September 27, 2010

Twelve Dysfunctional Men

Reuben, Simeon, Naphtali, Issachar. Those names probably don’t roll off your tongue quite as easily as Peter, James, and John. That is to say that you probably know a great deal more about the twelve apostles than you do about the twelve patriarchs (or at least the eleven not named “Joseph”). Join the club! How many of us recall why Leah named her 6th son Zebulun? And who remembers which one of Jacob’s sons was known to his father as “a strong donkey”? In fact we might well ask if anyone reading this article could even name all twelve of Jacob’s sons without some help. I’m not raising my hand!

So it occurs to me that, having once written an article apiece about each of the twelve apostles, perhaps it would be a learning exercise if I committed to write an article apiece about each of the twelve men who gave their names to the tribes of Israel – Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin.

The fact that we know very little about them is not for lack of information. Although some of them remain in the shadows, having little recorded about them in the biblical record … others of them are painted, in the book of Genesis, in vivid (albeit often dark) colors. Just as we know far more about Peter, James, and John than we do, say, about Bartholomew … so we have far more information of Judah and Joseph than we do about Gad. But no matter. I am certain that there are God-ordained lessons to learn from each of their lives (even though I do not yet know what they all might be!). And I believe that my time (and yours) will be well spent in these studies.

So let’s just start with a general overview of the family. I’ve already reminded you that these twelve names represent the twelve sons of Jacob. And, of course, they were the great-grandchildren of that man of faith, Abraham … such that their individual families became the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel.

But just because these men were born into God’s chosen family did not mean that they were born saints … or even that they were born under the most saintly circumstances. You may remember (from Genesis 29) that Jacob had two wives – Rachel whom he loved, and Leah whom he, at best, tolerated (v.31). So the family was dysfunctional from the start. And when Rachel saw that she was unable to have children, while Leah had given Jacob four sons already, she became so impatient that she practically pushed her maid into Jacob’s lap so that he might have children with her, and that Rachel might raise them as her own. Then Leah, having hit a barren patch in her own reproductive history, did the same thing with her maid … so that, by the time Rachel herself was finally able to bear children, Jacob already had eight sons by three different women – two of whom were never his wives! Not exactly the picture of an Ephesians 5 kind of family! In fact, the story reads more like an episode of The Young and the Restless! And yet these were the circumstances under which the twelve founding fathers of Israel cut their teeth – watching their parents (who allegedly followed God) bicker and fuss and use Jacob’s bed as a bargaining chip.

Now what would we expect to come from such a family? Disaster, right? And there is plenty of that as we turn the pages of Genesis. The example of their parents, mixed with a heavy dose of their own sin nature, made for toxic lifestyles in the lives of these twelve boys become men.

And yet God used this family … with all its dysfunction; with all its foibles; and with all its sin. God changed hearts. God molded futures. God healed breaches and rubbed oil in old wounds. And when we finish the book of Genesis, the diseased and gnarled family tree that had been planted in Genesis 29 has become a beautiful and fruit-bearing olive tree … indeed, the very olive tree out of which a shoot named Jesus would someday spring, rescuing you and me from our dysfunction and sin.

So don’t judge too quickly, or give up too readily on those people who seem absolutely hopeless and useless in God’s kingdom. I suspect we will keep learning this lesson, over and again, as we peruse the lives of these twelve men. If God can nurse to health the family tree of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel … then He can surely renew and rehabilitate and make useful any sinner anywhere!

September 22, 2010

Our Sermon Audio is Moving

A note for any of you who follow the PRBC sermons via RSS or Atom ... or who have the sermons page bookmarked. Please be advised that, in the next week, the sermons portion of PRBC's website will be moving.

Keep checking in at the main site ( to watch for the changes. Once the new site has gone live, you can click on the "sermons" tab and be directed to our new audio home. From there you can resubscribe to podcasts, bookmark the new sermons page, etc.

September 17, 2010

Ethiopia, and Zambia, and Uganda, O My!

Anthony leaves this weekend for Zambia, to talk with some Zambians about helping to train pastors in Uganda. Then he heads, with a couple of those Zambians, to Ethiopia, to train pastors there. Got it? Follow him @amathenia.

September 16, 2010

While I'm on an Ethics Soapbox ...

Read this. And then listen to this.

God and Instant Replay

Major League Baseball is in the middle of a debate about whether the sport should allow for instant replay. In other words, should the umpires be able to see the same slow-motion replays of disputed plays that we can see at home? Was that ball foul or fair? Was that runner safe or out? Sometimes getting a single play called correctly can make the difference between a win and a loss. In a couple of cases, a bad call by the umpire (that every Joe Blow watching slow motion replays in his armchair at home could see was a bad call!) has made a potentially decisive swing in the outcome of the World Series. So there is no little push to allow the umpires to catch up with current technology. And understandably so.

And last night, a little more fuel was added to the fire! The pitcher threw one high and tight. The ball struck the batter on his wrist (or did it?). He dropped to his knees ‘in pain’ and even went so far as to call the trainer out of the dugout to come and ‘examine him’. And then, finally, he took his free pass to first base. The only problem with all of that is that, while the player was on his knees ‘in pain’, and while the trainer was ‘examining him’, the television replay showed – again and again, and with crystal clarity – that the ball actually hit his bat, not his body … making the rightful result of the play a foul ball, not a free base. But, since there is no instant replay in baseball, the charade went on unchecked … with the player in question even admitting, after the game, that the ball hit his bat, not his wrist. ‘It’s my job to get on base’ was his confident assertion. Translation? The end of getting on base justifies the dishonest means of getting there.

So today, across the radio airwaves, the debate ensues – and not just the debate about whether or not Major League Baseball should have instant replay. No, no! Surprisingly, as I drove to pick up my daily Mountain Dew, I heard listener emails being read questioning the play-acting player’s ethics. ‘I wouldn’t want my kid doing that, so why should it be OK for big leaguers to be dishonest?’ To which the radio hosts replied, in essence: ‘This is not Little League. It’s professional baseball. And the player is right. It’s his job to get on base. That’s just how things work in the big leagues.’

One wonders, incidentally, why we even bother to teach our children about the ills of lying, or cheating, or cursing if those rules are destined to change once they turn 18, or make it to ‘the big leagues’ of their chosen profession!

But let’s grant that this is, indeed, this is how it works in the big leagues. I have no doubt that it is. It’s how it worked in the legion and high school ranks in which I played (and even on the rec Softball fields this summer). It’s just how things are, right? Get on base at all costs. Deceive the umpire if necessary. Achieve my ends no matter the means. ‘Just win, baby!’ There’s no instant replay, after all! There is no getting caught … at least not in any punitive sense. The fans at home can’t do anything about an obviously blown call. And since it’s ‘part of the game’, the Commissioner isn’t going to step in on the side of ethics and propriety.

Now … why is a Christian pastor taking up all this time and space to write about baseball, and replay, and so on? Not because I am arguing for instant replay’s use in Major League Baseball. But because this whole incident reminds me of Romans 3.18: “there is no fear of God before their eyes.”

That is really the crux of this whole issue, it seems to me. The reason that batter was able to fake getting hit by a pitch (and later fearlessly admit that he did so!) is because, evidently, “there is no fear of God before his eyes”. He doesn’t believe (or remember, or care) that God is watching. Indeed, isn’t that one of the reasons that, at times, allows each one of us (and I include myself in that clause), to lie, and lust, and cheat, and look down our noses at other people? We forget (or ignore, or disbelieve) the fact that there is a God to whom we must give an account … and that, unlike instant replay in baseball, He is always watching.

If there was instant replay in life (or in baseball), we’d likely think twice about some of our sinful charades! But since there is not; since there is often no human mechanism or repercussion to cause us fear, a ballplayer can fall to his knees in a great heap of dishonesty; and we can hide our sin too, and pretend to be something we are not. Or so we think. All because instant replay isn’t watching; and often, in our consciences at least, neither is God.

September 13, 2010

Kidnapped ... and Hopeful

Now the Arameans had gone out in bands and taken captive a little girl from the land of Israel; and she waited on Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “I wish that my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! Then he would cure him of his leprosy.” 2 Kings 5.1-2

I read these words, and the chapter that follows, this past Sunday night. And I was amazed again at the wherewithal of this little Israelite girl! Alistair Begg, preaching on this passage,* has noted what an amazing thing it is that such a little girl – kidnapped and far from home – still had the faith and the presence of mind to know that, back home in Israel, there was a God and a prophet who could work miracles. And I echo his observation in these paragraphs!

We don’t know how old she was, exactly. Old enough, I suppose, to have been of some domestic use to Naaman’s wife, but young enough to still have been considered “a little girl”. Ten years old, maybe? Twelve? Probably something like that. So picture the scene …

Marauding bands of Arameans swoop down upon her family’s farm or village. As they plunder horses, and jewelry, and wine, and wheat … they also notice a little girl who would make a splendid housemaid for their master and his wife. And so they just scoop her up, as though she were nothing more than another bushel of wheat, and whisk her away to her new ‘home’. Perhaps they did the same with any number of young men and women on that devastating day. We don’t know. But whether she was the only one taken, or whether the Arameans captured a few dozen village children that day … the wound would have been just the same for her poor parents. One can scarcely imagine what the parents of a kidnapped child go through. ‘Is she alive? And if so, where is she? And what are those awful men doing to her? Will we ever see her again? And if we did, would she even remember us?’ I tend to think having a child kidnapped might be the worst thing a parent could possibly go through.

But such was the fate of this girl’s poor parents. And we are not told if they ever saw her again. Did Naaman, thankful for her good advice (and his subsequent healing from leprosy), grant her freedom? Did she ever escape? We don’t know. Nor do we know what happened to her parents after these events. Did they ever recover? We’re not sure. But one thing we can surmise is that, before she was kidnapped, those now grieving parents must have done a good job raising their little girl! Why do we infer that? Because, though their little girl had been kidnapped; though she had been taken out from under the watchful eyes of her parents; though the unthinkable had happened to her … she did not lose her faith! Even in the midst of the worst of circumstances; and even taken out of Israel and away from God’s word and God’s people … she still remembered her God; and she still believed He could work miracles through His people and His prophet!

Isn’t that amazing? Most people, in her shoes, would have wondered if God had forsaken them. They would have begun to doubt His power after all: ‘If He’s not rescuing me, why would he ever rescue Naaman?’ Indeed – instead of pointing Naaman to the cure to be found in God – most people in this little girl’s situation would probably have wished that the leprosy would kill their captor! But not this girl! Something had happened in those 10-12 years under her parents’ roof … something that apparently gave her every reason to believe that God works all things for His people’s good; that God knows what He is doing; that God is kind and wise and merciful … even when we can’t see it with our eyes; and that God could work miracles! I say that something must have been going on – probably in her relationship with her parents, and in the training that they gave to her – such that she trusted God no matter what!

And so let me just ask you: If (God forbid) something should happen to you, or your child, or your grandchild; if you should be separated from them this very week … would the time spent under your roof and in your care have convinced them of the goodness and power of God, no matter what happens? I hope so! But let’s not just hope! Let’s make sure that we do everything we can to so live and teach that our children might stand up to the grimmest circumstances … and do so with all faith!

*Begg preached twice on 2 Kings 5 in June 1996. The first message deals with Naaman and his healing at the hands of Elisha. The second tells of the greed of Elisha's servant Gehazi. Although the second sermon focuses on verses 15 and following, it is in this sermon that he comments on the little servant girl from Israel. I commend both of the sermons to your listening.

September 7, 2010

Contending and Building

Jude says two very different things at the polar ends of his short, single chapter epistle. He begins by admonishing his readers to “contend earnestly” for the Christian faith (v.3) – to fight for the truth; to ensure that false doctrine has no place in the church; to battle for the purity of the gospel! But then, toward the end of the letter, he urges the same readers to “build themselves up on” the Christian faith (v.20) – to grow in the truth; to ensure that the church increases in its appreciation for Bible doctrine; to fall ever more in love with the pure gospel!

Now those are two very different things are they not – contending and building? It’s the difference between building a house, and fighting off an intruder who tries to break into it! It’s the distinction between cutting the weeds out of your overgrown flower bed, and planting the good soil that has been prepared. Both are necessary! But they are quite different tasks! And, as with tending a garden or caring for a home … some of us are more prone to enjoy one task or the other.

That is to say that some of us may love to read the scriptures, and pore over the concordance, and study the maps, and so on. But when it comes to standing up for truth (at church, or in the home, or in the public square) … well, let’s just say that we’d rather be in the library or the easy chair than on the battlefield!

But others of us are bent in exactly the opposite direction! We are glad to debate the truth of Bible doctrine – at work, or school, or wherever the opportunity arises. But we are not always so good at loving it, and growing in it, building ourselves up on it. We’d rather tear down false doctrine than delight in and study the true!

I can recall an argument I got into on the school bus when I was in the 5th or 6th grade. I well remember arguing (with the help of a couple of my classmates) the merits of being a Baptist – how our denomination was the best, and the most biblical, and so on. I can’t remember who I was arguing against (a Presbyterian, a Methodist, a Roman Catholic, a Mormon? I’m not sure). But that didn’t really matter. I just enjoyed arguing, I think! Nevermind the fact that I was not yet a Christian … and was still sunk deep in my sins! Nevermind the fact that I did not know Jude from Judges. I was contending for the faith! Or so I thought!

Now what that illustrates is just how easy it is for some people to contend for the faith without building themselves up on it! I was arguing for biblical doctrines which I did not really understand … and certainly had not yet come to appreciate, much less love! And some of us may be in the same boat (or on the same school bus, I should say!). We may “contend earnestly for the faith” … but not actually be growing in it ourselves. In fact, we may allow for the fact that we have tried to persuade our co-workers that Jesus really did rise from the dead; or that salvation really is by faith alone … I say we may allow the fact that we contend for those Bible doctrines to convince us that we really must be growing in them ourselves. But the truth may tell a different story!

So let’s not be content to know the basics of Christianity … and to contend for them earnestly (important as that is!). Let’s also grow into deeper and deeper maturity! Let’s climb the heights of biblical revelation and know our God all the more! Let’s make sure we “keep ourselves in the love of God” (Jude 21) by “building ourselves up on our most holy faith”!