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The Blindside
II Samuel 11:26-12:13a
August 5, 2012
The Rev. Mark DeVries

I.     Intro

Nine years ago, inspired by our new pastor who had run ten marathons, I decided to run my first one.  With a rag tag group of running friends from First Pres, we were “Marathoners for Mission,” and I was hooked.

This past April, I joined a group of 30 or so runners, many from our church, to run for Barefoot Republic Camp, an amazing, Christ-centered camp where kids from places like First Pres and places like Preston Taylor experience life for a week together.   

Coming off of this marathon, I felt great.  I had lost weight, lower than I had been in ten years.  My cholesterol had gone from 282 to 174 in ten years, without drugs.  I had great endurance on the stress test.

Two days after the Music City Marathon, I jumped back into running again.  And within the first half mile or so, I started having chest pains … not an elephant on my chest, but not a Chihuahua either.  I walked it off and was fine.  The next morning, I ran again.  Same problem.  Annoying little chest pains that kept me from running without stopping. 

So I called Anderson Spickard, who sent me to a stress test, which sent me to the cardiologist, which, a few weeks later, sent me to the gurney for a heart cath procedure where the doctors placed two stents in my heart, repairing 70 percent blockage in one place and 85-90 percent in another. 

There had been something dangerous going on in my heart that I was totally blind to.  On the outside, all indicators were great.  But inside, without the help of someone from the outside who could know my heart – literally, inside and out – I might have joined the other four men in my family tree who died of heart problems at 54.

In our Old Testament text today, David too had a heart problem without even knowing it.  And so do we all. 

Of course, behind this story, is another story.

David has hit the pinnacle of his career. We are in the happily-ever-after part of the story.  Goliath is dead.  The nation is unified.  The worship life of the community has been restored.   David is the American dream personified – little shepherd boy becomes king – now with all the money, power, wives and concubines he should ever want.  He has it all – good looks, celebrity status, and dang it, people just like him. 

Things are so comfortable for David and his nation, in fact, that when his army goes out to war, David stays home.

Heart problems come in seasons like this – when we have traded our passion, something worth giving our lives for, for comfort.  They happened for David, and they will happen for us.

It is during this time when David, maybe just a little bored, is walking out on the roof of his palace, where he has a view of the city.  And he sees, not far off, a young woman bathing nearby.  Maybe feeling the chronic itch that comes to all of us when we have no greater mission than our own comfort, he summons the woman to the palace, knowing full well that she is married to one of his soldiers out on the battlefield.

And within a couple months, a message comes back to him that Bathsheba is now pregnant with David’s child.

He sets a cover-up plan in motion to avoid a scandal – He’ll have Bathsheba’s husband brought home from the battlefield, give him a few days of R and R with his wife, and no one will be the wiser.

But Uriah is so faithful to his fellow soldiers and to the king that he sleeps outside and doesn’t even go into his house.  And even after David gets him drunk the next night, Uriah still he does not go home.

David does what he has to do to avoid discovery.  He sends a letter back to the general saying, “When the fighting is fierce, put Uriah out front and then pull back from him.”  Uriah is faithfully carrying his own death sentence.

The plan works, Uriah is killed, and David becomes a hero for taking such good care of the widow of one of his soldiers.  After the appropriate mourning period, David takes Bathsheba as his wife.

David is sitting pretty.

I imagine our text looking something like this…

David is lounging in comfort with a satisfied grin on his face.  He is in a good mood.  The prophet Nathan, one of David’s trusted counselors, comes in, knowing full well that he could lose his life by saying something unpleasant to the king.

I just imagine David giving a hearty greeting, “How are you my old friend?  Sit!  Sit!  What is on your mind today?”

And Nathan tells the story of the poor man with one dear lamb that was taken away by a rich man who had had more than enough sheep and cattle.  The rich man had a traveler staying with him and just didn’t want to be inconvenienced by using one of his own sheep.  So he took the poor man’s.

David responded to the story emotionally, “The man who did this must die!”  And he has the power to carry out this sentence.  He is ready to take action.

And as David stands to take action, I can imagine Nathan gently placing his hand on David’s chest and saying in a whisper, “You are the man.”  I wonder if Nathan had ever spoken these words to David before … maybe in congratulations, “You!  You’re the MAN!” But this time, they have a whole different meaning.

Nathan story slipped right past David’s brain and into his belly.  Stories have the power to move us that mere words just don’t.  I have a friend who says, “Once upon a time” can often be more spiritually profound than “Thus saith the Lord.”  And it was for David.

The Blindside: Why We Fail Royally

The dark side of success is that it has a way of inflating us on the outside so that we begin to see ourselves not from the heart but as the paper-thin images of ourselves that look so good.   Without anyone seeing what lies beneath the image, we become smaller and smaller in the shadow of the persona of success. 

French philosopher Simone Weil says, “A beautiful woman looking at her image in the mirror may very well believe the image is all she is… Anugly woman knows it is not.”

The king, like many of us who live successful lives, had grown comfortable being defined by the outside, while a crater-sized hollowness was growing inside him, like a sinkhole under a highway that nobody notices until the road implodes. 

Who Needs a Nathan?

But Nathan’s story slices right through the image of David and speaks to his rotting heart, “You are the man.”  David would certainly have been more comfortable without Nathan, but he would have been immensely less.

Do you have a Nathan in your life – someone who is willing to risk your friendship to tell you the truth you need to hear?  Who calls you out when you are off course?  If you can’t name someone quickly, you have got a blindside problem.

With the popularity of the movie, most of us have learned what a blindside lineman is in football – the one who protects the quarterback’s blindside.  There is a reason why this position is the second highest paid position in football … because it protects the highest paid position. 

How many of us don’t have our blindside protected?

Proverbs 4:23 tells us, “Guard your heart with all diligence.”  Guard it like a left tackle guards the quarterback.  We guard our hearts by making sure we have Nathans in our lives.  Do you? 

For family devotions, our family has sometimes been known to watch that deeply theological show, The Biggest Loser.  Here is what I have discovered about that show.  Basically one of the contestants on that show loses weight.  And do you know how they do it?  They use this radical new process – They eat less and exercise more … exactly what I try to do that doesn’t seem to work. 

The difference is the presence of a coach, a Nathan, who keeps peeling back excuses, calling out the best in their clients, even when they would rather stay just like they are, thank you. 

One of the habits we strive to instill in our youth is the habit of finding coaches for themselves, knowing that every champion needs a coach (usually several), as every king needs a Nathan.

Many would argue that self-awareness is the most important skill of leadership … more important than technique, more important than knowledge.  Trappist monk, Thomas Merton has said, “None of us is very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves.”

David’s success had isolated him from coaches that could challenge his illusions.  Our success, our popularity, our prosperity, our spirituality, our “together” families can insulate us from the very voices we need to hear.

A pastor friend said to me one day something that made me wonder.  He said, “I know I will never commit adultery.”  

Sounded like a guy living with the illusion that he was bullet-proof and needed no help.  Then he followed quickly, “I know I will never commit adultery, because I know how easily I can.”  My pastor friend knew he needed a Nathan all the time.  And so do we. 

And as frightening as it might be for us, sometimes we are called to be a Nathan in the lives of others.  Our New Testament lesson put it this way, “speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”  

The Christian life is immensely personal, but it is not private.  Thriving, alive, healthy disciples of Jesus learn not to isolate themselves but to stay connected in one body.

The Blindside Choice

When David was confronted by Nathan, he had a choice to make … and so do we.  David could have silenced Nathan as he did Uriah.  He had the power to try another cover-up.  But he made a different choice, admitting his fault and began again.

You can hear it in the Psalm he wrote following these words from Nathan:

“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.  Against you, you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge me….”

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit in me.  Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.”

No longer a self-satisfied, comfort-seeking king, David stops pretending, stops hiding.  He experiences what James says, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for each other, and you will be healed.”

Dan Webster, a man I go to for life coaching every five years or so, was the youth pastor of the largest youth ministry in the history of the world back in 1989.  Fifteen hundred youth coming every week.  Tremendous change happening in their lives.

Here’s how he tells his story,

“We both know that things are often not as they appear. On a cold Christmas morning in 1989 the darkness of my inner world enveloped me. At 3 a.m. I found myself sitting restlessly by my Christmas tree admitting that I felt as if I were dying inside. While working at the largest church in America, my heart had somehow shrunk to the size of a pea. How strange things seemed ... I was in the middle of fabulous vocational success and yet I was losing the energy and passion to work with students. I was putting strong wings on the weary hearts of kids while my own heart was wasting away.”

Out of his experience, Dan teaches a principle I have never forgotten.  Using the image of a boat, he describes two kinds of life – life above the waterline, the things that everyone can see, and life below the waterline, where matters of the heart are tended to.  When we fail to tend to what is beneath the surface of our lives, we can slowly rot from the inside out, like the way things go bad in the refrigerator. 

Those who focus on the appearance above the waterline and neglect what is beneath the surface will soon find themselves sinking.

It was true for David and it is true for us.

David accomplished incredible feats in his decades as king … a conquering hero, an artist, a poet, an able leader.  But could it be that the most important decision he ever made was his turn-around response to Nathan’s challenge?

The outrageous news of the gospel is that, in Christ, we can be new creatures.  We – all of whom have a heart problem and don’t know it – really can begin again.

Thanks be to God.

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