Dungeons, Poisons … and Keys

keyMany years ago my wife, Barbara, and I read the classic book, Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan, to our then-7-year-old son. (Where has the time gone?!) In the story, Christian is journeying on the straight and narrow path to the celestial city. On his way he encounters many situations that parallel our lives as believers.

One of my most vivid recollections from the book occurred during a time when Christian was travelling with a fellow-sojourner named Hopeful. As they journeyed, they grew tired and decided to take a rest. Lying down in a meadow just off the path, Christian and Hopeful quickly fell asleep. While they were sleeping a giant named Despair awakened them and forced them to return with him to his castle. There he put them into his dungeon.

Once Christian and Hopeful were incarcerated, the giant showed them no mercy. He beat them. He refused to give them food or water. He showed them the bones of pilgrims who had died there before them. He even offered them poison to drink so that they could end their suffering. He tried to convince them that they may as well consume the toxic drink because they were going to die there like so many before them. At one point Christian was so distressed that he almost drank the poison, but Hopeful talked him out of it.

Finally, Christian remembered that earlier in the journey he had been given a key, known as the Key of Promise. When he remembered the key he quickly tried it in the lock of the dungeon door. With a bit of work he opened the door and Christian and Hopeful walked out, free.

Not long after reading this story I was given some very distressing news about our ministry’s finances. Since, for all practical purposes, the ministry consists of Barbara and me, this news definitely affected me. It is not necessary to go into details, but suffice it to say that I was anxious. I was extremely worried about the final outcome.

The day after I received the news I was in our home office working on a computer. Because of the worry about our finances, my usual typing action was replaced by a rather pronounced banging on the keys of the computer keyboard. I made no attempt to hide the fact that I was upset. My wife, sensing my anxiety, said, “That giant, Despair, has really got a hold of you, hasn’t he? Did you check your pocket for any keys?” With that particular illustration so recent and so vivid, her comment should have been enough to cause me to change my attitude. However, this particular day, I was not just anxious, I was engulfed in anxiety.

Because I did not respond in the way she had hoped, a while later she began to hum a chorus. I knew the words very well and realized that the song was directed at me. The lyrics are:

God is bigger than all my problems,
bigger than all my fears.
God is bigger than any mountain
that I can or cannot see.

I finally realized she was right. She was inviting me to choose joy. She knew I could still have joy even in the midst of that very worrisome time. Guided by her promptings, I jumped up from my desk and, in a very positive way, said, “Okay, I’m getting it!” Right then and there I chose joy. I made the decision not to allow the joy-thief—anxiety—to steal away my joy. The situation was still the same, but my heart was changed. That change of heart made all the difference. I chose to live above the circumstances in life by choosing the joy of the Lord.

(Adapted from Worshiping God in the Hard Times, by Tom Kraeuter, ©2009 Training Resources, Inc., Hillsboro, Missouri. Get your copy at http://www.training-resources.org/worshiping-god-in-the-hard-times/)
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Something To Look Forward To

heaven's gatesWhen Jesus sent forth the seventy-two disciples, part of what they were told to do was “heal the sick” (Luke 10:9). When they returned, the disciples were beside themselves with excitement. “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” (Luke 10:17). Can you picture those enthusiastic missionaries jumping up and down and laughing as they shared their amazing experiences with Jesus?

Maybe one told about a man whose legs were bent at odd angles away from one another. Walking was not merely difficult, it was impossible. Then Beriah prayed and the man’s legs snapped into the proper position. Everyone heard a loud crack and the man’s legs looked like everyone else’s. “It was absolutely amazing,” whispered a still shocked Beriah.

Perhaps another told of a woman who was in such excruciating pain that she hadn’t slept in two months. Her face, gaunt and ashen, appeared as though she had already died. But when Hanniel prayed, the woman fell to the ground in such a profound sleep that no one could awaken her for three days. When she finally did wake up, she was totally and completely healed. Tears streamed down the cheeks of Hanniel as he recounted the story to Jesus and the others.

Obviously these are simply my imaginings. However, I’m sure that my imaginings fall far short of the miracle-working power of God. After all, Scripture says that God is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). Those disciples surely saw and experienced the power of God and so they “returned with joy” (Luke 10:17).

In the midst of their excitement and enthusiasm, though, Jesus said this, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20, author’s emphasis).

As much as the miracles are spine-tingling events, the real excitement is reserved for the fact that we are headed for heaven. No matter how miraculous an earthly event may appear, it will never compare with our heavenly home with God.

(Excerpted from Worshiping God in the Hard Times, by Tom Kraeuter, ©2009 Training Resources, Inc., Hillsboro, Missouri. Get your copy at http://www.training-resources.org/worshiping-god-in-the-hard-times/)
Posted in Scriptural Perspective | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

David, Solomon and Unforgiveness

Get 'emWhen David was passing along the kingship mantle to his son Solomon, he told Solomon about some people. Of course, David begins his final words to his son with an admonition to follow the Lord. We would expect that from David. It would be the right and appropriate thing to do. But what comes next seems odd to me.

David told Solomon about three different people — actually two people and one family. David reminded Solomon about how Joab had killed two of his commanders and how Shimei the son of Gera, the Benjaminite from Bahurim, had cursed David. He told Solomon to deal with them according to his wisdom. In fact, of Shimei David said, “You shall bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol.” (1 Kings 2:9)

David, what were you thinking? What an awful legacy to leave your heir-to-the-throne son. [Cue the mob boss voiceover] “Take care of these guys. They caused me problems, and I ain’t never forgotten it. Get rid of ’em.”

One of the things I so love about God’s Word is that it doesn’t gloss over real-life situations. We see the good, the bad and the ugly. And this is one ugly situation.

Let’s rewind for a minute and play this scenario back differently. What if we rescript it so that David doesn’t hold the grudges? What if he had chosen to simply forgive? Would that make a difference in how the story plays out?

Of course it would! Instead of passing the baton that has the “get rid of ’em” instructions attached, he could have handed Solomon a clean slate. David still could have told of the family he wanted Solomon to take care of, the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite, the family that had showed him kindness. But he certainly didn’t need to make Solomon into his henchman, his retaliator. Solomon should not even have been involved in those disputes. Yet he was, because David held a grudge. He refused to let it go and forgive.

Unforgiveness will  definitely hurt the one who refuses to forgive. But it may also affect others if they’re dragged into that unforgiveness scenario. The better choice is to forgive.

Posted in Scriptural Perspective | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

What’s It Worth To You?

What's It Worth To You?When I was young, living at home with my parents, everything I had or owned was given to me. Apart from what my parents gave me, I had no means to obtain anything. As I grew older, occasionally I could do a large job that would earn me money. Years later, I got an actual outside-the-home job and earned enough money to purchase a car and other items that I wanted.

Over the years I realized that things that I purchased on my own were of inestimable more value than those that were simply given to me. I cherished the possessions that I worked to earn more highly than the others. Why? Because I had an actual investment in them. Part of me: my skills, intelligence, giftings, time and education helped me obtain those things. I had labored to make them mine.

Near the very end of the book of 2 Samuel, King David made a great and memorable statement. “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.” (2 Samuel 24:24)

David was about to offer a sacrifice to God to avert a plague that was devastating the nation of Israel. The sacrifice was to take place on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. That location was by God’s directive. And Araunah offered to give King David the oxen for the sacrifice and even the wood to burn the sacrifice. “All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king…. The Lord your God accept you.” (2 Samuel 24:23)

But David wouldn’t hear of it. He responded, “No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.” (vs. 24)

David recognized that offerings that cost nothing were worth nothing. If it wasn’t something in which he had an actual investment, then it wasn’t worth giving.

So let me make this personal. Do you make an actual investment in your worship, or is it just a ritual with no real forethought?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Why Worry?

Absalom Hanging in a TreeWhen Absalom rebelled against his father, David, and tried to take over the kingdom, a battle ensued. It was a bloody and nasty affair. Twenty-thousand men lost their lives, “…and the forest devoured more people that day than the sword. And Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great terebinth, and his head caught fast in the oak, and he was suspended between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on.” (2 Samuel 18:8-9)

This section of Scripture reminds of the words of Moses when the Egyptians were pursuing the Israelites. The people of Israel were afraid that the Egyptian warriors would overtake them, so Moses declared, “The Lord will fight for you.” (Exodus 14:14) And, if you recall, He did.

God seems to take great delight in doing battle for His people. I, personally, really like the story of Joshua and the Israelites going up against the Amorites.

“And the Lord threw [the enemy] into a panic before Israel, who struck them with a great blow at Gibeon… And as they fled before Israel … the Lord threw down large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died. There were more who died because of the hailstones than the sons of Israel killed with the sword.” (Joshua 10:10-11)

That would be quite a story to tell your kids and grandkids, wouldn’t it? “Hailstones the size of grapefruits hit the enemy … but not one hit us. It was amazing.”

So, my friend, what are you facing today?

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

Posted in Scriptural Perspective | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Surrounded by Armies?

surrounded by armiesSurrounded by two armies. Tens of thousands of soldiers in front and to the rear. Total annihilation was a real possibility. Before nightfall your comrades could be strewn across the battlefield. This sounds like a scenario from the Lord of the Rings movies.

But this story is true.

“When Joab saw that the battle was set against him both in front and in the rear, he chose some of the best men of Israel and arrayed them against the Syrians. The rest of his men he put in the charge of Abishai his brother, and he arrayed them against the Ammonites. And he said, ‘If the Syrians are too strong for me, then you shall help me, but if the Ammonites are too strong for you, then I will come and help you.'” (2 Samuel 10:9-11)

Well, it still sounds scary, but at least it sounds like a workable plan. Joab, the general in charge, knew he couldn’t just sit and twiddle his thumbs. He needed a plan, a course of action. He needed to be able to look his army in the eyes and tell them what he intended to do. So he offered his very best, well-reasoned strategy. But he didn’t stop there.

Joab also encouraged the army. “Be of good courage, and let us be courageous for our people, and for the cities of our God…” (vs. 12a) Beyond laying out the strategy, he bolstered his people with words of encouragement. This reminds me of what God said over and over to Joshua as the people of Israel were on the verge of the Promised Land: “Be strong and courageous.” Don’t go into the battle with a we’re-goners mentality. No! Be courageous. So Joab encouraged his army.

But it’s what Joab said at the end that really strikes me. “And may the Lord do what seems good to him.” (vs. 12b)

Ultimately, Joab recognized that the Lord’s people were in the Lord’s hands. He chose to trust God. In essence, Joab is saying that regardless of the outcome, we will trust that God is in control.

Is there something happening in your life for which you should follow Joab’s lead?

  • Make a plan, perhaps with the advice of others. (see Proverbs 11:14)
  • Encourage yourself in the Lord. That’s what David did several chapters earlier in Scripture. (see 1 Samuel 30:6)
  • Trust the Lord. He is faithful, and He is with you.
Posted in Scriptural Perspective | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The King’s Dilemma

huge pile of cashAmaziah, king of Judah, was preparing his people to go into battle. He had mustered 300,000 soldiers, and Scripture tells us that “He also hired a hundred thousand fighting men from Israel for a hundred talents of silver.” (2 Chronicles 25:6)

There was a problem, though. God was not pleased with Amaziah’s decision. “But a man of God came to him and said, ‘O king, these troops from Israel must not march with you, for the LORD is not with Israel…. Even if you go and fight courageously in battle, God will overthrow you before the enemy, for God has the power to help or to overthrow.’” (2 Chronicles 25:7-8)

What a dilemma! Amaziah had already plunked down what would today be the equivalent of more than $20,000,000. So what was he to do? “Amaziah asked the man of God, ‘But what about the hundred talents I paid for these Israelite troops?’” (2 Chronicles 25:9a). That was a fair question. He didn’t want to just throw the money away. However, he had already made a commitment. What should he do?

“The man of God replied, ‘The LORD can give you much more than that.’” (2 Chronicles 25:9b) Notice that there is no mention of the possibility of a refund from Israel. The prophet of God did not suggest that Israel would act like Walmart and cheerfully give back the money for any reason. He also did not tell Amaziah to have his 300,000 men go and take the money back. In essence what the man of God was saying was, “Don’t worry about it. God can more than make up the loss. Trust Him and stand by your word.”

“So Amaziah dismissed the troops who had come to him from Ephraim and sent them home….” (2 Chronicles 25:10) That was undoubtedly a difficult decision for Amaziah. He just sent 25% of his troops home with more than twenty million dollars in pay for doing nothing. He honored his commitment, however, and he knew that God could return, as the prophet had said, “much more than that.”

There may be times when you and I make commitments that might not be the best. Rather than seeing us go back on our word, though, God would have us follow through—even if it means our getting hurt in the process—being as David said, one “who keeps an oath even when it hurts.” (Psalm 15:4b) From God’s perspective being true to our word is an important commodity.

 

[adapted from Tom’s book, “Oh, Grow Up!“]

Posted in Scriptural Perspective | Tagged , , | Leave a comment