Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Family Memories of Brett Winters

On Sunday, December 17, 2017, family, friends, and loved ones gathered at the Prestoncrest Church of Christ in Dallas, TX to celebrate the faithfulness of our Savior in the life of my cousin, Brett Wade Winters.  Though Brett only lived thirty-five short years, he made the most of his time.  God saved him and used him to make an impact on the world around him.  I was honored to have been given the opportunity to share some family memories of Brett and I wish to share them here, now. 

Our church family and our biological family create the most important relationships we’ll form in this life.  It’s a double blessing when our biological family is also a part of our church family.  Brett Winters was blessed by a strong faithful family, and Brett was a blessing to his family.

Cynthia Winters, Brett’s mom is one of six siblings, children of Rip and Gussie Turnbough - Papa and Gigi as they are more affectionately known to us.  The six Turnbough kids went on to have a total of eighteen children, meaning that in addition to his three siblings, Brett had fourteen first cousins – and that’s just on his mom’s side of the family.  I’m not sure how many cousins Brett had on his dad’s, Will Ed’s, side of the family.  I am blessed to be one of Brett’s cousins and my life has been greatly impacted for good by him.  Growing up, our cousins, aunts and uncles, along with Papa and Gigi, were regularly gifted to spend time together in various locations from Texas to Colorado and beyond.  Most of these holidays and get-togethers took place at the base of the Davis Mountains, out in the tiny West Texas town of Balmorhea. A typical Turnbough family get-together included board games, cards, dominoes, and group games like Charades.  When we were all younger, at night-time, we would turn Gigi’s and Papa’s huge front yard into a big playground for hide and go seek.  And not just any ol’ game of tag, but an extreme version of hide and go seek in the dark.  As we got older, we would utilize the front yard for games of touch football and kickball.  And when we got tired of that, we would commandeer a set of keys to the local high school gym and play some basketball.  These various sporting endeavors continued, even as we aged – and we didn’t all grow old gracefully.  There were quite a few minor and not-so-minor injuries, but we pressed on with the games in Balmorhea and other places.   

Brett’s aunt, and my mom, Karen Smith, tells of a time that our extended family was celebrating Christmas in Estes Park, Colorado.  Brett would have been about 11 years old, and our family had gone down to the local roller skating rink for a spin.  After a while, the family noticed that Brett was in his own little world as he made lap after lap around the rink.  He would make silly faces, gyrate his body, and even kick his leg up on the wall.  The entire time, he stayed in his own world, oblivious to the laughter of his family.  Everyone got a kick out of it and talked about it for some time.  But Brett didn’t do it to get attention or to make anyone laugh.  He was just being his light-hearted, joyful self.  And Brett’s sister, Kayla used to work hard at trying to get Brett to laugh.  She didn’t always succeed, but when she did it brought her great joy.  Brett consistently brought others great joy.  He was comfortable in his own skin.  He wasn’t worried about what others might think, so he was free to be who he was – free to live a life of joy – free to be who God created him to be, and who Jesus re-created him to be. 

As Brett grew older, his influence on others grew wider.  Sixteen years ago, I happened to be the camp counselor at Camp Blue Haven & I had Brett’s younger brother, Jared in my cabin.  One morning, I asked my campers to share someone who had been a strong spiritual influence in their lives.  Without hesitation, Jared spoke up and said that Brett had been the biggest spiritual influence in his life.  And just a couple of months ago, while on a trip with his family to watch his beloved Texas Tech Red Raiders, Brett and his older brother, Cade, took time out of their busy weekend to share a meal with their two college-aged first cousins once removed, Landon & Nathan.  Landon remarked that Brett was fully invested in their conversation, despite all that he was dealing with.  This aligns perfectly with what Courtney expressed in an online post on Thursday.  In it she said, “This entire year’s journey for Brett was NEVER about him or cancer.  It has been about God and loving others.  He has pointed people to Jesus in the midst of his pain.”  Brett’s life mimicked Jesus, as he lived to serve and to bless others, rather than himself.  Brett’s cousin, Misty Boyles, states that Brett reminds her of their grandfather, PaPa – a kind-hearted, gentle, humble, and hard-working servant.

And Brett had many opportunities to work alongside his grandfather, PaPa, out on the farm in Balmorhea.  Back in the summer of 2001, Brett, me, and our cousin, Brent, were unloading oats for our grandfather out in the middle of the desert – in the middle of nowhere.  The owner of the place was kind enough to give us some half-melted popsicles.  We all thirstily drank down these half-liquid concoctions.  But Brett had taken his shirt off and much of his popsicle had dripped onto his chest.  So, his “chest-lettuce” sported a sticky residue which soon became the home to dozens of flies.  But Brett wasn’t bothered, he just continued to work hard, shoveling oats amongst all the floating chaff and swarming insects. 

And it was around this time in Brett’s life that he met his beautiful wife, Courtney.  From the very beginning, their relationship was unique.  At their wedding, back in 2006, Brett’s first cousin once removed, Kaelen Boyles served as their flower girl.  As Kaelen reached the end of the aisle, she discovered that she still had quite a few flowers left in her basket, so, she just dumped the flowers into a pile on the ground.  Despite her unorthodox flower peddling, she recalls that Brett gave her a tender smile that made her feel like a princess.  And at their wedding, Brett and Courtney gave away a mixed cd as a party favor.  The cd contained songs that musically reflected different aspects of their lives and relationship.  Shelly Turnbough, the wife of Brett’s cousin, Colby, remembers listening to this cd and thinking about this incredible couple.  This party gift was fitting, as Brett and Courtney didn’t want to just live their lives – they wanted to share their lives with others.  And the desire to share life was rooted in their shared relationship with Jesus Christ.  Indeed, Christ-centered is certainly the best way to describe Brett’s and Courtney’s marriage.  Christ-like is without a doubt, the best way to describe Brett’s life.  

In fact, from early on, Brett’s life was eerily similar to Jesus.  Like Jesus, before becoming a teenager, Brett was left in a crowd by his parents.  It happened in the summer of 1991, when the Winters were on a family vacation with my family, and Gigi and Papa.  We traveled from Texas all the way to Alberta, Canada.  While at Glacier National Park in Montana, our party accidentally left Brett at a tourist lodge and drove off to head back to our campsite.  As we traveled along, Cindy kept urging my dad to slow down on the curvy road.  But once we discovered that Brett was missing, Cindy kept shouting at my dad to drive faster to get back to the lodge and find Brett!  Thankfully it only took a few minutes instead of the few days it took Joseph & Mary to get back to Jerusalem.  When we arrived back at the lodge, the 9-year-old Brett was safe and sound, sitting quietly on a bench.  And that shouldn’t surprise us, Brett was always cool as a cucumber.  He always exuded such a peaceful spirit.  Right up until the time of his passing, Brett displayed a peace which passes all understanding.  A peace provided by the Holy Spirit which dwelt within him.  His peaceful presence allowed others to experience that same peace, even through this difficult ordeal.

But though Brett was a man of peace, he was also a warrior – a fighter.  He fought hard for his family, he fought hard for his friends, and he fought hard for his Savior.  Like the apostle Paul 20 centuries ago, Brett fought the good fight, he finished the race, and he kept the faith.  And on that great day of resurrection, the Lord, the righteous judge will give him and all those who have longed for Jesus’ appearing, the gift of the crown of righteousness.  Courtney related Thursday in her blog post that Brett considered this life to be merely a blip on the radar of eternity.  He so eloquently described it as just a small fabric in the tapestry woven by our creator.  Brett knew that though his body was wasting away, like Jesus, his future was resurrection.  And so, like the apostle, Brett made it his aim to do all that he did in service to Christ.

Notice the apostle Paul’s words to the Philippians.  Read carefully, and you’ll be reminded of the kind of life that Brett lived.  “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead…I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Paul goes on to say a few verses later, “Brothers and sisters, imitate me…” 

Brett’s dad, Will Ed, said last week that Brett made his life count.  And because he so faithfully imitated Jesus, his Lord and savior, we would all do well to imitate Brett.  Not to be him – there is only one Brett Winters – but to be like him and to become the people that God has created us to be – and to especially become the people that God, through his Spirit, and through the resurrection of Jesus, has recreated us to be.  Brett was a blessing to us all and his legacy will continue to be a blessing to so many.  Like Brett, may we make our lives count.  From 1 Corinthians 15, “…thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord, your labor is not in vain.” - Shay 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Bread and Wine

In Luke 22, in the midst of celebrating The Passover with his disciples, Jesus performs a simple act with a profound meaning.  Luke tells us that "he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body, which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.'  And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.'"

Jesus could have taken two or three hours to explain to his disciples what he was about to accomplish through his death and his resurrection (of course, if the rest of the gospels are considered, his disciples probably wouldn't have understood him anyway).  He could have left behind books, upon books of theology, detailing the exact spiritual significance of what was about to occur (isn't it interesting that Jesus didn't pen any writing that's found in our New Testament).  But he didn't do that.  He simply took a loaf of bread, gave thanks, broke the bread, and shared it with his followers - he shared it with his friends.  And after that, he took a cup of wine, and that too he shared with his intimate companions.

Though it is a worthwhile endeavor to seek to understand the faith we profess (I hope to do it most days), the most important part of our faith - is that we have faith to begin with.  We begin with faith and one day, Jesus will bring our faith to completion.  As we await that day, we humbly receive the gift of Jesus' body through the bread.  It is broken for us.  We take it, we eat it, and we offer him our gratitude.  Likewise, we graciously accept the gift Jesus' blood through the wine.  It is poured out for us.  We take the cup, we drink it, and we give to him our thanksgiving.

Our Father, holy is your name.  May your kingdom continue to come and may your will always be done in our hearts, minds, and lives, and on earth, as it is in heaven.  Thank you, not only for our daily bread and wine, but most of all, thank you for the bread of life and the blood of life.  Thank you for your Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ!  May those of us who have surrendered to him say, amen. - Shay

Friday, November 3, 2017

Reformation and Restoration is Still Incomplete

Over the past month and a half, dozens of my brothers and sisters in Christ have gathered on Wednesday evenings at 7 pm to discuss William P. Young's modern classic, The Shack.  I am thankful that so many of my fellow sojourners are willing to engage with this writing and try to grow in their faith and understanding through this interaction.  None of us are completely on the same page with one another on every issue, but because we all acknowledge that we're on a spiritual journey and that none of us has it all together (either morally or theologically), we have chosen to extend grace to one another (and Young) and give one another the benefit of the doubt.  Its amazing how much better dialogue goes when we assume the best of others, rather than the worst.

For too long, conservative Christians have shied away from exploring writings or ideas that challenge some of their preconceived notions.  I believe that much of this reluctance is driven by fear.  It seems that we are afraid that if we go down certain paths, we're on a slippery slope that leads to who knows where.  And how would we know if we aren't even willing to give theses paths an honest look?

I have no problem with someone starting down a spiritual line of thought, only to turn around and go back in the other direction once they are convinced that the path won't be fruitful.  However, to dismiss the journey out of hand before its even begun causes me to wonder if the individual may not be very secure in their faith to begin with.

As the Protestant Reformation celebrates 500 years (give or take), I think its a good time for all of us to consider what we believe, and even more importantly, why we believe what we believe.  One of the ideas that the reformers tried to promote was that the church should always be reforming.  In my faith tradition, which comes out the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, we've tried to continue to go back to Scripture in order to more faithfully become the people of Christ.  Sadly, some of the time, we've failed to follow the paths where Scripture leads when it conflicts with what we've always been taught.  If the reformers felt that we should always be reforming, I believe the restorers would have equally felt that we should always be about the task of restoration.  News flash - the task of reformation and restoration will never be complete for any of us, individually or corporately, or for the world, creationally, until we are enjoying our resurrection lives in God's renewed creation in the age to come!  So rather than fearing change, we should embrace it, knowing that growth, maturity, and transformation cannot happen any other way.

I pray that God will give us all the grace, humility, and open hearts and minds that we need to fully become the people he's recreated us to be through Christ and his Spirit. - Shay

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Best Decade Yet

When I turned 20, I was excited to finally get into an adult decade.  When I turned 30, I was excited because I felt like I might get a little more respect amongst my older colleagues.  I also began to realize that I was the age Jesus was when he began to minister.  Thankfully, I've had a longer ministry than Jesus though.  That's the only thing that I'll ever outdo Jesus in!

Now that I've turned 40, I'm excited just because its always good to turn a day, a year, or even decade older.  I have neither the dread of being in my 40s, nor am I feeling any kind of a mid-life crisis beginning to emerge.  40 just seems like one number more than 39, which felt like one year more than 38.  I can safely say that each decade of my life has been better than the last.  So, I expect the 40s to be the best decade yet! - Shay

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Faith and Gratitude of a Foreigner

After reading and meditating on Luke 17:11-19 over the past few days, here's my paraphrase and some reflections from the passage.

“As Jesus journeyed toward Jerusalem, he passed through the borderlands of Samaria and Galilee.  As Jesus entered a village, ten lepers approached, but made sure to keep a safe distance.  They cried out, ‘Jesus, Master, show us some mercy!’  Jesus saw them and said, ‘Go and let the priests examine you.’  So, they went and were made clean along the way.  But one of them, once he realized that he was healed, turned around and began to shout out praises to God.  He flung himself at the feet of Jesus and said, ‘Thank you so much!’  This one was a Samaritan.  Jesus asked, ‘Weren’t there ten cleansed?  Where are the other nine?  Can you believe that only this foreigner has paused to give God the glory?’  So, Jesus said to the Samaritan, ‘Stand up and begin the rest of your life.  Through faith you’ve been made well.’”

For the last eight and half chapters of Luke’s gospel, Jesus has had his eyes firmly fixed on Jerusalem and the new exodus that he will accomplish there.  But as he presses on towards his destiny, his eyes are also open to what his Father may have in store for him along the way.  Moving through the borderlands of Samaria and Galilee, he couldn’t find himself more on the margins of mainstream Jewish society if he tried.  And as he enters this little village, ten men who are very much on the fridge of community life, cry out to this one they recognize as their master, hoping that he might grant them mercy - hoping that they might be healed.  Jesus sees them and their plight, and in keeping with Mosaic orthodoxy, he commands the lepers to go and show themselves to the priest so that once their healing is confirmed, they can be restored back into the life of their community.  Only at this point, they’ve yet to be healed.  But, in faith, the ten obey Jesus and set out to find one of the local priests.  As they go, they are healed.

No doubt, once the nine Jewish lepers realize they’ve been healed, they speed up their pace to get to the priest and begin their lives anew.  They have places to go, people to see, things to do, and lives to relive.  They’ve been isolated from their friends and family for so long.  Jesus’ gift of cleansing will enable them to be outsiders no more.  These nine Jewish lepers have acted in faith.  They’re obeying Jesus’ and Moses’ command.  They’re doing the right thing and undoubtedly, they’ll soon be reunited with their family and friends.  They are cleansed and this is a good thing.  But nevertheless, they’ve missed out on an opportunity.  And as so often is the case, a stronger faith is found through an unexpected person.

Despite the stereotypes and judgments hurled at the Samaritans, only this foreigner takes the time to pause, to lift up his eyes and his voice in worship to God the Father, and to fall at the feet of his Master and Savior in gratitude.  We can learn so much at unexpected times, in unexpected places, and through unexpected people.  Time and time again, the strongest form of faith is found on the margins rather than in the mainstream.

Like the ten lepers in this story, we often cry out to Jesus, asking him to show us mercy and to cleanse us and heal us.  This is a good thing.  We should be quick to do so.  And like the lepers, we can be sure that Jesus sees us and hears our cries.  Like the nine, we might be quick to get on with our lives, including obeying God and doing the right thing.  Our days are filled with work and responsibility.  We’re busy providing for our families and meeting urgent needs.  We’re bustling here and there – to and fro – doing good things – doing the right things – doing even religious things.  But, if we’re not careful, like the Jewish lepers, we might fail to pause and offer God our worship and our praise.  If we’re too busy living life, even doing good things for God, we might fail to take the time to thank God’s Son for his deliverance.  We might find ourselves missing the forest for the trees.  As the Westminster Catechism reminds us, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”  The means are important, but we must never lose sight of the end.  We should spend at least as much time praising and thanking God for what he’s already done in our lives, as the time we spend in asking him to do the things that he’s not yet done.  God calls us to be faithful.  But as the apostle Paul consistently tells us, God’s will for our lives is that we might also be thankful.  And one of the primary motivations for mission is to bring worship to God where it’s presently lacking.   

So, let’s keep this story in the forefront of our minds.  Let’s lookout along the borderlands of our world for those lessons we might learn in unexpected places through unexpected people.  And in the midst of living life and obeying God, let’s be sure to occasionally pause and take time to praise God for who he is and to thank him for what he’s already done.  We have much for which to be thankful and our God is forever worthy of our praise. 


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Torn Between

Nearly seven years ago I began writing this blog.  This is only my 160th post (a little over 20 posts a year), but it's been enjoyable to occasionally share my thoughts with those who have taken the time to read them.  There's so many great blogs and other content to absorb on the internet, so I am thankful that a few people are willing to give my voice a listen.  I began this blog a couple of months after we had moved to Dublin.  I called the blog "Near St. Anne's and the Sea", because when we first moved to Ireland, we lived right across the street from the amazing St. Anne's Park.  And just down the road from our apartment was Dublin Bay and the Irish Sea. 

After over two years, Juli and Ashlyn will get to visit both the park, the beaches on North Bull Island, and all of the other places they miss so much.  I've already had the chance to visit Dublin twice this year.  So, though I'm genuinely stoked to be able to be back on the little island I lovingly refer to as the "Garden of Eden of the North Atlantic", I don't think my anticipation can compare to theirs'.  But, I am thankful that this time around I'll be able to experience our home away from home with my family.

As I've mentioned in another blog post or two, in this life, we're often torn.  We are torn between places and people.  We are torn between the here and now and the eternity still to come.  We are thankful for what we have, where we're at, and the people we get to experience life with, but we also long for that which we are missing, the places we cannot be, and the people we are absent from.  I believe that somehow and someway, this dilemma will be resolved in the age to come.  In the meantime, we make the most of where we're at, while we're here (or there). 

For the next week or so, we'll be reconnecting with those people and places we presently long for.  And then, when we get back home, we'll be thankful to be back home.  The good news is that Jesus will journey with us the entire way.  "And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20). - Shay  

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Slippery Slope of Succession

One of the most famous English monarchs to ever sit on the throne must be Elizabeth I.  Elizabeth reigned from 1558 to 1603, but how she finally came to the throne is anything but simple and smooth.  Her father, Henry VIII was married to Catherine of Aragon and had one daughter with her – Mary.  But of course, Henry desperately wanted a male heir and he believed that Catherine could not produce one.  So he decided to get rid of Catherine, but the Pope wouldn’t allow it.  And so the King who had once been proclaimed the “Defender of the Faith” by the Pope, due to his opposition to the Protestant Reformation on the European continent, took control of the English churches and created the Church of England, with the English monarch as the head.  This allowed Henry to divorce Catherine. 

In all, Henry went through six wives in his lifetime.  Their fate can be summarized with the following pneumonic phrase – divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.  His six wives produced for him a total of three legitimate heirs, but only one son, the sickly Edward.  Before his death, Henry established a throne succession plan whereby Edward would assume the throne upon his death and if Edward failed to produce an heir, then Henry’s oldest daughter Mary would then inherit the crown.  Finally, if both Edward and Mary were to pass without legitimate heirs, Elizabeth would become Queen.

After Henry’s death, his son Edward, the sickly boy, reigned for only six years and then died at the age of 15 without an heir.  Edward was a fanatical Protestant and had tried to create a plan that would prevent Mary from inheriting the throne, but his plan ultimately failed, as his cousin, Lady Jane Grey, was unable to prevent Mary from taking control (Lady Jane Grey joined two of Henry’s wives with the distinction of having her head removed from her shoulders).  Mary then assumed the throne, but she only reigned for five years, and she too failed to produce an heir.  She did, however restore the Catholic faith to England and had at least 280 Protestant dissenters burned at the stake in the process.  You can toast that the next time you have a Bloody Mary!  Throughout Bloody Mary’s reign, Elizabeth wisely kept a low profile when she wasn’t locked up in the Tower of London or under house arrest.  Finally, at the end of her life, Mary acknowledged that her half-sister was to inherit the English throne.  And so began one of the longest and most successful reigns of an English monarch.  The story of Elizabeth’s succession is nasty.  And history is full of many stories like this.

Biblical history is no different.  It emerges out of real life and so, it too is full of nasty stories.  Solomon’s rise to the throne is just as bloody as Elizabeth’s.  We find the throne succession narratives at the end of 2 Samuel and the beginning of 1 Kings.  1 Kings chapters 1-2 are especially grimy – full of double-dealing and political maneuvering.  If we fail to notice the details of the text, we might assume that Solomon’s succession is inevitable – but a closer reading reveals that it is anything but inevitable.  We forget that Solomon is at least ten sons back in the line of succession.  The only thing Solomon has going for him is that his mother (another messy story) has become David’s favorite wife.  Without the quick wit and aggressive action of Nathan the prophet, Solomon and his mother Bathsheba might experience the same fate as Lady Jane Grey. 

What sets this whole process in motion is the fact that David has multiple sons and daughters by multiple wives over his lifetime.  If you want to make an argument against polygamy, read the stories from the time of Abraham through the Judean monarchy and you’ll soon discover that one wife for life is the way to go!  But back to David’s story.  Because David has produced so many potential heirs through a variety of mothers, a jockeying for position ensues as David’s life winds down.  We see this clearly in 2 Samuel in the stories of Absalom and Amnon.  And by the time we get to the very end of David’s life, as the weak and impotent King lies on the bosom of his beautiful Shunammite nurse, Abishag - Adonijah, the eldest remaining of David’s sons begins to make his move.  And he has a little help from his friends – powerful friends.  Joab, David’s ruthless military commander, and Abiathar, a priest and one of David’s trusted friends, have sided with Adonijah.  They proclaim a feast and invite all of those in their camp to celebrate Adonijah’s inevitable succession to the throne. 

But others are also making plans.  The initial conversations are not recorded for us, but presumably because she was David’s favorite, Bathsheba is promised that her son Solomon will be King.  But as Adonijah begins to press his claim, Nathan realizes that he and Bathsheba need to act fast!  They assemble their own powerful allies, including Zadok the priest, Benaiah, one of David’s mighty men, and Rei and Shimei, two of David’s closest confidants.  Most importantly, David’s inner circle of warriors supports Solomon. 

Nathan and Bathsheba hatch a plot to ensure that Solomon, and not Adonijah, becomes king.  If their plan succeeds, the power in Israel will be theirs.  If it fails, Solomon and Bathsheba will almost certainly be killed.  So Bathsheba goes before David and reminds him of his previous promise.  Then, Nathan comes in and confirms Bathsheba’s position and reiterates the fact that Adonijah is aiming for the throne behind the king’s back.  Their plan succeeds and David publicly endorses Solomon as his successor.  Most of Adonijah’s supporters realize they’ve been outflanked and so quickly move to Solomon’s side.  And Adonijah himself realizes that his life is now in danger and so he begs his brother for mercy.  Solomon tentatively grants him a reprieve from any physical harm, but he warns him that he’s keeping an eye on him. 

But all is not yet well.  Even David sees that Solomon’s throne is not yet secure.  David gives his son some spiritual advice in 1 Kings 2:1-4, but if you read further, David’s words of wisdom become much more political, if not ruthless in nature.  David tells Solomon that Joab is a threat to his throne, so the prudent thing to do is to take him out.  Not only that, but Saul still has some distant relatives that may be gunning for the throne, so Solomon must deal wisely with them.  Shimei (not to be confused with David’s confidant) is a threat from Saul’s tribe and must be killed.  It’s good to be king, but it’s far from easy.  A king must be shrewd and decisive if they wish to remain on the throne. 

After David’s death, Adonijah unwisely continues to scheme behind Solomon’s back.  He goes to Bathsheba and requests that David’s nurse, Abishag, be given to him as a wife.  This isn’t an innocent request.  Just as Absalom’s sexual union on the rooftop of the palace with David’s concubines demonstrated his power and authority to the tribes of Israel, so Adonijah’s request for David’s Shunammite nurse was a politically calculated move towards stealing the throne.  Solomon immediately sniffs this plot out and has his brother Adonijah killed.  In addition to this, Solomon follows his father’s advice and has Joab killed and forces Abiathar the priest into exile.  Eventually, Solomon finds a legitimate excuse to have Shimei, Saul’s distant cousin executed.  We then read in 1 Kings 2:46, “…the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon.”  So much for a smooth and simple succession. 

The throne succession narratives at the end of 2 Samuel and at the beginning of 1 Kings are not unlike the kinds of stories we read in history.  Much of what occurred is pretty icky and very political.  These stories are full of power plays, murder, intrigue, double-dealing, and back-stabbing.  And most of this behavior occurred amongst David’s own family.  These aren’t the nice and neat “flannel graph” stories that we learned from the sweet little grannies who taught us in Sunday school.  But this shouldn’t surprise us.  Biblical history is still history.  These are true stories of real people living in the real world.  The Bible is full of the stories of flawed people living in a broken society. 

And you know, my life mirrors some of this too.  I’ve never murdered anyone, but there’s a lot in my past that I’m embarrassed about.  My life is filled with mistakes.  I wish I could go back and erase some of my history.  I’ve done some pretty dumb things through the years.  I’ve not always treated other people the way I want to be treated.  And I’ve not always loved God with my whole heart. I bet your life is a lot like this too.  In fact, I know it is, because if you’re reading this, then you’re a human.  And we’re all flawed and we live our lives in a world full of other flawed people.  Our histories are not always as neat and tidy as we’d like them to be.

But you know what else – God didn’t quit working because the material he was working with was flawed.  He continued to work through broken human beings, because the last I checked, that’s all he has to work with.  David was a horrible father and much of the messiness in the throne succession narratives are down to David being a lousy dad.  But, nevertheless, David was also a man after God’s own heart and he was the greatest king in Israel’s history!  God worked in and through David and Solomon despite their flaws.  And God is at work in the midst of our broken lives too!  God meets us in the mess of our lives – he works through the broken pieces of our stories – but he’s not content to simply leave us there.  So, he sent his one and only Son to become one of us, to live amongst us, and to finally be the King that all the kings had been called to be, but failed to be.  In fact, Jesus was and is everything that all the rest of us have failed to be too.

So, it’s worth reflecting on the kind of kingdom that Jesus came to establish.  In John 18, the Roman Governor, Pilate, asks Jesus a crucial question.  “Are you the King of the Jews?”  Pilate wants to know if Jesus really is a threat to Rome and their control of Palestine.  Jesus responds affirmatively, but with a clear caveat.  He says, “My kingdom is not from this world.  If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.  But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”  (John 18:36).  Jesus’ kingdom is very much for this world, but it’s not of this world.  It operates by a different set of rules and its values contrast with those of the ordinary kingdoms of this present age. 

I believe this is one of the reasons that Jesus’ contemporaries had such a hard time accepting him as the Messiah.  Jesus didn’t fit the mold of what they were looking for in a coming king.  They still envisioned the kind of kingdom that David and Solomon ruled over.  Instead of driving out the Romans, like many of Jesus’ fellow Jews would have hoped and prayed for, Jesus surrendered to them and was crucified by them.  In his most famous sermon, The Sermon on the Mount, he said things like, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth… Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God…If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to them the other also…If anyone forces you to go one mile (in other words, if a Roman soldier forces you to carry his pack for one mile), go also the second mile…Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  These were not the words of a messianic figure in most 1st century Jews’ minds.  And these words are still hard for many of us to swallow.

The Kingdom of God that Jesus brought and is still bringing is not like the kingdoms of this world.  But it’s very much for people like us who are citizens of this present world.  God meets us in the busyness, the messiness, and most importantly, even the very ordinariness of our lives and brings us to a point where eventually his will is done in our hearts and our lives as it is in heaven.  We start out as ordinary people with all the weaknesses and flaws that you find in anyone’s story.  But through Jesus and through the Spirit’s work in our lives, we are in a state of becoming.  We are becoming poor in spirit (we realize we are spiritually bankrupt).  We are becoming meek.  We are learning to hunger and thirst for righteousness.  We are becoming pure in heart.  We are gradually learning to show mercy, instead of justice (or injustice).  We are becoming peacemakers.  In short, we are becoming more and more like Jesus himself.  “Eventually, he who began a good work among us, will bring it to completion and our love will have overflowed more and more with knowledge and full insight so that we will have produced a harvest of righteousness, being pure and blameless on the day that Jesus returns!”  That's my tight paraphrase of what the apostle Paul says is our destiny (Philippians chapter 1). 

We all start out living lives in the old creation, but that’s our history, that's not our future.  Our future is life in the new creation.  We’re in the process of realizing that life, even now.  The writer of our story specializes in happy endings.  But in reality, they aren’t endings, they’re new beginnings.  The kingdoms of the Bible and the kingdoms of the history books will one day become the Kingdom of God.  We hear a description of what that day will be like in Revelation 11:15-17.  “Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.’  Then the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, singing, ‘We give you thanks, Lord God Almighty, who are and who were, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign.’”  May God hasten the day.  Come, Lord Jesus! – Shay