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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The Making of Israel’s Ninth Judge, Jephthah

A while back, a friend of mine, Lloyd Phillips who heads Fellow Laborers International, wrote an email which told of churches in Africa which make a terrible application of the story of Jephthah. Apparently, some churches Lloyd was visiting had praise songs which extolled Jephthah the man of faith who literally sacrificed his daughter. And unfortunately this was misunderstood by some to support the cultural practice of killing infant daughters. Lloyd prophetically taught to reprove their error. And while I agreed with this need for prophetic correction, I questioned how the account of Jephthah should be understood and applied. At various times I have studied this passage and am now ready to dig into a multi-part study of Israel’s ninth judge, Jephthah.

The Book of Judges saddens me every time I read of Israel’s seven-stepped descent into depravity. The wonderful success Joshua won through an obedience in faith followed the true Darwinian course of “devolution.” The people did not follow God’s plan for Israel, revealed in the Law. They instead turned to what was right in their own eyes and to what seemed like better answers for life’s questions which they found in false gods and the surrounding cultures. (Oh, that Israel today would recognize that the gods and cultures of the modern world are far inferior to what they received thousands of years ago!) Through Israel’s desperate times and God’s merciful interventions, there is an down and up and down path Israel pursued until the time of the Judges came to an end. This is sad to me both for what Israel had to go through (especially when compared to the blessings that they potentially could have enjoyed) and what it says about our own country and the downward spiral that seems to be leading us in a down-up-down course to desperate times.

In Judges 10:6-18 we read of the descent into desperate times which took place in the day of Jephthah. The sons of Ammon were coming against Israel. There were 18 years of oppression and suffering. The things that seemed to work in better times, seemed, in the light of their helpless suffering, to be worthless lies. Israel at these times of despair called on the Lord, “We have sinned against You, for indeed, we have forsaken our God and served the Baals.” (Judges 10:10) This is a good first step, saying honestly what we have done and where we are. But it isn’t adequate in itself. Those deep in sin tend to see their sin as insignificant personal choices that really are not that bad when compared to other sins which are much worse. But God’s reply to Israel points to the seriousness and significance of their sin. (Judges 10:11-15) He points to his effective help in the past, in the exodus, in the wilderness and in entering Canaan. Since Israel turned from God’s historically proven effectiveness to chose other gods, God tells Israel to look to their new chosen gods and ways to solve their current problems. But of course, those things could not help, they in fact had been part of the life dynamic which got them in their current problems. Much like government programs of today which try to address a social problem but end up reinforcing and enlarging the problem, and then as the problem deepens, the cry goes out to expand this program to really solve the growing societal problem. At some point perhaps we will recognize we are actually feeding the problems and not funding the solutions. Anyway, at this point Israel moved from words to actions, “they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord.” (Judges 10:16) I have wondered how today in the church there can be so many good preachers and teachers yet our country seems to continue to be in a serious downward slide. Perhaps, like Israel, we are in the place where we are talking about what is wrong rather than taking the real steps of action which manifest true repentance.

With Israel’s words and actions of repentance we are told that the Lord “could bear the misery of Israel no longer.” (Judges 10:16) This is great news. At this point we can rightfully expect a solution. What may be surprising, however, is that this path of God’s mercy, which Israel had to walk, took them into a place of greater difficulty. Our expectation is that if God hears our cry, our solution should be there, the problem solved, things are better, the sun sets beautifully and peacefully and all is again right with the world. But rarely do things work according to this expectation. And it did not work this way for the Israelites. “Then the sons of Ammon were summoned and they camped in Gilead. And the sons of Israel gathered together and camped in Mizpah. The people, the leaders of Gilead, said to one another, ‘Who is the man who will begin to fight against the sons of Ammon? He shall become head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.'” (Judges 10:17-18) Things were getting worse before they could get better. Their repentance seems to have spurred a great armed conflict. The battle lines are drawn up and war is set to begin. For eighteen years Israel had not held its own. It was even less likely on that day as they did not even have somebody to lead their army, such as it was. Things looked very grim for the sons of Israel. If we are working with somebody who is in the process of truly turning from sins or addictions, we need to warn them that the path of repentance may lead to an intensification of the battle. This is normal. There are things we may need to do or things we need to pass through that we will avoid until pushed by unpleasant circumstances. The last place the Gileadites wanted to look for a leader was now the place they were willing to look, they were willing to look for Jephthah.

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a Reminder

After reading Deuteronomy 30:11-14, i was convicted that my experience with our Lord’s call to righteousness (His Commandments) has been very difficult. Moses states, “These commandments are not too difficult and are not far from you (you have the ability to keep them).” I was confused. i fail regularly. Moses statement indicates to me that i am missing something.

When Moses states, “These commandments are not too difficult and are not far from you”, do you think he means just keep the commandments or is he saying, just please God. Is it less difficult to try to please God versus trying to be perfect?

It could be, that i am too hard on myself; that it’s me trying to be righteous when it should be by faith in Jesus. I remember what Jesus said about the Pharisee who claimed he kept all the commandments while putting down the tax collector who was on his knees pounding his chest asking for forgiveness, he said the tax collector had it right. So should i be humbled, or troubled by my imperfection?

Jesus says He will take my burdens and He says his load is light and His yoke is easy.
Could it be that my difficulty in keeping the Lord’s commandments are because i am trying to do them as works?

I saw a movie about a priest who was on trial for negligent homicide because of a young girl’s death because she was possessed. The exorcism failed and she died for lack of medical attention. The priest said the young girl was filled with faith and gave him the courage to stand up to the six demons in her. Even though the priest’s effort failed, the young girl claimed she would be saved by the Lord. She was right, because He took her home. The last scene was her tombstone which read, “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling…”.! So, is it necessary to tremble and be scared out of your wits in order to keep his commandments?

These four questions should lead to a conclusion:

To ‘work out your salvation with fear and trembling’ is to have respect for who God is and what He has done for you. Salvation is an eternal gift, it requires gratitude. Fear is the respect of recognizing that your God loves you and died for you and that he saved you from His wrath. Tremble in His presence. Taking Him for granted will make keeping His commandments very difficult, He dwells in you!

If i decide to ‘work out my salvation with fear and trembling’ by concentrating on God’s qualities (like the Fruit of the Spirit), obedience is the result. No wonder i was finding Moses statement difficult, i had fallen into a pattern of striving for perfection outside the New Covenant. The verse after ‘work out my salvation with fear and trembling’ is for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Phil 2:13

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Brief counsel on an important topic

A friend in church wrote a more mature believer asking help to better listen to the Lord:

So, I would like to be not so up in the air about knowing when God is talking to me. Or, be a better listener. Could you give me a little guidance on that?  I think it is a start that I’ve reconized some of the times the Spirit is speaking to me. But, I still question some.  Are there some Bible passeges I could study to further my recognition of this or some obedience that would make it more clear. Sincerely, Your Brother in Christ

This mature believer asked me what I thought. I thought I would share here what I wrote. Perhaps it is helpful to others. Perhaps I am off target and one reading here can give further insight.  Continue reading

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