John Alan Turner

Speaker, Author, Mentor, Coach, Facilitator

Filtering by Category: David

Lenten Reader -- Day 12

That night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying: “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.... Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’” (2 Samuel 7:4-5a, 12-13, 16) ----------

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

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But the angel said to [Mary], “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:30-33)

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Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” (Matthew 12:22-23)

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The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15)

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The title “Son of David” carried weighty significance for the Jews of Jesus’ time. They had long awaited a Messiah who would fulfill the promises of Isaiah and would come from David’s line.

David was a great and beloved king. He was humble, valiant, and zealous for God, but his sin was well-known. There were more morally upright men in the Bible whom God could have chosen: Daniel or Joseph. But David signified something which could not be represented by anyone else: the glory of Israel.

During David’s reign, Israel was the best it had ever been. Under David, the Israelites were unified and free. David led the kingdom to liberation from their enemies, to prosperity and greatness, and in devotion to God.  For generations, no one in Israel would ever forget what it was like when David was king.

Not long after came a divided kingdom, captivity, exile, and recurrent oppression by enemies. By the time of Jesus’ coming, Israel’s glory was long gone. But they would never forget it.

While Jesus lived on earth, many scholars and religious authorities failed to recognize him as the fulfillment of this Davidic promise, because they missed something in the line that was drawn from David to Jesus. But Matthew did not miss it. He put it right at the front of his gospel. Those 17 verses that put many of us to sleep when we read through the Bible in a year contain some unusual names for a genealogy, names like Boaz and Ruth, Judah and Tamar, Rahab and Bathsheba, women, sinners, outsiders.

And now we, too, women, sinners and outsiders can come to Jesus and find the freedom, the unity and the glory too.

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God and Father of Abraham and David and our Lord Jesus Christ, your wisdom confounds the brightest minds. All glory, honor and praise are due to you alone not merely because of who you are but because of what you have done. You have destroyed the yoke of sin and slavery that held me captive. Wherever your good news has been preached and accepted, people have been transformed. Walls of distinction have been knocked down. In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for we are all united in Christ Jesus, the Son of David. I praise you for this gift of acceptance that overcomes the bondage of sin and unites us all together now into one Body, of whom Jesus is the head. I pray this in his name. Amen.

David the Faithless

I would be remiss if, in our look at Jesus' genealogy, I skipped over the name of the person who was most closely associated with the Messiah. That would, of course, be King David. Now, you can say lots of things about David. Psalmist. Warrior. Shepherd Boy. Giant Killer. King.

But, when Matthew writes him into the prologue of his version of the Jesus story, he goes out of his way to remind us that David was also the guy who knocked up another man's wife, unleashing a series of disasters for himself, his family and, ultimately, the nation of Israel.

As much as the Jewish people wanted to remember David as the man who united the people, drove the Philistines out and built Jerusalem, Matthew reminds us that he was also a failure as a leader, a friend, a husband and a father. David ran around on his wife, got a married woman pregnant and had her husband killed in the process of trying to cover the whole thing up. The baby they conceive dies, and his family comes unraveled to such an extent that his favorite son murders his oldest son. Then his favorite son stages a coup and humiliates David in a very public way that you'll just have to read for yourself. Eventually, his favorite general murders his favorite son.

Now, what's interesting to me is that four chapters before all of this mayhem begins, God made David a promise. He said, "I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men of the earth" (2 Samuel 7:9b).

Stop and think about that right there. This promise was made, like, 3000 years ago, and I'm willing to bet everyone reading this had heard of King David before now. That's a pretty impressive promise that God kept, but it got bigger and better.

In addition to fame, God also promised David a legacy: "The Lord himself will establish a house for you.... Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever" (vv. 11&16).

Four chapters after that promise is made, David sees a woman bathing on her roof. He takes a second look, likes what he sees and sends for her. He breaks a few commandments, covers his tracks, gets found out. It's ugly. The consequences of his actions ripple out in brutal ways. Innocent people die.

And, I don't know about you, but, if I had been God, I might have reconsidered my promise. There had to be someone else -- someone more acceptable -- someone who behaved better than David.

But through all the chaos and bloodshed and disaster, God never withdraws his promise. And 990 years later a man in the line of David named Joseph takes his pregnant fiance Mary to the city of Bethlehem (aka The City of David) and she gave birth to the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandson of King David and Bathsheba (who had been Uriah's wife).

Because God keeps his promises.

And if you're Matthew and you're about to tell the greatest story ever told -- and you know what it means to be caught red-handed and be forgiven -- and you know that you can't come to God on the basis of what you've done but only on the basis of what he's done for you -- if that's your goal and you're going to tell this story to a group of people who hold King David in high esteem -- well, you know you can't skip this part of the story because this is the story that makes the whole New Testament make sense.

When God makes a promise he keeps his promise and not even the worst sin imaginable can force him to go back on his word. That's pretty important since Matthew's about to tell a story about God making a new promise -- a different one from the one he made to David -- a promise to the whole world -- a promise sealed in blood -- but not the blood of both parties -- the blood of just one party -- an unconditional promise.

Matthew so desperately wants us to remember this story and to know that God's promises aren't based on our faithfulness -- they're based on his. He's promised to be faithful even when we're faithless.

So, rest in that this week.

All You Need Is Love?

There are two kinds of heartache you are likely to experience in this world. The first kind is awful, terrible, horrible but -- in the end -- it is bearable. It is the kind of heartache that pulls us closer together. You see this when a loved one dies, and the family draws tighter together than ever before. We're seeing this kind of heartache among those who have lost all their earthly belongings in the wake of Katrina. Families, churches, entire communities are drawing closer together and providing support for one another to get through the heartache that they are all enduring. But there is another kind of heartache that is far worse than any other. It is the heartache and pushes us farther apart. The heartache of divorce. The heartache of severed relationships is a pain that lingers far longer than any other.

Why should this be so? I think it's because this second kind of heartache is further outside of God's will for humanity. God has set out to create community -- a group of people rightly related to him and rightly relating to themselves and others. Anything that tears at the fabric of God's community goes against his will. What God has brought together, let no one put asunder.

Question: Did David love Absalom?

I think it's obvious that he did. He wept over the death of Absalom and cried out how he wished he had died instead. The problem is that sometimes love isn't enough. That is, if you define love as a strong emotional feeling, then it is not right to say all we need is love.

Feeling love isn't enough. Love has to actually do something for it to be enough. And sometimes even then....

How to Cripple a Child

I want to pick up the story of King David again, and I want to spend a little time looking at a small episode involving Jonathan's son, Mephibosheth. Mephibosheth was five years old when his father and grandfather died. News of this sad event threw the household into a panic. Mephibosheth's nurse grabbed up the five-year-old and, in her haste, dropped him -- crippling him in both feet.

A couple of observations: First, the nurse's inability to calm her own anxiety made what appeared to be a bad situation much worse. How often in our own anxious reactivity do we just end up further complicating things?

Second, think what was communicated to Mephibosheth. If the new King ever gets his hands on you, he's going to kill you. David had no such intention, but the five-year-old didn't know that. Mephibosheth goes on to spend the next 20 years or so hiding from a King who only wanted to show him kindness.

It makes me realize just how important it is to give children accurate information about God. I've known so many people who spent decades hiding from God because someone had told them he was angry and cranky and didn't have their best interests at heart. Because of the nurse's anxiety, she crippled the boy physically. Because of her misinformation about the King's true intentions, she crippled the boy emotionally.

What a tragedy it is to know that our false ideas about God's character and nature often cripple children spiritually as well.

When It Starts to Unravel

David has gone from drifting to blowing through yellow lights. And everything is going according to his plan. He sees Bathsheba, finds out who she is, sends for her, has sex with her and sends her home. Done. And then the first cracks start to show in his plan.

Bathsheba sends word that she's pregnant. Up to this point, it's been David doing the sending. He finds out it's not so good when you're on the receiving end. This wasn't in the script.

How you respond when things start to unravel will determine largely how bad things get.

At this moment David could choose the end the whole thing. Apologize to Bathsheba, her husband, his own family, the nation, God, whomever. He could call the whole thing off and end it right here. But he doesn't do that.

Instead, David says, "I can handle this. I'm the King. No one needs to know about this. I'll take care of it."

Sin always does this. It refuses to stay on the script. It takes on a life of its own and refuses to be controlled by you. You start out being in control of it, but eventually it begins to control you. And it does so by promising the same old thing: You can be in charge. In essence, you can be God.

Here's David doing all the sending, moving people here and there like pieces on a chessboard. First it's bring that woman to me. Then it's bring me her husband, and I'll fix this mess. Then, when Uriah refuses to cooperate it's take this letter (which contains your death warrant) to Joab.

The same man who sang praises to God, defied the enemies of the Lord and danced with all his might at the thought of God's presence is now filled with deceit and hypocrisy and violence. David was thoroughly committed to a strategy of cover-up.

When it starts to unravel, when the consequences of your sin first show themselves, you will find yourself in one of two places: honesty and repentance or cover-up and more sin. The path you choose will determine just how bad it's going to get.

Running Yellow Lights

When it comes to yellow lights, there are two kinds of people in this world: those who slow down and those who speed up. I used to be one kind, and then I had kids. Now I am one of the most cautious drivers on the road. I don't think I'm a hesitant driver, but if it's close I'm going to err on the side of caution. My cargo is too precious. The stakes are too high. David sends someone to find out about this woman he sees bathing on the rooftop. The guy comes back and says, "That's Bathsheba. She's Eliam's daughter and Uriah's wife."

Translation: Slow down, David. This is someone's wife and someone's daughter. You know these guys.

Let me say a word to the men who read this blog: When you find yourself tempted by the form of a woman, stop and remind yourself that you're looking at someone's daughter. At some point in time, someone held that tiny baby girl and kissed the top of her head and dreamed dreams of what she would be like when she got older. And they never imagined that she would become an object for you to use to gratify your lust. If you have kids, think forward to a time when someone will want to use your child in that way. What feelings does that inspire in you?

If that's not a sexual buzzkill -- see a counselor.

Usually, when you're about to take the plunge and do something you know is wrong, there will be a little inner voice, a message from your conscience or the words of a friend ringing in your ears. That's a yellow light. Be careful here. Proceed with caution.

David comes to this yellow light, and if he was really in a good place with God he probably would have slowed down, thought this through and come to a full and complete stop. But thinking is the last thing David wants to do. He wants to feel something. So, he pushes the accelerator to the floorboard and speeds through the intersection without thinking of what this could do to someone's wife and daughter -- not to mention his own heart and his own family.

Maybe you've moved past drifting. You haven't crossed any lines yet, but you've got a plan forming in your mind. And God brought you to this blog to ask you this question: "Will you stop and think about the possible consequences of crossing this line?"

Maybe it's sex. Maybe it's a relationship you know isn't right. Maybe it's a financial choice. Maybe it's a vocational decision. Maybe it's an honesty deal. You've got a plan forming in your brain. Will you just stop and think about the potential downside to this? What kind of legacy will this leave for your kids? What will this decision do to your relationships to those closest to you? What could happen to your heart if you go through with this?

Drifting

I think David's first mistake could be called drifting. It was spring, and in the spring kings went to war. It was what they did. In fact, the primary reason the Israelites wanted a king was so they'd have someone to to lead them in battle (cf. 1 Samuel 8:19-20). This is what David had done every year, but, for some reason, this year he just didn't want to. He said, "You guys go on without me." He seems bored, listless. The text says, "One evening David got up from his bed." That's what I'm talking about. What's he doing in bed in the evening?

As far as we can tell, David's about 50 years old now. He's not a feeble old geezer. But he's not a young boy anymore, either. His eyes are probably starting to dim a little. His hairline may be receding; his waistline is probably expanding. He's had them some extra fiber to the royal diet. He's got a treadmill in his office. Grandmothers come up to him now and say, "When I was a teenager I thought you were so dreamy!"

He was always so passionate -- about everything! But he doesn't feel that passion anymore about anything. He's restless. He's drifting.

There may be nothing as dangerous as a passionate man who has lost his passion. He is a danger to himself and to those around him.

The bizarre thing is that he used to talk to God about everything. Good or bad, he'd just bring it right to God. But now...he's not even talking to God about it. Maybe he doesn't know what to say. When God finally confronts David about the whole episode (through the prophet Nathan), he says, "I made you king. I protected you from Saul. I gave you this kingdom, and if all that hadn't been enough -- if you'd wanted more -- I would have given you more. Why didn't you come and talk to me?"

The best thing you can do when you're bored is talk to God about it. But a lot of us are afraid to do that. The reason I have a hard time with this is because of what used to happen when I was a kid. I would tell my mom I was bored, and she would decide that this was a good time for me to clean the bathrooms. Or mop the kitchen. Sometimes I think that if I tell God I'm bored he'll send me on some horrible errand that I'll hate and will be tremendously painful.

Do I really trust that God is good and has my best interests at heart?

That's kind of what it comes down to, isn't it? If I do, I'll be more apt to bring all my thoughts and feelings to him. If not, I'll be more likely to allow myself to just drift. And that's where the trouble really gets started.

"Sent"

This whole story of David and Bathsheba can be outlined with the use of the word "sent". The story starts in the spring. This is when kings were supposed to go to war. It was what kings did. But David decides he wants to stay at home, and he sends Joab out to do David's job. One evening, David gets up from his bed (what's he doing in bed in the evening?), sees a beautiful woman and sends someone to find out who she is. After finding out who she is, he sends someone to go get her.

They have sex and David sends her away. A few weeks later, she sends word to David that she's pregnant. So David sends a message to Joab to have Joab send the woman's husband (Uriah) home from the battlefront. David sends Uriah to have sex with his wife, but Uriah -- who isn't even an Jewish by birth -- proves to be a better Israelite than the king! Drunk Uriah has more self-control than sober David!

So, David sends Uriah back with a message to Joab. He wants Joab to have Uriah killed. Joab does this and sends a messenger back to tell David that the mission has been carried out. The news is broken to Bathsheba that her husband has died in battle (she apparently had no knowledge of David's plan and believes her husband died as just a natural part of serving in the army). After an appropriate time of mourning, David sends for Bathsheba and marries her.

David thought he was in the clear. He thought he had done it! Through all his crafty manipulation -- all his "sending" -- he had managed to pull off the perfect crime. Except for one thing: "The thing he had done displeased the Lord" (2 Samuel 11:27b).

There is One who sees all and knows all and will not be sent here and there to do another's bidding. So, the last time the word appears in the story comes in the first sentence of chapter 12: "The Lord sent Nathan to David."

As much as David thought he could control the destiny of the people around him, David comes to realize that God is ultimately in control. He is the ultimate sender.

So many applications of this thought process.... What areas of life are you trying to control and manipulate for your own selfish purposes? Is there someone like Joab in your life -- someone you get to do the dirty work for you? Are there people you send here and there for no other reason than you enjoy playing God in their lives?

Here's another one: Is there someone God is sending you to -- like he sent Nathan to David?

Why That Would Never Happen to Me

I'm off to Jacksonville in a few minutes. Pray for them if I find out they've cut this year's budget for family ministry. As tired as I am, I might just speak my mind. I wanted to say something about yesterday's post. There are things that David did that I would never in a million years do. But it's not because I'm holier or more spiritually mature than David.

I like to think that's the reason, but the truth is that a lot of times what keeps me from really sinning big is that I'm afraid of getting caught. I'm afraid of the embarrassment and the exposure. I'm afraid of what I'd lose. I don't sin like that because I'm too self-centered.

If I thought I could get away with it.... I don't even want to think about that.

How Does That Happen?

If you ask the average person on the street about King David, they probably could tell you two stories about him: David & Goliath and David & Bathsheba. The question few people stop to ponder is, "How does that happen? How does David allow something like that to happen?"

It's one thing when someone has a pattern of rejecting God's ways. If this was a story of a godless, womanizing heathen we wouldn't be surprised. That happens all the time. There are people -- we could all name several -- who lack integrity and moral values. If we heard that they had done something like this, if we heard that they were guilty of deception, adultery and murder, we might be tempted to say, "Well, what did you expect?"

But this is David. King David. The man after God's own heart. This is really out of character for him.

He had, after all, loved God his entire life. When he was a small boy, he took care of sheep and knew that God was with him out there. He knew when wild animals came to steal his sheep and he managed to drive them off -- that wasn't his strength. He knew, without a doubt, that God's protection was with him.

When he got a little older, he faced down a giant named Goliath. He did what no other man in Israel would do because he knew God was with him and would deliver him in battle.

When he found himself in a cave faced with an opportunity to kill his rival Saul, he submitted to God's will in God's timing. He was so committed to obeying God that he wouldn't lift his hand against Saul.

He was so passionate about God that the mere thought of God's presence returning to dwell among the people of Jerusalem inspired him to dance with all his might.

In psalm after psalm, David pours out his heart to God -- asking God to search him and know him and give him an undivided heart. He wrote about how much he loved God's law and how he meditated on it day and night.

And yet...by the end of this story David is guilty of lust, covetousness, deception, manipulation, adultery and murder.

How in the world does something like that happen? You don't just wake up one day and say, "I think I'll sleep with that guy's wife then have him killed." This kind of thing doesn't just happen.

I want to talk about how things like this happen. But first, I want us all to think about this: Is there anyone reading this who is so certain of their own spiritual maturity that you know this could never happen to you? Anyone willing to say, "I'm way more spiritual than David ever was because I would never let something like that happen to me"?

As the Apostle Paul wrote:

These are all warking markers -- DANGER! -- in our history books, written down so that we don't repeat their mistakes.... We are just as capable of messing it up as they were. Don't be so naive and self-confident. You're not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else.

A Post That's Not About David -- Or Is It?

I hate to interrupt this series of posts on the life of David, but I have a few things on my mind that I want to share with you. First of all, there's this whole job thing. Those of you who have been following the blog know that there's a mystery church out there that has been courting me. Well...mystery over: I will be speaking this Sunday at the Southlake Church outside of Dallas, Texas. We will spend a couple of days there trying to figure out if that's what God has in mind for the next season of our lives. I would appreciate your prayers for us.

But there's another church (I'm not sure if they're comfortable going public with this yet) that has been talking to me, too. In fact, I had a really interesting and uplifting conversation with them yesterday.

And in the middle of all this, FamilyWise -- an organization I do a ton of work with already -- has asked me to consider a fulltime job with them as Director of Training. That would involve doing a lot more of what I've been doing for the past couple of years -- namely, helping churches shift their thinking from children's ministry to family-based ministry.

Needless to say, there are big decisions to be made here.

One final thing: my daughter Anabel is about to start Kindergarten, and it's an adjustment for everyone. I'm upset because -- due to a scheduling and communication mixup -- I'm going to be out of town for her first day. Jill's upset because her baby is one step closer to being launched out into the world. Anabel's a little anxious -- that combination of nervous and excited.

She's being a little clingier than usual, and this morning as I sat checking my email and trying to get that first cup of coffee down, she walked over and just plopped into my lap. And this is the great thing: she stayed there. She's so big, so tall, so strong. When did that happen?

We sat there for what felt like a long time, but when it was over...I still didn't want it to end. I wanted to hold her like that all day. I think most dads experience times like that. Times when you would be content to just stay locked in the sweet embrace of a five-year-old.

When you mention the biblical character David to people, most think instantly of "David and Goliath." Some think of "David and Bathsheba." As I get older and watch my kids, I can't help but wonder about "David and Absalom." What went wrong there? I'll be exploring their relationship in a few weeks, but this morning I sat there holding Anabel and thinking about David.

Obviously, David started as a shepherd, became a musician, a warrior, a fugitive and a king. He was a liar, an adulterer and a murderer. He was a great and powerful man with several tragic flaws. And somewhere in all that, he was a dad. I don't know what his relationship was like with his kids when they were young. But it seemed to be pretty disastrous when they got older.

I sat there with my daughter, and all of this flashed through my mind.

And I caught myself asking God, "Could you please freeze time right here?"

Beware: Shortcut Ahead

We've been looking at what David was like before he actually became king, and it's important to remember -- he has to wait about 16 or 17 years from the time Samuel anoints him until his coronation. Think about that: 16 or 17 years. And for the last 10 or so of those years, he finds himself a fugitive -- running from cave to cave. Now, one of the worst things about living in a cave is you get discouraged. And when you get discouraged you become vulnerable to temptation. There is a connection between being in the cave and temptation because anything that promises relief -- even temporary relief -- starts to look good.

That's what happens in 1 Samuel 24. Saul finds out where David and his men are and pursues them. David and his men retreat into a cave. Saul has to answer nature's call, and he decides to "go" in the exact same cave where David and his men are hiding.

Saul is in a very compromising position here -- he's extremely vulnerable.

David's men say, "This is it! This is the day God promised. Remember, he promised you deliverance? Well, here it is! This must be what God wants. He doesn't want you unhappy and miserable in a cave. He wants you in the palace. Now, here's your chance."

How tempting must that have been? David realizes, I could get out of the cave right now. But what kind of message would that have sent? It would have told everyone that the way to become king in Israel is to kill the old king. That's not a good precedent to set -- especially when you're supposed to be the next king!

Here's the problem with shortcuts: they promise immediate relief, but it's usually short term. In the long run, they can bring misery that makes your cave look like a vacation destination.

Okay, I know some of you are in a cave right now. And there's a shortcut presenting itself. It's tempting. But you have a decision to make. Will you submit to God's will in God's timing? Or will you take the shortcut?

Maybe you feel alone because you've been single for a long time. Maybe your marriage is in the wilderness and another relationship has come along promising what you think you're longing for. It's tempting to think, "I could get out of this cave right now. This would feel so good. It must be God's will. He doesn't want me to be miserable and lonely for the rest of my life. He wants me to be happy, doesn't he?"

You can rationalize all you want, but you know -- this is a shortcut. It is not God's will for your life. It contradicts his desire for you. And your whole future hinges on whether you take the shortcut or submit to God's will in God's timing. Will you have the strength of David here and say, "As hard as this is, I will not take a shortcut out of this cave"?

Maybe it's a financial temptation or the temptation to deceive someone. It could be the temptation to ignore a pattern of behavior that is sinful and destructive or the temptation to quite something you know God is calling you to endure.

Some of you stopped by this blog to answer this question: Will you have the courage not to take the shortcut, not to give in to temptation, to stay in the cave even though it would be easy to get out?

Shortcuts might offer short-term relief, but they can do long-term damage.

Maybe You Need to Learn How to Complain

David now lives in a cave. And he didn't do anything wrong! That's the frustrating part. If he had brought this on himself, we might be able to say, "Well, that's what you get. You've made your bed; now lie in it." But David didn't do anything wrong (at least not yet).

So, what do you do when you find yourself in a cave, and you don't deserve to be there? Well, believe it or not, one of the best things for you to do is learn how to complain. That's right -- you read that correctly -- I am advocating that you learn how to complain.

How many of you think you already know how to complain pretty well? How many of you think that might just be your spiritual gift?

Here's why I say we need to learn how to complain: we complain to the wrong source. We take our complaints to other people. And what are they going to do? Pat you on the head and say, "Gosh, it sucks to be you, doesn't it?" They can't really do anything to help.

I mean, they can offer some advice or a strong shoulder to lean on. But that's about it. They can't really change the situation.

But God can.

See, there's where we need to register our complaints. Go directly to God. Discuss your discouragement openly and honestly with him. That's what David does in Psalms 142, 57, 34 and many others. In fact, scholars have divided the Psalms up into different categories (psalms of thanksgiving, enthronement psalms, psalms of wisdom, etc.). The largest category of psalms is the Psalm of Lament -- which is really just a fancy way of saying Psalms of Complaint.

What's interesting is that this type of literature is pretty unique to Judaism. No other ancient religion complained to its god(s). Other religions worshiped, praised and asked their god(s) to curse other people. They made requests and asked for blessings/health/prosperity/etc. But only Jews kvetched to their God.

And, apparently, YHWH doesn't mind so much. He actually allows people to do this. He can handle it.

A lot of people just don't have the courage to do this. They stuff their discouragement down and pretend to be fine. They force a smile and pretend everything's blue skies and rainbows and sunbeams from heaven. We pray polite things that have nothing to do with what's really going on inside of us.

But the only place you can meet God is in reality. And sometimes reality is a messy and confusing place. David gets in front of God and lets him know what's going on in his heart.

For those of you who are in caves, maybe you need to learn how to complain. I bet you didn't expect to hear that, did you?

When It Goes From Bad to Worse

The timeline's a little fuzzy, but as best we can figure it David spends 10 years bouncing from cave to cave -- running for his life. And from a human perspective, it looks like God's promises aren't going to come true. This is not like having a bad day or a bad week. David is having a bad decade! He wasn't completely alone during this time. He had some people who gathered around him and formed a little community, but they weren't a real promising group. The Bible says, "All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their leader. About four hundred men were with him" (1 Samuel 22:2).

This is David's community: the distressed, indebted and discontented.

Q: What's worse than one depressed guy in a cave?

A: 400 depressed guys in a cave.

So, they bounce around for a while and eventually establish a refugee camp in a place called Ziklag. They actually get married and raise families, and periodically they'd go out and raid an enemy village. That's how they survived. But one day they come home to find that their little camp was gone -- burned to the ground. Their wives and children were gone -- taken captive. These men -- outlaws and fugitives from their own country -- established a refugee camp where they could raise their kids -- and now it's all gone. "So David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep" (1 Samuel 30:4).

Have you ever wept like that? Wept until there aren't any more tears left? Wept until you can barely stand up?

Then, believe it or not, things go from bad to worse for David: "David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him..." (30:6a).

Here's David -- a fugitive from his own country, his own king trying to kill him, his mentor is dead, the Philistines don't trust him, his wife and kids are gone, his best friend is gone, his ragged little community of friends is ready to stone him. There's no one left to turn to. And next comes one of the greatest statements in the entire Bible: "But David found strength in the Lord his God" (v. 6b).

It's great to find strength in others. To gather together in little groups of people and find strength in friendships. It's fantastic that we can read a book or listen to a CD that encourages. But when you're in the cave, and there's no one to turn to -- you can find strength in God alone. That's a skill we all need to cultivate.

Life in the Cave

David's living in a cave. No explanation why. No word when it'll be over or if it will ever be over. The cave -- you know this place. This is where you end up when all the props have been kicked out -- all the things you've been leaning on vanish. The cave is where you find yourself when you thought you were going to do such great things for God, have that great marriage, those wonderful kids. But then it all went down the tubes.

Some of you have been there. Some of you are there right now. Trust me: if you've never been there, you will be. Nobody plans on it, but sooner or later we all spend time in the cave. And it's here that you start to wonder, "Has God lost track of me? Has he forgotten? Does he even remember where I am? Does he hear? Does he care? Will I ever get out of here? Am I going to die here?"

Two things you need to know about the cave: (1) You will spend time here; (2) God does some of his best work here.

It's not usually in the palace, it's in the cave where you meet God. When all the props are gone and all you've got left is God -- that's when you find out that God is enough all by himself.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Palace

David had been anointed by Samuel, employed by King Saul, defeated Goliath, embraced by the people. They wrote songs about him. Everything he touched turned to gold. Then a funny thing happened on the way to the palace. He lost everything.

He's been promoted from shepherd to court musician to officer in the army. But then Saul became jealous, threw a spear at him (you think you've got problems with your boss), and David disappeared. No job, no income, no security. He goes from being an officer to being a fugitive.

He married Saul's daughter Michal, but Saul sends some hit men to kill David. Michal helped David escape but is captured by her father. Eventually Saul has her marry someone else. Now David has no job and no wife.

He runs to Ramah where his mentor Samuel lives. Samuel -- you'll remember -- is the guy who started this whole thing by anointing David and telling him that he would be the next king. David seems to have been perfectly content out there with the sheep until Samuel pulled him in for the big family meeting. Still, David knew Samuel was a safe person -- knew Samuel spoke for God. But Saul heard about it and sent soldiers to Ramah. Now David has to make another escape. Samuel is old and cannot go with him. Shortly after this, Samuel dies. David has lost his job, his wife and now his mentor.

He runs to his best friend Jonathan -- the one person David could trust with everything -- the one person who knew David better than anyone else. Jonathan stood up to his father (Saul) and risked his life for David. But Jonathan couldn't leave the court and go with David. He couldn't raise a sword against his own father. So David has to run once more, and now he's lost his best friend.

Eventually, David runs to the Philistine city of Gath. He's lost his home and has nowhere to go but to his enemies. They don't trust him, and he ends up in the cave of Adullum surrounded by people who were in distress, in debt or just discontented.

He was on his way to the palace. He was expecting to take his seat on the throne. He had wealth, power, beauty, fame, friends, security and what he thought was a guaranteed future.

Now his life is one big mess. No money, no home, no friends, no job, no advisors. He's running for his life. He expected a palace and ended up in a cave. He doesn't have an explanation why this has happened. He doesn't have any word when it will be over. He doesn't even know if it will ever be over.

So, what do you do when you find yourself in a cave? When all your props and crutches -- everything that's been holding you up -- all the scaffolding is torn down? When you thought you were going to do great things, have a great family, be a great person, but things haven't worked out the way you planned -- what do you do now?

David & Jonathan

Question: What's the single most important factor in shaping human character? A. Education B. Media C. People D. Monkeys

As valuable as education is, as influential as media is, as funny as monkeys are, I don't believe there's anything more important in shaping our character as people.

Sometimes people we haven't known for very long can have a tremendous impact. Sometimes it's people we have known for years. But the people who have the greatest influence over us are people we call "friends."

What a great word "friend" is. There's nothing better than having a real friend. In fact, I don't think you can have a friend and be considered poor. On the other hand, you can have all the money in the world, but if you don't have a friend -- you're not wealthy.

We've been looking at the early portion of King David's life -- the part before he was king. And we cannot really understand David as a young man without examining the friendship between David and Jonathan.

They were both warriors -- both strong-willed. Jonathan was the son of the king and heir to the throne. He was kind of the golden boy who might have been king. But David was going to prevent that from happening. We would expect them to be at each other's throats.

Instead, we find they are very close friends. Their relationship was never easy, never convenient. It wasn't a conventional friendship, but there was an unmistakably deep bond between the two of them. We're even told in 1 Samuel 18:1-4 that they made a covenant and Jonathan gave David his robe, his armor and his sword. It was Jonathan's way of telling David that he would not fight against David under any circumstances. He recognized that David was chosen by God to be the next king, and he would not stand in David's way.

Jonathan was willing to risk everything -- his future, the throne, his place in the family, his father's hatred, even his own life -- for his friend. There is nothing in the world like a friend.

Unfortunately, Jonathan was killed in battle, and David had to go through the majority of his life without his best friend. He had other friends, to be sure. But you never replace a friend like that. And I wonder -- how often did David take out that sword and look at it? How often did he try on that robe and think about his friend and their oaths of loyalty?

Did David take out that sword after he's won a battle? Did he look at the robe after he brought back the Ark of the Covenant and danced like a whilrling dervish? His wife didn't think he was very kingly that day. Maybe he took out the robe and remembered that his best friend Jonathan thought he looked like a king.

Did he think of his friend after he'd been broken by his own sin with Bathsheba? Would it have even happened if he'd had someone like Jonathan serving as his advisor?

Years later, when David was an old man, he asked, "Isn't there anyone left from Saul's family that I can show kindness to for Jonathan's sake?"

He find Mephibosheth -- Jonathan's crippled son. David brings him to court and sits him at the table and treats him like a son.

When David looked at Mephibosheth, he must have remembered his friend and that promise they made that nothing could break -- not rivalry, ambition, families, war, geographic separation, political factions, not death itself.

There's nothing in all the world like a real friendship.

Ontological Dualism

Wow! That's a compelling title, isn't it? But it's really important when facing giants to remember that Christians are ontological dualists. By that I mean that we believe there are really only two categories of things that exist: (1) God; (2) everything else. Normally, we draw lines of distinction in the wrong places: male/female; animal/plant; physical/spiritual. That last one is the favorite of most Christians. We think there are things that are physical, and there are other (more important?) things that are spiritual. We tend to draw vertical lines to separate things from other things. But we ought to draw a heavy horizontal line to show that every thing -- male, female, animal, plant, physical or spiritual -- it all goes into category #2: everything else.

Only God is God.

The Bible is not God. The Church is not God. You are not God. I am not God. Prayer is not God. Evangelism is not God. These are all good things -- godly things. But they all go into category #2: everything else.

Here's what this matters. I do not know what your giant is. I don't know how big your giant is. I don't know if your giant has a sword, spear, javelin, helmet, shield, etc. But I do know which category your giant is in (hint: it's not God).

Cancer is not God. Divorce is not God. Unemployment is not God. Depression is not God. Fear is not God. Addiction is not God. These are all bad things -- ungodly things. And they all go into category #2: everything else.

Here's one other thing I know: Category #1 is larger and more powerful than all the contents of category #2 combined.

Pressure to Conform

When you decide to do something no one else is willing to do -- when you decide to step up and face a giant that everyone else is hiding from -- you need a brave heart. And that heart doesn't just develop out of thin air. It is forged in the heat of everyday obstacles and challenges. In the mundane, daily grind of life is where character is developed, and if you haven't shown a courageous willingness to face down the lions and bears in your normal life, you won't have the strength to step up and face down a giant like Goliath. When you do finally step out of the crowd and choose to face Goliath, you're going to encounter opposition and unfair criticism. Be prepared for that. But there's something else you're likely to encounter: pressure to conform.

For David -- who is apparently too young to join the army but old enough to be trusted to run errands on his own -- this pressure to conform comes from King Saul. First, Saul tries to talk David out of taking on the giant, but David succeeds in persuading Saul to allow him. It's probably a sign of just how desperate Saul had become that he would even listen to a young boy. But Saul does not trust God to work independently of the latest technology:

"Then Saul outfitted David as a soldier in armor. He put his bronze helmet on his head and belted his sword on him over the armor. David tried to walk but he could hardly budge. David told Saul, 'I can't even move with all this stuff on me. I'm not used to this.' And he took it all off." Turns out, the armor didn't fit. Saul was a 52L; David was a 36S. Saul was a man; David was a boy. Saul was a seasoned veteran; David was a rookie. Saul was the Commander in Chief; David was too young to join the army. Saul was the King; David was a loyal subject.

Think about this: David could have said, "Okay, you've been there and done that. You must know more about this than I do. I'll wear it."

But David knew that when he stood facing the giant, it was going to be his hide on the line -- not Saul's. Here's an important lesson: when you face Goliath, it's you. It's not your parents, your friends, your pastor, your teacher, your spouse. It's you. And you are no one's mini-me.

That's what Saul was trying to create: a mini-me of himself. But you can't fight Goliath wearing someone else's armor.

Sometimes we want other people to make our decisions for us -- to choose our weapons and decide what giants we should face and how. Usually the reason we want that is so we can have someone to blame if things don't work out well. But nobody can choose your weapons for you. These are your gifts, your kids, your time, your possessions, your mind, your calling. And on the last day, it's you who will stand before God and answer this question: What did you do with all that stuff I gave you?

No one is going to answer that question for you.

Our world is going to put pressure on you -- pressure to do only certain things and to do them in only certain ways. "You're going out to face Goliath? No, you don't want to do that. Oh, you really do? Well, put this stuff on. I know it doesn't fit and will probably get you killed, but that's what you get for going out against Goliath in the first place. It's a hopeless cause to begin with, but at least this way it won't hurt as bad. Maybe you'll get in a couple of good shots."

Don't you give in to them. Don't let them conform you to the pattern of this world. Withstand that pressure and fight with what God's put in your hands. Fight with the weapons you know.