Monday, January 31, 2011

“When Goliath was Little…”

A few years ago I was reading to my 3 year-old son the story of David and Goliath. He was familiar with the story already, but as most children he was willing to be read to anytime I was willing. We talked about the size of the giant, his defiance of God and Israel, and David’s bravery and trust in God. As we finished the story, which ends with David slaying the blasphemous giant, my son said to me, “But when Goliath was little, he was NICE to David.”

This statement made by one so young really struck a chord with me. We don’t have any details about Goliath when he was little. I would venture to say that the reader has probably never thought about it before now. We know about the man from Gath who was six cubits tall and a span (1 Sam. 17:4). We know about the man whose coat of armor weighed an estimated 125 lbs. (1 Sam. 17:5). We know about the man who defied the armies of the living God (1 Sam. 17:10, 26). But nobody knows about Goliath, the child.

There are some very valuable lessons here. First, much of our behavior is learned behavior. Goliath was probably never small compared to the rest of those his age. The attitude that caused him to take advantage of others because of size, however, was perhaps something that had been encouraged by his family, those of his tribe, or Philistine men of war who wanted to use his brute strength to their advantage. Goliath could have been a “gentle giant” under different circumstances.

Second, most of what we believe is also learned. Why would Goliath defy Israel? Why was he an enemy of David rather than a friend? Why would he not have faith in the true God of heaven? Adults who were responsible for his training and education taught him otherwise. He was raised to hate Israel, be an idol worshiper, and give his life for a lie. Had he been put in a room with David as a little boy with no preconceptions, they would have played together.

Third, we would be doing ourselves a favor to remember the days of our youth. Not only does our child-like innocence often escape us, but we forget what it was even like to feel the compassion and love in the heart of a child. When Solomon wrote, “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth” (Eccl. 12:1), he was not just emphasizing the importance of service to God during healthy years. He was implying that learning to love God as a youth will prepare one for continued obedience as an adult. Children have qualities all adults need. God has given us to them at an early age so that they will not escape our memory.

Being a parent is one of God's greatest blessings in this life. What becomes of our children will have more to do with our influence than we often think. There are little ones all around you that could become a David or a Goliath. Physical size matters not. But the size of hearts, both ours and theirs, will determine the final outcome.

“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord” – Psalm 127:3

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Go to Bat, Swinging

Mike Hareholser. That name struck fear in the hearts of every 7 year-old at the Little Lake Little League. My friends who were on his baseball team were so glad they didn't have to face him. He was taller than the rest of us. He had matured faster. His arm was like a sling shot. His body fell towards the plate. He had a rising fastball. He threw harder than any person on the planet - or so it seemed.

And so, I admit it. I was afraid of him. The first time we faced the Cubs that year and Hareholser pitched, I struck out looking every time except once - when I drew a walk. But the bat never left my shoulder. I was going up there ready to bail. It was the classic - watch the kid step out of the batter's box as the ball approaches. This was not what my parents had come to see.

My father, my biggest supporter and fan, tried to help me not be afraid of the ball. He played catch with me, pitched to me, and encouraged me in the correct ways. He was not the overbearing type. He was not the crazy parent who made everybody else roll their eyes. He was not the guy who argued with the umpires from the stands. Dad, if you are reading this, let me say, "Thanks."

But the second time we were to play the Cubs, my father simply said, "Jeremy, if you don't go to bat swinging, I will not stay to watch you play. You have to try. You don't have to hit the ball. But you cannot hit it unless you try." Perhaps the greatest disappointment of my early life was that game. I came up to the plate. Three pitches, straight down the middle. Three called strikes, and my bat never moved.

As I walked back to the dugout, I looked toward the stands. Then I looked toward our house, that was located directly behind the ball field. All I could see was my father's back, as he slowly but decidedly walked home. It was not his fault. He was a man of his word. He had never missed any of my games or at-bats that I could remember. I knew I had blown it because I simply didn't have the courage to try.

We may not be great public speakers. We may not have great talents. We may not be the best at personal evangelism. We may be afraid of failure when it comes to spiritual opportunities and growth. But ever since that day, I decided within myself that even if I struck out miserably, I would go to bat, swinging. I have applied this to preaching and soul-winning, and I believe it has made all of the difference.

If you are my friend, please listen to me. You have a heavenly Father who loves you and who will accept strike outs. But He will not accept you when you refuse to try.

The last time I ever faced Mike Hareholser, I hit the hardest line drive I have ever hit in my life.

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." ~ 2 Timothy 1:7

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Man Who Had to be Good

Jesus once told a parable in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29-37). This story is so widely known today, that if one hears the expression, “Good Samaritan,” it is immediately associated with one who does good deeds.
The core of the parable concerns the willingness of one human to help another in distress. In this case, the man who had been injured and robbed was a Jew, and the man compelled to offer assistance was a Samaritan. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the episode concerns the two men, a priest and a Levite, who passed the half-dead victim and refused to give aid. Although they should have considered the man their brother, they overlooked his need and selfishly continued on their journey.
Because of the Samaritan, however, the parable changes from a moment of disappointment to one of hope. Hope for the spirit of love and brotherhood. Hope for the lost and afflicted. Hope for the outpouring of the God-given soul. Not only does a man deemed a half-breed by the Jews help a Jew, but the Scriptures say “He had compassion on him” (Luke 10:33). Having bandaged his wounds, used costly oil and wine, and carried the man on his own animal, the Samaritan brought the troubled man to an inn, to take care of him (v. 34). Having departed the next day, he left plenty of money for the innkeeper for an extended stay for the stranger and pledged to repay him for any extra care that was needed (v. 35).
I have often wondered about the motive of the Samaritan in doing so much good for a man who in a public or private setting would have probably either scoffed at him or looked the other way. I realized that something deep within the heart of man sometimes drives him to do the most unthinkable thing. Jesus once said – “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:43-45).
This Samaritan had one quality that separated him from others. He had to be good! There was a strong desire within him to be kind, compassionate, and caring, that conquered all social stigmas, base emotions, and prejudices. It was an attitude so pure and altruistic, that as Jesus questioned the lawyer about which of the three men was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves, the answer was clear – “He who showed compassion on him” (Luke 10:37).
The parable of the “Good Samaritan” not only touches the human spirit, it teaches us about the love of its Author. All of us have been or will be victims on that road: naked, wounded, near death. But the compassion of the One who could not help from being good leads to safety, even though, “He was despised and rejected by men” (Is. 53:3). Kindness and love know no circumstances. Mercy and grace describe the heart of our God.
And as I think about what motivated my Savior to hang at Calvary for me I am brought back to that one truth. Jesus had to be good. It was His nature. He simply couldn’t help Himself.
“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do like wise’” (Luke 10:37).
~ Jeremiah Tatum

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


We need relationships. We need friends. We need love. We need communication.

Joe Trull recounts, "A rather crude and cruel experiment was carried out by Emperor Frederick, who ruled the Roman Empire in the thirteenth century. He wanted to know what man's original language was: Hebrew, Greek, or Latin? He decided to isolate a few infants from the sound of the human voice. He reasoned that they would eventually speak the natural tongue of man. Wet nurses who were sworn to absolute silence were obtained, and though it was difficult for them, they went by the rule. The infants never heard a word -- not a sound from a human voice. Within several months they were all dead."

Our very desire for life is associated with the need for love, affection, self-worth, and purpose. Relationships fulfill these basic needs in human beings. Our mental and physical health depends largely on our social interaction. For years, studies have shown that the Japanese are among the healthiest people in the world, largely in part to their social, cultural and traditional ties. Because they have more social ties, their health rate is better and their death rate is lower. Studies also support the fact that the more an individual is isolated, the more health problems they incur and the sooner they die.

With these thoughts in mind, consider God's purpose in the church. He has given us a loving family. He has given us the best kind of friends - people that care about us and who are dedicated to godly living. He has given us a sense of worth, proving our value through the death of His Son. He has given us a purpose, to communicate a saving message to a lost and dying world.

The more ties we have within the church, the healthier we will be. Consider the differences between the Sunday-only worshiper and the involved Christian. Who is spiritually stronger? Who is more eternally secure? Who is apt to receive more spiritual blessings? Who is making a bigger difference in the spiritual lives of others?

We not only have been called into the body of Christ, but we have an opportunity to make this calling very special! So challenge yourself to attend every service and Bible class! Challenge yourself to enjoy every opportunity for fellowship! Challenge yourself to build relationships within the church! Challenge yourself to speak to those outside of the church about the glorious body of Christ!

People are dying everyday, who have never heard that heavenly language. They need someone to speak to them, someone to care for them, some one to build a relationship with them. If we don't build that relationship, if we don't speak God's language...who will?

"Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: 'Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?' Then I said, 'Here am I! Send me'" (Isaiah 6:8)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Doing it Over is Doing it Better

Centuries ago there was a Greek artist named Timanthes who studied under a well respected tutor. As time passed, Timanthes produced some beautiful paintings and was beginning to make a name for himself. After finishing one particular work which he considered his very best, he became so moved with the painting that he did nothing but admire it, day after day.

One morning, he came in once again to admire his work and found that it had been blotted out! Who would do such a thing? He ran in anger to his friend and tutor, who quickly admitted that he was the one who had destroyed the painting. The tutor explained that his love for that piece was retarding his overall progress as an artist. The painting had been ruined for his own good. Timanthes was encouraged to start over and see if he could improve. Taking the advice he had been given, Timanthes was able to produce Sacrifice of Iphigenia, which is regarded as one of the finest paintings of antiquity.

One of the great lessons of each new year is that we can always do better. There may be things that we have done well, and things that we have not done so well. We could spend all of our time either admiring past accomplishments or sobbing over failures. But the best thing for our overall progress is to blot out our former works and concentrate on the latest works that our hearts have inspired.

Paul's theory in ministry and life involved, "...forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead" (Phil. 3:13). Jesus reminded one aspiring disciple, "No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62). We cannot waste time gazing upon our past success. We are cheating ourselves, others, and sometimes even our Creator when we forget that our greatest work remains in our future.

Begin this year, thankful for all of your prior blessings and victories. But give the glory to God by using these gifts in service to bring about a brighter future for His church.

The Hebrew writer states, "Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation" (Heb. 6:9). I am confident that for each one of us, our very best is yet to be. Our deepest faith, our most sincere hope, are greatest sacrifice, and our purest love, can still be accomplished. May God help us realize that doing things over means doing things better!

"Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me." ~ Philippians 3:12