testament that tell to do certain things (like use our money and talents for God) and to not do other things (like getting drunk or committing adultery)?

We will get into that more deeply as we go through the book of Galatians. The short answer is this: if we truly believe the good news and trust Jesus, he lives in us, and our lives will naturally begin to look more and more like Jesus as time goes on. It won’t be us striving – it will be the life of Jesus increasing in power in our lives as we surrender to him and trust him more. If that doesn’t happen, if we never show any improvement, the appropriate response is not to try harder to do the right thing, but to examine whether we really trust Jesus. Those commands in the New Testament are there to help us see if we are really trusting Jesus or not. For instance, in Ephesians 4:17-32, which led to the quote above, people always miss the first part

But that is not how you learned about the Messiah, assuming you heard about Him and were taught by Him, because the truth is in Jesus. You took off your former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires; you are being renewed in the spirit of your minds; you put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth. (Eph 4:20-24, HCSB)

You don’t keep trying to do what you can’t. Instead, through faith, you “put on Jesus.” As you trust him, your spirit and your mind are renewed, and as a result, your behavior begins to change. You don’t change your behavior – the Holy Spirit changes it as you trust Jesus and daily.

There’s a final “other gospel” that I want to point out, one that is becoming more and more common in America. That false gospel is something like this: Jesus has forgiven our sins. Because of that, now if we do good works, God will give us blessings in this life. This particular false gospel has two errors. The first is that it puts the focus of our faith on getting blessings in this life. I know far too many people who have been sucked into this. They are focused on getting good finances, good health and good relationships through God. God is just a means to their goal, and their goal is a good life here and now. Paul says this about such people:

If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone. (1 Corinthians 15:19)

These folks usually do believe in heaven and are happy enough to think they’ll go there someday. But for now, what they’re really after is good stuff here and now. Faith isn’t about being reunited with God. Instead, it treats God like Santa Claus. If the boys and girls are only good, they’ll get lots of presents. By the way, I think these folks do more to turn other people off Christianity than all the atheist clubs in the world.

The second error is that those blessings are based upon what we do. We earn them. They are not given by God’s grace. This false gospel says if you just believe right, behave right, and speak “in faith,” that means that God has to do what you want him to do. God is a vending machine: you put in good works, and get blessings in return. If you want to gain a lot of followers, that is what you should preach. A lot people do. But Paul says he is not preaching to please people. That isn’t the gospel. The gospel is about our eternal relationship with God. Sometimes he blesses us here and now – certainly more than we deserve. Sometimes he doesn’t.

The real gospel is the message that we are completely and totally dependent on God’s grace, and he has given us that grace fully through Jesus Christ. There is no gap for you to make up. There is no fruitless striving for you to do. There are no blessings that you could ever deserve or earn. As we trust him, he changes us (we don’t change ourselves). And the hope of eternity outshines and dominates the struggles and disappointments we encounter in this life.

I encourage you to receive this message more and more fully each day. And let no one lead you astray to any “false gospel.”



To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Galatians Part 1

Galatians #1 . Chapter 1:1-2

This week we are beginning a new series on the book of Galatians. It is a relatively short book – six chapters. As with all of the bible, we believe that the Holy Spirit inspired the writer to write this, and for it to be preserved and chosen as part of the New Testament. Even so, it is helpful to understand some things about how it first was written and why.

Like much of the New Testament, Galatians is actually a letter written to several Christian churches. It was written by the Apostle Paul. Paul and his colleague Barnabas (and a few others) took a mission trip from their home church in Antioch (in modern day Syria) in the 40’s AD. They went to Cyprus, and then to what is now South Central Turkey. Acts 13-14 describes this journey. They returned home to Syria.

Shortly after this, word came to Paul (we don’t know exactly how) of a controversy that was arising among many of the churches they had just visited. In response, Paul wrote this letter. It was probably the first letter that he wrote to any church, and it is certainly the first letter of his that we have preserved. He may have written it sometime in the year 49.

When I was seminary, the exciting controversy about this book was this: did “Galatians” refer to “North Galatia,” or “South Galatia?” Properly, the province of Galatia was north-central Turkey, but we don’t really know if Paul ever went there. There was a point in history when south-Central Turkey also was called Galatia, but that was before Paul’s time a little bit. So did Paul go somewhere we never heard about? Or are scholars wrong about when Galatia included the southern area? This was considered a major and probably unsolvable conundrum. Theologians don’t get out much.

I’m telling you now, Paul was writing to churches in south-central Turkey, in the cities recorded in Acts 13 and 14: Towns like Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. There, I’ve solved it. Part of the reason I favor this view, is because the things that happened in these cities when Paul was there seem to be reflected in the letter.

Pisidian Antioch was the first city in the region where Paul and Barnabas really made an effort to talk to people about Jesus. They went to a local synagogue and shared the good news. It was well received at first, but after just a week some of the Jewish community began to oppose him:

But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to oppose what Paul was saying by insulting him. (Acts 13:45)


So the message of the Lord spread through the whole region. But the Jews incited the prominent women, who worshiped God, and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas and expelled them from their district. (Acts 13:49-50, HCSB)

And yet again,

The same thing happened in Iconium; they entered the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up and poisoned the minds of the Gentiles against the brothers. (Acts 14:1-2, HCSB)

The same sorts of things happened in the nearby towns of Lystra and Derbe. So when these churches were just starting, there was a great deal of controversy with some Jewish people. We have to remember that in the beginning, the first believers thought of Christianity as merely the completion of the Jewish religion. In fact, I still kind of think that way. In any case, the Jews who did not like the teaching of the Christians took it personally, because it seemed to them, not a separate religion, but a pollution of pure Judaism and a threat to it. To make matters even more complicated, many of the first Christians in these towns were Jewish themselves, although some were not.

Apparently after Paul and Barnabas left the area, the Jews did not leave things alone, and many of the Jewish Christians in the churches began to listen to their non-Christian Jewish brothers. Within the churches, Jewish Christians began to teach that the “good news” was not salvation through Jesus Christ alone, but salvation through Jesus AND through following Jewish law. In other words, only the Jewish Christians were truly saved, and if the Gentiles wanted to be saved through Jesus, they had to become Jews first, and faithfully observe Jewish religious laws.

Paul wrote Galatians when he learned of all this. Now, as we jump in here, I have a few thoughts. Every once in a while, I run across a group of Christians who teach that you need to follow Jewish law in order to be truly saved. Really – I do meet these people. I can scarcely believe it, since this book of Galatians so clearly refutes that. But they’re out there. So, if you ever run into them, this study of Galatians will help.

Let’s be honest though – most of us don’t have regular contact with folks like that. It isn’t exactly a front-burner issue in most Christian churches these days. So what’s the good for us today?

I think we find the answer when we look a little deeper at the issue of following the law or living by grace. Strange as it seems, the truth is, it is easier to live by a set of rules than by grace. It’s all laid out for you. You just consult the rule book, and if you do the right thing – even if your heart wants nothing to do with God – God has to deliver on his promises. You are in control of things – it is up to you. You live right, and God will give you a good life.

But grace is messy. We can’t control it. And it is all about the heart – we can’t get grace with hearts that are not interested in God. We can’t get grace when our hearts are too proud to admit we really have no claim on God, and nothing we do could ever change that. Grace is hard to evaluate. No checklist will tell you if you have it or not. Grace can’t be controlled. We can’t make God respond to us by behaving rightly. We just have to trust him.

Galatians is all about Law and Grace. And truthfully, most Christians still struggle with how those two things relate. Our natural tendency is to try fix things ourselves – and that is law. We want to believe that if we do certain things – like pray and live right – then God will be obligated to do certain things in response – like answer our prayers or keep us from hardship. But that is law, not grace. This letter is very relevant indeed to people who struggle with these things.

So, with all that in mind, let’s begin.

Paul, an apostle — not from men or by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead — and all the brothers who are with me: To the churches of Galatia.

Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father. To whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Gal 1:1-5, HCSB)

This is Paul’s first letter, and it is possible that those around him encouraged him to be more tactful in the future. But the truth is, he is hopping mad, and he doesn’t waste time on saying nice things to no purpose. He begins immediately by reminding the Galatians that he writes with a spiritual authority that comes from God.

There are two reasons for this, I think. Clearly, the Galatian churches were being influenced by people who considered themselves leaders. Paul is reminding them that his leadership comes from a call he received from Jesus Christ himself on the Damascus road. It’s as if he’s beginning by saying: “who are these people to say that I’m wrong? I’m a messenger from Jesus Christ and God Father Himself.”

Secondly, since Paul’s opposition is mostly Jewish, he is creating a big contrast from the way Jewish rabbis teach, and his own approach. Jewish rabbis in that day typically taught by quoting other authorities, sometimes going back several ‘generations.’ They might say something like this:

“We have just read from the Torah how Moses led the people across the Red Sea. Rabbi Hillel quotes rabbi Judah ben Tabbai as saying that it was the obedience of Moses in stretching out his staff that we must notice here.”

By the way, I made that example up. The point is, the style of Jewish teaching was to quote authorities, who often quoted other authorities. In contrast, Paul says, “I’m speaking for Jesus. He himself sent me. I don’t need to quote authorities.” Paul himself had been a Jewish rabbi before he became a Christian. He could have established his Jewish credentials to impress the Galatians. Instead, he believed his only worthwhile credential was the fact that Jesus saved him and called him.

This is key to the entire message of Galatians. Paul’s only credential is Jesus Christ, and he considers it far greater than any possible contenders. Ultimately, he is going to tell the Galatians that Jesus is their only credential as well. From the very first sentence he is asserting the fact that everything is Jesus, and whatever is not in Jesus is useless.

So maybe the place to begin application is to ask this: What are your credentials? Are you a generation or two removed, or do you know Jesus for yourself? Is the basis for your faith what someone else said, or is it your own trust in Jesus? Are you willing to say, “Jesus is my all I have; Jesus is my only claim?”

Let the Holy Spirit speak to you right now.

David & Bathsheba


Even in this dark time of selfish passion, betrayal, conspiracy and murder, God shows us that he is never far, that his love is constant and always available.


To listen to the sermon, click the play button:


To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 2 Samuel Part 12



2 Samuel #12 . 2 Samuel Chapter 11

Unfortunately for David, this is the second most well-known incident in his life. Most of us know how he killed the giant when he was a boy. And most of us know how he committed adultery as a middle-aged man. Hopefully we have learned there is so much more to him than those two things, but there is no doubt that 2 Samuel chapter 11 records a very dark time in David’s spiritual life.

Since we’ve been going through the book sequentially, we can set in its context. Chapter 10 records a war started by the Ammonites. For perhaps a year, David’s army fought the Arameans – allies of the Ammonites. After they were defeated, David sent his military commander, Joab, after the Ammonites themselves. Many preachers have made a big deal out of the fact that David didn’t go with the army this time. I’m not sure how important that was. He did not go out with them the year before this either, at least, not at first (2 Samuel 10:7 & 17). David was maybe around fifty years old at this point, and it would be natural for campaigns to start to get physically more demanding for him. Not only that, but as king of a growing nation, he certainly had responsibilities other than war. In any case, when the army went off to war, David stayed in Jerusalem. I think the main reason this is significant is because of what happened to Bathsheba’s husband later.

One evening, walking on the roof of the palace, David observes a beautiful woman bathing in a nearby dwelling.

3 So David sent someone to inquire about her, and he reported, “This is Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam and wife of Uriah the Hittite.”

Bathsheba’s identity is interesting. She was the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Uriah was one of David’s “thirty mighty men,” among the most famous and honorable warriors in Israel, part of the faithful band that fought alongside David and did great deeds. “The thirty” (there were actually 31) are listed in 2 Samuel 23 and again in 1 Chronicles 11. Bathsheba is also the daughter of Eliam. That name appears elsewhere only as another one of the thirty. Not all of them survived as long as David, and it seems that perhaps not all of them had been with David since his days in hiding – some might have become part of “the thirty” later on. So the picture we get is that Bathsheba was the daughter of one of David’s elite warriors, probably one from the very beginning. When she grew up, she married another one of that elite band (who may have been considerably younger than both David and her father). She had might have met David when she was a child, but if so, he probably had not seen her since she grew up and got married. In any case, her family life had probably been bound up with David as long as she could remember.

When David finds out who she is, he sends for her. In his own mind, he may have fooled himself into thinking he only wanted to greet her and remember her father with her – we don’t really know. But when she came to the palace, he slept with her.

It’s hard to know what part Bathsheba played in all this. There are some scholars who believe that this was basically rape. He sent for her, and she came and was forced to do his bidding. Certainly, his proposal would have put her in a very difficult position in those days it was a pretty big deal to defy your king. In addition, given her identity, David would have been the bright star in her sky all of her life – both the life of her father and her husband had been intimately bound to him. So she may have been a little star-struck. And there is no doubt that David was the initiator of the sin. It would not have happened without him pursuing it.

But on the other hand, it’s hard to imagine a woman bathing naked (as she probably was) without checking all angles to make sure no one could see her. So she may have let David see her. In addition, there is no record of her protesting. Knowing David, if Bathsheba had reminded him of the right thing to do, as Abigail once had (1 Samuel 25:26-31), it is likely that David would have repented of his intentions and praised her righteousness, as he did in the case of Abigail (1 Samuel 25:32-34). We also know that none of the Old Testament writers, including the one who wrote 2 Samuel, were shy about calling rape what it was (cf. 2 Samuel 13:14). However, that is not what they called this. My conclusion is that they both sinned deliberately, but that David was the one who really made it happen.

Now David compounded the sexual sin with several others, and I want to talk about those things. But I don’t want to gloss over the first sin here. One of the reasons the church is now on the ropes in our culture, barely able to continue to maintain that homosexual behavior is sinful, is that decades ago, we quit publicly emphasizing that sex was made for marriage, and marriage alone. Adultery is a sin. Sex between umarried people is also a sin, according to the bible. The New Testament calls it “porneia.” Old English translations write is “fornication” and newer ones call it “sexual immorality.” In some ways “sexual immorality” is a better translation, because the word really means “any sexual activity that is not between a man and the woman he is married to.”

So “porneia” includes lust, sex before marriage, adultery, homosexual sex and all shades of those things. Jesus said it was evil in Mark 7:21-23. Some of the other verse that condemn porneia as sinful are: Romans 13:3, 1 Corinthians 6:9-18; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:5 and many more. You have heard it here, if nowhere else: the bible teaches that God created sex, and that it is good. Also, and very important, it was created for marriage, and any kind of sex outside of marriage is sinful. You may disagree with that idea, but that is what the Bible actually says. Sex in marriage is good. Sex outside of marriage, in any form, is sinful. So don’t listen to anyone who says David’s main sin was lying, covering up and then the murder. Those were sins too. But the first sin, just as bad as all the rest, was sex with someone he was not married to.

As I pointed out, David didn’t stop there. After the deed was done, Bathsheba sent him word that she was pregnant. Now it wasn’t just a problem of sinning against God, Bathsheba and her husband. It was a problem of other people finding out about it. I think this attitude is very revealing. It is utterly unlike David for most of his life, but in this case, he is far more concerned about what others think than he is about what God thinks. God already knew about the sin, but David didn’t seem worried until he realized that others would find out.

Now, there was something very serious about others finding out. The penalty for adultery in ancient Israel was supposed to be death. Both David and Bathsheba were supposed to be stoned to death, according to the laws of Moses. (Deuteronomy 22:22). So in David’s mind, their own lives were at stake.

Everything that happened after Bathsheba got pregnant was the result of David trying to handle the situation himself, with his own resources. He tried to correct the situation without admitting his guilt or seeking forgiveness.

So his first attempt is essentially to try and undo what he did. He brings Uriah home to be with his wife, so everyone will think the baby is legitimate. It an almost childish effort to make things right. You can picture David thinking (but not saying) “I slept with your wife. But it should have been you, so now you do it.” But unfortunately for everyone, Uriah had apparently taken vows that were common for elite soldiers in those days. Such warriors sometimes pledged to not sleep with their wives until the war was won, and the whole army was home again. This cut back on desertions (because they’d be breaking a vow if they went home and resumed normal relations with their wives), motivated soldiers to fight, and contributed to a sense of camaraderie. Uriah was a man of great integrity, committed to keeping his vows. David even enticed into getting drunk (thus causing him to sin in that way); but even in his drunken state, he would not go home.

Notice the difference here. Uriah knows that if he goes home and sees his wife, he is very likely to give in to temptation. So he doesn’t even go there. David, on the other hand, in a premeditated act, brought the woman into his home. Temptation is easiest to resist on the very front end. If you take a spoonful of ice-cream, it is much harder to resist having a big bowl. It’s easier to refrain if you don’t even taste it.

So David’s first plan didn’t work. Instead of confessing and repenting, he keeps trying to fix it on his own. No doubt, certain thoughts had probably crossed his mind. If only Uriah were killed in battle, then I could marry Bathsheba and the baby would be legitimate. He is a soldier, after all. These things do happen. From that sort of thinking, it isn’t such a stretch to move to actually giving some orders to make that more likely. It was a cruel irony that David trusted Uriah himself to carry the orders for his own death to Joab, the commander of the army.

It is uncertain how much Joab knew. He knew Uriah had been recalled to Jerusalem. So when he got the orders, he probably assumed that Uriah had displeased David in some way, but that David preferred him to die in battle, rather than to dishonor one of the thirty through public execution. Afterwards, of course, Joab had to have figured out what happened. But in this way David tricked Joab into being an accomplice in murder. Joab did as David asked, and put Uriah in a difficult place in the battle, where he was killed. Unfortunately, Uriah didn’t die alone, but other soldiers died alongside him, unnecessarily.

So David committed adultery, got Uriah to sin by becoming drunk, got Joab to sin as an accomplice to murder, and then got Uriah and several others killed to cover it all up. As the final verse of the chapter says:

However, the LORD considered what David had done to be evil. (2 Samuel 11:27)

So, what does all this mean for us today?

One thing, as I have said, is that it is a reminder of God’s standard for sexual morality. It doesn’t matter what the culture says. Sex was made by God, to be celebrated in marriage between one man and one woman. Anything other than that is sin. Period. That really is what the bible says. If you doubt me, look up the verses I referenced earlier, or email me or comment, and I’ll show you even more. As Christians, we need to hold to that standard. Our failure to do so is part of what is wrong with our culture today.

Something else we might get out of this, is a strategy for dealing with temptation. David first looked. Then he investigated. Then he brought Bathsheba closer, and then he sinned. If, as soon as he saw her, he had turned away, perhaps spent some time with one of his many wives, he probably would not have done all the evil that he did. It is easier to resist temptation at the very beginning. Don’t play with the idea of doing something you know is wrong – it will burn you.

There is another thing I noticed here. It is interesting to realize when this happens. It isn’t when David is afraid for his life. It isn’t when people are betraying him, or when after twenty years, he finds himself back in a cave again. No, David’s failure was during time of prosperity and security. We almost always look on struggle as bad and lack of struggle as good. Don’t get me wrong. I’m the same way. I like it when everything is going my way without a bump in the road. But the truth is, times of prosperity and security can be the most dangerous spiritual times of all. Jospeh Excell, a bible commentator of the nineteenth century, said it like this:

“The likelihood is that the great prosperity that was now flowing in upon David in every direction had had an unfavourable effect upon his soul.”

Sometimes, we think the goal is to get to a place where everything is smooth and there are no struggles. But maybe that’s like thinking how safe we would be if only we could get to the very edge of a cliff and sleep there. Physical prosperity and ease are not always good for the soul.

How about this: where is Jesus in this passage? In some ways, that isn’t quite a fair question, because the story is longer than just chapter 11. The whole passage goes on. But we can see Jesus quite clearly here too. However, this time, it isn’t in David. That’s important. David was not the Messiah. God often used him to show the world what the Messiah was like, but God was not dependent upon David alone. In this passage, he shows us Jesus through the good man, Uriah.

Uriah did not do anything wrong. In fact, it was both David and Bathsheba who wronged Uriah. By the law of Moses, they were supposed to die for the sin they committed against him. But instead, he died for them. He did no wrong, even when he was tempted. He was obedient, and carried the orders for his own execution with him. When ordered by Joab, he went into battle, to his death, in order to save those who had sinned against him.

This is exactly what Jesus did for us. We have sinned against God (Romans 3:23). We deserve death and hell as penalty for our sin (Romans 6:23). Jesus came to earth in obedience to the Father, carrying the orders for his own execution(Philippians 2:8). When he was tempted he did no wrong (Hebrews 4:15). And yet Jesus died instead of us, so that we could live eternally (Romans 3:25; 1 Timothy 2:6; John 3:16).

Jesus is constantly calling to us, reminding us who he is, and how much he cares for us. Even in this awful story of betrayal and murder, Jesus is calling to us, saying “See how I love you! See what I was willing to do for you, even in face of the worst evil you could conceive.” No evil can overcome that kind of grace and good. That grace is ours if we simply confess we need it, turn way from our sins, and receive it.



Last time, we considered the amazing love of God, showered on those who do not deserve or expect it. What if God does that and someone rejects it? This incident from David’s life sheds light on that issue.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 2 Samuel Part 11

2 Samuel #11 . 2 Samuel Chapter 10

I want to begin this time with a little bit of my own personal interaction with this text. Last time I made the point that the whole Old Testament points to Jesus, and everything in it is helpful for us who trust in him. In all honesty, I was regretting that statement this week as I looked at 2 Samuel chapter 10. I felt like I had painted myself into a corner, because I didn’t want to preach on this text. The reason I didn’t want to preach on it is because I was having a hard time seeing what value there is in these verses. I started to wonder: are there any texts that were really more for the people back in ancient Israel, or even Jesus’ time, and now, these days, we don’t need them anymore?

I don’t know about absolutely needing these texts, but the Lord immediately brought several New Testament verses to my mind:

27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:27, ESV2011)

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed. You know those who taught you, 15 and you know that from childhood you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2Tim 3:14-17, HCSB)

4 For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures. (Rom 15:4, HCSB)

12 For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart. (Heb 4:12, HCSB)

I have underlined several words here that show that these things refer to all scripture. Hebrews says the scripture is living and active – meaning, among other things, that it continues to be relevant for every generation. So I couldn’t just say “there is no point in studying 2 Samuel Chapter 10.” There is a clear principle taught in the New Testament that it is all worth studying and knowing, and it can all be used to teach us, correct us and draw us closer to Jesus.

So, trapped by my own words last week, I started asking the Holy Spirit to show me the point of 2 Samuel 10 for us today. I sure didn’t see it at first. But let me share with you what the Lord showed me as he began to open my eyes.

First, this is still all ultimately about Jesus. It should help us get to know him better. Last week, we saw that David revealed the heart of God’s ultimate Messiah, Jesus. The heart of Jesus is to find the lost and broken and show them God’s everlasting and faithful love. David lived that out, and Mephibosheth received that love.

But there is another possible outcome. Jesus wants to show God’s faithful and everlasting love to each person. But what about the person that doesn’t want it, who won’t receive it? That is what 2 Samuel 10 is all about. It is the other side of the same coin, the second part in the same story of God’s love for people.

You’ll notice that 2 Samuel 10 begins with the same basic idea as the last chapter. David, led by the Holy Spirit to show us what Jesus is like, seeks another person whom he can show God’s love and favor to. Many English bibles say that David wanted to show “kindness” to Hanun, the king of the Ammonites. This is the same Hebrew word we talked about last time: chesed. It certainly can mean simply kindness, but it can also mean “the faithful eternal love of God.” In the Psalms chesed is used more than 100 times, and almost always it is translated “faithful love,” “unfailing love” or “enduring love.” So David is still showing us how Jesus reaches out to show his love.

In 2 Samuel 10, the one David is reaching out to is Hanun, son of Nahash, king of the Ammonites. Hanun’s father Nahash was the first enemy that king Saul met in battle. Nahash was a cruel king who besieged the Israelite city of Jabesh-Gilead and tried to humiliate the residents. Saul defeated him. We don’t know what Nahash did for David – it isn’t recorded, so he may not have helped him very much, but obviously, he gave him some support, probably when David was on the run from Saul. Even so, it would be a stretch to suggest that the Ammonites were allies of Israel at any time in recent history. Now David reaches out to the Ammonite Hanun, sending representatives to express his condolences on the death of his father. Just as most kings would have considered Mephibosheth a threat, most would also have considered Hanun an enemy. In addition, the Ammonites were among those Canaanite tribes who worshipped idols and at times led the people of Israel away from the Lord. But David reaches out to Hanun in his grief, seeking to show him the faithful love of God.

However, Hanun responds in a way that is entirely different from Mephibosheth. If you remember from last time, Mephibosheth was overwhelmed with David’s kindness. He came when he was summoned and he gratefully received what David gave, and entered into a lifelong relationship with him, eating at his table every day. Hanun’s response is more like saying: “Up yours! Screw you!” and then spitting in David’s face. The shaving of the beards and the cutting of the clothes of David’s emissaries was a deadly insult.

Now, it is true, Hanun received some bad advice. But even so, he believed his advisors, rather than the emissaries of the kind king, and the responsibility for that belief was all on him. Yes, he had people lying to him. But he also had David’s men telling him the truth, and Hanun made a choice to believe the lies rather than the truth. The consequences were all his own fault.

Now, I don’t know what would have happened if Hanun had repented and sent messengers to David acknowledging his wrong and asking for forgiveness. But Hanun, realizing that he had done wrong, proceeded to do even more wrong. He armed for war, and called on allies to help him. He was proud and stubborn and was willing to make both soldiers and civilians pay for his own mistakes.

The consequences were severe. David sent his army to besiege the capital city. Joab and his brother Abishai commanded the armies, and they defeated the Aramean allies of Hanun, while the army of Hanun fled back inside the walled city. Then the Arameans were upset, and sent another army. David himself took charge of the army of Israel, and the Arameans were defeated a second time. They never again helped the Ammonites.

Ultimately, though it took at least a year, the Ammonites themselves were utterly defeated and their capital city destroyed. Hanun lost his crown, and possibly his head; while his people were made into heavy-laborers for the Israelites (these final events are recorded in 2 Samuel 12).

Hanun demonstrates for us what happens when we reject the faithful love of God that is offered through his chosen messiah, Jesus. Mephibosheth humbly received that love, and it blessed him for his entire life. But Hanun rejected it. It took some time, but ultimately, because he rejected it, he lost everything, and ruined the lives of tens of thousands of others.

We like to talk about the love and mercy and grace of God. I know I do. And it is ours if we will trust the good heart of Jesus. When we receive it, we are brought into a daily relationship with Jesus, just as Mephibosheth had a daily relationship with David.

But the other side of the story is this: it does not go well for those who reject the love of God offered in Jesus Christ. Yes, it’s true, people lied to Hanun about David and his intentions. And the devil will use people to lie to us about Jesus. But ultimately the truth was there for Hanun to choose, if he would just trust David. And the truth about Jesus is there, if we will just trust him. When we refuse to do that, we are inviting destruction upon ourselves. None of our allies or misplaced hopes will be able to save us.

This isn’t just an Old Testament teaching either. The writer of Hebrews says this:

1 Therefore, while the promise to enter His rest remains, let us fear that none of you should miss it. 2 For we also have received the good news just as they did; but the message they heard did not benefit them, since they were not united with those who heard it in faith 3 (for we who have believed enter the rest), in keeping with what He has said: “So I swore in My anger, they will not enter My rest.”

…..5 Again, in that passage He says, They will never enter My rest. 6 Since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news did not enter because of disobedience, 7 again, He specifies a certain day — today — speaking through David after such a long time, as previously stated:

Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.

…..10 For the person who has entered His rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from His. 11 Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:1-8)

This is pretty clear: we need to rest from our own self-life, our own works and ambitions, and rest in God’s great love for us, surrendering to him. If we don’t, we are in a pattern of disobedience and the good news we have heard about Jesus does not help us. Paul writes something similar in 1 Corinthians:

1 Now I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ. 5 But God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the wilderness.

6 Now these things became examples for us, so that we will not desire evil things as they did.

Isaiah wrote:

In repentance and rest is your salvation. In quietness and trust is your strength. But you would have none of it. (Isaiah 30:15)

Jesus himself mourned because the people of Jerusalem refused to receive him, and he said that as a result they would experience much suffering and sorrow. He also said this:

16 “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God.

We usually only read verse 16. But verse 18 adds that if we reject God’s chosen messiah, we have condemned ourselves. About 75% of all Americans think there is a heaven, and they will go there when they die. 40% of people think it doesn’t even matter how you relate to God, he’ll accept everyone anyway. But the bible is clear: grace and truth and eternal life are offered through Jesus Christ alone. When you reject Jesus, you reject God, and you condemn yourself. John wrote:

11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1John 5:11-13, HCSB)

Hanun shows us the route of “not-life.” It is real. Some people do reject Jesus. Believing the lies someone told them is not an excuse for people when they also have the truth in front of them. You have the truth in front of you if you are reading this now.

Jesus Christ does offer forgiveness, second, third and 233rd chances, love, grace and peace. He offers us daily relationship with himself, and joy. But outside of Jesus, none of that is ours. It all comes only in and through Jesus. If we reject Jesus, we reject it all, and none of the other things we rely on will be able to save us. So let’s pay attention to the writer of Hebrews, and today, let us not harden our hearts. Let’s be like Mephibosheth, not Hanun.


king's table

David’s counter-intuitive actions show us that the heart of Jesus is to seek out and love the lost and broken — even those who think they are God’s enemies.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 2 Samuel Part 10

2 Samuel #10 . 2 Samuel Chapter 9

2 Samuel chapter 9 contains an interesting anecdote about David. I assume that the Lord allowed this to be included in the bible for a reason, so let’s look at it.

2 Samuel 4:4 tells us that Saul’s son Jonathan had a son named Mephibosheth. He was just a little boy of five years old when his father Jonathan was killed in the battle with the Philistines. In the chaos that followed that battle, Mephibosheth’s nurse fled with him, and at some point there was an accident. The text says the nurse fell, presumably with the child in her arms, and Mephibosheth was permanently crippled in both feet.

If you remember, Jonathan was Saul’s firstborn son. Mephibosheth was Jonathan’s only surviving son. That means that he was Saul’s rightful heir. But if you remember, it was Jonathan’s brother, Ish-bosheth, who claimed the throne and fought with David. What this means is that Mephibosheth’s life was probably in danger from his uncle and the war leader, Abner. No doubt, those who took care of him believed he was also in danger from David. So the adults in his life took him into hiding.

The fact that Mephibosheth was even alive was obviously not well known, and his location appears to have been a secret. He had probably lived in fear most of his life, thinking that both his own uncle, and then David, must have wanted him dead. Most civilizations in those days were not kind to people with disabilities, and certainly made no effort to make life easier for them. Especially a man who could not work or fight was considered somehow less of a man. So Mephibosheth was an outcast because his birth made him a threat to others, and he was doubly outcast because he was a cripple. There is little doubt that he spent most of his life hiding in both fear and shame.

Now once David was well-established as king and he had a little time to reflect, he wanted to honor the memory of his dear friend Jonathan. So he began looking for anyone in Saul’s remaining family he could help. His attendants found a man who had been one of the chief servants of Saul’s household, a man named Ziba. David said to Ziba

“Is there anyone left of Saul’s family that I can show the kindness of God to? ”

David’s choice of words here is interesting. If you have been a church-goer for a while, you’ve probably heard a sermon on the Greek word agape, which mean “sacrificial, selfless love.” The Hebrew word David uses for “kindness” is essentially the equivalent of agape. In Hebrew is pronounced “hesed” (but it should sound like you are clearing your throat on the ‘h’). It is often translated “everlasting love,” or “faithful love.” It is usually used to describe God’s love for his people. I think the sense of what David is saying is, “I want to show the family of Saul the faithful love of God.” In a moment I will explain why I think this is so significant.

Ziba reveal the existence and location of Mephibosheth. Ziba is a complex person, and we’ll learn more about him later. I think it is quite possible that he was hoping David was being deceptive, and actually wanted to completely eliminate the entire family of Saul. But Ziba played his cards close to the chest, and simply gave David the information he wanted. So David brought Mephibosheth out of hiding, gave the ancestral lands of Saul, and ordered Ziba and his family to work the land and manage it. This wasn’t entirely a bad deal for Ziba – it was a position of great responsibility and some honor, and they would be able to make a good living. But he may have wanted Saul’s inheritance for himself, because later there is trouble between Ziba and Mephibosheth.

David also gave Mephibosheth a permanent place to eat at the royal table, which was a great honor, and also meant that Mephibosheth would be provided for the rest of his life. Mephibosheth’s reaction is understandable. He says,

“What is your servant that you take an interest in a dead dog like me? ”

These things really happened – they were real historical occurrences. I’ve shared many reasons at various times to believe that the bible is historically reliable. Even so, we need to realize that the writers did not record every single incident in the lives of those they wrote about; and many documents were lost or not included in the bible. As Christians we believe that the Holy Spirit guided the process all the way through. He prompted people to write what they wrote, he allowed the loss of some documents and the exclusion of others. The Holy Spirit had a purpose for including this particular piece of the bible (and in fact, every piece). The writer himself was may have been unaware of that purpose. Jesus told his disciples that the entire Old Testament points to him. I think this is one more place where the Holy Spirit used something from the life of David to show people what the true and ultimate messiah would be like. David’s actions here reveal the heart of Jesus in him. This really happened – it isn’t an allegory. But we can still use it a little bit like a spiritual allegory, and learn about the heart of Jesus from second Samuel nine. Jesus once told the following story:

1 All the tax collectors and sinners were approaching to listen to Him. 2 And the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them! ” 3 So He told them this parable: 4 “What man among you, who has 100 sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the 99 in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders, 6 and coming home, he calls his friends and neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep! ’ 7 I tell you, in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who don’t need repentance (Luke 15:1-8, HCSB)

Jesus’ heart is for the lost and the broken. He has a special tenderness for those who think they are worthless. He doesn’t wait for people to straighten themselves up and come looking for God. Instead, he goes after them, seeks them himself.

David reflected this with Mephibosheth. He didn’t wait for someone in Saul’s family to summon the courage to find him. Instead, David sent people out looking for someone to show God’s faithful love to. This one reason I think that Hebrew word is so important. David wanted to bring God’s faithful love into the life of Mephibosheth. Jesus wants to bring that same love into our lives.

Mephibosheth was afraid of David. Technically he was David’s enemy. As the grandson of Saul, he could have made a claim to Israel’s throne. Most middle-eastern leaders in David’s situation would have found him in order to put him to death. In addition, Mephibosheth felt he was damaged goods – a worthless man who couldn’t work or fight. No self-respecting life-insurance agent would ever write a policy on him, because clearly he was worth more dead than alive. I think when he called himself a dead dog, it wasn’t just an expression. More than likely, he really thought of himself that way.

But the king sought out this worthless “dead dog.” He brought him out of exile. He gave honor to the man who had none. He made others serve him. And he gave him a permanent place at the royal table, making him essentially a prince, a son of the man who by rights should kill him.

Technically, we should be the enemies of Jesus. Because of our ancestors and tragedies in our own life, we belong in the kingdom of the devil. We aren’t worth much in the eyes of the world. And truthfully, a lot of people hide from God in various ways. They completely avoid him, or deny that he exists and spend their days as far from him as possible. Others hide in religion, using empty words and good works as a way to avoid actually dealing with him face to face.

But Jesus doesn’t leave us there. He doesn’t wait for us to come to him. He seeks us, and brings us back from exile. He himself restores us as rightful citizens of his kingdom. He honors us, and declares that we are not worthless, but rather worth his attention and love. Not only that, but he gives us a permanent place with him – eternal life in relationship with him. And he treats us as his own children, inheritors of the promises of God.

David’s treatment of Mephibosheth is a signal for us that this how Jesus will treat us, if we let him. All Mephibosheth had to do is come when David summoned him, and gratefully place his life in David’s hands, allowing David to show him God’s everlasting and gracious love. That’s all we have to do with Jesus. Mephibosheth didn’t have to make himself acceptable to David, or earn what was given him. In fact, Mephibosheth had done nothing to deserve the kindness David showed him. We can’t earn God’s grace and kindness either. But he showers it on us freely if we will come when he calls and trust our lives into his hands.

Professional Level Prayer?


Too many Christians pray out loud in ways that are downright silly. We use fancy words. We repeat ourselves like idiots. Jesus told us not to do that. He taught us to pray simply and directly.

Next week, I’ll preach a real sermon again. This week we did some work-shopping in church about sermon from last time. So for the blog, I’ll post some thoughts I’ve been chewing on lately.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time lately, thinking about how people pray publicly. It’s a bad habit I have. What strikes is me is how common it is for Christians to ignore what Jesus said about public prayer. And the worst offenders are usually the “very holy and mature” believers. This often makes other Christians feel unworthy and second class, because they can’t pray like these believers who really know how to “pray up a storm.”

I recently took a Sunday off and attended a different church. They had a guest speaker who was very inspiring and entertaining. Afterwards, he invited people up for prayer and ministry. He had them stand in a group, and he prayed over them through the microphone. He probably prayed for five or ten minutes. His prayer was powerful – at least externally. His prayer was full of emotion. His prayer was full of words. His prayer wore me out, and I wasn’t even one of the people who went up for ministry.

I am continually struck by the widespread ignorance among “mature” Christians concerning Jesus’ own words about prayer, and about Jesus’ own actions when it came to bringing healing and deliverance.

Here’s what Jesus said:

1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 6:1)

5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:5-8. Followed by the Lord’s Prayer)

Let me tell you, I’ve heard a lot of people pray in a way that seems aimed at showing others that they are good at it. I’ve heard an awful lot of empty phrases and extra words heaped up over the years. I have several thoughts about this.

First, I wonder this: do these people even know that Jesus said these things? These words of Jesus come from one of the best known portions of scripture: The Sermon on the Mount. Specifically, Jesus spoke them right before “the Lord’s prayer” in Matthew chapter six. So these people who pray such impressive sounding prayers may actually be very young in the faith and even ignorant of the bible. If you hear someone praying in a way that seems designed to impress others, you should understand, that is not the prayer of a mature believer. If you hear someone heaping up words and fine-sounding phrases, that person still has a lot of growing to do. Don’t be intimidated by them. PLEASE, don’t feel like you have to copy them.

Now, I have no doubt that some of these professional-level creators of empty phrases know what Jesus said. If so, then they are being disobedient. They are like Moses, who didn’t believe it was enough to simply speak to the rock, but also had to put on a show, striking the rock twice and acting out in front of the Israelites (Numbers 20:1-12). Jesus said, do not be like them. Do not be like the people who think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like the people who heap up empty phrases when they pray. And yet so many Christians – even leaders of churches and ministries – are exactly like this when they pray.

Another question is raised in my mind. What kind of relationship do these folks have with Jesus that they talk to him in this way? Jesus invites us into an intimate, real, loving daily relationship with himself. He came explicitly to remove the barriers between us and God. Yet when people heap up these empty phrases and pray impressively in front of others, it doesn’t sound like they are particularly close to him. I have never, not even when I was very young, gone to my human father and spoken like this:

“Father, Oh Father who gave birth to me; Father you have provided for me, father; Father, I just want you, father, to reach out, father, and touch me father, and just give me a peanut butter sandwich. Because, father, you are the king of peanut butter sandwiches. As far as I know, you invented peanut butter. As far as I know, you invented bread. You are the one who feeds me, you are the one who makes the money, and then you take the money and deposit it in the bank, O father, because you are wise. And then father, you take your debit card, and you are the one who goes to the store, you are the one who buys the bread and the peanut butter. You might buy Jiffy, or Peter Pan or even the generic store brand father, but you are the one who does it. And then you take it home in our 2005 Buick, father, because in your wisdom, that is the car you chose to purchase. And then father, you are the one who takes the bread, and the knife and the peanut butter and creates the sandwich, all for me. Even though I don’t deserve it father, because I failed to clean my room this morning. From my birth you have been giving me these delicious sandwiches, father, and I want you now father, to give me another one. Peanut Butter. Oh I ask you for peanut butter. I yearn for peanut butter, father. Peanut butter; peanut butter; peanut butter.”

If I did speak to my earthly father in this way, what would it say about the kind of relationship I have with him? Unless I was joking around with him, it would reveal that our relationship is strange and twisted; almost certainly unhealthy. This kind of talk shows that I

don’t interact at a very intimate level with my father. In fact, it strongly suggests that I am very uncomfortable relating to him. I am speaking to him in a way that I would never use to speak to a close friend. It unveils a belief that I think I must use a lot of words and a lot of inane flattery to get him to do what almost any other father would do if his child simply said, “Dad, could you make me a peanut butter sandwich?” Jesus said much the same thing:


11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? (Luke 11:11-12).

These long, repetitive, wordy prayers are either mere show for others, or they reveal a distant, impoverished relationship with God that is completely unlike the one that Jesus came to give us.

Now, I have had conversations with people who make the point that sometimes we are praying not just to God for ourselves, but to God on behalf of others and in front of others. Therefore, the way we pray out loud can be used to encourage those around us. I agree with this entirely. Jesus prayed out loud to encourage his followers in their faith. Here is one example:

“Father, I thank You that You heard Me. 42 I know that You always hear Me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so they may believe You sent Me.” 43 After He said this, He shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out! ”

This doesn’t sound much like most of the public prayers I hear in churches and prayer meetings. It’s simple. “Father, I am praying this out loud so others can hear and believe that you are working through my prayer.” Then the ministry time, the altar call for all who need a resurrection in their life. It consists of three words. Three.

You see, if we are praying out loud to encourage others to put their trust in Jesus and to get closer to him, we should consider if our words actually do that or not. A long prayer with a lot of empty and fine sounding phrases – what does that communicate to those who listen? I think it gives listeners these kinds of ideas:

Prayer is a skill. It takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of repetition. We can’t just ask for what we need – we must set it in a context, we must use holy words and phrases, we must prove our earnestness by making it long. We need to keep talking to make God show up and do something.

In fact, Jesus didn’t pray that way, and he didn’t teach us to pray that way either. To repeat:

Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

So if you are praying out loud to benefit others (which I agree is a good thing) remember – it does NOT benefit others if you are praying like a pagan with a lot of fancy words and fine phrases. It doesn’t benefit others to make prayer sound like a professional-level skill.

We often make the same mistakes in prayer and altar ministry. I am continually struck by the fact that when I offer to pray for others, either God will show up, or he won’t. For example, I’ve prayed for many people to receive the gift of tongues. Many times, the Lord has given the person I’m praying for that gift. Sometimes, he has not given it. Whether it happens or not, I always pray basically the same prayer: “Lord, please give (name) the gift of tongues right now. Amen.” Our Father knows if the person needs the gift or not. I don’t have to stand there thinking up words to say while God makes up his mind. If he wants to do it, he does. If he doesn’t, my long winded prayers won’t change his mind.

Look at the way Jesus did ministry:

“Lazarus, come out.” (resurrection ministry)

“Get up and walk” (healing ministry)

“Little girl, get up” (resurrection ministry)

“Thank you father for the food. Please bless it” (providence ministry for five thousand)

“Come out of him,” (deliverance ministry)

“Receive the Holy Spirit (baptism in the Holy Spirit)

In these examples, Jesus uses an average of eight words. I have to admit, I made up the prayer about the feeding of the five thousand – it could have been a lot longer. Or a lot shorter. But the others are verbatim quotes from the gospels. Jesus is simple and direct.

You see, I think we, like Moses, are afraid to leave it that simple. If we keep talking, maybe God will show up just to make us quit. Or, if we keep talking, maybe we can cover up the fact that no one is getting healed tonight.

Thus, our ministry times often reflect a confusing contradictory message. The overall gist of it goes like this: “God has a gift he wants to give you now. He wants to give it to you, so come up to receive it. Now, once you come up to receive it you can’t just receive it. We have to work hard and pray long so that you can get it.”

Jesus never did ministry that way. The disciples after Pentecost never did ministry that way. And the fact that so many churches do engage in ministry that way sends the wrong message to people about prayer and about Jesus himself.

I think two of the biggest causes for this kind of praying and ministry are fear and self-reliance. If we keep it short and simple, will God really do it? Maybe if we pray long and hard, we can kind of motivate God to do what we ask. We are afraid to simply say, “Jesus come and do this please,” because what if he doesn’t? The reason that scares us is because we have forgotten that this is all about him, not us. We will end up looking silly if we speak less than fifteen words during our ministry time and nothing happens. But it isn’t supposed to be about how we look. It is supposed to be about what Jesus wants to do.

And so we buy into the idea that a longer, better-sounding prayer is in fact a better prayer. Because that gives us a measure of control. We start to believe we can make it happen if only we pray correctly. We want to believe that we can do something to make God show up. Because doing something is easier than waiting quietly in faith.

Most of the people I know who pray and do ministry with heaps of empty words are good-hearted people. I believe that many of them have a much closer relationship with Jesus than their prayers would lead you to suspect. But I think they are sincerely misled in this matter. Maybe you have been too. It isn’t complicated. Jesus made it quite clear in his teachings and in his examples: Keep it short and simple and trust God to do what you are asking.


Abner was a corrupt, ambitious politician. But not even a man who gained control of an entire nation through dirty politics can stop God from working. And it turns out that all that selfish evil work was turned into God’s work. We can trust God’s good intentions and his ability to fulfill them, no matter what appearances say.


To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer:
Download 2 Samuel Part 3

Chapters two through five of second Samuel describe the years after David was made king of Judah, but before he became king of all Israel. There is some natural confusion about the time period involved, because the text puts it like this:

Abner son of Ner, commander of Saul’s army, took Saul’s son Ish-bosheth and moved him to Mahanaim.  He made him king over Gilead, Asher, Jezreel, Ephraim, Benjamin — over all Israel. Saul’s son Ish-bosheth was 40 years old when he began his reign over Israel; he ruled for two years. The house of Judah, however, followed David.  The length of time that David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah was seven years and six months. (2Sam 2:8-11, HCSB)

We are going to go into the political history of all this for moment. 3000 year old politics might seem confusing, irrelevant and boring to you. But please bear with me, for a short time, because I think once we understand the politics, we will actually understand better what the Lord wants to say to us today.

Ish-bosheth (try to say that name quickly!) was clearly not king for the entire time of David’s reign over Judah alone. To put it another way, for five of the years that David was king over Judah, the rest of Israel had no king at all. Those five years may have been split between a time before Ish-bosheth’s rule and after. Or they might have come all before-hand, or all after. There is no way to tell for sure, but here is my guess:

After Saul’s death there was a great deal of confusion among the northern tribes of Israel. Many Israelites were now living in subservience to the Philistines, who had conquered a good portion of the country. The others had no leader or central organization to turn to for national identity. Remember, Saul was the very first king of Israel, and just a generation or so before him, the people had no king, no single leader. So when Saul died, and three of his four sons with him, the tribes reverted back to how they had lived before-hand – as a federation of tribes, loosely connected, but without a strong national identity. Some of them may have recalled Samuel’s warnings about having a king – and they had seen that Saul didn’t work out so well. So I suspect that there were several years immediately following Saul’s death without any strong desire or impetus to get another king.

In the meantime, the writer of the book of Samuel says that there was a war between Saul’s family and David’s. The text says that Abner became more and powerful in the family of Saul (3:6). Abner was Saul’s nephew or cousin, depending on how you read the Hebrew. He had also been Saul’s chief war-leader. It looks as though it was mainly Abner and his ambitions who opposed David’s kingship over all Israel. It took him some time to pull all his plans together. David was king for probably five years, while Abner blocked his every attempt to lead the whole nation. Meanwhile Abner himself was making connections, re-establishing a national identity, and finally setting up Saul’s son as the new king, but with himself as the real power-holder.

I think there are several understandable (but not justifiable) reasons for Abner’s actions. As Saul’s chief general, he had been the second most powerful man in Israel. With Saul dead and everything in confusion, all that went away. I think Abner wanted to go back to the way it was. I think he loved the power and position and wealth, and he was trying to regain it. In addition, Abner had been Saul’s right-hand man since the beginning. He was already there when David killed Goliath. So I imagine he had completely internalized Saul’s attitude toward David. Along with that, he may have felt that David was just like him – a great warrior, to be sure, but not a king. They had served Saul together for a short time – who was David to now pretend he was a king? Why did David think he was better than everyone else? He was a warrior, just like Abner, not a king. Finally, remember when Saul was hunting David, and David and his nephew Abishai stole Saul’s spear and water-bottle? Afterwards, they mocked Abner in front of Saul and his men. So there may have been some personal animosity there also, fueling Abner’s ambitions.

At some point, Abner was finally able to get the other Israelites to declare Ish-bosheth king over “all Israel.” But I think realistically, we have to assume that Ish-bosheth was more or less just a figurehead. The real driving force behind the civil war and behind Ish-bosheth’s monarchy, was Abner. In fact, we see this reflected when Ish-bosheth was afraid to argue with Abner (3:11), and because once Abner dies, the whole thing comes apart.

Now, I want to pause for a moment to consider this. It seems to me that Abner was not a very admirable man. Later on, we’ll see that he was completely willing to switch his allegiance to David when he realized that David was going to win. Abner was an unscrupulous political hatchet-man looking only for his own gain and ambition. We have plenty of people like that today. Sometimes modern-day politics drives me crazy, because the people in power seem to get there, and hold onto their power, through blatant dishonesty and corruption and scheming. Sometimes it helps to calm me down to realize that this has been going on for at least three-thousand years, since Abner lived that long ago.

But there is more than that here for us. Abner was a scoundrel. For five years, he carried out his schemes successfully. For two more years, it seemed that he had achieved his ambition. For seven years total, it seemed that he had thwarted David and thwarted God. And yet all the work that Abner did for himself and his selfish ambitions, ended up serving God’s purposes and plans for David.

You see, the nation was fractured after the death of Saul. It was Abner who reunited them. It was he who encouraged them to return to a sense of national identity. It was Abner who got Israel to commit once more to having one king over the whole nation. And once that was done, God handed that united kingdom over to his chosen servant David.

If David had become king right after Saul, he would have inherited a kingdom that was disorganized, disheartened and fractured. He would have had to do the work of rallying the tribes and unifying them. But instead, he simply watched while his enemy did the work for him, and watched while God turned it over to him.

This is incredibly encouraging for me. There are long periods of time in my life where I think that God’s will is being thwarted, or that evil is prevailing, and unscrupulous people are successful. But God knows what he is doing. He will use it all, sooner or later, to accomplish his purposes. Not even a man who gained control of an entire nation through dirty politics can stop God from working. And it turns out that all that selfish evil work was turned into God’s work.

Let’s continue on with the historical events. After Ish-bosheth became king, there was a significant battle between his men and David’s. The location of this battle, and of Ish-bosheth’s headquarters, is telling. The battle took place in the heart of the territory belonging to tribe of Benjamin – the tribe of Saul, Ish-bosheth and Abner. Ish-bosheth’s headquarters were located far to the east, across the Jordan valley. This means that by this point, David’s kingdom of Judah was starting to dominate the surrounding areas.

The rest of chapter 2 describes the battle, beginning with the tragic death of twelve young men from each side. If your response is “that’s horrible,” then you got the message. After the twenty-four young men killed each other, the men of Judah fell upon Abner’s men and crushed them. Abner and his forces flat out ran away.

During the chase David’s nephew Ashael fixes upon Abner. Ashael is the brother of Joab and Abishai, the sons of David’s sister Zeruiah. He probably knows that Abner personally is the main source of this war, and he seems determined to kill him, maybe thinking that he could end the war once for all.

Now, we come to the curious sense of honor that often restrained the brutality of war in those days. Abner saw Ashael pursuing him. He knew who Ashael was, and he warned him off.

 Abner said to him, “Turn to your right or left, seize one of the young soldiers, and take whatever you can get from him.” But Asahel would not stop chasing him.  Once again, Abner warned Asahel, “Stop chasing me. Why should I strike you to the ground? How could I ever look your brother Joab in the face? ”

Nowadays we think in terms of total war. But war in those days was a curious mixture of unimaginable brutality combined with strangely restraining rules of honor. Abner and Joab have just been commanding their men to kill each other in hand to hand combat – the most brutal, personal kind of war there is. And yet, Abner now is extremely reluctant to kill one of the chief leaders of the enemy. However, Ashael would not stop. So finally Abner did. The language seems to indicate that Abner stopped with his spear sticking out, butt-first behind him. His intent was probably to knock the wind out of Ashael, and bruise him to the point where he would stop pursuing him. But Ashael was running so fast that blunt end of the spear pierced him through the body and killed him.

The pursuit continued until Abner rallied his men on a hilltop. He called to Joab to stop, and again, following those curious rules of war, Joab agreed to let them go.

Not long after, Abner had a falling-out with king Ish-bosheth. I think he could see the writing on the wall, and he knew that David was going to prevail. The argument with Ish-bosheth was the final breaking point, and Abner decided to change his allegiance, to gain power in David’s new kingdom. He openly promises Ish-bosheth that he will turn the whole kingdom over to David. Chapter 3, verse 11 shows us that Ish-bosheth was indeed merely a figurehead, while Abner held the real power:

Ish-bosheth could not answer Abner because he was afraid of him. (2Sam 3:11, HCSB)

After this, Abner opened negotiations with David. He came to visit David in Hebron, and he left just before David’s nephew and war-leader, Joab, got back from a trip. Remember, Ashael, whom Abner recently killed in the battle, was Joab’s younger brother. Unknown to David, Joab sent messengers to Abner to bring him back. Abner believed he was there under the agreement of truce and safe passage that David had made with him. So he was taken by surprise when Joab pulled him aside and stabbed him, killing him.

David’s reaction to Abner’s death was just like his reaction to Saul’s death. I don’t think David had any illusions about what kind of man Abner was. He had known him for a long time, and Abner had been trying as hard as Saul to put an end to David. Even so, David refused to treat him like an enemy. Instead, he deplored the actions of Joab. David immediately declared that what Joab had done was wrong, and he prayed for God to repay him for it. He made Joab tear his clothes and mourn for Abner, the man who had killed his brother. He publicly praised Abner, and publicly condemned Joab.

Not long after this, with no Abner there to hold it together, Ish-bosheth was betrayed and killed. The murderers brought David his head, believing that David would be pleased to have his rival dead. But David treated them just as he had the Amalekite who claimed to have killed Saul – he has them executed.

This makes three times in five chapters that David punished people who claimed to have killed his enemies. I think we need to pay attention to it. Saul was clearly David’s enemy – he tried to kill him numerous times. Abner was clearly David’s enemy – he too tried to kill David by way of helping Saul. Later, as we see in these chapters, his own ambitions put him opposed to David. Ish-Bosheth, if not David’s enemy, was clearly opposed to David, and to David’s kingship over Israel.

And yet David mourned each of these men. He reacted strongly and negatively to those who caused their deaths. He was not pleased when they died, and he was not pleased with those who killed them. We have seen that David is man with many faults and failings. But we have also seen that however imperfect, he was a man with a real and living faith in the real and living God.

I think what this tells us is two things about David. First, he had perspective. He could look beyond personal rivalry, jealousy and even personal attacks. In the end, David was never willing to consider another Israelite – one of God’s chosen people – to be his enemy. In fact, when we read these chapters carefully, we find that David himself never participated in these battles against other Israelites. David wasn’t stupid. He knew ambition and fear and hatred when he saw it. But he never took it personally, and he didn’t consider the people themselves to be his enemies.

I think there is another lesson here for us. Sometimes we get caught up in personality conflicts and humans who frustrate or oppose us. But the real enemy are the demonic forces that only use and influence other humans (Ephesians 6:12). Other human beings are not the enemy. Particularly, if we follow the example of David, other Christians may often be misled and used by the devil, but they are never our real enemies.

Second, David always returned to trusting God. I would have been very concerned about Abner and his schemes. I would have been upset that for seven years, Abner succeeded. But David simply trusted God and waited. The ultimate result is that his enemy Abner did a lot of hard work on David’s behalf, and David got to reap the benefits – all for God’s glory.

One final thought. Abner, and to some degree the other Israelites, either resisted or passively ignored God’s choice for king. Ultimately, David still became the king, and it was the best possible thing – even for all the people who did not want him at first. Sometimes we resist God’s Lordship in our lives. It would be better for us than us running things ourselves, but we fight it anyway. It is better for us in the long run to let God have his way.



As God’s “anointed one” David’s life and actions give us insight into what Jesus is like. When God’s people get themselves into trouble, both David and Jesus are eager to come to our aid.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Samuel Part 22

1 Samuel #22. God’s Heart for

Rescue. 1 Samuel 23:1-13

We are reading a book of the Bible that is primarily a record of history. Theologians call this kind of Biblical writing, “narrative.” In Sunday school, we all called them “bible stories.” The gospels – the bible stories about Jesus – are narrative. So is the book of Acts. So also, is much of the Old Testament. Whenever we read narrative we should keep in mind that there are three basic layers to it.

First, narrative parts of the Bible are descriptions of actual historical events. Archaeology has consistently confirmed and correlated the bible stories we read. Skeptics used to claim that it was all made up – but in trying to prove that, they instead proved how historically reliable the Bible is.

Even so, we need to realize that this history was written with a purpose in mind. This is true of all history, by the way. Dr Mark Cheathem will soon have a new volume published about Andrew Jackson. It will tell readers about Andrew Jackson and his life, to be sure. But Dr Cheathem will also be telling the events of Jackson’s life from a definite perspective, and building a case that it is a valid perspective. His main thesis is that Jackson’s life was shaped by his own perception of himself as part of the Southern gentry class. In a similar way, the Bible tells us real history, with a certain particular perspective. [For more information about Dr. Cheathem and his books go to] The perspective used in the Bible is that God was at work in these events, and the writers, inspired by God, record how God was interacting with humans through the incidents that are recorded. So we not only look at the historical events, but, trusting that God inspired the writers, we look at how God was at work in them.

Finally, we recognize that God is still telling the story, and he uses the Bible to communicate with us today, to tell us how he is at work in us and around us today. The bible is there to help us know God better through Jesus Christ. So as we read, we look for how he wants to communicate with us in this very moment, and how it helps us to know Jesus better, and walk in relationship with him.

In 1 Samuel 23:1-13, David hears that the town of Keilah, near both the cave of Adullam and the forest of Hereth, is under attack by the Philistines. As soon as David hears of it, he has two immediate reactions. First, he wants to go rescue them. Second, he chooses to ask the Lord if he should do that. Remember, both a prophet and priest were with David at this point, and I am sure that together, the three of them asked God about it. David’s first reaction was exactly what God wanted. His heart, and David’s heart, was to deliver his people.

But David’s men said to him, “Look, we’re afraid here in Judah; how much more if we go to Keilah against the Philistine forces! ” (1Sam 23:3, HCSB)

Remember David now has about six hundred men with him. The way war was waged in those days, it is possible that some of them had previously been sent to help Saul for a short time in some of his battles. These citizen-soldiers usually just stayed for one battle or one short campaign, and they were not as significant as the professional warriors. Generally, they just hung around, and if the battle went well, they provided manpower for pursuing enemies; if the battle went badly, they would have been the first to flee. Because these men were so low in society, however, it is possible that very few of them had any experience at warfare. Certainly, aside from David, none of them were professional warriors – yet. Quite simply, they were afraid.

Last time when Saul wanted his men to take action he spoke to them sarcastically and accusingly. David does neither. Probably mostly out of concern for his men, he asks the Lord a second time. When they hear another affirmative, David wastes no more time. He leads them into battle, and they win a resounding victory, saving the town of Keilah.

But all is not well. No doubt David and his men were tired of living in the forest and the cave. So they weren’t in a hurry to leave Keilah – a real town with houses and even a wall. They were glad to hang out in civilization for a while. Saul hears that they are there, and declares: “God has handed him over to me, for he has trapped himself by entering a town with barred gates.”

I want to pause and point out two things. The first is a small difference. In all David’s interactions with God in this passage, he calls him “the Lord.” Saul calls him “God.” “The Lord,” is the way most English translations express the Hebrew personal name for God. So, in fact, it is a more casual and intimate way to talk to God. To picture it another way, say you were talking about a man named John Smith. David is calling him “John” and Saul is calling him “Mr. Smith.” I think this is a reflection of their different relationships with God. To Saul, God is a distant Supreme Being, one that might possibly be manipulated into helping him (Saul). To David, he is a close personal relation, a friend in all times.

The second thing I want to highlight is their different approach to God’s guidance. David pauses and talks to the Lord multiple times on many occasions. He asks what God wants to do in every situation. Four times in these thirteen verses, we see David seeking God’s guidance. On other hand, Saul simply assumes that God exists to assist him to fulfill his (Saul’s) own ambitions. In these verses, he doesn’t once seek to know what God wants him to do.

Let me state this even more clearly. In Saul’s mind, the whole point of God’s existence is to help Saul have the kind of life he wants. God is his assistant. But in David’s mind and heart, he (David) exists to serve God and carry out his will on earth. He is God’s servant, and even calls himself that exact thing in verse ten. I think that these two attitudes compete for dominance in everyone who believes in the existence of God. Is God there to help us live our lives – or are we here to express His Life and fulfill His Purpose here on earth? In other words, is my life about me (with God as a help and support to me), or is my life about God (with me as his valued tool and helper)? I think we all know the correct answer to that question. But practically speaking, many Christians live as if God is their servant, not the other way round. It is so easy to start thinking that the main point of God is to do good things for me. The truth is, the main point of my life is to let God work through me.

The citizens of Keilah are apparently not very grateful to David for his help. There is no record of any expression of thanks. Instead, when David asks the Lord if it is safe to stay there, the Lord tells him that the people of Keilah will hand David and his men over to Saul, if he stays. Saul’s intention is to surround the city and destroy it, with David and his men inside. It does not say so overtly, but it is quite possible that it was a citizen of the town who went to Saul with the information that David was there.

This is ironic. The people of Keilah rejected their rescuer. They sent for Saul to come and capture David. In rejecting God’s anointed one, the citizens of Keilah were inviting their own destruction. In their rejection of David, they were destroying themselves.

Thankfully for everyone, David sought God’s guidance, as he did so frequently, and he led his men back into the wilderness, saving both himself and the town of Keilah, yet once again.

Now, we have heard the history of what happened. We have noticed how God was involved back then. But what does this mean for you today? How is the Lord using this to speak to you, to help you know Jesus better and walk with him?

Remember that David is a type of Christ. God used his life to show us what the ultimate “anointed one” is like. One of the things I think the Lord shows us here is that the heart of God is to rescue us. David, anointed with God’s spirit, heard of people who were in trouble and oppressed, and his first response was, “Can I go save them? Please?” God’s heart is for redemption. He sees people in trouble and oppressed, and he says to the anointed one, “rescue them!” Jesus’ heart is for your rescue. I know there are many things that happen in this life which we don’t understand. But we can’t doubt that God loves us and wants to save us. He came in the flesh, he gave up his body in tortuous suffering to rescues us. His heart is for our redemption. Whatever you face, you are not forgotten. There is One who sees you as precious and valuable. His heart is for your ultimate salvation, for your best good.

David rescued the people of Keilah. Today, three thousand years later, it makes no difference to those people. But the redemption we get through God’s Ultimate anointed one is eternal. It is the redemption of our spirits, souls and eventually the re-making and resurrection of our bodies. Three thousand years from now, the redemption of Jesus will still make all the difference in the universe.

Sometimes, like the people of Keilah, we don’t welcome the one who delivers us. Their rejection of David is pretty poor behavior. Here, he has just saved them, but now they turn around and try to have him killed. When we reject Jesus, it is just as offensive and ugly. He gave his life for us. Some people would like his salvation, but want nothing to do with him – they don’t want a daily relationship with him. Perhaps he interferes with our lives in ways we don’t like. When we reject God’s anointed redeemer, we are inviting not freedom, but destruction into our lives. Let their behavior caution us to receive what God wants to do in our lives.

Maybe you identify with David’s men. You aren’t a professional, like he is. Perhaps God, through Jesus, is inviting you into something new and scary that you aren’t sure you are ready for. Maybe you’ve been invited to take part in a prayer ministry. You think, “I’ve been around church. I’ve prayed out loud a few times, but I’m not experienced like some other people.” When God’s anointed (Jesus) invites you into his mission, don’t shrink back. David’s rabble weren’t fighters at this point. But out of that same group came the greatest warriors in the history of Israel.

Maybe you think you don’t have the background to pray for others, or to share your faith with your neighbor, or make a stand for God. You might be right. You probably don’t have the right background. But neither did David’s men. All they really needed was enough trust to follow where God’s anointed one led them. That’s all we need. We small, no-account group of Jesus-followers might be exactly the tools God chooses to use.

Let the Lord speak to you right now.