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Good Leadership

Saturday, February 10, 2024


“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

(John 15:13)

Some of the greatest stories of love and heroism are true stories in times of war. In moments of intense danger some people rise to the occasion in tremendous acts of self-giving love inspiring others to do the same.

Captain William Swenson is one such hero who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions on September 8, 2009. He and his men were tasked with defending a group of Afghan government officials who were scheduled to meet with local village elders. The group was ambushed and came under heavy fire on three sides. Among many other things, Cpt. Swenson was recognized for running into live fire to rescue the wounded and pull out the dead. By sheer coincidence, one of the medics had a GoPro camera mounted on his helmet, capturing the whole scene on video. Cpt. Swenson was seen dragging a soldier who was shot in the neck to a helicopter when, just before leaving the man to rescue others, the captain bent over and kissed the wounded sergeant.

Stories like these impress upon us the great potential for love within all of us, moments when God’s image (Gen. 1:26), otherwise obscured by sin, shines in clear reflection. We are surrounded with plenty of examples of humans doing their worst but what makes the best come out in these heroes? Are they just better people than the rest of us?

I don’t think soldiers are inherently better people than civilians but an environment like the military that is built upon the virtues of loyalty, trust and sacrificial leadership is proven to inspire and motivate others. It is no surprise that the Biblical authors use military metaphors when describing discipleship (1 Cor. 9:7Phil. 2:252 Tim. 2:1ff).

Someone once said, "In the military, awards are given to people who sacrifice themselves for the benefit of others, while in the business world, bonuses are given to people who sacrifice others to benefit themselves." While this may be an unfair generalization to which there are many exceptions, there are notable parallels between the attitude of people and their work environment.

When war heroes are asked why they risked so much for others their answer is almost always the same: “They would have done the same for me.”  To routinely respond with such humility and confindence in others requires a deep sense of trust, loyalty and cooperation.

In the spiritual warfare we are engaged in (Eph. 6:121 Tim. 1:181 Pet. 2:11), there must be a similar circle of safety and trust where we cooperate to warn one another of impending danger and to come to one another’s aid. God’s model for this environment of spiritual safety and growth is the church, a kind of new covenant army (Eph. 4).

For others to become what God created them to be requires witnessing a positive example. People need to see the good in others before they see the potential for good in themselves. We have the ultimate example in Jesus (1 Pet. 2:21) but we also have examples of mature Christians who are further along in their spiritual journey of discipleship called "shepherds" (1 Tim. 31 Pet. 5). God has blessed our congregation with such men to help us grow into the people we were always meant to be (Eph. 4:11-16).

Leadership among God’s people is not a promotion or a license to boss others around (Mt. 20:25-28). Leadership is all  about positive, inspiring influence (Mt. 5:13). Paradoxically, leaders in the church lead by following Christ. Following Christ means serving others. Serving others means counting others as more significant than yourself (Phil. 2:3-4ff) That’s what Christ did for us so that we can do the same for others. Let us all lead by following!

What About Shamgar?

Saturday, February 03, 2024

After him was Shamgar the son of Anath, who killed 600 of the Philistines with an ox goad, and he also saved Israel.

Judges 3:31

For some reason, the writer of Judges slips Shamgar between Ehud and Deborah with a single verse (though note Judges 5:6). What can we learn from this judge’s obscure and abbreviated account?

First, his roots. The name “Shamgar” seems to be non-Israelite in origin. It appears in the Nuzi texts, a series of Mesopotamian legal documents written in Akkadian on cuneiform tablets dating back to the Patriarchal age. Shamgar was “the son of Anath.” This also is a mystery. Does “Anath” refer to the Canaanite goddess of the same name? If so, it may indicate that Shamgar was, at least at one time, a worshiper of Anath, in which case we take “son” not in a biological sense but in a theological sense, as being a follower of Anath (see Mt. 5:9). “Anath” could have simply been Shamgar’s father’s name or the place where he was from. Perhaps Shamgar was a resident of Beth-anath in Galilee (Josh. 19:38; Jdg. 1:33) or the one down in Judah (Josh. 15:59) or “Anathoth,” one of the cities of refuge (Josh. 21:18). This is all guesswork and not very profitable but, taken together, it is possible that Shamgar was not an Israelite.

Second, his weapon. We can be more sure about Shamgar’s “ox goad,” a long wooden stick with a sharp spike attached to the end used to drive oxen. Sometimes the opposite end of the ox goad was fashioned into a small spade or iron paddle for cleaning the plow. Shamgar used this makeshift spear to great effect, killing 600 Philistines. Judges contains an odd assortment of tools used to deliver God’s people. Shamgar’s ox goad joins Ehud’s custom dagger (3:16), Jael’s hammer (4:21), Gideon’s trumpets and torches (7:16), the unnamed woman’s millstone (9:53) and Samson’s donkey jaw (15:15). The only weapon designed to kill was Ehud’s dagger. The rest are improvised instruments of deliverance.

What are we to make of Shamgar and his ox goad? Other than him being a farmer, which most people were in those days, it speaks to God’s ability to use any means to rescue his people. The bottom line is, literally, that Shamgar “also saved Israel.” Does it matter if he had possible Canaanite connections? Does it matter if he was an Israelite or not? Does it matter that we don’t know much about him? At the end of the day, it’s not about Shamgar but about the God of heaven and earth who has limitless resources to rescue his people. Such a God can save “by many or by few” (1 Sam. 14:6), by saints or by pagans. With God, Gideon’s 300 are more than enough to defeat the locust-swarm of Midianites. With God, the walls of Jericho fall flat without a stick of dynamite. If God can raise up the pagan king Cyrus to lead exiled Israel back home (Isa. 45:1-7), then he can raise up Shamgar to save them from the Philistines. God’s glory, wisdom and power shine all the more brightly against the drab backdrop of apparent human weakness and obscurity. Let’s not forget that Jesus was from Nazareth. To quote the former blind man: “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes” (Jn. 9:30). We don’t know much about Shamgar but it is enough to know that God used him to save his people.

Matthew Henry states it nicely: “See here, (1.) That God can make those eminently serviceable to his glory and his church’s good whose extraction, education, and employment, are very mean and obscure. He that has the residue of the Spirit could, when he pleased, make ploughmen judges and generals, and fishermen apostles. (2.) It is no matter how weak the weapon is if God direct and strengthen the arm. An ox-goad, when God pleases, shall do more than Goliath’s sword. And sometimes he chooses to work by such unlikely means, that the excellency of power may appear to be of God.” (Commentary on the Whole Bible, 6 vols, 2:138).

Five Helpful Truths

Saturday, January 27, 2024

And Jehoshaphat said to the king of Israel, “Inquire first for the word of the LORD.” Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred men, and said to them, “Shall I go to battle against Ramoth-gilead, or shall I refrain?” And they said, “Go up, for the Lord will give it into the hand of the king.” But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there not here another prophet of the LORD of whom we may inquire?” And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the LORD, Micaiah the son of Imlah, but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil.”

1 Kings 22:5-8a

In the early years of the divided kingdom, Ahab, the king of Israel, and Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, formed a military alliance against Syria. While Ahab was ready to rush into battle, Jehoshaphat wisely wanted to consult the LORD first. All four hundred of Ahab’s prophets promised victory but these men were not true prophets of Israel’s covenant God but pawns telling Ahab what he wanted to hear.

When Jehoshaphat suggested a prophet of Israel’s God, Ahab expressed his hatred for Micaiah because “he never prophesies good concerning me.” Jehoshaphat pressed the issue and Micaiah, who was languishing in prison for some reason, was sent for. Micaiah was briefed on his way to the king’s court and was essentially told to get in line with the other prophets. But Micaiah responded, “As the LORD lives, what the LORD says to me, that I will speak.” (14)

Micaiah proceeded to tell Ahab what God had revealed to him: that Ahab would be killed in battle and Israel would be scattered. Sure enough, God’s word proved true and pierced Ahab in the end. Ahab entered the fray in a disguise, thinking this ruse would protect him, “but a certain man drew his bow at random and struck the king of Israel between the scale armor and the breastplate.” (34)

This story reminds us about the power and importance of truth. Here are five principles I heard years ago that have always helped me:

  1. It’s better to be divided by truth than united by error — Micaiah was unwilling to lie to the king for the sake of peace. The church today mustn’t kowtow to what is culturally fashionable or relevant for the sake of unity. True unity is based both on an attitude of love and the measurable standard of truth (Eph. 4:1-6).
  2. It’s better to speak the truth, which may hurt at first but heals later, than to tell a lie, which may comfort at first but destroys later — It was Ahab’s belief in a lie and his rejection of the truth that led to his demise. Though the truth may be uncomfortable to hear at first, stinging like a spiritual antiseptic, it brings lasting healing from God (Prov. 27:5-6; 2 Sam. 12:7).
  3. It’s better to be hated for telling the truth than be loved for telling a lie — Ahab considered Micaiah an enemy because he told him the truth (Gal. 4:16). No one wants to be hated but we can’t compromise the truth for the sake of a friendship. We must realize that standing up for what is right often makes enemies.
  4. It’s better to stand alone with the truth than be wrong with the crowd — Micaiah stood alone against 400 prophets of Ahab. Elijah stood alone against 450 prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. Joshua, Caleb, Moses and Aaron stood alone against all Israel. Noah and his family stood alone against the whole world! But they weren’t really alone were they? When we stand with God, no matter who is against us, we’re standing in the right place.
  5. It’s better to ultimately succeed with the truth than to temporarily succeed with a lie — For a while, it seemed like Ahab—with all his prophets on his side, the nation of Israel behind him and Jehoshaphat beside him—had won and Micaiah— back in his prison cell—had lost. But the truth eventually caught up with Ahab and he died in disgrace. The humble are always exalted and the proud are always brought down. When Jesus died on the cross, he looked like the ultimate loser, forsaken by God. It seemed that Satan had won… until three days later.

These five principles about truth have guided me through many difficult situations. And while all those situations were painful in the moment, I’ve never once regretted remaining faithful to God’s truth. I hope these principles can help you navigate hard times in your life. As a church family, let us always be encouraging to one another by “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). After all, the truth has set us free (Jn. 8:32).

Will Heaven Be Boring?

Saturday, January 20, 2024

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

Revelation 21:3-5a

Some people critique Christianity because they think its view of the afterlife is boring. We often sing, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun.” Well, we might think, ten thousand years, let alone an eternity, is a long time. Won’t singing God’s praises get monotonous after a while, even to the most devoted Christian?

This common view often stems from half-remembered Bible lessons from childhood, bad religious art or popular depictions of people playing harps on clouds for no apparent reason—forever. The root of this problem is a false conception of both God and heaven, and is sometimes even perpetrated by those who wear the name of Christ. What do the Scriptures say happens when we die and what will the afterlife be like? Biblically understood, the afterlife has two stages: (1) life after death and (2) life after life after death.

Life after death: a disembodied, intermediate state — For those in Christ, physical death means that the soul separates from the body and enters into the presence of God. The Bible does not reveal much about this stage, except that one is “with the Lord” but nevertheless “unclothed,” that is, lacking a body (2 Cor. 5:1-10). This disembodied and intermediate state—between mortal life and the resurrection of the body—is incomplete. Paul expresses his “longing to put on [his] heavenly dwelling” and not to be found “naked,” a soul without a body (2 Cor. 5:2-3). Humans were created to be embodied, but death (due to sin) has shattered this unity of soul and body (Jas. 2:26). At death, the Christian is freed from the chains of earthly, sin-affected existence but has not yet put on the resurrection body promised by Christ.

There are some descriptions of redeemed spirits praising God in the book of Revelation, a highly symbolic book, where harps are mentioned (Rev. 14:2; 15:2). Even so, the activity of praising and worshiping an infinitely majestic God cannot possibly be boring or pointless. We may praise and honor finite beings to some extent, but even standing ovations for virtuoso musicians end at some point. However, the worship of an infinite and Perfect Being has no end, since finite beings will always be in God’s debt and will always have more of God’s endless life to joyfully experience in worship throughout all eternity. This is what paradise is—to be with the Lord (Lk. 23:43).

Life after life after death: an embodied, eternal state — The final, eternal home for Christians is “the new heavens and new earth,” described in poetic terms as a perfect garden-like city that echoes both Eden and Jerusalem but will far exceed them in glory (Rev. 21-22; 2 Pet. 3). Humans were originally created to cultivate and develop the world, thereby glorifying God (Gen. 1-2). When Christians are resurrected from the dead, they will be clothed with imperishable, spiritual bodies (1 Cor. 15:35ff) and take their place in this new perfect world to fulfill their original purpose. Far from sitting around on clouds getting bored, we will have meaningful work to do that will finally fulfill our created purpose as image-bearers of God. Revelation 22:5 promises that the saints will “reign forever and ever” with the Lord.

Further, “the wealth of the nations” (humanity’s cultural achievements, purified and perfected), will be brought into God’s presence (Rev. 21:26; cf. Isa. 60:5, 11; 61:6), thus giving the citizens of the new Jerusalem ample occasion for enjoyment and appreciation. Once in the presence of God, in their resurrected, glorified state, saints will not only possess a greater capacity for joy but an ever-increasing capacity for joy. Therefore, all those in Christ will enjoy living in a perfect body, in a perfect world, with their Perfect God forever. “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14; Isa. 11:9).

So, if one takes the Bible seriously, the afterlife cannot be viewed as bland or uninspiring. Since God is infinite, he will be infinitely enjoyed by those in his presence. As Irenaeus wrote, “The glory of God is man fully alive”—and the redeemed will be fully alive in their glorified state (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.20.7).

Remember Lot's Wife

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all— so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot's wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.

Luke 17:28-33

In the passage above, Jesus explains the coming of “one of the days of the Son of Man” (Lk. 17:22). This is his way of describing a day of judgment that would come upon Jerusalem as a result of their wickedness, a day which was fulfilled a generation later in AD 70 when general Titus led his Roman troops to destroy the city. When Jesus speaks of his coming in judgment against Jerusalem we are not to shrug it off as something meaningful only to those living in the first century. No, these limited, earthly judgments are meant to stir us to repentance and faithful preparation for the final, universal Day of judgment to come described in such places as Matthew 25, 1 Thessalonians 4-5 and 2 Thessalonians 1.

This is precisely what Jesus is doing in Luke 17. He’s drawing lessons from previous judgments—the suddenness of Noah’s flood (Lk. 17:26-27; cf. Gen. 6-9) and the total destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Lk. 17:28-32; cf. Gen. 19)—to prepare his generation for the judgment coming upon them.

Do you remember the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah? In Genesis 18:20-21, God told Abraham that the “outcry against” the cities was “great and their sin [was] very grave.” He investigated the cities himself along with two angels and found the cries against them were true; they were utterly evil. The angels had to literally seize Lot and his family and drag them out of town to save them from being swept away in the destruction. Lot foolishly delayed and whined that the distance he was expected to travel was too far (Gen. 19:19-20). God graciously stalled his wrath long enough for them to get away “but Lot's wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” (Gen. 19:26)

I’ve always pictured Lot’s wife looking back over her shoulder wistfully at the city—and the life—she was leaving behind. But the words of Jesus in Luke 17 indicate she “looked back” with the intention of returning to the city. Jesus is telling his disciples that when they see the army approaching Jerusalem they are to run for the hills, not even stopping in the house to get their things. “Remember Lot’s wife.” She wasn’t turning around simply to take one last look back for nostalgia’s sake; she was refusing to go further and attempting to go back perhaps thinking she was, in the words of Jesus, preserving her life. But in the end, she lost it. Instead of surrendering to God and finding salvation by moving forward according to his word, she was frozen in the act of turning away from him. So it will be with us if we turn away from God’s word.

God has promised to bring this world to justice and save those who live by faith. “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” (1 Jn. 5:19) Therefore, we must “not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 Jn. 2:16-17) By “the world” here, John means the world in rebellion against God. The “world” is to us what Sodom and Gomorrah were to Lot’s wife. God help us look forward to the world to come and not back, “in love with this present world.” (2 Tim. 4:10)

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