Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
Civil war has broken out in the kingdom after Saul’s death. David is a patriot who loves his people so he offers to treat Saul’s followers well after Judah crowns him as king. However, a man named, Abner, takes matters into his own hands and he defies God’s chosen king. He sets up Saul’s son, Ish-bosheth, as their new ruler instead. Abner, who was the general of Saul’s army, along with the servants of Ish-bosheth, make their way to the pool of Gibeon. This was a large pool carved out of rock by Saul’s father. Once they arrive they sit down. On the opposite side of the pool, Joab, David’s nephew, and his servants meet them and sit as well. Behind them, two armies stand in formation, ready for war— brother against brother. Abner, perhaps to prevent the death toll that a larger battle would bring, suggests that their servants fight for them. Joab agrees, but this idea quickly leads to a slaughter. Each servant grabs the other by the head, clinching hair in a tight fist, and cuts each other down simultaneously. This short altercation doesn’t provide a victor, so both armies charge each other. It’s a battle that is fought with so much passion, but God grants David’s army with the win. I imagine the Man After God’s Own Heart did not take joy in this victory. The chaos of war has already taken so much from him, including the life of his best friend, Jonathan.
After the battle of Gibeon has ended, David’s nephew, Asahel, takes off after the fleeing Abner. Asahel was known for his speed and agility, with it being likened to that of a gazelle. This speed allowed him to pass the others that were also in pursuit and he finds himself on the heels of Abner in no time. His swiftness will bring him a swift death. While Abner is not as quick, he is older with more experience. Twice Abner asks Asahel to stop this foolish attempt to take his life, but Asahel doesn’t take this advice. This is when Abner thrusts his spear behind him and the butt end of the spear goes through Asahel’s stomach and out the other side, killing the young warrior.
This is probably an account you never heard in Vacation Bible School, but there is so much we can learn from this event found in 2 Samuel 2:12-24. We notice how deadly pride can be. First, there is the pride of Abner in rejecting David as king, and then there’s the pride of Asahel. He was famous for being quick on his feet, but clearly slow in thought. Preachers and teachers can become well known for their ability to speak and proclaim God’s word. This fame can also be their own spiritual downfall if they begin to think more of themselves than they should. When we post scriptures, baptisms, or other good deeds on social media for our own praise and admiration, God may be the only One that sees your heart. Those are the only eyes that matter since they belong to the One that will be our final Judge.
We also learn from this story that serving a dead king is futile. As Christians we serve the King of Kings, God’s anointed son. Those standing with Him will always win. Those that chose to take matters into their own hands are fighting a losing battle.
When we read about events like this in the Bible it should also make us thankful for the day when we will enjoy a place where there is no heartache, bloodshed, or wickedness. Even David had to endure his share of trials, but now he’s with the God he modeled his heart after— and, we can assume, Jonathan. No matter what struggle we may find ourselves tangled up in, let’s place our focus on that heavenly reunion.
It will happen, at least occasionally. A remark you make gets taken out of context, will not be correctly heard, or will be heard through the personal filters of the listener. Your facial expressions and body language may not accurately express your feelings or at least not tell the whole story. People may ignore the adage, “Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see.” While that truism may be naive and certainly not entirely true, we’ve all been on the receiving end of others’ misunderstandings of what we’ve written, said, or done. What do we do when we feel we’ve been unfairly treated by the misunderstandings of others? Consider the following:
I hate to be misunderstood. But as with every other trial, I can often find blessings even in these distasteful situations. My prayer is that I will not be conformed to the world (or the worldly), but I can be transformed by the renewing of my mind. That’s going to turn out for the best (Rom. 12:1-2).
Has a preacher ever been motivated by finance, popularity, or fame? Has an elder ever been motivated by power, influence, or notoriety? Has a Christian ever served in any way for notice, accolades, or to satisfy pride? In individual cases, it’s so hard to tell (ultimately, it’s impossible). But, knowing human nature, we would have to say motivation can be tainted and corrupted.
Paul says as much of preachers, that they preached Christ from envy, strife, and selfish ambition (Phil. 1:15,17). Greed propels some preachers (1 Th. 2:5; 2 Pet. 2:3,14). Woe to the preacher who falls into traps like those! He may do harm in this life, but it cannot compare to the ultimate harm he does to himself and others. Peter calls out elders who he says serve for sordid gain or on a power trip (1 Pet. 5:2-3). Woe to the elder who serve from such a base motive! He will not joyfully anticipate the appearing of the Chief Shepherd (cf. 1 Pet. 5:4)! Christians have been led by their appetites and an earthly mindset (Phil. 3:19). Woe to the Christian who serves God for selfish reasons. Such will not be able to successfully endure their spiritual race.
Sometimes, our words and actions betray our motives and intentions. So often, what gets in the way is self— self-service, self-will, self-interest, self-indulgence, self-importance, selfish ambition. It leaves a sour taste and sounds ugly when said. It is manifestly unattractive to even read the words. It is detestable when witnessed in others. But “self” is such an impediment to spiritual service.
I don’t know why anyone else is serving Jesus. But I need to be careful to examine myself. How terrible to let my speech and actions be the cause of anyone questioning what moves me to render any act or service. Let our goal be to live so selflessly that no one has legitimate cause to ask why we do what we do in God’s Kingdom. Paul contrasts Timothy with others, saying, “ For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:21). Let’s be a Timothy, moved by a genuine concern for others (Phil. 2:20). That’s just what this cynical world needs to see!
Do you want your marriage to flourish and grow?
Do you want to read through the Bible this year?
Do you want to lead someone the Savior to know?
Do you want to live life without worry and fear?
Do you want to lose weight and be healthy and fit?
Do you want to attain to more financial discipline?
Do you want self-confidence, courage, and grit?
Do you want to get better at caring and listening?
Do you want a closer place near the heart of God?
Do you want to trust Him when trouble finds you?
Do you want to have heaven after earth you’ve trod?
Then it all must begin with you wanting to want to! —NP
Call it desire, motivation, or willpower. Whatever you call it, it is central to succeeding at whatever your goals are. What does it take to become a Christian? Wanting to! What does it take to defeat the sin in your life? Wanting to! What does it take to break bad habits and repeated blown judgment calls? Wanting to! What does it take to be a stronger, more faithful Christian? Wanting to! That is not to minimize or ignore our dependence on God and the strength He provides. But He is not going to overwhelm or overtake our will and make us do or be something. He did not operate that way in the age of miracles.
What will be your motivation? There are so many potential incentives. There’s the love God has shown us (2 Cor. 5:14). There’s the fear of hell (Mat. 10:28). There’s the yearning for heaven (John 14:1-3). There’s the concern about how we influence other’s destiny (Mat. 5:14-16). There’s the love we have for God (1 Jn. 4:19). There’s the longing to be like Jesus (1 Jn. 3:2). For each of us, some motivations are more powerful than others. Whatever it takes to be more for God in this needy world, latch onto it and pursue it. You can do it because you won’t be doing it alone. God gave you the church, His Word, prayer, and a personal will to help arrive at the ultimate goal. Don’t let up. Don’t look back. Don’t lose hope. Want to want to!
Rob Heusevelet and his son came upon a bison calf in Yellowstone National Park that was shivering in the cold. They were afraid for the health and survival of the animal, so they put it into their SUV and drove it to a ranger station in the park. A witness who took a picture of the calf in the car said, “They were demanding to speak with a ranger. They were seriously worried that the calf was freezing and dying” (NPR). Ironically, their “intervention” ultimately cost the animal his life. His mother and the rest of the family rejected him because of the contact with people, and, isolated and alone, the baby bison had to be eventually euthanized. This act of ignorance was more than foolish; it was fatal!
Good intentions are fine enough, as long as they are built on the right foundation. A 12th-century French mystic and Catholic monk, Bernard of Clairvaux, is often credited with a saying antecedent to our modern aphorism, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” (Ammer, The American Heritage of Idioms, np). We appreciate the meaning of the proverb. No matter how well-meaning our motivation, how we act from it have consequences and they matter. The Bible shows us those whose motivation was unimpeachable, but whose resulting actions were tragic. There was Jephthah’s rash vow (Judges 11:30ff). There were so many examples provided by Peter’s impetuousness. There was Paul’s persecution of the church, motivated by religious fervor (Acts 26:9). These are examples enough to show that simply intending to do right is not enough.
Today, we can do much harm in trying to help. Consider three specific ways that are common, though critical.
Paul preaches the imperative of proper motivation (cf. Phil. 1:15-17). Jesus stresses the value of a good heart (Luke 8:15). Neither of these is a substitute for the grave duty we face as Christians to not do harm as we seek to do good. It is not an either-or proposition. It is both-and.
I want to preface this story by saying that, of all my siblings, I probably got away with more than the other two combined. However, on at least one occasion, I was punished for something I did not do. My brother was about four years old, and he, some neighborhood buddies, and I were playing war. Brent had a toy Kentucky rifle, while I was toting my new, unloaded Daisy B-B gun. Perhaps my parents had worried that at nine years old I was too young for such a potent weapon, but they allowed me to own it. In the heat of battle, Brent and I converged around the corners of our house. I aimed and fired. He fell down to play dead for the obligatory “five Mississippis,” but he fell on the sight of that Kentucky rifle. This led to perhaps the quickest peace treaty in the history of boys playing war. Brent had a nasty gash under his eye and very nearly did permanent damage to himself. When Dad and Mom asked what happened, he said, “Neal shot me!” You, Brent, and I know what he meant, but seeing things from their point of view they concluded I had fired a B-B that produced the gaping wound. These were the last moments between my Daisy and me. Soon it was a mangled heap of metal. Dad felt terrible when he understood what Brent meant.
Before you wag your head in disbelief at how this was handled, consider a few facts. The Sunday before, another buddy and I had been putting Easter eggs on the chain link fence at our property line for target practice. We did pretty well, though we were oblivious to the fact that we were putting small dings in my buddy’s stepfather’s new 1979 customized Chevy van. It was another thirty feet beyond the eggs. I escaped any punishment for that one. Dad had shown me how to safely use the gun, but I had my own ideas. The target practice example was my worst but not my only. I was destined for a date with a demolished Daisy. My track record caught up to me.
Paul deals with “track records” and character with his son in the faith. He had been teaching Timothy about how to deal with sin in the latter part of 1 Timothy five. Public sinners were to be rebuked publicly (20). Yet, dealing with others’ sins was to be done prudently to avoid sharing responsibility in their sins (22). The rebuking one was to keep himself free from sin (22b). Then, Paul ends by writing, “Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later. Likewise, the good works of some are clearly evident, and those that are otherwise cannot be hidden” (24-25, NKJ). In context, Paul is guiding Timothy in the investigating of those who would serve as elders. Prudence and deliberation, in looking into their character, was vital. Jumping to conclusions too quickly, whether too charitably or too severely, was unwise. To help Timothy, Paul emphasizes that character often becomes apparent after sufficient examination.
By way of broader application, isn’t the same true of all of us. As Jesus once put it, “Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children” (Luke 7:35, NASU). John and Jesus had been wrongly rejected by the Jews, but time and fruit would eventually exonerate the character of each. That is, those converted through their work would prove the rightness of their teaching. This would require the test of time and sufficient proving grounds.
Is one preaching for fame, glory, wealth, or power? Look long and hard, with a good and discerning heart. You will often see. Is an elder serving through selfish ambition, to wield power, or out of materialistic greed? It often comes to the surface. Why are we Christians? Why do we serve God? It so often comes to light in this life. Yet, whether it does in this life or not, it will ultimately. Let us strive to keep watch over our hearts (cf. Mark 7:20-23). Let us constantly purify our motives (cf. Eph. 6:5-8). Remember that character will be tested. Strive to do what is right even when you are not seen by others, and character will usually be apparent.
Saving for retirement. Exercising and losing weight. Mending a broken relationship. Daily Bible reading. Many are the objectives, goals, and needs we all have in this life, but just as many are the excuses we often give for not addressing them. We fall back on lack of time, how we feel, whose fault it is, and generally why we cannot do what we know we should be doing. It seems that until we are convicted of our need to do something, we will always find ready excuses.
But, when we are motivated to do something, we will not let anything stop us. We find the time, muster the will, and channel the discipline necessary to keep plugging away until the objective is achieved.
Living for Christ is the greatest objective there is. It fulfills the very purpose for our existence. It benefits everyone around us. It is imperative to gaining heaven as home. It positively influences those closest to us. But, when it is not our greatest priority, we will come up with a bevy of excuses. These run the gamut from sports activities to work to hypocrites to personal weakness to whatever else may come to mind. Until we are motivated, we will find excuses. So, what should motivate us to live for Jesus?
All of these (and more) are excellent motivation for enduring the difficult in order to successfully overcome in this life. They will help us to eliminate every impediment that stands in our way. As the writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1-2).
I’ve known individuals whose sole purpose in the assemblies has seemed to be to critique those who lead the worship or show up to engage in it, from their appearance to their aptitude. While we certainly need to avoid having someone blatantly engaging in sin and error (that’s an article for a different occasion), if that is one extreme then hypercriticism of the worship and worshipper can be another. If you or someone you love is tempted to play this deflating part, consider the following.
There may be a bit of the critic in all of us. Certainly, we should be striving to make worship better in every practical way we can. That involves teaching and training. It involves singing songs with words we actually use and understand. It involves probably 1,000 other things, but let’s not get so lost in the pursuit of “improving” that we forget to do what we assembled to do: worship God!
Certainly there are many more and probably better answers regarding the motivation for attending every time the local saints are assembled. But these are enough to move me, when I am able, to join my spiritual family in both study and worship. I try to prioritize the assemblies above the unnecessary things and the things that will not endure beyond this life. The same reasons will draw me to come when we have seminars, gospel meetings, Vacation Bible School, lectureships, and the like. When I can attend, I want to attend and will attend! I’m thankful that so many others must feel the same way. There’s always room for more!