1 Samuel 17:55-18:5 – True Friendship

As Saul watched David go out to fight the Philistine, he asked Abner, the commander of his army, “Abner, whose son is this young man?”

“I really don’t know,” Abner declared.

“Well, find out who he is!” the king told him.

As soon as David returned from killing Goliath, Abner brought him to Saul with the Philistine’s head still in his hand. “Tell me about your father, young man,” Saul said.

And David replied, “His name is Jesse, and we live in Bethlehem.”

After David had finished talking with Saul, he met Jonathan, the king’s son. There was an immediate bond between them, for Jonathan loved David. From that day on Saul kept David with him and wouldn’t let him return home. And Jonathan made a solemn pact with David because he loved him as he loved himself. Jonathan sealed the pact by taking off his robe and giving it to David, together with his tunic, sword, bow, and belt.

Whatever Saul asked David to do, David did it successfully. So, Saul made him a commander over the men of war, an appointment that was welcomed by the people and Saul’s officers alike. (New Living Translation)

“One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood.”

Seneca (5 B.C.E.-65 C.E)

We may have numerous acquaintances; social media friends; friends we do activities with; family friends and cousin friends; and even some good close friends. However, there are few, maybe only one or two people, who are so close as to be your best friend and a kindred spirit.

That person is the one whom you know always has your back; is the first person you call in the middle of the night in an emergency; and is the confidant you can say anything to, and they won’t freak out about it. They will always shoot straight with you and are your biggest encourager and fan. There is nothing they would not do for you.

I hope you have such a friend because they are rare gems. Such relationships typically begin by hitting it off well together. Usually, some event or particular place brings two people to a point of discovering they have such commonality of thinking and a commitment to living a certain way that their hearts are immediately drawn to each other. This is exactly what happened to Jonathan and David.

Before Jonathan and David’s friendship emerged, Jonathan (King Saul’s son) took it upon himself to step up and step out in single-handedly taking on the Philistine army. Jonathan faced them with only his armor-bearer behind him, climbed a cliff to other side where the Philistines were, and attacked all by himself. One guy deliberately went against an entire army. 

While six-hundred Israelite soldiers were hiding, too afraid to face the enemy, Jonathan took it upon himself to act. It was not a rash action but a decision of faith:

Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, “Come on, let’s go over to the fort of these uncircumcised men. Maybe the Lord will act on our behalf. After all, nothing can stop the Lord from saving, whether there are many soldiers or few.” (1 Samuel 14:6, CEB) 

Jonathan passionately believed the Lord was with him and would achieve the victory. Indeed, God sent a panic throughout the Philistine camp when Jonathan acted. The result was a complete rout.

David had his own act of faith with the Philistine giant, Goliath. While everyone in the Israelite camp was fearful of the larger than life enemy, David saw him through the eyes of faith, and stepped up to challenge someone twice his size. 

It just so happens, that on that day, Jonathan had a front row seat to the entire event. It was immediately after David killed Goliath that Jonathan knew this was a guy with remarkably similar sensibilities. David possessed Jonathan’s same passion for God; same zealous faith that takes enormous risk; same heart for God’s people and God’s name. They clicked – and became kindred spirits, as if knowing the one of them was to know the other.

It was true friendship at its absolute best. Jonathan had David’s back. There was nothing he would not do for him, and vice versa. So, he made a covenant with David. And it turned out to be a lasting commitment neither of them ever regretted. 

Jonathan did not make the covenant with David just to buddy-up with the new popular person. No, Jonathan is a timeless example of one who was humbly unselfish. He gave up his robe and his weapons to David. This was a magnanimous gesture. Jonathan believed David was the next true king, so he gave his kingly objects to him.

As the king’s son, Jonathan stood in line to be the next king. In fact, everything we know about Jonathan informs us he would likely be a darn good king. Yet, Jonathan recognized David was a more worthy candidate than himself. So, he gave up his right to the throne and handed over his symbols of potential kingship.

Jonathan delighted in David’s success. He joyfully watched David become a great warrior and successful leader. Jonathan was always the first one to give David a pat on the back and do whatever was needed in supporting him. 

Jonathan didn’t mind that David upped him on the battlefield and commanded ever larger numbers of soldiers.  Jonathan could have pulled rank on David as the king’s son – but he never did, because he honestly believed his friend was the real king.

“If Christ Jesus dwells in a person as his friend and noble leader, that person can endure all things, for Christ helps and strengthens us and never abandons us. He is a true friend.”

St. Teresa of Ávila

In the New Testament, we see a person with the same spirit and devotion as Jonathan. John the Baptist was out in the wilderness being a literal wild man. And he gained quite a following. All kinds of people went out into the desert to be baptized by John and to be his disciples. Yet, John recognized that he himself was not the true king. Concerning Jesus, John said:

“This is the one I told you would come! He is greater than I am because he was alive before I was born.” (John 1:15, CEV)

“I am not the Messiah…. I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” (John 1:20, 23, NIV)

“Though his ministry follows mine, I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandal.” (John 1:27, NLT)

“I have seen and testified that this one is God’s Son.” (John 1:34, CEB)

John never became jealous, envious, or concerned that his cousin Jesus was greater than himself. In fact, he celebrated it:

“I am so happy that he is here. He must become more and more important, and I must become less important.” (John 3:29-30, ERV)      

John was focused on God. He therefore was able to respond rightly and humbly to Jesus, the true king. 

Jonathan was focused on God, and so was able to respond rightly and humbly to David, the true king.

Jesus is both king and friend. Jesus can be your kindred spirit, the one who always has your back. You can call, and he will be there. And we can delightfully watch Christ increase while we decrease. His success is our success. 

Divine friendship is possible. God’s people can enjoy incredible unity because Jesus has gone before us – he has won the victory over sin, death, and hell on our behalf. By faith we step out and act with the knowledge God is with us.

Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15, NKJV)

**Above wood sculpture of Jonathan and David by Olen Bryant (1927-2017)

The Beatitudes of Jesus: An Introduction

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:1-12, NIV)

The human brain is hard-wired, in such a way, that it works its best when healthy rhythms of giving and receiving occur. God created us to thrive and flourish when we pay attention to particular ways of being with one another as people.

Jesus used the term “blessed” not in a financial sense, as if having lots of money is what it means to experience blessing. The word “blessed” means to have God’s stamp of approval, his favor, with the emotional and spiritual response of joy or happiness. 

Real and lasting joy comes from a right relationship with God, defined according to what Jesus says – different from the false righteousness of the religious establishment which is based on outward appearance rather than inner attitudes. We need to know how to relate to our God, instead of simply conforming to an outward form of Christianity that everybody is doing.

Our entire selves are blessed when we engage in consistent rhythms of practicing humility before the Lord; sitting with grief; putting ourselves in another’s shoes; seeking right relationships with both God and others; pursuing mercy, purity, and peace-making in all our affairs; and allowing persecution to form us in ways the good times cannot.

Jesus preached the Beatitudes to clarify what it means to be approved by God. He wanted to gain true disciples who follow God for the right reasons. The crowd was following Jesus physically, but not necessarily spiritually. They all followed for different reasons: for healing, curiosity, or a genuine desire to be a disciple. So, Jesus sat them down to communicate what a true follower and disciple is.

Imagine we are part of the crowd originally hearing Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  The world in which the people lived, and the religious system which they took for granted, was highly restrictive. 

In order to approach God, enter the kingdom, and be a good citizen, one had to be Jewish, male, a faithful Law-keeper, physically whole, healthy, and able; and, if not wealthy, able to make a good living. 

Yes, this reality meant that Gentiles, women, those who struggled to keep the Law, the diseased and disabled, and the poor had no shot whatsoever in the kingdom of God. To be blessed and have God’s stamp of approval on your life meant you were a healthy and wealthy Jewish man who practiced a legalistic form of righteousness. 

Not a single one of us here would have any shot at the kingdom of God. Yet, we have heard something about this guy, Jesus. There seems to be something very compelling about him. We go seek him out, sit down on a mountainside and hear him say the most refreshing and scandalous words we have ever heard…

God approves of the spiritually bankrupt who realize they’ve got no leverage to make any deals. They shall be given the riches of God’s grace.

God approves of those who grieve over personal sin and lament the presence of sin in the world. They are the ones who will experience God’s forgiveness and comfort.

God approves of the powerless and those who use their authority to champion others. They will inherit God’s power and take up authority to command dark forces and put them in their place.

God approves of those who have a voracious appetite for right relationships and doing everything for the right reasons. Their growling spiritual stomachs will be stuffed with God’s righteousness.

God approves of those who liberally extend grace to others, being always considerate of everyone’s needs, showing neither prejudice nor favoritism. They shall receive God’s grace at the end of the age when Christ comes to judge the living and the dead.

God approves of the spiritually clean who have bathed in the waters of divine mercy. They will see Jesus face to face.

God approves of those who facilitate and negotiate peace. Because that is precisely what God’s children do.

God approves of those who are persecuted for living by these counter-cultural Beatitudes. They have an inheritance that will never perish, spoil, or fade.

Grant us, Lord God, a vision of our world as your love would make it: a world where the weak are protected, and none go hungry or poor; a world where the benefits of abundant life are shared, and everyone can enjoy them; a world where different races and cultures live in tolerance and mutual respect; a world where peace is built with justice, and justice is guided by love. And give us the inspiration and courage to build it, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Psalm 20 – There Is Help from Heaven: Just Ask

I pray that the Lord answers you
        whenever you are in trouble.
    Let the name of Jacob’s God protect you.
Let God send help to you from the sanctuary
    and support you from Zion.
Let God recall your many grain offerings;
    let him savor your entirely burned offerings. Selah
Let God grant what is in your heart
    and fulfill all your plans.
Then we will rejoice that you’ve been helped.
    We will fly our flags in the name of our God.
    Let the Lord fulfill all your requests!

Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed one;
    God answers his anointed one
        from his heavenly sanctuary,
    answering with mighty acts of salvation
        achieved by his strong hand.
Some people trust in chariots, others in horses;
    but we praise the Lord’s name.
They will collapse and fall,
    but we will stand up straight and strong.

Lord, save the king!
    Let him answer us when we cry out!
(Common English Bible)

Sometimes, the connection between our present situations and the past biblical historical context is readily apparent; and sometimes it’s not so clear. In the crucible of life, and the struggles of daily living, we might too quickly pass over the grace, relevance, and truth of God’s Word to us. 

The psalms are both prayer and worship directed to God. Many of those prayers are for oneself. Others, like today’s psalm, are intercessions for others. It is my sincere and ardent desire that you will experience a good life, even when that life has a bevy of challenges, stresses, and difficulties baked into it. And so:

May the Lord answer you in the stress of your life.

May the name of the ever-living, ever-present God protect you.

May the Lord send you help from the holy habitation, and give you support from heaven itself!

May God almighty remember all the ways you have given and served.

May the Lord be pleased with everything you have sacrificed on behalf of divine purposes and plans.

May God grant your heart’s deep longing and carry out every good plan you conceive.

May we together shout for joy when you overcome incredible pressure, and in the name of God throw a big ol’ party because of answered prayer!

May the Lord bring to fruition every one of your prayers.

I have supreme confidence God’s people shall be delivered. The Lord will answer from heaven with the full force of saving power. Some put their ultimate trust in military might. Others place faith in financial security. But the people of God trust in the name of the Lord our God.

We may collapse and fall. There might be obstacles galore. Stress and pressure may be our constant companions. No matter. We get up and stand again with confidence. The Lord will save us. God will answer when we call.

For the Christian, all God’s good promises are realized in Jesus. Ultimate help and deliverance come from Christ. Even more, Jesus came to give victory to all people. Consider the following New Testament expressions of salvation’s opportunity for everyone:

Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him would not be lost but have eternal life. (John 3:16, ERV)

This Jesus is the stone you builders rejected; he has become the cornerstone! Salvation can be found in no one else. Throughout the whole world, no other name has been given among humans through which we must be saved. (Acts 4:11-12, CEB)

God made a promise to our ancestors. And we are here to tell you the good news that he has kept this promise to us. It is just as the second Psalm says about Jesus,

“You are my son because today
    I have become your Father.”

God raised Jesus from death and will never let his body decay. It is just as God said,

“I will make to you
    the same holy promise
    that I made to David.”

And in another psalm, it says, “God will never let the body of his Holy One decay.” When David was alive, he obeyed God. Then after he died, he was buried in the family grave, and his body decayed. But God raised Jesus from death, and his body did not decay. My friends, the message is that Jesus can forgive your sins! The Law of Moses could not set you free from all your sins. But everyone who has faith in Jesus is set free. (Acts 13:32-39, CEV)

“The God who made the world and everything in it, this Master of sky and land, doesn’t live in custom-made shrines or need humans to run errands for him, as if he couldn’t take care of himself. He makes the creatures; the creatures don’t make him. Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but find him. He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. We live and move in him, can’t get away from him! One of your poets said it well: ‘We’re the God-created.’ Well, if we are the God-created, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to think we could hire a sculptor to chisel a god out of stone for us, does it?”

“God overlooks it as long as you don’t know any better—but that time is past. The unknown is now known, and he’s calling for a radical life-change. He has set a day when the entire human race will be judged, and everything set right. And he has already appointed the judge, confirming him before everyone by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:24-31, MSG)

There is help from heaven. It is available to us – if we but ask…

*Above art by Stushie Art of Psalm 20:4

John 15:18-20, 26-27 – Moving in with Jesus

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also…

When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” (New International Version)

Two characters: Jesus and Emmet

Scene:  Emmet is moving in with Jesus as a roommate.

Emmet enters….

“Nice digs, Jesus. Not quite what I was expecting – looks good and clean – but just ordinary.”

“I’m glad you decided to take up my offer and come live with me in my house, Emmet. Well, it’s actually my Father’s house.”

“Yeah, well, it wasn’t working out so well with my girlfriend, Jezebel. She was into a lot of weird stuff, like some crazy real estate schemes, especially with vineyards – the woman is obsessed with buying up vineyards. Besides, she told me she hates me. That really hurt.”

“Emmet, I think you will find I’m into a different kind of vineyard and real estate. And there isn’t any hate there. It’s called ‘the kingdom of God.’”

“Kingdom, huh?  Sounds like a pretty big gig to me, Jesus.”

“Oh, yes, it is. The biggest. You know, Emmet, by living and abiding with me here you will get to know all about the kingdom.”

Sounds groovy, man… or should I say, ‘Son of Man!’ Hey, Jesus, you got any beer and chips in this joint?  I’m starving.”

“No, sorry, I’m afraid not right now. But I do have some wine and some bread.”

“Well, okay, Jesus. I’m super hungry. I could go for about anything.”

Here you go Emmet.” (Jesus gives Emmet a wafer and communion cup – Emmet just stands there and looks at it). “Make yourself at home in my love, Emmet.”

“Um, hey, Jesus, not to be ungrateful or anything, but is this all you have?”

“Just try it, Emmet. I think you will find it rather satisfying.”

(Emmet takes the bread and drinks the cup). “Holy Communion, Jesus! Whoa! I’m actually full! What in the world is in that stuff, anyway?”

“There’s no world in it, at all, Emmet. I am the vine. You are the branch. When you drank, you ingested me.  You’re joined with me, and I with you. Apart from me you are always going to be hungry and thirsty, no matter how much other food you eat and how much beer you drink. But if you stay here and settle in with me, make this your permanent home and not just a place to hang your hat, you can be sure that I will always listen to you and do whatever you ask of me.”

“That’s heavy, man. Very cool. I can dig it!”

“I have told you this for a purpose, Emmet – that we might enjoy being roommates together. By the way, I have just one rule in my house that I expect to be obeyed, always: Love other people in the same way that I love you.  Never forget, Emmet: If you ever get locked-out of the house, it is love which opens the door to my place.  Remember, Emmet, that love is the key.”

“You know, Jesus, you’re kind of odd, but I like you, dude. I’m glad I chose to come here.”

“Emmet, you did not choose me; I chose you and brought you here because of my love. And I am sending you into the world to love. Remain here with me, abide with me in this place, and you will see things happen beyond what you can even think or imagine. Go, now, and bear the fruit of love in my kingdom, and when you come back, I’ll have a place for you to sleep and you will rest like you have never rested before.”

“I really appreciate your hospitality, Jesus. But what if I mess up? Or forget about your rule?”

“When you came here, Emmet, you probably saw someone standing just outside the door.”

“Yeah… I did see some dude who looked way out there, man, like he was from another universe, like maybe New Jersey, or something.”

“That was the Advocate. He will come whenever you mess up or forget about my love. The Advocate will help you remember the truth.”

(Jesus walks Emmet to the door). “There’s nothing to worry about. Just go and love others like I love you. Good-bye, Emmet.”

“Bye, Jesus. I’ll be back after I go spread some love around, just like you taught me….”

*Above Photo by Amina Filkins on Pexels.com