Lessons from Ammon, Tamar, and the Duggars

Yesterday in my daily Bible reading I read the tragedy of Ammon and his rape of Tamar in 2 Samuel 13. Later that day, I was on Facebook and saw the social firestorm around Josh Duggar, who was recently uncovered for child molestation as a teenager.

Duggar Family
The Duggar family in 2006, the same year police reports were filed concerning Josh Duggar. Photo credit: Lwp Kommunikáció

I don’t think it’s too wild to draw similarities between these two stories. My aim is not to take sides; it’s to look at the firestorm, say “Why did this happen?” and learn lessons from this event and 2 Samuel 13.

The Firestorm Erupts

First, why the firestorm? That question seems cruel given the nature of the allegation, but track with me. Anyone in the United States could have molested children as a teenager, and I guarantee that in most cases it wouldn’t have become a trending topic on Facebook.

But this did, and there are a few reasons:

  1. The Duggars are a national family. At the slightest, they represent traditional family values. At most, they are a prime example of the Christian, right-wing family.
  2. Josh Duggar held a position of leadership directly related to his values. Shortly after the firestorm began, Josh resigned his position as the Executive Director of the Family Research Council Action.

As a Christian family demonstrating conservative values, the Duggars often gave the impression of being the “perfect family.” They were a model of conservative values; therefore, this failure speaks against their entire lifestyle.

King David’s family faced a similar situation. Ammon’s failure impacted the nation, and it showed a weakness in the lifestyle of the King. As the ESV Study Bible notes, “Since it occurred in the royal family, it had implications for the whole nation.”

Speaking from an Israelite perspective, Bible commentator Matthew Henry adds, “We are Israelites; if we do such things, we are more inexcusable than others, and our condemnation will be more intolerable, for we reproach the Lord, and that worthy name by which we are called.”

Those who represent conservative values—more so, those who represent God—must be held to a higher standard.

That said, I like what Matthew Henry wisely writes about Ammon, Tamar, and (indirectly), the Duggars:

Godly parents have often been afflicted with wicked children; grace does not run in the blood, but corruption does.

A Lack of Justice

One of the most notable facts in the Duggar story is how long Jim Bob (the father) waited before reporting the incident to the police. After finding out about the incident, it wasn’t reported to police until a year later. Many people are also criticizing the “treatment” Josh received, which mainly consisted of manual labor for a family friend.

Let me say a few things, and then look at Ammon and Tamar. First, I fully believe in God’s ability to heal our minds from sin without formal counseling. That said, God gives us counselors to help us work through serious sin issues such as child molestation. I’m not saying the Duggar’s “treatment” didn’t work; I’m simply advocating for services which provide professional help for serious issues.

Similarly, I believe the biggest flaw in the story of Ammon and Tamar is David’s lack of justice to the situation. 2 Samuel 13:21 says, “When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry.” Interestingly, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint (traditional Greek Old Testament), add this sentence:

But he would not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, since he was his firstborn.

The Reformation Study Bible says it most plainly, “That David was furious at Amnon’s violation of Tamar is understandable; that he took no disciplinary action is not.” The ESV Study Bible notes, “David was very angry, but he did not do anything. He showed favoritism toward his eldest son, which was the source of many of the later problems in David’s family.”

It’s hard to calculate all the damage that came from David’s lack of justice. One year later, Ammon was murdered by his brother Absalom, who doubtlessly felt he should take justice into his own hands since the king had not. Additionally, when Absalom later rebels against the kingdom, one of his complaints is that David withheld justice (2 Samuel 15:4-6).

The sum of the matter is stated perfectly in Ecclesiastes:

Ecclesiastes 8:11
Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil.

In Summary

There are several similarities between the story of Ammon and Tamar and the Duggars. Both were a prominent “Christian” family, both involved an apparent lack of justice from the family head, and both had serious implications for the future of the family.

It’s fair to note that David’s kingdom still survived after this sin, but the damage was also clearly destructive. In the same way, I don’t believe this past sin nullifies the Duggar’s entire lifestyle, but it certainly exposes a weakness that many will shamelessly accentuate.

These two stories share a few very good lessons. First, let your lifestyle and your actions reflect one another. Second, administer justice, especially from a position of responsibility. Finally, human justice is imperfect, but God’s justice is perfect, and one day He will reveal everything hidden and execute perfect justice.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts and reactions in the comments below. Please be mindful to keep comments and replies respectful.

Romans 12:1-2, a Game-Plan for Renewing Faith

If someone looked at your life based on how you spent your time, what would they determine is the most important part of your life?

Would they be right?

Photo Credit: khrawlings via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: khrawlings via Compfight cc

For me, I’m quick to tell you that my relationship with God is the most important part of my life. But if you were to tally up the minutes I spend at work and at home, that’s not the picture you’d get. After a busy season of life, I’ve realized my time with God has become marginalized—that is, literally pushed into the margins of the page. I give God the leftover time I have in the morning as well as the few fading minutes of the evening.

Does that sound much like a personal relationship with the Creator of the universe? I don’t think so.

I know I want to change. I’ve found the closest thing to a game-plan in the first two verses of Romans.

Romans 12:1-2

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

1. Get on the altar

God isn’t after a show. He’s not waiting for your best audition into the kingdom of heaven. He wants you exactly as you are, not exactly like you wish you could be. Paul says “present your bodies as a living sacrifice.”

What happens to a sacrifice? It dies.

Paul is asking us to do so much more than a daily devotional. He’s asking us to do way more than “spend time with God.” Paul is asking us to die to ourselves—to start with a posture of obedience and sacrifice. Once we decide to obey, then we learn what obedience means in Romans 12:2.

2. Be transformed

Transformation is never an instantaneous process. Caterpillars don’t change into butterflies in one night. People don’t lose 100 pounds in a day (or a week, or a month). I shouldn’t expect anything different from my relationship with God.

Yet this transformation is passive. Romans 12:2 says “be transformed….” The decision “do not be conformed” comes when we surrender self to step onto the altar of God. The decision “be transformed” comes when we work out the implications of staying on the altar of obedience.

3. By the renewal of your mind

Transformation is passive, but there’s a way to allow passive transformation to happen, and it comes through “the renewal of your mind.”

There are so many voices in the world, and God wants us tuned to His. Trying to find the will of God without the Word of God is like trying to find your way through pitch black wilderness without a flashlight (see Psalm 119:105). Yet getting directions with no intention of following them isn’t very useful, either. The combination of a heart set on obedience and the Word of God is powerful material for the Holy Spirit.

4. By testing, you may discern what is the will of God

This is the part where a majority of people step off the altar. I don’t like to admit it, but Romans 12:2 basically says that the instructions aren’t going to be clear at first. We have to be okay trying and failing.

I couldn’t ride a bike until I was nine years old. Every time my parents would take off the training wheels, I would become paralyzed. If I didn’t ride this bike perfectly, I was going to fall off. And that failure meant pain. I needed practice. And even though I knew all the basics, I needed to be okay trying and failing until I got it right.

God redefines failure (I could write an entire post about this). His grace sees us as we are and sees what we can become. Trying for righteousness and failing is not disappointment in God’s eyes.

This is so hard. I get it. It’s hard to step onto the altar knowing you’re going to be consumed. Everything I want is going to die. More aptly, I am going to die. Yet in dying to myself, I find myself more alive than I have have been.

Conclusion

The path to aligning our beliefs with our lives has to start with a commitment to obedience. That decision, when combined with the Word of God, produces transformation sometimes so subtly that we don’t even know it is happening until it has happened. If we are committed to obey God and are filtering our mind through His Word, then we have to try practical obedience, even when it results in failure.

God isn’t looking for a blameless sacrifice. He’s looking for an obedient one.

1 Samuel 15:22

And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.

The Painfully Beautiful Truth about Sanctification

Here’s what most of us don’t like admitting about sanctification: It’s hard. Yes, it happens TO us, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t work on our part. The parallels between sanctification and working out are just a little too painfully true.

dogsandbikes
This is why Corgis shouldn’t ride electric bikes. Photo credit: me =)

I still laugh about the “12-Minute Test.”

Better known as “The Cooper Test,” this endurance exercise was designed to measure maximal oxygen intake. For ten minutes, the athlete warms up. Then for twelve minutes, they run as fast and as far as they can.

I hadn’t gone three minutes on the family treadmill before I had to slow down.

By the end of it, I was sweaty, panting for breath, and (to my dismay) scored in the lowest category, “Poor.” The “everything-less-than” category.

Here’s the thing most of us know and admit about working out: It’s hard.

One reason working out is so hard is because we know it is.

I know that every time I work out I’ll get exhausted. As a result, every time I know I should work out I have to fight against my desire toward ease and comfort.

That battle of motivation – toward work or ease – is a battle fought physically and spiritually. Why aren’t we talking about this more?

I Wrestle… with Obedience

We all fight this battle of motivation when it comes to following God. Just ask yourself: What holds me back from obeying God 100%?

The Bible makes it clear that there’s a battle going on inside every Christian.

Galatians 5:17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

This daily battle to follow the Spirit over the flesh is called sanctification.

I tend toward comfort. If you’re human, so do you. As a result, we may not like sanctification when it shows up because it often looks like work.

I wrestle to live fully for God. It’s funny how the closer I get to Him, the more clearly I see my shortcomings. I think He does it that way for a reason.

The Perfect God of the Imperfect

My pastor once said, “You can’t do anything 100% to the glory of God.”

That’s huge. Do you realize what that means?

That means our perfect God calls us to act on His behalf, knowing we’re imperfect. Yes, perfect obedience is required to fulfill God’s law, but perfect obedience was done for us.

Hebrews 10:14 For by a single offering [Jesus] has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

Only in Christ can God call us to something we could never achieve and look upon us with acceptance and joy. When God calls us to obedience, He isn’t surprised by our inability, only by our unavailability.

We have incredible freedom to obey God. The only thing we lack is an excuse.

Wrestle in Humility

At the heart of it is obedience – understanding that God doesn’t judge success like we do. He looks at our hearts. He sees our weakness and our double-mindedness. And He gives us the strength to fight, to wrestle, to run.

The painfully beautiful truth about sanctification is that we wrestle in humility. Know that God has called you to obedience, and you can’t do it on your own. Fight passionately to obey, knowing God works in you. The work is finished, and we now have the freedom to run.

Hebrews 12:1-2 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the Founder and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Philippians 2:12-13 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

 

The True Meaning of Compassion

For a long time, when I thought of “compassion,” I thought of a child sitting in a slum in India (and he’s probably in black and white). Most people associate compassion with those who are disconnected from them: overseas, living in poverty, in dire need of help. What’s your picture?

Compassion
Photo Credit: Thomas Leuthard via Compfight cc

A lot of us have been missing the true meaning of compassion. Sponsoring a child or helping an elderly man in India is right, but not exclusive.

True compassion requires two things:

1. Stepping out of your world
2. Stepping into someone else’s world

To step out of your world, you must invest physical, time-bound energy. More than that, compassion requires stepping into someone else’s world, exerting emotional energy. Literally, “compassion” means, “to suffer with.”

Compassion is intentionally shouldering someone else’s burden, expecting nothing in return. Compassion is nothing short of one-way love.

Compassion > love

Compared to compassion, reciprocal love is easy. It’s easy to love those who love us. We’re far more willing to sacrifice if we know what the outcome will be.

But that isn’t compassion.

I wish relationships were like business. The goals of business are to be both effective and efficient. Business is simple – you put a certain amount in, and you get a certain amount back. But that’s not how people work, and compassion is exclusively personal. Effective personal relationships often aren’t efficient.

Love may be a natural reaction, but compassion is always an action.

Giving for Gain

So far I’ve said “suffer with people” and, “give while getting nothing back.” I’d say I’m making a pretty poor sales-pitch for compassion.

But what we tend to forget – what I tend to forget – is that the true value of compassion is not in the virtue of what you give but in the reward of what you gain. 

Take listening, for example. Most people wouldn’t think of listening as an act of compassion. But if you’re truly listening – striving to understand another – the you’re giving both physical time and emotional energy.

When we listen to someone, our act of listening doesn’t make them love us, and it doesn’t make us feel loved. Yet the reward of listening isn’t love, it’s trust. Affection may come and go, but trust is an established foundation that takes time. Building trust takes compassion.

Echoes of Eternity

A couple weeks ago, I was explaining the Gospel to a girl over email. After I explained the cross, she wrote back to me with a surprised question:

“Why would [Jesus] die for somebody knowing they might never love him back?”

Her question caught me off guard. I had always known that – yes – Jesus died for all people, but only some will believe in Him. But I had never heard the question phrased that directly.

Romans 5:8 is one of the clearest verses explaining the Gospel:

God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Jesus died for us, knowing He might not get anything in return. God’s greatest act of love for us was compassion. What an incredible reason to trust Him!

In fact, the promise of our trust is the reason Christ died with joy. He went to the cross “for the joy that was set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2) – that is, us.

No one has a better example, experience, or motivation of compassion than Christians. We’re called to reflect that love by giving of our time and emotion to those who may not return our love. Our example is Christ, our experience is redemption, and our motivation is hope in future trust.

Sacrifice today – toward a family, friend, or  stranger. Show compassion, and your actions will echo the heart of God for all eternity.

 

For All Adrenaline Junkies of the Christian Faith

Welcome to the age of Christian opinion. In just a matter of seconds, you can find a Christian article (and counter article) on virtually every topic.

Photo Credit: RezaG! via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: RezaG! via Compfight cc

Even more impressive than the availability of Christian opinion is the appetite of readers. All it takes is a catchy headline about a topic we care about (or are made to think we care about), and we eat it up.

We’re restless to hear, know, and explore opinions similar and different than ours. We want to know why we believe what we believe. We devour media to help us shape our ideas, our ideals, and our identity.

A Lesson from Ezekiel

Today I read the opening three chapters of Ezekiel, and they left me silent.

In these chapters, Ezekiel sees visions of heaven, sees God on the throne, and is given words to speak God’s message. The verse that surprised me is halfway through chapter three.

Ezekiel 3:15
And I came to the exiles at Tel-abib, who were dwelling by the Chebar canal, and I sat where they were dwelling. And I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days.

The Hebrew word for “overwhelmed” can also mean “stunned” or “devastated.” Ezekiel didn’t hear from God and then erupt into prophecy. He sat, devastated by the sight and sound of God for a whole week.

And God didn’t correct him. He didn’t rebuke him. He didn’t tell him to get over it.

Listening for the Right Reasons

In today’s Pop Christian culture, Ezekiel could have made bank from a “Heaven Is For Real” knock-off. Yet besides the brief recounting in the beginning of his book, Ezekiel never mentions his heavenly vision anywhere else.

Ezekiel’s encounter with God left him in awe, and that was enough.

Contrast to that, I worried for a generation of Christians who are listening for the wrong reasons. I’m worried for those who listen only for the sake of speaking. I’m worried for those who bow their knee so that they can lift their voice. I’m worried for those who obey God for the sake of a great story rather than for the sake of knowing God.

I’m worried because I know that person is me.

I challenge you to stand in Awe Again

I challenge you (and me) to take a week without “Pop Christian” reading. I’m talking about articles shared via Twitter, Facebook, or other social media.

Adrenaline junkie, quench your thirst for the latest Christian opinion with the Word of God.

Don’t get me wrong – I truly value publications like RELEVANT, Christianity Today, Charisma, Prodigal Magazine, and more. I’ve been encouraged and challenged in my faith by each one of these.

But ultimately, it’s not about me. It’s about worshipping God – seeing how big and glorious He is – and standing in awe.

 

What do you think? What are the benefits and dangers of Christian opinion in a viral age? Share your thoughts in the comments below!