Author Archives: David Olson

A Story: Should’ve, Could’ve, Would’ve.

Once upon a time, I went out to get the mail. We live off the road a little bit and share a driveway with our next door neighbor. The driveway goes up between the two neighbors who are on the street on which we live. Walking up to the mail box, the neighbor at the street, on the left side of the driveway is an older man, a widower whose children have moved out of state. He frequently is out in his yard doing one chore and then another. We greeted each other and came together to chat for a little bit.

“Did you hear how well Google did in their quarterly earnings report?” I know that some of his retirement money is in the stock market, though I don’t know which stocks he holds. “I wish I would have bought that stock when it came out. I remember thinking about it but didn’t have much money to invest.”

“Should’ve, could’ve, would’ve.” He replied.

I didn’t follow, for though he had a tendency to be blunt when he spoke, he wasn’t ever disrespectful or flipant. “Pardon me?”

“I suppose there are many things that if we knew how it would work out, we would have done different than we did. But I think if we could know how things would turn out so we could act differently, buying into a company that would make a killing in the stock market would probably not be something we would bother with.”

“Why not? I calculated how much I would have if I had put my retirement funds into that stock. I could retire today a rich man.”

“Then it is even better for you that you did not do differently than you did. Few people are improved from having lots of money.”

“Okay. How about you? ‘Should’ve, could’ve, would’ve.’ If it isn’t a financial investment you would do differently, what would you do differently?”

“I really loved my wife and kids. If I had known cancer would take her when it did, I think I would have been a little kinder and more supportive. And if I knew how the lapse in judgment would cause the car accident I had a number of years ago, I would have been more attentive when I was driving that day. And there are many things like that. Sometimes when I am pulling weeds in my yard, my mind goes to those things in my life that I wish I could pull like the weed they were.”

“Yes.” I replied, shifting my gaze out to the mailbox. “I think I have some weeds to pull in my own yard after I get the mail. Always good to talk to you Bill.”

“Good talking with you, Dave. Say ‘Hi’ to Kelly for me.” After getting the mail I went indoors to pull some weeds.

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It depends where you stand. A story on gratitude and the difference between trying your best and really just doing it.

Once upon a time there were two very well to do Christian ladies. They lived next door to each other and both went to the same church. They were both nice ladies, more because of their cultured life than their religious devotion. Sadikah was truly born-again but Nichole went to church for three ulterior motives: she had friends there, her husband did business with many church members and the childrens’ programs were exceptional.

At church on Sunday the families sat next to each other. The sermon was very entertaining. It was a carefully crafted worship service where you always felt like you got a lot out of it. The pastor read, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1Thessalonians 5:18, NIV) Nichole turned to Sadikah and said, “Oh, I so needed to hear that! The drama team did such a good job today.” Sadikah hadn’t really thought the service was very helpful spiritually but she knew she needed more of what the Apostle had commanded in the Scripture. “Yes! I really need to practice my gratitude this week.”

On Thursday that week, Sadikah and her husband were entertaining visiting dignitaries with very fine dining and an evening at the opera. Everything was going very well. Sadikah wore a beautiful evening gown. The evening was near perfection until an accident in the restaurant resulted in a small but noticeable stain on her dress. Sadikah was understandably upset at the embarrassed wait-staff. But she restrained herself admirably. With great effort Sadikah smiled and said it was a little stain, and that the wait-staff should not feel bad for anyone can have an accident. The evening was not ruined for the others but she felt embarrassed and bothered. On the way to the opera she remembered the Word of God, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1Thessalonians 5:18, NAS) And she tried to pray and give thanks, even for that stain. It was very difficult. The evening had been going so well. She tried in silent prayer to find things to be grateful for: “Thank you Lord I did not wear the light colored gown this evening. Thank you that the spill was not worse. Thank you that my husband and his guests were so gracious and supportive.” But she did not feel very grateful. Her mind kept returning to how well the evening had been going and how this accident had embarrassed her. If she hadn’t been a real Christian, she would have had to go home even though it would have ruined the evening for the others. She tried her best to have a good attitude and she kept repeating the Bible verse to herself and trying to practice it the best she could. But her night had been ruined. Yet between her cultured upbringing and her faith, only her husband could tell how troubled she really was.

After the evening was over and Sadikah was alone in the car with her husband, she spoke honestly about how hard it was to do what she had been reminded of in church. He complimented her efforts and said how much he appreciated how well she had done. The evening had been a success thanks to her self-control. She felt appreciated and proud of her sincere efforts to be grateful in the midst of something so troubling.

As they drew near to their house, they saw many emergency vehicles and the smoldering remains of Nichole’s house. Sadikah ran to her friend and embraced her asking what had happened. Nichole told her of a gas explosion in the utility room and how scary it had been and what it took for the whole family to get safely out of the house. “I am just so thankful none of us were hurt. We can get the house replaced and the things don’t matter much, do they? What really matters is we are all safe!” Sadikah joined her friend in true heart-felt gratitude. It didn’t take any effort or piety. It was how they really felt and it was how they sincerely prayed.

Sometimes the efforts to obey God’s word are more indicative of where you stand than the difficulty of the command.

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Build Your Daily Review

I think there are about seven things to keep in mind, to make part of your daily review. First, I want to explain why I think seven is about the right number for your daily review. Second, I want to encourage you to commit to the daily review. And third, though this may seem out of order, I want to encourage you to find your seven things for daily review.

People who have studied the Bible with me know that I like to find those places where numbers are clearly significant. Seven is one of those numbers in the Bible, like the seven days of creation and the repetitions of seven in the book of Revelation. (In fact, one of the things you can do when you are reading through your Bible in a year and come to the book of Revelation, is mark in the margins the various sevens mentioned, such as, the seven churches, blessings, trumpets and so on. How many groups of seven do you think there are?) While I am attracted to the symbolic meaning of having seven things we review daily, I think there are practical reasons for identifying seven things.

Seven seems to be simply a practical number of what we can keep in our mind. George A. Miller wrote an article, “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information.” which was originally published in The Psychological Review in 1956. The article is worth Googling on Bing and reading for yourself. He points out through various studies how our brain seems to hold on to about seven things. More than that and we tend to forget and lose sight of some of the things we are trying to remember.

There may be hundreds of things we could consider important to know and do to have a full, meaningful and successful life. But we can’t keep the hundreds of things in our mind as a useful compass for advancing through our daily life. The “baker’s half-dozen” may be manageable and useful. And who knows, there may some spiritual advantage in this also. Seven is the right number for your daily review.

I think you need to commit to doing a daily review. At the start of our day, it is useful to be reminded of what is important and what we really are about. Some people don’t keep a list yet seem to stay on track through their life. I wrote awhile back about Papa Don’s inheritance. His life seemed to have been on track as though guided by a list of seven things, though I don’t think he ever kept such a list. The character qualities and life outcomes are consistent as if he did keep a list. And what some people can do without such a review list, others such as myself, need the list. I think most people would be benefited by doing a daily review.

In the premarital and marriage counseling I have done, I try to get couples to identify seven important priorities in their life. These priorities tend to combine their values with how they spend their time and money. One priority for many people I counsel is church. Church is priority to these people because of spiritual values they hold and therefore they are willing to contribute financially and be involved for worship and some other activities. Our lives then, are filled with the activities of these Baker’s half-dozen of priorities. At various times in life, when things are going pretty well, it can be easy to think that we can add more priorities in our life because we have the money for them. But when you add one priority you push a previous priority out of the way. I share the insight I received from a young man who, years previous, had been in the Junior High youth group class I taught. Neat kid. You could tell he would go on in life to be successful and likable. It was no surprise when he and the pastor’s daughter in that church ended up getting married. It seemed like a match made in heaven. But a number of years later I saw him at the local Peet’s Coffee and Tea shop. They got divorced. I asked what happened, what counsel he would give others. He said that when a couple is dating, everything they do isn’t so much about the activity but about each other. Their blocks of time are their relationship. But after getting married, the relationship became the mortar which held disparate blocks of their own interests and activities. Their relationship had gotten squeezed out until there wasn’t enough mortar to hold the blocks together. So, for premarital counseling, I have simplified his comment into a principle that we have time for about seven major priorities. And when we add the boat or the cabin or the new career, other things get pushed out into storage, maybe even the kids or our spouse. A new thing or a new priority isn’t necessarily wrong but we should know the real cost and make sure that we stay on course with what is really important in our lives.

The daily review is a way to be reminded of what is important and therefore what is to be pursued and guarded as we go through life. I think my friend could have had an excellent marriage if they would have remained in sync with what was really important in their lives. Commit to taking a little bit of time every day to remind yourself of what is really important, of where you have come from and where you are going. There are many uncertainties in life and we don’t know what lies ahead. But we can at least verify we are on course for what is really important.

I think it is only when we are committed to review what is important that we are set to discover what should be on the list. When I have share this commitment and practice with others, they want to know what is on my list. I am afraid to tell them as it could lead them to copy what I believe are my seven things and thereby miss out on discovering what is uniquely theirs. And even if we do share all seven things, and perhaps many would have near identical lists, there is something powerful when we figure it out for ourselves instead of just being told. Still, we can consider an example in what I think needs to end up on the top of everyone’s list.

I believe the first of the seven life principles for review has to be God and his kingdom. Jesus tells us the great commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. And he reasons the priority of this first principle with: What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul? When we have our first principle in mind, a lot of the rest of life falls into place. Matthew 6:33 is good, practical advice: Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness and all the other things will be added to you. As my friend who got divorced discovered, even the number one gets pushed out of place and loses relevance when you get too busy. This is why I find it important to review seven things every day. And the first of those seven things is that I have to keep God first in my life.

As I have done the daily review over the years, this first area of my review has varied some. The major principle is the same but I find, at different times in my life, different aspects of my relationship with God need to be affirmed and kept track of. So now as I think of this first priority, I am thinking of how I need to sit at Jesus’ feet and learn of him and then to be more aware during the day of staying in step with his leading. The priority also has activities which suggest themselves. So I try to take time each day for reading the Bible and to write out a prayer. But the more important aspect of the first priority is not the activities but the quality of being a life compass as I go through the day.

I hope your first principle would also be to put God first in a real and practical way. And I think you might benefit from hearing my list of the remaining daily review. But, again, it wouldn’t be a good idea to just tell you my list. Who knows I might convince you, and then where would you be? You need to give some thought to what should be on your own Seven Things Review Card. As you draft out your own list, then it makes more sense to talk about what is on our cards. I am sure we can learn a lot from each other. I made some adjustments to my list after thinking about Papa Don’s inheritance which I wrote about awhile back. The things each person shared are things I want to remember and incorporate into how I live my life. These are things I needed to make sure I review each day. Please join me in doing the daily review. Discover your list of Seven which will become an inheritance to people who know you and love you.

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An answer to the Red Queen’s Race

I while back I was talking with a friend here about the numerous things that are going on in our lives. There are many things happening in a family with lots of kids (he has five kids and I have 8), and so many issues of modern living that it is overwhelming just to do all that needs to be done. We talked about work and financial responsibilities, bills paid and necessities provided; spiritual life, having a relationship with God and living in a Christ-like way and being part of the church; relationships with people, wife and kids, co-workers, neighbors; having a little space and activity for recreation and personal interests.

So it is easy to be going as hard as we can from morning to evening without finishing all there is to do. We cannot do enough. Daily life can end up seeming like running as fast as you can on a rodent’s exercise wheel. This is the Red Queen’s race from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass: Alice was constantly running but remaining in the same spot. “Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else, if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.” “A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

Initially, when you look at issues in a full and busy life, it seems there is an easy answer. In any one particular issue, a little more time and money will allow these things to be adequately taken care of. But each area and problem in our life is clamoring for “just a little bit more.” And when you pause to take an inventory of your life and the issues you are facing at this time, it can be overwhelming. A deadening despair can result as you aren’t sure you can keep running as you have been, and you won’t get anywhere even if you can keep on running. Looking at our problems and our own resources doesn’t provide much hope for a solution. But a practical answer for our dilemma is found in Solomon’s dream as recorded in 1Kings 3. Would you be interested to know more of what we discovered?

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End-Times Info

Nikki, who has commented on a few posts, wrote asking if I was following the end-times teaching from the Epicenter Conference 2011 mentioned by Joel Rosenberg (which you can learn more about at their website http://www.epicenterconference.com). She asked my take on some of what they are saying and especially the comments from the Bible’s book of Joel concerning the end-times.

There are a number of ministries which have studied a lot about what happens in the end-times. Some seem to be pretty good. And others are pretty far off. It is very difficult to adequately study the various opinions out there. One thing that makes this so difficult is that people who have devoted their lives to the study of Bible prophecy have synthesized their interpretations of many different scriptures. To adequately and fairly judge one aspect of teaching can take quite a bit of study of a large number of Bible verses. Trying to study these various things can absorb one’s available time for Bible reading and subtly shift our focus from what God says in his word to what various teachers say about his word.

So, no I haven’t read about the Epicenter Conference other than Joel Rosenberg’s email about it. It seems like a fine place to study and read if you want to gain some depth understanding of end-times events. (I liked much of what I read on Joel Rosenberg’s email about the book of Joel. I sure would not want to be a world leader who was trying to divide up the land of Israel!) There are other groups too that could be helpful. I don’t have a list and would have trouble judging them.

There are some that I don’t think merit the trust and time of study. For example, recently Harold Camping predicted the end of the world. Again. He missed it. And now I understand there is another date being given. I wouldn’t want to give time or attention there. But I think there is another way that may be better for most people.

The best situation is doing what is called an inductive Bible study approach, like the one Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship teaches or the one that the Precept Ministries uses. These really can help average Christians learn the Bible for themselves. It is great if you can find such a Bible study and have the time for it. The fruit of such Bible study is being able to better judge differing opinions and interpretations of difficult Bible passages.

But some may not have time to study in depth but do have time to read their Bible daily. I think a time of daily reading is a good place to start and is completely adequate for us to be prepared for what we need for life and godliness. And so I like to encourage every Christian to read the Bible for themselves and see what insights the Lord begins to show them. I think God’s promises are true, the Holy Spirit really will guide us and teach us truth if we let him. Through consistent reading we will learn many things including some important end times facts.

Because of my Bible reading, I do not feel unprepared for what God is going to do in the last days. And with reading your Bible and practicing what you learn, you will be prepared for what is really going to happen when the end times come upon us.

Still, if you want to go a little further, a simple study of a key passage may be helpful. The best place to start a simple study about the end-times is Matthew 24. Here you can read what Jesus taught his disciples. Certainly there are things in this passage that may be difficult to understand. Nonetheless, we can find some things in this passage that we can understand. In fact, I think most of what we really need to know and do is pretty clear in the Bible. As we get better informed of things that are clear we will be better prepared to grapple with things that are less clear.

So let me simply guide your reading in this chapter. Get your Bible and read the passage (Matthew 24:1-42) and see if you can answer what the Bible says. After this little reading we may be able to take a next step and discuss a couple of other things in greater depth if you want to post or email a question.

(1) What were the disciples pointing out to Jesus? What did Jesus say was going to happen? (Mt 24:1-2)

(2) So what did the disciples ask Jesus? (Mt 24:3) Pay close attention to these questions.

(3) The answer is given first in Matthew 24:4-31. Before looking at different parts of the answer, read the whole section. Underline any commands, the things Jesus tells his disciples to do. And double underline where Jesus mentions the word sign.

(4) I find the first two commands to be very practical, in a sense, anchor points we need when we begin to study the end-times. What is the first command? (Mt 24:4) Why do you think Jesus commanded this?

(5) What is happening in the world as it progresses to the end-times? (Mt 24:6-12) But are these things a clear sign that the end is near? Why or why not?

(6) Jesus refers to a number of the troubling events that go on in the world as “birth pangs.” (Mt 24:8) Think about this word picture. How does it help you understand that these things are not a reliable indicator of the return of Jesus? Yet is this consistent with the fact that these things will be a part of the end times when Jesus returns?

(7) I get troubled when I think of the end-times or other periods of difficult tribulation. What does Jesus command his disciples? (Mt 24:6) Do you think this is a realistic response? What things can help Jesus’ disciples respond properly in difficult and troubling times? (Psalm 23; 27; Philippians 4:4-7)

(8) Looking at Matthew 24:4-31, there seem to be a number of indicators that will be true in the end-times and may be true at various times before the end. A friend of mine has called these “symptoms” of the end. Make a list of these “symptoms” that are given in this passage. And what is the sign Jesus mentions?

(9) Are any of the “symptoms” of the return such that they could not indicate anything other than the end having arrived? It may be helpful to mark some “symptoms” or the sign of Jesus’ coming with a plus sign if it is unlikely in your opinion to happen other than at the end of the world.

(10) There are a number of other points that could be studied in this passage. And some of the things in the core part of this passage are debated by Bible scholars. So at this point I want to jump to the end of this teaching. What else does Jesus command his disciples? (Mt 24:36-42) Practically, how do you think you are to be on the alert or ready for Jesus’ return?

I understand this brief study or guided reading doesn’t get at the depth of what these things might really mean in the very end. But what Jesus commands his followers is pretty clear. It also seems pretty clear that it isn’t a good idea to try to set a particular date for the return to happen. Sometimes in-depth Bible study can lose sight of the basic commands we need to obey.

If you will mark your Bible when you are reading it each day, noting the things that are pretty clear to you, things you need to apply to your daily life, I think you will find your spiritual life growing rapidly and also find yourself ready for the return of the Lord Jesus. Come quickly Lord Jesus!

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A May 21st End-Times Story

Once upon a time there was a large luxury liner that sailed the seas. It was alone on the seas as far as anyone knew. It had been sailing long before any of the current passengers or crew were born. There had been so many generations of people from whenever the ship had started to steam across the seas, that no one was quite sure how it all started or what it’s purpose was. The name of the ship was the Titanic.

The ship was a grand luxury liner. There were decks devoted to every pleasure and excess imaginable. There were also areas of the ship that were good, noble, beneficial. Some passengers were good people but others saw the voyage as an opportunity to gain advantages over fellow passengers.

There were a small group of passengers who were nicknamed the Safeties. The Safeties believed that one day the ship would be judged and sink, the only ones who could be saved from this disaster those who were alert, on deck and ready. Over the years the Safeties gave their warnings of impending danger. For a period of time after these revival meetings of sincere and sober warnings, people would leave the bars and ballrooms and theaters of the ship and put on life vests and be ready on deck. But there were others who ignored the warnings and stayed below deck, making fun of any who chose to suffer from exposure to the elements and to watch for a danger that never happened. Over the course of time and with the many passing generations the warnings seemed more like a foolish myth, a story for old ladies or little children.

One of the preachers among the Safeties cried out that all aboard the luxury liner needed to pay attention and change their ways. He cried out telling them that they had offended the seas and the God who made them. Judgement was coming, the ship would sink, they would die in the sea and their bodies would feed the fishes. Only those who were on deck could make it to the lifeboats and be saved. With a sincere and earnest plea the preachers would plead for those below the deck to leave their old ways and come up on deck to a new life. Some of those below deck were convinced as they could see how the things done below deck could offend the seas and the God who made them. But most of those below deck who heard the message were convinced that this message was the same threadbare morality and empty threats that had been sounded for generations.

One thing those below deck failed to take account of, as time went by, was that the passenger list was always being updated. Some passengers and crew were removed. Others added. At the back of the ship, where none of the happy and healthy revelers went, their friends and forefathers passed away and their bodies, wrapped in a cloth, tossed overboard, fed the fishes.

One day an old preacher among the Safeties said that the time had come, the icebergs that all could see in the seas around them would soon strike the ship and sink it. He even announced with great certainty the date, the end would happen a week from Thursday. Some were stirred up, others mocked. Amazingly, almost all on board heard the warning. But most on board listened without bothering to go up on deck. The fateful day that had been named came… and went. Those below deck mocked and had fun. The old preacher was wrong. Even other Safeties said that. But at the back of the boat, it was seen that even the old preacher may not have been as wrong as some thought for a steady number of bodies continued to be tossed overboard.

As the ship steamed full speed ahead, it seemed only a few still gathered on the deck and remembered the words of the earlier preachers that one day the ship would strike an iceberg and sink. The crew and the passengers below deck saw no reason to fear those little icebergs they sailed past. They continued in their ways, convinced that this ship was unsinkable, always had been, always would be.

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A Large and Opulent Inheritance

When I was out in California this week, I talked with my nephew. I am not sure if he is in Junior High or High School. We talked about an inheritance his grandfather had desired for him to receive, an inheritance not of money but of character traits and examples that had come from his grandfather’s life. It was an excellent conversation. Now at home, after dinner tonight I asked my family about the inheritance they received from their grandfather, Papa Don.

I asked our older kids, Katie, Daniel, Jacob and Trina, to think about getting a ten million dollar inheritance from their grandfather’s estate. — Pretend he was a multi-millionaire and he left you a lot of money. Think about how you might be really excited and how so much money might change your life, what you would do and what you would get. — Then, I said something like, Oops, I meant your inheritance is worth more than ten million dollars. Think of character traits or other aspects that you have gained from Papa Don that would be part of his inheritance to you.

Katie, who has just finished her first two years in college, mentioned her Psychology degree and the PhD she is pursuing. Many people talk about how hard it is to get in the program at the university and then how difficult it is to make anything of the degree. And she said she felt her inheritance from Papa Don was the ambition to go for it and become excellent in her field. Papa Don entered a tough and competitive field and may not have started as the best but he became the best. He had an ambition and pursued his dream, accomplishing excellence in his highly competitive field. And he made it! Katie felt that this ambition was her inheritance from Papa Don. By the way, Katie just got her grades from this last semester… she got straight A’s. I think she has been really blessed by her inheritance.

Daniel, who is graduating high school this year, mentioned how Papa Don could really enjoy and savor life. How he enjoyed good wine and other nice things life has to offer. Some people get ruined or stuck-up when they have nice things. But Papa Don was able to humbly enjoy what he had. It reminded us of what Jesus said about his coming that we might have life abundantly. Papa Don had an awareness of the eternal and abundant life God had given and he really enjoyed it. Daniel remembered how his grandfather could really enjoy and savor the blessings God gave in this life.

My wife Kelly mentioned how her inheritance from her dad was the relationship with him where he would receive a phone call from her as though it was the best thing that had happened to him all week. She told how he would receive her when she was a little girl, even when there were very important executives meeting with him. (She mentioned one time going in to talk with her dad and the president of a record company was there. And this important person waited while she and her dad talked about whatever it was that was on her little girl heart.)

Jacob was pretty young when his grandfather died. When the news came of Papa Don’s death, Jacob went and hid under the table. And though he did not remember a lot of his grandfather, there was something that stood out. He mentioned Papa Don’s sense of humor and his laugh. We talked about how Papa Don had a great laugh that always lit up the room and made you feel he was laughing with you and never at you. From his laugh, you could feel in your heart a true joy that went beyond whatever funny thing you both were sharing. Jacob really enjoys telling jokes and making you smile. If God allows us to look down from heaven, I think Don often smiles at Jacob’s jokes.

My daughter Trina was too young to have any specific memory. So we recalled with her the time we were all at Disneyland. Papa Don had Trina on his wheelchair and took her to the front of the crowd at the night time festivities and parade. We remembered how all the Disney characters in the parade would come over to where they were and give her a special greeting. We concluded Trina’s inheritance was being loved and made special. I think there really is not a better inheritance than knowing somebody has really loved you and thought you were very, very special.

Our family friend Nancy McCray is staying with us and joined in our conversation. She said her inheritance from Don was the gift of his kindness and compassion. Don would listen to her and share a tear at sad things that had happened in her life. She felt understood and supported.

We talked quite awhile after everyone had finished dinner. It was such a neat time. I wish you could have known him if you didn’t and that you could have been here with us at dinner to have enjoyed hearing what each said, and the looks on our faces as we remembered back to our special times and these character traits that have become our inheritance from our dad and grandfather. Thinking about these things, we all agreed, Papa Don has indeed given the best and richest inheritance we could ever have received!

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Jephthah’s Wise Negotiations. (Part 3 on Israel’s Ninth Judge, Jephthah)

Jephthah’s first act as leader of Gilead is to confront the leader of the amassed army of Ammon asking why Ammon was getting set to attack Israel. (Judges 11:12) It is interesting to see Jephthah, a proven man of action, step back from quick action to take this opportunity to avoid conflict through wise negotiations. It is also interesting how a man who had been rejected by his people made himself comfortable as their leader, as seen when he claims Ammon’s attack as an attack on him and his land. Many times our effectiveness may be weakened by carrying baggage of the past. The issue was not how Gilead had treated Jephthah in the past but how Ammon was treating Jephthah and his people by invading the land and amassing for war. Ammon replied to Jephthah claiming that the land Israel occupied belonged to them and therefore, the only peaceful solution was to give up the land of Gilead to Ammon. (Judges 11:13) While this is not the reply Jephthah wanted, it gives focus for Jephthah’s reply which justified Israel’s possession of this land and set forth Ammon’s error behind their attack.

Jephthah’s reply recounts history and theology to justify Israel’s possession of the land and to establish the injustice Ammon will commit by going to war with Israel. Clearly a reasonable argument is unlikely to resolve a conflict like this. The modern day negotiations between Israel and Palestinian groups are unlikely to resolve their conflict. But it is the right thing to do. What we do as individuals or corporations or nations does matter. There is a standard of right and wrong, and there are often consequences when right is violated. And even if some succeed by believing that their might settles the argument of what is right, there is a God before whom we live and act. Those who profess faith and wisdom certainly should follow Jephthah’s example and present a case for what is right and how a peaceful agreement can be achieved.

First of all, Jephthah argued that Israel did not take Ammon or Moab’s land when they were going to enter the land of Israel. In fact, when Ammon refused passage for Israel, they went further on and asked the Amorites for passage. The Amorites, not content with negotiating some way for Israel to pass through their land, went out and attacked Israel. This is the battle that resulted in Israel gaining possession of the land on the eastern side of the Jordan. (Judges 11:14-22) Israel acted honorably toward Ammon when Israel was entering the land. The war Israel was involved in was started by the Amorites and the land Israel won and settled was Amorite, not Ammonite land. The Ammonites have no basis to ask for anything back from Israel.

Second, both Israel and Ammon recognized that god, as they percieved him, was sovereign and responsible for the outcomes of battles and the boundaries of their nations. Therefore, it is the Lord who gave Israel the land, and it was the god Chemosh who Ammon recognized that gave up the land. (Judges 11:23-24) Even the Ammonites would recognize this argument was valid though they would not abide by it. Perhaps for a similar reason that muslims today would affirm Allah’s sovereignty but deny that Israel winning various battles and wars showed Allah’s will and thus a reason to end hostility toward Israel. Nonetheless, the theological argument is relevant and important. There is a God who exists and it is appropriate to recognize him and his acts in history. While this has been abused by people throughout time, it is still a valid and necessary argument.

Third, even if there had been any basis for a claim against Israel, it would be the neighboring king, Balak son of Zippor who had it, but he did not exercise any claim. And if, in spite of all these facts, the Ammonites yet insisted they had a claim, why had it taken hundreds of years to press the claim? Certainly it is too late to press any claim on the land. (Judges 11:25-26) Jephthah’s argument is complete and convincing. Ammon had no basis for their demand to have Israel’s land. There was no historical, theological or legal basis for their claim. Jephthah could therefore conclude he and Israel had not sinned against Ammon but Ammon, in going to war against Israel, was sinning against them. (Judges 11:27) Jephthah and all Israel believed God would uphold the justice of their cause. But while the argument is solid, Ammon rejected it for it was not logic or justice that motivated them, it was their potential gain from going to war.

In the first half of the story of Jephthah, we see an outstanding example of a wise leader, a man of faith. The inspired writer of the book of Judges has let us see in Jephthah’s words and acts, a wise leader who has a knowledge of the Lord and his works in Israel. We see a man of faith who truly belongs in the New Testament Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11:32. In first half of the account of Israel’s ninth judge, we can find elements of Jephthah’s example that are applicable to people of faith who want to live in true faith and wisdom. Therefore it is all the more shocking to see what happens in the second half of the story of Jephthah when we see his foolish vow and his exacting and violent actions against another tribe in Israel, things which no person of faith would want to emulate.

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Developing a Curriculum for a Pastoral Conversation

Various issues come up in our lives at different times. Many times we feel adequate to face these issues and can walk through them with confidence that we are doing well enough. But sometimes, an issue resists our own efforts and we find it more than we can handle on our own. Perhaps we talk about such an issue with some friends or family. Sometimes we seek a conversation with a pastor or mentor. Sometimes we seek some kind of a counseling situation to help us through the issue. In larger churches with active Christian education or home groups, there are particular groups or classes that meet with a focus on solving some of these issues. There are, for example, groups on getting your finances under control, raising godly children, praying for marriages, dealing with addictions and so on. The Lord can use a number of different forms to help his disciples deal with their various issues. But if I am asked to help somebody with a particular issue in their life, my favorite form is to meet for about seven weeks discussing various Bible passages relevant to the issue they face. In this way, I create a kind of curriculum for a particular personal issue which guides the pastoral conversations we will have about it. One came up recently that I will use as an example for this developing a curriculum for a pastoral conversation. A young couple has been dating for a number of years. They wonder whether they should remain friends or pursue a course to marriage. They know there is such a thing as premarital counseling. But they are looking for pre-engagement counseling, something that could as easily tell them to not pursue an engagement if it isn’t right for them as to proceed with a greater commitment. Here is how I develop a curriculum for pastoral conversations to help them discover what would be best in their situation.
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Jephthah: Rejection and Restoration. Israel’s Ninth Judge (Part 2).

The Gileadites were facing the superior army of the Ammonites. After eighteen years of oppression the Gileadites had little hope of victory. The one hope was to find a capable leader for their army. And this brought them to look for Jephthah who became the ninth judge of Israel mentioned in the book of Judges. Jephthah was a Gileadite. His father was named Gilead, probably not the founder of the clan in Manasseh but a leading man in this clan. Looking at this half of his parentage we can say Jephthah had a noble birth. The problem was looking at the other half, Jephthah’s mother was a prostitute. Gilead’s legitimate children drove Jephthah out, refusing to share the family inheritance with him. (Judges 11:1-2) This helps explain why it took many years and a most dire situation before the elders of Gilead would even consider Jephthah as a potential leader for the tribe.

There are certain repeated themes in the Bible that give a breadth and depth to our reading and study. Certainly one of the themes involves rejection and suffering and then exaltation. Israel’s prophetic history tells of the nation itself being despised and suffering but one day will be exalted among the nations. King David himself was rejected and suffered life on the run from King Saul. But then one day, he was exalted to the kingship and was honored historically and prophetically. Judges 10 even applies this theme to the Lord whom Israel has forsaken for other gods. (Judges 10:6,9,13) It is not strange in light of this that Israel’s messiah also was rejected and suffered before his exaltation. (Isaiah 53:3,11; Acts 3:13-16) But this is no mere literary or Bible theme. It is a life principle we need to be mindful of in the various overwhelming and unfair things that can happen to us in life.

There are elements of the life in which we find ourselves that really aren’t fair. It wasn’t Jephthah’s fault what his mother and father did, but he suffered for it. We have adopted a number of special needs kids. Some of their moms drank heavily or used drugs during the pregnancy. A couple of the kids are seriously impacted with fetal alcohol effects. It isn’t the fault of our kids, but they suffer the consequences. And while it is sad, the best response isn’t to lament and complain but to do what can be done where they are. Our self-image should not be formed by our birth or our comparative natural abilities. Some people waste years and inflict self torture over their birth or their body or their capabilities or lack of certain capabilities. Whoever we are, however we are made, whatever we have, God can use in special ways if we present ourselves to him like a living sacrifice. In fact, it seems that God has a special interest in those people who might easily be overlooked by the “got-it-all-togethers” of the world: For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. (1Corinthians 1:26-29)

We soon see Jephthah leading men. They weren’t the noble knights which we might desire a Bible hero to lead. They were the men around Jephthah, the men who would gather and be led and thus led, would be changed. Jephthah may have led this motley brigand band in many raids against the Ammonites for those eighteen years they oppressed Israel. Similarly, when David was rejected and fled from Saul, men gathered to him and he led them on many military raids. From among the men who had been characterized as distressed, debtors and the discontented came men who were mighty men, transformed through being led by David. (1Samuel 22:2; 2Samuel 23:8-39) Whether you find yourself in an unfair or terribly difficult situation, the thought needs to be on what you can do where you are rather than what you would do if only you could be in some other, better place. And then start doing what you can where you are and see where God, at the right time, takes you.

I can imagine the discussion among the elders of Gilead as they try to figure out what to do in the looming battle against Ammon. They have to find a leader. But after eighteen years of trying to find a leader who can bring victory, they have reached the bottom of the barrel and are willing to consider people they probably had rejected out of hand before. While they had been stumped, Jephthah was leading men. Finally the “search committee” proposes a candidate who might really be able to lead them. Whatever their previous objections had been, circumstances have led them to pursue Jephthah and offer him leadership over the armies of Gilead. And in the briefly presented negotiations we can see interesting principles which apply to many kinds of negotiations.

Try to imagine the attitude and the expectations the elders of Gilead may have had when they came to Jephthah to bring him the offer, “Come and be our chief that we may fight against the sons of Ammon.” (Judges 11:6) Do you see who will get the credit for a victory in the way they state their offer? The elders of Gilead know they were giving Jephthah the very thing that Jephthah would desire and appreciate, being restored to Gilead society and leading the tribe’s army. What possible objection or counter-offer could possibly be raised? Jephthah responded to their offer with, what we can call, the step back. Good negotiations can take time. There is more going on here than just stepping forward to lead the army. Sometimes, before you can go forward, you have to go backwards; the path to the future is often found in reconsidering the past. Jephthah was not going to take the job of an army captain, working for wages in the task before them. So he asked, not eager but not sulking, “Did you not hate me and drive me from my father’s house? So why have you come to me now when you are in trouble?” (Judges 11:7) Can you picture the confident smiles fading from the elders’ faces as they are forced to answer him? The elders’ answer clarifies their position and presents their second offer. They increase his participation and his role after the fighting: “…you may go with us and fight with the sons of Ammon and become head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.” (Judges 11:8) Jephthah needs to make a serious clarification before he can accept to serve with Gilead. He has already seen their treachery. Those who put a high value on appearances often hide their real motives so you cannot trust what you do see. “If you take me back to fight against the sons of Ammon and the Lord gives them up to me, will I become your head?” And to this, the elders agree. (Judges 11:9-10) Jephthah recognized he was brought to do a job, lead the people in battle. And it is based on Jephthah’s effectiveness (which only came through what God would do in the battle) that the reward would be given of being leader over the them. Jim Rohn liked to emphasize that profits are better than wages. Wages will make you a living but profits can fund a lifestyle. Profits are the rewards of an effective outcome in the difficult project before you that brings a value to many. The reward Jephthah asked was appropriate to the task the elders asked of him.

Israel, even in their apostasies, was a religious nation. It would have been an appropriate cultural form to confirm an agreement before the Lord at a holy site. But Jephthah was a man of faith. He truly believed God exists and is a rewarder of those who seek him. He believed a word given before God was to be kept and that failure to keep such a word would be much worse than merely breaking a civil agreement with conmensurate fines or punishments. The agreement made before the Lord brought God into the agreement and brought God’s wrath on those who would threaten to break the agreement. And so, Jephthah “spoke all his words before the Lord at Mizpah.” (Judges 11:11) The agreement was bigger than a contract with the Gileadites, it was a covenant with the Lord.

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