Posts tagged Saul
Today, I am struck by the life of Barnabas. Even though there is Peter’s miraculous escape from prison in today’s reading, I think the constant undercurrent of Barnabas’ life is equally as compelling and is just as much a witness of God’s miraculous work in the world.
Barnabas, if you remember, first showed up in Acts chapter 4. He was part of that early church who regularly sold their possessions and gave to those in need. His real name, you might recall, was Joseph, but he was given the nickname Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement.”
Barnabas would continue to be an encourager in the church and in chapter 9 of Acts, he is the one who embraces the newly converted Saul and brings him into the community of Jesus’ disciples in Jerusalem at a time when others are still leery of this former adversary.
Now, today, in chapter 11, we once again read of Barnabas. This time, the church in Jerusalem send him to Antioch when they hear about Greeks who have heard and accepted the good news of Jesus. Obviously, Barnabas was trusted by his community in Jerusalem to go and find out exactly what was going on in Antioch. We are told that he was a “good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.”
But here’s the part I think is really cool. While he’s at Antioch, Barnabas sees that the Greeks are hungry to learn more about Jesus and, for that matter, about the God they never knew, and he thinks, “You know who should be a part of this? Saul!” You see, Barnabas recognizes that this group of people is right up Saul’s ally. And, again, as an encourager, he seeks out Saul and brings him to Antioch. There, he and Saul spend the next year living with and teaching the people.
Barnabas, this devoted man of God, essentially helped launch Saul (also called Paul) into ministry. The man who would end up spreading the gospel to nation after nation and who would ultimately write most of what we now call the New Testament – that guy needed an encourager. Paul needed someone to get him in the door with the disciples in Jerusalem. He needed someone to believe in him and give him an opportunity like Barnabas presented in Antioch. And he needed a partner in ministry, which Barnabas would become.
We all need encouragers. And we can all be encouragers. I would encourage you (no pun intended) to devote yourself today to being an encourager. If Barnabas could help launch the ministry of one of the fathers of Jesus’ church, surely a whole group of us, committed to being “sons and daughters of encouragement” could help transform our city, our nation and our world.
There’s a certain symmetry to the stories of Saul and Peter found in today’s reading. Saul, a devout religious leader of the highest order was truly pursuing God as best as he knew how. In his eyes, the followers of Jesus were preaching a counterfeit way. Unlike so many of the religious leaders, who knew who Jesus was, but hated him for taking away their power, Saul wasn’t aware of these things. He was truly convinced that Jesus was a phony and that Jesus’ followers were, essentially, a cult.
That is, until God gave him new eyes to see the truth. In what has to be one of the most important meetings of all time, Jesus himself appeared to Saul. And through Jesus’ message, Saul’s time of blindness and the obedience of a man named Ananias, Saul’s mind and heart were changed – transforming him from an adversary of Jesus into a champion of Jesus and his cause.
A similar thing happened to Peter. The difference, of course, is that Peter was already a follower of Jesus. But, like Paul, Peter was operating under some assumptions about who was and wasn’t accepted by God. Like Paul, Peter was trying his best to follow God and, though he was a devout follower of Jesus, he held tight to the Jewish food traditions.
That is, until God gave him new eyes, just as he had given Saul. For Peter, God would use those ancient food laws, which were passed down from God to Moses and onto the people of Israel, as a metaphor for the “unclean” Gentiles to whom he was going to send Peter. If God could make an unclean animal into clean food, then surely he could make an unclean person into a clean person – a child of God and follower of Jesus.
Again, God used a series of events and people to change Peter’s mind and heart. There was a vision, a moment of contemplation and a visit from Cornelius’ men that all worked in concert to reveal the truth to Peter.
As I read these stories, I’m fascinated how God really seems to want to involve us in his work. I mean, surely he could have convinced Saul and Peter of what he needed to convince them of on his own. I mean, when Jesus appeared to Saul, couldn’t he have stuck around long enough to convince Saul that he was who he said he was?
But, instead of being the one to “seal the deal,” God, in both instances, plants a seed (albeit a big one), allows the individual some time to reflect on things and then sends someone else to “reap the harvest.” And, so often, that’s how it works. In order to see transformation in someone’s life, it takes God, that person and me, working together (sometimes unknowingly) toward God’s ultimate plan.
I’m consider it such a high honor to be able to work along side God in that way. We are privileged to serve him and should never think of service as a burden. I say this to remind myself and you as we continue to serve in the Kingdom of God.
There is an incredible lesson to be learned in the life of David, this man who was recognized as something special when he was just a young boy. There were several times over the course of his life when it was apparent to everyone that he was destined for greatness. In fact, long before he ascended to the throne, the people knew that he would one day become their king.
It seems that no one doubted David’s greatness. Even Saul, who opposed David at every turn, seemed to know the inevitable outcome of his ill-fated attempts to thwart David. No matter who came against David, he would ultimately prevail. Sure, he would have some temporary setbacks, but in the long run, David was going to win.
David was a valiant warrior, respected by just about everyone he came in contact with and yet, he was unable to fast-track himself to the throne. Like all of us, David had to wait. There would come a time in David’s life where he got to call the shots – where he was in control (or seemingly so) of his own destiny. But in order for that to happen – for him to ascend to that position – he would first have to put his life in the hands of God. He would have to surrender control and come to the uncomfortable realization that there was nothing he could do to make things happen.
For David, it was like he had gotten the direct-dial number to throne, only to be put on hold. Most of us have had similar moments in our life – where we feel like we know what our future is or should be, but we feel completely powerless to affect that future. Personally, I have had times in my life where I felt like I was supposed to take a certain job, but the job hadn’t been offered to me. I didn’t have the option of walking into somebody’s office and saying, “God wants you to give me this job.” (They typically call security when that kind of person comes for a visit!)
So what do you do in those circumstances? You wait. You do everything you can to be obedient and you wait for God to open doors – to set things up. For David, that was a long wait. For you and me, it may be longer. But we can’t allow time to dictate our calling. If you feel called to something, cling to it. That doesn’t mean that you stop functioning in the “now” as you wait for the future. It just means that you don’t have to put that calling – that dream that God placed in you – on the shelf.
Are you called to be a writer, but have no chance of getting a publisher to read your manuscript? Great! Keep writing and honing your craft and see what doors God opens down the road. Struggling musician? Same thing. Feel like God wants you to have kids, but you are unable to? Focus on what you can do for kids and seek God’s guidance and wisdom. He has an uncanny ability to open our eyes to possibilities that we never considered before.
It is quite possible (even probable) that God has called you to something that will not come to fruition in the next week, month or year. For some, God may have called you to something that won’t materialize for decades. That doesn’t make the calling any less true. It just means that you have to wait – and to grow in the waiting.
Imagine if David, the arrogant young warrior who defeated a giant, had been anointed king that day. Imagine that young boy being given the keys to the kingdom – the power, the prestige. It could have been disastrous. So, what did he have to do? He had to wait. And as he waited – as he went through all of the ups and downs that come with being a polarizing, special individual – he was being prepared for his calling.
May you and I recognize today that God is preparing us for our future calling. May we enter into our day fully devoted to the pursuit of God’s desires for us and yet, willing to wait for his lead as he opens and closes the necessary doors to lead us to our place of calling.
Sin is contagious. I don’t know all the details of how it works, but I know that sin begets sin. We’ve already seen this in the families of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Now we look a little further down the line and see the same issues befalling David and his sons. It is amazing how often, in that ancient world and in ours, that the sins of the son mirror the sins of the father.
In this case, you have Amnon, overcome by lust, just as his father was. And while Amnon’s lust isn’t for a married woman, his situation is arguably as bad or worse. He is infatuated with his own sister (or half-sister) Tamar. And, just like his father, his lust leads him into a series of actions including deception, rape and then hatred of his sister (something that she certainly didn’t deserve.)
As a result of those events, another of David’s sons, Absalom, has his own issues to deal with. Again, the sins of the son mirror those of his father as Absalom devised a ruse to have his brother killed. David then – the lust-ridden, deceptive murderer – has sons who are lust-ridden, deceptive and murderous.
Not only that, but now his household is beginning to look a little like his mentor, Saul’s house. After a period of exile (and another deception devised by Joab) Absalom returns home, only to attempt to divide the kingdom of David and to take control as king of Hebron. It’s a mess and David knows that it all started with him.
Now, remember, David was a wise man, a strong king. He walked closely with God. And yet, through a series of events, he found himself and his sons spiraling fast. The question I always ask myself is this: If it could happen to him, why couldn’t it happen to me? The answer, of course, is that it could happen to me…or to you.
That is why we can’t let our guard down. We can’t become complacent or lazy. We can’t become selfish. We have to constantly be on guard against our own selfish, destructive desire. If we are, and if we avoid falling into the traps along the way, I’m sure that our kids and grandkids will thank us for it (and it might save them some therapy bills!)
There is a theme – a thread – that runs the full length of the Bible: The wisdom of humans is foolishness to God; the wisdom of God, foolishness to humans. In this passage, we see a couple of episodes that illustrate this point.
First, we find a couple of brothers who, seeking to become some kind of heroes, sneak up on one of Saul’s sons and kill him in his sleep. Of course, in their human “wisdom,” they thought that killing the son of the king’s sworn enemy would put them in pretty good standing with David. However, David maintains his God-oriented perspective on the entire situation. He has no desire for Saul’s son to be killed, because Saul was God’s chosen leader for a time and because his son was absolutely innocent of any of Saul’s wrongdoings.
David here is exercising the kind of Godly wisdom that is considered foolishness by those around him. On the other hand, a few verses later, we find David engaged in the seemingly foolish act of dancing and leaping through the streets as the ark of the covenant is returned to Jerusalem. In this instance, it is David’s wife, Michal, who advises him against such foolishness.
David’s response was, once again, one of Godly wisdom:
“It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.” (2 Samuel 6:21-22)
David fully understands that human wisdom would dictate both vengeance on his enemies and a level of dignified behavior indicative of his new role as king. Yet, in his wisdom – wisdom given by God – David understands the triteness of human ego and vanity. Killing Saul’s son didn’t do anything to honor God. Walking with head held high and playing the role of a distinguished gentleman wouldn’t have expressed the worshipful exuberance in David’s heart. He understood that personal desire and concern about perception were trivial matters in God’s kingdom.
As I sit here today in the midst of all of the political back and forth that’s taking place in our country, I wonder what would happen if our own leaders – on both sides – would stop to understand these same truths. What would happen if they stopped worrying so much about how they appear and more about how they are – how they lead, how they live their lives and how they honor their God?
Of course, that begs the question, what would happen if you and I did the same?