In the Trunk

I hear a bad joke this weekend. Put your wife and your dog in the trunk of your car. Drive around town for a couple of hours. Now, stop and open the trunk. Which one do you think is happy to see you?

I’d credit that joke to the appropriate sourse; I think it was on Prairie Hom Companion this weekend. At first, I thought it was one of those inappropriately funny jokes, where only a few people laugh.

But it crossed my mind a couple of times since then. When it comes to biblical forgiveness, what message does this joke have for you? Hoave you ever been put “in the trunk” or put someone else there? How does one move past such an event without active forgiveness?

I’d like to hear your thoughts on this.

Pink and Green

First, some background about the way I select my clothes in the morning. I generally put the freshly laundered clothes on the left side of the closet, and select clothes to wear from the right side. I suspect women select their clothes based on mood, impression, temperature, moon phase, and other factors I can’t deduce, but I’m a simple, partially colorblind engineer that needs a system so I don’t wear the same thing every day.

I select my pants first because there are fewer pants. I’ll then have a wider selection of shirts to choose from, whereas choosing a shirt first may force me to wear the same pants (black slacks) multiple days in a row. Once I have the pants, I choose a shirt that matches. Maybe. See, I’m a partially colorblind engineer, and I’m not always sure of the colors I’m choosing, nor whether the combination actually matches.

This morning, I selected a pair of slacks that are not brown. I know this because I wore these pants for a few years with brown shoes and a brown belt before my sweet wife, who fortunately is asleep when I’m dressed and leaving the house and not subject to my wardrobe infliction, noticed my combination and informed me the pants were actually green.

At least, I think it was these pants. It might have been a different pair she was referring to, but none of the other pants look brown to me. So I think I’ve selected green slacks.

Then the trick is to select a shirt that goes with the pants. I’m not really sure what goes with green. When I wear blue slacks, I know blue shirts go with them, unless they’re the wrong sort of blue. I don’t know what sort of blue that is, but I know those sorts of blues are in my closet. I don’t have any green shirts. At least, I don’t think I do.

So then the trick is to select a shirt that is least likely to clash with green. I have a pink oxford button down shirt. I know I can wear this shirt with black pants, and I suspect it’s ok to wear it with blue pants. Is it ok to wear it with green pants? What if the green pants are actually brown after all? Brown and pink sounds like a horrid combination, though whether it also looks horrid is beyond my powers of observations.

I elected to wear the pink shirt anyway because 1) it was coming up in the rotation, having journeyed from left to right in the closet, and I was going to wear it in th near future, 2) I don’t know what goes with green, and 3) I’m pretty sure red and green go together in a Christmasy sort of way, pink is basically red but faded, and being February, so has Christmas.

And now you know why I’m wearing pink and green today.

At least, I think I am.

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Hope and Fear

Inauguration Day:

“On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.”

Today:

“This recession might linger for years. Our economy will lose 5 million more jobs. Unemployment will approach double digits . Our nation will sink deeper into a crisis that, at some point, we may not be able to reverse.”

NO TIME TO LOSE! DON’T READ IT, JUST PASS IT! PASS IT NOW OR WE WILL NEVER RECOVER! WE NEED THIS MASSIVE SPENDING BILL OR THE WORLD WILL END, CIVILIZATION WILL CEASE AND PUPPIES WILL DIE! DON’T READ IT! DON’T DEBATE IT! CATASTROPHE, DISASTER AWAIT UNLESS WE CONVERT TO MARXISM TODAY! TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS OF PORK ARE NEEDED IMMEDIATELY, OR WE WILL ALL DIE!!!!

Even if Obama is from Kenya, this is the largest Nigerian financial scam ever.

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Responding to Loss

We’ve been studying the rise of David as King of Israel. David is an interesting man, full of failures, yet David is a man after God’s own heart. What makes David different? How is David different than Saul?

As we studied in 1 Samuel, the people of Israel demanded a king and God gave them what they asked for, even though God knew it wasn’t in their best interests. Saul, as king, has actions that outwardly display his obedience to God, but we know his heart isn’t right. Saul is full of himself, and his actions are inconsistent. They do not speak of a man fully committed.

At the end of 1 Samuel, David knows he has been anointed by God as the future king of Israel, but he has to wait. Wait and wait and wait. David waits for 15 or 20 years for Saul to die so that David can be king. Who can identify with waiting on God? It’s easy to become impatient, but God’s timing is perfect; it’s our timing that gives us angst.

For these 20 years, David has to deal with everything the human heart is exposed to. Tragedy, romance, family conflict, madness, hate, betrayal. What makes David different is not his righteousness, but his faith. David made his share of mistakes, but he placed his faith in an Almighty God that was bigger than David. As a result, David becomes the king that leads God’s people through peace and prosperity in the land that God promised Abraham.

The first book of Samuel reads like a prime-time television thriller. In Chapter 22, Saul goes on a killing spree, killing off the priests of God. Chapter 23, Saul almost catches up to David to kill him, but has to veer off because of an attack by the Philistines. Chapter 24, Saul’s reliving himself in a cave when David sneaks up and cuts off a corner of Saul’s robe, scaring and humbling Saul… for a while anyway. In Chapter 25, David has a run-in with Nabal, but Nabal’s wife Abigail averts a battle. The next morning, Abigail tells Nabal what she’s done, and Nabal has a heart attack, so David marries Abigail. In Chapter 26, Saul’s trying to kill David again, but David again spares Saul’s life, and Saul again promises to stop trying to kill David. Chapter 27 is when David finally decides to remove himself from Israel so that Saul will stop trying to kill him.

David’s in an interesting spot; Saul has alternated between trying to kill David and vowing not to kill David. David has had more than one opportunity to kill Saul, but David knows that Saul has been placed as king by God, and it will be God’s actions to remove Saul from the throne, not by David’s hand. David is to respect authority and will have no part of killing Saul.

Chapter 27, David flees to the land of the Philistines. Since the Philistines are at war with the Israelites, David’s logic is that Saul won’t follow him there. David lived there for a year and four months, becoming the right hand man of the king of Philistine by day, slayer of Philistines by night. Chapter 28, Saul goes to a séance at the Witch of Endor’s place to seek advice from Samuel, who died a few chapters back. Samuel shows up and he is not happy. Samuel tells Saul that because of Saul’s disobedience to the Lord, Saul and his sons will be joining Samuel the next day.

Then, when the Philistine army gathers their forces to invade Israel, the Philistine generals don’t trust David to lead his small army against Israel, so David is dismissed from service. David uses this time in Chapters 29 through 30 to destroy the Amalekites, the people that Saul should have destroyed years earlier. While David is destroying the Amalekites, the Philistines invade Israel and destroy Saul’s army at Mount Gilboa. As the Philistines close in on Saul, in chapter 31 Saul and Jonathon fall on their swords and commit suicide to prevent the Philistines from taking them prisoner.

We’re tempted to breathe a sigh of relief at this point; the long saga of Saul’s attempts to kill David has come to an end. We might even be tempted to celebrate. Ding dong, the witch is dead, which old witch, the wicked witch. Ding dong, the wicked king is dead.

But this is not a celebration. This is a day of sadness in the history of Israel. Israel’s first king is dead.

As 2 Samuel opens, David is unaware that Saul has died. David is in Ziklag in Philistine territory after destroying the Amalekites, when a man arrives to tell David of Saul’s death. 2 Samuel 1:5-15 describes the encounter; the man says he was there at Mount Gilboa and Saul was injured. Then the man says that Saul begged the man to kill him, so he does. But we know from 1 Samuel 31 that Saul fell on his sword and killed himself. Why would this man claim to David that he had killed Saul?

The man is obviously trying to buy favors from David, but it doesn’t work out the way the man expects. He tells David he is one of the Amalekites that David has been destroying and admits to killing the Lord’s anointed ruled of Israel, so David find him guilty of murder and has him put to death. David does not reward the man for doing what David has resisted doing for the past 20 years.

David begins a period, not of celebration, but of mourning for the passing of Saul. 2 Samuel 1:11-12 says,

Then David and all the men with him took hold of their clothes and tore them. They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the army of the LORD and the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.

And 2 Samuel 1:17-27, David composes a lament in honor of Saul and Jonathan.

Society teaches us, especially men, how to react in situations of grief. We’re supposed to be stoic. We are to control our emotions. And the news provides so many examples of horror in our society, and the movies we watch provide so many examples of death and destruction, that we become numb, calloused, and uncaring.

But I don’t believe that God’s plan for us is to learn to be stoic and uncaring. The only way we can avoid the grieving process is not to become attached in the first place. God wants us to become attached and involved. After loving God, the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Scripture supports that we are to spend extra effort loving Christian brothers and sisters, family and friends. And if we get attached, then certainly we will grieve when we experience loss.

God wants us to grieve such losses. Grief is a God-given emotion, a gift to deal with the pain. God doesn’t want us to live in grief; he wants us to use grief as an appropriate tool. It’s important to realize that, whether a believer or a non-believer, we will all experience grief. The issue is not whether we experience grief, but rather how we respond when we feel these emotions. It’s important to remember that, even when we don’t get all the answers we seek, that we can seek comfort in the Lord, that He understands the grief we experience. Be honest with God and He will help you work through your crisis. He may not tell you the answers to your questions, but He will remind you of His love for you. You can find comfort in Him.

Psychologists teach that there are five stages of grief that we go through when we experience a serious loss of a loved one, of a parent, a child, a spouse or sibling. The grief cycle is –

• Denial (shock, numbness). This is a protective reaction and it’s temporary. We’re not ready to deal with it, so we don’t. “This isn’t happening to me.”
• Anger. The actual root of anger is usually hurt or fear, but it’s expressed through anger. It’s normal, part of the fight or flight response. “Why” is the common question when we’re going through the anger phase.
• Bargaining (shame, guilt, or blame). “I promise I’ll be a better person if…” We try to find answers, we try to fix blame on somebody, maybe on ourselves. Sometimes we blame God.
• Depression (sadness). “I just don’t care anymore.” This is the hardest part of grief to overcome, it’s anger, but now it’s turned inward. Professional help is often necessary.
• Acceptance (forgiveness). This is just the way things are. When our desires, our expectations, our needs and wants are not the same as reality, we go through the first four stages. To get to acceptance, we get to a realization that we’re not going to change reality, so we’re going to have to change our expectations.

I’m not a psychologist; I don’t pretend to know all there is to know about grief. As an engineer, I can plot your grief stages in a spreadsheet if that’s helpful. If that’s not helpful, then we need to find some appropriate help in a friend, a confidant, or professional help. If you’re going through this now, Second Baptist offers qualified counselors free through the Barnabas Center to help you deal with issues like this.

But what we can do today is look at David’s responses to grief as a way of working through grief. In 2 Samuel 1:11-12, David goes through the anger and sadness phase by mourning and fasting. In verse 17, we can see the depth of David’s emotions as he composes a lament in honor of Saul and David’s best friend Jonathon. It’s important to find a way to express the sorrow we feel.

Horatio Spafford was born in 1828 and became a successful lawyer in Chicago. He was a deeply spiritual man and devoted to the scriptures. He amassed a great deal of wealth by investing in real estate near Lake Michigan. In 1871, Horatio Spafford’s only son died, and while he was still grieving the loss of his son, the Great Chicago Fire burned up much of his real estate and wiped him out financially. Two years later, he and his wife and four daughters planned to assist Dwight Moody in an evangelism campaign in Great Britain. Spafford got delayed by business for a few days, so he sent his wife and daughters ahead on the S.S. Ville du Havre. On November 22, 1873, his wife’s ship was struck by an English vessel and sank in a few minutes. When the few survivors landed in Wales, Spafford’s wife telegraphed two simple words, “Saved alone.” Spafford had lost all four daughters.

When Horatio Spafford followed by ship a few days later, as the ship was passing through the area where his daughters had perished, Spafford wrote his own lament of personal grief, life’s pain and suffering, and finally, Christ’s redemptive work in his life. You’ve heard these words –

It Is Well With My Soul

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Refrain:
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trumpet shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

Horatio Spafford

Both Horatio and David went through periods of intense grief. Both expressed their grief in powerful ways that gave thanks and glory to God. Ecclesiastes 3 tells us that there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the sun, including a time to mourn. We don’t have to be embarrassed or hide the fact we are in mourning; on the contrary, it shows the deep love God wants us to have for another. But we can learn something else from David’s lament; David had many reasons to be angry with Saul, yet, David’s lament in 2 Samuel 1:19-27 mentions not one word of criticism. Saul is described with beautiful words such as “How the mighty have fallen” and “in life they were loved and gracious,” “they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.”

One thing David does not mention, however, is Saul’s godliness. David knew that Saul failed as a spiritual leader of a nation. David praised Saul for the strengths Saul had, and did not resort to embellishing his praise with lies. Saul had his strengths, and David praised those honestly. What I find most amazing is that David’s grief and lament is about a man who made David’s life miserable, a man who hunted him into exile. But David acted in a godly manner, and it didn’t matter whether Saul did. Proverbs 24:17 says,

Do not gloat when your enemy falls;
when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice

God is displeased when we rejoice in another person’s troubles. Jesus tells us to love our enemies. David loved Saul out of compassion and without malice.

Sometimes we have a love / hate relationship with someone; often I hear it’s about a father, one full of stern discipline and sometimes harsh treatment that we nonetheless respected and loved. Once they’re gone, it is not the time to remember what we disliked about them, but to celebrate the strengths and positive characteristics they possessed.

I’ll confess that I feel uniquely unqualified to teach much more about grief; the Lord had blessed me with a wonderful life with little grief, and one my life’s biggest reasons for grief, my divorce from Diane, God gave me the chance to do it over in His way. But I know there are many of us that have recently experienced grief, and some of us are expected to experience grief. I would like to give us a chance to express a lament for those we may grieve for. I’d like to open up for discussion some thoughts about the grieving process.

First, what are some of the ways that Christians can respond in times of loss that honor God?

Why is it important for people to express grief after a loss?

How does acknowledging a loss help us grieve and help us ultimately move on with our lives?

What are some of the ways a believer can acknowledge loss in a relationship that had problems?

Perhaps you’re not currently going through a season of grief, but it’s likely that somebody you know is. What can we learn from David about other’s grief? When others grieve, sometimes it’s difficult for us to know how to respond. When the Philistines captured Saul’s lifeless body, they mangled and mutilated it, and his remaining men had the grisly task of burying what was left of the body. In 2 Samuel 2:5-7, David meets with these men who buried Saul. Look at the beautiful, encouraging words from David –

The LORD bless you for showing this kindness to Saul your master by burying him. May the LORD now show you kindness and faithfulness, and I too will show you the same favor because you have done this. Now then, be strong and brave, for Saul your master is dead, and the house of Judah has anointed me king over them.”

As we go through anger, denial, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, we will all react differently. Sometimes when a difficult person passes away, we feel relief and then guilt at feeling relief. We might hide the grief with a joyful exterior. We might put ourselves to work and lose ourselves in our jobs or in service. We might shut down and withdraw. We might even use humor to ease our grief. We can be kind to others in their grief. Professional counselors can help individuals in dealing with their grief, but there is no substitute for the love and care from others to help the healing process. Our church, our bible class, is our spiritual community to do just that.

If you’ve recently been through a grieving process, what are some of the things that people have done for you that helped?

The reason God wants us to express our grief to a community of believers is because we are uniquely positioned by God to be here as support to our Christian brothers and sisters that need us. David grieved with others and shared his thoughts through prayers and service to others. It’s tempting to withdraw into ourselves and suffer alone, but that’s not God’s plan. We need to share our losses with others so they can strengthen us. I don’t know why we feel the need to suffer alone. Pride, maybe? That somehow suffering a loss or the fact that we’re hurting somehow makes us look weak? But if we share our grief, we can be encouraged by those who care for us.

Who here has recently experienced a reason to grieve or expects to experience one soon? Pray silently for just a moment, and if you feel led, tell us who you grieve for and a positive quality about their life you can share with us.

(Prayers and thoughts from the class)

Another lesson we can learn from David after his lamentations is to look at his actions in 2 Samuel 2. In verses 1-4, David seeks the Lord’s advice on how to respond. Our first priority in life must be to seek God’s guidance, whether in joy or pain. This includes big questions such as “should I take a new job” or “should I move to a new city,” but smaller questions such as “should I continue to serve on a particular church committee.” What process do you follow in making decisions?

I think David was able to deal with his grief over the death of Saul and Jonathan because he could see God working His plan for Israel. Instead of focusing on Saul’s faults, David focused on God’s sovereignty and grace. After a loss, we want to ask why. Why did she die? Why did I lose my job? Why did I get cancer? But I’m convinced God wants us, instead of asking “why,” to ask “how” or “what.” What do you want me to do in my life, Lord? How shall I respond to this loss, Lord? We know that God promises that in all things, He works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. In all things. We have to have faith that when God says all things, He means it. Even in times of grief.

So our time of grief is a season that we go through, but grief is not a place where we stay. We should express our grief to others so they may strengthen us. How long do we spend grieving? That’s up to each of us individually. 2 Samuel 2 begins with the words, “In the course of time, David.” David had a destination as king of Israel and he had to get on with his life. In the course of time, we, too, must get on with our lives. God has prepared a destination for us, too. Let us give thanks to Him.

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Review: 3:16. The Numbers of Hope

coverMax Lucado writes as only he can, with insight and brevity, packaged in powerful imagery. His latest book, 3:16, is packed with delivious observations and challenges, and he does it by focusing on 27 simple words.

For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only son so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Max then proceeds to add personal stories and humor, supporting and explantory scripture, and writes an entire book on just those few words. An entire chapter on “the world,” another on “He gave,” still another on “one and only son,” and so one. I enjoyed the chapter on “gave;” salvation from Christ is truly a gift, and not one that we have to earn. The good deeds we do gains us no entry into heaven; Christ did it all on our behalf.

The chapter on “perish” is a description of hell that should not be glossed over. For some reason, we don’t like to talk about hell, and when we do, we minimize it to lessen its impact. When we says, “that was a hell of a steak,” somehow we’re complimenting food with a description of eternal torment. We don’t do it with lesser punishments; “my golf game has gone to prison” doesn’t invoke the same image. Hell is described in the bible as a real and eternal place, and Max Lucado finds scripture to support the image of hell full of people choosing not to spend time with God. I found it interesting that Max Lucado doesn’t describe it as full of people wishing they had chose God; the scripture that mentions the rich mand and Lazarus says the rich man wanted Lazarus to visit him in hell. Why didn’t the rich man want to visit heaven instead? Perhaps people in hell are so hardened by their refusal of Christ that they are eternally without God and alone with their selfish thoughts, lying tongues, thieving hearts.

Max Lucado’s 3:16 ends with a 40 day devotional that describes Jesus, both man and God, and what his daily life was like. Who were his friends, and what did they do? Have you ever pondered a man that was liked enough to be invited to a wedding? Jesus was likeable. A man who absorbed the weight of the worlds sins and left Him anguished and crying blood while He waited for God’s judgment to fall on him for sins He didn’t commit but willingly accepted? And after Jesus’ death, and after Peter had disowned Him, Jesus appears while the disciples were fishing, and fixes Peter breakfast. No hint of scorn, no hint of His friend’s betrayal, Jesus simply offers grace. Always.

This book is worth reading over and over and over. Follow the scripture references and read about the greatest gift ever offered to us, and how God so loved us so much that He would die for us so that we can join Him in an eternal, sinless, and reconciled life.

Daily Manna – 2 Corinthians 9:6-9

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: ‘They have scattered abroad their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.’ 2 Corinthians 9:6-9

Jesus reminds us not to store up treasures on earth, but to store up treasures in heaven. I am convinced that our mortal life reveals our true character, and that our true character endures forever, impacted by our mortal choices.

What are you doing with the blessings God has given to you? God has given you something – intelligence, strong muscles, a witty sense of humor, patience or compassion, material possessions. What are you doing with it? If you attempt to keep it all, you are sowing sparingly – and what you reap in Heaven will also be sparse. If you share and serve, you are planting seeds abundantly, and your eternal reward is also abundant.

We sometimes think that if we spread the wealth around, it’ll leave little for ourselves. We get stingy, greedy, selfish, and want to hold on to it. Not only does that leave little trust in Jesus – who will provide for your needs abundantly when you are serving Him – but it also reveals a love of materialism instead of a love for Christ. You know you can’t take it with you, don’t you?