Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
If he was nervous, it was clear that the king’s palace guards couldn’t tell. They checked his left thigh for a weapon, and when they were satisfied they allowed Ehud to enter the throne room chamber. Ehud is just steps away from going down in history as the man who delivered the Israelites from the Moabite oppression. If he can pull this off, he and his people will enjoy eighty years of peace. It was a big job, and if you know this account, it was a big in more than one way. Hanging from his right side, unknown to anyone but him, is an eighteen inch double-sided sword. It was a weapon made for stabbing, and Ehud planned to use it for it’s created purpose. The guards stationed outside the chamber open the door for him. The room is filled with servants and more armed security, but this is probably not the first thing to catch your eye. There, in the middle of the room on the throne sat an extremely obese man. He’s been the ruling power over God’s people for eighteen years now and as king, he clearly took advantage the royal food supply. His name was Eglon. He, along with the sons of Ammon and Amalek, defeated the Israelites and then claimed the city of palm trees, Jericho.
Ironically, the palm tree was considered a symbol of peace and victory. Many years later, people would lay the branches of these trees down before Jesus the Nazareth as He enters Jerusalem. It seems reasonable to assume that Eglon was glad when he saw Ehud walk towards him. After all, Ehud was the man in charge of gathering Israel’s tribute and delivering it to him. With these funds, the king was free to continue living his life of gluttony and leisure. However, this time God was about to give a gift to the Israelites— Eglon’s life.
Ehud begins to look for the perfect opportunity to kill the king. He says to Eglon, “I have a secret message for you.” At this, Eglon clears the room. Now it’s just Ehud and the king. They’re alone in Eglon’s roof chamber. Ehud continues, “It’s from God.” This is out of the ordinary, and the king seems to have some level of respect for Jehovah, because he then stands up. I would imagine, a man of his size didn’t usually make a habit of standing unless it was absolutely necessary. Ehud pulls from his right thigh the hidden sword and quickly thrusts it into Eglon’s belly. The fat closes over the blade, and his insides spill out. Ehud locks the door and makes his escape. The guards assume Eglon is relieving himself in the coolness of his roof chamber. They wait until the point of embarrassment before opening the door, only to find their king dead. Ehud manages to rally the Israelite troops— slaying ten thousand mighty Moabites. Peace fell on the land for the next eighty years until the children of Israel once again fell away from God.
This account is found in Judges 3, and it’s an interesting, perhaps disgusting account, of how God delivered His people. Believe it or not, there are a few takeaways for us today. Sometimes Christianity involves bravery on our part. God was with Ehud, and He’s still with us today. Even so, humans still face very real fears. Whether you’re asked to lead a prayer in worship, or you’re thinking about talking with those in your social circles about Christ, or making an uncomfortable hospital visit, faithful service requires courage. It’s always been that way. Another lesson we can learn from this account is that God strengthens our faith by testing that faith. Just look at how zealously Ehud conquers the strong and valiant Moabites after Eglon’s death. When we can witness how God has worked in our past, it can build our faith in God’s ability to assist us in the future. If God is for us, who can be against us? Absolutely nobody.
Someone once said, “Excuses are tools of the incompetent, and those who specialize in them seldom go far.” Ben Franklin is quoted saying, “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.”
Jeremiah had a complete list of excuses ready when God called on him to be a prophet to the people of Israel. Many times the excuses of Jeremiah become ours when we are called on to proclaim God’s Word to this world. We see that with every excuse Jeremiah made, God gave promises in return.
First, Jeremiah said, “the task ahead is difficult.” Jeremiah 1:5 says, ““Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” This is God speaking to Jeremiah, and notice what He says, “I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” The task ahead is difficult, so Jeremiah gives off a list of excuses for why he isn’t the one for this job. God gives a promise for Jeremiah’s excuses. He says, “before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” God knew that Jeremiah was the one for the job, even if Jeremiah didn’t think so.
Second, Jeremiah said, “I don’t have the talent.” Jeremiah 1:6 says, “Then I said, “Alas, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, because I am a youth.” Many times people blame their cowardice on a lack of talent. They say that it isn’t natural to them, that there are others more suited for the job. But God knows Jeremiah and the great good he can accomplish. In Jeremiah 1:9, God promises that He would put His words in Jeremiah’s mouth.
As Christians today we have these same promises for our worries and excuses. Let’s not blame our cowardice on a lack of talent or the difficulty of the task. That isn’t a good excuse to God. Nothing is. He has promised that He will be with us, and we have HIS Word to teach to others. Let’s trust in that.
A lonely soul was crying out
For someone to direct
Their mind to know the will of God
But I chose to deflect.
An edgy soul was acting out
Intimidating and coarse
Yet they were searching for the truth
I recoiled with too little remorse.
A hopeful soul was reaching out
And attended our worship service
But I was busy, too much to do
To connect, plus I was nervous.
A hurting soul, in time of loss
Crossed my path today
I felt so bad that he was grieved
But still I hurried on my way.
A lost soul was needing Christ
She is destined for eternity
I was busy, nervous, no zeal for her
Guess I was too caught up in me
The next soul that I come upon
Lord, may I try with zeal
To share your grace and teach your Word
And your matchless love reveal.
Some time ago, I wrote, “I passed by a skunk and a snake, fighting tooth and nail. I didn’t stop and pet either or take sides. I got out of there as fast as I could.” That was metaphorical rather than actual, though I’ve had encounters with each animal individually. My point had to do with some of the “fights” that regularly occur on social media about some of the most unnecessary causes.
The common ground of these posts and articles are their extremely polarizing effect, drawing a multitude of allies and opponents. So often, they relate to matters that, of themselves, will not effect a single person’s eternity (though the poor stewardship of time, emphasis, tone, and attitude might imperil more than a few).
I have been tempted to weigh in on probably a thousand of these spats and civil wars, but I do not. It’s not that I do not have decided views on nearly all the debates. Instead, I try to project myself into the future. Will it expand my influence for Christ for good? What will my comment add to the spirit of brotherly love, magnanimity, unity, and church growth? Will I truly be helping struggling souls? Will it elevate the view of Jesus’ bride in the eyes of the lost, the weak, and the wayward?
After reflecting, the answer is always the same. I cannot answer that for my interjecting brethren. Nor am I one to avoid preaching or personally discussing matters because they may be unpopular or alienating. However, because social media is more impersonal and lacking in the interpersonal dynamics of face-to-face interaction, we run a much greater risk of being misunderstood.
Today, controversy can be created in real time. As a good friend of mine put it, “Everybody has a megaphone now.” What really requires courage is stepping out from behind a computer or phone and personally interacting with someone we disagree with in civil, loving discourse. It may not foster page views, mass reactions, and reams of online comments, but in the end it may reach more hearts and minds.
In our current culture, dividing people into camps against each other is incredibly easy. But is it wise? Is it right (Proverbs 6:19b)?
About nine months ago, a man walked into our building a day after being immersed into Christ. He had been searching diligently for the truth, a man whose hunger for the Bible caused him to study his Bible for hours every day (including on audio at his job as a metal fabricator). He continues those habits today.
A man whose life is as interesting as his name–Roberto Yrey–has been a blessing to us at Bear Valley. One of the reasons I’ve grown to love him so much was on full display last night. Each Wednesday, a different man delivers a 90-second devotional talk. Last night, Roberto spoke. Don’t misunderstand. He writes devotions, short sermons, and articles all the time in order to articulate his understanding of a Bible chapter or topic he has been studying. He changed his mind multiple times before settling on the one he delivered last night. If you were there, you know that Roberto was nervous. He has told several of us how difficult public speaking is for him. His only previous public speaking opportunity was a Scripture reading during a devotional back during the holidays.
What he chose to speak about last night so aptly reveals a mindset that makes him so endearing. His message was that you don’t have to know everything to study with someone. Don’t be afraid to tell someone, “I don’t know.” It’s OK if you don’t know or understand everything. He encouraged us, “Say, I don’t know but let me ask someone who might know. Or let’s fellowship and find the answer.” But his message was to not let the fear of not knowing keep you from talking to someone about the Bible.
I admire the fact that Roberto had the courage, as a babe in Christ, to speak to a room full of people some of whom have been preachers and teachers for decades, teachers in our Bible school for many years, and are mature, seasoned Christians. But I admire him even more for practicing what he was preaching. In our midst last night were two visitors–Estevan (there for the first time) and Sean (who’s become a regular attender with Roberto for several months). He had the courage to invite them. Today, we baptized Sean into Christ for the forgiveness of his sins. A young Christian has already brought a friend to Jesus. All it took was the courage to try, to do what anyone can do who is moved by simple, trusting faith to just do what God has told us to do. I don’t know about you, but Roberto’s example helps me have the courage to try harder!
My girls recently modified the game of Slug Bug in order to make it more exciting and faster-paced. A couple of months ago, with the whole family in the car, we were introduced to it when we heard the words “gocery bag in a bush” shouted three times in rapid succession followed by “wow! three in a row” from one of the other girls.
The modification was simple. Instead of calling out VW Beetles, we all began to call out grocery bags that were snagged up in a bush alongside the road. We would also accept “tree.” A grocery bag caught in a tree was also acceptable. Turns out, “Grocery Bag In A Bush” is much more exciting and fun than Slug Bug. Tons more action! I’ve never seen so many grocery bags in my life! And you should hear the squeals and laughter when one was spotted so far up in a tree that we all knew that it wasn’t coming down until the tree did.
I’ve thought about Grocery Bag In A Bush many times since that day, and have made many observations about it. I’d like to share three of them.
The grocery bags have always been, and will always be, there. I just never “saw” them before. I don’t recall seeing a single slug bug while playing Grocery Bag In A Bush, even though they were probably there.
I will see that which I look for. Matthew 7:7-8 says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”
Grocery Bags don’t belong in a bush or a tree. It’s not what they were created for, but somehow they have found themselves hopelessly ensnared. They will most likely remain ensnared until someone cares enough to pick them up, or a violent storm rips them away from the unreachable limb where they are trapped. And if no one stops and picks them up, they will most likely drift away until they find themselves ensnared in another bush.
While we may excel at “stopping to say hello” when a brother is in the way, we should not let the business of “rolling our gospel chariots along” keep us from our responsibility to the lost to “stop and pick them up”.
We all financially support a vast army of sanitation workers through taxes and fees. We even personally pay for these services out of pocket so that they will come by our house each week to take our trash, and grocery bags, to where they belong. And yet, the grocery bags are everywhere.
Christianity cannot be outsoursed. It’s not enough to pay for, or support others, to do the work for us. This world is not our home, but it becomes a more beautiful place when each of us can see those around us who are ensnared in sin, and gently help them get to where they belong.
Feel free to make your own observations from this parable. It’s not perfect, and I’m certainly not equating those trapped in sin with trash. But before we start asking God to provide us with more opportunities, we might first ask ourselves if we are really in the game. Because once you know what to look for, the opportunities are everywhere.
[Scott Phillips serves as a deacon at the Bear Valley church of Christ. He and Tammi have a son and 7 daughters!]
Most preachers know the unpleasant burden of having to preach on difficult subjects. There are some who, whether they find it unpleasant or not, are unpleasant in their demeanor and fully ready to frequently preach on moral, doctrinal, ethical, and other sin-related issues. However, it is distasteful business to most men who stand before congregations or sit before individuals to preach and teach the Word. What are reasons why we may be tempted not to teach truth?
1) Fear of repercussions. This is not said with cynicism or judgement of men’s motives and hearts, but for most of us there is usually fear of unwelcome consequences from preaching on a difficult subject. We do not want to offend people or their sensitivities. We do not want to cross people of influence who might encourage criticism or discontent against us personally. We do not want to see angry or hurt faces.
2) An overreaction to issue-oriented preachers. Most of us can think of a preacher or preachers who seemingly cannot stand before an audience without mounting their familiar hobby horse. Some have a stable of such stallions and a field of such fillies. Because we do not want to be that guy, we may be tempted to avoid difficult, thorny subjects.
3) Not being fully convinced that it’s truth themselves. I am convinced there are preachers who do not believe the truth on certain subjects, but they know the leadership or some in the membership do. So, they avoid preaching those subjects. If questioned on this, they can point to their lessons and defend themselves by saying they have not advocated error on a particular matter. Further investigation would reveal their silence on the matter altogether.
4) An assumption that people already know the truth on a subject. Without proper vigilance and attention to balanced preaching and teaching, this is inevitable. Especially if many in the audience grew up in the church and older members remember certain subjects being regularly addressed in their lifetime, they may not feel a sense of urgency that such subjects be periodically visited. We can raise an entire generation, assuming they believe what we came to believe through studying and hearing these matters preached. This assumption is both faulty and false.
Ephesians 4:15 and Colossians 4:6 are beacons and guides that determine how we preach. Acts 20:27 guides us as to what we preach. Fear is not an excuse for omitting certain subjects from our sermon repertoires (cf. Rev. 21:8). An overreaction that causes us to avoid all controversial, “hard” sermons is in itself an extreme (cf. Josh. 1:7). One not convinced about truth owes it to themselves and their hearers to stop preaching until they get that resolved (cf. Jas. 3:1). Assuming people know and understand the truth on a subject can make us poor stewards of the high charge we have as preachers and teachers (cf. 1 Cor. 9:16). Let us be transparently kind, caring, and concerned for people when we stand before them to teach and preach. Yet, let us have a righteous boldness and unwavering trust in the Lord to declare the whole truth so as to please Him.
They fought a fight of sacrifice
On land, by air, and sea
Privation, starvation, an awful price
To guard our liberty
Some were cut down in prime of life
Others came home with scars
They faced great fears and perilous strife
For country, for stars and bars
We owe a debt of gratitude
We never could repay
May we have a humble attitude
This aptly named Memorial Day
And looking backward to a different nation
One more ancient, but still existent
We are humbled by their proclamation
Of their allegiance most persistent
They gave their lives in spiritual war
Fighting the wily adversary
Faithful unto death, this sanctified score
Wore their armor, though the battle was scary
We walk behind these noble groups
One in nation, the other in doctrine
Our lives should be changed by these gallant troops
We should be better because of this squadron
Each reminds us that freedom is not cheap
Each shows us the greatness of service
If fidelity is sown, then great honor we reap
Cowardice would do them both disservice
May we step forward, the church of our Lord
While these freedoms remain to us all
And share Christ boldly, with vigor restored
And answer our Chief Commander’s call!
[Disclaimer: I mention specific names, knowing that I cannot possibly know every story and detail. These are included to encourage. God saw it all and will reward accordingly!]
I loved the Bear Valley church of Christ before yesterday, but I love her even more this morning! Thank you for loving the Lord and souls enough to do what you did. Now, let’s keep doing it.