Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
- Only God knows what tomorrow holds (Prov. 27:1).
- Death is certain, but when we die is uncertain. Because of sin we are destined to die. I could’ve died on a motorcycle, or from a heart attack from too much bacon. Bottom line, we must be spiritually prepared to leave this earth at any moment (Heb. 9:27; Matt. 24:42-44).
- Some things are more important than a motorcycle. Like my parents’ mental health and blood pressure. Emily’s well-being and peace of mind is far more important than a bike. It’s a matter of looking at things from the other person’s point of view. Practicing the golden rule (Matt. 7:12). I would be a wreck if either of my parents bought a motorcycle (pun intended).
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
On at least two different occasions, Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’” (Matthew 9.13; Matthew 12.7). It’s quoted from Hosea 6.6, but in multiple other passages God tells us that He prefers obedience over going through the motions of worship (Isaiah 1.11ff; Amos 5.21; Micah 6; Mark 7).
This is NOT saying that worship is less important than obedience, since obedience causes us to worship. It does show God’s attitude toward those who claim to follow Him, but whose actions say otherwise.
Listen to the force behind His words in Amos 5.21, “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.” Israel had adopted some religious and social misconduct.
Do our actions cause God to wince at our worship? Israel was God’s chosen nation, but when they neglected to show mercy, justice, compassion, or faithfulness, God rejected their worship and sent them into captivity.
So what kind of worship does God love? Obedience, mercy, pursuing good, showing compassion to those less powerful, integrity, justice, and being morally pure (Amos 5.11ff).
Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
Whenever we hear about the United States Secret Service, we generally picture an elite agent with dark sunglasses and an earpiece. They certainly are elite, with only 1% of 15,600 applicants being accepted as Special Agents in 2011. They have extremely important jobs, from protecting the president and his family to investigating financial crimes in order to protect our economy. Being a Special Agent or any of the other elite positions in this government branch is not easy to achieve. These government agents have a huge responsibility and the public often keeps a close eye on them.
It’s no wonder, then, that they would come under scrutiny when something goes wrong. In 2014, Omar Jose Gonzalez jumped the White House fence and ran across the North Lawn with a knife. He was able to make it through the front door and past a security guard, making it as far as the East Room before being tackled by another guard.
The church is made of imperfect humans. We are called to live to a higher standard and to hold one another to a higher standard. Whenever someone makes a mistake – especially someone in a position of leadership – it’s easy for us to gossip, condemn, talk about “what we would have done,” or offer insincere criticism. Worse yet, it’s easy to tarnish the name of the church just because of the mistakes of someone inside. Yes, sin must be dealt with in a godly way. But using the mistakes of others as an excuse to damage the bride of Christ is inexcusable. Let us always strive to not only hold ourselves to the highest possible standard, but to also keep the name of God’s people in high standing with the world and with each other.
Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross
In 1976, I was in first grade attending school in Barrackville, West Virginia, where my dad preached. One of my buddies was a black-haired kid named Carl. He got me in more trouble, wetting paper towels and throwing them on the bathroom ceiling in our school, exploring a filthy, condemned house across the street from the church building, and probably other acts of mischief I have chosen to repress. The worst Carl incident is probably still recalled in janitorial circles throughout the greater Fairmont area. Apparently, the school was replacing a lot of windows. There were sheets and sheets of panes of glass propped up against the school building. Carl, who looked a lot like Alfalfa from the Little Rascals, said he thought he could throw a pane of glass further than I could. The very suggestion made alarms go off in my head. This was wrong, dangerous, and I’m sure I threw in illegal. How I went from those thoughts to a sheet of glass- throwing-contest I honestly don’t remember. But I did and we did several times until an aforementioned janitor yelled at us to stop and stand still. I didn’t move but surprisingly Carl took off in a sprint. By the time the janitor made his way to my asphalt courtroom, I was feeling serious buyer’s remorse. I was arraigned and was told to report to the judge, better known as the principal, first thing in the morning. I remember two things about that next day. One was that this is the only incident of my childhood that merited two spankings from my parents. The other was how gentle and kind the principal was. I later found out that the principal had told mom and dad that they would not make us pay for the broken glass. I had no defense. Carl had hung me out to dry, but I forged my dastardly destiny the moment I cast my lots with that little rascal. I was at the mercy of one who could have made my life much harder, but he simply urged me to reform–the very thing I was eager to do. That was the last memory I have of Carl.
Have you ever been caught dead to rights–no excuse or mitigating circumstances (just plain guilty)? In John 8:1-11, there is a powerful lesson on forgiveness centering around a woman caught in adultery. We can look at this text from a variety of perspectives, but this very guilty woman was literally in the center of them all and at the heart of the text. Who was this woman to everyone present?
- To all the people, she was an object of curiosity and possible amusement.
- To one man, she was a sexual object to use.
- To the scribes and Pharisees, she was a pawn for their use.
- To the law of Moses, she was a sinner worthy of death.
- But to Jesus, she was a person to defend, a soul to save, and a forgiven one to send.
This woman was viewed from every conceivable angle, from curious spectacle to sexual object, from contempt to compassion. The view that mattered most, Jesus’ vantage point, saw her not only for what she was but for what she could be. The example of her story helps us to appreciate that not only is sin bad, but it can be remedied. Jesus would say to every obedient one today what He told her. “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
Deuteronomy was apparently a favored Old Testament book for our Lord. It was this last book of the Pentateuch Jesus quotes each time He is tempted by the Devil in the wilderness (Mt. 4:4,7,10). His writing on discipline (Mt. 18:16) and divorce (Mt. 5:31; 19:7) draw on Moses’ writings in that book, too. It is interesting, considering Christ’s propensity to reflect upon the book of Deuteronomy, to see the instructions given under the old law in dealing with prodigal sons:
If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father
or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them,
then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders
of his city at the gateway of his hometown. “They shall say to the elders of
his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he
is a glutton and a drunkard.’ “Then all the men of his city shall stone him to
death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel will hear
of it and fear (Deut. 21:18-21).
Interestingly, these statements are found in the context of meting out inheritances to sons. Notice, however, the way God chose to deal with profligate (i.e., wasteful and immoral) sons under the first covenant. There seems to have been a perceived tie between rebellion toward parents and rebellion against God. The worst case scenario for such a child was the death penalty, the men of the city hurling the rocks.
How shocking Jesus’ story might have been, seen in the context and in contrast to the law under which the Jews still served at the time! As He so often did, Jesus points to a new way of divine dealing with mankind. The Prodigal (i.e., wasteful) Son in Luke 15:11ff was certainly stubborn and rebellious, wanting free from the rule of his father. Yet, the father allowed the son to depart. The son lived in total dissipation and then longed to come home. The homecoming he received from his father was totally unexpected. He was joyfully, lovingly welcomed. In fact, the hard-hearted, begrudging brother is depicted as having greater spiritual problems since he refused to follow the father’s lead.
We are all sinners (Rom. 3:23). We all are in need of the Father’s grace and forgiveness. We also are instructed, by the Father’s perfect example and the older brother’s wrongheaded response, about how to receive our prodigal brothers and sisters who want to come home! Thank God that because of Christ, we have a new way to handle prodigals and to be handled as prodigals who come back to the Father!
No, not Enid, Kenya, or Enid, India. Enid, Oklahoma. On November 4, 2009, a Wednesday night, Bill and Deena Carpenter were returning to their home from church services. Driving down the highway in their SUV, Bill at only the last second saw the 4,500 pound animal standing in the middle of the road. He attempted to evade the pachyderm, but the eight foot Asian elephant was too big to miss. The good news is that neither the humans nor the elephant were seriously injured. The massive mammal had escaped earlier that day from a circus set up at a nearby fairgrounds. It seems to me that there are a few important reminders to consider from this bizarre incident.
IT IS A REMINDER THAT SOME THINGS ARE OUT OF PLACE. Enid is an unusual place to (literally) run into an elephant. Elephants just do not roam our countryside in America. Some things are incongruous and not just elephants running free in Oklahoma. Worldly Christians, aimless shepherds, inactive deacons, scriptureless preachers, warring brethren, and the like are more out of place than an elephant on the lam in Enid!
IT IS A REMINDER THAT SOME THINGS ARE TOTALLY UNEXPECTED. When is the last time your friend or loved one warned you to be on the lookout for elephants on the loose as you drove home? You just do not anticipate the need for such a warning. Some things cannot be foreseen, can they? How many of our trials and difficulties came with clear, sufficient warning? Certainly some do, but many more do not! Furthermore, what a reminder that the second coming of Christ will not come with signs or prescient warnings (1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10; Matt. 24:35). The problems and adversities of this life often cannot be prepared for, but that coming, great, and unexpected day can and must be anticipated.
IT IS A REMINDER THAT EVEN THE BIGGEST ISSUES CAN BE MANAGEABLE. No doubt, Bill’s life flashed before his eyes. As he yelled “elephant” at the last second, he might have had time to think that this would be his last word. Mercifully, all parties escaped serious problems. What at first appeared catastrophic now makes for the story to end all dinner-party stories! How often do our looming problems seem overwhelming and utterly devastating only to pass like a storm with dark clouds and thunder but no damaging winds, rains, or hail? Too many times, we are so paralyzed by fear and worry over our personal challenges that we miss opportunities for spiritual growth and development (cf. 1 Pet. 5:7; 1 Cor. 10:13). We do not face a difficulty too hard for the Lord to handle.
No, you almost certainly will never hit an elephant driving down the highway this side of an African safari. Yet, you will be called to be salt and light in this world, a challenge that may make you awkwardly stand out at times. You will face the unexpected, both now and ultimately. You will also face supersized but surmountable issues in life. Do what you can to prepare, then leave the rest of it in the omnipotent hands of God!
Of course it happens on a week where you are already running a little late, and it contributes to an improper decision. Sunday morning, en route to teach my Bible class, I approached the red light at Ken Caryl and Wadsworth to turn right and head up to the church building. However, I did not execute a clean stop but rolled through it (since I could see that no cars were close enough to overtake me). Unfamiliar with the mandatory use of the acceleration lane, I pulled on into the right lane of northbound traffic. It was about fifteen seconds later that I noticed the State Trooper inviting me to pull over and chat about it. Truthfully, I did not realize I had rolled rather than stopped and I did not realize that I had to use the acceleration lane first. The extremely polite officer let me know that my ignorance and relative indifference did not make my actions lawful. Only because of his kindness and the validity of my insurance and registration did he let me go with just a warning. But, I was “dead to rights.” It would have been an expensive lesson for a man who has been driving for 30 years as of this year. Oh, and I was 30 seconds late to my Bible class, too.
I will claim that I am a courteous and ordinarily lawful driver with a clean MVR (motor vehicle record), but that did not make me exempt from Colorado driving laws.
It is sobering to contemplate the great day of judgment. “All nations will be gathered before [Christ]” (Mat. 25:31). “Each one of us will give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12; cf. 2 Cor. 5:10). “God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus” (Rom. 2:16). “God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Ecc. 12:14). While every child of God will be the benefactor of amazing grace available to all who walk in the light (Ti. 3:7; 1 Jn. 1:7), there will be moral, upright people lost for eternity (Mat. 7:21-24). God will deal out fiery retribution to “those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Th. 1:8). Despite this, they will pay the penalty of eternal destruction (2 Th. 1:9; cf. Mat. 25:46).
I cannot help but think of how many people will stand before the kind, beneficent Christ and claim ignorance or carelessness. He will have demonstrated great patience and doled out so many “second chances” (2 Pet. 3:9), but His long-suffering will have been exhausted in that day “when He comes to be glorified in His saints” (2 Th. 1:10). May we “regard the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Pe. 3:15) and make sure we are in compliance with His reasonable expectations.
Anita Geurink relates the incredible story of locals finding and rescuing a little baby boy who was abandoned in a forest outside Maseru, Lesotho. Hours later, a freak hailstorm pounded the area, damaging windows and roof, causing flooding, and striking the very spot where the baby had just been laying. The little boy already had a name, but it took on great significance in light of these events. His name, translated, means “Mercy” (Anita’s blog post).
When we look over our lives, how many times have we experienced the generous mercy of our God? We do not know what all He has spared us from, how He has protected us, or how He has delivered us. For every instance where we have seen His generous, providential hand, how many times has it been at work behind the scenes unbeknownst to us?
The apostle Paul deals with a difficult subject in Romans 11. God’s sovereign choice, summarized at the end of this discussion, can be hard for us to understand or accept. Paul concludes, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (33-36). But God is neither cruel nor capricious. Paul characterizes Him as one who desires to show mercy to the obedient. The Gentiles received mercy through the rejection and disobedience of the Jews (30). But God still longed to show mercy to the Jews (31). He withholds His mercy only to those who persist in disobedience (32).
If only we can see ourselves as the little orphaned Lesothoan boy, vulnerable and helpless and in need of rescue, we will not harden our hearts against the kindness and mercy of God. Hosea seems to speak of a literal orphan who finds mercy in God (14:3), but the New Testament repeatedly speaks of us as spiritual orphans who received greater mercy, shown by His love, grace, and forgiveness (Eph. 2:4; 1 Pet. 1:3; 2:10; Jude 21).
By no means does God’s mercy exempt us from obedience. On the other hand, we should humble ourselves by remembering, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Ti. 3:5). You and I were more helpless than that abandoned baby in that forest in South Africa. He can enable us to overcome and do great things to His glory, but we must never forget that He does that! Have you thanked God for His “great mercy” today?
We were living in Cairo, Georgia, and I was in the third grade. It was during a game of kickball on the playground and I was the “pitcher.” A kid kicked it hard and I caught it. As the ball hit me in the gut, I felt a sharp pain. Something wasn’t right. My parents took me that week to see the local doctor. He thought it might be a hernia. Exploratory surgery in Thomasville instead revealed a tumor on my liver. My parents and I flew to Atlanta, Georgia, where I was checked into Egleston Children’s Hospital. Extensive testing there and Emory Hospital, the general campus for Egleston, led my team of doctors to the same conclusion. It was cancerous. They tried to prepare my parents for how slim my chance of survival was. Even if their diagnosis was wrong, surgery and attending blood loss may well be more than I could stand. My parents maintained great faith, and my dad solicited prayers from congregations all over the place. Dr. Gerald Zwiren, who led a team of highly-skilled doctors, brought the news to my parents that I survived the surgery and later shared the oncology report that my tumor was benign. That was close to 40 years ago and to this point I have never had further complications. I certainly received a second chance.
Periodically, I ponder at length what I have done with that second chance. The scar I bear from that surgery has long since become invisible to my daily view. I suffer no lingering consequences. That event is certainly not why I chose to become a preacher, as if to try and pay a debt to God for saving me. Sadly, despite His mercy in sparing me, I have sinned in ways great and small that reveal, in addition to all else, a failure to appreciate that blessing. Spiritually, whether as a preacher, husband, father, or Christian, I am saddled with the realization of how far I have to go. With the help of His Word, His providence, and His strength, I continue to try to make the most of this extra time He gave me back in 1979.
All of us who are New Testament Christians face the same spiritual situation. We suffered the terminal condition of lostness in sin. By all human calculations and efforts, nothing could be done to save us. Yet, when we responded to His grace by believing, repenting, and being baptized (cf. Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38), He gave us all a “second chance.” We passed from death to life. More than that, God gave us a way to continually receive the benefits of the blood and grace of His Son as we strive to walk in His light (1 Jn. 1:7-10). You may have messed things up badly in your life. You may feel that it is impossible for God to love and forgive you. Friend, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). God is the God of the second chance! His diagnosis is perfect, and His is the only one that counts! Trust in the Great Physician. He has never lost a patient who followed His prescription!