Saturday, March 16, 2013

Empty Pews and Empty Faces

Empty pews and empty faces
Fastened blankly on the floor.
Do they sit and seek a savior,
Or are they edging toward the door?

Hands held clasped closely together,
For the penitent portrayal
But the 'twined fingers are twisted
A benediction of betrayal.

Do not stand and sign surrender,
And sing false songs of sanctity,
When your heartbeat holds no honor
And mocks your Maker's divinity.

Don't you know the Devil's purpose
In the distractions that demand
Every ounce of your attention
And the dereliction of your hands?

Can't you hear now, heaven's heartbeat?
Don't you feel the Father's call?
Or is numbness all you know now
Leaning limply toward your fall?

These well-stocked pews and worn out spaces...
Is the spirit willing, but flesh too weak?
Remember the gift of your Redemption
Seize the moment, dare to speak.

Friends, this world has wounds of trouble;
As Tribulation's time draws near.
The loveless languish out there, lonely,
Fraught with agony and fear.

Now, if  you find your pew is empty
And your face turned toward the door,
Quickly claim your Lord's compassion
And remember when you, too, were once quite poor.

So now kneel, my friends, in wonder
Though your shameful past is plain,
Empty faces, seek a Savior!
Fill your hearts with love again.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Not the Least of These

Well, I've been thinking about King David lately.  And, you know, he gets a lot of publicity from the whole "giant killing" thing, and he's well known for a lot of his other "kingly" actions, but how often do we stop and think about how he got there?

Most of my life I've heard people talk about how David wasn't important at all; the fact that he was left in the field when Samuel came to visit has been cited many times. After all, OBVIOUSLY he wasn't very important if no one even thought to call him in, right?

But let's think about that: Jesse had eight sons. Seven were brought with him to see Samuel. One was left behind.

Now, was that a slight? Does it say that David was thought less of? Or does it say something else?

What was Jesse's occupation? He was a shepherd. His family made their living off the produce from the sheep. They depended on the welfare of those sheep.

When I think of that, and then think of Jesse's response to Samuel's question "Are these all the sons you have?", I have to see it differently. Jesse said, "There is still the youngest, but he is out in the fields watching the sheep and the goats."

Jesse had EIGHT sons, but the youngest was the one put in charge of the family business. David was trusted with the sheep. If my family depended on the well-being of those sheep, I would be tempted to have more people taking care of them than just one person, especially the youngest!

And I know that some suggest that David wasn't out there alone, but when David spoke of fighting the bear and the lion, he didn't talk about anyone else being there. . .

So, I'm thinking that Jesse was saying "Well, there's still the youngest, but I need him to watch the sheep." Jesse had to have trusted David, or he wouldn't have put him out there, alone, with all the family's sheep.

To support David's position as a highly regarded youth, let's look at the scene just before David takes on Goliath.  When he was standing around asking about Goliath, one of his brothers, Eliab, got angry and said "What are you doing around here anyway?” . . . “What about those few sheep you’re supposed to be taking care of? I know about your pride and deceit. You just want to see the battle!”

Hmmmm. Well, what do we know about David? Was he proud? Was he deceitful? No. Everything that we know about him suggests that he was honest and confident in God, not himself. So where does this attitude of his brother's come from?

Let's look again at the fact that while David was watching the sheep, Jesse had all of the older brothers there to see Samuel.  Why weren't they in charge of the sheep? Especially the oldest?
Then, look at how Eliab describes the sheep: "those few sheep you're supposed to be taking care of. . ."

This reads strongly of envy. Eliab is slandering David's character and then belittling his work and responsibilites. (I feel fairly certain that Jesse would have taken exception to Eliab referring to the family flock as "those few sheep.")

Another thing to consider is that in the Hebrew tradition, you weren't just given a job--especially in a family setting-- you were appointed to a task. You were sent. This implied that the one sent was granted the authority to do the task, and it meant that the one sending trusted that the one sent was well able to do what was needed.

This is very important, because it tells us about where David's mind might have been while tending the sheep.

Here he is. He has the responsibility of the entire family flock. That could be a MAJOR source of stress, but David KNOWS that his father believes that he is capable, so David doesn't stress over it. This is super important! How often do we fail/stress because we aren't sure about our place in a job or ministry? How often do we simply not act because we don't know if that's "our job." David knew.

So what did David do?

We all know that David wrote psalms and praised God, but let me show you another part of that picture.

Often, the shepherds would take their sheep out to their own pastures to feed, but at night, to help protect from predators, the shepherds would bring several flocks together and keep them in a large fenced pen. This allowed all the shepherds to work together in a controlled area to protect the flocks--Very Economical.

The problem was to separate the sheep in the mornings.  So, during the day, the shepherds would either talk to the sheep or sing to them so that they would become accostomed to the shepherd's voice. This way, when the shepherd came to the gate in the morning, he could call the sheep, they would hear his voice (probably associating that voice with feeding) and those who belonged to him would come to him, while those who did not belong to him would not.

This is what Jesus meant when He said "My sheep will know my voice."  David would come to know God's voice too.

David was out there, not stressing about his job, and required to talk or sing so that the sheep would know his voice. So what does he do? He sings of the goodness and greatness of God. . . day in--day out. All day. Every day.

Have you ever been in a worship service and just felt the presence of God there? That is God expressing His delight in you loving Him. He's showing you that He loves you back.

Imagine a mother. Her small child brings in a handful of partially crushed flowers--dandelions and other wild flowers/weeds--but it's not the quality of the gift that she responds to, it's the heart of the giver.  Our praise is not remotely qualified to give God His deserved honor, but He is SO excited that we care enough to try. So He "cuddles up" and shows us He's there.

The more we worship (truly worship--focus on Him, His greatness, gratitude for His grace, kindness, etc.) the more we experience this--the more we recognise His "voice."

David worshipped ALL THE TIME. He felt that presence constantly. He was constantly aware that God was close.

When he fought the bear and the lion, he didn't have to stop and ask God to come be with him; David knew that God was already there. David could "hear God's voice!"

This is how you begin (and improve) hearing God. Spend time honoring Him in your thoughts and prayers and songs. He is drawn to that. And soon you'll begin to recognize Him even weh you don't feel the "warm fuzzies" that we often associate with the presence of God.

I've said all this to say, David wasn't the least of his brothers; he was the greatest. God said this. And he wasn't the greatest because of any great skill or good appearance; he was great because he was close to God. David was a "man after (following, persuing, hunting, tracking, desiring. . . ) God's own heart.

What are you after?

Do you think of yourself as "the least of these?" Maybe you just read it wrong.