A Cause Worth Its Cost

A Cause Worth Its Cost

2 Samuel 5:1-10

Dr. Jim Denison

Red Rountree is a 91-year-old man who walks with a cane, is hard of hearing, and pled guilty recently to stealing nearly $2,000 from a bank. According to the Associated Press, this is his third such robbery in less than five years. He held up a bank in Abilene, but a bank employee got his license plate number as he left the parking lot, and authorities arrested him 20 miles outside the city. He first robbed at bank a week before his 87th birthday, and was arrested within minutes. Less than a year later he robbed another bank, and was sentenced to three years in prison. Now he faces another 20 years in jail. If he does get out, he needs another line of work—he’s not very good at this one.

George Bernard Shaw wrote, “This is the true joy in life…being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one…being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.…I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die. For the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It’s a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got to hold up for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”

This weekend our nation remembers the 1.1 million men and women who have died in the service of America and freedom. How do we honor their sacrifice and further their cause? How do we hold up the torch they have handed to us? Is your life dominated by a mighty purpose, by a cause worth its cost and more?

David the warrior king

When we last left David, he was a fugitive from King Saul and Israel. After hiding in the wilderness and among the Philistines, he gathered 400 other fugitives into a guerrilla army stationed in a remote part of Judea. His brothers and family joined him there, as his band of warriors protected wealthy farmers in the area in return for their financial support. They were mercenaries, a security force of sorts.

Saul continued to hunt David. Twice the shepherd could have killed the king, but both times he refused to strike God’s anointed. After Philistine warriors killed Saul, the nation of Israel was thrown into chaos. The Philistines would grow stronger, and soon destroy the entire nation. If the Kennedy assassination had occurred during the Cuban Missile Crisis, we’d have been in somewhat the same situation.

So the tribe of Judah made David, the shepherd-guerrilla leader, their king. One of Saul’s sons claimed the throne in the north, but reigned only two years before two of his officers assassinated him. Then the entire nation made David its ruler (2 Samuel 5:1-3).

The Philistines immediately attacked this united kingdom. And David’s well-trained troops just as quickly struck back, defeating their enemies (2 Samuel 5:17-20). David then initiated assaults against the Philistines, something no Jewish army had ever attempted (2 Samuel 8:1f; 1 Chronicles 18:1). As a result, he was able to secure the first peace the nation had ever known in Canaan.

Seven years after he began to rule the country, David led his armies on the conquest of Jerusalem. This fortified city was one of the most formidable in the ancient world. Its high walls stood atop Mt. Zion, and had repelled the invasions of countless other armies.

But David and his men were successful where others had failed (2 Samuel 5:6-9; 1 Chronicles 11:4-8). Apparently David knew of a secret water tunnel, a shaft which led behind the walls. Joab and others climbed through this shaft and captured the city. It is called the City of David to this day.

Here David reestablished the worship of Yahweh by bringing the long-neglected ark and installing it in a shrine in Jerusalem. Here his son would build the Temple in the next generation.

From this base David then consolidated his entire kingdom. He subdued the hated Philistines, then conquered Moab, Edom, and Ammon to the south and east (2 Samuel 8:2, 13f; 10:1f) and Syria to the north (8:3-12).

At Saul’s death, the kingdom of Israel was a weak vassal of the Philistines and other surrounding enemies, with no certain future of its own. Its army was in disarray, its leadership in chaos, its borders controlled by its enemies. At David’s death, the kingdom had reached its highest military power and stature, and become a secure nation through whom one day the Son of David would come to save us all. He had found a cause worth its cost and more.

Lessons from a warrior king

On this Memorial Day weekend, what do we need to learn from David the mighty and victorious warrior king?

My father fought in the Second World War, and his father in the First World War. Both fought for freedom, for America, for our survival and way of life. Today, some 138,000 men and women are deployed in Iraq, and multiplied thousands more in other troubled places around the globe. More than 800 soldiers have died in this war against terror, and others will likely pay the greatest price in the coming weeks and months as this conflict continues.

They are fighting for the same causes: to preserve and promote the freedoms we exercise by meeting for worship this morning. To protect us. In this war against terror, the president explains that our soldiers fight in Iraq so we won’t have to fight in America. They fight in the streets of Baghdad so we won’t have to fight in the streets of Dallas.


Commencing Well

Commencing Well

1 Samuel 20:35-42

Dr. Jim Denison

Thursday evening we each had a second once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: the final episode of Friends aired, again. And in case you missed it, it will air again the following Thursday night. And probably each Thursday night for the next decade.

More than 51 million people watched the episode the first time, myself not among them. But I understand Ross and Rachel got back together, again. Apparently someone cares—ads for the show sold for $2 million per 30 seconds.

Now there’s more good news: a DVD of the entire last season will be available soon. For slightly less than $2 million.

Today our church joins thousands of others across the nation in honoring our graduates. Since the Middle Ages, we’ve been graduating students through an exercise called “commencement.” I’ve been given five diplomas, and don’t remember a single commencement speech, including the ones I’ve given myself. I know that the best ones are always the shortest. And that the speaker usually comments on the fact that “commencement” comes from “commence,” meaning “to begin.” Not the ending of high school, or college, or whatever—but the beginning of what comes next.

So, what comes next?

In our series on relationships from the life of David, today I’d like to contrast television’s Friends with David’s best friend. Here’s the point: more than ever before in American cultural history, our graduates (and the rest of us) have two competing visions from which to choose. Two radically different views of the world. Where you get in determines where you come out. Commence wisely.

“Friends” and family

Let’s first look at the world of Friends, one of the highest-rated shows on television for ten years. Here is its message, as fairly and succinctly as I can describe it. Sexual activity is how we express our affection for each other. Marriage is optional, unnecessary to leading fulfilled lives. I read that Ross and Rachel, for instance, fell in love, got married, got divorced, had a baby, then got back together again. A second marriage remains to be seen. And given their issues with their parents, the “friends” taught us that friends are our real family.

A second top-rated comedy left the air the week after Friends. On Frasier we learned that relational decisions should be based on whatever makes you happy. Your own fulfillment is the key to “good mental health.” Frasier’s brother Niles taught us that marriage can get in the way of love. And so even though he was married to Maris, his unseen wife, we were pulling for him to get with Daphne, his father’s therapist. And millions of viewers rejoiced when he finally did.

Of course, Frasier got his start on the earlier television comedy, Cheers. Here we learned to laugh at Norm’s unseen wife, knowing that his real family is at the bar with him. Sam defined success by his previous life as a Red Sox pitcher, and now by his sexual exploits. And life was always good at a bar “where everybody knows your name.”

Going back still farther, John Ritter’s recent death caused many of us to remember his most famous television show, Three’s Company. Ritter’s character pretends to be gay so he can room with two female friends. The three must fool their intolerant buffoon of a landlord who wouldn’t let them live together otherwise. And Jack’s “lifestyle” is of course his own business—the show made that clear.

By contrast, a week ago we were treated to a reunion of The Dick Van Dyke Show. I’m old enough to remember the program—everyone was married, and no one slept with anyone who was not their spouse. How quaint.

Learning about life

So, what would Hollywood have us know as we commence on the next chapter of our lives?

Our friends are our family. So long as we have them, we have all we really need for life.

All moral standards are relative. So long as our actions are not illegal or harmful to others, they are legitimate.

All beliefs are equal in value. Our faith system is no more right than anyone else’s—it’s just our personal preference.

At its root, absolute truth does not exist. This is an absolute fact.

A new religious synthesis is emerging in this culture. Simply stated: God is whatever we see him/her/it to be. There is no uniquely true revelation, whether Scripture or any other source. We all share in the divine, so that enlightenment is possible within our own abilities and experiences. Because we share in the divine, no forgiveness for “sin” is needed (only 2 percent of Americans are afraid they might go to hell).

This new religious synthesis has been emerging for years. James Herrick’s new book, The Making of the New Spirituality, makes this transformation clear.

He quotes eminent psychologist Carl Jung: “We are only at the threshold of a new spiritual epoch.”

And author Wayne Teasdale: “We are at the dawn of a new consciousness, a radically fresh approach to our life as the human family in a fragile world … Perhaps the best name for this new segment of historical experience is the Interspiritual Age.”

And Harvard graduate and former Green Beret Gary Zukav, who speaks of “the evolution of our souls.” Zukav writes that science now suggests a new understanding of God, not as the personal Deity of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but as “conscious light” and “Divine Intelligence” that animate the universe. His books have sold more than five million copies.

Here’s Dr. Herrick’s evidence for this new religious synthesis:

12 million Americans are considered active participants in alternative spiritual systems, and another 30 million are actively interested.

1,000 to 2,000 new religious movements arose in the United States in the 20th century, almost all standing outside the Judeo-Christian tradition.

The Dalai Lama’s Ethics for the New Millennium sold more copies than business books by Bill Gates and Stephen Covey. In 1960, some 200,000 Buddhists lived in America; now the number exceeds 10 million.


How To Pray For America

How to Pray for America

Matthew 9:35-38

Dr. Jim Denison

It was 1945. Spencer January, a lifetime resident of Dallas, Texas, was a soldier in the U. S. Army’s 35th Infantry Division, 137th Infantry, Company I. They were pushing through the Rhineland region of West Germany toward the Elbe River to meet the Russian troops.

On March 9 the American troops were ordered to move into Ossenburg, Germany, where a factory that had once manufactured soap was now producing gun powder and other war products. As Spencer and the rest of Company I were cautiously making their way through a wooded area, word came that the company ahead of them had been hit hard and they were to replace it.

When his company arrived at the scene, Spencer was appalled at what met his eyes. Only a handful of badly wounded soldiers, hiding behind a stone house at the edge of the woods, had survived. Straight ahead a 200-yard stretch of open field, bordered on the far side by thick woods, was covered with the bodies of dead American soldiers.

Three nests of German machine guns had mounted the fierce assault. To try to cross that flat, open field meant suicide, yet there was no other road into the town. As the order was given to advance, Spencer prayed desperately, “God, you’ve got to do something.” Thinking of his wife and tiny son back home, he pleaded, “Please, do something.”

Their advance began. Just as the soldier at the front took his first step, something to the left caught their eye. A cloud, a fluffy white cloud, appeared out of nowhere and settled on the ground, completely obscuring the Germans’ line of fire.

Taking advantage of this miraculous turn of events, Spencer and his fellow soldiers bolted into the clearing and ran for their lives. Safe in the sheltering woods on the other side, his heart pounding in his ears, Spencer hid behind a tree and watched as the last American soldier raced to safety. He will never forget what happened next: the instant the last soldier scrambled to safety, the cloud vanished!

The Germans, thinking they still had the American soldiers pinned down behind that stone house, radioed its position to their artillery. Within minutes the house was blown to bits.

But that’s not the end of the story. Two weeks later a letter arrived from Spencer’s mother back in the States. “Son, what in the world was the matter on such and such a day,” she asked, pinpointing the very day and time that Spencer and Company I had faced such grave danger.

“You remember Sister Tankersley from our church? Well, she called me that morning and told me that the Lord had awakened her at 1:00 in the morning and said, ‘Spencer is in serious trouble. Get up now and pray for him.’ Sister Tankersley said she prayed for you until 6:00, when she had to go to work. She told me that the last thing she prayed before getting off her knees was, ‘God, whatever danger Spencer is in, just cover him with your cloud.’”

Andrew Murray said, “Most churches don’t know that God rules the world by the prayers of his saints.” John Wesley was even more specific: “God does nothing but in answer to prayer.” And E. M. Bounds claimed, “The church upon its knees would bring heaven upon the earth.”

The best way to know Christ is in prayer. We know any person best by spending time with him or her, talking together, listening to each other, being with each other. So it is with Jesus. The more time we spend together in prayer, the more we grow to know him and be like him.

This focus is especially urgent for this patriotic day, because the greatest gift you and I can give our nation is to pray for her. To pray for her leaders, her people, her spiritual life and God’s divine blessing.

So today we’ll look at the life of prayer, and focus that life on our nation and her needs this day.

See something

Our text finds us in the midst of the Galilean ministry of Jesus. Matthew tells us that he went “everywhere,” to all the villages in this northern part of the Holy Land. Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian, records the fact that there were no less than 204 such villages in the time of Jesus. Jesus goes to them all, teaching, preaching, healing. Touching their lives. And when he does, he sees something.

He sees that they’re “fainting”—the Greek word originally meant to be flayed or skinned. Here it means that they are distressed, hassled, worried. They’re “scattered”—cast down, wounded, lying around. Abandoned by their shepherds.

And seeing their enormous pain, their terrible need, he is moved with “compassion”—this is the strongest word in the Greek language meaning pity and tenderness to the depth of one’s being. They’re hurting, abandoned, lost, and he feels their pain and suffering. He sees their need.

And so he calls his disciples to pray.

The life of prayer begins with the need for prayer. If we don’t think we need to pray, we won’t.

Do you need God’s help with your marriage? Your kids? Your parents?

Do you need his guidance for your future? Your job? Your money?

Does our church need God’s power for our future? Our ministry? Our people? Or, are we self-sufficient enough that prayer is an activity we practice, not a relationship we need?

Does America need us to pray? Beneath the surface of our prosperity and blessing, is there a deep chasm of need and pain? In a country where half our marriages end in divorce, where suicides are higher than ever in our history, where teenage pregnancy is at an all-time high, were drug and alcohol abuse now starts in our elementary schools? Do we need to pray for our country?

Pray something

Jesus sees their crushing need, and so he says, “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field” (v. 38). “Ask.” In the King James, “Pray ye therefore.”


Measuring Success As God Does

Measuring Success As God Does

2 Samuel 12:24-25

Dr. Jim Denison

The Pythagorean theorem in mathematics can be stated in 24 words. The Model Prayer takes 66 words to recite in English. Archimedes’ Principle requires 67 words. The Ten Commandments (in the King James Version) comprise 179 words. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was composed of 286 words. The Declaration of Independence was written in 1,300 words. And United States government regulations on the sale of cabbage require 26,911 words.

But if you had to pick one word as your favorite, the one word which creates in most of us the strongest emotional reaction, the greatest immediate warmth and gratitude, you would likely pick “mother.”

It has been so for a long time. Mother’s Day was first celebrated in ancient Greece. In the 17th century, England began “Mothering Day.” Mothers who worked as servants lived in the homes of their employers, but were allowed to go home to their families on this one day. Most mothers would still say they work as servants in the homes of their employers. Not much has changed. But the rest of us are grateful.

In our David series we have watched his greatest victory and greatest failure. Today we’ll consider his greatest legacy. Here’s the one simple point of the message: God measures our success as parents by our faithfulness to him. Not by our society’s definitions of our children’s achievements. By our faithfulness to our Father.

Here’s why: our children typically become what we are. For some of us, that’s not necessarily good news. But God can redeem anyone and any family who will measure success by faithfulness to him. We’ll prove it today.

The story of Bathsheba

No one names their daughter Bathsheba. Last week we revisited the sin with which her name is most frequently associated. Today let’s take a moment to remember the rest of her story.

After her first child with David died, the Lord gave her a second son they named Solomon. But the Lord gave their baby a second name, “Jedidiah,” meaning “loved by the Lord.”

And indeed he was. Through his life and work, Israel reached its zenith of significance and wealth. Through the family line he continued, the Messiah would one day come for all of humanity.

After bearing Solomon, Bathsheba would later save him. His older brother Adonijah tried to claim the throne. If successful, he would have killed Solomon and any other threat to the crown. But Bathsheba alerted the dying king David, and he guaranteed Solomon’s ascension (1Kings 1).

According to Jewish tradition, Solomon later wrote the beautiful Proverbs 31 in honor of his mother. This text, so often read from Mother’s Day pulpits across the land, closes with words which are ironic, given Bathsheba’s earlier story: “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate” (vs. 30-31). Despite the way her story began, her son knew her to be “a woman who fears the Lord.”

No matter how our story reads today, this is how it can end. And should.

Others in the family line

Now, let’s continue the story of mothers in the family of David. Matthew’s genealogy gives us four others, each worth remembering on this Mother’s Day.

Here is the first in his list: “Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar” (Matthew 1:3). Her first husband was put to death by God for wickedness, as was his brother, her second husband. When the third son grew to marriageable age, Judah was afraid for his boy’s life and refused to give him to Tamar. So she pretended to be a prostitute and slept with her father-in-law. The result was twin boys, Perez and Zerah, children of incest. But she’s in the story.

Second comes “Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab” (v. 5a). Rahab was the town innkeeper and prostitute in Jericho. You already know her story.

Third is “Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth” (v. 5b). While her courtship with Boaz is a story of romance and beauty, her heritage was anything but.

Ruth was from the Moabite race, located east of the Dead Sea. Moab was the son of Lot (Genesis 19:36-37). Lot’s daughters got him drunk, and became pregnant by him. Moab’s name sounds like the Hebrew for “from father,” a perpetual reminder of the incestuous beginnings of this nation.

Later the Moabites led the Jews into sexual and spiritual immorality, so that 24,000 of Israel died in the wrath of God.

The Jewish people never forgot what Moab had done to them: “No Ammonite or Moabite or any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, even down to the tenth generation” (Deuteronomy 23:3). Further, the Jews were to remain perpetually at war with them: “Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them as long as you live” (v. 6).

And so we find in David’s family line a woman whose history should have barred her forever from such inclusion. Imagine a German descendent of Hitler as the mother of the Jewish prime minister, and you’d have a situation no less shocking than this. A woman forbidden by her race and history from ever entering into the worship of God, now an ancestor to the very One we worship.

Last we read, “Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ” (Matthew 1:16).

She is today the most famous mother in all of history, but things certainly did not begin that way. Mary was a young teenager, a seventh-grader if she were alive today, when Gabriel called her to be the mother of the Messiah. The Jews had taught their girls to pray every night that they might be chosen for this honor. But they all expected the mother of the Messiah to be chosen from the royal family in Jerusalem, or the powerful among the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Sanhedrin. No one would have expected a peasant teenager living in the country hills of Galilee.


The Sin Of The Second Look

The Sin of the Second Look

2 Samuel 11:1-5

Dr. Jim Denison

There’s an old fable about a frog preparing to swim across a river. A venomous snake slithered up to him and asked for a ride across the swollen stream. The frog said, “If I pick you up, you will bite me and I will die.” The snake promised he would do no such thing, that all he wanted was a way across the river.

Against his better judgment, the frog picked up the snake, placed him on his back, and began to swim across the river. Just s they reached the opposite shore, the snake bit the frog on his neck. The frog gasped, “Why did you bite me?” The snake replied, “You knew what I was when you picked me up.”

Last week we watched David’s greatest triumph. This week, we’ll explore his greatest failure. As we consider our relationships in biblical perspective, let’s remember the story of David and Bathsheba. And learn how not to make it our own.

Remember the tragedy

The tragedy begins “in the spring, at the time when kings go off to war” (v. 1a).

David has been established in Jerusalem about 10 years, and has been King of Israel about 17 years. He is probably in his late 30’s.

The “spring” is after the grain harvest in April and May, about this time of year. Ancient armies did not typically go to war during the winter months, due to the cold and rainy conditions; or during the harvest, lest the crops be ruined and the people starve.

So “David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army” (v. 1b). Leading his troops into battle was the primary responsibility of ancient Near Eastern rulers. If David had gone with his armies he would not have been home to sin with Bathsheba. But he would have come home some day. We must learn to defeat the enemies of the soul, for we cannot avoid the battle forever.

From the roof of his palace “he saw a woman bathing” (v. 2).

This should have been as far as it went, his first red light. Luther often said, “We cannot keep the birds from flying over our heads, but we can keep them from nesting in our hair.” We cannot prevent the first look, but we can prevent the second look. David did not.

To the contrary, he acted on his lust: “David sent someone to find out about her” (v. 3). He learned that she was the daughter of Eliam, one of the thirty members of his own royal bodyguard (2 Samuel 23:34), son of his personal counselor Ahithopel. She was the daughter of a close and trusted friend. This should have been his second red light.

And he learned that she was married to Uriah the Hittite. This should have been his third red light. She was married, as was he. And to a member of his personal bodyguard like his father-in-law (2 Samuel 23:39), one of his most loyal and faithful soldiers. What he contemplated would hurt his wife, her husband, her father, and their families.

But instead he sent for her, “she came to him, and he slept with her” (v. 4).

Perhaps she had no choice; but given the freedom David granted the citizens of his kingdom, most interpreters believe Bathsheba to have been a willing participant in this sin. Perhaps she was flattered to have been noticed by the king. Perhaps her bathing out in the open tells us something about her own moral condition. Or perhaps not.

Whatever her motives, the law was clear: “If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel” (Deuteronomy 22.22). And they both knew it.

After their affair, “the woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, ‘I am pregnant'” (v. 5). The law of unintended consequences came to life. The old adage is true once again: sin will always take you further than you wanted to go, keep you longer than you wanted to stay, and cost you more than you wanted to pay. Always.

Now one sin leads to others, as is inevitable.

David recalls her husband Uriah from the war and sends him home, assuming he will sleep with her wife and believe the child to be his. But Uriah, unlike his king, has too much honor and character to sleep at home while the armies are on the battlefield.

So David arranges for Uriah’s death in battle. He takes Bathsheba, now a widow, into his palace. To the unsuspecting world he is doing a great kindness, helping a bereaved and helpless woman. When her pregnancy becomes known, none will know that it occurred as it did.

But, “the thing David had done displeased the Lord” (v. 27). He knows our secret thoughts and sins, even if we think no one else does. The God of the universe “searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts” (1 Chronicles 28:9). He asks, “Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?” (Jeremiah 23:24).

He sent his prophet Nathan to the king. Taking his life in his hands, Nathan boldly proclaims, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7). He rebukes the monarch for his multiple sins. And the king responds, “I have sinned against the Lord” (v. 13).

What’s wrong with lust?

Let’s total the score. David coveted another man’s wife and stole her for himself, breaking the eighth and tenth commandments. He lusted after Bathsheba and committed adultery with her, breaking the seventh commandment. He then lied about his sin, breaking the ninth commandment. To cover up his sin he had Uriah killed, breaking the sixth commandment. His sin dishonored his parents, breaking the fifth commandment. He made Bathsheba an idol, breaking the second commandment, and dishonored the Lord his God, breaking the first and third commandments. The only commandment he left untouched was the fourth, requiring the Sabbath. This one act led to King David’s shattering of nine of the ten commandments. That’s the tragedy of sexual sin.