Our Choices Make the Difference

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Every day we wake up to dozens of choices that stretch before us. Even though we may be glum or feel controlled and believe we have no choice, we do. Yes, sometimes our perception is distorted so that we believe there are no choices before us but that is not reality. If we believe that, we often decide not to make a choice and that is indeed a choice. And just because we try to deny reality doesn’t mean we don’t experience the consequences of our choices (even if we believe we made none and are victims).

Is it possible sometimes that we don’t believe or want to make a choice because something inside of us knows we will be responsible for that choice (even if only in response to the choice of another person)? Mankind seems to have tried to duck out on responsibility for choices since the Garden of Eden where we first tried “the blame game”.

Living means we will be faced with many hard choices beyond those we first are asked to make when we are a child. Sometimes they are hard because they represent more than one option and none of them appeal to us and sometimes, they are hard because more than one appeals to us. They can mean life or death but not just physical death.

Photo by SHVETS production from Pexels

The hardest choices relate to what we do with the command to love God and love one another. Our decisions on those can mean spiritual death and yet we can get so caught up in the day-to-day choices stacked before us, we often do not consider whether how I have responded to any of them or any one of them with love. There are no off ramps or excuses on these two commands regarding being busy or tired or overwhelmed or ill even though those things are understandable. Nor can we avoid the truth that it is on these two commands we will be judged in how we lived our lives.

Sadly, most of us are not likely getting very good grades on these things because they don’t relate to only those people that we agree with or care about. They include our enemies and those who treat us poorly. Present day culture gives us more than a few reasons to struggle with choices to love our enemies or even what that means without compromising values and integrity.

We can miss the big picture far too often as we seek to protect ourselves or someone else from what is going on inside of us and that gets in the way of living authentically.

As I have revisited the life of David throughout 1 and 2 Samuel and seen his many choices, I gain hope for my own flawed choices, but I also see someone who spent a great deal of time loving well because of caring for people and respecting God’s sovereignty. That was front and center in his complex relationships with King Saul and Jonathan. He served and honored King Saul all his life, recognizing God anointed him as king despite what became an obsessive hatred of David and a desire to murder him. The impact on his relationship with Jonathan could have been a mess and yet it seemed to bring out the best in both. They loved each other without needing each other emotionally and could handle maintaining that love and friendship even when separated from one another. They both accepted that living life meant there would be pain and it wasn’t just an idea for them. It was tangible each day.

When David learns of the death of King Saul and Jonathan, one an enemy and one a friend, he laments according to 2 Samuel. That word, lament, is not one often used today even when we speak about grief and loss, and I wonder if we have lost something in understanding the depth of what lament means.

Photo by Tatiana Syrikova from Pexels

The dictionary definition of lament is “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow”. Have we become so reserved we have ceased to be able to experience passionate expressions of grief or sorrow? Or have we stopped loving deeply or been in so much denial that we no longer live life authentically, as it really is?

When King Saul and Jonathan are killed in battle with the Philistines, David doesn’t rejoice in King Saul’s death and weep over Jonathan, he laments them both as he honored King Saul throughout his life. David’s sorrow pours out of him in poetry we read in 2 Samuel 1, and it acknowledges both men that are now gone.

David chose to love with a love we do not often emulate or understand that is defined in Hebrew as hesed love. You may wonder what hesed love means.  Hesed is not merely an emotion or feeling but involves action on behalf of someone who is in need. Hesed describes a sense of love and loyalty that inspires merciful and compassionate behavior toward another person. That was the love David had for King Saul and Jonathan and when they were killed, he lamented and ordered the people under his leadership to lament and learn what he had written and make it part of their own experience. He wanted it worked into their lives. Such was the honor of his hesed love.

There is something significant for us to understand, learn, and have worked into us in this aspect of David’s heart and life about our choices and how we love.

“Teach this lament. Teach this way of dealing with Saul’s enmity and Jonathan’s love. Teach one another how to take seriously these great cadences of pain, some coming from hate, some coming from love, so that we’re not diminished but are deepened by them – find God in them, and beauty. Put forms and rhythm and song to them. Pain isn’t the worst thing. Being hated isn’t the worst thing. Being separated from the one you love isn’t the worst thing. Death isn’t the worst thing. The worst thing is failing to deal with reality and becoming disconnected from what is actual. The worst thing is trivializing the honorable, desecrating the sacred.”

Eugene Peterson

Eugene Peterson goes on to say in Leap over a Wall: “If we’re not taught to lament with this lamentation, we’ll grow up believing that our immediate feelings determine our fate. We’ll deny every rejection and thereby be controlled by rejection. We’ll avoid every frustration and thereby be diminished by frustration. Year by year, as we deny and avoid pain and losses, the rejection and frustrations, we’ll become less and less, trivial and trivializing, empty shells with smiley faces painted on them.”

Photo by Casia Charlie from Pexels

Promise Kept

Photo by Tim Samuel from Pexels

Promises are asked of us from early in our childhood and perhaps due to that inexperience we sometimes make them without as much as thought or consideration as we should. Back then most of the promises are not of a major consequence although that is not always the case. Our difficulty in making and keeping them in our current day may relate as well to how much culture has changed.

My father was born in 1910 when a handshake on a commitment, a man’s word, was considered highly by both parties. That is rarely (if ever) the case now. If the agreement is related to something significant, we want attorneys involved with language that will compel someone to fulfill what they are promising. That is very sad to me even though in other times promises were broken as well, it suggests the decay of the trust we can consider giving one another. By now with more recent events, I am not certain if some of us would even feel a legal document is going to guarantee fulfillment of a commitment.

We may speak of character and integrity and yet find it very difficult to see evidence of it lived out on almost any level. So, when we read the story of David and his friendship with Jonathan in 1 Samuel, it’s important to not rush through it and consider the commitment as well as look for the evidence of its fulfillment especially as we look at the context of what was happening when it was agreed to.

Photo by Ron Lach from Pexels

This is more than a pinkie promise when Jonathan and David have proof of the plans of King Saul to murder David and he is forced to flee from the plots and snares laid out for him. In those last tender moments as the two friends are parting without any assurance that they will ever see each other again, they make a covenant together that extends their friendship and love beyond themselves to their descendants beyond them. As you consider your own friendships and commitments, how do they compare to the description of what takes place in 1 Samuel 20?

“Come outside,” said Jonathan. “Let’s go to the field.” When the two of them were out in the field, Jonathan said, “As God, the God of Israel, is my witness, by this time tomorrow I’ll get it out of my father how he feels about you. Then I’ll let you know what I learn. May God do his worst to me if I let you down! If my father still intends to kill you, I’ll tell you and get you out of here in one piece. And God be with you as he’s been with my father! If I make it through this alive, continue to be my covenant friend. And if I die, keep the covenant friendship with my family—forever. And when God finally rids the earth of David’s enemies, stay loyal to Jonathan!” Jonathan repeated his pledge of love and friendship for David. He loved David more than his own soul!”

1 Samuel 20:14-15 (MSG)

As these two young men say goodbye to one another later in the chapter, you see the tenderness and trust in Jonathan’s words to his friend:

“Jonathan said, “Go in peace! The two of us have vowed friendship in God’s name, saying, ‘God will be the bond between me and you, and between my children and your children forever!’”

1 Samuel 20:42 (MSG)

Neither knew what this might cost them or require one day but as the David story goes forward, we get to see whether the words spoken that day were true and faithful.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

King Saul and Jonathan are both killed by the Philistines in battle on Mount Gilboa and panic spreads as the people know that this is a chance for David to fulfill his anointing as king. In those days, relatives of the deceased king would fear for their lives as they were certain to be killed so they would not try to retake the throne. And with those fears at the forefront, the young 5-year-old son of Jonathan, Mephibosheth, is picked up by his nurse and as they flee to hide, the child is injured in a fall that results in him being lame. There is no physician to tend to the child and who knows what he may even have understood as he was cared for in an obscure village with those who had been loyal to his grandfather, King Saul. But it doesn’t seem surprising when one day after David is securely king and strangers arrive seeking Mephibosheth that he would be afraid.

This son of Jonathan’s would not have known of the friendship and covenant between his father and King David as a backdrop to David now seeking any heirs. Nonetheless, he has been summoned to appear before the king and is placed on a donkey and taken to Jerusalem to appear before King David. He would likely have been trembling and expecting the worst.

“What Mephibosheth didn’t know when he was brought into David’s court, and could never have imagined in his wildest dreams, is that he is there to be loved. A few days earlier David had asked if there were any descendants of Saul around whom he could love in his friend Jonathan’s name. There had been wars to fight and borders to establish in securing his authority as king; now he was ready to do the work of king. He began with love.”

Eugene Peterson

We see clear evidence of the promises made between Jonathan and David being kept by David as he gives Mephibosheth land and brings him into his own household to eat at his table and enjoy the benefits he had never known as he grew up. He demonstrates his character and integrity even though Jonathan isn’t there to see what happens. And it continues to play out in other scenes in a crisis in David’s life that we read in 2 Samuel 16-19.

David was not a perfect man, but he never sought to destroy King Saul despite opportunities to do so when he was being hunted as an enemy of the king. And he never forgot the love of Jonathan who provided evidence that he must flee to save his life. He demonstrated it in a powerful way through love toward Mephibosheth many years after Jonathan and King Saul were dead.

David loved without regard to the change in circumstances or the reality that only he and Jonathan and God were present when the promises were made.

What a model this story offers us of the grace of friendship lived out under extraordinary circumstances and yet without wavering.

Photo by ELEVATE from Pexels

The Power of Friendship

Photo by Jaime Reimer from Pexels

Few of us would deny the significance of friendship in our lives. From childhood onward most of us hope to have a friend or two alongside us as we travel through each season of our lives. If we are blessed, we know that joy, but many of us also know the pain that can be a part of friendship as well when it is wounded or absent from us. It reveals the power it holds in delight as well as trials.

“Friendship is a much underestimated aspect of spirituality. It’s every bit as significant as prayer and fasting. Like the sacramental use of water and bread and wine, friendship takes what’s common in human experience and turns it into something holy.”

Eugene Peterson

Of all the aspects of the story of David that we may know, the friendship between David and Jonathan is perhaps one of the most powerful scenes as his life unfolds in good times and bad. As David and his music serves for a time to bring healing and calm to King Saul, Jonathan observes the character, and the quality of love and service David offers his father despite the hatred that begins to grow in his father’s heart toward David. How he must have been impacted as David is doing something good on behalf of his father and then sees his father turn with murderous rage against David and seek to take his life.

David and Jonathan both sought the best for King Saul and became closer friends than words alone can describe. Jonathan watched as David took on Goliath and brought a great victory to the stalemate between Israel and the Philistine army and hence honor to Jonathan’s father, King Saul. The story unfolds in 1 Samuel 17 and as the next chapter begins, we read the beginning of the friendship between David and Jonathan. Eugene Peterson’s description paints the scene:

Photo by Kat Smith from Pexels

“By the time David had finished reporting to Saul, Jonathan was deeply impressed with David—an immediate bond was forged between them. He became totally committed to David. From that point on he would be David’s number-one advocate and friend.”

I Samuel 18:1 (MSG)

Reading those words slowly and reflecting on them points to a quality of friendship beyond friends we enjoy chatting with over coffee or a shopping spree, going to a movie or sporting event together. It goes beyond those we may greet warmly and care about and see regularly in church as well. If we are honest, some of these friendships would not meet the standard of “totally committed” and “number-one advocate”. Those descriptions go to a depth only a small number of friends over our lifetime might fit despite our enjoyment and care of many others. This points to what is often noted as a covenantal friendship between Jonathan and David.

Why is it described this way? Eugene Peterson describes it this way:

“Friendship with David complicated Jonathan’s life enormously. He risked losing his father’s favor and willingly sacrificed his own royal future. But neither the risk nor the loss deterred him; he became and stayed David’s friend. Jonathan’s friendship was essential to David’s life. It is highly unlikely that David could have persisted in serving Saul without the friendship of Jonathan. Jonathan, in striking contrast to his father, discerned God in David, comprehended the danger and difficulty of his anointing, and made a covenant of friendship with him. Jonathan’s friendship entered David’s soul in a way that Saul’s hatred never did.”

Eugene Peterson

Such a friendship isn’t about sharing our deepest secrets with one another (though that may happen). It isn’t about how we may benefit from each other in one way or another. It’s about truly seeing us as we are and loving us anyway with a fierce commitment that will not be deterred. It’s a gift that must not be taken for granted because it is rarer than we might realize. Many will come into our life and make judgments about who they think we are and fit us into a certain place in their relational sphere and that is not bad, but this other kind of friendship is more than that.

“And then someone enters our life who isn’t looking for someone to use, is leisurely enough to find out what’s real going on in us, is secure enough not to exploit our weaknesses or attack our strengths, recognizes our inner life and understands the difficulty of living out our inner convictions, confirms what’s deepest within us. A friend.”

Eugene Peterson
Photo by mododeolhar from Pexels

And this goes beyond whether the friend has known us for many years or a short time. This speaks to the pursuit of our hearts beyond what we may know or have to offer. It speaks to a grace to allow us to be flawed in their presence without a desire on their part to try to fix us or move away from us in disappointment. And within that we discover a committed love that has the power to not only restore and bless us, but to defeat evil when it comes knocking at the door (as it often will over our lifetime).

“Evil doesn’t stand a chance against goodness. Persecution is futile in the presence of faithfulness. Hostility is picayune compared to friendship.”

Eugene Peterson

The story of David could have turned out much differently were it not for this covenantal friendship with Jonathan. Jonathan’s love not only saved David’s life from King Saul’s desire to murder him but it also made him a different man, a better man. Who knows what else may have been gained had Jonathan not been killed in battle long before some of David’s biggest challenges?

“David, his election, vocation, and imagination confirmed by Jonathan’s friendship, refuses the way of violence and embraces the way of love and service. Each episode reveals more of what he’s daily becoming: singer, lover, friend. Evil doesn’t diminish David; it doesn’t narrow him. Bound in the covenant of Jonathan’s friendship, David is protected; none of Saul’s evil gets inside him. In the face of such concentrated goodness, evil is powerless to maintain itself.”

Eugene Peterson

I am persuaded that J.R.R. Tolkien understood that when he wrote the epic Lord of the Rings series that depicts relationships at their best and their worst. The centerpiece of all the relationships is that of Sam and Frodo. When we meet them as frolicking friends in the Shire, we have little understanding of the depth of commitment and covenant between them that will be played out when the task of destroying the one evil ring of power comes to Frodo. Over and over again Sam stands with and for Frodo despite grave danger and Frodo’s personality change when carrying the ring nearly overpowers him. Sam, like Jonathan, remains steadfast as he recognizes the call on Frodo’s life.

What Stories Draw Us?

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

If you are someone who loves to read, what stories capture your attention and leave an imprint on your heart and mind long after you read the last line?

You may be thinking about the genre that most appeals to you or the author you wait on for their latest release and I can be right there with you. I am not a great fan of certain themes or types of writing even though I likely have read some of almost every kind of story and I am likely to preorder my favorite authors’ upcoming new releases. My bookshelves are never empty, but those are not often the stories that leave an imprint that I retell over coffee or lunch with a friend.

The stories I am captured by and often retell have no big name as the main character. It is often an ordinary person whose life and choices, challenges and accomplishments, strengths and weaknesses will long remain in my memory. Think about the latest book you have read, what can you tell me about it now beyond a few points here and there?

Now think of an ordinary girl living in Holland during WW II whose family chooses to hide those who are hunted down for destruction and then faces imprisonment in the most horrible conditions and the name Corrie Ten Boom might well come to mind. We would not likely call her ordinary and yet we may never have heard of her had she not lived a life where she was called to live out her faith, elected by God to be his witness.

Photo by Mo from Pexels

Despite all our plans and preparation, we do not know what doors will open for us or when. No matter what we believe we are called to do or be, who calls us will likely set the course for our path. No matter how ordinary we may be in the scheme of things, there will be a calling and how we respond will be what becomes our story and what we will be remembered by long after we have left this life for the next one.

Of all the stories in the Bible we may recall, how often are they not a story of an ordinary and flawed person called to play a key role in “the God story” of which we are all a part. There was Joseph the braggart, Jacob the schemer, Moses the stutterer, Rahab the harlot, and David the shepherd boy to name just a few on the list. These and others point to a powerful truth.

“Election into God’s purposes isn’t by popular vote. Election into God’s purposes isn’t based on proven ability or potential promise.”

Eugene Peterson

A look at David’s life that we often revere shows us the truth of a young shepherd boy who loved to sing and protected his father’s sheep from predators and then one day while delivering lunch to his brothers on the battle lines of a war, volunteers to slay a giant named Goliath. From that point on, we are prone to not see David as very ordinary. As his life story unfolds, we get caught up in his triumphs and see his glaring failures. And perhaps that is why we are drawn to that story, the story of David. His story gives us hope for ourselves as well, ordinary as we are and flawed as we are.

“The David story immerses us in a reality that embraces the entire range of humanness, stretching from the deep interior of our souls to the farthest reaches of our imaginations. No other biblical story has this range to it, showing the many dimensions of height, depth, breadth, and length of human experience as a person comes alive before God – aware of God, responsive to God. We’re never more alive than when we’re dealing with God. And there’s a sense in which we aren’t alive at all (in the uniquely human sense of “alive”) until we’re dealing with God. David deals with God. As an instance of humanity in himself, he isn’t much. He has little wisdom to pass on to us on how to live successfully. He was an unfortunate parent and an unfaithful husband. From a purely historical point of view, he was a barbaric chieftain with a talent for poetry. But David’s importance isn’t in his morality or his military prowess but in his experience of and witness to God.”

Eugene Peterson
Photo by Julia from Pexels

David wasn’t perfect and yet he was called onto the pages of history and immortality because of the One who chose him despite knowing even beforehand that he would fail as a parent and as a husband, that he would not set before us an exemplary example and yet be called one whose heart for God was honored and remembered many centuries later. David was what Eugene Peterson calls “earthy”. Why? Because we see him singing but also sinning, praying, and fighting, dancing and being dishonest. We see him as fully human, and we watch his response to God in these and all other aspects of his life.

It implicitly tells us there is nothing and no one that God cannot or will not use to work out his purposes in our lives and reveal the greatness of his grace. And that gives us hope as we fold laundry, sip coffee, apologize to a child for losing our temper, fail to be kind to a cranky neighbor, and more. After all, when God chose us, He knew what He was getting and even when we promised to follow Him that we would never do it perfectly. He chose us, knowing all of that, because of who HE is and how He can shine forth in the common clay pots we are. He also knew how He would act on our story to change and transform us in ways we could never have guessed.

“Let us therefore remember that David is like a mirror, in which God sets before us the continual course of his grace.”

John Calvin from Commentary on Psalms
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Who But God?

As I look at the swirl of tragic news filling every means of reporting, I am reminded of the warfare in it all. I can be tempted to agree with those who lay blame to all the technological advances that pour all of this news out without sifting much of it for truth or a need to be shared. I can also be tempted to see the ways it can be used for so many negative and harmful things.

I look at the Internet and how it is used to dull our minds with its endless rabbit trails as well as how it can seduce us and take us away from our values and beliefs. I see how it can trap anyone into relationships and entities that are dangerous, unsafe, and evil. I see as well how it can be used to allow those who are intent on evil to communicate and achieve their ends of death and destruction on innocent people who are just going along doing life.

All of it seems to heighten my awareness of the power we give over to this invention and the enemy’s blatant use of it.

Over and over, I hear the cry to unplug from all the devices we have that pull us toward these things. It’s true there are important boundaries that must be set for our children and us as well. But recently as I was reading several posts from other bloggers that offered encouragement, calls to prayer, exhortations to community and the Word, I felt as though the Lord gave me another view that many of us are missing.

The Lord has prompted so many to create websites and write or blog with messages of hope, testimonies of grace, calls toward enhancing our spiritual lives, and deepen our walk with Him. We do it as we feel led or have time.

We step out into thin air and share reflections and truths the Lord has worked into our own hearts and lives. When we are real, we confess to our venerable feelings about the risks we take to share and put our lives and hearts “out there” to the possibility of being misunderstood and judged. We acknowledge how inadequate we can often feel as well as the fear that can creep in when we take such risks.

Will anyone read it? What will those who know me think? What about people who have no idea of who I am, read it, and reach conclusions far from the truth? (Am I reading some of your minds?)

If that resonates with you, what I want you to hear and see that connects with the photo is that the Lord also has given me a glimpse of how He is using us to provide a network of little lights encircling the world.

Who but God could create a stealth network of His children using the very tools that the enemy believes are his domain to spread light, truth, and hope to the world weighed down with so much?

We are His witnesses.

We write from far-reaching places. We sit with computers in large cities and small, in apartments and homes, in different states, on different continents. We sit in the midst of our own lives in whatever season we are in and the Lord births in us those words that show up on our screen. We can doubt their worth and much of it can be simply our own reflecting, but I think He is still the author, and we are His testimony.

We have no real certainty how our readers find us despite a foggy idea perhaps about search engines and various classes and courses on blogging and marketing. We sometimes can be tempted to forget it all, but there is a call in us, a passion in us that keeps whispering and nudging us even on days we may feel we have nothing to say or nothing that others would find worth reading.

I think when the Lord gave me this picture of us, He wanted me to debunk all those lies and remind you and myself that He is in this. As we offer ourselves to Him in what we share, we lay it in His hands for his use.

We may never know how, where, or with whom He uses it, but after all is said and done it was always about Him anyway and the call and gifts He placed in us that we acted on despite those who may have caused us to doubt we could or should.

God has a habit of using unknown people in ways that astounds those whose fame is well known.

God has agents of His own spreading the truth of His gospel as “light bearers”.

And so, I can be content and humbled that we are a stealth army, a force for His kingdom and His purposes using the very devises the enemy believes he owns.