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."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

From Bad to Worse


  Have you ever have one of those days when, no matter how hard you try, things just seem to go from bad to worse?

    The story is told of two cowboys who were working cattle one day. One of them discovered he was in trouble when a wild bull, with his head down and nostrils flaring, came charging toward him. The cowboy saw a deep hole in the ground and quickly jumped in it. As soon as the bull passed over him, he jumped out of the hole.

    The bull, madder than ever, came charging back again, and the cowboy jumped back down into the hole. When the bull passed, the cowboy jumped out of the hole again. He did this several times.

    Finally, the other cowboy, who was watching it all from a distance yelled out, "Why don't you just stay in the hole?"

    The cowboy yelled back, "I would, but there's a bear in the hole!"

    Maybe some of you feel like every day is like that!  If ever there was someone who must have felt that way, it was the apostle Paul, though.  Listen to him describing his life as a Christian:

    "From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness..." (2 Cor. 11:24-27)

    Sounds a man who ought to be miserable, doesn't it?  I mean, how much can one man take?  How much worse can it possibly get?  It convicts me to read through that list as I think of the minor problems in my life that I allow to create a dark cloud over my life.  If I had to deal with the problems on Paul's list on a daily basis, then I'd really have reason to moan and whine, "Why, me Lord?  Why does life have to be so hard?"

    The funny thing is, though, that wasn't Paul's reaction at all.  He didn't list all those problems to garner sympathy.  In fact, he finishes out this section by writing:

    "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake....." (2 Cor. 12:10).

    Taking pleasure in distresses?  When is the last time you took pleasure in locking your keys in your car?  When is the last time you took pleasure in running your cell phone through the washing machine (don't laugh!  I actually did that this week)?  When is the last time you took pleasure is hearing the news that you're getting laid off, the biopsy came back positive, or there was a terrible auto accident?

    The "pleasure" in such things is not the ability to laugh and joke.  The "pleasure" is found in the last half of 2 Cor 12:10, "...For when I am weak, then I am strong."

    Everything that happens to me in life is a reminder that I am not in control, but I am a child of the One who is.  It is a reminder that I don't have the power to fix everything that breaks in life, but I serve the one who does have that power.  It is reminder that I sometimes don't know how I'm going to have the strength to cope, but I rest in the arms of the One who has promised to be there with me no matter what.  And it is during those moments when life throws its worst at me that I feel closest to God.

    "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake.  For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Cor. 12:10)

     Whatever trials you are facing this day, may you find your strength in God.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Fleeing Temptation

     This story was told by a chemistry teacher at school.  A female student wanted to make some potassium hydroxide solution (aqueous) and decided to throw a large lump of potassium into a bucket of water. 

     Out of the corner of his eye, her professor observed what she was about to do and hurried toward her.  After confirming what she was intending to do, he asked her to first stir the water in the bucket for five minutes before adding the potassium. 

     She was puzzled and asked the purpose of this action.   It will give me time to get away,” said the professor.

     There are times when running away is the proper response.  In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul said to “Flee sexual immorality” (I Cor. 6:18) and  “Flee from idolatry.” (I Cor. 10:14).  Fleeing is especially important when we encounter temptation.  We sometimes make the mistake of putting ourselves in situations where we are tempted, thinking that we are strong enough to handle it.  Sometimes we are, but often we are not.

      Remember when Joseph was tempted by Potiphar’s wife?  She “cast longing eyes on Joseph and she said, ‘Lie with me.’” (Gen. 39:7).  Joseph refused to commit adultery with her, but she persisted to the point that finally Joseph needed to flee.  “He left his garment in her hand, and fled outside.” (Gen. 39:12).

      There may not be a Potiphar’s wife in your life, but there is likely some temptation which you find difficult to resist.  If alcohol is your temptation, flee. Make a decision to avoid people and places where alcohol will be readily available.  If sexual impurity with a boyfriend or girlfriend is a temptation, flee.  Make a decision to avoid situations where you are alone and the temptation is stronger.  If inappropriate use of your money is a temptation, flee.  Stay away from the mall!

      The worst mistake any of us can make is to think that “I can handle it.  I know this is a strong temptation but I won’t give in.  I’ll hang around close, but I won’t cross the line.”  The real question we need to consider is this:  “Who (or what) do we want to stay close to?”   Because fleeing is not just running away from something; it is also running toward something.

      “But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.” (I Timothy 6:11)

     Father, more than anything in this world I desire to be close to you.  Help me to flee from those things which tend to pull me away from you, and draw me close.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Reward For Faithfulness

I thought you would enjoy the following list of "Rules and Regulations for Teachers in 1872":

1. Teachers each day will fill lamps, clean chimneys, and trim wicks.

2. Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and scuttle of coal for the day's sessions.

3. Make your pens carefully: you may whittle nibs to the individual taste of pupils.

4. Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly.

5. After 10 hours in school, the teachers spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books.

6. Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.

7. Each teacher should lay aside from each pay a goodly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not become a burden on society.

8. Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool or public halls, or get shaved in a barber shop will give good reason to suspect his worth, intentions, integrity and honesty.

9. The teacher who performs his labors faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of 25 cents per week in his pay, providing the Board of Education approves.

    I was intrigued by the wording of #9 above.  It sounded somehow familiar to me.  Then it dawned on me that there is a similarity to what Jesus had to say to the seven churches of Asia Minor in Revelation 2 and 3.

    "Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life." (Rev.2:10b)

    "...[T]hey shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.  He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels." (Rev. 3:4-5)

    There are a couple of significant differences, though, between the promise given to teachers in 1872 and the promises given by Jesus.  Jesus doesn't require that we live "without fault" (and oh, how I'm thankful for that!).  The reward that Jesus promises is considerably better than 25 cents for every five years of service (and I'm thankful for that as well!).  And it's not a matter of gaining the approval of a group of men.  The only approval that matters is the smile we'll see on our Father's face.

    Father, thank you for the promises that you have given -- not just the promise of a crown or of white garments, but the promise of an opportunity to be in your presence, to be held in your arms.  I don't live before you  "without fault", so I thank you for your grace as I seek to live faithfully as your child.  I commit all that I am and all that I have to be used in your service.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Rules For Stray Cats (and Sin)

The following is a list of STRICT UNBENDING RULES for dealing with stray cats:

 1. Stray cats will not be fed.

 2. Stray cats will not be fed anything except dry cat food.

 3. Stray cats will not be fed anything except dry cat food moistened with a little milk.

 4. Stray cats will not be fed anything except dry cat food moistened with warm milk, yummy treats and leftover fish scraps.

 5. Stray cats will not be encouraged to make this house their permanent residence.

 6. Stray cats will not be petted, played with or picked up and cuddled unnecessarily.

 7. Stray cats that are petted, played with, picked up and cuddled will absolutely not be given a name.

 8. Stray cats with or without a name will not be allowed inside the house at any time.

 9. Stray cats will not be allowed inside the house except at certain times.

10. Stray cats will not be allowed inside the house except on days ending in "y."

11. Stray cats allowed inside will not be permitted to jump up on or sharpen their claws on the furniture.

12. Stray cats will not be permitted to jump up on, or sharpen claws on the really good furniture.

13. Stray cats will be permitted on all furniture but must sharpen their claws on the new $114.99 sisal-rope cat-scratching post with three perches.

    It's a humorous progression, but it reminds me of what happens spiritually (which is not at all humorous).  We don't want to sin, so we establish boundaries.  "I'm not going to go here, look there, think about that."  But, before long, we've crossed the line.  We think, "That's all right.  I still haven't done anything wrong.  I'll just re-establish my boundaries and not be quite so strict."  And slowly but surely, sin works its way further and further into our lives until we find that we're no longer in control of the situation.

    "But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death." (James 1:14-15)

    Father, far too often I have allowed sin to slowly work its way into my life.  I didn't want it to.  I didn't mean for it to happen.  But it did, and I'm sorry.  Please help me to keep my eyes focused on you as I strive to keep it from happening again.  Give me strength as I resolve not to allow impure thoughts and motives to find a home in my heart.  In Jesus' name, amen.