Life From the Inside Out
As I sat in the pew at church a few Sundays ago, the speaker read a verse from 1 Samuel that struck me as the explanation for why we in America find ourselves in the condition we’re in:
But the Lᴏʀᴅ said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lᴏʀᴅ does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lᴏʀᴅ looks at the heart” (16:7).
Samuel was at the home of Jesse in Bethlehem, anointing a successor to failed King Saul from among Jesse’s eight sons. As Eliab, the eldest, passed before him, Samuel was sure he was the man for the job. Eliab appeared to have all of the right attributes to be king.
However, the Lord disagreed. He told the wise old prophet that he was about to make the same mistake the Israelites made with Saul, who pleased them simply because of his good looks and imposing stature.
In fact, they had made three errors: (1) They demanded a king because they preferred to be like the nations around them, rather than to be led by God (8:5–7); (2) they evaluated Saul based on outward appearance; and (3) they failed to assess inward character and ability to serve God. What they needed was a man like David, whom Samuel later described as “a man after His [God’s] own heart” (13:14).
Ask a Simple Question
Why do people persist in making the same mistakes over and over again? What has happened to common sense? Why, for example, would the most successful nation in history deliberately denigrate and reject the fundamental elements of its greatness and allow the lifeline of its spiritual and moral values to be severed? The simple answer is that humanity, for all of its ability to create gadgetry, has not evolved one iota. In fact, it has devolved because of man’s inherent sin nature. That truth is evident in virtually every walk of life, and it results in the irrepressible drive to be like everyone else, rather than be set apart for a higher purpose.
We often hear talk these days––and see evidence in profusion––that America has lost the world’s respect due to our extravagant economic excesses, failed foreign policies, and degrading morals that we’ve peddled to the global community. Regrettably, the truth hurts.
A number of years ago, members of our Up to Jerusalem tour to Israel were on a ship docked on the Sea of Galilee, ready to depart on an evening cruise. As was the custom, the crew raised the American flag, and Kate Smith’s rendition of “God Bless America” rang through the evening air. In the slip next to ours was a boat filled with Israeli teenagers. When they saw the flag and heard the strains of Irving Berlin’s song, they ran to the rail of their boat, began to cheer us loudly, and joined in the singing.
Contrast such spontaneous displays of affection, respect, appreciation, and unity with the snarling mobs burning American flags and chanting, “death to America.” Sadly, one need not go abroad to see this type of deplorable hatred; it is being manifested on some of our own streets and is encouraged in many of our institutions of higher learning that have been infiltrated with ideologies honed to bring down this country.
Exemptions Not Tolerated
Like many of the Israelites long ago, today’s generation of Christians appears to be preoccupied with looking on the outward appearance. Twenty-first-century America is image-driven. Even much of our music in church has become focused on entertainment rather than worship that is consistently biblical. The same can often be said of what passes for pulpit ministry.
Certainly, there are many blessed, responsible preachers and teachers wholly dedicated to bringing people the entire counsel of God’s Word. But all too prevalent seem to be the churches that ask, “What do you want to hear? Tell us, and that’s what you’ll get.” Change is inevitable; that is true. The issue is what trajectory the change takes: Does it at least stay on track or does it veer hopelessly off course?
It is a grim fact of life that the rapidly paganizing culture we inhabit is out to destroy the knowledge of God, the Christ we serve, and the Bible we revere. Part of the game plan seems to involve ridiculing Christianity and intimidating Christians into submission or silence. While atheists, deviants, and extremists successfully demand total acquiescence to their wishes and even force the passage of laws sanctifying their preferences, there is zero tolerance for anyone or anything that even faintly implies faith in Jesus Christ or utters His name in public discourse.
A nauseating example of how far things have gone occurred recently in New Jersey when a substitute teacher was fired because he shared a Scripture verse with a student and later gave him a copy of the New Testament. According to reports, the instructor quoted Matthew 20:16, “So the last will be first, and the first last,” to a boy who was last in line. The student asked where the quotation came from and was told it came from the Bible––and to go home and look it up. The boy replied he did not have a Bible. So the teacher gave the boy his pocket New Testament, causing the subsequent uproar and the school district’s dismissal of the teacher.
The district justified its actions by claiming educators must remain neutral while discussing religious materials and said policy prohibits distributing religious literature on school grounds.
However, the teacher did not discuss Scripture. He merely quoted it in a way that could not possibly be construed as an attempt to proselytize. In addition, the giving of one New Testament did not constitute “distribution”; it was a personal gift to a single student.
Such incidents cannot be chalked up to mere colossal voids of common sense. Rather, they clearly demonstrate an official repudiation of the Bible and the Christian faith and warn all of the penalty they will pay if they dare to say anything that offends the no-God squads patrolling our institutions.
From the Heart Out
After the prophet Samuel had all the “acceptable” sons of Jesse pass before him as candidates for king of Israel, he asked Jesse if there were any more prospects. Only one, Jesse replied: a ruddy youngster who was off tending the sheep grazing on the terraces near the town. He was an outsider of sorts––not considered worthy of taking part in the process of choosing a king. Yet what Jesse’s youngest son, David, had going for him was something no one but God could see. It was not on display as the comeliest of outward appearances. To find it, you had to look from the inside out. It was his heart.
It won’t be the crowd pleasers and yes-men who will be around when the issues are settled. It will be the people who stand up for the Lord. God deals in remnants. It’s always the few against the many. But in the long run, the odds will always favor the remnant because of Who is in command.
Frankly, despite all that is happening, I am encouraged. It may well be that adversity, in whatever form, will bind together those who have hearts for God, His Word, and His people, thus making them more effective for Him. That’s what has happened in the past. And it is happening today where believers are under severe persecution.
As a parent, grandfather, and great-grandfather, I often wonder what the future holds for my family. But whatever comes, the certainty is that our God is faithful; and among the masses will be a godly remnant of true believers with hearts wanting to serve the Lord. Our obligation is to prepare such people with the truth and inspire them to stand firm in perilous times.
We also must recognize that on this earth, evil will always be around until Jesus returns. Nothing happening today is new under the sun. It has happened before and will happen again. The overwhelming reality is that our vision is limited to the small space of time we occupy. But God sees the big picture. His knowledge surpasses anything our fragile minds could conceive or understand, and He is on the throne.
What we can hold on to in the most encouraging light are the sentiments of Abraham as he pleaded for souls in Sodom: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25). He has, and He will. We can count on it.