I have been thinking a lot over these last few days about David. Not our David but King David, that mighty man of valor, 2nd king of Israel, that David. Well really about how much that David and our David had in common. They were both writers. King David wrote most of the Psalms, probably some of Proverbs, parts of 2 Samuel. Our David wrote a couple of kids books, three great memoirs, Salvage, Don’t Let Me Go, and To Kill A Zombie. But he started his writing career writing stories for Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock magazines, most of them about murdering his wife and burying her in the backyard.
King David was a musician. He played the harp and sang the psalms. Our David played the guitar and sang Home Where I Belong. One of my first memories of him was singing in the Cheatham County High School Musical, Oklahoma.
King David was a warrior. He fought Goliath and the Philistines and the Amalekites. Our David fought Pike’s Peak and Mt. Ranier and the Music City Marathon. And in the last few years, large mouth bass and his Kubota tractor and his own personal demons.
King David was a builder. He built Jerusalem and though he never actually built it he amassed the resources to build the temple. Our David built a cabin, benches, signs and hiking trails. He built a lake and a fish house, Lately he had been building lamps and headboards and walking sticks. And I believe, peace.
King David’s life was public, the good, the bad and the ugly. He had Nathan the prophet to make sure of that. Our David had Chonda.
King David had some family stuff. What family doesn’t?
But here’s the thing. God said about King David, “He is a man after my own heart?” So I’ve been thinking? Why did God say that? And when did he say it? And did he still think it at the end, after the public stuff and the battles and all of that? So I started looking at the end of King David. In 2 Samuel 23 there is a passage that is titled The Last Word’s of King David but they really don’t seem to be his last words. A couple of chapters later in I Kings, chapter 2 David is giving this message to his son (well, really grandson) Solomon. And in this last message I found some things that made me think, This is why God called David a man after my own heart. And I again think that King David and our David had a lot in common. Listen,
I Kings 2:1 The time came near for David to die. So he gave orders to his son Solomon. He said 2 “I’m about to die, just as everyone else on earth does. So be strong. Show how brave you are. 3 Do everything the Lord your God requires. Live the way he wants you to. Obey his orders and commands. Keep his laws and rules. Do everything that is written in the Law of Moses. Then you will have success in everything you do. You will succeed everywhere you go. 4 “The Lord will keep the promise he made to me. God said, ‘Your sons must be careful about how they live. They must be faithful to me with all their heart and soul. Then you will always have a man sitting on the throne of Israel.”
- Listen to the first part again. “Be strong. Show how brave you are.” One translation of that simply says, Be a man. I think God called King David a man after His own heart because he was a man. Now don’t get upset ladies. I don’t mean a man versus a woman. He could have said, Be a man, Be a woman. Be fully the person I made you to be. And David was a man, our David.
There was a time in his life that he wasn’t a BIG man. He wrestled at Cheatham County High School in the almost nothing weight class. One of my very favorite stories about David was the first day on a job at Vanderbilt University. His boss took him past a metal door in a stairwell and said. “This is the air handler for this building. Whatever you do don’t open that.” And then he walked off so David, being the warrior that he was, opened it. He said wind came rushing out, threw the door wide open and gushed into the stairway where he was, In a panic he desperately battled to close the door, throwing all of his 120 something pounds against. Finally, summoning all of his strength, got the door closed just as his boss came back into the stairwell. David was sweating, his hair sticking straight up and his shirt barely on. His boss said, “You opened the door didn’t you?’ David said yes and his boss just said, “Everybody does.”
Size not withstanding, David was a man. He was courageous to do things that most of us would never attempt. And not just the 4 mountains he climbed or the 2 marathons he ran. He was a king at Cheatham County High School when in other places his life was really hard. He was all everything Mr. CCHS, athlete, student body leader, deeply respected and admired. I was laughing last night when John Pugh, one of his high school friends said, “When I would see David talking to a group of people in the hall I would just go stand beside him, hoping people would think that I was really in with him.” And he did that pretty much on his own.
He was at our house a lot in those transition days from CCHS to MTSU. He went to MTSU by himself with no money and little understanding of the enrollment process, hoping to get in the dorm that night so he would have a place to stay. At the admission office he was told to come back the next day. With no money and not enough gas to drive back to Ashland City, David slept under a tree on the campus so he could go in and enroll the next day. Can you imagine what it felt like yeas later to return to that campus as an English professor? He was brave. He did all of that, high school, college, mainly on his own strength and determination. David was a man.
That may have been nowhere more evident than in his devotion to his wife and kids. He was a fun dad. If there was an adventure to be found David could find it. And if there wasn’t one he would make one up. Maybe the only time David got really mad at me was one really cold Christmas when Chonda decided to give all 5 boys, Zach, my sons Josh and Jacob, David and me paint ball guns. David was the first one out the door throwing up a barricade and he and I stood side by side against the angry hoard of our three sons. Until his gun jammed and he called time out to go in the house and fix it. As he was walking in I decided to take one more shot at the boys but I shot this huge curve ball that hit him square in the back of the head from about 10 feet away. He saw stars and I saw fire in his eyes when he turned around.
He started scuba diving with his good friend Ken Evans. They dove with sharks in some of the most remote places in the Americas. He golfed with Kevin and with me and played softball with his church buddies. And he worked and served and waited and persevered. Fishing, writing, mountain climbing, helping Zach play Guitar Heroes or walking Chera down the aisle, he was a man.
So King David says to his son, BE A MAN. And God loves him for that. And I think our David would say to his son, and his daughter, and his family and his friends, to all of us, Be a man, be a woman. Be all that God intends you to be. And God loved our David for that.
II. Now the second thing King David says to Solomon is BE A GOOD MAN, don’t just be a man, be a good man. Here’s verse 3, “Do everything the Lord your God requires. Live the way he wants you to. Obey his orders and commands. Keep his laws and rules. Do everything that is written in the Law of Moses.”
We live in a time where there is a lot of confusion about what it means to be a man. It’s about physique and accumulation and power and conquest. It very seldom is related to morality, honesty, holiness, goodness. King David says, “It’s not enough to be a man. Be a good man.” I think I would go so far as to say I don’t think you can be a man if you are not a good man. And our David was a good man.
You who knew him know he was a deep thinker, a profoundly reflective person. He would quote CS Lewis or TS Eliot with equal proficiency but when it got right down to it David was simply good. He made people around him feel valued and that to me is the greatest mark of goodness, Another high school friend last night was about 2 years behind David. He was telling me his first day at school, he was terrified, so shy and nervous.”I as walking down the hall and to my great embarrassment who would be coming to me but David Pierce, Mr.CCHS.” Last night he told me how David smiled at him, said “Man, you’re going to love it here.” And swatted him on the back as he walked by. The kid who is now 50 told me last night, “I will never forget how that changed everything for me.”
David was generous with his time, his talents, his resources. I think Chonda would be the first to say that most of the many mission trips they made to Africa, to Israel, to South America could never have been made without David. He would come fix your air conditioner or help you write a paper at the drop of a hat. He moved me and my family more times than I can remember. The last time was when Jacob was about 10. He’s 28 now. We were caravaning from Ohio with everything we owned either in the U-Haul truck I was driving, the minivan that Doris was in, or on the trailer pulled by my Jeep Cherokee with David at the wheel. The radio was broken and the only cassette tape they had was Jacob’s Lion King. After about 6 hours we stopped at a rest stop and David said, “If I here OHHH SHEA BUMBA” one more time I am going to kill somebody.
He would stand with a long line of people wanting him to sign a copy of his book and give Chonda a joke they had made up, and he would treat everyone of them with kindness, showing genuine interest in each one of them. I went with him once when he was teaching for a Writer’s Conference in Ky. He taught 3 times and they had to move him to a larger room each time. Not because he was a great teacher, though he was, but because he made every student at that conference feel like it was all about them.
I will never forget a phone call I got from David at midnight about 10 years ago. A couple of years earlier I had gone through a terrible time, battling my own demons and dysfunction. Coming out on the other side of that David more than anyone else encouraged me to write my story. He and I would meet at the Barnes and Nobles in Murfreesboro and he would help me with hard places and offer kind, constructive criticism. I had sent the final manuscript to him before submitting it to a publisher. It was midnight and I was asleep when my phone rang. It was David and he said with I’m sure a big smile on his face, “Mike, you did it man. It’s great.” I wrote a book called Failure And How I Achieved It and David read every word in one setting then called and made me feel like a million bucks. Only a good man can do that.
King David says to Solomon. Be a man. Be a GOOD man. And God loves him for that. Our David says to you Zach and you Chera and you Chonda and you Butch and you Julie and you Doris and you Josh, to every one of us, Be a GOOD man. Be a GOOD woman. Make other people feel important. Take the time to help others. Think about them before you think about you. And I believe God loved him for that.
III. Well, that brings me to the last thing King David says. He says, “Then you will have success in everything you do. You will succeed everywhere you go.” I need you to think with me a little bit here. David, King David’s desire was for his sons and his daughters, and the kids of his sons and daughters, to be successes. What is he talking about? If you are a good man then you will have success? Let me be blunt. If your daddy is the king, the most powerful king in the world at that time, you can fall off a horse and you are still going to be a success. I mean you have your pick of palaces. You have more land than you could visit in your lifetime. You have more money than God. What more can you do? You, baby, are a great success before you ever hit a tap. Just ask Paris Hilton or Hank Williams, Jr. or Prince Charles.
Oh, I get it now. Success must be about something other than big houses, lots of cash and a hot car. Success is about character and integrity and genuineness. I am a part of a fellowship that meets on a regular basis. You can find us in the phone book at the beginning of the A’s. I love the wisdoms of my 12 Step family. Like, “I’m not much but I’m all I think about.” Or, “It was my very best thinking that got me into this room.” But maybe my favorite is as good a definition of true success as I can imagine. “Nothing to prove and nothing to hide.” In other words, I think the success that King David desired for his family and that our David desired for us, and that he lived was a life that is simply real. So I would say Be a man. Be a good man. Be a real good man.
Now because David was my go to English guy, he is cringing right now saying, “Mike that isn’t right. Real is an adjective and it can only modify a noun. You mean to say Be a really good man because really is an adverb and it modifies the adjective good. So David is a really good man means a very very good man.” To which I would respectfully say, “David, I meant real.” Although he was a really good man his success was about him being real, genuine, honest, about David being David.
Let’s go back to King David for a minute. That guy was real. I mean have you read the Psalms? He says, “I praise you Oh God. I exalt your name forever.” He says, “You hedge me about and make my enemies a footstool.” And “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Then in the very next breath he says, “How long, O Lord will you desert me.” And “From the depths of despair I cry for your help.” One thing about King David, you knew where he stood. He was real. And our David was real.
Don’t Let Me Go pg 194
I left one morning and came back early afternoon, and Dad was still sleeping. He usually watched game shows at this time, so right away I knew something was wrong. His breathing was labored and ragged. “Dad?” I called again. No answer. “Dad, are you okay?” Still no answer. Now I sat on the side of his bed and placed a hand on his shoulder and gave him just a slight jostle. “Dad?” A sinking feeling passed over me. He’s fought the alcohol and the cancer for the past two years, but now the fight was over. He was enjoying his rest.
Yet still I tried more jostling, and I spoke louder and repeatedly. Finally, I shifted around until I was fully into the bottom bunk and lifted his head and rested it in my lap. His forehead was warm and soft, not made of stone at all. So I began to stroke his face – forehead, cheek, the bridge of his nose. Every inch, I touched. At first I thought he was crying, but the tears were mine. I told him I loved him, again, and again, and again.
Then a most miraculous thing happened to me. For the first time since I was a child, I believed I had found God: He was there in the warmth of my father’s face; He was in the unconditional love I had withheld for so long, but finally expressed at that very moment. “I love you,” I said for the hundredth time, and held him for as long as I could. A wall had collapsed, and behind it stood God with his arms open. There, on the bottom bunk in a tiny apartment, I had reached my summit.
As I worked on this message over the last few days, watched the videos and reread his books I was struck by what a truly remarkable man David was, incredibly gifted, unbelievably talented, superbly creative, and yet most of the time he lived softly behind the scenes, almost hidden. Part of that was because my family is so loud but part of that was because David chose to be soft, satisfied with who he was and not terribly concerned with who others thought him to be. He was, well…real. My wife came up with a great description of him. She said to me yesterday, “David was quietly wonderful.”
Now quiet can sometimes be mistaken for shallow but David was deep. Deep in experiences and passion and in pain. And he was real. Listen to his story in his words about one of those incredibly deep moments, A couple of years ago David had decided to drive out into the country to find his father’s grave.
To Kill A Zombie pg 218-220
I headed out, but things had changed. There used to be a fence row here, I thought, next to this line of big oak trees. On the other side had been field and weeds. Now the fence row was gone and the weeds mowed and the the cleared land was spotted with newer-looking graves. I was sure Dad’s site was near this old fence row. But I couldn’t find it. I walked to the end of the cemetery. Too far. I knew he wasn’t this far down. Where? Slowly I walked the tree line. Reading the names as I passed: Bennett. McNeese. Beard. Britton. And finally….Pierce. My grandmother. And my grandfather.
Next to the granite marker was a flat bronze plate covered with leaves and a large stick. When he died I’d promised myself I would buy a big headstone. I still believe I will someday. I swept the leaves and stick away with my hands to read my father’s name. And I wept some more. I felt foolish and hoped no one was watching. I plucked back the Bermuda grass, thankful that the groundskeeper had not let it knit over the plate, as it easily could have, then took a few more pictures and told Dad that things were going well. “I’ve had some hard times, “I told him. “But you knew that I would, didn’t you? But that’s just a part of being alive, right? I think I understand that now.” That was as profound as I could get. Then I crossed my arms and covered my mouth so that it would appear to anyone watching that I was merely deep in thought. I left after a few minutes and promised myself again that I would look into a new headstone. That would be nice. And that’s probably easier to do now with all the online shopping opportunities we have.
On the way home I made a phone call to my daughter. She had now known where I’d been, or of the detritus I’d swept away from a grave marker earlier. She had company that day – friends full of life and energy who would break bread with her and her husband later. We would not climb a mountain that day, but I would remember the steep climbs, the sore muscles, and the smiles we had exchanged in thin air. Her life continues to bless me. I could end this story here.
Then I called my son, but his whispering words told me he was in class. “I’ll call you later,” he told me. My hands smelled of dying leaves. We would not ride a roller coaster that day or play Guitar Heroes. But I could remember the thrill of falling hundreds of feet, locked arm-in-arm with him, my eyes watering so much that only two feet away, he was just a blur. And I could remember my fingers tangling up trying to find the correct notes of a Lynyard Skynyard song, and Zach just laughing. I could end this story here, thinking of Zach.
Then I called my wife and told her what I had done. She said I should have taken someone. I shouldn’t have done that along. But I believed I had taken someone. I’d had a car full of people with me on that long trip! A good friend who may lose his car in parking garages – but still finds time to phone me to say hello; a gang member who gave me a welcoming fist pump to Los Angeles; buddies I’d shared air with as we swam to the ocean floor; Bob, the teacher who thought he might die that day and so had entrusted me with his lesson plan; a homeless man named Larry; the ghost of a man who had once changed light bulbs on the famour Hollywood sign; a store clerk from Sri Lanka named Mr. Godfrey, who always tried to help thirsty people; friends I’d scaled mountains with, and shared blisters with. They were all there that day, huddles around me as I brushed back that single stick and wept.
So I drove home, feeling victorious at having found my father’s grave, at knowing my children were living ife, grasping at all they could. And as I drove, I thanked God for his people – all of them.”
That is the story of a real, good, man. And I think that is the part of David that made God say, “He is a man after My own heart.” Not King David, our David.
Well, that answers the question of why God said that but what about the when and more importantly was it still true at the end? Well those words first appear in I Samuel 13:14 when David is still a very young man and Saul is the King. God says to Saul, “You’re done. I have found a man after my own heart.” So It is at the beginning of King David’s story. What about at the end? After the mess ups and the murders and the mayhem of his life? Did God still think that about King David?
Well. Way over in the New Testament in Acts 13:22 God is giving words to the Apostle Paul to preach to the leaders in Antioch. And Paul says this, “God said David, son of Jesse, is a man after my own heart.” This is not at the end of King David’s life. It is not at the end of his generation. It’s not even at the end of the line of Davidic kings over Israel. This is about a thousand years later, a thousand years after David is gone that God STILL says, “Hey, That David guy. He is a man after my own heart.” Notice God doesn’t say was. He says is. Why is that? What did David do to make God so impressed with him? Well, a part of that is in the last verse we read, “The Lord will keep the promise he made to me. God said, ‘Your sons must be careful about how they live. They must be faithful to me with all their heart and soul. Then you will always have a man sitting on the throne of Israel.”
So the legacy of King David was not just in his own life but it was in the hands of his children and his children’s children. For years and years to come his story was still being written by those who came after him and God loved him for that. And that is true for our David. If we here today, his friends and his family will do these three things; Be a man (or a woman). Be a good man. And be a real good man. Then the story of our David will go on and on and years from now people will be saying, “He was a man after God’s own heart.”
I look up to the hills. Where does my help come from? 2 My help comes from the Lord. He is the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He won’t let your foot slip. He who watches over you won’t get tired. 4 In fact, he who watches over Israel won’t get tired or go to sleep.
5 The Lord watches over you. The Lord is like a shade tree at your right hand. 6 The sun won’t harm you during the day. The moon won’t harm you during the night.
7 The Lord will keep you from every kind of harm. He will watch over your life. 8 The Lord will watch over your life no matter where you go, both now and forever.