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.