Topical Preaching - Expository
If you've been around for any length of time, you know that I have absolutely no problem with topical preaching. I do it all the time where I take a topic, money, or the Holy Spirit, or something and I let the topic determine the biblical text we'll use. Absolutely no problem with that. I do it all the time.
Recently though, in addition to topical preaching I've also explored what many people would call expository preaching, where instead of letting the topic determine the scripture, it's opposite of that, where I have a biblical text and I let that text determine the topic. Where you let the scripture set the playlist and then you just do your best as a preacher to dance to the music.
One thing that I like about that is it forces a preacher to preach on texts that we otherwise never would. The joke is that expository preaching saves the congregation from the tyranny of the preachers 3 favorite subjects.
Well I'm very grateful for that especially on a day like this, because I would never preach on a text like this if this wasn't where the series just naturally brought us. - Too much ambiguity, too much complexity.
And I'm grateful that these texts force me to think and pray and grow myself instead of just riffing on my greatest hits.
Clean underwear - Words 'Who Farted?'
I'm sure you're familiar with the saying "Always told me to wear clean underwear, you never know when you'll get in a car accident." I think words are the same way. Watch what words you say. Because you never know what words are gonna be your last.
There's these lists that you can find online of famous last words, the last words somebody says before they die. And there's a bunch of funny ones like 'Who farted?' - The last thing someone ever says.
Today we're looking at the last scene in the life David and the last words to his son Solomon
What we're going to read is essentially the last scene of the life of David. As many of you know, David on his deathbed will anoint his son Solomon as King over Israel. And right after he does this, in his last words to his son Solomon, knowing that he's going to die.
When the time drew near for David to die, he gave a charge to Solomon his son. (1 Kings 2:1)
If you've ever seen that in a political debate, how they're judging the reaction to every little sentence by having these people in a dark room hitting a like or a dislike button, so you can see up to the sentence, how things are going over. I wish we had that today.
“I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, act like a man, (1 Kings 2:2)
So far this sounds really great.
and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses. Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go (1 Kings 2:3)
Anyone have any objections so far? It seems like David is nailing it with these final words to his son.
and that the Lord may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’ (1 Kings 2:4)
This is great. 'Walk faithfully before me with all your heart' - Beautiful. Would you agree that this sounds like good advice?
Now here is where is takes a bit of a turn:
“Now you yourself know what Joab son of Zeruiah did to me—what he did to the two commanders of Israel’s armies, Abner son of Ner and Amasa son of Jether. He killed them, shedding their blood in peacetime as if in battle, and with that blood he stained the belt around his waist and the sandals on his feet. (1 Kings 2:5)
Deal with him according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to the grave in peace. (1 Kings 2:6)
Do you sense a mild transition here? I know that guy is old and about to die, but he betrayed me, so don't you dare let him die in peace.
“But show kindness to the sons of Barzillai of Gilead and let them be among those who eat at your table. They stood by me when I fled from your brother Absalom. (1 Kings 2:7)
And now he's good again. This sounds like the David we know and love.
“And remember, you have with you Shimei son of Gera, the Benjamite from Bahurim, who called down bitter curses on me the day I went to Mahanaim. When he came down to meet me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the Lord: ‘I will not put you to death by the sword.’ (1 Kings 2:8)
So this is good. David got offended but he swore he wasn't going to kill this guy.
But now, do not consider him innocent. You are a man of wisdom; you will know what to do to him. Bring his gray head down to the grave in blood.” (1 Kings 2:9)
Wow. I so know I swore to not kill this man, but you're a wise man, you'll know what to do with him. Bring his gray head down to the grave in blood.
Then David rested with his ancestors and was buried in the City of David. (1 Kings 2:10)
He had reigned forty years over Israel—seven years in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem. (1 Kings 2:11)
So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David, and his rule was firmly established. (1 Kings 2:12)
To put it mildly, this is a problematic text. And we're not talking about some random encounter in David's life, this is how his story ends. These are his last words to his son who is going to be king.
It's uncomfortable for us deal with the fact that King David, this giant of the faith, this biblical hero, who had unbelievable faith and was a man after God's own heart - ENDED his life with not only telling his son 'Follow the commandments, and bless these people' but also 'Here's a list of people that have wronged me and offended me. And I want you to kill them. Doesn't matter that they're old, doesn't matter that this happened a long time ago, I want their blood to hit the ground.
That's tough talk right there.
Lot - interpretations - violent depictions - God - OT.
There's a lot of interpretations even in this room about the violent depictions of God in the OT. And there's different ways to deal with them and I totally get that.
And so even if you're not bothered by this like I am, perhaps you're thinking 'These men are clearly enemies of God. Big deal. Go wipe them out.' Even if you do take that stance, there is no way on God's green earth that David's heart here is right. David here is not motivated by righteous zeal or obedience. Notice all the personal pronouns. 'He did this to me and I remember it.' 'He cursed me and I remember that.'
And to really bring this point home, the last guy, Shimei, was a guy David had already decided to forgive. He already said 'I will not kill you.' - And now in the worlds biggest technicality, he goes to his son and said 'I promised I wouldn't kill him, but you didn't.' There is nothing Godly about this. There is nothing noble.
And it's a real challenge to look at this man, who understood the love of God in a way (I would argue) no one else did before Jesus. So what do we do when we see David at the very end of his life, still with huge contradictions in his own heart?
I've talked before about how David's life is this great symphony with high highs and low lows, and here we are at the very end of his life, and even in his final speech to his son, has great highs and painfully low lows. David never grows out of that.
Don't want face contradictions. My first reaction to this is "Why would David do that?!?! Oh wait…" And then I think about my own life. And I understand. Why do I do that?
I really enjoy reading and learning about the lives of these heroes of faith. People who make this amazing impact on the world. Of course that's one of my attractions to David. But even outside of the bible:
Martin Luther King Jr
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr is one of my heroes. Accomplished an unbelievable amount of good. But even his most passionate admirers would admit that MLK was very morally complex. Let's say.
Henri Nouwen, who I've referenced in this series. One of the most affecting spiritual writers of the last century. But if you look into his story and even his writing, you learn that he suffers from deep, deep inner turmoil.
Mother Teresa - "≠ sense presence God"
Mother Teresa, amazing woman, who talks about in her journals, not released until after her death, how in the last 25 to 30 of her life where she was serving orphans in Calcutta, that she could not sense the presence of God. And had this sense that God had abandoned her.
John Howard Yoder
John Howard Yoder, one of the great thinkers of the church of the last century, his this unbelievably great insight of scripture, but a life marked by much moral complexity and ambiguity.
Abraham Lincoln, who's not exactly a hero of the church, but he's certainly an American hero struggled with almost debilitating depression his whole life.
And I keep waiting to find an example of someone who just rises above all of that, and has only strength, and I just can't find many examples of that.
John Wesley - Wesleyan Church / Methodist
Most heartbreaking example of this to me is John Wesley. John Wesley of course is a great hero of mine, great preacher, such a Godly man. The father of the Wesleyan Church and the Methodist Church.
If you've read any of John Wesley's writings, I don't think there's another person that understood what a life fully submitted to God really looks like quite like he did.
In June of 1776, John Wesley who is now in his 60's, who has been following God for a long time, who has founded this worldwide movement, wrote a letter to his brother Charles Wesley, the great hymn writer, and says this:
I do not feel the wrath of God abiding on me; nor can I believe it does. I do not love God. I never did. Therefore I never believed, in the Christian sense of the word. Therefore I am only an honest heathen… If I ever have had that faith, it would not be so strange. But I never had any other evidence of the eternal or invisible world than I have now; and that is none at all, unless such as faintly shines from reason’s glimmering ray. I have no direct witness of anything invisible or eternal." "And yet I dare not preach otherwise. And yet I find rather an increase than a decrease of zeal for the whole work of God and every part of it. I want all the world to come to know what I do not know." (John Wesley)
Have you ever heard anything more heartbreaking in all your life? For Wesley who all over the world told of his powerful conversion experience and watched the conversion of countless other people, now here he says 'I don't think I ever loved God. I don't think I ever believed.' - And yet for some reason, I find this amazing zeal for the things of God. I want the whole world to know what I do not know.' Amazing.
Now here's where you get into trouble reading something like that: You read that and you say 'Well Wesley is a hypocrite. Plain as that.'
THAT EXPERIENCE DOES NOT SUM WESLEY UP. But his beautiful conversion experience doesn't sum him up either. It's a both/and not an either/or.
And I love this detail, that when John Wesley was on his deathbed at 88 years old, would continuously pray this prayer: "The Chief of Sinners am I. But Jesus died for me." And his LAST words, his very LAST words: "The best thing of all is that God is with us."
So if you're wanting to put John Wesley into a nice clean compartment: 'Good man, loves God, get's it right all the time.' Or "Bad man, doesn't know the love of God."
I think one of the reasons that stories like this are a challenge are precisely why they're so powerful. That confronting the contradictions in David's life forces us to face the contradictions in ourselves.
People love nice clean cut, black and white, 'good guys' 'bad guys' Christianity. If you follow God, this is how your life will definitely turn out. If you don't follow God, this is how your life will definitely turn out. People love that. You sell a billion books. But that's not usually how the Christian life plays out.
If people like David were just black and white good guys - always strong, always humble, always right, never wrong. I would actually love that. It would make my job a lot easier. "Just be like David!" - WWDD. "What would David do?" - No real examples of that except for Jesus.
And so David is this complex person. He's morally complex. He's complex in his motivations, he's complex in his actions, he's a complex friend, he's a complex father.
A huge amount of the biblical narrative is devoted to David. We spend more time with David in almost any other character in the old testament and possibly in the Bible. So what can we say about his life as a whole? What are lessons that come from this huge piece of scripture?
Is there an over arching theme to his life? Is his story a story about great success? Or being a great warrior? Or being a man of God great faith or courage.
Earlier in this series when I was studying David, I started thinking about that, and wrote a few paragraphs down, and when I reread them this week, it resonated with me so I thought I'd share it with you. Please note that this is me just personal, casual writing. So please don't critique my lazy sentence structure.
I think about David, this amazing man who grasped the love of God, who grasped his belovedness, who was able to love people with a purity and simplicity rarely seen before or since.
I think about the young boy in the field, unconcerned with celebrity status. Concerned only with the things of God and caring for the sheep that had been entrusted to him.
I think about this mighty man of faith, who courageously challenged Goliath, confident that God was with him.
I think about David the great friend, who loved Jonathan as his own flesh.
I think about this man of peace who refused to kill or even dishonor King Saul who was out to kill him.
I think about the poet, authoring some of the most beautiful, honest, and profound poetry in humanities short history, creating liturgy used by every Christian church since Jesus.
How can it be that this mighty man of God is also guilty of adultery and even murder?
How can it be that in some of the last moments of his life, David is unable to offer kindness and love to the people he had already decided to forgive?
Then I think about the advice I got as a young man: "Your greatest strength will also be your greatest test." That was true for David.
In some ways, it feels like David's life provides more questions than answers but this simple observation remains abundantly clear:
The success or failure of David's life is measured by his ability to grasp the love of God for himself and extend that love to others.
When he got that right, everything worked. When he got that wrong, he was a complete disaster.
And in the same way, the success or failure of our lives is measured by our ability to grasp the love of God for ourself and extend that love to others.
David's life shows us that to win in the Christian life is not to be the most popular, or the most admired, or the most wealthly, or the most powerful, it's in your ability to grasp your sonship, your position as a son, or as a daughter.
Grasping God's love for you and extending that love to others. That's the whole ballgame.
There's nothing deeper than that. There's nothing higher than that.
I am a husband, I am a father, I am a pastor, I am a leader. But to be a SON, so at peace in the love of the father, that's the good life.
To grasp the love of God for yourself, and to love the people around you.
That's the story of David's life. And that's the story of your life.
"Love God and love people" - Somebody said something about that…. Oh right, Jesus!‘Love the Lord your God with all that you are.’ & ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. That's the whole ballgame.
"Love alone is credible; nothing else can be believed, and nothing else ought to be believed." (Hans Urs von Balthasar - Theologian)
A pastor like me will preach a message like this on love and people will think "Yeah that's cool, but I'm ready for something deeper." - THERE IS NOTHING DEEPER THAN LOVE.
It's the simplest thing and it's also the hardest thing.
What's easier to say than that? "Yeah we're gonna receive God's love for us and love our neighbor as ourselves." What's easier than that? Nothing.
It's deceivingly simple.
Most Christians (you want me to make up a statistic? 99.76% of Christians) find a way to make the Christian life more complicated than that.
You know why? B/C loving consistently is so gosh darn hard.
So instead we make the Christian faith about other stuff that's easier to understand and easier to do.
I am a product of the charismatic expression of Christianity.
Where we talk a lot of about the Holy Spirit.
That's my roots, and though I've changed in certain ways, that piece will always be inside me.
And just to be clear, I believe in all the things. I believe that everything we see in the book of acts is still available to us as followers of Christ. Miracle working power, speaking in other languages, blind eyes being opened. I believe in all of that.
But I feel like I don't go a week without talking to someone who is absolutely obsessed with the gifts of the spirit. Where they're always going from conference to conference chasing that magical something that will make everything better.
And like I said, I believe in it.
But hear my heart: That becomes yet another easy way out.
To have a Christianity that's more mystical than love. So long as we obsess over what is and is not valid prophesy, we don't have to be bothered with this business of actually going and loving the people in our city.
I have friends in the ministry that operate in these power gifts. And I believe that it's a good and genuine, and authentic.
Here's what I've found about my friends with a strong supernatural gifting: They're no better than anyone else at accepting the love of God for themselves and showing that love to others.
That's hard for everybody.
And here's a hard pill to swallow: If you operate it amazing power gifts and you don't love, it's all meaningless.
Some of you might love that, because you're skeptical about that kind of 'spirit led' thing. Alright, how about this one:
I'm so grateful that this church has so many brilliant, contemplative, intelligent people. - I love that many of you like to read theological books. I love that.
I love theology.
But let me tell you:
Trying to understand God intellectually can become yet another easy way out.
Fake religion says "As long as we believe right, we can get away with loving people wrong."
Theology - hard / but infinitely easier than love.
Theology is hard, but it's infinitely easier than love.
It's easy to have these conversations about sovereignty and election, and the end times, and whatever else you're into, that's easy. But grasping God's love and showing that to others? That's the hard stuff.
All that stuff is great. Learn how too prophesy. Learn how to operate in words of knowledge. Go for it. Learn Hebrew, learn greek, learn Aramaic, and don't stop there, learn French and German, so you can read these great Christian writers in their original language.
And right about the time you're getting your PHD, remember the day that I TOLD YOU that none of that is a valid substitute for the DEEP THINGS of Christianity, which is grasping the love of God for yourself and loving your neighbor.
The supernatural is great, absolutely. Understanding God with our minds is great. I'm not discounting either of them. I'm saying we need some perspective on what the big deal in the Christian faith really is.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Corinthians 13:1)
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2)
If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:3)
Paul says if you get everything else right, but get love wrong, you get nothing.
All your beliefs
All your miracles
All your living
And you don't love… ZERO.
All your faith
All your opinions
You get big fat ZERO on your report card.
But if you love, you'll be fine. Love covers and multitude of of sins, you know.
[I pray that you] may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, (Ephesians 3:18)
and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:19)
You can know a lot about deep theological truths, and then there's the love of God which is something different.
Grace - "Get-chu"
I think about my almost 2 year old daughter Grace. She's very into 'get-chu' right now, which is someone chasing her "I'm gonna get you!" - And so I get down like this motion and she loses her mind to pure glee and happiness. And her simple, developing mind doesn't hinder love, it fact in a lot of ways, it makes it easier.
So don't get the idea that filling your head with all kinds of theology somehow makes love easier.
David here at the end of his life is still struggling to understand it. Grasping the love of God is something you work on for your entire life.
People here today :
We have people here today that came to church, who didn't want to, because you feel like you don't have anything to offer God, you've tried and you've failed one too many times for God to really love you.
This is the best news I have to give you: God loves you desperately, right here, right now. See that's what's so amazing about the story of David. This deeply complex man, with brilliant highs and painful lows, yet so loved by God. Do you think God loves you any less?
The only chance we have to make this a possibility is we love because he first loved us.
Our love is a response to His love.
Kids Learn - language.
Have you ever seen how easy it is for a kid to learn a new language? They're picking up so many words each and every day. And even kids that grow up speaking 2 languages, say both english and spanish, it's amazing how quickly they pick it up. When you're a child, you imitate. And eventually becomes the way that you are too.
If you need a place to look, look to the cross. And then you imitate it. We do our worst, and he simply responds with father forgive them.
As we close, I want to do something a little unusual. What I'm wanting to do is declare what I believe are God's words directly to you.
There's lot of times that we read scripture, there's lots of times we hear scripture, but for some of us, it's not often that we receive God's word to us.
Can you do that?
No communion, No alter call, no card to fill out. No nothing. Just receive God's word to you.
I'd love you to do something if it doesn't make you uncomfortable. I'd love everyone in the room to put their hands in this posture. Almost like you're catching a football. This posture of receiving. And I hope when you do that, you would allow your heart to follow your body to get into a posture to just receive.
What I've done is take what David prays in the first person, and put it in the second person - because I believe it's God's word for you.
God has searched you, and he knows you. He knows when you sit and when you rise; he perceives your thoughts from afar.
He discerns your going out and your lying down; he is familiar with all your ways. Before a word was on your tongue, he knew it completely. He hems you in behind and before, and he lays his hand upon you.
Where can you go from his Spirit? Where can you flee from his presence?
If you go up to the heavens, he is there; if you make your bed in the depths, he is there. If you rise on the wings of the dawn, if you settle on the far side of the sea, even there his hand will guide you, his right hand will hold you fast.
If you say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to Him; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to Him.
For he created your inmost being; he knit you together in your mother’s womb.
Praise him for you are fearfully and wonderfully made;
Your frame was not hidden from him when you were made in the secret place, when you were woven together in the depths of the earth.
His eyes saw your unformed body; all the days ordained for you were written in his book before one of them came to be.
How precious are his thoughts! How vast is the sum of them!
Were you to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand— and when you awake, He will still be with you.
Just receive that. That God's love for you is just that personal.
Father today, we thank you that despite our frailness and imperfection, that we are still your beloved. And you delight in us. And your love follows us wherever we go. For some of us, we've actually experimented with that. We've TRIED to run from your presence. We've TRIED to escape your love. But we can't get away from you. We can never escape your love.