Posts Tagged ‘standing up for what is right’

1 Samuel 11:1-15
Saul Defeats the Ammonites

Is anger ever good? I have, because of events over the course of my life, always thought getting angry to the point of arguing or fighting was wrong. It was always a negative thing for me. Always a need to apologize. Always a mess to clean up, either literally or figuratively. It always had negative consequences for me, particularly in my relationships with the woman in my life, whomever that might have been at the particular time. There were always consequences for standing up for what I thought was right, in my mind. You know the consequences in a male-female relationship! I would be cut-off from the very thing that I found my personal worth through – sexual relations. Often the result of those occasions where I got angry over some offense to my rights, over some offense to my manhood, over some offense to my kids, whatever, would be to lose the rights and privileges of a man with his woman. Without that validation of my manhood, my worth as a man, I would buckle easily. However, most times, I would sublimate my anger over offenses to keep the supply lines, or the possibility of keeping the supply lines open. Ignoring the needs of my children, sure it would make me angry, but gotta keep the supply lines open. I measured my worth by whether I had access to the bedroom pleasures that my wife gave me. I had no sense of personal value outside that.

Growing up as a Methodist preacher’s kid moving every few years, I learned the approval game early on. I measured my worth by how many people I could get to like me. When you have no roots in a community, when you are frequently the new kid in town, you become a chameleon. You change and adapt to your environment. You are like a bad politician, doing whatever it takes to get elected. In some towns, I was the friend of rich kids and acted the part. In some towns, we were in farming communities and I was a redneck country boy. Whatever was needed to fit in and be approved that was me. That continued in my first two marriages, and particularly the second. Whatever wrongs were done to me, I pushed it down because wanting to be approved and accepted and being validated by sex was the most important thing to me. In my second marriage, there was this jealousy of anything to do with my past when it came to my wife and her kids. It was so bad that I pretty much had to ignore or not overtly show the affection to my own kids that I wanted to show and they needed from me. All the jealousy and in-fighting would make me so angry. Sometimes, I just wanted to hold my girls in my arms but I would always fear the jealousy and repercussions. I almost lost any hope of a relationship with my girls during the 9 years of that marriage. Finally, when my oldest daughter was in college, my second wife thought that our obligation to my oldest child was over. However, having a kid in college is probably the most needed time of support for a child. There are so many things that are not covered by tuition grants and loans. So, trying to avoid confrontations, hid my financial support for my daughter from my second wife, her stepmom.

As with all things that are hidden, they will eventually come to light. And it did. Major confrontation. My life as I knew it was on the line. Sexual validation on one hand and the needs of my child on the other. No denying what happened. The evidence was there. But still being the approval seeker, I tried to smooth it over for a couple of weeks. But finally, you stand for something or you fall for anything. Stand by your child or buckle under the weight of the need for approval. I chose the needs of my child over the needs of my sexual validation on August 4, 2004. I don’t blame my second wife anymore for the choices I was forced to make. Spouses will take the power, fill the vacuum, that you allow them to. They have the power over you that you let them have. On that day in August 2004, I released a decade of pushing anger down and it all exploded in walking away from the oppression of a bad marriage and being forced to ignore my children. There was no physical violence that day but just a release of anger and there were words from which there was no return. No takebacks. This was it. The final confrontation – a decade in the making. The relationship had taken the form I let it take – seeking approval over doing the right things by my kids. The release of anger and of changing the course of my life was freeing. I knew what it was going to cost me but I no longer cared. The release of anger was almost a righteous feeling. Is anger right sometimes?
That’s the thing that I thought of this morning as I read through 1 Samuel 11:1-15 this morning – how Saul’s anger at what was happening to the people of Israel was a righteous anger. Sometimes, when it’s spirit-induced anger, it is right to be angry at what is wrong. Let us read this passage now:

11 About a month later,[a] King Nahash of Ammon led his army against the Israelite town of Jabesh-gilead. But all the citizens of Jabesh asked for peace. “Make a treaty with us, and we will be your servants,” they pleaded.

2 “All right,” Nahash said, “but only on one condition. I will gouge out the right eye of every one of you as a disgrace to all Israel!”

3 “Give us seven days to send messengers throughout Israel!” replied the elders of Jabesh. “If no one comes to save us, we will agree to your terms.”

4 When the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul and told the people about their plight, everyone broke into tears. 5 Saul had been plowing a field with his oxen, and when he returned to town, he asked, “What’s the matter? Why is everyone crying?” So they told him about the message from Jabesh.

6 Then the Spirit of God came powerfully upon Saul, and he became very angry. 7 He took two oxen and cut them into pieces and sent the messengers to carry them throughout Israel with this message: “This is what will happen to the oxen of anyone who refuses to follow Saul and Samuel into battle!” And the Lord made the people afraid of Saul’s anger, and all of them came out together as one. 8 When Saul mobilized them at Bezek, he found that there were 300,000 men from Israel and 30,000[b] men from Judah.

9 So Saul sent the messengers back to Jabesh-gilead to say, “We will rescue you by noontime tomorrow!” There was great joy throughout the town when that message arrived!

10 The men of Jabesh then told their enemies, “Tomorrow we will come out to you, and you can do to us whatever you wish.” 11 But before dawn the next morning, Saul arrived, having divided his army into three detachments. He launched a surprise attack against the Ammonites and slaughtered them the whole morning. The remnant of their army was so badly scattered that no two of them were left together.

12 Then the people exclaimed to Samuel, “Now where are those men who said, ‘Why should Saul rule over us?’ Bring them here, and we will kill them!”

13 But Saul replied, “No one will be executed today, for today the Lord has rescued Israel!”

14 Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us all go to Gilgal to renew the kingdom.” 15 So they all went to Gilgal, and in a solemn ceremony before the Lord they made Saul king. Then they offered peace offerings to the Lord, and Saul and all the Israelites were filled with joy.

In this passage, we see that anger is powerful emotion. Often it may drive people to hurt others with words or physical violence. But anger directed at sin or injustice is not wrong. Saul was angered by the Ammonites’ threat to humiliate and mistreat his people. The Holy Spirit used Saul’s anger to bring justice and freedom. When injustice or sin makes you angry, ask God how you can channel that anger in constructive ways to help bring about positive change.

I am not hear to celebrate my second divorce. God hates divorce. But God also wants to be the center of our marriages and He never was in either of my first two marriages. These were not God honoring marriages. These were unsaved people out to protect their interests. Mine was maintaining access to sex no matter the cost to me or anyone else.

As I sit here on the birthday of my third and final wife, I thank God that there was that righteous anger over my kids on August 4, 2004. Otherwise, I would never have met the woman that God intended for me in my Elena. She has been the best thing that ever happened to me and she has been so good for my relationship with my girls. It is not either or with her. It is us. Her kids/my kids, they are OUR kids. No choices to make. I am able to love my kids and my wife at the same time. What if I did not have that righteous anger on August 4, 2004 over the state of my relationship with my kids. Where would I be now? I surely would not have the peace that that I have now. With a Christian wife and us living to please God rather than each other, we have ended up having a marriage that pleases us both. On her birthday today, I thank God for having met this woman. On her birthday, I thank God for some righteous anger.

Amen and Amen.

Matthew 7:13-14
The Narrow and Wide Gates

Back in the 80’s there was a band that had great opening guitar and drum play at the beginning of their songs. The songs themselves were fairly weak, but those opening rifts made many of their songs classic, some of which still get air play today some 30 plus years later. AC/DC is the band. The opening guitar play and pounding drums on the song, “Highway to Hell”, will get anyone’s heart pumping. I think the song is a perfect illustration as we begin to study Matthew 7:13-14. The opening of the song is awash in foot patting guitar rifts and pounding drums. Awesome beginning. The beginning of the song is what made it a classic. But can you remember all the lyrics to the song? Sometimes I just play the beginning of the song and then switch away when the lyrics begin. The song is kind of like the wide and narrow gates. The wide gate sounds good in the beginning but it leads to something less than what you expected – an empty life. The song, though, does have some lyrics that point us to the empty life that is through the wide gate, when the opening stanza of the song says:

Livin’ easy
Lovin’ free
Season ticket on a one way ride
Askin’ nothin’
Leave me be
Takin’ everythin’ in my stride
Don’t need reason
Don’t need rhyme
Ain’t nothin’ that I’d rather do
Goin’ down
Party time
My friends are gonna be there too

I’m on the highway to hell
On the highway to hell
Highway to hell
I’m on the highway to hell

The song represents the road that most of us travel. The wide gate and on it is a well-paved highway to hell. We all want the easy way. Living easy and lovin’ free and a one-way ride. We do not think about eternity only this moment and the pleasure that we can get for ourselves out of it. It’s party time. All we care about is self-satisfaction and the current moment. We want easy, breezy cover girl. We want what makes us feel good. Leave me be to set my own agenda. Let me worship the here and now and screw the future. The wide gate has a well-paved road because it is easy to pave. It is the road of least resistance. It is the road that lets me be my own god. That is the highway through the wide gate. That is the highway to hell. These thoughts, too, remind you of the Don Henley song, “All She Wants To Do Is Dance.” Part of the lyrics of that song goes like this:

Never mind the heat comin’ off the street
She wants to party
She wants to get down
All she wants to do is-
All she wants to do is dance
All she wants to do is dance and make romance
All she wants to do is dance

The song was a searing indictment of American culture where we are so interested in entertaining ourselves that we fail to see the ugliness, hunger, poverty, greed, and hatred that goes on in the broader world. All we care about is the party, the dance. The song warns that if we don’t start caring about what goes on in the world, the world will come to us and crush us without us realizing it. How prophetic is that? That is America. As long as it doesn’t affect my money, my house, my cars, and my toys, I don’t care. The wide road leading to oblivion and all she wants to do is dance.

Well, I guess I had better get to the point here before another song comes to my mind that fits with today’s passage…

As we draw closer to the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus continues to complete the picture of what it means to be his follower and the costs that will inevitably be involved. The entire sermon demonstrates how a life of Christ-following service goes against the grain of the world. Nowhere is it more plainly spoken that here in Matthew 7:13-14, when Jesus says, “13 Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” The first thought that comes immediately to mind when I read this passage is the old parental adage so often used when children do things just because that’s what their friends were doing and it goes, “if your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?” My dad used that one plenty of times in my life when I would do things that were wrong just because that’s what the kids I hung around with were doing. Isn’t that what Jesus is saying here?

Jesus’ theme here is that being his follower is not the easy way that we, by human nature, love. It is the tough road. It is road less traveled. The simplistic example used earlier about my Dad and one of his famous sayings to growing up, of which he had many. He was the master of the parental saying. The one I quoted here today though is one I remember the most. Often in my growing up years, there were times that Dad had to use this one me and it mainly had to do with my relationship with my brother. When I was growing up, my brother was less socially graceful than me, to put it mildly. I was able to make friends easily. He was not. I learned through social examples that the easiest way to get along was not to prove to everyone how smart you were. My brother did not learn that lesson. I was a cute little dickens too so the girls always liked me. My brother was a late bloomer in the looks department. He is a handsome man now but when we were young he was kind of awkward because his body grew tall before he filled out. Add to that, his socially awkward relational skills, it was not good. Against this backdrop, I was able to be easily accepted by the crowd whereas my brother was not.

Growing up as Methodist preacher’s kids, moving every two or three years, you can see how this was a recipe for social disaster for my brother. Growing up as a preacher’s kid is tough. Growing up as a Methodist preacher’s kid is tougher. We moved a lot. We were forever being the new kids at school. Have you ever experienced that? Some military brats can give me a witness but most cannot. It’s tough. Kids can just be plain out mean to other kids, particularly when you are the new kid in town. During my growing up years, my dad was still making his way up the ranks of the South Carolina Methodist Church. When I was young, he was too as far as preachers go. So, when we were young, we often lived in small rural, farming towns or small textile towns. In these towns, everyone knew everyone because everyone had grown up there for generations. Imagine trying to break into that kind of society.

Being the new kids, you were often singled out for ridicule by the local kids who had lived in each town all their lives. Like I said, though, I was Bill Clinton-esque in defining what the crowd wanted and giving them that. My brother did not have those “baby-kissing politician” skills that I had. I lived for the approval of the crowd – something I still struggle with today because of the way I grew up. I would find a way to fit in. He did not. I was reasonably popular wherever we lived by giving the crowd what they wanted. My brother did not. So, as you can see the conflicts coming, I was often put in positions where I had to choose between the crowd and my brother. Taking the side that is popular vs. the side that was unpopular. Ridiculing my brother or defending him. I failed my brother more times than not.

As me and my brother have matured over the years, we know have a pretty good relationship. We are not the kind of brothers that call each other every day but when we do we talk for hours. But things were different back then. Surely, my brother made it easy to shoot the guns at him. If my brother was difficult for others to get along with in the public realm, he was doubly more difficult to get along with at home. We literally fought with each other constantly both verbally and physically. My brother belittled my intelligence constantly. Most assuredly, my brother is an intelligent, very intelligent man. He has one of those brilliant minds that leaves everyone else in the dust. Where I have had to bust my tail all my life to make good grades and to do well in my profession, academia comes easy to my brother. He has the ability to retain everything he reads. He can quote passages from books without a thought. He can quote statistics from Champions League Soccer in Europe without maybe having seen one Manchester United game in person in his entire life. He knows the genealogy of our family frontwards and backwards. However, he did not make himself easy to love, like or defend. So, there I was a choice between the crowd, the easy thing, and my brother, the hard thing. A choice between the broad gate and the narrow of which Jesus speaks. I repeatedly chose the broad gate, the gate where the crowd was. I joined in the ridicule of my brother – aiding in making our relationship worse. When my Dad would find out about my actions, there was no room for me saying my brother was a jerk and he asked for it. To Dad, my brother was my family, right or wrong, and that was it. That’s where the old saying would get thrown in, “if your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?”

Isn’t that what Jesus is talking about here. Jesus is asking you and I, just like my Dad asked me, “if all your so called friends are jumping off a bridge, would you do that with them too?” Jesus is saying that it is certainly easier to walk away with the crowd going through the broad gate. The devil makes it all so appealing to join in with the crowd because it is easy. To stand and ridicule your fellow man instead of defending him to the crowd. To offer a helping hand when it’s just easier to stay in your car and pull away at the traffic light and there is a scrungy, homeless man there. It is easier to say nothing when you witness something wrong or immoral happening and not speak up. It is easier to keep quiet at work when you know the boss is padding the books just to make himself look good to the investors or shareholders. It is easier to do nothing when so much needs to be done in this world. It is easier to say I can’t do that rather than give up your sweet spot, your comfort zone, your comfortable life rather than go off blindly on faith in God into a new profession that is in service to God anywhere that leads. It is easier to take the shortcuts in life. It is easier than serving Christ. Self service is easier than Christ service. Not having integrity is easier than having it. Following the crowd off the cliff is easier than following Christ. Getting earthly benefits is easier than living a life for eternal benefits.

What is the alternative to the broad gate that Jesus says leads to destruction? Taking the narrow gate that leads to life, he says. What does that mean? Taking the narrow gate is Jesus’ symbolic way of saying do not do what the world expects of you but rather what our Father in Heaven wants from us! As my California friends would say, “What does that look like?” or “let’s unpack that thought.” Unpacked, I think it looks like a life that is a life lived in humility. When I say humility, I don’t mean the TV kind of humility where a person puts themselves down all the time. I am talking about spiritual humility. A life of spiritual humility is a life where a Christ follower knows that it is only through the blood of the Risen Lord that we have the right to stand before God’s throne on judgment day and expect to be welcomed into Heaven.

The narrow gate also means having integrity. It means standing against the rushing waters of public opinion, the pressure of what our friends say, and say, “This is wrong!” It means measuring every aspect of life by the Scriptures, and after fervent prayer, being able to stand against the tide. It means always reacting to life through Scriptural glasses, so to speak. It means always having those glasses on. Not just when its convenient. It means having those glasses on when you are alone and nobody’s watching.

The narrow gate means also service to others instead of service to ourselves. When choosing a narrow gate life, a Christ following life, serving our fellow man is the goal. The narrow gate life is stopping to help a homeless man even if we think its easier to go on to our parking place at Death Valley on those wonderful football Saturdays. It means maybe getting out of the car, feeding that man, talking to him, and giving him your ticket to the game. It means not sitting on the couch and doing something that matters with your free time. It may even mean being so convicted by God that you leave your comfy job at BMW and following God’s lead to Manchester, CT to start a church. It may mean quitting a life of a six-figure salary and going to seminary and living off of crackers and peanut butter while you train up to be a full-time minister. It may mean leaving it all behind and serving in a mission to Haiti on a full-time basis.

The narrow gate also means being a missionary where we live, work and play. What I mean by that is that everyone has the ability to influence the world for the kingdom of God. Not all of us are called to drop absolutely everything and move off to a distant state or a distant country to make a difference. Not all of us a called to drop our careers that we have know since adulthood came upon us. God wants all of us. God’s call is to be a witness to your fellow man. God’s call is to be there for your fellow man. We are being narrow gate kind of people when you speak into another person’s life with integrity and God’s love. The narrow gate life is to show we are Christians by our love. The narrow gate life is being open and honest about your Christian faith even in this day and age where to do so is not so popular. The narrow gate kind of life is to help a fellow man in need where we live, work and play. A narrow gate kind of life is to show love to a person that makes your blood boil! A narrow gate kind of life is to help others when every fiber in your body tells you not to. A narrow gate kind of life is to say yes to opportunities to serve and witness instead of saying no.

A narrow gate kind of life is one where you are humbly happy to serve God in any direction he calls you to do so. A narrow gate kind of life is the kind of life where you are happy just to be able show God that you love him in this way for giving you this new lease on life. You are so happy that you are living the forgiven lifestyle that you just cant help but serve your fellow man. A narrow gate kind of life sees Jesus when he sees other people. Thus, to serve others is to serve Jesus. I once wrote a poem called “And Jesus Gets Up and Walks Away”. That poem basically says this same thing. That not serving others is easier than seeing Jesus in the homeless man. It is easier to keep on being self-involved than to get out of our comfort zone to help the family living in their car. It is easier to walk on past when you see a single mom struggling with her four kids at the mall. It is easier to live the broad gate life. The broad gate life plays well with our basic nature of self-interested indulgences. The narrow gate life calls out of our comfort zone.

So, in the end, are you going to stand up for your brother are you going to make fun of him too? Are we going to stand up for what is right when everyone around us is calling us to join them in the wrong? Are we going to have integrity when its easy? Or when it’s hard? Are we going to serve our fellow man to get our egos massaged? Or are we going to serve our fellow man to show humble thanks to God? Are we going to witness to our neighbor or co-worker when those divine appointments arise or are we going to shy away because it is easier?

The narrow gate life, of which Jesus speaks, is not easy. That’s why so few enter through the gate. The narrow gate life calls for sacrifice from our sweet spots. The narrow gate life calls for you to be “all in”, as Coach Swinney calls it. It calls us to not to self-service but to service of others. It calls us to not follow the crowd. It calls us to follow him through the narrow gate!

Lord, thank you to opening my eyes with this writing that you inspired. Lord, make me and my readers realize that it is all about you. It is not about us and what is easy and self-serving for each of us. It is about being your servant with integrity and being your servant with a humble heart. So, give me such a joyful heart at being saved and sanctified before you through your Son that I am no longer self-serving and doing what is easiest for me. In Christ’s name, my Savior, I offer this prayer. Amen and Amen.