Words…

I don’t know about you, but I like to talk. I find so much encouragement finding connections and communicating with the Lord’s people. But at other times, if I’m not careful, my words can quickly become out of control. For me this is one area I always need to keep a close eye on. I recently heard a song on the radio that the lyrics really hit home for me.

“Words can build you up,
Words can break you down.
Start a fire in your heart
Or put it out.
Let my words be life,
Let my words be truth.
I don’t wanna say a word
Unless it points the world back to You.”

Our words can do one of two things. They can connect us to God’s family or they can separate us from each other. What effect do you allow your words to have?

Inclusive words can be some of the most uplifting words. Everyone desires to be included and wanted. The Lord commands us to get together with each other for fellowship, and so often we are excellent at this command. The problem comes when these gatherings are discussed around others who weren’t included. I know personally this can make me feel like I’m alone, why don’t they want to invite me? While the feelings of loneliness are partly the devil’s handiwork, we each have a responsibility to be considerate of each other. Philippians 2:3-4 says, Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interest, but also for the interest of others.” We are commanded here to focus not on ourselves, but to think about how the things we do or say will affect others. Are your words focused on the hearer?

Secondly, our words can be a great blessing to those around us. In Proverbs 16:24 the writer says, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” An encouraging word can do so much good for the soul. I think these are the type we often forget. We forget to find the good and see the talents in each other. It’s easy to do for a friend whom you love dearly, but what about the person you just say hello to on Sundays and Wednesdays? How can you encourage them? Jesus knew his disciples needed some encouraging words, too. In John 14:1-2 He said, “Do not let your heart be troubled or discouraged believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.” Christ encouraged those around him reminding them that there is more to live for than this world. There is something so much greater. Would people reminding you of this bring you encouragement?

Lastly, our words can bring compassion. Compassionate words, I believe, are the hardest words to communicate. Compassionate words require listening, and listening requires time. Compassionate words also require thinking before we speak. Ephesians 4:29 states that our words should be given “according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear it.” There have been times in my life when I have been hurting or struggling and others have given me words of compassion. I hope I will never forget those, because they gave my heart peace. The author of Proverbs states, “A soothing tongue is a tree of life” and “Like apples of gold in settings of silver, is a word spoken in right circumstances.” A compassionate word can help others see Christ; a compassionate word can draw us closer together.

The lyrics above reminded me that my words need to be “gracious and seasoned with salt.” They also reminded me that one day the Lord will bring before me all my words and I will have to give an answer for them. Jesus said in Matthew, “For by your word you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned.” How scary a thought this is to me. That passage stresses the importance of how we should be using our words. Out of our mouths we can bring glory to our Heavenly Father. Out of our mouths we can praise our Creator. Out of our mouths we can point others to Jesus. “I don’t wanna say a word, unless it points the world back to You.”

Amanda O’Banion

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Lessons From The Children

“Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven”  – Jesus, Matthew 18:3-4

Children are full of surprises. Their carefree and sometimes whimsical ways are ever invoking a number of emotions around my home. Things like joy, pride, gratitude, or even frustration and confusion at times. I’ve learned a lot from my children, even in the short time God blessed our family with their addition. Useful things; like “Never leave a glass of liquid next to a laptop” and “You can fit $1.37 worth of coins inside the gear shift of a Honda Odyssey”. But, some of the most valuable lessons my children have taught me are the things that I believe Jesus had in mind when he said the things from the verse above.

When my oldest (now 4 years old) was first learning to pray we would start by first talking about the things to pray for, so that we could teach her how to pray. Often, during these prayers, my daughter would struggle with the “right” words and end up praying for things like “Thank you that So-and-so is sick”. While I found these things to be cute, we’d talk about them after the prayer, and discuss the way to word prayers where we’re asking for things, and how to word prayers of thanksgiving.

Eventually, she started using a phrase that has begun to have an impact on my own prayers. Instead of saying, “Thank you that So-and-so is sick” she would say “Thank you for So-and-so to get better”. Initially, I reminded her how to ask for someone to get better in prayer, but I’ve stopped doing that. I wonder if she didn’t have it right all along. Instead of making a request for something, she was thanking God for the good result He could bring. I’m not implying a 3-year-old could fully grasp the power of this statement, but it does remind me of Mark 11:24: “Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.” And, 1John 5:14: “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”

We could all improve our prayers and strengthen our faith by remembering to pray like a child in this regard.

Another characteristic of children that is worthy of emulation is the unencumbered forgiveness children are so often willing to extend. How often have you observed children playing, get in an argument or disagreement over a toy, and then seconds later are again the best of friends? I find that even when an offense that merits an apology occurs, children will almost immediately extend forgiveness and it will be as if the offense never occurred. Children forgive in the manner God says He forgives in Isaiah 43:25: “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins.”

Oh, how our society could be influenced and improved by practicing the forgiveness of children!

The final trait of children that has made an impression on me recently is their ability to befriend a stranger. When introduced to a visitor in Bible class or a new neighbor or classmate, a child does not decide how to treat a new acquaintance based on their appearance, the way they talk, how they’re dressed, or the way the carry themselves. Typically the conversation will go something like, “Hi, I’m Susie, what’s your name? Want to go play?”

“For there is no partiality with God.” – Romans 2:11

I’ve observed the same to be true of children. I wonder how much more quickly the borders of God’s kingdom would grow if we would spread the gospel without partiality, willingly talking about the word of God with anyone and everyone we’re around.

“Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.” – Romans 15:5-7

My children will no doubt continue to bring many surprises as we attempt to train and raise them in The Way they should go. I knew that parenting would provide many opportunities for teaching, but I never realized that at times I would be the teacher and at other times I would be the student…

“Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, The fruit of the womb is a reward.” – Psalms 127:3

Tim O’Banion

If Only…

What is the most important word in the Bible?  Have you ever thought about it?  The word “God” would undoubtedly garner most, if not all, of the first place votes.  I wouldn’t be caught dead voting otherwise.   There are, however, other words that are often overlooked.  Many words would come to mind: sacrifice, faith, grace, love, and so on.  I would like to suggest that the simple word if is one of the most important words in the Bible.  It is also one of the most challenging words in all of life.  If does many things in the space of two letters.

If is proof of man’s free will.  God told Cain in Genesis 4:7 “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up?  And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door…”  Cain had the power to choose which path he would take, each with a different promised outcome.

If requires judgments.  In the books of the Law we can see if associated with consequences or judgments…. The word if appears 39 times in Lev. 13 (59 verses).  The action to be taken is the direct result of a compulsory judgment. Leviticus 13:4 reads, “But if the spot is white in the skin of his body and appears no deeper than the skin, and the hair in it has not turned white, the priest shall shut up the diseased person for seven days.”  The priests were to examine something, leprosy in this case, make a judgment, then follow God’s instructions.

If promises results. Whether reward or punishment, if sheds light on the consequences of our choices.  Proverbs 2:1-5 says “My son, if you will receive my sayings, And treasure my commandments within you, Make your ear attentive to wisdom, Incline your heart to understanding; For if you cry for discernment, Lift your voice for understanding; If you seek her as silver, And search for her as for hidden treasures; Then you will discern the fear of the LORD, And discover the knowledge of God”.  What a wonderful promise.  The consequences of making a bad choice are just as easily seen in scripture.  Malachi 2:2 says “If you do not listen, and if you do not take it to heart to give honor to My name,” says the LORD of hosts, “then I will send the curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings…”

If offers hope.  We read the question in Job 14:14 “If a man dies, will he live again? The answer to that question is found in John 8:51 “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.”

It is that hope of salvation that is offered throughout the scriptures with the word if:

Romans 10:9  “ that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.”

Act 8:36-37 “And as they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

If does, as mentioned at the first point, grant free will to every individual.  You do have the power to make a poor choice with consequences not to your liking.  It is then that you may begin to think if only.

Isaiah 48:18 “If only you had paid attention to My commandments! Then your well-being would have been like a river, And your righteousness like the waves of the sea.”

If only…

Curt Roberts

Mary’s Reputation

A reputation is a valuable asset that takes years to earn and only a moment to destroy.  We value a strong reputation and fear any smear on our record.  However, reputations can be misleading.  I started my second year teaching this past August.  Since it was my second year, a reputation began to precede me.  Some of it was a little shocking.  One student heard horror stories that I was rude and mean to everyone.  This brushed me off the plate a little bit.  I like sarcasm, but rude seemed a little harsh.  This reputation may have been earned or only assigned, yet the course of the relationship is set in motion by this perception.

In preparing to teach Luke 2, I reflected on an aspect of Mary that I had not considered before.  We are familiar with Mary’s situation at the start of the Gospels.  She has been blessed with the task of giving birth to the Messiah.  It must have been an incredible feeling to know that Jehovah trusted her with such a monumental task.  Her response to the request is even more astonishing.  “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord” (Luke 1:38).  And that was her initial reaction!  There was not a “let me think about this” or a Mosiac “you have the wrong person”.  She accepts with passion the task of her God.

The story is not simply one woman’s triumphant role in God’s plan.  Mary’s obedience to the Lord would immediately put her at odds with her family, friends, and culture.  Mary is a young, unmarried woman who is now pregnant.  Her husband-to-be considers putting her away for what he (understandably) thinks was an act of sin (Matthew 1:19).  In our culture, we feel sad for such a situation, yet it is not uncommon.  In the Jewish culture, Mary could be executed for such a violation of God’s Law.  Every trip down the street would be accompanied by the hushed whispers of her neighbors.   Every trip to the market would be accompanied by the sideways glances.  Her trip in Luke 2 to Bethlehem would have been met with pity felt toward poor, poor Mary.

What recourse does she have? I guess she could explain the situation to the enquiring minds.  “I am not a sinner.  I am still a virgin.  I am caring the Son of God in my womb.”  I consider myself a trusting person, yet I would have trouble believing that story.

We know through hindsight that while Mary was being rejected by man, she was blessed by God.  There was quite a difference between the reality of her soul and the reputation that followed her like a shadow.  Her reputation was she was a sinner to be separated from, while the reality was she was uniquely blessed by the Lord.  This must have crossed her mind the night she was confronted with the Angel of the Lord.  Her reputation would be dragged through the mud, yet her response is an instantaneous “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord”.

What does your reputation say about you?  A soiled reputation is difficult to overcome and may linger with us long after the sins have been forgiven.  Just because people believe something, does not make it true.  We may carry the reputation of past sins or the perception of a weakening faith.  However, as Mary demonstrates, the perception of others is not the same as reality.  Mary remained obedient to the Lord and as far as is recorded she endured the ridicule and shame given to her.  It is hard not to retaliate against the slander and gossip hurled around us.  We are in control of our actions and we should not be so quick to give up that control.  We choose whether to lash out in sinful frustration or remain devoted to our Christian responsibilities.  The rejection of men is only another challenge to grow our faith.

If we flip the perspective, the same is also true.  A person’s reputation may follow them, yet be inaccurate.  We demand patience and understanding from others, yet are not so quick to dole it out ourselves.  The Kingdom of God is built on second chances.  Men like Saul and Matthew would have brought muddied reputations with them, but the Lord used them in magnificent ways.  It is hard not to gossip and seek the next scandalous story.  How would we have viewed Mary walking through our doors?  Even when the reputation is deserved, it does not negate the Lord’s forgiveness.

In the glory and excitement we feel in reading of the birth of our Savior, the difficulties faced by a teenage Jewish girl speak volumes.  Praise from the Lord is vastly superior to the acceptance of Man.  Mary lived that and may we also.

Jared Rogers

Arrows or Targets?

I’ve always been told that being a parent changes you. It changes your approach to life and the way in which you view the world. Having recently given birth to a baby boy, I’ve found myself thinking about the world he’ll have to grow up in. The fears that plague me are the same as any mother, I’m sure. If our culture and society have already strayed this far away from God, how much worse will it be 10, 15, 20 years from now? Will my son be swayed by peer pressure? How will he be affected by all the evils in our country? It’s natural for any parent to want to protect their children from any and all harm, be it physical, emotional, or spiritual. And before I had a son, I thought the easiest way to ensure he wasn’t influenced by our country was to shield him from it as best I could. But once he was born and I was able to look into his eyes, my thoughts changed.

In Matthew 16:18 we read Jesus’ declaration, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” It’s a verse we’re all familiar with, yet we often miss one of its central points. In ancient times, the gates of a city were a means of safety, intended to protect it from outside invaders. So if the gates of hell shall not stand, then who is really attacking whom? If we are the kingdom against which Satan doesn’t stand a chance, then why are we always on the defensive? We de-friend people on Facebook because we disagree with their worldly posts and turn down lunch invitations from co-workers because of the language we know they’ll use. I’ll ask again, who is attacking whom? And who should be attacking whom?

Now, suppose we consider this concept alongside a passage from the Psalms.

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” Psalm 127: 4-5

Children are arrows. Not shields, not helmets, not a piece of armor, but arrows – offensive weapons of force. Once again, a clear indicator that we should view ourselves and our children as Satan’s attackers rather than his victims. Granted, the world can be a scary place, especially for little ones. But we have the comfort of knowing that in the end, goodness will always triumph. And even with that comforting knowledge, what do we do? We homeschool our children and send them to private Christian institutions and colleges. We basically do everything we can to hide our children from the world. What good is an arrow that stays in the quiver? Don’t get me wrong, I attended a private Christian college and I’m not necessarily advocating that we stop sending our kids to them. But I am advocating that we stop to consider what message we send to the world – and to Satan – when we do so. The message is that we feel threatened and afraid. We isolate ourselves more and more, and then we have the audacity to wonder why Satan’s influence is growing as much as it is.

The best thing I can do for my little boy is to teach him not to be afraid, but rather to be prepared. To be aggressive. To be the arrow instead of the target. And what better way to teach him than by my own example? I could certainly use some more assertiveness in my approach to evangelism, as I’m sure we all could. The good news is that we can all take Matthew 16:18 as a call to arms and a source of encouragement. There is really no need for us to be intimidated by the world. On the contrary, we have every reason to proceed with boldness and empowerment. After all, if God is for us who can be against us?

Erin Miller

Words Do Matter

We sometimes sing a hymn titled “Love One Another”. The first verse says “Angry words O let them never from the tongue unbridled slip; May the heart’s best impulse ever Check them ere they soil the lip.” The song goes on with other warnings about what we say to others and how destructive our speech can be to others. In John 13: 34 we are given a command by our Savior to “Love One Another”. What we say is sometimes the only way that others can judge whether or not we are following the Lord’s blessed command. Our words must match our deeds and our actions in order to be pleasing to God. Our Savior condemns hypocrisy (Matt. 24: 51, I Pet. 2:1). Hypocrisy simply defined is actions that do not match what we say. Our words and our actions are a window into our heart for all to see.

There are many other commands and instructions given to us about how we each need to control what we say to others. In Acts 23:5 the Apostle Paul states that under the Law of Moses “You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people”. Also one of the Ten Commandments states “You shall not give false testimony or make false charges against your neighbor”. In Colossians 4:6 Paul gives the following instructions concerning what we say, “Let your speech always be with grace…”. In Titus 2:8 Paul gives instructions to both the aged and the young to be sound in speech which is beyond reproach. There are many more passages that give strong instructions of how we are to control what we say at all times.

In James 3:8 it is stated “But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.” I once believed as many still do that this passage is talking about my own tongue (speech). I wish to propose a different thought that I have concluded about this passage. In the preceding verse it talks about how man has been able to tame every wild creature. So when we come to this verse (vs. 8) we tend to personalize it to mean our own tongue. Honestly our own tongue is not a separate creature that we cannot tame (control). In light of all the above passages mentioned and so many more, we should conclude that our speech can and must be controlled. I submit to you for careful consideration that verse 8 is really saying that no one can control (tame) the speech (tongue) of another. It is a fact that you cannot control what others may say in the same way you can control a horse with a bridle. The Word of God is our own personal bridle of our own choosing and we should and must control our speech if we are to be obedient to the will of God. Even though the creatures of the earth can and have been tamed by man, this does not mean they have been rendered harmless. The same can be said of our own tongue (the words we use) that is under our control and has the potential to cause great harm in a moment of weakness.

Thanks be to our Loving God above that through Christ Jesus’ blood we can be made righteous in His sight.

Paul E. Batterton

Someone’s Always Watching

“Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea.” ~ Mark 6:45-48

Some of the best portions of scripture are often the ones that come right before or just after the famous parts. I think of it like the mortar that holds bricks together. No one pays any attention to anything but the bricks, but without the mortar you’d be paying attention to those bricks on the ground.

This passage comes just after one of the famous parts. Jesus has just fed the five thousand and has ushered his disciples away across the Sea of Galilee. As the disciples attempt to make the short trip to Bethsaida the weather picks up, seemingly making their boat move two steps back for every one step forward.

Can you relate?

I see in this passage dark periods of my life and I imagine that you do, too. Times when the storm has arrived, the winds have bellowed their chest, and the waves have come crashing into the boat. You’re taking on water, rowing with little success and making even less progress.

Maybe your storm is the sickness your spouse endures. Maybe your storm is the worldly environment you spend your days in. Maybe your storm is the family who belittles your faith at holiday gatherings. Maybe your storm is the child gone astray. I don’t know what your storm is… but you do.

Discouragement sets in, you feel cast adrift and long for the shores from whence you came. At least there was a peace there. No progress perhaps, but no pain either.

And it’s at this point that we should stop. Pause. Hesitate. Turn and look over our shoulder. Because there in the distance is a man up on the mountain. Watching. Far away, but so close.

The gospel writer tells us that Jesus watched his disciples’ struggles from before evening had come until the fourth watch of the night had arrived. Folks, that’s at least 12 hours. 12 hours of being pushed and pulled in every which direction by the winds. Overpowered by elements not within their control.

But.

Jesus came to them.

How often do we struggle with some ordeal in our lives, all the while feeling as if we are alone and that Jesus has abandoned us? You don’t think the disciples thought to themselves while in the boat, “Where’s Jesus?!” Of course they did. They spent every day with Jesus, but now, when they’re up against it, he’s suddenly nowhere to be found.

And so what does this tell us about Jesus?

It tells us that, while Jesus sees our hardships and struggles, he also knows what we’re capable of. I think that Jesus waited so long into the night to make his presence known because it wasn’t until then that the disciples truly began to tire and waver. Our redeemer makes no assurance of ease, but he does assure us that he’ll be there when we need him most. What good would it do for our spiritual development if Jesus always came to us at our first cry?

The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability.” (1 Cor. 10:13) God isn’t looking to break us with the temptations and trials we encounter – but he is looking to build us. And the way I see it, the higher and faster the wind and waves in your life, the more God thinks you can handle. We spend so much time believing in God that we forget that he believes in us.

Jesus is always watching; he sees all our struggles. It may seem like he’s far away on dry land while you’re being bowled over by the waves, but rest assured he’s there. So when the wind is against you, remember that Jesus isn’t.

James Miller

Do All In The Name Of The LORD

Have you been listening? There is a lot more than just elephants and donkeys in the sounds you are hearing in the media regarding the current election. I am not at all a political person. You won’t find me at a political rally. I won’t be knocking on doors to discuss the merits of any candidate. I will quietly do my research and vote for the person I think is best for the country. But something interesting has been happening with the television news reporters. While talking about foreign affairs, the economy, taxes, and the housing market, the media has developed an interest in learning more about a particular religion.

 For some voters, the decision will be based entirely on the religion of a candidate. This isn’t a new trend. From Thomas Jefferson in 1800 to Grover Cleveland in 1884 and Herbert Hoover in 1928 to John F. Kennedy in 1960, religion has played a role in the decision-making process of presidential elections. Some candidates have lost the race solely on the basis of their religion. Others have certainly lost votes they otherwise deserved. The name of God has even been in the forefront of party platforms—much to the dismay of convention attendees. But what I find interesting this time is that the religion of a candidate has generated media curiosity in how that faith functions in today’s society.

In August, NBC devoted an hour of prime time to helping viewers understand more about the Mormon religion. I doubt this would have happened without the current interest in a certain candidate. Even though I have relatives who are Mormon, I learned more than I expected and very little of it applied to politics. For example, the “magic undergarments” worn by practicing Mormons helps them to feel set apart from others and to remind them of Christ. It is a concealed reminder of their faith and the fact that they have chosen to “put on Christ”. Romans 13:14 tells us to do the same, but it refers to a state of mind and action rather than a physical garment. I am reminded that even without a garment that represents my faith, my demeanor and actions should show others that I am committed to a life of following Christ.

Mormons are also prepared to serve in whatever capacity their bishop instructs. They never say no. They always serve in the way they are asked to serve. That service might be within the local group or it may be a service in the community. Young adults are called to serve far from home. They grow up with the knowledge that they will be giving at least two years of their life to spread the Mormon faith. They put aside college, career, marriage, and family to serve their church. And they pay for it themselves. The church does not help with expenses. Mormon children save their money and prepare to pay their own way during those two years. This experience helps to shape their perspective and teaches them compassion. One executive stated, “Just because you knocked on 200 doors in one day and were told they were not interested doesn’t mean the next day you don’t do it anymore. You just go back and do it again.” When they return from their two-year mission, Mormon young adults are prepared to “put their shoulder to the wheel”. It creates an attitude of hard work, thrift, and perseverance that prepares them for business and family. I was not surprised to learn that as a result of their “mission” work, top executives from many well-known companies have been from the Mormon faith. Paul reminds the Corinthians to “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain.” Are modern-day Christians as willing as we should be to do our part in the Lord’s service?

Devout Mormons fast once a month. They do not fast because it makes them feel closer to God. Instead they do it as a way of helping others. The money they would have used to pay for meals is donated to the church to help pay for services and meals for needy people in their community. No other denomination has set aside as much time and funds for the needs of the community. Huge warehouses store food and household items for anyone who shows a need and asks for it. What services are today’s Christians providing to those in need and what are we willing to sacrifice in order to help others around us?  The Apostle Paul rejoiced when Christ’s name was preached in pretense or in truth. I do not have to agree with the Mormon church in order to be grateful that our national media is spending more time looking at any religion. And if the media causes me to look closer at what I am doing to spread the name of Christ, then I count that as a reason to rejoice too.

Margaret Batterton

David’s Greatest Sin

What was David’s greatest sin? Many would say his adultery with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband, Uriah. Obviously it was a heinous crime that carried disastrous results. But what if I was to tell you of another sin, which at least in terms of its toll on human life, brought even more tragic consequences? And what if I said it’s a sin frequently found in most of us?

When “cataloging” sin, don’t we typically categorize based on our own conduct? Doesn’t the view of our sins routinely differs from our view of the sins of others? My gossip isn’t as evil as their drunkenness. My prejudice isn’t as bad as their deception. And my expressions of pride surely aren’t as condemning as their adultery. The flaw of such reasoning is exposed by the example of David in the accounts of 2 Samuel 24 and I Chronicles 21.

In an atmosphere of success David is motivated to number the nation. He instructs Joab to go throughout Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, so that he might “know their number” (21:2). Because the figures tallied involve those who “drew the sword” (21:5), it appears David was attempting to determine the size of his fighting force. Though Joab is seldom portrayed as a model of spirituality, his perspective here is dead on: “Are they not all my lord’s servants? Why does my lord seek this thing? Why should he be a cause of guilt to Israel?” (21:3). But Joab is unable to deter him as the king “pulls rank” and the commanding officer acquiesces. The endeavor takes almost 10 months to complete (2 Sam. 24:8), though Joab intentionally omits the tribes of Levi and Benjamin because “the king’s command was abhorrent” to him (21:6).

As the account continues we find the most significant difference between Israel’s first two kings. What set David apart from Saul was not an absence of mistakes, but the stark contrast in their responses to those mistakes. Saul frequently sought to justify himself and blame others. David rightly placed the responsibility where it belonged. “David’s heart troubled him…David said to the Lord, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I have done…Please take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have acted very foolishly’” (I Sam. 24:10, emp. mine). No blame-shifting or self-justification; just a heartfelt anguish over his sin. But expressions of remorse do not always bring a nullification of consequences.

Through the prophet Gad a choice is given regarding the punishment: three years of famine, three months of flight before his enemies, or three days of God’s wrath in the form of a pestilence (21:12). The motive behind the king’s decision is a lesson in itself. David believed if you want to experience mercy, you’ll find it with God and not men (21:13). At the end of the three days there are 70,000 fresh graves in Israel and David is left to wrestle with the crushing effect of his sin on the lives of innocent Israelites. Think about it: More people died in Israel in three days than the U.S military lost in several years in Vietnam. And what was the cause of this enormous loss of human life? A king motivated by his own self-importance. Though some died as a result of David’s adultery, thousands died because of his pride!

Isn’t this a stern rebuke of our regular attempts to shrink the significance of any sin, particularly pride? Doesn’t this account shout, “Pride is a big deal!” God declares it’s an abomination that makes Him our opponent instead of an ally (Prov. 6:16, 16:5; James 4:6). In the Bible humility is always encouraged and pride is always condemned. And when we, too, are guilty, may our response mirror that of David—an honest recognition of his evil, a contrite confession of his guilt, and a deep sorrow over the result. Though packaged today with terms like “confidence”, “boldness” and “good self-esteem”, spiritually speaking it would be wise if we heeded the principle frequently recited during Jesus’ ministry: “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matt. 23:12). Should we fail to embrace this simple counsel, we may discover pride to be our greatest sin as well.

Terry Slack

When God Dies

If there is no God or even if one just imagines there is no God, what would life be like without him? Freedoms from all the ‘church duties’ would be gone: contribution of monies, volunteerism of duties to help with the facilities, rides for those needing them. Weekly duties and so forth would vanish. Moral duties of all sorts would vanish when we shift from ought to is, But then there are usually two sides to every coin, right?

A famed philosopher, Bertrand Russell wrote of such a universe and life without God:

That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that this origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins- all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are, yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built (Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays Longman, Green & Co; NY: 1918).

Russell rather graphically spells out one of the paths possible or available to us we may not choose. It is easy to turn cynical amidst such mountains of doubts and pessimism. Koheleth or Solomon posited this alternative in Ecclesiastes:

A FATALIST/PESSIMIST? What would you think of a preacher who argues: all is vanity (1.2) and without any advantage (1.3); all is wearisome (1.8) and an empty vicious cycle (1.9f); all paths of joy and purpose- pleasure, wisdom, power, labor, money, etc.- are empty and short lived at best (1.12ff), only a chasing after the wind (2.11, 17); life and its labors are to be hated (2.17f), and will only create depression to an honest man (2.20) because no one can really make sense of it (3.11); death is the final equalizer of all things with man and beast (3.18ff); dead people are better off than the living, and indeed an aborted child is better off yet, though best off of all are those never conceived (4.2f; 6.4f); life is a vicious cycle, meaningless and an unimaginable cruel hoax that mocks personal fulfillment under the sun (8.16f)?

One can hear the silence and feel the deepening blackness envelop us like a cold dark shroud. Yes, what does happen when God dies? We become empty shadows dancing to the tune of the puppeteers’ strings. There is no real purpose nor right or wrong. It just “is” or “is not”. SO the agnostic is correct in that “church” matters fade away and all that goes with them. But then so does “man” as man. These are the two choices we each face- there is no other grounds for life to be lived upon.

Before you throw off God think slowly of what comes with it… and stick to it as if it were your deepest choice in life… and eternity.

Terry Green