Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
It was in one of the lowest points in his life that David finds himself hiding in a cave praying to God. He says, “With my voice I cry out to the Lord; with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord” (Psa. 142:1).
David describes the circumstances that have caused him to feel discouraged. He says in verse 4, “Look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul.”
How often do we find ourselves feeling this same way? It could be the people we work with that don’t see the value of our Christianity. It could be friends at school pushing us to break our Christian values. It could even be our own families that don’t care for our souls.
David felt the loneliness of desertion with his own son, he felt betrayal from Saul, and he even willfully separated himself from God when he went after Bathsheba.
Many times we find ourselves in the cave. It could be that outside circumstances have put us there, or we sinned and are feeling the consequences of those choices.
Put yourself in his shoes, hiding in a dark, desolate and damp cave feeling alone and deserted by everyone. Everyone except God. David never lost sight of God, and he knew that God would answer his prayer.
When we find ourselves in the dark, feeling deserted and alone, don’t lose sight of God. He will never turn His back on a struggling Christian. He cares for your soul.
David was broken and battered by sin. He would feel its effects from his public life to his private life for the rest of his life. In the aftermath of his actions with Bathsheba and the subsequent cover-up, the wounds of sin left visible scars. Nathan’s accusing words perhaps ringing in his ears, he sits down to pen by inspiration the haunting, but hopeful, 51st Psalm. We often dwell more on the first part, the multifaceted description of sin and the more beautiful pictures of forgiveness. But, to me, the most beautiful part of the psalm is when David starts using the word “then.”
Satan would love for sin to defeat us. He would like the guilt to overwhelm us, to keep us from the restoration David longs for here. David is speaking prospectively, asking for a clean heart, renewed spirit, spiritual fellowship, joy and sustenance from God. But, he asks for it for a purpose. In doing so, he shows us what God wants to do with us and for us after our “cuts” become “scars.”
After the cuts become scars…
REACH OUT TO THE LOST (Psalm 51:13). On the other side of repentance, David was anxious to help others reeling from their spiritual wounds. As we overcome through God’s help, we can be a tool in His hand to relate to and rescue others struggling just like we did. It would be far better to have never gone down the road of sin, but having truly come back we can understand the desperate, dark place transgressors are walking.
BE A FAITHFUL WORSHIPPER (Psalm 51:14). David, the master musician, had lost his song in the far country. He yearned for joyful song. Worship loses its power and purity in our lives when we are living in darkness. We feel hypocritical and empty, just going through the motions. But, back in His glorious light, we can experience that lifted up feeling once more. David shows us the blessing of restoration, a spirit renewed to enjoy further renewal in faithful worship.
GIVE GOD SACRIFICES (Psalm 51:15-17). David mentions the sacrifice of praise, a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart. It is obvious, from context, that these sacrifices would reveal themselves in his service to God and to others. This is not merely guilt-driven service, an effort to make amends for the evil influence of his sin. Having been made whole, David has a clarity of purpose that appreciates better what God wants from him. We can be fruitful and useful to Him, scars and all.
ACCEPT GOD’S DELIGHT (Psalm 51:18-19). How many times did David relive those moments from the rooftop to the prophet’s visit? How often did he wish he could just go back and undo it all? How long did he wrestle with accepting God’s forgiveness and wondering if God could take him back? He shows an appreciation for the prospect of God’s delight. He rightly feels responsible for others, and he wants to lead them to do what’s right. But, I love what he anticipates. He knows God will be delighted with the offering. Did you know that? Did you know that God can delight in you again, when you bring him your sin-scarred life and offer your righteous sacrifices? He doesn’t want to discard you. He wants to delight in you!
It must have continued to be hard for David. He had reminders everywhere. He could not undo his past. But, he did the right thing. Having dealt with his past, he focused on the present and looked to the future. That’s what God wants us to do after our cuts become scars!
“From the stirrups to the ground,
Mercy I asked for, mercy I found”
That is a distorted view of grace,
Which seeks God only in death’s face.
It cheapens that which cost Him much,
To use Him only as a deathbed crutch.
Unlike the seeker at his eleventh hour,
Who sincerely reaches for His saving power,
The hardened sinner who in last resort
Hedges his bets for some eternal life support.
So many never reach a deathbed sound in mind,
Or care for His will ’til their death warrant’s signed.
While God is long-suffering, wanting all to be saved,
The majority spend their lives to sin’s power enslaved
They only think heaven when earth’s living is through,
But an afterthought gesture will just not do.
Scripture says “come now,” not “wait til tomorrow,”
So many delayed to their own regret and sorrow.
Instead of relegating God to a last-ditch recourse,
Submit to Him now, you He’ll publicly endorse.
Deathbed repentance is not found in His Word,
No matter what men from their wisdom you’ve heard.
Obey from the heart what His doctrine requires,
Let His word be your truth, let all others be liars.
There are a couple of examples of public responses to the gospel message in the Bible, both in Acts. One is positive and the other is negative. As Peter was preaching that God has made Jesus Lord, the Pentecost crowd interrupted him with the question, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). As Stephen was delivering a similar message, his audience stopped listening and they cried out with a loud voice before putting the preacher to death (Acts 7:54ff). Mention is made of a one another response that could apply to the corporate assembly, confessing sins (Jas. 5:16; 1 Jn. 1:9). How public the setting was when Peter called for Simon to repent we do not know for certain (Acts 8:18-24). So, why do we end our sermons with a call to publicly respond? Is this simply borrowed from the denominations or is it just a rote tradition devoid of deeper purpose?
Often, we have explained the invitation as being an “expedient,” which I think it is. When we speak of an “expedient,” we refer to a practice that is thought convenient, practical, suitable or appropriate but neutral (neither right nor wrong) and a-biblical (not found in the Bible but not unbiblical). It is a sensible activity. Hopefully, the sermon contains a call to change and is persuasive in nature. Maybe, the person comes in the door that day convicted of his or her need to become a Christian or repent of public sin. Affording a moment that makes it easy for one needing to obey Christ in one of these ways to do so is appropriate.
I have been in assemblies in this country and overseas that do not have such a time set aside or that do so at other times during the gathering—some do so at the beginning of the service so that a person can worship without being alienated from God (cf. Mat. 5:24), some invite anyone who needs to publicly respond to remain standing after the lesson and a song, some encourage people who need to respond to write their need on a card or piece of paper and hand it to an usher, the preacher, the elders, or someone designated to collect such communication.
While I think it is good for us to consider that there is more than one way to do this and that we are not mandated to do it at all in the assembly, I believe our current arrangement is a fine way to try and help people who need to make spiritual changes and improvements. Yet, someone who feels the need to make such a response often hesitates or decides against it. Certainly, the problem on such an occasion might be fear or delay, but is it ever due to some misunderstanding such a one has? Here are a few of the biggest misunderstandings people have about responding to the invitation:
Maybe you are thinking this or something similar. May I assure you that every righteous person on earth and all the inhabitants of heaven would like nothing better than to help you be right with God. Death and the Judgment loom, and we cannot let anything keep us from making proper preparation for them. So, if you need to respond today or any day, won’t you come?
Deuteronomy was apparently a favored Old Testament book for our Lord. It was this last book of the Pentateuch Jesus quotes each time He is tempted by the Devil in the wilderness (Mt. 4:4,7,10). His writing on discipline (Mt. 18:16) and divorce (Mt. 5:31; 19:7) draw on Moses’ writings in that book, too. It is interesting, considering Christ’s propensity to reflect upon the book of Deuteronomy, to see the instructions given under the old law in dealing with prodigal sons:
If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father
or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them,
then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders
of his city at the gateway of his hometown. “They shall say to the elders of
his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he
is a glutton and a drunkard.’ “Then all the men of his city shall stone him to
death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel will hear
of it and fear (Deut. 21:18-21).
Interestingly, these statements are found in the context of meting out inheritances to sons. Notice, however, the way God chose to deal with profligate (i.e., wasteful and immoral) sons under the first covenant. There seems to have been a perceived tie between rebellion toward parents and rebellion against God. The worst case scenario for such a child was the death penalty, the men of the city hurling the rocks.
How shocking Jesus’ story might have been, seen in the context and in contrast to the law under which the Jews still served at the time! As He so often did, Jesus points to a new way of divine dealing with mankind. The Prodigal (i.e., wasteful) Son in Luke 15:11ff was certainly stubborn and rebellious, wanting free from the rule of his father. Yet, the father allowed the son to depart. The son lived in total dissipation and then longed to come home. The homecoming he received from his father was totally unexpected. He was joyfully, lovingly welcomed. In fact, the hard-hearted, begrudging brother is depicted as having greater spiritual problems since he refused to follow the father’s lead.
We are all sinners (Rom. 3:23). We all are in need of the Father’s grace and forgiveness. We also are instructed, by the Father’s perfect example and the older brother’s wrongheaded response, about how to receive our prodigal brothers and sisters who want to come home! Thank God that because of Christ, we have a new way to handle prodigals and to be handled as prodigals who come back to the Father!
It has been called “The Dark Ages Of The Old Testament.” During the period of the judges, there was moral, economic, social, political and religious decline. We often read that, during this time, the children of Israel did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord.
History keeps repeating itself in the book of Judges. The people do evil, God allows and oppressor to persecute them, the people turn back to God and plead for deliverance, and God raises up a deliverer to defeat the oppressor and deliver Israel. Here, we speak of the “cycle” of Judges: sin, servitude, sorrow, supplication, and salvation.
Their enemy invaders came from the East (Mesopotamia), the Southeast (Moab), the North (Canaan), the East (Midian and Ammon), and the Southwest (Philistia). It is interesting that Israel overcame Canaan in the militarily brilliant strategy orchestrated by God (Central Canaan—Josh. 7-8, Southern Canaan—Josh. 9-10, and then Northern Canaan—Josh. 11-12). As a result of Israel’s failure to utterly destroy the inhabitants of Canaan, the six oppressions came from the central, south, and north—each places where God had given them victory. What a reminder that when we don’t defeat the enemy, he will return! The enemy was sin!
Here is my summary of the book of Judges, as seen in Judges 2:16-19:
The judge was the savior of the people. Time and time again, the people put themselves in a position to need some serious rescue, and our long-suffering God was willing to soften His heart to their cries. Eventually, His patience ran out and even in this time period there were severe consequences. How often do we need the blood of Christ and the forgiveness of the Father? Often, we need forgiveness for the same sins repeatedly. We wonder how Israel could fall into the same traps, but we do well to identify and avoid them in our own times. We have the benefit of both Old and New Testament Scripture, and they would have only had the writings of Moses and Joshua when they lived. May we learn from these ancient lessons (cf. 1 Cor. 10:11) and stay off that ancient cycle.
I witnessed something beautiful last night. A young man responded to the invitation and I was amazed by an outpouring of love and support shown by so many of his spiritual family. At least a dozen people, young men and young women as well as older men and women, came forward, too. They were not responding to the invitation to confess sin, but responding to this young man’s response. But there was room for about five on that short pew. The rest of them either stood nearby or sat on adjoining pews. They just wanted to be there for their friend and brother.
I could not help but think about what a beautiful display of family that was! This young man was hurting and struggling. It takes a lot of courage to admit wrong, to ask for help, and to do so publicly. It is obvious that this congregation has concluded that no one should ever have to do that alone.
It is not the only way to do this, but it is definitely one way to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), encourage and build up one another (1 Th. 5:11), provide edification according to the need of the moment (cf. Eph. 4:29), to bear the weaknesses of those without strength (Rom. 15:1), and to strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble (Heb. 12:12). Think about what occurs with such an overwhelming outpouring of comfort! It tells the one who has come forward that they are special, important, and that they matter. It treats their problem(s) as most serious. It makes a statement about how they are seen, as a vital member of the body.
What would happen if every time anyone—a middle-aged man, an elderly widow, a struggling divorcee, a new member, a deacon, elder, or preacher, a teen, or any other sub-classification—publicly responded, they were met with such encouragement and consolation? Wouldn’t we be reflecting the heart of the Prodigal Son’s father in Luke 15, who ran to meet the boy who’d come home? Please consider this the next time someone publicly responds. Don’t worry what others may think of you. The one who responded didn’t worry about it. Don’t stop to ask what it might look like. That broken man, woman, boy, or girl didn’t. If we’re going to err, let’s err on the side of charity and not severity! The church should ever seek ways to create a culture of compassion!
Remember the words of Paul: “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Col. 3:12-13).
When speaking of God’s attributions and actions, the Bible often resorts to a literary device called anthropomorphism (where human characteristics or behaviors are attributed to God—“the hand of God,” “the eyes of the Lord,” etc.). But, there is one personification that’s absolutely terrifying. Jesus utilizes it in describing the spiritual condition of Laodicea. He says, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth” (Rev. 3:15-16). Some translations, knowing “vomit” is felt to be too strong and graphic to the sensitivities of some readers, have gone the more antiseptic route by translating it “spit.” But the Greeks had a word for the phrase “spit out” (you find that word translated in John 9:6, Mark 7:33, and Mark 8:23).
It has been said that what makes God sick often is what makes our culture tick. When you look at the Laodiceans, they were guilty of the following:
Certainly, the world is blind to God’s purpose for their lives, is numb to its true spiritual condition, and is deaf to the biblical plea to repent and depend on God and His will. But these words are directed to Christians as a warning to us. Our mission is to engage in the work He has us on earth to do, which is not to accumulate wealth, indulge in fleshly pleasures, and pursue the honor and praise of this world. Our need for God’s strength and help every step of the way must drive us to depend on Him and repent of a lack of zeal for and involvement in the work He has called us to do as Christians.
When we get so wrapped up in this world that we ignore His mission, when we get so conditioned to rely on our assets and attributes that we ignore His power, and when we get so hard-hearted that we ignore His grace and forgiveness, we make God sick. No matter how you look at that, the very thought is just chilling! He loves us, pleads with us, and wants to reward us (Rev. 3:19-22). But that requires us to live differently from those ancient Laodiceans. We must let Scripture properly diagnose our spiritual condition or it will make God sick.
There was a disappearance and a murder confession. So, the last thing police expected when they stopped at “Mrs. Schneider’s” apartment in Dusseldorf, Germany, was to find the 1984 murder victim, Petra Pazsitka, talking to them. Thus began the unraveling of an elaborate plot by Ms. Pazskitka to disappear and reemerge with a new identity. She was successful for 31 years, living in several West German cities without a passport, driver’s license, and social security card. She supported herself by “living off illicit cash-in-hand work” (via uk.news.yahoo.com). Why did the college student who had just completed her thesis on computer languages leave the grid and go into hiding? So far, there has been no explanation given. Perhaps there will eventually be more details and insight into this bizarre situation, but for now a grief-stricken family can take some measure of comfort in knowing their loved one they thought was dead is alive.
Spiritually, we are surrounded by the living dead. It is the result of choices they’ve made. This is even true for some who have abandoned God’s family and reemerged in the world having cast off the privileges and position of that honorable name they took on when they were baptized into Christ.
Paul says, “The mind set on the flesh is death” (Rom. 8:6). He tells Timothy, “But she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives” (1 Tim. 5:6). God diagnosed an entire church, Sardis, “having a reputation of being alive” as being dead (Rev. 3:1). Of course, nothing illustrates the point better than Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son. The younger son was off in the “far country,” and through that lifestyle he reached the point of desperation and despair. He repented and came home, where his father declared “my son was dead and is alive again” (Luke 15:24).
Sometimes, it makes no sense to us why a brother or sister leaves God’s family, abandoning spiritual life, hope, and heaven for spiritual death, hopelessness, and hell. Yet, we must continue to search for them. Let us pray that we can find those long since declared dead and encourage them so that we “save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (Jas. 5:20). Search for them. Appeal to them. Help them reclaim the blessed identity they had when they had “life and peace” (Rom. 8:6).