Nigel’s Blog

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Step up to the plate

By From Nigel No Comments

The last four chapters of 2 Samuel are divided into six sections that are linked together. There is a narrative (2 Samuel 21:1-14), a list (2 Samuel 21:5-22) and a song (2 Samuel 22:1-51). Then followed in the opposite order by a song (2 Samuel 23:1-7), a list (2 Samuel 23:8-39) and back to a narrative (2 Samuel 24:1-25). I am sure there is something deeply interesting and mind-blowing about that, but sorry I’m just not that clever so I want to look at one incident in 2 Samuel 21 instead.

There was war again between the Philistines and Israel, and David went down together with his servants, and they fought against the Philistines. And David grew weary. 2 Samuel 21:15.

We think David is now in his sixties. He has consistently led his people in battle, but on this occasion he nearly got himself killed. In the past he had fought well, led well, been brave and courageous, but now he is getting older and with that comes the tiredness of battle.

And Ishbi-benob, one of the descendants of the giants, whose spear weighed three hundred shekels of bronze, and who was armed with a new sword, thought to kill David. But Abishai the son of Zeruiah came to his aid and attacked the Philistine and killed him. Then David’s men swore to him, “You shall no longer go out with us to battle, lest you quench the lamp of Israel.” 2 Samuel 21:16-17

Abishai had to come to David’s rescue and to save him. David no longer had the stamina or strength to fight these long hand to hand battles anymore. It was a good job that alongside him he had a younger man Abishai. Then we read this incredible statement, ‘Then David’s men swore to him, “You shall no longer go out with us to battle, lest you quench the lamp of Israel.”’

David was a man after God’s own heart. He had fought giants and Philistines. He had brought Israel together, overcome threats to his throne and much much more. His experience is invaluable and he means so much to the people that they cannot lose him, in fact they honour him by calling him ‘the lamp of Israel,’ Israel’s light.

Now to something deeply personal. I am not David.  I will never match up to David but I am also very weary in battle.  I have not lost my passion for Jesus, I have not lost my passion for the church but I am older and have become weary. This worries me. It worries me because I don’t have the physical strength I used to have, but it also worries me because sometimes in my worst of moments I cry out for young men of the stature of Abishai who will come to my aid and fight for me. I am not saying that I am going to stop serving the Lord but I am saying that like David, as you get older, you get weary in the physical side of leading and look for, and long for, young men to take up the physical mantle.

Where I am not sure is this, do the young men want to enter the battle, and do the young men think I can still be a lamp in my situation? It’s time young men to be an Abishai.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go Joshua 1:8

his promise is for you, it is not limited to Joshua, these same words are used elsewhere in the Bible.

fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  Isaiah 41:10

More than that Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:20 that in Jesus all the promises are yes, and If I am in Christ, then that is a very personal yes!

Also in  8:2 it tells us that “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things.” You say, including this promise? Yes including this promise! You should embrace this promise and in Christ apply it to yourself. It’s time to get yourself onto the frontline of battle.

What if we ask is this optional? The answer is no it is a command. “Have I not commanded you?” The commands are fourfold. Be strong be courageous, these are the positives and then two negatives, don’t be frightened, don’t be dismayed. This is not an option. We are commanded not to fear, not to be dismayed but to be strong and courageous!

So how do these four commands relate to each other?” Be strong, be courageous, don’t be frightened, don’t be dismayed. I think to answer that question I need to go to the end of the verse and get the last piece. The basis of it all, the grounds of it all is where he says, “For the Lord, your God is with you wherever you go.”

The reason that you can be strong and be courageous and not fear and not be dismayed is that the Lord is going to be with you wherever you go. Think about what that tells you about the command to be strong.

Joshua’s puny strength is not going to be enough, God will win these battles for him and the nation. The command to be strong in the light of ‘for I am with you’ means, trust in the strength of God to meet your needs as you go into battle.

The bottom line is that this is a call to faith. Faith in the promised strength of God, and for Christians, this is a strength that was purchased for us by the blood of Jesus, though we deserved nothing but destruction. We know that all the blessings that come into our lives come because of the purchase of Jesus Christ.

Let me just ask one more thing. What’s the end game, what’s the final purpose of God commanding us to enjoy his strength? Is it so that we can be fearless? Yes! What’s the goal? Is it so we can have a ministry? No, it’s about serving and humility. There is no place in being puffed up when it is God who is the one giving you the strength, which triggered in my mind 1 Peter where it says, “Whoever serves, (let him do it) as one who serves by the strength that God supplies in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.”

The end, the goal, the outcome of this command when we live in the strength that God supplies and are free from fear and full of courage in our day, it is that God gets the glory.

So Abishai or Abishais is this your day, your time to be strong and courageous and get into the battle?

 

We can’t serve without pressure

By From Nigel One Comment

Some of the pressure we experience is the result of our own decisions and the consequences of those decisions. Some pressure is from things that are external to our lives and beyond our control. God may allow us to experience differing pressure situations to teach us dependency on him and to have faith in him. There is also Satan who quite likes to disrupt our lives. For us to think that we can float through our Christian life to heaven is quite false, our lives are best described as being in the refiner’s fire. What is God teaching you at the moment about pressure?

We are remaining in 2 Samuel chapters 19 and 20. The rebellion David is facing should never have happened. It begins with a stupid quarrel taken out of all proportion (2 Samuel 19:41-43). The Israelites criticise the Judeans, the Judeans claim to have a relationship with David. The Israelites then claim they have a special relationship with David, a better relationship. The Judeans reply harshly and there we have it a church leadership meeting! Before you know it, it’s got out all of proportion and Sheba is also stirring up a rebellion (2 Samuel 20:1-2). When there are preferences, squabbles and not thinking of the whole we end up dealing with events that should never have happened. My dad used to say to me, the biggest person is the one who can get down off his high horse.

David is also still facing the consequences of his past. Absalom had taken the concubines of David. He had slept with some and maybe others had slept with them as well. We don’t know fully, but what we do know is that they had been used and abused and because of that their shame meant they could no longer be part of David’s royal household. Most likely a more ruthless king would have just kicked them out, but not David. He honoured their shame and met their needs. He cared for them for the rest of their lives. David is kind but he is also living with the consequences of his sin.

I have known many people who have repented of their sin, have not fallen again into that sin but have had to, for the rest of their lives, live with the consequences of their sin whilst also demonstrating kindness. Let’s not judge them.

David faces a repetition of his past and his past surfaces again. Isn’t that so true? As we saw before, in the previous blog, he sends a man called Amasa to put down the rebellion, but Amasa takes his time (2 Samuel 20:3-4). All the memories from the past surface in David and he panics.

And David said to Abishai, “Now Sheba the son of Bichri will do us more harm than Absalom” 2 Samuel 20:6

This is not true at all but when you have been through painful situations it can leave an emotional scar or an emotional weakness. Anything that reminds you of it, or them, causes you to react with fear “oh no not again.” It’s then that we have to learn to trust God and people again and to not lean on our own understanding.

David has to lead with a person he has never learned how to handle. I think there are many Pastors that will give a nod to this one. Again and again Joab thinks he knows better than David. In this case he has simply ignored David and there was not much David could do about it. Joab had a certain amount of influence and power and would not tolerate being replaced by Amasa and consequently murders him (2 Samuel 20:7-10). Can you serve your Pastor without conditions, or wanting to lead the church from the back row?

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Hebrews 13:17

David is under pressure again. He knows that God has delivered him from bigger situations in the past and yet negative emotions are surfacing and affecting him deeply. What he doesn’t know yet is that Sheba’s rebellion will be put down without a battle. The battle for his mind is intense as he has to learn to trust God again. Sometimes we want God to deliver us from the pressure, we ask him to take it away. But God wants to give us peace in the pressure, to give us intimacy with him in the pressure. We need to learn to give over our anxiety and fears.

casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

They are His to carry and not ours and He is better able to carry them than us. It’s in this pressure and in this cauldron that we all call life that we work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Learn to pray and trust. The product being that we become more Christ-like and certainly more able to be a soldier for Christ.

 

Can you and I be told we are wrong?

By From Nigel One Comment

It’s 2 Samuel chapters 19 and 20. David is about to return to Jerusalem to resume his reign over the nation of Israel. In order to win the favour of the people David removes Joab as commander of his armed forces, replacing him with Amasa. It looks as though Joab is finished and yet in just a few verses it is Amasa who is finished, killed by Joab. Once again Joab is named as the commander of Israel’s armed forces. Who could have imagined such a thing?

It doesn’t stop here however. David had been forced to flee Jerusalem due to the revolt instigated by Absalom. Whilst David never abdicated his throne, Absalom acted as king for a few days until he was defeated in battle and his life was taken by Joab. David is invited to return to Jerusalem to resume his rule over the nation of Israel but, on the way, there is strife between the men of Judah (David’s tribe) and the men from the other tribes of Israel. Somewhere between the Jordan river and Jerusalem a rebellion is instigated by a man called Sheba and the Israelites forsake David as their king and return to their homes. Through a strange twist of fate (humanly speaking), Sheba is cornered in an Israelite fortified city. Through the intervention of a wise woman of that city, Sheba is put to death, the city is delivered, and the division of Israel is reversed. To sum up these events: (1) David is king; (2) David is not king; (3) David is invited to be king again; (4) David’s kingdom is divided; (5) David’s kingdom is united.

On top of all this is an incredible display of gore and violence. This story would most certainly receive an 18 rating for its violence. Joab runs his sword through Amasa, spilling his intestines onto the path, then the army of David stops to gawk at the sight of this man wallowing in his own blood. The grand finale is the beheading of Sheba, whose head is then tossed over the wall of the city to Joab and his army outside.

This fascinating story has all the makings of a movie. But it’s something more specific that I want to draw your attention to, the confrontation between Joab and David in 2 Samuel 19:1-9

The armies of David had won a great battle but the effect of David’s grief upon his people was that he turned their victory into mourning. This shows how our emotions can change a room or a meeting, not that David’s emotions were not genuine, it’s that he imposed them on others. He created an atmosphere. Paul said this to the church in Thessalonica.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 1 Thessalonians 4:13

You see, at the church in Thessalonica, some of their loss had moved them to self-indulgence and unbelief. Here David’s loss made his people feel ashamed that they had won a great victory. It just goes to show the impact of our emotions on others and in this case a people who did not know how they should react, so the people stole back into the city.

So, it takes a brave person to go where others fear to tread and in this case it’s Joab (vs 4-7).

David’s cry is O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son (vs 5)

He could not stop singing this song. He was still locked into his excessive mourning and lack of perspective. He was mastered by his feelings, and our feelings were never meant to master us. Nobody is saying that his heartache wasn’t awful, it’s just that his emotions had locked him in to the same tune.

God is not against feelings – not at all, you only have to read the Psalms to understand that. It’s true that some Christians lack deep and profound feeling and experience in their walk with God. At the same time, some Christians live by their feelings.

David’s problem was not in what he knew, that is, Absalom’s tragic death and the role he played in it but rather David’s problem was in what he had forgotten. He had forgotten that God was still in control, that a great victory had been won, that he had many loyal people, and that God showed great grace and mercy to him. When someone is overcome in tragedy or sorrow the problem is not in what they know but in what they forget.

In walks Joab, this makes me jump a bit! The question is, do you and I have someone in our lives like Joab and someone who will be this brave?

Then Joab came into the house to the king and said, “You have today covered with shame the faces of all your servants, who have this day saved your life and the lives of your sons and your daughters and the lives of your wives and your concubines, 2 Samuel 19:5

Today you have covered with shame the faces of all your servants, who have this day saved your life. Wow! Joab gave David a stern wake-up call. “David, your excessive mourning is selfish. It isn’t all about you. These loyal, sacrificial supporters of yours deserve to feel good about their victory and you are making them feel terrible. Snap out of it.” Let’s ask ourselves a question, could we receive this?

Joab infers that it’s almost perceivable that if Absalom had lived and all of David’s men had died that day, then it would have pleased him. This is a sharp truth delivered in love with precision. Joab wanted David not only to see that he was foolish in his excessive grief but that he was also being selfish. It’s true, is it not, that sometimes our excessive emotional wallowing can be very self-indulgent.

Now therefore arise, go out and speak kindly to your servants, for I swear by the LORD, if you do not go, not a man will stay with you this night, and this will be worse for you than all the evil that has come upon you from your youth until now.” 2 Samuel 19:7

Go out and encourage the team – they deserve it. If you don’t you will lose most of them, more than that it will help you and it will help you to gain perspective. Go and do something for someone else. So David receives Joab’s rebuke. There’s another punch, can we receive a rebuke?

Then the king arose and took his seat in the gate. And the people were all told, “Behold, the king is sitting in the gate.” And all the people came before the king. Now Israel had fled every man to his own home. 2 Samuel 19:8

Then the king arose and took his seat in the gate. David didn’t feel like doing this. His feelings told him to stay locked into his excessive mourning. Yet David let his understanding of what was right be bigger than what he felt. We never again hear David crying out, “O Absalom”. Being amongst his people changed that song. Isolating himself to his own thoughts was not going to help him overcome his grief but being generous and grateful to the people God had given him was.

So all the people came before the king. This is what they needed to see, David sitting as king in the place of authority (sitting in the gate). This told them that their sacrifice was worth it, that it was appreciated and that David was with his people. Joab’s rebuke worked because Joab cared enough to say it, and David was wise enough to receive it.

The tribes debate receiving David back as king (vs 9-10). David had survived Absalom’s attempted overthrow but the kingdom was not yet restored to David. The tribes of Israel understood what David had done for them in the past but they also understood that they had rejected him as king and embraced Absalom but that Absalom was now dead.

It left the people of Israel in a dispute about bringing back the rightful king. They only seemed to want David back after the false king Absalom failed. In the same way, we often only decide to bring back King Jesus when our false kings fail.

“The folly of their allegiance to Absalom was clear, it had brought only misery and confusion. They were on the wrong side; they had rejected their true king, and therefore the situation was full of unrest.” (Redpath)

It’s not all peace and unity yet for David. So true, we can strive and pray for peace and unity and we should, but we need to remember that only perfect peace and unity will be found in heaven.

as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. Ephesians 1:10

If you want prominence, then be prepared to get your hands dirty

By From Nigel 2 Comments

The news of Absalom’s death is sent to David and the depth of David’s grief is recorded for us.

And the king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” 2 Samuel 18:33

The depth of emotion in that one verse is incredible. Zadok’s son, Ahimaaz, wants to tell David about Absalom’s death (vs19) but Joab persuades him otherwise (vs 20). Joab instructs someone else to carry the news (vs 21), but Ahimaaz insists on going (vs 22-23). He believes this is great news in that the nation is saved and he wants to be the bearer of good news and he wants to be seen to be the carrier of that good news.

In one of my previous churches we had a retired lady doctor. One morning she didn’t come to church so I drove over to her house after the meeting. I could see her collapsed on the floor through the window. I called an ambulance and she was taken into hospital. She was diagnosed as having an inoperable brain tumour. I did not know that she had previously requested that if the news was bad, she wanted me to tell her not the hospital. They rang me. I went up to the hospital feeling unqualified and out of my depth. I took her, in her wheelchair, into the grounds of the hospital and gently broke the news to her. Having told her she asked me to reach up to the branch of a tree that was in blossom above our heads, “break a piece off and give it to me” she said. She then handed the small piece of blossom to me and said “thank you”. We sat and cried together on a hospital car park. I did not sign up for this. I signed up for applause after my great exposition on a Sunday or so I thought. Sorry folks for this comment, but my most privileged moments in church leadership have not been in a pulpit but in many situations like that one.

David is eager to hear the news of his son and is struggling with the idea that it might be bad news. He puts a scenario together in his head. One runner means good news but there are two runners. Even then David is struggling to face the truth (vs 24-27).

Ahimaaz is young and enthusiastic but seems to miss the fact that the news being carried is about David’s son not some unknown person.

He wades in with huge insensitivity.

Then Ahimaaz cried out to the king, “All is well.” And he bowed before the king with his face to the earth and said, “Blessed be the LORD your God, who has delivered up the men who raised their hand against my lord the king.” 2 Samuel 18:28

It’s all words and rhetoric. It’s pious words meant to impress David but David only wants to know one thing,

And the king said, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” Ahimaaz answered, “When Joab sent the king’s servant, your servant, I saw a great commotion, but I do not know what it was.” 2 Samuel 18:29

You see Ahimaaz wanted the glory.  He liked the idea of being in close proximity to the king, but what good is a messenger who will not tell you what you want to know and is deliberately vague? “Well, I saw a great commotion”, what on earth does that mean? You wanted the job, now do the job even though it’s not nice.  David must have been exasperated. He tells Ahimaaz to wait and turns to the other guy for an honest answer.

And behold, the Cushite came, and the Cushite said, “Good news for my lord the king! For the LORD has delivered you this day from the hand of all who rose up against you.” The king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” And the Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up against you for evil be like that young man.” 2 Samuel 18:31-32

Even this reply is not straight, but David gets the picture and is devastated.

To end with another story. Not so long ago a couple in my church told us that they were expecting a baby but the child was anencephalic. They had to make a decision to either abort the baby or to be induced to give birth to the child naturally in the full knowledge that the little one would die very shortly afterwards. The mum was taken into hospital where she gave birth to a little girl but in the process of giving birth she lost a lot of blood. The medical team were struggling to bring this under control and her own life was in danger. I was asked to speak to the husband about the fact that he has lost his daughter and may yet lose his wife. My wife and I went into the hospital room to pray for the very poorly mum and praise God she pulled through. In the process of all this, the dead little baby was dressed and a little hat covered her head and she was given to me to take to her dad who was having to process all that was going on. The little one was less than the size of my hand. She was beautiful and peaceful, but the image remains in my head. So, leaders before you desire the pulpit, and the pulpit can look so glamorous, ask yourselves about the journey you are going to walk through with your sheep and if you are then still called!

 

Loss just hurts whatever the circumstances 

By From Nigel One Comment

I am 63 years old and I miss my dad and my mum and my brother and there are times, despite our ups and downs, that I have cried out, “I wish I could talk with you”. I have, all of a sudden, found grief overcoming me like a wave. I know that all you godly people will tell me I will be with them in paradise and that I will share eternity with them. Look! It hurts still, sorry for my weakness.

We recall what God said to David following his sin with Bathsheba,

Thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbour, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. 2 Samuel 12:11

David is having to face the consequences of his actions. It is agonising for David, he is organising an army against his own son. (2 Samuel 18:1-2). Can you imagine the enormity and turmoil of all this? David’s men persuade him not to go, normally he would be in the thick of the battle (vs 3-4). They are protecting him should they lose, and also protecting him from himself should all sorts of feeling and maybe misjudgements arise if it came to the death of his son. Would he react as a king or as a father? This is awful for him.

There is this incredible statement made by David.

And the king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders about Absalom. 2 Samuel 18:5

Despite the wickedness of his son, despite the murder of his brother, despite the power grabbing, despite the treatment of David’s concubines, despite the desire to kill his father, David still wanted to protect his son from harm. Truly this is a man after God’s own heart and an example to follow when folk have hurt us. If imperfect David went to extraordinary lengths to try and protect his son, we must see in him something of the extraordinary lengths God, who is perfect, will go to protect us, his children.

A battle takes place in the forest of Ephraim. It was a dense forest and the surrounding area rough and uneven not the best of places for a battle (vs 6-8). It was full of pits, cliff edges and pools. It was difficult to follow battle protocol and almost impossible to see friend or foe. Absalom is caught somehow in a tree after having been chased away from the battle. The image is awful.

And Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak, and his head caught fast in the oak, and he was suspended between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on. 2 Samuel 18:9

His plight is reported to Joab (vs 10). The messenger would not kill Absalom and so disobey the king’s orders, (vs 11-13) but Joab was a hardened general and had no such scruples. He saw Absalom as a threat to the king and the nation. So, Joab and his men go to find Absalom hanging in the tree.

Joab said, “I will not waste time like this with you.” And he took three javelins in his hand and thrust them into the heart of Absalom while he was still alive in the oak. And ten young men, Joab’s armour-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him and killed him.2 Samuel 18:14-15

The ferocity and the anger is plain to see. Joab punished Absalom. He took out his anger on him, this was pay-back time, revenge. This was not from the heart of David or God. Paul said this to the church in Galatia,

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Galatians 6:1

Absalom wanted a kingship but Joab made sure he was remembered for his wickedness, so sad.

And they took Absalom and threw him into a great pit in the forest and raised over him a very great heap of stones. And all Israel fled every one to his own home. Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and set up for himself the pillar that is in the King’s Valley, for he said, “I have no son to keep my name in remembrance.” He called the pillar after his own name, and it is called Absalom’s monument to this day.2 Samuel 18:17-18

David does not yet know about the death of his son but agony is about to greet him. It’s going to be so deeply personal and hard. David will be told his son is dead, we will look at his response next time. What must it be like to lose a son? Maybe thinking you should be the one to die first. It must be something akin to amputation, when the amputation heals, the limb is still gone.

The hurt of grief I guess can differ. There is the pain of the severing, and then the relentless pain of the premature gone-ness. The countless might-have-beens, and what was meant to have been. Those will hurt badly.

What will David do, how will he react? One might think that the only way would be for David to cry less or get over the ache quickly. That might show that his confidence was in God and the good that he does.

It might, and some people are wired emotionally to experience God that way. I have to admit I am not wired that way. At every moment of the lengthening grief, we turn to him, not away from him thereby the length of it is a way of showing him to be ever present and enduringly sufficient for everything.

David let me speak to you (this is weird). Everyone is different. Beware of blaming yourself or others, for you and others will move into or out of grief at different paces and in varying ways. It is so personal and what you may find is that the one who seemed to recover more quickly will weep the more deeply in ten years. You just don’t know now, and it is important not to judge. One day David, the Son of God will lose his own cousin John in similar circumstances and even he experienced the intensity of grief.

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. Matthew 14:13

Because of that and many other situations, including his own horrific death we are able to say together.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15

We are never alone with our grief.

 

That was a shock

By From Nigel 3 Comments

We can become so familiar with the Bible and its content that we become unmoved by what we read. We can say things to ourselves like “I know this story”, “I know what this is all about”, and reading can become a cursory thing as though it’s all too well known. Well that happened to me until I got to this verse, then bam!

When Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his donkey and went off home to his own city. He set his house in order and hanged himself, and he died and was buried in the tomb of his father. 2 Samuel 17:23

I want to come back to this, but first some background. Ahithophel is known in the land for his wisdom, often seen as God’s wisdom (2 Samuel 16:23). Now there comes a blow to his position, his pride, his worth, his use.

And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.” For the LORD had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the LORD might bring harm upon Absalom.  2 Samuel 17:14

Hushai is able to tell the two priests what has happened (vs 15) and get David to safety (vs16). The two sons of the two priests receive a message through a servant girl (vs 17) but a follower of Absalom sees the young men in a place called En-rogel just outside Jerusalem (vs 18).  The young men move away and hide in a house. When Absalom’s men arrive they can’t find anything (vs 20). Later the two men eventually get to David and David acts on their advice (vs 21-22).

Back to Ahithophel. It just goes to show us the harsh reality and importance of protecting our minds. The depth and places our minds can go to is far reaching and this is serious. The problem with our minds is that they are fallen and can take us to fallen distorted places.

It sounds simple to quote scripture but it does matter what we think about and where we spend our thought time.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  Philippians 4:8

Charles Spurgeon once said, “I am the subject of depressions of spirit so fearful that I hope none of you ever get to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to.”

Suicidal ideas like Ahithophel’s began with a loss of influence and a feeling of uselessness. His wisdom, so he thought, was gone. The wretchedness of thoughts such as “it will always be this way” and “things will never change” came into his head with such force that, despite the taboo, an option of suicide roared into his head and looked logical and the best for all.

I don’t know, maybe just maybe, he thought and questioned whether God would love him in the same way now as he had when he had influence and profile. Maybe just maybe he couldn’t cope with new thoughts such as, “God could never love me if I struggle in this way, I will always be at fault for my depression, real Christians never get depressed, it is always because of my lack of faith.” We don’t know what went through his head, but we do know the conclusion he reached was not the right one and was not an accurate perception of what God thought of him.

These thoughts remained in his head and they grew. He did not share with anyone what he was feeling. It’s time to speak, to allow people to speak. Your small group is not lost if someone shares at this level but rather it has gained.

Relentless whispering is so powerful. The Psalmist wrote.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. Psalm 22:1-2

The solitude remained. Ahithophel saddled his donkey, told no one and went to his house alone. In this place, wretchedness removes our ability to imagine any hope or happiness or delight. We can’t see a way out.

Satan does not play fair, he distorts, exaggerates, feeds and deliberately aims to destroy.

When I was young I had a walnut wood wardrobe in my bedroom. My brother pointed out the shapes of two dogs in the pattern and grain of the walnut wood and said that that they would rise up in the dark from the wardrobe and attack me. I was petrified and hated the dark.

For those in a very dark place I would like to say to you, though the door is shut tight, God still provides a  light that penetrates in through the gap underneath your door reaching towards his dear ones in the darkness. I stared and stared at this light for hours. Know this,

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. Psalm 139:11-12

Sometimes scripture is not meant to be shouted, proclaimed and thrust like a mighty spear, it is also meant to soothe, calm and encourage. So Jesus says, no, Jesus whispers in our ear “I will never leave you nor forsake you”. (Hebrews 13:5)

We must renew our mind with the truth that it is Jesus who consoles his disciples and therefore consoles us when he says “I am with you always, to the end of the age”. (Matthew 28:20).

Whether we appear before princes or just an unrecognised doorkeeper then the following is true,

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

When the darkness of depression and despair is pressing in, remember that you are a walking target of God’s relentless mercy. Our Father has a special place in his heart for those vulnerable to fierce mental battles.

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.  Psalm 34:18

Whilst our minds tell us we are worthless God screams, “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” Listen to this,

because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:78-79

The battle against unspoken thoughts is a fierce and mysterious fight. Whilst the healing from these particularly low seasons of darkness is no simplistic equation, the truth of God’s character and our identity in Christ remains simple enough in that, from the foundation of the world he has always loved us and into eternity future we will never be separated from him. These eternal extremes, won by Christ on the cross, act as our only shield against the wretched extremes that suicidal contemplations may mutter. They are no match for God’s faithful love towards you.

 

 

 

Exiled

By From Nigel One Comment

It was not unusual for people in the Bible to live in exile. For example, the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt and Judah was exiled in Babylon. If you want to be technical, Adam and Eve were forced to leave The Garden of Eden and Abraham was exiled and told to go from his home country. Some have said that the global lockdown was similar to an exile in that we were forced to do certain things. Certainly, some of our older folk shielding have felt they have been exiled. You are not alone.

David is to be exiled from his own city. This was the place in which all his hopes were centred. He has the promise from God of peace and that his own son would build the temple, but now the greatest promise he had ever received is under threat and he is he about to lose his kingship.

And a messenger came to David, saying, “The hearts of the men of Israel have gone after Absalom.” 2 Samuel 15:13

Things look bad for David, Absalom is a proven killer, a liar and a manipulator. David has to make a very hard decision.

Then David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, “Arise, and let us flee, or else there will be no escape for us from Absalom. Go quickly, lest he overtake us quickly and bring down ruin on us and strike the city with the edge of the sword.” 2 Samuel 15:14

I think it has been extremely hard for everyone with the decisions that have had to be made with regard to church life. Some have struggled, others risen to the challenge and for some their lives haven’t changed very much at all. We have a deep heritage of church life. We are used to things, there is a familiarity but now everything we have known is gone. What I will say is this, and it’s from the heart of David, it’s not over, get yourselves ready and be prepared for action. Pray about new days and what God will do ahead of us, it may be different in the future but it’s not over. Look for the encouragements and look ahead with faith.

David was confident things were not over even though it was bleak.

He finds that he has servants loyal to him (vs 15 ). He leaves 10 concubines in the palace, he believes he will be back (vs 16). He reviews his people on the edge of the city (vs 17) because he believes in them.

Let me say this church, we will be back. Let’s appreciate each other, our giftings, characters and personalities with great faith because each one of us will have a distinct and unique role as we return to retake our Jerusalems.

In verses 18-21 David offers Ittai an opportunity to go back safely to ‘King Absalom’ but Ittai is loyal to David and David is very grateful (vs 22). There were others that were very loyal to him too as you can see from the fact that folk wept to see David leaving Jerusalem (vs 23).

It’s only right that we should weep over what we have lost over these past months, but also right that we pull together in unity in building something glorious, therefore be loyal to each other.

The senior priests Zadoc and Abiathar support David. They have carried the Ark of God to David but he sends them back. The presence of God is so important to David and that’s our priority as we get back to our Jerusalem, the presence of God. Not my role or your role but the presence of God.

It was a crushing time for David, he seemed to be losing everything. His kingship, his ministry, his anointing, his reputation as a soldier but look at his response.

But David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, barefoot and with his head covered. And all the people who were with him covered their heads, and they went up, weeping as they went. 2 Samuel 15:30

And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. Nehemiah 1:3-4

I know many of you have wept for what you have lost, birthdays, holidays, meeting family and friends. Some of you have wept because you have not coped well with the anxiety caused by lockdown.

Can I make a bold plea, to pray for the Church. In fact to weep for the Church of Christ that we come out the other side of this more effective, more vibrant and glorious that we ever were before. That we might be a genuine city on a hill, a light to the world, the joy of the whole earth. Remember when praying for the Church that you long for, it is not ‘out there’ but is you and your friends.

Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples,

but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” Now I was cupbearer to the king.  Nehemiah 1:8-11

Do this for us Lord! For Gateway Wrexham Lord!

 

Why is there so much politics in church leadership?

By From Nigel One Comment

Once, whilst on a sabbatical, I was a guest at a large church’s elders and leaders meeting. Before any items were discussed a period of open discussion took place, something I certainly had not experienced before at this level. Some of the questions went like this, “what do you think about this person?” The next question, “have you just lied to the group?” The level of honesty and openness was astonishing. Their aim was that there would be no vying for position, no rivalry, no competition just a desire to want the best for each other.

In this section of 2 Samuel we have seen the child born to Bathsheba has died. Tamar has suffered at the hands of Amnon. Amnon has been murdered by Absalom. David has been deceived by Joab and has brought his son back from exile.

Absalom is proud and arrogant. David longed for Absalom but Absalom never longed for David. Absalom was very good looking and that attracted attention (2 Samuel 14:25). He seemed to want people to notice him and his hair! (vs 26). He was also the father of three sons and a very beautiful daughter which gave him acclaim (vs 27). You see it was all about drawing attention to himself, he needed to be noticed.

After two years in Jerusalem upping his profile, Absalom asks to see Joab to see if he can arrange for him to meet with the king but Joab refuses (vs 28-29). It can be hard when you try and remove profile from a person who lives on profile as you see in the next verse.

Then he said to his servants, “See, Joab’s field is next to mine, and he has barley there; go and set it on fire.” So Absalom’s servants set the field on fire. 2 Samuel 14:30

This does get the attention of Joab and Joab sorts out Absalom’s request to see David. I will get what I want by any means possible!

But soon the foolishness of David to give his son prominence will now become apparent. Absalom rebels (2 Samuel 15:1-12).

The work of God can be attacked in many ways. One way is to create ambition, rivalry, power and division in leadership. David’s people were God’s people but when these things occur that does not seem to matter, what seems to matter is getting what you want at any cost. Let’s look at how Absalom began to push for power.

Absalom began acting the part, his aim was to impress, to look better than David. His aim was to make David look the lesser.

After this Absalom got himself a chariot and horses, and fifty men to run before him. 2 Samuel 15:1

Absalom undermined David’s position (vs 2-4). He prevented the people from bringing their grievances to David by intercepting them before they reached the city gates. He would suggest that particular people from particular tribes would not get justice from David thus promoting himself. “Oh that I were the judge of the land.” I have, over the years of my pastoral ministry, found out too late on many occasions that people have used my name to influence a part of church life. “I am speaking on behalf of Nigel,” “Nigel likes it done this way” and so on but we must also remember that Absalom had no desire to help the people but rather he was after position.

Absalom pretended to love the people.

And whenever a man came near to pay homage to him, he would put out his hand and take hold of him and kiss him. 2 Samuel 15:5

People can be flattered and taken in by all sorts of actions. You cannot and must not lead by flattery. I once had a guy in leadership of a church that would stand on his chair in worship.  The people applauded his enthusiasm and passion.  It was interesting that people didn’t think of asking him to get off his chair but rather they asked me why I didn’t do it. What’s wrong with you? It was deliberate and got the reaction he wanted. Within a short while Absalom had stolen the hearts of David’s people.

Thus Absalom did to all of Israel who came to the king for judgment. So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel. 2 Samuel 15:6

Absalom stole the kingdom from David. Soon he found a reason to go to Hebron which had been David’s base before Jerusalem. From there he sent messengers around the country proclaiming that he was the better man for the job (vs 10). At the same time he invited folk from Jerusalem to be with him, they did not know what they were coming to but the aim was to make it look like he had huge support. It’s always the case when politics is in the church the innocent get dragged in. It is always the case, if you want to influence something then, get some people on your side whilst not quite telling the truth or withholding certain information, both will help! In this same way Absalom wins over Ahithophel who was David’s advisor and Bathsheba’s grandfather.

David’s betrayal is complete. You would not think it possible but it was.

We must all remember, we are servants who are entrusted with Jesus’ church. Our attitude should be one of humility not ambition.  It’s about the glory of the church and the gospel and not about me and my preferences.

I wonder how many church conflicts arise out of a fundamental misunderstanding of what church really is? Infighting, for example, makes little sense once we grasp that the church is an earthly body designed to display heavenly unity. Indeed, the purpose of the church is to showcase God’s glory to a watching world. His character is at stake then even in the smallest skirmishes. Ultimately, church conflicts are about us and not about Jesus. We ought to be exceedingly slow to fight with those whom he has forgiven and war with those whom he has welcomed.

 

Deception

By From Nigel One Comment

My deceptions were never as far reaching as the one we are about to cover, but I have feigned sickness so as not to go to school and I have  not always told the full story in order to get what I wanted as a child.  It’s not what you say, it’s what you don’t say! The trouble is, we still think that deception is the best way of getting what we want.

Deception is an act or statement which misleads, hides the truth, promotes a belief, concept, or idea that is not true. It is often done for personal gain or advantage and can be found in church life. Why is a puzzle.

David who used deception against Uriah, now experiences it for himself.

Now Joab the son of Zeruiah knew that the king’s heart went out to Absalom. 2 Samuel 14:1

Absalom was determined to overthrow his father David and David was distraught at the loss of relationship with his son. Absalom is in exile and Joab feels this is of no value to the kingdom. Three years have passed since Absalom murdered Amnon and Joab has a plan that involves a lady. Joab is looking after himself as he thinks,  If I can win over Absalom now, when he becomes King then my future and position will be secure and, in order to secure that, a little deception will be required. He finds himself a lady to help him and she goes and deceives the King.

 This lady pretends she has two sons, one son has killed the other son (vs 2-6). It’s a set up, it’s the same story as what happened between Amnon and Absalom. The story continues,

And now the whole clan has risen against your servant, and they say, ‘Give up the man who struck his brother, that we may put him to death for the life of his brother whom he killed.’ And so they would destroy the heir also. Thus they would quench my coal that is left and leave to my husband neither name nor remnant on the face of the earth.” 2 Samuel 14:7

David doesn’t really want to spend much time on this and tries to get rid of her “Go to your house, and I will give orders concerning you.” (vs 8) but the lady knows why she is there and what she is trying to achieve so she pushes David harder. So David tells her that if anyone troubles her then he will deal with the trouble maker (vs 9-10). She knows this is still not the outcome she is after so pushes David even further, so David now swears an oath that her son will be protected. A promise was one thing but an oath was at another level. Having got this far the lady then goes for the kill.

Then the woman said, “Please let your servant speak a word to my lord the king.” He said, “Speak.” And the woman said, “Why then have you planned such a thing against the people of God? For in giving this decision the king convicts himself, inasmuch as the king does not bring his banished one home again. 2 Samuel 14:12-13

Her suggestion is that the whole nation is suffering because of David’s treatment of his son and that God is merciful therefore so should he be (vs 14).

She has got her point in so, in the following verses, she goes back to her story and flatters the king calling him an “angel of God” (vs 17). David does spot something is amiss and eventually sees that this is the work of Joab but does allow Absalom back into the court (vs 21-24) and Joab’s  deception has meant he has now got what he wanted.

So why do we deceive? There are countless answers no doubt, but I want to focus on just three.

One reason we lie is that we simply don’t trust the truth to get us what we want. In fact, telling the truth may be costly and painful and lead to hardships we’d rather avoid.  We might be found out. Perhaps the underlying problem is telling the truth will just cost us too much 

Secondly, another related factor is power. People frequently deceive to gain an advantage over others that would rarely, if ever, occur had they chosen to be honest and humble. This power-grab may be in the form of authority in the local church or a promotion at work or prestige amongst one’s peers regardless of age or context. Why then is such power so appealing that it would prompt one to lie to gain it? The answer is simply because we’ve bought into the false belief that personal value and worth is based on the perception of others and the sort of achievement that wins the applause and approval of society at large. If our identity were more wholly wrapped up in Christ and who we are in him then we would be less tempted to deceive to gain from people what only He can give.

Thirdly, we deceive to protect ourselves from whatever embarrassment the truth might bring. The truth would expose us in our weakness and sinfulness and failure. So, we deceive to make ourselves appear to others to be different from what we really are. People are terrified that if those whose respect and acceptance they can’t live without were to see them stripped of every façade and false front, they would suffer irreparable loss.

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practice. 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Colossians 3:9-10

We dress ourselves with our new selves which includes not lying to each other and not deceiving each other. Why? Because our old self reflects the father of lies but our new self of honesty and truth is in the image of God.

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