Thursday, June 21, 2007

In Whose Image?

This quote I saw today captured my attention and has made me think a lot.

"You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do." - Anne Lamott

Saturday, June 16, 2007

After Bathsheba 3.1:David Accepts the Consequences (2 Sam 12:14-23)

As you can see when you read this story, David did not run from the suffering of those next few days. Nor did he accuse God of hurting him. He realised that while much of the penalty was spared him (ie., he was not fried on the spot nor did God "cast him away from His presence"), there were consequences that he would just have to wear. God would not be like an overindulgent parent who is constantly rescuing his/her son from the consequences of his poor choices.

The King did what he could to avert the suffering of his child. He fasted, pleading with God. He lay all night on the ground. There was no que sera sera with him. He did what he could do to put a stop to the chain of suffering he had set in motion. Yet when that death came, he accepted it. It wasn’t God being cruel; it was the result of Dave's own actions.

He then took care of Bathsheba rather than marking her as some ugly reminder of his sin and casting her out of his presence.

The gauge of true repentance and responsibility is not in how many litres of tears are wept at the altar. Nor is it to be found in loud declarations: “I’ve changed! This time I really mean it!” For most of us it will be found in accepting some consequences - some that arrive immediately, some which occur over an extended period of time. One of those consequences may just be that it becomes sheer hard work to regain intimacy with God and a passion for His plans.

Is this penance? Sometimes within the guilty mind is a feeling that I should make up for what I have done wrong. God’s Word is very clear on this: we are completely forgiven on the basis of Christ’s death and Christ’s continual intercession for us. I am not talking about penance – paying for forgiveness. It’s a gift. However, forgiveness happens in the realm of a relationship (God forgives me and so is no longer angry with me or distant from me relationally).

But consequences occur in the wider realm of time and space. In other words consequences come regardless of how good or bad a relationship is. For instance, imagine that in a fit of rage I smash my wife’s favourite vase, then seek forgiveness (and she forgives me), and our relationship is restored. I don’t have to pay for that grace; she either gives it or she doesn’t. In this case, she has given it. Nevertheless she is still minus one vase. Her forgiving me doesn’t magically repair the vase. Neither did God’s forgiveness of David change the fact that there was now one woman widowed by his order, pregnant to him, bereaved of a child because of a curse he brought on that child. In the case of my wife and the broken vase, I should take responsibility for my actions and buy her a vase that will take the place of the one I have broken. Do I do that because she demands it? No, I do it because I love her and don’t want to see her paying for my sin. Why should she be out one vase just because I chose to be stupid?

For many of us in recovering from a period of spiritual coldness, there may need to be some restitution involved, particularly where we have wronged another human being. This is far from paying penance. While God will need no repayment for the shabby way I have treated Him, He will nevertheless require that to the best of my ability I undo any damage I have done His reputation or the wellbeing of others. This about orienting our soul, our character, toward God and godliness...

The story of Zacchaeus illustrates this. When the little man understood the second chance he was being given, of his own volition he stood up and cried, “I will give half of my possessions to the poor and repay back anyone I’ve ripped off four times what they lost!” (Lk 19:8). Jesus’ comment was “Today salvation has come to this house” when He saw this dramatic and heartfelt response to grace.

I once heard the following story from the 1950s. A man had fled America for Scotland leaving $10,000 in debts behind him – a considerable sum back then. After a few years he was converted to Christ and fell in love with the things of God. It only took a few weeks before a growing conviction in his heart became too hard to ignore. He could not pursue his walk with Jesus until he dealt with it. The day came when he told his brothers and sisters in the Church, “I must return to America and repay my debts, even if it takes me the rest of my life.” They were shocked and questioned the sanity of such a course of action. Someone made the comment that he was now forgiven and his past sins blotted out. His response was that some of his sins were still quite legible in the records of several human institutions. The right thing for him to do was take responsibility to clean up his own mess, rather than leaving someone else to pay for it.How many of us today would display such an attitude?

Consequences may involve restitution or (like in David’s case) they may simply be natural outcomes of the choices we have made. Those consequences may look like items on the following list:

  • Public confession of our wrongdoing

  • Personally seeking the forgiveness of other human beings we have hurt

  • A long period of hardship where the results of our bad choices actually torment us

  • The expulsion of idols from our life

  • Rebuilding trust with others

  • The breaking of soul ties

  • Hard work in exchanging our corrupt attitudes for better ones

  • Discovering our spiritual disciplines are not easy to come back to and must be worked hard at

  • Reprioritising of our life to make room for those spiritual disciplines, perhaps losing some other treasured pursuit in the process

This list is not exhaustive. And the consequences may be completely different for you. The point is that God will not always bail us out.

According to Hebrews 12, God’s discipline is not punishment – it is training. Do I really want to remain the weak person who allowed the fire to die in the first place? If I stay the same, there is nothing stopping it from happening again! We need God’s discipline – we need consequences – to become stronger, to become “partakers of His holiness” (Heb 12:10).

David has now completed a partial turn of his heart back to God. But another step awaits him. More in the next episode...

Your Turn:

  1. When we lose our first love, we often become hard-hearted and hurt others. Is there any damage you have done while distant from God? What matters are there that you must attend to which will set things right?
  2. It may be that you lost your spiritual passion through being hurt by someone else. Holding on to bitterness has been likened to holding a hot coal in your hand; it only hurts you. Remembering this – and reminding yourself that you have flaws and failings which God is quick to forgive - is there anyone you must forgive to respond honourably to God’s grace?

  3. Things often get worse before they get better. Don’t expect the feeling of elation you may have felt when born again or first filled with the Spirit. God may be stretching you painfully to ensure that you stand the test of time ... and to take you "higher" in the longterm. Make a list of the ways in which current painful circumstances may be doing you some good for that long-term.

God’s Turn

God is one who gives both affection and corrective discipline as He sees fit (Zephaniah 3:17; Revelation 3:19). Make the emotional commitment to open your heart to both (Job 2:10).

If this is the first time you've read one of this series of posts, please click on the label at the end of the post (Relighting the Fire) to read all entires. Unfortunately, they're in reverse order, so like many blogs, you'll have to scroll to the bottom to find the start of the the thread...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Metaphor of Light

(We) don’t see light; we see what it touches. It is more or less invisible, made from nothing, just purposed and focused energy, infinite in its power (if fired into a vacuum, it will go on forever). How fitting then for God to create an existence, then a metaphor, as if to say, here is something entirely unlike you, outside of time (since light is faster than time), infinite in its power and thrust: here is something you cannot understand. Throughout the remainder of the Bible, God calls Himself light.

- Donald Miller in Through Painted Deserts

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

All This Talk of "Sin"

I guess all this talk of sin, when I read back over it, sounds a little harsh in light of the topic I started talking about: refreshing our relationship with God or recapturing our spiritual passion. You - like me - may have sat through year after year of harsh sermons, demanding people repent from their "hidden sin" (whatever that is), as if the preacher knows exactly goes on in the minds and bedrooms of all his parishioners, as if his church is so full of sinners, there's no one who can hold their head up high.

I feel like I've started to sound like this is the series I'm posting. The difficulty is (& of course I'm interested in your thoughts): how do we talk about our lack of ability to do what's right or even what's healthy without using it, especially when we want to maintain a biblical worldview?

Saturday, June 9, 2007

After Bathsheba 2.2: David Accepts Responsibility

If you have been reading 2 Samuel 12 along with this thread of posts, you may have choked a little on verse 13.

It seems David’s simple “sorry” is a little too effortless to earn the instant pardon it gains. On the face of it, it’s a lame response. It’s not until we read Psalm 51 that we understand the depth of David’s actual grief over the situation.

His was a deep regret, a dam bursting inside him as his remorse spilled out on to the page. He neither could nor would make excuses. He would no longer cover up this sin because essentially David’s values were based on righteousness. He had wandered from those values but he was now coming back to what he was at his core: a man who wanted God and wanted a life that made God happy.

Ed Cole once said, “Maturity begins with the acceptance of responsibility”.

In our society, we have a legal and political system built on the avoidance of responsibility. The employer is negligent but fights the worker’s claim for compensation for work-related injuries. The woman sues the shopping centre when the real reason she tripped over a display stand was because she wasn’t watching where she was going. The politician blames the people in government before her or someone on her staff. The school parents blame the school for not teaching their children self-discipline. The child abuser blames his parents for his sin when he could have sought help to stop him from committing it.

When King David accepted the full responsibility for the situation he had created, he showed us what he was made of. Like a 21st Century man, he could have blamed Bathsheba: “What right did she have to be taking a bath up there at that time of day when anyone could see her?!” He could have blamed his humanity: "What d'you expect? I'm only hunan!" He could have blamed God: “If only God had made me stronger in this area! And if you had warned me, Lord, this wouldn’t have happened! Where was Nathan the Prophet on that day, huh?!”

Instead he admitted, “I have sinned.”

Again in Psalm 51, we see the depth of his heartfelt repentance. He pleads for God’s help even as he determines to make the necessary changes to his lifestyle.

My life has been empty without that sense of being on the right footing with God. Now. Am I prepared to admit my fault? Can I swallow my pride, avoid shifting the blame on to others, refuse to make excuses and admit that the drift from God started with my own decisions and behaviours? It's probably not going to require that I "repent in sackcloth and ashes" :) (And what the heck IS sackcloth anyhow?); it's probably just a matter of saying "Yeah, I messed up. Mea culpa. I take responsibility".

If I can, I'm heading in the right direction.

Once David admits that the situation is a result of his choices and that he is prepared to change, he is ready to move onto the next step...

Your Turn:
  1. Take time to reflect on your situation, allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal "sin" and the choices which lead you to this place. Think back to the behaviours and attitudes that lead you away from passion for Him.

  2. Read and "relive" the accounts of the Crucifixion of Jesus. Read Romans 6. Ask yourself: In what ways is the life I’m living not worth the death that Jesus died? Write these matters down.
  3. Ask God for forgiveness where necessary.

  4. Forgive yourself and let any guilt go. It is nailed to the Cross and God will remember it no more. The slate is clean. This is not an excuse for beating yourself up, pilgrim!

God’s Turn:

Spend time meditating on the mercy and kindness of God. Sing to Him. Find Psalms that underline His forgiveness and compassion. Remind yourself that God’s primary motivation is to bring you close to Himself, and so He does not use your past mistakes in a petty way to keep you feeling guilty and in debt to Him. Allow Him to love you again.


If this is the first time you've read one of this series of posts, please click on the label at the end of the post (Relighting the Fire) to read all entires. Unfortunately, they're in reverse order, so like many blogs, you'll have to scroll to the bottom to find the start of the the thread...

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

After Bathsheba 2.1: David Accepts Responsibility

“I have sinned against the Lord.” (2 Sam 12:13)

So we were talking about David coming to his senses after Bathshebagate (someone else's idea, not mine) - and realising (particularly in Ps 51) the profound distance from God he'd travelled. And we were personalising this whole distance-from-God-experience...
To change, we must take responsibility as David did in the quote above. To begin taking responsibility, the first thing we must recognize is the behaviour and attitudes which have done the separating, so that we can change/undo them.

Now, you might say, “Well, he may have sinned but I haven’t! I just feel far from God.”
I'm gonna make a statement here (one I'm happy to discuss rather than invoke as Absolute Truth) : there is no separation from God without sin being involved somewhere.
Some of us are highly aware of the sins that have moved us away from intimacy with God. It may be adultery (the physical adultery of an affair or the ongoing mental adultery of a pornography addiction). It may be actual manslaughter (I personally know 2 men guilty of this) or the murder of others’ reputations through gossip and backstabbing.
It may be habitual lying (which can simply be hiding the truth), or the slow death of your passion through neglecting the health of your relationship with God or compromise.
This last one – compromise - is the most insidious and doesn’t often appear to be what it is. The book of Hebrews actually calls it the sin of “neglect”: “Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard so that we do not drift away from it … how shall we escape (judgement) if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Heb 2:1, 3 NRSV)
If I neglect my garden, it gets full of weeds. If I neglect my car, it gets run down and may break down. If I neglect my wife, the relationship suffers. So why should it surprise me that if I neglect my soul (and when I neglect God himself, I do neglect the health of my spirit and soul), I will drift, will grow hardhearted and risk losing everything God has offered me
You may not have committed adultery or been caught up in a gambling addiction, so there seems no obvious sin involved in your drifting away. But did you let other things stop you from drawing aside to spend personal regular time-out with God? Did you find another book more interesting than the Bible and never came back to your regular study of the Word? Did your hunger for affluence mean that you spent more time at work and less time meeting the needs of others on God’s behalf? Did seeking to please God in worship become an option rather than an integral part of your week? Did your career or your degree become more important than God’s call on your life to make disciples? Did building up your public image take priority over representing Jesus to your community?
Drawing back from God to pursue other things is a form of sin (Luke 9:62; Heb 10:36-39; 1 John 1:15-16). Believe me, I don't like thought any more than you do, but there it is in scripture.
A dear older sister in the Lord who has lead many to Christ over the decades, once told me that whenever she is leading someone through a sinner’s prayer, she makes them stop and remember their sins. Once they have paused and contemplated their actions and they are truly convicted of their seriousness, only then are they ready to move on to repenting of them. It’s a practise we could learn from personally.
As a first step back toward God, King David freely admits his sin. I'll pick this up in the next post. And wrap this first of David's steps back to God - taking responsibility for his behaviour. As always I'm interested in your thoughts...

If this is the first time you've read one of this series of posts, please click on the label at the end of the post (Relighting the Fire) to read all entires. Unfortunaely, they're in reverse order, so like many blogs, you'll have to scroll to the bottom to find the start of the the thread...

Saturday, June 2, 2007

After Bathsheba 1.1: David's Returning to Intimacy with God

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit with me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit.” (Ps 51:10-12)

The story of David and Bathsheba found in 2 Samuel 11 and 12 is a familiar one to most of us. Even so, to get the most out of this, you might want to pause and read it again now. Over the centuries, so many valuable lessons and principles have been drawn from this tale, making it a favourite choice for preachers and teachers, playwrights and poets.

One of the reasons it seems such a popular choice is that it makes David a kind of “everyman” – filled with noble potential, yet handicapped by the flaws of a base nature. The story makes him a more accessible personality to us than does, say, the story of his slaying Goliath with a pebble. I find it difficult to identify with a hero. However, I can easily relate to a man who shoves aside his morality for a moment in order to act out a selfish impulse – and who then finds himself paying dearly for it for years to come.

Through his failure, David came to experience what many of us are experiencing today: a loss of spiritual cohesiveness, a loss of purpose and direction as a servant of Yahweh, a loss of intimacy with God. This king’s slide began with that deadly forerunner to most periods of moral decline and increasing hard-heartedness – compromise.

With that second look across the rooftop at the bathing beauty, he entered the darkest time of his spiritual life – darker than the dry years hiding from Saul, darker than the decades spent awaiting God’s promise of coronation. We can discover this is true by comparing Psalm 51 (coming at the end of the Bathsheba episode) with his writings from those earlier periods such as Psalms 34 and 54. The despair and agony David felt as a result of his slide down the slippery slope of sin far outweigh the suffering of persecution for being loyal to God’s directives. For the simple reason that he was now separated from the very Person to whom he had been able to turn during those other seasons.

In Psalm 51, David is brought face to face with the reality of his situation. For him the fire he felt in his youth has gone out. He is no longer passionate about the Lord. Instead he feels distant from Him and is fearful that this will continue indefinitely, perhaps forever. If you are reading this post, you may feel the same way though you haven't done all the naughty things that David did. You may not have committed murder and adultery, yet the place in which you find yourself may be just as spiritually cold and dry and empty as it was for him.

We can see that the foremost thing in David’s mind was his relationship with God. How so we know that? Look at Ps 51:4,

“Against You and You only have I sinned…”

Now this is where I stop and say "Pardon, David? say what?? What about Uriah? What about Bathsheba? What about the nation that looked up to you? What about the sons whose picture of manhood and kingly conduct is now soiled because of your example? How can you say you have sinned against God alone?"

If David could answer me I’m sure his reply would reflect a single principle that operated in his life: the health of every other aspect of living flows from one’s relationship to God and with God. Perhaps we can only truly obey Jesus’ “second greatest commandment” (love your neighbour) if we obey the first (love the Lord your God)?

Therefore (in his recovery from his "fall"), this man was solely concerned with the person God. He was primarily aware of the offence he had now become to his Lord, the separation he had created between them, the way he had relegated the most important Person in his world to an historical position while he indulged in a fleeting moment of self-pleasure.

How did David regain that intimacy with God as well as his passion for God’s cause? Several years ago, I felt like I discovered four steps in the story, not a formula, but a pattern. Although I may describe them differently here, a study of 2 Samuel 12 essentially reveals four principles that fall into the categories of repentance, restitution, motivation and rightful position. As we read our way through each of the steps he took, it will require you to be open minded and honest with God before you can personally move through any of them yourself. At the end of some of my posts, the teacher and coach in me will assert itself, and there'll be some exercises for you to do to explore these principles in your own life. I would strongly encourage you to take each of these seriously, spending as long as you need in completing them, before moving on to the next chapters. If it takes weeks, so be it! I don’t believe the process was instantaneous for David either.

So, journals out...

Your Turn:

  1. Where do you feel like God has been relegated to an "historical position" in your life?

  2. On an increasing scale of 1-10, how high is your commitment to being open-minded and honest before God? (If your score is lower than 10, what would it take to bring it up to 10?)

  3. How much effort are you prepared to make at this stage?

  4. If you were to write your own request to God (as David did in Ps51:10-12), what would it be?

God’s Turn:

Present your request for help to God.


If this is the first time you've read one of this series of posts, please click on the label at the end of the post (Relighting the Fire) to read all entires...