Putting Out To Sea

putting out to sea-fixedLast month I had an interesting conversation with a young lady around 12 years old. She’s full of faith and, in some ways, wise beyond her years. And I felt inspired to tell her (thinking about how things can go between the ages of 13 and 21) that it’s a little like she’s in a harbor right now. But soon she’ll move out into the full ocean where the waves are stronger and the shore further away.

Jesus and little girl-flatThen last night, after I was already down for the night and nearly asleep, a poem was coming to me about her and about how others like her are at that poignant point in their lives, on the cusp of… not adulthood but whatever that change is that is so marked as we enter into our teen years.

So I virtually woke up, turned on the lights and computer and wrote this little poem. I don’t have that kind of thing happen often. But I’ve learned from experience that it’s best to stop what I’m doing and just write it down if something like that or some train of thought comes to me which should be turned into a post or article.

Maybe you know some ones like my young friend; actually I know a good number who are at that point in life where they are at the edge of the harbor, putting out to sea.

Putting Out To Sea

There you are in the harbor,

Putting out to the sea in your skiff

Away from the calm of the haven

Towards the billows you saw from the cliff.

 

It won’t be long ere you feel them,

The surges and big waves ahead.

You’re looking ahead with excitement

But also perhaps with some dread.

 

Soon the waves and storms of adulthood

Will just start to rock your wee yacht.

And now, away from the shoreline,

You’ll be needing the Lord, quiet a lot.

 

Your mom and your friends are still with you

The home, the hearth and the love.

But as you get older it is clearer

That the best help does come from above.

 

So what can we who do love you

To help you be strong and survive?

Can we always be right there beside you

And stay there the rest of your life?

 

No, only the Lord in His mercy

Will guide you through the strong squall

Which come to all on life’s ocean

And tests the faith of us all.

 

Dear friend and young sister, we love you.

There’s love, joy and peace in your soul.

You’re off to a great start and beginning

Your eyes seem fixed on the goal.

 

To trust Him, to serve and believe Him

To ride the waves that roll on,

To follow His light from above us

To hold on through night till the dawn

 

When the time on the ocean has taught you

To be full and complete in His love.

When more years have passed and you find then

That you yourself have been taught from above

 

That He will always be with you

That no wave or storm will surpass

The power and wisdom He gives you

To be His disciple and lass.

 

The Tar Baby

tar baby 1Some things are just a “tar baby”. Never heard that phrase before? I’m not surprised. There was a man named Joel Chandler Harris who was a famous writer from the southern states after the Civil War in the United States in the 1860’s. There was even a movie made years ago, called “Song of the South” which was about some of his stories. I guess you could compare them a little bit to Hans Christian Anderson and things like “The Ugly Duckling” But let me tell you the story of the Tar Baby, maybe you can relate to it.

So there was this fox and this rabbit. The fox was forever trying to catch the rabbit, it was all about that. The fox hit upon the idea of catching the rabbit by making a “tar baby”. You could think of it like a snow man, except that instead of using snow, the thing was made with black sticky tar, like they use in some places to make streets with.

tar baby 1The fox made the “tar baby” and set it beside the road. So the rabbit comes along. And as he passes by, he says ever so congenially, as people in the South will do, “Good morning to you.”

The tar baby was silent.

tar baby 2The rabbit said again, “I said, ‘Good morning to you’”. The tar baby is still silent.

The rabbit, irritated by the unfriendliness said, “If you don’t say, ‘Good morning’ to me, I’m gonna hit you!”

Nothing came back from the tar baby.

“Take that!” the rabbit said and punched the tar baby. But the rabbit’s hand got stuck.tar baby 3

“You let go of my hand!” the rabbit screamed. “If you don’t let go of my hand, I’m gonna kick you!” And he did. But then his foot also got stuck on the tar baby.

And on it went till the rabbit was totally and utterly captured and stuck to the tar baby.

The moral of the story? Some things are really just best left alone, no matter how bad it seems or how much you feel you need to get further involved.tar baby 4 They are a “tar baby”.

There is no victory in getting involved. All your efforts will only yield a further unfruitful involvement where you will get further and further tied up in something that you can’t get untangled from and can get no satisfaction from.

So this extremely simple, childish story has a deeper meaning and lesson for actually everyone. There are things in which the best thing you can do, the wisest move you can make, is to just not get involved.

Jesus Himself even said of one situation, “Leave them alone, they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch”. In another place He said, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet and turn again and rend you.” This can sound almost harsh from the Lord of Love. But He knew what He was talking about.

For some things and some situations, they’re just “tar babies”. Paul said to the disciples of his day, “Foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing they do gender strife.” Or Solomon, 900 years before Paul, said, “Go from the presence of a foolish man, when you perceive not in him the lips of knowledge.”

Certainly this is not the first reaction we would have to difficult situations or even difficult people. The vast majority of the time, we who are Christians should be the ones to get involved, go the extra mile and give to them that ask of us. This should be our default position, to be like the Good Samaritan and how Jesus Himself was.

But at times the Lord will confirm to you that it’s just not a place where the Holy Spirit is going to get a victory as the people there are intractable and rejecting of the things of the Lord. Or even a trap of some kind, set up by the enemy of God to sidetrack us, to get us bogged down in some fruitless endeavor that’s never going to go God’s way or ours. It could be a tar baby. Gotta watch out for those.

“It’s a gun, isn’t it?”

I was on an overnight train from Budapest, Hungary to another eastern European capital in the 1990’s. With me was a young French sister in the Lord who was on her way to her new mission field. It was like a time of high summer in the spiritual sowing and reaping of that part of the world, after the fall of Communism made it possible for those people to reach out to the Lord in a way impossible in the past. All was well until late in the evening, after we’d crossed the border.

ItsAGun_01F-fixedThere had only been the two of us in our train compartment until 5 young guys in their 20’s came almost stumbling into our part of the train. It was Saturday evening, they were drunk and to them we looked like some fun.

ItsAGun_02F-fixedImmediately they began to take a liking to my French companion. Meanwhile, sort of the ringleader sat down very close to me and rather intently but somewhat lightheartedly asked me some questions. All the while they were all knocking back vodka or brandy, a common thing people do there to help them sleep on trains overnight.

What is that flatI should mention that I was actually carrying a somewhat large amount of money on me. This had been given to me as a gift to pass on to a missionary family in the country I was on the way to. I had this in a money pouch under my sports coat. We were all sitting close together and I guess this ring-leader guy noticed it. He suddenly put his hand right on my jacket where the money pouch was and said, “What’s that?!”

It actually was rather a tense moment for me. I was outnumbered 5 to 1, these guys were younger than me, I was in their country, I had a woman with me that they liked, they were drunk and it wasn’t like I could phone 9-1-1 or get any help. The train conductor couldn’t care less and basically it was quickly developing in a dangerous situation. It would not have been too terribly unusual if they’d decided to rob me and throw me off the train while they had their way with my friend.

ItsAGun_04F fixed flatSo when he asked me, “What’s that?!”, I said, “Oh, some papers.” (Hey, telling the truth, right?) He looked at me hard and long and said, “It’s a gun, isn’t it?” I paused, looked back steadily at him and said, “No, it’s not a gun.” He kept looking at me silently.

ItsAGun_05F fixedNext he went out of the train cabin, out into the hallway with some of his buddies. I could see them talking together and then looking back at me from time to time. I continued to keep looking at them but also was staying relaxed. It certainly seemed like they were sizing up the situation and deciding whether to attack me and my friend or not. One thing working in our favor, in the physical at least, was that it was getting later and later and they were progressively getting drunker and drunker.

I guess you could say the end of the story was that they didn’t attack us. The ringleader was convinced I was carrying a gun under my coat and that I was just being coy about it. So gradually they all dozed off to sleep and after a long while my friend and I did the same.

“Mark, that’s not a miracle; you were just lucky!”

Say what you want, it sure felt like a major miracle. The Lord somehow tricked that guy into thinking I had a gun when actually his hand was on a large amount of cash in my money pouch underneath my jacket.

It could also certainly be said that we didn’t quiet really heed the Lord’s admonition  to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). We were doing the harmless thing OK but we sure weren’t being wise as serpents. And I never made a border crossing like that again if I was ever carrying anything valuable.

Another major thing was that we weren’t just tourists, traveling around seeing the sights. We were on a mission for the Lord and were under His protection as we went forward for Him. So it was like that verse, “The Lord shall fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.” (Exodus 14:14) Or the verse,You shall not need to fight in this battle. Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord with you.  (II Cron. 20:17) And sometimes, even when we’re doing something that turns out to not really be the truly wisest and safest way to do something, if we’re doing it sincerely in obedience to Him, He can get us out of what could be really serious trouble, like He did for us that night.

It reminds me of some verses that I claimed way back before I’d ever even left the States for the first time to go abroad for Him many years ago, “When they were but a few men in number; yea, very few, and strangers in it, when they went from one nation to another, from one kingdom to another people; He suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, He reproved kings for their sakes, saying, ‘Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.’” (Psalm 105:12-15)

Acts 20 Live Class Audio

When I think of Acts 20, I always think of Paul’s last talk and farewell near Ephesus with the ones he loved so much, and who loved him so much. There are many striking, stirring verses in that talk. These were some of the things we discussed and highlighted in our live class on Acts 20. The full audio of the class can be heard here.

Paul sailingThis is all taking place in Paul’s third missionary journey. After the uproar at the end of Acts 19, Paul and his company departed for Macedonia and further travels, ending up back at the ancient city of Troy, by that time called Troas. Paul had plans to make it back to Jerusalem before the day of Pentecost so he had some traveling to do. Still, duty called. He and his entourage were in Troas, “ready to depart on the morrow” (Acts 20:7) and it says “he continued his message till midnight.” (Acts 20:7)

Back then, without electricity, this wasn’t so common at all. But Paul, in his love for his flock and the people of the Lord, kept pouring out his heart and the Lord’s teachings to them.

And from reading this chapter, there are a number of things that can raise questions about how it all was and what was the situation at the time. From several verses it says that Paul was “bound in the spirit” (Acts 20:22) to make it to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. But since that word “spirit” there is not capitalized, it raises the question of whether it was actually the Holy Spirit pushing Paul back to Jerusalem. Or was it Paul’s love for his own nation and Jewish heritage that was influencing his emotions? More on this in the next class.

map of third missionary journeyTo me the highlight of the chapter is the second half. They had been continuing their journey along the coastline of modern Turkey, on their way back to Jerusalem. And as they neared a town on the coast, Miletus, close to Ephesus, Paul called for the elders of the church in Ephesus that he might have one more talk and class with them.

As you may know, I memorize Bible verses. And I have 3 memorized from this place in Acts 20 because they’re so significant. In verse 20, Paul said to the elders, “And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house.

Paul Acts 20Then in verse 28 he said, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” His greatest call and charge to them was the same that Jesus gave to Peter, to feed the flock of God. And that certainly still rings true for all us today, to feed His sheep.

Two other extremely significant verses are Acts 20: 31 and 32: “Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.

Paul huggingIt can get to be a pretty emotional chapter. At the end of the chapter, which is the end of Paul’s talk to them, it says in verse 37 “And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul’s neck, and kissed him.

This is the kind of Early Church Christianity that moved men’s hearts, enveloped their souls and gave them the fullness and abandonment that strengthened many of them to face ultimate martyrdom. In our live class on Acts 20, we looked at more of these verses and how they should still resonate with us and impact our lives for Him and His flock in our day and lives. The full audio class on Acts 20 can be heard here.

Sweet Potatoes with Butter

Sweet Potatoes with ButterI heard a story one time, I don’t know if it’s true. Seems it was after the Civil War in America, down in the South where the slaves were now free but still living tough, segregated lives.

So a white woman had an African American woman working for her as her “maid”. And somehow the African American women had her 2 kids there. There was something to do with sweet potatoes, very popular in the southern states. And as the story goes, the white woman was serving some sweet potatoes to the African American woman and her 2 kids. So the maid was all thankful and humbly respectful that she was being served sweet potatoes for herself and her kids.

Then the white woman passed on some butter that the maid and her two kids could put on their sweet potatoes. But the black maid respectfully declined that offer of butter for their sweet potatoes. The white woman was surprised and puzzled.Sweet Potatoes with Butter pic 1-fixed-flattened

Sweet Potatoes with Butter pic 3-flattened“Liza” she said, “why don’t you let those children have butter on their sweet potatoes?”

“No ma’am”, Liza said, “I don’t want my ‘chillens ever know what sweet potatoes with butter tastes like.”

End of story. What in the world could that mean? As I understand it, it’s like this. Liza and her children lived in grinding poverty. They were accustomed to doing without. But here was this rare, strange situation where they were eating sweet potatoes and maybe even getting butter on it!

But Liza knew that it was like so rare a situation, so special, that it wasn’t something that was likely to happen again. As it was already, her kids had never even known what the delicious taste of sweet potatoes with butter was like. But if they did, it would only be for that time. And afterwards they would always remember it and long to have it again. But Liza would never be able to supply something like that for her kids; it was just beyond her.

So that’s why Liza didn’t want her kids to even taste what it was like to have butter on their sweet potatoes. She felt it was better for them to never have even tasted such heavenly things than to have tasted and then to almost certainly never be able to have that again.

Kind of deep, when you think of it. There are times in life, or for some lives, when the Lord in His wisdom seems to withhold something that is prayed for and desired. We don’t know why and we long for an answer. But it doesn’t come.

And yet sometimes for one reason or the other, we have a brief taste of those “sweet potatoes with butter”, like Liza was offered to her kids. And then for reasons we usually don’t know, those heavenly tastes and experiences are not sustained and we go back to our lives we live.

Was Liza right to refuse to let her kids to even taste the sweet potatoes with butter? I personally don’t know. We are told, “With food and clothing let us be content” (I Timothy 6:8). Usually we aren’t content with only food and clothing. Most of us want more than that. And in our times, almost everyone has quite a lot more than food and clothing.

But for the Lord’s disciples, especially for those who’ve become His seasoned soldiers, He sometimes spoils us. But at other times He can keep us on a rather short leash and even lean rations, if He sees fit. We don’t always understand why. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God” (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Recently I had some “sweet potatoes with butter”. It was wonderful. But it was only for a short while. Was it good that it happened? Maybe I should have just looked at it like Liza did, just not even have let that happen since it seems it was something that could only be for a very short time. But it was really good while it lasted.

I have learned in whatsoever state I am in, therewith to be content” (Philipians 4:11). “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it, but whosoever shall lose his life for My sake, the same shall save it” (Luke 9:23 & 24).And everyone that hath forsaken house or brethren or sister, or father or mother  or wife or children or lands for My sake shall receive a hundred fold in this lifetime, and in the world to come, eternal life”. (Mark 10: 29 & 30)

Have you got sweet potatoes with butter in your life that you’ve tasted but then it’s gone? It’s tough. It’s like that for me right now. Thanks for your prayers about this. God bless you.

Bite Now, Chew Later

Right now-flattenedLife is full of decisions. And it actually happens that those decisions, sometimes very major ones, can come down to a brief moment when some opportunity presents itself and you have to make that decision, right then, not later. It can be in a romance, it can be in your career, it can be in sports or business. You don’t always have time to weigh up every factor and slowly consider all the options. You just have that moment, that second, and you have to decide. And it may affect the rest of your life.

Jesus said one time, “What man, with an army of 10,000, going against an army of 20,000, doesn’t sit down first and count the cost whether he has sufficient to finish it?” (Luke 14:31) Absolutely true, the Lord said it.

But also sometimes you’re already in battle, things are moving and fluid and it’s not a situation where you can really pause, draw back to think it all over and pull in your councilors. Sometimes the battle’s on, the chips are down, your whole life and all you’ve fought and lived for is at stake.

This type of thing almost certainly happens to every individual. Certainly not every day but there are moments when you have to go totally by your “gut”, your instincts, and if you’re a Christian, by the “still small voice” (I Kings 19:21) and the leading of the Lord.

Sometimes we bite off more than we can chew. I have a tendency to do that. The Good Samaritan, did he bite off more than he could chew?

Probably he was busy like the other guys. Maybe those other ones just felt they had so much on their plate, maybe that fellow on the side of the road wasn’t even hurt anyway. He was faking it. samaritan helpingOr there were accomplices hiding in the rocks that would jump anyone who stopped to help. It just wasn’t really wise to stop. Why should they? It was probably his fault. He got himself into that mess in the first place, right?

But the Good Samaritan, he stopped. Did it take him 15 minutes to decide? Did he phone 9-1-1 or take some photos first? Nope; he just decided on the spot that someone needed help and he was going to do it. He was going to take whatever time and resources were needed to help that guy.

good samaritan-flattenedWas that rational? Was that really economical? Was it even foolhardy? But he made that split second decision. Probably in history somewhere there was actually someone who was the Good Samaritan. Jesus wasn’t just making up fairly tales.

For me, sometimes I just have to make a decision to go ahead and “bite”, and worry about “chewing” later. If I know it’s something the Lord wants me to do, I need to just do it. I shouldn’t spend much time wondering if I’ll be able to follow through on what I’m committing to, if I’ll be able to consolidate what I’m undertaking.

So sometimes I do things that are approaching irrationality. But I’ve found that the Lord has most of the time made it so that I’ve been able to follow through with what I’ve taken on as a commitment, sometimes on the spur of the moment.

little applesThe other side of that is that I’ve had times where I was just over committed. Many years ago I was staring at an apple tree in a yard in Kolbotn, Norway. The tree was very fruitful. In fact it had maybe 5,000 apples on it, just loaded. The only probably was, all the apples were really small. If it was a farmer’s tree, it would nearly be worthless. It would have been better to have 500 big apples than 5,000 small ones.

And the Lord was just practically yelling that in my ear as a parable right then. That’s how my life had been: way too many projects and commitments that ended up being a huge crop of “little apples”, rather than a smaller crop of fully grown ones. I’m still learning on that lesson.

But it’s tough. We’re just supposed to say “yes” to the Lord. We’re also supposed to say “yes” to people. “You’re not your own, you are bought with a price.” (I Corinthians 6:19 and 7:23) “We ought to lay down our lives for our brethren” (I John 3:16). Most of the time, I figure it’s better to bite first and chew later. Noah and boat-flatttenedUsually the Lord will help me to follow through on my commitments if I make myself available to Him and even to others. “He that has begun a good work in you will perform it” (Philippians 1:6). “Faithful is He that calls you, who also will do it.” (I Thessalonians 5:24)

God spoke to Isaiah, “Who shall go for us and whom shall I send?” (Isaiah 6:8) Did Isaiah say, “Um…, I’ll look around, Lord, and try to find someone”? Nope. He said, “Here am I Lord, send me!”  (Isaiah 6:8) Jesus asked His disciples, “Are you able to drink of the cup I drink of and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” (Mark 10:38) They answered zealously, but perhaps unwisely, “Lord, we are able.” (Mark 10:39) So did the Lord rebuke them for presumption and pride? No, He said, “You shall indeed be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with” (Mark 10:39). He knew even then that they would eventually face martyrdom.

Sometimes the Holy Spirit will just prompt you to go for it, not pause, think and consider. But that means you really need to be in touch with Him and be getting your instructions and even impulses from Him, from heaven. “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the son of God.” (Romans 8:14)

Dominoes

dominoes fallingHave you ever seen a picture of dominoes falling? One domino after the other hits the one next to it and hundreds or even thousands of dominoes fall simultaneously. It’s always had a meaning for me. Sadly, not always a good one.

The Bible says, “One sinner destroys much good” ( Ecclesiastes 9:18). We all have influence. “No man lives to himself and no man dies to himself” (Romans 14:7). That’s just the way things are for the vast majority of humanity. That’s why our influence on others is so important. “He that walks with wise men shall be wise. But the companion of fools shall be destroyed” (Proverbs 13:20).

climb up here-flattenedMaybe I should look at it more positively. I came to the Lord during the Jesus Movement of the early 70’s. So many were affecting others and it was a wave and movement towards the Lord, like dominoes falling forward, nudging each other towards Him by the thousands and even millions.

But, sadly, I’ve seen it go the other way. Friends and loved ones who’ve been pushed in a time of weakness, confusion or temptation to abandon the ways of the Lord and to give themselves over to the dark side, the ways of the world and the ways of unbelief. It’s heart-breaking, truly.

The children of Ephraim, being armed and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle” (Psalm 78:9). If you’re a Christian, perhaps you know how it’s heartbreaking to see your friends forsake the paths of light to follow the worldly in the ways of spiritual darkness. Maybe that’s why Solomon said, “My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not” (Proverbs 1:10). Or Moses wrote in the Law, “You shall not follow a multitude to do evil.” (Exodus 23:2)

That’s how it is. We all have influence. And there are seldom any neutrals. We’re either pulling others up to our level or dragging them down to ours. That’s why Jesus said, “He that is not with Me is against Me and he that gathers not with Me scatters” (Matthew 12:30). It’s just that simple and that real, even though many would say it’s not.

dominoe stopWe all have influence. We are all looking at each other. We are all making decisions. Will I buck the tide and stand up for what I know to be true, even if I have to do it alone and without my friends? That’s very, very tough for almost everyone.

Of course that’s what Jesus Himself did. “All forsook Him and fled.” (Mark 14:50) Even His 12 disciples, even the ones He taught and loved the most turned away from Him at His darkest hours. It seems it was the same for Paul. “All they that be in Asia have turned away from me”, he wrote in his final epistle. (II Timothy 1:15)

So, dominoes. Influence. Being dragged down by folks you want to be friends with. Or standing against the flow and the tide when it’s going the wrong way.

I’m thankful I was brought up by parents who taught me that even if we were in a minority in those days because we didn’t hate African Americans, it was still the right thing to do and that hatred and prejudice were very wrong. I was taught to stand up for my beliefs, even if I was alone, even before I became a Christian.

One person, walking in love, walking in truth, walking in the light of God can have an incredible impact. Like I wrote in the article “Is There Not a Cause?”, that’s how the future king of Israel was when he was still virtually a child. David’s dauntless answer to his brothers’ taunts has always ringed so loud to me, “Is there not a cause?” (I Samuel 17:29)

Would to God that today there would be more who would stand their ground, look the darkened mob in the face and cheerfully stand up for the Lord and His ways.

The council of Ahithophel

There are things in the Bible that even dedicated Christians have possibly never read. One thing like that is the somewhat strange story of the time in King David’s life when his son, Absalom, led a rebellion against his father which was very nearly successful. And actually this rebellion was allowed or brought on by God Himself as a chastening judgment on David for his sins.

David & Ahitolphel

David & Ahitolphel

To me, one of the most amazing parts of this story is when David is with the few friends who stuck with him as they prepare to quickly flee Jerusalem. The forces who turned against David and allied themselves with Absalom were out to destroy the king.

We find that David had a councilor or adviser named Ahithophel who was perhaps David’s top consultant to his reign and kingdom. And the Bible says of Ahithophel, “The counsel of Ahithophel, which he counseled in those days, was as if a man had inquired at the oracle of God.” (II Samuel 16:23) That’s a very unusual Bible verse but basically it means that the counsel of Ahithophel was virtually flawless and perfect, almost supernatural so.

And yet…, something was wrong. This man’s incredible gift somehow didn’t prevent him from taking the side of King David’s mortal enemy, his own conniving, ambitious son Absalom. Nevertheless, of all that was going on, it seems David feared the council of Ahithophel as he worked together with Absalom more than anything else. When David heard that Ahithophel was advising Absalom, David prayed, “O Lord, I pray thee, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.” (II Samuel 15:31)

David flees

Fleeing Jerusalem, David sends Hushai back

As they fled east from Jerusalem, David sent back one of his most loyal subjects and advisers, Hushai, to feign obedience to the usurper, Absalom. Absalom gathered his councilors and sages, including Ahitolphel and Hushai, and Absalom asked Ahitolphel what he counseled.

Basically Ahitolphel said they should go after David and his bands immediately. And probably if they’d done that, it would have been successful. Absalom then turned to Hushai, knowing that he’d been in the inner circle of David’s friends and asked what he thought they should do.

Absalom

Absalom

What a moment that must have been. What an incredible movie this would make. Did Hushai blurt out that Ahitolphel’s council was totally wrong, as he tried to save King David? No; no one would have believed that. So Hushai said, “The council of Ahithophel is not good at this time,” (II Samuel 17:7) and went on to try to explain how the best would be for them to wait till they had gathered a really big army and to take on David’s smaller forces in open field combat. Of course this was because Hushai knew that David and his men were very weak and on the run at the moment and if Absalom followed Ahithophel’s council, they would actually defeat and kill King David and his men.

Another incredible moment. Absalom’s response? “The council of Hushai is better than the council of Ahithophel.”  (II Samuel 17:14) Actually it wasn’t. But the Lord had answered David’s prayer to defeat the council of Ahitophel. This delay gave time for David and his men to regroup and strengthen themselves.

To me, one of the most amazing parts of this story is what it says happened next. II Samuel 17:23 says, “And when Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his ass, and arose, and gat him home to his house, to his city, and put his household in order, and hanged himself, and died, and was buried in the sepulcher of his father.

Was he defeated in battle? Did he wait to see what would happen next? Nope. Ahithophel evidently had enough presence of mind that he knew in advance that the cause of Absalom was now lost and that the rebel’s side, that he had joined with, was doomed. So he just went home and committed suicide.

Absalom rides to his death in battle against King David

Absalom rides to his death in battle against King David

And as it turned out, Ahithophel was right again: the rebels’ cause was already lost. Absalom and his troops were defeated in open battle with David’s fewer but more seasoned warriors.

There’s just so much to all this that my normal length of these posts doesn’t suffice to cover it all. Ahithophel’s virtual godlike gifts didn’t prevent him from making a fatal mistake of disloyalty to God’s anointed king. Was it ambition? Familiarity? Spiritual pride? Evidently something was seriously wrong with the condition of his heart, despite his incredible gifts and evident intelligence.

I can’t know for sure but I’ve always felt this passage in the Psalms is where David talked about his relationship with Ahitophel. “For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it: neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him: But it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company.” (Psalm 55:12-14) Later in the same Psalm David says, “”The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart: his words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords.” (Psalm 55:21)

It’s all a massive story with layers of meaning and lessons for us all. One of the clearest for me is what Solomon, David’s son and eventual heir, wrote years later, “Keep your heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life.”  (Proverbs 4:23)

It’s all about your heart, not your gifts, not your intelligence, not your looks or anything other than your personal relationship with the Lord and how you conduct your life before Him. Ahitophel must have been one of the wisest men that ever lived. But his wisdom didn’t prevent his heart from making the biggest mistake of his life, which ultimately cost him his life. May God help us all to keep our heart right with Him.

Suicide Bomber sees The Light

bomber dressingI received this letter from a friend in Europe recently. It was just astonishing. I’ll add it here as I received it; the English isn’t perfect but you’ll understand. Some names and places have been changed a little. Here’s what my friend wrote:

I know a man who lives in [West Europe] who used to be a “hodja”.  That is a Muslim priest (you know, those who serve in a mosque and sing in Arabic). He has a wonderful testimony of how he became a Christian.

saying goodbyeHe was very ill of a kidney disease and had pain all over his body and a terrible infection. He couldn’t get any help from doctors and finally decided to commit a suicide by blowing himself up at a public place and kill many others with him, especially people from other religions .

So, he prepared everything for this “kamikaze” they call it and went to kiss his little daughter for the last time. But when he left her room and was in the living room, he heard a voice, “Is there only one religion in the world that can help you?”at the door

He said to himself, “Of course not.” Since he was a religious figure, he knew there were more than 3,500 religions in the world. He had been praying to Allah to heal him but nothing happened. So, before going on, he decided to pray to another god from a different religion. “Who knows”, he said, “maybe I can get some help.”

He decided to pray to the Christian God because this is the second largest religion from their point of view, after Islam. So he prayed to Jesus and asked him to help him and heal him.

Immediately all the walls and the floor and the ceiling disappeared and he found himself in the middle of the universe and a great Light was standing in front of him. He knew that the Light knew everything about him but loved him so much. He felt like an empty bucket in front of the Light; he couldn’t give anything in return to this great love.

seeing the lightThe Light said, “I am Jesus who you called for help and I’m healing you.”

Then great light came out of the Light and came over him, flowed though him and he felt warmth and peace. Immediately all pain and weakness disappeared and he found himself well and happy in the living room again.

He changed his mind about killing himself and decided that there was point in living now since he was well and somebody heard his prayer. From that day on, he started proclaiming that Jesus Christ healed him.

At first his family and friends thought that because of his illness he had gone insane. But he was getting better and better. He was gaining weight again and strength and went on talking about Jesus. So they decided to kill him because he betrayed his religion and turned to the enemies of God.

Then he took his wife and daughter and escaped to [West Europe] where he found plenty of other people like himself from his country – converted Christians and joined a Christian church there. This happened about 10 years ago.

Now he is well and healthy, full of zeal for the Lord and weeps for his lost relatives to whom he went back again last year and gave them Bibles and urged them to read and get saved. When we prayed for his relatives in his country to be saved, he started crying dearly. He said, “You folks are happy. You have freedom and you do not appreciate what you have. Talk to the people, talk so that they get saved.”

It’s hard to know what I could add to that. This story affects me in so many ways. I’m thrilled and glad to hear of such a miracle like that. But I am aware that this kind of experience is something that is happening throughout the Islamic world. Not “en masse” but if you keep up with these things, there are many testimonies of Islamic men and women having incredible experiences in finding Jesus this way in recent times. Instead of fearing and hating Muslims, it seems far closer to the ways of God to realize that very many of them are turning out to be the “sheep” of God, rather than the monsters we are so often told that they are.

Many of us have known the verse, Romans 10:13, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But the next verse says, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” And in these times, the preacher most likely to reach out to the millions of Muslims in western lands around the world is you and me.