Thursday, December 31, 2009

Enduring Hardship


It's the end of December which means that, in some parts of the country, ski season is in full swing. For those of you who plan to do some skiing this winter, someone has composed the following list of exercises to get you prepared:

~ Visit your local butcher and pay $30 to sit in the walk-in freezer for half an hour. Afterwards, burn two $50 dollar bills to warm up.

~ Soak your gloves and store them in the freezer after every use.

~ If you wear glasses, begin wearing them with glue smeared on the lenses.

~ Find the nearest ice rink and walk across the ice 20 times in your ski boots carrying two pairs of skis, accessory bag and poles. Pretend you are looking for your car. Sporadically drop things.

~ Place a small but angular pebble in your shoes, line them with crushed ice, and then tighten a C-clamp around your toes.

~ Buy a new pair of gloves and IMMEDIATELY THROW ONE AWAY!

~ Secure one of your ankles to a bed post and ask a friend to run into you at high speed.

~ Fill a blender with ice, hit the pulse button and let the spray blast your face. Leave the ice on your face until it melts. Let it drip onto your clothes.

~ Drink several ounces of water (or another beverage of choice), dress up in as many clothes as you can; now, quickly take them off because you REALLY, REALLY HAVE TO GO TO THE BATHROOM!

~ Repeat all of the above every Friday and Saturday until you're ready for the real thing.

When I lived in Boone, North Carolina, I was in an area where skiing is a popular activity. There were several ski slopes within a 30-minute drive of our house. Before moving to Boone, I had never been skiing before, but it sure looked like fun, so one year I gave it a try. Will I do it again? Reread the list above for my answer! :-)

Maybe I shouldn't have waited until I was 40, or maybe I'm just not coordinated enough (skiing was no problem -- it was the stopping that I had trouble with). I just know I spent several hours saying to myself, "People actually pay to go through this?!"

Why do skiers endure such hardship? You would need to ask them that question, but there is obviously a certain amount of pleasure that they find in skiing. If the reward of an activity is not greater than the hardship, we tend not to continue to engage in that activity.

Some people, no doubt, wonder the same thing about Christians. They don't understand people who make sacrifices, putting others ahead of themselves, living in a way that brings glory to God, and denying the "pleasures of life". So why do Christians endure hardships? I'll let the apostle Paul answer that question:

"Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him." (2 Timothy 2:10-12a)

Again, if the reward of an activity is not greater than the hardship, we tend not to continue to engage in that activity. So it's important that we continue to remind ourselves of the "reward" of living the Christian life. If you find that living the Christian life is getting tough, remind yourself every now and then why you're doing what you're doing.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Joy of Giving


The Santa Claus at the mall was very surprised when a young lady about twenty years old walked up and sat on his lap.

Santa doesn't usually take requests from adults, but she smiled very nicely at him, so he said, "OK, you can ask for something but it has to be for someone other than yourself. What do you want for Christmas?"

"Something for my mother," said the young lady.

"Something for your mother? Well, that's very thoughtful of you," smiled Santa. "What do you want me to bring her? "

Without blinking she replied, "A son-in-law!"

We often say that Christmas is a time when the focus is on giving, but let's be honest -- for many (perhaps most) people, the greater excitement of Christmas is in what we receive, not in what we give. How many people do you know who are saying, "I can't wait to give a gift!"? Now, how many people do you know who are saying, "I can't wait to see what I get!"? As parents, we know the joy of watching our children open their gifts, but are we instilling in our children the joy of giving, or is Christmas simply a time when they are excited to receive what they wanted (or perhaps they're upset because they didn't get what they wanted)?

While trying not to sound too cynical, how many of the gifts we give every Christmas are given because we feel obligated to give, or because we are hoping to receive something back? Is it possible for those of us who are Christ-followers to give simply for the joy of giving?

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, "If you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?" (Matthew 5:46-47). To take it one step further, if we give only to those from whom we expect to receive something back, how are we different from anyone else in the world? What should distinguish God's people is a desire to give with no thought no receiving anything back.

In Luke 14:12-14, Jesus said, "When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just."

May I encourage you, not only this season, but year-round, to seek to find ways to give to those who can't give back, to learn to give simply for the joy of giving.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Theme Songs For Bible Characters


Someone has suggested the following theme songs for Bible characters (Warning: some of these are real oldies!):

Noah: "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head"

Adam and Eve: "Strangers in Paradise"

Lazarus: "The Second Time Around"

Esther: "I Feel Pretty"

Job: "I've Got a Right to Sing the Blues"

Moses: "The Wanderer"

Jezebel: "The Lady is a Tramp"

Samson: "Hair"

Salome: "I Could Have Danced All Night"

Daniel: "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"

Joshua: "Good Vibrations"

Peter: "I'm Sorry"

Esau: "Born To Be Wild"

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: "Great Balls of Fire!"

The Wise Men: "When You Wish Upon a Star"

Elijah: "Up, Up, and Away"

Methuselah: "Stayin' Alive"

Nebuchadnezzar: "Crazy"

There was no theme song suggested for Jesus Christ. May I suggest the following song, entitled "A New Song," first sung by those two famous groups, "The Four Living Creatures" and "The Twenty-Four Elders":

"You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; For you were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.....Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!" (Rev. 5:9-10,12)

I don't know about you, but I look forward to joining them someday in this great song of praise. Worthy is the Lamb!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Remember the Duck?


In his book, "Will Daylight Come?" Robert Heffler pens this moving illustration:

There was a little boy visiting his grandparents on their farm. He was given a slingshot to play with, out in the woods. He practiced in the woods, but he could never hit the target. Getting discouraged, he headed back to dinner.

As he was walking back, he saw Grandma's pet duck. Just out of impulse, he let fly, hit the duck square in the head and killed it. He was shocked and grieved. In a panic, he hid the dead duck in the woodpile, only to see his sister watching. Sally had seen it all, but she said nothing.

After lunch that day Grandma said, "Sally, let's wash the dishes."

But Sally said, "Grandma, Johnny told me he wanted to help in the kitchen today, didn't you Johnny?" And then she whispered to him, "Remember the duck?" So Johnny did the dishes.

Later Grandpa asked if the children wanted to go fishing, and Grandma said, "I'm sorry, but I need Sally to help me make supper."

But Sally smiled and said, "Well, that's all right because Johnny told me he wanted to help." And she whispered again, "Remember the duck?" Sally went fishing and Johnny stayed.

After several days of Johnny doing both his chores and Sally's, he finally couldn't stand it any longer. He came to Grandma and confessed that he killed the duck. She knelt down, gave him a hug, and said, "Sweetheart, I know. You see, I was standing at the window and I saw the whole thing. But because I love you, I forgave you. But, I was just wondering how long you would let Sally make a slave of you."

********

You would think that once we receive forgiveness from God, Satan would leave us alone, but he doesn't. He continues to accuse us and tries to make us feel guilty. That's what he does best -- he's an accuser. Sometimes we make the mistake of listening to him and thus remain a slave. Forgiveness offers freedom -- freedom from guilt as well as freedom from sin.

"Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, 'Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down.' " (Rev. 12:10)

May you seek to know God's forgiveness, and the freedom that goes with it.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Charged, But Justified


A local policeman had just finished his shift one cold November evening and was at home with his wife. "You just won't believe what happened this evening. In all my years on the force I've never seen anything like it!"

"What happened?"

"I came across two guys down by the canal, one of them was drinking battery acid and the other was eating fireworks."

"Drinking battery acid and eating fireworks!! What did you do with them?"

"I charged one and let the other off."

Spiritually speaking, those of us who are Christians have been both "charged" and "let off." We are charged with sin (and rightfully so, for we are guilty). "For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin." (Rom. 3:9)

But, those of us who are Christians who have put on Christ have also been "let off" because Jesus Christ has paid the price for our sins. We have been justified, "just as if I'd" never sinned. "Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses." (Acts 13:38-39)

To be charged is a frightful thing (those of you who have received tickets can vouch for that). To have a judge say, "I find you guilty, but I'm going to pay the fine for you" is inconceivable. Yet, that's exactly what has happened! May our lives demonstrate the gratitude we feel.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Falling Asleep


I heard recently about a college professor who had the mysterious habit of walking into the lecture hall each morning, removing a tennis ball from his jacket pocket. He would set it on the corner of the podium. After giving the lecture for the day, he would once again pick up the tennis ball, place it into his jacket pocket, and leave the room. No one ever understood why he did this, until one day. . . .

A student fell asleep during the lecture. The professor never missed a word of his lecture while he walked over to the podium, picked up the tennis ball and threw it, hitting the sleeping student squarely on the top of the head.

The next day, the professor walked into the room, reached into his jacket, removed a baseball. . . No one ever fell asleep in his class the rest of the semester!

I would imagine that many of us have had the experience of falling asleep at a time when we should have stayed awake -- perhaps in a classroom or during a sermon. In the scriptures, poor Eutychus will forever be known for only one thing -- falling asleep during a sermon and falling out the window!

For those of you who aren't familiar with this Bible story (found in Acts 20:7-12), there was a young man by the name of Eutychus (a side note: ironically, his name means “fortunate”) who attended a worship service where the apostle Paul was speaking. No doubt, Eutychus was tired and perhaps his stomach was full. He found a spot near a window where he could get some fresh air because oil lamps lighted the room and the air would have been a bit stuffy. We're told that Paul talked on and on until after midnight. Luke tells us that the young man fought sleep and gradually lost the battle. When he nodded off, he fell out of the third-story window. Fortunately, the story has a happy ending as he was raised back to life by Paul.

Those of us who are preachers are inclined to say that the moral of this story is that you should never fall asleep during a sermon (though I suspect others may say that the moral is that preachers shouldn't preach so long -- it can be dangerous!). But of even greater concern than falling asleep in our worship is the fact that we sometimes fall asleep in our walk with Christ. We grow weary, we lose our concentration, our mind drifts off to other things, and the result can be deadly!

The apostle Paul warns us: "Therefore, let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober." (I Thess. 5:6).

Is your mind focused on God? Are you listening carefully to Him, submitting to His Spirit? If you're growing weary, it's time to wake up!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

That's Amore!


Ready for some groaners? (author unknown)

When the moon hits your eye,
Like a big pizza pie,
That's amore. (song made popular by Dean Martin in 1953)

When an eel bites your hand,
And that's not what you planned,
That's a moray.

When your horse munches straw,
And the bales total four,
That's some more hay.

When Othello's poor wife,
Becomes stabbed with a knife,
That's a Moor, eh?

When you ace your last tests,
Like you did all the rest,
That's some more "A"s!

A comedian ham,
With the name Amsterdam,
That's a Morey.

When your chocolate graham,
Is with marshmallows crammed,
That s'more, eh.

When you've had quite enough,
Of this dumb rhyming stuff,
That's "No more!", eh?

What is amore? It's the Italian word for love! The Greek word is, of course, agape. And in scripture, love is:

--the cement that holds relationships together, the "bond of perfection" (Col. 3:14)

--the essence of God's nature (I John 4:7)

--the one thing greater than any of God's spiritual gifts (I Cor. 13:8)

-- the foundation of the greatest command (and the second greatest!) (Mark 12:30-31)

--the culmination of the Christian graces (2 Peter 1:5-7)

That's amore! "Let all that you do be done with love." (1 Cor 16:14).

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pretend That You're Having a Heart Attack


The story is told of a married couple who enjoyed their luxury fishing boat together, but it was the husband who was always behind the wheel operating the boat. He was concerned about what might happen in an emergency. So one day out on the lake he said to his wife, "Please take the wheel, dear. Pretend that I am having a heart attack. You must get the boat safely to shore." So she drove the boat to shore.

Later that evening, the wife walked into the living room where her husband was watching television. She sat down next to him, switched the TV channel, and said to him, "Please go into the kitchen, dear. Pretend I'm having a heart attack. You must set the table, cook the dinner, and wash the dishes."

It's not a very pleasant thing to pretend such a thing, but there are some legitimate concerns we should have. I wouldn't consider it at all out of place for an insurance salesman to ask the question, "If you were to have a heart attack today, would your wife and children be taken care of?"

An even more important question, though, needs to be raised as we consider our spiritual relationship with God. If I were to have a heart attack tonight and die, would I be prepared to stand before the great judgment seat of Christ? It's a legitimate question. When I was a teenager, I thought that I would live forever. As I grow older, I become more and more aware of the fact that each day is a blessing provided by God, and I am not promised even one more.

"Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit'; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away." (James 4:13-14)

I know it requires a degree of seriousness that may make you a bit uncomfortable, but just for a moment, pretend that you are having a heart attack. Are you prepared for eternity?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Blessing of Being Single


Sophie and Shirley, two elderly widows in a Florida adult community, are curious about the latest arrival in their building -- a quiet, nice looking gentleman who keeps to himself.

Shirley says," Sophie, you know I'm shy. Why don't you go over to him at the pool and find out a little about him. He looks so lonely."

Sophie agrees, and later that day at the pool, she walks up to him and says, "Excuse me, mister. I hope I'm not prying, but my friend and I were wondering why you looked so lonely."

"Of course I'm lonely, he says, "I've spent the past 20 years in prison."

"You're kidding! What for?"

"For killing my third wife. I strangled her."

"What happened to your second wife?"

"I shot her."

"And, if I may ask, your first wife?"

"We had a fight and she fell off a building."

"Oh my," says Sophie. Then turning to her friend on the other side of the pool, she yells, "Yoo hoo, Shirley. He's single!"

It worries me when I see single people overly anxious to find a mate. Perhaps, though, we have contributed to the situation by treating singleness like it's some sort of disease. Singles often comment that they feel out of place at church (activities tend to be family-oriented) and feel they are sometimes regarded as less important than married people. While marriage is a God-ordained institution, I think we do a disservice by suggesting that singles are somehow "incomplete" until they find that "certain someone."

The truth is, while Paul held marriage in high regard (Eph. 5), he preferred being single and recommended it to Christians at Corinth in the difficult situation they were facing (I Cor. 7). Single Christians have the opportunity to serve God in ways that married Christians would have difficulty doing. Of course, the opposite is also true.

So what is the lesson to be learned? Whatever situation you find yourself in, seek to serve God with all your heart. If you are single, use your singleness to serve God as best as you can. And if you're married, use your married status to do the same.

"But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk.....keeping the commandments of God is what matters." (I Cor. 7:17,19b)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thinking About God


Richard Fairchild tells the following story in his book, "Not Far From the Kingdom of God":

In the days of the circuit riders a minister was out riding one afternoon and came upon a man out working in his field.

"Fine day, isn't it?" the minister called out.

"It's fine for you", the man replied, "All you have to do is ride around on that horse thinking about God all day long, while I have to sweat here in this field and then walk home afterward. I don't think it is right you should have things so easy while I have to work so hard."

"On the contrary", the minister answered, "thinking about God is one of the most difficult things you can do. And to prove it, I'll give you this horse if you can think about God and nothing else for one minute."

"You're on," said the man and immediately he sat down in silence. Thirty seconds later he looked up at the minister, and said, "Does that include the saddle?"

I would agree that thinking about God and nothing else is a very difficult thing to do. I would also add, though, that it is just as hard for ministers as it is anyone else!

The apostle Paul wrote, "Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth." (Colossians 3:2).

But our mind is filled nearly every minute of the day with things on this earth -- concerns about things that have happened, concerns about things that will (or might) happen, concerns about what we have (or don't have), concerns about how to get what we don't have, concerns about people that have done us wrong, concerns about what we want others to do for us.

And our mind is so crowded with the things of this world, that there's just not much room left for God. It's hard to think about God and God alone, for there is so much competing for our attention.

Allow me to give you this challenge -- think about God and nothing else for one minute. If you can achieve that goal, strive for five minutes. May thoughts of God increasingly fill your mind so that you can eventually say with the Psalmist all day long, "I will meditate on the glorious splendor of Your majesty, and on Your wondrous works." (Psalm 145:15)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Pursuit of Wisdom


There was once a small boy who banged a drum all day and loved every moment of it. He would not be quiet, no matter what anyone else said or did. Various attempts were made to do something about the child.

One person told the boy that he would, if he continued to make so much noise, perforate his eardrums. This reasoning was too advanced for the child, who was neither a scientist nor a scholar.

A second person told him that drum beating was a sacred activity and should be carried out only on special occasions. The third person offered the neighbors plugs for their ears; a fourth gave the boy a book; a fifth gave the neighbors books that described a method of controlling anger through biofeedback; a sixth person gave the boy meditation exercises to make him placid and docile. None of these attempts worked.

Eventually, a wise person came along with an effective motivation. He looked at the situation, handed the child a hammer and chisel, and asked, "I wonder what's inside the drum?"

Ah, the wisdom of that man! It reminds me of the wisdom demonstrated by King Solomon when two women came to him fighting over which of them was the true mother of a baby (I Kings 3:16-28). Solomon was, of course, known for his great wisdom.

Solomon wrote, "Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her." (Prov. 3:13-15)

We need to understand, though, that knowledge and wisdom aren't the same thing. If you want to measure a person's knowledge, you give them a test. If they score 90 or above, they have a lot of knowledge. If they score below 50, there's not much knowledge there. But determining the measure of a person's wisdom is much more difficult. You have to look at how he lives and the decisions he makes.

James Draper has said, "Wisdom is the skill to live in a way that is pleasing to God. It is not simply information in our heads. It is information that we put to use -- where we live, where we work, and where we play."

We live in a world where everyone seeks knowledge. We value educaton. We read books. We watch news channels. But how many of us pursue wisdom to the same extent?

Be assured that wisdom is not something that you will stumble into by accident. It's a pursuit. It's a search. It requires an attitude that says, "I want to learn from God how to live, and I want to apply those principles to my life."

"Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding." (Proverbs 4:7)

Friday, October 9, 2009

How to Give Advice


The wife was busy frying eggs, when her husband came home. He walked into the kitchen and immediately started yelling. "CAREFUL!!! CAREFUL! MORE OIL! TURN THEM! TURN THEM NOW! WE NEED MORE OIL! THEY ARE GOING TO STICK! CAREFUL! CAREFUL! TURN THEM! TURN THEM!!! HURRY UP! ARE YOU CRAZY! THE OIL IS GOING TO SPILL! USE MORE SALT! THE SALT!!"

The wife was very upset, "What is wrong with you? Why are you yelling like this? Do you think I don't know how to fry an egg?"

The husband calmly replied, "I just wanted you to know what it's like for me when I am driving the car and you're sitting next to me."

Without making specific judgments about wives giving advice to their husbands while driving (or about husbands giving advice to their wives while cooking!), let me simply say that we all need to be conscious of how we give advice to others. The author of the book of Proverbs has much to say on the subject. In fact, the words “tongue”, “mouth”, “lips” and “words” are mentioned in Proverbs almost 150 times!

Consider these thoughts:

Know all the facts before you give advice – “He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him.” (Prov. 18:13)

Give advice in a calm manner – “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Prov. 15:1)

Be careful about giving unsolicited advice – “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise.” (Prov. 10:19)

But when advice is needed, be prepared to give godly advice – “The heart of the righteous studies how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours forth evil.” (Prov. 15:28)

Above all, give advice out of a sincere love for your friend – “Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” (Prov. 27:5-6)

When you give advice, may it be "a word fitly spoken" (Prov. 25:11) because "a word spoken in due season, how good it is!" (Prov. 15:23)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Going Against the Flow


The story is told about a woman who called her husband on his car phone as he was on his way home from work and she said, “Honey, you need to be careful. I just saw on the news that there’s some nut driving the wrong way on the Interstate.” Her husband said, “There’s not just one nut, there’s hundreds of them!”

Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt like trying to do God’s will makes you go the wrong way down the road? All the traffic’s coming the other way. Have you ever thought, “If everybody’s going this way, it’s so hard to go against the flow. Would God really mind if I just turned around for a little while?”

An article in The London Times a couple of years ago reported that there are currently about 200 million Christians in over 60 countries who are being persecuted for their faith. Because we have freedom in the United States to worship God, those of us who live here sometimes we forget just how many people in this world live under oppression – by Communist authorities or Muslim authorities, or authorities who simply oppose God and the people who follow God.

And even if you don’t face governmental oppression, there are no doubt many of you who live with oppression – in your home, in your workplace or at your school – oppressed by a family member or boss or teacher who makes it difficult on you as a Christian. More and more, we all are living in an anti-God culture. We live in an environment that makes it difficult at times for us to stand up for God.

We must remember the words of Paul: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2)

No matter which way the crowd around you is flowing, may you have the courage to travel the direction that God would have you to travel.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Put It To Death


"Mommy, my turtle is dead," the little boy, Freddie, sorrowfully told his mother, holding the turtle out to her.

The mother kissed him on the head, then said, "That's all right. We'll wrap him in tissue paper, put him in a little box, then have a nice burial ceremony in the back yard. After that, we'll go out for an ice cream soda, and then get you a new pet. I don't want you...." Her voice trailed off as she noticed the turtle move.

"Freddie, your turtle is not dead after all."

"Oh," the disappointed boy said. "Can I kill it?"

Using the mind of a child, it's easy to see why Freddie felt that way. In his immature mind, the "blessing" of an ice cream soda more than made up for any loss suffered through the death of a pet.

There is a sense, though, in which the benefits of death far outweigh any sadness we might feel. The apostle Paul frequently wrote of the need to "put to death" the sinful behavior that once characterized our lives. We're well aware of what he's talking about because we constantly struggle with temptation. Just when we think we've given our sins the death blow, they resurface with new life. Putting them to death is not an easy thing to do. It helps to be reminded of the benefits of doing so:

"For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live." (Rom. 8:13)

The thought of "living" with God far outweighs any sadness I might experience from putting to death those "deeds of the body."

Father, as I look at my sinful behavior which resurfaces from time to time only to hurt and disappoint you so much -- that behavior which you hate even more than I do, enough to sacrifice your only Son -- I have only one question: Can I kill it?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Passing of Time


The rules at a particular university were such that if the professor were not present in the classroom by 15 minutes past the hour, the class was considered a "walk" and the students were free to leave -- with no penalties for missing a class. The rooms were equipped with the type wall clocks which "jumped" ahead each minute, in a very noticeable fashion. These clocks were also not of the most sophisticated construction. Some enterprising student discovered that if one were to hit the clock with chalkboard erasers, it would cause the clock to "jump" ahead one minute.

So, it became almost daily routine for these students to take target practice at the clock (as it would have it, this particular professor was not the most punctual). A few well-aimed erasers, and lo, 15 minutes were passed, and class dismissed itself.

When the day for the next exam rolled around, the professor strolled into the room, passed out the exams, and told them "You have one hour to complete it."

The professor then proceeded to collect the erasers from around the room and gleefully took aim at the clock. When he had successfully "jumped" the clock forward one hour, he closed the class and collected the exam papers.

We'll all been in situations where we would like for time to jump ahead and move faster than it does. But, as we get older, we become aware than time is moving quite fast enough on its own, without any help!

"My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle..." (Job 2:6)

"Now my days are swifter than a runner; They flee away....They pass by like swift ships, Like an eagle swooping on its prey." (Job 9:25-26)

"For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away." (James 4:14b)

The Bible speaks often about how quickly life passes, not to depress us, but to bring us to the realization that we had better be preparing now for the eternity that lies beyond this life.

If you find yourself watching the clock at work today, wishing the time would pass faster, be careful! It will be gone before you know it.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Remember the Scars


John Gordon was a respected general for the South in the Civil War. After the war, he was running for the United States Senate, but a man who had served under him in the war, angry over some political incident, was determined to see him defeated. Everyone knew this man would fight Gordon's bid to become a senator.

During the convention, he angrily stamped down the aisle with his anti-Gordon vote in hand. As he saw Gordon sitting on the platform, he noticed how his once handsome face was disfigured with the scars of battle -- marks of his willingness to suffer and bleed for a cause he believed in.

The old soldier was stricken with remorse. Overcome with emotion, he exclaimed, "It's no use; I can't do it. Here's my vote for John Gordon." Then, turning to the general, he said, "Forgive me, General. I had forgotten the scars."

What a difference it makes in our lives when we remember the scars! With so many things to distract us, we don't often take time each day to reflect on what Jesus went through on the cross for us. But, when we are tempted to stray, it is a remembrance of Christ's sacrifice that has the power to draw us back to him.

"He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5)

May I encourage you this morning to take a moment to pause and "remember the scars".

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Is There Anyone Who Thinks He Can Whip Me?


The following story comes from Robert Norris (via Reader's Digest):

"My brother and I arrived at boot camp together. On the first morning, our unit was dragged out of bed by our drill sergeant and made to assemble outside. 'My name's Sergeant Jackson,' he snarled. 'Is there anyone here who thinks he can whip me?'

"My six-foot-three, 280-pound brother raised his hand and said, 'Yes, sir, I do.'

"Our sergeant grabbed him by the arm and led him out in front of the group. 'Men,' he said, 'this is my new assistant. Now, is there anyone here who thinks he can whip both of us?'"

That humorous story reminds me of our relationship with God. As we look out at the world, our pride and our sense of independence may cause us to feel that we can take on anything life has to throw at us. But life will let us know very quickly that we are no match. The trials of life have a way of beating us down and causing us to feel helpless at times.

But God stands by our side and suddenly our confidence is renewed, because there truly is no one or nothing strong enough to defeat us both.

"What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31)

"You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world." (I John 4:4)

"Be strong and of good courage; do not be afarid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9)

May you find your confidence this day not in your own strength, but in the strength of the One who stands by your side.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Things I Wish I'd Known


Someone has composed this list (from a variety of sources) of "Things I Wish I'd Known Before I Went Out Into the Real World":

* Never continue dating anyone who is rude to the waiter.

* Some people are working backstage, some are playing in the orchestra, some are on-stage singing, some are in the audience as critics, some are there to applaud. Know who and where you are.

* The five most essential words for a healthy, vital relationship: "I apologize" and "You are right."

* Everyone seems normal until you get to know them.

* When you make a mistake, make amends immediately. It's easier to eat crow while it's still warm.

* The only really good advice that I remember my mother ever gave me was, "Go! You might meet somebody!"

* If he says that you are too good for him, believe it.

* I've learned to pick my battles; I ask myself, "Will this matter one year from now? How about one month? One week? One day?"

* The shortest line is always the longest.

* Being happy doesn't mean everything's perfect, it just means you've decided to see beyond the imperfections.

* If you woke up breathing, congratulations! You have another chance!

There's a lot of biblical truth in many of the statements above, especially the last statement. How often have you done something really stupid and said to yourself, "I wish I could have a second chance"? The truth is, God has given you a second chance. He's given you hundreds of second chances. You're not guaranteed another one, but the fact that you got up out of bed today means that you have one more opportunity to make right anything that has destroyed your relationship with God or others.

Many people have questioned why Jesus has not yet returned like he promised he would. Here's one reason:

"The Lord is not slack concerning His promise [to return], as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9)

If you woke up breathing, congratulations! You have another chance! Don't waste it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Learning From Correction


I read recently about a wife who who frustrated at always being corrected by her husband. She decided the next time it happened she would have a comeback. That moment finally arrived, and she was ready.

"You know," she challenged, "even a broken clock is right once a day."

He looked at her and replied, "Twice."

Nobody enjoys being corrected, even if it's done in a kind, loving way. But correction may serve a useful purpose. We need to listen to it and, if possible, profit by it.

As someone has said, "We learn much from the disagreeable things people say, for they make us think, whereas the good things only make us glad."

For Christians, correction should be a stepping-stone to spiritual growth! It's an opportunity to learn what we're doing wrong and what we need to do better. It provides us with the motivation we need to change and mature.

But our pride often stands in the way of our gaining anything from correction. We don't want to admit our shortcomings. We react to admonishment by pouting, retaliating in anger or attempting to rationalize our behavior.

Peter is a good example for us. He had a lot of excellent qualities that made him a great servant of God -- his leadership, his frankness, his energy, his devotion. But there's one quality in particular that helped Peter grow to the great leader that he was. Peter was correctable. And a correctable person is able to learn and grow.

On at least eight different occasions, the Bible tells us that Peter blew it. He sank in the Sea of Galilee. He rebuked Jesus for talking about his death. He spoke out of turn at the transfiguration. He initially refused to let Jesus wash his feet. He went to sleep in Gethsemane. He cut off the ear of Mal­chus. He denied any relationship with Jesus. And he practiced racial discrim­ination against his Gentile brothers at Antioch.

And every time he failed, Peter received some kind of admonition, usually verbal -- from Paul, from Jesus, from God. And each time, Peter humbly received his admonition, then pressed on in his Master's service.

"If you listen to correction to improve your life, you will live among the wise. Those who refuse correction hate themselves, but those who accept correction gain understanding." (Proverbs 15:31-32, NCV)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Leaving Collateral


I accompanied my husband when he went to get a haircut. Reading a magazine, I found a hairstyle I liked for myself, and I asked the receptionist if I could take the magazine next door to make a copy of the photo.

"Leave some ID, a driver's license or a credit card," she said.

"But my husband is here getting a haircut," I explained.

"Yes," she replied. "But I need something you'll come back for."

We are familiar with the concept of collateral. Perhaps many of you have been in a situation, as I have in time past, where you pumped your gas or bought some groceries but then realized that you didn't have any cash. The cashier wanted something (usually a driver's license) as collateral to serve as proof that you would return to pay the full amount.

In the Old Testament, the word that is most often used to describe collateral is "pledge". You may recall the story of Jacob and Tamar in Genesis 38, where Judah had sex with Tamar, thinking that she was a prostitute. As payment, he offered to return home for a goat, but Tamar wanted collateral: "What will you give me a pledge till you send it?" (Gen. 38:17).

Under the Law of Moses, if you needed collateral, you could take a person's garment, but "If you ever take your neighbor’s garment as a pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down." (Exodus 22:26) because that's what he used to keep warm at night.

In the New Testament, the word that is most often used to describe the idea of collateral is "guarantee". Three times (2 Cor. 1:22; 2 Cor. 5:5; Eph. 1:14), the apostle Paul says that God has given us His Holy Spirit as a "guarantee" that there is more to come. We can be assured that God will keep all of His promises and give us great blessings (including a home in heaven) because we have the Spirit to serve as collateral.

"For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee." (2 Cor. 5:4-5)

Trust me, that's something God is definitely coming back for!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Peaceful Coexistence?


The story is told of a Russian named Ivanovich who visited the Moscow zoo for the first time. To his amazement, he found a little lamb sharing the cage with a big fierce bear.

Ivanovich expressed surprise to his guide. The guide smiled and said, "That is peaceful coexistence."

When Ivanovich shook his head in a doubtful way, the guide explained, "Of course, we have to put in a fresh lamb every morning."

As much as we should strive for peace, there are some things which simply cannot coexist peacefully -- truth and error, righteousness and ungodliness, morality and immorality. If we try to combine two such things in our lives, they will only coexist "peacefully" only if one gobbles up the other. That's why James was so forceful in his warning:

"You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." (James 4:4, NASB)

This verse frightens me more than just about any verse in the entire Bible, because I see the influence that "the world" has on me and on Christians around me. We have just as much interest in accumulating "things" as the world does. We often don't do a better job of taking care of those in need than the world does. We worry just as much as the world does. We value the same things as the world does. We imitate the world to such an extent that if you were to go into an average workplace and ask the boss, "Which of these men and women working for you are Christians?", he wouldn't be able to identify us.

Let us beware lest we make the mistake of thinking that our association with and imitation of "the world" doesn't affect our relationship with God. Some things can't live in peaceful coexistence, and "whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Making Everybody Happy


The following is reported to be a true story regarding Berkeley, CA:

In 1990, the Berkeley City Council passed a law changing the name of Columbus Day to Native American Day because Columbus wasn't nice to the Indians. Of course, no Indians were asked if they wanted the holiday's name changed or even if they wanted to be called Native Americans.

In 1991, a politically-correct group argued that Indians are not native to America but to Asia, so calling them Native Americans might be insulting to Asians. So the Berkeley City Council changed the name again, to "Indigenous People Day." Of course, neither the Indian nor the Asian communities were consulted about this.

In 1992, the Italian American Anti-Defamation League gave the City of Berkeley their Insensitivity Award. The Italian-American group said that they agreed that Indians haven't been treated well, but that the Italians weren't the ones who did it, so why take away their holiday? Nobody asked the Italian-American community at large how they felt about renaming Columbus Day.

In 1994, the Berkeley City Council finally changed the holiday back to "Columbus Day."

In 1995, representatives of the Winnamucca Indian Tribe protested at City Council meetings. They argued that Indians had never asked that Columbus Day be renamed to honor Indians, but since it had been, the City Council couldn't take it back, lest they become "indigenous-people-givers."

In 1996, the City Council again changed the name to "Indigenous Peoples/Columbus Day." It was felt that this name was a compromise which would end any and all protests from the diverse, interested parties.

Currently, the Berkeley City Council is besieged by a group lobbying to rename the holiday "Animal Rights Day."

You can't please everyone, can you? In fact, trying to do so will only frustrate you. I'm not saying we shouldn't give consideration to the desires of others, because we should. But, ultimately, in our Christian lives, we should seek to please only one person.

"For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ." (Gal. 1:10)

Take comfort in knowing that even Jesus Christ didn't please everyone throughout his life. But he always sought to please God. May that be your goal this day and every day!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Attracted By The Light


The story is told of an old country doctor who went way out to the boondocks to deliver a baby. It was so far out, there was no electricity. When the doctor arrived, no one was home except for the laboring mother and her 5-year-old child.

The doctor instructed the child to hold a lantern high so he could see, while he helped the woman deliver the baby.

The child did so, the mother pushed and after a little while, the doctor lifted the newborn baby by the feet and spanked him on the bottom to get him to take his first breath.

No sooner had he done this when another baby popped out, Then another, and yet another. At this time, the little boy blew out the lamp.

The doctor yelled, "What did you do that for?"

"The light's attracting them," he replied.

Spiritually speaking, there's a great deal of truth in that last statement. We experience the "new birth" (John 3:3) only after being attracted to the "light" -- the light of God's presence, the light of God's Word. Like moths drawn to a light bulb burning in the night, those who search with an empty and unsatisfied heart will be drawn to God's light. And praise be to God who offers us a way to leave our world of darkness and enter his "marvelous light":

"But you are....His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy." (I Peter 2:9-10).

Heavenly Father, I live in the midst of a dark world. Thank you for allowing your light to shine into my heart and into my life. Help me as I strive to live my life in such a way that I reflect your light so that others around me may see that light and be attracted to it. In the name of the one who is the "light of this world", Amen.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

R.S.V.P.


As the story goes, some prominent scientists were invited to a party, and this is how they replied (warning! only avid science students will understand every reference):

* Ampere was worried he wasn't current.

* Audobon said he'd have to wing it.

* Boyle said he was under too much pressure.

* Darwin waited to see what evolved.

* Descartes said he'd think about it.

* Dr Jekyll declined -- he hadn't been feeling himself lately.

* Edison thought it would be illuminating.

* Einstein thought it would be relatively easy to attend.

* Gauss was asked to attend because of his magnetic personality.

* Hertz said in the future he planned to attend with greater frequency.

* Morse's reply: "I'll be there on the dot. Can't stop now, must dash."

* Newton planned to drop in.

* Ohm resisted the idea.

* Pavlov was drooling at the thought.

* Pierre and Marie Curie were radiating enthusiasm.

* Volta was electrified, and Archimedes buoyant at the thought.

* Watt reckoned it would be a good way to let off steam.

* Wilbur Wright accepted, provided he and Orville could get a flight.

I think it's significant that Jesus often compared his kingdom to a feast or a banquet. Being a part of God's kingdom is like going to a party. It's a festive occasion, a time of fellowship, a time of joy. I think Jesus wanted us to understand that the greatest joys this life has to offer are found in his kingdom.

"The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding…and they were not willing to come. Again, he sent out other serv ants, saying, 'Tell those who are invited, "See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding."' But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his business.” (Matthew 22:2-5).

The king sent out his servants to tell everyone to come join the party, but those who had been invited wouldn't come. So he tried again, sending out his messengers to say, “Look, it's going to be a great party -- lots of food and fun!” But they said, "We've got other things to do. Sorry, can't make it. We’d love to, but we’re just too busy. You know how it is.”

And you know how the king felt, don't you? We've all had that happen to us at some time or another. You work like a dog getting ready for something -- a party, a get-together in your home. You spend hours and hours getting everything ready. You work hard and you're excited about what you've got planned.

The big day comes. You planned for twenty and three show up. You planned for thirty and you get eight. You know how it feels. You want to cry. It makes you angry and frustrated and depressed. You know how the king in this parable felt. And if you know how the king in this parable felt, then in some small way, you know how God feels whenever one of us rejects his invitation to be a part of the kingdom that he has prepared for us.

The banquet has been prepared. You have received an invitation from God. He is waiting for an R.S.V.P. Have you made your plans to attend?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The War is Over


The story is told about a man in Amsterdam who, not so long ago, was feeling guilty about something he had done, so he went and talked to his preacher.

He said, "I feel terrible because I've sinned. During World War II I hid a refugee in my attic."

The preacher said, "I don't believe that's a sin at all. I wouldn't feel bad about that if I were you."

"But I made him agree to pay me 20 Gulden for every week he stayed."

The preacher said, "Well, I admit that wasn't the most noble thing to do, but you did it for a good cause, so I still wouldn't worry about it."

The man said, "Oh thank you, that eases my mind. I have only one more question to ask you -- Do I have to tell him the war is over?"

We as Christians are engaged in a spiritual warfare -- it's Christianity vs. the world, the forces of good vs. the forces of evil.
And it's easy to get the idea (especially if you watch the news) that God's side is losing, and immorality is winning out!

John wrote the book of Revelation for Christians who must have been feeling the same way. After all, Rome certainly seemed to have the upper hand. Christians were losing! But, in reality, the war is over, and we know who wins!

John, looking ahead, writes, "These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful." (Revelation 17:14)

There are battles around us daily, and sometimes Satan does indeed seem to be winning, but looking ahead, the war is over and we know that those who are on God's side will be victorious! Keep that in mind today when you feel like you're fighting a losing battle!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Finding Our Self-Esteem


A story is told about William "Speedy" Morris, who was head coach at La Salle University from 1986 to 2001. As the story goes, during a year in which LaSalle was having a pretty good season, Coach Morris was shaving one morning when the phone rang. His wife answered it and called out to him that Sports Illustrated wanted to talk to him.

Coach Morris was excited that his team was apparently about to receive national recognition in this famous sports magazine. As a matter of fact, he was so excited that he cut himself with his razor.

Covered with blood and shaving lather and running downstairs to the phone, he tripped and fell down the stairs. Finally, bleeding and bruised, he made it to the phone and breathlessly said, "Hello"?

The voice on the other end asked, "Is this Speedy Morris"?

"Yes, yes!" he replied excitedly.

Then the voice continued, "Mr. Morris, for just seventy-five cents an issue, we can give you a one-year subscription to Sports Illustrated."

We are often disappointed to find out that someone else doesn’t think we are as important as we think they ought to! Paul had something to say about this:

“For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” (Romans 12:3)

We’ve heard a lot in the past couple of decades about the importance of boosting the self-esteem of children in school, with the idea that getting rid of low self-esteem will help children to be happier and have better grades. And I fully appreciate the fact that some children (as well as some adults) do have poor self-esteem and view themselves as worthless, which is a bad thing. Paul doesn’t say that we need to have a poor view of ourselves, just that we need to have a “sober” or “sensible” view of ourselves.

But it seems to me that a bigger problem in our society is high self-esteem – people who think of themselves as more important than they truly are. Strangely enough, I don’t hear anyone talking about that problem! But Jesus did. He spoke a lot about the need to develop an attitude of humility, and he let us know that we find a right view of ourselves by seeing ourselves as servants. Jesus not only taught that view of self-esteem, but he demonstrated it.

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5)

Father, help me to find my self-esteem in you. Because of your sacrifice on my behalf, I understand my great value in your eyes. But forgive me when I try to elevate myself over others around me who are equally as valuable. Help me to develop the humble attitude of a servant. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Advice For Fathers


A mother was out walking with her 4 year old daughter. The child picked up something off the ground and started to put it into her mouth. The mother took it away and said “Don’t do that!”

“Why not?” asked the child.

“Because it’s on the ground,” said her mother. “You don’t know where it’s been. It’s dirty, and it’s probably loaded with germs that could make you sick.”

The child looked at her mother with total admiration and said, “Mommy, how do you know all this stuff? You’re so smart.”

The mother said, “All Moms know this stuff. It’s on the Mom’s Test. You have to know it or they don’t let you be a Mom.”

There was silence for a minute or so as the child thought this through. “Oh, I get it,” she said at last. “And if you don’t pass the test you have to be the Daddy?”

Fathers don’t always get the respect that mothers do. That will become evident on Sunday. The truth is, Father’s Day is just not as big as Mother’s Day. On Mother’s Day, there’s a higher attendance at church, mothers have corsages on, emotions run high, restaurants do a booming business. On Father’s day, well, there are more collect phone calls than any other day of the year (yes, that’s a true fact).

Despite the fact that fathers are sometimes overlooked, the Bible is clear about the great responsibility given to those of us who are fathers. God challenges husbands to be the leaders in their homes. He challenges fathers to be someone their kids can look up to Allow me to share a few biblical pieces of advice with those of you who are fathers:

Love your wife! Paul said in Ephesians 5:28, “So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.” That’s one of the most important things you can do as a father. Trust me -- your children do watch how you treat their mother. They watch … and they are learning and forming their concept of marriage from you.

Spend time with your children. The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 127:3, “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward.” In other words, our children are a great blessing. Children are given to us to enjoy -- not to be a burden … not to avoid … not to ignore … But to enjoy! And in order to enjoy them, you’ve got to be with them … have fun with them … share your life with them.

Listen to your children. Give them your undivided attention … not with one eye on the TV and the other eye on them. When they have a problem, they don’t need cartoons, they don’t need a video game, they don’t even need their best friends. Dad … they need you! We need to be approachable. Be the kind of father that they can come to and say anything that’s on their mind.

Train your children. Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:4, “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” Notice what Paul said. He didn’t say “parents”. And he didn’t say “Sunday School teachers”. He said, “fathers.” As we train our children, our goal is not merely to get our kids to outwardly conform to a list of rules. Our goal is to train and develop children who seek to glorify God with their lives.

Be a positive role model. Much of what our kids learn is caught rather than taught—they learn from what they observe. This means we can’t afford to cheat on our taxes, lie to our boss, or be rude to a salesperson. You are a role model for your children and, like it or not … good or bad … they will, to one degree or another, model their lives after you. You have inherited some of your father’s characteristics and your children are inheriting some of yours.

May God bless those of you who are fathers, and may we always look to our Heavenly Father as a perfect example of what a father should be!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Sense of Duty


Early one morning, a mother went in to wake up her son. "Wake up, son. It's time to go to school!"

"But why, Mom? I don't want to go."

"Give me two reasons why you don't want to go."

"Well, the kids hate me for one, and the teachers hate me, too!"

"Oh, that's no reason not to go to school. Come on now and get ready."

"Give me two reasons why I should go to school."

"Well, for one, you're 52 years old. And for another, you're the principal!"

Sometimes we have to do things even when we don't feel like doing them! It's called having a sense of duty. I think perhaps the concept of duty has taken some abuse in the church. We sometimes talk about the importance of doing things for God because we want to, not because we have to. And I would wholeheartedly agree with that. But if we only serve God when we really "feel" like it, our service would be minimal indeed. Sometimes the feelings aren't there, and we need to continue to serve knowing that it is the "right" thing to do.

It shouldn't bother us to think that way because we do many other things in life for the same reason. For example, I am a father of three children. When each of of those babies entered my home, I loved them. And I provided for their needs because I loved them. But, I can honestly say that there were many times I got up in the middle of night to meet their needs when I didn't "feel" like it. There were times when I got out of bed exhausted and irritable, and the only reason I got up was because I had a responsibility as a father to meet their needs. The love is always there, but sometimes it is a sense of duty that drives you to do what needs to be done.

The same thing is true in our Christian walk. When you get "exhausted and irritable" in your service to Christ, when you don't "feel" like doing what you know needs to be done, may a sense of responsibility, a sense of duty, drive you to continue to remain faithful.

"And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once and sit down to eat'? But will he not rather say to him, 'Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink'? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.' " (Luke 17:7-10)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Are You Feeling Lucky?


The following ads are reported to have been taken from actual newspapers:

1) Free puppies: ½ cocker spaniel, ½ sneaky neighbor dog

2) Snow blower for sale ... only used on snowy days

3) For sale: an antique desk suitable for lady with thick legs and large drawers.

4) 2 wire mesh butchering gloves: 1 five-finger, 1 three-finger, pair $15

5) Lost: small apricot poodle. Reward. Neutered. Like one of the family.

6) Dog for sale: eats anything and is fond of children

7) Nordic Track $300. Hardly used. Call Chubbie.

8) Found: Dirty white dog. Looks like rat. Been out awhile. Better be reward.

9) Hummels -- largest selection ever. "If it's in stock, we have it!"

10) Georgia Peaches, California grown -- 89 cents/lb.

11) Nice parachute: never opened -- used once, slightly stained

12) Tired of working for only $9.75 per hour? We offer profit sharing and flexible hours. Starting pay -- $7-9 per hour

13) For sale by owner -- complete set of Encyclopedia Brittanica. 45 volumes. Excellent condition. $1,000 obo. No longer needed. Got married last weekend. Wife knows everything.

14) LOST: One-eyed, three-legged male dog. Answers to the name "Lucky."

I'm going to share with you one of my "pet peeves." I don't like the word "lucky." And, no, it has nothing to do with the ad above. I enjoy many good things in life. I have a lot of wonderful things happen to me. And there are times that I am tempted to say, "You know, I've been pretty lucky." But then I recall that my good fortune is due not to luck or happenchance, but to the hand of Almighty God. I'm not lucky; I'm blessed! God has richly provided for me in ways far beyond what I expect or deserve.

Can you picture Esther saying, "Wasn't it lucky that the king was willing to hear my plea?"? Can you picture Paul saying, "Wasn't it lucky that we weren't killed in that shipwreck?"? Can you picture Daniel saying, "Wasn't it lucky that the lions didn't eat me?"?

Then why would I dare speak of how "lucky" I've been in my life? It's not luck -- it's the providential care of a loving God!

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights....." (James 1:17). Thank you, Father, for blessing my life so richly!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lessons From Prison


These are some of the frivolous lawsuits filed by convicted prisoners across the United States (which are subsidized by taxpayers).

~ An inmate, calling himself a sports fanatic, complained that, as a result of cruel and unusual punishment, he was forced to miss the NFL playoffs -- especially the "classic " between Miami and San Diego, San Diego and Pittsburgh, and Dallas and San Francisco. (Arkansas)

~ An inmate complained because his meal allegedly was in poor condition. He claims his sandwich was soggy and his cookie was broken. (Brittaker v. Rowland)

~ An inmate who murdered five people sued after lightning knocked out the prison's TV satellite dish and he had to watch network programs, which he said contained violence, profanity, and other objectionable material. (Jackson v. Barton)

~ An inmate sued to be given Reeboks, Adidas, Pony, or Avia hightops rather than the inferior brand sneakers issued by the prison. (Brown v. Singletary)

~ An inmate sued for not receiving his scheduled parole hearing, though he was out on escape when the hearing was to be held. (Young v. Murphy)

~ An inmate sued because he was required to eat off of a paper plate. (Procup v. Strickland, et al)

~ An inmate sued because he didn’t like his mail being stamped in a way that indicated it was being sent from a state prison (California)

~ An inmate who was a murderer sued for $25,000, claiming a "defective" haircut resulted in lost sleep, headaches, and chest pains. (New York)

We get quite a different picture of a prisoner in the New Testament by the name of Paul. While he wasn't afraid to demand his rights (Acts 22:25; 25:11), neither was Paul one to whine and complain and mope while in prison (and he hadn't even committed a crime!). Listen to this positive statement which comes from Paul's pen as he sat in chains:

"Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly..... And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice." (Philippians 1:12-14, 18b).

This passage is an encouragement to me in those times when it seems that life is treating me unfairly. If Paul could maintain such a positive spirit and joy in the midst of such difficulty, surely I can do the same. There is much to be thankful for!

“Father, help me to truly understand that what matters most in life is not being comfortable, being stress-free, or even being treated fairly. What matters most is that I am living in a way that brings you the glory and draws others around me closer to you. Please help me to do that. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

Friday, May 22, 2009

Loving Someone You Can't Stand


Doctor: "I see you're over a month late for your appointment. Don't you know that nervous disorders require prompt and regular attention? What's your excuse?"

Patient: "I was just following your orders, Doc."

Doctor: "Following my orders? What are you talking about? I gave you no such order." 

Patient: "You told me to avoid people who irritate me." 

     Unfortunately, we don’t always have the option of avoiding people who irritate, people who hurt us, people who offend us.  In fact, sometimes those who irritate us the most are found right in our home (or in our church building).  So how should we deal with them?

     Milton Jones has written a wonderful book entitled “How to Love Someone You Can’t Stand” which I highly recommend (you can find it at Amazon.com).  In this book, Jones lists six godly principles which are derived from Romans 12:

(1)  Manage Your mouth -- Bless and don't curse (Rom. 12:14)

(2)  Put yourself in the other person's place and try to understand their feelings, thoughts and position (Rom. 12:15)

(3)  Never, never, never take revenge (Rom. 12:17)

(4)  Plan ahead to do something beautiful (Rom. 12:17)

(5)  Don't just win the war, win the peace (Rom. 12:18)

(6)  Make room for God (Rom. 12:19)

     The bottom line is that we do not overcome evil with evil by retaliating and seeking to "get even".  The only way to overcome evil is with good (Rom. 12:21).  It is never easy to respond to those who do us wrong in a way that is godly, but it is only by following the example of Jesus Christ that we can truly have an influence on the world around us.

     "But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.  For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps..." (I Peter 2:19-20)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Seeking the Lost


    A golfer, playing a round by himself, is about to tee off, and a greasy little salesman runs up to him, and yells, "Wait! Before you tee off, I have something really amazing to show you!"

    The golfer, annoyed, says, "What is it?"

    "It's a special golf ball," says the salesman. "You can never lose it!"

    "Whattaya mean," scoffs the golfer, "you can never lose it?  What if you hit it into the water?"

    "No problem," says the salesman. "It floats, and it detects where the shore is, and spins towards it."

    "Well, what if you hit it into the woods?"

    "Easy," says the salesman. "It emits a beeping sound, and you can find it with your eyes closed."

    "Okay," says the golfer, impressed. "But what if your round goes late and it gets dark?"

    "No problem, sir, this golf ball glows in the dark!  I'm telling you, you can never lose this golf ball!"

    The golfer buys it at once. "Just one question," he says to the salesman. "Where did you get it?"

    "I found it!"

    Maybe someday someone will invent a golf ball that can never be lost, but until then we will all have to deal with losing things -- golf balls, car keys, glasses, etc.  We also have to deal with a lost humanity.  I find it interesting that the one term Jesus used most often to describe those who are outside of Christ is the word "lost".

    In Luke 15, Jesus elaborated on this idea by telling three parables -- the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the lost (prodigal) son.  The point has often been made that those three parables demonstrate three different ways of being lost -- through unintentional wandering (the sheep), through the negligence of someone else (the coin), or through willful disobedience (the son).

    However, the point of those three parables is not so much about our lostness as they are about the fact that our God is willing to search for us and bring us back into a relationship with Him.  If we will truly see the world around us as "lost", it will change our perspective as well.  Think about the last time you knew of a child that was missing.  When a child is lost, we don't ask what race the child is.  It doesn't matter -- the child is lost!  We don't ask the child's economic status.   It doesn't matter -- the child is lost!  We don't ask what the child may or may not have done wrong.   It doesn't matter -- the child is lost!  All that matters is that we find that child and bring him/her home safely.

    Seeing a world around us as "lost" will change the way we see them.  The scribes and Pharisees looked at the tax collectors and sinners and saw terrible, ugly people.  Jesus saw people who were lost.  All that mattered to him was that he bring them home safely.

    "For the Son of man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." (Luke 19:10)

    Father, thank you for diligently searching for me and for bringing me home to you.  Fill me with your love so that I may care enough to seek out those around me who are lost.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

It's Not Easy Being a Mom


Judith Viorst once wrote an essay based on interviews she had with children. The subject was "What's a good mother like?"

Viorst reports that the children expected their mother to get angry from time to time. "She has to," said Ted, "or she'll faint from holding it in."

"But it's best to remember," said Randy, "that when your mother starts to act real weird, you have to look scared and serious. Don't giggle. When mommies are mad, they get madder if you giggle."

"My mommy got so mad," said Megan, "that she yanked the plate off the table and all the mashed potatoes flew into the air."

"And why," Viorst asked, pretending she'd never heard of such shocking behavior, "why would a mother do a thing like that?"

"Well," said Megan, "she told my older brother, Mike, he's 11 years old, to eat the potatoes on his plate and he said 'Later.' And then she told him again to eat the potatoes and Mike said 'Soon.' And then she told him he had better eat those potatoes right now and he said, 'In a minute.' And then she stood up and Mike finally took a bite and told her, 'How can I eat them? They're cold!'"

It truly is not easy being a Mom! But how blessed we were to have our mothers. In this country, we will honor our mothers on Sunday, and I think it’s certainly appropriate. Paul said we as Christians are to “give honor to whom honor is due” (Romans 13:7), and I can’t think of anyone any more deserving of honor than mothers. I hope that you will honor in a special way those mothers who are like Hannah.

In I Samuel 1, we have recorded the birth of Samuel. Before he was born, Hannah prayed a vow to God. She said, "O LORD of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head." (I Samuel 1:11)

The Lord heard her petition and she was blessed with the birth of Samuel. Hannah didn’t forget her vow to the Lord. She took her son Samuel to be trained at the feet of Eli, the priest of God. From a very young age, Hannah made sure that her son was preparing to serve the Lord.

I heard about a preacher a number of years ago who came home after preaching a gospel meeting, and he was asked how it went. Rather discouraged, he said that he had only baptized one young girl who was about 12 or 13 years old -- all in all, comparatively speaking, not a very successful meeting. But, after that girl grew up, she married and became the mother of five sons who became gospel preachers. What a great impact that young lady ended up having in the world!

I know that mothers -- especially mothers of young children -- sometimes get discouraged because they wonder if they’re really accomplishing anything. Let me assure you that if you are instilling within your children a love for God and His Word, you’re accomplishing something. It may be years down the road before you see the results, but you’re having an impact. You’re making a difference.

Give honor this weekend to your own mother -- and to those mothers around you -- who, like Hannah, have vowed to give their children over to God.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Living Stones


Joe died. His will provided $30,000 for an elaborate funeral. 

As the last guests departed the affair, his wife, Susan turned to her oldest and dearest friend. "Well, I'm sure Joe would be pleased," she said.

"I'm sure you're right," replied Joan, who lowered her voice and leaned in close. "How much did this really cost?"

"All of it," said Susan . "Thirty thousand."

"No!" Joan exclaimed. "I mean, it was very nice, but $30,000?"

Susan answered, "The funeral was $6,500. I donated $500 to the church. The refreshments $500. The rest went for the memorial stone."

Joan computed quickly. "$22,500 for a memorial stone? My goodness, how big is it?"

"Two and a half carats."

That humorous story serves as a reminder to us that there are many different kinds of stones -- from granite to diamonds -- which are of varying value. People all around the world are agreed that a stone of granite is not very valuable, while a diamond gemstone is of great value. Sometimes, though, a stone can have great value, but not be appreciated by some people.

In I Peter 2:4, Jesus is described as a "living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious." In I Peter 2:6, Jesus is referred to as "a chief cornerstone", the most important stone in any building. But he was a stone "which the builders rejected" and is viewed as 'a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense." (I Peter 2:7,8).

Peter uses these Old Testament concepts (as Jesus himself did) to point out that, while Jesus was chosen by God, he was rejected by men. He was not the kind of Messiah they were expected, so they stumbled over him. It was the same stone, but Jesus was viewed by some as a very valuable stone and by others as a worthless rock.

The application of this passage to us as Christians is found in Peter's description of us as "living stones, [who] are being built up a spiritual house." (I Peter 2:5). Peter is writing this epistle to Christians who are suffering persecution, and are getting discouraged because this world is making life hard for them even though they are doing what is right.

Peter's point is that, as followers of Jesus Christ, we can expect no different treatment than he received. We are living stones who follow "the stone," a stone that was rejected by men. We shouldn't be surprised when the same thing happens to us. Our responsibility, as living stones, is simply to continue to live in a way that will bring honor and glory to God. Some will appreciate our effort, some will not, but, in the end, all that matters is that we are "chosen by God" just as Jesus was.

"Father, there are times when we get so very discouraged. There are times when it seems that, the harder we strive to serve you faithfully, the more difficult life becomes. Help us to remember that we are followers of Jesus and that we can expect nothing different from what Jesus received while he was on this earth. Father, we ask your blessing as we seek to live in a way that glorifies you. In Jesus' name, amen."