by Eric S. Love
podcast available (January 9, 2011)
A look at some highlights from Teri’s word last week: DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RELIGION AND RELATIONSHIP
Religion is man-made and built on fear, guilt and brainwashing. Relationship with God is based on love as we engage the Holy Spirit and allow Him to renew our minds.
Religion: obedience out of fear; Relationship: obedience out of love
You don’t need the Spirit to learn discipline. But there are things we can’t get with just our minds. We need the Holy Spirit.
We learn to recognize the difference between God’s voice (love), religious ideology (fear), and culture (who knows what, usually some form of self motivation)
So what if we just invent God with our minds? It’s possible... people do it all the time. Still, we CAN trust God and see Him and know Him. (This is something I think about all the time and will probably share my thoughts on soon, but that’s for another time... focus please.)
Being in the Holy Spirit is not about losing control, it’s about giving control. (Perspective is really important, the difference between life and death in so many ways.)
You can trust God.
You may not be able to trust people, but you can trust God. (And you can trust people. He’ll see to that.)
If our motivation - our obligation, even - with God is love, not fear, then we have to believe we can trust Him, that He is good. So where does this kind of attitude come from?
Where do we get that perspective and know it’s not just poetry or delusion?
We’re going to look at David’s perception of God and the origins of that perception. Even though he lived before the coming of the Holy Spirit like we know Him now, he walked in relationship with the Father that was easily a picture of what it would look like when grace came with Jesus. Then we’ll consider our own perspectives and where they come form.
2 Samuel 22/Psalm 18
These two chapters have the same Psalm, written by David... one of my favorites because the language and imagery is so beautiful. It’s a summary of his life, so to speak, in his own words. We’ll read from 2 Samuel, and begin with the first three verses:
2 Sam 22:1-3
And David spoke the words of this song to the Lord in the day that the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. And he said, “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge; my Savior, you do save me from violence...”
We do not know when David wrote this Psalm, but we know chronologically where it was placed in the story, when he “spoke the words of this song” when “the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.” We’ll come back to this context, but first I want us to go bak and look at what shaped David’s perception.
1 Samuel 23:14, 25, 28
Basically, this chapter is David fleeing from Saul because Saul is simply jealous of David and wanted to kill him: David had done nothing wrong. He had done everything right: killed Goliath, led the army in victory, made the ladies swoon. Normal, good soldier stuff. But Saul was jealous. Three times he hides out in a refuge, cave or rock of some kind. Finally, for the time being, Saul gave up looking for David. So the place where David and his men had been hiding out was called the Rock of Escape.
These verses in David’s song in 2 Samuel 22 and Psalm 18 hearken back to this time. David saw God in that rock of escape. That’s the way it is so often: when we look back in retrospect, we see God in places that we could never have seen him in while we in the moment. Like fog: you can often times see it just outside arms reach, but it doesn’t seem to be where you are. But if you move away from where you are and look back, you see there’s fog there, too. You just can’t see it while you’re in it. (Really, you can see it: it just doesn’t look the same.) God can be like sometimes.
Eventually, we begin to realize this and expect to see God in these ways, even in the bad times. We train ourselves to, or free ourselves from our natural inclinations to fear and mistrust.
But this concept goes back even farther than David, back to his heritage.
God says to Abram: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield, your abundant compensation, and your reward shall be exceedingly great.
This was David’s heritage. From the earliest times when God came to Abram, his promises involved imagery not unlike the imagery David uses. Protection, provision and reward.
We can see the language David used in this song was not new language, but words he’d used and heard used his whole life - and they meant something to him when he thought of God. Still, he could have simply been regurgitating ideas and theology that were nothing more then part of a religious system. How was it that he could know with confidence that he wasn’t simply following along with ideas that were both religious and cultural, but otherwise void of any true life?
Look at the context in which he spoke these words.
It says God delivered him from “all his enemies and the hand of Saul.” Thing is, Saul had been dead for a while, now. In fact, David himself is an old man and unable to even fight for himself anymore. (The next chapter actually contains “the last words of David.”)
But in the previous chapter, 2 Samuel 21, David has to deal with the final result of Saul’s rebellion and the consequences of Saul’s mistakes.
In 2 Samuel 21, we find out that there was a three year famine. Finally David asked God what the deal was and found out the famine was due to the blood of the Gibeonites whom Saul had butchered (they were not Israelites, but Amorites, and were supposed to be spared - Saul did not spare them and so brought judgement on the land). David made restitution with the Gibeonites - which cost the lives of seven of Saul’s descendants. David dealt with the injustice with both judgement and mercy: he had seven men killed but spared the life of Mephiboseth, Jonathan’s son out of love and respect for Jonathan.
Now, I will come back to the cultural context of this act, killing seven men for the sins of their grandfather, but for now let’s just keep going.
The point is, even though Saul had been dead for awhile, this was when David finally became totally free - delivered - from the pursuit of Saul against him. The residue of Saul’s hatred lingered over David’s realm even after he was gown. That happens with us, too - we can’t forgive people who aren’t even a part of our lives anymore, and because of that we are oppressed and can’t figure out why in the world our “land” is so dry. (But that’s a different topic..... please, focus.)
The point is, this is the point at which David could breathe air for the first time that wasn’t tinged with the reek of Saul’s contaminate. He was free.
But, that wasn’t the end of his troubles. Saul was his greatest enemy, but not his oldest enemy. That would be Goliath.
In 2 Samuel 21:15-22, the Philistines again wage war against Israel. There were four men, who during the course of this war, tried personally to kill King David. They were descendants of Goliath from Gath, the giant. It was personal.
Doesn’t it seem unfair for a man who has already killed a giant - and did so when he was a young teen boy - has to now, years later, have to stand off against the beast’s sons when he himself is too old to even defend himself any longer? It was his “mighty men” - a group of men who gathered around David beginning in the days when he fled from Saul and hid out in caves and the woods... it was a group of rejects, men who had nothing and couldn’t even defend or provide for themselves. David became their leader. And they became his Mighty Men, whose exploits were unbelievable.
It was during the darkest season of David’s life that his life was joined to the lives of these men, and now, all this time later, they did for him what he could not do for himself: not slay one giant, but four.
Think again of when David killed Goliath: he picked up five smooth stones - but he only used one of them. Why did he pick up five? Jewish tradition says it’s because Goliath had four brothers and David wanted to be ready for their retaliation.
But here in 2 Samuel we see four descendants of Gath - the giant race from which Goliath came - seeking to kill David. David did the only thing he could do: He trusted his “mighty men” - those whom he entrusted literally with his life over and over again, those in a divine alliance with him - to protect him. And they did.
What happens when the ghosts of our past come back for us? If we know God’s heart, we trust. If we simply fear Him outside the context of relationship, we lose it. We reinvent. We walk away. (I often see bitterness come from difficulty when people follow an idea of God rather than knowing God for themselves.)
Now, David is free from the threat of both his oldest enemy and his biggest enemy. And how does he perceive these last experiences? Is he jaded, sick of having, still, to deal with this garbage? No. He remembers who his “rock” is.
The Rest Of The Song
LIsten to the rest of this song of David:
2 Samuel 22:2-20
(from the Message)
God is bedrock under my feet,
the castle in which I live,
my rescuing knight.
My God - the high crag
where I run for dear life,
hiding behind the boulders,
safe in the granite hideout;
my mountaintop refuge,
he saves me from ruthless men.
I sing to God the praise-lofty,
and find myself safe and saved.
The waves of death crashed over me,
devil waters rushed over me,
Hell’s rope cinched me tight;
death traps barred every exit.
A hostile world! I called to God,
to my God I cried out.
From His place He heard me call;
my cry brought me right into His presence -
a private audience!
Earth wobbled and lurched;
the very heavens shook like leaves,
quaked like aspen leaves
because of His rage.
His nostrils flared, billowing smoke;
his mouth spit fire.
Tongues of fire darted in and out;
he lowered the sky.
He stepped down;
under his feet an abyss opened up.
He rode a winged creature,
swift on wind-wings.
He wrapped himself
in a trenchcoat of black rain-cloud darkness.
But his cloud-brightness burst through,
a grand comet of fireworks.
Then God thundered out of heaven;
the high God gave a great shout.
God shot his arrows - pandemonium!
He hurled his lightnings - a rout!
The secret sources of ocean were exposed,
the hidden depths of earth lay uncovered
the moment God roared in protest,
let loose his hurricane anger.
But he caught me - reached all the way
from sky to sea; he pulled me out
of that ocean of hate, that enemy chaos,
the void in which I was drowning.
They hit me when I was down,
but God stuck by me.
He stood me up on a wide-open field;
I stood there saved - surprised to be loved!
What incredible language, beautiful imagery - the poet’s attempt to say what can’t really be said... surprised to be loved.
It seems we are all wired to be cynical: experience has taught us we cannot trust, we will lose everything, we are not loved. And every time this is proved otherwise, we are surprised. Sometimes to the point of complete disbelief.
But that’s just it: perspective, again. If our experiences have taught us to be jaded and cynical, then our experiences can also teach us to trust and accept love. But we have to have our eyes open and allow the good things we have encourage this.
And look: David says these words after his final deliverance from his two great enemies, the ghosts of past victories and failures, at a point in his life when he couldn’t even fight for himself. The hands of God that pulled him out of the ocean of death in this last case were the hands of his friends, the embodiment of God’s ever present refuge for him.
(Not to get off task, but I have said it often and say it again, God shows up more in my life through the people who love me than through any other source - whether worshipping together or just living life together, God is most beautiful when he wears the face of my friends. This is not blasphemy: think about all the images God gives us for us to “see” Him - how many are demonstrated by humanity? “Bride of Christ...” “Sons of God...” “Friend who sticks closer than a brother...” When does He call us to step outside of relationship with others in order to be in relationship with Him? Never. We cannot over state the importance of relationship. But that’s another thought... focus, please.)
Refuge, Stronghold, Fortress
So the imagery is great and all, but when was the last time you visited a castle tower to be protected? The language, though beautiful, is a bit archaic. So let’s look at its meaning within the context of our own culture.
First, we have to understand that if you do not look at the Bible from a cultural contextual point of view, then you will miss its meaning and become dogmatic in false teaching. Don’t think so? Well, that’s what the religious leaders had done by the time Jesus came along. That’s what the church had done by the 1500’s, the dark ages, when people weren’t even allowed to have a “personal relationship with Jesus.” And that’s what much of the greater organized Christian has done now, reduced God’s truth to petty arguments that separates us further and further from common culture and the hearts of people who are desperately seeking truth but not finding it within the walls of our churches. Instead, within those walls they find dogma and judgement - again, religion is based on fear, not love. (Once again, that’s another topic.... focus, please.)
So let’s look at the cultural implications of this imagery:
Two things here that seem relevant to me: safety and exposure.
1. Safety (Concealment):
David said God is our strong tower, our fortified (and stubborn) watchtower – elevated and protected. (Psalm 61:2,3)
Just like in Psalm 59:9 (when Saul sent men to David’s house to kill him)
O my strength, I will watch and give heed to you and sing praises: for God is my defense (my protector and high tower, my stronghold).
When David referred to the “stronghold” of the Lord, he was referring to the Lord’s presence. Most often, the “stronghold” of an ancient Hebrew city was the tabernacle, which was always on the highest hill/point in the city. The tabernacle was the physical representation of where His Spirit dwells.
Psalm 27:1, 4-5 (David:)
The Lord is the defense of my life… one thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life… He will conceal me in His tabernacle; in the secret place of His tent He will hide me. He will lift me up on a rock.
Being high may make us safe, but it also exposes us. It reveals our location. You can hide in a ditch. You can’t hide in a high place…
Watchtower in Jerusalem: weapons weren’t allowed because it was connected to the temple (which meant to get into it you had to pass through the temple – and weapons weren’t allowed in the temple)
Destroyed in 6 A.D., rebuilt by Herod (renamed Tower of Antonias, after Mark Antony – Herod’s friend)
Similar tower, Tower of David, was built during 1st temple period (960 – 586 BC): possible this tower was too, cannot verify
Here is the challenge of going into the Lord, our strong, strong tower: we cannot carry in our self defenses. We must leave them outside.
And make no mistake: cynicism is a self-defense.
Being elevated makes us feel exposed. Being without our weapons makes us feel vulnerable. Yes, we are exposed: but we are not vulnerable to anything but the Lord. And this is how He wants us to come.
Dream, from March 2009:
I dreamed I was sky-diving. I was naked. I didn’t even have a parachute.
Someone was supposed to swoop in at a particular time and grab me, open their shoot, and take me down safely. (I could see this happening all around me.)
But I kept falling. The first thing I realized was that I was naked. I was a little concerned about this but not really all that much – not as much as I would have been in real life.
The second thing I realized was that no one was coming for me. No one was going to swoop in and save me. Even this did not scare me. I remember finding it difficult to see because of all the wind. I even looked up and around for someone to come. But I was never scared.
I did the only logical thing there was for me to do: I decided it was time to learn how to fly (after all, I have prayed in real life hundreds of times for God to let me fly). I was falling as though I were standing up, and I began trying to figure out how to begin this prayer.
So I started asking God to give me the ability to fly, trying to figure out how to say it most effectively, when suddenly and gently I felt the ground, covered in soft grass, come up under my bare feet.
I had landed.
The point: I had been flying all along and didn’t know it. The fact that I was naked spoke of vulnerability and exposure. That got me started thinking about the whole “exposure” thing.
Coming before the Lord naked and exposed makes us uncomfortable. It is obvious how disproportionate our strengths and weaknesses are. It’s easy to see our holes and gaps, the places without substance. But that’s the real US. And the truth is, the Lord is not looking at our nakedness.
Coming into Him, into our strong tower, without bringing our own covering – leaving our weapons outside – feels very vulnerable. But it’s the only way to be real.
We cannot trust the Lord to defend us if we never let Him, if we are always trying to defend ourselves. He cannot defend our honor when we cover up our humanity. He will not defend our disguises.
Ephesians 5 talks about exposure:
We were formerly darkness – not just “in” darkness, we “were” darkness. But now we are LIGHT and walk as “children of light” and the fruit of light is all goodness.
We are the children of the Father of Lights (as James calls the Lord, 1:17). This passage in Ephesians is about us being like God - like our Father. And it’s exposure that makes it happen.
The light leads us to his “holy mountain… His dwelling place.” This is the stronghold of the Lord.
This exposure scares us: but notice this… the Lord’s strong tower – the high and lofty place that we reach through humility – is a place where we are hidden.
Our hiding place.
Where we are concealed... Concealed from our enemies, exposed to God. Perfect!
You are a hiding place (secret shelter, covering) for me; You, Lord, preserve (guard, watch, protect, keep) me from trouble. You surround me with songs and shouts of deliverance.
Modern Image: What is a refuge in our time?
I see a link between ancient (Biblical) images of defense and safety (strong tower, fortress, horn of salvation, buckler/shield) and the democratic process in our country today. We no longer seek protection within stone walls.
We have law enforcement and the military who serve as protection, but we really don’t live our lives in constant fear of a neighboring horde rushing into our village, burning our huts, carrying off our women and children, and slaughtering our men before the city gates. So what protects us from day to day? The constitution.
Is this too big a stretch to make?
This is how we are protected from forces that could and would seek to control us - even the government itself. It gives us a voice and an obligation. It provides us with the means to secure our freedom while demanding of us that we obey the very laws we seek to create. Sounds like a contradiction: freedom and obligation. Yeah, kind of like love: we love because we choose to, and we are obligated because we love. Or like concealment and exposure all at the same time.
We CAN learn to trust God, allowing our experiences to shape in us faith rather than distrust. It’s all about our perspective. We can see God through the fabrication of religious ideology or through the constant and real fabric of relationship. I suggest you begin by looking at the good things in your life. Healthy relationships, for one thing. Look long enough and you’ll begin to see Him. And once you start seeing Him, it will be hard to miss Him.
Eric Love, 1/16/2011
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