The Tator Family

Every church knows the Tator family. It’s a very large family, and even if all of the family members don’t attend any one church, some of them surely will. But just in case you aren’t familiar with the Tators, allow me to introduce them.

#1. There is Dictator. This is the church member who wants to control every aspect of the church. Typically, Dictator would rather attend a small congregation than a large one because smaller ones are much easier to control.

#2. There is Agitator. This is the church member who constantly keeps trouble stirred up in the congregation. Agitator thinks peace and tranquility are boring but can’t wait to get to church whenever a church scandal is taking place.

#3. There is Irritator. This is the church member who irritates the entire congregation by complaining and whining about everything. People see Irritator coming and immediately head the other way.

#4. There is Commentator. This is the church member who feels compelled to voice an opinion about any and all topics. Commentator is a know-it-all who loves playing the role of the smartest person in the room.

#5. There is Spectator. This is the church member who attends services but never gets personally involved in any of the doings of the church. Spectator is thoroughly content to just sit and soak but never serve.

#6. There is Rotator. This is the church member who rotates sporadic attendance in at least two churches but perhaps as many as three or four. Rotator doesn’t believe in sinking down roots in any church, preferring instead to take a church’s preaching, singing, church programs, etc. into consideration before deciding to attend.

#7. There is Hesitator. This is the church member who won’t help the congregation make a decision even when a decision must be made. Hesitator is paralyzed by the fear of making a wrong decision and will always advise taking a “Let’s wait and see” approach.

#8. There is Amputator. This is the church member who is always looking to cut away someone or something. Amputator is lightning quick to drop inactive members from membership rolls, do away with struggling programs, and cut the church budget by eliminating various line items.

#9. There is Imitator. This is the church member who believes the church should imitate all the characteristics and programs of any church that is growing and thriving. Imitator believes that cookie-cutter strategies are the way to go and that anything that works well in one church will surely work well in every church.

#10. There is Devastator. This is the church member who will not rest until the congregation lies in ruins. Devastator is a multitalented person who knows how to start a rumor, bring an accusation, play one church clique off another, turn a business meeting into a riot, and create a problem where there isn’t one.

After reading this list, I think you’ll agree with me that the Tator family is certainly a formidable group, aren’t they? Here’s hoping that you don’t have any of them in your church. Even more than that, here’s hoping that you aren’t one of the family. If, however, you simply must be a member of that family tree, let me encourage you to be a member of another branch altogether. That branch has members such as Mediator, Rehabilitator, Resuscitator, and Facilitator. Now there’s a list of some people from which our churches could surely benefit.

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Count to Ten

I’m reading David Jeremiah’s book Daily in His Presence for my daily devotion times this year. A couple of weeks ago, in a devotion entitled Waiting, he wrote the following:

Everyone is familiar with the “count to ten” rule. When tempted to speak impulsively or rashly, walk away while counting to ten — ten seconds or possibly ten minutes. Waiting before speaking can often calm one’s emotions. Likewise, when tempted to make an impulsive purchase, wait ten days, then decide if the purchase is something you really need. Often you will decide the item is a want rather than a need, and the money you save will be most welcome.

While I had heard about using this rule in regards to seconds, what struck me was that Dr. Jeremiah extrapolated it out to ten minutes and even ten days. For that matter, I suppose we could keep going and carry it out to ten weeks, ten months, or ten years. That would definitely be playing the long game with the rule.

As Dr. Jeremiah pointed out, the value of using the “count to ten” rule in any of these forms is that it will keep you from using your impulsiveness foolishly or sinfully. It should be noted, however, that some situations really don’t require any waiting. For example, when the drowning Peter cried out to Jesus, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately stretched out His hand and caught him (Matthew 14:30-31). Likewise, Peter, Andrew, James, and John immediately left their fishing businesses behind when Jesus said to them, “Follow Me” (Matthew 4:18-22). With such exceptions in mind, though, I trust that we all understand that many situations in life do lend themselves quite nicely to the “count to ten” rule.

So, where does this find you right now? Are you currently debating whether or not you should do a certain thing, say a certain thing, or commit to a certain thing? Well, I guess the fact that you are still debating it shows that God hasn’t give you a clear-cut peace about it yet. And if that’s the case, you would be well advised to employ the “count to ten” rule. Maybe God will just want you to wait a quick ten seconds before committing yourself to that course of action the next time the opportunity presents itself. Then again, maybe He will want you to wait ten weeks, ten months, or even ten years. Please understand that I’m not trying to talk you out of that idea you are rehearsing in your mind. I’m just trying to get you to slow down long enough to do it in God’s timing. As for the specifics of your case and how you apply the “count to ten “rule — or if you even need to apply it at all — that’s something you’ll have to hash out with God.

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How to Receive God’s Best

And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17, N.K.J.V.)

The story is told of a wealthy man who collected rare works of art. This man had one child, a son who went to war to fight for his country. Tragically, the son died in battle while rescuing one of his fellow soldiers.

One day there was a knock at the wealthy man’s door. It was the soldier for whom his son had given his life. The young man said to the father, “Sir, I am the soldier for whom your son gave his life. He was carrying me to safety when a bullet struck him, killing him instantly. Since he often talked about your love of art, I want you to have this.” The young man then handed over a painting that he had done. It was a portrait of the wealthy man’s son.

The wealthy man died just a few months later, and a great auction was held at his home to clear out his vast collection of valuable paintings. Many rich, influential people showed up for the auction, and they were all surprised when the portrait of the son, painted by the untrained soldier, was the first painting up for auction. The auctioneer began the bidding at $100 but found no takers. Despite his best attempts to sell the amateurishly done portrait, no one was interested in buying it.

Finally, after a minute or so of awkward silence in the room, the wealthy man’s longtime gardener, who was nothing more than a curious spectator at the auction, said, “I’ll give $10 for the painting just to have a remembrance of the son.” The auctioneer said, “$10 is the bid, going once, going twice, SOLD for $10.” Then he said to the large crowd, “Ladies and gentlemen, the auction is concluded. I was told that whoever gets the son gets EVERYTHING.”

Did this story actually happen? Probably not. But that doesn’t diminish the message it conveys. That message is: Whoever gets Jesus gets EVERYTHING that God the Father has to offer. So tell me, do you have Jesus? If you don’t you are missing out on that which is most important, not only for this life but for eternity.

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“We Don’t Know What to Do, But Our Eyes Are Upon You”

“O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.” (2 Chronicles 20:12, N.K.J.V.)

Jehoshaphat was the king of Judah, Israel’s southern kingdom. One day he received a report that a massive allied army of Moabites and Ammonite had marched into Judah (2 Chronicles 20:1-2). Knowing that God was Judah’s only hope against such overwhelming forces, Jehoshaphat proclaimed a time of national fasting and prayed for God to fight for his people (2 Chronicles 20:3-12). The words of our text verse were how he closed that prayer.

God responded to Jehoshaphat’s prayer by delivering Judah from the hand of the invading army. God accomplished that victory by having the enemy soldiers become so confused that they actually started killing one another (2 Chronicles 20:13-23). The army of Judah didn’t even have to do any actual fighting. They simply collected all the spoils from the dead soldiers (2 Chronicles 20:24-29)..

Admittedly, God doesn’t always provide such supernatural victories. For that reason, I don’t want the focus of this post to be upon the victory itself. Instead I want it to be upon Jehoshaphat’s great statement, where he says to God “We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.”

I grew up watching the popular television show MASH. The term “MASH” is an acronym for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, and the show was centered around the doctors and nurses who worked in the 4077th MASH during the Korean War. Even though the Korean War itself only lasted from 1950 to 1953, MASH the show aired on CBS from 1972 to 1983. Yes, the show lasted about four times longer than the war it depicted.

One episode from MASH’S final season is a real standout. It features the actor Patrick Swayze (before he became a bigtime movie star) playing a young soldier named Gary Sturgis whose wartime injuries make him a patient at the 4077th. When surgeon “Hawkeye” Pierce does some routine bloodwork on Sturgis he discovers that Sturgis has leukemia. That begins a dilemma within Pierce as he tries to decide whether or not to tell the young man about the fatal diagnosis. Pierce’s initial reaction is to keep the diagnosis from Sturgis so that Sturgis can best enjoy what time he has left, but Sturgis finally confronts him and forces the news from him.

Later, as Pierce is sitting alone in the camp’s mess hall, chaplain Father Mulcahy walks in and strikes up a conversation. Pierce explains what has happened and expresses his doubts that he did the right thing in telling Sturgis. He says to Mulcahy, “I wish I could believe I did the right thing.” Mulcahy’s response is, “A doctor is still just a human being. All you can do is follow your instincts.” To that Pierce says somewhat angrily, “My instincts are to cure him” and gets up and slowly walks out of the mess hall.

What do you do when you have no control over what is happening? What do you do when you can’t make happen what your instincts are telling you needs to happen? You throw up your hands and do what Jehoshaphat did. You say, “Lord, I don’t know what to do, but my eyes are upon You.” You see, God doesn’t expect you to perform miracles or do the impossible. He just wants you to cast your cares upon Him because He cares for you. Leave the outcome of the situation with Him, and trust Him to do the right thing regarding it. I won’t try to predict what that outcome might be, but whatever it is, it will be God’s responsibility because you left the deciding to Him.

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Separating From Your Ephraim

Ephraim is joined to idols; leave him alone! (Hosea 4:17, N.I.V.)

The tribe called Ephraim took its name from Joseph’s son Ephraim and was one of the most prominent tribes in Israel’s northern kingdom. As a matter of fact, the prophet Hosea used the name “Ephraim” in a general way to represent the entirety of that kingdom. That’s how he uses the name in our text verse.

The verse is part of a passage in which Hosea warns “Judah,” a tribal name the prophet uses to represent the entirety of Israel’s southern kingdom, to stay away from “Ephraim.” The point is that God wanted the Jews of the southern kingdom to stay away from the Jews of the northern kingdom lest they become spiritually contaminated by the northern kingdom’s pervasive idolatry. Just as a loving father would warn his child to stay away from certain people, God spoke through Hosea to warn the citizens of “Judah” to stay away from the citizens of “Ephraim.” That’s what God means by the words, “leave him alone.”

What we have here is an example of the Biblical concept of separation. God didn’t want the Jews of Judah to have any dealings whatsoever with the Jews of Ephraim. He didn’t want them to associate with those people, have business dealings with them, or intermarry with them. He certainly didn’t want them to worship with them. Believe it or not, He didn’t even want them to witness to those people. The separation was to be thorough and absolute.

For centuries God had commanded the nation of Israel to remain separate from the idolatrous nations that surrounded them, but now He was commanding one branch of Israel to remain separate from the other branch. This shows us that there can be times when God wants godly family members to separate from ungodly relatives. The old saying, “Family sticks together” doesn’t always apply, especially when certain family members go rouge against God and His word. Certainly these times of complete separation are rare, but they do sometimes occur.

Tell me, Christian, do you have someone in your life right now — be it a family member or someone else — who is hindering your walk with the Lord? If you do, have you considered the possibility that God might want you to separate yourself from that person completely? I’m not saying that He is; I’m just floating out the idea. Perhaps He even wants you to separate from an entire group of people just as He wanted each individual citizen of Israel’s southern kingdom to separate from the entire population of the northern kingdom. Whatever your specific case may be, all I’m asking is that you be open to the idea of leaving some individual or some group alone for the sake of your own godliness. Ephraims are out there everywhere, and God’s Judahs need to have the discernment to know when to avoid them altogether.

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God’s Tear Bottles

You number my wanderings; Put my tears into Your bottle; Are they not in Your book? (Psalm 56:8 N.K.J.V.)

Life can sure make us cry. We lose loved ones. Disease strikes. Tragedy occurs. We suffer setbacks. We get our hearts broken. Sometimes we bring the hurt on ourselves because of our poor choices, but other times we get hurt through absolutely no fault of our own. Regardless of how our hurts come, though, oftentimes they result in tears.

That’s why it’s so wonderful to know that we have a God who loves us enough to not only collect our tears and put them into His bottle but also somehow record them in His book. If God doesn’t do these things, why would He have inspired David to pen the words of Psalm 56:8? The clear implication is that God wants us to know that He does these things.

Before David says, “God, put my tears into Your bottle” he first says, “God, You number my wanderings.” The Hebrew word translated as “number” is sapar and while it can mean to proclaim, declare, or tell, its primary meaning is to number or count. For example, it is first used in Genesis 15:5 when God tells Abram to count the stars to see if he can “number” them, and it’s also used in reference to the census whereby David “numbered” the people of Israel (2 Samuel 24:10). So, the teaching of Psalm 56:8 is that God was numbering (keeping count of, keeping a record of) the events of David’s life. Furthermore, since the heading over the Psalm tells us that David penned the Psalm when he was in a very unpleasant situation in the Philistine city of Gath, the “wanderings” of which he speaks surely include times of trouble.

As for David asking God to put his tears into His bottle, did you know that archaeologists have unearthed bottles from the ancient world that were actually used as “tear bottles”? In Biblical times in the East, when a person was sick, in pain, or in distress, that person’s friend could visit him and bring along a tear bottle. If the person being visited started crying, the friend would open up the tear bottle and catch some of the tears in it. Later on, whenever the visited person died, the friend would take the tear bottle to the grave site and leave it there as a memorial to commemorate the sad event that had produced the tears.

This is the custom that David has in mind when he says to God, “Put my tears into Your bottle.” In the word picture that David is painting, he is the one who is crying and God is the one who is visiting him. David says to God, “Put my tears into your bottle” because he wants God to remember the moment that life reduced him to the tears. Again, in the specific context of the Psalm, that moment came when David found himself in perilous trouble in Gath (1 Samuel 21:10-15).

Now, as beautiful as this picture of God collecting His peoples’ tears is, it gets even better. I say that because Revelation 21:4 tells us that in eternity God will wipe away every tear. I’ll admit that as a saved believer I used to read that verse and be puzzled by it. What puzzled me was the whole idea of our tears having any part of the blissful afterlife the Bible promises us. Surely we won’t be shedding any tears of pain in eternity, right? Well, how then will we have tears for God to wipe away?

The answer is that they will be tears we have cried during our earthly lives. You see, God will pull out all those tear bottles that He has for each of us, the bottles in which He has captured the tears we cried on earth. Then He will open those bottles, set those tears free again, and once and for all wipe them away as we stand there and watch Him do it. Isn’t that one of the Bible’s most beautiful promises for the saved believer?

Like David, we’ve all shed some tears at various times in our lives. Some of the tears were tears of joy, but most of them were tears of pain. Many of us have even asked God during our times of pain, “Lord, don’t You care?” But the words of Psalm 56:8 are the Bible’s proof that He does care. As a matter of fact, He cares enough to collect our tears and save them for that eternal day when He will wipe them away for good.

I don’t know about you, but that helps me. It encourages me, comforts me, and makes me long for the afterlife all the more. It also makes me wonder just how many tear bottles God has with my name on them. I’m guessing there are more than I know because He has bottles to commemorate times that I’ve forgotten about long ago. In a weird way, the more bottles He has for a person the greater the celebration will be when all those tears get wiped away. So, if you know Jesus as your Savior, and you’ve done some crying in your life, hang in there. One day you and the Lord will have your own private party as all those tears become mere memories of painful times the likes of which you will never experience again.

Posted in Adversity, Comfort, Disappointment, Encouragement, Eternity, God's Love, Heaven, Suffering | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Balls & Strikes

Baseball is my favorite sport, and it’s the last weekend of Major League Baseball’s regular season. All the playoff spots for the postseason haven’t been claimed yet, and that makes for a very exciting ending to the regular season. So, since I’m in a baseball mood, here’s a baseball illustration for you.

One day three umpires were sitting around talking. The first umpire said to the other two, “Fellows, there are balls and there are strikes, and I just call them the way I see them.” The second umpire replied, “Well, that’s alright for you, but I do a much better job than that; I don’t just call them the way I see them, I call them the way they are.” To that the third umpire ended the discussion by saying, “Guys, let’s be real. There are balls and there are strikes, but they are nothing until we say what they are.”

There are a lot of people these days who think they are playing the role of that third umpire. They think they can decide what is morally right. They think they can interpret scripture in a way that aligns with their own logic. They think they can dictate what is God’s will and what isn’t God’s will. In essence, they knock God off His rightful throne and claim it for themselves. This, of course, is the height of human arrogance.

Telecasts of Major League Baseball games now offer a fascinating feature. Immediately following any pitch a computerized “strike zone” box can be digitally imposed onto the area surrounding home plate. This box allows the viewer to see something the umpire can’t see: literal lines that represent the parameters of the strike zone. If a pitch sails past the batter and is within the lines of the computerized zone, the pitch should be called a strike. If it falls outside the lines of the zone, it should be called a ball. What this new technology has done is lend credence to what players and managers have been saying for well over a century: umpires miss some calls. There is even a minority group of players, managers, and fans now who want to do away with human umpires altogether and just use the computerized technology to determine what gets called a ball and what gets called a strike.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had such technology to help us with our behavior, our interpretations of scripture, and our discernment of God’s will? Just as we use a g.p.s. system to find our way from point A to point B, we could use our digital box to find our way into the parameters of what is pleasing to God in regards to our behavior, our interpretations of scripture, and our discernment of His will. But no such technology has been developed yet, has it? And it never will be. That means that we’ve just got to stick with the old tools at our disposal: serious scriptural study, serious prayer, and serious dying to self. These are the tools that people of God have been using for thousands of years to live lives pleasing to Him, and these tools will still work for us today if we will use them correctly.

Posted in Bible Study, Choices, Current Events, Decisions, Discernment, Dying To Self, God's Omnipotence, God's Sovereignty, God's Will, God's Word, Personal, Prayer, Scripture, Sports, The Bible | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Your Mind Is a Sponge

Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path. I have sworn and confirmed That I will keep your righteous judgments. I am afflicted very much; Revive me, O Lord, according to Your word. (Psalm 119:105-107, N.K.J.V.)

I’ve read that if you could start with a sponge the size and shape of a basketball, squeeze it down to the size of a golf ball, put it into a two-gallon bucket filled with water, and release it, that sponge would drink up a gallon of that water. Is this hypothetical experiment accurate? I have no idea. The point of the object lesson, though, is that a sponge has an outsized capacity to absorb liquid.

In the same way that a sponge absorbs liquid, your mind absorbs holy scripture. The more you read the Bible, study it, and meditate upon it, the more saturated with it your mind becomes. Even if you can’t recall every word of a passage, you can still apply that passage’s teaching to your life. Even if you can’t recall every detail of a story, you can still relate that story to your situation. Even if you can’t recall the chapter and verse for a certain text, you will still know that text is in there somewhere because you once read it.

I have found that saturating your mind with scripture is especially helpful in the realm of prayer. For example, if I want God to help me make ends meet, I can pray, “Lord, I need you to help me just like you helped that widow of Zarephath when she was at the end of her resources.” If I have built my life around Christ’s teachings and yet everything seems to be falling apart around me, I can pray, “Jesus, You said that whoever hears Your sayings and does them will be like the man who built his house upon the rock rather than sand.” If I lack wisdom concerning a situation I am facing and really need God’s guidance about it, I can say, “God, the Bible says that anyone who lacks wisdom should ask You for it in faith, and You will give it.”

Right now, wherever you are, you should commit yourself to using your mind to soak up more of the “water” of God’s word. Don’t simply be content to read a verse every now and then whenever you can find the time. No, make the time each day to sit down with the Bible and allow your mind to absorb those holy words. Seriously, there really is no substitute for Bible study, and if you aren’t actively engaged in it on a daily basis, you are only hurting yourself and those around you.

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A Strange Proverb

Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, And do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; Lest the Lord see it, and it displease Him, And He turn away His wrath from him. (Proverbs 24:17-18, N.K.J.V.)

Don’t rejoice when your enemy falls? Is Solomon kidding? What are we supposed to do, rejoice when our enemy is making life hard for us? Oh, and in case we missed the point the first time, he repeats it by using different wording: “And do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.” At first glance, this sure does read like a strange proverb!

The proverb doesn’t even seem to line up with a couple of the most famous stories from the Old Testament. The first one involves God parting the Red Sea. In Exodus chapter 15, after God has parted those waters for the Israelites and then drowned the Egyptian army in those same waters, Moses and Miriam lead the Israelites in singing praises for that victory. Was that great celebration scene not an example of rejoicing at the fall of an enemy? The second example involves David’s slaying of Goliath. In the wake of that event, the women of Israel sang, “Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands (1 Samuel 18:6-7).” Were the hearts of those women not glad that Goliath had stumbled?

Oh, and then there is Psalm 52:1-7, words written by David. As you read that passage, pay particular attention to the last section of it, the part where the righteous laugh about the wicked being uprooted from the land of the living. David says:

Why do you boast in evil, O mighty man? The goodness of God endures continually. Your tongue devises destruction, Like a sharp razor, working deceitfully. You love evil more than good, Lying rather than speaking righteousness. Selah. You love all devouring words, You deceitful tongue. God shall likewise destroy you forever; He shall take you away, and pluck you out of your dwelling place, And uproot you from the land of the living. Selah The righteous also shall see and fear, And shall laugh at him, saying, “Here is the man who did not make God his strength, But trusted in the abundance of his riches, And strengthened himself in his wickedness.” (N.K.J.V.)

Solomon’s proverb doesn’t line up with a certain New Testament passage, either. In Revelation 18:9-19, we read about the prophetic destruction of a city The Revelation calls “Mystery Babylon.” I won’t go into the various theories as to the identification of that city, but I will draw your attention to Revelation 18:20, which says concerning the coming destruction of that wicked city:

“Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you holy apostles and prophets, for God has avenged you on her!” (N.K.J.V.)

And would you believe that Solomon’s strange proverb even seems to directly contradict a couple of other passages from the same book of Proverbs in which it is found? Consider the following passages (both from the N.K.J.V.):

  • (Wisdom speaking): Because you disdained all my counsel, And would have none of my rebuke, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your terror comes, When your terror comes like a storm, And your destruction comes like a whirlwind, When distress and anguish come upon you. (Proverbs 1:25-27)
  • When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices; And when the wicked perish, there is jubilation (Proverbs 11:10)

But now let me defend Solomon and what he wrote about responding to the downfall of an enemy. In Job 31:28-30, Job calls rejoicing at the destruction of one who hated him an “iniquity deserving of judgment” (Job 31:28-30). Similarly, the same David who gave us Psalm 52:1-7 said on another occasion that he fasted and clothed himself with sackcloth when those who witnessed against him were sick (Psalm 35:11-14). He also composed a special song and had the people of Judah sing it when Saul (who was surely David’s enemy) and Jonathan died in battle against the Philistines (2 Samuel 1:17-27). That song was filled with complimentary praise for both men. Lastly, in verses 10-16 of the one-chapter book of Obadiah, Obadiah harshly rebukes the nation of Edom for rejoicing over the downfall of Judah. Each of these examples can rightly be placed alongside Solomon’s strange proverb as being formed from the same mold.

So, as we can see, the Bible makes allowance for each kind of reaction when one’s enemy has fallen. This means that we must think harder than usual in regards to how we should respond during such times. I myself have pondered this topic a fair amount, and after doing so would like to offer a few observations.

First, rather than gloat over the downfall of our enemies, we should feel sadness over the fact that they became enemies at all. You see, if we are right with God, and if others are equally right with Him, enmity won’t be produced. Enmity only arises when one or both parties somehow gets wrong with God. This truth was what prompted David to pen that sweet song of eulogy for Saul and Jonathan. Rather than be happy that Saul was dead, David honestly felt sorrow over a relationship that had soured to an irretrievable point.

Second, Jesus said that we should love our enemies, bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us, and pray for those who use us and persecute us (Matthew 5:43-45). He followed that up by saying that anyone can love those who love them, but if we want to truly be like God, we have to love our enemies and do good to them (Matthew 5:46-48). This means that God loves His enemies and expects His people to follow His example. And yet, even as God tells us not to take revenge upon our enemies, He also says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30). In other words, whenever God (rather than us) brings down our enemies, that’s between God and them. Therefore, we shouldn’t feel a false sense of guilt over our enemy’s demise when we had nothing to do with making it happen.

Third, we are right to rejoice anytime God’s cause wins on earth. Since Jesus taught us to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is done in heaven (Matthew 6:10; Luke 11:2), it is always cause for joy when God’s will gets done on earth. However, the reality is that oftentimes God’s will can’t get done on earth until the wicked people who are preventing that will from being done are toppled from their authority.

In closing, let me also throw in a quick word about that last half of our text passage. Did you notice the specific reason that Solomon gives for not rejoicing when your enemy falls? He says, “Don’t do it because you don’t want the Lord to see you rejoicing, become displeased with you, and as a result turn away His wrath from your enemy.” J. Vernon McGee, speaking almost humorously in his remarks about that motivation, says, “If you rejoice when your enemy falls, the Lord may turn around and start prospering that man. Then you will really be miserable.”

I guess that pretty much sums up the teaching, doesn’t it? Perhaps, then, Solomon’s strange proverb isn’t tinged with as much love as it appears to be. Perhaps he is simply saying, “If you want your enemy to experience the fullness of God’s vengeance, keep yourself humble when that vengeance begins so that God won’t have to interrupt it in order to deal with you.” As I said, that certainly puts a different spin on the first half of the proverb. But it’s every bit as much a part of the passage as the part about not rejoicing when the enemy falls.

Posted in God's Chastening, God's Wrath, God's Judgment, Revenge | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Who Are You in Bed With?

“Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.” (Revelation 2:22-23, N.K.J.V.)

The church in Thyatira was an active, vibrant church. Jesus Himself commended those Christians for their works, service, and faith (Revelation 2:19). He even said of their works, “The last are more than the first.” But there was one thing that He REALLY didn’t like about that church. The problem was, they had a certain false prophetess in their ranks who was holding sway over the entire congregation.

Jesus called her “Jezebel” and said that through her teaching she was seducing His servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things offered to idols (Revelation 2:20). How was she seducing those Christians to commit sexual immorality? She must have been encouraging them to partake in the idolatrous worship services of the pagan temples in Thyatira. Evidently some of those Christians were frequenting those services, perhaps in addition to continuing to meet for church and worship Jesus. That was scandalous because those idolatrous worship services featured “priests” and “priestesses” who led their congregations in lewd sexual orgies as a means of “worship.”

As for those Christians eating things sacrificed to idols, Paul taught that it was permissible for them to do that provided that certain rules were met. Rule #1: The Christian had to truly understand that an idol didn’t have any real power to corrupt food (Romans 14:14). Rule #2: Playing off rule #1, the Christian had to have a clear conscience about eating the food (Romans 14:23; 1 Corinthians 8:9-12). Rule #3: If the discerning Christian ate the food but in so doing caused an undiscerning Christian, one who didn’t have a clear conscience about eating it, to sin by following his example, that discerning Christian’s eating actually became sin because it caused that weaker Christian to stumble (Romans 14:15; 1 Corinthians 8:10-13). In the specific context of what was happening in Thyatira, those Christians were in sin for eating that food because some of them were doing much more than just eating the food. Again, they were actually participating in the worshiping of the idols to which the foods had been offered.

While there were legitimate prophetesses in the early years of the church age (Acts 21:9; 1 Corinthians 11:5), this woman in Thyatira wasn’t one of the them. Even if she did have the gift of prophesying, her prophesying should have been done outside the church because inside it women were prohibited from teaching (1 Timothy 2:11-12). It’s almost certain that “Jezebel” was a pseudonym rather than her literal name, but she was certainly cut from the same cloth as the notorious queen from Old Testament days. Lehman Strauss, in his commentary on The Revelation, even suggests that the same demon that had possessed the Old Testament Jezebel approximately a thousand years earlier possessed this prophetess in Thyatira.

Just as the male name “Judas” carries a negative connotation for good reason, the female name “Jezebel” does as well. The Jezebel of the Old Testament was the infamous daughter of Ethball, the pagan king of the Zidonians. When she married Ahab, the wicked king of Israel’s northern kingdom, she immediately set herself to the task of converting the Jews of the northern kingdom to the worship of the false god Baal (1 Kings 16:29-34). God, in turn, sent His prophet Elijah to fight against Ahab and Jezebel, and when Elijah proved very successful at doing so, Jezebel tried to have him killed.

In much the same way that Jezebel had plunged Israel’s northern kingdom into idolatry (1 Kings 16:29-34), the so-called “prophetess” in Thyatira was doing the same kind of thing in that church. And those Christians were heeding her! The situation wasn’t a recent occurrence, either. Jesus said, “I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent” (2:21). If that term “sexual immorality” should be taken literally rather than figuratively, it means that she herself was physically participating in those sex-driven worship practices in the pagan temples.

Consequently, since this woman had refused to repent, what was Jesus going to do to her? He was going to cast her into a “sickbed” and kill her children “with death” (2:22-23, N.K.J.V.). Interpreted literally, this meant that Jesus was going to strike the woman with a sickness that made her bedridden, and He was also going to bring premature deaths to those who followed her. If those who followed her were authentically born-again Christians, they would soon end up classified with the ranks of other Christians who committed “sin leading to death” (1 John 5:16-17; 1 Corinthians 11:27-30; Acts 5:1-11).

The lesson that we Christians should learn from what happened in ancient Thyatira involves those to whom we give an ear. If we are listening to (heeding, following) ungodly people and allowing them to control our lives to any degree, we are on very thin ice. To use the crude imagery that dominates Jesus’ words about the Jezebel of Thyatira, we had better not be caught in bed with someone whom God is about to judge. Therefore, let’s all examine our lives and ask God to open our eyes about any problem people to whom we are giving too much credence. And if He points out anyone to us and says, “Get out of bed with that person,” we had better do so before He ends our own lives prematurely.

Posted in God's Chastening, God's Judgment, Idolatry, Influence, Separation, The Sin Unto Death | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment