When The Best Of Times Are The Worst Of Times (And Vice Versa)

Years ago, I served as an associate pastor in a church that included a number of ex-convicts who lived in a halfway house. Their exuberance about their faith challenged me in my walk with God. “I know how much I need Jesus,” they would tell me. “Without him, I’d be living on the streets taking drugs.” Their humility and enthusiasm brought life to our church.

Nearly all of them attended our church religiously and then suddenly disappeared. Finally, I asked the director about the problem.

“As long as they live in the halfway house outside of the inner city, they’re okay. But the minute they begin earning enough money to purchase a car, they drive into the city, buy drugs, and then drop out of the program.’

Strange. A “blessing” from God actually became a curse. And what seemed like a curse (serving time in jail) actually became a blessing to the men because it brought them into a relationship with Jesus.

How can this be?

Please join me in today’s reading.

TODAY’S READING

2 Samuel 14:1-16:23
John 18:1-19:22
Psalm 119:97-128
Proverbs 16:8-11

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

2 Samuel 14:1-16:23. After fleeing from Israel for killing his half-brother Amnon, Absalom receives permission from his father David to return. The first warning sign about Absalom is his description: “In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him” (2 Samuel 14:25). If you remember, Saul was “an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites—a head taller than any of the others” (1 Samuel 9:2). God isn’t opposed to a person’s impressive appearance, but it can deceive people about a person’s true character. Absalom being one.

The ringleader behind Absalom’s return was Joab, the commander of David’s army. So why was he so concerned about bringing Absalom back to Israel? He assumed the man would become the next king. Yet, as we’ve already read, God chooses people not based on appearance but on the heart.

After returning to Israel, David refused to see his estranged son. This inactivity on David’s part added to the increasing estrangement between the father and son. And, now that he lived in Israel, Absalom was able to build support for conspiring against the king.

As we read on, we see people devoted to Saul expressing their allegiance to Absalom.

In little time, David lost nearly everything: his kingdom, the devotion of Israel, his palace and belongings, even his son. Upon arriving at his next destination, we read that he was exhausted—not only physically but emotionally. Then we read these familiar words: “And there he refreshed himself” (2 Samuel 16:14). This is reminiscent of what we read earlier about David when he was on the run from Saul: “But David found strength in the Lord his God” (1 Samuel 30:6).

John 18:1-19:22. Notice the irony in Jesus’ trial: The Jewish leaders didn’t want to enter the Roman palace because it would defile them and prevent them from partaking in the Passover ceremonies (John 18:28). Yet, at the same time they were orchestrating the murder of an innocent man.

After standing before Pilate, three times the Roman governor proclaimed Jesus’ innocence. Why was this so significant to John that he mentions it three times in his gospel? My guess is, John wanted people to know Jesus wasn’t crucified by the Romans for political reasons. He was crucified because he claimed to be the son of God.

Psalm 119:97-128. Reading this psalm, I can’t help asking myself, How often do I desire God’s word like the psalmist? If I truly believed they would bring me life, I would act much differently toward it. And it does bring me life!

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THE WORD MADE FRESH

Today’s reading begins with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. When the soldiers and religious leaders arrive to arrest him, Jesus responds by saying, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18:11).

This sounds eerily familiar with David’s words when Shimei cursed him: “If he is cursing because the Lord said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who can ask, ‘Why do you do this?’” (2 Samuel 16:10).

This brings into question God’s role in our pain.

Years ago, I had God pretty well figured out: All pain came from the devil and anything associated with comfort or provision came from God. But examining the words of David and Jesus seems to imply that God is the author of at least some of our pain.

It seems that in our society, pain and inconvenience are seen as the ultimate curse. But something tells me God’s perspective on pain is different than ours. If pain brings about our ultimate good, wouldn’t it come from God? And alternatively, if riches and comfort draw us away from God, shouldn’t we consider it a curse?

David treated Shimei with respect because he knew that God would ultimately do what is right. In the same way, Jesus welcomed the cross with joy (Hebrews 12:2) because he knew his pain (and death) would result in the offer of salvation to the whole world.

Perhaps God is far better, wiser, and more loving than we ever thought!

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. When has a “curse” ended up becoming a blessing in your life?
  3. What does this say about God?

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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.

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