Monday, September 16, 2013

Things I Don't Want to Hear When I Get to Heaven

For many years I've heard people repeat the words they want to hear Jesus say when they get to heaven.  The words they long to hear come from Matthew 25.

“Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’”     
Matthew 25:19-21 (NASB)

"Well done, good and faithful slave," would indeed be a great greeting to hear when you cross the Jordan River and enter the eternal kingdom.

Realistically, I know my life hasn't always been all that faithful or all that obedient.  Reflecting on my own shortcomings, here are 10 things I do NOT want to hear when I reach the pearly gates:

1.  Sorry, we looked and your name isn't on the reservation list.
2.  What are you doing here?  You aren't scheduled to arrive to another 10 years!
3.  We're not having a two-for-one sale.  Your wife can come in, but not you.
4.  Let me check the spelling on that last name.  You don't seem to be in our system.
5.  Well, that certainly could have gone better.
6.  Good try, but that wasn't exactly what we intended when we put you on the earth.
7.  Yes, we were expecting you to bring your friends.
8.  No, we do not accept American Express, or gold for that matter.
9.  You should have thought about that before you got here.
10.  Yes, we did leave you an instruction manual.  Maybe you should have read it.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

More Worst War Strategies

In the previous post I reacted to the opinion of a guest speaker at our church.  He claimed that Joshua, the Israelites, and the battle of Jericho was the most unusual warfare strategy in the Bible.  In my post I politely disagreed and presented five other equally unusual ways that the LORD brought victory to His people.  These examples included large stones, hornets, a young man, blindness, and the choir.

My friend, Joel, quickly pointed out another example found in Judges 7.  In this case, Gideon was guided by God to take his army to a spring, direct them to drink, and select only those men who “laps the water with their tongue.”  After reducing his army from 10,000 to 300, Gideon attacked the Midianites and Amalekites at night using only trumpets and torches.  Clearly, we must agree with Joel that this was an unusual tactic.

One final battle that was very unusual is worth mentioning.  Then, I will leave it up to you to decide which method of biblical warfare was the most unusual.

In 2 Kings 6, starting at verse 24, we read about the siege of Samaria.  Ben-hadad the king of Aram and his army set up camp outside the city and as a result, there was a great famine.  The famine became so severe the people actually began eating their own children.  Finally, the LORD had mercy on His people.  But, the people would not be involved at all in the battle.

2 Kings 7 describes how the LORD defeated in invading army:

Now there were four leprous men at the entrance of the gate; and they said to one another, “Why do we sit here until we die? “If we say, ‘We will enter the city,’ then the famine is in the city and we will die there; and if we sit here, we die also. Now therefore come, and let us go over to the camp of the Arameans. If they spare us, we will live; and if they kill us, we will but die.” They arose at twilight to go to the camp of the Arameans; when they came to the outskirts of the camp of the Arameans, behold, there was no one there. For the Lord had caused the army of the Arameans to hear a sound of chariots and a sound of horses, even the sound of a great army, so that they said to one another, “Behold, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of the Egyptians, to come upon us.” Therefore they arose and fled in the twilight, and left their tents and their horses and their donkeys, even the camp just as it was, and fled for their life.
(2 Kings 7:3–7, NASB)

Four men with leprosy, who were not even allowed to enter the city, realized that they were doomed if they stayed where they were, and doomed if they surrendered.  Unknown to them, the LORD had already driven away the enemy army.  The sound of chariots, horses, and a great army was enough to drive away the Arameans.  No large stones or even hornets.  Not even a young warrior or a praise choir.  Just sound.

In all of these examples a few things are very clear.  First, as mentioned in the previous post, the battle is the LORD’s and He will fight it His way.  If the LORD fought through traditional means, people would have a tendency to take credit for the victory.  Instead, great commanders, like Joshua, had to give all the credit to the LORD.  Second, we learn that we need to trust in the LORD and not depend on our own strength or schemes.  Too many times we try to fight the battle on our own, and only cry out for help when we are being defeated.  And, third, these examples are great reminders of the truth we read in Isaiah 9.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
(Isaiah 9:8–9, NASB)

So, thanks, guest speaker!  Your sermon on living by faith, and specifically your thoughts about the battle of Jericho, provided a great launching pad for a time to reflect on our mighty, unique, and wonderful God.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Worst War Strategies, Ever

Yesterday morning in church our guest speaker mentioned what he considered the worst war strategy of all time:  Joshua and the Israelites conquering the city of Jericho (Joshua 6).  You have to admit that an entire nation of people walking around a city once a day for six days with the priest blowing trumpets hardly fits the concept of stealth.  The seventh day they circled the city seven times and gave out a shout.  Again, this is indisputably an unorthodox war strategy.  Probably not one taught in any of the modern war colleges.

However, was it the worst strategy ever mentioned in the Bible?  Below are five other battle strategies that the LORD and the Israelites used in the Old Testament.  You can decide which one you think is the most unusual war strategy.

Large Stones from Heaven – Joshua 10
A short time after the battle of Jericho, the nation of Israel continued their conquest of the land.  Joshua and the army of Israel faced a large army consisting of soldiers from several different kings.  The LORD not only gave victory to the Israelites, He actually got involved in the action.

As they fled from before Israel, while they were at the descent of Beth-horon, the LORD threw large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died; there were more who died from the hailstones than those whom the sons of Israel killed with the sword.  
(Joshua 10:11, NASB)

Yes, you read correctly.  The LORD threw large stones down from heaven and killed the enemy soldiers.  The stones from heaven actually killed more enemy soldiers than the Israelite army.  Probably the first (and only) time anyone used Heaven-to-Ground missiles!

Driven Out by the Hornet – Joshua 24
Here is another example of a very strange fighting strategy.  In this case there are very few details about the actual situation.  Shortly before his death, Joshua gathered the people together and gave them these words from the LORD.

“You crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho; and the citizens of Jericho fought against you, and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Girgashite, the Hivite and the Jebusite. Thus I gave them into your hand. Then I sent the hornet before you and it drove out the two kings of the Amorites from before you, but not by your sword or your bow.
(Joshua 24:11-12, NASB)

Yes, you read correctly.  Without the help of the Israelite army, the LORD defeated two Amorite kings and their armies by sending the hornet.  Not a lot of detail is given, but in any case, I’m certain this was the only time two armies were defeated by insects!

Send a Kid to do a Man’s Job – 1 Samuel 17
This particular battle is probably more famous than the one used in Jericho.  Just about everyone has heard about David and Goliath.  But, have you ever stopped to think about this situation from a strategic battle perspective?  The entire nation of Israel would become slaves to the Philistines if Goliath defeated David.  You don’t typically send a boy to fight when the consequences are so high.  We know that David was too small and too young for the fight.  Even Goliath laughed and mocked the Israelites when he saw their “champion.”  Consider David’s battle strategy and equipment (or lack thereof), and Goliath’s response:

He (David) took his stick in his hand and chose for himself five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in the shepherd's bag which he had, even in his pouch, and his sling was in his hand; and he approached the Philistine. Then the Philistine came on and approached David, with the shield-bearer in front of him. When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him; for he was but a youth, and ruddy, with a handsome appearance. The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.
(1 Samuel 17:40-44, NASB)

Well, we all know how things ended for Goliath.  He was just another victim of a completely irrational battle strategy.  From a human perspective, there was no way David could win the war for the Israelites.  Fortunately, the LORD is not bound by our perspective, or our strategies.

Blind the Enemy – 2 Kings 6
This is another one of my favorite Old Testament battles.  Well, not actually a battle because no shots were fired, and no one was hurt.  Elisha and his servant were completely surrounded by enemy soldiers; certainly there was no hope for these two men.  Or, maybe…

Now when the attendant of the man of God had risen early and gone out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the LORD opened the servant's eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. When they came down to him, Elisha prayed to the LORD and said, “Strike this people with blindness, I pray.” So He struck them with blindness according to the word of Elisha. Then Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, nor is this the city; follow me and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” And he brought them to Samaria. When they had come into Samaria, Elisha said, “O LORD, open the eyes of these men, that they may see.” So the LORD opened their eyes and they saw; and behold, they were in the midst of Samaria. Then the king of Israel when he saw them, said to Elisha, “My father, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?” He answered, “You shall not kill them.  Would you kill those you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.” So he prepared a great feast for them; and when they had eaten and drunk he sent them away, and they went to their master. And the marauding bands of Arameans did not come again into the land of Israel.
(2 Kings 6:15-23, NASB)

There are so many interesting aspects to this battle and victory.  First, Elisha and his servant were not alone; they were being guarded by the horses and chariots of the LORD.  But, this is not how the enemy was defeated.  Second, the LORD blinded the enemy.  But, once again, this is not how the LORD defeated the enemy army.  Finally, Elisha led the blind soldiers to the city, and basically threw a party in their honor!  The enemy ate and drank and went away, never to attack the land of Israel again.  This war strategy reminds you of something Jesus taught His disciples, doesn’t it?

Put the Choir in the Front – 2 Chronicles 20
Here is one final example, and like the others, this is certainly not a rational war strategy.  The sons of Moab and the sons of Ammon gathered a great army and came to attack King Jehoshaphat and Judah.  The people of Judah gathered together and sought the LORD’s help through prayer and fasting.  The LORD responded with an extremely strange battle strategy.

When he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who sang to the LORD and those who praised Him in holy attire, as they went out before the army and said, “Give thanks to the LORD, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.”  When they began singing and praising, the LORD set ambushes against the sons of Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; so they were routed. 
(2 Chronicles 20:21–22, NASB)

Yes, you read correctly.  The LORD’s plan was to put the praise choir in front of the army.  (Using this strategy in your church might make it tough to recruit for the worship team!!)  As they were singing and praising, the LORD caused their enemies to attack each other.  Complete victory without ever engaging the enemy.

Well, what do you think?  Was the battle of Jericho the worst war strategy in Old Testament times?  Or, do you think stones, hornets, or blindness were even worse.  Perhaps the most important thing to learn from all of these examples was best summarized by David in his final words to Goliath:

“This day the LORD will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head from you. And I will give the dead bodies of the army of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the LORD does not deliver by sword or by spear; for the battle is the LORD'S and He will give you into our hands.”
(2 Samuel 17:46–47, NASB)