Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Monday, September 29, 2014
Thursday, September 25, 2014
Thursday, September 18, 2014
Love God, Love Excellence
Do you know that nothing you do in this life will ever matter, unless it is about loving God?—Francis Chan, Crazy Love
Even though we want excellence in the things we receive, such as great service in a restaurant, we often lack excellence in the things we do. Yet a kingdom woman understands that her unique position calls her to a high standard. She knows that God has ordained her for a destiny of excellence. But what should motivate a kingdom woman toward excellence?
Imagine that day in and day out, a mother asked her child to help with chores. She reminded him to pick up his dirty socks or load the dishwasher. One day, wanting to wriggle out of his responsibilities, the boy asked, “So what’s the one most important thing I’m supposed to do?” The wily boy figured that if he could get his mother to name just one thing, he’d be off the hook for the others!
The Pharisees, like the little boy, tried to trap Jesus in this same way by asking, “Which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:36, esv). No matter which commandment Jesus chose, they’d be able to nail Him for neglecting another.
His answer, however, silenced them: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (verse 37, esv). Everything, Jesus emphasized, depends on it.
What this means today is that you were made to love God. In the kingdom woman’s home, neighborhood, workplace, church, school, and community, she strives for excellence for the love of God. Love for God is, above all, the thing that matters.
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
2 Peter 1:5–8
Ignorance is not bliss. On the contrary, it is the breeding ground for fear, prejudice, and superstition, to name just a few. Knowledge is critical. The young nation of America saw the need for being knowledgeable . . . for perpetuating an educated, well-trained body of godly people who could proclaim God's message with intelligence, authority, and conviction. Our oldest institution of higher learning—founded only sixteen years after the landing at Plymouth—was established for the purpose stated on its cornerstone. That marker still stands near an iron gate that leads to the campus of Harvard University:
After God had carried us safe to New England and we had builded [sic] our houses, provided necessaries for our livelihood, reared convenient places for God's worship and settled the civil government, one of the next things we longed for and looked after was to advance learning and perpetuate to posterity, dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches when our present ministers shall lie in the dust.
This continued until European liberalism, with its subtle narcotic of humanism and socialism, began to paralyze the nerve centers of theological thought and educational philosophy. Doubt and despair replaced certainty and hope. Mental discipline, honed on the wheel of exacting academic requirements and intellectual integrity, began to lag. Permissiveness became the order of the day. This evolved into a mentality that now considers deep thought and thorough study a joke. Thank God, there are some exceptions. But they are precious few . . . especially among the saints.
To be sure, there are dangers connected with being knowledgeable. Solomon warns us of the worst in Ecclesiastes: pride—the wearying, futile pursuit of knowledge, a flesh trip that can cause a head to outgrow a heart. Mere intellectualism can be only "striving after wind" (Ecclesiastes 1:17).
But my single desire is to support the premise that knowledge, rather than being an enemy of the faith, is an ally . . . perhaps one of our strongest. I call upon C. S. Lewis to state my cause, and with him I rest my case. In his work, The Weight of Glory, Lewis writes:
If all the world were Christian it might not matter if all the world were uneducated. But, as it is, a cultural life will exist outside the Church whether it exists inside or not. To be ignorant and simple now—not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground—would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen.
Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered. The cool intellect must work not only against cool intellect on the other side, but against the muddy heathen mysticisms which deny intellect altogether. Most of all, perhaps, we need intimate knowledge of the past . . . the learned life then is, for some, a duty.
Good philosophy must exist . . . because bad philosophy needs to be answered. —C. S. Lewis
Slice it any way you wish, ignorance is not bliss. Dress it in whatever garb you please, ignorance is not attractive. Neither is it the mark of humility nor the path to spirituality. It certainly is not the companion of wisdom.
On the contrary, it is the breeding ground for fear, prejudice, and superstition . . . the feeding trough for unthinking animals . . . the training field for slavery. It is blind and naked (Tennyson), the mother of impudence (Spurgeon), it brings despairing darkness (Shakespeare), never settles a question (Disraeli), nor promotes innocence (Browning). And yet it remains the favorite plea of the guilty, the excuse of the lazy—and even the Christian's rationalization for immaturity.
We dare not fall into that trap! Our spiritual fathers didn't. Trace your heritage back to Moses and you find that the people were given the Truth of God in written form that they might know and that their children might know the right path to follow.
In Samuel's day, a school of the prophets was formed to dispel the ignorance among the people.
This philosophy carried into the New Testament as Jesus frequently rebuked His listeners for not reading, not knowing the underlying principles for living. How often Paul expressed similar convictions with such strong words as, "I do not want you to be unaware." Dr. Luke commended the church at Berea because they were "examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11).
Daniel and his three fellow Hebrews mentioned in Daniel 1 provide one of many biblical examples of human intellect employed for God's purposes. As you read today's Scripture, notice the quality and the source of Daniel's intellect.
What can you do to receive fully the mental riches God makes available to you? How can you get started today?
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Yesterday we talked about how the Israelites began to worship what started out as a good thing but became too much of a good thing: a bronze serpent they called "Nehushtan."
We can make an idol out of anything or anyone in life. A church building can become an idol to us, when all the while it is simply a place to meet and worship our Lord—nothing more. Your child can become your idol . . . in subtle ways you can so adore that little one that your whole life revolves around the child. Your mate or date can be given first place in your life and literally idolized. Your work can easily become your god . . . as can some pursuit in life. A house, a lawn, an antique, a car, a letter in sports, an education, a trip abroad, an achievement, and even that goal of "retirement" can so grip your heart that it becomes your Nehushtan.
Don't miss my point. There's nothing necessarily wrong with any of these good things. To possess them—any or all of them—is not sinful. But it is sinful when they possess us! Therein lies the difference. It's that sort of thing that turns a golden dream into a hollow chunk of bronze.
Honestly now . . . can you testify to the fact that you've destroyed the idols? Can you really say you are free from bronze anchors? That Christ reigns without a rival? Or would you have to admit to a personal shrine in your inner temple where you privately burn incense?
"Where your treasure is," says the Lord, "there your heart will be also" (Luke 12:34), and "out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34 NIV). What does that actually mean? What you invest your time and treasure in, what you talk about, what you keep returning to in your mind reveals what's really on your heart. It's just that simple.
Your Lord and Savior wants to occupy first place. Matthew 6:33 says that when He has it, everything else "will be added to you." How long has it been since you've enlisted your Lord's help in a private, personal temple-cleansing session? It's so easy to get attached to idols—good things, inappropriately adored. But when you have Jesus in the center of the room, everything else only junks up the decor.
"He is also head of the body, the church," wrote Paul, "and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything" (Colossians 1:18).
Did you get that? First place in everything.
Saturday, September 13, 2014
Kitty Genovese was brutally attacked as she returned to her apartment late one night. She screamed and shrieked as she fought for her life . . . yelling until she was hoarse . . . for thirty minutes . . . as she was beaten and abused. Thirty-eight people watched the half-hour episode from their windows with rapt fascination. Not one so much as walked over to the telephone and called the police. Kitty died that night as thirty-eight witnesses stared in silence.
Andrew Mormille's experience was similar. Riding on a subway, the seventeen-year-old youth was quietly minding his own business when he was stabbed repeatedly in the stomach by attackers. Eleven riders watched the stabbing, but none came to assist the young man. Even after the thugs had fled and the train had pulled out of the station, as he lay in a pool of his own blood, not one of the eleven came to his side.
Less dramatic but equally shocking was the ordeal of Eleanor Bradley. While shopping on Fifth Avenue in busy Manhattan, this lady tripped and broke her leg. Dazed, anguished, and in shock, she called out for help. Not for two minutes. Not for twenty minutes. But forty minutes, as shoppers and business executives, students and merchants walked around her and stepped over her, completely ignoring her cries. After literally hundreds had passed by, a cab driver finally pulled over, hauled her into his taxi, and took her to a local hospital.
I heard of an experiment a small band of seminary students carried out on fellow members of their class some time ago. I know it is true because I later spoke with one of the men involved. The class was given an assignment on Luke 10:30–37, the familiar account of the Good Samaritan. The assignment was due the next day. Most of the men in that class traveled along the same pathway leading to the classroom the next morning. One of the seminarians in the experiment wore old, torn clothing, disguised himself as though he had been beaten and bruised, and placed himself along the path, clearly in view of all the young students making their way back to class. With their assignments neatly written, carefully documented, and tucked under their arms, not one seminarian so much as paused to come to his assistance or wipe the catsup off his neck and chest.
Intellectually, the assignment on love and caring was completed. But personally? Well, you decide.
What's happening? Why the passivity? How can we explain the gross lack of involvement in our world today and especially among Christians? We'll talk about that tomorrow. For now, go out on a limb: ask God to let you help someone in urgent distress in the immediate future. Be sensitive . . . He's going to answer your request! And take extra time today to thank God for the constant protection you enjoy from Him, allowing you to reach out confidently to others (readPsalm 121:7–8). Be ready!
Go out on a limb: ask God to let you help someone in urgent distress.
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
Encounter on the Damascus Highway, Part Two
Yesterday, I told you about several methods of evangelism that are ineffective, or at least are not the full picture of how God desires His children to share the good news with others. Today, I want to tell you about an alternative. A method that works . . . and also glorifies the One it should glorify: the Savior.
I submit to you the Philip Approach. This Christ-centered method is set forth in a series of seven principles drawn from Acts 8:26–40. That grand and gifted gentleman was engaged in a citywide crusade at Samaria. God was using him mightily (8:5–8). Suddenly, the Lord spoke to Philip and instructed him to leave the city and spend some time in Gaza, a desert area (8:26). Faithful Philip "got up and went" (8:27). He was available (Principle 1).
He then encountered a distinguished statesman from Ethiopia riding in a chariot en route back home (8:28). Of all things, he was reading Isaiah! The next verse tells us that the Spirit of God prompted Philip to go and get acquainted with the traveler. Philip was led by the Spirit (Principle 2). In today's terminology, he felt a keen and definite assurance that God would have him strike up a conversation and later, quite probably, share with that person the magnetic claims of Christ. In other words, he sensed that God was clearly opening the door.
As you'd expect, Philip cooperated. Obedience (Principle 3) is essential.
He then heard the man reading aloud (8:30) and calmly asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" What an excellent start! A proper opening (Principle 4) is essential. Philip didn't barge in and start preaching, nor did he crank out a canned, broken-record series of statements. He simply asked a logical yet leading question. The statesman instantly invited the stranger to come and sit by him and assist him in his quest for understanding (8:31–34).
This remarkable response was met with great tact (Principle 5) on Philip's part. Even though he had his foot in the door, he remained gracious, courteous, a good listener, and yet sensitive to the time he might speak of salvation.
When that moment came, he "opened his mouth" (8:35) and became specific (Principle 6) concerning faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. No reluctance. No vague dialogue about religion . . . he spoke only of the Savior, the main issue.
The last few verses (8:36–38) describe the brief but memorable follow-up (Principle 7) Philip employed in this case.
As you rub shoulders with hungry, thirsty humanity and sense their inner ache for help and hope, keep these principles in mind. Let's become more alert to those empty chariot sidecars God wants us to occupy. You may even begin to feel comfortable in them before long. You know what? There isn't any place I'd rather be when Christ returns than riding shotgun in a twenty-first-century chariot.
When you speak out about your faith, speak only of the Savior—the main issue.
Sunday, September 7, 2014
Shakespeare called it "the green sickness." Bacon admitted "it has no holidays." Horace declared that "tyrants never invented a greater torment." Barrie said envy "is the most corroding of the vices." Sheridan referred to it in his play The Critic when he wrote, "There is not a passion so strongly rooted in the human heart as this." Philip Bailey, the eloquent English poet of yesteryear, vividly described it as "a coal [that] comes hissing hot from hell."
And speaking of hell, no one has done a better job of portraying envy than Dante. In his Purgatory, you may recall, the envious sit like blind beggars by a wall. Their eyelids are sewed shut. The symbolism is apt, showing the reader that it is one of the blindest sins—partly because it is unreasonable, partly because the envious person is sewed up in himself. Swollen with poisonous thoughts. In a dark, constricting world of almost unendurable self-imposed anguish.
Envy in Scripture? Look at the facts. It sold Joseph into slavery, drove David into exile, threw Daniel in the den, and put Christ on trial. (If you question that, better check Matthew 27:18.) Paul tells us that it's one of the prevailing traits of depravity (Romans 1:29) and a team member that plays in the same backfield with profanity, suspicion, and conceit (1 Timothy 6:4).
The answer? Contentment. Feeling comfortable and secure with where you are and who you are. Not having to "be better" or "go further" or "own more" or "prove to the world" or "reach the top" or . . .
Having some big struggles with envy? Eating your heart out because somebody's a step or two ahead of you in the race and gaining momentum? Relax. You are you—not them! And you are responsible to do the best you can with what you've got for as long as you're able.
Remember, the race isn't over. And even when it is, a lot of things you got hot and bothered about during your lifetime won't even show up in eternity. I don't care how many trophies or awards or dollars or degrees may be earned or won on earth, you can't take 'em with you. So it isn't worth the sweat. Death always cures "the green sickness."
The cure for envy is being content with where you are and who you are.
Encounter on the Damascus Highway, Part One
Various methods are employed to communicate the good news of Christ to the lost. Some of the approaches appear to be successful and effective on the surface, but underneath they leave much to be desired.
Take the Academic Approach, for example. The thinking behind this method is: Let's all discuss the world's religions. Because it's reason centered, it attracts both genuine and pseudo intellectuals. The modus operandi is invariably a vague discussion that shifts from Bahai to Buddhism . . . from the pros and cons of no prayer in public schools to the rapid growth of the Rajneeshies in the 80s. This approach is educational and occasionally quite stimulating, but it suffers from one mild drawback—no one ever gets saved! Specifics regarding salvation by grace through faith are frowned upon. The direct discussion of forgiveness of sins through Christ's blood at the cross and His miraculous resurrection is about as welcome in a sophisticated rap session on religion as a life-sized bust of Martin Luther would be in the Vatican.
Perhaps the most popular is the Mute Approach, which promotes: I'm a silent witness for God. The best you can say about this method is that no one ever gets offended. That's for sure! The saint who settles for this self-centered approach could be tagged a Clairol Christian. No one knows for sure but God. Somewhere down the line this person has begun to swallow one of Satan's tastiest tidbits: "All God expects of you is a good, silent life. Others will ask you about Christ if they are interested in hearing." You know, I can count on one hand (and have fingers left over) the number of people in my entire life who have suddenly come up and asked me about Jesus Christ. While no one can discount the value of a godly life, that alone never brought anyone into the family of God. "Faith," please remember, "comes from hearing" (Romans 10:17).
Okay, so I've given you some methods that don't work. I'd like to tell you about one that does. I submit to you the Philip Approach. This Christ-centered method is set forth in a series of seven principles drawn from Acts 8:26–40. This approach is radically different and phenomenally successful. We'll take a look at it tomorrow.
Saturday, September 6, 2014
A number of years ago, on Valentine's Day, a couple was enjoying a romantic drive along a wooded section near Belle Chasse, Louisiana. Something white, shimmering in the trees, caught their eyes. Their investigation led them to a dead teenager hanging from a limb, a white bedsheet knotted tightly around his neck. A farewell note, laced with despair, was near the trunk of the tree. It was addressed simply to "Mom and Dad."
I never did develop into a real person and I cannot tolerate the false and empty existence I have created. . . . What frustrated me most in the last year was that I had built no ties to family or friends. There was nothing of lasting worth and value. I led a detached existence. . . . I am a bomb of frustration and should never marry or have children. It is safest to defuse the bomb harmlessly now . . . simply cremate me as John Doe.
Authorities circulated the youth's description and fingerprints to police across the country. He was later buried—unidentified and unclaimed.
Grim and gripping though they are, such scenes and words are not that unusual. Our nervous age seems on trial for its life, and the fuse on the powder keg is becoming shorter by the day! Contrary to popular opinion, people who threaten suicide often mean it. The old myth "those who talk don't jump" is dangerously false. Threats should be taken seriously.
Suicide, the ultimate rejection of one's self, plays no favorites and knows no limit. In my files and memory are unforgettable cases that span the extremes: a successful banker, a disillusioned divorcée, a runaway, the son of a missionary, a mother of three, a wealthy cartoonist, a professional musician, several collegians, a Marine, a retired grandfather, a medical doctor, a middle-aged playboy, a brilliant accountant, a growing number of teens who were in junior and senior high schools. These individuals struggled with feelings of loneliness, worthlessness, insecurity, a lack of hope, intense perfectionism, alienation from meaningful relationships, and a tragic sense of feeling unloved and unlovely.
In all of this darkness, there is one beacon of light. People considering suicide usually want to be rescued. They leave clues that read, "Help me!" They drop hints, consciously or unconsciously, that announce their intentions.
Sensitive, concerned observers ought to be alert to the signals. Here are a few: (1) talk about suicide; (2) a sudden change in personality; (3) deep depression; (4) physical symptoms—sleeplessness, loss of appetite, decreased sexual drive, drastic weight loss, repeated exhaustion; (5) actual attempts; and (6) crisis situations—death of a loved one, failure at school, loss of a job, marital or home problems, and a lengthy or terminal illness.
These, of course, are not "sure signs," but anyone that seems unusually suspicious warrants your time and offer of help. Occasionally, all that is needed is someone to step in and be a friend . . . a listening ear . . . a support to lean on . . . a shelter in the time of storm. That's genuine Body life! That's Romans 15:1 in action:
We who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength.
Certainly you should contact your physician or ask advice from your local suicide prevention hotline if you become reasonably concerned. A close friend, a professional counselor, a church officer, or a pastor might also be of valuable assistance. Don't hesitate to seek advice.
The need is urgent . . . and always great. During the time it took you to read this, numbers of people in America attempted to end their lives.
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
Can you keep a secret?
Can you? Be honest, now. When privileged information passes through one of the gates of your senses, does it remain within the walls of your mind? Or is it only a matter of time before a leak occurs? When the grapevine requests your attention from time to time, do you refuse to help it climb higher, or do you encourage its rapid growth, fertilizing it by your wagging, unguarded tongue? When someone says, "Now this is confidential," do you respect their trust or ignore it . . . either instantly or ultimately?
The longer I live, the more I realize the scarcity of people who can be fully trusted with confidential information. The longer I live, the more I value those rare souls who fall into that category! As a matter of fact, if I were asked to list the essential characteristics that should be found in any member of a church staff or officer on a church board . . . the ability to maintain confidences would rank very near the top. No leader deserves the respect of the people if he or she cannot restrain information that is shared in private.
Our minds might be compared to a cemetery, filled with graves that refuse to be opened. The information, no matter how juicy or dry, must rest in peace in its coffin, sealed in silence beneath the epitaph "Shared in confidence—Kept in confidence."
You and I wouldn't give a plugged nickel for a doctor who ran off at the mouth. The same applies to a minister or an attorney or a counselor or a judge or a teacher or a secretary . . . or a close, trusted friend for that matter. No business ever grows and remains strong unless those in leadership are people of confidence. No school maintains public respect without an administration and faculty committed to the mutual guarding of one another's worlds. When leaks occur, it is often a sign of character weakness, and action is usually taken to discover the person who has allowed his or her mental coffin to be exhumed and examined.
Information is powerful. The person who receives it and dispenses it bit by bit often does it so that others might be impressed because he or she is "in the know." Few things are more satisfying to the old ego than having others stare wide-eyed, drop open the jaw, and say, "My, I didn't know that!" or "Why, that's hard to believe!" or "How in the world did you find that out?"
Solomon writes strong and wise words concerning this subject in Proverbs. Listen to his counsel:
Wise men store up knowledge,
But with the mouth of the foolish, ruin is at hand. (10:14)
When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable,
But he who restrains his lips is wise. (10:19)
He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets,
But he who is trustworthy conceals a matter. (11:13)
The one who guards his mouth preserves his life;
The one who opens wide his lips comes to ruin. (13:3)
He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets,
Therefore do not associate with a gossip. (20:19)
Like a bad tooth and an unsteady foot
Is confidence in a faithless man in time of trouble.
Like a city that is broken into and without walls
Is a man who has no control over his spirit. (25:28)
From now on, let's establish four practical ground rules:
1. Whatever you're told in confidence, do not repeat.
2. Whenever you're tempted to talk, do not yield.
3. Whenever you're discussing people, do not gossip.
4. However you're prone to disagree, do not slander.
Honestly now, can you keep a secret? Prove it.
Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Psalms 135; 1 Corinthians 12
They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?" "They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put him." At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. "Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him." Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher) John 20:13-16
Can anyone take the Lord away from us? Mary thought so. Her heart was broken, her Lord was dead and now she thought His body had been taken away. Mary cried deeply, thinking that someone could have taken the only part left of Him away from her. At this point, she did not even notice that angels were speaking to her. She just wanted Jesus back. Even when Jesus was standing (literally) behind her, Mary thought He was the gardener. In her loyalty and despite her depression, Mary was willing to do whatever it would take to "get Him" back.
Her devotion is sincere but how can she serve a dead God? What kind of Lord would we have if others could change His position or steal His body? What kind of God would we serve if we have the ability to lose or misplace Him? That kind of god puts the burden on us, regardless of how devoted or sincere we may be. Thank the Lord Jesus that He arose from the grave. We do not worship a dead god but a living Lord. We worship a God who has placed all the burdens on Himself. We do not have to find Him because He never loses us. And God promises that if we seek Him, we will find Him as He comes to us. We are never lost from His sight. We may not see Him but He is always there, even sometimes from behind.
I love the verse in Isaiah 30:21 that says, "Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 'This is the way, walk in it,' Whenever you turn to the right hand Or whenever you turn to the left." God does lead us from behind at times and we can feel that we have lost Him. But like Mary in John 20:16, when Jesus calls your name even from behind, you will recognize His voice. Remember to keep seeking Him and desiring to be with Him even if He seems to be missing. You have not lost Him because He can never lose you. He conquered death on a cross and rose again. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life and He is always with us, leading us in every step.
Enclosed you will find a check for $150. I cheated on my income tax return last year and have not been able to sleep ever since. If I still have trouble sleeping, I'll send you the rest.
This note was actually received by the Internal Revenue Service some time ago. We chuckle because the sender was willing to be honest up to a point . . . just far enough to help relieve his guilty conscience . . . just far enough to help his sleep to return . . . but not far enough to make a clean break.
Philip Bailey, the nineteenth-century poet, once made this stabbing statement:
The first and worst of all frauds is to cheat oneself.
All sin is easy after that.
To cheat one's self. Really, that lies at the heart of every human act of deception. The traveling businessman who pads his account or misrepresents his production is cheating himself, not his company. The student who takes his exam in a dishonest fashion cheats himself, not his school. The wife who carries on an illicit affair with a secret lover isn't cheating on her husband but on herself. The salesman who violates the rights and confidence of others by withholding information or exaggerating beyond the truth is cheating himself, not the buyer. The writer who lifts the writings of another and inserts them into his own manuscript without giving professional credit cheats himself, not his reader.
Bailey suggests that such frauds tear so large a hole into our moral fiber that "all sin is easy after that." Bailey speaks the truth. Once we have opened the door to Bluebeard's secret chamber and begin to feel comfortable amidst the torture of a murdered conscience, we can easily handle anything our old nature comes up with.
Ask Adolf Eichmann. Once he learned to tolerate the starvation scenes of central Poland, the gas chambers of Dachau and Auschwitz were easy to handle. When you can starve a few Jews to death without feeling, it's no big thing to slaughter them by the millions.
Ask Spiro Agnew. Once he learned to live with himself as a mayor who compromised with close, rich friends of big business, the office of vice president didn't slow him down. Cheating on a small-time basis didn't stop when he got promoted . . . it accelerated.
The guy who has his hand in the petty cash today will be the crook in the books tomorrow. This is true, of course, unless he counteracts his dishonest bent.
God gives us the key in Ephesians 4:20–25 that unlocks the secret of overcoming our bent to cheat. After telling us the importance of laying aside the old self (which is corrupted with the "lusts of deceit"), He says we are to put on the "new self"—to let the renewed spirit of our minds take charge! And what is step one in that process? Verse 25 spells it out. The New Living Translation says:
Stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth.
Stop lying to yourself, first, then to others, second. Honestly admit that cheating is self-deception, that the biggest loss is suffered by you, not by others. Refuse to rationalize or excuse or defend your cheating another day. And never forget that a person who hangs around Christians and looks the part of a dedicated saint can be a cheater right down to the core.
Judas is the classic example. He stole from his buddies even though they trusted him with the money (John 12:6). He was the one who bargained with Jesus's enemies and betrayed Him with a deceptive kiss. But the saddest fact of all is this: Judas cheated himself, not the Savior nor the disciples.
Having a problem sleeping because you are uneasy about your dishonesty? Wonderful! You ought to be glad you can't sleep. It's the cheater who sleeps who's really got a problem worth losing sleep over!
Monday, September 1, 2014
It was the apostle John's final warning to his readers:
Little children, guard yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:21)
"Watch out," said John, in effect. "Be on guard against anything that might occupy the place in your heart that should be reserved for God."
John never qualified that warning. The aged apostle deliberately refrained from classifying the idols or giving us a comprehensive list to follow. It's an unconditional command. Any idol, regardless of its beauty or usefulness or original purpose, is to be set aside so that Christ might reign supreme, without a single competitor.
I don't have many temptations to worship evil things. It's the good things that plague me. It isn't as difficult for me to reject something that is innately bad or wrong as it is to keep those good and wholesome things off the throne. That, I believe, is where the battle line begins.
Do you remember the experience of the Israelites in Numbers 21? They were hot and irritable as they wandered across the wilderness. They began to gripe about the lack of food and water. They complained again about the manna. So God sent snakes among them—"fiery serpents"—that bit many people and brought death into the camp. Realizing their sin, they begged Moses to ask God to remove the serpents. God told Moses to make a bronze serpent, hold it high up on a long pole . . . and whoever would look upon that bronze serpent would be healed. It was a miraculous, glorious provision—and it worked. In fact, Jesus mentioned it in John 3:14–15 as an example of what He would accomplish when He died on a cross. The bronze serpent had been blessed of God and was, therefore, an effective means of deliverance.
But do you know what happened to that metallic snake? If you don't, you're in for a big surprise. In 2 Kings 18:4 we read:
He [King Hezekiah] removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah [idol altars]. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan.
This occurred about the sixth century BC. The original event with the snakes took place much earlier—around 1450 BC. For about eight centuries they had hung on to that bronze serpent. Can you believe that! They dragged it here and carried it there, preserved it, protected it, and polished it. Finally, they made an idol of it and even gave it a name: Nehushtan. That word simply means "a piece of bronze." And that's all it was. But they turned it into an object of worship. Something that had once been useful and effective had degenerated over the years into an idol.
It happens today. You can make an idol out of anything or anyone in life. Often it's the good things that slither up unnoticed, and soon you discover that they have first place in your heart.
It's high time they be dethroned; we'll talk about that tomorrow.