Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Let's talk about Sin - Soulprint Week #5

Below is the message I shared on Sunday at Good Shepherd.  I talk about sin and its consequences and also how God sometimes uses our hurt to help those around us.  

2 Samuel 11-12

 1 In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem. 2 One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, 3 and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4 Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. 5 The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”  14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 15 In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.” 16 So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were. 17 When the men of the city came out and fought against Joab, some of the men in David’s army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died.  26 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. 27 After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the LORD.

2 Samuel 12

 1 The LORD sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, 3 but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him. 4 “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.” 5 David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this must die! 6 He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.” 7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. 9 Why did you despise the word of the LORD by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’ 11 “This is what the LORD says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’” 13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.”   Nathan replied, “The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. 14 But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for[c] the LORD, the son born to you will die.”
Today we have the next to the last message in our ‘Soulprint’ series, as we work towards understanding who God has uniquely made us to be who we are and searching for the unique call and destiny that God has placed on our lives.
Last week we looked at how God can use even the embarrassing moments of our lives to let us know who we are, who we aren’t and what God might be calling us to do.  Today, we shift gears a little bit – we only have two weeks left of talking about and looking for our soulprints and we are now getting down to the nitty gritty.   We are going to talk about sin and how our sins affect our ability to reach how we were called and created to be. 
Before we do that, though, we are going to talk about a critical element of discovering your soulprint – beginning to see yourself as God see’s you.  Batterson says: Until your see yourself through his eyes, you’ll never get a vision of who you can become.  The key to self-discovery is allowing the One who knit you together in your mother’s womb to reveal things you do not and cannot know about yourself without His revelation.  God knows you better than you know you, because He designed you, so if you want to get to know yourself, you’ve got to get to know God. 
As C.S. Lewis explains in Mere Christianity – ‘Your real, new self . . . will not come as long as you are looking for it.  It will come when you are looking for Him.’  Opening our eyes and asking God to show us who and what we really are is not a one time thing – it is an ongoing, life long process.
David has seen, time and time again who he is in God’s eyes, who he really is. But as we catch up with him in this morning’s passage something has changed.  Maybe he is bored – he is used to leading the battles, being at the center of all the action – but instead he is up pacing his rooftop at night as his army is off at war.  But whatever the reason, he feels a void in his life and doesn’t wait on God to fill it.
In the book this is called ‘legitimate illegitimate sin’.  When we attempt to meet a legitimate need, but do it in a illegitimate way, a way other than God’s.  This happens when we aren’t patient enough to wait for God to meet the need in his way and in his timing.  We legitimize our sin by saying things like, ‘God wants us to be happy’.  That is definitely true, but whenever we take a sinful shortcut to that happiness we miss out on the real happiness and joy that God offers. 
Sin often yields a moment of pleasure, but the long term result and side effect is always misery.  Simply put, sin is selling yourself – and God – short.  And sin keeps you from fulfilling your true destiny, doing and becoming who you were meant to be.  More than anything else, the biggest consequence of the continued and persistent presence of sin – especially a repeated sin -  is that we begin to forget not just who we are – who we really are, but we also forget WHOSE we are. 
And remembering whose we are is the key to happiness, joy and living into our soulprint.  When we try to do for ourselves that which only God can do for us – like struggling in quicksand, our ‘best efforts’ usually only leave us deeper in the pit.  We  try and try to fix our own brokenness, but there are problems that are beyond our ability, pain and hurt beyond our capacity for healing and memories too strong to forget and move on from.
The only way out and past these things to who we are meant to be is through allowing God to rebuild and restore our hearts, our minds and our spirits.  When we recognize and accept the truth that we can’t fix or save or heal ourselves, but rather we need God to do that, the process of restoration can begin. 
Each and every one of us was created as  a palace – the temple of God.   But in order for our hearts, minds and lives to be suitable for God to dwell in – more than a quick redecoration is required.  Our lives often require major renovation.  If you have ever been through a major renovation, then you probably know all too well, that it usually begins with some demolition.
In the midst of wrestling with his own brokenness David wrote Psalm 51, where, in verse 17 he says:  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Sometimes God can use the brokenness that comes from our sinfulness and disobedience to bless us and those around us.  When we allow God to lead us in working through our own tragedies, our own pain and the problems we face – God prepares us to help others with their problems, their pain and their tragedies. 
There are times when our soulprints and destinies are shaped through moments of beauty and joy, but there are other times when our destinies are shaped by the moments that take that joy from us.  Sometimes there is no discernable reason for our pain – no redemption that can be found.  In those moments we hold to the fact that we are never alone – we serve and worship a God that feels our pain and lives it with us.
There are other times, however, that our pain comes from the breaking down of strongholds in our hearts, minds and lives that need breaking.  Strongholds like: pride, Lust, anger, jealousy and bitterness. 
Until we let God break these things down and away from our lives, we will never be able to fulfill our destinies and become who God made us to be.  In David’s life, his eyes were opened to the strongholds that he had allowed sin to build in his life by the prophet Nathan.  Nathan, in telling David the story about himself, became a mirror to David.  Nathan showed David the depth of his sin and his need for repentance.
Mirrors that allow us to see into the dark corners and blind spots of our lives are critical and they come in many forms – friends, family members, words from the pulpit or from a member of the church.  But there is no more important, valuable or accurate mirror for our lives and our hearts that Scripture.   The best form of self-examination is simply reading Scripture and meditating on it.  Scripture is a perfect mirror because it reveals how our Designer and Creator sees us. 
There are of course, bad mirrors too, and most of our identity problems are the result of looking in the wrong mirrors.  For some there is the mirror of culture, for others the mirror is what other people think of them, and so on.  If we want to discover our soulprints, we have to begin and end with Scripture. 
Batterson writes these insightful words: If you aren’t reading your Bible as much as you could or should, you’ll have identity issues.  And let me go out on a limb.  If you aren’t reading your Bible like you could, it is probably because of some sin in your life.  You don’t want to look in the mirror because it’s convicting.  . . .  If you ignore it, it will get worse . . . The Bible is not only the best cure for identity problems.  It’s also the best prevention
But, as always with God, there is good news.  David, in spite of his sinfulness was not defined by that sinfulness.  In 1Kings 15 we read that David was counted in the company of kings that did right in the eyes of the Lord.  David, just like you and I is defined not by what we do right, what we are good at or even by our sinfulness, but rather we are all defined by the grace of God.
When we are in Christ we are no longer defined by what we have done wrong, but by what Christ has done right. 
The righteousness of Christ is our identity and our destiny
Because of that good news there is even more good news: It is never too late to be who you might have been.
Your mistakes may define your past, but they don’t have to define your present.  And they certainly don’t have to define your future.   If you are still breathing, it means that God isn’t finished with you yet. 
God is still remodeling and restoring you in his image.
God is still setting the captive free and creating the unique masterpiece that is you.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Soulprint Week #4 - Embarrassing moments with God

Below is the message I shared with Good Shepherd last Sunday as we continued to work through the book Soulprint by Mark Batterson.  We looked specifically at how embarrassing or bad moments can help shape us and confirm who we are and who we aren't.  We also talk about being willing to be embarrassed for the 'right' reasons.  

2 Samuel 6:12-22
 12 Now King David was told, “The LORD has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God.” So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. 13 When those who were carrying the ark of the LORD had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. 14 Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the LORD with all his might, 15 while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets.         16 As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart.                                        17 They brought the ark of the LORD and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the LORD. 18 After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD Almighty. 19 Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes.                                                                        20 When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”                                                                       21 David said to Michal, “It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the LORD. 22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”

Matthew 7:24-27

    24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Today we continue our series based on the book ‘Soulprint’, working towards understanding who God has uniquely made us to be who we are and searching for the unique call and destiny that God has placed on our lives.
As we took a break in the series last week, with the wonderful Pentecost worship lead by our youth, as quick review of the first three weeks of our Soulprint series. 
First, we are who we are on purpose, for a purpose.  The secondly, to be ourselves we need a Holy Confidence in a God that is Holy, that loves us and that has planned nothing but the best for us.  This Holy confidence is trusting and leaning on God.  Third, we look back at our lives and we Keep ‘life symbols’ of the times that God has been especially present and active in our lives to help us remember: ‘the ultimate objective of every circumstance is to cultivate the character of Christ in us.            Then finally we talked about integrity and how its directly connected to our destiny.
God is less concerned with what we do than with who we are becoming in the process And God won’t get you where God wants you to go until you become who God wants you to be.  As we continue to think about talk about discovering exactly what God has uniquely designed us for – and how we can get there, we are going to spend a little time thinking about embarrassing and awkward moments in our lives.
Most of us, myself included work hard at avoiding any type of embarrassment or awkwardness – I think that is a perfectly natural reaction to those two emotions.  But Soulprint makes the suggestion that we need a little embarrassment and awkwardness because they help keep us humble – and humility is a key to fulfilling our destiny.
In fact, if we stay humble – and grounded in our dependence on God there is nothing God cannot do in us and through us. But back to those embarrassing moments – they tend to mark our lives and stick in our memories in unique and powerful ways.
Apart from keeping us humble and giving us reason to laugh at ourselves, the embarrassing moments in our lives can help us define and come to terms with who we are – and who we are not – Embarrassment often follows our attempts to be something we aren’t.
One of my most embarrassing moments in ministry came from a different source – not from trying to do something that I wasn’t good at or be something I wasn’t, but from the area of ministry that I thought I had the most gifts for.
This moment occurred about a week or two into my first job out of college.
I was one of two youth ministers at a large church in Pittsburgh that I had interned at while I was finishing school.
Even though I knew many of the youth, my fellow youth minister and the church, there were still lots of things I was nervous about.
Speaking to the youth group, though, wasn’t one of those things.  Honestly, preaching and speaking has always been something I was good at: from my first speech, to the PA state senate as a 4th grader to public speaking in high school, to my times as a youth leader and camp counselor in college.  It just always came naturally to me and my talks always seemed well received. 
Add to that the fact that the other youth minister I was working with really wasn’t very gifted when it came to speaking – so I felt like I would look pretty good in comparison. 
Looking back, I am astonished at how unprepared I was – but I remember back then thinking I had it all under control and maybe even ahead of the game
I had a title and a theme for the talk, which was to be the first of a series: ‘The facts of Life’ (The fact that I was using a sitcom that none of the youth had been alive to watch should have been a tipoff that this wasn’t going to go well, but I digress .  .. )
Anyway, the time for youth group came, kids showed up and eventually it was time for me to get up and give my talk.  I got up with my notes – which were, as I recall, very rough in nature – and, well I can’t really explain what happened except to say that it didn’t go well.
In fact it went horribly – and as I was up there I knew it wasn’t going well.  It went so badly that two things happened:
First, at one point in the talk, as I could feel my face getting redder and redder, I seriously contemplated just leaving and never coming back.  Second, after youth group was over, the other youth minister (the one that wasn’t a very gifted speaker) said to me, in what I think was intended to be a gentle way that ‘maybe we might need to work on our talks’
That was, without a doubt a terrible, and horrible experience.  There is no question embarrassing moments are horrible.  But they can also be wonderful.  They are wonderful because few things are as freeing as being embarrassed.  Embarrassment frees us from the burden of pretense.  And in a way is a part of dying to self so that we can allow Christ to live in us.
My embarrassment was the result of poor planning and preparation, and while it served a purpose in making me humble and helping me rely on God instead of myself, it was totally avoidable.
There are times, however, if we are following God’s call for our lives when we will have to make a choice.  When we will have to decide if we are going to let fear of embarrassment get between us and God. 
We might be too embarrassed to share our faith, walk away from a sinful situation or confront a friend that is making hurtful choices.  But embarrassment that comes from doing what is right is holy embarrassment and it’s the foundation of a life open to being used by God.   If we are following God’s call there will be times when embarrassment is the only way we can remain faithful to God and true to yourself.   Will we choice embarrassment or hypocrisy, embarrassment or sin?
It is a choice that David makes in our scripture reading this morning.  David made a choice to rejoice in the Lord and represent his joy by dancing at the city gates as he came triumphantly into the capital city as its victorious king, instead of accepting all the praise and honor the people were giving him.
David choose to risk embarrassment, the breaching of political protocol and even the contempt of his wife in order to demonstrate his thankfulness to God for what he had done in his life and the place to which God had brought him. 
Part of the embarrassment of what David did had to have come from the fact that he didn’t just dance – he disrobed first, stripping down, essentially to his underwear – and then danced.
This isn’t a minor detail, but rather a powerful statement of humility and submission to God.  The royal robes that David took off represent David’s identity and security as the king of Israel.  In a very real way those robes represented David’s authority.  But David didn’t find either his security or identity in his status as king.  David found his true identity and true security as a worshipper of the almighty God.  Disrobing was a symbol of his humility – stripped down, naked and humble before God.  Disrobing also was a signal of his dependence on God. 
David didn’t find his identity and security as the king of the Israelites, or through anything else that he was or that he did, rather David found his security and identity in the King of kings a& the Lord of lords.  For us to truly find our soulprints – who we are meant to be and what we were created to do – we have to first be stripped of the things we find our identity in and the things we find our security in. 
For me, I had to lose confidence in my own abilities as a public speaker and a preacher before I could open myself up to be used by God and to use my gifts through my preaching and speaking.
Discovering your soulprint, your purpose in life, your calling begins with finding your identity and security in Christ alone.
Disrobing means dying to self and that begins with identifying the things we find our identity and security in outside of our relationship with Christ.  And as David’s example shows us – we aren’t just talking about bad habits or ‘problems’.  God had made David king – but David knew he couldn’t let the gift – being made king – become more important than the One who gave it to us.
Our identity and security needs to be located in the person of the gift giver – Jesus Christ – not the gifts themselves.  Why?
Because, we need to remember the lesson we heard from Matthew a few minutes ago – what you build your foundation on matters.  Batterson says, and I think he is right, that God has ‘hardwired us for worship.  That, no matter what, we are going to worship something.  The question is simply who or what are we going to worship? 
Are we going to worship God with a capital G or the gods with a lowercase g, the god of you, what you can do, what you are. 
If we choose to worship our own lowercase g gods it will end in disappointment for you and anyone else that might worship you.  Our identity issues all stem from worshiping the wrong thing or the wrong person. 
When we build our identities on the things in your life or on ‘who you are as you do certain things.  It’s like building your house on the shifting sand.  You might base your identity on school and how you do at school – but you are going to graduate.  You might base your identity on your job – but you might lose it or you might need to find a different one and eventually you will retire.
You might base your identity on a relationship: a marriage, a close friendship, or between parent and child – but we all know too well that not all of those relationships will last and none of us are guaranteed tomorrow. 
All of those things: school, jobs and careers, marriage and other relationships are good things, gifts from God even.  But they are not the rock upon which to base your identity.  And you cannot find security in them.
When you graduate from school the student dies.  When you turn twenty the teenager dies.  When you get married, the single person dies.  When you retire, the vocation dies.   

Each of these ‘little deaths’ can cause an incredible crisis.  But if you base your identity on Christ, you avoid these crises altogether.  Your security – your foundation – is rooted in the steadfast love of the Lord that never ceases.  Your identity is found in the One who is the same yesterday, today and forever. 
Jesus Christ becomes your cornerstone.  With Jesus as your cornerstone you can find the courage to step out into whatever God has called you to – even if it brings with it embarrassment or awkwardness.
Because count on this: Doing the will of God almost is almost always accompanied by feelings of awkwardness, uneasiness, and unreadyness.   Like David – dancing in his underwear as he was supposed to be entering into the capital as the triumphant king – you might end up looking ‘crazy’ to the rest of the world.
But what if that embarrassment and awkwardness was the only thing standing between you and your destiny?  Would you be willing to embrace it? 
Take off your royal robes, lose the alter ego that is founded on anything but Jesus Christ and step into your destiny by risking embarrassment to live into the life God created you for.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Soulprint Week #3 - The Crags of the Wild Goats

Below is the message I shared with Good Shepherd on Sunday.  It is the third in a six week series based on the life of David and the book Soulprint.  
The focus of this week's message really has been resonating with me, and sticking with me: simply, that in our search for purpose, meaning and fulfillment in life, in our journey to live into the call that God has placed on our lives nothing is more important than our integrity.  It is our integrity that opens the door of our lives for God to work most fully in and through them.  God Bless.

 1 Samuel 24 (NIV)
1 [a]After Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, “David is in the Desert of En Gedi.”2 So Saul took three thousand able young men from all Israel and set out to look for David and his men near the Crags of the Wild Goats.3 He came to the sheep pens along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave. 4 The men said, “This is the day the LORD spoke of when he said[b] to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.’” Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. 5 Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. 6 He said to his men, “The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the LORD.” 7 With these words David sharply rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. And Saul left the cave and went his way. 8 Then David went out of the cave and called out to Saul, “My lord the king!” When Saul looked behind him, David bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. 9 He said to Saul, “Why do you listen when men say, ‘David is bent on harming you’? 10 This day you have seen with your own eyes how the LORD delivered you into my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, ‘I will not lay my hand on my lord, because he is the LORD’s anointed.’ 11 See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand! I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you. See that there is nothing in my hand to indicate that I am guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion. I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life. 12 May the LORD judge between you and me. And may the LORD avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you. 13 As the old saying goes, ‘From evildoers come evil deeds,’ so my hand will not touch you.  14 “Against whom has the king of Israel come out? Who are you pursuing? A dead dog? A flea? 15 May the LORD be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand.”  16 When David finished saying this, Saul asked, “Is that your voice, David my son?” And he wept aloud. 17 “You are more righteous than I,” he said. “You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly. 18 You have just now told me about the good you did to me; the LORD delivered me into your hands, but you did not kill me. 19 When a man finds his enemy, does he let him get away unharmed? May the LORD reward you well for the way you treated me today. 20 I know that you will surely be king and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands. 21 Now swear to me by the LORD that you will not kill off my descendants or wipe out my name from my father’s family.”  22 So David gave his oath to Saul. Then Saul returned home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold.

Today we continue our series based on the book ‘Soulprint’, working towards understanding who God has uniquely made us to be who we are and searching for the unique call and destiny that God has placed on our lives.  A quick review of the last two weeks. 
First, we are who we are on purpose, for a purpose.  The secondly, to be ourselves we need a Holy Confidence in a God that is Holy, that loves us and that has planned nothing but the best for us.  This Holy confidence is trusting and leaning on God.
Moving forward in that Holy confidence, we first look back.  We Look back at where we have been in our lives can help us see the way that God has always been working in, around and through all of our lives.   We Keep mementos, reminders or ‘life symbols’ of the times that God has been especially present and active in our lives.  We carry these life symbols to help us remember that ‘the ultimate objective of every circumstance is to cultivate the character of Christ in us.
You would need many, many words to even begin to fully describe the character of Christ, but a good place to start might be with the word integrity.  Integrity is, as Batterson puts it, what the latter we climb up through our lives leans against.  Without integrity – he says – you cannot fulfill your destiny, because your integrity is your destiny.  Integrity is so important because it correctly highlights what is important. 
Batterson continues:
The goal is not accomplishing the dream god has given to you.  The dream is a secondary issue.  The primary issue is who you become in the process.  We fixate on what and when and where.  God’s primary concern is always who.  And He won’t get you where He wants you to go until you become who He wants you to be. 
Having integrity doesn’t just matter after you have been given a dream or destiny from God.   It is how that dream or destiny becomes clear.  It is only when we stop living for selfish purposes that the pressure comes off of us, we rely on the dream giver and destiny fulfiller, that our destiny can come into focus.
Before David could fulfill his destiny, he had to pass a supreme test of his integrity.  That test comes in the ‘crags of the wild goats.  A lot has happened in David’s life since we saw him last week defeating Goliath.  David’s favor with God and popularity with the people of Israel have grown substantially since God allowed him to defeat Goliath.   Every job or mission that David goes on for king Saul is an epic success.  But as David is being blessed by God and showing the power of his anointing by God – remember He has already been anointed by the prophet Samuel as the next king of Israel. – The anointing and the Spirit of God has left Saul.  The Lord’s anointing has gone from Saul because he lost his intergrity.
This is illustrated clearly in three ways.  First, that Saul stopped making alters to remember what God had done for him and the people of Israel and began making alters to himself.  Second, he became overwhelmed with jealousy against David – the song the people sang ‘Saul has killed his hundreds, but David has killed thousands’ didn’t help.  Finally, he broke his promise to his son (David’s best friend) and his daughter (now David’s wife) not to try and harm or kill him
So because of this David, along with a few handfuls of his most loyal men are on the run from Saul.  They are on the run for their lives.  And so it is that they are hiding in a cave amidst the crags of the wild goats. 
Can you imagine the scene: David and his men are hiding, silently in the cave and as they are hiding there – Saul enters into the very cave they are hiding in.  And, of course this is where the story takes a little turn for the strange (and funny), because Saul isn’t in the cave looking for David.  Instead he is there to, well, relieve himself.   David has so much time while Saul is – doing his business – that he is able to sneak up and cut off a piece of Saul’s robe.
But David’s men see this a chance to do much more and urge him to take this ‘golden opportunity’ to kill Saul – as certainly Saul would have done if the roles were reversed.  But David, knowing that it is wrong (and illegal) to kill the anointed King of Israel – even if you have been anointed to be the next king.   So David, repented in front of his men for even cutting off the piece of Saul’s robe and ordered them not to harm him.
David passed the test of integrity because he knew an opportunity isn’t really an opportunity if you have to compromise your integrity for it.  If you get something by compromising your integrity you are likely to have to keep compromising it to keep it – whatever it is.  The end never justifies the means from God’s prospective – remember, for God it is about who we are becoming not so much what we accomplish
Our goal as Christians is to become more and more like Christ, to be continually cultivating the mind and character of Christ within us.  Christ, who had unmatched and unquestioned integrity – but who’s life ended on one of the world’s most prominent and painful signs of failure – the cross.
David – just like Jesus – must have been tempted to take the easy way out – to compromise his integrity and his call from God.  It must have been incredibly tempting to take a short cut to the throne that God had anointed him for.  But if David had given in and killed Saul by stabbing him in the back, while he was relieving himself, he would have always been looking over his own shoulder.
That is what happens when you compromise your integrity. Instead of being able to focus all of your energy on looking ahead, you waste energy looking back, covering us where you have been.  Not killing Saul in the cave is a defining moment for David – maybe even more so than killing Goliath.  And, if you think about it, it may have been harder not to kill Saul than it was to kill Goliath.  Killing Goliath was an act of power – but not killing Saul was an act of willpower.  Willpower might be the purest or truest form of power we can have.
In the New Testament, in the original language, there is a distinction between made between two types of power.  Dunamis – the origin of our English word, Dynamite – is the ability to do things beyond your natural ability.  Exousia is the ability to not do things you have the ability to do.  There is no clearer example of this second type of power than the cross.  Scripture is explicitly clear on this point – in John 10 – Jesus says 4 different times that he is willingly laying down his life, using the word we translate as ‘authority’: I have the authority to lay it down and the authority to take it up again. That authority is that second kind of power, the willpower to not to that which you could do.
Ultimately it is not the power of what Jesus did that mattered most – his ability to heal, turn water into wine and multiply food for the hungry – but what he could have done and chose not to do.  Jesus could have, at any point right up until he ‘gave up his Spirit’ – that in itself phrased as an act of willpower – made the choice to abandon his suffering, call on the legions of angels and he would have been saved.   In the end the only thing really keeping Jesus on the cross was not a mighty empire, not scheming religious authorities, but the willpower of Jesus – the choice to love us enough to die for us.
Jesus knew the truth that you can’t fulfill your God given destiny with integrity and willpower.  God doesn’t ‘need us’ to do things on our own or take matters ‘into our own hands’.  God asks us to prove we are willing and able to wait on God’s timing and God’s plan.  God wants us to show that we have the integrity to do the right thing, even when no one is watching.
Two final points.  The first one is about who you want advocating with you.  In Soul print one of the points made is that when you compromise your conscience or integrity it is your own reputation at risk, but obeying God and living within the ‘guardrails of a conscience that is fine-tuned to the Holy Spirit and Holy Scripture, then it is God’s reputation that is at risk.’
And what that means is this: who do you want to rely on in the end – yourself or God.  Who do you want to Advocate for you, yourself or God?
When we submit our lives to God’s authority by living with integrity, then we come under the umbrella of God’s authority.  That ‘umbrella’ shelters us, provides us with a supernatural coving and it also takes all the pressure to succeed or achieve off of us. 
The second point I want to leave you with is the idea of control.  Batterson says that ‘we waste far too much emotional energy allowing others to control us in unhealthy and unholy ways.  How?  By treating them the way they treat us.  David showed integrity by refusing to go to Saul’s level.  He let God, not those around him, be the guide for his behavior
With the power of God’s Holy Spirit we can control ourselves.  Don’t lie because others lie.  Don’t gossip because they gossip.  Don’t cheat because they cheat.  Don’t get negative because they get negative.  Don’t downgrade your integrity to the level of the people around you. 
The lesson from David – and from so many others in the Bible (Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego among others) is that if you want to fulfill your destiny, don’t compromise your integrity.  And remember that it is often the little compromises that lead to major problems.
Integrity won’t stop us from difficult times – from facing giants, from the fiery furnace, from facing anger and jealousy from those around you.  But integrity – the choice to do what is right, even when no one is looking – will allow us to lean on God and rest under the umbrella of God’s protection. 
Integrity will also convict those around you and invite them into relationship with God.  Integrity stopped David from grabbing the crown of Israel by stabbing Saul in the back – but that integrity is why God eventually placed him on the throne.
Our integrity  - while not allowing us to cut corners or take short cuts – will never hinder the pursuit of our dreams and destinies.   Instead, without integrity, we will simply never get to the place or become the people God intends for us.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Soulprint Week #2 - Life Symbols or remembering God in our past

Below is the message I shared last week at Good Shepherd.  It is the second in  a series based on the book, Soul Print by Mark Batterson.  The first message is contained in an earlier post if you are interested.  
Remembering where we have been  - and how God was present and active in the moments of our past is an important element of beginning to move forward toward who God has called us to be.  Hope you hear God speaking to you here.

1 Samuel 17: 41 – 54 (NIV)
41 Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. 42 He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. 43 He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!”   45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the LORD will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”
48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.   50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.   51 David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword.     When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran. 52 Then the men of Israel and Judah surged forward with a shout and pursued the Philistines to the entrance of Gath[f] and to the gates of Ekron. Their dead were strewn along the Shaaraim road to Gath and Ekron. 53 When the Israelites returned from chasing the Philistines, they plundered their camp.
Today we continue our series based on the book ‘Soulprint’, working towards understanding who God has uniquely made us to be who we are and searching for the unique call and destiny that God has placed on our lives.
Last week, as we began the series, we focused on two things.  First, on the importance of not trying to be anything that we are not – and simply living into who and what we are.  This idea was reinforced for me this week on Monday as I came across two quotes from very different sources that dealt with being who you are:
The first is from Oscar Wilde, and he simply advises: ‘Be yourself, everyone else is taken.’
The second is a Jewish proverb I was told, which goes: ‘If I am like someone else, who will be like me?
The point of these quotes and of our time last week was the simple, but important reminder that we are who we are for a reason.  We are who we are on purpose, for a purpose.  The second point from last week was that in order to be ourselves, even in difficult we need confidence.  But this confidence isn’t in ourselves and doesn’t come from ourselves, but rather we need to have a Holy Confidence in a God that is Holy, that loves us and that has planned nothing but the best for us.
Moving forward in that Holy confidence, we move forward by looking back.  Looking back at where we have been in our lives can help us see the way that God has always been working in, around and through all of our lives.
We all keep things from our past – you saw a few of the things I have kept a few minutes ago during the children’s message – but we don’t always end up keeping things that really have any meaning.  And rarely do we keep physical reminders of the spiritual lessons we have learned along the way – or to mark those particular times where God has interceded powerfully in our lives.
In the Old Testament these physical reminders were sometimes called ‘Ebenezers’ – in Soulprint they are called ‘Life symbols’.  David, took a life symbol from his battle with Goliath.  Making what must have been an extraordinary effort, after making sure Goliath was dead, David took the time and effort to remove each piece of the giants armor from him.  If you do the conversions and add them all up Goliath’s armor and weapons the total is 125 pounds and 15 ounces.  David likely didn’t way much more than that. 
Why?  Because we quickly forget, not just the little things that God has done and is doing for us – but even the earth shaking, giant felling things that God does can sometimes be, if not forgotten, at least moved to the back of our thoughts. 
We have forgotten the practice of alter making that the Jews travelling in the desert knew so well.  Leaving an Ebenezer to make the place of God’s intersection with our lives and remind all about God’s faithfulness.   In claiming Life symbols, surrounding ourselves with physical reminders of God’s work in our lives we can remember God’s faithfulness and renew our own Holy Confidence in a God for whom nothing is impossible
The word remember is found and repeated over 250 times in the Bible, because God knows the importance of remembering the right things.  In our lives we most often lose faith in God because we forget God’s ‘faith-fullness’.   In the business of life and with our narrow and often short-sighted vision we miss or forget just how present God has been.  We forget how faithful God has been in caring for us, in providing for us in reaching out to us.
One of the most critical things we must do as we look back at our past is not simply focus on the obvious – what happened – but look deeper, through the lens of God’s plan and call on our lives and think about the why.  This is especially true of the failures, difficulties or pain that lies in your past. 
Batterson says in Soulprint that: ‘why is more important that what.  It’s not our experiences that make us or break us.  It’s our interpretation of and explanation for those experiences that ultimately determines who we become.  Your explanations are more important than your experiences.’
With this in mind it is critically important to remember that ‘the ultimate objective of every circumstance is to cultivate the character of Christ in us.
As Christians we claim Christ not just as our savior and our Lord, but also as our model for how to live life and to interpret life.  Christ understood so clearly the ‘why’ of the suffering that he endured. 
Because of that understanding Jesus saw beauty, power and purpose in the persecution and suffering he bore.  That is why some of the best things come out of the worst circumstances – because they help us identify with the sufferings of Christ.
David lived through difficult experiences before his triumph over Goliath.  He wasn’t deemed worthy of a place on the battlefield (a place of honor) with his brothers.  But before that, when Samuel was lining up the sons of Jesse to anoint the next king, Jesse – David’s own father – didn’t even bother to mention David, let alone bring him before Samuel to be considered.
David faced a choice that each of us face –regardless of the nature and depth of the difficulties we face.  The struggles and trials we face (divorce, cancer, heartbreak, disappointment or loss – whatever they might be) don’t have to define us.  They don’t have to define us, if we let God use them to refine us.
That is the choice we are faced with in looking at the difficulties and struggles in our lives: define or refine.  And if we trust in God enough to let them refine us, then God will use even those negative experiences in our lives to help redefine us.
Corrie ten Boom, the heroic and famed survivor of Nazi concentration camps during WWII spent many years of her life speaking to people around the world, sharing her experiences and her insights,
When she spoke to people, it was often with her head down.   This was not because she was shy or because she was reading her notes, but rather she was usually working on a piece of needlepoint.
At the end of her story, the story of atrocities experienced at the hands of the Nazis, she would show the audience the needlepoint she had been working on.  First, she would hold up the backside, which would just be a mishmash of threads and colors with no recognizable pattern. 
Then she would say: ‘That’s how we see our lives.  Sometimes it makes no sense’.  
But then she would turn over the needlepoint to show the finished side.  And she would say: ‘This is how God views your life, and someday we will have the privilege of seeing it from His point of view.’
She would often end with this poem:
My life is but a weaving between my God and me, I do not choose the colors, He works so steadily, Oft times He weaves in sorrow, and I in foolish pride, Forget He sees the upper, and I the underside.
Not till the loom is silent, and the shuttles cease to fly will God unroll the canvas and explain the reason why.  The dark threads are as needful in the Weaver’s skillful hand, as the threads of gold and silver in the pattern He has planned.
Our soulprints are like the needlepoint,  identity is the underside and destiny is the upper side.
Lifesymbols can be for us the connecting threads between these two sides.   They are the colors that mark defining moments.  They are the frames that help us explain our experiences. 
They are the ‘shuttles’ that refine and define us.  And if we will simply put ourselves on the loom, God will weave a masterpiece in us.