Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross
Jesus was teaching around the Sea of Galilee when some Pharisees from Jerusalem saw some of His disciples eating bread with unwashed hands. They considered this ceremonial impurity (Mark 7:1-2). Mark gives a short list of examples of rules the Pharisees inherited from their forefathers and pushed as divine law (3-5). This law-making upsets Jesus considerably. In Mark 7:6-13, Jesus rebukes them for confusing tradition and God’s commandments. They were so in love with their traditions that it actually caused them to violate God’s will.
Then, He uses that episode as a springboard to discuss a related spiritual concern. The central thought was, “The things that proceed out of a man are what defile the man” (15b). The point was probably missed on the crowd because it was missed by the disciples (17). Mark tells us that Jesus was declaring all foods clean (19), but there was a deeper, spiritual point. He makes it plainly when He says, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man” (20-23).
I wonder how this initially hits the disciples. The Pharisees definitely would not have appreciated it. They considered themselves spiritually superior, but context would suggest they would have been as big offenders as anyone in this. Some of what comes out of the heart that Jesus mentions is “big” enough to make our sin’s “hall of fame” or at least its “all-star” team. Wouldn’t you be quick to put fornication, theft, murder, adultery, and wickedness on the “evil things” list?
But Jesus digs deeper and exposes our hearts further. Look at what makes His “big” list with those other sins: evil thoughts (literally, harmful reasoning), deceit, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness (lack of good judgment). Before we brush these aside, consider some practical application.
What is it when we assume others’ intentions and motives without tangible evidence? What about when we have such a tainted perception of someone that we cannot be civil and peaceable, much less tenderhearted, kind, and forgiving toward them (cf. Eph. 4:32)? What of using opportunities to gossip and slander a brother or sister in Christ? What about the words we say when our pride is wounded or we feel slighted? What about a failure to be discreet about people’s situations we come into the knowledge of?
Scripture tells us how vitally important a good, Christlike attitude is. Philippians uses the word “mind” to admonish proper attitude. A mind fueled by encouragement, love, affection, and compassion lead not only to unity, humility, and high regard for others, but it also reflects the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:1-11). It eliminates grumbling and disputing (Phil. 2:14). It shows us to be above reproach in the middle of a world that lives out the kinds of things Jesus reproves in Mark 7:20-23 (Phil. 2:15).
If I have a heart filled with the kind of “evil things” in Jesus’ Mark seven list, how can I have the right, Christlike attitude He expects me to have? I will likely be biting, sarcastic, bitter, hateful, negative, complaining, and critical. Whatever that says about the object of my bad attitude, it does not excuse me in His eyes. He would tell me I am defiled. That means unclean and unacceptable. To see it that way convicts me to watch my heart so that acidic content does not spill out and hurt my reputation, my relationships, and my Righteous Ruler!
“And when he was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: and they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. And he was with them going in and going out at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord” – Acts 9:26-29a
In 1984 the Chicago Cubs hired Jim Frey as manager. During spring training, while inspecting his new team, Frey saw a young infielder named Ryne Sandberg hitting hard groundball after hard groundball to shortstop. Another word for a groundball to shortstop, no matter how hard hit, is an out.
So Frey took aside the 24-year-old, whom the Cubs had received as a throw-in two years earlier from the Phillies, who projected him as nothing more than a backup. The manager’s message was: You’ve got the size; you’ve got the ability; drive the ball! When you get that inside fastball, don’t ground out; knock it over the left-field fence.
It worked: That year Sandberg won the National League’s Most Valuable Player award. By the time he had retired, he had hit more home runs than any other second baseman in major league history. And when he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the highest honor afforded any baseball player, and this for a guy deemed expendable by the team who drafted him, Sandberg invited as his special guest to the ceremony his old manager, Jim Frey.
What a difference a word of encouragement can make!
This is the difference we see Barnabas making for Saul. The church in Jerusalem, which Saul had persecuted, is afraid of him when he comes and tries to join them. But Barnabas, who had credibility with the church and the apostles, takes him to the leadership and vouches for what Saul had done by preaching boldly in the name of Jesus. And what a difference it made for the future of the church!
Why did Barnabas react differently than others in the Jerusalem church? I think Barnabas saw the same potential that the Lord saw in Saul, whom He had appointed as his chosen vessel to take the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). Barnabas saw not what Saul had been but what he could be.
It’s not a coincidence that later we see Saul, by then known as Paul, offering encouragement to his son in the faith, Timothy (2 Timothy 1). All of us can think of examples of people who have encouraged us in our Christian walk, and because of that we are strengthened to encourage others.
Here’s a challenge: Who is one person in your congregation who you could encourage to do more for the Lord? You’ve got to be intentional in doing this, or it tends to never happen. And you need a deadline; I challenge you to reach out in some way to encourage them in the next week.
What a difference it can make!
Friday’s Column: Brent’s Biblical Bytes
“But godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6.6 ESV).
Recently, the battery of our 2014 Chevrolet Impala died while I sat in the local hospital’s parking lot. Of course, we did not realize that it was “just” the battery at the time. The problem seemed worse. As my dad and I were in a difficult situation, stranded in the hospital parking lot, we had the car towed to our local mechanic. Luckily we thought to facilitate everything through our local auto insurance agent, including our car rental. That choice certainly made things smoother. While our mechanic repaired our Impala, we rented a 2020 Toyota Corolla. I will be honest. I really liked the Corolla. I was a little disappointed when the mechanic called to let us know we could pick up our car.
Isn’t that odd? There is nothing wrong with the 2014 Impala. Cosmetically, it looks good. It has low mileage. It is like one of those mythic cars that little old ladies only drove to church on Sunday. Yet, the Corolla had cool little bells and whistles. An alarm sounded if I drifted over the middle line or the line on the shoulder. (I heard that sound a lot, taking the many curves as I went over the mountain. It can be hard not to approach the middle or shoulder of the road when the road is curvier than it is straight.) The rental also had some driver-assist feature coupled with the cruise control that turned the wheel according to the road surface marking detected by its radar. Consequently, it handled curves well and had a good fuel economy. The only “negative’ was that road noise seemed more significant in this lighter automobile.
Here is the question. From whence did my sudden discontentment arise? It is not as if there is a need for a new automobile. Yet, driving a new car for a few days made me feel like I was missing out on something. It may be, too, that I was subconsciously acknowledging my desire to change something (anything) in my life. However, the problem with that thinking is that it reflects a lack of gratitude for my current blessings. Were I to go and buy a 2021 Corolla tomorrow, my happiness would be short-lived. Those elated feelings might last a few months or a year, but the pleasure would fade. What’s worse is that I would end up making myself more miserable by saddling myself with new debt as I paid off the car over several years. Indeed, discontentment is not a problem solved by material gain.
Our emotions are complex. Indulging the lust of the eyes and flesh and the boastful pride of life may act as a placebo, obscuring the underlying problem. Still, there is no cure for discontentment besides gratitude and acceptance. As Paul reminds us, God supplies our every need (Philippians 4.19). Thus, we should be content with food and covering (1 Timothy 6.8). Should God bless us with more, it is a sign He expects more from us (Luke 12.48). And we are to be looking out for the interests of others (Philippians 2.4). Therefore, “while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Galatians 6.10 NASB1995).
When you realize you are a citizen of another country and have your provisions as you make your way home, you, too, will feel contentment. It will certainly give you greater peace of mind. Then comes the realization that salvation and a loaf of bread are worth more than all the gold in Fort Knox. Yes, “godliness with contentment is great gain.”
It will make congregations forsake God’s command to practice church discipline, especially in the age of Facebook and Instagram. It will disrupt, cancel, and in other ways impact congregational plans, faced with something that has killed .0004% of the world’s population. It will cause congregations to abandon the biblical position on any number of things that accommodates the cultural point of view. But, biblically speaking, what is particularly the fear of the devil, mankind, or things of this earth?
F-AITHLESS. You’ll find fear and faith contrasted in Scripture (Mat. 14:31; Mark 4:40; Heb. 11:23). Jesus rebukes a fear which hinders faith more than anyone. When we are driven by fear rather than faith, we confess that we believe in something more than we believe in God. Fear is completely understandable, something the Bible’s greatest heroes felt. But, they overcame their fear of men and even the devil by a greater faith in God’s power. The generation of Israel Moses led were the poster children of fear (Num. 14:9), yet what does the writer of Hebrews diagnose as the root cause of their punishment and rejection? “Unbelief” (3:19).
E-PIDEMIC. Have you noticed how quickly and widely fear spreads? The spies sent to Canaan came back afraid and they transmitted it to the whole nation almost immediately (Num. 13:31-33; 14:1ff). The devil has plenty of channels to transmit fear, from traditional to social media. But even pulpits, private meetings, and informal discussions can fan the flames of fear. Fear plays to our flesh, and the voice of fear travels at light speed.
A-MPLIFYING. Have you ever suffered from economic, relationship, occupational, or spiritual problems? Lie still in your bed at night (or wake up in the middle of the night) and those fears grow exponentially. Like worry, fear is often greater than the problem. It’s why the devil finds it a useful tool in his warfare (cf. Rev. 2:10; 21:8–“cowardly” is the word “afraid” in Mark 4:40; 2 Tim. 1:7). The enemy looks bigger and scarier than it is, but giving in to fear can make it seem gigantic.
R-ASH. Jesus makes this clear during His earthly ministry. He says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mat. 10:28). The analogy is definitely disturbing. There are physical and spiritual entities out there with the power to take our lives. We can be so quick to respond to them by retreating or withdrawing. But if the fear of those things replaces or supplants the fear that belongs rightfully only to God, we are in big trouble.
These, are fearful times! Who doesn’t wrestle with fear? It seems that Jesus did (Luke 22:44; Heb. 5:7). God understands we’ll struggle with fear (Psa. 103:14). But His lovingkindness and compassion are “on those who fear Him” (Psa. 103:11,13,17). There is more Kingdom work to do than ever! There are numerous obstacles, but let’s not get in our own way through fear!
Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
Quite possibly one of the most difficult passages to read is 1 Samuel 15:3. In this verse God commands the Israelites to kill the Amalekites and He specifically says, “kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” This verse is used by many to discredit the Bible and mock those that believe in a “God that murders babies.”
At first glance, this verse appears to be morally wrong. Did God really command the Israelites to commit infanticide? If He did, why would we serve a God like that? Why take the time to pursue a relationship with God knowing that He shed innocent blood? Doesn’t Proverbs 6:17 say that God “hates hands that shed innocent blood?” Maybe God’s a hypocrite and there’s a double standard. Maybe God doesn’t really love His creation. Maybe we serve a God that isn’t as pure and holy as He claims to be. Or maybe there’s a reason why God gave this command.
1 Samuel 15:3 can be better understood if we recognize several important facts.
The Context. In order to properly handle God’s Word, we can’t just pick a verse and read it at face value. So it is important that we read the context. Verse two shows us that the Amalekites attacked Israel on their journey out of Egypt. In return God promised to one day utterly destroy the nation (Deut. 25:17-19). From the moment the Amalekites chose to fight the nation of Israel, their fate was sealed…but not immediately. Exodus 17:8-16 records the events that took place and God says, “the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” 1 Samuel 15:3 is God keeping His word.
Biblical and secular history. The Amalekites were recorded as being ruthless and cruel. They would actively search for pregnant women and kill their babies before killing the mother. In raids they would kill women, children, and everything else. They killed for sport and they raided places for fun. They didn’t fight other nations trying to protect themselves or their land, they just enjoyed slaughtering people and taking their stuff. The Amalekites were known for their cruelty, but also their hate for the Israelites. History also reveals that the Amalekites required that any and every living offspring was to avenge any nation or people that attacked them. This is seen with the Israelites in scripture. For 300 years the people of Israel fought with them. “Generation after generation” experienced war with the Amalekites. 300 years God let the murdering of His own chosen people to happen.
Why did God let them do this for so long? Well, why did God save Rahab? Or tell Noah to warn the sinful people about the flood? Why did God promise not to destroy a city if there were just ten righteous people in it? Why did God send prophet after prophet to warn the Israelites of their sin? Why did God allow His own creation to spit on, mock and crucify His only Son? Because God is a God of mercy and second chances. The Amalekites were given 300 years to repent, but 1 Samuel 15:3 is the result of their lack of repentance. God warned them what would happen, and there had to be punishment for sin.
But what about the innocent children and babies? Do you think God knew their future and what they would eventually become? God would never destroy a person that wanted to be saved. God wants everyone to come to repentance. 300 years of children and not a single one came to God and asked for repentance. God knows a whole lot more than we do. He has a perfect knowledge of the past, present and future. Since the culture of the Amalekites demanded that their offspring continue to murder and raid, the killing of the Israelites never ceased. If only a select group were killed, the problem would persist in the future as it had in the past.
God cannot sin, and in His infinite knowledge He gave a command that was without sin. A sinful nation that refused to acknowledge God had to face the consequences. On the judgement day there will be many people who are punished because of their sin. God in His mercy has given us a way to be saved, but it is up to each individual to make the decision that will ultimately lead to either torment or salvation. God is patient and loving, but He is also holy and righteous in His judgment.
Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
We don’t typically associate salvation with death. Normally the opposite is true! In the New Testament salvation normally describes forgiveness of sins (Acts 4.12, for example). Escaping spiritual death is how the word is primarily used. The exception to this rule is fascinating and sobering.
Human instinct compels us to avoid unpleasantness, suffering, and death. When faced with danger or difficulty, our default response is avoidance at all cost. This was a great temptation for many in the early church.
Peter wrote to Christians who were about to face some awful hardships. He encouraged them by promising salvation, but it was a hard message to swallow. In the following examples, Peter used “salvation” to mean something different (it would have been understood to mean this because of context):
- I Peter 1.5 – Death
- I Peter 1.8ff – Death
- I Peter 2.2ff – Death
How is death the same thing as salvation? For those who were suffering and stayed faithful, death was the ultimate salvation. For those whose lives were upended because of persecution, being with God forever was salvation. For those who lost their family members, salvation meant reunion. The ultimate result of faith is eternal life with God.
How do we view difficulty? Do we compromise faith to avoid suffering? At worst, suffering leads to death. At best, suffering leads to death. Nothing can slow a faithful Christian down! We have salvation in this life (guilt does not weigh us down), and the end of this life is salvation. We have an awesome God.
Excellent article by one of my wonderful daughters-in-law.
By Chelsea Pollard
Kathy’s article two weeks ago really got me thinking. Since I’ve leaving home I’ve frequently thought, “I wish I knew this when I was younger.” I know this is something everyone’s experienced! While it’s nice to have the knowledge, it’s quite frustrating. I could have saved myself from so much heartache, embarrassment, anger, regret and pain.
Sometimes I feel like I don’t have any wisdom to offer since I’m still in my early 20’s and I’m not a mom (unless you consider Bear to be my child, because I do #dogmom). But I’ve often thought about things I wish I knew growing up and about what I could’ve done differently.
Here’s what I would tell myself:
- Your parents are more than likely trying their best. I am ashamed to say that I was maybe 20 when I realized that my parents are people, too. They have…
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Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail
In many cases the battles that wage inside of us are never seen by others. The Bible, however, gives us a few clues as to what might be going on inside our hearts.
A cheerful disposition can be the sign of a healthy heart according to Proverbs 15:13. Sometimes our appearance can show the darkness that has crept in.
Consider the following verses,
“And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?” (Gen. 4.5-6).
God already knew what was in Cain’s heart, but notice how He tells Cain the outward signs of his inward struggles.
He’s angry and his countenance had fallen. In the following verses Cain ends up killing his own brother because that darkness had taken over.
God knows the heart. He knows every aspect of the heart.
In 1 Kings 12, Jeroboam has just become king over the Northern tribe of Israel. In the Southern kingdom they had the capital of Jerusalem where all the Israelites in that region would gather to sacrifice to the Lord. The Bible indicates to us the very plans that Jeroboam said in the “privacy” of his heart. He built his own place of worship and foolishly stood those golden calves up for his new kingdom to worship.
Jesus proves once again that He’s the son of God by reading the hearts of many individuals in the New Testament (Luke 16:15).
May we never forget that we serve a God who can read our hearts. There are things we can hide from every human on earth, but certainly not God. Let’s also never forget that we don’t have the ability to read hearts and attempting to do so is to pretend to be something other than human.