Lessons I Have Learned
I imagine that just about everyone realizes that there are some lessons in life that must simply be learned through experience- No matter how much others may teach and warn, nothing drives home a point quite like experience. The "school of hard knocks" has many graduates, most of whom are able to learn the lessons the first time around. A moment of carelessness with a gun or an automobile can teach a lesson that is sometimes fatal in its consequences. Usually, however, we are able to learn from experience to heed the warnings and admonitions given by those who are wiser.
This is especially true in regard to spiritual matters. Some have learned that "evil communications corrupt good manners" (I Cori 15:33) only after having experienced the results. Additionally, the same could be said of Paul's ad-monition to "shun profane and vain babblings, for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as dotha canker" (2 Tim. 2:16-17). It is one thing to preach against false doctrine in some general fashion when not faced with the consequences of it and quite another to have to take a stand against it that may be altogether unpopular (2 Tim. 4:1-5). Sometimes it takes a personal involvement to realize the heinous nature of fasle teaching and the deceitful ways in which its advocates attempt to spread it.
Over the last half a year, my family and I experienced several traumatic events that reinforced several biblical truths in my mind: It is not as though I did not know these truths or did not believe them: But the events referred to brought these truths out and made them more personal and applicable.
In October of last year, my wife's grand-father passed away in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Having been notified by phone the evening of his decease, my wife and I began to make plans for her to fly up to be with the family. After making arrangements with the airline and taking care of several other related matters. I went down to a nearby ATM to make a cash withdrawal for her trip the next morning: After I withdrew the money, I was then accosted by a young titan who demanded the money (after indicating there would be trouble if I did.not comply). I surrendered the money and he escaped with another accomplice to a nearby car.
Nearly a month later, we planned a trip to Kentucky and through Georgia to pick up some of the furniture that had been left from the estate of my wife's grandfather. Not having a vehicle of our own to pull the U-Haul trailer we would need, we were able to borrow a Suburban from a member of the church here in Baytown for the trip. We left on Thanksgiving day but that evening had car trouble and had to stop in Little Rock, Arkansas until repairs could be made the next morning. The next morning I went out to load our luggage and found that the Suburban and the U-Haul had both been stolen. We reported the incident, rented a car and returned home to Baytown to find that our house had been broken into and that several items had been stolen.
If you had ever been the victim of such crimes, you know that there are a whole spectrum of emotions that you go through: disbelief, fright, anger and resentment, just to name a few. During the weeks following these events, I thought long and hard about several things. I would like to share with you some of the lessons that were etched into my mind as a result of these unfortunate events.
1. Evil Is Rampant. Having never experienced anything like this before, I realized that there are people in this world who do not give a hoot about other people's possessions and feelings. Many in this world will do what it takes to pros-per, even if it means taking what does not belong to them. Paul spoke of the attitudes of these people in 2 Timothy 3:1-4:
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.
You may notice that several of the above descriptions are in bold print. These are some of the ones that I automatically identify with those who perpetrated such deeds. We are now reaping the fruit of the "Me Generation," where the emphasis was placed on self and the instant gratification of one's fleshly desires. No doubt some of the items that were stolen were sold to finance someone's drug habit or other immoral behavior.
Such attitudes and behavior are somewhat shocking. I grew up in a family where I was taught to respect the belongings of people and to treat others as I wanted to be treated. To experience first-hand the covetous and ungodly attitudes of those who believe otherwise has been eye-opening.
I am convinced that a big part of this problem has its roots in a lack of discipline in the home, a breakdown of the family unit, and the resulting lack of respect for authority. When children are not required to respect and obey their parents, how in the world are they going to respect the property of others, much less the authority of government and God?! The intellectual elite of this country has pulled the wool over parents' eyes by telling them that it is destructive and harmful to their children's development for them to be spanked and disciplined on a regular basis. The Bible teaches that "foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him" (Prov. 22:15). Some object to such practice by saying, "Oh, I love my children too much to spank them. I want my children to know that I love them and spanking does not convey love." The Bible however, says, "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes," and, "Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying" (Prov. 13;24; 19:18). If only parents would learn that discipline is a necessary form of love.
2. God Will Judge. The Bible teaches that each man is to be held accountable for his deeds (2 Cor. 5:10). Both in this life and in the life to come, the Bible teaches that there are punishments for disobedience.
First of all, God has ordained the civil government to be responsible for the punishment of evil doers. Paul wrote:
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil (Rom. 13:1-4).
Those who are disobedient to the laws of the land, and thus to the law of God, are to be punished for their disobedience. The civil government is ordained of God to punish those who work evil deeds. Some today protest that prisoners are not treated well and even speak of various forms of punishment as being cruel and unusual, the death penalty in particular. The truth of the matter is, criminals today are not being punished as they should (for the most part). This is one reason why such a large percentage of those arrested for certain crimes are ex-convicts who have not even been out of prison for more than three or four years. If our government would really get serious about crime and punishment, some of these activities could be curtailed: Having been through the experiences that 1 have, j would be wholeheartedly behind penalties such as the cutting off of the hands of those who steal. If such were carried out, it would not take long for many thieves to get the message (and before too long some repeat offenders would not even have the ability to steal!).
Secondly, I am also reminded that in the end, each per-son will have to give an account of his deeds before the Lord himself (Acts 17:31; Rom. 2:5-11). This is significant in light of the fact that the civil authorities do not always have the ability to punish those that commit evil deeds. Not only is there a civil punishment to be meted out, there is also a spiritual punishment to be handed out to those who repent not of their wickedness. Paul speaks of the "indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish" that will befall the wicked upon the day of judgment (Roth. 2:8-9).
The fact that God is just and will punish those who commit such deeds is to be a source of comfort to those who are the children of God. In 2 Thessalonians 1;6-10, Paul speaks of the retribution and vengeance that will be handed out to those "who know not God and obey not the gospel." David cried out to God regarding the wicked and said, "Break their teeth, 0 God, in their mouth: break out the great teeth of the young lions, 0 Lord: Let themaway as waters which run continually: when he bendeth his bow to shoot his arrows, let them be as cut in pieces. As a snail which melteth, let every one of them pass away: like the untimely birth of a woman, that they may not see the sun" (Psa. 58:6-8). Only one of the perpetrators involved in the crimes committed against my family has been caught. The sad thing is, the detective told me that since he was a juvenile, he will probably get off with just probation. In the mean time, the others involved in that crime as well as the other two have never been caught. Sadly, one day they will have to stand before a just God and be held accountable for their deeds.
3.God Is Merciful. The previous point regarding God's justice and the coming judgment led me to think about and consider God's mercy. Although I do not make my living as a thief, I realized that I too had been under the same condemnation as those who are thieves, murderers, rapists, etc. Paul said, "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). In addition, James tells us that "whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all" (Jas. 2:10). This consideration has caused me to reflect on the mercy and grace of our God. What deep love he has shown for us! How great is his mercy and grace, that he would pardon us who were his enemies and love us before we loved him (Rom. 5:8; 1 In. 4:9-10,19).
I also realize that although I may cry out unto God for justice, the same mercy that has been bestowed upon me can be bestowed upon those who violated my property and sense of security. The great depth of God's mercy is demonstrated in that he even forgave those who crucified and rejected his Son (Acts 2:36-38; 3:14-15,19). The challenge for me is to be able to forgive those who have wronged me, when they repent, as the Lord has forgiven me (Matt. 6:14-15; Eph. 4:32).
The apostle Paul is a good example of one who deserved a just punishment for his sins, yet was able to find mercy. It is apparent that he felt the burden of the great debt that he owed to his Lord and the great grace which "was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus" 1 Tim. 1:14). May we ever strive to give God the great glory and honor that he deserves for his work of salvation in Christ. And may we ever remember the great debt that was cancelled through his grace and the sacrifice that was necessary to accomplish such.
4. Material Possessions Are Perishable. One of the lessons that has been indelibly impressed on my mind is the fact that there are more important things than televisions, VCRs, money, cameras, clothes, cars, etc. After being robbed at the ATM machine, I have replayed the events in my mind numerous times, looking at what I could have done differently. For starters, I could have waited until the morning to go down to the cash machine. I also thought that perhaps if I would have challenged the perpetrator to prove he had a gun before handing the money over, I might have "called his bluff." The flip side of that is that if I had been wrong, I could have lost my life and have left a wife with three children to care for on her own. In the final analysis, I did the only thing I could have done and am thankful that I was not injured, much less killed.
I am now able to better appreciate many of the warnings in the Bible related to the fleeting nature of material possessions. Jesus said:
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust cloth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust cloth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal (Matt. 6:19-20).
Until you actually experience it, it is hard to really believe how easy it is for someone else to come and take your possessions. The feelings of vulnerability and violation are immense. To know of the Lord's promise that our treasure in heaven cannot be stolen or corrupted is an even greater comfort to me now than it was before.
I fear that a great problem we have in the church today is a love of material things. We have become so focused on this life and the enjoyment of it that some have placed their confidence in their possessions and worldly standing. Jesus used the parable of the rich fool to warn us regarding the danger of trusting in material possessions. He said:
Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth (Luke 12:15).
Friend, what good will it do you if you have great possessions come the day of judgment? You cannot take them with you (1 Tim. 6:7) and they may keep you out of the kingdom of God (Matt. 19:23-24). Jesus posed the question, "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matt. 16:26) I now understand by experience the fleeting nature of things temporal and the importance of laying up treasures in heaven and not on the earth.
5.Christians Are Compassionate People. When we made plans to go on our trip, we planned on leaving on Thanksgiving Day (Thursday) and returning the following Monday or Tuesday. Since the vehicle we had borrowed had been stolen on Thanksgiving night, we rented a car and began the trip back home. We returned on Saturday (finding our house had been broken into) and informed several of the members here in Baytown what had happened.
On Sunday morning as we went to worship, people began coming up to us and handing us checks and cash to help in replacing some of the items that were lost. We figured that we had lost several thousand dollars of our own personal property in addition to the damage that was done to the Suburban we had borrowed and other property that had belonged to others. That afternoon, my parents flew in from the Atlanta area with more help from brethren in that area and my grandmother called from the Tampa area to tell me that she was sending some help in the mail from several brethren down there. All told, we were able to replace our property, repair the Suburban and return it to its owners and pay several other expenses related to the trip. Another family member called from the Birmingham area and offered help from the brethren there, which we declined. Even several weeks after the trip, we were still receiving monetary gifts from brethren in Georgia and Mississippi. The compassion and love that was demonstrated to our family was overwhelming. I again offer our heart-felt thanks to all those who helped and those who offered to help.
It is impossible for me to remember all those who helped since some of the gifts were given anonymously and others were passed on through other individuals. However, a special word of gratitude is in order for the members of the Pruett and Lobit church here in Baytown; for the members of the Jonesboro church of Christ in Jonesboro, Georgia and the Poplar Street church of Christ in Griffin, Georgia; for the members of the Morris Road church of Christ in Gulfport, Mississippi; and for the members of the Temple Terrace church of Christ in Temple Terrace, Florida. If I have omitted some, please forgive me and understand that it as an extremely traumatic time and it was very difficult to keep up with the records of who had given us what. We attempted to respond to each person or family individually, but I am afraid we may have left some out. Please accept our heart-felt thanks.
The examples in Acts 2:44-45 and 4:34-37 remind me of the attitude and disposition of those brethren who came to our aid. One passage however, really sticks out in my mind when I think of these brethren. In Mark 10:29-30, Jesus said:
Verily I say unto you, There is no man that bath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.
What a blessing to know that there are those who are concerned enough to help! What comfort our brethren have been to us in our time of need! Their compassion and love is something that we will never forget and will set an example for us to follow for the rest of our lives.
The lessons I have had emphasized in my life as a result of these occasions have been taught in the Bible for a long time. Friend, do not wait until you too experience these type of things to learn these lessons. Learn to trust the wisdom of our Creator and to obey his will now while there is opportunity. Study your Bible and learn of his ways and his mercy. Do not trust in material possessions but trust in the Savior for your salvation. Then, you too may have the peace of God in your heart and the hope of eternal life in the world to come.
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 12, p. 16-19